It all started in the dimly-lit basement of a house. This was my room. Upstairs, my older brother got his own bedroom, and his own study; while I slept in a sleeping bag on the cold, stone floor of the basement. It got cold at night, this time of year. The cold seemed to seep up through the stone floor and into my bones.
"If you get cold tonight, there's a stack of blankets in the closet," my mother was saying.
"Thanks," I muttered.
My family had money. They just didn't feel it was worth getting me a real bed. They figured I'd be gone, off to college in a few years, so what was the point?
As I drifted off to sleep that night, I realized that I was an outcast in my own family. If I don't fit in with my family, where do I fit in?
I woke to the sounds of footsteps coming down the stairs to the basement. It was my dad.
"Good, you're up," he said. "Come eat breakfast, then do your schoolwork."
Although my brother, Declan went to school, I was home-schooled. My parents said they could teach me much better than some stranger, but they really didn't teach me much. I mostly taught myself.
I scrambled out of bed (ahem, off the floor) and hurried upstairs, after dad. For breakfast was oatmeal with almond slivers on top. I noticed that Declan got chocolate chips on top, but I didn't say anything. I knew better.
After breakfast, Declan grabbed his backpack and dashed outside to catch up to his friends as they walked to school. Friends. At least Declan was allowed to have friends. That was another reason why my parents home-schooled me. They said kids were mean, and that friends didn't really matter. Friends come and go, they'd say, but family is forever. Yeah, sure, family is forever, but you only get one best friend, and I'd lost mine years ago when my parents first isolated me. I still thought about Aly, the best friend a girl could wish for. I wrote letters to Aly, and she would write back, but I wasn't allowed to see her. The last time I saw her, was at her ninth birthday party. She would be fourteen now, just like me.
I sat down at the desk in the basement with my schoolwork. Today, I was writing an essay about my favorite president, per my parents request.
I glanced at the picture of me and Aly at the edge of the desk, our hair blowing in the wind as we ran along the beach. I opened up the frame and flipped the picture over, reading Aly's scrawled message: Aly & Dylan, '06.
I would give anything to see her again. It's been so lonely these past few years. The only time my family didn't ignore me, was when Declan would throw some insult at me and my parents would tell me I shouldn't have started it. I rarely did.
All of my thoughts, emotions, and memories were trapped inside my head. I couldn't talk to anybody because there was no one for me to talk to. One person can only keep so much inside.
Declan was just entering through the back door when I came upstairs. "Mom called. She'll be home a little after six," he said.
Declan sat on the couch with a book. "He's right outside," he said, without looking up.
I rushed to the window, pulling aside the drapes. Spencer McCarthy was walking by with his two friends.
Noticing me, he smiled and waved.
I ducked back inside and blushed.
This happened every day. Even if I were allowed to, I don't think I'd have the courage to talk to him. Spencer was a year older than me, in tenth grade with Declan.
I looked at the clock. 4:31.
I went upstairs, and knocked on mom and dad's door. "Dad!" I called. "Swimming's in half an hour!"
It had taken a lot of convincing for my parents to let me be on a swim team. I'm glad they finally relented, because coach said I have real potential.
When I woke up, it was pitch-black. The digital clock next to my head read 1:43. Another restless night.
I threw a jacket on, quietly climbed upstairs, and went out the front door. I sat down on the curb just outside our house. Just then, Spencer rode by on his bike. He stopped when he saw me.
"Couldn't sleep either?" he asked.
I shook my head.
"Can I sit with you?"
He carefully laid his bike down on the ground, and sat down next to me.
A few minutes passed.
"Let me show you something," I said, standing up.
I led Spencer up onto the roof, where we sat again. From here, we could see the stars. With the sky crystal clear, it seemed like I could reach out and touch a star.
"It's beautiful," Spencer said, looking at me.
"My favorite's Cygnus."
"Me too," he said.
There was another long pause.
"Do you ever feel like you don't belong anywhere?" I asked.
He frowned. "No. Why?"
He looked at me again. "Do you feel like you don't belong anywhere?"
"I'm sure you'll find where you belong," he said, trying to sound reassuring. I didn't feel very reassured.
"Everyone belongs somewhere."
"You think so?"
Our eyes met for a brief second. I looked away, blushing.
I awakened, realizing I had fallen asleep up on the roof, with Spencer next to me. Now, Spencer was gone, replaced by Declan.
"What are you doing up here?!" we both exclaimed in unison.
"I came to get you!" he said. "What are you doing up here?"
"I couldn't sleep."
"So you decided to come and sleep out here? It's freezing!"
"It's not that bad once you're used to the basement," I said, glaring at him.
"If mom and dad knew, you would be in so much trouble."
"Please don't tell," I pleaded.
"I suppose I won't," he said. "But you have to do today's homework for me."
I sighed. "Fine."
