Chapter 1

Plato once said: 'No one can escape his destiny.' A popular TV show pointed out that 'Destiny is a fickle bitch.' While I never really believed in destiny, looking back at my life I think they might both have had a point.

In 1996, my family moved to a somewhat small town in east Texas called Allentown for Margret, my adoptive mother, to start a new job. Of course, this had me starting high school in a brand new school; but for a guy with no friends, that really isn't a big deal. Our house was about a half mile from the school, close enough for me to walk, instead of taking a bus.

The month before school, shortly after we moved in, I walked a few routes to Harry S. Truman High School to get an idea of how long it would take me and the best way to go. I would be walking by myself since the Jr. High, where my younger sister would be going, was further away and not in the same direction.

I gave myself forty minutes to get to school that first day and took a pretty easy pace. My path had me coming into the school across what is known as the back parking lot that runs behind the school's football field. It was small and mostly blocked from the main school, clearly either overflow for events or maybe good parking for the coaching staff.

I was cutting out of the woods and just hitting asphalt when I heard the sounds. Grunts, a yelp (or scream that was cut off before it got to full volume), and a bunch of scraping and thudding sounds. It was coming from between two cars off to my right. I could see a light brown head poke up between the cars a few times, before disappearing from view.

It was impossible to tell what was really happening, but something seemed wrong, so I jogged over to the two cars. What I saw stopped me cold for a second, mostly out of sheer surprise.

There were two boys and a girl there. The guy closest to me was wearing some kind of rock band tour t-shirt, jeans with a rip just above the left knee and sneakers. He had dark hair ... not quite black, but a very dark brown. His buddy was wearing a solid blue shirt and jeans, t-shirts and jeans seeming to be the go to clothing of choice for teenagers in the mid-90s, along with some kind of work boot. This was the kid whose head I saw come into view a couple of times.

In front of the kneeling dark haired kid was a girl lying on the ground. The light haired kid was holding her shoulders down on the ground, and had one hand over her mouth. Her shirt was torn enough that you could see her bra, and her skirt was pushed up to her waist. Her panties were torn and were only hanging onto one leg. She was kicking her feet, or attempting to, as the dark haired kid held one of her legs down while fumbling with his belt.

It took about a second to take this whole scene in, but the one thing that really sticks with me was her eyes. I am not sure I will ever forget the pure fear and terror in her eyes. She saw me right as I came around the car and locked eyes with me. The pleading in her beautiful brown eyes was unmistakable as she silently begged me for help.

Having not seen me yet the two kept taunting her. The light haired kid was laughing in a low chuckle that could only be described as creepy.

The dark haired kid told her, "Just hold still bitch. You know you want this."

I have never been in a real fight in my life. I had sparred in the dojo with other kids and even went to one competition the previous year, but this was different. I had never thrown a punch in anger. Actually, I'd never felt real anger. Sure, I had been mad at my sister and mother, and even other kids, before. But that was always an annoyance kind of mad. What I felt at this moment was pure fury. I saw red. I didn't think about it in the moment, but while this was an extreme situation I also had no idea who these people were, so looking back I am a little shocked at my reaction.

I dropped my backpack, took two large steps forward, and grabbed the dark haired kid by the head. I slammed his head fully onto the back panel of the car next to him. There wasn't much resistance to my grab and throw, since he had no idea I was there before I connected with him. As his head connected, his buddy turned to look up at me. He started to rise from his crouch, pulling his knee off the girl. This was totally the wrong move, however, as he was really off balance. Most of his weight on his back foot as he pushed up into a standing position. His hands were still lowered, just coming out of contact with the girl.

I used the momentum of my movement forward and half pushing off his friend's head with my left hand I raised my right foot and pushed into his chest. It wasn't a kick really, I wasn't in the right body potion for that and wasn't able to put very much weight behind my thrust. Power however, wasn't really needed, as he was so off balance. He fell backwards, bouncing off the front door of the opposite car his friend had hit, his head making a grazing contact with the rear view mirror.

