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The After: Downhill

By Kilian Nihkolas All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Horror


Matthew Atwood is an unassuming young man, working at an ordinary bookshop, with relatively common goals. He has a loving boyfriend, and an otherwise seemingly normal family life. After a fight breaks out between himself and his father over ideals unshared, strange occurrences begin to befall the pair and all that come in contact with them.

Chapter 1: The Move

Things were moving fast, faster than would be normal for most. However, after being together for roughly seven months, it was fairly obvious that Cameron and Matthew’s relationship was far from normal. All of the things surrounding those last few months were a turbulent mess that they were all too happy to have put behind themselves. Nevertheless, the circumstances had called for a move, and Cam knew Matthew couldn’t do it alone. He would have to give up living in the cushy lifestyle he and his family had grown accustomed to. This new apartment wasn’t going to be anything like their five bedroom home, with it’s multi car garage, and heated swimming pool, all of which seemed excessive to Matt, whom frequently had to remind Cameron that he had grown up in a single family apartment, and had only recently been able to move into a proper house. Most days, a visit to the Ødegård’s was more like a vacation for the younger of the two. They had grown up in two separate worlds really, and now those two worlds were being forced together with some considerable amount of urgency.

It was almost two months ago now, and Cameron could still feel the tension settled over his shoulders from the events that had occurred in such a short span of time.

August 1st, 2016

The start of a new job could be one of three things for Matt, terrifying, exciting, or boring. He personally couldn’t really decide which he felt more now, excited or terrified. At twenty years old, he had held approximately two jobs, a brief dishwashing job at a local restaurant, which he ended up leaving because he just didn’t see it working out, and another as a check out clerk for a grocery store, which he managed to get fired from. To be honest, he’d felt terrible about it. The feelings of dread had followed him through nearly every subsequent interview, but here he was, standing happily behind the counter of a book store, his fingertips holding fast to the smooth, dark varnished wood. He and Cameron had been dating for roughly five whole months now and it felt like things had finally solidified. This job would be the icing on the cake. Most of their friends often made reference to the fact that they were showing signs of imitating one another, and though they joked about it, it silently made them feel as if things were headed in the right direction as far as their relationship was concerned.

At this point in his life, all Matt wanted to concentrate on was making enough money to help himself, one day, to get a suitable apartment, and to afford surgery. Cameron understood the situation, and that was all he could have asked for- but he knew he would have to speak with his parents at some point. Today was simply not that day. This particular morning had yet to see many customers, but Matthew’s mother was eager to visit him at his new job. In earnest, he had informed her of the location of said job, and now he would certainly regret having done so. It was roughly around noon when his mother arrived at the neighbourhood bookstore, searching the floor for her child with the lightest of hearts.

If there was nothing more obvious, it was the family resemblance that Matt shared with his mother, they looked so similar, they were often asked if they were sisters. Today, however, Margaret Atwood could not find her child upon first glance. At the back of the shop, stood a tall, slender young man, dressed in a white dress shirt, black slacks, with matching dress shoes, and what seemed to be a black wide brimmed fedora, but her prize was nowhere to be found, and the idea of walking up to said stranger was not at all on her mind as her eyes traced the stores inhabitants. She would find her child on her own.

After putting the last shipment of books up, he glanced over just in time to catch the back of his mother’s head turning about the corner of an aisle. She would look up and down every aisle if she absolutely had to, and this particular realization, terrified Matthew. Diving behind the furthest shelf of books, he quickly yanked his hat from his head to let a thin, mid-back length braid, topple down his back. Swiftly snatching his nametag from off his chest he rushed down her aisle and cleared his throat, waving one empty hand in attempts to get her attention,” Mom! “ - he called out, using a higher pitched voice than he normally would have when out in public, as he stepped to her side. “ Hey mom... “ - the young man smiled, looking just a touch nervous standing next to her.

“ Oh, Madalyn! “ - she cried out in surprise, before ducking her head bashfully, only just realizing she had spoken up just a little too loudly for a bookstore. “ Maddie honey,” Margaret began again in a more hushed tone of voice,” I looked all over for you! I wanted to wish you good luck on your first day of work. “ the elder woman beamed with pride, touching her daughter’s arm ever so slightly. The name hit Matt’s ears with some measure of resistance as it seemed all the happiness had soon drained from his face. “ I thought you were a boy! “ she chuckled innocently as she straightened out the dress shirt upon his shoulders,” Are you sure this is how Rose wanted you to dress for work? It seems so.. Boyish. Honestly, it really looks terrible on you. “ she mumbled out loud to herself. “ Speaking of which, Maddy, where is your name tag? Don’t tell me you lost it already... “ - the look on her face read that this wasn’t something terribly uncommon to her child, and she was often having to fetch new things for her.

