don’t see why the fuck we have to baby-sit the little twat,” Brian grumbled,
glaring at his date’s younger brother where he sat, bundled up in rugs, on the
couch of her parents’ house.
“Brian!” she admonished, giggling a little. “Please mind your language. Especially in front of Justin. He’s just a kid.”
She gave a dismissive glance at her brother, and then put her hand on the sleeve of her date’s leather jacket. “I’ll make it up to you,” she purred, would-be seductively.
Brian sighed. He should have known better. He’d decided to go out with Molly Taylor to get his father off his back. She was popular, she was pretty and he figured she was more uptight than a kettle drum and the most he’d be expected to do was to hold her hand in the movies and maybe give her an awkward kiss goodnight. But he should have known, it was always the “good” girls who were most desperate to get laid. Maybe having her little brother along would be a good fucking thing. Give him the perfect excuse to be “forced” to behave himself.
He let himself be cajoled into accepting the kid being around, and the discussion moved on to what they were going to do for the evening.
It was Halloween. Molly’s parents - good old Craig, whom he knew hated him, and Jennifer, whom Brian had to admit had some class - were out at a costume party at the country club. The kid, Justin, had been supposed to go with them, but he’d had an asthma attack or some shit and Jennifer had insisted he wasn’t up to that much excitement. Excitement, Brian thought scornfully. About as fucking exciting as a night in church, which was where his mother was - preparing for All Saints’ Day, and then All Souls’ Day, while good old Jack was out playing poker or some shit with his buddies. Or else getting off with that waitress he’d been fucking.
So Justin was at home, and Molly had instructions not to leave him alone in case he had another attack.
Brian looked around at the pristine “nice” living room, and at the pile of bagged candy sitting ready on the “just right” little table near the door and nearly puked. He sure as fuck wasn’t going to sit here all night while the neighborhood rug rats hit them up for candy.
“He can come with us to the fucking movie,” he growled. Even better. He could be seen out at the movies, where half the fucking senior class were planning on going, and sound off about what a fucking drag it was that the kid was with them. Brian had already had shitloads of grief from the jocks at school. He’d shut that fucker Hobbs up, and paid him back for some of the hassle he’d given him, by slamming his fingers in his locker and costing him his football season. Now he was planning on rubbing the fucker’s face in it by being seen out and about with the girl Hobbs had been after for months.
Molly ummed and ahhed a little about maybe Justin wasn’t well enough to go out, but Brian’s exasperated, ‘For fuck’s sake, it’s just a movie’ had made her weaken, and Justin, who had been eyeing the pair of them from his nest on the couch, had suddenly stood up.
“I’m fine, Mollusk,” he announced, drawing himself up to his full height of what seemed to Brian about five foot nothing. “Just go for fuck’s sake. I don’t need a fucking baby sitter.”
Molly’s outraged “Justin!” had cut across a soft snort of laughter from Brian, who couldn’t help but take in the kid’s big blue eyes - sparking fire just at the moment - and those full red lips.
The girl turned on him, her strawberry blonde hair swinging around her shoulders. “Don’t you laugh. It’s your fault. If Dad hears him talking like that, I’m the one who’s going to get the blame for …”
She broke off, suddenly aware of being on shaky ground.
He stared down at her, lips twisted into a sneer and a shadow in his amazing hazel eyes, “For what? Going out with that Irish trash?”
She flushed a little, but met his eyes bravely.
“For letting him mix with people who use that language in front of him,” she said.
Brian shrugged, admiring her poise, despite himself. Guess she took after her mother. Pity he wasn’t straight enough to really appreciate it.
“Oh, Mollusk, for fuck’s sake!” Justin started disgustedly, when Brian cut in.
“You heard your sister, don’t use that language.”
Justin stared at him. “What! You just …” he sputtered indignantly.
“When you’re my age you can speak how you want,” Brian stated patronizingly. “But you’re just a kid.”
Justin glared at him. “I’m not a kid. I’m sixteen.”
“Fifteen,” Molly corrected.
“I’ll be sixteen in two weeks,” he insisted, a little shrilly. For some reason, having this Brian guy think of him as just a kid was … horrible. It hurt him somewhere inside in a place he didn’t want to think about. It might have had something to do with the fact that Brian, tall, slender auburn-haired with hazel eyes and cinnamon lips was the most beautiful guy he’d ever seen. But Justin preferred not to think about that.
“Whatever,” Brian shrugged, showing signs of boredom although if the truth be known, he found the kid, Justin, kind of amusing. And he might be cute, too, in a year or two. “Are we getting out of here, or not?”
“Justin, I am not leaving you here on your own,” Molly announced. “I promised Mom I wouldn’t. So either you come with us or you have totally ruined my whole evening.”
Justin shrugged. Like he gave a shit if her evening was ruined.
“Justin, you like movies,” she cajoled. “You know you do. So just come with us.”
“Do I have to sit with you?” he asked, not wanting to have to spend the evening sitting next to his dumb sister while she made out with her gorgeous boyfriend.
