Warnings: The main character is portrayed as gay, abuse and other nasty things are implied, and yes, my main character is having a few (veiled) impure thoughts about someone a good six years younger than him.
Summary: "'Someday I will lay me down on the grass where everything is greener; it always seems so good on the other side' -of course, even with my dead-end home, school, life... Someone will be worse off." Loosely based off of the song "The Other Side" by the band Smile Empty Soul.
Notes: Written in January of this year, 2005, as a matter of fact. This story is actually almost RECENT! Other than that, as usual, I've only proofread this myself and done some mild editing. Actual editing or beta reading by another person has not been performed, and would be appreciated.
THE OTHER SIDE
I walked into the room, shoulders hunched, braced for some sort of impact. It always seemed to go that way, in my house. I could never simply come home from school and slip up to my room like a normal teenager. I always had to slink around, as if I were trying to make my way across a minefield, worried that the slightest noise would set off the bombs beneath my feet.
Nathan was lying on the couch. Of course, my older brother Nathan was almost always lying on that same dingy couch. He was twenty-four, and while I never saw him anywhere else, I knew he had to move sometimes. How else would he be able to get his heroin fix, if he didn't leave to meet his dealer?
All I wanted was to get past Nathan and into the kitchen. I really didn't think that it was too much to ask; apparently, the universe as a whole disagreed.
"Hey. Ken'dy. Hold up."
I froze, halfway between the couch and the kitchen door. "Ken'dy" wasn't my name, and I could have pretended that I didn't hear, or that I didn't understand, but Nate knew better. He always called me "Ken'dy" - not because it was a fond nickname given by an older brother or anything, more like he'd never properly learned my name as a child, and was too lazy to start saying it correctly now. I hated it; it sounded as if he were saying "Candy" or something. "Candy" was a chick's name.
"What?" I didn't want to turn, not at first, and with good reason. When I did swivel around, I saw that Nate was carefully gripping a syringe in one hand, his other arm laid out before him, bound with a piece of rubber cording. I wasn't sure why they did it - I wasn't a druggie - but I knew exactly what he was doing. For chrissakes, my brother was shooting up in the living room.
He sucked air in through his teeth instead of responding; he'd just stuck the tip of the needle into a vein in his arm. I knew that he was way too experienced a junkie to try shooting smack into a pocket of air in the blood or something, but that had sounded like more than the usual noise of pain. Maybe the needle had stuck, or something. I didn't think Nate should be shooting up anyway, so what did I care?
"What've you been doing?" Nate mumbled. He sounded almost as if he was drunk, but I knew better. Heroin was Nathan's drug of choice, and he refused to put himself under the influence of anything else, even booze.
"None of your business," I snapped. I knew that he'd been shooting up far too long for the drug to be having full effect any longer. Didn't heroin start becoming less effective, when you used it too much? That was probably the case. Nathan was unable to get his full fix from the needle, and had turned to needling me in heroin's stead.
I didn't need that right then.
"C'mon," he jeered. "Don't be such a puss."
I just shook my head; I didn't need some sort of heroin-high confrontation with Nate. He was bad enough when he wasn't being his usual junkie self. I wasn't about to indulge him.
Irritated, I just turned back around and continued on into the kitchen. I could hear Nathan calling after me, but I tuned his words out.
Later that same day, I was up in my bedroom, going to sleep. It was already kind of late, and while some teenagers stayed up until all hours of the night, I never really felt the need. Maybe it made me a puss to be willingly asleep at ten-thirty, but I didn't give a shit.
Lying down in my cramped little twin bed, I turned my head to the side, staring out the window to my right. I had left the blinds drawn up, and I could see the lights glowing in the windows next door. Apparently whoever slept in that upstairs bedroom across the way wasn't about to go to sleep at ten-thirty.
I was unable to sleep, and found myself wondering about the person who lived in that other house. The family next door was more or less a mystery to me. I did know that they had a father - unlike my own family, with just me, "Kennedy," my brother, and my single mother. And my name was "Kennedy" - like the dead president Kennedy. Trust an unmarried - never married - mother to pick a name like that for her second son. My mother actually was quite the fruitcake.
