-Honest and Truthful Friends
Spencer did not know where it had all gone wrong. It had started that night his mom’s boyfriend had decided to beat up on him again and subsequently kicked him out, forcing him to turn to Zeke for shelter. He had left for school early the next morning, missing both Zeke’s parents and Zeke’s brothers in his early departure. He had tried to continue the Epic of Arizona for the ill children at the hospital, but he could not bring himself to open back up that world and had instead chosen a Christmas themed story on the basis of the upcoming holiday season. He knew that he had let down the kids, and subsequently his boss, but he could not do anything about it.
When he had finally left the hospital, he had nowhere else to turn to except for Zeke’s place. He took a bus back to his street and had found that Zeke was visiting a friend’s house. Jay and Levi had offered their hospitalities, but Spencer, feeling odd about accepting Zeke’s brothers’ help, had declined in favor of returning to his own home. That had proved to be disastrous.
Zeke had arrived back home three hours later to find Spencer passed out in the front lawn wearing nothing more than a ragged sleeping shirt and a thin pair of shorts. Long welts covered his legs, disappearing underneath the fabric of the shorts, and dried blood caked much of Spencer’s face from a minor bloody nose.
“Spencer, why did you go back there?” Zeke had asked the younger boy with incredulity in his voice.
Spencer had muttered something indistinct as a reply. Zeke neither caught nor cared what it was as he shuffled the battered boy out of the freezing night and into his warm home.
Levi and Jay were lounging around in the living room when Zeke had dragged Spencer inside. If either boy was curious about Spencer’s state, they did not comment; instead, they offered Spencer a skeptical once-over and nodded to Zeke. Zeke did not reply. He directed Spencer back to his room and cleaned the boy up. Spencer was given a change of clothing and ushered into the bathroom while Zeke edged back into the living room.
“Did he come by earlier?” Zeke had asked. His voice was loud enough to carry into the bathroom where Spencer at.
“Yep,” Jay answered in his Zeke-sounding voice.
“Good,” Zeke had returned, “and did you two offer…?”
It was Levi who answered Zeke this time. “Yep.”
Spencer had then emerged from the bathroom, dressed in a pair of Zeke’s old pajamas. Zeke whipped around and immediately steered Spencer into his bedroom, closing the door behind them. As soon as the door clicked shut, Zeke guided Spencer to the bed and pushed the younger boy on it. He then flipped off the overhead light and joined Spencer in bed.
“Did you learn anything from last night, Spencer?” Zeke had asked playfully.
Spencer smiled in the dark, momentarily forgetting about the pain that his body was in.
“It’s all about space. The more of it I’ve got, the less you’ve got.”
Zeke’s laughter bounced off the walls of the darkened rooms.
“Seems like you’re learning your lesson after all.”
Then Zeke spread out his limbs and promptly fell asleep, leaving Spencer with less room than he had had the night before.
The next morning, over bowls of cheerios prepared by a generous Levi, Zeke offered to take Spencer to school.
“I’ll just catch the bus,” Spencer had argued. “My school’s out of your way.”
Zeke had shrugged in response.
“I’ll take you,” he insisted with finality in his voice. Zeke then turned to Jay and struck up a conversation about the previous night’s football game.
Half an hour later, Spencer exited Zeke’s vehicle and stepped onto the sidewalk in front of Castle Hill High.
“Thanks for the ride, Zeke,” Spencer had said.
“Don’t mention it,” Zeke had replied, his eyes scanning the crowd of students around the schoolyard. “You don’t have to work tonight, do you?”
Spencer shook his head.
“Good. We’re all meeting over at Artie’s house later. It would do you some good to join us.”
The tone of Zeke’s voice made Spencer wonder if Zeke expected him to decline. It did not matter, though. Spencer would not decline any invitation to hang out with his recently acquired friends.
“I’ll take the bus by there.”
“Sounds good. See ya, Spence.”
Ignoring the omission of the letter ‘r’ on his name, Spencer bade Zeke goodbye and walked into the school. He did not notice Zeke also exiting his car and was also unaware of the conversation that transpired between Ezekiel Aldrin and Porter Matthews.
School life after the trip was even worse than school life before the trip had been, Spencer soon realized. Porter and his friends were eager to demean Spencer at any opportunity since they had not had the opportunity to do so on the trip. What surprised Spencer even more was the fact that Riley and Dexter now went unchecked by Nix. Spencer found himself shoved into lockers, pushed up against walls, and in other situations that were either painful or humiliating and sometimes both.