For a moment she was tempted, especially when she glanced at her date … (Brian Kinney, her date - Suzy Thompson, eat your heart out) … but then she remembered how frightening it had been just a few hours earlier when her little brother had been coughing and wheezing and struggling to breathe, and she thought about how scary it would be if that happened at the movie and she couldn’t even find him in the darkened theater.
“You can sit in front of us if you like,” she said.
He gave a put upon sigh (‘drama princess,’ thought Brian) and got up to fetch his jacket.
“Okay, but you know they won’t let me into see anything ‘R’ rated,” he reminded her. It was bad enough that he wasn’t seventeen yet, it was even worse that he looked about twelve.
That brought a frown to her face. Everyone was going to see “Nightmare on Elm Street 4”. And that definitely had an ‘R’ rating. She’d been looking forward to the chance to cuddle close to Brian; claiming that she was scared by the movie would have given her the perfect excuse.
She stole a glance at Brian to see how he was taking that news. He wasn’t going to want to see some kids’ movie.
“So what do you want to see?” she heard him ask her bratty little brother.
“Beetlejuice,” the brat answered immediately.
Brian shrugged. He’d seen it already. Mikey had dragged him to see it the weekend it opened, but it was an okay movie. At least it had a few laughs. Better than some lame slasher flick anyway.
“Sure,” he said. “Why not?”
Molly breathed a sigh of relief and picked up her own jacket. For a moment she hesitated, expecting Brian to help her into it, like any of the boys from the country club would have done. When he made no move to, she didn’t know whether to be put out or to let herself be even more excited by going out with someone who was so far outside her own world. The excitement won, and she was smiling as they walked to the car.
She kept the smile in place while they stood in the queues for tickets and for ice cream, where Brian let her hold onto his arm, and even put his around her while they waited for the earlier house to empty out. They found seats quickly, but the theater was crowded and somehow Justin wound up in the same row, sitting the other side of Brian.
That’s when the smile started to slip because once the movie started, although Brian didn’t attempt to pull his hand out of her clasp, it was Justin who had his attention. Molly could hear the harsh hiss of whispered comments passing between them and an occasional laugh from Brian in response to one of Justin’s astringent criticisms of the film’s plot.
By the time they came out, her date and her little brother were absorbed in discussions about whether Michael Keaton’s over the top antics and Tim Burton’s direction had been enough to save the film from shoddy writing. She felt like she might as well not have been there.
It wasn’t until Chris Hobbs passed by, that Brian turned to her with one of his charm-the-birds-from-the-trees smiles and gave her a little hug. She missed the look of triumph that he shot Chris Hobbs’ way, but Justin didn’t. He frowned. Okay. Molly was his sister, and therefore automatically a pain in the ass. But … she was his sister, and she didn’t deserve to be the pawn in some power game between Brian and that asshole Hobbs. He wondered if he should say anything, but before he could, he heard Hobbs’ voice.
“Kinney’d never have the balls,” he trumpeted so that all the kids from their school and the rest of the neighborhood all looked over to where Hobbs stood, surrounded by his cronies and leering at Brian.
Brian shrugged, obviously intending to ignore him, when Hobbs went on, “He thinks he’s fooling everyone hanging around with a fucking little Prom Queen wanna be, when we all know what kind of queen he’s really interested in.”
Molly gasped, Justin wasn’t sure if it was in outrage at the insult to her, or shock at what Hobbs obviously thought of as the insult to Brian.
Brian’s head came up and he took one step towards the surly-faced jock.
“Hobbs, there mightn’t be any fucking lockers here, but there are plenty of car doors around, he said ominously.
Hobbs gulped and forced himself not to take a step backwards. He had plans for Kinney; he just had to goad him into going along with them.
“You think you’re so fucking brave, such a fucking hot shot. I say you’re a scared little faggot,” the bully spouted, conscious that his friends were around him and all Kinney had was the girl and the faggotty little blond kid.
Molly made an attempt to pull at Brian’s arm, but he shrugged away from her. He was sick of this shit. What did it take to make this fucking jerk back off?
“Seems to me you’re the one I heard squealing like a fucking girl when I smashed up your little handy,” he sneered.
Hobbs did his best to sneer back, forcing himself not to remember the pain in his hand, which had only just come out of its cast.
“I bet you don’t have the guts to spend the night in that place on Hudson,” he managed to get out in a credible imitation of a snarl.
Brian stared at him and then laughed. “What the fuck?” he demanded. “Are you seriously fucking daring me to spend the night in a scary house. That is so fucking lame.”
The kids around shifted uncomfortably.
The house on Hudson Street had a strange reputation. It had been the scene of a very nasty murder fifteen years ago, and then a suicide not long after. These kids had grown up knowing that no one who moved into that house stayed for long. They knew that if they walked their dogs past, the dogs would whine and try to cross the street away from the rusting metal gate. And a few years ago, there had been darker rumors circulating when a couple of horny teenagers, kids just like themselves, had decided it was a good place to meet and try to fuck, away from the prying eyes of parents and siblings. The boy had been knocked down by a car and killed, right in front of the house. According to whispered reports, he’d run out of the house screaming, right into the path of a car which never stopped. The girl had left town soon afterwards. Some said she’d wound up in a loony bin, literally scared out of her mind.
