I wish that I could say that the old junkyard looked dirty and out of place to me after spending some time in a place in such a swanky high rise building with heat, and soft mattresses...silky soft sheets and fluffy pillows...hot running running water and a clear bird's eye view of the Chicago skyline as it sparkled gleefully outside our bedroom window. 24 hour cable TV with more channels than we could possibly ever hope to watch, even if we spent hours trying to channel surf through all of them at random...and enough privacy to make love for hours on end if we chose to do so, without someone banging on our door to help out with Bryson's rotating list of daily chores. Carpet under our bare feet, working lamps, room to move around in our own space, and just...the glory of peace and quiet. Under any other circumstances, I'd almost feel embarrassed to leave a place like that, only to bring the most beautiful boy that I've ever laid eyes upon back to the dark and dusty landscape of this abandoned lot...full of rusted cars, smashed down to stack on top of one another, with discolored debris and worn out tires and broken headlights used as some sort of grim decoration...
But...do you want to know the absolute truth?
I don't think I've ever felt more at home.
Looking around that place, I experienced a sense of pride welling up within me. Honor. Gratitude. The first time I ever stepped through that gate and had Bryson do everything short of toss my unwanted ass right back out on the street without even knowing who I was...I never would have thought that I'd last six minutes in a place like this, much less six months or more. It looked like the kind of joint that the mob would use to hide a dead body until the heat was off of them for the murder. But now? All I feel is home.
Home sweet home...
I did what I could to avoid Bryson's eyes as much as I could, feeling a bit awkward as I tried to wait for Taryn and Rain to finish their talk. I mean, I didn't want to interject myself into their reunion or steal the spotlight in anyway. I don't think Rain hates me or anything...but it's hard for me not to feel like I've driven a nasty wedge between her and the one person in the entire lot that she truly feels comfortable talking to. It was strange...but she seemed as though she could be really sweet when they were together. i even saw her smile a few times. And I'd take that over watching her plunge a metal shard of old rusty car parts into her jugular for kicks, ANY day!
"Ooofff!" I wheezed as I felt a couple of skinny arms suddenly run up and grab me around the waist without warning. I tumbled forward a step or two before I looked to realize that Kid was hugging me tightly around my waist as though I was the only thing anchoring him down from being sucked up into the violent spin of a random tornado or something. To say that the sudden affection shocked me, coming from him, would be a severe understatement. What the hell has gotten HIM feeling so damn 'friendly' all of a sudden? "Well, hello to you too. Heh..."
Max walked over and took a hold of the boy's ear, giving it a squeeze and pulling him back until he let me go. "This little fucker has been giving me the sad puppy dog eyes ever since you left." Max grumbled. "Can't say that I've ever seen him do that before."
"Me either." I grinned, but when Max's eyes connected to mine, he forced a subtle frown to flood his expression.
"Well...don't expect ME to give you hugs and cuddles, rookie."
"Am I really still a rookie at this point?"
"As far as the rest of us are concerned, you are." He said stubbornly.
"Yeah, but...am I really, though?" I gave him a little smirk and raised an eyebrow to see if i could possibly get a positive vibe out of Max against his will. And I might have succeeded if he hadn't blocked a return smirk with a grumpy roll of his eyes.
"I'm a little bit harder to win over than a ten year old with a teddy bear fetish, Justin. But you just keep trying." And he grabbed Kid by the wrist to drag him away while I snickered softly to myself. You know, I think I can probably count on two hands the number of times that Max has actually called me by my name since I've been here. Call me crazy, but I think I might actually be wearing him down. Which would be quite an accomplishment. Because Max doesn't really 'wear down' for much of anybody!
"Justin?" Came the voice...and I had to fight the urge to close my eyes and openly cringe from hearing it. But I slowly turned my head to see Bryson beckoning for me to come over to his truck for a talk. And i couldn't help but to feel like i was in major trouble. Bryson has this very specific tone of voice sometimes that you only hear over the loudspeaker in school when you're being summoned to the principal's office for some bullshit you got caught doing that you weren't supposed to be doing. And I don't even think that he means to do it half the time, I think it just sort of radiates that 'You Fucked Up' vibe that you learn to recognize by the time you're old enough to make a mess around the house as a toddler.