Something must have happened, Spencer thought during chemistry that day.
Nix was sitting as far away from Spencer as possible without actually leaving their table for Dexter and Reese’s. He had not spoken a single word to Spencer and had barely even looked at him.
This confused Spencer. The last time Spencer had talked to Nix had been just before the two had departed the bus. Nix had promised Spencer then that the relationship the two had forged on the trip would not change, and although Spencer had denied Nix’s statement, he had wanted nothing more than that to be true. It turned out not to be, though. Nix had not jumped to Spencer’s aid a single time, and he had witnessed, in passing, more than just a few of Spencer’s run-ins with Riley and Dexter.
“Hey, Nix,” Riley had said as he turned around in his seat. “Did I hear correctly that you’re taking Ella out to Eric’s this evening?”
Nix looked up at Riley, allowing Spencer to view Nix’s emerald colored eyes for the first time since that previous Saturday morning. He smirked.
“Ember tell you that?”
Riley nodded, sheepishly. Ember glanced over her shoulder at Nix and shot him an apologetic glance.
“He wouldn’t shut up unless I told him.”
“Better you telling him than me.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Riley asked, mock-offended.
“I’m sure you’re not as vocal about my love life talking to Ember as you are talking to me.”
It was Riley’s turn to laugh, although he did manage to look sheepish. Ember turned to her boyfriend.
“So I shouldn’t tell Nix about you discussing the possibility of him finally getting some?”
“Riley!” Nix exclaimed indignantly as a blush colored his cheeks.
“You’re so modest when it comes to things like that, Nix,” Riley commented, laughing, “but it’s less annoying than your brother’s descriptions.”
“Can we avoid the topic of my brother’s intimate relationships?”
An amused expression skirted across Riley’s face, and it looked as though Riley was going to deny Nix his request. Riley did not, though.
“So Ella and you?” Ember brought the conversation back to the beginning. “You two getting serious after all?”
A small smile appeared on Nix’s face.
“It’s beginning to look more and more like it.”
Ember nodded her head approvingly.
“Good. You deserve that kind of happiness, and it’s about time you get over your other spell.”
It seemed that Ember had gone too far. A flash of anger crossed Nix’s face. Spencer vaguely wondered why Nix had reacted that negatively.
“Can we not discuss that either?” Nix had requested in a forced tone of voice.
Ember shrugged, sent Nix a knowing look, and turned back around. Nix’s eyes flashed over to Riley. He shot a quick smile at Nix before mimicking his girlfriend’s actions.
Spencer felt his already-crumbling world fall down around him. He felt extremely stupid for even thinking Nix might be interested in him. Who did Spencer think he was anyway? There was nothing special about him—nothing that would make him stand out from the crowd. Furthermore, Nix was one hundred and ten percent straight while Spencer was one hundred and ten percent male.
He did not know how he managed to keep everything together during chemistry, especially since Nix and his friends seemed to go out of the way to discuss aspects of Nix’s life that Spencer would never be a part of. As soon as the final bell rang, Spencer shot out of his seat, leaving the others confused in his haste.
He was halfway to the bus when someone called out his name. Startled, he looked around and immediately spotted Artie in his tan car waving him over.
“There’s no sense in you riding the bus when I can just as easily swing by and pick you up,” Artie explained as Spencer got in the vehicle and snapped his seat belt across himself. “How was your day?”
Spencer shrugged, not wanting to bring his humiliating miscalculation revolving around Nix to Artie’s attention.
“That good, eh?”
Spencer laughed humorlessly. Artie shot him a quick glance before putting the car in drive and exiting the parking lot.
“How’re the Aldrins treating you?” Artie asked conversationally when he realized Spencer did not want to discuss his previous two questions.
Spencer did not think he could get away with just shrugging in response; therefore, he said, “Pretty good.”
Artie’s eye brows were raised, making the boy look as though he was surprised, but the rest of his face was set in a neutral expression. Spencer decided to ignore it and engage Artie in a different conversation instead.
“I wasn’t aware Zeke had brothers.”
“They’re just alike, aren’t they? Sometimes I swear Jay and Levi are twins even though their two years and a brother apart. Of course, Zeke’s got a lot in common with them, too, but he doesn’t have the liberties his brothers do.”