“Lame or not - you just don’t have the balls.”
Brian looked around at the murmur of agreement which greeted Hobbs’ words.
“Fine,” he shrugged. “Let me know when. But if I go there … you’re going with me.”
Hobbs looked surprisingly smug at Brian’s response.
“Sure,” he agreed easily. Too fucking easily. “I’m not a scared faggot.”
Justin realizing that something was very wrong here, tried to warn Brian, but like his sister was shrugged aside.
“Tonight,” Hobbs stated, his voice a little shrill from either fear or excitement.
Brian stared hard at him, trying to assess what was going on here. He knew there was something. But he was fucked if he was going to back down.
“Fine,” he said. “I’ll meet you there in an hour.”
Hobbs smirked. “Too scared to go there with me now?” he asked.
“Fuck you!” Brian retorted. “I have to take Molly home first.”
“I can take her home,” one of the other girls said quickly, causing Brian to frown even more. Something was definitely going on here.
“No!” Molly protested. “Brian, this is stupid. Take me home.”
He sucked his lips in, still staring at Hobbs. “Go with Carol,” he said.
Molly, looking at his face, knew that he wasn’t going to listen to her. Scared, and upset at this ending to an evening for which she’d had such high hopes, she turned to her brother.
“Come on, Justin, we’re going home.”
It was said quietly, but with absolute resolution. Molly recognized the tone and sighed in frustration. “Justin, come on, we have to get home before …”
“I’m going with him.”
Again the quiet, implacable, resolve.
Brian spared him one glance, and didn’t know whether to laugh or just shove him into Carol’s car. Stupid fucking kid. What help did he think he’d be? He’d just be a liability. One more thing for Brian to worry about. He was about to tell him this, send him scuttling home with one of his famously scathing comments, when, for the first time really, he met the kid’s blue eyes full on and suddenly knew he couldn’t do that to him. The kid was doing his best to stand up, to be a man, and Brian, admiring that, couldn’t bring himself to tear him down.
In his moment of hesitation, Justin stepped closer to him and turned to face Hobbs and his cronies who were laughing at the idea that this kid thought he had any place in their world.
“You’re an asshole, Hobbs,” Brian heard the blond boy say. “And a stupid asshole at that. What’s the matter? Afraid that Brian and I will be too much for you and your little friends?”
Brian was torn between wanting to kiss the kid and wanting to kick his ass for stirring things up even more than they were. While he tried to regain control of the situation, Molly stepped to his other side.
“Okay, then, it looks like we’re all going,” she announced.
Justin and Brian both turned to argue with her, but she cut them off. “I told Mom I wouldn’t leave him on his own, and I’m not fucking leaving him with just you, either. I’ll call Mom and tell her that we’re both going to Suzy’s for the night. They keep trying to get Justin to make friends with her idiot brother, so Mom’ll probably be rapt.”
Both guys blinked at her as she headed to Brian’s battered old car. “We’ll need to get some food and drink,” she announced calmly. “Chris … we’ll see you at the house.”
Hobbs scowled. This wasn’t how things were supposed to go at all. Carol had been supposed to get Molly out of the way, and leave them with just Kinney.
Not that he didn’t think they could deal with Kinney and a girl and the little faggy kid, but …
They had relied on there not being any witnesses, and on the fact that whatever happened, Kinney would have too much pride to tell anyone about it after it was over. It was time the asshole got what was coming to him. When they got him to the house, they planned on finding out just how much Kinney liked taking it up the ass.
But with the girl and the kid there …
Well, maybe the little blond kid would like it too. He looked like a faggot. And Chris was sure he could win the girl round and have her as well.
And in the end, it would be their word against his and his friends’. And everyone knew that Kinney was just trash, and that Molly had a crush on him. So if anyone asked questions later, the story would be that they’d found Kinney with the kid because the girl had agreed to let the faggot have her little brother if he’d fuck her as well. Everyone knew that queers were perverts. That story would fly, he was sure.
Yeah, this could work out just fine.
Once in the car, Brian did his best to persuade his two passengers to let him drive them home, but they weren’t having it. Not sure whether to feel pissed off or relieved by that, he wisely shut up. By the time they got some burgers, drinks and a couple of other things and drove to the house, it was nearly midnight.
Hobbs and his friends were waiting for them at the gate. For some reason, once the jocks had arrived at the house, it had seemed to make more sense to wait for Kinney than to go in and set up for him like they’d planned.
Brian gave them a sneer as he passed them and made his way up the steps and onto the porch. The front door was locked, but nearby, a window shutter flapped loosely, and once they pushed it back, they found the window easy enough to open. Brian lithely swung himself up and slid carefully inside.
The house was silent. He told himself that there was no reason for the back of his neck to prickle as he made his way to the door and let the others in. And there sure as fuck wasn’t any reason to be relieved when Molly, after one scared look around, had clasped his hand firmly, and Justin pressed close to his other side.
Hobbs and his friends exchanged looks and set about getting their prospective victims further into the house, where they could make sure that they wouldn’t get out again in a hurry.
