"What are you going to do?"

"I’m not sure. But you are right. This has to end. I do not deserve this. It took me a long time to realize that, but I don’t. The problem is, I’m scared shitless."

Warren left Sophia’s house to head home. He was shaken. He was right, he was way over his head. This had gotten worse, and he was at a loss how to help her. He was lost in thought as he trudged along and didn’t notice the car pulling up inside him. He didn’t see the three older teenagers get out, until one of them was blocking his path.

"Are you the faggot that’s been messing around with my girlfriend?"

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me, faggot. I’m Scott Patterson. Sophia is mine, and I’m telling you to stay away from her."

"You don’t tell me what to do."

"I’m telling you now. I don’t want you as much as looking at my girlfriend."

"Sophia is my friend. If she doesn’t want to talk to me, she will tell me, not you."

Scott snorted, "What the fuck you think this is, pussy-boy? Sophia does what I tell her. And so will you."

"Yeah, Sophia does what you tell her, all right. Because you beat it into her."

"Now you’re getting it, pussy. You do what I tell you or you’re next."

Warren though for a second. The asshole had two of his buddies standing behind Warren, and he was in front. Warren figured there was absolutely no way he was getting out of this one without getting whacked around. Even so, he had absolutely no intention of knuckling under to this maggot. He looked Scott right in the eye and said, "Go. Fuck. Yourself."

The rest was predictable. The two goons grabbed Warren’s arms, and Scott took his couple shots. Warren ended up on the ground, gasping for breath, with the beginnings of what surely would be one hell of a black eye. The ribs were bruised, as was his knee where the maggot had kicked him on the way to the car, with the added threat that he’d "better quit that fucking job at the donut shop, too, as I don’t want you seeing her, ever." That Warren had no intention of doing, but he didn’t really want to get beat up too many more times either. He dragged his bruised body home, managed to avoid his parents, and attempted to get some studying done. He didn’t call Sophia.

Warren made it through Tuesday at school, dealing with the stares and fending off the inquisitive questions. He told the truth to the vice-principal, Mr. Gordon, because he trusted Mr. Gordon, and he didn’t want anyone suspecting his parents of abusing him or anything like that.

He walked into Dunkin’ Donuts, knowing Sophia was going to be there. And wondering what he was going to say. He knew-he knew-that there was no way that Sophia had spilled the beans to Scott about their friendship. He just wouldn’t believe that. Anyway, he’d find out soon enough.

"Hi, Warren. Why didn’t you call last night?" He turned toward her. "Oh my God. What happened to you?"

"The same thing that happened to you."

Sophia gasped. "Scott?" Warren nodded. Sophia stared at him. "Scott…did this to you?" she said in a strangled voice.

Warren nodded. "Him and two of his buddies. Grabbed me on the way home last night. The two goons held my arms while Scott took his shots at me. I’m forbidden to talk with you, don’t you know. I’m ordered to quit my job, too." Warren snickered. "I told him to go fuck himself."

"You WHAT?" Sophia looked like she was close to tears. "Oh, Warren…I never meant to get you involved in this. Look at you!" She took a breath. "I swear to God, Warren, I never said one word about you to Scott. Never."

"Sophia, I believe you. In fact, I never thought for a minute that you did. He must have found out some other way."

"I’ll bet Alexandra, my neighbor, saw us. She lives down the street. She used to be my friend, but she’s a real bitch, and she wants Scott."

"God knows why."

Sophia snorted. "Too true. But she must have seen you and done some snooping. Warren, I’m so sorry."

"You didn’t do this to me, Soph."

Sophia started to sob. "Yes I did."

"Sophia, look at me. Listen to me. NO YOU DID NOT. You didn’t hit me. You have no control over what Scott does."

"Yeah, but if I hadn’t pulled you into my life…"

"You mean if we hadn’t become friends."

"Yeah"

"That was our choice. Scott didn’t have anything to do with it. Soph, do you value my friendship?"

"You know I do. But what about you?"

"You know I value your friendship, too."

"But how can you, if it gets you beat up by my boyfriend!"

"Some things are more important than other things. And what you want, Sophia, is infinitely more important to me than what that asshole boyfriend of yours wants. Even if it gets me beat up."

Warren walked out of the store to pick up the lot. Sophia didn’t know what to say to that.

It was close to the end of their shift. Sophia wanted Warren to walk her home, but was terrified to ask him to. What if Scott showed up? What a mess. She stepped into the back room to sip a cup of coffee. Warren was mopping the floor, chatting with Dora. Sophia heard someone come in, but figured Dora could handle it. Then she heard a voice-Scott’s voice.