“ I’m just trying to be stylish mom.. A-androgyny is really in these days... “ Matthew smiled as he rubbed the side of his neck and wet his lips which were now drying with his sudden onset of anxiety. “ Ah- yeah, the company that does the printing, printed the wrong name on the tag or something, so I have to wait for a new one... but it’s no biggie, really. “ - he chuckled nervously,” Well thanks for dropping by! “ The sudden end of conversation caused his mother some confusion as he put the hat back on his head without fixing his hair. Carefully pressing her by the shoulders towards the door, Matt offered her what was at best, a nervous smile,” I really- really have to get back to work you know, busy day and all, and I don’t want to get chided for not working! It was great seeing you mom, thanks for coming. Love you! “ he almost panted as he slid her outside, closing the door behind her with an over exaggerated wave that she could just barely make out through the glass. Accepting that her child had to have been nervous on her first day, Margaret Atwood shrugged off the awkward incident and smiled, offering a wave in return before leaving to attend to her own business with an amused shake of her head...

Quickly snapping his badge back onto the pocket over his chest, Matt shakily tucked his hair back into his hat and fixed his bangs, silently mulling over how mortified he felt from almost having been caught by his mother. From his side, the owner of the shop, an older woman with greying hair, stepped up to place a gentle hand atop his shoulder,” It took me every ounce of courage to deal with my father when I came out Matty... “ - she spoke softly, offering him the kindest of eyes,” She loves you, I can tell, so don’t hate her for being blind. “

The words sat on his ears for a moment as he stared at the ground, wringing his own hands together for just a moment as he tried to calm himself down,” I know she loves me, but I know my father, and he could convince her that I was literally Lucifer himself, and my mother would believe it.. “ Closing his eyes, the young man swallowed down the lump in his throat and let a stream of cool breath pool from between his lips. Cameron. He spoke his name within his mind, the flash of his boyfriend’s kind face, laughing, holding his hands, and kissing his knuckles lit up his darkness. After drawing in another breath, he repeated his name and let the weight roll off his shoulders. Cam, more than anyone else, accepted him for who he was. It often made situations where he would otherwise feel so alone, feel so much easier to handle, just knowing he had his love.

“ Thank you, Rose. “ he let out one last heavy breath before straightening up and opening his eyes,” You really are the greatest boss I have ever had. “ Here, Rose let out a soft chuckle as she dismissively wafted her hand, and began to wander off,” You say that now, but today is your first day. Wait until you’re here for a year! “ - she teased, before meandering off into the backroom to retrieve some more things to do. Despite her dismissal, Matthew was still grateful for her presence. He doubted he would have felt so at ease, working at another job with someone who didn’t even understand his circumstance. Rose would undoubtedly know what that whole situation was like, having come from a particularly unaccepting family, all save for Cameron’s mother. Rose, herself, was also transgender, and had been living as a woman full time, for quite a few years now. She was a blessing, Matt mused inwardly as he too found himself returning to the work he’d already pulled out.

Life would carry on much the same way for him for the next few weeks, albeit without the constant visitation from his own mother. Somedays he would hazard eating lunch with Cameron when he wasn’t attending classes at the local university, others offered the much welcomed company of his boyfriend’s mother. She was such a lovely, open minded woman. The days left him feeling blissful, up until he returned home, where he had to put back on that mask his family had grown to accept as him, all of them none the wiser to his struggles. He knew he couldn’t mention being trans to them, his father certainly wouldn’t understand, and his brother was, in short, an asshole. His mother was the most likely to accept him, but knowing his father had his claws in her meant that she would undoubtedly go along with anything he said. Their relationship wasn’t exactly the healthiest, and it left Matt feeling as though his mother barely afforded herself her own personality. Nevertheless, this was his living situation at the moment.

Steadily approaching the end of his first month working at the bookstore, Matthew had developed a sense of routine and calmness to his life. Instead of wearing his outfits to work, he would leave the house with a bag full of his normal clothing, while wearing the clothes his parents expected him to- and then upon getting to work he would hurriedly change into whatever dapper outfit he felt was appropriate for the day, followed by his most favorite hat. The last Friday of the month, Matt had left his home in a rush, cellphone unwittingly left on the kitchen counter where nearly anyone could find it and go through it at their leisure.

His younger brother Markus was a rather spoiled guy. For an eighteen year old, he hadn’t ever had to want for much, and whatever he asked for, he got, simply because he was the baby. To be frank, he was a brat. A nosy slacker, who often raided Matthew’s room when he wasn’t home, looking for things to preoccupy himself with. Matt’s fashion was dark, his room kind of suited those preferences and thusly could have belonged to either a girl or a boy, and therefore he’d never had to worry about approaching that situation with his parents. Despite this, he would often come home to find his room disheveled in some form or fashion, due to his brothers inability to keep to himself, and regardless of his desire for privacy, his father felt that if he had nothing to hide, then his brother should have been allowed to go in there anyway. They were a family after all, and there were no secrets between family members- or at least he said as much. Truth be told, everyone in that house had their own “ dark “ secret. Matthew’s just happened to be the more mundane of them, though no less devastating if found out...

