Delight Drive. The street's very name explained how every house looked. Each one was painted with bright, cheery colors; a reflection of its owner. Every lawn was trimmed and watered to perfection; every flowerbed overrun with all sorts of tulips, daffodils, peonies, roses, and each bed was completely devoid of weeds. Each fence was lined with flawlessly pruned hedges. And the homes themselves seemed to emit a feeling of warmth and comfort.
It made Zacky sick. It was too happy, too
disconcerting. No one seemed to have a mind of their own. Every basic idea was the same.
Zackary Baker never considered himself to be goth, but he couldn't understand how so many people enjoyed these colors. They were too bright. He knew that not everyone liked darker shades, as he did, but this was too much.
As Zacky trudged home from school, he glanced up at the clouds, keeping an eye out for rain. If it did he was in trouble. His homework and books weren't safely tucked away in a backpack, but carried loosely in his arms. They had only moved here three days prior, though the planning had taken months. In the rush, Zack hadn't had time to buy a backpack. And now, it was only a matter of time before he dropped his papers or they got wet.
Huntington Beach was quite the strange place. His parents had assured him that the scenery was stunning, and he hadn't doubted that. But the streets all seemed to have themes. This one, apparently, was based on perfection.
Zacky felt something splash on his face. He cursed inwardly and began running along the sidewalk. But then he saw something that made him freeze. He was sure the shock was evident on his face as he looked at a house that was completely different than the others.
This house was covered in faded gray paint. The lawn, though well-kept, was drier and shaggier, as if it hadn't been mowed in a long time. These flowerbeds were devoid of flowers, and weeds took their place. The hedges were uneven and looked dead. But what stumped Zacky most of all, was the boy that was sitting on the porch swing.
The boy had dark brown hair, though it was covered by a skull beanie. His skin had a bronze sort of tan, similar to everyone else's in Huntington Beach. He was wearing a black sweatshirt and sweatpants to match, though it was still quite warm out. The boy seemed to be staring off into space, and didn't notice Zacky's acute scrutiny.
Zacky cautiously made his way forward, up to the faded picket fence. When he reached the gate, he gingerly laid his hands on the wood.
The boy's head whirled around, penetrating Zacky with his dark gaze. Zack froze, mesmerized by the boy's eyes. They were a cold chocolate brown, which confused Zacky. He had assumed they would be filled with warmth and friendliness, but instead, they made the boy look burdened.
"Who are you?"
Zack cringed at the borderline hostility in his tone, but still replied softly, "I'm Zacky."
The boy looked thoughtful for a moment. "I'm Brian," he said finally. He took notice of Zacky's dripping hair, "Would you like to sit with me until the rain stops? I'm sure your parents wouldn't be too fond of you coming home soaking wet."
Zacky nodded eagerly. He pushed the gate open and walked up onto the porch.
"You can just put your books on the window sill if you'd like."
Zack did as such and took a seat next to Brian. He felt awkward, as he usually did when meeting new people. Especially when they tended to stare. Luckily, Brian seemed to have zoned out again.
They sat there for a while, watching the rain patter against the trees. Finally, Zacky broke the silence, "So, do you go to school? Or are you homeschooled?"
Brian didn't answer for a minute, and then he replied, "I go to school. I chose to stay home today, though."
Zacky nodded in understanding, "Man, I wish I could have."
Brian turned to him with a questioning look, and Zacky explained, "We moved here a couple days ago, and I'm not very fond of new schools."
"That's understandable," Brian murmured, turning away again, "School isn't a very fun place to be."
Zacky expected him to continue with a, 'when you're new', or something, but Brian just sat there, fiddling idly with the hem of his shirt. The awkward sensation came back, and Zacky found himself wishing it would stop raining. But, of course, nature ignored his pleas.
"What do you like to do in your free time?" he finally asked, attempting to diffuse the tension.
Brian seemed to tense, but it was gone so quickly, Zacky figured he had imagined it. "I like playing guitar," he replied flatly.
"Really? So do I," Zacky smiled. At least he had found someone who also seemed to play something musical. He had asked a few kids at school, and none of them seemed interested in instruments.
Brian gave a short nod, before asking, "What type of music do you play?"
Zacky contemplated his answer, "Well, I like playing things like Metallica and Mötley Crüe. I'm actually better at rhythm, though."
"Good taste, I'll give you that. You a righty?"
Zack shook his head, "Nope. Lefty."
A ghost of a smile took place on Brian's face, "Never played with a lefty before. Fancy playing a bit with me?"
Zacky grinned, "Sure. I haven't broken out my guitar yet, so it'll be great to get some practice in. I'm self-taught."
Brian seemed to be a bit more open now, as he replied with an energetic, "My dad taught me. You should see him play. He was amazing," A dreamy look overcame his face, before it dropped, and he became somber again.
