|Disclaimers and Warnings
This is fiction. I don't know any of the people portrayed; nor do I know the dogs.
There is no sex in this chapter.
English is not my primary language. Please be assured that any atrocity committed against your language is absolutely unintentional on my part and I regret deeply if such should occur.
Comments and Criticism
Hope you enjoy.
Hugs from Morgenfryd
* * * * *
The Tail Of The Tiger
The dogs barked, their barks were deep for their sizes, making them sound like much bigger dogs. A pug thing. Someone had come through the kitchen door and judging from the barks it was someone that they knew.
"Mikkel, dear? Are you in?" Sara's voice cut through the house.
"Coming," I called and brushed the sawdust of before leaving the bedroom. "Hi, Sara."
She looked up from petting the two bitches and smiled so widely it was a wonder that the caked paint on her face didn't crack and fall off. There was more of it on her face than the first time I had seen her. Perhaps she had been trying to cover the exhaustion. "Hello, dear. Are you busy? How are things coming along?"
"Things are coming along just fine. I'm about ready to call it a night. You want anything? There is coffee and iced tea."
"Please, a bit of iced tea would be nice. I am on my way to Karen's place. The first night watch is mine." She smiled sweetly.
We sat down by the kitchen table. I poured us both a glass of the cold tea and placed the sugar in front of Sara. Frida found my foot and lay down on top of it.
Sara looked at me with her birdlike brown eyes. "It is very good of you to help like this. I am so glad you could talk some sense into her. The rest of us had all but given up and then the pups came.. Beth went visiting her yesterday evening. She seemed to be in a much better mood, Beth said. Nice of you putting those pictures up, dear."
"It was nothing, really."
"And a video. She'd let you bring her a video. I tried.. I have a spare she could borrow. She is so bad at receiving help. How do you do it?"
What was this about? I shrugged. "I just propose things and if she says no - well, sometimes I argue a little before taking a no for a no. Why?"
"Oh, nothing, Dear. I have these beautiful wall hangings; they would look beautiful in that room. If she just would let herself see it."
"Well, bring them and show her."
"Oh, my," Sara eyed me. "I am not sure I could get away with that. Anyway, I just might try now you have mellowed her. Did you get hold of Emanuel? Is everything on track?"
"Yes. His brother in law is going to make the ramps and let me borrow his workshop in the weekends. I found a plumber too."
She smiled. "Very good, dear." She seemed a little distant. I got the impression that she was relieved to let go of her concerns about Mormor's house, one thing less on her mind.
"How are the pups?"
"Hungry. They are doing fine so far." She chuckled. "You should come over and see them. They are so cute when they are this small."
"I might. Your own bitch haven't whelped yet?"
We lost ourselves in dog talk for a while. Then she got up and left, carefully carrying the cake I had made for her and her friends. I picked up Frida and walked Sara to the door. Leika was easy to call back. Frida - well, it depended on her mood so I didn't set her down until I was back in and the door was closed.
I tidied the kitchen and Mormor's bedroom before I brought a glass of iced tea with me to the library.
The house was full of strange sounds. There was a wind blowing and it had started to rain. A branch knocked lightly on window. The sound was a trifle too ghostly for my liking and it made me jumpy. Maybe I should ask Emanuel to cut it. He might be miffed if I entered his turf, cutting the bushes he was so proud of.
I put on Beethoven's concerto for violin and orchestra. Mormor had a rather impressive sound system but her CD-collection was a mystery, I knew very few of the names on the jewel cases.
After answering my mail and doing what paper work there was I turned the computer off and sat drinking the last of my drink. Leika and Frida had fallen asleep on the sofa.
The branch ticked against the window and rain splattered against the glass. I got up and picked up my sketchbook. Frida looked up at me and wagged her tail, inviting me to join them on the sofa. I did. When I left Peter it had surprised me that I missed the dogs almost as much as I missed him. Especially on ghost-filled evenings like this one. Moving in with Kurt had taken care of most of those. Frida snuggled against me, snoring contentedly while I worked and forgot about my surroundings and the ghosts.
It wasn't until Frida began barking that I became aware that something was amiss. Both dogs jumped down from the sofa and ran to the back door. I listened and thought I heard a sound that was not just the wind and bushes playing games around the old house. The bell rang. At one o'clock in the night?
My heart was racing and I wished for a couple of different dogs at my back, dogs like cool-headed reliable border collies. I slipped into the entranceway and closed the door behind me keeping the dogs in the kitchen. I left the light off and pulled the door open a crack. Through the screen door I could see a broad shouldered fellow with hardly any hair on his head. A skinhead? He looked young. The light from above the door was yellowish and didn't let me see his face clearly.
"Granny?" he asked tentatively, unable to see me in the dark as I had counted on.
"No." I turned the indoor light on and opened the door before I unlocked the screen door.
Red rimmed black eyes stared dully at me from a pale face. He was soaked; the water ran off him in rivulets. He had a glistening raw gash on the forehead. The rain hadn't quite washed the blood out of his T-shirt. He shivered. No wonder he was cold. He wore nothing under or over the drenched thin T-shirt that stuck to his muscled built-looking body.
He looked so miserable it hurt to see him. I pushed the screen door wide open. "You better come in, cousin."
He didn't move. "Cousin?"
