For a cold, black moment, his breath stops and he tears torn free of R.E.M. and twenty-one days past.
Sometime closer to the zero hour, he’d pulled the army green fleece to tangle around him against his cold sweat. It does nothing for his shivering since it’s more holes than blanket, but it’s the only thing he has. Silence roars and stabs spikes of pain into his brain. He should be asleep. His body can’t take much more of this. He knows this, but he can’t.
He has been a tangle of fleece and flesh curled into the corner of the room, just barely out of the reach of light from the closed blinds above the bed, since he woke and will not move a moment before he absolutely needs to even if he really needs sleep.
In that sleep what dreams may come? He finally understands what Hamlet was getting at in that passage. Though death wasn’t necessarily what Evan contemplates this morning, he won’t deny that it is at least on the list.
The wall behind him leans against his tall, quarterback frame pushing him towards the door, as another blood-snow drift passes. In defiance, he digs his heels into the 100-thread count sheets and his disturbed brown eyes stare at the door that beckons him to come play.
Come play again. You know you liked it.
He squeezes the manufactured curves of the Mayhem in response and let the bite handle go before snapping it back.
It’s an empty threat, he knows but it makes the rebellion in his chest lull and even a false front is better than letting the enemy know you are weak.
He shifts and the twenty-year-old mattress springs, the bed frame’s rusted joints and old wooden boards creak together, complaining about its time behind a dumpster as if it’s the only thing in the universe that had been thrown away. As if he cares about it or anything else in this room. No, nothing in this room matters, but it’s a safe space until he has to leave it.
The dresser sits like an injured soldier struggling under its own weight, staring into nothing but memories and pain beneath duct bandages trying not to scream. The light switch on the other side of the door sparks occasionally, throwing out sparks that flare and fizzle out at the height of their arch.
The walls, painted a pure white many years ago, are bright and unstained by four years of his presence. The walls connect at each corner to form a perfect cube room with one, small, high window covered with black iron bars behind cheap venetian blinds, crooked in alignment and half drawn. In the quiet white cube, black-op thoughts prowl knife-drawn at the edges.
According to the angry red glow of his alarm clock, it’s four o’clock in the morning. He had an hour and half before the day had to start, before he had to leave the silence for the screams and the memories and thoughts would move in.
Come play, the door whispers to him just barely audible over his weeks old screaming just outside the door. His eyes dart to the rusty, metal chair underneath the doorknob. Its legs brace are a poor brace on the cement floor, but it was the only option at night.
He turns over the warm, metal of the closed blade in his hand, feeling the curves against his skin. It fits perfectly in his hand when closed, and into anything, or anyone, when out. There is so much strength there, so much–blood rushing out of his veins. Into his lap dyeing the ugly, stained sheets and leading him into sleep eternal–
He shivers again and digs his heels deeper. Red-streaked brown eyes stare at the quivering door. His mouth quirks as he relaxes against the wall and draws the blanket tighter around him. It, like all the others, is just a melodramatic daydream.
Rainy, gray dawn creeps through the blinds and pushes the shadows into a pathway between Evan and the door. The wall leans against him more heavily now. It knows it’s almost time and snickers softly in his ear. He shivers again and digs his heels deeper while his red-streaked brown eyes stare at the door. It quakes with anticipation and the sounds beating in his ears.
With Aaron, these thoughts had not existed.
With Aaron, remarkable moments of clarity had spotted his high school career with intense, eternal instants of peace.–
Glass. Screaming and his stomach flips as they–
Silence thrashes and explodes while air fights his lungs and the jeering red face sneers, “6:33 AM”.
Three, he thought. Three, since he started this on again, off again relationship with R.E.M. He wishes that the fucker would just make up his mind already. At least then his only worry would be when his body would finally give out.
For staying alive and awake in spite of the room, the mocking siren sharpens its shrill for five minutes before clawing at his senses again. He hits the top button and makes another mark on the sticky note at the edge of the frame: twenty-one.
Six hours, three minutes, and twenty-one days since then.
With his eyes trained on the door, he stretches out his leg and pushes off the bed with the other. The fleece falls from around his shoulders into a pile on the bed. His wool-covered feet step across the cement in a slow left-right-right-left motion until he reaches the closet.
The door holds on to the wrong part of the sliding track for as long as it takes him to pull open. His sweatshirt clings to the nail inside the door, choosing to rip itself along the pocket rather than come to his aid.
Coward, he thought. He’d vowed that when he left this room for good he’d buy the most valiant clothing he could manage even if he has to wade through an ocean of paperwork and screaming to make it happen.
His drawers cooperate and his sweatpants fold against his chest like a shield. He moves the chair from under the doorknob. The door swayed open and saluted, “God speed” as it opened. Warm air rushed around his feet and across his face, pushing back the cold of the room as he stepped into the gorge of creaking silence and ambush paint. He shivers, clenches the Mayhem tightly and flicks he blade open and closed again.
