Always expect the unexpected for it is the unexpected that will lead to disappointment – I. W.Fredd
He kept his face blank, eyes flat and emotionless, as he titled his head back and watched the thick band of gray clouds roll across an ashen sky. The last of the watery yellow-white sunlight was now hidden behind the growing firmament and his nostrils tickled against the familiar musty smell of rain approaching the sleepy town. The restless winds blew past, swirling the wild flowers around his feet and toppling over defenseless trashcans, their rotten contents spilling onto the cracked pavement. He was gratefully alone to embrace the elements, content with the empty streets and deserted sidewalks void of needy pets and laughing children.
A humorless chuckle escaped his lips and he shook his head.
A raindrop had fallen from the darkening sky and splashed against his freckled nose.
Sky was his name. His father had told him that his eyes—sparkling, clear, and brilliantly cerulean—had reminded him of the heavens on a perfectly warm summer’s day. What would he say now if he were here to witness the gloomy weather in the beginning of June? Could he even see the sky where he was? With a heavy sigh, he resumed his casual stroll through the silent neighborhood. There was still a small part of him inside who still had hope that he would run into someone, anyone, with who he could spend the deadening day with. But Sky shoved the inane possibility away. As expected, he did not have luck on his side.
“You’re deluded, Sky,” he murmured and peeked over his shoulder.
Who did he expect to see anyways? He was still relatively new in town and had yet to meet anyone his age let alone make a friend. The small town of Gannings, Oklahoma hadn’t been so ecstatic about having them as the newcomers invad their municipality in the first place. He had noticed the scornful glares, the mocking hand gestures, and persnickety mannerisms displayed whenever he or his mother were present in a public outing. He couldn’t be surprised when he had an infamous convict for a father. He should have expected as much, grown used to the elusive behavior of humanity when he was to be within their sights. Expectations. Always expect the unexpected, as the famous saying went. He snorted aloud and rolled his eyes. Ridiculous. How could he or his mother have foreseen the horrific turn of events that ended in them living their lives skulking around in the shadows to avoid civic ridicule? Things like that were always easy to say when you never had to go through them.
“I hate him,” he whispered through clenched teeth.
He ignored the dull ache in his jaw, the bubbling anger that flashed in his eyes. He hated being reminded of how he was still alive to carry the burden of his father’s inhumane actions.
With a cry of frustration, he struck out with his foot and kicked aside an abandoned trashcan. It skittered along the seclude street, rolling along the asphalt with a reverberant series of thuds. What was he thinking getting his hopes up like that? Friends? Someone like him? Destined to follow in the footsteps of the father he wished he never had and deemed a murdered because of the filthy blood that ran through his veins. They won’t come out if you’re out here. Not if they can help it. He balled his hands into trembling fists at his sides. They never came out of their homes when the Joshuas were out and about.
The living legacy of the nefarious monster of their nightmares.
What did they think he could do anyway? Pull out a gun and start shooting randomly at the innocent? He swallowed the growing lump in his throat. Why was he so bad to them? Why couldn’t he be innocent? He wasn’t the one who killed the hostages when he ill thought-out plans of escape backfired. He wasn’t the man wearing a black ski mask, shouting at the tellers to put the money in the black duffel bags. He let out a shaky breath. He wasn’t the one who stood behind the gun and pulled the trigger.
He was not Ian Joshua—no matter how much he physically resembled him.
Blood runs thicker than water. Ian Joshua’s last words before he was sentenced and dragged away by a pair of grim-faced officers of the law. The sound of jangling chains still haunted him. What did that mean then? That he would become a coldblooded killer too because of their shared bloodline? That they would always be one and the same no matter what path he decided to take in his own life?
Sky shook his head in anger. No. he would never be like him.
He was Skylar Joseph Joshua. A seventh grader at Pine Bough Junior High.
He liked to read and take long walks through the woods, fantasizing about ancient mythological beasts and explore the make-believe birthplaces of urban legends. His father had never enjoyed such imaginary activities. He was simple boy who wanted a simple life. A child who had once run too fast and scraped a knee after a clumsy fall or tried to steal a chocolate chip cookie from the ceramic cookie jar with the teddy bear on the front. So why, why, was he condemned to paying for the heinous crimes of another?
“I am not my father,” he grumbled to no one in particular. “I’m not.”
He quickened his pace as the raindrops began to fall and pelt him like machine gun bullets. A roaring clap of thunder could be heard in the distance and a jagged flash of lightning danced across the wan sky. Sky instantly regretted his decision. He took a deep breath and flipped the collar of his coat up, keeping his head receded into the furry outline. I should have stayed home, he concluded. There was no point in coming out here—
“Hey!” the voice sounded distant and shrill, like the song of a wind chime.
