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ghostofoldtrafford

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  1. He used to love to run. He would eat up the miles. His mother had often told him jokingly that he ran before he walked. It relaxed him. It soothed him. In the hours he spent on the road or on a gravel trail or on the school’s track he reflected upon his life. Those were HIS moments. The moments he was at peace. As Alexi lay on the bed, tears in his eyes, he wondered whether he could ever run again. Through the small window in his hospital room’s door he saw two men talking. He recognized one of them. It was his doctor. He cursed himself under his breath. Why couldn’t he remember his blasted name? It was a color. Red? No, too Shawshank Redemption, he laughed bitterly. White? He stared at the doctor again. He was of average height and build, with short hair and clean shaven. And he was black…Huh. Black doctor White? Alexi was pretty sure the Irony Fairy wasn’t THAT ironic. Wait…Blue. Yes, that was his name. Doctor Blue. Alexi breathed a sigh of relief. Well, it was something, at least. But the other man…He was pretty sure he hadn’t seen him before. He looked like a man whose hair had gone grey before his time. Tired, wrinkled face and sad eyes. The two men kept talking for a while, until the older man nodded what seemed like a dismissal for the doctor, who glanced through the window at Alexi. He averted his eyes then walked away. The older man stood outside the room for a few seconds, then breathed in deeply, stealing himself. He entered the room and walked slowly to the chair besides Alexi’s bed. He sat down slowly, shifted nervously for a few seconds, then he looked straight into Alexi’s face and spoke softly. “Alexi, my name is Gregory Szalinsky. I’m a social worker. I’ve been assigned to your case.” Alexi just nodded. “I know you’re still suffering from memory loss. But you do remember what happened, right?” “Most of it. Sometimes, it’s bits and pieces, others…it all comes rushing in. I mean…not just about…that. Everything. Then…sometimes, I forget again. But, yes, I remember.” Szalinsky sighed, then bowed his head in acknowledgement. “Right. Well…no point in discussing it again. What we do need to discuss, however…” “Mr. Szalinsky, please…I…I can’t remember what the doctor said. When will I be able to get out of here?” “Alexi…You were hurt badly. Over a dozen fractures, internal bleeding, plus that…ummm…nasty bump on the head.” Szalinsky smiled nervously. “And my leg…” “Yes, well, you know…well, if you remember, that is…your knee cap, as well as the leg bones below it…err, the tibia and…the other one…” “Fibula.” “Right. They were completely shattered. Even with the surgeries…They’ll never be the same.” “But I’ll be able to walk, right?” “Yes. But most likely with the aid of a cane.” “Ohh…” “It’s not as bad as it sounds, really. You’ll be alright, Alexi. In fact, I have good news.” “So, you’re telling me I’m gonna be a cripple. Honestly, I don’t think I can handle anymore good news.” Szalinsky remained quiet for a few minutes, but then, almost in a whisper, with a sad smile on his face, he addressed Alexi. “Look. What happened to you is horrible. And, unfortunately, I’ve seen such cases before. Some far worse, actually. It…It eats away at you, you know? Seeing kids like you suffering. I really did become a social worker to help such kids. And every time I see something like this…”He paused as he gestured towards Alexi’s entire body. “It’s enough to keep me up at night. I think of myself as a religious man. And this makes me question my faith. But, every so often, there’s a happy ending. We find foster parents who take in kids who go on to perfectly integrate into their new environment and grow into fully functional adults. It’s the greatest reward I could possibly get, seeing that happen. Alexi…I think I found a family that will help you a lot. I think you could be one of those happy endings. I think you deserve it. Now, please, just look at their file. They’re good people, Alexi.” “Nice speech. Fine. Give it here.” Szalinsky smiled broadly. “Well, I was on my high-school’s debate team. I’m quite convincing.” Alexi opened the folder and read aloud. “The Samuels family. Sam Samuels…Are you kidding me? That’s his name?” Szalinsky just shrugged. “Ugh…36. Owns his own business. Flower import? Man, I bet they’re rolling in dough, huh?” Alexi remarked sarcastically. “Wife Dana, 38. She’s a cop?” “Yup.” “Sounds exciting. Oh, and they have a son. So, is little Hunter supposed to be my new kid brother?” “He’s 15, Alexi. He’s just 5 months younger than you.” “Right. He looks younger, though. Guess it’s the blond hair.” Szalinsky raised an eyebrow. “What?” Alexi asked. “I’m just observing…Neither parents are blond.” “He was placed in their care when he was 3. They adopted him.” “So, none of their very own litter running around? His little swimmers drowning before reaching the shore or something?” “Alexi, please don’t talk that way about them. They’re good people. I handled Hunter’s case. Which is why I know they’d be great for you.” “They live in Buntsville. That’s…where the fuck is that?” “It’s 120 miles from here. It’s a medium-sized town. Big enough to not know everyone by sight, but small enough for a fairly tight local community.” “Oh, great. One of those. I’ll fit right in.” “As a matter of fact, I think you could do just fine…With a little effort on your part, of course.” “But…what about my aunt and uncle? They live out of state, but surely…” Szalinsky just shook his head sadly. “I’m sorry, Alexi. We tried. They refused to take you in. They’re your only living relatives, but they were quite adamant about it.” “Oh…I see. Well, I suppose I should have expected that. I mean…sure. Uncle Vlad is my father’s brother, afterall…” A tear rolled down Alexi’s cheek and he quickly brushed it away with his hand.”I’d like to be alone for a while, if you don’t mind. My head’s hurting again.” “Sure” Szalinsky said as he got up, that same sad smile on his face. “I’ll send a nurse in on my way out. Give you something to help you sleep.” “No!” Alexi screamed. “I mean…Please, don’t. The pills are supposed to give me dreamless sleep, but…I still have nightmares once in a while. I’m afraid to sleep.” Alexi finished quietly, then turned in his bead, to face away from Szalinsky. He immediately regretted the move, as pain shot throughout his whole body and made him scream. “Stay still, dammit!” Szalinsky was by his side now, a worried expression on his face. Alexi was gritting his teeth in agony and sweating with the pain. “You at least need something for the pain. Hold on.” Szalinsky rushed out of the room and returned a minute later with a nurse, who injected a liquid into Alexi’s IV stream. “We’ll talk more about everything tomorrow, okay? You need to rest, Alexi.” Szalinsky said. “What? N-no sleeeppp…Nooo…” Alexi mumbled, as he drifted off into unconsciousness. He woke up screaming and covered in sweat the following morning. “Shhh…Lay still, kid.” The nurse from the previous night told him soothingly, placing a hand on his chest. “Bad dream again?” “Yeah.” Alexi nodded. “Sorry to hear that. I’ll bring you some breakfast if you’re feeling up to it.” “Hospital food. Perfect way to start the day after a restless sleep…Sure, why not?” The nurse smiled. “Oh, Mr. Szalinsky said he’d drop by after lunch today.” “I can hardly wait.” “Oh, to be young and sarcastic again…” “I always thought sarcasm is ageless. Besides, you look great. What are you, 25?” The nurse burst out laughing. “Oh, you little cheeky bastard, you. Flattery will get you everywhere, you know. But you shouldn’t be hitting on women more than twice your age, you know.” “Don’t worry. You’re not my type.” “Oh?” the nurse seemed almost hurt. “Umm…you don’t really know me, do you? I hadn’t seen you before last night and I’ve been in this room for over two weeks.” “Yes. I used to work the cancer ward, but it got too depressing.” “Well…I’m sure someone will be nice enough to fill you in on my life story.” Alexi sighed. “Now how about that breakfast?” Half an hour later, the nurse returned with a big nice bowl of delicious snot. “Mmmm…Yum!” Alexi said. “What, no side-order of grog?” The nurse just smiled nervously down at him. “Right…Guess you got all the info you needed.” Alexi said, closing his eyes and rubbing the bridge of his nose. “Ummm, yeah. I’m sorry about what happened to you. It was…” “Yeah, yeah, it was sad, tragic, horrible and unfair. God is cruel, but he works in mysterious ways. Save it.” “Right. Well, I’ll leave you to it, then.” “Oh, joy…”Alexi replied, rolling his eyes. It was around 2:30 when Szalinsky arrived, with a folder tucked under his left arm, his right holding a steaming cup of coffee. He sat down in the same chair as the previous night. “Hi, Alexi. How are you doing today?” “Peachy, thanks.” “Glad to hear that.” Szalinsky said absentmindedly. “Are you serious?” “What’s that?” “Are you drunk, is your sarcasm detector broken or did your cat die or something?” “Or something…” “Okay, now you HAVE to tell me. But first…is that coffee? I haven’t had one the whole time I’ve been here. Give!” “Well, is your doctor alright with that?” “Sure, sure. Why not? “ “Well, I suppose…” Szalinsky handed Alexi the cup. The young man sipped slowly then sighed contentedly. “Ahhh…God’s gift to man! So, spill. What’s up with your cat?” “My cat’s just fine. I just meant to talk to you about the Samuels family.” “Oh, right. Well, I thought about that, and, well, I think there could be worse places to end up in, so I’m willing to give it a try. Who knows? Maybe it will be a great fresh start.” Alexi smiled a bit. “Right…Well, you see, apparently young Hunter doesn’t like the idea of having an older foster brother. I talked to Sam. That is, Mr. Samuels and he said that he’d love to help, but his son’s opinion is important. If they can’t commit as a family, they can’t at all.” “Oh. Right, sure. I understand.” Alexi said, his smile now turned into a grimace. “Sure, gotta think about the family unit first and foremost. They did seem nice, but it’s not like I had my heart set on it. Who’s next on the list?” “It’s a very short list, Alexi. I’ll be honest with you. Very few foster families are willing to work with someone as old as you, that has had your…history. You’d most likely drift from foster home to foster home for the next 2 years. The Samuels…Well, they’re great people and I knew they’d take care of you as if you were their own. Others…not so much. But, before you panic, know that Sam promised he’d talk more with Hunter. They may yet change their mind. You still have 2 weeks at the minimum to go before you can get out of here.” Alexi groaned loudly at that. “So, there’s still hope.” “Hope. Sure…” Alexi closed his eyes, trying to stop the tears from rolling down his cheeks. He was sitting on the edge of his bed, freshly bathed, dressed in the nice clean clothes that Szalinsky had brought him the previous night. He was looking down at his right leg. “Fuck! FUUUUUUUUUCK!!!” He screamed. “Whoa, there, lad. Or I might have to wash your mouth out with soap.” Alexi looked up to see dr. Blue standing in the door frame. “Sorry. It’s just my stupid leg.” “We did the best we could, Alex.” “Alexi.” “Right, sorry. Anyway, it’ll never be 100%, but you can still use it. Considering the state you were in, I’d call that a win.” “I know, doctor. I didn’t mean to sound ungrateful, but…” “I understand. So…you ready? They should be here any moment, you know.” “I suppose so.” The doctor nodded and turned to leave. “I’m scared.” Alexi said, then turned his gaze down, ashamed, as the doctor looked at him over his shoulder. He moved to the bed and sat next to Alexi, putting his hands between his knees. “Alexi…My name is doctor Blue.” Alexi just stared at him incredulously. “I know. My memory’s fine, doc…” “You misunderstand me. My name is doctor Blue. Look at me. That name. It’s not exactly…” “The most African-American?” The doctor laughed. “But so what?” “I was adopted, Alexi. My parents died in a car crash when I was 12. A foster family took me in and they adopted me. They loved me and nurtured me and inspired me to become a doctor. I know what you’re going through, but if Mr. Szalinsky is right, well, this family might just be what you need, the way the Blues were for me.” “Thanks. For everything.” Alexi shifted a bit so as to face the doctor. He extended his hand. Doctor Blue got up from the bed, grasped Alexi’s hand and pulled him to his feet, into an embrace. “Take care of yourself, kid.” He whispered in Alexi’s ear. Then he let go, turned around and walked out, leaving the young man hopping in place, trying to keep the weight off his right foot. “Isn’t that healed yet?” Szalinsky said, coming into the room. “It’ll never be, remember? I can put my weight down on it…mostly. But it’s safer not to. The leg bones are almost okay, but my knee…” He shook his head. “Damn it! God fuc…” Alexi swallowed his next words as he saw a man come into the room behind Mr. Szalinsky. He recognized him immediately as Sam Samuels. “Ummm…Hello, sir. I’m sorry about that. Frustration got the better of me.” Mr. Samuels just smiled broadly and shook his head. “Relax. What, you think I never swear? And if I went through what you did, well…” He cleared his throat nervously. “It’s great to finally meat you in person. Sure, phone calls and video chats are great, but I’m sorry we weren’t able to come in person sooner. It took longer than I expected to…err, convince Hunter.” He cringed at that. “Sorry, I didn’t mean for it to sound like that.” “Like what?” Alexi laughed. “I understand. I probably wouldn’t want a strange teenager moving into my house either.” “Well, even so, I had hoped we had raised him better than that. We are in a position to help a young man in desperate need. Of all people, he should understand that we can’t turn our backs.” Both Mr. Samuels and Alexi flushed. “But enough of airing laundry in public. Shall we go? The car’s waiting outside. Unfortunately, Dana couldn’t get out of her shift at work and Hunter didn’t want to miss school.” “I understand. And yes, I’m ready to go.” The nurse brought a wheelchair and Alexi sat down in it. “Oh, I bought you a cane. It’s in the car. Mr. Szalinsky and your doctor told me you’d need one, so I took the liberty of picking one out. Nothing fancy, mind you. You can go on “Pimp My Cane” later on, if you wish.” Alexi cringed and Mr. Samuels immediately followed suit. “Sorry. Stupid joke, trying to break the tension.” “It’s alright. Not as if I haven’t had three weeks to get used to the idea of being a cripple.” Again they cringed. Mr. Samuels placed a comforting hand on Alexi’s shoulder. “I’ll take him, nurse.” He said, as he took over the wheelchair from the woman. She looked down at Alexi, smiling broadly. “Good luck with your new life, Alexi.” she said, as she bent down and placed a kiss on the teenager’s forehead. Then she hastened out of the room. A few seconds later, Mr. Szalinsky and Mr. Samuels, pushing Alexi’s wheelchair, walked out as well. “My new life…”
  2. Alexi would never quite recall how that first day went. Shadows moved past him and he drifted through the halls. He attended classes and heard a buzzing sound in his head. It might have been his teachers. Or maybe it was just another sign of him going crazy. He certainly recognized the fact that he was feeling…loopy. That feeling didn’t abandon him through the day…or the rest of his life. Dizzy, light-headed and ecstatic. He didn’t want to admit it to himself, but he knew the reason. And that reason had the best smile Alexi had ever seen. And that made him feel nauseous just as much as he made him want to do summersaults. He couldn’t allow it to happen. Not again. He knew something was wrong with him. He wasn’t convinced anything could be done about it. But he was resolute in that he would not let it get in the way of making a new life for himself. He would confront his demons someday. Just not now, that he had been given a second chance. But the demons he pictured had that darn cute smile and he just couldn’t put them out of his head. He supposed that it made sense. In his case, the road to hell was paved with pleasant smiles. Demons are supposed to be good at their job, he thought. Corrupting people. Well, they sure knew how to corrupt him. Alexi sighed deeply, in a melancholic way and Evan’s features disappeared to be replaced by those of a scowling, middle-aged, overweight and generally unpleasant Math teacher. The giggling from the rest of the class only served to further ground Alexi. Maybe it was for the best, he thought. “Mr. Tupolov, again, may I ask you to please stop daydreaming of forbidden love in my class?” Alexi went pale. Well, even more pale than he was. Truth be told, he was turning a shade of yellow that might otherwise have caused concern with the CDC over the appearance of a deadly plague. He was too horrified to blush. He was too terrified to breathe. Mr. Sanders raised an eyebrow, then finally rolled his eyes at Alexi. “Oh, please, don’t have a heart attack on my account. Listen, I’ve been teaching for 20 years and I was actually a student once. I know what goes through your perverted little minds.” He scowled at the whole classroom. “But please, refrain from popping boners in my class and all will be well.” Alexi remembered how to blush. But his color control seemed to be off, because he bypassed red and went straight to purple. He shifted nervously in his seat. He was pretty sure he hadn’t had an erection. Certainly, judging by the color of his face, it was hard to imagine that there was enough blood left in his body for that. “Christ, I hate teenagers.” Mr. Sanders said, turning his back to the class and shaking his head. “And you can report me for saying that. See if I care…you little shitheads.” The teacher leaned against his desk and sighed dejectedly. “Back to the lesson…for all the good it’ll do ya.” Alexi was dumbstruck at his teacher’s behavior but, judging from the lack of outrage or, really, any response from the rest of the class, he surmised this was routine business. Pretty much everyone either ignored Alexi that day or limited themselves to whispers and sidelong glances, so that class was pretty much the only thing that stood out for him that first day. Well, that and Evan. Evan, whom Alexi didn’t see at all for the rest of the day. Not in the flesh, anyway. As soon as he had helped Alexi into the main school building, he just grasped his hand in an enthusiastic manner, shook, smiled broadly and left without another word. Which was all the more reason for Alexi to be confused. Why did such a short amount of time in Evan’s company stir such a response from Alexi? He was never very astute at observing, let alone understanding complex emotional responses. In fact, he had often been called “cold-hearted”. That he wasn’t. Alexi was sure of that. He wasn’t a bad person. Was he? He just always stood mostly alone, away from prying eyes and judgmental stares. Then again, he had mostly chosen isolation because he was convinced something was wrong with him. So, if deep inside he felt rotten, if he pictured himself as a worm-infested apple, a blemish on the face of the Earth, how could he ever expect others to see him as anything else? Such were his thoughts when he walked out of the school. His spirit wasn’t lifted any when he saw Vince standing on the curb, next to the town car. But if nothing else, the uneasiness he felt around the big man would help Alexi take his mind off other matters. Besides, he had long ago decided that judging a book by its cover was never a good thing. Unless it was Twilight. He knew that would suck from the moment he first set eyes upon it. But sparkling vampires were a matter for another day. Now he was ready to get to know Vince, a man who, for all intents and purposes, had the Samuels’ respect and even their affection. So, he plastered a huge grin on his face and said hello to the man in his most convincing fake-enthusiastic voice. The growl Vince gave in response wasn’t very encouraging, but Alexi wasn’t ready to give up just yet. Two hours later, he was ready to give up. The man was as engaging as a statue and far more unnerving to look at. When they pulled up in front of the house, Alexi got his new laptop from the backseat, thanked Vince for his assistance and turned towards the house. He took a few steps, but the gaze he felt borrowing into the back of his skull stopped him in his tracks. He turned around and met Vince’s eyes. They were locked together and Alexi half-expected a soul gaze to begin. He just wasn’t sure Vince had a soul. Alexi blinked first and looked down at the ground. “Do you not like me, Vince?” he asked. He wasn’t sure what persuaded him to ask that. He almost wanted to kick himself in the head. “Christ Almighty, why do I need reassurance from this guy?” he asked himself. From behind the steering wheel, Vince kept on staring right through Alexi, then he turned the key in the ignition and backed out of the driveway. Alexi still wasn’t sure that he had ever seen Vince blink. He might be like a part of the family for the Samuels, but he wanted to stay as far away from him as possible. He went to his room and immediately took out his new computer. He was pleasantly surprised to see the wireless connection was working perfectly and he immediately started surfing the Internet. He knew exactly which sites he wanted to visit, but he restrained himself. So, naturally, he got bored fast. Without any real friends to contact and no desire to troll on some helpless message board, there really was only one thing Alexi could do on-line – pretty much the reason why God invented it in the first place. But he stubbornly put it out of his mind, shut off the computer and decided a nap would do him well. When he woke up, it was dark outside, but his room was bathed in a soothing light coming from the hallway outside. Wait, what? Why was his door open? “Deja-vu” he said to himself, as his eyes drifted to the desk chair where Hunter was seated. But now he didn’t flinch. He had promised both himself and Dana that he’d see this through. And, hell, Hunter had come to HIS room. Initiating contact was a good sign, no? Unless Hunter had finally decided dislike beats pity and thought a baseball game was in order afterall. The calm manner in which this thought came to Alexi surprised him. “You’re not hiding under the bed scared shitless. That’s progress. I really need to pat myself on the back if I can still use my hands after this is over” he thought. The two boys sat quietly for a while. Hunter in the chair, Alexi cross-legged on the bed opposite him. Alexi was pretty sure Hunter wasn’t going to hurt him. Unless he took some sick pleasure from seeing his potential victim squirm before actually acting. “Good job, Alexi. Keep up the optimism!” Alexi decided the only way he could avoid those kinds of feelings was to finally get it over with. Break the ice and hope Hunter doesn’t drop him in the hole to watch him drown. “Hunter…I’m sorry. I didn’t…” “Why do you do that?” “What?” Alexi said startled. “Apologize for things that aren’t your fault. Even when you thought I was…I was going to hurt you…” Hunter turned away from Alexi for a few moments, then plowed straight ahead. “Even then, you apologized to my parents for freaking out.” “They told you that?” Alexi groaned. Hunter simply nodded. Alexi shrugged. “I dunno. The way I was…raised.” “Trained” was a better word, he thought. “But, really, I AM sorry. Not about being here, because this is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’ve only been here for a few days, but it’s more than enough to know I should be counting my blessings.” “Yeah…You’re a real lucky guy. God blessed you with a magnificent foster family after your father almost beat you to death. Maybe you should play the lottery next.” Hunter knew it was the worst thing he could say, yet he still couldn’t stop himself from uttering those words. He couldn’t help but feel pleasure when he saw Alexi catch his breath and close his eyes in pain. And at the same time, he couldn’t help but feel disgusted with himself for trying to inflict pain on someone who’s already been through so much. Someone he barely knew. Yet, how dare Alexi look so much like his brother? And how dare he try to take his place? And again his father’s words hit him. “How dare I turn him away?” was his thought as he strode to the bed and sat down. Tentatively, he reached out for Alexi. When Hunter threw those words at him, Alexi felt it like a physical blow. But he didn’t break down and cry. Not again, he had decided. He simply closed his eyes, in order to prevent any tears slipping down his cheeks and breathed in. He suddenly felt Hunter’s arm on his shoulder. His first instinct was to jump up and run. Alarm bells were ringing in his head. But there was a voice inside him that overwhelmed even their noise. “DO. NOT. MOVE!” So he stayed put and accepted the weight now resting on his shoulder. “Good. Love and time, remember? Add will to that. Stay strong and let him in, if you ever want him to do the same for you.” Well, who was he to argue with his inner monologue? Hunter moved his hand from Alexi’s left shoulder an instant later. He didn’t want to see him flinch again, even as that small part of him still kept egging him on. “Do it. Kick his crippled ass. He doesn’t belong here!”. He just closed his eyes and shook his head, putting his hands in his lap. When he opened his eyes, he focused on the floor, his hands now restless and fidgeting. He reached for his reserves of courage and found enough to open his mouth. “Look…” “I really AM, you know…” Alexi spoke first. “Sorry, I mean. Now, please, I have to get this out of me, so don’t start with the apology crap.” He said, as he watched Hunter close his mouth and clench his teeth audibly. He permitted himself an almost undetectable smile. “You lost your brother. I can’t even imagine what that might be like…” “But…” “Please, Hunter. Let me finish while I still have the nerve to do so.” He took Hunter’s silence as encouragement to continue. “I mean…My mom is dead and my dad…” he couldn’t stop a shudder running through him. “I lost my family, but I was never close to them. Not really. I never really even realized how much my mom loved me until the day she died. So, losing someone as close as your brother was to you…No, I couldn’t imagine that. Heck, I’ve never even had a best friend. And for me to come in to your home like this, I know how that must make you feel. But I’m not here to replace him, Hunter. I could never do that. I would like to be your friend and a part of this family, but I know I could never be him. And I know how that pains you even more. If I were as good as him, then you’d at least have a worthy replacement, as fucked up as that sounds. But instead, you’re stuck with me. A miserable excuse for a human being, who could never live up to him. And I’m sorry you’re stuck with me. But I know I could be at least a good enough friend if you gave me a chance. Please?” He hadn’t looked at all at Hunter as he spoke, but instead kept his focus on the wall in front of him. Now he chanced a glance at the boy sitting next to him. And he saw tears running silently down his face. “I just miss him so much!” And the dam was broken. Hunter was now sobbing. Shaking, heaving, pouring out the pain he had bottled up inside him for years. Alexi reacted the only way he knew how. He grabbed him into a tight hug and supported his weight as the tears kept wetting the collar of his shirt, Hunter’s head hanging on Alexi’s shoulder. He sucked at this. Man, he had had so many breakdowns and cried so much he often wondered if there was any liquid left in his body. Yet he didn’t know how to comfort another person in that situation. So he simply patted Hunter on the head and felt like a retard. “And you look so much like him. It just isn’t fair! I’m sorry, Alexi.” Hunter said, breaking the hug and straightening himself up a bit. I know how horrible it must sound, but looking at you…” “You wonder why I’m alive and he’s dead…” Alexi sad softly. “YES! It just isn’t fair!” “Please…tell me about him.” Hunter wiped away at the tears and managed a small smile. “He was the best brother a guy could hope for. I was 3 when the Samuels took me in. By the time the adoption went through, I was old enough to understand I was not their real son. And, of course, so did Bran. But he didn’t care. He made taking care of me his goal in life, it seemed. He took me everywhere with him. His friends were my friends, his clothes, his toys, his pain and his joy. He shared it all with me and I soaked up the love he gave me. I know it’s weird saying it, considering how young he was when…But he was just the kind of person you knew you wanted to be around even at that age. The kind of person people see as a leader and a source of strength. He was…everything to me. And then he was gone. And I didn’t…I never…I don’t think he ever understood how much I adored him. How much he meant to me. “ He seemed on the verge of tears once more. “Of course he knew. I’m sure you meant the world to him as well. He loved you.” Hunter smiled bitterly. “Looking at you…It’s like I’m staring at a ghost.” “Well, then, maybe we’re some kind of kindred spirit. So, take my word for it. He loved you and he knew how much you loved him as well.” Hunter reached for his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. He then took out a photo. It was crumpled and folded over and over and stained. Alexi could imagine Hunter staring at that photo in the dead of night, tears falling and wetting the picture. He saw two young kids. There was no mistaking Hunter and his blond hair and piercing blue eyes. Crouched down next to him, smiling up at the camera was…Well, Brandon, he assumed. But it was as if he was looking back on a picture of a younger self. Maybe 12. Those green eyes that spoke of endless fields, that black messy hair. The slight tan and big smile. The prominent chin and elfish ears. But there was also something about him that Alexi was sure he never possessed. Some confidence that exuded from Brandon. It radiated from him, even through that battered photo. He suddenly felt overwhelm with emotion. “Crap, I’m gonna cry again. I swear, it’s like I sprung a leak these days or something.” Both boys started laughing even as tears mingled with their bubbling laughter. “And, even if it’s not much…I’m gonna cut my hair short. I like that way anyway and…it’ll reduce the similarity.” Both boys grew quiet and serious once more. “And, Hunter, I meant what I said. I know I’m just a shitty knock-off of the original, but I do hope we can be friends.” “Don’t do that anymore.” “What?” “Put yourself down like that. You’re not worthless. I hoped you were, you know, at first. Heck, I thought you were. It made me easier for me to hate you. But you’re not. There’s something to you…I know you’re a good person, Alexi. And I do want to get to know you better. Friends…Even brothers. I’d liked that.” And Hunter knew he meant it. The voice inside him was quiet. There was no more hatred. He looked at the boy sitting next to him and knew he was a good soul. He knew he would rather suffer himself that see him in pain again. He knew he could grow to love him. He knew he could open up once more and find a brother. He knew they could lean on each other for support. And every fiber of his being told him he was at peace. “Thank you. For saying that. Christ, again with the crying. I’d be bawling my eyes out right now but I guess that well’s run dry. I may drop dead of dehydration any second now.” And again they laughed until they fell into a comfortable silence and finally an easy discussion. They talked for hours. It was only their growling stomachs that finally put an end to their conversation. “Damn. It’s 11 PM! What ever happened to dinner? I don’t think dad came home yet.” Hunter observed, a slightly nervous tone in his voice. “Oh, I’m sure he got swamped at the office or something. That flower business is nerve-wracking, time-consuming stuff, eh?” Alexi chuckled and Hunter couldn’t help but giggle. “D’you think it’d be okay if we order pizza? Ummm…I don’t really have any money, but I’ll pay you back..” “Oh, the rents always leave money in the house for just such an occasion. It won’t be a problem. There’s a pizza joint open 24/7, so that shouldn’t be a problem either.” The boys got up off the bed and Hunter handed Alexi his cane. They both started making their way out the room, Hunter leading the way. He suddenly stopped and turned around to face Alexi. “I almost forgot. Saw you this morning. At school.” Alexi frowned slightly. He didn’t understand where this was going. “Yeah?” “With that Evan kid.” Now Alexi’s brows shut up and threatened to leave his head altogether. “Mhm…” “You need to watch out for him. He’s a fag.” Alexi was once again dumbstruck. He was gay? Was that why he had that mischievous grin on him? Then he reeled. “Wait. What? How do you know?” “He hit on me last year when he transferred to our school. He’s like 19 or something, but he’s only a junior. Seems he had some kind of health issues for a few years. Probably chocked on a dick or something.” The bottom fell from under Alexi. Once again, he found himself swaying and not even his cane was enough. He collapsed on the floor. “Oh, what’s the use?” he asked in a whisper. Hunter had kneeled down by him in an instant and was now looking worriedly at him. “What do you mean?” “We finally connected tonight, didn’t we?” Alexi asked. “Of course. I don’t understand. What’s wrong?” “I told myself that this time I’d get it right. I wouldn’t mess up again. I’d be good, I told myself. I can hold it together, restrain myself, be a good member of this family. But then this morning Evan came along. And I knew I couldn’t I knew I’d only be lying to myself. And I can’t do that anymore. And I can’t lie to you either. Not after tonight, not after we had that connection, you know?” Hunter just shook his head, confusion plain on his face. “And now I know how you feel, but I just can’t anymore. I have no strength left in me to lie my way through life anymore. No matter what happens, I just come back around to this again. But maybe this time you’ll finish the job that my father started.” Hunter recoiled, startled at Alexi’s words. “What are you on about? Don’t talk like that! Don’t be crazy!” “I’m gay, Hunter. A fag. A queer. A fairy. A cock sucker. A poofter. Bent. Get out your thesaurus and pick a word…Then you might as well go ahead and kill me, since my life is over anyway…for a second time.” “What? Why would I do that?” “Seriously? Guess I could come up with a few more synonyms, but didn’t the whole ‘gay’ thing pretty much cover it?” “So?” “SO?!” Alexi was incredulous. “I heard what you said about Evan and the disgust in your voice.” “Oh, come on, man. You know how teenage boys are. Always defensive about their sexuality. We’re very proactive, making sure no one even thinks that we’d be…you know. I only said those things because I didn’t want to appear weak in front of you once you learned about Evan. You know…Ummm…” “THAT DOESN’T MAKE ANY GODDAMN SENSE!” “I KNOW! I’m a teenager! I told you already. Of course it doesn’t make any bloody sense!” Hunter was now shifting nervously in place. “What I’m saying is that it doesn’t really matter to me. I mean, not in private, anyway. I don’t care what gets you off. I…I just want you to be happy. I know now that you’re a great guy. You deserve to be happy.” Alexi just sat on the floor silently, still expecting Hunter to jump him any second. “I…I don’t get it.” “What don’t you get?” “People hate fags. God hates fags. We deserve to die.” “What? Who told you that crap?” “My dad…” “What?!” Hunter’s eyes widened in shock. “Is that why he tried to kill you?” “Y-y-yes.” Alexi stuttered. “You need to understand. It’s not really his fault. It’s the way he was brought up.” “Don’t defend that piece of crap! What he did was inexcusable.” “But…See, he’s very religious. He’s Russian. He came here soon after the fall of communism In Eastern Europe. He met a woman soon after. An American. My mom. She loved him a lot, I could always tell. But he could be a hard man. Again, it’s just the way he was brought up. He…he would beat me sometimes. And my mom. But it wasn’t all that bad. It was to keep me in check, he would say. At times I hated him and my mom because she wouldn’t stand up to him. But I understand that he had my best interest in mind…” “Christ Almighty, Alexi, he sure did a number on you.” Hunter said, now sitting on the floor next to Alexi. He grabbed his hand and squeezed tightly. “Can’t you see? His abuse ran deeper than just your body. You’re fucking defending him! HE TRIED TO KILL YOU! He killed your mom!” “My mom…” Alexi seemed to snap back to himself. “I told you how I blamed her at times and didn’t even think she loved me. Well, as I grew up and realized that I was…gay…I started, you know, looking for porn and all kinds of things…” Alexi said, blushing. “Well, she found some magazines and confronted me. I just couldn’t deny it. And, truth be told, I was so mad at her, that the anger made me defiant. But she…she just hugged me and told me we needed to run from my dad. Made sure he never found out. We…we were packing when he came in that day, drunk. He had lost his job. When he saw us, he snapped. He started beating my mom. He thought she was having an affair and wanted to leave him. So, I just…I told him it was because of me. That I was gay and he should just take it out on me. And he did. He hit me. Over and over again. First with his fists, then with a baseball bat. The last thing I remember before waking up in the hospital is my mom kneeling in from of him, begging for my life. Then he hit her…” Alexi shuddered. If he had any more tears left in him, they would not come. The shock of that memory burned and dried up any feeling he had left. He was numb and he simply slumped into Hunter’s warm embrace. “Oh, Alexi. Oh, God…Its alright now. I have you.” The two boys sat there on the floor for what seemed like an eternity, Hunter all the while softly stroking Alexi’s hair. Then Hunter suddenly realized by Alexi’s regular breathing that he had fallen asleep, consumed by the recollection of events. He wanted to get him in bed, yet he wasn’t sure he would manage without waking him up. So, he decided to simply rest his sleeping form against the side of the bed for a few minutes, while he called his parents, to tell them of what Alexi said to him. It was obvious to Hunter that Alexi needed to talk to a specialist or the pain would consume him from within. He had barely gotten to his feet when the sound of cars pulling up attracted his attention. He moved to the window and he saw 3 cars outside. The usual town car his dad used, and two menacing looking black SUVs. Hunter’s mother got out of the town car and by the sound of her voice, she seemed to be arguing with someone, even if Hunter couldn’t quite make out the words. His dad next stepped out of the car and Vince got out from behind the wheel. Dana turned in her tracks towards the front door and gestured wildly both at her husband and Vince. The words that came with the gestures apparently weren’t very family-friendly, judging by the look on Sam’s face. Dana came into the house and slammed the door behind her. Hunter tip-toed to the bedroom door and cracked it open just enough so he could hear his dad come in. “He went after you! We can’t let that happen!” Sam said in a fairly loud voice. “Oh, NOW you’re concerned!” in a hoarse whisper. “And keep it down. The boys are probably asleep. And if they’re not, we don’t want them hearing this.” “Maybe they should. Hunter’s gonna have to learn about it sooner or later and if Alexi’s gonna be a part of this family…” “NO!” Dana screamed. “I will not have them exposed to that kind of danger.” Danger? The whole conversation had piqued Hunter’s interest, but this almost made him gasp. “They already ARE in danger! For God’s sake, they almost killed you tonight, Dana. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you or Hunter. Or even Alexi. It’d be like losing Bran all over again.” The front door opened again and Vince walked in. “Mrs. S., you need to…” “I don’t need to do shit, Vince. Get out. I’m handling it MY way! Do you understand? Both of you! Now I’m going to take a shower and wash this blood off. Vince, get out, I said.” “Very well.” And Vince was gone. The sound of footsteps echoed away as Dana moved towards the bathroom and Sam was left standing in the hallway, pondering the future. “Blood? Someone went after mom? What the fuck is going on here?” Hunter was thinking out loud. Alexi stirred and opened his eyes. “Hunter? What’s wrong?” “I wish I knew, buddy. I wish I knew.” Hunter responded, a concerned look on his face.
