I thought it was soooo extremely cute to see Richie constantly ‘touching’ everything as we walked through the streets of Chicago. Well...that, and a little bit embarrassed, because it made me wonder how I must have looked like to Taryn when I was first waking up and stepping out of that trailer for the very first time right after my own crossover. Hehehe, I had to imagine that I was probably twice as goofy as Richie was right now. Out of the two of us, he was always been the ‘cool’ one. Or at least that’s how I saw it.
Hehehe, why was he ‘touching’ everything? That’s just weird, right? Maybe it just looks weird to me because I’ve gotten so used to having my senses overloaded like this all night long for the past six or seven months or so. Or...wait...has it only been a few months? Less? More? It’s so hard to keep track of time out here sometimes. Either way, it was pretty cool to re-experience the world through his eyes again.
I was walking toward Grant Park, my brain obsessed with my own thoughts, when I realized that Richie was no longer at my side, and had to turn around to see him feeling the texture of the bricks on a nearby building in the alley. This dark, dingy, alley. He was so fascinated with it that he didn’t even notice me watching him for a full minute before he blushed and straightened up, trying to compose himself. “Hehehe! Sorry.”
“No, it’s ok. I get it. It’s super crazy, right?” I said.
“Omigod! It’s SO crazy!!! I mean...are you seeing this the way that I’m seeing it??? Look at this!” He eagerly returned his palms to the bricks and moved them all over the surface, grinning as though the texture tickled his skin. “This is so wild. Dude...what is even going on here? This is like...next level awesome. Everything is soooo clear. Like...crisp. I feel like I can’t even take it all in at once.” Richie looked back over his shoulder at me, and I just smiled at him...giving him all the time that he felt he needed to adjust. “And the sounds, Justin. Wow...I feel like I can hear everything, all at once. But...it doesn’t just sound like noise. It’s almost like music. Wow...just, like...just….wow.”
“It takes some getting used to, but soon things will go back to feeling normal again. Promise.”
“I don’t know if I want them to. This is so unreal right now.” He said, and after a few more touches, Richie found the will to pull himself away from the wall and go back to following me again. He couldn’t seem to stop running his fingers through his hair, brushing it off of his forehead and further away from his eyes, occasionally just blowing it upwards with a quick huff of breath. He really wasn’t used to having hair anymore. However, I’ve got to admit...he still looked like the same old Richie to me, with or without it. Feeling a lump of emotion swelling in the back of my throat as his eyes darted all around us with a childlike smirk on his lips, I was compelled to put my arm over his shoulder and pull him closer to me. I just pressed the side of my head against his and gave him a squeeze. “Hehehe, well aren’t we affectionate this evening?” He giggled. “What’s this for?”
“I dunno. I’m just...happy to have my best friend back. That’s all.” I said softly.
Richie then lifted his arm to put it over my shoulder this time and we kept walking while holding one another close. “Me too...” He said. God, he has no idea how good it is to see him back to his old self.
We made it all the way out to Michigan Avenue, and then crossed the street to walk through one of the darker parts of the park. I figured that we could find a decent spot to be alone and maybe talk for a while. Look...I know that Bryson is always telling us that allowing someone to adjust and grow into their crossover is extremely delicate work and that we should never reveal too much too fast...hell, Doc probably told me a million times about the dangers of giving some harsh information to someone who can’t handle it all at once...but I just felt like I had so much to tell him. So much to teach him. I almost wanted to just rip off the mental Band-Aid and get it over with. But then...I thought back to the way that I handled things, myself, when I was first born into darkness. To say that I freaked out and made a fool of myself would be an understatement. Had it not been for Taryn and Bryson practically grabbing me by the wrists and trying to calm me down before sending me out to hunt for the first time...God knows what I would have done.
I wish that...drinking blood, never being able to go back home, and never seeing the sun again, weren’t a necessary part of the process...but it is. Hopefully, I can distract Richie with this brand new world that he’s suddenly become a part of long enough for him to get used to being a part of it. Otherwise, I don’t know if he’s going to end up hating me for what I’ve done to him or not.
