My blood runs cold at the sound of his voice. A voice so alien after months of blissful silence.
"You don't get to call me honey, you prick."
"That hurts baby... I used to be your Teddy Bear remember? You still have feelings for me I know you do... No one can just throw away what we had together... the passion, the closeness... we are great together. Don't you feel anything anymore?
"Sure I do like a bad dream I'm happy to wake up from. What do you want Mr Mason?"
"Don't be so cold Mimi honey, you love me... I miss you."
"You forfeited the right to 'miss me' when you started screwing around on me Mr Mason. Is that why you called, in some misguided attempted to get back together?"
"Who's that guy that keeps coming around to our apartment?"
"Excuse me?" My anger drops a sudden flash of fear strikes me as I register the full extent of his words.
"The one with the kid. I didn't know you were into that kind of play Micah..."
"Shut your mouth right now you disgusting bastard. You've been watching me?"
"I drive passed your place everyday... on my way to work."
I almost pull the phone from my ear to check my caller ID. I... is this really Vance?
"I can't help but see who comes and goes Micah. It isn't illegal to drive passed a house you know. You never have so much company when I'm with you."
His usage of present tense instead of passed tense was really grating my rising blood pressure. I wanted to scream and shout and chew that the sleazy cheating bastard out. I wanted to rip him a new asshole. I wanted to slap him and push him into next week.... I wanted to do all that and more... but I'm suddenly paralyzed.
I don't know how to react. He's watching me and if he's been watching me he's been doing so for a while... I feel Ren look up at me confused, my arm still around his shoulders. A moment of granite hard reserve surfaces again.
"What I do and whom I'm with is none of your business anymore Mr Mason. Don't call again."
I'm nervous. My hands are shaking as I clutch the most important papers I've ever held in my hands. My sweaty clammy hands...
Alfredo pats me on the shoulder in silent encouragement and I finally work up the nerve to knock on the door. I wish I could have Micah here... I always feel so much stronger when he's around.
After a few long quiet minutes the door opens to a big burly man with a greying mustache and receding hairline looking down at us. His wife beater and torn jeans completed his beer in hand style outfit. You always think cliché's are fictional and stereotypical... until you remember why they became cliché's in the first place...
"We don't buy at the door." Was his gruff greeting to two strangers knocking. I hadn't seen this one before... he must be the new current boyfriend.
"I'm Renzo Aquila the neighbour just two door down...?" I falter under his icy gaze. Billy hasn't been home but once these passed two weeks. I wonder if he felt just as intimidated as I do in front of this man... Envisioning small Billy in front of this monster of a guy my resolve strengthens again. "Is Angela home? I need speak to her about Billy."
"The brat? It in trouble?"
"No, .... Is Angela in?"
He looks at me for a few awkward minutes shifting his gaze between Alfredo and I several times. He leans back and for a moment and I fear he's about to slam the door in our faces.
"ANGIE! Someone's here about the brat!"
"It's not here! Make them go away..."
He leans forward again scowling at us and my hands start shaking again.... "No, I think we'll want to hear what they have to say. Come in."
"She signed!" I stare down at the papers in my one hand forgetting the cup of coffee in my other. Unbelievable she signed!
"Yup." Ren grins from ear to ear. It should be hurting his cheeks by now.
"Really?" I see the signature but I don't really believe it yet.
"Yup. Papi called in my cousin Alfredo some time ago. He's specialized in family law so he knew exactly what needed to be done in order to do this quietly and quickly."
"You're he's legal guardian and he's officially yours?"
"Yup". That grin should be hurting his cheeks by now.
I jump up and hug him. This is fantastic news, his face is aglow and I've never seen him this happy. This is one amazing man. He's already a great dad.
"How did you get her to sign? Why didn't you call me I would have gone with you." I would have been there in a heartbeat.
"I didn't want to make her feel pressured or scared. She could contest it if she ever claimed to be coerced into signing." Smart thinking.
"So what did you do?"
"Just talked to her. In some sad way she seemed relieved. She knows she can't take care of him, that he's not safe with her. She knows but isn't willing or just can't change. Well that's the jest of if anyway."
"Alfred and the current boyfriend he seemed real eager too. You know... I 'm really happy she did it and Billy will have a genuine home now but..."
"It isn't the way it's supposed to be huh?" I fill in wanting to hug him close to me and kiss that sad crease from his brow. "Where is he now? Does he know?"
"No, I hope he doesn't take it the wrong way. He loves him mom, what little boy doesn't."
