"Gee," Nina whined the next day. She had gotten home sometime while Gerald was out. "Stay home with me. Pleeease," she begged with a pout. She was lying on the couch, watching as he walked around the house getting ready for school.

"Mom, you know I can't," he said wondering where the hell he had left his other shoe. He'd have to clean the house this afternoon before work.

"Please, baby," she continued. "If you go I'll be all alone and I'll get bored."

"Go get a job," he thought to himself, but didn't say anything as he continued to look.

"Gee, please. I'll write you a note." He moved towards the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee. He pulled a cold mask out of the fridge and moved to the couch where his mom was nursing her hangover.

He handed her the coffee and placed the mask over her eyes.

"Give me my shoe please."

"Stay home. I'm your mother; you should do what I tell you."

"My shoe,"

"Gee, kids would kill to have…'

"Mom," He was loosing his patience and it was hard to keep the edge out of his voice.

"Their parent's let them just stay home."

"My shoe."

With a sigh, she pulls the shoe out from behind her back.

"Thanks," he says bending down to put his shoe on.

"Stay home and I'll give you the guitar lesson I promised." She held on to his hand

"The one you promised 4 years ago?" He asked standing up and moving towards his book bag. He gave her a kiss on the forehead before walking out the door.

Sometimes he hated walking, like when it rained. Today was one of those days, as soon as he was half way to school, when it would be the same to go back home or keep walking it had started to rain. It didn't help that the bruise over his ribs hurt like hell when breathing.

He finally arrived at school and once he was dripping wet in the halls walking towards his locker it stopped raining.

He pulled out a dry shirt he had in his locker, he always kept an extra one there, you never knew what could "accidentally" fall on you, and went to the bathroom to change.

He removed his wet t-shirt and looked at the bruise in the mirror. He didn't think he had a cracked rib or anything like that, he read that the pain with those was unbearable his pain was bearable. Everything was always bearable.

"What the hell happened to you?" his eyes traveled in the mirror from his bruise up to blue eyes. He grabbed his dry shirt and pulled it on as fast as he could.

"Fell," he answered while turning around to face Michael, but avoiding his face. He knew he couldn't lie while looking into his friends blue eyes.

"You fell on a shoe shaped rock?" Michael asked sarcastically while moving to block Gerald's escape.

"mmhmm" Gerald picked his back pack of the floor.

"Who did that to you?" Michael's voice was menacing.

Gerald would have loved to tell him who did it. Would love it, but he knew he couldn't. He'd love to finally tell Michael of what his friends did to him behind his back, but he knew there was a chance Michael would side with them, he knew there was a chance Michael wouldn't believe him, that Michael might get hurt, he might blame himself. He couldn't tell Michael so he looked at his shoes and lied.

"I was walking back from work late last night and got mugged, the guy kicked me."

"Shit, I wanted to go see you yesterday. I really did Gee, but you know how May gets. I'm so sorry." The look in Michaels face broke Gerald's heart, even though he knew Michael was lying, Michael knew his work schedule so he had to know he didn't work yesterday. He was just too busy lying to cover himself up to notice Gerald's lie.

"Don't be," he said smiling. "It's fine"

He wanted to tell him "it's also fine you forgot my birthday" but he couldn't do that, that would bring that sad look back into his friends beautiful blue eyes, those eyes had to always be happy and someone as insignificant as Gerald should never be the one to dampened them.

Michael ruffled his hair. "I need to teach you how to protect yourself."

Gerald rolled his eyes, "Have you noticed how small I am?"

"Kay, then first I need to get meat on your bones."

Gerald checked Michael's watch, something they were both used to since Gerald had never owned one.

"We need to get to class, bell is about to ring," He dropped Michaels wrist and pulled his book bag higher on his shoulder

"I'll walk you," Michael offered. Gerald was surprised; Michael hadn't walked him to class since last year.

They left the bathroom together talking about comic books and video games, like always. When they were nearing Gerald's class, Michael suddenly stopped walking and so Gerald also stopped. Michael looked at the smaller boy quizzically.

"You don't work Thursday's," He said.

"I took an extra shift," Gerald lied again looking down at floor.

"You're lying to me," Michael said dropping his hand off Gerald's arm. Gerald looks up to see one of Michaels team mates walk by.

'He is embarrassed to be seen touching me' he thought to himself as he walked away from Michael while Michael said hello to his other friend.

"Gerald." Michael turned to where his friend had been standing to find the spot empty. The bell rang and he didn't have time to go after him, so he turned around and went to class.

After band practice Gerald walked home again, he didn't like taking the bus, school was enough for him.

