The Empty Spaces Between Us - 23. Chapter 23
“Who’s Jerad Granger?”
“A guy I used to work with at the DA’s office,” Kyle replied. He kept his eyes on his tablet looking over emails in his shared email account with Jacob, quietly ticking off names. They made it while they were together over the winter so they could keep tabs on the responses from their wedding invitations and communicating with all the vendors they were working with in the area.
Brian shrugged and leaned back in the patio chair as the two of them sat on the porch. Below them, Troy, Jacob and Andy were going to and from one end of the house to the other, moving large pieces of wood that was to become the framework of the new addition on the house. “He sounds boring. Jerad Granger. Didn’t we go to school with a Granger?”
Kyle barely flicked a glance over at Brian. The day was pleasant but not at all warm enough to his liking. They were both wearing sunglasses to keep most of the glare off their eyes. “I thought you were making a list for me as I read off these names.”
“I am,” Brian said dismissively. “Doesn’t mean I can’t pass judgement on your friends from work. We’re up to about one hundred and ninety responses.”
“Not bad so far,” Kyle commented. “There’s another two months people have left for people to RSVP for the wedding.” Most of their invitations they just emailed out. Some were mailed and an even smaller few were hand delivered. Kyle thought it would be a nice touch. “I need to make sure the catering is going to be able to handle at least two hundred and fifty.”
“You should aim for three hundred,” Brian said.
Kyle snorted in derision. “Hardly.” He started to go over all the responses so far to make sure he got everyone so he would have the most accurate number he could get for the number of people come to the wedding and reception later.
“Have you two picked out your colors yet,” Brian asked as he watched the others work. He smirked a little to himself, when the other three made some snide comments about them not helping out. Brian pointed out that they were helping by staying out of the way and keeping an eye on the children.
Kyle had no knowledge about construction and had never done any kind of labor outside of working in the orchard with his dad. What he could do was keep an eye on the other workers from Troy’s business as they slowly started into their day while he went over lists and made sure everything being planned for their wedding was going smoothly. “Black and white. I’m going to wear a black tux and Jacob will wear a white one.
“That sounds as boring as Jerad Granger.” He grinned and turned to look at his friend. “You guys should liven it up. Wear hot pink and he can wear neon green.”
Kyle chuckled. “Doubtful. We don’t want to make a huge splash about it all. Just keep it simple and enjoy the moment.”
“Fine. Have it your way.” They shared a quiet moment, each of them involved in what they were looking at. “Jason Kilpatrick,” Brian said in a curious tone.
Kyle’s head turned sharply, and his eyes widened behind his sunglasses. “What did you just say?!”
Brian frowned and looked up at him. “Jason Kilpatrick. It’s a new name on the list I hadn’t seen before.”
Kyle grabbed the list and looked at it. He groaned as his eyes confirmed what his ears had heard. “Oh shit.”
An eyebrow arched up over the top of Brian’s sunglasses as an impish little grin graced his lips. “Someone you know?”
Kyle handed the list back and slumped back in his chair. “How the hell did he get an invitation?”
“I wasn’t in charge of that,” Brian said with a smirk. “So, who is he?”
“He’s…” Kyle sighed. “He’s my ex.”
“And all this time I thought you’d spent those years as monk,” Brian said with a grin. “So, what’s the story?”
Kyle started feeling uncomfortable. “We just… He was in love with me, but I was a jackass. I had issues that I didn’t want to deal with, and I more or less made him suffer for it.”
“And you invited him to your wedding?”
“I didn’t.” Kyle started to think back, wondering if maybe he’d gone temporarily insane and sent him and invitation through email. Then he realized he lost Jason’s email address years ago. A second later he frowned and growled in a low voice, “Stephanie. She invited him.”
“Do you think it’s weird when you say her name like that, it makes me want to like her more?” Brian chuckled. “It’s no big deal. He’s down with a ‘plus one’ so he’s obviously bringing a date with him.”
“I was so horrible to him, Bri,” Kyle said. “He didn’t deserve what I put him through.”
“Are you about to have a nutty,” Brian asked bluntly. “Because, if you are, I’m calling Jacob up here so he can talk you out of your crazy-tree.”
“Thanks,” Kyle said with a hint of sarcasm. “I’ll be fine.”
“You going to therapy yet?” While Brian did enjoy needling Kyle from time to time, he was also concerned for Kyle.
“Two days from now I’m going to go to that guy Jacob went to,” Kyle explained. “I’m nervous about what he’s going to say.”
Brian shrugged dismissively. “Whatever he says is what he’ll say. It’s better to know than not know at this point. We got your back if things get serious, you know that.”
Kyle smiled and felt a little relief for some reason hearing Brian say that. “Thanks. Speaking of, how’s Andy been?”
Brian sighed and looked out onto the orchard and the men walking around the house between there and the patio they were sitting at. “He’s having some bad days, but today was a good one when it started. Even after the night at the hospital, which I wanna strangle him for when Dad told me what happened, he’s been a little standoffish. He’s got something going on in his head and he’s acting like he’s not sure how to express it.”
“And how are you dealing with it all?”