"I think if we make it clear that he can see her anytime but just comes home to us at the end of the day like he already does... It won't be so bad. She's still around, she's still his mom."
"Yeah." Ren smiled there was something behind that smile he wasn't letting me see. "He's at Joey's basking in the glow of a real baseball player. I have so much to do, I hope Frankie has some kind of Murphy bed or something I can't have Cucciolo sleep on the couch anymore! The apartment needs to be rearranged before he comes home tonight...."
I grab my keys and jacket on the way to the door. My car has been breaking down a lot lately so we'll have to take Ren's vehicle.
"Come on! If all that needs to be done we need to cracking! Then we can go get our boy." I hold the door open for him but he hesitates. Again there is something behind that smile he doesn't let me see. Before I can say anything at all he's out the door and in the car.
He's keeping something from me. Or maybe he senses that I am keeping something from him... He's my best friend and ...
Best friend? Who am I kidding? This isn't what you feel for a best friend or any friend...
This is... Not the right time for him to be dealing with anything other than Billy.
Can I even trust my own feeling so soon after Shitface? I don't know what to think about him anymore... The phone calls never cease. I swear stuff keeps disappearing around the house...
This is anything but the right time for him to be dealing with anything other than him and Billy boy.
I feel a great deal of emotions for Ren but the last thing I wanted to do was treat him like a rebound. Or get him hurt in any way...
He deserved so much more than that.
They both do.
Billy Batson's picking up a disturbance in the force... Something has been probing the protective barrier around Captain Red's stronghold lately.
The Phantom man is on the prowl again...
The Eagle has vanquished Phantom mans former form. As direct result of that epic battle Billy Batson now nests with the Eagle on a permanently basis. He even has his own Bed of Disguise and Chest of Belongings, there are pictures on the walls portraying their victorious battles together... and there is always a smile and a hug to greet him.
He even has a special room at Captain Red's stronghold. Where the Eagle holds vigil on the couch while Billy Batson sleeps...
The Phantom man always returns... new face... new powers. This time his attention has turned to Billy Batson's comrades in arms. Fear not! For Billy Batson shall keep watch over the Eagle and Captain Red. From now on he shall be their protector.
Donata rang the doorbell and waited patiently until Ren opened the door.
"Momma? What are you doing here?" He smiled stepping aside to let her in.
"Can't a mother visit her son and grandson any time she wants?" she quips in feigned exasperation.
Ren laughed taking the covered dish from Donata's hands. Cannelloni he's guessing by the weight of the heavy oven dish.
"Billy's on homework duty in his room." Ren gestured taking the food to the kitchen. Donata hung her coat up and went in search of her new grandson. The Murphy bed had been pulled down and she found Billy sitting on top of the covers hunched over his books.
"Sit straight Cucciolo or you'll grow a croaked back." She tapped his spine and he straightened automatically grinning as he looked up. Sitting beside him she glanced over his work.
"Math? Doesn't Micah always help you with Math?"
"Ren called but he couldn't make it today." Billy sighed, he hated math but Micah could explain it to him where the numbers actually made sense...
"Really that's strange..." She mused as Ren returned from the kitchen with three glasses of ice tea.
"Momma Micah doesn't have to come running every time we call." Ren smiled, it's a small smile. Donata's knows this smile... it's his masking smile. He's been using it since he was 4 years old. "He's done so much for us already." He sighed sitting down on the couch next to them.
Donata felt a change of subject was called for so she turned her attention back to Billy boy again. "How was practice Saturday? Ren has been telling me your pitch is improving!" She smiled warmly hugging the boy to her.
He jumped where he sat instantly. "It is! Micah taught me a trick that really helps!"
"Really what trick?"
"You have to move you bones and not your muscles."
Ren laughed loudly spilling his ice tea on his lap and subsequently running to the kitchen to clean it off.
"How do you do that?" Donata asked intrigued.
"You have to think you are moving your bones and the muscles move with your throw propelling the ball forward. You move your shoulder, then your elbow and then your wrist!" He sprang off the bed showing her his new and improved throw.
"That really works?" She questioned.
"Yes! It does and he was going to show me another trick but he had to leave quickly."
"Micah left practice early?" Now that was unheard of...
Billy crawled back on the bed beside her. "Yeah, he suddenly got really quiet and left straight away."
"I'm sure he's fine Cucciolo. I brought dinner for tonight so you best finish you homework fast ok?" She left Billy to his math frustration and found Ren cleaning up the mess on his trousers in the kitchen.
"Tutututut - you always were a messy boy."
