My heart was beating so hard that it almost felt as though it was going to cramp up on me and stop altogether if I didn't pack up my shit, grab Alec, and get out of that apartment as soon as possible! This looked bad! It looked really REALLY bad!!!
I rushed back into the other bedroom, and I saw that Alec was so tired that he was already drifting back off into a deep sleep. No no no! We've got to go! Like...NOW!
"Alec??? Alec, I need you to wake up, ok?" I said, shaking him violently, all while trying to control my voice to a point where I wouldn't panic him, or get him to start asking me a multitude of questions that I didn't have time to answer of explain right now.
"Mmmmm? Taryn...?" He said groggily. But I just kept shaking him. "Stop..." He whined.
"Look here, soldier. Look at me. Ok?" I said, kneeling down in front of him, and trying to control my nervous jitters long enough to keep him from getting too doubtful. "You and me? We need to go. Like...right now. I'm gonna grab our stuff, and we're going to go back outside."
"It's morning?" He said, his little voice still hazy with mucous before he coughed a few more times to correct it as much as he could.
"It's late morning. Yeah. I need you to put your socks on, ok? Where are your shoes?" He was rubbing his eyes, not quite fully awake yet. "Alec! Your shoes! Where'd you put them?" He lazily pointed over to the corner, over by the radiator where I'm guessing either Sean or Milo placed them so they could dry out and get warm for him. "Ok. Good. Awesome. Get all the way dressed, alright? Super warm!"
"I have to pee..." He said. Dammit! He had NO idea how much trouble we were in right now! Then again, I think that's a good thing.
I grunted to myself, but didn't want to look too frustrated. "Ok. Go pee. Then come right back, ok?"
"M'kay..." He said, and it took him a few seconds to get up on his feet and catch his balance. His hair was a complete mess and he had some slobber on his cheek, but he found a way to wobble his way to the bathroom across the hall while still using both fists to rub his eyes.
In the meanwhile, I was frantically trying to shove his clothes and everything that we had managed to take out of our bags back in so we could make a break for it. I could feel my hands shaking violently the whole time...my unsettled nerves trying to deal with the fact that there were two teen corpses in the other room!
They're dead! Omigod...they're really DEAD!!!
Sean and Milo were soooo nice to us last night! They gave us a place to stay, let us get cleaned up...and now they're gone. What are people going to think once they find out that they died with me and Alec in the house? What is Trevor going to say when he finds his friends cold and stiff like that? Are we going to look like criminals now? We TOTALLY look like criminals now!!!
I heard the toilet flush, and then saw Alec walk back in the room, lightly scratching his head. "I need my toothbrush. It's in my baggie pocket..."
"Alec...we can brush your teeth later. We need to go. Put your socks on. Hurry up."
"Why do I gotta hurry up?" He asked, innocently enough.
"Well, we...we want to get out of here, right? There's only two days left, and then we don't have to be on vacation anymore. That'll be awesome, right? We can go home and welcome Mommy back when she comes home."
"I wanna watch cartoons. They gotta big TV in the sofa room..."
"Alec..." I said, gripping his shoulders. "...Cartoons are for later. Right now, we have to go. We have to grab all of our stuff and go outside."
"We just have to. Now, do as I say! Here's your backpack!" I think Alec could see me struggling to hold my fear back from him, and his brow furrowed slightly as he took a step or two backwards to put some distance between us. "What are you doing? C'mon...take your bag. K?"
"You sound like you're mad at me..." He pouted.
"I'm not mad." I said, working up a fake grin and trying to trick him into trusting me just long enough to get him out of this apartment. "We're gonna go hang out. We're gonna look at all the tall buildings, and we're gonna see the fountain when it starts spraying..." I kept talking while cramming the last few items that I brought with me back in the duffel bag. "It's gonna be a lot of fun. Watch, you'll see." Then I looked down as he wiggled his toes a bit and noticed that he was still barefoot. Be calm, Taryn. Don't get him riled up. "Do you want some help putting your socks on?"
"I can do it myself..." He insisted.
"Really? That's cool. Let me see." I said, moving over to the corner to grab his shoes.
Luckily, Alec didn't make a whole lot of fuss about putting his socks on all by himself, and that allowed me to quickly put his shoes on afterward. And yet...he still could tell that there was something else going on here. "Where's Sean and Milo at?" He asked me.
"They...left early. Get your bag. You got it?"
"They were nice to me. I wanna say goodbye..."
He started to run away towards the other room, but I was fast enough to drop our bags and catch him by the wrist before he went into that bedroom. "They're not here, Alec. We need to go. Ok? We can talk to Sean and Milo later."
"I don't believe you!" He said, pulling away from me.
