Waylon stared at the email. The words were blurry as tears formed in his eyes. He couldn’t believe this was happening not after all these years. He wiped his eyes dry as he heard the door open. His eyes widened as he watched Zach come into the room shirtless. He smiled as he watched his roommate sprint towards his dresser. Cheeks red as he pulled a shirt over his head. It was on the tip of Waylon’s tongue to ask what happened to his shirt. He held his tongue not wanting to add to the blonde’s embarrassment.
He kept his eyes averted to his laptop. The email swam before his eyes. How had this happened? His Uncle had always been so careful with his money. It was inconceivable that his Uncle was on the verge of bankruptcy. His Uncle and Aunt could lose everything they had worked for all their lives. When he came to live with them Waylon couldn’t ever remember going without.
He glanced over when he felt a presence near him. Giving the blonde a distracted smile he said “did you talk to your sister?”
Nodding Zach attempted to see what was so interesting on Waylon’s computer screen. From his angle he couldn’t see anything. “Is something wrong?” he asked his brows knitted together in concern.
Closing his laptop Waylon shook his head. He could feel the blonde’s eyes following him almost as if they could burrow inside him.
“I can tell something’s wrong?” Zach persisted “you’re always telling me to talk when something’s bothering me. Don’t you think you should do the same?”
“This is different” Waylon mumbled getting up to walk to the window.
“How?” Zach demanded.
Waylon half turned from the window shaking his head “you wouldn’t understand.”
“Do you think I’m too weak and feeble minded to help? Is that it?” Zach’s hands bunched into fists.
“No” he sighed “that’s not it at all.”
“Then tell me” Zach pleaded “let me help you.”
“That’s just it” Waylon yelled turning to glare at the blonde “you can’t help. No one can.”
Zach took a step backwards. He hadn’t expected Waylon to be so emotional. All the months they had roomed together Waylon had been nothing but a rock. Someone he could rely on. He could see it in Waylon’s eyes that something terrible had happened. “Please let me help you” he took a hesitant step forward touching Waylon’s hand. He flinched when Waylon jerked his hand away.
“I don’t need your help” he screamed stomping from the room.
Zach stared after him incomprehension written on his face. What had he done to provoke that? Waylon had never spoken unkindly or harshly to him in all the time they had known each other. He could feel himself begin to shake. He stumbled to his bed. Curling into a tight ball he let the tears fall as his mind replayed the events leading up to this. What had he done? He doubted it was his shirtless attire. Waylon hadn’t seemed to notice or care. That in itself had been a surprising disappointment. Zach had expected some sort of reaction. Some light-hearted teasing perhaps. Instead all he got was rejection.
Waylon’s feet flew down the stairs. Two at a time. His breathing labored as he ran outside. What had he done? He had taken out his anger and frustration on Zach. He saw the hurt and bewilderment in the blonde’s eyes. He hadn’t wanted to do that. The more Zach tried to get him to talk the more he felt trapped.
Trapped into the same course of action he always took when things were too difficult to handle. He pushed those closest to him away. Images of himself as a twelve-year-old kid fighting everyone who had tried to befriend him after he lost his family. He had been so lonely but he hadn’t known how to stop it. All through high school he had longed for a friend. By then no one even tried to talk to him. They had all learned to leave him alone.
He leaned against a tree breathing hard. His mind replaying an episode from his past. He had been sitting in his self-imposed corner of solitary confinement when his bleak thoughts had been interrupted by screams and laughter. Looking up he watched in horror as a nearby trashcan burst into flames from someone’s idea of a joke. His eyes were riveted to the flames as they licked at the sides, leaping higher and higher into the air seeking something to consume.
That moment watching the flames Waylon was transported back in time. Twelve years old coughing on thick acrid smoke, every breath an agonizing ordeal. Lungs burning as the super heated air filled them. The smell of his own flesh sizzling as he gripped the door handle trying to get to his sister. Her screams begging him for help.
He brought his hands up covering his ears. The teachers were yelling at everyone to calm down. The fire was out. No damage done. For Waylon the nightmare was all too real. It was all around him. He bolted from his chair running for the door. He felt the curious eyes of his classmates following him as he ran. He heard the muffled sounds of the teacher telling to get back in his seat.
