2.14 Where Have You Been

February stared down at the test in her hand and waited for the imminent shock and fear she knew she should be feeling to take its hold on her.  It was hard to believe that what ultimately amounted to nothing but a small, cheap bit of plastic could hold the power to alter her life so drastically…yet there she was, sitting on the edge of the bathtub in her family’s tiny bathroom, feeling nothing but wave after wave of numbness.  The four short months since February’d awakened  groggy and confused in her parents’ bed next to Hector seemed like an eternity ago.  She had at first believed herself small again, snuggled deep under the comfort of her parents’ presence after waking from a childhood nightmare, until she’d seen Hector’s shock of red hair and all of the sorrowful memories had come flooding back.

A solitary tear trailed its lonely way down February’s cheek now as she continued to stare blankly at the device confirming what she had been suspecting for some time now.  At first, she hadn’t thought much of it when her cycles had stopped; she’d blamed stress from losing her parents, and, of course, her own act of betrayal without stopping to think that sleeping with Hector maybe had more to do with missing her periods than just causing her some emotional anguish.  Then her weight had started climbing, while certain smells and foods made her stomach turn.  Suspicions had begun weighing on her mind at that point, but she ignored them in the hopes that the problem wouldn’t exist so long as she failed to acknowledge it.  However, Martin Luther, who was spending more and more time out of the house now that he’d secured a job as a stylist at the local salon, took one look at his sister after not seeing her for about a week and remarked, “You’re having his baby…what a wonderful way to show how much you love him?”

“Oh, shut up,” February snapped, glowering moodily at her brother.  Martin Luther raised his eyebrows but refrained from making any additional comments.  Later that evening, February had found the pregnancy test sitting unobtrusively on her bed and had finally condescended to face the consequences of her actions.

“Well,” she sighed, tucking the used kit in the trashcan and wiping her face.  “I guess it’s time to talk to Cameron.”

****

Cameron was just heading out of the Wan household where he’d been hanging out all evening when his cell phone rang.  The sight of February’s name on his screen set his pulse racing, just as it had been since the day she’d been assigned his lab partner in high school so many years ago.  He hadn’t heard much from her in the past few months since her dad had died, so he was naturally elated that she was actually calling him for a change.

“Hey beautiful, what’s up?  It’s good to hear your voice,” Cameron enthused, then sobered as he registered February’s somber tone.   “You need to talk?  Nothing too bad, I hope,” he joked, hoping to lighten the mood; unfortunately, his forced joviality did nothing to improve February’s spirits.  If anything, she actually sounded even sadder when she asked if it was all right for her to come by his house.  “Oh, hey, don’t worry about coming all the way out there; I’m just over at the Wan’s house; it’d be much easier to meet me here, or I can come to you — no?  Ok…if you’re sure…I can’t wait to see you.”  Cameron hung up, concern creasing his features.  The last time he’d heard February sound quite so serious had been the time she’d met him at the stadium to break things off with him.  He had instantly known that day what her intentions had been, and, although he’d never been sure why she hadn’t gone through with it, he’d always been grateful that she had seemed to change her mind.  He’d also been relieved when she stopped hanging around that Hector guy so much; there had been a time when he’d really begun to think that something might be going on between them.  Trying to calm his nerves, Cameron settled down on the steps of the Wan’s front porch to anxiously wait for his girlfriend to arrive.

It wasn’t long before February rounded the corner and began to make her way down the street.  Excitement burst through Cameron at the sight of her in spite of the likelihood that she bore bad news; he jumped to his feet to greet her, then paused uncertainly.  He had actually seen February even less than he’d spoken to her since the death of her dad; he had been aware that February was avoiding him, but believed at the time that she had merely wished to grieve in private.  Now, cold dread poured like ice water down his heart as he regarded the figure of his girlfriend.  There was something subtly different about her, a foreign fullness that he may not have noticed had he seen her on a more regular basis.  He stood still and watched her slow approach until she stopped a few feet from him and regarded him solemnly.

“Hello, Cameron.”

“‘Lo, February.”  February hesitated a moment, struck by their sudden formality.  “I have something to tell you,” she finally murmured.

“You do.”  Meant as a question, Cameron’s utterance came out as a flat statement instead.  February flushed, then took a deep breath and began.

“Cameron, I…we’ve been together a long time, and you know that I love you…”  February paused, possibly waiting for Cameron to say something to encourage her; when he remained silent, she forced herself to continue.

“I…know this is going to be hard to take but…Cameron, I’m pregnant,” February finally managed to blurt out.

For a long moment, Cameron simply stared at February.  He wanted to feel surprise, shock, even anger, but all he seemed to feel as he looked into the tear-filled eyes of the girl he’d loved since they were teenagers was numbness.

“It’s Hector’s, isn’t it?” he asked quietly.  February nodded and then began spilling out  an explanation as to why it had all happened.  Cameron watched her silently, listening to the river of words she was pouring at his feet like an offering of wine, but not really hearing anything she was saying.  A spark of anger finally began to grow, fed by the sheer volume of sounds February was relentlessly expelling.

“Stop.  Just…stop talking.  Everything that’s coming out of your mouth is garbage,” he fumed.  Shocked, February tasted rich, coppery blood coat her bitten tongue as she abruptly snapped her mouth closed.

“How could you do this to me, to us?” Cameron continued.  “I love you….I changed everything for you.  I tried to give you space, and this is what you do?  You go behind my back and get yourself knocked up like…like some kind of back alley tramp??”  February cringed, but Cameron was too consumed with hurt and anger to notice, or care if he had.  “I know you, I know you better than everyone else, even that little red-headed freak you hang around with…I know why you did this.  I know it’s all about your parents, but dammit, February, why didn’t you come to ME for once?”

“I…I…I’m so sorry, Cameron, so sorry, please…you’re right, I should have come to you when my dad…just please —,” February stammered through the rain of tears that flooded her face and clogged her throat.  Cameron’s anger boiled over at the mere sight of her.

“Shut up!  Shut up!” he screamed, completely losing control of his temper.  “Just get away from me!  I don’t even want to look at you anymore!”

Terrified, February broke down.  “No, no, please Cameron, I love you so much, I do, please, I just want things to be ok, please…”  Cameron glared at her as she dissolved in tears in front of him, his face impassive.

“Go home, February.  Just…go,” he advised stonily before turning away from her and walking back into the Wan home, leaving February no choice but to return to her own house, exhausted and broken.

2.13 Brokenhearted

click click clack click clack clack…

February had been sitting in front of the computer for well over an hour, simply staring blankly at the screen, before the right words  to express the idea she’d been brewing finally began to leak into her brain.  Writing had always seemed like the obvious choice for her as a career…long hours of quiet solitude, setting her own hours, and working exclusively with her own ideas…so she was surprised when composing her first novel turned out to be a struggle for her.

