Standing in the doorway new keys in hand I stared.
I just stood and stared.
My apartment looked like a pathetically gutted fish with forgotten intestines strewn around... He'd taken just about everything even the couch... I wish a could crack a joke about that particular fact but I just don't have it in me to do anything else other than sigh and sag my shoulders. Thankfully Katie had held vigil, I would have charged him with theft if he'd taken my gran's furniture.
I kept the lights off, the street lanterns outside the only source of illumination. It gave the place an eerie hollowed feel.
I made my way to the bedroom.
It was empty I shouldn't be surprised but I am. My stuff lay thrown in the boxes around the room. Luckily the wardrobe is a walk in or he'd probably taken that too.
I smiled at the blowy up mattress Katie had left out for me. At least I wouldn't be sleeping on the carpet
Where was he even going to store all that stuff?
Unless... he already had somewhere to go...
Struggling out of my clothes I found my sleeping bag in the closet.
Remembering the last time I'd slept in my sleeping bag. The night I'd received the keys and the deeds. Naturally I had wanted to spend the first night in my very own apartment. I'd been alone then too, I remember wishing I had someone to share the moment with... Look at me know 4 years later... alone again.
I lay there a long time staring at the crack in the ceiling... I should get that fixed.
The doorknob rattles.
"Boy!" A male voice growls through the door but there's no one to hear it or to let him in. The boy's already slipped out through the window.
Tiptoeing to his neighbours door he reaches for the key he keeps on a string around his neck. Bolting the door behind him he creeps into the living room. It's long past midnight and he doesn't want to wake his friend. He knows what to do.
Getting his accustomed quilt from the chest he curls up on the couch. Mittens saunters over and curls up at his feet keep them warm but the boy is already asleep.
"Couch!" The voice boomed through the locker-room as I'm belting up.
Sighing I slam my locker shut grabbing my hat. Chief seemed to be in a foul mood today. Just great.
"What can I do for you Chief?" His office was small but sufficient. Chief has always been a no nonsense authoritarian.
"Who's Vance Mason?" He demanded holding up a piece of paper.
My face drained. "W- what?" ... the fuck?
"A Vance Mason came in last night and filed a complaint against you."
"A what!" ....
"Conduct unbecoming of an officer." The Chief grunted, his mustache hair bristling.
"I-I don't know what to say... " Wasn't breaking my heart enough! Did he have to break my career too? What the hell was going on?
"Who is this Vance Mason and what is he to you? Angry boyfriend or something?
"Ex. Actually. I kicked him out." I deflated slumping into the chair by the desk.
"When?" he asked
"Not huh? Couch! When!" He snapped. "When did you kick him out?"
"It says here you burst into a motel room without due cause while in uniform that day."
"Yes I did do that." Wouldn't anymore given what I'd seen through the window drapes?
"Look Couch I don't need the details but I can guess what happened." The chief sighed heavily dropping the file on his desk picking up another beside it.
"As it happens a call came in that day complaining of excessive noise coming from the room you barged into."
I grimaced, excessive noise...
"If it hadn't I'd have had no choice but to put this in your file. As it stands I have a separate filling cabinet for disgruntled ex's. It happens more often than you think."
"Thanks Chief." Though gratitude is what I feel my voice sounds void of emotion...
Chief grunted. "Don't thank me yet. We've got a rookie coming in today fresh from the academy. You'll be partnering for a while until he gets the hang of things."
I nod I don't mind the rookies. The sooner they learn how different theory is from practice the better. It save lives on both ends of the law.
I follow the chief out to the break room; it's always buzzing at this hour. The previous shift chatting and filling in the next one.
"Jamison!" The chief grunted and a fresh faced young buck trotted right over. His face gleamed with eagerness and anticipation. "Jamison this is your partner for a while. Couch here knows his business so pay attention to what he does and how he does it. Understood!"
Jamison puffed his chest up a little. "Understood Chief."
The Chief eyed him suspiciously before turning his attention towards the coffee machine. They have an intimate relationship, he tries to treat her right; getting her cleaned every two days like clockwork. In return she gives us the best coffee in the precinct.
"I'm Micah Couch, pleased to meet you." I held out my hand. The rookie smiled taking it eagerly.
