Disclaimer: If you are offended by male/male relationships then this is not for you. If you are too young or if it is illegal in your area to read material consisting of or hinting at sexual content between two consenting males, Do Not Read Further. This story is property of the author. Please do not borrow or post elsewhere without permission. This is a work of fiction, and any similarities to real people are coincidental.
The Other Side of Me
Thanks to Jim for editing!
Oliver wiped at his eyes with the back of his hands as if it would stop the tears from flowing. David always told him not to cry. Guys just didn’t do that, and Oliver was no baby. But, what else could he do when he felt so lost? Nothing around him was as it was supposed to be, and as his dad literally dragged the twin bed that belonged to David out of his bedroom, Oliver wanted to do more than cry. He wanted to scream.
“Don’t do that, Dad!” he called. “David won’t like that! You’d better put his bed back!” But the mattress had already disappeared out the door. Oliver turned his attention to his mother, who was purposely avoiding his eyes as she filled a box with pictures that covered David’s side of the room. Oliver went to her. “Mom? Mom? Why’re you taking all of David’s stuff? Mom, don’t do that. Those are his pictures.” Oliver reached for one, but Mary quickly put the box down to grasp his hands and give him a gentle smile.
“Oliver, why don’t you go outside for a while, alright? Feed your chicken.”
“But Mom--Mama, David’s things...”
Mary’s smile faded and she lowered her voice. “Now you’ve gotta stop this, Oliver. There is no David.”
Oliver frowned. “No. No. David’s my brother, Mom. I love him.”
“He’s not real, Oliver. Remember? We talked about this. Now you can’t talk about him anymore.”
“You don’t want anyone to take you away from us, do you?”
“No, Mama, but David...”
“And you want to see Frank again, don’t you?”
Oliver paused, his face bunching up in distress. Nothing was right. For days now, nothing had been right. He wanted to see Frank, but Frank hadn’t come to see him, and he didn’t understand why his parents were saying that Frank didn’t want him to go over there. “Can I see him?” Oliver asked. He’d been asking since Frank drove away without saying goodbye. He hoped the answer had changed.
“Well, that depends,” Mary replied. “Oliver, I want you to try to understand that Frank isn’t very happy with you right now. We’ve already talked about what will make him happy, haven’t we?”
Oliver turned his eyes away from his mom’s, shaking his head. “No,” he said flatly.
Frustrated, Mary reached up, grabbed Oliver’s chin, and forced him to look at her. “Frank doesn’t want to hear about David. No one does.”
Mary gasped when Oliver suddenly pushed her hand away. “ “It’s not nice to say things that aren’t true, Mom!” he snapped. “Frank said David’s not bad. He’s my brother!”
“You don’t have a brother!” Mary stated. She could feel her hands shaking, pressure building behind her eyes. Why couldn’t Oliver just understand? And she hated the look on his face, the confusion, the hurt, the anger. Things had gone too far, and now Oliver had to suffer for it.
Mary suddenly reached for him, wanting to provide comfort, but Oliver lurched away from her, pulling his own messy hair. “Why? Why? Why?” he demanded, moving to the box full of David’s pictures. “These are his! You can’t take them away. He won’t like it! You can’t!”
Oliver finished, only to jump right along with Mary when they heard a crash in the doorway and turned to find Brian standing there over David’s now shattered camera as he looked disapprovingly at Oliver.
“There is no more David in this house, son,” he said before looking at his wife. “I need your help outside, Mary.”
Mary frowned, but followed her husband, glancing back at Oliver only briefly before they left him to mourn over David’s most cherished possession.
Frank was well aware of his mother standing at the attic stairs, frowning at him as he looked through one box after another, but that didn’t stop him from pretending that he wasn’t. Until she finally talked to him. It was always a bad idea to pretend not to hear her, because she’d figure out what he was doing and he wasn’t likely to hear the end of it for days.
“What are you doing? I thought we decided that everything up here is stuff we can do without. What are you looking for?”
“A camera,” Frank said flatly. “Any camera.” Besides the disposable one, he thought. Anything else would be better. “How is it that we have, like, a billion family pictures and no camera?”
Jessica looked thoughtful for a moment, and then turned on a light as she stepped further into the attic, illuminating the small room. Frank frowned. After all the boxes he’d hauled up here, he’d been completely unaware that this part of the house even had electricity, which is why he’d been relying on a pathetic amount of light coming from a sliver of a window. A dusty window.
“I think we have a few of them,” Jessica said as she knelt down next to him to help look. “Have you checked the box that old stereo’s in? The one with the brown speakers?”
Frank stood to do just that. “Nothing here,” he said a few moments later. “Whatever happened to that polaroid?”
“We tossed that. It was a pain in the butt. What do you want a camera for, anyway?”
Frank shrugged. Now was a good time to be evasive. “Just thought I’d take pictures of a few things around here.”
“Hmm... I don’t know if I can find a camera... but come with me.”
Frank watched curiously for a moment as she left the attic, and then followed her, turning off the light on his way out. In his mom’s bedroom, he watched her reach up onto the shelf he’d installed there the week before, and a second later she was passing him a small black case that he hadn’t seen in a while. Opening it, he didn’t find a camera, but the video camera his parents had bought two years before.
Jessica shrugged. “It’s better than nothing. But, you might want to charge it first.”
Frank had to agree. “Thanks,” he said as he turned to go. “This’ll work.”
“Hey,” Jessica called, following him. “You’re not going out now, are you?”
Frank looked at her. “Depends. Can I use the car?”
Jessica narrowed her eyes. “Frank...”
“One way or another,” he cut her off, “I’m not going to be around when he gets here. Oh, and if you let him stay here, could you let me know now so I can clean out the shed? I’ll need somewhere else to sleep.”
