A Friend In Need

M

Disclaimer: I don't own OffBeat, Quiznos, Doritos™ or Bactine™.

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It was a cloudy winter day in Queens, New York, and Tory Blake was on his way home from school. Little did he know he was being followed. He arrived at his apartment just as his mom was coming out the door.

"Oh, Tory honey, I have to go upstate for the weekend. I know it's short notice, I'm sorry," she said, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek as she passed him.

"Uh, that's OK, Mom. I'll be fine," said Tory, not at all disillusioned at the thought of having the house to himself for two whole days.

"Paul's going to be in charge, honey, so don't try to do anything I wouldn't let you do," she called as she got into her car.

"Wait, WHAT!?" screamed Tory. "You left Paul in charge? Why? Mom, I can take care of myself!"

"See you Sunday, sweetie!" called Mary Blake as she started the car. She was out of sight before Tory could even compose himself long enough to form another sentence.

"But-- I-- you--" he stuttered. He heard Paul chuckle behind him, and whipped around to see the college student leaning back against the front door, smoking a cigarette. "Arrrrrghh!" growled Tory.

"Relax, Tory. I'm not like a babysitter, or anything. I just get to call the shots while your mom is gone in exchange for full refrigerator privileges."

"Like not having those privileges ever stopped you before!" snarled Tory. "Get out of my way, doucher!" Tory pushed past Paul and went inside.

Tory spent much of the evening in his room, brooding and being mad about the whole Paul situation. Then he realized he was hungry. Paul's probably cleaned out the fridge by now, he thought to himself. Screw him, I'm going to Quiznos! Getting his coat and hat, he made his way down the hall before getting stopped by Paul, who was lying down on the couch reading a book.

"Where do you think you're going?" he asked mockingly.

"Out," said Tory.

"I don't think so, dude. It's nine-thirty."

"So?"

"So your mom said your curfew is nine. And you know I'd never want to disregard her rules." Paul teased, fully enjoying his power.

"OK, I'm going to Quiznos. Happy now?" said Tory.

"Yeah right. You're not going anywhere, Tory. If you're hungry you can…well actually, I ate your dinner, so…" Paul trailed off and started another sentence. "You know what? You're not going out, end of story."

"Well, then can YOU go out and get me something?" asked Tory, in a more-than-ticked-off tone of voice. Paul didn't even answer. For all Tory knew he hadn't even been listening. Tory reached for the doorknob.

"Ah! Don't even think about it," said Paul, not even looking up from his book.

"It's not like you care if anything happens to me anyway!" yelled Tory.

"Sure I do," said Paul, though he was grinning as he said it which made it hard for Tory to take him seriously.

"Why do you always have to be such a prick, Paul?"

"I'm just doing my job."

"No, you're abusing your power and you know it!" Tory answered back.

"Hey, I can abuse my power if I damn well please! Who's in charge? I'm in charge! Now go to your room," said Paul.

Tory, shocked that Paul would say such an annoying thing, albeit jokingly, just stood there with his mouth open for a few seconds, then turned on his heel and stomped off toward his room. "Man, I can't stand you!" he growled.

"You're such a brat!" scoffed Paul before Tory slammed the door to his room.

Tory was hungry AND angry now. Feeling like he had something to prove, he glanced over at his bedroom window. He was on the ground floor, and Paul was only guarding the front door. He could sneak out, go get some food, sneak back in and Paul would be none the wiser. Also, Tory had never snuck out of his room before, so if Paul did try to rat him out to his mom, he could just deny it, and his mom would probably believe him.

Carefully moving his computer to the side of the desk in order to clear a space for himself, Tory climbed up on top of his desk and unlocked the window. He slid it up slowly, so as not to make any noise, and then struggled to lift up the screen. The ground was about six feet down. He slithered out of the window very slowly. Hanging onto the windowsill with his hands, he tried to feel around with his feet for the ground, but couldn't touch it. Taking a big breath, he let go, and fell to the ground.

