She watched the flames rise, her heart beating calmly as the smoke left the building. With each toxic breath, she became calmer. More resolved. More sure of herself. She didn’t think of what her actions may have caused and would cause. She didn’t think about much at all. She acted. There was no other choice. No other way to handle the situation.
After a wonderful New Year’s Day service, standing outside a burning building, covered in blood mostly not her own, was not where she thought she’d be. She held her son in her hands; he was just as quiet as she was. Just as calm. Just happy to be with his mother. Not aware really of anything that had happened that day, only that he was finally back in familiar territory.
She heard the sound of sirens, but they didn’t bother her. She was too far removed from the chaos. Her single-minded determination to complete the task yielded a successful result, and that was the only thing that she was concerned with.
She looked up to the sky, took a deep breath, then looked at her son; just a boy of two with red hair that was trying its hardest to be golden brown but was failing epically. Only a few strains remained. He smiled at her, and she smiled at him. This day… she would never forget.
The police arrived, and she willingly got into the car but refused to let go of her child. As they drove to what she knew could be the beginning of the end, she thought back to what had started her actions, what led her to this state. Back to when she was holding her dying boyfriend in her arms. Just a few moments in the shop and she came out to find him bloody, bleeding, and without child.
He didn’t waste his last breath with novel things like, “I love you.” She knew that beyond all doubt. What he did say, after a weak smile, was, “Get him back.”
And get him back she did.
A few months had gone by, and she was being greeted by her would’ve been sister-in-law had her boyfriend/fiancé still been alive. She had Lisa’s son, who was now three. He ran up to her, and she scooped him up into her arms. He made everything right in her world. Temporary insanity they said. It was more than accurate. But at least she wasn’t going to be spending her life behind bars. A few months of unnecessary therapy. She was fine now, but you don’t just get away with what she did. Most of it was still a big blur. She was still amazed herself, if not shocked, by what she had actually done.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m as good as I’ll ever be. Thanks for watching him. I’d have asked my family but...”
“You don’t have to explain. Anything for my brother. Besides, one more boy in the house wasn’t much of a problem. What do you plan to do with your first day?”
Lisa turned around to look at the hospital. It looked like a massive university structure. Old-school brick mixed with new modern architecture. Not a place she had to constantly prove her sanity, and apparently fail at. What was she going to do with her newfound freedom?
“Go home. Or find a home to go to.”
“Well, about that. Your house.”
“Yes.” Lisa really wasn’t feeling any bad news on this day.
“My brother was in the process of buying it. In fact, he had so little left to pay on it that me and my husband finished it off for you.”
“Yes. He was going to tell you when he…” There was only one way that sentence was going. When they married. That would’ve been some gift. It wasn’t the best house on the block, but it had the best yard and was in the best spot. Basically, it had all the makings of the best house while being small and shabby. But it was hers now.
“I’m going straight. After all I did, I can’t keep the lifestyle I had. I got enough to make the house more livable. After that, the paycheck to paycheck life.”
“Same for me. Husband is thrilled,” she said, and they shared a laugh together. “The rest of us... they have no desire to go on without Andre as well. I have to pick up the boys. We should go have some dinner. A real first meal.”
“You’re cooking?” Lisa made a face.
“Don’t be funny. I’ve gotten better. I haven’t burnt the frozen lasagna in weeks.”
“You can’t be serious?”
“Fine, we can have pizza. I certainly didn’t win my husband over with my culinary arts. I’m more than okay with that.”
Lisa woke up. She was in a place where she thought she might be happy. She had to do something to make sure she was doing the right thing, that a complete life change was more than the right thing to do. She got out of the bed and looked at the man. She came with intentions of having mind-blowing orgasms but only ended up spooning into the next day. She didn’t want this life anymore. Would she miss it? Every day. But she had a child. A son she quite literally killed for. There wasn’t anything else this world could give that would be better.
Jason walked into the hospital room. His brother had been asleep for quite some time. Attempted suicide. He didn’t even know his brother had issues or why his brother was in here. What was he hiding and why didn’t he tell it or reveal it? How could things have gotten this bad?
He hated this kind of stuff. When things got too psychological and emotional, he didn’t know what to do with himself. He didn’t like feeling as if he had no control. He always lost it when this ‘brain and feels’ stuff got in the way; acted irrational, beyond the behaviour of your typical teenage boy.
His brother was a shade or two lighter than him and was looking even paler under the bright lighting of the hospital room. He looked at his own skin. He was brownish, maybe a tan was in order. Why was he even thinking about a tan when his brother hadn’t been awake for hours? Avoidance tactics. Trying not to feel the feels but the wall was coming down. He had to protect his brother from whatever made him this way. Everything could be fixed, couldn’t it?
That was when he saw movement. His brother was finally stirring a bit. The first thing he planned to do was call his parents, but something stopped him. He wanted some alone time. It wasn’t like his brother was going anywhere anytime soon. Why not steal some of his time?
“Are you okay?” he asked as his brother finally seemed to regain some semblance of human alertness.
“I’m still alive?”