“You’re not sleeping in that shed.”
“So he’s not staying here?” Frank asked.
“You know, it wouldn’t kill you to make an effort here, Frank,” Jessica stated. “But for the record, no. I told your father that he’d have to make other arrangements.”
Jessica followed Frank out into the hall, and then cornered him in the living room. “You know, you’re going to have to talk to him eventually,” she said.
“No. Actually, I don’t,” Frank said confidently before walking around his mother to get to the front door. She still got there first, though.
“Honey, I understand that you’re trying to protect yourself here, but is this really how you want it to be?”
“What I want, is for him to leave us alone,” Frank informed her. “He didn’t have a problem with it before. I don’t see what’s so different now. So can I use the car, please?”
Jessica sighed. “I’m sorry, but no. Your dad’s supposed to call when he gets into town and your sister and I are going to go meet him. I wish you’d come.”
“I already have plans,” Frank said flatly.
“With Oliver?” Jessica asked, raising an eyebrow. She was well aware that for the last week, Frank hadn’t seen Oliver once. In fact, he’d hardly left his room. She’d thought that the sudden dark mood her son had slipped into had a lot to do with his dad’s visit, so she’d been hopeful when he actually gotten out of the bed and joined the rest of the family for breakfast that morning; but now she could see that nothing had changed, and she was beginning to suspect that Frank’s problems had to do with more than just Sam coming into town. Unfortunately, when Frank didn’t want to discuss something, it was frustratingly hard to get him to open up.
“No. I just... wanted to go do something in town. I don’t want to be around here right now, okay?”
Jessica sighed. As much as she wanted to, she knew that it would be cruel to force Frank to stick around and visit with his dad. If anything, it would only make matters worse since he’d not only be furious with one parent, but two. He needed space, and Jessica was good at choosing her battles, which was why she was prepared to give it to him.
“Well... you could always ask Mr. Dron for a ride. I know he’s going to head out in a little while for more paint. He might even give you a ride--even though you haven’t lifted a finger to help him all morning.”
Frank frowned. His mom was paying Mr. Dron twenty-five dollars--mostly because he wouldn’t accept any more--to paint the trim on the outside of the house white in an attempt to brighten it up. Normally, it was something Frank would have done himself, or at least helped with, but two nights ago he’d accused his mother of trying to fix the place up for his dad’s benefit. He was sticking to that theory, and wanted nothing to do with it, but that didn’t stop him from plugging in the camera to charge for a while, and heading out the front door.
It was windy more than it was cold, and although the occasional cloud passed over the sun, it was a fairly bright day. Frank appreciated it, the sunlight they’d had over the last week. It tended to ease his disturbing nightmares when he woke up to it, and that had happened more often lately than he found acceptable.
The darkness. Frank hated it every night when he went to bed, though he refused to sleep with a nightlight. But every time he turned off his bedroom light, closed his eyes and submerged himself in darkness, he was back in the Martin house. Back in the basement. He’d become aware of how much the situation had shaken him the first night he’d spent in his room afterwards, and seven days later, it was becoming all too clear to Frank that his sudden fear of the dark wasn’t going to be as easily conquered as it had been when he was five and his dad had scared the monsters away. And Frank had only been forced to endure his experience for a few hours.
Wondering if Oliver was okay, safe, and not in that horrible, dark place, had been a constant in Frank’s mind since he’d driven away from the Martin house. The thought of Oliver alone in that room shook him, frightened him and angered him. But he hadn’t been back to check. He hadn’t woken up early, expecting to see Oliver, and he hadn’t pondered going across the lake to knock on the Martins’ door. In fact, Frank had done his very best to avoid even looking towards the red roof that Oliver Martin slept under.
It wasn’t Oliver’s fault. Frank might have thought he was angry with Oliver at first, but it hadn’t taken him long to figure out that that wasn’t the case at all. He couldn’t be angry with Oliver. He didn’t even know if Oliver had been intentionally hiding anything from him. Frank simply didn’t understand. He didn’t understand any of it, and every time he tried, he quickly came to the numbing conclusion that he didn’t even know where to start.
He’d replayed what Brian Martin had told him a thousand times in his mind, each time attempting to recall every word until he no longer knew if he was remembering what really happened, or remembering something his own mind had fabricated. The one thing that had continued to come back to him with an abundant amount of clarity, was the look on Oliver’s face. Oliver’s face. Oliver was the one who’d befriended him when he’d been alone. He was the one who listened to Frank every time he talked about the things anyone with lesser patience wouldn’t have been able to stand. They’d shared kisses, and the kind of looks that were only meant for each other. He’d done all of this with Oliver, but now it seemed that he’d done all of this with David, too. He knew Oliver, but not David. But if he didn’t know David, then Frank had to wonder if he knew Oliver at all, and the entire concept confused and frustrated him. Oliver was David. The sweet kid with a happy smile and innocent demeanor was the arrogant, crude, prick. And Frank couldn’t see it. He didn’t understand how one could be the other when they were so different. But he believed it.
He’d never once seen them together. True, it wasn’t necessarily solid proof that they were one and the same. But, when he thought about how close Oliver claimed to be to David, how much Oliver cared for him, it was rather difficult to believe that Oliver hadn’t wanted David around more when they were together. And that smile--they had the same one. Even David in his less coarse moments had that smile.
Frank thought back to the time he’d gone to the Martins and found David there alone as he slowly walked around his house. When David had greeted him at the door, he’d thought it was Oliver, and perhaps, it had been. The boy’s demeanor had changed only when Frank had specifically asked to talk to David... and then David had been there.
