Chapter 1: Betrayal
Today was supposed to be one of the happiest days of their lives, but instead, it became possibly the worst. Gregg and Angus walked out of the hospital completely devastated. Out of all of the tragedies in their lives, this one seemed to hurt the most. Angus’ abusive household, the sheep incident, the cult, Casey’s death, Gregg almost dying, none of them seemed to compare to the agony they both felt in this moment.
Earlier that year, Angus had agreed to raise a child with Gregg. When they were deciding which route to take in order to get a kid, they chose to find a surrogate. It took a while, but after about six months, they found one. Once the arrangements were made, the surrogate was impregnated, and all that was left was to wait.
Gregg and Angus grew pretty close to the surrogate, who’s name was Samantha. As the big day grew closer and closer, Gregg and Angus realized they should probably start buying baby supplies, maybe even throw a baby shower.
When they threw the baby shower, Mae, Bea, Jen, and Gregg’s family showed up. Matthew couldn’t make it. He was still serving the military, and he was posted out of the country at the time. He apologized but congratulated the two on their upcoming parenthood.
Angus was able to transfer to a position at his work that would allow him to work from home. Luckily, his job as a computer support specialist was entirely possible to do from their apartment. He just needed some gear from the company, which they happily provided him. He had shown that he was a good worker, so they didn’t want to lose him.
Finally, after babyproofing everything and setting up the apartment for their new family member, the day had almost arrived. When Samantha’s water broke, it was a huge rush to get to the hospital. Both Gregg and Angus had to rush out of their jobs to meet her there.
Once in the hospital, the wait was unbearable. The doctors had requested that Gregg and Angus stay outside to make sure the delivery went as smoothly as possible. Gregg paced back and forth in the waiting room while Angus sat, his mind completely blank from all the thoughts that vied for his attention.
When a doctor called for Gregg and Angus, they both nearly ran over to him. The doctor seemed slightly shocked, but then, he failed to hide the pity and guilt that found its way onto his face.
“I’m sorry, but I’ve been sent to inform you that Samantha has had second thoughts about giving up the baby. She’s decided that she wants to keep it.”
They both felt some invisible force squeeze their hearts. It wrapped around, making it hard to breathe. This couldn’t be happening, not after all of the work they’d done.
“What the hell do you mean?!”, asked Gregg, his voice rapidly raising.
“I just told you. She wants to keep the baby.”
“That’s bullshit! Let me see her!” Gregg tried to move past the doctor, but he was cut off by him.
“I’m sorry, but she requested that no one be let in besides family.”
“Are you fucking kidding me? One of us is the biological father of that baby! How are we not family?!”
“She doesn’t want to see you. We have to respect the wishes of the patient.”, said the doctor.
“I think we got past respecting her wishes when we spent 9 goddamn months preparing with her to have this baby! Now, let me through!” Gregg tried to push the doctor out of the way, but he was surprisingly strong.
“Sir, if you don’t stop, I’ll be forced to call security.”
“Gregg, stop. There’s nothing we can do about it.”, said Angus.
Gregg turned around, “What do you mean?! We deserve an explanation from her at least!”
“I know, but if she doesn’t want to see us, there’s nothing we can do about it.”
The fact that Angus wasn’t supporting him caused Gregg’s anger to die in mere seconds, replaced by an overwhelming hopelessness. He stepped back from the doctor, who wished he didn’t have to turn them away. He felt bad for them, but it wasn’t in his power to do anything, either.
“I’m really sorry. I wish I could help you. You have to understand that I don’t have a lot of power in this situation, either.”
Gregg became despondent, only giving a small nod and an “Mhm” before beginning to make his way to the front doors.
“Come on, let’s just go.”, muttered Gregg. Angus silently followed him back out to the car. The doctor watched them leave. This wasn’t the first time he’d ever had to tell a parent they couldn’t have their child, but he didn’t feel any less guilty about it.
The car ride home was silent. Gregg was visibly shaking. He was trying so hard to stop himself from crying. Angus only held a blank expression on his face, yet the painful aura that surrounded him was palpable and suffocating.
When they got home, Angus held his hands on Gregg as they walked back up to their apartment. When they reached their floor, Mae and Bea were there. They were there with a cake to celebrate the new baby, but when they saw the looks on Gregg and Angus and that they didn’t have a baby with them, they became increasingly worried.
“What happened? Where’s the baby?”, asked Mae. Bea looked at Angus, wanting an answer as well. The look he gave her back told her everything she needed to know.
“Come on, Mae. Let’s go.”, urged Bea, pushing Mae to go back downstairs.
“Wait, what? W-what happened?”
“I said let’s go.”, repeated Bea with a severity that caused Mae to give in almost immediately. Bea took her back downstairs, giving Angus one last pitying look before she went out of sight.
Angus unlocked their door and took Gregg inside. They mindlessly took off their jackets and their shoes, like they would on any other day when they got home.
Gregg simply plopped down on the couch, bent over, still trying not to cry. Angus sat next to him. There was once again more silence between them. Gregg was the one who finally broke it.
“It’s not fair, Angus.” His voice was barely a whisper, yet in the silence of their apartment, it was clear as day.
“I know it’s not, bug.”, replied Angus.
“It’s not fair.”, Gregg repeated, louder this time. He buried his face in his hands. Angus didn’t respond this time. He didn’t know what else to say. Gregg was right. It wasn’t fair, but there was nothing he could do about it.
“It’s not fair!” This time, Gregg was almost yelling. He began whimpering. That whimpering grew into sobbing, which then grew into wailing. Angus felt tears slide down his cheeks as he struggled to hold himself together. He gently pulled Gregg into an embrace. Gregg responded by gripping his shirt and crying into his chest. Angus stroked the back of his head to try and calm him down.
Mae and Bea could hear Gregg’s cries from their living room.
“I don’t get it. Did something happen to the baby?”, asked Mae.
“I’m not sure. All I know is they don’t have a baby, and judging from the looks on their faces, they probably won’t be getting one.”, said Bea.
“I hope the baby’s okay at least.” Thoughts about her parents and all of the miscarriages came to mind.
“I’m sure we’ll find out what happened soon. Right now, they just need their space.”
“I guess you’re right. What should we do now?”, asked Mae.
“I’m not sure. I think I want to go to sleep.”
“Yeah, me, too.”
An eternity would be an understatement when describing how long the pain seemed to last. Even when Gregg lost the will to cry anymore, it still lingered. It took a while, but Gregg’s now silent sobs carried him off to sleep. Angus was left to lose himself in the depths of his despair.
Angus held onto Gregg. He was his only source of comfort right now. He finally let himself cry. With Gregg asleep in his arms, he cried. He cried until he couldn’t anymore. When he found that the tears refused to come out anymore, he carried Gregg to their bedroom, laying him on the bed and covering him before climbing in next to him. Sleep struck quickly and without warning.
The two of them were too tired and broken to dream that night. When they woke up, it felt like just seconds ago that they had fallen asleep. Gregg woke up first, followed by Angus. When Angus woke up and found himself alone in bed, he got up to look for his husband.
“Gregg?”, called Angus, still not fully awake yet. Gregg wasn’t in the living room or the kitchen. Angus was getting a bit worried now.
It wasn’t until he went into the second bedroom that he found Gregg. The second bedroom, that was the one they had prepared for their new baby. Gregg was on his knees next to the crib, his hands wrapped around the bars. He was crying. It seemed like he had been for a while since his eyes were red, and his cheeks were puffy.
“Gregg?”, called Angus again, “Are you okay?” That was a stupid question. Of course, he wasn’t okay.
“What do we do now, Angus? What are we supposed to do?”, asked Gregg, completely disregarding Angus’ question. He didn’t even look at him when he said it. His eyes were too fixated on the painfully empty crib in front of him.
Angus didn’t know what they were going to do after this. He was just as lost as Gregg was, but he knew he had to be the one to take charge. Gregg was too emotionally unstable to figure out where to go from here on his own. The only question was what did Angus want to do?
After a moment of contemplation, he decided what they had to do. “We have to try again.” This sentence came out as a matter-of-fact statement. Gregg looked over to Angus, confused.
“What? How are we supposed to do that? Finding Samantha took forever, and then we had to wait nine months after that before we even got a shot. What if it happens again?” Gregg’s voice seemed hopeless. His resolve had been shattered after last night. At first, he had been the one to suggest becoming parents, but now, he was questioning it all.
“That’s why we’re not going to get another surrogate. No, this time, we’re taking a different route.”
Gregg now seemed intrigued, “What would that be?”
“We’re going to adopt.”, said Angus with finality.
“Really? Are you sure? If we do that, then they won’t be ‘ours’. Are you okay with that?”
“You’re wrong, Gregg. They’ll be just as much ours as this one would have been. Honestly, we should have started with this. Why should we go through so much effort to make a biological baby that’s only going to have the genes of one of us when we could go and give an already born child a home? We were being selfish.”
Gregg stood up, pulling himself up from the hole he had dug for himself. “If that’s what you want, then I’m with you all the way.”
Angus smiled solemnly, “It’s settled then.”
“Alright. Let’s give this a second chance.”, said Gregg, turning his head back to the crib. “What should we do with all of the baby stuff? The odds of us getting a baby are pretty small.”
“Let’s just keep it. If we do end up getting a baby, then we’ll have what we need, and if not, we can save it for if someone else needs it.”, replied Angus.
“Okay. Yeah, we’re actually doing this.” Gregg hugged Angus, “I love you, cap’n.”
Angus returned Gregg’s embrace, “I love you, too, bug.”
The air, which had just moments ago been completely saturated with sadness and despair, was now bittersweet. It wouldn’t be that easy to get rid of the pain of their loss, but this was definitely a step in the right direction. As long as they stood together, nothing could truly keep them down.
Chapter 2: Begin Anew
After Angus breathed some life back into both Gregg and himself by suggesting an adoption, the couple went out and ate breakfast. There was silence as the weight of their grief refused to disappear. Myriad emotions ran rampant in both of their heads, making it almost impossible to start a coherent conversation. Luckily, amongst all of the sadness, there was some hope now at least.
Once they had finished eating breakfast, Gregg got up, “I think we should go talk to Mae and Bea. I know they’re probably wondering what happened.”
“That’s probably a good idea.”, agreed Angus, taking both of their dishes out into the kitchen and placing them in the sink to wash later.
They walked downstairs to where Mae and Bea’s room was, Gregg knocking on the door once they got there. An exhausted-looking Bea opened the door, rubbing her eyes like she had just woken up.
“Oh, Angus, Gregg! Uh, how are you?”, she asked nervously.
“We just wanted to talk to you about… you know…”, started Angus, but he couldn’t finish. Bea cut him off.
“Yeah, I get it. Come on in. I’ll go wake Mae up.” Bea began walking to her and Mae’s room.
“Oh, if you two are still sleeping, we can come back later.”, said Angus.
“I actually just got up. Don’t worry about it. I’m sure that Mae would rather talk sooner than later.”, assured Bea, as she exited from view, leaving Gregg and Angus to sit down on the couch in the living room. They could hear Bea quietly waking Mae up. Mae resisted a bit, but when Bea told her that Gregg and Angus were there, all they heard were the sounds of Mae quickly getting up and getting dressed in some decent clothes.
Mae was the first to come out into the living room, “Hi, guys. So, how have you been doing?” She looked much worse than Bea, like she had been up all night.
“As well as can be expected, I guess.”, replied Angus.
Mae looked at Gregg, “I… heard you crying last night, Gregg. Are you okay?”
Gregg’s eyes drifted away from Mae’s gaze, “Not really. It was a… bad night.”
“What even happened? Is the baby okay? It didn’t… die, right?”, asked Mae cautiously.
“No, no, nothing like that.”, said Angus.
“Samantha took the baby from us.”, said Gregg.
“What? Why?”, asked Bea.
“She never gave us a reason. She wouldn’t even let us see her. We were turned away by a doctor.”
“What the hell?! She can’t just do that!”, said Mae angrily.
“That’s what I said.”
“After all of the work you put in, she’s just gonna turn around and screw you like that?!”
“Yeah, that about sums it up.”, said Gregg.
“Screw her! She could have at least told you before she gave birth or before you spent all of that time and money getting your apartment ready for the baby!”
“It’s not like we can do anything about it now. We just need to move on.”, said Angus.
“So, what now?”, asked Bea, “What’s the plan?”
Angus exchanged looks with Gregg before deciding it was okay to speak, “We’re going to try again.”
“Really? You’re gonna try for another baby?”, questioned Mae.
“No. We’re doing it differently this time. We’re going to look into adoption.”
“That means they’re not going to be your biological child, then.”, Bea pointed out.
“That doesn’t matter. There’s less risk involved here. We won’t need to worry about something like this happening again.”, said Angus
“So, you’re just going to try again? Are we just going to forget about what happened? Are you just going to forget about your baby?!”, asked Mae, angry that they seemed to be moving on so quickly.
“They’re not ours anymore!”, yelled Gregg, “And of course, we’re not just forgetting about them! It’s just that there’s nothing we can do anymore! It’s over.” Gregg ended up being the first in the conversation to begin crying.
“I’m sorry. That was out of line.”, apologized Mae. She was getting better at learning how to draw back her emotion-fueled comments, but she wasn’t completely there yet. The therapy had been helping, though.
“No, it’s fine. We’re all really emotional right now.”, said Angus, rubbing Gregg’s back to calm him down.
“So, when are you guys planning on adopting?”, asked Mae.
“I’m not sure. Probably as soon as possible if Gregg’s okay with it.”, replied Angus.
“I’m ready when you are. I want to do this.”, said Gregg with resolve in his voice.
“I guess that means we’re starting today, then.”
“Okay. You can leave whenever. Thanks for taking the the time to fill us in.”, said Bea.
“No problem. I do think we should get going. It was nice talking to you.”, replied Angus. He stood up, motioning for Gregg to leave with him.
“Later, dudes.”, said Gregg, markedly less depressed than he seemed when he walked in. Angus seemed less depressed as well. The hope for another chance allowed them to keep their heads held high through everything.
Gregg and Angus left, leaving Mae and Bea alone.
“I still can’t believe it.”, said Mae.
“I know, Maeday. I’m sure it’ll work out.”, replied Bea.
“Gregg and Angus didn’t deserve it. They’re so good.”
“I know they are. Look, come here.” Bea motioned for Mae to scoot up next to her, and Mae complied.
Bea wrapped her arm around Mae, “Everything’s going to be fine, okay?”
There was silence for a few moments.
“So, what now?”, asked Mae.
“Let’s just sit here for a little while.”, said Bea.
“I’m good with that.”
Gregg and Angus went back up to their apartment. When they got inside, Angus went over to his computer.
“What are you doing?”, asked Gregg, following him.
“I’m going to look up some local adoption agencies is. We can contact one tomorrow.”, answered Angus, turning on his computer and opening up his web browser.
“Tomorrow? Why not today? We have time.”, questioned Gregg.
“I think we need a break today. We’ve been through a lot. Thrusting ourselves into this probably isn’t a good idea. We need time to recover so that we’ll be at our best.”
Gregg wanted to protest, but he knew Angus was right. They would have people to impress. If they couldn’t convince the right people they were capable parents, they wouldn’t be able to get a child at all. There would be interviews to go through and paperwork to fill out. They couldn’t afford to screw this up.
“Fine.”, Gregg said.
In a few moments, Angus was able to locate an adoption center in Bright Harbor. He wrote down the phone number and address and placed it into his wallet.
“There. We should be set now.”, said Angus.
“So, what now?”, asked Gregg.
“I’m not sure. I don’t really feel like playing video games right now.”
Gregg pondered for a moment before coming up with an idea, “Movie night?”
“But it’s not night.”, replied Angus satirically.
Gregg walked around covering up all of the windows with whatever he could find, like blankets and sheets, until it was dark throughout the house.
“There. It’s night now.”, he said matter-of-factly.
Angus actually laughed a bit at Gregg’s display, “Alright. Movie night it is, then.”
The two spent the rest of the day watching various movies together. It helped to alleviate the sorrow they were feeling. The entire time, they cuddled together on the couch, wrapped in a blanket. Eventually, they both found themselves dozing off. Looking at the time, it was almost 9 at night. They actually spent the entire day watching movies.
“I think it’s time to go to bed. We have a busy day tomorrow.”, said Angus.
“Agreed. How can I be so tired from just sitting and watching movies?”, asked Gregg.
“Who knows? It’s just our biology, I guess.”
They both got up and went to their bed. They lied down, ready to sleep, but something was keeping them up.
“Cap’n, are you asleep yet?”, whispered Gregg.
“I can’t sleep.”
“I’m just so stressed about this adoption stuff.”
“I know. Me, too.”
“What if we’re not good enough?”, asked Gregg.
“What? Why wouldn’t we be good enough?”
“I don’t know. It’s probably just anxiety or something.”, replied Gregg dismissively.
“Gregg, there’s no such thing as ‘just’ anxiety. There is no just about it. Now, what’s worrying you?”
“I don’t know. It’s just I was preparing myself so much for this baby. I felt so ready. I built up all of this stress and worry, and just as I’m about to get through it, they’re just taken away from us! I don’t know if I can do that again!”, said Gregg, beginning to cry again.
“That’s not going to happen again. We’re adopting. We don’t have to go through the stress of waiting for them to be born this time.”
“But so many other things can go wrong! What if I screw something up, and something happens to them?!”
“That’s not going to happen, either.”, replied Angus, “I know you wouldn’t let anything hurt them. I mean, you almost got yourself killed trying to save some random stranger!”
“Yeah, and that was stupid! I almost left you, and Mae, and Bea, and everyone else behind for some guy I didn’t even know! Mae and Bea almost broke up because of me! What if I die, and I leave you alone with our child because I do something like that again?!”
“Gregg, you can’t worry about dying like that. We’re all gonna die someday, and we don’t really have any control over when that happens. As long as you don’t throw yourself into deadly situations every day for no reason, you can’t feel like it’s your fault.”
“It doesn’t even have to be our fault that something bad happens to them, though. Sure, maybe I won’t screw up, but so many other things could happen. What if the people at the orphanage just don’t think we’re fit to be parents? Then, we’re screwed! Or, what if we get to know our new child, and then the original family comes back and makes us give them up? I can’t lose another child, Angus! I can’t do it again!”
Angus pulled Gregg in tighter and let him cry into him, “Those things aren’t going to happen, Gregg. The chances of the original family coming back are slim at best. There’s a reason those children are up for adoption. Their parents either aren’t around, aren’t able to take care of their child with what they have, or their parents just don’t care. Besides, by the time the adoption process is over, we’ll be the ones with custody over them, so even if the parents did come back, they wouldn’t be able to take them from us.”
“But what if they just don’t let us have a child in the first place?”, asked Gregg.
“That would only happen if they thought we weren’t capable parents.”
“What if I’m not good enough?!”
“There’s no reason you aren’t good enough. 6 years ago, maybe not, but you’ve grown so much since we moved here. I know we’re ready. There are so many things that could go wrong, but we can’t obsess over them. They’re only things that could go wrong, not things that will go wrong, and if there’s anything preventable that could harm our child, I know you’ll step up, and I’ll do my best to step up, too.”
There was a pause. The crying stopped, but Gregg’s breath was still shaky, “I don’t really see how I’ve grown up at all since we moved. I’ve spent the past 24 hours crying while you were actually getting stuff done. When we we’re at the hospital and I almost got security called on us, you actually acted responsible and got me to stop. I’m still the same, immature piece of shit I was 6 years ago. I thought I was past it, but as soon as something bad happened, I started acting like an idiot again.”
“Gregg, you have every right to cry and be angry right now. This isn’t an easy thing to go through. Sure, I may be the ‘responsible one’, but the only reason I can bring myself to act responsibly all the time is because of you. If it were just me, I would still be stuck in Possum Springs without the motivation to get anything done.”
“I haven’t actually done anything, though.”
“That’s not true. When you were recovering from almost dying, you were the one who comforted me when I couldn’t stop thinking about it. You’re the one who suggested we become parents in the first place. You’re the one who finally got me to leave my shitty mother for good.” Angus raised his hand, showing Gregg the engagement ring he got him, “You’re the one who went out of his way to buy this really expensive ring when I would have been fine with anything. I married you for a reason. You’re an amazing person.”
“…Really? You mean it?”, asked Gregg.
“Of course. You’re an amazing person, and you’ll be an amazing father. I promise.”
“Okay. If you really think that, then I’ll do my best to live up to it.”
“Good. I will, too. Now, do you think you’ll be able to get some sleep now?”, asked Angus.
“Yeah. Yeah, I think I could sleep.”, replied Gregg.
“Alright, then. I love you, Bug.”
“I love you, too, cap’n.”
“Goodnight.”, said Angus.
“Goodnight.”, said Gregg.
Sleep came with ease after that. Gregg’s worries didn’t disappear, but Angus was there to bear the weight with him, and that was enough. Tomorrow would be the start of a new journey, one that they were both ready for.
Chapter 3: Long Road Ahead
The next morning, Angus got up and contacted the local adoption agency he had found. Gregg was still asleep, and he decided not to wake him up. It would be better if he wasn’t stressing out during the phone call.
It didn’t take long for someone to answer the phone, “Hello, this is the Bright Harbor Adoption Center. How may I help you?” The voice on the other line was quite jovial, almost to the point of overcompensation.
“Um, yes, I was interested in an adoption.”, replied Angus.
“That’s great! Now, the adoption process can be fairly complicated. Is this your first adoption?”
“Okay. In that case, there will be some things you need to do before we get this rolling. First, you’ll need to take some pre-service classes. Over the course of a few weeks, you’ll need to attend 10 sessions of training. This is necessary to ensure that you know how to handle raising a child from adoption. Second, you’ll need to undergo a home study to make sure that you are able to adequately provide for the child. Then, of course, there is some paperwork that needs to be done. Are you still interested in adoption?”
“Yes.” Angus’ answer was forthright, without hesitation.
“Good. Can I have your email address? We can send you the paperwork you need to fill out through there if you want. If that won’t work, you can always come here and pick up the papers yourself.”
“Email is fine.”, said Angus. He told the other person his email address.
“Alright, we’ll send you the papers as soon as possible. If you don’t receive them within 24 hours, contact us again, and we’ll work with you to make sure you get them.”
“Thank you. Is that all?”, asked Angus.
“Actually, since this is your first time, you should know we hold orientation meetings every Monday at 6 pm at the adoption center to introduce people considering adopting to the process and challenges that come with it. It works as an overview so you can see what you’re getting into before making any big decisions. Would you be interested in that?”
Angus thought for a moment, “Hmm. That might be a good idea. Sure, I’ll come.”
“Good to hear. We’ll look forward to seeing you there. Other than that, there isn’t much more I can give to you.”
“Okay. Thank you for all the help. Bye.” Angus hung up the phone. He went over to his computer to see if they had sent the files to him yet. They hadn’t. He couldn’t expect them to send it that quickly. The stress was just fogging his judgement a bit.
After realizing he’d need to wait awhile to get the email, Angus went out and made breakfast. He made some pancakes, and it seemed to take his mind off of the adoption for a bit. The sound of the pan sizzling with the pancake batter woke Gregg up.
Gregg yawned, walking out into the kitchen, “Hey, cap’n.” He sniffed, “Ooh, pancakes. Let’s go!”
“Hey, Gregg.”, said Angus.
“I called the adoption center just a little bit ago. We-“ Angus was cut off.
“Really?! What did they say!”
“Calm down, I was getting to that.”
Gregg reeled himself back in, “Oh, sorry.”
“What I was going to say was that I should be getting the paperwork we need to fill out shortly. After that, we can start the adoption process. Now, we’re going to need to take some classes on raising adopted children. I’m not sure on the specifics, yet. All I know is that we’ll need to attend 10 sessions over the course of a few weeks. Also, we’ll need to do a home study. You probably already knew that, though.”, Angus explained.
“Wow. We get to take classes on how to raise them?”
“Yes. It’s a requirement. We can’t adopt until we take those classes.”
Gregg laughed as if relieved, “That’s amazing. I was worried I’d have to figure it out all on my own.”
“I know. Me, too. It’s going to cost some money, though.”
“That’s fine. We both have decent jobs now, right? We’ll be fine.”
“Mhm.” Angus finished the pancakes and put some on a plate, placing it down in front of Gregg. After he gave him the syrup, he headed back to their room, “I’m gonna go check my email for the papers.”
Gregg already had a mouthful of pancake. Angus was able to make out something along the lines of, “Okay.”
When he checked his email, Angus saw that there was a new message. To his relief, it was the papers he needed along with some additional information. He turned on his printer and printed out all of the documents. While he waited for all of them to print, he went and ate some pancakes with Gregg.
“So, did you get them?”, asked Gregg.
“Yeah. They’re printing now. We can fill them out after breakfast. Also, there’s going to be an orientation for people new to adoption tomorrow at 6 at the adoption center.”
“Great! Wow, this is actually happening… I still wish we didn’t have to do this, though.” Gregg’s tone and expression became gloomy.
“Do you think the baby will be okay?”, asked Gregg.
“I’m sure they’ll be fine. It’s probably best not to think about it.”
“Yeah… How long do you think this adoption is gonna take?”
“Probably months. A lot goes into an adoption. There’s the paperwork, the training, and then we have to spend time with the child to make sure we’re good for them.”
Gregg sighed submissively, “I was afraid you would say that.”
“I know it sucks, but it’s better that it’s hard for good parents to adopt than it is easy for bad parents to, right?”
“I guess. What are we gonna do in the meantime? Just live our lives like normal?”
“For the most part, yes. We can start packing away the baby stuff…” There was a finality to that statement that sent a fresh wave of grief over the room.
After an awkward pause, Angus cleared his throat and continued, “…We’ll also need to make sure this place is as clean as possible for the home study. I never got around to dusting or vacuuming with how busy we were.”
“Right. When do you think it’ll be?”, asked Gregg.
“Probably soon after we hand in the forums. After we get things rolling, things are going to be busy. We have a lot of work to do.”
“Crap, we have to go back to work tomorrow.”, said Gregg, annoyed.
“Yep. The last thing we can afford is to lose our jobs. I can work from home now, though, which is convenient.”
“It’s amazing what technology can do nowadays.”, commented Gregg.
“I know. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if having large office buildings died off in the next decade or so. It’s almost more convenient to just have people work from home at this point, at least for my job. You obviously wouldn’t be able to do that.”
“Sure, I can! They just need to invent a solid hologram that copies everything I do.”
Angus laughed a bit, “I don’t think we’re that far yet. We’ve only just figured out how to do normal holograms, let alone solid ones. You might be able to do it with a robot of some sort, some motion sensors, and a 360-degree camera, but that would be really expensive.”
“Come on, technology, move faster!”, whined Gregg, “I need to become the world’s first robotic bartender!”
“Just give it time, bug. It’ll happen eventually.”
“What if I can’t wait that long? I only have so many years left in me before I have to retire.”
“There’s not really much you can do about that, is there?”
Gregg pouted for a moment, but then an idea popped into his head, “I know! Angus, you’re smart. Go invent a time machine! Then, we can just travel to when I can be a robotic bartender!”
Angus laughed more heartily this time, “Gregg, if I could invent time travel, we’d be rich right now. You wouldn’t need to be a bartender. Also, I hate to break it to you, but chances are, bartenders are going to be replaced with robots rather than bartenders becoming robots.”
“That’s not gonna happen. Bartenders don’t just pour people drinks, you know. We have to socialize with people. It’s part of the job description. I don’t think robots can have conversations yet.”, argued Gregg.
“You’d be surprised. We’re getting closer and closer to making that a real thing.”
“Whatever. That doesn’t matter right now.” Gregg got up, going to put his now empty plate in the sink, “So, are we gonna fill out those papers or what?”
Angus had also finished his breakfast. “Yes, let’s do that.” He went and put his plate in the sink with Gregg’s. Then, they went and got the adoption papers from the printer.
“Gregg, could you go get me a pen? I’m pretty sure there was one on the table in the living room.”
“Aye aye, cap’n.”, replied Gregg, giving Angus a playful salute as he ran to the living room. Angus was left for a moment to stare at the papers.
“We shouldn’t be doing this. I should be holding a baby in my arms right now.”
“Just be happy you’re giving it another go.”
“It wasn’t supposed to be this way.”
“Just think. You’re going to be giving another child a new home now. Don’t you think that, maybe, this is better?”
“I know, but it just doesn’t feel right. We’re sitting here, laughing and getting ready to get another child. Shouldn’t I still be sad, angry even?”
“It’s okay for you to be happy. A little laughter isn’t saying you aren’t sad or angry. It’s just you recovering from the grief. You can’t stay sad all the time… especially not with Gregg around.”
“I’m honestly surprised he’s doing so well.”
“It’s probably just a mood swing. You still need to be ready for when he hits another depressive episode.”
“Yeah, I will.”
“I’m back!” Gregg ran up to Angus and gave him the pen.
“Thanks, bug.” With that, Angus started filling out paperwork. The first to go was just an application for the adoption training course. That was pretty straightforward. Then, there was the application for the home study. Angus put in a request for a weekend study. Hopefully, it would happen sooner rather than later, but he was sure plenty of other people wanted it to happen on the weekends, too, so he didn’t get his hopes up. After that, came the big one.
“This is the adoption paperwork.”, said Angus, staring at it with bitter optimism. The first things to fill out were the basic personal info things. Names, phone numbers, emails, etc. Then, he came to the million-dollar question. Why do you want to adopt a child?
“What are you thinking, cap’n? How should we answer it?”, asked Gregg, “I’m not great at this kind of stuff.”
Angus thought about it. It had been so long since he’d answered that question. Once Samantha was pregnant, all he thought about was how amazing it would be to finally have a baby. The question of why never came up after that. It took a few moments, but Angus was able to remember back to the day they decided to become fathers in the first place. He remembered the nightmare. He remembered what Gregg said to him.
“I think… maybe, we should get you someone else to love, maybe even more than you love me.”
“What do you mean?”
“I was thinking that if you wanted, we could… get a kid. Like, we could have a child, and then, you would have someone besides me and your brother to call family.”
“I think I’ve got something.”, said Angus, beginning to write.
We want to adopt because we’ve both experienced first-hand how bad it can be for a child to grow up in a home feeling unloved. We want to make sure the same mistakes aren’t repeated, even if it is just with one person. We want to show someone the love we were never given growing up, what it’s like to have a real family. Unfortunately, we can’t have biological children, so we’ve resorted to adoption instead.
“Does that look good?”, asked Angus.
“Yeah. I think it does… We’re going to fix your family, Angus, starting with this.”
“But we already started, Gregg. You started it when you decided to take my last name.”
Gregg blushed. His eyes darted around a bit, and he smiled almost like he was embarrassed.
“Aw, it was nothing. Gregg Delaney sounds better than Angus Lee anyways.”
“Hmm… Yeah, it kind of does.”, agreed Angus playfully.
Angus then came across the next big question. “What sort of special needs, if any, do you feel you’d be better prepared to deal with than others?” Most people would think special needs meant physical or mental disabilities, but there was more to it than that. Special needs also included older children and those hailing from different ethnic groups. Needing to be adopted as a pair or group of siblings also falls under special needs.
“You know a lot about dealing with bipolar disorder from me, and I’ve obviously been through it firsthand, so I’m sure we could help someone with that.”
“Yeah, that works. What about physical needs?”, asked Angus.
“Uh, honestly, I’m not sure. I’d say anything really. Physical handicaps aren’t as hard to deal with as mental ones most of the time.”
“Okay, I agree. What about age, ethnicity, and sibling groups?”
“Well, I don’t really care what age or ethnicity they are, but could we really handle more than one child? Our jobs aren’t the best in the world in terms of pay, and we’ve never raised a child before.”
“Yeah, I think it’s best that we keep it to one child. Anything else is fine, though.”, agreed Angus.
Angus started writing. He mentioned what Gregg had said about bipolar disorder, but he paused after that. After a moment of thought, he also wrote that they would be willing to take anyone coming from an abusive household. Gregg saw this but didn’t say anything about it. Angus then wrote the rest of what they’d agreed upon. The rest of the paper was typical stuff, and with that, they had finished it all.
“So, what now? Is that everything?”, asked Gregg.
“Seems like it. We’ll go to that orientation tomorrow, and then we’ll hand in all of the paperwork while we’re there.”
“Great! We’re actually doing this again…” Gregg found himself stuck between grief and excitement. It was a hard spot to be in. Was it really okay to be doing this so soon?
“Well, I guess we have the rest of the day off. What time is it?” Angus checked the time on his computer, “It’s almost 11. It’ll be time to prepare lunch soon.”
“Really? It’s that late already?”
“There was a lot of stuff to fill out.”, replied Angus.
“What are we supposed to do for the rest of the day?”, asked Gregg.
“We should start putting away the… you know…”
“Right. Where should we put it?”
“For now, just put it in the closet. The babyproofing stuff can go in one of the drawers in the kitchen.”
Gregg nodded and got to work. Besides lunch, they cleaned non-stop until around 4:30. Some of the stuff had to be dismantled for it to fit in the closet. There was a period of rest, followed by dinner, some late-night cuddling, and then bed. They went to sleep a bit early. Tomorrow would be a busy day.