Brian took in their air of suppressed excitement and was suddenly intensely aware that he was here in this deserted place with only a girl and a young boy - and Hobbs and his four cronies. He felt a shiver of fear, not so much for himself, but in realizing how vulnerable the other two were. He grasped Molly’s hand more firmly and said to her softly, “I don’t think you two should be here.”
Molly shook her head. “I know that,” she said waspishly. “Neither should you. But as long as you’re here, Justin and I aren’t going anywhere.”
“You should get him out of here,” Brian persisted.
She gave him a look of exasperation, mixed with a tinge of fear. “He wouldn’t go,” she said. “You don’t know what he’s like when he’s made up his mind about something.”
Brian sighed. He’d done his best.
Meanwhile, Justin, determined to show that he wasn’t just some kid, had strolled would-be nonchalantly into the main room off the hallway. There was very little light, just a shimmer through the cracks in the shutters, and he had to fight the urge to turn and run back to Brian and Molly. A tree branch scraped against the house with a scratchy creaking noise, and Justin had to shake away the notion that it sounded like a voice whispering, “Pretty, pretty.”
He was relieved when Brian summoned him peremptorily back to the group, although of course he went slowly with a toss of his head to show that he wasn’t obeying, it just happened to be what he’d intended to do anyway.
“Let’s go upstairs,” Hobbs suggested with a glance at his friends.
Brian shrugged. “After you,” he said, waving at the staircase.
“You scared, Kinney?” Hobbs sneered.
Brian gave him a nasty grin. “No, but I guess you must be if you need the ‘faggot’ to lead the way.”
One or two of Hobbs’ friends laughed at that, and Hobbs felt himself losing a little control. In an effort to win it back, he headed for the staircase calling for one of his mates to go with him and ‘show the faggots how it’s done’.
Two of them followed Hobbs’ lead, stumbling a little at first, till their eyes adjusted to the scanty light, while the other two waited for Brian, Justin and Molly to start up the stairs after them.
Molly clutched the torch in her pocket – they’d stopped and bought one for each of them - and wondered why Brian hadn’t taken his out yet. Instinctively though, she followed his lead, and tried to manage with the dim light that was somehow filtering its way onto the staircase.
It was very cold, Justin thought. Much colder than outside, which was weird. And, he wondered, where is that light coming from?
He studied it as he moved slowly after Brian, thinking that if he were drawing the scene for one of his art classes he’d be hard put to explain to his teacher what the light source was, and why it seemed to be shining almost up from under the stairs.
And it was a weird kind of light as well. Not the streaky grey-blue of the scanty moonlight that had lain across the hallway. Or the fractured golden-grey of the street light sputtering through the shutters in the front room. This was more like … green, really. An eerie sort of greeny glow. He peered downwards, trying to work out its source, so he was the only one looking when the last of Hobbs’ friends, a dumb red-haired guy whom Justin thought was named Laker or something like that, suddenly fell backwards with a crash that should have resounded through the empty house, but somehow got muffled - almost smothered, it felt like, by the shadows that now seemed to lie darker than they had before.
The guy that had been just in front of him turned back with a startled “Fuck!”
The rest of them, halted on the stairs, felt relieved when Laker stirred and tried to sit up. As his friend helped him to a sitting position they heard Laker’s voice mumbling something, and when his friend protested, he said more forcefully, “I tell you someone fucking pushed me.”
“But Kyle there wasn’t anyone there. Just me, and I sure as fuck didn’t push you.”
“Well something did, and I’m getting the fuck out of here.”
“But you’re my ride.”
“Well, then you can stay and hope Chris gives you a lift or you can help me to the fucking car.”
Hobbs called down a protest at this sudden defection, but Laker pulled himself to his feet, clearly shaken and counting himself extremely fortunate not to be seriously hurt, and told him roughly to get stuffed. Before Hobbs had a chance to talk them around, they were gone, the door sliding silently shut behind them.
Brian shrugged and moved past Hobbs and his other buddies, heading for the top of the stairs. Molly was again clinging to his hand, her other hand clasping the bag of food. Justin followed more slowly, deep in thought. It was ridiculous, but …
The way Laker had gone down … it really had looked as if he’d been pushed.
Only there was no one there to push him.
Justin shivered. That’s when he noticed that the green light had now gone, leaving the shadows blacker than ever on the stairway behind them.
He scurried to catch up to the others, trying to ignore the sense he’d had of something brushing just past his cheek, and a breath of a whisper that again sounded like, “Pretty, pretty.”
He passed Hobbs and his two remaining cronies at the top of the stairs, where the upper hallway branched off into darkness to left and right. They were holding a whispered argument about something, but the hair on Justin’s neck prickled when he heard Hobbs hiss, “There’s three of us for fuck’s sake, and just Kinney.”
He steeled himself. “Just Kinney”, huh? Hobbs would find out just how wrong he was about that. He turned to the left, moving a little more quickly to catch up with Brian and Molly and tapped at Brian’s arm. When the older boy turned with a glare, he glared back and whispered quickly, “Hobbs is planning something, you know.”
