It was September when I came back to Iowa. It wasn’t graceful by any stretch. I didn’t have anywhere to stay, I didn’t have any money, and I wasn’t sure if I would survive one more night on my own. For right now, though, I was free and clear.

Crouched down behind the concrete barrier, I was invisible to passersby. I had been here since the breakfast rush and no one had bothered me. I even managed to snag a pumpkin donut and a cup of coffee. People did not pay attention to where they put things. The barrier separated the sidewalk from abandoned construction. There were two coffee shops on either side, a bus stop just up the block, and the whole place smelled like cars and echoed with traffic sounds.

I used to come here a lot when I was hustling. It was a valuable place to meet businessmen on their way home from work, looking for a little something before they headed home to the old lady, and resumed being whatever it was they were at home. I kind of wondered if any of ’em thought of me when the screwed their wives.

Probably.

“Osian?”

I hadn’t heard my nickname in a lengthy time. I looked up to see anybody peering over the barrier at me.

“Ethan?”

Ethan Stevens, one of the boys I used to hustle with.

He was tall, broad shouldered, and the same color as cocoa powder with extremely white teeth that gave him a predatory air whenever that guy smiled, which was always. His eyes were green naturally, something that used to get him a lot of interested parties. Probably still did.

“I haven’t seen u in forever.” he smiled and hopped over the barrier easily and slid down next to me. “Where u been hiding?”

I smiled. “Here. There.”

“What brings u back to the C-bus?” that guy used the slang for Columbus. I guess I would wonder why someone came back here also. It wasn’t a bad place, but there were more excellent places. Sunnier places. Less rainy places. I wanted to go to California, said everybody that was where I was going likewise but… that at no time happened.

“Maybe I missed you.” I grinned. “Eh, Alex?”

He punched me half-heartedly on the shoulder. “Come on, Osian, I’ll treat u to some dinner and you can tell me why you’re sitting here with a duffel bag and looking like you haven’t had a meal in weeks.”

He was a sharp one, that Alex. “Sure. Where’re we going?”

“Well, I live in Hilliard those days, ten minutes away.

We’ll go to the Gold Dragon. u still like Chinese?”

“It’s merely been a year; I haven’t had that much time to resolve I hate Chinese food.”

“You at no time know, people change.” this guy got up and pulled me to my feet greater amount easily than I cared to admit. Ethan topped my height by a fine six inches and hit the gym a hell of a lot greater quantity than I did.

“Not that much. Not me. u changed your hair though.”

The Ethan of a year agone had bleached golden-haired hair; this chab was absolutely shaved now.

“The blonde was a little 1984, u know?” that guy grabbed my duffel bag and led me to his car, parked a few streets down in the library garage.

“I guess.” I took a look around the cramped, darksome garage, a bit wary. “Why’d u park here? How’d you even fit that monster in here?”

“Louise is not a monster, she’s a classic.”

“She is a rusted Cadillac that would be better off in a lake than on the road,” I rebutted.

Ethan grinned. “You haven’t changed a bit; you’re still the same aggressive little bastard, aren’t you?”

I raised my eyebrows. “I have no idea what u mean.”

“Uh-huh. Here I was thinking that you’d gone soft on me when u shacked up with that chap. What’s his name again?”

“Declan.” I still found it difficult to say his name. It was like trying to talk when u were really, indeed thirsty.

“Right, Declan. this chab was all GQ, wasn’t that guy? What happened there? I thought you had a sure thing.”

I clenched my fists and tried to pretend I wasn’t shaking just hearing his name. “Not so much.”

“That’s” this guy paused and looked at me. “Are u cool?”

“Sure.”

“Can’t fool me, Osian.” We reached the boat car and this chab unlocked the back seat, chucking my bag in. “Did that guy do smth to you?”

Something. yes. “He was a cheating bastard’s all.”

“Okay, if you say so. Hop in. We can eat dinner you can crash in my spare bedroom ‘til you’re back on your feet.”

“You don’t have to”

“You’d do the same for me.” this chab opened the passenger side door for me. “In.”

There wasn’t any use arguing with Ethan in this mood, and I could use the assist from a amiable face. “Thanks, Alex.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

I got in the car and felt a little bit safer than I had in a during the time that. Ethan started it up, managing the get it out of the cramped parking garage in a way I could solely describe as magical.

About two minutes after that I fell asleep. I guess I’d been running also long. I hadn’t slept, hadn’t eaten I was exhausted.

***

“Osian, hey, wake up.” I smelled smth actually fine and my stomach growled. I opened my eyes and saw a Styrofoam take-out box.

“Food…”

“It’s mushu.”

“You are a god.” I reached for the box.

“We’re going inside first, we’ll eat at a table, with plates and everything.”

I tried not to moan. “Why?”

“’Cause.” that guy got out of the car, taking the food with him.

I sighed and followed to receive to the food. We were parked outside a two-story apartment complex. A central stairway gave access to the four upstairs apartments.

Ethan stopped at a first floor apartment. “Come on, Osian.”

He waved the box of food invitingly.

I kind of felt like a stray cat being lured into a cage. Oh well, I was hungry. I followed Ethan into the apartment.

It wasn’t bad, more good than a lot of places I’d lived in. The living room was right off the front door to the right, the dining room and kitchen to the left, and a short hall straight ahead of me.

It was beautiful clean too. The carpet smelled vacuumed and the sofa wasn’t piled with crap. I sat down at the tiny, diner-style kitchen table and locked my eyes on the food.

Ethan pulled out plates and cups.

“What do you want to drink? I’ve got beer, orange juice… beer.”

“Well, I guess I’ll take beer then.”

“Good choice.” this chab set the food down, went to the fridge, and grabbed a pair of bottles. “I’ve been working at this organic grocery store, mostly stoners, but they have great beer.”

Ethan sat down and opened up the takeout containers. that guy served out the food and even opened my beer for me.

“Just like old times,” I said, piling meat into a pancake.

Ethan grinned. “Yeah, except that food sucked.”

I took a bite and nodded. “This is much better.”

“Chew, then talk.”

I rolled my eyes and kept eating, washing it down with the beer it was pretty wonderful. Ethan was kind sufficiently not to ask me any questions whilst I ate, and by the time I finished eating, that guy looked willing to pounce and I was willing to fall asleep.

“Well, I was going to ask you questions, but… let’s acquire u in daybed and we can talk later.” he got up from the table. “Come on, the spare bed’s made up already and everything.”

“Why do u have a spare bed?”

“’Cause I have friends who crash at my place. There’s also the couch.”