Chapter 4: A Learning Experience
There they were, at the adoption center. They had all of the papers with them, and they arrived in time for the orientation. There was a surprisingly small amount of people there. The room it was taking place in was fairly large with a podium and screen at the back and rows of chairs set up going to the back of the room. There were about 200 chairs, but not even a quarter of them were filled by the time it started. No one sat near anyone else.
Gregg leaned over to Angus and whispered to him, “Is this seriously everybody?”
“So it would seem.”
“That’s really sad. There are all of those kids without homes, and almost nobody wants to help them.”
“We almost didn’t come here, either. Most people would rather have biological children, and most people don’t have to go through what we did.”
“Why did it have to happen to us, then?”, asked Gregg bitterly.
“I don’t know… At least we’re going to help some other child, though.”
“Yeah, I guess…”
Someone walked up to the podium and did a mic check. This grabbed everyone’s attention and brought it to them, a middle-aged woman. She was a red bird. As she looked out at the pitifully small crowd, her eyes became weary and filled with disappointment.
Taking a deep breath, she started, “Hello, everyone. I’m glad you could all be here today. I’m Ms. Perna, and I am here to tell you all about the adoption process. I’m sure many of you are wondering what exactly goes into adopting a child.”
There were a few nods from the audience but nothing more. Everyone wanted to save their questions for later, including Angus and Gregg.
Ms. Perna cleared her throat and continued, “Well, I guess we’ll jump straight in then. Now, does anyone know what things one must do before adopting a child?”
A man up front raised his hand. Perna pointed to him, “Yes?”
He stood up, “From what I understand, there are classes you need to take beforehand, and you need to do a home study.”
“Yes, those are both things you need to do to make sure you can properly raise an adopted child. They are mandatory. You can’t adopt until you do those things.”
“Could you explain exactly what the classes are?”, asked the man.
“Sure. Over the course of 10 weeks, you will learn not only basic parenting skills, but also the intricacies of raising an orphan. We’ll teach you about how to handle things that you wouldn’t find in normal children most of the time. A lot of these kids have been abandoned, and some have come from broken homes, and that can leave the child with some lasting issues that you will need to deal with. Of course, we can’t cover everything that could ever happen, but we do provide you with general tools and strategies that can apply to a wide variety of situations.”
“Thank you.”, said the man, sitting down. He turned to another man next to him and began talking quietly to him.
“As long as we’re explaining things, I’d like to take a moment to go into more detail about the home study. Now, the home study is an integral part of making sure that we’re giving these children proper homes. During the home study, an agent will come and examine your home and ask you questions about yourself. You’ll be asked about why you want to be a parent and what makes you qualified. We’ll ask about your daily routines and past experiences with parenting, if any. Of course, we will also do background checks on the parent or parents. It may seem like a lot, but it’s worth it if we can keep children from going into bad homes.”
No one seemed to have any questions past that, so she decided to continue.
“Now, as for the adoption process itself. If you haven’t yet, there are papers you need to fill out to register for the adoption process. You can contact us and have us email them to you, or you can pick them up at the front desk when you leave. You will need to fill them out and hand them into us here when you’re ready to begin. Once that happens, you will take your training classes and do your home study. Once that’s done, we’ll process you and decide whether to let you adopt. If we decide that you’re fit to be parents, we will introduce you to a child based on your specifications in the documents you hand us.”
A woman in the back raised her hand. Ms. Perna pointed to her and motioned for her to stand and speak.
“What sort of specifications are there?”
“You mean for the children? Well, we’ll need to know what special needs you feel you’d be able to effectively deal with. Don’t feel obligated to say you’re willing to take anyone, but also be open to the possibility of not getting exactly what you ask for. Tell us about things that maybe you have experience with. Also feel free to tell us about things you aren’t prepared to handle. We’ll look more into exactly what your strengths and weaknesses are during the home study.”, Perna explained.
“Um, another question. What are ‘special needs’ exactly?”, asked the women.
“Ah, yes, we get this question a lot. Many people think special needs only applies to debilitating mental or physical conditions, but that’s simply not true. Many things could qualify as some form of special needs. Different ethnic backgrounds, older age, children that need to be adopted with other siblings, those could all fall under special needs. Does that answer your question?”
“Yes, thank you.” The woman sat down.
“Now, on to the next thing, matching your family with a child. Once your paperwork is filled out, you’ll get a caseworker. They’ll handle the home study as well as many other things in the adoption process, including this. They will come to you with records of various children who best matched the specifications you listed in your original adoption forum. You will get to search through them and you will be able to send in an inquiry for anyone that you think suits your family. This is the hardest part for some. It will be a while before your inquiry if either denied or verified. I’d say expect to wait around a month. If at any point you want to ask about the inquiry, you should feel free to contact your caseworker.”
Angus took out his phone and went to his notes app. He started typing in the important things about what she was saying.
“Once a child has been matched with you, they will be placed in your home for a period of anywhere from 3 to 9 months. During this time, your caseworker will visit every 30 days to see how things are going. Once the period is over, and you’ve been shown to be a good parent for the child, we can finally have it legalized. The child will finally be a permanent member of your family. Now, I know that this all seems like a lot, but I promise you that it’s worth it. Are there any questions that you want answered?”
A woman raised her hand, “Is there anything we could do while we wait through the adoption process that might help with the adoption?”
“Well, there are a few things you should definitely do. Get a decently-sized bed. That’s very important. I’ve seen too many people have their home study conducted, and when they get asked where their new child will sleep, they realize that they forgot to get a bed. Usually, this isn’t too much of a problem, as you can get a bed later, but it would help your image if you were prepared for this stuff beforehand. Also, if you think you’re getting a younger child, get some toys and such. We’ll provide you with what we know about their hobbies in their case file. Chances are, they don’t have much in the orphanage. Things like that will go a long way toward building a good relationship with the child.”
The woman looked shocked. It seemed she hadn’t even thought about stuff like that. “Uh, thank you.” She sat down. Angus realized he hadn’t thought of that either.
“I guess we’re buying a bed on our way home.”, said Gregg, laughing nervously.
“Yeah…”, said Angus, thinking about something. He was forgetting something. Then, it came to him, “Wait. Did Mae and Bea ever get rid of their extra bed?”
“I don’t know. Honestly, it’d be weird if they kept it for over a year, so probably not. I could check, though.” Gregg pulled out his phone.
“Yeah, do that.”, said Angus, tuning back into the conversation that was going on.
“…So, no, previous parenting experience is not required. That’s part of the reason we do training classes.”
“All right, thank you.”, said the man that had apparently asked a question.
“Okay, anyone else?”, asked Ms. Perna.
There was a period of silence. Then, Ms. Perna began to speak, “Alright, then. If that is all-“, her eyes locked onto the space next to Angus, “-Oh, yes, do you have a question, sir?”
Angus looked over, and Gregg had his hand raised. His head was lowered, scared and even a bit ashamed. He stood up. It took him a moment to ask his question.
“…Is it normal to be terrified by this?”
There was a pause before Ms. Perna answered, “What exactly are you terrified by? This meeting? Is it how intense the process is?”
Gregg cut her off before she could guess again, “The adoption. Raising a kid.”
She seemed to immediately understand, “Right. That. Well, of course, it’s normal. Everyone feels terrified by the prospect of raising a child, especially their first one.”
“What if we’re not ready?”
“That’s why we have the classes, the home study, the time you spend with the child before they’re legally yours. It’s all to make sure you are good parents for that child. If you’re really not ready, you’ll have ample time to realize it before anything permanent happens. Personally, though, I don’t think anyone is ‘ready’ for their first child, but thinking that you aren’t might be a good thing. It means that you know that raising a child isn’t easy, yet you’re still here, ready to do all of this so you can have one. I wouldn’t worry about it too much.”
Gregg smiled a bit, “Thank you. That’s all.” He sat back down. Angus looked at him, but he didn’t look back. Gregg’s phone buzzed in his pocket. He took it out and looked at it.
“Wow, they actually kept it! Looks like we’ve got a free bed!” Gregg went from scared to jovial in mere moments. Angus was almost weirded out by it, but he had gotten used to it by now.
The meeting didn’t last much longer. Nothing else very important was brought up. Gregg and Angus went up to the front desk afterward.
“Yes, is there something I could help you with?”, asked the receptionist.
“Yes. I’d like to hand in our adoption papers.” Angus handed them the papers, and they looked through them.
“Okay, I see you’ll be going through our adoption training course. The next round of classes starts next Tuesday. They’ll be every Tuesday and Friday from 6 to 9. Is that okay with you?”
“Yes.”, replied Angus.
“Also, we need to set a date for the home study. How does May 3rd sound to you?”
It was currently April 13th. That gave them a few weeks to prepare.
“Yes, that’s fine.”
“Great. I’ll get you down for those dates. That should be all.”
“Thank you very much.”, said Angus, beginning to walk away. Gregg followed him. They went out to their car, and Angus started driving them home. Gregg was playing on his phone, so there was a period of silence.
“Gregg?”, said Angus.
Gregg looked up from his phone, “Huh?”
“I just wanted you to know that I’m scared, too.”
“What? Oh, right…”
“Everything’s going to be fine.”, assured Angus.
“I know, I know, I’m just worried for no reason.”
“I think we’ve done a bit too much worrying lately. Just think about how amazing it’ll be once we finally have a child! We’ll get to be there and watch them grow up! Think of all of the great memories we’ll make!”, said Angus in an attempt to get Gregg’s mind off of his worries.
Gregg seemed to take the bait, “Yeah. It’ll really be great, won’t it?”
“We’ll make sure of it.”, said Angus.
As intended, Gregg began to get caught up in the fantasy that was having the perfect family, “We’ll do all sorts of stuff together! Hopefully, it’ll still be summer when we get to start taking care of them. We can go out and have so much fun and stuff! We could go to an amusement park, or we could just go to a normal park, or we could…” Gregg began launching a torrent of potential activities at Angus.
Angus simply smiled and listened to Gregg’s excited ramblings. He was happy to get his mind off of everything for a bit. Hopefully, Gregg wouldn’t get too caught up in the fun times they’d have with their child. Being a good parent means being there for your child through everything, both good and bad. He was sure Gregg understood that, though, so for now, he let him indulge in the fantasy without putting a damper on it with responsibilities.
Chapter 5: Breaking the News
After getting home from the orientation, Gregg and Angus went to get the extra bed from Mae and Bea. They knocked on their door, and Mae answered.
“Hey, guys. We got out the mattress for you. It’s right inside if you’re ready to take it.”, said Mae.
“Alright, let’s get this thing upstairs.”, said Gregg, proceeding to go inside.
Angus followed Gregg and Mae to where the mattress was. It was big enough for a full-grown adult to sleep on, which was all they really needed. When they went into the living room to pick it up, they saw Bea on the couch, doing something on her laptop. She waved to them as they came in.
“Do you want us to help you get that upstairs?”, asked Bea.
“Nah, the two of us can do it.”, replied Gregg, wrapping an arm around Angus, “Right, cap’n?”
“Yeah, we should be fine. Thanks for the offer, though.”, agreed Angus.
“Okay, suit yourself. Um, can I ask you something?”
“Sure. What is it?”, asked Angus.
“When are you planning on telling everyone else about the baby?”
Both Gregg and Angus realized they’d have to tell everyone about what happened soon. They’d want to see the baby.
“I… hadn’t really given much thought to it.”, said Angus.
“Yeah, what are you gonna do? My parents said they wanted to see the baby, too. What should I tell them?”, asked Mae.
“Well, we’ll need to tell my parents, Angus’ brother, and Jen. Other than that, we’ll have to explain it to some of our co-workers, but that’s really it. Them and your parents are the only big ones.”, said Gregg.
“Okay, how about this. Mae, Bea, you two can tell Mae’s parents, and we’ll get in contact with Gregg’s family and Matthew.”, suggested Angus.
“I’m fine with that. How about you, Bea?”, asked Mae.
“Sure. I can understand if you don’t want to talk about it more than you have to.”, agreed Bea.
“It’s settled then.”, said Angus.
Gregg went around to the back of the bed, “Come on, cap’n. Let’s get this upstairs.”
“Mhm.”, replied Angus, moving to the front of the bed. Gregg counted down, and Angus and he lifted. They awkwardly shuffled out of Mae and Bea’s apartment. When they got to the stairs, Gregg was reminded of the smell of glue and the pain of falling down a flight of stairs.
“You better not drop this on me.”, said Gregg.
“I’ll try, but no promises.”, replied Angus facetiously.
“If I die, I swear I’ll come back and haunt you as a ghost.”
“I guess I better not drop the bed, then.”
There wasn’t much space in the stairway to fit the bed through which forced Gregg and Angus to press themselves against the walls, dragging themselves up. It made them grateful that they lived right above Mae and Bea.
Finally, after a lengthy climb up the miniature mountain of stairs, they slid the bed into their apartment.
“So, are we going to use the baby’s room for this?”, asked Gregg.
“Yeah. Let’s get it in there.”
In a few more moments, the bed was in the room and laid out in the corner. When they finished, Gregg and Angus both let out sighs and let their muscles relax.
There was a short silence, save for some slightly labored breathing. As the weight of the bed left them as well as the levity joking around brought them, the weight of burden and grievance replaced it. They had to tell their families the news.
“I guess we should probably tell them now, right?”, asked Gregg.
A stone of anxiety plummeted into Angus’ gut, and invisible strings of sadness and doubt squeezed his lungs, making it hard to breathe.
“Yeah, we should.”, responded Angus.
“Okay. How do you wanna do it?”
“Video chat.” Angus’ voice was blank but to the point.
Gregg became concerned, “Are you sure? You know, you don’t have to have a face-to-face conversation with them yet if you don’t want to. I’m sure they’d understand.”
“I’m sure. They deserve to hear it straight from us.”
Gregg paused for a moment, scared of having to look his family in the eye when he told them their baby was taken from them, but if that’s what Angus wanted, he was willing to oblige. “Fine. We can do it that way if you really want to.”
Angus nodded and went over to his computer. While he prepared to start a video chat, Gregg pulled over a second chair and sat. He was about to send out a call to everyone, but his finger stopped before he clicked on the button.
“What are you going to say?”
“Will you tell them about the adoption?”
“I don’t know if I can do this.”
“Just press it.”
Angus clicked after a short pause. Gregg didn’t seem to notice Angus’ hesitation.
The call went out. The first to pick up was Jen. Then, Gregg’s mother answered the call and called Gregg’s father over. It took a few moments, but Matthew was able to pick up as well. It was easy to see he was in his barracks.
“Hey, brother. How’s it been?”, asked Matthew, “I see that you gathered the whole family together. It must be important.” Matthew smiled, “Am I gonna get to see my new baby nephew today?”
Angus opened his mouth as if to say something, but he wasn’t sure what to say. He was interrupted by Jen before he could say anything.
“Yeah, come on! Where’s our newest little bundle of joy?”
Gregg looked at Angus, whose eyes couldn’t bring themselves to look at the screen, instead opting to stare at the keyboard.
Angus was losing himself in a grief and panic-stricken train of thought.
“I can’t do this. I can’t tell them.”
“I can’t expect Gregg to do it, can I?”
“Things weren’t supposed to be this way.”
“Why did she have to do this to us?”
He felt a jolt in his shoulder.
“Cap’n! Come on, snap out of it!” Gregg was shaking him back to reality, that place Angus wished he could get away from. He couldn’t let himself, though. He had a responsibility, to his family and to Gregg.
When his vision came into focus, Angus saw a few wet dots on a few of the keys on his keyboard. Looking back up at the faces on the screen, he found staring back at him the faces of worry, realization, pity.
Angus pushed his glasses up and rubbed his eyes.
“There… is no baby.”, Angus finally said, “…Samantha decided to keep it.”
“What the fuck…”, muttered Jen.
“Did she say why?”, asked Matthew.
“No. We weren’t even allowed to see her after the baby was born. She requested that we not see her. We were only told that she wanted to keep it, and that was that.”, said Angus.
Angus knew that the adoption had to come next, but he had no idea how to transition into it. Luckily, Gregg had something to say on the matter. Wiping his own tears aside, he started talking.
“After a bit of thought, we decided we wanted to try adoption instead.”
“Really? That’s great!”, said Gregg’s mother.
“Yeah, it is. When do you think you should be adopting?”, asked Gregg’s father.
“It’ll be months before a child could be under our custody, but we’re hoping to get to meet them this summer if things go well.”, said Angus.
“Oh, that’s nice. That’s not too long.”
“I know you’ll want to see them, but actually, I think it might be better to not introduce them until we have full custody. Is that okay? We just want to avoid any unnecessary grief on your ends.”
Everyone began reluctantly nodding, throwing in the occasional “Mhm.”
“That’s fine. If that’s what you want to do, we’ll all support you.”, said Matthew.
“Thanks. We really appreciate it.”, said Angus.
“Um, I know this probably isn’t the best time to ask, but are you ever planning on telling mom about this?”, asked Matthew.
Angus’ face darkened when their mother was mentioned, “No. I’m done with her. Does she even still live in that house anymore?”
“No. I got a message a few months ago telling me she had been moved into a nursing home after she broke her hip trying to walk up some stairs. Are you sure you don’t want to see her? I mean, I get why you don’t want to, but she won’t be around for much longer.”
“Why would I want to tell her? Why would she care?”, asked Angus.
“I don’t know. Part of me hopes she actually cares about us somewhere in that head of hers.”
“She doesn’t, and if she did, she sure did a hell of a job showing it.”
“I’m sure she’d like to at least see her grandchild-“
“There is no way I am ever letting my child near that psychotic bitch!”, Angus yelled.
Matthew reeled back for a moment before recomposing himself, “Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea.”
The anger within Angus died off as quickly as it appeared, “I’m sorry.”
“No, don’t be.”
The sudden outburst made the conversation extremely awkward and uncomfortable.
“So… what now?”, asked Jen.
“That was really all we called to talk about. We knew you’d be wondering about the baby, so we thought we’d tell you all now and get it over with.”, said Angus.
“Oh, okay. If that’s the case, I should probably get going. It’s getting late.”
“Yeah, me, too.”, said Matthew.
“I guess we’re all getting off, then.”, said Gregg’s dad.
“Yep. Seems like it. It was nice seeing you.”, said Gregg.
“Feel free to call any time. Maybe, you could even visit.”, said his mother, giving a heavy wink.
“Yeah, I’ll try to visit soon, I promise.”, replied Gregg.
“Okay. We’re gonna let you go now. Bye.”
“Bye.”, said Gregg as they hung up.
“Goodbye, you two. Good luck with the adoption.”, said Matthew. Gregg and Angus waved as he exited the call.
“Hate to say goodbye to my favorite cousin, but I’ve got work tomorrow.”, said Jen.
“I’m still your only cousin.”, replied Gregg.
“Which means you’re still my favorite. It can’t be anyone else, right?”
“Yeah, whatever. Goodnight.”
“Bye.” Jen got off, leaving Gregg and Angus alone.
“We should probably follow in their steps and go to bed.”, said Angus, turning off his computer.
“Yeah, I’m tired. Moving that bed was really hard. I’m just gonna go. I’ll meet you there.” Gregg got up, stretching and yawning before dragging himself over to their bed. Angus secretly smiled at how cute his yawn was. He wasn’t sure why, but it always seemed to get to him. It didn’t take long for him to follow Gregg into bed, and sleep came moments after.
Meanwhile, Mae opened her laptop and sent a video call to her parents. She hoped they would remember how to answer it. They had just gotten their own computer recently, and Mae struggled to explain to them even the simplest of things. Luckily, they could at least understand how to press the accept call button, and Mae’s mother soon showed up on her screen.
“Hey, mom. Hey, dad. How have you been?”, greeted Mae.
“Pretty good, I must say. I just started reading a new book.”, said Candy.
“Ooh, what’s it about?”, asked Mae.
“Well, there’s this guy with telepathy who slowly goes insane as he dives deeper and deeper into people’s deepest, darkest thoughts.”
“Can he not control it? I would probably just never use telepathy again if it got that bad.”
“He tried, but his curiosity is like a drug, forcing him to continue, even though it’s slowly killing him from the inside.”
“Wow. That must suck. I hope he never reads my mind. He probably wouldn’t be able to function if he saw what goes on in my head.”, said Mae, pointing to her head as she talked.
“Yeah. That would probably end badly. Anyways, I’m assuming you didn’t call just to say hello and talk about cool books. Am I right?”
What Mae had meant to do returned to her, “Oh, yeah, I actually need to talk to you and dad. It’s about Gregg and Angus’ baby.”
Candy’s expression darkened, “I’m assuming that since those two aren’t here, something happened, right?”
“Uh, yeah. Something happened.”
Candy looked at her for a moment before calling to Stan, “Stan, honey, can you come down here? Mae needs to talk to us about something.”
Mae and Bea could hear something said in the background, but they couldn’t make out what it was. It didn’t matter, though, as Stan was heard walking down the stairs before coming into frame.
“Hey, kitten. How have you been? Is everything good with Bea?”, greeted Stan.
Mae looked annoyed. She hated it when her dad called her ‘kitten’ in front of other people. “Yes, everything’s been fine. That’s not what I wanted to talk about.”
“Oh? What did you want to talk about?”
“It’s about Gregg and Angus’ baby.”
“Oh, yeah! I forgot about that! How did it go?”, asked Stan excitedly, oblivious to his wife’s anxiety over the answer.
“Gregg and Angus didn’t get the baby. Their surrogate decided to keep it after it was born.”, answered Mae. Candy seemed unbelievably relieved. She had been preparing for the worst. At least the baby was alive.
“What? Why?”, asked Stan.
“She never gave them a straight answer. She stopped them from seeing her in the hospital altogether.”
“That’s just not right. You can’t just do that to someone. You can’t just let someone think they’re getting a baby and then rip it away from them last second like that.”
“She sounds like a real bitch.”, said Candy disdainfully.
Mae’s mouth was agape. Had she really heard her mother say that just now?
“…Wow, mom. That was really… blunt.” Blunt was the only word Mae could think of to describe how abnormal this was.
“It’s true, though. Like your dad said, you don’t just do that to someone. Please, let them know I’m sorry for them.”
“Yeah, let them know they’re not alone. If they need anything, don’t be afraid to ask. I’m not sure how much we can do, but for how much those two have done for you, we’ll do whatever we can to help them.”, added Stan.
“Okay. I’ll tell them you said that. Now, I should get going. I need to get some sleep. We’re starting a new project tomorrow. This building they’ve got us making is really complex. I’ll need to be on my A-game.”
“Okay, sweetie. Thanks for telling us about this. Good luck with your project tomorrow. Also, good luck in whatever you’re doing tomorrow, Bea.”, said Candy.
“Thank you, Mrs. Borowski.”, replied Bea.
“How many times do I have to tell you, just call me Candy.”
“Oh, sorry, Uh, thank you, Candy.”
“Yep. Okay, you two go get some sleep.”, said Candy.
“Goodnight, kitten.”, said Stan.
“Goodnight, dad.”, said Mae, annoyed once again before shutting down her computer.
Bea smirked at Mae, “You know, Maybe, instead of calling you Maeday, I should start calling you kitten.”
“Don’t you dare!”, warned Mae.
“But it’s so tempting.”
“If you call me that, you’re sleeping on the couch tonight!”
Bea laughed and rolled her eyes, “Fine, whatever. Let’s just go to bed.”
“Yeah, that’s right.”, said Mae, giving Bea a glare. Then, the two of them went to bed, falling asleep soon thereafter.
Chapter 6: Home Study
The weeks began to slowly march on, each one bringing Gregg and Angus closer to their goal. The classes were going smoothly so far. They were both happy to have them. Eventually, the day of their home study came. They weren’t told when to expect an agent to be arriving, only that it was that day.
Angus started becoming increasingly anxious his mind cycled through every possible thing to check for in their apartment. Everything had to be clean, safe, and orderly. Even though he was usually the one telling Gregg not to worry, it didn’t stop him from scouring the place for anything that might be wrong.
Gregg knew it would be best not to get in the way of Angus’ hunt, so he simply sat on their couch, silently winding himself up into a big ball of stress. That was until Angus’s search made its way to the couch, and Gregg was forced to stand while Angus flipped over every cushion to check for anything out of the ordinary. He was mumbling to himself, but Gregg couldn’t tell what he was saying. Soon, he was able to return to sitting and building up his stress.
It was a Saturday, which would normally entail rest and recover, but neither were had in any amount. The wait was unbearable, but finally, after an eternity, there was a knock at the door. Angus was the first to reach it, but Gregg was less than a second behind him. Angus took a deep breath and opened the door as calmly as possible.
“Hey, guys.”, said Mae. Gregg and Angus groaned despairingly. “Geez. I didn’t know the sight of me was that awful. Is there something on my face?”
“No, no, that’s not it. We thought you were our agent for the home study.”, said Angus.
“Oh, right. That’s today. Sorry to disappoint you.”
“It’s fine. What do you want?”, asked Angus.
“Well, I was actually going to see if you two wanted to come with me and Bea on a double date for lunch, but that’s obviously not happening.”
“Yeah, sorry, dude. We can’t not be here when the guy comes. That would look pretty bad.”, said Gregg.
“Maybe next time.”, said Angus.
“Alright. I guess I’ll head on back then. See ya.” Mae turned around and started to wave, but she stopped when she saw something down the hall. Gregg and Angus were confused for a moment, but when Mae stepped to the side, they saw a stranger walk up to them, a cat with white fur. He had a suit and tie on and was overall very formal-looking.
“Are you two Greggory and Angus Delaney?”, he asked, looking at some papers he had in his hand. He had several files with him as well as a small case which probably contained even more papers.
“Uh, yes.”, answered Angus.
The man smiled and extended his hand, “Hello. I’m Michael Quinn, your adoption agent. You can just call me Michael, though.” Angus shook his hand, then Gregg. “So, which one of you is Greggory?”
“Me. I prefer just Gregg, though.”, said Gregg.
“Noted. That makes you Angus, yes?” He pointed at Angus.
“Do you like Angus beef?” Michael gave a childish grin.
“Um… Sure, I don’t mind it.”, replied Angus uncomfortably. He wasn’t expecting the person conducting their home study to be so casual, especially this early on.
“Well, I love me some Angus beef, if you know what I’m sayin’.”, joked Gregg, sporting his own devilish grin.
“Gregg!”, scolded Angus, unable to keep himself from blushing.
Michael laughed, and Mae, who hadn’t left yet, decided to chime in, “Yeah, he loves that Angus beef. Trust me, I’ve heard him get some before.” Mae quickly darted out of there after that crude statement.
Gregg and Michael were laughing up a storm while Angus was left wishing he could die. By the time they were done, Gregg was crying from laughing.
“Oh, man, that was great. We should probably get down to business, though.”, said Michael.
Angus closed the front door, “Yes, let’s get started, please.”
They all went out to the living room. Angus had set up a chair for Michael to sit in while Gregg and he sat on the couch.
“Has anyone told you that you look like Palecat from Demontower?”, asked Gregg.
“Yes, I get that a lot.” It was true. He had the same white fur as Palecat. He was also just the right size. After Gregg said that, Angus couldn’t stop himself from imagining what Michael would look like in a Palecat costume.
“Anyways, I’m going to ask you some questions about yourselves. I want you to answer honestly and as in-depth as possible. Okay?”, said Michael.
Angus and Gregg both nodded.
“So, first question. I would like to know what sorts of backgrounds you come from. What were your families like?”
Gregg looked at Angus. He looked angry. Angus used to be sad whenever his parents were brought up, but now, he always seemed angry. Gregg noticed it happening after his final visit to his mother.
Michael also took not of Angus’ expression, “It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it. I got the impression that you didn’t have the best home life from your application. This is just what we’re supposed to ask first.”
“No, it’s fine.”, said Angus, “My family is mostly made up of some of the biggest pieces of shit you could ever meet… I was abused on a daily basis. My younger brother, on the other hand, never had to deal with any of their shit. He’s currently serving in the military. He was the only decent person in my home. My dad beat me regularly, and my mother would lock me in our pantry for days at a time and starve me. My dad left when I was in high school, and I ended contact with my mother just last year. That’s the gist of my family. I never got to know anyone outside of those three.”
“Hm. I see. I’m sorry that you had to go through that.”
“Don’t be. The only ones who should be sorry are them.”
“Okay… So, how about you, Gregg?”, asked Michael.
“Well, my family wasn’t nearly as bad as his. I was never abused or anything. We grew distant pretty early on, though. One year, when I was still in elementary school, they decided to pawn me off on my uncle for the summer because they didn’t want to deal with me. After that, we stopped talking as much, and I eventually cut them out of my life completely after high school. I only started talking to them again last year. The only other person in my family I got close with was my cousin, Jen. That’s about it.”
“Alright. Thank you for being so open about this with me. It’s obvious neither of you had the best families. That will actually lead us into our next question. With both of you having troubled childhoods, statistics would indicate that you’re both more likely to become inadequate parents. How can we be sure this isn’t the case?”
“Well, I would hope that because we went through all of that, we’d be better equipped to avoid making the same mistakes now.”, replied Angus.
“Of course, but it also means you have much experience with what good parenting looks like.”
“That’s true… I guess we really can’t give you a concrete answer. We’ll do everything we can, but in the end, we won’t be able to know how well we’ll do until we get to try it for real. Sure, we’re taking a training course, but that can only cover so much. I’m sorry if that’s not exactly a great response, but it’s all I’ve got.”
“No, it’s fine. Like I said, I want you to be completely honest with me. That’s all I ask.” Michael took some notes and continued, “So, our next question is about your education and current employment. What education do you two have, and what jobs are you currently holding?”
“We’ve both only been through high school. Neither of us had the chance to go to college. I work as a computer support specialist from home.”, said Angus.
“I’m a bartender at a club a few blocks away called the Moonlit Wonder. Despite the name, I managed to score a daytime position. I also occasionally work night shifts.”, said Gregg.
“Okay. How much money do you two make?”, asked Michael.
“Together, we make about 100,000 per year.”, answered Angus.
“Good, good. So, besides your family, who you’ve already gone over, what other major relationships do you keep, and what are your social lives like?”, asked Michael after writing more stuff down.
“We’ve got two of our best friends living right above us! You’ve already met Mae. She lives with her girlfriend, Bea. We’ve been basically family for years now!”, said Gregg.
“In terms of our social lives, I don’t really interact with people too much, especially now that I work from home. I have some online friends, but that’s about it.”, said Angus.
“I meet a lot of people at my job, but I’m only friends with my co-workers and maybe the occasional cool regular. We’ll go out drinking sometimes, but that’s about it. I’m also a part of Angus’ online group of friends now, but we never meet in real life.”, said Gregg.
“Alright. Now, tell me what you do on a daily basis.”, requested Michael.
“Okay. Um, besides work, I really just stay home, watch tv, and play video games on my computer.”, replied Angus.
“It’s basically the same for me. We’re not very active people at the moment.”, agreed Gregg.
Michael simply nodded and took more notes. “One last thing. I’d like to go more in-depth with why. Why do you two want to become parents? What made you want to do this? You had to have known this wouldn’t be easy.”
“Yeah, we knew that. If you want to know what sparked the decision, it was over a year ago. Gregg already told you he was a bartender, right? Well, one night, we brought Mae and Bea with us to hang out, and he had the night shift that night. There were these two people fighting over something having to do with money. Gregg tried to intervene, and he got stabbed in the process. Once he was out of the hospital, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I had a pretty bad nightmare the night we got home, and it woke Gregg up. After that, he offered to start a family with me. He said it would be good for me to have someone besides him to love and hold onto. Once my brother left for the military, he was really all that was left.”, explained Angus.
“Okay. What about you? What reasons do you have for wanting a child?”, asked Michael to Gregg.
“Well, there are a few reasons. One, I just think it would be really cool to raise someone. Now that we’re at a place where we’re stable and happy with our lives, I think it’s a good time to start a family. Also, I think Angus deserves to have a family he can be proud of. Sure, this won’t change his shitty parents, but at least it’s something, right? I can at least give him that much.”
Angus was touched by Gregg’s sentiment. He wished he gave himself more credit, though. Gregg was more than enough for Angus to be happy with his family.
Michael smiled as he topped off his notes, “Okay. That should be good for now. All that’s left is to take a look around the place to check for any safety hazards and we should be good.” He got up, and Angus led him through a quick tour of the apartment. It only took around 10 minutes. After that, it was time for Michael to leave.
“Alright, everything seems to be in order. Now, I was wondering if you could send me some references. I’ll send you my email so we can keep in touch. If you could give me the contact information of maybe some friends, family, co-workers, bosses, anyone you think wouldn’t mind answering a few questions for me, that’d be great. Other than that, we only need to do a mandatory background check, and we should finally be able to get started on getting you matched with a child. Expect another visit from me in a few weeks, so we can get more into that.”, said Michael.
“I’ll be sure to do that. Thank you for your time.”, replied Angus.
