This story is a work of fiction its characters do not exist outside the story. Any resemblance to living people or places is strictly coincidence. This story is ©2016 Julien Gregg. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This story contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author.


Prologue:
Tuesday, July 3, 2012

On the morning of my fortieth birthday I woke up in my bed. My head hurt and my stomach felt jittery. Then I remembered why. I was hung over from drinking probably more than I'd ever drank in the past forty years. Why? Well because they'd erected the damned statue. It was a statue of a man loved by the city of Janus, Illinois. He'd been mayor of the city when I was fourteen years old. He'd won the lottery when I was twelve, becoming the first man to ever win a forty million dollar jackpot from the Illinois Lottery. Those numbers on his ticket were forever burned in my memory. He hadn't deserved to win that damned lottery. He hadn't deserved to be mayor of Janus. Hell, he hadn't deserved to live at all.

In the years leading up to his big lottery win, Henry James Russel, "Hank" to his friends had been my stepfather. He'd made our lives a living hell until I'd told my mother what he was doing to us. That had turned out to be the biggest mistake of my life. When my mother had asked me if there was anything I needed to tell her after my nose had been broken for the first time I should have said no. She wasn't the one I should have told what was happening. She didn't believe me and my brothers and sister were too scared of Hank to back me up. She'd slapped my already injured face and called me a liar. Shocked? Well that wasn't the first time or the last time that my mother slapped me in the face.

She ended up divorcing Hank anyway. Believe me it wasn't because she believed he was physically abusive to her children. She divorced him because he was cheating on her which is why I don't understand why she's blamed me for that divorce for twenty-eight years. Karen Marie Russel wasn't a good person either. She is my mother so believe me when I say that she wasn't and isn't a good person. She divorced Hank, well started the proceedings at that time anyway. That was just one of the things she blamed me for the year I was twelve years old. Because she was so upset about the divorce and forced to live with her parents along with her four children she didn't want any of us under her feet.

She sent us to the park a lot. She sent us to the mall a lot, too. It was on the night of September fourteenth, nineteen eighty-four that my life really changed forever though. She had sent me, my twin brother, Kevin, my older brother Richard and my little sister April to the mall. While we were there, playing arcade games a thunderstorm began. When the mall closed and my sixteen year old brother got behind the wheel of my mother's beat up Buick the storm was in full force. Rain was slamming down in a curtain that made visibility almost zero. There was also a man who'd drunkenly stumbled to his truck across town from the mall and then got behind the wheel and tried to make his way home which was two blocks from the mall. He hit us so hard with his truck that my mother's beat up Buick rolled twice, struck a tree and landed on its wheels.

Kevin and I were in the backseat of that car and I found out later that the front seat had become the back seat, crushing my twin and killing him almost instantly. My brother Richard had broken his neck and my sister April had broken her sternum, both clavicles, four ribs and her pelvis. We were taken to Mercy Hospital by ambulance and when I woke up with a broken arm and cracked knee hell was what I woke up to. My mother wasn't in the room when I woke up and she never showed up the entire time I was in the hospital. That turned out to be three days. She took me home though. I didn't understand why she wouldn't talk to me but I knew that Kevin was dead and I was too wrapped up in my own devastation at losing my twin to see what was coming.

She blamed me for this just as she blamed me for her divorce even though I wasn't driving and she hadn't believed that Hank had punched me in the face. She blamed me for the loss of my twin and the state of my siblings. I found out how much she hated me shortly after we reached my grandparents' house. She wouldn't look at me and I noticed that every picture of me or Kevin was gone from the walls. That hurt me more than anything I think; being erased. What came next hurt even more but it caused me to hate her and my grandparents forever.

The hospital doctor had prescribed pain medication because the cracked knee and broken arm were painful. She hadn't bothered to fill it. She slapped me in the face when I cried because it hurt so bad. She told me that my grandmother had told her that I was probably lying about the pain just like I'd liked about Hank who she'd said my grandparents liked a lot. My grandfather said nothing. He wouldn't look at me either. I was sent to my room and told to shut up by my mother. All of this was bad enough but what came next was worse.

My brother and sister weren't released from the hospital for a long time. When Richard came home he was in a wheel chair and couldn't move any part of his body. Seeing him like that hurt me so much but my mother blamed me for this. My sister's broken bones had been surgically repaired but she was in a lot of pain. My mother blamed me for that, too. I thought the icing on the cake of my mother's hatred had come on September third when Hank won the lottery for forty million dollars. I was wrong. The accident was the icing on that cake. That was the last straw for my hateful mother. She didn't want me in the house anymore. I was sent to live with my father.

Ryan Flynn was no better than his ex wife. He hadn't wanted any of us when he left and he didn't want me when I came to live with him either. He griped at me about child support. I was twelve years old and had no idea what he was talking about. He griped at me because he had to pay medical bills for kids he never wanted. He griped at me because he had to take a day off work to enroll me in my new school. He yelled at me for a lot the little more than five years I lived with him. He yelled at me so much that he made it impossible for me to do anything but stay quiet and try to be unnoticed. I did that for a little more than five years so I had very few friends in school.