He seemed nice enough for a rookie. Eager to learn, that's good his attitude was promising already. Before we could chat any further Mart joined us.
"Yo rookie you're lucky to have Micah here. Taught me everything I know." He grinned. Mart was a great guy, came in as a fresh faced as Jamison about three years ago. He'd learned fast too.
"You always were a natural Mart. How's little Lucy?" his two year old.
"Little fire cracker." He beamed proudly he loved being a dad. "Helen got a little lacrosse stick for her birthday last week. She hasn't let go it since."
"Can you get lacrosse sticks for a two year old?"
"She made it can you believe that! I swear I love that woman, reminds me why I married her." Marts smiled waned looking at me. "Listen Micah I'm sorry to hear about Vance. I'm glad you kicked his cheating ass out."
I was expecting this especially after the 'complaint'. No one gossips like policemen.
"You're queer!" Jamison interrupted me loudly, his face scrunched up in disgust. The room fell silent. I've never hidden the fact I'm gay and although the beginning had been tough as nails I'd earned the respect of everyone in this room. Maybe not their friendship but at least in some way their respect.
Pity... he'd looked so promising too.
"Is that going to be a problem?" I asked, the rooms sudden chill made our little shrimp backtrack a little. Not a complete idiot then...
"Well - I ... "
Yes it was going to be a problem I could see it in his eyes even if he was biting his tongue not to say it.
A large hand gripped his shoulder. Jamison almost buckled under the weight of it.
"You want a different partner son?" Chief asked keeping his voice quiet and pleasant, in that soothing tone you talk to children with. It sent chills down everyone's spin in the room. Chief's scary voice...
Jamison breathed relief. "Yes Chief I do."
"Wrong answer!" he boomed spinning the boy around pushing him into a chair. "Franco!"
"Chief?" A middle-aged woman with soft blond hair and a coffee in hand stepped up beside us.
"Find our rookie a desk will you? He'll not be leaving the station anytime soon."
"What!" the boy yelled. "Because I don't want a gay guy as my partner?" he spat glaring at me.
"Because I can't put you on the streets like this! I can't trust you as a policeman."
"No, you can!" The boy pleaded, seeing his first days on the job dwindle into obscurity.
"Is there anyone who would like to partner up with this rookie?" The chief asked the room keeping his gaze fixed on young Jamison.
No one answered nor raised their hands.
"No one even wants you now, Jamison. You'd be a dangerous partner. What if you get dispatched to a house for domestic abuse and it happens to be between two men heaven forbid. It happens trust me. What would you do? Would you leave him to fend for himself, would you dismiss it cause he's a man and men should be tough and be able to take care of themselves?"
Jamison stared back at the chief confused. It looks like he's never even thought about the possibility of such a situation.
"What if it was a woman being harassed by a man cause she was lesbian, the guy seconds away from raping her to teach her how to be a real woman. What would you do? Let him do it?"
Jamison eyes widened in shock. "No! Of course not!"
"I can't fully trust you not to right now. We see enough hate crimes around here based on religion, gender, sexual preference and skin colour." The chief grunted looking Jamison right in the eyes. "I'm not having any of that in my station. You're a cop now boy. A cop is a cop is a cop. Until you've learned that you're on desk duty."
With that he stomped out of the break room leaving a silent crowd behind.
Franco tugged a dispirited Jamison out of the room.
The others started trickling out one by one. "Can't say we don't have your back Micah." Mart nudged my shoulder. I gave him a small smile. Although I was deeply grateful for their support I sighed at the need of it.
This really wasn't going to be my day.
"Couch speaking." His voice sound tired and bleak
"Micah. It's Ren." Should I have just left him alone, not called?
"Hey Ren what's up?" He's voice picked up, not too sorry to hear from me then... good... that was good.
"What are your plans for today?"
"Urg honestly I had a very shitty week at work and hadn't thought of anything but stuffing my face and staring at a TV screen." He paused sighing heavily "If I still had a TV screen."
"Momma called me saying you looked miserable at lunch today. I guess she was right." Miserable was a polite way of describing it. Momma had all but demanded I check up on him. Not that she needed to threaten me or anything like that, I'm happy to check him out.
