Thanks to Jim for editing!
Tiredly, Frank leaned over the side of the boat, staring at the dark, glistening surface of the water as it passed over his hand, his fingers leaving a small wake next to the boat. The sound of the engine was no more than a hum in his ears now, and the setting sun cast an orange hue in the air that left him feeling a little too warm, and even more so disoriented as they circled one cove after another.
Frank was feeling awkward with his company. Asking who Oliver was had been a mistake. At least, it seemed that way when the boy’s only response was to sulk as he guided the boat around the lake. Oliver didn’t seem to be taking them anywhere specific, which suited Frank just fine. He was content touring the water for a while. He just wished that he could feel as comfortable with Oliver as he had last week.
Frank was startled so badly he nearly jumped out of the boat when Oliver made a sudden move towards him. It was difficult to know what he should think when the other boy grabbed his wrist and yanked his hand out of the water. Frank jerked away from him, pushing him back into his seat.
“What the hell...” Frank started, but was quickly cut off by Oliver’s concerned voice.
“I’m sorry, Frank,” he sad, cutting the engine and leaving them in silence except for the water sloshing against the sides of the boat. He pointed out at the water, about two feet away.
Frank looked, still frowning until he saw something just beneath the water. It was long, dark, and moved like a raised flag as it slithered beneath the surface. Leaning over the side for a better look, it took him a moment to realize that it was a snake he was looking at.
“Those have poison,” Oliver said. “I thought you were gonna touch it, Frank.”
Frank watched the snake disappear, turned back to Oliver, and let out a breath. He felt like an idiot. Thanks to the hurt look on Oliver’s face, a sorry idiot. Frank didn’t know what he’d been thinking. Obviously, he was on edge for many reasons, but this wasn’t the time to release his frustrations. Oliver wasn’t the right person to release them on. “Listen,” he said, feeling exasperated. “There’s... there’s some really weird shit going on around here, and I don’t know if I can...”
“Are you mad at me, Frank?” Oliver interrupted, looking as if that was the only thing in the world that concerned him at the moment. In fact, he looked almost terrified of the answer, and suddenly, the last thing Frank wanted to do was disappoint him.
“No. Not at you, Oliver,” Frank said, although he probably could debate that with himself for a while. “It’s... the situation.” Frank paused, collecting his thoughts. When he met Oliver’s eyes again, he decided to be blunt. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Oliver scratched at his head, looked down at the water as if it was supposed to tell him how to answer.
“Tell you what, Frank?”
Frank groaned. “Okay, that--that, makes me angry.”
“Don’t be angry, Frank,” Oliver whispered.
“Then tell me the truth! Why didn’t you tell me about David? Why did you let me think...”
“I did, Frank! I did. I told you about David all the time!”
“No, that’s not... I know you talked about... god. Damn it! You let me think you had a brother!” Frank blurted. “And you let me worry--you let me think ...” Frank stopped himself and rubbed tiredly at his face. He was beginning to feel dizzy. Nauseous. His head ached and his emotions were in turmoil. He was damn sure that the long walk from town to home wasn’t helping any. He felt himself sway and closed his eyes briefly before he felt a hand grip his upper arm, followed by Oliver’s voice.
Catching himself against the rocking boat, Frank looked to see that Oliver was next to him now, steadying him. “I’m talking about him like he’s real,” Frank mused. “David’s not real.”
Oliver’s eyes widened, as if he’d just been betrayed. “No, Frank. You’re wrong, and he won’t like that.”
Frank laughed, not knowing what else to do. “You mean you won’t like it. Your parents told me, Oliver. I know the truth.”
“No!” Frank snapped, causing Oliver to recoil. “He’s not real! Just stop lying to me and tell me the truth!”
Oliver took in a deep, shaky breath, pulling at his hair some more as he shook his head. His following outburst wasn’t at all what Frank was expecting. “You’re wrong! He’s not a lie, Frank! He’s real! He’s real!... They’re wrong! You’re all wrong.” Oliver gasped, covering his mouth as if to catch it. “They took away his things, Frank. They took it all away, and told me I couldn’t talk to him anymore. But it’s not the truth. He’s real.”
“Where?” Frank demanded. “If he’s real, then where is he? Where is he?”
“Here!” Oliver shouted, holding his head. “Here is the truth, Frank. And here...” he suddenly fell calm, bringing his hand to rest over his heart. I love... I love my brother, Frank. And that’s the truth. It’s the truth! Why, Frank?” Oliver asked, looking desperately to his friend. “Why are they taking him away? You said... you said we’d be safe, Frank. You said it!”
A sudden flashback of being submerged in total darkness sent a chill up Frank’s spine as he faced Oliver, who at some point had latched onto his wrist until his knuckles turned white. Frank was suddenly at a loss when it came to what to say. Had to close his eyes for a minute. “That was before... I thought...” Frank was having trouble. Back in the Martin’s basement, he had told Oliver that everything would be okay. But that was when he’d thought that Oliver and David had been suffering inexcusable abuse. What he’d learned from the Martins changed that. The parents weren’t the ones who were a danger. David was. “Don’t you get it, Oliver? All David does is hurt people.” Frank stared down at the water, frowning for long moments before his eyes suddenly snapped up to Oliver’s. “Do you remember the cat? It was dead. You said that there were some things we weren’t supposed to see. Remember, Oliver? Were you talking about David? Oliver...”
Oliver shook his head, and wiped at his eyes before they had a chance to water. “Why are you doing this, Frank? David’s not bad... he tries. He tries. He is my brother! He couldn’t be anyone else, Frank!”
He’s you, Frank thought, feeling exceptionally depressed about it. But, even as he thought it, seeing the expression on Oliver’s face made him question whether or not Oliver actually knew it. The realization cautioned him to be careful. It wasn’t as if he’d stuck around to ask the Martins exactly how this thing worked last week, but it was clear that Oliver was agitated. The idea of him becoming agitated enough for David to emerge was enough for Frank to dial it back a few notches. He had to admit that he was curious about what happened when they switched, but he didn’t want to satisfy that curiosity over the murky water of a secluded cove. And, he could admit that Oliver played a part in his decision to calm down, too. Seeing him so upset was only upsetting Frank more. He felt frustrated, guilty, and furious over it all at the same time. The way that Oliver caught a single tear beneath his reddened eye, sniffled, and looked away, was just about all Frank could take today.
“Hey,” he said, rubbing Oliver’s shoulder with a gentle hand. “Hey.” Frank shook him softly, enough to get his attention, and then he forced a reassuring smile. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, okay? Let’s not talk about it right now. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
Oliver half nodded, half shook his head as he rocked himself and leaned into Frank’s hand. “I don’t want to leave again, Frank. I just want you to stay with me.”
“Okay,” Frank was quick to agree. He slid his arm around Oliver, drawing him closer. At the moment, Frank would have done or said anything to wipe that look off his face. “Okay. It’s okay.”
“Okay,” Oliver repeated, turning into him, wrapping his arms around Frank’s waist while he buried his face against his bare shoulder.
The boat continued to sway, bringing them closer and closer to the shore as they each caught their breath. Frank kept an arm around Oliver as the temperature in the air dropped, keeping the warmth of his body close to his skin. His fingers had found their way into Oliver’s hair, and he absently traced the scars hidden beneath.
“We should go to your house,” Frank finally said. He was tired of being in the boat, and decided that Oliver’s place was just as good as any. Under normal circumstances, Frank knew that he wouldn’t have been comfortable with the suggestion, but anything was better than going home to face the visitor at his house. Oliver, however, didn’t seem to agree as his head snapped up and he had the nerve to look at Frank as if he were the crazy one.
“No! No, I don’t want to go home, Frank. They won’t let me... they said you didn’t want to see me anymore.”
Oliver nodded slowly. “They took David’s things. My dad broke his camera... and they get mad when I say his name.”
Frank frowned. The Martins had mentioned that David had gotten so bad that they had to take extreme measures to control him. Now, it sounded that they were trying to get rid of him entirely. From what Frank knew about the situation, he couldn’t entirely disagree with their decision. But, he did wonder if it was even possible. Whatever part of Oliver that David played seemed to be a big one, and he wasn’t sure getting rid of him would be as simple as pretending he didn’t exist. Furthermore, he wasn’t sure if it was affecting Oliver in a positive way. If anything, it seemed to be hurting him.