He steps across the cement-carpet threshold and pauses for a moment. His back tenses, his ears strain to hear. The first four steps are easy, simple footsteps on carpet, across the threshold just before the alert wires of creaking floorboard.
He stomach rolls on the fifth step. Then, the aura follows it through his chest and up to his head again. His pulse quickens forcing his icy-blood into a liquid run. He shivers and his knuckles turn white around the Mayhem. He forced his hand to open and let the knife’s blade sing through the heated air and the sunlight that drapes the hallway and disappears into the alcove.
A harsh puff of air slips through his teeth. The walls shoves at itself and the stealth beams that illuminates jagged cracks, dents, residues, and holes. They shimmer with trauma and noise on sunlit spackle. The blade’s reflection threw the light into the deep impressions in the drywall. The hallway blurs around the edges to six weeks ago and set his heart thumping in his ears again. The creaking of Eric and Ariel’s bedframe as they moved to start the day come from his right. Evan presses the two handles together in his palm, blade drawn. A scream beat at his teeth. He shakes as his eyes jumped from their closed bedroom door to the shadowed alcove in the hallway and back to the closed bathroom door at the end of the hallway. He can hear the monsters snickering from their perch on Eric and Ariel’s bedroom doorframe. Evan forced his feet to move faster along the carpet. He reached the alcove, staring forward at the bathroom door.
He closes his eyes and his shoulder hits and dents the wall. Pain strikes the side of his face, the back of his head, his side. He gets back up and Eric punches him again. He hits his head on the wall. Eric punches him again, again, again–
He bites his lip and smothers the scream. Forcing air through his nostrils, he braces himself against the full body quakes and refuses to open his eyes. Better this dizzy blindness than seeing the glass pane’s heckling fractures. It would give up and fizzle out if he just moved a little faster like it had for the last three weeks. He can feel the twisting of his left hand and the weight of knife closing in his palm.
He can’t move, leaning against the wall poking at him through his thin, cotton t-shirt. His body shakes as he slumps down the wall, breathing deep and hard through his teeth. His eyes stare and he forces his mind to relax and let it happen. He forces his left wrist to twist at that calm rhythm.
“It will pass,” he pants through his teeth.
Liquid splashes across his face as the knife tears through dextrous muscle. Eric’s scream sounds. Again. Eric’s scream. Again. Eric’s scream. The world rolls and the blade cuts through flushed flesh and Eric’s eyelid. Blood and blue slash the pure white of the spackled wall and carpet. Evan’s foot connects with Eric’s chest and the scream drowns in the shattering of glass. The glass tumbles and glitters across the carpet. Evan runs. —
…click! …click!… click!
Voices murmur behind the door, low and angry playing against aloof and empty. It’s Belle and Ariel’s voice talking about oxfords and pumps. His shoulder throbs from being held behind his back. Eric’s knee rests between his shoulder blades and against his neck as Eric tap, tap, taps on his arm. Copper slick and slime slides across his tongue. “Help me, Mom! Belle!” Ariel steps over his head. Belle follows her and the front door closes as a pinprick of pain pierces his arm.–
The door knob jiggles. His heart runs at his chest. The sound of the knife through the air swish– and back into handle again forces him to move quickly down the hall and away from the imprints of his body in the wall, the remnants of twenty-one days ago in the carpet and the heckling fractures who’d seen it happen.
He creeps along the hallway as the shuffling of feet and the scent of metallic on red and black dust fill the silence. He slides silent and invisible behind the bathroom’s locked door, betrayed by only the flimsy click of the lock and the swish of the blade back into the handle. He wipes the rust from the lock onto his pants and keeps an eye on the door as he moves to the sink and drops his clothes on the toilet.
Beams of light stream through the thick glass window behind and slightly above the shower curtain, trickling down the tiled shower wall, into and around the bathtub and across the cheap linoleum floor. The light hit the mirror and echoed across the small square room, over his clothes on the toilet seat to his left. The faucets are perched at the edge of the deep white basin and his toothbrush hangs in the rack. The world shakes around him, the door vibrates and clatters in his ears as his memories attempt to beat it down. He’s made it to the bathroom and that was most of the battle these days.
“Just a little longer,” he whispers, his head hung over the basin waiting for the food he hadn’t eaten to come up. “It’s just a few more months.”
He forces his body to take slower breaths, to calm his heart, and clear his head. He has his knife in hand always these days. He’s alert and expecting it now. It would all be okay.
Eric wouldn’t make it out of their next encounter alive.
“…to him, he’s your son. Belle, I’ve got something for you!”
He swallows the scoff–hollow and cold, but stopped before his stomach could revolt.
