Speak & Listen

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GABRIEL

GABRIEL

It was the following week, I had not heard from Gabriel and as much as I shouldn’t have thought much about, I couldn’t help it. It drove me crazy, or perhaps it was my separation anxiety kicking in again.

I lived with Benjamin in his new apartment in Garden Heights. He got a job at this car repair shop. It’s a few kilometres away from Nahoo. As we speak, I’m alone in his house.

Garden Heights was not some rich residential area, but it wasn’t the ghetto like Bellington. It was mid-class and everyone seemed to love the silence away from crime. Also happened to be the biggest suburb in the town.

On the other hand, there have been countless ‘disappearances’ of citizens around the town, which left everyone on edge. Something big was coming for the town. The mayor, on the other hand, has shown no interest or acknowledgement whatsoever concerning the disappearances. The murderer with blond hair from the tape is still not yet found. It was now all over the news.

Bombs were everywhere you went. Gabriel being away just made me even more anxious. What made me most anxious was him not answering his cellphone.

After taking a short shower, getting dress and getting my keys to leave for an afternoon drive, a knock came from the door. I thought of the police again. They’ve visited twice to give us updates concerning the killer with blond hair. I was no longer the first prime suspect. I didn’t feel good, as much as I should. I was there when Jeremiah shot them down.

He, Jeremiah, was unavailable as well. I had tried visiting him, but his father wasn’t around either. What was with the sudden subtlety?

I ran to the door and opened. My eyes widened when I saw who it was.

It was Cynthia. “Hey, baby.”

“Hey, baby?” I echoed, exclaiming.

“Can I come in?”

“What do you want, mom?”

“I want you to come back home, baby. The house is noticeably quiet without your presence.”

“You’ve never even acknowledged my presence when I was around. What? You want someone to hit again?”

She scoffed. “No. The reason why I was away was that I was in Alex, in a rehabilitation centre. I knew you wouldn’t believe me, so I had to leave without notice. I got hooked to cocaine again.”

“Again?”

“When your grandmother died, it did feel like I lost everything but not for a single moment did I remember that I had a son until now who probably needed more attention than I did. I know how much you loved her and vise-verse. You had a connection with her that not even I could ever understand.”

I scoffed, annoyed. “This is not about Nana, mom. You were always a ghost around the house, never around and never paying attention to what was happening to me. You called me an abomination and you said you don’t have a son...and now that you’ve received therapy and accepted Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, that means I should come back and risk living with you?”

“I loved your dad. When I went through post-natal depression, he wasn’t there. I was also diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.”

My eyes widened. I moved for her to get in. She got inside and I followed her, guiding her to the living room. She looked around and hid a smile. “Your man is doing big things for you, huh?”

“I guess so.” It felt awkward for me, her acknowledging that I was gay, and had a boyfriend.

“That’s what David did for me. He knew how much I wanted to own my own bakery and he bought me one. He gave me the whole world, gave me you...but it all meant nothing when he was gone. It felt like I was going crazy, like I couldn’t bear to be a second away from him. Adrian, I felt abandoned. I knew David was cheating on me in that city. He’d give me looks that didn’t appreciate me like the first time we met.”

I sighed. “I get it, mom. I get separation anxiety too...but that didn’t give you the right to abuse me like you did. I stayed with you because I loved you. All you saw was a faggot. Mom, how selfish can you be?”

Tears fell from her eyes. “Adrian, for everything I did to cause you pain and suffering...I’m sorry. I’m trying to change. But baby I miss you so much. I want to start over, spend more time with you and re-do my actions.”

“It’s too late for that mom. Please leave!” Tears left my eyes, recalling all the memories of abuse, fights and pain. It ached even thinking about it.

Her voice disappeared into a whisper. “Adrian...I’m your mother. You’re telling me to get out of...?”

“GEEET OOOUUUTTT!!!” I roared. “Get out before I call the cops on you, mom!”

She stood there, blankly with tears continuing to stream down her cheeks. That just made me even angrier. I grabbed a vase that was placed on the coffee table and irrevocably threw it across the room, making a loud glass splattering sound that echoed through the room. This made her tremble.

She turned and jogged out of the house. My chest was closing. I couldn’t breathe. My fingers turned into a purplish colour. I was losing eyesight. My heart pounded violently against my ribcage, threatening to jump out of my body. I let out a hoarse scream, one that drained my energy. My knees fell on the floor and my head spun. My thoughts unlocked.

You’re just going to let her go? Grab Benjamin’s gun!

Shoot her!!!

You’re weak and pathetic. Cynthia deserves to die

You need to kill her

“STOP! I DON’T WANT TO KILL HER! STOP! PLEASE!” I screamed out loud, now terrified of my thoughts getting louder, deafening me.

The room span, like I was not in control of my body, like my thoughts were conquering control over my body and it scared me. “Calm down, Adrian. Calm down.” I did multiple breath patterns, begging myself to calm down. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, not even an enemy like Cynthia. I wanted to be able to forgive her in any way possible. I knew what’s right.

When I finally regained energy, I ran outside to see if her car was still around, and she was gone. All I let out was a sigh. I was proud of how I spoke against my thoughts, I was glad somehow that she was gone. I don’t know what I would have done to her.

I grabbed the car and house keys and locked. I instantly got inside my car and right there, I decided I would visit Gabriel. It had been tense silence between us, with excuses such as ‘I had things to do’ as explanation. The Gabriel I knew asked for my consent. He cared about how I felt.