“We don’t have to go there,” Frank finally said, doing his best to downplay the situation. “I know what it’s like to want to avoid your parents. But let’s go somewhere, alright? I need... I need to get out of this boat for a while.”
“Baby, you’ve gotta order something or they’re gonna make me kick you out.”
Jay looked up from the table he was sitting at in Hannigan’s restaurant, to find Jenny leaning over him.
“Milkshake, fries... whatever looks good is fine,” he told her before turning his attention back to his table.
Jenny frowned. She was used to his attention being on her, not Frank Seaberg, who happened to be in every photo laid out in front of her boyfriend. Jay reached for another to add to the rows he was making, but she caught it, and his hand beneath hers, and shook her head when he looked up at her expectantly.
“Okay, this has gotta stop, Jay,” she said firmly. “It’s getting weird. Besides, I thought you said he didn’t know anything.”
“I don’t think he does,” Jay admitted, eyeing his girlfriend’s supervisor looking in their direction. “Are you gonna get my food, or have I gotta go somewhere else?”
Jenny released an exasperated sigh, but went to get Jay something to eat. He watched after her for a moment, deciding that an apology would be in order. Later, of course. Covering his mouth as he yawned, he turned his attention back to the photographs in front of him. Decidedly, it wasn’t his best work. Most were out of focus, but it couldn’t be helped. Earlier in the day he hadn’t been focusing on the perfect picture as he followed Frank all over the whole skating rink, paying attention.
What had he been looking for? Jay wondered. In every shot Frank was aiming his own camera at a different person. Or who was he looking for? Jay had a good idea, but he had his doubts that Frank would actually take things this far. It seemed that he was the suspicious sort. In a way, Jay could respect that. If anything, he could relate. He wished that he’d been more patient with Frank earlier. Played it nice, until he learned more. He wondered if there was anything he could do about it now. He supposed that he still had another option; one more thing that could get him close enough to Frank. The problem was, he didn’t know whether or not it would work, and he didn’t know if trying it was the best of ideas.
Someone sliding into the booth across from Jay caught his attention, and he did his best not to frown at the tall boy with red streaks in his hair.
“Jay,” his company said casually.
“Jeremy,” Jay returned. Jeremy’s very presence compelled him to start stacking up the pictures. They weren’t friends. At least, not by Jay’s standards. Jeremy was one of those guys who just didn’t get along with anyone, but chose to consider the people he didn’t like as friends anyway. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have any. So, there really wasn’t anything surprising about him randomly sitting at Jay’s table. And, usually, Jay didn’t even mind. Only today, he wasn’t in the mood for it. Jeremy might act like a dumb jerk, but Jay was completely aware that the guy was somewhat intelligent. And observant.
“What the hell is this?” Jeremy remarked. He’d noticed the pictures quickly, and the similarities in them.
“Nothing special,” Jay replied. “A lot of bad shots. The lighting was wrong, wasn’t paying attention...”
“No, him,” Jeremy interrupted, dropping a heavy finger directly over Frank’s face in one of them. “Looks like you must really like this new friend of yours. Sure Jenny won’t get jealous?”
“Fuck off, Jeremy,” Jay said, gathering the rest of the photos.
Jeremy laughed. “Seriously, is that loser still around? I might wanna get out of here if he shows up again.”
Jay looked up. “Why’s that?”
Jeremy shrugged. “I just don’t like him around. He creeps me out.”
“How so?” Jay asked skeptically. He’d never known anyone to creep Jeremy out before.
Jeremy frowned. “Never mind. I just don’t like him, alright?” He stopped, and Jay frowned. He didn’t think he’d get anymore out of him. But it seemed that a few moments of silence was all Jeremy needed to continue. “I saw him hanging out with those freaks. Like, he was over at their house.”
Jay swallowed, wishing he had a drink in front of him to pick up. “Freaks?”
“Don’t play dumb, Jay. My dad works with Brian Martin. Everyone knows that whole family’s fucked up. That guy’s been around them a lot,” Jeremy said, nodding towards the stacks of pictures. Who the hell knows what’s going on in that house. They’re all a bunch of devil worshipers or something. And it don’t seem to bother your new friend much, either.”
“You’ve seen Frank go to their house? When?”
“Saw him when I was out walking my dog. He was all chummy in their little boat, and...”
They were interrupted when a plate full of fries was dropped roughly in front of Jay.
“There’s your fries,” Jenny said, frowning.
Jeremy smirked up at her. “Look, she is jealous.”
Frank’s legs felt wobbly as he trekked through the woods alongside Oliver, not far from where they’d left the boat. He figured that they were about a mile away from the Martin house, and he was exhausted. He didn’t even bother to explain his actions when he suddenly sat, leaning back against the trunk of a tree as he ignored the way the bark scratched his back. Oliver stopped walking and cocked his head curiously.
“Is something wrong, Frank?”
“Yeah,” Frank said honestly. “I’m tired. I’m dehydrated. I don’t remember the last time I ate. I can’t go home... and I’m out here with you, avoiding everything that we should be talking about because I’m completely freaked every time I think about how you might flip on me.”
“Why would I do that, Frank?” Oliver asked, alarmed as he moved to sit down.
Frank only sighed and leaned into him. “I’m sorry, Oliver. I’m just kinda testy right now, you know? I’m not feeling real good.”
“Are you gonna be sick, Frank?” Oliver asked.
“It’s possible,” Frank replied, realizing that it was an actual possibility as he closed his eyes, only to find that doing so made him dizzy. Oliver stared at him for long moments, seeming unsure of the situation before he tentatively raised his hand to Frank’s shoulder. “I just need to rest for a few minutes,” Frank told him when it came to his attention that Oliver was worried.
“We could stay here for a long time, Frank,” Oliver suggested, surprising him. “Like camping.”
Frank laughed, mostly because he liked the idea, as absurd as it was. “We don’t have any food. No water, and it’s been cold at night.”
“What happened to your shirt, Frank?”
“Took it off somewhere I guess. Listen, Oliver, we can’t stay here. It’s either your house or mine, and right now I think your place would be best.”
Oliver shook his head again. “No, I don’t want to go home, Frank.”
“Because you snuck out without telling your parents?”
Oliver was quick to look guilty. “They wouldn’t let me see you, Frank. I left when my dad went to work. My mom thinks I’m feeding my chicken. It’s a lucky chicken.”
Frank sighed. “Well trust me, she doesn’t think you’re feeding it anymore. They’re probably looking for you. Shit, she could have seen you on the lake with me.”
“I know that, Frank,” Oliver replied, lowering his voice. “David...”
“David what?” Frank asked when Oliver suddenly stopped, as if he’d said something wrong.
Oliver met his eyes. “David told me to be fast, or they’d catch me.”
Frank sighed. “David told you?” He wasn’t sure he liked that Oliver could be influenced by David even when David wasn’t in control.
“He told me how to get out,” Oliver explained. “He told me how to get to you, Frank. I don’t wanna go back home.”
Frank took in a deep breath as he slowly pulled himself to his feet, and then held down a hand for Oliver. “Well, you’re gonna have to,” he insisted as he pulled him up. “And you’re not going to get in trouble--if we go now. I’ll talk to your parents. It’ll be alright, Oliver.”
Oliver leaned back against the tree, crossing his arms. Frank frowned.
“Look,” Frank said. “What if I promise not to leave you there unless you say it’s okay?”
“You won’t leave?”
“Not until you understand that you’re not in trouble.”
Oliver looked thoughtful. “Will you make them let me see you, Frank?”
Frank indulged Oliver in a small smile as he reached out and took his hand again. “I’m not going anywhere this time. I promise.”
“Why didn’t you lock him up?” Brian Martin demanded of his wife as he followed her out to the front porch. “You were supposed to be watching him!” He wasn’t sure how much more of this he could take. He’d expected his wife to be more competent than this, but the phone call he received at work in the middle of the day proved otherwise.
“We agreed not to put him in the basement anymore,” Mary reminded him. “It’s too risky now. We never should have moved David’s things. It’s too hard on Oliver.”
“Well he’s going to have to deal with it. He’d be just fine if you hadn’t mothered him so much!”
