His parents’ house, his house, whatever house it was, couldn’t be avoided any longer. Colin immediately felt the cavernous space around him. His parents had filled it with love and warmth and pain and excitement and disappointment. They filled it with life.
Now that they were gone, the place was dead.
He fought the urge to run away and climbed the steps. He stepped on one twice, to make sure it still squeaked. It did.
His old bedroom looked almost the same as it did in high school, minus the clothes on the floor and posters on the walls. The books on the shelf were the same and still shared a place with his old Independence Day model UFO. He never gave a shit about any of his stuff. Like he was ready, even before he knew he’d have to run away and leave it all behind. This room was alive once, too. His friends visited this place when he had friends, and he did all of his thinking and his growing and his sleeping here. The room wasn’t a shrine; it had moved on. His parents had moved on and someday soon, Colin would have to figure out how to move on without them.
He went down the hall to their bedroom. He was the adult now, so it was his room now. He hesitated at the door.
He was an adult, so he could have his pick of any of the six bedrooms and never have to touch this door ever again.
No, he couldn’t do that. He’d have to go in eventually. There had to be a bottle of something downstairs. A few shots of liquid courage and he could do it.
An outlet in the hallway sizzled and popped.
A few bottles, maybe.
After checking that the outlet wasn’t on fire, Colin went downstairs to rummage for something to drink. An enormous pirate ship shaped bottle of rum blended into the backsplash near the refrigerator.
“Don’t care what you taste like, just get in my mouth.” He dragged the heavy bottle out, found the cap at the very front of the ship and tipped some of the rum into the biggest glass he could find. After a few gulps, he sat in a stool against the kitchen island and buried his face in his hands.
He felt like at any moment, his mom would come downstairs, asking if he was hungry. His dad would come in from the garage, wiping his hands on a rag, declaring, “Yup, it’s still a car.”
Something splashed against Colin’s arm and he wiped it with a floral printed napkin.
“I can’t do this.”
When he raised his glass to drink more, blue sparks skittered like spiders across the top of the brown liquid. The lights dimmed. When his parents were here, it was different. He had to stay in control. Same with the boy, Austin. The kid was like a shield. Colin gulped the sparking rum, wiped his face.
He couldn’t be alone. That was the only thing that made sense. He could destroy the house if he was alone, he probably would destroy it.
He took the kitchen phone off the wall and stared at it for a long time before he took another gulp and pulled out Mary’s card. It was probably good that he didn’t have a phone to text her with. That would just seem desperate. And probably misspelled. Her card said “CERT” on one side, “Mary Stone” and her phone number on the other. Nothing else.
“Mary, hey, it’s Colin. So, about those friends I haven’t met. I could really use one right now.”
The doorbell rang only a few minutes later, too fast for Mary to have activated her elemental phone tree or to have sent Kurada or someone from their base of operations. Shit. He probably should have told Mary not to send Kurada. Then again, maybe an elemental willing to give out random handjobs was exactly what he needed. He shook his head. Not in his parents’ house. Not tonight.
He took a swig and opened the door.
A tiny blonde, with a tiny headband across her forehead smiled up at him. She looked like the perfect seventies poster child, a pretty little hippie. “Colin?”
She held out a hand, clear blue eyes twinkling in the yellow porch light. “I’m Zep. Mary sent me. She said you could use some company.”
Her voice soothed his nerves as effectively as a hug and promises that it would all be okay. Better, since the electrocution risk for her wasn’t as high.
“So are you gonna let me in, or what?” She shifted her tiny handbag on her shoulder.
“I don’t know what she told you,” Colin said. “But I’m not looking for that kind of company.”
Her laugh floated through the air pleasantly. “I’m not a prostitute, I’m a local. I left a life coach class for this, I expect to get in.”
“Sorry, come in. I just didn’t want you to think… I’m not desperate.” He took a sip of his drink. Idiot. “I’ve got rum. I don’t know what else they have. Had. Anything else.”
