14-year- old Aiden Desmond is used to knowing things others don’t. He knows about things from books his friends don’t read, things on tests in higher grades, things that happen that adults go to another room to talk about, and he knew about bad days on a person’s personal calendar.
But harsh realities of life, don’t prepare a guy for things like this.
One thing he wasn’t meant to see. One conversation, two secrets revealed. Two radical shifts in what he knew.
The second secret was something “conveniently” left out of any health class he’d ever been in. That one, all the adults seemed to know, so maybe they save it for senior year, or college. But the answers from them only led to more questions.
The first secret, well… left him too shocked to get firsthand answers about the second when he had the chance. And the first secret, the biggest secret… well, he’d just waited.
6 weeks, more or less, since that conversation and it the catalyst of all of this confusion just got back in town.
Aiden is used to knowing things others don’t. But to get used to knowing these things, he needs answers.
Everyone has had truly bad days, days when things happened, days that divided their life into “Before” and “After.” And when they come around on the calendar… that’s when friends show up give you something else to think about.
Peter Dane had been showing up for him, and thanks to a third party, he now had his first shot at returning the favor.
Get him out, get some answers, have some fun, get Peter home by curfew. Two birds… or would ‘bats’ be better?
What time is sunrise, anyway?
“Okay it’s 5:45. It’s got to be late enough,” Aiden muttered as he picked up the handset. His hand felt a little clammy against the plastic. Come on, dude! Play it cool. Just another day in February… Not even calling a girl… Somehow, the drone of the dial-tone seemed like the blaring horn of a car. Nothing new in Chicago. But it sounds different when you’re standing in the street. Okay, not helping myself here…
He dialed. Each touch tone like a nail in a… I need to read happier books or something…
One ring. This is stupid…
Two rings. Worst he can do is say no…
Three rings. I should just hang up…
Four ri- “Hello.” Crap! Uh… Play it cool…
Silence. Dead air. Brain freeze.
“I can hear you breathing,” Peter said. “If this is going to be one of those calls… I am unamused.”
Holy hell… Get a grip!
“Hehe. Shouldn’t that be ‘Goo-d Eve-en-ing?’ Aiden said, throwing an old-world accent on the words. “Have some pride, Pete.”
“I do.” There was a measured silence, and then Peter spoke; his voice tinged with laughter. “I strongly urge you to learn how to hold a telephone. Should the next person you call also have caller ID, their next call may be to the police before you find your voice. And I would think, something original to say might serve better.”
Okay, banter, he’s not mad. You can do this… “I strongly urge you to… to…” Crap!
Peter beat him to it. “Talk the way I look?” An outright chuckle. “I manage, when I hav’ ta.” A laugh. Phew…
“You need help, dude.” There, a complete sentence…
“You are not the first to make the suggestion,” Peter said dryly. “If that’s the reason for your call, we can work on my ‘accent’ next week. If that’s what you want.”
Time alone, just talking. Not a bad idea. They’d talked before obviously, but that was when Peter Dane was just the kid of some friend of Dr. Thompson. Before the talk at the beginning of January. Before he knew. He had so many questions. “Cool. That’d be great!”
“If that’s all…” Peter trailed off, then softly, “Is that all?”
It could be. He could bail now, forget the whole thing. No one the wiser, except Dr. Thompson. Aiden did have to say something to get permission to make the outside call. But he could stop here, after all, he’d felt silly around Peter lately when he thought his buddy was just one or two years older. But seriously… He wasn’t thrilled to have to entertain younger kids. What did Peter really think when he wanted to hang out? Maybe it would be better to just…
Peter’s voice was quiet, but it sounded like he was smiling. “It’s always nice to hear from you between visits. Especially after… telling you. It’s a lot to take, and jokes are fine. As long as it’s just us. Next week, then, as planned.”
No. It’s Peter. You’re the one that declared ‘best friends for life’ after three years. Three months in, at the first little hiccup… Act like you’ve got some balls, man! “Wait!” His voice cracked. Oh man… “Peter, just wait, okay?” He waited for the click and the busy signal.
“What do I keep saying?” Peter whispered.
“Breathe. Think. Speak. I remember.” How many times has he said that to someone? He sighed. “That’s not why I called,” he laughed. “Guess I flaked for a second there.”
“It’s alright, you’re alright.” Another familiar phrase. How many mistakes, accidents, and outbursts had been met with those words from Peter, and others, since he and his brother got here? Almost the moment he heard them he felt himself relax a little.