Of course, in addition to there being a "man of the house" next door, the family over there had a single son. If I remembered properly, he was an only child. A tiny little boy, maybe he was in middle school. I thought he might be in middle school, but I didn't know for sure. Maybe that room, the one with the yellow light still on, was his.
So maybe that room was his. It would serve me right to be going to bed earlier than a middle school kid. Even he probably had a better time of things than I did. I mean, my brother was a junkie, and my single mother had been stupid enough to get knocked up not once, but twice - by two different men. Yeah, Nathan was only my half-brother. At least I was offered some sort of respite from the overall crappiness of my life, knowing that Nathan and I didn't share all of the same genes.
Still, you know your life is shit when some middle school brat has things so much better. I bet he'd know if he was getting into college in the fall, too - I so very desperately wanted to get the hell out of the shithole that was this home, but I didn't even know if I'd gotten accepted into any schools yet. With my grades, it was entirely a matter of crossed fingers.
I sighed one last time, and returned to staring out at the glowing yellow light next door. Slowly, my eyes drifted shut, and I slept.
I couldn't believe it. My mother was actually home the following afternoon, after I'd spent half the night staring across the way into some little brat's bedroom, practically daydreaming about him. Well, daydreaming about the kid's wonderful life, at the least. I slept half the day at school away, too - not the brightest thing to do one's senior year - and came home to the smell of baking.
My mother was actually cooking dinner.
In some families, such an occurrence was unremarkable. Not in mine. Rarely was my mother home long enough to give me and Nathan the time of day, let alone to cook for us. She wasn't exactly any sort of homemaker. She didn't even bring her boyfriends home any more.
Well, she didn't do that any more for an entirely different reason. I'm sure it must be pretty damn embarrassing for a grown woman to bring some guy home, only for him to start ogling your son.
Not even me, either. Mom's beau had been eying Nathan. I really should have pointed out then that I was the fag, Nathan was just the druggie. Of course, the guy probably wouldn't have cared, and Nathan wasn't about to say anything - not if there was a chance some random stranger might suck him off. As long as he was high, he might even be able to pretend it was a chick. Once you started doing drugs and camping out on your mother's couch, you didn't meet a lot of girls, and Nate knew it.
Well, good old mom had brought us all about the kitchen table, to a hearty meal of Hamburger Helper and the Pillsbury doughboy's best. We all knew that she couldn't cook, but she seemed to like being able to pretend every once in a while. It was a bit of an empty gesture, coming from a woman who used the fuse box to cut the power every night at eight, to try and "lower the electric bill," but we pretended not to notice. At least, I pretended not to notice. Nate kind of just stared - maybe he was high.
A person might get to wondering why my mother never said anything about my brother living at home at twenty-four and shooting up in the living room. Of course, such a person obviously wouldn't know my mother very well. She lived in a two-story home in a nice suburb with her two sons, and couldn't have afforded the place if she'd sold her soul to the devil himself. Souls weren't what she was selling, though - mom was much more into selling her body.
Her first pimp had bought us the house. I think mom was probably sleeping with him, back when she first started whoring herself out. I don't really know the details, though - I'd been four years old. Her second pimp was considerably more recent, but I still have no idea what happened to the first.
The second pimp was a hard-ass - I think he dumped mom for a younger girl or something, when he found out that she was still smoking. He'd told her to stop - instead she started chewing gum. The kind of gum smokers used to try and quit, which is why the guy allowed it. Mom thought it was funny, some of her customers even thought the gum thing was sexy. They asked for her because of it specifically - I guess guys who aren't getting any get pretty weird, or something. Mom was supposed to stop smoking because of it being a turn-off; that was why she was so damn amused that her substitute for smoking was "sexy."
Well, I spent the first ten minutes at the table shoveling food into my face at top speeds. I didn't eat very much, when I was in the house. Something about my druggie brother and my hooker mom always seemed to turn me off to food. Nathan tended to tease me for being so damn thin; I said it was partially his fault. He never seemed to get the joke. Fifteen minutes into the meal, mom and Nathan started fighting.
