Copyright © 2016 by D'Artagnon
If you knew how great is a mother's love, you would have no fear.
Josh walked into his house as the shadows grew long outside. The screen door on the back porch complained loudly as its spring stretched and contracted over his head. That rusty alarm system almost made more noise than the door clapping against its frame. Josh entered through the mud room door to the smells of spaghetti sauce and garlic bread. He took off his hoody and hung it on the coat hook by the door.
"Oh, hey, Honey," Josh's mom said, turning slightly from the stove. She was stirring the sauce in that never ending phase of seeing if it needed a little more of this spice, or a touch of that herb. His mother was a perfectionist about her "gravy" as the old Italian ladies in the city would call it. Perfectionist, but always experimenting. "Is that an old shirt? It's really tight on you."
"Oh, uh, yeah," Joshua said, realizing that the shirt did feel really tight on him. He'd borrowed Sammy's tee shirt when he realized his was covered with the blood of the soldier he'd rescued. Wouldn't do to show up with so much red staining through the yellow shirt he'd chosen that morning. Then he'd have to explain everything. His mom was such a stickler for details, almost like his cousin Dana, the police detective.
Feeling a sudden surge of emotion, and realizing that he'd nearly died today, at least twice, Josh walked up behind his mom and leaned in for a hug. He could smell the strawberries from her shampoo in her hair as he grabbed around her waist. She stiffened a moment before realizing what it was he was doing.
"What brought that on?" she smiled, leaning back against him as she stirred the pot.
"Just had a rough day," he said. "Did a lot of thinking."
"I see. Ya' know, your dad talked to his buddy at the bike shop across the river. He thinks he can fix your horse up. The lone ranger will ride again," she said, using an old nick name. Josh had been a loner a lot of his life. His bike had been his only friend. But now, with all the things that had happened this day…
"Uh, that's okay. I was starting to outgrow it anyways. The seat was as far up as it could go. I was banging my knees on the handlebars on some turns."
"So, maybe a new one? Your birthday is a long ways off, but Christmas is coming."
Josh let go and hopped up on the kitchen counter. "Maybe. Mom?"
"Has anything like… weird happened to you before. Like, really, really weird?"
His mother cocked an eye at Josh, measuring him, almost. "Are we talking about puberty stuff here? Because I'll talk about all that icky business with you again, if you want," she teased, "but your father has the practical experience with the boy stuff."
"Moooom! I'm not talking about weird hairs and stuff like that. I mean, like…" Josh said, exasperated. "Like weird feelings and stuff that happens to you… people you meet that change everything."
"Oh?" his mom said, turning off the burner under the sauce. She set the large wooden spoon down and turned to look at her son as he sat on the countertop. He looked sort of small to her, especially with that tight shirt showing off every rib in his narrow chest. For 14 he was still sort of small, thin, more like. But he had grown in height, recently. A mother notices these things. Her little boy was in that tender age of transition.
"Anyone I should know about?" she asked, crossing her arms.
"Just some friends I met while out today."
"Friends?" his mother asked, sounding shocked. "You have friends? Why haven't you brought them over here? Oh, Honey, that's so amazing!"
"Ugh! Cuz I knew you'd make a big deal about it, that's why. But I'm serious, here."
"So am I. You should have a sleep over or something. Make it a bad movie night. I'll convince your father to not come down every twenty minutes to bug you guys. You can do popcorn and order pizza and all that. Or we could do cookout stuff if it's not too cold out. The gas grill has a fresh tank and…"
Josh endured the parental onslaught with a protracted sigh. Almost as an afterthought, he sent out a pulse. The familiarity of the kitchen, the whole house actually, fed back into his senses and he felt a subtle change happening nearby. Focusing on that area, his eyes snapped open.
"Dad's home," Joshua announced, breaking up his mother's list of party possibilities. He hopped up off the countertop with a surprisingly agile kick-out where his body flowed through the motion of his feet like a wave going over an incline. He landed on his toes and took off for the front door. His father always parked out front during non-snow situations, so that the side yard between the house and the garage could be used for other purposes. It was something that just became habit when Joshua no longer used that part of the yard to play.
