3.5 Demons

Martin Luther had been doing some thinking, which wasn’t easy to do when new ideas and designs were constantly crowding out almost all of the thinking capacity that did not govern the bare necessities of eating, sleeping, bathing, and occasionally seeing Tam.  Since March’s birth, February had seemed completely content to leave practically all the household work to Martin Luther — the cooking, the cleaning, the repair of any broken appliances, and the maintenance of their mother’s faltering little garden.  He had also been the sole provider of a steady source of income, as February’s writing career had come to a hard, fast standstill after the release of her first — and thus far, only — novel, Right, But Wrong.  He hadn’t minded at all, not at first.  While carefully tending fragile new buds and navigating inexplicable wiring mazes, he would experience a certain calmness that actually helped him find the right mindset to focus on his work, and he couldn’t deny being overtaken by a deep sense of satisfaction as a result of taking care of all the bills.  Furthermore, he expected all the work to be temporary; once March got a little older, and February felt less overwhelmed, he was certain February would start pitching in more to help him out.  However, the months had soon turned into years without any indication that February intended to pick up any of the slack.

Martin Luther knew February’s complete reliance on him was unintentional; she probably had never even realized he was unhappy.  For that matter, HE had only recently discerned just how swamped and tied down he had been feeling.  At first, the additions of Bert and Hector had helped; both provided extra income — though Llama knew how exactly Bert came by what he brought in — and March had practically blossomed overnight; for whatever reason, she particularly loved Bert and took any opportunity she had to follow him around, chattering away sometimes, and sometimes just playing quietly, or watching him work.

But shortly after February and Hector brought home their new daughter, Valentine, Bert’s longtime girlfriend had unexpectedly called things off, leaving him in a constant state of barely contained anger.  He stayed out long hours, spending his simoleons on only he knew what, and would only come home occasionally to sleep or take a meal. March was crushed, and her parents were far too enamored and busy with the new baby to really notice her distress, or Martin Luther’s mounting frustration.  Once again, Martin Luther was left to pick up all the loose ends, while his career stuttered to a halt.

“Why don’t you just leave?” Tam had suggested in his typical cool manner.  “They are adults; it is certainly not up to you to manage absolutely everything.”

“We are family,” Martin Luther tried to explain.  Tam pursed his lips grimly, but didn’t push the issue.

However, in spite of his protestations, there was no denying that Martin Luther was beginning to feel caged in.

As he sat at his drafting table contemplating his future and what steps he might be able to take to ensure that everyone, including himself, was well taken care of, the front door slammed open and the unmistakable irate grumblings that heralded one of Bert’s rare appearances sounded from the entrance.

“Uncle Bert! You’re home!” Martin Luther heard March cry, delighted as always to see the curmudgeonly old man.  He could faintly make out Bert’s mumbled reply, something about being tossed out of one of the local bars and needing to hear his “listens”…meaning he must have run out of money to pay his tab (again) and had returned to the Callender home to hear a sports program on the stereo…..which, Martin Luther recalled suddenly, had sprung some sort of short a week earlier that he hadn’t had the time to repair yet.  Martin Luther cringed inwardly as Bert discovered the stereo’s malfunction and began swearing profusely.

“It’s ok, Uncle Bert, Uncle Martin can fix it in no time! Let me just go get him,” March chirped earnestly.  Martin Luther rose from his seat, resigned to spend the remainder of the afternoon wrestling with the electronic, but Bert’s angry response stopped him cold.

“Don’t need no namby pamby to do a man’s job! I can do it myself!”

Shrugging, Martin Luther took his seat once more.  “Any way you want it, that’s the way you get it,” he thought, wondering how long it would be before Bert, who had no experience working with electronics, would give the task up and go find something else to do.  Sure enough, Martin Luther soon heard a sharp zzzng, shortly followed by one of Bert’s foul oaths.  He tried to stifle some of his self-satisfaction as March gasped in alarm.

“Are you all right, Uncle Bert?? Are you sure you don’t want me to get Uncle Martin; he’s fixed it loads of times —”

“Blast, it was just a little shock!  I’ll get the best of this damn contraption without no help from nobody, y’hear me, kid?”  Martin Luther knew he ought to go see if he could insist on helping Bert with the aging stereo, but he simply wasn’t in the mood to put up with the old man’s attitude. Besides…a few small shocks might do Bert’s ego a little good.

All at once, the lights flashed ominously and March screamed.  Martin Luther leapt to his feet as the lights gave up and remained dark, his heart struck cold by the sickly scent of charred flesh that grew stronger as he rushed into the living room.  He knew immediately there was nothing to be done; Bert’s crumpled body lay with an unnatural stillness near the smoking stereo, while March continued to scream helplessly nearby.

February burst from the nursery where she’d been tending Valentine and immediately grasped the situation.  Gently, but firmly, she took March by the shoulders and steered her towards her room.

“Honey, go keep an eye on your sister,” she instructed, but Martin Luther barely heard her. He stood transfixed as a shimmery gold apparition rose from Bert’s body, taking on the misty appearance of Bert even as February crouched next to the corporeal body, apparently taking no notice of the evanescent form hovering nearby….or of the dark, hooded specter that soon materialized before it.

