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Author's Note: This story has been written by two people in a collaborative effort. It is written in a story format by way of role-play. This story is completely written but will be posted in chapter increments on a weekly basis. Please review with any comments, critiques or reactions! We absolutely love them in any way, shape or form!
"No. Are you deaf? I said I'm not going!"
"You're going and that's the end of it! I don't want to hear another word about it! You are not an adult and you will do as your father and I say—especially after what you've done! Now go upstairs and pack up the suitcases I left on your bed. The bus leaves the station tomorrow morning at eight."
Brandon Ryans shut his hazel eyes as the corner of his forehead came against the bus window, his brow wrinkling between his eyes. Outside, the scenery passed by in shades of blue, green and gold. Farm fields stretched out towards the horizon as the bus bumped along on old pavement, cracked from age with faded traffic markings and the occasional highway sign staked into the ground flew by, though too quickly to be read.
The bus carried only a handful of passengers, but it was of no surprise. Few people were headed to the same place Brandon was: a minimally-populated seaside town where the number of stores could be counted on two hands, half of the roads were still unpaved or gravel and bikes were the preferred mode of transportation. He had only visited the town once, when he was much younger and visiting family friends with his mother and father, but the strong scent of fish and salt water was something he had little trouble recalling. It had been nauseating.
Now, he was being sent there against his will.
His parents had always believed him to have a problem with anger—a problem which he, if asked, would deny. Yet there was no denying that the reason he was being sent away was because his anger had gotten out of control, no more than a week earlier. It seemed, to his parents, that there was no other option to consider; with the school year over and a full three months of summer up ahead, Mr. and Mrs. Ryans decided their son would benefit from a quiet retreat of solitude by the sea, under the watchful eye of their good friends, the Kingstons.
Opening his eyes halfway, Brandon heaved a sigh which briefly fogged the glass beside his face. He had brought with him two full suitcases of clothing yet very few things to keep himself busy. With no internet, no cell phone (which his parents had restricted his use of) and no premium cable, he wasn't left with very many options—most of his past times required the use of a computer, DVD player or various other electricity-dependent things. In the backpack at his feet between the bus seats, he had a few magazines stuffed away but those could only entertain him for so long before they lost their novelty.
He sat back in his seat and ran his fingers back through his hair, glancing down at his wristwatch. It would only be a little over an hour before they reached the station where the Kingstons would be picking him up.
As the bus came to a sudden stop with hissing breaks, jolting its passengers awake and shifting the luggage in the cargo hold, Brandon groggily lifted his head from against the window where he'd fallen asleep. His neck ached and he lifted a hand to rub it with a wince as he stared out the window at the bus station which was small enough to be confused with a convenience store. A few people were scattered about the immediate area, seated on benches or standing off to the side holding conversation yet Brandon was easily able to pick out the Kingstons where they stood under the cool shade of the overhang. They were talking to one another yet Mrs. Kingston—Natalie, as Brandon recalled his mother referring to her—glanced at the bus every few moments, seemingly waiting for him to depart.
Grabbing his backpack as he stood and stepped out into the main aisle, Brandon made his way forward in silence. His movements were reluctant and his expression was blank yet still exhausted from the nap he'd taken. He stepped off the bus in a pair of dark-washed jeans and a T-shirt, the air around him humid and very hot for early June. Squinting in the bright sunlight, he spotted his two pieces of luggage, already unloaded by the driver and waiting on the curb and as he went to retrieve them, Natalie caught sight of him.
"Brandon!" she called, lifting an arm to wave and catch his attention. "Oh, he's gotten so tall..." she commented to her husband who stood just beside her. "I can't believe he's already seventeen." The last time they'd seen him, he'd been just eight-years-old.
Terrance James Kingston, known as TJ to his friends and family, surveyed the young man with a measuring eye. He certainly looked exactly like the photos his good friend (Brandon's father) had sent him a few days ago. Brandon's anger had landed him in a fist fight which was ill-received by all involved parties. His parents had immediately called their friends for guidance (TJ and Natalie had a child of their own around Brandon's age) and yet there were unable to offer much. TJ liked to believe the life they lead near the water allowed them to be removed from the kind of people Brandon was associating. They were happy to provide a place for him to stay for the duration of the summer in the hope that it might curb his attitude.
