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.”
“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.
“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…”
“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.”
“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’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?”
“Great. Meet me in the parking lot. I’ll be the one with the blue 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?”
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…