Perhaps he was putting too much thought into it. Maybe he just needed to keep doing what he’d been doing for the last week, and stay away. It wasn’t as if he didn’t have his own problems to deal with.
Frank could smell paint even before he saw the ladder leaning up against the house and looked up to see Mr. Dron slowly painting the trim around the attic window. He frowned at what he was actually considering. Being trapped in a car with Mr. Dron for any amount of time wasn’t within Frank’s comfort level, but at the moment, he was desperate.
It wasn’t that Frank thought Mr. Dron was a bad guy. Mr. Dron just happened to remind him of every old, unapproachable cowboy from every western he’d ever seen with his weather-burned appearance and tired but sharp eyes. Perhaps those characters could be entertaining in a few movies, but up close, Frank found that men with large-rimmed hats, who never smiled or laughed about anything, didn’t make for great company.
Frank approached the ladder slowly, feeling uncomfortable when Mr. Dron glanced down to acknowledge he was there, but didn’t offer any greeting. Not even a simple nod. Frank wanted to walk away, but chose to hold the ladder instead, as if it were actually needed.
“Need some help?” Frank called up. He didn’t want to help, either, but he figured that outright asking for a favor would be considered rude. Then again, the way that Mr. Dron glanced down at Frank as if it were a skunk at the bottom of his ladder, could have been considered rude, too. At least his response was civil enough.
“Just about to come down. I’ll be heading out soon. I’m sure there’s plenty more you can help your mom with around here, though.”
Frank frowned at the accusing look that Mr. Dron shot him. The old man seemed to be under the impression that Frank didn’t lift a finger to help his family. But, instead of becoming defensive, he put his pride in check and forced a smile as he looked over Mr. Dron’s work. “You’re not finished yet.”
“I’ll finish tomorrow. Gotta pick some stuff up.”
“Are you going now?” Frank asked. “I mean, to get what you need?”
Mr. Dron stepped off the ladder, wiped his hands on his jeans, and openly frowned at Frank. “Might as well.”
“Want some company?” Frank asked, only to have Mr. Dron step past him to clean up the opened paint can he’d left on the ground.
“Don’t think so.”
Frank stared at Mr. Dron’s back for a long moment, and then stepped determinedly up behind him. “Well would you tolerate some company, then? I need a ride to town.”
Mr. Dron looked over his shoulder, raising a bushy eyebrow beneath his large hat.
Frank let out a breath and added, “I’ll pay for the gas.”
Mr. Dron had about twelve cars in various conditions around his house, and since Frank had offered to pay for gas, he’d made sure to stop and get the only one with the empty tank on the way out to town. By the time he dropped Frank off in front of the movie theater, like he’d requested, Frank was feeling a little bit like an idiot and a lot perturbed with Mr. Dron for being an all-around jerk. But, at least he was away from his house.
He’d needed to get out. The biggest reason was because his stomach had been in knots all week over his father’s visit. He didn’t even know how to begin to deal with it, so he avoided it. Just like he was avoiding Oliver... or David. Or whoever he was. Oliver, Frank decided. It was simply easier to think of him as just plain Oliver. Who happened to share his body with someone named David.
He was avoiding them both, he figured. When he wasn’t worrying over whether or not they were okay, Frank had to admit that doing his best to avoid them was currently one of the more important things in his life. And a lot of it had to do with the fact that he was afraid. He was afraid of what they were. He was afraid of how it worked, because he was afraid of the way it was so different from anyone’s normal standards. He’d been afraid to leave his house during the day because there was the possibility that he could run into someone with Oliver’s face, and not know how to respond to it. And he had no one to talk to about any of it.
His mom. She would have been a good choice, had he wanted to share these burdens with anyone, and Frank knew it. But he was afraid of that, too. He was afraid she’d be too good. If Frank told her about any of it, especially the part where Mrs. Martin locked him in a basement, his mom was likely to raise hell and drag the devil up by his toes. And he wanted her to. He wanted her to so badly that it was torture to keep it from her. He’d never felt so in-over-his-head before and he wanted to give it all away. Just let her take care of it. She would, he had no question about that. But he felt he couldn’t. It would only make matters worse. He kept thinking about what Brian Martin said. They’d take Oliver, put him somewhere. Maybe somewhere worse than the dark. Frank couldn’t live with that. And maybe, he told himself, the Martins were doing the best they could. He’d seen Mary Martin’s eye, proof that David was dangerous. If they had to lock him up to keep the family safe, he wasn’t so sure that he could condemn them for that. He just hated that Oliver had to share the experience with David. Because no matter the circumstances, Frank knew that Oliver wasn’t David. Or rather, Oliver wasn’t like him. He couldn’t do anything that might hurt Oliver. He wouldn’t. So for now, he’d keep their secret.
Getting away was a good thing, according to Frank. And, it wasn’t as if he’d asked Mr. Dron to drop him off at the theater so he could spend his day watching movies and forgetting about his problems. Although, as he walked through town towards Karrigan’s, he couldn’t help feeling that that would have been the better idea. Unfortunately, Frank disliked loose ends when they involved creeps photographing his little sister. And currently, Frank had a rather large loose end.
It hadn’t been David. It couldn’t have been, not when Oliver had been in his room when the whole thing had happened. Not to mention, Oliver had been with him when he was attacked. And without David, Frank’s list of suspects had dropped down to zero, which was actually more than it was less. Now, everyone was a suspect. He didn’t have a clue.
But, he wasn’t willing to forget about it. Armed with a video camera, he was following the only lead he had, hoping that he wasn’t too late. It was eleven fifteen. The week before, Jenny Woodmoore had told Frank to meet her at eleven o’clock, when the photography club planned to get together. Frank had no idea if these meetings occurred every week at the same time, or even on the same day for that matter, but he was willing to find out. If anything, the trip would occupy his time with some much needed distraction.
