Jacob waited outside Mr. Morgan's shop, not wanting to go in while Andy was still inside. He hadn't gotten along with the bully since he'd moved into the area a few months back, and, if he wasn't so desperate for a soda, he'd probably have just left. It would almost be worth his mother nagging him about sugar intake, a family history of diabetes, and caffeine stunting his growth just to grab one out of the fridge at home, but it wasn't that cold out yet.
Jacob jumped at the sharp, violent sound of a gunshot. "Holy fucking shit!" he swore, running to cower behind a nearby dumpster. It wasn't exactly the most pleasant place to stay, but any port would do in a storm. And the sound of gunshots definitely counts as a storm.
He waited until the shots died down before creeping out. Glancing down the street, he didn't see anyone. Turning around to glance the other way, he saw Andy slip out the door of Mr. Morgan's shop. The flash of copper drew his eye to the gleaming black steel of the pistol Andy was holding. Jacob knew he should do something, but his muscles felt like jelly and his thoughts were swimming through molasses.
Andy quickly aimed the pistol at Jacob, then brought it up to his face to look at it. He looked up at Jacob, then down at the pistol again, face drawn up in concentration. Jacob reached for an insult, maybe a blonde joke of some kind, but he couldn't quite seem to find the punchline to 'a blond holding a gun walks out of a store.' It had something to do with there not being a brain between those ears to concentrate with, but all his own brain could concentrate on was the sinister lines of black steel.
Jacob forced his eyes up, away from the gun, to focus on Andy's face. Somehow, he knew Morgan was dead; even Andy wasn't stupid enough to let Jacob walk away now. "One word," Andy croaked. "Not one word to anyone," he ordered more firmly. "Or..." Andy scrunched his face. "Or your Mom might not like it. Understand?"
Jacob blinked. "I... I..." he stammered. "What?" He shook his head.
"Not one word, to anyone," Andy said more firmly. "If you do," he tilted the gun in his hand a little, drawing Jacob's eyes back to it. The slight gleam of copper peeked over the far side of the barrel, showing a half-ejected shell casing jamming the slide of the gun. "Your mother wouldn't like it," Andy finished his sentence. "Understand? Not one wrong word!"
Jacob stammered a bit before agreeing. Wholeheartedly, absolutely he understood, not one word, not to anyone!
"Good," Andy turned and walked away. Jacob glanced over at the store, carefully not looking in the windows, before turning and running like hell.
Jacob dressed slowly in the morning, hands mechanically adjusting each piece of clothing as he tried to keep himself awake. Normally Jacob slept like the dead. Last night wasn't normal. His mother and grandmother had pestered him when he got home, but neither one of them thought too much of it when they couldn't get him to open up. Jacob loved them, dearly, but he got along better with his father; he was very glad now that Dad was coming home from Iraq on leave. Maybe he could tell him. Maybe.
The evening had dragged on forever, even after he'd gotten into bed. Every familiar shadow in his bedroom had turned menacing and malevolent, and the soft sounds of the city outside his window were suddenly a hostile reminder of the ruthless savages that populated the area. His alarm clocks soft ticking transformed, growing larger and deeper until he flinched with every shot of the gun.
His grandmother needed their help, but, as he heard the sound of the gun again and again, he regretted having ever agreed to move here while Dad was in Iraq. Some traitor part of his mind pointed out that maybe having Robbie was worth it, but he squashed that without any real effort. It was a tired, quiet corner of his mind that wouldn't quit, but couldn't win. It was that same voice that had pointed out to him that now that Andy had found a threat that worked, he could use it in other ways.
Jacob sat back down on his bed, not able to muster the energy to do anything but stare at the clock. It's mechanical ticking was softer in the light of day, and he no longer flinched from it, but he simply hadn't had enough sleep.
"Jacob, it's time to go!" his mother bellowed from downstairs. He stood and grabbed his bag before slowly walking from the room. As he reached the door, he smiled.
"I forgot something in my room, be right back!" he shouted before dropping his backpack and running up the stairs. Carefully placing his digital recorder in his jacket pocket, he took the time to utter a small prayer to any benevolent deity that might be listening in. "Please, let this work."