“Reaper,” Martin Luther whispered hoarsely, unable to believe his eyes as the grim vision approached what Martin Luther knew must be Bert’s ghost.

“Took yer sweet time gettin’ around to me, didn’tcha, ya dusty old boggart.  I been sick and tired of hangin’ about for years now,” the ghost pronounced peevishly, using an odd, hollow version of Bert’s voice.

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The Reaper made no reply outside of a grand sweeping gesture that Bert’s ghost must have taken as his signal for departure, for he evaporated into a fine pale cloud and vanished somewhere amongst the deep folds of the Reaper’s cavernous robes.  Then, to Martin Luther’s great surprise, the Reaper turned and faced Martin Luther directly.

“Don’t fear the Reaper,” the creature intoned solemnly.  Martin Lither swallowed, barely feeling the uncomfortable scratch of his suddenly too dry throat.

“Can we pillow fight?” he asked absurdly, saying the first words that came to mind.  Although the Reaper’s faceless expression was impossible to ascertain, Martin Luther was sure he felt an air of surprise emanate from the ancient entity.  Nevertheless, the Reaper inclined his head solemnly in acquiescence and produced two pillows from thin air, offering one to Martin Luther.  The pair began their game, solidly sparring with their fluffy weapons, while February, oblivious to her brother’s actions, phoned 911.

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“Martin Luther,” the Reaper intoned ponderously in the midst of giving his opponent a solid thrashing around the head, “Life is a highway.  One comes of it, love it.  You’re not of this world for long.  Live this life until this life won’t let you live here anymore.”  Martin Luther blinked once, the forgotten pillow dragging limply from his hand.

“I understand,” he answered at last.

“Good,” the Reaper answered, straightening his tall form.  His figure began to dissolve, taking the pillows along with him.  “I will see you again,” Martin Luther heard before the Reaper vanished altogether, leaving no trace of his presence save a single white feather that had escaped from one of the pillows.  Martin Luther leaned over, thoughtfully plucking the rogue feather from the floor.

He knew what he had to do.

3.1 Call Me Maybe

In what seemed like no time at all, unbearable cramps woke February from a deep sleep.  “Oh no,” thought February, “The baby’s coming!”  She felt so unprepared; after the disastrous way things had ended with Cameron — not to mention the horrific events the last time she’d seen Hector — she had thrown herself into her writing, loosely basing the torrid events of her short life in a novel she called Right, But Wrong.  Of course she hadn’t forgotten that she’d soon be a mother…but she was completely unprepared for the reality; she hadn’t even gotten around to buying a crib.  Terrified, February drove herself to the hospital, where she gave birth to a baby girl she named March.

March was not an easy baby, especially for an exhausted, emotionally overwrought single mother.  Between feedings, diaper changes, and generally comforting her newborn daughter, February could barely find time to shower, eat, or use the bathroom, and she never got a full night’s sleep.  Martin Luther helped occasionally…when he remembered that March existed…but was usually busy doing his own thing, especially after Tam finally turned eighteen.

Seeing her little brother with his boyfriend was bittersweet for February; she loved that he was so in love, but she was so lonely.  Although, surprisingly, she rarely found herself thinking of Cameron, she still missed Hector terribly.  She called him every now and again, using March as an excuse to talk to him, and, although he was always courteous with her, he maintained a polite distance.  Gone was the camaraderie they had once shared; furthermore, although he seemed interested in his daughter, he never offered to help care for her.  February told herself she didn’t mind; she even felt that she deserved it after what she had done to both Hector and Cameron…still, she wished that he would at least come see her.  Finally, she summoned the courage to invite him over; to her surprise, Hector agreed.

****


February snuggled her infant daughter close as they waited patiently for Hector to arrive.  Hector had always been punctual, in the past…of course, that was before all of the misunderstandings that had ruined February and Hector’s friendship.  Although Hector had sounded civil enough over the phone, his first visit with March had been scheduled nearly an hour ago, and there was still no sign of him to be found.  Always fussy, March had begun to grow restive and February was just about to give up and go back inside when an errant ray of sunlight caught a familiar thatch of brilliantly red hair, heralding Hector’s arrival.

“Hey, you,” February offered Hector a crooked smile as he crossed into her yard, his hands shoved deep in the pockets of his cargo shorts.  Hector nodded and returned her smile halfheartedly, but his eyes remained focused on the squirming pink blanket she held.

“Is that her?” he asked.  February nearly retorted that no, this was actually a completely different baby that she’d been holding in her yard for three quarters of an hour, but thought better of it.

“Yeah, this is the little screamer.  Isn’t she gorgeous?”  She pushed back a fold of the blanket so that Hector could better see March’s perfect, round face.  “Would you like to hold her?”  Hector, who had leaned forward to look at his baby, rolled abruptly back onto his heels, his hands burrowing even deeper into his pockets as if he expected that February would force the baby onto him.  “Er…no, that’s quite all right.  She looks a little fractious; I’m sure you know how to handle her much better than I.”

