Copyright © Ada Frost 2014
I could hear them inching closer. I held my breath, tightening my arms around my body as I curled into a tiny ball.
“I know the little fucker is around here somewhere.”
“Come on, Ry, just forget about him. He’s just a little kid,” Kyle whined.
“He knows not to touch my shit, how many times have I beat his ass for touching my stuff?” Ryan’s voice boomed; I heard tree branches snapping under his giant body.
“I’m outta here. Vicky is waiting on me, and finding a stupid little kid ain’t worth missing out on what she’s got.”
More rustling—Kyle must have walked away but I knew Ryan was still out there waiting. His giant ham hand ready to pummel me again.
“I will get you, you little fucker. You hear me? By making me wait, your punishment will be worse.” His thunderous voice echoed among the trees. “You better stay fucking hidden.”
Foliage rustled and branches snapped as Ryan left me alone. I still didn’t move just in case he was tricking me again. Last time he tricked me into thinking he had gone back to the house. Instead he had waited for me, sitting beside my hiding place as silent as a ghost. When I crawled out, he grabbed me and hit me with a big stick, then stomped on me until he broke my arm. He told Grandma Violet I had fallen running about near the water, and I was afraid to tell her the truth. I remember Grandma saying I should go straight to the basement without any supper but Ryan insisted I go to the emergency room.
This time I stayed in my hiding place; it was cold and dark but I didn’t care. The water hitting my toes soaked through my sneakers, wetting my socks, but I still refused to move.
“He’s gone.” I heard a gentle voice call out; it was loud enough for me to hear, but still a hoarse whisper. “Chase, he’s—” I heard scraping and snapping before quieter footsteps came toward me. I knew they weren’t the giant’s footsteps but I still stayed hidden. A soft tap on the wood above my head startled me; I clung tighter to my knees.
“Chase,” Jace whispered. “He’s gone, I saw him get into Kyle’s truck. I promise. Come out, I have something for you.”
Jace is my daddy’s little brother; when my momma died and Dad was taken away by the police, a lady put me in her car and drove me here to this big house. She said my grandparents and their sons lived here—Ryan, Kyle, the twins Tate and Gray, along with my only friend Jace. I hadn’t met them before, and Grandpa had the same name as Daddy and me. We were all Chase Dermont.
I liked Jace, he wasn’t mean like everyone else. We were in the same grade at school. I wasn’t allowed to go to his school though; I went to one a few towns away from Grandma Violet’s house instead. I crawled on my hands and knees through the dirt, out into the bright sunshine. It hurt my eyes at first because my hiding place was so dark.
“Here.” He held out a candy bar. “You didn’t get a treat after lunch.”
“I wasn’t allowed one for spilling soup on my sweater.” I stared down at the faint mark on my sleeve. I had tried to get it off as quick as possible without grandma noticing but she always caught me anytime I messed up.
I broke the candy in half and gave some to Jace. He took it and smiled. We sat down on the muddy leaves of the river bank.
“I hid up there.” He pointed to a tall tree. “I can see home from there so I know when my brothers are coming.”
“It looks scary. I can’t climb trees,” I added sadly. It looked like a great place to hide, but Ryan was probably as tall as a tree he was so huge.
“Ryan said I have to hit you,” Jace muttered quietly.
“Because he said it will teach me how to be a man. Daddy says men don’t cry, they don’t feel pain and they never show weakness, so Ryan said he will teach me to fight.” He sniffled and wiped his nose with the back of his hand. Grandma Violet hated it when I did that. “I don’t want to be a man, Chase, not if I have to hit you. I like that you came to live with us.” He sniffled again. “I told Ryan I was your friend and I didn’t want to hit you. But he said we can’t be friends with you because your momma is a whore and you made her die and my big brother wouldn’t be in prison if it wasn’t for you. What did you do? Why did you put him in prison?”“He hit my momma until she didn’t wake up no more. I asked the police officer to wake her up but he said she’d gone. I don’t know where she went. I keep waiting for her to come back but she hasn’t yet. Grandma Violet said I’m a silly boy and that Momma is dead, I know that, but when people in cartoons die they come back. So why is Momma not coming back?” I leaned across and whispered. “Do you think it’s because I’ve been bad?”