“Dad could have warned me,” February had thought grumpily when she had first taken her place at the desk in the wee hours of the morning.  “But then, THAT might have required actual communication of some sort.”  A stab of guilt pierced February’s heart at what she perceived as an uncharitable thought towards her father…true, Connor had always been known for being pretty taciturn, but he had lost his wife only months ago.  With a sigh, February laboriously began the process of putting her thoughts onto paper.  Martin Luther got up to find his sister furiously typing away, her thoughts having finally begun to find their flow, and had unobtrusively settled himself at the kitchen table with his breakfast when Connor unexpectedly stepped out of his room.

“Kids,” he began awkwardly, training his gaze at his shoes rather than at his children, “I’m going to be going out in a bit to visit with your Uncle Jared.”  February spun in her seat and gaped openly at her father, all of her carefully constructed plot lines forgotten instantly.  Martin Luther, on the other hand, merely nodded approvingly.  “Good vibrations,” he mumbled through a mouthful of cereal.  “We are family.”  Connor nodded hesitantly at his son before shuffling back into his room and quietly closing the door.  Utterly perplexed, February swung her baffled gaze from her parents’ bedroom door to Martin Luther.  “What,” she demanded “was that all about?”  For once, however, Martin Luther seemed to have nothing to say; he merely smiled enigmatically at his sister and slurped noisily at his Frosted Llamas.   “Whatever,” February muttered, rolling her eyes and resettling herself in front of the computer.   She had only just regained her lost train of thought when the jarring notes of Martin Luther’s ringtone cut through her senses, sending everything she had just come up with dancing away just out of her reach once again.

“Martin Luther!” February shrieked, slamming her hand on the keyboard in frustration, “Seriously??”  Martin Luther grinned a bit evilly at his sister before pressing the “receive” button and holding the phone to his ear.  He didn’t say “hello;” he never did unless he was sure of the caller’s identity.  “Could be a stranger,” he would explain.  February couldn’t believe he still hadn’t gotten past the whole “stranger danger” thing…honestly, he was so weird.  She crossed her eyes and stuck her tongue out, trying hard to distract her brother, but, aside from the tips of his ears flushing crimson, Martin Luther failed to take February’s bait.  Shrugging dismissively, February was just beginning to turn her attention once more to her slowly developing novel when Martin Luther’s face suddenly changed.  Before February’s concerned eyes, the somewhat vague smile that normally adorned her brother’s face slipped from his lips and his shoulders fell into a dismal slump.  “What is it?” February hissed, “What is going on?”  In response, Martin Luther wordlessly held his cell phone out to his sister.  With trepidation, February accepted the device and held it to her ear, expecting to hear Tam on the other end explaining that he no longer wanted to be Martin Luther’s boyfriend.  Instead, the distinct tones of Pauline Wan came shrieking through the earpiece.

“You hear me, Martin Luther??  Your uncle, he is dead in my house!  You come get him RIGHT NOW!”

“Oh, my Plumbob…” February murmured.  Quickly, she identified herself to Pauline, who wasted no time in explaining that Uncle Jared had come to visit the Wan home a few hours earlier before succumbing to a heart attack in their living room.  “I don’t want no stinky old dead man in front of my t.v. while I watch my shows!  You come get him right now!” Pauline was quick to add at the end of her shrill tirade.  “Erm…I think you’ll need to call the police about actually, ah, picking him up —” February managed before Pauline interrupted with an outraged squeal.  “Police?!  No way, that good for nothing scumbag Hank Goddard is police.  No way he stepping foot in my house!”  After several more minutes, February finally convinced Pauline to call Jared’s longtime girlfriend, Claire Ursine, while February contacted the police station, on the condition that the “good for nothing Officer Scumbag” not be assigned the case, of course.

“This can not be happening,” February groaned after disconnecting the call.  “Dad’s finally starting to get out of his funk and now we’ve gotta tell him that his brother just died.”

“What…?”  Unnoticed in all of the commotion, Connor had crept out of his room just in time to hear February’s upsetting proclamation.  February exchanged a horrified glance with her brother before turning concerned eyes to the suddenly ashen countenance of her father.  “My brother…?” Connor asked feebly, his trembling hand pressed tightly against his chest.

“He…died this morning, Dad; I’m so sorry….we’ll take care of everything, you won’t have to worry about — Dad?  Daddy?!”  As February spoke, Connor seemed to melt into himself until he was lying in a limp heap on the ground.  Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion, yet far too fast for February to react at all.  Instead, Martin Luther made his way across the kitchen and knelt by his fallen father’s side, carefully cradling Connor’s slackened hand with more gentleness than February had been aware her brother was capable of.  After several tense moments, February tentatively called Martin Luther’s name; Martin Luther met her eyes and slowly shook his head.  “Another one bites the dust,” he intoned solemnly.

****

Well, people, this is it.  This is the moment right here that changed everything…although I guess you could say that it all really started after my mom died.  You know, I never could quite recall my exact actions right after Martin Luther’s little pronouncement…I don’t know why I automatically went to Hector instead of Cameron, unless it was ’cause Hector was with me when Mom passed and so maybe I thought he could help me get through Dad’s death, too….I dunno.  I guess it doesn’t really make any sense.  I really didn’t mean for the rest of it to happen; I barely even remember the rest of it happening…I remember showing up at Hector’s house right after he got home from work….I remember crying a lot, thinking that he looked really great in his work suit, feeling guilty about thinking that, and crying some more.  He convinced me to let him take me to the Bistro ’cause I was starving, and I felt guilty about that, too, because that would leave Martin Luther to take care of Dad all alone…but Hector reminded me that I had had to take care of Mom all alone, so it was only fair.  And then….well, and then I asked him to spend the night with me.  Well, not with me, but you know, at my house…I didn’t even want to go back, honestly, but I didn’t know where else to go…yeah, I know, this is the part where I probably should have called Cameron…I should have.  I know.  But I didn’t.

When we got to my place, it was all still and cold, and I honestly didn’t think Martin Luther was even home.  I told Hector he could take Martin Luther’s bed, and then I got into the shower.  When I got out, there was a light on in my parents’ room…I figured it must’ve been left on by mistake, but when I went in to turn it off, there was Hector, sleeping in my parents’ bed.  See, Martin Luther was in his own room, but I didn’t know that, and Hector got confused and just went into my parents’ room instead.  He didn’t know any better, but I totally freaked out.  I woke him up, crying like some kind of psycho, and he tried to calm me down…and…I don’t know, one minute I’m crying, and the next minute he’s kissing me, and, and….well.  I guess you probably can figure out the rest for yourselves.

