Richie was silent the entire way home. He sat slumped in the passenger seat unmoving while Duncan drove each one of his friends home in turn. Duncan noticed out of the corner of his eye that Richie would periodically wipe at his nose with the back of his hand and/or snort. If Duncan didn't know better he would have sworn Richie was crying.

"So I guess that just leaves you, huh?" Duncan asked after returning to the car from his last drop off.

"Guess," he shrugged slouching down further and angling himself away from Duncan.

"Might as well get on with it, then," Duncan sighed. "How fast were you going?"


"Exactly how fast?"

"I don't know. Last I checked, 85."


"Give or take," Richie did his best to act tough, but his refusal to look anywhere but out the window proved otherwise.

. . . . . .

"That's not fair!" Richie insisted, jumping out of the car as soon as Duncan pulled to a stop behind the store.

"I think it's plenty fair," Duncan called to the youth's retreating back.

"What's not fair?" Tessa asked, having heard the yelling. Richie didn't say anything, just brushed past her and went straight to his room. "Duncan, what's wrong with him?"

"Oh, he's a little mad at me at the moment," Duncan answered.

"No, I figured that out," she told him. "I mean why is he limping and bleeding?"

"He's bleeding?" Duncan asked. "Where?"

"It's all over his face."

"What?" Duncan moved past her and opened Richie's bedroom door without knocking.

Richie was lying on his bed with his right ankle propped up on a pillow and his head hanging over the side of the bed. His hand was clamped over his nose.

"Are you okay?" Tessa asked, stepping past Duncan in the doorway.

"I'mb fahn," Richie's nasal voice answered.

"What's so unfair?" she asked, shooing Duncan out of the doorway.

"Nubin'," Richie answered not moving.

"Duncan's gone, it's just you and me," she continued, sitting on the edge of his bed. "Can you tell me what happened?"

"Mac totally crossed the line!" Richie exploded, sitting up.

"Calm down," Tessa soothed. "Here, let me." She took the bloody Kleenex from his hand, tossed it into the trash and got a clean one before tilting his head back and applying gentle pressure. "Now start from the beginning. What happened?"

"God said let there be light."

Tessa smiled. "And then Duncan showed up and."

"Totally started pushing me around. and my friends! He took all the money, then took them all home, woke up their parents, got all them in trouble and then.. Oh, then he turned on me!"

"You're in trouble," Tessa translated.

"He has no right to do this to me!"

"But he did anyway."

"And he went way overboard on the punishments, too!"

"Punishments, more than one?"

"Let's see, I'm basically grounded for three months," Richie started bitterly. "Everyday, I have to take out the trash, clean the store and the loft, I alone, am responsible for keeping the kitchen clean, no TV, no computer, no phone, no radio, no going anywhere! It's ridiculous!"

"Well, think about this reasonably," Tessa said. "You took the car with out asking, and then took it out drag racing. You don't think you deserve part of it?"

"And he's totally building this whole other universe out of the whole thing!" Richie continued as if she hadn't spoken. "He says I stole the car, got drunk, and gambled! I borrowed the car, had one. ONE beer and put some cash in the pot."

"You drank?" Tessa asked.

"One, Tessa, one. That's it! I've had loads more and not had any problems getting home."

"You what?"

"Look, that's like the third beer since I moved in, I swear, okay?"

"And you still say you don't deserve any of this?" Tessa asked keeping her temper. Richie knew he wasn't supposed to drink. He didn't answer. "Now, tell me what happened here?" She gently touched Richie's eye that was steadily turning a darker shade of purple.

"Nothin'," he answered turning away.

"Looks like nothing hit you pretty hard. Does it hurt?"

"Eh," Richie shrugged.

"I'll get you something for that," she told him with a smile getting up. She walked into the kitchen to get some ice for Richie's eye and found Duncan fuming at the table. "Do you want to give me your take on this?"

"He had it coming, Tessa," Duncan defended. "If he hadn't pushed me so far, it would have been a lot easier for him."

"So the punishment stands?" she asked. "For three months?"

"One day for every mile per hour he was going," Duncan nodded. "Or if you don't like that: one month for stealing my car, one month for drinking, and one month for drag racing."

"What about fighting?"

"Fighting? He already got what he deserved for that one."

"What? A black eye, bloody nose, and a twisted ankle?"

"Is he really that bad?" Duncan asked.

"He'll live, but I think he's going to be pretty sore for awhile. And I think he should stay off that ankle."

"Fine, he can stay in his room for a week," Duncan shrugged.

. . . . . .

Richie sulked in his room day in and day out for a week. His ankle healed quickly because he never used it. His eye on the other hand had yet to return to normal by the end of the week. It was still swollen and purple Saturday morning when Duncan went to wake him.