When I turned eighteen I got out of there. There was no money for college and I hadn't had the grades to get a scholarship. I played no sports because he wouldn't let me. I hadn't been interested in sports anyway. So I got a job at the grocery store, bagging groceries and rented a tiny apartment on the other side of town. I went through many jobs over the years but none of them were great jobs. I was manager of a fast food restaurant for seven years, but I'd lost that job when the place had closed for good three days before my birthday.

So now I was between jobs which wasn't all that bad. But then they'd erected that damned statue of Hank in Madison Park. I had been filling out a job application during the ceremony at the bank across the street from the park. I'd had no intention of going anywhere near that statue or the park that day. Instead I stopped at the grocery store where I had worked when I was eighteen and bought a fifth of Jack Daniel's and returned to my crappy apartment above the very bar the guy who'd killed my twin and ultimately my brother Richard had drunk himself to the point that he was unsafe on the road and drank myself into oblivion. That one bottle of Jack didn't do the trick so I went down to the bar and drank the cheapest shots they had until I stumbled upstairs and fell into bed.

So here I am now, sitting on the side of the bed with a hangover and a mouth that tasted like I'd eaten shit. I was feeling sorry for myself, sure, but I was entitled. Happy fucking birthday to Killian Flynn! I got up and splashed cold water on my face in the bathroom. I got in the shower a little bit after that and let the hot water beat against my aching head. Then I made a pot of coffee and heated up a biscuit in the microwave and sat at my cracked blue and white checkered table with a sigh. The coffee helped the headache as usual. The biscuit with the egg and sausage helped my stomach. The phone rang as I was putting the saucer and cup in the sink. I grabbed it off the wall and said hello.

"Happy birthday, Killian," my sister said into the phone.

My sister was now April Addon. She'd married the first guy who said he loved her. He wasn't a bad guy and I suppose she was happy. She had two sons that were now teenagers that I had adored for their entire lives. I just felt awful every time I saw her walk with that damned cane. She was the only family that talked to me though and I was happy to hear from her on my birthday.

"Hey, Sis," I said. "Thanks. How are the kids?"

"Oh, fine," she said. "Travis is happy to be home from school and Brad is thinking about the Army. I'm trying to talk him out of it."

"Need help?" I asked.

"Nah," she said with a chuckle. "His father really laid into him about the state of the world."

"Tell him to go easy," I said, thinking about how stern Jessy Addon was with his boys.

"You're coming for dinner," she announced and I winced. I didn't like Jessy but she knew I'd come if she was the one who asked me. I'd do almost anything for April. "We'll eat at six. There's cake and the boys have presents for you."

"Well they shouldn't have," I said. I hated for any of them to go to any trouble over me. I hated my birthday and had for nearly twenty-eight years.

"We're celebrating," she said with a firm tone. "Suck it up."

"Yes, ma'am," I said with a chuckle. Like I said, anything for her.

"So we'll see you by six," she said. "I love you, Killian."

"I'll be there," I said softly. "I love you, too."

When I got off the phone I went to the computer. It was time to do the one thing that still put food on my table and paid my rent. I wrote articles for the Janus Sentinel, the biggest newspaper in town. I usually wrote opinion articles and of course I had to write an article about the new town statue. I just couldn't decide if I wanted to be honest and tell them about the real Hank Russel or if I wanted to sing his praises and hate myself a little bit more. Instead I wrote an article about how much the statue had cost and cited many ways that money could have been put to better use. I wrote about the potholes in some of our streets, the clock tower that hadn't told time since I was eight years old, the city's utility trucks and how they hadn't been updated or repaired since Mr. Russel had been in office and of course the four elementary schools that had leaky roofs, outdated textbooks and not enough teachers. The article wasn't going to make me popular, but then I wasn't very popular in town anyway. Most people thought my articles were slaps in the face and I liked it that way. This one would be no different. They might be a little more upset with me because I was saying that money spent to erect a statue of the "savior of the city" should have been better spent.

I just hated the man and the damned statue. At least I wasn't working for Burger Time anymore. I didn't have to cross through the park to get there so I didn't have to look at the statue. My car was broken down and I couldn't afford to fix it so I was walking and busing it all over the city. I hadn't been riding the bus lately because of the damned ads for the statue. Burger Time had closed finally for good, which was why I'd lost my job. I supposed I could always talk to McDonald's or Burger King but I wasn't so sure I wanted to.

I wasn't so sure I wanted to go to this damned birthday dinner either. I'd do it for April and for Brad and Travis. I didn't like her husband, but he was decent to me. I just didn't like to see the look in his eyes when he looked at me. April knew how her husband felt about gay people. She just made damned sure he didn't tell me how he felt. I had never shoved it in his face though. I was respectful when it came to Mr. Jessy Addon. He treated my sister good. Sure he was a little more strict than I liked with his sons, but they were his sons and he wasn't beating them. I'd have stepped in if I thought for a second that he was abusing them. After all we'd been abused as children and no one had stepped in for us.

