Battered, bruised and ashamed, he stood naked on the cold tile flooring. He stared at the object in his hand as the harsh light of the buzzing fluorescent bulb washed over him. His heart screaming in his chest. He wasn’t prepared for either outcome. Whatever the result, he knew his life would forever be changed. He’d always wanted a kid, but he wanted the choice of when and how. He never wanted it to be like this. He choked back a sob knowing they’d force the door down if they heard him make a sound.
The minutes crawled on in agony. How long had it really been before his answer finally came to him. Two lines. His body shook. It was a one in a million chance at this point, but there they were. Proof he was capable of something. His body mattered now. No more locking him away or starving him. No more sleep deprivation. No more pain… He ran his hand down his stomach. As much as he was afraid of this moment, he knew he was safe. As much as he feared that he could still fail, for now, he would be okay.
A fist slammed on the door.
“You’re lucky we let you close it at all. Time’s up. Let’s see it!” It was him. The very sound of the first syllable of his first word sent shivers down his spine.
The door slowly opened as he handed over the test, head turned down to assure he didn’t make eye contact.
“Well, well, well. Third time’s the charm, huh? IZZY! We’re pregnant!”
A loud shriek came from the living room.
“Really?!” she darted down the hall taking hold of his hand to see the results for herself. “Oh FINALLY! FINALLY!” She wrapped her arms around her brother’s neck, kissing him on the cheek.
He remained standing in the doorway, staring at his bare feet.
“Ew,” she finally caught sight of him, “You look like shit. Clean yourself or something. But don’t slip and fall or anything. You’re kind of important now.”
He tried to hide the joy in his eyes at the thought of finally bathing.
“Oh how should we celebrate!” she was jumping up and down.
“You like that expensive raw fish stuff, don’t you?” her brother replied.
“Makoko’s.” He spoke up.
They turned to him.
“I-it was… y-your favorite place…”
Her eyes bore into him, “What would you know?”
“W-we dated… Remember?”
She scoffed. “Most miserable time of my life. But I got a nice ring out of it!” She flashed him her “engagement” ring. “And no. I never liked Makoko’s. Everything is fishy there. Let’s get steak!”
“Steak sounds great!”
They headed toward the front door.
“Be cleaned up and in your room by the time we get back. Better not find any lights on!” she yelled before the door slammed shut behind them.
He winced at the slamming sound. He was so programmed to react to loud noises in a defensive way. It got to the point he couldn’t even watch parades or fireworks anymore. Symbols and the pops of explosions nearly drove him out of his mind. But he was alone now. Alone and utterly dead to the world around him. His mind had left his body. He turned around mechanically as he turned the shower on. It would be his first shower in weeks, but his heart really wasn’t in it. Nothing of him was in it. He knew he should be happy, but he couldn’t find the strength. Maybe he’d be able to smile once he was clean.
He stood under the scalding water, letting it run over his head and down his body. Blood and dirt swirled down the drain. Was it worth it? He loved her, didn’t he? She was his everything. The only person who would ever love him. Even if it was fake. It still meant the world to him.
His hand rested idly on his stomach. He was afraid. Afraid of what would happen to him. To the life he’d bring into the world. He was afraid of what would be left of his already fraying sanity. How could he do this to an innocent life? How could he do this to a child? This wasn’t a world of happiness and joy. It was one of anger, fear and pain. One he would never dream of bringing a child into… But he had no choice.
His knees gave out as he slid down the wall. Sobbing into his bruised hands. Black knuckles and purple wrists. He never wanted to feel. He never wanted to think about what had become of himself. Of what he’d let them do to him. He fought. He tried… He really did…
“Why…” he sobbed as he pulled his knees to his chest, “Why…”
He could end it all right here and now. No more Sylus. No more child. They’d come back. Find him dead. It’d all be over. Freedom. Finally. He’d spare the unborn soul the suffering he felt. It would be a righteous death. No more suffer. For anyone. They’d both be set free.
His heart cried out. He’d always wanted a child. He dreamed of the day he’d hear tiny feet running through the house. Of a small face looking up to him calling him daddy. Playing catch. Doing homework. Going for ice cream. Meeting teachers. They were all dreams he’d had for so long. But how… How could he impose those dreams on a child who never got the chance to choose? One who would be used and abused like he was. No dream was worth making a child suffer. He had to end it. Here and now. For both of them. For the life lived in misery and the life yet born into the cruelty of reality. He had to end it and now was the time.
