“You’re Wednesday?” Mr. DeLouise questioned him. “Are you dating my daughter?” His eyes narrowed, making him look even shadier than before.
“I’m not dating Wednesday, dad,” Sabrina protested. “And this is mine,” she added as she picked her phone from the desk.
“Actually, my name is April,” April explained.
Sabrina looked at him, a bit cross-eyed. “And why did you say your name was Wednesday? By the way, your name still sounds out of whack.”
“It seems like he has a habit of pretending to be other people,” Jett intervened.
April froze. Jett was still upset. He had to be, but he had still come to the rescue, and that was all that mattered.
“This is not fucking prom!” Peter Zabinski seemed fed up with the entire drama unfolding in his warehouse. “Who are you, people?”
“Someone much in the mood to perform a citizen arrest.” Tom stepped up, and he seemed ready to take the Z brothers head-on.
“Good people,” Henry Zabinski said in a sugary voice, “let’s not make this more than it is. We were just having a friendly conversation with little April, here.”
“Friendly? You don’t seem too friendly to me,” Tom said as he stared at Henry. Despite his size, Henry seemed impressed by the man towering over his desk now.
“Did anything happen to the boy? Just ask him,” Henry continued.
“Well, not yet, but your goon here just tried to break my arm,” April said promptly.
Tom turned toward the goon, who took a step back and raised his hands in surrender. “You will pay for this.”
“Who are you? The boy’s dad?” Mr. DeLouise intervened.
“No, but I’m just the next person who wouldn’t mind kicking anyone’s ass over him,” Tom replied.
“I’m the dad,” Sid said. “And I’m very interested to hear what explanations you, gentlemen, have, for kidnapping my boy and bringing him here against his will.”
As the dads took the stage, Jett hovered in the back. To April, he looked like a caged animal. He was clearly in high alert, and April felt guilty. If it hadn’t been for his stupidity, everyone would be in their beds right now, not facing a pair of gangsters, their goon, and their client who was as shady as they were.
“Are you okay, April?” Sid asked, appearing very much worried.
“I’m fine, dad,” April said.
“Good. You’re grounded.”
April opened his mouth to express his surprise at that, but seeing the stern look on his dad’s face, he decided to can it. Oh, damn. That meant that Jett had spilled the beans about everything. So the mining rig --
“And you can kiss that mining rig goodbye,” Sid added.
No hope there, April thought.
“I’m going to call nine-one-one,” Dan said.
That seemed to have the desired effect on the Z brothers, who began to talk quickly and affably. “There’s no need for such a thing. We can work something out, can’t we?”
Dan pulled out his phone. “You kidnapped and threatened April,” he said with finality.
Sabrina went directly to Dan and caught his hand. “Dan, no, please. I just don’t want my dad to go back to jail, no matter how much of a jerk he is.”
Mr. DeLouise made a sound as someone had just stabbed him. “Sabbie, please. I just worry about you. I needed to know if you’re in danger.”
“The only danger I’ve always been in was to remain without a dad, and that already happened,” Sabrina said bitterly. “Now, don’t you dare disappear again or do other shady stupid things because I will never forgive you!” Her raised voice made everyone else shut up. “April, please, can you forgive my dad? He’ll never do anything like this. Right, dad?”
Mr. DeLouise seemed much placated by his daughter’s attitude and just nodded.
“So, we’re not bashing anyone’s head in?” That was Zane. “I’m totally ready.”
Tom seemed ready, too. As for Jett, April didn’t dare to look at him.
“This is all my fault,” April said. “It’s my fault that I borrowed money to make my mining rig. And also my fault for not telling my dad I was in trouble. And I was wrong to keep from Jett that I was actually Theo.”
“Theo?” Zane asked. “Man, I totally knew it!”
“Theo? Who’s Theo?” Dan asked.
“I’m going to tell you later,” Zane promised.
“Don’t you dare,” was Jett’s reply.
“How many names do you have?” Sabrina asked him.
April sighed. “I’m just April Summer. I invent names sometimes.”
Jett snorted at that. April pretended he didn’t hear that.
“What’s this thing about this Theo?” Dan asked. “Should I call the police already? Wait, where are the bad guys?”
Everyone turned only to see the place at the desk where Henry Zabinski had stood until moments earlier empty. His brother and their goon were gone, too.
“I think they ran away,” Sid said. “Through the back.”
The sound of a car engine taking off confirmed Sid’s conclusion.
“Please, don’t call the police,” Sabrina begged. “Now it’s only my dad left, and he doesn’t need this. Please, April,” she added as she turned toward him.
