The old me would have bent over backwards to try to make amends, and insure that this little boy didn't hate and despise me as much as he did. But the new me? The 'me' that was more confident, more aggressive, more carefree about life in general...stood its ground at Cyrus' side. And dared the blond brat to challenge me for his attention. I almost wanted the turbulence to take place. I was waiting for it with baited breath. Because all I needed was a reason...and I'd tear into him like any of the other people out here who dared to see me eye to eye when they were so clearly inferior.
We attracted attention the moment we walked in, as we did everywhere that we went. And the people in this town had absolutely no shame in blatantly staring at us from the line of registers. It was almost...'rude', they way their eyes judged us simply by the way we walked together. I mean, what the hell is THEIR problem, anyway? You know...now that I've given a piece of myself to the pack, I think that I can better understand them...and their place in this screwed up town. I always knew what it was like to feel like an outcast. Like I didn't belong. Like I didn't 'fit'. And while the stares were less intense, and the whispers a bit more quiet...it was no different. And I always hated that feeling. And I hated people for forcing that feeling upon me. It wasn't right, it wasn't FAIR. It was like the thought I was a lesser person, or had lesser value...just because I wasn't exactly like everybody else. Funny thing though...now that I group of people on my side, who actually saw things the way that I did...I'm far from being alone. We may still be seriously outnumbered, but as long as we have our union, their stares can't penetrate. Their whispers fall silent. Their judgments become as worthless and as petty in my mind as they should be. Soon...it felt GOOD to be a misfit. It felt good to be a part of the 'performance'.
"Still thinking, aren't you?" Cyrus asked me, and with a grin he gave me a slight one armed hug. "I know you're still working things out, and that takes time. Just don't go complicating things more than necessary, got it? The calling isn't about 'focus'. The calling is about release. All you have to do to achieve its highest levels...is let go."
Kristin grabbed a shopping cart, and Scout pretty much took control of pushing it the second he got his hands on it. Something, I'm sure, Kristin was used to, and didn't bother to even flinch when he took it. As we walked through the store and over to the meat section of the store, Cyrus picked up a few packages of ground beef, some chicken patties, and a steak. "You planning a cookout?" I asked.
Cyrus smiled, "We're not planning to cook, anything. This is for you." He picked up another package, "Do you eat pork? Or do you just want more beef instead?"
"Um...ok, I am NOT eating raw hamburger meat."
I heard Dexter's voice from behind me. "Why not? It's good." And when I turned my head, he was already eating some right out of the package...shoving finger fulls of it in his mouth like it was chewing tobacco or something. Ugh! What the HELL?
"No thanks. Not doing it."
But Cyrus only gave me a raised eyebrow and said, "Riiiiiiight. Well, why don't we just hold on to this meat for now? We can let you make that decision a little bit later...when it counts." A that moment, an older lady with white hair pushed her cart around the corner, to see Dex eating bloody meat with his bare hands, and stopped dead in her tracks. They both paused for a second, and then Dex opened his mouth wide to show her the half chewed beef, little chunks of it falling to the floor as he made faces at her. The old lady gasped out loud and quickly pushed her cart down a different aisle as Dex spit some of the meat in her direction, trying hard to hit her in the back of the head with it. Then he just leaned up against the meat counter and at ate another handful. "Crazy old bitch.." He mumbled.
Cyrus and I couldn't help but snicker to ourselves and shake our heads. Not even Cyrus himself knew what to expect from him, and I think he liked that. "God, I love that boy." He said. "Alright...spices. Let's go."
"Spices?" I asked.
"Yes, for the raw meat you'll be eating."
"I'm not eating any raw meat."
"Oh yeah, right. I forgot." He grinned. "Just like you weren't going to get on the back of that truck, drink alcohol, fight a bully, or leave home..am I right?" My mouth dropped slightly, and used his fingers to close it for me. "Relax. Just go with it. You're only slowing yourself down." He walked down a different aisle, and Scout passed me with the cart, purposely banging it into my ankle.
"Oops. Sorry." He said with a bratty grin, and kept going. I swear, I need to smack that little bastard.
I followed Cyrus as he went to the shelves and started looking for some..um...'flavoring', I guess. "You're not allergic to anything, are you? Garlic, pepper, oregano? Be sure, it's important."