Karrigan’s was less empty this time around. Frank had walked in during a small lunch rush. It was unexpected, but welcome. There seemed to be less of a chance of being noticed in a crowd, and he found that’s exactly what he wanted when his attention was drawn to a noisy corner full of other people his age.
There were six of them, sharing two plates of greasy fries. He recognized Jenny right off. This time, her jeans skirt and faded blouse suggested that she wasn’t working, and he was pleased to see a camera in her hand and a few others over the table. He was quick to take in the others: two girls, including Jenny, who he paid little attention to. A guy with dark, shaggy hair in the corner seat was too big to be suspected of being at Rudy’s window. He was beyond tall, and rather big-boned. Frank decided that there was no way he would have been able to tackle him. Another with curls and bushy eyebrows was too thin, and at least a foot shorter than Frank.
That left two. Frank’s eyes were first drawn to the mullet-topped guy with dark hair and artificial red streaks. He was toying with a camera, looking irritated over the chatter going on around him, which made Frank wonder why he didn’t just leave the table. Frank also wondered if it was possible that he was staring at the guy who’d left him with a split lip a few weeks ago. But, speculation wasn’t going to get him anywhere, so he forced himself to look over the last guy at the table, who seemed to be all over Jenny Woodmoore.
When Frank was in kindergarten, he’d been invited to his friend Eric’s birthday party. For a final surprise gift, his parents had presented him with a German shepherd puppy. Everyone had wanted to take their chance to say hello to the little creature with cute, uncut floppy ears and enough kisses for an army of giggling school children. But, from the moment his parents had placed that puppy in Eric’s lap, he’d had his arms around it, and his possession of his gift seemed borderline greedy as he refused to let anyone else get in a good scratch behind the ears. Frank was reminded of the experience as he looked over at Jenny and the guy who couldn’t have been anyone other than her boyfriend.
He was subtle, but the this-is-mine attitude seemed to be written all over him. It was as if he always had to be touching her, tucking her hair behind her ear whenever she looked at him, holding her hand atop the table when anyone else was looking. Even when he reached for his drink his free hand would be under the table, touching her knee.
Body language told a lot, Frank thought. It was something he was paying more attention to lately. Or, at least reflecting on. Like with Oliver. When he was with Oliver, there was comfort, nudges, mild looks and smiles. Every time he’d been near David, there had been a wall up. Tension, anger, and suspicion. The same face, but two different beings.
Frank momentarily closed his eyes. It was too much. All of it was too much. He missed Oliver. But, maybe Oliver, or the guy he thought Oliver was, didn’t exist. Never existed.
Frank felt like he couldn’t breathe, but as he opened his eyes, he was startled into sucking in a deep breath. Oops, he thought, realizing that Jenny’s boyfriend was looking right at him. With the way that Frank’s luck had been going lately, he wouldn’t have been surprised if the guy assumed that he was looking at Jenny and now wanted to express how much he didn’t like that. But fortunately for Frank, Jenny spotted him next, smiled, and went to greet him. The boyfriend was on her heels the whole way, but at least his expression seemed relaxed and approachable as they reached Frank together.
“Hey there,” Jenny said, eyeing his bag. “Did’ya find your camera?”
“Not exactly,” Frank replied, opening the black case to show her the camera. “But, there’s probably no harm in using this for a while.”
“Nice!” This came from Jenny’s boyfriend, who surprised Frank by practically snatching the video camera out of his hands to inspect it before walking back towards the table, already pushing at the buttons.
Jenny rolled her eyes as she watched the blond go, and then flashed Frank an apologetic look. He just shrugged.
“That’s Jay,” she explained. “He’ll give it back in one piece, I promise.”
Frank smiled. “That’s okay.”
“You didn’t show last week. Wasn’t sure I’d see you here today.”
“I didn’t even know if you’d be here today,” Frank admitted. “I figured I might as well find out, though. Um, sorry about last week. I got kinda busy.”
“That’s fine,” Jenny insisted, nodding him towards her table. “Come on, I’ll introduce you.”
Frank followed, and wasn’t surprised when Jenny formally introduced him to Jay, first. He seemed nice enough. A lot nicer than what Frank’s first impression had led him to believe, even if Jay didn’t seem interested in returning Frank’s camera any time soon. Frank couldn’t have cared less as he put his attention into meeting everyone else at the table.
This one girl apart from Jenny was chatty, and seemed a little overeager when she asked Frank to sit next to her; the tall guy was eager to express how friendly their town was; and the short one wanted to know if Frank had an album at home so they could see his work. Frank conveniently lost that in the move, too.
Overall, he was encouraged by how quickly these people seemed to accept him. All except for one. When Jenny finally introduced him to the red-streaked mullet head, Frank was quick to forget about everyone else at the table.
“And this is Jeremy,” Jenny said. “He takes mostly black and whites. Seems to think he has enough color in his hair.”
Frank looked across the table, ready to greet Jeremy as he had everyone else, but seemed to lose all track of what he was doing as Jeremy offered him one cold glance to acknowledge he was there, and then dismissed him by going back to his camera.
Jenny was still talking, but Frank had no idea what she was saying as he stared at Jeremy a little longer. Something was familiar. Frank had a bad feeling about the guy, but couldn’t quite place it for several long moments before something clicked. The name. Jeremy... Jeremy. Jeremy Flaskis. Oliver had mentioned a Jeremy, and Frank was quick to suspect that Oliver’s Jeremy and this one were one and the same. The guy definitely seemed intimidating, and Frank could just picture him threatening Oliver if he didn’t like him. Although, now that Frank thought about it, there might have been more of a reason than that. Like, maybe Jeremy’s dog really was threatened. But, when Oliver had sworn that he didn’t do it, perhaps that wasn’t the complete truth. Maybe it was David. It would make sense. If David was capable of attacking his mother, he was capable of tormenting an animal.
