Chapter 11: The Wood’s Secrets

An Hour Later

Adam and I sat in front of the television, not speaking to one another. Everyone always busted my chops for being uptight and moody, but Adam was a lot worse—at least in the moody department. I didn’t want to press him on what he told me earlier, but it was eating me alive. What did he have planned, and why was it risky?

We decided to leave my television in the living room since it was bigger while theirs sat on a dresser in their bedroom. The house was coming together, but it was still rough to look at. Even though I hated the guy, Austin knew what he was doing. He fixed the plumbing in the kitchen, patched the holes in the walls, tightened the loose boards on the porch, and replaced the wiring on a faulty outlet that nearly caught fire. 

The front door squealed open, and both Simon and Austin strolled inside. 

“I gotta fix that,” Austin said, examining the hinges. 

Simon stepped up to me and held out his hand. “I need money.”

“How much?”

“Uh… how much you got?”

“Simon,” I snapped, grabbing my wallet from my back pocket. “What are you going to get?”

“Groceries. Gotta get enough to last all of us the week.” 

I turned to Adam. “I don’t have enough money to feed two werewolves for a week. Give Simon some of yours.”

“Hell no. I’ve been waiting a whole month to get my check, and I’ve got shit to buy.”

“You got fifteen hundred, right?”

“Why are you asking? You get the same amount I do.”

“Good, the rent’s due. That’ll be seven hundred.”

Adam shot up off the couch. “You’re outta your damn mind.”

I jumped up and got as close to his face as I could without running into him. “No. I’ve been overly generous. Now pay the fuck up.”

Both of us snarled, and I started seeing that red hue again.

“What the hell’s goin’ on with you guys?” Simon asked, pushing us apart before turning to Adam. “If you’re gonna live here, you gotta contribute. Art can’t do everything himself, and I don’t got a job yet.” His tail wagged. “And I know what I’m gonna cook tonight to put you grumps in a good mood.”

“Seven hundred is too much,” Adam said. “Four hundred.”

“Seven hundred,” I repeated. 

“Five hundred.”

“Seven hundred,” I said slower, emphasizing each word. “And I’m about to go to eight if you keep being a cock about it.”

After a brief pause, the half-turn finally relented, nearly tearing his pants as he jerked out his wallet. “You’re such a piece—”

“Keep pushing me, and you can find somewhere else to live.”

Adam slapped the money into my hand before storming off to his bedroom. 

Licking a finger with a victorious demeanor, I pulled three hundred dollars out of the stack. “Here,” I said, handing the money to Simon. “This should be enough for now.”

Simon leaned in, whispering in my ear. “That was kinda hot.”

I looked over at Austin, who seemed too preoccupied with the door to care about what was going on. 

“What did you guys talk about?”

“Later,” Simon said, giving me a hard sniff before heading toward the front door. “Still wanna come with?” He asked Austin. 

“Yeah, sure.”

The two pushed their way outside, closing the squeaky door behind them. Austin seemed calmer than usual, which made me even more curious about what Simon said to him. Between that and Adam’s secret, I needed to do something to occupy my mind before all of it drove me nuts. 

The floorboards groaned under my feet as I walked down the hallway. Everything in this house made noise with even the slightest agitation, and as I stepped into the backyard, an idea hit me as I examined the weed-covered fire pit. Since I didn’t know much about contract work, this would be my project. 

I was able to clear a path through the tall grass and vines to the sitting area with a sharpened sickle I found in the shed. It worked surprisingly well, and the pendulous swinging was calming in its own way. Before I knew it, a half an hour had passed and the entire backyard was a little less unruly. I’d already cleaned the weeds out of the pit, but I’d need to gather firewood if I was going to get any use out of it tonight. 

There weren’t any dead limbs in the yard, and I didn’t have an ax. The only option was to take a little stroll through nature, but in order to do that, I had the herculean task of talking myself into it. Any time I wandered too close to the trees I’d get that uneasy feeling I’d been experiencing most of the day, like a hundred eyes were trained on my every move. 

I tried everything from slapping my face to running at full sprint, but the end result was always the same. After several more minutes of working up the nerve, I finally found my confidence as I crossed the forest’s edge. I was a goddamn werewolf…well almost, and these were just trees. Half-turns could be just as dangerous as werewolves—at least according to Simon, so what the hell was I afraid of? 

The confidence I exuded earlier gradually evaporated as I hiked deeper into the dense trees. Something seemed off, because the further I went, the darker it got. There weren’t that many trees, and it was only a little after five; however, it may as well have been dusk since as the canopy swallowed the rest of late afternoon sun.