Zacky silently followed Brian into the house, wondering if the boy was bipolar. He took a look at the interior. It seemed very simple. It was blatantly obvious that Brian's family wasn't poor, though. He could see pristine glass chandeliers in the kitchen, as well as the living room. The furniture was made of either black leather or ebony wood in each room. And, Zack could see that they had a sweet sound system judging by the speakers that littered the living room. They ascended an elegant flight of steps to the upstairs which was just as extravagant as the downstairs.
They soon reached a small room that was very clearly Brian's. The color was simple enough. Mahogany wood flooring, same as the rest of the house, and dark gray walls. It was nice, Zacky decided. But of course, you didn't immediately notice the colors in this room. What immediately drew your gaze were the many posters of metal bands and gorgeous guitars. There seemed to be a wall completely dedicated to Slash. It was obvious that Brian was very fond of the guitarist.
A line of guitars occupied that same wall. Zack stared in awe at their beauty. Every one of them gleamed brilliantly. Zacky couldn't help but pluck one of the strings and shuddered at the perfectly tuned sound. Brian smirked at the younger boy, picking out a guitar for himself and playing a soft melody.
"You can just pick out one of them. As long as you treat them right, you're welcome to use them whenever you want."
He felt overwhelmed. Here was a guy he had just met, letting him use any of the instruments he wanted. Zacky examined each guitar carefully. He finally decided on a red one: customized 6661 on the body, ebony fret board and headstock with a skull design.
"Good choice. That's one of my favorites. Very lightweight and has a beautiful, smooth tone."
Zacky looked over to Brian. It didn't seem as if the latter had looked up at all. He was still strumming idly on his own guitar. Zack picked up on the tune he was playing, wanting to experiment with Brian's style. The older of the two looked up when he heard Zack play. The two began watching the others' movements. Neither one could seem to look away. Their song became completely in-sync. Each one seemed to know exactly what to play. Zacky had never felt this way before. Every other time he improvised, he had to think about what he was playing, while now, he just seemed to know what to do. He had promptly clamped on to Brian's melody and added his own harmony.
All too soon, the piece came to a gentle end. The two boys felt completely relaxed and smiled lazily at the other. Vaguely, Zacky glanced out the window, and with a start, realized it had stopped raining. He jumped to his feet and gingerly set the guitar back on its stand. Brian didn't question him, understanding Zack's reaction. He motioned for the latter to lead the way back outside. Zacky didn't even admire the household as he tried to remember his way around it. He smirked victoriously when he stepped outside, pleased with himself. He quickly grabbed his things off the window sill where they had been sitting the whole time. Zack closed the gate softly on his way out, but paused when he realized he hadn't even said goodbye or thanks.
Instead, he smirked, "You were right," Brian gave him a questioning look and he continued, "That guitar did have great tone."
Brian smiled and looked away again. Zack returned the grin and walked off.
* * *
After arriving home, Zacky told his mother all about the strange boy he had met. "He even let me play one of his best guitars, Mom!"
"It's wonderful that you're making new friends, Zackary. I'm happy for you."
Zacky nodded, "I hope he goes to the same school I do. Then, I'll actually have someone there that I know."
"That would be great. I know you hate going to new schools, honey. I feel bad that we moved again seemingly right after getting settled in Chicago. You had made friends quite quickly there, too."
Zack nodded sadly. It was true. People in Chicago knew what it felt like to feel left out. There were so many people in the city that they tended to stick up for new kids. He had made friends within a matter of hours of his first day of school. He thought about the people here. They weren't really unfriendly, but they treated him as if he had been there his whole life. It didn't necessarily bother Zacky; he had always kept to himself and didn't like lots of attention, but he wished that more people understood his predicament. But, no one seemed to. Everyone that he could see really had been living in Huntington Beach all their lives.
"Can you tell your father that dinner is ready, dear?" Zacky's mother asked.
Zack nodded, already on his way to his father's office. He wondered if he should tell him about Brian. His father was more judgmental than his mother was, and might think it was suspicious that Brian had just let him come over. He was paranoid like that. When he reached the room, the overwhelming scent of moving boxes hit him like a wall. He crinkled his nose in distaste before calling out to his father, "Mom said that it's time for dinner!"
A grinning face popped out behind a box of tools, and Zacky jumped. "I'm almost finished getting the power tools unpacked. I'll be right there."
Zack smiled at his dad's enthusiasm. He leaned against the doorframe and watched his dad's progress. Finally, the older man stood up and dusted off his jeans. "Let's go get some supper, kiddo," he said. He ruffled Zacky's hair and continued into the kitchen. Zack grumbled playfully and sat at the table.
"Zacky made a new friend today, James," his mom announced while she fixed her plate.
