If you don't like stories involving gay male characters, this story isn't for you. If you're a minor or if it's illegal for you to read these stories, you are not encouraged to read them and the author takes no responsibility if you do. Also, the story, and all characters in it are FICTIONAL any resemblance to real life or someone you know is a coincidence. The characters and story are the property of the author, and while I don't care if you print chapters out for your own enjoyment, please don't sell or post elsewhere without permission. This includes "borrowing characters" for your own story. If you want to do it, ask first. Any comments, questions, please send toDluka1983@hotmail.com or post them in the forum at the website here: http://domluka.gayauthors.org/
Thanks to Jim for editing!
David Martin looked out his bedroom window. His face felt heavy, as if it weren't accustomed to the troubled scowl stretching over his face. It was late in the morning, and the day didn't look promising so far. Oliver was right. It was going to rain today.
"What're you gonna do, David?" Oliver asked quietly from somewhere behind him. He sounded worried.
"I'm going outside," David announced.
"Dad said we have to stay in... you shouldn't make him mad, David."
"I hate him," David whispered. "I hate them both."
"And you shouldn't say things like that," Oliver scolded.
"Why not? They hate me, don't they?"
Oliver didn't respond to that. "Let's play a game, David. It's gonna rain soon, anyway."
"No. I'm going out."
"How? They'll see you. You don't want them to see you. I don't want them to punish you again, David."
David frowned. They would punish him. The fuckers. And why not? He was the unwanted one. They couldn't get rid of him, so they liked to make him miserable. They wouldn't get away with it forever. He swore that. And they'd learn. They'd learn that they couldn't keep him trapped. Not like a caged animal. Like Oliver's chicken, kept in the two-foot-wide cage in the garage. They trapped it, and stole its eggs.
David opened the window, lifting the glass as far as it would go.
"David?" Oliver asked, sounding uncertain.
In a quick effort, David pushed the screen out and watched it land in one of his mother's flower boxes.
"David, please don't go outside. Frank's gonna come over."
David smirked as he lifted himself and dropped one leg out the window. "Sorry, Oliver. But Frank won't come."
Frank turned his flashlight onto a stack of crates in the storage shed behind his house. Like all the other junk in there, they were littered with cobwebs and he could see the dusty air floating in front of the light. His mom had asked him to clean it out today while she was in town with Rudy, and now he could see why. She hated spiders, and this place certainly had plenty of those, along with everything else the previous owner had left. The previous witch. He wondered what Oliver had meant by that as he went to explore the contents of a crate. A witch who obviously liked her preserves, he discovered, smiling to himself as he lifted out a few dusty bottles of jam. It looked like every crate was filled with stuff like that. His mother would definitely be happy. He made a mental note to bring in a few crates once the kitchen was more organized.
Everything else in the shed seemed worthy of a quick trip to the dump. There was an old bike separated into three different pieces that Frank had no motivation to do anything with, a few ugly lanterns among other appliances that all had frayed electrical cords. If he had to guess, he'd say that cats had something to do with that. There were two green oars that belonged to a non-existent boat, folded rugs on the ground that had the small space smelling like a litter box, and a bag of cat food that had become waterlogged with every drop of moisture that had fallen through a leak in the ceiling.
Wanting to save the task of cleaning out the shed for later, but knowing that his mom was counting on him, and taking on a sense of responsibility because his family needed the space, he propped the door open, placed his flashlight in the corner, and went to work tossing all the junk into the bed of a Ford pickup truck on the dirt path his mom called a driveway. They'd borrowed it from Mr. Dron, and Frank had spent most of the morning filling it up with boxes and everything else left over from their move. The contents of the shed topped it off, and by the time he was through all that was left were the crates and the oars. He saw no sense in throwing away perfectly good jelly, or boat paddles. After all, his family ate, and they lived on a lake. There was no telling when either would come in handy.
Once his and his sister's bikes were stored in the shed and the door was closed, Frank took a few moments to take advantage of the fresh air outside. The sun had faded behind the clouds during the morning, leaving the sky gray and dark where a storm lurked in the distance. The wind blew through his hair to cool his scalp as he looked over the choppy waters. Rain was so close he could smell it, and he wondered if his mom and sister would be back soon. Rudy didn't have camp over the weekend, so they'd gone grocery shopping together. It was their absence that caused Frank his sudden anxiety. Maybe they had electricity out here, but their surroundings were, in Frank's opinion, about a million years behind civilization. The road off the highway that led to the lake was just as bad as the one he followed to his trail, and according to Mr. Dron, it was prone to flooding and other disasters during a bad storm. The fact that he had no way of getting hold of his family didn't exactly make him feel better, either. He tried to stay optimistic, though, busying himself with the task of closing the windows in the house and placing most of their kitchen pots under every known leak in the house. Christ, this place needed a lot of work. As he moved through the house, he ran into two cats that had found a way in to avoid the storm. Apparently, they didn't realize that they no longer lived there, but Frank didn't bother to chase them out this time. He was too busy pacing by the windows to care that the smallest one had taken to clawing at the furniture. Rain had started to fall in large, slow drops, cold air was seeping through the gap at the bottom of the front door, and a low rumble of thunder echoed somewhere from above as if to say that this was hardly the beginning. And his family still wasn't home. If they didn't get back soon, Frank thought, he'd use bad weather as another example of why they shouldn't have moved there. Or at the very least, into such a corpse of a house.