He reached for a razor. It would be easy. Maybe not quick, but it would be easy. The blood would be washed away and all they’d find is a cold corpse. She’d get to play the innocent victim one last time. Soak in all the sympathy. Everyone would get what they wanted.
He couldn’t fight anymore. There was nothing left. Everything he ever tried to be, his entire identity was being torn down all because he didn’t have the strength to run or the courage to end his pathetic life. But he could now. Because it wasn’t just his life at stake. He could end it now. The strength was there.
But what about him? What about what he wanted? What about ever dream he ever had? Every hope that carved his path? Right down into a pit of utter despair. All the way down to the bottom where his crumbled soul rested on nothing but bedrock. Far away, as distant as his own mind was from his body, that light of desperation grew dimmer and dimmer. The will to reach for it became weaker and weaker. What was left…
He reached up through the darkness. The light still fading, but he wasn’t ready. He wasn’t ready for this. He couldn’t die. His future… His life… His… Child… This was his chance. The only one he’d get. Maybe he felt nothing for saving himself. Maybe if that light was already gone he could have ended it, but it was there. Dim, fading, but still glowing like an ember. An ember he heaved his deepest breath into and life once more coursed through his veins.
Maybe he was worthless. Maybe he was a mistake. But this life… This child… They weren’t a mistake. Not for him. Not for his weary broken soul searching for a reason to fight.
He dropped the razor as he slowly unfolded his legs. His identity wasn’t broken. Who he was wasn’t destroyed. The dark curtain of despair pulled back and finally he could see clearly. He was still a human being. A man. Soon he’d be a father and fathers protect their children.
“I love you,” he whispered, “I love you so much…” he wrapped his arms around himself, “I won’t let anything bad happen to you. I promise.”
A promise he’d nearly die to uphold, but one he never broke.
Jeron woke with a yawn. A strangely unfamiliar ray of light came through the window at his feet. It was almost clear… As if the Mist wasn’t there anymore… He sat up slowly. As he came to his sense, he became aware of a creaking sound coming from outside. Leaning forwards, he could see someone on the two-seater swing on the porch. He jumped to his feet, pulling on his pants as he threw the door open.
There he sat. Slowly rocking the chair back and forth. Staring out at nothing across the street.
“Hey, Jeron,” his voice cracked around his smile.
Jeron looked around. Confused. “H-how are you here? You couldn’t even walk a few hours ago…”
“Oh,” Sylus sighed, “I’m not here. Neither are you.”
Sylus patted the empty spot on the swing.
Jeron was frozen in place.
“Humor me for a minute, please?”
With a nod, Jeron sat down beside him.
They swung on the chair for a while in complete silence. Barely moving save their legs pushing them back and forth. Jeron’s mind, now fully awake, raced with a million questions.
“I know,” Sylus sighed, “I really do.” He turned to Jeron with a smile.
Jeron was caught completely off guard. Not by the smile itself, but how it made him feel. He’d never seen this face before, yet somehow it brought him a complete sense of comfort. It was as if he was looking at Sylus for the first time. Like the Sylus he knew and remembered was some kind of facade and this person was real. The smile was real. Nothing fake or forced about it. He was looking at the genuine article. He was looking at Sylus.
“You have a lot on your mind,” he leaned forward, “As do I. As does everyone, I think.” He chuckled. “This was all so sudden and, well, quite frankly, an utter mess…” he leaned back, “I have a million things I want to say to you just as you have a million more you want to say to me and we have time for that. All of it. But right now, do me a favor,” his soft gaze met Jeron’s confused, darting eyes, “Be here with me. For now. We’ll sort out feelings and relationships later. But for now,” he closed his eyes with a sigh, “Just sit here. With me.”
Somehow, Jeron felt his nerves calming. The soft heat of the sun washed over him. A cool breeze danced through the warm air. He hadn’t felt like this in years. Somehow… He turned to Sylus, the Sylus he’d never seen before yet somehow recognized, and felt at peace. Truly at peace. He felt every muscle in his body relax as he leaned back on the swing, letting his own eyes gently close. He took a deep breath and felt all his worries melt away. The problems weren’t gone, but in this moment… Everything was okay.
For the first time in years, Jeron Miles was happy.