His dad patted his back, "That's awesome, son. What's his name?"
"Brian," Zacky responded casually. Thanks, Mom.
"Brian, huh? How'd you two meet?"
Zack wanted to smack his face. This conversation was going exactly how he didn't want it to. "Uh, he invited me to hang out with him when I was walking home. It started raining and he took pity on me."
James beamed in approval, "That was kind of him."
Zacky nodded, wanting to leave it there. But, of course that didn't stop his mom,
"Apparently, Brian invited Zack to play guitar with him."
His father frowned, "He just let Zack into his house right after meeting him?"
This time, Zacky really did smack his face, "Dad, it's not like that! I told him I was left-handed, and he thought it would be cool to play with me, since he'd never played with a lefty before."
James raised an eyebrow, "But he was nice to you, right?"
Good old parents. Always looking after you. "Of course, Dad. All we did was mess around with a song a little bit and I went home when it stopped raining."
His dad shrugged, "Alright. I won't get all protective over you. You're a big boy now. I need to learn to respect that."
Zacky sighed in relief, "Thanks, Dad."
* * *
Zack groaned when his alarm went off the next morning. He seriously didn't like this schedule. He was just lucky they didn't move somewhere farther east. He figured he would literally die if he had to get up any earlier than he already did. He stumbled off to get breakfast after getting dressed and brushing his teeth and hair.
"Good morning, dear," his mother greeted when she saw him. She was already making a lunch for him.
"Hey, Mom," he replied back, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
James walked into the room. Being a morning person, he had no trouble getting himself up and ready for work. "Morning, Maria, Zack."
Zacky lifted a hand in acknowledgment. "You look wonderful, son," his father chuckled.
He knew that James was referring to his tired appearance. He was tempted to give a smart alec remark, but held his tongue at the last second. His father wasn't fond of disrespect. So he settled for a small smile and a roll of his eyes.
Zack quickly ate and readied himself for school. He idly wondered whether they had a guitar program at the school. He highly doubted it, though. Schools he had gone to in the past never seemed to individually target guitarists. They usually just wanted them to join an orchestra. But Zacky wasn't interested in school music pieces. He wanted something original. Something made from scratch.
Saying goodbye to his parents, Zack made his way to the bus stop. Luckily it was only down the street from where they lived, so he didn't have far to walk. The first thing that caught his eye was brown hair carefully styled into feathery spikes. The boy who wore the hairstyle turned slightly and Zacky smiled. "Hey, Brian."
The boy grinned at him and that alone almost stopped Zack in his tracks. What happened to the Brian he had met the day before? This Brian was happy looking, as if the day prior had been a façade. "Hello, Zacky. Did you sleep well?"
Zack snorted, "That's the problem. I slept well and didn't want to get up."
"I hear you. I'm not a morning person, myself, to tell the truth," Brian agreed.
A sudden rumble filled their ears as the bus drove towards them. Some of the kids cheered. They lived further away and didn't want to be late, so they arrived especially early. Zacky shook his head at them, amusement clear in his eyes. "I don't understand why they don't just come a little later. It's not as if they'll miss the bus if they decide to come five minutes later than they usually do."
Brian shrugged, "People are peculiar."
"True," Zacky chuckled.
The ride to school was fairly non-eventful. Zack and Brian spent the duration mostly chatting about their interests. Zacky even learned that Brian's parents were workaholics. They spent almost every waking moment at work and hardly ever took vacations. He felt bad for the older boy. He would be devastated if he didn't get to see his mother or father at least once a day. Not that he would tell them that.
After the bus reached its destination, the two went their separate ways. They had lockers on complete opposite sides of the school, it seemed.
The morning passed by slowly. Fortunately, there was some amusement to keep the boredom at bay. There was a huge discussion between Zacky's English teacher, Mr. Kohal, and another student, James Sullivan, about whether he could be called 'The Reverend Tholomew Plague' or not. They finally decided on 'The Rev', and no one could keep from laughing at his victory dance.
But that wasn't the end. Not by any means. He had gotten partnered with 'The Rev' for a project. Rev had told him that Jimmy was an acceptable title, too.
"I think I'll just stick with Jimmy," he had laughed.
Jimmy turned out to have amazing ideas. Their whole project was to come up with some sort of visual based loosely on a report about a subject of their choice. Zacky had learned that Jimmy shared his passion of music, too. So they decided to make a project about how rock music had changed through the years. Immediately, Jimmy had tossed out ideas like mouth garbage. Each one of them was brilliant, but they finally decided to create a video.
The plan was to meet at each other's house, when they could, and work on it. They would just work on the essay at school. Zacky had no doubt that Jimmy was great at writing, also.
