Okay, just few quick things: the story is told primarily as a flashback, and this is written using Spanish dialogue format (so forgive me if this makes it a bit difficult to read; I think the dialogue is quite easy to distinguish from the commentary though.) Also, the story is highly symbolic, so events kind of build-up in a "snowball effect" sort of manner.
And warnings are as follows: mentions of underage alcohol consumption, mentions of smoking, mentions of slash or boyXboy relationships, some violence and mentions of character death.
"It was undoubtedly the feeling of exile—that sensation of a void within which never left us, that irrational longing to hark back to the past or else to speed up the march of time, and those keen shafts of memory that stung like fire."
As I lay in bed that night, staring out the open window at the city lights, I see his old house. I remember his calm, distant attitude towards almost every situation. I remember playing video games for hours and drinking with him and his sister in the middle of the night on his balcony. I remember the fateful attack and hitting the ground faster than I could react. I remember that night in December, and in the suffocating silence of my room, I break the heavy stillness with the whisper of his name.
And with the sound of a name that has not been used in two years, the heaviness of silence immediately coats my heart like thick cement. My heart is like a stone, weighed down by painful colors, weighed down by the fragments of a shattered lens.
Heaviness lulls me to sleep, back into a nightmare that I have vowed to never forget.
–I feel for you… Raúl…
He had the nerve to smile and even put a hand on his heart!
–Happy birthday, Raúl.
–Wow! Is this what I think it is? –I asked, holding the end of the plastic cylinder to my eye. Sure, I've seen pictures of kaleidoscopes before, but it was just so different to actually hold one in my hand for the first time. Patterns the color of cathedral windows shimmered at my eye splendidly. As a child, I'd always been fond of such vibrant colors, so to get something like this for my birthday was all too incredible for me. I was turning fourteen, but, peering through the lens at all the gorgeous colors reduced me to the eager wonder of a five-year-old.
–Well, it's a kaleidoscope, if that's what you thought it was. I snuck into art club and made it for you.
–It's amazing! –I sighed sharply as I practically threw my arms around him–. Thank you, Lorenzo.
He let out a simple, weak laugh and made no move to push me away. At the same time, however, he never returned the hug. We walked side by side through the streets, and he listened idly to me, never speaking, as I went on and on about the colors I could see in my gift. Lorenzo had always been strangely distant like that, but it never struck me as odd. It didn't really bother me at the time.
That was before I saw the basement the next day.
The day after my fourteenth birthday was the second Saturday of December. That day, I was dropped off at my friend's doorstep. I had to sleep over at Lorenzo's house for a week because my parents, my uncle and my aunt had all gone to attend the funeral of my older sister, Nieves. She'd been sick for a very long time, so she had been expecting to die at any moment. In her will, she'd requested to be buried in…heaven knows where she's buried now, because I certainly don't know. She wanted to be buried "in a place that snows during Christmastime". That was all I'd heard from my cousin.
I don't even know what she died from.
My parents didn't like to talk about Nieves with me. They kept so much from me ever since Nieves was first rushed to that hospital. I don't understand why they were fighting so hard to protect me from the truth. Were they afraid it would hurt me so much that I, too, would fall away and die? I was so young when she fell ill. The last time I ever spoke to her was her nineteenth birthday, over the phone. The last time I ever saw her was the day before she was taken to the hospital, when she was twelve and I was five. I barely knew her. To hear that she was dead wouldn't crush my heart beyond repair.
They weren't even the ones to tell me. My uncle Julio did. And he was very direct about it too.
–Nieves died last night –he whispered to me that morning at the breakfast table–. The funeral is in the next two weeks. Your mom already called the Milottis to have you over for a week. Your parents don't want to bring you along because they think it's too far away. I'd sneak you in if I could, but I can't. Is that alright?
I simply nodded, because I didn't want my mom or dad to get mad at him for merely uttering her name to me.
