The world can turn on a dime. Gerard was familiar with this saying; he felt that he understood it. He even fancied that he’d experienced it a time or two.
But he’d been wrong. What he’d always taken for lightning quick, life-changing moments were actually as slow and tedious as dripping molasses in comparison to what was about to happen.
And when he would think back on it, which he would do, quite often and bitterly, he would always remember that the day the world had turned on a dime had been a beautiful, sunshine-filled day.
One minute, he and Frank were walking together, taking a break from a photo shoot that was taking place in the woods outside of Yonkers. The next, there was a light, bright and all-encompassing, and then movement, felt deep within the body, as if things were shifting, rearranging . . .
And then, just as quickly as it began, it was over. It was over and everything was back to normal.
Except that they were no longer in the same woods.
Oh, they looked the same - the same trees in the same places. But they didn’t feel the same. And for a man like Gerard, who had long ago learned to trust his instincts, that was enough.
Repressing a shudder he turned to see that Frank was staring at him with wide-eyed amazement.
“Oh my God. Did you feel that? What was that?”
Gerard shook his head and muttered that he didn’t know. He wasn’t ready to share his feeling. At least not yet.
Frank stuffed his hands in his pockets, bouncing up and down and looking for all the world like an excited kid. “Dude, that was bizarre,” he said. “You think everyone else felt it?”
“I don’t know, but I think we should get back. Now.”
The urgency in Gerard’s voice got through to Frank, sobering him. “Yeah, ok. Fine.”
They walked back quickly, retracing their steps to the clearing where the photo shoot was taking place only to find it empty. Completely and utterly empty.
Frank whirled on Gerard, his face contorted in anger. “They left us! How could they fucking leave us?”
Gerard looked around the clearing, noticing that there were no tracks on the ground of any kind, nothing to indicate that lots of people and equipment had recently been here. “I don’t think that’s what happened here, Frank.”
“Well, then what? You think we’re in the wrong place? You think we’re lost?”
Gerard shook his head, not daring to voice what was currently dancing around in his brain. He knew this was the same clearing, and yet he knew it wasn’t. And it didn’t make sense. None of it did. And the more he tried to think about it, the more uneasy he became.
Frank exhaled noisily and walked a short distance away, pulling his cell phone out of his pocket as he moved. “Doesn’t work,” he muttered a few seconds later. “I’m not getting any bars at all.”
Gerard took out his own phone and, opening it up, looked at the screen. “I’m not either.”
“All right, so what do we do?” Frank asked.
Gerard stuffed his phone back in his jeans pocket. “We aren’t too far from the city. I think we should just hoof it back.”
Frank reluctantly agreed, and although the thought of walking didn’t sound appealing it certainly beat being stranded in the woods.
As they soon found out, ‘not far from the city’ means something entirely different when you’re traveling by foot than when you’re traveling by car. By the time they stepped into the city proper, feet dragging heavily on concrete sidewalks, both men were exhausted, their legs sore and cramping.
“Hey, Gee,” Frank said as they wandered past yet another warehouse in what appeared to be an industrial part of the city.
“I’m getting a really weird vibe from this place.”
Gerard nodded. “Me too. This whole thing is so twilight zone.”
“And the fucking cell still doesn’t work,” Frank said as he took his phone out of his pocket yet again. Gerard had lost track of the number of times Frank had checked it. Frank mumbled a few choice obscenities before slipping the phone back in his pocket and looking to the side. “Do you think we should try to get inside one of these places?”
“Naw, look. There’s a truck stop just up the road.”
“Yeah, but dude, we’re wearing makeup from the shoot.”
Smiling, Gerard said, “You can’t really tell. Besides, how bad can it be? We’ll be in. We’ll make a call. We’ll be out.”
The truck stop was busier than either of them had expected. And while there were a few women milling around inside the convenience store/restaurant, most of the people inside were men. And every single one of them was staring at them openly as they walked by. The hostility in the air was thick, almost palpable, and for a moment Gerard was tempted to turn around and walk right back out.
He shoved the feeling down and forced himself to continue in with his head held high. He was proud to see that Frank was doing the same.
They made their way over to the counter where a tall, blond man was standing behind the register.
