Warnings: Slurs, a bit of violence and tame, non-frontal nudity
Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019
I emerged from the locker room a new man, the dirt and sweat and grass that had built up on my skin and clothes over the course of the two-hour practice having been washed away in the showers.
I was the last to leave; I always was, since I liked to stick around and talk to Coach for a while before heading home.
I walked out into the waning sunlight. I stood still, enjoying the crispness of the autumn afternoon and ran a hand through my still slightly-damp hair, which was making me shiver in the cool breeze. I fished in my pocket for my keys, only to discover that I’d forgotten them in the locker room. I turned around and tried the door – locked. I sighed and started to walk around the building towards the front door, which I knew would still be open at this point.
I heard some voices shouting from around the corner of the building, but I didn’t pay much attention to them, figuring it was just some dumb freshmen overreacting to something stupid or lame, as freshmen do.
As I turned the corner, I froze.
Omar Reed and a couple of his football buddies had cornered Joaquin against a wall. None of them saw me – it would have been easy to just turn around and walk away, or tell someone about it. You can be better than that, Ben, I heard my mother’s voice remind me in my head.
“You fuckin’ faggot!” Omar shouted at Joaquin while his cronies nodded and snarled in agreement. My heart stopped and my fists clenched involuntarily. “You should go back to Mexico, you fucking faggot!” Omar pushed forward and pinned Joaquin against the wall.
Joaquin didn’t fight back or say anything. His face bore the look of a defeated, tired man.
“Is that really the best insult you can come up with, Omar?” I snarled.
Omar’s head snapped around and he glared daggers at me. “You’d better watch yourself, Ben.” He shoved Joaquin into the wall, and I heard his body thump against the bricks before he slunk to the ground, clutching his side in pain.
Omar took two steps towards me, then another, and I didn’t flinch as he pushed his face dangerously close to mine. “Or are you his little secret faggot boyfriend?” he mocked, and his friends laughed and made kissing noises.
“No,” I said icily, though my voice cracked slightly, “I’m not.” I glared at Omar, my eye contact not faltering for a second.
“Are you a faggot, Ben?” he pressed, his tone dangerous. “Is that why you’ve never had a girlfriend?” He stepped towards me, and I stepped back so that we wouldn’t collide. “ARE YOU A FUCKING FAGGOT, BEN?!”
I lost control.
I reached out and shoved Omar away from me as hard as I could. He stumbled back a bit, my strength seeming to have surprised him. I pulled my left arm back and swung. My fist connected with his face; I didn’t feel a thing, high on adrenaline and lost in my fury. He fell back and landed in the grass. I managed to get one good kick on him before his goonies dragged me away from him and pinned me to the ground.
I struggled against their strength for a few minutes until I heard one of the guys say “aw, shit, it’s Coach,” And they both scrambled off of me.
“He swung first!” All 3 of them said at the same time, pointing to where I was doubled over on the ground, cradling my now-throbbing hand.
“All of you. My office. NOW!” Coach barked.
Joaquin, who was on his feet by now, helped me stand. Coach led the five of us back into the school and pulled us into his office one by one. I was the last to face my judge, jury, and potentially executioner. I cradled my throbbing hand and grimaced as I waited in the hallway.
“Ben, I know how important landing a football scholarship is to you. And behaving like this… well, this could potentially really impact your future in a negative way.”
I swallowed. My hands were suddenly clammy. “I know, sir,” I said weakly.
Coach sighed. “What happened?”
I told him the truth; that I’d come across Omar and his goons beating Joaquin up and I’d stood up for him and lost my temper. I omitted some of the finer details, for obvious reasons.
“I’ve never known you to have a temper like this, Ben,” Coach said softly. “What did Omar say to make you snap like that?”
I leaned over in my seat and looked down at the floor. I placed my left hand on my knee and winced; it was still pulsing in pain. “He called me a… a…” I didn’t want to say it myself. I squeezed my eyes tight and shook my head. I could feel tears filling up the crack between my eyelids. Do. Not. Cry. I knew I couldn’t hold out for long. “He called me a faggot,” I whispered finally.
“Ah,” he said knowingly, as though he understood exactly why that particular word had struck me the way it had.
The thought that Coach now knew my secret – my most intimate, personal secret – was devastating. I couldn’t hold the sobs in now, they were bubbling up my throat too quickly for me to breathe or speak properly. I buried my head in my hands and wept for a long time.
