Episode Five: Merry Christmas
This page was last updated: September 20, 2007
Episode Four of 'Steven's Story' an original story
Melissa J. Vivigatz

~ * ~
“December Countdown”

  Day three after the ‘virus’ and it was time for time off. Things pretty much back on track at the firm and it was a few hours there in the morning with David in tow. If people had not been so burnt out it would have been with gladder smiles to see him from the few like Betty and Parker, but on seeing the kid, most of the gruff ceased that he hadn’t been there during the time to help with the load.
  Moving far better than imaginable, though he still used the cane to help with the leg, he chalked it up more to some stuff his friend Kimberly had brought him then pill bottles. Stuff was called ‘arnica’, something made from a flower, and according to the both of them it was a wonder when coming to bruises and like injuries. A salve and in pill form, tiny white beads hardly larger than a pin-head that looked like candies, but he was taking several every couple of hours.
  A circumspect call to the Doc, who told me no, it was not some street drug but something called ‘homeopathic’ and not to worry. His granddaughter the budding chemist who made her own incense from scratch had a case of the little blue plastic vials. Could pick it up at any health food store, and he commented again on the kid’s sensibilities.
  His (my) pipe smoked like a dream, by the way, though the shrewd sawbones made sure he never wore the clothes he smoked in at home to work.
  So then, a couple hours at work and then it was planned trip way down town to get David’s gear. He did not have a lot of stuff he’d said, blushing clear to the roots, but was still in state of nervous panic because we were taking the beamer.
  “You can’t,” he insisted again, voice almost shrill.
  “Don’t worry, David my boy, this old dog has a plan.” That and some clothes to donate at Saint Mercy’s. “And if not today, then the next. Don’t worry, everything is going to work out groovy.”
  And I guess the brute did live in the area, because soon after pulling up, ‘Sarge Brick’ was there in all his surplus army layers to fend off the cold, and more importantly, muscle.
  “Mr. Dude, sir.”
  “Hey, Sarge, want a small guard duty gig for a couple hours? I hear it pays pretty good.” I explained our ‘mission’ and he was gap-toothed grin raring to go. For a twenty.
  “Nope. And better than the last deal. C note for you this time.”
  “Holy shit. I’m gonna be et’ting fer months!” he crowed as he got into the back, the beamer’s shocks sinking a little from the weight.
  Eating for month on a hundred? Jesus Christ.
  Well, after that comment it was to some drive through where we got the works, if nothing else, the smell of fried foods covered up things worse; windows cracked and heater going full blast.
  Half a dozen burgers down easy. “So what do you eat when you’re not guarding cars of the suicidal?” I asked.
  “You don’t want to know,” David whispered.
  “Hey, not so’s bad at that, Little Dude,” Brick said around a mouthful of fries. “M’ pad is all sets up. Bar-b-que every night. City be fulls a’ critters. Not just rats, mind yas, possums here too. Dont’s need no screwy-eyes ta likes dog neither. Miss ketchup though.”
  Jesus Christ!
  David had turned around slightly, minding his side, “How come you don’t hit the back of Chinese places?”
  “Noodles give me the gas. Worse when theys got the soy sauce.”
  “Man, that sucks.”
  “No, Little Dude, it blows!” he roared and thank god for my stomach the gorilla wasn’t eating noodles.
  Directions from David and things were going down fast, Brick telling me to roll down the window, to which he stuck a good bit of himself out and started yelling,
  “Don’t none a’ ya assholes be tryin’ to pull not shit! These here slick wheels belong to Mr. Dude an’ I be seein’ he keeps ‘em!”
  “Ouch,” David commented as he rubbed his ear. “Guess we’ll be okay after all.”
  “Damn straight, Little Dude. Hey, ya finished up them bitty ketchup packs?”
  We just passed everything back, most of our stuff untouched and Brick put the lot in a cut-off duffle bag for later.
  Building located, people hovering around the street corners despite it was cold as hell out. Oil drum ‘heater’ sending black smoke out from an alley.
  “Jesus, David.”
  Blushing, “You do not have to come up.”
  “No, it’s not that. Come on,” and the three of us got out.
  “You don’t happen to have an Uzi in your bag, do you, Brick?” For him or us all, a half dozen would be welcomed.
  “Nah,” he snorted in distain as he folded his arms for duty. “Hates them noise-makers. An’ don’ts ya be worryin’ none, Mr. Dude. This place is frosted cake ta some places I been.”
  “I believe it.”
  No elevator in this place, at least not a one to be risked, so it was a lot of stairs, some of them moving where there were no banisters. Graffiti everywhere; small live things possibly seen from corner of the eyes as shadows moved, soft scratching sounds left in their wake.
  I kept all comments to myself.
  “You think he is going to take the car, Steven?”
  “Call me crazy, but I doubt it. Think he’d like your apartment?”
  Shake of head, “No, I know the type. He’s probably got some place in the Tunnels. In the sewers, I mean. Old buildings, maybe there’s an access to some abandoned basement or something.”
  “Amazing what you learn in college these days.”
