Chapter 02: Stranger Than Fiction

In the beginning, Kyle could only stare.

He was aware that it was quite rude, because he was just openly gaping, but the boy in front of him didn't seem to mind. Or more like, he was too distracted playing with Charlie(he was never going to forgive that cat) as he sat on the floor of Kyle's room, and completely uncaring of the fact that all he had to cover himself with was a towel, albeit a rather large one. So Kyle took this chance to really look at the boy, to make sure that it was him, and that he was real, because as much as Kyle wanted to believe, he still had his doubts.

But the boy looked so much like the child from Kyle's memories. He had the same red hair, so bright and rare. The same blue eyes, like the ocean when it lies peacefully, gently lapping at the shore and the same long red lashes that brushed his cheeks when he blinked. His features were finer, delicate, and Kyle knew he was something more than just human, just as he had when he was a child. In the end, Kyle accepted that it was the same boy, it had to be, because he looked the same, down to the last freckle, only older.

"Why are you looking at me like that?"

Kyle was snapped out of his thoughts at the soft spoken question and met the curious gaze of the boy in front of him. He was absentmindedly petting Charlie, who was now curled up in his lap.

"I, well," and he didn't really know what to say.

It seemed to amuse the boy though because he laughed, a soft sound that seemed strange in that lonely house. Kyle tried his best to get at least a sentence out on his next try.

"It's really you then?" he asked.

The boy gave him an odd look, but nodded.

"Yes, why? Do you not remember?" and he seemed genuinely concerned over that.

Kyle shook his head.

"No, I do, it's just, well."

There was no easy way to say it, not really, so Kyle just went ahead and did so.

"You're not real."

He didn't think he had ever felt as stupid as he did at that moment. The boy, however, didn't seem to think it was silly, because he frowned, his brow furrowing and his eyes taking on a slightly hurt look.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

Kyle didn't know what he meant, he was just hoping, really. He supposed it couldn't be healthy to converse with imaginary people, but it wasn't like he had a choice.

"My therapist said you were a figment of my imagination brought on by the slight neglect on my father's part, which was wholly accidental by the way."

The boy stared at him oddly.

"What's a 'therapist'?"

Kyle sighed and hunched over, his hands covering his face. He just didn't know what to do anymore, and it wasn't really a surprise because if it was all true he had been lying to himself for the last ten years to make himself feel better. He looked back at the boy, who was waiting patiently for him to basically stop freaking out.

"So let's say it's really you, why are you here now? I thought you went back home, where ever that is," he said, deciding to just go along with it for the time being.

"I did," the redhead told Kyle, seeming relieved that the man was willing to listen.

"But I wanted to talk to you again. I saw you earlier, but I had to wait until now so I wouldn't be seen. I thought the storm would keep everyone away from the beach, so I could come here to see you," he explained.

Unwillingly, Kyle began to believe in what the boy was saying, in what he had been told wasn't true, and so he asked the one thing he had wondered the most during after that Summer all those years back.

"Why did you leave?"

He wasn't really aware that he was asking that, not really. It was something that just slipped out, maybe because he had been asking himself that for so long, he needed to say it out loud.

"I had to, I didn't want anyone to know I'd been here with you, it wouldn't have been good for you or me, so I had to leave. You knew I had to go back eventually," Sam(and now Kyle couldn't help but think of him as Sam) said, and he sounded like he really hadn't wanted to go.

Yeah, Kyle had known Sam had to return home eventually. He was still a little kid anyway, of course he'd have to go back to his parents, but that wasn't what bothered him. That wasn't why he was upset with Sam at the moment.

"And you couldn't say 'bye' or something? You just left in the middle of the night, and I thought I'd made the whole thing up. Everyone thought I was crazy!"

"I'm sorry," Sam said, and he really did sound sorry when he spoke.

"I just, I didn't want to say anything because I didn't want to go. If I had told you, you would have tried to convince me, to make me stay another day and I would have gone along with it and I never would have left."

