Teasha pulled into their parking space once she had dropped Vincent and Divia at home. She put a gentle hand on her brother’s shoulder. Fear furrowed her brows as he jerked from her light touch. He moaned in pain otherwise he didn’t move or acknowledge her. She bit her tongue to keep from screaming. Nodding she scrambled from the car. Ran the short distance from the car to the front door.
Her legs felt like rubber that had been super heated to the point it had lost its cohesion and shape. “Dad,” she yelled throwing the door open “come quick. Please Zach needs help” she gulped for air leaning weakly on the door frame.
Her dad’s looked up shock registering in their faces and eyes as they took in her appearance. Mascara smudged cheeks, puffy red eyes, chalky white complexion. “What happened,” Ramsey asked recovering first.
Bruce watched as Ramsey pulled their daughter into his arms. Shock took his breath away as he dropped down beside them “where’s your brother? Where’s Zachariah?”
Three gulps of air Teasha managed “he’s hurt. Hurt bad daddy.” Upon hearing those words Ramsey let Bruce take Teasha from him. As he moved to get Zach he heard her say “daddy they beat him up. It’s … it’s terrible.” Ramsey digested those words as Bruce cradled her in his arms providing what little he comfort he could under the circumstances. Heart beating like a jack hammer Ramsey ran to her car.
He couldn’t remember the last time he had run so fast. He slowed as he neared the car. Opening the door Zach fell into his arms. “Zach, oh god Zach” he ran his hands through his son’s tangled blond hair he usually kept in a bun.
“Dad…dy,” Zach’s swollen lips moved but no further words came out. His eyes were swollen shut, his nose a bloody mess, bruises covered the majority of his body that he could see. Ramsey swallowed several times to keep the bile down as a wave of sickness swept over him upon seeing his child, his son in this condition.
“Shh,” he soothed cradling his son against his shoulder like he did when he was little and skinned a knee falling from his bike ” we’ll get you fixed up.” He gulped back tears as frustration and anger welled up inside him. Whoever did this was going to pay he thought as he carefully picked his son up.
Time ticked slowly by as Teasha clung to her dad’s hands while they waited for someone to tell them about her brother. Was he alright? He had to be alright! She blinked back tears in the vain attempt to keep from sobbing. It was too still. Too silent. Even the nurses seemed to whisper and tiptoe past them as they went about their duties. Teasha wanted to scream, to listen to some heavy metal music or turn the TV on blasting the sound. Anything to block out her thoughts. If only she had stayed with Zach this morning instead of joining her friends. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled into the sea of silence.
“It’s not your fault,” Bruce told her wrapping an arm around her, squeezing her tight.
“I shouldn’t have left him,” she cried ignoring him.
“Why did you sweetie?” Ramsey asked more to let her talk than for anything else.
“I was joining my friends and….and…” she gulped looking up eyes wide, shocked “Dexter Gage was coming and I thought…” she stopped talking glancing at her hand, picking at her fingernails. She had giggled thinking that it was so cute that her brother had finally worked up the courage to tell his crush he liked him. It was so sweet ….
“You thought what?” Ramsey prodded. He had met Dexter multiple times at the house.
“Isn’t that the boy Zach has been tutoring in algebra so he could stay on the football team?” Bruce asked.
Teasha nodded sniffling “yeah he’s the one.” She took a deep breath while she considered telling her parents about what she was beginning to suspect.
“Excuse me,” a deep voice interrupted them “I’m Dr. Krause. Are you Zachariah Ferris’s parents?”
“We are,” Ramsey confirmed as he and Bruce scrambled to their feet.
Glancing behind Ramsey’s shoulder the doctor smiled reassuringly towards Teasha before suggesting. “How about we talk over there?” he said leading the way.
Teasha watched from her seat as the doctor talked to her parents. They seemed to fold in upon themselves as they both put an arm around the other in an attempt to support each other under the burden of whatever bad news the doctor was giving them about their son. A lump formed in her throat making it impossible to swallow, cutting off her air. She knew she should have brought Zach here first instead of wasting time taking him home. Why didn’t she listen to Vincent when he suggested she take him to a doctor? Why did she listen to Zach’s pleas to go home? She should have known better.