"Yes, I'm Mikkel, your granny's grandson from the Danish branch. Come in, man."
He looked at me for another moment before he limped inside. He had a scrape on his arm and the left knee of his jeans was torn. I thought I saw another raw scrape through the gaping denim.
"Brace yourself," I mumbled before opening the kitchen door. The furred gang was waiting impatiently and he almost stumbled over them when they eagerly welcomed him.
He looked around. "Where is Granny?"
"Still in hospital."
"Hospital?" he asked in obvious confusion.
"She was in a car accident. Broke a leg and got a few scrapes. She'll be home in a couple of weeks. I'm sort of looking after things until she gets back." I paused so that he could catch up. "Go sit in the chair by the phone. Get out of those wet clothes, I'll find you something dry. You are staying, right?"
He blinked at me, as if it answering question was a very difficult task indeed, then he nodded.
When I returned he sat on the edge of the chair, still fully clad and with a far away look in his eyes.
I put the first-aide kit, towel and clothes on the counter. "What is your name?"
"Alright, Tom. You need to get out of your clothes. Can you lift your arms?" With a bit of prodding I got the wet clothes off him so I could rub him dry with the towel and get him into a T-shirt and a pair of boxers. It was scary the way tears ran slowly down his cheeks and he just seemed to have come to a stop. He was exhausted but it was more than that. Something had caught up with him while he sat on the chair.
I found a blanket and wrapped it around him. "Tom - I better take a look at those scrapes. Looks like there is some grit in there."
He hardly flinched when I cleaned him up. The gash on his forehead didn't look like it needed stitches but I am no expert.
"Tom? Look at me. Hey, Tom?" He blinked and his eyes cleared a bit. The pupils moved like they should. I wished I knew more about head wounds. "How badly did you hurt your head? Does it hurt as much as the knee? Are you dizzy?"
". No. It doesn't hurt much. I'm alright, just tired."
"Yeah, and I'm a fish. Listen, can you listen?"
He blinked. ".Yeah."
"Did somebody do this to you?"
What kind of answer was that? "Do I call the police?"
His eyes widened and for a moment he almost found energy enough to panic "No! Don't."
".Alright. Bed for you. You can use mine. None of the others are made up."
He rose slowly and walked with me, looking stiff and sore. I tugged him in and added an extra blanket on top.
"Hey?" It was a whisper and I barely heard it.
"Yes?" I knelt next to him.
"Don't tell anyone.."
"Don't tell who what?"
"Don't tell where I am. I'll leave tomorrow, promise."
Was he on the run? He surely was done running for the moment. "We'll figure it out tomorrow, the two of us. I promise I will not tell anybody about you being here. Now, go to sleep, cousin."
His eyes fell shut and he was asleep in a breath. The tension left his face and I saw the boy underneath. He didn't look like he was twenty yet.
* * * * *
Tom was still asleep in the morning when I got out of bed. I left him to sleep and began my day, quietly, not wanting to wake him up.
I called Mormor, telling her I might not be able to make it today. She didn't sound very disappointed, she was going to be busy trying to find a physical therapist, aside from that Sara was coming as well. I felt bad not telling her about Tom. She chuckled when I told her to say hello to the cat.
Around noon I went to look in on Tom again. Apparently I hadn't closed the door properly the last time I looked in - Leika was fast asleep and snoring next to him, looking really comfortable.
"Get out here, girl," I said, keeping my voice quiet. She raised her head and looked at me, wagging her tail expectantly. "What ever you want, the answer is 'no'. Come here."
"'S'ok. Let her stay," mumbled Tom.
"Your choice. You want me to bring you a mug of something?"
"No," he said sleepily.
I left him to the comfort of the furry heat source, leaving the door ajar. When I brought the dried clothes, Frida had joined Leika. They didn't stir. Tom's eyes were open and bleeding tears. I put the clothes down on the desk and came over to sit on the edge of the bed.
He reddened and dried his eyes with the sheet. "Fuck," he said softly as if he hadn't been aware he was crying and was shy about it. So I left him alone for as long as it took preparing a tray.
The tears had stopped when I came back. I put the tray on the bedside table. "Can you sit?"
He grunted and hoisted him self up, stiffly and grimacing in pain. I helped him organize the pillows behind his back. He took the painkillers I gave him and drank the water.
"Milk.. Thanks. I am sorry, I forgot your name."
"Mikkel." I passed him the mug and he cradled it in his hands. "You were rather out of it last night, you remember me telling you about Mormor, ah, Granny?"
He nodded and we drank our coffee in silence for a while.
"Tom, ah, how much of a mess are you in? Should I expect the police or some debt-collecting firm to come knocking or something like that?"
He stared at me. "No. No, it's not like that. Nobody is after me."
Now, that was a relief. I drew a deep breath, hadn't really been aware that I was starving myself for oxygen. "Good. I am glad." I grinned. "I did check the street for strangers and strange cars when I went out with the trash. There was none." Actually I had checked several times other than that, both before I went to bed and when I woke up during the night.
"I don't want my parents to know where I am."
He had run away from home? Did somebody in his family hurt him? "Oh. Then why the nonsense about leaving today? Sounds like you need a place to stay."
He looked into the mug and took his time before answering. "You'll want me to leave when you find out why."
"I doubt that."
He shrugged, not quite believing me.
