LIAM | 5
IT was the blaring of his alarm clock that woke him from his deep slumber. The sounds of an emergency bullhorn filled the room in echoes that startled him awake.
He didn’t hear what was his daily early morning workout playlist, a mimic of what he assumed was on his favorite athlete’s, Jeremy Lin, workout playlist. Most of it was Lecrae’s Church Clothes. The tunes served a two-fold purpose: they were intense enough to wake him from an enjoyable night’s rest in order to prepare him for the day but weren’t so annoying that his parents would complain. Their knowledge of Lecrae’s walk with Christ, which was how they worded it to Liam, gave him permission to play it pretty much all the time. And it was good music to him too, so a win-win.
When his body jerked up, Liam slammed his fist down on the snooze button, his force almost cracking the hard plastic. No music meant his iPhone wasn’t on the charger. He groaned loudly as he opened his eyes to look around. Though the curtains were open, it was still pretty dark outside. The little light in the room was coming from the open door that led to the en suite bathroom. He caught sight of his blue and white Jordans neatly placed up against a door across from the bed, his black hoodie hanging from the knob. His body was halfway covered by what he recognized was his Nana’s self-knitted afghan though he was still wearing his gym pants and Columbia University t-shirt and one side of the bed covers were pulled back for him to sleep under. He was home.
The realization confused him. It was a few minutes after five am; that knowledge only came to mind because he only had one alarm set. But how in the world had he got home?
Groaning from the growing headache, he slid from his bed and slowly moved barefoot across his carpeted floor toward the bathroom. He squinted to allow his eyes time to adjust to the light but blindly reached for counter tops. He felt an overwhelming sensation of heat come over his body. At his sink, he turned on the faucet and splashed cold water on his face and neck before staring at himself in the mirror. His hazel brown eyes were no longer surrounded by white but a fire red color. It looked like someone had taken a blood colored crayon and colored the area. When he touched them they were tender and he could barely blink without feeling some kind of pain. What had he done to his body?
There was a whole sixteen hours or so he did not and could not remember. Yesterday, he got up at five as usual, brushed his teeth, ate a protein bar, and stretched in his room before changing. He ran a mile in a circle starting at his house and through his neighborhood as a warm up, only stopping for a moment to share a moving conversation with the only other person up and outside that early, Andrew Hastings, who had never given up on his Marine Corps routine though he was on permanent leave due to half his right leg being blown off during a mission. When he returned home, he lifted weights in the basement for forty-five minutes then took a shower and was out of the door for school at exactly seven thirty-five.
Nothing special had happened at school that day, either. He went to his classes, talked to his friends, hung out a bit with the wrestling team during lunch. After school, he decided against his better judgment to accept the invite to the Ashley brothers’ place. They were really good friends, since middle school, but Coach Mitchell treated him, and the rest of the team, as if they were professionals—they were always in conditioning mode. Coach Mitchell had no reserves about calling pop-practices and with his brother being a police officer there were no qualms that kept him from sobriety or drug tests at any moment. And at the time, Liam wasn’t exactly in the mood to drink, but he went anyway.
That was all he could remember for the time after school. Westley, being twenty-two years old, picked the Liam and Jonathan up and drove them by Harold’s Liquor and Convenience Store to pick up the drinks and some snacks. He remembered hanging out with them in their garage, with the door closed and music blasting, sharing a couple of beers, a bottle of Vodka and orange juice, and ended up trying some of Westley’s new stuff.
As was his custom, Liam didn’t ask when Westley brought something new and Westley didn’t tell. Nine times out of ten, it was better not to know what was in it, who made it, or from whom he bought it. Liam even stopped trying to figure out how Westley was getting his hands on this stuff on a college campus or was selling it himself out of his dorm room. To get them to stop pressuring him, Liam had come to conclusion that he would only try it once. It was only once.
But now, looking at himself in the mirror and knowing that that was all he could remember, he could only ask, what the heck had he smoked?
He figured after everything there was only one explanation for him being at home right now—he had passed out at the Ashleys’ and they drove him home. He could not have possibly been awake or coherent enough to get up the stairs to his room and his Nana’s afghan didn’t appear out of thin air and magically be placed over his body. Even his shoes and socks had been taken off. There was clearly a lot of stuff he missed. Whatever Westley had given him definitely did not agree with his body. He vowed to never smoke again and definitely to never take anything from Westley.