“Well, she did get a little…fractious…while we were out waiting on you,” February remarked, trying to keep an edge out of her voice.  “She could probably use a bottle; do you want to come in and feed her?”  Hector actually backed up slightly at February’s offer, though whether his nervousness was due to entering the house or feeding the baby February couldn’t be sure.  “Oh no, no, it’s probably best if I just stay out here…but please, feel free to bring her inside and get her comfortable.  I don’t mind remaining out here.”

“Oh…okay,” February answered agreeably, although she couldn’t help wondering why Hector had come all the way out today if he didn’t even want to hold his own baby.  She suspected that he still felt uncomfortable around her and planned to leave as soon as she brought March inside; to her surprise, she found him waiting still when she came back out, in spite of the fact that she’d taken her time settling March down.  He turned as she approached, gesturing towards the water slide that Martin Luther had recently purchased on a whim.  “I don’t remember seeing that around before,” Hector pronounced a bit awkwardly.

“Uh…no, it’s fairly new….you wanna play on it?” February asked, nonplussed when Hector eagerly agreed.  The pair spent much of the remainder of the evening slipping merrily along on the rubbery toy, careful to keep their conversation light, until February was finally forced to give in to her mounting exhaustion and call it a night.  “I’ll just go get the baby so you can tell her good-bye,” she said, emerging a few minutes later with her refreshed, sweetly cooing daughter.  Though Hector still made no move to actually touch March, he seemed content to spend several minutes drinking in the sight of his now serene baby daughter.

“She’s really beautiful,” he breathed reverently.  “She’s so…pure, like snow or…or lamb’s wool.”

“Yeah,” February agreed affectionately, surreptitiously eying Hector’s still damp, shirtless torso.  “She’s just as pretty as her daddy is handsome.”  Hector, picking up on the flirtatious undertones February had unconsciously injected into her remark, recoiled immediately, frowning disapprovingly.

“I should really be going,” he said gruffly, tugging his shirt back on.  February nodded silently in resignation, keeping her eyes chastely on March until Hector had clothed himself.  He hesitated just a moment before bidding her farewell in a stiff voice and beginning his walk home.  A few moments after he’d left, February went inside to get ready for bed, convinced that, no matter how she felt about Hector, whatever shortlived romance there had been between them was over for good.

2.12 Somebody that I Used to Know

The hot sun beat down on Martin Luther’s head, exacerbating the heat already generated by the stiff mortar board he wore.  He stood patiently by the rose trellis his mother had planted soon after their house had been built while February cooed and fawned over him, snapping picture after picture of him in his cumbersome graduation gown.

In the months following January’s death, the remaining members of the Callender family had each tried in their own way to knit themselves back together, with varying degrees of success.  In spite of her resolution, February had not managed to break things off with Cameron after all.  Cameron seemed so different to her now, though still the same handsome guy she’d danced the night away with at Prom. As they’d talked and caught up the day after January’s unexpected passing, February came to discover that, although she did have feelings for Hector, she still cared for Cameron as well.  Martin Luther, on the other hand, had been forced to cool his romance with Tam down a bit after his eighteenth birthday, as Legacy Town kept strict regulations regarding teen-adult relationships.  Ever rebellious, Tam had initially balked at Martin Luther’s adherence to Legacy Town laws, but when Martin Luther’s resolve remained firm, Tam had reluctantly followed suit as well.

Meanwhile, Connor, never having been one for familial bonding in the first place, seemed to withdraw even deeper within himself after losing January.  Connor had been alone with his wife at the time of her unexpected death, so it had fallen to him to tell both of his children the grim news.  Afterward, he had retreated into a deep, impenetrable silence, leaving February and Martin Luther to deal with all of the details surrounding putting January to rest.  Bewildered by all of the responsibility, February had elected to quietly have January cremated; Connor kept her remains in a small, plain box in their bedroom, which he rarely vacated.  Connor’s total disengagement terrified February, as much for Martin Luther’s sake as for her own.  As kids, Martin Luther had always been the one to seek out his big sister while she had always shunned him; now, guilt-ridden, February attempted to be both mother and father to her younger brother.

In actuality, Martin Luther was truly fine.  While Connor grieved for his wife and February mourned the loss of any opportunity to forge much-needed connections with her mother, Martin Luther had concluded long before January’s actual death that his mother was absent from his life.  While January’s physical disappearance seemed to matter much less to Martin Luther than it did for Connor or February, Martin Luther recognized his sister’s gestures toward him and appreciated her concern.

“It’s kind of nice, to have family,” he thought idly as he landed a gorgeous rainbow trout several weeks after his graduation ceremony.  He’d taken up fishing soon after his eighteenth birthday as a distraction from Tam, whose physical demands had started becoming more…demanding.  Although Tam had gotten much better about the hands-off approach more recently, Martin Luther found that he still enjoyed the peaceful solitude he could find when casting a reel and pulling in various forms of aquatic life.  It was nice to have family, but it was also nice to get away from them occasionally.  February was being almost too nice to him and his dad lately.  It was as if she were trying to cram about eighteen years’ worth of solicitude and family bonding time into a few months.  Martin Luther didn’t quite have the heart to just ignore her, as Connor was wont to do, but neither could he simply wake up one day and pretend they were all one happy family.  Luckily, February had been seeing more of Cameron again, and, between him and Hector, February hadn’t quite managed to smother her father and brother to death — yet, anyway.

