It started with all of us noticing the small bruise on Chris' left cheek. But I guess that is how it always starts, isn't it? He didn't say that much about it, and in low light it was nearly invisible. But it was still there.
Joey, of course, got worried, cupping Chris' chin in his hand. While keeping Chris still so he could look at the bruise properly, I could see his brown eyes darken. "Chris, what the hell is this? This is from a hit!"
Chris squirmed. "No, it's not, Joey! I knocked my head on the bedpost, allright?"
Justin nearly choked on his soda. "You knocked your head on the bedpost? And you were doing just what in bed at the time, Chris?"
"None of your business," Chris murmured, and moved away from Joey. "Look, it's ok. No big deal."
I could have believed him. If he hadn't just come home from a week off to the Bahamas with mr. perfect. And I don't wanna even think about what position they would have to be in for Chris to slam his head into the bedpost and end up with that shiner, during sex... It looked like the remaints of a good, old-fashioned black eye. The one you get when someone punches you hard in the face.
So maybe mr. perfect wasn't that perfect after all. Not that Chris said anything about him. At all. All he told us was that Bahamas was beautiful this time of year and that they had had a lovely time, thank you very much.
I tried talking to Chris once or twice, just fishing around for what was really going on, you know. No luck. Everything was fine, no problems. And Chris never looked me in the eyes during the whole conversation.
So, I let it go for the time being. I don't know what I was hoping for, a breakdown perhaps, or a crying fit where Chris would tell me in a shaky whisper that he was in trouble and didn't know how to get out. And then I'd hold him, and stroke his back while I comforted him, promising that I would help...maybe even kiss his hair... Yeah. Too bad that it didn't happen that way.
Chris was still seeing mr. perfect. And I was still waiting for the breakdown. Instead I got a late night phonecall.
The time had to be some place around three am, at least it felt like obscenely early in the morning. My cell phone was going off, the melody telling me someone was trying to get in touch with me, sounded loud and shrill in the silent room. Groaning I reached out to the nightstand, fumbling around till I found it.
"Hello?" I grunted, burrowing down under the covers again. There oughta be a law against people calling at this hour.
There was a pause at first, but there was also a faint sound of someone breathing. Short, scared breaths. Then I heard a familiar voice say my name. Chris.
I got out of the covers again and sat up. "Chris, what's up? You ok?"
"I... I need your help, Lance. Something happened."
That was it. I couldn't make him tell me anything else. Just the adress, which I recognized right away. Mr. perfect. It took me half an hour to drive there. Of course the motherfucker couldn't live in town as everybody else. He had to live out in the middle of o goddamn swamp. I'm not kidding. He practically lived on the lake bed, overseeing mangroves and cedar trees framing the swamp land.
Coming up the front door, I found it unlocked. Carefully pushing it open, I called Chris' name. The hallway was dark, and I could smell something strange in the air, something sticky. After simple deduction I found the way to the livingroom. It wasn't dark, not really, I could spot at least a dozen big candles burning.
But to tell the truth I never got to look around much. Because on the middle of the floor, a man was laying. Chris' mr. perfect. And I am no doctor, but he looked awfully dead to me.
Coming closer, I saw the stain of blood on his chest. Covering most of his chest, and leaking onto the floor. His face was pale, his eyes open wide. Someone once told me that even if you close the eyes on a body, they will open again, because of muscle spasms or something like that. Well, that was one theory I wasn't going to try out. Staring at this body in morbid fascination, I suddenly realised what the sticky smell was. Gunpowder. It was very weak, so the shot had to have been fired some time ago.
I started to look for Chris, scared over what I might be finding. Mr. perfect wasn't all that perfect, so much I had gathered by now. But just how less perfect was he? I hadn't seen any gun, yet there was surely a bullet hidden somewhere in dead guy's chest. But who had fired it?
In the darkest corner, as far away from the corpse as possible I found him. Curled up, and staring at the dead man with big eyes, filled to the brim with shock and disbelief.
Kneeling in front of him, I said Chris' name gently. It was too dark, I couldn't see him properly, and he was pressing himself into the corner, hugging his knees to his chest.
I repeated his name a little louder and he looked up.
I drew back. There was a revolver pointing at me. Chris' hands were shaking, his knuckles white from the desperate grip around the handle.