  “More like television and books,” he said without turning around. “I read one about this boy once. He had to leave home and got chased by some bullies. Went into the subway to get away and found a hole where the tiles were giving away that he fixed up in the dark. Always talking about how he was careful with his flashlight so he didn’t get found. Lived there pretty good, went to school and everything. Then one day they started doing maintenance and he had to leave.”
  “What happened to him?”
  “Happy ending. Social worker helped out and he went back to his family and everything. It was cool.”
  “Sounds like a good story.”
  “It was, but I only read it once. Can’t remember the author or anything. Uh, Steven? This is my door here...”
  “David, I’ve seen unwashed dished before.”
  “It’s not that, but, well, you know,” he said with face ducked.
  “Nope, I do not know. What I do know is that the car that is going to get us out of here is sitting down there on the street. Meter’s running, kid.”
  “Okay. Sorry,” and with that we went in.
  Yes, a dive, (water stains on the walls and accompanying, traditional arguing couple upstairs) but one washed and kept up best that it could be. Thinking of all the extra hours he put in, before and after the clock even when he had not been getting paid for it, it was no longer a wonder that he wanted to spend as little time here as possible.
  I had been correct about there only being a hotplate. One room, single chair, small table and not many decoration beyond a fern or two.
  “Smart,” I said as a cot was moved aside and a couple loose board along the floor were removed. Things of importance to him lifted out, one of the items being the tiny statue of Rama that had come from the Indian restaurant. No bets that this was where he had been keeping his pipe, as well as his laptop.
  Not a lot of clothes, his ‘street wear’ (which would all be going into the trash after the job of wrapping other things was done) and work wear, the latter hung in closet with garbage bags over to keep off the filth.
  Books came off shelves, not many, but well kept and he seemed a bit embarrassed when he opened a cabinet and started bringing out some candles and other trinkets so I left with the first load down the stairs.
  Car was still there, no problems reported as I put the first two duffle bags (army surplus seemed to be the ‘style’) and a roll of his good clothing into the trunk.
  “Just one more trip I think,” I told Brick and got a salute before I started back up again.
  “How about these?” I asked as I gestured at some herbs he had hanging around the room. Braids of rosemary and sages and other grasses I did not recognize. He’d made up one for my kitchen the first time he had come over and cooked. It was the most homiest thing in my entire apartment. Special enough to me that I had kept it exactly where it was even through the bad times, headaches be damned.
  A small shrug in lue of his injuries, “I’m going to leave them for the next person. Everyone can use some more luck now and then.”
  He turned to me, face and voice serious as eyes looked up steadily into mine, “Steven, are you really sure about this? I mean it is okay if it is not. I can take care of myself.”
  “I know. And yes, I am really sure. Is this the last of it?” I asked as duffle bag over shoulder I picked up a milk-crate of books with his two small plants balanced on top. He had a pillowcase over-stuffed with things and nothing more.
  “Yes. I don’t really need a lot, and it is not like the chair is going to go with any of your stuff. Besides, the leg comes off.”
  “Where’s your bike?”
  “I lost it a couple of weeks ago. A car backed over it or something.”
  Or something.
  He didn’t even look around as we started out. Good.
  “This may sound stupid, yet do you have to speak to a landlord or anything?”
  “No, I’ll just leave the door open, they’ll know. You pay by the week here. I only had another two days left.”
  “They can keep it. Come on, kid, lets go home.” He beamed at me, and it was probably the first smile he had ever had in the place.
  Then it was something to really grin at when we stepped outside. The street corners empty, no witnesses to what happened to the three toughs Brick had seen to.
  Why the grin?
  One of them was Frank.
  “Hey, Mr. Dude,” Brick saluted, his kong-sized boot still on the asshole’s unmoving form. “These runts was laughin’ some bad crap ‘bout Little Dude. I didn’t like it.”
  “Are they...dead?” David asked, pale as he stood and stared.
  “Too bad,” I said, still ‘grinning’ through my teeth. Then again, living might not be so welcome once they woke up. Those faces were pulped!
  Stepping around the pile, we put the stuff (including David) into the car.
  “I’ll just hoof it from here, Mr. Dude,” Brick said as the door closed. “Nice afternoon an’ all. Feel like havin’ m’self a little walk.”
  Crazy bastard, it looked like it was about to sleet.
  “Only if you are sure, Sarge.” He was. “Well, I imagine we can take it from here. Here’s what I owe you and a little extra.” I pulled out four extra fifties.
  “Can’t do it, Mr. Dude. We had us a’ deal.”
  “World needs more like you in it, Mr. Brick. See that largest piece of shit you had there? He’s the reason that my friend was living in this dump and the reason he ended up in emergency. Not for the first time.”
  “No foolin’?”
  “On my honor, Sarge. Last time they hit him with a car. Knocked him out and then they stuck him in a dumpster full of rats. He was there for hours, and the police told me in a couple more he would have been a pancake in a dump truck.”
  “Seen that happen,” he nodded, face serious.
  Looking straight into his eyes, I lowered my voice as I spoke the words clearly, “Sarge, I am giving you these extras as a tip for doing a great job and nothing more. Now, I’m not saying anything, but are you interested in a twenty? Get yourself a case of ketchup?”