“Ben,” Coach’s kind voice was nearer now, and I looked up to see that he was crouching beside my chair, so he was at eye level. “It’s okay,” he assured me. “Omar’s actions and words were unacceptable, and if I ever catch wind of him saying that word again to anyone he will be permanently removed from my team.”
I nodded in understanding and wiped the tears away as my sobs began to subside.
“However,” he continued, frowning, “you cannot let you temper get the best of you like that. Violence is not the answer, it only causes more problems.” He looked down at my hand and gingerly examined it. I winched. “Case in point.” He stood up and sighed. “As much as I hate to do this… because you technically struck first, you’re going to be barred from participating in school activities, including football, for a week.”
My heart stopped. I opened my mouth to protest, to plead my case, anything, just don’t take away football!
“But it doesn’t really matter; you probably won’t be able to play for a while, anyway, with that hand.” He looked at me with sad eyes.
“Am I going to have any shot at a scholarship if I’m out the season?” I whispered fearfully.
“I don’t know,” he said after some hesitation, which told me all I needed to know.
A feeling of absolute numbness washed over me. I nodded and stood, exiting the office in a daze.
Somehow I made it home, and as soon as my mother saw my purple, swelling hand, she pushed me back out the door and off we drove to the emergency room.
“How long until it heals?” I asked the doctor. It was a plea; please, say I can play football again next week!
The doctor shook her head remorsefully. “You’re gonna be out the rest of the season, Ben. I’m sorry.”
Over the course of the whole thing, Mom was quiet, only speaking when she absolutely needed to. I couldn’t decipher what emotion she was feeling, but thankfully it didn’t feel like anger.
Once we got home, she instructed me to sit on the couch. I obliged and frowned down at my cast, turning it every which way, willing it to heal faster, dammit!
Mom brought me some tea, and I accepted it with my good hand. She sat next to me on the couch and said, “Coach called and told me what happened, Ben.”
My blood ran cold. “What… what did he say?”
She didn’t answer my question. Instead, she reached across the couch and pulled me into a fierce hug. “I have never been so proud of you, darling boy,” she murmured to me before she let go, calling me by the pet name she hadn’t used since before I was ten. The sound of it was lyrical, like a lullaby – comforting, soothing.
She continued, “punching someone in the face is wildly, stupidly dangerous and out of line, but… you stood up to a bully, even though he wasn’t bullying you, at least initially.” Her face was both beaming with pride and wistfully sad at once, and she placed a hand on my cheek. “Don’t worry about a scholarship,” she insisted. “We’ll figure it out.” She leaned in and planted a soft kiss on my forehead.
“Mom?” I called as she stood and started to walk away
“I love you,” I whispered.
Her face melted into a smile, the most beautiful one I’d seen on her in years. “I love you too, my darling boy.”
Hannah – Fri, Sept. 27th, 2019
Ben’s injury was all anybody could talk about at school on Friday. It should have bothered me – his easy charm and popularity had always been a sore spot for me – but it didn’t. I actually kinda felt a little bad for Ben – he’d been banking on a football scholarship, and now that looked like a lost cause.
Joaquin didn’t go to school that day, from what I gathered after I overheard people repeatedly asking Ben where his “boyfriend” was. They even kept asking me about Ben and Joaquin’s relationship, which got old fast. I could only stand to say “I don’t know” so many times to people who didn’t believe me, so I just started huffing and rolling my eyes whenever someone would pester me about it. It wasn’t any of my business, anyway – Ben could date whoever he wanted.
Though I had to admit that I was kind of bummed he hadn’t told me about it. Like, you’d think your twin sister would be the first person you’d come out to! But it wasn’t like it was true; it was just a rumor. And if I knew anything about rumors, I knew 99% of them were blatant lies.
Hannah- Saturday, Sept. 28th, 2019
On Saturday, I woke early to take Felicia on a ride. The stable was immaculate, but luckily Joaquin was nowhere to be found. Thank God.
As usual, I rode out to the waterfall. The summer heat had still not been blown away by the frigid autumn gale, and I basked in the warmth of the sun and the feeling of the breeze on my skin as Felicia cantered lazily through the woods. It was a beautiful day; the sunlight danced in the tall grass as the leaves swayed in the gentle wind, and I watched, breathing in the scent of the summer day. I could already sense the slightest hint of the coming decay and death of winter in the air.
Felicia strolled lazily into the clearing, and I hopped off and removed my shoes, feeling my toes squish in the grass. After a glance around to ensure nobody was there to watch – and who would’ve been? – I disrobed and descended into the cool water. I swam under the waterfall for a while, playing in the splashes and trying to make the water wash away my anger and resentment at Joaquin and Ben and Becca and my mom. It worked a tiny bit. I always only worked a tiny bit.