Ariel was not important.She’d birthed him with Spartan fortitude and gave life to Belle. After a half-decade, she presented him as Eric’s heir and Belle was her daughter. It had been a long time since he’d considered himself her son. He would never tell her that his graduation would be the marker of the rest of his life without them. She would say they didn’t have the money to send him before his sister. Eric would drool that he wasn’t smart enough to go.
No, Ariel is not important. Neither is Eric or Belle.
And as he fingered the Mayhem, he reminds himself that it will all be over soon and he’d never look back.
Rice, UT, M.I.T., Harvard: acceptance letters and scholarships are important. Six months from now is important, his graduation, the scholarship letters, the smooth security of the Mayhem in his hand all of that is important and they are all that matter now. They are his blitz play for the bright glass ceiling of the rest of his life. The sound of footsteps draw closer to the door, but not faster than Evan. He grabs the doorknob and leans back, keeping it shut firmly.
Eric’s bandaged hand lands on the door– punches his face, pulls his hair, pushes his hips to the ground and grips them tight, spreads his legs.–
Evan’s body shakes and he clings to the doorknob harder while grabbing his knife with the other. He’s cold and the source of his sanity requires a free hand to hold, but he makes his knuckles turn white around the doorknob as“Do Not Engage” tremors run up his legs. Eric would not survive their next encounter, he’d promised himself that when he’d woken up in the hospital three weeks ago. Whether it would be the knife in his chest or the rusted ornate shaft of the doorknob in his throat, Eric would not survive– his future be damned.
Once, twice—the siege stopped.
“Suck it up and be a man!”
The footsteps walk away and slowly Evan releases the doorknob. He waits to hear the man shuffle to his usual place in the living room before turning from the door and returning to the sink.
Coming from Eric, the order rivals their Disneyland irony. His hands work quickly to slide out of his pajama pants and slide into his sweatpants. It could have been easier if he didn’t keep the knife in his hand and drawn, but it is the only way that he felt comfortable enough to undress. Once he is changed into his clothes, he drags his gaze to the mirror and grips the basin’s edge.
He sees Eric’s hair; the dark, French-Revolution-grade dominant bred waves hang in Ariel’s deep almond shaped brown eyes. Those eyes are laughing at him shocked red around the edges. They lilt as they blink with long extravagant eyelashes against a grandfather’s cheekbones. He sees Eric’s nose and the jaw line he’d had in Ariel and Eric’s wedding photo. Ariel’s lips press together in a thin line as the photogenic jawline clenches. Her lips are full, soft and sensual despite Evan constantly worrying them.
Ariel’s father’s nose wrinkles in frustration as Evan’s need to shake off that little drop of terror rolling down from his hairline. He’s shaking he realizes. He always does these days.
The military white teeth Eric had in that photo bite Ariel’s lips until the skin almost breaks. The pain makes it easier to look at the pale strip of ashen skin through Ariel’s left eye.
It’s Evan’s scar. He’s at once repulsed and thankful for the glass that slices through the skin.
Metal screeches and crunches. Aaron’s scream. A little girl’s screams at the lip body curled around her, “Wake up! Wake up, Mommy!” The water rushes into the cabin.–
He chokes and turns away from the memory. Bile runs up to the back of his throat. He leans forward and lets it out with a cough. It burns his tongue as his body quakes and tenses.
He hates the feeling and closes his eyes as he wretches.
Behind his eyelids, the wind rushes past him. His feet pound the pavement and he leaps into the bayou-deep oblivion where glass and screams die.
“Hurry up, Belle! Adam’s here!”
He sighs, marching out of the bathroom dressed for battle and the inevitable retreat. Belle flits past him to start her daily con and then to cheerleading practice. It takes her less than her usual five minutes to score five twenties from Ariel and flit out the door to where Adam, the ass-faced second-string that replaced him for last week’s game and lost it, waits for her all complexes and knuckles. Evan lifts his bag off the dining room floor, grabs his keys and raises his hood. The scent of bash and beam-me-up-Scotty mingles with stale angel misted K.J.s as the voice of a football coach fills the silence. It’s a local channel that Eric only watches when he’s high enough. He walks past the poor excuse for wall that’s now got more holes and stains than it did four weeks ago and towards the front door.
“Has he, the police, or the hospital said anything?”
“No. Above anything, we want him to recover and be safe. Our next game isn’t for a few more weeks, we hope to have him back before then. I’ve known him a long time. He’s not one to let it control his future…”
Adam’s engine revs and fades as he reaches the front door. He loses the vicodin laced slur Eric throws at him in the feeling of sticky, wet fingers around warm Mayhem. Stepping out onto the porch and into the open, humid air, he straps his backpack tighter to his back and takes off in a sprint down the street. It’s a three mile run to the apartment complex where the long yellow school bus picks up students.
