This was one of my favorite chapters to write. I knew from the start I wanted to do one of these, but didn't know till I got here what the storyline was or who the characters would be. There was just this sentence that wrote itself at the top of the page and wanted to stay there - "we're here to love this world and take care of each other" so that's the way i tried to tell this part of the story.

Chapter 27

"Morning Raynee"

"Umm" Rayanne grumbles, coming into the kitchen and reaching for the breakfast cereal.

"You seem happy" Rayanne says a minute later, because her mom's smiling and humming some old song while she waits next to the toaster.

"It's spring outside," Amber says "and I had the sweetest dream this morning just before I woke up. Only I can't remember it."

"What?" Rayanne says, opening the fridge and digging back past several take out cartons to get to the milk "I can't hear you with my head in here."

"Do you remember that summer we went to the Dead concert in Philly with Tino and his dad?" Amber continues.

"Sure. It was Tino's first Dead concert. We were like, seven. It was great. Why?"

"I don't know sweetie, maybe it was in my dream. Or something about it."

"So you know, I'm not going to school today, right?" Rayanne says, looking at her mom standing there in her old kimono, looking relaxed and happy.

"I remember, Raynee. Give Tino my love, okay. And keep your eye on Angela," Amber says, leaning forward and brushing Rayanne's hair back affectionately, "You guys are all going to need each other now."

"I need to ask your advice about something" Rayanne tells her, in a sudden burst of trust. After all, she thinks, the fact that her mother's advice hasn't always worked so well in the past doesn't mean it might not now.

#...****oooOOOooo****...#

"Oh my God"

"What? Is it someone from school?" Angela says, because they're ditching today and a dumbfounded Rayanne has turned and is staring at the person who's just walked past them like she's seen something scary.

"That guy" she says, looking really upset.

"Yes?" Angela says patiently, watching the guy disappear across the street. "There was something familiar about him. He was whistling that like ancient Stairway to Heaven song that my dad thinks is some kind of anthem."

"The Led Zeppelin song. Yeah, Amber was humming it this morning. But that guy…I know him. I knew him. Well, not in the biblical sense, I mean, oh shit. I must be wrong."

"He's a lot older than us, Rayanne. Who did you think it was?"

"Never mind."

"He walks kind of like Tino."

"Yeah. Maybe that was it."

"What? Why are you freaked?"

"Shut up. I mean never mind. I mean like, Stairway to Heaven was the song they played at Tino's dads funeral." She stares at his back until he turns the corner, and then she looks at Angela and frowns, speechless.

"Maybe you're just worried about Tino cause today's the trial" Angela says, frowning back.

"Yeah, sure. I mean that must be it."

"I'll be glad when it's over too." Angela says and laughs "And I guess that could qualify as the understatement of the year" she thinks to herself.

#...*****oooOOOooo*****...#

"Are you waiting to see Foster?" Sharon says, sitting down next to Ricky on the floor outside of the principle's office.

He nods back at her, looking nervous.

"I guess it's not a good day for you to be ditching, right?"

"No" he shakes his head, "I'd like to be there for Tino and Jordan, but I'm in enough trouble as it is. Are you going?"

"I'm thinking about it. I'm probably going to leave during lunch and walk over to Rayanne's."

"Well, I'm sure Tino will appreciate it" Ricky says looking at her curiously, "you being there, you know."

"Yeah" she sighs "I'd really like to see him stay out of trouble. He's such a sweet guy. How long have you known him?"

"Forever. Well, we've been in the same school since third grade when I moved here. Rayanne like grew up with him, and I started being friends with her when we were eleven. I mean he's older than us you know, so I didn't really know him much, but he always looked out for Rayanne, and then me too after I was friends with her."

Ricky pauses and looks up as the office door opens but when no one says anything to him, he looks back at Sharon.

"So did you know him already when his dad died?" she asks.

"No, that um, happened the year before. Rayanne says they practically moved in with Tino and his mom for a few months after the accident because his mom fell completely apart, and Amber more or less took care of all of them. He was a fireman, you know, so there was insurance money and stuff. Amber was like, Tino's dads best friend. She still talks about him sometimes and gets teary. Everybody says Tino looks just like him."

"It was a car wreck, right?"

"Yeah. He'd just dropped Tino and his mom off at home and was driving to the store for milk when somebody ran a red light and killed them both."

Ricky sighs and looks away.

"You like him, don't you?" he says.

"Everybody likes him" she says slowly, "I'm just not so sure I should let it be anything more."

"Everyone liked his father too," Ricky begins, but he's interrupted by Ms. Bender sticking her head out of the office door.