  3. As Mr. Samuels rolled Alexi’s chair out the hospital’s front doors, the young man groaned and squinted, the sun blasting him full in the face. The pavement and the parking lot were wet. Puddles lay scattered about, but the sun was now out in full force. “Summer rains…” said Mr. Samuels. “And the sunshine afterwards….They make life worth living, don’t you think?” Alexi mumbled in agreement and Mr. Samuels just chuckled softly. “Sir?” A man was suddenly by Mr. Samuels’ side. He was tall. About 6’4”. And built like a bull. The suit he wore, though finely tailored, seemed ready to burst at the seams because of the pressure exerted on them by the man’s muscle mass. Alexi just stared into his black eyes. There was no expression in them, save for confidence. The man handed Mr. Samuels a shiny brown cane. “Ah, thank you, Vince” and Mr. Samuels took it. “Alexi, I do believe you’ll need this. We wouldn’t want the hospital staff thinking we’re stealing their wheelchair, now would we?” Alexi didn’t even seem to hear. He was just staring dumbly at the huge linebacker that stood next to Mr. Samuels. “Alexi?” “What? Oh, yes.” He said, shaking his head, in hopes that the confusion would be driven away. He took the cane and looked at it for a long moment, then sighed and got to his feet, planting the cane firmly on the ground. He took one tentative step and before he knew it, he was falling. Vince was by him in the blink of an eye and caught him. “You should be more careful. The pavement is still wet. And you obviously need practice with that stick.” The man said. “Thank you.” Alexi answered, gathering himself. “Good advice.” Then he breathed in deeply. “Okay, this is just weird. Can we maybe get some introductions going?” “Oh, sorry. I’m a bit of an airhead at times” Mr. Samuels said. “This…is Vince” he explained, while gesturing at the man as if he were presenting a prize-winning race horse. “Yeah…That doesn’t really help.” Alexi responded, a goofy smile on his face. “Right you are. He is my…err…assistant.” Vince raised a curious eyebrow at this. “Well, that is, he assists me in most everything I do. He’s more like a second in command. He’s the Tigh to my Adama.” “Yeah…you lost me.” “Not a Galactica fan, huh? We’re gonna have to fix that. Anyway, he handles most of the daily operations at the office, which gives me more time to spend with the family. I usually just handle the important decisions.” “Right…Lots of life-and-death situations in the flower import business?” “Oh, you’d be surprised just how busy we are.” “And why is he here, if you don’t mind me asking?” Alexi shifted a bit, nervously scratching his head. He was becoming increasingly uncomfortable under Vince’s stare. Those black eyes unnerved him. “Well, I don’t do much driving. So, he’s acting chauffeur. Besides, I thought you ought to get to meet him as soon as possible. He’ll be around the house a lot. And I know people need some time to get used to him. So, you know, thought we’d get an early start. Now, shall we?” Mr. Samuels gestured towards the parking lot. Slowly, they made their way through row after row of cars, Alexi slowly getting accustomed to a pace with which he felt comfortable. A few minutes later, they were next to a polished black town car. Alexi whistled admiringly, then looked at it inquisitively. “Huh, guess the flower business really IS booming.” They all got into the car and drove away. Alexi glanced at the hospital through the car’s window, then murmured something under his breath. “Hmmm?” Mr. Samuels inquired. “Just saying a prayer. I’m glad to be out of there. Do you mind if I close my eyes just for a bit? My head is pounding and…well, I’d rather not see the city as we leave.” Mr. Samuels simply nodded and placed a comforting hand on Alexi’s shoulder, then squeezed slightly. Alexi leaned back in his chair and was immediately asleep. He awoke as usual, startled and panting heavily. “Are you alright, Alexi?” “Yes. It’s just…sleeping in a moving car…It’s not very resting to me” he lied. “Well, you’ll be able to sleep in a normal bed soon. Your bed.” Mr. Samuels pointed out the window. “We’re almost home”. The car was slowly making its way down a typical suburban street. Trees on each side, lining the sidewalk, the same houses, though not all of them identical flying the good old red white and blue, nicely pedicured lawns and the occasional man walking his dog. “Oh, God. It’s Wysteria Lane!” Alexi exclaimed and Mr. Samuels barked out a sharp laugh. “Not quite, but you’re not far off. This isn’t a very large town, but, seeing as it’s the American dream and all, it does have your usual suburb. Or “home”, as you’ll come to call it.” A few minutes later, the car pulled into a driveway. When Alexi stumbled out of the car, he let out an appreciative whistle. The house in front of him was a long way from being called a mansion, but it was quite obviously one of the largest in the neighborhood as well. “Wow, Mr. Samuels, you sure you’re just a flower guy?” Alexi immediately regretted his words, as he saw Mr. Samuels tense up and his expression becoming hard, his mouth forming into a line. “Sorry. I’m sorry.” Alexi started, backing away slowly. “I didn’t mean to be disrespectful.” Mr. Samuels took a step towards him and reached out a hand. “No, please!” Alexi croaked, flinching away even more, and covering his head with his hands.” Mr. Samuels pulled away immediately and his expression softened. “Alexi. God…I’m sorry. I wasn’t gonna hurt you.” Alexi composed himself again, but he shifted his gaze towards the ground, not able to meet Mr. Samuels’ gaze. “I misspoke. I’m sorry, Sir. It’s just…sometimes I forget myself.” “You’re a teenager, Alexi. Not a paige in Medieval Europe. And my name’s Sam, got it?” Alexi only managed to nod, still keeping his eyes downcast. Sam sighed. “Come. The family’ll be home by now.” Alexi carefully made his way to Sam’s side and the two of them walked up the stairs to the front door. There, Alexi stopped and looked back to the car, where Vince just stood, watching him. Alexi simply couldn’t shake off the nasty feeling he had around Vince. It was a coldness he hadn’t experienced in a while. About a month and a half, he thought to himself. “Honey, I’m home!” Sam shouted as he closed the door behind them. The sound of footsteps above and then a red-haired woman appeared at the top of the stairs. She rushed down, a huge smile on her face the whole time, then she came to Alexi and hugged him tightly. He was taken by surprise, so all he could do was mumble a “hello”. She let go and Alexi looked down at her. She was quite short, maybe 5’1”, which made even Alexi, at his 5’8”, feel like he was towering over her. She had brown eyes and the warmest smile Alexi had ever seen. She looked him up and down, pursed her lips and shook her head. “This just won’t do.” She declared and Alexi’s heart sank. Once again, he lowered his head. “Oh…” he murmured. “What?” she replied startled. “No, dear boy. You misunderstand me. I was just commenting on your general appearance.” “Well, I never thought of myself as good-looking, but…” “Oh, Lord. I was just saying that you’re thin as a stick and pale as a ghost. Damn hospital food.” “Ah, yes…that.” Alexi laughed nervously. “Well, I was always fairly slim. I loved keeping in shape, but not weight-lifting or anything.” A faint smile on his lips. “I just ran. A lot…” He stopped, looking down at his leg, all traces of the smile gone. “Well, you’re gonna have to find yourself a new hobby. Maybe chess in the park with the elderly.” came a voice from the top of the stairs. Alexi looked up as Mrs. Samuels and her husband both shook their heads disapprovingly. Sitting on the last step was Hunter, unruly blond hair, blue eyes and all. “You can even watch me skateboard as you sit there with the other gimps.” He got to his feet, turned around and disappeared out of sight. “HUNTER!” yelled both his parents. “Get your ass down here this instant!” Mr. Samuels started going up the stairs, anger playing on his face. “No, please.” Alexi said, catching his arm and holding him back. Sam looked down at Alexi’s hand and the young man once again flinched away. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to…” Sam shook his head. “Stop apologizing. You didn’t do anything wrong. But Hunter crossed the line.” “No, it’s my fault. He doesn’t want me here. I understand. Who would want a stranger in their house all of a sudden? He doesn’t know me. All he sees in me is someone to take away from his parents’ attention to him. I…I’m a burden on you. You shouldn’t have done this. Your son’s happiness is important. I’m sure Mr. Szalinsky will understand.” “Understand what? That our son is a spoiled brat? You’re not going anywhere except to your room to get some rest.” Mrs. Samuels said, pulling Alexi into a hug. He wanted to cry right then. He wanted to sob and never let go of her. But he did and she led him down a corridor on the ground floor. She opened a door and they walked into a bedroom. There was a double-sized bed against the far wall, with a nightstand on each side. On the right side of the room was a door, slightly ajar, that led to what looked like a bathroom. The room also had a wardrobe, a desk and a very large TV in it. And on the left side, large windows through which the afternoon sun was streaming in. Dusk was close and the red tinge to the light gave off a certain ambiance that just made Alexi breathe in deeply, with his eyes closed. Mrs. Samuels smiled and embraced him again. “This is your bedroom. I’m afraid there’s nothing in the wardrobe, but we’ll take care of that tomorrow. The bathroom, on the other hand, is fully stocked. So, feel free to take a shower. Then you can take a nap before dinner. Sound good?” “Sounds fantastic, Mrs. Samuels” Alexi answered sincerely, tears in his eyes. “It’s Dana, you understand?” and she patted him slowly on the back as he made his way into the room. He placed his cane on the bed and started getting undressed until he was left just in his boxers. He hobbled into the bathroom, where he found a large towel, shower gel, soap, toothpaste and brush, deodorant, parfume, and even a razor and aftershave. He dragged a palm over his chin and realized he still didn’t really need the last two. He closed the door and looked himself over in the long mirror. Running had indeed kept him in shape. He was never truly muscular, but lean. Dana had been right though – he now looked sickly thin. He ran his hand over his smooth chest, stopping for a few seconds on his ribs and he winced. He opened his green eyes and ran his hand through his hair. He hadn’t had a haircut in almost two months. He had always liked to have his hair cropped short. Though long and messy suited his looks just as well, it was just something he had become accustomed to. He would have to visit a barbershop as soon as possible. He realized Dana had been right about the other thing as well – he really was pale. He usually had a healthy tan. Now, he was chalk-white. He scrunched his face up in disgust, then glanced down to his leg, where the surgery scars were clearly visible. He shuddered. He turned on the hot water, slipped out of his boxers and once again looked in the mirror. He always did like looking in the mirror. He had always felt proud before. Of his body, of his hard cock…He just shook the thought out of his head and got under the hot jet of water. He stood there, letting the stream hit his body. He always felt dirty after traveling. Even if they weren’t long journeys. He supposed it was more of a psychological effect. A different way for tiredness to manifest itself. All the same, the hot water felt great. He closed his eyes and thought. Why did Sam and Dana want him? He didn’t deserve them. He knew that. Maybe they only took him in because they didn’t know the full story. Sure, they knew what happened to him, but not why. How would they react to it? Should he even tell them? They deserved to know, if they were to open their house to him. But he was afraid. He had seen rejection in Hunter’s eyes. He didn’t want to see it in his parents as well. In time, he thought, he’ll tell them. Hunter…he really needed to talk to him. Apologize for intruding on his life. He knew he needed friends in his new life and Hunter was the first step. He finished his shower and climbed into bed, where he immediately dozed off. Dana woke him up what seemed like only minutes later. But he had slept for close to two hours. Darkness had settled outside and a cold breeze was flowing through the open window. He went to the kitchen. Dinner was quiet, the main discussion focusing on the following day’s plans, which included shopping for clothes, any kind of electronic accessories Alexi might need and, of course, a trip to the school, to finalize the transfer and pick up his schedule. Hunter didn’t come down for dinner, which put his parents in a sour mood. “Do you think it would be alright if I went up to talk to him?” Alexi asked. Sam seemed reluctant, but finally agreed. After helping cleaning up the kitchen, Mr. and Mrs. Samuels settled in the living room, in front of the TV and Alexi made his way up the stairs. He only had to follow the sound of music to find Hunter’s room. He knocked on the door, but there was no answer. He knocked again, then tried the handle. The door opened. “Hello? I’m coming in.” No response. Alexi walked in and shut the door behind him. He peered around the room. It was fairly similar to his own, except that it featured a wide array of posters on the walls, all kinds of clothing strewn across the floor and a laptop on the bed, music streaming from its speakers. There was a closed door on the opposite wall and Alexi figured it must be a bathroom. Sure enough, he could hear the sound of a faucet. He made his way to the desk, where he sat in the big, comfortable chair. He didn’t hear when the water stopped in the bathroom. Something on the desk caught his eye. A baseball. It was signed. Alexi wasn’t a baseball fan, but the ball seemed fairly old…and valuable. “You thinking of stealing it, punk?” he heard from behind him. Alexi jumped from the seat, which caused him to almost lose his balance, but he used his cane to stay on his feet. Hunter was looking at him from the bathroom doorframe, eyes narrowed, hatred on his face. “No. I’m sorry. I was just admiring it. Listen…” “Oh, you a baseball fan?” Hunter asked, leaning against the doorframe. “What? No, not really. Listen, we need to talk. I know how difficult this must be for you.” “Too bad. About baseball, I mean.” Hunter said, moving away from the bathroom, towards his bed. “Yes, well, as I was saying, I know you probably see me as a burden, but I promise I won’t get in your way, at school, or at home. I just want to be your friend.” “Maybe we could have played ball together. Well, you couldn’t run, obviously, but throwing a ball would be okay, no?” Hunter said, as he went down on his knees, rummaging for something under his bed. “See, that’s the spirit. I’m sure…” The words froze in Alexi’s throat as Hunter straightened himself up again, a baseball bat in his hand. Alexi stood still, his eyes wide. Hunter swung the bad idly. “I’m a pretty good pitcher, but my swing’s better.” Hunter said, moving towards Alexi. Alexi backed away quickly, stumbling and falling down. He crawled towards the door and put his back against it, looking up at Hunter in horror. “No, please, please, don’t.” he sobbed. Hunter studied Alexi’s face and spat at him in contempt. “Coward. You’re afraid of someone younger than you.” But Alexi wasn’t listening. Trembling, his gaze was fixed on the bat in Hunter’s hands. Hunter noticed and swung the bat. Alexi scrambled on the floor, trying to get away. His fingernails dug into the floor and started bleeding. Hunter became somewhat alarmed, but something inside him told him to keep going. That part of him that hated his parents for bringing the miserable fuck sobbing on his floor into his life, that part that wanted him gone at any price told him to keep going. So he did. He advanced once more until he was only a foot away from Alexi. He crouched down and grabbed the panicking young man by the collar, forcing him to look into his eyes. Then he gently tapped Alexi’s shoulder with the bat. Alexi screamed in horror and pain. He yelled and sobbed and tried to pull away. Hunter was taken aback and he stepped away a few feet. Alexi was now curled up into a ball, shaking uncontrollably. Hunter shook his head in puzzlement. “What happened to you?” he whispered.
  4. The door burst open and Sam rushed in, glancing wildly about, trying to take everything in. “What’s going on here?” He almost tripped over Alexi’s writhing form. “Alexi?” Then his eyes fell upon Hunter and the baseball bat hanging limply now by the side of his body. Before Hunter’s lips could form a response, Sam was on him, grasping him harshly by the shoulders, shaking him. “What have you done, you fool?” Hunter just gaped dumbly at him. Sam raised a hand as if to strike his son, but thought better of it and just shook his head. Turning his eyes towards Alexi, he saw that Dana had come in and she was holding the boy tightly to her, his head in her lap. She stroked his air, all the while whispering comforting words to him. A muffled thud turned Sam’s attention back to Hunter. The baseball bat had fallen to the floor, on the thick carpet. “Out. NOW!” And before Hunter could protest, Sam dragged the boy out of the room and down the stairs, towards Sam’s study. He shoved Hunter down into one of the comfortable reading chairs, then moved to the corner, where a small cupboard held a few bottles of whiskey. “I didn’t hurt him. I swear. Only…I wanted to scare him a bit.” “Well, it worked, don’t you think?” Sam snarled at his son. Having poured himself a drink, Sam took a swig and moved over to the fireplace. He stared at the many photos lining the mantelpiece. He forced himself to breathe deeply and dig deep inside him for patience and calm. When he spoke, he did so in an even voice, trying not to let the anger, disappointment and disgust sip into his words. “You hurt that boy more than you could possibly imagine.” “But I didn’t…” “DO. NOT. INTERUPT. ME.” Sam spoke, accentuating each word. Hunter cowered slightly, trying to sink deeper into the soft chair and hide. “Alexi is broken in more ways than one and what you did right now opened such wounds that I don’t know how he’ll ever be able to trust any of us again. By God, Hunter, why did you have to do something so stupid? Now, when he had barely gotten here? He wanted to go up to your room, because he felt it was his duty to tell you that he wouldn’t get in the way….That he just wants to be your friend. And you spat in his face and in one fell swoop undid any progress he might have made so far. Why, for the love of God, would you refuse him the chance you yourself were given? You told me once how lucky you felt to have us as your family. How blessed you were that Providence brought us in your life? Why then do you deny him the same chance? Why do you deny him friendship and family without even getting to know him? What would Brandon say?” Hunter was crying silently now. “I’m sorry. But I didn’t think anything of it. I meant to scare him a bit, but I would never hurt him.” Sam moved to stand in front of his son. When Hunter refused to raise his head to meet his eyes, he crouched down so that Hunter was now looking down on him slightly. “I know you’re a good kid, Hunter and trust me when I say I understand what you’re feeling, but…you DID hurt him. That’s something you’re gonna have to accept and work towards rectifying.” Sam got to his feet once more, emptied his glass and moved to refill it. “We…Your mother and I, we had decided not to tell you everything about him until he felt comfortable enough around us. It was stupid of us to do so, perhaps, but we thought we needed to earn his trust before anything else. I never expected this. I had hoped I would never have to say this, but you disappointed me tonight, Hunter. I thought you better than this…” “But dad, please…” Hunter croaked in-between sobs. “That is besides the point now.” Sam emptied the second glass in one big gulp. ”What happened to Alexi was…well, despicable. One afternoon, his father came home. The police report said he was intoxicated. He…he killed his wife and almost beat Hunter to death. It was sheer dumb luck that he didn’t get to finish the job. There was an ambulance across the street. Someone had called in a heart attack. Apparently, it was a false alarm, but the commotion from the Tupolovs’, that is, Alexi’s house, grabbed the attention of the paramedics. They rushed in and saved the boy, but it was already too late for his mother.” Hunter was sitting upright in his chair, eyes wide in horror. “His dad used a baseball bat for the whole thing…” “Oh, God, dad…I’m so sorry.” Yes, I’m sure Alexi is as well. He lost everything that day, son. You think you know a thing or two about loss? Talk to him someday…” “Why would anyone do something like that?” Sam was silent for a moment, pondering his response. Finally, he shook his head. “Who knows? Madness has many causes…” Dana came into the room. She glowered at Hunter. “How could you?” “Mom, I’m sorry…” “You just make sure you tell him that. If he ever trusts you enough to get near to him again…” she said. “Do you have any idea…” “Yes, I do…” he trailed off, his head bowed. Dana looked to her husband and communicated silently. She nodded and grabbed Hunter by the scruff of his neck. “You, young man, are grounded indefinitely. I’ve managed to calm Alexi down enough to get him back to his room and into bed, so you can just march straight to your room.” Hunter almost ran out of his father’s study. Dana just sighed deeply and moved to her husband. She embraced him and he ran his fingers softly through her hair, then bowed down to kiss her. Once the moment passed, they both moved, hand in hand, towards the fireplace. She took one of the framed pictures in her hand and tears began to fall on the photo of a small, dark-haired boy smiling up at her. The alarm almost made Alexi jump out of bed. Confused and bleary-eyed, he managed to stop the blasted noise. He yawned and rubbed at his eyes. Bright sunlight was streaming through his window. His eyesight adjusted and he finally managed to distinguish a shape in the desk chair opposite his bed. This time, he did jump out of bed and put his back to the wall. Hunter got up from the chair and reached out a hand towards him. Alexi recoiled. He wanted to yell for help. He wanted to run. He wanted to cry. And he cursed himself for being a coward and a weakling. Then pain shot through his stiff leg and all the world around him disappeared into darkness, as he collapsed on the bed. Hunter was next to him in an instant, a worried expression on his features. “Are you alright?” he asked. What a stupid question, Alexi thought to himself. There he was, as helpless as a babe, having already demonstrated his weakness the previous night, now he was sprawled on the bed and is latest nightmare by his head, asking if he was alright. Why couldn’t his dad have finished the job, he asked himself bitterly. Finally, his leg began to relax and Alexi’s head cleared a bit. But the cloud of fear was still there and getting darker. “Please…Don’t…I got the picture. I’ll stay out of your way. Just, please, don’t hurt me…” he managed to say, still lying down on the bed. Hunter extended his hand towards him again, but Alexi pushed himself out of reach. Pity and pain played across Hunter’s face. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know…” he said, then he quickly turned and ran out of the room. He didn’t know? Alexi thought to himself. God, what was it that he DID know? Everything? No, that wasn’t possible. Not even his parents knew. And judging by the pity he saw in Hunter’s eyes, he realized that what Hunter knew was the oh-so-tragic story of Alexi Leonard Tupolov. He was sick of the pity, of the furtive glances and whispered words. “Oh, that poor boy!” he said mockingly. “Of course they all pity you. Look at yourself. You’re worthless. Less than a man in every possible way. A coward and a cripple.” He roared in frustration, then grabbed the alarm clock and smashed it into the opposite wall of the room. Then he closed his eyes, took in a deep breath, grabbed his cane and walked into the bathroom. When he came out a few minutes later, only a towel wrapped around his waist, Dana was on the floor of his room, gathering the pieces of the broken alarm clock. “Well, I suppose a new alarm is gonna have to go on the shopping list for today, then…” “I’m so sorry about that. I’m gonna pay for it…Somehow…” he half-whispered. “Don’t be silly.” Dana smiled up at him. “Now, get dressed. Breakfast and then we’re off.” Alexi looked down at himself and blushed. “Right…clothes.” Dana just laughed as she straightened herself up. “I’ve taken the liberty of picking out something for you to wear today…from Hunter’s wardrobe. I hope it’s okay with you. You both are about the same size, so they should suit you nicely though you’re awfully skinny. Anyway, just thought you shouldn’t wear the same clothes as yesterday. I find it difficult to wear the same clothes I wore during travel, even if it was a short journey.” “Yeah, me too.” Alexi smiled shyly. “There. A smile…It suits you. You should try it on more often.” And with that, she left him to get ready. What followed was a whirlwind for Alexi. He was never much of a shopper, so his head was still spinning around noon, when, after a few hours, two dozen shops and quite a bit of money spent, Dana was satisfied that he had enough for the fall. “We’ll see about some warmer clothing next week, okay?” she had said. Alexi didn’t even know how to respond. He was expecting no more than a few shirts and maybe a pair or two of jeans, but now he was having difficulty fitting all the bags into the back of the car, having already filled the trunk. He finally managed to squeeze everything in and got in the front seat. He had already thanked Dana two dozen times as they were shopping, but he still felt he owed her and her family more than he could ever pay back. “Thank you. I know words can’t do justice to how I feel, but it’s all I can give you now.” He said. Dana reached out a hand to pat him gently on the head, but Alexi flinched slightly. Just pulled back her hand and the two of them were quiet for a minute. “About last night…” “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to react that way. I promise I won’t do it again.” “You’re sorry? My dear boy, you have nothing to apologize for. We let you down. We just never expected Hunter to react that way.” “It’s alright. He didn’t hurt me or anything. I don’t think he would have even if you and Sam hadn’t come in. It’s just…” he trailed off, looking out the car window. The silence stretched between them, but it was not an uncomfortable one. It was a moment of understanding. “You need time. And love. And I promise, you’ll have them both. Even from Hunter. He…he needs time as well.” Dana suddenly pulled over at the side of the road and turned in her seat, facing Alexi. “We all have our secrets and our haunted pasts. We all experience loss. And some of us take it harder than others.” She closed her eyes shut, yet a single tear still glistened on its way down her cheek. “We had a son, Sam and I. His name was Brandon. I was told I could never have children, yet there he was, a miracle. He was a year older than Hunter. They grew up together, as true brothers. Hunter loved him more than anyone else in the world. They were together all the time. Brandon was his best friend and, even though they were so close in age, he acted like Hunter’s big brother in truth. They…they were together when Brandon died, 4 years ago. They were just standing in front of the school. I was on my way to pick them up, but was running late. A…a car drove by and opened fire on them and a few other kids. Brandon…”Dana couldn’t finish the sentence, as pain overcame her and she leaned her head on the steering wheel and started sobbing. Alexi felt her sorrow and tragedy as if it were his own. He tentatively reached out his hand to Dana, placing it in what he hoped was a reassuring manner on her back. Dana quickly turned around and hugged him tightly. “God, Alexi, you remind me so much of him.” Was this it? Was this the reason why they had taken him in? Alexi’s mind raced. He was to be the replacement for their dead son? It certainly explained Hunter’s reaction. Nobody could replace the center of his world when it had been so violently ripped apart. Least of all a cheap, broken replica. Alexi could never live up to Brandon, he knew that right then and there. But these people were good and they were in pain. He knew a thing or two about pain. If he could at least partially mend this broken family, perhaps he could also find the peace and acceptance that had alluded him. “I’m sorry.” He whispered in Dana’s ear as he pushed her gently away. Still holding her by the shoulders, he looked deep into her eyes and knew they understood each other. “Losing a son…I can’t imagine that. But I do know what losing one’s family feels like. What having the very foundation of your world shaken and shattered feels like. I’m not Brandon. But maybe there is a reason why destiny put us together. If we can heal each other, then we owe it to ourselves to at least try.” Dana brushed away her tears and smiled at him. “Thank you, Alexi. That means a lot to me.” “And I’ll take care of Hunter, I promise. I’ll get through to him eventually. Like you said…time and love.” Dana hugged him once more. When she broke the embrace and started the car again, the air seemed lighter, the atmosphere brighter and suddenly, there was hope for the future again. “We need to head for the school. Then my shift is starting at work, so we won’t be able to buy you a computer today. Instead, Vince will pick you up tomorrow after school and he’ll see to it.” Alexi gulped audibly and Dana laughed. “Yes, he can be quite…unnerving at times. But he’s been a good and loyal friend to Sam. You’ll get used to him quick enough.” They then stopped by the school, where Alexi got his schedule. Dana also wanted to pick up Hunter, but when the boy saw Alexi, he told his mother that he’d rather walk. Disappointment hit Alexi, but he just whispered to himself “Time…”, the resolution to break through to Hunter firmly on his face. The rest of the day was uneventful. Alexi passed the time by organizing his wardrobe, napping and finally reading a dust-covered pulp novel he found lying under his bed. Sam eventually called him down to dinner and he was once again disappointed to see that Hunter was not there. Sam gave him an apologetic smile and they both dug into the hot pizza. “Sorry, but Dana’s the only one with any real cooking prowess, and seeing as she’s at work…” “Are you kidding, this is heaven. I haven’t had pizza in months.” Alexi smiled in-between mouthfuls. They passed the rest of dinner mostly in silence, Sam occasionally asking Alexi about his shopping trip. Alexi avoided any mention of the talk he and Dana had in the car. She’ll tell her. It’s not my place, he thought to himself. Finally, saying their good-nights, they each headed for their respective bedrooms. Alexi was plagued by yet another nightmare as he tossed and turned in his bed. But it wasn’t the usual terror chasing him. He was now a 12-year-old boy, chatting idly to his brother. They laughed as a loud bang pierced the sky and then the blond-haired boy standing over him, his brother, was screaming. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “Are you alright?” The boy kept crying as he replied. “I’m alone.” Morning came and with it Alexi’s first day of school. He did his usual morning routine, had breakfast and Sam drove him, explaining how Hunter had decided to take the bus that morning. “Time”, Alexi thought. As the car pulled up in front of the school, Alexi noticed a few of the other kids staring at him through the window. He breathed in and got out of the car, planting his cane firmly on the ground. He waved Sam farewell and started making his way towards the entrance. As he moved, he could hear the whispers and feel the gaze of the other kids, but he kept his eyes firmly on the front door. “More pitiful looks. I don’t need your pity.” He thought firmly. “But what do I need? Family and unconditional love.” The answer came to him in a flash. For the weeks he lay in the hospital bed, he thought over and over about what his life meant. What he wanted. Numerous times, he wished his father had gone all the way. Other times, he thought of finishing the job himself. He always dismissed the possibility of moving forward. Until now. It was all so clear and easy for him to see. He wanted love. He had always wanted it. And here was the chance to finally find it. “But they still don’t know it all.” A nagging feeling that just wouldn’t go away. “Maybe I’m a good enough replacement son, maybe their pity and love for a lost one is enough to accept me, but what if I ruin it all again?”. Alexi chewed at his lower lip as these thoughts raced through his mind. He didn’t even notice the small step in front of him and he was suddenly falling. “Great way to avoid their pity.” Alexi mumbled under his breath. “Or your own humiliation.” As he heard a few kids laughing at him. He didn’t get up, instead just turning on left his side, to rub at his right leg. “Wanna hand?” someone spoke. Alexi looked up and his breath caught in his throat. A boy stood over him, a hand outstretched towards Alexi. He was tall. Over 6 feet. Lean as Alexi used to be. Another runner? He had soft brown eyes. The type that can melt your heart with the kindness reflected in them. Stubble covered his chin and his hair was cropped short, the way Alexi liked it. Worry was etched on his face but, noticing Alexi’s dumbstruck expression, he smiled and Alexi felt his heart skip a beat. Then he regained his composure and reached for whatever reserves of dignity he had left. “No, thanks. I can manage.” He finally replied. “We all need help, my friend.” The young man grasped Alexi and pulled him to his feet with amazing ease. “Even when we fail to realize it.” He shook the dust off Alexi, then held out his hand. “Name’s Evan.”
  5. Morning came all too soon. For the first time in a long while, Alexi had slept well. He felt rested and…even happy. He smiled as he looked at the ceiling of his room, laying flat on his bed, remembering the previous night. ‘Well, it didn’t take as much time as I thought, after all.’ Then he realized there was an unfamiliar noise in his room. It was…snoring? He turned his face to the left and almost burst out laughing at the site of Hunter sleeping on his side, facing Alexi, mouth wide open, a small pool of spittle on his pillow. Alexi then remembered how the night ended. Hunter seemed very concerned about his parents and the two boys spent almost an hour talking about what Hunter had overheard. Alexi realized that both of them must have fallen asleep and Hunter never woke up to go in search for his own bed. The closeness Alexi now felt with Hunter warmed his heart. But concern was now starting to spread through him once again. What could possibly have happened with Hunter’s parents? “Boys?” A knock at the door. Dana’s voice came muffled through the wooden door. “Time to get up. May I come in?” “Ummm…” Alexi looked around the room, then glanced at Hunter and once again the urge to giggle threatened to overwhelm him. He instead reached out a hand and shook Hunter by the shoulder quite vigorously. “Wake up, you log!” “Ghhh…” came the reply. “Err, yeah, come in, Dana.” Alexi said, as he put even more force into pushing Hunter. As the door opened, the blond boy crashed to the floor with a thud and a groan. “What the fu…dge?” Hunter said, as he looked to Alexi, then quickly to his mother. He gathered himself a bit, managing to sit in an Indian position on the floor, scratching his head. He seemed confused for a minute, then he opened his mouth to say something, closed it, stayed silent for a few seconds as both Alexi and his mother looked at him, amused expressions on their faces. “Uhhh…I think I need a coffee before we all have a talk.” Then he shot up and stumbled out of the room. “Hunter isn’t exactly a morning person.” Dana told Alexi. “So I see. Umm…” Alexi was now scratching his head in a similar manner to Hunter. “I guess we kinda fell asleep talking late last night. “Figured as much. I checked in on you during the night, when I realized Hunter wasn’t in his room. So…was it a good talk?” she asked, smiling. Alexi’s grin was answer enough. “That’s great. And…we all need to have a bit of a talk this morning, so why don’t you hop into the shower…” Dana paused, looked at Alexi, then his cane and immediately placed her hand over her mouth. “Oh, God, Alexi, I didn’t…” Alexi couldn’t help but laugh. “It’s alright, Dana. It was a good one, even if you didn’t mean it. It’s…fine.” In a more serious tone, he continued. “I can’t change what happened, no matter how much I wish I could. There are lots of things I wish I could change, but I can only live to accept them.” He lowered his gaze, not able to meet Dana’s eyes. “…I need to tell you and Sam something. Seeing as you’re already intent on a talk…” “We’re always here to listen, Alexi. Now, get showered and dressed, and we’ll all have a talk, okay?” When Alexi nodded, she turned around and walked out of the room, leaving the boy dreading the outcome of the little talk. ‘Well, I’ll at least have Hunter in my corner. Maybe it won’t be so bad…’ Wincing at the stiffness of his leg, he walked into the bathroom. All four of them were sitting around the kitchen table. Considering the size of the kitchen, the table could easily have filled many a dining rooms, yet here it seemed small. Which is exactly how Alexi felt, as he tried to keep his nerves in check. “I know you said you wanted to tell us something, but I was wondering if I could go first, while I still have the courage to do so…” Alexi addressed Dana and Sam. Hunter caught his eye and understanding passed between the two boys. “Err, sure, Alexi. We’re all ears.” Sam said. “I just want you to know that you taking me in has been…well, a miracle to me. I can’t tank you or God enough for this second chance. Having said that, I’ll understand if you don’t want me around after you hear what I have to say…” “ALEXI!” All three members of the Samuels family almost shouted. “Don’t ever say that.” It was Hunter who spoke, as he got to his feet and moved behind Alexi, placing his hands on his shoulder and giving them a reassuring squeeze. “You’re not going anywhere. Is that clear…bro?” This last statement was addressed more to his parents than Alexi, as Hunter gave the two adults a challenging look. ‘I’m not losing you after barely got to know you’ Hunter thought. “Of course not, Hunter.” Dana said. “Alexi, please…trust us.” Alexi nodded. “I…I’m gay…” he said, then he almost cowered, bowing his head, expecting the worst. When nothing happened for a few seconds, he raised his eyes towards Sam and Dana. “We know, Alexi.” Sam said. “Say what, now?” both Hunter and Alexi answered, confused. “Your dad, Alexi…” Sam continued. “He gave a full confession. In it, he…well, he tried to motivate his actions by…Well, he mentioned your sexuality…” “And you’re okay with that? You still want me around?” “Of course we do, Alexi. Do you think sexual preference matters to us?” “I don’t know. I just thought everyone…” “I can imagine that was the way you were raised, son.” Sam cut in. “But you’ll find that, as a society, we’re not as backwards as we once were. Most people don’t care, even if they’re not outright supportive. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of hate-filled people out there, and it’s tough at times for people to be different, especially teenagers, but, generally speaking…most people aren’t bad, you know?” Alexi just shook his head. “Let me put it this way…Kids are mean because they mostly don’t know better. Some people do bad things because it’s profitable for them. Others do it in order to protect their family. But, again, very few people are truly driven by hate. Ignorance, yes, but, in my experience, few people are…rotten, evil if you will, because they enjoy it and choose to be that way. What I’m trying to tell you is that, as long as you don’t go into a situation with preconceived notions, and are ready to establish a dialogue and educate ignorant people, you may be surprised at the positive response you get from most people.” Alexi stared at Sam. ‘Is the man insane? Talk about ignorance. Or maybe he’s just naïve. People aren’t like that at all. And yet…Hunter and now his parents are accepting. But that’s just because I look like Brandon. They’re not willing to give up the replacement, even if he’s so broken’. That had to be it. His mother seemed to be okay with it for those few minutes. She loved him. But then again she was his mother. She had to love him, right? Well, his father had to love him unconditionally as well, and he…Alexi’s eyes were brimming with tears. There IS hatred in people. But there’s also love. He was so confused. Hunter turned him around to face him. Placing his hands on each side of Hunter’s face, he wiped away the forming tears with his thumbs, then he smiled and pulled Alexi into a tight embrace. “I know my dad’s full of shit sometimes, but the essence of what he says is true. Ya gotta give people a chance. The fear of rejection must be huge, I know. But sometimes you just have to open up if you want acceptance. You taught me that last night. And if nothing else, you still have us, you understand? No matter what, I…WE are not letting go, okay?” “Well, you have to let go if you want me to be able to breathe.” Alexi said, unable to stop himself from giggling. When Hunter let go and stepped back, both boys grinned at one another. “Sam, this can wait…”Dana whispered to her husband, as tears of joy spilled down he cheeks, looking at the two boys in front of her. Sam nodded, then turned in his seat at made to get up, not wanting to let the boys see him cry. It was joy, he knew it. Just like his wife was experiencing. But it was also pain and fear. His son was whole again, he knew, and it was all thanks to the fragile boy who came into their life so suddenly. Did Alexi even realize how strong he was? How much he meant for the three of them now? The fear was too strong to contain. He needed to get out of there. The thought of something happening to any of them was enough to make him sick. He almost ran out of the kitchen. His wife, as well as the boys watched him go, the expression on Alexi’s face turning from relief and happiness into sorrow and pain. “Dad?” Hunter called after him. “It’s my fault, isn’t it?” asked Alexi meekly. “No, though you are the reason.” Dana said, smiling broadly, through the tears. Now she stood next to him, and hugged him just like Hunter had done. You’ve made us happy, especially Hunter. You…I don’t know how to say it. You said you couldn’t replace Bran. And that’s true. But you…you can bring us together as a family again, like we were. You’re not him, but you’re what we all needed. And Sam was…overwhelmed, I guess. He’ll be alright, dear.” Dana let go of Alexi, brushed away her own tears and had the boys sit once again. “How ‘bout some breakfast?” “How ‘bout that talk we were supposed to have?” Hunter asked. “Well, I’d say it went quite well.” “You know that’s not what I mean. You and dad were meaning to tell us something.” “Hunter…” “I heard you last night. Mom, what’s going on?” “Honey, everything’s okay. There’s nothing to worry about. It can wait. Please, don’t get upset. For the first time in years, you were finally happy just now. You were a brother again. Please don’t ruin the moment. Please, for me…” “Is it someone at work? Did someone threaten you or something? I thought cops were supposed to be…” “HUNTER! Enough….Please…Let it go for now.” Dana looked at Alexi and saw the worried expression he wore. “Be a brother for Alexi. Let me worry about…other things. For now, at least.” Then she too left the kitchen. In her wake, the two boys were more confused than ever. The multitude of feelings and moods being expressed in that kitchen that morning suddenly made the room seem much smaller than it appeared to be. Unable to contain it all… It was lunch time and Alexi was sitting in the bleachers overlooking the school track. There were no runners to be seen. No jocks of any kind, in fact. There were a few people milling around, the occasional sandwich and can of coke in their hands. Idly chatting ,gesturing, laughing. Generally enjoying life. There was a time when Alexi might have been bitter observing all this. Maybe deep down he still was. Despite what the Samuels had told him that morning, there was still that seed of doubt and fear. But now, more than ever, he had hope. ‘Hope is just the lies we tell ourselves about the future.’ He thought bitterly and then he mentally slapped himself. ‘Stop that! Do you actually WANT to be hurt? Are you so fucked in the head that you want to feel pain and rejection, because that would confirm your world view? Stop being a sullen child. You actually have support now. Love. Get your shit together and stop the self-pity. GROW UP!’ He shook his head and permitted himself a small smile. ‘What the hell? It’s a brand new day, in a brand new life’. Alexi felt the pressure on his back and then he was falling again. He sure seemed to be doing a lot of falling lately. It wasn’t a long trip. He stopped just two rows down. He had no idea how the hell he managed it, but somehow, he had mostly rolled on his side and finally stopped on his ass. Far better than the alternative of going end over end and landing on his face, all things considered. But why had he fallen? He felt pain in his back, between his shoulder blades. Had something hit him? It felt like a shove. ‘More like a kick, actually. What the…?” “Yo, fag!” A voice came from up and behind him. ‘Friggin fantastic. Remind me to have a talk with Sam about that whole hatred thing.’ Alexi turned his gaze to watch three rather large, rather stereotypical looking jocks. “Seriously? Fucking football players? Is this shit for real?” “What’d you say, fudgepacker?” “Christ, I guess this is where the ‘teens will be mean because they’re teens’ thing comes in. Come on, then. Beat the shit out of me. I don’t have all day.” One of the jocks bent over and picked Alexi’s cane, which, along with a few of his books, were left behind next to his seat, when Alexi had been so rudely sent flying. “I’m wondering if I should break this over your head or stick it up your ass. You’d probably like that…” “Oh…Witty fucker, ain’t ya?” ‘What the fuck am I doing? Am I really trying to get myself killed before my second day of school is over? No. You’re starting over, remember dipshit? Well, that’s nice and all, but if I’m dead within seconds of turning over a new leaf, it ain’t much of a victory, is it? Ah, yes, but how glorious those seconds would be. Okay, Gollum, cut it out, dying really doesn’t appeal that much to me anymore. Gollum? I like that. Well, my poor, cowardly Smeagol, with your new appreciation for life must come some sense of adventure. Adventure, yes. Assisted suicide? No. Tomato, tomahto. Yup…certifiably insane.’ “Too bad your dad didn’t get to finish the job.” The head-jock said. “Oh, nice one, Matt” one of his lackeys observed sycophantically. “God, did you guys step out of some bad CW teen drama or something? Do you even share a collective intellect or something? And intellect is being used in a very loose manner here.” ‘Hmmm…wonder if the Samuels will put Beloved Son on my head stone. Maybe just burn the crap out of me and toss me in the wind or something.’ “And what the fuck do you know about me and my dad?” “Oh, more than enough. My dad has a friend who works for Social Services, so I know quite a bit about your queer ass…” “Man, that is just too easy.” A new voice came into the conversation. “You just walked into that. You know about his queer ass? Seriously, if you’re gonna play Macho Straight Jock #1, you need to avoid those kind of embarrassing lines.” Alexi couldn’t help but grin. Sure, he loved seeing Matt or whatever his name was turn red and start to fume, but the sight of the boy who got the jock so angry is what warmed his heart. It was Evan, all 6’2” of him. That great smile now a mocking leer. The kind soft brown eyes now almost burning incandescent red. He seemed relaxed, his arms crossed over his chest, his feet spread, but there was menace to his posture and expression. Alexi knew it. “Fuck off, Richardson. This doesn’t concern you.” “Well, I do believe you were about to commit a hate crime. And we minorities gotta stick together, don’t ya know?” “Just because I tolerate you…” “You TOLERATE me?” Now even the mocking attitude was gone from Evan. He started coming down the stairs towards the jock brigade. His hands by his side, his fists clinched. “You snot-nosed brat. I knew I should’ve kicked more sense into your head last year. Guess you didn’t get the message. Or is it that you just plain forgot. Let’s jog your memory a little, shall we?” Alexi was staring open-mouthed at the 4 of them. If what Hunter had said about Evan being gay was true, then, as he observed Evan making his way towards the three shorter, but bulkier teens, Alexi could only conclude that this sexual preference came with a dose of insanity and the desire for self-destruction. He couldn’t let Evan get into a fight, get hurt…or worse. Not for him. “Evan!” he yelled. He was on them. Matt’s fist came straight at his face. ‘How predictable. And I at least hoped I’d get a work-out. He hasn’t learned a thing since last year. But maybe his skull is thicker this time around.’ He ducked under the blow and came inside Matt’s guard, bringing up his elbow as he stretched to his full height. It connected squarely with his jaw and Matt tumbled down several rows. He glided to his right and parried a blow from Jock #2 with his left arm. ‘Ah, Tim. Good ol’ Tiny Tim. Why do you hand around Matt in the first place? You can be such a kind and gentle person when you want to.’ He grabbed him by the collar and pulled him forward, as he pivoted to the right, sending the bulky teen into his on-coming buddy. They collided with a very audible “Oof!” escaping both their lungs, as the breath was rushed out of them. He didn’t give them a chance to get up. He placed his foot on Tim’s back, applying pressure. Under Tim, Jock #3 let out a loud groan. “Sorry about that…err…I don’t know your name. Matt’s goon squad is on rotation or something. Only he and Tim are 24/7 on the job, so don’t take it personal. Now, I suggest you stay down. You too, Matt!” he called, not even looking down towards Matt’s landing site. “You fucker. You broke my head!” Matt screamed, rage tinting his voice. “No, the fall did that, Matt. Pay attention where you’re walking next time, will ya? Tripping like that is awfully dangerous.” Matt didn’t respond and Evan finally glanced at him. “Do you understand me, Matt? About watching your step?” Evan’s glare was ice cold, no trace of warmth in those once kind eyes. Matt gave an acknowledging nod of his head and the anger seemed to melt from Evan. His features were once again serene. “Ah, that’s great to hear, bud. I wouldn’t want you to get hurt before football season even starts. We may actually have a shot this year, no? And people have such high hopes for you. A serious injury could end your career and your chances at a scholarship. I wouldn’t want something like that to happen to a great guy like you. Now…fuck off. You two as well.” As he took his foot off Tim. The three boys scattered immediately and Evan breathed deeply. Alexi’s jaw wouldn’t stay shut, damn it all too hell. He simply gaped at the whole fight. It wasn’t even a fight. It was…a man swatting away flies. He kept on staring, open-mouthed, as Evan slowly picked up his cane and the books and made his way down to where Alexi was still sitting. “Dude, close your mouth or something might make its way inside. You never know what…” He said, winking. “What…Why…Who ARE you?” Alexi asked, perplexed. “Ummm…Evan.” He replied, scratching his head in a cute way that almost made Alexi giggle. “Dude, was that fall really bad? I mean, did you get knocked on the head or something? We met yesterday. Alexi, right?” “Yeah…I’m surprised you remember. But that’s not what I mean. I…err…” He flailed his arms wildly, trying to explain. “You…They were three and you…Then they…And you…What the…?” “Well, I can handle myself well in a fight, is all.” Evan shrugged, blushing slightly. “An unexpected advantage of a misspent youth, I suppose.” He laughed nervously, but Alexi burst out into genuine laughter. “Yeah, old man, those young’uns sure do know their place now…” “Well, I AM older, you know. I’m 19. Matt’s barely turned 18 and Tim’s not even there yet.” “Oh, you’re positively ANCIENT compared to them!” Alexi said, continuing to laugh. When he stopped, Evan brought him to his feet and handed him his cane. Looking straight into his eyes, Alexi tried to put into words what he felt right then. “Thank you. Honestly, that’s the only thing I can say, but I don’t think you’ll ever understand what it means to me. No one’s stuck up for me before.” Once again, Alexi’s gaze shifted to his feet, in what was an instinctive reaction. “Though, for the most part, they never had reason to before. I suppose being anonymous has its advantages. No one notices you enough to pick on you. ‘Fuck, I’m pathetic again. Seriously, it’s like I’m a pity-seeking whore. No more, I said! It’s not pity I need!’ Ummm…never mind. Just…Thank you. I don’t know how I can repay you.” “Go out with me…” Alexi’s eyes snapped up immediately. “Are you fucking with me?” “Not yet.” Evan replied with a sly grin. “I’m gay…” “Yeah. I kinda figured that out, what with Matt calling you a fag and all. And it’s also the reason why I asked you out…” “So, you’re…” “DUH!” “Oh…” ‘Huh, guess Hunter wasn’t lying. Okay, self-doubt mode, activated.’ “Why would you want to go out with…someone like me?” Alexi asked, gesturing at himself. “I mean, look at me. I just got my ass kicked and you…well, you were like Steven Seagal or something.” “That pussy? Please, I could take him out in the blink of an eye.” Alexi grinned as he raised his chin in an arrogant manner. “And I really don’t have much choice. My gaydar must be broken, cause I haven’t run into any other gay kid in this school, though God knows I tried…” “So I heard.” “Huh?” “You hit on my foster brother last year. Hunter Samuels.” “Ah, him…” Hunter said, his grin turning into a wistful smile. “Well, all, the good ones are straight.” “So…you want to go out with me because I’m the only one available, huh? Well, that sure makes me feel special.” Alexi said. He felt sadness, pain, anger and that damn self-pity again. Yet, knowing that he’d only serve as meager table scraps until a main course arrived for Evan, he was still eager to give himself over to him. ‘Sorry, Gollum, but I guess some things you can’t change. Yup, Smeagol…you’re one pathetic little bitch.’ Evan looked into Alexi’s eyes and he could see all the emotions mingling and fighting inside. He was worried he had gone too far with his teasing and he had hurt him. In a soft, soothing tone, he addressed Alexi, as he placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Hey, I was just kidding, okay? Teasing. I want to go out with you because…Because something about you just grabbed my attention. Yesterday morning…It wasn’t your cane or my stupid gaydar either. It was…I dunno. It was like there was a huge cloud of conflicting emotion hanging over you. I knew you needed help and I knew I wanted to get to know you better. And, hey…You’re gay, I’m gay, so…you know…we got that in common.” He smiled that beautiful smile again. “So, let’s get to know each other better.” “I…You…Uhhh…” “I’ll take that as a no then.” Evan turned around to walk away. “WAIT!” Alexi shouted. If he could see the huge grin on Evan’s face, then maybe he wouldn’t have blushed so much as he coughed nervously. “I mean…Yeah, I’d like that…” “GREAT!” Evan beamed as he turned around. “I get off at 2. You?” “Same…” “Great. Meet me in the parking lot. I’ll be the one with the blue bike.” “Bike?” “Motorcycle. You know…” “Cripples and motorcycles don’t usually mix.” “Well, I’m driving, so don’t worry about that. And don’t refer to yourself as a cripple.” Then he took Alexi’s face into his hands and kissed him full on the lips. It wasn’t exactly sensual. It was…something else. Alexi was so surprised that he didn’t even have time to close his eyes. By the time he did so, Evan had already pulled away and was rushing up the stairs, leaving Alexi leaning forward, lips parted, in serious danger of tipping over. “Man, it’s 7 PM. The Samuels are gonna kick my ass.” Alexi said. “Well, you called ‘em, didn’t you? Told ‘em you’d be late.” Evan replied. The two boys were walking slowly, close together, through the park, on the edge of the pond. They stopped and stared over the water. It was so peaceful. The sun was on its way down and that soothing red tinge was starting to play across the horizon. Alexi could have stayed there and stared at the sight for hours on end. He could stand by Evan for an eternity, it seemed. They had been quiet on their way to the park. It’s not as if one can have a civilized conversation on a motorcycle. But as they criss-crossed the park, occasionally sitting on a bench, just staring into the distance, watching a boy play with his dog or happy families laughing together, the two boys talked about everything, it seemed. There was an easy manner to the way Evan behaved and talked that one couldn’t help but feel relaxed around him. Alexi had felt at ease talking to Hunter the previous night, but this was different. Somehow better. He would hang on Evan’s every word, as if afraid that, after the evening was over, he would never hear that soft, calming voice again. Alexi sighed. “Yeah, but I don’t think they expected it to be THIS late. Err…By the way…” Alexi shifted nervously. “Can you, like…give me a ride home?” he asked, blushing. Evan started laughing. “Of course, m’lady. What kind of knight in shining armor would I be if I didn’t use my trusty steed to take you home safely?” “You jackass!” Alexi said, slapping Evan’s shoulder playfully. “Now, seriously, we should go.” “Alright, alright. Don’t get your panties in a bunch.” The boys started to move, but Evan paused and spun Alexi around to face him. His eyes danced all over Alexi’s body and then rested on his face. He bit his lower lip in a playful, yet pensive manner. “This really was great, you know. I hope you feel the same. I enjoyed every second of it. May I?” “What?” Evan leaned towards him and Alexi felt fear overwhelm him. He quickly glanced around. There was a couple sitting on a bench behind them and an older woman was walking her dog. Evan studied Alexi’s expression of concern and fear. “They don’t care. And if they do…fuck ‘em!” Then his lips met Alexi’s. All too soon, they parted again and Alexi brushed his fingertips over his lips. Evan looked at him in an amused manner then he gently kissed Alexi on the nose. That’s just to whet your appetite.” And as he grinned once again, the two boys started moving again. They were close to one of the park’s exits, close to where Evan had left his bike. It was quiet. No more kids walking their dogs. No more couples holding their hands. Only the sound of footsteps coming closer. Two heavy-set men were soon in front of the boys, barring their passage. One of them was holding a baseball bat. “Oh, come on!” Alexi yelled and the two men looked at each other in confusion for a second. He wanted to laugh, if only to stop the tears from coming. ‘Seriously, what is it with people and baseball bats? Did the world run out of blunt instruments all of a sudden? Hockey sticks, golf clubs, crochet mallets or a goddamn lead pipe, for fuck’s sake! And what about the good ol’, trusted gun?” The man tightened his grip on the bat as his companion pulled out a gun. ‘PERFECT! Now that’s what I’m talking about. Maybe it won’t be too painful.’ “Don’t do this, man!” Evan said in an almost pleading voice. High-school jocks were one thing, a gun was another. The goon with the gun pointed his weapon at Evan. “Shut it, kid. You can go now.” The other man moved to Alexi and kicked away his cane. Alexi was left almost hopping in place, so the goon started laughing in a mocking way, then, with his free hand, he easily pushed Alexi over, and the boy landed heavily on his back. The man with the gun took his eyes off Evan and moved closer to Alexi. “We warned Samuels.” Alexi didn’t want to look at the man or the gun. He stared at Evan with tears in his eyes. “Go. Please!” The goon with the baseball bat brought the heel of his boot down on Alexi’s head and pain drove away all thoughts from his mind. Evan made his decision then. ‘Fuck me, what am I doing? I actually think I love this kid.’ Alexi’s vision was getting blurry. At least he didn’t have to see it coming. “Nothing personal, kid.” It was a certainty then. He had dreaded it since he saw the two men. Once, he would have welcomed the sight, but now he felt he had something to live for. ‘Do fags go to hell even if they’re virgins?’ What a strange thought. And still, his life didn’t flash before his eyes. ‘Well, it really wouldn’t be worth a replay, anyway.’ He knew it was the end, and he felt regret. For not getting to know Evan, Hunter and his parent better. For leaving that family alone again. They barely knew him, but he was sure this would pain them almost as much as when Bran died. It would rip open wounds that never had the chance to properly close. He would die then, in that park, at the end of his first date. He closed his eyes and waited…
  6. There was silence. Was he dead already? God, it was so quiet. ‘Wait…what about the sound of the shot?’ Alexi kept his eyes closed and held his breath. Then noise came flowing down on him. It was a scuffle at first. Quick footsteps. Like an animal charging. Then it exploded. A bang. Was it the gun going off? Was he hit? He still kept his eyes shut. There was no new pain, though his head was killing him. He wanted to look, he wanted to see why death was so slow to come. But he was too afraid. Audible cracks, like snapping twigs. Groans and yells. A thud. Cursing. More yelling. More cracking and yells. Then something collapsed right next to him. He could feel the impact of something large hitting the ground just inches from his face. He dared open his eyes. Lying on his back and groaning was one of the thugs. The one with the baseball bat. His lip was cracked and bleeding. Then a foot came down hard on his face and blood spurted everywhere, including Alexi’s face. The boy finally gasped as he let air rush into his lungs. His eyes were glued to the man for a few seconds, as blood kept flowing freely from his broken face. Then he started glancing wildly about. His head still hurt like hell. And now the thug’s blood added a second layer of mist to his eyes. He could feel panic setting in. Breathing. Loud breathing. It wasn’t him. It wasn’t the broken man’s ragged breath either. Rage and excitement mingled in that breath. “Alexi?” A large shadow loomed over him. It dropped down and enveloped Alexi. It picked up his head and started wiping way the blood on his face. God, his head hurt. But more and more light was breaking through. The shadow was dissolving. Evan. Evan’s heavenly features. Those big brown eyes, still smoldering with anger, slowly melting into worry. “Alexi, are you alright? Can you hear me? Do you understand me?” “What…What happened?” “It’s alright now.” “I…I don’t understand.” “All that matters is that you’re okay. But we need to go. Right now.” Before Alexi could object or question him any further, Evan pulled him to his feet. He felt dizzy. His basted head felt like it had been split in two. He put a hand to his hairline. Sticky and warm. Blood. It wasn’t the thug’s. “It’s not that bad, Alexi. We need to go.” Evan said. Alexi glanced around again. At his feet, the man seemed to be gurgling blood. The other one was in a heap, a feet away. Not moving. For a few seconds, Alexi felt like collapsing again. He looked at Evan. “What did you do?” “What I had to. They both should live.” Evan bent down and turned the thug with the smashed nose on his side. “As long as someone comes along and stumbles upon them soon. Which is very likely. And which means we need to get the hell out of here.” “What are you talking about? We need to call 911. The cops, the paramedics. We need to…” “We need to run away as fast as possible. Those guys were going to kill you, Alexi. YOU. And it wasn’t a damn mugging either. Whatever the hell is going on, I’m not getting involved with the cops. I…I couldn’t let them do it, because of what…I don’t know. I felt something when saw you sprawled on your back. I felt something the first time I met you…Also sprawled on your back.” Evan smiled. “I don’t know how the hell to explain it right now, but I just couldn’t leave you here. But I’m not getting involved with the cops either.” “But why? You were defending me.” “It’s a long story. Please, trust me. We need to get the hell out of dodge.” Alexi took one more look at the two men, then he stared straight into Evan’s eyes. “I do…trust you.” Picking up his cane, Alexi let Evan support most of his weight as they moved out of the park. “We need to hail a cab. You’re in no condition to ride a bike like this.” “We goin’ to a hospital?” Evan looked away from Alexi for a few seconds, before he spoke. “We can’t. I told you, I can’t get mixed up in this crap. I was thinking of taking you home.” “That’s okay. I think you’re right, the bleeding’s stopped. It’s just that I’m awfully dizzy.” “We’ll get you home soon, okay?” Evan managed to get a cab and he helped Alexi into the back seat. The driver was looking nervously at them. “What happened? You need a ride to the ER, kid?” the driver asked. “He got hit in the head with a Frisbee. We’re going to this address.” Evan said, as he handed the man a piece of paper. The driver looked at it for a few seconds, as if trying to wrestle with making a decision. “You sure, kid? Maybe you should go to the hospital.” “Yes, we’re fucking sure. His mom’s a cop. Now drive.” “Evan? Are we going home?” Alexi asked softly, his eyes lidded. “Yes. Stay awake, okay? I’m sure it’s okay, but just stay awake.” “My head really hurts. I think I should try and sleep.” “No, Alexi. Stay with me. You’ll have plenty of time to sleep later, okay? Come on, let’s talk some more. You told me you used to have a dog. What was his name?” “Leika. Dad named her. And he ran over her one day. Fucking bastard…”Alexi started crying softly. ‘Jesus Christ, I’m going for the world record for most breakdowns in a week…’ “Shhh…It’s alright. Tell me about your dad. Your parents. You avoided that subject in the park. What happened? You just told me something bad happened and you’re in a foster home now.” Alexi started sobbing. ‘Fuck me, why am I such a moron? Seriously, with the parents? NOW? I’m trying to distract him and that’s what I came up with?’ “I can’t…Not now, Evan. Please, don’t make me…” “It’s okay. Hey, you like swimming?” “Not particularly. I only really ever liked running, but now…” Alexi said, as he started to calm down. “You should give it a try. You know, it’s also good therapy for your leg…” “Yeah…” Alexi said, almost dreamily. “Are we going home, Evan?” “Yes, I told you. You sure your foster parents will be there?” “Mhm. They were when I spoke to them earlier.” Alexi paused. “Evan…how do you know where I live?” “You told me, silly goose. Remember? You wrote it down on a piece of paper…In the park.” “I did? Huh…That was presumptuous of me.” “What? How so?” “I guess I must have wanted you to drop by some time. But…I can’t remember.” Evan smiled broadly, then cupped Alexi’s face and kissed him deeply. A groan came from the front seat. “Got a problem, pal?” Evan asked. “Several, kid.” The driver answered. “But I’ll mind my own business.” A few minutes later, they pulled up in front of the Samuels residence. Evan threw some money at the cabbie, then got out. He tried to pull Alexi after him, but he found him less than cooperative. “Come on, buddy, you’re home. Don’t fall asleep now, okay?” With a moan, Alexi managed to stumble out of the car, but he immediately started swaying on his feet. “Guess we’ll do the damsel in distress thing after all.” Evan said, as he hauled Alexi over his shoulders in a fireman’s carry. “Not as traditional as taking you in my arms, but it’ll do. Okay, bud?” Alexi only groaned. Evan pounded on the front door for what seemed like an eternity. He started shouting. The door immediately opened and Vince stood in the doorframe. As he took in the sight before him, a mixture of emotions played across the big man’s face, before his eyes settled into their usual unreadable expression. Evan and Vince just stared at each other for a few moments, before Dana came rushing down the stairs. “Vince? ALEXI! What happened?” she asked alarmed. “Who…? Are you Evan? Alexi called and said he’d be with a boy named Evan.” “Yes, ma’am. Can we get inside now? I don’t feel like attracting attention.” They all moved quickly into the living room, where Vince helped Evan deposit Alexi on the large couch. “What happened?” Dana asked again. “We…I don’t know. We were attacked on our way out of the park. They seemed to want to kill Alexi. I took care of them, but…” “You took care of them? How?” Vince asked bluntly. “It doesn’t matter. Alexi got heat in the head. I panicked. I can’t get involved in any crazy stuff, so I couldn’t take him to the hospital.” “Crazy stuff? What do you mean?” Dana asked, frowning. “Look, you’re a cop, right? I have a record. I don’t wanna get mixed up in anything and judging by what those guys said, this is about you…” “What?” “He said ‘We warned Samuels.’, that’s it. Listen, I couldn’t just leave Alexi. I…like him. But I can’t get involved in this. Please, just take him to the hospital yourself. I think he has a concussion or something. I tried keeping him awake. I’m sorry, I didn’t know what to do. Help him. Please.” There were now tears in Evan’s eyes. Dana looked at the young man for a few moments, trying to decide what to do. Then she sighed. “Okay. Vince, get Alexi in the car. We’re going to the hospital. He’s had an accident – slipped and fell down the stairs. Got it?” “Yes, Mrs. S.” “Evan, go home. But we’ll talk later, understand?” “Yes, ma’am. Please call me once you know more about Alexi. Please. I’m sorry. I know I should’ve taken him to the hospital myself, but I was scared…” Just then, Hunter came down the stairs. “What’s with all the commotion?” He stopped in mid-stride, glancing around the room. Evan. That was Evan. Was he crying? What the…? Vince holding Alexi in his arms like a child. Blood. He looked back at Evan and his blood started boiling. “You fucker!” He launched himself at the older boy, who only had time to look bewildered. Hunter landed on Evan and dragged him to the floor. Straddling his chest, he started punching him. His face, his chest, his arms as he was trying to protect himself, every inch of his body he could reach. “What did you do? WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DO?” he started shouting, anger the only thing keeping the dread at bay. He couldn’t lose Alexi. He felt himself get dragged away. It was his mother. The small woman had one hell of a grip. “Stop it. Evan didn’t do anything.” She said. Looking up to find Vince still standing there, she told him to get to the car. “I’ll be right out.” Vince hurried away. “Hunter, snap out of it. Alexi’ll be fine. Come with me to the hospital. Your dad will meet us there. I’ll call him on the way.” Hunter didn’t respond, so she tightened her grip around his chest, as they sat on the floor. “Hunter?” Finally he nodded. “Good. Evan, go. I’ll call you later.” Evan scrambled to his feet, dejected. He looked at Hunter, but couldn’t hold his gaze. He dropped his head meekly, then left. “Hunter, go to Alexi’s room and get some clothes for him. You have 30 seconds…” Light. Lots and lots of light. So very bright and so very painful. “Ugh…” Alexi moaned. The doctor moved his small flashlight. “Good. You’ve come around.” As Alexi’s eyesight adjusted, he realized where he was. “Oh, fuck me…” he said, once again closing his eyes. “You watch your mouth, young man.” Dana said, startling the boy. The doctor chuckled. “Sorry, ma’am. It’s just…another damn hospital.” “Yes, from your medical history, I see you have some experience…” “Mostly a few bruises once in a while, but last time…Let’s just say I was hoping I wouldn’t see the inside of a hospital any time soon…” Alexi said, rubbing his temples. “Your head hurting?” the doctor asked. “Mmm…It’s okay. What happened. I remember getting…” “You fell down the stairs, Alexi. You must have lost your balance or something. Thank God we found you quickly.” Dana cut in quickly. Alexi stared at her for a few second, before speaking. “Right…That must be it. Yeah, I think I remember.” The doctor leveled his gaze on Alexi, then Dana. He furrowed his brow, but when he spoke, he did so only to tell Alexi that it was nothing serious, but he’d stay over night for observation. As he left the room, Dana moved next to him, took his right hand in hers and squeezed. “I’m sorry I had to lie. It’s just…better this way. Trust me.” Trust. Evan had told him the same thing. Alexi had learned through his life that most people don’t deserve to be trusted. But this was Dana. She had shown him nothing but kindness. And Evan certainly had proven himself trustworthy. He had saved Alexi’s life. He got him home. He could trust these people. He wanted to. So he nodded. Hunter burst into the room, smiled broadly when he saw Alexi, then rushed over and pulled him into a hug, almost dragging him out of bed. “Okay, okay. Let him go, Hunter. He needs to rest, not get squished.” Dana said, chuckling. “Oh, sorry, dude. I’m just…glad you’re okay, you know?” Hunter said, still smiling. “Dad’s outside, talking to the doctor.” Hunter took a deep breath. “Now…what the hell happened.” Dana and Alexi exchanged a look and Dana opened her mouth to speak. “And don’t tell me he fell down the goddamn stairs, either, understand?” Hunter said in a cold tone. Then he turned to the door, as he heard his dad come in. For a moment, they all remained silent. “Well?” Hunter probed. “Not here. Not now.” Sam said. Punch after punch after punch. Kick after kick after kick. His shin was starting to hurt, but he kept pressing on. Evan didn’t relent. The boxing bag was swaying from the force of the hits. Finally, he stopped when he heard the sound of the door opening. He didn’t turn around. “You fucked up, kid.” The new arrival said. Evan moved to the weights. He picked up one of the dumbbells in his right hand. With his left, he grabbed a bottle of water and drank. He tossed the empty bottle across the room. He missed the trash can. “Your dad’s gonna kill you, you know that, right?” Evan finally turned around to face the man. He was short, around 5’6”, but as thick as a house. Muscles upon muscles. And he wore one of those ridiculous black muscle shirts. He had a hard face, with tiny, lack eyes and a big scar on his forehead. He was bald and the broken nose certainly didn’t make him any more charming. He had a tattoo of a coiled snake on the left side of his neck. Eric always caused two emotions for Evan – nausea and anger. At that moment, he didn’t know if he wanted to throw up first, then kick his ass, or the other way around. He was pretty sure he COULD kick Eric’s ass. The man was a mass of muscles, but Evan knew he was slow. He didn’t really have technique. He just relied on his fists. Pummeling others into submission. Evan had combined numerous disciplines into his own style. It wasn’t always pretty and elegant, but it did the job. He knew he could get the better of Eric. But now was not the time. “I don’t even know why he puts up with a fucked up bastard like you.” Eric said. “He should’ve let you die with that crackhead bitch you called a mother.” Evan didn’t reply. He felt his anger building. But he knew it was what Eric wanted. He wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of breaking down his walls. Not yet. But when those walls came down, he would make sure Eric would never forget it. But now was not the time. “He thought you’d be useful. Turns out I was right all along. Hell, he probably knew it from day one, but he still had hope for you, even if you are nothing but a fag.” Evan wondered what Eric’s blood and brains would feel like if he smashed him over the head with the dumbbells. He was actually quite curious. Blood he knew all too well. But, despite everything he’d gone through, brains…nope. He remembered the splatter of blood across the wall when Hosea was shot. He was sure there were quite a few pieces of brain matter in the gore. Even then, as he was retching at the sight, he felt curious. Curiosity had often got him in trouble. But now was not the time. “But this time, you REALLY fucked up, didn’t you? You know how hard he worked for this deal and you messed everything up. God, I hope he lets me have you. I’d have a lot of fun with you…” Evan controlled his breathing and placed the weights down on the floor. He stared straight into Eric’s eyes. “I didn’t fuck up. But it wasn’t the right thing to do.” “What the fuck do you know about what’s right?” Evan took two steps towards Eric. The man didn’t move, but Evan could see him tense up. ‘Good’ he thought to himself, smiling a little. ‘He’s afraid. As well he should be. But now is not the time.’ “I’m doing it my way. My was is the RIGHT way. And you can tell him that.” It was Saturday morning. The Samuels, Alexi in tow, arrived home a few minutes past 10, after Alexi was released from the hospital. As always, Vince played the chauffeur role, but he didn’t come into the house with the rest of them. The whole ride from the hospital had been quiet. Hunter joked around a bit with Alexi, but there was a general state of unrest and uneasiness that clouded the atmosphere. It was the same as the four of them moved to the living room. Once again, Alexi found himself on the couch, this time next to Hunter. He was shocked to see a blood stain. His blood…Dana and Sam stood, facing the two boys. “Okay. So…Will someone please tell me what the hell is going on?” Hunter broke the silence. “I honestly don’t know where to start.” Sam said. “How ‘bout the beginning? That’s always a good idea.” Hunter replied sarcastically. “I think I’ll just fill you in on what is strictly necessary to your survival right now.” “OUR SURVIVAL?! What the fuck?” Hunter shouted, as he jumped from the couch. “Watch your language…” Dana started. “No, mom. Fuck that! Alexi got attacked didn’t he? Didn’t you?” Hunter asked, turning to his foster brother. Alexi stayed quiet and looked down to his feet. “Yeah, I thought so. And mom, someone went after you…The night before, when you came in arguing with dad. He said someone tried to get you. And you said something about blood. What is it, mom? Is someone after you because you’re a cop? Do we need witness protection or something?” Sam couldn’t stand it anymore. He wanted to grab his family and run. Hide and cry. But he couldn’t help but smile at Hunter’s remark. He didn’t know why, but he just found it funny. When he saw Hunter staring at him, he realized he must have looked like an idiot. He placed his hands on Hunter’s shoulders, trying to reassure him. “Sit down, son. Please. We’ll try and explain…” Hunter nodded reluctantly and took his seat. “First of all, from this point on, you’re not to take a step outside this house without protection. Vince and a few others you don’t know will take care of that. And that includes any extracurricular activities. Truth be told, I’d rather you just went straight to school and back, but Dana said that’s not a healthy way to live. I’m not yet convinced, but for now, we’ll try and live as normal, but we’ll know where you are at all times and you’ll have at least three bodyguards with you. We don’t want to seem weak, give up and run, because I don’t think that’d stop them. But I’m not willing to risk your safety either.” “This is just too fucking weird. Bodyguards? Once again, WHAT THE FUCK, mom?” Hunter asked. “This has nothing to do with your mother, Hunter. Well, not exactly.” Sam said. “What? But I just assumed…” “It’s my fault, Hunter. It’s…my business.” “What, the flower import?” Hunter laughed incredulously. “Is the tulip mafia after us or something?” “It’s…It’s not easy for me to tell you this, son. I’m afraid you’ll hate me.” Dana moved closer to Sam and put her arm around his waist. “But he needs to know. Alexi too. They need to know exactly what they’re into.” She said. Sam breathed in deeply, then exhaled slowly. “Well, there’s no easy way of saying this, so I’ll just come out and say it…” Sam resumed. “The flower import business…We’re not exactly importing flowers. We…It’s drugs, Hunter. I’m trafficking drugs…” Alexi stared at Sam. He wasn’t sure he understood him. His brain must have been fucked up far worse than the doctor had thought. He heard “drugs”, but that couldn’t be. Sam was a good man. And Dana was a fucking cop. No, he had misheard. He was sure about it. Hunter started laughing. It was a chuckle at first, then a roaring laughter. He almost fell off the couch. When he saw that no one else was amused, he settled down and spoke. “Okay, okay…Let me get this straight. You’re some kind of Pablo Escobar?” Then he started laughing again. “Hunter, this is no laughing matter.” Dana said. “And you’re a fucking cop!” Hunter said. “You tellin’ me you married a drug dealer?” “As a matter of fact, I did. That was the whole point.” “What?” Hunter asked. “When I met your dad, in college, he was already dealing. Small time stuff. But I fell in love with him and I didn’t care about it. Soon…he expanded. It wasn’t big enough to attract attention, but it was only a matter of time. So…I joined the force.” Dana said “Wait…I don’t get it.” “With someone on the inside, your father could always stay a step in front of the authorities. I could keep the local authorities in check and even keep an ear on any Federal agencies, with the help of a few friends…” “So, you’re the Matt Damon to dad’s Jack Nicholson?” “You lost me.” “Look it up. This is all kinds of fucked up.” “I know, son.” Sam said. The silence in the room. Was unbearable. Then, Alexi got up, took two steps, then fell to his knees and threw up. Dana quickly moved to his side and took him in her arms. He was trembling, yet, strangely, he wasn’t sobbing. ‘God truly hates me.’ Alexi thought. Suddenly, it hit home for Hunter. He stumbled to his feet, then moved to his dad and grabbed him by the collar. Sam didn’t move a muscle. Tears were starting to fall down his cheeks. He saw the realization in Hunter’s eyes and felt his heart break once more. “Y-you…” Hunter said, his voice shaky. “You’re the reason Bran is dead.” Alexi turned his head towards the two, a look of horror on his face. He also understood. Dana buried her face in her hands. “That wasn’t some random shooting at the school. THEY FUCKING KILLED MY BROTHER BECAUSE OF YOU!” Hunter drew back his fist and Sam closed his eyes. The pain that came with the punch was welcome relief.
  7. He was running along the shore of a lake, his short legs barely keeping him above grass level. He ran and ran and laughed until he was left breathless. His smile was infectious. He ran into his mother’s open arms and she couldn’t help but laugh as she started planting playful, wet kisses all over his body. They both dissolved into a mess of limbs and noisy mirth. When they finally settled down a bit, the woman pulled him close to her, his head resting on her bosom, his eyes starting to slowly close as the excitement overdose was letting off and exhaustion was taking over. She patted his dark hair softly, occasionally planting a loving kiss on the top of his head. “You sure do love running, don’t ya? You’ve barely been walking for two years, yet I barely ever get to see you walk. You’re always running somewhere.” She smiled, though this time, a tinge of bitterness seamed to taint the expression. “Don’t always be in such a hurry, okay? Don’t go running off everywhere, never enough time to settle down. To stop and take a deep breath. Life is too short to miss out on any opportunity, true enough, but don’t hesitate to actually stay put once it feels right to do so. Once it’s safe, and…and warm, and perfect. When you know it’s time. Okay? Don’t run. Understand, hun?” The boy simply squeezed her tight and the woman’s smile became broader. “Of course you don’t. You’re too young. But take my word for it, okay?” She placed her lips on the top of his head and breathed in deeply. She never wanted to let go. Alexi felt safe now. Warm. Suddenly, the memory of his mother flooded him. He smiled, even as tears were brimming in his eyes. He felt loved again. Protected. He felt the tight, caring, soothing embrace. This was it. That’s what she had meant. He started to open his eyes and darkness greeted him. The warmth was still close by, but something had changed. Evan was shaking him lightly, then he felt the warm breath on his face, as he leaned in to whisper in his ear. “Alexi, wake up. We’ve got company.” Ben Two-Ton was always a remarkably ugly man. His pock-marked face hadn’t improved any now that his nose had been crushed. He was lucky to be alive, true enough, let alone escaping with just a destroyed nose, a broken arm and a few cracked ribs. The kid could have killed him. Still, he was bitter. And he would get some kind of revenge this night. He held the gun in his left hand, his right useless in the cast. He looked to his left, to his new…partner. God, he hated breaking in new guys. They were always too cocky, too eager to prove just how bad-ass they were. Ben had to clean off a lot of blood after things usually went bad with these newbies. Quite often, it was their own blood. ‘Fucking idiot. I just hope he doesn’t get me killed.’ He hissed. He’d have whistled, but the only way he could do that was if he used his fingers as well. And his hands were full. Besides, he wasn’t hailing a cab. So, he tried to get Rob’s – or was it Bob – well, whatever-the-fuck’s attention the only way he could. Rob stopped in his tracks and scowled at Ben. “What?” He whispered. “Easy, you moron. Don’t get too excited. Use caution.” “They’re fucking teenagers, man!” “Yeah, and one of ‘em killed Jerry with his bare hands and did this to me.” Two-Ton explained, gesturing towards his face with his cast-covered arm. “Now, let’s just be careful, okay?” he said softly. “I’ll go around the front. You wait for a minute, then you go in from the back, okay?” Rob reluctantly nodded his agreement and Two-Ton started to make his way stealthily around the side of the house. Stealthily was…well, it was horse crap. They didn’t call the man Two-Ton for nothing. He wasn’t all THAT heavy, but his clumsiness added to the effect. When he moved, it was like a freight train. He silently started to say a prayer. Evan was crouched down next to the window, barely peeking out, trying to distinguish between the shadows. He turned his gaze to Alexi. “Two of ‘em…Go get Hunter. Lock yourselves in the bathroom. There’s only one small window in there and the door is solid enough to hold for a while. Put a chair or something against it. Then both of you get inside the tub. Make sure that none of your body parts are exposed.”He grinned a bit. “Especially not that fine ass of yours.” He could swear that Alexi had blushed. God, could the boy be even cuter? He mentally slapped himself, trying to get his thoughts back in order. “The door might keep him out for a while, but not high-caliber bullets.” “But what about you?” Alexi asked, panic starting to sink in. “And HIM? I thought you said there were two.” “I’m about to change that.” Evan replied as footsteps came closer and a shadow moved in front of the window. “Go!” he ordered, his grin never leaving his face. Alexi crawled out of the room on his hands and knees. Evan got to his feet, took two steps away from the window, controlled his breathing and tried to time it perfectly. He was counting the milliseconds. ‘NOW!’ He leaped. The window burst into a thousand pieces and he felt the sting as shards cut and prodded him, some biting deep into his flesh and digging in. The large man barely had time to register surprise. ‘Goddamn, if it ain’t my old buddy from the park. You guys never learn…’ Evan landed on the man. The shock of hitting the ground was enough to knock the breath out of the goon and the confusion of it all only played to Evan’s advantage. He straddled the man’s chest, took the gun from his hand, meeting little resistance, then he pressed the muzzle of the gun to the man’s sweaty forehead. He paused for a second. He opened the man’s jacket and felt for the inside pocket. He found it. He attached the silencer, then placed the gun in the same position as a few seconds before. Evan turned his head to the side and blood covered his left cheek as he squeezed the trigger. Alexi and Hunter were just closing the bathroom door when they heard someone breaking the glass in the back door. Someone fumbling with the lock. There was a dresser in the bathroom, full of robes and towels. It was sturdy oak, and they moved it in front of the door, then they jumped in the bathtub, shivering. Of course, Alexi was naked, so that might have had an effect as well. “Dude, if we live through this, please never use the ‘Remember that time when I was naked, on top of you, in the tub?’ anecdote, no matter what. Promise?” Hunter said. Alexi needed a second to analyze the situation. He hadn’t really realized he was naked until that very moment. He felt embarrassment wash over him. Then he started laughing. Uncontrollable, shaking fits of laughter. ‘Christ, here I am, about to die, naked in an empty bathtub, and I’m laughing like a loon. Seriously, I’m fucked in the head.’ Alexi thought. “You’re fucked in the head, aren’t you?” Hunter asked, then he started laughing as well. Laughing? What the fuck? Rob actually put his ear to the door, trying to make sure he could properly distinguish the noises. ‘The fuckers are laughing!’ “I fucking hate teenagers!”. He backed away a step, then took aim at the door, around waist height, and emptied a whole clip. He let it drop to the floor and reached his free hand to the pocket, where he had a spare. Someone grabbed his jacket from behind and he felt himself being inexorably pushed towards the door. He slammed head-first into it. He almost bit his tongue upon impact. He didn’t have time to recover. He was slammed against the door again. And again. Blood was clouding his sight, so he didn’t even see the door coming anymore. Yet he knew, each time he would be pulled back, a fraction of a second later, the impact would come again. And again. He didn’t remember dropping the gun. It was useless empty anyway. He tried to fight back. Swat away at whoever was holding him, but his assailant grabbed one of his arms and twisted it painfully behind his back. He heard a loud pop and knew for sure it wasn’t a good thing. He felt a hand on the back of his neck. Tight. Again, driving him headlong into the door. Rob thought he might actually break the friggin thing down with his head. He was pretty sure there were plenty of splinters in his face. He was slipping. He wanted to go to sleep. He was pulled back once more and this time he literally flew. He landed roughly, his back hitting the stone floor of the living room. He tried to raise his head. It was pointless. He saw a vague shape baring down on him. ‘Is that a fucking lamp?’ Evan stopped. His blood rage was subsiding. He looked down on the broken heap of a man. No movement. He set the lamp on the table again. It was so fucking sticky. HE was sticky. All over the place. God, he needed a shower. A stab of pain. He reached around and felt a shard of glass sticking out of his shoulder. He pulled it out and more blood started gushing out. ‘Perfect. Just perfect.’ “Guys, is there a first aid kit in there?” he called out to Alexi and Hunter. Nothing. He moved to the bathroom door and banged his fist against it. “Guys? It’s alright. They’re…gone.” Stifled noises. A thud. Evan couldn’t help but grin again as he imagined Alexi trying to leap out of the tub, only to trip all over himself and take a header onto the floor. “Evan? My God, Evan, are you alright?” came Alexi’s voice. “Yeah, fine, just a few cuts.” “Oh, my God. Hang on, we’ll be right out.” “NO!” Evan forced himself to be calm. “Not right now. Just…make sure you have the first aid kit ready. Some disinfectant and bandages will do the trick. But I want you to STAY in there until I tell you to come out, understand? Both of you.” A long pause. “Do you hear me?” “Okay, Evan. We don’t understand, but we’ll stay here. But please, tell me you’ll be alright.” Alexi almost pleaded. “I’ll be just fine, babe. But hey, if I’m not, then you can always take the opportunity to give me a sponge bath. Now stay.” Alexi giggled a bit, then reaffirmed his ascent. Evan moved back to the man in the middle of the living room. He picked him up and slung him over one shoulder, then carried him off a few hundred feet into the woods. He was barely past the first line of trees, but it would have to do. He went back to the house, to the other corpse. ‘Fuck me!’ he cursed himself. ‘This guy’s twice my size, how the fuck am I gonna carry him?’. Evan groaned, then bent down to remove the man’s jacket. He wrapped it around Two-Ton’s head. There was already enough blood around. He didn’t want to leave a trail of gore leading towards the trees. He grabbed the man’s wrists and started dragging the corpse behind him, cursing with every labored step. ‘Why the fuck did he send these frigging amateurs? I’d have expected more from him.’ He deposited Two-Ton next to the other body, wiped his own face clean with a handkerchief he “borrowed” off the dead man, then he once again returned to the cabin. He tried his best to cover as much of the blood as possible with dirt. He wasn’t really worried. As long as there were no eye-witnesses – and the cabin was secluded enough – there would be no reason for someone to take a close look. When he was done, he plopped himself down on a patch of dew-covered grass. He took out his phone and dialed. On the fourth ring, a bleary voice answered him. “What the fuck do you want, bastard?” “You have two bodies to collect, Eric.” “WHAT?!” That certainly seemed to wake him. “The brats?” “Oh, no. They’re quite fine. I told you already that I’d do it my way…and that is NOT my way. Not right now.” “But then…” “The goons you or my father sent. I’m betting it was you. He’d have sent someone more professional and certainly not someone who had already been injured. By me, no less. Why do I have the feeling this is something he didn’t approve of? I’m thinking he sees things my way, not yours, yes?” “Listen, you fucker, I didn’t send anyone and you keep your mouth shut if you know what’s good for you.” Evan sighed. “Oh, Eric, I honestly don’t give a shit enough to argue right now. Just come do some clean-up. I figure you have about 4 hours before the sun comes up. It’ll take you an hour and a half to get what you need together and get your ass here, so I suggest you move fast.” “Where’s here?” “The Samuels cabin, at the lake. I’m sure you know it.” Evan ended the conversation and shut his phone off. He wanted to lie in the grass forever. Or a least for a few hours. He closed his eyes, but then he forced himself to get to his feet and go inside. He was sure he still had a few pieces of glass sticking out of him somewhere. Alexi heard Evan’s voice again and he almost burst out of the bathroom. Only his damn leg was stopping him from running out. He was now wearing one of the robes they found in the dresser. Hunter came behind him, holding the first aid kit. When they entered the living room, both boys gasped loudly. There was blood on the floor. Lots of it. Alexi felt another breakdown coming. He was dizzy. He leaned against a table. He felt something sticky. He turned on the lamp. More blood. The lamp base was covered in it and it had spread over the table. He looked down at his hand. It was red. The room was spinning. Or was it just him? He was on his knees again, vomiting. Evan was by his side in a second, holding him, whispering comforting words into his ears. “What the fuck happened?” Alexi asked, when he managed to regain some semblance of self-control. He looked up at Hunter, who had a blank expression on his face. He was staring at the blood-stained floor. Alexi’s gaze shifted to Evan. There were cuts on his beautiful face. Only two small ones. ‘He must have shielded his face with his hand when he went through the window.’ But they were still two too many. He wanted to kiss them, to heal them. To go back into Evan’s warm embrace of only an hour past, before this craziness came about. ‘If this is some sort of karma thing, then I must’ve been a real asshole in a previous life, to deserve all this shit. If I’m not a billionaire playboy superhero in my next life, I‘m gonna be awfully pissed!’ He traced his fingers delicately over the cuts, one on his right cheek, one on his forehead. ‘God, are they gonna scar? His face is forever gonna be marked. Because of me. Because he was around me!’ He wanted to cry again, but Evan held him tight and kissed his temple gently. “It’s alright, Alexi. I’m alright. They’re gone, and we’re all fine. Now, pull yourself together, help me get cleaned up, then we need to get the hell out of here.” “Sponge bath?” Alexi asked, a pale shade of a smile dancing across his lips. Evan laughed. “Not yet. A shower will do, but I need you to check that there aren’t anymore pieces of glass embedded in my body…anywhere on my body.” He said, with the mischievous grin of his. “Down, boy.” Alexi slapped his hand playfully. “What the fuck’s wrong with you two?” Hunter finally asked. “We were fucking attacked. There’s a pool of blood on the floor and you guys are acting like lovesick teenage girls. GET A GRIP! We need to call the cops…or something.” “Hunter…” both Alexi and Evan said, at the same time. They looked at each other for a moment, then Evan bowed his head in mock-surrender. “Hunter, we know we can’t. You know…the situation.” Alexi said, his eyes darting towards Evan, trying to convey the message to Hunter without actually spelling it out. “Look, whatever this is…it’s deep shit. It’s not the first time it’s happened, Alexi.” Evan said. And I don’t wanna get mixed in with this kind of crap. I…I think I friggin love you. ‘Christ on a pogo stick, I just said that, didn’t I?’ So I’ll never let anything happen to you. But…NO POLICE! Board up that broken window, then get the hell out of this place. Those guys ran off, but they could return. And I’m not comfortable with either them or the police showing up here. Look, no harm, no foul. They got banged up, they left. Time we follow suit.” With that, he headed into the bathroom. Alexi lingered behind for a few moments, exchanging worried and confused looks with Hunter, but finally he turned his back on the blond boy and moved towards the man of his dreams. The one who held him tight and safe. Fifteen minutes later, they were leaving the cabin. Evan had gone over and fetched his truck once he had cleaned himself up a bit, so Hunter and Alexi wouldn’t have to walk. When Hunter came towards the car, he noticed another truck parked towards the back of the house. He looked intently at it, then he shifted his focus on Evan. “I thought you said they ran off. Isn’t that their car?” Hunter enquired, in a cold tone. Evan stared back at him for long seconds, before replying levelly. “Your point being?” Then he climbed aboard, behind the wheel of his truck. Dana ran out of the house when the truck pulled up. She took one look at the three boys and instantly knew something was wrong. There was a haunted look in Hunter’s eyes. Something had obviously disturbed him. ‘Damn it all! Me and Sam and this whole fucking life! We’ve damned our kids to a living hell!’ Evan had two small cuts on his face. They didn’t look bad and Alexi seemed okay, if somewhat shaken. ‘He looks like he’s getting used to it. Christ, what his life must be like, to become jaded to violence.’ Dana was sure that violence was involved. “Where the hell have you been?” she shouted. She couldn’t help herself. She knew that all that mattered was that they were safely home, but she couldn’t drive away her anger. She had slapped Vince when she came home, after he had called her at work, to tell her that the boys had ran off. Fury was too small a word to describe her feelings. She wanted to hurt Vince. And she wanted to hurt Hunter for being so stupid. ‘But can I blame him? If my family were so fucked up growing up, wouldn’t I want to run away as well?’ She was also angry with Alexi. The boy had obviously gone after Hunter. That’s why Evan was there. But damn him, why didn’t he just tell Vince or call her? ‘Because this is a fucked up family, remember? How could he possibly trust us? Any of us?’ She stopped in front of the 3 boys. She pulled Hunter and Alexi against her body and gave them a hug. “Nevermind.” She said. “Just go inside. And for now, you’re grounded.” “Big fucking deal. I was already grounded when I left, remember?” Hunter said mockingly. Dana smacked him over the head, though far more lightly than she was tempted to do. “Don’t even start right now. Go inside. Both of you.” The boys planted their eyes firmly on the ground and walked humbly into the house. “So…”Dana said, crossing her arms. Vince and two of the so-called bodyguards were a few feet away, but tried to ignore the conversation. “Tell me, Evan…what happened?” “Hunter ran off, Alexi called me, told me where he went and asked me to give him a ride.” “And where did you find him?” “The cabin at the lake.” “Ah, and you decided to stay overnight, why exactly?” “I stayed for Alexi.” Evan answered with no emotion in his voice. “He stayed for Hunter. And Hunter…well, you’re gonna have to ask him.” “And what happened?” “Two goons showed up. One of them was also in the park. I chased them off.” “You did, did you?” she asked, raising an eyebrow. Evan couldn’t tell if it was in surprise, admiration or suspicion. “Yes. I broke a window, one of them broke another, and there’s…some blood in there. Just so you know.” “And I suppose you still don’t want the cops involved?” “Lady, those guys were after your kids. And it wasn’t the first time. Whatever it was all about, something tells me YOU don’t want the authorities involved any more than I do. It’s really a win-win situation, don’t you think?” Dana stared intently at him, as if trying to read his every thought. Either that or burn him to the ground with laser vision…Whichever it was, it made Evan uncomfortable. Few things unnerved him, but this tiny woman was one of them. Still, he stubbornly met her gaze. ‘If nothing else, I’m not a coward. I’m not afraid to look into your eyes. But will you glance into mine and see the abyss? Find out what I am and get lost in despair and horror?’ Their eyes were locked for an eternity. Neither of them flinched. That unsettled Evan once more. He was positive this woman could at least read the surface of him. But she had the intensity and determination that told him she was far from done. She would see through him sooner or later. And he knew she was the type of person who wasn’t paralyzed with fear when she met someone like him. She was the type of person who crushed a bug instead of screaming and jumping up on a chair. She was dangerous. But she held the one he loved. He would never back down. “I checked you out, Evan. Your records are sealed, since you were a minor, but…robbery AND attempted murder? Nice! How’d you get out of that one?” He didn’t answer. He just sat there, gnashing his teeth. “There’s something off about you. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s there. And sooner or later…” Evan turned away and walked to his car. He opened the door, but before he got in, he glared at Dana over the roof of his truck. “You have no clue about me. Don’t presume you do.” “I do know ONE thing. Alexi likes you. And that’s the only reason you’re not in handcuffs right now. Maybe you actually care about him as well. In which case…I’m willing to overlook some…defects, shall we say? But, you’d better come clean before I figure it all out. How you fit into it all.” “Maybe it was God’s masterplan. Fate brought me to Alexi. Or the other way around…” Evan heaved a sigh, rubbing at his forehead. “Whatever you think of me, I really DO care about Alexi. I’d never do anything to hurt him. Know that.” Then he got in his truck and drove away, leaving Dana on the sidewalk, staring into the night, as the truck’s taillights were lost into the distance.
