What Was Left Unsaid

Authors Note: You are about to read something started back in 2004 and I've decided to finish it off and try to fill the gaps. It's basically Craig Manning rewritten. Because I liked the child abuse storyline, hated the jerk he was in Season 3, and just not buying into the rock star storyline. Instead you'll be getting tons of Craig/Joey interaction as Craig tries to have somewhat of a normal life. He's not the most popular kid who gets all the girls this time around; he's actually a borderline freak because of the issues that the abuse has left him with and some out of control behavior. I think this is more believable than the whole school not having some idea of what he's been through. There's also a splash of Crash. He's no cheater this time around, but still has a hard time keeping his girl Ashley. Ashley would be the most dominant player after Joey, then probably friends Sean, Ellie, Marco, and Jimmy. It's mainly told from Craig's point of view.

The first two chapters will be the only ones that will have descriptions of what took place in the episodes.

1. The New Kid

Craig Manning was crouched close to the ground, in-between the bushes. One hand was wrapped around the lens of his camera, frantically twisting to adjust the focus. He could barely see the figures of his stepfather, Joey Jeremiah, and his half sister, Angela. He watched as the blurry form of Angie wiggled out of the frame. It was that moment where he knew that he was going to be late for dinner, his father would no doubt be upset, and he really should go. The image in the lens was clear now and he could see the big smile on his stepfather's face and Angie bopped back into the frame and flooded it with bubbles.

"More bubbles," Joey encouraged. The day suddenly felt warmer and brighter for Craig. His finger quickly pressed down on the shutter release button to capture the moment. It was dark for a moment and then there they were again, the family Craig wanted. Craig's breath caught in his throat; Joey was standing up and looking in his direction. Craig immediately bolted from the scene and headed for home.

"Craigger!" He heard his father call from the dining room the second he was in the door. He started to evaluate his mood. He was using that nickname and that was a good sign. He'd understand. You can make him understand, Craig tried to reassure himself as he set his camera and bag down on the kitchen table and pulled off his coat. "Hey dad."

"What happened to six o'clock?" Dr. Albert Manning asked, his tone full of disappointment but also a bit of astonishment. He was his son, why didn't he want to be here on time to enjoy dinner with him?

"I know. Uh…I'm sorry. It's just, the light outside, late summer, incredible," Craig said with a small smile on his face, hoping that would be a solid excuse. It wasn't working though, judging from the tilt of Albert's head and…Craig's body tensed up…was he grinding his teeth? "And I just…uh…"

"Got distracted and missed dinner," Albert finished, his stare fixed on his son.

"Yeah…uh…Dad, I'm sorry," Craig said, his eyes shifting rapidly from his father to his plate and then back to his father.

Albert shook his head. He was not going to lose control of his son. He was just like his mother, his ex-wife. Why could they not think of him every once in awhile? And was it so hard to follow a simple request to make an appearance at a family dinner? Albert shoved his plate onto the floor. He watched Craig jump, almost completely out of his seat. Finally, he got his attention. "When I say six o'clock, I don't care how great the light is, you're home!" Albert said and slapped his hand on the table for emphasis. "Do you understand me?" He asked, although it was more of a command. He stood up and headed out of the dining room. "Just clean it up!"

Craig's breath caught in his throat and he couldn't move. He listened to the front door slam and just sat there for a few minutes, simply trying to gain control over his rapid heartbeat and breathe regularly. The fear was starting to fade some. Craig glanced over the broken ceramic dishes on the floor and the mess of food, some of it pressed deep into the carpet because his father stomped through it. Craig sighed. You'd think he'd be used to this by now. He started to feel the anger build up rising up from his chest and filling his head. And the way that he'd jumped? He always did that. Jumping and ducking and being afraid. It was fine when he was a little kid, but now?

