Deep breath.

What had he gotten himself into?

Standing in the midst of a hustling, bustling, hectic arena packed full of bodies, he turned in a slow, three hundred and sixty degree circle as he tried to make heads or tails of what his location was and where it needed to be in the next minute or so before he was considered tardy.

Maybe those campus tours weren't only for losers as he'd been so led to believe previously.

"Oh sorry!"

Being pitched forward off balance, as someone harshly bumped into him from behind, he steadied his footing right before he took a header.

"Are you okay?"

The young lady responsible for his near fall smiled apologetically.

"I was just—"

Pausing in mid-sentence, she held up a creased and wrinkled map.

"Trying to figure this thing out."

Sighing finally with a shake of the head, she stuffed the piece of paper back into the rollaway at her side.

"I give up…"

Having been silent the whole time, as he wouldn't have been able to get a word in edge anyhow, he smiled then.

"Lost?"

"Very."

They not so subtly exchanged studying glances at each other.

Pretty.

She was pretty, well, pretty.

Which was just a simple observation on his part.

"Are you new too?"

"First day."

Before they could continue their budding conversation, other students, all of whom seemed to have some, vague, idea about where to go, pushed and shoved past them, and they both were forced to back up against a wall to avoid being trampled.

"I've never been late for a class since I was nine and my mom got a flat tire on the way to school."

Breaking the silence first, she glanced down at her cell phone for the time and then grimaced.

"What about you?"

"Huh?"

Her attractive features had taken precedence over what she'd said, so he took a moment to figure out what the question was first before he gave his answer.

"Oh—uh—well, I've never been to a school. Until now, anyway."

"Never been to school? Like—any school? Ever?"

Nodding, his facial expression was coy.

"How is that—possible...?"

"Complicated. It's—really complicated."

Inching closer to him as her right foot was stepped on, she scowled at the uncouth passerby responsible and then gazed at him puzzled.

"Did you travel a lot as a kid or something?"

His eyes brightened at the, seemingly, innocent question and he dropped his head long enough to give his dry lips a quick pass from his red tongue.

"You—could say that, yeah."

"Cool. I was one of those who counted the annual trip to Nana and Gampy's place a huge adventure."

"Trust me—after a while it, kind of, gets old."

Both kids went quiet and simply stood there as she could think of nothing else to add and he wished to change the subject altogether.

"So uh, what's—what's your first class?"

"Right."

Fumbling through her oversized handbag, she dug out a laminated card.

"My mom likes to laminate everything, she's so-weird…oh here it is. I've got English 111. My favorite subject of course…"

"Give me Hemingway over Archimedes any day."

She grinned at him and shook her head.

"Nu-huh, not me; math and I are best friends."

He shifted the weight of his backpack as a playful tint hovered in his glittery eyes.

"Its role in my life has been more of the evil, red-headed, stepchild."

Smiling back at her, he then noticed that most of their fellow students were now flooding out of most of the accessible exits around them, signaling that time was running out to find homerooms, quickly.

"I think—I better get going…"

"Yeah, me too. I hate being that last kid who arrives and everyone stares at when you walk in."

She tucked the card away again and glanced back at him.

"I guess I'll see you around later, maybe at lunch time? I mean, if you aren't planning on leaving campus to get something or—"

"No, I won't have to, I—brought my lunch with me."

Holding up the insulated bag in his right hand, he sighed.

"My Dad has—separation issues…it's part of the complicated."

"I've always been told that I'm a pretty good listener."

Not having had much experience with the opposite sex, the little that he knew he'd gained from reading books, searching the internet, watching television, and also taking note of a few, weird mystical ladies who always wore funny expressions and sneaky grins whenever around his father.

But even though his experience was greatly lacking, he could tell one thing.

She liked him.

"My name's Gabriella, by the way, though I prefer Gabby."

"Connor. My name's Connor, but, you can always call me Connor."

She giggled good-naturedly and stuck her hand out towards him.

As they shook hands in greeting, the smiles that then formed in consequence were of the age old variety.

Maybe this going to college business wouldn't be so bad after all.


Dragging his feet across the yard, Connor cursed all things, inanimate or not, that came to mind.

Not having any clue that the scholastic atmosphere would be so rapid, fast paced, and go go go, he had not been prepared, at all, for most of the professors he'd faced, and it seemed none of them were particularly sympathetic to his plight.

Talking to himself as he shuffled along, he soon found that he was surrounded by many others who had the same idea as he.

