“Ryan’s parents were a little… you know, protective. I totally agreed with them. They’re like little sisters to me, of course – I never had any brothers or sisters, so I think they’re awesome – but, yeah, Mara’s 13 in a couple of months, and I’m not exactly the kind of dude that parents of a teenage girl want around.”

“No, no, back up – you lived with them?”

“Yeah, for a couple of weeks after Trevor – my step-dad – kicked me out,” he said. Immediately his tone changed, and I could hear this loathing in his voice.

“What happened?”

“Well… I dropped out of high school, for one.”

My stomach twisted.

So he was a high school dropout.


He looked at me out of the corner of his eye. “Probably not what you wanted to hear.”

“No, I… whatever,” I shrugged, trying not to be judgmental.

“We used to live in Los Angeles. That’s where I grew up. My mom and dad split up when I was ten, and Mom remarried when I was thirteen. To Trevor.” His voice went icy again. “Then, the summer before my senior year, Trevor got transferred here, to Athens. He makes a lot more than my mom, so… they didn’t give me a choice.”

“That sucks… your senior year…”

“Yeah,” he said grimly. “What sucks even more is when you’re planning to start a band in LA. Someday you’re going to play the Whiskey a Go Go, where the Doors started… and then you find out you’re moving to Buttfuck Egypt.”

I laughed – I couldn’t help it. “Athens is hardly Buttfuck Egypt.”

“It is when you’re living in LA.”

“Athens is where REM and the B-52’s began,” I pointed out.

“Yeah, my mom kept pointing that out. Over and over and over. I fought to stay with my dad in California, but by then he had a pretty bad drug habit. He was kind of going downhill fast,” Derek said, his voice getting softer and more serious. “So my mom convinced my dad to tell me it was for my own good.”

He shook his head, smiling sardonically.

“He even told me it was better to start a band here because in LA, the competition was too cutthroat. He said here I could actually get noticed. My mom probably just gave him a couple of hundred dollars for his next fix, is all.”

I felt so bad for him… I could hear the pain and betrayal in his voice…

I reached out and squeezed his fingers softly.

He looked over in surprise – and then smiled sweetly and squeezed my fingers back.

My heart pounded in my chest… but I pulled my fingers away, afraid of what I was feeling.

He let me go, and started talking again. “My mom said if I came here, I could start a band and she’d be behind it a hundred percent. So I gave in. But when I got here, I was a total little shit about it. I admit it. I mean, I was going out every night and getting drunk, getting into all sorts of trouble… Trevor was pissing me off, screaming at me all the time, and I was just like, ‘Fuck you, man. You think you can control me? Watch this.’

“Anyway, the only good part about moving here was meeting Ryan. We clicked the first day in gym class because he had on a Stones t-shirt. He was this big, funny nerd – what do you think of him, by the way? I didn’t ask you.” Derek looked wary as he said it.

“He’s sweet. He’s a really nice guy.”

Apparently I passed the test, because the shadow on Derek’s face passed and he beamed. “He is – he’s great. Anyway, he took me home and we jammed in his basement the first week of school, and his family just kind of adopted me. When I dropped out of school and Trevor finally kicked my ass out, I crashed at Ryan’s for a couple of weeks, but it made his mom uncomfortable that I was just hanging out all day, not going to school, not doing anything. And Mara started acting… weird. It was a little inappropriate.”

I liked Derek even more when he said that. He genuinely agreed that a 12-year-old girl should not be living in a house with a non-relative like him, no matter how upstanding he was in his conduct with her.

“So anyway, Ryan broke the news to me. He was all apologetic and embarrassed – it was pretty funny. He said my parents would let me stay until I found a job and a place, and I would always be welcome back to practice and have dinner, but I had to move, and soon. Like I said, I didn’t blame them at all. I went out the next day and found a job at the 40 Watt cleaning up and shit, and I moved out a week later.”

“Where’d you go?”

“The grossest, grimiest, most fucked-up house you can imagine. You are never, ever seeing it. Seriously, I’m basically living on a futon I found at an attic sale for fifteen bucks. My roommates are a drag queen, a repo man, and this guy named Dale who delivers pizza when he’s not stoned out of his mind. And sometimes when he is.”

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