Yea! an update that's still in the same year as the show! This is the next of the "episode" chapters. This poor little episode has been rewritten so many times I'm going blind now just looking at it. And in an effort to join stories together under a cohesive theme I worry I may have taken too much on and it may read fragmented. Anyway, here we go; the title, hopefully, says it all. (It's not a happy chapter.) Thanks so much to everyone still reading! I love to hear from you! :)

#23 Isolation

Day 1

Early morning in the River Diner Jordan Catalano sits at the counter drinking his coffee and keeping his head down. The tiny bell above the door chimes each time patrons exit and enter, but the bustle of the morning rush happening all around him seems to go wholly unnoticed by Jordan. He drinks his coffee and keeps to himself. Behind Jordan to his left the bell chimes as the door once again swings open and through it enters Rickie Vasquez. Chilled, Rickie stands by the entrance rubbing his hands to warm them from the cold.

Looking about for a place to sit, Rickie moves toward the counter and as he makes to take the empty stool nearest the register he enters Jordan's peripheral vision; coffee mug poised at his lips, Jordan turns his head just enough to get a full view. There's a pause before he nods his head curtly. "Hey."

Rickie looks— "Oh." He hadn't noticed Jordan in the moment in which he'd debated acknowledging him. Rickie swallows, then gestures the slightest wave, "Hi."

Jordan returns to his coffee but when he sets the thick, cracked-glazed mug on the worn Formica countertop, he jerks his head once in Rickie's direction. When Rickie hesitates and does not move, Jordan, keeping his eyes ever fixed ahead of him, clears his throat and kicks out the stool beside him. "Go 'head."

Rickie does, and they sit side by side, facing forwards in their seats, neither one really looking at the other. With nothing to do Rickie corrects the placement of his cutlery. Then arranges them again. "Didn't expect to see anyone. I knew."

Jordan finishes his coffee, "I'm here a lot."


Jordan scratches his jaw and turns away looking for a refill, "Not much of a late sleeper."

This strikes Rickie as counter to everything that is Jordan Catalano; close to every time he sees him he seems on the verge of crashing. Jordan comes late to school, he sleeps in class, and typically is only half awake at best.

His justification was uncalculatingly casual, but something in his dispassionate distracted demeanor — one that wants to avoid further inspection or inquiry — gives the impression that there may be something more to it than 'early riser.' But as Rickie has secrets and half truths of his own he generously lets it lie.

A buser comes by and fills Jordan's cup. When the coffee's poured Jordan sips it without sugar, without letting it cool. "Whudda 'bout you?"

"Here?" Rickie shrugs. "I guess," his eyes shift to Jordan who's still sitting in profile, "I guess I'm not always in such a rush to start a school day."

Jordan nods dryly and takes a drink, "Yeah."

As Jordan puts down his mug, Rickie notices the hand is bruised and his knuckles split. Surreptitiously, he leans forward to steal a full glimpse of Jordan's face, and he sees it — what Jordan's been conscious of concealing. He's badly bruised with a split lip. Wordlessly Rickie leans back and averts his eyes. Jordan is a stone, silent and cold, unmoved and unaffected by the things happening about him.

When the waitress passes behind the counter Rickie's glad for the assistance in playing it cool and he gestures politely with a slight raise of his hand. The woman stops and pulls out her pad.

"Made up your mind, Honey?"

"Uh, may I have an omelet, please? Um, mushrooms. And, uh, cilantro."

"No cilantro."


"There's no cilantro."

"Oh. Ok. Spinach?" She nods and writes it down. "Thank you."



But she's distracted again by Jordan's face and she pauses, without finishing taking down the order. To draw her attention away and make less of a thing of it, as clearly Jordan would prefer everyone to do, Rickie continues ordering— "And juice. Pineapple." Abruptly Jordan pushes out his chair and tosses a couple bills on the counter. Rickie's head turns to follow him "—If you have it..." but he covers and smiles back at the waitress. "Please."

She nods then looks again to Jordan. "Baby, you okay? What happened?"

"Nothin'," he mumbles, then flashes a disarming smile as a diversionary tactic, though with the split lip he doesn't quite pull it off. "It's fine." Jordan grimaces a bit as he stands — his ribs, and something in his back or side hurt.

Rickie's unaccustomed to seeing him this way, and though Jordan's stoic and unaffected, and seemingly taking everything in stride as always, it's unsettling. Because, something about it all doesn't read like it was just a fight, and—

"Listen," Jordan directs in Rickie's general vicinity, "I'm gonna get out of here." Swinging his shoulder he scratches his head and gestures, but never makes eye contact, "I don't know if I'm makin' it, straight to school." Jordan starts to move away but stops to add, a bit obligatorily, "You good for a ride?"

"Yeh. I'm fine."

Jordan nods as he backs to the door, "Right." Turning, he strides toward the exit, "Later."

The bell chimes and he's out in the cold morning air.

Mr. Katimski sits at his desk as his sophomore English class silently takes an exam. On occasion he looks up from the stack of papers he is grading to watch the students and monitor their progress. Both Sharon and Brian are focused and hard at work, as Angela is trying to be, but something is tugging at her attention and she pauses, and looks behind her to Jordan's empty desk. Worry flashes across her face and her brows knit. He'd been studying for this test, and more than that, she hasn't seen him in days. Where is he?

"Ah! Eyes on your own papers _ please."

Angela turns back to her desk, but does not return to her test. Instead she looks at Brian. Watching him. Watching him in that distant involuntary way she's found herself doing lately — in the way she doesn't even fully realize she is watching him. It's not what she wants, not what she ever wanted — to be watching for Jordan yet to be looking at Brian. This, thing, with Brian, this watching him, thinking about him, and the words he had spoken, can't be real. Cognitively, emotionally, in all ways she knows it, but his words, his eyes looking into hers that night out in the street light between their houses, had struck a chord — made possible what she'd never thought possible. What she'd never never thought to think at all. What had really been unthinkable. Still it was just a thought. Nothing more than that. Letter or no letter Angela wants Jordan. Letter or no letter Brian is not an object of desire for her. But the thought of him creeps up on her now and then. Not so much the thought of him, but that... there are possibilities. Out there. In the world. Even in the parts of the world that are so mundane, so constant, so unremarkable as a mop-headed fifteen-year-old boy she's known for years. That a few words and strokes of a pen and one unguarded moment of almost-blatant honesty can turn the known world on its axis. It was an absolute paradigm shift. And the fact of it takes her breath away. Not suddenly but slowly; after days and weeks of reluctantly replaying it in her mind, he has become a object of fascination to her.

How else does one react to having such feelings of desirability and devotion awakened within them? Brian is not hers, he never will be hers, but neither will he ever again be 'Brian Krakow: her clueless neighbor.'

She doesn't know why these thoughts strike her when they do; why during a test, why when Jordan's gone dark. Jordan — where is he? But Angela shuts her eyes, pushes down her tendency to over think and worry, and zones in on the task at hand. Angela breathes, forgets about all that's unknown in the world, remembers that it's nothing new for her boyfriend to cut class, or, unfortunately, to not call, to take a step back. Everything's fine. She takes her test.

Brian, now finished and reviewing his answers, unaware Angela had been watching him, looks up from his work to reconsider an answer choice, and, staring out the classroom door, catches a glimpse of Rayanne Graff as she happens by. And her appearance blots out all thoughts but ones of her.

She hadn't spoken to him since she'd shut things down. She hadn't told him why. Of course Brian had never thought she was his; of course he'd known it was something he never could have given name to before it'd happened to him. But when she'd walked away she'd left a space that he now could miss. And one more thing to a long list of things he knows he doesn't get. Or understand. She looks okay; she's with girls he doesn't recognize. He can't be sure if she's seen him, but either way she's walked right past. Brian watches, wide-eyed, as she disappears from view. Again.

The bell rings. "Okay," Katimski calls time. Brian's attention drops immediately to his test, confirming he had indeed finished before the distraction of Rayanne. Angela rushes her last and final question. "That's it. Finish _ up. I'll see you _ tomorrow." The last few students still working on their exams rise and turn in the tests, with some whining and mumbling from a few. Now freed from the anxious quiet of testing, the class quickly and boisterously empties out into the hall.

Sharon waits at Angela's desk as she returns from handing in her work. "How'd you do?"

Gathering her things to leave, Angela's eyes land unconsciously back on Jordan's empty desk, and without intention she is distant and distracted in her answer, "Huh?" But catching herself she looks back at her friend and refocuses, "Oh." Angela drops her pencils and eraser in her backpack and zips it shut, "Okay."

Still wired from the exam Sharon hardly notices Angela has other things on her mind; "I totally did not expect that last question. I mean, where did that come from?" Angela gives an obligatory, but distant, shake of her head, pulling on her backpack slowly.

Following their classmates into the hallway the two girls pass Principal Foster as he in turn enters the classroom. Atypical as this is they each give him a second look as he passes but just as quickly they move on to other things, all of more interest than the occasionally spotting of Liberty High's sternly officious head administrator.

"Mr. Katimski," Mr. Foster pauses with resonant authority, "do you have a moment." It was phrased as a question, but as is typical in communications with Principal Foster, it was not to be taken as one.

"Uh _ su-ure," Katimsiki looks up from the mess of tests and answer sheets he is trying to corral, "I was just _"

"Take a seat Mr. Katimski." Foster's propensity for curtness makes it difficult to distinguish when circumstances are in extremity and about to hit the proverbial fan, from the mundane norm. Katimski moves to sit but does not have the chance before Foster speaks again. "Do you know a student by the name of Enrique Vasquez." Again, this was not a question.

"Enrique, ah _ he—"

"Is in your English 10, yes," Foster cuts him off. "I am aware he is one of your students. You see Mr. Katimski, what I am asking is: How well do you know this boy, Enrique Vasquez?"

In the hall Brian stands at his locker switching out textbooks for others. As Angela and Sharon walk past Angela discreetly glances his way. 'At this point it's not even Brian as Brian; it's the sheer unknowability of another person. If I could be that wrong about Brian Krakow, I could be wrong about anyone. Nobody may be who they appear; and here I'm changing my hair, changing my friends, my clothes, my life, trying to get out of a box, all the while keeping others in the ones I made for them. It's disconcerting.' When, feeling her gaze, Brian looks up, Angela quickly averts her eyes and moves along.

Brian subsequently turns purposelessly back to his locker; his eyes shut. Everything is strange. He no longer exists to Rayanne, and he has no idea why. Angela's trying — he guesses — to go back to normal, but things are weird there too. And so now he's left out more completely than he had ever been before. Further away from Angela, further away from Rayanne, and because of that, probably Rickie too; further alone than he had been before any of it. And here he is, more experienced, but none the better off. He closes his locker and starts down the hall in the opposite direction, but he stops, half turns to head down the hall after Angela, then stands still. In No Man's land alone, he turns in frustration back to his locker, opens it again, faces the fact he has nothing more to do there, and disgusted with himself turns round and leans against his open locker. Looking round the hall he sees no one to greet, no one he can talk to. What's wrong with him? How is this always the way things end?

Risking being late to her fourth period Angela walks down to the bleachers to look for Jordan. He isn't there. She scans the parking lot for his car, but it isn't there. She does however make eye contact with Rayanne. She's there in the parking lot with two girls Angela recognizes but has never seen Rayanne hang out with, though it's hard to keep track of what Rayanne's been up to lately; not that she's trying. But, with the play closed and Rickie more and more splitting his time between disparate friends, Rayanne must suddenly have a lot of empty time on her hands. And, apparently, a new, maybe less than desirable crowd.

The girls look at Angela. Rayanne looks too, but not for long. Angela watches as one of them says something and she and the other girl laugh. Angela doesn't care. She can't care. She's more than two months, one staggeringly difficult-to-get-over betrayal, and close to a year evidencing poor judgment and self-destruction past caring. But she has to look. She's past caring she reminds herself, but apparently there's something still there keeping her looking — something between them that didn't diminish when the friendship did. The bell rings and Angela takes a few backwards steps before slowly turning away and walking back into the school.

Principal Foster looms over Mr. Katimski who, seated at his desk, is looking destroyed. "I'll expect your letter of resignation tomorrow morning; I have arranged for a substitute to take over the rest of your classes for today. Please exit campus immediately after collecting your belongings. I'll wait."

In the girl's bathroom after geometry Angela leans against the sinks with her head back against the wall, waiting as Rickie washes his hands. "So—" Rickie starts, trying for information without making a thing of it, "did you end up going to that thing with Jordan the other night?"

"Uh, uh. I never heard from him." She looks at him, "For three days now. I called his house but his father said he wasn't there."

"Huh. ... Did..." Rickie's having trouble maintaining eye contact, "he say what happened?"

"No," she tucks her hair, "he isn't at school today. Again." Her face crinkles as she confesses, "I'm a little worried."

Unprepared to further broach the subject of Jordan, though he'd brought it up, Rickie redirects the conversation. Crossing to the trash to drop in his paper towel he touches her hair softly as he passes by "—Angela, we should really recolor your hair."

Angela looks a moment in the mirror, then loses interest and sighs. Turning back to face Rickie she asks, "So Rayanne is hanging out with Kristina Anderson?"

Rickie doesn't seem to want to get into it. "I guess."

"She dropped Sharon already?" Angela fishes. "I thought—" Angela glances in Rickie's direction but then looks away, not wanting to give herself away "—she like hated Kristina Anderson and Leslie Hitt."

The bell to fifth period blares. "I don't really know," Rickie answers passively, holding the bathroom door open for them as they exit into the hallway.

"_ So, um, ... does she ask about me?" She doesn't know where that came from; Rickie doesn't know what to say. Nor does he know how he'll ever get out of the middle of this thing between the girls, or when he'll stop being asked this one same question, over and over.