The small town he could deal with. The culture shock he could tolerate. But he couldn't understand why his mom had to choose a house that was so secluded. Actually, he could understand, he just didn't agree with all her reasoning. It was on the lake. It was better than a double-wide trailer. Well, as far as Frank was concerned, if they wanted to see a lake, they could have driven to it from town, and he'd bet that most of the available trailers didn't have leaky roofs. This house was supposed to be their fresh start, according to his mom. Clearly, the woman was out of her mind. Frank wondered how long it would take her to figure it out.
He turned away from the window, and in the moment it took him to blink, the skies seemed to crack open and the static-like sound of a downpour erupted outside, causing him to look again. The water was falling so hard and so fast that it rocketed off the surface of the front porch, and puddles appeared beneath and around Mr. Dron's pickup truck. The raindrops splashing off the lake created a soft mist that made it difficult to make out the surface, and the first sounds of dripping rang through the house as the pots collected the water. Frank forced himself away from the window long enough to relocate a few, but he was back again soon enough, hoping to hear the cranky old engine of his mom's run-down Subaru over the sound of the storm. He didn't like this. Not at all.
He went to the closet closest to the front door, and was momentarily distressed when there was nothing in front of him, until he realized that all of their coats were still packed away in a box on the closet floor. He dumped the entire contents, and picked out a blue raincoat that was a little too aqua to be a masculine color. His mother's. She sucked at picking out real estate, but apparently, she was the only one sensible enough to own a raincoat.
Frank shrugged on the waterproof garment and moved out the front door, onto the front porch and into the rain, as if his presence outside would will his family home sooner. He began to walk around the house to look up the road that doubled as their driveway. He felt stupid for not going with them now. After all his complaining over being stuck in the middle of nowhere, he'd blown off a chance to go into town with his family for an extra thirty minutes of sleep. He could have skipped the chores to take a look around something closer to civilization, and he could have been around if his mom ran into trouble on the way back. He hoped that they were still in town, somewhere dry, or at least close to pulling up the drive. Not knowing was driving him crazy.
He began to pace back and forth as the humidity began to build beneath his coat. His clothes stuck to him uncomfortably and his pants became soggy around his ankles where the rain penetrated them. And it kept coming. He couldn't remember the last time he'd seen this kind of storm, where the water fell like a never-ending beat, no harder or softer from one moment to the next. More thunder cracked above, this time echoing through the valley. Frank looked up. No lightning yet, but the sky was getting dark. A lot darker than a sky should look at noon, Frank thought.
He thought about going back inside. That was the sensible thing to do. Maybe he could occupy himself by hooking up the DVD player, or finish unpacking his room. His mom and Rudy were fine, and as soon as they got home, he'd feel ridiculous for worrying. But, Frank couldn't help worrying. They were all he had left.
Another eruption of thunder sent a chill up his spine. Still no lightning, but he forced himself back towards the front of the house, anyway, but paused as he looked out over the lake. The other side was nothing more than a bleary image now, obstructed by fog, but he could see light, faintly shining through a distant window. He stared at it for several moments, wondering if the people inside the house it came from were more comfortable that he was.
Above him, the sky suddenly lit up, the momentary brightness that Frank associated with fireworks. Streaks of bright white streaked across the sky and moved within the clouds. It was time to go back inside. He turned and ran towards his front door as if someone was behind him, unable to explain the sudden increase in his blood pressure. He reached the front porch, his right foot landing on the first step. And then, the attack came.
His heart leapt to his throat when he felt the pressure on his shoulder. It was like being lifted into the air, his feet flying above his body, and then there was pain as his back came into contact with the ground, even with his tailbone. The hood fell back from his head and sloshing mud splashed over him, the rain sloppily washing it away a moment later, and somewhere in his confusion, two confused, hazel eyes came into focus over his own.
"Are you okay, Frank?"
"Oliver?" Frank asked incredulously. Staring upwards, regaining his bearings, Frank found that Oliver was indeed leaning over him, garbed in jeans and a sweatshirt, both soaked through. Water dripped from his dark hair, down his face and off his eyelashes and nose, but he didn't behave as someone who noticed. Or cared.
"Sorry I scared you, Frank."
Frank reluctantly took the hand that was offered to him. Oliver's hand. And as the other boy helped him to his feet, he pieced together what had just happened. Oliver, who'd managed to sneak up on him, grabbed his shoulder, and Frank had simply slipped on the first stair. He supposed that it was good to know he wasn't facing a hungry bear with an appetite for teenagers.
"What are you doing here?" Frank demanded as he rubbed at his neck. It seemed a lot less embarrassing than rubbing at his sore bottom would be.
"You didn't come over," Oliver replied.
It didn't sound like Oliver was making an accusation, but Frank still found himself taking the defensive.
"Well, I've been kinda busy around here."
Oliver frowned, looking like a lost, wet puppy, and Frank sighed.
"Look, how'd you get here?"
Oliver pointed down the shoreline. "My boat was over there."
"You can't go back in this. Come on, let's go inside so I can change." Frank gave Oliver's shoulder a pat as he passed him and moved up the stairs, becoming irritated when he found that his fall had caused a limp in his step. He was definitely bruised. He just hoped that it wouldn't look as bad as it currently felt. "You can stay here until it stops raining," Frank continued as he reached the front door, but before walking through it, he paused, realizing that he was alone in his interest to get inside.