Both guys being down for a second I ignored them. I wasn't going after them, I was just trying to get the girl free. I reached down, grabbed her hand and pulled her up. Turning but not letting go I pulled her after me, away from the two guys. Both of them were still down. They weren't unconscious, just stunned from the sudden burst of violence against them, and being slammed against the automotive sheet metal.

We cleared the small alley between the two cars, and I started pulling her towards the football field. The school lay on the other side of the field. It was then that I saw more people. In the distance was a preppy looking kid walking across the field to the school, and three other kids coming our way. The three kids coming our way did not look friendly. They looked a bit savage, and were running in our direction. One of them yelled out,

"Tyler! Are you alright?"

A pretty sure sign this was not the Cavalry, or at least not 'my' Cavalry. I changed the direction of our travel, not wanting to rush into these guys headlong. I rounded the car the dark haired kid bounced into and walked backwards putting a vehicle between me, the two kids just getting up off the ground, and their reinforcements. I pulled/pushed the girl behind me.

"Stay behind me. If you break and run, one of these guys might veer off and grab you. Wait until I am tangled up with them, then run for the school."

I didn't look back for an acknowledgment, keeping my attention on the guys closing on us. I did however spare a second to look in the direction of the preppy kid.

In my loudest shout, I yelled to him, "Hey! Get help!"

Apparently, the commotion had already drawn attention, as he was looking our way. I am not sure if he was going for help or not, but he did take off towards the school. I could only hope he was getting me some reinforcements.

I got a good look at these guys as they got up close. None were muscled, but also were not really out of shape. The guy in the middle was the tallest, at maybe five-eleven, with shoulder length hair that probably hadn't seen a comb in years. His two friends were a little shorter. The long haired guy seemed to be in charge; at least he spoke for the group as they closed.

"You are going to pay for hitting Tyler, you little faggot."

My guess is this last part was meant as a pure insult, and not an evaluation of me as a person. I am about six-three (considerably taller than he was), and I am pretty sure you cannot tell a person's sexual orientation from looking at them for a few seconds.

I will admit I was a little worried. The two original guys were getting to their feet and the new three were closing fast. Five on one odds is not great if you are the one. I did manage to keep my calm, however. While I am not some martial arts superstar or ninja master, I had been studying Krav Maga pretty hard for the past four years. I know that's not a lifetime of experience, but I had been going to the dojo four times a week, every week, for all those four years. I had really focused at it, too.

Krav Maga is an Israeli martial arts form that mixes boxing, Judo, Aikido, grappling, and a bunch of other forms into a fighting style focused on real world situations. The key to Krav Maga is to take the most effective and efficient move to neutralize an opponent as quickly as possible. If formal karate was the 'champion show dog, ' focusing on grace and skill; Krav Maga was the 'junkyard dog!'

As the guy in front lunged to grab me, I pushed his reaching arm aside, grasping across my left arm with my right hand to lock onto his wrist. With my left arm I grabbed his shoulder and pulled him into his momentum, while twisting, redirecting him in a shallow arc. Letting go, I managed to bounce him off his friend. This sent them both to the ground, gaining me a moment to deal with the guy closest to me who was already swinging a punch. Both my hands were out of position, having just let go of the kid I designated as 'leader' in my mind, and my legs were still counterbalancing my throw. Not having any limbs to defend myself, I did the next best thing you can do to stop a punch: I took it.

The thing you have to know about a punch is that the hand is actually really brittle. There are lots of little bones in there. That's why boxers wear big padded gloves. The other thing to know is that behind your forehead is a pretty massive and solid piece of your skull known as the frontal bone. This part of your body was designed to take a blow, to protect your brain.

I lowered my head, and took his fist on my forehead. This is a move I really don't recommend to anyone. I am not going to lie. It rang my bell! My vision grayed for a moment, but snapped back into place. I didn't feel nausea, and didn't have any double vision or blurring, so I felt pretty confident I didn't have a concussion. I knew I was almost certainly going to have a colossal headache in a very short few minutes! This, however, was probably no relief to the punch thrower. Many of the bones in his fist snapped or pulverized as he came into contact with my skull. You could hear them breaking. I think he might have broken his wrist, as well. Either way, he clutched his destroyed hand with his other, as he began to drop to his knees, yelling.