Sky ignored this and instead broke into a light jog, shielding his eyes from the pouring sheets of rain.
You’re such an idiot, Sky. The words stung, but he downed them regardless—the way he was forced to with everything else. He kept his eyes downcast on the slick sidewalk, mentally counting the cracks he managed to jump over. He didn’t need to break his mother’s back by stepping on them. He was surprised his father hadn’t thought of it first. Another clap of thunder echoed through the air, followed by an erratic flash of blue lightning.
“Wait up!” the voice called out and thudding footsteps followed afterward.
Sky mentally groaned. He was in no mood for companionship from a kid who would just be whisked away from his life by a distrusting mother or an outraged father. He ignored the hard tug of longing in his heart and continued through the shower. He was shivering now, trembling and soaked through his layers of clothing.
“Hold up!” the footsteps slowed behind him.
But Sky did not bother to turn around and see who was stupid enough to approach him.
Just lay it out to them plain and simple, he decided and sucked in his breath. I don’t need to entertain a meaningless conversation. He imagined the watchful eyes behind the drawn curtains of his neighbors and shuddered. I rather drown in the rain than give them another reason to hate my guts. He let out a glum sigh—and realized that the summer shower was no longer falling on him. Confused, he looked up—into the inside of a pink umbrella hovering over his head.
“Why are you doing this?” he asked flatly and frowned at the girl before him. “I didn’t ask for your help.”
“Doesn’t mean I shouldn’t help you,” she shot back and placed a chubby hand on her wide waist. She was small and swimming in a yellow raincoat two sizes too big for her frame. Her dripping, auburn hair was matted to her head and neck with rainwater drizzling around a wide, ample face. Her smile was radiant and seemed to provide a light that somehow brightened her aura and strengthened her presence.
“What do you want?” Sky asked. The frown on his face grew more critical.
The girl sighed and rolled her eyes. “Isn’t it obvious? You are new to his boring town so I thought I would introduce myself to you—”
“Hi,” Sky said testily, “My name is I’m Not Interested. Please to meet you—not. Go away. It’s not good to be around me.”
But the strange girl didn’t flea. She jutted her wide hip out to the side and fisted a hand on it, the smile on her face quickly disappearing. “One,” she said through clenched teeth. “Don’t ever tell me what to do. I came here wanting to be nice to you since you’re new and pitifully lonely, so at least give me a chance to tell you a bit about myself. Gosh, where are you manners?”
Sky scoffed. “I think it's you and your hillbilly town could use a few lessons in manners. If a person doesn’t want to talk to you, then how hard is it to turn around and go away?”
The girl scowled at him. “And if a person is going out of their way to be polite to you, how hard is it for you to have some common courtesy and wait until they are finished to give them attitude?”
They glowered at each other. Sky sighed deeply. “Fine. Introduce yourself and get out of my sight afterward. Deal?”
She frowned. “I’m trying to be your friend here. At least look happier.”
Sky refused to smile. The girl sighed. “Fine then. My name is Chelsea Kedzior. If I’m not mistaken, I’m the neighbor that lives across the street from you.” Sky couldn’t help the scowl that crept onto his face. That house, he thought scornfully and though back to the glaring middle-aged woman he encountered not too long ago when trying to retrieve the soccer ball that had bounced across the street and landed on the manicured lawn.
“Are we done here?” Sky hissed and glared at Chelsea. “I’m going home.”
Chelsea returned the glare with one of her own. “And you have the nerve to say that us ‘hillbillies’ are the ones with no manners? Ha! I should have expected this much from someone like you.”
Sky gritted his teeth together. There it was again. The expectation.
Would there ever be anyone who cared enough to want to get to know who he is and not the person they expected him to be because of his family history? He took a deep breath and willed the bubbling ire inside him to quell and subside into the back corners of his mind. It’s not her fault that your dad is a murderer. He took a deep breath.
“My name is Sky,” he said. “Yeah, I guess I do live in front of you.”
Chelsea’s face brightened as she smiled again, her round cheeks dimpling from the gesture. “There we go,” she said with a light laugh. “We’re making process here.”
Sky rolled his eyes. “Let’s leave this conversation like this then. I have nothing more that I want to say to you.”
Chelsea threw her hands up in exasperation. “Well excuse me for trying to be friendly to the son of my mom’s new friend!” She huffed and crossed her arms defiantly over her chest. “You’re definitely not as nice as your mom.”
Sky gaped at her. “What…did you say?” he whispered slowly.