Jason didn’t know what to do with this comment. What did he mean by “I’m still alive?” Why would anyone prefer the alternative?
“Shit man... I… I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t say anything.”
“What about me? You didn’t think I’d miss you? What about Mom and Dad? How could you just be so damn…” He almost said selfish but it just seemed wrong and insensitive and he didn’t know what else to say.
“So you do know what to say.” Gregory smiled a bit. Jason smiled back and started crying. The feels had finally started kicking in. Another battle lost.
“You should’ve told me.”
“What? That I’m suicidal?”
“You are? This isn’t just some thing?”
“No. I just do a good job at faking normal. Most crazy people do. I guess now I’ll be forced to deal with it. Depression sucks.”
“It’s that stupid school. You wouldn’t be so messed up if you were in a normal school. Over there with all those… We aren’t like them, Greg.”
“That’s some stereotypical bullshit.” Gregory let it hang for a bit. “I was seeing someone.”
“Really? So that’s the reason you’re in here. What did they do to you?”
“What did they do to you?”
Jason took a real good look at him. He was clearly a bit roughed up recently. He didn’t look like that the last time he saw him. What had happened? He was getting angry. He didn’t know much about depression, but he knew enough to know that whatever happened was more than enough to push his brother over the edge. To bring his issues crashing into the light.
“You need a chill button.”
“This is why you don’t know much about me. Your only response to things is aggression. I clearly am an emotionally driven person, and you hate it.”
“I don’t hate you.”
“You do. You always get all weird when you deal with me. Like I’m just too much for you. And now you want to be all ‘Who did it?’ just so you can be all ‘I love you, bro.’ You do hate me. So does mom and Dad. Everyone just thinks I’m trouble.”
Jason didn’t have a comment for that. He didn’t hate his brother. Gregory made him uncomfortable sometimes, but lots of people have those problems. He never thought even for a second his emotional forcefield issues would come off as hate. He made the conscious effort to take a few deep breaths before responding and, most importantly, keeping the shield as low as he could. He couldn’t be a sobby mess and then just retreat back to his comfort zone.
“I don’t hate you. I’m just not comfortable with all this emotional stuff. You think too much.”
“I think too much?” Gregory laughed.
“Yes. You read books. You listen to alternative music; try to solve the meaning of life. Go to private school. Me, I’m a traditional teenage boy. I know it’s all stereotypical. So don’t say it.”
“Well, you just hedged that comment, didn’t you?”
“See stuff like that. Hedged. Who says that?” They both laughed.
“I’m sorry. I know it won’t make it right but… Shit, I can’t even keep a steady girlfriend. I’m only eighteen… a work in progress. Work with me here.”
“It’s hard to work with someone who’s afraid to do anything that requires more than surface emotion.”
“Man, am I that obvious?”
Gregory didn’t say anything. This kid was really hurting. How many other people were so standoffish with him? There but not there. His parents weren’t like Jason so he couldn’t even figure out why Gregory thought they hated him. He did know, however, that he loved his brother. If he was going to be depressed Jason was not going to be any part of his reasons. Not anymore.
“Look, I’m here now. And I do care about you. Man, I’ve been a wreck for hours sitting here praying you’d wake up. And, like you said, I don’t do emotional. Just I dunno. Maybe if I was more like you I could keep a girl. They just want me to stick my penis in them and leave.”
“Well, you are a cute guy. Not as good looking as me though. But okay.”
“Fuck you,” Jason replied with a chuckle.
“See. It’s easy to talk to me if you relax a bit.”
“So who do you talk to? I mean you have to have some way of not feeling so depressed.”
“No one wants to be my friend. Would you?”
Jason didn’t answer. He probably wouldn’t want to be around someone who was clearly faking happy or didn’t even bother to fake it. Then again, this was his brother.
“Maybe not. But people change.”
“Damn. An honest-to-goodness response. Where were you when David fucking hit—”
“David? Who David? Not the David I think you’re talking about. Not my used to be middle school best friend, David.”
“He’s a fucking thug. I mean I’m no saint. But him, he’s just bad all over. Why would you even allow someone like him to make you feel like life isn’t worth living?”
“Why do you think?”
Jason was honestly lost. He couldn’t think of anything. Nothing at all. They didn’t even go the same school. How did his brother even manage to come in contact with David?
“Did he sell you anything?”
“Some weed. It helps.”
“So that’s who you get it from. Seriously, you should stop hiding and shit. It isn’t like you’re the only pothead in the house.”
“You just got sidetracked easy.”
“So what is it then? Why would, oh…” He suddenly paused as the realisation hit him. He couldn’t be right though. Could he?
“So you and he… well.”
“We did. Treated me like shit but… It feels good to be wanted you know. So I just took it. And yesterday he just… I dunno. But I didn’t even fight back; I took it. He said some things, and I just felt like shit after. I’m always crying and drowning my pain in weed and writing and I just couldn’t anymore. He knew, and he just chucked all my issues at me. I trusted him, and he used it against me.
“Made it seem like it’s my fault no one loves me because I’m so depressed and I think no one can tell, but it’s obvious I’m a head case, a waste of space, basically just something to put his penis up into. That’s the only good I’d ever be to the world.”