“Honestly? I’m angry,” Brian said. “Not at him. At what he was put through and what happened to him that he won’t talk about. I’m angry that we have to jump through hoops just to get him the help he needs sometimes. I get that they’re backed up and all, but it’s just frustrating because he did what was asked of him and now, he’s asking for help and they’re giving him the run around.”
“So, no news about any new medication then,” Kyle surmised.
“Nope. He has an appointment in a month. Meanwhile, the boys are asking about why he stays home all the time and stays in bed almost all morning. They miss him making dinner for them.”
“There is still a lot we don’t know about PTSD,” Kyle said gently. “Maybe he needs some serious counseling to, like I’m having?”
Brian shrugged. “I’ll look into it. It’s just…” He sighed and said in a low voice, “sometimes, I feel like I’m just his caretaker and not his boyfriend/fiancé. There’s a lot he’s hiding. I can feel it.”
“Well, he talked about his experiences with us,” Kyle reminded him.
“No,” Brian said with a smirk. “He told you guys about what he saw, not what he did. He’s still not sharing all of that with any of us.”
Kyle frowned, having not really thought about it until just now. “Damn. Sneaky bastard.”
“I know, right?”
“He seemed fine when you guys showed up.”
“Yeah,” Brian agreed. “He was excited about coming and doing this. It’s his first time out of the house in weeks.”
Kyle watched as the workers Troy had brought with him from his office were moving around the yard, going from Jacob’s workshop to the far side of the house. Inside, he could hear banging noises as the men started tearing down the walls of the old bathroom and getting ready to open a hole that would eventually lead into their new suite of rooms. He had to admit Jacob had done a great job designing it on paper. This was probably the most ambitious project he had come up with and Kyle was excited for Jacob as much as Jacob was excited about completing what he thought of as their home.
He frowned suddenly and wondered aloud, “where’s Tyler?”
Brian looked around. “Haven’t seen him since we got here. He took one look at us and kind of retreated. You know, it’s weird,” Brian said in a slightly more concerned voice, “he and Andy seemed pretty tight back when we first started dating. And then, all of a sudden, we don’t hear back from him. Andy texted him a couple times and never got a response.”
Kyle shrugged. “I’ve only known him for barely a month. Every time I try and talk to him, he seemed quiet and reserved. Is that how he is with you?”
“No, but I’m not the one who’s marrying his first crush,” he replied with a smirk. “You just had to go and break his heart.”
Kyle shook his head and chuckled. “Yeah. That was my goal the whole time. Seriously, though, is he real quiet with you?”
“No,” Brian answered. “First time I ‘officially’ met him he was a little smart ass. And was rather cute about it too. We had a good time. Then all of a sudden, he got this boyfriend he’d been pining over and we just saw less and less of him. Then his dad died and things kind of went downhill from there.”
Kyle nodded. “I’d heard from Dad about that. Tyler was coming over once in awhile to keep him company while he was home alone. Never mentioned a boyfriend.”
“That’s really weird, dude.” Brian started looking around. “I don’t see him.”
Kyle stood up and went to the railing, looking around. “Hey, Jacob,” he called out.
A few seconds later, Jacob came around the corner, heading towards him. “What’s up?”
“Where is Tyler?”
Jacob frowned and looked around. “I don’t know. His truck is here. Why?”
Kyle’s bad feeling was starting to grow inside him. “I wanted to ask him something.”
Jacob gave him a puzzled look. “What about?”
“About his dad dying,” Kyle replied. “I wanted to ask him about what was going on with that.”
Jacob shrugged. “What’s left to talk about if he’s dead?”
Kyle rolled his eyes and smirked. “There’s a lot of legal stuff involved. I wanted to ask him if he had gotten a copy of the will and needed a ‘Legalese-to-English’ translator.”
“I don’t see him around,” Jacob said, frowning a little. “If I see him, I’ll tell him to come find you.”
“How’s the wedding plans coming along?”
Kyle grimaced. “Yeah, about that. There’s something I probably need to tell you later when we’re alone. Also, you have an appointment Friday at six to go get fitted for your tux.”
Jacob sighed. “Can’t it wait?”
“Sure,” Kyle said. “While we’re at it, how about we just have everyone show up in jeans and t-shirts. That should make things run smoothly.” A playful grin slowly spread on his face as he stared down at his fiancé.
Jacob groaned dramatically before walking away. “Fine. Torture me.”
“Well, I’d love to, but I still have to wait until you put the sound-proofing in the new bedroom,” Kyle called out as Brian laughed.
Kyle turned to regard Brian who was laying back in his chair giggling at their exchange. “I think I should buy you two some toys for a wedding present. For your bedroom.”
“What makes you think we don’t already have any,” Kyle shot back before going back to his seat. Just as he sat down, the door to house opened and Kyle caught a glimpse of Tyler coming outside. “Hey, Tyler. I was just looking for you.”
Tyler came to a sudden halt and Kyle almost thought he saw the younger man tremble as he turned to face him. “Um… I should be getting back to work.” His voice sounded hollow and flat to Kyle’s ears. He’d heard that sound before and alarms were slowly starting to go off inside him.