I did chuckle as I ran the article through my editing software and then went over it and fixed the mistakes in it as I proofed it myself. Then I uploaded it to the server, clicked all of the appropriate boxes and knew I'd get a phone call from the editor the next day but I didn't care. I got this job because of a teacher who had wanted so badly to help me when I was twelve. Jason Osgood was a great man. He was also a man who I could go to and talk when things got tough for me. I could talk to him when things got tough on any front. He didn't even care that I was gay. He'd only said it wasn't his thing, but he'd be there for me about that and anything else I needed to talk about. It was nice that he was there for me at all but it was awesome for me that I could talk to him about being gay when I really had no one else to talk to about it.

Coming from the family that I came from was bad. It made sure that when I discovered my sexuality I acted on it as often as possible. I had dangerous one night stands in the park bathrooms. Sometimes I'd keep a guy for a few months. It never lasted because I was sure that my family had flawed me. I didn't trust anyone to love me. I had very few examples of love in my life. I barely trusted those. I was constantly waiting for my sister and my nephews to find a reason to hate me like everyone else.

I didn't know about Richard. I didn't know if he'd have hated me or not. He'd been a cool big brother I guess. He was almost four years older than us, almost five years older than April but he was good to us. After the accident he didn't really know who we were so I didn't know what he would have thought if he'd still had his mind. He died six years after the accident and that had hurt me very much. I loved him because before the accident he was good to us and after the accident he was gone from us. There was no reason to hate him.

Our mother had still at least talked to me until I'd come out of the closet to everyone. She'd talked to me but it was never nice. She'd point out that I was ugly or bad or stupid. Now though she pretended I didn't exist. That was fine with me because I hated her just as much, probably more than she hated me. Our grandparents were just like her. They'd still talked to me, given me grudging Christmas and birthday presents over the years as I grew up but they pretended I didn't exist now that they knew I was gay too. I won't even go into how my father reacted. I'll just say it was bad and go from there.

The bank called while I was making my lunch and offered me the position I'd applied for. I took the job but wondered if they'd fire me when the article came out. I sighed as I flipped my grilled cheese sandwich over in the pan and decided I'd have to wait and find out. The article wouldn't be in the paper until the editor approved it anyway. That could take days. I was supposed to start at the bank on Monday morning and I knew that the article wouldn't be in this Friday's edition of the paper so I'd have the job for at least five days before the article came out. If they fired me I'd threaten to sue but in the end I'd still have writing articles for the paper to fall back on.

After I ate my lunch I did the dishes and cleaned the stove. Yes, I was a neat freak but I liked it that way. Then I checked the list on the fridge to see what I needed from the store, grabbed my checkbook and headed out the door. The grocery store was only a block away and they'd let me take a cart home all the time because they knew I brought it back when I came to do more shopping. I pushed it down the street to the grocery store and filled it with the items on my list. I stopped in the alcohol section and grabbed a gallon of Jack Daniel's. It was my birthday after all, and I knew that my sister would insist on a trek down memory lane. I'd need my good friend Jack to help smooth out the edges of the anger and grief I'd feel when the night was over. Then I thought the hell with it and grabbed a bottle of the wine I knew my sister liked best and headed for the checkout.

Jonathon Epkar was standing at the cash register. He was a good looking young man of sixteen years old who looked so much like his father, Gary Epkar that I'd gone to high school with. He had the same dark hair and eyes but his hair was cut much shorter than his father's had been at his age and spiked on the top. His dark eyes held a happiness that his father's had never shown in the past or the present. He had an upbeat personality and I liked the kid. Don't go getting any ideas though. I only saw the boy when I came to the grocery store. I wasn't a pervert in that sense of the word and sixteen was too young. I had never thought of Jonathon that way. Now I had thought of Gary that way though. But that was another matter entirely.

"Hey, Mr. Flynn," said Jonathon when I put my items on the counter.

"How's it goin', John," I asked with a smile. "Keepin' the girls at bay?"

"Ha!" he said with a big grin. "Dad won't let me date any of them yet. I read your last column. Boy did it make my mom mad!"

"Yeah," I sighed. "My column makes someone mad every time it's published."

The last column of mine that had been published talked about how I thought the preservation society had made a mistake in declaring the old Marsh house on Kline Street a monument just because Hank Russel had grown up there. Everyone knew that anything connected to the "savior of the city" would spark my ire in my column. It pissed someone off every time it was published but that one had gotten many people riled up. I thought about the one I'd just sent in and smiled again.

"She got mad at my dad for defending you," he said with another grin.

"Tell your dad I said hello, will you?" I asked.

"Sure thing," he said, grinning yet again. "That'll get mom goin' again!"

"Well," I said as he looked at the bottles of alcohol.

