“Storm, you’re going to be late.” A voice said from somewhere in the dark. Storm looked around and saw only pure darkness, then a pinpoint of light bloomed, and he was back in the upstairs of the Armstrong mansion.
“Storm, wake up.” The voice said again. He looked around once more and saw Phoenix standing there. She stood at the top of the stairs and had her arms crossed over her arms. She wore the same dirty t-shirt from the night before. He could see dirt smudges on her sunken cheeks, her pale skin looked waxy from the layers of built up oils.
“What’s going on? I’m not asleep.” Storm said confused and began to walk closer to Phoenix. But each step he took Phoenix seemed to stretch away five steps until Storm was running down an endless hall.
“Storm! Wake up! We’re going to be late.” The voice said again and there was a slap on Storm’s foot that shook him from his dream and into reality. He sat up with a gasp and looked around as the Armstrong mansion melted away into his room. His mother stood at the end of his bed with a stern look on her face, then turned and opened the blinds over his window filling his room with bright summer sunlight. Storm quickly threw the blanket up to help shield his eyes from the bright morning light. As his eyes adjusted, he lowered the blanket and looked up at his mom. She was five feet five inches and had blonde hair that shone like spun gold in the early morning light. Her bright blue eyes looked down at him with concern.
“Come on. You’re gonna be late opening the store and your dad and I are gonna be late getting to his appointment. What time did you get in last night?” She asked as the concern in her eyes melded into her voice as well. She quickly looked her son over and noted that he still wore the same clothes as he did yesterday and that his hair was a mess on his pillow.
“Probably around one or two.” Storm answered and stretched his body out, causing several joints of his to pop. Each pop caused his mom to cringe slightly.
“You weren’t drinking, were you?” His mom asked as Storm sat on the edge of his bed and ran his hands through his hair, pulling a few twigs and leaves out that had gotten tangled in there.
“No, Brad was drinking and daring Kevin and I to do some stupid sh…. stuff. Kevin ended up breaking his ankle and I got stuck at one of the dares. So, I had to walk home.” Storm explained. His mom gasped and covered her mouth, hearing about Kevin. Storm was his parents’ only child, but they cared about Kevin and Brad as though they were theirs as well. Storm went to his dresser and grabbed some clean clothes and walked to his bathroom to get changed.
“Is he going to be ok?” His mom inquired. Storm dressed quickly and ran the water to get his toothbrush ready.
“Yeah. Brad said that he had to have surgery last night but that the doctor said he should make a full recovery.” Storm then brushed his teeth and looked at himself in the mirror. His hair was sticking up all over the place, from falling asleep with his hair still wet from the rain. After brushing his teeth, he got his hands wet and ran them through his hair, wincing softly as he hit the knot on the back of his head. Once his hair was wet enough, he slowly and carefully ran a comb through it. He walked back out into his room and his mother had left the room. He grabbed a hat from his dresser and pulled his hair back and put his hat on backwards to help keep his hair in check for now. His mom was standing in the little living room, she was scanning her eyes over everything to see if her son was starting to travel down a sordid path. He lived in an over the garage apartment at his parent’s house. He walked to his fridge and pulled a can of energy drink from it and opened it, chugging half of it before setting it on the counter to grab a bottle of Tylenol.
“So, what’s up mom? You were rushing to get me up saying that you were going to be late and now you’re just standing here.” Storm asked as he took a drink to swallow the pain pill. His mom seemed to have a shadow cross over her face. What was normally a bright and cheerful face now looked almost like a statue that had been left to the elements for the last hundred years. All the bright details had left and instead were replaced by a vague impression of what should have been. She shook her head and smiled at him, bringing the brightness back into herself.
“Oh, just worried. But I’m sure everything will be fine dear. Now, don’t forget to take the deposit to the bank. I’ll call you when I find out what’s going on with your father. I love you Storm.” She said and walked over, kissing his cheek before returning to the door and leaving. Storm stood there and watched the door for a while as he heard his dad coughing loudly as he got into the car below him. He then heard the car start and back out of the open garage door then the door shut. But Storm continued to stand there thinking about what his mom had said and how her whole face seemed to change when she didn’t think he was watching. Carter McPherson was a big man, or at least he was. In his prime he was six feet six inches and weighed at least two hundred and fifty pounds. He was a high school football legend and a state champion wrestler. Carter was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given six months to live, that was two years ago. The same time Phoenix said that she started staying in the Armstrong mansion. Six months ago, the cancer had made its way to his lungs. He had lost almost eighty pounds and was a mere shadow of the man that he used to be. Storm took another drink and grabbed his keys heading out the door himself. He walked down the steps to the garage and went outside to his Midnight Blue 2009 Dodge Caliber. Kevin and Brad both made fun of him when he first showed up at their house in the small SUV, but once they all got into the car, they quit teasing him. Kevin had his little Ford Focus which was good for short rides and Brad had his lifted Silverado which was good for hauling things. Storm’s SUV was good for longer trips and more comfortable for the three of them, without breaking the bank in gas. Storm started to drive the twenty minutes to the bookstore that his parents owned and had three things competing for his attention; his dad going in for his fourth round of chemotherapy, Kevin having surgery last night because of him, and the mystery surrounding Phoenix. Brad’s ringtone started to play over the car’s phone system and Storm answered it.
