The night sky was blanketed by dark clouds as our destination came into eye shot. It was an old bookstore that hadn’t been used in years. The walls had shed their once vibrant sky blue and were now growing patches of blackened mold and thick vines across the entire building with a fence of weeds separating it from the rest of the world. Where the glass door should have been, there was a long wooden board nailed across the doorway. There was no difference between the street and the sidewalk in front of it; it was all broken in. The last time we were here I was around 6 or 7. It was only used in emergencies or when patrol was heavier in the streets, but even then it was tended to. Then, the grass was just at the ankles and you could walk up the sidewalk into the store. But things change.
“Finally! We’re almost there.” Damien let out a breath of relief. Timothy pushed him into Kyle, who pushed Damien back at him. It was nice to see them playing after earlier. They were kind of like Victor and David, only older and able to talk. And they didn’t poop themselves... I suppose.
“But we’re not there yet. So keep on guard. And keep quiet!” Logan scolded them from over his shoulder. He stayed by Keenan’s side. They spoke so low it was hard to even guess what they were talking about. All you could really hear was Keenan’s growling. Logan’s voice wasn’t as deep, although it wasn’t high either. Kyle mocked Logan behind his back, while Damien’s head sunk between his shoulders. He fell back beside me.
“Don’t listen to him D.” Timothy grabbed him by the arm and pulled him back up with his brothers. “It’s okay. You ain’t gotta worry. Ya big bros gotchu.” Timothy put an arm over Damien’s shoulder.
“Besides we’re only a few feet away. Literally. It’s right there.” As Kyle spoke, a figure ducked out from under the board.
“Yeah. And once we get inside you can repent.” Timothy jabbed Damien’s arm.
“For what?” Damien shoved him away.
“For killing a man’s pride ya ch’ch’chicken!” Kyle put his hands under his arms and flapped his elbows back and forth.
“Next time D, pray for a pair you can actually use.” Timothy grabbed at himself below the scratched silver snake skinned belt buckle.
“Timothy Sean Aider!” My mom’s hand slapped me hard in the face as she covered my eyes. My head would've fallen off if it wasn't for my neck.
“Shut up! And you weren’t even there Tim!” Damien’s raspy voice broke as he shouted.
“Oh! Timmy’s in trouble. Ouch!”
I could hear a number of blows following Kyle’s teasing. My mom finally lifted her hand and Tim, Kyle, and Damien were all on the ground rolling around. Kyle had his legs around Damien’s waist from behind. Tim had Kyle’s head trapped under his arm. And Damien was swinging wildly at both of them. Keenan and Logan were just about gone in the shadows of the book store. My mom stood beside the doorway, waiting. I held Victor close as we crouched under the board and pulled back the black sheet that hung behind it. My mom’s hand rubbed my shoulder and Victor’s hand rubbed hers.
Inside, Keenan and Logan were standing with the figure from before. It was Mr. Nathan Trembol. He was shaking Keenan’s hand. Nathan always seemed like a funny man to me. He always wore suits or kind-of-nice shirts and pants. Every gathering he wore the same thing; a black jacket that strangled his arms with black pants to match and a red… or orange… or a brown shirt that never buttoned all the way so you could just barely see his chest hairs gasping for air. The hairs on his belly poked through the stressed buttons. His long black hair was pulled back into a sweaty ponytail that rested between his shoulders on his back. His left toes wiggled out of the hole of the black house slippers. No matter what was going on he was smiling wide with his giant yellow teeth. They stood in the center of the store. As Keenan and Nathan continued talking, Logan took a small box from his back pocket and showed it to Nathan.
“Ri! Get over here!” Before I could turn my head I was dragged away. I tripped over my own feet and came to a sudden stop as my face hit something hard.
“Lexi! Careful girl, before ya kill ya sister an’ brother!” I backed away to find I had ran into Ms. Lee. She was unbuttoning her red coat. Her hair was pulled up in a neat bun. She hustled past me and went in for a hug with my mom. David tried to push her away, but she was not having any bit of his attitude. She started scolding him immediately and smacked his hand away. He argued with her by crying.
“Oh, come on Davey.” My mom frantically started digging through her pockets. She pulled out a small candy bar and gave him half of it.
“Mama! Mama! Da! Wri-wri! Da!” Victor was squirming to get free. He was watching his brother or at least the candy bar hard. I unwrapped him as fast as I could while lowering him to the floor. He took off. “Pe! Mama! Pe! Mama!”
“Ahem.” Lexi was anxiously tapping her foot.