My car sped out of the driveway and I drove off. I connected my phone via Bluetooth, knowing that if I had stayed in silence, I would have gone mad. I played Enya again, to soothe me. I passed Alicedale, where Benjamin’s foster parents resided, passed Queen Bay and arrived at Gabriel’s apartment. Mr Greene, his father, was around. Judging from the car parked outside.

I parked just outside the driveway and got out. I locked the car and it felt like I jogged to the house. I knocked.

Almost immediately, the door opened. A mid-age man with white hair and a wrinkled face appeared. Mr Greene looked old but wasn’t. His lack of fashion taste, just like me, made him appear much older than his age. He remembered me, judging from the smile on his face. “Adrian Spector. Boy, you have grown. It’s been years since I last saw you. Come in.”

“Thank you, Mr Greene.” I stepped in. I remembered every intricacy of the house. The overall thematic gold all over the walls, the melodramatic chandeliers and the eye-puzzling stairs. The artefacts. Everything looked rich and elegant.

We went to the lounge wordlessly and sat. “Can I pour you some old-timer whiskey? I believe you are of age now.” He smiled.

“No, thank you, Mr Greene. I still need to drive when I go back home.”

He shrugged with a kind smile, pouring himself another glass of whiskey. “Suit yourself. How can I be of assistance?”

“Gabriel. He’s been inaccessible on his phone for a while now. I haven’t called much, but I was hoping to see him.”

His face winced, disgusted. “That boy has always been a troublemaker. Always involved with the wrong people. Saw that he owned a gun, did you know that?”

“I did, sir.”

“Is he the one who killed the five students from Clever Cats?”

“I don’t know sir.” A lump set in my throat. “I wasn’t there.”

“I don’t know where he is. He’s been gone for days now.”

My eyes widened. “What if he’s missing? I mean, there have been a countless amount of people disappearing all over town. Have you tried reporting him missing?”

“No. Nor do I care, Adrian. That child has grown too big for his shoes ever since his mother deceased. Treats his father like shit and I gave him everything...I gave him attention, education, love...took all that and spat it right at my face.” Resentment showed on his face. “He stole my money I hid from the safe, for reasons unknown to his father. I don’t ever want to see him here ever again. When you see him, tell him I want my money back.” He sipped on his whiskey again.

And he was drunk. This conversation wasn’t going anywhere. “At least tell me where could I possibly find him.”

He muttered. “If not in Bellington, then he’s probably in Lake Mouth, I don’t know nor do I care.”

“Bellington?” I whispered to myself. “Thank you, Mr Greene.”

I walked out, ran actually. I got inside my car and drove off. I decided to call Mia. “Hey, Adrian.” She sniffed.

“Where are you? Are you at home?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“Can I come over?”

“Yeah sure.”

I dropped the call. I continued to drive, Gabriel’s disappearance giving me more anxiety. I couldn’t bear to envision life without him. I don’t think I would have forgiven myself if anything would happen to him, or Jeremiah. Why, on the other hand, did his father speak about him in that manner? He loved Gabriel, more than he loved any of his possessions. He said he didn’t care. What did Gabriel do to possibly betray his father’s love? The only parent he had?

I stopped at Mia’s apartment, stopping at the driveway. I locked and knocked. She, with red eyes, opened the door for me. She looked like she was asleep, tired or crying. “Adrian, come in.” She stood aside as I walked in.

She closed the door. I examined her. “Hey. You’ okay?”

“Niall broke up with me.”

“...And? Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“I don’t know at what expense, Adrian. He said it so casually as if he had some sort of purpose for saying so. Like he met another girl.”

“You wanted him to leave you alone. He did.” My voice was sterned.

“I still want him to pay, Adrian. We dated for a long time...” She walked to the lounge and I followed. She sat down as I did as well, now holding her hands. “...It’s not easy to get rid of something you were once used to, no matter how virulent. Adrian, he said he would leave my dad alone. Doesn’t that make you uncomfortable?”

“Not as shady as Gabriel having business in Bellington. I went to visit his father today and he doesn’t know where he is and what he might be doing with who.”

“How did you re-amend with Gabriel? After everything he and Ben did to you?” The question wasn’t judgemental, but she really wanted to know how.

“I don’t know, Mia. He apologized one day and...he protected me and was there beside me the entire time, when everyone wasn’t. I appreciated that, and knew he could change. I’m surprised he changed for the bad.”

“In Bellington? What would he be doing in Bellington?” Her eyebrow furrowed.

“A lot of things had not been making sense lately. Daniel, apparently, didn’t kill himself.”

“I know. And it’s funny how everyone knows, or suspects, but the cops don’t.” Mia said absentmindedly.

“Wait, you knew?”

“He bragged about it a lot, knowing I wouldn’t dare say it to anyone. I hear he’s out of town. From Craig.”

“We need to go to Craig. I need to see him.” I said nervously.

“Yeah.” She replied with widened eyes. “He’s with his friends at his apartment. I called him about 30 minutes ago.”

“We need to go to him. You’re driving.” I gave her the keys.

She changed her slippers to her heels. Despite Niall’s callousness towards his girlfriend, Niall did show affection for his ex-girlfriend, Mia. He trusted her devotion towards her, but Mia appropriated that to get back at him. I knew, before said, what her plans were. She had everything, every proof, every information she could use to crumple Niall. She had nothing to lose. Niall, on the other hand, had everything to lose.

Craig lived in Crane Hills, an area just by Crane Park.

Flashback:

“Mrs Ravens!!!”

Was the last thing I heard. When I opened my eyes again, I was at the hospital. It was the day I got raped. I had lied when I said no one visited. It was Craig and Mrs Ravens, and only them. He was right beside me when my eyes opened. No one else at the time was in the room.