Unexpected to get a job, as he’d only just graduated high school, Markus strolled into the kitchen to get himself something to drink at around ten in the morning, drawing from the fridge a rather full jug of orange juice. Setting the jug down on the counter without much attention paid to what was on top of it, he felt the awkward slant as he reached for the cupboard to gather a glass, leaving the refrigerator door ajar. With a quirked brow, the broad shouldered young man leaned his head back enough to peer just beneath the OJ, only to spy his siblings phone.. “ Huh.. “ - he snuffed quietly as he closed the fridge with his foot and tugged the device from beneath the container. Swiping upwards was the only mechanism set to unlock his phone- and that truthfully was all Markus needed to see, to invite himself snooping. With a hop onto the counter, he began poking around in places he ought not to, knowing full well that his sister was going to be out of her mind with displeasure.

After five minutes, he had found nothing really out of the ordinary, that was of course until a text popped up from Cameron. Thinking to pull a prank on the other guy, he quickly put away his orange juice, and snagged a bottle of water instead, before hurrying upstairs to his own room. Upon opening the text he furrowed his brows in confusion. Here, he could plainly see that it was addressed to the wrong person.. ‘ Matt.. ‘ - followed by another message, ‘ Matt, baby where are you? Did you sleep in? ‘. Just to be sure he wasn’t confused by the contents on the phone, Markus had to double check that this message was certainly coming from Cameron, his sister’s boyfriend, as it sounded a little too affectionate to be sent to some random guy, but regardless, he’d have his fun while prying more information out of him. ‘ No sorry, was just finishing getting dressed. What’s up? ’ - he replied, before he began to use his finger to scroll the history between the texts.

An uncomfortable feeling slowly began to settle over him as he read over the chat history, a knot forming in the back of his throat. Countless messages, all addressing this Matt, from his sister’s phone. When they weren’t talking about this person, they were being called his boyfriend. There was absolutely no way this was Madalyn’s phone, she must have gotten it swapped with someone else, but either way- whomever’s phone this was, seemed to have photos of them, and was apparently also dating Cameron. Just to be sure, he searched through the pictures on the phone, and little by little, the story he’d constructed, began to fall apart around him, reaching up to brace one of his knuckle against his lips. There were pictures of his sister, dressed in men’s clothing, standing in what seemed to be nightclub’s with swathes of other men, hanging around them.. And what was going on with her chest? She looked like a boy, and the very thought disgusted him. Matt was looking more like he was some sick alter ego that his sister was walking around as, and less like some stranger. What the hell was she thinking? People could get the wrong idea, and their father definitely wasn’t going to have it.

Before he could see another text come up from the phone, he tucked the phone into his pocket and picked up his own- calling his father before anything else. He wanted to catch this before it had any time to get worse, and certainly their father would be able to fix whatever was wrong with her. He had to, because Markus definitely didn’t know what to do. For the next few hours- Cameron attempted to text his boyfriend, unsure of what had happened. It wasn’t exactly normal for Matt to go so long without saying anything to him. Perhaps his phone had died, but usually Rose allowed him to plug his phone up behind the counter. Days were slow at the bookshop and so if all else was done, he could use that phone to text when he wanted.. Today was no different, but having realized he’d left his phone at home, Matt had opted to keep to himself today, at least until noon. Using the store phone, he called Cameron on his lunch break, surprising him quite thoroughly.

“ Well look who it is! You’re not too good for me after all! “ - Cameron chuckled as he busied himself with making a sandwich in his own kitchen. “ Mmnn.. what do- Oh! You must mean my phone! “ Matthew replied with a laugh as he leaned against one of the shelves of books in the back room,” God, Cam I’m so sorry, I left my phone somewhere. You don’t think I left it at your place last night, do you? I bet you’ve just been texting away haven’t you? “ the younger of the pair laughed softly, rubbing at his own earlobe with guilt. “ Uh.. yeah, no.. It’s definitely not here, I would have heard it go off somewhere in the house... “ - he replied in confusion,” Babe, I think someone texted me from your phone, because I texted around our usual time- and they said they had just been getting dressed.. I thought it was weird and I tried to send another more involved text, but I didn’t get anything back after that.. “

Silence wafted over the phone as Matthew covered his mouth. “ Baby…? “ - Cameron spoke with worry in his voice, as Matt took in a jagged breath,” If my brother has my phone, I am so fucked.. “ his eyes searched the door in front of him as he felt his heart begin to fall through his stomach. He knew his brother. He knew he was a jerk, and he would go through absolutely everything in his phone and then when he found something out of the ordinary, he would take it to their father.. This was their routine, and had been so, for all of his life. God he wished he’d put a number lock or some sort of password on his damn phone, but he had such a hard time remembering things like that, he had worried he would lock himself out. “ Matt, calm down… You probably just left your phone on the bus and some kid found it, thought it would be funny to pull a prank or something. No big deal! Don’t worry about it- if your dad hasn’t barged into the store, then it’s probably fine right? You said he was crazy enough to do something like that.. Right? “ truth be told, Cameron was just as scared, but he wanted to be strong for him- it wasn’t himself he had to worry about right now..