Chelsea hesitated briefly before answering. “Yeah…your mom is a nurse right? At the White Petal Hospital Center, right? Well, uh, she works with my mom, Ann Kedzior. She says nothing but good things about your mother and she seemed like a sweetheart when she came by the other day. You, on the other hand, are just rude and have an awful attitude…”
Her voice tuned out as Sky’s mind began to spin. She’s hanging out with her mom? She knows how that lady hates my guts and she goes and befriends her anyways? Whatever happened to keeping a low profile since dad was taken away? What about all the things she warned me not to do? She just goes and does it now behind my back? He was fuming. He could feel the sudden rush of blood pounding at his temples and clenched his teeth together once more, eyes narrowing into a venomous glare.
“He-llo?” Chelsea snapped her fingers in front of his face. “Are you listening to me or what?”
He nodded absentmindedly. He watched Chelsea’s lips move in the form of a question, but he paid no mind to her words. Not when his mother had gone back on her word to him. Without another word, he spun on the balls of his heels and sped down the street in the direction of home.
He slammed the door shut with all his might before hastily kicking off his soggy shoes and stomping up the steps towards his bedroom. How can she do this? That woman was the one who insisted that the town treat him like diseased outcasts and now she was on friendly terms with her? She never bothered to say anything to him about this. He had to hear it through that woman’s daughter?
“Sky?” Serena Joshua came from the kitchen.
He ignored it. After all, it wasn’t like she would understand his frustrations anyways. What could she comprehend about his feelings when she couldn’t understand how to be loyal to her only son? He reached the top of the steps and bolted towards the door at the end of the long hallway. He didn’t want to come. It was his mother’s idea to return to her childhood home in the first place without even a peep out of him. Even then, she didn’t care to consult his thoughts or feelings on the matter.
So be it. He understood where his mother now stood.
There was nothing different here in comparison to how things were in their old neighborhood. At least people here just ignored you. They hadn’t chucked dirty garden stones through the front door windows with threatening notes attached to them or vandalized their property with rotted eggs and black spray paint. Sky swallowed audibly and leaned against the door. He blinked back the surge of oncoming tears bubbling at the rims of his eyes. They hadn’t been there when his friends abandoned him or when his peers bullied him by chasing after him with fake guns and wearing black ski masks on their heads.
He slid down to the floor and pulled his knees up to his chest. Worst of all, they weren’t there to face the destroyed families of the victims whose lives were so unjustly taken by the man he had known as his father. He had not been able to look them in the eyes during the trial.
What would he have said anyway to make them feel better?
No. Why did he have to say anything? He wasn’t the one responsible for their demise and yet they looked at him with expectant eyes, as if waiting for him to drop to his knees and beg for their forgiveness—
“Sky? Please open the door,” his mother called and tapped once on the door. “Let me know that you’re okay.”
Sky chuckled noiselessly. Him? Okay? When would he ever be truly fine?
He rolled his eyes in vexation. What could she possibly say to make things all better? What could she do? Their lives were in ruins, their reputations in shambles. Because of what? Greed? It hadn’t been worth it in the end, had it? Ian Joshua had earned himself a life sentence without possibility of patrol. What was the accomplishment behind that? An orange jumpsuit and a spot in a grimy cell with another dangerous convict he would have to call his new roommate? He had been selfish. So greedy and selfish. How did it not occur to him that his actions would permanently scar his wife and son? Did he even care when he made his stupid decision?
“Sky!” Mrs. Joshua shouted. Her light tapping turned into urgent pounding. “Did something happen? Come out and talk to me. Are you listening?”
He shook his head and rolled his eyes in annoyance. Okay then. She wanted to talk, than they would talk.
About absolutely everything.
He quickly climbed to his feet and yanked the door open. Mrs. Joshua jumped back, but hastily composed herself. Though she was colorless and misery, she was a still a pretty woman with her wispy, featherlike frame and silvery blond hair pulled into a tight bun at the nape of a long, slender neck. Her refined features were twisted into a grimace of worry and disapproval, and slim hands were resting on her hips.
She leaned against the doorframe as if to support her gangly form.
“You wanted to talk?” Sky spat and rolled his hands into quivering fists. “Fine. Let’s talk about how we had to move here to escape all the hate we were getting back home. Let’s talk about how I can’t trust anybody here because of the many, many enemies he has made in his short and bloody career.” Serena opened her mouth to argue, but Sky cut her off with a hand held in the air. He shot her a murderous glare. “Let’s talk about how you and Ann Kedzior are suddenly the bestest of friends—that same lady who took it upon herself to convince everyone in this stupid town that I’m just as bad as your husband.”
“Stop this Skylar.” Mrs. Joshua’s voice was cold and hard like stone.
Sky laughed incredulously. “Stop? Why? You’re the one who wanted to know what is wrong with me. Here it is. Let’s talk about how we’re practically on the run because of what that son of a bitch murderer did!”