Having no one else close enough, and not wanting to leave someone behind me still a threat; I brought my body back into alignment, and pulled my knee forward against the side of his head as he was dropping. As his brain bounced against the inside of his skull, he went down and stopped moving. I didn't put a lot of force behind it, so I was pretty sure he was just knocked out ... but, he was definitely down.

Heckle and Jeckle, the rapists from the beginning, were rounding the car as the leader and his buddy were getting off of the ground. As the leader was still within reach, I continued my motion forward from the knee strike, and started twisting. Planting my foot on the ground, I pulled around into a roundhouse kick against the leader's jaw. I didn't have great aim, as this is not a move I had practiced a lot. Also, I was aiming using only my starting peripheral vision. But, I did get a piece of him. Enough so that I felt the jaw pull, and I am pretty sure it was dislocated. It sent him spinning back to the ground.

I followed this by pulling in the foot that had contacted him, planting it on the ground, and using my spinning momentum as I pushed out with a flat palm against his friend that was just up and starting forward again. I caught him in the chest, and really got some power behind it. It did feel like I had just dead armed a brick wall, and I knew my shoulder would complain, later; but I was rewarded with a solid "oof" from the guy as he flew backwards, trying to suck in air. He would be down for a least a minute, trying to get oxygen back into his lungs. This cleared me to turn on his two rapist friends who had been coming at me, but were for the moment out of my line of sight.

As I rounded on them, both were looking at their downed friends as they pulled up sharply. I could see them reconsidering. At that moment, shouts could be heard from the direction of the football field. Clearly, retreat seemed the better part of 'valor' to them.

The dark haired kid said, "This isn't over, faggot!" as the two high-tailed it into the woods.

I stepped back, protectively putting a hand back and grabbing the girl's arm where she was standing in stark terror. I looked at the handful of adults just now crossing the far parking lot before getting onto our side of the football field. Confirming that the three guys wouldn't be back up before the adults got to us, I turned around and looked into the girl's eyes.

"Are you okay?" I asked.

I didn't get much of an answer from her. Rather, I got her release of terror and raw emotions. Tears began pouring from her eyes as she was overcome with wracking sobs. She rushed forward and grabbed onto me like a drowning man would grab a life preserver, clutching me to her with all her might.

I do not have a lot of experience with violence or girls ... actually, I had no experience with either ... so I just held her, stroking the back of her head with my left hand as I held her with my right, telling her everything was 'okay now' and that she was safe.

After about another minute I heard some groans from the ground, as the two teachers or whoever reached us.

"What the hell is going on?"

I turned towards them, the girl still holding onto me. Pointing at the woods with my left hand, I gave them a breakdown of the situation.

"The two guys who ran into the woods were attacking this girl, and I am pretty sure they were trying to rape her. I knocked them off of her, and tried to get her out of there, when these three of their friends showed up. They attacked me, I defended myself. The two original guys just took off into the woods when they saw you coming."

They looked at the girl who, still sobbing uncontrollably, started nodding at them.

The guy, who talked at first, a bigger man still in fairly good shape in his mid-40s I would guess, turned to the smaller Hispanic man beside him.

"Okay. I will stay with these guys. Mr. Garcia, please take these two students to the nurse. Then call the police and an ambulance."

We walked back to the school in silence, the girl holding on to me the entire way, occasionally looking back at the parking lot with fear in her eyes.

At the nurse's office, it took a little coaxing, but they managed to pry the girl off me. They took her into the nurse's office, while I was placed in a seat in the infirmary to wait. Another lady, I guess a second nurse or maybe a teacher, stayed with me. After explaining again, what had happened, I told her about the blow to my head, and asked for some Tylenol or aspirin. The headache I'd predicted had arrived with a vengeance.

We sat there, quietly, with sobs still coming out of the nurse's office for about thirty minutes, until a police officer came into the room. He ignored me and walked into the nurse's office, closing the door. After about twenty more minutes, he came back out and asked me to go over everything. I did. He asked me to do it again. So I told him it again.