I just pulled him in and tried to hug him tight around the shoulders, while still pinning his arms down to his side. Please don't fight with me right now, Alec. Please? I can't keep doing this. I don't even know what Mom does to calm him down when he gets like this, but as he squirmed and struggled to get away from me, I just held him tighter and hoped that his little cranky, early morning, tantrum would pass quickly. Ugh...God, give me strength. "We're gonna be ok. You have to trust me, Alec..."
"No! I don't want to! You're a liar! You're trying to trick me!"
"Nobody's trying to trick you!"
"You want me to go back out where it's COLD again!" He grunted defiantly, and his voice clouded up as he began to cough wildly again. This time, it sounded much worse than before. Instead of the boyish cough that he had in the back of his throat...this time, it came from deep within him. A dark, gravely, chest cough. And all I could do was hold him tight and try to keep up some level of optimism that he might be ok when all of this is over and done with. Maybe I could take him to a hospital or a free clinic somewhere in the city. I mean, they'd help him out, right? We only had two more days left to go. We could make it that long, can't we?
Then again, Jason did say that Chuck was looking for us. He's probably going to have our names and our faces everywhere by now. Especially in places like hospitals, shelters, and police stations. Would I be able to trust them? I mean...if I just took Alec somewhere safe, and told everybody about what a menace our stepfather was to us...they'd pretty much have to listen, wouldn't they? Maybe get us some help?
I wish I could believe that. But I didn't. If my own mother didn't believe me...how can I expect a group of strangers mixed up with 'the system' to?
Alec eventually stopped wiggling, and he cried a little bit because he wasn't strong enough to get out of our little tussle on his own. But when I was able to release my hold on him, I looked up into his eyes and wiped away a few his stray tears. "I love you, Alec. You know that, right? I'm trying to take care of you."
"You don't play fair." He pouted. "You never play fair. And I wanna go home."
He was sniffling, his nose and upper lip covered in snot. I took him by the hand and pulled him into the bathroom. I grabbed a few squares of toilet paper and wiped his face clean. "Blow for me..." He did, and the mucus was getting to be thick and slippery now. Flooding the tissue and causing me to get some more. He began coughing again, and when I felt his forehead, he seemed to be burning up. He was chilly enough for his bottom lip to be quivering slightly...but hot enough for beads of sweat to form on his forehead, wetting his hair and causing it to stick to the sides of his face. "Blow again..." I said, and he tried, but he began to cough and wheeze again to the point where the sound of the excess fluid began to rattle around in his chest. Jesus...what am I doing here?
I was so lost. I had no idea what I was doing here. I had no clue as to how I planned to heal him, or make him feel better, or even keep him alive if he got any worse. We were homeless...broke...completely out of options. I can't go back home without Chuck taking advantage of us before my mom came back home. I can't depend on my so-called 'friends' because they found out I was a fag and now they all want to kick my ass. I don't even know if I can go back out there and look for Trevor and his wreckage yard full of misfits to help us...because he brought me to this apartment and two of his closest friends ended up DEAD!
What am I supposed to do? Where do I go? How did I even get to this extreme in the first place? I just...I can't find any way out of this situation!
I wiped Alec's face clean, and used a warm, damp, cloth to hopefully soothe him a bit. I had almost no money left, but it might be enough change to get my little brother a candy bar or something. Maybe the sugar high will give him enough energy to stick with me for just a little bit longer. It won't last long, but we're both living just a couple of minutes at a time right now. Whatever obstacles we may have to face tomorrow...I'll just have to let that be tomorrow's problem.
My biggest worry, though...is getting the fuck out of this 'tomb' of an apartment before we get caught with two dead bodies in the bedroom and no excuse as to what happened or why we were here when it did!
"Come on, Alec. We've gotta go. We'll come back later." I lied. And he didn't much question it. He just grabbed his little backpack, and I made sure to pack the extra blanket that Sean and Milo had given us, and we took off. Even though I looked back in the apartment and felt a touch of sadness for the both of them. They seemed really nice...and they didn't deserve to die in their sleep like that. That's just tragic.
Alec and I made our way back down to the street, and I immediately tried to come up with things to do for him to be entertained for a little while. Nothing too public, though. Just in case law enforcement was on the lookout for two kids matching our description. It's not that Alec was all that hard to keep happy once we found an activity that he enjoyed being a part of...he just didn't like being fooled into believing that he was having fun when he clearly wasn't. With him, you can't just show him something shiny and expect him to get all antsy and overjoyed about it like you can with a majority of four year old boys. It always took a bit of extra finesse to win him over. He wasn't too keen on pretending to have fun for the benefit of anyone else. Even as a baby, I could just tell that he was going to be a handful.
The more Alec coughed, the more it began to worry me. In fact, he was beginning to look a little pale in the face, and his breathing was a bit more abnormal than usual. Occasionally, I'd notice him spitting something out of his mouth onto the sidewalk...and it wasn't just spit. So I would just pat him on the back and hopefully help him with getting it all out of his system. But there were a couple of times when Alec's cough was so bad that he began to gag on it...or maybe gasp to get his breath back. I almost thought that he was going to be sick again, so I kept him away from other pedestrians on the street so he wouldn't suddenly vomit all over them on their way to work, or to school. Luckily, he wasn't that bad off. But that didn't mean that he didn't need help.