"Not that I know of." I said.
"Good. Now...you won't always need this stuff, but it will definitely help you get used to the taste your first few times out. Trust me, you're gonna want to make it taste like something it's not. And even then it might make you gag a little bit." Cyrus turned to see the look on my face, and offered me a comforting smirk. "It's more mental than anything else. It takes a while. It's hard to enjoy it when your brain is constantly squealing, 'ewwww, raw meat'." He went back to looking at spices, and I turned to see Dex randomly knocking stuff off of the shelves. Not for any particular reason, mind you...I think he just was getting some kind of mild pleasure out of doing it. Then...something happened.
A man came walking down the aisle, and his face was frowned up something awful. He was wearing a nametag that said 'Sam' on it, and I guess he worked there. The funny thing is...I could pick up on his scent before I even laid eyes on him. I could tell his height, his weight, and could almost make out his features before he ever rounded that corner. This scent was..different. It was warm, almost 'hot', and I could almost taste this bitter flare on the back of my tongue. It was strong, and I backed up from it at first. But Cyrus looked in the same direction, and never lost his smile.
Cyrus looked back at Dexter, and called out to him. "Dex...c'mon, let's not mess up the nice man's store. Alright?" Dex looked up for a moment, and growled and grumbled to himself as the man approached. I saw 'Sam' pass us, and somehow, without even knowing that I was doing it, I found myself stepping forward to 'protect' Cyrus by keeping myself between them until he had passed us completely. I stared him down, as did Dexter, until he was close enough to start picking up what Dex had knocked down off the shelf, and he backed up to walk around the corner to join Kristin and Sebastian elsewhere in the store. Cyrus noticed my expert positioning around him, and he rested his palms on both of my shoulders from behind, and gave me a gentle kiss on the back of the neck. "Good boy." He whispered, and then went back to looking for spices.
I watched as the man picked up the random items and put them back on the shelf, occasionally glaring at me, Scout, and Cyrus, from a distance. "What's his problem?" I asked.
"He is mad." Scout giggled.
Cyrus turned to me, "Can you smell it? The heat? The hatred? Whatever it is that's bugging him, I'm sure it goes beyond having to pick up a few boxes of cake mix and powdered sugar." I kept watching him, and Cyrus stopped what he was doing to join me. "Settle down. Hehehe, he's no threat. You've just got to learn to recognize your scents. You've got to learn to 'feel' them, and guide your reactions according to their intensity." He and I both stared at Sam as he continued picking stuff off of the floor, humiliated by the fact that the teenagers responsible were now staring at him with grins on their faces. Cyrus spoke directly into my ear. "Take it in, Wes. Deep breath."
"I don't...understand." I said.
"The anger. Can you pick up on the scent?"
"I...I think so."
"Don't think. Trust your instincts. What are your senses telling you?" With his hand, he pressed lightly against my stomach, and encouraged me to inhale deeply. "It should be strong enough to almost 'taste'. You should feel it burning, like acid on your tongue. Can you feel it?"
He was right. The more I inhaled, the stronger it got. The bitterness of it was disgusting, I wanted to spit it out. It felt like it was burning hot, singing my nose hairs, flooding my body with this dark cloud of anger "Yes. I can taste it, Father."
"Yes." He replied proudly. "Now watch. See how obvious his anger is? See how strong it is in his own heart?" Then Cyrus pointed a finger at him as the man stood up straight and stomped away to another part of the store without saying a word. "Hehehe, you see that? Can you feel him holding it all in? Not wanting to say anything, not wanting to do anything about us staring at him? Frustrated, and bothered, and desperately trying to compress it all into a tight little ball and push it down to the center of his stomach where he thinks nobody will ever find it? Looks ridiculous, doesn't it? Emotionally constipated. Like a shaken up can of soda. Hehehe!" He told me. "You wanna know something, Wes? That was YOU, a week ago. Pushing it all down, holding it all back....uuungggghhhh!" He made such funny grunting noises, wrapping his arms around his stomach and bending over at the waist.
"Hehehe, stop it..." I blushed with a grin.
"Unngh, want...to get...LAID...want to...have....FUN...with my...new friends! But...unnghh...CAN'T! MUST...stay...loyal...to...Bible camp! Unnnghhhh!" And Cyrus actually fell to the floor like he was trying to hold in a bad stomach ache, and I couldn't help but burst out laughing.