  I didn’t even have to gesture with my chin to receive a wide, gap-toothed grin and salute so I passed him the bills.
  “Take care, Sarge.”
  “You too, Mr. Dude. Bye, Little Dude!” he yelled and waved.
  David, having heard that, lowered the window, “Good-bye, Mr. Brick. Thank you.”
  I got in the car, started it and pulled out, not looking back.
  “What is he doing?” David asked, turned around to watch.
  “Seems the gentleman has a thing about littering. He’s taking out the garbage, kid. Making the street a little cleaner, that’s all.”
  “Steven, that is, well...”
  “A matter of trade, David. The phone is in the dash if you want to call nine-one-one.”
  Smart kid, he didn’t.

  Home. The kid was tired, so after his few things were put away we ordered some Thai food from a good place and I left to pick it up; small little party because I was still feeling the brunt of the past three days previous, myself.
  Because of the medications alcohol was a no-no, but I made up enough for both of us while he had both our Thai iced teas which had come with the order. My practice was coming along pretty good, thank you very much. And since it was going to be an early night, a catch-up before going back to full day of work tomorrow morning the kid didn’t say a thing about it. Groovy.
  Nights came early in December, and we were sitting in the living room, jazz coming from the speakers about the place, relaxing in a lull after conversation.
  “Steven,” he started to say while I was sitting back, “Were you going to ask me anything?”
  “Hmm? About what?”
  “I looked up who Al Capone was. You know, the one they nicknamed Big Al, not the Big Cap.”
  “Ah.” So he had caught my little test of him that time after all. (No real surprise there, only some because he was talking, admitting something, opening up to me...for good or bad.) “No, David, I wasn’t going to ask you a thing. Only now that you broached the subject, for sake of your future clients, you did really graduate from law school, right?”
  Calm eyes direct and full of truth, (I was learning to tell the difference now...for good or bad,) “Yes, I did really graduate from law school.”
  “All that matters then.” I rubbed my face, clinking glass in right hand, “Ah, David, you are an incredible young man, you know that?” He just shrugged. “I mean it, kid, brains to will, you are going to go far in this world. Lots of folks, including myself say you are one in a million. Doctor Samlin said you lived. He was pretty pissed about stuff he saw in those x-rays, and I just want to tell you, if there ever comes a time when you feel like talking, I am here to listen.”
  “Thank you, Steven. It...it wasn’t that bad though.”
  “Bad enough, kid. That story you told me when we were walking up to your place?”
  “It really was from a book I read. But, well, I could only read it once. Even then it was sort of hard.”
  “Mm-hmm.” I took a sip. Almost gone, this would be my last then off to bed. Must have been effecting me more than I knew because I heard the words coming from my mouth same time they entered the brain, “David, can I ask you something?”
  “I don’t know, can you?”
  I snorted, “All right, you smug little shit, may I ask you something?” He nodded and I frowned into my ice, “How did you, well, know? I mean, why are you like...well...”
  “Yeah. No, never mind.”
  “Steven, you are not like me. It means a lot though that I don’t creep you out anymore.”
  “Shit. David, I am so sorry about that.”
  “It’s okay,” he said as he flipped his stray lock back. “Only, if I tell you, I will have to go back to my apartment.”
  “No you won’t,” I shook my head firmly. “Never, David, that I promise you.”
  “All right. You do not need details, but I had to leave home when I was just a kid. After my mom died, it got really bad there. I took everything I had and bought a ticket to get as far away as possible. No one hires minors, and unlike the boy in that book I spent all the time I could in libraries everywhere. It was the safest places I could find to stay indoors.”
  “What about shelters or churches?”
  “They send you back home. He would have killed me if that had happened. I was better off where I was.”
  “So you just read about it in some book, right?”
  “No, in all night movie theaters, because you can buy one ticket, and if you are careful, hide there till morning because it is warm. I was on my own and I wanted to live. I had to eat and I had to have clothes to be in the libraries where I read everything to pass the time and then get my G.E.D.. To make a long story short, one night I got an offer, and that is how I found out who I was.”
  “Jesus, David...”
  Chin up and steel in his blue eyes looking directly at me, “Do you want me to leave?”
  “I told you no and I meant it. This is your home, David. I mean that as well.”
  Crack in his shields and eyes brimmed with tears.
  “Thank you, Steven. I said you were a person who cared about others and that I also hope I become just like you one day.”
  “And I told you, you were blind and out of your fucking mind.”
  “No, I am not.”
  I rubbed my head again. Anger, deep rage causing a pounding behind the eyes. Fury, because David had been forced to live a life like that.
  Why? What the hell is it about him? I asked myself. Why was it I always felt this anger, this sense of protection for him? Looking back it was something I had felt upon our very first meeting. Yes, others had commented that first time he had come into the office after being ‘mugged’ yet my reaction had been so intense, deep set and smoldering, far beyond what reason should have called for. I mean I had barely known him for a couple of weeks then, had known others whom had been mugged before. This city was shit.
  This young man had lived on the street, gotten meals from dumpsters, had sold his body for the love of god, so why wasn’t I upset as I reasonably should be to know these things? Why did I trust him completely? Why was anger that he had had to do these things the only thing I felt?