“There’s no need to be so formal. You don’t need to thank me. If anything, I should be thanking you. All I want to do is get these orphans into good homes, and it’s people like you who help me do that.”
“Oh, uh, your welcome, I guess?”
Michael sighed, “There’s always the uptight and overly responsible one, isn’t there? I guess that’s a good thing, though. Anyways, enjoy the rest of your day.”
“You, too.”, replied Angus as Michael closed the door.
“Well, that wasn’t as long as I thought it was going to be.”, commented Gregg.
“Yeah. So, what now?”, asked Angus.
Gregg checked the time, “We could go on that double date with Mae and Bea if they haven’t left yet.”
“Sure. I’ll text them.” Angus got out his phone. It was strange to him that what once used to just be the four of them hanging out was now called a double date.
“I guess it makes sense. It’s still weird, though.”, he thought. It didn’t take long for Bea to text him back. She said to dress formally. They were going somewhere fancy. Angus asked what the occasion was, but Bea simply told him that she’d tell him once they got there.
Angus wanted to know what was going on even more now, but he didn’t pry. When he told Gregg they had to dress formally, he whined and complained about not getting to wear his leather jacket and jeans and being stuck in a stuffy suit and tie. It wasn’t long, however, that they went out to meet Mae and Bea at their car.
Chapter 7: Double Date
The drive to the location of the double date was a short one. It seemed like a high-profile place. Everyone was dressed in very formal attire. Now, Angus knew it had to be something special. What was it, though? It wasn’t anyone’s birthday or the anniversary of any significant events. There was no way Bea would agree to a place like this if it wasn’t something big going on.
Once they were inside, they were greeted by someone at the entrance, “Welcome. Do you have reservations?”
Bea pulled out her id, “Santello. Table for 4.”
“Right this way.”, the man led them into the restaurant.
“Reservations? Wow.”, thought Angus. He wished they had warned him ahead of time. They almost couldn’t make it because of the home study.
Once they were seated, they were told to wait for a waiter for just a moment. Angus seized the moment to start asking questions.
“So, are you going to tell us why you of all people would decide to drop what I’m assuming is a lot of money on taking us to a place like this?”
“Come on, Angus, be patient. Let’s at least order our food first before you start interrogating me.”, replied Bea with a smug smile. She was clearly happy about something.
Before Angus could respond, a waiter came up and asked them what drinks they’d like to start with. Angus went to just order a soda, despite the other exotic sounding drinks on the menu, but Bea stopped him, “Come on, you can do better than a soda. Please, order anything. I’ll be paying.”
Angus wasn’t even sure he was talking to Bea right now. This was insane, but he gave in and ordered some purple drink with a name he couldn’t pronounce. He knew he would probably regret it, but if Bea was insisting, he figured he’d give it a shot. Gregg and Mae both ordered a drink that managed to be multiple colors all at once just because it looked cool. Bea ordered a martini. She was the only one getting an alcoholic drink.
After the waiter left, Angus began his questions again, “If you don’t want to tell me why we’re here, fine, but why didn’t you check with us before you made reservations for all four of us. We had our home study today. We almost missed this.”
“Yeah, that was totally my fault. I forgot about that. I was just really excited.”
“Why?”, asked Angus.
“Nice try, but no. I’d rather we not be interrupted by a waiter in the middle of the moment.”
“Does Mae know what it is?”
“Nope.”, replied Mae, “I think I might have an idea of what it is, though.”
Angus sighed, “Fine, I’ll drop it.”
“Trust me. It’ll be worth it.”, promised Bea.
Their drinks came. Bea, being the only one to get a normal drink, enjoyed hers. Mae and Gregg took sips of theirs before spitting it back out into paper towels and drawing attention from nearby tables.
“How could something so colorful be so bad?!”, exclaimed Gregg.
Angus slid Gregg’s drink over to him and drank some himself. It was incredibly strong and bitter. He swallowed it but slid it back, not wanting to drink anymore, “Okay, wow, that is something.”
Angus looked at his own drink. He was afraid to try it, but he did anyway. As soon as he did, his mouth was engulfed in sweetness. It was overwhelming. It wasn’t as bad as Gregg’s, but the overly sugary taste wasn’t something he could drink a whole glass of.
“I knew I should have just gotten a soda.”, said Angus.
Bea laughed, “Come on, trying all of the crazy stuff is part of the fun… Well, it’s fun watching other people do it at least.”
Angus did have to admit that the looks on Gregg and Mae’s faces were pretty funny.
“Okay, sure. I guess we should look at what this place has to eat.”, said Angus, picking up a menu. There were plenty of options, and he could recognize most of them this time, being a decent cook himself.
Angus chose a nice-sounding casserole. Next to lasagna, a good casserole was one of his favorite things to make and eat. They were so flexible. Gregg decided on a medium-rare steak. His love of meat was limitless. Mae settled on some salmon. If she couldn’t have tacos or pizza, fish would always be the next thing on the list, or any seafood, really. Bea went for a salad. With Mae around, Bea could only enjoy a good salad if she made something else for Mae, which she never really felt like doing. Mae refused to ever eat a salad, and she held her position very strongly to Bea’s minor annoyance.
Their waiter soon came back and took their orders. Then, they were left to talk amongst each other again.
“Hey, Mae. How’s that computer coming along?”, asked Gregg. Mae had been saving up for a gaming computer as her next big purchase.
“Pretty good. I have a thousand saved up.”, replied Mae.
“You have a thousand dollars, and you don’t have a computer yet?”, questioned Angus.
“No. Good computers are expensive.”
“Okay, when we get home, I am ordering you enough parts to build a gaming computer that can run almost any game on high settings for under 500 dollars, and I will build it for you.”, said Angus.
“Wait, really? You can do that?”, asked Mae.
“How do you think I got my computer to run so well? It’s not like we had tons of money to throw around back when we used to live in Possum Springs. Over a thousand dollars on anything wasn’t affordable back then. Trust me, you’ll get a better computer for so much less this way.”
“Wow. Thanks, big guy. I’m so glad we’ve got you in our group. I mean, not just for computer stuff, of course, but it is still pretty nice that you can do stuff like that.”
Gregg wrapped an arm around Angus, “That’s my husband for ya. He truly is the smartest out of all of us.”
“Well, Bea was valedictorian.”, replied Angus.
“Yeah, but that’s school skills. You have actual skills.”
Bea raised an eyebrow at Gregg, giving him a warning look.
“Uh, I mean, I’m sure Bea has actual skills, too. I didn’t mean that you didn’t have skills. I was just saying that school smarts aren’t everything, you know?”, said Gregg nervously, shrinking away from Angus.
“Uh-huh, sure.”, said Bea.
“Yeah, Bea has lots of skills.”, said Mae, “I mean, she’s had to manage stores for years, and do you know how many types of nails she had to know about?”
“I don’t see how knowing about different kinds of nails is very useful.”, said Gregg. Bea glared at him, which caused him to nervously look around, keeping his eyes as far away from hers as possible.
“It’s not the nails that matter. It’s the fact that she can remember things well.”, said Angus.
“Right, yeah. Um, let’s change the subject, please. If I keep talking about this, Bea’s gonna try to murder me in my sleep or something.”, pleaded Gregg.
“Trust me, she totally would.”, said Mae, “She’s better at stabbing people than you.”
“Mae!”, yelled Bea.
“What?! No way! There is no way she is better than me!”, argued Gregg. Other customers began looking at the ensuing argument.
“You act like being able to stab people is a good thing.”, said Angus.
“In some cases, it is! Like, what if you need to protect yourself?! I’ve been fighting with knives since we were in middle school! Bea’s never been in a knife fight!”
“Well…”, started Bea.
Gregg gasped, “Mae! You didn’t!”
“Didn’t what?”, questioned Mae.
“You haven’t been knife fighting with her instead of me, have you?! That was our thing, Mae! How could you do this to me?!”
“Gregg, calm down. I haven’t been knife fighting with Bea, okay?”
Gregg calmed down a bit and sighed, “Okay. So, what sort of knife fight have you been in, Bea?”
“Well, it was back when you got stabbed. After that guy stabbed you, and Mae ran off, I took your knife and chased after them. He tried to attack Mae and then me, but I was able to cut his arm, so he couldn’t fight with it anymore. I left a fight with the guy that almost killed you unscathed.”, explained Bea.
“That’s not fair! I was protecting that other guy!”, argued Gregg.
“And I was protecting Mae. What’s your point?”
“I didn’t have enough time to get my knife out! You already had it out! If I had had my knife out, I would have won easily!”
Mae lit up, a lightbulb going off in her head, “I know how we can settle this! You two can have a knife fight!”
“What?! Hell, no!”, replied Bea.
“What? Are you too scared? Do you know you’ll lose?”, said Gregg.
“No, I don’t want to because getting stabbed isn’t my idea of a good time.”
“Come on, Beabea.”, Mae pleaded, “You’ll only be stabbing each other in the hands.”
“I don’t care. I’m not going to fight Gregg with knives. I’m not fighting Gregg, period. He probably is better than me. Let’s just leave it at that.”
It wasn’t long after that before their food arrived along with a small warning about their volume and not disturbing the other customers. Everyone began eating and enjoying their food. It was then that Bea brought out a folded piece of paper and slid it to Angus. Angus looked at Bea in confusion.
“You seemed to want to know so badly, so I’ll let you see it first.”, said Bea.
Angus picked up the paper and unfolded it. He began reading.
Dear Beatrice Santello,
We here at Bright Harbor Community College would like to congratulate you as one of this year’s students accepted into our school’s academic curriculum.
Angus didn’t need to read any more to grasp the weight of the piece of paper he was holding.
Angus smiled excitedly, “Bea, this is… No way…”
“What is it, cap’n?”, asked Gregg, trying to look over his shoulder.
“Bea’s going to college.”, said Angus. He finally understood why Bea would be so willing to splurge on this fancy restaurant for them. To her, this was more than worth celebrating.
“I knew it! Yes, you finally did it!”, exclaimed Mae, hugging Bea.
Bea was beaming as the contents of the paper were revealed. She knew that all of the effort she went through to hide it until now was probably pointless, but she wanted this moment to be amazing, flawless, and with no interruptions. This marked her finally reaching that dream she had given up on all of those years ago.
“This is great! What are you studying?”, asked Angus.
“I’m majoring in psychology with a minor in sociology.”, answered Bea.
“Psychology? I thought you wanted to be an engineer? You were always the math and science type.”, questioned Angus.
“What’s sociology?”, asked Gregg.
“When are you starting?”, asked Mae.
“Okay, everyone calm down. I can’t answer you all at the same time. First, I’ll be starting next semester at the end of August. Second, sociology, in a nutshell, is the study of human society. Last is why I decided to major in psychology. It’s pretty simple, really. I want you all to think about your lives. Think about your lives and tell me what all of you have in common.”
“Where are you going with this?”, asked Angus.
“Do I have to spell it out for you? It’s because of you. The three of you are why I’m doing this.”
“Yes! Think about it. Before we all made it to Bright Harbor, our lives were pretty traumatic. We all had our life-altering tragedies or mental breakdowns. I’m honestly surprised we all became functioning members of society with Dr. Hank as our town’s psychologist. I wish I could’ve helped you. I wish someone could’ve helped me. I don’t want other people to feel like they don’t have those options. That’s why I’m majoring in psychology.”
“That’s really admirable of you.”, said Angus.
“Thanks. You know, Mae’s seeing a counselor. It’s really been helping her. I know it may not be my place to ask, but have either of you considered seeing one here in Bright Harbor? They’re so much better than Dr. Hank here.”, asked Bea.
“No.”, said Angus without hesitation.
“That was pretty fast. I’m not saying you have any serious mental issues or anything, but I’m sure there has to be something that you might want to talk about. I’ve actually considered seeing one myself. We’ve all been through a lot. It might be good for us to have a professional outlet.”
“No. I don’t have any problems. I’m happy. Nothing’s wrong anymore.”, said Angus, aggravated.
“Okay. What about Gregg?”
Gregg was lost in thought when the question was thrown at him. The mention of his name broke him out of it, though. “Huh? Oh, me? I mean, I’ve never really considered it before. Aren’t those people really expensive?”
“Does your work give either of you mental health insurance?”, asked Bea.
“Mine does.”, answered Angus.
“Okay. There are plenty of counselors who accept insurance. There wouldn’t be any out of pocket expense. You’d just need to have a time set aside every week or every other week to see them.”
Gregg thought about it. He was having some doubts after Angus’ response, though. “I mean, if Angus doesn’t need it, I don’t really see how it would make sense for me to start going. His life’s been a lot worse than mine. I don’t think I need it.” He seemed slightly disappointed as he gave his answer.
Angus could immediately see that Gregg was lying. He’d gotten so used to Gregg hiding his feelings from him that he developed something like a sixth sense for it.
“He wants it, doesn’t he?”
“That’s no reason not to go. Think about how many people wouldn’t see these people if they thought like that. There’s always going to be someone who has it worse than you. You can’t let that stop you from helping yourself. Now, if you don’t want to go, then you don’t want to go. That’s your choice. If you’re happy like you are, that’s great. I just want you to know that just because your life is going well, it doesn’t mean there can’t be things that are hurting you. One common trend in people with depression or anxiety disorders is that a lot of them have lives that should be making them happy, but they aren’t happy. That’s no reason to think less of what they’re going through.”, explained Bea, “The same goes for you, Angus.”
“I said no! Stop trying to get me to see a counselor when I don’t need one! Yes, my life was shitty, but it’s over now! I’m never going to see my mother or my father again! They can’t hurt me anymore!”, replied Angus angrily.
“I never mentioned your parents.”, said Bea.
“What else would you be talking about?!”
“What else? Are you serious? What about the cult? What about Casey? What about when Gregg almost died? What about your baby?”
Angus felt the gravity of the things he didn’t say pulling on the pit of his stomach. How could he forget about all of it so easily? His anger died off instantly.
“I’m not seeing a counselor.”, said Angus quietly, now focusing on only his food.
“…Fine.” Bea saw that she went too far and backed off.
Mae and Gregg looked at each other, taking in what just happened. There was an awkward silence for a few minutes as everyone ate, but eventually, Mae and Gregg were able to spark up a casual conversation to carry them through the rest of the meal.
The meal came to an end, and Bea paid as the four prepared to leave.
“…I’m sorry about all of that stuff I was talking about. It isn’t my place to try and get you to see a counselor.”, apologized Bea. She internally scolded herself for letting her excitement of this new future for her push her that far. She wasn’t qualified to psycho-analyze people! She hadn’t even started! Still, she had felt something off about Angus recently. It was probably just his stress over the baby and the adoption, though.
“It’s fine. Don’t worry about it. I’m fine. I’m happy now. I have Gregg, after all.”
Gregg blushed, “Aww, I’m so flattered.”
“As long as you’re happy, I’m fine.”, said Bea.
After that, they all went out to the car and drove home. It was pretty late by the time they got home, and it wasn’t long before they were all fast asleep.
Chapter 8: Denial
It was raining today, a light drizzle. It was actually quite relaxing, the light pattering on the windows, the light gray sky. Angus was awake. He was sitting on the couch, listening to mother nature’s soothing symphony. It did little to ease his mind. He couldn’t stop thinking about last night.
“I don’t have a problem, right?”
“No, I can’t. Everything’s fine now. I won’t let them hurt me anymore.”
“They are, though. Why else wouldn’t you be thinking about all of that other stuff Bea mentioned. Face it, a death cult is objectively worse than abusive parents. Loved one’s almost dying could be considered worse by some.”
“No. They aren’t a problem anymore. They’re gone. I don’t need my parents anymore.”
“But what if-“
“Hey, Angus!”, called Gregg, interrupting Angus train of thought.
“Oh. Hey, bug.”
“What are you doing?”, asked Gregg.
“Nothing… Just relaxing. It’s raining out.”
“Really? Sweet.” Gregg knew that rain meant one of three things, playing in the rain, video game marathon, or extra cuddle time… It was usually video games or extra cuddle time.
Angus checked the time on his phone. It was around 10am. He had gotten up about half an hour ago.
“So, what do you want to do today?”, asked Angus.
“I’m up for anything, bug.”
Gregg thought for a moment, and then, his stomach began to rumble.
“I guess that means breakfast, then.”, said Angus, getting up and going out to the kitchen. He looked through their cupboards, “We really need to go shopping. We only have cereal.”
“I’m fine with cereal.”, said Gregg. Angus made them both bowls, and they sat down at their table.
“So, Bea’s finally going to college, huh?”, said, Gregg, as they began to eat.
“Yeah. She’ll be the first person from our group to graduate from college.”, said Angus.
“You could have been the first.”
“Yeah, but then, I’d be in a lot of debt right now. Things worked out. Thanks to you, I even managed to land a job as a computer support specialist. Seriously, no one would have accepted me without a college degree if it weren’t for you finding that guy at work.”
“Yeah. Larry’s a cool guy.”, said Gregg.
“Right, Larry. I can’t believe I didn’t remember his name. I never saw him where I worked.”
“He didn’t work in your department. I forgot exactly what job he had there. We don’t really talk about work. The whole reason he goes there is for his break from work. Do you guys not have a café or something? I always see a small rush of people whenever you’re on your lunch break.”
“We do, but the food’s pretty mediocre. Honestly, those people you’re getting are probably from our support department. A lot of people just can’t deal with all of the idiots we get. Trust me, it’s the worst part of the job. That’s not the point, though. The point is that we made it just fine without the college education. Mae’s also doing great from what I hear. Bea’s the only one right now working a job she doesn’t like, but now, that can change.”
“Mhm… so… about last night…”, started Gregg, hesitant to finish.
“What about it?”, questioned Angus.
“Well, I was just wondering if you were okay.”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Why would there be a problem?”
Gregg looked at Angus in slight disbelief, “Huh?”
“I asked why there would be a problem.”
Gregg swallowed down the knot in his stomach, “It’s just that when Bea started talking about counseling and stuff, you got really defensive.”
“It wasn’t her place to try and push us into seeing one. That’s all there was to it.”
“I know, but she was just offering a suggestion. You kinda snapped at her for just offering some advice.”
“She’s seeing things that aren’t there. She’s just excited about college. It’s getting to her head a bit, that’s all.”
“I don’t know… We have been through a lot… Are you sure it wouldn’t help even a little?”, asked Gregg.
“Bug, is there something bothering you?”, asked Angus.
“I mean, sure, there are things that might be good for me to talk out with a professional, but it’s not about me. I’m worried about you.”
“You don’t need to worry about me, Gregg. I’m fine.”
“I’m not sure that’s true anymore.”, Gregg’s voice rose, “Ever since you left your mother, it seems like you just keep getting angrier and angrier whenever your parents are even mentioned.”
There was a pause. Then, Angus sighed, “I promise you I’m fine. If anything gets out of hand, I promise I’ll get help, okay? You don’t have to worry about me.” His voice was warm, soothing, with no sign of any mental or emotional imbalance.
Gregg wanted to believe him, and he sounded so convincing, so he accepted it, “If you say so, I’ll believe you.”
“Thank you.”, replied Angus.
“This is my problem. You don’t need to get involved. I’ll get over it like I always do.”, he thought.
They finished eating breakfast soon after that. They still had the rest of the day to pass, though.
“So, what now?”, asked Angus.
“Ummm… Weren’t you going to help Mae buy parts for her new computer?”, asked Gregg.
“Oh, right. I forgot. I’ll text her.” Angus pulled out his phone and sent Mae a message, “Man, having reception still feels amazing.”
“I know, right? And we don’t have to fiddle with the wi-fi anymore, either.”
Mae got back to Angus in moments. She asked if he could come over. He messaged her back saying yes and asking if she wanted Gregg to come. She said she didn’t care. If he didn’t want to, it was fine.
“So, looks like I’m going to see Mae for a bit. Do you want to come?”, asked Angus.
“Nah. I’ll let you handle this one. I’m gonna go play some SPO. You wanna play after you’re done?” SPO was the acronym used for Sword People Online.
“Sure. That should kill some time. I guess I’ll get going then. Be back in a bit.” Angus walked to the front door, giving Gregg a wave as he exited.
He walked upstairs to Mae and Bea’s apartment and knocked on their door. Mae answered a few seconds later.
“Hey, big guy. Come on in.” Mae ushered Angus inside and closed the door behind him. She led him into the living room.
“Where’s Bea?”, asked Angus, taking notice of the fact that Bea wasn’t anywhere to be seen.
“She’s sleeping still. She was up late last night. I woke up at around 1 in the morning and saw she was still up on her laptop. She said she was just excited from telling us all about her going to college last night. I even saw her looking at the college’s website. I fell back asleep right after, so I don’t know exactly how late she stayed up.”
“Oh, okay.” Angus was worried that it might have been more him than college that kept Bea up. He did kind of blow up at her… No, he responded completely normally. Who wouldn’t get mad if your best friend tried to tell you that you needed mental help?
Angus sat down with Mae and began to help her.
“Okay, I don’t know anything about what I need to build a computer, so I’m gonna let you lead the way, cap’n.”, said Mae, giving him a playful salute.
“Please don’t call me that.”, said Angus.
“Aww, why not? Gregg calls you that all the time.”
“Exactly. Gregg calls me that because it’s his pet name for me. He is my husband, you know. You calling me that just feels weird.”
“Yeah… You’re right. Sorry.”
“Eh, don’t worry about it. Let’s just get down to business. How much money do you have saved up for a computer?”, asked Angus.
“Last I checked, just over 1100.”
“Nice. That means we can get you a nice graphics card and a good processor. Those are easily the most expensive things you need. You’ll also need a monitor, a hard drive, a motherboard…” Angus went on listing parts, many of which Mae didn’t know anything about. Angus was in the zone, and she planned on just letting him go.
Angus went online and went to a website Mae didn’t recognize.
“These people sell computer parts cheaper than I’ve found on any other legit site. They’re really obscure, which is probably good. The demand for their products is low, so their prices are lower.”
“Yeah, I know. I understand supply and demand. Bea always mentioned it whenever she would talk about her job back at the Ol’ Pickaxe.”
It was like Angus didn’t hear Mae’s comment. He was muttering things to himself, running numbers in his head, considering what the best investments would be in the long run.
Mae watched as her cart filled with part after part. By the time Angus was done, the final price was just below 1000 dollars. That plus taxes and the shipping and handling brought the total to almost 1100 exactly.
“Wow. Right on the mark.”, said Mae.
“Yep. This thing’s gonna be a monster. It’ll be way better than my computer or Gregg’s.”
“Of course. The computer I made was only with a couple hundred dollars, and the one Gregg got me was pre-built and only slightly more expensive than this one. So, are you ready to put in the order?”, asked Angus, looking like a child on Christmas.
“Man, it’s like you’re more excited about this computer than me. Yeah, I’ll put in my information and stuff, and then you can go ahead and buy it.”, said Mae, taking her laptop from Angus.
Angus became red with embarrassment. He hadn’t meant to get as excited as he did. He loved computers a bit too much. It didn’t take long for Mae to finish inputting her information. After she was done, she handed it back to Angus, “Here. I don’t feel like finding the buy button again.”
Angus took the laptop and navigated back to the cart. He then purchased the parts.
“That should be it. The parts will be here in a week or so. When they get here, just text me and I’ll get it built for you.”
“Aw, man. I have to wait a whole week? Whyyyyy?”, whined Mae.
“Because shipping parts from across the country takes a while. Don’t worry. It’ll be here before you know it. Just be patient.”
Mae sighed, “Yeah, I know. You can go now if you want.”
“Okay. I’ll get going. Gregg wants to play Sword People Online.”
“You’d better help me grind to max level when I get my computer.”
Angus got up, “You can’t just grind to max level. You’ve got to play through the story before you can access any of the end-game content.”
“Is the story good?”, asked Mae.
“It’s regarded as one of the best in the MMO genre, so yes.”
“Okay. If it’s a good story, then I’ll play through it.”
Angus got up, “I can make an alt and play through it with you if you want. I’ve been thinking about trying some of the other classes out.”
“If you want to, it’s fine. I don’t really care, though.”
“I’ll think about it. I’ll see you later.”
“Yep. Have fun.”
Angus exited the apartment, shutting the door behind him. He heard a click, probably from Mae locking the door. When he got back to his apartment, Gregg was in the kitchen grabbing a soda.
“Hey, cap’n. How’d it go?”, asked Gregg.
“Good. She should have a computer in about a week.”, replied Angus, grabbing himself a soda after Gregg.
“Sweet! I can’t wait!”
“So, do you still want to play?”, asked Angus.
“Yeah, I was just getting a drink. What are we gonna do?”
“There’s actually going to be an event this week. There are going to be vendors selling limited gear until next Monday. It’s supposed to be really expensive. We should probably farm up some gold.”
“Sounds good. Let’s do this.”
They spent the rest of the day grinding dungeons and monsters for money in Sword People Online. It was a fun way to end the weekend. It would be back to work the next day. They also had the follow-up visits from Michael to think about. None of it was today, though, so it didn’t matter. They would deal with it as it came like they always did.
Chapter 9: Back in That Horrible Place
A few more weeks passed after the home study and double date. Gregg and Angus were able to finish their adoption classes in that time. Michael had contacted them, giving them a date for a follow up to the home study. It would take place on the 26th of May. When the day came, they were more than ready to move forward with the process.
To pass the time, Gregg and Angus sat and watched tv in the living room. Gregg insisted they watch Saturday morning cartoons. He said it was to prepare them for never having access to the tv again, but he really just wanted to watch them for himself. There was still a place in his heart for children’s cartoons.
“I still don’t understand why trading card games would determine the fate of the world.”, commented Angus, as the main character on screen proceeded to pull miracles out of his ass, “And they don’t even follow the rules. I used to play this game. I’m surprised it even still exists.”
“Who cares? It’s just a cartoon.”, replied Gregg.
“Just because it’s a cartoon, that doesn’t mean it can’t at least try to follow the rules.”
“Come on, loosen up. You know the ass pulls can be fun, even if they don’t make sense.”
“I’m not saying that a good ass pull isn’t cool every once and a while, but I’ve watched plenty of shows where they actually made sense and you could guess them if you were clever enough. In this, every miracle that happens is just because of the characters magically top-decking the card they just so happened to need at the last second.”, argued Angus.
“Alright, fine. I’ll agree with you and let you complain about it for now. I don’t want to see you ruining cartoons with all of your logic once we have our kid, though.”
“What if we end up getting an older kid? Do you think they’ll even still like cartoons?”, asked Angus.
“Please, we’ve been watching cartoons all our lives. Don’t think I don’t see you binging anime on the weekends.”
Red washed over Angus’ complexion, “That’s not what I meant.”
“Hey, there’s an idea! We can all watch anime together. It’ll be our form of family bonding.”
“Don’t you think we should be going out and doing stuff with our child instead of sitting inside and watching tv?”
“Let’s be honest. How often are we actually going to take our kid outside with us to go to the park or something? We live in the city now. We can’t just tell them to go out and play by themselves like we could in Possum Springs. They would probably get kidnapped or something.” A sudden sadness hit Gregg, “Even being in a small town like Possum Springs didn’t stop kids from being kidnapped and killed.”
There it was again. The cult. No matter how many years passed, it just wouldn’t stop coming up. It never became less gut-wrenching no matter how many times they talked about it. Then, there was Casey…
Angus thought about what Gregg said, and as much as he hated to admit it, he was right. They lived in a dangerous world, one where sending your kids to play outside alone wasn’t really an option. A lot of the quality time they would spend with their child would occur inside.
“Yeah, you’re right. We’ll still do it sometimes, though.”, replied Angus.
“Mhm, even if they don’t want to. We don’t want them turning into lazy couch potatoes after all.”, agreed Gregg, smiling and breaking out of his small sad spell.
There was a knock at the front door.
“Is that Michael?”, asked Gregg.
“Probably.” Angus got up and turned off the tv. Gregg went to answer the door. Sure enough, it was Michael.
“Hey, man. Welcome back.”, greeted Gregg, leading him into the apartment.
“Good to be back. How have you two been?”, asked Michael.
“We’ve been good. We’re done with our adoption classes. The exam they gave at the end was easy.”, replied Gregg, taking Michael into the living room.
“Maybe a bit too easy.”, said Michael, a bit of cynicism leaking into his tone.
Angus moved a chair to face the couch, offering for Michael to sit in it. He gladly accepted. Gregg took his seat on the couch.
“Would you like something to drink?”, asked Angus to Michael.
“What do you have?”
“Just some soda. I need to go shopping later.”, answered Angus, slightly embarrassed he couldn’t offer anything more.
“Sure, why not?”, said Michael.
“Could you get me one, too?”, asked Gregg.
Angus nodded and went out to the kitchen. A few moments later, he returned with 3 cans of generic cola. He passed them around to everyone.
“Thank you.”, said Michael.
“Yeah, thanks, cap’n.”, said Gregg.
Angus took his seat next to Gregg. They were ready to get down to business.
“Alright. Now that everything is set, it’s time to get to work. To start, I’d like to inform you that your background checks have been verified. You’re both good to go. I also went and got some statements from the references you sent me. I’ve heard good stuff about you.”, said Michael.
“That’s good. What else is there?”, asked Angus.
“Well, I was going to ask you about your adoption course, but from what Gregg told me, it was easy. I also have the test results, of course, but they never really amount to much in the long run.”
Angus raised an eyebrow at that. “Why not?”
“Let’s just say that anyone can pass that test, even the worst parents you could ever meet, and with flying colors, too. It’s more of an obligation at this point than an actual method of weeding out bad people.”, replied Michael. There was a pause as both Gregg and Angus felt the air of confidence they had built up from how easy the test was become contaminated with that dreaded, poisonous doubt.
Michael saw it was making them uncomfortable and decided to continue, “That would actually lead us into the next part and what is one of the best parts for most up-and-coming adoptive parents, getting you matched with a child.”
Both Gregg and Angus both lit up when they heard those words. Michael saw this, and his mind lit up as well. They were the ones. He just hoped they would accept…
“It’s time to make my move.”, Michael thought as he pulled out papers from his briefcase.
“You know, that face shows me so much. Your eyes, those are what I’ve been looking for.”, said Michael.
“What?”, questioned Angus. He and Gregg were confused. What was this about their faces all of a sudden?
“I’m going to ask you for a favor. Whether you accept or not is entirely up to you. I am about to be asking a lot from you.” Michael took out a single manila folder and dropped it in front of them.
Neither Angus nor Gregg knew what was going on. Angus took the folder and opened it. Inside was a child’s file. There was a picture of them from not too long ago. The child in the picture was a raccoon. He looked to be in his adolescence.
Michael began to talk before Gregg or Angus could ask any questions, “This boy’s name is Liam. He’s currently 10. He’s just finished elementary school.”
“Why are you showing us this?”, asked Gregg.
“Long story short, I want you two to adopt him.”
Gregg and Angus looked at each other, speechless.
“I know this is kind of sudden, but just hear me out.”, requested Michael.
“What’s so special about him?”, asked Angus.
“I was just about to get to that. Liam, he’s been through a lot. He’s one our adoption agency’s biggest failures.”
“What do you mean?”, asked Gregg.
Michael sighed and cleared his throat, preparing to continue, “Liam was abandoned as a baby. Luckily, we found him and got him to a good home soon after. When he was just 7, though, his adoptive parents died in a car accident caused by a drunk driver. They immigrated from overseas, and there wasn’t any other family that could take him in. He ended up back with us at our orphanage. A few months later, another family took him in. They were one of the bad seeds our pathetic tests and checks couldn’t find. After a year of neglect and abuse, one of the parents overdosed on heroin, and Liam was taken by child protective services.”
“What exactly were his second parents like?”, asked Angus, morbid curiosity and empathy taking over.
“When we recovered Liam, he was badly bruised all over his body. We found records of broken bones as well from his doctor at the time. We couldn’t get him to tell us exactly what they did to him.”
Angus felt angry, enraged even. He was just like him. He wanted to yell, but he needed to keep it in. He couldn’t make a scene, not when they were so close. He had to make it go away. He could be angry later.
“That still leaves over a year until now. Has he just been in the orphanage since then?”, asked Gregg.
Michael scoffed, “No. If it had just been one bad situation like this, it wouldn’t be considered one of our agency’s biggest failures, would it?”
“There was more?”, asked Angus, trembling a bit at what he knew had to come next.
“Yes. Another family took him in a few months after the last one. They seemed nice, just like the last ones. It was just an act, though. All they wanted was the benefits that came with adopting children, support money and free labor. It was the same situation again, but this time, we didn’t find out until Liam was hospitalized. He was suffering from a severe case of malnutrition and dehydration as well as several bruises and broken ribs. From what the police gathered, he finally decided to fight back during one of his beatings, and this was the punishment he got for it.”
Angus was clutching his stomach. He could feel himself about to throw up. His breathing was constricted to the point of barely being enough to keep himself from passing out. The anger he was feeling before had become something else.
“Angus, are you okay?”, asked Michael.
Gregg looked over and noticed what was going on. He had been too lost in his own thoughts to notice his husband’s suffering.
“Woah, cap’n, what’s wrong?”, asked Gregg, placing a supportive hand on Angus.