"Dude...you SUCK!" I giggled, and Scout, with a playful burst of energy, jumped down on top of Cyrus and began rolling around with him right there in the middle of the store. Hehehe, you would think that something like this would be embarrassing. But, I don't know...at this particular moment, it just felt like fun.
"Excuse me, where are your parents?" We looked up to see the store manager walking up with a stern look. Cyrus and I looked at each other briefly, and started giggling again. Our parents? Somehow, the questions seemed so ridiculous. The manager got a bit more upset and stepped closer. "Alright boys, time to go. Get up. Let's move."
"Ok, ok...just a couple more minutes. We'll be good, I promise." Cyrus said standing up and brushing himself off. "My apologies. It's just been a good day."
"Not any more it's not. Let's go. Take your friends with you. All of them" The manager reached out to lightly push Cyrus in the right direction..and that hand never made contact.
"What the FUCK do you think you're doing???" I snarled, smacking his hand away. And the man looked as though he was in total shock, as both Scout and I stood side by side to keep him from putting his hands on our leader It was the only time that Scout and I had done anything to support one another...but our message to the manager was clear.
Cross this line...and it's your ass.
The manager actually stepped back from us, not expecting some young teenager to ever approach him with such hostility. After all...he was an 'adult', right? As far as us little kids were concerned, he was to be both respected and feared. But he found no such power in our eyes. That illusion was wasted on us, and we'd tear him to shreds before we let him put his hands on Cyrus. The man turned to look behind him at the other end of the aisle...and standing there, 'ready'...was Kristin, Dex, and Sebastian. He had nowhere to go. Nowhere at all.
"I'm...I'm going to have to ask you boys to leave. Or...or I'm calling the cops...." He stuttered. I began to step forward, my fists already clenched, but a slight mental nudge from Cyrus told me to hold my position.
Cyrus leaned over my shoulder, and gave the man a sarcastic grin. "Actually, we have some groceries that we'd like to purchase from your store here. Just let me grab a few more things, we'll pay for everything, and then we'll be on our way. K?" It's not like the man had much choice. Something about us creeped him the hell out. But trust me...he didn't know the HALF of it.
"Fine...you've got...five more minutes." He said.
"Make it ten." Naturally, Cyrus didn't really need another ten minutes, but he never failed to force the others around him to submit completely. They had to know who was in charge, and they had to know that it was not to be challenged.
The man looked back at the others at the other end of the aisle, and then back at us. "O-o-ok...ten."
"Thank you, sir. We appreciate it." Cyrus smiled, and the mental lock between us all relaxed itself immediately. The tension in my arms began to fade, my stare became less intense, and just like that...that feeling of raw untapped aggression was gone. Scout was able to get himself back to normal faster than I was, and when Cyrus saw me still standing there with a mean look on my face, he playfully butted me with his shoulder. "Chill out. He's gone. Don't be such a tough guy."
The fog in my mind lifted, and a smile broke out on my face. "Sorry."
Scout, for the first time in forever, actually giggled a bit himself. "I can't believe you totally smacked that guy's hand. Hehehe!"
Cyrus snickered a bit himself, which was seriously contagious, and we all fought through a small fit of quiet giggles. "WHAT???" I laughed. "He shouldn't have tried to put his hands on somebody. It's like, fuck you."
Cyrus shrugged away from me with a chuckle. "I never would have invited you out here if I knew you were so violent. Geez." Which only made us laugh even louder.
Just then, we heard something break in the next aisle. Cyrus sighed, and we looked through the shelves to see Dex and Sebastian standing on the other side. There was an extra large jar of grape jelly smashed on the floor, making an even bigger mess than the one he was making before. "Dex..." Cyrus warned.
"It was an accident." He said, and then pointed his finger, "Sebastian's accident." Which only made Sebastian roll his eyes. As though anyone could possibly think it was him over Dex. Yeah, right.