"Chris," I whispered. My mind went into over-drive, trying to piece this together. When I had moved back, some of the flickering light from the candles, reached all over into our corner.
Blood. There was blood everywhere. On his face, on his hands, on his clothes. Not caused by any bullet this time, but by someone's fists and boots. His face was a mess, tears and blood mixing on his cheeks, getting to make all the stains they wanted as his hands were busy holding me at gunpoint.
I don't think he even recognized me.
It's at situations like that you really wish somebody would hand you a manual. Hey, here are the rules, just so you won't fuck up and make him shoot you. 'Cos then he'll probably end up shooting himself afterwards.
I just kept saying his name, hoping that my whispered mantra would somehow make it through the wall of fear that was getting higher and higher between us.
My own hands were shaking, wanting so badly to reach out and wipe the blood away from his cheek, to cradle him in my arms, promising that I would fix everything. Realising that my one word had somehow transformed into sentences where I was now telling him that I loved him, that I was so afraid of loosing him right then, the revolver started it's slow descent to the floor.
And finally, finally I got my answer. Whispered in a small, scared voice. My name.
I took the gun out of his hand and threw it to the floor. Then I just leaned forward, pulling Chris into my arms, hugging him of all my might. But it was nothing compared to the force he was hugging me back with.
"What happened?" I whispered, letting my hand pet his hair, feeling him tremble in my arms.
"He had been drinking... And we...we started to argue... I said that he had a drinking problem, and that I was sick of it, sick of him... Then he... Then he..."
I think I got the idea. The floor was scattered with empty vodka bottles, only one having some content left. Spilling it slowly and softly onto the hardwood floor.
"He said that he was going to kill me."
Self defence. Anyone with half a mind would see that. But where did the gun come from. More importantly, whose gun was it? And how did Chris get hold of it?
"Chris, the gun," I began, "where did you get the gun?"
"It's Justin's. I borrowed it because I was afraid to come here without it. I knew that he would be upset when I told him that I wanted to break up. It was just for safety."
"Justin's? When the hell did Justin get a gun?"
"He got it after that kid was planning to kill us...said that you never knew what other lunatics were out there. I took it from the safe without him knowing. I didn't really mean to use it, I really didn't...but I was so afraid, and he wouldn't stop..."
By then his words got lost in a torrent of tears. I was frantically trying to make my mind click back into the levelheadedness everybody seems to think I have.
Get rid of the body. Get rid of the gun. No, get the gun back in the safe at home, with no fingerprints on. Get rid of the body.
"Chris," I whispered again, making him look at me. "We're going to fix this, but you need to help me. Do you understand what I am saying?" By the nodding he did.
I helped him up, making sure he was standing safely on his own two legs before letting go.
"We have to get rid of the body," I repeated out loud. "But how..." Then it hit me. The perfect plan. We're in goddamn Florida, and this guy's house is in the middle of a swamp.
Time to go feed the fishes. Not fishes exactly, but close enough.
The blood should have a couple of them around in no time, and I was about to throw them a big snack. Walking over to the body I circled it a few times before working up the nerve to actually touch it.
Taking a deep breath I grabbed the arms and started to drag it along. I noticed very quickly that we were leaving behind a trail of blood. All the time I was doing this Chris was standing on the floor, looking like he was ready to pass out, or go hysterical. Don't know which I feared the most. In the end I rolled the body into a tablecloth. And then started dragging him outside again. Chris followed me, walking right behind me, so close that I could have reached my hand out behind me to touch him.
Out of the back door we went, and down the stairs. Over the lawn, till we reached the swamp. It was night time. I just hoped there were some 'gators there at all, but I wasn't really that nervous that they weren't. I mean, half the news down here is about some alligator taking a bath in someone's swimmingpool.
Unwrapping the tablecloth again, I rolled the body into the water. See, now there was an explanation to this guy ending up in the water. He was drunk and wandering around outside. Then he fell in the water and became a midnight snack for some hungry 'gators. Accident happens. Accidents in table cloths don't happen.
I remained on the lawn, in the humid air that smelled sickingly sweet and heavy and just watched. He didn't sink, just bobbed up and down for a bit. Then there was movement further into the swamp. Silent shadows was edging in on us. The blood in the water attracking them. I caught a glimpse of glimmering yellow eyes watching us. Taking Chris by the hand, I stepped back. The water exploded. Then everything was quiet again. The body was gone.