"I'm fine really, shit just happens. I'm sorry I worried her." Stop apologizing!
"She worries cause she cares. Anyway I was wondering if I could steal you away for a few hours.... I need some help with this thing."
"What thing?" He asks warily
"It's a surprise. You'll love it trust me." Well I hope you'll love it...
"I don't know Ren..." Micah exhaled at the other end of the line.
"Come one. I'll treat you to dinner, Papi has a plate of meatballs ready just for you..."
Micah hesitated, the line filled with silence before he finally relented.
Our meatballs always do the trick.
"Great I'll pick you up in 15." I hung up the phone before he could protest and quickly gathered my stuff. Standing in front of my neighbor's door I could hear the screaming and shouting going on inside.
The door opened before I could even knock. Billy smiled at me mitt in hand. Always prompt on time this one.
"Hey Cucciolo. Ready?" I ask, Billy grins shoving his cap firmly on his head.
"Yep. Lets go!" Billy's spunky for an 8 year old he races me to the car; we have our routine down pat.
"I need to pick up a friend today. That alright Cucciolo?"
"Friend?" He frowns; he can get a little jealous sometimes.
"He's name's Micah and he's been going through a rough time lately."
"He needs some cheering up?"
"Yup can you help me with that today Cucciolo?"
I love this little guy.
I'm buzzed in immediately and signal Billy to wait for me in the car. The door is ajar when I reach Micah's apartment. I knock before entering.
"Come in! Sorry you didn't give me much time to shower!" Micah voice's bounced around from the bedroom.
"I guess I didn't but we're on a schedule today!" I shout back hoping to god he isn't naked in the other room. Having me lust over him would not be the wisest strategy. Instead I look around the apartment.
I can't believe it is the same place. There is hardly anything left just a few sticks of furniture and boxes brimming with stuff stacked in islands dotting the space. Even the walls are bear, no paintings or photographs decorating them like before.
Vance if I ever meet you, I'm going wring your neck...
"Will sneakers do?" Micah calls out. I make my way through the barren room to the bedroom. Thank god he's dressed...
"Got any cleats?"
Micah turns to me grinning, his whole face alit. He's hair still wet and he's dressed in a simple t-shirt and slacks. He looks amazing.
"I do!" He jumps to the closet rummaging around through the stacks of shoes hidden within it depths.
I thought he'd been joking about the bed. Has he really been sleeping on an air mattress this whole week? No wonder he's had a shitty time at work...
"Ready!" He quips slipping on some easy sneakers and stuffing his cleats and a pair of sweats in bag.
"Great I've someone in the car waiting."
"Micah this is Billy. Billy this is Micah." Ren introduces us once I'm buckled up in the car. I'm riding in the back since Billy owns the front seat.
The boy gives me a tentative 'hi' gripping the mitt in his hands. Once on the road Ren plugs in his ipod.
"Music history Cucciolo." He says nudging Billy. The boy jumped excited before settling down with a serious look on his face. Bring it on.
Ren hits play and familiar cords fill the car.
Billy paused a second before smiling. "The man selling the world?"
"Close, I'll accept that. Lyric's!"
To my surprise Ren and Billy launch into the song singing all the lyrics perfectly. With me in the backseat grinning like some simpleton.
They sing through, Smoke on the water, Help! and even Can't touch this ending with Piano man as Ren pulls up into a little league parking lot.
Piano man is Billy only wrong guess. It's an eclectic jumble of songs but the smile on Billy's makes it all worth it.
He jumps out of the car and races over to the group of kids already grouped out on the field.
"Hey don't diss my methods." He chuckles haling some gear from the truck.
"I am not honestly. I loved it, I'd have joined you if I could sing."
"You call what I did singing?" He cocks his eyebrow at in disbelief but the grin underneath knows what's up.
"Well... erm. Billy didn't seem to care that it was..." Stay polite "... mostly off key." I grin. "Man he has a voice on him."
"Yeah my Cucciolo has bags of talent!" Ren smiled proudly. "You'll see when he's pitching, great arm." Locking the car we make our way across the field.
"So what's my job today?"
"You needed help?"
"Oh yeah well Danny my assistant coach can't make it today ... again." Ren sighed dumping his stuff in the dugout. "I though you'd maybe enjoy it..."