Oliver was still standing in the rain, looking at the house with a certain amount of trepidation.
"Oliver? What're you doing?" Frank asked. The only response he received was a negative shake of the head. Frank sighed. "Oliver, please don't make me limp back down those stairs. I promise you, there's no witch in here."
Oliver frowned. "She wasn't a real witch, Frank," he said, in a tone that suggested he was attempting to explain something to a small child. "But, she didn't like me. Wouldn't want me in her house."
"Well, it's not her house anymore, is it?" Frank replied. "I live here, so please just come inside. It's better than standing out in the rain, okay?"
Oliver seemed to consider it for a few seconds--a few seconds longer than Frank cared to wait. He decided to go inside without waiting for a response, and sure enough, Oliver was soon moving up the stairs to catch up. Frank held the door for him, and watched the other boy hesitate before stepping into the house, taking it all in slowly, from floor to roof. Frank momentarily placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder, but decided not to comment further on Oliver's fears.
"Sorry about the mess," Frank said of the clutter filling the living room. "We haven't found enough room for all our stuff."
"You need a bigger house," Oliver agreed, and despite his frustration over being covered in mud, and the pain he was feeling, Frank laughed.
"Come on in," Frank insisted, closing the door. "I'll find you something dry, then I'm gonna hit the shower."
Oliver moved further into the living room, inching his way between a dresser and a coffee table, but stopped and noticeably tensed when one of the cats appeared in front of his feet.
"Don't worry about them," Frank insisted. "They're everywhere. Can't seem to get rid of them. I'll be right back."
After a quick trip to his room, Frank returned with a t-shirt and some running shorts. He found Oliver near the sofa. The kid had had enough sense not to sit down while he was dripping wet, but he'd had no trouble finding the one family photo that Frank would have liked to see burned. Taken two Christmases ago, he'd had a bad haircut and been forced to wear a hideous orange sweater with a polar bear print on it, courtesy of his grandmother. He was pretty sure that if it had been anyone else looking it over, he would have snatched it out of their hands. But with Oliver, he just watched.
If Frank was right, then Oliver wasn't noticing the ugly sweater at all. He was simply curious, taking in faces with a wide-eyed expression, like a little kid who'd just opened a new picture book. He held it up, and pointed to faces, one at a time, looking to Frank for answers.
"My mom," Frank obliged. "If you meet her, she doesn't like to be called ma'am. She thinks it makes her sound old. Her name's Jessica.... and that's my sister, Rudy. She's named after my grandpa, but don't tell her that. She wants a girl's name."
Oliver grinned over that, and then held the photograph in two hands, studying it again. "Frank, where's your dad's head?"
Frank rolled his eyes. "You ask a lot of questions."
"No I don't," Oliver replied, sounding confused over the accusation.
"We don't like to look at my dad's face," Frank explained. That's why his dad's head was carefully folded out of the frame. It was like that in most of their pictures. He tossed the clothes he'd brought onto the sofa. "There. Why don't you put those on. There's a box of towels on the kitchen table if you need one.... are you gonna be okay if I take a quick shower?"
Oliver looked down at the clothes as he carefully placed the framed photo on the table where he'd found it. "You won't be long?" he asked.
"I won't be long," Frank promised, and then did his best to keep it. He only stayed in the shower long enough to feel remotely clean, which proved to be a challenge when he had to stand in a cracked and stained bathtub. His mom had scrubbed and scrubbed until they finally decided that as soon as they could afford it, they'd replace the whole thing.
The mirror was okay. Clear and new. They'd purchased that, since the house didn't come with one. Frank just didn't like what he saw in it when he finished bathing and looked over the damage from his fall. His lower back looked welted and angry red, where he'd taken the brunt of his impact. It looked nearly as painful as it felt. His right shoulder was the same way, and he'd managed to scrape his elbows. He suddenly found himself hoping that someone remembered to refill the icetray. It wasn't likely. He was the last one to empty it.
He dressed, including his shoes in his wardrobe, just in case he found a reason to run back out into the rain, and then he went to rejoin Oliver. Frank half expected him to be snooping around through their things while left to his own devices, but instead, Oliver appeared to be the perfect houseguest.
Oliver was sitting in one of the more awkwardly placed chairs, likely because one of the cats had found its way to the back of the sofa. He'd changed into the clothes Frank had provided and seemed reasonably comfortable in them, even if they were a little snug on him. The shorts didn't quite cover the tan line just above his knees, and the shirt seemed just a little tight around his shoulders. He had long, toned muscles, a body as developed as any healthy youth who was exposed to a generous amount of physical activity, and suddenly didn't seem as scrawny and frail as Frank had imagined him. In fact, just looking at him reminded Frank of his age, even while the expressions on Oliver's face remained entirely too innocent.
Frank chased the cat off the furniture, mostly because he had a feeling it was bothering his guest, and then he offered Oliver something to drink. Only, instead of responding to Frank's question, Oliver asked a question that Frank hadn't been expecting at all.
"Are you angry, Frank?"
Oliver lowered his eyes, folding his hands in his lap. "I didn't mean to make you fall, Frank."