She slipped past him toward the kitchen. “I see you’ve started in on the rum. I’ll poke around if it’s cool with you. I’m more of a vodka tonic girl, but rum will do in a pinch.”
Colin looked back at the open door to see a man, older than Colin but it was hard to tell what were scars and what were wrinkles on the man’s face. He was shorter than Colin by an inch but his presence, and his red-brown eyes were somewhat terrifying. “Hi.”
“Phoenix. Mary said you could use a friend.”
“Yeah sure,” Colin said. “Colin. Come on in.”
“Who just got here?” Zep called from the kitchen. “I don’t really care, just check the garage for booze, dude!”
“I see Zep beat me here,” Phoenix said. “If you need someone to give her the boot, just give me the universal symbol for ‘get this crazy bitch out of my house’ and I’ll take care of it.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know that one,” Colin said.
Phoenix aimed two fingers at the floor and swung one like a pair of legs kicking someone.
“Ha! Mary said you sounded depressed. We’ve already got a smile. We’ll be just fine.”
“Feen!” Zep yelled. “Booze!”
“Keep your drawers on, woman. For all our sakes.” Phoenix went into the kitchen.
Colin started to close the door when someone called out.
A man and a woman strode to the door. The woman hugged him as soon as she was within range.
“Colin? Carmel. I have a lot of weed if you’re interested. And if you’re not interested, I will do my best to interest you.” She walked past him to the kitchen.
“Andreus.” The man held out a hand. “Mary send me. Well, us I guess.”
Colin shook his hand. “How many of you did she send?”
Andreus laughed, a deep boom from his tall, slender frame. “I have no idea. Who’s already here?”
“Three. And you. And me. I know, uh… Ze…. Someone is looking for vodka. And apparently there’s a lot of weed here now.”
“Oh man, you’ve got Zep and Carmel here? Your night will either go very well or very badly. If you find any tequila, do yourself a favor and ‘accidentally’ pour it down the sink.”
“Got it,” Colin smiled. “Come on in.”
Andreus joined the others in the kitchen.
“Anyone else?” Colin looked around into the darkness. He shut the door when no one answered.
“Hey Col,” Zep said. “You don’t have any ice.”
“Sorry,” he said. “I just inherited the house today.”
Phoenix came through the garage door with three dusty wine bottles. “Colin, your car is amazing. I might have kissed it. I mean, maybe. I don’t know. I was overwhelmed by emotion and she was just there, so beautiful.”
“You kissed a car?” Carmel asked.
“He’s got a gorgeous ’Cuda out there. Bright yellow, cherry condition!”
Colin tipped the pirate ship into his glass. “Just inherited that too. You want it? Keys are right there.”
For a split second, Phoenix looked like he might accept. Instead, he smiled. “You can’t make that kind of decision right now, man. But if you want to take it for a spin sometime, I’ll be there in a flash.”
“Yeah, let’s go,” Colin said.
He started for the keys, but Carmel caught his arm. “Not now, silly. You can’t just leave your own party. Your guests just got here.”
“Oh shit,” Zep said. “When Carm is the voice of reason, you know we need to drink more. Where are the glasses? You know what, I’m going to stop asking you, because I know you just inherited the place.”
Colin pointed. “That cabinet up over the toaster oven.”
Carmel swung his arm a few inches to the right. “Looks like we have some catching up to do. And stop abbreviating everything, Zep. My name’s not that long, and I happen to like it. I’m sure you can manage it.”
“Try answering to Feen all the time,” Phoenix said. He put an arm around Zep’s shoulders. “I just want to shake her sometimes.”
“You could try,” she teased.
“Nah, I’ll just watch you keep trying to reach those glasses,” Phoenix said.
Andreus rolled his eyes and took a few glasses from the highest shelf. “So what do we have? Wine, rum and weed?”
“Because no good story ever started with a salad!” Carmel pumped her fist in the air.