"Ricky" she says "Mr. Foster will see you now."

"Good luck" Sharon whispers as he gets up. She wonders what's happened, why these people are her friends now, and if it's too late to pretend they aren't. Angela Chase somehow has managed to get her involved with the most, well, unusual, people, she thinks to herself as she stands up. She walks on down the hall, humming some old song her dad likes and knowing that right after next period, she's going to the courthouse.

#...*****oooOOOooo*****...#

"Ricky Vasquez" Mr. Foster says, looking at him intently "I understand that you've applied to live at Pride House."

"Yes. And Mr. Foster, I'd just like to say" he begins, hoping that he can somehow salvage the situation, but Foster interrupts him.

"I'd like to ask you some questions, Ricky" Foster says, and Ricky realizes that he's been told to zip it, so he just nods, his eyes full of fear.

"Your relation to Mr. Katimsky is?"

"He's my English teacher?" Ricky responds.

"And you've been staying in his home." Foster prompts him.

"Yes. While I was waiting to get into Pride House."

"And how did you come to stay with Mr. Katimsky?" Mr. Foster leans back in his seat, but keeps his eyes focused on Ricky.

"Well, I um, came to his front door one night after I'd left the temporary shelter. I, like, didn't feel safe there."

"And you knew where Mr. Katimsky lived how?"

"Drama club met there once."

"And why did you go to Mr. Katimsky?"

"He'd been nice to me when he found out I didn't have a place to live. He'd like, tried to help me."

Ricky realizes that he's twisting his hands together, and places them on his thighs. He tries to breathe normally, and looks back at the principle again, willing himself to stay calm.

"Now Ricky, I have to ask you this. Have you ever had any kind of physical interaction with Mr. Katimsky or his partner?"

"What are you asking me, Mr. Foster?" Ricky says, shocked to the core.

"I think you know what I'm asking you, Ricky. And I need to tell you that this is a question that you may be asked again if this situation is reported to the higher authorities."

"They've both been very kind to me" he responds "and no, there's never been any "physical interaction."

"In other words" Mr. Foster says "they've never touched you, or you them."

Once again, he's watching Ricky intently, and Ricky, whose shock is apparent, looks him straight in the eye.

"Mr. Foster" he says "aside from a pat on the shoulder when I got there, the answer to that question is no."

"All right Mr. Vasquez. I'm sure you realize that this has been an entirely inappropriate living situation. Is there anywhere else you can stay until your place at Pride House becomes available?"

Ricky gulps and nods. "I'm pretty sure I can stay with a friend" he says quietly.

"All right then. We'll need confirmation of that before you leave here today, or else we'll have to call child protective services. I don't want you spending another night in Mr. Katimsky's house. Speak to Ms. Bender in the office about that please."

"Is that all, Mr. Foster?" he asks shakily, because the thought of foster care scares him to death.

"That's all for right now, Ricky"

He walks outside feeling like he's going to vomit and sees Brian Krackow waiting for him across the hall.

"So how'd it go?" Brian asks.

"Horrible. I'm afraid he's going to try to like, ruin Mr. Katimsky's life." Ricky tells him.

"Well, it won't be the first time he's tried to do that to someone." Brian says, looking angry, "Let's get outside for a minute. You look like you could use some air."

#...*****oooOOOooo*****...#

"This is so not how I pictured my life back when the idea of having Jordan Catalano as a boyfriend was but a distant fantasy. Of course that was long ago, before my dad moved out, back when I still had what looked like a normal family, before Brian Krackow had a girlfriend, before, well, before anything."

Angela looks up at the courthouse steps from the back seat of Janet's car, and then at the backs of Brian Krackow and Janet's heads.

"Thanks again, you guys" Sharon is saying.

"Really, thank you both." Angela adds, knowing that Janet doesn't like her much at all, realizing that Brian must have asked her to drive them. The three girls had planned to walk to the courthouse together, but Sharon had shown up at Rayannne's house during school lunch and announced that she'd gotten them a ride.

"Yeah thanks" Rayanne choruses, only the way she says it isn't exactly gracious.

"You really sure you don't want to go in?" she asks Angela.

"I don't see why not" says Sharon "I mean, what did we come here for if not to show some support?

Angela is sandwiched in between the two of them, and since Jordan told her he didn't want her at his court date, she says, for the fifth time in three minutes, "Jordan told me not to come."

She's pretty sure that a big part of him not wanting her to come is that his mom is going to be there with him, and it's the same old story, he really doesn't want them to meet.

"Okay" Sharon pouts, "but just because your boyfriend has some weird sense of shame about this doesn't mean we have to wait out here with you"

"Just go ahead" she says, annoyed, and then adds "I don't know why anyone would want to go into one of those places if they didn't have to."