"How are you, Tom?"
"Well enough for getting up in a moment."
I rose. "Anyway, there are fresh towels in the bathroom, you can use my shaving kit if you want. Feel free to take what you need from my closet and drawers."
"Please pay attention to what your body tells you, and think about visiting the doctor, eh. Or we can go to the emergency ward. No sense in being stupid if you know something is wrong. Promise?"
He met my eyes without flinching. "Sure."
"Good. Call if you need help. I'm in Mormor's bedroom."
I had just finished moving the last door from the old closet to the new one when Tom appeared in the door.
"Uh. What are you doing?"
"Tearing down one closet and putting up another so that I can move the wall. The bathroom needs widening so that Mormor can get around it in her wheel chair." I checked the door. It swung smoothly. "Hungry?"
"A little." His belly growled.
"Hey, did you swallow the dogs?"
There was a twitch in his cheeks and a flash of warmth in his cool gray eyes. "Yeah."
"I'll make you something to eat." I made to leave the room.
"Don't bother. Just tell me where I can find it."
"There are fresh buns in the bread box, cheese and jam in the fridge. Fruit in the basket in the sitting room. Coffee in the thermos."
He disappeared into the kitchen, holding on to the doorjamb to take weight of the bad leg when he descended the five-step stair into the kitchen.
My face twisted in sympathy and there was a jab in my own knee. "And think about that doctor!"
"I am alright. I know, Mikkel. Heck, I'm on the football team at my high school."
I couldn't very well carry him to the doctor so I went back to finish the closet.
Frida apparently had decided to get out of bed too. She came running and began making a nuisance of herself. "That's it," I told her after she had dragged another shoe out from the bottom of the closet. "Out you go." I picked her up. "Fresh air for you." She didn't seem to mind too much. The pups and Violet were outside and came running when I set Frida down. She instantly went into pup mode and the litter swarmed all over her. Violet sneaked off with me and I let her in. She could use some time to herself.
She proved even more prone to drag Mormor's shoes out of the closet than Frida, and Leika woke up and joined her.
"You guys! Out, out."
"What's going on?" Tom appeared in the door.
"The dogs miss Mormor. They cannot let the shoes alone. Come here, Violet, Leika. Go chew Toms feet."
"Come here." Tom looked surprised when they came running to him, bewildered about what to do with them.
"Just put them in the enclosure in the garden."
"Oh. Ah. Come here puppies." He disappeared with the dogs. I began moving the shoes in from the old closet to the new one. Tom came back and stood in the door watching me.
"Uh. Can I help you with anything?"
"Depends." I eyed him.
He looked at the ceiling. "I'm alright, really." His gaze came down in level with mine. "Just sore. Is there anything I can do?"
"You can finish moving the clothes and shoes form this closet to the other. You can fold clothes?"
It turned out he was much better at folding clothes than I was. We left the doors to the hallway open so that we could talk while I began emptying cupboards in the bathroom next to the bedroom.
"You do a lot of work like this?" Tom asked at some point.
"I used to. I'm a skilled joiner. Only now I am in university." A shaving kit? This was man's stuff. There was more, deodorant and cologne too.
"Yeah? Studying what?"
I looked for a date on the things before packing them. "Computer programming mostly. Straying a bit into communications and graphic design."
"Why? I mean, that's pretty different from being a joiner."
"Not really. I mean, it's all about structures.." The cologne smelled nice.
"Yeah, right." I could hear that he was smiling. "How old are you?"
"Twenty-seven soon. You?" Ah, here was a sticker with a date on it. Definitely too new to have belonged to Mormor's late husband. I grinned to myself, relieved that she still let herself be human. But where was the fellow?
"Eighteen. Do you have a family of your own? Wife and kids and so."
"No. That's not in my cards, really. I haven't met a woman that appealed to me that way yet. Now, if men could grow babies.."
I went to see what had happened. He had dropped a pile of dresses on the floor. He didn't seem to care; he was too busy glaring at me. His hands clenched and opened like gasping fish and his jaws was clenched enough to show the sinew and muscle. I tensed, preparing for attack.
"You can't just say that," he growled in a thick voice and I understood that what I had been reading as aggression was closely reined emotional pain.
What was this about? I was almost too afraid to ask, too afraid that he would come apart and dissolve completely in front of me. I had to know. "Can't just say what?"
"That you are a. fucking fag. Like it is fucking joke!" He spat the words out, distaste evident on his face.
"Oh." Was he a homophobe? I had met some like that but never anybody that reacted like this. How to ask? It really was inconvenient having this conversation in a foreign language. Situations like this demanded an ability to hear and talk nuances that I wasn't even good at in my own language. "Tom, I don't understand what you are getting at. Can you tell me, please?"
He didn't look like he was aware of the tears that were running down his cheeks. "My fucking Dad fucking kicked me out."
"Threw you out - from where? You were living with him?"
He nodded and sniffled, suddenly aware of the tears and very embarrassed because of them. "Fuck." He rubbed his eyes.
I moved forward, he needed a hug.
"Don't touch me."
"Alright." I stopped, not sure what to do. He still needed that hug, his whole body was screaming for it.
"Handkerchief, upper shelf..."
I got him a couple of Mormor's handkerchiefs and he cleaned his face.
"No need to be sorry. Bawling is a human right."