Angus stood up, abandoning Gregg’s offer for help, “I… I need to go. I need to go.” He stumbled out of the room, rushing to the bathroom and slamming the door behind him. He knelt over the toilet, holding a hand over his mouth.
“It hurts. Everything hurts.”
“What’s happening to me?”
“I’m going to throw up.”
Before Angus could vomit, he felt suffocated, claustrophobic. As it turned out, going to the bathroom was a bad idea. The room was small with no windows.
“Like the Pantry.”
“I need to get out.”
“Get me out of here!”
Angus got up and tried running through the door, forgetting that it opened inwards from where he was. A shooting pain went through his shoulder as he ran into the door. He yelped in pain, even though he hadn’t even rammed into the door that hard. As he was reminded of the direction of the door’s swing, he pulled on the doorknob. It flew open, hitting the wall with a loud thud.
“Angus, what’s going on?!”, asked Gregg with a sense of panic.
Angus wasn’t sure what was going on himself. This had never happened before.
“It’s too small. The sink. I need the sink. Everything hurts. I’m gonna throw up.” Angus’ sentences were barely coherent. They all came out as one long string of words.
“Do you need to go to the hospital or something?”, asked Michael.
“No, no hospital. They can’t find out. It’ll make everything worse.”
Gregg was able to at least understand that Angus needed to get to the sink. He wasn’t sure why he couldn’t just puke in the toilet or what he was talking about, but he knew that trying to get him back into the bathroom wasn’t happening. Gregg took Angus to the kitchen sink. Michael followed them, not sure what to do.
Once at the sink, Angus was ready to vomit, but something kept him from doing it.
“You can’t. You can’t make a mess. You’ll have to go back there.”
“Wait… Wait, what? What am I talking about? What’s happening?”
“I’m an adult. She can’t even do that anymore.”
“Why would I feel like I was there again?”
“We don’t even have a pantry…”
Slowly, the pain Angus thought was there went away. The need to vomit died down. He regained control of his breathing again.
“Angus, it’s gonna be okay. Just breathe. Calm down. I’m right here.”, said Gregg, holding Angus close to him. He was so scared.
The warmth of Gregg helped Angus calm down considerably. It was replacing the sensations he had just been feeling with something comforting. A few moments later, Angus was well enough to move back from the sink. He wasn’t going to throw up.
Angus looked down at Gregg, who was still holding onto him. He looked terrified and helpless.
Angus placed a hand on Gregg, “Bug? I’m… I’m okay.”
“That was not okay, Angus! What the hell just happened?!”
“I don’t know. I was just listening to Michael talk about Liam, and all of a sudden, I started feeling sick to my stomach. I thought I was just feeling bad about what he had to go through, but then, something snapped. I was going to throw up, so I went into the bathroom. When I got in there, my whole body started hurting. I got really claustrophobic for some reason, so I started panicking. After I got out and got to the sink, I couldn’t bring myself to let myself throw up. For some reason, I felt like I would get in trouble if I made a mess in the sink.”, Angus explained.
“What do you think caused it? Like, I know it was hard listening to Michael, but that wasn’t normal.”
Before Angus could answer, Michael stepped in, “Angus, I know your childhood was pretty bad. Have you ever considered the idea that it might be affecting you still? I’ve seen this situation enough times to know that you don’t just forget about parental abuse like that. I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve seen this happen a lot with kids, and more often than not, it turns out to be some degree of PTSD.”
“You’re right about one thing. I’ll never forget what my parents did to me, but it’s not a problem anymore. I do not have PTSD. This has never happened before. I’m sure it was just a one-time thing. Maybe, it was something I ate.”, argued Angus.
“It may have stayed dormant until now because you’ve never experienced anything that’s triggered a flashback before now. This happened when I told you about Liam, and it seems like you’ve been through a lot of the same stuff as him.”, said Michael.
“Yeah, it is really similar. I’m worried about you. I know you want to act like everything’s all right, but it’s not. You really scared me just now. Why won’t you just admit that you’re hurting? We can get help. It’s not hard.”, said Gregg.
“No! I won’t give them the satisfaction of hurting me ever again! I’m fine!”, yelled Angus.
“If you think raising Liam is going to be too much for you, we can look through the other files.”, offered Michael.
“No, I’m not letting him be taken by some other random stranger! I won’t let him get hurt again!”
Michael looked at Angus silently for a moment. “Angus, I know you mean well, but this is a delicate situation we’re talking about. You’re going to be the stay-at-home dad. You’re not going to be able to avoid his past. If you’re going to care for him, you’re going to need to see a mental health counselor. If you don’t, I can’t in good conscience give him to you.”
Angus was taken aback, “You can’t be serious.”
“This isn’t a joke. This is a child’s livelihood we’re talking about. If you’re not willing to face your own inner demons, how can you expect to help Liam face his? To him, you’re going to be the only one who knows what he’s been through, and he needs someone like that, someone he can open up to. I know you can do it. You’re both good people, and I know you can be the family he needs. Please, do it for him.”
Angus was forced into a corner. He couldn’t avoid it anymore. Tears rolled down his cheeks. He felt like he’d just lost a lifelong war. He had to give in, though. He had to save him.
Angus wiped at his face, “Fine. I’ll do it.”
Chapter 10: Consoling a Breaking Mind
After Angus’ episode and his agreement to get help, Michael referred him to some people he knew that would know how to work with him. He agreed to submit their inquiry on Liam, assuring them that they’d most likely hear word on the decision within a month. He also reminded them that if Angus didn’t hold up his end of the deal, he could easily reverse the decision. With that, he left, leaving Gregg and Angus alone.
Once Michael was gone, Angus sat on the couch, burying his head in his hands. He began to sob. Seeing this, Gregg sat himself down next to him and hugged him.
“Fuck!”, yelled Angus despairingly.
“Come on, cap’n, it’ll be okay.”, said Gregg.
“No, it won’t! Of all of the times for this to happen, of course it would be fucking now!”
“I know it sucks, but I think it’ll be good for you. I’ve been worried about you, and whatever just happened isn’t something I want you to have to go through again. You really scared me.”
“I just want it to be over! Even when I never see my parents, they still find some way to fuck with me! Why can’t they just leave me alone?!”
Gregg felt guilty, guilty for not seeing what was happening sooner. He saw Angus suffering, and he just accepted it when he said he was okay. He should have said more, pushed harder, but he hadn’t because he was a coward, a failure, a worthless piece of shit. Gregg was Angus’ husband. He was supposed to be the one who dealt with things like this, not Bea, not some random person they’d only ever talked to twice, but him.
“I’m sorry, Angus. You shouldn’t have had to go through that. We can get you help now, though.”, said Gregg.
“Why should I have to share all of my personal thoughts with some random stranger?!”, asked Angus.
“If you want, I can go with you. Would that help at all?”, asked Gregg.
“You don’t have to go with me, bug. This isn’t your problem.”
“It is my problem!”, yelled Gregg, “This is all my problem! It’s my fault it even got this bad in the first place! I should have done more! I shouldn’t have let you go when you told me you were okay, and you clearly weren’t!”
Angus looked at Gregg, confused, “None of this is your fault, Gregg. This has nothing to do with you.”
“But it is! You’re my husband! You’re supposed to be able to trust me to be there for you! I know I’m not great at solving problems and stuff, but I should’ve tried at least.”
“Look, it’s not your fault, okay? I just didn’t want to say anything. I didn’t want anything to be wrong, especially when we’re trying to get a kid. I really thought I was fine, but that clearly isn’t true. I can’t really deny it anymore. Damn it!” Angus was angry, scared, and stressed beyond belief. He really didn’t want to deal with this.
Nothing more was said for a few moments as both Angus and Gregg wound down.
“Man, I just don’t get it.”, said Gregg.
“Huh?”, replied Angus.
“Why you? Why is it you of all people? Why do you have to deal with all of this shit? You’re too good for this, cap’n. You don’t deserve it. It should have been me. You were always so nice and smart, and I was always out trespassing and vandalizing shit. I should’ve been the one that got abused. I probably deserved it.”
“Gregg, we’ve had this conversation before. Nobody deserves what happened to me, least of all you. The universe doesn’t care about who deserves what. I was just unlucky in that part of my life. It’s not like it lasted, though. I found you. Sure, a lot’s happened since we met, but not all of it was bad.” Angus held up his ring, “You gave me this, after all. This is the greatest fortune I ever could have hoped for.” He laughed, “It’s probably why I never had any luck. Life was saving it all for that moment.”
The nod to the ring prompted Gregg to look at his own, reflecting on everything it meant, “Yeah. The day we got married was amazing. I just wish Mae hadn’t ruined it for Casey’s parents… I wish Casey could have been there… Why did it have to be Casey? He never got to do anything with his life… Goddamn it! I got off track. This isn’t supposed to be about that.”
“I think we’re both getting off track. I need to start calling up some of these people.” Angus picked up the list of people Michael had referenced him to.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to go with you?”, asked Gregg.
Angus stared at the paper for a few seconds. He had a different idea.
“You don’t have to go with me, but I think you should see one of these people by yourself.”
“What? Why?”, asked Gregg.
“Because I don’t want you to have to go through what I just did. That was horrible. You’ve been through just as much as I have, and you don’t really talk about it, but sometimes, I feel like you want to. I’m sorry I can’t really help you when it comes to Casey. I haven’t been through grief like you, Mae, or Bea. I was friends with Casey, but I never got close to him like you did. You don’t have to, but I think you want to. You seemed disappointed turning it down when we went out with Mae and Bea.”
Gregg felt ashamed of himself. Angus saw through him that easily?
“I don’t know… I just feel kind of stuck, I guess. We all avoided talking about it after the incident, and when we decided to tell Casey’s parents, Mae let it out before we could get together and tell them. It’s hard not being able to tell anyone. Honestly, it was kind of stupid to tell them in the first place. We left dozens of people to die down in the mines. They could have called the police or something. Our lives would be ruined… How am I supposed to tell someone I don’t even know what happened?”
“I’m pretty sure these people aren’t allowed to leak information about us from our sessions.”, replied Angus.
“Oh.” Gregg took a moment to think, “I guess I would be up for it.”
Angus smiled. Then, something else came to mind.
“I need to talk to Bea.”
“Huh?”, replied Gregg.
“I need to apologize to her. I made a big scene when she was nice enough to take us all out for dinner, and she even ended up being right about everything.”
“Oh, right. That would probably be a good idea.”, said Gregg.
Angus got up and let out a sigh, “I’m gonna go see if she’s home.”
“Alright. Good luck. I love you.”
“I love you, too.” Angus exited the apartment and walked downstairs. He had no idea what he was going to say.
When he reached their door, he took a deep breath and knocked. After a few moments of silent anticipation, footsteps approached the door. There was a click and the turning of the doorknob. Would it be Mae or Bea?
Angus saw that familiar, reptilian face. It was Bea who answered the door.
“Angus? What’s up?”, said Bea, soon after taking note of Angus’ puffy cheeks and humbled expression, “Did something happen? You look like shit.”
“Yeah, something happened. Can we talk for a bit?”, requested Angus.
“Sure, come in.”
Angus was led inside.
“Is Mae here?”, asked Angus.
“No. I actually got her to go out and buy groceries for once.”
“Wow. That couldn’t have been easy.”
Bea snickered, “It wasn’t too hard. It just took a little… incentive.”
“Oh, I see.”, replied Angus sarcastically.
“Did you want to talk to Mae, too?”, asked Bea.
“No. I actually wanted to talk to you alone.”
“I guess this is convenient timing then.” Bea sat on the couch, Angus sitting on the other end. “So, what did you want to talk about? Did something happen with the adoption? I know you were supposed to be visited by that guy again today.”
“Kind of, but not really. It’s mainly about when you took us all out to dinner, and we got into that argument.”
“Right. I said it was fine. I was getting too personal. I shouldn’t be trying to diagnose you with problems that aren’t there.”, said Bea.
“They are there.”
“There are problems. You were right about everything.”
Bea was shocked, “Wait, what? I was right?”
“Yeah. When we had that argument, I really believed I was okay, but it’s different now.”
“So, what made you change your mind? What happened?”, asked Bea.
“Not even an hour ago, I… Something happened to me. I got really sick and panicky out of nowhere, and I made a big scene in front of our adoption agent. He said it may have been a PTSD flashback, and I can see why. When I went into the bathroom to puke, the first thing I thought of was the pantry. I hurt all over like I had all of the bruises again. My stomach hurt like I was starving.”, explained Angus.
Bea winced as he told her what it was like. Being right felt horrible.
“I’m really sorry that happened. It’s weird, though. Why haven’t you had a flashback before? If you have PTSD, you should have been seeing signs well before now.”
“Well, I guess I haven’t really had any triggers for it in my life until now. Nothing set it off. There were always things going on to distract me from it. Now that we’re trying to settle down and raise a kid, I guess I just couldn’t avoid it anymore.”
“What exactly set you off?”, asked Bea.
“Our agent came to us with an offer. For whatever reason, they thought we were the best option for raising this one specific child. His name is Liam. When he started talking about his past, it was just like mine, except he actually lost good parents beforehand. I wanted to be angry. That’s how I usually deal with stuff surrounding my parents and stuff nowadays. I guess that’s not really healthy. Anyways, I didn’t want to have an outburst in front of him, so I held it in, and that’s when it happened. After he saw what happened, he said that I would have to get mental help if he was going to let us raise him, and after hearing about what happened to him, I couldn’t bring myself to let him go, so I accepted.”
“Do you need someone to go to? The person Mae’s seeing seems pretty good.”
“Nah, I was given a list of references. Besides, I don’t think you’re supposed to see the same therapist as your friends.”, replied Angus.
Bea sighed, “Yeah. This sucks. Everyone keeps falling apart, and all I can do is trust them to strangers. I’m surprised Gregg’s the only one who hasn’t decided to see a counselor yet.”
“Actually, he’s starting, too.”
“Okay, scratch that, I guess. What’s going on with him?”, asked Bea.
“He keeps bringing up Casey.”
“Oh. Yeah, Mae does, too.”
“I wish I’d known him better.”, said Angus.
“I wish I’d known him at all. All I ever really did was… replace him.”
“There’s not anything we can do about it now.”
“Do you still think those people, the cult, deserved to die down there?”
“Yes.”, answered Angus without pause.
“I still can’t see it. They really thought they were doing what was right. That doesn’t excuse any of it, but… I don’t know.”
“They had their beliefs, and I have mine. Killing people for stupid reasons like that isn’t excusable. Think about the lives they ruined, not just the ones they ended. Do you know how many times Gregg wished he’d died instead, how much he thought he deserved it? They deserved it, all of them.”
“Did my dad deserve it, too?”, asked Bea, suddenly on the verge of tears.
Angus’ breath hitched, and his heart skipped a beat. He forgot about that completely. There wasn’t an answer he could think to say.
“Bea, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”, said Angus.
“No, you’re right. He… he probably deserved it. I just never thought he would ever… do something like that.”
There was an awkward silence between the two. The conversation had fallen into an uncomfortable void that made it impossible to continue. The silence was eventually broken by Bea.
“Well, good luck with your counseling and stuff. I’m glad you’re finally getting help.”
“Thanks. I guess I’ll get going now.”, replied Angus, standing up and stretching.
Angus left the apartment and went back upstairs. When he got back, he found Gregg asleep on the couch.
“I guess a nap wouldn’t hurt.”, thought Angus. He squeezed himself in behind Gregg and held him close, sleep hitting only moments after. They both needed it after everything that happened.
Chapter 11: Beginning to Heal
Angus wasn’t ready. He wasn’t ready to let his past back into the spotlight. He didn’t want to think about it, talk about it, especially with someone he’d never met before. It had to happen, though. It was for Liam, Gregg, Bea, Mae, everyone in his life who actually cared about him.
It was a Saturday just before noon, and Angus was sat in a small waiting room with Gregg. They were both here for counseling. Taking the list Michael had given him, Angus found two people who worked in the same building and managed to schedule matching times with them.
The clock struck 12, and soon after, a person walked out of the hallway leading to the offices, followed by another person a few moments after. After that, another person came out and walked over to Gregg and Angus. He was a tall, semi-muscular dog with brown fur and grey suit with stripes.
“Are you two Greggory and Angus?”
“Yes, that’s us. I’m Angus.”, replied Angus, a knot in his stomach.
“Alright. You’ll be with me. I’m Dr. Riese. Greggory here will be with Dr. Cassus a few rooms down the hall from me. He should be waiting outside his office.”
“Got it. Come on, bug. Let’s go.”, said Angus, standing up.
“Heh. ‘Bug’. That’s a new one.”
Angus’ face turned a brighter red than it was naturally, “Oh, that’s my, um, nickname for him.”
“I gathered that. Does he have one for you?”
Gregg firmly planted an arm on Angus’ shoulder, “I call him cap’n.”
“Hm. Are these in-jokes or something? Normally, couples just take the obvious route. Cutie, honey, etc.”, asked Dr. Riese.
“We do that, too.”, said Gregg.
“No, they’re not really based on any sort of joke or anything. They just kinda happened.”, said Angus.
They had reached Riese’s office. There was someone else down the hall waving at them, probably Dr. Cassus.
“Alright. Angus, you come in with me. Greggory, Cassus is waiting for you right down there. He is currently waving at you.”
Angus went into Dr. Riese’s office.
“Bye, Gregg. I love you.”
“Love you, too.”, replied Gregg, heading off down the hall.
Once Gregg was gone, Dr. Riese closed the door to the office and sat in his computer chair.
“You can sit wherever you’d like.”, said Dr. Riese.
In the room were both a chair and a couch. Angus decided to take the couch.
“Good. Now that we’re settled in, are you ready to get started?”, asked Riese.
“Sure.”, replied Angus.
“Okay. You said that Michael recommended you to me, yes?”
“Um, yeah. Do you know him?”, asked Angus.
“We’re actually friends. We met when he first started work as an adoption agent. He wanted to get to know child psychologists.”
“You work with children?”
“Not exclusively, but yes, I do. Now, when I heard it was him who recommended you, I was curious, especially since you aren’t a child. What’s your relation to him?”
“He’s our adoption agent.”, answered Angus.
“Really? That is interesting. Is he still working with you?”
“Yeah, actually. I’m surprised he still thinks I’m capable.”
“If I may be so bold, what exactly prompted his recommendation of seeing a mental health counselor? If this is too much to start with, it’s fine.”
“Well, in the middle of matching us with a child, I… had some kind of flashback.”
“Flashback? Like, PTSD?”, asked Dr. Riese.
“May I ask what it was that caused it and what exactly happened during it?”
“Well, he was trying to get us to adopt this specific child, Liam.”
“Wait, it’s you two? You’re the people he found?”, asked Riese in slight disbelief.
“Has he told you about us or something?”
“He said he might have found ‘the ones’. He never mentioned your names or anything. Wow. You’re here, and he’s still thinking about giving him to you?”
“Yeah. It’s probably not gonna happen.”, said Angus ashamedly.
“I don’t know. If he’s sticking it out for you after something like this, he must like you a lot.”
“He said it was because Liam needed someone who could understand him.”
“And you can? So, does that mean…”
“Yeah, I was abused as a child.”, answered Angus for him.
“And that’s what caused it? The flashback?”
“Has this happened before?”
“Never. This has never happened before now. Why would that happen? Why would I not see anything for so long?”, asked Angus.
“Well, this could be a case of delayed-onset PTSD. How long has it been since you were abused?”
“We’ll be coming up on a decade in a year or two.”
“Wow. That’s a long time. Now, I know this is going really fast, but do you think you could tell me about the nature of your abuse?”
Angus found it hard to get an answer out. It had been so long since he ever talked about his childhood in great detail. Despite this, he swallowed his anxiety and began to speak.
“Ever since I was little, my dad would beat me for any little thing I did wrong. If I knocked a drink over, he would hit me. If it ever sounded like I was talking back to him, he would get out a belt or just punch and kick me. If it was ever anything serious, they’d have to keep me home from school while I healed. They couldn’t let it get out that they were doing this to me.”
Riese nodded and wrote some notes down, “What about your mother? What was she like.”
Angus felt shivers crawling up and down his spine, “She was worse. When my dad beat me, it would only last for maybe 5 minutes, more if it was really bad, but with my mom, it was so much worse. She… She would lock me in our pantry if I ever did anything to wrong her. Whenever I was in there, it would be for hours, even days at a time. I would always be starving. Sometimes, I felt like I was actually going to die in there.”
“Did this abuse ever cause any long-term medical problems?”
“I’m not sure. It may have made my asthma worse, but that’s all I can think of. I have a few scars, too, but those don’t really matter. They don’t bother me.”
“Well, I’m sorry you had to go through that. How long did you live with your parents?”
“I left as soon as I finished high school. I moved into an apartment with Gregg, and we lived there until we moved here.”
“You haven’t always lived here?”
“I used to live in this place called Possum Springs.”, said Angus.
Dr. Riese’s face lit up at the name, “Possum Springs? I remember hearing about that town. Didn’t it used to be one of the most successful mining towns in the country?”
“From what I’ve heard, yeah. It was never like that for me, though. I had to live in it while it became one of the biggest shitholes you could ever imagine. The only people still living there are people too poor to move, which is a lot of people, but not enough to keep a town alive.”
“Wow. It really did fall from grace, huh?”
“Mhm.”, replied Angus.
“Well, it would seem a lot of things weren’t great for you in your childhood.”
“That’s an understatement.”
“Yes, but that’s not the point. The point is that these things are out in the open now. We can talk about them. We can figure out if what you’re going through really is delayed-onset PTSD or not. This is a good thing. Most people don’t come out with this much information on the first day.”
“I need to. I need this shit out of my life, whatever it is.”
“That is my job. I’m here to help you through whatever’s bothering you and to make sure it negatively impacts your life as little as possible.”
Angus sighed, “I wonder how Gregg’s doing?”
“I’m sure he’s fine. He’s in good hands.”
Gregg was currently taking things much slower than Angus. He had only just finished introductions with Dr. Cassus.
“Well, it’s good to meet you, Gregg.”, said Dr. Cassus.
“Uh, same here.”, replied Gregg.
“Alright, now that we’ve gotten to know each other a bit, I guess it’s time to start doing what you actually came here for.”
“Right…”, said Gregg anxiously.
“So, what would you like to talk about. What’s the reason you came here?”, asked Dr. Cassus.
“Um, well, there are a few things, I guess. I need to ask you something, though.”
“Okay. What is it?”
“You’re not allowed to tell anyone else about what I tell you, right?”
“Ah, confidentiality. Under most circumstances, no, I am not allowed to tell anyone about what you tell me here. The only exceptions would be if you were a threat to someone else, or if I were forced to testify against you in court. Those are the only real ways I can break confidentiality, outside of other extremely rare circumstances.”, explained Dr. Cassus.
“Testify? He could testify against me?”
“No, that’s ridiculous. Those people have been missing for, like, 7 years. There isn’t going to be a court case. No one made it out of that cave.”
“Does that mean he could tell the police, though? What if they started an investigation?”
“What am I supposed to say?”
Gregg’s breathing became more rapid, and he began to sweat anxiously. His eye’s tried desperately to avoid Dr. Cassus’.
“Gregg? Mr. Delaney, can you hear me?”, asked Dr. Cassus.
Gregg’s eyes snapped to his, forced there by the call of his name.
“Are you okay?”
“No. No, I’m not.”
“Are you afraid to tell me something?”
“N-no. It’s nothing. I wasn’t gonna say anything.”, said Gregg frantically.
Dr. Cassus knew he was lying. He was worried now. What was he trying to hide? He had to make a compromise.
“Okay. How about this. I promise that no matter what, I won’t tell anyone as long as you aren’t planning to hurt anyone. Is that fair?” All in all, this was a smart question to ask. If the person he was talking to still refused to tell him, he knew that someone was probably in danger, and hiding most other things wouldn’t be too hard.
“Really?”, asked Gregg.
“Yes.” This was good. This probably meant no one was in danger at least.
“…Fine. I’ll tell you.”
“Good. So, what is it?”
“Well… I used to live in this small town called Possum Springs. Around 7 years ago or so, only a few months before we moved here, me and my friends got wrapped up in some crazy shit. We… discovered this cult in a cave outside of our town.”
“A cult?”, questioned Dr. Cassus.
“Yeah. They, like, murdered people. They had this hole they would sacrifice people into.”
Dr. Cassus was astounded. He never expected this.
“Were they ever caught?”
“No. They had police officers in the cult, so we couldn’t tell the police about it.”
“How did they get away with killing people? Didn’t people notice?”, asked Dr. Cassus.
“They only killed people they saw as worthless. Missing person posters would go up, but not enough people cared for there to be a massive uproar. They also didn’t do it too often. They only took someone every month or so.”
“Are they still there?”
This was the part Gregg was afraid of.
“No. After we found them in the cave, they actually let us go. We couldn’t do anything about them, and most of us were good workers, so they didn’t want to lose us. One of them, though, was mad at me for shooting him in the arm with my crossbow, so he tried to drag my friend, Mae back down after we got off of the elevator in the cave. We managed to pull her out, but the elevator collapsed, and there was a cave in. We all managed to escape, but the cult didn’t. We… even had our friend blow up the exit we found to make sure they all died. There were dozens of missing person’s posters going up over the next few days. None of them ever came up with anything.”
The room was quiet for a moment. Dr. Cassus was still taking in what Gregg had just told him. It was more than he’d ever expected.
“I’ve never heard anything like that before. I’m not sure what to say.”
“You won’t tell anyone, right? You can’t. I can’t be the one who let it out and ruined all of my friends’ lives!”
“Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone. As much as I hate it, that was probably the best outcome. How many people did they kill?”, asked Dr. Cassus.
“They said dozens.”
“They would’ve killed dozens more, too if you hadn’t done what you did. It must be hard not being able to talk about it with anyone other than your friends.”
“We don’t even talk about it that much. Whenever it comes up, we usually just try to gloss over it.”, said Gregg.
“Oh. It must be even harder, then.”
“Not really. I understand if they don’t want to talk about it. There’s something else, though.”
“There’s something else they won’t talk about. We had a friend, Casey Hartley. He was a great guy. Before I found Angus, my husband that you saw earlier, it was just me, him, and my other friend, Mae. We had so much fun in high school. He had dreams. He wanted to leave that shit town… He never got to leave, though. Almost 2 years after high school ended, Casey went missing, and… you know where I’m going with this.” Gregg wiped away tears that started to form.
“That’s… really unfortunate.”
“No one else gets it! No one else gets how I feel. The only who might is Mae, but I can’t talk about it with her because she already deals with enough shit on a daily basis as it is.”
“What about your husband?”, asked Dr. Cassus.
“He was never as close to him as I was. Besides, I shouldn’t be bringing it up around him anyway. He doesn’t need anything else on his mind right now.”
“If you don’t talk about it with anyone, how do you deal with it? How do you handle grief?”
“I don’t know. I feel stuck. I just want to accept that he’s gone, but my life keeps getting better, and it keeps making me feel like shit because he never got to have what I have, even though he deserved it more than me.”
Dr. Cassus raised an eyebrow at Gregg, “Why do you think he deserved it more than you?”
“Because he actually tried! I only got here because Angus got me to get off of my lazy ass and do something! Casey was at least doing something to be able to leave, even if it wasn’t really that great.”
“What was he doing exactly?”
Gregg paused. He didn’t want to tell him what Casey was doing before he died. He knew he would immediately think less of him for it. Lying had already failed, though, so he decided to just come clean.
“…He made and sold drugs with his cousin. It’s the reason the cult used for killing him.”
“And you think that was a good thing?”, questioned Dr. Cassus.
“Of course, I don’t!”, yelled Gregg, “I know it’s illegal, but it was all he could think to do! Do you know how hard it was to get an actual job in that goddamn town?! Everyone looks down on him because of it, but he didn’t have a choice! It was either that or sit around wasting his life away like I almost did!”
“You’re right. I don’t know what it was like trying to find a job in Possum Springs. It doesn’t seem like it was easy. I can’t agree with dealing drugs, but I can see where he may have been coming from, especially if it was already in his family. It certainly didn’t mean he deserved to die.”
“I just don’t get why it had to be him. It should have been me. Even if Angus would have been sad, he could’ve found someone else easily. He’s too nice and smart for it not to happen.”
“Gregg, that’s not a healthy way to be thinking. You can’t tell yourself that other people deserve more than you. There’s no point. It just hurts you more.”, said Dr. Cassus.
“I know, but I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s why I agreed to come here in the first place. I want to just get rid of all of these bad feelings, but I don’t know how.”
“Well, it’s good that you can see it as a problem. That’s always the first step. I’ll make sure that by the time you stop seeing me, you’ll be able to move on from all of this.”
It took a moment, but Gregg smiled.
Chapter 12: The First Day
Today was it. The fateful day had finally arrived. Michael emailed them only a few days ago saying he would come to decide whether he could trust Angus and Gregg with Liam. The day had come, and waiting for him to show up was excruciating.
Angus was busy in the kitchen baking brownies. He had a few reasons for this. It gave him something to do, and he just really wanted a brownie right now out of pure stress. Plus, Michael would probably appreciate having one. It would add good cooking skills to his list of positive traits for raising children.
“Are you making brownies?!”, asked Gregg excitedly.
“Yes! Brownies for lunch!”, cheered Gregg.
“I’m still making lunch, bug.”, said Angus.
“You can have it if you want. I’ll just be over here shoving my face full of brownies.”
“No, Gregg. You’re going to eat lunch. Just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you can just skip out on meals.”
“Well, technically an adult.”, thought Angus.
“Yes, it does! That’s exactly what being an adult means!”, argued Gregg.
“No, being an adult means being responsible for getting your daily nutrients yourself.” Angus put on a fake sad voice, “Besides, I’m going to go through all of this trouble to cook you a nice meal, and you’re just going to waste it?”
Gregg crossed his arms and pouted a bit, “Fine, I’ll eat lunch.”
“Thank you, bug.” Angus planted a kiss on Gregg’s cheek, which instantly brightened him up.
“Works every time.”
When the brownies were done, Angus took them out and placed them in front of a small fan in the kitchen. He was about to start on lunch when he heard a knock at the door. He felt a spike of anxiety course through his body.
“Is that Michael?”, asked Gregg.
“Probably. I’ll get the door.”
Angus walked over and opened it. It was Michael.
“Hello.”, said Michael.
“Hi. Come on in.”, said Angus.
“Actually, before I do that, I wanted to go over something with you real quick.”
“What is it?”, asked Angus nervously.
“Did you do what I asked last time?”
“Yeah, I did.”
“How has it been going?”
“Who are you seeing?”
“Yes, yes, Riese. Good choice.”
“Is that all you wanted to ask me about?”, asked Angus.
“What has he told you so far? What advice did he give?”
“Well, after reviewing my symptoms and stuff, he came to the conclusion that delayed-onset PTSD is more than likely what’s happening. He’s got me seeing a therapist for a few months.”
“Oh? How has that been?”, asked Michael.
“I really hate it.”
“Figures. Therapy is never a fun experience. Have you had any more incidents like the one that happened during our last visit?”
“Only once. It was during one of my therapy sessions.”
“That’s good. That mean’s it’s getting better.” Michael stopped and thought to himself for a moment, “I think you’re ready.”
“Really?”, questioned Angus, a smile stretching across his face.
“Yeah. Now, I do have one last question.”
“What is it?”
“Do you think you’d be ready today?”
“Yeah. Better yet, how about right now?”
Gregg, who had been listening to the conversation, pushed past Angus, “Wait, wait, wait. Now?!”
“Yep. You were approved to take him. I can bring him up now if you’d like.”
“Oh, my god, yes!”, exclaimed Gregg.
“All right. I’ll be back up in a minute.” Michael headed back downstairs, leaving Gregg and Angus to process the sudden arrival of fatherhood.
“It’s actually happening. It’s finally happening.”, said Gregg, stupefied.
“We need to be prepared. Liam’s been through a lot. He’s probably not going to warm up to us right away.”, said Angus.
“Right. We’ve just got to show him all of the love we can.”
Angus nodded resolutely. Only a few seconds later, Michael came back into view. He was holding the hand of someone.
“All right. Here he is. This is Liam.” Michael brought Liam out in front of him.
Gregg’s smile was brighter than the sun and just as wide. Angus’ heart was beating rapidly on his insides.
Michael knelt down to look at Liam, “Hey, buddy. These two are going to be your new dads. Say hi.”
Liam looked up at them, “Hi.” His face exuded animosity, apathy, a wall between him and everyone around him.
“Okay. Liam, I’m gonna have to leave you here. I know it’s scary, but these two will be different, I promise. If I end up being wrong, and you ever feel like you’re in danger, you know who to call.”
Michael stood up and looked to Gregg and Angus, “I’m trusting you. I know you’ll do great. I’ll be back to check on Liam on a monthly basis until we finalize the adoption.”
“Okay. Thank you so much.”, said Angus.
“You’re welcome. Goodbye.”
Michael closed the door as he left, leaving Angus and Gregg with Liam. Immediately, Gregg knelt down to Liam’s level to face him.
