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"Um, excuse me sir?" I stood uncertainly by the office door. Mark was working on the computer and looked up to see me standing there. He put down the papers he was reading and took his hand off the mouse. I had his complete attention, and I was nervous.

"Yes, what is it Greg?" He motioned me inside the room. I had never been allowed inside, so I slunk in and sat perched on the edge of the seat. Ready to bolt at a moment's notice.

"Some new friends wanted to go to the mall. May I go sir?" I asked, biting my lip. He seemed to relax at my words and smiled.

"Of course Greg. Did you want some spending money too?" He reached over to a locked drawer with a key from his pocket and my eyes widened. He was just going to give it to me? I nodded hesitantly. What was going on? I watched him reach in and grab a small wad of cash. He placed it on the edge of the desk closest to me.

"Thank you sir." I waited. Was that it? He wasn't going to ask me for anything? I got up awkwardly and took the money he had set there. There was at least a couple hundred dollars in various bills. I fingered the money, not really sure what to do.

"Was there anything else, Greg?" He asked me gently. I shook my head. I went to the door and looked back at him as he bent back to his work. Mark was a nice guy. My mother didn't deserve him, of that much I was positive. I tucked the money into my pocket and skipped to the door of my bedroom. I had to change so I could go out.

I wore a casual pair of jeans and a t-shirt. Then I threw my leather jacket over the top. It had a secret pocket that I could stash my money in. I put my wallet in my back pocket and skipped downstairs to see the butler. He smiled and told me my car was ready. I smiled back, really smiled. I knew he felt it too, because he wished me luck.

"Holy cow! This is one hot ride." Emily said as I opened the door for her to get in and slid over on the seat. We had become instant friends, and I had two classes with her after all. She had pouted when she realised she wasn't able to skip them the first day. Her friends were really nice too. They were all smart like her, and they didn't care who I was or who my parents were.

"You should see the others. I hope I get to drive one when I get my licence. Mark said I could go for my test as soon as I was ready." I said cheerfully. She grinned at me.

"Then you have to drive us all around. I can't get mine until I save up the fees. I figure with Christmas and my birthday I should be close." She gave the driver directions to pick up Eric and he sat up front with Lenny, the driver. We chatted about classes. I was glad that my new friends didn't ask me about my old school, or my family.

It was an unspoken rule that no one questioned why I talked about Mark, my stepfather, and never mentioned my mother. They didn't seem to care about why I went to boarding school or my past. It was nice. Everything about my new life was nice. I was waiting for the ceiling to come crashing down on me. I was waiting for my mother to wake me up and say 'just kidding' while she laughed at me.

I wandered the mall with my friends, mostly window shopping. There was a fantastic desk lamp displayed in the window of one store, and I thought back to the dimly lit office. Christmas was coming, so maybe I should get it for Mark? I stopped my friends and ducked inside the place, looking around at all the expensive things.

"Can I help you?" A young woman asked me. She was looking me over a little but patiently listened to my enquiry about the lamp.

"How much is it? I was thinking it would be perfect for Christmas." I asked politely. She smiled.

"It is about a hundred and fifty dollars. Do you think you can manage it?" She tilted her head. It wasn't said rudely, so I just grinned. I pulled out my wad of cash and removed about that amount. She nodded and moved to grab me a box. It was an unopened one, which she rung up on her register and then gave me my change. I held the bag containing the gift to my chest nervously. Would he like it? I really hoped he would.

"What did you get?" Emily asked me curiously. I blushed and mumbled about it being a Christmas gift for Mark. She took a look at the picture on the box and gasped. "Oh my gosh! He is going to love it!" 

"Do you think so?" I bit my lip and she smiled at me.

"Definitely. Do you want to grab something to eat at the food court?" She asked as we made our way down the escalator. I nodded and followed the group that seemed to have grown as we wandered the mall. Now there were almost ten of us, and we crowded a few tables at the food court. I was having fun. I ate cheap food and hung around with people I barely knew, but I was having fun.

When everyone had been dropped off at their homes later and I walked up the steps, I was tired but contently so. The lights were off in most of the house, so I crept up the stairs to hide the gift in my room. I put it in my closet, near the back and inside one of the empty trunks from boarding school. I had bought it on a spur of the moment, but now I was glad that I did.

I wanted Mark to know that he was appreciated. I wanted to show him how much it meant to me... well everything that he had done so far really. I wanted him to stay despite my mother.

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