After scribbling in his note pad he stepped outside where I saw him key his shoulder mic, say a few words I couldn't quite hear and listen to a longer unheard response. A few more minutes of back and forth continued before he came back in to talk to me. Sitting down in a chair across from me, he smiled for the first time since he had walked into the room.

"So it seems you saved that little girl in there. She confirmed everything you said, to the letter, and another witness who saw part of what occurred backs up your story, too. While that was pretty stupid ... getting into a fight with so many guys ... you really did a good thing, today. I have to ask, what the hell did you do to those three guys? They are pretty messed up; and the paramedics are saying two, at least, have broken bones."

I shrugged my shoulders and said, "I defended myself. I have been taking martial arts for several years and I just kind of reacted. I didn't really mean to hurt them, and I was trying to pull some of my punches when I knew they could cause permanent damage, but it happened really fast. This was my first true fight, so it was all adrenaline and training, I guess."

He let out a short bark of laughter.

"Ha! Kid, if this was your first fight, I would hate to see what you could do with experience. I will say we never condone that kind of violence, but if there was ever a case of self-defense, this is clearly that. The girl is headed to the hospital to get checked out, but she is pretty much begging for you to go with her. It's all the nurse can do to keep her from rushing back in here. Until she gets checked out and can talk to someone, we really need to keep her calm. Her mother is going to meet us at the hospital, but told her daughter it was okay for you to go with her. Would you be willing to do that?"

I thought about it for a second and nodded. "Sure. I just need to call home and tell my mom where I will be."

I used the phone sitting on the counter and left a message on her voice mail, as my mom was at her new job and I didn't have that number. Tina was at school. I figured that was good enough. Turning, I told the officer I was okay to go, and sat back in the chair. He stepped into the office again. After a second, the girl rushed out, threw herself on my lap, and went back to clutching me. She was still crying, not that I blame her. As traumatic events go, this had to be way up there. I just continued to tell her it would be okay, and rocked her until the officer finished whatever he was doing in the office, and came to get us.

We went to the guy's car with the girl maintaining a two handed grip on my hand the whole way. I am sure word of the events had spread. What seemed like hundreds (but was probably more like dozens) of kids and teachers watched us walk out of the office, and out the front of the school into the parking lot. The ride to the hospital was pretty quiet.

They allowed me to stay in the room with her until the doctor came in. At that point, they asked me to sit outside in the hall. When I sat down a man in a suit came up and introduced himself as a detective. He had me answer all the same questions again, had me write out everything that happened and fill out a form. I had agreed to press charges on all the guys for assault and said if they found the other two guys; I would testify that they tried to rape the girl. It was at that moment it occurred to me I had no idea what her name was.

When we finished, I was told I could go in and see her, as she was going to be released shortly. Going into the room, I saw she was sitting on the bed wearing a hospital gown. She looked much calmer than before. I sat in a chair next to her. This was the first time I had gotten a good look at her.

She had light brown hair that flowed part way down her back, a heart shaped face, and really expressive light brown eyes. Even in a hospital gown, I could see she was in excellent shape. Her legs were muscled, but in a very feminine way, and looked really smooth to the touch. She was completely stunning.

"Are you okay?"

She smiled a very cute little smile, and let out a soft laugh.

"You know, that is pretty much the only thing you have said to me. Yeah, I'm okay. Still really shaky, but nothing really happened ... I mean, they didn't get a chance to do anything to me."

I smiled at her and said, "Good. I didn't ask, yet, but what's your name?"

"Zoe Bell. You?"

"Caspian Grey, but pretty much everyone has always called me Cas."

"That's a weird name."

"Tell me about it."

She paused for a minute before looking straight into my eyes, reaching down and grabbing my hands.

"I want to say 'thank you.' You saved my life. Those guys were really brutal and I know I was so close to being raped. I couldn't do anything! I don't think I have ever been that scared in my whole life."

I smiled for a second but looked away while blushing.

"Anyone would have done it. I am just glad you are okay."

She pulled my hands to get my attention and shook her head. "No, I don't think anyone would have done it. You saved me, and fought off five guys. You put your body between me and them the whole time."