  I decided I was never going to ask the truth about how he had gotten into that college.
  “Are you okay?”
  “No, I am tired. Sorry, David, nothing against you—and I truly mean it—but I think I’ll call it a night. Maybe watch a movie or something before bed. Leave the dishes, I’ll put them in the machine tomorrow morning,” I grunted as I pushed my way off of the couch.
  Words at my back: “Steven, throw it out.”
  I froze, feeling a slight trembling in my frame.
  “Don’t keep torturing yourself. You do not deserve it.”
  Yes I do, kid.
  “Good night, David.”
  “I said good night, David.”
  “Good night.”
  Then it was with back stiff I went to my room, pausing only long enough to snatch a bottle of something from the cabinet and then it was with door closed and locked I lay on the bed in my clothes, bottle sipped from in one hand, remote in the other and re-watched in silence over and over my world being destroyed for hours.

  Life resumed normality. Routine as dates were X’ed off. Couple of them past and no one said anything about the fact that David and I arrived and usually left together in my car, not that I gave a damn. There was nothing ‘going on’ and there would not be.
  (Oh, yeah, made damn sure of that. Hell with those mild pills, I had gone to an incense shop, some yahoo place full of the damnedest things. Used the Doc’s granddaughter as my template, told the clerk there I had a daughter getting into this stuff and she needed the basic supplies. Pound of the salt peter which I had come for and various other crap as cover. Gave all but my stash to the kid, even picked up some of the white sage he had said he liked to burn.)
  Nice surprise on December tenth when Kimberly showed up to have lunch with David. (Things had backed off with Baxter, so the girl felt safe enough to start coming around again. Never found out what the asshole had said to her, but it had been bad. Long as he wasn’t in the elevator, she was fine. Jesus.) I came out of my office and grinned, because the little blond button was sitting cross-legged on David’s desk while the two kids chatted away over a pair of boxed lunches.
  “What, no ice cream?” I asked.
  “Kimberly’s on a diet,” the one who still had bruises said like a moron.
  “Hey, buster, I don’t need to diet!”
  “Of course not,” I said to save his ass, though a smidge of pudge might be viewable the way she was sitting. “What are you, like, ninety pounds or something? I don’t think those desks hold more than a hundred, tops, so between you and the computer things are looking good.”
  “See?” she pointed at David, then scooted off the desk and gave me a huge hug, her head only coming up to my chest. “Thanks, Mr. Hanscom.”
  “Just telling you the truth, little lady,” I replied and tousled her spiky hair for good measure. A new do: Punk Barbie.
  “Hey, he’s even better than your stylist!” David, the suicidal, chirped.
  “Don’t let Casey here that,” the girl said as she disengaged. “She’s the one who did it.”
  “I rest my case.”
  “Whoa, I am so out of here,” I said, preparing to flee.
  “No, wait, Mr. Hanscom. I picked one up for you, too,” she indicated the lunches. “Davey just said you were finishing up some stuff. Too bad it sucks outside or we could have a picnic. The lounge here sucks, too.”
  “I couldn’t agree with you more. Thank you, Kimberly, this was very thoughtful. I was on my way to the pub, now I do not have to get rained on.”
  “You’re welcome. Only, I wasn’t sure what you would like so I got a chicken salad. There’s kiwi on it,” she said with pride.
  “It’s actually pretty good,” David offered.
  “Do you want to eat with us, Mr. Hanscom?”
  “Well, if I am not intruding. My office is bigger, yet I was wanting to change the view for a little while.”
  “Cool, I’ll get another chair.”
  “No, I’m not that old,” I snorted and borrowed one from someone else who had gone elsewhere for lunch and there we had our ‘picnic’ around David’s desk, me the odd man out. Or at least that was what common sense would say, only I felt comfortable with lunchbox balanced on knee of my three-piece, all off us trading off things like pickles for french-fries and a common pool was made in center of the assorted flavored veggi-chips we had all received and compared. Another first; I had had no idea that that chips could be made from anything but potatoes.
  Kimberly chatted up a storm, but it was fun stuff to listen to as lunch break passed too quickly, only one threat rearing to interrupt. My cell buzzing, of course, and David shushed the girl during a story while I looked at the number and froze, smile tightening on my face.
  The bitch or this, Steven? a small voice asked and I gave a mental ‘fuck you’ before flicking it to ‘unavailable’.
  Shrugged and juggled it back into my pocket without spilling anything, “Wrong number.”
  David looked relieved, though the knowing scamp added with a wink, “Guess the system still has some kudies in it.”
  “Yup,” I said and Kimberly giggled.
  Cleaning up the boxes and napkins with them, Kimberly double checked the time with David for her to come back. (They were going to leave early to do some shopping at the mall. The girl needed to find something for her mother that did not come across as a bird-flip and only David could control her desire to do so and thus save Christmas like elves were supposed to do.) Getting ready to bid her good-bye, from corner of my eye I saw Parker walking up the hallway towards us.
  “Davey, ask him,” the girl was saying with tone of voice that said she was about to stomp her foot.
  “Go on.”
  “What’s up?” I asked as the kid ducked his head.