He arrives just as the students begin to board. No one speaks to him as he walks onto the bus with little more than a “good morning” to the bus driver, but the entire bus leaves his seat unoccupied. It’s the farthest from the rearview mirror above the driver’s head and the most abused on the entire bus. He thought once that it was just ugly, but now it feels like home. The new jagged cut in the faux-leather seat in front of him is comforting. The stuffing that gushes out from the breach is soothing in its ugly, white twisted terror. He only imagines what small child or sophomoric terrorist had gotten their high by carving the hole in the seat. He’d like to meet them one day and thank them for giving him something else to make now so present.
He looks up to the calendar above the driver’s head and realizes that today is the twentieth of November, a Thursday.
He shudders against the sudden wave of cold. This is no way to get ready for an interrogation even it he had done nothing wrong. He shakes his head and forces his lung to expand until they almost hurt before releasing the breath, clenching the knife in his pocket. In a month, he would be on campus for tours and paperwork signing. In six months, his future away from Disneyland would begin. Even if the day-mares and hallucinations never stopped, he would be away from it with space to breathe easy and guiltless.
His nose stays angled at his terrorized desks. Lectures and P.E. instructions muddle together in a noisy haze around him. His teachers smile at him and accept his homework like always. Coach Neil pulls him aside for a hurried chat between classes, but Evan shakes his head, winces, and plays still injured rather than throw up another round of bile on the man’s shoes. He knows that the man knows he’s lying, but there isn’t enough time in between classes to probe like he wants to and Evan has no intention of hanging around long enough after classes to give him a chance to either.
After four periods of adolescent screaming matches, he heads to the front office. Detective Robin is there in her customary black-coffee and business-casual swag. She fiddles with her keys and smiles as he enters the office. He flinches on a reflex.
He shakes his head, but follows her out the doors to the awaiting squad car.The metal grate gleams in the dying afternoon light with judgement and knowing. The seats squeak with laughter as he shifts and the struts giggle over every bump and dip in the road. Even the car knows that this is ridiculous.
He wonders about the questions they’ll ask and what he would have to say for them to play good cop/bad cop. He wonders if he has a breaking point at this point and if they’ll push him to it.
You didn’t do anything. It’s not your fault. He knows it but he doesn’t feel that way.
Either way, it will all be over once this is done. Whatever happens, it will all be over.What comes after is the problem. What would be left?
He turns his wrist and feels a bit of tension ease out of him.
“What was that?’ Robin asks.
She says nothing though he can feel her eyes on him through the rearview mirror. When they arrive at the precinct, he follows her past the front desk and through a chipped-paint door into the bullpen’s cacophony of charges and rustling papers. The heater roared and gusts of heated air swept through the cramped building. A police officer nodded at him in recognition as she lead a few fresh arrests to the holding pen to wait for their one phone call.
“Fuck you, Limp Dick Johnny!”
He snorted softly as they arrived at the conference room and nodded in respect to the offender down the hall. She was a young woman about his age with glossy, dyed red hair. “Limp Dick Johnny” as she called him had been the first officer Evan met in his history of police encounters: Lt. Jason Greene. To Evan’s knowledge, Jason manages to stay on the force despite his complete lack of basic detection skills and perception by being of of the 95th Regiment and serving in the last war with Eric. Jason looked up after getting the redhead behind the bars and waved at him.
“Hey, Lil’ Eric. How’s Big Eric doing? His hand healing up?”
Evan swallows and jerks his head up and down, “Fine.”
“Ah, well we’re looking for the bastard. What’s the deal with the rest of the season?”
Evan gave him a half-smile and swallows the rising bile, “Don’t know– might end up on a couch before I get on the field again.”
He snorted, “Nah, you’re a chip off the old block, even without that scar.”
His stomach flutters, rolls and rushes towards his esophagus. He hurried to catch up with Robin, covering his mouth and trying to breathe. He fumbled to flick the knife open and closed. He could not hear it. He could not feel it. The roar of the heater and the sound of booking and paperwork went silent. A chip off the old block echoed with the sound of harsh, crazed breathing in his ear. His arm throbs. Warm waves of rushing color crashes over him. Lights storm through his eyes screaming with him. His body jerks closer to the knife. Pain forces through him in a rough, half-slick thrust. Back—forth: closer. The carpet blooms through his fingers and turns red. Diesel burns under his skin in his veins and ricochets against blue ice crystals. Get it out. Get it out of me! Back—forth: closer. Get it out! Get off me! Get out of me! His left hand stretches out as the pace of his face against the flourishing carpet careens towards the deep plunge into black—
He gasps and shakes his head as a young man is wrestled to the ground and a police officer cursed at the blood dripping from her hand.
He hears his voice from far away and can’t remember why he is in the police department.