She hopped down off the table and I could tell her height. She was pretty short, maybe a good foot shorter than I am, when I stand up. She plopped down onto my lap and hugged me tightly as she whispered in my ear.

"You are my hero."

I honestly couldn't think of anything to say at that moment, so just held her again. After a few minutes of quiet hugging, the door opened and a woman walked in.

Zoe looked up, jumped out of my lap, and ran to the woman yelling, "Mom!"

I stayed seated while she hugged her mother tightly and told her what had happened, crying again. Tears were also falling down her mother's face, and I got a little back-story as to the full situation.

Apparently, there was a gang that got together a few years ago, in the middle school they all attended. It was led by a kid named Jake Masuko, the long-haired thug I had correctly identified as their leader. In the gang is his cousin Ralph, the red haired kid named Tommy, and the two that tried to rape Zoe. The dark haired kid is called Tyler Jones and the other kid was Tony Miller. They'd had a thing for Zoe for a while, it seemed, and had tormented her all through middle school. She lived not far from me and seemed to walk the same path. Tyler and Tony must have known that was where she was going to walk, and were lying in wait for her. They had grabbed her as she cleared the woods and pulled her down, saying awful stuff to her and pulling at her clothes. That was when I made my entrance.

When she finished the story, although I felt she had over-embellished my fight against the guys, her mother let Zoe go and marched over to me. She grabbed my hands and with a surprising strength yanked me to my feet. Although noticeably shorter than me, Zoe's mother pressed me into her ample chest and did her best impersonation of a python as she tried to squeeze the air out of my lungs in what only masochists would call a hug! She held her head against me, and her voice was choked with tears.

"Thank you! Thank you! You saved my baby. Thank you!"

I managed to get a squeak out: "Air!"

In the first real laugh, I had seen so far, Zoe pulled her mom back, and I took in a lung full of precious oxygen.

Zoe's mom looked sheepish for a second.

"Sorry about that. I was so terrified when the school called me. To know that she is okay is almost more than I can take."

Zoe turned to her mom. "Mom, can Cas come home with us for lunch? I still feel pretty shaky but I'm much better when he is with me. I don't think the school will let us come back today, anyway, with what has happened."

Her mom stopped to think for a minute, and then said, "I guess that would be okay. I do need to call his parents first though."

With that, she turned to look at me. I stopped to think for a moment.

"My mom started a new job, today. Actually, I have no idea what her number is."

Her mom considered this for a second, "What about your dad's work number?"

"My dad died several years ago. It's now just my sister, my mom, and me."

I was surprised with how sad she looked for a second, "I am sorry to hear that, Cas. I think, at least until it is time for school to let out, that it would be better for you to come back with us instead of going to an empty house. You were released to the police by the school, so I have to talk to the officer for a moment about this."

She stepped out into the hall and Zoe took this as an opportunity to come back and sit on my lap and hug me again. She was surprisingly light.

"I hope you don't mind I keep hanging off you. I am still really torn up. I feel much better when you hold on to me."

I smiled, briefly, and said, "I am glad I can help."

Mrs. Bell came back in the room after another minute and looked at us for a second before speaking. "The officer said it would be okay for Cas to go home with us until we can contact his parents. Zoe, you are being discharged. I need to go do some paperwork, and you need to get dressed. Cas, would you please wait outside until Zoe is decent."

"Of course," I said as I lifted Zoe off my lap and onto her feet. I looked down into her soft eyes, "I will be right outside."

I sat in the hallway for about five minutes before Zoe came out and plopped herself back onto my lap, curling up with her head against my chest. We sat like this until her mom came and got us.

The ride to her house was actually pretty short. When we pulled into her driveway I pointed out that, I lived just one street over. It was already well past lunch, the police and hospital having taken the entire morning, so Mrs. Bell made us some sandwiches with chips and a couple of cokes.

"So, Cas, tell me about yourself. You said your mom had a new job, did you guys just move here?"

Clearly, the fear of the day had subsided and I was now 'the boy in the house of a girl' getting grilled by her mother.

"Yeah, we moved here last month. We were living in Dallas before that."

"Is that were you grew up?"