Kyle had to admit, that was probably true. If Sam had told him he was planning on leaving he would have tried to make him stay, he would have clung on to him because he was his only friend and Kyle didn't want to be alone.

"I came back," Sam continued.

"As soon as I could, I came back to see you again, but when I got here the house was empty. I thought maybe you were staying somewhere else around here, so I kept coming back. You never came back though, and then one day I almost got caught."

"What?" Kyle interrupted, alarmed.

"There was a man in a boat and, well, I didn't see him until he was throwing a net my way," Sam shrugged, seemingly embarrassed by the close call he'd had.

"After that I wasn't allowed back up here."

"So how did you manage to come back? Did you run away or something?" Kyle could see Sam doing something like that.

Sam hesitated for a moment before answering.

"Well, my father passed away, so I was able to come back. Though I didn't think I'd find you. Why didn't you return sooner?" he asked, almost accusingly, and Kyle felt a bit bad about all the trouble he'd caused.

It was funny, because Sam had caused him a lot of grief too.

"Actually, I never told you when we were kids, but I don't live here. I was just staying here for the Summer with my dad. When you came back that time, I guess we had already headed back home."

Sam took a moment to process this, and then looked up at Kyle with a frown.

"So, you're not staying here, are you?" it almost looked like he was afraid of what the answer would be.

"No," Kyle sighed.

"I'm just here for a couple of months. I have to go back home at the end of Summer," he didn't bother saying he had to go back to school, because he wasn't sure Sam knew what that was.

Sam looked dismayed at this, so much so that Kyle actually felt bad. After a moment just sitting there, Sam stood, the large towel still wrapped around him.

"I suppose I should leave now," he said, looking very much like he didn't want to go.

He still managed to smile at Kyle, albeit a bit sadly.

"It was really nice to see you again, Kyle, and, well, I'm sorry for all the trouble I gave you."

Sam turned to leave, and Kyle had the surprisingly depressing thought that he wouldn't be seeing Sam again, not after he left this time. A part of him, the part that wanted to prove he was a normal adult, told him it was a good thing, that he could let his life go back to normal now and never be bothered again. Then there was the part of him that still remembered that Summer with the funny little merboy and how sad he'd been when Sam had left. Inwardly, Kyle cursed his more sentimental side.

"Sam, wait."

The redhead stopped just outside the doorway and looked at Kyle in a questioning manner.

"Listen, if you want, I guess you can stay here," Kyle said, still uncertain about what he was doing.

"At least until I have to go back after the Summer."

For the second time that day Kyle found himself being hugged by a naked merman. He wasn't sure how he felt about that, but Sam let him go before too long.

"Thank you!" he said, positively beaming and just looking so happy Kyle though he'd done the right thing after all.

"Yeah well, just make sure to say something if you're planning on leaving," because Kyle didn't think he would like it if Sam just left like when they were kids.

"I promise I will," Sam agreed easily enough.

And so Kyle began the task of dressing Sam and getting a room ready for him(because even if Sam didn't mind, Kyle was not sleeping on the same bed as him like they had done when they were kids). Sam was just as interested in the things lying around the house as he had been when he was little. Now that he wasn't hiding out in Kyle's room, he was free to examine things in other parts of the house, like the kitchen, for example. Unfortunately, this meant that there was a lot of trouble he could get into, so Kyle took a moment to educate the merman about the dangers of the kitchen while he made dinner. At least the younger boy seemed interested enough.

After that, Sam entertained himself by observing Charlie, who had been following him much like the cat usually followed Kyle around. At the very least, Kyle thought, Charlie could see Sam. It meant he wasn't going completely insane if other people(or animals in this case) could see him, or so he hoped. The cat seemed to have taken a shine to Sam, but that was probably because Sam was content to pet him as he laid lazily on his lap, something Kyle didn't usually have the time or desire to do.

"Kyle," Sam called.

The young man hummed to show he was listening as he cooked.