“Evan, take a seat and we’ll be there in a second.”
Evan looked at her with wide eyes, sagged with darkness. He hears what she says, if only as a displaced whisper to break the moment. He doesn’t know why she says it though. His hand twitched to reach out, his mouth moved to ask, but he closed his fist and the knife and went in to the little conference room.
Of course, it was the second round of questioning. A damp, wet caress drifted across his face. He shivers while Robin walks into the room fanning herself.
“They always blast the heat this time of year. Can I get you anything?”
She frowned in confusion but obliged him by closing the open window and taking off her jacket.
He chooses the seat behind the door of the conference room, sets his backpack down, and focuses on disappearing into the unforgiving wood of his chair. Robin takes the seat across and to the left of him. His hands twine around the back of his chair with wrists handcuff length apart and his left hand starts to twist in time with his breathing.
He closes his eyes and revels in the sounds of the late November day trying to ignore the dizzy feeling in his head as another aura rushes over him. His hands shake and he loses the ability to feel anything but disoriented. It’s dark for a moment, before the shiver startles him back into consciousness. Dazedly he meets the unblinking stare coming from behind the mirror in the top corner of the room. His stomach growls and he realizes that he hasn’t eaten in days. Maybe it’s been weeks. What was the last thing he’d eaten?
He let his head roll until his gaze rested on the rough material of his old, ratty backpack’s scarlet thread and duct tape stitch job over the giant, jagged tear through the front. Through the slits of blunt force trauma binders and the razor-thin paper chaos. Detective Robin takes the seat across from him, a breath, and looks at him. His eyes are darker than the first time they met, he knows. He struggles to blink from the weight of the dark bags under them and the burning of the red in them.
“How are you? Everything at home okay? Are you healing up well?”
“Black dust and blade daisies.” She raises an eyebrow at his words, and he says, “Gives. No. Fucks.”
She scribbles a reminder before carrying on, “Have you started counseling?”
“That didn’t answer my question.”
“What’s it to you? It’s a little late for the protect and serve schtick, don’t you think?”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Army colors fly high,” he says. “Don’t pretend they don’t.”
She has the nerve to look affronted as if it isn’t true. Eric had gotten away with a hell of a lot of things over the years because of his veteran status. Evan would know he’d been the one to pick the bastard up and or end up in the hospital during one of his fits. She straightens her jacket her expression makes him think she’s given up on treating him nicely. Her eyes say things that make his insides blue and his anger smile.
Delinquent, wrong path, too late, no longer good, broken, tarnished– dirty.
The look scratches something into him until it bleeds, but it hardly matters. They didn’t care really. This was about something else, what his personal life is like isn’t important to really anyone in the precinct.
“You know anger and defensiveness are the signs of guilt?”
His lips curl into a mocking sneer. Does she think he’s stupid or maybe she missed that particular training?
It doesn’t matter.
“Aren’t they though? And we all know guilt means crime, right? I’ll be just like him right? Just like her? Is that where you’re going?”
“I am not going to play this game with you, Evan. You know what you’ve done.”
“Yeah?” He scoffs. “How many years do you think they’ll give me? I’m old enough to be tried as an adult now. What would you say? The same as him or actual jail time?”
“Did they give you something for anxiety?” She asks after pausing and narrowing her eyes at him. “Are you taking your prescriptions? Just your prescriptions?”
He shakes his head at her assumption, “I don’t do cane-pillars. Contrary to popular belief, that isn’t something I inherited. Can we get on with it? Going to throw me in the clink? Do I get special privileges as the son of a could-have-been Purple Heart?”
She huffs at him and makes another a note before turning her gaze back on him. She’s given up now and that’s good– not good, terrible, maybe. Whatever. They both know that he knows the game and whatever they want to talk to him about isn’t something they’re really interested in being nice about.
Death is always high on the priority list. He wonders if the investigation would be different if he’d died three weeks ago. He knows it would have been.
“Let’s start with what you remember from the crash. We’ll talk about the rest and your options later. He should be here soon.”
Evan flinches at the pronoun as the sounds of a needle in flesh, perfect spirals, and crunching metal ricocheted through his skull. Technicolor spikes marked with a red “A.Y.O.” and lightning bolts on the sides walk into the room and push the sounds in his ears into crescendo. They resonate around his smile and straight through Evan’s nervous system.
Oh god, he can’t breathe and the edges of his world blur. She asks him a question that he can’t hear through the middle distance staring and the black-chill shivers coming from the Pandora’s Box she opened with that pronoun. Imminent destruction seeps out through the cracks in his backpack and creeps through the air, settling around the Technicolor strobe-light spikes.