“Hey, little guy. How are you?”
Without warning, Gregg pulled Liam in for a hug, “I’m so glad you’re finally here.”
Liam seemed scared at first, but he eventually returned to his apathetic look. Angus saw this and was disappointed. He probably shouldn’t have expected a change of heart that fast, but it still hurt. Gregg pulled away, and he didn’t seem fazed by the lack of an emotional response at all.
“What’s that you got there?”, asked Gregg, pointing to a bag that Liam was holding.
“Oh, uh, it’s just my clothes and stuff.” The bag was pitifully small.
“That’s all your clothes? Well, I guess we’re gonna have to go clothes shopping.”
Liam seemed surprised by the fact that Gregg wanted to buy him new clothes. The last time he’d been clothes shopping was with his original parents.
“Really? Th-thank you.”, said Liam.
“Don’t mention it. Hey, we’ve got brownies. They came out of the oven just a little bit ago. Let’s go see if they’re cooled off yet.” Gregg led Liam into the kitchen and felt the brownies. They were the perfect temperature, warm but not hot.
“Looks like they’re just right. Here, I’ll get you one. You can sit at the table if you want.”
Liam complied and took a seat at the kitchen table. Angus sat across from him. He smiled. Gregg was handling this surprisingly well so far. He had completely taken over without a second thought.
Gregg grabbed a plate, put a brownie on it, and placed it in front of Liam.
“These brownies are the best! Go on, try it!”, said Gregg excitedly.
Liam looked at the brownie longingly, but also suspiciously. Food at the orphanage was sparse and not very good, and this brownie seemed like an escape from that, but he was afraid of being burned, of Gregg’s words being a cruel joke. He placed a finger on the surface of the brownie. Then, he slowly pushed it in. It was exactly as Gregg had said. They were just right. He finally picked it up and took a bite. It was amazing, words being unable to describe what it felt like.
“So, how is it?”, asked Gregg in anticipation.
Liam swallowed, “Uh, good.”
“You bet they are! In fact, I’m gonna get one myself.”
Gregg went and grabbed his own brownie. By the time he got back, Liam had almost finished his. It was so good.
“Wow. That was fast. You almost eat these things as fast as me.”, joked Gregg, taking a huge bite out of his brownie.
When Liam finished, he was disappointed. At least it was good while it lasted.
“Do you want another one?”, asked Gregg.
Liam was taken by surprise again. He hadn’t expected to be offered another one. He wanted it so bad, but he couldn’t.
“N-no thank you.”, he said.
“Wow. No one’s ever been able to resist taking seconds before, especially not me.”
“Yeah, I always have to stop him from eating all of them.”, said Angus.
Liam let out a weak laugh, “I’m just not that hungry right now.”
“That’s too bad. I was just about to make lunch.”, said Angus.
“Oh, really? Um, I guess I could have lunch.”
“Sounds good. I’ll get started.”
Angus got up and went to the refrigerator, “Gregg, put it down.”
Gregg slowly put back the second brownie he was in the process of taking.
“Hey, Liam. Do you like cheeseburgers?”, asked Angus.
“All right. I’ll make that then.”
While Angus got to work on making the cheeseburgers, Gregg wanted to try and have some fun with Liam.
“Hey, wanna go watch tv or something?”, he asked.
“Okay.”, replied Liam, following Gregg out to the living room.
Gregg picked up the remote and started flicking through channels on the tv.
“So, what kind of shows do you like to watch? We have basically anything. This is a smart tv, so we can stream a bunch of different shows on demand if you don’t feel like searching through a bunch of channels. That’s how I usually watch things on here.”
“Uhh…” Liam wasn’t sure what he wanted. It’d been a while since he had the chance to decide what he could watch. He wasn’t really interested in the shows he used to watch back when his life was normal.
An angry grunt of pain came from the kitchen, “God- Gregg, could you go grab a band-aid please?”
“I cut myself. It’s bleeding pretty bad.”
“All right. I’ll be right there.” Gregg tossed the remote to Liam, “There. Put whatever you want on. I’ll be right back.”
Gregg went to the bathroom where they stored the band-aids, leaving Liam to choose something to watch on his own. For some reason, the seemingly simple choice of what show to watch was daunting. After 2 years of not having a say in anything, it was almost overwhelming.
In the midst of the decision, something within Liam took over. The question Gregg had asked him earlier was warped in his mind. What he wanted to watch became what Gregg and Angus wanted to watch, but what would that be?
Gregg said he usually just streamed his shows, so he stopped channel surfing and began going through the list of different titles that they had. What did adults like? His previous dad liked documentaries. Liam found them boring as hell, but they seemed like an adult thing to watch. Would these new people like them, though?
“You can’t know. There’s no way to know. Just pick something.”
Liam ended up putting on a rom-com. Adults liked those, right? He hoped they wouldn’t be mad with his choice. Gregg came back in less than a minute later.
“All right, I’m back. Everything’s taken care of. Did you pick something?” Gregg looked at the screen, “Oh, this movie. Didn’t know you were the romantic type.”
“Is this okay?”, asked Liam, unnerved by Gregg’s response. Was this not what he was expecting? Did he not like it? What would happen if he didn’t?
“Yeah, of course. It was never really my type of movie, but I still enjoy them.”
“We can watch something else if you don’t like this. It’s fine.”
“Calm down, I said I would enjoy it. I’ve seen this movie before. It’s not bad.” Gregg noticed the uncomfortable look on Liam’s face, “Do you not want to watch it?”
“No, it’s fine. You said you liked it, right? It’s fine.”
“You just picked this movie because you thought I’d like it, didn’t you?”
Liam shrunk back, ashamed, scared, vulnerable. He didn’t know how to answer.
Gregg sighed, “Right. I almost forgot… This was probably a bit much, wasn’t it? Sorry.”
Sorry? What was he apologizing for? Liam was shocked, stunned by the unwarranted act.
Gregg fell deep into thought, “I guess I have to choose something, huh? What would you like, though?”
After a few moments of consideration, he smiled and mumbled to himself, “That might work. Angus said he loved that show when he was a kid, and I still haven’t watched it yet. Let’s try it.”
Gregg started typing in the show in question, which was annoyingly difficult with the remote, “Now, Liam, I’m gonna put something on. If you don’t like it, I want you to know you can tell me. I won’t be mad or anything if you’re worried about that. Okay?”
“Okay.”, replied Liam weakly.
As Gregg was about to press play, Angus came out with cheeseburgers.
“Hey, Liam. What do you want on your burger?”, he asked.
“Just cheese if fine.”
“All right. What are you two watching?”, asked Angus, as he went and set down the 3 plates he had. He saw what Gregg had picked out, “Oh, I remember this show! I remember watching it back when I was little.”
“It was your very first crime, too.”, added Gregg.
“As much as I hate to admit it, yeah, it was my first crime.”
“Crime?”, asked Liam, confused and concerned.
“Oh, right, he doesn’t get it. When I say I did crimes, I don’t mean actual crimes. It was just a playful name me and my best friend used for dumb, teenage stuff we used to do.”, Gregg explained, “Well, what he did actually was a crime.”
“What did he do?”, asked Liam.
“I pirated this show from the internet. My parents wouldn’t buy it, and it wasn’t available with our cable provider, but it looked cool. Now, I don’t want you to ever do that. If you want to watch something, come to me, and we’ll talk about paying for it if we don’t already have access to it through our cable provider.”, explained Angus.
“Okay. So, what is this about?”, asked Liam.
“Well, this show is about a young boy who goes on a quest to learn the 4 elements and save the world from the fire nation. It’s really cool. It’s one of my favorite cartoons.”
“Why explain it when you can just watch it? Come on, sit down. Let’s start it.”, urged Gregg.
Angus sat on the opposite side of Liam as Gregg, “All right, start it, then.”
Gregg pressed play, and they began watching. Liam was sucked in immediately, and then, he finally smiled. The taste of Angus’ cooking, the excitement of watching cartoons, the warmth and love from his new fathers, it all felt amazing. He finally felt like he was home again for the first time in years.
Chapter 13: Feeling Welcomed
I'm finally back! Yay! I was gone for a lot longer than expected, and I apologize for that. Writer's block can be a real pain, especially on top of school. It's okay, though, because chapter 13 is here! I've started to pick up the pace with my writing again, and so far, things are going smoothly with this story. I'm going to switch to posting weekly instead of twice a week just because I do need time to focus on other things in my life. Other than that, I'm glad to be back in the swing of things, and I hope you enjoy what I've got in store.
After eating lunch, Gregg, Angus, and Liam spent the rest of the day watching the cartoon Gregg found. They even had a few more brownies. At around 8, Liam, spoke up.
“Um, I should probably go to sleep.”
“Huh? It’s Summer, and you want to go to sleep at 8? You are a strange one.”, said Gregg.
“I guess. Do I have a room?”, asked Liam. The question disturbed both Gregg and Angus. That wasn’t what he was supposed to ask. He was supposed to ask where his room was, not whether he had one or not.
“Of course, you have a room. It’s a little empty. We wanted you to be able to decorate it yourself with whatever you wanted.”, said Angus.
“Okay. Can I see it?”
“Yes. It’s right in this room over here.” Angus took Liam over to his room, and Gregg followed. All that was in the room was a bed and dresser. Like Angus had said, they wanted Liam to pick out what went in the room.
“The bed looks nice.”, said Liam.
“We had to give it a really good cleaning when we got it. It belonged to a friend of ours, and she was not nice to it. It’s fine now, though.”, said Gregg.
“So, are you really going to bed now?”, asked Angus.
“Yeah. I’m tired.”
“All right. That’s fine. We’ll let you sleep.”
“Can I ask you something?”
“Sure, go ahead.”, replied Angus.
“What should I call you guys? I can’t call you both dad, right?”
“Sure, you can!”, said Gregg.
“That’s probably not a good idea, bug.”, said Angus.
“Well, what else is there? We can’t have him calling us by our names.”
“Why not? It would work.”
“It’s just wrong, okay?”
“Fine. What about one of us is dad 1, and the other can be dad 2?”
“No, that’s worse! With that, only one of us will get to be dad 1.”, argued Gregg.
“If it makes you feel better, I’ll be dad 2.”, said Angus.
“No. I’m not letting you get the short end of the stick here. Let’s just have him call us both dad. If he calls for us, we can both go to him.”
“All right, fine. We’ll try it. I’m telling you it won’t work, though.”
“Good. That settles that. You can call us both dad.”, said Gregg to Liam.
“Okay. Um, I love you, dad. Good night.”
“We love you, too, Liam.”, said Gregg excitedly, “Good night.”
Liam went over and laid in his bed. Gregg and Angus went back out into the living room.
“Did you hear that?! He said he loved me!”, said Gregg as quietly as he could muster, which wasn’t all that quiet.
“What? He was totally talking about me.”, replied Angus smugly.
“No way. It was me!”
“See, this whole calling us both dad thing is already backfiring.”
“Let’s just say he said it to both of us and move on.”
Angus and Gregg both sat down back on the couch.
“You know, you really did great, bug.”, said Angus.
“It was nothing.”
“No, it really was. As soon as he was here, you stepped in and just gave him your heart. It was amazing. Honestly, you’re the reason Liam even had it in him to say he loved us.”
“You really think so?”, asked Gregg.
“Of course. I mean, what did I do? I made some brownies and cheeseburgers and watched tv with you. You’re the one that did the heavy lifting in terms of making him feel welcomed.”, said Angus.
“It’s what dads do, right?”
“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.”
“Isn’t it? I don’t see what’s so hard about showing your kid some love.”, said Gregg.
“Good point. I guess we’ll see how it gets once he does something that gets on our nerves.”
“Right. We’ll probably be fine until he becomes a teenager. That’s when things get really hard.”
“True, true. So, now that we have Liam, should we tell Bea and Mae?”, asked Angus.
“Oh, yeah! They’re gonna be so excited!”, exclaimed Gregg.
“Gregg, quiet down.”
“Ah, sorry. I’m not used to having a sleeping child in our house.”, replied Gregg.
“Honestly, I’m surprised we’ve never gotten any complaints from the neighbors.”
“Um, anyways, Mae and Bea. Are we telling them?”, asked Gregg.
“I don’t know. I was asking you.”
“Right. How about we just wait until tomorrow?”
Gregg yawned and stretched out, letting out a satisfied groan as he did, “I think I might head to bed. I’m feeling really tired all of a sudden. I don’t know why. It’s still pretty early.”
“Well, today was stressful. We weren’t expecting to get Liam today at all. It came out of left field.”, replied Angus.
“Yeah. It’s great that it finally happened, though.”
“Mhm. I’m definitely glad it happened, even if it was unexpected.”
“Okay, I’m gonna go lay down. Are you coming?”, asked Gregg.
“I’ll be there in a minute. You can go ahead.”
“All right. I’ll see you there.”
Gregg left and went to their room. Angus wanted a moment to think.
“This is going well so far.”
“It’s only the first day. Don’t get ahead of yourself.”
“I need to be ready for when things actually get difficult.”
“Once he warms up to you, he’ll start pushing the boundaries.”
“You have to be ready if that’s what happens.”
“What will you do if he acts out of line?”
“You’re most likely going to be the pillar of discipline, the ‘bad cop’ so to speak. How will you handle that?”
“As long as I’m not like my parents, it’ll be fine. I won’t be like them.”
“Can you really be sure of that? You have been a pretty angry person these past few months.”
“Yeah. I was mad at my parents.”
“What’ll happen if you get mad at Liam? Will you hurt him? Will you break down? Both are bad in their own right.”
“No, I won’t! I won’t do either of those! I… I’m not sure how I’m going to do it yet. I don’t know how I’ll handle discipline yet. I’ll talk to Gregg about it tomorrow. Let’s not dampen the first day with stuff like that.”
Angus got up and went to bed. Gregg was already asleep, and it wasn’t long before Angus followed. After the stress and excitement of getting a new child, sleep was welcomed by them both.
The next morning, Liam was the first to get up. When he saw that Gregg and Angus were asleep, he wasn’t sure what to do. There was no way to know when they’d wake up. Normally, Liam was used to being woken up extremely early, so his parents could get some work out of him before school.
In the end, trying to go back to sleep seemed like the best option. He just wasn’t tired, though. Still, he didn’t feel comfortable turning the tv on without permission, and waking Gregg and Angus up was out of the question.
Liam laid back down in bed. He sat there for a few minutes, but his eyes wouldn’t stay shut. He wanted to do something, but he didn’t have anything with him from the orphanage. He couldn’t go outside, and anything me might have wanted to do inside would make too much noise.
Minutes passed, and no solutions came to mind. An hour, still nothing. Another 10 or so minutes went by, and he heard movement coming from the room next to his, his fathers’ room.
Liam stood up and was about to greet them, but something stopped him. They would probably still be waking up. Should he really bother them?
Before he could come to an answer, Angus appeared at the door, looking in.
“Oh, hey, Liam. Good morning.”, said Angus, rubbing at his eyes.
“Good morning.”, replied Liam.
“Do you want some breakfast?”, asked Angus.
“Yes, please.”, replied Liam. He’d been hungry ever since he’d woken up.
“Okay, what do you want? We’ve got some different types of cereal, pancakes, eggs, bacon, whatever you want.”, asked Angus.
“Cereal’s fine.”, answered Liam.
“All right. You wanna come pick out what kind you want?”
Liam walked out to the kitchen with Angus.
“We’ve got a few different kinds of cereal. We have fruit loops, frosted flakes, cinnamon toast crunch, just pick out whatever.”, said Angus, pulling out a bowl and some milk.
“Fruit loops?”, said Liam.
“Okay.” There was a light padding sound coming from down the hall, followed by a pretty loud yawn. Gregg was up.
“Good morning, bug.”, said Angus.
“Good mornin’, cap’n.”, replied Gregg. Angus poured some cereal into the bowl, which bothered Gregg immensely.
“Angus, what are you doing?!”, asked Gregg.
“I’m getting Liam some cereal.”
“No, not that. You’re doing it all wrong! We’ve talked about this. You’re supposed to pour in milk first.”
“Yes, we’ve talked about this, and I’ve told you that putting the cereal in first is the best way to do it. If you put the cereal in after, it all just piles up on top of the milk.”
“Yeah, and that keeps the cereal from getting too soggy.”
“But a lot of the cereal never even touches the milk that way. You might as well just eat the cereal alone at that point.”
“You wouldn’t get to drink the cereal milk if you just ate the cereal alone, and that’s the best part. You get the best of both worlds by pouring the cereal second. You get crunchy cereal, and you get to drink the milk afterwards.”
Angus handed the bowl of cereal to Liam after it was prepared, and then he continued to argue about cereal with Gregg. Liam watched the conflict, amused. Normally, he’d be terrified during an argument, but this just had such a light air about it. Neither of them were really taking it seriously. They were just joking around. It had been forever since he’d had parents who could joke around like this and not have it turn into a big screaming-fest.
After a few minutes, Angus and Gregg agreed to disagree, and Liam had finished his cereal.
“Okay, so, are we still going to see Mae and Bea?”, asked Gregg.
“As long as they’re up for it, I’m fine with it.”
“Great. I’ll text Mae real quick.” Gregg got out his phone and started texting.
“Who are Mae and Bea?”, asked Liam.
“They’re friends of ours. We’ve both known them since we were kids.”, answered Angus.
“Yeah, Mae’s the best! Bea can be a bit uptight, but she’s still cool.”, added Gregg.
“We figured we’d introduce you to them, since you’ll probably see them pretty often.”, said Angus.
“All right. Mae said they’re not busy at the moment. Do you wanna go now?”, asked Gregg.
“How about we shower and stuff first?”
“Come on, we showered yesterday.”, whined Gregg.
“Yes, and you should be showering every day.”
“Fine.”, said Gregg.
“All right. We’ll all shower, get dressed, and head over to meet Mae and Bea.”
First, Angus showered, followed by Gregg, and lastly Liam. Liam got dressed in the extra set of clothes he had with him. It was all he had. After everyone was ready, they went downstairs. When they stopped at Mae and Bea’s door, Liam was surprised.
“They live here?”, questioned Liam.
“Yep. They live right below us.”, replied Gregg.
Mae opened the door, “Hey, dudes. So, what did you want?”
“We wanted to introduce you to someone.”, said Gregg, failing miserably at hiding the excitement building in him.
Gregg pulled Liam in front of him, “This is Liam. He’s our son.”
Mae gasped, “Oh, my god, he’s so adorable! Bea! Get over here! You’ve got to see this!”
Footsteps approached them, and there was Bea.
“What is, it, Mae?”, asked Bea.
“Look.”, said Mae, pointing at Liam.
Bea looked at Liam, then at Angus.
“This is our son. His name’s Liam.”, said Angus.
Bea lit up, “Congratulations!”
“Isn’t he so cute?”, asked Mae to Bea.
“Yeah, he’s pretty cute.”
Liam blushed. He felt so embarrassed.
“When did you get him?”, asked Bea.
“Yesterday.”, replied Angus.
“That’s awesome! How’s he been so far?”
“Great. Gregg was able to get him comfortable really quick.”
“Ah, this is so great!”, exclaimed Mae.
“So, what are your plans with him? You’ve still got all of summer vacation ahead of you.”, asked Bea.
“We’re not really sure yet.”, said Angus.
“We’ll figure out something.”, said Gregg.
“If you ever need someone to show him a good time, give him to us, and we’ll totally take him off your hands for a little while.”, said Mae.
“I’m sure that’ll come in handy down the line.”, said Angus.
Bea sighed, “Well, I guess that’s a thing we’ll be doing at some point.”
“Come on, Beabea, it’ll be fun! We’re supposed to be the honorary aunts after all.”
“Oh, yeah! I forgot about that.”, said Gregg.
“Well, I didn’t. We got you if you ever need a babysitter.” Mae knelt down next to Liam, “You here that, little guy? We’re going to be the best aunts you’ve ever had.”
“O-okay.”, replied Liam.
“Not the talkative one, is he?”
“He’s just getting to know us. It makes sense that he’d be nervous.”, said Bea.
“I know. So, did you guys want anything else while you’re here?”, asked Mae.
“Not really. We just wanted you to meet Liam.”, replied Gregg.
“Okay. Does that mean you’re leaving?”
“Yeah. We still have the whole day ahead of us to do all kinds of fun stuff together!”
“Well, we’ll let you go then.”, said Bea, “Bye, Liam.”
“Bye.”, said Liam.
“We’ll see you guys later.”, said Gregg.
“You better come visit again soon, so I can show him that I’m the best aunt ever.”, said Mae.
“Please, the best aunt is going to be me.”, replied Bea.
“No way. It’s gonna be me.”
“In your dreams.”
“Goodbye.”, said Angus, breaking through the building argument.
“Oh, yeah, bye.”, replied Bea.
“Bye, guys.”, said Mae.
Angus closed the door as they left, “So, what did you think, Liam?”
“Um, they’re pretty nice.”
“You know it! Now, what are we gonna do when we get home?
“We could watch more of that show.”, said Liam.
“I don’t see why not.”, said Gregg.
“I’m fine with that.”, said Angus.
“It’s settled then.”
Chapter 14: Night Terrors
The first weekend with Liam had been a success. No big conflicts arose, and everyone had a good time. Liam slowly grew more comfortable with talking to Gregg and Angus. Overall, it was the best-case scenario.
It came time for Gregg and Angus to go to bed. They had work the next day, after all. Liam decided to head to bed as well. As Gregg and Angus were preparing to go to sleep, Gregg decided to see if he could tuck Liam into bed. The previous night, he felt like it may have been a bit too personal, but tonight felt like a good time.
As Liam was going into his room, Gregg came forth with the offer, “Hey, Liam. If you want, I could tuck you into bed for you.”
Liam looked back at Gregg. He remembered when his original parents used to tuck him into bed, the way they gently pulled the covers over him, the small kiss they would give him on his cheek, the “I love you” that would never be forgotten or ignored.
“Yes, please.”, Liam replied, his voice somewhat shaky.
Gregg smiled and took Liam into his bedroom. He let Liam lie down before taking the covers and tossing them up, watching them float down while giving a quiet, yet excited “Woo.” Liam laughed a little at the display. When the covers landed, Gregg adjusted the ends so that they completely covered Liam.
After Liam was tucked in, Gregg gave him a peck of the lips on his forehead.
“Love you.”, said Gregg, getting up now that he’d finished.
“I love you, too, dad.”, replied Liam. It was so short, simple, yet powerful. Gregg wanted to cry. He was making progress. The things he did were really making a difference. He wasn’t screwing everything up.
Before Gregg left the room, he looked back at Liam.
“Good night.”, said Liam back, and with that, Gregg went to his own room. Angus was already in bed. Gregg crawled in with him.
“Angus, he said it again.”, whispered Gregg.
“Said what?”, questioned Angus.
“He told me he loved me.”
“I know! I’m really making progress here!”
“I told you you’d be a great dad.”
Gregg blushed, “Well, it’s only been 2 days.”
“And you’re already doing great.”, replied Angus.
“I guess I have.”
“Mhm. Now, let’s get some shut-eye. We do still have to work.”
“Yep. Night, cap’n.”, said Gregg.
“I love you, too.”
Both of them were asleep in moments, and so was Liam. It was a peaceful sleep until Liam started dreaming. A child’s imagination is powerful, and his was tainted by 2 years of abuse and grief. The addition of newfound love created something unexpectedly horrifying.
When the dream began, Liam was in a bed. The bed which Liam was in existed in a field of white, and he was asleep, watching from outside his own body. His mother stood over him, smiling warmly. He watched, as his mother walked over to his father, and they both walked away.
There was a long period where they walked, but the distance between them and him barely increased. Then, there was a loud noise, like a car horn. Liam’s parents blinked out of existence. There was a growing blare in the distance, but before it could get close, everything stopped, and the field of white went black.
Liam woke up in the dream, and he found himself on the ground. It felt like wood despite it all being shrouded in black. There was an echoing sound of footsteps. There was a white figure. It radiated light. Liam was crying. He crawled toward the figure. When he was next to it, however, the heart of the being faded into black. Before he could react, Liam was sent flying by a powerful kick. When he landed, he clutched his stomach in pain.
Behind him, another being of light appeared. This one had to be real. It just had to. That’s what Liam thought, as he crawled toward it. He was more cautious this time, not getting too close of his own will, but he didn’t really have a choice in the matter, did he. There was a push from behind, and Liam was sprawled out in front of this new creature. He hoped it was real with all his heart, but it wasn’t. The blackened heart was bigger this time.
Liam was grabbed by the throat and held in the air. A grip tightened around his neck. Breathing stopped, it was impossible. He kicked, clawed, struggled, but it was futile. The life was being drained from him. He thought it was over, but right as he was about to die, he was pulled from the monster’s grasp. He turned around to see it was another white figure. This one, however, didn’t reveal a dark heart.
Liam was carried over to two new beings. He was dropped in front of them and left there. The field of light returned, and the two were revealed to be his new parents. These were his new fathers. Everything felt okay again, but it didn’t stay that way.
Gregg left. He had to work. He walked away, and Liam was forced to stay behind. Then, the horn sounded again, and Gregg disappeared. Angus was crying. Groceries. That was his reason to leave. He ran the errands. Liam figured this out from their conversations together. Again, the horn, and in the blink of an eye, he was gone, too. The blaring came again. Liam started crying.
The blares grew louder until they were overwhelming. Liam screamed to drown them out. He didn’t want to hear them anymore. Then, he woke up, for real this time. The dream had done its damage, though. He was terrified of what might happen tomorrow. If it wasn’t tomorrow, then maybe, it would be another day. There was no way to know.
Liam cried, but he did it as quietly as possible. It was a subconscious attempt to not wake his parents. It was something he learned to do quickly after he was given to his first set of adoptive parents after his original ones. Waking his parents with crying used to mean more reasons to cry, so keeping it to himself was an important skill to learn.
“It’ll be fine. Just go back to sleep. Don’t wake them up.”
As Liam had been crying in his room, Gregg had woken up. He needed to pee. He groggily got up and ambled over to the bathroom. Liam heard this and covered his mouth. It was an excruciating 30 seconds or so of holding his tears in until the toilet was flushed. Gregg walked out and was about to just head back to bed, but the thought struck him to see how Liam was sleeping.
When Liam heard Gregg stop at his door, he panicked. In the rush of adrenaline, he let out a sob.
“Huh? Liam? Are you awake?” Gregg entered the room.
“Please, no. Please.”, thought Liam. Even in the dark, Gregg could see the irregular breathing and hand covering Liam’s mouth.
“Liam? Are you crying?”, asked Gregg.
Liam shut his eyes. Why was this happening?
“Liam, what’s wrong? Come on, I can tell you’re not asleep.” Gregg sat on the bed next to Liam. He wasn’t answering.
“Did you have a bad dream or something?”, asked Gregg.
Liam hesitated for a moment before nodding. He might as well let it out now that Gregg was awake.
“You wanna come sleep with us?”, offered Gregg.
Liam uncovered his mouth, “N-no. I’m f-fine.”
“If you’re worried about what dad’s gonna think, you don’t have to worry. He’ll be fine with it, I promise.”, assured Gregg
“I’m fine. I’ll just go back to sleep.” Liam’s voice was stuffy. His nose was runny.
Gregg sighed, “I’ll be right back.”
Gregg got up and left the room for a moment, coming back with a handful of tissues.
“Come on, blow your nose.”, said Gregg, handing Liam a tissue.
Liam took it and blew his nose, which cleared up his voice.
“I said I’m fine. You don’t have to do this for me.”
“Maybe not, but I’m going to anyways.”, replied Gregg, “Now, scooch over.”
“Just move over a bit.”
Liam complied and pushed himself to the far side of the bed. Then, Gregg crawled in. He wrapped an arm around Liam.
“There. I’ll just sleep here tonight if you don’t wanna come with me.”
Liam was about to protest, but this felt too good. He couldn’t bring himself to argue.
“Thank you.”, was all that Liam said.
“It’s nothing. I’ll always be here for you if you need me.”
“Yeah… I know.”
“All right, then. Let’s get some sleep.”
Liam laid there, relishing the warmth and love contained in this moment. In mere moments, he began to hear a light snoring coming from Gregg. For some reason, everything felt okay now. Liam wasn’t afraid anymore. His dads were here with him. He hadn’t lost them yet. That thought lulled Liam back into a peaceful, dreamless sleep.
The next morning, Angus awoke to his alarm clock. He reached out and turned it off. He got up and reached for his glasses. Something was off. Something was missing. Angus looked to the bed and saw what was missing.
“He’s probably awake already.”
He went out into the living room. Gregg wasn’t there. When he went to the kitchen, it, too, was empty. If he’d left, he hadn’t left anything behind, like a note, something to let Angus know he would be gone.
“Gregg?”, Angus called out, still slightly groggy.
He decided to check up on Liam. Maybe, he would know something.
Stepping into Liam’s room, the question of what happened to Gregg was answered. There he was, in Liam’s bed, holding him.
Angus smiled. Gregg and Liam looked so cute together. Unfortunately, Gregg had work, so he had to wake up. Angus walked over and shook Gregg a bit. He groaned in protest a bit before opening his eyes.
“Angus?”, Gregg mumbled.
“Yep, it’s me. It’s time to wake up.”, replied Angus.
“Aw, man. It’s so comfy here.” Gregg slowly removed his arms from Liam and got up, being careful not to wake him.
“So, why were you sleeping with him?”, asked Angus.
“I got up to go to the bathroom, and I checked on Liam, and he was crying. He said he had a bad dream. I asked if he wanted to come sleep with us, but he said no, so I hopped into bed with him.”, Gregg explained.
“If he said no, why did you get into bed with him?”
“Because when he said no, he actually meant yes. I could tell, trust me. He wanted it, but he didn’t want to accept it from me. He probably felt bad or something and didn’t want to bother us.”
“Is that so?”
“Yep. Now, I’m gonna go take a shower.” Gregg went into their room to pick out some clothes.
“Okay. You do that. I’ll go make some coffee.”
Angus went out to the kitchen and turned on the coffee machine. As it slowly churned out the miraculous liquid, he heard the sound of the shower turning on. When his coffee was done, Angus threw in some creamer and started drinking, leaving a second cup to be filled for Gregg.
Drinking the coffee began to shake the cobwebs from Angus’ mind. Going out into the living room, he turned on the news. He always checked the weather to see if he needed to drive Gregg to work. The weather seemed fine today, luckily.
Once Gregg’s coffee was done, Angus poured a sizable amount of creamer into the cup. Then, he got out some sugar. He scooped 2 spoonsful of it into the cup. He went to put it away, but hesitated. After a moment of consideration, he put in a third spoonful just to be safe.
The coffee was done just in time for Gregg to walk out of the bathroom. He saw that Angus made him a cup of coffee and went over to take it.
“Thanks, cap’n.”, said Gregg, taking a sip, “It could use some more sugar next time.”
Angus sighed, but he didn’t say anything.
“So, how’s the weather looking today?”, asked Gregg, sitting down on the couch.
“It’ll be a bit hot, but nothing too bad.”
“You always say that, but I always end up sweating my ass off.”
“Well, maybe you shouldn’t wear your leather jacket at work during the summer.”, suggested Angus.
“Not happening. My jacket’s, like, the most important part of my look. Everyone always comments on it.”, argued Gregg.
“And how many of these comments include something along the lines of ‘why are you wearing that? It’s really hot out today.’?”
“…Only a few…”, replied Gregg hesitantly.
“Look, you can wear it if you want to. It’s your jacket. I’m just saying you shouldn’t be complaining about the heat if you do.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Gregg finished his coffee and looked at his phone, “I should probably get going. Looks like last night, the place was completely packed. It’ll probably still be a mess by the time I get there.”
“Alright. Have a good day at work, bug.” Angus gave Gregg a peck on the cheek.
“Yep. You, too. This’ll be your first day alone with Liam, too, so have fun with that.”
“I will. Love you.”
“Love you, too, cap’n. Bye.”
Gregg left, and Angus watched as he shut the door behind him. Angus still had some time before he had to check into work on his computer, so he sat and watched the news for a little while. There wasn’t much that was interesting on, just the usual stuff. The murder of the day, the political controversy, that week’s missing person, it was always the same stuff. It was sad but true. Time passed, and it was time to get to work. This would be the first real test of his parenthood. He would be alone in caring for Liam, and he still had a job to do even if doing it from home gave him some leeway with how he could manage his break time. Liam wasn’t up yet, though, so Angus just pushed it out of his mind, put on his mic, and started his day.
Chapter 15: A Day in the Life
Today was Angus’ first day alone with Liam, and he was terrified. While he worked and took calls, he couldn’t stop thinking about what to do when Liam woke up.
“What am I supposed to do with him?”
“What are dads supposed to do with their children?”
“Why don’t I have the answer?”
“Why couldn’t I have parents who actually cared about me? I’d know what to do then.”
“Don’t think like that. You didn’t have parents that loved you. Deal with it. Figure it out.”
“I wish I had some board games or something. I could play that and take calls at the same time.”