That was the reason I preferred that we didn't eat together.
Mom had been asking Nathan questions for the better part of five minutes. I don't really know why she never asks me anything; maybe she knows that I'll actually answer. I maintain that she only does it because asking my brother anything has to be some form of masochism. Nathan tuned everything that she said out, and it only took mom about four-point-five minutes to get fed up with it. That was when the screaming started.
"What the hell is the problem with you?" mom was shouting, even as she pushed her chair back from the table and moved to glare down at Nathan. I winced.
Nathan continued to stare into his packaged mashed potatoes.
"Don't you even hear a word I'm saying?"
I glanced from mom to Nate; there obviously wasn't anyone home behind his staring eyes. Nothing to see; he was completely dead to the world. Mom, of course, couldn't tell.
"Oh, so you can live on my couch and smoke, or shoot up, or whatever it is you do all day, but you can't even have a simple conversation over dinner with your /mother/?"
Yep, the hate was definitely building. You couldn't really feel it from Nathan so much, but it was in the /air/, just hanging there, choking you. I felt as if it were some sort of entity, as if it were burning me. I had to get out of there.
My chair scraped against the cheap linoleum as I moved to rise, and mom shot a glare my way. So maybe leaving was a bad idea, too. Trust my brother to bring me down with him in his silent battle of wills. I didn't need that from him. I knew that he'd given up on life completely, turned his entire existence into a festering pit of /shit/, but that didn't mean I had any intention to become like him.
Just because all of his dreams were dead, didn't mean I was about to die with him. I still had some chance at my own life, a better life. I was getting the hell out of there. I could hear my mom yelling after me, just as Nate himself had done the afternoon before in the living room, but I paid her about as much attention as I'd paid Nate.
Again, it was nighttime. Again, I was sitting in my bed, in the dark, scant minutes after ten o'clock. I'd tried to do homework after coming upstairs, having fled the disastrous dinner. I never really managed to get anything done; I kept thinking back to mom and Nathan staring each other down, mom screeching, Nathan glaring defiantly. I couldn't get the discordant members of my family out of my head. Even in the darkness they haunted me.
Annoyed, I turned my head to the side. Just like the night before, that light in the window across the way was on. This time, the shades were drawn, but I could see the dark silhouette of a boy on the curtains behind the glass. I didn't know for certain that the silhouette was of a boy, of course, but I'd already begun imagining the room as belonging to the little boy living there. It wouldn't do to change fantasies so quickly.
It was funny... My family was so whacked out, and yet we lived in such a boring, average neighborhood. The houses looked so cookie-cutter, so right-from-the-book. It wasn't at all the sort of neighborhood you would imagine a hooker living in - or her drug addict son, for that matter. I wondered what role I'd play. I wasn't faring too badly yet, but there was still time for me to become the typical high school drop-out. Or, should that plan of action fail, there was always college to flunk out of. There wasn't a rule anywhere saying that mom could only have one failure son living with her. It would save me a ton of money on rent.
The houses weren't the only thing about our neighborhood that was straight from the books, either. For another thing, there was actually a picket fence around the house next door. It was the same house that the perfect little boy lived in, the same house with the yellow glowing window. The damn fence was so annoying, of course - who had a courtesy white picket fence nowadays, anyway?
Dreamily, I imagined walking back downstairs, heading straight out the door without saying a word to my brother or my mother. I'd walk down our cute little paved sidewalk to the street, turn and walk over to that stupid little picket fence. The thing was only, like, two feet tall. It hardly counted as a fence - I could just hop over it, if I really wanted to get onto the next door neighbor's lawn.
That was precisely what I would do. I would walk over to that useless fence, hop the thing, and stand there on the green grass on the other side. Of course the grass would be green- the grass was always greener on the other side of the fence, after all. Our grass might be kind of yellow and dead, but that perfect little boy would have only the best. There would be nothing but verdant, manicured green lawns for him.
Quietly, I would stretch out on that manicured green lawn. I'd just lie down there in the middle of their yard, on the green grass, and... I don't know. There wasn't exactly a lot a person could do in an empty yard. I could always take a piss, if I wanted to, but that wasn't very romantic. What if someone drove by? Flashing someone on accident wasn't exactly a fantasy of mine. No, I'd just lie down on their freshly cut grass, and sleep. It'd be perfect.