I got up and followed him to the short hall. There was a door right off, on the right, which opened on a tiny bedroom with a twin sofa and an empty closet. My duffel bag was on the floor next to the bed.

“The bathroom is the door on the left just down the hall, my room is str8 down. you need anything just let me know, okay?”

“Sure thing, Alex. Seriously, stud. Thanks for this.”

“Get your a-hole in bed.”

I saluted and headed into the bedroom, kicked off my shoes, pulled off my over-shirt, and fell into the bed.

“You crave the door closed?” this guy asked.

“No,” I said greater quantity sharply than I meant to. “I mean, no, thanks. I can sleep through everything. Just leave it open.”

“Okay.” His eyes narrowed. “Night, Osian.”

“Night, Alex.”

I grabbed a pillow and curled up with it. You’re safe, Osian.

Ethan will watch out for u. No one knows you’re here. I said myself. Declan is hundreds of miles away.

Miles away.

***

When I woke up, it took me a minute to remember where I was. The door was wide open, and I could hear Ethan talking in the kitchen. I slithered out of daybed and padded into the hallway. this chab was on the phone. this guy spotted me and held up a finger, finishing his conversation and hanging up. “Mornin’, sleeping beauty.”

“What time is it?”

“Noon. u slept like a rock except for a hardly any hours when u were screaming and I couldn’t wake you up.”

I swallowed. “Uh…”

“I was just talking to my friend Thomas, he used to work at that bar where you met Declan, Fortress, right? he told that guy saw Declan there final night, asking for you.”

I felt cold all over, my hands trembled, and my heart pounded. “Here? He’s here? Oh god…” I muttered a quick prayer in Hebrew out of habit more than dedication.

Ethan walked out of the kitchen and grabbed my shoulders. “Osian, what’s going on? Tell me what happened.”

How could I tell him, when I wasn’t even sure? that guy wouldn’t believe half what I’d seen but… maybe I could explain some of it. “I. I said no. this guy told yes and…” I shook my head. “Well, it’s hard to go to the cops and tell them your boyfriend assaulted you. So I left. I wasn’t going to let him. I had to leave.”

“Osian this guy hurt you?”

In so many ways. “Yes.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll give everybody a call. that guy won’t hear about u from any of the gang. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Go get a shower. I’ll acquire some lunch going.”

I nodded and headed back for my duffel bag and a change of clothing. There was so much I couldn’t tell Ethan.

I was safe for the moment. But Declan could probably discover me even if no one talked. this chab had his allies and his own ways.

There were clean towels in a cupboard in the bathroom, fresh looking bottles of soap and shampoo. I shut the door and stripped, kicking my raiment to the corner made by the sink cabinet and the wall. The sink had two big mirrors on either wall it was cattycornered into. They showed how bad it was more good than I could ever tell it.

Pale lines crisscrossed what used to be smooth, tan flesh.

Small round scars came in pairs. A set on my left pectoral, another set on my thigh, and a third set on my bicep.

Those were one of those things I was going to have trouble explaining.

So, Ethan, it turns out that lad who was so sexy and rich?

Yeah, that guy was a fucking vampire. So… yeah.

Vampire I probably could have lived with, if that’s all it had been I had to deal with. I didn’t mind feeding him; it tended to receive us one as well as the other off, but I had minded what this guy did next. I turned on the shower as hot as I could stand it and hopped in. My hair was gross. Normally I could receive away with washing my hair by itself, but I’d spent the final week hitchhiking and had spent one night in a jail. So I smelled beautiful awful.

I should have showered yesterday. I can’t make no doubt of I was that tired. Ethan might crave to burn those sheets…

It was laughable. Ethan and I had merely really started sticking together cuz this guy thought I needed protection. I was the slim Jewish kid whose parents moved here when Israel just got a bit more dangerous than they were ready to cope with and Ethan was the one dark lad in our rural high school.

That didn’t go over all that well. Kids could be jerks, and majority of ’em didn’t even bother to ask where I was from, they just assumed Arab or whatever, and set my car on fire junior year. Ethan and I left after that. Ended up on the streets.

I don’t think people realize how dangerous it can be in Columbus. They watch the sprawling urban center of the rural state and the thought not ever crosses their mind. That was the first mistake right there. Sure, there were fine parts. I think every town has its worthwhile parts. But just like every town has good, it has bad too.

I finished up in the shower and dried off. My hair dried in a fluffy hirsute halo that I found a bit annoying. I put clothes on and headed out to the kitchen. “I don’t suppose u have hair gel?”

Ethan snorted when that guy saw me. “I forgot how fluffy you get.”

“Thanks. Hair gel?”

“Under the sink.”

“Thanks.” I went back to the baths and dug around underneath the sink, coming up with a tube of gel. I quickly got my hair underneath control and went back to the kitchen where Ethan was making grilled cheese sandwiches.

“Much better,” Ethan approved. “How many sandwiches do you want?”

“Uh four.” I sat down at the dining table. “So…

anybody hiring around here?”

“The oil change place down the street oh, and Fed-Ex.

They need package handlers.”

“I could do that,” I mused. “I’ve always been precious at handling packages.”

Ethan groaned. “Seriously? you truly told that.”

“Yup.” I grinned.

“Are you joking like this so I won’t bring up Declan?”

“Yup.” I propped my elbow up on the table and rested my head in my hand. “How am I doing?”

“Terribly.” this guy put a beer down in front of me. “You want some pot? you are indeed tense.”

“I’ll stick with beer, thanks.”

“Okay.” that guy went back to the stove and flipped the grilled cheese. “It’s insane but, you do look a bit different now that I see u clean. Did u grow?”

“Two inches,” I admitted. “Apparently men can grow into their mid-twenties.”

“Who told u that?” Ethan flipped the sandwich onto a paper plate and slid it across the table to me. There wasn’t all that much space betwixt the dining table and the stove.

“A doctor. I had glamorous frequent appointments. Declan insisted.” Yeah, this chab had to make sure his walking vending machine was in peak health after all.

“Osian, you know u don’t have to talk about it unless you want to.”

I responded by drinking the beer. I knew Ethan wouldn’t push me. The beer was sweating. I wiped the condensation off on my pants.

“Declan didn’t just hit me, Ethan. I had to run.”

Nervously, I poked my sleeve up to expose my left shoulder. Declan left his mark where any vampire would discover it. So I couldn’t run. So I wouldn’t stray. So no one else would touch me. The raised skin of the scar was still reddish, being solely a pair months old.

“Holy shit,” Ethan said. “Dude, did he brand you?”

I dropped the sleeve. “Yeah.”

“Man, u should call the cops.”