The front door opened and Josh tackled his father's mid-section, wrapping him in a fierce hug. Josh's dad gave a loud "oof" as his son squeezed in tight. He gradually dropped his arms around his son's shoulders and hugged back. Joshua grinned and sighed, feeling his dad pat him on the head. He felt suddenly so angry at himself for not expressing this feeling to his father for so long.
"You feeling okay?"
"Better than I have in a long time," Josh said, letting go, reluctantly. His father took off his hat and jacket, placing them on the coatrack by the front door. "Glad to hear it. Smells like mad science is going on in the kitchen."
"Yeah, she's just putting the brains in," Josh joked back. He felt so much lighter, after all the events of the day. He felt like so much had just been lifted off his shoulders. He felt like… like a kid again. Which was weird. So many things had changed in his life. So much danger, so much unknown. Yet somehow, just being here with them, knowing he as safe at home, that he had a home, made all the difference.
"Will one of you two jerks please set the table? The slaughter is about to begin and I need to get the garlic bread out of the oven before it burns," Mom called from the kitchen.
"I got it!" Josh said and bolted off to actually help out around the house without having to be goaded into it. He set about placing dishes and silverware, putting napkins and glasses out like he was happy to do it.
"Dunno what's gotten into him today," Josh's mom said as her husband hugged her from behind, "but I like it."
"He is acting less mopey than usual. He mention anything about his bike?"
"That's the oddest thing, George. When I brought it up, he said he might not want a bike anymore. In fact," and she turned in her husband's arms to look up to his face as she spoke, "he said he was with some friends today."
"Friends?" his father asked, incredulously. "Martha, did I hear that right? Our son has… friends?" he asked, whispering the last word.
They both looked over at Josh as his phone buzzed in his pocket. He fished it out and looked at the screen. He exhaled as he read the message and his shoulders seemed to droop in relief. Mother and father exchanged a look, then both sniffed and jumped apart, the mother going to open the oven. The barely detectable scent of nicely browned garlic bread getting a bit dark at the edges prompted her to action.
"Good news, Kiddo?" Josh's father asked as he opened the fridge, rummaging for milk and shaker cheese.
"The best news. My buddy's dad died today, and his uncle is going to come up to take care of him so he wont have to go into foster care or state protection or something like that." Josh looked up as the silence from the kitchen stretched out.
"Who is your friend?" Dad asked.
"Kyle Dakoon. You know, the hockey guy."
"So, his father would be Barry Dakoon?" Josh's mom asked, setting the garlic bread on the countertop. She'd rescued it in time.
"Yeah, I guess that was his name." Josh saw his parents exchange a worried look. "Did… did you know him?"
"It's a small town, son. Most of us of a similar age know of or have heard of each other. Just so happens that Barry was a classmate of ours. During that plague," Dad said, drawing his wife to his side. "It was a very tough time for us all."
"Oh. So, Kyle is okay, though. His uncle from New Jersey is coming up to take care of, like, all the details and stuff." Their reaction caught Josh off guard and he wondered if he'd said the wrong things. He felt his need to be defensive snap back into place. His worry, his sense of self preservation. Joshua let his suspicious mind jump back into gear.
"That's, uhm, that's great news about his uncle, Josh. We lost touch with Barry years ago. Sort of a shock to hear that he's gone now," Dad said. He looked back to his wife and saw her nod briefly at him, before she turned back to the counter top to cut the garlic bread. "Let's eat."
"And later," Mom said, as Dad put the milk and cheese on the table, "we'll talk about those issues you don't want to tell me about."
"Issues?" Josh asked, taking a seat.
"You know, those puberty things you need to ask your father about."
Kyle sat and stared at the TV in the police station waiting room. The social worker, a kindly middle aged lady named Margaret Jenson, sat with him. They'd filled out most of the paperwork already. Thankfully, Canterbury and the rest of Essex county did most of its business online. Paperless paperwork. All that remained for now was the waiting.
The program was an old episode of an old cop show. How fucking appropriate, Kyle thought, savagely. As the police officers went about their duties, patrolling the highways of early 1980's southern California, Kyle couldn't help but wonder what was next for him. The only living relative he had was a man he'd never met. At least not that he remembered, anyways. His mom's older brother. Somehow, he felt even more disconnected knowing there was someone out there he had a blood relation to that had never bothered to see if he was okay with how his father had been raising Kyle. He wondered again if his father had done that on purpose. Kept him from knowing the rest of the family. Kept Kyle to himself.