“What the hell’s wrong with salad?” Phoenix asked.
“I don’t think these things will mix well,” Andreus said.
“I’m willing to give it a shot,” Colin said. The last party he had in this kitchen got him grounded for two weeks, when his parents decided that the original sentence of a year was a little overboard. He and Callie connected at that party, so it all seemed worth it at the time. Then he heard the rumors about Mary and he felt somehow responsible. And then there was that note from Callie.
He took another drink. Empty.
Carmel batted his hand away from the pirate ship. “Oh no, you’re sitting a few rounds out.”
After a couple of shots, they all relaxed a little.
“So what brings us here?” Carmel asked. “All we know is that you needed some pals.”
“I got the house today.” Colin stared into his empty cup. “My parents died in a car crash about a week ago. Well, they suffered for a few days in the hospital before they died. I can’t…”
Andreus put a hand on his shoulder. Phoenix stopped rifling through the drawers. Zep put an arm around Colin’s waist. Carmel emptied her pockets onto the counter.
“My parents were killed the day I turned eighteen,” Andreus said. “I couldn’t bring myself to open that bedroom door for weeks. I kept thinking if I did, they’d really be dead. I was a kid.”
Colin nodded. “That’s about where I’m at. I can’t believe it. And I left on such shitty terms. I wish I could take it all back.”
Zep squeezed him. “Now that, I can relate to. When I left that shithole, I fucked my mom’s boyfriend in her bed when I knew she’d catch us.”
Carmel laughed. “Me too.”
“You fucked your mom’s boyfriend?”
“What? No, ew! I fucked her mom’s boyfriend, too. It was a threesome.”
Andreus laughed, gave Colin’s shoulder a pat and a “what did I tell you?” look before joining Phoenix in his hunt for a corkscrew.
“You don’t know what a threesome is?” Zep asked, looking up at Colin. “It’s when three people have sex.”
“With each other,” Carmel added.
“At the same time,” Zep nodded.
Colin laughed. “Yeah, I’m aware of the concept. So was it good?”
Carmel scoffed. “For who?”
Zep crossed the kitchen to pull a magnetic corkscrew off of the fridge. “Here, guys. And, Colin, here’s the thing about threesomes. No one does it for enjoyment. Not, like, sexual enjoyment anyway. It serves a purpose.”
“What kind of purpose is that?”
“Bucket list,” Carmel said. “Justify a break-up. You know, whatever.”
Zep slipped back under Colin’s arm, a sweet little bit of warmth at his side. “Well, that one was to piss Mom off. And it worked. So, yeah, by that standard, I guess it was good.”
“By that standard, taking a shit is good,” Carmel said.
“Hey, now,” Phoenix said.
“You’re playing to the wrong crowd if you’re gonna say that’s not good,” Andreus said.
“Fair enough,” Carmel said. “Hey do you mind if I smoke inside?”
Colin almost granted permission, but even his drunken haze couldn’t erase how much this place belonged to his parents. From the pair of ironic muscle car collector’s plates on the wall to the family pictures on the fridge, it was still their house. “Yeah. I’m sorry, it’s still just…”
“Say no more,” she said. “It’s nice out anyway.”
Phoenix uncorked a bottle of wine. Andreus grabbed the pirate ship.
Carmel gasped when she stepped outside. “Did you tell Mary you have a spa?” Because I did not bring a suit, but I am definitely getting in!”
Zep started toward the above ground unit.
“Controls are on the inside,” Andreus said. “We used to have the same one. There are speakers in it and everything.”
Carmel released a thick cloud of white smoke. “Cool.”
Colin and Andreus refused the pipe, but Phoenix took it.
“How long does this thing take?” Zep asked.
“I don’t know. It wasn’t here before. All of this is new. The fire pit, the jacuzzi, the patio. It was all just grass before.”
Phoenix handed the pipe back to Carmel and lit a cigarette.
