“Eat it! Get down there!” Joe shoved Daniel down, the foreign teen keeping his mouth shut.
“Go on, eat it.” Morrison stood in front of Daniel, holding Arty's thermos.
“Wait, amI supposed to record this?”the third wheel, Kaiden, asked. Joe scoffed from over Daniel, his foot on the teen's back, keeping him grounded.
“Yeah!” he exclaimed.
Daniel brushed his teeth at home, brushing so hard that it was the only thing he could hear.
Daniel looked down, at the dead bird that lay beneath him, for him to “eat”. Then he looked up at Morrison, who was watching him with a sneer, his fake eye making his expression look off.
“Go on,” he said. “Eat it.” He rose the thermos, drinking whatever it was that he had in it. There was a laugh, and then Daniel was kicked in the head.
Daniel spat into the sink, bracing his hands on the porcelain. He stayed like that for a second, just breathing, the toothpaste in his mouth burning. Then he turned on the sink faucet, running his toothbrush under the water to rinse it before putting it up. Scooping water into his hand, he brought it to his mouth, rinsing it and spitting into the sink.
He looked at himself in the mirror, his eyes grey underneath.
“I'msorry, Daniel- I didn't mean to get up so late; I meant to beon time!” Arty said to Daniel as he drove him home, the teen looking out the windshield. He didn't let Arty know what happened, just that he was upset for being left.
“I was supposed to be there,” Arty sighed, shaking his head and mentally strangling himself.
Daniel tilted his head, watching his reflection. There was a forming bruise on his skull beneath his left ear, spreading to his neck.
Leaving the bathroom to the storage room, he could hear Arty and Jack in their bedroom.
“It was his second day, Jack- IpromisedI wouldn't be late and I was,” Arty sounded, distressed.
“Hey, you didn't mean it, I'm sure Daniel knows you didn't mean it. That is a very specific promise, though. It's bad luck, I'm telling you.” Jack knew from experience that the phrase “I promise I won't be late” was a wedding ring for misfortune. He had to be late seven times before he deemed it evil and stopped promising it. Now, he said “I'll try”.
“But I just-” Arty's words stopped, meaning that Jack was probably trying to calm him down. Instead of listening further, Daniel went into the storage room and flipped on the light, looking at the boxes. The box that the recorder came out of said “old tech”, so the teen knelt to look inside.
There was an old typewriter, some video cassette tapes, old speakers, and what Daniel was looking for. A camera. It wasn't digital, but a Polaroid would do.
Pulling it out of the box, he checked it to see if it was working. Taking a picture of the room, the camera shot out a picture, and he looked at it after waiting for it to appear.
Walking back to the bathroom, Daniel took a photograph of the bruise.
Arty knocked on Daniel's bedroom door, the teen rolling in bed to look at him.
“Hey, it's uh, time for school,” the man said. Daniel sat up in bed.
“Yeah.. I'm thinking…” Arty walked into the room, sitting on the edge of Daniel's bed. “We're gonna tell Jack to skip working out, and that way we can all… watch a movie or something. Like, at the theaters.” He smiled at Daniel, his eyes saying that he was still upset about yesterday. Daniel smiled.
“That sounds nice,” he said, his smile already making Arty perk up.
“Really? We aren't harboring grudges, or anything?”
“I'd never hate you, Arty.”
“Thanks, bud.” Arty stood, holding out a hand to the teen. “Come on, let's get going.”
Daniel took the hand, looking up into Arty's shining blue eyes. “Alright.”
The sitter was there, knocking on the door. Arty looked back at Daniel while opening it.
“Did you finish your breakfast? We're about to head out.” He opened the front door, looking at the babysitter. “Hi!” he greeted.
Daniel turned into the kitchen, walking to his lunch bag and peeking inside. There was a grilled cheese sandwich wrapped in tin foil to stay warm, strawberries, orange slices, a bottle of fruit juice, and a yogurt. He could hear Arty chatting with the sitter, laughing at something.
Walking away from the bag, Daniel went and grabbed a water bottle, opening it and setting it on the kitchen counter. Pulling Arty's necklace from his pants pocket, the teen opened it and pulled out a pill. Putting the small pill on the counter, Daniel placed the water bottle’s cap flat over it before smashing it down, breaking the pill into crumbs.
He then grabbed the water bottle and brought it to the side of the counter, so that he could dust the pill into the nozzle. Once he got it all in, he put the lid back on and shook the bottle, mixing the powder and water together.
“Okay, thank you again for coming,” Arty said the to sitter from the living room. “Daniel, hurry up!”
Daniel took the bottle to his lunch bag, putting it inside and taking it with him to the front door. The sitter was currently taking her jacket off, hanging it up. She had dark hair and looked young, like a college student.
“Oh, I thought he was younger!” she said to Arty after looking at Daniel. The man shook his head, patting Daniel's head.