“I don’t want to receive the cops involved, Alex. That’s just asking for trouble.”

“It’s not like you’re hustling those days. I’m not even hustling. I cleaned up my act, no reason the cops can’t help.

You could acquire a restraining order.”

I snorted. “Declan won’t give 2 shits for a restraining order, Alex.” I stuffed the sandwich into my throat in two bites and finished the beer. Alex stared at me the entire time. “Dude, the sandwich.”

He looked down at the smoking pan and flipped the grilled cheese over; it was burned nice-looking bad. “Damn it.”

He tossed the sandwich into the trash and started another one. “You make this guy sound like he’s in the mob or something, Osian.”

“Or something.” I considered my options. Alex would make no doubt of me. Maybe. I mean, we’d the one and the other seen some glamorous drilled up shit on the streets. Strange things happened in Columbus. The jogging trail down by the river, an occasional hang out for boys who wanted a quick blowjob, was supposed to be haunted. I wasn’t saying it was, but I too had a friend who swore up and down smth poked her when this babe was taking a breather from her run.

She wasn’t the type to spook effortless either.

There were other stories too, ghost stories, but I’d not at any time put much faith in the supernatural. Until Declan showed up fangs first in my life and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that there were greater quantity things in heaven and earth…

“Osian?”

“You’re going to think I’m bat shit crazy.”

“Yeah, what else is fresh? If u want to tell me, tell me.

No judgment zone, right here.” that guy gestured around us with the spatula.

“Declan. He’s not in the mob or everything. Hell, it’d be easier if this chab was.” I swallowed. “He’s a vampire.”

Alex raised his eyebrows. “Like, that guy drinks blood and sleeps in a coffin, or he’s just indeed into Gothic horror and loves Bloody Marys?”

I slipped off my shirt. I’ve always been large on visual aids. “What do you think?”

Alex moved the pan off the heat and stepped out of the kitchen, eyes wide. “Jesus-H-Christ. He… he did this too?”

“Yeah.”

I’d not ever seen Alex at a loss for words in advance of. he chewed on his bottom lip, staring at the bite marks he could watch. that guy crossed his arms over his chest, one hand tapping out a beat on his arm. I could hear the hiss of heat off the stove, the buzz of the furnace kicking on. Still, this guy didn’t say a word.

“Say something.”

“II don’t know what to say. I mean. Vampires, man.

Vampires?” that guy shook his head, then closed the distance betwixt us and touched my chest like that guy couldn’t believe what this guy was seeing. “Tell me you aren’t serious, Osian. I mean. I know u. u vampires?”

“I want it wasn’t true, chap. I really do.”

Ethan and I had been through a lot together. We were like brothers, if brothers had unresolved romantic tension betwixt ’em neither one talked about, like ever. this guy knew I wouldn’t make smth like this up, but this chab too didn’t wish it to be true. I mean, I didn’t desire it to be true either but it was and I was dealing with it.

“So, what do we have to do?”

“I don’t know. I mean, this chab can’t go out during the day.

He can’t come in uninvited, that stuff is true. I don’t know about much else. this chab kept me in the darksome as much as that guy could, I think.”

“Jesus. I this was definitely not on the list of things I thought might have happened to you, Osian.”

“Believe me, it wasn’t the first thing that came to mind when Declan asked me to move in with him.” Or the second, or even the 3rd. “You know I wouldn’t tell you this if it wasn’t true.”

“I know. It’s just, hard to believe.” he backed away. “I mean, is it murder if he’s a vampire? Can we kill him? Do we have to kill him? Will this guy just go away?”

“Probably not.” Declan wanted me for all eternity, that’s what he said. I wasn’t really interested in being a vampire.

I was nice-looking sure it wasn’t kosher. “I had to run charming fast and acquire indeed creative to stay away from him this long.”

“Okay…” Ethan took a breath. “Okay. Here I thought finding u a job was going to be the almost any stressful thing we had to do.”

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t dump all this shit on you, but I mean I didn’t know I was going to watch u. I thought I’d be dead by now.”

Ethan shook his head and then pulled me out of my chair in a bone-crushing hug. “You’re not plan to die on my watch.”

“I feel like u might be quoting a movie, but I’m also a bit relieved at the same time.” After a pause, I added,

“You’re crushing me.”

He eased up a bit. “I at no time wanted u to leave in the first place, Osian. I’m just pleased you’re back. We’ll fix this, ok? We will.”

Ethan was always the greater quantity confident one. I was the one that took inexperienced risks, but Ethan was fearless.

“Okay.”

“Okay. First thing, then. We eat lunch and then you and me are going to pick up some job applications for you, some holy water, some garlic, and everything else I can think of. We’ll cover the whole house in sage and that fucking vampire won’t get in. Okay?”

“Okay.” I wasn’t going to argue with him. he had a plan, given that I didn’t, I was just going to roll with it.

“Good.” this chab let me go. “Sit. I’ll make greater amount sandwiches.”

“Okay.”

Yeah, I had Alex on my side. He’d protect me. It was all going to work out. Maybe I should go talk to my rabbi, though, just in case.

***

Alex drove us downtown, and we walked around picking up job applications for me and trying to come up with references. I couldn’t exactly use old clients… that would be weird. greater quantity than weird, possibly illegal. After the job search we hit a local grocery store and Alex bought ’em out of garlic before we went to a petite recent age store for sage and “blessed oil”. Alex appeared to be comfortable sufficiently in the place, though the incense made my eyes water. I had doubts any of it would be sufficiently to stop Declan, but I didn’t indeed crave to voice that, cuz I didn’t have a plan. I not ever had plans. Running off with Alex before I could graduate from high school wasn’t a plan, going with Declan wasn’t a plan, not speaking to my parents again wasn’t a plan. I just reacted to the situation at hand.

The sidewalks in this part of city were cracked and out of habit, I avoided the cracks.

“I’m going in here for doughnuts.” Ethan pointed at a coffee shop near the car. “I’ll be out in a sec.”

“Sure.” I not at any time liked the smell of coffee. I also couldn’t say no to doughnuts, so I paced outside during the time that this guy went through the line. I was paying greater amount attention to the sidewalk than anyone around me and like an idiot, ran straight into somebody else. “Sorry, excuse me.”

The person I’d run into stopped me with hand on the shoulder. “Joshua?”

I blinked and looked up, and up, into the eyes of a stud I hadn’t seen since I was a little kid. My uncle, Tobias.

I hadn’t seen him since we’d moved to the states. he looked older, but not much mature. Tobias had the whole, “I graduated prep school” aura about him. Clean cut in a green polo shirt, darksome slacks, and Converse. this chab wore the same spice abode cologne my father did and I always envied his absolute lack of curl to his short spiky hair. “Hi.”