This wasn't the first time I'd ever been to Lorenzo's house, but the place still felt foreign to me. I stood at my friend's front door with the kaleidoscope in one hand and a bag of my stuff in the other. And I knocked. His mother greeted me, looking self-conscious…or maybe nervous was the better word to describe her expression. Anyway, she had twitchy fingers that kept on fiddling with the hem of her blouse and it was just weird to me.
–Oh. Hello, Raúl. Um, what are you doing here?
–Huh? Didn't my mom already call to ask if it was okay to stay here?
–Ah! Yes! She did, she did! –she groaned, slapping a palm over her eyes–. Yes, that's today! I forgot you were coming!
For a moment, she peered at me through her fingers, with eyes so full of what looked like pure dread. She looked so full of stress that I could see her trembling! I was a bit frightened by it myself, so I flinched slightly under her gaze.
–M-Mrs. Milotti, is something wrong?
–No! –she yelped with a panic-tinged voice, before calming her tone–. No, everything is fine. Please, come in. Lorenzo will be excited to see you.
So I stepped inside and saw Lorenzo, dressed in pajamas. He gave a small pleased smile at the sight of me.
–Hey –I wave, setting my bag to the side–. Is everything okay with your mom?
–Yeah, don't worry, she's fine –he replied, somewhat shakily, letting out a wheezing cough. I took a whiff of the air around him and faintly smelled tobacco. Well, that would explain why his mom was so distraught. She probably didn't want me to smell this and think badly of them. I then noticed his hair was very messy and his hands were bruised. I made a grab for one of his hands and held it up so that I could see. His fist was mottled with bruises.
–Yikes! What happened here? –I winced, sucking in a breath of air through my teeth.
–I was practicing breaking wooden boards for my black belt test in karate. I have to do it without gloves, so I'm assuming I did it wrong if these bruises are here –he laughed sheepishly.
–That looks like it hurts…
I kissed his hand and he abruptly pulled it away like a thorn had pierced him.
–Whoa! Why'd you do that? –he hissed, red in the face with embarrassment.
–What? My cousin says that if no one kisses my injuries, it won't heal quickly.
–That's the dumbest myth I've ever heard!
–But it works for me! We can't have people in school seeing those bruises on Monday, now can we?
He let out a sound which was a blend between a deep sigh and a soft laugh. He shook his head lightly.
–You are such a kid sometimes, Raúl…
We went upstairs to his room and played video games for I don't know how many hours. His little brother and two younger cousins were outside, on the balcony, playing with dinosaurs and eating snacks on the fold-out table. One of them had come in earlier, pretending to be a fortune teller, and he offered me a red carnation as a symbol that true love would soon come my way... well, at least that's what he said anyhow. I stared at the flower in my hand and thought it was most likely picked out of the vase in the kitchen downstairs. Lorenzo dropped his controller, groaned at the sight of the red-topped plant, and made a grab for it. I snatched it away and stood up.
–Don't worry. I'll go put this back where it belongs –I told him.
–Um, okay. Sure –he replied.
–Hey! –the fortune-teller child piped up, seeing me head out the bedroom door–. Can you bring back some more snacks?
–Sure, I'll do that.
So I crept down the staircase, holding to the side rail for fear of slipping. I was wearing socks on my feet and the stairs were made of smooth wood. I set my feet on the icy tile floor and spied an empty vase on the windowsill. On tiptoe, I leaned over and reached across the sink to stick the carnation back in the vase.
That was when I felt a chill.
I whirled around to look at the front door and to see if anyone had let the cold in. But the front door was perfectly closed. The sound of human chatter faintly met my ears, and I turned to the source of the noise. The screen door of the hallway leading to the basement creaked and swung lazily on its hinges, half open. Well, I figured because I smelled tobacco earlier, perhaps someone was smoking in the basement, so they had the garage open to let the air out. That's probably why I felt cold. So I gently laid my hand on the knob and began to close the door.
Then I heard a loud thud coming from across the hall.