Craig stood up and trudged to the kitchen to retrieve the wastebasket. He angrily threw the larger pieces of ceramic dishes into the trash. "Damn it," he muttered as he realized he'd cut his finger. He sat there and watched the blood slowly trickle out. The depression was settling in now. He felt it weigh down on him and he slowly dropped down. He sat there, staring at the mess. So tonight was going to be spent cleaning this up, scrubbing the mashed potatoes out of the carpet, doing the dishes, and worrying about what would happen when his father got home. And to top it all off, tomorrow was his first day at Degrassi. Why couldn't his father be here to support him with that? Why did he always make it about him? Who was this man he lived with anyway?

"Thanks for the lift," Craig said and got out of the car. He laid awake almost all of last night, worrying. He wasn't sure when he had finally dozed off; he only knew that his dad woke him up with light tapping on his bedroom door.

"Okay, you need a lift tonight?" Albert asked.

"No. No. I…uh…I can make it home," Craig said, thinking about his half-sister Angela. He had recently discovered the daycare she was at while Joey was at work. He had made several visits and gone unnoticed. His father was a bigger obstacle. "I'll be on time tonight," Craig reassured.

"Okay. Good luck today, sport."

Craig nodded, unsure if this moment of affection was a public show, an act of affection cause he felt guilty for the previous night, or it was actually coming from the heart. He started to move towards the school entrance. Oh yeah, this was going to be fun, he thought and stared up at the building.

The crowded school wasn't making finding his way around any easier. He was grateful for once that his father was a punctuality freak and insisted he arrive early for his first day. The attendance office was fairly easy to find, but the Media Immersion lab was another story.

Craig stumbled into another student as he stared down at the map the school secretary had given him. Craig looked him over as the student asked, "Is Degrassi a high school and a blind school this year?"

"Sorry, man, I'm lost," Craig tried to explain, his tone friendly and casual.

"Buy a map," the student replied in an annoyed tone.

Craig held up the map. "I've already got one. I'm not blind…just…uh…" Craig was distracted as two female students walked in-between them.

"Hey boys," a brunette greeted as she passed.

"Who's the new guy?" her friend asked. "Hey cutie."

"Directionally challenged," Craig finished. "MI lab?"

The student was smiling at him now. "Here, I'll show you."

"I'm Craig," he introduced as they walked side by side through the halls.

"Sean," he replied.

"This is crazy…" Craig muttered as he avoided another collision with another student. "Having the junior and high schools merge."

"Tell me about it. Like they could rub it in my face another that I'm still in junior high."

"Oh. I thought you were in 9 or 10."

"Nope. Had to repeat grade 7," Sean stated and watched Craig closely. There was no sign of judgment on his face at all. This guy might be okay, he decided. He did feel comfortable around him. It was almost like he knew him already.

"That sucks," Craig decided on saying. He watched as a dark haired, dark clothed girl met Sean's eyes and then quickly looked away. He stopped walking and stood next to Sean. Whoever it was, it was enough to stop him dead in his tracks. He watched her enter a classroom. Then he decided on saying, "You know her? Ex?"

"Ahhh, something like that."

"She's cute," Craig said with a nod of approval. "One good thing about Degrassi, hot girls. I've been deprived of the female race for too long. Private school."

Sean's stomach turned at the sound of that. Must be a rich kid if he went to private school. He tried to ignore that. "Her name is Ashley." Sean gestured to the door. "This is the MI lab."

"Oh," Craig realized. So he didn't stop dead in his tracks because of Ashley. He felt a little relieved at that. School was such a sweet escape, having these feelings made him feel almost normal. He knew he wasn't normal though, because of home. "Well, thanks, man," Craig said and started in the classroom.

"No problem. See you around," Sean said and disappeared into the crowd.

"Late night last night, huh Craig?"

Craig sat up with a jolt. Don't think about why, he ordered himself. "Uh…very late night, Sir. I kept waking up, in anticipation, of…well, this exact moment, Sir"

"Yeah, well save the-z's for home, okay?" Mr. Simpson replied.

Craig was relieved when the teacher continued on with his first day of school speech. "Remember today is a half day, tomorrow is not…" Craig ran his hand through his hair and sighed.

