The Bad Things

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Chapter 10. Picture

Stormy and I went over to Hayden’s apartment to have dinner. Stormy watched and sang along to the Frozen movie on Hayden’s TV. I sat on the kitchen island in front of him. He had a large vegetable knife.

“What are we having?” I asked doubtfully.

Hayden sat the onions and bell peppers on the counter in front of him and grabbed one. “Chicken Quesadillas. Haven’t you ever had them before?”

“No,” I said. “And I should warn you, Stormy and I are picky eaters.”

Hayden chuckled. “I think you’ll both like it.” Hayden looked up at Stormy as she danced around and sang. “I never thought that movie would ever play on my flatscreen.”

I threw my head back and laughed. “I bet not, mister tough guy.”

Hayden smiled and shook his head. He cut off the top and bottom of the pepper. He pulled out the center part and laid the pepper back down.

I stared as his hand moved impossibly fast with the knife. My stomach twisted in nervousness. “Slow down, Hayden. You’re going to cut your finger off.”

The knife moved, and in a matter of seconds, the entire pepper was chopped into small pieces. He slid the pile of peppers to the side of the cutting board with the knife and grabbed the second one. He completely ignored what I said, unperturbed.

“Hayden. . .” I trailed off.

He looked up at me as he quickly cut up the pepper. “Relax, bebé. It’s how I cut food up.”

“What?” I breathed and shook my head.

He finished the second pepper and grabbed a third one. “Growing up, I played with knives a lot. It freaked my mother out. She wouldn’t let me mess with them inside. I messed around with different types of knives. It always made my mother nervous, but I never hurt myself with a knife. I used to help her cut up food all the time. She got used to it after a while and had me doing it more often. She couldn’t move her hands as fast as I could because of arthritis.”

By the time Hayden finished talking, he had cut up three more peppers. He grabbed the onion next and had it chopped up in an impossible amount of time.

“Hayden, that isn’t normal. I have watched a million cooking shows. Even professional chefs can’t cut up things that damn fast.” My eyes flickered from his hand to his eyes. It was intimidating that he could use a knife at such an inhuman speed.

He gazed up at me, pursed his lips, and shrugged. “I’m not normal, I guess.” Hayden looked as if the conversation made him uncomfortable.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean it that way. I’ve just never seen anything like it. I’ve never met anyone like you.” And I probably never will again.

“Do me a favor?”

“Sure.”

“Go in my room. In my bedside table is my cellphone. Bring it out here to me. I have to call my worker before five. I almost forgot.”

“What do you have to call her for? Don’t you have a house phone?” I asked as I stood up.

“Just to check-in,” he said. “I got rid of the house phone. I don’t need two phones.”

“Sure.”

I went back to his bedroom and pulled his drawer open. I grabbed the cellphone out, which was right on top. My body froze. A picture laid in the drawer beneath the phone. It took me a moment to move.

I pulled the picture out and studied it. It wasn’t a big picture, and it wasn’t framed, but it had significance. My eyes traced the faces in the picture. There were seven people in the photo. The man looked irritated or angry. The woman smiled, but the smile didn’t touch her eyes. The woman and man both had golden hair that shined beneath the sun. The background was a park in Jacksonville. Three of the children stood in front of their parents. The two smallest children stood in front of the older three children. There were two boys and three girls. All of the children had golden hair like the parents, except for one. The tallest child that stood center of the parents had hair as black as midnight and dark skin. He stood out from the others by his complexion and features. He looked absolutely nothing like any of them, not even a little.

A throat cleared.

The picture and phone fell from my hands. I jumped, gasped, and spun around.

Hayden stood behind me, but he wasn’t looking at me. He stared down at the picture with cold eyes. His body tensed up.

“H-Hayden,” I stammered.

Hayden didn’t say a word. He reached past me, grabbed the photo off his nightstand, where it landed, and placed it back in his drawer. He slowly shut the drawer, grabbed his phone, and put it in his pocket. “Dinner is almost done,” he said. His voice was almost inaudible.

