In which our brave heroes venture back to the town that made them who they are...
Izzy had barely reached the front door as his mother ran out to squeeze him tight.
"Oh it's so wonderful to see you! You don't know how lonely I've been with all my boys away from home and you never call me anymore Jeffrey! Look how skinny you are! Are you not getting any proper food in California? Look at that hair! It's a mess! Why are your jeans so tight? Is that a nose ring?"
Izzy turned his head to Axl and rolled his eyes making the singer stifle a giggle before he too was locked in a tight embrace.
"Oh Billy! I've missed you so much! And look at you! You're even skinnier than Jeff! I'm not letting you boys leave until you get some good food in you! And look at your hair! My goodness that must take a lot of maintenance! Are these tight jeans and leather pants some sort of fashion trend over on the coast?"
Mrs. Isbelle's rambling stopped abruptly before she smiled warmly at the two Gunners. She was a very motherly character with a glamorous edge. Even if she weren't going out she would still dress nice and wear make up and do her hair just perfect. Her dark brown hair was always in a simple up do and her lips red as a rose. The kind of lady who would bake cookies for no reason, she was someone that you just had to love.
"Well boys I'm so happy you've decided to come back home and stay here for a few days. It'll be so nice to have you two running about the house again! In you get! It's getting chilly outside, we don't want you boys catching a cold now do we?"
She stepped aside to let Axl and Izzy into the small, suburban house. It was a small house but big enough for the Isbelle family. Mrs. Isbelle had furnished the house in such a way that it would make anyone feel at home in it.
"Billy sweetheart, you can stay in Joe's room and Jeff honey, well you'll obviously want to stay in your own room won't you! Boys you know if there's anything you need, I'm here! I'll leave you two to get settled and I'll call you down when dinner's ready! I'm excited about hearing your stories from Los Angeles!"
Izzy's mom scurried off into the kitchen, leaving the boys alone.
"Man, I love your mom so much!" Axl said as he followed Izzy up the stairs.
"She's so embarrassing!" Izzy said, scrunching up his nose.
"All mothers are like that." Axl pointed out.
They walked into Izzy's bedroom and Axl dumped their one single bag onto the floor. They hadn't packed much so one bag would do fine for the both of them. Izzy flopped down onto the bed, letting out a yawn and rubbing his eyes.
"Are you tired?" Axl asked as he sat down beside his friend.
"You're not?" Izzy asked back.
Axl shook his head and started looking around him.
"I've always liked your room. I know I say that every time I'm in here but I do."
Axl was never allowed to decorate his own bedroom the way Izzy had done his. His stepfather wouldn't tolerate band posters and flags on the walls.
Axl heard the sound of a car pulling into the driveway and he climbed over Izzy, kneeing him in the stomach as he clambered to the window to take a peek.
"That hurt you asshole!"
Axl just smile smugly.
"I think your dad's home Izz."
All Axl got in a reply was a groan. The singer climbed back over Izzy, grabbing his hand as he did and pulled the tired guitarist up to his feet and out the door.
"Hey Mr. Isbelle!" Said Axl as he descended the stairs, Izzy trudging along behind him.
Mr. Isbelle was a very tall and handsome man. His dark brown eyes always shone and he was in a constant good mood. His black hair had fine wisps of silver through it and he looked very smart and proper with his finely rimmed glasses.
"Bill! Jeff! So good to see you boys again!" He called up to them as he shut the front door behind him.
As they got to the bottom of the stairs Mr. Isbelle gave Axl and Izzy a hug before the questions began.
"How was the flight boys? No problems at the airport? You know what the airport staff is like these days. Jeff that hair needs tending to and Bill my goodness I don't know what to say about your hair! Jeffrey what is that thing in your nose?"
The Gunners just awkwardly shuffled about on their feet, avoiding answering anything with a couple of "Ummm"s and "Uuuhh"s.
"Dinner!" Came Mrs. Isbelle's voice from the kitchen.
Izzy silently thanked his mother and the two Guns ran into the kitchen, both starving for some good food.
"Oh darling you're home! Isn't it so wonderful to have the boys with us again?" Mrs. Isbelle leaned up to receive a kiss from her husband.
"Yes it's great!" Said Mr. Isbelle as he sat down at the table. "This smells delicious sweetheart."
"I'll say!" Izzy said and started filling his plate up with all his mothers fine foods.
Once they were all seated and had their plates full, the expected dinner table banter began. What's LA like? How's the band? Any girlfriends? All the usual stuff until Mrs. Isbelle just had to go there...
"So Billy sweetheart, when will you be visiting your parents?" She asked, innocently with genuine curiosity.
Izzy's fork full of salad stopped midway to his mouth and he turned to look at Axl whose face was steadily paling by the second.
"Um..I don't...uuh..." He didn't know what to say, foolishly having assumed that this subject wouldn't be raised.
"Mom, we're only staying for a few days and we probably won't have much time to visit people." Izzy intervened, making up a very bad excuse.
"Oh don't be silly! There's plenty of time to see plenty of people! And besides it'll take you all of ten minutes to walk to Billy's house. I'm sure they'll be very excited to see you!" She smiled at Axl and he forced a smile and a nod back.