“Video games? I guess. I wish we could go outside or something, but I need access to a computer to do my job.”
“I need to get a laptop. Then, we could go to the park, and I could watch him and still work. It would be fine as long as I got my hours in.”
“Yeah, that’s it. You can get a laptop with your next paycheck and go places with him during the day. It wouldn’t be right to just keep him inside the apartment all of the time during the summer like my parents did.”
Angus felt a lot better with a plan in place. He was going to fill Liam’s life with fun experiences as much as he could. It’s what he deserved.
Later in the morning, Liam woke up, and Angus listened as he shuffled out of bed and out into the living room. Pulling himself from the computer screen, Angus went out to greet him.
“Hey, Liam. Good morning.”
“Good morning.”, replied Liam, rubbing at his groggy eyes.
“Do you want something for breakfast?”, asked Angus.
“Can I just have cereal again?”, requested Liam, not feeling like thinking too much at the moment.
“Sure.” Angus went out to the kitchen, and Liam followed. Then he took note of something.
“What’s that on your head?”, asked Liam.
“Oh, this?”, Angus touched it, “This is a headset that I use for work. I help people with computer problems and stuff, and I need to keep this on in case anyone calls. I’ll get in trouble if I’m not there to take a call.”
Angus poured Liam a bowl of cereal and placed it at the table. When Liam sat down, Angus sat next to him.
“So, what do you want to do today?”, asked Angus.
“I don’t know. What can I do?”
“Well, we have to stay inside for this week, at least until I’m done with work. I can’t leave the house without access to a computer while I’m working. We can still watch tv or something, though, or I could hook up some video games for you.”
Video games. That was something Liam hadn’t heard of in a while. His last two families couldn’t afford them. They were lucky not to be homeless most of the time.
“It’s… been so long since I’ve played a video game.”, said Liam, staring off into space.
Angus stared blankly for a moment at Liam, the reality of what he’d been through hitting once more. What did Liam do for fun? He didn’t seem athletic at all. It looked like he barely exercised. Board games? Did he have siblings or something in the last two homes? Was he the artistic type? Music? Drawing? Angus was afraid to ask, but now, he needed to know.
“Um, Liam, do you have any hobbies? Like, do you do sports? Do you like art or music? What do you do in your free time?”
Liam’s face was blank, “I… I’m not sure… I think I did soccer at one point, but I didn’t really like it.”
“He can’t even remember? What did they do to him? Even I had hobbies.”
“Well, I’ll turn on our console, and you can play some games while I work, okay?”, offered Angus.
Angus turned the tv to the channel Gregg and he used to play video games and turned on the console they had. That was when his headset went off.
“Crap, I need to take this. Uh, here.”, Angus handed Liam the controller, “You can play whatever you want. I’ll be right back.”
Angus left to take the call, leaving Liam to browse through the collection of games they had. Surprisingly, he felt more comfortable making a decision this time. Eventually, he decided on a game, and he started it.
After a few minutes, the call was over, and Angus returned to the living room to a nostalgic sight.
Liam spun around. He hadn’t expected him to be back so quickly.
“Uh, yeah. Is it okay?”, asked Liam.
“Of course, it’s okay. Oh, my god, this used to be my favorite game back in high school.”
“Well, it was the only game I could afford.”, replied Angus.
“Huh…” Liam hesitated for a bit before asking the question that was on his mind, “Were you, like… poor?”
Angus frowned. He wasn’t sure Liam was ready for that talk yet. He wasn’t even sure he was ready for that talk.
“In a sense… Yeah, I was kinda poor.”
Liam could tell that Angus was getting upset and stopped pressing the matter. He knew how to read people. He had to know how to read people. He only lasted as long as he did because of it.
“So, are you going to start playing or what?”, asked Angus, the smile returning to his face.
“Oh, right!” Liam pressed start and started playing. It took him a while to get used to the controls. The controller felt foreign to him. It did come eventually, though. Angus was tempted to give advice, but he wanted Liam to learn how to do this again for himself, so he could feel accomplished afterward.
The first level wasn’t difficult. The first boss died in one hit, and the health bar was huge. When the second level started, however, it got smaller.
“Wait, what happened to the health bar? It’s shorter now.”, asked Liam, looking to Angus for answers.
“That’s how the game goes. After every level, you lose one health point and gain an extra dodge. It’s meant to increase difficulty and show that Palecat is getting weaker as he climbs the tower.
“If he’s getting weaker, why can he dodge more?”, asked Liam. It was a very valid question.
“Hmm. I’m not sure. Maybe, it’s showing that he can’t fight, so he has to run away instead of facing the enemy head-on. It doesn’t really matter, though. This game was never about the story or the lore. It’s just about going around, killing things, and reaching the top of the tower.”, answered Angus.
The game went on for hours. Angus would step out when calls came in, which happened fairly often, but Liam was immersed in the video game, so he almost didn’t notice at one point. The day passed, and eventually, Angus’ shift came to a close. Only a few minutes later, Gregg arrived home from his job.
“I’m home, cap’n!”, Gregg called from the entrance.
“Welcome back. How was work?”, Angus asked, as Gregg walked into the living room.
“Eventful. Some dude got glass stuck in his face.”
Gregg sighed and plopped down on the couch, “He smashed a beer bottle on the corner of a table like a complete moron. He’s lucky none of it got in his eyes. I had to clean up the glass afterward, too, which was just great.”
“Jeez. How do these things even happen during the day?”, wondered Angus.
“Honestly, it’s probably because during the day, the only people drinking are, like, crazy homeless people, which cities tend to have a lot of.”
“Remember our old apartment?”
“Yeah, we had that band of homeless people around back.”, replied Gregg.
“They were actually really nice.”
“I know, right? It’s crazy!” Gregg took note of the tv, “Oh, wow, is that Demontower?”
“It’s the original, too. Now that brings back memories.”
“Mhm. He’s pretty good at it, too.”, said Angus.
The two sat and watched for a few minutes. Liam really wasn’t bad at the game. He wasn’t great, but it wasn’t hard to watch, either.
“Uh, Gregg, can I talk to you alone for a minute.”, requested Angus.
Gregg nodded, “Sure.” He followed Angus into their room, and Angus closed the door.
“What do you want to talk about?”, asked Gregg.
“It’s about Liam. I was talking to him this morning, and I was asking about his hobbies, but he said he didn’t remember any of them.”
“So? We know his life for the past few years has been a complete shitshow. He’s picking up video games pretty well.”, replied Gregg.
“Yeah, but that can’t be his only hobby all summer.”, argued Angus.
“I’m sure he’ll find something.”
“I just want to avoid him turning into a hermit like I was.”
“Then we’ll take him to the park this weekend or something.”, suggested Gregg.
“I guess. I wish he had some friends we could arrange something with. I doubt a whole lot of people his age are going to the park, especially by themselves.”
“I guess you might be right.” Gregg pondered the situation until an idea came to mind, “I’ve got it!”
Gregg immediately started digging through their closet. Angus decided to wait and see what he came out with.
“There it is.”, came a satisfied voice from the back of the small space. When he came out, Gregg was holding a very familiar red guitar.
“Gregg, you’re a genius!”
“I know I am. Come on. Let’s show Liam.”
Gregg walked back out to the living room. Liam turned to look, having heard a bit of the conversation in the other room and wondering what was going on.
“Woah! Is that a guitar?!”, asked Liam, pausing Demontower immediately.
“Yep. This is my old guitar. I wanted to show you it. Maybe, I could even teach you how to play it.” Gregg gave Liam a sly grin, practically begging him to accept.
“Yeah. Here, I’ll show you a few things.” Gregg went and sat next to Liam, “Now, one of the most important things about being a guitarist is your basic chords, like this.”
Gregg placed his fingers on the fretboard, his knowledge quickly coming back to him, and he strummed the guitar with quite a bit of force. The sound that came out was pathetic. Every string was unbelievably out of tune, and the high e string snapped. Liam, Gregg, and Angus were all left staring in bewilderment.
“Huh.”, was all that Gregg could say.
“I guess we should have taken the fact that you haven’t touched that thing in 6 years into account. Do you have any extra strings?”, asked Angus.
“I should somewhere. I’ll go look for them. Liam, you can just keep playing for a little bit.” Gregg got up and returned to their room. Angus stayed in the living room. He heard Gregg rummaging through their closet. After a few boxes were opened, Gregg emerged with strings as well as a small amp.
“Are you sure we should be using that?”, asked Angus, “We do still have neighbors.”
“It’ll be fine. I’ll keep it quiet. Electric guitars just don’t sound good without an amp.”, replied Gregg, beginning to unwind the strings of the guitar.
“If you say so.”
After about 10 minutes, Gregg had all of the strings replaced and tuned, and the amp was set up. The volume was turned down to only 2 on the amp. By the time Gregg was done, Liam had paused the game and turned his attention completely to Gregg.
“Okay, let’s try this again.” Gregg once again placed down a chord and strummed. It came out cleanly this time. Then, he started to riff around a bit. After getting warmed up, he looked at Angus and smiled before starting up a song. As the tune started, Angus immediately recognized it. Gregg was inviting him to sing. Angus cleared his throat, getting ready just in time for the main chorus.
“I just wanna die anywhere else. If only I could die anywhere else, so come with me let’s die anywhere else. Anywhere, just not here…”
As the two performed, Liam watched on, greatly enjoying the song. Before the song could end, however, there was a hard knocking on the door. Gregg and Angus stopped, and Angus got up.
“I’ll get it.” He walked to the door and opened it. Mae and Bea were standing there.
Before Angus could say anything, Mae pointed at Angus, “How dare you play that song and not invite us?”
“I’m not the one who started it. Gregg did. Ask him.”, said Angus.
“Greggory Lee, get over here and answer for your crimes this instant.”, called Mae into the apartment.
“Mae, do you even have your bass?”, asked Gregg back from the living room.
“Of course, I do! I just haven’t touched it in… a while.”
“What about Bea? Does she still have the drum track we used for that song?”
“It’s probably somewhere on my laptop.”, said Bea.
“Well, go get them and come back if you want to play so badly.”, said Gregg.
“Yes. Come on, Beabea, let’s go get our stuff!” Mae ran back downstairs.
Bea sighed, “I guess this is how I’m spending my Monday afternoon.” She, too, left with Mae back downstairs.
The rest of the day was spent jamming out just like old times. They went through all of their old songs, Die Anywhere Else, Weird Autumn, Pumpkin Head Guy, every one with the exception of Go Get Dead, Angel Face. Mae refused to play that one. They were all so lost in the moment that it was Liam who pointed out how late it was. After realizing that the four of them would be tired as hell the next morning, Mae and Bea quickly made their exit, and Gregg and Angus tucked Liam into bed before going to sleep themselves.
Chapter 16: Facing the Issue
Friday had arrived. It seemed like Gregg and Angus had survived their first week as parents. Things were going unexpectedly smoothly so far. Liam spent most of his time playing video games while Angus watched him. When Gregg got home, he would give Liam some lessons on guitar. He wasn’t a great teacher, but it was still fun.
Despite all of the good, there was one pretty large bump in the road that was becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. Over the course of the week, there were only 2 days Liam hadn’t woken up from some kind of nightmare. He started getting comfortable enough to ask to sleep with Gregg and Angus, and of course, they let him in. He still wouldn’t tell them what the nightmares were about, but the two had a pretty decent idea of what it probably was.
On Friday, when Gregg and Angus woke up, Gregg decided to say something.
“Angus, this can’t keep happening. This can’t be healthy.”
“I know, but what should we do?”
“You should talk to him. We both know what the nightmares are about. They wouldn’t be occurring so regularly if it wasn’t because of… that.”, replied Gregg.
“I don’t know. What if I’m not ready? If I break down again, I’ll only make things worse.”
Gregg thought for a moment before coming up with something.
“Tell me about the day your parents found out you were dating me.”, he demanded.
“Tell me exactly what happened. Don’t spare any details. If you can tell me that, you’ll be fine with talking to Liam.”
Angus went silent, a deer in headlights. This was a topic that they’d never brought up. That day was something Gregg never pressed him on. When he finally saw what Angus was hiding under his long-sleeved shirts and sweatpants, there wasn’t any need to go further. Now, though, he finally asked.
Gregg saw the look on Angus’ face and backed down a bit, “I’m sorry. That… I shouldn’t have said that.”
“No, you’re right… I… had just gotten home from band practice…”
Gregg wasn’t expecting Angus to start the story so fast. It took him a moment to shift his focus to it, but after that, he listened attentively to all of it, and it was horrible. The amount that Angus remembered was heartbreaking. Every punch, kick, every strike of the belt, every bottle thrown as he ran, fearing for his life, and then, the time in the pantry. Three days. Three days with no food or water, nothing except for the bruises, gashes, and the shards of glass to pull out. It was a wonder there weren’t any broken bones. Then again, broken bones would probably get his parents caught, so they couldn’t afford for there to be any major ones.
Angus hated every moment of the story. He wanted to cry, throw up, just hide away in his room and not talk about it. Telling people he’d been abused was one thing, but going into detail like this was painful. He was reliving the worst years of his life. Despite all of this, however, he’d crawled through to the other side, and he wasn’t a complete mess.
Gregg wasn’t having a much better time of it himself. After all, it was his fault, wasn’t it? If his dad hadn’t seen that goddamn message… No, that didn’t matter. This wasn’t about him. Angus was hurting. He had to do something, so he wrapped his arms around Angus and held him tight. Angus returned the gesture.
“So, do you think you can do this?”, asked Gregg.
“I think so. I’ll talk to him today.”
“Good. I know you can do it.”
After that, Gregg got ready and headed off for work. Angus decided to call in early, so he could finish in time to sit down and have the talk with Liam without worrying about getting a call in the middle of it.
Slowly, the day passed. Liam woke up, ate breakfast, started playing video games, and Angus was left to his work. It was a typical day for them. Once Angus’ work was done, however, he knew it was about to get heavy.
Taking of his mic, Angus let out a deep breath and went out to the living room.
Liam paused the game he was playing and turned to Angus, “Huh?”
“We… need to talk.”
“What? Did I do something?”, asked Liam, worried.
“No, it’s nothing like that. It’s… these nightmares you’ve been having.”, started Angus.
“I said it’s fine. They’re nothing.”, said Liam, turning away from Angus and trying to avoid eye contact.
“It’s not nothing, though. If it was once in a while, that would be nothing, but this has happened 4 times this week. You need to talk to me. You need to tell me what’s going on. I’m here for you.”, pleaded Angus.
“It’s nothing! I’ll get over it.”
“I think I know what this is about, and I understand that you don’t want to talk about it, but if you don’t, it’s going to get worse.”, said Angus.
“What do you think it is then?!”, yelled Liam. He was crying.
Angus was taken aback. This was the first time he’d gotten an emotional reaction like this from Liam. He was hoping there wouldn’t be this much backlash. Kneeling down, he made himself level with Liam.
“Please. You need to talk to me. I can’t force you to, but I can’t stand you going through this every other day. I love you, and I need you to let me help you.”
Liam was ready to fight back more, but then he heard it. “I love you.” When he heard Angus say that, he couldn’t bring himself to yell at him again, but he also couldn’t tell him what was wrong. It hurt too much to think about, so instead, he curled up as far back into the couch as he could push himself, trying to stay inside his bubble. Angus wasn’t going to let him, though.
“You know… I was abused, too.”
The words threw a wrench into Liam’s wall, his bubble of isolation.
“That’s what this is about, isn’t it?”
Liam couldn’t say no. He wanted to so badly, but it wouldn’t come out.
“Or is it about your first foster home? I have a friend who lost their parents, so I know how horrible it can make you feel.”
“It’s okay to talk about it. It’s okay to cry about it.”
“You think you can’t, but you need to.”
Liam’s head was buried in his hands. He was utterly stuck. Of the paths open to him, Liam couldn’t bring himself to walk down any of them, for they were all blocked by mile-high steel gates. Behind one of them, however, there was Angus, struggling to open the gate.
“I can’t know what it’s like to go from love to pain like that, but I know what it’s like to go back to love. It hurts so bad, but then you’ll feel how good it is, and you’ll never want to go back.”
Liam started sobbing. Angus was opening the gate now, and he was scared of what was on the other side.
Angus, running out of options, simply pulled Liam in for a hug. He was through.
“I’m sorry.”, said Liam.
“Don’t be. I can understand how hard this is. I just don’t want you to go through what I had to go through when I kept it all in. You can’t pretend like everything’s okay, because it’s not. What those people did to you was horrible.”
“You’re not like that, though.”, replied Liam.
“No, I promise we’ll never do anything like that to you.”, assured Angus.
“They hurt me so bad. I hated it!”
“I couldn’t make any friends because of them!”
Angus rubbed Liam’s back and listened.
“Why would they let those people adopt me?”
“They admitted that it was a horrible mistake. I know that doesn’t make it right, but at least you’re with us now. We won’t let anything like that happen to you as long as you’re with us.”
“But what if you die, just like my old parents did?”, asked Liam.
“We won’t die, I promise.”
“You can’t say that!”
“Trust me. It’ll take a lot to kill me or Gregg.”, said Angus.
“How do you know?”
Angus smiled and laughed a bit, “You know, we fought a cult once.”
“R-really?”, Liam lifted his head up, “No, you’re lying.”
“I’m not. Mae, Bea, and us found a murder cult. They were sacrificing people. Gregg shot one of them with his crossbow.”
“Dad has a crossbow?”
“Well, he did. He lost it in the caves they were in, though. He carried knives, though, so he still had those. There was a cave in, actually, and all of the cultists got stuck down in the caves.”
“What about you guys?”, asked Liam, now infatuated with the story.
“We thought we were stuck, but I managed to sniff out a passageway of air, and…” Angus thought for a moment, “…we dug ourselves out. It took a while, but we managed to dig our way through to the entrance. Then, we had our friend, Jeremy, blow up the only exits to the cave so they couldn’t escape.”
“Wow. That’s so cool.”
Angus knew this story would cause problems once Liam was old enough to understand that they were technically murderers, but he hoped he would be able to pass it off as fake once the time came.
“Yeah, it is pretty cool. Also, did you know Gregg got stabbed once?”
“He has a scar from it. We’ll have him show it to you once he gets home. He got into a knife fight with some guy who was attacking a customer at the bar he works at, and he got stabbed, but he still won. That guy was put in jail because of Gregg, and he came out just fine.”
Angus knew that one would need some serious cooperation from Gregg, Mae, and Bea, but he was sure he could get it to happen. He had to convince Liam they would be fine.
“Now, do you still think we’ll die easy?”, asked Angus.
Being brought back to the serious topic brought some of the sadness back to Liam, “No… It could still happen, though.”
Angus took a moment to think of some way to give Liam security. Then, he had it.
“Okay. How about this? If Gregg and I die, we’ll make sure you get to live with Mae and Bea instead. They’ll make sure you won’t get hurt just as much as us.”, offered Angus.
“Really? You can do that?”
“Of course. I’m sure that if I talk to them, Mae and Bea will be fine with taking you in if we die. That way, the only way you’ll have to go back up for adoption is if somehow, all four of us die before you become an adult. The likelihood of that happening is so slim, you shouldn’t even consider it.”
“Yeah. I’d still be really sad if you died, though.”, said Liam.
“Well, we’ll both try our best not to. That’s all you can really hope for.”
“…Thanks, dad. I love you.”
“I love you, too. If you ever need to talk about any of this again, I’ll be here. This isn’t something you’ll get over just from this. You’ll get scared, sad, and angry about it for no reason sometimes, and that’s okay. You can’t keep it in, though.”
“I won’t, I promise.”
“Good. Now, do you want to play some video games or watch some tv?”, asked Angus.
“Can I watch you play some video games? I’m really tired right now.”
“Huh? Oh, sure. I can do that.”
Angus played video games while Liam rested his head on his lap. After not even 10 minutes, he was asleep. Once he was, Angus turned off the tv and leaned back, also exhausted emotionally.
When Gregg got home, he found Angus and Liam asleep on the couch together. The tear streaks were still visible on both of their faces. Gregg left them to their nap and went to the kitchen. He took out a frozen pizza they had in case of a day like this where Angus wasn’t up for cooking. They both knew that letting Gregg cook was a bad idea, so they opted to keep this instead. After setting the timer, he went out and sat in the space that was left next to Angus and leaning up against him. It was a peaceful 20 minutes they had together. Unfortunately, the oven timer went off, and Angus and Liam woke up. Gregg got up, cut up some pizza, and came back with plates for them.
“I hope frozen pizza’s alright for dinner.”, said Gregg.
Angus grabbed the plates and set them on the table.
“Yeah, it’s fine. Thanks, bug.”
“No problem, cap’n.”
Chapter 17: Final Moments
After Angus finally got Liam to open up, the nightmares slowly faded away. They would still happen occasionally, but that was to be expected, and Angus was always able to talk Liam down from it. The next few weeks were uneventful. Angus would sometimes take Liam to the park that was near their apartment after he got a laptop. He was, of course, extremely shy. He’d never gotten the chance to really practice his social skills. He was starting to warm up to talking to others, though. He hadn’t made any real friends yet, but Angus knew it was only a matter of time. Then, there’d be the sleepovers and the birthday parties and all of that stuff.
Eventually, a month with Liam was drawing near, and that meant that Michael would probably be coming to check on them. Gregg and Angus weren’t extremely worried. So far, they’d been handling parenthood well, and Liam liked them, so he would vouch for them if questioned.
One day, though, Angus got an unexpected message. It was from Matthew.
Matthew: Message me back when you get up.
Angus: What’s up? Is something wrong?
Matthew: It’s about mom.
Angus: What about her?
Matthew: I don’t know how to say this…
Matthew: Mom’s dying, Angus.
Angus sat in shock for a few moments.
Angus: What happened?
Matthew: The hip injury she got earlier didn’t heal properly, and it got infected. She refused to get it checked out, but then, she just collapsed in the nursing home one morning.
Matthew: I’m with her now. I got military leave to see her.
Angus: How long do you think she has?
Matthew: The doctors said a week at best. It’s really bad.
Angus: I’m guessing you want me to go see her, right?
Matthew: Yeah… I think she’d appreciate it if she could see her grandson, too.
Matthew: Come on. I know she doesn’t deserve it, but it can’t do any harm. This’ll be her last chance to see him.
Angus knew he would regret this, but he couldn’t really argue. With his mother dying, the worst she could do is insult Liam, and if that happened… he wasn’t sure what he’d do to her. He wouldn’t sit there and let it happen, that’s for sure.
Angus: Fine. I’ll bring him with me.
Matthew: I know you’re worried, but I think she might actually be nice to him. With all of the drugs she’s on, she hasn’t been very passive-aggressive like she usually is.
Angus: Sure. I’ll come over this weekend.
Matthew: Thanks. I know this is hard for you.
Angus shut off his phone, sat back on the couch, and sighed.
“Is something wrong?”, asked Liam, who was right next to him.
“…No. We just have to take a trip this weekend.”
“To see some family.”, answered Angus.
“Well, you’ll get to meet your uncle… and your grandmother.”
“Wait, is that your mom?”, asked Liam.
Angus nodded, “She’s very sick. She… probably won’t be around for much longer.”
“Isn’t that a good thing? I thought you hated her.”
“I’m not sure. All that matters is that we have to go see her this weekend. It’ll be the only time you’ll ever see her, so… either make the most of it or avoid having to deal with her as much as possible, whichever you think is best.”
Liam still looked worried, “Will she… be like my last parents?”
“No. She can’t hurt you. Like I said, she’s very sick. She may still try to insult you, but if she does… I’ll make sure she regrets it.”
“…she might just die a few days early.”, was what he actually wanted to say. He knew that would be inappropriate, though.
“It’ll be fine, I promise.”, assured Angus.
“Okay, I trust you.”, said Liam.
After giving the news to Gregg, he insisted on joining him. His excuse was that Angus’ mother was technically his, too, now. Really, he just wanted to make sure he was okay.
When the day came, the family ate breakfast, got in the car, and drove to the hospital Angus’ mother was at. Once they were there, it was only a matter of walking in.
“Are you still sure about this?”, asked Gregg, giving Angus a worried gaze.
Angus took a deep breath and sighed, “Yeah. I need to get some closure with her.”
Everyone got out of the car, and they entered the hospital. Angus went up to the receptionist and stated who they were there to see. He signed his name down, and the three walked through the halls until they reached their destination.
“So, this is really happening.”, stated Gregg, still trying to wrap his head around the situation.
“Yep.”, replied Angus.
“Well, let’s go in.”, said Gregg, starting to walk. Before he reached the room, however, Angus’ hand held him back.
“Gregg. I think that maybe, you should stay out here. I don’t want another argument to break out between you two.”
Gregg hesitated. He wanted to be there with his husband, but he also despised the idea of having to interact with his mother again.
“Fine. I’ll be right out here if you need me, though.”
“I know.”, said Angus. He turned to Liam.
“Liam, are you sure you want to do this? You don’t have to come in with me. My brother will understand if you decide not to see her.”
“I’m sure. From what you’ve told me about her, she seems horrible, but… I don’t know. I’m just curious, I guess. It won’t hurt to see her just once, right?”
Angus kneeled down next to him, “Okay, but if at any point, she starts hurting you, feel free to leave and hang out with Gregg. Do you understand?”
“Let’s go, then.”
Angus stood up and took Liam’s hand in his, leading him into the hospital room. The sight they saw was incredibly sobering. There she was, Angus’ mother, an old, dying woman, at this point only a useless pile of flesh on the hospital bed. Angus finally understood that Matthew was right. There was no way she could be very hurtful to them in this condition.
“Oh, hey, Angus. You made it.”, greeted Matthew, who was seated right next to the bed.
“Yep. Liam’s here, too.”
“Hey, little guy. How are you?”, asked Matthew.
“Fine.”, replied Liam.
“Good. So, are you ready to meet your grandmother?”
“Don’t worry. I talked to her. She said she’d try to be nicer than usual.”
“She better be.”, said Angus, a slight scowl forming on his lips.
“I promise everything will be fine. Honestly, it seems like she hardly cares enough to even insult me anymore.”
Just then, their mother began coughing. She was waking up. When she opened her eyes, Matthew was the one to greet her.
“Hey, mom. Are you okay?”, he asked.
Once she was done coughing, she answered.
“Does it look like I’m okay? No, I’m obviously not.”
“Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Whatever. I don’t care anymore.”
There was a moment of awkward tension between the two.
“Oh, uh, Angus is here! He even brought his son, so you could meet him!”, Matthew said in an attempt to diffuse the situation.
Angus’ mother lifted her head up and looked over to him. Then, her eyes drifted down to the child next to him.
“So he did…”, she said.
“Hey, mom. Um, this is Liam. He’s my son.”
“Great, Now, you can finally show me how wrong I was. I bet you don’t discipline him or nothin’, but he’s still a great kid, right? That’s what you want to say to me now, isn’t it?”
“Huh?”, replied Angus. This was not what he was expecting.
“Well, go ahead. Go ahead and rub just how great of a parent you are in my face. I can tell you still hate me. You want to do it.”
Angus was baffled, “What the hell? No! Matthew just thought that maybe, you’d want to meet your grandson before you died! I guess he was wrong, though. I knew he would be. I knew you would just try to turn this into one last way to fuck with me before I was finally rid of you!”
“So I was right. You do still hate me. I’m not surprised. You were never as good as your brother. Look at him. He’s in the military. He’s serving our country. He was always more respectful and obedient than you. That’s why we never punished him as much.”
“If all you’re going to do is sit here and insult me, we’re done here. I’ll take Liam and leave. You’ll never get to even speak to your grandson!”, threatened Angus.
Angus’ mother had another coughing fit. As it died down, she responded.
“Fine. I’ll stop.”
That was new. Angus had never seen his mother agree to let up on the verbal abuse before.
“Thank you.”, he said.
“Hey, Liam. Why don’t you come over and say hi?”, beckoned Matthew.
Liam looked up at Angus before beginning to walk over. Angus’ hand lightly gripped his shoulder, preventing him from advancing.
“Before we do that, I’m going to warn you. If you say or do anything to hurt my son, I’ll take him and leave immediately, and you’ll never see either of us again. Are we clear?” Angus’ voice was stern, almost menacing, even.
“…Yeah.”, his mother responded.
Angus let go, and Liam hesitantly walked forward. Matthew held his hand on Liam’s shoulder to make sure he felt safe.
“Um… Hello…”, started Liam. Awkward would be an understatement for how it felt.
“Hey, kid. How are you?”, asked the shell of a woman that lied in front of him.
“No, you’re not. You’re terrified of me, aren’t you? I can only imagine what my son over there told you about me.”
Liam didn’t respond, so she continued.
“I stand by my actions. When I was a kid, I got it way harder than these two, and I think I turned out just fine. I figured the way I was raised would work with them, and I think it worked out. I mean, both of them managed to leave Possum Springs, right? That took hard work, and I don’t think they would be where they are if we coddled them. As much as I hate that Angus is getting it on with another guy, I can at least respect that it wasn’t easy getting all the way out to Bright Harbor.”
She looked at Angus, “I bet you definitely spoil him, and I hope you’re preparing for when life hits, and he doesn’t have that anymore.”
Angus was overflowing with the urge to talk back, to yell at his mother for some of the bullshit she was saying. What she did to him was not okay. It wasn’t! He’s in therapy now because of her! He couldn’t make a scene, though. Besides… part of him almost understood…
Angus’ mother sighed, “Anyways, I just went off on a tangent. It’s hard to stay on track with all of these drugs in me. So, how are you? Wait, I already asked that. Shit.”
“Can I ask you something?”, asked Liam.
“Sure, why not.”
“Um, do you… love my dad?”
“What the fuck did she just say?”, thought Angus, his fist balling up.
“Then why did you hurt him?”, asked Liam.
“That’s how you teach children things. If you’re too soft with them, they won’t take anything you say seriously.”
“But I learn things in school all the time, and they don’t hit me or anything.”, argued Liam.
“I wasn’t trying to teach my children math, I was trying to teach them respect and principles. Those aren’t as easy as teaching someone two plus two, so there needs to be reinforcement. Some people get it faster than others, like Matthew. Angus never really came around. Some people are just lost causes, I guess.”
“He is respectful, though. He’s really nice. I don’t see what you had to punish him for.”
“You have two dads, right?”, asked Angus’ mother.
“Well, there you go. That was a big problem.”
“Why is it a problem, though? I still love them.”
“There are plenty of things wrong with it, but you’re not old enough to get a lot of it.”
As soon as that came out, Liam’s whole argument and the conversation were both shut down. It was the bane of every child’s existence. “You’ll get it when you’re older.”
Liam sighed, “Fine… Dad, I think we should go. It was nice meeting you.” The statement couldn’t be more ingenuous.
“Yeah. You, too.” Angus’ mother coughed a few more times. Liam exited the room.
“Bye, mom. Bye, Matthew.”, said Angus, turning to leave.
“Angus.”, called his mother.
“What?”, asked Angus, annoyance pouring out of his voice.
“Don’t screw him up. As much as it disappoints me, he’s the future of our family now. Don’t let him end up like you.”
Angus took one last look at his mother and turned away, “I won’t.”
He walked away, and that was the last time he would ever see his mother.
Chapter 18: Unexpected Guest
After exiting the hospital, Angus wasn’t sure how to feel. On one hand, he’d never have to deal with her again. On the other hand…
“She said she loved me. After everything she did to me, she thinks she can get away with telling me she loved me?!”
They were in the car. Gregg was listening to Angus rant.
“Hon, calm down. It’s over now.”
“I know! I know it’s not a big deal, but it just makes me so angry. She acted like she cared about me when she locked me in a pantry for whole days?! I can’t stand the fact that she’s okay with all of it.”
“Look, I’m not saying what she did was okay, but if she really thought she was doing the right thing, you can’t change that.”
“That doesn’t mean she should just get to just die peacefully! I hated my childhood because of her! I almost died because of her! Why is it that I get the mother that thinks child abuse is the same as love, while everyone else gets parents that actually love them, huh?! And she couldn’t even give me this one day. She couldn’t have been nice to me on the last day I’ll ever get to see her. The last thing she says to me is “don’t let Liam end up like you”, not because she gave me fucking PTSD, but because she doesn’t want Liam to be gay and “disrespectful” like I apparently was!”
“Angus, Can we do this later? I’m perfectly willing to talk with you about this, but I don’t think Liam needs to deal with this. Let’s just go home, okay?”, requested Gregg.
Angus gripped the wheel tightly, trying to calm himself down.
“Fine. Give me a minute. Driving like this would probably be a bad idea.”
“It’s fine. Take your time. I get that this sucks for you.”, replied Gregg. Then, he placed a hand on Angus’, “I love you, okay?”
Angus loosened his grip slowly before removing his hand from the wheel entirely and holding Gregg’s hand.
“I love you, too.”
Gregg planted a kiss on his cheek.
Angus sighed, “I think I’m good now. Let’s go home.”
