The Smile Has Left Your Eyes

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Chapter Two

Aspen

I made my way out the front door with my backpack and baseball bag hanging off my shoulders. I lumbered toward the park a couple of blocks from my house, the sun just beginning to set and the sky full of sun-kissed clouds, creating a nice, warm array of colors. Setting my stuff down next to a pole, I walked across a sandpit and placed myself on the rubber seat of a swingset.

I didn’t swing, though. I didn’t kick my legs or bask in the feeling of hot wind blowing through my hair. I simply sat there, staring at nothing. It wasn’t hard to pass time. My mind had a way of making hours seem like seconds.

The sky had quickly shifted into a dark blue, my surroundings illuminated by streetlights. The post-sunset night sky clued me in that my parents had probably gotten home from work, meaning it was alright for me to head back.

I went through the garage, quickly throwing my dirty uniform into the wash on my way in. It was eerily quiet, making me assume that neither my parents nor brother were here. Seems like going to the park was a waste.

The door to the garage connected directly to our kitchen. I wound around the center island that mirrored the marble counter and the brown cabinets stacked beneath it, passing the dining table just feet away. The sound of television filled the empty living room, the only actual sign of human life in the pristine house. Even the long couch placed under the picture window was spotless, minus a single stain covered by the purposefully placed decorative pillows. My dad believed it was a wine stain, and I’d never bothered to correct him. Lightly stomping up the creaky staircase with a tight grip on the railing, I ignored the false images of a happy family of four garnered on the white walls. There was one in particular that always made me shiver: Alex’s hand rested on my shoulder, and to any unsuspecting individual, we looked like two close brothers, but when I saw it, all I could see was the way his fingers dug into the thin fabric covering my bicep, leaving bloody nail marks across the bruise in the pressure’s wake. It was his way of telling me not to let my smile slip.

Once through the long hallway on our second floor, I entered the last door, throwing all my bags on the floor of my room. I felt like getting straight into bed and passing out; I didn’t know how I managed to do the things I did every day. My tank was always running on empty. School, baseball, hiding my true self, being surrounded by people that probably didn’t even like me... it was a lot.

I stripped and went straight to my shower, where I spent the next hour reveling in the scalding hot water with throbbing, stinging wrists.

When I got out, I stood in front of the hulking mirror that covered the entire wall. I used my hand to wipe away the condensation, focusing on my blurred body. I hated looking at myself, yet somehow, the scars made me proud—a warped type of pride that brought about a sense of disgust and self-hatred.

I was in good shape. Great shape, even. As a catcher, squatting was practically a part of me, resulting in my thighs being thick and made of nothing but muscle. It didn’t matter though. Not really. It wasn’t like I could show them off; there was no one I wanted to see my bare skin beside Rafe, but after I’d mutilated myself like this, I didn’t want him to see, either. The insides of my thighs were adorned with long, white, jagged marks. Some of my oldest scars. I rarely cut there anymore because it chafed against the rough fabric of my baseball pants too much. My stomach... I regretted doing it there, sometimes. And my arms, they weren’t even comparable to barcodes at this point. The lighter undersides looked like they’d been through a shredder. I didn’t regret that at all.

Sometimes there was this voice in my head. It wasn’t my own, but at the same time, it was. It told me to do it.

End it.

There’s no point.

You’re miserable and could make it all stop, just like that.

Ah. There it was again. That feeling. Like I was going to explode if I didn’t somehow release it. I stared absentmindedly at the drawer I kept my razors in, my face blank and void of expression, finally relaxed and matching my eyes for the first time today.

I shouldn’t. I knew I shouldn’t. I’d already had my share this morning and if I did it again so soon, the cuts would never heal. That would be an issue when playing baseball. A welcome issue...

It was painful and nearly impossible to drag my eyes away from the thing my head was telling me I wanted—needed—so badly.

One foot after the other, I pried myself away, grabbing a towel and exiting the bathroom. I threw on another clean long-sleeve and a pair of shorts. My wet hair, now a dark, chocolate-brown, dripped onto my clothes.

The droplets falling from the tips of my messy bangs and onto the floor fascinated me, occupying my attention and allowing me to unfocus in a dangerous way. There wasn’t a lot left for me anymore. I may still have had baseball, but I was slowly losing Rafe more and more every day. Soon, I wouldn’t have enough excuses to convince my mind to stay alive.

Fourteen years. That was how long we’d been best friends. At eighteen now, we’d spent the majority of our lives next to each other. Over a hundred and sixty-eight months. I knew it was just a matter of time until the long clock stopped ticking… since the boy he became friends with was long-gone. Now, I was playing a waiting game. One day, I’d wake up and find myself alone. This wasn’t an if type of situation. It was a when.

The growling of my stomach disrupted my thoughts, forcing an annoyed grunt out of my mouth. Teresa had even made me food. I could’ve stuck around after Rafe left—they wouldn’t have minded.

I made my way down to the kitchen and silently made a small bowl of cereal. I scrolled through social media as I shoveled spoonfuls into my mouth. The baseball team looked like they were having fun, if Rafe’s story was anything to go by. He had an enormous smile plastered on his face as he recorded himself and the guys playing a prank on Devin in the background.

He didn’t smile like that with me anymore. But why would he? I didn’t do anything to make him smile. Jokes? I scoffed at the thought. My sense of humor disappeared a long time ago.