Matthew felt nauseous, he felt like he could collapse at any second with the weight of worry that settled in over him. “ I don’t know what’s going to happen if my dad finds out.. But I can’t just leave. I’m going to have to keep working and worry about it when I get home. “ he swallowed, attempting to reassure himself that as long as his father wasn’t currently there, that everything would eventually be alright, “ I have to go- I have to find something to busy myself with- “ and before Cameron could say another word, the phone went to dial tone. He felt bad, he felt guilty in fact, even if he wasn’t responsible for the incident, but there was very little he could do, shy of trying to go visit the house, and make sure that the phone wasn’t in Markus’ hands, or worse, their fathers...

Snagging up his keys from the kitchen counter, Cameron headed straight for his car, what he would say and how he would handle the situation, buzzing in his mind as he started up the engine and backed out onto the road. It didn’t take him more than ten minutes to get to Matt’s house, but what he saw when he got there brought with it a feeling of utmost dread. Matthew’s father was home, his car sitting ominously in the drive. He had no idea where his brother was at this point, nor his mother. Undoubtedly she was running errands, and his brother had a life of his own- but his father had a rather taxing job. He worked all the time, he worked when most people would be home spending time with their family, but today he was apparently home and the very idea that he had found out about his child’s “ alternative “ life, was enough to set Cam completely on edge. Parking along the side of the road, the tall half Puerto Rican, half Norwegian young man, slid out of his rather expensive, luxury car, eyeballing the house as if it were made up of all manner of unpleasant things....

He didn’t want to go up there, but he knew he had to- for Matt’s sake, to make sure he wouldn’t have anything to worry about, or to perhaps prepare him for the worst. His father could have been home for any reason, maybe he was working from home today. He had no idea, and it was this thought that he tried to convince himself, as he headed up the cement pathway to his boyfriend’s front door, knocking a little more firmly than he would have liked to. As he stood there, he let out a breath, in much the same way Matthew often did when tense, before touching the side of his finger to the middle of his lips as he waited for the door to open. It took a solid five minutes before anyone answered, and when finally the time came, the sight before him made his stomach twist into knots. There he was, Gregory Atwood, father of his lover, standing there with the most emotionless face one could imagine, scrolling through Matthew’s phone with his thumb. “ You know I thought very highly of you, thought you were a good influence on Maddy, but clearly my trust was misplaced… Ever since you came into the picture, Madalyn has been acting strangely. She’s been going out to parties, and staying out later. She’s had a complete change of attitude, and I can’t help but wonder… if it hasn’t been your fault. You and your family have had too much influence over my daughter, and I think it’s time I put an end to it.. “ - he turned the phone to expose the picture of the two of them in the Gay nightclub, to which Cameron opened his mouth to speak but was promptly cut off,” This is proof enough for me. You’re not welcome here anymore Cameron.. As a matter of fact, you can certainly consider yourself my daughter’s ex boyfriend.. “ - he spoke sternly, moving to slam the door in the young man’s face before he could attempt to argue his own points.

Cameron however, would have none of that. The rage that boiled beneath the surface as he stood there listening to Gregory, not only misgendering his lover, but to hear him blamed for Matthew’s gender identity, was outrageous- let alone, the very idea that there was something wrong with him, or what he was doing was truthfully infuriating, and he had a mind to tell him that. “ Your son- “ he shouted, slamming his hand against the door so it would not shut,” Matthew, is a great guy! He is the most kind, and funny, most loving individual I have ever met, and there is not a Goddamn thing you can say to me that will stop me from seeing him. He’s an adult, and I will see him whenever I damn well please! “ he spat fierily, stood amidst the doorway of the Atwood household.

Matthew’s father was not the slightest bit pleased with being talked back to by someone less than half his age, he didn’t like this at all. Hand still firmly planted on the door, he screwed up his face in mock approval. Did he think that this outburst was going to change his mind? Did Cameron mean to try and disrespect him in his own house? Oh no, this was not how things worked, Especially not with Gregory. Now allowing his hands to fall, Gregory began to clap in an equally condescending fashion, coupled together with a nod of his head,” Nice show… “ - he began, before dropping the formality and grabbed the younger man by the shirt, jerking him up the wall nearest to his side. “ Now you listen here you little punk ass piece of shit.. “ - he pressed his finger into his face as he spoke in close quarters, so close in fact that the brunette could feel his breath on his cheek with every word.” If I so much as catch you standing near my daughter, I will shoot you myself. Forget the cops… You will regret the day you ever met her if I see your sorry face around my door again. You’re lucky I don’t kick your sorry ass up and down the street. “ - and with that, he picked him up, and tossed him promptly out the front door, slamming it closed behind him..

Throughout the brief instance, panic had set in alongside the anger, never before having been so violently grabbed and thrust against anything- in his entire life. Cameron’s heart was pounding furiously against his chest as he got to his feet and ran for his car. He had to warn Matt. Furious tears rolled down his cheeks as he headed for the bookshop, knuckles white as he gripped the steering wheel. Once parked, he took a moment to catch his own breath, certain that he could be of no assistance to his boyfriend if he was a crying mess. After a few short minutes, he left the safety of his car and approached the front door of the shop- wiping his eyes against his jacket sleeve, before pulling open the door,” Tia Rosa, I need to talk to Matt, right now. It’s really important, and it can’t wait... “ he croaked, looking at the woman who stood near the front counter arranging a new display.