“Dude! You couldn’t have led with that? Either would’ve worked.” They both laughed for a good minute.
“Sorry, you were doing okay, and I… guess I’m not a morning person today.” There was something there that he didn’t like. Out of place in his buddy’s voice.
“Ha. Funny,” he said, trying to pretend he didn’t notice. Peter could bail too easily if he picked at it now. “So… I wanted to know if you were in town already? I wanted to ask for a favor.” He’d dialed a Chicago number, but Peter’s number always worked, wherever he was. Like he was the President or a millionaire movie star or something. Two years ago, it had just seemed like magic, when he called a few days after Peter had left, and Peter said he couldn’t come over because he was in Atlanta. Same number! “You don’t need to hurry or anything, if you’re not…”
“I’m already present in Chicago. I’ve mentioned having to wait for some business to be finished before I am able to return to the House before. You understand now that it’s not really my parent’s crap.” There’s the normal teen…
“Jeez. Make up your mind. Just talk one way. You’ll just hurt my brain.”
“I doubt you truly have issues with a change in vocabulary. You are not trying to ‘fit in’ here. As I’ve said before, there’s no need to limit yourself…”
“Because the world will it do it for me if I let it,” Aiden finished. He sighed. “Okay, fine. You want me to use my vocabulary?” He took a deep breath, he thought, and then: “I’m suffering intense emotional claustrophobia. Due to recent evidence of success, for the last fortnight, it is my perception, that I have been denied all solitude. Even should I wake in the wee hours of the night, they conduct themselves as though I must be attended to.”
Aiden took another deep breath and continued. “As though the restoration of one physical capacity, needs must therefore represent the loss of considerable mental faculty. While they themselves, have developed a deficit in their ability to recall the entirety of my life subsequent to certain losses and prior to those successes.”
On the phone, it sounded like someone might be strangling his audience. Another lungful of air, another few moments consideration. Aiden went on:
“I fear for my sanity If I am not permitted to visit some other environ with some iota of independence, or at least, if at all possible, a person not a party to the deteriorating conditions of the aforementioned span of time. I find that the camaraderie represented by your person would not be offensive to my present intentions. Even were it not to the point that the very thought of my sibling, under his present demeanor, is an aggravation, even were it not that to gaze upon his present countenance is repulsive…” more air. “They find him insufficient to their measure of an acceptable escort.”
He found his lungs needful to perform that which was their function. Loudly. For several minutes.
“Finished?” Peter asked.
He nodded, then caught himself and said, “Yes.”
“So… Dude! It’s totally working. So they’re driving you nuts. And you think they’ll let me bust you out.” A pause, and then “Dude!”
He laughed and broke into snickers trying to hold it back. “You have it exactly.”
There was a long silence. “Tomorrow, ok? I’ll crash in the basement later tonight and stage a prison break at sunset.” Peter’s joking tone fell flat. It wasn’t excitement in his friends voice, more of that something he didn’t like. He began to wonder how much of the humor so far had been forced simply because he called.
For a moment he felt mugged by all his doubts. Beaten. Left standing with something lost. Watching it get further away.
Peter went on “I’m really glad you’re asking, I can’t convey how much, after what I told you.”
What if I am, just some annoying little kid?
But no. His friend had secrets, sure. But Peter didn’t lie. When they were really talking, when it was important, Peter made a point on calling him out on everything he said that wasn’t true. He wouldn’t lie about how he felt. If he said he was glad, he was glad. He wouldn’t lie. How many times have I put up the same mask?
It has to be tonight. It has to be. If it’s not tonight it’s not the 14th. Not even if we could change time zones! By then, nowhere on earth would it be the 14th. Doc Thompson said it wouldn’t be easy…
“You, sir, are an ass.” Aiden said it firmly.
He could imagine the blank look on his friend’s face. The shock and surprise of a cat suddenly facing the business end of a water spritzer. “What?”
“You, Peter Dane, are an ass.” Calm. Cool. Collected. Water above zero degrees Celsius is a liquid, and… “You are an ignominious. And a rube.”
Silence from his audience. It’s probably working, go big or go home… “You reveal to me that you are the ill mannered offspring of an uncouth and incompetent bastard and a …” He stopped mid sentence when there was a loud thud.
He couldn’t speak, he couldn’t breath. Did he hang up? Fuck!
