It was a Thursday morning after school. Cory had told him during lunch that he wouldn't be busy for the rest of the day so Shawn figured that it would be okay to come over to his house to play basketball like they always did after school. Sure he could do homework but Shawn Hunter never, ever did any homework and he always somehow was able to pass through the day in Mr. Feeney's classes with an okay average on his report card. He didn't know how he was able to do it exactly but he knew that somehow someway Shawn would always be able to get away with not doing his homework.

He knew that with his best friend Cory Matthews he would always be okay.

The two of them were practically inseparable. He knew that they would always be best friends even when things in his life were falling apart. Dad was off somewhere doing something, adult rated and his mom was still at work. So Shawn was used to spending a lot of time with the voices in his head or by himself.

He was used to it. Used to the silence and the loneliness but unbeknownst to Cory and his parents Shawn sometimes went to his room, climbed under his covers in his bed and he would cry. Alone at night without Cory to protect him from the nighttime darkness. Even sometimes when the sun came up it was not a happy day for Shawn. Especially when his father would come home drunk. He usually threw up afterwards or during his angry tirade of the night and Shawn would hold his little nose with one of his little hands and clean it up as his father cursed about what had happened before stumbling drunkenly off to bed on the other side of the trailer's kitchen.

Other times Shawn's father would come home from a long hard day doing whatever it was he was doing and sit in front of the tv set in their little silver trailer in the Maplewood Trailer Park, open a can of beer and shut him out. He would try to talk to his dad and tell him about his day like he had seen and heard Cory do with his father every day when he came over after school to shoot hoops with him but it was absolutely not the same as with his dad. They never talked to each other no matter how hard Shawn would try to talk, his father just kept staring on straight ahead at the tv and he never said anything to him. Nothing at all. He wanted him to talk to him or even just say hello in the mornings before he went to school or goodnight when Shawn went to bed. He thought and remembered Cory's nightly rituals with his parents or older brother Eric who would read him and his little sister Morgan a bedtime story and say goodnight. Kiss them and turn out the light. Shawn never got any story for his bedtime or kisses goodnight. Kisses and hugs were for people like Cory and Eric not him. He wasn't worth kisses and hugs. As the thought and realization of this horrible idea- no hugs and kisses for little Shawnie Hunter- hit him Shawn pulled the covers up further over his little body and let the tears he cried soak into his white sheet.

He thought " Daddy? Am I not good enough for you?"

He heard a response in his dad's gruff voice.

" No Shawn. You will never be good enough. Not even for you."

And he cried harder.

"Please... please come home tonight Daddy." He thought to himself as he tried to go to sleep. "I miss you. I love you so much."

In spite of all the yelling, screaming, beatings and constant drinking, Shawn still loved his dad.

Sometimes he would wait up all night for his father to come home from his day and when he didn't, Shawn knew that whatever was keeping his father away from him was his fault. He was twelve years old and always getting beaten by his father but he often found himself telling Cory how much his dad had gotten him for Christmas and how much he spent time with him and what they would do together. But he knew that it was a big lie. But he had to do it. He had to lie.

" Shawn. Best friends don't lie to each other." Cory would say and he always changed the subject with " Come on Cory let's play" and they would play basketball and video games or whatever but Shawn always had to return to his trailer at the park and go to bed. He never slept though. He cried too much for that.

He waited and waited all through the night until the stars outside his little trailer began to fade to daylight and he would know. He would figure out that his dad had not come home at all that night. And he would know inside that as he went to school, sometimes walking by himself that it had been all his fault. He was the reason his father had not returned home after a drinking binge. It was his fault.

As Shawn lay in his little bed thinking about his father out alone somewhere at night he felt the tears run heavier down his face and snot run freely out of his nose.

" He's not home. He didn't come back. He left us, me and he isn't coming home ever again. He's gone. Again. it's all my fault." Shawn cried and turned tworeds the pillow crying so hard that the words only came out in a whisper.

" It's all my fault. I'm so sorry Dad. It's all my fault..."

And the aching in his heart would go away if only for a little while or whenever he was with Cory. That made Shawn feel like a person again. Being with his best friend.

He said this to Cory before and he had to remind himself of it now so he said it to himself imagining Cory talking to him in his mind.

" It's always been you and me. It's you and me now, and it's gonna be you and me forever."

He smiled to himself as he fixed his hair and brushed it out of his eyes in the locker mirror at school. He wiped his eyes clean of his tears from the night before and blew his nose clean so it would look like nothing had been going on. He checked his face, eyes so that it would look like he had slept during the night while his dad was away and he smiled again at his reflection in the mirror.

He talked to Cory again in his mind as he watched himself in the mirror.

" Best friends. Best friends. Best friends. Forever. Forever and always. Forever and ever."

He had to repeat this mantra over and over so that he could make it through the school day. So that Cory would know that he was doing okay. That nothing bad was going on at home. That he was okay.

" I'm okay. Everything is great. I'm fine. I am okay. Everything is okay."

He shut the locker door and went to English with Feeney.

Cory saw Shawn and smiled at him.

" How you doing Shawn?"

Shawn smiled wide and looked at Cory. " Great. Cory everything is great."

" Good."

" Yeah."

He turned around then turned back to face Shawn.

" What's up Cor?" he asked nervously hot.

" You would tell me if there was anything sketchy going on in your life right? At home and stuff?"

Shawn laughed at him internally. " Cory Matthews. How well do you know me?"

" Better than I know myself." Cory said and Shawn smiled.

" That's right. Because Cory, best friends don't lie to each other."

He smiled and felt an easiness of the lies he told Cory flow out of his mouth effortlessly. He had been doing it ever since they had met.

" Best friends don't lie to each other and you and I will always, always be best friends. You and me now and it's gonna be you and me forever. Just the two of us." Shawn stuck his fist out to Cory and he bumped it. A secret handshake between friends. Best friends. Shawn smiled at him and sat back in his seat.

" Forever." Cory aid before turning to face Mr. Feeney again.

" Forever." Shawn replied settling himself back into his chair.

If only Cory knew what really went on at the trailer park. But Shawn couldn't tell him any of that. He didn't deserve that kind of pain. Not Cory Matthews.

" I'm the screw up remember?" Shawn thought to himself and he heard his dad respond again as he had last night crying in bed.

" You have been one ever since you were born boy. I've got a stupid boy."

Shawn's face crumpled up again like it had last night and he felt tears prickle at his eyes.

"Don't you dare cry in front of Cory. Not here. Not now. Not in front of Cory."

But he felt like he had to do it so he got up and ran out of class. Ran all the way home and jumped into his little bed. He was alone again. As he always was- his dad was out and his mom was at work- he was Shawn Hunter and he was alone. He was twelve years old and he was alone. He was alone. He was alone and he was crying like a baby.

He was only a little baby.

His dad was gone again and it was all his fault.