“Nope, he's the big brother.”
Jessica looked at Daniel again, her gaze dropping down his body. He looked at Arty.
“We should go,” he said, aware of the girl's gaze. Arty blinked and nodded, patting his pocket for the car keys.
“Yep, we should! Alright, I'll be back in a bit to pay you,” he waved to Jessica, heading outside. Daniel followed, Jessica calling after them a “Bye, see you then!”
Once they were in the car, Daniel looked at Arty, who had just put the key in and was turning it in the ignition to start it.
“I don’t think I like her,” the teen said and Arty immediately burst into a sputtering laugh.
“What?” he looked at Daniel, an eyebrow quirked. Daniel simply repeated.
“I don’t think I like her.”
“Well, I heard what you said, but… really? She’s so nice.”
“Yeah. I don’t like her.”
“...Alright. I’m sorry about that,” Arty looked out the windshield and started pulling out of the driveway, “But she’s the only one who comes on short notice. I’ve needed to hire babysitters before, but they don’t like the risk of driving on these roads at night, or when it’s-”
Daniel toned the man out, looking out the passenger side window. He didn’t like her, the way she looked. But he also didn’t like Morrison.
They got to the school and Arty decided to walk Daniel to the front doors, because he still felt a bit guilty about yesterday.
“I’ll be on time,” he said, looking at Daniel. The teen nodded, looking through the doors’ glass inside the school, to where he could see Morrison and his crew teasing a boy.
“Hey,” Arty tapped Daniel’s chin, making the teen look at him. The man smiled. “Okay? Third day’s the charm.”
“I think it’s “time’s”.
“See? Okay, I’ll be back on time, and then we’ll all go to the theaters when Jack gets home.”
Daniel nodded, offering a smile to ease the man. “Okay.”
Arty pat Daniel’s head, ruffling his hair before leaving back to the car. Then Daniel walked into the school, where Laura was waiting.
“Daniel!” she exclaimed, running up to him.
She walked him to class, where everything went fine: until noon.
Laura got a hamburger for lunch.
“I like cheeseburgers, but I can’t have them because I’m lactosintolerant,” she said, Daniel watching her as she took a bite. He looked at his own bag, contemplating. He wanted to eat it, but he was waiting for Morrison. And since yesterday’s charade, he would be sure to mess with Daniel some more.
Laura looked over the table at Daniel and pressed her lips together. “...Hey, I heard about what happened yesterday.”
Daniel looked at her with his dark eyes. He gave a light shrug. “It wasn’t that bad.”
“I heard it was rotten.”
“It was. But we’re just teenagers.”
Morrison sat down as if on que, thudding into the seat next to Daniel.
“Yeah, just kids being kids,” he said, flashing a grin across the table at Laura, who didn’t flinch even as his ruined expression made her uncomfortable. Then he looked at Daniel. “How you doing, Danny?” his eye looked down at Daniel’s lunch bag. “Oh, what’s this? Brought me some lunch?”
Daniel didn’t say anything, watching as Joe grabbed the bag and tossed it to Morrison, the teen catching it before dumping it onthe table. Sifting through the contents, he spoke to Daniel some more.
“So, who’s that faggy dude ‘dropped you off at school? Boyfriend?”
“Morrison, stop it,” Laura glared at the teen, scoffing at Kaiden when the boy flicked a piece of broccoli from his plate at her. “You guys are assholes.”
“Hey, we maybeassholes, but at least we don’t like ‘em. Ain’t that right, Dan?” Joe elbowed Daniel, who looked at him. “Seriously though, who was that dude?”
“My dad,” Daniel said, looking at Morrison as the teen grabbed the bottle of water, popping the cap off. The bigger teen laughed.
“You’re fucking kidding.”
“No. He’s my father.”
“Then you’ve got one fucked up family.” Morrison drank the water, watching Daniel like he was just a peasant, while Daniel watched him, because he knew that Morrison was just an idiot.
In science, Daniel followed Morrison inside. The bigger teen stumbled in his steps and shook his head, like he was fighting sleep. Walking to his desk, he grasped the table top for support when he doubled over, almost falling to the floor. He caught himself, though, and just shook his head again before sitting down. Daniel sat in the desk next to Morrison, the student that normally sat there too shy to do anything and simply moving to another seat.
Class had yet to begin, the teacher out and running copies of an assignment. Looking at Morrison, Daniel could see that the teen’s body was trembling, the brunette staring at the chalkboard and struggling to stay awake.
A problem that Daniel noticed, though, was that the shaking got a little more violent, the bully’s body racking with tremors like he was cold.
Looking down from Morrison, Daniel found the teen’s bag on the floor beside him, Arty’s thermos in a side slot.
Leaning in his seat, Daniel reached over to the bag and grabbed the thermos, slipping it from the pocket and putting it in his paper lunch bag. Then he heard athunkand looked back at Morrison.