After English, the two made their way to the cafeteria. Jimmy, apparently, was 'a mingler', and decided to sit with him that day. Of course, Zack didn't really mind. He figured the more friends he had, the more comfortable he would be with the new school. That was how it had been in Chicago.
Zacky managed to find Brian fairly quickly. He had been sitting alone, reading when they sat down. When he saw who it was, though, he immediately put the book away and greeted the two.
"Hey, guys," he smiled.
Zacky looked confused, "You know Jimmy?"
"Who doesn't?" Brian chuckled, "Yes, I do. We've been partnered for several projects in the past."
Jimmy nodded enthusiastically, "Yeah, we have. Brian's a genius!"
"I wouldn't underestimate your own intelligence, Jimmy. You're just as smart as I am." Brian murmured.
Jimmy shrugged, "I know. But, it's fun to work with someone who's smart. You get A's and have fun in the process. That's why I like working with Zack, here. He listens and puts in thoughts that might improve my ide-"
"Whoa, improve? You have the best ideas I've ever seen!" Zacky exclaimed, "I almost couldn't decide what project I wanted to do; that's how awesome your ideas were."
Jimmy couldn't help but let out an exaggerated smirk, and the three chuckled.
"So you guys are working together in Mr. Kohal's?" Brian asked.
The two nodded. "We're doing a video about the transformation of rock music over time," Zack replied.
"Sounds interesting. I'm sure you guys will do great."
Jimmy laughed, "I know right?"
Suddenly the bell rang, and the whole cafeteria erupted into simultaneous groans. Zacky couldn't stop laughing at the almost planned synchronization of it. Brian smiled softly at his amusement and joined the crowd in trying to get ready for the next class.
Unfortunately, moving to new places meant you had to learn your way around a whole new school. And, for Zack, that wasn't so easy. He got lost twice on his way to History and somehow ended up in a janitor's closet. Somehow, he managed to find his way to class right before the late bell sounded, and he slid into his seat just as the teacher closed and locked the door.
Someone chuckled to his left and startled, he jerked his head to the sound. There sat Brian in all of his smirking glory. Zacky eyed him for a long moment before bursting out into laughter. Here he was, making a fool out of himself in front of Brian for what seemed like the millionth time that day. Brian raised an elegant brow, confusion written on his features.
Zacky waved him off as the teacher began class. Luckily, Brian didn't question it.
"Alright, class," Mr. Anderson called out, "I know that some of you have Mr. Kohal for English, and I also happen to know that he gave you a project to complete with a partner."
Everyone tensed. They all seemed to know where this was heading.
"And, I think that it's a great idea to assign you something rather large closer to the beginning of the year to get your minds working and your studying patterns to develop once again."
A chorus of groans sounded through the room, causing Mr. Anderson to grin. "I know, I know. That's the last thing you want to do. But, I'm really excited to see what you guys have learned. Mr. Kohal allowed you to pick your own subjects. He didn't really care what it was based upon. I'm a little more restricting. I will allow you to pick your own subject, but I want it to be History based. That means nothing modern. You are also only allowed to work by yourself."
Another sigh passed through the room. That really limited the amount of work you could do. A student sitting at the front of the room raised his hand tentatively.
"What if you have a couple of kids who choose the same subject?"
Mr. Anderson chuckled. "I knew that question was going to pop up eventually. I'm only going to say this once, so pay attention. I don't care if there's more than one of the same subject. As long as the essays aren't completely the same, or it isn't obvious you cheated off of someone else, you can do the same theme."
Relief seemed to be tangible as he said that. Everyone had been worried that they wouldn't be able to think of an adequate topic.
"I'm going to be a little more kind than Mr. Kohal, though. I'm not going to make you create a visual. Although, it will be extra credit if you decide to."
Zacky smirked to himself. It was fairly easy for him to write essays. As long as he didn't have to make a visual, he was sure he had this in the bag.
"What are you going to write about?" Brian asked casually.
Zack considered him for a moment, wondering if he was truly interested, or if he just wanted ideas. Then, he remembered what Jimmy had said at lunch. "
Brian's a genius!" He had nothing to worry about. Brian surely had sufficient ideas of his own.
"I'm not entirely sure, yet. But, I think I might do a report on Leonardo da Vinci, or Einstein, or something like that."
Brian nodded approvingly, "I'm sure you'll do great, whatever it is you decide to do."
Zacky paused. That was a compliment. The second one he had received from Brian that day, in fact. Zack was still stumped. What had happened to the Brian he had first met only a day before? His personality was way different.
Not bad. Just
* * *
That day, Zacky actually caught the bus. He managed to find a seat with Brian, which surprised him. Brian seemed like the person who would like walking home. Having time to yourself, especially after school, was a luxury. That's how Zack looked at it, anyway.