My hands shook slightly. I stared after him as he walked out of the bedroom. How long have I been standing here staring at that picture? I swallowed hard. Hayden is sure to be upset with me now. He hates it when I got nosey. The image would have put anyone into shock, though.

I slowly walked back to the kitchen. I heard Hayden on the phone, but it was brief, and he hung up by the time I reached the island.

We ate dinner in an awkward silence. I didn’t know what to say, and Hayden didn’t seem to know what to say either. Stormy talked to Hayden and me, but we were both very brief when we responded to her.

“You two are fighting again, aren’t you?” Stormy blurted out.

Hayden dropped his fork and sighed. He leaned back in his chair and stared at Stormy, unsure of how to answer her question. Hayden’s eyes flickered to mine, clearly hoping that I had the answer.

“No, bug. We’re not fighting,” I said.

“Why are you so quiet?” Stormy challenged. Stormy wasn’t a stupid child. Children picked up on things like that.

I gritted my teeth and shook my head. Irritation bubbled inside of me because I simply didn’t know what to say to her. I hated when I couldn’t give my daughter an answer, and lying to her wasn’t something I liked doing either. My eyes flickered to Hayden’s, hoping he would answer this time.

“When you go to bed, your mom and I have to talk about something, but we’re not fighting. There are just some things that your mother is still learning about me, and some of it takes her by surprise,” Hayden explained.

Wow, he didn’t even lie to her. Admiration swept over me, and I bit my lip to hide a smile. I loved the fact that he hated lying to her as much as I did.

“I can’t know?” Stormy asked.

“It’s just boring grown-up stuff. I’ll tell you when you’re older,” Hayden said. He stood up and started clearing the table.

“How old?” Stormy pressed.

“I don’t know, bug. Maybe when you’re closer to your teen years. It’s kind of up to your mom,” he said. He kept his back turned as he spoke. Water splashed in the sink as he started the dishes.

Stormy went back to the living room.

I started to help Hayden clean up.

“Just leave it, Abby. I’ll deal with it,” he said.

“I don’t mind,” I argued. I reached for a hand towel, but Hayden’s hand caught my arm.

He spun me around and pressed his lips to mine. The kiss was unexpected, but somehow the timing meant everything. He broke the kiss, and when my eyes fluttered open, they stared into his. “I cooked for you so you wouldn’t have to cook or clean up the mess. Go watch TV with Stormy.”

“Will we really talk about it later?”

“Yes.” He let me go and turned back to the sink.

After Hayden cleaned up, we watched a movie together. Near the end of it, Stormy fell asleep on Hayden’s lap.

“Do you want me to carry her back to the apartment?” Hayden asked. He kept his voice low so that he wouldn’t wake her.

“Can we stay with you?” My eyes flickered to his.

“Sure,” he murmured. He stood up and carried Stormy to the guest bedroom. Hayden came back out and sat beside me. He turned off the TV and continued to stare at it blankly.

“How old were you in that picture?”

“Twelve,” his voice and eyes were emotionless.

I swallowed hard. “That was your parents?”

“Yes.”

“They look. . .” I trailed off. I couldn’t finish my sentence. Hayden already knew what I wanted to know. Why does Hayden look so much different than they do? There was only one thing I could think of. He has to be

Hayden cut off my train of thought. “Different. They’re all blond-haired and blue-eyed. Their skin is the color of milk compared to mine.”

“I’m sorry,” I said quickly. I didn’t want to upset him or offend him in any way. Maybe he isn’t

“Adopted,” Hayden murmured. His eyes flickered to mine. His eyes were the same icy blue as they were earlier when he caught me with the photo. Hayden sighed and looked away. “I was adopted as a baby. My mother and father tried for a year to have a baby. My mother was desperate to have one, and she suggested adoption. She would drive my father crazy over it, so finally, he agreed, but he didn’t want to. He didn’t want me.”

“But they had other kids.” The curiosity and confusion burned in my voice as much as it burned in my mind.

“After I turned two, my mother got pregnant. I turned three a few weeks before they had Tyler. Liberty came second. Liberty and Tyler were only a year apart. The twins Hannah and Joanna came after that, a few years after. After my father got a taste of what it was like to have biological kids, he started treating me even worse.” Hayden bent forward and buried his face in his hands.

