It's that time of year again. The time when spring blossoms and those of us here at Slash & Burn kick off our annual round robin. Without further ado, here's part I of 2009's story.
The scuffle of feet on pavement, several pairs by the sound of it, cut through the near darkness. A deep voice yelled, “Here pussy, pussy.” A higher pitched laugh filled the air and someone whimpered.
Cole picked up his pace, hurrying across the dimparking lot toward his car. The last thing he needed was to get mugged before he made it home from work.
“No,” a third voice called out. “Leave me alone. I haven’t done anything to you.”
Cole turned toward the voices in time to see a petite blonde boy take a nose dive toward the sidewalk in front of the building. Two older boys, both brunettes, towered over him with gleeful looks on their faces.
One of the pair, the taller of the two, reared back his foot and kicked the fallen boy in the stomach. “Fucking homo. We’ll teach you not to walk around shaking your skinny ass at people.”
The other guy bounced on the balls of his feet, egging his friend on. “Yeah, buddy, do it. Kick his ass.”
Cole’s teeth clenched in response to what he was witnessing.
A second kick and the blonde’s pitiful wail of, “Please stop. I wasn’t doing anything. I swear,” eroded his hesitation to get involved. He couldn’t just stand there and let some poor kid get beat on. Reaching into his coat pocket, he felt around for his cell phone before remembering that he’d let the battery die and left it at home to charge. Of all the damn times to be without my phone.
Shit, now what?
He balled his fist around the sharp end of his keys, the tines poking thorough tightly compressed fingers of one hand. It wasn’t much protection, but bully’s were usually pussies who ran at the first sign of someone who fought back anyway. At least, that’s what he was counting on.
“Hey,” he screamed, taking off at a run toward the threesome. “Leave that kid alone.”
The thug’s foot stilled in midair. A nasty smile crossed his features as he saw Cole. “Mind your own business, jackass.” He then preceded to gut-kick the smaller boy again. The boy on the ground curled up into the fetal position and wrapped his arms around his midsection.
“Yeah, yeah,” the other one chimed in. “Get the hell out of here, dude.”
“Leave him alone, damn it.” Cole sprinted toward them. A potent mix of adrenaline and anger coursed though his veins, making him forget why he shouldn’t get involved. Even so, he wasn’t stupid. “I called the police. They’re on their way.”
The thug’s friend tugged on his shirt sleeve and said something Cole couldn’t make out. They looked at each other for a second and then the bigger of the two cleared his throat loudly and spit on the blonde boy. “This isn’t over, faggot. You’d best hightail it out of town unless you want us to find you and finish what we started, you hear?”
“Yeah,” the other boy added, spitting at the pavement next to the kid. “We don’t want your kind around here.”
The two boys darted toward a red convertible parked at the front of the lot. They hopped inside and roared out the parking lot, burning rubber just as he reached the sidewalk.
The kid began struggling to sit up as Cole approached and kneeled at his side. “Are you okay? Should I call an ambulance?”
He grimaced. “No. I can’t afford to go to the hospital right now.”
Cole reached out to touch him, his natural inclination to offer comfort, but thought better of it at the last moment. He dropped his hands to his sides. Just because he was a touchy feely person didn’t mean everyone else was. “The emergency room can’t turn you away whether you can pay or not. Besides, that’s what payment plans are for. Are you sure I shouldn’t call for some help? I lied about calling the cops—I don’t have my cell phone on me—but my store’s right over there.” He pointed toward the storefront a few doors down. “I can let myself back in and make a call for you.”
“No. Thanks for chasing those bozos off for me, but I’ll live.”
Cole’s heart went out to the kid. The blue shirt he wore molded to his slender frame, while his jeans hung off his narrow hips.
Nothing about him screamed underfed or drug addicted, just a kid in the wrong place at the wrong time. He looked a little older than Cole had originally guessed—closer to twenty than fifteen—but he was still young. From this close, Cole could make out the clear blue of his eyes and the pale gold of his skin. His clothes were designer label, though they were wrinkled and smeared with dirt. Cole didn’t think the kid was a runaway, but anything was possible.
He stood and held out a hand to help the guy up. The kid took it Cole’s hand and rose slowly to his feet, wincing all the while. Taller than he’d looked when compared to the two other boys, he towered over Cole’s pitiful five foot six by almost half a foot, making him feel a little self-conscious. He didn’t know anything about the guy, other than what he’d just seen. However, instinct screamed that he needn’t worry.
Cole backed up and leaned against the brick wall, putting some space between them. “Is there someone I can call to come and get you?”
Color flooded the kid’s cheeks before he glanced down at the ground. “No. I…um…I’m expecting someone to meet me here in a few minutes.” He shuffled his feet, his embarrassment obvious. “Those two guys are probably long gone, if you need to take off. I’ll be fine waiting here by myself.”
Curious. Cole would bet a month’s profits that the kid was lying. “I could hang out with you until you’re ride gets here.”
“No! I mean, thanks, but you don’t have to do that. You’ve already done enough.” He lifted his gaze and stared out toward the nonexistent traffic on the highway. “I’m sure my friend will be here soon.”
“It’s cool. I don’t mind keeping you company. It’s not like I have anything more important to do.”
“Well, uh, okay, but I don’t how long it’s going to be.”
“No problem.” Cole held his hand out. “My name is Cole by the way.”
The kid eyed Cole’s hand suspiciously for a minute, as if he expected Cole to smack him with it, before finally taking it between his own and giving it a quick shake. “Hi Cole. My name’s Matthew.”
Cole smiled, trying to put the kid at ease. “So, if you don’t mind my asking, what were you doing out here when those guys attacked you? I mean, all the stores closed hours ago.”
Matthew fidgeted. “I don’t know. I was just kind of hanging out when they snuck up on me. I sort of know them from school, but never really talked to them, you know. We didn’t exactly run in the same circles at Carrington and the last thing I expected was to run into them out here. I don’t know why they’d want to whale on me.”
Cole thought it probably had something to do with the slurs they’d tossed at the kid, but he kept his mouth shut. If Matthew didn’t want to tell him he was gay, then was none of his business.
“Carrington, huh? What’s it like to go to prep school? I was a public school brat myself.” Carrington wasn’t the only private high school in the area, but it was the most prestigious. That he’d attended school there only thickened the mystery surrounding him. If he came from money, what was he doing hanging around in the middle-to-lower class section of town on a Friday night?
“It was okay. Boring, mostly. I was happy to graduate. It’s not like I ever fit in there.”
“I don’t know.” He shoved his hands in his pockets, his stance defensive. “The same reason most people don’t, I guess. I’m not into sports or partying and kept pretty much to myself. I was too quiet, too artsy. No reasons that really matter.”
Cole nodded. “High school is hell on everyone, I think. Some kind of torturous right of passage we all have to live through.” Lord knew, his own hadn’t been pleasant.
Matthew snorted. “Well, I’m just glad it’s over.”
A light mist of rain began to fall, making the asphalt parking lot shine under the lamplight. Cole pushed off the wall and stood up straight. The kid seemed likable enough, but he was hiding something. Cole would bet his right butt-cheek on it. “So, who’s this friend that’s coming to get you?”
“Oh, um…” He bit his lip.
Cole looked Matthew right in the eyes and gave him his best “cut the bullshit” look. “There isn’t anyone coming, is there?”
Make sure you check back often for more of the story. :)