“So what do you guys do out here all night long? You and Jeremy.” He asked.
I was a bit confused for a moment. “Me and Jeremy? What are you talking about?”
“Well...he’s your friend, isn’t he? The one that helped me get better?”
“Oh! Hehehe...yeah, I guess you’ve pretty much missed a giant chunk of my life since I’ve been gone, haven’t you?” I snickered.
“Well, first of all...Jeremy can be really friendly when he wants to be. Unfortunately, he almost never wants to be. So don’t expect hugs and flowers whenever you see him.” I told him as we made our way towards the lake. “Second of all...I guess you could say that I found myself a whole new family since we were able to speak to each other last. An entire group full of some really awesome people. People who take care of me. Really good friends.”
Richie turned to smile at me. “You’ve got a bunch of friends now? You’re making me feel a little bit left out here, Freak. Hehehe!”
“Don’t worry. There’s always going to be a V.I.P. spot waiting for you in my heart whenever you need it.” I grinned. “I really can’t wait to take you back so you can meet everybody. They’re so cool. They’re gonna love you, dude! If I can fit in, you should be able to do twice as well.”
“I don’t know, Justin. I can’t really say that I’ve been one to fit in when it comes to a crowd.”
“You can here. They’re different, you know? Freaks...just like you and me. Hehehe, but way cooler.” As we were coming out of the park and looking out at the dark waves of Lake Michigan, I deeply inhaled the night air and released it with a sigh of relief. Me and Richie walking out there just felt like ‘home’ to me, you know?
“If you say so.” Richie said, lightly rolling his eyes. “Ugh, are you going to try to make me all friendly and social now?”
“I highly doubt that you’ll be able to help yourself. Some of them seem a little rough around the edges at first, but you’ll get used to them really fast. They’ll get used to you too. There’s this guy, Bryson, who’s kind of like our leader in a lot of ways, even if he’s only a year or two older than we are. And then there’s Jun! He is soooo fast! It’s crazy! And Dion’s pretty awesome...and Doc...and then there’s...”
“Wait, how many people do you live with? Hehehe, are you guys in a big group home or something? Like, for runaways?”
“Oh. Ummm...no. Not exactly.”
Richie gave me a bit of baffled look. “Soooo...where, ‘exactly’, have you been living all this time? You’ve been gone for months, dude.”
Is this one of those things that I can deem okay to tell him? Shit. Whatever. “It’s sort of, like...this lot.”
“A ‘lot’? What do you mean a ‘lot’?”
“Well, it’s sort of a place where there are these cars...and they’re sort of left behind.”
“What, you mean like a parking lot?” Richie asked.
“Ummm...not quite. The cars are sort of left there...like...for good. Like, forever. They get smashed down and stacked up...”
His eyes widened. “You mean like a fucking junkyard???” He said, his ears still a little sensitive to the sound of his own voice whenever he got himself a little amped up. Then he whispered, “A Junkyard? What the hell are you doing living in a junkyard, Justin?”
“It’s not a junkyard, ok? It’s more like a...it’s kind of like...” I let out a frustrated grunt when I couldn’t find any other words. “Ok, it’s a junkyard. But it’s MUCH more comfortable than you might think. We’ve got this guy, Max, who fixes them up really nice and sunproof’s the windows...we’ve got blankets and soft places to sleep. It’s fine.”
“Sunproof?” He said. “What does that mean?”
You know, it’s not all that easy to talk to somebody who knows how to dismantle my defenses the way that Richie can. I’m slipping up again, and figured that I should probably stop before I dug myself any deeper into that hole. “The point is...I’ve been very happy the whole time that I was there. Happier than I’ve ever been before. You’ll just have to trust me on this one.”
“But...who’s looking after you guys? I mean, like...who’s in charge of everything?”
“I told you. Bryson is in charge.” I replied.
“You said Bryson was just a year or two older than we are.” Richie answered, and after a few seconds his eyes got wide. “Are you telling me there are NO adults there? Like, at all?”
“Hehehe, nope. Not a one. Well, not really. Yes, but no.” I said. “It’s hard to explain.”