"Get up," Duncan said gruffly. He was still angry about what Richie had done. Richie groaned and didn't move, except to bury his face further into his pillow. "Get up," Duncan ordered giving Richie a sound whack on the butt.

"Hey!" Richie barked, flipping over and sitting up.

"I gave you warning."

"One, don't touch me," Richie snarled. "Two, get the hell out!"

"Excuse me? Last I check this was my house and I was the adult. That means I get to give the orders," Duncan snapped.

"Then you should find someone who cares. Because I told you, you're not pushing me around!" Richie shot back.

"You'd better listen to me," Duncan growled grabbing Richie by the collar of his t-shirt. "You are walking on thin-ice, mister. I suggest you wise up and shut up before I make you."

"Make me?" Richie said trying to hide his fright. "I dare you."

"You don't want to do that, Richie," Duncan warned, raising his free hand.

"I do," Richie responded coldly. "Because the second you lay a hand on me again, I'm calling the cops." Duncan just looked at him. "This is assault and battery. And if I was a couple weeks younger it'd be child abuse. and you know it."

Duncan put his hand down and tried to keep control of the situation. "Nobody would believe you. You're a liar and a thief. And your attitude has gotten you into enough trouble without you adding to it."

"They may not believe me," Richie acknowledged. "But I have a witness." Richie looked over Duncan's shoulder at the door. Tessa stood there, in shock and staring at the two.

"Tessa, you have to admit it, he deserves it," Duncan started.

"What does he mean lay a hand on him. again?" Tessa demanded yanking Duncan away from Richie. "You did that?" she continued not waiting for an answer. "You hit him and gave him that black eye?"

"Tessa, I."

"Better leave us alone."

"It's the only way to get him to listen!" Duncan defended despite Tessa's gentle tone.

"Get out of the room," Tessa told him. "I want to talk to Richie."


"Out!" She almost laughed.

Duncan left, mumbling confusedly to himself all the way to the store.

Richie rolled onto his stomach and turned his head away from her. "Thanks," he mumbled.

"Now, what is this all about?" Tessa asked sitting on the bed. "What did you do?"

"What did I do?" Richie repeated turning to face her and sitting up. "Nothing! The guy is a nut!"

"Richie, he is very patient with you. You must have done something?"

"Why does it have to be my fault?"

"It's both of your faults," Tessa said. "But I want to know your part. Unless of course you have been a perfect little angel as always." Richie looked at her. "Did you handle the situation perfectly?" Slowly, he shook his head. "Did you try to understand where he was coming from?"

"And I suppose understanding me led to the bloody nose?" Richie snapped.

"No, all I'm saying is you are not un-blamable here. While Duncan didn't handle this properly at all, you can't say you did, either. He should have never hit you in the face. He could have seriously hurt you."

"Wait, are you saying it would have been okay if he hit me somewhere else?"

"I'm saying it would have been more reasonable."

"More reasonable?"

"More understandable?" she offered.

"Understandable?" Richie repeated. "So I'm just a no good punk who deserves to be beaten?"

"One hit doesn't count as being beaten, Richie," Tessa told him. "Surely you've been spanked before."

"I think I'm a little old for that, Tess."

"And you're a little old to act like such a child."

"Tessa, you don't understand. I don't fit in anymore. It's like I have to prove myself everywhere I go."

"Don't fit in where?" Tessa asked, confused.

"It's stupid," Richie shook his head and looked away.

"Tell me anyway. Where don't you fit in?"

"Anywhere. Not here, not with my friends, nowhere. It's like there are these two worlds and I can see myself in both, but I just can't get there. I know it sounds stupid, but it's true. It's like everyone wants me to pick, but I don't want to. Why can't I do both?" Tessa waited knowing there was more. "You guys think I'm a punk, my friends think I'm a yuppie. And if it was the other way around everything would be perfect."

"So you've been so stubborn with Duncan to impress your friends?" Tessa asked.

"He's usually so cool about it. I cop an attitude and he yells at me for a while. He wasn't supposed to change tactics. Sure, he's looked like he wanted to just beat the snot out of me before. but I was so sure he was never going to do it."

"And then he did."

"And it hurt like hell."

"I think you should be telling Duncan this, not me."

"How did I know that was coming?"

Richie got dressed and had a leisurely breakfast before going down to the store (after cleaning up the dishes, of course. After all, he was still grounded).

"Hey, Richie!" Mr. Pete, the delivery guy greeted him when he spotted Richie coming down the stairs.

"Hey, Mr. P," Richie smiled back.

"Wait, what happened to your eye?" Mr. Pete questioned.

"Oh, I, uh," Richie's had immediately went to explore the still sore bruising of his face. "I, uh, was just goofing off with some friends," he lied. "All of a sudden, it wasn't just fun and games anymore because I almost lost an eye," he added.