“So, how long have you all been friends?” Colin asked.
“We’re not friends,” Carmel said. “We’re locals.
“Hey, since the heat is taking forever, we should play a drinking game,” Zep said.
“I don’t know. What does good with…”
“Wine, rum and weed?” Carmel handed the pipe and lighter to Zep. “Nothing.”
“Ooh, what about Never Have I Ever, or some other, like, getting to know each other game?” Zep asked before lighting up.
“I’ve never played that,” Andreus said.
“Perfect. Now everyone who has played before needs to take a drink.”
Phoenix rolled his eyes and drank. Carmel and Zep drank.
“Really? You’ve never played, Colin?”
“Nope, never. All of my drinking games are more like, Who Can Outrun the Cop?”
“Alright, we’ll keep it easy. Never have I ever had a threesome to piss my mom off.” Zep took a drink. “You should have drank, too, Carm.”
“Wasn’t my mom.”
“You said you did do that,” Colin said.
“Right. That’s why I drank. Okay, your turn.”
Carmel sighed. “Okay. Never have I ever seen this game end well.”
No one drank.
“Okay, good game. How’s that spa coming?”
Colin looked at Andreus, who shrugged and Phoenix, who chuckled. “Is that how the game ends?”
“No,” Carmel said. “The game ends when someone cries and some relationship gets ruined. So I’m going to end it now instead.”
“Water’s warm,” Andreus said. “Not really hot, though.”
“I’ll handle it.” Phoenix stripped to his boxers and sat in the water. In seconds, it was steaming.
“I’m guessing you’re fire,” Colin said. He tossed his shirt on the stone patio and started to unbutton his pants. Right. He didn’t have anything on underneath. Nudity didn’t seem to bother anyone but Phoenix. The others stripped down to nothing and got in. Would it be horribly rude of him to go in for some shorts? They were all in so much better shape than him. He resolved to start doing situps in the morning. Not that any amount of training could get him hung like Andreus, but he could probably get a six pack if he started eating right and exercising. After all, it might be worth it if he had a shot at romance, now.
“Clever boy,” Zep said. “Now do me!”
“What am I?” She stood up out of the water, arms spread, fully exposed for his scrutiny.
He got in the spa, naked, and studied Zep’s pale blue eyes, her flowing blonde hair, and her willowy body. “Water?”
“No!” she laughed. “Strike one!”
“What about me?” Carmel lifted herself out of the water to sit on the edge.
Colin studied her tanned, toned body, her large, curved breasts and her narrow waist. His skin prickled. “I’m not good at this game. I don’t even know the options.”
“Fire, Earth, Air, and Water,” Phoenix said. “There’s your options.”
“Can you even tell just by looking at someone?” Colin asked. He didn’t look at either of the women.
Zep slipped back into the water beside him. “I’ll give you a hint.”
She leaned toward him until her mouth almost brushed his ear. She blew gently, and the stream of air caressed his ear, wrapped around his neck and shot straight into the water, tickling his belly and his thighs.
“Air!” he shouted, too loudly. “I would’ve gotten it.”
“Yeah with a one in four shot it would only have taken about an hour,” she said. She rested her head against Colin’s shoulder.
“So what about you, Carmel? And Andreus?”
Andreus flipped his long black hair and batted his lashes. “Oh, you don’t want to guess? Yeah, that’s my only sexy move. Water.”
“Tell you what,” she said. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”
“Earth,” Colin said.
Carmel slid back into the water. “How’d you guess?”
Phoenix laughed. “Mary send him one of each.”
“That means there’s two of something here,” Zep said. “Don’t tell us!”
“Is Mary playing matchmaker?” Carmel asked.
“Oh, please,” Zep said. “With us? Mary is like, the smartest person I know.”
“Maybe she knows something about us that we don’t,” Carmel said. “Mostly you. I think he’s air and Mary’s trying to pair you up with someone who can handle your crazy ass.”