The teen passed out, his head hitting his desk. His body was still shaking, though. Someone seemed to notice, because they spoke up, “Is he okay?” and then more students started talking, standing up and looking over.
It got severe enough that someone ran out to get the teacher, who hurried to Morrison.
Sitting him up in his seat, the teacher looked at his face, patting his cheek.
“Morrison, can you hear me?” they asked, but the teen didn’t respond, trembling in their hold. A girl student called out, “His lips are purple!”
The teacher immediately pulled Morrison from his desk, laying him on the floor.
“Emily, call the nurse in!” the teacher called and the girl ran to the classroom’s phone.
Looking Morrison over, Daniel could see that his lips were gradually turning blue, the same with the tips of his fingers. His body hadn’t stopped shaking.
Daniel walked to the car, Arty being right on time and standing outside of it, waving to the teen.
“Hey!” the man greeted, smiling. “Third day’s the charm!”
Daniel nodded, getting inside of the car, to which Arty also got in. The man looked at Daniel, raising an eyebrow.
“Did I see an ambulance here?” he asked. Daniel shrugged.
“I don’t know, but probably. A kid in my science class got hurt.”
“Well jeez, how? I knew a kid back in college who lost an eye from a bad chemical reaction.”
“It wasn’t that kind of hurt, I think he overdosed.”
Arty blinked. “What?” The man shook his head. “Wow. You’d better be careful then, huh? As in: no drugs or alcohol. Ever.”
Arty drove them home, the two walking inside to find Jack already there. Sitting on the couch and looking at a magazine, he looked over when he heard the front door open. Then he smiled.
“Hey, you two.”
Arty took off his coat, hanging it up before heading to the couch, where he sat on it and leaned against Jack. “Ah, my handsome husband whom I never get to see,” the brunette sighed, smiling at Jack. Jack chuckled.
“You find a lot of ways for me to make that up.”
Arty laughed and looked at Daniel, who stood at the front door, watching them.
“What time are we going to the theaters?” the teen asked. Arty looked back at Jack.
“Yeah, what time are we going,babe.”
“Probably at six.Babe,” Jack said and rolled his eyes at Arty’s teasing.
Daniel nodded, going to the kitchen. “I’m going to paint then, while I have time,” he called, walking to the fridge; out of sight. Once hidden, he took Arty’s thermos from his bag and looked it over, to find the man’s name. If it were ever there, it was gone, now. There was a scribble of black permanent marker, and Morrison’s name written above it; on the bottom of the thermos.
“Damn.” Daniel put the cup back in his bag before leaving the kitchen, going upstairs to the art room. Before he could start painting, the door opened and he looked over.
Geil stood there, with a pencil and paper in hand, sniffling from his pink nose. He gave Daniel an open mouthed smile, the teen quirking an eyebrow.
“Yes?” he asked the child.
“Can you help me?” Geil asked, Daniel’s dark eyes slipping down to the paper.
“Homework.” Daniel took his canvas from the easel, hiding it where he usually did, and walked to Geil. The blonde boy walked Daniel to his room, where he went to his desk and sat in his chair, putting the paper on the table top. Daniel got on his knees to look.
It was a paper of matching, words to things. Daniel looked at Geil.
“You can’t do this?”
Geil shook his head. “No.”
“Well, that’s a little silly, isn’t it?”
Geil looked at Daniel, confused by his words. Then he looked back to the paper. “I need help,” he murmured softly. Daniel gave him a look.
“What’s this?” he pointed at a snake.
“Okay, now where does it say “snake”?”
“There,” Geil pointed, but it it wasn’t the right word.
“No, that’s “soup”.Thisis snake.”
Daniel got back up, walking away from the desk. “Keep working,” he said, looking around at Geil’s room. There were child things; toys, clothes, play sets.
“I can’t spell “elephant”,” Geil sounded. Daniel walked to the boy’s bed, sitting on it and looking at his bedside table.
“Sound it out,” the teen said, looking at a photograph. It was framed, of a young Arty and an older man. The man’s hair was dark, and he had a hand on Arty’s shoulder.
“El-e-fent,” Geil said.
“No. It’s a tricky word: E-L-E-P-H-A-N-T.” Daniel took the photo out of the frame, flipping it over to look at the back. It said “Grandpa” in black ink, but down in the corner, there was a faded penning of “Dad, 2005”.
“Where’s Daddy’s father, Geil?” he asked, looking at the child. Geil didn’t look at him. Daniel had to repeat it.
“I don’t know,” he finally answered. Daniel put the photograph back and got up from Geil’s bed, going to his dresser. Opening the top drawer, he started sifting through the child’s socks and underwear. Grabbing a pair of underwear, Daniel put it in his pants pocket before looking back at Geil.