"Can I get you guys anything? Coffee, Peggy?" Sergeant Ozbourne asked, his salt and pepper, 1970's porn star moustache and bushy eyebrows making his face hard to miss. His weathered face showed genuine concern for the two of them. Around town, Sgt. Ozzie was well known, and much respected.
"I'm good, Ozzie, thanks," the social worker smiled.
"No thanks, sir," Kyle replied. He hadn't felt much like eating anything after watching the county coroner bag his father's body at the crime scene. He hadn't felt much like anything since then, come to think of it. A deep numbness fell on him, pervading how he interpreted the world.
He'd cleaned up after getting to the police station on Ginty Boulevard. Taking the dirt off his face had led to some tears, but strangely, Kyle didn't cry so much for his father. His tears were for himself. He also felt tears he hadn't shed when his mother had died years ago. It felt strange to him to let all that pent up emotion go yet have the tears be silent, not the body wracking release he thought should follow the events of this day.
The cops gave him reassuring looks and pats on the back as he answered questions for Peggy's files. The whole time, though, the matching suit federal agents were watching, taking notes of their own. They asked no questions but left cards and orders with all the cops involved. And the chief of police had a most heated argument with the agents in his own office. An argument that Kyle felt the chief must have lost.
As the agents left the police station, they passed by the room where Kyle sat. The taller of the agents simply walked by, aloof. The shorter agent, though, looked right at Kyle and pointed his finger, like a gunfighter, and pretend shot at Kyle. Kyle felt his own eyes narrow at that, and the shorter agent smiled, like he knew something.
Kyle was a realist. He was a competitor. He knew instinctively how to mess with people's minds in order to intimidate, to get a competitive edge. That was pretty much what the shorter agent intended. Kyle knew it, and it didn't faze him. The message was clear, though. "We're watching you, Kid. We're waiting." And while Kyle wasn't impressed by the gesture, he did recognize it for what it was. An open threat.
That had been a while ago. They were just waiting now. Kyle's uncle lived in New Jersey, and he was driving up. And that took time. Hours, in fact.
Hours he'd spent since the police swooped in on the scene stuck in the small waiting room with the social worker. If it weren't for the sadness of his present situation, and the enormous chemical fall off from the adrenaline of the fight, he'd have been bored to tears. Even homework was preferable to this endless droning ancient television.
He got up and walked to the men's room, which had an enormous mirror over the four sinks on one wall. He stepped up to the urinal and handled his immediate business. Seemed like forever ago since he'd had a bladder draining piss. After completing the necessaries, he tucked everything back in place and went to wash his hands. It was a habit for him. Something he did without thinking about. Which left his mind clear for other thoughts. As he scrubbed lightly with his fingertips, the creamy bubbles from the soap giving off a light citrus scent, he looked up into the mirror, and was suddenly captivated by his own eyes.
Not that there was anything spectacular about his eyes. The same soft brown they'd always been, he thought. But there was something different about them now. Not color wise or some sort of defect, no bruising, although with all he'd been through today he would have expected some sort of bloodshot veins to be visible. It wasn't a physical thing that caught his attention.
It was the haunted look in them. It was the way that when he looked at himself now, he saw things differently. How he saw the world differently. He had sudden flashes of memory while staring into his own reflected eyes. The image of his father's body in a spreading pool of his own blood, that one stung. The image of the purple fog and that tentacle sweeping out and thwacking him in the face. The image of Sammy getting booted, of Joshua flying to his rescue. The sight of Andy dueling with that crazy old dude. Even the image of Tom in full werewolf form fighting those… what were they called, Hounds?
These flashes seemed to come at him in waves, like some deranged You Tuber had access to his memories and had pieced together them all in some wild fashion, but hadn't added a music track yet. Then that one voice reverberated in his skull. "I see you." Kyle felt his heart start racing. He felt the anger, the loss. The persistent nagging sensation that something had changed in his world, forever.
Oh yeah, he remembered. My father is dead.
The flood gates opened up for him then. Knowing a thing, witnessing it, being part of it, even, isn't the same as coming to grips with it. Kyle suddenly realized that all his darker dreams about his father dying suddenly, freeing Kyle to be himself, they had all come true. And he hated himself for it. And he hated the situation it left him in. And he hated that his father was gone.