He knows Rayanne misses her, no mater who she's spending time with. Rayanne stopped — whatever it had been — with Brian Krakow because of Angela Chase. She'd sought out a new crowd so that she wasn't relying too much on Sharon Cherski; in case Angela Chase might care to notice, Rayanne was making some kind of an effort to leave room for her in her life. (Though, with as much time as has having passed, there doesn't seem much she can do that'll make any kind of difference.) Still, at least she is trying — in her own backwards way.

None of the words have been spoken of course; Rayanne has not revealed this to be her hand, and she — apparently unlike Angela — is done making any overt inquires about her former friend, but Rickie knows it all just the same. Rayanne misses her. And what's more, he knows Angela misses her. At least a part of her does. Whatever her outward front, it's more nuanced than irreconcilable anger, or unilateral ambivalence; neither is entirely the case. But it's not up to him to fix this, so he says nothing.

Detecting his hesitancy to comment Angela deflates; "Never mind. I don't care." With that she changes tone and Rickie lets drop the feeling of being in a perpetual tug of war, and lets drop whatever is going on with Jordan that's still lurking in the back of his mind, and Angela forgets whatever is or is not going on with Rayanne; and Jordan — and the two of them, having, at least temporarily lightened their metaphorical loads, lighten their steps and walk together to class. "You're coming over later, right?"

"Yeah," he smiles, "I'm just gonna check in with Mr. K; I'll see you after sixth."

They part at the stairs; Angela makes her way to her classroom on the second floor while Rickie turns in to Mr. Katimski's room. Stopping short in the doorway he stands there confused when he sees her: the dowdy substitute who had taken over when Vic Racine had left so suddenly.

Thrown, Rickie turns away from the doorway and stands alone in the emptying hallway. It is then, when the hallway is close to clear of traffic, Jordan appears, moving with head tucked down, down the hall towards the manual arts wing. Rickie again notes the change in Jordan's gate — still blasé as hell, but stinting; he's in a little pain, though he'd never fess to it.

"Ya made it," he says to Rickie as he reaches him; without the intention of doing so Jordan's paused there, delaying his next steps further down the hall.

"Uh," Rickie looks once more into the classroom, confirming for sure that Katimski is not there, then turns to Jordan, "yeah. So did you."

"Yeah," he scoffs, "'bright an' early.'" Barely engaged in their interaction, Jordan's eye contact is lacking and his focus remains unfixed on any one thing, but this Rickie is used to. "I had to, uh," he scratches the back of his head as he continues, "get somethin'. From shop." He looks around dully, "Doubt I'm staying." As an afterthought he thinks to ask, "She ain't around, is she?"

Rickie knows who he means, but is hazier on why he's asking — does he mean to find her or avoid her? "Uh-uh. She's in class."

Hearing this Jordan appears just slightly less on edge, but as Jordan continues just wordlessly standing there, Rickie's discomfort grows. He doesn't want to stare, but the gash and bruises nearly demand that he does. He doesn't know what he can say, but it seems like something should be said. Jordan after all had broken the silence when I was his face that was — broken. Rickie knows Angela's been trying to find him and that for some reason, most likely having something to do with the state of his face and the reason his walking is off, Jordan Catalano doesn't want to be found. Rickie speaks— "So, um —" just to break the silence.

And, prompted by seemingly nothing, Jordan straightens up and engages Rickie in conversation, "Listen, uh," he moves, in a little semi-circle, around Rickie — a subtle tactic to, inconspicuously, move in closer for his question: "I been meaning to ask you sum'in'—" As incongruous and casual as his tone is Rickie cannot anticipate where this is leading. "You're staying at Katimski's, right?"

Immediately Rickie's reaction is to look about him, so uneasy with this question is he, particularly so on school grounds. Even more so so close to Mr. K's classroom, even if currently there is a matronly substitute running the class in place of him. "Uh, well..." Rickie's unsure how much to tell. "Not exactly. I mean—" Rickie stops; Jordan's looking at him so squarely there's little point in such mitigating evasive tactics. Rickie breathes. "He's been letting me stay there — with him, until... Well until..." Rickie looks up, "Who did you—? Did Ange—?"

Jordan skips over the questions and cuts to the chase, "You left home?"

Rickie freezes, then settles on the truth. "Kind of."

"That's not weird?" Jordan's eyes narrow in curiosity. "Livin' with a teacher?"

Rickie swallows. This is not something he's terribly comfortable speaking about. It hadn't been said that this couldn't be said — and of course the Chases know, and Rayanne and Amber — but all along he's felt it was something that should not be spoken, so he really hasn't. It's certainly not common knowledge. At the ticket selling thing at their place Rickie'd even gone so far as to ask directions to the bathroom, even though several other students had already found it with ease without any need for direction. But in this case, when Rickie's said it already, there's little point in further denial; but still Rickie proceeds with caution, "Uh, Jordan—"

But Jordan's the one steering this conversation, and Katimski's got the last thing to do with it; Jordan tilts his head to one side, closer in to Rickie, and drops his voice, "'Member what I said? 'Bout my old man?"

And with that everything registers. Rickie knows why his face is like that, why his knuckles are raw, why it hurts when he moves to stand and why he's up early instead of at home in bed. This is why he's not been at school, why he missed a test and why he's dodging Angela. Rickie barely moves a muscle when he indicates he does remember. His voice cracks in an almost-whisper, "Yeah."

Jordan's either ignored, or didn't note the understated moment of commiseration in Rickie's reply; anyway, all he manages is a vague and distant head nod, "Yeah." His eyes are unfocused on anything Rickie can see, and after another moment, he just walks away.

Alone in his apartment, at a time of day he's never in his apartment on weekdays, Katimski sits, staring numbly at the typed letter laid out in front of him. Capable of little more in the moment, he stares off, methodically clicking his pen in and out, in and out, over and over.

He cannot see his way out of it, but nor can he see himself signing it. The plastic pen top clicks in and out.

The turning of a key in the door breaks the echoing monotony of hard plastic and springs, but as the door unlocks and his partner enters the room Katimski takes no notice and nothing but his thumb moves.


There is no reply. He moves further into the room and sees Katimski sitting like he is, dazed and unresponsive. He speaks tentatively — "I got your message. What's happened?"

Without looking up Richard indicates the paper with the slightest nod of his head. The boyfriend looks first at Katimski, then picks up the letter. As he reads he glances at Richard, still dispassionately inert. Having finished the letter he sits, slowly. "Oh God."

Katimski's eyes remain unseeing, and locked ahead. "It's happened."

He means the letter, "Was this your idea?"

Katimski shakes his head in fractional motion. "Foster."

"What did you say?"

For the first time Katimski stops and really looks— "'Say'? What could I say? He knows Rickie has been living here."

He presses on to the real matter: "Did you tell Foster you would resign?"

Like he's already fought this battle ten times over in his head, and each time it played out with him on the losing end, Katimski's answer is tired. "He asked for my resignation. He said we could avoid a scandal if I just tendered my resignation." Mumbling a little he tacks on: "Apparently no parents—"

"Don't sign it."

Again Katimski looks up from the fog, "What?"

"Don't sign it. You'll get a lawyer."

"What is that going to help? Don't you see what this looks like? A gay couple takes in a young boy, under no authority of the law, notifies no one—" he stops himself, already defeated. He shakes his head, "Dennis, this is going to be a crucifixion."

"Look," he says, taking charge, "I'll call Leo. You're not going to lose your job."

"I didn't lose my job."

Having sprung into action Dennis is already dialing the phone with great fortitude of purpose. "You didn't do anything wrong."

"I'm this boy's teacher; it only matters that it looks like I've done something wrong."

The phone at his ear, listening to it ring, Dennis moves the mouthpiece away, giving the directive, "You need to call that guidance counselor." There's no evidence he's been heard. "Richard," he adds gravely. "Richard, he can't stay here anymore. Rickie can't stay here."

In an act of capitulation and finality Katimski throws the pen across the room. Dejected he allows his empty hand to fall to his lap. "I know."

After school, Angela and Rickie wait in line to board her bus. Rickie is mildly disconcerted about Katimski's unexplained absence, but more on his mind is Jordan and the truth that'd been revealed today.

Jordan's on Angela's mind as well, though with a less concrete foundation for concern, "He never came to school today. I never saw him."

"Angela—" Rickie starts uncomfortably as he follows her up the steps and down the narrow aisle through the rows of bench seats. He doesn't know what to say, or how to speak the words…

"Okay," she cuts herself off, taking his unfinished sentence as a cue to lighten up— "I know; I'm sorry. I'm shutting up. It's not like he never cut school before."

That isn't what he'd been near speaking; for once Angela wasn't overreacting. But then, this isn't his story to tell, and Jordan must be avoiding her for a reason, and he could only guess how Angela would spiral if he told her, and she still wouldn't know where he was, and would only be more worried.

It's not his truth to reveal.

And even if it were, would knowing this truth make anything better?

Rickie doesn't entirely fault Jordan for not confiding this particular truth to Angela Chase. Though disappearing from your girlfriend so completely seems a little weak.

The best he can do, he figures, is talk her down...

Decided against saying anything about it, and though uneasy with telling this lie, and unsure of navigating the situation by way of groundless reassurances, still he nods. "Exactly."

With this mild affirmation Angela makes herself smile and tucks her hair as she takes a seat. "I will stop obsessing."

Rickie does not speak. It seems too many times lately he knows more than he should — more than he should and just what she should. It's putting a distance between them he hasn't felt since they first really became friends. It's not something he's choosing, and Rickie doesn't know how to change it.

From the window Angela stops and looks into the parking lot; in the distance, she spots Rayanne. It's her, and her new apparent crowd. Nothing in particular is going on — they're just standing around — but from the stories, these new connections do not bode particularly well. Although she cannot be sure, it looks as though Rayanne has seen them, too; almost like she may have attempted a wave. But if indeed anything, it comes to nothing.

Angela looks away, not in the mood to decipher the nuances of the spectrum of enmity. Rickie looks over her shoulder and just observes. There's been a certain amount of resignation in him lately towards Rayanne and Angela's uncertain if it's just when around her, or if it has something to do with Rickie's own change in circumstances. (Though it may be less than permanent, staying at Katimski's is the most settled Rickie's been since she's known him, and she wonders if that makes him a little less dependent on, or, rather, universally invested in Rayanne.) Does this distance stem from the thing with Jordan? Were there perhaps larger fallouts from that than she'd originally been aware? Or maybe it's nothing but a misperception of her own creation.

Regardless, Angela now turns her head to Rickie and asks what she feels she must, honestly not knowing who she owes it to, to Rickie or Rayanne — "Want to go?" Rickie was Rayanne's friend from the start. From before the start. And what's more, for the longest time Rayanne comprised — what pretty much amounted to — Rickie's whole world. Angela didn't put him in the middle, and wherever she stands with Rayanne, she's not going to be the one to come between them.

Rickie turns away and faces front. "I'm good here." Looking straight ahead, he adds dispassionately, "She's fine. Let her do what she's going to." If he has to shoulder one more load Rickie feels he might just break. He never had to work this hard to choose to be happy as he has these last few months. His own life's only precariously stabilized, and he means to enjoy it while he's able. And if Rayanne — who, when it comes down to it, really concocts her own trouble, out of boredom, out of jealousy, or who knows what driving gnawing impulse — after everything, cannot, or chooses not, to keep herself in line, then maybe it's time she be left to handle the repercussions on her own. Rickie smooths Angela's hair for her and his mouth makes the shape of a smile. "There's only so much anybody can do."

In the peer tutoring room rows and rows of pairs sit together at task, one across from the other. With nothing else to do, Brian sits doing his own calculus work. Jordan is not there. Associate Principal Mr. Wilson steps into the doorway, scans the room, passively observing the activity, and in doing so spots Brian Krakow — noticeably without a peer to tutor. He approaches. In library volume, so as not to distract the concentration of the others, Wilson addresses Brian, "Mr. Krakow; got a moment to speak with me?" Caught off guard, Brian looks up with eyes big, then shuts his book and exits the classroom to follow the AP into the hallway. "Brian," Wilson starts, turning to face him, "you're a student tutor for the after-school tutoring program."

"Um, yeah..." Though it hadn't been asked as a question, Mr. Wilson's pause seemed to require a response.

"And, whom do you tutor?"

"Um," Brian's brows knit, "Jordan, Catalano." Again it hadn't seemed like a question in need of an answer; no doubt this is preamble to whatever Mr. Wilson is leading up to, and in this vein Brian's answers come off as questions themselves.

Wilson looks past Brian back into the classroom, "But he's not here now?"

Brian, too, needlessly looks back; "No." After a pause he offers, "But he wasn't in English today either."

"He wasn't." Though this seems to have caught the administrator's interest, Brian's fairly convinced he must have known this bit already.

"No..." Brian had meant the voluntary contribution to help Jordan, to make the case that rather than flaking on tutoring he'd indeed been out all day, but watching Mr. Wilson's mind churn like it is Brian doubts he has helped; it occurs to him, after the fact, that when a person such as Jordan Catalano is concerned, missing an entire day of school is rarely a fact that'll result in a cleared name. Though it's hardly a priority of Brian's to look out for Jordan, he's not happy to have done him this inadvertent bad turn.

"Okay," the associate principal nods decidedly, thus shutting down the discourse to any further amendments from Brian — he's learned what he'd intended to discover. "Thanks Brian." He makes to leave but as an afterthought the administrator stops to ask maybe the first genuine inquiry of their exchange, "Hey," his eyes narrow, ready to be surprised, "how's it going?"

Unsure why he's the go-to person on Catalano all of a sudden, involuntarily Brian makes a face. But still he nods, and makes his answer, "Good. I mean, 'Well'—" Brian corrects. "It's going well.

"So," Wilson gestures to the room, "this isn't routine?"

"Huh? No," Brian shakes his head. "He comes. I mean," he clarifies, "he works."

