Author’s Note: This chapter may be triggering for some readers. It deals with brief glimpses into the past of the one of the characters that experienced abuse as a child. The chapter does not go into great detail nor will it be depicted by pictures.
“Can you hand me that jar of pickles” Britland asked. His back was turned to Carson eyes on the shelves searching for the items on his mother’s list. He moved several feet away before realizing Carson hadn’t moved to follow him. “Babe what’s wrong” he asked retracing his step coming to a stop beside his fiance.
“I” he shivered. He didn’t think he’d ever hear that voice again. The jovial deep voice he and his brother always anticipated with growing excitement. How long had it been? Fifteen years? He hadn’t heard it since Dawson had been taken. Blinking he gave Britland a weak grin “I’m sorry what?”
Britland gave him a concerned look. Something was definitely wrong. Carson’s eyes lacked their usual luster and there was the nervous way his fingers picked at his sweater. Carson was never this inattentive or lost looking. “I asked for a jar of pickles” he gestured towards the jars Carson was blocking.
“Oh sorry” he mumbled “I guess I wasn’t paying attention.”
“Are you feeling alright” Britland’s brows furrowed together. “You didn’t sleep well last night.”
“I’m fine” he snapped brushing off Britland’s concern. “What’s next? Produce? Dry goods? I know …. diapers. Your mom would be delighted if we popped on of those out.”
“You didn’t have to come” Britland grumbled grabbing the pickles that Carson had walked away from. He pushed the cart silently pouting.
“I wish I hadn’t” Carson grumbled following Britland down another aisle.
“Why don’t you just leave then” Britland said coming to a stop glaring at Carson having reached his limit with his surliness.
“How would you get home” Carson demanded his tone one of long-suffering.
“I’ll call my Dad” Britland glanced at his phone “he should be done with work by the time I’m finished here.”
Nodding Carson followed Britland down another aisle with the air of a martyr. “I think I’ll leave then.” He turned taking a couple of steps before stopping at the light touch of Britland’s hand on his forearm. He was tempted to stay but everything in him was screaming for him to run. Run as far and as fast as he could while he could. “I’m sorry” he mumbled before walking away. He refused to look back knowing if he did he’d see the wounded hurt expression in Britland’s eyes. If he turned he wouldn’t be able to go.
As soon as he could he stopped leaning on the end cap, breathing hard. He needed air. Needed to get away. It didn’t make sense. How could a half remembered voice instill such a reaction? He felt like an idiot running from nothing. Just a feeling of danger. He took a deep steadying breath his mind made up to go back when he froze in terror. That deep voice again.
Peeking around the end cap he saw Britland talking to an older vaguely familiar man. He could feel his body start to shake as he mumbled to himself “I know him, but how?”
“Hey Mr Svir how are you” Britland asked smiling at the older man. He had the brief thought that the man looked familiar. Kind of like an older version of Carson. That couldn’t be right. Carson didn’t have relatives outside of Bridgeport. The thought of the purple haired male brough a pang of regret. Britland couldn’t help but wonder what had gotten into him. Carson seldom if ever got upset with him especially not over grocery shopping.
“I heard you got engaged” the older man enthused “congratulations. Whose the lucky lady?”
Color rose over Britland’s cheeks. It wasn’t that he was embarrassed to admit he was engaged to a man. He wasn’t sure how everyone would react when they found out. Riverview was a small town that held onto their traditional values. “Um actually you just missed him. Carson had to run some errands. You’ll meet him at my parents New Years Eve party.”
The older man’s eyes lit up beneath his heavy brows. “I’m looking forward to it. Did you meet in Bridgeport? How old is he? What color hair does he have?”
Nodding Britland looked furtively down the aisle uncomfortable with the man’s sudden interest in Carson. “If you’ll excuse me. I have a few more things to get for my mom.”
“You’re a good boy Britland” the older man grinned winking at him “reminds me of my nephew.”
“Err” Britland was loath to walk past the older man as his feet seemed stuck to the floor under the man’s piercing gaze.