."Do you want us to wait here with you?" Brian says, looking back at Angela.

"No" she says, "I'll wait on the steps. Thanks again." She hopes Jordan won't mind too much that she's come, but she couldn't stay away, especially since Rayanne and Sharon were determined to be there for Tino.

"Well, let him know, I uh, you know, hope it goes okay." Brian says.

"Will do, Brain" Rayanne says "Angela here won't be telling him anything until they fall into each other's arms sometime after the judge bangs his little gavel."

"Oh, right." Brian says, embarrassed. Trust Rayanne to rub salt in his wounds.

"Okay?" Janet says impatiently "Let's go?"

"Good luck." He says to Angela, and when she looks at him almost fondly, he has his reward.

"Thanks Brian" she says, smiling at him, and climbs out of the car.

#...******oooOOOooo*****...#

Outside the courtroom, Jordan sees Tino coming towards him, only it isn't Tino. It's someone maybe ten years older than Tino, who looks just like him. Closing his eyes, Jordan leans back against the wall and vividly remembers being seven years old, playing with Tino and his father, throwing a black and green nerf ball back and forth in their back yard, how Mr Mazzera had made them laugh till they were rolling on the grass, how happy they'd been, how happy he'd been as a kid, back when things were simple, in the days when his parents still liked him. He remembers his mom coming to pick him up from the house, how she'd smiled to see them all giggling and playing air guitar to an old Led Zeppelin song. He smiles to himself at the memory, opens his eyes and looks around, but the guy is gone, and now Rayanne Graff is coming towards him, looking upset.

"Hey Catalano"

"Graff"

"Who's that guy you were talking to?"

"What?"

"That guy that just was here a minute ago."

"We weren't talking"

"It looked to me like you were" she says.

"Well, you're seeing things then. Nobody said anything."

"It was Tino's dad, wasn't it?" she says, and he feels a chill go up the back of his neck.

"Get outta here" he says, but for some reason he thinks maybe she's right. And what's weird is that maybe something did get said, only there weren't any words. He thinks it was something about life being sweet, and taking care of each other, but it didn't happen in words and he can only feel it.

He looks at Graff and shrugs, and she nods back, her face grim.

"What's he doing here?" she says "Do you think it's the court thing?"

He turns his palms up in a gesture of not knowing, and then he sees how much she cares about Tino and that makes him smile at her for the first time in a while.

"It's okay Graff" he tells her "it's gonna be fine. I'd better get inside."

He takes a breath and hopes that it's true, what he just said about it being fine, but then, almost immediately, he has the strangest feeling that it is.

#...*****oooOOOooo*****...#

"So Richard" Mr. Foster says smoothly "I guess you know that you can be dismissed for having a student illicitly living in your home. I imagine it could even cost you your license to teach."

Mr. Katimsky looks back over Foster's desk at the principal and bites his tongue. Whatever happens in here right now in the next few minutes could change his life completely. He would like to think this wasn't a personal vendetta, but he knows that if it wasn't before, testing Jordan Catalano without Foster's approval has made it one now.

"He had nowhere else to go. He'd left the shelter and shown up crying on my doorstop on a rainy night."

"That's what you'd say to a real person," thinks Mr. Katimsky. "Not to this one, who unfortunately is in a position to do just what he's talking about doing".

"It was a um, temporary solution to an um, difficult situation. " he says instead, "I couldn't turn him away, once he'd shown up on my doorstep."

"You're a public school teacher, living with a domestic partner who is male, and the two of you take in a young boy with clearly gay tendencies" Foster responds "If the press was to get a hold of that you can imagine the public response."

"Excuse me for interrupting" Ms. Krazynowsky says, speaking up from where she's sitting next to Mr. Katimsky, her face white and worried, "but Richard came to me asking for help for Ricky as soon as he found out the boy was homeless. We all realized that there would be a wait for Ricky to get into Pride House. I don't know why Ricky felt he had to leave the temporary shelter he'd been placed in but supposedly it was for a good reason. We only know that he didn't feel safe there."

"Thank you, Paula" Foster says smugly "but that doesn't make this situation right."

"Richard, the term is almost over," he continues, "I know you have the school play in rehearsal and I also feel that this is an issue I need to think about seriously, so I'm not going to make an immediate decision as to how to proceed. But we need to face the fact that at the very least you will most certainly be leaving Liberty at the end of this term. And the boy should not be in your house again, under any circumstances. Is that clear?"

"Yes" Mr Katimsky stands up, understanding that he's been dismissed. "Thank you. It's clear."