“Still, Martin Luther considered as he gently released the trout back into its pond, “at least she’s trying…which is certainly more than I can say for that little traitor Marie.  Maybe I should help her out…she can’t get through to Dad, but maybe Uncle Jared can.”  Martin Luther knew that Connor and his brother had once been close, but, after Connor’s marriage to January, Connor had become something of a recluse and the relationship between the brothers had suffered.  Connor hadn’t spoken to Jared for years, and Martin Luther was sure he’d never actually met his uncle.  Seeing no real reason to begin letting little things like common social formalities stop him now, Martin Luther gamely made his way across town to the small house that Jared lived in.

****

Darkness had nearly fallen by the time Martin Luther returned home.  February and Cameron had apparently just come in from the water slide and were standing at the kitchen table in their bathing suits, flirting and dripping all over the floor.

Martin Luther paid them no mind as he crossed the house to the bedroom his parents had shared.  Cameron had grown up quite a bit since that long-ago day that Martin Luther had accosted him from the safety of his tree house, and Martin Luther was glad to see his sister happy; nevertheless, he remained convinced that Cameron was still a stranger with no possibility of becoming a permanent fixture in the Callender home.  Gingerly, he knocked on his parents’ bedroom door before opening it to face his father.  Connor sat very still on the edge of the bed he’d shared with January for so many years.  The furniture now seemed too big for his slight frame.  He raised his eyes slowly, barely acknowledging his son’s presence.

“Hey Dad.  I just came in to say that I visited Uncle Jared today.  You know, he’s not heavy.  He’s your brother,” Martin Luther announced.  His abrupt statement earned him a raised eyebrow from Connor but little else.  “So anyway,” Martin Luther continued, unfazed, “He’s hardly a stranger in the night.  But nothing lasts forever, especially candles and rain.  Everyone eventually spreads their broken wings and flies away, but before that, you have to lift your sunken eyes so you can see.  Got it?”  Before Connor had a chance to answer, Martin Luther had closed the door, leaving his father alone with his thoughts and memories once more.

For long moments, Connor remained still, staring at the wall and contemplating Martin Luther’s words.  Regrets…he had so many of them.  His son was a very strange boy, but Connor knew that he had a good heart.  February…she was so much like her father, always content to be alone, always unsure of what her next step should be.  He knew that he had failed them both in many ways, but they, at least, had had the benefit of his physical presence.  He didn’t know their older half-siblings at all.  He had left his first wife, Janis, while their daughter Delilah was still only a toddler.  He’d never bothered to look back.  Harrison, his son with his  ex-girlfriend Diana, had hardly fared better; he used to come around from time to time as a child, but eventually had given up on Connor and moved on with his life.  Why had Connor let them go?  Why had he allowed everyone he loved to slip away?

Suddenly he rose from the bed, an unfamiliar firmness fixing his chin.  “Why am I just sitting here moping about the past?” he thought.  “The past is over and done with…but I’m still here.  My kids are still here.  My brother is still here…but Martin Luther is right.  He won’t be around forever.  None of us will be.  It’s time to start fixing things…it’s time to go visit Jared.  Right now.  Well…” Connor’s gaze fell upon the darkened window pane that divided his room from the night that had long since settled in.  The hour had grown much later than he’d realized.  “First thing tomorrow morning,” he amended, and settled back onto his mattress with a sigh to wait for another long, sleepless night to slowly pass.

2.11 We are Young

Groggily, February prized open her heavy lids and surveyed her unfamiliar surroundings.  She was lying fully clothed in a strange bed in someone else’s room….why?  Then, with a sudden rush of agonizing clarity, February remembered: her mother was gone.  She was in Hector’s house.  Although merely hours ago, the recollection of Hector explaining apologetically that his home housed only one bed, which was normally shared by himself and his aging, senile mother, seemed a distant memory.

“I know it sounds utterly bizarre, but she would never allow us to spend the night in the same room, even though there’s nothing at all like that between us.  I would take the couch myself, but Mother is nothing if not eccentric and it would really be best if you stayed in the living room.”  February smiled thinly and assured Hector that she honestly didn’t mind, and she was so sorry for inconveniencing his family.  However, after a long, uncomfortable night on the Cusack-Little’s lumpy, decrepit couch, February found herself still awake in the early hours of the morning as Hector’s mother left for work.  Too exhausted to register any idea of pride, February had crept into bed with Hector and fallen deeply asleep.  Now, in the lucidity brought on by a new day, February felt ashamed of herself.  It was time for her to stop acting like an irresponsible teenager and grow up.  It was time to stop disrespecting Cameron and end things with him, no matter the future she and Hector had — or didn’t have — together.

Dreading the inevitable, but relieved that a decision had finally been made, February left a note thanking Hector and his mother for their hospitality and traveled across town to Cameron’s house where, to her surprise, his dad informed her that Cameron was working over at the stadium.  Curious, February made her way to the stadium to visit her estranged beau.  Cameron’s eyes lit up at the sight of her.

