Carey had just collected some books from his locker and was about to close it when someone took hold of his head and threw it against the door.
“AH! What the hell?!” his hand went to his forehead as he dropped his backpack.
“What’s the matter Mmmbop?” a voice taunted from behind him, “got a little headache?”
Carey was about to retort when he realised the perpetrator wasn’t alone. Instead he had a trio of friends with him, laughing along.
“Leave me alone Mike,” he stooped to collect the backpack.
Mike grabbed it before he could and handed it to his friend to the left. He turned it upside down, emptying Carey’s books and stationery onto the floor with a clatter.
“What do you want?” Carey demanded, more annoyed than anything now.
“Not so tough without your brother, are you?” Mike teased, “I’ll tell you what I want.”
Carey backed up against the lockers as Mike faced up to him. His breath stank of breakfast.
“I want you gone, Miller,” his voice lowered, “you’re a piece of shit pedo and I’m gonna make sure you rot in jail for the rest of your life.”
“If he lives that long,” one of his friends smirked.
“We’re just friends,” Carey insisted, “that’s all. I just walk her to school.”
“Tell it to the judge.”
“What judge?! You’re not even in law school yet!”
Mike grabbed him by the shirt and Carey heard it rip. He prepared himself to be punched…
Mike looked to the right and Carey opened his eyes. Mark was storming toward them and he wasn’t slowing down.
“Stay out of this!” Mike warned, but he didn’t stop.
Mark grabbed him by the shoulder, forcing him to let go of Carey, and shoved him backward. One of Mike’s friends instantly grabbed Mark by the hair to pull him back, but Mark turned and landed a punch across his jaw.
“Shit!” the boy cussed, backing off right away.
The other two stood back to wait for Mike’s rebuttal.
“Leave him alone!” Mark’s voice rose in warning.
“Or what?” Mike scorned, “what are you gonna do? My Dad will have you locked up in five seconds.”
“I’m sure redneck Daddy’s really fucking proud of his little bully,” Mark scorned right back, “or are you too busy sucking his dick to talk shop?”
Mike’s face went red and his fists clenched.
“After all, you’d know a pedo if you saw one wouldn’t you?” Mark’s brow rose, inviting him to attack.
Mike growled through clenched teeth before running for him. Mark managed to duck away before getting him into a headlock. His long blond hair flew as Mike tried to punch him from underneath but Mark managed to knee him in the hip instead.
Carey looked around. They’d already drawn a crowd. It wouldn’t be long before a teacher found them. He quickly started to gather his things.
Mike eventually managed to get a hit in, and Mark backed off with a bleeding lip. He put a hand to his mouth to test for blood, smirking when he saw how much was coming out.
“Like you’re any exception,” Mike was trying to catch his breath, “I saw you snorting shit under the bleachers with Dom the other day.”
“What of it?” Mark licked his lip, throwing his head back to get his hair out of the way, “you jealous?”
“Naw I’m just saying it’s no wonder your Mom killed herself.”
Mark froze, his eyes turning dark. Carey looked up when he realised what he’d said, his hand curling around a particularly heavy textbook.
“What did you say?” Mark gave him the option to take it back.
“Ooh…” one of Mike’s friends looked smug.
“I said,” Mike looked just as smug, “it’s no wonder your Mom killed herself with a son like you.”
Carey ditched the book. Mike saw it coming and managed to deflect it from his head, but it gave him the distraction Mark needed. With one hard right hook, Mike hit the ground. Just in time for the first teacher to appear.
“Hey! Break it up!”
But one of Mike’s friends had gone for Mark instead, grabbing him around the neck. Carey grabbed the teen around the waist, trying to pull him off.
The teacher went to Mike’s side, who was already slowly coming to.
Carey finally managed to pull the other guy off of Mark, but he twisted and landed a punch to Carey’s shoulder. Now that Mark was free he was able to turn and grab him by the throat, throwing him away from his brother.
“KNOCK IT OFF!” the teacher yelled from his place on the ground.
Carey fell back into a sit, clutching his shoulder. The kid had hit a pressure point. Seeing him go down only made Mark angrier. He advanced and threw the kid back into the opposite wall. Before he could outright attack him he felt someone grab him by the shoulders. Turning to punch whoever it was, he stopped himself when he saw it was the principal.
“Mark and Carey Miller. My office. Now,” his voice was stern.
“What about them?!” Carey’s brow furrowed, “they started it!”
“I don’t care who started it,” the man scorned as Mark fixed his hair, “get to my office. NOW!”
