“Family quarrels are bitter things. They don't go by any rules. They're not like aches or wounds; they're more like splits in the skin that won't heal because there's not enough material.”
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– F. Scott Fitzgerald
“The world is full of evil because good men sit back and do nothing.”
People told Krissy all the time that she was too worried about the way that she looked, most assumed that she had so little to focus on that she poured it all into making herself beautiful. However, she hated getting ready. The bathroom was small and hot from her recent shower, only made worse by the heat being blown on her head from her blow dryer. Slowly her soggy locks turned into golden silk, framing her pale face with light freckles. Out came the make up kit. Makeup was the worse part of getting ready, but also the most important part so she took her time. No mistake could be made, no blotches, no uneven or caked on make up. Soon she had perfected her face, rather as one would when doing a painting and now it was on display for all.
People say beauty doesn’t matter, they say that it’s all just skin deep and you don’t stay that way forever. People are wrong. Beauty is power, Krissy first discovered this in high school when all her teachers believed she could do no wrong and she quickly became their favorite as well as attracting her peers who were less blessed by the mirror. At that moment she mad a mistake applying her eyeliner and groaned in frustration. Here begins the long process of removing all the eye makeup to redo it, leaving no room for error. The application was a science, not an art and it was the tiny details that made or broke your appearance. People who didn’t even know her took one look and set expectations for her. As if her beauty would excuse any wrongs she committed. The only problem seemed to be getting people to take her seriously beyond her looks but she had more in her head then blonde hair. Perhaps that was her greatest strength: people underestimated her.
Satisfied with her makeup and hair she moved into her bedroom and looked for the perfect dress, even though she found it ridiculous to spend so much money for a label considering her natural blessing. However, Adam liked labels, names were everything to him and he was taking her to dinner so she dressed the part of his high society girlfriend. Does he even know what I do for him? She wondered quietly, sitting on her bed to reflect for a minute. Krissy knew that going there would only put her in a bad mood but really, what else was there? Adam would show up looking and smelling nice but in a generic way and he would expect her to look her part, because she always did. Adam surrounded himself with beautiful things and people and his girlfriend had to be the best. It wasn’t appreciated though, that was Adam’s way. He just expected things and felt thankful for none of them. If she were to go psychoanalysis on him he would have to say because he was a spoiled rich kid who was taught to believe that the world owed him something. Because he acted as if life was a well-scripted movie (starring him) and often got upset is someone missed a line or cue she sometimes seriously doubted if he realized that the world didn’t happen to be revolving around him. One of his less attractive traits was his temper, Adam easily lost his head if things weren’t going his way. These violent outbreaks were few and far between though and usually the inanimate objects were destroyed and he rarely lifted a hand to her. Although there had been times when a bruise would mar her skin and she would (ironically still) use the makeup to cover it.
The sick irony of the situation was that by tomorrow all her hard work that went into her appearance would have to disappear, perfection could never truly last. Buckling her strappy sandals she looked at herself in the mirror, striking a mocking pose. Yes, she could aappreciate the absurdity of many high society rituals. There was time to spare before he arrived so she decided to begin some of her work that was due on Monday. Striding over to where her books and general mess were hidden away as to give the room an elegant appearance she removed her political science book and sat down to get to work.
Not twenty minutes into her thesis she was working on there was a pleasant rapping on the door and she walked forward to open it expecting Adam. Quickly, she plastered a smile on her face and looked expectantly at her guest. However, it wasn’t Adam and she felt her heart leap with joy when she opened the door to see Chris standing there. Chris was her older brother who recently had graduated from the very same college she was attending now. Krissy had always found his life rather glamourous, traveling all over the world, interviewing interesting people, having your words read by millions of people.
She’d confided these feelings in him and he’d laughed at her and said, “You better watch out Tina. You’re beginning to sound like a journalist yourself.”
Unfortunately, that kind of work just wasn’t up her alley. It was too messy with far too little pay and to her that meant it was impossible. She’d spent far to many years living in that dump on Second Street under the thumb of her religiously fanatical mother to pick a career that wouldn’t give her stability.
“Chris!” She exclaimed, throwing her arms around him and laughing, “It’s so good to see you, you have no idea how much I’ve missed you!”
Just then Adam stepped out of the elevator holding a bouquet of roses. Quickly, she disentangled herself from her brother, knowing that Adam liked to feel as if he was the only person she cared about in her life. Christopher made a face when he saw Adam and whispered to her, “You’re still seeing that guy?”
“Shh!” She hissed frantically, hitting his arm before walking over to her boyfriend and planting a kiss on his cheek.
“Hello Kristina.” Kristina, no pet name, not even Krissy which meant he must be angry, “Christopher.”
“Adam.” Responded her brother with a sneer of distaste, they’d never liked each other. Sensing the danger Krissy took his arm and began to tug him toward the elevators, calling over her shoulder, “I’ll talk to you later.”
Once outside Adam was already complaining angrily about when had happened inside, “Unbelievable. You know, your brother acts awfully holier-than-thou for a lowly reporter.” Swiftly he placed a kick to the side of his expensive car.
“Sweety,” she pleaded softly, “please don’t let this ruin our evening. He’s my brother, he’s not going anywhere. We’ll just have to deal with him.”
“I know,” he said with a heavy sigh, leaning forward to give her a kiss and effectively smearing her lipstick that she had so carefully applied. They got into his car and talked lightly about school until they pulled into the parking lot of an expensive restaurant. These places always made her uneasy but ever since she started seeing Adam she had learned how to make herself blend in and look like she actually belonged.
At their table they ordered wine and looked over the menus, Krissy thinking all the while that her mother would kill her if she knew she was allowing this sort of money to be spent on her. Quietly, he got down on his knees and looked into her wide eyes, “Krissy, will you marry me?”
No more then three months later were they at a large social affair, exchanging their vows. It was the happiest day of Krissy’s life, she was finally getting what she wanted. To love someone and be loved in return.
Kristina Anderson glared at her brother who responded with a cheeky grin on his face. She was well aware that she had dragged him out of bed in the middle of the night to take her to the hospital but that wasn’t the point and she was in no position for anyone to expect logical reasoning from her. There had been no excitement about the impending birth even before this pain filled night. First off, Adam was not at all happy about her having this child because he liked the freedom they had previously enjoyed. Tears still sprang to her eyes when she thought of the horrid argument they had gotten into over it which had ended in him striking her across the face.
It had been years since she’d seen her brother (outside of catching a glimpse of him on the television news programs) and these weren’t idea circumstances for them to see each other again. In truth, ever since her marriage to Adam, the two of them had grown apart, their relationship had become almost non-existent. Usually on her good days he bugged her but today he was simply unbearable. At the moment, as another contraction overcame her, she wished nothing more then to go back in time and stop herself from ever going through with this.
“What do you suppose they do with this?” Chris asked, holding up a contraption he had gotten from the drawer next to him and eyeing it suspiciously.
