“Why do I have a feeling that you guys want to speak about something?” Josh narrowed his eyes down to Stef and Adam when they missed hitting the ball for the umpteenth time.
The four of us were at the sports club playing table tennis doubles. Josh and Adam versus Stef and me. And I completely agreed with Josh. I too could sense something wrong with Stef and Adam. They were being way too weird and clumsy today and were totally distracted from the game.
“C’mon! Spat it out,” said Josh impatiently, ” ’cause I no longer wish to be a part of such a pathetic table tennis match.”
“If there’s something that’s bothering you guys, you can always tell us,” I said solemnly.
“Actually we-we---” Adam stammered, visibly embarrassed.
Stef, looking shy herself, blurted out. “Adam and I are boyfriend-girlfriend now.”
That was such a pleasant surprise!!
“Wow! This is such an amazing news!” I smiled widely, “I can’t tell you how happy I am for both of ya!”
I jogged upto them and hugged them tight.
“Been waiting for this since so long!” I said, brimming with excitement, “You guys make such a great pair! When did this happen?”
“Last night,” said Adam awkwardly, running a hand through his hair, “It was a mutual decision. But we didn’t know how to break it to you guys.”
“Yeah, it felt weird actually,” added Stef, smiling nervously.
“There’s nothing to worry about! All’s great, right Josh?” I asked, turning behind to look at him.
“Yes-Yes, ofcourse!” Josh, who had been silent all this while, responded. “This is super cool. Congrats, dudes!”
For some reason, I felt like Josh wasn’t that happy with the news. “Since we’ve got a couple in our midst, it calls for a celebration!” he said cheerfully.
“Josh, there’s something that is bothering you. What is it?” I told him when we were walking on the streets of Crawford Lane. The four of us had been to the neighborhood cafe where we celebrated Stef and Adam with pizzas, garlic breads and coke but I could sense Josh’s low spirits beneath the layer of his grinning face.
“There’s nothing like that! What could possibly bother me except the fear of finding empty boxes of Ferrero Rocher chocolates in your freezer?” he joked.
“Josh, I know you’re upset about something,” I asked quietly. “Are you not pleased about Stef and Adam being a couple now?”
“Alright,” Josh exhaled a breath, “It’s not like I’m not happy with them being a couple, I truly am. Still....I cannot help but think that if at all something goes terribly wrong in their relationship, the special bond that the four of us share might be lost forever....I know I shouldn’t be thinking like this but I-I don’t want to lose you guys....I never had had friends before the three of you ’cause no one took me seriously....”
Damn. When a guy like Josh who always goofs around speaks about something serious and emotional, it sounds really depressing.
“Cheer up, dude!” I told him, “The four of us are gonna be best friends forever. And nothing can ever change that.”
“Thanks,” he smiled a small smile. “And I won’t think of this crap anymore.”
We parted ways at a turn after which I was walking all by myself. As I passed the kid’s area on my left hand side, I spotted Devon’s kid brother Jackson playing with a red ball.
I hadn’t really spoken to Jackson anytime yet but I’d seen him around. He was a really sweet boy with black eyes shining with curiosity every time, his round pink baby face, cute little nose and a smile on his baby lips that could light up anybody’s day! And his cheeks I tell you! You’d want to pull it all day! Such a cutie pie!
I really hoped Jackson doesn’t grow up to be like his elder brother. That’d be a great disaster.
Let’s hope for the best.
But for now, time to make a really good conversation with this little one. With a wide smile on my face, I walked inside the park and towards him. Jackson didn’t notice me approaching him. He was now slowly bouncing the ball up and down when suddenly, within moments, tears flooded his little eyes and gushed down his cheeks.
I grew ashen faced seeing him cry in despair.
“Jackson!” I rushed towards him.
“What happened? Why are you crying?” I said, getting down on my knees in front of him.
“N-Nothing,” he hiccupped, using his baby fists to rub his eyes.
“Tell me, Jackson, is there someone or something troubling you?” I mollified him softly.” Don’t cry. You can tell me, you know.”
“I-I can’t tell you....“he said in a low voice, his gazes dropping to the ground.
I had opened my mouth to speak when....
The sharp voice from behind boomed in my ears, taking both the kid and me off guard. I got to my feet and turned around to see a stony faced Devon with his emotionless eyes fixed upon Jackson....
Jackson was hiding behind me now while peeking at Devon. I could tell that the kid was petrified.
“Come over here, Jackson. Now,” ordered Devon curtly. I could feel Jackson’s tiny form grow stiff behind me.
Devon turned his eyes on me. “And you’re supposed to stay away from him.”
“Who are you to tell me what I’m supposed do and what I am not?” I shot back. “If there’s one person I should stay away from, it is only you.”
“Get over here, Jackson. What’s taking you so long?” shouted Devon mercilessly.
“For God’s sake, Devon!” I said, appalled. “Be soft on him! Can’t you see he’s crying?”
“No one wants your opinion, Eleanor. It’s between me and him. Stay out of it,” Devon retorted.
I was taken aback completely. Devon had never spoken to me like this ever before. And I don’t understand why he was being so hard with his own brother!
“What did you do to him that he is so scared of you?” I demanded sharply
“Even if I’ve been hard on him, he deserves it anyway,” replied Devon impassively.
I was too shocked for words at that sadistic outlook of his.
“Let’s go, Jackson. Or do you want me to drag you along with me? Trust me, I won’t hesitate to do that,” said Devon callously.
And then, Jackson stepped out from behind me and walked towards Devon with short, timid steps. I felt terrible to see the frightened look on the kid’s face.
“You don’t have to go, Jackson, if you don’t want to,” I said softly.
