As if his feet had a mind of their own Felix found himself outside a club. He knew he shouldn’t go inside not when Britland’s parents were still there. Crystal’s troubled green eyes flashed before him making him feel even worse. He needed something to blot out that image. A drink. A pretty girl. A game of pool. Anything to remind him that he didn’t need or deserve the things he was beginning to want. He was all about having fun. Being the life of the party. Crystal was sweetness. Responsibility. All the things he didn’t want or did he?
He pushed the door open. Walked inside ready to throw caution to the wind. Several heads swiveled in his direction. He nodded as he walked up to the bar. Smiling towards the bar man he ordered a toasted shipwreck. Took a gulp of the fiery liquid. He felt it make it’s slow painful slide to his stomach.
He smiled over at the girl who was eyeing him up and down like she was shopping for prized meat. She wrinkled nose at him before turning away. Curiosity piqued he sauntered over to her. Leaning against the bar he took another swallow of his drink before amping up the charm.
She was older than she appeared from across the room. There were fine lines around her eyes and mouth. Not that it mattered when he needed to get his rocks off. “Go away” she ordered disdainfully with a flick of her manicured fingers.
“Hey” he cried a little taken aback “you’re the one giving me the come hither look.”
“As I recall I wrinkled my nose in disgust” the woman raised a painted eyebrow towards the ceiling. “Go away little boy. I’m looking for a real man.”
“Last time I checked I have all the equipment of a real man” Felix assured her his voice deepening as if to prove he was man enough for her.
Pushing against him she rose from the stool “you may have the equipment but how well do use it?”
“Why don’t you give me a ride and find out” he challenged. He could see by the flicker in her eyes he was making progress. Her eyes traveled up and down his body settling on a part of him below his belt. He knew by the way her eyes lingered he would be getting some tonight.
“Get your hands off me” a familiar voice exclaimed loud and full of fear.
Without meaning to Felix turned to find a young girl being surrounded by several burly men. He moved to intervene when the woman he had been propositioning grabbed his arm. “You leave now don’t bother coming back” she pursed her lips puffing out her breasts for maximum effect.
His eyes lingered on her cleavage. A frustrated groan escaped his lips before he forced himself to turn away and insert himself between the men and the girl.
“Leave her alone,” he growled at the larger older man.
“Or what” the man challenged lifting Felix off the ground with one hand.
Swallowing hard Felix made a show of not being afraid despite his rapid heart beat. “Put him down” Crystal screamed.
Laughing the man shook Felix “looks like your girlfriend fights better than you.” He grunted in pain when Crystal kicked his shin.
“I said put him down” she demanded undeterred by the man’s size.
“What happens if I don’t” he asked looking down at her while his friends cheered him on.
She didn’t respond other than to remove a small spray bottle from her bag. Quickly she sprayed its contents into his face. The man’s beefy hands released Felix as he screamed in pain rubbing at his eyes.
Felix scrambled to his feet. Grabbed her hand and ran for the door. He didn’t stop until he flagged down a taxi. “Get in” he ordered.
“But my car” she pointed towards the parking lot.
“We’ll get it tomorrow” Felix promised her “unless you have more mace?”
“Well I” she got into the taxi “I used most of it on that guerrilla.”
“What were you doing there?” he demanded startling the girl.
“I” she glanced away from him “I followed you. I wanted to know why you came to this club.”
“So you decided to come by yourself” he ran a hand through his hair.
“I wasn’t alone” she protested “you were there.”
“I didn’t know you were there” he couldn’t believe she was being so obtuse. “What would have happened if I wasn’t there?” His mind thinking of the woman he almost left with “its not safe for girls to be out alone.”
Anger darkened her eyes “don’t hand me that tired old gender card. It’s no more dangerous for me than for you.” Tapping on the divider she yelled “stop the car.”
When the car came to a stop Felix followed her onto the sidewalk. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m going to get my car” she yelled walking back the way they had come.
“No you’re not” he grabbed her arm.
Everything happened so quickly after that. She instinctively pulled her mace out spraying the remaining contents into his eyes. He dropped to his knees holding his hands over his eyes, grunting in pain. “What did you do that for” he screamed.
“I’m sorry” she cried watching in horror as he writhed on the ground “it was reflex. You grabbed me. I sprayed.”
“It can’t be helped now” he looked up through half closed swollen watery eyes. “Is the taxi still here?”
Biting her bottom lip she shook her head “he left.”
“Help me up” he requested holding out a hand “we’ll walk until we see another one.”
“Those guys” Crystal began “you know them, don’t you?”
“Yeah” he nodded refusing to meet her eyes.
“Were they the ones who left you in the alley?”
He chuckled mirthlessly “that was the bartender. I passed out and I guess he wanted to go home.”
“You drink too much” her tone was matter of fact neither accepting or condemnatory.
“I guess” he conceded with a shrug. No one had ever cared enough to tell him before. Britland would have if he wasn’t so distracted with Carson or maybe he had gotten better at hiding it. This was the first time he had ever admitted out loud that he might drink too much even to himself.
