Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language.
Jace paused to rub his hands on the sleeves of his odd jacket when we arrived at his house. He parked in the street, about halfway between his house and the one beside it. It was an average house in an average neighborhood, whatever that meant to me.
He exited the car and went straight for the dark oak of the front door.
"Let's get moving!" he called. We followed.
Jace wasted no time once inside. He hooked an immediate left into a nook in the wall and descended down the beige carpeted stairs. Payton and I paused for a moment, taking in the foyer. It looked like one of those recepe-built houses that had identical copies all down the neighborhood and all through town. I thought about Jace's warehouse job, struggling to match this cookie-cutter, bland life with the boy who dressed like he had never seen clothes before, throwing on what he liked with no bearing of match or perception. I tugged at my red sweater, the white collared shirt under it feeling too tight around my neck all of a sudden.
"Coming?" Jace's voice rang up the stairs. Payton and I snapped out of our dazes and went downstairs.
To the right, a simple space with couches and a television. To the left, boasting nothing but a half-drawn privacy curtain, was what I could only assume was Jace's room.
It was as eccentric as he was, boasting black smattered with color, posters peeling off almost all of the walls, and a complete mess. Clutter sat on every surface. He had vases, stones, books, plastic cards, jewelry, and more, sitting silently in organized chaos. Clothes covered the floor like a second carpet.
Jace poked through what I'm sure my parents would have called junk and pulled out a small gray felt bag. As he picked it up, it tipped, spilling two or three of the metallic spheres that went rolling under the dresser.
"Not it!" Payton said. "Ash, grab those for us?" They shot me a sarcastically sweet smile, and I grimaced. Jace and Payton looked over the ball bearings and talked about the project Jace had used them for as I knelt beside the chipped white dresser and poked my head under, moving the sea of clothes to make my way.
The three ball bearings were huddled in front of a bright orange cylinder. I grabbed it, but my motion let out a clattering sound. I stopped. I knew what it was before I turned it the rest of the way around. Pills.
They were made out to an Orlov, but a first name I didn't recognize. I knew the prescription was to Jace. I didn't recognize the name of the medication, but the date on it was old.
I remembered when I was younger and took mild painkillers for a crack to my sternum from falling off a jungle gym. I had thought I had lost a bottle on our overnight trip to a hotel to see family, so my mother had bought another. I found the lost bottle behind the sink a few days later, and had taken it to my mother, crying. She had cared more about stopping my tears than the pills. I don't think I ever cried in front of her again.
I wondered how true that was to this situation as I brushed the dust off of the bottle. The idea of taking it flitted through my mind. I put the bottle down. I collected the three ball bearings into a chilly mass in my palm. I wondered how Jace would react to my taking them. My mother; my father. Rage and shame on top of disappointment from the one that mattered most. And the other two, but what did they matter? I lied to myself.
I didn't want to take them. But I knew if I asked, I would be told not to. And then I would comply.
I slipped the bottle into my sleeve and straightened up.
Jace broke off his words to Payton to smirk at me and hold out the pouch. I felt a dash of guilt, but also freedom. Control. Like what I felt when I sculpted but intensified threefold.
I poured the ball bearings into the pouch, carefully so as not to rattle the bottle in my pocket.
A door opened and closed upstairs, and heavy, uneven footsteps rattled the ceiling above us. Jace looked up and his face paled. A deep voice called out a name. It was the same name that was on the bottle. I imagined I would see it on Jace's birth certificate too.
"Out the back door," Jace whispered, eyes still fixed on the ceiling. My stomach went cold and dropped through the floor. It was a familiar feeling. I wondered if Jace's gut had done the same thing when that door had opened. Now he turned to us, shooing us toward the sliding glass door. The house was built on a slope, so the back of the basement was exposed to the open night air.
"Now!" Jace whispered. He walked to the door as quickly and silently as possible. He flipped the latch open and worked the door open slowly to minimize noise. I squeezed out the second the opening was wide enough for me.