He blinked and then immediately started yelling at me in Hebrew, ‘coz that was the kind of boy this chab was.

Unfortunately, I didn’t understand majority of it. I hadn’t studied Hebrew since my Bar Mitzvah and then I hadn’t kept up with it. Sometimes I think I’m a bad Jew. I wonder why.

“Uncle Tobias, you can keep yelling, but I still don’t understand what you’re saying.”

He took a breath. Uncle Tobias was taller than me, greater quantity imposing than me, and my mama used to say he was some kind of spy. I don’t know about that, but this chab did look like he could kill a dude if he wanted to. I’d love to know why I didn’t receive these genes. Not fair.

“Do you know how worried your parents have been, Joshua? You’ve been gone for 3 years! What the hell were u thinking?”

“Uh, they threw me out when I came out. Or did they not tell u that?” I folded my arms across my chest. “It’s not like I felt welcome to come home.”

Tobias raised his eyebrows. “They might have left that out.”

I snorted. “Gee, what a surprise.”

Ethan came out of the coffee shop with the doughnuts and looked from me to my uncle. “Friend of yours, Osian?”

“This is my uncle, Tobias Raimes.”

Ethan raised his eyebrows. “Huh.” he shoved the doughnuts on me and held his hand out to Tobias, who took it. “Ethan Saint John, wonderful to meet you.”

“And you.”

“So, Tobias, are you here to take me home or something?” Might as well acquire straight to the point.

“In part, yes.” that guy gave me a look that meant trouble.

“But I’m also here for work.” this guy took a look around us, then shouted at a chap wandering around just across the street. “Caspian! Over here!”

The lad crossed the street and jogged over to us. this chab was pale, with darksome and gray hair short and styled like he’d stepped out of darksome and white movie scene from the forties.

He was clothed like a punk rocker, but that guy made me think of Declan, for all that this chab looked nothing like the vampire and seeing how he was out during the day, could not be a vampire himself.

“This is my partner, Caspian.”

Caspian smiled, and I swore his teeth were sharper than they should be, but the pont of time passed. “You get to be Joshua.”

“Great, so everybody knows my name. Awesome.”

“Try to be nice, Osian. Family. Family is trying to reach out to you. Be cool.” Ethan gave me a look. I wondered briefly when he’d figured out the scary look his daddy used to give me all the time in high school but brushed it off.

“People still call u Osian?” Tobias smiled. “Maybe u aren’t so far gone as I thought.”

“Fuck you.” I slouched. “Look, I’m not going home. I’m not welcome.”

“That wasn’t the impression I got.”

The other man, Caspian, was looking at me strangely.

After a moment, he blinked and grabbed me by the shoulder and pulled on the collar of my shirt, tugging it down.

“Hey, what the hell!”

“Caspian, you can’t just manhandle” Tobias, rather than getting his partner off me, grabbed me too. “Joshua, please tell me u aren’t selling your blood.”

I felt one as well as the other confused and terrified. “Uh, what?”

“You know, to vampires,” Caspian added. “Those are vampire bites and given the amount of garlic in that bag I’m thinking you had one follow u home?”

“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Caspian looked at Tobias. “Your nephew is lying.”

“I know. I was sort of hoping at least one member of this family wouldn’t receive mixed up with vampires…” Tobias looked at Ethan. “I suppose you should both come with us.”

He pulled a leather wallet from his pocket and discreetly flashed it open to disclose a nine-pointed, silver star badge with an eye carved into the center.

“What the hell is that?” Ethan asked. “That’s not a CPD

badge.”

“Special Division; we’re a federal agency. Come on, I’ll explain when we receive to the outpost.”

“II don’t have to go anywhere with you. You’re insane.” I pulled away. “Let’s just go home, Alex.”

“Osian, what if they you know indeed know what they’re talking about? We could use the help.”

“So one has followed u home,” Tobias said.

I took a deep breath. “I’m not a blood-whore,” I spat.

“Okay?”

Tobias raised his eyebrows. “But u do know vampires.

No one else would use that term.”

“I love most of all donor,” Caspian told. “As do majority upstanding vampires. If someone’s using that language around your nephew here, they have to be a low-class thug.”

Not the description I would give Declan. “Uh…”

“Come on then, Joshua.” Tobias raised his chin. “You too, Ethan. I desire to hear all about the vampire you’ve gotten yourself mixed up with.” he put a hand on my shoulder and I knew it wasn’t a request.

Awesome. This day was just awesome.

***

We ended up at a real estate office, but it wasn’t indeed a real estate office. The front room was set up like one, but we were taken through to the back and things changed dramatically. There was a bulletin board full of wanted posters; that was what caught my attention first. They had listings for vampires, elfkin, and… that one was for a goblin. What the hell? Goblins. Past that were a few desks and computers, but the walls… each wall was covered in strange symbols in bright red against the white walls. There was a locker at the back of the room full weapons. Guns I sort of expected, but what did they need a medieval-looking battle ax for? Or spears? Was that a crossbow?

“The officers who work this outpost are on a call right now,” Tobias said. “Maybe you heard about those strange deaths up in Toledo?”

Ethan frowned. “Bunch of drownings.”

“Yes, well, turns out they’ve got themselves a siren.

You’re favourable we happened to be in town, hunting.” Tobias picked up a bad of paper and a pen. “So, u have a name for the vampire that’s bothering you?”

That was a blasé way of putting it.

“This vampire isn’t just bothering, Osian,” Alex put in.

“Osian was living with him for a year, and this guy only just got back into town. Osian, take your shirt off.”

“I’m getting indeed tired of stripping for people…”

“Joshua, take your shirt off,” Tobias said.

I sighed and peeled my shirt off. “Is everyone happy now?”

Tobias dropped pen and paper, eyes going a bit wide.

“I see Declan has chosen a fresh child to replace the one u killed, Caspian. you lived with him?” The latter was directed at me.

“I didn’t know that guy was a vampire until later,” I muttered.

“Are we done staring at my chest?”

Tobias stepped forward and took a closer look at me.

“You have bites in other places, don’t you?”

“And?”

“Just commenting.” he took my arm, eyeing the brand greater amount closely, then turned his attention to the cross-hatching of scars on my other shoulder. “Declan is a sadist, isn’t he?”

I swallowed.

“It’s okay, Joshua. We’ll take the bastard’s head right off and you’ll at no time have to worry about him again.”

I sighed. “Can I put my shirt back on now?”

“He’s taking this rather well,” Caspian remarked.