Mary turned to face her husband, shaking her head. “None of us are fine, Brian! Not anymore! And this is too much to do to Oliver. He doesn’t want to believe that David’s not real, and if we can’t convince him...I can’t do this anymore, Brian. I can’t. Everything’s falling apart.”
“Then we’re just going to have to hold it together, just like we always have. I’m gonna start by finding Oliver, and once he’s home he’s staying home, Mary. I don’t care what we’ve gotta do to make that happen!”
Brian turned, heading for his truck, only to stop at the sound of his wife’s voice.
“Brian. You don’t have to find him. He’s home.”
Brian turned and followed Mary’s eyes out to the river until they fell over Oliver’s little motorboat coming towards them slowly. He was going to have to get rid of that thing, he decided. But, that would come later. It appeared they had company, and he was irritated to find that Oliver wasn’t alone. But, that didn’t stop him from forcing a smile as he moved towards the water to help the boys out of the boat. He took only a moment to consider Frank Seaberg’s shirtless and worn appearance before he reached for Oliver, helped him out, and pulled him in for a hug. “You had us worried to death, Oliver! Where’ve you been?” Brian demanded, frowning at the tense way Oliver regarded him.
“It was my fault,” Frank said as he moved to the shore with no assistance. He looked at the Martins each in turn. “He came to see me, and I wanted to take a walk before we came back here.”
“Well we’re sorry if he bothered you,” Brian said, guiding Oliver into his mother’s hands. “It won’t happen again. Go ahead and use the boat to get back across the lake if you want.”
Oliver looked over his shoulder at Frank as his parents led him towards the house, as if Frank would go back on his promise and do just that. But, Frank was quick to follow the family.
“He didn’t bother me, Mr. Martin,” Frank said, stopping the older man. “It was... it was good to see him.”
“Well that’s nice of you,” Mr. Martin replied.
“Not really,” Frank replied, and Mr. Martin turned to face him completely. “I shouldn’t have... look, I handled the situation badly. I want to make it up to Oliver, and...”
“There’s no need to do that, Frank,” Brian insisted. “Mary and I understand.”
“I want to,” Frank said firmly. “Actually... I was wondering if I could talk to you, sir.”
Brian sighed. “I’m not sure it’s really a good time for...”
“Come in, Frank,” Mary said, earning herself an impatient look from her husband. “Come on in,” she repeated. “Oliver has a shirt you can use, and it’s getting close to suppertime. I’ll fix you boys something to eat.”
Frank gave her a nod. “Thank you.”
Frank followed the family up their front porch slowly, not appreciating his last memory of being there. In fact, he wasn’t sure he would have stepped foot in that house at all if it weren’t for Oliver, and the fact that he was exhausted. It left him questioning his ability to make sound decisions as he entered the house and found it uncomfortably dark. He was immediately distracted from that discovery, however, when Oliver made a sudden move away from his mother and grabbed Frank by the wrist.
“Come look, Frank!” he shouted, pulling Frank down the hallway as if he were afraid someone would stop him.
“Oliver!” Mary scolded, sounding annoyed. But, Oliver didn’t stop until he’d led Frank straight to his room and flicked on a light.
“See, Frank! See--they took all David’s stuff!” Oliver stated, surprising Frank even more than the half-empty room.
Frank simply had no idea how to react. Oliver seemed to expect Frank to be just as upset as he was, but Frank wasn’t sure he should be. Looking around, it seemed that the room belonged to one person. All of the things that had been David’s were, in fact, gone. It was the way it should be. David didn’t exist. Oliver did. Frank just wished that Oliver wasn’t so upset about it. But, there wasn’t much he could do apart from a reassuring hand on Oliver’s shoulder.
“We’ve been making a few changes around here,” Mary Martin said from behind them. “Oliver hasn’t been taking all of it well.”
Frank only nodded. He wasn’t comfortable commenting on it. Oliver was standing right there, after all, and he didn’t want to talk about him as if he wasn’t. Instead, he found himself squeezing Oliver’s shoulder, and smiling at him. “You know, if you move some stuff in here around, your room could look bigger. I mean, it’ll look nice if you spread your stuff around a little. Like, it’s all yours.”
Oliver’s brow creased, but instead of responding, he only hung his head, causing Frank to feel for him even more. He felt like he should apologize, but he wasn’t sure exactly what he should be apologizing for.
“Frank, you look like you could stand washing up a bit,” Mary remarked, passing them to head for Oliver’s closet.
“Yeah. Sorry about that,” Frank replied, feeling a little embarrassment kicking in. “I’ve been outside for most of the day.”
“Give him the blue shirt, Mom,” Oliver said, sounding rather sullen. “It goes with his eyes.”
“Sure, honey,” Mary replied, and did just that. “Oliver can show you where the bathroom is, Frank.”
“Oh, I know where it is,” Frank replied, and then regretted it as it reminded everyone of his invasion of the Martin house and the following events the week before. At least Mary had the decency to look ashamed. Frank found that he didn’t mind that very much as he looked at Oliver. “How about you show me, anyway.”
Oliver and Frank left the room together, while Mary went in the opposite direction to join her husband. Frank found himself watching Oliver on the way to the bathroom, noticing that his carefree persona seemed to be missing for the moment, and if the boy didn’t seem to bothered by current circumstances, Frank might have thought that David had taken over. He turned to Oliver as they reached the restroom, and smiled again.
“Hey,” he said. “I’m still not going anywhere, alright? I’m gonna talk to your parents.”
“But you’re not gonna tell them to let David come back, are you, Frank?” Oliver asked.
Frank frowned. If David was Oliver, then it seemed that Oliver did have some control. If David wasn’t allowed to exist, then Oliver didn’t allow him to. At least, not to the extreme that he had before. It would make sense, since Oliver had to be the most obedient person on the planet as far as Frank was concerned... unless he was listening to David. Frank sighed. He definitely needed to do his best when it came to getting answers from Oliver’s parents.
“No,” Frank said carefully, taking a step closer to Oliver. “David doesn’t belong here... but you do. Believe me, Oliver, I’d rather just have you here.” Frank leaned forward, pressing a soft kiss to his cheek. “Don’t be sad, alright? It’ll work out. Things usually do.”
Frank’s words didn’t seem to make Oliver feel much better, so Frank had to settle for Oliver’s short nod before he walked away from the bathroom, and Frank turned on the light as he closed himself in, pausing for a moment when he saw a labeled toothbrush holder. The one that fit into the slot marked David was missing.
Clean hands. Clean face. Fresh shirt. Frank almost felt human by the time he left the bathroom, wondering where everyone was in the quiet house. Halfway down the hallway he heard Mary Martin’s voice call for him, and it led him to the living room where he was happy to see that they’d turned on a lamp, but as he looked at the Martins sitting together on a sofa, he found himself feeling troubled.
“Where’d Oliver go?” he asked.
“He’s in the kitchen starting on dinner,” Mary explained. “I think he volunteered because you’re here.”
“He’ll burn the biscuits,” Brian added. “But it’ll mean the world to him if you try just one.”
Frank nodded. “I’ll do that.” He was so hungry he would have eaten charcoal.
“Why don’t you come sit down,” Mary said politely as she directed Frank towards a chair. He sat, and she poured him a tall glass of lemonade, which Frank readily accepted and downed in just a few seconds.
“Would you like some more?” Mary asked, amused.
He certainly did, but not wanting to embarrass himself further, Frank declined.
“So,” Brian said, looking Frank up and down. “Why don’t we get right to it.”
“Okay,” Frank said. “I want to talk about Oliver, how...”
“You don’t have to pretend with us, son,” Brian said. “If you’re over here to avoid something else, there’s no need to pretend you care about Oliver.”
“Brian!” Mary said.
“I do care about Oliver,” Frank stated. “That’s why I’m here.”
“Oh come on now, be honest. I know a runaway when I see one. Now, I can appreciate that you wanna get away from something you don’t like, but I won’t have you using my boy...”
“You’re wrong!” Frank snapped, and then let out a long breath before he forced himself to meet Brian Martin’s eyes. “Look, my dad’s here visiting my sister,” Frank admitted. “I don’t want to see him, so I’ve been out all day. I know I haven’t been around since... but I mean, come on. Seriously. Can you even blame me? Your wife locked me in a basement and then you dropped that bomb about David...”