Ren grinned throwing the used paper towels away. She knew that grin, it's the same mischievous grin he's had since he was 2 years old.
"Micah came in the restaurant for lunch today."
"Oh really?" Ren said directing his attention to the Cannelloni Donata had brought. Unwrapping it and setting the oven to the correct temperature. Micah having lunch at Frank&Salsa's at least twice a week wasn't anything out of the ordinary.
"Got the Trattoria burger with fries. He never gets the Trattoria burger with fries."
"Oh?" Ren transferred the dish to the oven.
"He took one bit and left."
Ren turned to his mother whipping his hand on a towel. "Really? He mustn't have been very hungry then."
Donata cocked an eyebrow at her son. He's using that tone of voice he uses when he's worried but he doesn't want to show it. The soft hum of the oven filled the kitchen as neither of them spoke.
"Micah? You all right?"
"Huh?" he slammed his locker shut immediately. "Yeah I'm fine Mathias."
No, he's not.
He hasn't been for a while... and he's damn good at hiding it. He stomps off to the break room and for the first time since I've known him, Micah's forgot to lock his locker...
The chief sat at his desk and sighed the sigh of the overworked and overtired. A file lay open before him, a file he didn't particularly wanted to have or keep but a necessary one all the same.
He ignored the first knock at this door. What did these people think? That he worked here or something?
If they knock four times, it means they are stubborn but he can still ignore them and they'll come back later...
He opens to door to a very nervous rookie at the sixth knock. Six knocks means desperation. The chief sighs the sigh of the overworked, the overtired and the knowing.
"Come in Jamison. I think I know why you're here."
Jamison quickly closes the door behind him. "I don't think you do Chief."
The chief notes the papers in the rookie's hands and readies himself for the oncoming words. It seems the file on his desk is about to get some additions.
"Jamison, I know exactly why you're here..."
"The Magnolia Inn, how may I help you?"
"Ren? Are you all right? Did something happen to Billy?" Katie rattled down the phone her voice pitching higher as her worry increased.
"Now we're fine. I'm sorry to call you at work but I don't have your cell or anything and I'm worried."
"Hold on a sec Ren." Katie motioned her colleague to take over the front desk as she put Ren on hold and transferred his call to the secluded office behind reception.
"Ok Ren. Tell me everything." Katie listened in shock as Ren detailed his worries to her.
"I think he's in trouble. He won't talk to me about it. I thought his sister could maybe be there for him in a way he's not letting me be."
"Ren... If something is as wrong as you fear he won't let anyone in. Especially not you or me."
"We're too dear to him. He'll do anything to try and solve this on his own. Not get you involved."
"How are we not involved? We're..."
"... I know Ren. Trust me I know. Since dad died he's been extremely protective of the people he loves. It's the main reason he's a cop. So he can legally protect us any way he can. Though he probably isn't thinking like a cop right now."
"What do you mean?"
"He hasn't let me come over to his apartment in two weeks. With his car trouble he hasn't been to visit me either..."
"He's cancelled poker night twice too and... " Ren fills in trailing off mid thought.
"He's been 'too busy' for us lately... Hasn't been around to my place or lets us come to him. He's stopped coming to practice altogether. At one point I was starting to think..." Ren let the assumption hang in the air between them, unable to put his fears into words. Too scared to face the reality of it if spoke out loud.
"No, Ren. Just... NO."
"No buts! He's creating a distance but not for the reasons you think. I'd bet my life on it Ren."
"... But you know Billy and I... "
"When has that ever been a problem? He's crazy about Billy. You and that boy are all he ever talks about."
"Really?" Ren's tentative voice had Katie rolling her eyes. Honestly why couldn't these two grown men just let themselves love each other?
"Listen Ren I have to get back to work. Why don't you come over to my place tonight so we can figure this thing out ok?"
"Ok, I'll ask my parents to looks after Billy for one evening. I don't want to worry him too much." They made arrangements and Katie returned to the front desk.
Knowing that little boy he probably knew more than Ren did about what was going on... now it was just up the adults to figure it out too.
"I thought you said it was a secret ingredient?" Billy grinned as he and Cosimo rolled meatballs together in the kitchen.
"It is Billy boy, I'm your nonno now and it is a family tradition that the secret ingredient gets passed on from nonno to nipote." Cosime explained placing the neatly rolled balls on a baking tray.
"So your grandfather told you the secret when you were young?"
"Oh yes. Even Nonna doesn't know our secret." he winked.
"Even Nonna Donna?"
"It is fun to have a secret sometimes. As long as it is not an important secret then it's ok."