There was no limit on the awkward moments of his first day. Craig hung out alone in the hall in-between homeroom and his English class, staring down at the floor. He was cool with one guy. This wasn't so bad.

"So get it fixed."

"Yeah but that will cost like 80 bucks. I have 50 put away but my evil parents are insisting that I clean out the garage for the rest. Hello, child labor."

Craig glanced up at that conversation. He thought he recognized them from homeroom. The blonde was Paige, he remembered. "You know, there are laws against child labor."

The group of girls glanced back. "Okay, thanks Mr. News at Five," Paige replied.

"Cute," he overheard one declare as they turned away.

"Very," the other approved as they walked away.

"Try deranged," Paige declared.

Craig looked away. That went well. He turned to head in the opposite direction and nearly bumped into Ashley. He opened his mouth to speak but she picked up the pace and didn't even look at him.

"Guys! Hey!" Craig heard her shout.

That went even better, Craig thought, sighed, and sulked off.

Craig and Sean bumped into each other at the end of the school day, near their lockers. Craig offered to buy him lunch at a nearby burger joint, but was quick to end their time hanging out. He had to get over to Angie's daycare. He was anxious to see his little sister. Sean was a bit puzzled by the brush off. "You can't see her on the weekends and stuff?"

"No, my dad doesn't like me to be around her or my step dad. My mom passed away when I was 12, so…uh…I guess he figures there's no reason for me to see them if she's not there," Craig replied and tried to shrug off the hurt. Joey was the one who helped him deal with her passing on. Lately, there were nights when he'd wake himself up crying and wish that he could talk to his step dad about his mother, even if it was just one five minute conversation. He didn't know how to deal with the memories of his mother that appeared in the form of a dream. Those nice moments were too much of a shock. When he was awake, the best way to slowly allow his mother into his thoughts was to be around Angie.

Craig smiled as he watched the kids spill out onto the playground. He noticed Angie right away. He could see his mother in her. It wasn't just the curls or her nose; it was the bounce in her step, and the way she found everything exciting. He snapped a few pictures as he approached the fence. His smile grew as he watched her notice him.

"Craig!" she shouted and skipped over to him. "You've been gone forever."

"I knoooow, but summer's over, I'm back from camp, and now you won't ever get away from me," Craig said, raised his camera, and peered through the viewfinder. "Okay, say bad donkey breath."

"Bad donkey breath," Angie replied with a giggle and hammed it up for the camera with a grin. "Let me take yours."

"Who me? I'll break the camera," Craig said and handed Angie the camera.

"Remember how to use it? One hand there," Craig instructed in a gentle voice, his lips still in a small smile. He made a goofy face at his stepsister, who gave him a weird look as she passed the camera back.

"Daddy and me are going to visit mommy," Angie declared. "Want to come?"

"Just…ummm…tell her I miss her. Okay? Hey, you can't tell your dad about us meeting, alright?" Craig said.

"I promise. Always, always."

"Angela!" Craig looked up at the sound of an unfamiliar female voice.

That was his cue. Before bolting he declared, "I love you kid."

Craig wasn't sure of the time they'd arrive at the cemetery, so he spent most of the afternoon there. He was sure that Joey worked from the usual 9-5, but he didn't dare take the chance. He had to see them. He spent awhile just wandering around, snapping a few pictures of old tombstones and old oak trees. Then he'd settled down in front of his mother's grave. He mostly held the conversation in his head, but the emotion was building and he couldn't help but whisper,

"I just wish that I could be a better son and he'd love me more, you know? Angie has Joey…I wish I had someone like that. You guys were so perfect. They still are perfect, the perfect family."

It was that moment that he remembered what he was doing here and hurried off to find the best hiding space for picture taking.

"That's a lot of yellow, Angie," Joey said as he glanced over the bouquet of flowers they had picked out at the florists before heading over.