Aiden recognized laughter through the phone. Loud, raucous even. But distant. It continued for a full minute before he couldn’t stop from joining with a chuckle. Even if it was half out of fear. Had be gone too far bringing up family? Was Peter, in fact, being murdered? Could he be hearing someone who’s gone stark raving mad?
There was several muffled scraping sounds. And then, louder, closer, laughter faded and a throat cleared. “You have…” More laughter, another cough. “Ugh. You have no… hehehe heh. No idea. You lack the slightest conception of how unassailably true that is.” He heard a slurp of something and a swallow sound.
As if he could hear, Peter clarified: “Just some water. I’m allowed a dry throat after laughing like that.”
He giggled. There was no stopping it.
“So,” Peter said as if the conversation had never been interrupted, “To where was it you thought to escape, should I be able to extract you from your dread prison?”
It was too early to celebrate. “Navy Pier?” Peter didn’t lie, but his sarcasm was past artful. And he would’ve earned it, too. Peter hadn’t actually agreed yet. “Meet me there?” Aiden asked trying to force him to go tonight.
“Two things. Two things at least,” Peter said. “Never go to the Pier alone. Not even if there’s 5 or 50 people going to ‘meet you’ there. And never split off alone at the Pier. Not even to go to the bathroom. Or any place like it. Ever, because it has to be a habit. Not even to watch someone else on a ride you hate. Ever. But especially after sunset. Promise?”
He laughed. But it was almost a sob. Peter’s tone was fierce, almost angry. Nothing made Peter angry. He didn’t know his friend could sound like this. This wasn’t a joke, not even a little. Nothing that sounded like that could be ignored, minimized, made light of, or forgotten. He had to say yes. He had to mean it. He was certain that there would be consequences if he did anything other than absolutely obey.
What scared him most, he didn’t think Peter was in any of them.
A few moments wait, and then “Promise me, Aiden.”
He had to work to wet his mouth. Breathe. Think. Speak. “I promise. I promise, Peter. Without reservation or evasion. Life long. Let it be written upon my soul, from this day until the end of days.” He figured Peter knew he wasn’t joking either. His voice had cracked so often he lost count.
“And secondly, If you’re going to Navy Pier this time of year, wear at least one more layer than the forecast would normally call for, because you’re gonna be outside a lot. Ask for it if you lack for appropriate attire.”
“Uhh, uh huh,” he croaked.
“Aiden, ” Peter said. “Instead, sit down and breathe. Do those meditation and focusing exercises you have been learning. Until I get there.”
“Ok. Actually, I’ve been sitting this whole time. Only way they’d leave me in peace.” Wait a second… “You’re coming?” He couldn’t hold back the hope he felt. “Now? Like, right now?”
“If that was about to happen, you wouldn’t have to ask.” His heart sank, until Peter’s laughed clued him in. It was his kind of joke, not Peter’s.
Aiden giggled. “It would be hard to do ‘that’ and put some clothes on. Best to do it…”
“Before or after,” Peter quipped with him. “Getting focused is more important than ‘that’ or clothes. If you’re not ready to leave when I get there… I’ll just have to wait.”
“You’re not going to rush in and help to save time?”
“Time is one thing I don’t obsess over. If you’re not ready, I know perfectly well you can get yourself ready without help. Mine or anyone’s.”
“What if I ask nicely?” Suddenly, his face felt too close to a fire somewhere. And his mouth was dry again. And why wasn’t Peter saying anything? Crap crap crap!
“Don’t let your aunt hear anything like that. See you shortly.”
‘See you shortly.’ “Yes!” he shouted, pumping his fist, “yes, yes, yes!”
He was sinking toward the ground floor in the house’s elevator. Antique in style it was a box inside a cage, and he could see through both. He was peeking around metal in diamond mesh and beyond that, shaped like shoots and vines, trying to search the stairwells that wrapped around therm. Shifting and fidgeting, but definitely smiling. The way his cheeks felt, he hadn’t stopped since he hung up the phone.
The cage was a simple mesh. As they went down he could see the doors to each floor. Both sides of the main doors had the same image in sliver, brass, and jet. The left had a raven on a branch with wings half settled, as though just coming or going. The right side had a wolf from the chest up, looking forward. When he looked at them they were looking back. Every time he rode the elevator, he made a point to move around. So far, he hadn’t found a place to be, on either side of those doors, where those eyes didn’t meet his. When the elevator rattled to a stop with a creek of springs. Wendy pushed aside both sets of the accordion doors.
He was looking up at wolf’s silver eyes, Peter Dane’s light blue were behind them.