"Good," Wilson nods with a faint smile. "Good." He clears his throat, "Okay. Thank you Brian."

Upon entering the Chase house Angela and Rickie had dropped their things at the door and wandered into the kitchen, where Angela now stands surveying the contents of the refrigerator while Rickie's gone straight to the telephone.

Met with a busy signal he hangs up and turns back to Angela, speaking through building consternation. "It's just," he starts, "it's weird, right? That he left school in the middle of the day?"

"Huh?" Angela asks from inside the fridge, "Oh; I don't know."

She reemerges with milk and hands it off to Rickie in order to grab two glasses from the cabinet. "Well," he presses, "do you think he's sick? I tried calling during Soc, too, but the number was busy."

"Rickie," she appeals, "I'm sure everything's fine." If Jordan going disappearing for days did not constitute concern, Mr. Katimsky missing the last few periods of the day certainly did not.

"Yeah," he nods, only half convinced, "I'm sure. It's weird though, don't you think?"

"Um..." she reaches, mostly for his appeasement, "I guess a little. But then, I don't know, teachers have substitutes all the time. Maybe he was in a meeting," she offers. "Or maybe he's sick. Teachers get sick."

"Yeah..." Rickie himself's a bit surprised he's reacting in this way; it probably is nothing. It probably was a meeting. The phone could have easily been left off the hook. There could be a hundred other mundane explanations. He's not certain what's there beneath the surface feeding this anxiety. What he does know is that something's been hovering over him for weeks, and whether tempting fate or not, he's been waiting for the other proverbial shoe to drop. Some vague, undefined thing's been eating at him, and now with this unexpected disruption of routine, combined with what Jordan Catalano'd dispassionately revealed — he can't manage things to sit right.

Interrupting his thoughts Angela's handing Rickie a glass of poured milk when the back door opens and Graham, managing five paper sacks of groceries, enters the kitchen.

"Hey; Rickie!" Graham smiles. Setting down the bags on the counter he greets Angela with a kiss on the head. "Hi Honey. How was school?"

Angela's and Rickie's responses overlap each other in their delivery: "Okay." "Hi Mr. Chase."

While Angela only peers inside the bags, Rickie straight away lends a hand at putting the groceries away. "So... Dad," she looks at him, "is there anything to eat?"

"Uh," Graham cocks a brow at her, "by that do you mean 'will I make you something to eat'?" Angela smiles, and Rickie too looks like he could eat. "Alright, let's see." Graham looks through the refrigerator, and pulls out some eggs, then a new block of sea salt cheddar, which he tosses to Angela, and then turns back to the bags to search for his tomatoes.

In her room, after a light dinner with the family after a meal much larger than a snack with Graham, Angela and Rickie lie on her bed doing homework. Though it is still relatively early the sky outside her windows is dark. Now well-fed and having had time to forget the events of the day, they are both finally relaxed, and focused on school. They're so comfortable and — minus the homework — content, they'd hardly looked up when the phone'd rung more than ten minutes before; by the time there's a small knock on her closed door they'd all but forgotten it had rung at all.

A moment after the light knock Patty opens the door, entering the room by just a few steps. As she speaks, something in her address sounds off somehow, slightly awkward, but if one were not wholly fixed on her it might easily go undetected, so subtle is she in her delivery. "Rickie," she smiles gently, "Honey, it's getting late, why don't you plan on spending the night? I uh, spoke to Mr. Katimski, so, he knows. _ Uh," Patty shifts her footing, "he's actually still on the phone; he'd like to speak with you." Rickie sits up, looks at Angela, then rises to pick up the cordless phone sitting atop her dresser. Patty clears her throat, "Why don't you go ahead and use the telephone in our bedroom." This impresses Rickie as odd, and once again apprehension strikes. Hesitantly he flashes a quick obligatory smile of thanks to Patty, then uncomfortably exits into the hallway.

When instead of following him out Patty remains behind Angela is put on alert. "What's ... going on?"

Patty sighs, and seems at a loss. She sits on the bed beside her daughter. "Honey," she begins, not knowing quite where to take it from there, "there seems to be a problem with Rickie living with — staying with —" she amends, "Mr. Katimski."

"What?" Angela bristles, her face screwing into disbelief. "Why? What's happening? Who has a problem with it?"

Patty's first motivation is to address Angela's emotional response; she speaks calmly and measuredly, "Angela." Then she starts from the beginning. "It appears the school's administration..."

Later — after talking it through with Angela, and being there when a stricken Rickie finally hung up the phone, and talking it all through again, and then once more — in bed, but not asleep, Patty and Graham Chase lie talking quietly with one another.

Graham's brow wrinkles, "I'm still not clear on what happened with his family."

Patty shakes her head, "I don't know."

"Well, and what's going to happen to Katimski?"

Patty sighs, "I just don't know."

"Could they really fire him?"

"Well, he's new, is he tenured?" Patty looks at Graham, her eyes narrowing, "Should we have told somebody? Should we have told the school?"

Graham shakes his head. "I don't know. Look, nobody wanted him. The kid was on the streets."

"He was staying here."

"We tell anybody that?" Graham questions rhetorically. "We still don't know why he left. What we do know is that guidance counselor couldn't get him into that home, and a kid like Rickie doesn't belong in the system. I mean, he's a good kid, Patty."

"I know."

"And now he's out another house. Kid can't catch a break." When he looks up Graham spots Angela lingering quietly in the doorway. He wonders how long she's been standing there. "Hi, Honey."

Patty sits up immediately, "Where's Rickie?"

"In the shower." Slowly Angela moves into her parents' room, and sitting by their feet she asks, with reticence, "So, what's going to happen?"

Graham looks at Patty, then back to his fifteen-year-old daughter. "Well," he starts, propping himself up, "he's probably been assigned a social worker."

"They'll find him somewhere," Patty assures her, trying for convincingly-positive. "It will be alright."

"But they said that before, and he ended up on the street."

"That won't happen this time," Graham promises.

"How do you know?" she demands flatly.

Patty and Graham exchange looks. "Well," Graham swallows, "because we're involved now; we're going to make sure that it doesn't."

"Wull, couldn't he just come back here?"

"Angela," Patty's head tilts as she addresses her, "that was never really a long-term solution. Rickie is struggling with a lot of issues right now, that he's going to need help — expert help — to deal with them."

"Being abandoned by his family, being uprooted from multiple homes, abuse—" Graham needlessly lists out for her.

"We don't know how to help him with all that," Patty continues.

"He's fine," Angela insists. "Rickie's fine. He just needs somewhere to live."

Patty looks at her daughter, wishing she could have kept all this from coming into her life, and knowing Angela's too old to be pacified with generalities and bromides. "I'll call the school tomorrow and get some information."

Angela continues lying there, looking at her parents. Eventually she rolls herself off the bed and stands. "Goodnight."

"'Night, Honey," Graham says, watching his daughter rise.

"Goodnight, Sweetheart," Patty makes sure to smile.

Heading toward the door, Angela pauses to ask one thing more: "Why is this happening?"

Her parents have no answer for her; wordless empathy is all they have. With nothing said she turns slowly and leaves the room, shuffling toward her own. From their bed Graham and Patty hear a tired, defeated, "'Night," that nearly breaks their hearts.

Day 2

In English the following day, with nothing else to go on, the substitute works to review The Catcher in the Rye, despite that the students already took their exam the day before. Going off of Katimski's notes she's doing her best to highlight themes of isolation, impotency, and depression, but she's a little shaky on the subject matter, and the students, already predisposed to writing her off or worse, have pretty much unilaterally taken this day as an in-room vacation. Very little of substance is being accomplished.

Near the mid-point of the period a male faculty member escorts Jordan into the classroom: "I'm delivering this character to you."

"Oh," the substitute nods. "All right.

Angela'd immediately straightened when he'd entered the room, but his eyes remain cast down and the last thing he's after is to be noticed by anyone. Or to meet eyes with her.

Adjusting and pushing at the bridge of her drooping glasses the middle-aged woman addresses Jordan with hardly a glance in his direction — he doesn't look at her at all, or anything else — "Take a seat."

With minimum animation Jordan shuffles through the desks to an empty seat. Angela tries to make eye contact as he passes to get his attention, but his gaze is blank; he's intentionally dulled his sense and he isn't seeing anything. Right away Angela detected the traces of a fight on Jordan's face and in his walk; she wants him to look at her. She doesn't get why he's not looking, why he's choosing his old seat way in the back, why even though he's finally there in front her, he's still not there.

Brian too notes the unmistakable marks of an altercation; the bruised and gashed face is hard to miss when his hair's not falling down as cover. He looks from Jordan to Angela, then thinks back to the day before, and Jordan's absence.

Angela looks on as Jordan slouches into his seat without a glance in Angela's direction — without looking at anyone — and promptly drops his head into his folded arms. She wants to go back there, she wants him to talk to her, but it's clear he wants to be left alone — he's only there because he was caught wherever he was on campus after making the conscious choice not to go to the class he shares with her. And so Angela remains in her seat, turns back toward the board, and tries to focus on something about museums, and ducks, and post World War II trauma.

Rickie only made it halfway through homeroom before the call slip came. It wasn't even a call slip, not one delivered by the usual student aides. An office worker, a tiny woman in her early fifties, in a shift dress and narrow clackety heels had walked all the way down from the counseling office to pull him in person.

He's now been sitting in Ms. Kryznowski's office for more than an hour. Mostly while she makes phone call after phone call and she and others move in and out of her office, paying less than expected direct attention to him. But now she's speaking to him. "Listen, Rickie, or" she looks down at her paperwork, "is it Enrique? We have to—" At this point she interrupts herself with a tangent thought— "Have you been getting the Call Slips? I keep sending you Call Slips, but this is the first time—" This is beside the point and she cuts herself off to return to her original thought. "We have to place you in another facility until— Well," she maneuvers, "I understand you need a new place to stay." Trying for tact, and to treat the difficult circumstances with some delicacy, she fails completely to give deference to his feelings and what it must be like to be here, in this position. Again. She means well, but that's not what he's trying to see. She continues. "The problem is, there are still no openings at Pride House; but," she swallows, "well, you can't go back to where you were staying." It's clear to whom and what she is referring, but she does not say it, she will not speak the words.

But Rickie's going to make her say it, he looks straight at her. "Why not?" She looks at him, from behind her files and papers, but she does not answer. "Look, he didn't do anything," Rickie presses. "I didn't have any place else to go. This isn't fair."

"Rickie," she tries to placate him — like one would a child, or a small animal, "you don't seem to underst—"

"No," he stops her. "Just—" He stops and starts again. "I do understand. He can't lose his job because of me. Just tell me who I need to talk to."

Ms. Kryznowski blinks sympathetically. "I'm afraid it doesn't work like that." When she speaks again it's unclear whether even she herself believes it, "This is for your own protection."

"Yeah right," he scoffs bitterly. It's the most cutting he's ever been with anyone.

At the substitute's request a neighboring student wakes Jordan, kicking his desk after several nudges to the elbow failed to produce results. Immediately Jordan's on the alert, and once he's got his bearings — looking around the room, remembering where he is — he rubs his eyes, stands, kind of halfway glances at Angela, then just walks out the classroom.

"Young man—" she starts, but under normal student-teacher interactions she's ineffectual at best, and with Jordan already several paces into the hallway there's nothing she can say to change his course — better say nothing and save some semblance of authority over her remaining students.

The only adult witness to Jordan Catalano's behavior doesn't know what to do with it; neither does Angela. Brian looks from the retreating Jordan to his friend, trying to gauge what he can of the situation: she is disturbed, and he's thinking likely she's right to be.

"Now," Ms. Kryznowski again pushes at her glasses, "I've made arrangements for you to move after school today. A social worker will be here at three to take you to the shelter — um, group home; sorry. Any personal belongings of yours at — Mr. Katimski's," she practically swallows the words "— will be delivered there." She pauses to check in with Rickie; she's not sure he's listening.

"Now," she makes an effort as she proceeds to tread more lightly, "I understand that you have been going through a lot of changes this year, and we're trying to make this as painless as possible; if you want to talk about, well, anything — your feelings about this move—" Rickie rises and walks out.

"Enrique—" she calls after him, but he pays no attention.

Though he'd left class, Jordan never left campus. He's standing in the east wing, leaning against something, he's not sure what. Having no reason still to be there he might as well leave, except that he doesn't have any place else to go: nowhere to go, no one to see, nothing to do. School's a habit. Not class, but the building. Not the bells and schedules, but the having some place to be. He always resents it till the times he realizes he relies on it. And so he stands there, adrift, waiting for something to change.

The bell's rung and Angela stands at a locker that is not hers; she's standing there because she's spotted him, and wary of approaching him when earlier he wouldn't even look at her, she remains put, across and down the hall from him, watching. If she thought he'd look in her direction she'd be doing so out of the corner of her eye, but his eyes are closed, and there's little in the vicinity for her to pretend to be looking at besides.

She watches as his buddies arrive and jostle him; he doesn't reciprocate, only opens his eyes and shifts his weight. Looking around but seeing nothing, his gaze eventually lands on her. Jordan blinks, and does not look away. After a moment's hesitation she moves to walk towards him, and motionless he watches her approach. But she is momentarily distracted as Rayanne breezes past her, and when she turns her attention back to Jordan, he has stopped looking at her and is following Kirk and Oliver around a corner.

Angela stops walking. Her face wrinkles. She doesn't know what she's done, what's happened to make him avoid her, or what her next move should be. When she turns to retreat Rickie's there ahead of her, crossing through from the administration offices.

"Ah—" she calls, grateful to be meeting a friendly face, "Rickie, wait up." But Rickie's head's down and he's moving with purpose and he passes on without having heard her. And Angela's alone.

Rayanne, who's witnessed all this, now crosses the hall to Angela. There's no way she can stop it, and so Angela stands there, waiting out the inevitable.