Food is therapy.

Dropping down into one of the last free chairs beside a grand scale window in the cafeteria lounge, he groaned long and low as his tired eyes shut against the burning rays of the noonday sun coming through half opened blinds.

"Hey, mind if I join you?"

Sitting up immediately, he glanced up blinking to see a, newly, familiar face smiling down at him.

"No—no I—sorry, yeah, sure."

"You look like you had about as much fun as I did."

Gabby wheeled her portable book bag to a stop before she then sat down across from Connor, balancing a tray in one hand which held a modestly sized meal.

She placed the tray on the table and sighed deeply.

"College is hard."

"Very."

Agreeing, Connor smiled, for real, for the first time in over three hours.

"I think all of my professors hate me."

"You too?"

Chuckling, she toyed with a ring on her left pinky finger idly.

"I don't think they're here to teach us so much as torture us…"

"My mom always told me that one day being so underpaid would get to them."

Nodding, just because really, he then noticed one of her fingers making a jabbing motion towards his things heaped in a haphazard pile on the floor.

"Eaten yet?"

He shook his head in reply.

Connor had forgotten all about eating as soon as she'd arrived but, he wasn't about to tell her that.

Unable to do anything more than laugh helplessly, a little bit self-conscious, he saw his father's true impulsively compulsive side displayed in full force as the amount of food that had been packed for him could last for a week and a day.

"Wow…"

Virtually mesmerized at the sheer quantity of his meal, Gabby breathed the word softly.

"Yeah, I know—there are—the issues..."

Picking through the sizable haul until he found the one item he knew would not ever have been forgotten, or else, he tore open the package marked with the name 'Hostess'.

"Want one?"

Offering her the chance to share his treat of choice, she declined the gesture kindly while going about uncovering a sub sandwich covered in clear plastic wrap.

"Only like chocolate in milk."

Somewhat surprised at her remark, he smiled around the fudgy cake he bit into.

"You sound like my Dad."

Laying out the sandwich first on a empty plate, she looked up.

"Is that a good thing?"

"Depends."

Watching her, Connor took instant notice of Gabby's strange ritual as she dissected the contents laid out between the two slabs of bread carefully, evidently searching for something.

"Sorry."

Knowing that he was studying what she was doing closely, Gabby gave a half smile.

"Turkey's my favorite but it seems everyone else, other than my Mom, insists on putting in tomatoes."

Coughing hard, Connor tried to swallow his sticky mouthful before attempting to speak.

"You—mmm…you don't like tomatoes?"

"I know what you're thinking—who doesn't like tomatoes on a sandwich, but—"

"Don't worry—no, you won't be getting objections from me on that."

Leaning on one propped up hand, elbow planted on the table top, his eyes sparkled.

"What?"

Wonderment over his stare visible, Gabby placed the two red slices of the fruit/vegetable that she disliked aside to be disposed of later.

Connor wore a goofy grin.

"Just—thinking…"


"You survived."

Giving the passenger side door a hard shove from his seat, causing it to swing open, he smirked at the sluggish figure coming closer.

"Barely."

Climbing in with a grunt of effort preceding him, he dropped his bags on the floor of the cab and promptly curled up into a small ball.

"I hurt…"

"You're also not buckled."

"Because I hurt."

"You'll hurt a lot more if you go flying through the windshield at fifty-five miles an hour.

"I trust you to drive safely."

"Connor."

Letting out a high-pitched, whiny noise he finally turned and grabbed on to the long strip of material meant to offer protection in case of the unthinkable.

Clicking it in place, he gave the man as jaded a look as he could muster.

"There, happy now?"

"I, and my insurance premium, thank you."

Starting up the engine and then putting the vehicle into drive, he kept a careful eye out while tentatively moving out of the space he'd parked in, attempting his best not to hit any of the students carelessly j-walking to and fro.

"How'd—?"

"No questions."

"Now or ever?"

"Pick."

Chuckling, he gave the teen's right knee a gentle slap.

"It couldn't have been too horrible."

"No—it was worse."

Switching up his position, Connor stretched out one leg and put his left foot up on the dash.

"The dramatics make me want to ask what happened, but the foot has me ready to pull over."

Knocking the appendage down just as his truck rolled up to a red light and came to a stop, the man shot the boy a stern look.

"Have you no pity?"

Folding his arms, he glared at the one causing him such grief.

"Plenty. That's why you were allowed to keep that foot."

"I need my own car…"

Mumbling, Connor stared out the window to his right.