“How did I get here?” I whispered as the fluorescent brightness from the windows stung my eyes.

“Something happened in school.”

“I know. But how did I get here?”

“I got inside the restrooms and found you unconscious. Mrs Ravens was the only one in the corridors. Everyone was still in class, so it wasn’t that scandalous. Mrs Ravens drove you by herself to the emergency room.”

“Where is she?”

“She’s in the lobby. How are you feeling?”

Although I couldn’t remember vividly what happened, but I did remember the boy with blond hair who licked my face. I could remember his redolence too. I just couldn’t identify who it was. Everything happened so fast, so sorely and so traumatically.

But I knew what I was, how people labeled people like me now, now that I was raped by five men. I knew life was different now. And I didn’t want to pity-cry on Craig’s shoulder and feel feeble for what happened, so yes I convinced myself I was okay. “I’m okay. I don’t remember what happened, intricately.”

“But you do have some details that may help identify at least one of them, right?”

A police officer, accompanied by Mrs Ravens, entered the ward. Dread suddenly grew in me as soon as I saw his badge. I didn’t want things to be resolved like this, nor did I want anything to happen to them. I wanted to move on and forget about it. I knew very well I was raped, but didn’t want to remember it. “Not really.”

“Mr Spector. We’re glad you’re awake.” The officer said.

“Wait, how long have I been out?”

“You were in a coma for three days.” Craig answered.

“Where’s mom?”

“She never came. Tried calling her various times with no luck.” Mrs Ravens replied.

“Of course she didn’t,” I spoke behind my teeth.

“Mr Spector, can you tell me any details you can remember on the morning you were raped?” He took out his notepad and pen.

I stayed silent for a long while, my hands quivered under the hospital duvet. I saw the images more vividly the more I thought deeply about it. I remember the pain, the scream I couldn’t get out because one of their hands suffocated me. I remembered wanting, begging to breathe. The sound of sex, their bodies smacking on mine as I laid there half-dead. I remembered being numb, but that all never made me any mad more than the one person with blond hair who licked my face.

He didn’t just lick it, he moaned in my ear like my pain gave him gratification. Like he didn’t mind or care even if I died of the severe pain, that instead would have brought him much closer to climax. I wanted to kill him myself. I wanted to isolate him somewhere far and deserted, cut his penis and burn it right in front of him. I wanted to see him ravel in pain, more pain than the pain I felt on that cold wet bathroom floor. I had nothing to say to the cop. “All I remember is that I was raped in the toilets by five men I cannot remember.” I said blandly.

“Anyone of them with specific features?”

“No, not at all. It was all a blur.”

“Right. If you remember any details, the police station is right next door.”

Who says that? Who makes it so casual for a ‘victim’ to casually visit the police station whenever they had enough memory? I could have, by then, orchestrated a lie. Maybe it was just my state of mind. Maybe I did need more time to finally come to my senses and not weirdly plot my rapists’ death in my head.

I nodded to the officer. He put his notepad away and left the room. Mrs Ravenss went to the other side of the bed and held my hand. “How are you feeling?”

“I feel like getting out of bed, actually.”

“You can’t. The doctors say that you still need time to heal, a couple of days.”

“What will I do with school work? I can’t miss school!”

Craig sighed. “Adrian, you can catch up with school work. You’re the brightest kid in our grade.”

“That’s not true, Craig.” My eyes rolled.

“I’ll be at the lobby.” Mrs Ravens excused herself as she left.

Craig held my hand again. “Are you sure you don’t remember anything?”

“Not at all. Above everything, I just want to move on from this.”

“I’m sorry.” His two hands covered mine.

“It’s not your fault, Craig.”

“Is there anything I can do for you?”

“Just be a friend. I think I need that above everything.”

He nodded with a smile. “You remember that day, the freshman’s party at Gabriel’s...we went to one of his rooms and played Louis Armstrong on his vinyl, high as fuck, on his bed?”

“Damn, yeah. I remember.”

“Don’t you imagine how things could have been between us if we actually...kissed.”

“Craig...don’t,” I whispered.

“I read the letter. It was recent, wasn’t it?”

“Does it matter, Craig? I’m sorry you got to see that.”

“Yes it does, Adrian. It matters the most.”

“Benjamin’s letter was recent.”

“And how you feel? Do you still feel the same way?”

“It was a letter, Craig.”

“So it didn’t mean anything?”

I stayed there. Quiet. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to feel, which words to use. I was stuck. “Craig...”

He stood up, letting go of my hands. “Wow!” He whispered.

He turned to leave. I tried to sit up, but it ached. “Craig!? Don’t go!”

He paused by the door. He walked back. He was infuriated, which confused me. “Why?”

“Because I don’t want you to.”

“Why? Why’s that, Adrian?”

“Because I don’t have anyone outside this hospital. Everyone resents me and I don’t want to lose the only person I have.” I began sobbing. “I don’t know if you know the feeling, but it sucks. And crushes are the last thing I should be worried about. I need you, Craig.”

Flares almost flew out his nostrils, as he couldn’t stop hyperventilating. He sat down next to me and took my right and cupped it into both his. “I’m not going anywhere, Adrian.” He looked at my hand for a second. I could tell he wanted to kiss it, but he didn’t.

Instead he placed it on his head. His head was always bald, and as much as this was weird, that was where you touched him when he was angry. I had been friends with him since the freshman’s party. After Ben’s drama after the Truth or Dare game, he did the same thing. He put my hand on his head.

I looked at him after a long while caressing his head. He was asleep, his head peacefully placed on the mattress of the bed. I smiled as I continued to caress him.