“I don’t know Christopher!” She ground out angrily as another contraction overcame her. Having no one else to vent her anger on she shouted at him, “Will you please sit down and shut up?”
Sheepishly, he allowed his hand to fall to his side and smiled slightly at her, “Are you alright Tina?”
Wondering if he was doing this just to antagonize her she shouted, “Don’t call me that!”
Just then a nurse popped her head in and glared at Chris, “Sir? Could you please be helpful if you are going to stay in here?”
Crooking an eyebrow at her he said snidely, “Breath?”
Although she glared at Chris for his tone she said kindly to Krissy, “Yes dear, breath.” She demonstrated the breathing technique and he patient grudgingly did it with her, “The contractions are getting closer together, you’ll be taken in soon Sir, if you could please go into the waiting room.”
Krissy was relieved to be rid of him and honestly, Chris didn’t seem all that disappointed either.
He’d been surprised when he got a call in the middle of the night from his estranged sister to take her to the hospital for the delivery of her first child. He’d been in bed with his partner too, all he needed was for Alex to find out about his freakish family. His mother in the mental institution and his sister who had a jerk for a husband but was too blind to acknowledge it. Of course he obliged to take her, unable to leave anyone alone in a situation like that, but he felt out of place with her here. It seemed like a long time he spent waiting in the expectant father’s lounge before the nurse came in and announced that he had a newborn nephew. Just then, Adam stepped through the hospital doors and seemed surprised to see his brother-in-law.
“Mr. Anderson!” Greeted the nurse, “You have a son.”
He beamed happily at the news of getting a boy and nodded his thanks to the nurse. “Would you like to see him?”
“Yes, thank you,” said Adam, walking into Krissy’s room where she was holding a small baby in her arms.
He took him from her and looked as though he felt awkward holding him. As if the baby could somehow sense this, it began to squirm and whine softly. This only made Adam look more nervous.
“Try soothing him,” suggested Chris.
“I...here! Take him!”
“Do you mind Krissy?” He asked quietly, in awe of the little life his sister had produced. At first she looked like she was going to protest but then she saw his expression and his sincerity and simply nodded.
Adam deposited the baby in Chris’ arms and stepped away from them. He plunged into even greater awe when the baby reached one small, wrinkly hand towards him while cooing. As he held the baby close he felt bonded to the little boy and that was the first time Chris found himself wrapped around his nephew’s little finger.
“What name did you decide on?” Questioned Chris, looking at the child reverently.
“Thomas Samson Anderson,” Adam informed him.
“Well, little Tommy, welcome to the world,” he said quietly.
Ellen Coursent frowned down at the couch she had been straightening with a critical eye for her own work. Most acceptable. She was a woman who strived on order and peace, running things smoothly even when life’s odd and ironic sense of humor reared it’s head. That wasn’t often though, it seemed that even fate would not dare to cross the woman. Indeed it seemed that in her presence women straightened their posture, men remembered their manners, and children became calm and silent. Even mud puddles seemed to lose their appeal to children because there were no dirty finger nails on her watch.
Having worked for Adam Anderson and his wife Christina for several years and now had a routine down, not to be interrupted by anything or anyone. Master Anderson was often at work, adding to his already substantial fortune. Often he only dragged himself in for dinner and once in a while to spend a leisurely afternoon around the house. She had always seen him as a fairly good man. An honest business man who worked hard for his money, the last of a dying breed. Obviously this put stress on the man and he could sometimes forget to adhere to his kinder inclinations. Some were put off by his chilly demeanor and quick temper but in her opinion it was much better then the false friendliness which seemed to replace the personality of many people.
Christina did not work, and it was hard to imagine the woman doing manual labor or even performing tedious tasks behind a desk in a comfortable office. There were a lot of beautiful women in the world with great looks and minor flaws which merely made them all the more endearing. Flaws, however endearing, were not acceptable to Mrs. Anderson. Stern looking with dusty brown hair pulled back at the nape of her neck and roughly shaded skin, Ellen was no expert on beauty. However, she had worked long enough in a world where beauty was power as far as women were concerned to make a fair judgment.
Perfection is divine, not something to be achieved by mortals and often when we attempt to reach perfection it’s results are disastrous. This did not stop some people from trying. Chrissy was a delicate woman with incredibly pale skin without a single scar or discoloration to show. This combined with her natural light blonde hair and regal, aloof manner only contributed to her ethereal appearance. Mrs. Anderson’s eyes were by far her most becoming feature. An icy blue color, they were beautiful but cold and unemotional, just like her. Her days were spent primping herself and floating between lunch parties and high-scale shops. No one expected much else. In conversation she was soft spoken, her voice not betraying her appearance. Perfectly honed manners but spoken in clipped tones.
Now tending to the window, which served as a picture frame to the garden which inspired so much pleasure and envy among their neighbors she reflected on the woman who was her employer. Like many wives of high society men she was quiet and yet held an authority over her husband and home. Often she could sway those who were not moved by her husband’s plentiful, but often rugged charm. The woman cared very little for the people around her and only took pleasure in climbing to a higher social status and standing by her husband’s beliefs that they were above others. Never mind the fact that those beliefs kept her from doing anything worthwhile or using her potential.
Another hobby of Mrs. Anderson’s was primping her little girl, turning her into a miniature version of herself. Ellen allowed a pitying sigh as she ran the vacuum cleaner, the girl didn’t stand a chance. Christina had already planned out the little girl’s entire life. Alexis was an unsettling little girl, like a little porcelain doll for her mother’s enjoyment. Thomas, their little boy, was much more endeared to Ellen. Like most eight-year-old boys he was loud and had a vivid imagination. Usually she would scold this type of behavior in a child. Not with him though. The boy got to have so little fun in his life and his father was so stern with him. Privately Ellen thought that Adam did not understand that Tom was a real person and not just a possession of his to be thrown aside when it became too troublesome. However, it was not her place to say.
Thinking of the Anderson’s eldest child, she straightened up and listened carefully. There wasn’t a single noise in the entire house. This both pleased and worried Ellen. Usually when she didn’t see or hear the boy making trouble it merely meant she hadn’t caught him yet. Of course she didn’t need to worry about his younger sister who was horrified at the idea of defying her parents. Tom by his very nature was a mischievous boy and could not seem to obey his parent’s strict rules. Just as she was about to venture to the upper floors in order to find the boy the doorbell rang with the obscene length of someone holding down the button.
Scowling and wondering who on earth had the gall to come uninvited and in such a rude manner to the Anderson Mansion, she walked to the front door determined to lecture the intruder.
Christopher leaned back against the seat, resting his feet on the head rest of the seat in front of him. The cab driver was shooting him a death glare in the rearview mirror. To this he hitched his chin and gave the man a winning smile which seemed completely lost on the surly cab driver. Oh, well. He was in an exceptionally good mood. Returning from a successful job over in France, on his way to visit his brother and his kids, and for the first time in months his shirt was completely dry. Life was good. It had been a weird past few months as he’d been doing a human interest story on all the conflicts between race over there. He’d never imagined such hatred between people to go so unnoticed as if it were just another part of life.