No words were really spoken between them. They didn't have anything to say. A comfortable silence rested between them, and neither of them minded. Zacky especially felt grateful to Brian. The older boy had taken Zack under his wing, even if his mood swings made him dizzy. Brian was becoming his best friend.
"See you later, Zacky," Brian murmured when they got off at their stop.
Zack lifted a hand in farewell and made his way home. He thought about their meeting the day before. He loved Brian's guitars. They were very well taken care of, and he was jealous of Brian's tuning abilities. Maybe he could have the older boy tune his own guitar...With that thought in mind, Zacky raced home. He briskly greeted his mother who raised an eyebrow at his rush.
"Where are you going in such a hurry?" she asked curiously.
"Can I see if Brian can tune my guitar?" he responded breathlessly.
Maria eyed him warily, "You're going to see him again?"
Zacky sighed, "Yes, Mom."
Maria snickered childishly at his reaction before nodding. "Yes, honey. You can go see him. Just be home in a timely manner, this time. You know how your father is."
Zacky nodded with a small laugh. He all but ran to his room, rummaging through boxes until he found what he was looking for. He admired his guitar like a love-sick puppy. It had a sleek body, though it looked slightly strange. The whole front of it was made of cracked mirror. The neck was made of ebony with a v-shaped switchblade customization toward the base. The headstock was made of the same material as the body. Zacky always joked that with this guitar, he would never have to worry about his appearance; there was always a mirror nearby.
He passed by Maria again on his way out the door, before suddenly realizing, he already had plans. He cursed loudly and dashed back inside.
"Hey, Mom?" he mumbled tentatively.
"Yes, dear? What is it?"
"I just remembered that I told a friend to stop by so we can work on a project in English
Is that okay?"
Maria sighed, "Yes, I suppose so. Just try to warn me earlier next time."
"Thank you, Mom!" Zacky beamed, already out the door again.
He raced down to the familiar, gloomy house, smiling when he saw Brian on the front porch. He figured it was habit, or maybe just comforting. Then again, Brian could be waiting for someone.
"Hey, man," he greeted, not waiting for an invitation as he walked into Brian's yard.
Brian looked up at him, a tranquil expression gracing his features. His thin lips stretched into a small smile. "Hi, Zacky."
"So, I know this is kind of sudden, and unannounced, but would you mind tuning my guitar? I was thinking about how well-tuned yours are, and got kind of jealous
" Zack broke off, feeling kind of foolish.
Brian just shook his head, "It's no problem. Anything pertaining to guitars makes me happy."
"I Thank you," Zacky murmured.
The older boy just smiled again and took Zack's guitar. "This is an interesting design. It definitely looks nice."
"Thanks," Zacky repeated with a lopsided grin.
It took only about ten minutes to get upstairs, have his guitar tuned, and return outside again. Zack sighed when he realized he had to leave. Jimmy would be coming over soon, and he didn't want his partner to think he ditched him.
"I'm assuming that by looking at your watch, you have to leave."
Zacky looked up, surprised. "Yeah, sorry."
"Don't be," Brian smirked, "I'm glad to have the temporary company."
That almost drew a snort out of Zack. He never seemed to acknowledge this so-called 'gratitude' when Zacky was there. But, he was never unkind to Zacky. He treated him respectfully, and made him feel like he had a friend. And, that mattered to Zack.
He hesitantly made his way over to Brian's reclined figure, leaned down and gave him a small hug. Brian seemed tense at first, but then wrapped an arm around him.
"Thanks for being accepting. I'm glad I found a friend in you."
"It's no problem," Brian replied, "I've never really had a true friend. Sure, people like me and are nice to me, but they never take the time out of their 'busy schedule' to actually sit down and get to know me. That's why I'm glad we met, Zack."
Zacky felt a stab of sympathy. Here was this boy, who was doing the equivalent of pouring his heart out to him. He felt like he should do something. "Do you ever get to spend quality time with your parents?"
Brian bristled slightly, "Don't you think Jimmy will be waiting?" Or not
probably. I'll see you later, Brian. Thanks, again." Zack frowned as he made his way back to his house. He had obviously hit a nerve. But why? Did the older boy have a bad history with his parents? Did they ever come home?
He shook off the unpleasant thoughts when he saw Jimmy and two other boys running around in his yard.
"What the-"he broke off with wide eyes as Jimmy's lanky limbs were suddenly flying at him. Shrieking, he darted to the side. Jimmy cackled evilly when Zack turned to him, momentary terror filling his gaze.
"Hi, Zacky!" Jimmy grinned.
The mentioned boy shook his head, letting out a shaky breath. "You scared the crap out of me!"
The other two standing on the lawn cracked up, more than slightly amused by Zacky's reaction.
"Who are they?" Zacky asked, confused.