I loved working with the boys and girls on the field. For two hours there was nothing else but the game and the kids. The Little Eagles weren't half bad either; their coach drilled them good but kept it fun.
The Little Eagles... not surprising half of them we're Aquila's. Damn big family by the looks of it.
After practice while the team changed I helped Ren clear up.
"You were right Billy has a good arm on him."
"Yeah I made him join the second he was old enough. He's a fanatic now; we watch games together at home. He actually throws popcorn at the screen when he's upset with the umpire. It's the funniest thing." Ren smiles to himself shuffling around the dugout.
"Is he...?" I'm fairly certain Ren's gay I mean from what I remember and that kiss... It wasn't my imagination right? Of course that didn't mean he couldn't be a father.
"What?" Ren looks up catching my drift. "Mine? Ah! No, no he's the neightbours kid. He was three when I move there." Ren shook his head returning his gaze the bench he was unnecessarily whipping off. "Knocked on my door that very night tummy rumbling so loud it scared the cat."
He has a cat? Big tough Ren didn't seem the cat type... but then again cat people can be surprisingly secretive about it.
"Yeah, got rough home life. The moms all right most of the time but it's the succession of boyfriends that keep messing things up. Treat him like shit." Ren gritted his teeth.
"Didn't you report it?"
"Of course I did. First time I found bruises on his arms I took him to the police myself. He got placed in a group home for a month before she got him back, you know once the boyfriend had up and left. I swear he returned with more bruises than he left with. I wasn't going to make him go through that..." Rens voice turned hard as he gritted his teeth. "...ever again."
I nod. I couldn't do much else, this is one of those situations that as a cop you feel powerless though it should be something you should be able to fix or help prevent.
"Well since then he practically lives on my couch. He's a great kid." Ren's voice shifts obviously done with the conversation. "After practice we usually have burgers at the park, hungry?"
"Starving." I was, famished even.
"Good, after that I need to pop by Frankie's on the way home and pick up a lamp I asked him to keep for me."
"Yeah, you mind?"
I shrug beats sitting in front of a none excitant TV I guess. "What about Billy?"
"He usually tags along with me on weekends."
I nod understandingly.
Billy Batson saves the day!
Once again he's managed to recruit a new comrade in arms in the war against the Phantom Man. The Phantom Man is a very dangerous adversary... he changes his face and appearance every few weeks. One must to stay on guard at all times cause you never know when Phantom Man will strike.
With every different face his powers change. Sometimes it's Super Strength or Fists of Steel. It has also been Lazer Eyes, Sonic Voice and... the Rod of Pain....
With the addition of Captain Red to the team Billy Batson and the Eagle stand a fighting chance against the evils of world. Though their war continues...
Lamp my ass
I shake my head suddenly its Sunday night and I'm standing in a fully decorated apartment.
Ren has a good eye and Billy was only too happy to help. Especially now he knows I'm a cop, he stuck to me like glue the whole time.
It was... nice. You know feeling needed in a way.
I walk through my apartment. Ren and Billy stayed with me the whole day today sorting everything out. Katie came by with pizza's earning Billy's undying love and affection. He just inhales food, where the hell does he put it?
I love this furniture; it's decent wooden stock. A bear of a couch you sink away in and I was lucky Frankie had a box spring bed hidden away in the depths of the warehouse. I love box spring beds, so damn comfortable, waking up on a little slice of heaven.
There was nothing here to even suggest Vance had ever been a part of my life.
It felt good.
... cold too.
You can't really turn off your feelings like a leaky faucet. The drip never really stops no matter what you try.
He's a lying cheating bastard and I'm happy he's out of my life!
But I miss him too... we spend two years together day in day out. That isn't something that just goes away overnight. However much you want it to...
The following weeks go by and I'm surprised at just how much my life has changed from what it was a month ago.
My place has become a hub of activity and I'm hardly ever alone.
Ren's over almost every other night watching a game, bringing dinner or just getting me to help Billy with his homework. He claims to have dyscalculia, but I'm not sure if I believe that. The lamp situation all over again...
Not that I mind.
Billy is great; he's quick as a whip, bounces in from school talking a mile a minute. Did you know bananas are radioactive? Yeah neither did I. The things they teach kids these days...