Now Liam really began to feel the pain of his headache. While rubbing his temples, he opened his medicine cabinet and swallowed two small pills of ibuprofen. He hoped it was enough pain medication to kick in quick. His muscles began to ache and spasm and it was hard for him to stand. His body felt as if it were overheating, though he wasn’t wearing any sleeves and the cold of the white tiles cooled his bare feet. Then suddenly, a chill shocked Liam’s body, his knees buckled, his eyes crossed, and his stomach gurgled. A salty, burning liquid pushed itself up in his throat before it quickly spilled out of his mouth. Weakness overcame him, but he was glad that he left the toilet seat up.
IT only took a few heaves of Liam’s stomach before everything that didn’t agree with his body was out. He had flushed the toilet, prematurely, about six times, but all sight of his nausea was down the drain. His body was hot again and he only had enough energy to get off the bathroom floor and lie atop of the covers of his bed on his back. The headache had subsided to just a little pinch over his left eye and even that was going away.
He turned his head to check the clock: five forty-eight. He blinked slowly and ran his hand over his face as he yawned. He was not about to even attempt any workout routine this morning. He was just hoping that he would feel good enough to go to school. Due to random injuries from wrestling and some from goofing around, he had missed enough school for the front office staff to believe that he was skipping class and lying to his parents about it to get them to sign the papers or forging excuses. His parents were already going to ask a million and one questions about why his sleeping habits had suddenly changed; he didn’t want any extra attention today.
As if trying to recall on something to make him feel better, an image of Kaiya flashed into Liam’s mind. Immediately, he remembered that he had a dream about her. A very steamy dream, if that was a good enough description of it.
The two of them were, oddly, at the church. Not in the sanctuary, though. In the multi-purpose building behind the sanctuary. He had walked in on her setting up for something and he helped her, meaning he ate the cake. After she scolded him, he questioned if she liked him or not. Even in the dream, he was unsure if he liked her because he had never had feelings for her before. She was just a cute, friendly girl who pretty much maintained everything HGA had to offer, and did a pretty good job at it. He mostly admired how she juggled school, HGA, and some sort of job at a museum in downtown. Truthfully, he didn’t know much about her except that she became Jeremiah’s close friend when he and Jeremiah had grown apart. They all had met in the eighth grade when she was a whole lot bigger than she was now, and though he thought she was cute in the face then, he had no real attraction to her.
But in this dream, there was so much sexual tension between them. He found himself thinking that Kaiya was actually sexy and had a desperate urge to undress her. When he got close enough to her, she smelled heavily of cotton candy—his favorite cheat snack. Her lips were soft and tasted of peppermints and strawberries. When she stopped him, he wasn’t ready.
She had given him some story about not doing anything in the church. It was obviously a dream, so there was no need for this talk or fear that someone was going to walk in. They were a lone and they weren’t really in church, they were in his head. He tried to kiss her again and then she said something about her waiting until marriage. She practically proposed to him before turning away. Then he took her elbow or tugged at her shirt—he couldn’t quite remember—pulled her back to him, and somehow ended up on the floor. All that talk didn’t really matter anymore, he desperately wanted to see her naked. He almost laughed even thinking about it now; it was so unrealistic.
However, that was the only part that seemed false. Even though he didn’t undress her, he had unzipped his pants with one hand and found his way into her under the skirt she wore. He couldn’t remember her make any sound that he could hear, yet their bodies moved in sync with one another. He felt everything; from her initial tightness to the very rhythm of his movements. She had given him complete control of her body.
A knock came at his door. “Liam, sweetie.” It was his mother.
He growled lowly, staring at the back of his door. This was the second time he would be taken away from the best dream he could remember.
She cracked the door and her petite frame cast a shadow that spread across the floor all the way to his windows. “Are you dressed? It’s almost time for school, honey.”
No he wasn’t dressed. At least not for school; he was still in yesterday’s clothes. He was so busy recounting the dream to himself that he forgot to check the time and actually move from his bed. If his mother was knocking on his door, he had surely missed the bus.
With one eye open and his arm over his face, he watched his mother emerge from the hallway and into his room. Her almost jet black waves were in a tight bun and she wore her fuzzy pink robe and matching slippers. She didn’t seem ready to leave the house either. She sat facing him on the edge of his bed and place the back of her hand on his forehead.
“Your fever’s gone. That’s good.” She kissed where her hand had been. “How are you feeling?”
He looked up at her. Her eyelids were low over her eyes and the outer corners had small wrinkles. She looked like she hadn’t gotten much sleep.
“I’m feeling much better. I think I can go to school today.”