2.12 Somebody that I Used to Know

The hot sun beat down on Martin Luther’s head, exacerbating the heat already generated by the stiff mortar board he wore.  He stood patiently by the rose trellis his mother had planted soon after their house had been built while February cooed and fawned over him, snapping picture after picture of him in his cumbersome graduation gown.

In the months following January’s death, the remaining members of the Callender family had each tried in their own way to knit themselves back together, with varying degrees of success.  In spite of her resolution, February had not managed to break things off with Cameron after all.  Cameron seemed so different to her now, though still the same handsome guy she’d danced the night away with at Prom. As they’d talked and caught up the day after January’s unexpected passing, February came to discover that, although she did have feelings for Hector, she still cared for Cameron as well.  Martin Luther, on the other hand, had been forced to cool his romance with Tam down a bit after his eighteenth birthday, as Legacy Town kept strict regulations regarding teen-adult relationships.  Ever rebellious, Tam had initially balked at Martin Luther’s adherence to Legacy Town laws, but when Martin Luther’s resolve remained firm, Tam had reluctantly followed suit as well.

Meanwhile, Connor, never having been one for familial bonding in the first place, seemed to withdraw even deeper within himself after losing January.  Connor had been alone with his wife at the time of her unexpected death, so it had fallen to him to tell both of his children the grim news.  Afterward, he had retreated into a deep, impenetrable silence, leaving February and Martin Luther to deal with all of the details surrounding putting January to rest.  Bewildered by all of the responsibility, February had elected to quietly have January cremated; Connor kept her remains in a small, plain box in their bedroom, which he rarely vacated.  Connor’s total disengagement terrified February, as much for Martin Luther’s sake as for her own.  As kids, Martin Luther had always been the one to seek out his big sister while she had always shunned him; now, guilt-ridden, February attempted to be both mother and father to her younger brother.

In actuality, Martin Luther was truly fine.  While Connor grieved for his wife and February mourned the loss of any opportunity to forge much-needed connections with her mother, Martin Luther had concluded long before January’s actual death that his mother was absent from his life.  While January’s physical disappearance seemed to matter much less to Martin Luther than it did for Connor or February, Martin Luther recognized his sister’s gestures toward him and appreciated her concern.

“It’s kind of nice, to have family,” he thought idly as he landed a gorgeous rainbow trout several weeks after his graduation ceremony.  He’d taken up fishing soon after his eighteenth birthday as a distraction from Tam, whose physical demands had started becoming more…demanding.  Although Tam had gotten much better about the hands-off approach more recently, Martin Luther found that he still enjoyed the peaceful solitude he could find when casting a reel and pulling in various forms of aquatic life.  It was nice to have family, but it was also nice to get away from them occasionally.  February was being almost too nice to him and his dad lately.  It was as if she were trying to cram about eighteen years’ worth of solicitude and family bonding time into a few months.  Martin Luther didn’t quite have the heart to just ignore her, as Connor was wont to do, but neither could he simply wake up one day and pretend they were all one happy family.  Luckily, February had been seeing more of Cameron again, and, between him and Hector, February hadn’t quite managed to smother her father and brother to death — yet, anyway.

“Still, Martin Luther considered as he gently released the trout back into its pond, “at least she’s trying…which is certainly more than I can say for that little traitor Marie.  Maybe I should help her out…she can’t get through to Dad, but maybe Uncle Jared can.”  Martin Luther knew that Connor and his brother had once been close, but, after Connor’s marriage to January, Connor had become something of a recluse and the relationship between the brothers had suffered.  Connor hadn’t spoken to Jared for years, and Martin Luther was sure he’d never actually met his uncle.  Seeing no real reason to begin letting little things like common social formalities stop him now, Martin Luther gamely made his way across town to the small house that Jared lived in.

****

Darkness had nearly fallen by the time Martin Luther returned home.  February and Cameron had apparently just come in from the water slide and were standing at the kitchen table in their bathing suits, flirting and dripping all over the floor.

Martin Luther paid them no mind as he crossed the house to the bedroom his parents had shared.  Cameron had grown up quite a bit since that long-ago day that Martin Luther had accosted him from the safety of his tree house, and Martin Luther was glad to see his sister happy; nevertheless, he remained convinced that Cameron was still a stranger with no possibility of becoming a permanent fixture in the Callender home.  Gingerly, he knocked on his parents’ bedroom door before opening it to face his father.  Connor sat very still on the edge of the bed he’d shared with January for so many years.  The furniture now seemed too big for his slight frame.  He raised his eyes slowly, barely acknowledging his son’s presence.

“Hey Dad.  I just came in to say that I visited Uncle Jared today.  You know, he’s not heavy.  He’s your brother,” Martin Luther announced.  His abrupt statement earned him a raised eyebrow from Connor but little else.  “So anyway,” Martin Luther continued, unfazed, “He’s hardly a stranger in the night.  But nothing lasts forever, especially candles and rain.  Everyone eventually spreads their broken wings and flies away, but before that, you have to lift your sunken eyes so you can see.  Got it?”  Before Connor had a chance to answer, Martin Luther had closed the door, leaving his father alone with his thoughts and memories once more.

For long moments, Connor remained still, staring at the wall and contemplating Martin Luther’s words.  Regrets…he had so many of them.  His son was a very strange boy, but Connor knew that he had a good heart.  February…she was so much like her father, always content to be alone, always unsure of what her next step should be.  He knew that he had failed them both in many ways, but they, at least, had had the benefit of his physical presence.  He didn’t know their older half-siblings at all.  He had left his first wife, Janis, while their daughter Delilah was still only a toddler.  He’d never bothered to look back.  Harrison, his son with his  ex-girlfriend Diana, had hardly fared better; he used to come around from time to time as a child, but eventually had given up on Connor and moved on with his life.  Why had Connor let them go?  Why had he allowed everyone he loved to slip away?

Suddenly he rose from the bed, an unfamiliar firmness fixing his chin.  “Why am I just sitting here moping about the past?” he thought.  “The past is over and done with…but I’m still here.  My kids are still here.  My brother is still here…but Martin Luther is right.  He won’t be around forever.  None of us will be.  It’s time to start fixing things…it’s time to go visit Jared.  Right now.  Well…” Connor’s gaze fell upon the darkened window pane that divided his room from the night that had long since settled in.  The hour had grown much later than he’d realized.  “First thing tomorrow morning,” he amended, and settled back onto his mattress with a sigh to wait for another long, sleepless night to slowly pass.