Every time he came here he couldn’t help but be surprised by the house. It was large on an unnecessary scale and the architect had spent an uncanny amount of attention to detail. Although he did not have even a fraction of his sister’s wealth (journalists rarely did their work for the money but the glory . . . or the potential glory anyway) he had never envied their lifestyle. To him, his work was much more fulfilling then office work could ever be. Then again, on the rare occasion that he had downtime, if Krissy didn’t mind having a guest, he could allow himself to stay in the lapse of luxury for a few days.
Paying the cab driver in an overly cheerful manner and with a cheeky grin only caused the man to scowl and peel out of the driveway. Friendly, Chris thought sardonically. Chris jogged up the stairs and held his finger down on the bell, waiting for a response within. Abruptly the door swung open to reveal a stern looking woman who was looking at him as though he had just confessed to kicking puppies. Suddenly self-conscious he quickly dropped his hand away from the bell and ran it through his messy hair. His confidence did not evade him however, and he breezed into the foyer with an easy smile.
“Can I help you, sir?” her words were polite but her tone was sharp and suspicious.
“Yes, I believe you can. I’ll be visiting my sister the next few days.” He dropped his suitcase to the floor pointedly.
She looked at him with apparent distaste and then said slowly, “Does Mr. Anderson know you’re coming?”
“Nah.“He said, flopping down on the stairs and removing his boots, “But hey, it’s always a good time to have family around.”
The woman looked like she wanted nothing more then to not only expel him from the house but to the far reaches of the planet. Instead she made a defiant lift of the head and commented in the snidest voice she could, “Very well. May I get you something? A shower perhaps?”
Christopher was prepared to answer in an equally snide manner when he caught sight of a shock of black hair and a pair of shy brown eyes peering down at him from higher on the steps. His eyes lit up at the sight of his nephew, perhaps the best part of visiting his brother was the kids. “Tom! I’ve just returned all the way from France and THIS is the welcome back I receive,”
The little boy’s entire face brightened and he jumped down the last few steps into the foyer, “Uncle Chris!”
Chris laughed and lifted him into the air, spinning him around, “I missed you kiddo, did you miss me?”
Nodding vigorously the little boy clung to his uncle and Chris couldn’t help but chuckle. Tom had always had him wrapped around his little finger, “Yeah, I missed you. Did you do anything exciting?”
Chris smiled, his nephew was a great audience for all of his stories, “I did, I did. I met a group of people who are doing something extremely brave, something that few people ever try to do. Change the minds of people stuck in their ways. I lived with them in a camp for a while.”
“Wow,” Tom breathed, “You know, I’ve been having adventures of my own!”
With a laugh he sat his nephew down. Chris was both pleased and amused with the little boy’s imagination, “Great, once I get settled in you can tell me about it and I will tell you all about France.”
Suddenly a soft voice sounded from the doorway, “Mother says you ought not to be filling his head with that nonsense. That Tom is going to stay put like sensible people.”
Although spoken in a haughty tone it had the style of a child, she stumbled over several of the obviously quoted words. After growing up with his brother Adam, he was not offended easily. Besides, he could always manage to charm the little girl even though she was not as fond of him as Tom.
“Lexi,”he greeted, “they told me a lot of fables from their homelands. All sorts of fables involving mythical creatures. I bet you would like those later tonight.”
Although she tried to keep a disapproving expression, he could see the interest spark in her eyes. Suddenly the woman who had first seen him in cleared her throat and he could swear she was looking at him a little more warmly than she had been. “Sir, I’ll take your things up to your room. It will be the guests’ bedroom on the second floor, at the end of the hall, and on your left.” With that she grabbed his bigger suitcase and swept out of the room.
They always come around, he thought boastfully. Looking down at his nephew with every intention of getting another goofy smile out of him Chris noticed something he hadn’t noticed before. Overlooked in his excitement to see his nephew was a shiner set against the boy’s pale cheek. Frowning, he bent on one knee to examine the damage. Seeing what his uncle was looking at, Tom pulled away ever so slightly but Chris already had a firm hold on his shoulder.
“What happened here, Tom?” He forced a light tone but was terrified he already knew the answer.
However, his nephew did not answer because he was staring determinedly at anything but Chris. It was Alexis who responded, “He was bad.”
Tom dropped his eyes not in anger but in embarrassment and admission to the fact. Chris felt a little anger flare inside of him because this only supported his suspicion of what had happened. He knew his brother-in-law could have a temper but . . . Tom was just a little boy. Quietly he asked, “Did your father do this?”
Tom’s lip quivered ever so slightly but when the boy looked up at him he was dry eyed, “I deserved it.”
That anger grew stronger, “No buddy, you didn’t.”
The little boy simply shook his head at him which drew a long-suffering sigh out of Christopher. He’d always been protective of this particular little one but wasn’t sure what to do for him. Cautiously he peered down at the little boy’s back and saw only more bruises. Well, that settled it, I’ll try to talk to Adam, he decided even though he was already cringing at the idea. Ruffling Tom’s hair he smiled sadly down at him.
Using the same light tone he had before he declared, “Well I’m going to go unpack and once I do that, I’ll tell you both a tale you wont soon forget.”
The smile returned and even Alexis grinned up at him. They ran off up the stairs and he threw his duffel bag over his shoulder with a weary sigh. Helping strangers was so much easier than helping your family.
“It was amazing, really. They are trying to claim that these people are less than they are and yet in their exile they have proven that they are certainly equals! Anyway the situation in the city has become so bad that these people have set up little makeshift towns. Now mind you the people living in them are very different, and yet they get along perfectly well in their shared hardship. The world could really learn a lot from them. They all work together to meet the needs of their family and neighbors, everything they do is a group effort. Yet they still make time to have fun, they have a festival every month that celebrates their heritage.”
“Well maybe that’s the problem.” Alexis stated, a frown gracing her delicate features, almost identical to her mother’s save for darker eyes, “Why can’t they just go along with what the government is asking them to do?”
Rather saddened by the little girl’s opinion of the people he had observed for his cover story, Chris got ready to explain it to her. However, Tom beat him to it, “They shouldn’t have to change who they are just to end the conflict they are having with their government! They should be proud of who they are. Those people, they’re right to be defiant, aren’t they Uncle Chris?”
Alexis merely glared at her brother but Christopher was beaming at his nephew. Secretly, Tom had always been his favorite. Affectionately he ruffled the boy’s black hair and resumed his story, “Anyway, the amount of spirit these people have even with all of their problems is–“
”Filling their heads with your nonsense, I see.” The tone was polite but filled with cold fire.
Blanching but forcing a smile on his face, he turned to his sister. The thing was that this woman would never be outright rude and yet always managed to bring him down. “Kristina, great to see you again. I just thought the children would enjoy hearing about my latest travels.”