“Why don’t you stop” her voice was void of pressure or incrimination. If anything she sounded curious.
“It’s fun” he tried to make it a joke. Inside he was thinking it was the only time he felt alive. That somehow he mattered in the grand scheme of things.
She gave him a thoughtful look before slowly shaking her head. “I don’t think waking up in garbage as much fun.”
“Ever try it” he smirked attempting to make light of it.
“No” she shook her head vehemently making her long hair swirl around her face. “I also haven’t been snake bit but I know I wouldn’t want to be either.”
He hated to admit it but she had him. There were things you didn’t have to try to know you didn’t want to. “I don’t know what to say” he mumbled. Maybe he was feeling sorry for himself or maybe he was ready for a change. He didn’t know any more. At this point it didn’t really matter.
She gave him another thoughtful look. The kind where you could see the thoughts flicking by behind her eyes as she analyzed things. “Can I make a suggestion” she asked.
“I’m all ears” he said flippantly giving her the impression he could care less.
Crystal frowned hesitating before disclosing what she though would help. Something in his eyes made her plunge ahead past her doubts. “Would you like to see what I do for fun?”
It was his turn to look thoughtful. It sounded boring. He couldn’t imagine anything she liked being something he’d enjoy. Maybe a casual walk in the park or something equally lame passed as stimulating to her but it wasn’t something he’d ever consider. She must have seen his reluctance in his face as she looked away sighing. “Alright I’ll try. I won’t promise to like it but I’ll try.” The expression on her face showed her shock but it did nothing to encourage him that he’d enjoy her idea of fun.
Britland stared at his phone. Another text from an unknown caller. He had been getting more of them since his parents visit two weeks ago. It had to be a joke. There couldn’t be someone who disliked him this much. At least he couldn’t think of anyone. He was going to ask his dad for his opinion but had gotten distracted. Even now he could hardly believe Carson like him. Like really really liked him.
His heart skipped a beat. Maybe several beats in a row as he recalled the moment their lips met for the first time. He brought a hand up to his lips. Closing his eyes he could imagine how it felt. It was everything he hoped it would be and more.
A soft knock pulled him back to the present. “Are you ready?” Carson called through the door “we have to be at the studio early.”
Glancing at the time Britland hastily combed his hair. “Almost” he called as he looked around for his shoes forgetting about the troublesome text.
“Better put that on silent” Carson pointed towards the phone Britland held in his hand. “The photographer we have today is notorious for throwing fits whenever someone takes a call during a shoot.”
“Thanks” Britland nodded as he silenced his phone relieved that he wouldn’t be alerted whenever he received a text from his unknown stalker. If only he’d had a chance to ask his dad about it before he left.
“Is something wrong?” Carson asked observing his unusual distracted behavior.
“Nope” he shook his head “everything’s fine.”
Carson watched him a moment with an expression that said he knew something was up but he didn’t know what. “You do know you can tell me anything, right?”
“Yeah sure” Britland nodded hurrying towards the door hoping that during their ride to the studio something would come up to distract Carson from asking any more questions.
Sitting in the taxi idling in a long line of other commuters Britland fretted “we’re going to be late.”
“We have plenty of time” Carson assured him “what’s bothering you?”
“Nothing” Britland said pushing his concerns away.
“Liar” Carson hissed “I’ve seen the way you’ve been checking your phone. Are you seeing someone else?”
“What” he asked turning to face Carson in the taxi. He could see the hurt in his lavender eyes. “What gives you that idea?”
“It’s just the way you keep looking at your phone” Carson shrugged glancing at his hands. “Do you regret that day in the park? The kiss?” He hadn’t meant to ask “tell me what I’m thinking is wrong” he pleaded.
“Of course you’re wrong” Britland blurted out heedless of the curious looks from the driver. “I’ve never loved anyone like I do you.” The car lurched ahead in traffic “the texts they’re not what you think….” He stopped doubt welling up inside him. Would Carson be upset that he hadn’t told him about the threatening texts, phone calls, the letters? Would he think he was being overly dramatic? Would he laugh like it was a joke?
“If they’re not from some secret lover I won’t be upset” Carson assured him “please tell me.”
“I” he swallowed shaking his head “it’s nothing. I’m just making a big deal over nothing.”
“It doesn’t feel like nothing” Carson contradicted him. The taxi came to a stop outside the studio. Britland hurried out of the taxi and made a beeline for the door.
“This discussion isn’t over” Carson called after him as he took care of the fare.
Carson was standing on the sidelines waiting his turn in front of the camera. He watched as Britland followed the instructions of the finicky photographer. He smiled at the ease in which Britland took the instructions. You would never be able to guess he had only been doing this for a few months. A loud creaking noise alarmed them all as an overhead light fell from the ceiling.
It seemed to happen in slow motion. One minute Carson was admiring his boyfriend and the next he was wondering if he were alive. People were screaming and crying as plaster fell from the ceiling. Dust was thick in the air making it difficult to breathe. Carson stumbled towards the place he had last seen Britland. “Brit” he choked as he spotted his crumpled body beneath the beam. Blood oozed from his nose and ears. It wasn’t immediately discernible if the blonde was breathing or not.