Once I had finished my school work (and Declan's) I read the letter I had received from Aly earlier that morning. It said she was going to be in town at the end of the month! I wrote back that on the thirty-first, my parents were going away for a night, and Declan would be at his friend's birthday party, and that I could sneak out and see her.
When I finished writing, I went upstairs to peek out the window. Spencer saw me, and approached the door. I looked back inside. No one was around. I opened the door and met him outside. He was flanked by his two best friends, Jake and Harrison.
"You guys mind giving me a second?" Spencer said to them. Jake and Harrison stepped back, out of earshot.
"That was really fun last night," he said smiling. When he smiled, the whole world seemed to light up. "Now it's my turn to show you something. That is, er, if you can't sleep tonight?not that I want you to not be able to sleep. I hope you sleep well." He blushed. "I really messed that up, didn't I?"
I laughed. "It's okay."
"So, if you can't sleep?I know I won't be able to? just meet me in my backyard, 'kay?"
I nodded. "See you tonight."
Just as I thought, I didn't sleep. I met Spencer in his backyard, and he led me to a clearing a short distance into the woods behind his house. There was a tall rock in the middle of the clearing, and Spencer climbed to the top, and helped me up. We had been sitting for a few minutes, when the full moon came over the tops of the trees, and shone into the clearing.
"Look," he said grabbing my hand and pointing at the rock with his free hand.
The moonlight shone on the rock, lighting it up a brilliant shade of white. It was bright enough to hurt my eyes.
"Wow," I said.
For the next few hours, Spencer and I talked about anything and everything. Eventually, we both got tired and decided to go home.
"Good night, Dylan," he said, walking me to my front door.
The two of us fell into a rhythm. Every night, we would meet and talk for hours, before going home to sleep.
Before I knew it, it was the morning of the thirty-first.
My parents had left before dawn, and Declan had just left for his friend's birthday party. I called Aly on the phone my parents had left as the "emergency phone", and we agreed to meet at the park in a half-hour.
As I was biking the mile to the park, I passed Spencer.
"Hey," he said as we both stopped.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
"I'm meeting up with a friend at the park."
"Mind if I tag along?" he asked. "I'll leave as soon as you get there."
"No, you can meet her too. She's really nice."
So, we both biked to the park. Aly was already there, waiting for me. As soon as I locked my bike up, she ran over to me and hugged me.
"It's been so long, Dylan," she said.
"I really missed you," I said.
"Who's this?" Aly asked, noticing Spencer. "Is he your boyfriend?"
Spencer and I both blushed. "No," we said in unison.
"Aly, this is my friend, Spencer," I said.
They said hello to each other.
"Let's go to my house," I said. "No one's home."
Spencer and I walked our bikes so Aly could keep up as we headed to my house. We talked and talked, and before I knew it, it was night-time again.
"I better go," Aly said, getting ready to leave. "Bye, Dylan. Nice meeting you, Spencer."
"You too," he said.
Aly and I walked to the door where we hugged again.
"Keep him close, Dylan," she said. "That's one nice boy."
I reddened as she left, before coming back and sitting on the couch again.
"Sitting here is way more comfortable than on our rock," Spencer said. The rock had been our secret meeting place for the last month.
"We can sit here tonight," I said, "but Declan's gonna be home soon."
Just then, I heard the front door open. Declan was home.
"Down to the basement, hurry!" I said.
Spencer and I hurried down the stairs, closing the door behind us.
After a few minutes, I said, "I think he went to his room. We're safe."
Spencer looked around. "Does someone sleep down here?"
"On the floor?" he asked. "But your family has a big house. There's got to be a room for you."
"There was. They turned it into the guest room."
I laid a blanket on the floor, and we sat on it.
"I can't let my parents see you," I said. "I'm not allowed to have friends. They say kids are mean."
"Next time they tell you that, just say what my dad says a lot: just because there are a few bad apples on the tree, doesn't mean you have to cut down the whole tree."
I smiled. "I like that."
"I should go," Spencer said.
He stood up, and put his hand out to help me up. I grabbed it and he pulled me up. When we were both standing, he didn't let go of my hand. I glanced down at our hands, and felt heat rise to my face. He took a step towards me. Now our faces almost touched. Just as he leaned in, I heard footsteps coming down the stairs, and a moment later, Declan appeared in the doorway. When he say us, his jaw dropped. Spencer jumped away from me.
"Dylan, what is going on?" my brother asked, clearly shocked.
"Um, nothing." It sounded more like a question than a statement.
After a little bit, we agreed that I would do Declan's homework for a week.
The next night, Spencer and I met at the rock. After sitting there for a few hours, I put my head on his shoulder.
"Do you remember when you said you feel like you don't belong anywhere?" he asked.
I lifted my head. "Yes."
He turned towards me. "I know where you belong."
He put his hands on my shoulders. "You belong exactly where you are, Dylan O'Leary."
And with that, he leaned in and kissed me.