“Just ignore them, they’re just stupid assholes,” Mark scorned as the door opened behind them.
The brothers looked over their shoulders as the principal made his way in, closing the door behind himself.
“Your father is on his way,” he informed them as he walked around to take his seat.
“You called him?!” Carey looked worried.
“Of course I did,” the largely built man adjusted his jacket, “Michael was just taken away in an ambulance.”
Mark broke into a chuckle before quickly sobering with a glare from Carey.
“It’s just that Dad’s got a lot on his plate right now,” Carey tried to beg, “he doesn’t need this.”
“And we do?!” Mark scorned.
“It’s school policy that we inform the parents when their child is facing immediate suspension,” the principal leant forward onto his folded arms.
“Suspension?” Carey looked horrified, “I can’t get suspended, it’ll be a mark on my record!”
“Not to worry,” he assured, “you’re not the one facing suspension.”
“Suits me fine,” Mark shrugged, sitting back in his seat.
Carey breathed a sigh of relief at that.
“Now. Tell me what happened,” he was staring Carey down, ignoring Mark for now.
It was nearing dark by the time they got home. Carey was apprehensive as he opened the door for them, Mark following him with their father close behind. The door had barely closed before Gerard took hold of Mark by the ear.
“What the fuck were you thinking?!” his father demanded.
Carey retreated to the other side of the room, unsure of how this was going to play out.
“You put that kid in the hospital?! Did you even think of what this might cost me?!”
“He fucking started it!” Mark snapped back, getting a slap across the face for it.
Carey gulped, trying to work out if he should intervene.
“I don’t care!” their father shouted back, “what did I ask for, huh? What did I say?! You put your fucking head down and stay out of trouble. How is that too much to ask?”
“He’s right Dad,” Carey’s voice was soft, “they came after me. He was trying to help.”
“You stay out of this,” Gerard shot him a fiery glare.
Carey’s face went red and he diverted his eyes.
“So I’m supposed to just let them hurt him?” Mark shrugged, “I’m supposed to just let them talk shit about Mom?”
“Since I fucking said so!”
“Since it became an inconvenience for you?” Mark corrected, if warily, “since your kids’ problems started interrupting your days of drinking and not going to work? We know, by the way. We know you haven’t been to work in weeks.”
Gerard shot Carey a glance but he didn’t look up.
“You’re not my kids,” he looked Mark up and down instead, “you’re only here as a favor to your mother. You’d do well to remember that on occasion.”
“And I’m sure she’s real proud of you right now,” Mark hit back, determined to keep a straight face.
Gerard slapped him again, this time making Carey flinch. Mark stayed flat against the wall knowing that moving would only make him angrier.
Expecting the argument to go on, the brothers were surprised when Gerard simply walked away. Carey watched him head for the kitchen before wiping at his eyes. Mark just waited to make sure he was gone before catching his breath.
“I’m sorry,” Carey said softly, hoping their father wouldn’t hear, “this is all because-“
“Don’t,” Mark put a hand up to stop him.
Carey forced himself to hold back and took a deep breath.
“The TV’s gone,” Mark realised aloud with a quick glance toward the kitchen.
Carey winced when he realised Mark was right.
“He must have sold it,” he sighed, starting to pull books from his backpack so he could start on his homework.
“Yeah but for what?” Mark finally left the wall, “the rent? Or alcohol?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Carey took a seat on the couch, setting his books on the coffee table.
“Doesn’t matter?” Mark’s brow rose, “you’re not worried we won’t have a roof over our heads next week?”
“Of course I’m worried,” Carey looked up at him, “but aside from going out and finding jobs ourselves, there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Mark paused at that, and he looked like he was thinking it over.
“What?” Carey was worried by the look.
“Nothing,” Mark was caught off guard.
“I’m gonna go out,” Mark started backing toward the door.
“Why? To find a job?” Carey frowned, making no move to stop him.
“It’s not like I’ve got my time taken up with school right now,” Mark scoffed.
“Be careful,” was all Carey could get out before the door closed behind him.
He started biting his nails as he heard Mark’s footsteps heading down the street, and he prayed their father wouldn’t suddenly appear and ask where Mark had gone. The sound of glass clinking in the kitchen gave him more confidence that he wouldn’t.
Mark quickly tied his hair into a long ponytail and checked his pocket to make sure he still had his switchblade there. A few blocks over he turned into a dark alley, littered with the homeless and people who hadn’t bothered going home. With a quick look out for either police or anyone he knew, he walked up to a back door with a lamplight and knocked sharply.
He heard fussing inside and kept an eye out before the door was answered. A large negro woman in a sari answered, and a smile crossed her face as she leant against the doorway.