“I said stop it Skylar!” Mrs. Joshua roared. Her eyes seemed to dark ominously, smoldering with hot rage. “You don’t know a thing about the situation. Do not speak about what you don’t know.”
“Don’t,” Sky hissed and matched her glower with one of his own. “Don’t treat me like I’m some naïve child who doesn’t know anything. I was there when that man confessed to killing them all. I was sitting in those stands with those affected by his decision.” He took a bold step forward. “So don’t tell me that I don’t know, mom. I know what happened. I know everything and I won’t let you or anybody else tell me otherwise.”
Mrs. Joshua glare grew in intensity. “I repeat,” she said through gritted teeth, “that there’s more to the story than what you know. Your father made a grave mistake and it cost him—and us—dearly. But you are no one to disrespect and speak so badly of your father. I will be damned to the deepest parts of hell before I stand here and let you continue your rebellious behavior. I will tell you once more, Skylar Joseph Joshua, stop this now. You don’t know as much as you think you do.”
“Oh really?” Sky argued. “Then what is it that I don’t know and why don’t I know it?”
“You are too young to understand the true nature of this situation,” Mrs. Joshua explained calmly. “There are things about what happened that won’t make sense to you right now. That is all that I will tell you.”
Sky snorted cynically. “Typical. The man ruins your life and yet you still stand beside him? What do you gain from protecting him?”
Serena let out a long breath. Her eyebrows twitched in anger. “What you father decided to do was for our own good—”
“For our own good?” Sky interjected. He blinked in disbelief. “How is going outside and having people avoid you like the plague for my own good? Mom, do you have any idea how it feels to know that you will always be alone everywhere you go? To know that no matter what I say and do, people will always see me as the second Ian Joshua—”
“We are done with this discussion,” Mrs. Joshua said frigidly. “So drop it.”
Sky dropped his eyes to the floor, his vision blurring with tears of frustration. She did it again. She shut him down again. Why couldn’t she see it his way? He didn’t ask to be his son. He didn’t wish for his father of all the fathers out there to be a coldhearted killer. He didn’t ever want to have to suffer the consequences. Does she hate me? Is that why she’s always like this? He wondered and felt his shoulders shake with rising anger. Why did it have to be their family? If there really was more to the story, then why won’t she be forthright and just say it to him?
“Try living it.” The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. Mrs. Joshua stiffened . An agonized sob escaped Sky’s throat. “Try living like an outcast for something you never did. Try being seen as someone that you’re not because of someone else. Try it all on and see how it feels, mom.” He was breathing heavily now, his pants heaving his chest up and down.
“You’re not the only one!” Mrs. Joshua retorted. “You think life is peachy for me, Skylar? Do you think having to get up every morning and face the demons out there is easy for me?”
Both Joshuas lapsed into a heavy, tense silence.
It’s hard for you, maybe, but it’s even harder for me. It wasn’t the same. She could go anywhere that she wanted to go, remarry, change her last name, and start a new life with a new husband and child. But he would always be a Joshua, son of Ian Joshua. He would always have the same eyes and hair color, the same surname, and the same burden weighing on his shoulders no matter how old he got or who he wanted to be. You have the nerve to complain when you are the one going out of your way to justify his actions? Sky snickered darkly and shook his head. Then so be it. She can suffer at his side for eternity if it suited her. But he would no longer be shackled to her burden.
He would not go down with the family ship.
Mrs. Joshua broke the silence with a weary sigh and dropped her hands on Sky’s narrow shoulders. “This is not easy for me, Sky. I miss how we were too. But we have to learn to endure this and, for your father’s sake, survive through this madness. Trust me when I say that I understand how you feel right now and if I could make it better I—”
“That’s just it!” Sky snarled and wrenched himself out of her firm grasp. “You can make it better, but instead you decide to handcuff yourself to a man that deserves to be burning in Hell for the pain he has caused so many around him. You have the power of ending our suffering—but you don’t want to. You don’t even care. No, mom. Not this time. Those sweetened words may have worked on me before, but I won’t fall for them this time. Or the next.”
Mrs. Joshua pressed her lips into a thin white line and rose to her full height. “I won’t say that I’m sorry, Sky. If I could say more, then I would. But I can’t. Whether you believe me or not, all your father and I are doing is for your protection.”
Sky turned away from her and let the tears fall free from his eyes. “Just leave me alone.” He shook his head slowly. “I don’t want to hear it.”
Mrs. Joshua sauntered towards the door. She paused and glanced at her son over her shoulder. “Don’t go outside today. Something bad could happen to you.”
He didn’t look at her as he answered. “It wouldn’t be the first time.”