14 Troubled Waters

“Marcus!” Carl complained. “Fix it?”

“Try again yourself!” the man laughed. Carl had accidentally transmogrified himself into a squirrel, but was unable to reverse the process. “You see, this is what happens when you get ahead of yourself!”

“I know!” Carl pleaded. “Just help me!”

“I did warn you, you know,” Marcus said to him, smiling, as he waved his wand over the boy and returned him to human form. Then he turned to Chris and said, “You’re just lucky that this isn’t something your people ever really got into!”

“I am,” Chris said. “But all of this energy manipulation stuff is pretty abstract!”

“And very dangerous once you get into it,” Marcus warned, though Carl looked dubious. “I’m serious! I mean, do you know what someone like Rabbi Roth, or Chase, can do?”

Carl looked very serious and shook his head. “I saw Chase destroy a demon’s pure spirit.”

“WHAT?” Chris and Marcus asked in unison.

“When the whole thing with Sammael was going down, Sammael sent a pair of demons, an incubus and succubus to infiltrate our school. One of them helped us, but the other was loyal, and Chase, well, you guys didn’t hear about this?” Carl asked.

“Chase’s part in the whole thing is mostly unknown, except to Sebastian, James, and Avery,” Marcus said.

“It was the strangest thing. He revealed her demon spirit,” Carl said with a shiver, “and then he made the most complex series of images, like he was painting with fire in the air. Then the whole thing was spinning around her and contracting until she was gone.”

“SHIT!” Chris declared.

“I’ve never heard of anything like that,” Marcus said, in awe.

“Be thankful you never saw anything like it,” Carl said with another deep shiver. “I thought Chase would never stop crying.” Carl then told them all about that day when his whole world changed.

***

James looked both ways as he stepped out of the alley, and quickly turned right. He had used a glamour, but he still felt exposed. Perhaps it was the sunlight. And he couldn’t remember the last time he walked the streets on his own. Quickly he arrived at the building where his brother lived; a small café dominated the ground floor, but the stories of apartments were accessed by a keypad security access stairwell.

James touched the keypad and whispered an incantation. A flash of electricity shot from his finger and the door buzzed open. With a quick look over his shoulder, he dashed up the stairs. On the third floor, he found his brother’s door and went to knock, but hesitated for a long time. At last, however, he overcame his nerves and rapped on the door.

Only when he heard footsteps did he remember to drop his glamour and return to his true form at the last moment. His brother opened the door in his bath robe and looked shocked to see him. “Jamey?” he asked with shock.

“Hey, Josh,” James said, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Uhm, can I come in?”

“Oh, shit! Sure! Come on!” Josh waved him inside and asked, “What are you doing up here?”

“I came to find you,” James said simply.

Josh sighed and picked up the phone. “Maggie, my little brother is in town. I won’t be in today.” Then after a little pause, he added, “You’re the best! See you in the morning!” Then he sat down across from James, his hairy legs crossed casually. “Well, here I am.”

“Josh,” James said, the name slipping through his lips with a sound both exasperated and pleading. “You left me there! You know what he was like with me.”

“I had to get away, buddy. You wouldn’t understand why, but I had to. I’m sorry things got harder for you when I was gone,” Josh said.

“You could try to explain,” James said, his eyes misting over.

Josh got up and walked across to his window. “I don’t know. How do you explain something like that to your little brother?” With a deep sigh, he continued, “Do you remember Billy Tompkins?”

“The tall, redheaded kid. He was a drama club guy, right?” James asked.

“Yeah. That’s him. He also used to tutor me some in math to help me out. He was a really nice guy.” James sat silently through his brother’s pause, forcing the man to continue. “He was sweet. When dad would yell at me and tell me how worthless I was, I could talk to Billy. He told me dad was wrong.”

James got up and put his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “You can tell me, Joshy,” he whispered.

“Give me a minute, Jamey,” Josh said, and walked across the room to the bedroom. As the minutes passed, he began to wonder what was going on, but soon his question was answered.

When the door opened again, his brother was dressed, and the he was accompanied by a taller, lean-muscled red-head. James smiled and said, “Billy?”

“Hey James!” the man replied. “It’s been a long time. Last time I saw you, you were…. And wow!”

“So, you guys have been together since you left?” James asked, still smiling.

“We’ve been together since junior year, Jamey,” Josh said wrapping his arm around the tall man at his side. “We got married in Connecticut!”