“Oh, this was a really dumb idea,” I whispered, turning around so I could backtrack, but I didn’t know which way I was going anymore. As a human, I had a terrible sense of direction, and as a half-turn, I didn’t even have a werewolf’s sense of smell to guide me back. I was nothing more than a hairy little chicken shit, lost in the woods. 

Branches snapped in the distance all around me, giving that feeling I had earlier more weight. I wasn’t nuts; there was someone—or something out here, and whatever it was had been watching me. Perhaps I did have more refined senses, I just didn’t know how to utilize them.

“Hello?” I called out, trying to keep my voice at a calm decibel. The stillness of the air was interrupted by a sharp breeze hitting my face, as if something ran past me at blinding speed. Now the panic set in, but fear, oddly enough, was what I needed to force myself into an aggressive stance as the red hue returned to my vision. Maybe this was more than just an uncontrolled rage; it was a survival mechanism. I needed to be able to fight off whatever this was. 

The will to fight suddenly faded as a dozen or so sets of glowing eyes closed in from the trees. Once again, my body behaved strangely, and a calm washed through me, as though I was in the presence of the familiar. 

“Hello?” I said, quieter this time, my voice trembling. 

Whatever creatures these were didn’t make a sound at first, but the silence was replaced by sniffs.

“Are you guys werewolves?”

No response.

I backed away, but hit something. At first, I thought it was a tree, but it was furry and gave a little. I jumped and turned toward the tall figure staring down at me with orange, glowing eyes. As I assumed, he was a werewolf, but there was something different about him. His feet were more paw-like, and he wore a frayed leather rope around his waist with about six fist-sized sacks hanging from it. There were thick braids on the lower part of his black mane with different colored feathers tied to them with leather strips. 

He held out his large hand, never breaking eye contact with me. Simon told me half-turns were like catnip to werewolves, and I wondered if I’d just run head-first into an evening of sexual assault. Were these the feral werewolves I’d read about? I didn’t even know they were this far south; in fact, no one had ever had proof they existed. There was no other explanation; they weren’t normal.

“Can you speak?” I asked as more of these strange-looking wolfmen emerged from the shadows. Some wore loincloths, some had feathers in their fur, while a few younger-looking ones had short, braided tails and bluer eyes. They surrounded me, each taking turns smelling a different part of my body. I was helpless. I could only stand there and let them do whatever they wanted. 

The taller among them, the one with the sacks tied to his waist, held up his hand and the pack dispersed back into the woods. He reached into one of his sacks and pulled out a smooth prismatic stone resembling an opal. With a stony expression, the werewolf took my hand before placing it into my palm. After that, he pointed in what I assumed was the direction I’d come from, and just as quickly as he appeared, he vanished.

I held my chest and took in a full breath of air for the first time in what seemed like hours, but the encounter was brief. Looking down at my palm, I shuffled the pretty stone around. Why did he give me this? Perhaps an elder would know. Were there any in this town? Perhaps the half-turn I saw earlier or one of the local werewolves would know. 

I stuffed the stone into my pocket and dashed toward the direction the silent wolfman pointed toward earlier. The sky lightened until dappled sunlight warmed my skin through the canopy. The yard was just ahead, and the fear melted into a calm euphoria. I had stumbled across something that might be remarkable, if I was right. Perhaps I had this place pegged all wrong, and instead of looking at it through the lens of a human outsider, I could look at it as a werewolf would. 

“You always have that dumb-looking smile on your face,” Adam said, putting a brief damper on my mood. He was sitting on one of the logs around the pit. “I thought you were getting firewood.”

“Not tonight,” I said, making my way to the back door. Adam stood and ran over to me. 

“You were right there. You could have at least gotten something to burn.”

“If you want a fire, go get the wood yourself.”

Adam paused and then let out a sigh. “Why are we fighting? We’re supposed to be friends.”

“You tell me. You’re the one that’s been shitty when all I’ve been trying to do is help and keep our heads above water.” Adam looked away, but I knew what this was about. “I didn’t take that money from you because I want to hoard our riches and buy shit for myself. Until I have a steady income that’s more than a monthly government check, we need to have emergency funds ready. We’ve got two werewolves that eat like horses, and we still have to pay the utilities and whatever other costs creep up.”

“You do realize that werewolves hunt, right?”

I couldn’t help but laugh at that as I entered the house. “I’ve never seen Simon hunt for anything other than the remote control.”