Cyrus said, "Let's get out of here before he starts tossing jugs of milk against the wall." We got in line at the register, and put everything up on the conveyor belt for purchase. Kristin hurried over to join us, sliding a bag of ready-made salad into the cart with some light vinaigrette dressing. Cyrus rolled his eyes, and she blushed a bit but he made sure to put the salad on the belt and give her a kiss on the cheek to remind her that she was beautiful. There's no doubt about it, Cyrus certainly loved his 'children'. The lady ringing us up seemed happy to be getting rid of us. But, I noticed her taking a few glances over at Sebastian while she scanned everything...and with another deep inhalation...I could smell the sweetest fragrance coming from her. Like...like it was coming directly from her very core. I remembered that smell. It was the same smell that I remember Freddy having when we were on the road that day. Sugar sweet, like candy. I squinted my eyes at her a bit, and she immediately darted her eyes back to the register. Was it an attraction. It had to be. Because just letting her eyes rest on Sebastian's beauty for only a few seconds seemed to make it even stronger.
I wonder if they could sense that same scent on me when I was staring at Sebastian at Rainbow's End. I wonder if they knew all along.
I heard the constant beep of the scanner as she rang up our food...and I thought about that scent of slight arousal...and something about it brought this really vivid memory back into my current state of consciousness. I thought about Casey back at the old gas station...and how amazing he looked when I laid eyes on him for the first time. His shimmering cascade of sandy blond hair, bringing such a graceful presentation to the unspeakable beauty of his sparkling hazel eyes. I thought about the radiant glory of his friendly smile, and his flirtatious little giggle, and the way he would tap his foot sometimes while we were playing cards behind the counter of his uncle's store. My mind suddenly became so flooded with my desire for him...that I could have sworn...just for a moment or two...that I had been somehow 'disconnected' from the rest of my pack. The energy that flowed through us all so easily, keeping us all in line and thinking and feeling as one...had simply 'skipped' over me. It was like the calling's hold on me had dissolved in an instant. But like I said...it didn't last long.
I guess the manager had sent someone to clean up Dex's little mess in the aisle with a mop and a bucket. the second the mop came out of that water and touched the floor...my senses went absolutely apeshit! All of us, even Cyrus, wrinkled up our faces, coughing and almost gagging from the smell of it. I think someone had added a dose of ammonia into the mop water, and once that stench hit the air, we all nearly choked on it.
"Ugh! Jesus! What the hell???" Scout hacked and wheezed from it, and Cyrus patted him on the back to tell him that he could wait outside with the others.
I had to literally hold my breath to keep from being sick, but I noticed that nobody else in the whole store seemed to even notice it. Just us. And the lady at the register looked at us like we were crazy. Finally, she gave us a total, and Cyrus reached into his pocket to pay. Where he kept getting money from, I'll never know. But from the size of the wad he pulled out, it looked like it would be enough to last us a while. Not forever...but a while.
"Thanks." Cyrus said, getting his change. "By the way, tell your boss he's an asshole." And Cyrus guided us all back out into the parking lot to get away from that awful stink.
Fresh air never tasted so good. We stepped outside, and saw John Boy still standing alert, right where we left him. His dark sunglasses staring out into the world as if he could see it all at once. The twins stood at one side of the electronic door, with Razor lighting a match to burn a rather large spider on its own web...with Shank taking joy in watching it wither and die in front of him. A stranger pair, those two. Kriegar, on the other hand, was pacing back and forth a short distance in front of the store, practically in the middle of the street where cars were coming by looking for parking. He seemed almost 'anxious', as if waiting for some trouble to pop up so that he could tear somebody's head clear off. Back and forth, back and forth...pacing like an agitated tiger in a cage at the zoo. Something about it made me thank God that it wasn't ME he was waiting for.
"Places, everybody. We're on to the next show." Cyrus called out, and everybody walked back to the truck together. He took a light hold of my arm, and held me back just steps away from the others. "Listen...for this next trip, I'm gonna need you to do a little 'babysitting' for me."
"Yeah." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "We need to get some chains for...you know who." He nodded towards Dexter, who was climbing on the back of the truck silently, his face seeming to get more and more serious by the second. "Dark moon is approaching fast, and I want this taken care of before it becomes an issue."
"Is he...is he really...dangerous?" I asked nervously.
"He's...'family'." Great. Like THAT answers my question. "I just need you to watch him for me. That's all. Take him to another part of the store, keep him busy. Don't let him get into trouble. It'll only be for a couple of minutes. K?"