  “All right! Uhm, Steven, well, we were sort of wondering if, well...”
  “Oh, come on,” Kimberly rolled her eyes before looking up at me. “Mr. Hanscom, can I come over tonight?”
  “What? Of course you can, you should know that by now. For crying out loud, David,” I turned to him, “you don’t need my permission to have friends over. I’m not your damn father.”
  He looked up, “No, Mr. Hanscom, you’re a lot better.”
  “Awe thanks, kid. Still doesn’t explain what the fuss is about though?”
  He was full blushed, “We’d like to keep the door shut.”
  “Whoa!” I exclaimed with a laugh. Not to mention a hallelujah if she could literally ‘straighten’ him out. “Well if it’s like that I’ll sleep here at the firm.”
  “No, just some private time.”
  “Say no more, Felix. You have your half and I have mine. Only, I think I’ll be wearing headphones in my room. Not to mention if a certain irate mother calls it will be, ‘Kimberly who?’”
  “Thanks, Mr. Hanscom,” the girl went up on tippy-toes and pulled me down for a peck on the cheek. “You’re the greatest! Okay, see you both later!”
  “Groovy,” I said and she skipped out with giggles.
  David left to dump the remnants in a bin that wouldn’t smell the place up further and Parker said at my shoulder, “Cute kids.”
  “Yes, they really go together.” Somewhat wistfully, “I’ve imagine their children, whole lot of them being blond.”
  “Well if one pops out with black hair leave me out of it.”
  “Look who’s talking, you cradle robber. Eighteen, my ass.”
  “Hey,” he said more quietly, “they really are. Did a background check and everything.”
  “Talk about abusing privileges.”
  “Yeah, well, whatever. Hanscom, you have a couple?”
  “Office?” I nodded and we walked in, him closing the door behind.
  “Everything all right?” It did not look like it, the broken vessel nose redder than usual after lunch.
  “No. I have a bad situation on my hands, Hanscom, only before I mention it, it’s true what they are saying? Kid lives with you?”
  Completely prepared, “Not with me, just in the apartment. Couple of rooms, own bath, just share the kitchen and stuff, why?”
  “Hanscom, swear I don’t want to pry, but why is the question?”
  “Easy enough to answer. David and I are the updated Odd Couple. I’m the old grouch on the couch and he waters the plants. His ex dumped him after three years, got everything. You know what rent is like in the city and he’s a good kid. You also know my situation and have seen my place. I have the room to spare even when I am home. We work together, are friends as well. I do not see what the big deal is, or what this has to do with the situation you say is on your hands.”
  “Sorry, it doesn’t relate at all, only I’m sort of scared to death here and not knowing where to go. Hanscom, forgive me, but are you straight?” he blurted out.
  Had that covered as well. “Parker, there is a bible right here in my desk.” Pulled it out, “Now, if I were not bound for hell already, this oath would do it.” Touched and raised with the other, “I swear to you on this book and all it contains that the tits in the video I watch are a hell of a lot bigger than the ones in your emails. Eighteen, my ass,” I snorted again and put the good book away.
  “Well at least they are real—and over eighteen.”
  “Congratulations, Mr. Photoshop.”
  “Yeah, well, see, my turn, and I really apologize again, because it wouldn’t matter to me if you were or not. Will touch the good book on that one myself. Plenty of fine people out there. You know my bag is divorce, but most of that is really division of assets, and hands down, for folks parting on good terms I’ve seen more same couples than mixed. Not that there aren’t psychos everywhere, but people are just people, right?”
  “Parker, you look like you are about to have a fit. What the hell is wrong?”
  “My computer,” he husked.
  “Oh, ho-ho,” I grinned nastily in understanding, “You’re the one got Baxter’s!”
  “Shhh! Jesus H, keep it down!” he all but wheezed as he glanced at the closed door. “If he finds out I’m dead!”
  “Don’t worry, Parker. He thinks I have them.”
  “Hanscom...Steven, you have any idea what is in them?”
  “From his repeated asking for the price of my silence I can only guess, and if my guesses are anywhere near correct I do not want to know.”
  “How... Steven, for the love of god, why would you do something like that?”
  “Because he pissed me off at a really bad moment,” I said and went to my desk, dug out my flask and a couple of shot glasses to which he ran over for in wait.
  Pouring, “It was the morning when the shit first hit the fan. You covered for me as I went to get David out of emergency after the hit-an-run so you remember. Well, first it was the panic at the office, then trying to hold it together while the kid was getting his rat-bites cleaned.” I shook a bit even now, “The son of a bitch who hit him stuffed the kid in a dumpster.”
  “Jesus H, Steven.”
  “Yeah. Well, during all this, the Beast called and started giving me what for. Fired me and everything over the cell. Admit I lost it there for a few, and figuring what the hell, I remembered your wiggly twins there and took a shot in the dark, asked him a question: How old are they?”
  I cocked an eyebrow as I lifted my glass, “I think the pause on the other end occurred because he was busy shitting his pants.”
  Sip. “After that I didn’t have to say a thing. Out of curiosity, what would you have asked him?”
  “Beyond please don’t kill me? Probably the same. Stuff is rather self explanatory.”