"Who, them?" Jimmy laughed, "This is Matt and this is Johnny," he pointed to the tall one and the short one in turn.
"Hi," Johnny greeted with a sly grin.
"Uh, hey," Zacky replied, "I thought it was just going to be you and me practicing, Jimmy."
Jimmy shrugged, "They're musicians, too. I figured that they could help us out if we need it."
Zack thought about it for a moment before agreeing that it was a valid idea.
He wasn't going to say that after he introduced the guys to his mother, that she completely approved of them. He was sure that she could see the mischief in their eyes just as well as he could. But they seemed cool and were respectful, so he didn't worry about it too much.
After introductions were over with, they immediately got to work. Luckily, Jimmy had driven over to Zack's house, bringing his drum set with him. So they set it up in the garage and got started. At first, they just went over some older songs; a demonstration of what rock music used to sound like. Soon though, they had moved on to more modern tunes.
Somewhere in the middle of the practice, Matt and Johnny had brought in their own instruments.
He learned that Johnny played the bass, and Matt sang. So, they ended up working all four instruments into the modern pieces.
"Since this was our first practice, I say we leave it at this," Jimmy announced when they finished packing up.
"I agree," Matt added, "I think you and Zack did an awesome job for the older stuff, but they didn't just stick with the guitar and drums back then. They did have bass and vocals, too."
Johnny nodded, and looked to Zack, "What do you think, Zacky?"
"I think it sounded great either way. I'm more willing to add the vocals and bass, though. I think that would be better if we're going for accuracy."
All four boys nodded. They knew his words were true.
Maria suddenly poked her head into the room, "Sorry to interrupt, boys. But my husband will be home in half an hour and I don't think he'll be happy to find something blocking his way when he tries to get in the garage."
They all laughed, picturing James' annoyance. But they moved all the same.
"Do you guys want to stay for dinner? I'm sure my mom won't mind." Zack offered.
The other three shook their heads. "Nah, man," Matt chuckled, "My mom was expecting me home two hours ago. Thanks, though."
Zacky smiled, "No problem. I'll see you guys tomorrow, I guess."
* * *
The next morning, Brian stood at the bus stop, wondering where Zacky was. Even as the bus pulled up to pick them up, the younger boy didn't show up. It wasn't until it started moving again did the bus driver see someone running towards it. He stopped abruptly and sent the seated kids into a giggling frenzy, every one calling out insults and jokes directed at the driver's ability to drive.
As soon as the door opened, Zack stumbled in, mumbling a "Sorry," towards the driver and rushing to the back, where Brian was. He plopped down into the seat next to him with a sigh, his breathing still heavily labored.
Brian raised an eyebrow at his appearance. Zack's hair was very disheveled and his clothes were the same, if not worse.
Zacky noticed his scrutiny and snickered. "I woke up a smidgeon too late
Brian nodded and looked away, not saying anything. Zack frowned, but didn't point it out.
Again, they got to school and separated to their lockers. He didn't see much of Brian that morning, as usual. In English, Jimmy and Zacky finished their report. To be honest, Zacky didn't think they would finish it that quickly. Jimmy really did have an amazing mind. They managed to check their spelling and grammar in the same class.
And another reason this amazed Zack was because at the beginning of class, he had freaked out at the sight of Jimmy.
"What the What happened to your arm?!"
Jimmy's playful grin dropped and he too glanced down at his arms. His right wrist was encased in a navy blue cast, and his left forearm was covered in thick bandages.
"Oh, that's easy! I was
" a faraway look overcame Jimmy's features, and it took him a while to finish what he was saying, "I don't really know, actually."
Zacky rushed over to him, delicately grasping the others arm. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. The doctor said that I have a sprained wrist."
Jimmy's left arm was lifted up. "What about this one?"
Jimmy chortled softly, "Just a gash. Not sure how I managed to get it."
Zack shook his head. "You are going to be the death of yourself, Jimbo."
He just shrugged, "Ah, well. Let's get started on the project, huh?"
That wasn't the end of the madness. Zack passed Johnny in the hall and spotted a large bandage completely covering his shoulder. He all but ran over to the shorter boy, questioning what happened. But he too couldn't seem to remember how he'd attained the injury.
Again, the same thing happened at lunch.
Zacky stepped into the cafeteria, inhaling deeply. With a stupid grin on his face, he quickly got into line. One big difference between the school in Chicago and the one here was the food. Chicago's was mediocre, while Huntington Beach's was absolutely scrumptious. For example, the daily food in Chicago consisted of a sandwich, some chips, and a drink. Here, though, they served all sorts of food. In one line, there was pizza; in another, hamburgers or chicken sandwiches. A line over from that was the main lunch of the day, and the one next to that offered salads and subs.