After I was adequately refreshed, I pulled myself, naked, up onto the rocks that lined the edge of the pond and laid out in the still-summer sun to dry. I closed my eyes and let my thoughts wander.
I knew nobody would find me here. This was my secret place – the only other person who knew about it was my mother. I was safe here, surrounded by the forest on all sides, with a clear view of the crystal-blue sky. It still smelled like summer: grass and flowers and sunshine. My favorite scent in the world.
Felicia made a strange noise, indicating that something had startled her. I shot up and covered myself as best I could with my hands. I whipped my head around and saw the back of a dark-haired man as he hurried away.
How does he know about this place?! This is my secret place!
Once I determined that the stranger was a satisfactory distance from the clearing, I hopped off the rock and pulled my shirt and pants back on. I didn’t bother with shoes.
I tore off through the underbrush in pursuit, and as I ran through the woods, I realized that shoes would have been a good idea. The rocks and sticks and thorns that covered the ground poked and prodded my feet, causing me to wince and grumble out noises of pain with every step.
The guy had disappeared into the thicket, and I slowed, my head whipping around frantically, trying to figure out which way he’d gone. Oh, this peeping Tom is going to pay! I gritted my teeth and clenched my fists. I wouldn’t have been surprised if there’d been steam rising off of my wet skin.
I ran forward in one last-ditch effort to find the creep.
I yelped in pain and surprise as my foot landed on a particularly sharp, painful rock. My body twisted to the side so quickly that my ankle couldn’t follow. I caught my fall on my hands and knees as I cried out, sitting up and cradling my injured foot.
The sound of footsteps grew closer as the creep returned. “Are you okay?” he asked as he emerged from behind a rather large bush. His voice was unfamiliar, which made me all the more uneasy. The last thing I ever wanted to come across alone out in the middle of the woods was a strange man. That’s how girls end up dead.
I sucked in a breath and examined my slightly bloody foot before I glared up at him.
As soon as my gaze met his, I froze. Those eyes…
I knew this man – but I’d never met him. The man before me, with his black hair and striking green eyes, both the exact same shade I’d see in the mirror every morning… I’d only seen him in pictures: in the wedding album mom kept hidden away in her bedroom closet, in the family scrapbooks, holding baby me and baby Ben…
This man had died fifteen years ago.
“I’m not supposed to be talking to you,” he whispered hastily, kneeling down in front of me, “but I’m not just going to leave you out here injured.” He offered me his hand, and I hesitated. “It’s okay, Hannah,” he murmured, obviously trying to comfort me, “I’m really here. I’ve got you.” I grabbed his hand and he pulled me up to standing on my good foot, supporting the weight of the other side.
We set off down the trail, me limping and him supporting me effortlessly. My head was spinning. What the actual fuck?! Are you a ghost?! Why aren’t you dead? How did you find me at the waterfall? You can’t really be who I think you are, right?! I had so many questions, but my lips couldn’t form the sounds I needed to speak.
“I know how confused you must be,” he said, looking down at me, his piercing green eyes meeting their mirror image. “You… you do know who I am, right?”
“Yeah… you’re my dad,” I managed to croak.
He smiled a small, sad smile. “Yeah, I am,” he said.
Ben, Sept. 28th, 2019
Dean didn’t notice me walk in; or, rather, if he did, he didn’t acknowledge me. It was fine – the arcade was busy today, full of children and pre-teens running around wreaking havoc and annoying their bored parents.
I would be lying if I said that it didn’t make my heart fall a tiny bit, though, but what had I been expecting? It was a Saturday.
I approached the Pac-Man machine and popped in a quarter. I glanced over at Dean out of the corner of my eye – I couldn’t help it – and he was still busy handing out prizes to kids with ten tickets.
I played for about thirty seconds with my left hand before the machine played the trademark “game over” song. I sighed and prayed that Dean hadn’t been paying attention. But why would he have? I wanted to kick myself for hoping. Stupid, stupid!
“You need Pac-Man lessons,” I heard him call from behind the counter.
I felt my cheeks flush. “I might have to take you up on that offer once I get this dumb thing off.” I waved my cast around.
Dean’s eyebrows shot up. “Oh, shit! What happened?”
I approached the counter and rested my arm on top of it. I shrugged and nonchalantly said, “I punched a guy.”
Dean looked impressed. “Did he deserve it?”