Her parents turned and slowly came towards her. Their faces were pinched, lines she hadn’t noticed before were etched in furrows upon their faces. “How is he?” she demanded jumping to her feet. Her voice shook as she pleaded with whatever power that existed ‘please , please let Zach be alright.’ Instead of answering her they pulled her into a group hug and just held her, themselves, each other as the combined tears soaked each others shirts. “He’s dying isn’t he?” she choked unable to keep her fears inside.
“No no Sweetie no,” Bruce stammered holding her face between his palms I’m sorry if we scared you into thinking that. It’s just….”
“It’s bad isn’t it? I know it’s bad,” she sniffed trying to keep her nose from running “dad never cries,” she said taking a tissue that Ramsey held out to her “he was crying just like we were.”
“Teasha,” Ramsey sighed “you’re right it is bad. Zach’s injuries are pretty severe. He….” his voice cracked as his throat worked but no sound came.
“Daddy,” Teasha cried reaching for his hand. “I want to see him,” she demanded suddenly.
“We can’t see him yet,” Bruce tried to pull her close but she pushed him away trying to run down the hall to the recovery room. She had to find her brother.
“I need to see him,” she screamed “he’s my brother. My twin. I have to see him.” Seeing Ramsey break down in front of everyone had broken something inside her. She couldn’t wait and do nothing.
“Teasha honey he’s in surgery,” Bruce told her keeping his voice calm. The same calm he remembered his own father having when he told him and his siblings their mom was going to die. “Zach has a splenic rupture. They won’t know how bad until they have a chance to get in their and see if they can fix it or not.”
Her face fell and her mouth fell open. Her eyes large “people die from ruptured spleens” she choked out.
“He’s not going to die,” Bruce told her firmly “do you hear me? He’s not going to die.” He held her gaze with his. She fell into his arms crying like a limp rag doll being tossed away.
An hour later she sat stiff and unmoving between her parents, staring at the boring white walls with unfocused eyes. Her parents each had been allowed into Zach’s room for a few short minutes while she was forced to sit here alone and worry. She jerked in surprise as the emergency room doors opened and someone was reeled in on a gurney.
Watching remotely she observed the victim was a boy about her age with chocolate-brown hair in a yellow jersey just like …. those were the school colors. A football uniform. Teasha pushed herself to her feet. The paramedics turned the gurney in front of her. She gasped in shock “Ryan?” she cried. The tears she thought had dried up were once again flowing like a river down her cheeks.
He opened his eyes and attempted to smile at her “hey” he croaked in obvious pain as he winced.
Despite her protests the contrary paramedics took him through the doors for x-rays.
Ten minutes later Ryan’s parents came running through the emergency room doors. Panic and shock etched lines in their faces as they were told to have a seat in the waiting room. Trent sat heavily in a chair mumbling “it’s a been a hell of a day.”
“Language,” Gayle chastised him nodding towards Teasha.
Grunting he mumbled “sorry.”
“How’s Zach?” Gayle inquired.
“He’s out of surgery,” Ramsey informed them “he’ll be in hospital for a few days possibly a week to make sure his spleen is healing.”
“That’s good news” her voice sounded relieved.
“What happened to Ryan?” Bruce asked sounding as if he didn’t want to hear anymore bad news.
“Football injury,” Trent said “he’ll be ok but he won’t be playing for the rest of the season.”
“That’s too bad,” Ramsey commiserated with him “he was the star player.”
“Yeah well accidents happen,” Trent shrugged.
“Accidents?” Gayle nearly choked on the word “I don’t call being tackled to the ground by every boy on the team an accident. It was deliberate and I want to know why.”
Teasha stared at her. Could she be right? Gayle was usually so calm that it was shocking to see her so upset. “The football team did this on purpose?” she asked as all the day’s events seemed to click in her head.