“Christopher, if you want to run around writing about freaks and madmen in the name of American journalism that is your business. However, I will ask you not to poison my children’s minds with it.” Her nose hitched up ever so slightly as she gazed over him, “And you should know better Thomas, your sister is just a little girl and you should want to protect your little sister. You know how your father and I feel about your uncle’s . . . exploits.”
If looks could kill Krissy would have been dead and buried. However, Chris was forced to soften his gaze as he looked over at his niece and nephew. Alexis had already scooted herself off the couch in a very ladylike manner. Tom also stood up and muttered an apology under his breath as he moved past his mom. With one last pointed look over her shoulder she left the room. Defeated he laid down on the couch and settled in for the duration.
Eventually he’d began working on his actual article, which was probably a good idea considering the looming deadline. Just as he was getting into it there was a polite rap on the door to his room. Resisting the desire to tell them to go away he hollered, “Come in!”
As severe looking as ever, there stood the woman who had opened the door for him earlier that day. She was still frowning in a disapproving way but the look had lost a lot of it’s bite. Whether it was because he had just been confronted by his angry sister-in-law so he was immune or because she genuinely felt less ill-will towards him he did not know.
“Sir, dinner will be served in fifteen minutes and Mr. Anderson wishes for you to join them,” she informed him.
“Thanks, I’ll make my way down.”
“I am Ellen Coursent by the way.” she said in a way that was almost friendly, “I am head of staff for the servants.”
“Pleased to meet you.” he said, feeling oddly compelled to make a good first...well, second impression. “I am Christopher Thompson.”
With a curt nod she turned to leave but then paused to call over her shoulder, “By the way, we like to use our indoor voices, so the next time someone knocks on your door you do not need to scream.”
Christopher just shook his head.
Until this point he’d felt energized, still feeling the euphoria from arriving home to see his family after such a long absence. Exhaustion set in quickly and he felt himself settling into a stupor on the couch watching t.v. and by the time he glanced at the clock it was five minutes past the time he was expected in the dining room and he hadn’t even had the opportunity to clean up. Rushing, he stumbled into the dining room to be greeted by two cold glares from the adults at the table.
“It’s rude to keep others waiting.” Adam looked the same as ever. Tall with imperfectly handsome features. Pales skin and dark hair and a pair of dark eyes. Sometimes it spooked him that his brother had a perfect family; two children (a boy and a girl) who mirrored their parents appearances.
“Well Adam, it is rude to leave a guest unattended to after a long trip,” he said breezily, flopping down on one of the stiff-backed dining chairs.
As always the food and conversation were pleasant. Chris tried to observe his brother-in-law and nephew without being to obvious about it. Adam kept trying to draw the boy into conversation but Tom spent most of the time staring fixedly at his plate. After supper Ellen hustled the children off to get ready for bed, Christina excused herself to her chambers, and Chris was left to go to the living room with his brother. Things had relaxed in the dining room and the conversation had become both lively and friendly. Currently Adam’s face had an unguarded appearance and Chris desperately wondered how he could keep it like that while bringing up the subject he needed to.
“So...”he said slowly, chastising himself in his mind for his lack of tact, “the kids are growing up pretty fast.”
“Yeah, quite the handful.” Adam commented.
“I’ll bet.” I’m going in, he informed whatever powers resided over family conflict, hoping they were in his favor, “Listen, when I was talking to Tom earlier I noticed that there was a bruise on his cheek, what happened?”
He’s hoped that by not making an accusations he would be able to keep things relaxed but he had no such luck. Most casual observers would not have noticed the subtle change in Adam. However, Chris had known this man for a while and it was his job to observe people and the defensive posture Adam took was not lost on him. It was through clenched teeth that Adam explained, “He fell. The boy has such a sense of adventure and yet he is so clumsy. It happens.”
This was not going the way he had hoped it would. Well how did you expect it to go? he scolded himself. No turning back now, “Really? Because there are bruises on his back too. If Tom wasn’t such an even tempered boy I would be inclined to think he got in a fight.”
As gutsy as he may be, he would not be the one to bring the conversation around to what he suspected of Tom’s injuries. Indeed, it didn’t look like he would have to because Adam seemed to catch on. Eyes dangerously narrowed the man ground out, “What, exactly, are you implying?”
You’re going to make me say it aren’t you? He thought vehemently. Cautiously he said, “Sometimes parents make mistakes in how they choose to discipline their children–“
”How I discipline my children is none of your business.” Adam said sharply. “I will ask you to stay out of my family’s affairs if you are going to stay here.”
“Last time I checked I was a part of that family!” Caution was thrown to the wind as anger took it’s place. Trying to reign it in he walked over to him and put one hand on his shoulder, “I’m worried! What’s going on?”
He’d tried to soften his expression and his voice but Adam still didn’t respond well to him. “My family is no concern of yours and I think you should treat the person who is letting you stay in their home with a little more respect. If you have a problem with the way I run my household then you can leave.”
With that he freed himself from Chris’ grasp and turned to leave the room. Chris desperately wanted to go after him and talk to him about what was going on here. In a way though his Adam was right, it was none of his business. It wasn’t like there was anything he could do. So as much as it killed him he turned a blind eye.
Selena pouted and roughly kicked aside his sister’s toys. Alexis protested quietly from where she was seated beside him and Tom glared at his older cousin. She complains about not being able to sit at the ‘adult table’ and yet she is throwing a fit like a five year old, Tom thought wryly. They were seated together in Alexis’ large bedroom where they were supposed to be entertaining their cousin for the evening. Not a task that Tom particuarly enjoyed and he had informed his father of this fact a few weeks ago when he’d first announced the party.. Realizing his mistake he had quickly said that he would watch after his cousin on that night. Unfortunately, it had been too late and he had received a punishment for talking back to his parents. Tom winced at the memory and tenderly touched his arm that he had only a few days ago gotten a cast off from.
Snapping back to the present he turned to his cousin, “Selena, it’s not a big deal. Why do you want to sit up there to begin with? Dinner with us will be more fun.”
However, she was not to be abated, “But I shouldn’t have to sit at the children’s table! I can understand why the two of you have to sit there, but I behave myself.”
Despite himself this statement annoyed him. Although he tried to write the emotion off as him just being annoyed at his cousin’s immaturity, Tom knew it hit just a little too close to home. Why was it that no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t live up to his parent’s expectations of his behavior? His father was constantly having to punish him for the things he did wrong.
Angry (even though that anger may be a little misdirected) he snapped, “Well maybe if you’d stop being such a baby they’d let you sit at the table. Oh, and Selena? You’re only on year older then me and three years older then Lexi so stop trying to act wise beyond your years.”
Jutting her chin out, Selena’s eyes flashed, “Tom, I’m going to tell your mother exactly how rude you’re being to me.”