"Yeah...?" I answered with a shaky voice, and he sort of signaled with his head for me to follow him to another part of the lot, already turning around and knowing that I was going to follow him, whether I really wanted to or not. My legs were trembling, and my breath was short, but I followed him, regardless. He was our makeshift 'father' in this place, after all. I saw him walk out to a place in the lot that was far enough away from the others to give us some privacy. "You...you wanted to talk to me...?"
Bryson sat on the dented hood of an old Buick and used his hand to dust off a decent spot right next to him. Shit...
...Is this going to be a good conversation...or a bad conversation? It can be hard to tell sometimes when it comes to 'Daddy Bryson'.
Looking down at my shoes, swinging my feet in an attempt to help me shake off some of my involuntary jitters...I heard Bryson take in a deep breath. "Justin...?"
"Look...before you even start, I just wanted to say that...I never meant to just bail on you guys the way that I did and not tell anybody. And I certainly never expected Taryn to follow me. He did it without me even knowing about it..."
"Justin, that's not..."
"I would NEVER put Taryn in harm's way! Not ever. I mean...you know that. Right?"
"Are you finished?" Bryson asked, raising an eyebrow to keep me from rambling on any further.
"I just wanted you to know that I'm sorry. K?" I said, timidly avoiding his eyes. "No matter how hard I try to just be normal like everybody else, I always seem to find some way to screw it all up. I always feel like the outcast at the party."
I felt Bryson's hand on my shoulder, giving me a gentle shake. "It's alright, rookie. Nobody expects you to be special. And there isn't a single one of us here in this lot that could ever claim to be anywhere some agreed upon idea of 'normal', trust me. We just need you to be you. Nothing more, nothing less."
Peeking back over at him, I saw a slight smirk on Brandon's lips. I asked him, "So...I'm, like...not on punishment or anything?"
He shrugged. "A few people had to pick up your laundromat duties while you two were gone. Other than that...the only person punishing you is you."
It almost seemed like a trick to me. Had it been my father, I'd be on the floor with a bruise on my ribs and my lip bleeding by now. But Bryson wasn't like that. He definitely comanded our respect for his authority when he needed to...but he was never a tyrant about it. It's hard to let your guard down when it comes to something like that, being a constant in your life, when you've never really known anything else. "Is this going to count and one of those 'necessary evils' that you're always talking about?" I asked.
"I don't think what you did was evil, Justin...just...don't make a habit out of it, ok? We're your family. We're here to help you. To guide and protect you. You could have come and talked to me first."
"You wouldn't have let me go, Bryson, and you know it." I said. "I needed answers. I felt like I was falling apart, and I didn't know what else to do."
"Then you come to the rest of us so we can give you some perspective and find yourself some other options, Justin. That's what we're here for. We lean on each other and we trust one another to everyone else's best interests at heart."
"Even Trevor?" I grinned.
He paused for a second to snicker to himself. "There are exceptions to every rule, sure...but I'm willing to bet that Trevor's got more heart than you might think." Bryson said. "You just...have to dig a little deeper through the topsoil to get to the fertile ground underneath. That's all." There was a brief pause between us, and Bryson told me, "I'm glad you're back and still in one piece, Kiddo."
"So...with everything else now officially out of the way...did you get your answers?" He asked. "Was this 'Jeweler' guy everything that you were hoping he would be?"
"I don't know..." I pouted slightly. "Sometimes...I feel like I might have a clue of what's burdening me, or what's holding me back...and other times, I'm just...completely lost."
"Well...nothing wrong with that." He said, matter-of-factly. "Sometimes, losing ourselves is the only way to find ourselves anew. We may be vampires, Justin, but that doesn't mean that we don't change over time. If you're not constantly evolving, then you're stuck. Only wanderers find the strength to elevate their thinking. And wanderers get lost. It's natural."
I mumbled, "I really just wanted to stay here with you guys. Be with Taryn. Forget that most of the life I left behind simply didn't exist anymore. But, as always...it looks like I screwed that up too. Just by crossing over. Just by...being born."
"Well, that path to understanding got awfully 'dark' all of a sudden." he said.
"But it's true, isn't it? I'm fourteen years old. I don't know anything about 'philosophy', or deeper messages, or saving the world for whatever kind of awful horrors that are sure to come my way, long before I'm ready it. I just wanted to feel what it was like to have somebody actually care about me. The REAL me. And not just pay me attention when they need something or are looking to take their anger out on. I just...I wanted to matter to somebody."
Turning slightly, Bryson said, "And what is it that you want, Justin? Outside of trying to give everybody else what they want first?"