“Febs!  Oh my God, what are you doing here?  You look amazing!” Cameron enthused, wrapping February in a giant bear hug.

“Uh, hi Cameron,” February replied, somewhat taken aback.  “I came to talk…do you have a minute?”

“For you…I’ve got all the time in the world,” Cameron answered, smiling in the charming, rakish way February knew so well.  February took a deep breath, sat in the chair Cameron offered, and began.

****

Tam couldn’t understand how it had happened.  One minute he was plotting Martin Luther’s unpleasant demise, the next he was making out with him…what could possibly have gone wrong?  It was as if he’d been bewitched.  Since Prom, Martin Luther frequently asked if Tam would like to come over; every time, Tam would accept, convincing himself that the only reason he was visiting the Callender home was to increase his arsenal against Martin Luther….yet each and every time, he and Martin Luther would wind up spending hours playing Gnubb, or just talking.  Tam told himself, and anyone else that would listen, that he hated every moment of time he was forced to spend with Martin Luther…but his claims never stopped him from continuing to see the young man.

Like most of his peers, Dwayne Langerak-Bunch was too afraid of Tam to bother trying to refute his allegations; however, Dwayne bore no fear at all towards Martin Luther.  In some obscure way unbeknownst to him, Martin Luther had managed somehow to steal Tam’s heart, and everyone in school — with the exception of Tam — knew it.  Dwayne felt hurt, angry, and humiliated, and, as Tam was out of his reach, Dwayne was determined to get back at Martin Luther, one way or another.  Brief as his fling with Tam had been, Dwayne had managed to pick up a few tricks in the duration and slowly began an invasive campaign against Martin Luther’s emotions.  Within Martin Luther’s hearing — though never while he was in Tam’s company — Dwayne casually began to bring Tam up to other students.  When merely commenting on conversations that Dwayne pretended he and Tam had had on the phone the night before didn’t seem to affect Martin Luther, Dwayne decided it was time to up the ante a little bit and started having imaginary exchanges with Tam on his cell.

“Oh, hey, Tam,” Dwayne began at the end of one day while waiting outside the school for his ride home.  Martin Luther was standing nearby, seemingly lost in his own thoughts.  Dwayne watched him surreptitiously out of the corner of his eye as he continued with his inventive monologue.  “Oh my God, I had the greatest time last night!  How did you know how much I love the Bistro?”  Dwayne paused a moment, allowing “Tam” time to reply, then tittered coquettishly and simpered, “Oh, I know what you mean…some people just can’t seem to take a hint.  You’re just too sweet to say no to anyone!  Anyway, I’m glad for any time you can get away from your little leech and spend time with moi.”  Martin Luther frowned, and Dwayne smiled coyly to himself, pleased with the small crack in his rival’s demeanor.

While Dwayne cooed senseless endearments into his powered-off phone, Martin Luther mulled the apparent situation over in his mind.  Tam had been hanging out with him a lot lately, which was nice; he didn’t seem to mind most of the things Martin Luther said anymore, and he appeared to like kissing, which was VERY nice.  But Tam had never said that Martin Luther was his boyfriend, and, from the sound of things, was actually more interested in Dwayne.  Understandably, Martin Luther was a little hurt by this revelation, but, since Tam had been kind to him and willing to accept him for who he was, Martin Luther was determined that he would pay Tam the same consideration.  After all, Marie had always taught him that if something didn’t belong to him, he needed to leave it alone…or did she say he needed to steal it…?  Martin Luther only wished that Tam had been honest with him from the start.  However, now that Martin Luther knew the truth, he was determined to set things right.  Grimly, he approached Dwayne.

“Dwayne.  I hear you like the Bistro.  Would you want to come with me and have…some Bistro food, or whatever it is they do over there?” he asked his astonished schoolmate.  Too nonplussed to respond otherwise, Dwayne nodded dumbly and the two boys made their way to the little greasy spoon in the center of town.  Once seated, Martin Luther, never one to mince words, folded his arms and surveyed Dwayne seriously from across the table.  “So,” he began, “you and Tam are a ‘thing.'”  Surprised, Dwayne hesitated.  Lying would be easy, and probably effective; however, should Martin Luther talk with Tam about Dwayne’s behavior, everything up to this point could be explained away as merely a misunderstanding on Martin Luther’s part.  Dwayne wasn’t afraid of Martin Luther, but Tam was known to be unpredictable and violent.  Stalling, Dwayne shifted his eyes askance and asked, “What would give you that idea?”

“Don’t play games with me, Langerak,” Martin Luther growled, leaning over the table to fix narrowed eyes upon the other boy.  “I know you two have been talking; you’ve practically drawn it all over a newspaper and rubbed my face in it.”

“I…don’t know what that means,” Dwayne began, but was abruptly cut off when Martin Luther banged his hand loudly on the table.  “Can it, Langerak.  I’m not an idiot, and Tam knows that.  If he didn’t tell me about you, it was because he didn’t want to hurt me.”  Martin Luther sank down in his seat, suddenly defeated.  “If he wants you, then I want that for him.  That’s what people do when they love someone, not tie them up and throw them in a trash can full of fire.”