Brian nodded, his lips tight. “I know.”
His eyes glinted strangely for a moment, glowing pure green in the dim light. “But he doesn’t know this place.”
“And I suppose you do,” Molly demanded.
He grinned at her. “Mikey and I have been coming here since we were kids,” he responded.
Justin stared at him.
“But isn’t it … doesn’t it … ?” He broke off, unable to voice to Brian of all people the weird feeling he had about this house - the eerie things that seemed to be happening.
Brian shrugged. “If there’s anything here, it’s never bothered me.”
He moved quickly along the upstairs hallway, leaving the others to follow him. It wasn’t really a lie, he told himself. He and Mikey had come here when they were kids. Well, fourteen. That’s a kid. It had been just after they’d met and he’d more or less dared poor Mikey to come with him. They’d meant to stay the night, but the place had spooked Michael so much that they’d left after only an hour or so and had gone home to watch some slasher movie on the TV.
Mikey had had nightmares for a week, and Brian had copped the rough side of Debbie’s tongue when she’d found out what they’d done.
Every Halloween since then he’d made at least a half-hearted attempt to dare Mikey to come back. Last year they had. He’d stolen some of Jack’s whiskey and he supposed they’d been filled with Dutch courage. They must have been really drunk, in fact, because some of the things he remembered just couldn’t have happened.
Like the voice that had kept whispering in his ear.
“Pretty,” it had said. “Pretty.”
The voice that Mikey hadn’t been able to hear. Brian would have thought that he was bullshitting about that except that he’d become totally freaked out when Brian kept asking him about it.
And then there was the stairway. The little one he’d glimpsed at the other end of this hallway, down to the right of the main staircase. The one he’d been about to investigate when Mikey had heard some noise that had spooked him, and by the time Brian had persuaded him not to go running home to Deb again, the stairway had … gone. Just gone.
He shook his head to clear it of the memories. Yeah, they must have been really drunk. Drunk enough for Mikey to almost go ass over head as they’d headed back down the main stairway. Brian had managed to grab him and stop him from falling, but Mikey’d sworn that he’d been pushed, and had demanded that they leave. He’d pouted so much it was no fun after that, so they hadn’t stayed much longer. But before all that had happened, they had found a totally cool secret passage that led from the last room at this end of the hallway back to the head of the stairs.
If Hobbs and his pals tried anything, Brian figured that at least they’d have an escape route that Hobbs knew nothing about.
He opened the door to the end room.
Inside, as he’d remembered, the room was empty except for a few scraps of newspaper, and an old rolled up carpet that obviously the last tenants hadn’t thought was worth taking with them. He moved swiftly to the other side of the room where a huge over-mantle presided over an empty grate, and, drawing Molly with him, whispered urgent instructions into her ear.
Justin was just entering the room, when he was shoved in the back and turned angrily to find Chris and his cronies blocking the doorway. He didn’t at all like the looks on their faces. Before he could react however, Brian had elbowed him aside, thrusting him across the room towards Molly as he did.
“You got something you want to say to me, Hobbs?” he sneered. “Something you couldn’t say without your little friends around you?”
Hobbs seemed to restrain an urge to lunge at him in favor of taking his time, and taunting the bastard who had totally fucked up his hand, and with it his chances of getting a football scholarship; possibly his chances of getting into any decent college at all, given how pitiful his grades were. He’d been relying on that sports ticket.
He lounged in the doorway, his arms spread, hands planted firmly on the door jamb on either side; behind him, his pals blocked any possibility of escape.
“We’re going to see just how much of a faggot you are, Kinney,” he said coldly. “And then we might have a turn with your little blond boy – and his sister as well.”
Brian felt anger, hot and pulsing, surge through him at the thought of this dickhead even thinking of touching the Taylor kid, but he tried to keep cool, keep his head clear. He was seeking a way to play for time, and was vaguely aware of Justin behind him pulling out his torch and trying to hold it like a weapon, when a sudden draught and Molly’s urgent, “Brian!” told him she’d found the spring to open the passageway.
Several things happened at once then.
The room suddenly became freezing cold, flooded with the eerie green light Justin had noticed on the stairway.
The door, which had been wide open, swung suddenly shut, trapping Hobbs’ thumb where it rested next to the hinge, and crushing it.
And Brian’s foot, which had been aiming for Hobbs’ crotch, connected with his knee instead as Hobbs twisted in agony.
Hobbs’ screams and curses echoing in his ears, Brian shot across the room to the passageway, pushing Justin, who had been resisting Molly’s attempts to drag him, ahead of him.
Once in they were in the secret passageway, the door slammed shut behind them, and they were glad of the wavering light of Justin’s torch as they raced along, knowing that they only had seconds to get to the staircase ahead of Hobbs’ pals.
They’d reckoned without the effects of panic.
Seeing that weird light, then hearing their leader’s screams as the door had crushed his thumb, his two pals had both abandoned him and fled towards the staircase. When Brian, Justin and Molly erupted out of the passageway, the other two were already at the head of the stairs.
“What the fuck did you do?” one of them roared in terror, reaching out to grab Molly, who was nearest.