As she stormed out of the room she stepped on some of Lexi’s dolls, causing his sister to whimper.
Sensing the onslaught of tears to come he was quick to soothe her, “Ignore he Lexi. She isn’t worth your tears. I’ll tell you what, maybe later we can play once everyone leaves. Any game you want.”
Grinning, all her tears were gone. Although a couple of years younger then him he really enjoyed his sister’s company. However, the smile became much more refined when their mother appeared at the doorway. Besides the slight flush to her cheeks, there was no indication of her anger. Well besides her voice which was extremely sharp, “Tom, Selena has never done anything to you–“
”–her existence is enough.” Tom muttered under his breath.
Mother carefully ignored the comment and simply continued with her speech that she’d given him many times before, “–so there is no reason for you to be mean to her. I appreciate your patience with your cousin.”
“As if I have any.” he said coldly.
“Behave.” Krissy ordered, once again using her selective hearing. With this she spun on her heel and marched out of the room. Smirking, Selena leaned against the doorframe. Tom narrowed his eyes ever so slightly and vowed to get back at her for purposely trying to get him in trouble. Truth be told, the two of them had never really gotten along with each other. Still, Tom had never been one to hold a grudge. Which in this situation was unfair because Selena carried her grudges like war scars.
Christmas was one of Tom’s favorite times of the year. Everyone was in such a good mood on the holiday and it was one of the few times he actually felt in tune with his family. That was the actual day though, these parties beforehand were endlessly boring, a parade of distant relatives. Showing off, bragging and insults cloaked as compliments were the order of the day.
“You know,” he said with a mischievous look on his face that made Lexi look cautious and made Selena look excited, “everyone is down in the dining room. We could sneak out in the snow and have a bit of fun.”
Earlier quarrels forgotten, Selena jumped to her feet, “Tom, we could make our way down to the woods just down the road from your house.”
It was his turn to hesitate now, it did sound like fun. However, it was one thing to simply go outside, but going in the woods and possibly getting their clothes dirty or being late to their parent’s biggest party of the year was asking for trouble. Lexi was tugging on his arm, trying to get him to sit down. Selena let a sneer cross her face which looked odd on her sweet features, “Aw, is little Tommy afraid to go out into the big bad woods.”
Well that certainly settled it then, “No of course not. Let’s go.”
“Tom,” whined Lexi.
He sighed and turned to his little sister, “You don’t have to go Alexis. Just stay up here and we’ll be back in time for dinner.”
Looking like she wanted to say no, she simply sat down with one of her dolls.
“Ready?” Selena asked with her hands on her hips and head tilted to one side, sending cascades of light brown hair down her shoulders.
“Always.” he said as they took off down the stairs.
For all their fighting and the clashing of their personalities, in a way she was his favorite cousin. Sometimes it was hard to remember this when she got on his nerves, true. However, Selena would always remind him and then he would wonder how he had forgotten to begin with. Now was one of those times that instead of clashing, their personalities completed each other. To them the woods were a place of excitement and adventure. They were old enough that the darkness did not spook them and yet young enough to still see the enchantment within.
Running over the uneven ground and laughing wildly they soon lost all track of time. Both of the children had a taste for story telling and what had started as a simple imaginary game soon became an elaborate fantasy. Exhausted, with shipwrecks and sirens still floating around in their heads, they collapsed on a rock while trying to catch their breath. Tom then noticed that it had begun to get dark out. His stomach jumped; they had forgotten all about the party!
The two of them ran from the woods, although Selena got tangled by her skirt in the underbrush and Tom had to go back and help her. Rather in a futile effort, he tried to brush off his now dirty pants and rub his mud caked shoes off on the grass. Oh well, he thought, feeling a bit optimistic, Maybe I can manage to slip upstairs and change before they had to join them for dinner.
They weren’t that lucky. The adults were already waiting for them when they slipped through the kitchen door. Having said that Selena could be at times his favorite cousin, she could also be rather wicked. As they had made a truce earlier and spent hours enjoying each other’s company, they could also fight fiercely.
The minute they stepped into the warm room smelling of that night’s dinner a sharp voice said, “Where were you two?”
Tom looked up at his father whose eyes glowed with anger as he took in the two kids’ disheveled appearances. Over his shoulder appeared my mother’s sister and her husband. Upon seeing her parent’s arrive Selena’s entire demeanor changed. Instead of looking wild and free she suddenly became put together, although to Tom’s eyes it seemed rather fake.
“Selena! What happened?” her mother shrieked incredulously, a slight red tinging her cheeks.
For a moment Selena looked at me, eyes as close to an apology as they would ever get. Nevertheless, she turned away from me and said in a firm voice that held no hint of a lie, “I stepped outside for a breath of fresh air and when I got out there I saw Tom standing by the woods. I thought it best I go fetch him but he wouldn’t listen to me.”
All I could do was stare at her. Yes, Selena could sink rather low sometimes but he had never thought she would do something like this. Parents fussing, they tried to brush off Selena’s dress and remove the twigs from her hair. Suddenly his father grabbed his shoulder and dragged him off towards the stairs, “Tom go upstairs. I’ll come deal with you later.”
“Dad–.” he began to protest, only to be cut off.
“No. Go on.” it was a quiet but firm and threatening tone.
Nodding he made his way numbly up the stairs to his room. It was awful waiting for him to come upstairs. Tom wondered if his father would give him a chance to explain but seriously doubted it. Finally, the door opened and his father looked darkly down at his son. Even though he knew from experience that it wouldn’t work Tom tried to plead his case, “Let me explain, I was in Alexis’ room and then–.”
“I don’t want to hear it.” he snapped coldly, with a resounding smack to his son’s face causing Tom to accept his fate, “Turn around and drop your pants. ”
Doing so without bothering to complain he stood there on trembling legs and waiting for it to come. Wincing he wished he could have kept his pants, giving his skin a little protection. Even though he’d been expecting it he couldn’t help but cry out when the belt first hit him. Quietly he tried to calm himself, his father did not do well with fussing and tears so it was best just to bear with it. He must be really angry, Tom thought desperately,usually he could handle it but the blows were coming at full force everywhere from his back to his upper legs. Eventually his father left the room and he pulled up his pants, wincing at the pain on the sensitive skin. Tom collapsed on his bed, lying on his stomach.
God, I’m so weak, he thought angrily, I can’t even take my punishment without feeling
bad for myself. Backside burning he lay on the bed blinking back tears and cursing Selena. Well, that’s not really fair now is it, a voice whispered in his head, you knew full well what would happen if you went out there with her. You knew what you were risking.
There was a soft knock on the door and Tom thought for a moment that his father had returned and tensed. Then it occurred to him that it probably wasn’t, his father usually didn’t knock before entering. Realizing instantly who it was at the door he tried to sit up and act normal but it was too painful so he settled for laying on his side, giving his back the relief it needed. “Come in.”