“What do you mean?”

“The scars on my back. . .” Hayden trailed off. Hayden looked at me unwillingly, still hunched forward as if he wanted to get off the couch and leave.

I gasped. “They’re from your dad?”

“I got punished over things the other kids did wrong, things that I did wrong, things that weren’t anyone’s fault. One time he fucked me up so bad, my mother had to rush me to the hospital. She thought for sure the son of a bitch finally killed me, but to his dismay, I survived.

“They believe that I went crazy from being jealous because I was adopted, but I know that isn’t true. I don’t know what happened. I don’t even remember it. They tried to push at me to remember what I did and why I did it, but I just can’t. The last thing I recall is my parents arguing about giving me back to the state, like a foster home. All the other kids were in bed, and I got out of bed. That’s all I remember.”

“Then how do they know you did it?” I asked.

“My fingerprints were on the weapon. A handgun that my father had, but I knew how to use it. My dad told them I went crazy because I was jealous of the other kids. He told them that I always had a bad temper, and he wasn’t wrong. I had a horrible temper. I can’t count how many times Tyler and I got into physical fights over petty things.”

“Why do you think you did it?”

“I think. . .” he trailed off. “I’m not sure. Maybe I was tired of being beat by my dad. They said I shot him first. Maybe I was tired of catching the blame for everything the kids or Mom did wrong. I told them that he beat me, but he got out of the charges for that. He would hit me with whips, chains, and belts. He would get the fire poker hot and burn me with it. One time he burned my hand on the stove because, according to him, the pork chops I helped cook weren’t cooked all the way. It was just things like that.”

“Hayden, that never should have happened. Your mother should have done something about it. If he hated you so much, why did they keep you?”

“He found me useful. He made me work a lot, and it brought in extra money for him to use to get drunk. I worked at home a lot too. Some days I would go to school exhausted because of all the work, and by the time I finished my homework, assuming I didn’t fall asleep while trying to do it, I wouldn’t get to bed until three in the morning.”

I stared at him, horror-struck. “It’s amazing.”

“What?”

“After such a rough upbringing, and you’re so good with Stormy. Hayden, it doesn’t make sense. You should be meaner or more harmful, or. . .” I trailed off.

Hayden scoffed. “I’ve killed people and didn’t even wince. Don’t tell me that I’m not harmful. I told you what Mateo had me doing. Working for Mateo isn’t some normal job. I make way more money than I should, and Mateo wants to patch me in as a Latin King,” Hayden said. “Once you’re a Latin King gang member, there isn’t any way of getting out of that. At least, not alive. If I don’t do it, I’ll lose my job there. Even if Harold wasn’t my real father, I did take after him a little, didn’t I?”

“How so?”

“Harold was a member of a gang. I just don’t know which, but after that happened last week, and how he treated me, I think he might have been an Aryan brother.”

“Do you think he’s still in Jacksonville?”

“No way. I would have run into him by now. I heard a rumor that he moved to Miami, but I don’t know for sure. I will say one thing about all of that shit that happened,” Hayden paused for a brief moment. His eyes locked with mine. “The only one who should have died in the house that night is my dad.”

His words sent a shiver down my spine, but I knew he was right. “So, what about your real parents?”

Hayden scoffed. “What about them? From what I understand, my mother didn’t want me, so she left me at the hospital. I probably hate my birth parents for abandoning me just as much as I hate Harold for abusing me. I have no reason to track them down. I could care less.”

“Maybe it isn’t that simple. Maybe they thought you would have had a better life,” I countered.

“They gave me up. They didn’t want me, Abby. What the hell makes you think they want to see me now? Do you think they would be proud of me? I’m such an upstanding guy, right? Half the time, I don’t even understand why the fuck you want to be around me. I don’t even treat you the way that I should half of the time,” Hayden spat. He stood up and walked toward the front door. He grabbed his keys off a key holder near the door.

I managed to catch him before he could make it out the door.

He turned and stared down at me. His eyes were tortured in ways that I couldn’t understand.