“Hey, buddy. We were wondering if we could use your phone?” Frank asked.
The man frowned and tilted his head to the side. “What did you say to me?”
Frank scrunched his own brow in an unconscious imitation of him. “Um . . . your phone? We’re stranded and our cell phones don’t seem to work.”
“You have a lot of nerve talking to me like that, mongrel.”
Both Gerard and Frank stared at the man like wide-eyed, gaping fish, so shocked at what they’d heard that for several seconds neither could speak.
“I . . . what?” Frank finally managed to ask, and even those two simple words seemed to catch in his throat.
“Where the hell is your master?”
“What the fuck are you talking about, man?”
Gerard held out a hand, placing it on Frank’s chest as he took a step backward. The strange vibe he’d been getting since the incident in the woods had been replaced by a vibe that was practically screaming out danger. He realized now that coming in here was a mistake. “Frank, let’s just go.”
“No! Did you hear what he called me?”
Gerard sighed and prepared himself to reason with his friend. Frank never did take too well to being insulted. Gerard figured it had something to do with all those years of being pushed around at school. Just as he was about to say something calming, he noticed that three or four other men had started to make their way over to them
He placed his hand on Frank’s arm and squeezed as hard as he could. “Let’s. Just. Go.”
Frank’s eyes traveled from the hand on his arm to the place where Gerard was currently staring. And although he read the danger too, he wasn’t convinced that they couldn’t handle it.
“These mongrels giving you trouble, Jack?” one of the men asked. “They got a little taste of freedom and now they’re all mouthy?”
There was that word again - mongrels. Gerard had been called a lot of nasty things in his life - faggot being the primary one. But never had he been called a mongrel. He couldn’t even begin to guess what it meant. Nor did he want to know - in this case, he truly felt that ignorance might be bliss.
“We can take them,” Frank whispered to Gerard.
Gerard shook his head and completely ignored Frank, choosing to address the men surrounding them instead. “We’re leaving now. We’re sorry if we disturbed you.”
Still holding onto Frank’s arm like a vice, Gerard started to maneuver them back; toward the exit, toward safety.
They had only made it a few steps when they saw two uniformed men approaching them, identical scowls adorning their faces.
“Is there a problem here?” one of them asked.
Gerard stilled at the sound of the voice. The newcomers were obviously police officers and yet he didn’t feel comforted by that fact at all. If anything, he felt that the level of danger in the place had suddenly skyrocketed.
The man behind the counter piped up. “Yeah, these two waltz in here, talking and acting like free men. Never seen anything so disrespectful.”
Frank and Gerard looked at each other, both mouthing the words free men as a question.
The taller of the two officers walked in front of them, focusing his attention on Gerard. “Right. Let me see your number.”
“My number? You mean my driver’s license?”
“Your identification number.”
“I don’t . . . ” Gerard turned toward Frank, looking to him for help, but Frank looked as helpless and lost as he felt.
Hoping that he was being asked for his driver’s license after all, he had pulled out his wallet and had started to flip it open when the cop reached forward and grabbed his arm, simultaneously pushing up the sleeve of his jacket and his shirt.
He turned toward his partner. “There’s no number here.”
Gerard jerked his arm back, pulling it in tight to his body. “What the hell are you doing?”
The cop ignored him. “Check the other one.”
And before either one of them could protest further, the other cop had gotten a hold of Frank’s arm and was pushing his sleeve up as well.
“Hey,” Frank yelled as he pulled away.
“No number here either,” the police officer said, sounding both surprised and rattled.
“I don’t know what’s going on here,” his partner said. “But you’re coming with us.”
“What? Why?” Gerard asked.
“You show some respect when you talk to me, mongrel,” the cop growled as he pointed a finger at Gerard’s face.
“Woah, calm down, I . . . ”
He never got to finish that sentence. His chest hit the floor and his arms were forced behind his back before his mind could really register what was happening.
A moment later he felt the cool metal of handcuffs encircling his wrists.
He lifted his head slightly, just enough to see that Frank was in the same position right next to him, his own cuffs being locked in place.
“Frank?” he asked, perfectly aware that he sounded quite a bit like a lost, little boy.
Frank grimaced and gave his head a slight shake. “I don’t know, dude. I think we’re fucked.”