"Hey, pussy. I thought I told you to quit this job. I thought I told you to stay the fuck away from Sophia."

"And I thought I told you to go fuck yourself."

Sophia stayed in the back room, out of sight. She couldn’t believe her ears. Was Warren trying to get himself KILLED?

"Listen, pussy, you want more like you got yesterday? I’m telling you to stay away from Sophia."

"Sophia’s my friend."

"Sophia doesn’t have any friends if I say she doesn’t have any friends."

Sophia blinked. Warren was right. Scott just wanted to control everything about her.

"Well, nobody chooses my friends for me. Sophia’s my friend. If Sophia doesn’t want that, she can tell me. Since she just told me the opposite, then friends we stay."

Scott moved closer to Warren and growled in a low voice, "You don’t seem to understand, faggot. Yesterday was just a preview. If you don’t stay the fuck away from Sophia, I’ll give you a beating that will make the one yesterday feel like a tickle."

Sophia tried to blink back the tears. What the hell should she do? How could she get Warren out of this?

"You are pathetic," Warren said. Sophia couldn’t believe her ears. And Warren continued, "You just have to keep control over her. You have to keep her pinned under your thumb. You refuse to let her think for herself. And you keep doing this because you are terrified that if you let her think for herself, if you let her get out from under your thumb, she’s going to wake up and realize that she is WAY too fucking GOOD for the likes of YOU!"

Warren, of course, ended up on his back, bleeding from his mouth. He expected that. Scott was just laughing at him, while Sophia stood in the back room, sobbing, terrified.

Warren pulled himself up, in horrific pain, but determined not to give in. Not to this scumbag. Not concerning Sophia. "And you know what, asshole? You can hit me over and over again and it still won’t change the fact that Sophia is too good for you."

The next shot went to Warren’s already bruised ribs. Dora went running back to tell Antonio to call the cops. Warren tried to catch his breath, kneeling on the floor, gasping. And Scott taunted him: "Want another one, pussy?"

"Better me than Sophia."

And Sophia, who had been hunched over, crying, stood up, with a start. She had always thought of Warren as a bit of a wimp-but here he was, standing there, taking a beating. For her. She was ashamed of herself for ever thinking that he was wimpy. If she ever had any doubts about whether or not he loved her, they were gone. And she knew something else as well.

She knew she had to end this.

She walked out onto the floor. "Scott, that’s enough."

"Oh, Sophia! Come to watch me beat the shit out of your little friend here?"

"No, I’ve come to tell you to get out. Get out of the store, get out of my life. Now."

"Yeah, right, Sophia. What have I told you? You are mine. Get used to it."

Scott had turned his back to Warren to face Sophia, and Warren made a little cheering motion with his hands. Sophia caught it, drew strength from it, and marched right up to Scott.

"I am not your anything. We are through. I am done being a punching bag. Antonio is back there calling the cops. They are on their way. Warren is underage, you are not. Assault and battery of a minor will get you a little stint behind bars. And it will be two, because I’ve got some bruises I can show them, too. And, for a kicker, I can tell them you’ve slept with me, a fourteen year old, and you’ll get statutory rape on top of it.

I am taking out a restraining order against you as soon as I can do it. I want you gone, I want you out of my life, forever. Do you understand me?"

Warren had managed to stand up, and was smiling and giving Sophia the thumbs-up. Scott walked towards Sophia, an angry grimace on his face, and swung at her. Warren was about to jump him, to do anything to help Sophia, but he didn’t have to.

Just as Scott’s hand connected with Sophia’s mouth, the cops walked in.


A TURNING POINT (Chapter 5)

They ended up in the hospital. That punch to Sophia’s mouth was accompanied by another to Sophia’s already broken ribs, before the cops got in and grabbed Scott. Sophia and Warren had gone down to the police station to give their statements, but the cops did it quickly because it was clear that Sophia was in agony, and Warren wanted to make sure his jaw wasn’t broken. The cops took them to the hospital.

They could come in later in the week and finish up their statements-the cops had gotten the basics.

Scott was behind bars, at least for now. They went to the emergency room, where the nurses called their parents. Sophia was badly hurt and extremely shook up, but felt strangely liberated. Even so, she refused to leave Warren’s side. She even made the nurses put them in the same examining room. The nurses told her that she would have to take her shirt off in front of him, and she said, "I don’t care. He stays." So he stayed.

It would make it easier on the doctors, anyhow-they could check them both out at once.

