The brothers quietly moved into the old Wilson house one Saturday while Danny was off playing ball with his friends. The Wilson house, which was a large, two-story, red Victorian, had stood empty for years and was right next door to the house Danny and his mother rented. Danny had never paid much attention to the house except that his friends all thought it was haunted. But not with ghosts. Jake especially teased Danny about his obsession with vampires, and the large wraparound porch in front did make the entrance dark and sinister. Just enough that Danny thought many times it was a perfect home for them. But it was just a house, and when he left that morning, he never noticed anything unusual.
But then this was a day off for him and he wasn’t paying that much attention. His mom had been sick again over the past several weeks, and he had been taking care of her in all his down hours. At the end of his senior year in high school he truly needed this day to just be with friends. Even so, before he left, he made her lunch and put it in the fridge. She wouldn’t eat otherwise.
He had also checked the night before all the hiding places he could think of where she could put a bottle. It had been the second week he hadn’t been able to find one. He was thinking she could have newer hiding places now and he would have to actually dig deeper in the days to come.
But not today.
Although he believed he deserved this day, he was still feeling guilty about leaving her alone. However, there was a huge part of him that needed to get out of there before something went wrong and he ended up having to stay. It had happened before, many times. His mom would go into a coughing spell, or she would start to cry about absolutely nothing, or she would simply check out and get that glassy look in her eyes and not respond to anything. Those times scared Danny the most. Since the return of his mother’s illness, she’d had to leave her job, and its health insurance, behind. Danny worked as many hours as he could at his crappy job, but money was always an issue, so on those occasions when she needed to go to the doctor, he would take her to the free clinic. Even though they didn’t live in a great part of town, that neighborhood was far worse. He hated going there for even an hour, much less hour upon hour, which is what it usually ended up being. Thankfully those times were rare, and today she seemed happy and alert, and actually excited for him to get out of the house.
“Go. Quit worrying about me!” She ran her hand through Danny’s thick tangly dark hair.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Danny smiled and kissed her forehead. She had lost a lot of weight in the past two years. It had been gradual, but Danny couldn’t help but notice it these days. She seemed so fragile and even more so now that hardly any of her clothes fit her. Her shoulder-length brown hair had turned gray as well. Just another sign of her illness. For some reason she refused to color it. Maybe in defiance, maybe helplessness.
He pressed the phone into her hand. “I’m going to be with Jake all day, so call his cell if you need me. He’ll bring me right home. Okay?”
“I already told you I would. I’m fine. Go!” She gave his lean frame a hug. Oh Danny. You’re so thin!”
Damn it. “Just like your mother” he had been told a number of times. You have your mother’s delicate features. Not something you told an almost-nineteen-year-old man, but he had learned to ignore those comments. Except at barely five-seven and just over one-ten on a good day, delicate unfortunately did describe him.
He grabbed his backpack, threw a jacket on over his T-shirt and jeans, and hooted as he headed out the front door.
Jake and the rest of the guys were out in Jake’s Blazer and his friend laid on the horn when Danny came out. Danny cringed at the noise and ran to the vehicle that had music blaring though wide-open windows. “Man, you guys are noisy! So where do I sit?”
Jake laughed and motioned to the front where he sat with Sara, his girlfriend. “Get your skinny butt in front, with us.”
There was a moan from Sara, but he leaped in anyway, and closed the door.
“I have to say, Danny my boy, kind of surprised you actually came out. I expected a phone call this morning telling me you weren’t going to make it.”
“No more surprised than I am.” Danny looked back as they pulled away.
“Stop it, Danny. No second thoughts.”
They met up with another group of friends at the park and quickly took up a game of football, much to Sara’s dismay. Danny had no real idea what she wanted them to do but felt a little guilty to leave her just sitting in the grass on the side lines.
“She could play if she wanted,” Jake told Danny, loud enough for her to hear.
Danny shushed him. “This isn’t touch football, Jake. Are you sure you would want her to play?”
Jake only smirked and slapped Danny on the butt.
They usually didn’t keep score—they played for fun—but today Bobby Masters was heading up the other side, which were all “his people,” of course. The man was always competitive and serious, however, Danny would be lying if he said Bobby ever played by any rules except his own.