I put my shirt back on and sat down at one of the desks.

“I did live with a vampire for a year.” I’d seen things.

Declan had killed people. I knew that. I’d… I’d seen it.

Tobias put a hand on my shoulder. “We’ve been tracking Declan for some time, Joshua. I crave we could have gotten to him before this guy got to you.”

“While not particularly powerful, Declan is like a cockroach. that guy keeps crawling away into the dark…”

Caspian clicked his tongue against the roof of his face hole. “I thought he was dead, to be honest, until a kill with his mark on it surfaced outside of Chicago. Then we got a call from the Columbus office here asking for a hunter to come in after some vampire attacks, and who do we discover? Declan. I think I desire to tear his heart out, mount his head on a pike, and…”

Tobias was staring at him with the sort of look anybody gives one more person when they’ve gone out of their mind.

Caspian dropped the line of thought and blushed. “Sorry.

Got carried away.”

I blinked. “Okay, what the hell is up with that guy?” I pointed my thumb at Caspian.

“He’s just… enthusiastic,” Tobias replied. “Don’t worry, he only kills vampires.”

“That’s reassuring.”

“Not to be nosy but, how are you going to find Declan?”

Ethan asked. “I mean, this guy was at Fortress the other night, but you don’t even know where he’s staying.”

“Fortress, that’s a club, right?” Caspian asked.

“I thought you had to be twenty-one to receive into that club,” Tobias said.

I rolled my eyes. “As if, in the time I’ve been away, I haven’t gotten a fake ID.”

“Try not to sound so smug, Joshua.” Tobias sighed.

“Until we have Declan taken care of, the two of u will just have to stay here. You’ll be safe here.”

“And after that?”

“I’m taking you to your parents’ house,” Tobias said firmly. “They miss you, Joshua.”

I snorted. “Yeah, right.” I didn’t absolutely expect the taste to the back of the head, but given my uncle’s reputation, perhaps I should have. “Ow.”

“People make mistakes, Joshua.”

“They made a beautiful big fucking mistake.” I shook my head. “Whatever. I’ll stay here. u do whatever it is u have to do.”

Caspian got into the weapons locker and retrieved a darksome bag. “Does Declan have any subordinates?”

“Humans or other vampires?”

“Both.”

“There was a vampire this guy called Templeton that came around a lot, but mostly just humans. this chab has a couple of bodyguards. Mr. Smith types, black suits, sunglasses. I not ever heard ’em given a name.”

“Should be a piece of pie,” Caspian said.

“Cake,” Tobias replied.

Caspian blinked. “Right, cake.”

Caspian did have a bit of an accent, I realized. I guess English wasn’t his first language.

“Do you have a cell phone?” Tobias asked me.

“I had to ditch it,” I replied.

He nodded and pulled out a sleek, newer model phone and handed it over to me. “Here, take mine for the time being. merely answer it if Caspian calls. The ring tone is set to This is Halloween, from The Nightmare in advance of Christmas. ”

“Uh, why?” I accepted the phone.

“Because Caspian loves Halloween for some reason.”

“It’s not some reason, it’s candy,” Caspian replied. “Let’s go. I’m getting bloodlust.”

Tobias rolled his eyes. “Stay safe.”

“Yeah, yeah. We won’t leave.”

Tobias nodded and left Ethan and I alone at the office.

About five minutes later, I realized I was hungry. “Do u think they’d mind if we ordered pizza?”

“Somehow I don’t think this is the kind of place u let the pizza boy know about.”

“True.” I sighed. “Maybe there’s a fridge in this place.”

“Why don’t I forage for food during the time that you think about what you’ll say to your parents?”

“Thanks, I needed that reminder.”

Ethan flashed a smile and wandered off. I sighed. Yeah, reuniting with my parents was going to be a blast. My mother would wax poetic about my disappointing the family. I didn’t even graduate from high school. My mama wanted me to be a doctor.

Yeah, I didn’t see that happening any time soon.

I guess I could receive my GED and then go to college.

Having been a vampire’s lunch box for a year, I did gain a greater appreciation for people who helped others. I even kind of wanted to be a doctor myself. My grades had been admirable in high school.

I didn’t want to spend my life working the street, or in a grocery store.

“I discovered a fridge!” Ethan called.

“Great!” I looked at a nearby clock. Sunset was just a pair hours away now. I hoped this would be the final night my stomach went in knots. I hoped I would never lay eyes on Declan anew. I hoped I would never even have to think about vampires again.

Normal life. That was the life for me.

***

Ethan and I passed the time with a deck of cards we found lying out on a table. I kept Tobias’ phone close and tried not to imagine my uncle getting killed. that guy appeared to be confident enough, and that guy had someone with him who was moderately terrifying, so he should come out okay. “That’s ten pairs, I win,” I told after counting. “Another game?”

“I’m good.” Ethan shook his head. “Go Fish is starting to feel fixed.”

“I’m just more excellent at cards than you are.” I swept up the cards and stacked them back up. “That’s not my fault.”

“Uh-huh.”

I made to get up when I heard smth from the other room. “Someone’s here.”

“It’s probably your uncle and his partner,” Ethan said.

“Yeah…” Then why did I have a sick feeling in my stomach?

Someone pounded on the connecting door and I approached, peering out the small spy hole, then back away quickly. “Shit. Shit. Shit.”

“What?”

“It’s… Declan’s human goons.”

“Shit.” Ethan took a breath. “We should push a desk in front of the door.”

“Okay.” We headed for a desk, but it was too little too late. The door burst open with a spray of wood shards from the doorframe.

Declan’s goons entered the room looking like he’d bought them as a matched set from a catalogue. dark suits, darksome shirts, dark ties… Big, burly, and mean looking. I still didn’t know their names. Not that it mattered, names wouldn’t make them less terrifying.

“The master has missed you, Joshua.”

“Well the master can go fuck himself.” I took a breath and tried to pretend I wasn’t terrified. “I’m not coming back.”

“The dom has asked us to bring u to him.”

Ethan stepped forward and shoved me behind him. “Osian isn’t going anywhere.”

Both men laughed and one rushed forward, knocking Ethan to the ground, and the second grabbed me around the waist and threw me over his shoulder. I kicked and screamed, but that didn’t make any difference to him. I grabbed at the doorway as we passed through it, but a hard tug dislodged my hold.

Outside, standing on the sidewalk, was Declan. The blond, underclothes model attractive vampire smiled at me from behind five-hundred dollar sunglasses.

“There’s my little Joshua.” this chab took me from his thug, gripping the back of my neck. “I’ve missed u so.”

“Go to hell.”