Another flashback:

“It was a game?” Ben’s voice squeaked, showing disappointment.

“Yes, Ben. It was just a game.” I stood up and stormed to the bathroom.

I closed the door and looked at myself at the mirror. My face was bruised, but fortunately, it wasn’t swollen. I washed my face, tears rolling from my eyes. I told Alan things would be different. I felt it. Judging from the exasperation Ben had the moment Alan and I kissed before we left for his apartment, I knew Ben hated my presence from that moment.

So why the fuck did you kiss him??

My eyes rolled, feeling stupid.

“Adrian, open up. It’s me.” Craig knocked from the other side.

“Go away, man.”

He opened anyway. He closed behind him. He was furious, but had some sympathy in his eyes. “Are you okay?”

“Is Ben finally calm? Can I go out?”

“Are you fucking kidding me? Who cares how he is?”

“I kissed him. I wasn’t supposed to.”

“It was a fucking game, Adrian!!!” He roared.

“Craig, calm down.”

“I am FUCKING calm, okay!?” he roared. He now believed me, that he wasn’t at all calm.

I slowly walked towards him. He looked at me and it was as if the rage was leaving him the more we shared a look. I took both his hands and untangled his tight fists. “It’s okay. I’m okay, Craig.” I whispered. I had learned to talk to people who had difficulty in controlling rage from Jeremiah. Both had the same violent rage, only Jeremiah’s could kill a bear. Craig’s could kill an elephant. Jeremiah, at least, was able to calm himself down in most situations, and allowed people to talk to him.

He calmed himself by breathing. He teared up, which I didn’t understand but never asked. He took my right hand and placed it on his head. He looked at me again, as if he wanted to be spooned or caressed like a dog. I ran my hand on his head and as much as I thought it was crazy, but he was calming down. “There you go,” I whispered.

“Tell me everything is okay.” He whispered. He was weeping.

“Yeah.” I was beginning to cry, understanding that it was much more beyond what had taken place that night. “Everything’s okay now. You’re gonna take me home, you should get rest too.”

“Okay, Kelly...”

My eyes widened.

Present:

My body trembled in fear when we arrived at Craig’s apartment. I had seen the place before, but just didn’t remember so well until I saw the zebra-crossing. I remembered the name of the girl I almost ran over. Kelly.

Mia parked the car at the driveway. I was in such deep thoughts that I had not noticed Mia calling my name. “Adrian, are you okay?”

“Craig lives here?”

“Yeah...you’ve seen this place before?”

“Yeah. Kelly...the name of the girl I almost ran over at the zebra-crossing hump. I remember her name.”

“Kelly...that’s Craig’s little sister.” She smiled. “You almost ran her over?”

“It’s a long story.” I scoffed with a smile. “Let’s get in.”

We exited the car and locked. She gave me the keys. She knocked. I was standing right behind her in case Craig’s mother was around. Someone opened, it was Jason. He did his shy smile before opening the burglar gate for us. He first hugged Mia, then me. “Hey. Craig’s inside but...Adrian can I have a word with you?”

Dammit! Of course he’d also want to talk about the letter he got. “Sure.”

Mia walked inside. I looked at him and suddenly became nervous. “You know, the day I got a letter...it didn’t get to me first. Mom saw it before anyone in the family did. Despite the letter being a romantic fantasy...it shows that every second we spent together was appreciated.”

“Jason, I’m so sorry you got the letter.”

“No, be glad. I may not be gay, but it saved me. I live with my brother just next door, my father after he found the letter kicked me out. I wanted to get out of that house. My dad used to abuse me all the time, wanted me to become the first best at everything. Pressurized me to excel in my studies, keep myself exercised and healthy. He was living his life through me. Although I was kicked out for extraneous reasons, I’m glad he got to see the letter. I don’t think I would have been brave enough to get out of that house by myself.”

“Jesus! I’m so sorry, Jason!”

“As I’ve said, be glad! You saved more lives than you destroyed.” He smiled and shrugged.

I scoffed with a smile. He opened his arms. “No hard feelings, right?” He added.

“No, not at all.” I laughed as I hugged him again.

He let go of me. “Right. Let’s go in.”

I walked in first and he followed. The house looked tiny, yet warm. Brown was the thematic colour around the house. Okay, I knew Craig was Puerto-Rican. However, it didn’t think he was in any way related to the rude Latina woman and the sweet girl I almost ran over months ago.

They were at the lounge. Craig, Sebastian, Elijah, Mason and Mia. I couldn’t look at Mason in the eye, but I pretended conversation anyway. “Hey, guys.”

“Heeey.” They yelled, except Mia. Jason sat on one of the couches.

“Hey, beautiful.” Sebastian absentmindedly said, looking at the screen as he played video-games with Craig.

“Hello, Sebastian.” I was pestered by the adjectives he kept on giving me. He knew that too. “How’s Kate?”

“Broke up with her a couple of months ago so...I don’t know.” He said it so casually. “How’s Tennyson?”

His casualty towards relationships didn’t shock me at all. He plausibly even forgot he once dated me. Tennyson, apparently, was Benjamin’s nickname. “He’s okay. Mason, where’s William?”

“Hey Adrian.” William joined the lounge. Everyone suddenly became silent, not knowing how William would react to my presence. He had a white towel in his hands. He looked like he was washing his face. “How’s it going? Are you good?”

“I’m...good,” I whispered, my voice faded all so suddenly. His letter was far most the weirdest. William was a very beautiful black man with striking hazel eyes, you would love the experience of just touching him if you weren’t in my shoes. I was obsessed with his unique cologne. His skin looked bite-able, as not only it was fine but luminous too. You could literally smell the warmth of his skin, taste it actually, just by staring at it.