  “Steven, what am I going to do? There are some huge files on my machine.”
  “He said it was research.”
  “Oh, my god.”
  “Quince, I really do not want to know. Imagine it is kids though?”
  “Babies, Steven. Girls and boys.”
  “Why don’t you just delete them?”
  “Because the sick dick-wad should go to prison along with the ones taking those pictures, only, Steven, I can’t do it. My heart, it isn’t so good.”
  “Why not go to Levin?”
  “They are friends, Steven. You see that shit from someone you know, hate the guts of, sure, but you never suspect.”
  “You really think that is the case?”
  “No, I don’t. Levin is a decent enough guy, only...what if I am wrong? After all, he managed to keep that idiot who fried the systems, right?”
  “Direct to the Feds?”
  “The shit is on my computer. And Baxter is good. He could say that I screwed with the title codes or some tecky-babble crap, I don’t know. In that, Levin might even back him. You think they want it badgered about what happened here? Some cases were screwed up; a couple verdicts gone south because of it. Libel and suits up the ass, not to mention every client the firm has jumping ship with good reason.”
  “Quince, you are a good man, yet I think you are just panicking a bit. Download them to an extra drive and give them to me. I’ll see them to the Feds and keep you out of it.”
  “Steven, I couldn’t do that to you,” he said, despite the pleading hope in his eyes for me to say otherwise.
  I did so. “Of course you can.” Poor bastard, he really was afraid. Couldn’t figure it myself. Then again, I had nothing to lose. Briefly wondered what I would do if our places had been reversed, except they weren’t, so I dismissed it.
  Laughed and told him to shut up, an suggestion made to meet somewhere to ‘make the pass’. Christ, give me a break. Nor did I think he would make it back walking through the firm with the shit on him, so it was a simple walk to his office, download without anything opened and I stuck it in my pocket.
  “How the hell can you be so god damn calm?” he demanded, sweat on his face.
  “Why not? Only thing changed is now I do have the goods on him. Come on, Quince, chill out, you’re in the clear, right?”
  “Steven, you ever need anything, just ask. Don’t think I would have lasted another day.”
  From the look of it, I believed him.
  “Hanscom?” he called before I left. “Stay away from windows.”
  “You bet,” I winked and left grinning.

  Arrived home about ten that night, all but rubbing my mental hands together because ‘the kids’ were still in David’s room, door shut.
  Come on, girl, you can do it. Show him what he’s missing and I bet all that other crap will just melt away. Something to hope for at least. Have him set up with someone, and there would not be a single thing left to worry about when I stepped out of the picture.
  Did my best to be quiet, there was a heap of some good looking stuff on the oven. Lift of lid revealed some spiced potatoes and what looked like fancy meatballs, veggies, all of it set to reheat in the pan, so starving, I set to it, fork going as it did so...until I started smelling some odd smoke.
  Not from the frying pan though, as if there was enough heat to burn anything at this point. No, it was coming from elsewhere and I turned at sound of voices.
  “Hey. You guys smell something funny?”
  David flushed, “It’s my incense, sorry! We burned too much sage, I told you, Kimber.”
  “No problem, kid.”
  “Are you sure? I will open a window more?”
  “Nah, just making sure I didn’t screw anything up here,” I said as I scooped up another half meatball.
  “Didn’t you even heat it? The gravy isn’t even melted!”
  “How else was I going to keep it clinging on a quarter-inch thick?” I scoffed.
  “See?” Kimberly said. “Mr. Hanscom knows how to do it.”
  “Oh, just get out of my way.”
  “Hey, I wasn’t finished with that!” I snarled as he shoved me aside.
  “Will you just go sit down? Bet you missed the bread in the over.”
  “Bread?” I paused.
  “Yes, garlic bread. For the cilantro turkey—and the gravy.”
  “Man, how could I miss a turkey?”
  “You didn’t. These are made from turkey, not beef.”
  “No way.”
  “If they weren’t cold you might have noticed. Now go sit down.”
  “Christ, is he bitchy in the kitchen or what?” I asked the girl as we left.
  “Yeah, usually. It’s worth it though.”
  “And how. So,” I asked casually as we sat down at the table, “How did things go?”
  “It was a great meditation, I really needed it.”
  “Uh-huh. Everything from stuff to help me deal with mom to stuff to end the year. We’re leaving for vacation soon and I don’t know how much more free time I’ll have to get away. Davey even helped me wrap everything. He’s real good at things like that.”
  “A real keeper,” I said invitingly, yet she just nodded. Crap.
  And that, as they say, was that. No more give on the subject, no more details about their ‘meditation’ from either of them, just heated dinner brought out with plates, ice cream for the girl and casual chatter before she left.

  Sunday, December sixteenth. Stayed the full day (nine to five) and since David did not have to he was smart and had taken it off. Not feeling too well because there had been another video call from Shell. Swear to god I did not mean to answer it, but I hit the wrong key (same as I always did) and there she was. Still no demands for money made, actually nodded as I talked a bit...intercom buzzing which saved me from agreeing to dinner, saying I would call her back...but did not.