“What do you mean by liberties?”
“Well, Levi’s the oldest so he is their parents’ first shot at something, and Jay’s the youngest so he’s their parents’ last shot at something. If Zeke accomplishes anything, then oh well; chances are that Levi’s already done it or Jay will be the last to do it. That make sense?”
“Yeah, strangely enough, it does.”
“I guess we’re all lacking a few qualities in life,” Artie said aloud, but Spencer had the feeling the other boy had not meant to do so.
Artie turned his car onto the street he lived on and a couple minutes later, Spencer was climbing out of it. He followed Artie into the house and up to the host’s room where everyone else had already made themselves at home.
“You said you spoke to them this morning?” Liyah was addressing Zeke as Spencer and Artie entered the room.
Zeke’s eyes flashed over to Spencer, as though quickly greeting him, before they settled upon Liyah.
“He said he’d pass on the message in a couple of days. Says the oblivious subject of it isn’t dealing with things nearly as well as we had anticipated. It’ll put us back a bit, but if that’s the only snatch we hit, we’re doing well.”
Something about Zeke’s words made Spencer’s nerves stand on end. Between the obvious use of the word ‘oblivious’ and Zeke’s cryptic message, Spencer had a feeling that he was missing a very important piece of information—a piece of information that Spencer was almost sure he was not to know of.
Spencer felt someone’s gaze rest on him, and he looked around to find Hagan staring at him much like he had the first time they had met. It was still as unnerving as it had been the first time, and it did nothing to ease Spencer’s nerves.
“So, Spencer, how’re you liking the Aldrins?” Dean suddenly asked. Spencer had the vaguest feeling that Dean was trying to deter Spencer from whatever Zeke had been discussing.
Spencer cleared his throat. “They’re great.”
A strange look crossed Dean’s face, but as quickly as it came, it left. Dean’s expression was left neutral.
“Yeah, the Aldrins always are,” Dean agreed. “It kinda makes you wonder how Zeke managed to come from a family like that, you know.”
“Hey!” Zeke said indignantly, stealing the pillow in Trudy’s grasp to throw at Dean.
Dean caught the pillow with ease and tossed it back to Trudy.
“Oh! Would you look at the time?” Trudy said, glancing up at the clock with a worried look on her face. “If I don’t get my butt in gear, I’ll be late for work.”
“Couldn’t have that, now could we?” Dean teased.
Trudy addressed Liyah. “You can’t teach him to keep his mouth shut?”
“Nope,” Liyah replied gloomy. “It’s true what they say: you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
It was Dean’s turn to be offended. He narrowed his eyes at his girlfriend who smiled sweetly back at him.
“Well, that’s too bad,” Trudy laughed as she stood up. “I’ve really gotta get going, though.”
“You’re going to get to see Vincent, aren’t you?” Artie asked nonchalantly.
Trudy looked over at Artie. A silent conversation transpired between them; one that everyone but Spencer could read loud and clear.
“I’ll check on their progress,” Trudy said out loud before leaving the room.
“Thanks,” Artie called after her.
Artie then glanced over at Hagan.
“I’ll see him tomorrow afternoon,” Hagan answered Artie’s unasked question. “He had swim practice this evening so I was unable to speak to him.”
Artie nodded. He was not satisfied, but Spencer saw he was pacified for the moment.
“In other plans,” Zeke said suddenly, “we’re still crashing at your place Sunday night, right, Dean?”
“Yep—all except Liyah, of course,” he replied, smiling down at his girlfriend. “She’s all set to ‘spend’ the night at Trudy’s.”
The others in the room, save Spencer, laughed. Zeke noticed Spencer’s obliviousness and kindly rushed to explain.
“We all head over to either Dean house around Christmas for an all-night get together. Liyah’s parents wouldn’t dream of allowing her to stay over at her boyfriend’s house, but luckily Dean lives next door to Trudy so Liyah stays over at Trudy’s and the two girls sneak over to Dean’s. It’s became a bit of a tradition.”
“A tradition,” Artie interjected, “that we’ve now decided to include you in.”
Spencer stared at Artie in disbelief. No one had ever wanted to include Spencer in anything, and now these people were offering the opportunity to be a part of their tradition. Spencer almost could not believe it was true.
“R-Really?” Spencer stuttered out, cursing himself at seeming overeager.
A big smile erupted on Artie’s face.