It was night again, maybe ten o'clock. Probably not quite ten yet, actually, but the digital clock in my room had stopped working the night before, so I didn't know for certain. It was Friday night, so most of the seniors at school were out partying or whatever. I, of course, was at home. Not even home alone, but home with my twenty-four-year-old druggie brother. It wasn't exactly the most romantic way to be spending a Friday night.
Sitting up in my room by myself, I kind of got to thinking. I really did not want to be spending my Friday like this. At the very least, I had to get out of the house. Having made up my mind, I left my room and headed for the stairs. Mom was out - probably doing the hooker thing- so I didn't really have to explain myself. Of course, that didn't stop me from calling back into the house when I reached the front door. Force of habit, I suppose, despite the fact that it had never been a necessary habit for me.
"I'm going out to the store. Gonna buy myself a pack of cigarettes. Want something?"
"Nah, I'm fine," Nathan called from the couch. I shrugged, and opened the door.
Outside, the air was a bit cool, but nothing too bad. It was April, and I really should have gotten my acceptance letter already, if I was going to be going to school. Of course, they hadn't rejected me yet either, so there was still hope. I hoped that there was still hope. I made it all of the way down to the curb, and only then did I glance over at the house next door. Force of habit, you might say - I just wanted to see if the boy's bedroom light was on.
The light was on.
Feeling somehow defeated and not understanding why, I turned to walk off to the store. There was a seven-eleven just past the end of my street, and they sold cigarettes. They checked ID, but my brother and I looked pretty similar, and I'd filched his ages ago. Me and my cigarettes - I wasn't exactly a heavy smoker, but it probably wasn't the best thing to be getting addicted to. Sure, Nathan had his heroin addiction and would probably die of it, but cancer was only marginally better.
That was when the neighbor's door swung open. It was the house with the bedroom light I'd been observing so diligently, so of course I glanced over. Not only the same house, but the same kid - it was as if I were on some sort of roll.
Privately, I wondered what the kid was doing up so late. Sure, he'd been up that late those other nights, too, and sure, it was a Friday evening... But he was a middle schooler, for chrissakes. Wasn't ten o'clock supposed to be his curfew, or something? What was he doing going out?
Just another way his life was a million times better than mine, I supposed.
Now, the way he furtively looked behind him back into the house, as if he was afraid something - or someone - might grab him and drag him back in should have been a tip-off. I didn't really suspect that anything was seriously wrong, but no twelve-year-old or whatever is going to be leaving the house after ten unless they're sneaking out. Having assured himself that he wasn't being followed, the kid carefully closed the door behind him - and bolted.
I almost wasn't prepared for the collision. I did manage to get my hands up to catch the kid, but I really hadn't expected him to break into a run, nor had I expected him to go barreling into me. His face turned up.
He'd been crying. That stupid, perfect little kid had been crying. I didn't know what to think, at first - and then I saw the bruises. All around his eyes, all over his face, there were bruises. They were black and blue and violet, and stood out vividly in the stark streetlight illumination, what with his pale skin and scared eyes. He was trembling, and he was afraid.
"What happened to you, boy?" I heard myself asking. Without thinking, I'd tried to feign nonchalance, but I think I was failing. I actually sounded concerned, and I was concerned.
The boy was still leaning against me, with my hands braced against his shoulders. I could feel it as he breathed in deep, before even attempting to answer my simple question. He did look pretty fucked up, after all.
"M-My daddy flew off the hook 'cause I was playing too loud... Guess he couldn't hear the TV. Said 'Son, I'm gonna teach you a lesson,' and then he... And then he..."
The boy trailed off, whimpering. He took another deep, nasal-y breath, and then made this high, chilling, inhuman sound. It was sort of like a cross between that whimpering little whine of his and some sort of inhuman growl, but whatever it was, he made it far in the back of his throat, long and keening, and it was the sort of "meaningless" noise that got to you. Taken aback, I used my grip on his shoulders to force him to sit, and then moved to crouch down on the curb beside him.