Carson moved from the end cap seeing the predicament Britland was in. Taking several deep breaths that did little to restore his oxygen supply or calm his beating heart. “Hon did I give you the keys” he asked patting his pockets “I seem to have locked myself out of the car.” He gave Britland a sheepish grin shoving his hands into his pockets.
His brow creasing Britland mutely shook his head. Carson never lost his keys he thought. “I’m pretty sure you have them.”
The older man lingered nearby eavesdropping. “I can give you a ride” he offered. Giving Carson a head to toe appraisal he smiled “Carson is that you? When I heard my good friend Britland had gotten engaged I thought it might have been you.” Stepping forward he pulled Carson into a hug patting his back “you look just like your mother.”
Carson shivered in the mans arms, every muscle in his body stiff with tension. He wanted to scream but he didn’t have enough air even to squeak. The man’s arms felt like crushing weights. Hot and heavy making it impossible to draw breath into his oxygen deprived lungs.
The man pushed him away to peer into his eyes. Carson’s face flushed with heat “you don’t remember me do you boy? Don’t you recognize me?”
Cautiously Carson shook his head afraid to admit it even to himself. He squeezed his eyes tight hoping this was just another nightmare. He’d wake up safe and sound with Britland curled up beside him.
“It’s your Uncle Lars” the man rubbed his hands in circles on Carson’s back “it’s been almost twenty years but I’d still recognize you anywhere.” He squeezed him tight making Carson squirm in the heat of his embrace.
“Mr Svir” Britland nudged his card forward bumping it into the back of his legs “we need to get going. Mom’s expecting us.” He didn’t know what was going on but he had a bad feeling. The blank lost look in Carson’s lavender eyes was heartbreaking. “We’ll see you later at the party,” he said to the man hoping he would release Carson so they could get on their way.
Patting Carson’s back again grinning from ear to ear “we’ll catch up then.” He stepped back his eyes never leaving Carson’s face. Carson stood as if hypnotized. “I can wait for you boys and give you a lift when your done.”
“Err” Britland glanced over at Carson who still seemed to be under some sort of spell.”That won’t be necessary. I had the keys all along. They were in a different pocket.” He gave a small self-deprecating laugh before tugging on Carson’s arm to get his attention.
“That’s good” the man nodded a fleeting look of disappointment in his eyes before he turned and walked away.
Carson stared at the spot his Uncle had stood. Shivering he turned to face Britland “I think I’m going to be sick.”
Looking around Britland grabbed a trash can from a nearby shelf. “Use this” he shoved the can into Carson’s hands.
Carson sank to the tile floor hugging the rubber trash can to his chest. Several people walked past staring in open curiosity. Britland did his best to shied Carson from their disgusted gawking stares.
“Excuse me sir” a man’s voice spoke behind him “is he alright? Does he need an ambulance?”
Britland detected the man’s concern was more for the disgusted customers than any real concern for the guy puking his guts up on the floor. “I’m sure he’ll be ok. I’m afraid breakfast didn’t agree with him.” He looked over at Carson adding “we’ll pay for the trash can.”
Frowning the man asked “are you sure he’s ok?”
“I’m positive” Britland assured him “we’re almost done shopping. I apologize for the inconvenience.”
“We can hold your items” the manager offered “it’s really in everyone’s best interests if you take him home.”
“Carson” Britland knelt beside his fiance “do you think you can get up?”
“Mmm” he moaned letting Britland pull him to his feet. He swayed for a moment turning a sickly grey.
Britland followed the manager who took charge of his cart and marched them towards the exit. “What about the trash can” Britland asked before exiting.
The manager gave him a stiff thin-lipped grimace “don’t worry about it. Just take him home.”
Without further argument Britland helped Carson to the car. It felt somewhat awkward to sit behind the driver’s seat. He had to adjust the seat forward to reach the pedals comfortably. “Keys” he asked holding his hand out.
A moment later he felt the weight of Carson’s key chain being put into his hand. He glanced over towards his fiance to find him leaning against the door, his face resting on the cool window. There were a million questions fighting for attention in his brain. None of them felt appropriate, instead he said “we’ll be home in a few minutes.” He hoped the worst of the sickness was over. The faint scent of vomit filled the small confines of the car’s interior.