He shook his head, still with his face hidden in the cloth. I touched his shoulder, read his sigh as acceptance and pulled him in for a loose hug. He didn't protest, just stood there, resting the uninjured side of his forehead against my shoulder, letting me slowly rub his back. I didn't like the way it fit - his reaction to my words and his Dad kicking him out. Surely that was too far fetched, parents couldn't be like that.
I just couldn't make things add up otherwise. "Do I read this right? Your Dad kicked you out because you are gay and then you came here?"
Sometimes I am not good at separating thoughts and talk. "Man. That's some fucked up uncle I have."
Tom didn't seem to mind my outburst; he sighed and put his arms around me, relaxing into the hug.
"You can stay here until Mormor is back. That's two weeks. You'll have to talk with her about staying longer than that. I'll help you what I can." Nevermind what my mother would say when I had dipped into the Emergency Fund to help my cousin out.
He began crying again. This time it was in shaking heaves. He let me hold him while he rode it out.
He had been quiet a while before he murmured into the soaked handkerchiefs. "It's crazy, you know."
"What is crazy?"
"Me freaking like this. I mean, I knew he would throw me out if he found out."
"What about your mother?"
He barked a humorless laugh. "When Dad was yelling at me and pushing me about in the living room - she was fucking kneeling on the floor and fucking praying for God to drive the evil out of me."
I shivered at the image that appeared in my head. It was too much like the horror movies that I never watch because they give me nightmares. With a mother like that there might be even worse alternatives to being thrown out. I had to chew Tom's words several times before I could start thinking again.
Tom drew a deep breath. "You know, what really makes me feel fucking bad is leaving my sister alone with them. They are going to come down on her real hard now, and I can't be there to help her or support her. Fuck, I'm going to miss her."
He gave in to another crying jag and I snuggled into the hug with him, the horror was still not out of me and I really needed the closeness.
"What is her name?"
"My sister? Maria. She's fourteen." The beefy arms tightened around me. Tightened around my heart too, not like the arms of a lover more like. I shied away from that thought. Much better just to take it as it was - a bonding happening between my new cousin and me.
"What do you feel about you being gay?"
"Fuck. I don't know. I mean, I can't help it, can I? Sometimes it makes me puke. Who the fuck wants to be a fucking outcast? Don't want to hide from everybody like for-fucking-ever either." If the number of fuckings in a sentence was a measure of his frustration then he was frustrated indeed. "I'll learn to live with it, I fucking have to."
"That's why you yelled at me - because I made it sound too easy?"
"Yeah. Man, it just ain't." He pulled back and eyed the soaked handkerchiefs with distaste. "Fucking embarrassing."
"Fucking healthy taking some of the pressure of."
He sent me a crooked shy smile. "Language, cousin."
"Hey, my cousin taught me. Take it up with him."
His smile lost some of the shyness. "Don't you dare take language lessons from me. That will just get you in trouble."
"Yeah? Who else is around? You want me to take lessons from the dogs?"
He made a face. "Fuck."
I grinned and he smiled back before letting go of me. "That's enough touchy-feely for now. I better pick those dresses up before I have to iron them all."
"Mikkel - thanks."
"Anytime." I went back to the bathroom and finished packing the contents of the cupboard. Then I removed the sink and the cupboard. By then Tom had almost finished too. I went to talk with him face to face.
"I was thinking - maybe I can go to your parents' place and pick up some of your things."
He sent me a thoughtful gaze and put away the last pieces of clothes before answering. "You are fucking crazy, man." He spoke softly. "You don't want to go there. Besides, they probably won't let you fucking in."
"You can give me their phone number and I can call first. No harm in that."
"I suppose." He closed the closet doors one by one and turned to me. "There is some stuff I would like to have, like a jacket, the assignment for tomorrow and my credit card. You really sure? It's not going to be comfortable."
I shrugged. "I am sure. Do we call them at work or at home?"
"Better try my mum at work. Dad is bound to be fucking unreasonable."
"Eh. Right. Alright."
He followed me into the kitchen. This time it looked like he had an easier time descending the stairs. Tom sat on the chair next to the phone and punched the numbers. I took another deep breath, prepared myself to be business-Mikkel and not, definitely not, angry-Mikkel since that was likely to get me nowhere. Begging time. Negotiation strategies. I talked with the people at his mother's work place and they told me Jennifer Collins had called in sick. Next we tried her house. It was a while before the phone was picked up.
A woman answered it. "Yes?"
I spoke slowly, hoping that if I did, the anger would not be too apparent in my voice. Also the last thing I wanted was some linguistic mess. "This is Mikkel Svendsen. Am I talking with Mrs. Jennifer Collins?"
There was a hesitant pause in the other end. "Yes?"
"Good. I am calling on behalf of Tom. He is here with me. I would like to pick up some of his things as soon as possible."
I waited but when nothing seemed to happen in the other end I tried an explanation. Playing her bad conscience, hopefully not too blatantly. "It's just a jacket, some clean clothes, his school things, his personal papers. Some of his essential belongings, really, Mrs. Collins." A little pressure on belongings, hopefully just enough that she might feel like a thief for saying no.
".Who are you?"
"A friend of Tom's."
".I never heard about you." Was she able to do anything but hesitate? It was a little frustrating. Sonja would have been so much better at this, I was sure.