And those were the ‘vile’ thoughts I expressed in his letter. His was much more sexual than the rest. William was the marriage type, he never believed in sleeping with a bunch of women. He was courteous and good, which made him much more charming to the girls who are suckers for the lovely, impeccable kind. He had reasons more than everyone else to be still mad at me. But obviously he wasn’t.

“Craig, can I talk to you?” I said. Awkwardness was beginning to overwhelm me.

He looked at me. He immediately stood up, giving Mason the joystick. “This way.” He walked up front and directed me to a room, which looked like Kelly’s.

“Kelly is your sister?”

“Yeah. They’re gone with mom for the vacation but...how do you know her?”

“I once almost ran her over the zebra-crossing hump. I didn’t know this was where you lived.”

“You had my address.” I couldn’t tell if this vague response was meant to express slight anger or just confusion.

“Yeah, but had no idea where you lived. I just knew you’re from Crane Hills.” I scoffed. “Listen, I need your help.”

He nodded. “Yeah, what’s up?”

“I’m worried ’bout Gabriel. His father doesn’t know where he is. He stole money from him before disappearing and I don’t think he’ll be back anytime soon. Niall, on the other hand, is nowhere to be found as well.”

“Niall’s in Bellington. I think I may know where he is, but as for Gabriel...I have no idea.”

“Mr Greene said Gabriel may be in Bellington too, for reasons only known by him. Do you think they doin’ shit together?” I looked at him. “Jeremiah has been unreachable too.”

“The cops are after Jeremiah after the day at Lake Smith. He’s safe.” Craig head shook. “Nah. Gabriel hates Niall too much to be negotiating with him.”

“You know where he is? Jeremiah?” My eyes widened.

“Yes, but I can’t tell you. I’ve been sworn to secrecy, most especially to you.” He lit a cigarette, really he wasn’t going to tell me.

I shook my head, trying to shut down the questions my thoughts started asking. “We need to go to Bellington.”

“We can’t go alone. Bellington isn’t such a nice place.”

“I’m from Bellington, Craig. I’m well-known.” But I was probably known as the kid raped from Clever Cats now. “But yeah, you’re right. Who are we bringing with? Are we going today?”

“Niall will be back in town tomorrow. I’m thinking he’s going to skip town but we need to outsmart him. We need to track him when he leaves Bellington coming back to Belvyn. That way, we can get more answers from him. I don’t think you should be including yourself in this one. You’ve seen enough.”

“I haven’t seen enough until I see his blond hair burn in flames, Craig.”

“Ou! And since when do you have this sexy fire in you?” He laughed.

“Ever since those letters came out.” I smoked as my teeth gritted, imagining the pleasure of watching his blond hair shriek in flames, begging for his life. I laughed in my head, feeling the gratitude that would follow even before it happened.

“I like it.” He bit his lip.

“Stop.” I blushed.

“Why is Mia helping you find Niall?”

“They broke up. Mia claims she was abused by him during the relationship. She has more motive to go after him than any of us do. She has enough information to take him down.”

He nodded. “But remember to keep your circle small, hey. Not everyone can be trusted.” He looked into my eyes.

Flashback:

“Remember to keep your circle small, Adrian. Not everyone can be trusted.” David said.

We were in an abandoned building. Dad had driven me here. “Dad, this place scares me. What are we doing here?” I think we were in Alicedale, but close to Clinton Hills, which was almost out of town.

“I’m gonna teach you how to use a gun.”

I sighed. “Dad...”

“Son, this is Belvyn. When I’m not there, Alan too, you have to be able to defend yourself by any means necessary.”

“Dad, you’re scaring me.”

“Good. You’re supposed to be.” He gave me his pistol. “Do you at least know how to set it up?”

“No? Why would I be able to...”

His eyes rolled. He walked a while and in front, there were three big glass bottles on a wide, white table a distance from me. He came back to me after setting them up and he stood behind me. “One day you’ll be betrayed, maybe not at all. Maybe one day you’ll be attacked by some phoney, you need to, first of all, picture them in your head. Close your eyes.

I closed them. I understood the purport of the lesson, however I didn’t think I’d be getting it from my father and second, I didn’t think I’d be using a gun ever in my life. “Do you see them? Him? Her?”

I saw three people. I saw, for some reason, Gabriel, Mia and Sophia. Not because I hated them, but because I turned them into enemies for target practice. My mind wouldn’t let me picture anyone else. “Yeah.” My eyes opened. I saw them where the glass bottles and table were. They were standing there, with wide diabolical grins.

I looked at dad, he wasn’t seeing this, but only I was, which frightened me. “Now observe carefully...this is the tape...” He ejected it from the gun. “It has bullets.” You push it back as soon as you’re certain they’re enough. You see this?” There was a knob at the back of the gun, he pulled it down and it made a sound. “After you lift that down, you hold the gun steady in your hands. Cock it...” He said as he pulled the top back and let it shoot forward, making the cocking sound.

“You keep your finger outside the gun until you’re ready to shoot...” He stood in position, which I assumed was aiming. His finger softly hugged the trigger. “And you shoot the motherfucker!” His finger jumped, making a loud explosive sound, followed by the ear-sore glass shattering sound.

I looked at him. He looked fine. He beamed, instead. “Here...” He handed me the gun.

It was harder and heavier than it seemed. It had a metallic smell too. I ejected the tape and I looked at the bullets to see if they were enough. They were. I plucked it back in and cocked. The sound alone was thrilling. “Now, Adrian...picture your target standing right there. They all betrayed you. What do you do?”