“Okay,” Brian quickly interrupted. “Just calm down there. All we’re saying here is that...”
“I know what you’re saying, but you’re wrong. Oliver’s my friend, and I want to keep it that way. I promised him I would. But I can’t do that unless... I need to know how this thing works. That’s why I’m here, Mr. Martin.”
The Martins were both silent for a minute. Brian looked annoyed, while Mary flashed her husband pleading looks.
“How it works?” Brian finally asked.
“Yeah,” Frank replied impatiently. “How does it work? Brian and Oliver are the same person, right? So do they like, take turns, or does David just come out of nowhere whenever he wants?”
“David has always done what he wants,” Brian replied, as if that would be explanation enough.
“Well, you’re obviously trying to get rid of him. Is it working?”
“We’re doing what we think is best,” Brian said, and then added, “David’s not real. The sooner Oliver understands that, the better.”
“Then Oliver doesn’t really know? He thinks David’s real?”
Brian and Mary exchanged glances, and then it was Brian who spoke again. “Yes. He’s convinced that he really has a brother.”
“They talk to each other,” Brian replied. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Oliver tells you that he’s physically seen David. But, we’re working on it, and I think we’re making progress.”
“But David can still show up at any time. Can’t he,” Frank said, more than asked.
“Oliver thinks he needs him.”
Frank thought on that for a moment. “If Oliver’s real, and David’s not... how come Oliver seems so much... younger, than David?”
“Well, the boy’s always wanted to be normal,” Brian said. “Maybe he wants to be like David.”
“Maybe?” Frank asked skeptically. “If he wants to be normal, why would he make someone up who’s so... David’s violent, right? Why would Oliver want to be that? He always tells me that he wishes David could be good.”
“Well, obviously, he’s let the situation get out of hand,” Brian responded, sounding irritated. He wasn’t accustomed to being interrogated by a teenager.
“Or you’ve let the situation get out of hand,” Frank said.
“Now wait a minute,” Brian snapped as he leaned forward on the sofa, but his wife dropped a restraining hand on his arm before he could stand.
“You’re right, Frank,” Mary said quickly. “We’ve let it get out of hand. But we’re trying to fix it now.”
“And that’s all you need to know,” Brian said firmly, this time standing.
Frank stood, too. “Hold on. You haven’t told me anything. Before David takes over--are there any warnings? And Oliver’s blackouts... does he do that when he’s David? Or is it something else? How come he remembers some things, but not others if...”
“Young man!” Mary cut him off, surprising him. “That’s quite enough. My son is very stressed out right now, and he doesn’t need you adding to it. Now unless you’re going to stay calm when you join us for supper, we’re going to have to ask you to leave.”
Frank frowned, wanting to respond negatively to that, but holding back. When Oliver suddenly returned from the kitchen to ask his mother if she’d help season the chicken--which was okay to eat because it wasn’t lucky--Frank volunteered to go with them, and escaped Brian Martin’s cold glare.
The food was hot, filling, and flavored. Perfect, as far as Frank was concerned, and he told Oliver just that as he sat at the Martin’s table to share dinner with them. It brought the first real smile to Oliver’s lips that Frank had seen all day, and it made suffering through dinner with the other Martins worth it.
Mary and Brian remained polite, just like Frank, but that didn’t erase the tension in the air. Conversation lagged, giving Frank plenty of time to think. He wasn’t sure he liked what he saw.
Oliver had asked if he could make a plate for David, and was denied. It was increasingly difficult to see Oliver so sad, and Frank wished that there was something he could say or do to make him feel better. But, what Frank really wanted to see, was the Martins make an effort. They carried on as if nothing was wrong, when Oliver was clearly suffering. Frank pictured him there, after he left. Alone in that house with his parents. Confused. Lonely. Frank didn’t like what he saw.
“Hey, Oliver, what do you think about spending the night? You know, at my place?”
Oliver’s head snapped up at Frank before his eyes snapped to his parents. Obviously, the suggestion wasn’t something he’d expected. And neither had the elder Martins, Frank observed as he took some satisfaction in their worried faces.
“Can I, mama?” Oliver asked eagerly.
“I don’t think so, Oliver,” Mr. Martin said; and then so he wouldn’t completely look like the bad guy added, “I believe Frank has family visiting.”
Frank returned Brian Martin’s fake smile. “My dad isn’t staying the night with us, and my mom won’t mind. You can call and ask her if you want.”
“Still,” Mary said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea. Oliver’s never spent a night out of the house before.”
“I’ve been camping!” Oliver objected.
“That was different,” Brian stated. The look he was currently giving Frank wasn’t friendly at all. “You were with family then. I’m sorry, Oliver, but I don’t think it’s a good idea, either. Finish your dinner now, son.”
Oliver sighed heavily, looking defeated. Frank wasn’t willing to give up so easily.
“If you’re worried about that,” Frank said, “he’ll be fine. If he’s not, it’s not like I can’t call. And I mean, if it makes you feel better, I can call my mom right now and tell her all about Oliver. I’m sure she’ll understand.”
Frank’s threat seemed to alert everyone at the table, except for Oliver, and for several tense minutes he saw the Martin parents try to figure out whether or not he was bluffing. It seemed that Frank didn’t know whether or not he was, either. He’d already decided that it could prove dangerous for Oliver to tell his mom the truth, but at the moment, he was determined. He had no intention of leaving Oliver there tonight.
No more than thirty-five minutes later, the leftovers were put away, the dishes were clean, and Brian and Mary Martin stood on their front steps in the dark, watching as Oliver and his friend climbed into the small motorboat armed with flashlights and overnight bags. They both agreed that Frank Seaberg was becoming more than the average nuisance.
“He cornered us, Brian,” Mary said. “He cornered us and he’ll do it again. You never should have let Oliver leave this house. You know what’ll happen now, don’t you? Brian? What are we gonna do? What are we gonna do, Brian?”
“Mary,” he returned coldly. “Just shut up.”
Jessica Seaberg looked over her kitchen table, currently dressed for dining. Lately in her home, it had been serve-yourself-and-sit-down. But tonight, she’d taken the time to set the table and garnish it with a modest meal. Some pork chops, a few seasoned green beans, and her homemade potato salad. She’d even put out the pudding dessert that she’d end up freezing for popsicles later. And she was furious for herself for all of this. The display.
Honestly, she didn’t know what she’d been thinking. To assume that Sam was going to show up, smooth things over with her kids, and allow them all to sit down to a nice family dinner had been completely delusional. It was hard to admit that her teenager was smarter than she was, but just as Frank said, Sam no longer had a place in their home, and attempting to impress him was only irritating her, especially since he’d called ten minutes ago to say that he was going to take Rudy out to dinner.
Jessica knew she shouldn’t mind it. This time with her father meant a lot to Rudy. But, it was possible, Jessica admitted, that she was feeling a little lonely. Maybe it was because Sam had been so reasonable with her over the phone. And he really was trying with the kids. But she’d made the mistake of believing for a split second that things would be better when he came. Not just with the kids, but with everything. For a brief moment, she’d forgotten that she was completely capable of surviving on her own, even in a rundown lake house in a town in desperate need of some modernization.
And now she was alone in her house with dinner getting cold. But most bothersome to Jessica, was that she had no idea where Frank was. It went without saying that she was worried about him. Although, when Sam had told her that he’d climbed into a boat with another boy, she did feel better to know that he was with Oliver. At least Frank wasn’t alone. She’d been worried that he’d had a falling out with Oliver, and since Oliver was the only friend that Frank had bothered to make, she was happy to discover that wasn’t the case. But she still wished that Frank would come home. At the very least, she wished he’d call. Especially now that it was dark. She knew he was angry, and there was a possibility that he wouldn’t come home at all tonight. That’s what worried her the most. He wasn’t familiar enough with the area to stay out all night, and if he was in the woods, it would be easy for him to get lost.
Jessica left her lonely dinner table and headed towards the living room, hoping to see a sign of her son, even though the last three times she’d checked had made it clear that all she’d find outside is darkness. She reached for the curtain, but stopped short of pulling it back when the turn of the front doorknob clicked in her ears and she spun to face it.