"You look good," TJ greeted, clamping a hand on Brandon's shoulder before he let it slide off. He had decided that Brandon would likely need to be broken and he had just the backbone to do it. "Grab your bags, our truck's right over there."
Sliding an arm around his wife, TJ began to steer her away from the boy and back to their pick-up truck with a small grin. "He owes me big," he laughed in regard to Brandon's father before kissing the top of his wife's head. Even Brandon's expression and overall stance suggested frustration. It was clear that summer would be a good experience for him.
Without a word, Brandon lifted his suitcases from the ground by their handles and followed as he glanced around in tired disbelief. He had been trying to convince himself that it was only for the summer-that just for three months, he would have to endure living in the middle of nowhere under the rules of another family's household. Then it would all be over.
He slowed to a stop beside the pick-up and swung one of his bags into the back before doing so with his other.
"Hop in," Natalie told him with a warm smile, gesturing with a hand to the single, bench front seat as her other hung from the door handle.
It didn't occur to Brandon to thank the Kingstons for the hospitality since it hadn't been his choice to come to stay with them for the duration of his summer vacation. He silently pulled himself into the middle of the bench as TJ and Natalie climbed in on either side of him and the engine choked before roaring to life as TJ turned the ignition.
Natalie reached up to gather her loose but short blonde hair back into a butterfly clip, sighing in mild relief and fanning the back of her neck with her hand. "God, it's getting hot around her already," she announced, looking to Brandon beside her in hopes of engaging him in conversation. "Has it gotten this hot at home for you yet?"
Brandon simply shrugged as he stared ahead through the windshield, his expression unreadable but clearly distant.
After a brief exchange of glances with Natalie, TJ smiled to himself and drove forward to turn off the dirt where he'd parked to pull onto the paved road. "We're only a few miles from here," he assured Brandon as they began the short ride home. They were one of the few houses farther out from the town, sitting directly on the water which provided them a fantastic view.
Upon arriving, the group unloaded themselves just outside TJ and Natalie's home, yet TJ caught Brandon's arm as he began to carry his bags towards the sliding side doors which was closest to where they parked. "Nuh-uh," TJ said with a smile as he gestured aside.
Though TJ and Natalie's house was a rather large home with plenty of room for guests and many luxuries of the place Brandon called home, he had been invited to stay for the entirety of the summer under the watchful eye of TJ, but not within their home. Down a long quarter-mile pathway of rock and sand out into the water was an old lighthouse which would be Brandon's home for the next three months.
TJ began to head towards it, Natalie heading into the house to let her husband situation their guest.
The sight of the lighthouse out in the distance caused Brandon's features to twist in confusion.
Are you serious? he groaned, rolling his eyes in utter disbelief. He was being put up in a lighthouse for the summer? Gritting his teeth, he followed TJ in frustrated silence, tossing his hair from his face as the humidity began to cause strands to stick to his forehead. His feet sunk in the dry sand, causing him to nearly stumble several times under the weight of his luggage and with unstable footing.
As he drew closer to the towering structure, he began to notice several things about it. The paint which covered the entire exterior was a cobalt, dirtied blue, chipping and curling from salt and sea air. Green, string-like reeds sprouted out from the grass surrounding the immediate base of the lighthouse and a few seagulls noisily flew in tight circles overhead. The constant rush of waves filled the air, broken only by the gulls and the heavy rings of bells from the boats docked at the harbor nearby.
"Is this a joke?" he finally asked, shaking his head incredulously and dropping his suitcases to the sand at his feet as TJ began to unlock the lighthouse door. "How the hell am I supposed to live in a lighthouse for three months?"
"How could you live anywhere else and still get your job done?" TJ asked in return, taking a single key from his pocket and fitting in into the old lock on the outside of the door before pushing it open. The creaking they were met with attested to the age of the structure and TJ stepped inside before gesturing for Brandon to follow.