"Does it even matter anymore?" I asked.
"Of course it matters. It matters more than anything that you could possibly imagine." He told me. "How can you possibly be of any value to someone else if you've forgotten to see the value in yourself?"
"You don't understand, Bryson. I'm...supposed to be this...'prophet' or whatever, and I have absolutely NO idea what I'm doing out here. I try to figure it out, but I suck at it. To be honest, if it weren't for my abilities kicking in all on their own, I'd probably be dead by now. One hundred times over. I feel like such a fraud. But what can I do?" I said. "I'm destined to always be responsible for everybody else getting the kind of joy and peace of mind that I've never once been able to enjoy for myself. How am I supposed to do that, Bryson? I wish people could take the time and effort to make me happy every once in a while. Instead, they just wait like jackals for me to do all the work while they devour my scraps and leave nothing for me. Absolutely nothing." As my mood dimmed and my eyes misted over, I said, "I'm sorry. You probably don't want to hear all of this. Just...'fate' sucks, ok? Sometimes, I just don't want to be a part of it anymore."
Bryson didn't say anything at first, but then put an arm around my shoulder to pull me in close from the side. "You know...before crossing over, myself...shortly after both of my parents died in that car wreck...I found myself spiraling down into this rabbit hole of questions. An existential crisis of sorts, I guess you could say. Couldn't sleep for more than two or three hours a day. Wondering if fate had killed my mom and dad for some sort of reason. I kept wondering if there was some divine being up there that was weaving this intricate plan where such a terrible thing had some sort of purpose. Then I began to wonder what would have happened if I could have somehow changed that plan. Maybe, if my parents had left the house just one minute earlier...or one minute later...maybe if that drunk driver had crashed into somebody else before reaching that particular intersection...they'd be ok. And my life would be totally different. I mean, wouldn't it?" He said. "But then...you get stuck in ideas of whether or not you might have made your life worse for yourself or somebody else by tinkering with the game plan. What if I made my life worse? Or their lives worse? What if it ends up in a catastrophe? What if they never died, and I never went to that group home, and I never escaped, and I never found Amanda...lost Amanda...and this whole lot fell apart?" I looked up into his eyes, and despite feeling a touch of sadness radiating off of him, he hid it well. Probably for my sake, I'm assuming. "The point is...there are always going to be forks in the road, Justin. You will always have to make choices. Some will be easy, and some will be hard. But you can't win ALL of the time by creating some fantasy world for yourself in order to avoid getting hurt. And you can't blame 'fate' every time you're feeling uncomfortable about making the decisions you need to make in order to move on with your life. You just can't."
I wanted to believe him. I really did. But I wasn't really sure that I could. I wasn't even sure that I wanted to, to be honest. "I just don't want to let anybody down, Bryson. That's all."
"To the people who love you and know you best? You never will. Ok? Don't try to live by our vision of you or whatever fucked up blueprint of expectations that we've built for you. If you want to know what true love and joy feels like...then take some time to yourself and go find it. We're not going anywhere. The better you understand your feelings...the better we'll understand your message. But the only 'fate' structure that you can ever hope to live by and be truly happy? It has to be one that you've built for yourself. Ok? Nobody else can do it for you. Don't let anyone determine your destiny but you."
You know...Bryson has these...'moments'...where he really knows exactly what to say to make you feel better inside. Enlightened, even. I wish he was my 'third teacher'...instead of The Jeweler. It just feels like he understands me better. "Thanks, Bryson." I said, and I hugged him around the shoulders as he gave me a friendly little kiss on the cheek.
"Now, get up and go spend some time with Taryn. Straighten your trailer up. I'm sure it's a mess." He said, politely pushing me away to keep a certain distance away from any feelings of visible 'mush' that he might be experiencing at that moment. "Come on. I've got to go back and keep a look out for the others to make sure they come home before dawn. I can't stay out here all night."
It was cute, seeing Bryson like this. He really does care about us. We really are the only family he's got in darkness. If 'fate' really did have a plan in making him suffer all that he's been through...then I'm glad it brought him here for the rest of us. I don't mean for that to sound as callous and selfish as it does...but there's a part of me that knows I wouldn't want to live without his influence. The night would have been so much darker without him.