Once the car began to move, Liam fell asleep after only a few minutes. Gregg wanted to sleep, but he also wanted to be awake, so he could be with Angus during the ride home. Tensions were high right now. There was a pit in Angus’ stomach filled with hate, dissatisfaction, even… grief almost…
The car ride home was filled with Gregg trying to dispel the miasma of malcontent with small talk and car games, but none of it seemed to fully reach him. When they got home, they told Liam to stay in the living room for a little while. Gregg and Angus then went into their room and closed the door.
“So, talk to me.”, said Gregg.
“Um…” Angus wasn’t sure how to start.
“We knew your mother was a complete bitch. Why would she be that way if she didn’t think it was right?”, asked Gregg.
“That’s not the problem. Of course, she thought what she was doing was right. The problem is that she thinks she loved me.”
“So, she said she loved you. Why does that change anything?”
“You don’t understand. I wanted her to actually love me! I always wanted someone to actually love me, but it took 16 years for that to happen! Almost everyone else has it from the day they’re born, but not me! I shouldn’t want it. I shouldn’t care, but I do, and now, she’s going to die, and I’ll never get to experience what it’s like to have a parent who loves me!”
“Have you talked to your therapist about it at all? I think you should.”, said Gregg.
Angus wiped away some tears, “No shit. Gregg, I just realized I felt this way not even 5 hours ago.”
“Yeah… I just… I don’t know… I kind of regret hating her for all this time.”
“It’s not like it would have changed anything if you hadn’t.”
“I know. This is just a lot to process. Sure, I hate her, and I’m glad I don’t need to deal with her anymore, but my mom is still dying, and I still feel like I’m losing something. It’s just more of an idea that I’m losing than something real.”, explained Angus.
“I get it. Come here.” Gregg hugged Angus, “Are you okay now?”
“I think so. Just a lot to process, that’s all.”
“Mhm. Now, how about we go check on Liam and cuddle on the couch for a bit?”
Angus smiled warmly, “Sure.”
And so, that’s what they did. A few days later, Angus got the confirmation. His mother was dead. The finality that Angus had expected to feel was absent. In his mind, she deserved to die, but he felt off. He found himself once again wishing he could’ve experienced the side of his mother that apparently loved him, but he quickly pushed the thoughts aside. It was over, and he should accept that.
The funeral was about a week later. It had to be done on a weekday to cut costs. Other than his brother, Angus hardly knew anyone that said they were going. Despite what one might assume, his family extended out quite a lot. He never interacted with them, though, at least not enough to grow close to any of them. Once it got out that he was gay, none of them were very eager to talk with him anyway.
Angus went alone. He knew his family wouldn’t approve of him bringing his husband to the funeral, so he left him home with Liam.
Once at the funeral, he was able to quickly meet up with Matthew. Being the only person he was close to, Angus’ plan was to simply walk around with him until this whole thing was over.
“So, it’s finally over, huh? You’re probably happy, right?”, asked Matthew.
“…Not really. I’m not incredibly sad or anything, just… a little empty.”, answered Angus.
“Well, if I had to put words to it… I don’t know. I think it has something to do with how you always kept trying to get through to her.”
“Yeah. Sure, I always hated her for everything, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want her to be a good mother. I wished she would change pretty much every day until the end of high school. After that, I gave up, but you kept caring enough to try, and part of me always hoped you’d succeed at some point. I used to dream of what it would be like if I could come home and have her ask me how my day was or what it would be like to actually hug her. Now, that’s never going to happen.”, explained Angus.
“Some people can’t be changed, I guess. I feel the same way. I was really hoping I would get through to her.”
Angus looked around at all of the other people that were there. He recognized a few, but many of them were strangers as far as he was concerned. Then, someone walked in, and Angus felt his stomach drop like a boulder. Matthew noticed the distress on Angus’ guise, and he looked up as well. He, too, was shaken.
It was their dad.
He was old, but not in the way their mother was. He was strong. They could tell just by looking. He still had the muscly, intimidating figure he had all those years ago. He held a flask in his hand, probably with alcohol in it. He took a swig of it. Then, lady luck decided to abandon the two sons, and he looked straight at them. Angus and Matthew tried to look away, but it was too late. He was already approaching them.
Matthew stepped forward, “Angus, let me-“
Angus cut him off, “No. I’ll talk to him.”
When their father reached them, he looked the two over. Then, he spoke.
“Hey.” It was way too casual.
“Hey, dad. What are you doing here?”, asked Angus as calmly as possible.
“My wife died. Why wouldn’t I be here?”, he asked back.
“Because you haven’t been together in years.”, answered Angus, a bit of sass making its way into the remark.
His father took another drink from his flask and sighed, “Yeah, I know I left, but that doesn’t mean I won’t at least show up to her funeral. It’s basic courtesy.” He looked down at Angus’ hand, “Married, huh?”
Angus’ face went red, “Y-yeah.”
“Who is it?”, his father asked.
Angus was afraid to answer, but he swallowed his fear and pushed forward, “It’s Gregg, from high school.”
“Really? That kid?”
Matthew stepped in, “Dad, please don’t be mad. I know you don’t approve of it, but he’s an adult, and-“ Again, Matthew was cut off, but by their father this time.
“Woah, slow down. I don’t care.”
“Like you said, he’s an adult. He can do what he wants. Honestly, I probably should have just let him be when I first found out about it.”
Angus couldn’t believe what he was hearing. There was no way this was his dad.
His dad looked at him and snickered, “You look surprised.”
“No, I get it. Things aren’t great between us.” Once again, he took a drink.
“That’s a bit of an understatement.”, Angus thought. Despite this, he was happy there wasn’t some big confrontation happening. Taking a look at the flask in his father’s hand, however, gave him the feeling that wouldn’t last for long.
“This isn’t alcohol, by the way.”, said his father, holding it up, “I can tell you two are looking at it. You know, I’ve actually been sober for a few years now.”
If Angus wasn’t shocked and confused before, he certainly was now. What the hell was going on?
“I know, crazy, right?”, he continued, “A lot’s happened since I left. I’ve been in a whole lot of bad places. Almost died of alcohol poisoning one time. Got myself in jail a couple of times, too. I’ve been beaten up plenty, in jail, on the streets, in bars. As it turns out, beating up little kids doesn’t make you a real man like I thought I was.”
Angus was tempted to tell him he deserved it, but he kept it in, “That’s… a lot. So, what is in the flask?”
“Just some soda. I used to keep it in this to try and trick myself into thinking I’m drinking beer. Now, it just feels normal, and it helps with the occasional cravings.”
“That’s actually pretty cool of you, dad.”, said Matthew.
“I guess.”, said Angus.
“Addiction’s not easy, I’ll tell you that much.”
With the current topic running its course, there was an unnerving silence between the three. That was until Angus’ dad broke it.
“So, are we going to talk about the elephant in the room or what?”, he asked.
Angus and Matthew looked at him with anxiety and anticipation.
“I mean, I was trying to lead into it, but that didn’t work out.”
“What do you mean?”, asked Angus even though he already knew the answer.
“You want me to apologize, right? For everything I did?”
Angus’ mouth opened to respond, but his mind was blank.
“Look, I’ve been through a few therapists, some rehab, all that stuff. I’ve talked about you two, and they made me really think about what I put you two through. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were in therapy yourselves at this point.”
Angus turned his gaze away from his father.
“So, that’s a yes. Look, let’s just cut to the chase. I’m sorry, okay? I’m not expecting you to accept it or anything, I just figured I’d say it.”
Angus held his arm nervously, “Look, it’s great that you’re turning your life around and everything, but… I can’t just let you apologize and have it be over. I’m in therapy right now, and I’m trying to raise my own kid. Everything you did is making things really difficult for me and Gregg.”
“No, I get it. It’d take a lot more than that to work this out. Here, how about I just give you two my phone number, and we can work this out some other time. Or, if you’d rather I just leave and have us go our separate ways, that’s fine, too.”
Angus paused for a moment to consider the offer.
“This is… insane.”
“Can you really work this out? With him?”
“Would making up with him help me?”
“What would my therapist say?”
After a few seconds of consideration, Angus decided.
“…Fine. I’ll take your phone number… We can talk about this later.”
Chapter 19: Scrabble, Chinese, and Mini Golf
Past meeting his father, the funeral wasn’t eventful for Angus. He simply gave a look to his mother in her casket and walked, choosing not to give any parting words. This granted him some strange looks from the others there who were familiar with the fact that he was her son. Matthew opted not to say anything, either. With their mother finally cemented as a bad person for her entire adult life, he couldn’t find anything nice to say.
A few family members gave generic remarks, “She’ll be missed”, “Let’s hope she’s in a better place.”, etc. None of them ever knew about Angus and Matthew’s abuse, and the two of them decided it would be better to keep it that way. It would cause more turmoil if the person they were mourning turned out to actually be evil.
After the funeral ended, and Angus’ mother was finally lowered into the ground, it wasn’t long before he was on his way home. After a quick goodbye to Matthew and then his dad, who he still couldn’t bring himself to take seriously about making up, he drove back home. By the time he was back, it was time to make dinner.
When Angus unlocked the door to the apartment and went inside, Gregg was there.
“Hey, honey bear. Welcome home.”, he greeted.
“Hey, bug.” Angus took off his shoes and placed his keys in the pocket of his coat that hung next to the door.
“So, how are you?”, asked Gregg.
“Fine. It wasn’t that bad. Now, what should I make for dinner?”
“Oh, um, I thought I’d order take-out from that Chinese place, you know, because you might be a bit drained from the funeral and all. Is that okay?”
“Sure. That’s fine. I am a bit tired. Where’s Liam?”, asked Angus.
“He’s in the living room. We’re playing scrabble!” Gregg began to walk toward the living room.
“We have scrabble?”
“Yeah! I found it stashed away in the closet.”, said Gregg.
Upon entering the living room, there was indeed a scrabble set on the table. Gregg’s guitar and amp were also in the corner.
“What were you doing looking around in the closet?”, asked Angus.
“I was trying to find my delay pedal. Sadly, I couldn’t find it, but this is way better!”
“Hey, dad.”, greeted Liam.
“Hey, Liam. How are you?”, replied Angus.
“Good. You wanna play scrabble with us?”
As Angus sat down at the table, the buzzer to their room went off.
“Oh, that must be the Chinese. I’ll go grab it. Be right back.” Gregg ran off down the stairs, leaving Angus and Liam alone.
“So, who’s winning?”, asked Angus.
“I am. He’s not very good at this game.”
“Gregg never was great in English class.”
“I hate English.”, said Liam.
“Yeah, I’m definitely a math and science guy, myself.”
“I hate math, too.”
“Math can suck if you don’t understand it. I got lucky. I was always pretty good at it without really needing to try.”
“I understand it. I just think it’s really boring.”
“There’s that, too. Math definitely isn’t a very glamorous subject.”, agreed Angus. Talking about math and numbers reminded Angus of the note in his pocket. He pulled it out, his father’s phone number, along with his phone. At that moment, Gregg came back in with bags of Chinese food.
“Woo, tonight is going to be great! We got all this Chinese and scrabble. It’ll be our family game night!” Gregg set down the food next to the table and started removing the containers from the bags.
“Geez, Gregg. That’s a lot of food.”, commented Angus.
“We gotta make sure Liam gets to try everything.”
Gregg noticed the paper in Angus’ hand, “What’s that you got there?”
“A phone number.”, answered Angus.
“Who’s is it?”
Angus looked away from Gregg, “My dad’s.”
“What? He was at the funeral?”
“Wait, you better not have to start visiting him now.”
“It’s not like that. He said he wants to make things right with me somehow. He apologized even. He said to call him if I wanted to talk.”, clarified Angus.
“You’re not really going to call him, are you?”, questioned Gregg.
“Not right now. This is still a lot to take in. It would probably be good for me to at least try to move forward with him. He actually doesn’t seem too bad now. He stopped drinking at least.”
Gregg knew Angus was right, even if he hated it. Forgiving his father would probably help out Angus’ mental health.
“Okay. If you think it’s right, I can’t really stop you. I’ll be here for you if you need it.”, said Gregg.
“Thanks. Now that that’s out of the way, how about we play some scrabble?”
“Yeah, let’s go!”, cheered Gregg, happy to move on from the subject at hand.
Meanwhile, Mae and Bea had decided to go out on a date. It had been a while since the last time. When deciding where to go, they eventually came to the conclusion that they wanted some nostalgia.
“Are you ready to get destroyed?!”, challenged Mae while overdramatically posing.
“Why would I be? I’m totally going to beat you.”, replied Bea with her usual snark.
“We’ll see about that Ms. Santello. We shall see.” Mae placed a ball down on the ground and took out her club. That’s right. They were playing mini-golf.
The first hole was an easy one. It was simply a straight line to the hole from the start. Mae lined up her shot and swung. There was a whooshing noise as the golf club was driven through the air. When it made contact, the ball flew into another part of the course.
“I guess we really did see, huh?”, said Bea.
“Shut up. That wasn’t my fault. I’m just a lot stronger than I was when we used to play. All of the construction work has really improved my upper body strength, and I misjudged how hard I was hitting. That’s all.”, argued Mae.
“You do have some pretty sweet muscles now.”
“I know. These are some high caliber guns were talking about here.” Mae gave Bea a flex of her arm.
“Uh huh, sure. Go get your ball.”, said Bea.
“Okay.” Mae ran over, grabbed the ball, and returned. Bea had already set up her shot by the time Mae was back. When she hit the ball, it went straight into the hole. Afterward, Bea didn’t say anything, but she gave Mae a smug look that said more than enough.
“Yeah, whatever. So I’m behind you by one point. I’ll still win.” Mae hit her ball again. It didn’t fly off of the course this time, but it just barely missed the hole.
“No! Why! How could you do this to me?!”, cried Mae.
Bea laughed at the irony of it all.
“Alright, fine. I’m two behind you then. I’ll still win.”, asserted Mae, as she hit the ball for the third time. Finally, the ball made it into the hole. “There. I did it. Let’s go to the next hole.”
The two continued playing, and as the game went on, Mae fell further and further behind. She stayed determined, however. Sadly, by the end of the game, she had ten strokes more than Bea. Mae was forced to accept her defeat. After the game, they went to the food court that the mini-golf place had and ordered pizza. There was some small talk, and Bea lorded her victory over Mae a bit. Then, the pizza arrived. Mae took a slice and bit into it, followed by Bea.
“These places never have good pizza, do they?”, said Bea.
“No, but at least it’s pizza. That means it can’t be bad. The pizza scale says so.”, replied Bea.
“Not this again.”, said Bea.
“What? You know Gregg’s right. Have you ever had a pizza that was really bad? Sure, there’s mediocre pizza, but no pizza is ever uneatable.”
“What if it’s burnt? Let’s say you accidentally left a pizza in the oven for too long, and the crust is completely black. Would that be eatable to you?”, asked Bea.
“That’s not a pizza. That’s just a sad, burnt pile of crust, sauce, cheese, and toppings.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s what one would call a burnt pizza.”
Mae shook her head, “No, no, no. There’s a huge difference. You just don’t understand.”
“So, college is coming up soon, huh?”, asked Mae.
“Yep.” Bea’s smile and giddy tone of her voice as she answered were precious to Mae.
“Are you excited?”
“Yes. This is going to be great! I can’t wait. I feel like I’m dying.”
“Dying in a good way, right?”, questioned Mae.
“Of course. I feel like this is my new life now.”, said Bea.
“It’s crazy. Bright Harbor really saved all of us, didn’t it?”
“No, we saved ourselves. We made it here because we worked for it. I worked for it. You worked for it. Angus and Gregg sure as hell worked their asses off for it.”
“Right. I did just work at a taco place for a few years, though.”
“That doesn’t matter. Gregg worked at a convenience store, and Angus sold movies for a living. None of our jobs were exactly glamorous.”, replied Bea.
“I know, but you three were all paying for your own apartments and stuff. I just mooched off my parents.”
“Mae, you do realize that I would’ve never moved if it weren’t for the money you brought in, right? Sure, living with your parents isn’t something to be proud of, but they really are the reason we got here as soon as we did. I doubt you would have been able to afford your own apartment, period, let alone save up enough money to get us an apartment in Bright Harbor of all places.”
“Yeah, my parents are great. If I’d had parents like Angus’ or something, I’d be pretty screwed.”
“Probably. It’s crazy that Angus’ mom is dead now.”, said Bea.
“I know, right? The funeral was today, right?”, asked Mae.
“Mhm. I’m glad he doesn’t have to deal with her anymore.”
“Me, too. I don’t get how parents can do that to their kids.”
“I don’t get it, either. People like that just exist, and the system we have right now isn’t very good at stopping them. Just look at Liam. He’s been through two families like that, and it took him being hospitalized before the authorities did anything.”
“At least he’s with Gregg and Angus now.”, said Mae.
“Yep. They seem like they’ve done okay so far.”
“Liam is so cute. He’s all shy and stuff.”
“He’s shy for a reason, y’know.”, said Bea.
“He is pretty cute, though.”
“We gotta babysit sometime. I’m sure those two could use a day off sometime.”
“Yeah, we should.”, agreed Bea.
There was a lull in the conversation, and Mae was becoming visibly excited.
“We need to ask them! Now, I really want to spend some time with him.”, said Mae, standing up.
“Mae, they haven’t even had him for a month, yet. Give them some time.”
Mae was disappointed at the fact Bea was right, “Dang it. Yeah, we probably shouldn’t ask.”
“Let’s just make sure they know we’re available. If they need it, they can come to us. Asking them if we can take care of their kid might seem disrespectful.”, said Bea.
“Yes. Let’s definitely do that.”, replied Mae.
Mae and Bea had both finished their pizza.
“So, should we get home?”, asked Mae.
“Unless there’s something else here you want to do, yeah.”
“Are you sure? This place has an arcade.”, questioned Bea.
“I looked already. This place’s arcade is sorely lacking in games, y’know, what arcades were literally made for.”
“Alright. Let’s go home, then.”
The two were then walking out to Bea’s car.
“So, was the date everything you were expecting?”, asked Bea.
“Almost. There’s just one thing missing…”
Mae leaned over and kissed Bea on the cheek.
“There. I think we covered all of the bases.”
Bea smirked before leaning back and giving Mae a kiss of her own.
“Yeah, I think we did.”
Chapter 20: Slip and Fall
Michael was coming soon. He had emailed Angus telling him to expect him in the next couple of days. It wasn’t a big deal. He was simply checking in to see how things were going. Everything would be fine. Besides, fun things were planned for today.
Today was a scorcher. It was almost 100 degrees out. To combat this, Gregg suggested the local public pool, and Angus and Liam both agreed to it.
“Yes! It’s been so long since I’ve been in a pool.”, said Gregg.
“We didn’t have one in Possum Springs.”, said Angus.
“Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s get our swim trunks on and go!”, urged Gregg, running into their room.
“Wait. Liam doesn’t have swim trunks.”
“Oh. Crap. Uh, can he just go in his shorts?”, asked Gregg.
“I guess that’ll have to do for now. Just make sure to bring a towel for him to sit on for the ride home. We’ll pick up some swim trunks on our way home.”
And so, the three went out and drove to the public pool. Upon arrival, the crowd was revealed to be bustling as was to be expected. The three were beginning to get out of the car.
“Pro tip, don’t swim in any yellow spots.”, said Gregg.
“Yes, I know.”, replied Liam.
“Just making sure. Now, I see a diving board over there. You know what that means, right?”, asked Gregg, giving Liam a cock-eyed grin.
“We’re… going to jump off of it?”
“Oh.” Liam withdrew his gaze from Gregg and slumped back into the seat slightly.
“What, are you scared?”, asked Gregg.
Liam became flustered, “N-no! I’ve just never used a diving board before.”
“It’s fine if you are, Liam.”, said Angus.
“I don’t know…”
“How about this?”, said Gregg, “We’ll go relax and mess around in the pool for a little while, and then, if you’re up for it, we can go diving. Does that sound okay?”
“Alright, let’s go then!” Gregg threw his shirt off, revealing a slim and slightly muscular body. Angus was staring at him.
“Like what you see?”, asked Gregg, stretching out provocatively.
Angus blushed and looked away, “Gregg, not in front of Liam.”
“Oh, come on, it’s fine. Now, how about we get a look at that adorable tummy of yours?” Gregg advanced on Angus, pulling his shirt up. Angus, though feeling embarrassed, allowed Gregg to take the shirt off. Gregg gave Angus a playful slap on his belly.
“Honestly, I’m sad I don’t get to see this anymore. We always sleep in our shirts. It’s so soft and warm.” Gregg began to rub Angus’ stomach.
“Okay, I think that’s enough, bug. Let’s just go get in the pool.”
“Fine.”, Gregg ran off, “Woo!”
Liam ran off after Gregg, and Angus simply walked. Once he reached the pool, Gregg jumped in, making a sizable splash upon impact. Liam, on the other hand, slowly lowered himself into the pool from the edge. Angus, carrying towels and such, found a space to put their stuff. After setting everything down and taking off his glasses, he, too, went and eased himself into the pool.
“Aw, come on, you guys are no fun.”, complained Gregg.
In response, Angus splashed some water at Gregg. Gregg winced and reeled back as the water hit his face.
“Oh, you wanna do this now? Well, take this!” Gregg, with both hands, sent a wave of water at Angus, who shielded himself with his arms. Liam joined in as well, sending his own splash at Angus.
“Liam, how could you betray me like this?”, asked Angus, smiling.
“You attacked first.”, answered Liam.
“Yeah, that’s right. Let’s get him!”, exclaimed Gregg.
The proceeding water fight was one for the ages. A torrent of water was exchanged back and forth, and laughter erupted from the three in spades. Unfortunately, the lifeguard intervened and asked them to stop, saying that the splashing water might conceal someone in the vicinity if they were in danger.
After the legendary battle had been cut short, the three found other ways to enjoy themselves in the water. They challenged each other to see how long they could stay underwater. Gregg won that one. His lungs were incredibly strong. They had to be to accommodate all of the talking, laughing, and/or crying he did.
As much fun as they were having, the diving board was still sitting there, slowly starting to push its way to the front of Liam’s mind. At one point, Gregg noticed Liam looking at it.
“So, are you ready yet?”, he asked.
“I think so.”, said Liam hesitantly.
“Alright, then, come on!”, urged Gregg, rushing to get out of the pool, “Are you coming, cap’n?”
“Nah, I’ll just stay here and watch.”
“Suit yourself.” Gregg got up and helped Liam out of the pool. Then, they got in line for the diving board.
“It’s almost time. You’re sure about this, right?”, asked Gregg.
“Yep.” Liam was stiff. He was obviously not sure.
“I’ll be down there in case anything goes wrong, okay? I’m sure you’ll be fine, though. Just run and spring off the board. It’s easy. Watch.”
Gregg was up. He got a running start, jumped down into the end of the board, and leapt up, curling up into a cannonball position. When he hit the water, the splash was big enough to reach Liam. Gregg rose out of the water and motioned for Liam to come.
Liam climbed onto the board and looked out to the water. Both of his fathers were there in anticipation. He was having a hard time bringing himself to move.
“Come on, Liam, just go for it! You’ll be fine!”, called Gregg.
Swallowing his apprehension, Liam ran forward. He jumped, aiming for the end of the board like Gregg. His feet touched the board again, and he expected to feel it bend. He did, sort of, but then he felt something else. A slip. For an instant, there was no ground beneath him. A moment later, an impact to the back of his head followed by nothing.
Gregg and Angus watched in horror as Liam tripped on the diving board, his head colliding with it as he fell into the pool, unconscious. The lifeguard saw this and rushed toward the pool. Gregg, who was right next to the diving board, reached Liam almost as soon as he hit the water, holding him up. The lifeguard dove into the pool and asked Gregg to give Liam to him. Gregg complied, and Liam was carried out of the pool.
Angus and Gregg scrambled out of the pool, running over to where the lifeguard was checking Liam over for signs of serious injury.
“Oh my god, is he going to be okay?”, asked Gregg in a panic.
“Give me a sec… He’s breathing, and his pulse seems normal. He didn’t breathe in any water from what I can tell. I’d suggest you get him to a doctor, but it shouldn’t be anything too serious.”
Angus picked Liam up and carried him out to the car. Gregg sat in the back with him and buckled him in. Luckily, there was a hospital only a few minutes away from the pool. After quickly changing in the car, Angus and Gregg took Liam in. After they explained their problem and signed in, they were told to wait for a doctor to see them.
A few minutes of dreadful silence later, they were called in to get Liam examined.
“So, what exactly happened?”, asked the doctor.
“We were just at the pool a few minutes from here, and Liam tried jumping off the diving board, but he slipped and hit his head on it. We’re worried he might have a concussion or something.”, explained Angus.
“Okay. We’ll run some tests to see if there are any irregularities with his brain function. This shouldn’t take long.”
The results for the tests reached the hands of Gregg and Angus about a half an hour later. Liam had woken up by then, and the doctor had asked a few questions to him, but other than that, he was just resting in Angus’ lap.
“This does look like a minor concussion.”, said the doctor, “It should be healed in a few weeks. I’m going to prescribe a medication for him to take during his recovery. Just limit his physical activity and give him the medicine, and he’ll be fine. Also, I’d suggest getting this kid on your medical insurance plan if you have one. Get him his own doctor, too.”
“I know. We just adopted him, and we hadn’t gotten around to it.”, replied Angus.
“Well, this medical bill might hurry you up a bit. I’m sorry, but hospitals are expensive.”
He handed Angus the bill, and he felt like he was going to have a heart attack. Hundreds of dollars for a few tests and a checkup, and the medication would probably be a few hundred more. What if it had been worse?
“Okay, thank you.”
“Yep. I hope he feels better soon.”
Angus carried Liam out of the hospital. He tried to tell him he could walk, but Angus insisted he try to do as little as possible for the rest of the day. Gregg was silent. He had been the whole time.
“Bug, are you okay?”, asked Angus.
“I guess…” Gregg refused to look at Angus.
“It’s going to be fine. The doctor said Liam would be back to normal in a few weeks.”
Angus decided to wait to press the issue until they got home and got Liam to bed. Rest was what he needed right now. After picking up the prescription, which was, as Angus expected, very expensive, they finally headed home.
When they got home, Gregg started heading upstairs first with all of the swim stuff they’d brought. On the way up, he saw Mae and Bea heading downstairs. They were carrying towels, sunscreen, bathing suits, etc.
“Hey, Gregg! We’re heading to the public pool. You, Angus, and Liam should join us!”, offered Mae.
“It kind of looks like they were there already judging by the wet fur and towels.”, said Bea.
“Uh…”, started Gregg before Angus appeared behind him with Liam.
“Is… Liam okay?”, asked Mae.
“He has a concussion.”, answered Angus bluntly.
“Oh my god, what happened?!”
“We were at the public pool. He tried jumping off the diving board, and he slipped. He hit his head on the diving board.”
“We’re just going to take him upstairs and let him rest. The doctor we took him to said he’d be fine in a few weeks.”, said Angus.
“Well, at least he’s going to be okay. I’m sorry this happened.”
“Why are you apologizing?”, asked Gregg.
“I don’t know. I just feel bad for you guys, that’s all.”
“Okay. Have fun at the pool, I guess.”, said Gregg before walking past her and Bea.
“We’ll see you guys later.”, said Angus, following Gregg.
“Yep. See you later.”, replied Mae, and then they were gone.
Chapter 21: Doubt and Escape
Hey, guys. This, week, instead of posting a new chapter, I've decided to go back and redo last week's chapter. At the rate I was going at, the end of the story would've been completely rushed and anti-climactic. I'm sorry to those who read last week's chapter and were waiting for more, but I promise, this is going to set up a much more exciting climax and ending.
Liam didn’t complain much when he was put to bed. His brain felt muddled like there was a fog obscuring his thoughts. They were there, but he couldn’t see or comprehend them. All he knew was that he was tired.
Gregg laid Liam down and covered him up, giving him an “I love you” before kissing him on the forehead. Then, he left, and the door shut. He tried to sleep for a few minutes until he realized he was thirsty. After a glass of water, he would go to bed, so he got up to ask for one. As he was about to open up the door, however, he heard his two fathers talking.
“I don’t know. I’m just worried.”, said Gregg, “Michael’s coming soon. He probably won’t be happy to see Liam with a concussion. I know this is probably crazy, but what if he takes Liam away?”
“Take me away?”, Liam thought.
“I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about. He’ll understand. Mistakes happen.”, replied Angus.
“Aren’t you scared, though?”, asked Gregg.
“There’s no point to being scared. If Michael really did decide to take Liam away from us, there wouldn’t be much we could do about it.”
“Come on. It’ll be fine. Just relax.”, assured Angus.
Liam stood there, letting the conversation sink in.
“He might take me away?”
“No, I can’t go back.”
“Please, don’t make me go back.”
“He said it’ll be fine.”
“What if he’s wrong?”
Liam was terrified of going back to the orphanage, of losing the first people to love him in years. He wasn’t thirsty anymore. He was sick to his stomach. Ultimately, he went back to bed, but the muddled thoughts kept him up. Sleep did come eventually, but it wasn’t peaceful. Vivid dreams of the loss haunted him. More and more, “what if” died off, leaving only “he’s wrong.” There had to be some way out…
Liam woke up early the next morning. The morning routine was mostly normal, only with the addition of medication. He was handed a pill with his breakfast.
“You know how to swallow pills, right?”, asked Angus.
“Yeah.” He knew all too well. He’d forgotten how many bottles of ibuprofen he’d gone through in the past few years. Taking a swig of milk, the pill went down effortlessly.
Gregg turned on the news to see what the weather was going to be like. Instead, the latest killings in the area were being reported on.
“Why does the news always have to be so depressing?”, asked Gregg, “I don’t want to see this crap.”
“It makes money.”, answered Angus.
“I’m sure there are happier things to talk about, though.”
“Of course, there are. The world’s constantly getting better. You know, there was recently a development in cancer research that might make it possible for even stage 4 cancer patients to get treatment with an almost fifty-fifty chance of recovery.”, said Angus.
“See, that’s something that should be on the news.”
“Also, as much as they talk about murder on the news, the rates of homicide throughout the country are only decreasing. Poverty’s going down, too. Homeless people are being given jobs and the ability to sustain themselves.”
“Germ’s still homeless, right?”, asked Gregg.
“As far as I know. I haven’t heard from him since he visited a few months ago.”
“Who’s Germ?”, asked Liam.
“Oh, we haven’t told you about Germ yet! He’s really cool!”, exclaimed Gregg.
“Or really stupid.”, said Angus.
“What? What do you mean? Germ’s awesome!”, argued Gregg.
“He’s willingly homeless, Gregg.”
“Yeah! That’s cool. He travels around on trains-“
“I know, but isn’t it cool that he gets to travel around the country, experience all of these different places, and meet all of these different people?”
“You do realize that he probably spends most of his time trying to scrounge up enough money to have food to eat, right? Also, he has to sleep outside in the cold.”
“They make fires and stuff, right?”, asked Gregg.
“That’s also illegal.”
“Alright, fine. You can say what you want, but I think Germ is cool. Despite all of that stuff, he’s still out there, experiencing the world, and I respect that.”
“Whatever. His family probably won’t take him back in after this long. He’s probably stuck like that now, so it doesn’t matter.”
“Wait, so he rides trains? How does he get the money if he’s homeless?”, asked Liam.
“He doesn’t. He gets in one of the storage cars in the back and rides there without anyone knowing.”, replied Gregg.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s been arrested by now.”, said Angus.
“Nah, he’s been doing this for years. He’s fine.”
Liam heard the story of Germ, and suddenly, there was a way out. All he had to do was hop on a train, and he could leave and not have to spend his life in the care of an orphanage and parents who may or may not abuse him. No more pain, no more responsibility, a life of exploration and adventure, it all sounded amazing right now.
“Next time Germ visits, you’ve got to talk to him. He’s got some great stories.”, said Gregg to Liam, breaking him out of his fantasy.
“Oh, yeah. Sounds cool.”, replied Liam.
“Are you okay? You seemed like you zoned out there for a minute.”, asked Angus.
“I’m fine. Just a little tired.”
“Hm. Maybe, you should get some more rest.”
“No, I’m fine. I’m just waking up still.”, assured Liam.
“Okay. If you ever feel sick, lightheaded, anything, tell us, okay?”
The weather came on. It would be rainy today, but tomorrow, the weather seemed to be perfect.
“Well, I guess we’re stuck inside today.”, said Gregg.
“We were going to be stuck inside anyways.”, replied Angus.
“Oh, right. So, what are we going to do today?”
“Hmm… How about we play some scrabble?”
“Aw, come on. You win every time.”, complained Gregg.
“I know.”, said Angus with a cocky grin.
“Fine, but I’m going to beat you this time!”
And so, they played scrabble again. Liam found himself short of focus for the game, partly due to the concussion, but also partly due to the thoughts and feelings festering inside him. His escape, it had to happen soon. He didn’t know where the train station was or how to get into a storage car unnoticed. Of course, Gregg and Angus only took this as the injury disorienting him.
Scrabble lasted for a few hours. Then, they watched some tv. Lunch and dinner came and went. Liam became tired earlier than usual, but he had to stay up. In order for his plan to work, he needed information he could only get after Gregg and Angus were asleep.