He ignored it all. He ran. Ran from the class room. Ran from the school. Ran until he couldn’t run anymore. He fell exhausted to the ground. It wasn’t until the whinny of a horse woke him from his daze that he realized where he was. His favorite spot in the world. The spot where his Uncle let the horses graze. He sat up as his horse Hershey approached him nuzzling his face.
Hershey had been born the summer he had come to live with his Uncle and Aunt. Hershey was his horse. His responsibility to feed, brush, train, everything. At first Waylon had resented the responsibility. The smell of mucking out a dirty stall. The flies that buzzed around his face. He hated all of it.
One day as he was going through the motions something happened. The way Hershey would follow him on his thin wobbly legs reminded him of his little sister. The look in his moist warm chocolate-brown eyes as Hershey gazed up at him as Waylon fed him carrots tugged at his heart. Hershey thawed a part of his heart that Waylon thought would be frozen forever.
Zach reminded him of Hershey. The way Zach needed him. There was a certain look in his crystal blue eyes that always melted Waylon’s heart strings. He ran a hand through his hair. He needed to apologize to the timid blonde. He took several deep breaths before turning towards the door.
Hannah heard the soft cries as she passed by the semi open door. Stopping she approached the door pushing it wider. “Zach” she called stepping inside. Waylon’s side of the room was empty. Hannah wondered where the guy had gone. It was unusual that he would leave Zach like this. Unless…. Her breath hitched in her throat. She’d personally hunt him down if he hurt Zach in any way.
“Zach” she repeated her voice soft as she sat on the edge of the bed beside the weeping boy. “Zach what’s wrong? Did something happen between you and Waylon?” She bit her lip dreading the answer. She personally hoped it wasn’t that. She liked Waylon. Liked the way he protected one of her dearest friends.
“He hates me” he mumbled burying his face deeper in his pillow.
“No he doesn’t” Hannah contradicted. It was a gut reaction. She didn’t know for sure. Waylon could have grown tired of always catering to the special needs of someone like Zach. She reached out and gently stroked his hair. “Tell me what happened” she requested keeping the heated desire of needing to know from her voice. The last thing she needed was to make Zach feel pressured.
“He yelled at me,” he cried his voice muffled by the pillow “he’s never done that before. Not to me.”
That was true Hannah thought. She had heard Waylon yell at Dexter whenever he happened by the dormitory presumably by accident. They all knew he hoped to catch Zach alone. For that reason they had all agreed that Zach would never be left alone in the dorm. Someone would always be there. She wasn’t sure how much of the protective canopy Zach was aware of but they hadn’t heard him complain it was confining or restrictive.
She pulled her thoughts back to what Zach was saying. “Maybe he received some bad news from home” she suggested.
“Maybe” he acknowledged sitting up wiping a hand across his red swollen eyes. “What if he’s just tired of catering to me? I know it’s not easy to be with someone like me. All my fears and insecurities.”
“Oh Zach” she gasped his words were eerily similar to her own thoughts. She didn’t want to consider how that would affect that would effect him. “I’m sure that’s not it,” she tried to assure him.
“Don’t lie to me,” he said forcefully pushing her away from him “I know what you guys are doing for me. I’m not blind. I know someone is always here watching out for me. Someone always walks me to class. I’m a nuisance to have around.”
“That’s not true” she cried “we love you.”
“Why?” he demanded “I offer nothing in return. I just pull you all down.” He got up heading for the door.
“Zach where are you going?” she cried following him.
“Leave me alone” he yelled at her “I’m tired of being coddled.”
His outburst so unlike him stopped her in her tracks. By the time she had recovered her senses he was gone. “Zach” she called running down the stair knowing it was pointless.
Waylon turned towards the door bumping into someone. “Excuse me” he mumbled not really seeing who it was he knocked over.
“Woe is something wrong?” Donovan asked picking himself up.
“What?” Waylon asked absently “I…I’m sorry.” He watched Donovan dust himself off grimacing a little “did I hurt you?”
“Naw” Donovan shook his head “just a bruise or two. Don’t worry about it.” He gave Waylon an appraising look “what’s up? I know something’s wrong so don’t bother denying it.”
“I..” he ran a hand through his hair “I got an email from my Aunt saying my Uncle’s going to lose his ranch.” He swallowed hard “he’s put everything he has into that ranch. I can’t believe he’s going to lose it just like that,” he snapped his fingers.
“Did he make a bad investment” Donovan asked. His eyes had a far away look in them.