Jace shook his head. “When our dog died, Daddy put him in a box and Ryan and Kyle dug a hole out near the boat dock and buried him, he ain’t come back.”
“But I didn’t put momma in a box,” I said, shocked.
“But she ain’t coming back either, Daddy said so,” Jace said quickly, kicking at the dirt.
I wanted my momma back, so I decided when I was bigger I would go look for her and tell her I’m sorry for being bad.
“What’s a whore?” I asked quietly.
He tilted his head to one side and scrunched up his face, thinking. “I don’t know, but it sounds a nasty word the way Ryan says it.”
“Hmm, Daddy used to shout it at Momma all the time,” I remembered.
“Maybe it’s true then.”
I didn’t like to think my momma was a bad word. I hated when Daddy shouted at her and made her cry, she would have really nasty cuts and marks on her pretty face too. I pulled my knees up to my chest and hugged them tightly. I wished my momma would come back, I’d promise to be good and not do anything naughty and I’d promise to put my toys away and eat my vegetables.
A loud snap behind us made us both jump and turn around to face the noise. The largest man I’ve ever seen came toward us. He had on his work clothes; they were really smart, and I always liked the ties he wore, they always felt soft when he let me touch them. Grandpa Chase reminded me of Clark Kent but today he didn’t have his glasses on.
“Boys, what y’all doing near the water? Didn’t Violet say not to be this close? Hmm?”
“Yes sir,” we both said together as we hung our heads.
When I chanced a look back up, he was staring at me with a strange expression on his face. Sometimes Grandpa Chase scared me, not like Ryan scared me, but I didn’t like how he looked at me. He paid little attention to me in the house but when the others were out he would always make me go sit with him in his office.
“Jace, go wash up for dinner, your momma was looking for you to set the table.”
“Yes sir.” My only friend jumped to his feet and walked past his daddy. Grandpa put his hand on his shoulder and smiled down at him. “You be a good boy now you hear.”
Grandpa and I watched as Jace disappeared into the trees and back to the house. Grandpa looked back at me and smiled. He looked around the trees, his gaze landing on a tree just behind us.
“Boy, come sit with me a while,” he said in his deep voice.
I scrambled to my feet and patted my clothes down, wiping the leaves and mud away. When I stood at the side of my grandpa I was so small my head only reached above his knee. I looked up at him but the sun above his head hurt my eyes. He sat down on a large tree branch that looked like a monster’s arm reaching out toward the water, with long twisted fingers dipping into the water’s edge. I was too small to get on the branch myself, so Grandpa picked me up and placed me beside him.
“I used to sit out here with your daddy a lot; we used to love to come down here after dinner. He knew how to be a good boy and treat his old man right. Do you want to be a good boy, Chase? Do you want to be like your daddy?”
I nodded, but I really didn’t want to be like my daddy; he was mean and shouted a lot. And most times he scared me and made my momma cry.
“Come and sit on my knee, boy.”
I didn’t move at first; Daddy had never wanted me near him so I felt a little strange sitting in another man’s lap.
“I hear Ryan has been beating on you?” he said, but didn’t look down at me.
I didn’t answer because I was scared Ryan would be mad at me if I ratted on him.
“I can make that stop. If you do things for me, if you’re nice to your grandpa, then I can protect you.”
I liked the idea of that. I didn’t like Ryan hitting me, it hurt—a lot.
“So you will be my friend?” I asked, tilting my head far back to see him fully.
“Yeah, something like that. But it’s a secret friendship. We can’t tell no one, son, you get me? Your dad and I had a special friendship too, he was a good boy like you. But if you do tell anyone, Ryan will make you hurt real bad, do you hear me boy?”
“Yes sir.” I knew how badly Ryan could hurt me, I had seen the doctor at the hospital lots of times because of him.
“Well, come over here then son, and sit on my lap.”
I shuffled along the tree branch, the rough wood scraping my trousers, and I knew grandma Violet wouldn’t be happy. When I sat in his lap he made a strange noise so I looked up at him.
“You and I, boy, are going to get on real good. From now on we take care of each other. Just do as you are told and everything will be fine, and if you are extra good and do special things for me then maybe I can bring your momma back,” he added before I felt his huge hand rubbing my bottom. I bobbed my head because I would do anything to bring my momma back.