  8. “Are you a bad man?” “What?” Sam looked up, confused. The last few minutes had been a blur. He took in his surroundings. He was on the floor of the living room. Yes, he fell when Hunter hit him. It wasn’t really the force of the blow, but the emotional impact that drove him into the ground. He remembered the boy kneeling over him, his fist pulled back once again, ready to deliver…what? Justice? Vengeance? A simple release of grief? But his arm fell limp and Hunter ran upstairs. Dana slowly got up and followed her son, sparing a backward glance towards her husband. The gulf was growing. And she was gone now. “When we talked…two days ago…You told me about how some people do bad things for the right motives. Or simply because they have no choice. Or maybe it’s the only way they can provide for their family. But you said that few men were actually rotten. Truly bad, corrupt souls.” Alexi said. Sam hadn’t noticed him through the last few minutes’ haze. But now it became evident that the boy hadn’t left him alone. He sat on the floor, just like Sam himself. Even the smell of his own sick didn’t drive him away. He had been absorbed by his own thoughts. He felt cursed. It seemed like an eternity ago when he had told Hunter that he felt blessed to be a part of his family. He smiled bitterly. ‘I had no idea. No fucking clue just how much God hates me. This is a cruel fucking joke. I just want to be normal and live a goddamn normal life. Instead, life just hands me lemons and no fucking sugar for the lemonade.’ He sighed. Still, he had felt more affection from these people in a week than from everyone else he had know in his entire life. ‘Even if they are one fucked up family.’ Steely resolve washed down over him. He had no idea where that certainty of character, where that strength came from. But he knew then that he wouldn’t give up. He had promised Dana once. Promised himself. If he would need to be the catalyst of reconciliation, then so be it. He would heal this family, reform the bond that held them together, no matter what. He looked at Sam. “So…are you a bad man, Sam?” There was a long pause. The silence was becoming oppressive. He wanted to break it, but Alexi forced himself to keep quiet. This was as much about Sam’s inner demons as anything else. “Yes. I am.” Sam finally answered. Another pause. Alexi searched Sam’s face, he studied the emotions evidently playing in his eyes. Their gazes were locked. Sam felt ashamed and pained, yet he could not look away. “I don’t think you are. A bad man would have lied. Denied his own faults. Tried to justify himself, at the very least.” “Maybe I’m an honest villain.” Sam replied. “Or maybe you’re repentant.” Sam snorted disdainfully. “What does it matter? The things I’ve done…The pain I’ve caused. And there I was, lecturing you about good and evil. The hypocrisy of it all…” “You were talking from experience.” “Yeah? Maybe I was trying to justify the things I’ve done, just like you said.” “No, I don’t think so. You were trying to impart a lesson. Sam…” Alexi moved next to the man, crouched down and placed his hand on his chest. “Maybe you’ll think I’m just a kid who knows fuck all. And cheesy on top of that, but I know there’s more to you. There’s good and love and it’s in here.” He said, tapping Sam’s chest lightly. “I don’t want to know the things you’re done. And I don’t think you want to revisit them right now. But I know you want absolution. Not as someone who stares into death and is afraid of what awaits him, trying for forgiveness at the last second. But as someone who truly regrets his choices in life. Someone who has caused and felt pain. It’s never too late, Sam. To change. To find peace.” “Christ, that was cheesy.” Sam said, with the barest hint of a smile. Yet when he spoke more, his voice cracked. “But it is too late. I’m too far down the rabbit hole.” Then he got up and moved away, leaving Alexi to his thoughts once more. “He said that, did he? Well, the kid’s got balls, I’ll give ‘im that.” Myke Henson was an attractive man. 6’3” and with a truly regal poise. His back always straight and his chin up. His pale complexion suited him well, especially when one took into account the pale blue eyes. There was something exquisitely male about him. A certain power he exuded, despite his fine features, perfect manicure, spotless face and superbly-tailored suit. Strength poured out from him and he never failed to impress. His only son took after his whore of a mother. That was unfortunate. Yet, he sometimes could see traces of himself in the boy and that gave him hope. Which is why Eric had never been given free reign with Evan. “Yes, sir. He said he’d do it his way.” Eric said. “Interesting…So, he doesn’t know that wasn’t my call. Very interesting. I told you that it wasn’t the right move as well, but what’s done is done. Still, he realized it was a mistake.” “So…you’re not mad?” “Mad? Perhaps a little. I told that oaf it was a miscalculation. Things could have escalated. In the end, it may have worked out better than expected, given the situation. He has the boy’s trust. I’m willing to let this play out and see where it goes. Are you sure that neither Samuels nor that bitch of his can make the connection between us?” “Yes, sir.” “Good. Then I suppose patience is required now. We need to make sure that our…friend understands that as well. Besides, they’ll be on their guard now. Any other attempts would either fail or tip our hand completely.” Henson took a swig from his glass of scotch and looked out his window at the falling sun. Hunter wasn’t in his room when Alexi went up to talk to him that evening. He had knocked on his door twice before that afternoon, but Hunter told him to go away each time. ‘Third time lucky’ Alexi thought as he knocked once again. Sam might have given up for the time being, but he wouldn’t. He would not stop his efforts and, if nothing else, he at least needed to be there for Hunter, to console him as the pain of losing Bran afflicted him afresh. “Come on, buddy, open the door. It’s just me, I promise. I just want to talk. Open up, please.” There was no response. Alexi suddenly felt angry. “Come on, dipshit, you’re not the only one hurting right now, okay? How do you think I feel, getting dragged in this fucked up situation?” Alexi wasn’t worried about people overhearing him and being outraged at his language. Dana had left for work at noon and Sam…well, who knew where Sam had run off to? Work as well, Alexi supposed, though that made a shiver run down his spine. ‘Or maybe he’s drowning his sorrow somewhere.’ “Come on, you fucker, open this goddamn door and talk to me or I’m breaking it down!” Alexi yelled, pounding his cane on the door. He forced himself to calm down. He was ready to go to his own room and sulk. ‘I can wallow in misery and self-pity as well, you fuckers. I’m becoming quite an expert at it, as a matter of fact.’ He turned his back to the door. ‘At least try the door handle, you ass-clown.’ And so he did. The door opened. ‘Brilliant, Einstein. Shout your head off in the hallway and the door is unlocked. Christ!’ H e took a few tentative steps and glanced about. It was quiet. And empty. He went to the bathroom door and tried his routine once again. “Dude, if you’re in there, I’m not going through that shit again, okay?” You have 5 seconds to answer me or I’m coming in, whether you’re naked or not.” He waited for a minute. Once again, he opened the door. And as he was once again greeted by emptiness and quiet, he became concerned. He started walking around the house. He was sure Hunter had to be somewhere inside. There was one of those black SUVs parked outside the house. Alexi was sure that ther “bodyguards” were inside. Surely, they’d have noticed Hunter walking out and Sam specifically told them they were to stay put for the time being. In the kitchen, he found Vince, sitting at the table, sipping tea and reading an evening newspaper. “Hello, Alexi. Have you misplaced something?” “What?” “You look as if you’re lost or searching for something.” Vince told him, levelly. “Oh, no. I guess I’m just a little fidgety. You know…stuck around the house and all. And I’m a little hungry as well. So, I was thinking of making a sandwich. You want one?” he asked, as he moved to the fridge. Vince stared at him for a few seconds. God, Alexi hated that stare. “No. I think I’ll just go finish my tea outside, see how the guys are doing.” Without any other explanation, Vince got p and left the kitchen. “Mmm…yes. You do that.” Alexi called after him. Then he took out his phone and called Hunter. No answer. Now, he was truly worried. ‘Where the fuck could he…’ His own thought process was interrupted, as the image of Hunter’s room flooded his memory. ‘Fuck, I’m such an idiot!’ Alexi hobbled up the stairs and made his way to Hunter’s room. The window was open. He hadn’t given it a second thought before, but now it was so painfully obvious. How could he have been so stupid? Alexi, sure, for neglecting the obvious staring him in the face, but Hunter was stupid as well. Leaving like that. What if something happened to him? He was just about to go down and tell Vince all about it, but then he saw the photo on the nightstand. He remembered Hunter showing it to him once before. The night of their talk. The two brothers, Hunter and Bran. He saw the boys’ surroundings. Hunter told him the photo had been taken at their cabin at the lake. That was it. That’s where Hunter had run off to! But how? ‘His dad’s a friggin drug dealer, moron. It’s fair to say his allowance would cover the cab fare.’ Alexi couldn’t help but wonder what his allowance would be should they all get over the whole “criminal dysfunctional family” thing. He once again fished his phone out of his pocket. He was ready to call Dana. But she was at work. Sam? ‘Hell no. Baaaaaaaaad idea.’ Vince? Alexi shuddered. He looked out the window, staring into nothingness. Then he dialed… Evan was lost in thought. He had already finished his work-out. Twice over, in fact. It always helped him think when he had to. It also helped him clear his mind at times when worries seemed to drown him. Today had been a bad day. He couldn’t focus enough to actually contemplate his situation, nor was he capable of completely shutting off his thought process. Nor did he get a real work out, due to his lack of focus. By his own estimations, he was totally and utterly screwed. He was sitting up on his bed, a book resting in his lap, almost forgotten. He’d been reading the same page for the past hour, so what was the point? His phone rang and he came crashing down to earth. He checked the caller ID and felt a lump in his throat. ‘Yup, totally screwed.’ “Hey, Evan…what’s up?” Alexi askedanswered nervously. “Hey, man. It’s good to hear from you. Your mom…Err, Dana, I mean, she called last night, told me everything would be fine, but I didn’t want to bother you…” “Right…Sure…That’s why you didn’t call…” A long, uncomfortable pause. “Listen, Alexi…” “I need to ask you a favor.” Alexi cut in. “I…I don’t know who else to call, really. It’s not like I have any friends here, you know? And the Samuels…Well, Hunter kinda ran away.” “What?!” Evan jumped off the bed. “Yeah, but I know where he is. I mean, I’m pretty sure. But I can’t get there without a ride, so…I was thinking…” “I’ll be at your place in 30 minutes, okay?” “Ummm…yeah, that’d be great.” Alexi was a bit taken aback by Evan’s eagerness. “But make sure you park around the corner, okay? Coming up to the front door is a bad idea, seeing as I don’t want anyone to know I’m leaving. Or that Hunter is gone, for that matter.” “Yeah, sure thing. Be right over.” Evan hung up. This was too good to be true. Then he sighed. ‘God, you’re playing a cruel trick on me, aren’t you? Hunter and Alexi running away? Is this my crucible? Crunch time? Do or die? The moment to decide?’ He shook his head and heaved a deep breath, then walked down stairs. Alexi got a call from Evan half an hour later, telling him he had arrived. Now all Alexi had to do was go out a back window. He made his way awkwardly unto the roof and stared down at the ground. He could feel his leg trembling. ‘Wait…I’m a fucking moron!’ Then he went back inside, calmly walked down the stairs, made sure Vince was still outside, and simplythen he walked out the back door. ‘Sneaking around is easier than I thought!’ Five minutes later, he was in Evan’s truck. Alexi was grateful that Evan had decided a real, 4-wheel, doors, roof, seats and seatbelts mode of transportation was a better choice for the occasion and had left his motorcycle at home. “Thank you so much, Evan. You didn’t have to do this.” “Sure.” Evan replied. ‘But don’t thank me yet. The jury’s still out.’ Then he glanced towards Alexi, who was looking back at him. He desperately wanted to turn around and face him. Take in the boy with all he had to offer. Really stare into those green eyes. Run his hand through his hair and caress his face. But he didn’t dare. He was desperately afraid. The paths before him couldn’t be clearer…or more different. But if he could still walk down the middle for a little while, well, then he had to. He would try and avoid the issue for as long as possible. But the moment was coming. He knew. The two boys drove off. It took them 45 minutes, spent mostly in silence, before they got to the lake. ‘You could’ve at least turned on the radio, you dumb shit.’ Evan thought. They got out of the car and stared around for a bit. It wasn’t a large lake, but there were plenty of people around, trying to enjoy the last few days of August. “Now what?” he asked Alexi, who pulled out a photo and looked down at it. “This way.” Alexi said, after seemingly cross-checking landmarks with the photo. The two walked for a few hundred feet, until they reached a playground. The swings were the same as in the photo, if a little more battered by the elements over the past few years. Alexi scanned the area around him, then his eyes settled on Hunter, sitting on the ground, close to the lake, his back to them. He was leaning on his elbows, his legs stretched before him. He seemed at peace, but Alexi knew better. He could see the storm clouds brewing around him, despite the apparent sunshine. Alexi moved towards Hunter. Evan followed hesitantly, then stopped a few feet away from the two boys, as Hunter looked up to see Alexi, who crouched down and took the other boy into a hug. Hunter was shaking. He was crying. And Alexi was trying his best to comfort him. Alexi, a kid who barely knew Hunter or his family. Yet, warmth and affection poured out of him and covered Hunter. Evan couldn’t help but feel mesmerized. He knew from the moment he saw him that Alexi was special. He didn’t understand it. He didn’t want to believe it, but it was true. Watching him care for Hunter made Evan’s heart sink. The decision was becoming increasingly harder to make. He went over to the other two. When Hunter noticed Evan, he instantly felt embarrassed. He was crying, for God’s sake! He didn’t want anyone to see him like that. Alexi was okay. He was family. But no one else. Then he felt embarrassment make way for anger. He felt betrayed. Alexi had brought Evan. ‘But that means he didn’t tell my parents where I was, otherwise they’d be here, instead of Evan.’ He felt guilt. How could he have believed Alexi would betray his trust? He wiped away his tears, sat up and shook Evan’s hand. “Look, man, sorry about the other day, when I attacked you…”Hunter started. “You WHAT?!” Alexi asked, stupefied. “Oh, yeah. I guess you were kinda dazed at that moment, so it’s no surprise you don’t remember.” Hunter chuckled. “I kinda jumped and kicked your boyfriend’s ass.” “He’s not my boyfriend!” Evan and Alexi both replied. They looked at each other for a moment, before Evan broke off the eye contact and looked away. “Anyway…”Hunter continued awkwardly. “Like I said, I kinda attacked him, thinking he had hurt you.” “And you actually survived?” Alexi answered. “Well, I’m not a fucking infant, okay? I can handle myself!” Hunter replied, a hint of irritation in his tone. “Yeah, but Evan’s…something else. I bet you sucker-punched him. He’d have pummeled you…” “Look, can we drop this?” Evan asked, uncomfortably. It was crunch time. “Can we just get out of here already?” “I’m not going anywhere.” Hunter replied. “What?” “You heard me. I ain’t going back home. Not right now, anyway.” He pulled out a set of keys. “The cabin’s right around the corner. I’m staying there, at least for tonight. I just can’t handle being at home right now.” “Your dad’s gonna kill you.” Alexi said. “Really?” Hunter laughed bitterly. “He does have that effect on his sons, doesn’t he?” Hunter turned his back to Alexi and Evan, trying to hide the fresh tears welling in his eyes. “Anyway, if you wanna stay, you’re more than welcome to join me. I even bought some eggs and sausages, so we won’t starve!” he went on, somewhat proudly, as if his ability to buy groceries proved his survival skills. Evan didn’t know what to say. It seemed providence certainly wasn’t giving him an easy out. A night in a somewhat isolated cabin, with Alexi and Hunter? It was just too easy. He cursed himself silently, then gave his ascent. He could see the large grin on Alexi’s face and felt himself go cold with dread. They had eaten. To call it “far from gourmet” would be an understatement. But hey, it was edible. Small victories and all that…Now Hunter was explaininghanding out the sleeping arrangements. “Okay, so…The bed in what is usually my bedroom is busted and I have a bad back. Fortunately, the couch in the living room is excellent. You two will share the master bedroom. There’s a queen-sized bed in there, so you two should fit in nicely.” He had to struggle to contain a snigger. ‘Oh, I’m sure they’re not QUEENS!’ he thought. Alexi plainly read what was going through his mind, because he simply rolled his eyes in exasperation. “You two should share the bed, especially with your back…” Evan said. “No, no. The couch is actually better for my aching spine. It’s…errr…custom made. Now, off you go to bed, you two.” Hunter said, winking at Alexi and causing him to blush. True enough, the bed was big enough for the two of them to be more than comfortable. “Listen…about Hunter. You should know, ignoring him is probably for the best…” Alexi started. Evan stepped close to him. He reached out a hand behind Alexi and closed the door. He still wasn’t sure what he was doing, what he was feeling and why, but one thing he understood. Desire. He wanted Alexi. He placed his hand on the small of Alexi’s back and pulled him ever closer. Damn this boy for making him feel this way. Damn his father. Damn the world and everything in it. Their lips met. Softly. Tenderly touching, as if afraid that anything stronger would break the spell. Convinced that the magic bond would hold, tenderness evolved into passion. Alexi parted his lips and Evan felt his tongue probing into his mouth. He finally threw caution into the wind and yanked Alexi off his feet and threw him on the bed. “Ooof” came the sound from Alexi, but then the boy started giggling. It was intoxicating for Evan. If only things weren’t so complicated. He stood there, watching Alexi, who was staring back, with a lopsided grin on his face. But things were simple then. All that mattered was passion and…maybe love? No, that was too much. Lust, yes, that was it. But it wasn’t lust he first felt for Alexi. It was…more. “AH, SCREW IT!” Evan yelled and he moved next to Alexi, leaning over him, covering his face in soft, caressing little kisses. Then he pulled him into a sitting position and took off his t-shirt. Alexi suddenly felt a bit shy and tried to cover himself, but Evan moved his hands away and once again looked into those deep green eyes. “Trust me, Alexi.” He ran his fingers gently down Alexi’s chest, as he once again pushed him down on the bed. He bent down and kissed Alexi once again. On the lips, on the chin, on his neck, his chest, his flat stomach. Then he looked up into Alexi’s face and waited for permission. Alexi nodded and Evan quickly undid the belt of his jeans, then the buttons. He could already feel the warmth and hardness underneath the garment. He placed his fingers inside the waistband of his jeans, as well as the boxers Alexi wore. When he pulled them off, Alexi was left naked before Evan. Beautiful. His sight drifted down Alexi’s right leg. Scars. Alexi suddenly felt very uncomfortable and tried to cover himself. “No.” Evan said, brushing aside any protest. He placed his lips on those long scars and the world dissolved for Alexi. He felt safe and loved. Soon, he drifted into ecstasy, as Evan moved up to his steely hard-on and encircled it with his strong fingers. As Evan’s hand moved ever so softly up and down, low moans started escaping Alexi and Evan tried to contain them with his mouth, as they once again started their little tongue-wrestling game. When the kiss broke, Alexi felt incomplete. He didn’t want to lose that feeling. But he soon forgot that fleeting loneliness as he felt Evan’s warm breath on his cock. Suddenly Alexi’s back arched in pleasure as he felt Evan take him in inch by inch. He was writhing with new sensations. With unimaginable pleasure. He felt his very essence being warmed for the next few minutes. Unfortunately, they truly were few and Alexi soon found himself cursing his lack of experience. He convulsed as his cock erupted deep inside Evan’s mouth. He wanted to warn him, but he couldn’t form the words. Evan didn’t stop. He kept going, nursing on Alexi’s cock until it was truly spent. Words still failed Alexi. He was dizzy. He wanted to thank Evan. To tell him how amazing it was. To repay the service. But he could only return the kiss when Evan finally moved up to face him. Finally, he spoke. “That. Was…WOW!” “Well, glad I haven’t lost my touch.” Evan replied. They both remained unmoving for a while. Alexi broke the comfortable silence. “Do you want me to…? I mean…Can I try?” Evan turned his face to him and smiled. “No, that was for you. And only you. My gift. My way to show you that I care about you. ‘That I love you’. There’s plenty of time for more. But tonight, I just wanted you to experience that and…well…” “Yes? And what…?” “Errr…simply hold each other.” Evan said, blushing. “I’ve had sex before, but never really…you know, cuddled. Never fell asleep holding someone I care about.” He continued, his eyes moist. Alexi propped himself up on one elbow and devoured Evan with his eyes. How could he never have experienced love? Someone so perfect? Someone who deserved it so much? “Sure thing.” He kissed him lightly. “But get undressed. I at least want to feast my eyes, if nothing else.” He said, grinning evilly. Evan stood and slowly started stripping. Alexi couldn’t tare his eyes off his prize. He couldn’t understand why someone so perfect would want him, but for whatever reason, he had been blessed with Evan and he wanted to take advantage of every second and every inch of his body. But not tonight. Tonight, he would respect Evan’s wishes. Naked, they lay under the covers, in each other’s arms, and drifted off to sleep. Evan awoke a few hours later, the same nagging thoughts that had been bothering him all day startling him in his sleep. He knew. That twisted fucker upstairs played another trick on him. He sure liked to mess with Evan’s life and now he made him fallwas in love with the boy he held in his arms. He couldn’t deny it. He tightened his grip on Alexi. He didn’t want to let go, no matter what. He knew what it would mean, for both of them, but he had made his decision, for better or worse and he…THEY would live with it. He smiled and kissed Alexi on the forehead. The boy stirred. A car door. Whispered conversation. Footsteps. A gun being cocked. “Fuck! Alexi. Alexi, wake up.” Evan whispered in the boy’s ear, as he shook him. “We’ve got company.”