Uncle Chris cracked open the door and peered in at him through the door. Doing his best to muster a big smile Tom gestured for his uncle to come all the way into the room. He always tried to look happy because the idea of his uncle worrying about him bothered him. Chris was just naturally nice and wanted his family to be happy, but Tome didn’t deserve his concern. Sitting on the bed his uncle said, “Hey buddy, how are you doing?”
“Fine. Why aren’t you down at the Christmas party Uncle Chris?” Tom asked in a light voice.
“Well...” he said slowly, fiddling with the comforter. Not too surprisingly he saw through the eight-year-old’s efforts to change the subject, “I saw you and Selena getting in trouble and I realized I haven’t wished you a proper Christmas.”
“Thank you,” he said in a tone that was far too formal for Chris’ taste.
“Tom, can I see what he did?” he asked softly, hesitantly.
“It’s not that bad.”
“Still let me see.” With a resigned sigh he turned around and allowed Chris to lift his shirt and look at the damage. His cheeks burned with embarrassment as his uncle silently observed the injury. More then anything he wants to be alone, for some reason it bother him that his uncle knew what happened. “I’ll be right back.”
Sure enough, Chris only left for a few minutes before returning with some cream. “I’m sorry this happened.” He rubbed the cream into the stinging skin, At this point Tom was about ready to burst into tears, it was weird how whenever an adult was nice to him it made him want to cry.
So much for the season of love and joy.
For the first time since he was born, Christmas morning seemed dampened and he did not awaken before everyone else in his childish anticipation of the holiday. A small hand wrapped around his arm and shook him gently but constantly until he opened his eyes to see his little sister standing by his bed. Seeing her made him feel a little better because she was glowing with excitement and for once actually looked like a child instead of a miniature adult. This morning his back was feeling a little better and he could only hope that his dad wasn’t still angry at him. Bouncing up and down Lexi looked at him expectantly.
“Go downstairs for breakfast and I’ll be down in a second.” he ordered her. Pouting slightly, the little ball of energy bounced from his room.
Tiredly, Tom swung his feet onto his carpeted floor and mad his way over to his dresser. Changing into jeans, he tentatively peered at him back which was red and one welt had formed in his mid back. Carefully he tried to put on his T-shirt without irritating the skin on his back. Running a brush through his hair he left his room and set off for the kitchen, because they never ate Christmas breakfast in the dining room. Things were much more relaxed on this day because it was just an event for Alexis, Tom, and their parents with no one to impress. Even if things weren’t as demanding as normal there was still a certain image they were expected to maintain and being neatly dressed was one of them. Of course, Alexis would probably dress up anyways as would his mother. Blonde hair pulled back into matching braids, a green dress, and white tights were his sister’s festive clothing. On the other hand his mother was wearing her impossibly long locks down and was dressed in a light blue dress, a perfect ice queen. Meanwhile his dad was wearing what he always did; a leisure suit, nothing to indicate that this was a festive day.
As quietly as possible he made his way up to the table and took his place where a plate and silverware were already set out, no doubt by Mrs. Coursent. After a moment of staring at his plate he dared to raise his eyes to look at his father who was shakily taking a drink of water, he smiled tentatively over at his son. He didn’t look angry so Tom allowed himself to relax a little bit and forced a smile in return. Now that everyone had come to the table he went to call Ellen to bring in the food, as he walked past Tom he put his hand gently on the boy’s shoulder and he felt a little warmth spread through his core. Finally he allowed himself to relax all the way and gave his dad a genuine smile. It wasn’t fair to hold a grudge against him; after all he was the one who’d acted up, right? As if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders Adam beamed down at him and ruffled his hair as Ellen heaped breakfast onto their plates.
Chrissy and Adam talk about family members they had seen the previous night. Gossip about their children and their spouses and whether or not someone was succeeding or failing in life. Comparing themselves to those who had attended, his father to their business and his mother compared herself to the women who had attended. Boring adult stuff. Alexis and Tom quickly began their own conversation about things that were much more important. How to best spend the last week of winter vacation, what they believed awaited them under the Christmas tree, and whether or not there would be another snow day that year. Even Lexi, who insisted on picking daintily at her food finished before their parents and both children were fidgeting to get into the other room.
Although as excited as any child would be on the holiday it was in bad taste to run wild so it was with a certain amount of dignity that they moved into the next room. Ellen smiled kindly at the children as she prepared to hand out the gifts. When they entered the room his dad made a gesture for Tom to come sit next to him and he was all to happy to oblige. Draping his arm over his son’s shoulder the young boy leaned against his father in a way he had not done since he was a much younger child. Suddenly he felt secure in the hope that last night would be the last of his punishments and that he could learn to please his father. It was a hope he’d felt many times in the past after a punishment when his father would get overly affectionate with him and it was a hope he would hold many times in the future.
Each time that hope would prove false....
It was comforting. The tedious action of filing her nail, the unpleasant sound it made, the feel of the nail being filed away, and the perfection of yet another part of her. It may seem to many people ludicrous to be doing such a thing in he current situation, but those people were hypocrites. Everyone had their defense mechanisms and hers was to perfect one of the few things she could control and bring close to perfection. Also it gives Chrissy something to do, something to focus on while her family falls down around her. When he was very young her eldest son may have tried to get her to help him, be on his side in the argument. However, being slightly older and wiser, the boy knew she would not come to his aid. It was sad, but true and there was no point in shielding him from this fact. It was her duty as a wife to stand by Adam’s side.
Ah, and your duty as a mother to protect your child, a nasty voice muttered in the back of her mind. To this she could think of no response except, Oh, shut up.
“Worthless trash! I wish you’d never been born!” Screamed Adam, clearly in one of his rages.
“That makes two of us! Go to Hell,” shouted Tom back, gone was the meek little boy trying to please his father and in his place was a boy who was independent to the point of being frightening.
Smack. The sound of skin against skin, over and over again. It happened until Krissy wanted to scream and run down there and shout for her husband to get his hands off her only son. Quiet as a mouse, she slipped into the hallway and made her way to the steps where she could hear the sounds of a struggle going on down below. Slowly, she turned her back to the steps and slipped into her daughter’s room where she found the little girl staring fearfully at the door as though she expected someone to come bursting through any moment. Krissy put on some music and walked over to the girl with a slight smile gracing her lips. “Hey, baby.”
Gently, she began to brush out the girl’s long strands of hair and blocked out the outside world.
Tom winced in pain as he landed down on his side and let out a groan. However, he refused to back down because he had already done that so often over the past years. His father didn’t seem like he was likely to back down anytime soon either. Suddenly, a kick was landed on his stomach and he let out a loud shout of protest. Suddenly, a hand was entangled in his hair and dragging him to his feet. “Go to your room Thomas or you’ll be looking at the worst beating of your life.”
