‘I’m selling the house, and none of you are allowed to buy it.’
As soon as the message was sent and delivered, Summer set his phone into Do Not Disturb mode, then changed his mind the next second, opting to set it into airplane mode.
He knew four overgrown gremlins would bombard his phone with messages of protests and incessant calls. He was also sure that they all would be rushing to come over for dinner time. He’d address the matter by then.
He was certain of it. Because even when they were leading and living their own lives, they were all too attached, gravitating back to the place everybody used to call home. And somehow, as much as Summer cherished them, he didn’t want that. He wanted them to go even farther, wings spread wider and soaring higher.
Attachment was fine. He was attached to the house too. He was here when the walls heard and contained all of their boisterous laughter. He was also there when the kitchen witnessed secrets, stories and shared kisses. The staircase railings, the sliding glass door, the table and chairs, the corkboard by the stairway nook, the couch, the patio swing – they were all littered by handprints including his own.
Summer loved his house.
But to be tied in one place, limiting themselves just so they wouldn’t be too far from home and from him, it was stifling their growth.
He also thought moving to a humbler place was ideal as it was wise. The space had become too big, and the silence around him was maddening. And that was what it was now - a house, a space, and no longer a home.
A frantic voice echoed from upstairs. Summer remained unmoving on the couch, back laid straight as a ruler. His hands were on his stomach, and his eyes were closed.
He felt, more than hear, the incoming footsteps of his lover. The couch dipped as a warm lower back brushed against his hip.
“Our Popstars and Eighties are flooding my phone with angry messages. What in the world did you say to them?”
A phone was brought closer to his face, and he could sense the brightness of the screen even with his eyes shut tight.
“I told them they can’t buy the house.”
“Now why would you do that? Look! Laya is calling.”
“Mn. Let him call but do not answer. He’s going to argue and get technical with me.”
“Of course he will. He loves this house.”
“I know. They all do.” Summer’s lips curved upwards as his eyelids slowly revealed a pair of dark brown irises. “Did you know? It’s been ten years since Laya came and became family.”
Light fingertips brushed Summer’s hair away from his forehead. “I know. But please tell me more. I like talking with you.”
Ten Years Ago...
There was nothing in this world that Summer cherished more than the safety of his house.
He would’ve loved to stay cocooned in his weighted duvet, head buried in a book while his mind travelled to another dimension through black inked words sewn together. Having a hot and properly steeped tea would also be perfect, especially with the cold and unforgiving rain that had been tormenting the city for a couple of nights in a row.
And yet, he was out.
He had been trying to sway the university security personnel for the past five minutes to let him drive inside Willa’s university campus. But the man proved himself to be immovable.
“How many more times do I have to tell you?” The glint in his eyes was impatient, fixing Summer a displeased glare. “You’re not a student, faculty or staff of this university, and you have no official business here. I cannot let you in at this time of night. I apologize, sir. Just following safety and security protocol.”
Summer rubbed his forehead, sighing. He had no choice but to nod his defeat, especially after hearing the harsh emphasis the security personnel had put on certain words. He mumbled a ‘thank you’, before closing his car’s window up and grabbing his phone with his other hand. Having tapped the topmost conversation thread in his messaging app, his thumb swiftly moved across the screen, typing, “Sorry. Security won’t let me in. You got no choice but to run your way to the main gate.”
A series of crying emoji flooded his phone as soon as his message got delivered and read. The last one was then followed by a single word, “Fine.”
He put his phone back to its place on the holder attached on the dashboard, and leaned comfortably on the backrest of his seat while an elbow rested against the door panel. He let himself mindlessly get entertained by the repetitive movement of the wiper blade against the windshield as he waited. The motion was calming and irritating all at the same time. Just when the glass was made semi-dry and clear, more water droplets came pouring down.
Summer really hated the rain. Its scent, its sound, the cold that came with it. Yeah, especially the cold.
The cold reminded him of unpaid bills, spilled cold tea, heartbreak and...
“Pops! Thank you for picking me up.”
He blinked, tuning back to reality. He turned to Willa, taking in her drenched form in the passenger seat with a raised brow. She smiled, a tight-lipped one that looked sheepish, before reaching out to adjust the heater, seeking heat to thaw the chillness away from her bones.
“And your belongings?”
Summer handed her the indigo-dyed towel she had made when she randomly decided to have a dye party with River and Kai a little over a month ago. But it was nearly useless considering the amount of raindrops Willa collected in her Barbie-core clothes and striking seaweed hair. There really was no hope in preventing the seat from getting wet as well.
She transformed herself into an indigo burrito, and pointed the tote bag she had tossed unto the dashboard moments earlier.
“I shielded it from the rain, of course. Why do you think I totally look like I just stepped out from a raging shower using a fire truck’s hose?”
He gave her another once-over, and reached to the conclusion that she did look like a poorly drowned sakura and matcha. He didn’t say anything about her current state to her, only offering her a short hum as a response. The little sound weighed with resignation for the state of his car and the smartass he had welcomed in his place. Three of them, actually.
The car ride on the way back was serene, accompanied by Willa’s chosen lo-fi music, floating around the warm atmosphere. It suited the pink noise of the rain, making it bearable to Summer. None of them shared a word, until Willa pointed out a lone, hunched figure on a yellow-lighted and dingy waiting shed.
With one glance, Summer felt a tug in his gut, an inkling that his house of four was perhaps going to be a house of five quite soon.