He wonders if he's supposed to thank Foster for not throwing him to the wolves immediately. Meanwhile, it seems clear enough that although he's been judged and found guilty of wrongdoing today, deliberation on his sentence will be in process for an indeterminate period of time.

#...*****oooOOOooo*****...#

That's over, thank God" Jeanine Catalano says, pulling her sunglasses out of her purse as they walk out of the courthouse "and George is picking me up and taking me to lunch so you're on your own. Try and do like the judge said and stay out of trouble for five minutes, huh?"

"Thanks mom" Jordan mutters, trying to ignore the fact of his mom and her boss, "and uh, thanks for not telling dad too."

"Yeah, well, we're all better off if he doesn't know."

They stand there for a second, looking out at the street, without saying anything.

"Mrs. Catalano?" Tino's voice is polite and careful, as he comes up beside them.

"Hello Tino" Jordans mom says with a little chill in her own voice.

"Could I talk to you for a minute please? Alone?"

Jordan rolls his eyes, takes a few steps toward the street and turns to face away, knowing that Tino is about to make some kind of formal apology that will succeed in charming his mother. He starts to reach for a cigarette and that's when he sees Angela, sitting on a ledge at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at him.

Right now she's embarrassed and unsure enough of herself that she's wishing she was invisible so she could slink away without being seen, but it's too late. Jordan's staring at her like he doesn't know what to do, and she's sorry she came, so sorry at this exact moment that she ever met him and put herself in the position of being humiliated yet again. She stands up and feels her eyes smarting as she turns to walk away, but then he's standing beside her and she's in his arms with him holding her really tight.

"I shouldn't have come." she says into his chest. "You told me not to."

"I was wrong." he says, meaning it, because it feels suddenly like everything in life that is sweet is here now, with Angela in his arms. He pulls her up against him as tight as he can.

"I really wanted you here." he mutters into her hair.

"Yeah?" she says happily, a sense of relief flooding her body.

"Yeah. A lot. Come on" he lets go of her, kisses her cheek chastely and takes her hand, walking her back towards where his mom and Tino are standing, and she suddenly finds herself frantic with worry now that she's about to meet his mother. She should have dressed nicer, she thinks wildly as they get closer, and she definitely shouldn't be wearing jeans and a t shirt right now.

"Jordan's mom is pretty," Angela notices, or it's at least as close to noticing anything as she can come at this moment, with her heart thumping away loudly in her chest. "Like really pretty. And her hair is auburn," she registers too.

Tino waves at the two of them, saunters smilingly towards a waiting Rayanne and Sharon and drapes his arms over their shoulders. And when Jordan's mom turns back in his direction, she's smiling too.

"That boy's more like his father every day" she says, and then she looks at Angela and at Jordan holding her hand.

"Who's your friend?" she says, still smiling.

"Mom, this is Angela" he says.

"Angela, hi" she starts to say, and then her smile gets even bigger and she waves at someone pulling a car up in front of the courthouse.

"Nice to meet you" she says over her shoulder as she starts down the steps happily, and Angela manages a "nice to meet you too, Mrs. Catalano" before she's out of earshot.

"She seems nice" she says quietly to Jordan, as they watch her climb into the car and kiss the drivers cheek. "Is that your father?"

"No" Jordan says, looking unhappy "definitely, um, not."

"Oh." They stand there for a second watching the car drive away and then she wraps her arms around his waist and holds on to him, digesting this latest piece of information, feeling how much he didn't like having to say that.

"Are you going back to school today?" he says after a while.

"No. Do you have to work?"

"Nah." He kisses her forehead "Let's drive somewhere."

"Yeah" she smiles up at him happily "just we have to be back by when Danielle gets home from school."

He nods, and she burrows a little closer into his chest, letting the soft air and the spring sunshine knit them back into happiness. She can tell he's happy again by the way his body relaxes into hers, by how he's holding her so easily, and she can't help thinking, finally, this whole mess is behind them and things are going to work out for them.

"Why don't you wait here, while I go get the car" he says, kissing her gently "I just want to talk to Tino for a minute."

#...***oooOOO***...#

"You like that Cherski girl, huh?" Jordan says, as they walk away from the courthouse.

"Sort of" Tino smiles "Yeah, I do."

"Not your normal type"

"Things change" Tino says.

They walk on quietly for a minute and Jordan tries to think of what he really wants to say.

"I was thinking about your dad today" he begins.

"Yeah? That's strange. Me too."

"And I was thinking, how like, I'm gonna help Angela's grandfather at the press now. It seems like a good time to stop, you know, with the ticket scalping and stuff. Maybe you should stop too." Jordan glances over at him "you know, stay out of trouble for a while."