“Are you done yet?” he asked, stepping over to look. Geil had two more, but he looked like he wasn’t paying attention to it anymore. Daniel took the pencil and matched the problems before leaving the room, to his own.
Taking out the underwear, he shoved it and Arty’s necklace between his mattress and box-spring, far back so that they wouldn’t fall out or be found. Then he went back to the art room to paint.
At the movie theaters, Geil wanted to watch a children’s movie, but Daniel didn’t. Arty must have noticed, because he laughed and looked at Jack.
“I don’t think the vote is unanimous,” he said.
Jack looked at Daniel. “Well, do you have something in mind?”
Daniel looked at the movie posters. There were different genres: romance, horror, suspense/thriller, drama, comedy- children’s. Jack spoke up again, to Arty.
“I’m not really one for kid’s shows, I can take Daniel to another movie box while you take Geil.”
Daniel was quick to save himself from being with Jack. “It’s alright, I can stay with you guys.”
“Well, it could be some bonding time between you two- since Jack’s always gone,” Arty said, and Jack rubbed his neck. Daniel repeated, “I’ll watch it”, but Arty had already walked to the ticket booth.
“I’d like two tickets forCoco, and two more forIt.”
Jack looked at Daniel. “I’d say: it’s too late to stop him.”
Daniel just watched Arty come back with the tickets, smiling.
The four split their own ways and Daniel was left with Jack to lead him for their horror movie of the evening. The two had Skittles and popcorn, and separate drinks of Dr. Pepper and Coke.
Once inside the theater box forIt, they sat in the back. And had to wait for the previews to pass.
Jack gave an exhale, the typical father breath that dads do before trying to start some sort of talk.
“So…” The typical starting line. “How was school? I heard a kid had an accident.”
Daniel looked at Jack, who was looking at him with that typical dad look. The teen nodded, turning his gaze to the popcorn that sat between them.
“He had an overdose; they called an ambulance for him.”
“Hm. A freshman?”
“Well, I guess kids are still as adventurous as they were back in my day,” Jack sighed, leaning on his chair’s arm. Daniel looked at him again, a sudden thought for talk coming into mind.
“Jack,” he said, making his father look at him, “How many children do you have? From your previous marriage.”
Jack cleared his throat, like he didn’t want to talk about it. There wasn’t particularly a reason as to why he couldn’t, though, so he answered.
“Three. Johnathon, Laurence, and Avery.”
“How old are they now?” Daniel asked, his voice sounding of pure curiosity. Jack brought a hand up to rub his mouth and chin uncomfortably.
“Johnathon and Laurence should be twenty eight and twenty five now. And Avery would be twenty one.”
“...Is he the one who came to stay for college?” Jack gave Daniel a look at this and the teen motioned slightly. “Arty told me- we were talking about the art room.”
“Yeah. ...He came to stay. Mathilda, his mother, wouldn’t fund him anymore because he had a substance abuse problem. I brought him in, so that we could help him; so that he could have a nice environment to thrive in, but I just didn’t know he was so… depressed.” Jack rubbed his eyes, like they were irritated. Then he sat back in his seat and looked off at the chairs in front of them.
“You must have made him feel at peace,” Daniel spoke after a moment.
Jack shook his head. “I should had found him… I...” He sighed and looked at Daniel.
“You’re a really good kid, Daniel. I’m sorry for not being around much, but I just… It’s been so long since I’ve raised a teenager that I don’t really remember how.”
“It’s alright, Jack. Could I ask you something else, though? Where is Arty’s brother? The one who gave him the necklace?”
Jack cleared his throat, wanting to get off of the morbid conversation but not knowing how to say no.
“He passed away four years ago, from meningitis. He and Arty were really close, so it took its toll. That may be why my son’s death affects him so much: they both passed at nineteen, and Arty was the one who… found Avery.”
Thankfully, the movie started before Daniel could ask anything else.
When it was over, the two still had popcorn left that they gave to Arty when the four met back up, the man happy because he loved popcorn.
“How was your movie?” he asked, eating a piece. Jack nodded.
“It was good, I just… like the original more.”
Arty laughed and looked at Daniel, Jack picking up Geil because he wanted him to.
“And you? Did you like it?” he asked.
“It was good, but I also like the original better.”
“Woah, you’ve seen that? You really are too good to be true!” Arty ruffled Daniel's hair before looking at Jack. “Ready to go home? Geil got tuckered out from singing too much.”
Jack nodded, letting Geil rest his head on his shoulder. “Yeah, let’s go on.” He held Geil with one arm so that he could hold Arty’s hand. Daniel looked elsewhere so that he didn’t have to see that, but his eyes found Kaiden; one of Morrison’s friends. He was looking over, mouth gawking open.
He saw that Daniel’s “parents” were gay. Daniel followed his family out of the theater before Kaiden could laugh or call out at them.