"Not really. I lived in foster homes until I was ten. I was moved all over as they tried to place me."

At this news, both ladies gave me the 'sad eye thing' that usually seems to happen when someone finds out how late in life I was adopted. The new information seemed to have piqued Zoe's interest, as she took over the questions.

"Really? So you're adopted? What happened to your real parents?"

Her mom said a quiet "Zoe," in reproach, but I held up a hand.

"It's okay, Mrs. Bell. Those are always the questions people ask when they find out my past. Yes, I am adopted, and I have no idea about my birth parents. I was dropped off at a hospital in New York City when I was a baby, and transferred into the Texas system the same year. They're not really sure of my exact age. I was shifted down to Texas and moved around the foster system until the Grey's adopted me, five years ago."

Zoe's interest continued as she asked, "Wow. So how did you get your name? If they don't know how old you are, how do you know when it's your birthday?"

Her mother chided her again, with, "Zoe Bell!"

I again held up my hand as I said,

"Really, it's okay, Mrs. Bell. I don't mind the questions, I have nothing to hide. I am not sure who gave me my name. I know it wasn't given to me by my birth parents, as no note was left with me when I was dropped off. I can only guess that whoever picked it was either a big fan of the Narnia books, or really liked the inland seas of Asia Minor."

"I didn't have a last name while I was in the system but they agreed to give me a note to go with my birth certificate. It does make applying for stuff hard, since on my original birth certificate it just has 'Caspian' on it and the date is left blank. I never really celebrated a birthday when I was in foster care so about five months after I was adopted John, that was the name of my adopted father, declared that June 5th was my birthday and threw me a party." I smiled at the memory and then frowned. "He died the next month."

"Apparently he had some kind of problem with his heart. The doctor said it sometimes beat in an irregular pattern. He had improved his diet over the previous year, cut out salt and stuff like that, and even started to exercise. They couldn't say for sure what finally pushed his heart too much, but apparently the heart beat thing got worse until he had a massive heart attack. It's weird, I remember it really clearly. It was a Saturday morning and he had just sat down to watch some TV with me."

Both ladies gave a quiet 'Aww' before Mrs. Bell continued.

"So what about your mother and sister? Are you close with them, now?"

"No, not really. John's death hurt Margret, my adoptive mother, a lot. Bringing me into the family was really his idea and there are clues that she was not really on board with the idea. To her credit, she has always treated me fairly, and has taken care of me. Tina was already seven by the time I came along, and I am sure I was a shock to her previous 'only child' way of life. So no, I am not really close to either."

I got another 'Aww'.

"It's okay, really. I know people hear all kind of horror stories about kids who grow up in foster care. You hear about abuse and neglect. I never really had any of that. While I wasn't with anyone for very long, none of the families that housed me treated me bad. They were all generally pretty fair."

"Did you live in Dallas long? What about your friends there?"

"I guess. That was where the Grey's lived when I moved in with them, and we stayed there until Margret changed jobs this summer. To be honest, I really didn't have any friends. Foster care is a pretty lonely lifestyle, and I guess I just never picked up the skills. I read a whole lot, and Margret has supported my hobbies."

Zoe hopped up and hugged me tightly. From the look on Mrs. Bell's face, I could tell she kind of wanted to do the same thing. After letting Zoe hug me a few seconds more I pushed her gently back and looked back into her eyes.

"It's okay. My life has been pretty good and I am happy with it. It's not the normal story but it wasn't bad. All the horror stories you might hear about foster care didn't happen to me and I have had plenty of stuff to focus on."

Zoe sat back down, started to droop, and looked at her mother.

"Mom, I am feeling kind of exhausted. I want to go take a nap, and I would really like it if Cas could come and lay down with me."

To say the look on her mother's face was skeptical would be underselling how little she thought that was a good idea. Zoe clearly noticed the look, also.

"Nothing will happen. I will even leave my door open. I am just feeling really fragile, and Cas makes me feel better. I would really like to be held while I fall asleep."

This seemed to barely mollify Mrs. Bell's displeasure at the request, but she seemed to evenly weigh it, all the same.