“He caught that giant fish with his bare hands.” 

I’d forgotten about that. 

“We’re not going to starve. Austin and Simon can do things we can’t, and if it came down to it, they’d get us food. There were times Austin and I had no money for food, and he would go out at night and hunt. The next morning, there was meat in the fridge for me.” Adam’s face twisted into more of a look of disgust. “I don’t know what kind of meat he hunted in the city, but try not to think too much about it. Werewolves have a strong instinct to take care of half-turns. Even if some of them treat us like shit.”

“I didn’t know that. Why the hell are we wasting money on groceries when they could just go out there and get us something?”

“Good luck getting a werewolf to go hunting when it’s not out of desperation.” 

“Oh, they will. We control the money, remember?”

Adam reached into his pocket and handed me a wad of cash. “You control the money. You’re more responsible than I am, plus Austin has a way of talking me into giving him extra cash.”

I took the money and shoved it into my pocket with the rest. “How much money have you given him?”

“A lot. I don’t know what he spends it on either.”

“How much you wanna bet he’s been holding out on us?”

“What do you mean?”

“He doesn’t buy anything, right?”

“He apparently bought all those tools without me knowing.”

I slowed my pace as we approached their bedroom. 

“What are we doing?” Adam asked.

“If he’s anything like me, he’s got a stash somewhere.”

“He’s nothing like you.” Adam pulled open a few drawers. “God, why do we have such a big dresser when I’m the only one that wears any clothes?”

After checking the nightstand drawer and finding nothing but one Adam’s dildos, I paused, stroking my chin as I gave this more thought. “The bedroom’s too obvious.”

“You’re giving him way too much credit.” 

“And you’re underestimating him,” I said, stepping back into the hallway. “He’s been spending a lot of time on the porch.”

“He’s been fixing it. I’m surprised both of them haven’t broken through the steps.”

We both wandered onto the front porch, and I looked around for anything out of place. “Keep an eye on the road. If you see them coming, say something.”

“I feel like we’re on a heist.”

“We are. If Austin’s been hoarding your money, I’m going to sniff it out.”

“I swear, you must be Jewish or something.”

My mouth fell open and I crossed my arms. “That was incredibly racist.”

“Heh, says the white guy.” There was a long, uncomfortable pause before he gave me a shove. “So, am I right? Are you a stereotype?”

“No!” I let out a growly breath and lowered my head. “Maybe on my dad’s side. Let’s drop this conversation before we both offend one another.”

“Snowflakes aren’t black. You’re not going to offend me.”

“Not having this discussion,” I muttered, while reaching in between a couple loose boards to see if one would pull away from the porch. It didn’t budge. “Shit. Where the hell is he hiding it.”

“I’m telling you, there’s no stash.”

I pressed my heel into each floorboard, listening carefully. “Austin’s ex-military, and he’s really secretive. I know for a fact he’s self-disciplined and paranoid enough to squirrel money away.” One of the floorboards rattled and pulled away from the porch under my foot. “Bingo!”

Adam eyed me curiously as I pulled the board up. It was the last one closest to the edge, so chances of anyone stepping on it was slim to none. 

“It’s not like Austin to leave it like this, don’t you think?” I said, reaching down into the crawlspace. My hand brushed against a tin box, so I grabbed it and pulled it out, replacing the board. 

“Gee, I wonder what’s in here,” I said as I loosened the cover with a clawed fingernail. It popped open and several rolls of hundred-dollar bills lined the tin. I gave Adam an ‘I told you so’ look before putting the lid back on. 

“That motherfucker.” 

I pulled the board back up and placed the tin back into the crawlspace. 

“What are you doing? That’s my money!” Adam shouted. 

“Shh,” I said, making sure everything was the way I found it. “Yeah, and what? I’m going to just take thousands of dollars away from a mentally unstable werewolf? I’ve got a better idea. I want to let him dig his own grave. From now on, give me any money you make, and I’ll put it in my safe.”

“That’s going to piss him off.”

“Tell him Arthur said he can die mad.”

“Jeez, Art. You need to be careful. He’s never gotten physical with me, but I’ve also never talked to him the way you do.”

“Well, if you’re right about him, then I need to stand my ground. Otherwise, he’s just going to treat me the way he treats you, and I’ve got no patience for that bullshit. Especially since I intend to hold most of the cards.”

We entered the living room and sat on the sofa. “This is turning into a dictatorship, just so you know.”