“Seeing how I’m not without blame here, I should let it go. So, please, everyone, who’s in favor of letting Sabrina’s dad off the hook?”
Tom and Sid didn’t seem convinced. “Those two could make a lot of problems still.”
“They won’t,” Jett said. “With their headquarters compromised like this, they won’t return here. Also, I can talk to some people to make sure they stay away from our town.”
“Son, no more of this gangster stuff,” Tom said.
“It’s called connections, dad,” Jett protested. “If we called the police, we would have to explain a lot of stuff that’s not easy to explain.”
April could still see the hesitation in both dads and Dan, but he knew Jett was right. If all they had done came to light, he and Jett both would be in hot water, too. Especially Jett, and April couldn’t live with that. Plus, Jett had quitted, and he wanted to do things the right way now.
“Please,” he joined Sabrina, “let’s just let it go this one time. Please, dad? Tom? Dan?”
“All right, but you’re still grounded, young man,” Sid said. “Now, come, let’s get you out of here.”
“I’ll make sure to look into this so-called business those two assholes ran here. They better left the town, or it won’t be easy at all for them if they show their ugly faces around here,” Tom said. “And you,” he turned toward DeLouise, “you should listen to your daughter more. Dads should be with their families. And I’m talking from my experience with past mistakes.”
Sid took April by the shoulders, and Tom did the same with Jett. He could tell Jett wanted to talk to him but now wasn’t the right moment. Still, they stole glances at one another, and April could only hope that Jett had forgiven him, at least a little.
That night, his dad scolded him for an hour straight before allowing him to go to sleep. Sitting there, in the dark, April couldn’t help his mind wander at that summer. The summer that had changed everything for him because he had met Jett and realized, as goofy as it might sound, that he would never love anyone else.
Jett was sitting across from his dad, but he couldn’t focus anymore on what he was saying. Tom had gone on and on about being responsible and all that. And he knew, but he also knew that his dad had to say it, multiple times until he was sure Jett got it.
It was, however, the tenth time he was basically saying the same thing, but with other words. Jett’s mind was too full, too full of April, too full of Theo, too full of thoughts of that summer that had changed everything for him because he had met a boy and fallen in love.
Seven years ago
April stared at his reflection in the mirror for a long time. He couldn’t do anything about the glasses, but he looked kind of cool, like an anime character. Too bad he didn’t have any superpowers; he couldn’t multiply so that he could confuse the other kids who were all a bunch of pricks.
He couldn’t understand why they had to be here and why his dad wasn’t with them. He knew why his mother wasn’t, but, in a strange way, he felt more unsettled that he didn’t know where his dad was. Melinda had hidden her tears and scolded him when he had searched through her makeup stuff. She must have known something, but she wasn’t telling. Maybe because she was all grown up and he wasn’t.
April still wanted to know where his dad was. No matter how many times his uncle had told them that their father would be back with them by the end of the summer, April wanted to know right now. With their mom gone, he couldn’t bear even thinking where they would be without their dad, too.
Now, with this hair, he looked so different. He could leave his glasses at home, but it didn’t sound like a good idea. He didn’t see well without them, so he needed to keep them. As for his name, that could be changed, too. This way, he could be someone else, and that someone else could have what he didn’t; a mom who wasn’t gone, and a dad who didn’t go somewhere he and Melinda weren’t allowed to see him.
Jett walked with his head down, kicking stones along the way. Why had everyone lied to him? Why had they said that she would get better? His hands curled into fists, and he walked faster. He had tried to be such a good boy, too; every day, he had done everything just so that she didn’t leave. But it hadn’t worked. Nothing did.
On the playground, a bunch of kids were laughing and shouting. Jett hated them right now. Why were their mothers well and not his? What made them good kids? He had tried everything; he had even eaten the green mush his aunt was making, which she said was good to make him strong. He didn’t think that, but he had eaten it anyway. And he had brushed his teeth before going to bed, and never yelled in the house, or made any noise.
His aunt had sent him to the playground and told him he should be with kids his age. But Jett didn’t want that; other kids were stupid, and they had to be really lucky because they could do all kinds of stupid and bad things, and their moms still were at home.
“It’s called Metamorphosis,” one of the kids in the noisy group explained.
“It’s called that you have shit for brains,” another replied, and the rest of them laughed.
Jett stopped. The kid who talked in that weird way seemed to be in a team of his own. The others were throwing bad words at him, but he didn’t seem to care.
“Just go away; no one wants to play your stupid game,” the kids shouted at him.
The kid put his eyes down and walked away. He looked like a loner, and his head was a bright clump of yellow hair that somehow made him look sadder. Jett stared at the noisy group.