“….what are you even talking about?” Dwayne sputtered.  “Are you saying that Tam is going to set me on fire?!”  Martin Luther gave Dwayne a long, searching look.

“No…” he said slowly, “I’m saying that love is a battlefield, and that sometimes it lasts, but sometimes it hurts instead.”  Rather than calming his schoolmate, however, Martin Luther’s words seemed only to panic Dwayne further.  Wracking his brain in one last attempt to find words to convey his meaning, Martin Luther raised his voice and began gesticulating frantically, hoping his hand motions would make his words clearer.  “People you love are like boomerangs,” he practically shouted.  “You throw them, and they come back and hit you in the head, really, really hard, if they’re supposed to be with you.”  Dwayne’s eyes grew larger and larger with every word that Martin Luther spoke, inadvertently causing Martin Luther to increase both his volume and the intensity of his gestures until finally Dwayne jumped from his seat and began backing towards the door.

“O–okay,” he stammered, “I get it.  If I don’t leave you and Tam alone, you will set me on fire and beat me in the head.  I won’t bother you anymore, I swear, just…just don’t hurt me, okay?”  Without waiting for an answer, the terrified boy threw himself through the door of the Bistro and took off towards home, convinced he had underestimated Martin Luther and resolved to avoid both him and Tam as much as possible in the future.

Back at the Bistro, Martin Luther remained seated for a long while, pondering the odd behavior of Dwayne Langerak-Bunch.  It appeared that he’d never managed to get the kid to understand what he’d been trying to convey, no matter how intelligible Martin Luther had been.  Clearly, Dwayne was either outrageously stupid or highly unstable.  Either way, Martin Luther decided as he got ready to return home, it was probably best if he just avoided Dwayne as much as possible in the future.

2.10 Turn Up the Music

This isn’t real.

This isn’t real.

This isn’t real.

Dimly, February could hear Hector trying to soothe her as she sobbed uncontrollably onto his shoulder.  This isn’t real.  She couldn’t believe what her father had said, couldn’t believe that January, her mom, was really just…gone.  She had faithfully maintained her position as CEO of a major corporation while juggling her gardening and the housework.  Martin Luther was still a teenager in high school, for crying out loud, and February hadn’t had time to make up her mind about who she should settle down with…this wasn’t real.  This couldn’t be real.  January had been so (distant) vibrant and full of life…this wasn’t happening.  This wasn’t real.  She would never see her grandchildren.

****

This isn’t real…

“You can’t be serious,” Tam said incredulously.  For the second time in one day, he had been on the receiving end of surprising phone calls.  What exactly had gotten into the normally predictable residents of Legacy Town?

“Well, no, I can’t be, because I’m Martin Luther,” Tam’s “prom date” answered calmly enough.  “But my mom is dead apparently so I don’t think I should go to Prom.”  For once, Tam was struck speechless.  In all of his wildest dreams of orchestrating Martin Luther’s eventual humiliation at his hands, he had never even considered the possibility that Martin Luther would not actually come to the dance with him.  Not that he supposed it mattered, as that Richards-Calvert goon had quite inconveniently dropped out of Tam’s plans.  Still, Tam was certain he could come up with an adequate plot that he could easily enough fulfill on his own…without implicating himself, of course.  However, he could do absolutely nothing unless Martin Luther agreed to come to the Prom with him.

“Martin, I’m so sorry to hear about your mother,” Tam purred smoothly.  “Please, allow me to take you to the dance tonight anyway…the last thing you need is to be rattling around in that house filled with memories.  I would be perfectly honored to have your company for the evening so that I might take your mind off of your sadness, even if only for a few hours.”  Martin Luther was silent for so long that Tam was sure for a moment that he’d been hung up on; he only let out a long breath he hadn’t been aware of holding once he finally heard the older boy agree — albeit reluctantly — that leaving the house might not be such a bad idea, especially given that she was still around.  “Although if she follows us, there could be trouble,” Martin Luther added just before disconnecting the call.  “She does best where there’s not much light.”

****

February, grief-stricken and confused, found herself torn both with feelings of unendurable sadness and almost irresistible longing. Her mom was gone forever, but Hector was just so…nice. It felt so good being held in his arms, so different from being with Cameron…but Hector had Kurt; how could February cause someone the same sort of pain her mom had caused by getting together with her dad?  Thinking of January brought February full circle; she couldn’t stand the thought of returning to the home where her mom had just died.

“Hector,” she gulped, “Would you mind terribly if I stayed here, just for tonight.  I don’t think I can…”  she trailed off doubtfully, wondering what Hector must think of her for even considering such a request.  But Hector just smiled and wiped her tears gently away with his thumb.

“Sure!” he agreed, “What are friends for?”  His use of the word “friends” put an inexplicable dagger in February’s heart.