"I agree. But then we wouldn't have these lovely little chats to brighten up our days, now would we?"

Fighting hard to keep the corners of his mouth in a downward position, he was supposed to be mad after all, he looked down at his hands folded together in his lap.

"Uncle Charles?"

"Oh boy—I got an 'Uncle'."

When it was safe to give the child a quick once over, he did.

"What's up?"

"If I told you something, in complete confidence, you wouldn't tell anybody else. Not even Dad, right?"

"Right. Why…?"

"I—kind of—maybe… well—see, there was this girl and-"

"Isn't there always?"

Laughing now, Charles grinned.

"What's her name?"

"Gabby."

"Cute?"

"Yeah…"

"'Yeah...'?"

Repeating back Connor's answer with an elbow nudge thrown in, he got a soft snort out of the boy trying his best to sulk instead.

"Good for you."

"She doesn't like tomatoes."

"When's the wedding?"

A little bit more relaxed now, Connor squinted his eyes against the harsh glare coming through the windshield from the burning ball hanging above in the sky.

"But-what do I do?"

"About what?"

Putting on the left turning signal, Charles waited for a right of way car to drive by before making his move.

"I don't know…"

Sighing, he banged his head back against the seat.

"This is one of those things I'm gonna have to figure out on my own, isn't it?"

Looking over, the expression on the man's face was all the response he needed.

"Great…"


Pacing, as there was too much energy in him to keep still and sit, he clasped his hands together back behind him.

"Angel?"

His name called out compassionately, he glanced up at it.

"Don't worry. They'll be here soon."

Nodding, Angel forced a tiny smile.

"Sure."

Despite their friendship of over five years, she'd only ever seen him so cagey and withdrawn once before.

Of course there was the fact that he and the boy had yet to be separated more than four hours at a time since their reunion, but still, she hadn't thought it'd be this hard for him, hard on him.

On Angel's end, the memories of the past did not own his mind as they once did, but their lingering presence was felt often, and in this case they ebbed and flowed along, making him restless and fretful.


"Because you're the bestest uncle a kid could ever ask for."

"I'd take money preferably."

Hoisting Connor's things up out of his truck to carrying, Charles waved the child on ahead of him.

"Did ya miss me?"

It didn't appear his question was all that necessary to ask, considering he was currently being held up in his father's strong arms as if he was but four years old again.

"No. Why do you ask?"

With a big smile, Connor patted the top of Angel's head.

"One day I'm going to get too big for you to do this."

"Eh."

Looking over the man's head, he waved at the woman behind them.

"I'd hug you too Aunt Fred, but I think it may be a while."

"Take your time."

Chuckling, Fred walked to greet the odd man out of their quartet.

"So, how was it? Did you have fun? Make nice with all your professors?"

Staring up into his son's face, Angel flicked back Connor's hat to get a better look at him.

"It was okay."

The teen's short answer received a raised eyebrow.

"Okay? Did you like it? What happened?"

"It was just—okay Dad."

"But what does that mean? Good okay? Bad okay? Just 'okay' okay?"

"I didn't know it came with options."

"Connor."

"Daddy."

Grinning he then yelped as he was thrown over the man's right shoulder, freeing up a certain, ample, part of his anatomy, making it vulnerable to attack.

"Ow! No fair! You're bigger than me!"

"Nice of you to finally notice."

"You're a very bad man. Put me down."

"I don't think I want to."

"Help me…"

Arms outstretched, Connor reached toward the other respective members of his family as they walked past.

Utterly ignored, he grumbled his vengeance before finding himself seated upon a study thigh.

"I am eighteen."

"Seventeen and three quarters."

"Too old for this."

"Never."

"Not a baby."

Hitting his father's hard chest first, Connor laid his head on it and rolled his eyes.

"But I'm yours—I know I know…"

"How right you are."

Angel looked down while Connor peered upward, and they both gazed at one another without speaking.

Words were nothing more than accessories to them.

There wasn't much the tongue could tell that the eyes couldn't show.

This Angel knew well while searching glistening orbs of sea blue, pure and fluid as rushing water, for a moment while brushing aside one, unruly, strand of hair which always seemed to hang down just enough to be an annoyance.

Perhaps there would come the day when he'd actually get used to this, the idea that his son was back, for good, with him, to stay, forever, and not obsess and fuss and fixate so on the child as if any day now he'd be snatched away again.

Yeah—

Maybe.

Deep breath…


tbc…