Going back to the lot, I happened to see Taryn looking out for me, eventually smiling wide as he caught sight of me approaching around the corner with Bryson by my side. I guess Jeremy was right...they really were a lot stronger than I gave them credit for. There were a few faces missing, but I highly think that it was anything to really worry about. They'd all be back by the time our evening sleep cycle was over. I know that Bryson would make sure of that. And I know that they'd make a valiant effort to come back on time, if for no other reason than to avoid another lengthy lecture from our leader. Either way...Bryson wins. Heh...
"Hi..." Taryn said softly, blushing fiercely as he took a hold of my hand.
"Hey..." I grinned back at him. I swear, every night that we spend together, always feels brand new.
He was getting ready to lead me back to our trailer for the night, hopefully to kiss and cuddle for a while before the dawn came to put us to sleep...but when I looked over to the right, I saw Kid hand Max his teddy bear to hold for him, and he walked over to me, AGAIN to give me one of the most genuine hugs around the waist that I had ever experienced from him, up until this point. It was...strange. Always silent, Kid just closed his eyes and expressed his relief over having me come back to join the rest of the group again.
Then, he simply let me go and walked away without saying a word or looking back to say good night. Max just rolled his eyes as he reached for his teddy bear again, saying, "Are you happy now? You sure you've got all of that out of your system? Two hugs? Really?" And the two of them marched off to turn in early for the evening, with Kid in the lead as he always is. "Friggin' sensitive brat..."
Bryson gave me a nod, and one to Taryn as well, as we headed back to our trailer for the first time in what seemed like forever. Opening that raggedy door and seeing all of our stuff in there...our clothes and shoes, our mattress on the floor, our tiny little shared closet...hehehe, it just tickled me like you wouldn't believe to be back here again. I closed and locked the door behind us, and Taryn giggled gleefully, "The sheets are cold. Like...ice cold. I figured that we could just yank them off the mattress and take them out with the laundry tomorrow. Maybe clean up a little in here..."
I was stepping closer to him at the time, and just mumbled, "Uh huh..." before putting my hands on his hips and pulling him closer to kiss those sweet lips of his while I was lost in the moment. My body got chills, feeling him so close to me. Both of us trying to move around in such a tightly restricted space. I could taste his sexy smile as he draped both of his arms over my shoulders, soon hugging me around my neck as I let my hand travel up to comb my fingers through the longish, silken, locks of his reddish brown hair. We didn't need some fancy skyrise building and worshippers looking to fulfill my every need to experience Heaven on Earth...we carried it with us, everywhere we went. It was just that easy.
After having our tongues slowly mingle for a moment, Taryn leaned back and looked me in the eyes, his bright green orbs hypnotizing me with their infatuated gaze. And he said, "Take the sheets off of the bed. I've got a warmer blanket in the closet."
"I'm sure we'll warm things up tonight, hehehe, blanket or not."
He said, "You think we have enough time?"
"The horizon still looked pretty dark to me when we came in here." I smirked.
"Mmmm...I know what that means."
Teasing him, I said, "Yep. It means our usual, three-minute, virgin sex-fest. Five minutes, tops."
He gave me a light smack on my behind. "Hey! My little 'sex muscles' weren't quite developed when I crossed over. And yours either."
"Oh, believe me...I'm not complaining. We can always do it twice. Hehehe! Or three times." I said with a kiss. "Or maybe even four or five times..."
"Don't wear me out!" He chuckled. "But...that still sounds hot. And when we wake up tomorrow...?"
"We'll start fresh all over again." I said, with another kiss. And with that, we changed the sheets on our bed and snuggled, naked, under his blanket for some much needed fun. I mean...I'm going to be a teenage boy forever now...it's not like this perpetual feeling of sexual desperation is ever going to go away. Might as well enjoy it for all it's worth...now that I've got the ultimate boy of my dreams to share it with.
To say that we spent the better part of an hour enjoying one another again and again...until we were filled with warm shivers over overwhelming satisfaction...would be an understatement. I never could have imagined that I could be here with such a perfect specimen of beauty and grace like this. Never could I have fathomed meaning soooo much to one person. Is this what I'm supposed to bring to the rest of the world? To be the light? The truth? This is what I meant when I was talking to Bryson tonight...about what I had been searching for. But the feeling was wordless in its presentation. How am I supposed to translate this awe and wonder to anyone who hasn't felt it for themselves? Or who might have felt it at one time in their lives...and has now forgotten it? Maybe even denied its existence...for fear of getting rejected? Or ending up alone?