"That was Mommy's favorite color, remember?" Craig heard Angela say in her sweet soft voice. He started snapping pictures.

"Yes I do," Joey replied. God, Craig sighed inside, if only my father would use that nice of tone with me. He was getting too close to them, emotionally. Just concentrate on the shot, Craig urged himself. His camera was his shield, his filter, and his microscope all at once.

"Do you think she misses us?"

"Oh, I know she does. Just as much as we miss her."

"But do you think she likes it up in Heaven? Craig said that…" Angie realized her mistake and stopped. She put her small fingers over her lips.

"Craig said what? Honey, did you see Craig?"

"No. I didn't. I promise."

"Come on, sweetie. Tell me the truth," Joey encouraged.

Craig felt Joey's gaze burn into him. He slowly stood up, not taking his eyes off Joey. He could barely hear Joey speak to Angie, "Stay right here okay? Craig?" It was then Craig bolted, running faster than ever before. He heard Joey shout again. Just get as far away from the yelling as you can, he told himself. He darted through the cemetery, the wind and his willpower drying his eyes. Don't you dare cry about this, Craig ordered, it doesn't matter that Joey's angry with you now too. You just screw up and it's what happens. It doesn't matter.

He took refuge in his darkroom. He spent the rest of the day there, trying to get the perfect print. He needed a photo where he was blended into the image with his stepfather and stepsister. When he finally got it, it was like that afternoon never happened. He pulled his scrapbook out of its hiding space, the one titled "The Perfect Family," and carefully placed the new photo inside. Next to his camera, this book was his prized possession. It was the only photos he had of his mother, stepfather, and stepsister. He had to sneak the photos of his stepfamily into the house and had dug the ones of his mother out of the trash. His father had purged his mother out of their house was the divorce was final. He preferred to pretend she didn't even exist. Unfortunately he was a reminder of that and the anger of being abandoned often was inflicted on him.

"Hey sport! Are you ready to eat? Craig?" He heard his dad calling and immediately started to collect the stray prints around the darkroom.

"Uh… yeah. Uh…I'm…just…coming," Craig replied and shoved the book away.

Craig could sense that his father was in a good mood or else still feeling guilty for his outburst the night before. He knew he should say something. Don't hesitate too long, he warned himself. He'll think that you don't appreciate him and you know that will get you more than a stern lecture.

"Wow, roast beef, mashed potatoes, Yorkshire pudding," Craig said with a smile.

"Your favorite!" was dad's reply.

He was in a great mood, Craig realized. He took a few bites; his stomach had settled some. He was feeling okay. "Yeah, totally. I love roast beef. Remember how Mom used to make it?"

Craig's soft smile faded once he saw the look of annoyance on his father's face. Craig clenched his fork. Of all the things to say, he scolded himself. He couldn't help it that he thought about her so much.

Albert decided to shrug Craig's comment off and continued with "So how was the first day? Make any friends?"

"Yeah, one guy. Sean. He's cool."

"That's great. Listen, there was a message on the machine today."

"For me?"

"No, for me. From Joey Jeremiah. Any thoughts, any ideas, on why he might be calling?" Albert decided to give his son an opportunity to fess up.

Craig swallowed a piece of his roast beef, barely chewing it. He shook his head.

"You didn't call him?" Albert Manning asked, doubtful. What was he going to do with this kid? When would he ever be able to trust a word that came out of his mouth?

"Dad, come on. Why would I call Joey?" Craig said.

"Why would your mother leave a surgeon for a used car salesman, Craigger? I mean, the mysteries of the universe are infinite to me," Albert said bitterly.

"Well, I didn't…I didn't call. Promise," Craig reassured. He was going to need to say more than that, he knew. He knew what to say, but it was hard to spit it out. "I'm not… um…I'm not like Mom, okay? So…uh…you going to call him back?"

"Now, why would I do that?" Albert said, but he knew that something was going to have to be done about it. Maybe he should pay that used car salesman a visit and get to the bottom of what was really going on. God help Craig, that ungrateful little brat, if he was lying...