"It's alright," Frank replied, even as he stiffly rolled himself onto the couch. It was no surprise that Oliver didn't look convinced. "Look, you didn't make me fall, okay? I... well, I'm sure it was my fault for some reason. I mean, I shouldn't have been out there for one thing. I just thought... I was waiting for my mom. She and my sister aren't home yet."
"Are they late?" Oliver asked.
Frank thought over the question. "Not exactly. They never said when they'd be home. I guess I'm just worried that they won't make it home in this weather."
Oliver smiled. "Oh, this is nothin'. My parents get home in this stuff all the time. Don't worry, Frank."
Frank smiled back, only because Oliver sounded so sincere that he was inclined to believe him. Then, a thought occurred to him as he looked over his unexpected guest.
"Hey, Oliver, your parents are worried about you, are they? I mean, would they be? We don't have a phone hooked up yet so you can't exactly call from here, unless you have a radio... there's one here in the attic. It was there when we moved in."
"We have one of those," Oliver cut in brightly. "It was my grandpa's. David likes to use it to listen to people."
"Well, maybe if we figure out how to work the one there, you can use it to tell your family where you are," Frank suggested.
Oliver responded negatively. "I can't tell my parents where I am."
"They're not home?"
"They are... but I can't tell them. David doesn't want me to tell them."
Frank raised an eyebrow, his curiosity stirred. "Why wouldn't David want you to tell your parents where you are?"
"Cause he's mad at `em." Oliver suddenly stood up, dodging one of Frank's mother's standing lamps on his way around the chair, much like he looked like he wanted to dodge the question. "How come you didn't come over, Frank?"
"I told my mom I'd do some work around here," Frank replied, deciding to leave out the part where he'd entirely forgotten Oliver's invitation. "Why's David mad at your parents?"
Oliver fell silent as he drew something in the dust that had collected on a round mirror where Rudy had placed it on a lamp stand after finding it in her room. "Sometimes David doesn't like them," Oliver said quietly. "He says it's `cause they don't like him. When he doesn't listen, they punish him."
Frank smirked. "Yeah, parents are annoying like that, huh?" he remarked, earning himself a frown from Oliver. "Look, Oliver, you shouldn't let your brother get you in trouble. If your parents don't know where you are, they're probably worried. I think when it stops raining you should go let them you're alright, okay?"
"But I wanna stay with you for a while, Frank."
Frank sighed. "Well, you're in luck, because it looks like it's going to be raining for a while... Look, Oliver, I haven't had lunch yet, and I don't skip meals. Are you hungry?"
Frank stood, trying not to wince when his back protested, and Oliver moved around the clutter in the room to get closer to him. "I like peanut butter and ham, but not together. Want me to make you a sandwich, Frank? I make good sandwiches."
"That would be great, Oliver, but we don't have anything for sandwiches until my mom gets back."
"Oh. Then what do you have?"
"Eggs, and preserves," Frank replied as Oliver followed him to the kitchen. "Do you like eggs, Oliver?"
"Are they brown eggs?"
Frank didn't have any brown eggs stocked in the refrigerator, but as it turned out, Oliver didn't seem to notice the difference while he was eating them. They'd cleared enough room on the kitchen table to sit down and enjoy a quick meal, and Frank found that Oliver's company was distraction enough from the storm... and maybe, a little more enjoyable than he'd thought it would be.
Frank couldn't quite figure Oliver Martin out. He knew Oliver wasn't quite like most kids his age. His mannerisms, the way he talked--all of it reminded Frank of the kids from the special ed classes that no one ever talked to. He supposed that if he had to describe Oliver, the term that came to mind was slow. Except, that didn't seem quite right. As they shared their meal, and Oliver talked about places he liked to go around the lake, and shared his knowledge of secret trails, good fishing spots and what snakes were okay to catch and which weren't, Frank completely forgot that he'd thought of Oliver as anything less than normal. Except for when Oliver offered to help Frank clean up afterwards. None of Frank's friends back home would have done that.
"So why do you call the lady that used to live here a witch?" Frank asked as they stood over the sink, washing off their dishes.
"I didn't like her," Oliver said firmly, as if he wanted to leave no room for argument. "Said this side of the lake was hers, and to stay off. She threw a rock at my head once."
"Yeah. Right here." Oliver rubbed at his forehead, and Frank leaned closer to see a tiny indentation marring otherwise clear skin that was indeed a scar."
"What a bitch," he decided, wondering why anyone would want to hurt someone as nice as Oliver.
As for Frank's choice of words, Oliver snorted. "That's what David calls her," he whispered. "Mom says he shouldn't talk like that."
Frank smiled. "That sounds like my mom. But it's true--she shouldn't have thrown a rock at you."
Oliver shrugged. "She doesn't live here anymore. She's dead."
For a moment, Frank looked around the house suspiciously. "She didn't die in here, did she?" He really hoped that that didn't explain the smell.
"No," Oliver assured him. "She drowned."
"Oh... that sucks."
"She wasn't careful," Oliver said. "But you'll be careful, won't you, Frank?"
"Good. I like that you live here now."
"Well, that makes one of us."
Oliver frowned and studied Frank searchingly. "Why don't you like it here?"
"It's not that I don't... I mean, I don't. I just think my family would be happier somewhere else."
"Oh. Then why do you live here?"
