I came directly home from my job interview deciding to skip my afternoon class. I would have been late for it anyway. I sent Chet a text so he would know I wouldn't be waiting for him at the bus stop when classes were over. I set my backpack down in our room and then headed to the kitchen to find something to eat. I paused when I heard Chet's parents talking.
"They gave you a demotion?" Nat sounded livid. I was not about to walk into that.
"And a pay cut," Nate said. "They came up with some bogus excuse that I made a mistake somewhere in the paperwork, but I didn't. Greg is just retaliating because I took in the son that he kicked out and I told him I wouldn't kick him out no matter how much he threatened me. It's a demotion in name only. I'm still expected to do all the same work."
"How much of a pay cut?" Nat asked.
"Don't worry," Nate said. "It's not much. We'll still be okay. We've got money saved up. And Aiden said he would try to get me moved onto his team so he can give me a raise, but that doesn't really make sense with my current job title and I don't think Greg will let that happen."
I backed away, went into the room, retrieved my backpack and walked back outside. Obviously no one was supposed to be home at that time of day and Nate and Nat wouldn't want me to have overheard them. I walked back in as if it was the first time, but made sure to close the front door loudly so it would be audible from the kitchen.
Nate and Nat came out into the living room and both smiled when they saw me.
"I thought you had a class," Nat said.
"My job interview ran a little late. Since I would have been late for class I just decided to skip it. What are you two doing home so early?"
"We came to eat lunch together," Nate said. "We've got to get back to work now." They headed to the front door.
"I can move in with Alex's mom," I said.
They both turned to me a little shocked. "Don't you like living here?" Nat asked sounding hurt.
"I do," I said, "but it's taking me longer than I thought it would to find a job and..."
Nate hugged me and said, "You are part of our family now, son. If you move out, it will be because you and Chet got your own place and not for any other reason."
And how could I say no to that even knowing my dad was giving them a hard time. I couldn't because I had never felt part of a family like this before. My own dad had never hugged me and Nate was so free with his hugs.
"Okay," I said.
I woke with a start not sure at first what woke me. Then my phone rang again. I picked up my phone and saw Trevon was calling. It was 1:17 a.m. My first thought was that this must be bad.
"Hello," I answered. My voice was heavy with sleep.
"Can you come?" he asked. His voice was wrought with worry. It actually sounded like he had been crying and Trevon didn't cry. "Alex will pick you up."
I sat up straight. "What's wrong?" I got up out of bed and went to the dresser to pull out some clothes. I was vaguely aware that Chet sat up on the bed and watched me.
"It's Arthur," he said. "We just got to the hospital. The paramedics said he might have been poisoned." His voice choked at the last sentence. He took a deep breath to steady himself.
I froze with my pants halfway on when he said poison. "How could that happen?" I asked.
"I don't know," Trevon said. "We were in bed and he...just come."
"I'm coming," I said. "Do you need me to call Alex?"
"I called him first. He'll go pick you up. He'll be there soon."
"Okay." I pulled a fresh shirt on over my head. Chet got out of bed and wrapped his arms around my waist from behind. "Have the doctors seen him yet?"
"They are in with him now," Trevon said. "They won't let me in with him. I tried calling his parents, but they didn't answer. Arthur told me before they are heavy sleepers. I don't know what to do, Vinny."
I grabbed my house key and my wallet and stuffed them into my pocket. "We're coming, Trev," I said. "It's going to be okay. He's going to be okay." I had no idea if that was true or not, but it seemed like it needed to be said.
"Okay," Trevon said. He seemed to breathe a little easier. "Hurry, please," he said.
"We will," I said. I hung up. It didn't matter how fast we tried to go, it was still going to take us a least a couple of hours to get there even if we did speed.
"Something's wrong with Arthur?" Chet asked.
"Yes. Trevon's not sure what yet. The paramedics said he might be poisoned, but Trevon didn't have a clear answer. Alex and I will go be with him."
"I can come too," Chet said.
I smiled and took him into my arms. It still amazed me everyday that I was lucky enough to have Chet, that he loved me.
"One of us should go to classes tomorrow," I said. We were now in the second week of spring semester. "And I'm not sure the hospital will like it if too many people are there."
Chet squeezed me tighter. "At least keep me updated on how it's going. No matter how late or early it is."
He walked me out into the living room where Kannika was peeking at us from her bedroom door.
"It's okay," I told her quietly so as to not wake their parents. "Go back to bed."
"Is one of your friends hurt? Poisoned?" she asked.
"He's going to be alright," I said. "Go to sleep."
"If he's alright then why are you leaving in the middle of the night?" she asked.
That stumped me.
"Go back to bed, Kanni," Chet said. "We'll keep you updated."
"Okay," she said. Her bedroom door closed.
Chet stayed with me as we watched through the window for Alex's car. When Alex pulled up to the curb, I gave Chet a kiss and then headed out. Chet waved at us from the doorway until we pulled away.
"Are you tired?" I asked Alex. "Do you want me to drive?"
"I am not tired after that phone call. I'm just worried."
"Me too," I said.
"Mateo wanted to come with us."
"Chet did too."
"We have good boyfriends."
"Yes we do."
We drove in silence. I glanced over at the speedometer and was happy to see that Alex was speeding. He didn't usually. I just hoped we wouldn't get a ticket. He probably wasn't going fast enough to get a ticket.
"Do you think it was his ex girlfriend?" Alex asked.
"I don't know," I said. "Trevon hasn't mentioned her in a long time. I thought everything was fine. And we don't know for sure that it was poison."
"That's all true," Alex said. "Jason's trial is next week," he said after a pause.
"Are you going to go?"