Oh, to be sure, he wanted the old man dead. Dead and no longer controlling everything about Kyle. He'd even screwed up Kyle's early explorations into his own sexuality. He'd cut Kyle off from the few remaining family members he had left. He'd severed every connection outside of school and hockey, forcing Kyle to focus on the thing that his father wanted, even if Kyle wanted it himself. And even that was tainted by Kyle's father's need for the attention that Kyle generated. It was a sick relationship.
Yet it was the only one he'd had left. And now, Kyle didn't even have the opportunity to break free on his own. A bullet from a mad man's gun had taken even Kyle's ability to leave on his own terms. To make the old man accept him as an equal. To deny the old man any more attention based on Kyle's love of the game. Even his chance to take the keys to his own life back had been denied.
So Kyle cried. He thought for a moment about punching the mirror. Shattering that reflective surface into a million tiny points of twisted slivers and triangular shards. He considered hitting that wall so hard that bricks behind the mirror would pop loose and fall in a pile, buckling outwards.
"I see you," echoed in his head again as the tears rolled out. So much weirdness. That dream while he was drugged, the revelation of his own actual powers. And what the hell was with the government using dead kids as fighters. His mind reeled as he realized that he'd probably killed whatever was left of "Brad" when he'd rammed that Hound onto the tree stump.
It all overwhelmed him. So he leaned on the countertop, head hung low, and cried. Sometimes silent, sometimes sobbing, sometimes caught in that moment when you want to scream but the feeling of crying is so intense, you can't inhale enough air to breathe, much less vent vocally. It all just poured out of him, all the fear and rage and disappointment and lost chances to actually break his father, or talk him into letting them just be a family again, instead of some twisted kid sport star and sports agent relationship. He sobbed, thinking of his father again, and how he'd kill thousands of "Brads" just for the chance to have his father hug him again, the way he'd hugged Kyle when he was little. When he wasn't the future hockey legend. When he was just the only son, the only child. The only.
"Hello, boy," a voice said from behind him. Kyle stopped and slowly turned. Something about the voice, its tone, the meter of just those two simple words caught Kyle completely off guard. Like something from a dream, half remembered, elusive, always sought when you first open your eyes from sleep, yet forever beyond your mind's grasp. The voice was like a thousand distant misty memories that flutter away when the harshness of reality settles, scattering dreams from your soul.
Without realizing it, Kyle felt his whole body stiffen as he turned. Tears broke from his eyes again, and he felt the whole world pivot with his turn. He looked towards the voice's owner and felt his hands, so steady when in the heat of competition, tremble.
The man who stood before him was not of great stature, but his posture held him up in ways that defied presence alone. He was balding, with a ring of graying hair around his ears, wrapping behind his head. His gentle hazel eyes seemed to dance behind the rounded oval spectacles.
"Why are you crying, boy?" the man asked, holding out his hand.
Kyle moved to his uncle, suddenly, and hugged him tightly. He felt the air squish out of the down filling of the man's winter jacket. Such a simple act, yet with that hug, Kyle felt so much better.
"Because I'm so happy," Kyle replied, his voice partly muffled by the thick winter jacket. He felt his uncle's hand rest on his head, petting into Kyle's hair. "I remember you," Kyle explained.
"I'm glad you do," Ben Carrington replied. He leaned back and looked Kyle in the eyes. "You've gotten taller since last time I saw you. Do you remember when that was?"
"Two years ago. My mother's funeral," Kyle said, standing on his own again. He sniffed loudly, trying to snort the snot back. "I was hiding from Dad, under the food table in the church hall. He was… was so angry. I thought he was angry at me."
"Your father had been, well, into his cups, as the old folks say," Ben supplied. His grin was at once sad and fond, which somehow relaxed Kyle greatly. "Losing your mother affected him a lot more than he let on. He felt very guilty about it."
"But you found me. I was so scared. And now…"
"Yes, he's gone. And we will deal with that in the days ahead. I'm just glad you are unharmed in all of this business."
Kyle's eyes opened wider. "You know… about…"
"Let's just say I have an inkling. You can tell me more when you are ready. Come on, I'm sure there is a mountain of paperwork we have to deal with before we can get some sleep tonight. And I don't know about you, but I'm starving. I could use a Rocket from Benadetti's if they're still open."