I nodded. “Oh, for sure. I wouldn’t have ended my football career on just anybody.” I was trying to sound joking but even I could sense the tinge of sadness in my voice.
“Ah, shit, man, that sucks.” He frowned and studied my cast, which had a few signatures on it now.
“Wanna sign it?” I asked him, pulling out the sharpie I’d been carrying around the past few days for this exact purpose.
He smiled at me. “If you want me to, yeah.”
I handed him the marker and he turned my cast this way and that, trying to find a good spot. He flipped my arm over and paused with his marker just below Becca’s signature, which was inside of a heart.
“Is Becca your girlfriend?” he asked offhandedly as he started writing his name in a beautiful cursive script. I wondered where he’d learned to write like that.
I wrinkled my nose. “Oh, God, no! No way. She’s been my best friend since third grade.”
“Ah.” He finished signing his name with a flourish and popped the lid back on the marker. “There,” he said, apparently satisfied with his handiwork. He stood up and stretched.
“Long shift today?” I asked, my voice sounding flat and awkward to me. I fought the urge to wince as I noticed it.
He raised an eyebrow and smiled warmly. “Eh, you could say so. I can’t wait to get out of here, though. I’ve been itching to skate all day and I rarely ever have free time to get to the park.”
“You skate?” I asked, genuinely curious.
He nodded, and his smile grew into a full-on grin. “Do you?”
I shook my head. “Nah, I’m more of a run-and-try-not-to-get-knocked-down kinda guy.”
“What else do you do for fun, though? I mean, there’s gotta be more to life than football.”
I shrugged. “That’s all I’ve really had time for lately.” It was true; I’d lost touch with my artistic side since I’d started playing, and I hadn’t touched my paints in months. Not that I could now, anyway, with my cast.
“Well, I mean, I’d assume your schedule’s freed up a lot now,” he said, nodding to my injured hand, “you should come by the skate park sometime. I’ll teach you some tricks.” He grinned at me, his eyes sparkling. I swear, his face… it just made my insides completely melt.
I mulled it over, cursing myself for falling for any random boy who gave me the slightest bit of attention once again. “Maybe.” I shot him a pained smile and he nodded in understanding.
“Well, if you’re in need of a hobby… it’s tons of fun.” His eyes danced and sparkled, as if the very idea excited him to his core. Even in the teal and magenta glow of the arcade machines I could see that they were beautiful, though the dim lighting hid their true color.
“Yeah,” I said, my tone off and awkward once again, “maybe.” I stuffed my hands in my pockets before I started to fidget. “Uh, anyway, I’ll, uh, see you around.” I shot him a strained smile and offered a curt not before I turned to leave the arcade.
“Oh, yeah… see ya, Ben,” Dean called weakly after me. “Think about it, okay?”
“I will,” I said before the door swung shut between us.
Hannah, Saturday, Sept. 28th, 2019
The path gave way to the backyard, where Joaquin was exiting the stable, wiping his hands on his already-dirty jeans. As soon as he spotted us he rushed over. “Hannah?! Are you alright?”
I still couldn’t muster up the ability to say anything meaningful, so I just nodded.
My father spoke for me. “She’s hurt her ankle. Can you take her from here?”
Joaquin looked from me to my father and then back to me, confused and suspicious as to why this strange man had been out in the woods with me. Same, though, actually.
My dad transferred my weight to Joaquin’s broad shoulders. My head started swimming as I caught a whiff of his pleasant scent – like summer and grass and the woods and everything I loved about the outdoors. It made my already muddled brain feel even more intoxicated, and I stumbled as we took the first step. Joaquin caught me, and I noticed that his arms felt exceptionally strong. “You okay?” he asked with concern.
I nodded, still finding myself unable to say anything.
As we walked towards the house, I turned to catch one last glimpse at my father – my guardian angel? – but he had already disappeared into the woods.
“Who was that, Hannah?” Joaquin’s voice was strained.
“Honestly? I have no idea.” I lied, but it was also half-true. There was no way he had really been my father… Right?!
“Well, you’re lucky he was around.” He didn’t sound like he meant it. I looked up at him and saw that his mouth had set into a hard line.
He helped me into the screen porch and set me down on the swing. He knelt in front of me, his dark eyes scanning my face for any signs of distress. “Did he hurt you?” he questioned. Something in his expression told me Joaquin was ready and completely willing to march back into the woods and kill this unexpected intruder if he caught any sense that he’d been out to harm me.
I shook my head. “No!” I insisted. Joaquin frowned, unconvinced. “No, he didn’t hurt me. He… he helped me.”