So many questions...with almost no answers. And there I go...feeling lost again.
I felt Taryn's hand on my back, lightly rubbing my soft skin as I felt the warmth of his breath on the back of my neck. I wasn't quite sure that I knew what he was doing at first, but then he asked me, "Justin?"
"Do....do they hurt?"
It was then that I paid attention to the areas of my back that his fingers were so gently gliding over. Those disgusting remnants of the bruises that I had suffered from those bullies from school. The ones who ambushed me outside of my house, beat me up, and sent me back out to Navy Pier that one night with even more determination than ever before to finally put an end to it all.
"No." I said. "I don't fell them at all." Then I craned my neck around to ask, "Do they really look that bad?"
"No." He replied. "I just...I hate the idea of you being hurt. That's all." He gently kissed the back of my shoulder, and spooned himself up behind me as his first yawn of the evening warned me of his impending slumber. "Do you still think about home?"
With a slight hesitation, I said, "Sometimes. But not much." Adding, "I'm almost confused about what 'home' is anymore. Come to think of it...I barely remember my old home at this point. I just know...that I wasn't happy there. I'm much happier here...with you."
All I heard was silence behind me, and then I could feel Taryn's body going cold as the dawn took his love away from me. At least for now. It was only a minute or two before it came for me as well...and then we became 'absent' from the world. Completely absent. Anxiously awaiting the moment when we would be together again...in darkness.
Again...I'm surrounded by a deserted wasteland. Still lost. Without direction. My subconscious was buzzing with even more of a fury than it ever was before...but I simply couldn't figure out what it meant. Why did my own thoughts feel so foreign to me? What have they been trying to tell me over the past few weeks or more?
Realizing that I was lost in another vampire dream, I just reached up to grab the sides of my head and shut my eyes to block everything out. I want to wake up. I don't want to be here. I'm so sick of being so confused. So helpless. Let me out. Please, God...let me out of here!
The storm clouds came rolling in again, this time the lightning flashes were much brighter. The thunder was much louder. And as the wind blew and the barren wasteland beneath my feet began to crack and fracture from my weight...I saw it again. In the sky. Just as I had seen it many times before.
A golden ring. So bright. It almost felt as though it was causing my eyes to BURN this time with its invasive glow. My head hurt. My heart hurt. Something was coming...and I couldn't stop it. I couldn't block it out any longer. It had been hunting me for so long. And it refused to go away. It refused to LEAVE ME ALONE!!!
"Ahhhh!!!" I shouted, an echo spreading out in all directions as I began to feel violent tremors rush through me all at once, from head to toe. A loud hum surrounded me...rattling in my chest so hard that it nearly made my heart beat out of rhythm. And then...all of a sudden...everything STOPPED! All of it. There was only the giant glowing ring in the sky...and the faint sound of the wind as I finally found the courage to open my eyes again.
What was happening to me? Where was this coming from?
I noticed a bit of movement out of the corner of my eye...and cautiously turned my head to see what it was...
Floating in the air, almost as if swimming under the placid surface of a lake...was a single goldfish.
Just one. Floating past my eyes in mid air, barely noticing me at all. Causing me to stare at it for an extended moment before hearing a deep voice coming from over my shoulder.
"So...at long last...you're coming close enough to the nexus to find me, boy."
I was almost too afraid to turn around, but couldn't help myself. I looked behind me to see...the vampire Zero standing there in the middle of my dream.
"Wha...what is this?"
"I wasn't quite certain how many circles I was going to have to send your way before you were alerted to my presence here. But these things can't be rushed. You simply weren't ready to recognize my message yet. You had yet to reach that part of the circle. And now? Here we are." He smiled.
"I...I don't understand." I stammered. "I watched you die..."
"As I told you before, Justin...everything that is a part of you...is a part of me. I didn't anticipate the idea that for a 'hungry' vampire Mimic...such a thing could go both ways." As he stepped forward to approach me, I instinctively took a step or two backward. He was a ghost. I mean, right? "You've been finding your own answers, Justin. More than you may realize. But you haven't fully understood the circles yet, and how they affect you. And how they don't. You forgot to 'forget'...and your inner turmoil is still controlling you. Perhaps it's time for another lesson."
"How are you talking to me right now? How...how is any of this happening?" I asked.
"You forget, Justin...we've already had this conversation." He said with a sinister grin. "We have much to discuss before sunset, young one. Shall we begin?"
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