"Hey, can you slide those over the sensor?" he asked, nodding at them.

This was a nearly weekly ritual for us. He was only sixteen and couldn't ring up the alcohol. Marty, the manager didn't care if I ran them over the scanner as long as John didn't do it. He could take the money but he couldn't scan them. It was a stupid rule but I just smiled and ran one and then the other over the sensor that scanned their bar codes and tallied them with the rest of my groceries. I also put them in brown paper bags and put them in the cart. He wasn't allowed to touch them at all. Got to love the rules right?

"There you go," I said as I put the last bag in the cart.

"That'll be seventy-four fifty," he said.

I wrote the check for twenty dollars over and he handed me my cash and the receipt. Grinned at me and told me to have a nice day. I told him to get himself a stick for those girls and he laughed as I walked away and out the door. I sighed when I saw my mother's Lincoln pulling into a parking spot in the parking lot. I just pushed my cart down the street and ignored her. I did that as she stood beside her car and watched me for a bit though. I just shook my head and kept going.

I got home without incident. I was still a bit shaken from seeing my mother at the grocery store but at least she didn't talk to me. I put the groceries away, storing the gallon of Jack under the sink. I went in the bedroom and found my best clothes and then hopped in the shower for the second time that day. I even shaved while I was in there. My sister was going to see the polished me if it killed me. She was one of the only two people I would get all polished up for when I didn't have to. Once my body and short hair were dry I put on my boxers and the nicest pair of jeans I owned, buttoning them at the fly. Then I went back to the bathroom, covered my pits in deodorant and then put on my brand new green polo shirt, tucking it in and then pulling it back to make sure the hem of the shirt didn't show in my jeans. Back in the bedroom I put on my white socks and stepped into my loafers.

I went back to the bathroom to put gel in my hair and give it that slick look, using a comb to make it stand up in the front then stepped back and looked at myself. I'd done pretty well at keeping up with my workouts. My stomach was flat at least. I'd never gained that six pack in my abdomen that so many younger guys were famous for but I'd been no slouch when it had come to taking care of my body. My hair had gone from wheat blond in my youth to darker blond in my teenage years and was now a very light golden brown in my adult years. My green eyes still looked clear and, I had to admit dead but at least they weren't bloodshot. I ran a hand over my squared jaw, checking the closeness of my shave. Then I grabbed the bottle of wine and headed out for my sister's house which was twelve blocks away. It was the beginning of July but the day had been rather mild. It was continuing to be a mild evening as well.

Fifteen minutes later I stepped up to the one story white house with its dark slate roof and matching shutters, knocked on the door and was soon engulfed in a hug by my sister. She looked good. Her blond hair was past her shoulders, hanging in ringlets reminiscent of what it was like when she was a girl. Her green eyes were clear and happy, crinkling a bit at the edges as she smiled at me. At thirty-nine my sister was still as beautiful as ever.

"Happy birthday, Kills," she said, calling me by the nickname she'd given me when she was five.

"Thanks, Locks," I said, smiling happily at her. It was short for "Goldy Locks". I'd started calling her that when she'd started calling me Kills. We hadn't used these nicknames in years but it made my heart feel glad and I smiled for real this time.

"Come on in," she said. "I made your favorite and everyone is already at the table."

"For you," I said, handing her the wine bottle in the paper bag. She accepted it without looking at it at all.

"It's your birthday and you're bringing me wine," she laughed. "Hope it's red or it won't go with the steak."

"It's your favorite," I said as I followed her into the living room of her house.

The place looked like it always did, dark hardwood floor, comfortable looking blue couch, matching recliners at either end and the wide screen television sitting on the dark wooden cabinet at the other end of the room. An archway opened on her dining room where more dark hardwood could be found. Like the living room my sister had chosen to leave her off-white walls alone. They were peppered with framed photographs of the boys, her and Jessy and some of them were of me. The one in the center of the windowless wall nearly took my breath away. We were ten years old in that picture, both of us standing with our arm around the other. We were wearing our favorite swim trunks, green for me and red for Kevin and other than the shorts we looked identical. She'd put that picture up a year ago after finding it at Grandma's house and it had the same effect on me every time.

"There he is," said Jessy as he stood up from the table to shake my hand. That look of barely masked contempt never left his eyes so I didn't smile at him. I nodded at the boys who looked so much like my sister and me and sat down in the chair that April indicated.

"I'll get glasses and a bucket of ice for the boys' soda," she said as I sat down. Jessy got up and took the bottle from her and told her to sit. She kissed him and then sat back down. He may have hated me and barely hid the fact, but he loved my sister so perfectly that I couldn't hate him in return.

"Happy birthday, Uncle Killian," Travis said, grinning happily at me. In his eyes there was no contempt for his gay uncle. I smiled right back at him.

"Thanks, kid," I said. "How's stuff?"

"Cool," he said with another grin.

"Happy birthday, Uncle Killian," Brad said, nodding at me as his eyes lit up. It always did me good to see that look in my older nephew's eyes.