"I don't know," Frank said as he turned off the water and moved away from the sink. "We have to, I guess."
"Why?" Oliver asked as he followed Frank back to the living room.
Frank frowned, half irritated by the line of questioning, and half inspired by it. It wasn't like him to vent certain aspects of his life to people who were practically strangers, but he found that he was comfortable with Oliver. "My mom wanted to start over," he explained. "I mean, I think we all did. And... this was sort of what we could afford. He turned to face Oliver just as they reached the hallway leading to the bedrooms. "About a year ago, my dad left. First he quit my mom. Then he quit me and my sister... and he took everything with him." Frank momentarily glanced away from the hazel eyes studying him, feeling uncomfortable. The admission was harder than he expected. "I don't know why he got tired of us, you know? I thought he was happy. My mom calls it temporary stupidity. She says one day he'll come to his senses when it comes to me and Rudy and come back... I don't know, Oliver. My dad left, and that's why we're here, because where I come from, that's all there is. People look at us like we're leftovers. What he didn't want."
Oliver stared at Frank for a long moment, seemingly taking in this information, and unintentionally, making Frank feel like an idiot. It wasn't necessarily anything that Oliver was doing. Frank simply didn't like to feel vulnerable, and there he was, placing himself in that situation, and bringing up what he had sworn to forget, or at least not care about. This was supposed to be a new start. Parts of it definitely sucked, but it was still a second chance. Frank hadn't meant to drop any of that on Oliver. He even thought he owed the kid an apology now. But Oliver didn't seem to feel the same way as he did, something that had Frank questioning how normal he was all over again.
Oliver hugged him. It wasn't a loose arm over the shoulder accompanied by a pat on the back, or a gentle, quick embrace like Rudy gave Frank before she went to bed. It was more supportive than sympathetic, and it only tightened when Frank tensed, stunned by the gesture until he had no choice but to push Oliver away, or relax. He settled for the latter, the aches from his fall momentarily fading in the way Oliver had him wrapped so tight he could hardly move his arms. Oliver was warm, like he'd never been out in the rain at all, and he smelled like lemons. It wasn't a sour smell, but a clean, almost refreshing scent that Frank suddenly wanted to lean into. But, even if he relaxed, he didn't do that. And then it was over, and Frank was surprised to find himself blushing. Oliver, however, left no room for awkwardness as he grinned crookedly and then looked down the dark hallway behind Frank.
"It looks scary," Oliver observed.
Frank laughed. "That's what I said the first time I walked into this house," he remarked, and then gestured over his shoulder. "My room's back there... you wanna see it?"
Oliver nodded, looking delighted over the idea.
"It's messy," Frank warned, "and not just because I haven't finished unpacking yet."
"That's okay, Frank."
Oliver didn't have much to say over the disaster state that Frank's room was in, other than suggesting that Frank should make some shelves for all his stuff. He even offered to help. He also asked why Frank didn't have any fish in the old aquarium that he was currently using to store books in. Frank explained that the one goldfish he'd ever owned had died two days after he brought it home from a fair, and then found himself agreeing to allow Oliver to catch frogs to keep in it.
The afternoon went by quickly. More thunder was heard from above, a few more streaks of lightning passed through the sky, and for fifteen minutes the power went out, leading to a discussion where Frank had to convince Oliver that the old house wasn't haunted and the creaking floor and movement in the other rooms were likely due to the cats.
Outside, the rain finally slowed to a drizzle, and when Frank discovered that Oliver had left his entire wardrobe outside because he didn't want to leave wet clothes around Frank's house, Frank hung them inside and gave Oliver something of his that was more suitable to wear home when the time came. Frank was surprised that he was no longer looking forward to that time, even when he heard his mom's Subaru pulling up outside and Oliver said, "See Frank, they're back. You didn't have to worry about a little rain."
Frank would have liked to argue that it was more than a little rain, but Oliver seemed so happy on his behalf that he thought it would be a better idea to take him outside and introduce him to his mother and sister. Their meeting went similar to what Frank and Oliver's had been, as Oliver pointed out the house with the red roof to Frank's mom, and told Rudy about his lucky chicken. The four of them helped to bring in the groceries, and another fifteen minutes later, Oliver was in the living room with Rudy, teaching her to play chess on the new board they'd picked up in town, and Frank helped his mom put away everything else she'd brought back with her. Which, turned out to be the whole store. It seemed that Mr. Dron had told her that it was smart to stock up on supplies, and Jessica Seaberg had taken it to heart. She'd been especially proud of everything she'd picked up with double coupons, and she couldn't get over how fresh some of the vegetables were. Frank was more concerned with the aspects of her trip into town that didn't include two-for-one specials.
"Did you have trouble getting back?" he asked her. "It was raining kinda hard here."
"I saw that," she replied. "That bare spot that we think is the driveway is flooded. It was pretty bad where we were, too, so I took Rudy to lunch while we waited for it to clear up."
"Oh. Okay," Frank replied, once again feeling foolish for his concerns as he watched his mom stand on her toes to put some canned goods away in one of the higher cabinets. She suddenly glanced over her shoulder at him.
"You weren't worried, were you honey?"
"No," Frank said indignantly. "Just wondering where you were, that's all. I was hungry, and you had all the food."
Jessica rolled her eyes, and smiled at her son. "I promise, we'll get the phone hooked up soon, and I'm gonna get another cell phone."
