Len’s dad always had guests over. Len didn’t think they were friends, per se. They certainly weren’t always friendly. And some of them...they weren’t even nice .
Len had just come down for a glass of water when he heard the arguing downstairs in the basement. He couldn’t make out the words and wasn’t sure he would understand even if he could.
He held his teddy bear by its paw and walked quietly into the kitchen. Pushing his footstool against the cupboard, he stepped up to reach the sink and turn on the faucet. There was a noise behind him and he startled, water sloshing over the edge of his glass as he peeked over his shoulder. There was a man, a little older than his dad, standing in the doorway, wearing an indulgent smirk.
Len turned off the water and slowly turned around, the grooved step of the stool digging into his feet. He held his glass with both hands to keep them still, his bear pinched between his pinky and the glass. “I was just getting some water.”
The older man hummed, eyeing him, as he walked into the room. “Nice pjs, kid.”
Len glanced down at his dino pajamas with a small smile, blinking at the man shyly. “Thank you.”
The man’s smile widened and he went to the fridge, grabbing a beer. He glanced back at Len. “You ever tried beer?”
Len frowned, eyebrows pinching in confusion. “I’m only six.”
“That’s a no then,” the man smirked. He glanced down at the can in his hands and held it up. “Wanna try some?”
There were still voices coming from downstairs and Len’s eyes moved to the door, half-expecting his dad to come up. “No, that’s okay.” He glanced down at his feet. “Dad would be mad.”
He was surprised when the man touched his face, flinched as his long fingers brushed an old, yellowing bruise.
“Your dad get mad a lot?”
Len closed his eyes and shied away from the man’s hand, his bottom lip wobbling. He bit down on his lip to stop it from moving.
“You’re a good kid, Leo,” the man sighed, hand falling to Len’s shoulder. His thumb brushed along Len’s collarbone, fingers curling in a loose grip. “Do you want me to show you how to make the pain go away?”
Len looked into the man’s face, noticing the man’s wide eyes and kind smile. He nodded shyly, the man’s smile widening as his hand slid down to curl around Len’s.
“Good, good. It’ll be our little secret, okay? Your dad won’t have to know.”
Len had been so eager to numb his pain back then, so willing to trust anyone who wasn’t the man who raised his hand to him and called him a bastard. He should have known better. He should have known no hands would ever touch him with kindness — not without some ulterior motive. Not without wanting something from him in return.
The first time it happened wasn’t the last. The man kept coming back, kept hanging around whether his dad was home or not. Continued to stick around even after Len’s dad was put in prison for the first time.
“Ready for some fun?” he’d say, as if Len had a choice. As if Len actually found what the man did to him fun.
By the time his dad finally found out what was happening, Len was almost nine and had a half-sibling on the way. Out on bail, his father had barged into his room when the man was balls deep, his pudgy fingers digging into Len’s small hips. His father had been so enraged that he’d pulled the man off him, shoving him into the wall.
Len curled into a ball on his bed and buried his face in his hands, trying to ignore the sound of breaking bone. His father had been angrier ever since he got out of prison, less sympathetic, more violent.
“Keep your damn hands off my son, you piece of shit!” his dad screamed, slamming his boot into the man’s spleen. He tugged the man up off the floor and tossed him out of the room with his pants still around his ankles. “And don’t you dare show your ugly face in my house again or I’ll fucking kill ya!”
The man scrambled to his feet and stumbled toward the stairs, pulling up his pants as he went.
Lewis turned in a fury toward his son, stalking toward the bed and wrenching him off the mattress. Snatching his son’s pants off the floor, he shoved them into the boy’s chest. “Put your damn pants on.”
Len scrambled to obey, sore and uncomfortable. Embarrassed tears slid down his flushed cheeks, unbidden, and his bottom lip trembled.
Seeing this, Lewis grabbed his jaw. “You slut! You liked that, didn’t you?”
Len cowered away and shook his head. “N—n—”
A rough slap landed against Len’s cheek, the force of the blow knocking him back against the metal bedframe. But Lewis didn’t stop there. He kept going, landing his boot against Len’s ribs, against his arms, his head, until Len was a bruised and bleeding mess on the floor.
Len barely noticed when his father left the room. Len hated him, but he hated his mom more — not because she’d left a mere week after his dad got back, but because she was free.