As we sat down over at the edge of the Lake, side by side, I could see that Richie was feeling a bit labored over some of the information that I had given him so far. I guess I’ve been taking my life on the streets for granted as well, because none of this seemed like much of a big deal to me. With his fingers running back and forth over the concrete, his head tilted upwards to marvel at the insane beauty of the stars above, Richie said, “This is a lot to take in. I mean, I’m trying to make sense of it all...but I spent a lot of time in that hospital bed wondering where you might have run off to. If you were ok. If you were even alive, really. I think a part of me just refused to let any of those answers in, you know? I felt like I had lost the one and only person in this world that I could truly call my brother. I know it sounds weird, but...I kinda thought that your disappearance was pretty much my fault. I didn’t know if I was ever going to forgive myself for that.”
“Your fault? Richie...what are you talking about? That’s just stupid.”
“No. No it isn’t.” He said, the burden of it weighing heavy on his heart. “We promised we would always be there for each other. Always. No matter what. Then...I got sick...and I left you out there all alone to face the worst the world had to offer without me by your side. You may not have taken it that way, but to me? To me that was...unforgivable.”
It hurt to hear him say that. Those words brought with it an emotional pain that I couldn’t put into words, even if I tried. Especially since, if anything, I was the one who left him behind at the end of the day.
As Richie began to get a little bit misty eyed from the memory of thinking that he’d never hear from me again, I scooted back and swiveled my legs around to face him directly. “Say...do you remember that day after school...when my dad had beaten me down to the floor, and my stomach was so knotted up that it was hard for me to breathe? Do you remember that?”
Richie shook his head in disgust. “Your dad was always SUCH an asshole!” He growled. “If I could have gotten a hold of a crowbar or a lead pipe of something, I probably would have killed him for everything that he put you through, growing up.”
“Yeah. And I probably would have joined you, to be honest.” I said. “But what did you do, instead?”
“Justin...that hardly counts as anything that I could be proud of...”
“You let me come running over to your house, and you let me stay in your basement like a stray puppy or something, bringing me snacks and sodas until you were sure that it was late enough for my mom to come home. And then...you called her and asked if I could spend the night, so she wouldn’t have to see the bruises, and so I wouldn’t have to go back home while my dad was still stomping around in a drunken rage.”
His voice trembling slightly, Richie said, “I couldn’t send you back to that place. I refused. Even if my mom had said no, I would have hid you in the basement all night long until he sobered up and you were safe again. Even if it was just for a little while.”
“Exactly. And that wasn’t the first time that you looked out for me, nor was it the last.” I said. “Time after time, you came to my aid and showed me what true friendship was all about. And you never asked me for anything in return. I trusted you with my whole heart, and you never once let me down. That’s why I had to come and find you at the hospital. That’s why I had to save you...and bring you home. There’s no way I was going to leave you behind...because I knew for a fact, that given any other choice...you would never do that to me.” I sniffled a bit as a single tear began to drop from his eye. “We’re freaks for life, remember? You take care of me and I take care of you. Period. Nothing’s ever going to change that. Not ever.”
“Heh...I dunno...maybe I was worried about nothing.” He said, trying to keep the tears at bay. “I just wish I could have been there more, you know? With your dad...with your mom...with those stupid bullies at school...”
“Don’t even sweat it.” I smirked. “Honestly? I wish just one of those jerks had the balls to run up on me now. They’d be in for a rude awakening, believe me. Hehehe!”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” He chuckled, wiping his eyes on the back of his wrist.
“Let’s just say that I’ve learned some new tricks since the last time one of those brain-dead cowards tried to jump me.” I raised an eyebrow, making Richie laugh a bit to himself. “It’s no joke. I can seriously fuck somebody up now if I need to. And people a lot bigger and badder than they ever were.”
“Oh, is that so?”
“Damn straight. You forget...I’m Superman now.” I said. “And so are you.”
It looked like he didn’t believe me at first...but as he searched through some of his blurred memories and random visions of the night that I brought him home, something seemed to ‘click’ for him in that moment. “Soooo, wait...was that real?”