  9. Alexi tried to go to sleep, he really did. But his mind was in overdrive. Strangely, it wasn’t the night’s events that kept him awake. Well, not the BAD things, that is. Sure, the whole thing was fucked up, but he somehow managed to lock it up, at least temporarily. ‘Jesus, when a poor psychiatrist gets a peek inside my head one day, they’ll be in line for therapy right next to me.’ He would revisit those thoughts when the time came, he was sure. But he didn’t want to deal with them right then. What was the point, anyway? He, Hunter and Evan were alright. God, Evan…Alexi closed his eyes and envisioned the boy’s face. HIS boy. His boyfriend! A huge smile spread across Alexi’s face and he was sure it was enough to illuminate the dark room. Well, it only made sense. This new feeling, this new emotion, burned so brightly inside of him, that it was only natural to show on the outside as well. Alexi imagined a radioactive green radiating from him and started giggling. He really didn’t understand what Evan could possibly see in him, but he didn’t want to think too much about that. He was sure that, if he overthought the situation, he would depress himself. He would look in the mirror and find himself lacking. Such thoughts were dangerous. He didn’t need his self-confidence to spiral down into the dark hole in which it had resided for so long. No, Evan loved him. He was sure of it. And whatever the reason, he felt blessed and the last thing he wanted was to tempt fate by asking too many questions. But there was still a lingering doubt. An idea taking seed, that when Evan has time to actually take a good long look at him or spend enough time in his presence, he’d realize what a terrible mistake he had make and kick Alexi to the curb. ‘Better to have loved and lost, eh?’ he thought. Well, if that day were to come, he didn’t want to think about it anymore. He didn’t want to bring it about himself. He’ll gladly close his eyes and let the warm emotion envelop him for as long as Evan would have him. If he were to be discarded, he’d rather not have a countdown and just bask in the glow of that love. He didn’t want to think about the future for one more second. For now, he had Evan and it was all that mattered. ‘Ignorance is bliss’. “Yo, Alexi!” Hunter’s voice broke Alexi’s train of thought. “Dude, you awake?” Hunter asked, shaking Alexi. Alexi groaned loudly. He hadn’t even heard Hunter come into his room. “Ugh. I am now, aren’t I, you little fuggrghhhrr…” he mumbled, turning his head and burying his face in the pillow. “Right, well…Ummm, I couldn’t sleep.” Hunter said, a bit sheepishly, fidgeting in place. “I thought, maybe, you know…we could talk or, you know, you’d at least keep me company?” he continued, almost timidly. Alexi didn’t turn his head, but pulled the cover away a bit. “Just get in the bed already.” Hunter grinned and practically jumped next to Alexi. Well, that certainly put all thoughts of sleep from Alexi’s head, as Hunter’s impact almost made him bounce. “Okay, no more coffee for you.” Hunter settled down. “Sorry. It’s just…I used to do this sort of thing with Bran, when I had a bad dream. It’s just…nice, you know?” Alexi finished in a murmur. Alexi sat up, resting his back against the headboard, pulling Hunter close to him. It was a bit awkward at first, but then Hunter leaned his soft cheek against Alexi’s shoulder and accepted his new brother’s comforting touch. “So, what’s on your mind, bro?” Alexi asked, breaking the silence after a while. “It’s just…tonight, you know? That was some messed up shit.” “Yeah. Next time you run away, your ass is on its own. God, I still can’t believe I agreed to stay the night. I should’ve just dragged you back.” “Yeah, as if you could…gimp.” Hunter said, pulling away abruptly and looking straight into Alexi’s eyes. The room was barely illuminated by the pale glow coming in from a street lamp, but Hunter could still see the hurt in Alexi’s bright green eyes and he felt his heart drop. ‘Fuck, is being an asshole hardwired into me or something?’”I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that. It was a joke.” “It’s alright.” “No, goddamn it, it’s not. It was a mean spirited joke. I wanted to hurt you. I thought I was over all that shit, but I guess tonight really rattled me.” “I understand.” “Do you? You seem just fine with it. Doesn’t it affect you?” “Of course it does. But…I don’t really know how to explain it. I guess, well, I’ve just been through so much that I’m able to kinda take it for now. I don’t know, accept it, I guess.” “More like bottling up, it sounds to me.” “Maybe…” Alexi shrugged his shoulders, half in acknowledgement, half in surrender. “But what if you snap one day?” Alexi gave a short bark of laughter. “Well, then I suppose you’ll need to keep me away from any guns and clock towers when it happens.” “SO not funny.” “I suppose. But I’m serious. I’m counting on you to be there. And I hope you can someday feel the same about me.” “Already do. That’s why I’m here right now, dude.” Hunter said, smiling. The two boys stared at each other for a while, then they fell into a heartfelt embrace. Again, Alexi felt that powerful sense of safety and comfort. He felt it with Evan as well. It was a bit…different. It wasn’t born of the same kind of love, but it was just as strong and meaningful. “I’ve gotta say, dude…” Hunter continued when they broke apart from each other’s embrace “Evan kinda scared the crap out of me.” “What?” Alexi asked in bewilderment. ”Yeah. Well, the whole puddle of blood on the floor thing messed me up, but…well, Evan was the one who, you know, CAUSED the puddle.” “Huh?” “Dude, where do you think the blood came from? It wasn’t Evan’s…He was cut a bit from the glass, but other than that, not a sign on him. He must’ve messed that guy up pretty badly. There was just a lot of blood.” “Where are you going with this?” Alexi asked, narrowing his eyes. What Hunter was saying resonated with Alexi on some level. He knew that. After all, he had spilled his guts, quite literally, when he saw that living room. But it sounded to him like Hunter was…accusing Evan of something. “Well, nowhere. Don’t get mad at me, okay? I know you like the guy…” “I love him!” “Whoa! You barely know him, dude. How can you say that?” “I have no idea, but I know what I’m feeling. I know how my heart starts going crazy when I think of him, how my stomach is in knots when I miss him and how safe I feel when I’m with him. I feel like I belong when I’m by his side. Maybe he doesn’t feel the same about me, Hunter, but as God is my witness, I LOVE him.” “Okay, okay. Sorry, don’t get defensive. I’m…I’m happy for you. But, it’s just that, he said those guys ran away, but their truck was still there, and he told us to stay in the bathroom for a few minutes, while he did God knows what. Dude, I’m just saying…I have a bad feeling about the guy. I’m sorry, but I just do. I think you need to be careful around him.” “Nice way to show gratitude, asswipe! He saved both our lives. And for me, that’s the second time he’s done it. What does he need to do in order to prove he’s one of the good guys? Take the guys who SHOT at us to the ER? Maybe kiss their boo-boo, make it all better?” Alexi asked, rolling his eyes sarcastically. “Honestly, you’re some piece of work!” “Okay, I’m sorry. Please, believe me. Like I said, it’s just that the whole thing kinda shook me a bit, that’s all. You’re right, he’s a good guy. And if he makes you happy, even better. I’m honestly glad you love him and as long as he returns that emotion, the kind of love you deserve, then I’m happy for you. Both of you…” “Thanks, Hunter. You just have no idea how much he means to me right now.” “Well, I hope to understand one day, if I’m lucky enough to find someone.” “A hunk like you? Yeah, THAT’ll be a problem.” And they both started chuckling. “So…what are you gonna do about school?” Hunter asked once they became serious and silence had settled. “What do you mean?” “Well, you know…they’re all gonna know.” “Know what?” Alexi asked nervously. He felt pressure building in his stomach. “About you being gay. Matt’s been babbling about it to everyone who would listen all day Saturday. When I was at the lake, before you guys came up, I got a few calls from friends at school, to “let me in” on the secret or something, I guess.” “Oh, fuck. Oh, fuck…” Alexi started rambling. “Christ, what AM I going to do?” “Well, chill, okay? Most people really won’t care. I’m sure quite a lot of people knew about Evan, if not everyone, but they never gave him any shit about it.” Hunter paused and rubbed at his chin thoughtfully. “Well, not after he kicked Matt’s ass last year, anyway.” “Well, that’s just great. I either need to beat him over the head with my cane, or cling to Evan in the hopes that he’ll protect me 24/7.” “Oh, relax, will you, ya little sissy? You’re not alone in school, you know? I’m there as well.” Alexi snorted. “What? You think I’m useless or something? I’ll have you know, just because I hide in bathtubs when armed men break in, it doesn’t mean I’m a coward!” Hunter huffed indignantly. “Okay, okay. Settle down, bad boy. Didn’t mean to wound your pride. I guess I’m just a little scared. Well, A LOT…” “I told you, don’t worry. Most people don’t really care. Sure, they’ll whisper and gossip and maybe stare a bit at first, but that’s just because of the novelty of the thing. Pretty much like a foreign exchange student or something. After a while, they’ll settle down. If you actually decide to come out, that is.” “But you said…” “Yeah, but it’s still Matt’s word against yours. That’s why I asked you how you’re gonna deal with it. You can deny it. Heck, after Evan kicked his ass, a lot of people could see this whole thing as his pathetic attempt to get back at you or something.” “Fuck, high-school politics make Congress look easy.” “Indeed. So?” Alexi thought about the situation. Hunter was right. He could deny it. And most people would probably believe him. But that night with Hunter, the following morning with his parents…he had decided to stop lying about it and he was adamant in his resolve. No more lying. There was the option of ignoring it all. Go the “no comment” route. But that would just further fuel the flames of hearsay. And he’d rather have the gossip out of the way as soon as possible. It was like Hunter said, they’d get over it eventually. By neither admitting nor denying the “allegations”, he would only prolong his own misery, by giving the rumormongers ammunition for weeks, possibly more. “Just like a Band-Aid.” “What?” “Rip it off…Get it over with. What’s the worst that can happen? I’ve had crazed men with guns try to kill me twice this week. I think I can survive a bit of high-school drama, especially if I have Evan with me.” Alexi finished, the smile back on his face, as his thoughts turned back towards his love. He was sitting at a large, rectangular table, in the corner of the restaurant. It was empty, aside from their own little party. He was glancing around nervously, wiping his sweating palms on his pants once in a while. ‘Fuck, I’m gonna stain them with grease or something.’ “Stop fidgeting, bastard!” Eric said, leaning to whisper in Evan’s ear from the seat to his right. “Behave yourself or it’ll be both our heads. We need to make an impression together, got it? You need to prove yourself worthy, and I need to prove that I’ve done right with you. So stay still, damn you, and straighten your back.” Evan complied immediately. He was already far taller than Eric, even at 15. And he was very skilled when it came to fighting, but there was something about Eric that brook no argument. It was in those mean, black eyes. A certain emptiness. Something that made him feared. Something that kept Evan in his place. Evan looked at the good-looking young man sitting across from him. Again, that emptiness. Hosea had a relaxed, somewhat lazy posture. It was the opposite of Eric’s rigor, but he still managed to exude menace. The sneer he gave Evan certainly didn’t help any. Oh, yes, Hosea, didn’t like his younger half-brother. Why would he? Hosea was almost identical to his father. A true heir to the throne. He had barely turned 20, but he still gave off the same unmistakably alpha male vibe that his father did. Whereas Evan was every bit like his mother, except for his height. That he had inherited from his father. And in came the man himself, Myke Henson, that regal posture of his and all. ‘God, all he needs is a damn mantle and a crown…’ Evan thought. The man came to the table and Hosea, Evan and Eric got to their feet, to show their respect. Henson shook Eric’s hand. “Dad…” Hosea said, extending his own arm. Henson barely glanced at Hosea, then ignored him completely and turned to Evan. “So, my boy. Eric says you’ve been progressing quite nicely. You might actually become useful to me. You see, I love my family, Evan. I really do. It’s the most important thing to me. To most people, I’m sure. That’s why I want you close to me. I won’t actually acknowledge you as my son, I’m afraid. You’re more valuable to me if people don’t know the full extent of our relationship, you understand?” Evan nodded meekly. “But like I said, you’re family and family comes first, so I’ll take care of you. All you have to do is remember who your family is and be ready to help me when the time comes. You can do that, can’t you?” Evan nodded timidly once more. “Good. Good. How ‘bout we drink some wine, eh? Celebrate a bit.” He signaled one of the waiters standing across the room to bring them some drinks. “I love this restaurant. My great-grandfather opened it in 1928. It’s where it all started, boys. Our family.” The waiter filled their glasses. “Drink up, drink up.” “What are we celebrating, dad?” Hosea asked. “Why, family, of course, son.” Henson responded, turning to his son. “And your new business arrangement.” Hosea swallowed nervously. “My what?” “Now, now, don’t be modest. I know all about your little plans. Well, GRAND plans, really.” Henson turned his gaze back to Evan. “Your brother…he’s a sneaky one, he is. Well, can’t really say I’m surprised. I was just as ambitious at his age. Not as stupid, but still, the always reaching for the sky.” “Dad, I…It’s not like that. It was meant for you. I mean, sure, I made the deal, but you’d be the beneficiary in the end.” “Will you listen to that? Beneficiary, he says…Makes me laugh, he does. You don’t have his sense of humor, do you, Evan?” Evan shook his head from side to side. “Yes, I can see that. You’re serious. Very focused. Eric told me that. That’s good. Very good.” Myke drained his glass and smiled at Eric. “Good shit, huh?” He pushed his chair from the table a bit and turned to face Hosea. “As I was saying, boy…family. It’s the most important thing to me. And others as well. Do you agree that it’s the number one thing for real men?” “Yes, dad, of course. You know, I was actually gonna ask Vi to marry me soon.” “Good, that’s great to hear. So, if you understand the importance of family, can you please tell me why the FUCK did you shoot and kill the Samuels’ son yesterday?” “Dad…He said it was the best way to do it. That he’d then have better access, take advantage of the situation and hand me…us…YOU the whole business.” “You fucking killed his son! Do you have any idea the kind of war you’ve started? You fucking moron! Not only do you betray me by making a deal behind my back, a deal that would eventually end with me in a grave, I’m sure, but you put EVERYTHING I’ve built in danger by making a retarded move. Family, Hosea…You tried to destroy one and you betrayed another.” Myke shook his head in disappointment and disgust, then pulled out a pistol. Evan’s eyes were as big as saucers. He wanted to get the hell out of there. Run and don’t look back. But he was glued to that spot. It was fear, he knew that feeling well, but it was more than that. Was it…curiosity? Yes, he wanted to see how things played out. And there was even more than that. Hosea hated him, so seeing the discomfort, no, the TERROR on his face gave Evan pleasure. “Evan, you’d never do something as stupid as Hosea, would you?” “N-n-no, sir.” Evan replied “I believe you. But damn, boy, you need to be more assertive. Speak up, make yourself heard, impose respect. You’re gonna need that in order to fulfill your potential, son. And I think we’re gonna start making a real man out of ya today. Get up.” Evan’s eyes darted back and forth between his father’s gaze, fixed on Hosea, and his gun, held loosely in his hand, pointing nowhere in particular. “Come on, get to your feet.” Myke repeated, as he got up himself. Evan stood on trembling feet. “Come here, close to me.” His father said. And so Evan did. His father’s word, a command in its purest form. Myke pulled him in front of himself. Suddenly, he placed the pistol in Evan’s right hand. Hosea didn’t dare move from his seat. He was sure his father was just trying to scare him, teach him a lesson. Oh, he’d certainly learned it. He’d stay in his place from now on. He had been stupid, alright. He could see that. Ambition got the better of him. But he’d keep his head down, do whatever his dad told him to do, accept any punishment, work his ass off and make his father proud once more. Myke took hold of Evan’s arm and raised it until the gun was pointed straight at Hosea’s head, then he talked softly in Evan’s ear. “Do it, Evan. Shoot him.” Evan started trembling and he could see his half-brother experiencing the same reaction. The horror he saw in Hosea’s eyes no longer pleased him. It made his eyes well up with tears. He couldn’t…Surely, his father was kidding. Or trying to scare Hosea. Yeah, that was it…The gun probably wasn’t even loaded. It must’ve been a test as well. His father was testing him. Two birds, one stone, as it were. Teach Hosea a lesson and see if Evan had it in him to do anything he was told, to prove his usefulness. But he still couldn’t do it. An asshole he may be, but Hosea was still his own blood. Half of it, maybe, but it still made him the only living relation he had except for the man who placed the gun in his hand. He just couldn’t. “Dad…” he whimpered. “Dad, he’s family, you said…” “ He screwed over his family, Evan. You don’t do that without consequences. Now shoot.” “Dad, I can’t…” “Shoot, prove to me how much you love me. Prove to me you’re faithful. Prove that you’re useful and obedient. Prove that you’re mine.” “Dad…” “Prove that you have more of me in you than you do that dirty whore of a mother. Show me that you don’t deserve to follow her down the gutter.” “But, dad…” Evan whispered, through sobs. “SHOOT!” And he did. He squeezed the trigger and the thunder cracked loudly in the small restaurant. The gore was terrible…and fascinating. Even as he vomited at what he’d done, he understood what the horrible hollowness in Eric’s eyes was. It was the emptiness he’d see in the mirror from that day on. There was no going back now. Evan woke up covered in cold sweat and shaking. He couldn’t move for a good half hour. If he did, he was afraid he’d collapse to the floor and lay there until he died. But he thought of Alexi. He thought of that sweet soul and how much better than Evan he deserved. He thought about what he had originally set to do and it made him sick. But that would never come to pass. He would make sure of it. He’d die first. He had made his choice and knew then, perhaps better than ever before, that he had chosen well. Alexi was his only chance at salvation. He needed him. He anchored himself in the image of Alexi’s beautiful smile and hauled himself out of bed. He dragged his feet as he went to take a shower and then went to the kitchen for breakfast. Or lunch, as he noticed the clock on the wall. 12:47. He had barely opened the fridge when Eric came into the kitchen, bleary-eyed and in a foul mood. ‘Heh, at least the fucker didn’t get much rest last night either.’ “You sure made a mess out there.” Eric said coldly. “Could’ve been worse.” Evan said, shrugging. “Oh, it certainly could be...” Eric replied, an evil grin spreading on his lips. “Your father wants to see you…”
  10. The house was just as Evan remembered it, though he had only been there just the one time, five years previous. Large. Ostantatious. Ominous somehow, despite the perfect landscaping, including neatly trimmed hedges, manicured trees and rows upon rows of flowers or the ivy spreading on the walls of the manor. It was one of the oldest houses in town, unlike the Samuels residence, in that relatively new housing development. No wonder his father felt superior. He was raised to be that way. Never mind that their whole family’s status had been gained through illegal activties. True enough, it wasn’t until him that drugs became a large part of it, but Evan knew all too well that the little restaurant wasn’t where it all started. He walked from the car towards the house, keeping his eyes fixed on the door. That large, red double-door. Why red? It had puzzled him that first time and then it was burned into his memory. It had stayed with Evan for the past five years. When he went through that door that time, he had been a broken man. He smiled. A broken boy. He’d lost everything and was on the edge of the precipice. His father’s connections in the system flagged him and he had been saved. Or so he thought. But he knew now. He had walked in broken, but once he left with Eric that day, he had started decomposing, slowly, piece by piece. If only he knew then...He shook his head. He needed his mind to be clear. He glanced back over his shoulder and Eric was there, just three feet away, smirking malevolently. He put on his trademark “Fuck you” grin, opened the door and walked in, striding confidently towards his father’s study. He knew the way. The house hadn’t changed one bit and he knew the way… When he got to the sliding door which led to the study, a young man stepped in his way, placing a hand on his chest. Evan knew the kid by sight. He wasn’t even 20. Christ, it looked like he still had peach fuzz. Alexi didn’t really have any facial hair either. Evan felt his heart swell at the thought of his boyfriend. He had seen the kid in front of him three, maybe four times before, talking to Eric. Probably relaying information from his father. Eric, though a trusted advisor, a true right-hand man, was in what some might have considered exile. Babysitting the fag bastard. Evan still laughed each time when he remembered the look on the man’s face when Myke Henson, the man he worshipped, the man for whom he would die, slapped him in the face by giving him the ”honor” of becoming Evan’s legal guardian and putting the two together in a house on the other side of town, with as little direct contact as possible. That also included phone calls, though some matters could still be discussed that way. Just not the ones that mattered. “Chris, right?” Evan asked. “I…Err…Yeah. Christian, actually.” The young man replied. “Well, ain’t that just fucking special.” Evan remarked drily. “Say, Chris, you think you can jerk off with your left hand?” “What?” “Well, if you don’t take your right hand from my chest, I’ll remove it myself. Permanently.” Evan made sure to look Christian straight in the eyes as he said this. ‘Look and see if I’m bluffing.’ He thought. He hated doing it. He hated intimidating people. He hated threatening them. But he also knew not to make a threat unless he was prepared to follow up on it. Christian broke eye contact and moved aside. “Don’t worry. I’m not armed.” Evan said as he slid the door open and walked in, Eric at his heels. Not like a faithful puppy, but like a hyena anticipating a slaughter and ready to nibble on the remains. His father was seated behind his huge wooden desk. He was reading something off a piece of paper he held in his hands. Evan knew not to interrupt him, so he glanced around the room. The same floor-to-ceiling library, filled with what must have been thousands of leather-bound books. Evan barely contained his snort. His great-great-grandfather had been illiterate for most of his life. But he started the collection once he became successful enough. He had been determined to turn his family into something akin to European aristocracy, even if it took stealing, bribing, kidnapping and murder to do it. So, basically, EXACTLY like aristocracy. Evan knew that his father had read most of the books there. ‘Great-great-granddad would be soooo proud!’ The two men standing near the left-hand wall were new additions to the room. They weren’t statues, though one might not be able to tell that from simply looking at them. Unmoving, expressionless. People Eric personally had hired. Evan strained his memory in order to place the two men. Normally, he didn’t do too well with names, but he had made it a point to learn as much as possible about the men he, Eric and his father dealt with. “Ah, Hick and Redneck.” Evan addressed the two men. They stared at him coldly. “Hicks and Radnick!” one of them said. The one on the right. Evan had no idea which one was which. Really, the men could be brothers. The same height, around 6 feet, the same large, muscular frame, the same squared jaw and clean-shaven face, the same buzz-cut. ‘Hot dang, if they’re not walking, breathing, Marines commercials’. Evan remembered their names, but he loved getting a rise out of them. They really were Marines. Well, had been. Evan finally recalled everything he knew about them. His father was nothing if not ambitious, even though that same quality had brought about the death of his other son, Hosea. It depends on how one applies that ambition, Evan supposed. Myke Henson applied it by trying to supply the brave men and women in the Armed Forces with much needed stress relief. People like Hicks and Radnick were his dealers on the inside. He had people on Naval and Army bases in at least five states. Heck, a lot of young men enlisted especially to fill the role required. True undercover agents. ‘Yup, nothing if not ambitious. And fucking daring.’ Of course, it didn’t always work. Take one Petty Officer Hicks and one Sergeant Radnick for example. They’d been caught in possession. They couldn’t pin them with intent to sell, because they didn’t have enough on them. His father wasn’t stupid. He only made sure they had enough to give potential customers a taste or two. Sample the merchandise. Then, if they were truly interested, they’d arrange a sizeable transaction. Sometimes, dozens of enlisted men and even officers pooled money together, in order to cover the minimum cost and then meet off-base, in a controlled location. Still, both of them had done a year each in the Fort Knox Correctional Facility and, of course, had been dishonorably discharged. That didn’t stop them from playing the Marines now, though. Maybe that’s why Eric liked them so much. They enjoyed taking orders and they seemed quite loyal to him. “Please leave me alone with my son.” Myke Henson said, looking up from the paper. “But…”Eric started to protest. Myke simply raised an eyebrow and Eric bowed his head, turning purple, either with rage or humiliation. Probably both. He gestured at the two ex-Marines to follow him and they did. “Yes, boys. Heel. Good boys!” Evan made sure he put in a last remark, that same “Fuck you” smile on his face, reserved all for Eric. “Sit down, Evan.” Myke said once the door was closed, gesturing towards one of the straight-back chairs in front of the desk. Evan complied. Myke placed his elbows on the desk, leaned forward and steepled his fingers. He looked Evan up and down. Evan had no more real fear of this man. He had moved past it, but he still squirmed a bit on the inside once his father started that “I shall now appraise you and find you lacking” gaze. “You wanted to see me?” Evan broke the silence. He wanted the evaluation to stop. “Well, you’re here, aren’t you?” “Indeed. May I ask what the reason for this…summons is?” “Don’t be obstreperous. I just thought we should have a talk. Lay our cards on the table.” “Like you did with Hosea?” His father leaned back in his chair, looking away from Evan. “That was different. He wasn’t just defying me, he was plotting against me. You’re not.” “Plotting? But I’m defying you, is that it?” “Well, aren’t you?” “How so?” “The Samuels kid and his new foster brother…” “Oh, so it WAS you…” “Me what?” “You sent those guys after them.” “No, I didn’t. Neither did Eric. It was…a business partner. The same one Hosea had, as a matter of fact.” “Oh, so you’re actually going through with his plan?” “No. Not exactly. I told you that from the start. Which is why I left you in peace when you told me you’d do it your way. I’m all for hostile negotiations, but I don’t want a blood bath. I’d rather have a peaceful takeover and the Samuels retiring than getting into a street war that will cost us even if we win. Hell, even with all the political connections in the world, I won’t be able to prevent the shitstorm that will fall on us if things get too out of hand. Samuels may be a small-timer by comparison, but he’ll go down fighting, especially if his sole desire is vengeance. Killing his son and this Alexi kid would be moronic. That’s one thing Hosea didn’t understand.” “But then…” “I told you, it’s not me. This partner wants it done that way. I can’t tell you why for now. Just know I disagree with him, which is why I’m glad you did what you did.” “So how come you think I’m defying you?” “Ah…see…That’s where our original plan comes in. Remember? When I placed you in that school and asked you to get close to Hunter Samuels, I told you that one day you’d be asked to take him.” Evan nodded. “You never got close to Hunter. Your…charms failed you. I honestly thought that was one good use for your…homosexuality. Regardless, a new opportunity arouse. The new boy.” “Alexi…” Evan said softly. “I’ve been informed about him. I saw how much he resembles the dead son. Probably why they took him in. Having him would at least open up a dialogue. We could go from there. Negotiate.” “Negotiate what?” “I told you. Samuels’ retirement. I simply want him to go away. Leave his life of crime behind him. It doesn’t suit him anyway. Killing his sons would only drive him mad. Cause him to throw everything he has at us. Holding his sons as leverage opens a whole new world of possibilities. I’m a man of peace, Evan. I resort to violence when there’s need. You know that better than anyone. But f things can be handled in a different manner, then it’s my duty to at least try it. So, you were told to take this Alexi kid and you didn’t.” Evan remained silent. “Furthermore, you had both he AND Hunter in your grasp just last night. You didn’t need to kill them, but simply take them to Eric.” “And that would be a death sentence. He’d never let them live, even if Samuels complied. I told you. I’m done killing for you. Even indirectly. I don’t care what happens. I’m too disgusted at myself to be afraid of what the repercussion might be. I have too much blood on my hands to wash it out in all the years I have left. But I can at least stop adding new stains.” Myke Henson looked at his son. Truly looked at him. It wasn’t that penetrating stare he used so often to intimidate people, or his judging gaze. He looked into Evan’s eyes and peeked inside his soul. Past the hollowness. “There’s more, isn’t it?” he asked. “What do you mean?” “You love him…” “Who?” Evan asked, his heart pumping faster and faster. “This Alexi boy. It’s not just your conscience rearing its ugly head. And it’s certainly not Hunter, since you failed to get close to him. But this boy…You’re doing it for him. Defying me. Defying your family.” Evan’s heart rate was through the roof. He remembered all too well what happened when Hosea went against his family. But he couldn’t help it. The words just came spilling out. “Yes. I love him. And for whatever reason, I think he loves me too.” Evan hung his head in defeat. “Get it over with, then. Because I swear to God…” he returned his eyes to his father and this time fire burned in them. “…I won’t let you or anyone else hurt a single hair on that boy’s head. I’ll fight you tooth and nail, I’ll die with my hands around your throat. I’d lay my life down to make sure he’s never hurt again.” The fire burned brighter and brighter. “So, either take that gun you have in your lap and shoot me before I get to my feet and jump over the desk and rip your head off, or let me go, knowing I’ll keep my promise to protect Alexi no matter what.” Myke grabbed the gun with lightning speed and aimed it at Evan, who had enough time to get to his feet. “From this range, I can’t miss even as small a target as your brain, boy.” Henson said. Neither of them moved. “Christ, I still can’t believe I have a fag for a son. But you showed me your potential. You showed me what you’re really made of. I can respect that. Though, how the family business is actually supposed to stay in the family for the next generation with you chasing cock instead of pussy, I don’t know. I suppose I’m still young enough to do it myself.” Myke sighed and lowered the gun. “You can have your cripple. No one will touch him. Except you, I suppose…But Hunter’s fair game. I still want this takeover to happen. And my partner still thinks killing them is the way to go. I suppose, in a way, me getting there first would be a good thing, so you really should be cheering me on, son. Anyway…you get what you want. Alexi and peace…for the time being. I won’t call on you anymore. But it’s a part of you now, son. I see it in you just as much as in Eric. You like killing, even if you try to deny it. Heh…You can’t help it that you’re gay. It’s who you are. And you can’t help it that you’re a killer. That’s just as much a part of you. It was there before Hosea. I just brought it to the surface. You always had it in you. So…Go. Have your fun with that boy. I’ll be waiting for your return…” Evan turned and walked out of the room, not daring to speak. He had done it. He had confronted his father. He could have Alexi. Keep him safe. ‘But what about Hunter? Alexi cares about him, I could see that last night. Can I just leave him behind?’ The answer came all too easily. ‘Yes, you can. You’re not a goddamn hero. You’re not a nice guy. You’re not doing it for selfless reasons. If you hadn’t fallen so hard for this kid, you’d have no problem doing what dad said.’ What his father said. It nagged at him. Was he truly a killer at heart? Would he get bored with Alexi and return to what he knew best? Would he hurt the boy he now loved? Emotionally, if not physically? No, his father couldn’t be right. He’d prove it to him. He HAD TO. Just like everything else his father thought him incapable of doing, he’d prove it to him again. Show him he could change… Monday morning, Alexi stood in front of the school. Despite his talk with Hunter, he was scared. Again, he couldn’t believe how the idea of some humiliation at school could be so frightening to him when he lived in a family of drug dealers and assassins were after him. It was ridiculous. It was hilarious. It was…high-school. “Band-Aid, remember?” Hunter said, placing his hand on Alexi’s shoulder. “Yeah, I guess. I just wish Evan were here with us.” Alexi said sadly. He hadn’t spoken with Evan since Saturday night, when he had dropped him off. He desperately needed the comfort his very presence provided. But he wasn’t there. “But you’re not chopped liver now, are you?” he said to Hunter, forcing a smile on his face. “Quite right.” And they walked into the school. The corridor was bustling with activity, yet the world seemed to stop when the two boys walked in. Alexi could feel everyone’s eyes on him. ‘Stop it, you paranoid moron. It’s probably just like 80-90% of them that are staring at you!’ He heard the snickers and the occasional insult being hurled at him as he walked towards his locker, leaning more on Hunter than on his cane. He needed the emotional support, not relief for his leg. Slowly, they made their way to the locker. “Oh, look. Decorations!” Hunter exclaimed as he looked at the word “fag” spray-painted on the locker. He turned towards the amused crowd and addressed them loudly. “That really is some fine handwriting, you know. And it’s pink. I mean, how cute is that? Thanks, guys. I always thought you knew how to make someone feel welcome.” He gave them a huge smile, then turned and hung his arm across Alexi’s shoulders. Alexi still felt hurt, but at least he wasn’t alone anymore. He had Hunter by his side. “HEY, YOU!” came a loud voice from across the hall. Neither Alexi nor Hunter could see who it was through the sea of people, but the voice sounded familiar. Alexi felt his heart rate go up as Evan pushed his way through the students. When he reached the two boys, he looked down into Alexi’s face, where every last bit of apprehension had been replaced by excitement at the sight of his boyfriend. “Sorry I’m late. Hunter…” he shook the blond boy’s hand, without really looking at him. “Loverboy…” he addressed Alexi, leaning in close to him. “Evan…” Alexi started, but his words were lost as Evan pulled him in and kissed him deeply, passionately, possessively, right there, in front of everyone. When they broke the lip lock, his first instinct was to pull Evan back in. Then, taking in the silence that had settled around him, he thought running away as fast as one good leg would allow was the smart choice. Evan smiled warmly at him, winked and then turned to the crow. “Yes, we’re fucking gay. It’s not really a novelty. You already knew about me. Didn’t you, Matt?” Evan asked, noticing the jock standing behind a group of girls. The look Evan gave Matt was enough to make the football player shrink into his jacket. “Now, get on with your lives, please. Anyone who has a problem with the situation…Please, see me after school.” Evan said, an evil glint in his eye. Then, cheery once again, he took Alexi’s hand and walked him to class, Hunter right behind him. Evan was whistling happily as they walked, Hunter and Alexi still too shell-shocked to speak. “See you at lunch?” Evan asked, when Alexi and Hunter were at the door of the History class they shared. “Ummm…sure…” Alexi managed to squeak out an answer. “Can’t wait.” Evan replied, before giving Alexi one more kiss, winking at Hunter and walking away towards his own class. Hunter could swear Evan was almost skipping down the hall. SKIPPING, for fuck’s sake! “What the hell was that?” Hunter asked when he regained some of his composure. “A Band-Aid, I guess.” Alexi answered and both boys started laughing. It was Friday. Alexi had made it through the whole week at school with nothing more than a few snickers and the occasional stare here and there. And the teachers were great. Most acted like nothing had happened, even though the whole incident had been the subject of discussion among the staff. Alexi knew that from the Principal, who assured him that the school had a zero tolerance policy in relation to discrimination of any kind. Some of the teachers were even openly supportive. Alexi had never thought something like that was possible. Maybe Sam had it right all along. He put thoughts of school away. It was a holiday weekend. Labor Day and the opportunity to spend time with Evan. While they spent as much time together as possible during the week at school, Evan never seemed to want to come by Alexi’s house. He didn’t really know why, but he suspected Dana had been a bit harsh with him the previous Saturday night. After all, he was the oldest. He was supposed to have been responsible and brought them home, thus avoiding what happened. But it did happen and Evan had saved them. He was a hero, for fuck’s sake. Dana shouldn’t make him feel unwelcome! Alexi had suggested going to Evan’s place, but he quickly shot down the idea. “I have an asshole roommate. He’s really homophobic. He doesn’t know about me and I’d like to keep it that way.” Was Evan’s reply. Alexi found that odd, considering the way Evan basically challenged the whole school by being so open about their relationship, but he put the thought out of his head. All that mattered was that the weekend was there and he had something special planned. “YOU WANT TO DO WHAT?!” Dana asked, incredulity clearly etched on her face. “I want to go home.” Alexi replied. “Just this weekend. I…I want to see the old place one last time.” “But why?” Dana asked. “I didn’t really have a chance to…you know, say good-bye. Closure, you know? It was my home for 15 years. I…I want to see it properly one last time, not have my last memory of the place be…What happened that day…” he trailed off. “Besides, I’d like to get some of my stuff as well. It’s still there, isn’t it? I mean, the bank didn’t foreclose or anything?” “Err, no, not exactly…We…we kinda bought the house.” Dana said. “You did what, now?” “We bought it. We…wanted to level it.” “What? Why?” “Because we were afraid that you’d want to do this. Just, not this soon. Alexi, we just want what’s best for you and we think that going back there would only hurt you. Open up old wounds.” “No. I need this.” Alexi said somberly. “It could open up old wounds, yes. But I also think it’s the only way to heal some of them.” Dana sighed and turned her head towards Sam, who was sitting next to her on the couch, but he might as well have been on another planet, staring off into space, as he was. He still hadn’t gotten over the events of the morning where he made his true self known to Hunter and Alexi. And yet another attack on his sons only the past weekend did nothing to alleviate the sorrow, regret and anger he felt. “What do you think?” Dana asked him. “About what?” “About what Alexi just said.” “Huh? Oh, right…going back to the city for a visit. Whatever you think is right, dear.” He said, then he got up and left the room, the same dazed look in his eyes. Dana shook her head as she watched her husband walk away. She could see the man breaking apart, piece by piece, and she couldn’t do anything to stop it. It was almost as bad as when Bran died. She turned her attention back to Alexi. “Fine, but Vince is going with you.” “No, he’s not.” Alexi replied. “Excuse me? You’ll do as you’re told, young man.” “I already told you that I owe you and your family everything, Dana. But this isn’t something you can force on me. I need to do this alone. Just me and Evan.” “Evan?” Dana spat out the name. “Yes. I don’t exactly understand why you’re being so hostile towards him. He saved me. And Hunter. And he’s a wonderful guy and I…I love him. I need him there by my side. Him and only him. Besides, he’s more than capable of protecting me, if necessary.” “Alexi…” “Dana, I’ll forever be grateful to you and I already think of you as my mother, but this isn’t open for discussion...Please respect my choice right now and trust me.” “I still can’t believe she let you go.” Evan said. It was Saturday morning and he had just picked up Alexi and his small overnight bag from his house and they were now on their way out of town in Evan’s truck. “I thought she’d never let you anywhere near me again.” “I’d never let anyone get in our way. Not even her.” Alexi said seriously and Evan felt his smile spread wide. He truly felt the love emanate from Alexi. Love for him. “Though I feel a bit sorry about leaving Hunter alone. He’s still grounded, you know. Poor guy. He looked like a sad puppy when I told him I wouldn’t be around for the weekend.” “Well, anyone would feel that way. I mean, being denied the opportunity to spend a weekend with you…I certainly know my heart would break into a million pieces.” “Oh, for the love of…Can you be more corny?” Alexi asked, giggling. “Yeah, I can.” Evan replied, taking his right hand off the wheel and taking Alexi’s left hand, their fingers interlocking. “Evan, can you stop here a bit?” Alexi asked as he looked around the neighborhood. They had entered the city 20 minutes earlier and, after navigating traffic and using some side streets as shortcuts, Alexi recognized the old red-brick building. “Sure. But why? There are no houses around here. “No, you’re right. We’re still about twenty blocks away.” “Then why did you want me to stop?” Alexi pointed at the building. “That’s my church.” “What?” “The church my parents and I went to. It’s the only Russian-Orthodox one in the city. My dad was really religious.” “Was he? Alexi...you don’t have to, but I still wish you’d tell me more about your parents. Give me the whole picture of what happened.” “I can’t. Not yet.” Evan knew better than to push further. After all, he had enough skeletons in his own closet to constitute an Indian burial ground. They’d both talk about their pasts when the time came. “Evan, do you believe in God?” Alexi asked after a few moments of silence. “Not really. Not anymore.” Evan replied without giving the question much thought. “Why?” “Because I don’t think God would be as cruel as he appears to be, if he really existed.” “You think so?” “Yeah. Why, are you…you know, religious?” “Not per se, no. I’m not really the church-going type, even though my dad dragged me and my mother to this place as often as possible. I’m not really a believer in the Church as an institution, that’s all.” “But…” “But I do believe in a God. A higher power. Something that somehow guides us.” “So, you also believe in destiny?” “Yeah, I suppose. It’s complicated, so bare with me, okay? I see it as a combination of factors. You know the whole free will thing, right?” “Yeah.” “And that would appear to come into contradiction with destiny. The great design and so on, right?” “Makes sense.” “But why can’t both co-exist?” “How so?” “I think every man has multiple destinies. Multiple paths. As children, we start on the pre-established path. Then, as we mature, we’re presented with dilemmas. Choices. That’s where the free will comes in. It’s like a crossroads. You’re on your path, a problem occurs and you have to make a decision. A choice. You can go left or right, or keep going straight ahead. So, you have the choice, right?” “Yes…” Evan said uncertainly. “Right, but each of those roads are already paved. As in, the paths are there already. Multiple fates, you know? Pre-established, but each of them different, according to your choice. Kinda like a multiple answer question, you know?” “Yeah, I guess I understand.” “And I don’t believe God is cruel. I think that at least one of those paths leads to happiness. I have to believe that.” Alexi said, looking at Evan, tears brimming in his eyes. “I have to believe that something good is ahead of me. Otherwise, I don’t know if I can go on.” Evan pulled Alexi to him and kissed him softly, just enough to show him the depth of his love for him. “I know something good is waiting for you, Alexi. You deserve to be happy. I just hope I’ll at least be part of that something.” “God, I hope so too. I don’t want you to leave me. Promise me you won’t.” “I swear.” Evan said, sealing his promise with a kiss. “So, you think destiny brought us together?” “Yeah, why not? Maybe you’re like a guide or something. To take me down the right path.” “Talk about corny.” Evan said and he received a punch to the shoulder as reward for his remark. “Wait…what about being gay? Is that a choice thing?” Alexi laughed bitterly. “Definitely not. Who would choose to be hated and subjected to abuse?” “S&M fans?” Evan asked laughing. “Point taken.” Alexi admitted, laughing himself. “But still…” he continued solemnly “…I think that part’s definitely destiny. Probably from birth, even if most of us don’t realize it until much later on. I think the choice thing also plays a part. Like, say, choosing whether or not to accept yourself or come out. Some people will, some won’t, even getting married and trying to lead a heterosexual life. I think what awaits people at the end of the path they choose when making that decision is different for everyone. Some might find happiness in that life. Some might not. I guess we can never know, no matter what the dilemma is. Which is what makes life interesting in the first place. At the end of the day, the best any of us, gay, straight, old, young, male, female or in-between, can do is hope. Hope for the best. Hope we make the wise decision and walk the path in front of us, hope the destination is worth the journey.” The boys sat in silence for a few minutes, staring through the windshield at the blue sky. “Damn, that’s some pretty deep shit.” Evan finally said. “Yeah. Hehe.” Alexi giggled. “It’s just something that’s always gone through my mind, I guess. I talked to one more person about it once…” “Yeah?” “Yes.” Alexi straightened in his seat. “In fact, I think I need to talk to him. I haven’t since before…Come on.” He said, getting out of the car. “Wait. Where are we going?” Evan locked the car and hurried to Alexi’s side as he walked towards the church. “I want you to meet someone…”
  11. Alexi hobbled into the church, Evan at his back. He stopped as soon as he passed the threshold and took a deep, steadying breath, closing his eyes, allowing the old familiar smells to flow into him. ‘Ah, incense…’ A small smile curved his lips even as a shudder ran through him, bringing back old memories. “You okay?” Evan whispered, putting his hand on the small of Alexi’s back. “Yeah…Not here, okay?” he answered, as he stepped away from Evan’s comforting touch. Alexi crossed himself and moved towards the front of the empty church. Evan stayed at the back, observing with a frown as Alexi stood in front of an icon and prayed silently, his head bowed. A few minutes later, the two boys were once again next to each other, in the back of the dimly-lit building, each consumed by their own thoughts. Finally, Evan broke the silence, though he still kept his voice hushed. “I thought you said you didn’t actually believe in the Church as an institution.” “I don’t.” “So what was all that about?” “Tradition, mostly. The Church may be a corrupt and manipulative entity as a whole, but I suppose this is a case where some parts are better than the sum, if that makes any sense.” “Not really, no.” “There are good people to be found everywhere, Evan. Including inside a church. And some beliefs are so strong that even the most skeptical of us find themselves unable to shake them. Take that icon. It’s supposed to do miracles.” Evan snorted derisively and Alexi raised his hand in acceptance. “Don’t get me wrong, I really don’t buy that it cries blood or anything like that. But a lot of people do. And others put all their conviction into it, even if it’s not rational. I guess, it’s about a symbol. Some sort of actual physical representation of a divine, invisible force. It’s easier to believe in something you see, you know?” “But what about that whole fake idols commandment thing?” Alexi couldn’t stifle his giggle.”Yes…the commandment thing. Icons are actually an exception from the rule. And when you have something like that…” Alexi pointed towards the front of the church “well, like I said, it’s just easier to believe. And it gives people comfort. Hope.” “Yeah, fake hope.” “Perhaps. Probably. Who knows?” Alexi said, shrugging. “But it’s still important, Evan. It was for me, at the most trying of times. You have no idea how many times I thought God has forsaken me.” “I wouldn’t be so sure about that…” “What?” “You’re not the only one with a past, Alexi…” Evan closed his eyes. ‘This is it. I have to tell him. I have to…’ “Evan…You know I’m here to listen, right? I mean, I know I haven’t actually been forthcoming about everything myself, but if we’re to build something strong between us, then, sooner or later…” “I know. And I want to…No, I don’t want to, but I NEED to be honest. But I’m scared you’ll take one look at me, the real me and then run as fast as you can, as far as you can.” “Well, I’m sure you can catch up.” Alexi said, smiling, lifting his cane. “It’s not funny.” Evan grumbled. “I told you, I don’t know why the hell…” “Language!” “Sorry. I don’t know why I feel the way I do about you. I honestly don’t. But I do. And seeing you turn your back on me would be unbearable right now…” he trailed off, as he lowered his head. “Hey. Hey…” Alexi put his hand on Evan’s cheek as he moved in front of him. “I thought you said not here…” Evan smiled. “You really need a shave.” Alexi ignored Evan’s comment and both boys smiled more broadly. “Why are there no pews? I really feel like sitting down.” “Traditional Orthodox Church. We stand ‘til our legs are sore.” Alexi chuckled. “Shows more respect or something…THAT is definitely one thing I never liked about the church.” “I have to agree with you there.” A new voice came from behind Alexi and startled him. He quickly took his hand from Evan’s face and turned to face the newcomer. As he took in the appearance of the short, stocky man, his dark hair peppered with grey, just like his beard, soft, pale blue eyes, laugh lines and crooked nose, a small smile returned to his lips. “Father Anton.” Alexi said a breath later, and took the man’s right hand and kissed it. “Alexi. It’s good to see you. I was afraid…” “Umm, yeah, I guess you know everything, right?” “Mmmm…” the priest answered, in a non-committal manner. “I mean…do you know…about me? Like, why my father did that?” “You know how our community is, Alexi. Rumors and whispers…” “…soon turning to accusation and damnation.” Alexi sighed. “Yeah…Look, I’m sorry. I understand you don’t want me here. I was actually hoping I could talk to you, but…it’s alright. I’m sorry.” He said softly and turned towards the large doors. “Why are you sorry? Because you’re afraid that even a man of God would judge and reject you, or because you are who you are?” “No, not that. Not anymore.” Alexi said, with a quick glance at Evan. The priest didn’t fail to take note of that look and nodded. “Alexi, I thought we’d already covered that. Maybe not every priest is like me. Well, I know that’s true, but, I told you, the essence of faith for me is love. Love for EVERYONE.” “Yeah. Love thy neighbor…unless he’s different. Right?” Evan spat contemptuously. Father Anton looked the young man up and down, then finally exhaled noisily, in frustration and surrender. “I know that’s how it is most of the time, and I’m ashamed of that. I’m ashamed of how human beings treat one another because of their differences. But I always believed I had made a better impression on you, Alexi.” he said, once again facing the younger of the two teenagers. “I thought you’d think better of me. Especially since, well, it’s not like I hadn’t figured out what was troubling you long before this summer.” “What?” Alexi asked, alarmed, while the priest chuckled. “Well, you’re an intelligent young man and it is always a pleasure to talk to you, but some of the conversations we had earlier in the year…Well, they were obviously borne from some great struggle. I had hoped that eventually you’d come to truly confide in me, so that I may help you more, but unfortunately, that didn’t happen in time. I’m sorry, son.” “Don’t be. You did help me. Talking to you was often the only thing that kept me sane. And it wasn’t just…you know…being…err, gay. There were other problems…” “Yes. I know that now. And I am sorry, Alexi. I should have seen it sooner. I’m so sorry…” Alexi nodded and silence dropped down on all of them once again. Evan didn’t understand the whole story. He wanted to ask more questions. He wanted to know, but he didn’t dare. The boy he loved had suffered and this priest had helped him in his own way. For that he was grateful. He didn’t want to reopen the discussion and dredge through more painful memories. But he did want them to talk. It was what Alexi had wanted in the first place, after all. ‘So, talk about the past, but try and keep it away from anything painful. Riiight…’ The past was always painful, in Evan’s experience. “So…these conversations you two used to had. Did it include destiny and chosen paths and all that?” The priest and Alexi both laughed heartily. “So, I guess he shared his opinions with you, then?” “Yup. Just outside the church. Gotta say, it was some deep thinking for me.” Evan smiled, scratching his head. “But do you agree with what he said?” “Yeah. Makes sense, actually. And it’s something worth believing, I think.” “Hmm…You don’t strike me as someone particularly religious.” “Am I that transparent?” Evan asked, in mock surprise. “In some ways. But there’s more to you than meets the eye.” “Heh…A priest who’s a Transformers fan.” “Well, it IS a good, if cheesy line. But in all seriousness, you seem just as troubled as young Alexi used to be, though perhaps for different reasons. I take it you two…” “Err…yeah.” Evan answered, blushing, causing Alexi to giggle. Evan glared at him. “We’re in a church. Show some respect.” “Sorry. But you’re just so cute when you blush. I mean, tough guy like you…” Alexi answered, still giggling. The priest shook his head at the pair of them, but still smiling. Yes, love was the driving force for his belief and it was obvious to him that there was something special between the two boys in front of him. “Sorry, father.” Alexi addressed the priest finally. “Relax. It’s good to see you smile, Alexi. Now, as I was saying…You’re obviously carrying a burden, young man. I don’t know if you want to talk to anyone, but at least you’re willing to listen. And I agree that Alexi’s way of looking at things doesn’t sound all that bad.” “Yeah. Elective destiny, in a way.” “I suppose. Though some, more skeptical, would probably call it causality.” “Well then, I guess I’m just more romantic than I thought.” Evan said and once again he blushed. “I mean, the whole notion…it’s kind of romantic to me.” “I knew you were really a big softie under that tough guy facade.” Alexi said. “I wish that were true. But what’s under this mask is far more rotten than you could imagine. Look, I’m sorry. I want to tell you everything, but I’m afraid. I just don’t want to lose you.” Evan looked down into Alexi’s eyes and could see tears there, even as he felt his own brimming. “How can I not believe in Destiny or some kind of divine power when you came about exactly when I needed you? I simply couldn’t live with myself any longer. And then I saw you. And that higher power, whatever it is, saw fit to bring us together. You’re a gift to me, and the sheer thought that you’ll recoil in disgust when you set your eyes on me sends me into a state of panic.” “Shh…It’s alright. I’m not going anywhere. Well, I am…outside, in the truck. I told you I wanted you to meet someone, didn’t I?” he turned to the priest. “Father Anton, this is Evan. I love him. And I can’t help him. I see the burden he carries just as much as you do. I understand it’s not something he’s ready to share with me right now. Maybe never. And I accept that. I see the good in him. The love and bravery. And I feel safe around him, like I’ve never felt before. I couldn’t care less about what haunts his past, if it weren’t for the fact that it casts its shadow on the present and darkens our future. I want him to talk to someone. Help him ease that burden. Hear him out, father.” “Alexi, no. I can’t…” Evan began to protest, but Alexi simply kissed him on his cheek and moved past him. “Please. For me.” He whispered, then he once again kissed father Anton’s hand, thanked him for everything and walked out. “Well…He’s a remarkable young man, Evan. And he cares for you a great deal. I think you should at least consider his idea. He wants to help. He’s willing to stay away, if that’s the only way you’ll feel comfortable. He just wants what’s best for you. That really is great devotion. And I know he hasn’t left the city long ago, so the short time in which you became so close is all the more remarkable.” “Yeah, I know. I really don’t understand how it happened. And he is great. He often gets hung up on his physical shortcomings, which is ridiculous to me. He has a beautiful soul. Seriously, how can I neglect the notion of Destiny when someone in our positions end up in our situation?” “Your position?” the priest raised an eyebrow inquisitively. “Yeah. It’s…complicated. But all that matters is that we ARE together now and I’d do anything to protect him from now on. It’s just the past that I’m scared will hurt us. My past. I…When I was 14, I tried to kill a man.” This time, both of the priests eyebrows shot up, as his eyes widened. “Looking back on it, I realize how big an idiot I was. Not for what I did, but how I did it. I mean, I robbed a small store. And it wasn’t the money I was after. I knew the clerk kept a gun under the registry. I took advantage of a moment when he was distracted and I stole it. Of course, once I had the gun, I thought what the hell? Get the money as well. So, I did…But, like I said, it was the gun I was after. Because I wanted to kill the bastard who murdered my mom.” “So, it was vengeance you were after? Because, while that is still wrong, it…” “What, you’re one of those eye for an eye types? The guy was my mom’s drug dealer. She overdosed in a pile of garbage in a piss-filled back alley. So I wanted to kill the drug dealer.” Evan laughed bitterly. “Christ, how funny is that?” “I fail to see the humor in that.” “Mmm…That’s because you don’t know what my current situation is. I suppose, in a way, it’s poetic justice. Try to gut one dealer, serve another as punishment.” “What?” “Look, it doesn’t matter. I appreciate what Alexi is trying to do. But even a good man like you would not fail to judge and be disgusted with me. And I don’t think I can handle that right now. I know who and what I am. I accept it, as painful as it is. But as long as Alexi doesn’t, as long as no one else that matters knows…I can keep up the pretense, even if it’s me I’m lying to more than anyone else. Once everything’s out in the open with someone like you, it becomes too real. I realize my father was right and I can’t change. And I’m just not ready for that. And I’m certainly not ready for Alexi to realize that and turn his back on me. I’m sorry, father, but I think I’ve already said more than enough. Thank you for listening, but now I must really go. Alexi’s waiting for me. Good bye.” The priest watched as Evan turned and walked away, then exhaled the breath he’d been holding for the past minute and prayed for the two boys that had just left. And then he cursed under his breath. He did see that goodness in Evan, the part Alexi mentioned. And he already knew what a gentle soul Alexi was, despite his tendency to fall back on sarcasm and hostility as a way to mask his nervousness. They were good boys and there was so much pain pressing down upon them. It simply wasn’t fair. “Well, this is it…Home sweet home.” Alexi said coldly, the bitterness almost choking him. Evan was standing next to him on the sidewalk, in front of Alexi’s childhood home, a fairly small, one-level structure. ‘Well, at least it has a large yard…’ “Well, how about giving me the grand tour?” Evan asked. Alexi turned and scowled at him, but it only took a second for his features to relax and a shy smile to settle on his face. “For you…sure.” They entered the house and stood in a narrow, long hallway. “Okay, so, that right there…” Alexi said, pointing straight ahead through an open arch “…is the living room. The kitchen’s further back, through there.” They walked along the hallway, to their right. “Master bedroom, bathroom, guest bedroom, another bathroom…” Alexi said, gesturing towards the closed doors as they moved past them. “And my room.” He hesitated for a second, then opened the door and stepped inside, closely followed by Evan. It was a small room. The light coming through the windows made the dust all too noticeable and Evan sneezed as some of it stirred from the movement. “Sorry.” Alexi said. “Maid must’ve forgot to clean up.” He said, rolling his eyes. “Ummm…No. It’s…nice.” Evan said, taking in everything. The small bed set along the opposite wall beneath the dirty window, the small desk with the small lamp and small bookcase and small closet and the small posters covering one entire wall. They were small, but there were so many, that it didn’t really matter. It was a true collage. Movie posters, bands, girls, cars, sports teams, celebrities, old, new, black and white and in color. “Yeah. Right…It’s a shithole, Evan. I barely ever slept on that fucking bed without falling out of it, and it’s not like I’m a damn giant or anything.” “Yes, well…it’s…compact.” Alexi snorted. “You should get a job in advertising. You’re one of those people that likes to use all sorts of hip phrases and whatnot to spin things. Compact…” Alexi laughed again, shaking his head. “Though, I have to admit, I miss this wall.” He said, moving towards the poster-covered side of the room. “The room’s small. The house is small, but everything’s in order. My dad always liked order. Neat, conforming, fitting the norm. Everything in its place. This wall…It was the only bit of chaos in this house. It’s random. Images plastered on a wall. I’m not particularly a fan of more than half the things and people on here, but the posters themselves…they caught my eye. Hell, some of them are barely more than photos, not really posters, but I liked them. And the random way in which they fit together on this wall…It was my chaos. My refuge…” Evan moved behind him and snaked his arms around him, pulling him into a hug, lowering his chin on Alexi’s shoulder. “I think it’s beautiful. Just like you.” And then he buried his face in Alexi’s neck, inhaling deeply and then gently kissing the soft, pale skin. Alexi closed his eyes and sighed his content. “You sweet talker, you…”Alexi spoke softly. “But, as much as I enjoy this…” he said, then pulled away, turning to look into Evan’s eyes “…I came here for something specific. And I need to get it over with now.” There was steely determination in his tone and Evan found himself nodding in agreement. “Do what you need to do. I’m here for you.” Alexi exited his old bedroom and walked back down the hallway, Evan again never more than a step behind. When they finally reached the living room, Alexi froze, his eyes locked on the floor. Evan looked over his shoulder, following the younger boy’s gaze, towards the large dark stain on the carpet. No, there was more than one stain. Evan knew what it was immediately and he swallowed hard. He had seen more similar sights than he cared to remember. He saw the small dark spots towards the edges of the carpet. Spatter marks. Blood simply flying everywhere. The concentrated stains in the middle of the room told the story. Blood had pooled there. Lots of it. “This is where my dad killed my mom and almost killed me…” Alexi said in a whisper. He was surprised to find no emotion in his voice. No anger. No pain. Not even disgust, as the images played in his mind again. Nothing. “God, Alexi. I’m so sorry.” Evan said, placing his hands on Alexi’s shoulders. “I knew something happened to your parents, I mean, you are with a foster family and all, but I didn’t…I never imagined…” “It’s alright. It’s funny, actually. I don’t know what I was expecting, coming here. Well, closure, I guess, but now that I’m here…I just don’t feel that fear and grief. I don’t even feel rage. None of the sentiments I felt while in the hospital. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve even managed to shake the stupid self-pity. And that’s mostly because of you…” Alexi said, leaning back against Evan once again, resting his head on his chest. “I don’t know, I guess I was afraid that letting some of those feelings go wasn’t normal. I wanted to come back to feel them again. To convince myself that they were justified and that I wouldn’t live to unearth them again years from now, only to drive myself crazy. Am I even making sense?” “Yeah, you are. And you WERE justified to feel those things. Christ, Alexi, what your father did…I’d rip his fucking head off.” Evan spat. “You said you wanted closure. But you also said you seemed to have moved past this moment. I guess what you’re saying is that you’re afraid that you’re only burying these feelings, instead of confronting and accepting what happened and they might come back to haunt you again in the future.” “Yeah. Exactly. And now that I’m here, I don’t think that’s what I’m doing. I expected those emotions to come flooding back in. But…nothing. I still feel a dull ache, remembering it all, but I’m calm now. At peace, in a way. I loved my mom. I’ll never forget her, and I’m not saying I accept what happened to her or brushing it aside easily, but…The Samuels, Hunter in particular, have shown me a lot of affection and I think I should count my blessings for that. For getting out of it all with my life, if not intact.” He spun around to face Evan. “And then there’s you…my guardian angel.” He said, grinning widely. “Coming here has reinforced what I felt these past few days. I’m…okay. Mad men tried to kill me, but, especially with you, I feel safe. And I feel loved. And that’s more than I could have hoped for when I was lying on that floor…” Evan enveloped him in a tight hug, expressing his love and reassurance. “You ARE okay. You’re fucking wonderful, not just okay. And I’ll always keep you safe, got it?” He raised Alexi’s chin with a finger and placed a soft kiss on his lips. “Now, how ‘bout we see just how small that bed of yours REALLY is?” he asked with a mischievous grin when he pulled apart. Eric was pacing back and forth in his small office, gripping his phone tightly. He was nervous. He had thought he was resolute about it. He knew it was what he had to do, after all. It was the only thing to be done, that much was clear. But after all these years, it was still hard. ‘No, you were always faithful. Always the trusted right-hand man. And then he disrespects you, with that damn fag. No, this is justified.’ Resolve flowed through him once more. Oh, yes, there was no going back. The cell he was holding started ringing and Eric answered immediately. “Yes – I just got off the phone with him. He’ll be here on Monday, to scope the place out. – Yes, he’s good. – He’s been doing freelance work in Iraq. D’you want fucking references? I know the guy and he’s the best for the job. The fucking kid will be dead on Tuesday morning and you can snatch the other one. – Oh, I’ll take care of them, don’t worry. – Yes, we all stick to the gameplan and by this time next week, we’ll have everything under control. Keep in touch and see you on Tuesday, my friend.” He turned off the phone, then threw it in the bin by his desk. No more indecision, no going back. It was HIS time now.
