CHAPTER TWO - DARKEST BEFORE DAWN
One year later ...
They had buried his father almost a year ago. The seasons had changed from fall to winter to spring to summer to fall again. Sebastian pulled his motorcycle helmet out of his locker and adjusted his backpack higher on his shoulders. It was his senior year at Highmoor Prep and it was his birthday. He was turning nineteen, but he felt ancient. He'd missed so much school recovering and taking care of things that he'd had to redo his last year of high school.
His mother had survived the accident, but she wasn't herself anymore. She wasn't anyone. She didn't speak, nor did she feed herself, and until catheterized, she had accidents all the time. No one could tell him what was wrong with her. A catatonic state. The terrible trauma of the accident. Only one person, an elderly cleaning lady at the last facility she had stayed at last had said anything that stuck with him.
"She saw something," the woman had said as she mopped the floor outside his mother's hospital room.
"What?" he'd snapped. He was so sick and tired of sympathy but no real help and no real answers.
The old woman smoothed back the handkerchief she wore over her salt and pepper hair and looked up at him with rheumy black eyes. "She saw something she was not supposed to see. And so they silenced her."
Sebastian thrust the nonsense word out of his mine. It meant nothing. Something his father's dying brain had thrown up at the last moment. After all, it wasn't as if there were dragons on top of Easham Hill. They didn't exist. It was strange that his father should say something like that though. He wasn't a fanciful person. He was an engineer.
And in Hebrew, too.
"Who are they?" he'd asked the old woman, his voice challenging her. "Who do you think did this?"
She went back to mopping. He stared at her hard. His hands fisted at his sides. She was a crazy old woman. She didn't know anything. It was insane to think that she would have some insight into his mother's condition when none of the doctors did.
He wetted his lips and asked, "Does the word ... drakonim mean anything to you?"
She froze. The mop stilled in mid swipe. She raised wide, frightened eyes to his and crossed herself. Then she hobbled off down the hall, casting fearful backward glances at him. He hadn't gone after her even though part of him wanted to grab her by the arm and shake her, to demand why the word frightened her so.
He was drawn out of his thoughts when he caught sight of a clique of giggling girls walking past. They sauntered down the hall practically on top of one another past him. One of them waved at him with three fingers of her nail-polished hand. She blushed and turned her head to whisper into the girl's ear beside her. Dana Stevens, he thought her name was. He gave her a tight smile in return and closed his locker door. He slide the lock in place and clicked it shut. Even if he was interested in getting together with someone, Dana Stevens was simply the wrong gender. He was so over high school.
I'm a stranger in a strange land, he thought with a humorless laugh. Almost all the people he knew had graduated. Except for Steff and Ven. Thank god for them.
Steff was goth. She died her hair black and had it spiked up like a porcupine's. Her lips matched as did the thick black eyeliner she wore. Black, purple and crimson were the only colors in her wardrobe. She had more piercings than he wanted to know about. But though she dressed darkly, she was the most positive person he had ever met. They'd only be acquiantances before the accident, but afterward, when everyone seemed to draw away from him, unsure of what to say or do, she just showed up at his mother's hospital room with the biggest bunch of pink flowers he'd ever seen. She dragged Ven in behind her. He had given Sebastian an awkward wave from the doorway.
Ven wore one of those long black trenchcoats that made him seem like a school shooter in some parents' eyes. But he was a gentle giant at 6'5". The basketball coach had tried to get him to play, but Ven's coordination extended to not tripping over his own feet and that was only half the time. He was Steff's shadow. They had been going out since the seventh grade.
"Hey, Mrs. F! We've come to say hello!" Steff had said as she bounded into the bleak hospital room.
Sebastian had risen from the visitor's chair. He was about to tell her that his mother didn't respond to anyone, but Steff had caught his eye and he realized that she already knew. But that wasn't going to stop her. She placed the vase of flowers on the bedside table and perched on the bed itself. She took one of his mother's hands in hers. She was wearing black nailpolish that was chipped. Her nails were bitten to the quick and she had drawn skulls and crossbones in black ink over her fingers. But she was incredibly gentle as he stroked the back of his mother's hand.
"How are they treating you here? I bet the food is awful," Steff said.
She'd talked to his mother for over an hour. She told him later that she believed that his mother was a long way away from them, but maybe the sound of their voices would one day reach her.
"And she'll follow the sound, Bastian," she'd explained, shortening his name with affection. "Then maybe one day, she'll speak and be back with us."
Sebastian didn't know if he believed her. His mother's eyes were so empty. She was like an empty house. Her soul just wasn't there anymore.
It was soon after that that Sebastian had brought his mother home. The nursing facilities could do nothing for her. And when he'd found bedsores on her buttocks and the backs of her legs, he knew she'd die there if he didn't do something. He'd hired a woman named Mona Pretzka to look after her during the day while he was at school and then worked at Piero's Pizza at night for extra cash. Mona worked cheerfully and constantly chatted with his mother like Steff had. It didn't matter to her if Samantha answered back or not.
"I know what she means even when she does not speak with her mouth," Mona told him authoritatively, hands on her ample hips and with a jerky nod of her head that had the loose bun of dark black hair on top flop back and forth. She adjusted the pins, but the poof of hair simply wouldn't hold still.
He didn't know what he'd do without Mona. His grimaced and felt a pang in his stomach. He'd have to learn how to. They were almost out of cash.