"I guess these are special circumstances. I will allow it, but leave the door open." She turned, looked directly at me, and said, "Please continue being the gentleman you have been so far. I am a big fan of yours, right now. Please do not make me have to change my mind."

I nodded gravely as I replied, "Yes, Ma'am."

Zoe's room was 'all girl.' Having a sister three years younger than myself, I had seen this before; but, if anything, Zoe's room was more girly than Tina's. Pink was clearly a favorite theme. I slipped off my shoes and stood awkwardly for a second. I had never had friends, let alone a girlfriend. Other than the exceedingly rare ... and frankly, somewhat cold ... hugs from my 'mother, ' I'd barely had any female contact whatsoever. In fact, the hugging I had received from Zoe today had already exceeded my lifetime amount of female contact. I was way out of my depth.

Zoe must have noticed my apprehensive look.

"It's okay. Nothing is going to happen. I just really need someone to hold me. Don't be nervous. Despite what my mom thinks, I don't think I could handle a guy touching me in a sexual way right now. I would freak the hell out."

She toed off her shoes, grabbed my hand and pushed me onto the bed. I lay down and scooted back against the wall, giving her room. She lay down as well and pushed her back and butt against me, shifting for a second to snuggle in. Reaching around her, she grabbed my left arm and laid it down so she could rest her head on me. She grabbed my other arm, and pulled it across her placing my palm flat against her shirt-covered stomach.

We lay there quietly for an eternity; well, it seemed that way. It was probably closer to five or ten minutes. Her breathing started to slow down and even out. The slow rhythm of her breathing lulled me to sleep as well.

A scream pulled me back to consciousness. It was getting late. The sun was on its way down, outside the window, and I was still on Zoe's bed. She was screaming, telling whatever mysterious attacker to get away, and leave her alone. I started stroking her hair, and saying 'it's okay, ' over and over.

The half-ajar door burst open, and Zoe's mother flew into the room. I looked at her with pleading eyes, as I continued to stroke Zoe's hair. As her mother neared the bed, the yelling stopped and Zoe's eyes flew open. We all stopped for a second, and everyone seemed to hold their breath. Movement returned as Zoe rolled around and clutched me, sobbing.

"What a horrible dream. Tyler and Tony were back, and they were attacking me, but this time you didn't save me," she managed to squeak out between the racking sobs as I rubbed her back and stroked her hair.

"It's okay, Zoe. You're safe. I got there in time. No one is going to hurt you. You're safe, now."

I looked pleadingly at her mother, who did something completely surprising. She smiled at me and backed out of the room. What the hell? I thought I might have some parental back up for this terrified teenager in my arms.

"Cas, you will protect me right? You won't let them get me?"

I continued to comfort her.

"Always, Zoe. I won't let them get to you. I promise."

We lay there for almost another hour as I continued to reassure her she was safe.

Eventually the tears stopped, just in time for us to hear Mrs. Bell call us to come downstairs. She was holding a small directory, and was hanging up the phone as Zoe and I walked into the living room.

"I found your number in the new school directory, and called your mom at your home. I explained everything that had happened, and asked if you could spend some more time, here. I think Zoe might really need that. Your mom seemed fine with you staying here, tonight."

That last sentence was said with an unusual frown, and I wasn't quite sure if the frown was for my staying at their house or at something else. Also, was I just told I was supposed to spend the night with Zoe? My world went upside down for a second. For a kid who had never had friends, before, this was moving at light speed, and it was a little hard for me to keep up.

"I gave her our address, and directions. She said your sister would bring over a bag of stuff. Also, I checked around here. Your backpack, with your school books, is apparently still in the nurse's office. You can get it there, tomorrow."

As if on cue, there was a knock on the door. I sat down on the on the couch, and Zoe sat right next to me, once against pushing against me and grabbing my hand. Mrs. Bell returned with Tina in tow. She carried my small gym bag, which I always took to the Dojo. Tina was shorter than Zoe, with light brown hair that went just past her shoulders. She was really petite. Since she had never been much into sports, she was not terribly athletic. She was just past puberty and her body was just starting to fill out.