"What's an important secret?" Billy asked making his meatball rugby shaped.
"If you've broken something or did something you know was bad then can't keep it a secret. If you know that a friend is in pain or someone is hurting that is an important secret too."
"So having an extra scoop of ice cream at nonna's even if I am only suppose to have two is not an important secret?"
"No! That is a special nonni secret. Just like our secret ingredient."
They rolled quietly for a while...
"If you know someone is hiding something from someone else would that be an important secret?"
"Well Billy boy that would depend on what that person is hiding."
"Maybe I could tell you and you could see if it is an important secret. I think it is an important secret but if I tell you it becomes a nonni secret and as a nonni and a papi you could make it a papi secret between you and tuo figlio?"
Cosimo laughed heartily. "Where have you been learning Italian?"
Billy shrugged resting his arm from rolling. Billy listens Billy always listens and watches. Cosimo eyed his adopted grandson with new insight. This one is going to make the family very proud someday...
"I guess we could do that. It would be a special nipote-per delega-figlio secret... it of course all depends on the secret..."
Billy stepped off the little stool he'd been standing on and turned to fully face his nonno. "The Phantom man has been..."
Cosimo watched Billy help his nonna with the dished after dinner. Leaving them to serenade the pots and panes he retreated to the den.
Dialing his son's phone he waited patiently for the call to connect and Ren to pick up as he counted the rings it took his son to do so.
"Renzo? It's papi."
"Papi? Is everything OK? You never call me..."
"No, everything is not OK. Where are you now?"
"I'm at Micah's sisters place."
"Ok good. Renzo Donatello Aquila, you listen very carefully now..."
Micah E. Couch sat in the of his bedroom floor staring down at the papers on spread out on the carpet. He knew he was going to have to go to the chief soon. Rationally he knew this, lawfully he should have done it weeks ago... but truth be told... Micah was afraid. He was terrified if he did anything at all the outcome would be even worse than he feared of what it had become already.
A loud incessant knocking on the front door startled Micah from he quiet reverie.
"MICAH! OPEN THE DOOR!"
Panic struck him as he quickly scrambled the stuff of the papers into the shoebox he kept them in.
"MICAH COUCH!" bangbangbang - it took Micah a second to realise whose voice stood screeching at his door. His panic rose as he ran to his closet to hide the shoebox. Stuffing it quickly at the bed he stepped out of the walk in and froze...
"How did you get in?" he croaked.
Ren stood in the bedroom doorway staring at him "I'm a locksmith..."
The two men stood at opposite ends of the room, the space between them far greater than its actual distance. "That's unlawful entering you know."
"You gonna arrest me?"
Micah didn't reply, the look on Ren's face held all speech deep inside him. Ren was angry. Though he had seen Ren angry before, it had never been directed to Micah... not Micah....
The two men stood there staring at each other. The silence stretched into a heated unspoken argument.
"Why are you here?" Micah gritted his teeth, his stare turned to glare. Ren shouldn't be here... Ren shouldn't be anywhere near here.
"Cause you're being an idiot!" Ren growled.
"I'm not the one barging into someone's home uninvited." Micah spat.
If Ren hadn't been prepared for this Micah's words would have wounded him deeply. If it hadn't been for his fathers phone call or Katie's understanding Micah's words would have broken his heart. If it hadn't been for Mathias confiding in his girlfriend, after which Suzy barged Katie's place to spill the beans... Ren would have been at a loss.
Micah spoke as if this passed year had meant nothing to either of them. How their lives had grown so intertwined there was no way to tell them apart anymore. How these two men loved each other with all their hearts while neither could bring themselves to do anything about it... all for the sake of ... nothing at all....
Ren's scowl softened, his shoulders relaxed but he remained at the other end other room. "Did you know Billy keeps a journal?"
The out of nowhere question caught Micah off guard. He frowned at Ren's words.
Ren produced a small booklet from his jacket pocket. Holding it up for Micah to see.
"Wonderful kid our boy. You know he's comic books crazed. That's mostly my influence since he first read my own collection years go. You can't keep a small boy from a stack of superhero's stories now can you?" Ren smiled opening the booklet. "I knew he kept his journal but I've never read it before. A boy his age needs a little big of privacy or at least the illusion of it."
Micah kept his mouth shut as he just stood there watching Ren flip through the booklet. He was growing nervous. Ren had been inside for a full 10 minutes now...
"He's quite the writer you know. I kinda love the fact that he writes in the third person. That's my quirky Cucciolo for you. Do you want to hear some of it?"