Turning abruptly from her work as the door chimed, she spotted her nephew with ease, but it was obvious that something was bothering him, given the look upon his face, as he stared at her with an air of helplessness. Rose didn’t need to hear anything more, “ He’s in the back love, take your time okay? If you need me I’ll be up front. “ - Her expression read worried as she extended her long, and graceful arm to point towards the stockroom. Suddenly, it was as if he could feel his heart beating in his ears as he approached the door, a sense of disquiet falling over him as his hand met with the cold metal handle.

In the time it had taken Cameron to head over to the Atwood’s house and make it back to him- Matthew had busied himself with enough work to successfully calm down. It wasn’t until he saw Cam, pale from trepidation, that he returned to the feelings of chaos that was his previous condition. Without a second thought, Matt set the books down he had been holding, staring wide eyed at the reddened, and slightly tear stained face of his lover,” Cam, what happened? “ he asked, not so sure he wanted to hear the answer. Anything was better than knowing he had been outed before he was ready, though admittedly, it felt cold to say that in the wake of his boyfriend’s current state.

Cameron felt, for the first time today, as if the words he wanted to say were stuck in his throat. Looking to his hands for just a moment, he glanced back upwards and into the eyes of his boyfriend, seeing the anxiousness that lingered beneath the surface- and knew he had to give him some sort of reply.. “ Your father.. “ - he began, but that was enough.. Both hands rose to Matthew’s forehead as all the color drained from his face,” He knows.. “ was his grave reply as he slowly turned about, facing his back towards the taller of the pair.. “ He knows.. “ - Cameron repeated the words back to him, as if somehow this made things more permanent. “ And he threatened to shoot me... “ - Cam flared his nostrils defiantly as he moved in to hug the sable haired young man from behind, settling his chin on his shoulder as if to show his lover that he wouldn’t give him up, even under threat of death… but Matthew just pushed away, waving his hand to shoo him off,” Please..don’t touch me right now- I.. I can’t handle this.. “ he spoke in a shaky voice, feeling as if he might vomit right then and there. Shifting just slightly, so as to brace the nearest wall with his palm, Matt took in a shuddered breath, tears stinging at the corners of his eyes as he attempted to keep himself from crying. Why had this happened now? Of all times, now? Right when things had seemed to be going so well... It felt as if the universe was conspiring against his happiness and he was drowning in a sea of contrition.

“ Alright.. “ - Cameron replied quietly, and with a slight tinge of dejection,” Why don’t you just come home with me tonight?” he asked with a cautious tilt of his head, certain that nothing following the incident with Matthew’s father, would be healthy for him. He felt insignificant standing there, watching Matthew being crushed by the weight of his impending doom, and all because of his brother’s spoiled habits.. God, Markus was a fucking douche.. The thought of him sitting there with a shit eating grin, scrolling Matt’s phone, and finding those pictures himself, just boiled his blood.. He hated Matt’s family, considerably. His mother had been raised in a heavily religious family, with his aunt Rose, whom at the time was named Renaldo, but yet here they were.. Aunt Rose, and his mother, the best of friends, even better off in fact, than they had been growing up.. And his mother was accepting of his relationship… Why couldn’t all families be like that? Cameron was fully behind the idea of loving your child as they came, and the idea that someone couldn’t do the same for his boyfriend, drove him mad.. He was more angry than any other emotion, and that alone was enough to keep him silent as he waited for Matthew to respond to his question.

Matthew however, stood there bracing himself against the world, his eyes wide, and his opposite hand cupping the bottom half of his face. He was in disbelief. All the time he’d spent being so careful, was for naught. One small mistake had ruined absolutely everything, and now- now he was certain that the moment he set foot in that house again, he was going to end up wishing he’d never been born.. Hell, at this point, his father sounded mad enough, he wasn’t certain he’d even have a home to go back to. Not that Cameron wouldn’t give him a place to stay, but the idea wasn’t quite clear in his mind, as of yet. Rather than replying to Cameron’s question, he slowly lifted from his prior position as if in a trance, and went to speak in hushed tones to Rose. She agreed to let him go home earlier, knowing full well it was better to take care of the mess before it got any further out of hand, and offered him her second cell phone, just in case something terrible happened. The mere thought of anything more happening than what he was already expecting, caused the slender youth to feel absolutely powerless, as if his life was spiraling out of his own control with no signs of stopping in the foreseeable future.