Gayle nodded. Trent stared at her a moment asking “why? Does it matter?” He looked at her frightened face before continuing his voice a little gentler “why don’t you tell us what you think happened?”
“Today at school…it was…weird,” she shrugged lacking the right word to describe what she and the others had encountered that day. She took a deep breath before continuing “Hannah tried out for the cheer leading squad yesterday,” she told them deciding to start from the beginning in the hopes they would see the pattern she discovered. “She was unofficially told she made the squad yesterday but today her name wasn’t on the list.” She looked around at all the adults. Her gaze stopped on Trent “you can ask Ryan to confirm it since he was there yesterday as part of the selection committee.” She rubbed her hands along her sides. Everything that had happened today had one common factor, the football team.
“Bull, I mean Cale McCracken was also on the committee yesterday. He has a long-standing grudge against Ryan because the head cheerleader Kristen wants Ryan while Bull wants her. So he takes every opportunity to make life difficult for Ryan. Ryan’s been able to keep him under control until today.”
She looked at the floor gathering her thoughts “Bull likes to bully the nerds into doing his homework. Um” she paused feeling guilty about implying Vincent was a nerd “today he was roughing Vincent up in the hallway before lunch. He wanted Vinny to do his science project but Vincent refused per usual. Bull knocked his glasses off and smashed them.”
Nodding Gayle said “I spoke with Jillian earlier today. She was complaining about how careless Vincent was with his expensive new glasses and how they couldn’t afford to replace them. I guess Vincent didn’t tell her what really happened.”
“That sounds like Vinny,” Teasha smiled she knew how much he hated attention especially if his parents got involved demanding Bull to apologize or pay for the damages. They all knew that would only make things worse. “Ryan had been able to keep Bull from giving Vincent too much trouble.” She moved restlessly as they all stared at her.
“At lunch we have a specific table we all sit and eat at. You know how clicky high school can be. Its unusual for jocks to sit with nerds and such. Everyone usually didn’t bother us though since we’ve been doing this since forever. Today though Divia was chased out of the lunch room by Kristen with a message for the rest of us that we had lost our table. You know how Divia is. She’s so shy and Kristen was really nasty and had her in tears.”
Growing tired of standing Teasha moved to sit between her parents again. “By that time I had found Zach pretty much in the same spot I had left him at this morning,” she shivered remembering that moment and how she had all but dragged him to their car. Swallowing she shook her head “Hannah sent me a text message to meet them there as they were all going to leave for the day. They all had to jump into my car because several members of the football team led by Bull was surrounding it. I didn’t know what else to do but leave.”
“You think the football team is responsible for Zach’s injures don’t you?” Ramsey asked.
Nodding she leaned over laying her head on her knees “I think Dexter set him up. I think he figured out Zach had a crush on him. I think Dex enlisted Bull’s help into discouraging Zach.”
“You might be right,” Ramsey said getting to his feet and pacing. Teasha watched him seeing the jerky movements that showed how upset he was. He turned, without a word stomped towards the exit doors.
Bruce quickly stood and followed after him. “Ramsey where do you think you’re going?” he demanded catching up with him.
“To find that boy and shake the truth out of him,” he growled his fingers curling into fists.
Bruce gripped his husband’s arm firmly while he stared into his eyes. Slowly he nodded releasing his grip “alright,” he said letting him go “don’t do anything stupid,” he pleaded “I don’t want to have to bail you out of jail.”
Snorting Ramsey took a couple of swift steps back to him and swept him into his arms. “Don’t worry you won’t have too. I’ll ask Eddie to bail me out,” he gave Bruce his trademark mischievous grin “just be here for our boy. You know I’ve got to do this.”
Nodding Bruce threaded his hands behind Ramsey’s neck pulling him down. Their lips locked in mutual need to comfort, to reassure the other. “I love you,” Bruce murmured letting him go.