Frank remembered the image of the dead cat, floating in the lake. He had a sick feeling that David had had something to do with that, too, and swallowed down an uncomfortable thickness in his throat before forcing himself to shake off the memory and focus.
Jeremy Flaskis... he’d seen David tormenting his animal... perhaps David had run off. Later, he saw Oliver and threatened him, not knowing the difference. And why would he notice? They shared the same body, after all.
Frank narrowed his eyes at Jeremy before he realized he was doing it, and unfortunately, it was just in time for Jeremy to notice.
“What?” the other boy demanded, drawing the rest of the table’s attention to Frank.
For a moment, Frank wanted to respond. A protective urge had him close to daring to tell Jeremy Flaskis what he thought of him; what he thought of someone who’d wish harm on someone like Oliver, even if it was warranted to a point. Right then and there, he was fully tempted to ask Jeremy Flaskis why he was looking through the windows of his house as he remembered something David had said. Did it ever occur to you that whoever was looking in your windows wasn’t looking to take a picture of anyone in your family? Jeremy Flaskis was looking for Oliver... or David. But why? Frank wondered. Did he suspect that something was wrong with them--him? Did he know the truth? Oliver’s secret? If he did, that made him dangerous, Frank decided. Maybe he wanted to prove it. Maybe he wanted to prove that Oliver--David--was dangerous. Maybe he wanted him gone. Frank would have loved to know, but quickly decided that this wasn’t the time. David had told him to look deeper. Frank hadn’t known what that meant at the time, but maybe Jeremy Flaskis was a good place to start. Maybe that’s what David wanted. He wanted Frank’s help to protect himself...and Oliver.
And not knowing if that was exactly what he wanted to do, Frank knew he would anyway as he forced a friendly smile in Jeremy’s direction.
“I like your hair,” he lied. “Any idea where I can get that done?”
Instead of responding, Jeremy rolled his eyes, and once again went back to his camera, leaving everyone at the table in an awkward silence until Jenny released a nervous laugh and looked at Frank. “Why on earth would you want to do that?” she asked, surprising him by ruffling his hair. “I love this color.”
“Frank’s lip quirked in amusement, but it wasn’t what he was feeling as he looked to Jay for his reaction to his girlfriend’s antics. But again, Jay seemed relaxed, friendly. He also seemed very efficient when it came to a much-needed subject change.
“Alright,” Jay said, taking Jenny’s hand. “You losers ready to get out of here?” He paused and looked at Frank, finally handing back the video camera. “Come on, Frank. This’ll be fun.”
Oliver’s eyes itched. Swollen, and dry, he rubbed at them like the irritation they were, the pressure from his fingers making him feel dizzy as he attempted to walk a straight path away from the back of his house. Attempted to walk it quickly.
He was supposed to be feeding his chicken. That’s what he told his mom he was doing. It was the only way he’d been able to get outside. His dad had gone to town, but not before saying that Oliver needed to spend some time in his room--his half empty room. His own room. It all felt wrong to him. Everything was wrong to him. It was frustrating that he seemed to be alone in sharing the feeling. But he wasn’t right. Oliver knew that. He’d always known he was different. It just became hard to bear when it was shoved in his face in the large doses he’d been getting lately. He’d wanted to get away. He needed to think. Needed to be free. Just for a little while. He was afraid he’d only have a little while. His mom would go to the garage to check on him--probably already had. And then she’d look. She’d look until she found him, and he’d be back in that room again. That horrible, suffocating room that made him feel...sad. Sad. That was it. An emotion Oliver could latch onto through the rest of the confusion and uncertainty he was experiencing. Sadness--loneliness. They were like the same thing to Oliver.
He stopped wiping at his eyes as the place where the tire swing used to be came into sight. It wasn’t there anymore. Now, it was no more than a rope hanging from a tree, but the place held memories. When he was still small, Oliver used to sit there, and he and David would tell one another their secrets. It was the place where David first told Oliver that his parents were not good people; that they should be punished. It was a secret. Oliver had never told a soul.
He looked past the frayed rope, swaying lightly against the wind, as if someone had just walked past it. He could see a thin path from where he was standing, created by light traffic over the years, and moved that way, walking through a patch of the woods that seemed greener than the rest, spotted with wildflowers and tall weeds. He could hear the sound of trickling water flowing along the earth, but couldn’t see the natural stream, only felt it as he trudged through it, the water flooding his tennis shoes somewhere below the knee-high grass. Moving into the shadows of tall trees, Oliver stopped and let out a breath. A relieved breath, as he abruptly turned around and desperately spoke to the space in front of him.
“What do I do? You were right about them. You were right, David. You have to tell me what to do. David, I don’t know what to do!”
When Jay had told Frank that they were going to have fun, he’d hoped that the outing would include a trip to his side of the lake, so he could get a good idea of what went on out there. But, no one even mentioned getting in a car, let alone leaving town.
The group headed away from the restaurant, walking the sidewalks like well-rounded individuals who had no intention of wreaking havoc on their beloved small town. Conversation revolved pretty much around Frank, which didn’t surprise him. They were curious. They wanted to know where he was from, and how he came to be in a town that wasn’t even on the map. He could at least be honest about that, and even found a new place to vent over what a jerk he thought his dad was. When the majority of the teens agreed with him, he found that he actually liked the group--not counting Jeremy Flaskis--and had to remind himself why he was there in the first place. It wasn’t to make friends.
