No one’s POV
Maxwell walked, sure footed, towards Nikolas’ house. He would’ve gone by car, but he didn’t have the will to ask his mom for it after the argument they’d had.
So he walked, with a quick pace, eager to get off the streets. He’d been wanting to go back to his uncle’s house ever since the birthday party. How couldn’t he? They had a golden basement and they didn’t even know about it. Nikolas and him could explore everything about it before the parents had to know.
He’d just been busy, very busy with… stuff.
Walking the streets now with the setting sun, he could hear the faint whispers.
“Can you hear it?” “I hear it, I hear it.” “Listen.” “Scared.” “What about us?”
The ghosts were whispering. It was odd, because ghosts never talked. But he’d been progressively hearing wisps of noise, until, if he concentrated, he could decipher words and phrases. Their mouths never moved. It was like a vocal manifestation of their fears – their collective fears.
Even though he could hear them, he couldn’t see them today. Maybe a wisp of smoke behind that tree or a stray hand there.
The ghosts were hiding from him. Or maybe he was just willing them away. And maybe they’d finally decided to listen.
He could sense him walking up the steps to the Whitelight house (or was it Pallen? Or Jales? It was never clear). That was one ghost that never seemed to hide. Always roaming in this house, looking at people, looking at Max. He was a murderer and they’d found his secret basement. The guy had taken a lot of victims, and their bodies were never found. Maybe that basement – that monster was….if they found any sign of the victims being in the basement, Maxwell was going to call the police.
He shouldn’t even be letting Niko tag along, but if he didn’t Niko’d just go on his own and who knows what would happen with that kid.
Maxwell knocked and let himself in – only to see Alistair in a robe looking at his own face in the mirror. The whole scene was surprising (and the ghost in the mirror wasn’t helping). Was it just him or did Alistair seem to pop up everywhere? Well anywhere that was remotely interesting to Maxwell.
“Alistair? What the hell are you doing here?”
“Rude.” Alistair snarled. “This is my brother’s house. What are you doing here?”
“You’re in a robe and slippers? I thought you were working tonight! You told Emily you were.” Maxwell continued to attack.
“I got fired what of it?” Alistair shot back.
“Figures. Did your mom get angry you got fired again and kick you out? And now you’re over here trying to mooch off your brother?”
“It’s not that I don’t want to support myself, I just don’t have the money. Unlike someone I know.” Alistair snarled, but Maxwell wasn’t fazed.
“You’re obviously not going to have any if you keep throwing it at the first dealer you see!”
“You never did answer, what the fucking hell are you doing here Max!?”
“Are you boys serious right now?” Edmund, erupting from the kitchen, asked in an icy irritated tone.
Maxwell and Alistair both froze and turned to face him.
“He’s the one who came barging in here to verbally attack me! Like what the heck man!?” Alistair immediately pointed fingers.
Maxwell didn’t have much to say to defend himself. “I didn’t attack him, I just asked him a question. He’s the one who took it the wrong way.”
“What are you? A couple of teenagers?” Edmund asked in that disappointed sharp flat tone. The two young men shrunk a little more.
In the other room – also known as the kitchen – Nikita was rolling her eyes at her brother’s back, as Edmund scolded Maxwell and Alistair.
“Niiikkoooo, stop being such a baby.”
“I’m not! Leave me alone.” He grumbled.
“You don’t have the luxury to be this stupid.” She said. “Just turn around so I can finish.”
“No you’re not my mom.”
“Did it really hurt that much?” She teased.
“OBVIOUSLY, not.” He said turning around. “But I can clean my own face thank you.”
She slapped his knee. “You seriously have to stop with the attitude. You’re the one who came back looking like you got stampeded over!”
“Didn’t we just have this conversation?”
“Dad tells you not to get in trouble before he leaves, and what’s the first thing you do? Get yourself beat up in a forgotten alley.”
“I said it won’t happen again!” Nikolas grumbled. Nikita grabbed the front of his pajamas and dragged him towards her, dabbing his face with the rubbing alcohol soaked cloth. He gripped the edges of his chair as his wounds protested.
“Fuck.” Nikolas let out, squeezing his eyes shut as Nikita disinfected the cuts around them.
“Watch your language.” Edmund almost growled, coming back to the kitchen. Nikolas mentally gulped. His father was usually pretty easy going, but tonight he was seeing a very rare side of him. Having his son come home all bloodied and beat up wasn’t something Edmund was okay with. Actually, he’d never been supportive of his son’s tendency to pick fights, but this took the cake.
His son getting beat up, his daughter socially isolating herself, his husband leaving on his own, his brother demanding his help and roof, his father dying, his mother falling into depression, his own body betraying him – Edmund was really getting fed up with things in general.