"Thanks, Buddy," I said, smiling at him.

Jessy returned with three crystal wine glasses and a bucket of ice for the boys. The bottle of red I'd bought for my sister was already open and glassed were poured. I liked wine but not as much as I liked the harder stuff. My taste hadn't changed over the years, but I would share a glass or two with my sister while we celebrated the day I always wished would never come. Having birthdays when you lost the person you were supposed to share them with every year was never easy.

"Thank you for the wine," April said, smiling at me.

"You're welcome," I said as I looked down at the mushroom steak and smiled. "Thank you for dinner."

We were all quiet for a while as we ate. Soon enough the walk down memory lane began. Oddly it was started by my brother in law. That shocked me. I'd not been prepared for what Jessy had said and I nearly choked on my wine. I just looked back at my brother in law for a long moment after he'd started talking.

"Your mother was here today," he said. "She told us not to let you come over tonight."

"Jessy," April said softly.

"What?" he said, looking at her. "I don't get why she hates him so much. Is it the gay thing?"

"Partly," I said uncomfortably. "But that's only the latest reason."

"What is it then?" Jessy asked.

"She blames him for so many things that were never his fault," said my sister as I looked at the boys who had never heard any of this before and was upset that they were paying attention and seemed to be as curious as their father.

"Like what?" asked Jessy, looking from me to my sister and back again.

"First she called me a liar when I told her what Hank was doing to us," I said softly. "She divorced him anyway but not because he was abusive to us. No, she divorced him because he was cheating on her. She called me the "little liar" or the "lying bastard" after he left and we were forced to move in with my grandparents. Then he won the lottery and things got worse. She told me all the time that it was my fault we weren't rich because I drove her to divorce Hank."

"That's stupid," Jessy said, earning a bit more respect from me.

"That's not all," April said sadly.

"No," I sighed. "There was so much more. The accident happened because she couldn't stand to have us under foot. She'd been sending us to the park a lot and to the mall. On that night a thunderstorm broke out while we were all in the arcade. When we came out the rain was coming down so hard and fast that we couldn't see. Richard drove out to the parking lot and a drunk hit us so hard that we rolled a few times. Kevin died that night. Richard broke his neck and April had so many broken bones. Mom blamed me for it all, even though I wasn't driving and it hadn't been my idea to send us to the mall. Then there was the fact that Kevin and I were identical twins. She couldn't stand to look at me so she sent me to live with my father."

"Dad was cruel to him," April said. "He never hit him like Hank but he yelled all the time. I think that was worse than what Hank did. Kills was never the same after he went to live with Dad."

"When I was eighteen I moved out of Dad's and got a job at the grocery store," I said. "I started dating Eric around that time and she saw us one day and so I came out of the closet. She told me I was filthy and wanted nothing to do with me. Dad told me I was a pervert and he wanted nothing to do with me. Grandpa was too far gone into dementia to notice but Grandma told me I was unclean and she never wanted to see me again."

"That's all really terrible," Jessy said. "I can't believe they'd treat you like that. I'll admit I don't like that you're gay, but I don't think you're a terrible person. I'm sorry for the things I've thought of you, Killian and hope you can forgive me, man. That really sucks."

"Thanks," I said, looking down at the table. I didn't know what to think of what Jessy had said. He was never going to be my favorite person but I didn't hate the guy. It was the hurt looks on my nephews' faces that made me look down at the table though. I'd never wanted either of them to hear any of that. I was surprised when first Travis got up and came around the table to put his arms around me and then Brad did the same thing.

"We love you, Uncle Killian," Travis said when Brad let go of me. "Never forget that."

"I love you guys, too," I said as April started to clear the table. The boys helped her without being asked and I smiled at that. I sat there for a minute just thinking about all that had happened in my life and how much I wished I could go back and just change it all. Sure I'd never love anyone in my family other than my siblings and nephews but at least I could have had a better life.

I was broken out of my memories when someone knocked on the door. Jessy got up to answer it and let Jason Osgood into the house. I smiled up at the fifty something high school teacher who's dark hair was starting to recede and had a lot of gray in it. His blue eyes were covered in wire rimmed spectacles as he smiled at me. I stood up and shook his hand as he came into the kitchen. He'd been my eighth grade History teacher and the guy I could always go to when things got hard for me. I was really happy that he was there.

"Happy birthday, Killian," he said, handing me a small wrapped box.

"Thanks, Jason," I said. "Come on in. I think my sister is about to put the cake on the table.

She was just coming back out of the kitchen with the cake. Jessy got up and took it from her with a smile and placed it in the center of the cleared dining room table. Then he pulled a lighter out of his pocket and lit the forty candles. I was amazed they'd got them all on the cake. They embarrassed me by singing "Happy Birthday" to me as I blew out the candles. April dished up plates of cake as Jessy put scoops of ice cream on them and passed them out. I got the first piece of course.