Frank stepped through the door slowly, stopping halfway, as if he expected her to be lurking in wait. He met his mother’s eyes, and looked guilty enough to ground, Jessica thought. At the very least, he looked deserving of a long lecture. But Jessica held off, instead doing something that she thought was much more important as she moved to across the door and silently wrapped Frank in a comfortable hug. She could feel in his shoulders that he was stressed out, but at least he was calm.
“Where is everyone?” he asked cautiously.
Jessica leaned back and brushed a lock of hair from his face to better meet his eyes. “Your dad took Rudy to dinner.”
“Are you alright?” Jessica asked, studying him carefully.
He seemed to consider the question. It was a good thing, Jessica decided. She’d get an honest answer that way.
“Yeah,” he finally decided. “But I don’t want to see him.”
“Well, you can stay in your room when he drops Rudy off if you want... but Frank, he could be here for a while, and he’s probably going to try to talk to you again. He’s still your father, you know. Whether or not you like it, that’s never going to change. Take advantage of the situation. All those things you’ve been wanting to say to him--here’s your chance.”
“But I don’t want to say anything to him at all.”
Jessica smiled gently. “But you will. When you figure out it’s hurting you more than him, you will.”
“Come have dinner with me,” Jessica cut him off as she turned away from the door. She wasn’t looking for an argument. There’s been too many of those for one day. Now, she just wanted to enjoy dinner with her son, regardless of whether or not it was cold. But, Frank suddenly reached out, grabbing her wrist.
“Mom, wait,” he said, and she frowned at the look on his face. She knew that look. He was about to ask for something he didn’t think she’d agree to.
Frank sighed, and pushed the door open a little wider. Jessica stepped back as she realized he was waving someone in. She was surprised, but still managed a polite smile when she saw Oliver Martin appear behind her son, looking oddly timid.
“Hi, Oliver,” she said, and then eyed Frank. “It’s a little late, isn’t it?”
“Can he spend the night?” Frank asked, determined to get straight to the point. “His parents already said it was okay.”
Put on the spot, Jessica stared between her son and his friend for several long moments. It was obvious that she didn’t think this was the best night for a sleepover, but further consideration brought her to decide that it might be the best night for Frank to have a little distracting company.
“Well, I guess if it’s okay with his parents...”
Jessica was as surprised as Frank was when Oliver voiced his thanks... and demonstrated it by lunging forward to hug her.
Frank ran his tongue over his teeth in an effort to wash away the rest of the toothpaste. His quick retreat back to his room when he’d heard his father arrive back home with Rudy hadn’t given him much time to properly rinse. Now, he could hear voices in the living room as Rudy happily told their mother all she’d done. He heard his dad laugh, and resented it. The man was supposed to be upset, like Frank was. But, Frank quickly reminded himself that he wasn’t supposed to care.
He moved down the dark hallway, could see the light coming from his door. Oliver had left the door cracked. Thinking about it, Frank hoped that Oliver was tired enough to go to sleep. It had been a long day and his eyes were beginning to feel heavy. But his ears were open enough, it seemed. At least enough to hear the lone voice coming from his bedroom, and as he reached the door, he realized with some concern that Oliver was speaking to himself again. But this time, Frank understood perfectly who he was talking to, and it sent a cold chill up his spine.
“I told you, David. I told you I’d do it. Frank is my friend... I did what you said, David. It’s okay now, alright, David? Don’t get mad at me, David... I’m not supposed to talk to you anymore,” Oliver said, suddenly dropping his voice into a whisper. “They all say everything will be okay if I don’t talk to you anymore. But I know the truth. Don’t worry, okay, David? When it’s safe... I’ll talk to you when it’s safe. I don’t want to get in trouble anymore. Like a secret, David. It’s our secret.”
“Oliver?” Frank’s voice sounded a little dry to his own ears as he pushed the door open and looked cautiously into his room, as if he actually expected someone other than Oliver to be there. And for a minute, he got the impression that that’s exactly what Oliver thought as he caught sight of the boy sitting on his bedroom floor where he’d made a bed out of spare blankets. Oliver was on his knees, wearing the shorts and t-shirt he’d brought over to sleep in, looking up at Frank’s bed as if someone was actually sitting there. “Oliver?” Frank said again.
Oliver looked over his shoulder this time, and smiled his crooked smile in Frank’s direction. “Hi, Frank.”
“Hey,” Frank replied as he slipped into his bedroom and closed the door behind him. “Who were you talking to?”
Oliver flushed, and shrugged his shoulders. “No one, Frank.”
Frank frowned. As far as he could tell, this was the first time Oliver had purposely attempted to deceive him. But, at least he could tell that the one-sided conversation had nothing to do with a blackout. Frank hadn’t learned much useful information from the Martins when it came to Oliver’s condition, so now he was determined to piece it together on his own. If Oliver didn’t black out when he talked to David, Frank couldn’t help wondering if that happened when he became David. He didn’t ask, though. For those answers, Frank decided that he would be better off simply observing, so he forced a smile and headed towards his bed, pausing briefly as he looked to the place where Oliver had been staring. Real or not, something about the idea of David sitting on his bed was bothersome to Frank. But, he forced the feeling away as he climbed into bed, resting his head on his pillow before he looked down at Oliver, who was watching him now. Frank allowed a moment or two to pass before he decisively moved closer in towards the wall. “Wanna come up?” he asked.
Without answering, Oliver grabbed his pillow and moved onto the narrow mattress, not minding that the space there was limited as he settled in and quietly stared at the ceiling with Frank.
“My stomach hurts,” Oliver commented.
“Yeah,” Frank replied, sighing. “But there was no way I was gonna tell my mom we already ate. I’m lucky I’m not grounded as it is.”
Oliver fell silent again. They could still hear voices coming through the house, and when the only male voice promised to be coming back tomorrow, Frank sighed heavily.
“Is that your dad, Frank? Oliver whispered.
“Yeah. He’s dropping my sister off. Should be gone in a minute.”
“You really don’t like him, Frank?”
Frank was silent for a moment. “There’s a lot I don’t like about him. Yeah.”
Oliver turned his head towards Frank, and his eyes went a little wide. “I’m not allowed to not like my dad.”
Frank smirked. “Says who?”
Frank outright laughed. “It doesn’t work that way, Oliver. He can’t control your feelings. You should know that.”
“I don’t want to get in trouble, Frank.”
“You won’t if you don’t tell him... I don’t think I like your dad, either.”
“You sound like David, Frank.”
Frank frowned, unsure if that was supposed to be a compliment. Oliver’s brow knitted, as if he’d become aware that he’d said something wrong. “I wanna go to sleep now, Frank.”
“Alright,” Frank replied, sitting up long enough to lean across Oliver and turn off the lamp. He felt Oliver’s hand touch his chest as the room grew dark, and placing his palm over it, Frank turned into him and closed his eyes, and then he remembered nothing as he slept until Oliver shook him awake first thing in the morning.
Frank wondered if Oliver was always such an early riser, or if he’d just chosen the one morning Frank needed extra sleep to wake him up early. Frank’s attempt to drag a pillow over his head only made Oliver laugh and try harder to wake him up, and the sound made Frank smile, despite the fact that he was still half asleep.
Frank opened one eye slowly, allowing it to adjust to light that wasn’t supposed to be there. It took him a moment to realize that Oliver had opened the curtains, and now sat over him already fully dressed with a smile on his face.
“Good morning, Frank,” he whispered.
“Morning,” Frank mumbled. “Not so sure it’s good. But morning... go back to sleep, Oliver.”
“But we’ve gotta wake up, Frank. It’s morning. I’ll help you do your chores.”
“Chores?” Frank repeated. He didn’t recall his mom asking him to do anything this morning. “I don’t have any chores.”
“Then what do you do in the morning?” Oliver asked, obviously confused.
“Sleep,” Frank said, turning onto his side and tucking his hands under his head. “You should try it.”
Oliver fell silent, and Frank opened his eyes long enough to see that his guest seemed somewhat disappointed in his response, and obviously unwilling to go back to bed.
Frank groaned. “Oliver...”
“I have to go home today, don’t I?” Oliver interrupted. “Later, right Frank? I don’t want to go right now. I like it here better.”