"What's this?"

Kyle turned and raised an eyebrow when Sam pointed to the cat on his lap, because Sam had been petting him for an hour without knowing what it was, apparently.

"That's a cat," Kyle answered.

"He's my pet."

Sam looked down at the cat as he pet the black and white fur.

"You didn't have one before," he commented.

"No, Charlie was a gift I got about a year ago," Kyle explained as he turned back to the soup he was making.

It wasn't anything fancy, but it was a bit cold thanks to the storm and it was a simple enough recipe so he wouldn't risk poisoning Sam with his bad cooking.

"His name is Charlie?" Sam asked, looking a bit surprised.

"Yeah, why?" Kyle asked, pulling out a can of cat food from a cabinet.

"No reason," Sam said, watching Charlie hop off his lap and head towards Kyle, rubbing against his leg affectionately.

By now Kyle was used to his cat only showing any real affection for him when it was meal time, but he still found it a bit unfair that he'd be all over Sam five minutes after meeting him.

'Little traitor,' he thought, as he set down the cat's bowl.

Sam was just watching from his place at the table, and it would have been unnerving to having him observe everything Kyle did, but it wasn't like he could help himself. Kyle imagined that if he ever saw the place where Sam lived, he'd do a lot of staring too.

"So, isn't anyone going to notice you're gone?" Kyle asked, seemingly at random.

Truth was, he had been thinking about it for a while.

"Hmm, maybe, but I don't think they'd look for me," Sam said, shrugging.

"Why, did you change your mind about letting me stay?"

Kyle shook his head.

"No, just thought you might not want to stay too long," he said pouring soup into bowls.

"Why wouldn't I? I came just to see you, after all. Being able to stay here for a while longer is better than what I had expected."

Kyle set down a bowl of soup in front of Sam and sat across from the merman.

"Aren't you worried though?"

"Why would I be?" and Sam seemed genuinely confused.

"I'm human," Kyle pointed out.

"Aren't you worried I might hurt you? Maybe I'm just waiting for you to fall asleep so I can tie you up and sell you for a nice profit."

Sam shook his head with a small smile.

"But you've been really nice to me all this time, I don't think you would do that. I wouldn't have come back if I thought you would."

Kyle sighed and shook his head, deciding to just let it go because he didn't think he'd be able to explain to Sam that people changed when they grew up and for all he knew, Kyle could have turned into a complete bastard. So he settled for just telling him not to trust people so easily. He doubted Sam would change though.

They went to bed with the wind still howling outside and the rain beating against the windows. Sam had been reluctant to sleep in the room Kyle had set up for him, but had settled down well enough after Kyle told him he'd be just across the hall. He also had Charlie sleep with Sam, which was a very good thing for Kyle because the cat tended to climb on top of him and wake him when he slept in his room.

Oddly enough, the storm was gone by the time they got up the next day, though the sky was still littered with clouds. Still, Kyle thought the weather was good enough to go out the next day and get Sam some clothes, because the ones Kyle gave him to wear were too big and he hadn't packed nearly enough for both him and Sam.

As was to be expected, Sam was excited about the prospect of going into town and shopping for clothes and it was amusing enough that Kyle was in a good mood that morning. Unfortunately, people stared at them much like they had when they were children, so that kind of ruined things for Kyle. To be fair, Sam's questions and obvious fascination with just about everything was probably what made people give them odd looks. Sam seemed to be a bit more self-conscious than when he was a child, so he did his best to at least seemnormal.

It wasn't very easy to do when he even looked like he didn't belong there.

So, in an effort to help out, Kyle had been as rude as he could be towards anyone he caught staring. It was strangely reminiscent of the times he went out with Sam all those years ago.

"What are you looking at?" Kyle asked.

Because there was a young man who had been giving them odd looks while they looked through some shirts at a shop. He probably didn't think Kyle would notice, which only made it more annoying, so Kyle had to say something. The guy turned red and left, but not without looking at Sam again and Kyle had a horrible realization. People weren't staring at them, they were staring at Sam.