My hands trembled as I distanced the gun from my chest. I aimed. I saw them again, all three of them tied on chairs now, unable to speak or beg. My finger slowly hugged the trigger, ready to shoot. “Now shoot the first motherfucker dead.” He whispered.

I looked at Sophia first. A sound went off, followed by the sound of glass shattering and I was brought back into reality. The glass was in pieces. That was my first shot, and I was perfect! “Now that’s my son.” Dad clapped beside me.

I laughed too. I stood in position again, cocked the gun and softly hugged my finger around the trigger. I saw Mia. I saw her head. I knew which part I wanted to blow off. A sound went off again, echoing throughout the vacant space in the room, followed by glass splatter again. “Wow!” I laughed.

“You’re much better than the first time I tried it out.”

I laughed, looking at the gun. I looked at David and an evil thought quickly crossed my mind. “Adrian, what are you doing?”

It wasn’t until his questioned that I realized that I was pointing the gun at him with a smile. “Dad, I can never shoot you. You’re not a rat.” I spoke absentmindedly, still looking at the gun, still pointing it at my father who now had his eyes widened and his hands up.

He slowly walked to me. “Adrian, give me the gun.”

I frowned, now feeling awkward. I gave him the gun. “I’m sorry, dad.”

He sighed as soon as he tucked away the gun. “It’s okay son. Never use it for anything else unless necessary. Okay?”

“Yes, dad.”

Present:

“Let’s join the others, c’mon.” Craig stuck out his hand.

“You know I’m not a cripple anymore, right?” I laughed.

“I know.”

My hand trembled as I took his. We got out of the room and joined the others. They were smoking weed. “Oh yes!” Craig cheered as he saw the blunt. “You’re joining, Adrian?” He asked.

“No, I have to drive.” I smiled.

William gave me a look. “I don’t smoke. I can drive you home and take a cab from there.”

“You...would drive me home?”

“Yeah, just chill.”

Everyone looked at William. I too was weirded out by his sudden courtesy towards me. I didn’t know what it meant, but it by all odds differed from what I was used to, most especially after I came out.

I took the blunt and smoked. We laced the blunt around, skipping only Sebastian and William. Sebastian, instead, had vodka to drink. And he was drinking in large amounts.

“Let’s play Truth or Dare,” Mason suggested.

Everyone cringed, except for Sebastian, Elijah and William. “I don’t think I want to be part of the game. Y’all can play along.” Mia said, as she looked at me.

“Adrian, you’re in?” Jason asked, his eyes begged me to say no.

I froze for a second. But I didn’t at all like attention on me nor did I want. “I’m not in if Adrian isn’t,” Mia added.

“Wow, Mia.” Mason overplayed.

“Fine. I’m in.”

Mia rolled her eyes. “Yeah, I’m in.”

“Awesome. Truth or Dare, Mia?” Jason asked as Craig’s back napped on my chest. I knew what that meant. He even gave me a look. I caressed his head. Everyone gave us a look, but we didn’t bother to explain.

“Mhm...Truth.”

“Love and Loyalty...which one do you believe in?”

Wow! That was personal.

She looked up for a second, in deep thought. “I believe in love. Loyalty can make you stay even though you don’t wanna, even though it’s toxic but...when you love someone, you can let them go. So...love.” She smiled. “William, truth or dare?” She added.

“Truth.” He smiled.

“What’s your sexual orientation?”

My eyes widened. Everyone felt the tension, but we all couldn’t say a thing. Elijah gave me a stare. But William smiled back. “Asexual, for now. I also have no idea to be honest.”

Sebastian choked on the alcohol. Some of it went through his nose. Okay, as much as I thought he could be severely hurt, but I laughed. Everyone else joined. Sebastian gave me a look. “Truth or Dare, precious?”

“Would you stop with the adjectives? Dare.”

“Kiss me.”

I froze. First Mia, then everyone else gave me a look. I didn’t know what their looks meant, but the high was kicking in. And when it did, I became uncomfortable with attention. I crawled to Sebastian. His eyes widened. Why? Did he think I’d chicken out? When I was close enough, I smiled.

He smiled too. He kissed me first, and the crew cheered. I pulled on his hair, like I used to. It felt right only because I had kissed those lips before. I knew their rhythm, their tone. He loved every second of it, he loved submitting to me when it came to intimacy. He’d always say ‘you always never cease to amaze me.’

“Okay, you can stop now.” Jason sang.

We stopped. Wow that felt like cheating. “You always never cease to...”

“Shut up, Sebastian. Craig, Truth or Dare.”

“Dare.”

“Kiss the person you’ve always wanted to kiss in this room.” I laughed, looking at Jason. In fact, we all looked at Jason. As much as we never really spoke about Craig’s sexual orientation nor were we certain, we all knew he had a concealed crush on Jason, who happens to be straight. That was the funniest part.

“Oh c’mon,” Jason exclaimed.

“No calm down, hot pants.” Craig got up from my chest. I looked at him with a surreptitious smile. I wanted him to have that moment with him, even though we knew it wouldn’t change anything. We might as well be true to ourselves now than pretend each other in school again.

Craig, unanticipatedly, kissed me. The room went silent. It also took me a while to respond to the kiss. The air changed, literally, as if we were in Gabriel’s room, on that bed, finishing that kiss we almost had at the freshman’s party. His arms wrapped around me, climbing one of his legs above mine.

He even bonded my hands with his. I found myself tempted beyond the kiss and hated the feeling. It felt like I was enjoying myself too much. He was too, but Craig had nothing to lose.

“Nah nah nah, stop. It’s been more than two minutes now.” Mia laughed.