"The expense is worth it if it means we can all keep in touch," she said, before Frank could protest. "I already told you, let me worry about those things, okay? Tell me about what you've been up to. You made a new friend?" She gestured towards the living room, where Oliver and Rudy could be heard. It sounded like Oliver was making the girl laugh.
Frank sighed. "Yeah. I met him yesterday, and today he just showed up. It was raining, so..."
"He seems... nice."
Frank smiled at his mom's tone. "He's kind of different," he admitted. "But he is nice. I'm probably gonna go home with him in a while. He said his parents might not know where he is, and I want to make sure he gets there okay."
"Definitely. Do you want a ride? It might rain again."
"Nah. With the roads around here we'd be lucky if we found the one that got to the other side of the lake before tomorrow."
Jessica smiled. "Good point. Just be careful, alright? And come home right away. I don't want you getting stuck if this storm's not over."
"I'll be fine, mom," Frank promised as he began to gather up the grocery bags.
Jessica leaned against the counter behind her, and regarded her son thoughtfully. "You know, maybe we can rethink letting you drive the car again a little early," she said.
Frank was obviously surprised. "What changed your mind?"
"Well, I've been thinking on it. Your sister has camp, but it's not really fair that you're stuck around here, and I talked to a few people when we were in town today. They told me there are a lot of young people out during the weekends. You could go try to meet some of them.... and besides, you've been doing so much around here that I think you deserve a break. What do you think? Do you want to use the car tomorrow?"
Frank smiled, pleased with the offer, but then he shrugged and surprised himself with his own response. "Maybe. I told Oliver I might look for frogs with him tomorrow."
Now, it was Jessica who looked surprised. "Really? You know, Oliver lives pretty close. You could always visit with him another time." She sounded skeptical, and was obviously questioning her son's new choice of friend.
"I like him," Frank said. "He is different, but I like him."
Frank watched Oliver stare down at his motor boat, where he had it docked at the low bridge down the shore from Frank's house. The air was humid from the rain, the scent lingering in the mulch, and the sky was still dark with the promise of a few more lingering showers.
"You don't have to come with me if you don't want to, Frank," Oliver said, even though on the way to the boat, he'd asked Frank if he wanted to come over.
"That's okay, Oliver. I'll just come back before it rains again."
"Are you going to walk, Frank? Maybe we can take the boat home, and then I can walk you back here."
Frank grinned. "I think that would defeat the purpose of me taking you home. Look, I'll be fine. There's room for my bike in that boat."
"Yeah," Oliver agreed, and then smiled again. "Do you like boats, Frank? David says everyone likes boats."
"I don't know," Frank admitted as he watched Oliver climb in. "The last time I was on one I was six."
"You'll like it," Oliver insisted. "Let's put your bike in first."
Frank complied as Oliver reached for the handlebars, and together they arranged the bike over the boat in a way that Oliver found satisfactory, leaving the seat open for the two of them. Frank waited for Oliver to start the motor and then climbed in, feeling a little overly doted upon when Oliver made a point to take his hand and help him. He told Frank to sit down first, and when Frank was seated, Oliver sat so close up against Frank's side that it eliminated any space that might have been between them, and looked pleased about it.
The trip across the lake probably would have been a quick one, if Oliver hadn't taken the long way. Frank didn't mind. He wasn't in a hurry to get it over with, and he was interested to discover just how large the lake was as Oliver took him past several hidden coves and pointed out other houses that were unoccupied and lucky to pass as rubble, and a few cabin-style homes that were occupied. According to Oliver, most of their neighbors were older couples, except for some kid named Jeremy Flaskis, who Frank got the feeling Oliver didn't like very much.
"We don't go to church anymore `cause of him," Oliver explained. "He says I tried to hurt his dog and started a big fight between my parents and his."
"Did you try to hurt his dog?" Frank asked.
Oliver looked insulted. "I've never even seen it, Frank, honest. But Jeremy won't believe it." Oliver jerked, as if trying to control a sudden shiver up his spine. "Said if he ever saw me by his house, he'd light me on fire and watch me burn `til I was where I'm supposed to be."
Frank looked at Oliver, appalled, and strongly stomping down the urge to find this Jeremy Flaskis and demand to know what kind of ass would want to make such an outrageous threat to someone like Oliver. But instead, Frank found himself squeezing Oliver in the most comforting gesture he could muster. "Hey, Oliver, you shouldn't listen to that. Lots of guys are all talk. I bet in a real fight someone like him would piss his pants."
Oliver laughed, but then his expression turned rueful. "Jeremy's not the only one, you know. Around here, people think I'm not right. They'll tell you not to be my friend, Frank... you won't listen to them, will you?"
Frank nearly laughed out loud when something in Oliver's expression promised retribution for the wrong answer, but instead he just smiled and shook his head. "No, Oliver. I don't think anyone's gonna convince me that you're bad. Tell you what.... my mom said I could take the car tomorrow. I wanted to go into town for a while and look around. Why don't you come with me? Maybe after breakfast?"
Frank had expected Oliver to be thrilled over the idea, so the sudden nervousness in the boy's posture was unexpected. "I'm not supposed to go into town, Frank."
"Maybe I could talk to your parents..."
"No, Frank. I'm not supposed to go. Not ever. We used to go for church, but not no more."