Despite that, Bobby’s team was only up by three points at the end of the game, an end Bobby called for at the completion of the present play; one that had Bobby threatening to score again. But none of Danny’s friends really cared. Danny could honestly say he simply wanted it over and for Bobby to go away. So, as Bobby called his numbers before the ball was snapped, Mason headed into the end zone ready to receive Bobby’s pass.
That’s when Danny remembered what Jake had told him once. He had said the best defense is a great offense.
Totally uncovered, Danny headed toward Bobby as he stepped back to throw. On a whim, Danny jumped up as Bobby let loose and somehow Danny came down with the ball. What made it even sweeter was that no one seemed to understand what he had done.
He took off for his own goal, basically a million miles in the other direction, dodging only a few guys, mostly his own. It was then it must have finally dawned on both Mason and Bobby they had just been robbed of their final winning play and were now in danger of losing all together.
Danny’s one and only athletic ability was that he was fast. Even so, he ran toward the goal line fully expecting someone to tackle him. But Jake and Ryan were running with him. It looked like no one was going to catch him.
Danny shouldn’t have done it. But as soon as he was certain he would cross the goal line, he slowed down and did a little dance across it.
Okay, a big dance, which included cat calls, a shitty cartwheel and spiking the ball.
As he turned to accept the accolades of his winning run, Bobby slammed into him, having never slowed down at all.
“You fucking cheater.” Bobby pinned Danny to the ground, his forearm on Danny’s throat. “I’m going to fucking kill you.”
Bobby wasn’t tall, but he was big. In fact, Bobby was fat. Danny remembered thinking he was amazed the man had run the length of the field that fast. He wasn’t amazed that when Bobby hit him at full speed, he could do nothing but go down and stay there. Bobby’s face was red as it loomed over his own, his black hair wild, sweat dripping off of him. No question Bobby was crazy angry, as Danny tried to lift Bobby’s forearm off of his throat because Danny truly could not breathe. Other people were yelling, and Bobby was still shouting obscenities into his face, saliva going everywhere, but the sounds were fading away and Danny was starting to see black spots. He began to surrender to them as they became bigger, his arms going weak.
He was told later it took three of his own team members to pull Bobby off. Danny was thankful, too, convinced if they hadn’t, he would have passed out—or worse.
Once Danny could breathe again, his head slowly cleared as he lay dazed on the ground, hurting all over. Jake knelt beside him to ask if he was okay, but Danny just didn’t have the energy to answer. At one point Bobby came back into his field of vision and tried to kick him, still shouting “cheater, fucking cheater…”
“What’s his problem?” Danny finally whispered. He was surprised at the sound of his voice, or rather the lack of it.
“You just won the game for us, that’s what. And he’s a child. I knew we should never have let him and his gang play.” He helped Danny first to sit up, then finally to his feet. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. For a minute though I wasn’t sure I was going to be. The fucker nearly killed me.” His voice was slowly coming back as well. He looked up and saw that Bobby and his gang were leaving. He caught Bobby’s gaze right when the fat man flipped him the bird and mouthed something Danny didn’t catch.
“I need something to drink,” Danny scratched out.
“Yeah, let’s eat. Game’s over. We won! Yea, Danny!” He shouted the last two words, startling Danny, but all his friends cheered while clapping him on the back and pushing him around.
In the background tires squealed as Bobby left.
They had all brought sandwiches and soda, Jake’s mom had sent cupcakes, and Ryan’s mom had sent six kinds of chips. Between the nine of them they ate and drank everything. Even Sara ate her fair share, although it took a lot of coaxing from Jake. They talked and joked and insulted each other and the afternoon slipped away.
Danny called his mom a couple of times, just to be sure, then once again at six when he needed to tell her he was going to go for pizza with the gang instead of coming home like he had promised. He reminded her there was leftover turkey in the fridge. He would either do something with it for her when he came home or, if she felt up to it, she could make herself a sandwich. She laughed at him and told him she could fend for herself. She was an adult, after all, and would be fine.
But of course, she wasn’t. When Danny finally walked in the house, she had gone into one of her non-moving states and was sitting on the couch looking off into space, drooling on herself.