Finally, after reaching the downtown area, I felt a surge of desperation wash over me, and I put my hand on Alec's shoulder to guide him into a rather large convenience store on State Street. One with a pharmacy in the back. I definitely wanted Alec to stay close by, as he always had a tendency to wander off...but this time, I took him to the toy aisle and told him, "Stay here for a second, ok? I'll be right back."
"Taryn..." He whimpered helplessly.
"You'll be ok. I'm coming right back. I promise."
"M'kay..." He said, feeling uneasy and starting to cough again. Ugh, that one sounded like it hurt.
I went into one of the aisles, seeking out some cough medicine for him. I was particularly looking for something sweet and sugary that he would hopefully take down without putting up too much of a fuss. They had a lot of children's medicine, but I was starting to think that I might need something a bit more 'adult' to calm whatever it was brewing inside of him. He's my little brother. I can't have him walking around sick. I HATE seeing him sick!
Let's see...suppressant, decongestant, expectorant...I don't know what any of this stuff means. Expectorant? 'Helps to cough up mucus and spit it out'? I think this is the one. I hope I'm right.
I looked at the price, but I can't really say why. I didn't have enough money for anything in this aisle anyway. I just looked both ways, waited for the lady next to me to pick up some cold and flu medicine of her own, and when she walked away, I pretended to drop two or three of the little plastic cough medicine bottles to the floor. And then I put two of them back on the shelf...while sneaking the third bottle into my pocket. There was nobody around to catch me, visually...but it would only be a couple of seconds before store security or some bored manager watching the in store cameras came out to grab us. So I tried to hurry over to the toy section where Alec was standing without making myself look too suspicious, and I saw him playing with a tiny stuffed panda bear.
"Look, Taryn! He's a cute little panda! I'm gonna name him 'Huggles'...'cause he soft!" He said.
"That's great. Now put him back on the shelf. We've gotta go."
"Can I get a panda?"
"No! Alec...come on!"
"But I want a panda!" He was starting to get loud, and it was drawing attention to us. I didn't really have time to argue, so I figured, fuck it! If I get caught and we end up going to jail, there's not much difference between going to jail for a bottle of medicine, and going to jail for a bottle of medicine and a little stuffed panda. Right?
"Shhhh! Just take him. K? Come on. Follow me. Hurry up."
He seemed confused. "Mommy always has to go to the candy counter for stuff..."
"HUSH!!! Come on! MOVE!!!" I whispered aggressively, and we headed for the front door. Immediately, we set off the sensors, and I just had to grab Alec by the hand and RUN at that point! It was almost like I could feel the footsteps of store security chasing behind us, and as hard as he was trying...Alec's little legs couldn't really keep up with how fast I was running. So we had to swiftly turn down one of the alleys and hide behind one of the dumpsters there as I peeked over to the side and saw some of the store clerks and the security guard run past us.
Thank God they didn't see us! I guess we were both a bit too spontaneous for them to get into 'obvious shoplifter' mode and chase us. Had I hesitated just a few seconds longer, we'd probably both be in handcuffs and waiting on the police to show up right now.
I breathed a sigh of relief as Alec clutched his new plush panda friend to his chest and struggled to get his breath back. He started to cough again. A 'wet' cough. And I noticed that he wasn't just holding 'Huggles' to chest for the sake of him being soft and cuddly...but to somehow try to pad the pain of his hacking cough. I could tell by the look on his face that it hurt. It hurt him a lot. And when he really started breathing hard, looking down at the concrete as he began to rock back and forth on his haunches...I got even more terrified about his well being.
There was a certain 'truth' that was suddenly making itself very evident to me. A truth that I tried to avoid, but could no longer deny. This whole clusterfuck of a fiasco...everything about it...was simply beyond my ability to handle it. I was a fourteen year old boy trying to play the odds and do what was right...but I didn't have any kind of precedent when it came to dealing with this level of...well...'life'. I was alone. Out of resources. Lost for ideas, or strategies, or any efficient plan of any kind. And...had it just been me, that would have sucked...but I'd find a way to navigate my way through this and around it and maybe find a better solution to what I was dealing with.
But it wasn't just me...
Little Alec was suffering. He was paying the price for my incompetence...and that wasn't fair. Not to him. Nobody expects him to be able to take care of himself. That's the job of someone with experience...and compassion...and a level of independence that I've never had before. He's suffering because of me.
Because of me...
I can't do this on my own. I tried my best...but everything I touch turns to shit. I need help. Alec needs help. Maybe...he'd be better off...
...If I just surrendered my pride...and took him 'home'. Just like he wanted.
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