"Never?" Frank was finding this a little hard to understand.
"But what about school? Shopping... never?"
"My mom does the shopping, and me and David go to school at home."
Frank frowned, wondering what kind of horrible parents Oliver had. He couldn't imagine being stuck out at this lake every day with no end in sight. Hell, he'd had trouble with the last week. Really, there seemed to be no excuse to keep their son isolated just because he wasn't like everyone else.
"Well... maybe they don't have to know about it," Frank suggested. He definitely wasn't beyond rebelling if the circumstances seemed unfair enough, and when it came to Oliver Martin, this certainly seemed unfair.
Oliver's eyes went wide. "I can't do that, Frank! They'd get angry."
"Like they'll be angry how you left today without telling them?"
"But I wasn't going to today," Oliver protested. "But David..."
"So maybe you should ask your brother about this," Frank said. "Hey, he might even cover for you. It'll be fun, Oliver. We can look around together."
Frank admittedly felt a little bit like a bully on the less moral side of peer pressure, but he couldn't quite seem to help himself as he continued to be outraged on Oliver's behalf. It was no wonder he'd snuck off. The kid had no freedom.
"I don't know, Frank," Oliver said uncertainly. "Maybe we can do something when you get back."
"You can think about it," Frank suggested. "And if you don't come... maybe tomorrow afternoon you can show me where to catch frogs."
Oliver was smiling again. "Okay, Frank."
They drifted along in silence for a few moments, getting closer to the house with the red roof. Frank shifted in his seat. The boat hadn't been completely dry when they climbed in, and his clothing was now sticking uncomfortably to his skin.
"Do you think David's home now?" he asked. "I'd like to meet him." David certainly sounded more reasonable than Oliver's parents, and Frank hoped that maybe he'd be able to explain a few things to him. Besides, Oliver seemed fond of his brother, so Frank was surprised when Oliver seemed uncertain over his questions.
"Sometimes David doesn't like to talk to people, Frank. He says he can't trust them."
"Okay... well, if he doesn't want to talk... maybe some other time."
Oliver seemed to consider that, and then grinned. "I think David likes you, Frank. He took your picture."
"Right. You mentioned that," Frank replied as he leaned over the edge of the boat far enough to drag his hand through the water. It was still cold, but it decidedly felt cleaner than it looked. He wondered when someone would have had the opportunity to take his picture. If anything, he thought the whole thing was a little weird, the fact that someone had been watching him without his knowledge. The hair on the back of his neck prickled, as if he could suddenly feel unknown, watching eyes in that very spot, and he smothered the urge to look over his shoulder as the open water and the trees on the shoreline around him made him feel crowded. He closed his eyes momentarily, wondering where a bout of nausea had come from. Maybe he got boatsick. It seemed like a strange concept to him. But, when Frank opened his eyes, it became exceptionally hard not to get sick when he spotted something floating in the water, just out of their path.
As the object got closer, Frank's back went stiff and he found himself leaning into Oliver, wanting to flee. "Jesus!" he muttered, his eyes becoming stuck on what looked like the severed head of a feline. Only as they got closer, did Frank realize that the body was still attached by a thin piece of skin and he realized the full horror of what he was seeing. The dark fur was waterlogged and the tail was no more than a bloody nub. The right front leg was missing and the belly was cut straight down the middle.
Frank was no coward, and he wasn't squeamish, but this... it was horrifying to realize that he couldn't tell if this had been done before or after the cat died, but he was certain of one thing. Someone was a sick fuck.
"Don't look, Frank," Oliver suddenly said, and when Frank glanced at Oliver he noticed that the other boy was carefully avoiding the sight as they passed it. "Don't look. Some things we shouldn't see. It's better that way."
"No shit," Frank responded indignantly. Like I'm ever gonna get that out of my head. Jesus! Who do you think did that?"
"There're lots of cats around here," Oliver said simply. "They all used to live at your house. Now they die all the time. I think I should get home now, Frank."
"Yeah," Frank replied. "I think that's a good idea." He was uneasy, not liking the water. He wanted off of it. Away from it. Maybe it wasn't Oliver, but something definitely didn't feel right.
A red roof, a porch swing, fresh paint, flower boxes and a well-tended garden that was just beginning to produce was only Frank's first clue that Oliver's house was a lot nicer than his, not to mention the fact that Oliver's didn't seem to be falling apart. Frank supposed that's what happened when there was someone around to keep up on things. His dad had been around at one point to do that, and looking at Oliver's house moved him to remember that there was no reason why he couldn't fix up stuff at his own dump.
"The chicken's in here," Oliver said, dragging Frank away from his thoughts. There was a garage on the side of the house. It didn't look wide enough to fit a full-sized car in, especially with all the boxes and old furniture stored in it, but it was a garage, and Frank joined Oliver there as the other boy lifted the door and led the way into the dark space. It felt warm inside, musty like a place not often aired.
Frank heard the chicken before he saw it. It was the scratching, and some mild clucking that brought his attention to the back of the garage even before Oliver turned on a ceiling light. Frank followed him to the small cage on the floor and knelt down with Oliver to look over the plump brown hen inside.
"She lays her eggs in here," Oliver explained, pointing to a wooden box connected to the small space.