Mr. Pete smiled. "I knew that saying was true. You take care of yourself, you hear me?" he instructed as he left the store.

"Will do," Richie called after him.

"Ready to work?" Duncan asked considerably nicer than Richie expected.

"Actually, I'd rather talk first, if that's okay."

"Okay. Let's go upstairs."

They settled in the living room Richie feeling very claustrophobic in the middle of the otherwise empty couch and Duncan perched on the coffee table in front of him. maybe that's where the closed in feeling was coming from.

"You first," they said at the same time. There was a short pause then: "Okay, I'm sorry."

Richie smiled. "I've only seen that happen in movies before."

"Me, too."

"I shouldn't have been such a jerk." Richie started.

"I shouldn't push you around in front of your friends." Duncan added before Richie had finished.

"But I totally took advantage of your trust.."

"I should have let you explain."

"I was just showing off."

"I let my anger get the better of me."

The continued talking over each other so all Tessa heard was, "I had no right to hit you like that. I just wanna fit in. When I got so defensive with Tessa. No, I totally deserved it. I knew that I had done the wrong thing. I wasn't right either, Mac. I still think you deserved it. I shouldn't have taken the car. But there were other ways.Mac, I. Rich. I'm sorry!" they finished together.

"Well, I'm glad we got all that out of the way," Duncan smiled. "But you're still grounded."

"Yeah, I figured."

"What's this about you wanting to fit in?"

"That's what Tessa wanted me to talk to you about."


"Mac, my friends think I'm a yuppie!"

Duncan looked at Richie for a second. "A what?"

"Yuppie. you know; white bread? Cake eater? Green hand? Gold plated? Snob?"

"Oh, I got that last one. What does that have to do with anything?"

"You said you should have let me explain, so I'm explaining," Richie told him.

"What does this have to do with what your. you want to fit in," Duncan realized mid-question. "You were showing them you were the same guy."

"I had to prove that I hadn't changed."

"Richie, you have."

"I know; that's half the problem. I don't want to be a yuppie. I can't be."

"Why not?"

"You said it yourself, Mac. I'm a liar and thief. Thieves aren't yuppies, they're thieves."

"Okay, so don't do either. Be yourself."

"Myself doesn't get me very far."

"It'll get you farther than pretending." Richie didn't answer. Just nodded in understanding. "So, is it my turn to explain?"

"Go for it."

"I got swept up in not letting you get away with anything, and I kept thinking 'What would my father do if I had done this to him?' Then I did it."

"You're dad beat you?" Richie asked in disbelief.

"You have to understand, Rich, that was the way things were done back then. There was no such thing as grounding. There was nothing to get grounded from. So if you got in trouble."

"That sucks."

"That was life. But things are different now, I have to respect that while there was no age limit on obeying your father without question when I was young. there is now. And hitting a kid is no way to make them listen." They sat silently having made their apologies. "So are we okay?"

"I don't know, Mac," Richie answered.

"So what do we do now?"

"Since you always seem so keen on making deals, I have one for you," Richie told him. "You get one free shot. which you've already had. and from here on out, I swing back--no questions asked, no punishments rendered."

"Okay," Duncan agreed.

"And as far as last week goes, I guess the punishments stay. I'll do my chores and what not, no complaints. but you can't push. And once this is all over, we never speak of it again."

"That's very adult of you, Richie. I'll agree, but. as for as what I sentenced you to, I want to change it. You work Monday through Friday but you get the weekends off from the store. But, you have trash duty and kitchen clean up for the next three months. You have to keep your room clean, too. You can have your stereo back and as long as you behave, you can watch the play offs.No leaving and no phone still stands, except you have an hour to call your friends and cancel all your plans for the next three months."

"So I still can't go out? At all?"

"I guess you can go out to unload groceries from the car and if you ever want to go jogging with me you can do that too. Deal?" Duncan asked offering his hand.

"Do I have a choice?"


"Then fine." They shook on it.

"So, let's get some work done," Duncan smiled happy to get it all behind them.

"Not so fast, Mac. It's Saturday. I'm off," Richie smiled back. "I have a new CD I've been dying to listen to. See you at lunch."

"Clean your room," Duncan told him as he got up to leave. "Inspection in two hours."

"I'm supposed to get that mess cleaned up in two hours?"

"I guess you better hurry."

"You suck."

"That sounds like a complaint to me, young man. Get moving."

Richie rolled his eyes and went to clean his room.

"How do you do it?" Tessa asked Duncan once Richie had left the room. "You commit such a horrible crime against him and he leaves the room smiling after ten minutes worth of talking."

Duncan shrugged. "We have an understanding. You know. Richie's going to be pretty busy for a while. Why don't you and I." he trailed off nuzzling her neck.

She giggled and kissed him before leading the way to their room. Richie ended up with more than enough time to get everything cleaned up.