2.11 We are Young

Groggily, February prized open her heavy lids and surveyed her unfamiliar surroundings.  She was lying fully clothed in a strange bed in someone else’s room….why?  Then, with a sudden rush of agonizing clarity, February remembered: her mother was gone.  She was in Hector’s house.  Although merely hours ago, the recollection of Hector explaining apologetically that his home housed only one bed, which was normally shared by himself and his aging, senile mother, seemed a distant memory.

“I know it sounds utterly bizarre, but she would never allow us to spend the night in the same room, even though there’s nothing at all like that between us.  I would take the couch myself, but Mother is nothing if not eccentric and it would really be best if you stayed in the living room.”  February smiled thinly and assured Hector that she honestly didn’t mind, and she was so sorry for inconveniencing his family.  However, after a long, uncomfortable night on the Cusack-Little’s lumpy, decrepit couch, February found herself still awake in the early hours of the morning as Hector’s mother left for work.  Too exhausted to register any idea of pride, February had crept into bed with Hector and fallen deeply asleep.  Now, in the lucidity brought on by a new day, February felt ashamed of herself.  It was time for her to stop acting like an irresponsible teenager and grow up.  It was time to stop disrespecting Cameron and end things with him, no matter the future she and Hector had — or didn’t have — together.

Dreading the inevitable, but relieved that a decision had finally been made, February left a note thanking Hector and his mother for their hospitality and traveled across town to Cameron’s house where, to her surprise, his dad informed her that Cameron was working over at the stadium.  Curious, February made her way to the stadium to visit her estranged beau.  Cameron’s eyes lit up at the sight of her.

“Febs!  Oh my God, what are you doing here?  You look amazing!” Cameron enthused, wrapping February in a giant bear hug.

“Uh, hi Cameron,” February replied, somewhat taken aback.  “I came to talk…do you have a minute?”

“For you…I’ve got all the time in the world,” Cameron answered, smiling in the charming, rakish way February knew so well.  February took a deep breath, sat in the chair Cameron offered, and began.

****

Tam couldn’t understand how it had happened.  One minute he was plotting Martin Luther’s unpleasant demise, the next he was making out with him…what could possibly have gone wrong?  It was as if he’d been bewitched.  Since Prom, Martin Luther frequently asked if Tam would like to come over; every time, Tam would accept, convincing himself that the only reason he was visiting the Callender home was to increase his arsenal against Martin Luther….yet each and every time, he and Martin Luther would wind up spending hours playing Gnubb, or just talking.  Tam told himself, and anyone else that would listen, that he hated every moment of time he was forced to spend with Martin Luther…but his claims never stopped him from continuing to see the young man.

Like most of his peers, Dwayne Langerak-Bunch was too afraid of Tam to bother trying to refute his allegations; however, Dwayne bore no fear at all towards Martin Luther.  In some obscure way unbeknownst to him, Martin Luther had managed somehow to steal Tam’s heart, and everyone in school — with the exception of Tam — knew it.  Dwayne felt hurt, angry, and humiliated, and, as Tam was out of his reach, Dwayne was determined to get back at Martin Luther, one way or another.  Brief as his fling with Tam had been, Dwayne had managed to pick up a few tricks in the duration and slowly began an invasive campaign against Martin Luther’s emotions.  Within Martin Luther’s hearing — though never while he was in Tam’s company — Dwayne casually began to bring Tam up to other students.  When merely commenting on conversations that Dwayne pretended he and Tam had had on the phone the night before didn’t seem to affect Martin Luther, Dwayne decided it was time to up the ante a little bit and started having imaginary exchanges with Tam on his cell.

“Oh, hey, Tam,” Dwayne began at the end of one day while waiting outside the school for his ride home.  Martin Luther was standing nearby, seemingly lost in his own thoughts.  Dwayne watched him surreptitiously out of the corner of his eye as he continued with his inventive monologue.  “Oh my God, I had the greatest time last night!  How did you know how much I love the Bistro?”  Dwayne paused a moment, allowing “Tam” time to reply, then tittered coquettishly and simpered, “Oh, I know what you mean…some people just can’t seem to take a hint.  You’re just too sweet to say no to anyone!  Anyway, I’m glad for any time you can get away from your little leech and spend time with moi.”  Martin Luther frowned, and Dwayne smiled coyly to himself, pleased with the small crack in his rival’s demeanor.

While Dwayne cooed senseless endearments into his powered-off phone, Martin Luther mulled the apparent situation over in his mind.  Tam had been hanging out with him a lot lately, which was nice; he didn’t seem to mind most of the things Martin Luther said anymore, and he appeared to like kissing, which was VERY nice.  But Tam had never said that Martin Luther was his boyfriend, and, from the sound of things, was actually more interested in Dwayne.  Understandably, Martin Luther was a little hurt by this revelation, but, since Tam had been kind to him and willing to accept him for who he was, Martin Luther was determined that he would pay Tam the same consideration.  After all, Marie had always taught him that if something didn’t belong to him, he needed to leave it alone…or did she say he needed to steal it…?  Martin Luther only wished that Tam had been honest with him from the start.  However, now that Martin Luther knew the truth, he was determined to set things right.  Grimly, he approached Dwayne.

“Dwayne.  I hear you like the Bistro.  Would you want to come with me and have…some Bistro food, or whatever it is they do over there?” he asked his astonished schoolmate.  Too nonplussed to respond otherwise, Dwayne nodded dumbly and the two boys made their way to the little greasy spoon in the center of town.  Once seated, Martin Luther, never one to mince words, folded his arms and surveyed Dwayne seriously from across the table.  “So,” he began, “you and Tam are a ‘thing.'”  Surprised, Dwayne hesitated.  Lying would be easy, and probably effective; however, should Martin Luther talk with Tam about Dwayne’s behavior, everything up to this point could be explained away as merely a misunderstanding on Martin Luther’s part.  Dwayne wasn’t afraid of Martin Luther, but Tam was known to be unpredictable and violent.  Stalling, Dwayne shifted his eyes askance and asked, “What would give you that idea?”

“Don’t play games with me, Langerak,” Martin Luther growled, leaning over the table to fix narrowed eyes upon the other boy.  “I know you two have been talking; you’ve practically drawn it all over a newspaper and rubbed my face in it.”

“I…don’t know what that means,” Dwayne began, but was abruptly cut off when Martin Luther banged his hand loudly on the table.  “Can it, Langerak.  I’m not an idiot, and Tam knows that.  If he didn’t tell me about you, it was because he didn’t want to hurt me.”  Martin Luther sank down in his seat, suddenly defeated.  “If he wants you, then I want that for him.  That’s what people do when they love someone, not tie them up and throw them in a trash can full of fire.”

“….what are you even talking about?” Dwayne sputtered.  “Are you saying that Tam is going to set me on fire?!”  Martin Luther gave Dwayne a long, searching look.