"That sounds very likely. I didn't know Tom until we met last night."
".What do you want with him?"
What!? "Eh? What I want with him? " Uh, oh. I had better cool it. My mouth kept running. "I could hardly leave him outside, collapsed on the door mat, in the dark and the rain, shivering and cold, bleeding from several injuries and without a dime in his pocket."
A soft wet sound - was she crying? I hoped she felt ashamed. Quiet. How much time did she need? "Mrs. Collins? Are you still there?"
".Yes. Yes, you can come by. Mind you, you can only stay for a few minutes."
"Very well. I will be over in a while. Good bye, Mrs. Collins."
Phew! I hung up the phone and met Tom's wide-eyed stare.
"We better move before she changes her mind and won't let me in. I can't take more than I can carry out of the house in one go. She only gave me a few minutes."
Tom nodded, still staring.
"Fill me in while I change clothes?"
"Yeah." He trailed after me to my room.
I gave him a piece of paper and a pen before I began pulling my clothes off. "Alright. Personal papers - pass port, credit cards, diplomas and so. What do you want and where do I look for them. Write and talk."
"Uhm. Right." Tom sat on the bed and kept his attention on the paper while he talked and wrote. By the time I was mostly finished changing we had gone through the personal papers and had begun on the clothes.
It turned out that my cousin was a neat freak. He made me mess up my shoelaces. "The left and the center piles of boxers??"
"Yeah, those are the good ones. If you only have room for one pile take the one to the left." He looked up from the paper. "What?"
"Nothing." I figured out how to tie my shoelaces.
"In the closet the good stuff is to the right of the dark red shirt. You probably can't have all of it so you'll just have to take a bit of each kind."
I got up and found my rucksack.
"There is a knapsack and a large sports bag in the closet, too."
"Right. I am going to bring this one anyway. I know it and it already fits." I opened the pockets of the rucksack and shook it, dumping the things I hadn't unpacked yet on the floor.
Tom frowned at the mess and chewed on the pen. "The good shoes are to the right. Man, this will take like forever. We haven't even talked about my school stuff yet."
"Uhu. Come with me? We can talk in the car and I can drop you off somewhere when we are almost there."
". Yeah. We can do it like that. You better fix your hair. Man, I can't fucking think. You are fucking stressing me."
"Sorry. That was boxers, shoes, and the stuff on hangers. What about T-shirts, outdoor clothes, foot gear, jewelry."
He penned that down while I took a fight with my hair. An odd sound made me turn to look at him. My pen had just taken heavy damage.
Tom spat green debris. "This is fucking crazy."
"Relax. Go with it. Forget about being scared." I finished making the horsetail.
"Fucking mind reader." He pulled more bits of green plastic from his mouth. "You finished with that mop yet?"
"Yes. Let us go."
"Need another pen."
"There is one in the jacket you are borrowing." I pulled on a sweater. "The house and car keys are in the jacket too. Better check for the keys before you slam the door. The jacket is the green one by the kitchen door. I'll go call in the dogs and meet you by the car."
Of course the little buggers were quite ready for a debate but I did manage getting them in without a lot of fuss. Tom was standing next to the car, going through the pockets of the jacket. "That pen." He frowned and pulled a small package of condoms out. He blinked at it and turned crimson, hurriedly he put the condoms back into the pocket.
"Try the left inner pocket. There are pens in a kind of case of leather." I fished the car keys out of one of the chest pockets and unlocked the car.
"You a shop lifter or something. Jeez, I have never seen a jacket with that many pockets. Took me forever to find the keys. Here. Oh, fuck."
I dumped the rucksack on the back seat. "That's lubricant. Try the other pocket."
"You don't have to say it. I sort of fucking figured." The crimson had come back, on full power it looked like.
"The pens should be there."
"Ah. Right." He pulled his hand up as if he was afraid of what his fingers might hold. "Look!"
"That's my screw drivers." I stuffed my hand into the pocket next to the one he had been digging around in and found the pens. "Here. Now, get in the car."
He murmured something to himself and got in. "You coming?" He asked loudly and slammed the passenger door.
I grinned and got in. By the time the car was out of the driveway he had his List out and was ready to write.
"So where do I go?"
"Hu. Oh." He blinked and gave me directions before returning to the List. "School things. Fuck, you won't be able to carry half of it."
"Leave out the books and utensils unless there is something you desperately need for tomorrow. Focus on things we cannot buy." I knew about American textbooks; most of the books used in my courses at the university were American. It wouldn't surprise me if American textbooks play a serious role in the worldwide statistics on chronic back injuries among students.
He grumbled. "Just leave the stuff that is on the upper shelf. No. That won't do. The blue binders with the red mark - that's this years notes-"
I listened and drove. He was a terrifying neat freak but it did make things easier. We got to the café that he had asked to be let off at and he repeated the rest of the route, making sure I understood. I checked the List, making sure I could read it, before driving off.
I found the place without any trouble. A huge house with garage big enough for three cars. I rolled into the driveway and got out. A concrete stair led up to the front door. A bush by the foot of it had recently broken a lot of branches. My belly flopped at the sight of it.
Twenty-two steps - I counted, each step increasing my nausea.
There was no blood on the concrete; the rain had washed it away.