“What, what?! No ‘Lexi I miss you’, ‘How’s it going girl? Are you okay? I was worried!’, I can’t even get a hug from my bestest friend!?!” Her hands flew to her hips. She looked down on me with her nose in the air.
“W-well, I knew you would be here and…” I opened my arms to her, but was rejected by a slap to the hands.
“You wasn’t a lick worried?! I thought I was ya best friend in the whole dang gon world! And to think me and ma’ got ya’ll a present.” Lexi crossed her arms and turned from me. I went in to hug her again, but stopped. Over her shoulder I could see her fighting back a laugh with a huge grin on her face.
“Alexis!” I hit her in the back. “It’s not funny to make people feel bad!”
“Ow!” She hit me back in my arm and boy did it hurt. Without a thought my hand covered the throbbing muscle. Lexi was bigger than me after all. She hits like a brick wall.
“GET OFF ME YOU OVERGROWN GORILLA!”
“Stop crying all the time and I’ll think about it!”
“Bite his nuts off. He’ll let go.”
“Aw man! Ri check it out! It’s the franks!” Lexi laughed as she pointed towards the doorway. Kyle, Damien, and Timothy had come wrestling in. Timothy was egging on his brothers as Kyle was overpowering Damien. Poor Damien. It looked like Kyle was tossing around a pile of clothes. Damien was kicking and swinging wildly and then
Damien’s body hit the floor hard and he went silent.
“Kyle!” Keenan roared over the laughter. His words rang through my ears, flowed down into my blood, and shocked my bones. David and Victor both started crying. Kyle jumped up and back against the wall beside Timothy. They both were pale. Keenan went to Damien and knelt beside him.
“Are you two dumb? What part of ‘keep quiet’ do you not understand!” Logan was standing beside Keenan. I couldn’t see Damien, but I could hear his whimpers and sniffling.
“Are you alright honey?” My mom and Ms Lee went to Damien’s rescue.
“He’s bleedin, but it ain’t all bad. Lexi had a worser cut just the other day! He’ll be just fine.” Damien’s arms squeezed Keenan's back. His words were muffled through his tears, but Keenan spoke clearly.
“It’s just a small scratch. It will heal.”
“Cover it with this.” Ms Lee removed the patchwork one would call a scarf from around her neck and handed it to Keenan. She stood to face Kyle and Timothy. “Ya know, you boys should stop playin ‘round all the time and fight over sumin worth while. Like me! Y'all just ain't got no sense! It's like ya’ll don't see me over here!” Ms Lee started on about her looks and how she had so much to teach the boys. I guess she was about to hit a milestone, because Nathan and my mom both grabbed her aside and pointed towards me and Lexi.
“MA! Stop bein an old vulture! You makin er’body sick!”
“Oh, why don’t you shut ya dang trap! I am a gift to the world!”
“You a gift to make us hurl!”
“‘Xcuse you! Honey don’t gon and forget who you done came up out of! I’ll suck ya right back up! Just ‘SWOOP!’ an ‘POP’! Just like that. Have the good Lord go on and take ya stank attitude right back. You best show me some respect!”
“I pray that is nowhere near how motherhood works Ms Lee.” From the back room of the bookstore Mrs. Elaine Trembol waddled in. She rested one hand on her back and the other on her stomach. She was literally glowing in her yellow dress under the moonlight from the holes in the ceiling. Her frizzy golden hair bounced against her cheeks and over her shoulders. Her smile was as bright as her blue eyes.
“It ought to be! Would’ve saved Eve a mess of trouble. I tell y’all these dang on kids make my ass itch!” Ms Lee stuck her tongue out at us and headed toward Elain with my mom. Nathan was the first to reach her. He kissed her hand.
“Well look at you now, Elaine!” My mom hugged and kissed her too. “I’m surprised to see you out.”
“If my brothers and sisters can find a way through the darkness, then so can I. As well, I see my brothers collecting themselves and still goofing off.
“I’m warning ya boys!” Ms Lee growled at them with a raised fist. “If I gotta come on over there! Kyle, I swear I’m gonna jerk ya bald, boy!”
“Sweetheart you should be sitting down. I can bring everyone in.” Nathan took her by the elbow and tried to turn her around, but she just shrugged him off.
“Love, I genuinely mean it from deep in my heart when I say that ‘I am fine’. You worry so much. Besides, if I remained home, I suppose I would miss out on all of the excitement here.” She nodded towards the boys.” She tried to lean in to kiss him.
“That ain’t gon happen.” Lexi whispered in my ear.
“Hush!” I nudged her in the arm.
“What! They too fat!”
“He ain’t!” My defense of the Trembols was short lived as their bellies bumped together, making Elaine step back. They giggled at each other and both rubbed her stomach.