“Jett, Jett,” they started calling for him. “Come play with us! Why didn’t you come all week?”
“His mom died,” one of them said. “So, his dad didn’t let him go out and play.”
Jett didn’t know what happened to him. He jumped the fence so fast, and the group cheered, but then he lunged at the one who had talked about his mom and punched him hard in the face.
Everyone fell silent, for a moment, but when Jett made a move to kick the one on the ground again, the others began shouting, hoping to keep him away. No one seemed ready to face him.
“Your games suck,” Jett spat and walked away.
He was again alone in his thoughts, even though the kid he had punched had found his voice again and was hurling insults and threats at his back.
“Hey,” someone called for him from one side.
Jett stopped and saw the kid from before, the one with the shiny golden head. “Fuck off.”
The kid stopped for a second, but then he began walking fast to catch up with him. “You’re too young to say that word.”
“You’re too young to be this stupid,” Jett retorted.
“Why? Grownups are stupid?”
Jett hadn’t thought of things this way, but they could be. Otherwise, why would they say that his mom would get better? “Yeah.”
“Is it true?”
“That your mom died.”
“Yeah.” Jett saw no reason to lie. He wasn’t ashamed of it. He was angry and sad, and he didn’t know what to think or do.
Jett stopped and stared at the new kid. He had large green eyes that seemed even larger because of the huge prescription glasses he wore. And there was also that hair, so shiny and the color of gold. He could be a light bulb in a dark room, that shiny his head was. “Are you shitting me?”
Jett shrugged and began walking again. He could go by the lake and throw stones. He didn’t want to go back to the playground and play stupid games with stupid kids.
Jett was surprised. He thought the kid must have gone by now on his way. “Jett.”
“My mom chose it for me,” Jett replied, feeling proud.
“It’s really cool. Where are you going?”
Was that it? Wasn’t Theo going to ask him about his mother? Jett was sure as hell that he didn’t want to ask Theo about his. He knew how that must have felt. “I’m heading over to the lake. I want to throw rocks.”
“Do you know any words besides cool?”
“Yeah. But then people say I’m a snob, and I try to impress them with my knowledge.”
Theo was a strange dude, and he talked about strange things in a strange way. “What’s a snob?”
“You wouldn’t want to hang out with me if I told you.”
Jett shrugged. He didn’t need anyone, but Theo seemed good enough to have as company.
The boy was scary, with his longish hair that seemed not to have seen the brush for at least a week and his black t-shirt that had an imprint of a metal band on its front. But Theo knew that being scared wouldn’t cut it for long. He needed to make a friend, and Jett, as scary as he looked, seemed like a good bet.
Although he had hit that kid, and April had seen everything. Maybe the kid deserved it. He was a jerk.
“I can show you my superpowers,” he started.
“You don’t have superpowers.”
“I don’t, but I can make it look like I do.”
Jett picked a rock and threw it, making it jump several times on the face of the lake. April didn’t let himself deterred by his audience’s lack of interest. He began to explain his magic ninja moves, explaining to Jett every move of his hands and fingers and what they meant.
For a while, Jett seemed uninterested, but then he began to ask questions. Happy to finally have someone interested, April began to tell all about his favorite anime show. Jett seemed fascinated.
“Where’s your dad?” Jett asked him, out of the blue.
“He’s home,” April said, feeling defensive.
“Here,” April lied.
“Mine is not. He has work. And a career,” Jett said. “That’s in the army.”
It sounded impressive. “Does your dad drive a tank?”
“I don’t think so. But he is in charge of some troops. Like soldiers.”
“Why aren’t you with him? I thought army people all stayed together with their families,” April said.
Jett didn’t say. He got back to his rock throwing. And then he began to explain to April how to do it, too.
April had never asked for more than one good friend. As scary as he looked, Jett was that friend. Melinda was busy doing girl stuff that April didn’t understand, and their uncle wasn’t concerned with asking them where they both disappeared all day long. Their uncle was a taciturn man – April liked that word because it described their uncle to a tee – and he didn’t have a family of his own. But he was their closest relative, and that was why he got stuck with April and Melinda. Got stuck was his way of saying that he didn’t like that very much. It had to mean that their dad hadn’t really had any other choice.
He hung out with Jett every day. It was funny how Jett really liked all the games April could come up with. Being Theo and having that kind of hair must have helped. April felt less like his awkward self. He also felt cool, but maybe that was by association because Jett was the cool one.
“Do you ever think of your mom?” That was Jett asking, out of the blue, as they were at their favorite spot at the lake.
“Sometimes. When I’m alone. But I don’t like being alone.”
“Me either. That was why you tried to convince those kids that day to play with you?”