"I'm going to be called as a witness. I'll go for that part, but I don't think I'll attend the rest of it. I also got word just tonight that they arrested the person who released the full video. Apparently Jason has a boyfriend and they were working together. Jason started all this in high school before he started dating me. He would target older men, tell them he was nineteen and then after he slept with them he told them he was only sixteen or seventeen. He had recorded a video each time so he had evidence to use against them unless they paid up. He always burned through the money really fast. He blackmailed people after me too, but it wasn't as effective once he was eighteen. Effective enough though. Most people don't want videos like that coming out, but a few would rather not be blackmailed."
"I'm proud of you for that," I said. I looked down at the phone in my hands hoping Trevon would call at that moment with an update. My phone was silent.
"So," Alex said, "Chet tells you things, personal things. Like about his brother that I didn't even know existed until New Years Eve."
"Yeah," I said.
"He lets himself show his weaknesses to you."
"How long do I need to wait for Mateo to do the same?"
Alex shook his head in the dark car.
"Maybe he does, but you just aren't recognizing it," I said. "He told you when his grandpa went in for those heart tests."
"That's more because I guessed that something was wrong rather than him volunteering info," Alex said. "I think more might be happening, but he won't tell me. And maybe there isn't. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but he won't let me help him with anything. Not even simple things like homework. If he won't let me help him with the simple things, he's not going to let me help him with the big things."
"You're not going to breakup with him over it are you?" I asked because now I genuinely liked Mateo.
"No," Alex said. We drove on through the quiet night until Alex said, "But how long can I wait for him to open up to me? A year? Two years? How long do I wait?"
"He'll come around," I said and hoped it was true.
"I want to feel needed," he said quietly.
We had been driving for just over an hour when Alex's phone rang through his car. It was Trevon.
"Don't come," Trevon said when we answered it.
"Why?" Alex asked.
"My sisters are here."
Alex and I exchanged a glance. His hands tightened on the steering wheel.
"Did you call them and tell them?" I asked him.
"No. I have no idea how they found out. Unless, they've been spying on me all along. But still do they have my apartment bugged or my phone? Why would they do that? I just can't figure out how they know."
"We can still come," Alex offered.
"No. They are on a warpath. Their fiances too. Don't come."
"Do you know about Arthur?" I asked. "Is he okay?"
Trevon sighed heavily into the phone. "It was definitely poison. The doctors said he must have drank it. I don't know when. I think something was slipped into his water bottle. He's stable. He's going to live. He'll be fine. I just don't understand how this happened."
"Do you think it was your ex girlfriend?" Alex asked.
There was a really long pause.
"Or maybe there was a rival in ballet? Like some twisted movie," Alex said when Trevon didn't answer right away.
"I don't want to think it was Alice," Trevon said, "but I don't think anyone else would do it. She has no idea who she has messed with. My sisters are going to go crazy."
I definitely wouldn't want to be in his sisters's path right now. And I wouldn't put it past them to be spying on Trevon somehow.
"Did you ever get ahold of his family?" I asked.
"I couldn't get ahold of his parents so I called his sister who lives with them. She didn't answer the first time I called, but she answered the second time. She and their parents are on their way here. She told their other siblings and they were all going to come at first, but when they learned he was stable, the others decided to stay and wait for an update."
"We're still willing to come," I said, "even if we're afraid of your sisters."
"I know," Trevon said and his voice sounded more at ease. "There is going to be a lot of people here now and I don't want to add anymore. And my sisters are scarier than I've ever seen them. You don't need to see this. Go home and get some rest. I'll tell Arthur you were worried about him and were willing to drive all the way out here."
"Okay," Alex said. He slowed down and took the next exit we came to.
"Keep us updated on Arthur's condition," I said. "It doesn't matter how late or early it is."
Alex turned into the lane that would take him back on the freeway in the opposite direction.
"I will," Trevon said. "Thanks, guys." There was a pause and then he said, "I love you guys."
"We love you too," Alex and I said at the same time.
"Okay," Trevon said. "That's enough of the mushy stuff for one night. But really, thank you."
We hung up and started our drive back.
I sent a quick text to Chet letting him know Arthur was okay and we were on our way back.
"What a relief," Alex said. "I'm so glad he's okay."
"Me too," I said. I settled into the seat suddenly very tired.
Alex's eyes flicked to me quickly before going back to the road. "You can't go to sleep," he said. "I'm tired too. You need to talk to me to keep me awake."
"Alright," I said and forced myself to sit a little straighter. "What do you want to talk about?"
"How is the job hunt going?"
I groaned. "I keep applying. I apply somewhere almost everyday and yet I still keep getting rejected. I really think something is wrong with me. Maybe I interview really poorly. Except they all seem enthusiastic when I'm there. They can't all be faking that, can they?"
"There is nothing wrong with you," Alex said. That was what Chet and his family kept telling me too, but at some point I needed to admit something was wrong with me if I couldn't get a job.
"Then why isn't it working out? I can't keep living off of Chet's family. I mean, they are nice and I don't think they mind, but it's frustrating. And I really want Chet and I to get our own place. Do you know how long it's been since we've had sex?"
Alex laughed at me. "I offered you our apartment a few times now and you keep turning me down."
"You offered without telling Mateo," I said. "What are you going to say to him if I take you up on your offer someday?"
"I can just take him out on a date somewhere. He doesn't need to know."
"No, Aley. I can wait. It'll work out sometime. It has to. I haven't told Chet this, but I overheard his parents talking and my dad gave his dad a paycut. I really need to find a job."
"I've been giving everyone who calls me for a reference rave reviews about you and I know Trevon has to. It will happen soon."
It had to because I couldn't keep letting the Watakeekuls pay for all my needs.