The boy was crying again, just leaning into my shoulder and whimpering as huge teardrops poured down his cheek. I didn't know what to do at all, so I just kind of sat there awkwardly, trying to hold this squirming, whimpering kid that I didn't know at all. He was my neighbor, but I don't think I even knew his name. I put my arm around him.
"It's gonna be all right, okay?" I offered, knowing my voice sounded gruff. I didn't know what to say, but he just sniffled, nodded, and shoved his face into my chest. I bet he was getting snot all over me or something. Maybe the expression "snot-nosed brat" wasn't so bogus.
At least he was a cute little kid, kind of. It didn't help that his face was all beat-up and bruised, but his hair was sort of a strawberry color, fine, and with his face pressed against me I could feel that soft hair tickling my neck. Poor kid. I actually felt kind of strong, like some sort of protector, even if I was doing a pretty crappy job of comforting the boy. I tried squeezing his shoulders a bit more; he just squirmed and burrowed farther into my side.
I ended up sitting there for what must have been at least ten minutes. I kind of lost track after a bit, and would have felt like a really crappy protector, if I'd gone and snuck a glance at my watch. It wasn't as if I was being forced to take care of the kid. If I really wanted to ditch him, I could just do it. I definitely wasn't going to be getting my cigarettes any more, after all. Finally, after crying for the all of my ten minutes, non-stop, the kid let up. He sniffled a little, but his tears had stopped. Despite the bruising, he was beginning to look better.
"What's your name anyway, kid?" Maybe not the most tactful of questions, I knew, but it was becoming only slightly awkward, being unable to think of him as anything other than just "kid."
"J-Julian." He was still stuttering a little. It was kind of cute, but probably not the best of signs. He sniffed once more, really loudly, before wiping his nose on his sleeve. God. He really had to drive home the whole "snot-nosed brat" thing, didn't he?
"All right, Julian," I said, testing it out. I guess the name suited him. Probably more so than "Kennedy" suited me, at least. "You feeling any better yet?"
A person would think that, as the conversation progressed, I'd begin to get a handle on some measure of tact, at the very least. Sadly, that wasn't the case. I felt as if I was sticking my foot in it every time I opened my mouth.
"That's good. You don't want to go home, do you?"
Yeah, definitely sticking my foot in it right there.
Julian shook his head back and forth, knocking against my shoulder slightly, probably as a result of the vigor with which he was shaking his head on his tiny stem of a neck. I kind of wondered if it might just, you know, snap off.
"Good. Me neither."
Apparently, judging by the weird look Julian gave me, that wasn't the response he'd been expecting. Maybe he thought I would have brushed him off and left him there. Sadly, that wasn't exactly my style.
"I'll keep you company."
Julian seemed to consider that for a minute, and then nodded seriously. He really was a cute little kid. I suppose he wasn't that much of a kid - eleven or twelve was a full half dozen years younger than me, just about, but that also meant he was almost a teenager. It didn't really help his case that he was kind of small and didn't really act his age. Still, I was happy enough to play the role of his protector for an evening.
I guess I sort of spaced out for a while, because before I really knew what had happened, Julian was snoring. He must have been pretty worn out - and I wouldn't know, but maybe a beating did that to you - because with the angle his neck was bent at, he couldn't possibly have been comfortable. So thinking, I did my best to lay him down on the grass, trying not to wake him. Remembering my silly little fantasy, I stretched out on the grass beside him. No need to go back to my shithole life just yet, either.
The funny thing was, even with bruises ringing his eyes and a handful of cuts on his face, sleeping there, Julian was almost some strange sort of beautiful. I guess he really represented the shithole lives we led. Hell, he was the poster child for those lives. No matter how fucked up you thought you were, you saw someone like Julian, and it helped you to put things into perspective.
I know for a fact that I fell asleep out on the lawn with Julian. I also know that he wasn't there when I woke up in the morning, wet with dew. I don't really know at what time he left... But I think I'm glad I got to actually meet my perfect little next door neighbor. It's nice to see how imperfect perfection really is.
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