"So tell me how things are going with you, Killian," Jason said between bites of the German Chocolate Cake. "I haven't seen you in a little over two months."

"Well I was really busy at Burger Time until it closed down," I said. "I got a call from the bank this afternoon and they offered me the position I applied for the other day so I'll start that Monday."

"How's the column going?" he asked.

"Great," I said with a smile. "Though I might have my first rejection this time."

"Why do you say that?" he asked.

"Well they wanted me to write about the statue," I said. "I did that but instead of gushing about Hank like an idiot I wrote about how the funds used to build that statue could have been used to pay for roadwork, utility vehicle repairs and replacements as well as education."

"I don't think they'll reject that article," he said. "They wanted an unbiased opinion column. With you they got it. Perhaps that particular article and a few like it weren't unbiased, but they wanted someone who wouldn't just sing the praises of everything the city did. They got that."

"So what did you wish for when you blew out your candles?" Travis asked into the silence that built after Jason's explanation about why they wanted me to write columns for the paper.

"I haven't made a birthday wish since I was twelve years old," I said, forcing a smile. In reality I wished that I could go back in time and fix my life but I would never tell them that. It was the same thing I wished for every single time I blew out the candles on a birthday cake without Kevin.

"So you got the job," April said before anyone could comment on what I'd said about not wishing on a birthday cake since I was twelve.

"Yeah," I said, smiling at her for saving me as well as out of happiness for the job. I was still sure they'd fire me once the article was published but oh well.

"That's great," she said. "Maybe you'll get your car fixed."

"I can fix it for him," Jessy said. "I've got all the parts in the garage. Just bring it over tomorrow and I'll fix it. All I want for doing it is a case of beer."

"Thanks, Jessy," I said, blown away by his offer. "I'll bring it over here tomorrow morning."

"Cool," he said. "Happy birthday, Killian."

"Thank you," I said, looking him in the eye with a smile.

"So you'll get your car fixed," Jason said. "You've got a new job. Things are looking up."

"Yeah," I said, though I wasn't sure I trusted Jessy's change of heart yet. "So what have you been doing with your summer?"

"Teaching," he said with a chuckle. "I'm teaching summer school this year."

"Well at least you're working," I said. "I've been meaning to come see you."

"Stop by the house any time you want, Killian," he said with a smile. "You know you're always welcome."

"It's time for presents now," Travis said, bringing the presents to the table as Brad took away all of the empty cake plates and forks. "Open mine first."

"Alright," I said as I accepted the gift he thrust into my hands. I opened it to find a five by seven photograph of me, Travis and Brad right after school had let out. I smiled at it. "Thanks, Trav."

"I love you, Uncle Killian," he said wrapping his arms around me again.

"I love you, too," I said holding him tight.

"All right," said Brad. "Let loose of him so he can open mine."

"Okay," I said with a laugh. His was a sweater box and I was afraid he'd gotten me a sweater in July until I opened it to find four t-shirts in it. They were all green and on the front of the first was the image from the picture that Travis had given me. The caption under it said, "World's Best Uncle." They all said something about being the best uncle and each had a different picture of me and the boys on the front. It actually brought tears to my eyes as I hugged him and said thank you.

"You really are, you know?" he said as he hugged me. "I love you so much."

"I love you, too, Brad," I said as I held him.

Next it was the small box from Jason. Inside there was a gold watch much like the one he wore on his own wrist. I smiled when I saw it and shook his hand again but he pulled me into a hug and held me tight. I thanked him and then set it to the right time and put it on my left wrist as April put a box in front of me. It wasn't wrapped and she looked worried. I looked at her for a long moment and then opened the box to find the pictures that had been missing from my grandparents' walls when I came home from the hospital. It seemed she'd found so much more than the framed photograph of me and my twin that now hung on her wall. I sifted through them and saw so many pictures of us that I was actually crying this time. I looked up at her to find her still biting her lip worriedly. I closed the box and sat it on the floor so I could get up and take her into my arms.

"Thank you so much," I said as I held her. "It's almost like you gave him back to me."

"I love you," she said.

Before I could say anything the door opened and our mother walked in. I was suddenly thankful that I'd put the box on the floor. I pushed it under the table with my foot as I held on to my sister. My mother looked me in the eye and smiled evilly. I knew that she was going to say something to ruin my birthday but I didn't care, not anymore. She could say whatever she wanted and it wouldn't phase me or so I thought. I just wasn't prepared for the revelation she was going to throw at me.

"So I see your sister didn't listen to me," she said. "Had to have you a birthday party when she knows you don't deserve it. You're a filthy abomination, Killian."

"Karen!" gasped Jason, shocked by my mother's hateful words.

"Yeah, I figured you'd be here, too, Jason Osgood," she said. "You've been just as much as a filthy pervert as Killian. Don't think I haven't seen you drooling over him all these years. Finally get your dick in his ass?"

"Mother stop this now," April said angrily as she let go of me and glared at our mother.