He was supposed to be looking for faults within these people. Suspicious behavior. Anything. The truth was, as they moved through the town, Frank no longer knew what he was looking for. Whatever it was, he expected to see it in Jeremy Flaskis. Unfortunately, Frank realized, in his mind Jeremy Flaskis was already guilty, and that was making it difficult for him to see whether or not there was someone else there who might have an issue with his family... or Oliver’s.
Frank almost wanted to ask. But again, he held back. He listened, he studied, and when four others with cameras joined him he turned on the video camera and let the tape do some of the memorizing for him since he couldn’t remember everyone’s names, let alone faces. The camera was still rolling fifteen minutes later as Frank took in the inside of an old, closed-down brick building after sneaking through a busted-out back window.
“Won’t we get in trouble for this?” Frank asked no one in particular.
Jay was the one who answered him. It was no surprise, he’d been sticking pretty close to Frank since they’d left the restaurant. He’d even let go of Jenny’s hand a few times to do it. “Only if we get caught,” he replied, grinning. When Frank didn’t look amused, he continued, “Look, this town has no real cops. Worse thing that happens is someone hears us in here and calls someone else’s mom. But, it probably won’t happen. We come here all the time. It’s not like anyone else is using it. The owner was some old man who never came to church; he opened a skate rink here but it closed down a year later. Hear he died or something.”
That would be a shame. If the owner had to close down because of slow business, he certainly wouldn’t have had that problem now, Frank thought as he lifted his camera and watched two twelve-year-old boys on roller blades dart by on the screen. Granted, not everyone was on skates--there were plenty of skateboards, sneakers, and even a scooter--but the place was certainly busy. The group he’d come with seemed to be socializing more than anything but there were some getting in the best shots they could of all the action. Frank turned his camera on Jay just as Jay took a picture. When Jay looked back, he only smiled, seemingly unbothered by the attention. At least, a lot less bothered than Frank was when Jay turned the tables and took his picture. Frank was quick to hide his unease, but Jay didn’t miss it.
“Don’t you like getting your picture taken?” he asked.
Frank glanced away, feeling like he’d had this conversation before and not caring for it. “Not really,” he admitted. “I mean, not anymore.” He looked back at Jay, wanting to see his reaction, but the other blond only seemed confused.
Frank studied Jay for a long moment, decided he had no idea why Frank would be wary of people with cameras, and forced a smile. “I guess I’m camera-shy.”
Jay smiled. “That’s okay. Lots of people are.” To prove it, he raised his camera just as Jeremy walked by and snapped his picture. He was flipped off for his effort, but Jay only seemed amused by it. Frank wasn’t, and found himself narrowing his eyes on Jeremy’s back before Jay drew in his attention again. “So’ve you had any problems?”
“Like what?” Frank asked suspiciously.
“Like, at your new place. It’s kinda run down.”
“We’re working on it,” Frank replied. He was frowning, wondering what else Jay knew about his place.
“Hey, I didn’t mean to offend,” Jay replied. “I just meant... listen, I’ve done some work over there at your place. I’m familiar with it, so if you think you might need help with anything, I’ll help.”
Frank’s mouth dropped open, and he was fairly certain that it was unflattering since his eyes were practically bulging, too. But he managed to compose himself as he turned his full attention, and the camera’s, on Jay. “When?”
Jay shrugged. “A while back. Actually, I used to end up over there every time it rained. The place needs a new roof, but I can help you out with a temporary patch job. The plumbing’s not too bad, I think they fixed the electrical. But like I said, if you...”
“You’ve worked on my house?” Frank cut him off, and Jay frowned at him. He’d already answered that question.
“Didn’t I just say that?”
“When the last owner lived there?”
Jay’s frown deepened now. “Yeah. I used to help her out when she needed it. She was in your house all by herself. Do you know anything about her?”
Nasty woman who threw a rock at Oliver’s head.
“Just what people say,” Frank replied.
“And what’s that?” Jay asked, sounding somewhat defensive to Frank’s ears.
“She was a crazy witch,” Frank replied. “Liked to throw rocks at her neighbors. I heard no one misses her.”
“Who told you that?” Jay demanded.
“Just a friend of mine.”
Frank hadn’t initially intended to get a rise out of Jay, but it seemed apparent that they guy had some sort of fondness for Odetta Grover. It was a development that he hadn’t expected. He thought back to everything Oliver had told him about the previous resident of his house. Nothing would suggest that the woman even had friends. But, if Jay had been close to her, and knew of her troubles with Oliver and David--mostly David, not that anyone else would know it--then maybe David had made another enemy for Oliver, and Frank was looking at him.
“Friend, huh?” Jay repeated, shaking his head before he narrowed sharp eyes on Frank. “You really shouldn’t believe everything you hear.”
“Oh yeah?” Frank replied, sounding taunting. He couldn’t seem to help it, and it occurred to him that maybe he wanted to make Jay angry... or get him to react to something. Slip, and say something he didn’t intend to.
It didn’t work. Instead of the angry outburst Frank expected, Jay just looked at Frank as if he’d been unnecessarily cruel. “Yeah,” Jay said. “I miss her.” He paused to give Frank a long, searching look. “And you don’t know anything,” he added decidedly, right before he walked away and Frank lost him in the crowd. Jay didn’t approach him again before he snuck out the broken window and headed for home.
Frank ached; from his ankles to his lower back he was stiff and tired, and the humidity had left him feeling the need for the longest shower of his life. Next time, he told himself, if he wanted to go to town without a car, he’d make sure he had a ride both ways. Because it was really a long, long, long... long, walk home.