Brian aimed a punch at him, but missed, and his momentum carried him forward, past the staircase into the right hand branch of the hallway.
To his astonishment at the end of the corridor, lit by a strange green glow, he saw the small stairway that he remembered. Grabbing Molly, and with a quick look to make sure Justin was following, he raced towards it. He pushed first Molly and then Justin up the rather rickety steps, and followed them swiftly, ready to turn and start kicking any heads that got too close. He heard Molly sobbing, and Justin swearing under his breath. He stifled a laugh because there was no sign of Molly correcting her little brother’s language just now.
Reaching the top, he spun on his heel ready to use the advantage of elevation to defend his position and thus saw – saw with his own eyes – the stairway disappear. Suddenly, where the steps had been there was only solid flooring. From down below, he heard a loud series of thumps and then a stream of curses. The other two had been close behind him on the stairs. He had to suppose that when it had disappeared, they’d fallen back onto the floor of the hallway.
He looked up to see that both Molly and Justin were white with shock.
“What …?” Molly stuttered.
“How …?” Justin uttered.
He shrugged, feeling fairly shaky himself, and looked around.
This room, unlike the rest of the house, was furnished – at least, it had a couple of ratty old couches. Brian noticed that the window up here was unshuttered, and he walked over and looked out. He saw nothing for a few moments, and then Hobbs and his two cronies came limping down the porch, Hobbs cradling his hand. They made their way to their car, got in and drove off.
“Well,” he said. “Looks like they’ve gone.”
“How are we going to get out?” Molly asked tearfully.
“I’ve no fucking idea,” Brian responded.
He reached out and took from her the bag of food that for some reason she was still clutching.
“It might be cold,” he said, striving desperately for normality, “but at least we won’t starve. For a while anyway.”
“But …” she protested.
“We might be able to figure a way out in the daylight. Or else attract someone’s attention,” Justin said.
He moved over to peer out the window. “We could probably climb down,” he said. “There’s a tree right outside the window. But I wouldn’t want to try it in the dark.”
Molly, shuddering, agreed.
Brian sank down onto one of the couches, biting into a mostly cold burger. Justin, lured by the food, sat next to him, and took a burger and some fries for himself. Molly collapsed onto the other couch. Brian waved the food at her, but she shook her head.
“I don’t … what happened?” she asked.
“Do you think there’s … something … here?” she asked in a fearful whisper.
“If there is, it’s not bothering us,” Brian responded pragmatically.
Justin shot a look at Brian then, wondering just how “bothered” they might get, trapped up here and at the mercy of whatever inhabited this house. For just a second he thought he heard again that faint, elusive whisper, “Pretty, pretty.”
Molly gave a sudden deep sigh, and leaned back against the couch, drawing her feet up under her. To Justin’s astonishment, she yawned once, and then stretching out on the couch, fell asleep right before his eyes. He turned to look at Brian who could only shrug at him once more. Justin himself felt suddenly both exhausted and exhilarated. He reached into the food bag and took out a soda, hoping that the caffeine would help him keep awake.
After all, no matter what else had gone on, he was here, sitting on a couch in a room bathed in moonlight with this amazingly hot guy. He didn’t actually think anything would happen, but just the possibility that it somehow … maybe … might, would keep him in fantasies for months to come.
Brian reached out for some more fries just as Justin did and their hands touched. Justin felt his heart race. Brian froze for a moment, looking right into his eyes, right, Justin felt, into his very soul, and then he gave a slow smile.
Keeping his eyes on Justin’s face, Brian allowed his tongue to slip slowly over his lips. He watched the way Justin’s eyes followed it, and heard the soft catch of the boy’s breath. “Are you scared?” he asked.
The question resonated between them, full of unspoken meanings.
Justin shook his head, his eyes still fixed on Brian’s mouth. He felt … mesmerized. He felt … changed. He felt … released. Suddenly, all the things that he’d known or feared about himself for ages were confirmed.
And it was okay.
He raised his eyes to meet Brian’s.
“No,” he said.
“Good,” Brian said softly. Then, gently, without passion, he kissed the younger boy’s lips. Justin gulped and pressed closer, instantly wanting more, but Brian, smiling, leaned away.
“You’re too fucking young,” he said softly, almost tenderly. “I’d fucking get arrested.”
“No! I wouldn’t tell. I’d never …”
Brian shook his head, still smiling and gave him one more gentle kiss. “Don’t worry, Sunshine, when you’re legal there’ll be guys queuing up to pop your cherry.”
“No!” Justin protested. “I don’t want ‘guys’ – I want you.”
“I’m too ol … you’re too young for me,” Brian responded.
To remove himself from temptation, he stood and moved towards the space where the stairs had been.
Behind him, Justin pouted for a moment. Then said, half curious, half defensive, “What do you mean, ‘Sunshine’?”
“What?” Brian asked absently, prodding at the apparently solid floor.
“You called me ‘Sunshine’. What did you mean?”
Brian looked across at the blond boy, where he sat somehow turning the pale moonlight to a golden glow all around him. Bereft of words, unable to explain what he felt in that moment, he gave yet another shrug.