  Bad, bad, day, and the glare from reflected snow was stabbing into my eyes like daggers. Nothing was helping it and it was with shaking hands that I tried to get the key in the lock which had shrunk to a pinhole and then lurching stumble, eyes squinting from the pounding migraine, I brushed passed David and made the couch with a whimper.
  “Music...lights...off...” I managed as I dug around in my suit pocket. Pulled out the plastic prescription bottle and pried it open; sobbed because I had forgotten it was already empty and dropped it rolling onto the carpet as I lowered my head to my palms and tried to press out my brains.
  “Steven,” the words hammered into my head and I moaned, only catching something about a doctor or hospital.
  “Been...already. Stress...” That and my screwed up body revolting against my ‘cure’. “All starts in the brain,” Doc told me. Guess if it can’t express out one way it tries another... Jesus, talk about being a real dickhead...
  Oh, it was bad. Agonizing, the worse one I had suffered so far, enough that I whispered—begged—the kid to call Shell for me. I was blind, would never be able to manage the buttons even if I could open my eyes.
  “Please...” I gasped as tears came, melting my eyes behind their lids because they were made of acid.
  Whisper: “Relax, Steven.” And then hands touched, started at base of the skull and like a trained dog I went limply with the slight pulling motion till my head was hanging over the back of the couch as the massage continued.
  Shell, you did come back. Oh, honey, you did mean it. Meant everything. You really are sorry. And you still need...me.
  Breathing came easier as my sinuses opened, lung filling with air, but not the smell of Her. Not the touch of longed for perfume, her shampoo or the natural scent of the woman herself. My wife and my life...missing.
  An eyes cracked open a slit as muscles around it unlocked then slid shut again.
  I think I said something, but it did not quite reach my ears; listened instead to the voice hushing me and managed to tilt my head to the side a bit on my own so part of the neck and connecting tendon to shoulder was worked on the right side.
  Left side, then head lolling forwards so back of neck from skull to shoulder blades could receive their attention.
  Lay back and top of head again; “Thank you,” I breathed with gratitude.
  “Better now?”
  “Yes.” No. Both and neither all at once. “David...enough.”
  “Are you sure?” he asked as both temples were pressed and circled. I didn’t answer, too wiped out for the effort.
  Actually fell asleep for a bit, yet I did not wake up with a stiff neck. No, because he had sat down beside me, using one of his arms to brace my head in its cradle.
  Oh, god, help me, I just wanted to stay like this. Nothing more than that, I swear it, just to stay sitting here with someone close. With someone in this world who truly cared.
  Don’t do it, Steven. No, don’t you fucking dare!
  It was the sixteenth. I had planned to leave on the twentieth, but it was time to go. I would leave tonight; slip out like the coward I was while he was sleeping.
  I attempted to get up, but his arm held me.
  “David, no.”
  “Because that’s not what you are here for. You’re my friend, kid, nothing more.”
  “I know.”
  “I do not want you in my life,” I said firmly.
  “I know that, too,” he said simply; straight forward and matter of fact.
  Oh, David, it is not you, it is me.
  Then he placed his hand on me.
  I did not remove it, there was no reason to. “See?” I said cynically as I turned away. “Told you I would take care of everything.”
  Softly: “She won, didn’t she?”
  “Oh, yes, the bitch won.”
  “You left your cell phone on, Steven. That day when you went in when you were too tired. I heard her. I heard everything.”
  “When are you leaving?”
  Why deny it? “The suitcases are in the car.”
  “Can I go with you?”
  “Nope. Sorry, kid, this is a one way trip. Don’t worry though, the car will be back. Already have it lined up. Just need to give them the date.”
  “I don’t want it. I don’t want anything. I am just going to leave.”
  “Kid, no.”
  “Yes. I mean it, Steven. Soon as you leave I am out the door and gone for good. I am not going to sign anything or take anything. I am just going to go.”
  “You little son of a bitch. David, you are going to ruin everything.”
  “No, that is just the way it is. I know that now. Only this time—this once—when I lose everything it will be on my terms alone. I guess you did teach me some things after all.”
  “What, David? What the fuck could I teach you?”
  “That there is no point even trying to hold onto anything. The world is shit. There is no hope and nothing to have faith in.”
  “Don’t say that.”
  “But it’s true.” Hitch in his voice, “I knew I was not the one for you and it was okay. Only...only I thought I could help. I’m sorry, Steven, I just wasn’t strong enough. I never will be for anything—”
  “—Stop right there!” I swore and sat up, furious at the little bastard. “How dare you, David? How, fucking dare you even speak words like that?!”
  A shrug, steel in his eyes transformed, loss of hope in anything. Acceptance and life without smiles. Just walking the routine and nothing more in a world that was nothing but shit.
  I had done this, me and myself alone. Everything this young man had been through, suffered in his life and still bounced back from smiling, I had destroyed all that, same as I had ruined everything else in my own life.
  My fault. All I had wanted to do was help him, protect...and look what had happened.
  My fault, all of it. First Shelia, myself, and now him.
  “David,” I whispered thickly, “I do not know what to do.”
  “I know. I’m sorry, Steven. I tried.”
  “Oh, you little shit,” I swore softly and pulled him up to wrap arms around and hug.