Frank pushed his hair out of his face as he sat up and looked at Oliver, feeling sympathetic. He didn’t want Oliver to have to go back home later, either, but it wasn’t as if he could make his friend any promises. He was already on thin ice with the Martins. He could admit that since they’d allowed Oliver to spend the night he felt less wary of them, even if they had done it under duress. However, he was beginning to wonder if his decision to protect their secret--Oliver’s secret--was the right thing to do. Hearing Oliver hint that he disliked it at home was new for Frank. He wanted to learn more; figure out if the sudden change was do to the recent changes in the Martin house, or if it wasn’t new at all.
“We still have time. I’ll get dressed. We’ll find something to do, okay?”
Frank was careful to keep quiet as he forced himself out of bed and dressed, not wanting to wake his mom or his sister while Oliver folded up the blankets he’d left on the floor the night before and talked about a good place for fishing that he knew about, since Frank wasn’t up for any long walks.
“We can go, but I don’t think we even have anything around here to fish with,” Frank said as he opened his bedroom door with Oliver behind him.
“We’ve got our hands, Frank,” Oliver said, grinning as he held them up.
Frank smiled. “Do you really think we’ll catch anything that way?”
“No. Not really. We can still go, though, right, Frank?”
“Sure. Sounds fine to me. Wanna get some breakfast first?”
They fell silent in the hallway as they passed the other bedrooms, but as they reached the end of it, Frank suddenly slowed his pace, his ears alert to a scraping noise coming from the kitchen.
“Is your mom awake, Frank?” Oliver asked, after hearing the noise, too.
“I don’t think so,” Frank answered, reaching back to touch Oliver’s arm and guide him forward.
“Then what is...”
“Shh,” Frank insisted.
Oliver complied, but moved closer to Frank as they headed through the morning shadows and to the kitchen. There, Frank wasn’t sure whether to be relieved by what he found, or terrified of it.
Sam Seaberg looked up from the pancake batter he was stirring in a metal bowl just in time to see the stunned look on his son’s face turn into a rather disagreeable one. “Good morning,” he said carefully, knowing that any words out of his mouth weren’t going to be positively received by Frank at the moment. He was right.
“What are you doing in here?” Frank demanded.
“Your mom let me in,” his father replied. “I got here a little early... she went back to bed. I was kind of hoping that the smell of food would get you or your sister up... It always worked before,” he added with a humorous smile. “Do you guys want some breakfast?”
“No,” Frank stated, despite the reason why he’d wanted to go to the kitchen in the first place. “We were just leaving.”
Sam frowned as Frank headed towards the back door, but refused to give up as his attention drifted to his son’s new friend. “What about you--it’s Oliver, right? How about some pancakes.”
Frank turned back around to see that Oliver had stopped halfway across the kitchen, looking startled and perplexed as he studied Sam.
“He’s not hungry, either,” Frank answered for him.
Sam frowned. “You don’t have to be rude, Frank. If you’re going to have friends sleep over, you should at least let them eat breakfast in the morning.”
“I had two dinners,” Oliver said, obviously trying to be helpful.
“See?” Frank said as he grabbed Oliver’s arm to pull him out the door. “He’s not hungry.”
Sam listened to the door slam and stared down at the batter he’d been mixing for a moment. He was frustrated. There was no getting around that, and decidedly, it wasn’t something that he felt like controlling as he left what he was doing and went after his son.
“Frank!” he called as soon as he got the door open. But Frank kept walking. Only his friend looked back as he was dragged along. “Frank!” Sam called again. “Does your mom even know you’re leaving?”
The question got Frank’s attention, but as he spun around and glared at his dad, Sam decided that it wasn’t the kind of attention that he wanted from the boy.
“Don’t,” Frank snapped. “Don’t think you get to act like a parent now.”
Sam opened his mouth, wanting very much to point out to Frank that he was still in fact his father, but as his son turned and continued walking with his friend, he decided against it. There was nothing he could say now that wouldn’t result in an argument. That’s not what he wanted. He’d try at a more appropriate time, when they were alone. Sooner or later, he thought, Frank wouldn’t have the choice to run away from him.
Frank, stripped down to his boxers, looked down at the water from where he balanced in the rocking boat. No snakes. No floating dead animals. So far, so good. He pinched his nose closed with his fingers and jumped out of the boat, making sure to close his eyes before his head made it under the shockingly cold water.
He gasped as he surfaced, looking up to where Oliver was still sitting in the boat, watching him. Sulking. Frank frowned as he swam back over and pulled himself halfway out of the water to better meet Oliver’s eyes.
“What’s wrong?” he asked. “Aren’t you gonna come in?” Frank doubted that the fact that his teeth were already chattering would encourage Oliver to go for a swim, but he figured it was worth a shot.
Oliver only shook his head, and looked back towards Frank’s house, which they weren’t all that far from. He’d been rather quiet ever since they’d left it.
“What’s wrong?” Frank asked again, placing his cool hand over Oliver’s warm, dry one.
“I don’t like it when your dad makes you angry, Frank.”
Frank laughed at that. “Neither do I,” he started to say, but stopped as he realized that Oliver was looking seriously tense over this. Something about it annoyed Frank. It wasn’t Oliver. Perhaps it was the fact that Oliver was worrying about Frank and his dad when it should have been the other way around. Oliver was the one with the family problems. At least, he seemed to be the one with bigger family problems. Oliver didn’t seem to see it that way, though. He cared about Frank, and the more apparent that became, the more Frank felt like a jerk for staying away over the past week. “Oliver...” Frank paused again, still unsure of what to say. Finally, he just smiled. “Hey, let’s just forget our parents for now, alright? Let’s... let’s forget everything. Come swimming with me. And maybe... maybe we’ll find some fish in here to catch with our hands.”
Oliver still looked unsure, but didn’t object when Frank gave his hand a small tug.
“Besides,” Frank added. “I don’t wanna be the only idiot in here freezing my ass off.”
Oliver’s smile came slowly, but it did appear. “Okay, Frank.”
“Do you know what it’s like, Frank? Do you know what it’s like to be seen but not heard?”
“David, you’re not making sense. Seriously, if you’d just tell me...”
“I do,” came the whispered interruption. “I’m ready to tell you now. I’ll tell you everything.”
Frank ran his fingers aggressively through his hair as he leaned back into the sofa, his stomach knotting with suspense. He wished he would have turned on a light before answering the phone.
“Okay. So tell me. Tell me what you’re talking about.”
“And when I do... they take the light away.”
“David... what does that mean.”
There was a strange sound at the other end of the line. A gasp. A sob. Something moving in the background. “David? David? What are you doing? David! Talk to me!”
“They always take... the light away. Help me.”
“I want to. We can meet, okay? Just tell me... David?” Frank became still as the other end of the line became eerily quiet. “David?” he whispered, just before he heard the click of the line going dead. Staring a the phone in his hand, he was unsure of what to think. Something felt wrong. Very, very wrong. He stood, turned back towards his room to get dressed, wide awake now. And then he was frozen in place, heart pounding in his chest as a wraithlike figure moved through the shadows, stopping before him as David Martin’s eyes met his, cold and accusing. Frank opened his mouth to speak, but was unable before David lifted his hands to Frank’s neck. Unable to defend, unable to breathe, Frank couldn’t move. Only listen.
“When were you ever going to help me, Frank?”
Frank’s eyes snapped open to a safer place as he sat up and looked over his bedroom. The curtains were still open from this morning, and a light breeze came through the window screen, cooling the beads of sweat that had collected over his forehead during his short nap.
He was getting damn tired of nightmares.
In fact, he was pretty sure that sleeping next to Oliver the night before had been the only time in the last week where his sleep hadn’t been interrupted by strange dreams. But, he’d sent Oliver home nearly two hours ago, and once again he was faced with trying to figure out what his subconscious wanted to tell him. It was becoming clearer now. But unfortunately, Frank didn’t like what he was coming up with, or what it was causing him to consider.
Outside, the sound of a car door closing interrupted his peaceful quiet, making him jump. Climbing out of bed and moving towards his window, he felt lightheaded. He was thirsty, his dry throat creating a knot he could feel halfway down his chest. But it only became a minor inconvenience as his eyes widened on what was outside his window.
Barefoot and shirtless, Frank turned and headed out his bedroom door, having more than one question when it came to why Jay was outside of his house with a black Ford. Yesterday, Frank had been pretty sure that when it came to Jay, he wouldn’t be making a new friend. In fact, he wasn’t sure he even wanted to. He also thought the feeling was mutual, so why the guy would show up at his house like this was a mystery he was looking to solve immediately.