Glancing back over his shoulder at the stockroom, it was then, that Matthew chose not to tell Cam he was leaving. He just didn’t have it in him to do much of anything now, and so he simply gathered all of his things and began his tedious trek home, opting out of riding the bus today. After all, the slower he walked, the longer he had before he got home, and he needed all the time he could muster in order to think of what to say to his family. There was no sense in changing his clothes now. This was who he was and since his whole family undoubtedly knew, it only seemed right to charge in with his head held high. Perhaps this was what he had needed after all? Despite the foreboding nature of the talk he was most certainly about to have, it now felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He wouldn’t have to try and figure out the right words to let his family know that he was Transgender, really- his brother had done all the hard work for him. The only threat this situation posed, was the potential loss of his mother’s trust. He knew his father could be cruel, cruel enough to force him to break the news to her in person, if it hadn’t already reached her. He’d make him watch her cry, wanting him to feel guilty for the desire to be happy. It wasn’t that far from the truth either, he knew his father was capable of far worse things than this, they just had never been directed at himself before. How anyone could be so cruel to their own family was beyond his comprehension. No, the more he thought about it, the more he realized just how terrible of a person his father truly was. There was something honestly wrong with that man and he couldn’t figure out, for the life of him, what had happened to make him so callous and controlling.

Stopping halfway home, he got a white mocha latte to help imbue himself with the courage necessary to face his family, knowing it would take some divine levels of bravery to do what he was about to do. Sitting at a small table for a moment, he went over the points that they could potentially attack him from, unsure of what he’d say just yet, but he figured ‘ This is who I am, and you can’t change me. ’ - would be a good place to start.

After mostly finishing his drink, he headed on his way, repeating those words to himself to try and build up his defenses. It wasn’t much, but it did a decent enough job. The idea that people who were meant to love him, had decided to hate him for being himself, helped spur him on as he nearly stomped down the sidewalk. This was his life, and they had no say in who he was, or what he wanted to be, whatsoever. Even with all the pep talks he’d given himself along the way, that feeling of terror crept back up inside of him once more as he set his unsure feet upon the first slab of cement, just outside his family house. He felt cold as he approached the door, as if his entire body had suddenly caught a chill. Perhaps he could preempt his brother and father from being on the offense if he got inside quietly. Carefully setting his drink down at his feet, he pulled his keys from his pocket and tried to hold them still while his main hand twisted the key within the locking mechanism. To his benefit, his concentration paid off. He got the door open silently, and after which, he pocketed his keys. Retrieving his drink from the doorstep, Matthew slid into the house, eyes focused on closing the door just as quietly as he’d opened it, but that would prove to be a mistake.

Unbeknownst to himself, his father had been waiting for him.. He’d sat in the opening to the den, with a chair, staring at the door as if it had committed the foulest of crimes, and when Matthew had come through it, he was up on his feet.

Darkness. Darkness throbbed in front of his face with some relative frequency as a hazy voice floated somewhere above him. “ Get up. “ - the voice demanded aggressively. Where? What had happened..? He felt like absolutely everything was inside of a fishbowl as he was jerked to his feet, his vision coming to him in blurry flashes. Without much time to recover, he was then dragged into the living room and shoved into the couch. Matt could feel his head being tugged rather ruthlessly to the side as his father snatched the hat from atop his head, tossing it into the fireplace adjacent. Here, he slowly wrapped his arms about his chest, in hopes of offering himself some comfort, not yet fully recovered from the blow he’d received to the head. All too suddenly he could feel the front pocket of his shirt half torn off as his father snagged his nametag from it, and tossed that too into the fire. “ I oughta slap the stupid outta you, for this horseshit.. “ - Gregory snarled, his pace menacing as he moved back and forth in front of his child, only stopping in front of Matt to grab his aching face tightly in one hand,” You’re going to go upstairs and take all this shit off - or I will tear it off of you, and burn it like I burnt the rest of it. “ and with a fling of his hand, he tossed the young man aside as if he were a ragdoll..

Struggling to get to his feet, Matthew felt white hot tears burning in his eyes, the inability to repeat the words he had built himself up with, aching in the back of his throat as he staggered to the back of the house where his room had always been. Once he had privacy, he quietly began to sob, the act of which hurt, just as badly as what the mirror hanging on his closet door now revealed. There upon his cheek, lay a rather large handprint left from the impact of his father’s punishment.. Slowly, he slid his white dress shirt off over his head, draping it across his bed as he stared at the reflection before him. He knew that the bandage wrapped around his chest had been a terrible idea. He’d read countless commentaries about how it could cause him health issues in the future, but it was all he had in place of having an actual binder, and the idea of not doing anything about his chest only caused him to feel more helpless as he covered half of it with one hand, and unwrapped himself with the other..

When the task was complete, he focused his eyes on the floor as he began to unravel his braid, letting the hair fall to cover the things that he didn’t want to acknowledge were a part of his body. Before he even moved to begin taking off his shoes and pants, Matt spent a moment investigating the deep lines his father’s handprint had left upon his cheek… He knew if he stayed here, he would never be able to be himself again. Not now that his family knew. Not with his father being the way he was. He wouldn’t ever be able to go anywhere alone, because they wouldn’t trust him. Being under house arrest was the least of his worries, his father had put his hands on him, and that was enough to cause fear in any normal person. At this point, going to church or enduring a prayer meet for the salvation of his soul, seemed a blessing in contrast to the potential of being hit again, or worse. What if his father did something considerably more wicked? Would he live the rest of his days, locked in his room out of fear alone?