“He’s too grounded to be air,” Zep said.
“He did drink a lot,” Andreus offered.
“Maybe he’s a hothead,” Phoenix said. “He seems a little touchy.”
“I don’t think he’s earth,” Carmel said. “He’s not really touchy feely. We’re the sensual ones, and he doesn’t seem interested at all.”
“Maybe he’s gay,” Andreus said. “And not a creep.”
“He could be straight and not a creep,” Phoenix said.
“I am,” Colin said.
“Everyone asks us for a threesome after that story,” Zep said.
“Even gay men,” Carmel confirmed.
“I’m not a creep.”
“But he’s like, the opposite f a creep in a way that’s totally creepy,” Zep said. “Like he’s the quiet shy guy who’s got a bunch of bodies in the basement.”
“He’d have to have a basement, first,” Andreus said.
“Unless he’s digging one out just for corpse storage.”
“Why do people think I’m a serial killer?” Colin asked.
Carmel scooted closer to Colin in the water. “Serial killer or not, we earth’s are more passionate and touchy-feely. We like to feel everything. Things, people, whatever it is.”
Zep slipped a hand between Colin’s legs and giggled when he jumped. “He’s a little flighty like some air’s. But he’s really standoffish.”
“You guys are taking this to the extreme,” Phoenix said.
“You’re using talents like horoscopes,” Andreus said. “All air’s are not the same.”
Zep stuck her tongue out at him. “Says a water.”
She and Carmel surrounded Colin, closed in on him, pressed themselves against him until Carmel’s breasts squished around his upper arm and he couldn’t breathe.
He stood. “I’m going to get some towels.”
He sprinted toward the house, threw himself into the safety of the walls. Lights dimmed and brightened. He rubbed his face with both hands. “Fuck!”
“I’m really sorry,” Zep said from the other side of the open sliding door. “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I mean, I did, obviously, but not that uncomfortable.”
“It’s not you,” he said. “I’m just…” He lifted an empty glass from the counter like he was making a toast. “Never have I ever had sex without killing someone.”
Zep’s eyes grew large. “You poor thing.”
Colin threw the glass into the sink, sending glass bouncing out into the kitchen.
“Now I really feel horrible. But you don’t have to worry with us. They were all human, right?”
“There was only one. That was enough.”
“Oh, god. Is that why you left home? You were afraid you’d do it again? What did they say was the cause of death?”
He sat in one of the stools, stared at the marble counter. Or was it granite? Who the fuck knew? He couldn’t look at her. “Summer lightning storm.”
“A storm? So she drowned? Or something flooded?”
What even was the difference between granite and marble? Just expensive, heavy rocks that people like his parents had people like him carry around and glue to some cheap wood when they wanted a white guy to do it but didn’t want to pay a professional. That wasn’t fair. His parents weren’t like that.
“So… what are you?”
“He’s electric, you idiot,” Carmel said.
Colin nodded. “That’s me. Good old lightning strike.”
“Hey, I think we’ve had enough for one night,” Carmel said. She lifted one of his arms over her shoulders and slipped a strong arm around his waist. “Where’s the bedroom?”
“Here, let me help you,” Andreus said.
The counter drifted away, Colin fought to stay on his own feet, and that was all he could remember.
He woke up in his parents’ bed. He could tell without even opening his eyes. His hand slid between the sheets, high thread count and clean, until he hit something warm. Not something, someone.
He opened his eyes.
Carmel smiled at him. “Hey, Colin.”
“Hey,” he said. “Did we…?”
“You don’t remember?” He smile got wider at the look of panic on his face. “No, we didn’t. Other than the occasional spite threesome I’m only into women.”
“Oh, good, he breathed. He rolled away from her and bumped into Andreus on the other side.
“Don’t worry,” Andreus groaned. “Same here. Except the spite threesome thing. Honestly, I don’t know what that’s all about.”