“Frank?” Jessica called as he moved through the living room, towards the front door.
“In a minute,” he called back, refusing to be distracted from the task at hand. He made his way outside, tiptoed over terrain that his feet objected to as he moved around the house, and came to a stop in front of the black Ford where he stared at Jay leaning over the passenger door.
When Jay finally looked up to find Frank standing there, he was more startled by Frank’s messy hair and ragged appearance than his presence itself, but was quick to look as friendly as possible. “Um, hey, Frank...”
“What are you doing here?” Frank demanded, knowing that he sounded more hostile than what was necessary.
Jay sighed, and slowly walked around the car. “Look, I know yesterday I came off as a... I know I was a jerk. There’s really no excuse for it, except I was having a bad day and you struck a nerve.”
Frank raised an eyebrow. For something that seemed like an apology, it certainly didn’t sound like one in tone. “Okay...”
“I figured we could start over,” Jay continued. “You know, so you don’t get the impression that people around here aren’t altogether unfriendly.”
“That’s why you’re here?” Frank asked.
Jay shrugged. “No. That’s just what I planned to say if I happened to see you. I’m here to drop my sister off.”
“Sister?” Frank repeated.
Jay pointed over his shoulder with his thumb, and Frank redirected his attention towards the Ford. Rudy’s newest friend, Stephanie, was standing in front of it now with a pink backpack over her shoulder. Jay smiled as Frank took a minute to consider the situation. “I think you’ve already met her, right?”
“Um. Yeah,” Frank replied.
“Hello,” they were suddenly interrupted by Jessica’s voice. Frank turned to face his mom, frowning, but she ignored him as she focused on their guests. “Stephanie, Rudy ran out with her father, but they should be back in a few minutes. You can wait inside if you want.”
“Thanks, Ms. Seaberg,” Stephanie replied as she headed into the house on her own, waving to her brother.
“It’s nice to see you again, Jay,” Jessica said, throwing Frank for another loop. “Thanks for bringing her.”
“No problem,” Jay replied.
“Frank, I hope you’re not out here antagonizing our guests,” Jessica warned as she took a closer look at the expression on her son’s face.
“Not at all, Ms. Seaberg,” Jay answered for him. “Frank and I met yesterday.”
“Oh,” Jessica said, smiling between them. “That’s nice. Maybe you can talk Frank into getting some exercise before he decides to go back to bed at three in the afternoon.”
“Mom,” Frank snapped, annoyed.
“Sure,” Jay said. “I was just about to ask him if he wanted to go hang out for a while.”
“No you weren’t,” Frank said shortly. Not that it did him any good. Clearly, he was being ignored.
“Well I hope you have fun, then,” Jessica said, just before she smoothed Frank’s hair and kissed his cheek. “Honey, if you go out make sure you put on some shoes first.”
Frank made a point to glare at her back as she walked back into the house, and then pretended that she hadn’t just been completely embarrassing as he turned to face Jay again.
“So, is that alright?” Jay asked.
“Is what alright?”
“You know... I mean, we could hang out sometime. Or you could come with us again next weekend. Whatever.”
“Oh. Maybe,” Frank replied. The truth was, now that he was seeing Oliver again, spying on the photography club had lost its appeal. Besides, as far as he knew, no one else had been snooping around his house. It was possible that Mr. Crook had been right and the whole incident had been a practical joke gone wrong; and if that was the case, there were simply more important matters that Frank had to focus on.
“Well how about now?” Jay asked, pulling him from his thoughts. “Look, I’ve got some time, and I was thinking...” Jay continued speaking, but somewhere along the line Frank had stopped listening as his eyes moved past Jay, across the lake where the red roof of the Martin house was visible.
Frank wondered how Oliver was doing. When Frank had watched him move across the lake in his boat a few hours ago, he remembered being worried about what was waiting for Oliver at home. If anything, he’d gotten the impression that Oliver still didn’t want to leave, but would since there was still some loyalty in him when it came to obeying his parents. Even if he didn’t like the new rules in his house. Once again Frank found himself wishing that he had someone to talk to about this. Preferably someone who wouldn’t raise hell enough to get Oliver sent to some hospital somewhere. But, someone who could help him get a better perspective of the situation. He’d stayed away from Oliver because he had been unable to deal with reality. And even last night, after hearing Oliver speak to David, he’d been worried that David would make an unwanted appearance. He had no idea how he’d deal with it if that were to happen. He didn’t know if he’d tell David that he didn’t belong there, like the Martins did... or if he’d tolerate the presence, even if David frightened him.
Frank’s most recent dream was only another reminder of the last time he’d actually spoken to David Martin. That night on the phone... the things David had said were making more sense every day. He’d been asking for help. A part of Frank could understand what he wanted. He wanted to exist. What Frank was having trouble with, was whether or not David had a right to. And who was supposed to decide? The Martins? Frank? Oliver? It was a difficult question to answer, and for Frank there were no black and white answers.
And then there was what David had planned to tell him. I’ll tell you everything. Frank wanted to know what that meant. Had he planned to tell Frank what he already knew? Or was there something else? Maybe he’d been planning to tell Frank something that the Martins didn’t want him to know, and that was why they’d suddenly decided to do everything they could to silence him for good. Only one thing seemed clear to Frank, and that was that it was entirely possible that David Martin was the only one who had these answers.
“...I wanted to show you something,” Jay was saying by the time Frank bothered to listen again. “Do you want to go real quick? It won’t take long, and we could talk...”
“No,” Frank suddenly said, and when Jay frowned, he tried to look polite. “I mean... maybe some other time, okay? I just remembered there’s something I’ve gotta do.”
“Well... when?” Jay asked, obviously feeling put out.
“I don’t know,” Frank replied. “Look, I have to go, alright? I’ll see you later.”
With no further explanation, Frank left Jay standing there as he went back inside and headed straight for the phone. He dialed Oliver’s number, only to have Mary Martin pick up. She sounded less than thrilled to hear from him.
“Oliver’s not here,” she said.
Frank frowned. “He never went home?”
“No, he did,” Mary replied. “But he went out again. I’ll tell him to call you back if I remember it later.”
She hung up on him then, and Oliver never called him back later.
It was becoming increasingly difficult for Frank to avoid his father. Frank had invited Stephanie to stay for dinner just so the man wouldn’t be able to talk to him about anything personal at the table when his mom insisted they all sit down together, and once again, Sam was back first thing in the morning. This time he’d gone into Frank’s room, shook him awake, and asked if he wanted to go out to breakfast. Feeling cornered and hostile, Frank had grabbed his clothes and dressed on the way out the door. He credited unspent aggression for the way he got around the lake in no time at all, and as he leaned his bike against a tree outside the Martin house, his attention turned towards the open garage as the sound of a disgruntled hen reached his ears.
Frank walked over slowly, feeling a reluctant smile tug at his lips as he caught sight of Oliver, who was hugging the creature despite its kicking feet.
“Jeeze, why’re you so mad today?” Oliver demanded of the animal. “Not like you’re the only one who has bad days. I can’t let you out ‘cause of the cats. You know that. Just be nice, alright? I have a wish for you. And I know you don’t like him ‘cause he’s always joking about chickens with their heads cut off, but it’s for David, alright, chicken?”
“It’s lucky, and it grants wishes, too, huh? Wish you would’ve mentioned that before.”
Oliver spun around, startled enough to drop the perturbed animal, and for the next five minutes Frank helped him corner it in the garage before it was safely back in its cage.
“Sorry about that, Oliver.”
“That’s okay, Frank,” Oliver said. He was smiling now. “Hi.”
“Hi,” Frank replied. “So what were you gonna wish for?”
Oliver’s smile faded. “Can’t tell you,” he said quietly.
“Not ‘cause I don’t want to, Frank. Honest. But if I tell, it doesn’t come true.”
“That’s okay, Oliver. You wanna go for a walk?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Both boys looked up, and Frank found himself frowning at Mary Martin.
“But Mom, I finished all my chores!” Oliver objected.
“That don’t matter, Oliver,” she responded. “I want you to go inside.”