“No…” he said slowly, “I’m saying that love is a battlefield, and that sometimes it lasts, but sometimes it hurts instead.”  Rather than calming his schoolmate, however, Martin Luther’s words seemed only to panic Dwayne further.  Wracking his brain in one last attempt to find words to convey his meaning, Martin Luther raised his voice and began gesticulating frantically, hoping his hand motions would make his words clearer.  “People you love are like boomerangs,” he practically shouted.  “You throw them, and they come back and hit you in the head, really, really hard, if they’re supposed to be with you.”  Dwayne’s eyes grew larger and larger with every word that Martin Luther spoke, inadvertently causing Martin Luther to increase both his volume and the intensity of his gestures until finally Dwayne jumped from his seat and began backing towards the door.

“O–okay,” he stammered, “I get it.  If I don’t leave you and Tam alone, you will set me on fire and beat me in the head.  I won’t bother you anymore, I swear, just…just don’t hurt me, okay?”  Without waiting for an answer, the terrified boy threw himself through the door of the Bistro and took off towards home, convinced he had underestimated Martin Luther and resolved to avoid both him and Tam as much as possible in the future.

Back at the Bistro, Martin Luther remained seated for a long while, pondering the odd behavior of Dwayne Langerak-Bunch.  It appeared that he’d never managed to get the kid to understand what he’d been trying to convey, no matter how intelligible Martin Luther had been.  Clearly, Dwayne was either outrageously stupid or highly unstable.  Either way, Martin Luther decided as he got ready to return home, it was probably best if he just avoided Dwayne as much as possible in the future.

2.10 Turn Up the Music

This isn’t real.

This isn’t real.

This isn’t real.

Dimly, February could hear Hector trying to soothe her as she sobbed uncontrollably onto his shoulder.  This isn’t real.  She couldn’t believe what her father had said, couldn’t believe that January, her mom, was really just…gone.  She had faithfully maintained her position as CEO of a major corporation while juggling her gardening and the housework.  Martin Luther was still a teenager in high school, for crying out loud, and February hadn’t had time to make up her mind about who she should settle down with…this wasn’t real.  This couldn’t be real.  January had been so (distant) vibrant and full of life…this wasn’t happening.  This wasn’t real.  She would never see her grandchildren.

****

This isn’t real…

“You can’t be serious,” Tam said incredulously.  For the second time in one day, he had been on the receiving end of surprising phone calls.  What exactly had gotten into the normally predictable residents of Legacy Town?

“Well, no, I can’t be, because I’m Martin Luther,” Tam’s “prom date” answered calmly enough.  “But my mom is dead apparently so I don’t think I should go to Prom.”  For once, Tam was struck speechless.  In all of his wildest dreams of orchestrating Martin Luther’s eventual humiliation at his hands, he had never even considered the possibility that Martin Luther would not actually come to the dance with him.  Not that he supposed it mattered, as that Richards-Calvert goon had quite inconveniently dropped out of Tam’s plans.  Still, Tam was certain he could come up with an adequate plot that he could easily enough fulfill on his own…without implicating himself, of course.  However, he could do absolutely nothing unless Martin Luther agreed to come to the Prom with him.

“Martin, I’m so sorry to hear about your mother,” Tam purred smoothly.  “Please, allow me to take you to the dance tonight anyway…the last thing you need is to be rattling around in that house filled with memories.  I would be perfectly honored to have your company for the evening so that I might take your mind off of your sadness, even if only for a few hours.”  Martin Luther was silent for so long that Tam was sure for a moment that he’d been hung up on; he only let out a long breath he hadn’t been aware of holding once he finally heard the older boy agree — albeit reluctantly — that leaving the house might not be such a bad idea, especially given that she was still around.  “Although if she follows us, there could be trouble,” Martin Luther added just before disconnecting the call.  “She does best where there’s not much light.”

****

February, grief-stricken and confused, found herself torn both with feelings of unendurable sadness and almost irresistible longing. Her mom was gone forever, but Hector was just so…nice. It felt so good being held in his arms, so different from being with Cameron…but Hector had Kurt; how could February cause someone the same sort of pain her mom had caused by getting together with her dad?  Thinking of January brought February full circle; she couldn’t stand the thought of returning to the home where her mom had just died.

“Hector,” she gulped, “Would you mind terribly if I stayed here, just for tonight.  I don’t think I can…”  she trailed off doubtfully, wondering what Hector must think of her for even considering such a request.  But Hector just smiled and wiped her tears gently away with his thumb.

“Sure!” he agreed, “What are friends for?”  His use of the word “friends” put an inexplicable dagger in February’s heart.

****

The gymnasium was loud, dark, and crowded, much like the state of Tam’s mind.  He scanned the crowd sulkily, wondering if his so-called boyfriend, Dwayne Langerak-Bunch, had really had the nerve to show up.  He was still irritated about the little fit Dwayne had pitched when Tam informed him that he’d be taking Martin Luther to the Prom.  Relationship status notwithstanding, Tam could take anyone he pleased anywhere he liked, and if the Langerak twit couldn’t handle it, then he was welcome to take his prehistoric misconceptions of relationships and stuff them.  As if Tam even relished the idea of spending the evening in the company of the town imbecile.  Tam cast a withering look in Martin Luther’s direction and frowned.  Martin Luther had been unusually quiet on the ride to the school and remained rather subdued, almost austere, even in the midst of the standard juvenile frivolity present at all high school social events.  In the dim lighting, his face appeared solemn and vulnerable — somehow, he appeared to be both the little boy he’d been not too long ago and the man he was soon to become.  Watching him sent unfamiliar feelings rocketing through Tam’s gut, piercing his heart and clouding his intentions.  Scowling, he grabbed Martin Luther’s arm.

“Would you like to dance?” Tam asked, attempting to keep his tone light.  Offering a bemused smile, Martin Luther obligingly allowed Tam to escort him onto the dance floor.  The music drifted into a dreamy ballad, prompting the young couples to clutch each other tighter; warily, Tam followed suit, carefully cradling Martin Luther’s body against his own.  “You know,” Martin Luther began, suddenly breaking the stillness that had grown between them, “I know what you really think of me.”

“You do?” Tam replied, honestly caught off guard for once.

“Of course.  I’m not stupid, you know.  I hear things….I mean, outside of my head.  I know you think I’m foolish and ridiculous, and you’re right.  I am.  But it’s only because I’m afraid.”

“Afraid?  Of what?” Tam prompted, curious in spite of himself, as Martin Luther drifted once more into silence.

“Of being alone,” Martin Luther answered softly.  “But…now I know.  We’re all alone.  Surrounded by people, we’re still alone.  We live and we will die alone, and –”  But Tam could bear to hear no more of Martin Luther’s words and, to stifle him, bent his head forward and crushed the boy’s lips to his own in a searing kiss.