“It is?” Craig and I sang together, our eyes widened at each other.

“Yes!” William said, with his hand covering his face.

Craig got off me and smiled. I shook my head. “Benjamin’s going to kill me after this. I probably smell like infidelity.” I wiped my lips. I didn’t know if it was Sebastian’s vodka or Craig’s saliva. Regardless, it was sickening.

“Mason...Truth or Dare?”

Mason smiled. “Truth.”

“Why did you abandon Adrian after he came out?” Craig’s face sterned.

Eyes widened again. I looked at Craig again. He was waiting for a stupid answer to launch a punch across his face.

But Mason kept calm although he feared Craig like the rest of us did. “Because I was a hypocrite. I guess I was what you’d call a fake friend. I was afraid it would expose or contaminate the rest of us, but truly I didn’t think you received the best attention after you came out. If I had stuck up for you, I feared they would have done the same to me.” His mouth twisted, like he wanted to say more. But I thought he said more than enough.

“Elijah, Truth or Dare?” Mason asked, which tears developing in his eyes.

“Dare.”

“Run around the house naked. Outside.”

Elijah’s eyes widened. “What?!”

“Yeah, I’d love to see your penis too.” Mia smiled.

He scoffed. He immediately took off everything right in front of us. My body vibrated the instant I saw his briefs. I covered my eyes on Craig’s shoulder. Everyone ran out of the house, Craig too, I stayed in the house. Nudity made me feel incredibly awkward.

I opened my eyes and William was also left in. “You’re not outside?” I asked.

“So aren’t you. Look...I know what Craig’s doing, trying to bring us closer and unveiling truths. I like that. Remember when we used to be so sincere with each other?”

“Yeah, I remember.”

“That’s the true reason why I was mad. I thought I’d be the first to know. But I understand why you’d hide that from me. It’s a mortifying world out there. Asexuality isn’t taken so seriously, people would assume your dick doesn’t work or something but...I feel no sexual interest in people. I’m sorry if that disappoints you, judging from how sexual the letter was.”

“It doesn’t disappoint me at all. And I’m sorry about the letter. I just never believed you’d apologize.”

“Me too, until I realized that you were living your life and I wasn’t. You’re happy with Benjamin, I’m the stalker watching over your head and it’s not at all salutary. I missed you, man. The letter showed me that you felt something for me, even though I didn’t feel the same. I appreciate, on its own, the acknowledgement.”

“I missed you too, man.” I smiled.

We both stood up and hugged. He sounded as if he was crying, but I didn’t want to ask. But he appreciated the hug more than I did. The rest trooped in and found us in a hug. “This is adorable,” Jason said sarcastically.

“Right?” Mia blushed.

We let go of each other. William was actually crying but was expeditious to wipe the tears. “Yeah, we don’t do nudity,” William answered with a hoarse voice.

We sat back down again. “Sebastian...truth or dare?” Elijah asked.

“Truth.”

“Why did you come back to us after Josh’s death? I mean you have friends, why are you here?”

Another hot, personal question. But Sebastian was the King of Calmness. Sometimes it irked me. “Because I wanted to leave. I befriended them because...I wanted to fit in and apparently I surrounded myself with a bunch of rapists and killers. I wish I could thank Jeremiah personally.”

I choked on my saliva. Mia’s eyes widened as well. “Wait...everyone knows...” I asked, because Elijah was in the room.

“That Jeremiah was the killer? Yes, Adrian.” Elijah answered. Why did I assume Gabriel would take the blame?”

“Huh,” I answered absentmindedly.

“Truth or Dare, Adrian.” Sebastian asked. For once, he didn’t add an adjective.

“Dare.”

“I dare you to tell me the truth. What’s the name of your fifth rapist?”

That took a big turn. Everyone looked at me. Everyone had suspicions, Chris had blond hair and that’s the only description they had: blond hair. They suspected him and many others before Niall. There were more than five other jocks from the school who had blond hair. But he was specific. I remember his voice as he moaned, I remember his stench.

“Niall.”

“BASTARD!” Craig snarled.

“I’m sorry Mia, but I want that motherfucker dead. And no one in this room is going to fucking stop me.”

“Pfft. You think we don’t want the same thing?” Sebastian lit a cigarette.

“The bastard threatened to kill my father. You think anyone in this room wants him to walk free?” Mia snarled.

“He raped my little sister, Alicia. He blackmailed me to make a sex tape with Julie.” Mason’s jaws twitched. The picture of Julie naked, the thumbnail, on the day of the march...Mason was behind it?

My tears watered. Alicia was a sweet girl, just like Kelly. She was a child.

“I was bullied by Niall for the longest time.” William’s eyes teared again. “He wouldn’t let me eat at the cafeteria, he’d always send these dick pics around written ‘His dick doesn’t work’. I would have stood up for you when you came out, Adrian if I wasn’t dealing with my own demons.”

“He’s the reason why we broke up. I never cheated on you and not at all did I think you’re boring.” Sebastian sat up. He seemed drunk. “He thought some of the stuff we did as a crew would somehow get to you like I’d snitch or something. Honestly, if Benjamin wasn’t dating you, I would have begged for you to take me back. I love you, Adrian.”

“He...raped me at the freshman’s party. He told me that it wasn’t anything that hasn’t happened to the rest. I was afraid of coming out even though I’m obviously gay not because of Adrian, but because of him. I thought every man out there would somehow have the same intentions of hurting me.” Elijah added his testimony.

I covered my face. Craig caressed my back. “I just want the bastard dead,” Craig whispered, but audible enough for everyone to hear.

“Good,” I spoke under my breath.