He squeezed tighter and I yelped. this chab could break my neck if this chab wanted to. I’d seen him do that to people before.

“Such a pleasing time of year to be born again. Poetic, I think.” that guy looked up at the sky. “The city lights not quite make the sky look blue here… I suppose it’s only fitting you die near your family. It will be over soon and then you’ll wake and wonder why you ever tried to leave me.”

“I don’t want it, I’d rather be dead.”

“You don’t get to choose, Joshua. I choose for you. I will always choose for u. That’s what a dom does.” this guy steered me toward a expecting car. I turned back, trying to acquire a glimpse of Ethan. I prayed this guy was still alive. I prayed Tobias would find him.

I prayed I didn’t survive what was coming next.

***

In the back seat of the rented Mercedes Declan would not ever own a Mercedes Declan kept his arm wrapped around my waist during the time that this chab stroked my face absently, like I was a pet. To him, I was a pet. A pet about to become a greater amount permanent fixture in his world. A world I didn’t wish any part of. His hands were always cold; that should have warned me away from him the minute we met, but I’d been hungry and inexperienced. I was still stupid, but I think I was learning.

“You smell like someone else. Did u fuck that chap u were with?” I didn’t respond and this chab stopped jerking off my face and grasped my chin constricted. “Answer me.”

“No.”

He let go of my chin and stroked the area he’d squeezed so painfully. “Good. I’d loathe to kill somebody u care about.”

I swallowed, but at least I knew Ethan was alive. Declan not ever lied to me. It was one of the greater quantity terrifying things about him.

“We’re going to have astounding sex one time you’ve joined the Dark.”

It’s not astonishing if it’s rape, u sick fuck. I was so glad Declan couldn’t read my mind.

Though apparently that guy could read my face because he frowned and the grasp on my waist tightened. “You’ll see, Joshua. anything will be clear.”

I didn’t want it to “be clear”, I wanted to be a thousand miles away from where I was right now. I wanted to be anywhere but here.

“I have garments for u at the hotel. I’m sure you’ll be glad to acquire out of those rags.” this guy sounded so damn cheerful with himself. “You always look so handsome in green, Joshua.”

I truly wished I could tear his face hole out. I wished I was stronger. I wished I was smarter. I wished Tobias was here. I wished Ethan was here. Really, anybody other than me. I mean, I’d spent a year with Declan and the bravest, cleverest thing I’d ever managed was to run away from him and that wasn’t very brave, but it had been nice-looking clever all things considered. I had a week of freedom after all. Maybe I should just be thankful for that.

I just didn’t see any way out of the position I was in.

***

“Don’t u look impressive now?” Declan cooed. “You should always put your most excellent foot forward, u know.” this guy fussed with my hair. “I’m usually not one for ceremony, but I do think the old ways are most good. Makes the bite stick as it should. We do this in a cemetery, just as my taskmaster did with me.” Seeing how my commentary wasn’t necessary, I didn’t say everything. Instead, I considered how most good to die.

“Oh good, the car is here. Off we go then.” this chab tugged me up to my feet and led me out of the hotel with his hand constantly grasped around my arm.

I didn’t recognize the cemetery that guy took us to. It was old and far outside the town. From the street signs, I knew we were headed south out of Franklin County. Madison County then. Plenty of old cemeteries to select from there.

Plenty of kids used to hit up the cemeteries out here around Halloween to spot ghosts.

I’d at no time been one of these kids, but I still knew about the cemeteries. It appeared to be Declan had done his research.

There were no greater amount than a dozen plots here, surrounded by wrought metallic fences covered by dead-looking vines. Claw-branched trees clung tight to the fence line, and all around that were tall stalks of corn nearly willing for harvesting.

I felt like a lamb being led to slaughter, and maybe I was.

The gate wouldn’t open, but that didn’t stop Declan; that guy picked me up and jumped over it like it was nothing. His goons waited outside. Declan cleared a single grave of weeds and coercive me to lie down on the ground.

He crouched over me and bared his fangs. “I love you, Joshua.”

I knew that wasn’t true. Or at least, it wasn’t the kind of love this chab thought it was. that guy thought this chab was romantic when he was being furious. It took me a while to separate these things.

He’d bitten me before, so the pain was familiar, but this time that guy wasn’t just drinking to swallow. this guy was draining me, and at the same time, this guy was pumping me with venom. I could feel it burning inside me. No one was going to save me. I was going to become a monster, just like him. I not ever should have run away from home.

“Get off of him!” The shout pierced through the night like the cry of a falcon and I heard Declan roar as this chab came off my neck. One moment, he was on me, bloody mouth dripping, and the next his head was gone and ashes were raining down on me like snow. Ethan appeared, a machete in his hand. After him came Tobias and Caspian. Caspian looked frustrated and yet, proud?

“Oh God.” Tobias knelt down and looked at my neck.

“Caspian.”

The dude pushed Tobias aside and looked at my neck.

“I’ll do my superlatively good; call Gracie, just in case.”

“Got it.”

Caspian looked at me and flashed a smile I think was meant to be comforting. “Don’t worry, I’m not a vampire.

I’m just half. I’m going to take out the venom if I can. If I can’t, u have 2 options.”

“What are they?” My brain was sorting what he’d said and my eyes were focused on his sharper than usual canines.

“You can take the turn as it comes, or you can take a risk and become smth else.”

“Something else?”

“Gracie’s on her way,” Tobias called.

“We’ll cross that bridge if we must,” Caspian said. “Stay still. This will hurt.”

I liked that this guy was honest, it wasn’t almost as scary as Declan being honest, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why right then. Ethan was next to me, holding my hand while Caspian sucked on my neck and spat out venom as this chab went.

After a hardly any minutes, he tensed and stopped. “There’s too much, he was trying to change you as fast as this chab could. I’m sorry, Joshua. You’ll die if I keep going.”

“What of the anti-venom?” Tobias asked. “Can we try?”

Caspian closed his eyes and sighed. “I’m sorry, Tobias.

The venom reached the heart. he pumped in four times what we’ve treated in the past.”

My uncle clenched his jaw. “I can’t lose anyone else.”

“You won’t lose him; Gracie’s here.” Caspian’s nose flared. “I can smell her.”

I didn’t know what was going on, but I felt like I was slipping away. “What’s, what’s the second option?”

“Gracie, hurry!” Tobias shouted.

I thought I couldn’t be greater quantity terrified, but when gold eyes flashed in the dark, I realized I was wrong. A cat, a lion really, flowed over the fence and padded over to us.