Ice was trickling down my spine, sinking needle-thin fangs into my nerves. But I had done it. The evidence was gone. Now I just needed to clean up, and nobody would ever know.
Still holding onto Chris' hand I went back inside the house. Livingroom looked good. Just needed to get the blood of the floor, the bottles I was leaving there. See, big, stupid drunk guy lived here. Now he's 'gator food. Shit happens, right? Right.
Somehow my mind was still staying with me, reminding me that I needed to wash the blood away, don't just wipe it up. Chris had gone back into his own world. I figured he might as well stay there till I was done. No need in making him a part of this as well.
After I was done the floor looked brand new. What should I do with Chris' stuff? Surely he had to have some clothes or something laying around.
Going over to him, I watched all the bruises and cuts in horrid fascination. The sooner we were out of here the better.
"Do you have anything here?" I asked. "Clothes, toothbrush, anything?"
He shook his head. "No, I took everything with me the other day, without him seing. I came to break up with him tonight."
I had to smile. "Good boy," I told him, letting my fingers move over his bruised cheek in a soft caress. "Just a little while longer, babe, then we'll leave. Promise."
There. The house was all done. No one would ever know we had ever been there. No one could have heard the shot either, or somebody would have been here by now.
"Let's go," I told Chris, taking his hand again. As we ran out, I looked at his clothes again. We'd have to get rid of them too. In my free hand, I was holding the table cloth and the gun. We'd stop somewhere and burn the clothes. Then I needed to get Chris some clean clothes and get him to a doctor. What we would tell the doctor, I would think about later.
It all went suprisingly easy. I stopped at a twenty-four hour store, buying a track suit for Chris, shoes would have to wait. I don't think his shoes were that bad off. After that we stopped on a dark, deserted road. I got the matches, and a small container of gas from the trunk. Chris changed in silence, I tried to look away, but I couldn't. His whole body was a veritable garden of blossoming bruises, in all the colours I could possibly need.
He put the new clothes on quickly, and handed me the old one without looking at me. I didn't say a word either, when setting the clothes and the table cloth on fire.
Very quietly we stood around it and watched. The flames licked over the evidence of what we had done, devouring them, hiding our secret forever.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
I drove to a town several miles away to find a doctor for Chris. We stopped at this small town and had to wake up the only doctor that was there. He was an old guy, nice and friendly. I liked the way he was fussing over Chris, and he even believed the crazy story that I had made up too.
He lowered his glasses and looked sternly at Chris over the edge. "Young man, didn't your mother teach you not to fight? I would hate to see what shape the other one's in."
I almost laughed out load. Yeah, doc, so would I. So would I.
Back in my car, I found myself hesitating. "What should we do now?" I asked, turning to Chris. "Should we go back? What should we tell the others when they see you in the morning?"
"I'm not going back," Chris stated. This time he was looking at me. Yeah, I knew it, felt it too. We couldn't go back. Not now. Maybe we would come back at one time, but for now our road had been chosen.
"Let me just use the ATM machine over there," I said. "Then let's tank up and let's get the hell out of here."
We must have driven hundreds of miles. I had absolutely no idea as to where we were when we stopped. Both of us were exhausted, and we hadn't eaten anything at all either. But all I could think about was to sleep.
The guy at the motel hardly looked at us when I got a room, neither did he ask for any ID. He just gave Chris' bruised face a mildy curious look. I had a feeling he saw a lot of those around here.
Morpheus was merciful and sleep came easy for both of us. There would be other nights when the screams of the nightmares haunted us both, and where only we could help each other chase the demons away. We would turn all of our energy and attention to each other, finding each others' bodies under the blankets, making love just to feel that the another one was really there, that we were both alive. That we had gotten away.
We stop and send the other guys postcards from time to time, signing them with "shorty" and "blondie". They'll know who they are from. It's just to let them know that we're ok, and that we'll probably be back one day. But for now we'll keep on running. Running from a dead man in the swamp, from the memories Chris can't seem to shake, from my own knowledge of what I have done. One day we'll outrun them all, and everything will be fine again. I know it will.
We'll keep running though. Maybe because we both got used to it, even came to like it. We're free. And we have each other. That's all we need.