“As long as I’m the dictator, I see nothing wrong with this. We’re half-turns, Adam. We need to have some kind of control over them. When I found out how vulnerable we are, it scared the shit out of me, and I’m not going to let us end up in a hopeless situation.”

Adam propped his feet up on my lap and laid his head against the arm of the couch. “I guess I trust you more than anyone else.”

“Well, Derrek told me to look after you, so I’ll do that.”

He kicked my leg. “I don’t need to be looked after. I’m not a child.”

“You literally just turned nineteen.”

“And you’re only three years older than me, so stop pretending you’re a fucking sage.” 

“What can I say? I’m an old soul.”

“Yeah, and boring as fuck.” Adam grabbed the remote and flipped on the tv while I propped my feet up on the coffee table. “Did you know Austin wants Simon to fuck me in front of a camera? Like I’d ever let that gross old wolf put his dick in me.” He looked over, but didn’t seem at all fazed by what he said. “No offense or anything.”

“Yeah sure,” I muttered. “Simon may not be the cleanest or the most well-spoken, but at least he’s sincere and treats me like a friend.” 

“Sounds like you’re in love.”

“Sounds like you’re jealous.”

Adam didn’t respond; instead, he clicked his tongue and changed the channel. 

“You want to fuck Simon, don’t you?”

“Hell no!”

“Admit it. It’s not like I’m gonna tell anyone.” My grin widened. “That’s why you’re such a prick to him. You want him to bend you over.”

Adam kicked me again. “Shut the hell up!”

“He makes me come at least six times before blowing his load. He may be old, but he knows exactly what he’s doing. You’ve heard us, so you know.”

“Art—” He paused and narrowed his eyes. “Seriously? Six times?”

“He’s really good.”

“You’re fucking with me right now, aren’t you?”

I shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not. It’s not like you’re gonna find out.”

Adam glared at the television, but didn’t say anything else. 

The front door opened and Simon walked in with several bags of groceries draped over each arm. Austin was also carrying more. 

“Honey, I’m home, and I brought us some vittles,” Simon said. 

“Do you have to talk like that? Like a dumbass hillbilly?” Adam stood up and stomped into the bedroom. 

“What the hell did I do?” 

“You turned him on,” I said, grabbing a few of the bags before making my way into the kitchen. “What did you get?”

“Oh boy, yer in for a real treat tonight.”

“Don’t forget to put on your little boob dress while you’re making us dinner,” Austin said, reaching for the drill he sat on the dining room table earlier. 

“Apron!” Simon snapped, pulling the new folded fabric from one of the bags he sat on the counter. With a flick of the wrist, he shook it out. “Look at this. Ain’t it great?”

The apron had a plump pair of bare breasts on the front with the phrase, ‘Motorboat the Cook’ underneath in large, bold letters. 

“Well, there goes my boner, permanently,” I said while putting the cold stuff in the fridge. “Where the hell did you get that? I’m sure they weren’t selling them at the grocery store.”

Simon slipped into the neck loop, tying the strap around his waist. “They got all kinds o’ neat little shops around town, and I’ve been looking for a new apron.” 

“And that’s the one you settled on.”

“It was the breast one there was.” The werewolf cracked up at his own pun, while Austin and I groaned. 

“You didn’t happen to see any places to buy kuu’s, did you?”

Simon opened a cabinet and lined the shelves with different types of dry pasta. “Nah. We didn’t walk through the whole town. Why do you wanna know that?”

“I found something that I’d like to have appraised by someone who knows a thing or two about rocks,” I said, digging the opal out of my pocket. “Look at this.”

“Ain’t that pretty. Where’d you find it?” 

“In the woods.”

I deliberately chose to be careful with my words, not because I was worried everyone would think I was nuts, but because I wanted a secret of my own. Maybe I’d let them in on it later.

“I bet you could sell it for a lot,” Austin said, giving the gem a closer look. “That looks valuable, and we could use the money.”

I closed my hand and put the opal back in my pocket, before tossing the werewolf a suspicious glance. “We’ve got plenty of money.”

“Hardly,” Austin grunted. “Those government checks aren’t enough to tide us over.”

“I’m sure there’s extra money around here somewhere,” I said, shoving cheap cuts of meat into the freezer. “This house is pretty old, so who knows what’s under it. Could be buried treasure.”

That caught Austin’s attention, but the werewolf remained quiet. 

“Wouldn’t that be sweet,” Simon said as he pulled a pan out from under the cabinet. 

“Heh, yeah.” Austin’s eyes shifted before he made his way outside. The sound of drilling could be heard from the porch, and I knew exactly what that dipshit was doing.