She stopped for a second taking the picture in, and strange quizzical expression settled onto her face. After a moment, she stepped forward and handed me my bag.

"Mom said for you to stay as long as you are needed. Just let us know if you need more stuff or anything."

Again, there was a frown from Mrs. Bell. It was, however, outside of Tina's eye line.

"Tina, we are about to eat. Would you like to stay and eat with us?"

Tina shook her head, "No, thank you. Momma said I was to get right back so we could eat dinner."

Mrs. Bell escorted Tina out as I silently held Zoe's hand. When she returned I could tell Mrs. Bell was muttering something, but couldn't make it out. She looked up and her frown disappeared into a smile.

"Okay, kids, let's eat some dinner. You guys took a pretty long nap. Cas, after seeing the nightmare Zoe had, I think she could use your company again, tonight. Would you mind staying with us for a little while? I plan on getting Zoe to see someone, to talk about what happened, but she seems to feel better with you here. I don't want to take that away from her, at the moment. And, you did a good job at being a gentleman during your nap."

That last part was said with an unusual smile.

Dinner was interesting. We ate spaghetti and there were a lot more questions. They were all pretty much general questions, this time. Mrs. Bell told me how Zoe's dad had also passed away, although when Zoe was much younger. They were both really interested in my martial arts, and seemed to have never ending questions about it.

After dinner, we sat down and put on a movie, a comedy. I am pretty sure Mrs. Bell picked carefully in hopes of relieving some of the terror Zoe had felt, earlier in the day. I sat in a big recliner that they said had originally belonged to Mr. Bell. Zoe crawled up in the recliner with me.

I won't lie, it was really nice. I am a pretty typical male, and at fifteen years old, I really appreciated women. My lack of experience should not belie my enjoyment or fascination with them. I was certainly enjoying all the close contact I was having. However, a combination of respecting Zoe's fragile state, her mother being in the room, and my nervousness at all the new experiences, kept me from getting excited. Thank goodness!

When the movie ended, Mrs. Bell said we both had to go to school tomorrow, so it was time for bed. She showed me the shower, guest towels and everything, and handed me my bag. Looking inside I could see a change of school clothes as well as shorts and a t-shirt, my normal sleep attire. It seems Margret or Tina, whoever packed this bag, knew or assumed I was spending the night. I took a quick shower, changed into the t-shirt and shorts, and went to Zoe's room.

She had gathered up her stuff, told me she would be back, and walked out of the room. I sat awkwardly on her bed and looked around the room. There were a few posters of popular bands, some trophies that looked gymnastics related, a few stuffed animals, and a bookshelf with a lot of books I recognized. I was just considering going to look at what books were there, when Zoe came back.

She was wearing boxer shorts that showed a lot of her amazingly defined legs. My t-shirt almost covered even her boxer shorts it was so long on her. I was stunned that she had grabbed my dirty t-shirt and put it on. She must have noticed me staring at it.

"I hope it is okay that I took your shirt. I usually wear a t-shirt to bed, and this smells like you."

I had no idea what to make of that statement, so chose my normal policy of saying nothing. She came over and pushed me back on the bed. Crawling into bed, she lifted the covers over us, laid her head on my chest and threw a leg over me. After a few seconds, she lifted back up to look into my face.

"I keep saying this, but, thank you."

I smiled at her.

"You don't have to thank me, Zoe. I did what was right, and I am glad you are okay. It works out in my favor, anyway. I think I have made my first friend."

She gave me the most amazing smile I think I have ever seen. It was as if the sun had come out from behind the clouds.

"You have, you really have. I have lots of friends, but you are going to be my best friend. And wait till we go back to school! I know my other friends are really going to like you almost as much as I do."

With that, she leaned down and kissed me. It wasn't passionate. It was closed-mouthed, soft and tender, and felt like a thousand volts of electricity were shooting through my body. It seemed to go on forever, before she pulled away. She once again looked into my eyes, and smiled.

"Goodnight, Cas."

"Goodnight, Zoe."

She lay back onto my chest, snuggled closer, and we both quickly slipped into sleep.

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Story tagged with:
Coming of Age / Romance / Violence / Science Fiction /