I took several deep breaths, fighting the threats from my stomach before I rang the doorbell. Then I waited. And waited. Had she changed her mind?
Finally! The door opened a crack but not enough for me to see the person on the other side.
"Mrs. Collins? I am Mikkel Svendsen."
".You are early." It was the same voice that I had heard on the phone, the same hesitancy.
Early - in relation to what? "Is that a problem? I can wait." I had a gut feeling I would so much rather not wait.
".You can come in. Don't try any tricks."
Did she think I would beat her up? "Thank you, Mrs. Collins." I pulled the screen door open and walked inside. A slim woman eyed me suspiciously. She had backed into the sitting room keeping a couple of meters between us.
I looked around. The jacket that Tom had written would be in the entranceway wasn't there.
"Everything is in his room." So it was still his room, at least in her mind.
I nodded and made my way to the next floor. She followed me, keeping the distance. Second door on my left.. There. I pushed it open and walked inside. She watched from the doorway, dark gray eyes too vivid in the pale mask like face.
It was a teenager's room like I knew them from home. The same dreams. Well, of course it was on the tidy side. Actually, it was extremely tidy. The sports heroes on the posters were different from those on the walls of youngsters in Denmark. On a shelf stood several silvery grails lined up next to rows of beribboned oddities. Prizes. Tom had said or listed nothing about those.
I began packing, following the instructions on the list. The jacket lay on the bed among several others. The wallet with his driving license, credit card and student ID was still in the pocket. The journal from the secret place behind the drawers.. I didn't look to see if there was a reaction on the mask hovering in the doorway.
I worked as quickly as I could, collecting the items. This time around Tom might have to iron the clothes. I didn't think he would mind that much.
The important stuff filled the sports bag entirely and my rucksack half way. On impulse I pulled out the computer, disconnected it, and placed it by the bag. She shifted but didn't say anything. That was when I realized that she had kept her hand in the pocket of her jacket all the time. And the pocket was bulky. Could it be.? No. I had to be paranoid. Definitely. Just... paranoid.
"Top off with more clothes" he had said and I did. Just paranoid.. I picked up a few items I imagined he would like to have. A bunch of CDs. They were arranged strictly in alphabetical order by artist's name. I packed A to K. By then both the bag and the rucksack was full and I closed them. The paranoia came back in force. No sudden moves, no sudden moves, smoothly now. And quick! Perhaps I wasn't paranoid after all. Stop thinking about that. It can't be that bad. I'm just paranoid.
I strapped the backpack on. "I believe that was all, Mrs. Collins," I said to her, hefting the computer under one arm and carrying the sports bag in the other hand. I swore at myself for not having stopped at J. She stepped aside and let me out. My back itched weirdly when I walked down the stairs. I think it was something she did with her eyes. I didn't dare stop, turn, and say good bye; not that I felt a pressing inclination to anyway. After an eternity I reached the car and put the bag and rucksack on the back seat and the computer on the floor behind the passenger seat.
Surprisingly I was still alive when I drove into the street.
I was drenched and it was not because it was raining because it wasn't. Neither was it because I had carried a very heavy load to the car.
When I saw Tom coming out of the café I almost wet myself out of pure relief. He limped quickly to the car and was inside and had slammed the door before the car came to a proper stop.
He was wide eyed, frantic. "Did you meet my father?"
"No. Hey, cool it."
He took a deep breath. "He drove by just a moment ago." He looked over his shoulder checking the road behind us. "Luckily he didn't see me."
"Blue car, kind of big?"
He nodded and wiped his eyes with his hand.
"I passed it when I left."
"He must have come home early. She probably called him right after she got off the phone with you."
"You mother did remark that I came early. She didn't like it."
"Hu." His head swiveled back and he looked at me. "What happened? Man, you are sweating.." His hand came out to touch my forehead as if he needed to reassure himself of what his eyes told him.
I kept my hands on the wheel knowing that if I didn't hold on to something they would shake enough to make the joints rattle. "Just listen, alright? And when I am finished you tell me that I am a paranoid fool, right?"
"Sure. A paranoid fool."
"Wait until I have finished. All the time I was there your mother kept behind me whenever she could, she didn't come any closer than two perhaps three meters. She was wearing one of those baggy jackets. you know it?" He nodded. "At no point did she take her hand out of the right pocket. The pocket was kind of bulky. I didn't notice until I had almost finished packing. I kept trying not to believe it was a gun."
His eyes had widened. ".Fuck."
"Wrong line. Give me the right one, damn it!"
"I'm sorry. You weren't paranoid. I'm so sorry, Mikkel. Fuck. I should have guessed.. Please, can we get the fuck away from here? Christ. And my sister fucking lives with them."
I drew a deep breath. And another. Then I checked the mirrors and drove. "There are paper tissues in the glove compartment."
He pulled the compartment open. "You want some too?"
"Please. Are there any cigarettes?" My kingdom for a smoke. If there was a time to fall back on that bad habit this was surely it.
He rummaged about. "Nope. Here." He passed me a wad of soft paper and I dried the sweat of my face, neck and hands. He dried his eyes. "Did you get everything on the list?"
"Yes. I believe I did."
"I forgot to tell you to erase the harddisk."
"I got the computer."
"Good. Ah... you what?"
"Behind your seat."
"She let you take the computer?" He turned to look behind his seat.