Ren fusses over him like an anxious dad and Billy loves it. It's really warming to see them together. The Little Eagles love him and he's really in his element around them kids, you can't help but watch him.
He's surprisingly easy to be around.
That is exactly what he is... always around.
I actually look forward to his knock on the door...
"Renzo's here." Donna shouted out through the kitchen. Papi comes rushing forwards whipping his hands on the towel tucked into his waistband. He stops dead before exiting the kitchen having glimpsed his Renzo through the door window.
"He's alone today?" he asks, Donna's beside him in an instant.
"He seems to be. Odd for a Saturday..." she muses
Papi frowns... "Give him the Ceasar Salad."
"So he's coming home for dinner tonight?" Donna spoke softly seeing what Papi had through the kitchen door window.
"Yes." Papi nods firmly, Marco can take over next service. "Our son needs some alone time with us momma. Atlas had a lighter load than Renzo has on his shoulders... He needs some support pillars."
"One Ceasar Salad coming right up."
Donna left to work the front. She didn't question her husbands intuition. They had been married for 33 years, after being together for such a long time a relationship can go two ways. Either you become strangers having grown apart throughout the years or you become a unity: two minds, two bodies and one heart. Donna bustled through from customer to customer in the certain and happy knowledge they were had become the latter.
Jamison has been on desk duty for two month now.
I've started to take pity on him. Two months of filing would make anyone stir crazy.
"Hey Jamison." The break room falls silent as I walk up to our favourite rookie.
"Er... Hey Couch." He replies hesitantly scanning the room. I know the guys have been ignoring him for most of their shifts. I'm not cruel he's suffered enough.
"Ready to ride with me today?"
He perks right up, if he had a tail it would be wagging furiously. "Really?"
"Yes really. I have to warn you I'm still gay."
Jamison almost spills his coffee jumping up. "I honestly don't care!"
"That is the right answer." Mart slaps him on the back making his knees buckle. This kid as some jerky knees...
Our morning is easy enough not too much commotion, a good easer-in for Rookie. By lunchtime we're both famished, I've been craving Cosimo's burgers all week... Probably that secret ingredient he teases me with. I wonder what it could be?
"Micah!" I have but stepped through the door and Donna already comes rushing up. She wraps me in a tight hug and I love it. My mom has never really been the affectionate type.
"Momma!" yeah well... "This is Rookie. Rookie this is Donna Aquila."
"Oh... That Rookie?" Momma asks eyeing his suspiciously. Rookie visibly gulps under her glare. It was camera worthy moment, it really was.
"Yes but it's just Rookie now." I inform her patting him on the back his knee buckles very satisfactory. Teasing him is going to be so much fun.
"Hey Rookie you play ball?"
"You like him don't you?"
"What?" I turn my attention away from Zac's pitch; Micah's showing him how to improve his grip. He's an excellent coach, training the boys has really opened him up... he also looks really good in those shorts. Or any kind of uniform really, first time I came by the station with Billy I almost had to leave just as quickly.
I couldn't take my eyes off of him... he looks damn good in blue.
"You like him don't you?" The guy's who's talking is the last person I expected to utter those words. A few weeks ago Micah started bringing Mathias along to practice.
Nice kid, if not a little wet behind the ears. That's what I thought until I realized it was that rookie.
"Who?" I ask confused.
"Micah!" He grins. It this honestly the same guy?
"Of course I like Micah, he's a great friend." I shrug returning my gaze to said great friend... He's also funny and sweet and drop dead gorgeous.
"No I mean like like, you know."
"What are you five?" I snort-chuckle.
"You know what I mean!"
I twist around to fully look at Mathias. His smile is open and friendly; there is no malice or disgust in the words just plain curiosity.
"You've really changed your tune haven't you?"
"I spend two months filing with Helena at the station. The others just ignored me but she talked to me you know. Tried to get me to see Micah differently. So I watched him. I watched the others too. I started to realize my mom was wrong."
"Yeah..." Mathias looked down, shuffling his cleats. "Reverend Mother Jamison."
"Yup..." It takes him a few minutes to get his thoughts together enough to talk again. "Riding with him these passed few weeks made me really think about all the stuff she used to say. Micah's nice you know. He's good at his job, doesn't take crap from anyone but he's fair. He's... just like anyone else... really..."