He sighed and walked down the hallway towards the doors out of school. He hardly gave a passing glance at the other students in the hallway. He felt separated from the teens around him and it was more than just losing the year and those friends he had his age. It was as if there was this vast chasm between him and them. He didn't have time for the shit of high school politics anymore. Who was in. Who was out. Who was fucking who. Who wasn't fucking anyone. It was all pointless. Not when you had the responsibility of keeping a roof over your mother's head and food on the table. His father's life insurance and meagre savings were nearly depleted. The house was going to be foreclosed on. He had no idea what they were going to do. Things were so bleak that he hardly believed they could ever be different anymore.
He pushed through the doors and headed towards the school's parking lot. He kept his motorcycle on the far edge under a copse of trees in case it rained. It wasn't his bike. It had been Galen's for years. It was a sleek black 1992 Harley-Davidson Heritage with a curving chrome exhaust, three head lamps and a shiny tank. Galen had hardly riden it, only taking it out on the sunniest and driest of days, to tool around.
"It's not how good a driver you are, Sebastian, it's the other guys you have to worry about," Galen had said.
Sebastian felt his throat tighten as he thought of his father's words. He had never expected to die in a Toyota sedan, a safe car. But he had. Sebastian could still taste the fresh rainwater in his mouth from the crash. Every time it stormed he couldn't stand to hear the patter of rain. And he never went back up on Easham Hill.
He was so lost in his thoughts that he accidentally bumped shoulders with Christopher Gedeon. The dark haired boy whirled around to face him. His aristocratic features flushed as a scowl crossed his mouth.
"Watch where you're going!" he hissed. Christopher was a junior and a complete git. Yet he was adored by all the girls in school because of his too pretty features and slender body that looked good in the expensive clothes he wore.
Yeah, but I've seen what's underneath and it's nothing to write home about. All skin and bones. Sebastian grinned. He was pretty built himself. Steff said he looked like the actor Chris Pine. He considered the new Kirk hot as hell so he'd been pleasantly surprised to find out that at least Steff thought he looked like him.
"Sorry, didn't see you there," Sebastian said with a shrug.
Christopher's little brother, Beagan, who was a freshman that year gave him a thunderous look. "You did it on purpose!"
Sebastian tried not to sigh. The Gedeons were the wealthiest family for probably a hundred miles, maybe farther. They arrived to school in a limousine, gave wild parties where alcohol flowed freely, and spent money as if it were going out of style. Sebastian gritted his teeth as he realized that one of the Gedeon boys' allowances could make the difference for him. He could pay the mortgage and eat that month. He swallowed down the rage.
"I didn't do it on purpose, kid," he snapped. "I was distracted."
"You did! You did!" Beagan shouted.
At that moment, Steff and Ven sauntered up. Steff's mouth was already set into a deep frown. She hated the Gedeon brothers more than he did.
"What's the deal, Bastian? These two toads giving you trouble?" she asked, jerking her chin at the two other boys.
"Naw, not a problem," Sebastian said. He didn't need protection so much as he knew the Gedeon brothers would if Steff went after them like she'd wanted to for years.
Ven's normally placid expression, too, was darker as he took in the scene before him. He leaned protectively over Steff's much smaller frame.
"Who are you calling a toad? Look in the mirror lately? Actually, maybe if Ven gives you a kiss you'll be lucky to look half as good a toad!" Christopher sneered.
Steff threw back her head and laughed. "You're kidding right? If that's your idea of an insult, I would say all that tutoring you're getting is going to waste."
Christopher's lips pressed into a tight white line. He drew his jacket around himself. Suddenly a sly smile appeared on his pert face. "I'd best check to see if my wallet is still on me. Maybe the bastard lifted it. I mean look at that leather coat. It's so frayed, you'd think it should be in the scrap heap."
Sebastian let out an ugly laugh. This little fucker thought he could egg him on and not get beat down for it? He had never stolen a damned thing in his life! And the thought of taking anything from a Gedeon was abhorrent.
A group of Christopher's cronies began to gather in a circle around them like they were about to see a show. Their freshly-scrubbed faces were alight with interest. He saw Dana Stevens with her pack of girls watching on, her mouth opened in an 'o' of shock. Just when he thought he could get out of high school garbage he was dragged back in.
I'll give them a show all right. I'll bloody this little git's nose and make him eat his own tailored jacket!
He dropped his helmet to the ground. Steff slipped her backpack off her shoulders as well and looked ready to step into the fight.
Sebastian stepped up to Christopher. He loomed over the slender Gedeon and began pointing at the boy's chest. "Listen, you little --"
"What's going on here?" A deep masculine voice rose over the call of the crowd.
Everyone went silent. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as Sebastian turned his head to see who was talking. But he already knew. He'd know that voice anywhere even though the last time he'd heard it, he'd been nine. Fallon Gedeon had left Highmoor nearly a decade before, but he didn't look a day older. He was six foot two inches and built strongly. His broad shoulders dwarfed Sebastian's and made his brothers look like toothpicks. His long muscular legs were clad in tan pants. A dark blue sweater peeked from underneath his long camel-colored coat. His hair was dark brown with highlights of red and copper in it. But it was his eyes that had always drawn Sebastian's interest. They were a dark green flecked with gold.
Those eyes alighted upon Sebastian at that moment and a hot flush of shame heated his cheeks.
Fallon's voice was clipped as he said, "Someone needs to tell me this instant what is going on."