He hopped into the main lunch line which held pulled pork sandwiches. He gazed dreamily at the food before someone behind him cleared their throat.
"You look like you could devour the lunch ladies' entire stock of food, Zack."
Startled, Zacky turned around. He smiled when he saw Matt, but it dropped the second he saw Matt's condition. Matt stood in line, precariously holding a tray with one arm while he scooted himself around on crutches. His foot was in a large cast that was already covered with several signatures and pictures.
This time, Zacky acted a little calmer. "Um
What happened to your foot, Matt?"
"Ankle," Matt corrected, "And, I'm not exactly sure. I know that sounds weird, because you think you would remember how you broke your own ankle, but I just can't seem to remember what happened. All I know is that my ankle is broken."
Zack winced. He'd never broken a bone, but before they'd lived in Chicago, he'd had a friend who fractured his wrist on an elementary school playground. Even now, many years later, he could hear his friend's scream of agony.
"Are you okay, though?"
Matt grinned, "I feel fine. The doctor said that it should be healed up in about six weeks."
"Hm, well that's good," Zacky mused.
They fell into a comfortable silence. The line was moving quickly now, so they didn't have to wait long before they reached the lunch ladies. Unfortunately, Zacky was starving. He hadn't eaten breakfast, so by the time they sat at their usual table, his stomach was complaining loudly.
Johnny tossed out a small greeting as they began eating. They chatted for a few minutes before Zack decided to bring up a new topic.
"I still find it odd that you guys don't remember where you got injuries from. Do you think you got them after you left my house?"
Zacky could have sworn he saw Brian smirk when he brought up the subject, but then Johnny spoke and he put it out of his mind.
"It could have. But I have a funny feeling that it didn't happen until all three of us went separate ways."
Matt and Jimmy nodded in agreement.
Zack shook his head, "It's weird that all three of you got hurt. Especially if you weren't together when you got them."
The other three shrugged. The subject soon changed, and they began joking and laughing again. Zacky noticed halfway through his meal that Brian hadn't spoken since they'd arrived at lunch. And when he thought back further, he realized he hadn't heard Brian speak to him at all that day.
He noticed it during English, too. He had worked up the nerve to question Brian about it, and was rewarded with a shrug. Zack decided not to worry about it too much. Something bad might have happened at home, and he didn't want to pry if that was the case.
But even after school, when Zacky stopped by at Brian's house, something didn't seem right. Brian barely spoke to him. He thought that was odd, too. Of course, Brian's overall attitude was completely different than at school, but this was just weird.
"So, I know I've already asked this. But, are you okay?" Zack asked tentatively.
Brian sighed, "I'm fine, Zack. Why don't we go play something for a bit?"
A sudden anger flared behind Zacky's emerald irises. "No. You've been acting weird all day! I know it's not really my place to demand this, but I want to know why!"
Surprisingly, he didn't back down. Even when Brian shot a furious glare in his direction. "You're right. It isn't any of your business and you have no right to tell me what I 'have' to do."
Zacky sighed. He was tired of this. He wished Brian was always happy. He told the elder so, but received a scoff for his efforts.
"I'm not going to change my attitude for your benefit, Zack," Brian frowned, "You don't know how much I wish I could be happy, too. But that's just not how it works."
"Not how what works?" Zacky asked.
Brian's shoulders slumped. "Never mind," he muttered.
"Brian, you were the one who said you were glad to have met me. You said you were glad we were friends. Friends don't keep secrets!" Zacky was greatly frustrated. He wished Brian would just tell him what was wrong.
Brian looked down at his lap, guilt written plain on his features.
"What's going on, Brian?" Zack whispered, "You can tell me."
"No, I can't. Not about this," he had a strange glint in his eyes. It almost looked like fear.
"Zack, you need to go home. Now."
Zacky breathed shakily, afraid he had just lost a friend. "Bri-"
"Now!" Despite the anger in Brian's gaze and tone, tears were rolling down his cheeks. Zack could tell that whatever he was hiding, it was hard for him to do so.
But still, he did as the elder commanded. He stumbled home, silent sobs wracking his frame. He managed to compose himself before walking inside, but the rest of the day was spent moping. Luckily, his parents didn't seem to notice. Jimmy and he had agreed that they would take a day or so off, to let his wrist rest, so Zack had the day to himself. He mostly spent it thinking about what Brian had said; about what he was like.
Somewhere during his thoughts, he realized that the day before, when he had asked about his parents, Brian had asked if Jimmy would be waiting.
The thing was; he hadn't told Brian that Jimmy was coming over.
* * *
Unsurprisingly, Brian didn't come to school the next day. Even though Zacky was expecting it, he still felt a pang of guilt and sadness.
Of course, he was glad to see the other guys. Even the stress Brian had put on him couldn't damper his happiness at being able to call them his friends.