The drive to school was short enough most days, but today it dragged on. Jacob's mind span around in circles as he considered how to deal with Andy. He had the beginnings of a plan, but Andy was a bully. If Jacob gave an inch, he'd take a mile. Dad had taught him how to deal with bullies, but the problem was he had to give the inch. Unfortunately for Jacob's need to consider, his mother wasn't prepared to cooperate. "I know you're a growing sixteen year old boy," she sighed, "but don't even try and tell me this is your a normal everyday sulk. Something is up."
Jacob kept his gaze steady as he watched the scenery flow by.
"Jacob Anthony Vern Junior, I am your mother," her voice was even and dangerously calm. Jacob didn't have to look to see her in his mind's eye, blue eyes flashing as one of her hands toyed idly with her long, dark hair. "You will answer my questions now, or when he gets home tonight your father will be asking them; at that point neither he, nor I, will accept anything less than the entire story. Am I quite clear?"
Jacob's eyes drifted towards her before he could regain control of them. "Orders received and understood, ma'am," he didn't quite sneer.
"And your reply?" she asked, voice softer.
"I need to sort some things out," Jacob said after a few moments. "I'll probably be talking to Dad tonight anyway."
"I see," she hesitated. "Fine, but remember this conversation. You will be answering his questions."
"Yes ma'am," Jacob quipped.
"I'm not being an overbearing ex-sergeant, I am being your mother," she warned. "Here's your school."
"See'ya," Jacob slipped out of the car and grabbed his bag as quickly as he could. Normally he'd be looking for Robbie, the one good thing about coming to this stupid racist high school in this equally stupid city. Today he just wasn't in the mood.
"Okay, I know I pissed you off yesterday but normally you would have cooled off by now," Robbie caught him before Jacob could get out of the parking lot.
"Not now, Robbie," Jacob sighed. "You were probably right anyway, but something's come up." This was seriously not a conversation Jacob needed to have right now. Especially with 'one wrong word' hanging over his head.
"What's wrong?" Robbie asked, concerned. "You seem out of it."
"Yeah, well, who asked you!" Jacob shoved Robbie away.
"What the fuck, Jacob!" Robbie shook his head. "Seriously, what the fuck!"
"Somebody needs to calm down," Andy dropped a 'companionable' arm over Jacob's shoulder. "Why don't you piss off, Robbie-boy? I'll have a few words with your boyfriend," Andy sneered the last word with a laugh. Jacob gritted his teeth and didn't throw the arm off his shoulder.
"Fuck you, Andy," Robbie snapped back.
"Sorry, I'm not into guys," Andy sneered. "Go find another fag to waste your time with, I need a few words with Jacob. Assuming you can find any other queers in the school."
Robbie glared at Andy, then frowned as Jacob let himself be lead away. The look of betrayal on Robbie's face hurt worse than their argument of the previous day had. "What do you want?" Jacob demanded in a low hiss, fiddling with the recorder. Where the hell was the on switch?
"To make sure you don't say anything your mother might regret," Andy informed him. The faded brick of the old school buildings was a discordant backdrop to the conversation they were having. "It'd be a real shame if something happened to her. Oh, and don't forget I have friends who would be glad to take care of things if anything unfortunate happened, just in case you were thinking about getting smart."
"I haven't said one damned word," Jacob bit off angrily. "Just like you ordered. And I'm not planning to say anything."
"Fine," Andy snapped. "Keep this up, and everything will be fine."
"Why did you-" Jacob began to ask, only to be interrupted by the ringing of the school bell.
"Gotta get to class," Andy pointed out. "Don't want to make anyone suspicious now."
"No, we don't," Jacob agreed with a sigh, turning the recorder off. As Andy veered off, Jacob slipped into the restroom and pulled the recorder out to check the audio quality. It wasn't the best, but neither was it that bad. The conversation wouldn't be that helpful, but he saved it anyway, just in case. You never knew.
Math was a perfect anodyne to his issues. He'd always enjoyed the purity of numbers and symbols, the clean simplicity with which the numbers add up when you solve the problem. And while Mr. Bors wasn't going to let your mind wander away from his class, he wasn't that big of an ass when you couldn't keep your mind on the subject. He just got your attention, however he had to. Thankfully for his peace of mind, Jacob already had a firm grasp of matrices and after demonstrating that fact a few times, was allowed to veg out. The lecture held enough interest to keep his mind vaguely rooted, and away from what he'd seen last night.