Not wanting to see any more, I shoved my phone into my shorts’ pocket.

The creaking of the front door startled me and in walked Alex.

“Where’s mom and dad?” I was hesitant with my words, my heart rate already picking up. It thumped in my chest and pulsed throughout my entire body.

His light-brown hair bounced as he snickered, “They’re going on a business trip.”

“How long?” I asked in a quiet voice.

“They’ll be back Monday.” He closed the door behind him.

“Why didn’t they tell me?”

“Mom texted me and told me to tell you.” The corners of his mouth twisted into a sinister smile.

“Oh,” I gulped.

“So…” he drew the word out, slowly making his way toward me while dragging his finger along the table. “Did the fag win his little game today?” He cocked his head to the side with a disturbing glint in his eyes.

“We won,” I mumbled.

“You won? Hmm, that doesn’t sound like a fair game.” Alex clicked his tongue.

I furrowed my brows, my worry spiking.

“To lose to a fag? They must have really sucked. I wonder how they would feel if they knew what you were. You’re a catcher, right? Doesn’t that mean you sit right behind the batters?” His jaw ticked and it was like a switch flipped in his mind. “Don’t tell me,” he said with a haughty laugh, “do you play catcher just so you can stare at other guys’ asses?”

“W-what?” I stuttered. “Of course not!”

I’d been playing the position since I graduated from t-ball, and no one had those sorts of feelings and thoughts at that age. And even if I was old enough, it was still absurd.

“Holy shit. You’re so fucking disgusting. Maybe I should just tell everyone. I wonder what your little friends would do when they find out you’re a filthy cocksucker. Oh! And our parents! Shit, they’d probably throw you right out!”

I clenched my jaw.

“I have no reason to not expose you. Should I just... leak it?” Alex teased.

“Don’t,” I said in a quiet-yet-firm tone.

“Don’t what?” he drawled. “Don’t tell everyone the truth? You want me to lie for you?

“I’ll do anything, so don’t,” I pleaded. “You promised.

“Hmm, well, I guess our past arrangement wasn’t so bad. It’s kinda fun, don’t you think?” He smiled. He smiled. That sick fuck. “Come on, Aspen. It’s fun, don’t you think?” Alex seethed, the words overenunciated as a threat.

Shit.

Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.

Damn it... Here we go again. No matter what I replied, the outcome was always the same.

I kept my mouth shut, the bit of pride I had left keeping me from giving him what he wanted.

“Hey, Aspen. Answer. Me.” My brother had a crazed look in his eyes.

I didn’t look up to meet them and instead stared at my half-eaten dinner.

“Fucking answer me!” Alex’s palm came slamming onto the table, rattling my bowl, and causing the spoon to fall onto the wood. I jumped at his outburst. “Are you scared of me? I’ll give you something to be fucking scared of!

His hand flew to my head, clamping onto my hair, and yanking me to my feet. I wanted to scream, to yell, but that would just make it last longer. I could fight back, I really could. I was a couple of inches taller than him and we were about equally muscular. But the price of fighting back was being outed, and that was something Alex had been reminding me of since I was in seventh grade.

My hands tried to grab onto my brother’s arms to lessen the hurt of the pull, but it did little to help. Once I was standing, he let go and sent a closed fist into my face. The force sent me to the ground and before I could get back up, his foot dove into my rib cage, kick after kick.

Alex didn’t stop until I was coughing and gasping for air.

“Come’ere!” He grunted as he grabbed my hair with one hand and my shoulder with the other, his fingers curling into the large bruise he gave me the other day. “Don’t want to get any blood on the floor, now, do we? If mom and dad see anything broken or dirty, I’ll have no choice but to tell them the truth,” he chirped.

I willed myself not to cry. I’ll just take it like I always do.

Alex didn’t give me a chance to ground myself and instead dragged me up the stairs. I felt the burn of my skin scraping and being peeled off by the rough wooden steps. Large, painful bruises were already forming where my body hit the harsh ridges of the step above, primarily the vertebrae at the base of my neck and the small of my back. The bastard didn’t even give me the opportunity to get up and walk on my own two feet.

When I got stuck on a step, Alex swore and told me to stop making things difficult before shoving the heel of his foot into the area where my shoulder and neck connected. I clenched my teeth, muffling the pain, trying to find release through my voice. By the time we were finally at the top, my entire body shook.

“What? Done already?” my brother scrutinized. He was disappointed. “Don’t be such a goddamn baby. You’re literally fine. There’s no need to overreact.”

I kept silent, not wanting to agitate him any more. With one last kick, Alex wandered back down the stairs and out the front door. It was fine. I was fine.

I crawled to the wall, struggling to prop myself against the cool surface. I set my legs out straight in front of me and stared at the red marks on my calves and shins. Looked like shorts were out until they faded... Fucking hell, that was the only part of my body I didn’t need to cover.

I stumbled trying to stand, using the side of the wall as a crutch as I slowly hobbled back to my room. I closed the door behind me and collapsed onto my bed, fishing my phone out of my pocket to be met with a thoroughly cracked screen; it was just after ten p.m. I placed the device on the side of my bed next to my pillow and let the darkness consume me.

Whether that resulted from my physical fatigue or the deep, depressing abyss that was my thoughts and mind, they both led me to the same place.

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