He knew he could have called his mom. Unless she’d gone to meet his dad, that is. And if she was with his dad, Frank would have rather walked, anyway. Besides, it gave him plenty of time to think. It was just too bad that the more Frank thought about things, the more lost he became.
He didn’t know what he was doing. He’d confirmed his suspicions that something wasn’t right in the Martin house, and while he was beginning to think he was better off not knowing what that was, he couldn’t ignore it. But there were other things that he could ignore, but chose not to. Like, the person who’d been caught lurking outside of his house. There’d been no sign of any mysterious figures for weeks now, but Frank couldn’t get it out of his head, especially after new revelations about Oliver. The more he dwelled on it, the more convinced he became that Oliver... or David, had an enemy. At this point, Frank didn’t want to admit that he cared about that, but it was just another thing he couldn’t help. He could have made friends today, he realized. But he only had room to concern himself with one, and it happened to be the one that he wasn’t sure he even wanted. Not now.
He wished that the video camera’s battery had a longer shelf life. He would have liked to review the movie he’d taken on the way home. He didn’t know what he’d find on it. Things in the old skate rink had been pretty much a blur, but he knew that after Jay left him, he’d done his best to film everyone that passed by. Maybe if he watched close enough, he’d see something. A gesture, a movement, or a familiar black sweater. He could look at the video as soon as the camera charged, and it made him eager to get home.
Or, maybe he could just forget it all. Maybe he could let it go and focus on the shower and long nap he was looking forward to. That sounded like a good idea. He could put off everything else until tomorrow. Maybe he would have, if he hadn’t been abruptly reminded that he had another problem entirely to deal with.
Somehow, the shiny black Lexus just didn’t look right in front of the shack he called home these days. Tired, hot and sore, Frank stopped behind the vehicle and stared for long moments as he felt a fair amount of resentment overcome him. He hated that car. The sight of a pin-sized scratch on the right rear bumper was almost enough to celebrate over, he thought. Waxed monthly, washed weekly or every two hundred miles during trips, rain or shine. Frank hated it. He hated everything about it. All it was to him was a reminder of the last time his parents fought.
The tension been going on for a while. And then one weekend his father had come home with that car. An impulse buy that his mom insisted they couldn’t afford if they wanted to celebrate Christmas that year. What got Frank, was how how unlike his father it was to go out and do something like that. At the time, he’d been sure that the man would see reason and return it to the dealership just for the sake of keeping the peace--mentally and financially--in the family. But he’d kept it, and no more than two weeks later, he was gone. His mother had done her best to make it a good Christmas later on, but it had been gone as soon as his dad had bought that damn car, as far as Frank was concerned.
Frank suddenly reached down, picked up a rock, and moved forward before he could think what he was doing. Too perfect. The damn thing was too fucking perfect, just like his dad’s life now that they weren’t in it. He had the jagged edge of the rock about six inches away from the side of the bumper when his mom’s voice from inside suddenly caught his attention.
“Don’t you dare talk to me like that! If you think you have any right to walk through my door and have the nerve to tell me what I’m doing wrong, Samuel-Martin-Seaberg, you can just get out now!”
Frank looked down a the rock in his hand, realized what he was about to do, and tossed it over his shoulder. Still holding his camera bag, he headed towards the back door, optimistic that he’d found a more reasonable outlet for his anger.
“Oh, stop overreacting, Jessica!”
Frank’s steps faltered at the sound of his father’s voice, but he forced himself to continue.
“Overreacting?” his mother repeated. It was her dangerous tone. A smart man would get out now.
“They’re my kids, too,” Sam said in a passive voice. “I have a right to say where I want them to live, and if you think this dump cuts it...”
“This dump is what I could afford! You haven’t lifted a finger with Rudy or Frank in months!”
“Will you stop yelling? I’m just saying...”
Frank reached the open back door just in time to see his mother’s face turn red as she narrowed her eyes on the tall man with overly tanned features and a full head of blond hair. “Stop that!” Jessica ordered. “I swear if you keep acting like I’m being unreasonable...”
“You are being unreasonable. Just listen to yourself,” Sam stated, crossing his arms as he leaned back against the kitchen counter.
“I can’t!” Jessica ranted. “I’m too busy listening to all the bullshit coming out of your mouth!” Sam opened his mouth, likely ready to say something antagonizing in that aggravating calm tone of his, but Jessica cut him off first, pointing her finger. “Don’t you dare! I swear if you keep treating me like an unreasonable female I’ll start acting like one!”
“Where’s Rudy?” Frank was hardly aware that he’d said it out loud before both of his parents looked at him, startled. His father stepped away from the counter, meeting his eyes, but Frank was quick to look at his mother. He’d come in, wanting to scream at the intruder, but as soon as he’d seen his parents in the kitchen it was nothing more than a bad flashback. The fighting. He’d learned to cope before, and his survival mode had kicked in. But just like before, he couldn’t allow himself to get away without his sister. She’d always been more sensitive to his parents’ arguments than he was, and if he found her in her room crying right about now he wouldn’t be surprised. He’d be pissed, but he wouldn’t be surprised.
Jessica knew it, too. She looked nothing short of ashamed as she looked at Frank. She never liked her kids to hear her fighting. “Frank...” Jessica started carefully before pausing to compose herself as she forced a smile in his direction. “I talked her into going to Stephanie’s for a while. After you left, I thought it would be best if I met your dad on my own at first,” she explained, glancing towards Sam. “There were a few things we needed to talk about.”
“You weren’t talking,” Frank pointed out, surprised by how calm he sounded when his hands were shaking so badly he had to put down the camera and shove them in his pockets.
“Hey, Frank... you look...”