****

2.9 Without You

February was spending yet another relaxing, stress-free afternoon with Hector.  Hector had been accepted into an accelerated program and soon graduated far ahead of the rest of his peers, finally giving February the encouragement she needed to pursue more than a casual acquaintance with him.  Despite his youth, Hector had high hopes of reaching out to kids and someday becoming a principal…dreams that differed so much from Cameron, who had barely finished high school and seemed to prefer ensuring that youngsters needed counseling to counseling them himself.  Today, February and Hector had met at the beach and spent most of the day laughing, talking — and flirting.  February felt a little guilty about that last bit, but, as Hector was involved with an individual named Kurt, February had deduced that all of the teasing and hand holding she and Hector participated in was all in harmless fun.  In the midst of giggling through one of Hector’s flowery compliments, February glanced behind Hector’s shoulder and froze in horror — Cameron was seated on a bench several feet away.  In the space of a few panicked seconds, February’s mind blazed through the various possibilities associated with encountering her boyfriend while cavorting about with another man without his knowledge, innocently or not.  February knew that her mother had practically stolen her father not from one, but from two women, and she didn’t want to repeat the sins of her mother; but she couldn’t deny the attraction she felt towards Hector.  She considered breaking things off with Cameron for good, but she didn’t like the idea of feeling like she belonged to Hector, either. Besides — Hector had a boyfriend. Instead, she and Hector made their way to the Bistro for dinner and February put Cameron out of her mind.

Unbeknownst to February, the site of her with another man struck Cameron to the core. He was terribly hurt by her transgressions…but he didn’t blame her; he had always known how uncomfortable she was dating the town bully and thug. He’d never really thought he could lose her because of it, though.  He stayed on the bench overlooking the beach, staring moodily at the spot where he’d watched his girl flirting with that red-headed little freak he used to give swirlies to back in the day.  He clenched his fists in rage and then sighed sadly, slowly releasing his anger — who was he kidding?  He was just some chump guy getting his thrills by picking on kids that couldn’t defend themselves…he’d never deserved a great girl like February, and it wasn’t anyone’s fault but his own that she’d finally started to figure it out.  But…maybe it wasn’t too late; after all, February hadn’t actually dumped him, yet.  Perhaps it was time to give up his nefarious titles and get a decent job, maybe at the stadium…he’d always loved Simball and Simby as a kid, and he’d been pretty decent; maybe he could get on one of the local teams and give February a reason to be proud to be his girlfriend.  However, before he could start focusing on his new career goals, he had to take care of a little business first.  Steeling his resolve, Cameron pulled his cell phone out and dialed Tam’s number.

“Hey Tam, this is Cameron.  Look, man, about the plan for tonight…I’m out.”

“What?!” Tam growled, his outrage palpable even through the phone connection.  “You can’t be ‘out.’  Prom is tonight…there’s no time to find someone else.”

“Well, maybe that’s for the best,” Cameron said reasonably.  “I don’t know what your problem is with Martin Luther…he’s not a bad kid.  Just a little unstable.  And what you’re planning on doing to him..it’s just vile, dude.”

“Technically,” Tam snarled, “I wasn’t planning on doing anything to the little cretin.  I merely masterminded the plan; the doing was all supposed to be your job. ”

“Whatever, dude.  It’s off now.  Find some other way to get your dirty work done,” Cameron replied before disconnecting the call.  He remained on the bench for a long while cradling his cell, half-expecting Tam to call back with a mouthful of vinegar and threats.  Cameron knew that Tam wasn’t a Sim to be toyed with, and crossing him could be dangerous…however, for the first time since early high school, Cameron finally felt good about himself.  He knew he’d made the right decision, and, with luck, February would recognize his good intentions and find her way back to him.  With that in mind, Cameron finally rose from his seat and made his way towards the stadium.

****

Across town, Connor Callendar had just ended an unpleasant call of his own.  His children’s distraught sobs still rang in his ears as he slowly made his way through the empty house.  He knew that neither February or Martin Luther could really believe the words he’d been forced to say to each of them…he could still hardly believe it himself.

January was dead.

2.8 Set Fire to the Rain

With the awkward days of high school social life finally behind her, February began to settle into what she fervently hoped would be a lucrative — and relatively solitary — career of penning novels.  Although she and Cameron continued to share an exclusive relationship, she saw less and less of the neighborhood thug…but more and more of her brother’s young friend, Hector.  As a result, February found her feelings for her high school sweetheart fluctuating: she really cared for Cameron; after all, he *was* the first boy who had ever noticed her, and he seemed to accept her for who she was…but she just couldn’t ignore her feelings of unease surrounding his “extracurricular activities,” especially when her own little brother was becoming more eccentric by the day.  Martin Luther was a prime target for the type of bullying she had heard Cameron and his cronies excelled in — first, obviously, had been the disturbing matter of the doll, and now Martin Luther appeared to be canvassing the neighborhood making a fool out of himself over other boys.  February wasn’t quite sure what all the attention Martin Luther was paying to his male peers meant…of course she knew of a few gay couples in the area, but…was that what Martin Luther was?  She had never thought of him as being gay, never really thought of him as anything at all, so wrapping her head around the idea that he might be romantically involved with anyone was something of a feat for her.

Perhaps February would have been relieved to find that, in spite of his best intentions, Martin Luther wasn’t actually “romantically involved” with anyone.  He had his eye on a number of eligible young men around Legacy Town, but, unfortunately, most had quite a hard time understanding him, especially when he went on one of his tangents about feminine conspiracies.  Many refused to hang out with him a second time after Martin Luther would spend the majority of their first meeting up seemingly arguing madly with himself, so no one was more surprised than Martin Luther when darkly handsome Tam Butterfield agreed to go to Prom with Martin Luther.  Tam was everything Martin Luther was not — rich, dark skin and cool ebony eyes where Martin Luther was always pale and somewhat wild-eyed; confident and dismissive while Martin Luther was edgy and eager to please.  Naturally, most of Legacy Town was convinced that Tam was merely toying with the crazy Callender boy, especially since rumor had it that Tam enjoyed running in the same sort of circles that Cameron was involved with.  However, had any of them had an inkling what sort of plans Tam had involving Martin Luther, even the hardest among them may have attempted to intervene on Martin Luther’s behalf…

Although openly gay, Tam despised the overtly flamboyant attitude that the younger Callender kid had adopted.  Martin Luther was constantly parading himself around, flirting with anything carrying a Y chromosome, and generally making himself out to be an idiot — thus, by default, making even the most respectable homosexual Sim look ridiculous.  Tam might have been able to deal with Martin Luther’s behavior without taking any action stronger than verbal cauterization, had Martin Luther not chosen Tam to bestow his affections upon at any point.  Unfortunately, it was only a matter of time before Martin Luther decided to try his luck with his charismatic younger classmate.  He met Tam in the park one afternoon and couldn’t resist regaling him with yet another of his confounding conspiracy theories shortly after blatantly hitting on him.  Tam was incensed.  How dare this little twerp actually believe that he was worthy of even speaking to him, Tam Butterfield, out in public where anyone could see them, let alone make any conversation on an intimate level??  Tam narrowed his cold eyes into slits as he regarded Martin Luther.