The voice called out that name again.
"Yeah?" Jace said reluctantly.
"Where are you?" the voice thundered.
I was out now, and Payton followed.
"Down here!" Jace answered. He waved another hand at us, motioning toward the car out front. He closed the door with one last meaningful look at Payton and I, who were standing dumbly shoulder to shoulder. The soft sound of the door closing brought us to light, and I made a break for the corner of the house, aiming to turn and sprint to the car.
"Ash!" Payton murmured. I looked back and they were crouched below the window positioned between the door and the corner.
"Payton, Jace would want us to leave."
"And?" they snapped. "Do whatever the fuck you want."
The words struck me, and I kneeled in the damp grass beside Payton, with no thought to what I wanted, just that this was the opposite of what I would be expected to do.
Jace had just relocked the door and vaulted onto the couch, pulling out his phone and putting on a casual air just as a heavy shape lumbered down the stairs.
Someone sucked in a breath, but I wasn't sure if it was Payton or me.
The man was a looming figure, scraggly-looking and peering through bleary red eyes.
It was Payton's father, without a doubt. They shared the same hook in their noses, thick eyebrows, and contemptuous set of their jaws.They likely had shared the same hair color at one time; the man's hair was colored the same oil-slick black as Jace's roots came in when his artificially straw-blond hair grew out.
The two were exchanging words, and Payton and I sank just low enough to see them. The threat of being seen hung tight in the air like a mist.
The man's words sounded angry, or slurred, or both. I couldn't tell if he was speaking English. Whatever he said, Jace understood it, and answered with what appeared to be as few words as possible. They didn't seem very respectful, because the man lurched forward with more speed than it looked like his stature would have allowed. He grabbed Jace by the collar and heaved him to his feet, gesturing at his son's clothing and spoke sternly and just short of a shout. The volume didn't make him any easier to understand. Jace retorted again.
I knew what would happen before the man reared back, before Payton and I ducked out of sight, before we heard the impact and the cry. I had heard once that dogs could sense lightning. I wonder if I had felt what they do.
I felt the man's feet lumber back up the stairs through my position pressed against the wall. I couldn't call him Mr. Orlov in my head. The vibrations of his steps sent vibrations into the cool metal of the wall that my ear was flush against.
Payton and I pulled ourselves up slowly, without even discussing whether or not we should look in to see the aftermath.
Jace was on the floor, curled up in some sick mockery of the fetal position. His chest was heaving, and his limbs tightened inwards. I didn't know how long we stayed there, unwilling eyes locked on the prone body of our friend. Jace began to push himself up, and his eyes met ours.
He was on his feet in moments, flinging open the window. I imagined the night air was soothing on the red flush of his face and the mottled, deeper color bleeding into the impact that had landed on his cheek.
His eyes were somewhere closed to crazed, so unlike the shining anger I had anticipated. He looked at us desperately.
"Not a fucking word, you got it?" snarled. "Not a word."
He didn't wait for a response. He slammed the window closed, making all three of us flinch. Jace whipped around to watch the stairs. The three of us were breathless for a moment, before Jace seemed satisfied. I could see his exhale in the way his shoulders drooped. He turned back to the window, not making eye contact with Payton or I, and closed thin lace curtains. I could see his silhouette behind the film for moments before it disappeared. It didn't shrink away as Jace walked away and up the stairs. It just dropped out of view. I didn't have to peer through the veil to know that Jace had lowered himself to the carpet.
Payton and I looked at each other, but the moment it happened was so tense and emotional that we had to break away immediately. I went to the car, Payton's steps following closely behind mine. In the car, we sat for a moment, staring silently out through the windshield. A buzzing rang in my ears. Payton started the car and the radio blared to life. The drive to Lily's house was filled with the radio and deliberate lack of eye contact. The music wasn't any that either of us liked, I knew that much, but neither of us had the heart to change the station.