Unfortunately, they all seemed to be worse off than the day before. They looked like they had all gotten mugged; scratches and bruises littering their bodies. None of them could remember what happened either.
During English, Jimmy and Zacky set up their video on one of the computers, editing the sound and quality. Once they were satisfied with it, they moved onto the report. The thought of having to edit the report nearly made Zack snort, however. They had already proofread it several times and knew that it would get a high grade. By now, they were just going over it for something to do. With Jimmy's wrist sprained, they still had to wait a few days until they could finish the video. Mr. Kohal had insisted on giving them another week to complete the project.
Jimmy sighed, "Sprained limbs suck."
Zacky chuckled softly. Through the whole period, Jimmy had been typing. Of course, he had offered to help several times, but he kept refusing. He could tell it was irritating Jimmy, though. The cast caused his arm to bend at an awkward angle to reach the keyboard. Because of this, he kept grunting uncomfortably every few seconds. It kept Zacky amused, though.
After what seemed like an eternity, Mr. Kohal excused the class. The two boys left gratefully. One thing was for sure; they could not wait for Jimmy's wrist to heal.
The rest of the day passed by quickly. Zacky wasn't sure what was different, but after lunch, it felt like an hour had passed and school was over. Not that he was complaining. Now he had a chance to see Brian.
Instead of taking the bus, Zack decided to walk home. Er
run would be a better word.
Zacky ran down the block, remembering when they had first moved here. When he had first seen Delight Drive, he had shaken his head and muttered sarcastically about the names that people came up with. He now knew why it was named as such, and wondered how Brian's house had been placed there. It was so different than every other one. Had the builders just decided to overlook that fact? Or had Brian's family given it that appearance?
He didn't have enough time to figure that out before he reached his destination. He was taking a short detour.
Zack stopped abruptly at the picket gate; slowly opening it. He felt like he was intruding with no one there to greet him. Brian was nowhere to be seen.
He quietly made his way up to the door, knocking softly before finding it unlocked. Zacky hesitated, but went inside. A sinister feeling hit him like a wall, and goose bumps formed on his arms. Zack shivered.
Before, the house seemed warm and welcoming, despite its outward appearance. It made you want to sit down and bask in the beauty of the interior. But now, the whole house seemed threatening. Zacky didn't know what the difference was, but it creeped him out.
Zack knew that Brian would most likely be in his room, but he wasn't going to pass up the chance to explore. He loved to look around in big, expensive-looking houses.
He started in the kitchen. Like before, there was the chandelier hanging above the dining table, which was made of ebony wood, as were the chairs. Zacky was starting to see the fondness of black when he looked over and saw black granite countertops and appliances. He chuckled softly and made his way into the living room. It was about the same. Dark, expensive furniture was strategically placed all around the room. He admired the downstairs and finally decided to make his way up.
Unfortunately, the feeling hadn't gone away. Zacky still felt like something was watching him. He knew it might be smarter to just go home, but he wanted to apologize to Brian about his behavior from the day prior.
Zacky made his way up the staircase, taking more time to appraise the mere elegance of the setup. Whoever had built the house had done a thorough job. He figured they must have been OCD. Instead of walking around more, Zack decided to not waste any more time. He strolled over to Brian's door, quickly recalling which room was his.
He knocked gently, but received no response. Sighing, Zacky pushed it open. Then he froze.
Brian was in the room. But he certainly wasn't alone. Zack assessed the room carefully. It was mostly the same as last time. It looked like Brian had rearranged, though. His dedicated Slash wall was on the opposite side of the room now, as was his bed. The guitars remained on the same wall as before.
There seemed to be an aura about the room. The same one as downstairs, but now it seemed like it was all around Zacky. As if he were submerged in it. He wasn't surprised, though, for the sight in front of him explained everything.
His three newfound friends lay in a heap at Brian's feet. Each one of them laid still and limp; and their eyes stared blankly at nothing. They were very pale, save for the crimson that stained their skin. All three of them looked terrible. Because of their complexion, bruises looked twice as dark as they had at school. There were new ones, too, as Zacky could see. They all supported stab wounds in their chests and stomachs. And from what Zack could see, their necks had been slit.
Zacky screamed in horror at the bloody mess in front of him. He averted his eyes away from them and turned them to Brian. The boy looked startled, as if he hadn't seen or heard Zack's entrance. His eyes were wide with terror and his whole body was shaking immensely. In his hand he held a small, bloody switchblade.
"Zacky," he whimpered.
Zack stood there for a moment, trying to understand the whole thing. He opened his mouth several times, as if he were going to speak, but he found no words to express what he was feeling inside.
Finally, Brian spoke. With a voice just as shaky as his body, he whispered something that made Zacky's blood run cold.
"I'm a monster."