"Oh I'm just getting started, April dear," she said as she sat down at the table in the chair that Brad had vacated to hand me his present. The boys were standing across the room, looking at their grandmother like they'd never seen her before.

"Karen, I'm sorry but I'm going to have to ask you to leave my home right now," Jessy said, and for that moment I loved him as much as I loved my sister. He just didn't know my mother very well.

"I'll go when I've had my say," she said. "You can just suck it up. I knew it wouldn't be long before he pulled you in, Jessy Addon. You're just as much of a disappointment as he is."

"Mother!" cried April.

"Oh shut up," she spat. "I should have let Hank beat you all to death. Maybe I'd still have Kevin and life wouldn't have turned out so bad for me."

"That's it," I said coldly, glaring at her. I'd finally had enough. "You will not sully my brother's name. You have been a rotten mother all these years. You said you never wanted to see me again so go the hell home and leave me alone. You come in here talking about Hank. You never believed me when I told you he was hurting us."

"Oh I believed you, stupid," she said. "I knew what he was doing the whole time. Of course I knew. You think I'd have left him for it? Well you're dead wrong, freak. He was the only source of income I had."

I didn't know it was possible for me to hate her more than I already did but I had found a way. I just glared at her as I let that revelation settle over me. I wasn't prepared for April's reaction though. She sat down hard in the chair beside me and gasped. I looked over at her but she was glaring at our mother in a way she'd never glared at her before. I was a little afraid of what was going to happen next. I sat there too stunned to say anything though.

"You knew?" she said. "You knew that he was hurting us and you did nothing? You hateful bitch!"

I loved my sister so much in that moment that I thought my heart would burst from it. I hated my mother even more for revealing this to us, and it was sick for me to love my sister more than ever because she now shared my opinion of our mother but I did. I reached over and took her hand in mine as we both glared at my mother. Mom just looked at us with that hateful smile on her face. I saw Brad come back to the room and hadn't even known that he'd left the room to begin with. His words shocked me even more.

"I called the police," he said. "They're on their way."

Just then there was a knock at the door. Two uniformed police officers came into the room. They told my mother that she'd have to leave the house. April shocked me by saying that she'd come in uninvited and that she wanted to press charges. The night was spiraling out of control thanks to my mother. If she'd wanted to ruin my birthday she'd succeeded. I'd been stupid to be happy for one moment of it. I knew that now. As soon as they took her away while she screamed about how she should have killed us all when we were born I gathered my presents and then kissed my sister on the forehead.

"I'll wait until she's gone," I said. "Thank you all for the great birthday that it was before she showed up. Jessy, I'll bring the car tomorrow morning. April, Jason, boys I'm sorry but I have to get out of here."

No one said a word as I walked out of the house. They just sat there looking stunned. I didn't blame them. The whole scene had been stunning all right. Not for me though. She'd always been that way to me. She'd never been like that to April though. I was sorry that my sister had been forced to feel even a fraction of what I had felt for so long. I didn't cry about it though. I'd shed enough tears over my mother's hatred. I just let myself into my apartment and sat the presents on my cracked blue and white checkered table. I got a glass and filled it with ice. Then I got the gallon of Jack Daniel's and poured myself a drink.

I sat down with the box of pictures and opened it. I started pulling pictures out, really looking at them this time. Now I cried. I cried for my lost twin. I cried for two twin boys who'd been so happy to be with each other even when they were scared of their stepfather and his belt or his fists. I cried for a life of misery and hate and I cried for my own broken heart. It had been broken for so long and I longed for a way to heal it. I knew that it would never heal if I didn't have Kevin back. I thought I could probably handle all of the rest as long as he was at my side.

Then I cried about that. Who was I to wish him back to life so he could suffer just like me? I thought back to all of the times we sat in the tree house that Dad had built for Richard before he'd left mom for another woman. We'd sit up there and tell each other secrets. They weren't really important but we had what we called the "Twin Oath". If one twin told the other a secret he had to keep it. Neither of us were really good at keeping secrets back then so I suppose it was a good thing that the secrets we told each other were actually pretty much common knowledge.

What hurt the most was that I couldn't remember the sound of his voice. I could never forget his face though. It was mine too after all. Not remembering his voice was awful. God how I missed him. No one can understand what it's like to lose your twin, the other half of you the way that I did. No one could understand it but another pair of twins. I felt empty so much of the time because he was gone. It still hurt after all these years and I silently wished again that I could go back in time and save him. I could do it if time travel were possible. I knew I could.

I poured myself another drink after getting more ice. Then I sat down and looked at the pictures some more. There were pictures of us when we were really little and those made me smile. My mother and father were together then and my father hadn't changed yet. I barely remembered it but at least I could remember a time when life was perfect. At least it was perfect for us. I'm sure it wasn't for my father. He'd told me so many times that he'd never wanted any of us, that Mom had insisted on having children when he'd told her over and over again that he didn't want any children. He'd yelled at me about that for six years, that and the fact that he'd had to pay child support for "Karen's fucking kids". Imagine how it felt to hear that at thirteen. Well it wasn't much better at sixteen either.