Once Britland turned into the driveway he ran around the car to help Carson into the house. Carson’s silence was as unnerving as his sudden sickness had been. As soon as Britland got his winter gear off and into their room Carson curled into a ball on the bed, shivering with his eyes closed. Britland hesitated at the door “I need to go back to the store….” He sighed unsure what he should do. He didn’t want to leave him in this shape. “Will you be ok until I get back?”
Carson nodded waving a hand weakly in Britland’s direction. “The light” he called indistinctly his voice muffled by the pillow “leave it on.”
Removing his hand from the light switch Britland glanced towards the window. The curtains were open letting in the weak winter light. Snow was in the forecast for later that night. “Ok” he said softly biting his tongue to keep from prying Carson with a million questions.
When the door clicked shut Carson sighed rolling onto his back. His skin was cold and clammy. Shivering he tried to imagine pulling a blanket over himself but lacking the energy to do more than wish it would just happen. “You look just like your mother” his Uncle’s voice echoed in his head. He moaned out loud as his mind drifted further back in time.
“Come give your Uncle a hug” his mother’s voice encouraged taking his hat and gloves off. He watched helplessly as Dawson ran up to their Uncle arms open wide, giggling and care free. He had hung back trying to hide behind his mother’s back. “Go ahead” she pushed him forward “give him a hug.”
“No” he cried shaking his head his eyes pleading with her not to make him do this.
“What’s wrong with you” she asked sounding irritable pushing him towards his Uncle. She looked over at him “he’s acting like you’re a stranger.”
“I bet if I were he’d be screaming stranger danger” his Uncle joked although he could hear the anger beneath the joking tone. He took his coat off stepping forward to comply with their wishes. His arms trembled as he looked into his Uncle’s face. His eyes were cold and calculating, the smile he wore was fake like someone had painted it on him. He almost cried out when his Uncle’s arms wrapped around him, drawing him close, suffocating him. He tried to squirm out of the embrace but he was too small and soon found himself sitting on his Uncle’s lap….
He cried out jerking up right on the bed gasping for air. Running a shaky hand through his tangled hair he tried to rid his thoughts of the past. He hadn’t thought about his Uncle in years. Why now? He pulled his knees to his chest hugging them close. He always thought he liked his Uncle. He remembered having a lot of fun when he came to visit. Uncle Lars would take him to the park. Then they’d go back to his hotel where they…
He shivered. He didn’t like going to his Uncle’s hotel. He could never remember anything beyond walking through the door. The memories that should be there were shrouded in darkness, a blank void. Just a terrible sinking feeling that something bad happened there that he didn’t want to remember.
Carson emerged from his room when he heard movement in the other room. “Want some help” he offered upon seeing Britland with grocery bags.
“Are you feeling better” Britland asked setting the bags down and going to hug him.
Carson stepped back flinching. For a brief moment he was back in the store having his Uncle’s arms around him. “Yeah. Fine” he choked attempting to cover up his momentary fear.
Stepping back arms dropping “is something wrong?” Britland bit his bottom lip to keep from crying out. Not once since they had been together had Carson ever flinched from his touch. It was always Carson being patient with him. Why now? Without thinking he asked “did your Uncle do something to you?”
“I don’t….” Carson visibly shrank inside himself. Staring at the floor he refused to meet Britland’s eyes. Shame twisted his stomach muscles into knots. Shame that he didn’t know the answer to that question. Shame that maybe he did and didn’t want to admit it. Shame that he hadn’t said anything when he was a kid and it was somehow connected to whoever took Dawson. “I don’t want to talk about this” he said abruptly walking towards the door.
He could feel Britland’s gaze following him as he shoved his arms into his coat and his feet into his boots. He sensed the inner turmoil going on inside the blonde. A part of him wanted Britland to force him to talk about it. Another part just wanted to punch something. “I need air” he mumbled throwing the door open letting in a cool blast of cold air before stepping outside and closing the door on a very stunned and upset Britland.