Spencer’s responding smile was larger than Artie’s. He could not explain the feeling that coursed through his veins and lit his nerves on fire. He finally had what he craved the most: friends. Honest and truthful friends.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world, then,” Spencer replied.
“You’d better not,” Artie said, “or I’d have to have a few words with the world.”
The others in the room laughed at Artie’s odd statement, and Spencer joined in shakily. Although that feeling was still coursing through his veins, Spencer could not help the hesitant reaction.
A few hours soon passed, and before Spencer knew it, he was sitting in Zeke’s passenger seat on the way back to Zeke’s house.
“I think it’s great that you’re going to the sleepover, Spencer,” Zeke said, his voice cutting through the silence that had set in between the two.
“I’m glad you guys invited me,” Spencer replied.
“That’s good,” Zeke said as he turned the car onto their road. “Oh, look, there’s Ellasyn Duvall and Nix Willows.”
Spencer followed Zeke’s nod and saw Nix and Ellasyn standing on the porch to Ellasyn’s house. Something gripped at Spencer’s stomach, and for a split second, Spencer thought he was going to be sick. He watched, masochistically, as Nix gathered Ellasyn in his arms, drew her nearer, and claimed her lips in a passionate kiss. From Spencer’s vantage point, he could see Nix’s hand move to rest on the small of Ellasyn’s back.
“Looks like all’s well in paradise again,” Zeke commented.
Spencer made a noise in his throat, not trusting himself to form actual words.
“It was bound to happen sooner or later, I suppose,” Zeke went on as if prompting Spencer to say something in response.
Spencer did not respond.
“Well, anyway,” Zeke said once he realized he was not going to get anything out of Spencer, “you’re staying at the house, right?”
Away from both the topic and sight of Nix, Spencer found his voice again. “I don’t want to be a bother.”
“You aren’t a bother, Spencer.”
“Sure I’m not,” Spencer replied with a tone of skepticism in his voice.
Spencer shot Zeke a grateful smile as the two climbed out of the car.
“I wonder what Jay and Levi are doing…”
The two soon found the answer to Zeke’s question as they entered the house. The two brothers were sitting at the kitchen table with who Spencer assumed were their parents. A deck of cards was dealt out to everyone, and a scorecard laid to the right of Levi.
“Oh, you’re finally home,” the lady said, getting up to greet her middle son with a hug, “and this is the day I finally get to meet this mysterious Spencer.”
Spencer hung back sheepishly. After she had finished hugging Zeke, she turned to Spencer and engulfed him in a hug before he could react. Initially shocked, Spencer returned it a couple of seconds later.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Spencer. Zeke’s told us so much about you. You’re a fine young man,” the lady rushed to say. “I’m Ruth Aldrin, Zeke’s mother, of course, and you’re welcome in our home anytime.”
She let go of Spencer and stepped back.
“Thank you, ma’am,” Spencer hurried to respond, extremely pleased with being so readily accepted by at least one of Zeke’s parents. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. You have a beautiful home.”
She blushed at the compliment as her husband offered Spencer his hand. Spencer shook it without hesitation. The handshake was quick and firm.
“As Ruth said, Spencer, it is a pleasure to meet you,” he said. “I’m Zeke’s father, Joshua Aldrin. Our door is always open for you.”
“Thank you, sir,” Spencer repeated his earlier words. “It’s also a pleasure to meet you.”
They ended their handshake, and Joshua stood up.
“Why don’t you two boys fill in for us? It’s awfully late,” he said, offering his chair to Spencer.
“And you guys are losing,” Jay finished.
“That, too,” he agreed with his youngest son.
“Goodnight, boys,” Ruth called, “and, Spencer, watch Levi—he tends to stack the deck if he’s dealing.”
Spencer did not know whether Ruth was being genuine or just teasing her son, but he thanked her and sat down in her vacated seat. As Levi scribbled on the scorecard, Jay dealt another hand.
“You know how to play?” Zeke asked Spencer.
Spencer shook his head. He had never played a card game before; he had never had anyone to play a card game with.
“It’s simple really,” Jay said as he laid down the sixth card for himself and then the seventh for Spencer. “You’ll pick it up in no time.”
Keep an eye on the chapter notes to each chapter. Chances are if I take the time to make one, it's important. As this story is getting closer and closer to the climax, I feel I should give you a heads up of the more violent or graphic scene(s) that way if you don't want to read that material, you're warned ahead of time.
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