In a tone ill-fitting the near two months they've gone without speaking, Rayanne speaks to Angela in earnest and is personal, even intimate, in her address. Angela resents it emphatically. To her mind, not only is Rayanne butting in where she no longer belongs, but she's doing it with no deference to their context, acting as though no time has passed between them.

"So—" Rayanne's over-familiar, knowing nod indicates the direction Jordan walked in, "what's up?" She isn't looking at Angela. Conscious of it or not, Rayanne evades prolonged eye contact with Angela: too much too fast is likely to shatter the liminal truce Rayanne's unilaterally structured, and she instead stands beside her estranged friend, looking with her after where Jordan Catalano had been.

Angela too avoids meeting eyes; her demeanor when it comes to Rayanne Graff is as ever: cold, and unaffected. "What do you want?"

"Nothing," Rayanne remarks breezily. But in the next breath she's all the more earnest: "But, if there's, like, a prob—" Her sincerity Angela's entirely unsure of how to process.

Unwillingly Angela's mouth opens as if to speak, but she hesitates, and then shuts down. And then she does speak, because she can only worry about so many things at once, and in the moment, hating Rayanne seems childish and a waste of time and energy that could be put to much better purpose. And thus, in a moment of distraction, Angela Chase speaks the first unguarded words to Rayanne Graff in months: "I don't want to talk about it."

There's a pause, and then she looks at Rayanne coolly, adding, "Not with you." She walks away.

"Fine," Rayanne shrugs. "Whatever."

At her desk, unable to focus on work, Patty sits in her office staring off. Lost in thought she methodically taps a pencil against the rim of her now cold coffee mug; the relentless, mindless monotony of it mirrors her thoughts as she thinks the thought on her mind over and over again, from every angle she can. Eventually and by accident, by means of a little too much force, she flicks the pencil out of her fingers completely; it flies in the air and lands on the floor, breaking the silence and echoing in her ears.

Unable to continue as she had been, Patty picks up the phone and dials home.

Folding laundry in front of the TV, Graham reaches for the receiver. "Hello?"

Patty's brow crosses in deep inquiry, "Do you think Rickie should move back in with us?"

Graham stops folding and sighs, he's been thinking this same thought all day. "I don't know. I've been thinking that too. _ What if," he regrips the receiver against his ear, "what if he hadn't moved out when he did?"

"Would he still be here?" Patty completes his thought. Softly she shakes her head. "I don't know. The idea was that he would stay with us until something safe and stable became available."

"Yeah. But, did we really have a grasp of the situation then? It all happened so fast; we were still thinking things would work out with his family."

"But is living with us a permanent solution?"

Graham rubs the back of his head, "I don't know; it's better than having him stay in a shelter. Isn't it? And really, how would living in a foster home be better for him than staying with us?"

"I truly hate to even mention this, but, can we afford to have another person living with us long term?"

"We'd make it work."

"With the restaurant?"

"We'd make it work."

Silently they remain on the line — the ease of their decision evades them. "Well? What should we do?"

"You called the school yet?"

"I couldn't reach that guidance counselor; I'm thinking I'll go down there in a little while."

"Has there been any news on that youth home, what was it called?"

"Pride House? I don't know. That sounded like a good option, I wonder if they can get Rickie in there?"

"Maybe we should wait and see. If that doesn't come through, Rickie will come here."

Patty exhales a deep breath. "Okay."

"Patty—" She stops and listens. "We'll make sure he's okay."

She nods. "Okay." Patty's eyes close and she breathes. "Thank you." But she doesn't hang up. She holds him there, just on the other end of the line, for a moment more. "...Bye."

"I love you."


Quietly Rickie opens the door to the boiler room, and descends the stairs. Of course he knows the place's reputation, and he hasn't come there for that, but couples go there for a reason — it's quiet and dark, and a place to be alone. He keeps his head lowered, discreetly passing a couple making out. Continuing back through the piping and fencing to the very back corner of the space, Rickie stops short, having not expected someone already to be there.

Jordan looks up, and wordlessly their eyes meet.


Although each separately sought this place out to be alone, they have both accepted the other's company and now sit, perched on piping and railing, piecing together the facsimile of a conversation. "I mean," Jordan dully equivocates, "it's not like it used to be. It's not happening all the time." He adds, under his breath, "It was never 'all the time'—"

Talking about this with Rickie isn't like really talking about it at all. Whether that's because Rickie's gone through it too, or because Jordan really doesn't consider him a friend (or really consider him at all), or because there's something about Rickie himself that makes his listening less obtrusive than anybody else's, Jordan doesn't bother to consider, but after a pause he starts in again, with fractionally more animation — though animation to any degree is a stretch to describe Jordan these past days — trying to explain. "Look," he starts off putting it this way to play it all down, "I came home that night a little out of it; he's usually passed out or not around. I mean, he usually just ignores me now, ya know?"

Rickie nods. He knows full well what it is to enter a house and be invisible; he knows exactly what Jordan means, but he's hesitant to break the silence. "...Yeah," he murmurs.

Though he's telling the story Jordan has no interest in any display of empathy; quickly he moves on. "Anyway," he scratches the back of his head, "he was home, and pissed off 'bout somethin'. I wasn't expectin' nothing. So, it happened before I knew what was going on. I hit him back," he's quick to establish, "but I 's pretty gone." He needlessly clears his throat for a break in his narration. "Still, it wasn't anything like it used to be, ya know? Not any worse than any ol' fight." He's adamant about this — that it wasn't that bad, but something's eating at him, something worse to him than the beating itself; his face creases as he struggles to explain: "I just, I wasn't expectin' it; you know? Before, it was — I mean, it sucked. It definitely sucked — but at least I was, you know, prepared? I knew it was coming. No," he corrects. "I never knew, but it was like, always a — possibility," he looks at Rickie for confirmation, "right?" Rickie swallows. "'Fair warning.'"

Rickie's voice is barely audible, "Yeah."

"Yeah." Jordan nods to himself and rubs at his jaw. "But now... Man, that's not how things are supposed to be now. That's not— the 'arrangement'? Anymore." Jordan's near indignant, and it strikes Rickie as he watches him that it says something — terrible — about Jordan Catalano's life that it's this — the breach in the tacit armistice — that pisses him off, more than the beatings themselves.

"...So what happened?"

Jordan looks at Rickie blankly. "Nothin'. He kicked the crap out of me. I mean, I got some in too, but I 's too wasted. He locked me out and I haven't been back since. _ That was... two days ago."

Rickie hesitates; "Have you talked about this with Angela?"

"Angela?" he practically scoffs. "Why? She'd freak." Jordan's eyes shut. "I don't want to deal with that. _ She couldn't deal."

"Well—" Jordan opens his eyes to look at Rickie "—you can't just avoid her." Rickie tempers this with a: "Can you?" But even so, having been so assertive Rickie starts to backtrack and qualify. "I mean, she cares about you."

"And?" The scowl across Jordan's face deepens as he broods. That's a responsibility he doesn't want to shoulder right now.

"Nothing," Rickie grants him. But he adds, maybe more to himself than to Jordan, but mostly because he knows it to be the truth, "That's hard to come by."

Jordan looks at him through steely eyes. And then he blinks. Begrudging Rickie this possible verisimilitude. "I guess." But sitting with his words Jordan amends this, forcing himself into a more honest position. "I didn't mean that." He sighs and looks around the dirty dank room with disdain, "I'm gettin' outta here." Jordan stands abruptly and walks a few paces toward the stairwell.

"Um, Jordan—" Jordan stops and turns back, "Could I, get a ride someplace?"

Though he knows there are reasons against it — many reasons — it was Mr. Katimski's apartment building Rickie Vasquez had asked to be driven to. Walking up the stairs of the building that had been an almost-home, Rickie is struck by the loss and chaos that have reentered his life. Standing outside that apartment door he raises his arm and, remembering the first time he knocked on that door, and all the many times he's passed through it since, guardedly knocks.

It's Dennis who answers.

His greeting is gentle, but distant. A wall has gone up, and there's no getting through. "Hi Rickie."

There's a stone in Rickie's throat. A growing stone, cutting off his air and causing him physical pain. "I know I'm not supposed to come here," his voice quivers, "but—"

Dennis sets a hand on Rickie's shoulder, "It's all right."

He asks, breathing in to keep from crying, "Is Mr. Katimski here?"

"No, Rickie; he isn't."

Rickie knows he should leave. He knows just being there now may be making everything worse. But he can't make himself go. "He's losing his job, isn't he? Because of me."

"We don't know." Rickie becomes visibly distraught, and though Dennis has made himself impenetrable, he not unmoved. "Rickie, where are you staying?"

At the end of school Angela looks in the student parking lot to try and spot Jordan's car. It's unlikely, she figures, that he's still around, but still she looks. Not seeing it, and realizing he really isn't there, she looks over to the buses. People are just beginning to load on, and not wanting to be stranded she abandons her search and moves towards the line of yellow school buses and the usual row of faces who ride them. Among them Brian.

Though traces of embarrassment still linger somewhat between them, concerns entirely unrelated to Brian Krakow now shape the awkwardness in her approach. "Hey, Brian."

Hey," he nods.

"Ah—" Angela hesitates: it is awkward to ask, awkward to even bring up, but she's getting legitimately worried. "Brian, did Jordan— Have you—" Brian looks at her, waiting for her to get out something that makes sense, but knowing already what it is she's asking. He knew when he saw Jordan's face in English. "I mean, did you have tutoring yesterday?"

"He didn't show up." He looks at her. "Is something wrong?"

"No," she covers pointlessly. "Why?"

Brian's eyes roll involuntarily. It's stupid to pretend they both didn't see what they're pretty sure they both saw. "No reason." He knows he's treading on delicate ground. "Listen, Chase..."

"It's just that—" she starts again, another cover, but shuts herself down. "Never mind." Deflted now Angela turns to walk away, not thinking about what that does to her chances of getting home.

"Chase." Brian's tired of girls being crazy around him, and at this point entirely regrets ever saying anything at all to Angela Chase; it's only made everything worse. It's time he reasons with her before things go too far and they can never find their way back. "You don't have to keep— I mean... So this is like how it is now? You're just, like, never going to talk to me?"

"Brian," she objects, "I talk—" She amends for better accuracy, "I'm talking to you."

"Yeah," he confirms in sharp irony, "'Have you seen this person' — 'Do you know what this person is doing.'"

"Brian," she objects again, now more earnestly. "I talk to you."

Brian doesn't want to get into it. They both know how it's been. He doesn't want explanations, he wants things to get better. He forges ahead. "I could talk to him, if you want."

Angela doesn't like any of the implications in that. The implication Jordan needs to be spoken to only confirms her fear that something is wrong. Brian being the one to do it says Jordan'll speak to anyone but her. Brian bringing up Jordan at all draws into focus they have nothing else to speak of — and Brian's not as caught up on her as something inside her's been letting herself believe. Somehow she ends up on the defensive. "To Jordan? Talk to him about what?"

Brian would try to reason with her but he is cut off.


Turning at the sound of her mother's voice, Angela finds Patty coming towards her. Unnerved to see her mother unexpectedly at school, she nonetheless goes to meet her in order to avoid her mother coming to her in the midst of all the kids with whom she regularly rides the bus.

"Mom," Angela squints, "what are you doing here?"

"I came by to get an update on Rickie. And thought you might like a ride home." Angela adjusts her backpack strap, tucks her hair, and wordlessly walks with her mother toward the car parked in the visitors spots. Patty follows, then pauses, "Maybe I should offer Brian a ride home too."

"Mom, no."



Driving home — Patty, Angela, and Brian — Angela sits motionless in the passenger seat looking blankly out her window. "So," she breaks the silence, "what did they tell you?"

"Well," Patty glances at Angela then back at Brian in the rearview mirror, "the school's Safe School counselor, Ms. Kryznowski, wasn't in her office, and apparently Mr. Foster has been out of his office all day in meetings, so I spoke to the assistant principal. He wasn't familiar with the situation, but he looked in Rickie's file and said that it looked like he's going to Pride House.

Angela turns her head quickly, "Really?"

"He told you that?" Brian asks incredulously from the back. "Why?" Patty looks again at Brian and flips on her signal as she pulls into the right lane, "I mean, you're not his legal guardian."

"Honey," Patty says, "use an intimidating voice, and be on the right side of looking out for a kid, people will tell you what you need." Brian's duly impressed by Patty Chase's moxie, and even further disillusioned with the Liberty educational system.

"So Rickie's being sent to Pride House?" Angela repeats.

"You know Angela," Patty breathes, "I really think that at this point, it is Rickie's best option." She regrips the steering wheel, and Brian wonders if she really believes what she's saying or if she's trying to convince herself as much as she is Angela. "This is really the best-case scenario, given the circumstances of course."



"Did you, hear anything about Mr. Katimski?" Angela presses.

"No; I did not."

After a long pause, Angela turns back to the window. "Mom?" Patty raises her eyes to her daughter through the rearview mirror. Angela swallows. "Thanks."

In her parents' room on the floor, hidden from the doorway by the bed, Angela sits making one more of a dozen calls. The door is closed and she has brought the phone down to the floor with her. She dials a number and waits as it rings and rings and rings. Anxiously she mutters, "Where are you...?" She hangs up and looks again at the crumpled scrap of paper with multiple phone numbers scrawled across it. She goes back to the one for the phone in the loft. It rings but no one answers. Is no one there, or is the music too loud? Where else is there to call? And at what point does she need to let it lie and let him come to her?

Outside in the hallway Graham calls for her and knocks on and opens her bedroom door. Angela hears him, but does not answer. She hangs up and dials the number again. Graham opens the door to his own room and calls her name, though he's not expecting to find her there. "Angela?" Angela hangs up the phone. "Where are you?" He watches her rise from behind the bed, "What are you doing in here?"

Angela tucks her hair and masks her worry, "Nothing. _ Calling for homework."