“Are you sure?” She gently rubbed the line of his jaw and examining the rest of his body with her eyes. “You came home yesterday mumbling something none of us could understand then you came to your room and fell asleep.” He came home alone? Westley’s stuff was harder than he imagined. He imagined himself walking all the way from one side of mid-town home. “You were burning up all night and then I heard you this morning. You scared Leah…”
“I’m sorry. Whatever that was, it’s all out of my system now. I’m good.”
She gave him a huge smile and patted his chest. “Okay. But you know if you feel sick at all today, just call me on my cell or at work. Your dad will be at the hospital all day visiting, but I don’t have much to do at the office so I can pick you up,” she rambled on. His father was in “Pastor” Luke mode already and it wasn’t even eight o’clock in the morning.
“Mom, I’m fine. Really. I’ll just rush a shower and be ready for you to drop me off.”
She stood up to leave. “Okay, sweetie.”
He did exactly as promised. His shower didn’t take long and it was easy to slip on a pair of khaki pants because it was still chilly from yesterday’s rainfall, a rolled up grey chambray shirt, and pair of golden brown Sperry boat shoes. He got caught up for a moment searching for his backpack when he remembered that it was probably still in the back of Westley’s car. Instead he grabbed a notebook and pen from his desk, hoping that Jonathan would show up to school and bring his things.
FOR the entire car ride and most of the day at school, Liam could not get the dream of him and Kaiya having sex out of his mind. The only times he didn’t think about it was when he said goodbye to his mother and promised her that he would call if he felt sick again, to give the occasional head nod of a hello, and to confront Jonathan about his brother and retrieve his backpack.
He found himself wishing that it had happened. Every time he relived the dream in his head he couldn’t help but imagine that there was a sexual goddess yearning to break out of that virgin shell of hers. He wondered if she did like him and if they would ever get close enough for that type of experience. For the entirety of third period history he daydreamed of what it would be like to see Kaiya completely naked and ready for him.
When he got to fifth period calculus after lunch, he finally realized that neither Kaiya nor Jeremiah had shown up for school. He did not have class with them until after lunch, when the classes were set up based on math and science levels. And it was easy for him to miss them during lunch because they were always off campus. Yet he expected to see them in their calculus class.
He didn’t see the empty chair at the third row’s middle round table where Kaiya was supposed to sit until Mrs. Phillips called roll.
She was answered with silence. “Kaiya Parker,” she called again. Mrs. Phillips glanced up from her clipboard and over her thick-rimmed glasses. “Hmm.”
Another thing Liam knew about Kaiya: she was a stickler for being on time and had a perfect attendance record since the eighth grade that would win her a million dollars. She had to be terribly sick or something worse to keep her from showing up to school.
“She was supposed to work out the proof for the Pythagorean Theorem today,” Mrs. Phillips stated before she moved on with the roll only stopping for a quick second to mark Jeremiah Perez as absent also.
Liam looked behind him at Owen Colt, a tall and lanky red-headed basketball player with freckles whose family attended the church and sometimes hung out with Jeremiah and Kaiya. He mouthed the words, “Where are they?” Owen just shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.
Now his mind was obsessed with the fact that neither one of them were at school. At the end of class he offered to take the homework to Jeremiah and Kaiya, so they wouldn’t be too far behind the next time they came to class. He rushed out of the classroom and caught Owen in the hallway at his locker.
“You know where they are?” Liam asked.
Owen’s eyebrows came together. “Uh, no. I’m guessing they’re at home,” he answered with a bit of sarcasm. He continued pulling books from the packed and junky locker and placing them in his backpack.
“Seriously, Owen. Kaiya’s never absent. Didn’t she show up to the study party last night?” Liam was shocked at his own urgency to gather information.
Owen’s shoulders came up and down as he chuckled. “Why are you all of a sudden interested in what Kaiya’s doing? If you were there last night, you would’ve known.”
He didn’t really attend anything HGA, except when his father strongly suggested he go. The only times he ever showed up was when he wasn’t at practice, wrestling, or able to use his tiredness as a way out. To be honest, sometimes he didn’t feel all that welcome.
“You hang out with them…” He was at a loss for an excuse that wouldn’t make him seem like a stalker. “I just want to know where to go to give them the homework, that’s all.”
Owen rolled his eyes. “I don’t know where they are exactly. All Jeremiah told me is that Kaiya’s not feeling well and he and his mom are taking care of her. I was going to text them the homework.”
Liam shook his head. “Nah, that’s okay. I’ll just go take it to them. I already told Mrs. Phillips I’d do it.”