"Too bad, sir. I think they close early on Saturdays. Might I recommend the 99 if you are looking for some steak and other sit down, fork and knife kinda foods," Ozzie said, coming upon the reunion of nephew and uncle. Kyle let his uncle go and the two men shook hands like old friends.
"Ozzie, you old sunovabitch! Good to see you!"
"Likewise, Ben. Wish it could be under better circumstances."
"Agreed. Is there anything resembling coffee around here, or is it still like the rusty brake fluid you used to drink at the old precinct house?"
"Same coffee maker. The beans are a little betta, but the wata…" Ozzie started.
"Neva changes," the two men finished together, laughing heartily. Kyle felt a little better watching this exchange, even if he didn't get the inside joke. Although he knew that in the "old days" when the town was famous for its many shoe factories, the tanning chemicals for the shoe leather had been dumped directly into the "muddy-murky" Merrimack River, which tainted the water for generations. Only in the last 40 years or so was the water safe enough to drink and swim and fish in again, after much hard clean-up work.
"We got some things for you to sign so you can get temporary custody," Ozzie said, inclining his head towards the office spaces. "And you will get to speak with the magistrate first thing Monday morning."
"Sounds like a plan. I am sure I'll have to meet with a social worker as well?" Ben asked.
"She's waiting around the corner. I'll uh, give you two a moment to catch up before the ink starts flowin'," Ozzie said, giving Kyle's arm a thump.
"Thank you, sergeant," Kyle said, wiping at his face.
"Thanks, Oz. See you in a bit." The cop shook Ben's hand again and exited the bathroom. Uncle turned to nephew and smiled, that gentle and reassuring smile that Kyle remembered from so long ago.
"Chased the same girl in high school. Neither of us got her," Ben said, shrugging his shoulders. "Just luck of the draw sometimes with the fairer sex."
"Uncle Ben… before you sign anything, there's something you should know about me. I've kinda made a decision, well, decisions, about a lot of things in my life."
"This is good."
"Well, you might not think so after I tell you."
"If it's about hockey, I think the team will understand if you need some time off. A thing like this takes time and serious thinking before you get back into the swing of things."
"Well, it's sorta about that. I want to… come out to the team."
Ben let the truth of the words sink in before he replied. "Does anyone else know about how you feel?"
"No. Dad caught me with one boy a long time ago, and pretty much shut off everything but hockey and school since then. Even TV was on a tight lid." Kyle felt his eyes drifting to the floor as he explained this. For some reason, he felt shame for having let his father dictate the terms of his life so harshly.
"Kyle," Ben said, his hand going to Kyle's shoulder. "Look at me," he commanded, gently. "It doesn't matter to me if you are gay. Personally, I've found that those that are gay know fairly young and they're fairly certain of it. Experimenting and phases, yes those things happen as well, but if you know and feel and need to be gay, then I want you to know this. I fully support you."
Kyle's eyes opened up.
"I might advise against telling people at school, but that is your decision. We can talk more about it later. I think you want to eat almost as badly as I do right now."
"No food on the highway?" Kyle asked, hearing his own stomach rumble in protest.
"Only McDonalds and Roy Rogers. I want real food, not fried crap. I'm guessing that your gut wants some grub, too?"
"Okay. Let's go deal with this then we can handle feeding the beast."
"Is Auntie Ellen here?"
"No. She's going to pack up the house in Jersey and set things in motion to sell it. Was way too big and drafty for us anyways. If it is okay with you, we'd like to move into your house for a while, so you can sleep in your own room and stay in your own school."
"You mean, I don't have to move?"
"Hell, Kiddo," Ben said, slapping his nephew on the back. "I'd be a fool to think you'd thrive in Jersey, having to start over when you're almost done with school here. Besides, your aunt has been hinting that she doesn't like our neighbors too much. Buncha hoity-toity types from Manhattan moved into the neighborhood and she says it smells like wine and cheese way too much now." Ben's face looked serious for a moment. "That is, if you want us to still live there. If necessary, we can sell your house and find one here to move into. It's all up to you."
"I need to think about it," Kyle replied.