"I didn't ask. Left or right?"
"Uh. Left. Man, there is a project on it. And that fucking spread sheet. Now I might have an easier time talking with Paul. We put so much work into that." He sighed and leaned his head against the head rest.
My belly growled.
There was a tired smile in Tom's voice. "You brought the dogs?"
"No. I'm going to eat them when we get back. Should have thought of eating before I called your mother. Need to go shopping too, we are out of potatoes, yeast, oil and milk."
"Relax, will you."
"I'm trying. I never had a gun pointed at me bef-" Ooops. "Fuck." Red alert! Close down Memory Lane now!
"I just remembered something. Ah. Left?"
". Yeah. Left." Tom checked the mirrors, and then he turned to look behind us.
Ten minutes later he went through that procedure for the umpteenth time. I turned down a wrong road and down the next wrong road. When there was a convenient driveway I used it for turning the car around. I stopped the car by the curb.
"What the fuck are you doing?"
"Dancing samba on a hot tin roof." I let go of the wheel and flexed my cramped fingers.
"Oh. I see."
"Let's wait for ten minutes, alright?"
My belly growled again. Tom stuck his hand in a pocket and pulled out a couple of bars of... something. "Here."
"What is this?"
"A muesli bar. I used most of your small change."
"Grain." Never mind if it was iron rations for the army. It was food. I tore the plastic wrapping off.
"Yeah. It's good. Healthy too."
It tasted somewhat like bran molasses but without leaving me with heartburn.
Tom watched me take the second bite. "You don't like it?"
"Actually, I do. Reminds me of what we used to f-" Bran molasses?!Close down Memory Lane again!
"Used to what?"
Well, it was too late, might as well answer. "Feed the horse." The memory unfolded, fragmented by time, foggy and unclear. The smell of horse in my nostrils, blurred moving horse body parts, yellow and brown colors, hoofs making wet sounds sinking into mud, warm quivering velvet touching my hand, my face. And then nothing. Just that. I breathed deeply. Safe.
"Hey, I already said I like them." I ate the rest. "You have more?"
"Yeah. With blue berries." He dug around in the pockets and finally found the right one. "Say, the lining in this jacket." He passed me another stick of horse food.
"Yeah?" I peeled the plastic of.
Tom picked the wrapping out of my hand before I could throw it on the floor. "It's an inflatable life jacket, right?"
"No. Why?" I bent down and picked my first plastic wrapping off the floor and gave it to him.
"It's like a life saving kit. I can't believe all the stuff you have hidden here. The life jacket lining would kind of fit right in. Your Swiss army knife is really neat."
I grinned. "Jane, she's a friend of mine and also my tailor, called the jacket her "revenge" - I keep insisting on pockets in every piece of clothing she makes for me. So she made me that jacket and told me to shut up. I think she hoped there would be too many pockets for me to keep track off."
"And have you shut up?"
"No. Now I want lots of pockets in everything. I think she has stopped listening to me. Last time I was in for a fitting she began humming in the middle of my instructions."
He grinned and took a bite of the bar. "You have a tailor?" He looked. wistful, I thought. "Really?"
"Uhu. It's more like she has me. I'm very bad at clothes. Kurt refused to get serious about the business until I started dressing better. He insisted I would scare away the customers. Now Jane and her partner Kamilla take care of everything except my underwear and socks. It's not like I have a huge wardrobe of their stuff, just a few really good things. And a couple of less good."
"Less good?" Tom was smiling. "Meaning no pockets?"
"Yes. And, you know." I tried to explain with a gesture.
"Kind of experimental. Odd looking."
Tom frowned. "Something doesn't quite fit here. I mean, why should odd looking bother you if you are bad at clothes anyway."
"I just like to. melt into the background. Kamilla's creations for parties and receptions do not allow for that."
He studied me while we ate the last of our grain bars. "Ever thought of dyeing your hair some neutral color, like brown or mouse gray? Or perhaps getting a hair cut? Loosing a few inches of height and adding a pot belly?"
"I did cut my hair." Tom frowned at me. "It. grew out again, I guess."
He laughed. I didn't understand what was so funny. Which just made him laugh harder. A blue car turned the corner and Tom abruptly shut up. Then he drew a deep breath. "Not their car." He rubbed his nose. "Fuck this."
"The ten minutes are past. Want to leave? We can make a detour if you want. You just have to guide me. We have plenty of gas."
"No. It's alright. Let's just go straight back. It's all in my head, because of the. what fucking ever Mum had in her pocket. A detour won't change that."
"Alright." I got the car started and brought us back on the initial course. This time Tom appeared less obsessed with the mirrors. He kept staring out the window, brooding.
"What are you thinking?"
"Alright." I wasn't going to interfere if he needed some peace and quiet to brood. Besides for a while I had enough to do with the traffic, at least until things the lanes packed up.
"Dad might out me at school. He and Coach are old buddies, you know..." Tom let out a gust of air. "Fuck, what a mess."
"What would happen if you were outed at school?"
"Shunning. Bad mouthing. Fights. It would be a fucking nuisance."
"The coach knows that, hu."
"Yeah. Still, he'll warn the other phys ed teachers about me being a homo. And, whoops, out comes the fucking cat."
"Hmm. How do you know that?"
"I'm a fucking good guesser."