LIAM called his mother as soon as he returned home and found himself in almost a panic as he rushed to the garage to get his bike and travel to Kaiya’s place. It was now that he wished he had his license and a car because one, it would be quicker and two, his permit was burning a whole in his wallet. Unfortunately, his father was clear and stubborn about the car; Liam would have to trade his diploma for the keys.
Just before he hung up the phone, his mother asked him for a favor.
“Liam, sweetie,” she called as he unlocked the side garage door. “Before you leave, would you go into the kitchen and take that plastic white mixing bowl that’s on the counter to Kaiya? It’s Sister Denise’s and I forgot to bring it to church on Sunday. Since you’re going over there-”
“Sure,” he said with an exasperated sigh.
After Liam hung up the phone, he jogged to the kitchen through the backdoor, snatched the bowl of the counter and put it inside his backpack on top of his history and math textbooks. It took him fifteen minutes of pumping his legs hard to get to Kaiya’s place.
When he arrived, he was sweaty but not smelly. He thanked God for that. He used the end of his shirt to dry himself as he power walked from the sidewalk concrete, where he dropped his bike into the freshly mowed grass of her front yard, and up the brick walkway to the green door of the grey, slim but tall and almost modern, two story townhouse. He rang the doorbell, ready to greet Kaiya with a smile and her homework. He knew she would be overjoyed to get the homework, especially since Jeremiah wasn’t there to get it for her.
He rang again. He couldn’t see inside the small, black windows because of the closed blinds. He didn’t hear any movement, not even the slightest sound of the television or snoring. It was pretty dark inside, from what he could tell, considering the sun was still out. Maybe she was upstairs or in her room with the door closed? He rang once more. Still nothing.
He checked his cell. Maybe she was with Jeremiah? He rolled his eyes and balled up his fists before getting on his bike again. It would take him another twenty or so minutes to get to Jeremiah’s.
This time, Liam wasn’t going to be sweaty, so he peddled with less force. He saw Jeremiah’s old Jetta parked at an angle in the driveway, right next to a clean, white Nissan Altima. Rather than going to the backdoor he remembered was by the driveway, he continued on to the front. Jeremiah had lived at this address as long as they knew each other, yet the last time Liam was here, the two of them were still in middle school and hanging out together. That was almost four years ago. Liam didn’t want to cause any unnecessary awkwardness.
Jeremiah’s house was wide and seemed to be off-balance in how the two stories were built only on the left side of the house. He remembered that’s where most of the rooms were built after Jeremiah’s widower great aunt passed away and his mother bought the place to renovate after she was promoted at Augustine’s Memorial Hospital. Its tan and brown stone stretched across the foundation and then up the two stories, the chocolate brown siding and white trim covered everything else. The wooden shutters matched the heavy dark green door with the frosted window. Ivy was growing up the right edge of the house.
Liam used the large metal knocker instead of the doorbell and stepped back to wait. On the other side he heard Jeremiah holler to his mother, “Got it!” and to the door, “Coming!”
The door opened and with his hands stuff in his pockets, Liam carefully watched Jeremiah’s smile transform into a frown. An awkward silence passed between them.
“Hey, Jeremiah. I, um, brought you the homework from calculus today.” Liam pulled out from his backpack a half piece of typing paper with the assignment written on it in pencil. When he looked up, he saw Jeremiah tighten his jaw.
“Thanks. But I already asked Owen to get it for me.”
Liam held the paper out and was glad that Jeremiah took it. “I know, but I promised Mrs. Phillips that I’d bring it to you and Kaiya.” Jeremiah shifted his weight to stand equally on both feet, blocking the entrance. “Have you seen Kaiya today? I stopped by her place, but no one answered the door. I have something my mom told me to give to her mom and-”
“I’ll give it to her,” he said curtly.
Another awkward silence. Liam didn’t know how to respond. Liam was just trying to fulfill his promise and Jeremiah was acting like he was ready to fight. In silence, Liam handed over the mixing bowl then put his backpack on his back.
“Anything else?” Jeremiah started biting the inside of his left cheek. He only did that when he was furious or frustrated. What did Liam do to him?
Liam shook his head. “No. Just wanted to give you guys that stuff, that’s all.” He wanted to say more about Kaiya, but he didn’t know what. He wanted to know where she was and if she was doing okay, but feared that it might anger Jeremiah even more. Although they were both athletes in their own right, Liam didn’t want to fight Jeremiah.
Before he could say goodbye, Jeremiah had slammed the door in his face.