“They didn’t get my game.”
“But I do.”
“Yeah. Because you’re cool.”
Jett crouched and looked in the distance. The sky was full of stars, and they should have been in bed by now. It looked like Jett didn’t have someone to ground him for being late, either. “I don’t believe all that stuff.”
“What stuff?” April asked.
“That when you die, you go to heaven. Where is this place? Can you even get there?”
“Only if you’re dead,” April replied.
“When you’re dead, you’re dead,” Jett said with conviction. “There is nothing … left.”
“I don’t think so.” April felt sadness wrapping against him like a veil. “There are more worlds than ours. So, something like heaven could be real. It’s like that thing with the planes of existence.”
“What are those?” Jett asked.
April didn’t understand too well, and he had read that book several times, but he did his best to explain.
“Theo, you’re such a weirdo. Sometimes, when you talk, my head hurts.”
“Sorry,” April mumbled. “I get that a lot.”
“I don’t care. You’re cool.”
“Yeah, you are.”
April smiled. “See the sky?”
“We can’t see what’s there.”
“So maybe just because we can’t see what’s there, that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing.”
“You could look at it with a telescope and stuff.”
“Yeah. But still, you can’t see everything. Not even with the biggest telescope.”
“Maybe heaven, or a place like that, is there. And then it’s true that someone is always out there, looking out for you.”
“Did you read all this in a book?”
“Most of it, yeah. Some stuff, I just think it myself.”
“Such a freak,” Jett said and laughed.
“Is being a freak bad or good?”
Jett pushed him playfully, making him lose his balance. “For me, it’s good. I like it that no other kids want to play with you.”
“Because you’re only mine.”
April would ponder over those words for some time after that. He had never really thought that way, but it seemed true. They were each other’s only friend, and that had to count for something.
“How was that thing you said, you know, about how you should do something so that you didn’t forget stuff?”
Just that morning, Jett had woken up from a nightmare. He couldn’t recall his mother’s face; it was like her face was all jumbled.
Theo looked at him carefully. He did that a lot; he was a strange kid. Or maybe he didn’t see well, and he needed to gawk like that all the time. “Well, it could be a lot of things. Like a bookmark.”
“Can it be a tattoo?”
“A tattoo? You’re too young to get a tattoo.”
Jett shrugged. “Says who?”
“Everyone.” April looked around like he meant the whole world by that.
“I don’t care. I’m getting one.”
“No one is going to let you, I mean, get it done for you.”
“I know a place. No one asks you anything if you have the dough.”
That wasn’t quite true. Jett knew someone at the tattoo parlor, a distant cousin. He was, he had heard his aunt saying it, the rebellious type. Jett often went to see him, and his cousin had asked him if he wanted a tattoo. At the time, Jett thought it was a joke, but now he wanted that tattoo. But admitting that to Theo might have made him look uncool, or at least less cool than a thirteen-year-old who had the guts to walk inside a tattoo parlor and have one done.
“What should I get?”
Theo seemed to ponder for a while. Jett listened to his words carefully. That would work like a charm.
“That is so cool!” Theo touched his inked skin. “Does it hurt?”
“Not anymore,” Jett said proudly. “But right after, it hurt like a bitch.”
“Wow! Did your aunt notice it?”
“Not yet. She’s quite old and doesn’t see that well.”
“What will your dad say?”
“He will be pissed,” Jett said with conviction and satisfaction.
“My dad would ground me for like a month or a year,” Theo said, his eyes twinkling with admiration.
“I don’t care about being grounded. He can’t do it anyway. He’s at his base.”
“When does he come back?”
“When he’s on leave, but that won’t happen any time soon. He wasted too much time looking after mom when she got sick.”
Theo remained silent. Jett stared at the ground, his arms resting on his knees, and his hands crossed in front of him as he sat on the sidewalk. The weather was so hot, he could feel his t-shirt glued to his back. Theo sat next to him, and he was watching him intently, like usual.
“You’re staring at me. Are your eyes that bad?”
Theo shook his head. He was biting his bottom lip and seemed weird. Or weirder than usual. Not a leaf moved, the wind was that still. No one was around either, all people staying cooped up inside in that kind of weather.
“So quit staring. I don’t care about what my dad does.”
Theo hovered even closer. It was funny how many things Jett could notice from staring at Theo like that, too. His eyes were really big and really pretty. He had curly eyelashes, like a girl, and Jett felt something weird and unfamiliar in the pit of his stomach. Theo’s lips were pretty, too, and they were so close.
Theo leaned in, and Jett stood there, frozen, as his lips were crushed. There was a minty smell tickling his nostrils, and Theo’s lips were soft, but cool, which was weird in that weather.