“Hey Maxwell!” Nikita chirps. “What’s with the visit?”
Surprised flashed across Maxwell’s face and he glanced at Nikolas. “Oh, I thought Nikolas had told you. I called earlier to say I was stopping by. Niko and I are working on a big project so…” Well at least he’d tried.
Nikita looked at her brother suspiciously. Said brother was trying to send her a million and one signals and, even if she was peeved he’d jumped into a fight he couldn’t win, she decided to help him out tonight. She was feeling generous.
“Oh it’s for my birthday isn’t it? You guys are so sweet, planning something for me.”
“Well it is your Big birthday!” Niko immediately chipped in.
“I love surprises! And I was going to head to bed soon. Papa can you bring my wheelchair upstairs?”
Edmund glanced at the three and nodded. Nikita gave her brother a look as she got up: You have ten minutes. Nikolas mouthed thanks as he watched his sister get up and leave.
“Your sister knows about it?” Maxwell asked the moment the two had gone out of earshot.
“She knows we have a basement and that our parents don’t know about it – but she doesn’t care enough to want to know more.” Nikolas replied. “Okay let’s go!”
The two boys crept down into the basement, opening the door with the same amount of hesitation as before and tentatively peeked inside – just in case the monster had woken up since their last visit.
But said creature was sleeping just as peacefully as before, it’s deep snores shaking the room slightly.
“So…what happened to your face?” Maxwell asked once the door had closed behind them.
“We have only a few minutes before my pa comes back and you want to talk about my face?” Nikolas scoffed.
“It’s hard to ignore.”
The teen sighed. “I got into a fight and I lost. That’s all.”
“But it’s not going to happen again.” Nikolas announced, proudly shoving a flyer in Maxwell’s face: Tae Kwon do classes!
“Well you already have the ninja bandana down.” Max chuckled.
Niko took a look around the basement. He headed for an area behind Maxwell.
“Woah what’s this room? Looks like some sort of operating room.” Niko said.
“That’s ridiculous.” Max said with a frown.
“But look, there’s some surgical equipment, an operating table, even a tv to keep the patient occupied. Who knows – the ghost could’ve been a modern Frankenstein or something.” The boy said, touching what looked like a gun on one of the tables.
“I doubt it.”
“Maybe he made that,” Niko said, gesturing at the sleeping monster. “using his victims.”
Time was of the essence, so Nikolas went to check the area on the other side of the door.
“And this other room…is that an alchemist table??” Nikolas exclaimed.
“Yeah, looks like the one my mom has.”
“Isn’t that ridiculously rare??”
“Yeah…looks legit too.” Max said, opening the book and recognizing some of the spells.
“Look at this stuff…are we sure he was a werewolf? Maybe he was a witch instead.” Nikolas said. “Kind of looks like he made a garden for his monster.”
“Plants underground? There’s no sunlight…” Maxwell frowned.
Nikolas walked over and touched the bushes. “It’s plastic. Guess it’s just decoration.”
“These ones aren’t.” Maxwell said, pointing at a few plants near the door.
“They look dead though.” Nikolas touched one of the leaves and it crinkled to dust. “Yeah, real dead. Huh.” Niko poked something that oddly looked like a jellybean, but it crumbled to pieces as well. He took out the small bag he kept on himself at all times – the one that held the treasure he’d gotten from summer camp. It looked an awful lot like the same thing…
“What is that?”
“My treasure.” Niko said, putting it away. Maxwell looked about to ask more questions on it – so Nikolas quickly stopped him with one of his own. “I thought you and Alistair were friends.”
“I heard you two arguing.” Which wasn’t that odd in itself, but it seemed harsher this time.
“Yeah well we are. He’s just an asshole half the time.”
Niko stared at his cousin for a few seconds. There was a question he suddenly wanted to ask, but he wasn’t sure how to phrase it – he wasn’t even sure if he really wanted to ask it.
“What if he’s being like that because of something you did. How would you go about fixing it?”
“What?” Maxwell couldn’t stop frowning. Had he ever really done anything to Alistair?
“What if you saw something you weren’t supposed to? And now he’s pissed at you because of it?” Nikolas tentatively continued.
“I’d think he’s being pretty petty and acting like a baby. But I don’t get-”
“Whatever bad example.” Niko shook his head.
Maxwell considered his cousin. “Then again, if it’s that important and it’s just something I saw, it’s easy to forget.”
Maxwell glanced upwards just as he noticed the ghost doing the same. “I think Edmund is coming back downstairs.”
Think big house. Fancy, expensive, really randomly placed on the side of a busy road, all alone in its own neighborhood.