Visions of Sebastian's bite and claw marks from the last time he tried to tie Dex up came to mind...and that only made the trembles in my stomach even worse. "Cyrus...I don't know about this. I mean, maybe somebody else would be better at..."
"No, no...nobody else. I need you on this one. Dex likes you. He trusts you, don't worry about it." He gave me a few confident pats on the chest. "You can do it. You'll be fine." He started walking forward, and then added, "Oh...and you might want to get rid of the jitters. He can smell it on ya, easy. Fear is one of his specialties during dark moons. He gets off on it. I wouldn't let him catch you stressing out if I were you."
"What happens if he does?" I asked as Cyrus walked off to the driver's side of the truck. "Cyrus? What happens if he does"
"If I told you...you wouldn't be able to get rid of those jitters, now would ya?" He gave me a wink and a smile, and then climbed into the truck. Jesus...what the hell was he DOING to me!
I cautiously climbed up on the back of the truck, and did my best to not make eye contact with Dexter as I sat down on the old tire. How the fuck am I supposed to just 'calm myself down' after what he just told me? That's not exactly an easy thing to do. Especially under these circumstances.
The truck started up, and I could feel Dex watching me. Staring in fact. Was I giving off a scent? Did he know? Am I giving myself away? Calm down Calm down. Think of something else. ANYTHING else. Come on, come on, come on! I didn't look back in his direction, but as I got a bit more nervous, Dex leaned closer to me. That only helped to make my pulse race even faster than before, and I tensed up tight when he touched my arm. I gasped, and did all I could to relax. But as he leaned his blond curls even closer to my throat...there was no use in even trying anymore. He inhaled deeply, his thin lips brushing the skin on the nape of my neck. And then...he kissed me there. Softly. Tenderly. And he laid his head on my shoulder, sliding his arm up to cuddle close to me in silence. He closed his eyes and snuggled in tight, while I said a silent prayer to insure that he'd remain in this...somewhat 'pleasant' mood.
We must have traveled to another small town entirely, or so it seemed from the length of the trip. Then again, it's not hard to imagine that my 'companions' here wouldn't be very welcome into any of the local stores twice. The entire trip, I could feel Dex place sweet little angel kisses on my neck, and it was almost comforting to know that he was being so tame. Maybe this wouldn't be such a difficult task after all. Not for a couple of minutes, anyway.
When we got to a shop in the middle of town, Cyrus carefully pulled in to a parking space, and we got out to go inside. It was mostly a place for building fences and buying farming aids, but it was big enough for me to at least take Dex a decent distance away from the others while they got what they needed. As soon as we were inside, Cyrus and John Boy turned to get the chains from the back of the store. I guess this was the time. "Hey Dex, come here. Let's look at the riding mowers or something." I said, and his baby brown seemed to glimmer with excitement for a second or two. But when he noticed Cyrus and John Boy heading off in a different direction, he wrinkled his forehead a bit. "Dex? Come on. It's this way." I tried to sound as friendly as I could, but he tilted his head a bit and remained focused on where they were going instead.
"No...I think I wanna see where they're going instead." He said.
"Them? They're not going anywhere. Come on, let's have some fun, already. I wanna get outta here."
"What are we doing here?" He asked. What kinda place is this for us to be coming to in the middle of the day?"
Shit. I couldn't pull too hard or he'd know something was up. So instead, I moved forward, and lightly ran my hand up and down his side. It was the only thing that took his attention and focused it back on me again. I gave him a flirtatious grin and said, "Who cares? Let's just spend some time alone for a bit. I need a break from everybody anyway."
He still seemed a bit suspicious at first, but soon, a hint of a boyish blush came to his cheeks. "Ok." He said quietly, and I felt instantly relieved when he followed me.
He was the first to hop on one of the riding mowers and begin making noises. There were only a few other people in the shop at the time, and I doubt that they really paid us any attention, as I'm sure we just looked like a couple of playful kids to them. I asked him, "So...how long have you been out here?"
"Here at the store? Just a couple of minutes." He answered, and went back to pretending he was racing through the grand prix.
"Hehehe, no...not here at the STORE, Dex. I mean...out 'here'. How long have you been with Cyrus?"