Suddenly, a shudder ran through Tom. He didn’t want to enrage his father to a point that would land him in the emergency room. Glaring at the man hatefully he pulled his head out of his grasp and made his way up the stairs. Once in the sanctity of his bedroom he stood in front of the body length mirror and examined the damage. It wasn’t too bad, the areas where he’d been hit were swollen and some of them would bruise but he’d be okay. Just then the door opened slightly and his father popped his head in.
“What?” Asked Tom coldly, wanting so badly to hurt this man who had hurt him most of his life.
“Um, are you alright?” Adam asked lamely and Tom actually let out a snort.
“What do you think?”
“Right, well let me have a look at them.” Obediently, Tom stepped over to him and allowed him to look at the damaged flesh. “You’ll bruise but it’ll heal quick enough.” Gently, he pushed the black hair out of Tom’s face and it was all he could do not to lean shamelessly into the touch. He wasn’t used to being shown any kind of kindness and he wanted to savor it. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, stroking the boy’s cheek, “You know that right?”
“It’s fine...”said Tom softly, not wanting to anger him twice in one night.
Suddenly he found a pair of lips on his own in a kiss that was not at all like the ones he had enjoyed as a child. This one was invading and he let out a little grunt of disgust and tried to pull away, only to find himself being pushed down on the bed. “Sh, it’ll be over quick enough, just stay quiet and it’ll be okay. Wake your mother, boy and you’ll regret it.”
For a moment the young boy struggled against his father but found that the man was too large and too strong to overcome. Eventually he went limp beneath him and desperately escaped inside his mind. Soon he was swallowed up by greedy hands and was struggling to imagine himself anywhere else besides in that bed. He begged to be let go, begged his father not to do this. For the first time in his life he put aside all pride to try to make his father stop. Eventually all the fight had left him and he lay there silently as his father pushed into him.
That was the first time he was violated by his father. That was the first time the man abused the trust of his son in such a way. That was the first time he had to leave his room because he couldn’t stop smelling and feeling the man in his mind. That was the first time he sobbed himself to sleep on the bathroom floor. Unfortunately, it would not be the last.
Gentle hands were holding a cool wash rag to his head as he lay on the cold tile of his private bathroom. At the feel of the hands touching him he let out a defensive grunt and rolled away from the person with the washcloth. His entire body ached, especially his back and his bottom.
“Tom,” said a female, exasperated voice, “I need to clean those wounds.”
“Lexi, just let me die in peace.”
The voice was annoyed but also a little worried, “Don’t be silly, your not going to die. You’re fine.”
Tom snorted into the arm covering his face. It was easy for Alexis to say that, she had no idea what had happened here last night. She had no idea what it was like to be hurt like that, his body ached and it was all he could do to keep from bursting into tears.
“Listen to me, why don’t you just go downstairs and be mom and dad’s little princess?”
He could practically hear her pouting, “I’m just trying to help.”
“Please, you don’t care about helping anyone put yourself.” Suddenly a wet cloth hit him in the chest and he looked up to see her retreating, impeccably dressed back. Slowly, he dragged himself to his feet and walked over to the medicine cabinet where his mother kept an array of uppers and downers. He scarcely thought about it before reaching in and drawing out a bottle. Using the water from the sink he downed the bottle, seduced by the thought of calm, eternal blackness.
The next thing he recalled, he was laying in a bed and someone was messing around with his arm. Quickly he shoved them away, although his arms felt like lead weights when he did so.
“Ger’off,” he mumbled angrily, shoving at whoever it was. Vague voices said something overhead that he couldn’t quite make out and he suddenly found himself being restrained. No, he mentally shouted at them, struggling harder to get away but found himself tightly strapped to the bed. A tube was being shoved down his throat, causing him to gasp for breath as it disappeared deeper and he fell into unconsciousness.
“...don’t know what on earth he was thinking.” Were the first words he heard upon waking and they were spoken by his mother. Remaining perfectly still, he peaked out of the corner of his eye and saw his mother sitting with Lexi, a girl of twelve, buried her tear stained face in her shoulder. Standing over both of them was his uncle who looked tired and even more haggard than usual.
He felt utterly defeated and tried with all his might to go back to sleep. Tom didn’t want to deal with this, with these people. Thankfully Uncle Chris spoke, “Kristina, why don’t you and Lexi go get something to eat. I’ll stay with Tom.”
“...okay. Please call us if he wakes, Chris.” There was a weight on the bed and Tom instantly felt himself tense as the memories came rushing back, unbidden. Struggling to remind himself that this was Chris, he shut his eyes tighter and pretended to be asleep.
“Tommy,” Chris said gently, “I think you can cross actor off of your list of potential careers.”
Caught, he opened his eyes and peered up at his uncle. “Am I really that bad?”
Chuckling and pushing the hair out of his nephew’s face her muttered, “Pretty bad. Kiddo, please talk to me. Did you really want this? I mean to be dead?”
“..No, I mean I guess at the time. It was just...a rough night, Uncle Chris,” There was understanding in that young face. Suddenly he wanted to cry but he forced himself to be strong and keep it inside.
Amazingly the man saw this and whispered, “Let it out.”
So he did, he sobbed out all the pain and doubt and suffering he had gone through. He told his uncle that his father had touched him and told him how horrible and dirty he felt. The desire he had when he tried to kill himself to leave his body that he felt he would never be comfortable with again. Sobs racked his body and he clung to his uncle as if he was his only life line. Chris tensed and his jaw clenched with anger and Tom went to pull away but he held on to him, “I’m not angry with you. It’s...him. Listen to me, and listen to me good Tommy. What happen was not your fault, he was the adult in the situation...”
The words made Tom’s broken body shake with sobs.
Chris rose his voice above his, “...he should have known better! What he did was sick and wrong and he deserves to be punished for it. Oh, and he will.” If not by the law then by me, thought Chris angrily. Rage was swelling in him that anyone could hurt a child in that way.
“You...you don’t mean...you’re not going to tell anyone?” Asked Tom, sounding horrified.
Chris looked at him oddly and said, “Of course I am, child. You don’t really think that I would let you go back to that house, do you?”
“Please,” begged Tom with startling urgency in his voice, “please don’t tell. I’ll do anything, anything. Just please, I wouldn’t have told you if I thought....” He broke off into broken cries. Chris paused, unsure of what to do for him.
Quietly he said, “You’ll stay with me. Tom, you’ll stay with me and you’ll never be hurt again. I swear to you, we’ll get you through this.
Gently, he rocked the boy until his cries grew silent. There was work yet to be done for the boy, this Chris knew, however, it was a step in the right direction. Maybe now he could make up for ever leaving him there to begin with. Maybe he could heal him and take the burden off his shoulders...but it would be a long road.
“No!” Cried a desperate, young voice which jarred Christopher from his pleasant dreams. Groaning, he stretched out and turned to look at his digital clock. Two o’ clock, wonderful. Quickly, he got out of bed and made his way across the familiar living room with it’s white carpet and flowing drapes which were contrasted by the warm red and mahogany furniture. To his left was a small black and white kitchen and breakfast nook. He found the boy sweat-covered and thrashing underneath the covers.