Carson wrapped his hands around the beam attempting to lift it from Britland’s unconscious form. It wouldn’t budge. Helplessly he realized he’d heave to wait for emergency workers to come to free him. When they did arrive they made Carson leave in case more of the ceiling fell down around them. Outside on the sidewalk he paced back and forth unable to keep still.
After what felt like an eternity the rescue workers emerged carrying a body on a stretcher. Carson’s heart thudded to a stop thinking his love was gone. He moved forward on feet he couldn’t feel as paramedics buzzed around the stretcher. A part of his brain that was functioning kept saying Britland couldn’t be dead if so many working to save him. He just wouldn’t believe it until he saw for himself.
He tried to follow Britland into the waiting ambulance but someone put a hand out stopping him. “Not so fast” someone spoke harshly in his ear.
“I have to be with him” he protested eyes drawn to the drama going on inside the ambulance.
“Husband?” the man smirked.
“Boyfriend” he corrected automatically as the doors closed blocking his view.
“Only family can ride with the victim” the man informed him “you can follow him to the hospital.”
“I have to go with him” Carson took several steps forward “he doesn’t have anyone else.”
“No living relatives?”
“Not living around here” he replied as shock prompted him to say the truth unable to formulate a good enough lie.
“Rules are rules” the man pushed him back determined to block his path as an officer approached.
“Mr Ratcliff if you come with me I’ll take you to the hospital.”
Taking a step back Carson nodded his eyes following the ambulance as it merged with traffic, lights and sirens on.
Carson stayed at the hospital hoping someone would tell him something about Britland’s condition. No matter who he spoke with he was told the same thing. Patient confidentiality. Only family. Blah blah blah. Not even Felix could persuade the nurses into talking. All they knew at this point was Britland was in critical condition.
Turning to Felix, Carson could see his own anguish mirrored back at him. It was the first time he could see what this friendship meant to the little pipsqueak. “Do you have the phone number to Britland’s parents” he asked.
Scrolling through his contact list Felix shook his head. “I’ve never called them. I’ve only ever called Britland. I never thought I’d need his parents numbers. I might have Ariel’s number….”
“Let’s not freak out his little sister” Carson shook his head “I’ll go back to the apartment to see if Britland has their numbers written down somewhere.”
“Why not just check his phone” Felix asked.
“Wish we could but his phone is in his locker at the studio. The police aren’t letting anyone in until they’re finished with their investigation.” Carson ran a hand through his long hair. He could feel the frustration rising inside him.
“You have your phone” Felix pointed out.
“I had it on me” he explained rolling his eyes as he felt his patience slipping.
“Not modeling today” Felix couldn’t quite keep the smugness from his voice.
Carson’s hands bunched as if he wanted to hit something. Instead he stalked off to glare out a nearby window. A slim blue haired girl came to stand beside him after whispering something in Felix’s ear. To Carson’s relief Felix backed off sitting down in one of the uncomfortable chairs in the room. A moment later a gentle touch on his hand-made him look down into a pair of sad green eyes.
“Please just ignore him. He’s feeling out of control not know how Britland is doing” she explained gazing up at him.
“Don’t you think I know that” Carson spat regretting the harshness in his tone when the girl jumped. “I’m sorry I know he’s as worried about Britland. So am I. I just feel so useless….”
“Felix feels the same” she looked across the room “for Britland’s sake don’t you think it’s time you put aside your petty differences?”
Carson nodded. It wouldn’t do any good to take his anger and frustration out on Felix. Neither of them would feel any better nor would they get any answers to their questions. “I think I’m going back to the apartment to search for phone numbers. At least I’ll feel like I’m doing something.”
Carson felt like he was invading Britland’s privacy going through the blonde’s things without him there. He found things he hadn’t imagined Britland would keep as mementos of their outings together. He wasn’t exactly sure if he should call them dates since they hadn’t become official until they kissed in the park. One item that struck his heartstrings was an old pizza box. He had written a brief but awful poem on it using crayons some kid had left on a dirty table next to them. He thought the box, along with the poem, was lying in some rubbish bin long forgotten not here among Britland’s prized keepsakes.
Carefully he set it aside. He pulled out a small pile of letters neatly bound together by rubber bands. He hoped he might find an address or something written on them that he could do a white page search. He opened one then another. His dismay growing as he continued to sift through them. Was this what Britland had been hiding from him all this time? Every time he asked what was wrong Britland would shake his head mumbling nothing. Were these letters somehow connected to what happened at the studio? He shivered just thinking about it.
What should he do? Should he tell the police? His family? Grimly he weighed his options. He barely noticed his phone ringing. In a daze he answered it “hello” he mumbled. He listened for a moment before saying “great” sounding more enthusiastic than he felt. “Do you think I can get Britland’s things from his locker too? I need his phone to call his family.” He listened some more “ok I’ll be there in a few.” He put everything away except for the letters. He’d keep them until he figured out what to do.