“Really?” snickered Devon. “Let me remind you he lives in the same house as me, which is pretty much unfortunate, but true nonetheless.”
Devon grabbed Jackson by the hand who winced slightly.
“Stop being so harsh on him!He is your brother, Devon!” I said critically.
“He’s not,” said Devon flatly. “He’s just someone’s big filthy mistake. He wasn’t even supposed to be in this world on the first place.”
I felt anger throbbing my pulses at his foul attitude. My hate for Devon had crossed all limits.
“He is a kid, Devon!! What grudge can you possibly have with a six year old kid that you’re treating him so cruelly?” I said fiercely. “What is Jackson’s fault if he is born against your wishes? You can’t be human if you don’t know how to treat a baby.”
Devon’s expressions remained unchanged. He wasn’t affected by any of my words. He still had that cold, unreadable face. He then turned around and started to walk out of the park, tugging Jackson behind him.
I couldn’t just stand there and watch their backs fading off my vision. God knows what’s Devon gonna do with Jackson. I opened my mouth to call out but then Jackson looked over his shoulder at me with a pleading look. He gave me a small, sad smile meant to assure everything’s gonna be fine.
And for his sake, I knew I had to keep quiet for now.
I was anxiously pacing to and fro in my living room. A certain kind of restlessness had groped me. I was worried about Jackson and no matter how hard I tried to fill myself with good thoughts, it just wasn’t working out. I was overcome by a dreadful feeling that Devon didn’t treat his kid brother well and their parents had no clue about it.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to breathe in peace unless I make sure Jackson is fine.
It was the first time I was visiting my neighbors’. I climbed onto their beautifully columned front porch and was just about to press the doorbell when I saw that the door was already slightly ajar. I acted upon my instincts and slowly parted the door open a little wider and stepped inside.
The moment I stepped inside the Parker’s, an eerie vibe whipped me hard on the nerves. As I walked indoors, I felt weird.
There was nothing wrong in the air. It was normal just like the air in other houses but still I found it difficult to inhale it. I was uncomfortable as I looked around. Again, there was nothing wrong in my surroundings. The house was well furnished and looked homely too but then to it felt as though I had walked straight into the mouth of a desert....
There was no one around, not even a faint sound.
I wonder how could Jackson, or for that matter, anyone smile and laugh being at this place. The residence didn’t give out the vibe being warm and welcoming towards visitors. Infact, it’s the kind of house that would make you feel.....depressed?
But the interiors were nothing but swanky. The majestic chandelier hung from the ceiling, the furniture was of a very fine quality, the beautiful mantelpiece that also had a fireplace at the bottom center, artistically weaved carpets spread out on the floor and various wooden and glass artefacts, both vintage and modern, arranged on those wall shelves.
I presumed that the Parkers could have lived in a place such as Beverly hills instead of here if they wanted. That being said, I didn’t think the house would look boastful to any visitor. Rather it looked as if the house was like, trying to conceal the real identities of the family living in it...I wouldn’t say that the family has a Big secret of some sort (or they could have, I don’t know.) but there might be something really bad that needs to be kept hidden. And--
Oh, for Christ’s sake Eleanor, stop imagining things!!
What are you even thinking?? You’ve only been in this house from the past one or two minutes and you can’t draw inferences in such little span of time.
Guess, sometimes, instincts develop a knack of going overboard to judge things.
Everyone is normal. Everything is normal.
So hold your freaky bones together.
I exhaled an uneasy breath. I was already feeling like a creep for having entered my neighbors’ house unannounced. I rather be decent enough and step out to ring the doorbell and wait for someone to answer the door. As I turned around to walk out of the house with that intention, I heard muffled voices coming from one of the inner rooms to my right.
My pulses quickened as I realized that the voices belonged to Devon and Jackson. I knew it was morally incorrect to eavesdrop but still I found myself inching stealthily forward. Finally I was right outside the room and I stood there soundlessly to hear the conversation going on inside.
“......and that is why I did not tell you....” Jackson was was speaking gloomily to Devon who was on his knees to level himself with the kid, “I know that locket was very important to you...I’m-I’m sorry I broke it...”
“It’s not your mistake. You didn’t break it purposely, buddy.” assured Devon in a soft, mollifying tone. “Infact I’m sorry for being so hard on you....I couldn’t be a good elder brother to you. I’m a bad person. You don’t deserve any of it. I’m sorry...”
Devon’s voice cracked with guilt and somehow I could feel the weight grow in my heart.
“You feel sorry everytime you are rude to me, Devon,” said the little boy. “I know you love me and you can never think of hurting me but sometimes why do you hate me so much? Did I do something bad?”
“No. You didn’t do anything bad. I would never exchange you for anything in the world!” replied Devon meaningfully at once. “I-It’s just that...I-I...I don’t know how to say this to you...but trust me, you are a good boy and I want to be a loving and caring brother to you always b-but...I-I’m unable to do that...”
My breaths hitched seeing Devon’s eyes turn moist and a lone tear roll down his cheek. He rubbed his eyes dry with his sleeves and hugged his kid brother tightly.
The emotions were real. The pain was real. I never thought Devon was capable of having a sensitive side to him. Seeing him like that, it’s hard to believe that the same guy is downright blunt and callous to the people around him.
I stepped backwards and retreated from there. I was about to walk out from the front door when---
My breaths ran cold as that sharp voice hit my ears from behind. My feet came to a dead halt and I turned around to find myself face to face with Devon who was stood with a clenched jaw and empty eyes that resembled two dark holes.
“What were you here?” he asked.
“I-I...” I stammered.
“You heard Jackson and me, didn’t you?”
A chill ran down my spine hearing that dark tone of his voice. “I-I shou--should go.”
And I departed at once.
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