"Good at painting hellish scenarios, you mean."
"Yeah. The same."
"Warn the other teachers - why would he want to do that?"
"Like, who wants a fag on the team?" Tom sounded like he figured I was less smart than he had thought at first. "It would be a fucking lot of trouble. The other parents would have a fit if they found out that their sweet little boys had to share showers with a fag. Besides, the school team wouldn't win shit if that kind of things was going on and Coach wants it to win."
"But before that happens the teachers would have to know you are gay and so would the other students."
"Is there anywhere and any way you might have influence enough to stop to the talk before your scenario started playing in earnest?"
". Fuck, Mikkel."
"Not with my cousin, sorry."
He grinned darkly. "You are telling me to talk with Coach. Fuck. You."
That was fear in his eyes, raw, naked fear. Fuck you apparently meant the same as damned scared. What kind of person was this Coach? "Heck. You know the situation, I don't. I can only ask questions." And likely I would miss asking some of the right ones, the important ones. "And I do not fuck family members, thank you so much for the kind offer, I'm flattered. You want me involved in this? I can be there too if you want to talk with this Coach fellow."
"Alright. You can change you mind."
"I fucking won't."
"Then fucking don't."
That earned me a light punch on my shoulder. "Don't mess with the driver." I growled.
"Driver? We aren't driving nowhere right now. Telling coach I am gay scares the shit out of me."
"You don't have to. You can take things as they come, maybe he'll keep his mouth shut and maybe that your father doesn't tell the whole story."
Tom snorted. "Yeah. Right. Coach is Dad's buddy."
"Isn't he your buddy as well?"
". Used to be, sort of."
The traffic was slowly picking up speed again. There was no sign of what ever had made it pack up in the first place.
"Say, how did your parents find out you are gay?"
". It was stupid. My own fucking fault." Tom dug around in the pockets and found my little box with strong mints. "Dad saw me kissing another guy." He shook a couple of mints out and passed them to me before taking some for himself. "I got my friend out of the house in a fucking hurry, he was gone when I was kicked out. Stupid, man, real stupid. You know, the really fucked up thing is that my parents probably called his parents and outed both of us to them. Fuck!"
"You think he got thrown out too?"
"No. His parents aren't like that. But that is not the same as they gave him an easy time."
Tom leaned back and closed his eyes. It looked like he didn't want to talk anymore. I found my way back to the community without having to ask for directions. He came to life once we turned into the driveway, protesting when I insisted on carrying everything myself.
"I'm not an invalid."
"Yes you are. Now, go open the door."
He growled at me but complied and I carried everything inside.
We decided to set up his workspace in the library. There was plenty of room for both of us and it would give both of us easy access to Mormor's printer. We could figure out the details later. I went to look for Tom in his room but he wasn't there. He was by the phone in the kitchen, looking pale, which meant he was scared, I knew that sign by then.
"Is there anything I can do?"
"Uhm." He shook his head and dialed, looking scared and decisive. Since he hadn't asked me to leave I thought he might want me to stay at least while he dialed and made initial contact.
The phone was picked up in the other end. He paled and sent me a panicked look. "Uhm." He swallowed and sounded almost normal. "Mrs. Peterson? This is Tom, can I speak with Paul, please?.. Oh. When will he be back, do you know?. I'm fine, thank you.." He closed his eyes and listened. "I thought they might. I'm sorry.. No. I'm with my cousin.. Yes, they did..." I had to remember to stock up on paper tissues too. Tom's tear canals were at it again. Wit a panicked look he passed me the phone.
A woman's voice sounding slightly apprehensive. "Tom? Are you there? Tom?"
"No, well, he is here, he just lost his voice. This is his cousin Mikkel. He'll be alright in a moment."
"Oh. Poor kid. Did he tell you what happened?"
"Yes. I think I know most of it."
"Paul has been in a state since yesterday, he was so afraid of what Toms parents had done to him. How is he, really?"
"Shaken. Doing a good job coping, actually."
"He talks with you?"
"Good. If I can help you must tell me. Does he have a place to stay?"
"Yes. At least for the moment. We will know in a couple of days when he has talked with our grandmother, though. The situation is a little chaotic right now."
"It must be. Tell Tom to give you my phone number. Call me if there is anything. I can help getting him a place to stay."
"Thank you. You better get this number for Paul. Ready?"
I gave it to her and we said our good byes. I hung up the phone and pulled my cousin in for a hug. His beefy arms snaked around me and squeezed. Damn, he was strong.
I hugged him back. "She sounded nice. Supportive."
Tom nodded against my shoulder. "It's going to so embarrassing if I loose it like this at school. Christ, as if it wasn't bad enough doing it over the phone with Mrs. Peterson. Fuck."
"I told you, it's your right to bawl."
"It's alright." My belly growled in protest.
Tom chuckled and pulled back. "We are almost out of Kleenex."
"I noticed. Anything else you want on the list. Any preferred drinks? Snacks? Mind you, I am just going to the supermarket."
"Well, there is something.."
He named a few things and then I left.
I was perfectly unaware what poison it was that he had requested. The solution of soy with chemical health and aroma was. gross. I got it anyway. Anything, repeat: anything! to please my cousin. It occurred to me that we might have a bit of disagreement as to what proper food was.
I hoped that he would not insist on cooking.
* * * * *