  12. The writhing mass of entangled limbs came crashing down to the floor with an almighty thud. ”Fuck, this bed really IS small!” Evan complained, rubbing his aching back. ”No duh!” Alexi replied, rolling his eyes. “I did warn you about it on Saturday. Twice. Then again yesterday. Thrice...” “Keeping count, are you?” “You betcha!” Alexi replied, with a huge grin plastered on his face. “Now let’s go for lucky number 6.” And with that, he got to his feet, his lust-driven empowerment allowing him to easily pull Evan along with him, only to fling him down on the bed. He took a minute to admire the naked body lying down in front of him. He studied every line, every curve, drinking in the image. “That’s kinda creepy...” Evan said giggling, breaking the spell. “What?” ”You staring at me like that...You were drooling for a minute there.” “Quite possible.” Alexi admitted, shrugging. “But I can’t get enough. Besides...you did it to me as well, at the cabin. So...payback’s a bitch.” And he lunged for Evan, attacking his face, his neck, his chest, kissing, licking, trying to devour him. More, he wanted more. He really could never get enough of it. ’I wonder if this is how drug addicts feel. Christ, if I die from an Evan overdose...what a way to go...’ He took Evan’s right nipple in his mouth and felt the older boy flutter with pleasure. He followed the trail down, along the hard muscles of Evan’s abdomen, planting soft kisses every inch or so. He was there. ’Bingo! Thar’s gold in them thar hills!’ He caressed the treasure, kissing it softly. Over the weekend, he had become accustomed to its shape and taste. Hell, he had become a devout worshipper. It felt so right, doing what he did, offering love and pleasure, and getting it in return. He stopped. He wanted more. He was sure of it. “Evan…” he whispered softly, looking up into his eyes. “Make love to me. I’m yours. Now and forever. Even when you get tired of me…I’ll still be there. I’ll still love you, with every fiber of my being.” Evan pulled Alexi to him, so that their cheeks rested against each other’s, then he spoke softly into Alexi’s ear. “You idiot. I told you already. I’m never going to get tired of you. You mean too much to me. I don’t know what it is that I saw in you…” “Ouch!” Alexi answered, reeling as if slapped. “You say the nicest things…” Evan held him even more tightly. “God, I’m such an idiot. It’s because of you. When I’m around you, I act like a complete moron.” “Act?” “Hardy-har-har. Yes. It’s…Fuck, Alexi, I’m just gonna end up sounding like an even bigger idiot. But here goes…What I meant is that the first time I met you, it wasn’t anything specific that attracted me to you. I’ll admit it, I’m a horny guy. I like checking out hot guys. Asses, bulges, cute faces and hot hair or piercing eyes…There’s always that SOMETHING there that catches my eye. But with you…it wasn’t like that. I told you already. I just saw you and…bam! It was like the air itself was shimmering around you or something. When I said I didn’t know what I saw in you, I mean there wasn’t anything specific. Sure, I love your eyes, I love your smile, your messy hair…” “Yes, yes…I told you already, I‘ve been planning on getting a haircut, but…” “But…” Evan got back on top of the conversation. “It’s not one thing. It’s the whole picture. And I’m not just talking about your physical appearance here, as nice as that is…Even from that first moment I saw you I could see a part of the inner you. Your soul. Pained, yes, but so beautiful and full of love, and starving for affection. Hell, you keep saying you’re broken, on the inside, as well as the outside. Well, I KNOW I’m fucked up, so maybe I saw something familiar. A broken boy trying to fix another one. I don’t know. But I’m sure of one thing. I fell in love with you that day, and it’s only gotten deeper since then. I’ll never let you go, do you hear me, you beautiful, messed up loon?” He felt the wetness of Alexi’s tears against his own face and increased the pressure of their embrace. It was Monday evening and the boys finally arrived back in front of the Samuels house, the long weekend over. They both sighed once Evan pulled over the truck. “Why the hell are we so sad?” Evan asked after a minute of silence. “We should be happy. We had a great weekend, and now that it’s over, we can look back on the fond memories and look forward to creating new ones in the future.” “Fuck me, you’re romantic.” “Indeed I am. As for that first thing…Well, I’m gonna let you recuperate for a while, okay?” Evan said, barely containing his laughter. “What the…? Oh…” Alexi started blushing and Evan started cracking up. “Damn it, stop acting like a silly school girl! Aaahhh!” Alexi covered Evan’s mouth with his own, trying to stop the laughter. Needless to say, it worked. Quite well. So well, in fact, that it took 10 minutes, a knock on the passenger side window and a polite throat clearing coming from outside for them to stop. “What, you guys are so impatient that you can’t even get in the back seat or something?” Hunter asked, feigning disgust though his eyes gave him away. He was happy. Pleased for Alexi. “Err…sorry.” Alexi answered sheepishly, but Evan held on to him and pulled him in for another passionate kiss. “I’m not.” Evan said, smiling. “But he’s right. We’ll have plenty of time. Besides, I think both of us are exhausted right now and we could use some rest…” Hunter raised an inquisitive eyebrow and his mouth twitched, the corner rising in a smile. “Oh, had a busy weekend, did you? Lots of…strenuous activity?” The smile on his lips was full-on lecherous. “Yeah, we ran the marathon…” Alexi said, grinning as he got out of the car, grabbed his bag and moved past Hunter, the ‘tap tap tap’ of his cane accompanying him. He stopped a few feet away, gave Evan an over the shoulder wink, then went inside the house, his smile threatening to permanently disfigure him if it got any broader. “So…I guess everything went well…” Hunter addressed Evan, after shaking his head, amused, at Alexi’s reaction. “Oh, it went great. It was AMAZING!” “That’s…nice. But I was more interested in the whole ‘going back to the place where everything bad happened’ thing. Not that I don’t appreciate a good sex story or anything…” “Oh…” It was Evan’s turn to blush. ‘Damn, when did I become such a big softie?’ “Well, that…It went great as well, I’d say. He’s still got some way to go, don’t get me wrong, but I think he’s almost there. He realizes that he could actually be fooling himself, thinking he’s alright with everything, then exploding later on, but I really think he’s coping well with everything. It’s amazing, really…” “Amazing again, huh?” “Well, that’s the only way I can describe him. He seems so fragile at times, Hunter. But, he’s so strong. It’s really unbelievable.” “I know what you mean. He was so vulnerable at first. Hell, I think he still is, but he’s changed for the better. Opened up, and you’re right about him. And I want to thank you.” “What on Earth for?” “You’re obviously the reason he’s doing so well. You’ve been there for him. Loved him. Brought up the beauty in him. You’ve made him happy and, as a result, I get to enjoy this wonderful person as a brother.” “Well…I think…I think the affection EVERYONE has given him is responsible for it. Me, you, your parents. For the first time in a long, long time, he feels loved. A stable, supporting love. You’re just as responsible as anyone. Maybe more. He told me about that long talk you two had…” Hunter’s eyes widened in surprise. “HE DID?!” “Don’t get mad. We talked about a lot of things this weekend. He wanted to show me how great a connection you two created. Why he went running off after you at the cabin. You mean a lot to him, Hunter.” “He does as well…” Hunter said softly. “I never thought I could accept a replacement brother. Bran was…everything to me.” Evan cringed slightly, realizing how much pain his family had caused this boy in the past and how much more they’d be willing to put him through. “But, I gotta tell you…” Hunter went on, grinning “…he’s not half-bad. Not bad at all…” “Why, hello, my dear Evan.” Eric said as soon as Evan walked through the front door. Evan instinctively reached for the gun that wasn’t at his side. He couldn’t help it. Someone like Eric doesn’t say stuff like that. ‘Good evening? He hasn’t greeted me with more than a grunt in years. And my dear? What the fuck is going on here?’ “Are you dying? Brain cancer? AIDS? Acute stupidity? This some kind of 12-step program?” “Now that’s not very nice. I was merely trying to be pleasant. You and me…we’re almost done.” ‘What the fuck does that mean?’ “Oh?” Evan raised an eyebrow. “Son, you’re 19. Been for a while. You haven’t needed a legal guardian in ages now. I was basically stationed with you because that was my assignment, as long as your father wanted it so. But you’re getting out, aren’t you? You told your father you’re done and he accepted it. So, no more reason for us to be in each other’s faces. We’ll finally be free.” Eric finished, as a menacing smirk appeared on his face. “Whatever…” Evan said unenthusiastically, though his heart was doing summersaults, for quite a few reasons. Did his father really mean it, then? Would he give him what he required? ‘Freedom?’ And, at the same time, he couldn’t help but feel that something was…off. His spidey sense, he called it. Corny and childish, but he had learned to trust his instincts long ago. It was an essential survival trait. No matter how smart you are, in tight situations, it’s always instinct. Well, that and training. Pure reaction. The constant hard work gives you the ability to respond in force, while your instinct guides you. Yes, Evan trusted his gut. And now it was telling him something was wrong. But, one thing about instinct – don’t let it completely replace your cognitive functions. You have a brain, use it. Instinct is merely a back-up. So, while every muscle in his body tensed, preparing to do battle, his mind took control. ‘Relax. Observe. Listen and watch. If there’s anything wrong, you’ll soon know for sure.’ He left Eric in the living room, looking very pleased with himself, and walked to his bedroom. He stepped inside and immediately locked the door. Not that he was afraid of Eric or his cronies. But growing up in that house as an adolescent was enough for the custom to become ingrained in Evan’s consciousness. He wasn’t afraid, but he still slept better when that door was locked, if only because it constituted an obstacle for whoever might burst in that might provide him the second or two needed to pull out a gun and defend himself... ‘I’m not gonna miss the paranoia, that’s for sure.’ Evan thought, amused. Alone and free. Could it really be happening? He’d need to get a job, he didn’t want his dad to give him anything from that point on. His debt was paid. He would not be dragged back into it. He’d prove that to his dad. He’d fight and struggle like any normal young adult. He thought of Alexi and he closed his eyes, feeling content. ‘It’ll be worth it. He’s worth it.’ He drifted off to sleep, fully clothed, on top of the covers. He awoke feeling the warm light of the morning sun caressing his chin. He needed to shave before school. Alexi had suggested a goatee, but he always hated them. He sat up on the bed and stretched, yawning. He got a towel and a fresh change of clothes and moved towards the door, intent on a hot shower to go along with the shave. He opened the door and KNEW it was coming. Even as he extended his left leg to take a step outside his room, he dropped to the floor, actually lunging towards the opposite wall. He hit it with a thud, as the loud bang of a gun going off resounded from above his head. He kicked up and almost crushed the arm holding the pistol, between his boot and the wall. He was glad he had fallen asleep fully dressed, boots included. Hicks…or was it Radnick - he just couldn’t tell them apart – screamed in agony, even as the gun fell to the floor. The hallway was narrow. But tight quarters were okay with Evan. He jumped his attacker, slamming the side of his head against the wall. Hicks…or Radnick lashed out with his foot, trying for Evan’s knee. Evan drew his foot back and the kick hit only empty air. Evan took advantage and brought his knee into the man’s groin. Cheap shot. Dirty. And something guys just don’t do to each other. But Evan hated fighting fair. Fair fights are dangerous. He didn’t even allow the man to double over in pain. He just grabbed his already injured hand and applied more pressure, twisting it. The man fell to his knees. Simple reaction, really. The human body follows the pain. If you grab a man’s hand and twist, also pressing down, his body will instinctively follow the motion, trying to limit the pain. Once again, Evan’s knee came up and hit the former Marine in the face, with the now familiar crunch of a broken nose. “Fuck!” Evan screamed in frustration. The fucker lost his consciousness. He debated with himself whether or not he should wake the man with a new stab of pain. He finally settled on a bucket of cold water. Hicks…or Radnick groaned, twitching. “Ugh…Fuck, my hand.” “Hicks?” Evan asked. “Radnick…” “Radnick, you need to listen to me very carefully right now, okay?” Radnick focused his eyes on Evan, but remained silent. “I need you to understand, Radnick. If you don’t answer me, I’m going to kill you, okay?” Silence. “Well, I suppose it’s NOT okay. But the point it, I WILL do it. And before I do…” he stepped on Radnick’s good hand “…well, I’m sure Eric has shared at least SOME stories of me. I’m quite good at what I do. I don’t particularly want to show you, but…” “What do you want to know?” Radnick mumbled. “I suppose we can start with the whole assassination plot. Sound good to you?” “Mmm…Well, you see, nothing personal. Eric told me what to do. Told us all. I don’t ask no questions. He just said you needed to be taken out of the picture.” “Why? Especially now, when we’re going our separate ways? I want nothing to do with him and the…family business.” “I…I don’t know.” Evan applied more pressure via his foot. “FUCK! Stop that, you cocksucking asshole!” Evan kept on pressing down. “It’s…it’s the kid. They want you out of the way, not to interfere…” “Does my father have NOTHING to say about it? He told me he’d back off Alexi as long as I don’t get involved in Hunter’s situation.” Radnick was quiet once more. “He’s going after Alexi. Is it just Eric, then? Why?” “No idea, but does it matter?” “Probably not. FUCK!” Evan yelled. He grasped Radnick by his shirt collar and dragged him into the bathroom. He pushed Radnick next to the pipes, up along the wall. “I should kill you right now, but I’m feeling magnanimous.” He punched the man hard in the face. Once, twice, three times and Radnick became a limp rag doll on the floor. Evan left the bathroom and returned a minute later, with a rope. He tied the man to the pipes and hoped they wouldn’t be too rusty. ‘Not that I expect him to be up to pulling pipes out of the wall anyway.’ He kicked Radnick in the side once more and rushed outside to the garage, thinking furiously. It was 7:30 AM. Alexi might not have left for school yet. Evan pulled out his phone and dialed. No answer. Finally, it went to voice mail, and Evan screamed in rage and annoyance. He took a few steadying breaths and dialed once more, pleased he had the foresight to gather all the information he could about the Samuels, including phone numbers. A woman answered. “Hello.” Came Dana’s voice. “Dana, it’s Evan.” He could picture her frowning at the sound of his voice. “Listen, this is crucial. Where’s Alexi?” “On his way to school, of course. You should follow suit, you know. I don’t want you being a bad influ…” “Just…shut up, will ya? This is serious. Is he alone?” “No. My husband’s taking him. They should be there in a few minutes. What’s this all about? I won’t have you talking like that to me without an explanation.” “Doesn’t he have his phone? Nevermind. Call them. Call your husband. Tell them to turn around. Don’t go anywhere near the school.” “Why?” “Trust me. Alexi’s in danger. So’s Hunter.” “Hunter? What are you talking about, damn it?” “Fuck! My dad…He’s Myke Henson!” Dana gasped loudly on the other end. “What did you do, you fucker?” “Nothing. I swear. I’ve been trying to protect Alexi, even Hunter, but something’s happening. Neither of them need to be left out of sight.” “Hunter’s with Vince. He needed to go to the dentist this morning.” “Okay, so they’re both safe. As long as you keep them from going anywhere near that school. I’m sure that’s where they’d make their move. Call your husband. Right now.” “Okay, okay. What about you?” “Me?” Evan grinned. “I’m going to school. Don’t want to be late.” He hung up and got on his bike. Dale Walker was not a morning person. He HATED waking up early and he always needed at least 4 cups of coffee to get himself started. Which, of course, was an inconvenience, since most of his jobs were in the morning. People love schedules. Sure, there are the occasional rebels, but it’s in human nature to have stabilizing factors. Something to guide you. Schedules work that way. Knowing each day, ahead of time, what you’re supposed to do provides stability and comfort. So, if you study people enough, you learn all about their schedules. And most of his targets were always so predictable. Security is always tight as they leave their homes, that’s a given. They alternate routes and change vehicles, but even that rotation is on a schedule. And, most importantly, once you know where they’re headed, you have them. That’s what he liked and what he knew best. Go for them in those last few yards. Which, of course, brought up the whole morning situation. Most people tend to get up and go about their schedules early in the morning, damn them. He needed to be at their destination when the sun rose. He looked at the picture once again. He never really had any qualms when it came to a job, but he always felt just a small twinge of…something when it was a kid. Regret? Maybe. ‘This kid’ll never get to experience all of life’s joys.’ He adjusted his scope. ‘Then again, there’s the pain part that comes with joy. So I’ll be doing him a favor.’ He studied the picture again. Those green eyes were mesmerizing. He glanced at his watch. 7:55. ‘Any second now.’ He breathed deeply, relaxing his muscles. He peered through the scope, studying the crowds of students going into the school. He was becoming entranced with what he had to do. He might not have been a morning person, but he liked his job. And he was good at it, so when it had to be done, nothing else mattered. He thought he heard something. But he was too focused on what he was seeing, and the sound was faint. Probably rats. Or maybe a pigeon. He had seen plenty of pigeons on that roof, though they had mostly stayed away since he took up his position. There it was again. ‘Footsteps?’ He raised his head just an inch and tried to turn around. He felt the hot sting on the back of his neck, then the knife sunk in and it was dark. Evan knocked on the Samuels’ door. Well, knocking is such a mild term. He…pummeled on the door. Dana answered, a distressed look on her face. The expression immediately turned into a scowl. She hesitated for a second, then seemed to make a decision and invited him in. “Where are they? Are they okay? Are they here?” “Evan, is that you?” came Alexi’s voice from the living room. “What’s going on?” he stumbled into the hallway. “It’s alright, babe. It’s okay, you’re here. You’re okay.” “Yes, I am. But what’s happening? Dana wouldn’t tell me anything.” “I…God! I’m sorry, Alexi…it’s…my dad.” “What? I thought you said you had a legal guardian, no dad.” “It was just a lie. All, a fucked up, twisted lie, concocted by my dad, because he wanted a good cover for me.” “For what? I don’t understand…” “Fuck…My dad is his rival.” Evan said, pointing to Sam, who had just joined them. Alexi stared at him in complete silence, then he glanced at Dana, who had crossed her arms on her chest and stared at the floor. “You knew about this?” he asked her. “No. Not until this morning, though I knew something was up, from digging in his past a bit.” “This…this shit isn’t happening.” Alexi started laughing. “Come on. This is a joke. Divine Candid Camera or something. God’s playing a joke on me.” He continued laughing, until the tears came. Evan moved to cradle him in an embrace, but Alexi pushed him away. “So that’s why you were interested in me? Your dad told you to get in tight with me, get some inside information or something? Play the fag to get what you need, then…what? Dump me? Kill me? Kill everyone here? WHAT?!” Alexi yelled, sobbing. “No, that’s not it.” Evan said, and he grabbed Alexi tightly, not letting go even as the boy started pounding his fists against his chest, trying to get away. “I won’t lie. My father did want me to get close to Hunter last year, and he did see you as a new chance, but I didn’t. Everything I told you, about how I feel, it’s true. The moment I laid eyes on you, I knew I couldn’t do what he wanted me. I knew I could never do anything for him, because it would further degrade me and I wouldn’t be worthy of you. I love you, Alexi. It’s why I’m telling you this now, why I told Dana, why I’ve been there with you every step of the way. I love you and I promised you, remember? I’ll always protect you.” Finally, after a few more minutes of whimpering, Alexi settled down, his face buried in Evan’s neck. “I want to believe you. I want to believe you love me. I don’t care about what you did, but I couldn’t handle it if I knew it was all a lie.” He whispered. “It wasn’t.” Evan pulled away, so as to look Alexi in the eyes. “I love you. I can’t say it any other way. Those three words mean everything to me right now. It’s all I have. I. LOVE. YOU.” Alexi smiled and the two of them melted into a deep kiss. There was no passion involved. Just affection, trust and understanding. When they broke apart, they realized they were alone in the hallway, Sam and Dana having moved back into the living room. They joined them, sitting in adjoining chairs, their hands interlocked. Dana smiled, but Sam remained pensive. Finally, he spoke. “You said your father wanted you to get close to Hunter. Why?” Evan shifted nervously in his chair a bit, but he understood there was no going back. He had chosen a side. And it was next to Alexi. If that included the Samuels and betraying his father completely, so be it. “He said that killing one another is stupid. He wants to kidnap him. Work a deal with you, which would not involve any bloodshed. But he has some kind of partner who feels that wiping you all out is the only way to go or something.” He sighed. “Damn it, my life’s so fucked up.” “I’m in no position to judge.” Sam replied, smiling. “So, if he wants him alive, are the guys who attacked you and Alexi, and all three of you at the cabin…were they sent by this partner?” “Fuck, I don’t know. I guess so. Something’s really up. Eric, he’s the guy I’ve been living with, he was my dad’s right-hand man before I came along…He’s stirring shit up. I don’t know what’s happening. And I doubt my father does either. He had a sniper waiting for Alexi at the school.” “WHAT?!” Dana jumped to her feet. “Don’t worry. I took care of it. Even if Alexi was safe, I couldn’t leave him walk away. He’d just try again. So…” “…you took care of it?” Sam asked softly. “Yes.” “Is that the kind of thing you did for your father?” Sam asked. Evan remained quiet. “I see. Well, this is a real mess. Dana, we need to clean up there. I’ll call to check up on Vince and Hunter. They were close to the dentist’s office earlier, but I think it’d be best if they came back, even if I feel the boy’s safe with Vince. Yes, that’s what we should do.” Both Sam and Dana left the room, leaving the two boys staring at each other. “Why didn’t you tell me earlier?” Alexi asked. “Because you’d have reacted the same way then as you did now. You’d think I was just using you. I was going to tell you eventually, once I’d proven my love to you…” Alexi squeezed his hand and Evan sighed. “I’m sorry. About everything. You deserve so much better than this…all of it. But…even with all this shit, I’m grateful. Because you came into my life. It’s stupid and selfish, I know. You’ve suffered more in less than 16 years than most people in a lifetime, and you deserve to be happy, but I just can’t help but feel grateful, because… because you’re good for me.” “I wouldn’t change a thing, Evan. I’d take all this crap all over again, as long as you’re included in the deal. I need you too, Evan. We’re good for each other, as fucked up as we both are.” he beamed, then leaned in for a kiss, but Sam interrupted them, rushing into the room. “What’s the matter?” Alexi asked, taking in his stricken appearance. “It’s…Hunter. Neither he nor Vince are answering. It’s not like them, especially Vince. Something’s wrong. God…not again. Please, God!” he collapsed on the floor and started moaning. Both Evan and Alexi remained glued in place, not sure what to do, how to comfort the man. Evan turned to Alexi once again. “They wouldn’t kill him.” “You said your dad wouldn’t, but this partner. And Eric…” Alexi said, turning pale, worry evident in his voice. “I have an idea of how we can make sure. Are you with me?” “Always.” They got up and left, Sam still sobbing on the floor, Dana probably still on the phone. It would be the two of them. Stupid, reckless, and they both knew it wouldn’t be any other way. “Wake up, dipshit!” Evan ordered, slapping Radnick hard. “What…what do you want?” Radnick asked nervously, his eyes darting from Evan to Alexi and back again. “Answers.” “I told you everything I know.” “I don’t believe you. Now, I’m sure you have SOME idea of what I did for my father. Are you sure you want to go that route? You’re still in relatively good shape. I’ll let you leave, your limbs no worse than they are now.” “Fuck you! I’m done talking.” Radnick spat. “Suit yourself.” Evan pulled off Radnick’s boots and socks. “Last chance.” Radnick remained silent and Evan shook his head. Alexi handed him the hammer. Radnick roared in pain as he stared at the destruction. Two of his toes resembled nothing as much as ground beef. Extremely bloody ground beef. “Still not in a talkative mood?” Radnick moaned, but said nothing else. The hammer came down once more. When Radnick stopped screaming, Evan pulled his head back by the hair, so as to stare up at him. “This…isn’t going to get any more pleasant. And I don’t have time to fuck around. Tell me everything you know about Eric’s plans. Did he go after Hunter or was it my father? Is Hunter alive? If so, where is he?” Radnick shook his head, groaning. Evan moved next to Alexi, who was standing in the doorway, looking like he might throw up. “You okay?” Evan asked. Alexi shook his head. “I’m sorry. But it’s the only way. It’s…the only thing I know. But this isn’t working. I could keep going, but he could go into shock, and I need him conscious to answer questions. I don’t have time to pace myself.” “Then what?” Evan grimaced. “Fill the tub.” Darkness. The sound of dripping water. The smell of gasoline. The damn sack over his head was so itchy and smelled horrible! ‘You’re tied to a chair, with a bag over your head and you’re complaining that it’s not comfortable enough? Good one!’ Hunter thought. “Hello? Is anyone there?” Movement. A whispered conversation. “Who are you? What do you want? Is Vince alright?” A light chuckle. “Please, let me go. Why are you doing this? Is it because of my father? I’m sure he’ll pay you whatever you want. Please, just let me go.” Quiet again. “Are…are you going to kill me?” “Shh…It’s alright, Hunter. Everything will be just fine.” Came a soft reply. “Vince?” Evan plunged Radnick’s head into the cold water and held his flailing limbs down. After a few seconds, he pulled him up once more. “This is only going to get harder. Please, just tell me where Hunter is.” Radnick spat at him. “You’ll kill me once I tell you.” “Perhaps. But drowning is a pretty horrible way to go, I hear…” He dunked Radnick once more. “So, how is this going to work, exactly?” Alexi asked. “Oh, it’s easy.” He pulled Radnick back up, let him take a breath then, without talking to him again, plunged his head down once more. “See, you put them under the water for 20-30 seconds a few times. Warm up, as it were. Just about everyone can take that amount of time submerged, no problem. See, he’s barely fighting anymore. He’s getting used to it.” He pulled Radnick up, then pushed him down again. “It’s like you’re setting a limit to which they’re getting accustomed. Then…you start pushing the limit. Instead of 30 seconds, you keep them under for 40.” Radnick started struggling once more, so Evan pulled him up after a few more seconds. “Still got nothing? Okay, down you go, then.” He turned his attention to Alexi once more. “You keep pushing the limit, you don’t let them get comfortable with it again. Sure, he can take 40, then 50, 60, a lot of people might take even more than that. But you’re showing them that you’re prepared to push the envelope. You’re not willing to let them adjust anymore, and you’re showing them you don’t have a safety margin. You want answers, and you’re prepared to kill for them.” Radnick resurfaced once more, this time having taken in a few mouthfuls of water. “Hope you’re thirsty.” He dunked him again, pressing down harder this time. “Most people crack then, when they realize you’re not pulling back. When that happens, you actually don’t even have to push anymore. Panic sets in. So, whereas they might have withstood a minute under, now that they know you’re gonna go even further, they start struggling sooner, and that cuts down on their time more. See?” Radnick was flailing wildly. “I say…10 more seconds and a few good gulps and he’ll be ready.” Sure enough, when he came up once more, Radnick started screaming. “ALRIGHT! Stop! He’s alive…for now!” “Where is he?” “Eric has him. The warehouse outside town. You know the one.” “Hmm…How many people?” “I don’t know.” Evan made to push him under the water again. “No, wait! I’m telling the truth. Eric has two or three that I know of, but there’s the other guy, and I don’t know how many he has. Not many, I think.” “You think?” “Well, it only makes sense. If he had the men, he’d have done it all by himself sooner.” “Who is this guy?” “I don’t know. I only heard Eric talking to him on the phone. He’s high up with Samuels. That’s all I know. I swear.” “And my father? Is Eric going after him as well?” “That’s the plan.” “Thank you.” Evan pulled out the knife that had already tasted blood that morning and cut a deep gash across Radnic’s neck. The man collapsed into the bathtub, the water quickly turning red. Evan steadied himself once more, then walked out of the room, taking Alexi’s hand and pulling him along. “You okay with all of this?” “Not by a longshot.” Alexi answered. “You still with me?” “Always.”