“Come sit with us for a second,” Kyle offered, waving at a chair. “I wanted to help you on some stuff.” Kyle slipped his sunglasses off, giving Brian a look that got the blonde man sitting up a little more, paying close attention.
Tyler slowly moved to the offered chair and sat down gingerly. His eyes seemed constantly downcast and wouldn’t look up from the floor. “Hey there, stranger,” Brian said with a welcome smile.
“Hey.” Tyler’s face and tone didn’t change. He looked pained for some reason.
Brian’s smile faded and his eyes started turning his head about, looking for Andy.
“I wanted to ask you about your dad,” Kyle said, sounding concerned. “Dad told me he passed away in December. It’s April now and I was wondering if your dad’s lawyers had been in contact with you?”
“No,” Tyler mumbled with a shake of his head. “Why would they be calling me?”
“Well, there’s the matter of your dad’s estate. He should have had a will. Did you get a copy of it?” Tyler just shook his head, saying nothing as his head tilted down.
Kyle examined Tyler closely. His face and the slump of his shoulders made him look in distress while his eyes seemed flat and vacant. He couldn’t tell much else due to the fact that he was wearing a long sleeve shirt and jeans. He studied his body language and felt disturbed all while his instincts kept telling him that something was terribly wrong. “Bri and I were going over the guest list for the wedding. Did you RSVP with Jacob already so I take check you off the list?”
Tyler nodded. “Yeah. Sure.”
Brian frowned. His own alarms were going off as well. “So, Tyler and plus one then? I’m assuming you’re bringing Alex with you, right?”
“Tyler?” Kyle said his name much the same way he would say his son’s name. “If you want, I can go ahead and make some calls for you to find out what’s going on with your dad’s estate.”
Tyler looked as if he was trying to shrink into himself as he sat there, avoiding their eyes. “If…if you want. That’s fine.”
Brian could stay quiet no longer. “Tyler, what’s going on? You seem upset about something.”
“No,” he replied, trying to sound more like himself and only sounding like a wounded animal. “Just didn’t sleep all that much last night is all.”
Kyle moved back a little and let Brian continue talking to him while he watched. “How are things with you and Alex? Andy and I haven’t heard from you in awhile. We were wondering what happened to you.”
Tyler seemed confused for a second before he said, “I really should get back to work.”
“That’s the second time you avoided talking about Alex,” Brian observed. “If someone asked me about Andy, I’d be giving them a five minute essay about our last week together. You haven’t worked up five words. What’s going on?”
“Wh…what do you mean going on?”
Kyle’s eyes went to Tyler and his fidgeting hands. He noticed they seemed preoccupied with keep his sleeves over his wrists. He opened his messenger app on his tablet and sent a text to Jacob. “Tyler is with me. There’s something wrong with him.” He knew that would be enough to get him moving.
“I mean, how are things with the two of you,” Brian continued. “You two should come over and have dinner with us sometime. I’m sure the boys would love to meet him as much as I would. Andy didn’t tell me much about the guy.”
Tyler cringed a little at the idea. “He’s… he doesn’t like going out all that much.”
“Well, why don’t you just come over,” Brian suggested.
“I don’t know.”
Kyle’s frown deepened. He could hear the heavy sound of boots stamping through the yard, coming closer. Multiple boots. “Alright. Brian, back up a bit, will you,” Kyle asked. “Give him a minute to breathe.”
“Why?” Brian stood up and took a few steps back as he heard footsteps behind him coming up the ramp. He turned his head and saw Andy followed by Jacob and Troy. All of them had curious looks on their faces with different levels of concern mixed in.
“Tyler,” Kyle began, “you know I was a prosecutor for four or five years, right?”
The young man’s eyes slowly looked up at him. Kyle could see the hidden fear in his eyes as he slowly nodded his head.
“Then you know, I handled a lot of different crimes. You probably know the more obvious ones but what you probably don’t know is that, more often than not, my usual workload was a lot of assault cases. A lot of those were usually domestic violence cases. You know, like with a husband or a wife or a boyfriend beats up on their spouse or partner.” He watched Tyler’s face carefully and saw the distress on his face. He moved closed and knelt down in front of him, meeting his downward gaze. “If there is something wrong, or if you’re hurt or upset about something, you need to tell someone.”
Andy took a few steps forward and spoke up. “How come I haven’t heard from you in awhile? I’ve texted you a bunch of times and you never responded.”
Tyler’s eyes widened a little as he looked up at him. “I… I never got any text messages. From you or anyone.”
Andy looked at him grimly. “I’ve sent about five or six text messages to you in the last three months.”
Tyler seemed on the verge of tears. “I don’t understand. I didn’t get any message.”
Kyle sighed, as if this was a story he had heard before. “Tyler, can I see your phone for a minute?”
“What’s going on,” Andy said as he took a step forward.
Tyler looked up at all five of them, uncertain of what to say or how to react. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out his cellphone, hesitating for a moment before unlocking it and handing it to Kyle.
“I asked a question,” Andy said in a slightly louder volume.