“But Adrian...you are not touching anything. You are not going to touch a gun or any firearm whatsoever. I don’t want anything traced back to you, do you understand me?” Craig looked at me.

“Fine. I won’t touch anything.”

“Good.”

“On one condition.” I looked at him.

“Depends.”

“I need to see Jeremiah, Craig.”

“He’s in Nahoo.” William said casually.

“FUCK, DOES ANYONE NOT KNOW WHAT SECRECY MEANS? Adrian wasn’t meant to know.” Craig yelled.

“It’s not so much of a secret now, is it? You let Will know but not me?”

“He was very specific.” He sulked.

“I want to see him. Or else I’m hunting Niall by myself.” My voice was sterned. I didn’t really mean that, but it seemed to shake Craig.

“Fine. We’ll go tomorrow.” He groaned.

I kissed the top of his head. He wanted to push me off because he was still mad, but that was his weak spot. He smiled instead. We had begun drinking.

William drove me home. I had been drinking in the car too. Mia drove Sebastian home in his car and took a cab home. Mason and Elijah were sleeping over at Craig’s apartment. Jason lived right next door to his house, apparently.

On the stereo was Emeli Sande’s ‘Shakes’, a sad pop song built on piano and violin instrumentation. I loved it, William did too. William and I had one thing in common: melancholy. We were both miserable in true character, we enjoyed almost the same type of music, only he enjoyed most Blues and Surf Rock.

He was always attired in summer shorts that showed his perfect hairless black legs and a tucked-in golf t-shirt and a formal shoe. His style was the popular 80′s beach style. It suited him perfectly.

The car suddenly came to a halt. I sat up and yes, we were at Benjamin’s apartment. He looked at me and smiled. “Man, you’re drunk.”

“I’m not. I just need to rest, that’s all.”

“That’s what drunk people say.” He giggled.

“Thank you.” I smiled at him. “Benjamin better come back with fast food because I don’t think I can cook anything tonight.”

“He’s still at work?” He looked at me.

“Yeah. He won’t be back until seven.”

He nodded. He slouched at his seat and looked at me.

...Look at those lips, damn. Those hazel eyes!

Just touch him. He won’t trip.

Of course, he’ll trip. Adrian, are you crazy?

Look at his arms, don’t you just want to lick that?

Benjamin’s body isn’t that pretty.

Benjamin isn’t William. Stop comparing!

“You remember when we went on a school trip to Crane Park? We sat together, we didn’t talk to each other until you slept? You woke up on my shoulder?” William whispered. That’s how he spoke. Like Jeremiah, both had very husky, confidential voices.

“Yeah.” That was the same trip Benjamin wanted to kiss me on.

“Don’t you just miss being a kid all over again? Remember in sixth grade, we did a lot of pranks to the teachers?” He laughed.

“Mrs Balls found a note with two grapes and a banana drawn in the middle. The note said ‘Hi, Mrs Balls’. Her reaction was priceless.” I laughed, reciting mid-school memories.

“And one time when we turned off the lights at the girls’ gym showers, only to make deep voices and they’d scream ‘Aaah! Boys! There are boys in the bathroom’.” He laughed, running out of breath.

“And you’d reply in a deep voice in the dark... ‘Boys? Eew! Where are they?’ That made them scream even louder.” I impersonated and laughed again.

“Man, we were some badass pranksters.” He looked at me with a smile. His bright teeth stung my eyes.

“We were.” I laughed again.

He’s looking at you. Do Something!

No! You can’t do anything to him. That will drive you guys apart.

But look at him. Look at all that fine...

When I blinked again, my lips were against William’s. Although he did not respond first, eventually he did. He held my face, bringing me closer. His hands roamed around my waist, making him sit out of his seat.

“Adrian...look.”

He looked down and my eyes traced. He had a boner. “Eew William. Why would you show me...” I paused. I looked at him with widened eyes. I remembered he was Asexual. “You have a boner?”

“The first time being aroused. I swear I couldn’t have sex with women or men because of this. I couldn’t even make myself interested but that was...pleasuring.”

“Maybe you’re homoromantic?” I smiled.

“What’s that?”

“You know...instead of just ‘getting into it’, maybe you prefer a romantic attraction towards men first. Maybe having the same connection we have with someone else may help improve your sexuality. But on the institution of sex, I don’t think you should force it. It will happen automatically once you explore more of your sexuality, and not just sex.” I felt drunk saying these words, but my ideas were sober. “It’s a large spectrum, honey,” I added.

“Huh. I was starting to believe my dick doesn’t work. Like dude, I almost came while we were kissing.”

I winced. “Yeah, I’m happy for you man, but you don’t tell a friend you almost came because of a kiss.”

“Yeah yeah. But do you want us to do that some time again? Properly?” He frowned.

I sighed. “Will, I have a boyfriend. It was stupid of me to try a move on you. I’m sorry about that too.”

“I’m not.” His head shook. “That was fucking amazing!”

“Yeah, I know. Just try it out with someone who doesn’t have a boyfriend. Consensually.”

“Of course, consensually. C’mon, let’s go inside.”

The following day, I woke up next to Benjamin, who didn’t go to work on weekends. He was awake but seemingly had a lot in his mind. It was sunny, judging from the blinding sun that shone directly to my face. He, Benjamin had opened both the curtains and windows already. This worried me. I usually woke up first before him on weekends.

I rolled over to face him, he looked at me blankly. “Hey, babe.” I whispered.

“You drank yesterday?”

“Yeah.” I sighed. “I was at Craig’s.”

“And you planned on killing Niall?”

My head shot up, eyes widened. “How did you know about that?”

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