“Told ya!” Lexi chuckled quietly.
Nathan extended his arm out towards the back room Elaine had come through before. “I suppose we should get started. It’s getting late and I don’t think anyone else is coming.” Elaine nodded. Nathan was the first gone, followed closely by Keenan, the moms with the twins, then mom to be, the rest of the Aider brothers , then Lexi and I.
“Man that Elaine is a piece of work.” Timothy was rubbing his hands together behind Kyle. He removed his green leather coat full of holes and tucked in the dark red t-shirt. He straightened the ripped tie around his neck. Kyle and Damien laughed as he tried to get his curly blondish-brown hair to lay down by licking his hands and pulling it back kind of like Nathan’s. Timothy’s hair was too short to pull back into a ponytail, though. It kept jumping out at the sides of his egg shaped head.
“I would say I’m surprised by your bad taste in women, but then again you’ll jump just about anything, won’t you?” Kyle pushed Timothy’s hair forward and held it down over his face.
“Leave him alone, Kyle. You know he’s into the supernatural and everything. That’s why he likes her. Freakishly short, ghostly pale…” Damien was walking on his toes behind him, waving his fingers around Timothy’s head. “Broad shoulders, big feet, mustache…”
“Would you both shut up!” Kyle caught Timothy’s fist in his shoulder. Timothy swung around to Damien who backed away so quick we almost ran into him. “And of all people, you shouldn’t be talkin, how many times I’ve wiped yo a-!”
“Chill man!” Kyle shoved Timothy against a wall. “It’s not our fault you suck at finding a decent broad!”
“Oh, that’s about as good as it gets coming from you!” Timothy was nose to nose with Kyle. Damien was as quiet as a mouse beside us. “Tell me, how does it feel again to tongue a guy? Asking for a friend.”
“Yo, that was a mistake, num-nuts!” Kyle and Timothy started shoving each other back and forth. They were both red in the face. Somehow they went from joking to fighting again in under a minute.
“Hey! Y'all better cut it short ‘fo my momma come back and give y'all what for!” Lexi forced her way between the two. Timothy gave Kyle one last shove before he let him go and disappeared down the hall. Kyle followed, cursing his name. “Just plain immature”. Lexi’s hands met her hips again as she watched them go.
“They’re trying…” Damien mumbled from behind us. He kept his head down. “It’s hard when dad’s not around…” He sank against the wall and hung his head in his arms over his knees. Lexi’s hands dropped to her sides. She looked at me, then back down the hall after Kyle and Timothy. I went and sat beside him against the wall.
“I’m sorry, Damien. I-I can’t imagine what it feels like to have him and then...” Lexi knelt down in front of him and rubbed his back. We could hear him sniffling. I sat up to face him. “I know Mr Aider… he loved you guys so much. Whenever he came over he would always talk about how much you guys have grown and how well you’re handling everything. He was proud of all of you.” Damien shook his head. He had started whimpering louder and rubbing his eyes.
“Not me. I’m not strong like them. I’m not brave. I’m not smart. I’m lost without him. I can’t-I can’t survive. Dad always helped me. He protected me. Dad was always with me. He knew what to do. He loved me when mom died. He stayed up with me. He found medicine for me when I was sick. He hid me when the officers came. He…” Damien’s voice broke. There was a heavy silence between us. Lexi moved her lips to speak, but Damien cut her off. “They beat him again and again and again… and he never gave me away. He’s gone. They took him from us. They took him because of me! They took him and just left his body there like…” Damien gripped his arms tight. Lexi and I both squeezed him as hard as we could.
“What’s taking so long? Where’s Daim-” I didn’t notice Keenan coming into the hall. His booming voice echoed in the halls and made Lexi and I both jump. He paused when he saw Daimen. He looked away for a moment.
“Was so… his face was…I couldn’t….” Keenan took a deep breath. He moved in between us. He never looked at us.
“Your mothers are looking for you both. Go.” Damien dived into his brother. He flung his arms around him, screaming into his chest. Keenan hushed and rocked him side to side. “I know it hurts.”
“I need him! I want my dad back! I can’t do this without him! I’m scared! I want him back! Bring him back Keenan! Bring him back! You’re the strong one! You know everything! You can fix it!” Damien was, screaming, crying, and wailing into Keenan wildly. Lexi pulled me away from them.
“Come on, let’s go”.
“But, they…” I wanted to stay; to hold Damien a little longer. To help Keenan talk to him, but what could I do? I really didn’t know how he was feeling… How any of them felt. I hadn’t seen or heard from them in almost a year.
“Key’s got it. Come on.”