“Wow,” James said, shaking his head with a smile.

“You’re taking this way better than I expected, Jamey,” Josh said. “Especially given what happened….”

“Josh! There’s a big difference between being gay and being what he was!” James declared violently, then calmed himself. “Did dad ever know?”

“Yeah,” Josh said, laughing. “The night before I left for college, freshman year, I came out to mom and dad. Dad told me to never come back, never call or write, and to stay away from you. I tried to call you, but he always answered first, you know that.”

“Why didn’t you call after mom kicked him out?” James asked.

“Mom kicked him out?” Josh asked.

“You really were cut off, huh?” James asked. “Just before she died, she kicked him out, filed for divorce.”

“Why?” Josh asked.

“Dad was going to cut me off too. I guess she couldn’t bear to do it again,” James said.

“WHAT?” Josh asked. “Why would…?” James just smiled and shook his head. “No shit?”

“His name is Sebastian,” James smiled and reached for his wallet. There was a little picture of them together in Paris that he handed to Josh.

“Is this Paris?” Josh asked, laughing.

“Just across from Notre Dame,” he answered. “I’ve been living with him since I got out of the hospital.”

“Hospital?” Josh asked.

“I assumed you knew,” James said. “When he shot mom, he shot me too. I nearly died.”

Josh grabbed his brother and gave him a big hug, and James could feel him crying. “I would have come home for that, baby bro,” he said in a whisper. “I’m so sorry….”

“You should have come home for mom, too,” James answered. “She learned a lot from what she did wrong with you. But I get why you didn’t. It really hurt that you didn’t come to see me, though.”

“I didn’t know,” Josh said. “I didn’t know.”

***

Sebastian came upstairs from his office and called out to James, but got no reply. He could tell instantly that James wasn’t in the house, and reached out for him with his mind. ‘James?’

‘Yes?’

‘Where are you?’ Sebastian wondered.

‘I’m with Josh in Albany…. I’m sorry, but I needed to see him alone, first,’ James answered.

‘It is risky going out on your own right now, but I understand. But I’m coming.’ Sebastian replied.

‘Great,’ James answered, surprising him. ‘See you soon!’ Smiling at his brother, James said, “So, Sebastian is in town too. I asked him to give me some time to come see you. But I’d love for him to meet you guys!”

“Can you stay for dinner?” Billy asked. “I have to go to work, but I’d love to meet him too!”

“Sure!” James said. Then he hugged his brother-in-law and the man departed after grabbing his attaché case.

“So when will he be here?” Josh asked.

“Soon, I expect,” James smiled. Then the two of them sat and caught up for a bit until the doorbell rang.

Josh picked up the phone and said, “Barton-Tompkins residence.”

“Hello, it’s Sebastian. I’m with James.”

“Come on up,” Josh said, pressing the button to unlock the door. A few moments later, the knock came and he opened the door. “Wow! You are cute!”

“Did you expect anything less from your little brother?” Sebastian asked with a winning smile.

“You are a slick devil,” Josh smiled. “Come on in!” Sebastian sat next to James and grabbed his hand softly. “So tell me about yourself, Sebastian.”

“Well, there’s not that much to tell,” Sebastian answered with a put-on shy smile. James frowned playfully and quickly mentally updated Sebastian on the situation.

“Now why don’t I believe that’s true?” Josh said with a smile. “Can I get you something to drink?”

“Water is fine,” Sebastian said, and when the man returned, he continued. “You’ll have to excuse me. I am a very private person; I don’t trust many people.”

Josh put his hand up and said, “You don’t have to tell me anything.”

“No,” Sebastian replied with a smile and sat the glass down. “You should know something about the person your little brother is living with. My name is Sebastian van der Meer, and I’m the heir to a major international financial empire.”

“Your father owns van der Meer Holding Company?” Josh asked, to their surprise. “What? I work in finance, remember!”

Sebastian nodded appreciatively. “Not exactly. I own van der Meer Holdings, among other companies.”

“I guess you can afford to take my brother to Paris whenever he wants, then,” Josh said, laughing.

“You and your husband should join us some time,” Sebastian added casually.

Josh smiled, but it quickly faded. “How did you know about Billy? James didn’t know and I just told him a moment ago.”

“Well, it took some work finding you. James took off as soon as he had the address, but one of the things our search turned up was a marriage license with your name on it,” Sebastian replied, lying easily.

“Oh, well! I guess you have good people working for you,” Josh said.