Football practice ended about half an hour after band practice. Michael had to lie to his team mates and coach to be able to get out earlier, but it still wasn't early enough, by the time he reach the music hall, it was empty.

He hurried to his car and hoped he would be able to catch Gerald walking home. He had to apologize; he couldn't believe he was such a big ass. How could he forget his friend's birthday, his best friend?

Michael knew all to well that once Gerald was in his house he wouldn't come back out if his mother was home. So he drove as fast as he could. All day yesterday he had the strange feeling that he was missing or forgotten something. He even went to stupid Lloyd's party.

He saw his friend's small figure coming up and he slowed down, finally stopping next to him and about a block away from the other boy's house.

Michael got of the car chanting "I'm sorry"

"It doesn't matter," Gerald said with that fake smile he seemed to always carry lately. Michael had to wonder if Gee really thought he was fooling him.

"It isn't I'm dirt, I'm less than dirt. I deserve to be hated by you"

Gerald turned around moving closer to his friend "I could never, no matter how hard I tried, hate you Michael."

"Let me make it up to you." Gerald had to wonder why everyone had to 'make it up to him' couldn't they simply just be there for him, not do it?

He smiled, "Sure"

Michael gave him his brightest smile, row of perfect white teeth shinning at Gerald "Thank you, I promise you won't regret this. Let's go" He opened his car door and motioned for Gerald to get in.

"I can't go," Gerald said with out moving. Michaels face fell. He knew Gerald had only said he would let him make it up to him to make Michael feel better. He looked up into sadden brown eyes, ignoring the stupid fake smile he was starting to get use to.

"Why?" he sounded so disappointed and again Gerald had to wonder how a nobody like him could affect a god like Michael.

"I have to go home, and I have work tonight. You know that."

Michael didn't close his car door. He turned around to hold onto Gerald's arm "You don't work 'til 6, please come with me?"

He did, he truly did want to go with him. He knew that even if they just sat in the car he would be happy and have a good time, because he was in Michael's company, but he had to get home. His mom probably hadn't eaten anything since he left.

"I'm sorry," he said shrugging his arm out of Michaels grasp and turning around to leave.

"Tomorrow then," Michael said catching up to him, "let's go to the arcade and then I'll take you to the comic book store and we will buy some comics, we can then have a sleep over at my house like we used to. What do you say?"

Finally the smile on Gerald's face was genuine. "I'd love to."

When Gerald finally arrived home, his mom had dug out his guitar and amp. She had moved the dinning room table and set two chairs in the center where the table used to be.

When he opened the door confetti fell all over him and his mom threw some blue balloons at him while she made noise with a whistle.

"Happy belated birthday" she yelled. "For your birthday, young man, your mother has prepared your first guitar lesson" She pointed as though she were a TV game show model towards the two chairs, guitar and amp "Also I have prepared a nutritious meal of Chocolate cake, chocolate brownies and salt and vinegar chips. That if I am not mistaken is your favorite junk foods. Not only this, but I have also selected three movies for us to watch together. Follow me," She said moving him around the back of the couch to stand between the TV and the couch.

She had laid out 3 of his favorite movies and a large bowl of popcorn. "I also rented the new wrestling video game. We will have a guitar lesson; pig out on junk and vegetated in front of the TV. All for my special little boy's birthday." She wiped a tear out of her eye "You really need to stop growing"

"I think I did mom, look how short I am." He circled his arms around her and she laughed, burying her face in the crook of his neck. She was just as short as he was.

He called in sick to work, they had the guitar lesson, which wasn't that hard really, he was in his school's band and knew already a lot about music, and he had also been teaching himself how to play with a book he'd gotten from the library.

They both fell asleep on the couch with the credits to "Nightmare before Christmas" scrolling on the screen.

Gerald woke up the next day, and his back was killing him. He was too big to fall asleep on the couch with his mom and not hurt the next day. His mom was still sleeping and he gave her a kiss on the cheek before getting up.

He made breakfast for them and woke her up. After eating breakfast he told her he had to go to work, he had agreed to take someone else's shift so they would cover for him yesterday.

His mom like always pouted, but he reminded her that rent was do soon.

"I don't know how I got so lucky with you. I promise I'll make this up to you. I'll spend all day looking for a job" He knew better than to believe her, but he also knew that she did mean it.

Instead of walking through the street to the bus stop. He took of his shoes and socks and walked along the beach to the bus stop. He liked how the water felt when it touched his feet. It was the Pacific Ocean and it was freezing cold. Michael had told him that in Florida the water was much warmer, he wanted to one day go there, but he didn't see it happening any time soon.