Sophia’s mother was the first to show up. She was alternately hysterical and scolding. Warren was dumbfounded. Yeah, she was shook up at seeing her oldest daughter in the condition she was in, but a little support might have been nice. She screamed, and then cried, and then screamed, completely ignored Warren, and had Sophia on the verge of tears herself. They closed the curtain so the doctors could check Sophia out, and she shot Warren a look of utter despair. She would have insisted the curtain stay open if her mother hadn’t been there, but she didn’t need to give her mother another excuse to go off.

Warren was very glad to see his own parents. They were, of course, concerned-his mother Peg was, after all, a mother, and his father Jim was concerned in his own way-but they didn’t get hysterical.

"Oh God, Warren. That doesn’t look too good," Peg said.

"Mom, I’m fine. They don’t even think it’s broken. I’m just going to be talking a little softer for a few days.

That should be a welcome relief. You can just make me coffee milkshakes." They all laughed.

"What did the police say?" Jim asked.

"Oh, they think the asshole’s going to be out of commission for a while."

"How do you get yourself involved in these messes?" Peg asked.

"Come on, Mom. How many messes, exactly, do I get myself involved in?"

"OK. Not many", Peg smiled. "But this one appears to be a doozy."

"No argument there."

Jim looked at his son and said, "I hope this girl is worth it."

Warren put his finger over his lips and pointed towards the curtain.

"Yes she is. You’ll see," he whispered.

"She’s in here?" Peg whispered.

"Yeah."

"Why’d they do that"?

"Soph insisted. She didn’t want to leave me."

"What’s all that yelling"? Jim whispered.

"Her mother. Wonderful, isn’t it? Thank you guys for not doing that."

Sophia’s mother emerged from behind the curtain and walked out of the room, not saying a word to anyone. Then the curtain opened.

"How you doing, Soph?"

"She’ll be fine," the Doctor interjected. "Now, let’s check you out."

Sophia elaborated while the Doctor checked out Warren’s jaw. "My ribs are definitely broken.

I have to stay out of school and work for the rest of the week and pretty much stay in bed, and I’m going to be taped up for a while-but they think that’s the extent of it. My shoulder is slightly separated, but will be OK, and my back is bruised-and they think that my left breast is just bruised and not permanently damaged, like they thought before."

"Oh, good, that’s a relief. That’s an important part of the body not to be damaged."

"Pig." Sophia said, grinning.

"You know it."

"Will you shut up so I can finish this?" the Doctor interjected.

"Sorry."

"Besides, Warren," Jim said dryly, "You shouldn’t talk that way in front of your mother."

Even Peg laughed at that. She wasn’t a prude by any means.

"These are your parents, War?" Sophia asked. Warren gave her a thumbs-up. "Hi. I’m Sophia."

She shook hands with both of them.

Jim looked at the girl sitting in front of him-the young lady that had completely complicated his oldest son’s well-ordered life-and said, "You’re right, Warren. She’s definitely worth it." And winked at her.

Warren burst out laughing-much to the consternation of the doctor-and Peg rolled her eyes at her husband. Sophia just stared, dumbfounded.

"That’s my Dad." Warren said, dryly. "Translated, Soph, he thinks you’re a babe. Of course, I already knew that." Sophia just sputtered. Warren’s parents certainly were…different.

"Honey, you’ve embarrassed her," Peg said.

"I was just pleased that Warren has inherited his old man’s good taste in women, that’s all."

"Nice save, Dad."

"Thanks, Warren."

"Yeah, thanks Warren," Peg said sarcastically. "C’mon, Jim. Let’s let the doctor finish up. We’ll see you in the waiting room."

"OK." They left, with Sophia staring blankly at the door. "Those were your parents?"

"Uh-huh. Never a dull moment with those two."

Warren did not have a broken jaw. Sophia got some painkillers and a week of bedrest, and got to go home with her mother still carping in her ear. Warren went home and did some studying.

Sophia spent the rest of the week in bed; half the time hopped up on painkillers, and the other half of the time thinking. She had quite a bit to think about.

Friday afternoon, her phone rang. "Soph, it’s Warren. You up to some company tonight?"

"I’d love it."

"Well, then, you have a choice. It can just be lil’ ol’ me, or, my buddy Crash was supposed to come down tonight with his girlfriend Alison, so we could make it a party. We’ll even teach you how to play poker."

Soph giggled. "Actually that sounds like fun."

"Great. Let me call the Crashmeister, and we’ll be there."

They got dropped off by Warren’s mother at about 7:00, and greeted Sophia laden with sodas, Warren’s "world famous chip dip" and other goodies, and a couple decks of cards. "We even brought some videos, if we get tired of poker." Warren said.