"I'm sorry about my mom Ax." Said Izzy.
After dinner, the two of them plopped themselves onto the living room couch and switched on some cartoons. Axl didn't say anything back to Izzy.
"You know, maybe seeing your step dad isn't such a bad idea." Said the guitarist.
The singer stared at Izzy as if the guitarist had just pissed on his favourite pair of boots.
"Are you kidding me!" He cried, "There is no way I'm going back there! He hates me!"
"Axl he doesn't hate you. You may not be exactly how he wants you to be but he loves you very much."
It felt weird as he said it. He didn't think Axl's stepfather hated him but love? If he did love Axl then he showed it in pretty bizarre ways. As Axl curled up on the couch and went back to his cartoons Izzy thought back to the first night the singer had spent the night in the guitarist's house. They were only thirteen years old.
It was a freezing, dry winter night and Izzy's parents and brother were all upstairs fast asleep. Izzy couldn't sleep so he was downstairs watching TV. Then a soft knock came at the door. Izzy knew not to open the door so late at night but curiosity got the better of him.
As he walked down the dark hall he could see the glow of streetlights in the long windows either side of the door. Suddenly a face peered in making Izzy jump. Then he realised who it was.
He quickly opened the door and let his friend in. Bill was in his pyjamas and clearly freezing his ass off.
"What are you doing out this late? It's freezing out th-"
He cut short when he noticed the bruise on Bill's cheek.
"What happened to you? Who did that?"
The young redhead just looked at the floor and fidgeted. Izzy could see that Bill was trying to fight back the tears that were forming in his eyes.
"Bill you can tell me anything." Izzy said.
"Can I stay with you tonight?" Bill's voice was desperate and his eyes pleaded with Izzy to let him stay.
Of course Izzy said yes. There was no way he was going to let Bill go back to whatever or whoever did that to him. He was only a new friend of Izzy's but Izzy immediately took to him. He was restless and always getting in trouble. Just like him. They liked all the same stuff. Music, books, movies, they even shared the same dream of one day leaving their little hick town and moving to a big city.
Bill snuggled into the bed beside Izzy, cocooning himself in the warm blankets. It was a bed big enough for both of them so Izzy didn't mind sharing at all. He hadn't asked Bill anymore about the bruise, not wanting to pry into the matter. He figured that the only way he was going to find out would be if Bill wanted to tell him.
"Goodnight Bill." Said Izzy as he switched off the bedside lamp, letting the room fall into darkness.
After a few moments of silence Bill whispered quietly to Izzy.
"My dad hit me."
Izzy rolled over and stared at Bill, who he could just about make out as his eyes adjusted to the dark.
"What?" He wasn't sure he heard correctly.
"My dad hit me. That's how I got the bruises."
"He hit you?" Izzy was shocked.
Bill's father was known as the religious Bible bashing man about the church but he was loved and respected by the God fearing people of Lafayette no doubt. He just couldn't believe that after preaching the Good Book to the lost sheep of the town, Mr. Bailey would turn around and beat his own son. Well step son, but still.
"And what do you mean bruises?"
Izzy quickly switched the lamp back on and turned back to Bill. The tears were welling up again in those green eyes and Izzy was sure they would fall this time but Bill somehow held back.
"Show me." Izzy whispered.
Bill obediently took off his pyjama top and turned his back to Izzy causing the latter to gasp in utter shock.
Bill's back and arms had large purple and bluish bruises on them, colourful and vivid in contrast to Bill's pale skin. Izzy also noticed bruises on Bill's neck in the obvious shape of fingers that had once grabbed and squeezed there. It made a shiver pierced through Izzy's body and then he noticed the bruises shaking.
The redhead didn't say anything, just turned to Izzy and wrapped his arms around his shoulders, sobbing uncontrollably. Izzy squeezed his arms around his friend and just held him, listening as Bill tried his best to tell Izzy what had happened.
"He pushed me...into a table...and p-punched me...and threw the Bible at me...and he grabbed me by the throat...and...and..." His crying just got worse.
"Ssshh...It's okay Bill, he won't hurt you now. You're safe here with me. You're always safe in my house, remember that okay?" He paused and thought for a second as Bill's crying lessened to soft sniffs and hiccups before adding, "If you're ever in trouble, you know I'll be there for you."
After a long, almost calming silence came Bill's soft whisper.
Before he had fallen asleep, Bill had silently thanked whatever higher powers had brought Izzy and him together. He knew Izzy was the best thing that ever happened to him and the greatest friend he'd ever have. The fighting with his stepfather and crying to Izzy had definitely exhausted Bill. He lay there on the bed in a peaceful sleep, breathing slowly and softly. Unlike Izzy who was sitting on the floor, legs pulled up to his chest leaning his back against the bed. He didn't sleep at all that night.
Just thinking back to that night made Izzy's heart beat a little faster. He remembered how angry he was at Axl's stepfather, how scared he was for Axl, how his heart broke when he saw Axl cry...
"Hellooo?" Fingers clicked in front of Izzy's face making him snap out of this thoughts.