"Wake up, Jacob," Mr. Bors drawled. "It's not like you to sleep through my class. It's even more unusual for a student to sleep through the class ending, so I'm going to assume it wasn't pure boredom. Long night?"
"Didn't sleep," Jacob sighed. "I gotta go."
"Perhaps you'd like to share a word or two," Mr. Bors suggested. "I can spare the time."
"Thanks, but no," Jacob shook his head. "Sorry about sleeping."
"Son, most students fall asleep at least once a week," Mr. Bors laughed, running a gnarled hand through his silver hair. "In the three months you've been in my class you haven't done so yet; I figure you're due some shut-eye. My door is always open."
Jacob took the dismissal and ran. Robbie caught him right outside the door. "Dude, what the fuck was that earlier? And don't even try to tell me 'nothing' again."
"I can't talk, I gotta get to class," Jacob tried to avoid the conversation.
"Don't even try that BS with me," Robbie snapped. "You're just avoiding the question."
"I gotta talk to the teacher," Jacob lied. "Listen, I'll talk to you later. Tomorrow, maybe."
"Tomorrow?" Robbie just about screeched. "Fuck," he shook his head in disbelief. "I don't believe this. You know what, fuck you!" he snarled angrily before stalking off in a fury.
Jacob closed his eyes and bit back a sob. Damn Andy! Damn him to fucking hell and back again! Turning around, he made his own way to second period class along his usual route, not paying attention to much of anything until he was yanked around by the collar as he turned a corner. "I thought you weren't going to talk to the cops?" Andy hissed, glaring around them to clear a space. "Your mother wouldn't like it much!"
"No, she probably wouldn't," Jacob agreed with a sigh. "I'm not talking to the cops, though, I'm just going to class."
"By passing right by the school police office?" Andy asked. "Try the other one, it's got bells on."
Jacob peeked around the corner. Oh, damn. "It's the quickest route between my two classes," he pointed out, stuffing his hands in his jacket pockets. Here it was, Andy getting ready to take a mile instead of just the inch Jacob had to give him. How the hell did you deal with that?
"I'd suggest you find a better way to class," Andy said. "One that doesn't put your mother in risk, understand me?"
Jacob took a deep breath. He had an inkling of an idea. "You can't control every aspect of my life," he said flatly. "I'm not prepared to bow to your every single goddamned whim."
"Excuse me?" Andy asked, incredulous. "Do you really think your mother is going to be happy with that answer?"
"You can only threaten to kill my mother so many times before the threat starts to wear thin," Jacob pointed out, glaring at a few kids that passed a little to close to the conversation. Still, however annoying they were he was actually rather thankful for the occasional student running past; if they weren't there, he'd never have had the guts to try this. If nothing else, he'd be seeing Andy holding the gun every time he blinked.
"I'll keep my mouth shut about you murdering Mr. Morgan. But that is all I'm going to do for you, understand? And if you harm one hair on my mother's head, the deal is off."
Andy ground his teeth. "I see."
"No, I don't think you do," Jacob told him. "I won't speak one word to anyone about last night. In return, you don't so much as look at my mother cross-eyed. If you do, I go running to the cops. Understand?" Jacob suppressed the urge to laugh as he realized he really was planning to keep that promise, and not speak a single word about it.
The recording should do it all for him.
Andy blinked. "When did you grow a pair?"
"I've always had 'em," Jacob bluffed. "I don't want my mother hurt, and so you get my promise that I won't say one word, but that is all you're getting. If you want more, you're going to need to something to bargain with."
Andy glared at Jacob. "Fine," he sighed, sticking out his hand. "Deal?"
"Deal," Jacob shook on it.
Andy hadn't even figured out it was all a bluff!
"You going to tell me what's going on, or am I going to have to drag it out of you?" Robbie slid down on the table's mini-bench until he bumped up against and started stuffing his face. The cafeteria was busy, noisy, and with everyone busy with lunch generally a perfect place to have a private conversation, especially since Jacob had picked a table in the corner of the room, isolated from the general hubbub.
"Drag," Jacob grunted. "If you can."