My fingers ran through his hair, and I pressed my body against his. “Don’t leave, baby,” I whispered. “That’s not true. You’re really good to Stormy and me.”

Hayden closed his eyes as if to focus. “Don’t even try that bullshit with me, Abigail.” Hayden’s eyes opened, and they were two thick chunks of ice. There was no penetrating them, no matter what I did or said. “I’ve lost my temper with you. I’ve said horrible things to you, and I have lied to you. You deserve better than any of that. Do you hear me? You’re beautiful, smart, funny, and kind. You don’t deserve such an asshole for a boyfriend. You should be treated like a queen, and I can’t do that because every time you get close, I do something bad to push you away. I don’t know how to get close to you. I’m afraid that I’ll hurt you.”

“Hayden, stop it. You wouldn’t, okay? I know that. Don’t leave—”

Hayden escaped my grasp and walked out of the apartment. He slammed the door behind him. I stared at the door with tears in my eyes. I contemplated grabbing Stormy and going back to my apartment, but I didn’t. I refused to let him push me away again. So, instead of going home, I went into Hayden’s bedroom, crawled into his bed, and buried my face in his pillow.

***

The bed shifted, and an arm wound around my waist. I turned around, and my eyes stopped on Hayden. His eyes were apologetic.

“I’m sorry, bebé. I shouldn’t have left, but I don’t take back what I said,” he murmured.

“Why do you act like you want me to leave?” My voice was thick with sleep, and my head felt fuzzy. I couldn’t have been asleep long. I forced myself to stay awake because I knew we had to have this conversation.

“Is that a trick question?” Hayden ran his fingers through my hair and pushed it out of my eyes. “Of course, I don’t want you to leave, but I think it would be smarter if you did, and it would definitely be safer for both of you. What if I can’t protect you? What if I’m the one who harms you?”

“You wouldn’t hurt us,” I said stubbornly.

“You say that like it’s something you know for a fact,” he muttered.

“I do,” I spat. I was now wide awake and upset. I crawled on top of him and hovered over him. “Don’t try to convince me otherwise. Every time you feel your temper slipping, even a little, you walk away from me. I’ve never seen you get upset with Stormy, not even the time that she accidentally broke your favorite movie.”

Hayden rolled his eyes. “That’s not even a good example. She’s still practically a baby. Of course, I wouldn’t get upset with her over a movie. A movie is replaceable.”

“You say that like it wouldn’t be normal for a person to be bothered by something like that. But I remember one night Stormy accidentally knocked over some ornament that Jason had bought the day before at Walmart that was cheap and perfectly replaceable, and he snapped at her for it. You have a lot more patience than you give yourself credit for,” I said.

“I’m on medicine now. That’s the only reason I’m stable,” he said. “You don’t know what I was like before. I blew up over stupid things.”

“Your dad was hurting you at that time,” I argued. “You bottled it up and let it explode. That has nothing to do with medicine or something being wrong with you. Hayden, I don’t think there is anything wrong with you.”

“If you believe that, bebé, there is something the matter with you,” he murmured. “I didn’t come back home to fight with you. I don’t want to fight or even talk about it anymore. You’re too stubborn to leave, and I’m too selfish to make you leave. Go to sleep.”

I continued to straddle him. As I sat up, I threw my shirt off, leaving me in nothing but a thong.

“W-what are you doing?” he stammered. His eyes swept over me, and his lips parted. His breathing quickened.

“I don’t want to sleep,” I murmured. “I have a better idea.” I lowered my face and pressed my lips to his bare chest.

Hayden had already gotten rid of the shirt and jeans he was wearing before he got into bed, so I didn’t have to remove anything.

“Abby,” he whispered.

I had never given oral to Hayden, but he had done it to me several times. I had to wonder if I would even fit him in my mouth. My lips stopped at his boxers. Without a second thought, I pulled his cock out and put it in my mouth. Hayden hissed, and his cock hardened in my mouth. His fingers tangled into my hair. It was my turn to pleasure him the way he had pleasured me, and I loved the sounds he made as I did.

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