It was just too bad Sam had to notice right then too.

"Kyle," he said, tugging at his shirt.

"Maybe we should leave, people will just keep staring at me."

And it was true because the girl at the counter was looking their way from over her magazine, but ducked behind it when Kyle looked her way. So, they paid and left the shop and Kyle could feel more stares their way, but just ignored them, just like he had when he was younger and people thought he was crazy. Sam, however, wasn't so skilled at doing this.

"Do you think it's my hair?" he asked after a while, fingers playing with a lock of red hair as they sat on a bench to rest for a moment.

"Your hair?"

"Yeah, no one else has the same color hair, I thought maybe that's why everyone keeps looking at me so oddly," Sam elaborated.

While that was true, Kyle was pretty sure it wasn't Sam's hair. It was more like Sam in general.

"No, Sam, I don't think it's your hair," he said, and stood up, picking up the bags of clothes next to him.

"You know, I'm surprised you're so self-conscious, you used to wave at everyone who stared at you the last time I saw you," Kyle joked.

"I was four, Kyle," Sam pointed out.

"I stared at everything so I didn't think much of people staring at me."

Kyle grinned and stood, picking up the bags of new clothes next to him.

"Guess we should head back," Kyle said.

And then he turned only to bump into a young woman who seemed pretty distracted with her phone. He was going to apologize when something like recognition flashed through her eyes and a smile broke out on her face.

"Kyle? Kyle Hawkins, it's been a while."

Kyle stared, confused, thinking the young woman did seem familiar. And then it struck him. He knew where he had seen her before.

"You're Mara, right?"

"That's right, Mara Colkins. I live just a little ways away from your beach house. Haven't seen you in years," the young woman said, her green eyes sharp as they roamed over Kyle.

"Well, I haven't been here in a while. I live in Colorado so I'm just here for the Summer," Kyle explained.

"Oh really?" Mara said, sounding interested.

"So what are you doing for fun? Enjoying life on the beach?"

Kyle didn't know how to answer that because "life on the beach" had been pretty strange so far.

"Well, it's been fine so far. Haven't really done much apart from some shopping with Sam," Kyle shrugged.

"Sam?" and it seemed that Mara had just noticed the shorter boy behind Kyle.

Sam just waved with a friendly smile.

"It's nice to meet you," he said cheerfully.

"Ah, yes, likewise," but it didn't seem like Mara was very interested in Sam at all, instead turning her attention to Kyle.

"So Kyle, I'm actually having a party tonight, you know, to celebrate a friend's birthday. Maybe you can come, have some fun before you go back to the city life," Mara said, voice working to entice the young man.

Unfortunately for her, Kyle hated parties, but she was someone he had known for a while, so he made an attempt to be polite.

"That sounds good, I'll try to show up, but I should really get going now."

"Oh yeah, same here. Guess I'll see you later," she waved as she left and Kyle waved back weakly.

"Well, that was...unexpected," Kyle commented, leading the way back home.

"It was nice of her to invite you to her party," Sam said.

"You know what a party is?" Kyle asked, just half surprised.

"Uh huh, we have them back home, but I guess they're probably different from yours."

"Yeah, probably," Kyle said with a laugh.

"What are they like here?" Sam asked curiously, walking next to Kyle.

"Well, there's music and food and drinks and people just basically talk or dance, you know, just try to have fun," and Kyle did his best to describe a party, even though he hardly ever went to any.

"Oh, well they sound like the ones back home," Sam commented.

Kyle didn't think they would be, because they probably didn't have drunk idiots and obnoxiously loud music wherever Sam had come from. But he didn't say anything about that, just led the way home, thinking that an evening with Sam was probably more entertaining than any party.

Once again, I hope you've enjoyed this chapter and please leave a review if you have the time, it would make my day. To those who've reviewed or added me to their lists, thank you very much!