“I’m just looking for something,” Kyle said calmly as he tapped on the phone and started looking into the settings and background apps. “It’s something a detective taught me to look for. In case you have a possessive boyfriend or girlfriend. Or a stalker. In the old days, they’d drive around town looking for you and never let you leave their sight. These days, all they need is a couple apps and your phone and they can monitor you all day without getting out of their chair.”
“Tyler,” Andy said as he watched Kyle looking over the phone. “What’s going on with you and Alex?”
Tyler closed his eyes and shook his head. “I… I let him do something. He kept hounding me and we’d fight over it. I caught him cheating on me after my dad died and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I thought it was my fault because of how I treated him before he moved in.”
Brian frowned. “You didn’t make him fuck someone else, Tyler. That was his choice. You don’t owe him anything.”
“He kept telling me…” He looked away, feeling stupid and embarrassed. “Kept telling me how none of my friends really cared about me. And I would text people like Andy and Drake and Sean. But never get an answer. When I tried to call Sean’s number, it came back as not in service.”
“Well, he was pretty good at proving that too,” Kyle said with a frown. “He put some tracking app on your phone and a nanny app that intercepted texts and calls from certain numbers. I’ve seen this before.” Kyle glance behind him at Jacob. “Send him a text now. See if it goes through.”
Jacob and Andy both pulled their phones out and sent messages to Tyler’s phone. Within seconds, they were being received. Kyle handed the phone back to Tyler. “What else did he do to you?”
“He fucked up my life,” Tyler finally admitted to himself. “He kept talking down to me and telling me I was wrong about everything. He fucked a guy I worked with, then denied it and when I called the guy out about it, he denied it and that’s how the rumors started about me.”
Troy stepped closer, looking irate. “You should have said something to me, Tyler. I would’ve taken care of it. You need to start understanding that you’re not alone anymore. You have people you can rely on.”
“I’m sorry,” Tyler could feel the tears creeping into his eyes. “I didn’t know what to do. And my dad was getting sick and I was trying to make the best of what I could.”
Jacob stepped around the others and knelt down next to Kyle. “It’s okay. You don’t need to apologize for that. I’ve been in your shoes and I know how hard it is to trust people sometimes.”
“He’d get mad at me because I wouldn’t do something,” Tyler said through his tears. “Call me trailer trash just to put me down.”
“You’re not trash,” Jacob said with a small smile. “And I’d know. I come from that same trailer park.”
Kyle’s face hadn’t lost its frown as he listened and watched Tyler. “When did he hurt you? Physically?”
Kyle motioned to his hands. “I can see some redness on your arms just below your hands.”
Jacob took Tyler’s arm and gently pulled his sleeve up, revealing dark red marks that went all around his wrists. “Jesus Christ,” Jacob exclaimed. “What did he do to you?”
“He… forced me. Onto the bed. He put these straps around my wrists to hold me down. I told him to stop, but he didn’t.”
There was a moment where everyone started talking at once.
“Whoa. He raped you,” Brian asked.
“Oh my God, Tyler, why didn’t you tell us sooner!?”
“That fucking son of a bitch!”
“You’re not going back there tonight and I’m not arguing with you about that.”
“I’m going to call Dad and let him know what’s going on.”
Tyler looked away. “He said it was for my own good.”
“I’m calling the police,” Jacob said as he stood up.
“No,” Kyle stopped him. “There’s nothing you can do now. Not against this asshole. Tyler would have to file charges.” He turned his attention to Tyler. “I know… you and I don’t know each other well. But you’re going to have to trust me. I need to know as much as you can tell me about this guy. I can help you. But you need to tell me what I need to know.”
Brian looked around and froze as a cold chill crept up his spine. He expected to see Andy behind him, but he was nowhere in sight. “Guys? Where’s Andy?”
Troy turned and looked around as well. “His truck isn’t here…”
Kyle stood up, keeping his eyes on Tyler. “Tyler, you need to tell me where you live and what your boyfriends full name is. Right. Now.”
Alex was sitting on the couch playing a video game when he heard the gentle knock at the door. He smirked to himself as he paused the game and got up. He’d locked and bolted the door this morning after Tyler left. Alex wanted to make sure he knew who was in charge. After a long and enjoyable weekend breaking him in, he was looking forward to expanding his new toy’s education and hoped he wouldn’t break as badly as the last one did. He’d hoped for more from that Dex kid, but it just showed that the jock kind of kids can’t handle the real thing when it came to some good rough fucking.
By the sounds of it, he figured it was Tyler wanting back in. He toyed with the idea of making him beg first, but he was in the mood to start putting him through his paces. A blowjob that turned into a skull fucking should do the trick.
Alex unbolted and unlocked the door. Just as he turned the knob the door kicked violently inward, hitting him in the face hard enough to send him falling onto the floor. “What the fuck?!”
Before his vision cleared, he felt a pair of hands grab him by his shirt and pull him to his knees before a kick to his abdomen emptied the air out of his lungs, rendering him speechless. By the time his vision cleared, he felt blood on his face and saw a red-faced demon with eyes of green fire bearing down on him. Alex panicked and tried to get away, but the person easily kicked his feet out from under him, sending him face down onto the floor.