You thought of that red brick house right? The one that looks a little abandoned because barely anyone lives in it anymore? The place people really only know because of the famous pianist Chase Grace?
That’s where I live.
Today is a new day. A good day. I’ll do things right today.
I slapped my face awake, did a few stretches, and changed into some clothes.
He might be there this morning.
I tied my hair into a ponytail and applied some light makeup. Sweat and lots of makeup really don’t mix well for me.
I glared at my reflection. “Make a choice.” I demanded, but it didn’t respond.
I slipped out of my room, skipping over the floorboard cracks, and I made my way down the stairs.
My footsteps echoed against the walls of the large empty rooms.
I followed the delicious smell of coffee wafting from the kitchen.
I peeked inside with a large grin. “Uncle! Do you have the day off today?” I asked as I watched him poor his coffee.
“You sound cheery. Are you always like this in the morning?” He asked a little groggily.
“Yep!” I smiled.
He smiled a bit, but then it vanished and he sighed rubbing his eyes.
“The treatment isn’t working as well as they hoped. They can try something else, but that just means more time and money.” Chase Grace explained, taking a sip of his coffee.
My smile faded instantly. “But money isn’t a problem for you right?”
My uncle set his cup down. “You know I love your mother as if she were my blood sister – I’m paying for her medical bills and I’m taking care of you, that should be proof enough – but it’s starting to get ridiculous. I don’t have nearly as much money as it seems.” He said in an exasperated voice.
No, no we can’t stop the treatments. Mom needs them. “Then…then maybe…maybe dad-”
“Haha oh Salandra, I don’t know where your father is, you know this already. I doubt my brother has the money to help out anyway.”
“How much do you need?”
“Even if you got a job you wouldn’t be able to help pay.” He said, shaking his head slowly.
“How much?” I asked again. He looked pensive.
“Thousands of dollars. You don’t have that kind of money. Don’t worry, I can still pay for her treatments. But we’re going to have to start to accept, that… she may not be able to survive this.” He replied, placing his hand on my shoulder in what was probably a sympathetic gesture.
He turned back to the coffee he’d set on the counter.
I checked the time and my heart seemed to jumpstart. “Have fun at work today Uncle!” I said, before heading for the door.
I let my feet slip on the stairs and sat down on my spot.
I hope he comes.
I don’t know why he wouldn’t. He always does. Then again, his family has been going through a lot of stuff.
But I need him to come.
I need to apologize. Or say something. I’m ashamed with how I’ve acted. But I couldn’t help myself. I can’t stand being seen as weak. I can’t stand being pitied.
Because I know I’m strong – in all senses of the word.
Which is ironic, considering it’s all I ever do: act weak.
We spot each other at the same time.
Nikolas hesitates, like he isn’t sure if he should just keep jogging or stop. I jump to my feet instantly and he skids to a stop.
“I was hoping I’d catch you jogging!” I exclaimed, feeling a little out of breath without having jogged at all.
“Funny. I almost didn’t come out this morning.” Nikolas said with a half chuckle. That’s when I saw his face.
I almost reached for it. “Niko! Your face-!”
“Ha! Oh yeah, I got into a fight I couldn’t win.” He said with an almost nonchalant shrug. “But it’s not going to happen again. I went to Dealer’s avenue to search for Elvis’ brother…”
Alone? Without me? I bit back the words. They sounded pathetic enough in my head.
“Be honest,” Niko suddenly began, a little nervously? “If I’d asked would you have wanted to tag along? Not that that would’ve been a good idea obviously, but jeesus I just want to know: are you pissed at me because of what I saw?”
What, wait what?
“Because look I’m not stupid,” He continued while I stood there, absolutely speechless. “If you didn’t want me to see it, I can pretend nothing happened.”
You’re good at that aren’t you.
Every second seemed more and more painful for him.
“I’m just trying to say that I like having you as a friend, but this awkward thing going on sucks – a lot. But if it means you don’t want to hang out anymore-”
“Woah! I’m just taken off guard!” To think you actually do care about me on some level – it is a good day! “I do want to be friends! I’m sorry for how I reacted. I’m really sorry.” I said, as cheerfully as I could.
“So we can just forget I ever saw anything?”
I nodded enthusiastically, not trusting my mouth to find the right words.
That slightly pained expression left his face and he smiled. “Awesome! Cause I have to tell you what happened at Dealer’s Avenue.” He said, beginning his jog again.
“We need to report to Elvis about this after. So there was this group of guys and a detective-”
My inner self sighed contently as I jogged alongside Nikolas – him slowing down a little to make sure I didn’t get left behind.
And here I didn’t think I could like him more.