His feet were a little hurt, but he didn't care. He smiled triumphantly to himself, knowing that he'd just given Paul the slip.

Tory didn't look back and therefore didn't see the shadow of a person sneaking up behind him.

Back at the apartment, Paul had just about finished his book and glanced at the clock. It was almost ten-thirty. Ms. Blake had asked him to make sure Tory went to bed by eleven. Well, he thought. Better check on the little guy. Getting up, he stretched and shuffled over to Tory's room.

"Hey, Tory?" Paul called, knocking on the door. "I'm going upstairs. Just wanted to say I'm sorry about earlier." No answer. He could see the light from Tory's room coming from under the door, so he knew that Tory couldn't already be asleep. "Come on, man, I was just messing with you. Are we cool?" Still no answer. Paul frowned and opened the door. No one was in the room. "What the…?" he muttered to himself. Then he noticed the open window. "Oh, you have got to be fucking kidding me!"

Out on the streets, Tory was on his way home with a sandwich, which he knew was going to taste much sweeter since he'd gotten it under the circumstances which he had. Little did he know he would never get the chance to eat it.

"Hey Tory," came a voice. Tory turned towards it. It was Jeremy, Tory's jerky acquaintance from school. He emerged slowly from the shadows. "What'cha got there?" he asked slyly.

"Um, food?" said Tory in a condescending tone. It only irked Jeremy.

"Hmm. An awfully big sandwich for a skinny little guy like you. Or are you going to split it with your boyfriend?" mocked Jeremy. Tory could see where this was heading, and he chose to ignore the bully.

"Hey, where're you going?" came another voice. Apparently Jeremy was not alone. Soon, Tory was surrounded.

Then everything went to shit.

Meanwhile, Paul was frustrated at the fact that he knew he'd have to go out and look for Tory, since he had been planning on going to sleep. Putting on his own coat, he grabbed his keys and went outside to hunt for the boy.

"TORY?" he called. "TORY, I WILL KILL YOU, I HOPE YOU KNOW!" he called. Damn it! he thought.

In a dark alley a few blocks away, Jeremy and his gang were taunting and beating Tory.

"Aw, are we playing to rough for you, fag?" one jeered, shoving Tory against a brick wall and punching him in the gut.

"Yeah, better put some make-up over that black eye when you see Colin on Monday!" mocked another one. Tory keeled over holding his stomach, which only gave the gang an opportunity to start kicking him.

"Fag!" barked Jeremy, picking up a two-by-four, and whacking Tory in the face with it. Tory coughed and spit up blood, and he could feel himself start to black out. That's when he heard Paul calling his name. It took all the strength he had to stand up and scream for help.

"PAUL, HELP M--" he choked, but was cut off my Jeremy socking him in the mouth.

"SHUT UP, GAY-ASS!" Tory fell to the ground just as Paul caught up with him.

"Hey! what the fuck!?" he said. Jeremy and his gang turned to see Paul in the alley. They all charged at him.

Paul however, had his keys in his hand, and sliced Jeremy across the forehead with them, creating a huge, bleeding gash, so bad that Jeremy dropped the two-by-four and clutched both hands to his face.

"AGH! YOU SON OF A BITCH!" he cried. The two other guys attacked Paul, but since he was so much bigger than them, he just twisted their arms around and sent them running and whimpering.

"Get the hell out of here!" he yelled at them. The boys all split up, leaving Paul in the alley with a bloody, bruised and beaten Tory. "Tory? Tory, can you hear me? Are you OK?" Paul asked, kneeling down beside the teenager.

Tory struggled and picked himself up. He hung his head, evading Paul's eyes in shame, but Paul lifted up his chin to get a good look at his face. Tory had a black eye, a bleeding eyebrow, a bruised lip and his jawbone was scraped and bleeding. Paul cringed at the sight of it. "Oh, Tory," he said. Tory just clung to him and cried. Paul was unsure of how to handle the situation, but he felt a sudden fraternal instinct towards the boy. Embracing Tory just as tightly, he began to speak words of comfort to the teen. "Shh. It's OK. It's OK, I'm here, it's OK. I'm right here, I'm not going anywhere." Paul soothed Tory.