He raised an eyebrow and put a hand on my arm and squeezed me there lightly, comfortingly, and then brought his hand down to mine, taking it in both of his. “You’re shaking, Hannah,” he whispered.
“Oh?” I hadn’t realized. Tears were stinging at the corners of my eyes. I frantically wiped them away with my free hand.
“He didn’t hurt you?” Joaquin pressed.
I shook my head.
“Then what’s got you so shaken up?” His voice was unusually comforting, and he squeezed my hand between his without tearing his eyes away from mine.
I didn’t know what to say. I just saw my dead father, who is apparently either neither dead or a ghost and I’m really fucking confused right now. No way. He’d never believe me.
“You’ve got me shaken up, you’re acting so weird,” I attempted weakly with a dry, feeble laugh, trying to lighten the mood and make myself feel better with humor.
He still didn’t take his eyes off mine.
“You’re never this nice to me, Joaquin,” I whispered, my voice trembling.
He frowned. “I know.” He exhaled. “I just need to make sure that nothing bad happened back there, okay? I need to make sure you’re safe.”
I nodded. “Yeah, yeah, I’m okay. It feels better now,” I said, speaking of my ankle.
Joaquin reached for my foot, looking to me for permission before he gingerly examined it. I could feel the callouses on his fingers as he touched my ankle and turned it gently. “Yeah, I don’t think it’s a sprain, just a bad roll. It’s not purple, see?”
I nodded and managed, “Thanks, Joaquin.” He was still kneeling next to me, so our eyes were almost level. I could see a smile in them, even though his mouth was still set in its usual straight line.
“Don’t try to put any weight on it quite yet,” he advised as he stood. He shuffled his feet for a moment before he turned to look at the stable, as if he was considering getting back to whatever it was he’d been doing.
“Stay, please,” I requested hoarsely, surprising myself. I guess was still reeling from my encounter with my father.
He turned back towards me. “You really want me to?” his voice sounded hollow and ever-so-slightly pained.
I nodded. “I don’t want to sit here by myself right now, and I don’t think anyone else is home, so just… sit with me, please.” Distract me.
He paused for a moment, considering. At last he said, “Okay,” and sat beside me.
We sat in a tense, awkward silence for a long time, Joaquin looking around the backyard at anything and everything but me. My eyes were locked on him, squinting, trying to decide what to make of this new piece of the Joaquin puzzle.
He glanced at me, and our eyes met for a brief second. I didn’t flinch, but he looked away immediately. A few seconds later his gaze returned to match mine. “What?” He whispered, raising his eyebrows.
I frowned. “You know, I’m usually pretty good at reading people, but I can’t figure you out,” I admitted.
“What’s there to figure out?” He grumbled, looking away.
I shrugged. “You don’t like me much, but you are very obviously concerned for my safety.”
I saw Joaquin furrow his brow as he looked at the floor. He said, “Of course I was concerned, Hannah. You came stumbling out of the woods being carried by a strange man.” He brought his eyes back to mine again, slowly, as he whispered gruffly, “I don’t dislike you, either.”
My eyes widened in surprise. I honestly didn’t know what to say to that. “Oh,” was all I could manage. Well, I certainly feel like a bitch.
“And besides,” he continued, “you’re not the only person who helps people.”
“Well, uh, thank you,” I whispered, casting my eyes down to the wooden planks beneath my feet.
“You’re welcome,” he said with a sigh. We both turned our heads at the sound of the front door opening and closing. He stood and said, “your mom’s here.” He started to walk towards the door, but paused and turned halfway around to look back at me. “And, uh, thanks,” he murmured, “for the ride, I mean.”
My eyebrows shot up in surprise. “You’re welcome,” I stammered.
He offered me a curt nod and ducked into the house. I watched him, perplexed. This was a side of Joaquin I’d never expected to even exist.
I exhaled. This day has been insane.
Apparently, I had no accurate measure of insanity at that point.
A/N: So many of these pictures have graphical errors and you know what? I just don’t care to edit them right now because this chapter is already waaaay late. So. You’re welcome.
I don’t really have many notes other than I’m sorry this took so long and I wish I’d write more scenes in the arcade because the lighting in there is incredible.
Also, Oliver was going to meet up with Courtney. He ran away when he realize Hannah was there. He’s not creeping on his daughter it was an accident and he wasn’t expecting her to be there. Just wanted to make that clear because it appears on second glance that it wasn’t. There was a deleted scene that addressed this that I forgot was relevant.