There was a large room at the base of a lengthy spiral staircase that began against the side of the lighthouse and continued around and around to a tower at the top. A bed with folded sheets and blankets was against one curved wall, a small desk and chair across the way and a few other pieces of furniture such as a dresser and loveseat that were all once in the kingston household.
"You'll eat breakfast lunch and dinner with us each day. You won't miss a meal," he added expectantly. "At the top of the stairs is the light and something like a big switch. You turn it on at dusk every evening and turn it off after sunrise . That's your job here. You do that and you'll get an allowance each week."
Brandon let out an audible sound of annoyance and dropped his suitcases on the wooden floor at the foot of the undressed bed. A short glance around the base of the tower earned him the sight of only two round windows, one which overlooked the ocean just outside and another which faced the main house down the path they'd just walked. There was no television and no radio, just a phone which sat on the white-washed dresser. Beside that, sat a simple, wind-up alarm clock. The light switch just beside the entry door was hooked up to an overhead light, hanging from the tower platform above. He was fairly certain that he would soon go crazy in such a place.
"When's dinner?" he asked, stepping over to the window which housed a view of their home. His voice and even his footsteps as he crossed the old wooden floorboards held a faint echo against the high tower walls. His wristwatch read that it was just passing two-thirty in the afternoon and on cue, his stomach growled in hunger.
"Six," TJ replied, tossing the key to Brandon before he turned to leave. "Wash up before you come over and put some clean clothes on."
The lighthouse had been the responsibility of TJ's family for many years and once his father had passed away, TJ had moved into the house he'd inherited with his wife and started their own family. He had always found someone to run the lighthouse and provided room and board in exchange so he had not thought to inform his sixteen year old daughter that the personnel had changed. She was due to return home from boarding school the next day for summer vacation and TJ and his wife had been looking forward to her return anxiously for the past few weeks.
Brandon caught the key before closing his hand into a fist around it at his side and watched as TJ left the lighthouse. Wash up? he scoffed to himself, How am I supposed to wash up out here? It was then that his eyes found a single door, practically hidden beneath the curve of the spiraling stairway.
Beyond the door was a small, closet-sized bathroom. It housed a toilet and a stall shower as well as a sink and a square, beveled mirror hanging by a hook and wire on the wall. A shelf had been installed above the toilet and atop it were three freshly folded towels for his use.
The bathroom door creaked loudly as he pulled it shut and slowly wandered back to the unmade bed where a pile of laundered sheets sat for him to dress the bed. "Six o'clock," he sighed heavily, taking a seat on the bare mattress and glaring through the open doorway to the beach and rolling waves just outside.
Three months...how was he going to last three months?
Natalie turned from towel-drying the sinkful of dishes leftover from lunch as her husband stepped in through the kitchen entryway from outside. "Well? How'd he take it?" she asked with a knowing smile, balling up the damp dishrag between her hands. To be certain, Brandon could not have been receptive of his living arrangement while he stayed with them. She reached out for her wedding band and engagement ring on the counter and slid them back onto her ring finger.
"I believe he's wishing his parents enrolled him in summer school," he offered through a heavy sigh as he smiled and approached the kitchen island. He plucked a handful of grapes from the fruit basket, shaking his head to himself at the situation Brandon had managed to get himself in. "I just don't understand it," he admitted, obviously lost. Though it was clearly different with their own child being a girl, he had to ask, "What would we do if it were Beth?" He was fairly certainly he would be unable to bring himself to send her away; he loved his daugther far too much for that.
Turning so that his back rested against the counter beside where his wife stood, he glanced out the kitchen window which provided a view down the main road into town. "I give him a week," he said, defeated.
"Well," Natalie began gently, reaching out to set her hand upon his cheek to catch his attention. "He doesn't have three weeks. He's got twelve. He'll have to learn to manage."
Showered and dressed in a clean and lighter pair of jeans as well as a fresh T-shirt, Brandon made his way along the walk that stretched between the main house and the lighthouse. He wasn't particularly looking forward to sitting down to a meal with the Kingstons...yet his hunger was incredible.
Over the past few hours, left to his own thoughts and devices, he'd dwelt quite a bit on the past twenty-four hours of his life. It seemed his own parents had sent him away to isolate him for the summer all because of a stupid fist fight.