The only sound he heard seemed to confirm what his eyes told him as a demon with a dark, evil voice roaring all around him. “I am going to fucking kill you!”
Alex tried to curl up in a ball but the man standing over him was too well educated in how to inflict pain. A couple kicks to his side got his body to unlock long enough for his attacker to reach down and grab his throat. Breathing became more laborious as he felt his body being dragged up from the floor and slammed into the wall hard enough to leave a crack in the drywall.
“Look at me, you fucking piece of shit!”
Alex opened his eyes and looked at the face that was only inches away. He suddenly realized it was that friend of Tyler’s. The one who looked so unassuming at the bar that night months ago. He grabbed the guy’s forearm in an attempt to break his hold, but the hand remained attached to his throat and started to squeeze.
“Let me go,” Alex said through labored breaths.
Andy used his other hand to punch his face twice as he raged. “No! You shut the fuck up and you listen if you wanna live longer than the next fucking five minutes! You treated one of my friends like shit and I was stupid enough to buy your con job that you were gonna be good to him. Now I’m making up for my mistake and if that means I gotta snap your fucking neck like a twig, I’ll fucking do it!”
Alex’s eyes started to bulge as he fought for his next breath.
“You’re gonna pack your shit up and get the fuck out of here right fucking now! And when you’re gone, I don’t wanna hear your name ever again. If you call him, if you text him, if I think you’re even breathing in his fucking direction, I’m gonna come find you and put you out of your misery. Slowly. Painfully. I will spend five days in a hut out in the middle of the woods, slowly sawing off parts of your body and listen to you scream every day and every night until I finally put an end to your piss poor existence!”
Alex’s mouth was open, but he couldn’t speak, and he could only barely breathe. “Pl—”
Andy pulled his head towards him and slammed it against the wall again. “I’m not fucking around here. I don’t have a problem killing a piece of shit like you. The only thing keeping you alive right now is that I got two kids to raise. If I didn’t have them, you would’ve been dead five seconds after I walked in. You got me?”
Alex could see in his eyes that Andy was completely serious. That this guy could kill him without a second thought brought true fear to him. “I’m gonna call the fucking cops on you,” he whimpered in an attempt to get him to stop.
“You think they’re gonna save you from me, bitch?”
A new voice came from the doorway, filled with a quiet, casual confidence. “He’s not going to call the cops.”
Andy and Alex both looked over at the door. Alex thought his killer might be distracted enough that he could get out of his choke hold, but Andy’s hand seemed to be made of iron and nothing he did could free him.
Kyle stepped inside, watching the two of them with an unreadable, impassive face. “Alex Parker? You have two different orders of protection against you in Butler and Armstrong county. Convicted of assault three years ago and served a six month jail sentence. Convicted of petty theft. Six months that time too. You have a bench warrant out on you for failure to appear in court because of a DUI incident and, if that car in the driveway is yours, then that means you’re driving on a suspended license.” His eyes went to Andy. “Let him go. He’s not worth you going to prison for the likes of him.”
Andy released his hold and allowed Alex to slide down to the floor as he gasped for breath.
Kyle was unmoved by his distress and his condescending tone matched the contempt in his eyes. “As an officer of the court, it’s almost kind of my duty to go ahead and call the cops myself and have them come pick you up. But I’m not going to do that. But I will, if I come back tomorrow morning and find you still here. I’ll be generous and give you until ten o’clock to be completely gone.” He knelt close enough to smell Alex’s sweat as he whispered, with a small playful smirk, “and if you are still here, I’ll stand there and let my friend finish what he started. And you better believe I’ll make sure he never sees the inside of a cell for it either.”
Alex said nothing. Knowing they had him in a bind, there was no point in saying anything else.
“Tyler isn’t coming back tonight. He’s staying with his friends,” Kyle continued as he stood back up. “If you damage any of his stuff, that will be interpreted as you not taking the deal and I’ll let my friend do whatever he wants to you. Trust me, when it comes to these small town medical examiners, all I gotta do is walk in, explain the situation and tell him what you died of and that’s what he’ll put on your death certificate. No one’s going to miss someone like you. So, get up, get your shit and be gone by the time I get back, okay?”
Kyle didn’t wait for a response as he stood up, tilted his head towards the door and said to Andy, “let’s go.”
Andy’s face was just starting to return to normal as he gave Alex a hard kick to the balls before he followed Kyle out the door, being mindful to close it up behind him to muffle the sounds of Alex’s screams.
“How’d you know where I was,” Andy asked his friend casually as if he hadn’t just tried to kill someone a few minutes ago.
“Tyler told me where he lived. I knew what you were planning to do.”
“So sure of yourself, Mr. Big-Time Lawyer,” he said with a smirk.
“I knew you weren’t gonna kill him. Maybe break a bone or two...”
“He wasn’t worth ruining my life or my kids’ life for,” Andy said bluntly. “But I wasn’t gonna let him get away with what he did to one of my friends. How’d you find out all that stuff about him so fast?”