“This is Gracie,” Caspian explained. “This isn’t always how this babe looks, but if we intend to try to keep u among the living, this babe needs to be in this form.” Caspian took my free hand. “You can die, you can become vampire, or u can become part of the wild. Like Gracie.”

I saw human intelligence in that cat’s eyes. There was no thing feral about them, and that scared me more.

“She’s… a person.”

“Yes.”

Better than being a vampire. more excellent than being dead? I wasn’t sure, but I was willing to try. “I crave to try.”

Caspian nodded to Gracie and Tobias pulled Ethan away as the cat that was not a cat came forward and breathed on my face, whiskers tickling my cheeks. With slow, deliberate motions, she licked the wound Declan had made, then bit down. It was a lot greater quantity painful than a vampire bite.

Venom, blood loss, and pang did me in. I blacked out.

***

“Is this chab alive?” Ethan asked. “Yes,” a woman told. “He smells of the wild. My bite took.”

“I keep telling you, this backwater is no place for a lady of your caliber,” Caspian said. “You should consider Chicago, Gracie.”

The woman laughed and it sounded like a purr. “I said you, Caspian, no. I like it here. So many deer.”

“Uh-huh.”

I coercive my eyes open and looked around. I was in a hospital bed, but I wasn’t in a hospital. In fact, I was charming sure I was back in the journey office that wasn’t a tour office. I could smell coffee and body odor and garbage right off, following quickly by smth that wasn’t dead but wasn’t human and then cat. Lion.

Gracie. Human, she was a curvaceous blonde with a bright smile and hazel eyes. that babe wore a reservoir top and a brown peasant petticoat trimmed with bells, no shoes.

“Hello, cub,” this babe told. “I’m happy u are alive.”

“Me too,” I replied. “Ethan?”

“Here, Osian.” this chab held up a plate. “Tobias sent this in for you.” he poked the tray up to the daybed and set down the plate. It was steak tartar, I think. “Caspian says raw meat is worthwhile for blood.”

Gracie nodded. “It is. It’s likewise valuable for the newly bitten and those in recovery. Eat up.”

At first, I was hesitant, but once I caught the smell of blood and metallic my face hole started to water and I ate the whole plate clean out of blinking.

“He’ll need some more,” Gracie said. that babe looked at me and smiled. “Don’t worry, I’ll walk you throughout everything.

Lions have it easier than wolves by far. greater amount sensible creatures, lions.” this babe patted my hand. “I’ll leave you two alone to chat a bit then. acquire you a roast to gnaw on.

Something with a bone. The marrow is very admirable for you.”

She walked out of the room with all the grace she’d shown as a cat and Ethan took my hand.

“She’s something else. Vampires, half-vampires, werelions? The things you learn in a day.”

“Yeah, I know how u feel.” I thought I could hear mice scurrying.

“Things will be different now, won’t they?” Ethan looked me in the eyes. “With you.”

“What about u? u took that bastard’s head off. I mean, that was bad-ass.”

Ethan smiled. “I guess it was, wasn’t it?”

“You’re always bad-ass, though.” I drank and licked my lips. “Always.”

Ethan squeezed my hand. “I so cheerful you came back, Osian.

I’m so pleased you aren’t dead.” There were tears in his eyes.

“When you left, I realized how much I missed u and I knew I knew I’d made a mistake letting you go.” he leaned down and Osiansed me. A good, solid Osians that made my knees wobble a little, even lying down. “I love you, Joshua.”

I took a unfathomable breath and smiled like a fool. “I love you likewise. I’m sorry I left. I missed you. I thought you were better off out of me. I’m sorry.”

Ethan Osiansed me another time. “Things are always more interesting when you’re around, Osian.”

Osian. he called me that, my parents called me that. It was short for Osianmet, a nickname coz my mother wasn’t supposed to be able to receive preggo. Then I came along.

Osianmet. As if, in spite of everything, God had decided my parents would have a child and that child was me.

I thought it was greater quantity than a bit pretentious, but liked Osian more excellent than Joshua, and Joshua more good than Josh for certain.

“That’s not always a fine thing, Alex.”

He shook his head. “I don’t care. Good, bad, whatever.

You and me. I crave to watch if this thing works out betwixt us. Okay?”

“Okay.” I leaned up and Osiansed him back. “Just you, me, my uncle, his weird partner, and the lion lady that bit me.

Do you think I’ll turn into a lion on the full moon? Or is that just werewolves?”

He shrugged. “I’m sure you’ll find out.” this guy smiled.

“We’ll find out.”

I smiled back at him and then groaned.

“What?”

“I’m not dead.”

“Yes, I noticed.”

“Tobias my parents.” I put my head in my hands. “Oh, God.”

Ethan laughed. “As always, you focus on the worst outcome of any situation.”

“Well, force of habit. What can I say?” I took a breath.

“You’ll come with me, right?”

“Well…”

“Alex!”

“I’m just kidding.” this chab grinned. “I’ll come with u. I won’t let you face ’em alone. Not again.”

“Thanks.”

Ethan sighed.

“What?” I raised my eyebrows.

“Just thinking. With all of these family members and all, it might be a while before we get a chance to go on a proper date.”

“Your point?”

“We should make the majority of our alone time.” this chab grinned.

“You’re a very bad man, Ethan.”

“Ah, but you love me.” he crammed his lips against mine.

Maybe this too, was Osianmet. Maybe my time with Declan was just a stop on the way to Ethan and a strange recent life.

Maybe a more good life? It would aid if I believed in things like that. I reached up and wrapped arms around Ethan, running a hand over the soft fuzz of his hair.

Whatever it was, fate, God, chance, I was here now, I was with him and I was apparently a werelion.

Somehow, I don’t think that was kosher.

Maybe I am a bad Jew.

Ethan pulled back a pont of time. “I got u something.”

“Oh?”

From the pocket of his hoodie that guy pulled out pumpkin shaped Reeses’ cups. “Happy Halloween.”

I snorted. “Happy Halloween a whole three days early.”

He shrugged. “You don’t desire them?”

I snatched the candy. “I wish them.” I opened the packaging. “But I’ll share.”

Ethan accepted a pumpkin with a smile. “Some things not ever change.”

The candy was a piece of normal in a storm of crazy.

I needed it. “Some things.” I Osiansed him, tasting peanut butter on his tongue. “I’m happy we are.”

“Me too.”

“We aren’t also old to go trick-or-treating, are we?” I asked.

“Well, u do have the consummate costume,” this guy told. “You’ll scare the candy right out of them.”

“First time I’ll have ever scared anyone in my life.”

“Oh no, you scare me all the time.” Ethan smiled.

I rolled my eyes. “Right.”