The footsteps stop and Evan lifts his head to see the cayenne wave framed face that sends all of him into frenzy. The black-op thoughts are guzzling vodka by the bottle cheering hoo-ah! The moth infestation in his stomach morphs into bugs from The Mist and start doing front aerials and double pikes. Evan remembers the first time from the other side of the processing desk, like the first date, the first kiss, but all those feelings crash and burn under the memory of roaring, rushing water and scarlet splashed glass. The dark infantry follows and storms straight into his soul, waking crash mechanic fragment, pain and angel mist chemistry. The shivers start up again and he swears he’s turning hypothermic blue as he looks back down to the strobe-lit track shoes.
“Sorry I’m late: he’s persistent. What I miss?”
The new comer pulls up a seat beside him, resting his braced hand on the armrest, squeezing the metallic blue stress ball, and leaning on his other hand towards Evan who forfeits half of his chair to lean away from him. Evan can feel the other’s eyes on him, but he could only stare at the therapeutic trinkt and the movement of the muscles in the other’s forearm around the black brace around his wrist. Aaron’s scream sounds. “Don’t let go!”, Evan yells grasping for Aaron. The little girl screams, “Mommy! Wake up, Mommy!” The little girl in her pretty blue dress thrashed in the deep blue too far to reach. His body is numb but her strokes towards her anyway.–
“Haven’t started, Techno. Where’s the Commissioner?”
“He’ll be round in a minute with the records and what not. You know he’s got to make sure I’m fit before allowing me to get back on the track.”
“Or snog Evan.”
Evan flinches at Aaron’s tone, like a lick across his Adam’s apple. Aaron grinned. He’d learned on their first meeting that those gold and lantern green striped orbs see more than the surface. They see through skin, flesh, bone, and lead defenses.
The children of Krypton have nothing on those eyes that widen as the bus slams into the metal railing. Aaron screams as his wrist snaps against the window. The bus tilts over the side. Smoke fills the cabin. Gravity disengages. Evan yells, “Don’t let go!”, but Aaron is in too much pain to grab hold of the bus’s rails. Evan grabs Aaron and pulls him between his chest and the exit divider. A little girl screams, “Mommy, wake up! Mommy!” Evan’s blood smears across the glass divider and Aaron’s cheek. The bus smashes into the bayou’s surface. The little girl screams again. Her pretty blue dress gets soaks as the water rushed in from all windows. She fights, but she can’t swim. —
Slurred, jumbled words and phantom breathing twine with his name. As the vision clears, he can see Aaron’s eyes just watching him with worry. Evan struggles to blink with what little energy had left. He had not considered that Aaron would be here during this interrogation when he’d agreed to come in. He thought that he would be able avoid this all together.
“You can’t not see me now.”
Evan’s eyes are kicked open by the sound of Aaron’s voice and he turns away, “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Aaron sets the metallic ball on the table and grabs Evan’s wrist. Before Evan can pull away, Aaron slips his hand into his and interlocks their fingers.
“Breathe,” Aaron says before Evan processes the source of the pain in his chest and the door opens with Commissioner O’Hara holding files.
“Get away from him, Aaron.” he says, regarding Evan as he enters the room with a cold glare. He shakes his head but Evan can’t register it as his eyes dart around the room. Commissioner O’Hara throws the file on the table in front of Aaron and takes the seat in front of Evan.
“Have you any idea what you’ve done to your future?”
Evan says nothing at the grim look on his face, but pulls his hand free of Aaron’s and grabs the files like a lifeline. He crushes them to his chest and shakes his head. His shoulders shake. His vision dances and spots as focus slips away from him like sand through his fingers. All of it still doesn’t keep him from hearing what he knows the man is thinking: addict, hopeless, disgrace, failure, just like his father. He opens his mouth to protest, but no sound comes out.
What is he supposed to say without giving it all away? He hadn’t even come full to terms with what happened twenty-one days ago, how was he supposed to explain it to this man who clearly didn’t care to see anything but the worst.
How can Evan blame him?
Isn’t he the worst?
“Why would you do this? Are you really trying to be a chip off the old block?”
He shudders at the words, “That’s not–”
“Then what? Were you that curious?”
“Dad,” Aaron says. “Stop it.”
“What do you want me to think, Nørgård?”
Evan shakes his head again, “I didn’t–”
“I trusted you,” O’Hara says. “I trusted you with my boy. I trusted you to be a man of your word, better than your father. I trusted you.”
He’s cold and getting colder, curling into himself and trembling. His ears are ringing and he flinches away from Aaron’s warm hands that barely graze him before he pushes his chair away from him. His stomach churns and he knows he’s going to throw up everything that he hadn’t eaten in days, maybe weeks, he can’t remember. He leaned forward, retching something empty and painful.