I hated my father. I hated my mother and my grandmother. My grandfather had been a little off most of my life. There was no reason to hate him because he never knew what was going on around him anyway. I hated the rest of them though, Mom, Dad and Grandma. I hated them so much that it hurt me to hate them like that. Family was supposed to be loving, right? Parents were supposed to love and cherish their children, right?

I could sit here and blame Hank for the way my life turned out, but it wasn't only his fault. He'd played a big hand in it but he wasn't totally to blame for it. My mother was for a lot of it, most of it actually. It was my father that started the chain of events that led to the death of my brothers, Hank beating us, Mom knowing about it and finally hating me and secretly hating Richard and April as well. Dad was to blame for every little part of it because he started it by breaking my stupid mother's heart.

When I'd moved out of my dad's house I'd started at the grocery store and rented that first tiny little apartment around the corner from it. The building wasn't even there anymore. Working at the grocery store was where I'd reconnected with Eric Gilkie. I'd known him from high school and we'd been friendly but not friends. He'd come into the grocery store a lot and we'd talked like old friends that we had never been. It wasn't until Sparky's Den, one of Janus's gay bars had started admitting anyone who was eighteen or older on Thursday nights. Soda was a dollar and there were pool tables and dart boards to play on. I went that first night that they'd allowed us in and run into Eric Gilkie again.

He'd come back to my tiny apartment around the corner from the grocery store that very night and we'd had our way with each other three times. After a few more "dates" like that we decided to be boyfriends and I got caught up in the whole thing. I thought I loved him and really trusted him. It had been a mistake though. I just hadn't known it then. My mother had seen us together coming out of Sparky's one night and the shit had hit the fan. She'd come to the apartment and told me what a filthy little queer I was. She'd said she never wanted to see me again and left the apartment. Eric had hidden in the bedroom.

I'd been surprised by the phone call from Grandma, telling me to get over there the next day after I'd come home from work. I went but I was shocked to find not only Grandma but both of my parents. They'd all laid into me about what a filthy abomination I was and how I was a dirty pervert and they hoped I got that AIDS virus and died. I hadn't thought that my heart could be broken any more than they'd already broken it but I was wrong. I went home and cried on Eric's shoulder that night. He told me he loved me and I believed him.

Six months later Eric disappeared with all of my money I'd had saved and everything that was valuable from my tiny apartment. There wasn't much. I heard from another friend that he'd taken off with some girl. My heart was broken further and I made up my mind that I'd never let anyone hurt me again. I stopped dating seriously and switched to casual encounters. They were seedy at times, park restrooms, hiking paths down by the river and the bathroom at Sparky's a time or two. I never had sex with the same guy twice and once I'd had sex with them I wanted nothing to do with them again. My mother's words about her hoping I'd get AIDS and die stuck with me though. I'd always used condoms after that.

Drunk, I decided to get out of the apartment and away from those awful memories. The last thing I thought about as I walked down the stairs with that gallon of Jack in my hand was the fact that Eric Gilkie and his little thieving girlfriend had been killed on the highway outside town when his little Ford Escort had been flattened by an eighteen wheeler. At the time I'd thought it was justice for what they'd done to me. Now it was just another thing I felt guilty for thinking.

I don't know how I'd ended up at the park. I hadn't consciously decided to go there. I was standing in front of the statue of the man who'd broken my nose and made my life hell before I knew it. Then I decided to piss on his statue. I know it was stupid but I was drunk and in a bad mood. I sat the bottle down, opened my fly and pissed all over the legs of the statue and its feet. After I'd put myself away and buttoned my fly I picked up the bottle and held it out to the statue.

"Cheers, fucker!" I'd cried and taken a swig, tilting my head back as I did so. That's when I saw the lights. At first I didn't think anything of them. I just looked back down to where my piss had formed a puddle at the base of the statue.

I stood there, smiling down at my own piss, thinking that I wished he could be alive to see what I'd done to his statue. It was strange though. Like my sister had pointed out, showing me on that damned website my fortieth birthday was on a Tuesday just like it had been in 1984 when I turned twelve. What was odd was the lights in the sky that suddenly appeared above me. I stepped closer and put my hand on the statue to keep from falling over, dropping the bottle of Jack as I did so. It was the Aurora Borealis! I remembered it from that birthday all those years ago. What was more odd was that the Aurora Borealis wasn't supposed to be in the sky that night. It wasn't supposed to be in the sky on my birthday in 1984 either. This was strange all right, but I wasn't a scientist and never wanted to become one. I just stood there with my hand on that hateful statue, barely aware that I was standing in a puddle of my own piss as I looked up at the sky. It was like God was trying to tell me something. I saw a flash of light but then everything went dark.


AUTHOR'S NOTE:

Amazon lists the book as being by Michael Cohen. He is my editor. I goofed. It's my book as the cover indicates. Sorry for the confusion.

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