  My chin over his shoulder, “Oh, David, what am I going to do now? God, if you are listening up there, tell me, please, what the hell am I supposed to do now with this stubborn kid?
  “Oh, David, David, David, I wish I was like you, swear to god it would solve everything, but I’m not.”
  “That doesn’t matter.”
  “But it does matter. David, it does.”
  “Then let me help you! Not to be like me, I’m not asking that because I’d be happy just being with you. Like we are now, Steven. I...I don’t want to be alone anymore. I don’t want to lose anything anymore. Please, don’t take you...do not take everything away from me! I am just so tired and I can’t do it any more!”
  My own words shot back at me and he did not even know it. Of course he doesn’t. Smart kid like this, he learns his lessons real well, “David, I’d only be using you, can’t you see that?”
  I pulled away, holding him by the shoulders at arm’s length and took a deep breath, “All right, then how about this? What if your help works? What if I actually managed to pull myself together one day? What if I do find someone, eh? Can you tell what you would have then?”
  “I will have a friend who is alive, and someone to help me when I am in trouble. If I needed any, that is, because I’m really pretty good at taking care of myself when I’m not being run over by cars.”
  I just looked at him, “David, if you turn out to be the Second Coming, do you know how really fucked up I would be then?”
  “Yup, I can imagine.” He grinned and brushed back his lock, “Hey, that might be cool. I could make you a saint or something then, couldn’t I? Saint Oscar the Bigot? Or how ‘bout Old Sanctus Fartus on thee Couchest?”
  “Oh, one really big ass kicking coming your way, kid, I swear.” Christ, how could he make me laugh so easily?
  “So can I go with you, Steven? On your vacation?”
  My vacation.
  “My vacation...”
  “Yeah, your vacation. The one you drive your own car back from when it’s over, because I get really nervous when I drive it.”
  “It is easier in the country, less traffic...” What the hell was I saying? “Oh, shit.”
  “Yes! This is going to be great. I’ve never been on vacation before!”
  “Jesus, kid, calm down,” I snorted as he all but started bouncing.
  “Ugh. —And don’t fucking say it again! Damn it, I hate it when you do that.”
  “How about this?” he asked and I felt his hand return and start to rub.
  “Steven, shut up. You are not using me, I promise.”
  “It’s still not...not right.” So much for the Navy Cure. Shit.
  “I am not going to ask you if you want me to stop because you will say yes. You can really be a grouch sometimes, Oscar.”
  “I knew it,” I husked a shaky laugh as his rubbing brought things to complete readiness.
  “Lie back.” He had to push me over till my back was braced by the far armrest of the couch, then when I was down, started working on my belt. “Now, what did you know?”
  “About Felix. Oh, they worked pretty hard to try proving he wasn’t a...was not gay, but...but you could, ohh, sorta...t-tell...” Not sitting this time, more semi laying down with David kneeling over. Different as well because he had worked to bring me to this state, not the body’s violent lack of control. More passive, more (natural—shut the fuck up!) relaxing right from the start.
  No curled fists either in fight against the inevitable as both hands were laid upon his shoulders and hips moved in response to small circles.
  I am sick, I am crazy. Why can’t I picture...imagine some woman doing this? Why do I not want to?
  Because you care, Steven, you know that. More than care, you know that as well.
  Only as both of my hands were rubbed over his head, through his hair, why didn’t David know that?
  Because he is messed up same as you are, Steven. Still just a kid in so many ways. An adult born, one who never had a childhood, never fully grew up in many ways; had no opportunity too.
  Also, he is one of the good ones. A real Human Being, he is kind and compassionate and giving. (Someone so opposite of myself.) Yes, gives fully and how was he repaid? Threatened, terrified and beaten. So no, David learned his lesson, can let people into his heart, but not too deeply in.
  Worst, despite the rest of what he says, some part of him is convinced he does not deserve to be cared for. That maybe, he deserves all the hell he’s gotten in his life...same as I do.
  “Ohhh...” as I arched up and locked trembling; moan from David in response which spoke of satisfaction as well, our blasphemous ritual complete.
  No need to part though, we were home and there was no need to hide or go anywhere, so David just crawled up a little ways and lay snuggling down, head on my ribcage as I just stroked his hair. After a while I could tell he had fallen asleep, so I carefully moved my hand down to rub palm around his shirted back lightly. It was a caress and I didn’t care.
  I’m doomed, kid. Not matter what you say, I am using you and I know it. You don’t though and that is the worst thing about it. How long did I have left before something else happened? I did not know, yet something would eventually, right?
  But I don’t feel it, David. Just can not imagine wanting anything more than this. And it isn’t fair, kid, not by a long shot. Not to you, it isn’t. Hell, even I know that if you don’t.
  Yet what was I going to do? Trying to picture anything else had my guts clench and it was still the urge to push him off of me. Not just a mild case of the creeps, but violent loathing. That was not right. Nope, not right at all.
  So much for ‘Do unto others,’ Steven, you sanctimonious, bastard, Christian bigot.
  Ah well, screw it. Too tired to think about it anymore.
  “Good night, David,” I whispered softly and went to sleep.


Continues with Episode Five: Merry Christmas
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