“Hey Brad. How are you doing this morning?” Storm asked. He approached a stop light and looked at the cars surrounding him.
“Well, I’m not as hung over as I was hoping I’d be. Kevin called me about an hour ago and asked when we were going to be bringing the cake with the file baked into it.” Brad said with a yawn. Storm chuckled and took a deep breath.
“Yeah, about that.” Storm started inwardly cringing to prepare himself for the verbal beatdown he was getting ready to receive.
“Bullshit. You’re not coming? That means I have to drive this tiny ass piece of shit Ford again.” Brad complained. Storm couldn’t help but smile at the thought of Brad driving around town in the small Ford car. Brad hated Ford’s and gave Kevin a hard time about having it which in turn caused Kevin to like his little car that much more.
“Dad had to go back up to Chicago. Mom and him just left.” Storm explained. Brad and Kevin knew about Storm’s dad and they did whatever they could to help their friends’ family out. Brad and Kevin knew that Storm was really close to his dad especially right now. Anytime Storm had to cancel plans that he had with them because of his dad they all canceled and just spent time with Carter.
“Oh shit. Sorry man. How’s he doing?” Brad asked, all the frustration draining from his voice to be replaced with concern. Storm pulled up to a red light and sat there and waited.
“I don’t think the treatment is doing its job. I heard him this morning and it was really bad. I honestly think that all this treatment is doing is causing more pain and costing more money.” Storm angrily said, then let out a heavy sigh and hit his steering wheel lightly.
“You’re stuck at the Main and University light.” Brad stated with a chuckle. The intersection was one that all three of them hated. Ever since they changed the intersection to include a thirty second full stop to let pedestrians cross whatever way they wanted and took out the turning on red it has been the bane of their existence.
“Shut up. Hey when you bust Kevin out swing by the store.” Storm told him. He heard Brad light a cigarette and take a deep drag from it and hold back a cough.
“No problem. We’ll bring some food with us since you’ll be cooped up with those books all day.” Brad said and exhaled deeply. Storm was thankful for his friends and knew that he would need them if his dad lost his fight.
“Sounds good. Talk to you later.” Storm said and ended the call. Well that was one thing off his mind. Storm drove the rest of the way to the store thinking about his parents and Phoenix. As he pulled up to the front of the strip mall that the store was in, he saw two people standing outside. One was a tall thin older man with a long wispy white beard. The other one was a heavyset young man that was bouncing from foot to foot.
“Sorry I’m late guys. You ok Mike?” Storm asked as he got out of his car and unlocked the door.
“Yeah.” The young man, Mike, said as he ran past Storm when he got the door opened and rushed straight to the bathroom. Mike was six feet tall and weighed over three hundred pounds. He had graduated two years after Storm. Mike had always been picked on in school until Storm stood up for him and since then he has been following Storm around and trying to act like him. Storm has tried several times to help Mike lose weight, but it never stuck. He recently found out that Mike was diabetic and had been refusing to take his insulin because Storm didn’t have to. It didn’t help that Mike’s family had been very abusive and neglectful towards Mike. Storm had several talks with Mike’s family and they always ignored anything that was said. Storm went into the store to turn the alarm off as the older man came in.
“Hey George, how’s it going?” Storm asked the older man as he went behind the counter to turn on the computer for Storm.
“It’s going, kiddo. How’s your pops?” George asked in a raspy voice. George went to the side of the counter where stacks of books lay and began to sort them. George was a friend of Storm’s parents and helped out in the store to get him out of his house for a few hours a day.
“He’s on his way up to Chicago again. We’ll see how it goes this time. He’s been hurting and hasn’t been able to keep anything down the last couple weeks. They think that I don’t notice, and they don’t talk about it.” Storm said with a shrug. He glanced over to see Mike walk out of the bathroom and smiled at him.