“A chip off the old block.” Something wet splatters on his face and mingles with the blood oozing from his cheek. Pressure on the base of his neck. It tastes like copper and sadism. He couldn’t be late. His hair pulls at the scalp, yanked to the side. His mouth opens at the dry shove in and the scrape of his face against the carpet. He had a game. The carpet flickers quartz red and emerald purple at every shove. He had a game. They had to qualify. Slick weight, pain and pressure smashes against his hips, keeping them flat against the floor and pushing into him. They had to win. Four years. College scout. Pain slashed black through technicolor strobe lit carpet-flowers. Again. Pain and pleasure twist together in his gut. Again. He couldn’t be late. Again. Just a little farther.–
It starts in his right hand, twitching slightly. His left follows and the Mayhem clatters to the floor. He doesn’t feel it leave his hand. His stomach flutters, contracts and he laughs. He laughs, loud and obnoxious, his eyes staring into nothing. His brain is empty, full of sporadic electric chaos.–
The screams become grunts of pain edging towards something like euphoria.”You think you’re something now, you little shit?” Purple hearts danced across his eyelids, salt wetness slid into the cut on his cheek, burned like ice cream on the tongue. “You’re nothing.” He stretched his hand across the flickering carpet fibers that twisted and tangled through his fingertips and got in the way. Again. “Just another hole I own.” Just a little closer. Again. He couldn’t be late.–
“What the hell is so funny?”
“Dad, call an ambulance,” Aaron says through the haze.
Evan can hear himself laughing, something broken and maniacal. He can’t breathe. He can’t breathe and the world is shaking like an idiot with a soda can, fizzing at the edges and ready to explode.
The chair tilts out from under him and all at once Aaron was at his side, rolling up his plush track jacket and placing it under his head. His eyes burned. What was happening? Was he dying?
Help me, he thinks, trying to do something more than laugh and shake on the floor of the conference room. He couldn’t feel the files in his arms. Had Aaron taken them? Had he read them? What did he think of him now?
Would it matter if he was dying right now?
“Call a fucking ambulance, he’s having a seizure!”
Seizure, he thought. Is that what it was? What if he died from it? What if he could never–
“It’s going to be okay, babe,” Aaron says softly, looking down at him, Of course Aaron knows that he could hear and see everything.
Robin dialed 911 as another officer helped Aaron get Evan to the floor. The laughter still echoes through the halls, drawing attention from other officers. His eyes are blank still, but he can hear. He can see, Aaron’s voice as he is moved to the ground and it pulls him under.
“No advice. Just options, “ Aaron says. Javelin roughened fingertips and patience cards through his hair, across his scalp as the sounds of hurry and panic drift away. Aaron presses the closed blade into his shaking hand. “When you’re ready.”
His fingers close around it hard. A wet thing slithers through the scar and down his cheek. The ugly police walls and green linoleum are shaking as the world goes to sleep and all is death quiet.
For a few moments, he breathes and rises from eternal internal quiet. There is a steady beeping of an EKG to his left. A hand on his own, a thumb rubbing the back of his hand and the low murmur of reporter-vultures clamoring from far away. Something floating around his head like a million streamers taking his brain rhythms. Seizure, he remembers.
He had a fucking seizure in the middle of a conference room inside the police station.
The rain on the windows sound like camera flashes as he opens his eyes. The sky is made of black speckled tiles and silver edged corners. The cyan glow of a computer screen washes them with its color. The bed lays flat beneath him, holding him above the floor and cradling him in warm, white sheets and relatively new springs. The wall behind him has a bunch of gas valves and meters, a call button, and a landscape he’s seen at least a dozen times before. They must have reserved this as his room knowing that he would probably be back for one reason or another. Aaron is sitting with his laptop in his lap beside Evan’s bed, stroking his right hand and flitting around his laptop’s hard drive.
His body aches and he wants to slip back into the black oblivion, but Aaron looks up. His eyes framed by dark rectangles and glaring glass. He smiles at him and Evan feels sick all over again and blinks hard and frustrated. It has to be late in the night, if not closer to dawn. The storm outside sounds like it had been going a while and the room is freezing. The the smell of antiseptic and hope lingers in the air. God, he hates hospitals. His left hand grips the closed Mayhem, thankful that it’s there. He isn’t sure what he would have done if it wasn’t.
Aaron closes his laptop, taps on his phone and presses the button above Evan’s head with his braced hand.
“You remember anything?”
“Evan Nørgård, seventeen years old, Christmas Eve, ninety-six.”
Aaron snorta, “Smart ass. Doctor’ll be here in a second and one groveling Police Commissioner if I have anything to say about it.”
Evan’s mouth twitched into a smile.
“Your folks didn’t answer,” Aaron says, watching Evan’s face.
His hand twitches and his world goes fuzzy around the edges as he looked up at the IV bag floating above him. He stiffened and reached for the needle in his arm, but Aaron stops him with hand on his shoulder. Whatever they have him on it makes him too weak to fight the gentle pressure.