"Oh, I think I can," Robbie nodded around a mouthful of burger. "Lets see, hot or cold. Your dad is coming home tonight."
Jacob almost laughed. "True, but way cold."
"Hrm, a challenge?" Robbie set his burger down to work on the fries for a bit. "Homelife?"
Jacob took an amused moment to mull over how to answer that before realizing how absurd this entire thing was. "Don't you have better things to do?"
"So, I guess I was pretty hot then," Robbie nodded, amusing himself by using an extra crispy fry as a fork to spear another fry and swipe it through a pile of ketchup before bringing the entire red and gold mess to his mouth. "Fight with your mother?" he tried after swallowing.
"Not playing," Jacob half sang. "And no, no fights."
Robbie frowned. "OK, so it's not a fight, it's not about your dad," he thought out loud. "OK, tell me. Just tell me."
"Not happening," Jacob told him while Robbie pulled a banana from his bag. "No, hell no!" Jacob laughed. "Not here!"
"Ve haff vays of making you talk," Robbie hammed as he peeled the yellow fruit. "Either answer the question, or..." Robbie tilted the banana meaningfully.
"I can't," Jacob hissed. "Please, don't."
"Mmm, yummy," Robbie said gleefully, carefully inspecting the curved fruit. "I just want to gobble it down," he brought the banana up towards his face. "You sure you don't want to talk?"
"Please," Jacob begged. "Andy's already started those rumors about you being gay. There is no need to confirm them for him."
"But it's the truth," Robbie stuck the banana deep in his mouth before slowly, sensually pulling it out to bite off only the very tip. "Mmmm. And if I get my way, the entire school is going to know about it soon enough."
"My dad will kill me," Jacob groaned. "And he's home for the next month, so he really will kill me."
"No he won't," Robbie quipped. "I won't let him."
Jacob laughed. What the hell. "Fine. Assuming the 'rents don't have anything else we need to do, you can come over tomorrow night for dinner and help me break the news." Of course, after hearing the recoding in Jacob's pocket Dad would most certainly have other plans.
Robbie froze for half a second, shocked. "Oh Jaky," he grinned, melting in his chair. "I could just kiss you!"
"Not now!" Jacob shoved him away, laughing. "Not yet!"
"Aaaah," Robbie complained. "Pleeeease?"
"No!" Jacob shifted over a little to open up some space. This wasn't exactly comfortable, since it left him sitting half-on-half-off the seat, but he seriously needed the space. "Scootch over a little I need some room," Jacob used his elbow to enforce his request, leaning into it to shove Robbie across the seat until he fell out the other side of the two person bench.
Sitting on the floor Robbie was nicely shielded from view, so he very, very sensuously slid the banana into his mouth.
Jacob paced back and forth in his room. His grandmother had picked him up after school, and all the apologies in the world didn't change the fact that his mother hadn't bothered to pull him out of school so he could go see Dad. It had been four and a half months since the last time Jacob had seen Dad, and now he had to wait another couple of hours just because "Your education is important, honey." He'd toss his entire education into the trashcan if that's what it took to see Dad! What did a few classes, that he couldn't pay attention in anyway, weight against an hour, half an hour, five more minutes of Dad?
Oh, she'd argue that this hadn't really 'cost' him anything; Dad had gotten to the airport so far ahead of schedule that he was actually going to see him a good thirty minutes early, even after the drive. It was a silly argument, but she'd make it. It didn't matter that he could have seen Dad a good hour or two earlier still, because he was getting a half hour anyway!
The doorbell was the last thing he wanted to hear ringing, much less Grandmother hollering for him to open it. "Yes?" he practically snarled as he opened it.
Disheveled, tired, in a uniform that had seen far to much travel, the short, dark-haired man on the other side of the door was still the most beautiful and terrifying thing Jacob had seen in ages. He wanted to throw his arms around the man and squeeze. He wanted to run and hide. He wanted to dance in circles and scream hallelujah and he wanted to be anywhere else. It was always the same, ever since he was a kid. After so long with barely any contact, the man on the other side of the door was almost a stranger.
Almost. Jacob nearly ripped the door chain out of the wall in his eagerness to get the door open. "Dad!" he shouted at the top of his lungs, wrapping his father in a bear hug.