He walked out of the sand and washed his feet off in the shower. As he was sitting drying his feet to put on his socks someone sat next to him.

"I was on my way to pick you up." It was Michael. Michael actually was going to go through with their plans. Of course Gerald couldn't.

"What's wrong?" He asked when he saw Gerald's disappointed face.

"I have to work," Gerald said shrugging.

"You don't work Saturdays," Michael said upset that his friend was lying to him again.

"Mom had a small party for me yesterday, and I…" He could already see Michael was getting upset, "I asked someone to cover for me, so I have to go to work today."

Michael pursed his lips standing up. Gerald noticed how he towered over him, his height even more apparent when he was sitting down and Michael was standing. "I cleared my entire schedule for you. Do you know how many people I pissed off?"

Gerald felt terrible, he felt small and god Michael didn't disserve being stood up by him. Really who was he? Nothing more than a band geek. Michael probably had more important things to do and he had to cancel them just because of him, and now he let him down.

"I'm sorry," Gerald said looking down at his hands.

"Yeah, what ever come on I'll give you a ride" Michael felt as though Gee made no effort to spend time with him. It seemed like he could skip school or work for anyone, but when Michael asked him it was always no.

On the passenger seat there was a small gift wrapped box. Gerald carefully lifted it and moved it to the center before sitting down. Michael turned towards him "What you don't want my gift?" Gerald smiled and with timid fingers reached for the box resting it on his lap.

"You didn't have to get me anything" He said playing with the blue bow that was on it.

"Yes I did. I bought it like a month ago for your birthday. I swear I feel terrible for forgetting. I mean I know when it was and I knew it was coming up, I just didn't know what date it was, you know?" Michael looked over his shoulder as he backed out of the parking space.

"Its fine Mike, you don't have to keep apologizing. You know I don't mind."

"You should." Michael smiled happy to hear Gerald call him Mike, Gerald rarely did that and it was always a good thing when he did. "Open it already"

Gerald carefully, very carefully undid the wrapping, too slow for Michael's liking. Michael was the type of person that ripped the wrapping as fast as he could, he would barely even noticed what was drawn on it. Gerald didn't he looked at the blue paper with the yellow balloons and peeled it off carefully, so that if he wanted to use it again he could.

He was also working on a collage and the blue of the paper would work nicely for the sky.

"Gee!" Michael whined desperate to know if his friend would like the gift or not.

Under the wrapping was a batman box. A smile grew on both boys' face, Gerald because batman was his favorite super hero and Michael because he was happy Gerald was happy.

"Open it Gee" Michael prompted. Gerald carefully opened the box and his eyes went square, he couldn't believe his eyes. A fossil limited edition, stainless steel batman watch sat in the box smiling back at him.

He had seen it online the other day; he hadn't mentioned it to anyone. He really wanted it, but $115 for a watch was out of the question for him.

"So?" Michael asked, though he knew the answer. When he seen the watch online he knew Gerald would love.

"I love it Mike, I really do, but I can't take it. It's too expensive you really shouldn't have."

"Oh shut up. Just say thank you Mike"

"Thank you Mike" Gerald said with a roll of his eyes.

"Guess I won't have to grab you wrist anymore to check for the time" That's probably why he got it for me, so he wouldn't have to be touched by me anymore.

Michael's smile faltered for a moment. For a second he thought he would miss those touches, but that was jus silly.

"After work, I'll pick you up. Probably too late for comic book store, but we will have our sleep over, kay?"

"Michael, you don't have to. I know you probably had plans. Just call your friends back and go with them, ok?"

Michael did have plans with his friends, they had another stupid party. May had a fit when he told her he wasn't going, but god he hated those parties and loved his sleep-overs, though they were more and more spaced apart, with Gerald.

"No, I already cancelled on them. I already fought with May over this, now please just come over"

"I'm sorry you fought with May" Gerald couldn't stand May, but he knew his friend loved her, and he didn't want to make him fight with her. "Call her make up and go somewhere with her. I probably will be too tired for anything but sleep after work anyways."

Michael was pissed, he'd heard enough. "Fine what ever, just get out of the car. I don't know why I even bother."

"Michael, don't get mad at me. I just don't want to bother you."

"I am mad, you need to quit that shit. You don't bother me. I want to spend time with you. I made time in my schedule for you. Don't you think you could do the same for me?" Gerald looked down at his hands. Michael sighed; he hated how much Gerald would put himself down. "Just stay over, please?" Gerald nodded

"I work a double shift. I won't be out till 8"

"I'll be here at 8"