“He might have….I don’t really know” Waylon tried to think if they had mentioned anything to him. Shaking his head he said “I think my Aunt mentioned something about an investment last December. I just don’t know what.”
Grabbing his arm Donovan pulled him inside and towards a computer. “Keep a look out” he instructed.
Puzzled Waylon asked “what are you doing?”
“I’m going to do some research into your Uncle’s finances” he explained.
“Your going to hack into my Uncle’s accounts” Waylon stated his brows knitting together in concern.
“I wouldn’t say that exactly” Donovan objected “I’m doing some innocent inquiries into his finances and investments. I’m not doing anything else.”
Feeling uncomfortable with what they were doing Waylon stood lookout as he grew more and more nervous. Donovan kept muttering and grunting to himself until Waylon had to ask “what did you find?”
“Your Uncle was conned out of his life savings,” Donovan told him “you see that” he pointed towards something on the screen.
“Yeah what is it?” Waylon asked.
“Mr Reginald Cummings is the broker who foreclosed on my mother’s house” Donovan frowned “I could do some creative reallocation of Cummings funds” he glanced up at Waylon “but he doesn’t have enough in this account to cover what he swindled your Uncle out of.”
“Will it help him keep the ranch?” he asked eyes glued to the screen.
“It should” Donovan nodded “it’ll be tight but your Uncle should be able to keep things running if he’s careful.”
“Do it” Waylon said before he could talk himself out of it.
“It’ll take a while for me to set things up so that they can’t trace what I’m doing” Donovan told him “I need you to tell me if anyone comes. So that I have time to cover up what I’m doing.”
Nodding Waylon watched the room scanning the comings and goings of the students. His stomach twisted with worry. What they were doing was illegal. It was technically his Uncle’s money he had been conned out of. He shouldn’t feel bad but he couldn’t keep from jumping every time someone approached the door.
“There you are” Hannah said bursting through the door and coming towards them “I have been looking everywhere for you.”
“I’m busy right now” Waylon told her hoping Donovan had enough time to hide what they were doing.
“You better make time” she glared at him hands on hips “Zach ran off and it’s all your fault.”
Waylon stared at her while a loud buzzing started in his ears. “What?” he demanded “what do you mean he ran off?”
“What do you think I mean?” she scoffed “he was upset. You yelled at him. I tried to calm him down but he ran off.”
“I have to find him” Waylon interrupted her running for the door. All thoughts of his Uncle gone.
Zach ran until he couldn’t run anymore. He leaned against the bridge breathing hard as cars sped past him. He hadn’t realized where he was going until he stopped. He had always had a fascination with bridges ever since he was little. This one had held his imagination ever since he came to university last fall.
Had it really been that long? He couldn’t believe the year was almost over and he’d be going home for the summer in six weeks. So much had changed and so much had stayed the same. He watched the water flow past underneath his feet. He let his mind wander imagining how it’d feel to jump from this height into the murky depths below. The water rushing over his head. Fighting the current to bring his head above water. Gasping for one last breath. The thoughts weren’t new just buried beneath a layer of happiness that he hoped would last. It hadn’t. Like everything else in his life it was ruined by his incessant neediness. Everyone would be better off without him. No one would need to babysit him. He climbed up on the girders of the old iron bridge leaning over mesmerized by the rushing water beneath him.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you” a voice said from somewhere close behind him.
He jerked losing his grip on the iron girder leaving him teetering in mid-air. A hand reached out to steady him. Climbing down he turned “thank you” his smile faded as the blood drained from his face “Dexter.”
“I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance to talk to you alone” he said oblivious to the blonde’s discomfort “I’ve waited outside your dorm everyday waiting for my chance.”
In a bold, half desperate attempt to put distance between him and Dexter, Zach ran into the road. Ignoring the screech of tires and blaring car horns he kept running until he reached the other side. He thought he was going to make it. He could see the lights of his dorm not too far away. A heavy force knocked him flat forcing all the air from his lungs. A hand tangled in his hair. A harsh ragged whisper spoke in his ear “listen and listen good” Dexter hissed “you’re going to do exactly as I say.” Using Zach’s hair he cranked the blondes head back “understand?”
Zach winced in pain “yes” he gasped as Dexter’s weight shifted on his back.
“Good” Dexter smiled in the dark pulling the blonde towards a dark secluded area beneath the bridge.