"Son," Dad whispered into his ear. "Look at you!" Dad held him at arms length and looked him over, top to bottom. "Good God, I swear you've gained half a foot while I've been gone!"
Jacob felt his world go topsy turvy as he realized what Dad was talking about. "That's just the doorstep, come inside," he pointed out, but swallowed back a lump as he realized it didn't matter. The doorstep added an inch or two, but even on level ground he was looking down to meet his father's eyes, not up. Oh, it was a small difference, but he could feel it. He was actually taller than Dad.
"It's been too long," Dad tossed his duffel to the side of the hallway and hugged Jacob again. "Far, far too long. I'd ask how you've been, but your mother made it clear the answer is 'not good'."
"And that you need to have a talk with me?" Jacob sighed. "Well, I need to talk to you too."
"Come on. Let's head into the study," Dad lead the way. The large house had its many bedrooms upstairs, and an equally sprawling first floor, complete with a library / study that was Grandfather's pride and joy. Since he'd died, Dad had taken it over as an office when he was home. Jacob let Dad drag him over to the couch. "So, let me take a random stab into the dark at what the problem is," Dad smiled. "I know, it's this Robbie guy. I've heard so much about him, you know. Your letters, your mother talking about how much time you spend with him, your grandmother wondering how long it was going to take you to introduce your new boyfriend to her..."
"What?" Jacob sprang to his feet in shock. "My- What are you talking about?"
Dad laughed. "Son, do you really think you kept that little detail secret? She's hard of hearing, but she isn't completely deaf."
Jacob blushed. "Um, I... this isn't what it-"
"Sit down," Dad's order was a whip crack. "Given how I ambushed you there, I'll tolerate prevarication. I won't tolerate you lying to me. Am I quite clear?"
"Yes sir," Jacob sat.
"Now, lets start this conversation over," Dad nodded. "Why don't you tell me what's on your mind."
Jacob shook his head. "I wish it were only Robbie," he sighed, pulling the recorder out of his pocket. "I promised not to say a single word. I was quite specific in my promise; not to speak a single word about it."
"I don't like it when people prevaricate, Son," Dad glared at him. "I doubly don't like it when people sneak around the letter of their word to break the spirit of it. I don't care what's on that, if you've promised-"
"You care," Jacob dared to interrupt. "If nothing else, a promise made under duress isn't valid."
"Don't interrupt me," Dad snapped, then frowned. "Fine, lets hear this recording."
The recording wasn't as clear as Jacob would have liked, but Dad clearly noticed the word 'kill', and the look on his face when he realized Jacob was applying it to Mom scared Jacob. If Andy had seen that look, he'd have been running for the hills.
"Have you called the cops yet?" Dad growled.
"I was too scared last night," Jacob admitted. "And... he threatened Mom."
"I've got a month's leave, and I can get someone to issue me a firearm if I really want it," Dad growled, pacing the room furiously. "Let those bastards try and harm my wife, hell I don't need a pistol I'll tear them apart with my bare hands!" Jacob leaned back in the couch and sighed in relaxation. Somewhere deep in the primitive part of his mind, his father on the warpath just made him feel safe. "I'm going to call the cops. Stay there."
Dad pulled a phone book out of a desk drawer and checked the back of the cover. Finding the number he was looking for, he picked up the old cord phone and started punching numbers. "Hello, police department? I'm Sergeant Jacob Vern, and I need a few officers at my residence as soon as possible regarding a murder last night."
"I'm not sure. My son witnessed it," Dad nodded at the person on the other end. "One moment." Dad held the phone out to Jacob. "Tell them," he ordered.
"I can't," Jacob shook his head. "I promised-"
"Tell. Them." There was no flex, no hesitation in that voice. Jacob couldn't ignore it. Jacob had to ignore it.
"I promised-" Jacob protested.
"You have a duty," Dad cut in over him. "Do it."
Jacob took a deep breath, then hit play on the voice recorder. Holding it up to the phone, it told all the story he needed to tell.
Dad should have been enraged.
Instead he waited until the recorder was finished before hugging Jacob. "Good job," he whispered into Jacob's ear before taking the phone back.
And Jacob hadn't broken his promise.