“The best,” Sebastian nodded. “And I had the help of some old friends who think the world of your brother.”

“I guess you guys have been through a lot in a short time,” Josh said, thinking quietly. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you, James.”

“You can’t even imagine what we’ve accomplished, though,” Sebastian smiled, trying to buoy the man’s spirits. “And, of course, we’ve got each other!”

“Josh, there’s a reason I came looking for you now,” James said with a sigh.

Josh looked up at them with a question in his eye, and Sebastian answered, “I am a very prominent person, you understand. Yesterday, we received an envelope in the mail.” He handed the envelope to Josh, who took out the pictures.

“What does it mean?” he asked.

“Someone is watching you, and wants us to know it,” Sebastian answered. “Beyond that, we don’t know what they want. But we know that, when the time is right, they intend to use you to get what they want. And that means you are in danger.”

Josh’s face had grown progressively paler. “Billy!”

Sebastian smiled and shook his head. “I have a team on him right now that can extract him if necessary.”

“What are we going to do?” Josh asked, slumping back into his chair. “A team, already?”

Sebastian smiled again. “We’re big, we’re powerful, and we’re experienced,” he answered with a shrug. Josh nodded. “Now, as for what you’re going to do, I have an idea but I don’t know how you’re going to like it. You like Albany?”

Josh shrugged. “It’s alright. We’ve both got good jobs with upward mobility, but neither of us have family here.”

“Ever been to Richmond?” Sebastian asked.

***

“Amy, can’t we talk about this?” Matt pled with the girl by her locker.

“Matt, we’re young. I don’t know what’ll happen while I’m gone and neither do you. We shouldn’t get so serious!” Amy said.

“I thought we were serious! Now we’re breaking up? It’s like you’re planning to find another guy!” Matt answered.

“I’m open to meeting a guy where I’ll be,” she admitted. “This long-distance thing just isn’t for me.”

“I am in love with you,” he declared angrily, “and I thought you were with me!”

“Matt! I do love you, but we’re too young for this!” Amy exclaimed, exasperated. “Come on! You’ll have a hundred girls chasing you around by the end of summer. Make me out to be the bad guy if it helps,” she allowed, trying to be gracious.

“BUT YOU ARE THE BAD GUY!” he hissed loudly and stormed off, rubbing his eyes with his arm and hoping no one saw the tears. Daniel had been watching from his own locker and he trailed Matt down the hall and into a men’s room.

“Matt?” he asked, finding no one standing in the open. Matt didn’t answer but Daniel could hear his sniffling in the last stall. Daniel went in to the next-to-last stall and said quietly, “Matt, what happened?”

“Nothing,” he said, and then after a long pause, he added, “I knew it was coming, but I wasn’t ready for it. She broke up with me.”

“You’ll find someone else,” Daniel said. Then he added, “Someone better.”

“She was my dream girl, Danny,” Matt said, then laughed. He was imagining the boy cringing as he always did when Matt called him that. “Sorry, Daniel!”

Daniel laughed too this time. “Well, next time you’ll find real best, not dream best.”

Matt sort of laughed. “That barely makes sense!”

“Come on. We’ve got to go to class,” Daniel said. “We’ll hang out tonight!”

“Alright,” Matt said and opened his stall. Together, the two boys made their way to class, and through the day.

***

Chase and William were playing with Alex in the floor of their room that afternoon, when Xavier brought them the phone. “It’s Daniel,” he said as he handed the phone to Chase.

“Hey, Daniel,” Chase said, giving William a look of confusion. “Uhm, what can I do for you?”

“I just wanted to call you. Amy broke up with Matt officially, and publicly today, and he took it pretty hard. I’m going over there to hang out, but I thought you guys might want to come too and help cheer him up?”

“Yeah…. Yeah! We’ll be there soon. Thanks a lot, Daniel!” Chase said, hanging up the phone.

“Amy broke up with Matt,” Chase explained. “We should go over there.” William nodded and grabbed Alex. They went downstairs and knocked on Xavier’s door.

“What’s up guys?” he asked, then laughed. “You need me to watch Alex!”

William looked down and said, “I’m sorry, I know we’re putting this on you guys a lot, but….”

“It’s fine!” Xavier smiled. “We love it, and besides, I need the practice!”

“Amy broke up with Matt today for real, and he’s taking it kind of hard,” Chase explained.

“GO!” Xavier said, shooing them. “Send him our love too….”