“Oh no, I’m serious.” he glanced at the door and then back to me. “Just a sec.” he walked to the door and locked it previous to coming back. “When u look at me, it’s so intense. Tobias has the same eyes. u look at me like I’m the almost any fantastic person in the whole world and that scares me.”

I drank. “You are the almost all astounding person in the entire world.”

He sat down on the bed and Osiansed me. “I think that’s even more excellent than hearing you love me.”

“You’re weird.”

“I know.”

I wondered what news my parents would take most good. My return, my dating Ethan, or my being a shape shifter. I wasn’t sure I could tell them the last, to be honest. I mean, they took the gay thing bad sufficiently I couldn’t imagine how werelion would go over.

One thing at a time. Right now, I was going to focus on Ethan and the interesting things he was doing with his hands.

I was not going to develop a kink for hospital beds.

Probably.

Ethan was making that prospect more unlikely by the second.

I really had missed him.

***

My parents’ had moved, apparently, since I’d been gone.

They’d gotten a house in Gahanna, one of the suburbs. A two-story, white clapboard house with a yard full of trees and a pool in the backyard sat on a well-maintained lawn.

There were beds of mums in the front and an artful display of pumpkins and gourds.

“Stop stalling, Joshua,” Tobias snapped from halfway up the walk to the front door.

Ethan squeezed my hand in his. He’d gotten dressed up for the occasion, and as ordinary looked greater amount put jointly than I did. he wore a bright blue button down shirt and slacks that could have been painted on. Looking at him for too lengthy made my heart race. I, on the other end of the fashion spectrum, was stuck in a polo shirt and slacks.

Tobias took me shopping and that fellow had an un-Godly love of polo shirts. I now had over a dozen in a variety of colors. that guy was an evil man.

Caspian wasn’t here for this; he’d decided to stick around the hotel he and Tobias were staying at. I was sort of glad. The guy had a habit of saying soever the hell was on his mind. Not the best habit to have around my parents. I took a unfathomable breath and walked toward the door.

Tobias knocked firmly and crossed his arms over his chest.

“Just so you know.” this chab glanced my way. “If your parents are still assholes about u being gay, you can come stay with me.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Oh?”

“You’d like Chicago. you could receive your GED and go to college. Have a future greater than the one they shoved u toward.” he clenched his jaw. “You merit that.”

“What about Gracie?”

“There’s greater amount than one person like Gracie. Besides, Chicago is stuck with all those damn werewolves. You’d be a admirable change of pace.” that guy smiled. “Plus, Ethan here has precious instincts. Chicago is the main training center for our officers. We can use people like him.” Tobias looked at Ethan. “I mean it, just so u know, kid.”

Ethan flashed his typical smile. “Well, I’m already neck deep in it. I need a job more good than a grocery store so… why not?”

Tobias smiled back. “That’s what I like to hear.”

The front door opened and my father answered the door.

He was older, but that wasn’t a surprise. “Tobias, it’s good to watch you.”

“I promised u I would discover your son.” Tobias took one step to the side. “And I did.”

“Hi, Dad.” I waved like an idiot.

“Joshua. u u look well.”

“Thanks?” I glanced at my uncle and took a unfathomable breath.

“You remember Ethan, right?”

“How could I forget?” dad looked at Ethan and I saw a flash of contempt. I guess things hadn’t changed all that much, had they?

“Where’s, Mom?”

“She’s in the house,” dad said. We looked a bit alike, me and Dad, but it was weird. I was small, daddy wasn’t, neither was Tobias. completely not fair. Eh, who knows, maybe I’d grow. I had grown a bit. dad didn’t look nearly as big as I remembered him.

“So u asked Tobias to find me? Or was it Mom?”

He shrugged, and I took that to mean it was mama who asked in the first place. Figured. I hadn’t thought it was daddy in the first place. that guy never changed.

“Joshua?” mama pushed past dad and came out onto the porch and hugged me constricted. “You’re all right.”

“Yeah, I’m okay.”

She held on so tight. I could smell her perfume, Rose Water. I hugged her back and buried my head into her shoulder. I couldn’t remember the final time I’d smelled that perfume. I missed it. I didn’t even know how much I missed it until now. When this babe let me go, I saw tears in her eyes.

“My boy…” she smiled so hard. “And Ethan. My, u got big.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Won’t you all come inside? I have cookies and there’s some ice tea.”

“I don’t think that’s a admirable idea,” daddy said.

“Why is that?” Tobias asked. “Eh, big brother? you have a problem with your son? Or is it a problem with his friend?”

Mom glanced at daddy and then at Tobias. “Mathew, our son is home. What else could u possibly want?”

“How about my son to be normal? How about my brother to be normal? How could you ask Tobias of all people?”

Tobias frowned. “She asked me cuz this babe knew I would do smth and ‘cuz you’re an dark hole I can’t even believe I’m related to.” Tobias sighed. “Ellie, I’m really sorry my brother is so terrible. I’ll take care of Joshua. I’ll keep him safe and u can come visit us any time u like. I’ll pay for your plane tickets. whatever u need.” that guy put a hand on Mom’s shoulder. “Okay?”

Mom nodded and hugged me constricted afresh. “I love you, Joshua. Don’t u forget. No matter what your father says.

You were Osianmet. My baby.”

I didn’t desire to cry, but I couldn’t assist it. I felt like I was saying goodbye all over anew except except this time mamma was on my side. Tobias was there for me likewise. Ethan. I had a family, it was miniature but it was growing.

It didn’t matter where I was anymore. As long as I had those people, I was home. My mama squeezed my hand before going on inside and I watched the door close. I can’t deny there was a twinge in my heart when it did.

“Well, let’s get u 2 packed up then.” Tobias tried to smile and failed. “Will bring your mamma out in a short time as u lads are settled. Okay?”

“I don’t need you to take care of me, Tobias. u know that?”

He smiled then. “I know, punk. It’s not just you, though.

It’s me too. I’ve missed my family. We’ll be helping each other.”

“Okay. Alex?”

Ethan smiled. “I think Chicago sounds like a great place.

Theater, museums, admirable universities. Should be fun.”

“Well. Let’s go tell Caspian the worthwhile news,”

Tobias told. “You wish to stop anywhere in advance of we leave Columbus?”

I considered all of the places I’d haunted. I considered the people I called my friends. There wasn’t anyone, or anyplace I really wanted to watch. The people I loved were right here and there were greater quantity places I wanted to forget than remember.

I shook my head. “No. Let’s go.”

Ethan took my hand as we walked away from the house.

Doesn’t matter where I go. As lengthy as Alex is holding my hand, I’m home.

End.