Not especially sure this is the truth, but having no reason to suspect that it isn't, he follows up, "Did you get it?"

Angela returns the phone back on the night table and crosses the room to the door, "Mm, hm."

He kisses her head, "Everything okay?"

"Mm, hm," she nods softly. But as she exits to return to her room, her brow is creased and her lips pursed; this worry is not leaving her.

Having already been everywhere there is to go, Jordan sits smoking in his car parked outside a liquor store. Tyler, a guy he's known through Joey and Laurence for a couple years, exits the store with a case of cheap beer under arm. Spotting Jordan's car, he crosses the lot and raps his knuckle against the driver's side window. Unmoving and unaffected Jordan shifts only his eyes to look at him, before eventually he stirs to roll down the window.

Once it's down Tyler kind of leans into the car, "Hey, Catalano." He looks him over, "Where you been, man?"

"Nowhere." As they speak, Jordan is evasive and comes off as bored. "Whut's up?"

"Nuthin' man. But seriously," Tyler looks over the car, "no one's seen you, for like, ever."

"Yeah," Jordan grunts irritably, "wull... I've been around."

"Yeah? What, like with your lady?"

"Dunno," Jordan evades. "Whatever." He sets his hands on the wheel and grips impatiently. "Look, I've gotta be somewhere."

"Hey, uh, le' me get one of those." Tyler nods his head and indicates Jordan's cigarette. Jordan dully hands over the pack, from which the guy takes two. 'Typical', Jordan thinks. Tucking one behind his ear Tyler lights the other and tosses the pack back through the window onto the passenger seat. He takes a drag, and once more looks Jordan over, sizing him up, "There's this thing tonight, at that girl Shelia's house. You know, Shelia..."

Jordan's less than interested in any of this. "Who?"

"You know," Tyler prompts, "that girl from that night with Tino; remember..." He gestures with his cigarette.

There have been many 'nights with Tino'. Many girls. Even if Jordan cared to, he couldn't narrow her down with that.

"Oh. Right," Jordan nods, his eyes narrowing as if in recognition. "Not really..." Keeping this dialogue going is verging on painful. "So, what about her?"

"Nothing," the guy takes another puff. "We're all heading over there tonight. You know, so, if you wanted to stop by or something..."

"Right," Jordan nods mechanically, "maybe." He's not even bothering to look at the guy anymore. Though Tyler hasn't noticed.

"Her friends, man," he smirks, "those girls are crazy." He sees he's getting no reaction from Jordan, and thus awkwardly readjusts his tack a little "... Or," he gestures and flicks his ashes, "you know, you could, bring that girl ... or whatever."

"OK," he nods, just to shut him up, "yeah, whatever." Jordan turns his head from the conversation and moves to start the car. Before turning the engine though he pauses and looks back. "It's Angela."


"Her name," his thumbs gesture from where he still grips the wheel. "It's Angela."

"Yeah," the guy nods, a little thrown, "okay, sure," he placates. "'Angela', I get it. Wull..." he reaches, "later man." At this point it's more a question than a given.


Tyler takes a step back and Jordan starts the car and drives off, tossing his cigarette butt out the window as he pulls out of the parking lot at full speed.

At the dinner table with her family Angela appears preoccupied, if not distracted. Danielle, though, is oblivious to any indicator things are off; she chats freely, expecting her family's full attention. "I finished my book today. That's twenty-seven. Dad? Guess what you get if you read thirty-five books."

"Uh, I don't know; a book? I suppose."

"That's not a prize," Danielle chastises. "No. You get a T-shirt. It's really cool. The library had a contest in the beginning of the year; Devon Wagnor won, he designed it. It's really cool."

Angela can't take it. Something is wrong, either with Jordan or with her and Jordan. Rickie's going through a thing, Jordan's disappeared, cutting class, and walking around with a banged up face — she can't just sit at the family dining table. "Excuse me." She rises and goes upstairs.

Having grabbed the cordless phone on her way, Angela shuts her bedroom door behind her and turns on the phone. She no longer needs the slip of paper, she's benn dialing the same numbers all night. As the phone rings she thinks maybe she shouldn't be trying so hard to find him — maybe there is such a thing as a person just needing space — but she's convinced herself there's something wrong. Hadn't even Brian suggested that there was? The phone rings several more times.

There's no answer at the next number either.

Finishing his wine, Graham leans against the counter beside the sink where Patty stands doing dishes. "Did you talk to Angela's school?"

"Mm, hm. The assistant principal said that they would be moving Rickie to Pride House; which," she takes a deep breath, "is where they were trying to get him into all along. So," she pauses, "it's great that that finally came through." She's telling this to herself as much as to Graham. "Rickie's going to be fine."

He reaches out and softly rubs her back. "Course he is." But momentarily Graham retracts his hand and moves away, and instead begins transferring leftovers into containers. "Hey, uh, has Angela heard?"

"Mm, hm."

"—Because, she seems a little..." he can't quite put his finger on it. "Do you know, is something else going on?"

"I don't know." Patty wipes a splash of water off her brow with the back of her wrist. "She has been acting a little morose lately." Patty takes a sip from his wine glass. "I think maybe it's something to do with Jordan."

"Oh no," Graham stops, a little stricken, "they haven't— Have they?"

"No." Patty makes a face that everything goes back to that. "But I get the feeling something's wrong."


Patty's only grasping at straws, "Maybe something at home. He works right? Maybe they need money. Does he live with his parents?"

"Does Jordan Catalano have parents?" Graham kids. "You mean he didn't just appear one day in a red convertible, speaking mono-syllabic teen?" Patty chuckles. Graham waves his hands from his wrists, expanding upon his jest, "Rising from the sea foam?" Utterly amused Patty swats him with a dish towel. Graham chuckles, and finished with putting the food away he sets to work to caramelize some pecans.

"Maybe..." Patty continues slowly, after snagging a nut from the skillet, "do you think it might be about Rayanne?"

But Graham does not follow that train of thought as at that moment something entirely (or seemingly so) unrelated pops into his head, "Ooh, listen: Hallie's working over some final figures with the investors this week, and we should be meeting with some contractors by Thursday or Friday. Hallie says we should even start making final decisions on the initial menu soon." His voice trails a bit, "Something to do with branding—"

Patty's looking at him talk. "Wow," she blinks. "This is all moving pretty fast."

"Yeah," he smiles, hardly believing it himself, and completely unaware of any reticence on Patty's part. "Well Hallie says that we're at a disadvantage opening after the holidays, and that our best chance of building a strong customer base by the summer is to open by the middle of March."

Patty comes up to taste the candied nuts he's been cooking, and rolls her eyes back and sighs, it is just that good. "So," she says, her mouth full of warm salt and sugar crystallized pecans, "does this mean you won't be cooking for us anymore?" Her head falls forward to his back as she mourns, "The girls hate my cooking."

"No," he assures her with a small pat, "they don't hate it." Patty looks at him incredulously. Graham continues in that serious-joking tone of his, playing it straight when of course he's mostly teasing her: "Well, I mean, Angela barely even eats here anymore, and we can just feed Danni off what I bring home from the restaurant." He looks at her and grins. Patty kind of punches him, "Hey! Hey!" he smiles. She walks out of the kitchen, and Graham kind of chuckles behind her as he watches her leave, then turns back to his cooking.

It is dark outside. Rickie sits in a far corner booth of the all-night River Diner. He's been in the same clothes for two days now. He never showed up at a the social services offices as he was meant to. He'd never gone back to class after walking out of Kryzenowski's office. He just couldn't. No doubt they were looking for him. No doubt phone calls were being made and papers were being filed, but Rickie just sits.

After leaving Katimski's, without even seeing him, he hadn't known where to go. School's off limits till he figures out what he wants to do, and no one was at Rayanne's place. Tino seemed to be nowhere around, and showing up at Angela's or Brian's would be the equivalent of school — the beginning of permanent and unknowable change. Rickie gets things can't go on as they are — the instability won't stand — but he's not ready to face the change, or people, convinced they want the best for him, shuffling him around from one strange place to the next, never fully seeing just how starkly alone he feels. So after Katimski's he'd gone to the library. And when that'd closed at eight he'd come here. And here's where he's hiding out. Till what, he doesn't know. There's been too much change; even though he'd long felt it looming. As he has zero control over any of it, what he's doing is opting out.

At least for now. At least for the night.

On the table before him is a cup of coffee and what little's left on his plate from his meal nearly three hours earlier. Though he's hungry, Rickie's making himself eat slowly. He left Katimski's apartment with twenty dollars — he's got to make it last; there's only so long he can reasonably take up a booth, even in the middle of the night when the place is at its slowest, without ordering something more. So he paces himself, spreading out small bites of long-past-cold food, and sipping at his coffee to keep awake. He's not going to bed tonight; there's no bed to 'go' to. The night is a balancing act of maximizing his time at his table for the lowest cost. His resources are finite, and even if he makes it through the night at this table, there's no knowing how anything could be better in the morning. He should have gone to the donut shop he realizes; a fifty cent donut could've bought him an hour or two.

Rickie picks at his plate and returns to The Catcher in the Rye. But he's unable to sustain concentration. He looks out the window. The near-empty diner is mostly quiet; most of the noise comes from the kitchen where the cooks converse loudly. The night is growing late. Rickie yawns involuntarily, then forces himself to straighten up and reaches immediately for the coffee.

Day 3

Underneath the Liberty bleachers Jordan sits, arms crossed, on the supporting crossbars. His eyes are closed and his head leans back against a pole. He still hasn't been home, and while there's a lot his car's good for, he's a bit too tall to really get a night's sleep in the back of it. He could'a gone to Tino's, sure. He could've gone to Shane's, to Nate's, to Joey's. Maybe even Rich's or Laurence's; hell, even Marco's. And there was always Lisa's, or a number of other places. His uncle's for one, the loft, that guy Chad he works the late shift with. There was no end of places he could go — if he asked.

But he didn't ask.

Asking means acknowledging something he hadn't had to in a long time. Asking means making something real-er than it needs to be.

And anyway a banged-up face tends to put parents on their guard. Even the ones who typically just let their kids be. He figures tonight he'll just get wasted at a buddy's then happen to crash there. Nothing out of the ordinary there.

His eyes remain closed as the sound of footsteps on the hard packed earth announces the eminent arrival of his friends. Among them is Tyler, the acquaintance he'd run into the night before. No doubt he'll be subjected to some form of berating for bailing on that thing at whichever girl's house it'd turned out to be. He'd walk away, but where to?

Now far enough a ways from central campus as they approach, Kirk and Shane light up. Taking the place beside him, Kirk kind of swats Jordan on the shoulder friendly-like, "Hey Catalano."

Jordan's eyebrows go up, but it takes a while before his eyes open. "Hey." Jordan shifts his weight a little, but doesn't bother with uncrossing his arms.

"Where were you last night, man?" Kirk questions. "You know you bailed. Again."

Jordan scratches his temple with his thumb, "Didn't realize I got you tuh answer to."

"Where you been?"

Jordan is wholly unresponsive. "Dunno." He shifts his feet, kicks at the dusty ground. "Guess I forgot."

"Whatever man," Tyler scoffs; "you're drifting."

Dangling from the bleachers by one hand, his feet barely off the ground, his cigarette in the other hand, Shane nods at his friend, "So what's with the scuff marks Catalano; who've you been brawlin' with?"

There's no response from Jordan and so Kirk just pushes on, always the one to keep things light, when he can. "So you coming out tonight?"

Jordan's head shakes numbly. "Naw."

"Screw that," Shane decrees, "we'll be at your place at nine."

"No," Jordan gets out quickly, his intonation firm. "I'll meet you."

"What," Tyler questions, "so you can not show, again?"

"Uh, uh, Jordan," Shane says taking charge. "We'll be at your place; be home." With a final puff on his cigarette Shane drops it to the gravel at their feet and walks off with Tyler, presumably not to class. Kirk, though, hangs back, resituating himself now that there's only the two of them there. He leans against a nearby pole, and pulls a bag of shelled sunflower seeds out from one of his pockets. He drops a salty handful of them into his mouth. With absolute nonchalance he offers the bag to Jordan, who, not exactly in the best position to be turning down food right now, passively accepts a handful. Shooting empty sunflower shells out from between his lips in great and definite 'Whhoofs,' Kirk ventures to ask, "You gonna be there? If we show at your house?"

Jordan leans in a little — appreciative not only of the food but that the constant spitting of the shells keeps any dialogue between them from feeling too heavy, or earnest — his voice dropping ever so subtly, "Look—"

Whhoof, Kirk spits another sunflower and shifts his eyes on Jordan.

"—I'm not really there right now." Whhoof.

Kirk gets there're things being left unsaid. He gets this a lot from his girlfriend. Stephanie has a dad like Jordan's. Worse, really. Kirk graciously avoids forcing eye contact, "Old man?" Whhoof. Jordan reaches over and takes a drag from his friend's cigarette. That's a yes. Kirk nods, "Shit." He lets Jordan finish the cigarette. Kirk doesn't have anything to say. If it were Steph, he'd rail for the hundredth time how she has to get out, call the cops, tell everyone till there's someone who'll stop it, but it's not Steph, it's Jordan Catalano. On the other hand, Jordan hasn't asked him to say anything. What Kirk knows, is not to dwell. Whhoof.

When he straightens up, Kirk punches Jordan in the shoulder. "Be at Brendan's, tonight." He tosses the bag of seeds to Jordan. "I'll bring the whiskey. Later Catalano."

Having come to the unprecedented conclusion that he's bored just drifting around not doing anything, and unwilling to let every single thing in his life go to shit at once, after two days of skipping, Jordan showed up to tutoring. Of all the things he'd been blowing off, this seemed the easiest to pick back up. Doing it, Jordan surprised himself. It's not like school's a top focus for him given the current circumstances, but, he'd worked semi-hard to get where he is in his classes, and until he's sure he wants to throw it all in he'd only be screwing himself not to at least try to maintain.