”Mom?” Danny frantically waved his hand in front of her face. She didn’t even flinch. Shit! He should never have stayed out this long. Why hadn’t he simply stuck to the plan? He was supposed to be home at six and now it was ten and he would have to bring her to the emergency room. Damn it! If he had been home earlier, he would have seen it coming on and taken her to the clinic before it closed.
He ran back to the front door and propped it open to make it easier to take her out to the car. He went back to her and put her arm around his shoulder and lifted, telling her in soft, assuring tones that everything would be fine.
When he turned around, two large men stood immediately in front of him. Startled, he cried out and stepped back. When he did, the weight of his mother threw him off balance. One of the men reached out with lightning speed and caught his mother by grabbing her arm from Danny with one hand, and then he managed to catch Danny before he went down by putting his other arm around his waist. Danny was amazed because it seemed so effortless for the man.
But Danny was even more shocked at his physical reaction to the stranger.
Danny had known his sexual orientation from the time he understood what the words meant. He’d never told anyone, not even his mom. But he was pretty sure she knew anyway. Certainly, Jake was aware. In fact, he had, at first, fantasized a lot about Jake. Until the day Jake kissed him. After messing around a little, they figured out they were strictly friends. Friends without benefits even though Jake had been willing to include it.
In this case, Danny had no idea what was going on in his head as his body seemed to thrill to this guy’s touch, to the strong arm around him, his hot breath in Danny’s ear. Danny’s cock even jumped as a shiver raced through him. Suddenly, all Danny wanted to do was to bring the man down into a fevered kiss.
But the man was a total stranger, standing uninvited in his house, with his mother in a very vulnerable state. He quickly regained his balance and pulled away even though a large part of him didn’t want to.
“Who… who the hell are you?” he managed to stammer. He grabbed his mother’s arm back from the guy, trying to put her behind him to protect her. Which was, of course, had to look ridiculous to the two very large men standing in front of him. Honestly, if they wanted to get to her, it would take very little on their part, although Danny would fight right to the death to prevent it. “What are you doing in my house?” He tried hard to sound authoritative as he glared into the eyes of the man who had stopped them from falling. Oh! They were so blue. And warm. And, geez, he had to be over six feet tall and obviously worked out all the freaking time, because—damn—those muscles! He appeared to be in his late twenties tops. With his longer dark blonde hair and strange tats running down his arm, he looked fierce. And sexy.
Yeah. All kinds of sexy.
What the fuck is wrong with me?
“I’m sorry, Danny,” the man said in a low voice that rumbled all the way up and down Danny’s spine. “Please forgive us. We didn’t mean to scare you. My name is Gabriel, and this is my brother Samuel.”
Danny finally forced his gaze over to the other man and nodded as he readjusted his mother’s weight. Gabriel’s brother, who was just as tall if not taller and just as built, had very dark deep-set brown eyes, close-cropped dark hair and a predatory smile. Danny guessed he was the younger of the two. Beautiful. Gorgeous, actually. But not the caliber of his brother, Gabriel. At least not in Danny’s eyes.
“We just moved in next door,” Gabriel continued, “and we’d been over here talking with your mom earlier. The door was open…” He cocked his head. “What’s wrong with Gail? Do you need help?”
Danny glanced back at his mother, feeling a little embarrassed. Leave it to her to chat it up immediately with the brand-new neighbors. “She... does this sometimes. She might be having a seizure. I need to get her to the emergency room.”
“Okay. Let us help you...” Gabriel reached out again but Danny blocked his hand.
“No! I mean, she’s my responsibility and I’ve had to do this before –”
“Nonsense. Look Danny, we’re going to be neighbors and that makes her our responsibility now, too.” He reached over and, before Danny could stop him again, effortlessly swooped his mother up in his arms and started toward the door, Danny chasing him.
“Wait! What are you doing? You don’t even know where I take her!”
“Well, I figured you would be coming with. You can tell me then.”
Danny fell in beside him. He had to admit as weird as it was those first few seconds, he suddenly trusted the two men, and was actually glad for the company. “Why?”
“Why are you doing this?”
“You looked like someone who could use a hand. My brother and I like lending one.” He looked at him, and Danny saw only kindness and gentleness in his eyes.
“Thank you. I really appreciate it. St Augusta.”
“St. Augusta Hospital.”