–There must be robbers! –I immediately whispered to myself. Without thinking, I ran across the hall and leapt fearlessly in through the second door at the end of the hall to stop whoever chose to rob the Milottis.
And when I saw what was really going on, I was at a loss for words.
On the basement floor was a sobbing man, bound in ropes and gagged with an old white shirt. And above him were Mr. Milotti and his brothers. Their fists were bruised, just like Lorenzo's. And of all people, I noticed that Filomena, Lorenzo's sister, was the one smoking a cigarette in the corner. She was averting her eyes from all of us as if nothing were happening.
–Hey! What are you doing down here!
Immediately, he and his brothers marched up to me and crowded all around me. Then Mr. Milotti put a heavy hand on my shoulder and I cringed. He looked so angry!
–Please don't hurt me! I didn't know! –I whimpered. He put his other hand on my empty shoulder and then began to shake me.
–Answer me! Who sent you? –he snarled.
–W-What? –I stammered in confusion. He only shook me harder.
–Who sent you?
–What do you mean "who sent me"?
–This is your last warning, kid! Answer me or you will suffer the consequences!
–Father –a voice from behind me stated and the shaking stopped.
–L-Lorenzo? –I turned my head. He didn't look at me. In fact, it was like he was looking right through me, at his dad.
And his stare was one of pure hate.
–Let him go. He's my friend.
And immediately, I was released from Mr. Milotti's grip. I scrambled behind Lorenzo, fingers trembling as they gripped his shoulders for support. Lorenzo remained unfazed, staring so intensely at his father like he was expecting an explosion.
–You better keep your mouth shut, kid –Mr. Milotti threatened. He then turned around and made his way towards Filomena. His brothers then went over to the man on the floor and sat down around him.
I didn't see anything else, because Lorenzo turned me straight around and led me away from the basement.
–Thank goodness you came when you did.
–You're lucky. I was only down there because the little kids were getting antsy waiting for their snacks –He led me into the kitchen and opened up the cupboard–. Here, hold this.
Then he handed me a box full of potato chip bags. He gathered some juice boxes from the fridge before leading me back out of the kitchen. He put his arm around me and we walked in silence for a minute. I wasn't sure if I should've just kept my mouth shut.
–…u-um, just a question…
–What? –he turned to me, irritation simmering behind his stolid expression.
–Who was that man and…why were you helping to beat him up earlier?
He immediately stopped walking. We were at the first step of the staircase.
–He's the mayor's lover –he stated matter-of-factly. And that shocked me quite a bit, since I'd have never thought that our mayor would be the type to cheat on his wife, and with another man at that–. Rumor has it that the mayor has been embezzling money from the taxes we pay, so what better way to confirm a rumor than to get information from a second-hand source? Plus, it sends quite the warning… and as an answer to the second part of your question…tell me, Raúl, would you have the courage to rebel against your big strong dad in a situation like this?
–I don't think I'd be able to…
–Then you get where exactly I'm coming from –he let out a small bitter laugh, like a puff of smoke off the end of a cigarette, and I felt sick to my stomach–. Anyway, justice is justice, no matter what disgusting form it takes on. Be glad I'm helping to make sure your parents aren't cheated out of anything.
–Okay… –I faltered, looking down at my shoes. I already knew Lorenzo was involved in bad stuff, what with our late-night alcoholic escapades from days in past visits, but…I didn't think it'd be this bad.
–Hey –dropping the juice boxes, he held my face with both hands so that my eyes had to face his–: if you mention this to anyone, you're as good as dead to me, alright?
His stare was so concentrated that it took me a while to speak up under such scrutiny.
–Don't worry, you can trust me. That's what friends are for after all, right?
Despite everything, the last thing I wanted was to have our friendship end.
–Thank you –he sighed in relief. He gathered up the juice and we headed upstairs.
Chapter 2 will be uploaded next weekend. Reviews are appreciated.