Kyle smiled. “I called Stephanie and had her pull up everything for his name in Butler and Armstrong. She was giving me all that as I drove over here. Next time, a little heads up will be helpful. Then we can play, ‘good cop, bad cop.’”
Andy snickered as they reached their vehicles. Kyle’s phone suddenly started to ring as a flurry of text messages came to his phone. Andy’s phone soon followed suit. “Uh, oh. I think we’re in trouble.”
“Like that’s a first,” Kyle said dryly with a snort of contempt. He looked at his phone. “It’s Dad. He says to get our asses back home now.”
Andy smiled and pulled Kyle into a tight hug. “I’ve missed you so much.”
Kyle hugged him back, feeling that familiar warmth inside him. “I missed you too.” It was a kind of relief that he could still feel that bond between them in moments like these. How, no matter what happens or how long they might be apart, they’re still family. He finally let go and said, “let’s get home before we’re grounded.”
Andy laughed at the thought of that and got in his truck. He waited until Kyle was in his car before they pulled away from the curb and headed home.
Tyler laid in a bed that was not his own. After telling the others the humiliation that Alex subjected him to and discovering just how much of what Alex had said to him was lies, he felt shattered and unable to cope with it all. Jacob and Troy told him he was done working for the day. Once they told David what had been going on, he looked mad enough to split the earth in two and told Tyler that there was no way he was going back to that house. Tyler didn’t know what he was going to do. His entire life was in ruins and he was worried about what Andy was going to do to Alex. The last thing he wanted was someone else paying a price for his own stupidity.
As he replayed those hurtful moments with Alex, he realized just how stupid he had been. What bothered him most was, in hindsight, it was all so obvious. How did he not see the truth at the time? Why had he been so reluctant to put his foot down and stand up for himself?
The answer was so equally obvious, it made him want to vomit. He’d been in love and Alex had used that against him. The more he thought about it, the more certain he was that Alex had been manipulating him from the beginning. Keeping him off balance just enough to make him question himself. Even that big blow up and the weeks Alex had all but ignored his apologies, he figured that was just part of the game Alex had been playing with him.
Once Andy and Kyle returned to the house and received a stern talking to by David, Brian went to their house to pick up a change of clothes for Tyler. Brian being the only one near enough to Tyler’s size to get a change of clothes for him without having to go back to Tyler’s house to get anything. They kept the kids away from his room so he could rest in relative peace throughout the day and they all eventually went back to work. David was mindful to check in on him every hour or so, but Tyler wasn’t in a talking mood.
Over time, Tyler would start to drift in and out of sleep until he noticed the lack of noise going outside. The men who had been working on the new addition of the house had left for the day and Tyler had done hardly any work at all. He felt horrible about being a burden. For the past few years, all he’s ever wanted was to be able to live his own life. Work hard and get a fair pay so he could be independent. Now all that was so screwed up he wasn’t sure how he was going to manage.
There was a soft knock on the door before it opened and Brian stepped inside the room, holding a bag in one hand as he closed the door behind him. “How’re you feeling,” he asked in a subdued but pleasant voice.
“Fine,” Tyler mumbled as he stared blankly at the floor.
Brian smirked and giggled softly. “Liar.” He turned the light on in the room before the last bits of sunlight coming through the window finally faded. Without waiting for an invitation, he stepped over to sit down on the edge of the bed. “Brought you something. Something to wear later after you clean up. Dad is pretty adamant about boys in his home staying clean. Has been for as long as I was leaving muddy handprints all over his walls.”
Tyler sat up slightly, not feeling like talking but feeling compelled to say something. “Thanks.”
Brian could sense how closed off he was feeling. “You didn’t do anything wrong. Never think any of this was your fault. He was the one who used you.”
“I still fell for it,” he muttered. “Like some stupid kid.”
Brian sighed. “Tyler, you would be amazed how many people I have known who’ve fallen for guys like Alex. I’ve seen guys with wit and charm, men and women with master’s degrees, all fall for abusive, self-absorbed guys like Alex. You’re not a stupid kid. You just fell in love with the wrong guy, that’s all.”
“I thought he meant it when he said he loved me.”
Brian nodded his head sadly. “I know. Some people are like that. I can’t tell you why he did what he did. I doubt he even knows. But what I can tell you is that you’ll get through this.”
Tyler laid back down. “What’s going to happen now?”
Brian smirked slightly. “Now? Now, you get up, take a shower, change clothes and then come down and have dinner with the rest of us.”
“I’m not really hungry.”
Brian tilted his head and grinned impishly. “I could have Troy come up here and lecture you until you come downstairs and eat…”
Tyler sighed and got up. “Okay… Just give me a few minutes.”
Brian rose up from the bed, feeling a sense of accomplishment. “You have about ten minutes. Shake a leg.” He gave Tyler one last smile before leaving the room and returning downstairs.
Tyler waited a moment, listening to Brian’s footsteps retreat and descend the stairs before he looked in the bag. The clothes within were not his style but he realized he had little choice but to deal with it. He picked the bag up and quietly crossed the hall and into the bathroom. As he prepared himself, he thought about what all had happened in the last few days. The bitter sense of betrayal as he remembered how it felt being bound to the bed by someone he thought wouldn’t hurt him.