“Hey Mike. What was your blood sugar this morning?” Storm asked him with a voice full of concern.
“Oh, umm. Twenty-three.” Mike said and walked to the fantasy section of the store. Mike was obsessed with fantasy books, he had actually told Storm that he wished he could have been born in a fantasy world. He loved the thought of magic and monsters, knights and dragons and even traveling to other times and dimensions. George stopped what he was doing and looked from Mike to Storm and shook his head.
“You know good god damn that his blood sugar wasn’t twenty-three.” George said with a scoff and went back to sorting the books into piles.
“Yeah George, I know. I don’t know what to do. He is over eighteen and refuses to get help. He says that his family left him here and went to California.” Storm sighed and started to set up the cash drawer.
“Storm…..” A weak voice said from the side of the store. Storm looked over and saw Mike standing there, his face had turned almost a blueish-white and he was sweating heavily.
“Mike? You ok bud?” George asked from where he was standing. Mike took a step towards them and then fell face first to the floor and didn’t try to break his fall. His forehead clipped the corner of a bookshelf and bounced back.
“Fuck! Call 9-1-1!” Storm shouted as he jumped the counter and dropped to Mike’s side. There was a large gash on his head that was oozing blood and Storm had felt that his skin was cool and clammy. Storm grabbed one of the t-shirts that they sell in the store and pressed it firmly to Mike’s forehead. George was on the phone with 9-1-1 giving them the address and a summary of what happened.
“Tell them that he has an erratic heartbeat.” Storm said and heard George relay the message. Taking the cordless handset to the door George opened the door and the sound of sirens wailing in the distance floated in on the summer heat. Within five minutes the ambulance had arrived and the EMT’s took over care for Mike while one of them spoke to Storm.
“Does he have any family around here that you know of?” The EMT asked. Storm stared helplessly as two other EMT’s worked on Mike. The shirt that Storm had used was soaked through with blood and had been replaced with a gauze pad that was getting soaked through as well.
“No. He said that they all left for California a year ago. I know that he’s diabetic, but he refuses to take any medication for it. He said that his blood sugar was twenty-three when I asked him today.” Storm explained as he stood back watching the paramedics get Mike on a backboard to transfer him to the gurney just inside the store. A crowd had started to form outside the store, rubberneckers, Storm spotted some familiar faces. Cindy from the consignment shop next door watched with her hand over her mouth, she had known Storm since his parents opened the bookstore and she had come in and met Mike several times.
“Ok, do you know of any other medical history?” Storm just shook his head and watched as the other EMT’s got Mike onto a gurney and wheeled him out of the store while George held the door open for them.
“Ok, is there a number that you can be reached or any family of his?” The EMT that had been getting the information asked. Storm gave his number and the number for the store, asking to be updated. The EMT nodded and got behind the wheel and drove away, lights and sirens going. Storm and George stood there for a little longer and watched until the ambulance was far enough away that it could barely be heard. George patted Storm on the shoulder and went back inside. The crowd dispersed in a wave of murmurs and whispers. Cindy walked up and gave Storm a hug and rubbed his arm.
“Hey, he’ll be ok.” She said with a smile. Cindy was a small woman. She stood five feet tall and weighed less than a hundred pounds. She had white curly hair and pale cornflower blue eyes that had tears in them. Storm nodded his head in agreement without looking away from the direction the ambulance went. Storm was shaken from his staring when his phone began to ring, he pulled it from his pocket and looked at the number which he didn’t recognize.
“Hello?” Storm answered. There was no one there, only the static of background noise and what could be breathing. The call then disconnected and left Storm staring at his phone. Before he could put his phone away it rang again with the same number.
“Hello?” Storm asked louder. This time the breathing could clearly be heard.
“Listen asshole. I’m not in a good mood so either answer me or you can fuck off.” Storm said and was answered with the click of the call being disconnected. Storm tossed his phone to the counter and went to put price tags on the books that George was separating. Storm then excused himself to the back room and broke down. He had been holding things together so well but the realization that his father was dying and now this with Mike, who Storm thought of as a little brother, was more than he could handle. Storm let out a roar of frustration and punched a wall, sinking his arm up to the middle of his forearm in the drywall.
“Great, now I have to fix this before I get my ass kicked.” Storm said to himself and wiped his face before heading back to the front of the store. George was watching him and nodded at him when Storm met his eyes. Storm gave him a quick smile and nodded back.
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