He's been there for more than ten minutes; they haven't been talking. Jordan is working on reading an article while Brian pretends to be on task, all the while repeatedly looking up to study Jordan.

Jordan can feel him looking. "Whut?" He didn't even bother to lift his eyes from the page.

"Nothing." Brian swallows and looks away. "So..." his eyes narrow, "what like, what happened?"

Jordan lifts his head and looks straight at Brian; he is unamused. "Fight."

Brian studies the face across from him. "Huh." An eyebrow arches. "Did you win?"

Impatient and irritated in the face of this line of inquiry, Jordan verges on sharp condescension, but he seems to catch himself, and just as quickly his mood changes and his answer is something along the lines of fraternal. "It doesn't really work like that."

"Oh." Brian looks around the room considering whether he should continue. He then starts again as if this has just occurred to him, "Oh; uh, some of your teachers," Jordan lifts his head, "uh, gave me some of the assignments you still have missing." Brian tries to be casual as he states the obvious: "You've missed a lot of class recently."

Jordan can do without the commentary. "Just give it here." Coldly he holds out his hand across his desk to Brian's, and Brian hands over a stack of papers. They work in silence for a while. Jordan doesn't get the thing he's reading, but he's not asking Brian for help, making even being there a waste of time. Brian again pretends to work, but still what he's studying is Jordan.


"You should," he ventures, "talk to Angela." Jordan looks blankly at Brian, like his words do not make sense. Brian doesn't let that deter him. "She seems, kind of," and here he chooses his words carefully, "concerned."

Jordan looks away, his eyes vacant. When he does turn back he's confrontational, he refuses eye contact and his voice is gruff and off-putting, "Yeah? What's it t' you?"

"Nothing... Only—" Brian doesn't finish until he's got Jordan's, begrudging, full attention "—she deserves it. And I think she's probably worried about you." Jordan scowls, and broods, and then abruptly stands and stalks out the room. It was a mistake to even come.

Brian sits there, watching him leave.

Angela's there, outside the tutoring room, waiting for Jordan on the off chance he'd show. Though she'd gone there to find him she hadn't expect she would, and her mouth opens to speak before she knows what she'll say to him. He's already agitated, and seeing her right then does nothing to help. He pauses — only for a split second — to talk, but before anything's said he continues walking. Angela quickens her pace to follow after him down the hall, then moves in front of him and stops. He tries to move past her but she moves too. Jordan stops. He's not doing this. And coolly averting his eyes, he slouches and resigns himself to waiting for her to move.

Standing her ground Angela looks at him, waiting for him to look at her. "Did I do something?" His eyes roll. "Did I?" she evenly presses. Jordan's not looking at her, he's shutting down, closing off, and waiting her out. She sees him doing it, and she tries again before he's too far gone behind that self-constructed wall of stoicism. "If, it wasn't me," which after wracking her brain for possible inadvertent transgressions and finding none, she can't think it was, "could you talk to me? Could you have the decency to talk to me. Maybe look at me?" He does so, coldly; there is an unyieldingness to him that earlier in their relationship would have pushed her, shamed her away. But now she stays, pushing back. "So... what?" she puts it to him rhetorically. "You got in a fight?" She can't think that's enough of an excuse to explain his behavior. She doesn't think it was a fight. If it was just that he wouldn't be treating her this way. Would he? He wouldn't have disappeared from his life so completely. It has to be worse. Whatever it is behind this seemingly overnight change in him has to be much, much worse. Jordan shoots her a dull 'You don't know me' face. She looks into the tutoring room he's stormed out of. "Are you dropping out of school too?"

His cold eyes flash at her, "Who said that?"

Angela looks at him like he must be kidding, "You haven't been in class all week. You missed the Catcher test." She wets her lips, and her eyes widen a little, "If you're not dropping out, they might kick you out."

"Yeah?" he challenges. "Why do you even care?" He can't help it — even if he wanted to — when he gets this way, he just can't stop himself.

Angela's not accepting this, whatever this unknown problem proves to be. "Please," she scoffs. "School is important. You need to graduate."

"What for?" His defensive aggression diffuses, leaving in it's place a detached coolness; he's breezily, casually, dispassionately trying to push her away. "I'm not goin' to college." He gestures off-handedly, "My father barely passed high school."

Angela looks at him doubtfully, "Do you really want to be like him?"

"What do you know about it?" he fires off.

And it hits her. Suddenly. She sees the problem for what it is. At least she thinks she does. And she wonders why she never saw it, never considered it before. This clouded realization stops her, she's unsure how to proceed.

With quiet hesitation she forms the words, "I know that..." But she stops herself. And swallows. She doesn't want to be the one to say it, not when she's not one hundred percent sure what she suspects is actually true, and when he's not said anything about it himself. She wants him to say it, and so she makes space for a long, loaded pause, hopefully to be filled by his story. If only a few words.

Jordan exhales sharply and his eyes roll again, "Forget it. You don't know anything about it." Deftly he steps to the side and moves past her.

Watching him walk away from her she's no longer frantic, and in a low, steady voice, she calls to him, "Jordan—"

Jordan does stop. Though he does not wish to be, he's compelled to. He stands there with his back to her, then something in him makes him turn back to face her, and he breathes out. "Look, everything's fine, it's not even a big deal."

"Well," her face wrinkles in the prelude to tears, "I don't know that because I don't know what's really going on; except that you're never in school, you're impossible to find, you're blowing me off and not telling me why, you lookterrible, and," she bites her lip, "you don't seem very happy."

"You're over reacting."

"Okay," she grants him. It's very possible she is. "Can you tell me what's wrong then?"

He wants out of there. He wants out of this school hallway, he wants out of this conversation, and he wants out of her line of vision where she's looking at him with those sad victimized, martyred eyes and talking to him like he's a caged animal she's trying not to spook. Above anything else he resents her in this moment. Her, and her green pitiful eyes, and every instinct in her that's telling her to keep him there for questioning, and prodding, and — God fucking forbid — commiserating. "I just—" he starts. "This isn't about you." As he continues he gets meaner, "I don't want to spend my time worrying about how you're going to take things. What do you have to do with any of this anyway?" All of a sudden self-conscious — this has not happened in a vacuum — he takes a quick survey of their onlookers, curses, "Christ," and walks away.

"Jordan." But her voice falls flat and he walks on. Angela takes a step forward and opens her mouth to call his name again but she stops herself when she sees Cynthia Hargrove's advancing toward her, taking her in through steady, watchful eyes.

Cynthia walks calmly at a steady pace, knowingly taking in the scene. Jordan storms past her; he turns his head to glance at her as he walks by, but he does not slow down. Eventually he turns a corner and disappears. As if by calculation, Cynthia stops at the locker directly across from where Angela stands. Languidly, like she's under water, Cynthia turns the combination with purpose, and opening it, casually, and with no effort to hide it, watches.

Angela is troubled. She looks like she's been caught; doing what, she's not sure. Angela opens her mouth to speak, stops, and begins again "Ah—"

"Trouble?" Cynthia's there to ask, smug, like molasses.

Angela turns away and walks down the hall in the opposite direction of Jordan's exit.

Rickie's on a pay phone outside a municipal building. He never went to school. There is something he has to do, before he can do any of the rest that's expected of him. He drops the coins into the slot, punches the silver keypad numbers, and waits. "Hi..." He's not making this phone call easily, "it's me." His voice breaks over that knot in his throat. "Can you come meet me; please? _ It's 46116 Hollister. _ Thanks." He waits, holding the phone to his ear, the dead line buzzing now at the other end. He just needed a moment more, a moment more of connection. Then he hangs up. Looks around, and breathes.

Having retreated to the bathroom, Angela sits in the alcove by the window. 'There are times— when things get too terrible, and all you can do is go back. Like when you're sick and feel like you must be dying, and all you can think about is the last time you didn't feel that way. Or when you're failing your midterms and you'd give anything to go back to the times when all you had to do was make a really great diorama. Sometimes moving forward, or even where you are, is just, too difficult. And you want to go back. Back to when you didn't know so much. Back to when you didn't have so much to fear, or doubt. Back to when there was someone who knew better than you, who could, just, tell you how to make things right...' She looks up, to across the room where Rayanne's fixing her hair. 'I had gone to Rayanne. For advice. I hadn't planned it, it just happened. After everything, I never thought I'd ask Rayanne Graff for advice, or for anything at all. Especially not about Jordan. But... I don't know, something about it just seemed: safe. It doesn't make us friends. At all. But, in extenuating circumstances, you sometimes find unexpected allies.'

Angela continues what'd she'd been saying already— "But he won't talk to me about it."

"So?" Rayanne retorts. There's a long pause and then she's looking away from the mirror and back to Angela, "Really Angela, is that it? That's what's bothering you? That he doesn't want to talk to you about his dad wailing on him?"

"I never said—"

"Oh please," she cuts her off. "Com'on. His face said. His face said. Besides, it's never exactly been a secret." Rayanne looks at her, "So that's it?" Rayanne is minimizing, all of it, and it's shaming Angela, making her feel foolish, and alarmist. "You want him to come to you, tell you the story, tell you his—"

"No..." there's little resolution in the way she says it.

"'Cuz," Rayanne dips her head for emphasis in making her point, "that's not really something people like to talk about. I mean, look'a Rickie."

"I know," Angela nods. "But, I, I don't know for sure that that's what's—" She stops; Rayanne's expression says 'yes, you do'.

"And on top of it not being a favorite conversation piece," Rayanne continues, "you're not really—"

What she was getting at is that there's likely more to Jordan not wanting to talk to her about this than just the pure fact of it. Meaning: she's Angela Chase. She's not the person you think to go to when life is in a shambles all around you. She just, doesn't have the right point of reference to get it. Not really.

But Angela takes control of the conversation, and keeps it confined to what she's comfortable with. "The point is, that I'm worried about him."

Packing her bag and slinging it onto her shoulder, Rayanne puts in her two cents worth, "Look Angelfood—" they both start at the awkwardness; Angela makes a face, and Rayanne remembers herself and looks slightly embarrassed, but she dismisses her error and continues— "Catalano's gonna be fine." And at that point it's too much. For both. Going back has its cost, and if they can't move forward in their friendship, Rayanne can't afford to go back. Wanting an out she quickly adjusts her shoulder strap, flips her hair, and steps into motion, "I gotta find Tino." In seconds she's exited the bathroom.

In her wake Angela's head sinks a little; she doesn't feel any better about Jordan, and Rayanne's gone. Again. And all that's left is messy ambiguity and doubt.

Just then one of the toilets flush and her head automatically raises. Of all people, Cynthia Hargrove — again — emerges. She holds an unlit cigarette between her lips and as she approaches the sink closest to Angela she does so without a glance in her direction.

"You're talking about Jordan?"

Angela's face is blank; she doesn't like the way she's said his name. She doesn't like the way she's invited herself into the situation without even looking at her. She doesn't like that Cynthia seems endlessly to be the witness of her most vulnerable moments. Angela shifts her legs and drops them off the tiled edge — she has to assert herself as in control: not lost, not little, not in the dark. She straightens up and faces Cynthia.

"He ever tell you about his father?" Coolly Cynthia pauses for an answer, evening out her lipstick while she does. "Well," she smudges the color on her lower lip, "it's not good." Angela's reaction is completely split. She resents this girl — she resents her for who she is, the history she shares with Jordan, the absolute passionless authority with which she seemingly approaches everything — but this too is something she's been waiting to hear, whomever the source. Jordan and his father... Momentarily Cynthia turns directly to Angela. "Look, Jordan doesn't talk about this to everyone."

"I'm not—"

"'Everyone'? I know. You're the girl he's not sleeping with." She's said this kind of to make fun of Angela, and kind of not to. "Think about it," she presses. "How will it help him to talk to you about this? Can you fix it? Will you be able to understand what he's talking about? Let it go." Her questions pierce Angela, mostly because they are true. Angela knows she cannot truly empathize, and to sympathize is implicitly forbidden, but still she is compelled to be there. Finished with the mirror Cynthia's on her way out, but she pauses at the exit and looks back, "Just, be what he needs you to be."

"Which is what?" Angela asks softly.

"I don't know," she says, suddenly pointedly cavalier, "what do you need from him?" And she's through the swinging doors and gone, and Angela again is left alone.

Outside the social services offices, Rickie sits on the bench across from the pay phone. He's been watching the road for the last twenty minutes and he spots him immediately when Mr. Katimski pulls up in his wagon. Katimski parks and Rickie's there to meet him as he steps onto the curb.

"Mr. Katimski," he entreats, "I'm so sorry."

"It's alright."

"I never meant for you to lose your job. I'm so so sorry."

"Enrique," he pauses with meaning, "what happened is not your fault."

"But it's because of me. Foster is doing this to you because of me."

"Listen, Rickie, I am glad to have helped you. So very glad. I'm proud of that decision. And so very proud of you. I, will be fine. I don't, want you blaming yourself, for this. You try so very hard to be responsible for everyone around you, I don't want you taking blame for this. It's, hard enough to be young, finding where you fit into the world; don't make it harder by carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. _ Even Atlas shrugged." Rickie is crying.

"I'm sorry—" he starts in again. "I don't want to have to— I want to—" With concentrated effort and deep slow breaths he calms himself down. "I would have really liked to have kept staying — living — with you." He wipes his tears. "I know it sounds stupid, but, I really felt like I had found a home."

Katimski feels for the boy and looks down on him sorrowfully. "There's nothing stupid about that. _ Hey, Rickie, you're going to be fine. Things are, going to work out for you. I'm not worried." Rickie breaks down again.