"Glad to hear it."
He's silent again for a while as we watch the kids practice.
"So you like him right?" This guy....
"When you change your mind you really do an 180 don't you?"
Mathias just shrugged grinning at me.
"What's not to like?" I smile watching Micah on the field. Zac just threw a perfect curve ball and Micah's hoisting him up on his shoulders running around the field hooting.
I laugh watching him. Really what's not to like? He's just one of those people you want to pull in for a hug and keep him there. That is exactly what I want to do every damn time I'm near him. My heart beats faster when he smiles; it skips a beat when he touches me however innocently.
But it's too soon. I don't want to screw this up by rushing it. I want him, badly but I don't want to hurt him.
"Come on you may have changed your mind about gay's but you still can't bat for crap."
Poker night at my place.
Ren and Billy are making snacks and I'm setting up the table in the front room. I hear them chatting, having fun and knowing them making a right mess in the kitchen. It's a wonderful soothing sound.
I creep to the kitchen door and just stand there leaning against the doorframe watching them. Both backs turned to me, a little conveyer belt of mini sandwiches at the counter.
Billy starts to hum a tune, Ren taps the beat with his knife and they sway to the music. I don't immediately recognize the song until Billy starts with the lyrics.
"Work it - Make it - Do it - Makes Us - Harder - Better -faster - Stronger - More Than - Hour - Our - Never - Ever - After - Work is - Over."
Ren's been itching to introduce Billy to Zappa. I've vetoed that for the time being. He's way too young for Bobby Brown lyrics! God forbid!
I'm pulled away from this amazing little show be the doorbell. Katie and Suzie arrive followed closely behind by Mathias. The looks between him and Suzie these past few poker nights have been highly entertaining to watch.
He's really blossomed this guy. I'm gratefully the months of desk duty didn't turn him sour. He's really taken to the Little Eagles. They love him too; I think they just like to brag they have cops for coaches. Still can't bat for shit though but he'll get there eventually.
We can't get Billy's mom on the phone and Ren's reluctant to take him to an empty house. No one at this table would've allowed that anyway.
Ren takes the sleepy Billy to the spare room, the beds always made up for him. Does this kid ever sleep in his own room? I follow Ren and hear him tuck Billy in. I don't watch I just listen from the hallway. I'm sorry to say that's not the first time I've heard their little ritual.
I don't really know how to feel about that.
As cop I should take him in. There is clear evidence of parental neglect. I should do my duty and do what is necessary for Billy's safety.
I'm not delusional though, putting him in the system often does more harm than good and we would lose him in the process.
Am I being selfish?
Yes I am.
Ren closes the door and I see his mask slip. It's happened before but he mostly hides it away. This time he can't seem to control it. He just slides down to the floor right there in the hallway leaning his back against the wall.
"I can't do this anymore Micah." His voice breaks and my heart lurches out to him. "I don't know what to do. I wake up to him on the couch every morning. If he's not at school he's with me or with you or on the field or at the station. He's clothes are at my place, his schoolbooks are at my place and he eats with us every night. He practically has his own room here for Christ's sake! His mom never calls me asking where he's at or how he's doing. Does she ever remember she has a kid? I'm the one he calls when he's sick, I'm the one he runs to in the middle of the night. I take care of him but I have no legal power to make any decisions. I can't even take him to the hospital if anything happens"
I sink down next to Ren and wrap my arm around his slumped shoulder. Just like Billy he keeps a brave face in front of others. But everyone has his or her limits and this was Ren's.
I've never seen him so vulnerable before... this is breaking him. Slowly but surely breaking him. I've only been in Billy's life for a few months now but Ren's been doing this for years.
"We'll figure it out." I say shifting through all the legal possibility in my mind.
All I can do right this minute is hold him, all I want to do is hold him.
Hold him and keep him right here. I would have continued doing just that, if my cell hadn't started ringing...
Hope you guys like it! I'm working on Part 3: The Thin Blue Line, as we speak.
Comment and/or email me!
This is a piece of fiction. My piece of fiction which may not be borrowed, altered, taken or copied without my explicit permission. These stories are registered under my name.