Britland watched in horrified fascination as his fiance walked out. He didn’t know what to do or how to help him. He could see the pain in Carson’s every movement and his eyes spoke volumes without him having to. He wanted to hold Carson and tell him that no matter what he’d always love him. That it wasn’t his fault. But he just stood there. Rooted to the floor.
To get his mind off of what just happened he put the groceries away. Intermittently he’d glance at the door hoping Carson would come back. He knew he couldn’t have gone far. His car was still here as he still had the keys. He shivered imagining Carson walking aimlessly around in circles in the cold. The door opened and he looked expectantly at it.
“What’s Carson doing outside?” his dad asked coming inside.
“I don’t know” Britland sighed sitting at the table his head in his hands. “Something happened at the store today.”
Taking his coat off Robby asked “want to tell me about it?”
“I’m not sure I understand it myself” he looked up hoping his dad could help. “It’s more a feeling I have.”
“Tell me about it and maybe together we can find a solution” Robbie sat at the table.
“We ran into Mr Svir” Britland began “did you know he looks a lot like Carson?” His dad thought a moment before shaking his head. “Well I found out he’s Carson’s Uncle.”
“I didn’t know he had family around here” Robbie said somewhat surprised “I suspect from the way you’re acting it wasn’t a happy reunion.”
“Far from it” Britland frowned “Mr Svir did seem to notice how tense his presence made Carson. The more I think about it the more I’m sure Carson’s afraid of him.”
“Afraid? Of his Uncle” Robbie rubbed his chin deep in thought. “We are talking about Lars here aren’t we? I mean the guys never said a mean thing in his life. All the kids adore him….”
“Yeah him” Britland fell silent absorbing his impressions “It was like Carson couldn’t stand the guy touching him. He was stiff when Mr Svir hugged him. The look on his face when his Uncle touched him made me think of mom.” His voice drifted off as he thought about it “I think Mr Svir isn’t who we think he is. I think he did something to Carson sometime in the past.” He looked up meeting his dad’s eyes “the expression on Carson’s face is the same face mom makes whenever someone mentions her Mother.”
“I think you might be right but we can’t assume anything based upon your gut instincts” Robbie sighed glancing at the window. “I’m going to call Grandpa to see if he can pull some strings and have the guy checked out.”
“Thanks Dad” Britland stood up to give him a heartfelt hug “you’re the best.”
“I do my best” he blushed turning a deep emerald-green. “You should go out there and convince your fiance to come inside before he turns into a Popsicle.”
“Carson honey” Britland called out softly not wanting to sneak up on him without warning. “Why don’t you come inside? You’ll freeze to death if you stay out here much longer.”
He shrugged as if to say he didn’t care. His eyes never left the ground. “You should go back inside” he said instead “I’m fine.”
“No you’re not” Britland said refusing to be sent away.
Carson grunted a little in response his breath coming out in puffs. “Then you better come over here so I can keep you warm.” He pulled Britland close to his side once Britland had moved close to him “I’m sorry about today.”
“You don’t have to apologize” Britland said quickly somewhat reassured that Carson was acting more like himself now. “You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to.” He took Carson’s hand and squeezed it best he could through their gloves. “I just want you to know I’m here for you. You don’t have to be strong all by yourself. We can be strong together.”
That brought a quick spontaneous smile to his lips. “I love you. You know that don’t you?”
“I know” Britland affirmed “I love you too. That’s why when you hurt I hurt.”
Turning Carson wrapped his arms around the blonde leaning his cheek on his shoulder. “I wish I could tell you what happened today. I don’t what came over me. I don’t know why.” His shoulders shook “I keep getting flashes of things that may have happened in the past…when I was little.”
“You can tell me anything” Britland assured him “whatever it is. You don’t have to shield me.” He wrapped his arms around Carson holding him tighter. He was out of his depth finding himself the comforter, holding Carson as he cried on his shoulder. He wanted to tell him that everything would be ok. That things would be alright. Instead he was silent letting his presence show he was there and that he loved him more than he could say.
Sniffling Carson mumbled into Britland’s shoulder. “I think I know who was in my room that night.”