“You ridiculously impertinent little earwig,” he growled.  “Scrape your foul excuse for human existence out of my sight at once before I lose my temper and do something I will truly regret…like befoul myself by pushing my fist into your flabby, underdeveloped gut.”  Martin Luther gazed uncomprehending at Tam, a mixture of adoration, confusion, and fear muddying his features.  While he wasn’t entirely certain what it was that Tam was threatening him with — or why — he understood that Tam was upset about something, possibly something Martin Luther had done.  Could Marie have gotten to Tam?  Martin Luther had begun to deduce that The Doll was somehow getting to all of the other teens, one by one, and turning them all against him.  He had thought that Tam was beyond Marie’s insinuations, but clearly, he, too, despised Martin Luther.  Marie was winning…Martin Luther would be completely isolated all too soon.

“I see that the stuffing has made it to your brains as well,” Martin Luther remarked sadly to Tam before slowly heading back home.  Tam merely scowled, but, deep in the recesses of his dark mind, he had already begun to concoct a plan that would put the brazen twit in his place…all he needed was a large doll, perhaps some llama blood, and the help of those couthless ruffians that were led by Cameron Richards-Calvert…

2.7 Keep Me in Mind

In spite of the near catastrophe that had befallen, Martin Luther’s birthday went off without a hitch, as soon as his new, uncharred cake arrived.  January and Connor dutifully clapped and cheered their son on before wandering off to pursue their own interests.  February observed her parents sadly, but Martin Luther seemed unaffected by their apparent indifference, choosing instead to race down to the park for a rare moment of human interaction.

****

As the kids grew older, January and Connor had less and less to do with their children.  In spite of any worry either of them might have felt at the total preoccupation Martin Luther had seemed to have with Marie, both parents completely ignored the sudden string of kids he began bringing over once he started high school.  February, on the other hand, noticed her younger brother’s friends; in particular, she noticed a boy with violently red hair and sharp, angular features.  Although most of the other teenagers cruelly referred to Hector Cusack-Little as “Ronald McPlumbob,” the somewhat garish mascot for a popular chain of restaurants that sold cheap llama burgers, February found the boy to be unusually intuitive and sensitive.  She caught herself thinking of him often, but, as he was merely a freshman while she was a freshly minted graduate, she knew it was best to keep their relationship platonic.

February was not the only one preoccupied with somewhat romantic thoughts concerning Martin Luther’s friends.  Although he never played with the weird doll he’d been so obsessed with as a child anymore, Martin Luther seemed completely uninterested in girls. In fact, he didn’t seem interested in anything in particular at all…except maybe for boys.  Girls, he had decided, could not be trusted.  Marie had told him that long ago, and, although he had thought that she had been overly dramatic about the whole thing, he had come to believe that maybe she’d had a point after all.  First, of course, there had been his mother.  He knew that no one thought that he had noticed how little attention she paid to him in all this time, but he did.  He had thought that he could count on her, because she was his mother; instead, all he could rely on her to do was ignore him.  And then there was his sister.  For the longest time, he had really believed that he could trust February to always look out for his best interests, no matter how different the siblings were…but then, first chance she gets, she brings home some stranger that turns around and beats up other kids.  He had known all along that that Cameron guy was trouble, but she had brought him home anyway.  She didn’t care about him, either.  Finally, Marie herself became a traitor.  For years, she had insinuated that the little friendships he tried to build with girls were nothing compared to what he had with her, thus isolating him…and finally abandoning him herself.  Her voice had grown fainter and fainter, until it finally disappeared altogether, leaving nothing but a hollow feeling full of doubt and paranoia…and the belief that, though she now refused to talk to him, Marie still kept close guard on his activities at all times.

So, Martin Luther concluded, if females were dangerous creatures that should be avoided at all costs, that naturally indicated that perhaps boys were a safer option…

2.6 Give Me Everything

The next few days flew by in a blur for February. Although she had plenty of opportunities to schedule another evening at home alone with Cameron, she found she didn’t really have the nerve. Cameron had been the perfect gentleman on that first night; the closest thing to “scandalous” that they had done was creep closer together while stargazing on the lawn. February had been both relieved and disappointed when Cameron left without even trying to kiss her, but, with all of Martin Luther’s antics, and the fact that her parents had never let her in on when to expect them back, February contented herself with just talking on the phone with her beau and chatting with him at school. Cameron didn’t seem to mind; as with everything else, he seemed perfectly happy to just go with the flow when it came to February.

Finally, as the weekend drew to a close, January and Connor came breezing back through the door.  February’s breath caught as she stared at her parents; they seemed so…old.  Had they really been that grey when they’d left?  She had always known that January and Connor had had children relatively late in life, but at that moment, it suddenly struck her that her parents were getting on in years and would not be around forever.  Brow wrinkled, she tried to dismiss her saddening revelation as her parents hugged her and Martin Luther and exclaimed over how fabulously their impromptu vacation had turned out.

****

In what seemed like no time at all,  summer rolled around, heralding the close of the school year and Martin Luther’s thirteenth birthday.   As she meticulously applied her lipstick and arranged her hair, February wondered wryly if getting older would make Martin Luther act more — or less — strange.  Critically, she surveyed herself in the mirror.  Strange was what was staring right back at her, she decided.  There she was, in a newly purchased blue dress, face garnished with make-up and hair curled like a puffy yellow cloud around her face.  She looked, she thought, something like a dandelion suffering from a severe case of hypothermia.

Dandelion or not, February gamely made her way across town for her prom.  Just as she had imagined, the dance was everything she had feared it would be: too many hormonal teenagers packed together in one dark spot, noise, flashing lights…she could hardly wait for it to be over, even after Cameron pulled her close and asked her if she’d go steady with him.  She was so distracted by a rowdy throng of football players drunkenly screaming the Legacy Llama fight cheer that she said “yes” before really thinking it through.  Afterwards, she came home in a daze, her lips tender and bruised from Cameron’s kisses, wondering what on earth she’d gotten herself into.  Her concern only deepened in the following weeks, as strange rumors about what Cameron liked to do in his spare time found their way to her…stories about how he’d pushed this kid around, or managed to threaten that kid out of their allowance.  February wasn’t sure what to believe; Cameron was never anything but polite with her, and he’d always been nice to Martin Luther…but it certainly seemed like more than a coincidence that everyone in town believed him to be a bully.  February thought about this as she mixed up the batter for Martin Luther’s cake.  She could hardly believe that her immature little brother was actually becoming a teenager, even if he HAD finally stopped dragging Marie around…and just what should she do about the situation with Cameron?  Should she break up with him, or should she ignore the rumors, or….?  Suddenly, the sharp acrid scent of smoke stung her nostrils; frowning, she whirled around.