Craig stood outside his house and tried to prepare himself for what was about to happen. Today was a disaster. In an effort to spend more time with Angie, he had become friends with Emma Nelson, her babysitter. It had gotten an invite to Emma's mother's birthday party, and after making sure that Joey wouldn't be there, he'd gone. It was great at first, coloring the sidewalk with chalk with Angie and playing games, but then Joey arrived unexpectedly. He had confronted Craig about his visits with Angie and informed him that his father had stopped by the dealership.

Why would Joey do this to him? Why did he have to call his dad? He'd angrily stalked off that afternoon, ignoring Joey's attempt to explain himself. Joey was partially to blame for what was about to happen. This was why he didn't want Joey to know he was seeing Angela. He'd betray him and rat him out to his dad.

Time to face the music. Craig went inside, pausing in the entry way to glance around. He cautiously moved forward and paused in the kitchen doorway. His father was sitting at the table. His hands were folded tensely together and his head bowed over in concentration or frustration. Craig didn't want to know which.

"I'm going down to my darkroom," Craig told his father, after observing how intense his father looked. Craig paused for a reply. His father did not move. Craig opened his mouth, but found no words. He didn't know if he should explain something or apologize or merely ask how he was.

Craig quickly went downstairs and quietly opened the darkroom door. His mouth dropped open as he saw the place was trashed. Craig stepped inside, looking at the mess. He dropped his bag down to the floor and gripped his camera tightly in one hand. His thoughts became frantic: where to go, what to do next, should I apologize, what did I do. He didn't hear Albert come up behind him.

"Are you looking for something?" Albert asked.

Craig whirled around and saw Albert waving Craig's scrapbook filled with pictures of Joey, Angela, his mother, and himself. The scrapbook with the words 'perfect family' scrawled on inside it.

"What are you doing?" Craig asked.

Albert began to slap Craig with the book, repeatedly hitting his shoulders and arms. Craig raised his arms up to block his face, dropping his precious Nikon camera in the process.

"Are you looking for something?" Albert repeated as he threw the book aside and slammed Craig up against a shelf. Craig stared at his dad with wide eyes.

Photography equipment fell to the floor. Amid the crash and shatter of glass, Craig breathlessly asked "What are you doing?"

His father gripped him tightly by his wrists and held him for a moment, enough time for him to gasp. He knew something worse was bound to happen, it always did.

"I worked my ass off for you," Albert said as he gripped him. He could not believe his son would betray him like this.

Albert threw him down to the floor. Craig landed forcefully on his stomach and chest and gasped for air. He didn't have time to move.

"What do I get?" Albert demanded as he kicked Craig in the stomach.

Craig groaned from the blow and made a quick attempt to pick himself up. Another kick brought him back down as Albert angrily asked, "What do I get in return?"

"I get rudeness," He continued and gave another kick. Craig let out a little yell at the sharp pain.

I get lies." Albert said. Another kick accompanied that. Craig replied with another small cry of pain.

"I get this!" Albert concluded with a final kick.

Albert stopped and threw a chair across the room. He paused to look at his son, who still lay on the floor, gasping for air. He watched as Craig made an attempt to lift himself up off the floor, but gave up quickly and stayed laying there. Craig felt like he couldn't breathe and was terrified. The pain was coming on strong and he fought back the tears. He glanced back at his dad who stood in the doorway. After another weak attempt to get up, he let his head drop back down to the floor and a sob escaped his throat. He lay motionless on the floor, trying to avoid increasing the pain.

The rest of the night was quiet with Albert in his study and Craig in his room, the door securely locked. He spent most of the time lying flat on his back on his bed; he found that was the most comfortable position. He kept one hand on the scrapbook he'd managed to save and the other was used to wipe away tears. He was relieved that his father hadn't made him dinner. Breathing was painful enough, he couldn't imagine eating. And he didn't want to be anywhere near the man right now.