"I asked if you were okay. You look like a zombie."
"Oh...uh yeah I'm fine." He snatched the remote out of Axl's hand and started flicking.
"Hey I was watching that!"
The redhead leaped over to the other end of the couch and started tackling Izzy to the ground in an attempt to win the remote back but Izzy was too used to this. He flipped Axl onto his stomach faster than he could blink and then pinned him down by sitting on him.
The guitarist just ignored him and enjoyed his cartoons.
"It's so nice to see this again!" Sighed Mrs. Isbelle appearing at the door, "I really missed you boys playing around the house."
"Mom you talk about us like we're kids." Said Izzy.
"You're still my babies!" She smiled down at the Gunners before leaning down to give each of them a kiss.
"I'm going up to bed now and your father will be up soon too. Jeffrey don't forget to lock the doors and switch the lights off. I don't want you boys staying up too late, okay?"
"Mom it's not a school night."
"Don't be cheeky Jeffrey! Billy would never talk back to his parents that way."
Axl and Izzy shot quick glances to eachother.
"Goodnight Mom!" They chorused back.
Axl stood up making Izzy very ungracefully fall off his back and onto the floor.
"I want ice cream." Said Axl, stretching his limbs out.
"Go check the freezer." Said Izzy.
"Come with me?" Axl pouted and held his hand out so Izzy just couldn't say no.
He took Axl's hand and let himself be pulled up to his feet before the Gunners went to raid the kitchen in search for ice cream.
"It's not looking too hopeful man." Axl said as he rummaged through the frozen foods.
"Try behind the peas."
Both boys jumped and turned around to see Mr. Isbelle sat at the kitchen table reading over some paper work.
"Dad, you scared the shi-"
Mr. Isbelle looked at his son over the rim of his glasses with a cocked eyebrow.
"Scared the daylights out of us." Izzy quickly recovered and Axl sniggered.
"I bought some ice cream today because I knew you'd be moaning if I didn't." He winked as he gathered up his papers and got up from the table, "Chocolate by the way."
"Sweet!" Cried Axl taking the tub out of the freezer and pushing the door closed with his bum.
Once Mr. Isbelle left Izzy got two spoons out of the drawer and handed one to Axl. After a few minutes of slight difficulty in trying to open the tub, Izzy took the ice cream off Axl and easily pried off the lid, flashing a sweet smile to his friend as he did.
"Thanks man." Said the redhead blushing slightly.
Izzy loved Axl when he was all shy and innocent, like a little kid.
They sat at the kitchen table in silence for a few minutes, just spooning chocolate ice cream out of the tub and drifting deep in thought, until Axl broke the silence.
"Will you come with me to see my parents? I don't want to have to face them alone."
"Ax I wouldn't let you face them alone. I'll come with you." Izzy replied.
"What do you think my dad will say?" Asked Axl, evidently nervous.
"I don't know." Izzy stated honestly.
They figured they would just have to find out when they went, which they decided would be tomorrow. Best get it out of the way early. This way it also left time to recuperate for a few days afterwards before they returned to LA.
He turned his head to look at the clock. The red lights said it was 3.24 in the morning and Izzy still couldn't get to sleep. Just as he was wondering if Axl was having the same problem, his bedroom door slowly opened and a shadowy figure tiptoed into the room, silently closing the door behind them. It was clear that whoever it was, was trying their best not to wake Izzy, assuming he was asleep. Just as the figure stretched out a hand to pull the covers down, Izzy switched on the lamp.
The redhead held a hand up to his squinting eyes at the sudden light.
"You can't sleep either can you?"
Axl shook his head. He looked down at Izzy with big eyes, making obvious what he wanted. The guitarist sighed and shuffled over to one side of the bed and pulled down the covers.
Axl beamed and climbed into bed, getting himself comfortable beside Izzy.
"How come you can't sleep?" Asked Izzy, although he kind of knew why.
"Thinking about tomorrow. What I'm going to say to him. What he's going to say to me."
The two Guns lay in bed staring at one another as they're conversations went from Axl's stepfather to the band to girls to music, all through the night. At some point they had fallen asleep but neither knew when or who went first.
"I forgot how long you boys like to sleep in!" Said Mrs. Isbelle as the Guns trudged into the kitchen, "It's almost lunchtime!"
"Is there any Coco Pops?" Asked Izzy with his head in the cupboards.
"No." Said Mrs. Isbelle, "Even better. Waffles!"
Their eyes went wide and the boys quickly sat down at the table to eat while Mrs. Isbelle stacked their plates up with her fine waffles. They were gone in seconds.
"My goodness you liked those didn't you!" Beamed Mrs. Isbelle as the boys finished scoffing down the delicious breakfast. "I'd make you more but then you'd be too full for lunch!"
"Axl and I are going to visit his parents today mom." Said Izzy.
"Oh how excellent! I knew it would be today so I prepared this morning!"
She skipped over to the oven and took out a tray of freshly baked cookies.
"Here, send them my love and cookies!"
Izzy rolled his eyes at his mother's sixth sense and took the plate of cookies from his mom and walked out the kitchen door, Axl following solemnly behind.