“Had to flush your system and tranquilize you.” Aaron says. “There’s also some sort of nutrient and sugar pack since you went into hypoglycemic shock.”
Evan groans as Doctor Maria Reynolds walks into the room. Her eyes hold the same sad and helpless expression as they had the last time he was in the hospital three weeks ago. She knows and Evan knows that the only reason that no one else does is because Eric and Ariel don’t care and he demanded her not to tell the police anything more than what was necessary for their records. She tells him plainly that he needs sleep, food, and real rest but there is nothing to stop him from getting back on the field if he wants. From his charts, she says that he’ll be on another round of IV with nutrients, glucose and some sort of anti-anxiety sleep medication.
“If you follow the orders and don’t try to rip that needle out of your arm, you may actually be allowed to leave soon,” she says. “Don’t make me keep you any longer than necessary, Evan. I didn’t last time, but all bets are off now.”
He knows that the last bit is because Aaron is there and can call him out to Coach Neil for a real intervention. If the older man didn’t already know that he’d been playing injured and hadn’t been taking his prescriptions, then he sure as hell did now and would give him hell for both. Aaron’s lips press against the strip of pale skin through Evan’s eye.
“Thank you,” he says. Evan winces as he says it again. “I have something for you.”
His nostrils flared as he looked away and Maria approached the bedside to check the read-outs. She pronounced him a victim of severe sleep deprivation and traumatic stress, told him to go back to sleep and he may be allowed to leave soon. Aaron digs through his bag and produces a card that sparkles with more glitter than should have been allowed. There is a stick figure of a man in black and a red cape.
“What is this?”
“Open it.” Aaron said. “She would have given it to you, but her guardians had to go and deal with it all.”
Evan’s brow furrows and he opens the card to read the scrawling letter.
Dear Mr. Evan,
Thank you for saving me and mommy. The doctors said that we wouldn’t have died if you hadn’t come back for us. Mr. Aaron says that you play football. My dad plays football and he says that you should call him about college stuff. He says he owes you his life because you saved ours.
His card is stapled to the card.
One day, I’ll take you to ice cream.
Get better soon okay? You never know who else needs a hero.
With lots of sparkles,
His eyes burn. He can’t breathe.
“L-Layla… Evans?” Evan gasps.
“You don’t remember?” Aaron asks.
“I…but th-the water.”
She thrashed unable to fight the current, unable to swim. She’d–
“You pulled them both out,” Aaron says. “And me too. The paramedic said you had a future as an EMT.”
His hands shake and tears burn hot streaks down his face dripping onto the sheets.
“They’re both alive. Layla and her mom went home the day before you woke up. If you hadn’t been avoiding me, I would have given it to you sooner.”
“Thank you,” Evan says, swallowing around the lump in his throat.
The card is turning his fingers and the sheets into things of wonder, but he doesn’t care. It feels more real than
“About what’s in the file.”
Evan stiffens and he flinches when Commissioner O’Hara walks into the room. He stands just inside the doorway, looming, tall and solid from years on the force and years in the army. His hands tighten in the sheets and he wants to run, afraid of what was on the man’s face. Commissioner O’Hara sits down and turns his gaze on Evan. The thoughts that show through are different than they had been in the conference room. Maybe because he now had access to more Evan’s file, maybe because he’d demanded it after Evan had a seizure in his precinct. Whatever the reason, the words on his face make Evan want to disappear in shame because he knows.
Regret. Victim. Too young for this.
Oh god, he knows.
“I am sorry Evan,” O’Hara says, shaking his head. “You don’t have to deal with it alone anymore. I’d like to help… if you want it.”
“We’d like to help,” Aaron says. “But only when you want.”
Evan swallows hard, looking from Aaron to O’Hara and back again. Aaron squeezes his hand and nods. Evan squeezes back, his hand trembling and the hot wet things are burning down his face. Robin comes into the room and closes the door behind her with a gentle smile.
His hands are shaking again, the world blurs as he presses the blade into Aaron’s braced hand with a shaky nod. Aaron attempts to pull his hand and the knife free. Evan resists for a moment, his entire arm tensing to stop the retreat, but the aches and exhaustion loosen his fingers and Aaron’s and the knife are pulled free. Aaron places the knife in a police evidence bag and into his laptop bag, out of Evan’s vision.
It’s almost too quiet to hear. Too small, too vulnerable, and too tired. Aaron smiles and looks at his father expectantly while pressing the button to raise Evan’s bed into sitting. The motor buzzes softly in the room and Even keeps his eyes trained on his hands. O’Hara takes a deep breath, sets the file aside and opens his tiny notebook. On his order, Robin leaves to go collect the release papers and place Evan under protective custody.
“Tell me what happened the night of Friday, October 30th.”