He kicked at a stray rock in frustration, sending it hurtling through the tall grass off to his right. "This is such bullshit," he muttered, tossing his damp brown hair from his eyes as he shifted his gaze back to the main house as he approached. It was six o'clock on the dot and Natalie suddenly appeared on the rear patio through the kitchen entry door, smiling at the sight of him.
"Hey! Hope you like salmon," she greeted him.
Brandon stared down at his setting-a steak of salmon, a side of rice and a small serving of snap peas all neatly situated on a plate, a bowl of plain salad off to its right and a tall glass of iced tea just above. For a while, he eyed it in uncertainty. "Do you always cook...healthy food?" he asked finally with a crinkled brow, lifting his hazel eyes across the table to Natalie just as she took a bite of her fish.
"Every night," she replied pleasantly.
Brandon looked less than thrilled and TJ gestured aside into the kitchen. "If you eat all your vegetables there's ice cream in the fridge," he told him with a small smirk. Brandon would learn to appreciate his wife's cooking in time, but for the meantime he figured incentives would be the way to go. He rested his elbows heavily on the table, moving some food around on his plate with his fork as he watched Brandon. "If you earn your allowance you could buy yourself some pizza in town," he offered. It might not have compared to the pizza Brandon was used to, but it was closer to the food he likely ate than Salmon was.
"We're on the water," he added with a laugh as he gestured for Brandon to at least try the food. "The fish doesn't get any fresher."
Was TJ speaking to him in such a condescending manner on purpose? Mentions of ice cream as a reward for finishing his vegetables...or of his allowance being used to buy pizza in town...
"I'm seventeen. Not ten," Brandon replied simply, sampling a forkful of rice as he stared down at his plate. He set his jaw against his fist and hunched over the table a bit. It was rather obvious he was forcing himself to eat.
Natalie looked to her husband with a hopeless smile before setting a shaker full of spices down in front of Brandon's place setting. "Here, try this mix of spices. It's a little something TJ's family's passed down for years and it makes everything taste amazing."
Brandon merely lifted his eyes for a brief moment or two, his jaw slowing as he watched the shaker on the tablecloth before he returned his attention to his plate.
Taking a deep breath, Natalie smoothed out her napkin against her lap and busied herself with another bite of salmon and another glance at her husband. They would certainly have their work cut out for them.
"Honey..." Natalie began that evening as she climbed into bed and reached for the bedside table lamp's switch. "I was thinking... In the morning, why don't I go to pick Beth up from the station while you maybe, I don't know, take Brandon out to breakfast in town or something. You know, so he doesn't keep thinking he's being held prisoner here." She stretched out on her side against TJ's body and rested her hand against his chest as she grew comfortable. "I thought that might be a good idea."
It certainly wasn't a bad idea and after a few moments of thought as TJ closed the book he had been reading to set it down, he nodded. "I suppose you're right. He is just like his father, I swear," TJ laughed as he rolled onto his back comfortably and lifted a hand to slip beneath his hair. "He'll grow out of it," TJ decided aloud with an easy nod. With the right guidance and setting TJ was confident that the summer would be able to curb Brandon's anger to some extent.
Brandon still sat at the top of the lighthouse, leaning back against the railing which surrounded the swivelling unit nearly three feet above his head. His head was cradled by two vertical bars as he stared out at the black ocean through the glass encasement, arms draped over his raised knees. Every now and then, the waves out at sea would catch and reflect the high beam, giving the water an eerie, brief glow. All around him was silence with the exception of the slow, rhythmic breaking of waves against the rocks and shore below and above, the stars were much brighter than he ever recalled seeing.
Sometime within that hour, he made his careful descent down the narrow, spiraling staircase and lifted his T-shirt over his head to begin undressing. There was neither an air conditioning unit nor a fan within the lighthouse and although living on the shore brought a welcome, cool breeze through the two windows, it wasn't enough for him to be able to sleep comfortably. He stripped to his boxers and fanned out the sheets that had been left for him to dress his bed with before laying across them with a heavy sigh. There was a steady hum coming from the machinery overhead as the beam rotated but Brandon was confident he would be able to fall asleep just fine.