But the inevitable happened and he had to go to school the next day and his father would be providing the ride. He also provided him with the only apology he knew how to give – money for the camera that was broken the day before. Craig was touched by this moment (he had to care somewhat to make the effort to get on his good side) and also a little sickened (he felt bribed). But he'd accepted the cash anyway, his mind already working around plans for escaping.

For the time being, school was a good enough escape. He was sure that his cat naps and talking with other students during class seemed like average teenage behavior to his teachers. But the truth was that he was so deprived of a good nights rest and normal human interaction that he had to try to stock up on what he could during school. Sometimes faking it almost convinced him that things were okay. But there were always reminders. His developing friendships with Ashley and Sean would probably play out differently if things were different at home.

"So do you want to come over for dinner sometime this week?" Ashley asked.


Craig kicked himself later. Ever since he had missed dinner two weeks ago, his father had been adamant about him having dinner with him, exactly at six. And he had to clear the table and do the dishes, exactly at half past. His father was a creature of habit and lately he was walking on egg shells more than usual. He knew he couldn't mention it was dinner at a girl's house. His father would want to meet her and that would not go over well, especially with Ashley's growing interest in all things black and gothic. Craig sighed, nothing was ever simple here.

He decided to ask if he could join a photography club and go out for pizza with the group after. He'd made sure to ask after his father had recently given him a new CD player, which was his way of apologizing for the beating he'd been given the night before. He was sweet Craigger right now, the Craigger who needed to know Dad still loved him…and of course Dad said yes. Then he just had to make up a lie to give to the instructor about needing to miss the photography meeting and he'd be with Ash for the whole afternoon and part of the evening.

Craig tried not to think about the way he communicated with his father. It made him feel a little sick. But what was he supposed to do? It was how things worked. It all felt worth it once he was with Ashley. The bruises seemed to ache a lot less and his heart felt a bit lighter. He refused to think about how attractive and smart he thought Ashley was. There was no way he could have normal thoughts like this, he wasn't normal. If Ashley could only see the bruises and welts on his skin, she'd know what he really was- he was pathetic. His home life was tainting all this.

As the evening progressed, he was starting to realize how much of a freak he really was. He felt strangely protective over Ashley when it came to her stepfather. For instance, he was fully prepared to injure his hand to prevent the door from slamming. After all, wouldn't the noise anger him? But the family dinner proved to him just how different his life was. Ashley was free to voice her opinions and there wasn't uneasiness in the air. Her stepbrother Toby could arrive late with a friend and not be reprimanded. Instead, his friend was offered a place at dinner. He had to get out of there, before the depression made him so weak that he couldn't move. Giving Ashley a feeble goodbye, he'd wandered home. He couldn't stay there.

Having friends was becoming more and more of a challenge. He was hesitant to give out his phone number; he knew that someone would call late at night and that would certainly guarantee him a vicious beating. His address only went out to Sean. He felt bad for thinking it, but he figured that him being a "rich kid" and Sean being from the other side of the tracks, so to speak, was enough to keep him away. But it didn't go according to plan.

"Sean," Craig said and then felt bad because of the unfriendliness in his voice. "What are you doing here?"

Sean gave Craig a strange look. Was he ashamed to have him around his family? "Is it okay? I mean, Tracker basically kicked me out of the house."

Craig forced a smile. His dad was out for a few hours, it'd be okay. "Come in."

"Wow, nice house," Sean said as he stepped inside.

Craig shrugged. "You want a tour?" he said sarcastically and led him into the living room. He flipped on the TV and sat down on the leather couch. He noticed that Sean sat down awkwardly. He had a feeling that Sean was getting hung up on the whole money thing. As Craig flipped through the channels he wondered what to do. Sean didn't know that the nice furniture and satellite TV just made things seem like he had it all. Everything was a show. And he wasn't being a very good actor, he realized and quickly started a light hearted conversation.