As he stepped into the shower and looked down at his wrists, a cold anger started to build up inside him. The marks were still there from him straining against them as he begged and pleaded for Alex to stop for what felt like hours. The more he thought about it, the angrier he became. He could almost hear Alex laughing at him now. Too small and scared to stand up for himself so his friends had to do it for him. The truth was, he didn’t want to hurt Alex. He didn’t want to hurt anyone. All he had ever wanted was to be loved. To not feel alone, tossed aside and forgotten like the other times in his life. How could he have put his trust in someone who would betray him so badly?
When he got out of the shower and dried himself off, he took another look in the bag with Brian’s clothes and frowned. If he put those on, he would be proving Alex right. That he wasn’t able to take care of himself or to stand up for himself. After drying himself off, he put his jeans and the long sleeve shirt back on he had been wearing that day. He didn’t care how they felt since they wouldn’t be worn for very long. He did take the socks out of the bag and put them on, but he knew he’d be giving them back before the night was over. Giving himself a final check in the mirror, he thought long and hard about what he was about to do.
Gathering the rest of his things, he went down the stairs with his head up and a determined look on his face. The others were in the living room and just getting to their feet when they saw Tyler march past the doorway, heading towards the kitchen.
“Hey,” Jacob called out as he started to give chase, “where do you think you’re going?”
Tyler stopped in the kitchen and helped himself to a bottled water from the fridge as he explained. “I appreciate the help with the clothes and all. But I have clothes of my own at my place.” He turned and looked Jacob in the eyes, showing no fear and no concern.
The look on Tyler’s face halted Jacob’s advance. “You shouldn’t stay there tonight, and dinner is ready. We were just waiting on you.”
Tyler glanced behind Jacob’s shoulder and saw the others coming through the doorway to the kitchen as well. All six of them had various looks of concern and curiosity. Tyler couldn’t hide the small smile on his lips. In that moment he felt very blessed to have friends like these. “The last place I want to be sleeping is anywhere near him and, if I remember the story right, he has until morning to leave. I’m fine with that, but I want to get my own clothes. So, I’m going to run over and pack a bag and then I’ll come back.”
“Let me go get you some clothes,” Andy suggested. “I don’t want to take the risk of you getting hurt.”
Tyler smiled wider and shook his head. “He’s not going to hurt me. I won’t let him. And if I don’t do this, he’s going to always think I’m weak and a coward. I really do appreciate all your help, but this is something I want to do. I’ll be okay. I promise.”
“You don’t have to prove anything to him,” David said.
“Maybe,” Tyler replied. “But I think I need to prove it to myself.”
David smiled a little and seemed pleased with his answer. “Dinner can wait for a few more minutes.”
Kyle nudged Andy and shared a look with him before saying to Tyler, “how about a compromise? You can go, get what you want, but take Andy with you. He can stay in the car. Just leave the front door open while you’re there.”
Tyler’s eyes went from Andy to Kyle and back. “Alright. But you stay in the truck, and I drive us there and back.”
“Why don’t I go with you,” Jacob asked with an almost hurt expression.
Tyler chuckled quietly and replied, “because if something did happen and he managed to hurt you with only a couple months to go before your wedding, I’d feel guilty about it. I’m betting he’s already so terrified of Andy, he won’t dare try anything knowing he’s right outside. Besides, you’re too cute to intimidate anyone no matter how big you get.”
Brian and Kyle hid behind their hands as they chuckled while Jacob stared at him in with a smile muted from wondering if he had just been insulted or complimented. The debate was closed when Troy put a hand on Jacob’s shoulder as he looked at Tyler. “Get going and get back here as soon as you can. I still got some things I want to go over with you.”
Tyler nodded and headed out the back door with Andy fast on his heels. He hopped into his trucked and started it up as Andy got in and without a word pulled out and headed to his house.
“You seem real sure of yourself in there,” Andy commented.
Tyler shrugged. “I’m just… done with it all. What he did… I decided I wasn’t going to be a victim to him. I’m sorry I got upset with you for not texting me. I didn’t know he’d sabotaged my phone.”
Andy smirked. “Well, I didn’t know you were upset, and I was a little upset too. But, that’s past now. I worked out my aggressive feelings.”
“Yeah. I’m kinda mad about that too.”
“You beating up my ex-boyfriend.”
Andy blinked in confusion. “Why?”
Tyler smiled a little. “Because I wasn’t there to watch.”
Andy laughed and settled into his seat as Tyler drove them to his house. The air of camaraderie between them seemed stronger and that filled Andy with a sense of ease he hadn’t felt in awhile. “You knew I wasn’t going to really kill him, right?”
“No,” Tyler replied. “You wouldn’t do anything to mess up your life. Wish I could say the same, but I guess I’m still learning.”
“Learning quick from the sounds of it.” Andy felt a sense of relief for some reason when Tyler seemed confident in him. He hoped he deserved it.