Grabbing Rose’s spare phone, Matt texted her in complete silence, letting her know what was happening, all the while, hoping the length in which he stayed in his room didn’t cause his father to become impatient. He wasn’t even sure that he was meant to come back out, but he knew that he would have to in order to leave. After asking that she and Cameron wait outside, Matt packed himself a small bag of things, knowing for certain that by the time he was done with this talk, there was absolutely no way he was going to want to stay in this house any longer. He didn’t feel safe anymore, and that , by far, was enough reason for him to leave. Hefting the small bag over his shoulder, he attempted to make a quiet jaunt out of his room- leaving the bag just beside the front door incase he needed to make a run for it.

Now all that was left, was to face his father for- hopefully, the final time.. He knew what he needed to say, the words still sat in the back of his throat, but the promise of getting hit was still in the forefront of his mind. Moving slowly from in front of the door, he placed one foot inside the den, surveying the entire area as if perhaps the place might have been strategically filled with landmines. There by the fire, he saw his father, hunched along the hearth as he pushed his favorite hat down into the flickering wood with a fire iron. Perhaps the sight would have filled a normal person with conviction, but truthfully, he was still afraid of his father. Years of living together had proven as nothing more than a form of ownership for the older man, because in the end- he was certainly willing to break their bonds by laying hands on him… Regardless, he knew that if he didn’t speak up- he would never forgive himself. He would feel as though his father had won, and that was just unacceptable. “ I don’t know who you are… Or who you ever were? But you can’t just put your hands on people and expect them to want to do as you ask them to. You can’t force me to be who you want me to be! “ - Matt spoke fierily, pointing at the dress he was forced to put on,” This was never me! This was who you told me to be, and if you loved me, you would listen! Don’t you even care that I’m unhappy with my life?“ he panted, feeling as though he might start crying again as he stared over the length of his father’s back as the man stood there stoically, unmoved by his words. “ Not even apologetic?” - the younger of the two scoffed,” I should have figured.. You don’t care about anyone but yourself! I’m tired of it! I’m tired of the way you treat me, and I’m tired of what you do to my mother. She’s not even a real fucking person anymore. Yeah, I know you’ve been keeping her on medication for the last several years… It makes her dull in the head and that means you can say whatever you want to her and she’ll follow- but I’m not going to let her live like that forever Gregory… “ now that he’d finally said what he’d always wanted to say, Matthew felt powerful, and so in that moment, he stood upright, his hands pinned to his sides in fists as he awaited some sort of reply.

Mister Atwood let the embers flicker in the depths of his eyes, his hand wrapped tightly about the fire iron that continued to prod the remains of Matthew’s cherished possession... It was as if the world suddenly made sense in his eyes. Some of the things that Madalyn was saying- had seemingly seeped in… others just sounded like garbled baby talk. One thing was true however, she’d managed to realize what he had been doing to their mother, and there was no possible way he was going to let her ruin that... Turning his head to look over his shoulder at the young person in his company, almost knocked all the wind out of Matt, the act seeming creepy and almost inhuman. Why was he looking at him like that? Was he distraught? Was this what his father looked like when he was sad? All at once, Gregory swung the rest of his body around, taking that iron across Matthew’s face, unintentionally hooking his mouth, and much like a fish caught on his line- tore open his cheek. Matt let out a terrifyingly pained cry as he was jerked to the side by the sheer force his father had wielded. The ache was so intense that even as he moved to shield his mouth with one hand, and prop himself up on the ground with the other- he was already feeling as if he might pass out.. As cold as he’d felt approaching the house initially, he now felt a million times worse… This was what real shock felt like, eyes dilated from the pain as his father then proceeded to get in a few more good cracks at his sides with that fire iron, toppling him to the floor before he could even raise an arm in defense.

There was so much blood, and it seemed as though the very sight of his floor being covered in that crimson fluid, sent the elder Atwood into a frenzy, taking off about the house to swing that fire iron into almost anything he could find. Matthew was left by himself now in the den, and he knew that this meant he had to get out, but he could barely move. The sounds of destruction echoed through the house as he attempted to pull himself up to his feet, braced ever so slightly against the couch. Everything was going black again, but this time he was on the verge of losing consciousness. He had to focus on staying awake, but it was so damn hard. As he sat there huddled against the cushions he could hear his father’s chaos slowly making it’s way back, and in that moment he recalled that Cameron would be waiting outside for him by now… As if by some measure of fate, the car horn sounded out front- as his boyfriend grew weary of the length of time in which it had taken him to come meet him, and his aunt. Hanging his head forward as he held his hand over his mouth in attempts not to choke on his own blood, he got to his feet, moving for the door once more. The repeated blaring of the car horn drew with it the attention of Gregory however, and he rushed at the fragile young man, whom crouched for his bag by the door. Matt almost blindly skirted his father as he struggled to escape, a task made more difficult by fear, and the fact that he was using his less dominant hand. Sat in the passenger’s seat of his aunt’s car, Cameron nervously reached across to press the horn again, watching the door for any signs that his boyfriend would soon be outside, and the moment that door budged even an inch- he was out of the car and hurrying to Matthew’s side, only… as he approached, he realized that he was bleeding. Why the hell was he bleeding? It would almost seem as though he had been stopped by some intangible force, as Gregory paused at the door once Matt was gone, staring into the car to meet eyes with Rose. Tucking the iron behind his back, to hide it away from sight, he contemplated whether or not he ought to go out after his child. If he chased Madalyn outside, he knew that he would get caught for what he’d done, so instead the answer seemed rather plain to him as he closed the door gently and began wandering the house in a mindless stupor.