“Was what real?”
“The hospital. I feel like...I just sort of dreamed the whole thing, but you were fighting somebody. Like, with your bare hands. It looked like some kind of big budget action movie or something. And...I think Jeremy was there...and some other kids too...”
“It wasn’t a dream.” I smirked. “I told you that I was Superman. What more do you want?”
He was trying so very hard to remember, but he was only getting bits and pieces of what happened that night. Quickly edited scenes with no real context. “You can DO that? You could never do that before!”
“Nope.” I said.
“So...what happened? Did you take...lessons or something, or…?”
I patted Richie on the leg. “It’s just kind of something that may or may not happen when you become one of us. It, like...develops all on its own. Almost like magic.”
“Hold on! Am I going to be able to do that?”
I shrugged. “Well, I don’t know about all that. I guess only time will tell. We’ll have to wait and see what your extra is.”
“Your extra. It’s like this...special ability or something that is unique to you, and only to you. I’ll have to have my friend, Doc, explain it to you in detail...but you’ll get one of your own sooner or later. And then you’ll be just like the rest of us.” I said, and Richie seemed to brighten up almost immediately.
“Dude! Really? I wanna fight! Like, pow, pow, boom, BAM!!! Unnecessary backflip! BOOM!!!” I laughed as I watched Richie punching out at the air around him and making faces as he swung his arms to and fro. “That would be the shit! I wanna be a total badass! I know a couple of people that could seriously use a major ass whoopin’ to get their egos back in check! Hehehe!”
We played around for a little bit, thinking back to some of our better days...but then I gave him a sly smile and asked him, “Do you want to meet ‘em? My new family?”
He seemed a bit hesitant. “Are you...are you sure that it’ll be alright, if I just show up like this?”
“Afraid that you’re not properly dressed for the occasion?” I teased.
“That too. I’ve definitely looked better. But that’s not what I mean.” He said. “Your new friends...they don’t know me, Freak. I feel like it’s gonna be weird.”
“It’s not gonna be weird, dude. Just stay by my side, be your usual charming self, and everybody’s gonna think you’re the greatest thing to step into that place since...well, since ME!” I giggled.
“Well, that’s a low bar to leap over.” He said, causing me to playfully slug him in the arm. Then he sighed and surrendered by saying, “Fine. Geez. Let’s go back to your junkyard or whatever.”
“It’s a ‘LOT’, Richie!” I said.
“Whatever. Just...lead the way.” He said, and we got back up on our feet. “So what kind of tricks am I gonna learn?”
“We’ll just have to wait and find out.”
“Yeah, but...how long is ‘not long’, though?” He asked, practically bouncing on his heels as we started walking.
“Depends on you and your development, I suppose. There’s no exact science with this sort of thing. Just a few windows of opportunity and random guesses. That’s all.”
“Great. I get a chance to go through puberty all over again. What a blessing.” He said sarcastically, rolling his eyes again.
“Have you always been this pessimistic, or is this a new thing?” I asked. “You’re gonna basically be getting super powers, for crying out loud. I would think you’d be a little more than excited about that.”
“I AM! Oh God, believe me, I am! I just...I wish I knew what it was already!” He said. It looked like he was about to wiggle out of his own skin. “Do you think I’ll be able to set stuff on fire or something? Or, like...maybe walk through walls? Or spin webs like Spider-Man?”
“Hehehe, I don’t know, Richie! We have to wait and see.”
“Whoah! Can I FLY?” He asked.
“I don’t know. Can you?”
Richie gasped out loud, “I don’t KNOW!!! Can I???” Now he was bouncing around more than ever. “Up, up, and away!!!”
He forgot to stop yelling, and had to cover his own ears as a piercing wave of harsh sound waves went screaming through his head, almost dropping him to his knees.
“You’ve really got to stop doing that to yourself, you know?” I said.
“Ugh...I know, I know. Lesson learned...ugh...again.” I helped him regain his balance, and we began our trek back to the lot. Maybe then...I can gather up a little bit of extra courage...
...And tell him about me and Taryn...