Frank watched as Oliver opened the door and reached in. It seemed clean, likely tended daily. But, chicken dropping wasn't what Frank would worry about as he watched the way the bird protested as Oliver grabbed it and pulled it out. Wings flapped and feet scratched violently, not that Oliver noticed. He pulled the hen right up against his chest and cuddled it like a teddy bear. Frank only found it strange that the bird then calmed down.
"Wanna hold her?" Oliver asked. "She's good luck."
"How's a chicken good luck?" Frank asked as he tentatively reached out to touch one of the feathers on the bird's wing.
"She just is," Oliver replied.
"Better than a rabbit's foot?"
Oliver's eyes widened as he held his chicken protectively close. "I can't cut off one of her feet, Frank!"
Frank laughed, deciding not to even try to figure out why Oliver thought he was suggesting that.
"I'd never ask you to, Oliver," he promised, and then added sincerely, "she's a very nice chicken. But, I'll let you do the holding."
Oliver smiled, snuggling the chicken for a few more moments before he put her back in her pen, and then he opened the top of the brown box to reach in and remove one egg that was in fact, brown. And, still warm, Frank discovered as Oliver passed it to him. He winced more than he smiled when Oliver looked to him for a reaction.
"You can have that one," Oliver said.
"Um... thanks, Oliver," Frank replied. Not wanting to risk offending Oliver by rejecting the gift, he slipped it into his pocket. Oliver looked pleased by this.
"Thanks for being my friend today, Frank. I had fun."
"Yeah. Me too," Frank replied. And he meant it... if he didn't think about falling on his ass or seeing that decapitated cat. "So are you gonna think about tomorrow?"
"I'll think about it, Frank, but I really don't wanna make my parents mad."
"That's okay, Oliver," Frank said as the two stood up and left the garage together. "I don't want you to get in trouble, but if you want to come, I'd still like you to, okay?"
"So do you want me to talk to your parents so they know you weren't out in the rain for too long?" Frank asked.
"Nah. That's okay."
Frank frowned. It wasn't that he honestly wanted to talk to Oliver's parents, but he was curious about them. The whole family, actually. And, he couldn't help thinking that it was strange how Oliver didn't seem to want him to, when yesterday all he'd wanted was for Frank to come over to his house.
"Oliver... is everything alright? I mean..."
A screen door slammed, causing both boys to look up. Frank could only describe the woman coming down the steps in their direction as a washed-up prom queen, who happened to be wearing an almost pretty red dress. "Oliva!" she called in a cigarette-scratched voice and an accent not unlike Oliver's. "Lord, where've you been? You've got your father out looking for you and me goin' crazy!"
"I'm sorry," Oliver said quickly.
Frank frowned as the woman kept charging. He half expected her to stop in front of her son and slap him one across the face, so he was relieved when she embraced him instead, taking the time to do the motherly look-over, smoothing back his hair and sliding her thumb over an invisible smudge of dirt on his cheek. She glanced at Frank suspiciously, and then spoke to Oliver in a lower voice, as if she didn't want their guest to hear. But it was kind of hard not to, Frank thought, since he was standing two feet away. "David's been in trouble again, Oliver," she said meaningfully. "Now your father's gonna be home any minute. You go to your room and wait for us there. Do you understand me, Oliver?"
Frank frowned again, this time at the tone she used, as if she was trying to get a point across to a complete idiot, which Oliver was not.
"What did David do?" Oliver wanted to know. "He just wanted to go outside."
"Oliver, please just go inside," Mrs. Martin insisted, flashing another uneasy glance in Frank's direction.
Frank decided it was time to cut in. He didn't like the way that Oliver was beginning to look confused. And why shouldn't he be? He was obviously being treated like this for something his brother had done. Maybe Frank had just met the guy, but at the moment, he was feeling rather protective of him.
"Excuse me... Mrs. Martin? Oliver was with me today."
"And who are you?" she demanded, as if she was fed up with Frank's very presence.
"This is Frank, Mom," Oliver said excitedly. "He lives where the witch used to."
Mrs. Martin's eyes widened, and she unexpectedly raised her voice. "Oliver, you know you're never to mention that woman!"
"I'm sorry," Oliver said again.
"Hey," Frank interrupted, his voice growing harsher than he intended. "You shouldn't be mad at him, he was just..."
"Thank you for bringing him home," Mrs. Martin cut him off. "I'm sure you're expected home before it gets dark."
"Actually..." Frank started.
"Oliver, say goodbye to your friend," Mrs. Martin ordered.
Frank was surprised to see Oliver brighten, as if there was nothing out of the ordinary here, just before he launched himself at Frank for another tight hug that aggravated the soreness from Frank's earlier fall.
"Bye, Frank," Oliver said, and then whispered close to Frank's ear. "I'll think about tomorrow."
When Oliver released Frank to rush up the front steps and into his house, Mrs. Martin followed without so much as saying goodbye. Frank decided that was rude, and started after her.
"Mrs. Martin, could I talk to you for just a..."
The woman suddenly whirled at the top step, and stared down at Frank. "Listen... Frank, was it? Thank you, for being kind to my son. You have absolutely no idea how much that means to me, let alone him."
"No problem, but..."
"But if you want to be any sort of friend to him--stay away. Don't come back here again. Understand me?"
Frank didn't understand anything, but before he could say so, he found the front door of the Martin house firmly slammed in his face.