****

The gymnasium was loud, dark, and crowded, much like the state of Tam’s mind.  He scanned the crowd sulkily, wondering if his so-called boyfriend, Dwayne Langerak-Bunch, had really had the nerve to show up.  He was still irritated about the little fit Dwayne had pitched when Tam informed him that he’d be taking Martin Luther to the Prom.  Relationship status notwithstanding, Tam could take anyone he pleased anywhere he liked, and if the Langerak twit couldn’t handle it, then he was welcome to take his prehistoric misconceptions of relationships and stuff them.  As if Tam even relished the idea of spending the evening in the company of the town imbecile.  Tam cast a withering look in Martin Luther’s direction and frowned.  Martin Luther had been unusually quiet on the ride to the school and remained rather subdued, almost austere, even in the midst of the standard juvenile frivolity present at all high school social events.  In the dim lighting, his face appeared solemn and vulnerable — somehow, he appeared to be both the little boy he’d been not too long ago and the man he was soon to become.  Watching him sent unfamiliar feelings rocketing through Tam’s gut, piercing his heart and clouding his intentions.  Scowling, he grabbed Martin Luther’s arm.

“Would you like to dance?” Tam asked, attempting to keep his tone light.  Offering a bemused smile, Martin Luther obligingly allowed Tam to escort him onto the dance floor.  The music drifted into a dreamy ballad, prompting the young couples to clutch each other tighter; warily, Tam followed suit, carefully cradling Martin Luther’s body against his own.  “You know,” Martin Luther began, suddenly breaking the stillness that had grown between them, “I know what you really think of me.”

“You do?” Tam replied, honestly caught off guard for once.

“Of course.  I’m not stupid, you know.  I hear things….I mean, outside of my head.  I know you think I’m foolish and ridiculous, and you’re right.  I am.  But it’s only because I’m afraid.”

“Afraid?  Of what?” Tam prompted, curious in spite of himself, as Martin Luther drifted once more into silence.

“Of being alone,” Martin Luther answered softly.  “But…now I know.  We’re all alone.  Surrounded by people, we’re still alone.  We live and we will die alone, and –”  But Tam could bear to hear no more of Martin Luther’s words and, to stifle him, bent his head forward and crushed the boy’s lips to his own in a searing kiss.

****

2.9 Without You

February was spending yet another relaxing, stress-free afternoon with Hector.  Hector had been accepted into an accelerated program and soon graduated far ahead of the rest of his peers, finally giving February the encouragement she needed to pursue more than a casual acquaintance with him.  Despite his youth, Hector had high hopes of reaching out to kids and someday becoming a principal…dreams that differed so much from Cameron, who had barely finished high school and seemed to prefer ensuring that youngsters needed counseling to counseling them himself.  Today, February and Hector had met at the beach and spent most of the day laughing, talking — and flirting.  February felt a little guilty about that last bit, but, as Hector was involved with an individual named Kurt, February had deduced that all of the teasing and hand holding she and Hector participated in was all in harmless fun.  In the midst of giggling through one of Hector’s flowery compliments, February glanced behind Hector’s shoulder and froze in horror — Cameron was seated on a bench several feet away.  In the space of a few panicked seconds, February’s mind blazed through the various possibilities associated with encountering her boyfriend while cavorting about with another man without his knowledge, innocently or not.  February knew that her mother had practically stolen her father not from one, but from two women, and she didn’t want to repeat the sins of her mother; but she couldn’t deny the attraction she felt towards Hector.  She considered breaking things off with Cameron for good, but she didn’t like the idea of feeling like she belonged to Hector, either. Besides — Hector had a boyfriend. Instead, she and Hector made their way to the Bistro for dinner and February put Cameron out of her mind.

Unbeknownst to February, the site of her with another man struck Cameron to the core. He was terribly hurt by her transgressions…but he didn’t blame her; he had always known how uncomfortable she was dating the town bully and thug. He’d never really thought he could lose her because of it, though.  He stayed on the bench overlooking the beach, staring moodily at the spot where he’d watched his girl flirting with that red-headed little freak he used to give swirlies to back in the day.  He clenched his fists in rage and then sighed sadly, slowly releasing his anger — who was he kidding?  He was just some chump guy getting his thrills by picking on kids that couldn’t defend themselves…he’d never deserved a great girl like February, and it wasn’t anyone’s fault but his own that she’d finally started to figure it out.  But…maybe it wasn’t too late; after all, February hadn’t actually dumped him, yet.  Perhaps it was time to give up his nefarious titles and get a decent job, maybe at the stadium…he’d always loved Simball and Simby as a kid, and he’d been pretty decent; maybe he could get on one of the local teams and give February a reason to be proud to be his girlfriend.  However, before he could start focusing on his new career goals, he had to take care of a little business first.  Steeling his resolve, Cameron pulled his cell phone out and dialed Tam’s number.

“Hey Tam, this is Cameron.  Look, man, about the plan for tonight…I’m out.”

“What?!” Tam growled, his outrage palpable even through the phone connection.  “You can’t be ‘out.’  Prom is tonight…there’s no time to find someone else.”

“Well, maybe that’s for the best,” Cameron said reasonably.  “I don’t know what your problem is with Martin Luther…he’s not a bad kid.  Just a little unstable.  And what you’re planning on doing to him..it’s just vile, dude.”