Sam’s gentle attempt at polite conversation was quickly cut off when Frank cut his eyes in his direction. “Don’t talk to me,” Frank said flatly, and then looked right back at his mother. He couldn’t seem to make eye contact with his father for more than a few seconds at a time, especially when the man was looking back. It was irritating to Frank, how simply looking at him caused an unwanted reaction that felt suspiciously like vulnerability. “I’m going for a walk.”
Jessica sighed. “Frank, you just got back. You don’t have to...”
“Frank,” Sam cut her off, moving even closer to his son. “I know you’re angry with me, but we have a lot to talk about. I think...”
“I don’t care what you think,” Frank stated, right before he turned to walk right back out the door. He’d felt brave before. Now he just felt cornered.
“Frank, wait a minute,” Sam called, his patient tone fading. Frank could hear the man’s large footsteps coming from behind him.
“Sam, don’t,” Jessica hissed. “Now’s not a good time...”
“Frank!” Sam persisted. He was growing tired of being avoided, and reached out to grab Frank’s arm before the boy could get out the door. But, Frank was no longer a passive little boy willing to be snatched up like a toddler, and Sam Seaberg wasn’t expecting the way the teen rounded and shoved at him as if he were warding off an attack.
“Get off!” Frank snapped.
“Frank!” Jessica cried, obviously as startled as her ex-husband. But, even her voice didn’t seem to calm her son.
“Don’t you get it?” Frank shouted, glaring at his father. “You might have Rudy fooled but I don’t want you here--the only reason you are is because of her! Don’t fucking talk to me, and if you talk to my mom like that again I’ll throw you out myself!” Whirling, he stepped out the back door, but paused momentarily before he added for good measure, “Asshole.”
“Frank, wait!” Sam insisted, but Frank did no such thing.
As Frank headed away from the house, he could hear his mom telling his dad that he needed to back off. He wasn’t sure if he wanted the man to listen to that advice or not. He’d thought that yelling would make him feel better, but he found that all it did was make him want to yell more. He wanted to scream about everything that infuriated him about Samuel Seaberg until it was right again. But that was impossible, and even if it wasn’t, he couldn’t. He kept walking instead, needing to maintain at least some control.
Frank felt shaky, suffocating in his own skin. He pulled his shirt over his head and dropped it on the ground as he walked around the house, as if it would provide him with some extra air. He needed to sit down, but didn’t dare. He was too exhausted. If he sat down, he’d never get up, effectively trapping himself to deal with his dad. And the nerve of the man! We have a lot to talk about. They had a lot to talk about during the divorce, Frank thought furiously. There was plenty to talk about, as far as Frank was concerned: every weekend that he expected his dad to show up only to be disappointed. There was no way he wanted to talk now that it was convenient for his father. He had more pride than that. I have more sense than that, he told himself. It hurt, but he wasn’t going to let his dad get to him. He didn’t trust the man enough to let that happen. Moreover, he didn’t trust himself. Frank could have kicked himself for all the times he’d found himself missing someone who didn’t give a damn about him.
He heard his mom’s voice as he reached the front of the house and looked back. He couldn’t see her, but obviously she meant to catch up to him. He almost wanted to go to her; even took a step back in that direction.
“Jessica, hold on! I want to know what you’ve been telling him!” Frank heard his father’s voice, and stopped.
“What are you talking about? You think it’s my fault he won’t talk to you?” she demanded. “You’re as self-absorbed as ever.”
Frank briefly closed his eyes, shook his head, and started walking again. He needed to get away. He’d come back later, crawl into bed... he hoped by then his dad would be gone. His mom wouldn’t let him sleep at the house. Frank hoped she wouldn’t let him sleep at the house. He couldn’t take that now. In fact, he wasn’t sure how he was supposed to take it later, either.
Frank turned down the shoreline towards the bridge as he wondered whatever happened to getting through one day at a time. It had been so much nicer than stressing over how to get from one minute to the next. He kept thinking that if he could only get away, things would be right again. Incidentally, he was having those thoughts when he came to the bridge and took abrupt notice of a small motor boat rocking above the water’s surface, and not just any boat. His eyes slowly widened as realization dawned, but there was no time to think about it when he heard his name being called, and spun around to see his father headed down the shore, jogging in his direction. A prickle on the back of Frank’s neck caused him to look to his right, and as his eyes met hazel ones his balance faltered and he swallowed hard.
Oliver… David… Frank had no idea who he was looking at. This guy--the one he’d been avoiding to escape that very question. But it didn’t matter. Looking at him, Frank found that he really didn’t care. Whoever he was, he was exactly what Frank needed.... at least, he needed his boat.
“Oliver,” Frank finally decided, figuring that David would have said something obnoxious by now. Frank reached out, grabbed the boy’s wrist, and pulled him towards the boat where they stepped in one at a time. “Go!” Frank ordered, taking no notice of the surprised expression studying him as he looked back to see where his dad was. Samuel was getting closer, could see what Frank was doing and picked up the pace.
There was a jerk as Oliver pushed the boat away from the bridge, and Frank turned to help him only moments before the engine gurgled to life, and for long moments as they glided across the water Frank watched the image of his father become smaller, until he could no longer make out the disappointed expression on his face.
When Frank turned back to his unexpected rescuer, he was short of breath, but still managed to move to the seat across from him.
“Who was that, Frank?” Oliver asked, still staring back towards the bridge.
“My dad,” Frank replied uneasily. “I mean... he used to be my dad.”
Frank stared down at his hands, and for minutes he picked at the dirt beneath his fingernails, knowing that he was being watched. When he looked up again, his host’s eyes were wide, curious... and something else. Hopeful? Remorseful? ... searching.
Frank frowned, wiping his hands on his jeans as he took a deep breath and found his bearings. “So,” he finally said. “Who are you?”