“So,” I said, leaning against the counter. “What did you guys talk about?”

Simon filled a large pot with water before setting it on the old gas stove. “I know he’s a little rough, but think of him like… a wet lump of clay that was dropped on the ground and stepped on a few times. It’s got dirt and grass and all kinds of shit in it, but it can still be cleaned and made into something nice.”

“Austin’s a piece of shit. Got it.”

“Art,” Simon scolded as he poured salt and oil into the water. “He’s ain’t that much older than you, so he’s still a kid.”

I raised a brow.

“Yeah, I know. Yer an old man trapped in a twink’s body.”

I ground my teeth and Simon flinched. 

“You know what I mean,” he finished. “Anyway, I see through him. He’s not as tough as he pretends to be, but he’s in a place where you gotta be delicate or you lose him.”

“Well, looks like I lost him.” 

“Not exactly.” Simon leaned against the counter on the other side of the kitchen, staring at me. “He’s testing you. He’s testing all of us to see where he fits in, and right now he’s confused.”

“You make it sound like they’re going to be here a while. Adam’s been acting weird lately, so he’s probably about to turn. Once that happens, they’re both going to be climbing over themselves to leave this place.”

“You’re makin’ a lot of assumptions. We don’t know what’s gonna happen when Adam goes full-turn. They might leave, or we might have us a pack.”

“I hope they leave.”

Simon shook his head. “I’m hopin’ they stay. You’ve gotta admit, it’s been a lot more interesting with those two.”

“If by interesting you mean frustrating and stressful, then yes.”

“You and Adam still arguing?”

“The dude’s hot one second then cold the next, so I don’t have a clue. I keep trying to be his friend, and when I feel like we’re getting somewhere, he gets all pissy about something stupid.”

“What’s he pissed off about this time?”

I gave Simon a grin. “Let’s just say, he doth protest too much.”

“I—don’t know what that means,” he said, checking the pot as it roared to a slight boil. 

“It’s not a big deal. It’s just funny,” I said, packing the rest of the groceries away in the cupboard. “I mean, I understand why he is the way he is, but it still doesn’t make it any less frustrating.” I closed the cabinet door and looked back at Simon. “I really miss Derrek. I wish he were here.”

Simon ran a finger under my chin. “He’s a good guy. Who knows, maybe he might get sick of the ocean one day and make his way up here.”

“You know that’s never going to happen.”

“Not a chance,” Simon said, moving away to pour the dry ziti into the pot. 

“I didn’t know you were supposed to boil it if you’re gonna bake it anyway.”

Simon looked like someone punched him in the gut. “You… How the hell did you manage to survive all these years by yerself without starving to death?”

“I don’t know what the big deal is. It’s just pasta, sauce and cheese.”

“And somehow you managed fucked it up,” Simon growled. “I still have nightmares about it. All that wasted food because you didn’t want to pull yer head out of yer ass.”

“I still don’t know what I did wrong.”

“See what I’m doin’ here?” Simon asked, pointing to the pot. “Dry pasta only works if you’re combining everything in a Dutch oven or something like that, but that ain’t what you did. Second, you can’t just dump everything into a glass pan and throw some cheese on top. You gotta layer it in some way. And your third sin was using glass bakeware on higher heat. Nothing’s gonna cook evenly, which is one of the many reasons everything was burned on the top and raw in the middle.”

“Well, I know now. It’s easy enough to fix.”

“I’m only scratching the surface of your ignorance.”

“Alright! Jesus Christ. I never learned how to cook, okay?”

“Cooking and common sense go hand-in-hand, Art. You didn’t bother to read the back of the pasta box before you dove in?”

“Oh my God, you’re actually angry with me, are you?” I said with a slight chuckle as Simon’s ears went from pressed against his head to relaxed and pointed off to the side. 

“Naw, I don’t get angry.”

“Sure,” I said, sitting up on the counter, my legs spread in an inviting pose. Simon stepped over and leaned against me, pressing his nose into the crook of my neck. 

“Yer smellin’ really good.” 

“Shit. Do I stink again?”

He backed away. “I think you better go shower. Don’t make me choose between sex and overcooking my pasta.”

“Why is this so good?” Adam asked with his mouth full while shoveling in more. “What did you lace this with?”

“Love,” Simon said, looking rather proud of himself.

Austin hadn’t said a word, but didn’t stop eating either. I couldn’t blame him. This was the best thing Simon had made so far. 