"You think?" Tino grins. "Funny. I was thinking that too."

They walk along in easy silence for a minute.

"My uncle," Tino says "you know, my dad's brother, called me this morning and asked me to work on a construction crew for him this summer."

"Sounds right. Timing and all."

"We're gonna be working men, it looks like, Catalano."

"Well yeah, but we can still keep the loft, huh?" Jordan says, turning towards his car. "Where'd you park?"

"Back there"

They nod at each other and Tino walks on.

Don't fret, my man," he hears Tino call back at him after a few steps. "There'll always be music and girls."

Jordan looks back over his shoulder, mimes a little salute, grins and opens the car door. He's feeling at peace with the world right now, and as he turns the car radio on he thinks Tino's right, for sure there always will be music. But what really makes him smile is the idea that maybe there will always be Angela.

#...************...#

Inside the Chase house, Patti sits up on her bed and looks at the sunlight streaming through the window. Right outside a robin is perched on the far limb of a tree and through the branches she can see sweet peas blooming along the neighbors driveway. All of a sudden springtime is threatening to burst into the house and, curiously enough, Patti doesn't seem to find that a cause for tears.

In the kitchen there's a cup set out for her next to the coffee pot, and as she pours herself a cup of coffee, she looks around at the clean kitchen and knows that something is waking up inside of her. When the doorbell rings, she walks through the hallway and looks out the window at a man, maybe in his late twenties, nice looking, olive colored skin and dark hair, standing there. He's whistling Stairway to Heaven, a song Patti hasn't heard in years.

"Morning" he says smiling, when she opens the door.

"Good morning." She says, surprised to feel herself smiling back.

"One of your daughter's goes to school with my son" he tells her, and she thinks to herself that he doesn't seem old enough to have a child Danielle's age.

"Angela" he says, smiling as if he knows what she's thinking.

"But, how? Patti begins, and then she knows. It doesn't make sense, but then what does, anymore?

"Would you like…." She stutters, looking at the coffee cup in her hands.

"No, thanks" the man tells her, "though that's nice of you to offer. But what I would like is to talk to you. Could we just sit outside here on the porch?"

For the first time in a month, Patti walks out of her front door. She sits down on the porch swing and looks out on the day, feels the fresh air meet her skin, the coffee cup warm in her hands, and the world being born again.

"Nice out, huh" Tino's father says, looking around, seeming pleased by it all, "amazing how it does this every year, right on schedule."

"So, about the kids" he begins, and even before anything else gets said, Patti starts to understand all sorts of things about what he's doing here, and why she's sitting outside talking to him.

#...********************...#

"I've never actually ditched school before" Sharon says, giggling, looking around at the people on the courthouse steps. "I mean I'm just surprised that all these adults aren't looking at us and wondering why we aren't in school right now."

"It is kind of funny." Angela says, smiling serenely before turning to an unusually pensive looking Rayanne.

"What's going on Raynee?"

"This thing with Tino's dad has me like, totally freaked" she scowls, looking across the steps. "I mean why's he here? Is this like some frigging scene out of Our Town where he gets to come back for a day or something? Why can we see him? I wonder if Amber's seen him."

"Tino's dad?" Sharon's voice hits a high note, and she looks at Rayanne for an explanation, but Rayanne is walking away from them, to the other side of the steps, towards a man who looks like he could be Tino's older brother or something.

"What's she talking about?" Sharon asks Angela, who just shakes her head, looks in the direction that Rayanne is walking and says nothing.

"That man isn't old enough to be Tino's father" Sharon hisses.

A determined look crosses her face and she turns and trails after Rayanne.

Angela watches the three people standing together on the steps, noting the details of the scene as if she was going to paint them somehow, the way the mans outline isn't quite as sharp as a normal persons, how Rayanne and Sharon's outlines begin to soften and beam. It's kind of fascinating, she thinks, because there's a sort of golden gentleness pouring through all three of them, and she can even feel her body tuning into them, experiencing the same thing, being suffused with a sense of sweetness. In the midst of the sweetness she thinks of her mother and how much she loves her, and how even while with all her heart she wants her mother to get better, there's still this cohesive presence of life and the love that runs through it whether people get better or not. She stands there on the steps and it's all running through her right now, this world that she's not separate from.

And then, from outside there's the sound of brakes slamming and the crash of metal, and the feel of everyone on the courthouse steps freezing, turning their attention to the sound. Angela looks around dizzily, and when she looks back towards her friends, the man has disappeared. The three of them look at each other, their mouths opening in shock, and without a word, begin to run in the direction of the crash.