"I just don't understand why this always seems to be happening to me. I walk around, I never feel comfortable, I never feel at ease, or at peace, and then, I felt like I could finally breathe. And now they're saying..." Rickie shudders. He's so worked up he can't get a full breath. "I can't go back to that." The emotion rises in him and he's rendered despondent, "It just gets so hard."

Regulations and standards or no, Katimski gives him a hug. Holding him firmly, "You're going to make it through this Enrique. _ You are."

"Thank you. Mr. Katimski."

Katimski pats him on the back, "Okay. Okay now."

After leaving that bathroom Angela'd walked home. She didn't want to take the bus, or see anyone. Once home she tucked herself in her room and sat quielty. She said nothing when Danielle came home and blasted the television when she was supposed to be doing homework. She said nothing when Graham came home and called her name up the stairs. The mood that's consumed her all afternoon isn't melancholy, but a graveness. A gravity that strikes a person who has not seen all that's been before their eyes, and now that it's been seen, knows no way to act, to counter, or to heal. She is struck by how much in her life she has allowed to go unseen, and unspoken, and it leaves her cut off from her world. Alone in her naivete and shelteredness.

Angela would do something if she were able, but all that comes to her is to tell. To tell her parents another secret of another of this year's new friends. And she knows without question doing so would only cut her off from him forever. He would never forgive her.

And so she sits. And the hours pass. But then...

When it happens, when Graham knocks lightly on her door and tells her Jordan's out there, waiting, she's not sure she should trust it, but still she rises and descends the stairs, and opens that front door. Tentatively Angela walks down her front walk to Jordan who is leaning against the hood of his car. Though she approaches, still Jordan remains motionless, looking coolly away from her.

She doesn't know why he's there — what's changed in the time since he'd walked away from her in the hall. She doesn't know either how long he's been out there outside her house. All she does know is her father spotted him out there and now she's waiting for him to say something, anything. But he does not.

When instead finally she opens her mouth to speak, he cuts her off — "Look," he stops her brusquely, "I don't want to talk about it. Not with you."

"Okay..." she nods. She's trying not to take it personally, trying to be what he's telling her he needs. But even so, without blinking she asks, "Who are you going to talk about it with?" He does not answer. He does not look at her. In avoidance his eyes shut. "Jordan," she appeals, "you can't—" she starts. "You can't—" But Angela doesn't know how to say to him what she means. He can't ignore this. He can't let it happen. She knows she can't say that. He can't shut her out entirely.

Eventually his eyes find hers, "Listen Angela, you wouldn't under—" but Jordan shuts down mid-sentence and never finishes that thought. He disengages completely. "I'm not talking 'bout this with you."

Angela lets it go. She can't force him to talk to her, leastways she doesn't want to. And what was it that suddenly made her think talking about the worst thing in a person's life would make them feel better? That was rarely true for her. She backs down, and stands there silently beside him, so close she can feel the warmth from his body in contrast to the crisp air. She wants to lean in, to move closer, to sidle up and snuggle in, to feel the give of his corduroy jacket as her weight leans in against his, breathe in the warm comforting smell of him and that brown jacket, but she does not. She does what he's been telling her to all week in words and deeds: she gives him space. And time.

Quietly she raises her eyes to his, "Where're you going?" Jordan lights a cigarette in answer. He's stopped talking for now. "Can you take me with you?" She's done trying to control this, but she'll be there for him, if he'll let her.

Jordan gets she's trying, and that little unassuming question kind of got him; he softens. "Angela—" he breathes. "This—" with his cigarette and thumb he signals his bruised face "—isn't you."

Undaunted she shifts and reaches out to try to hold his face. At her touch he starts but doesn't move away entirely, and passively he allows her palm to softly caress the side of his face. Jordan's been so alone, he allows this much, but he does not let his eyes to focus on her. Beneath her soft touch he remains distant, and unreachable.

Her eventual response is insistent though nearly whispered, "It's not you either." She kisses him, and in time he yields. He allows her soft lips to part his, her tongue to gently find his, her love to reach him. He kisses her, whole-heartedly, melting into her warmth and her sweet smell, but when he feels a stirring, a longing for her — without warning he breaks away.

"I gotta go." Feeling so obligated he amends his abruptness, "I'll be late for work." Jordan retracts himself, gets into his car, and drives away.

In an office cubicle at the Center for Social Services Rickie sits filling out forms providing them with his personal information. Ms. Kryzenowski was phoned and is there to facilitate, and as the social workers talk, and ask questions of Rickie, the isolation he's felt so surrounded by magnifies, and the world around him becomes distant and blurred. He can barely make out the words in the voices about him. He looks young, and he looks lost. Not so much scared, but adrift.

In the early evening Mr. Wilson, associate principal at Liberty High, pulls up to a gas station and auto garage. He parks his car and walks up to the cashier's window. A large man in his late 40's sits behind the counter; he looks up at Wilson from his small black and white portable television but says nothing.

"Hey. Is Jordan working tonight? Catalano?"

The man studies him for a second, then points with his thumb to the garage. "In there."

Wilson enters the garage where a recognizable kid is working on a transmission. "Hi Jordan." Jordan pauses his work, looks up in surprise, gives a head nod of acknowledgment, then returns to his task. Wilson wasn't expecting much of a welcome and he moves easily further into the space, casually surveying the place as he does. "You weren't in any of your classes again today." Jordan, head in the engine, doesn't even flinch. He's not impressed Wilson went through the trouble to track him down after hours, and he's less than anxious about missing a couple days worth of classes. Wilson keeps his eyes on Jordan. "What's going on?" When still he's met with no reply he takes on the load of the conversation himself. "I think we talked about this not too long ago; about you, needing to make it to class." He watches as Jordan switches wrenches. "Jordan, you're really not doing your part here — you're running out of breaks." Jordan stops his work but still does not make eye contact. Wilson sees he's at least partially got the kid's attention. "They're not going to hold you back again; it'll be over."

Jordan shifts his stance and faces Wilson willfully, "So? Do it already."

"Well, despite all the cut classes, all the aloofness and disregard for your teachers and the school's policies and rules," Jordan's eyes roll, "I think you want to stay."

"Yeah? Why?"

"Because you've started to care." He takes a step or two further into the garage, but though Wilson is calm and patient, Jordan's defiance has not tapered. "I talked to Brian Krakow. You've been showing up. And, I know you don't savor going to continuation — leaving your friends, that new girlfriend." He steals a glance to measure Jordan's reaction. "That alone might be motivation to keep on at Liberty?"

"Maybe I'll quit altogether," Jordan, at his most insolent, offers. Not liking be cornered, and much less being analyzed, Jordan doesn't want his head shrunk or his thing with Angela getting dragged in to the admin's party line. One has got nothing to do with the other.

"Jordan, if you wanted me to buy the idea you don't care about school, you shouldn't have started going to tutoring." Jordan blinks. "Look," the AP puts it collegially, "do you have a little time?" Nothing. "Jordan, if you let me in on what's going on, I might be able to help." During the long pause in which Jordan deliberates his next move, his face registers no emotion. Wilson can't make out what the kid is feeling, or thinking.

Finally, after some time he asks, "Want some coffee?"

Wilson's smile is measured; "Absolutely."


Amongst scuffed empty milk crates and an upturned cable spool Jordan and Mr. Wilson sit outside in the alley behind the auto garage. Sitting on thrashed, avocado vinyl chairs they drink their coffee from Styrofoam cups. Jordan swallows. "I'm not trying to get kicked out."

"No," Wilson takes a drink. "You're just doing everything you can to force me to do it. Jordan, you're a bright kid—"

"Look—" he's quick to shut down any conversation going in that direction; he gesticulates as he makes his point "—Seth, Trigger, all those guys, they're seniors right—"

The AP ever so slightly nods his head, "And they'll be graduating, and you'll still be here."

"Yeah. And now you're saying I might not pass this year either; I can't stay back again. I can't be in tenth grade English again. So, if that's what's going to happen—"

"You'd rather be kicked out." He looks at Jordan, and for the effect of timing drinks his coffee. "You think it'll be easier to tell your friends you got kicked out of high school than having to repeat a class?"

"For the fourth time? And it's not about those guys." And suddenly the Catalano guard is back up; "Maybe I just need to work more hours."

Wilson figures the kind thing to do is to buy this excuse, at least initially, so he nods, and clears his throat, "'Course."

Wilson surveys the industrial alley they're seated in, then the seventeen-year-old claiming he's going to quit school to work longer hours there. The seventeen-year-old kid with the banged up face and the three foot thick wall around his heart. "Jordan," he levels, "why don't you tell me about the face: What's going on? _ 'Cuz I know this isn't just about what's going to happen next year."

Jordan takes a long swig of coffee. "Maybe not." He reaches into his shirt pocket and takes out his pack of cigarettes; he lights up, then looks over at the AP, unsure if he should be doing this in front of him. Wilson flicks his hand, indicating this is by far the least of his concerns, and so Jordan offers him the pack and Wilson half-smiles and shakes his head 'no'. He waits patiently until Jordan is ready.

Jordan takes a few drags, scratches his head, and sighs. As he speaks, his eyes never meet Wilson's; instead he watches the burning embers at the end of his cigarette, and gestures with the thing as he finally says the words, "Say there's a conflict," he's so matter-of-fact about it, like a contractor at a build site, "between me and my old man." Jordan casts a side glance to Wilson to gauge his reaction, but he has not reacted, and Jordan eventually continues. "See, there's this — problem, with his job, and so now there's — pressure, to like, bring in more dough."

"Your father hits you."

"Did I say that?" Jordan's surly reaction is immediate and unmeditated. He takes a drag, takes a moment, exhales, and starts again, rubbing at his eye with his thumb. "Naw, it's not like that. It was— It used to— But I took care of it." For close to the first time Jordan catches and holds eye contact with him — he wants to be sure he gets the impact of his words. "He didn't do this."


Jordan completely brushes off any sign of emotion or concern. To him it's coming years too late and if nothing stopped it happening when he was ten, eleven, nine — then what was the point of it now when he can take care of himself? Sympathy gets him nowhere and is hard to take — better just save it. He takes another drag off his cigarette, and moving his head slightly to indicate the marks on his face, asserts, "This is nothing. This is just somethin' that happened, this once."

When it had happened Jordan was pissed. He was super pissed. Like he'd said, this wasn't the arrangement anymore, but all the same, things hadn't reverted back to how they had been. They weren't back there again. Jordan could handle this, and this wouldn't happen again. Might just have to be a little more alert.

"You know this?"

Now Jordan's getting irritated, "Ah, com'on. What, now you're gonna tell someone?"

"I am a mandated reporter."

Jordan rolls his eyes and scoffs. "Nobody 'mandated reported' it when it was really a problem. When it was really happening. Now you're gonna do something? Great. You gonna send a 17-year-old to foster care?" Jordan takes a drag and shoots him a pointed look telling him he's crazy. "Man, there's a ton of kids really gettin' hit," he exhales, "so how come you're not workin' on that?"

"So you weren't 'really hit'?"

"Ah, Christ. You know what I mean." He takes another drag, "Anyway, you report it, I'll just deny it."

Wilson watches as he exhales and picks a tobacco leaf from his tongue. "Now why would you do that?"

"This doesn't happen every time I go home."

Mr. Wilson is plain spoken and unaffected when he says it: "It's not supposed to happen at all." He gives Jordan a break and drinks his coffee. "When was the last time you went home?" Jordan gives him nothing. "So," he leans back in his chair, "what are you doing about it?"

Jordan half shrugs; he gets the guy's pretty much humoring him. Decidedly, as he flicks ashes from his cigarette, he remarks off-handedly, "I'm not giving up my paychecks."

"And this is the source of the conflict? Your father wants you to what? Quit school in order to work more hours?"

Bluntly, and terribly world weary, Jordan looks at him, "What do you want me to say?" He looks down at his coffee, but he doesn't drink. "Look, he's not, he's not saying 'drop out'. It's just not, a 'high priority'. Anyway," he tugs absently at his earlobe, "it's not that clear cut." Jordan clears his throat. "It really wasn't about me, exactly. _ But, uh, with failing school and all, it just seems, 'why not?' Ya know?" He takes another drag off his cigarette, "It's not like I'm going to college; I can get a GED if I ever need the paperwork. 'Cuz," and he glances at Wilson, "face it, sticking 'round doesn't guarantee I'll graduate."

Wilson nods, granting him that much, "Maybe. But I know you've been working. Back in December your homework was pretty high quality." Wilson doesn't notice Jordan's eyes shift — it wasn't him doing the homework in December. "Jordan, you have to figure out what is the best course for you. Even without all this. You're turning 18 soon; you need to start thinking seriously about the choices you've got."

Jordan drinks his coffee. "Thought you came here to tell me I was out of choices."

Wilson cracks a sliver of a smile, and swishes his coffee in his cup. "If you choose to finish school, I can keep you in; but Jordan," his brow raises, holding the boy in his sight, "you'd have to commit to that. You're going to have to choose to be successful." Jordan makes a face; he doesn't feel like this is really up to him, even as it is being laid in his lap — he doesn't feel like he's at all in control. "Look, I'll tell ya, for a long time it's going to feel like it's either school or money: stay in school — no money to move out; not enough money coming home — conflict with dad — increases appeal of dropping / moving out. Dropout — no education, limited options your whole life. Stay in — guaranteed struggle, but not forever." He watches Jordan blink, a sure sign he's listening. "Let me know." Wilson finishes his coffee, stands, and places his hand on Jordan's shoulder, "Thanks for the coffee." He leaves through the back exit, and Jordan, alone in the alleyway, takes a final two drags, turns his eyes in the direction the AP had walked away in, then straightens his cap, stands, flicks his cigarette butt down, and returns to work.

At the Chase's house in the early evening, Graham is in the kitchen cooking while Van Morrison plays in the background. Patty meanwhile sits at the dining room table working on paperwork she brought home with her. Spread across the table are files and ledgers and catalogues. She sighs, and rubs her eyes. Feeling the stress mounting, Patty rises to freshen her coffee.