Sean noticed a severe shift in Craig's demeanor when they heard the rumble of the garage door. Sean tried to figure it out. It couldn't be that he was ashamed of his friend who lived in a run-down apartment with his brother. There was too much fear in his eyes.

"Please leave," Craig pleaded, his voice barely above a whisper.

Sean was taken back by this sudden mood swing. "Oh, okay," he decided on saying and slowly began to move towards the front door. He was shocked when he felt Craig forcibly grab his forearm.

"Back door," he mumbled. Craig gave a firm tug on Sean, guiding him through the living room and into the kitchen. He cringed when he heard the car door slam. Craig tried to stop his hands from shaking as he fumbled with the lock and then the door knob. He could feel Sean's eyes on him and refused to meet his gaze. This whole situation was degrading. Please don't notice my fear, Craig silently pleaded. And please go before you see something happen.

Sean quickly stepped out, "Okay, I'll see you…"

"Go!" Craig stated loudly, but had enough sense not to shout. He quickly shut the door and started to busy himself in the kitchen. He casually looked up as his father entered the kitchen and set the mail and his keys down on the table. "Hey dad. How was your day?" he said as casually as possible.

"Who was just here?" Albert demanded and stalked over to his son. He gave him a good shove and pressed him up against the refrigerator.

"Sean. He just…stopped by…" Craig managed to say, even though it hurt to get the words out with his father's arm pressed on his chest like that.

"You know you have to have permission."

"I…didn't…uh…I didn't know he…" Craig tried again. His father released him and even before Craig could make an attempt to move away, his father had a firm grip on his arm and was yanking him upstairs.

"You keep lying to me!"

He pushed him hard down to the floor of his bedroom. He whimpered an apology but it was too late. He watched as his father was taking off his belt. The only thing he could be thankful for was that he got Sean out of the house when he did. He knew his father wouldn't wait for him to leave and there was no way he could ever look Sean in the face again if he heard this.

Craig was thankful that Sean didn't mention it the next day. He had decided he would argue that his father was just strict, but he didn't have the energy to develop the lie any further. He always felt so tired. It was almost like a part of him was hollow and it seemed to get deeper each day.

"You should really try out for the school team this year," Sean said as they fooled around on the basketball court.

Yeah, that would be fantastic. He could just imagine the stares from teammates as they looked over his bruised body. He felt the anger flare upward at Sean. He was the lucky one who could remove his shirt on a hot day while they worked up a sweat playing basketball. But Craig said, "I'm not really a team sport kind of guy."

Sean shrugged, "I didn't think I was either but it's cool." He tossed the basketball to Craig, who tossed it back. He went for a lay up, but completely missed the shot. Sean heard Craig laugh.

"Well maybe I should join the school team if you're the star player," Craig joked.

"Ahhh, I never said I was."

"I'll give the Panthers some hope," Craig joked and went for the basket. Sean attempted to block him and accidentally jabbed his sore ribs, which never had a chance to heal with the beatings become more and more frequent.

Craig nearly doubled over from the pain. "Ow! Man, this isn't hockey!"

"Oh, I'm sorry."

Craig had to restrain himself from lunging at Sean. This was all his fault. Last night was his fault. "For what? Being a total idiot?"

"Excuse me?" Sean asked, with a bewildered expression on his face.

Craig angrily tossed the ball at Sean. "Take it! You need the practice." He walked away as a quickly as he could. It was then that he knew that he better keep Sean away from him in case he knows something. He heard Sean call out his name but he didn't look back.

It was easier this way, really. Everything was growing far too complicated. He needed to simplify things and this was the best way to do it. Craig figured the less number of people paying attention to him, the better. He was always terrified that one day someone was going to notice how he could never casually sit down at his desk or that sometimes the back of the chair rubbed on his welts and he'd jerk forward. He decided he'd give up eating lunch in the caf. He couldn't take the chance that Sean or Ashley would sit down next to him and ask questions. Ashley. He couldn't even begin to think about her, especially how pretty and interesting he found her. It just reminded him of how pathetic he was and how screwed up things were getting.