He slowed down his car and pulled it into a stop directly in front of the shed, turning the hazard lights on. Any other day, Summer would’ve opposed the idea of ever doing hazard parking. It always made him uneasy. It scared him that he was perhaps being a big pain on the ass to other drivers. But the road was deserted given the late hour, and he was willing to make an exception just this time for the woeful man stuck in a shed on a rainy night.
“You talk to him.”
Willa didn’t have to be told. The window on her side was already rolled down. “Excuse me? Hi!”
Summer slightly winced at the loudness of her voice against the rain’s harsh pitter-patter.
The young man looked quite disoriented, blinking his puffy eyes slowly. His left cheekbone was painted with a large, painful purplish hue, and his hair was messy with several clumps of strands sticking to his forehead.
He didn’t answer, only curling on himself even more as he remained seated on the hard, cold bench of the shed. He hugged his messenger back closer to his chest and his back slouched further, a sluggish movement laden with anguish. It was as if the heavy weight of the world was upon the curved posture of his back and shoulders.
The sight of him reminds Summer of River from two years ago – lost and empty gaze, and looking small despite the gift of a naturally tall physique.
It was heart-wrenching in every sense of the word.
“Hey! Are you okay? Do you need a ride home?” Willa pressed on, undeterred by the lack of response.
Her head was halfway out of the window and Summer had to pull her back gently by the arm. “Willa, you’re really going to get sick at this rate.”
“And so will he.” She shot back, quick but not rude. Still, she obediently readjusted herself on her seat before resuming her conversation with the indifferent stranger. “Yes or no. Need a ride home?”
A tiny shake of his head was all that Willa got.
It was never right to assume, but if Summer was allowed to take a guess based on the wristband he was wearing and the ugly bruise on his skin, he didn’t need a ride home. Because he probably lost it earlier and had nowhere else to be.
Because when a problem ran too deep, even Summer’s entire lifetime would probably be not enough of a time for it to be uprooted entirely. And he had seen it. He had seen and experienced the problem in the thirty-two long years he’d been breathing.
Others would say he was part of the problem, when in truth, hate was.
Things had grown different, that he could say. But it just wasn’t different enough. Not yet.
“Alright.” Willa relented hesitantly. “But are you sure? It’s cold. You’ll be sick.”
The young man huffed, tilting his head to the right. His gaze remained downcast and blank. His pale lips moved but the rain easily concealed what he was trying to say.
Willa slipped her head out of the window again, wanting to catch his words that the earthly noise had drowned. “I’m sorry. What was that?”
“I don’t have a home.”
Wasn’t it a sense of triumph that usually comes when one was right about something? But the sad words made an exception. Summer only felt a painful tightening in his chest, a recurring feeling he wished was not so familiar to him.
“Pops...” Willa pleaded, eyes a little wider and eyebrows pulled together until they creased deeply.
She didn’t have to elaborate to make him understand. But Summer couldn’t just agree without thinking of the possible repercussions. Stranger danger may not exist in his book when it came to the people he understood the most, the people that were possibly like him. Still, there were lines drawn by morality and law that he wouldn’t cross.
“Willa, I understand. But we cannot condone a minor who possibly ran away.”
Willa scrunched up her nose in discontent, then turned to the stranger again, “Hey! May I know how old you are?”
The young man looked confused, and Summer wouldn’t fault him for being so guarded.
Willa gave Summer a smug look. “See? I don’t think the authorities would appreciate having a male adult in their care. I don’t even think they would care.”
Summer studied the stranger, his thoughts running fast as he weighed his choices and countless of possible consequences. He glanced at Willa, and that simply not the wisest choice. She had an expectant look on her face, and it was what tipped the scale.
That was all he had to say, and Willa understood it in a blink of eye. She grinned at him, excited and a little relieved. “You’re the best!”
She turned to the stranger once more, an invitation for a place to stay spilling from her mouth in an enthusiastic spiel. After all, she had been on the receiving end of the same offer more than a year ago.
She lifted her canvas tote bag and showed its array of pins to the desolate young man.
“Hey! Why don’t you come to our place? It’s safe. For someone like me.” She pointed her striking enamel pin of a fictional character holding a pride flag, stuck right next to the circular one that says, ‘The Future is Female.’ She then pointed at the mildly bewildered stranger, specifically at the thick garter band on his left wrist that proudly displayed the colors black, grey, white and purple.
He stared at Willa’s bag for a couple of seconds, then glanced at his accessory. His right hand caressed the smooth material, lips pursed in contemplation.
“It’s okay.” He said at last. “I’ll look for a cheap motel nearby.”
“Why spend for a motel room when you can stay with us for free? And the street might begin to flood soon if the rain doesn’t let up. Getting to places in this kind of weather without a car would be a miracle.”
Out of the blue, Willa jerked her head back as though she was hit with a realization. She uncharacteristically second-guessed herself, looking down on her lap. But whatever made her pause was dismissed quickly, and she tried one more time.
“I know it’s sounds shady to invite a stranger but look at my face! This is a trustworthy face! Do you want to check my ID first? Wait, no. I don’t think my ID photo makes me look like a good person. Just look at me right now instead.”
Summer snorted at Willa’s pitiful persuasion skills, but it seemed to work when the ends of stranger’s lips twitched into a ghost of a smile.
As his new house guest opened the door of the car’s back seat, Summer did not have the slightest idea that he also opened another one that connected Summer’s present from his past.
Merci pour la lecture!
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