"Ren..." Micah fidgeted with the hem of his shirt, his silent panic reaching a new high with every second that ticked by.
"I think you should hear some of what our boy has written Micah. I think you need to keep quiet and listen." Ren's voice soft yet firm giving Micah a strong dose of the Eye...
"Day 87. Year 9.
Phantom man has a new face. Billy boy has seen it lurking in the shadows... following him and his comrades' every move. This time Phantom man has brown hair and a crocked nose; he's also a lot younger than usual..."
Ren hears Micah's gasp but doesn't look up. He needs to hear it... he needs to hear all of it.
"Captain Red is lost. Billy boy thought Red was fearless but Billy boy gets scared too sometimes so maybe he should try and help Red. Red is scared cause of the messages. He hides them from the Eagle and Billy boy in a box in his deep dark closet. He doesn't think Billy boy sees him hide them away every time.
Maybe that is why he doesn't want his friends to come to the stronghold anymore..."
"Oh no..." Micah's broke, a sob trapped in his throat and a distinct quiver to his sniffle.
"There is more..." Ren replied still keeping his eyes fixed on the booklet.
"Phantom man is laughing at him, Billy boy hides the messages he finds in his Chest of Belongings..." Ren pauses to retrieve a few notes from his other jacket pocket holding them up for Micah to see. "Billy boy will protect his friends at all costs."
Micah stared wide eyes at the notes in Ren's hand.
"Amazing kid huh. He saw what I didn't see. I was beginning to think you didn't want us around anymore..." Shock crossed Micah's face in a wave, shock and regret and in-between there somewhere... pain. "That is what you wanted me to think wasn't it?"
"Don't Ren me, Micah. Why didn't you tell me?" Ren asked taking a step to the middle of the room at which Micah automatically backed away. It cut Ren to see this man retreat from him in like this..
"I don't want you to get hurt..." Micah, the big strong Micah had tears welling up in his eyes. The first time Ren had ever seen Micah was when he was crying. Crying over heartbreak and pain. Tonight they were silent tears rolling down his cheeks, no sniffles, no wailing or balling, not a single hitched breath. Just big fat tears streaking his cheeks.
"So pushing us away is better?"
"I..." though no more words came out his feet took a step toward Ren, completely on their own
Ren took another step closer. "We know about the threats."
Micah didn't even notice himself automatically move to Ren. Step.
"And about the phone calls..." STEP "And about the notes." STEP "And about the complaints." STEP. "And the car." STEP "And the photo's"
They met in the middle of the room standing almost nose-to-nose, each other's breath loud in the others ears.
"How?" Micah held Ren's gaze.
"Cause you have many people that care about you, you idiot. You've got everyone worried out of their minds."
Micah shoulders sagged.
Ren's voice softened again. "The only thing we don't know is why?"
"I didn't want to put you in danger and being around me was putting you in danger..." Micah pleaded though his voice had lost all of its animosity from before, it was nothing but a ghost of its former strength.
"Not that why Micah, though we don't agree we understand your reaction." Ren stared straight into Micah's chocolate eyes, sparking as they brimmed with unshed tears. "Why is Vance doing this?"
Micah hung is head as Ren took last step separating them. Wrapping his arms around Micah's shoulders feeling him sag against his chest, hands clutching at his back... as if holding on for dear life.
"Cause I love you." He whispered softly into Ren's shoulder.
"He goes all apeshit cause you made new friends! Cause he's bitter you righteously threw him out!" Ren gritted his teeth tightening his hold on Micah's shoulders.
"No Ren." Micah lifted his head to again look straight into Ren's eyes. "Cause I'm in love with you."
...Time stood still
It happens you know ...
There are those moments in life that seem to stretch for an eternity.
Where there is no time, no ticks of the clock or breaths to be counted.
Where the entire universe consists of the bubble of that frozen moment.
Where there was no need for words or gestures...
It is the timeless trice when two hearts beat as one.
The moment the walls fall and the ground shakes though all is still.
...Then the universe exhales and the clock ticks again.
Ren rested his forehead to Micah's, smiling the small smile of the relieved and the patient. "That makes two of us then." He whispered as he leaned of the kiss.
The kiss which Micah hardly registered staring wide eyed at his best friend. His best friend whom he loved with everything he had. Whom he had been prepared to give up to keep safe.
When Ren lifted his head again he saw but one thing in those intense chocolate eyes...
I honestly wasn't planning to make this a four parter but is just happened to write itself that way! Part four is almost done so the conclusion will be posted in a day or two!
I hope you all stay with me to see these two to the end!
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.