“Oh…oh no,” she whispered, staring in stupefied horror at the sudden inferno the kitchen stove had become.

“February, what is that sme — oh my God, Connor, call the fire department; the kitchen is on fire!” January screamed. throwing her hands helplessly in the air as she encountered her rabidly burning kitchen.  “February, what have you done??”  February could barely hear her mother; instead, she continued to gaze almost rapturously into the flames.

  

“Why, that girl’s about as useful as an empty plate to a starving man,” Connor muttered, wandering away to let the firefighter who had just arrived finish saving what was left of the Callender kitchen.  Overhearing his comment, February snapped out of her reverie and cast a baleful stare at her retreating father’s back.  Useless?  Her??  Why, her father probably didn’t even know she HAD a boyfriend, let alone all of the issues she was currently having with him.  He spent more time with the fictional characters in his books than he did with his own family.  Her mother, she was no better, always so busy and precise when taking on the corporate world, then coming home and wandering around with a glazed look in her eyes every time one of her children so much as peeped at her.  February was so sick of the double standards, and of being ignored.  She would never let her children feel like they were merely living on the periphery of her life.  Moodily, she made her way to the bathroom to sulk alone while her parents ordered a store-bought cake for Martin Luther.

2.5 You Make Me Feel…

With great effort, February tore her eyes away from Cameron and cleared her throat.  She couldn’t understand how the steady throbbing of her pulse seemed to be concentrated so heavily on the one small patch of skin that Cameron had touched, or why, in the matter of a few short hours, a simple glance from him could make her knees go weak when only the day before he had just been the boy that had helped her remember the proper location of an earthworm’s vital organs. “So,” said Cameron, pulling February out of her reverie, “Wanna show me around your house?”

“Erm…sure!  I mean, there’s not much to it, just some walls, rooms…with stuff in them…actually, I should probably get Martin Luther inside since it’s getting kinda late and all…”  Cameron grinned as February backed into the family water slide.  “Heh…yeah, forgot that was there…it’s kinda new…hey, Martin Luther, wanna come in for a story?”  February couldn’t believe what an idiot she was being.  She had been so afraid that Martin Luther would make her look stupid, and now here she was, saving him all the trouble.  Her brother’s face reappeared in the tree house window, staring down at her incredulously.  “A story?” he echoed, before throwing a malevolent glare towards Cameron.  “Is it about…the stranger?”  “Uh…no…and he’s not a stranger, Martin Luther, his name is Cameron, and he’s my…uh…prom date,” February explained, tossing an apologetic look to Cameron.  Cameron, however, appeared to be taking the whole situation in stride and and continued to smile benevolently at her from beneath the shadows of the tree house.  Martin Luther thudded to the ground from above, oblivious of the moment he was interrupting between his sister and her beau.  Shifting his eyes suspiciously towards Cameron one last time, Martin Luther turned his attention on February.  “Story!” he demanded imperiously, completely flustering February.  She had never read a story to him in his life and had had no idea that the offer would prove to be so desirable to him.  Still, how hard could it be?  Pick a book, read some pages, done….right?

Martin Luther immediately proved he had other plans by marching into February’s room instead of his own.  February was too distracted by Martin Luther’s unexpected choice to worry about what opinion Cameron might be formulating about her as he followed the siblings into their small house.  “Hey, um…buddy.  Where you going?  Your room’s that way,” February said, pointing to Martin Luther’s open doorway.  “Marie says I should sleep in here while Mom and Dad are gone.  Marie says that the butterflies in your room are on the stranger’s side,” Martin Luther explained enigmatically, situating himself in February’s double bed.  Unwilling to cause a scene in front of Cameron, February decided it would probably be easier to just go with whatever Martin Luther wanted for the time being.  “Okay…whatever you say, little brother.  Let me just go get your pajamas,” February said agreeably.  As she made her way towards her brother’s room, she passed Cameron and cringed…this was definitely not what she had planned on tonight.  “Hey, I’m really sorry about all of this…he’s not usually quite so…” she trailed off uncertainly, but Cameron still seemed unfazed.  “Hey, no worries.  He’s just a kid.  He’s probably a little freaked out about your parents being gone,” he reassured her.  “Mind if I just hang out on the couch and watch some t.v. until you’ve got him settled?”  February quickly surveyed the living area for any heaps of clothes or other disturbing paraphernalia before giving her affirmation; luckily, her mother was such a neat freak that anything her careless little brother or absent-minded father might leave out was usually swept up in a timely fashion.  “No, go ahead; make yourself comfortable…this should only take a minute,” she said, returning to her bedroom with Martin Luther’s pajamas.  After Martin Luther arranged himself comfortably, February read a story of his choosing — Night of the Living Doll — and then another…and another…and another…Martin Luther had his sister go through five books in all before he finally nodded off.  February made her way patiently through each tale, trying hard to forget about the once-promising evening rapidly slipping past.

Finally, Martin Luther’s heavy eyelids slipped closed, and February gently eased out of her room, leaving the door slightly ajar.  Now, finally, she would be alone with Cameron.  Her palms began sweating as she started to contemplate the many possibilities of the few hours that lay before her.  Would Cameron kiss her?  Did she WANT him to kiss her?  Would he expect more…should she invite him to spend the night?  But then he would really expect more, and she wasn’t even positive that she wanted him to kiss her…biting her lip, February forced herself to approach Cameron, who immediately switched off the television and stood up, smiling expectantly at her.  “Your little brother go to sleep?” he asked.  February nodded.  “Uh, yeah…sorry it took so long,” she apologized, attempting to mimic his carefree smile.  “Aw, it’s no big deal…hey, I just saw on the news something about some kind of meteor shower going on, like, right now…wanna go outside and check it out?”  February could hardly believe her ears…was Cameron really asking her to go out and look at stars with him?  She eyed her friend surreptitiously as they sauntered outside; she had certainly never pegged Cameron for the romantic type.  However, as the hours passed with the pair cozily ensconced out on the Callenders’ front yard gazing skyward, February found her opinion of Cameron steadily altering as they got to know each other a little better…