As she enters the kitchen Graham takes her by the waist and tries to dance with her to the music. They manage a few steps together, but Patty keeps her body stiff and remains resistant to the dance, and it comes off awkward and disjointed. She wishes she could dance with him, just let go and be with him. Coming together over Rickie, and the girls, it made things easier, like they were still the partnership they'd always been, but there is work, and there are unanswered questions, and there's this split reality they're living in — the one in which they can pull together, and be a comfort to one another, raise their daughters and make each other laugh, and the other, where doubt and stress, nagging and betrayal lie in wait, where there are questions she doesn't want to raise for fear she could not live with their answers. Their marriage is not just one thing. She can still find herself happy in it, but she cannot bring herself to dance with him. Which, maybe, isn't helping things at all.

She breaks away, "I'm busy right now." Graham surrenders and lets go of her. Still moving to the music he takes her mug from her and freshens it for her. Patty turns and opens the refrigerator; staring into it she sees nothing that appeals to her. "There is nothing to eat in this house."

"There's tons of stuff in there," he counters lightly, kneading dough to the beat of the music. Patty sighs, moves away from the refrigerator, and takes the cup of coffee in her hands. "Wait till you taste this gnocchi."

"I've gotta get back to work."

Graham takes a sip from his wine, "You know, I can help you with that stuff if you need."

The gesture only irritates her. It's not fair for, for him to be this happy, this normal, when there's still that splinter of doubt. She cannot rid herself of it, though at times she can quell its sting. Pushing through the kitchen door to the dining room to return to the table and her work, with voice lowered, and more for her own vindication than for Graham's benefit, she sighs, "You don't do this work anymore." She lets the door swing shut behind her.

As she crosses the dining room and resumes her seat at the far end of he table, from the kitchen she hears Graham's enthusiastic, "Mmm! I love this! This is definitely in the running." Patty leafs through her paperwork to find her starting point, but she's burned out, disinterested, and feeling very much put upon. Running her fingers through her hair, she lets drop her head to the table.

The social worker hangs up the phone, then looks at Rickie. the news is not good. "So, we'll be taking you to the Earnshaw group home. Rickie's tired and it takes him a minute to register this.

"What? A shelter"

"It's not a she—"

"They said Pride House. They said this time I'd be going to Pride House."


"You don't understand," he persists, "I've been to Earnshaw already. They said Pride House."

"I don't know what to say, the spot was filled. It can happen that quickly. You're on the list. But you need a place tonight. You need somewhere to sleep."

Rickie cannot argue that. He feels as though he hasn't slept in an age.

Graham enters the dining room whistling. Patty, still seated at the table at work, grimaces at the disruption, and a little at Graham's good mood. He doesn't see. He crosses to the bookshelf for a cookbook. Not finding what he's looking for he calls out to her. "Patty? Where's my cookbook?" Still scanning the shelves he clarifies, "The uh, one on—"

"They're all on the top two shelves nearest the kitchen."

He moves slightly over and looks up. "Ah." Pulling the one he'd been looking for he reenters the dining room with book in hand. "When did that happen?"

"I don't know. Last week, two weeks?"

"Huh." He hadn't noticed. "Why?"

"Because," she bites off her highlighter cap and underlines something in her notes, "it needed to be organized."

"Yeah," he jokes, "but now I can't find anything." Patty drops her pen upon hearing this, she just can't win. Graham meanwhile, not purposefully having been contrary, returns to the kitchen and his cooking. The music blares when the door swings opens.

Patty tries to resume her focus and the phone rings.

"I'll get it! I'll get i—" Danielle cries. But the phone has already stopped ringing, picked up by someone else in another room. Danielle then changes her path from the phone to the sofa and kind of half leaps, half collapses onto it. She lays there a little while and then pops her head back up, "Mom?" she tries for Patty's attention. "Mom. Mom."

"What Danielle?"

Angela, already in her pajamas, appears from upstairs, but tired she doesn't fully descend; she's only far enough so that she can be seen and heard from below. "The phone's for Dad." It's evident she'd been hoping it had been someone else on the phone.

"Well," Patty looks up, "could you tell him please?"

"You're closer."


"I'll tell him," Danielle groans. She rises and goes to the kitchen and Angela retreats back to her room. When Danielle returns she pulls out a chair from the dining room table and sits on her knees, leaning across the table toward her mother. "Can I watch TV?"

"No, I'm working."

"Then can I watch in your room?"

"Why don't you read."

"Because, I haven't picked a new book yet."

Graham steps through from the kitchen, a little on edge, "That was—"

"Hallie," Patty anticipates flatly.

"Yeah." He didn't note her tone. Graham turns from Patty, directing his attention to Danielle, "Hey, shouldn't you be ready for your scout meeting?"

"I am ready. We don't have to wear the uniforms."

"Well, that doesn't seem right," he casually observes. "Scouts are their uniforms. And, hey, didn't we pay for that green get-up? Get our money's worth," he teases her. Danielle rolls her eyes. "Patty, you're taking her, right?"

"Tonight? Does it look like I have time? You need to do it."

"Patty," he indicates the kitchen, "I'm working."

"You're cooking, Graham. I'm working." Patty looks down; though she'd meant it, that's just the kind of thing she's been trying not to say.

Graham's not standing for it. "Danielle, go upstairs." So as not to come off so abrupt with her he adds, "Get ready to leave." Danielle silently looks from her mother to her father; she exits the room knowing there's something... off, between them. When she's gone, Graham turns back to Patty. "Patty, what is going on?"

"I can't talk about it right now."

"Why not?"

"Because, if I do, I'm going to say some things I shouldn't."

"Like what?"

Patty rises. "I'm going out. Take Danielle to Girl Scouts." She crosses to the front door, takes up her coat and purse, and leaves. As the door closes the phone rings again; somewhere upstairs it's answered before the second ring. Momentarily Angela reappears, more heavy hearted than earlier — the call she's waiting for, or, hoping for, seems not to be coming. "Dad." Graham, who hasn't moved from where he stands, looks up. "Phone."

"Thanks." Graham moves towards the phone. Though caught up in her own crisis as she is, her mother's sudden absence and the permeating mood of the moment are not entirely lost on her. Angela quietly surveys the room, and stoically eyes her father, before going back upstairs.

Momentarily Graham looks away from his eldest daughter, turning from her to th phone. He picks it up. "—Hallie—"

In his car, Graham pulls up in front of a small well kept house. He does not shut the engine off. He doesn't look at the house, he isn't really looking at anything. The one thing he does do is reach over and unlock the passenger door. Within moments the door opens, and Hallie Lowenthal gets in.

Hallie looks from him to the keys in his still-running ignition, "Are we going somewhere?"

"I don't think so."

She swallows, just slightly breathless. "Thanks for meeting me."

"I had to drop my daughter off at scouts."

Hallie shakes her head. "This is weird. I don't even know why I asked you over. Does," she pauses to look at him, "Patty know where you are?"

"Should she?"

Her eyes meet his before he blinks and looks away. Hallie breaks the silence with a sort of cough and half-laugh, "So, um, this is strange, right? It's..."

Graham is quick to cut short any strain of conversation not directly relating to the business, "I've," he clears his throat, "uh, been finalizing the initial menu ... I've added some Mediterranean —"

"Graham," her head tilts to one side like she's reasoning with him to see reality, "we can't talk about business."

"—influences," he finishes. "But not, you know, in a heavy handed way."

Hallie looks at him. "Are you going to keep the engine running all night?" Graham looks at the ignition as though he'd forgotten the car was still on. "You can come in..."

"No; I can't do that." Her mouth opens, no doubt to brace him with some sort of level-headed justification, or rationalization, but he doesn't need to hear it. Graham levels with her. It's time. Though he's mostly looking at the roof of his car while he does. "I'm not really sure what I came here for. But... I don't want this Hallie." He looks at her. "I don't know how to say this, without..." He regroups and begins again. "What happened that night we cooked for the investors... We can't— I mean... I'm ma—"

"Graham," she stops him, not wanting to be the one to make him make excuses for being a good guy. "Please," she makes the effort to smile at the futility, "you love your wife." Nothing to be done about that.

He finally exhales, letting go of all the pent up the momentum. The fantasies and the flatteries. And he's left there in his car: himself, her, and reality. "Yeah," he reflects, maybe even vaguely surprised by it, "I do."

At this point Hallie feels it necessary to backtrack — to save a little face. "Look," she half laughs at herself, "I understand. No really," she assures him, "it's fine, it's actually better this way." Graham gives her a look and she continues, trying to assuage his doubt. "Now we can focus on— the business."

Watching her back pedal Graham's eyes have narrowed and his brows raise; he sounds a little confused, like he's a step or two behind and he's not sure he's ended up with the right answers. "Okay... Good."

"Now it's all cleared up," she smiles for the purpose of smoothing things over.

"I don't, want this to affect the business — that relationship."

"It won't." Her absolute assertion of this helps him believe this might even prove true.

There's silence between them in the car, but only for a moment. Soon Graham breaks, and shifts his position behind the wheel, shifting with him everything that's happened between them. "Hallie; I'm sorry to do this, but, I've got to—"

"Yeah; I know," she nods. "Go."

He looks at her. "You'll be okay?" God she loves him beneath that great expressive brow of his.

"Me?" she covers with manufactured bravado. "Honey, I'll be fine."

"Look, I'm sorry if —"

Hallie scrunches her face and shakes her head for him to 'forget about it.' She looks at him a moment and a half longer, then steps out of the car. Shutting the door she shuts it all down, and with the heavy metallic thud of closer, she's recovered herself. "We'll talk tomorrow; you can fill me in on what you've been working on."

Resolutely he nods. "Right. Goodnight."

"'Night." Hallie takes one step back, and watches as he drives away.

Brought to the youth shelter Rickie is led into a six-bed bedroom. He's been here before, it's the same facility he'd walked away from in December. Rickie looks around, his things are there, placed on a bed. It looks as though the bags have been rifled through. He can't tell what's missing. Other than the life he thought could be his.

The bed is unmade but there is a stack of clean linens, a towel, a bar of soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste. One bed is occupied by a guy, about seventeen years old, reading a car magazine. On another bed sit two boys, about fifteen and sixteen, playing cards. Rickie awkwardly moves towards the bed where his things lie, kind of half-smiles, and quickly gestures a modest 'hello', which goes pretty much unacknowledged.

Rickie self-consciously begins to sort through and arrange his things. Starting over one more time.

When Patty pulls into the Chase driveway the front lights are on, but the house is dark. Alone she walks into the house, shuts off the porch lights, and quietly sets down her purse. Patty hangs her coat by the door, passes by the dining room without glancing at her work, and crosses to the stairs. She does not bother to turn on the lights. Following her hand as it moves slowly up the bannister, she mounts the stairs, looking distantly up into the faint light streaming down from some unknown source on the second floor.

Lightly pushing open their bedroom door, she finds Graham ready for bed, but sitting atop. Whether consciously or not, he waited for her to go to bed; the covers have not been turned down. Cast in the low soft light of his bedside lamp, he looks up from his Patrick O'Brian novel. "Hi." He wants to tell her he's glad she's home, but he doesn't. He's not sure why.

Without a word Patty crosses into the bathroom, and again she leaves the lights shut off. Quickly she changes into her nightgown and brushes her teeth. From the bedroom Graham can hear the 'pluck - pluck' of her flossing. When Patty emerges from the bathroom she crosses the length of the room to their bed, and gingerly she climbs in. With her now there Graham too tucks under the covers, but Patty notes nothing in his timing. Their extended silence is magnified by the relative noise Graham creates when switching off his lamp. The metallic echo of turning a plastic knob hangs in the air above them as he settles into bed.

They lie there a while, distant and silent, and then Graham moves over to her and holds her tightly. Patty shudders a breath. Her body holds rigid, her shoulders go stiff; she does not want to be held. Somehow if feels like it's a stranger's arms around her. She considers shrugging him off, though in the end she does not. But she lies there, inert and immalleable. Graham isn't deterred, he just holds her tighter, disregarding the distance and the suspicion and insecurity. He nestles his head in her neck. And lets his breathing fall into the rhythm of hers.

In time, she reaches to hold his arms to her, and kisses his forearm where it lies across her chest. She pulls his arm in tighter, and like this they fall asleep together.

Angela's room is dark except for her closet light, which throws a warm glow out into her still and quiet bedroom. She is not asleep. She cannot sleep. She's lying motionless in bed staring up into the darkness, watching the shadows, trying to—


Her eyes dart toward the sound.

Clink. Clink.

Pebbles. Clink. No, something louder than pebbles. Pennies. She goes to her window and below her in the shadows cast by the moonlight and the neighbors' porch light is the outline of a familiar figure. Angela leaves the window.


When the Chase's front door opens she pulls it stealthily so as not to wake the household. There Jordan sits on the Chase's front steps, waiting alone and in the dark. Angela emerges and quietly sits beside him. No words are exchanged, they do not touch. Jordan sits stiffly, staring ahead, still not looking at her; Angela only looks at him for a moment. She doesn't know what he needs, she doesn't know fully what's wrong. But she asks no questions.

They sit like this, side by side, looking out into the night, feeling the winter air seep deeper into them. Then Jordan's rigidity dissipates and at long last he is able to relax. His eyes shut. He drops his head upon his arms where they lie crossed on his knees, and his back slumps as he finally lets himself exhale.

In time he reaches out and holds the bare toes of Angela's closest foot. Allowing a moment first to pass, of him, bent over himself, mutely holding on to her frozen toes, she lifts her hand to his back. Touching him first gingerly, when met with no resistance she lets rest the full weight of her love in that single touch. She'll keep her hand on him, wordlessly, softly rubbing her thumb in its place, for as long as he'll allow.

End Episode

Posted 1/19/14