The feeling in his stomach grew, and Jett suddenly felt like a bucket of ice had been poured down his back. He jumped to his feet and pushed Theo away.
“What the fuck, dude?”
“Nothing, just --”
Jett wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. His knees were shaking, and he felt ill. Thoughts of his mother and how she used to cuddle him flooded his mind. “Don’t ever come close to me again, you freak! I’ll break your fucking neck and all the bones in your body!” He began running, while new tears fell on his cheeks.
April didn’t say anything to Melinda. He had gotten enough from her because he had stolen her hair dye, so they weren’t in good terms. If only his dad were there with him, he would tell him everything about Jett and the kiss. And he would ask him why it hurt so much that Jett had behaved like April was poisonous or something. Soon, they would be back home, and even if their mother wasn’t there, their dad would be, and things would be okay.
They were both seated on the futon placed on the floor in the living room, their backs against the sofa, and staring in the dark.
He had been first, and Jett had joined him just moments later. Now, they sat in silence, but April knew that he needed to talk. And he needed to start with the obvious. “I love you, Jett. I’ve always been in love with you.”
There was still silence from Jett, but April didn’t dare to move or touch him.
“You or Theo?” There was the hint of a smile in that question, and April put all his hopes in it.
“Both of us.”
“And Wednesday? What does he say?”
“He’s new to all this, but he finds you very sexy and ... What am I saying? He’s head over heels, too.”
Jett laughed softly. “Why the hell didn’t you say you were Theo?”
“I thought you would kick my ass, like real bad.”
“Do you have to ask me? You pushed me away, and you told me never dare to touch you again, or you’d break all the bones in my body. Do you remember that?”
“Kind of? Jett, you were a total jerk.”
There was another small silence. “Why did you kiss me back then?”
April sighed. “Because I fell in love with you, and I wanted to know how it would be to kiss you. Also, because of Eleonor Roosevelt.”
“What? What’s that got to do with anything?”
“I had happened to read a quote from her, something about doing a thing that scares you every day. And I did. I kissed you.”
“Were you scared to kiss me?”
“Of course, I was. You were scary, even as a kid. I mean, who gets a tattoo at thirteen?”
Jett laughed again. “Well, then let me tell you a little secret. When you kissed me, I got scared, too.”
“You, scared? Sorry, Jett, but I’m not buying it. I mean, you were so mean --”
“My knees were shaking,” Jett interrupted him. “You scared me so completely. You scared me into loving you.”
April pondered over his next words. “Why were you scared?”
Jett followed with another small silence. “That summer, after my mother died, I felt so angry. And do you know who I was angry at the most?”
“No, her.” Jett shifted in his place. “How could she do something like that to me? She promised not to go. I made her promise. But she still left.”
April put one tentative hand on Jett’s arm. “I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for you.”
“It was,” Jett confirmed. “With each day, there was less left of her. As if she disappeared little by little, and I couldn’t hold on to her.”
April squeezed Jett’s arm gently. “My mom’s death was sudden, so I guess it shocked all of us. I guess I dyed my hair and decided to have a different name because I didn’t want to be that boy whose mom died so young. I just didn’t. My dad,” April swallowed hard, “he suffered the most. I’ve never told this to anyone, and I only understood it later, but he had to be hospitalized because of the severe mental breakdown he went through after the funeral. That’s why we, the kids, were in Lynn that summer. Our dad couldn’t look after us.”
“Your dad seems so calm and balanced all the time. Well, less tonight, when I saw him really worried because of you.”
“I need to make a ton of amends. And I’ll have to give away the rig for charity. I don’t know who would want such a thing, but my dad clearly told me that I couldn’t have it. It was his condition to forgive me, so I took it, of course. Can you forgive me, too, for what I did? I will work hard for your forgiveness. Every day. I’ll be an exemplary boyfriend. I’ll even bring your sleepers.”
Jett hooked one arm over April’s shoulders and pulled him close. “Bring me my sleepers? What are you? A dog or a boyfriend?”
“I’ll be whatever you want me to be.”
“All right, then. I want you to be my --” Jett whispered the rest in his ear.
April felt his eyes getting so big that they could pop out of their sockets at any moment. “For real?”
Jett’s kiss didn’t allow him to protest anymore, which was too bad because he wanted to say ‘yes’.
And ... I suppose you can easily imagine what Jett whispered into April's ear at the end of this chapter. I hope the reminiscence of the time when the boys met for the first time made all the unsaid things clear, and I haven't tortured you through 30+ chapters for nothing. Please let me know what you think in the comments below. I would love to hear from you.