Through force of will, Liam managed to stay up long enough. Gregg yawned.
“I think maybe, we should get to sleep.”, he suggested
“Mhm. Gotta remember we have work in the morning.”, replied Angus.
“You should get to sleep, too, Liam.”, said Gregg.
“Yeah, I will.”
“Do you want me to tuck you in?”
Liam yawned and stood up, “No thanks. I’m fine.”
“Okay. Good night then.”
Liam went into his room and lied down in his bed. This is where the hard part began. He had to stay there long enough for Gregg and Angus to fall asleep. It was difficult to keep himself awake, but after about half an hour, or at least what felt like half an hour, Liam got up and moved to his bedroom door as quietly as possible. With extreme caution, he turned the doorknob, a small click ringing out before he eased the door open and peaked out. From what he could tell, his dads hadn’t woken up.
He tip-toed into Gregg and Angus’ room. The door was left open. The light snoring of Angus was unnerving. Liam felt like he might wake up at any moment. Looking at the desk next to the bed, Liam saw his objective, Gregg’s phone. He knew he could find everything he needed on there.
Obtaining the phone happened, to Liam’s relief, without major incident. Gregg turned over once in his sleep, which sent Liam’s heart into a frenzy, but it never developed into anything more than that. With the phone in hand, Liam retreated back into his room and turned it on. Luckily, Gregg didn’t keep a password of any kind on his phone, so Liam was able to open it immediately.
The first goal was to find the train station. A quick search on the map app gave him the directions he needed. It wasn’t too far from the apartment. Next, he needed to see if he could find out how to board the train without being seen. It would be a conspicuous search, but that thought didn’t cross Liam’s mind at the time, so he looked it up. The results didn’t give him much to work with. After a good deal of perusing the internet, Liam gave up and decided he would have to go in blind.
Once again, Liam was forced to traverse into Gregg and Angus’ room. With the same extreme caution he had before, he placed the phone back on the desk next to their bed and started walking out. Step by step, he went, until his foot landed on a weak floorboard. The resulting creaking noise sent shivers throughout his being.
There was a shift in the bed. Gregg had turned. His eyes opened slightly.
Liam was frozen in place. He had to hope, against all odds, that Gregg didn’t notice him. When he pushed himself up, however, that hope was dashed.
“Liam? What are you doing here?”, asked Gregg, “Are you having trouble sleeping?”
Taking what was given to him, Liam responded, “Yeah.”
“Do you wanna sleep with us?”
Liam was afraid he’d look suspicious if he just left. He had to accept.
“Sure. Come on.” Gregg sat up, patting the bed.
Liam walked over and climbed in between Angus and him. Gregg lied back down and wrapped an arm around Liam.
“There. Is that comfortable?”, asked Gregg.
“No problem. Good night.”
Gregg was so warm and comforting. Liam felt so safe here. He didn’t want to leave. Why did it have to be this way? Liam had to stop himself from crying. He couldn’t let on that anything was wrong. Tomorrow would probably be the day he left. He’d never see them again. He wished he could stay with them longer, but with Michael coming any day now, the escape had to be soon. There couldn’t be any screwups now.
Despite the inner turmoil and guilt, Liam fell asleep quickly in Gregg’s embrace. Gregg and Angus were oblivious to what would happen the next day.
Chapter 22: Running Away
When Liam woke up, he was still in Gregg and Angus’ bed, but neither of them was still there. Liam felt a bit of throbbing in his head when he sat up. When he hopped off the bed, his balance felt off. It took a few minutes, but these feeling eventually went away. Once his head was cleared, he went out to the living room. The smell of pancakes welcomed him.
“Oh, good morning, Liam. I was just about to wake you up. It’s pretty late.”, greeted Angus.
Looking up at the clock, Liam saw that it was almost noon.
“I’m making pancakes. I figured we could have brunch today.”, said Angus.
“Sounds good.”, replied Liam.
Angus finished cooking the pancakes and served Liam a plate. He left the syrup next to the plate on the table.
“Thanks.”, said Liam, pouring some syrup on the pancakes.
“You’re welcome. So, what do you want to do today?”, asked Angus.
“I dunno.” Liam felt pangs of guilt in his stomach.
“Hmm…” Angus was deep in thought, “I’m sure we can think of something fun to do today.”
“Video games?”, suggested Liam.
“You probably shouldn’t do that with a concussion. Honestly, Scrabble might have been a bit too much. You should try to avoid anything that requires you to think too much.”, said Angus, “You know what? I’m going to go grab some more board games or card games tonight. That’ll give us something to do.”
“I won’t be here tonight…”, thought Liam.
Liam had just about finished his pancakes when Angus got a call for work.
“Hello. This is tech support speaking.”, answered Angus. A few moments later, after the person on the other end presumably said something, Angus muted his mic and sighed, “This might take a while. Here, just watch some tv.” Angus handed Liam the remote to the tv before heading into his room and shutting the door.
This was it. The opportunity had just been handed to him on a silver platter. Liam had to leave right now. He’d just eaten, and Angus would be occupied for what would hopefully be long enough to run. Immediately, he got to work. Turning on the tv to avoid suspicion, Liam quickly but quietly gathered up some things in a used grocery bag. He took water, some food, and an extra set of clothes. Not much fit into the bag, but it would have to do.
After putting his shoes on, Liam was about to slip out the front door when a thought came up.
“What if one of the neighbors sees me? What if Mae or Bea see me? I can’t go out that way.”
Luckily, Liam knew immediately how to sneak out without being noticed. The window in his room led to the fire escape. He could go around the back of the building and make his way to the train station from there.
Liam went to the window and opened it. It didn’t make much noise, to his relief. He climbed out the window and down the fire escape. After that, he was free. Mixing into the bustling city crowds was easy. He’d done it. He’d escaped.
About fifteen minutes later, Angus finished his call. As it turned out, turning the computer off and on again fixed all of the problems. Amazing. At least it was over, and he could get back to Liam.
When Angus went into the living room and saw it empty, he was a bit worried. Not too much, though. Liam was probably in the bathroom. The bathroom, too, was empty. Maybe, he was getting something from the kitchen? Yes, that had to be it. Angus forgot to give him a drink. He was probably thirsty. Again, Liam was nowhere to be found. Now, Angus was getting really worried. His room. He had to be in his room.
Rushing into Liam’s room, Angus was horrified by the sight. The window to the fire escape was open. In a panic, Angus sprinted outside.
“Liam!”, he yelled. He pulled a few people over and asked them if they’d seen him, and they all said no. He called his name a few more times, running up and down the street. It was all in vain.
Ultimately, Angus decided he needed Gregg there. If he wasn’t there, Angus could feel a panic attack coming on. After rushing back up to his apartment, he grabbed his phone and called Gregg, pacing back and forth until he finally picked up.
“Hey, cap’n. What’s up?”, asked Gregg when he answered.
“Gregg, you need to come home now.” Angus’ voice shook as nervous tremors wracked his body.
“Huh? What’s wrong?”
“What?!”, yelled Gregg, “Shit, alright. I’m coming home. I’ll be there in a few minutes. Will you be okay?”
Angus nodded even though Gregg couldn’t see him, “Yeah. Just please get here soon.”
“I will. Just hang in there.” Gregg ended the call, and Angus felt the guilt and panic already threatening to tear him apart.
“This is my fault.”
“Why wasn’t I watching him?”
“Why would he run away?”
“Was he kidnapped?”
“No, there’s no way. There would be signs of a struggle.”
“Why would someone even kidnap Liam?”
“Did I do something wrong?”
“Did I hurt him?”
“Was it the pool incident?”
“I should’ve stopped him.”
“I knew he wasn’t ready.”
“It was an accident!”
“How am I supposed to find him?”
“He’s going to get hurt out there or worse!”
“Michael’s coming soon.”
“What if he comes today?”
“It’ll be over. We’ll never see him again.”
Angus felt his breathing constricting and went to grab his inhaler. The stress was setting his asthma off. Using the inhaler forced Angus to take a few deep breaths, which helped to calm him down, even if only slightly.
“Calm down, calm down.”
“I’m the calm and collected one.”
“It’s my job not to fall apart.”
“Gregg needs me.”
“He’s going to be a mess when he gets home.”
“Please get home soon, Gregg.”
Gregg was doing his best to get home as soon as possible. His boss wasn’t exactly happy when he had to leave work early, but he would just have to deal with it. Right now, Gregg was sprinting through the streets which created a slew of angry people as he rammed into them. He had to get home. He had to make sure Angus was okay. They had to start searching. Like Angus, the question that was on Gregg’s mind was “Why?”
“It was because of me.”
“I let him get hurt.”
“I encouraged him.”
“He didn’t want to.”
“He didn’t want to disappoint me.”
“Please don’t let him be taken away.”
When Gregg got home, he ascended the stairs as quickly as possible. He already had the key to the apartment out when he reached the door.
“Angus?”, he called as he entered, “I’m here.”
Angus was on the couch, bent over with his arms folded. He looked up at him and stood up. Gregg sped over and hugged him.
“I’m here now. Are you okay?”, asked Gregg.
“Not really. I don’t know what we’re going to do.”, replied Angus.
“It’ll be fine. You told me it would be fine.”
“Liam is out there on the streets alone and with a concussion! Something’s going to happen to him out there! This was completely my fault! I shouldn’t have left him alone for as long as I did. I should’ve been watching him.”
“That doesn’t matter right now. We need to get out there and look for him.”, said Gregg.
“How are we going to find him?! We have no idea where he went!”
“We have to try!”
“No, we can’t! We… we need to get the police involved.”
“What?! If the police find out this happened, Michael’s going to take him away from us!”
“I know! I know that, but we need to keep Liam safe! This isn’t about us anymore!”
“Do you think going back to an orphanage is really the best thing for Liam?!”, argued Gregg.
“It’s better than being dead!”
“No!”, Gregg screamed, “We’re going out there and looking for him ourselves! I’m not losing another child, Angus!”
There was a knock on the door. Gregg and Angus’ heads turned to it.
“Please, no…”, whimpered Gregg.
Angus walked to the door with Gregg close behind. Their minds were racing. They knew who it was, but every thought begged for an alternative. Mae and Bea, a neighbor, just not…
Angus opened the door. Michael was on the other side with a combination of worry and suspicion on his face.
“You two need to explain what I just heard right now.”, he demanded.
With his hopes all being decimated in an instant, Gregg couldn’t help but sob. Liam was gone, whether they found him or not. They’d lost him.
Liam had reached the train station. It was across the street from where he currently was. A train had just arrived, which meant he had to act fast.
There was a chain-link fence lining the tracks. After crossing the street, he made a break for it. Once he reached it, he walked along it until he thought he was far enough from the crowd of people at the station. Then, he climbed over. On the other side, he fell after getting halfway down the fence, but it didn’t hurt that much.
The next order of business was finding a freight to climb into. The doors were luckily on the side facing away from everyone, so Liam was able to loop around the back of the train and get presented with a myriad of hiding places to choose from. There was a guard, but he was currently walking away from him.
Liam snuck forward. If he made too much noise or didn’t move fast enough, the guard would turn around and see him. There was nowhere to hide. There was an open freight just a few cars ahead of him. If he could make it there, he would be set.
The train whistle blew, and Liam knew that meant the train was going to start moving. With the noise as cover, he ran. Climbing into the car was tough but doable. He was in with little incident. He looked out to make sure he wasn’t seen, and he caught sight of someone else. They were running for the train. When the train started moving, they picked up speed and waved to Liam. They wanted him to help them up.
Liam positioned himself so that he could reach out for them. The train was approaching speeds faster than the stranger could run. He wasn’t sure why, but he decided to extend himself out further, hanging onto the door of the freight with one hand and leaning the rest of his body out. The stranger was barely able to grab Liam’s hand before it was too late.
The weight of the man almost caused Liam to fall out, but he managed to hang on out of pure adrenaline. With one last push, he swung himself and the other person into the car with a loud thud. It took them both a few moments to calm down and regain their composure.
“Thanks for that.”, said the stranger.
“So, what’s your name?”
“And what’s a kid like you doing train-hopping?”, asked the stranger.
“It’s a long story.”, replied Liam shamefully.
“We’ve got time. It’ll be a few hours before we stop, so go on. Tell me your story.”
“I guess… Before I do that, though, what’s your name?”
“Everyone calls me Germ. Germ Warfare.”
Chapter 23: No Turning Back
Gregg and Angus were forced to sit down and explain everything to Michael. Their mistakes were laid bare for him to see and judge.
“This is really bad, guys. It’s been one month.”, said Michael.
“I know.”, said Angus, “I’m sorry, but please don’t take Liam away from us. We can fix this.”
“How? What do you have that would make it easier for you to find him than it would be for the police?”, asked Michael, exasperated.
“…I don’t know.”
Michael sighed, “I’m getting the police involved. We can talk about your custody over Liam later. I’m telling you right now, though, that if the reason Liam ran away has anything to do with you or how you’ve been treating him, you won’t be getting him back, and I might even be inclined to press charges. The fact that he got a concussion “on accident” and managed to run away in the middle of the day is already making me question how responsible you are.”
Michael got up and walked outside to contact the police, and Angus was left comforting Gregg, who was still crying on the couch.
“It’s going to be okay, Gregg.”, assured Angus.
“We’ll find Liam, and we’ll get him to explain why he left. I’m sure everything will be cleared up.”
“What if he actually doesn’t like us, though?”
“Well… he’d be better off with someone else, then. I honestly don’t think that’s what’s going on, but if it is, we’ll just have to accept it.”
“I don’t want to lose him, though.”, Gregg started sobbing again, so Angus wrapped an arm around him and pulled him in. “This is my fault.”
“No, it’s not.”, replied Angus immediately.
“But I shouldn’t have told him to jump. He didn’t want to. I could tell.”
“We can’t coddle him. He needs to be able to do things like this. All kids do. Besides, he didn’t seem mad at you or anything. I feel like we would have seen him be more upset about it if it was really what made him run away.”
“What else could it be, though?”, asked Gregg, desperate for answers.
“I don’t know. We’ll figure it out once we find him.”
“What if we don’t find him?”
“He can’t have gotten too far. He has a concussion.”
“Let’s just wait and see where this goes before freaking out, okay?”
Angus hugged Gregg, and Michael walked back inside.
“The police are going to start searching for him.”, he said, “They’re also going to come here and look for anything that might lead us to where he is.”
“I’m not sure how much they’ll find. He didn’t leave a letter behind or anything. The window was just open, and he was gone.”, replied Angus.
“Really? Are you sure this isn’t a kidnapping?”, asked Michael.
“The window was locked from the inside. If they’d broken in, I would’ve heard them, and Liam probably would’ve called for me or something. I always make sure my headphones aren’t too loud in case he needs me.”
“Well, the police are still going to investigate. They should be here soon. Other than talking to them, there’s not much we can do except hope Liam comes home safe. For your sake, he better be okay.”
“I know.”, said Angus.
Liam was on the train, and the stranger sat across from him was Germ, the eccentric wanderer he’d heard about only a few days ago.
“You’re Germ?”, asked Liam.
“Have you heard of me?”
“Yeah. My dads told me about you.”
“Your dads?”, questioned Germ.
“Gregg and Angus.”
“Woah, you’re their kid?”
“That’s crazy! Wait, if you’re their kid, what are you doing here?”
“I, uh… ran away.”, answered Liam.
“I guess this is where the long story starts, huh?”
“Alright, I’m listening.”, said Germ.
And so, Liam told him everything about the events of the past month. Germ listened attentively, not showing any signs of losing interest.
“That’s a pretty tough situation.”, said Germ at the end of the tale.
“I know. I feel bad for leaving them, but I really don’t want to go back to that orphanage.”
“Honestly, I don’t think they would’ve taken you back. It was an accident, right?”
“I know, but what if they thought that they did it still?”, questioned Liam.
“Their job is to make you happy, right? All you had to do was tell them yourself that it wasn’t their fault and that you wanted to stay.”
Liam’s mind snapped back to reality with that statement. What was he thinking? He’d blown Gregg and Angus’ conversation way out of proportion. He needed to go back, but it was too late. The train was already far gone.
“Oh, god. When can I get on a train back?! I need to go back!”, begged Liam.
“What you said was right! I can fix this!”
“Woah, hold on. I said it would’ve worked if you’d stayed.”
“You ran away. That’s going to be seen as a massive oversight on their part. Even if you wanted to stay, this might be too much. Your word means a lot, but it might not be enough to convince the adoption agent that those two are actually capable of taking care of you.”
“But maybe, I can get back before anyone else knows.”, said Liam.
“If Gregg and Angus care about you, which they do, the police are already searching for you.”
Liam began to tear up. He’d screwed up bad.
“No, no, no, they can’t!” Liam was about to break down, but then, he remembered why he was on the train to begin with.
“Okay, I-I guess I’ll just have to stay homeless. It can’t be that bad, right?”
“That’ll also be a problem.”, said Germ, “A big part of the train-hopping community is that we all support each other. I’m actually on my way to repay a guy who helped me some time ago right now.” He motioned to a bag that sat beside him.
“Well, the police are going to be searching for you. You’re a runaway. We can get in big trouble if we help you. Combine that with the fact that you’re not really old enough to find a ton of work, and you’re either going to starve to death or be taken into police custody and returned to the orphanage.”, Germ explained.
Liam didn’t have a response. No matter what he did or said, he was going to end up back at that orphanage. He was going to end up with another horrible family. He was never going to get to enjoy his childhood.
“To tell you the truth, I think going back to the orphanage is probably the best option for you. It’s a roof over your head, food on your plate, and a free education. Plus, if you get lucky, you might get put with another good family.”, said Germ.
“That’s not going to happen. My next family is going to be complete trash, just like all of the others!” Liam couldn’t hold himself back from crying anymore. He curled up into a ball, wishing he didn’t have to deal with all of this.
“I’ll help you.”, said Germ.
Liam looked up at him, “Huh?”
“You risked your life back there to get me in this train, and trust me, if I wasn’t on time to deliver this stuff here, I’d be in trouble. With that in mind, I’ll see if I can’t pull some strings and get you in a stable place for a while, at least until the police stop searching for you. There are a few people in the place we’re going that owe me.”
“Really? You’d do that for me?”
“Sure. Like I said, I owe you. It’s not going to be easy, though. Expect to start working tomorrow. You’re going to need any money or food you can earn.”
“I understand.”, said Liam.
“So, you know my… uh, Gregg and Angus, right?”, asked Liam.
“I do. I’ve known them since my sophomore year in high school.”
“What were they like back then?”
“Not much different from how they are now. Angus was more shy, and Gregg was more… Gregg.”
“How did they meet?”
“I wasn’t there, but I heard they met in algebra or something.”
“Those two are great together. You might even say fate brought them together, but I’m not really into that sort of thing.”
“Do you think they’ll be okay?”, asked Liam.
“It might take a while, but probably. By the looks of you, they’ve been through this already.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, they were supposed to have a child a while ago, and it was supposed to be a girl. You’re not a girl, or at least I’m assuming not, so that means something happened to the first child.”
“This is the second time?”, Liam thought.
Germ could tell Liam was incredibly sad and uncomfortable right now, so he decided to switch up the conversation.
“Hey. Wanna hear some stories I’ve got from my time out here riding the rails? There are some really good ones that I think you’ll like.”, he offered.
“Sure.”, replied Liam, wanting anything to take his mind off of his guilt.
Germ went on to captivate him with stories and gossip, both about himself and others, and for a few hours, Liam was almost hopeful. Maybe, he’d have stories to tell, too.
The train began to slow down, and Germ immediately seemed on edge.
“Alright, we’re here. I want you to stay right behind me at all times, okay? We can’t be seen getting out from back here.”
Liam nodded, and the two anxiously awaited the moment they’d exit the train. A few moments passed before it halted completely.
“Come on, let’s go.” Germ grabbed his stuff and hopped out of the train, and Liam followed. They went around to the back of the train, and Liam saw how they would get into the city they’d arrived at. There was a spot in the fence with a hole in it that was concealed by a board of wood. There were two people on the other side of the fence. They locked eyes with Germ, and Germ gave them a thumbs up. The two people came through to the other side and ran toward the train, and Germ started running to the hole. It was a trading of places.
Once on the other side of the fence, Germ covered the opening in the fence. They were in.
“Whew. We made it.”, said Germ, “Now, follow me. I need to deliver this stuff.”
Liam walked with Germ, taking in the new scenery. They were in a city. It wasn’t as nice as Bright Harbor, but it wasn’t bad, either.
“What is this place?”, asked Liam.
“Durkillesburg. They’re pretty well-known for their college. It’s one of the most affordable in the country, and the curriculum is nothing to sneeze at. That’s actually where we’re going right now.”
After about 15 minutes of walking, the college came into view. The first thing that stole Liam’s attention was the statue out front. It was of a man, presumably the founder, and it almost seemed like he was pointing down at him. It was unnerving, but Liam had a hard time pinning down exactly why. It was just a statue after all.
Germ’s destination turned out to be the statue. Someone was sitting on one of the benches surrounding it, and when they noticed Germ, they waved.
“Germ Warfare. Good to see you.”, greeted the man. By the tone of his voice, it was clear they knew each other fairly well.
“Good to see you, too, killer.”, greeted Germ back, “You still go by that?”
“Seriously, you need a better nickname. I know at least three other ‘killers’.”
“Hey, I earned this name.” He pointed to a large scar on his cheek.
“Um, did you kill somebody?”, asked Liam nervously.
Killer laughed, “I came damn close, that’s for sure. Who is this kid, Germ?”
“And what’s he doing with you?”
“He ran away from home, and I’m helping him into the train-hopping life.”
“Woah, this kid must’ve done something crazy for that.”
“Well, if he hadn’t grabbed me while the train here was already moving, I wouldn’t be here right now.”, replied Germ.
“I guess he did save you from me, so I can see why you’d help him.”, said Killer cockily, “I didn’t see nothin’. Got it?”
“Don’t worry. You’re safe. You never even heard about Liam.”
“So, do you have the stuff?”, asked Killer.
“Here you go.” Liam handed the bag to him. Killer checked inside the bag to make sure what he wanted was there.
“Looks like everything is here. I guess we’re even now.”
“We better be.”, said Germ, “Now, it was good seeing you, but I’ve got some favors of my own to ask for.”
“I’ll leave you to it then. Good luck.”
Killer and Germ waved goodbye to each other.
“Where are we going now?”, asked Liam.
“To get you a job.”
“But I have a concussion. Should I really be working?”
“That doesn’t matter, not here. You don’t get to take days off just because of something like that. We need to take every opportunity we can get to put food on our plates, even if we have to work with serious injuries or sickness.”
“So, what do you have in the bag?”, asked Germ.
“Um, some food, clothes, and water.”
“Can I see?”
Germ took the bag Liam was holding and looked through it.
“This could last us for a few days.”, he said.
“A few days?”, questioned Liam incredulously. There was hardly enough in the bag for a few days, or at least Liam thought so.
“Right. You’re probably used to three meals a day now. It’s not going to be like that anymore. You’ll be lucky to get one meal every day, and it won’t be too large, either.”
The regret hit Liam again. Could he really do this?
“Maybe, I should just go back to the orphanage.”
“Come on, it’s getting late. We’ve got a lot of walking to do.”
Liam followed behind Germ silently. Fear and doubt gripped him, weighed him down, but there was nothing he could do about it. He was stuck here, right? He’d just have to make the most of it.
Chapter 24: Regret
After meeting with Killer, Germ took Liam to meet another acquaintance of his. They arrived at a small pawn shop, the owner of which was taking out some trash when he noticed Germ.
“Well, what do ya know? It’s been a while since I’ve seen you around here.”
“That it has.”, replied Germ.
“Looks like you’ve got some company, too.”
“Yep. This is Liam. I’m going to be taking care of him for a little while.”
“Is he a runaway?”
“Yeah, but I owe him.”
“I would assume.”
“So, how have you been?”, asked Germ.
“Not great.”, replied the shopkeeper, “The police are looking to do an investigation on me soon. It turns out I bought some stolen goods off of someone and then sold them to somebody else. You know, the usual.”
“Now, as much as I would like to hope you’re just here to say hi, I’m assuming you want something.”
“Yes. I need two jobs. Do you have any slots open?”, asked Germ.
“Two… you mean you want me to give your kid a job?”
“I can’t do that. I just told you the police are investigating.”
“Give me a job for now, and after this blows over, Liam can come in and help you.”
“Do you understand what could happen if this was found out? I could get charged with helping a runaway kid and child labor! I mean, how old is he, 10?”
“Just pretend to be his dad or something. Say he’s helping with the family business.”, said Germ.
“I have regulars who know that I don’t have kids.”
“Can’t he just work in the storage room or something?”
“No. It’s too risky. I can’t help you with this.”
“Fine! You still owe me, though, and if you can’t give us jobs, I’m going to at least need some money.”
“Okay. I can give you a couple hundred dollars. I’m sorry I can’t help you, but you have to understand where I’m coming from.”
“Whatever. Just get us the money.”
Germ waited until the man returned with a bundle of twenty dollar bills.
“Here. I hope this helps.”
“Yeah. I’ll see you later.”, said Germ, still angry. He pocketed the money, and Liam took a last look at the store owner before heading off with him.
“That’s just great. It’s almost sundown, and the only other places I can think of that might accept you are all the way across the city.”
“So, what are we going to do?”, asked Liam.
“We’re going to find someplace to sleep for the night.”
While Germ searched for a place to sleep, the sunset. Back in Bright Harbor, Angus watched the night arrive from his window while Gregg paced. They’d finished giving the police what information they had, and Michael had left them saying he would return the next day.
“Gregg, we should get some sleep.”, said Angus.
“Being sleep deprived isn’t going to help anything.”
“How am I supposed to sleep?”
“Can you please try? We can worry about this more tomorrow. There’s nothing we can do right now.”
“We could be out there looking for him!”, Gregg yelled.
“Do you really think we’d find him by ourselves? At night? If he doesn’t want to be found, there’s no way we’re going to find him.”
“We should be doing something! He could get hurt out there!”
“And what will Michael say when we can barely stay awake around him because we decided to go on a wild goose chase? Will that make us look responsible?”
“So, can we please get some rest? We need to take care of ourselves just as much as we need to take care of Liam.”
“Fine.” Gregg reluctantly followed Angus to bed. When he climbed in, he cried.
“Why do we have to be so useless?”
“I don’t know, bug.”
“I want to know what we did wrong.”
“I know. I do, too.”
“He told us he loved us, right? So, why did he run away?”
“We’ll figure it out, I promise.”, assured Angus.
Angus pulled Gregg close and let him cry into him for a bit. A few minutes later, Gregg was asleep, and once that happened, Angus went out like a light. They were both mentally exhausted.
As those two fell asleep, Germ and Liam had found their way to a small alleyway. This is where they would sleep that night, but first, they had to eat.
“Can I see your stuff again?”, asked Germ.
“Sure.” Liam handed him his bag.
After digging through it, Germ pulled out some bread and some peanut butter. After he had those, he made two sandwiches, both with sparse amounts of peanut butter.
“That’s it?”, asked Liam.
“It’s gotta be. We have to make that food and the money we have last as long as possible.”
“Okay.” Liam was audibly disappointed, but he endured it. He was really hungry, and his stomach had already suffered a great deal of pain today. Something was better than nothing at this point.
After they’d finished eating, Germ took the money, threw it in Liam’s bag, and stored it behind the dumpster.
“We should get some sleep. Tomorrow, it’s going to be right back to work getting you a job.”, said Germ.
“Alright. Goodnight, then.” Liam knew that this would be the part he hated most. All they had to sleep on was concrete, and there were no blankets.
Germ laid down, and he fell asleep relatively quickly. Liam, on the other hand, felt the ground pushing up against his back and his neck. He shifted to his side, but then, his shoulder hurt. Laying on his front wasn’t doing him any favors, either. Eventually, he returned to laying on his back and forced himself to lay there until the exhaustion he was feeling from the day’s events caught up to him. Not pleasantly, he fell asleep.
Liam’s dreams were plagued by Gregg and Angus. He couldn’t stop thinking about them. He wanted to be with them again. Tears flowed in his sleep, and then, he woke up. Wiping the tears from his eyes, Liam looked up and saw someone standing near him.
“Germ?”, he whispered. Once his vision cleared, however, he could see that the figure wasn’t Germ. It was another man, frozen in place by his gaze. In his hand was a bag, Liam’s bag.
“Hey, what are you doing?”, Liam asked.
The man motioned for Liam to shut up, but it was too late. Germ had stirred and woken up as well. When the man saw this, his instincts finally kicked in, and he ran, their food and money in tow.
When Germ realized what had happened, he was quick to act. He leaped up and quickly closed the distance between the thief and him, tackling him to the ground.
“Let go of the bag, now!”, demanded Germ. The stranger complied.
“Liam, grab the bag.”, said Germ. Liam walked over and took the bag with him. After that, Germ got up and walked back.
“Now get out of here, and don’t mess with us again. You’re lucky I don’t feel like getting the police involved.”
After glaring at the two for a moment, the man scampered off around the corner of the building.
Germ sighed, “That was close. It’s a good thing you woke up when you did. That could’ve been really bad.”
“Yeah.”, said Liam.
“You look like you were crying. Is everything okay?”
“Yeah. I just had some bad dreams.”
“Well, I think we’re both going to have a hard time going back to sleep, so do you wanna tell me about it?”
“I guess. I-“ As Liam responded, the thief returned from around the other corner and grabbed Liam, holding a knife to his neck.
“Now, listen here. You are going to do what I say, or I’ll kill him.”, said the man.
“If you kill him, you’ll be jailed for life.”, said Germ.
“At least then I’d have food and a roof over my head!”
“…Fine. What do you want me to do?”
“First, I want you this kid to empty his pockets to make sure you aren’t hiding anything that could be used as a weapon. Do it slowly.”
Liam turned his pockets out, showing that he didn’t have anything. Germ did the same, dropping a knife of his own to the ground.
“Kick it over to me.”
Germ sent the knife over.
“Now, take that bag, and bring it over to me. Then, you are going to slowly lead this kid away from me and the bag. Any sudden movements, and I’ll stab both of you. Once you’re at the other end of the alleyway, I’ll leave.”
Germ walked over to Liam with the bag and placed it down. Then, he grabbed Liam’s arm, and the man released him.
“You really didn’t think this out, did you?”, asked Germ, and before the thief could respond, he grabbed the knife that he kicked over earlier and stabbed him with it. The man yelled in pain.
“Liam, get back!”, said Germ.
While clutching the fresh wound with one hand, the thief took a stab at Germ with the knife in his other. Germ dodged it, grabbed the bag, moved back out of the reach of it, and ran back with Liam. The thief, seeing he’d lost, walked off, probably to find a hospital.
In shock, Liam gripped his neck and collapsed to the floor. He was hyperventilating now, and more tears started to run down his face.
“Woah, calm down. It’s fine now. We’re safe.”, said Germ.
Liam sobbed, “I don’t wanna do this anymore!”
“Why did I run away? I wanna go back! I hate this! I don’t care if they take me back to the orphanage! Just take me back!”
“Are you sure?”, asked Germ.
Liam nodded, “Yes!”
“Alright, then. We can go back.”
“Wait, really?” Liam wasn’t expecting him to agree so quickly.
“Yeah. If you don’t want to be homeless, that’s fine. It’s not easy. I get it. Now, let’s head on down to the train station and see when the next ride to Bright Harbor is. We can even buy tickets this time.”
“You don’t have to spend your money on me.”
“It’ll be easier this way. Come on, let’s go.”
Germ and Liam made their way to the train station, adrenaline still coursing through their sleep-deprived bodies. Once it faded, Liam especially could feel the toll being homeless was taking on his body.
Once they reached the train station, they checked the schedule.
“Neat. There’s a train headed to Bright Harbor in 15 minutes.”, said Germ.
“Trains run this late?”
“Of course. Trains are always running just like most forms of public transportation, especially when it comes to big cities like Bright Harbor.”
“How much are tickets?”, asked Liam.
“For both of us, it’ll be around 25 dollars.”
Germ went and purchased the tickets. After that, all that was left was to wait for the train.
“I really messed up.”, said Liam.
“Can’t really disagree with you there.”
“I just threw away the first decent family I’ve had in years.”
“I know it’s hard, but it’ll work out. You live in Bright Harbor. If you do well at all in school and have at least some form of work ethic, you’ll be able to make a living somewhere.”
“Yeah, but I’m really gonna miss Gregg and Angus.”
“Once you’re old enough, go visit them.”, said Germ.
“That won’t be for, like, 8 years.”
“Well, how about we pay them one last visit?”
“Huh?”, questioned Liam.
“We can go straight to their apartment from the train station.”
“Won’t it be really late, though?”
“I’m sure they’ll be fine with it.”, said Germ.
“Okay… Yeah, let’s do it.”
The train arrived, and Germ and Liam got on. Once they were in seats, Liam’s body decided to begin catching up on the sleep he lost. He was out like a light as soon as he sat down.