“Technically,” Tam snarled, “I wasn’t planning on doing anything to the little cretin.  I merely masterminded the plan; the doing was all supposed to be your job. ”

“Whatever, dude.  It’s off now.  Find some other way to get your dirty work done,” Cameron replied before disconnecting the call.  He remained on the bench for a long while cradling his cell, half-expecting Tam to call back with a mouthful of vinegar and threats.  Cameron knew that Tam wasn’t a Sim to be toyed with, and crossing him could be dangerous…however, for the first time since early high school, Cameron finally felt good about himself.  He knew he’d made the right decision, and, with luck, February would recognize his good intentions and find her way back to him.  With that in mind, Cameron finally rose from his seat and made his way towards the stadium.

****

Across town, Connor Callendar had just ended an unpleasant call of his own.  His children’s distraught sobs still rang in his ears as he slowly made his way through the empty house.  He knew that neither February or Martin Luther could really believe the words he’d been forced to say to each of them…he could still hardly believe it himself.

January was dead.

2.8 Set Fire to the Rain

With the awkward days of high school social life finally behind her, February began to settle into what she fervently hoped would be a lucrative — and relatively solitary — career of penning novels.  Although she and Cameron continued to share an exclusive relationship, she saw less and less of the neighborhood thug…but more and more of her brother’s young friend, Hector.  As a result, February found her feelings for her high school sweetheart fluctuating: she really cared for Cameron; after all, he *was* the first boy who had ever noticed her, and he seemed to accept her for who she was…but she just couldn’t ignore her feelings of unease surrounding his “extracurricular activities,” especially when her own little brother was becoming more eccentric by the day.  Martin Luther was a prime target for the type of bullying she had heard Cameron and his cronies excelled in — first, obviously, had been the disturbing matter of the doll, and now Martin Luther appeared to be canvassing the neighborhood making a fool out of himself over other boys.  February wasn’t quite sure what all the attention Martin Luther was paying to his male peers meant…of course she knew of a few gay couples in the area, but…was that what Martin Luther was?  She had never thought of him as being gay, never really thought of him as anything at all, so wrapping her head around the idea that he might be romantically involved with anyone was something of a feat for her.

Perhaps February would have been relieved to find that, in spite of his best intentions, Martin Luther wasn’t actually “romantically involved” with anyone.  He had his eye on a number of eligible young men around Legacy Town, but, unfortunately, most had quite a hard time understanding him, especially when he went on one of his tangents about feminine conspiracies.  Many refused to hang out with him a second time after Martin Luther would spend the majority of their first meeting up seemingly arguing madly with himself, so no one was more surprised than Martin Luther when darkly handsome Tam Butterfield agreed to go to Prom with Martin Luther.  Tam was everything Martin Luther was not — rich, dark skin and cool ebony eyes where Martin Luther was always pale and somewhat wild-eyed; confident and dismissive while Martin Luther was edgy and eager to please.  Naturally, most of Legacy Town was convinced that Tam was merely toying with the crazy Callender boy, especially since rumor had it that Tam enjoyed running in the same sort of circles that Cameron was involved with.  However, had any of them had an inkling what sort of plans Tam had involving Martin Luther, even the hardest among them may have attempted to intervene on Martin Luther’s behalf…

Although openly gay, Tam despised the overtly flamboyant attitude that the younger Callender kid had adopted.  Martin Luther was constantly parading himself around, flirting with anything carrying a Y chromosome, and generally making himself out to be an idiot — thus, by default, making even the most respectable homosexual Sim look ridiculous.  Tam might have been able to deal with Martin Luther’s behavior without taking any action stronger than verbal cauterization, had Martin Luther not chosen Tam to bestow his affections upon at any point.  Unfortunately, it was only a matter of time before Martin Luther decided to try his luck with his charismatic younger classmate.  He met Tam in the park one afternoon and couldn’t resist regaling him with yet another of his confounding conspiracy theories shortly after blatantly hitting on him.  Tam was incensed.  How dare this little twerp actually believe that he was worthy of even speaking to him, Tam Butterfield, out in public where anyone could see them, let alone make any conversation on an intimate level??  Tam narrowed his cold eyes into slits as he regarded Martin Luther.

“You ridiculously impertinent little earwig,” he growled.  “Scrape your foul excuse for human existence out of my sight at once before I lose my temper and do something I will truly regret…like befoul myself by pushing my fist into your flabby, underdeveloped gut.”  Martin Luther gazed uncomprehending at Tam, a mixture of adoration, confusion, and fear muddying his features.  While he wasn’t entirely certain what it was that Tam was threatening him with — or why — he understood that Tam was upset about something, possibly something Martin Luther had done.  Could Marie have gotten to Tam?  Martin Luther had begun to deduce that The Doll was somehow getting to all of the other teens, one by one, and turning them all against him.  He had thought that Tam was beyond Marie’s insinuations, but clearly, he, too, despised Martin Luther.  Marie was winning…Martin Luther would be completely isolated all too soon.

“I see that the stuffing has made it to your brains as well,” Martin Luther remarked sadly to Tam before slowly heading back home.  Tam merely scowled, but, deep in the recesses of his dark mind, he had already begun to concoct a plan that would put the brazen twit in his place…all he needed was a large doll, perhaps some llama blood, and the help of those couthless ruffians that were led by Cameron Richards-Calvert…