“He said that?”
“Yeah. I don’t even remember how I went from that fight to being here. It’s all a blur. But here I am. Bandaged wrists and all.”
Jason couldn’t believe it. His own brother betrayed by the only person he trusted. What types of secrets did he tell? If they were the type, you only tell a therapist, probably intense.
“You need to be more careful. And why didn’t you tell me you were gay?”
“Because we don’t have that kind of relationship. Somehow you have convinced yourself we are the perfect brothers. But that’s just the way you force it to be in your mind. You’re just as cracked up as I am if you haven’t realised this is the most we’ve talked in a while.”
“True. But, David? What about the nice, rich, good boys at that school you go to? Why would you pick scum like fucking David?”
“Man, this is getting a little weird.”
“It’s just sex. We’re men. How weird is it really?”
“I shouldn’t be talking this much anyway.”
“You’re doing fine. Now answer the question.”
“He’s my type.”
“Oh, that shit is not going down. Not if they treat you like this.”
“What are you going to do? I can date who I want. Besides, if these fucking doctors didn’t revive me, we wouldn’t even be talking about my taste in men anyway.”
Jason had somehow lost track of the conversation. All he could think about was David. This guy was getting what he deserved. And any other David type who dared step up to his brother would be very well aware how unwelcome they were. His brother was going to live forever as far as he was concerned.
“What are you thinking about?”
“Nothing. I’m gonna call in Mom and Dad now. And you, you’re going to keep talking to me. No one tells me I hate my own brother. Not even you. Especially when it’s not the truth.”
It had been a few years, and Jason was now a father of his own. He was just getting off the phone with his brother when he saw his son walk into the house with this kid that had trouble written all over him. He already didn’t like him. His brother told him what he needed was therapy. Jason decided that denial was the best approach and at this stage in life, he couldn’t see the real reason he disliked these types of children.
His wife grabbed his hand to stop him from doing something stupid. The child was ten. The last thing he needed was for his dad to scare off another possible friend. Somehow he’d managed to find three that his dad actually liked. But beyond that, nothing much.
“Why does he always have to bring in these wild boys? Aren't the friends he has enough wild for him?”
“You weren’t exactly grade-A boy yourself, Jason.”
“I know that, but you know what I mean.”
She wanted to say something more but broaching the David topic was futile. He just didn’t get it. He’d realise where all this aggression was coming from someday, hopefully without traumatising their only child.
“Besides, you’re totally missing the obvious anyway.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
She just laughed at him. Jason decided that seven minutes was long enough to wait. He’d make sure this kid wasn’t trying to get his son involved in anything stupid. What did he need a friend two years older than him for anyway?
He walked into the room without even bothering to knock—and was shocked at what he saw.
“Get out of my house.”
Jason went to the kitchen and grabbed a beer.
“So what happened?”
“Your child apparently likes boys.” His wife just chuckled and got back to reading the book she had in front of her.
“What’s so funny?”
“Seriously? That boy has been gay since he came out the womb. After all these years it amazes me that some things completely miss your awareness.”
“And he told you?”
“Sure. We talk about boys all the time.”
“And you didn’t tell me?”
“Honestly, I thought you just weren’t ready to go there. You get like that. I never dreamed you didn’t know.”
“Great. So now I have to fight off stupid jerks. Maybe he’ll like good boys. I’m gonna have to talk to my brother.”
“Really. You’re going to consult him instead of me?”
“You’ll just mock me. At least when he does it, it’s bearable. Besides, unless you magically turn into a gay man...”
“Okay. Point taken. Just remember he’s your son, not your brother. Don’t do anything stupid.” Jason didn’t hear her. His son wasn’t travelling down the same road as Gregory. Not if he had anything to do with it.
Mary woke up in the hospital, happy to have successfully made it through another pregnancy. Lots of people wondered why she even bothered to have children, why she stayed with her husband. She even questioned it. Looking at him now, happy holding their son, it almost seemed like she had that perfect life she dreamed of. But he hadn’t asked her how she was doing. Didn’t care that even having a child was a miracle in itself. This was the third one, and he was clearly more concerned about the baby than her.
How did things get this bad? When did the man she fell in love with turn into this guy who just liked her because he could show her off? He clearly valued her accomplishments more than he actually valued her. She realised the only reason she stayed was that he was a good father. Not because he was a good man. And children deserved a solid home life. If only she knew that that too wouldn’t last.
Finally, he seemed to acknowledge the fact that she was alive and breathing. He brought the child over and still didn’t ask if she was doing okay. Both of them could’ve died during this ordeal but none of that even registered. Maybe she should just leave. She took her child from him and tried to force herself to believe this happy moment was real. Three children and a next to zero chance of having another one. And she was stuck with a man who didn’t appreciate her but pretended to.
With all her medical problems she could live forever or die tomorrow; still… she’d stay. She’d suck up the mental abuse just a few more years and then leave. But today she was going to be happy that, against all odds, the world had blessed her with three children. A successful spa enterprise. She had all she needed.