"As you should. But, auntie and I will do whatever we can to make things comfortable for you, help you through this and to finish up school. And later, you and I need to talk about what actually happened out there."
"Uh, what do you mean?"
"Being gay isn't the only secret you have. I can tell there's something different about you. Your aura is practically glowing."
"I'll explain after a few healthy burps and some unhealthy coffee. You aren't the only one with secrets, Kyle. And I don't mean your aunts secret brownie recipe."
Sammy opened the front door, using the spare key hidden under a stone in the planter by the door. Grammy Frost had lots of planters and garden boxes around the front of the house, set so they would catch the morning light that slipped through a break in the trees across the street. She was a big fan of growing her own salad veggies and herbs. "It's what old Yankee ladies do," she'd say, smiling.
His grandmother sat inside in her favorite chair, an old rocker made of rock maple, polished and carefully preserved. She wasn't looking very happy when Sammy entered the room, his head sort of slung low.
"It's about time you showed your face," she said, a slight bit of anger in her voice, but some relief as well. "Did you know the police were here about you?"
"They were?" Sammy asked, holding still in the doorway between the front utility room and the living room. Behind him, Andy remained still, silent, hidden behind Sam's slight build and the shadows of the utility room. The gathering gloom outside was thickening with mist rolling up the hillside from the river. If he needed to slip out without the grandmother knowing, Andy felt confident he could do so.
The old lady nodded down at the coffee table where Sammy's clothes from earlier this morning were neatly folded and stacked, with his sneakers and wallet perched on top. Sammy was glad he'd managed to recover his hoody without any stains all over it after the tussle in the woods. Even his backpack had survived, since he'd dropped the thing when charging up to save Kyle. And the subsequent beating that followed. He just hoped that she didn't notice he didn't have a tee-shirt on under his hoody.
"Why didn't you tell me that Barry brat with the loud muscle car was stealing stuff from you?"
"Oh, uh that," Sam said, relaxing. "I thought it was about the government agents hunting me earlier." Almost instantly, Andy lashed out, jabbing a combined first and middle finger into the small of Sammy's back. "Oww!"
"Oww?" his grandmother said, rising out of the chair. "What are you talking about, Samuel?"
"Uhm, you know about my secret, right Grams?"
"Which of the two? You showed me one and I sort of guessed the other one before you told me."
"Well, the one I showed you is more the one I'm talking about. Wait! You never told me how you knew I liked boys?"
"Oh, sweety, you might not be traipsing through the tulips like some young boys who are obvious to the observant, but I think I know you well enough to know what you like. And the only time I've noticed you getting, well, shall we just say 'excited' was during certain movies with mostly male casts. So, I thought to myself, 'he's either really into movies with car chases, explosions, hero stuff or science fiction, or he likes guys in tights.' Kinda glad it's the latter and you weren't some pyromaniac or serial killer in the making."
"Well, I do like all that other stuff, too," Sammy explained looking down and digging the toe of his sneaker around in the thick pile carpet. "But I'm not gonna go mental and hurt people. Speaking of people, uhh…"
"Oh for the love of Pete, just spit it out, Sam. You've never had trouble telling me anything in your life. What's so difficult now?" She turned her head slightly, in an almost knowing way. "Is this about a boy you like?"
"It sorta is," Sammy whispered. He reluctantly looked up to his grandmother as if he was guilty of something… naughty. "Uh, we need to talk."
"Oh, you think?" the grandmother said, her arms crossing over her chest. "Spill!"
"I kinda have a huge favor to ask you, Grammy," Sammy said, his left arm crossing over his tummy, his left hand rubbing up and down at his right elbow. His nervousness spoke volumes to his grandmother and she eased back slightly on her annoyance at all these secrets. Something was clearly worrying him.
"What is it, baby?" she asked.
"Well, uh, I uhm… I have a friend. And… uh…"
Andy saved Sammy from any further embarrassment. He stepped into the light behind Sammy and saw lights dawn in the elderly lady's eyes.
"Hullo, Mrs. Frost," Andy said, keeping his eyes locked with hers, but not in a cold, harsh way. "I'm Andy."
"I see," she said, looking down to Sam's face and his blush of embarrassment. "I get the feeling there's a long story here. Why don't we sit down. I think we have a lot to talk about. Are you boys hungry?"
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