“It’ll be a short walk,” Frank intervened. “We’re not going far.”
Mary frowned. She obviously wanted to argue. But obviously, something in her seemed afraid to. “I want him home for lunch. I mean that.”
Frank smiled, despite himself. “He will be. I promise.”
Mary looked at him oddly as he helped Oliver to his feet. “Thank you, Frank.” But then she looked at Oliver carefully. “You know the places where you’re not supposed to go.”
Oliver lowered his eyes. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Come on,” Frank insisted as he gave Oliver’s arm a tug. There was nothing he wanted more than to get Oliver out of that garage before Mrs. Martin changed her mind.
They headed away from the Martin house, Frank allowing Oliver to take the lead as he asked if everything was okay when Oliver got home the day before. Oliver didn’t seem to have too many complaints, although he did make a point to ask Frank if he could spend the night again. Being able to seemed to be utterly important to Oliver, who held onto Frank’s hand until Frank convinced him that he made sure there’d be more sleepovers.
The day had turned warm when they came to a shaded, secluded spot near the water and stretched out in a patch of tall, damp grass where Oliver held onto one of Frank’s hands with both of his. He seemed in need of some sort of assurance. Frank wasn’t sure what kind of assurance he was supposed to be giving, but he did his best to comply as he sat close enough to Oliver for them to be touching from hip to knee.
“Does it really have to be a short walk?” Oliver asked. “I could have lunch with you, Frank.”
“Your mom wants you home,” Frank pointed out.
“And then you’ll leave again?”
“I never said that,” Frank said mischievously. “I’ll wait if you eat real fast.”
Oliver grinned. “I think that’ll make my mom real mad.”
“But it’ll make you happy?”
Oliver smiled, giving a short nod.
“I’ll wait, then,” Frank said as he settled back on an elbow, pulling Oliver back with him so they remained facing each other. Frank studied him for a long moment, smiling when Oliver leaned forward to brush a soft kiss over his lips. But, by the time Oliver pulled back, Frank had turned serious. “I want to ask you something.”
Frank glanced away for a moment, considering how he wanted to ask his question. “I want to talk about David.”
Oliver frowned, lowered his voice. “I’m not supposed to, Frank. I don’t...”
“You won’t get in trouble,” Frank cut him off. “Listen, Oliver... remember that night, I was locked in the basement with you?” Oliver looked away as if to remove himself from the conversation, but still gave a nod. “David called me that night. Do you know what he said?”
Oliver’s frown deepened. “I don’t know, Frank. I don’t remember... I don’t remember a lot.”
“Okay. That’s okay. But... David said he had something to tell me. He said he was going to tell me everything. What does that mean, Oliver?”
Oliver’s eyes narrowed in concentration, but his face flushed, as if he didn’t feel comfortable with the question. “I don’t know what it means,” he finally said. “Don’t ask me again, Frank. I don’t know.”
Frank’s brow lifted as he thought that was an odd way to respond. “Oliver, if you just think about it for a second... is there anything David might have told me... maybe your parents wouldn’t want...”
Oliver shook his head, violently now as he pulled his hand out of Frank’s. “I don’t know, Frank! I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”
Frustrated, Frank nodded, making a point to reclaim Oliver’s hand. “Okay,” Frank said, kissing his knuckles. “I’m sorry, okay. I just wanted to know if you knew... we don’t have to talk about it anymore, okay?”
Oliver nodded, seeming to pay more attention to the way that Frank was kissing his fingers than what Frank was actually saying. “It’ll be alright,” Oliver whispered. “It’ll be alright if we don’t talk about it.”
Frank sat up, staring at Oliver hard now. Why? He wondered. What do you know? But, he didn’t ask. Not when he’d just told Oliver that they wouldn’t talk about it anymore. It was only stressing Oliver out, whatever he was hiding. And there was something. Frank was certain of that.
“Oliver? There’s one more question I need to ask you.”
Oliver frowned. After Frank’s last question, it was no surprise that he was regarding Frank warily.
“I’m not supposed to talk about David anymore, Frank.”
“I know,” Frank replied. “You don’t have to talk about him. I want to talk to him.”
Oliver’s eyes widened, and he was in his feet in a moment, looking down at Frank accusingly. “Frank!”
Frank sighed, standing up. “Oliver,” he said, reaching for him. But, Oliver stepped back. “Oliver, please. I’m not sure how this works... but I know David knows something... maybe it’s something that can help you. How can I talk to him?”
Frank frowned, not wanting to push, but not wanting to back down, either. “Let me talk to David, Oliver. “David? David, I need to talk to you.” Just saying it made Frank look like an idiot, considering it was Oliver in front of him. But still, he was convinced that David was in there somewhere, and he highly doubted that he’d stay silent if someone wanted to talk to him. After all, that’s what he wanted. He wanted to be acknowledged. He wanted to exist.
“Why are you doing that, Frank?” Oliver suddenly snapped, right before he turned to walk away.
Frank was quick to get in front of him. Placing his hands on Oliver’s shoulder’s, he held him back. “Damn it, Oliver! Can’t you trust me?”
Oliver’s eyes turned pleading as he shook his head. “Stop it! Stop it, Frank!” he suddenly gasped, lowering his head as he clutched it in his hands, his fingers searching out his scars as his shoulders shook and a few choked-out sobs escaped him.
Frank stepped back, startled. It was too much. Too much for him. Too much for Oliver. And entirely his fault. “Oliver,” he said gently, reaching out to touch the other boy’s shoulder, appalled with himself when Oliver flinched away from his hand.
“Why are you doing this, Frank?”
Swallowing hard, Frank forced himself to move forward, taking hold of Oliver, wrestling him until he was firmly against his chest, wrapped in his arms. Frank held him tight, waiting for the tension in Oliver’s muscles to fade away. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry, Oliver.”
Oliver’s head dropped to Frank’s shoulders, his fingers digging into his back. “It’s wrong, Frank! Everything’s wrong!”
“I won’t do that again,” Frank said quickly. “I promise. I’m sorry. Shh.”
Frank could feel the tension in Oliver’s back twitch, hear heavy breathing as the other boy attempted to regain control of himself. Frank didn’t let go. Turning his head, he kissed the side of Oliver’s neck soothingly as he whispered random reassurance in his ear, and when Oliver finally became still, Frank didn’t move for long minutes as he was heavily leaned upon.
“I won’t do that again,” Frank whispered more to himself than to Oliver.
Oliver lifted his head, his watery, hazel eyes coming to rest on Frank’s. They were searching just before they closed and he leaned forward, his forehead resting against Frank’s. Frank sighed, his fingers moving through the hair at Oliver’s nape as tilted his head, his mouth seeking out Oliver’s. Oliver’s grip on Frank tightened, and he returned the kiss carefully, his lips seeming to need reassurance as much as the rest of him did.
When Oliver pulled back, it was as if he’d lost control of his breath all over again. “I don’t know what to do, Frank,” he whispered. “It’s all wrong.”
Frank opened his eyes to tell Oliver that he was out of ideas, too, but became frozen as he caught sight of something in the shadows, no more than five feet away. Just a small movement, black sneakers disappearing behind the trees, but it was enough. “Shit!” he cursed, startling Oliver as he abruptly pushed him away, and then he took off running.
“Frank?” Oliver called after him, but Frank didn’t stop. He rounded the trees just in time to see a tall body breaking into a jog. His back was turned, his head covered in a dark ball cap, and a familiar black jacket tied around his waist. Frank picked up his pace, not taking the time to think about what he was doing, and in four strides he was on the guy’s heels, saw that camera in his hand...
“Hey!” Frank shouted, his hand reaching out, but he snatched it back abruptly when the spy suddenly jumped, turned, and tripped on his own feet. Frank’s eyes widened as he looked at the boy on the ground in front of him, who looked just as surprised as he did. “You!” Frank said accusingly.
The boy opened his mouth to speak, but suddenly closed it, narrowing his eyes as Oliver came to an abrupt halt alongside Frank.
“Jeremy,” Oliver whispered, taking a step back.
Frank looked at Oliver, frowning. “What?” he demanded. “Jeremy? Jeremy Flaskis?” He was reasonably confused as he looked back towards the ground, since the guy he was looking at wasn’t Jeremy at all as far as he knew.
It was Jay.