“Tommy,” he said softly, seating himself on the edge of the bed and shaking his shoulder. The raven haired boy cried out and hit him rather hard in mid-thrash. Remind me never to wake him up for school, he thought with a wry smile. Large, dark eyes blinked up at him and the boy let out a dejected smile while running a hand tiredly through his messy hair.
“Another nightmare, kid?” He asked softly, hushing him when the tears began to flow freely. Chris reached out to comfort him but changed his mind when the boy drew himself up into a ball as far away from his uncle as possible. As hard as he tried, he couldn’t help but feel a little hurt that the boy thought he would ever hurt him.
Nodding miserably, the boy buried his face in the pillows and moaned, “Why won’t he leave me alone?” Chris felt like his heart was breaking and quickly took him in his arms, ignoring the protests. The boy broke down and Chris wished desperately that he could lie and tell him that it was all just a horrible nightmare, “Why did he hate me so much? Why did he want to hurt me? What’s wrong with me?”
“Nothing Tom! It was what was wrong with him! Look, you’re never going back there.”
“What about Lexi?” Chris rubbed small circles on Tom’s back and suggested quietly, “We could still go to court.”
The young man shook his head violently no and gripped Chris’ nightshirt, “I don’t want all those people to know!”
“All they’ll know,” snapped Chris, “Is that your father was a very sick man.” He sighed and softened his tone, “It’s alright, I just want to see him get what he deserves. Do you want me to stay with you tonight?”
“Yeah, please?” Sighed Tom, laying his head back against the pillow. Chris sat there for a long time, running an idle hand through the mop of black hair and telling a story about a report he’d done on grave robbers in New Orleans. It wasn’t the most positive story, but his nephew had always appreciated these tales.
Light fell blindingly across his eyes, causing him to twist them shut against the invading sun. Chris’ neck was twisted at an odd angle on the bed and his back ached from sleeping in an almost upright position. Groaning, he pushed himself up from the headboard and looked around the small room. Tom had already made himself at home by covering the walls with his posters and the dresser with his C.D.’s. It made Chris smile that he was beginning to feel more at home.
The subject of his thoughts appeared in the doorway, fully dressed and showered. The night terror seemed to have left the boy, leaving him cheerful and relaxed. “Good morning, Uncle Chris.” Christopher frowned slightly, not buying the happy front.
“You know, we’ve never really talked about what happened to you.”
Tom frowned slightly, “We don’t need to talk about it. I’m fine.”
“You can’t possibly be fine, Tom. Your father...violated you in the worst way possibly.”
Angrily tossing a book into his backpack, Tom snapped, “Let’s go down to breakfast.”
Chris sighed and stood up to follow his nephew downstairs. They were in the middle of eating scrambled eggs when there was a light rap on the front door. Covering the distance to the door in a few, well-placed strides he peered through the keyhole and was shocked to see Kristina standing on the other side. Opening the door in order to step out in the hall he asked, not unkindly, “What are you doing here?”
“I’m here to see my son. A mother has that right, does she not?” Krissy asked, looking at him coldly through narrowed eyes.
Chris refused to be intimidated and stared back at her in an equally cold manner, “I believe you forfeited that right when you allowed your husband to beat and rape him on a regular basis.”
Krissy winced at the harshness of his voice and his words. In what was almost a whisper, she replied, “I didn’t know, Chris.”
“You didn’t happen to notice that your son was slashing his wrists and crying himself to sleep at night?”
“I-I didn’t know he was touching him!”
Chris’ face softened and yet he asked in a dangerous tone, “Then why are you still with him?”
“What choice do I have?” Suddenly she grew very angry, “I had to choose! Between my husband and my only son. How could I possibly make that choice?”
Chris practically snarled, “Well you did choose by not acting. Your choice always should have been your son, Krissy!”
Suddenly there was the padding of feet behind him and Tom appeared at the door, “Uncle Chris, who is– Mom!” He looked surprised and she took that moment to step forward and hug him fiercely. Chris saw him stiffen at the touch but awkwardly try to pat her on the back. Uninvited, she stepped into the house, dragging Tom with her.
“Thomas, please. I want you to come home.” Tom winced at these words and Krissy continued. “It won’t ever happen again, Tom. I swear to you.”
“You can’t seriously ask me to do that,” he said, peering at her through a fringe of bangs.
“Come on, Tom. It’s not that big of a deal.” Chris gaped at her and Tom jerked his bag over his shoulder, “I’m going to school.”
That afternoon Chris was seated in his office, trying to organize the information he’d gotten in an interview. Nothing was coming to him so he was currently leaned back in his seat, balancing a pencil holder on his forehead. The door to his office clicked open and his boss appeared. The holder tumbled from his forehead and crash-landed next to the desk. Offering the older man a sheepish smile, he bent to pick it up.
“Working hard Chris, or hardly working.”
“In the process of hardly working in order to get ready to work hard, sir,” explained the young man, “What can I do for you Mr. Lorne?”
“Actually, I have a new assignment for you!” The man clapped his hands together and pulled out a file. Christopher took it and flapped it open to the description of the job and grinned at what he saw.
“The pope?” Drawled Tom, leaning against the counter, in the middle of the task of opening a soda can.
“Yes, the pope! I can’t believe you don’t see what the big deal is about this. Do you have an idea how rarely he gives out interviews, especially to smaller papers?”
“We’re not Catholic,” Tom pointed out calmly. “We’re...what the hell are we again?”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said, rolling his eyes empathetically, “It’s a big deal for my career, not my spiritual life. I mean, this man is holy, he has his own city. Which, by the way, yours truly will be visiting.”
“You’re going to Italy?” Questioned Tom, raising his eyebrows. Chris simply nodded and when his nephew continued to stare at him, he frowned. It suddenly dawned on him and he dropped down in the chair at the table. He’d never had to work his travel plans around someone else before, being the thoroughly unattached man he was.
“Hm, well that is a problem.”
“Not really,” said Tom, taking a drink of his soda, “I could stay here,” seeing his uncle’s doubtful look he protested, “Oh, come on! I’m fifteen!”
“My concern isn’t over your age but rather over recent events.” Chris gave him a pointed look, at his wrist where an ugly, red slash was covered with a bandage. Tom caught his gaze and dropped his sleeve down over the injury. Sighing he began, “Tom–.”
“I know! I’m sorry, it’s just with my mom this morning, everything just sort of got built up inside me and I had to let it out.”
“Well if you were feeling that way, why on Earth didn’t you stay and talk to me about it?” Tom shrugged, looking down at the counter, “Well, I’m going to be traveling a lot, we need to figure out what to do.”
Looking panicked, the boy asked, “You’re not going to send me back home, are you?”
“No! Of course not, never think that!” Chris said sharply, “Well...what about private school?”
“A boarding school you mean?”
“It might be good for you, Tom. You know, to get a change of scenery.”