"Hmmm...I dunno..." He said, and then looked up as though he was calculating it in his head. "Oh wait! I remember now. Ten years! I remember, cause I wanted to go see 'Blade' at the movie theater, and that mean old man at the counter said I was too young to get in by myself. So Cyrus came and talked to him, and then he made everything all better."
I didn't know if he was joking or what. "You must have been pretty damn little to go trying to get into the movies by yourself."
"Nope. I was 13." He said, hardly paying me any mind at all while lost in his fantasy race.
I looked at him...and Dex barely looked 13 NOW. It must have been some weird part of his game. "Dex...that doesn't make any sense. You said it was ten years ago."
"Well...you said you were 13."
Okaaaay..."So, how old are you know?"
"Almost 14 and a half." He said, and as the idea slowly worked its way into my mind, he made a loud screeching noise with his mouth, and flung himself off of the riding mower so hard that I thought he had hurt himself. "BOOM!!! Total wipeout! Ahhhhh, I'm on fire!!! I'm burning! I'm burning! Dear God, I'm burning!" And at that moment, I guess that Cyrus and John Boy were getting the chains cut, because I could hear someone pulling it off of the spool to get it to whatever length he asked for. Hearing the sound, Dexter suddenly stopped playing and immediately perked up. "What is that?"
"Um...what is what?" I asked, knowing damn well that he heard it just as clearly as I did, if not more so.
"That noise. I hear chains. Who's buying chains? Is Cyrus buying chains?" He asked.
"Chains? What? Get outta here. What would he need to buy chains for?" I said. "You're losing your race, aren't you?"
"What race?" He said dismissively, and his ears perked up again. "What's going on here?" I could literally see Dexter's mood begin to darken right before my very eyes. He turned to face me, and squinted his eyes a bit as he stared at me. "Why are they buying chains?"
"Dex...dude...just chill, alright? It's nothing. Come on, I thought we were having fun here."
"You didn't answer my question."
"There's nothing going on..."
"Then why are you trembling? You're nervous. Why are you ALWAYS so nervous? You didn't USED to be this nervous around me! What's the matter with you?"
"DON'T LIE TO ME!!!" He snapped, and I watched as his bladed cross slipped from his wrist, and unwound itself to dangle down by his knees as it remained attached by the string. "You're just like the rest of them, aren't you? You wanna lock me away?"
"Nobody wants to lock you away, Dex...we just..." I was stumbling for words now, and as I saw this dark cloud of emotion sweep over him, getting thicker and thicker with every moment of tension between us, I got even more terrified of the outcome.
"I thought you were different, Wesley. I thought you were gonna be nice to me." He said, now spinning the cross in slow circles with his finger. "But you're just like them. You want to be mean. I don't LIKE mean people. I don't LIKE 'em!" He snarled and his eyes began to take on the eeriest amber glow as he stepped closer. I took a step back, wishing that Cyrus would just hurry the hell up and get somebody over here! "What are you so fucking SCARED of?" He said, his voice had even adapted a new tone. Something much more sinister. Much more primal.
"Nothing! Dexter...seriously...you need to relax. We're just looking out for you."
"Looking out for me?" He said, still angry, but now with a growing wicked smile on his lips. A smile that only lasted a few seconds. "Looking out for good ol' Dex. How touching." Then, through gritted teeth, he sent me a warning. "I know you're lying. I can tell. But I'm NOT going to spend any more time in that basement. Do you hear me? The next time someone tries to put me down for the night...I'll cut his eyes out. One at a time. And I'll 'gobble' them up, right in front of everybody. You get me?"
"Hey Dex..." Thank GOD the twins came along when they did! Shank and Razor stood on either side of him and encouraged him to cool his jets. "We're about ready to go." Shank told him.
"I'm NOT going down in any basement! You hear me? I'll fucking eat the heart right out of your fucking chest! BOTH of you!" He grumbled.
"Yeah, yeah, we heard it all before. Come on, sweetie, we're leaving." Razor said, and rubbed his blond curls as he stomped his way past them. They both looked back at me as though I had just come right out and TOLD him about the chains. Shank just shook his head silently with a scoff. And Razor said, "Gee, way to go, newbie."
They left first, but I definitely made up my mind to stay as FAR away from Dexter as humanly possible for the next couple of days. Because all 'subliminal' creepy shit aside...that whole 'eye gobbling' thing does NOT sound like my idea of a party!