“The feeling is entirely mutual,” Ramsey assured him. He watched Bruce walk backwards towards the hospital doors before turning. He jumped the curb running towards his car. It was hard enough he thought to admit you’re not like everyone else without the object of your feelings betraying you. He was proud of his son and sickened by what happened to him.
Ramsey sat in his car staring up at the house Dexter Gage called home. He had no recollection how he had gotten there. His mind drifted while driving. As if on automatic pilot he drove while he was preoccupied with everything that had happened in his children’s lives that and by extension the other kids he considered family. Scowling he looked up at the house. The Gage family obviously had money.
He got out of the car slamming the door shut behind him. The door opened an inch to his insistent knocking. “I need to talk to your son” he growled looking down at the older woman peeking out at him.
“He’s not home,” she snarled moving to shut the door in Ramsey’s face. He stuck his foot in the door preventing her from shutting it. Pushing hard he forced his way into the house yelling “Dexter get your ass out here.”
His furious voice carried through the house. The woman stood with her hands on her hips glaring up at him. “Get out” she shouted at him.
“Not until I talk to that boy of yours,” A head poked out of a door down the hall and he charged in that direction. “Dexter” he called outside the closed door “as much as I want to I’m not going to hurt you.” He sighed trying to calm his breathing “please I just want to know why you did it.”
The door opened a crack a soft frightened voice came through from the depths of the room “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to. Bull made me.”
Making his way into the room Ramsey found the boy curled into a fetal position on the floor crying. “Dex what happened? Why’d you do it?” his anger evaporating upon sight of the boy.
Hiccuping Dexter looked up flinching upon seeing his mother in the doorway “mama I’m sorry. I really did try but I…”
“You’re weak. Good for nothing. Screw up,” her face contorted in rage and disgust “you should be ashamed of yourself. Get out of my house and stay out.”
“But mama I’ll do better. I’ll try harder…I” he choked on his words and sobs wracked his body.
“Come on son,” Ramsey held a hand out to the boy “I think you should come with me so your mother can calm down.”
“She won’t calm down,” he muttered “she hates me.” He grabbed Ramsey’s hand accepting his help. “She told me to get out” waving at a couple of duffel bags on the floor “I packed a few things but I had nowhere to go.”
“You’ll come with me for now,” Ramsey told him finding he couldn’t leave knowing this was what the boy had to cope with. They moved towards the door where the woman still stood arms crossed.
“You can call his father. He’s like you. A faerie. That’s why I left him. Wouldn’t let the boy see him so he couldn’t turn him into one of your kind. I guess he’s just like him though.” She turned her back on them “get out and never come back.”
After getting the boy and his bags situated in the car Ramsey glanced over at the huddled heap in the passenger seat beside him. Dexter turned eyeing him, his nose bright red, eyes puffy and swollen from crying. Ramsey couldn’t find it in him to yell at the boy. It felt too much like hitting a hurt puppy. Sighing he started the car.
As he was putting the car into gear Dexter’s hesitant voice broke the near silence “he said he wouldn’t tell. He said just have Zach meet you at a certain spot at school. I didn’t” his voice dissolved into sobs.
“Who?” Ramsey pressed the boy for more information.
“Bull,” he cried “he caught me and Zach kissing at the theater on Saturday night. He said if I didn’t do as he said then he’d tell my mom I was gay. I couldn’t face her finding out I” he gulped “you saw what she’s like.”
Ramsey felt his ire rising as he listened to the boy “so you set Zach up to save yourself.”
“I didn’t know Bull was going to beat him up,” he flinched expecting Ramsey to hit him “Zach’s alright isn’t he? I mean Bull didn’t hurt him that bad did he?”
“No he’s not alright,” Ramsey let his anger go swamping the inside of the car “he could have died because of you.” He wanted to say more but the incessant whimpering and sobbing was more than he could bear. It made sense why Zach had refused to say what happened. He was protecting the sniveling mess next to him even though as far as Ramsey was concerned Dexter wasn’t worth the cost his son paid.