Peter Dane. Odd name. But when you looked at the owner, it became something that required an introduction. Staring, lead by, with the talents of, special appearance by… Peter Dane. A split second, and there was that smile. It looked as wide as his felt. Lips parted, just a hint of his top teeth, framed by pink lips that edged toward red, the bottom just a little fuller. Smooth skin, always enviably clear, a light but warm tan tone that brought to mind beaches and balmy nights even in February. His hair was thick and when light hit it, its light brown revealed hidden tones of red and gold. Even now he could see hints in the bangs above. The matte golden finish on his glasses complimented skin and hair, almost invisible. For just that first split second, those eyes might have been shadowed. But the life of that smile lived in those eyes.
“Hi!” His voice squeaked a bit. Drat! He blinked, swallowed. “Good evening, Peter.”
Peter bowed slightly at the waist, smile suddenly a smirk. “Konbanwa, Aiden kun.” Straightened, and winked.
“That’s cheating!” He was going for firm and annoyed, laughter crept in anyway.
Peter shrugged and stepped back and to the left so they could move out of the elevator. “May be just as well as may not. What does the House say upon the matter?” Turning to look over his shoulder.
“Hmm.” The rumble of Dr. Emerson Thompson, the current “Lord of Ravenwolfe” reached them. Followed by brisk steps, the tap of a cane only every second or third step. “Hmm ” Gray suit with a black jacket, he swept in like he was the raven of the place. Past 80, he was still the tallest there. At 6′ 6″ he had a full foot on Peter when he put a white gloved hand on his shoulder. “The evasion stands.”
“But he said ‘good evening, Aiden,’ just in Japanese.” He looked into the wrinkled face, transformed by a smile into something youthful, and belatedly added, “Sir.”
“Hmm. Quite right. But not quite what you were after, was it?” And winked at Aiden. “Peter,” the old man turning him, “You still believe what we discussed is the best course? There are…”
There was something different, a shift in Peter’s smile as he looked up at the old man. “It needs to be settled.”
Dr. Thompson nodded and started to turn away. Then “Ah.” He swept himself into the elevator and started closing the doors. “As it happens, I feel an urge to look out the windows on the fifth floor. Now, once these doors are closed, the last I time I saw any of you, you were in the house. Do get on with your jailbreak, Peter. I fear Simon is rather over-matched by that wo-” He caught that Ms. Wendy was looking at him with one eyebrow raised. Mr. Thompson smiled and bobbed his head. “Do enjoy yourselves,”
“Hold this,” Peter said, dropping a heavy backpack into his arms. The next moment Peter was behind him and they were moving. Wendy went ahead of them, opening doors. Peter never seemed to stop moving but somehow, even with the way they were taking corners, they never reached a door before Wendy had it open. As if this mad rush was something they’d rehearsed a dozen times. Rather than something made up almost on the spot.
Outside the door, the ground made a curving slope. At the bottom it met the driveway. He was trying not laugh, fall over, or drop the backpack. He didn’t have the breath to ask questions, and he almost didn’t see the black car. He thought for sure they were going to hit it on until Peter pulled them to a stop. He was trying to catch his breath when someone pushed him forward while someone else guided his head. By then he figured it out, and grabbed at the seats to pull himself inside “Keep going,” Peter said, breathless laughter in his voice. There was a thud as the door latched behind him. Then larger thuds from the trunk, then the lid slammed. Two knocks on the trunk and then the car lurched forward and then made a sharp left turn. Just as he felt his weight start to shift, something around his back and side tightened. whatever it was, he didn’t move. The backpack however, slammed against the far door and fell onto the floor the car.
A few seconds later and a right turn threw him back against something. Something hard but it didn’t hurt. Two bands of warmth were around him and Peter’s chuckles were right next to his ear. He saw a blur go by the window that might have been the gateposts of Ravenwolfe. Another turn pushed him harder against whatever was behind him.
Aiden burst out laughing. Heart racing, lungs heaving, his own heartbeat throbbing in his ears, he burst out laughing. When he could breathe he asked, “Dude, the hell was that?”
Those bands around his torso pulled him, and Peter whispered, “Hehehe… I explicitly promised to stage a ‘jailbreak,’ did I not? A jailbreak, requires a getaway.”
Barely out the door and we made off like the first car in a chase scene.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he thought, “welcome to a night of thrills and surprises, with tonight’s special guest… Peter Dane.”
I wonder what’s next.
To be continued…