  13. “Pick up, damn you!” Sam yelled into the phone. He’d been calling Alexi and Evan for the past 30 minutes, ever since his wife found him weeping on the floor of their living room. He hadn’t noticed them leaving, but he knew all too well where they had gone. “Sam…calm down.” Dana said. “We don’t know that they…” “That what? They went after Hunter? Of course they did. Alexi’s already gone running after Hunter once and Evan’s shown he’ll follow.” “But they couldn’t possibly know where Hunter is.” “That’s one of my main concerns. Who knows what kind of shit they might get into trying to figure it out? You heard Evan. He…takes care of things. Ever wonder how he gets answers to questions that trouble him?” Dana remained silent. “Best case scenario, we have a pair of lunatic teenagers torturing people. Worst case…” he trailed off. “Fuck, they’re still not answering!” “But have you tried Vince again? Maybe it’s just…a misunderstanding.” “A bloody misunderstanding, if Evan gets involved.” Sam was startled as his phone started ringing. He collected himself and looked at the screen, hoping to see one of his sons’ names on it. Instead, he found himself staring at an unfamiliar number. “Are you gonna answer the damn thing?” Dana asked, bringing him back to reality. “Hello?” “Sam, this is Vince.” This was peculiar. Despite their long-standing relationship, Vince rarely addressed Sam by any other form than “sir”. Something was wrong, Sam was convinced. “What’s going on, Vince? Where’s Hunter?” “Hanson has ‘im. Us, I suppose. He wants to negotiate…” “Where and when?” “The abandoned industrial compound outside of town. One hour. Go through the main gate, drive straight for a mile. There’s an empty lot there, with just a warehouse to the side. He said bring 4 men. Just one car. And Sam?” “Yeah?” “Make sure you can trust them…” The line went dead and Sam was lost in thought. “Don’t tell me he bought that shit.” Eric said, as soon as Vince finished the call. “Why not? He trusts me completely. You have no idea how much I wanted to end him and his whole fucking family for the last few years, but I knew I needed support from outside if I were to succeed. He has a way about him. His demeanor, I suppose. It’s just a fucking act, but he seems so friendly. He has a way to demand respect. Like you know he’s better than you, but he doesn’t act as if he’s superior. That’s why his closest lieutenants are so loyal to him.” “Ah, hence the 4 men he can trust…” “Exactly. Take them all out at once. The man likes to meet the people who work for him. That’s why I couldn’t get more than these 3.” Vince said, gesturing to 3 young men standing at the foot of the stairs leading to the warehouse office, smoking and chatting softly among each other. “They’re the only ones I personally brought in and who are loyal to me. Everyone in-between me and Samuels will follow once the dust settles and the higher-ups are…well, not so high anymore.” He finished with an evil grin. Eric stood in front of the window, his hands clasped behind his back. “You know, this isn’t going to be easy.” He said. “Henson did have a point. Negotiating and getting Samuels to back out and actually place you in charge could avoid a lot of hassle. Once this whole thing is done, we’ll both have to clean house and you know there’ll be ruffled feathers. We won’t have complete and immediate control. It would be good if at least one of us had a solid power base…” “You’re not getting cold feet, are you?” Vince spat angrily. “We both agreed this is the way to go. It’s too late now, anyway. Samuels knows Henson took the boy. What, we just let him go and cut a deal with him? Don’t you think he’ll see right through us? He might just go to Henson directly and then we’re both fucked. No, this ends today.” “If we go through with it, it’ll just start today.” “Then so be it.” Vince glanced at his watch. ”I’ll get my men in position. You stay here with Hicks and wait for Henson to arrive. Once he’s taken care of, send Hicks and the other one my way. We’ll need ‘em.” “What about the kid?” Vince peered through the window, eyeing Hunter slumped in his chair, his head covered by the dirty sack, alone in the empty warehouse. “He’ll keep for now. We need to make sure daddy dearest is out of the picture first. He’s still a valuable commodity until then.” Evan drove through the main gate and immediately took one of the small alleys snaking through the large abandoned industrial complex. It had house all types of companies and workers through the years. It started as a small mining operation in the mid-1800’s. When that was closed up, clothing manufacturers settled in. Later during the 20th century, heavy metallurgy. Now, it was all abandoned, except for the warehouses that were occasionally used for…less that legal activities. The police knew that they were used as storage for stolen goods at the very least – drug and arms shipments were actually more common – but the informants and tight connections that Henson had built within every tier of law-enforcement meant that there was little fear of discovery. Unless it was an election year, in which case a token capture was made, along with a few insignificant arrests, to keep Joe Public happy. It proved that their taxes were well used and assured a new term for the elected officials deep within Henson’s pockets. He was more than happy to make such a small sacrifice once in a while. The lost revenue was more than covered by the fact that he didn’t constantly have to look over his shoulder. It helped Myke Henson sleep well at night. Of course, Henson’s sleeping habits didn’t normally worry Evan too much. Still, he was his father and what Radnick had said worried him. If the man had been truthful – and Evan had enough experience to know when he was being lied to – then his father was also in danger. Eric and someone in Samuels’ organization had big plans for that day. Evan’s mind was a whirlwind. He had no love for his father, but whether he wanted to admit it or not, the man had ingrained a sense of loyalty to his family into him. And his family consisted of just the two of them. Evan glanced at Alexi, sitting next to him, staring intently out the front window, biting his lower lip, either in concentration or in fear. ‘Maybe it isn’t just the two of us anymore.’ Evan thought. No, the feelings he had towards his father had nothing in common with anything a normal father-son relationship would present. Still, he owed him his life. As screwed up as it had become, it was still his life. At least recently. He had exerted his independence and his father let him go, if reluctantly. Had Henson not taken him in when he was younger, would Evan be in jail? Would he even be alive? He certainly wouldn’t be next to Alexi. If nothing else, his messed up life could now be summed up in one word – Alexi. He owed his father for that, at the very least. He would fight for him. He would save him. But first he would keep his promise to the boy he loved and save Hunter. Finally, the truck pulled to a stop behind a dumpster, next to a dilapidated 4-storey building. The cold, dirty grey concrete and broken widows made for a sorry sight, but it was good cover. 500 yards away, across an empty plot, where a building had been demolished decades ago, stood their target. The warehouse wasn’t large, but it was ominous, with its blacked-out windows and rusty metal walls. The front door rolled aside and a black SUV drove out. With the entrance temporarily open, the two boys strained their eyes to peer inside, but could not discern anything through the darkness hidden between those walls, especially at that distance. Alexi suddenly realized that the open entrance resembled the maw of a very large, very dangerous creature. He gulped loudly, as someone inside the building rolled the door shut. Evan didn’t turn his head to look at Alexi, but he decided the tension was too thick. He was never one for levity before such situations. He liked to concentrate, be focused on his task. But he knew that Alexi was close to falling apart. “So, four gay guys walk into a bar…” he started. Alexi turned to face Evan, but the young man was still facing straight ahead. Alexi blinked rapidly a few times and shook his head in puzzlement. “Are…are you insane?” he asked. Finally, Evan met his eyes. “Nope. Just thought I should lighten the mood.” “With a gay joke?” “Well, if the shoe fits…” “You ARE insane!” “Oh, come on, you’ll like it. It’s marvelously nasty.” Alexi sighed. “What have I gotten myself into?” Evan ignored his comment and plowed ahead. “So, four gay guys walk into a bar and there’s only just one four-legged stool left. How do they sit?” “They turn it upside down.” Alexi answered, groaning and rolling his eyes. “Oh…” Evan replied lamely. “It’s an old joke, dude.” “Fine. Then you’re responsible for the humor in this relationship from now on.” “Deal. But what do you bring to the table?” Alexi asked, raising an eyebrow and smiling in what he hoped was an alluring manner. Evan bent down towards him, placed his right hand on the seat’s head rest and stretched his left arm behind Alexi. He fumbled inside the glove box and pulled out a gun. “Oh, I have certain talents…” Christian knocked gently on the door to Henson’s office. An immediate “Come in” sounded through the thick doors. The young man took a few seconds to compose himself. He had his best suit on that day. He was still far from an Armani, but the dark, perfectly-tailored suit fit him nicely and gave him a lot of much-needed confidence, as well as an air of authority. If Eric kept his word, he would soon have enough authority to merit that suit, as well as many more like it. It may not have been his mother’s dream, but he was certainly aiming for the stars. His parents wanted him to be in pre-law when he was 20, but a car accident when he was still a sophomore in high-school ended that dream. Still, he certainly was on an accelerated career path. At his young age, he could be one of the boss’ right-hand men. He dabbed at the sweat on his forehead with a piece of tissue. The NEXT boss, that is. He liked Myke Henson well enough, he supposed. Well, maybe “like” is too strong a word. Not many people working for him truly liked the man, but he commanded respect and not a small amount of fear. That alone made Christian feel weak in the knees. He couldn’t believe he was actually doing it. Actually going through with the crazy plan. When Eric first told him about it, he thought the man was joking. Then he started worrying about his mental state. After all, he reasoned, being essentially in exile, looking after the boss’ lunatic son might drive anyone insane. When he saw Eric was actually serious, he considered going straight to Henson with the information. Surely he would be handsomely rewarded, he thought. He already had a decent enough job. He was rarely in the streets, but mostly in the house, close by Henson. The old man seemed to have taken a liking to him. That thought also made Christian uncomfortable. Betrayal was bad enough, but Henson really wasn’t that bad. If he didn’t like him already, he was on the road to doing so. Maybe Henson had plans for him. Evan, his son, didn’t seem all that interested in taking over the family business. Maybe Henson had a bright future in store for him. But Christian quickly shook that thought off. If that were true, surely Henson wouldn’t have kept him in the dark. No, the more likely reason was that Henson himself was physically attracted to him. Christian immediately latched onto that thought as reassurance for his actions. He hated fags, and the thought of an old man perving on him was enough to make him sick. And on top of it all, the simple fact was that Eric confided in him. Trusted him enough to bring him into the operation. People like Eric, old-timers, people who knew what they were doing, rarely trusted someone so young. That made Christian feel special. On the one hand, the boss was a creep who probably wanted to molest him. On the other, Eric, if he took over, had already placed a lot of trust in Christian. He told him the plan and gave him a big role to play in it. Certainly, that meant that he would have a position of high importance in the organization when things settled. Yes, in the end, Christian was sure that he had made the right decision. He adjusted his tie and nodded to himself, then entered the study. “What is it, Christian? I’m quite busy. We have a shipment coming in tomorrow. Things will be a bit crazy.” Yes, that was one of the reasons Eric picked that moment to move. Most people will be too busy with their pre-assigned roles during that time to pay attention to what was supposed to be a silent coup. “Sir, Eric has the boy.” “What?” Henson jumped to his feet and moved from behind his massive desk. “Why did he move without telling me?” “I have no idea, sir. But he has him. He thought you would be pleased.” “Did he now?” Henson rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I don’t normally like surprises…” He looked Christian up and down, appraising him. “But, I suppose a little initiative is to be encouraged, as long as it produces results.” Henson walked past Christian and out the door. “Harris!” he hollered. A tall, thin, balding man, with half-glasses resting on his crooked nose materialized within a few seconds from upstairs. “Sir?” “I have to be somewhere. Where the hell are Hicks and Radnick?” “I believe Eric required their assistance.” “Hmm…Well, get Jamison and Rodriquez…” Christian tensed. This was not good. Henson needed to be alone. “Sir, both Radnick and Hicks are awaiting at the warehouse, with Eric. I thought I would drive you.” Christian cut in. “You did?” Henson studied the young man again, this time staring into his eyes for a few seconds. Christian wanted to avert his gaze. He felt himself breaking into a nervous sweat, but he knew he had to control himself, or he would be lost. It was too late. Even if he came clean, he’d still get mutilated at the very least for his role in the whole thing. No, he needed to keep himself together and get through it. So he maintained eye contact, until Henson finally muttered his consent. “Initiative again? I suppose you want a raise, then?” Christian chuckled. ‘Oh, you have no idea!’ he thought. “I wouldn’t mind.” He admitted aloud. Henson turned to Harris once more. “Nevermind. But it looks like I will be occupied for the time being. But I expect we’ll have a meeting tonight or tomorrow at the latest. Something tells me some big changes are coming…” Evan and Alexi circled around until they were behind the warehouse. On account of Alexi’s leg, it took them much longer that Evan would have liked, especially when they were out in the open, even if all the windows facing them were blacked out. “Why didn’t we come in the car, again?” Alexi asked in a whisper, once they leaned against the side of the building. “I told you. There’s no way to drive a car close enough without being spotted or at least heard. That alley is the only place within sensible distance where we could safely stop. But don’t worry. If everything goes well, then we’ll be walking out the front door and the truck will be relatively close by.” “You’re fairly confident.” “Well, Radnick said that Eric has maybe 3 guys. Considering his intellect, I wouldn’t be surprised if he included himself in that equation. Now, he didn’t know about the other guy, but I think he was right. He couldn’t have too many, otherwise he would have taken Samuels down by himself, from the inside. I’m guessing he only has the backing of a few people. That SUV that drove out had four guys in. I couldn’t make out their faces, but I’m sure there were four. I think that’s all they have.” “Why?” “Gut instinct, mainly. I think they were on their way to meeting your dad. Or, more likely, springing a trap.” “What?!” Alexi dug into his pockets, fishing for his cell. “No use. No signal out here. I know there’s a satellite phone in the warehouse office, but there’s no other way to contact someone from out here. Anyway, I think those 4 guys were all they had to spare. If they had more…well, it stands to reason that they’d send them out, make sure the job is done.” “The job?” “Killing your foster dad, most likely.” Evan said softly, trying not to upset Alexi, but knowing that the truth was the only way to go. The stakes were too big. Alexi needed to know what he was getting into if they were to survive. Evan could see that Alexi was getting more agitated by the second. He was almost drawing blood from biting on his lower lip. Evan grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. “Hey, get a grip! You can’t lose it now. Hunter’s in there. We get him out, then we get both our dads. But in order to do that, we need to keep our heads, got it? This isn’t a game.” “I don’t know if I can do this.” “You have to. I wouldn’t normally get you involved, but I have to. We know there’s at least one more guy in the building. He closed the door. Now, if I know Eric, he wasn’t in that car. He’s a coward at heart. He wouldn’t walk into a firefight, even if it’s relatively risk-free, such as an ambush on your dad. My guess is he and a bodyguard are in there. Probably Hicks. And if I know Eric, which I do, the lazy fuck is probably up in that office, watching TV or some such shit. I have no idea where Hunter is, but the office is fairly small. It barely has enough room for a small table and two chairs. There’s a connecting bathroom, but I doubt they have him in there. My guess is he’s being held in the warehouse proper, with a guard, while Eric is upstairs, waiting for his plan to come together. So, I’ll need you to get Hunter the hell out of here as soon as I take out the guard, while I go after Eric.” “How…how can you possibly know all that?” Evan grimaced. “I’ve…used this place before.” “How do you mean?” “You saw what I did back at the house. We’d sometimes have someone here in the warehouse, for…a talk. That’s how things usually went. Eric was upstairs, watching some damn soap, while a guard supervised my…work.” Evan closed his eyes, trying to push away the memories. Alexi grabbed his hand and squeezed tightly. “It’s okay. After today, it’ll be over. Now, lead the way.” Evan nodded and, still holding on to Alexi, moved slowly towards a small door, secured by a large lock. Alexi looked at it and shook his head. “Now what?” he asked glumly. Evan merely grinned and pulled out a key. “It’s my dad’s warehouse, remember?” As the lock clicked open, Alexi’s mind wandered a bit and he almost burst out laughing. “Now who’s the insane one?” Evan asked, looking at Alexi with concern in his eyes. “Sorry, it’s just…Dude, do you realize what’s happening here?” “I thought we were rescuing your brother.” “Yeah, but…Look at the larger picture. Which one of us is Juliet?” “What?” “Dude, your dad, Sam…The Montagues and the Capulets. It’s friggin Romeo and Juliet!” Both Evan and Alexi choked back their laughter. It certainly wouldn’t have been very stealth-like. Once they finally regained their composure, Evan pulled the door open only enough for him to peer inside. He signaled for Alexi to follow him and went in silently. Once inside, Alexi needed a few moments for his eyes to get accustomed to the darkness, but he finally realized they were in a long hallway, illuminated every 10 feet or so by a pale overhead light. “This corridor runs along the side of the building, for its entire length, about 70 yards. There’s a door here at the back, one at the front and one to the side, leading into the warehouse itself, by the stairs leading up to the office. My dad had the thing built. The doors were already there, but he thought that it would be a good idea to disguise the potential escape route at the back via this corridor, so he had it walled-up.” Evan shrugged. “I never did understand the man’s logic. But it works in our favor. It’ll bring us close enough to the office stairs. If my hunch is right, Hunter will be close by. Now, once we get there, you stay out of sight. I’ll see what’s what, take the guard out silently if I can, then signal you to come and take Hunter. Understand?” Alexi nodded. “Good. Then you two run. I don’t care if you’ll look like you’re in a three-legged race, you two get the hell out of here and head for the truck as fast as you can. You don’t stop until you’re inside and the engine is running. You know how to drive, right?” “I don’t have my license, but yeah, I do.” “Okay. Once there, you wait for 5 minutes. That’s it. 5 minutes, no longer. I’ll be going after Eric, so if I’m not out by then, you get the hell out of here. You drive out the way I showed you on the map. I don’t want you to run into the car we saw drive away. Do you think you can do that?” “Sure.” Evan had shown Alexi the secondary entrance to the complex, on the opposite side of the main one, connecting to the main road via a dirt one, about 5 miles long. “But I’m not going anywhere without you. Why do you need to go after Eric anyway?” “Firstly, because he might shoot us in the ass as we’re running away. Secondly, because I have to. It’s the only way this ends. Now you have to promise me that if I’m not out in 5 minutes, you and Hunter drive away. I’m doing all this for you, Alexi, because I love you. I’m not planning on doing it all in vain. I need to at least be sure you’ll be okay. That’s the main objective here. If you can’t promise me, we leave right now. And if you do promise, I expect you to keep your word. No more secrets and lies between us, got it? Your word, Alexi, please…” Alexi struggled with his thoughts and feelings for a few seconds and finally nodded, not trusting his voice to speak. “Say it, Alexi.” “I promise.” “Good.” Evan smiled broadly. “Now, quietly, follow me.” Every step was an eternity. Alexi wondered how no one in the warehouse was able to hear his heartbeat. It sounded like a drummer’s recital to him. He didn’t even realize he was holding his breath until he felt his face heat up. He gasped loudly and Evan scowled at him, motioning him to be silent. They were there. The door was on their right and it was half-open. Someone was moving on the other side. Large, exaggerated steps, like those of a man losing his patience. Evan faced Alexi and mouthed the word “stay”. He didn’t need telling twice. Evan dropped silently to the floor and lay completely still. The movement outside stopped and Alexi could hear the sound of a lighter. Whoever was outside was a smoker. Bad habit. It could kill him. Evan was peering outside through the one inch space between the floor and the door. It was enough to see the man’s shoes to realize that he had his back to the door. Now was the time. Evan sprang to his feet and slowly pushed the door open, praying it wouldn’t squeak. It didn’t and Evan moved like a cat. Alexi held his breath again. In the perfect stillness, he thought he heard a snap. Then nothing again. It was an eternity. Why wasn’t Evan coming back? He felt his face heat up again. This was ridiculous. Couldn’t he even hold his breath for half a minute? Unless…it had been more than that. ‘Oh, god, what if he’s dead? What if I’m next? What if…’ Alexi slapped himself, trying to regain control, as Evan came back in and gave him a curious look. “Umm…I didn’t realize you were into S&M…” “Stuff it! God, I was so worried! What took you so long? I was going nuts!” “It’s been less than a minute. Come on, there’s no sign of Eric.” Evan moved back out and Alexi followed him. He stopped in his tracks and looked at the body at his feet. “Didn’t you kill this guy already?” “What? Oh, no, this is Hicks. Yeah, he and Radnick did look remarkably alike. Thick neck as well, the bastard.” Alexi’s eyes quickly shifted to the chair placed less than six feet away. And, more exactly, the figure sitting in the chair. Hunter was motionless and Alexi feared the worst for a second, but then he saw the boy stirring and let out the breath he had been holding…again. “No sign of Eric.” Evan whispered. “Like I suspected. He’s probably upstairs.” They moved quietly to Hunter. He didn’t want to take any chances by surprising Hunter into making noise, so he placed his hand over the boy’s mouth, the rough fabric of the sack between them. Hunter jumped. Or, at least, he tried, his restraints holding him in place. “Relax, Hunter, it’s me, Evan.” “Me too.” Alexi murmured. “I’m gonna let go. Don’t make a sound, okay?” Hunter nodded and Evan pulled back his hand, then took off the sack. Hunter blinked rapidly and squinted until he could focus on the two boys in front of him. “How?” he croaked. “It doesn’t matter. You and Alexi need to go. Fast. Alexi knows what to do.” Evan supplied, as he worked the knots to release Hunter from the chair. Finally succeeding, he stopped for a minute to look at Hunter. He placed his hands on the boy’s tear-streaked face and then rubbed his thumbs affectionately over his cheeks. “It’s good to see you, little brother.” He smiled softly and was rewarded with a weak grin from Hunter. He let go of him and turned to Alexi and kissed him swiftly. “Now go!” Evan turned his back to the two retreating forms and moved towards the stairs. Now was the time to deal with Eric. Christian pulled in next to the warehouse. He let the engine run for a while. He was distracted by movement in the mirror. He thought he saw two boys running awkwardly behind a building. He shook his head and focused on the task at hand. He turned his head to Henson. He didn’t know what to do. Quick and easy, he thought, but he wanted to say something. He opened his mouth, then closed it. “I had big plans for you, Christian.” Henson said sadly. Christian pulled his gun quickly. As soon as they turned the corner and were out of the direct line of sight from the warehouse, Hunter and Alexi collapsed to the ground, Alexi clutching his leg in pain. It had taken all he had to hobble across those 500 yards at a pace which resembled a slow run. The boys tried to catch their breath when a shot echoed behind them. They risked a peek towards the warehouse. There was a car parked there now. They thought they had heard one approaching as they ran, but dared not look. A man got out of the car and moved towards the warehouse. Hunter had seen enough. He got to his feet and, grabbing Alexi by the shirt, pulled him up as well. “Get into the car. NOW!” he barked. Evan moved ever so slowly up the stairs, trying not to make a sound. When he reached the top of the stairs, he remained crouched for a second, trying to listen in. No sound came from behind the closed door. He straightened himself up and peered inside. No one. Cautiously, he turned the door knob and stepped inside. He pulled out the gun he had hidden in his jeans waist. He took in his surroundings. The table was occupied with a small black & white TV, a lamp, the satellite phone and a dirty plate and cutlery. There was a file cabinet and an empty coat rack. The only other piece of furniture, an uncomfortable looking plastic chair, sat unoccupied. The sound of a toilet flushing came from behind the door opposite him. It was the bathroom where Evan had often thrown up and cleaned the blood off himself after entire nights of “talking” to someone. The door swung open and Eric froze in his tracks, their eyes meeting. “How very…Pulp Fiction of us.” Eric said, his face neutral. “Oh, I think a gun isn’t personal enough for this.” Evan replied. “I’ve wanted to do this for a long time. Man to man, right? Let’s see what the fag can do, shall we?” he placed his gun on the table next to him. A shot rang from outside and Evan was distracted for just a fraction of a second. It was enough. Eric moved as fast as a cat and he pulled his gun. “Bad move, kid.” Eric growled, as Evan stared down the barrel of a gun. He didn’t see it. He only felt the piercing pain as he dropped to one knee. He stared at Eric again, disbelieving. How could he have been so stupid? ‘Just shoot and kill, you fucking moron! Stupid macho bravado! Always gets someone killed!’ But at least Alexi was safe. He knew that. “I’m going to find that little boyfriend of yours and skin him alive, you cocksucker.” Eric laughed as the sound of footsteps came up the stairs. “Christian, move your ass to the front gate. Vince needs you.” Eric continued, then he refocused on Evan. He squeezed the trigger once more and pain erupted through Evan’s body. Darkness was crowding in around him. He didn’t want to let go, but it was too hard to keep fighting through the pain. There were more shots. He heard them, but he didn’t feel anymore. The darkness was coming and he was ready to embrace it. Hunter ended up driving. He tore down the dirt road, as Alexi sobbed in the seat next to him. They both knew what it meant. But they couldn’t go back. They had promised. They might even have time to stop Sam. Now was not the time to grieve. Now was the time to survive. Foot planted firmly on the gas, Hunter said a silent prayer for Evan, as he swerved onto the main road. He kept cursing for several minutes, until, at the edge of town, he managed to get a signal on Alexi’s phone. He dialed the number and waited, silently praying. “Mom!” he shouted when Dana finally picked up. The black Escalade rolled through the main entrance slowly. Sam was in the back seat, sandwiched between two of his most trusted men, who were peering nervously out the windows. The car kept moving until it reached the remains of a building. Thunder suddenly erupted all around them. Bullets started piercing the car and the men surrounding him barely had time to react. He felt a sharp sting in his arm, but he ignored it. He had one thing to do. He had lost everything, but he would save his wife. Blood trickled down his chest. He numbly pressed the buttons on his satellite phone. “Sam!” Dana shouted into the phone. “Sam, are you okay?” She knew it was a stupid question as soon as she spoke it. She could hear the gunshots through the phone. Silent tears were running down her face. “Dana…”Sam groaned. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. It’s all my fault. Our boys…” “Sam! Hunter and Alexi are okay. They’re on their way home!” “What?” “Evan, Sam. Evan, he…” “Dana, get out. Take the kids and run. It’s Vince…” The loudest shot rang then and Sam was quiet. A shiver ran through Dana and she knew he was gone. “Oh, Sam…” she moaned, as she dropped the phone. She permitted herself a few minutes of crying, until she heard Evan’s truck come to a screeching halt in the driveway. Hunter came running in and met his mother’s eyes. No words were exchanged. It wasn’t necessary. As the car moved ever forward through the darkness and rain, Dana remained silent, trying to contain the pain and hide the tears. She needed to be strong for her boys. She glanced in the rearview mirror, where two silent forms sat huddled together. Alexi had finally stopped crying. Through the past weeks, he had cried over and over. With Sam, with Dana, with Hunter and with Evan. Now he cried for all of them. For all he had gained and then lost. For all that had been stolen from him. Finally, he was dry and exhausted. The pain numbed him and he remained quiet. For 10 hours, as Dana drove ever forward, he cried, slept, cried and then remained silent. He had no more tears to shed, but neither did he have words. Nothing appropriate for the sorrow he felt. He was broken and he only wanted the end to come. Hunter pulled him closer and kissed him on the top of his head, then whispered softly into his ears. “I don’t have the words to express it, Alexi, but I feel your pain. We’ve both lost so much. But we have each other. I have a brother. And for what it’s worth, you have me and I won’t let go. We have each other to lean on when the pain is too great.” They rested their heads together and closed their eyes as they moved ever forward into rain and darkness.
  14. Chapter I Chase Mitchell sat on the rough stone as his feet dangled carelessly over the edge of the cliff. True, it was only 20 feet or so down to the small stream, but he often times liked to think that, millions of years into the future, that very spot where he spent almost every evening, watching the sunset, would be the site of the next Grand Canyon, the small river carving spectacular architecture through the stone walls over time. He looked up at the sky and stared in awe at the lights winking over head. That was one of the reasons why he loved living on a farm, 10 miles from nowhere. There were no bright city lights to ruin the beautiful magic of the stars on the night sky. As all boys, he went through a phase where he wanted to be an astronaut. It didn’t last long. When he was 11, he realized he was too much of a dreamer for that. Sure, his imagination knew no limits and such a fertile mind often gives birth to man’s greatest ideas. But he was useless at anything that even remotely hinted at math. An astronaut he would never be. But that didn’t stop him from dreaming. At 17, he was often considered kooky by his classmates, but he didn’t really care. It wasn’t as if they had much opportunity to spend time together outside of school, so he didn’t mind keeping mostly to himself when in school. Sure, he liked having friends. He remembered how it was when he had lots of friends, back before his mother dragged him to his grandparents’ place when he was 13. No explanation, just packed bags, a cab ride and a flight from Boston to San Antonio, followed by a long car ride in the company of a surly old man who barely spoke a word outside of “I’m your grandfather, get in the damn car.” Then he was there. Or here, he thought. The place he’d come to think of as home. He found solitude fit him just fine. He had his daydreams and his eccentricity, as some considered it, made him popular with the girls. Living so far out from real civilization, it was hard to have much of a social life, but he still went on a date every couple of weeks. In short, he had everything he wanted. “The boy isn’t right in the head” his grandmother Sally would often tell his mom, while his grandpa Jack just grunted, flipping the page in his book de jour. “He spends too much time with his head up in the clouds. This isn’t a place for dreamers.” Chase would just shrug, grab a sandwich and sprint out the back door, as his mom would shake her head, the corner of her mouth turning upwards in the smallest hint of a smile. Yes, he didn’t care. He’d never be an engineer, he’d never be good with his hands and build a better mouse trap, but he liked to dream big and found his release in writing. And his teachers thought he was good at it. Now, his biggest dream, looking up at the stars, was to make it to Hollywood. Be a writer. It was silly, he knew. Walk into a café and you’ll find a dozen people, laptops open, each of them writing the next big novel or next big screenplay, in hopes of making it big. It was stupid beyond words to think even 1% of them actually made it big. But hope keeps the spirit alive. ‘Hell, even if 1% of them at least get their work in the hands of a producer, that means I have a shot’ he thought. He had recently entered a writing competition. If he won, he decided it would be a sign. He’d get his hands on every book instructing him on how to properly write a screenplay and then he’d get to work. He wouldn’t rest until he saw Hollywood’s biggest stars in a movie he wrote. He started laughing, imagining riding back into town in a stretch limo. The absurdity of the image conjured up made him laugh even harder. He bounced up to his feet, leaned over the edge of the precipice and spat down, waiting to hear the splash. He never did, but it was his ritual. He started walking slowly towards the house, almost a mile away. He still had 30 minutes until his grandma would start freaking out over his absence. She didn’t particularly like him wandering around in the darkness, even as he maintained that he could take care of himself. After all, he was 17 now. Almost a man. He wasn’t tall, just 5’8”, but he was well-muscled. Wrestling was the one extra-curricular activity he had dabbled in at school and he found he liked it. So, he stuck with it through high-school. School…It was March. Not long before school was over. He had already decided he wouldn’t go to college and no one in the family seemed particularly upset over it. The results of the writing competition would decide his future for him. It was as good as a coin flip and he often thought that leaving things to chance is the best way to go. So making decisions based on the result of a coin flip was just another of his eccentricities. If he wins, he gets on a bus and goes to face the world, hoping he’d come up on top. If he loses, he stays home on the farm, maybe marry one of the girls from school, the ones who drool over his deep green eyes and jet-black hair and square jaw. Yes, he definitely had good genes. On his father’s side, that was. A father he barely remembered anymore. His mom was short and red-haired, just like his grandmother. He was thankful for his appearance and frequently thought about what his kids would look like. Maybe settling down and raising a family within a couple of years wasn’t all that bad. But he just felt it deep inside. Felt that such a decision would haunt him later in life. He was destined for something greater, he just knew it. Which is why he chose the competition result as the deciding factor. If he won, then that would prove him right. Prove that fate has reserved something great for him. He kept walking, a big smile on his face, his hands in his jeans’ pockets, his jacket unzipped. It was fairly warm, after all. As he crested the small hill just next to the farm, he stopped in his tracks and his breath caught in his throat. The barn was on fire. And there was no one outside. How could that be? Surely they weren’t all asleep. He wanted to run, to scream, to get his family out of the house and out of harm’s way. The blaze illuminated the whole area and he noticed two SUVs parked in front of the house. He didn’t know why, but a chill ran down his spine. Something was wrong. Terribly wrong. He made his way as quickly as possible towards the house, but keeping to the shadows. He crouched behind a small bush, about 100 yards from the house and peered over it. There was a man standing near one of the cars, wearing a dark suit, smoking a cigarette. “What the fuck’s taking Vince so long? We should get the hell out of here.” “Relax.” Came a second voice and another man stepped from around the car, zipping up his pants. He’d evidently just relieved himself against the tire, like a dog would. “We’re in the middle of nowhere. Who the fuck’s gonna see the fire?” “It just makes me nervous. Couldn’t he wait to burn the pace down until after?” The second man shrugged. “Intimidation tactic, I suppose.” A loud bang rang from inside the house. “Speaking of which…” the man went on, grinning, as his companion started laughing nervously. Chase’s blood ran cold. His grandfather taught him how to shoot and he knew full well what that sound had been. A 9mm, he was sure of it. He didn’t know what to do. He was sure the two men standing guard were armed, but he couldn’t just let his family be killed. He said a quick prayer, crossed himself and got ready to rush the men. They were both facing the house now, so he might just catch them by surprise. Hit the first one hard and take him out, then fight it out with the second one, hoping he wouldn’t have enough time to draw a gun. The front door of the house burst open and Chase’s mom flew down the stairs, as a bald, extremely tall man came striding behind her. “Victoria!” screamed grandma Sally, being dragged by two other thugs. Even in that situation, her first thought was of her daughter’s well-being. That’s why Chase loved her, despite her statements regarding his foolish dreams. The tall man stopped in his tracks, turned to face the older woman and backhanded her across the face. Blood spurted from her nose and she remained quiet, but the scowl on her face looked deadly. “Vicki, dear…” the man said as he walked down the stairs and to Chase’s mother. “I don’t want to cut our reunion short, but I’m in a hurry. So, once again, tell me what I want to know.” Victoria kept her mouth shut, staring defiantly at the man. “Do I need to kill your mother as well in order to make my point?” She stared up at him, as she lay on the ground, then slowly got to her feet and spat into his face. “You’re gonna kill us anyway. So fuck you!” “I’ll skip over that, if you don’t mind. But as you wish.” He turned to the two men holding grandma Sally and nodded. They pushed her down to the ground and one of them pulled out a handgun. He shot her in the back of the head and Chase wanted to scream, but his mother beat him to it. He managed to restrain himself. He still wanted to run out and help his mother, but he knew it was pointless. He’d only get himself killed. He hated thinking like that. It was selfish and cowardly, but he knew his mom would want him to live. “I’ll kill your son.” The tall man told Vicki. She laughed mockingly. “If you had found him, he’d be here right now. He knows this place better than anyone, except maybe my father. But you made sure he couldn’t help you by killing him, didn’t you? You won’t find Chase. Someone’s gonna notice the smoke in the morning and you won’t be able to stick around then. And there’s no way you’ll find him in the dark. So, do your worst. Kill me. My son will live and so will my sister and her kids.” “We’ll see about that.” The man said, setting his jaw and narrowing his eyes. “Put her in the car.” “Sir?” “She’s right. We won’t find the little brat. And he’s the only thing that’d make her talk. So, we keep her alive. Sooner or later, the kid’ll show up, then she’ll talk, and the surviving Samuels will be mine.” “Vince, are you sure we should be wasting so much time and money on this? We’re barely holding control of the crew and Henson’s out for blood.” “We’ll do as I say, got it? I won’t rest until I see that bitch and her pups dead. I don’t care if it takes me the rest of my life, I’ll have her head. And as long as I’m paying you, I expect you to do as you’re told.” “Okay. You know we’re with you. We’ve been with you from the start. I just thought…” “Stop thinking. You’ll only hurt your brain. Give me a pen and paper.” Vince said, sticking out his hand. One of his men dug through his pockets, coming up with the desired objects. “Boss?” he asked, handing them over. “I’m leaving a note for the kid. Why waste my time looking for him?” He scribbled down something on the paper, then walked back up the stairs to the house and stuck it in the screen door. “Time to go.” He said, as he got into one of the cars, as his men roughly pushed Vicki into the other. Finally, they all got in and drove away, leaving only a trail of dust behind them. Chase’s heartbeat slowed down somewhat, but he still felt as if his heart could burst out of his chest at any moment. He walked on unsteady feet until he was next to his grandmother’s body. He fell to his knees and pulled her in his lap, not even taking note of the gore. He rocked back and forth, tears streaking his face. He had no idea how long he sat there, like that. A loud crash brought him back to his senses. The barn was collapsing on itself. He gently placed his grandmother’s corpse on the ground and got up. He ambled up to the house and took the note. “ACES MOTEL. BE THERE BY TOMORROW AT NOON.” He crumpled up the piece of paper in his fist and walked inside. He barely glanced into the kitchen. The table was overturned and a pool of blood was on the floor. He had no doubt that his grandfather lay sprawled, lifeless, behind the table. He didn’t have the strength to face that sight. He walked up the stairs, his hand on the rail, as he could barely stand, his legs shaking with fear and rage both. He made it into his room and glanced in the mirror. His shirt was covered in blood. His grandmother’s blood. He ripped it off him, screaming in anger. His jeans were also stained. He stripped completely and walked into the bathroom. He let the cold water run over him, trying to think. He should call the cops was his immediate thought. But he couldn’t. Those men were after information about his aunt. His mother had only painted a broad picture of his aunt Dana, whom he remembered from when he was far younger, but she made it clear that she was in danger and in hiding. But she had a way to contact her. A cell number. She had made him memorize it, in case something ever happened and he needed to contact Dana. No, he wouldn’t involve the police. He finished cleaning up, got dressed, then packed a duffle bag and went into his mother’s room. He took a moment to look around and inhale her scent. Then he walked to her dresser and pulled out the roll of money from where she had hidden it. He didn’t count it. He simply stuffed it into his pocket. Then he picked up the house phone, since cells had such bad reception there and dialed the number. On the third ring, a weary voice answered. “Hello?” the woman spoke. Chase didn’t know what to say. “Sis? Is that you?” the woman’s voice became more alert. “Who is this? I only gave this number to one person.” “Aunt Dana?” he said, his voice trembling with emotion. “Chase?” “They have her. And they’re…they’re dead.” “What? Chase, tell me what happened. Slowly and clearly.” And so he did. He recounted everything he had witnessed. “What do I do?” “Pack some clothes.” “Already done.” “Do you have money?” “Yes.” “Can you drive?” “Yes.” “Get your grandpa’s car and drive back to the city. Get on the first plane to Chicago.” “Chicago? Is that where you are?” “No. I’m sorry, but it’s best if I don’t tell you where I am. Chicago is the best place for us to meet.” “But what about my mom?” “You can’t do anything for her. Not on your own. We’ll figure something out once I get you. But that’s our first priority. Get you safe. Your mom would agree with me.” “But won’t they kill her?” “Not as long as they think she can use her to get to me. We’ll save her, Chase. But first of all, you need to get out of there.” “O-okay.” He said, sniffing. “And Chase?” “Yeah?” “You’re gonna have to do something else before you go…” So Chase dragged his grandmother’s corpse into the house and covered the blood in front of the house with dirt, hoping to mask it as best as possible. Then he set fire to the place. Even if the small town sheriff brought in a fire marshal and discovered it was arson, there would be little left to identify the place as the scene of a gun-inflicted double homicide. Not for a while, anyway. It gave Chase enough time to get away and there wouldn’t be enough pressure from authorities to make Vince think it’d just be better to get rid of a witness and kill his mom. He drove away as the flames roared in the rearview mirror, consuming his home. Chase tried to control his emotions, but a tear slipped away as he went ahead into the unknown. Myke Henson stood leaning on the door frame, his arms crossed, watching his son exercising. He was coming along nicely after almost half a year of recovery. He was almost back in peak condition. Henson thought back to the day when he almost lost him. He was a hard man. He didn’t show emotion, but he had come to greatly appreciate Evan. Respect him. In a way, maybe even love him. He’d never say that, but staying by his side for these past 6 months showed it. When Christian had pulled the gun, Myke had his ready and shot first. He had a suspicion on the drive to the abandoned warehouse. He had liked Christian, but the boy was too ambitious for his own good. If only he had patience…Then Myke rushed inside and up the stairs, where he found Eric standing over Evan’s crumpled form. The young man had been shot once in the leg and once in the arm. But the traitorous bastard Eric had thought that the steps coming up the stairs were Christian’s so he hadn’t expected Myke to walk in. He hadn’t even glanced up from Evan. Myke could have shot him then, but he wanted to see his eyes. So he called his name and squeezed the trigger as soon as Eric’s gaze darted to him. The man hadn’t even had time to register surprise. Myke remembered how he had dragged Evan to the car, pushed out Christian’s corpse and sat in the blood-covered seat as he drove to the home of a physician he kept on staff. Evan’s wounds had not been life-threatening, though he had lost a fair amount of blood. Still, he required a lot of physical therapy to get back to his former self. And now he seemed ready to get to work. And work was simple: kill Vince Ricardo. Myke’s phone started vibrating in his pocket. He answered and listened, only grunting in response every few seconds. He snapped the phone shut and called to Evan, who stopped kicking the heavy bag and walked up to his father. “Ricardo was spotted in Texas. I have no idea what he’s doing there…” “He’s looking for Alexi.” “Maybe. But whatever his reason, this is as good an opportunity as we’re gonna get. Not all of his men are okay with what he did to Samuels. But he still has enough of them to make this bloody. Out there…” Evan nodded. “When do we leave?” “You sure you’re ready?” Evan stared levelly at his father. “I told you once already. I’d do anything for Alexi.” “But you don’t even know where he is.” “I’ll find his sooner or later. What matters now is that Vince doesn’t find him first. I’m going. The question is – are you going to let me?” Myke chewed on his lip for a few seconds, thinking the question over. “When you walked away from me, I fully expected you to be back. I thought you were weak. I…I was wrong. I’ve come to know you better over the past 6 months. I don’t pretend to fully understand you, but…I appreciate you. You’re my son. I don’t know if we can ever have a normal relationship, not after what I’ve done to you. But I am going to help you. Including with finding your little boyfriend.” Myke smirked. Evan grinned. “Not to mention the fact that you want Vince dead as much as I do.” “Well, there’s that too.” “So, again, when do we leave?” “A plane’s waiting.” Evan’s grin was positively evil. The bar was loud and filled with smoke. Hunter coughed and pushed away a drunk who was trying to grope him. He kept looking around, but he couldn’t see Alexi anywhere. He swore under his breath and walked to the bar. “This place have a back exit?” he asked the bartender. The guy nodded and pointed Hunter in the right direction. After walking through a corridor stinking of piss, he found the door with the busted exit sign over it and he pushed it open, walking outside. The alley was dark, but the moans were loud enough to give him a general idea of where to go. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply, then walked, carefully avoiding the puddles, not knowing which was rain water and which was urine. Backlit by a yellow street light, he could make out two dark shapes. One of them had his back to the wall, head tilted back, moaning in pleasure, the other with his head in the first one’s crotch. “For fuck’s sake, Alexi. When are you gonna stop this crap?” Hunter asked, anger in his voice. The young man leaning against the wall turned his face to Hunter and spoke. “What the fuck do you care?” The other man never stopped sucking. “Because enough’s enough. Evan’s dead. So’s my dad. We’re hiding in fucking Toronto and you need to get over it. This self-destructive shit needs to end.” Alexi pushed the man away, zipped up his pants, grabbed his cane and turned his back to Hunter, walking towards the street. “Don’t you fucking walk away from me! I’ve been here for you every single minute and watched you go from grieving to catatonic and then angry asshole and suicidal moron. You need to accept reality and move on, in a healthy way.” Alexi stopped walking. “You think I’m suicidal?” “What are you, then? You’re rarely home, you’re always drunk or high and hooking up with guys of all ages. In dark alleys, for fuck’s sake! What if you end up dead?” “Home? It’s a fucking motel room. A new one every week. You wanna talk about healthy? How is the way we’re living healthy?” Alexi spat, whirling around to face Hunter. “Maybe I should just kill myself, get it over with.” “You don’t mean that.” “No? God knows I live in constant fear that the people who killed Evan will find us. And is all the misery worth it? When you have nothing and especially no one to live for?” “You MAKE a reason to live. That’s what people do. Fight for that something or someone. And even if he’s gone you still have me and mom. And…and you’ll find someone else.” “I don’t fucking want someone else! I loved him. I still do.” Alexi finished softly, his eyes watery. Hunter walked over and took Alexi in his arms. Hunter was slightly taller than his foster brother, so Alexi ended up burying his head in his chest, sobbing. Hunter hugged him tightly and brushed his lips over Alexi’s short hair. He had hoped it would take far less time for him to get passed what had happened to Evan, but he knew that was a vain hope. After all, he still felt an empty and cold spot in his heart, thinking of his father. No, just “getting over it” and “moving on” were silly concepts. He wasn’t sure they’d ever be able to get past it all, but he had at least been coping with it better than Alexi. In a way, he understood. Alexi had lost what seemed like everything for the second time in his short life, and all in just a few months’ time span. It was far more than he himself had experienced and more than anyone should endure in their life. But now he needed Alexi to pull himself together. So, he let him cry for a few more minutes, then kissed his cheek and spoke. “I know it’s easy to simply say get over it. And I don’t really expect you to. But I do need you to get a grip and pull yourself together. So does mom. Something’s happened.” “What?” “Mom’s sister…Vince got to her.”
