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.
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?”
“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…”
“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.