Carmel and Andreus moved almost in unison as they got out of bed, leaving Colin alone in the middle.
“Well, can I make you guys breakfast or coffee? Did Phoenix and Zep go home? Did I do anything horrible last night?”
“Yes, don’t know, and no,” Carmel said. Colin already forgot the questions.
“Hey, party people,” Zep rasped.
Phoenix pushed the door open and gave a quiet wave.
“Colin’s making breakfast,” Carmel said.
Phoenix turned green.
Andreus laughed. “Where are my clothes.”
“Probably outside, with mine,” Carmel said.
“I brought them in and put them in the dryer,” Zep said.
“Why?” Carmel asked.
“Because they were wet,” Zep said.
“Okay, why were they wet?”
“Because they were outside!”
“Okay,” Phoenix groaned. “If everyone could just stop yelling, that would be great. You know what, just whisper really. And not about food.”
Colin threw some jogging pants and a shirt from some event involving vintage vans before meeting the others downstairs.
“I can make pancakes,” he said. “Probably, anyway.”
“Hard pass on the pancakes.” Carmel opened the fridge. “How old is this stuff?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “At least a week.”
“I’ll handle it,” Carmel said.
“It was nice meeting you, Colin, but I’ve got to get out of here before the place starts stinking like food.” Phoenix held a hand out.
Colin shook it. “Nice to meet you, too, Phoenix. Thanks for coming over.”
“That’s what locals are for. I’ll leave my number. Call me if you need anything.”
“Oh, Feen,” Zep trilled. “Don’t you want to stick around for a nce, greasy breakfast? Maybe some eggs, bacon, and some hot, buttered toast?”
“Hate you.” He flipped her off on his way out.
Andreus laughed. “You’re rude, Zep.”
“Well, Andy,” she threw an arm around Andreus’ arms. She couldn’t reach his shoulders. “Let me tell you what’s really rude.”
“What the fuck, Zep?” Carmel threw a wilted celery stalk at her. “He gets two syllables?”
“Sorry,” Zep said. “Listen, And. You know what’s rude? Whiskey dick. Or wine, rum and weed dick. That is rude.”
“So you guys didn’t?” Colin asked.
“What? Bone? Nope. Not for lack of trying. On my part anyway. And it’s really disappointing because he’s usually good for a nice romp.”
“Romp?” Carmel laughed. “Really, who even says that? Pick up that celery, were you raised in a barn?”
“Basically,” Zep said, but she picked it up anyway.
“You know I don’t romp, right?” Andreus escaped to the fridge and pulled out a container of orange juice.
Zep sat in the stool next to Colin. “So, Col…”
“No!” Carmel and Andreus shouted.
“What the hell, guys? I was going to ask if he’s an official local now. I heard his story, I’m not trying to die today.”
They relaxed. Carmel went back to breaking eggs and Andreus sniffed the juice.
“I guess,” Colin said. “I’ll be living here for a while, anyway, until I figure some stuff out.”
“What’s to figure?” Carmel asked. She tossed a pad of butter into a cast iron pan.
“If I stay, I get to keep the house. And a lot of money.”
“But…?” Zep prompted. Andreus poured juice into four glasses.
“But this place is so empty now, and so full of memories.”
“It is a pretty big house. But the memories can’s all be bad, right? I mean, you made one mistake, because you didn’t know that you had a power like the one you have. You had a whole life before that.”
“Kind of,” Colin said. “That was in high school. I’ve spent the same amount of time running away from this place as I spent in it.”
“How many brothers and sisters do you have?” Carmel asked over the sizzle of the pan. “Could one of them take the house until you’re sure?”
“None,” he said. “They always said they wanted to adopt after me, but they never got around to it. And then my mom kind of just said that car was her new baby. How am I supposed to adjust to being a person? A house, a job, a car? I don’t know if that’s really me.”
“It’s never too late to learn something new.” Andreus raised his glass. “Welcome to the neighborhood.”