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?”
“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?”
“The Samuels kid and his new foster brother…”
“Oh, so it WAS you…”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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 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.”
“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.”
“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.
“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 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?”
“And that would appear to come into contradiction with destiny. The great design and so on, right?”
“But why can’t both co-exist?”
“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…”
“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.