  15. Alexi, Hunter and Dana are on the run from Vince, as he tries to finish what he started.
  16. Chapter 12 When one imagines a “beast”, more often than not, fur, claws and large teeth spring to mind. But that’s only because we tend to overlook the animalistic part of human nature. We ARE animals. Evolved animals, but beasts at heart. Yes, I knew it as soon as the door burst open. The beast was a man. Quite a few men, actually. Though, to be fair, applying that term might be overstating facts a bit. Sullied souls, rotten to the core, resurrected and driven by an insatiable hunger and an uncompromising will that is not their own. Puppets of a twisted toy maker. The Necromancer, Azarian. I looked around me. In layman’s terms, we were shit out of luck. Only one entry point into the room and we’d be overwhelmed fast, unless I did something and quick. “Take cover. It’s about to get REAL hot in here.” And as the first, well…zombie, entered the room, sporting a shredded early-30’s suit(damn good tailoring) and, I kid you not, a fedora, I summoned fire. A wall of it right in the doorway. “That should stop ‘em.” I said. Of course I couldn’t be more wrong. The thing just kept going, walking right through the flames, even as its clothes caught fire and dried-up flesh started flaking away. Four of his buddies were right behind him. “They don’t feel pain, Xander. People are afraid of fire because it burns. That thing’s mainly bones and even if it were freshly dead…” He shook his head. “On these things, it has no effect.” “But THEY’re on fucking fire! I mean…come on!” “By the time the flames consume what’s left of them, we’ll be dead”. It only took two seconds for this exchange between me and Terry, but it seemed like two seconds too long, as the Necromancer’s marionettes advanced on us. I needed to get out of there. The quarters were too close for comfort when it comes to a battle. I turned and hurled a mini-vortex at the window, shattering it. “Out! Everyone!” I screamed and thanked God we were on the first floor. No one hesitated to obey and I was hot on their heels. But just as I was about to literally hurl myself out the window, something grabbed my ankle. I didn’t even think about it. I simply turned and grabbed the zombie’s wrist, called up whatever native strength I had, and drew from Terry to add to it. The bones splintered. I felt them crack and break into hundreds of pieces. Then I twisted and the hand came apart from the rest of the zombie’s arm. It fell back in surprise and I seized the opportunity to get the hell out of there. “What the hell’s going on?” Mr. Hutchins was screaming. I ignored him. We were now in the driveway, but nowhere near safety. “Take cover.” I said and tried for fire again. But this time, I used the same trick I had unconsciously come up with during the confrontation with Willis. A ball of fire, the size of a golf ball flickered into existence in front of me. I closed my eyes and concentrated harder. Two, then three, then four more incandescent orbs appeared. I thrust my hand forward and sent them flying into the first zombie, a fairly fresh-looking woman with long dirty blond hair(made even dirtier by the…actual dirt in it) wearing a long, flowing, purple dress. The spheres pierced her body and came out the other side. Terry was right, they didn’t feel pain. But if I tore their bodies to pieces, then it didn’t matter. Tendons, muscles and bone were destroyed by the blazing globes and the smell of burnt meat was sickening, but the Necromancer’s will was still driving these restless souls forward. I was thankful that these were the slow-moving type of zombies, and not the “28 Days Later” variety. The woman collapsed, an indistinct shape, a glob of flesh, my fire finally having cut through her enough to stop her for good. But there were four more. Closing in a semi-circle around me and those I protected behind me. “Dammit, this is taking too long!” “Maybe if we make the fire so hot and try that vortex thing you did with Willis…” “They’d still be coming for us even as the flesh melted off their bones. We need something to freeze them in their tracks…” And a thought abruptly hit me. I reached around me, feeling for what I needed. The entire house started shaking and creaking as pipes split open and water came rushing out and started coalescing into a single mass, which I threw at the four remaining zombies, preparing for my next step as I did so. What I was about to do was, quite possibly, retarded. It was nothing more than an assumption. And you know what they say about making assumptions. Especially when your life is on the line. I cursed the fact that I didn’t push myself more in my training sessions with Christopher. But it had to work. The logic was sound. If I could create fire, which is essentially heat taken form, then perhaps I could take that heat away. As the water surrounded the zombies, I reached in and drew all the warmth from it, while simultaneously hitting it with the coldest blast of wind I could manage. In an instant, it froze, creating a giant block of ice, encasing the zombies. I dropped to my knees, gasping. It felt like my insides were on fire. Hell, maybe they were. Perhaps the heat I took out of the environment got transferred. Maybe it was far simpler than that, and I was merely exhausted from the effort of doing so much. Whatever the reason, I was finding it hard to catch my breath, let alone get back to my feet, even if Terry was urging me to do so. I could barely hear him whispering, but I felt the urgency in his actions. I turned my head to look down the driveway and saw two more zombies coming towards us. “Is that…?” I squealed. “A fucking Rottweiler. He can control dead animals too?” Terry whined. “Now that’s just not fucking fair.” The human zombie, dressed in Navy Blues, medal on his chest, his skin sickly green, but otherwise not showing sign of decay, smiled wickedly and raised his right arm, pointing one bony finger toward me. His animal companion, who had been slowly pacing around him started growling menacingly, then took off at a blistering pace. In a matter of seconds, it was less than 3 feet from me. A loping jump and it’d be on me. I was screaming at myself to get the hell up, to do something, anything, but my body just wouldn’t cooperate. All I could manage was to send a weak gust of air that stopped the dog in its tracks for a couple of seconds, as it shook itself, confused as to what had happened. It bared its teeth once more, an evil version of a canine grin and moved in for the kill. And then a bull hit it in its side with all the strength and momentum of a freight train. The dog went flying and landed in a heap several yards away, as the bull straightened itself up and I realized it was Justin’s dad. “Mr. Hutchins…” I said weakly, staggering to my feet. “Call me Aaron.” He said, grasping my arm to steady me. And then he went running in the direction of the fallen dog. When he got there, he brought his heel down hard on the dog’s head. I could hear its skull breaking from where I stood, but Aaron kept stomping on it until the monstrous animal stopped twitching altogether. I guess the whole headshot thing actually works. Should’ve thought of that myself - instead of shooting holes through the woman’s whole body, I should’ve just blown her head off. A strangled cry came from a few yards down the driveway and I remembered the dog’s master. He was snarling in pure hatred but, as he started advancing, a dark SUV came whirling through the open gate and smashed right into the undead sailor. It hit him around the midsection and he fell forward and under the car, its wheels making short work of his head. God bless Jordan and his big-ass car. He came to a screeching halt right in front of me and he jumped out of the car and he came rushing forward, grabbing me in a bear hug. “You alright?” he asked, looking me over. “Yeah. How in the hell did you get here so fast?” “My house is less than five miles from here, Xander. But you need to take a dirt road to cover the distance in a straight line. Which I did. After you hung up, I ran out to my car. I was already on my way here when I…felt something. You. In danger. I floored it and, well…” he gestured behind him, at the driveway, splattered in copious amounts of road-kill zombie. I could only groan in acknowledgement and gratitude. “Xander, is that a hand on your ankle?” Jordan asked. I looked down. Damn thing still had my leg in a death grip, despite not being connected to the rest of the undead body. I shuddered in revulsion and wrenched the fingers apart, straining to use that supernatural strength again. “Everyone okay?” Mr. Hutchins asked us as we all started huddling together. “Physically? Yeah.” Said Gabe. “But fucking zombies just attacked us. That’s…” he shivered and I’m sure it wasn’t because of the cold. “Fucked up.” Supplied Zach. “Yet unbelievingly awesome!” said Justin, cheering, pumping his fist in the air and giving out a loud whoop. “That was amazing! Dude, you rock!” he told me. Great, I guess he really is my #1 fan. “Okay. Mind telling me exactly what the fuck happened?” Mr. Hutchins enquired in a polite, yet threatening tone of voice. “Not here.” I shook my head for emphasis. “I don’t know why they attacked now or here. How they even knew I was here. Why the hell they went after Willis. I’m…I’m out of my depth. I need help.” “Christopher?” Terry asked. “Christopher.” I answered, nodding. “Oh. Obi-Wan?” “Yeah, Jordan, the very same.” I pulled out my wallet and took out the piece of paper with Christopher’s number on it. He had said to only ever use it in case of emergencies, but something told me this constituted a fucking emergency. “Kid, I don’t know what just happened, but I’m gonna want an explanation. For now, though, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt, seeing as you saved all our lives and all.” “Thank you, Aaron.” “But what about this mess?” he asked, pointing towards the giant ice sculpture I had created. “No idea.” I replied, shrugging. “I don’t know if the cold killed them for good or if they’ll pick up right where they left off once they thaw, but that’s gonna take a while in any case. “What if you…shatter it? Wouldn’t they break into a million pieces?” Zach asked, his curiosity evident. “Hell if I know. Besides, I doubt I could even shatter a cup right now. I need to rest. And we need to get out of here before the cops show up.” “Cops?” asked Justin. “Yeah. I made a lot of noise. Surely someone must’ve heard.” “All the more reason to get rid of all this mess.” Terry said. “What?” “Pretty much destroying the house by tearing up the plumbing and flooding the area is one thing. But there are dead bodies all over the place. Best case scenario, the Hutchins get accused of desecrating a dead body. Worst case…” “They get accused of murder.” I said, cursing. “Murder?” asked both Gabe and Justin. “Who the hell’s he talking to?” demanded Aaron. “His guardian ghost” answered Jordan and Zach in unison. “Besides, if those things snap back to life once they thaw, it would raise some very interesting questions from authorities. I don’t think we want that.” “You’re right. So, what do we do?” “Christopher said that you can control the elements. ALL of them. You’ve used air, fire and water, but you haven’t exerted control over the earth yet.” “Are you crazy? I can’t do that!” “You have to. And we can, together. Just…focus.” I thought it over for a few seconds. It was crazy. So, pretty much par for the course, considering the events of the past couple of days. I inhaled and tried to center myself, karate kid style. “Everyone, get in the car.” “What are you gonna do?” asked Jordan, concerned. “Bury our tracks.” I winked at him and attempted to give him a heartening smile. He smiled faintly in return, but it was enough for me to feel the warmth of his affection for me. It gave me strength. Jordan got behind the wheel of his car, with Aaron on his right, while Zach, Gabe and Justin climbed into the back, all throwing me questioning glances. “It’ll be alright.” I said. Once they were secure inside the car, I closed my eyes and extended my hand in front of me, palm down. I steadied my breathing and slowly felt my heartbeat slowing as my senses became more and more acute. I felt the grass, growing as it fed on the water I had just unleashed, still flowing freely from the house. I felt earth worms digging their way through the dirt, feeding. I felt the cold hardness of rock. I felt the paced driveway. I reached deep into the earth and imagined it was clay for me to mold into shape. The ground started shaking, bits of it actually being hurled into the air as the soil was reshaped and Jordan’s car began rolling backwards, downhill, before he applied his breaks. I instinctively felt all this, without opening my eyes. I infused the earth beneath the ice trap with the water still in liquid form and turned it into mud. Softer and softer, more malleable it became, until the whole ice sculpture started sinking into the ground. As it did, I introduced heat into it once again and more water seeped into the ground, the zombies being swallowed up. In a matter of seconds, it was all gone. Eyes still closed, not moving, I turned my thoughts toward the fallen woman and crushed man and his pet. I repeated the process, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain concentration. I tightened my jaw and forced myself to keep going. Once that was done, I swept my hand over the earth as I pirouetted in place and the water washed over everything, sweeping away any remaining evidence, such as blood. I opened my eyes and dropped my arm limply by my side. I looked at the car’s occupants and saw their amazed expressions, smiled feebly and then sank to the ground, once again fainting. “You’re all lucky to be alive. What a foolish child! I should have put him on a leash” “Hey, back off. You didn’t see what he did. He was astonishing! The things he did were…mind-boggling.” That sounded like Justin. And I don’t just mean his voice, but the way he spoke about me, almost reverently. He’s such a fanboy! I kept my eyes shut and realized I was lying on a cot. “The point is that he wouldn’t have needed to do ANYTHING if he’d behaved and not used his powers like that against the Willis boy.” “What do you mean?” I said, trying to get up, then promptly getting dizzy and flopping back down on the cot. “Stay still, Xander.” Came Terry’s weary voice. “You need to rest.” “Yes, listen to him, if you’re not going to listen to me!” Christopher said, annoyed. I ignored the remark and pressed on. “What do you mean?” Christopher sighed, but answered anyway. “Necromancers…They…well, smell I suppose is a proper word for it. They smell power and its use. Something small, like moving a desk around the room will not attract their attention, but a large demonstration of power, such as the one you put on at the school, as young Justin here was quick to point out, will have unquestionably drawn Azarian.” “But what about our training sessions? I use my power. So do you.” “Well, I did pick up a few tricks along the way. This place has been blessed. It is, in essence, holy ground. Power is contained either within or on the outside. There is no bleeding through. No one can sense what we do in here.” “Fuck! I didn’t know! And that’s why he went after Willis. He had my…smell on him.” “The smell of your power, yes.” “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do it. It just…happened. I saw Jordan in danger, and…” “Yes. I told you, emotion plays a large key in all of this. That’s why I even told you to go and have sex. Lust is powerful and distracting. And love is incredibly strong and can cause instinctive reactions far beyond what we would do if we were completely in control.” “Speaking of which…” began Jordan and I knew exactly what he wanted to say. He wished to talk about what we felt when we kissed. But something told me that this was better kept to ourselves, for the time being, anyway. “Speaking of which…” I cut in. “I need a hug from my boyfriend”. Jordan obliged and as he did, I whispered in his ear. “Don’t say anything about the kiss.” As we broke apart, Jordan looked questioningly at me, but gave an almost imperceptible nod. I looked at Terry and healso nodded, signaling he had understood as well. “So, you’re wizards, conduits, whatever…” Aaron said as silence descended upon us. “Yes, I explained it to you as best I could without going into details.” Said Christopher. “I don’t like involving mere mortals, but for the time being, the safest place for you is with me and, I’m sorry to say it, Xander. He’s young and inexperienced, but incredibly powerful. He’ll attract all the nasties, but he’s also in the best position to fight them off. And you’re already involved. The mark of his power surrounds everyone that was there on Friday and again today. For a while, anyway. But Azarian now knows who you are. Even if you break contact with Xander, he’ll still come after you. Best course of action is to stick together and lay low for a while. Truth be told, I don’t know what to do exactly. I wasn’t expecting him to act so soon. I hoped he even left town altogether. So, for now, we go into hiding, as it were.” “What, HERE?!” asked Zach. “Not that an abandoned garage isn’t nice and all, but…” “No, of course not here.” Answered Christopher, rolling his eyes, exasperated. “We need some place big enough for all of us. Then I’ll bless it and we should be safe. IF we move fast enough. Azarian can’t pin-point us, but if we move slowly, the scent of your power, Xander, will pretty much create a trail.” Jordan spoke then. “We can go to my place.” “No way!” I objected. “I’m not putting your uncles in danger too. Besides, I need to keep an eye on my own family. We’re going to my place.” “That is actually a sound suggestion, my boy.” Christopher said, rubbing at his chin pensively. “Your home is strongly linked to you, through memories. You can draw power far easier and in larger quantities there, while experiencing far less physical strain. Again, emotions… I just need to get a few things together, in order to consecrate it once we get there. And, while I’m out, I guess I can pick up dinner.” “You bet your ass you can. I still remember you from the restaurant, you old cheating bastard!” Jordan said, smiling. “You owe Xander and me a dinner anyway, the way I see it.” “Hmm…I’d have thought training your boyfriend, teaching him how to stay alive in the face of unspeakable horrors would have been payment enough and we would be, at the very least, on even terms by now.” “Well, when you put it that way…” Jordan mumbled, his eyes firmly locked on his shoes. “Quite. Now, if you’ll excuse me…” “WAIT!” Justin shouted. “I just thought of something. Oh, God, how didn’t I think about it sooner? I’m such an idiot!” he wailed. “What is it?” Aaron asked, clearly concerned. Apparently he had come a long way in a short period of time. I guess almost getting killed by undead monsters puts things into perspective and having a gay son or two really isn’t all that bad anymore. “Ryan!” Justin cried. “God, you said EVERYONE that was there on Friday night is associated with Xander’s power. Ryan, Xander!” “Take a deep breath, bro.” Gabe said, rushing to his brother’s side and hugging him. “Willis’ goons were there too, but only Willis himself got attacked. We can’t assume the worst.” “And we can’t assume that he’s fine either, I need to go!” Justin shouted, as he struggled to break free of his brother’s grip. “No, it’s my responsibility. Everything’s my fault. I’ll go.” I said, getting up and stretching. “You’re still too weak. If you go and run into Azarian’s puppets again or worse, Azarian himself…Things wouldn’t end well.” “The moment you told me what I am, I realized there’s a very big chance things wouldn’t end well. You did as well. But that doesn’t change anything.” I looked Christopher in the eye, unwavering. “I’m going!” “Not alone you’re not!” Jordan put in. “This…Ryan. Is HE Justin’s boyfriend?” Aaron asked. “Not yet.” I replied, smiling. Aaron heaved a big sigh. “Alright, then. I guess I’m going too.” Justin looked at his father in amazement. “What? I told you I’d really try, didn’t I? That means I want to meet you REAL love interest.” “If you don’t mind, I’ll stay back. Guard the home base, you know?” said Zach. “You’re damn right. So’s your boyfriend and his brother.” Aaron said, putting his foot down both figuratively and literally. “Dad, I’m not really gay.” Said Gabe. “Figured as much when I saw you kissing Zach. I’ve seen more passion in grade school plays.” “HEY! I take offense to that. There’s only so much any one actor can do if the rest of the cast is horrible.” Zach protested . “Okay. So, a stupid, unnecessary side-trip that could put us all in danger, just to save an obnoxious, loud-mouthed, drunken asshole. Huge risk, small benefit, great potential for a painful death, all in the name of love. What’s not to like about the idea? To the Batmobile!” I exclaimed, raising my fist.
  17. Chapter 2 There were birds singing, the sound of a peaceful brook streaming somewhere close and angelic singing. “Wake up.” A sweet voice said. I desperately wanted to see the angel to whom the voice belonged. “Wake up already, shithead!” Wait, that’s not right. What kind of a potty mouth angel…Oh, the fucker slapped me. I opened my eyes and stared up into my sister’s face. Damn it, why must she ruin my dreams, on top of my wakeful state? “The hell happened to you?” she asked. “The lack of proper nutrition has had an immense effect on me in these past 24 hours, as any loss of energy during tedious physical exertions has not been counterbalanced with proper protein or any type of nourishment, for that matter, so I lost consciousness”. She just stared down at me for half a minute. “Physical exertions? What, like walking? Or do you still insist that you are a Master Bater of the 13th level and that is strenuous activity? Though, I must admit, your right arm does seem more…defined.” “I use my left, thank you very much.” “Uh huh. Sounds like you fainted to me.” Her eyes roamed across my body and I remembered that I was naked, so I jumped to my feet and pulled the duvet off the bed, trying to cover myself. “Oh, relax, my little big bro. Nothing I haven’t seen before.” What?! What the hell did she mean by that? Did she…? Was she…? God, I don’t wanna think about that! “And you certainly have nothing to be ashamed of…” Okay, this was starting to be all kinds of weird. Then again, she was my insane sister, and this was probably her way of teasing me. I tried to regain my dignity and went into full-on big brother preaching mode. “Fern, you really need to respect my privacy. You can’t just barge in like that.” “But you were passed out! What, I have to wait for your permission to save you, in case of a fire or something?” “Yes, knocking is a common courtesy. If I don’t answer within a minute, then you can assume I’m not in…Or dead. In which case you can’t have my computer.” She pouted. “After all, how would you feel if I walked in on you naked?” “Ha! As if I’d ever worry about you perving on me.” Err, I really didn’t like where this whole conversation was heading. “Well, of course not, I’m your brother.” “That’s not what I mean. You know, you really should keep your diary in a safer place than your desk.” “It’s a journal!” I protested. “Wait…WHAT?!” “I’ve read all about your inner turmoil. ‘Oh, God, I just want to be normal. Why do I feel like this? I don’t want to be gay!’ Boo-friggin-hoo. Cry me a river already and get over it.” I felt the walls close in on me. My sister knowing my deepest, darkest sister could have potentially world-ending consequences. Well, MY world, anyway. But a sudden thought stopped me from feinti…I mean, losing consciousness once again. “How long have you known?” “About a month, give or take.” She replied. Well, that was strangely reassuring. I mean, she hadn’t told anyone about it. I stared into those not-so-innocent eyes. Crap! “Who’ve you told so far?” I asked, sighing. She batted her lashes at me, knowing full well that her act had no effect on me. “Well, just a few of my girlfriends…” I groaned. “They seemed awfully pleased with the idea. When Mrs. Courich, Virginia’s mom, heard, she wanted to get you to go shopping…” “WHAT? You told Mrs. Courich?” “Of course not. Don’t be silly. I told Aunt Mia, and she brought it up at brunch one day, with her friends…” Now I was starting to get those murderous feelings again. “How…Why…I don’t even know what to say.” “Oh, relax, you drama queen. All my friends said they’re cool with it and they’d keep their mouths shut at school and Aunt Mia said she’d make sure mom wouldn’t find out before you had a chance to tell her yourself. But I do think you should do that soon…” she said, shifting from one foot to the other, in an almost nervous manner. “Oh, God, what now?” “Well…err, I told my girlfriends about two weeks ago and, since no one has said anything about it to you, it’s obvious they’ve been keeping their mouths shut. But…Umm, well, I talked to aunt Mia this past Wednesday. And the brunch was Thursday…” “Oh, hell, it took all of one day for half of mom’s friends to find out?” “Yeah, and, well, tomorrow at church…” I cringed. You’re probably wondering why someone as free-spirited as my mom even goes to church in the first place. Well, beats me. I blame the drugs. I mean, seriously, there must have been some SERIOUS drug use at some point, because…come on, my mom’s not normal. Anyway, whatever the reason for her love of Church and whatnot, Sunday mass would be followed by an extremely unplanned and unwelcomed coming out. Have I mentioned that I hate my sister? “Anyway, you’ll just have to deal with that.” she said. “Did you hear about Terry?” That certainly brought my mind back to what really mattered. Namely, my ability to kill people with my mind. Either that or the insanity. It was a coin toss, really. So, I kicked my sister out of my room, dressed and retrieved a business card out of my wallet. I promptly dialed the number. “Doctor Watkins? I’m sorry to bother you on a Saturday, but you said I should call you if I ever had any trouble, no matter the time…” Remember how I said I’d spent some time in a mental hospital a few years back? Well, Dr. Watkins is the therapist I’ve been seeing ever since. I’ve made progress, so I only see him once every two weeks, but this situation could be deemed an emergency. Anyway, the reason I was in the crazy palace was because - hang on to your hat, Bruce Willis – I could see dead people. See, when my dad died, I kinda lost it. I could talk to his ghost. Of course, that’s crazy, I know that now, but back then, I used to talk to him all the time. My mom thought it was a normal part of the grieving progress, talking to him, but like I said, she’s nuts as well, so what does she know? But even she became unsettled once it had extended beyond dad. No need to go into details, but I will say that it all came to a head when I was on the front porch, sharing a coke with my dead 13-year-old neighbor(car accident), while discussing baseball. Yeah, after that, Hightower Institute it was. But hey, I’m all better now. Aside from the killing people with my brain part. The Doc decided to meet with me at his office that afternoon. So, I called Sharon and told her how I killed Terry. In hindsight, I probably should have put that off until after I’d talked to the Doc. Needless to say, she was not amused. Let’s face it, we’re all okay with having a potentially lunatic friend, until said friend actually exhibits traits of insanity. The thing was, though, deep down, I knew I wasn’t crazy. I know, I know, all schizos say that, but ya have to believe me! “Sharon, I’m serious. I think I’m some kind of psychic killer.” “Well, you’re some kind of psycho, that’s for sure!” she replied, before hanging up on me. Honestly, the lack of support from friends and family never helps the mentally unstable. If I were truly crazy, her reaction might have unsettled me deeply. Doesn’t the poor girl realize that? Anyway, I finally made my way downstairs, where breakfast was already cold. And I’d lost my appetite. Until I actually saw the bacon, at which time I remembered I was a bottomless pit and wolfed down the whole thing. “I trust this has served to teach you a valuable lesson.” My mom said as she entered the kitchen. “Yeah, store some chips in my bedroom for emergencies.” I mumbled. “Not a bad idea. It would show resourcefulness, as well as initiative. Too bad you weren’t prepared for the possibility this time around. But I’m proud you got something out of this whole mess.” She said, coming over and kissing me on the forehead. My mom is always so sweet… “So, any plans for today?” she asked. “Well, I’m meeting the Doc before lunch, but nothing else this afternoon.” My mom grew concerned. “Why do you need to see Doctor Watkins? Your session isn’t until Thursday.” “I just felt the need to talk to him, is all.” “What about?” Well, I knew I HAD to answer, so I decided to tell her the truth, not the whole truth, and something aside from the truth. “Well, there’s this guy in school, who died last night.” “Oh, I heard about that on the news. But they haven’t yet confirmed that it’s him.” “Oh, it is. Trust me, I know.” “Okay, but I still don’t understand.” “Well, he’s the guy who beat me up yesterday.” “The one you picked on?” I rolled my eyes. “My God, you must feel awful, and probably a bit guilty as well, knowing you were mean to him on his last day on Earth.” What could I say to that? Pointing out the absurdity of the whole thing would probably only serve to starve me some more and it’s not like I actually had the weight to spare. As it was, I needed rocks in my pockets when the wind was strong, for fear of emulating Mary Poppins sans the umbrella. “Yeah, mom, I feel awful about him dying.” So not true. I’d be dancing on his grave. “And I do feel partially responsible”. Totally true. Psychic murderer, remember? “Well, I hope you have a good session. But don’t make any plans for dinner.” Darn, and I had my mind set on a night of wild partying, drunken revelry and naked men. “We’re having family dinner tonight. “ Uh-oh. Always bad news. My mom had decided about a year previously that it was time to move on and started dating. Every once in a while, she’d bring a guy home for “family dinner”. I suppose it was a test, both for him and for us, to see how we interact. Considering that she was still single, I suppose they had all failed the test so far. Either that or we did. But we’re so darn perfect, so that certainly couldn’t be it. “Trevor will be joining us.” I grunted in the affirmative. I had no idea who this Trevor was, nor did I particularly care to find out, but it seemed inevitable. I decided to go back to bed until it was time to go see the Doc. It took me a while to get to sleep, thinking about what I would tell Dr. Watkins. Starting head-on with my wild theories might be enough to guarantee a one-way ticket to Hightower. I needed to play my cards just right. Then, of course, my mind wandered to Sharon and how she was now convinced I was a nutter. Then there’s the whole coming out thing. God, I was having an awful weekend. But at least the weather was nice… And as such I just wore jeans and a polo shirt to my meeting with the good doctor. When I entered the waiting area, it was deserted, as expected, the two leather couches sitting unoccupied, the decades-old magazines on the glass table in the middle of the room gathering dust. I knocked on the door to his office and I was beckoned inside. The doctor was sitting behind his metal-frame desk, stuffing his mouth with what looked like a Big Mac. “Hello, Hudson. Sit down. Please excuse me while I finish lunch. I permit myself one fast-food meal per month. Or rather, my wife does. And I thought this was as good an opportunity as ever to break the rule.” He smiled, a piece of cow hanging from the corner of his mouth. I sat in one of the two leather chairs facing each other in front of the desk and passed over the offer to indulge in some fries. I drummed my fingers on my thighs as I waited for the Doc’s cholesterol to rise. Finally, his meal finished, he joined me, sitting in the other free chair. “Okay. Spill.” He said, taking a gulp from his large Coke. “Well…See, a guy from my school died last night.” “Oh, yes, I heard something about that. Isn’t he…” “Yes, Terry. THAT Terry.” Yes, I bitch to my shrink about bullies. So, sue me. “I see. And how do you feel about this? Obviously, you were affected by his death, otherwise you wouldn’t have contacted me.” “Well, it’s strange. I’m happy in a way. I know how that sounds, but the guy was an asshole, and I won’t miss him one bit. But still, I feel somewhat responsible.” “How so?” Okay, moment of truth. “Well, I’ve been fantasizing about his demise for quite a while now.” “Well, you must realize that a lot of people dream about their enemies being punished in one form of another. While not exactly healthy, it’s not really unusual either. It’s human nature.” “Yes, but…Well, last night, as I went to sleep, the last thoughts that ran through my head were of Terry drowning.” “And he was found in the lake…” “Yeah. I mean, I know how crazy it sounds but, come on, I used to talk to dead people. Leaping to wild conclusions, such as me actually being responsible isn’t all that crazy by comparison.” He raised an eyebrow. “Okay, maybe it is and, deep down, I realize that, and I know I’m not responsible, but, well, I just feel like I am.” “The fact that you’re not indulging in this delusion is good enough for me, Hudson. And the fact that you actually sought me out to talk about it is very encouraging. You’re not bottling things up, the way you used to when you thought your mom betrayed you for getting you help after your father’s death. As for Terry’s death, considering the impact he’s had on your life, it’s only natural for his death to also affect you. Again, I’m glad you feel comfortable enough to talk about it. I think what we need to do now is discuss Terry and his interaction with you. Vent, as it were.” Oh, boy, did I ever vent. I called Terry every mean name in the book, plus a few the Webster people missed. Then we moved onto the whole gay thing. “I’ve known about you for quite a while, Hudson.” “Huh?” “Well, sometimes, you pace around my room when we talk and whenever you do, you always stop to look at the picture of my son on top of my desk.” I turned crimson and started to stammer, so the Doc started laughing. Are shrinks supposed to laugh at their patients? Isn’t that counter-productive? “Oh, don’t worry. He is quite handsome, but he’s 5 years older than you. And straight.” “Yes, well…” “Don’t worry about it. But, tell me, will you tell your mother?” “I don’t know. I know she’ll be okay with it, but I’m still anxious. Maybe letting her find out from her friends won’t be so bad.” I proceeded to fill him in on the whole thing. “But even if she is okay with it, finding out from a third party won’t be good. She may feel hurt, because you trusted pretty much everyone else except for her.” “But I didn’t! If it weren’t for my stupid sister…” “Well, that’s beside the point now. The fact is that your mother is bound to find out about it and I’d like you to avoid an argument. If she were to confront you about it, you’d get defensive.” “What? I would NOT! I’d no such thing. Why are you saying that?” Again with the raised eyebrow. “Okay, okay, maybe you have a point.” I continued. “Well, at the end of the day, it’s up to you, Hudson. Do what you think is right. And if you need anything, call me, okay?” And that was that. All in all, a waste of time and money. I went back home and found it deserted. So, even if I did want to talk to my mom, she wasn’t there. I debated the possibility of doing it via text messaging. I immediately pictured her response. “LOL WUT?!” I shook my head in frustration. A letter? “Dear mom, I’m a poofter. Love, your gay son.” It had its merits. Then I tried to think outside the box. My mom was an art teacher, maybe she’d appreciate some type of presentation involving some kind of art work. I suppose I could do a clay penis or something. Maybe paint a closet with a hand trying to come out? Too metaphorical, I decided. I tried to call Sharon for advice, but apparently she wasn’t quite ready to deal with her lunatic friend, so I just gave up and tried to relax. So, I went on the Internet, in search for porn. What? Exactly what do YOU do in order to relax? A couple of hours and a box of tissues later, I heard the front door slam. Fern. She ran upstairs and burst into my room. “Hey, queer. You gonna tell mom? She’s gonna be home from shopping soon and time will be slowly ticking away.” “Thanks for reminding me. Fern, why did you have to tell everyone?” I whined. “Do you really hate me that much?” She considered my question and, for once, decided to answer me in a serious manner. “Hudson, you’re my brother. I love making you miserable, because I’m a bitch. But I love you and I’d never do anything to hurt you. If I thought for even a second that people finding out would be bad, I wouldn’t have said anything. But everyone’s been okay with it and so will mom. You just need to grow a pair and tell her!” “You already saw my pair this morning.” I said, and we both started laughing. Well, maybe it wouldn’t be too bad, but I still wasn’t sure. But one thing was clear. My sister may be a bitch, but she’s my bitch. She’d make one hell of a fag hag. When my sister left me alone, I went back to the book I had abandoned the previous day and decided to wait until after dinner to talk to mom. That way, she and Trevor could enjoy a nice meal, without this hanging over our heads. Soon enough, the door bell rang and I realized it was 7 PM. That must be Trevor. I decided to be fashionably late in meeting him, so I showered and changed into a pair of khaki cargos and a snug black t-shirt, then finally descended the stairs and went into the living room, where my mom was engaged in conversation with a middle-aged guy. Even sitting, he appeared to be huge, definitely over 6’5” and broad shoulders. His hairline was receding and what he had left was turning gray, but it somehow suited him fine. He had high cheekbones and a thick nose and his skin was wrinkled at the corner of his eyes and mouth. He definitely seemed to be a guy who smiled a lot. And he had kind, brown eyes. I decided my mom could definitely do worst. My sister was lounging on the couch, staring at the TV, obviously not interested in the conversation. Trevor noticed me and stood up, extending his paw for a handshake. He almost pulled my arm out of its socket. Damn, I definitely needed to see this guy arm-wrestle Mr. Ferguson. Or Mrs. Ferguson. Or Sharon… “Ah, Hudson, I presume?” “I prefer Xander.” “Tough luck. Your first name’s Hudson.” My mom cut in. “Hudson, this is Trevor.” She went on. “Charmed.” I replied, rubbing my aching arm. A few minutes of meaningless chit-chat later, we moved into the dining room, where we sat for dinner. Coq au vin. I was thinking that the coq part was definitely a sign I should talk to my mom. Little did I know that my sister interpreted it as such as well. When we had finished, my mom and Trevor settled down with a cup of coffee each. “Kids, you should eat some fruit.” My mom said. That was her idea of desert. Fruit, for cryin’ out loud! I wanted ice-cream! I sighed. “Yes, I suppose I could go for a banana.” I said. “I bet you would.” My sister said, the double-entendre obvious. To me, at least. I shot her a murderous look. I was thinking that if I did posses psychic killing abilities, now would be a good time for them to kick in. Naturally, nothing happened, so I started on my banana, while mom and Trevor sipped their coffee. Apparently, my sister was back to being full-on bitch, so she decided to make things interesting. “Mom, guess what? Hudson likes cock!” I chocked on the banana, while Trevor spat out his coffee. My mom continued to sip her carefully, then put the cup down and stared at my sister. “Grounded for a week, I think.” She told Fern. “What? Why?” my sister replied. “Because whether or not your brother finds penises more appealing than vaginas – God knows I don’t blame him, vaginas are scary – it is not your place to tell. Certainly not while entertaining company and using such language.” I was dumbstruck. “Err…So, I suppose you’re okay with me being gay, then?” I asked. “Well, of course, dear. I already knew, I was just waiting for you to tell me. I’ve read your diary half a year ago.” “JOURNAL! And do I have no privacy?” My mom shrugged and went back to drinking her coffee, my sister fuming and Trevor fidgeting nervously in his seat, glancing from me to my mom. Finally, he gathered up the courage to speak. “Umm, I don’t understand, about homosexuality, I mean. I don’t understand why one would want to have sex with a man.” “Quite.” My mom said, staring at him. Uh-oh. Guess that meant Trevor wouldn’t be getting lucky. He clamped his mouth shut. “Well, as entertainingly awkward as this has been, I think I’d best retire for the night.” I said, before scampering off to my room. Lying on my bed, I realized things had gone pretty damn well. All that worrying for nothing. I started giggling. My mom was awesome! I played around on my computer for a while longer and then went to bed. In the morning, I felt a warmth wash over me, like a soothing presence. I smiled and felt content. I reached down, saying hello to my morning woody. Then the warmth turned to terrible coldness and someone yelled at me. “Stop yanking and start yakking!” My eyes flew open. I recognized that voice. “Mind telling me exactly why the fuck I’m dead, dipshit?” Terry asked me, standing at the foot of my bed, his eyes cold. Then I fainted again, like a little bitch.
  18. Join Xander as he juggles his blossoming love life and adventures in a world filled with strange powers, ghosts, murders and other mysteries. Does a teenager have the ability to kill his tormentor with his mind or is it just a wacky coincidence? And if what lies beneath the surface is scarier than he thought, how will he deal with it? Rely on humor, go crazy or just accept it all?
  19. Guess who's back? See who survived and what they're up to. SEQUEL TIME!
  20. I think it was pretty stupid. Which is what I wanted. I always hated the stupid macho bullshit. You have a gun, use it!
  21. Hmm...magic chocolate? It COULD work, I suppose. Oh, you devious little devils, with your wild theories will figure everything out if I discuss things further! But, I will say that one should never give up hope...Even if in the end that hope gets brutally crushed under the heavy combat boot of reality.
  22. For now, at least. I thought this was the best ending for the current storyline. I am seriously considering a sequel of sorts, that will settle things properly. If all goes to plan, it could have a "Fugitive" air to it, with the guys on the run. We'll see. First I want to do another story, a bit lighter in tone(for the most part) and with a fantasy element to it.
  23. After a far longer hiatus than I ever intended, here it is, finally. The final chapter of the story. Hopefully readers won't be too mad at me. Chapter 13
  24. No comment. And yes, I'll be sure to tie up MOST of the loose ends...*is all mysterious-like*
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