Justin sighed. The guy was perfectly articulate, Justin knew. But only when he wanted to be.
Into the silence that had fallen between them, words dropped like stones, no longer a whisper on the edge of hearing, but clearly audible, “Pretty, pretty. I couldn’t let them hurt the pretties.”
Brian became rigid, staring into the dark shadows desperately trying to find the source of the voice. But the shadows moved, shifted, as the room began to fill with that strange green light. Brian moved back quickly to Justin, and drew him to his feet, wrapping one arm protectively round him.
“No need, no need,” the voice sighed. “I would never hurt the pretties.”
Then with an almost heart-breaking sadness, “I lost my pretty long ago. They killed my pretty. The ones like those others, They came, with their bats and their boots, and killed my pretty.”
Brian, suddenly understanding more about that murder fifteen years ago than he wanted to know, couldn’t find words, but to his astonished admiration he heard Justin ask softly, “They killed your lover?”
A soft pulsating wail of sorrow was the only response, and Brian felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up at the sound.
“You must miss him,” Justin went on. “Don’t you want to go to him?”
There was silence for a long, long moment and then, hesitatingly, “Go to the pretty?”
“Yes,” Justin answered. “Go to him. He must be waiting for you.”
A long sigh and then, slowly, “So I can go now? The pretties forgive me for not being home when They came? When They came and dragged him down the stairs and killed him?”
Brian felt something in him, some sudden impossible sense of kinship with this disembodied voice, twist painfully at those words. To feel that you’d fail to protect someone you loved, to have them die because of it …
Unconsciously, his arm tightened yet more protectively around the young blond boy at his side.
“Yes,” Justin whispered past the lump in his throat. The words of response came into his head unbidden. “Yes. You can go now. You’re forgiven. He’d forgive you. He’d never blame you.”
As he spoke, they both became aware that the green light was fading, or rather, that it was changing, gently, slowly, becoming suffused with pink, and then with gold, like a sunrise.
“Pretty?” the voice asked, suddenly sounding lighter, heart-breakingly hopeful.
Then again, this time ringing with joy, “Pretty!”
There was a long moment while that joy echoed in the silent room and then the voice gave one final fading whisper. “For fifteen years I waited. Fifteen years you will wait to come into your full happiness. But the wait will be all worthwhile. Joy. You will find joy.”
Then, as the voice fell away into silence, the light faded, and there was no sound but the beat of their hearts and the soft stirring of the wind in the branches of the tree outside the window.
For a moment, the two stood in the center of the room, clinging together.
Then they jumped apart, startled by Molly’s voice.
“How did you get it to come back?”
They blinked at her in surprise for a moment, and then turned and saw that once more, there were stairs leading down into the main part of the house.
None of them spoke of it, of course.
What could they have said?
Hobbs and his cronies were reluctant to say anything because they’d been so successfully routed by Kinney, a skinny kid and a girl. They just sneered and said they’d left because the whole thing was so lame and who’d want to spend time with that faggot Kinney anyway. Their injuries, including Chris’ crushed thumb, they explained away, blaming it on how totally wasted they’d gotten (because they were such real men) after leaving the house. Chris had been so out of it, they’d laughed, that he’d slammed his hand in his own car door. And if there were strange echoes in their laughter, no one wanted to ask questions about that.
Molly had missed all of the conversation with the voice. And she persuaded herself that she must have dreamed the stuff about the stairway disappearing. They’d had a scary run in with Hobbs and his cronies, but Brian had outsmarted them and they’d all left; that was all. Of her clearest memory from that night - waking to see her little brother clasped close in her “date’s” arms - she never spoke to anyone.
Brian, as he was so good at doing, forced the memories down and did his best to never acknowledge them. Except that some memory of the softness of a blond boy’s lips, of his wit and his courage, and of the golden glow that seemed to surround him somehow stayed with him, despite his best endeavors.
Justin, in the haven of his room, lay for many nights, remembering. Although the memories became jumbled and he forgot much of what he’d seen and heard, he still remembered the feel of Brian’s lips on his, the weight of Brian’s arm around his shoulders, the lean strength of Brian’s body when he’d held Justin close against him. And he dreamed.
Five years passed.
Brian worked now at Pittsburgh’s premier advertising agency. They’d recruited him right out of college and he was on the fast track to becoming a hot shot account exec. Justin Taylor was taken on board as part of their internship program. He was smart and talented, and, of course, hot. It wasn’t surprising that the two of them found they had a lot in common, and enjoyed exploring all the possibilities.
Not even once did they play the ‘do you remember?’ game. But somewhere, dormant for the most part, under the frantic energy of their work filled days and lust filled nights, lay the memory of shared fear and wonder, and gentle kisses in a darkened room.
Molly, when she heard whom her little brother was seeing (“for fuck’s sake, Mollusk, we’re not dating, we just fuck”) told Jennifer Taylor that she’d always thought that Kinney guy was gay. She didn’t feel able to tell her mother it was because of the way she’d seen Brian look at her little brother way back when.