Tyler just smiled as he made the turn onto his street, it faded only just a little. Alex’s car was still there as he pulled up and put the truck in park. “I’ll leave the front door open. That way, you can hear him scream if he thinks he’s gonna try anything.” He shut the engine off and hopped out.
“He’s gonna scream,” Andy asked with a dubious look.
Tyler reached behind his seat and pulled a baseball bat from where it had been hiding. He looked up at Andy, holding the bat in one hand. “You heard me. I hit eight homeruns my senior year on the team. I know how to swing a bat.”
Andy couldn’t help but chortle as he nodded his approval. “Don’t be too long, okay?”
“I won’t. I’m hungry too.” He closed his truck door and headed up to the house, his baseball bat casually held in one hand as it rested on his shoulder.
Tyler got to the door and was a little surprised to find it unlocked. When he stepped inside, he looked around the front room and saw Alex huddled on the couch in a black shirt and a pair of basketball shorts. His face was bruised along one side and even from this distance, he could see red marks on his neck with a clear handprint.
Alex looked up at him and frowned. “What are you doing here?”
“Just stopped by to get some clothes for tonight and tomorrow. Don’t mind me.” He made sure the baseball bat was in full view as he went down the hall and into his room. He grabbed his bag from the closet and began to put clothes in it and then stopped, opting to just strip off what he was wearing for the moment so that he could leave wearing something clean.
Tyler was just finishing getting dressed when he felt eyes on him. Turning towards the door, he found Alex standing there, looking wretched. Tyler was a little surprised that, for the first time, he didn’t see anything attractive about him. “You watching me strip just now,” he asked him as he stood back up. Holding the bat not unlike a cane.
“I always like watching you get naked,” Alex replied.
Tyler shrugged, looking unimpressed. “Yeah, well, that was your last chance. I’m done with you.”
Alex’s face was of saddened disappointment. “There’s nothing I can say to change your mind?”
Tyler smirked as he set about putting his clothes in the bag for tomorrow. “Hardly. This time tomorrow, I’m going to come back here, clean the place up and maybe fumigate it to get your smell out of everything.”
Now he looked hurt from Tyler’s words. “I’m sorry about what happened. I promise, it’ll never happen again.”
Tyler closed the bag and chuckled as he slung it over his back and raised his bat back up. “No. It won’t. That much is true.”
“Come on, baby,” Alex said in a desperate tone. “I love you. I don’t want anyone else.”
Tyler stepped up to him, casually. “You really mean that?”
“Of course I do,” he replied, looking into Tyler’s eyes.
Tyler smiled slightly and put the bat up against the wall. “You never played baseball as a kid, did you?”
“No,” Alex replied, looking a little more confused.
“Well, I did. And I learned two very important lessons. The first was how to swing a bat. The second thing I learned…” Tyler shoved his hand into Alex’s groin, found what he was looking for and squeezed. Alex’s eyes bulged in his head as his mouth opened, but no sound came out other than a whimper of pain. Tyler’s voice hardened and he continued to squeeze as Alex’s legs began to give out from under him. “…was how to catch a ball.”
Alex wheezed as the pain built up inside him. “Please, stop.”
“Oh, I remember those words. That’s what I said to you when you were hurting me. Remember?” Tyler pulled a little harder. “The idea that you love me disgusts me. You have no idea what it means. My friends love me. They’ve proven it. I’m only sorry I trusted you and let you mess up those friendships for whatever sick reason you had. I should make you beg just like you made me beg, but I’m better than that.” He released his hold and let Alex back away, grasping his injured manhood and moaning in pain.
Tyler grabbed his bag and his bat and headed out. Alex sneered at him as he left. “Fine then. Go on and go fuck your friends or whatever it is you plan on doing tonight. In a month you’ll be begging me to come back.”
Tyler smirked as he turned to look at him. “No. I won’t. And you know I won’t. That’s why you said it. Trying to hurt me again like always. Well, I know your tricks now and they’re not going to work anymore. You always talked down to me and never treated me like someone who meant anything to you than what I could do for you. You never once cared about me. I’m sorry that you’ll never really understand what loving someone means. You’re going to miss out on a lot.”
“You’ll be back,” Alex said again as he got back to his feet and slowly followed him. “There aren’t any other guys here who’ll put up with you like I did. Without me, you’re nothing. You’re gonna end up alo—”
“Spare me the bullshit, asshole,” Tyler interjected. “I’m done listening to you and I’m hungry. If I’m not out of the house soon, Andy’s going to get worried and come in here looking for me. I won’t be responsible for what happens if him seeing you again makes him go nuts and he tries to kill you again.”
“Fine. Leave. Be miserable the rest of your life.”
Tyler got to the door and turned around to look at him, smiling. “Oh, I get it now. All those things you said about me, what you were really doing was telling me what your feelings were about your life. All this time and I just now figured that out. Goodbye. If I ever see you again, I’ll be nice and pretend I don’t remember who you are.” He closed the door behind him and headed back to his truck and the loyal friend waiting for him. The smile on his face would take some time to wear off.
This isn't the end of the story. Just the end of the beginning. That said, it's going to be a few weeks before another chapter is out. But, it will continue.
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