“This was your plan all along, wasn’t it?” I said, scooping more onto my plate, the cheese so gooey that it fell on the table in strands. “This is your revenge for me making fun of you. You want to fatten me up.”

The old werewolf said nothing, only smiled as he flashed his eyebrows. 

“What else can you cook?” Austin asked. 

“It’s easier to list what I can’t.”

“I’ve been in the mood for venison.” Austin shoved another forkful into his maw, smacking loudly. I wasn’t looking forward to eating like that when I finally made the shift. “I’ll hunt it, you cook it. Deal?”

“I get to cook deer, and I don’t have to run and catch it? Shit. Sign me up.”

I looked over at Adam and we both silently chuckled, remembering the conversation from earlier. Simon was hands-down the laziest werewolf I’d ever met, but when it came to cooking, there were no corners cut. Austin offering to hunt was a bit of a curveball though.

“Oh!” Simon said as if he’d forgotten something. He reached behind him and grabbed an envelope off the counter. “Look. Our first piece of mail.”

I snatched the letter out of his hand. “Is that my check?”

“I dunno. It’s from the courthouse here in Norwich.”

“Uh oh,” I said, tearing open the envelope. As I scanned the letter, I was a little more relieved. “We need to go to city hall tomorrow.”

“All of us?” Adam asked.

“That’s what it says. It’s nothing serious, just a mandatory welcome.”

“Mandatory… welcome.” Austin’s eyes went wide. “Sounds welcoming. I’ll pass.”

“It’s mandatory, Austin,” I said, pointing to the bold lettering.

“I’m not going into a government building. They’ll have to come find me first.”

“Maybe the three of us can go up there without him,” Simon said.

“I don’t think that’s gonna fly.” I handed the paper to Austin. “Your choice. Come with us, or wait and see what happens. I’d rather us not draw too much attention to ourselves, and I think you’d agree.”

“I don’t like this,” he whispered, reading over the document.

“It’s a small town in the middle of nowhere. There aren’t any black helicopters,” Adam said sarcastically.

Austin slammed the letter onto the table. “You think this is funny?”

“No, I think it’s stupid. No one’s after you. The military probably doesn’t even give a fuck where you are.”

“You just want them to take me. That’s what you’ve always wanted.” Austin stood up and backed away from the table. “I bet you’ve been tipping them off this whole time, pretending to be on my side. Now they’re always watching me.”

“Austin,” Simon said calmly. “If Adam had done that, you’d already be gone.”

“Maybe all this is a lie. Maybe I’m still there… hooked up to some machine and this is all just a dream.”

The far-away expression, the constricted pupils, the heavy breathing… Austin was having a full-blown panic attack. Simon stood up and carefully approached the snarling werewolf. 

“Why don’t you come with me to the bedroom,” he said, reaching for the larger werewolf’s hand. 

Austin’s eyes wildly scanned the room and his breathing turned to panting. Simon was able to grab his hand before gently leading the other werewolf toward the hallway. 

“Everything’s fine,” Simon assured, putting one careful step in front of the other. One wrong move could have sent Austin into a panicked fit of rage. I’d never seen someone so on the edge as the werewolf trembled, drool roping from his maw onto Simon’s arm. “They really fucked you up there, didn’t they?”

The other werewolf didn’t say anything, but he did allow Simon to lead him into the room. The door clicked closed leaving Adam and I in stifling silence. 

“I hate it when he gets like that,” Adam said, continuing to eat as if nothing happened. “You guys get to see what I’ve been dealing with for over a year.”

“That was awful. The guy really needs help.”

“Good luck convincing him to get any,” Adam said coldly before setting his fork down. “No one can force him to do anything, but he’s too afraid of change. So he just stays in his own little hell.”

“You don’t seem very concerned.”

“Because I’m not. I’m past that. I learned a while ago that I can’t do a damn thing, and it’s up to him now. I tried everything, but now I’m just tired. Maybe I will dip once I turn. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life babysitting someone who doesn’t want to help himself.”

“I guess I understand,” I lied. There was no way I could, but from what I just witnessed, I could try. It was easy to spot the fatigue on Adam’s features. He was still a kid, and this was too much for him. Hell, it would have been too much for me.

“You were right. There’s more to Simon than I give him credit for,” Adam said as stood away from the table, carrying his plate to sink. “Maybe a really really small part of me finds that kind of a turn-on.”

“Oh?” I said, giving the half-turn a knowing grin. 

“Really small. Almost microscopic,” he added. 

“Sure Jan.”

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