Brian was pursuing a partnership in the firm and Justin was working in the art department of a marketing company. Their employers weren’t exactly rivals, but there was certainly some overlap of interests, and considerable competition in those areas. The two men had a healthy respect for each other’s many talents – both in business, and in the backroom, and got together whenever it suited them; which was far more frequently than either of them were ready to admit. They were both adamant in denying that there was any suggestion of anything even vaguely resembling a relationship between them.
Molly told her mother that she thought Justin was mad and that he and Brian should get their act together and settle down since they were obviously perfect for each other.
Five more years and now …
Brian has moved out on his own and started his own company, which Justin named for him – “Kinnetic”.
“It’s clever,” Brian had said.
“It’s genius!” Justin had boasted, and allowed himself to be lured into a position as Art Director.
They work together, in what is becoming an increasingly difficult relationship. They still fuck each other regularly, in between the tricks; but the spirit seems to have leeched out of them; there’s no enjoyment anymore, no thrill; there are just bad habits.
Molly has given up even nagging, and just feels desperately sad because it seems to her that they had the chance for something really special and they’re close to blowing it completely; and not in a good way.
The problem is that they have both become tired; tired of the games, of the tricks and of the denials, and especially tired of the endless bickering about work and deadlines which spills into even their most intimate moments. But it seems that neither of them know how to break the pattern of old habits and spring them from the prison it’s become.
Then, one day in late October, when they’ve been arguing about what to do on Halloween (Justin is determined to go to a party in the costumes he’s been planning for months, Brian wants to bail and work late on a new account) it comes to a head.
“Fuck this!” Brian says forcefully.
Justin glares at him. “Fuck me, you mean,” he accuses.
“No, Sunshine. I mean fuck having these arguments about things that shouldn’t fucking matter every single fucking day of our lives and fuck getting up early in the morning because one of us has to get up to go home and get more clothes and all that bullshit and fuck trying to pretend that this is fucking working for us.”
Justin swallows hard, but keeps his chin high as he says, “So you’re saying what? We should just forget it? You want to just end it? You want me to get another job? What?”
Brian takes a deep breath, then suddenly finds himself taking the plunge he’s been trying to avoid for the last fifteen years.
“I’m saying that we should fucking get on with things. Find a fucking place that’s big enough for both of us. Move in. Stop shitting around and just … do it.”
Justin stares at him, a smile that Brian hasn’t seen in a long time beginning to creep over his face. To Brian, it seems like dawn, edging over the horizon. He’s amused to find that his primary emotion isn’t panic over the commitment that’s so suddenly on the horizon, it’s relief.
“You mean it?” Justin asks, his eyes starting to glow and that smile, that smile, beginning to light up his face.
“Of course I fucking mean it,” Brian growls, more relieved to see that smile than he’d ever want to admit.
Justin throws himself into his lover’s arms and kisses him, pressing himself as close to Brian as he can get.
“So I take it that’s a yes then?” Brian asks needlessly.
Justin laughs. “Fuck, yes!” he breathes.
“Good,” Brian says. “And one more thing.”
Justin looks at him doubtfully.
“You fucking quit that dead end job I’ve got you working in and start doing what you should be fucking doing.”
Justin’s eyes meet Brian’s and sees them filled with understanding, with recognition of his soul-deep need for his art to be set free. He realizes that his … his partner … knows how much he has longed to be able to forget type fonts and layouts and just create; create to express what was in his heart and his soul, not to persuade people to spend money on some product they didn’t need or probably even want. He finally sees that Brian understands that he wants to move on, finally knows that he doesn’t have to feel like a traitor because he wants to turn his back on the company that is Brian’s dream and do something else with his life, pursue his own dream.
Overcome with gratitude, he murmurs a token, “Are you sure?” just so he can hear Brian’s growled response, can hug to himself like a life preserver his partner’s determination to make this happen for him, to give him this chance. He becomes filled with an equal determination to make sure that if they do this, if they take this risk they’ve both been avoiding ever since they’ve known each other, then Brian is never going to have cause to regret it. That neither of them will.
They kiss once more and then stand quietly for a moment with their foreheads touching gently.
“I fucking love you, you know,” Justin says.
Justin pinches him, and Brian grins at him, suddenly happier than he could ever remember being. “Sunshine, you know I do,” he whispers.
Justin hugs him.
“Yeah, I know. You’re just too much of a pussy to say it.”
Brian laughs and gives him a little push. “You call your Mommy and tell her to go house hunting for us. Once that’s out the way, we’ll see who’s a pussy.”
Justin grins back at him and reaches for his cell phone.
To Brian, that grin looks like a sunrise.
He watches his lover fondly, but with some impatience as he explains to Mother Taylor why they suddenly need a house. He sees Justin’s expression change, and something between fear and wonder come into it.
“Sure, Mom, we could take a look. Just let us know when.”
Brian raises an eyebrow at him as he puts down the phone, and Justin turns to him with a strange look.
“So?” Brian asks.
Justin takes a deep breath, and then says softly, “She says there’s a place just come vacant again. The owners want a quick sale apparently, and she thinks we’d get a good price.”
He pauses for a moment and then says softly, “It’s on Hudson Street.”
30th October 2008
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