After Tory calmed down a bit, Paul helped him back to the apartment. He sat him down on the couch and went to get the Bactine™ and some bandages from the bathroom. Tory felt like such an idiot. Paul returned and sat down on the coffee table across from Tory. He put some Bactine™ on a wad of toilet paper and lifted up Tory's head.

"OK, just sit tight," he said gently, dabbing Tory's cuts.

"Ow!" Tory winced.

"Yeah, I know it stings. Just hold still," said Paul. He finished cleaning the cuts and put bandages over Tory's eyebrow and jawbone. "Wait here, I'll go get you some ice for that eye." While Paul was up and getting the ice, Tory lifted up his shirt to check where else he'd been hit. He had two huge bruises the size of baseballs on his body; one on his stomach, where Jeremy had punched him, and one on his side where he had been whacked with the two-by-four.

"Oh, geez, they beat you worse than I thought!" commented Paul, returning from the kitchen with a plastic zip-lock bag full of ice cubes. Tory, embarrassed, quickly pulled his shirt back down. "Here," said Paul, gently pressing the ice-pack up against Tory's eye. "Just keep that there for a while," he muttered.

"Thanks," said Tory. He started to cry shortly after. Paul knew that the last thing the boy needed right now was a lecture, but he couldn't think of anything else to say.

"You know, this is exactly why your mom doesn't want you out late at night!" he said. Tory nodded. "I can't believe you snuck out in the first place…like, did you think you wouldn't get caught? That I wouldn't find out?" Paul was expecting Tory to argue with him, but Tory only sniffed.

"I'm sorry, Paul," he whimpered. "I'm really, really sorry." Paul sighed and looked away from Tory.

"I'm not even mad, Tory," he admitted. "It's just that-- you had me worried sick, man!" Paul took Tory's chin in his hand, forcing the younger boy to look him in the eyes. "What would I have done if anything happened to you?"

"Well, you might have to start buying your own groceries, for one thing," Tory chuckled through his tears.

"I don't mean--" Paul stopped. "Tory, if you were killed, I would miss you. You know that, right?"

"Yeah. I know," said Tory.

"I mean, you're a pain in the ass a lot of the time, but we're still pals."

"I know."

"Good. Now, why don't you go to bed? It's late." Tory nodded and limped into the bathroom to brush his teeth and Paul went into the kitchen to raid the fridge one more time.

Hmm, what do I want to eat? he thought to himself. Ah, yes. Chips are always good. He swiped a bag of Doritos™ from on top of the refrigerator and tucked them under his arm. He knew Tory would probably yell at him for "mooching," as he called it, so he tried to tiptoe past the bathroom before Tory came out. Looking over his shoulder and seeing no one there, Paul thought he was in the clear, but as soon as he turned around towards the staircase, he came face-to-face with Tory. Tory only gave his neighbor an incredulous look and Paul grinned sheepishly. He'd been caught. To his surprise, however, Tory didn't say anything about the chips. Instead, he took a small step towards Paul and wrapped his arms around the college student.. Paul dropped the bag of chips and hugged Tory back.

"Hey," Paul said gently, unmoving as he held the younger boy. He heard Tory sniff back tears as he pressed his face into his chest, trembling against him. "Are you OK? You're shaking."

"Thanks. For saving me tonight," said Tory. "I was so scared…" his voice cracked as tears flooded from his eyes.

"Aw, geez…" Paul grumbled. He wanted to say something sarcastic or mean to the boy, but he couldn't bring himself to. Instead, he just ruffled Tory's hair affectionately. "I'm just glad you're alright." After a second or two of silence he added, "Don't ever scare me like that again, Tory." His tone was gentle but serious.

"I won't," yawned Tory, pulling away from his friend. "Goodnight, Paul."

"Goodnight, kid."

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THE END

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