“ M..Matt? “ - Cameron asked cautiously, unsure if whether the young man could even speak. He didn’t know what he was about to see, but as his lover pulled his hand back from his face, the the mere sight of the wound itself, made pause to dry heave. Matthew was pale, and he felt weak, but like the savior he always felt him to be, the moment he was stable enough, the brunette stepped in to wrap him in his arms in attempt to help him to the car. The comfort of being in Cam’s arms was enough to let his body know that he was secure, and within the first few steps, the shorter of the two, went absolutely limp, and passed out. The drive to the hospital was filled with distant voices, but as he lay in the backseat of the car, he could feel Cam brushing his hair from his face and speaking softly to him, letting him know that everything was going to be okay now. Unfortunately, despite Cameron’s desire to tell the hospital that Matt’s father did this- he didn’t have the details. He couldn’t say for certain if it was his brother or his father, or what had even happened, and the fact that his dad was a notably honorable Sheriff with the local police, made everything worse. The only thing he could say was that he didn’t know what had happened. They knew who had hurt him, and why, but they didn’t know how and that was enough to keep them from speaking. They needed to get him out of that house, that was for sure. There was no way they were going to send him back to that.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Mister Atwood spent the next several hours or more, cleaning up what mess he’d made of the house. He wanted no evidence left of what he’d done to Madalyn, and if he could help it, he wanted no questions from his wife, or his son. Once the task had been accomplished in record time, he washed himself up and headed out to drink with his buddies...because what else did you do in Melbourne on a Friday night?

Margaret returned home later that evening with arms of groceries, to an eerily empty home, and nobody to help her unload the car. The furniture that had been ruined was disposed of, so therefore missing, the blood on the carpet and some of the couch had been cleaned from existence, and yet there was no one home to explain what had happened to her things. “ Honey? “ - she called out to her husband, curious as to whether or not he’d come home from work yet. When she received no reply, she decided to check for her children,” Markus? Madalyn? Are you home? Has anyone started on dinner yet? “ - and yet still, no reply. Typical. With a gentle sigh, she went about the process of unloading, and unpacking all the groceries by herself. Once finished, she pulled her phone from her pocket and meandered into the kitchen once again, so as to pull out the things she would need for dinner that evening. ’ I’m thinking taco night ’ - she texted to all three, receiving back only a single reply from Markus that read ’ cool ’. Pursing her lips at the lackluster reply, she began to cook with little worry as to why her furniture was missing, or why no one else seemed to be around. In truth, she didn’t have much on her mind at all other than making sure to make dinner.

Setting her spoon down on the counter, Margaret moved to the fridge to fetch the shredded cheese she would need to mix into the meal, and as she bent down- she suddenly felt as if someone were standing nearly right behind her. Leaning up to glance behind herself, she saw nothing but her hamburger meat browning away on that stove top and so, continued to sift through the bottom drawer of her fridge. From only a few feet behind her, she heard a clatter of something hitting the floor- and shot upright to see the flat ended, wooden spoon she had been using- on the floor, near to the middle of the kitchen. How on Earth had it managed to get so far? “ Must have rolled.. “ she mused aloud as she snatched it from the ground, only to wash it off with a shake of her head, completely ignoring the smallest of details. Towards the back of the kitchen, sat a back door with a long pane of glass in it- reflecting the sight of Missus Atwood, working diligently on dinner, but just beyond her head, one could see the bookshelf in the den. On it, sat a small picture frame that housed an image of Matt, dressed in the clothes he so despised.

Opening the cabinet above her head, she blocked the reflection of the bookshelf from sight, as she fetched from the cupboard some seasonings, only to jump in fright as she heard something topple to the ground in the den. Jerking back to look into that empty room, she swallowed thickly, her hand clutched to her chest. With little care to the food, she began to walk towards the room, eyes wandering over the remaining furniture within.. Was there a robber in her house? “ H-hello?” she called meekly, bracing the door frame as she saw not a soul within. As Margaret moved to pass through the room, she stepped onto something just brief enough to cause her to jump once more, out of surprise. “ Oh for heaven’s sake! “ She laughed softly, pulling her foot back, as she knelt down to pick up the photo from the ground,” So you’re the culprit? “ - she spoke playfully, turning over the picture to look at it, before setting it back on the shelf. It was there that she sucked her teeth in disapproval. “ Well shoot... “ she murmured, spying a long, jagged crack across the glass, not on a corner, or a spiderweb here and there, but a line. A jagged cut, straight across the middle of Matt’s mouth. “ Now the glass is ruined.. “ - Margaret mumbled to herself, beginning to pick the shattered pieces of glass from the frame, woefully unaware of how seemingly coincidental that fracture really was...

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1. Chapter 1: The Move
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