“Miller,” she greeted, “what are you doing here so late?”
“Looking for a job?” he shrugged dejectedly.
“Honey you don’t want no job around these parts.”
“Where else could I go?” he frowned, “we need money and we need it fast or we’re gonna be out on the streets.”
The woman took a quick look down the alley before putting a hand on the back of his neck and pulling him inside. He relaxed a little once the door closed behind them and she slid the bolt shut.
“It sounds honorable, what you’re doing,” she assured, “but I’m not sure that this is the right place. Have you asked Lionel?”
“No,” Mark admitted, wringing his hands as she led him through the house, “but I heard his brother got shot last week.”
“Hm,” she nodded.
“So I kinda thought this might be safer.”
“Take a seat,” she indicated a large embroidered couch.
He did so, keeping his hands between his knees. She took hold of the tie in his hair and gently pulled it free, fanning his hair out before taking hold of his chin. The silence as she sized him up put him more on edge than he already had been.
“Hm,” she said again.
“What?” he frowned when she didn’t let him go.
“You’re not ready,” she pulled her hand away, “which is a shame. With your ripped jeans and your band shirt and that acne-free perfect jawline of yours, you’d be perfect for our pickier clientele.”
“I am so ready,” Mark frowned, “it can’t be that hard.”
“Come here,” she indicated for him to get up, moving over to switch off the lights.
Mark stood and followed her to where she pulled a curtain aside. A window was behind it that looked into a small waiting room.
“What’s this for?” he frowned as she put a hand on his shoulder.
“You see that man there?” she indicated the only man in the room.
He was old, and dressed in a sharp business suit.
“Yeah?” he shrugged.
“Every Tuesday he tells his wife he works late,” she elaborated, “instead he comes here.”
“What does that-“
“Could you see yourself with his dick in your mouth?” she casually asked, “or elsewhere?”
Mark’s face went red and he diverted his eyes.
“And that’s not all he likes to do,” she assured, smiling now that she’d gotten a reaction, “so how far are you prepared to go, just to keep that roof over your head? Because once word gets out that we have someone like you on staff I can guarantee… they’ll be lining up halfway down the block for a piece of this.”
She slapped him on the rear and he cursed in his head when it made him jump. With a smirk she closed the curtain and he took a step back.
“I think I need to think about it,” he admitted, scratching at his cheek.
“I think you’d be better off going to speak to old Lionel,” she said instead, “his brother’s problems were unrelated. He runs a tight business. I should know.”
Mark nodded, backing towards the door. She followed.
“Would he be home now?” he asked awkwardly.
“He has business tonight, so yes.”
“Thanks,” he made it to the door and stopped to wait, “and… thanks.”
“It’s no problem,” she assured, pulling the bolt open but stopping him before he could leave, “maybe come back next year? There’ll still be a place for you then.”
“I’ll think about it,” Mark promised, though he shuddered at the idea.
“You do that,” she gave him a nod before opening the door for him.
He fled down the steps and headed further into the alley as she watched him from the doorway. She waited until he’d rounded the corner before going back inside.
It was nearing midnight when Mark returned home. He was quiet as he made his way in, despite seeing a light still on. He found Carey still on the couch with his eyes barely open.
“You’re still studying?” he frowned in disgust.
“I finished a while ago. I was waiting for you,” Carey admitted.
“You’re not Mom,” Mark rolled his eyes, before starting to head for the bedroom.
“Wait,” Carey insisted.
The tone of his voice made Mark stop.
“What did you do?” he asked.
Mark could tell he was tired and it meant that his temper was going to be short. Lying wouldn’t be an option.
“Got a job,” he admitted.
“Doing what?” Carey was afraid to ask.
Mark dug in the back pocket of his jeans and threw a wad of cash onto the table in front of Carey. Carey’s brow furrowed as he grabbed it, quickly estimating around two thousand dollars.
“It doesn’t matter,” Mark insisted, “I made that in like two hours.”
“I’m thinking it does matter,” Carey looked up, “how could it possibly be legal?”
“It can’t,” Mark shrugged, “but I can handle it.”
“I can handle it,” Mark insisted, “and the less you know about it, the better. Just let me do my job and save what’s left of this damn family.”
Carey was about to respond when Mark simply left the room. He heard him make his way into their bedroom and simply collapse onto the bed.
“Shit,” he cussed under his breath, biting at his nails again as he looked the money over.
He knew it wouldn’t be going back to wherever it came from, so now he just had to get it to their landlord without their father noticing.