“RYAN!” The angry voice was much louder this time—Ethan Alexis was just on the landing. Luke froze for several long moments. The door handle shook.
"DON'T YOU FUCK'N LOCK THE DOOR ON ME!" Ryan's father sounded drunk.
Luke launched himself into action, scrabbling for his clothes. Beside him, Ryan was moving just as fast and was already to pulling his underwear back on. Luke, his brain so numbed by panic. dithered as he couldn’t find his boxers.
Oh hell—where were they??
"Get in the bathroom!" Ryan hissed, the fear in his voice matching what showed on his face. He pushed Luke in that direction as, yet again, the Alexis banged violently at the door.
Naked, Luke scurried through the bathroom door. He didn’t have time to close the door behind him, and his stomach lurched as the bedroom door jamb splintered, giving way to a kick. He hid between the bathtub and the door trying to stay as still and as silent as possible.
"I told you t’get down here ’n move your fuck'n truck, ya—" Alexis froze, and through a crack between the door and the jamb, Luke could see Alexis’ hazy eyes fixed stare. The bottle of liquor in Ryan's father's hand hung low; it appeared to be nearly empty.
"What-the...?” Alexis paused and grunted. “What the fuck are you doing in your underwear, you little shit? Jerking off?!”
A look of anger crossed Ryan’s face. Though not in a such an obvious state of arousal as earlier, he still covered his groin with his hands. "For God's sake!" he shouted. "I'm getting changed!"
His father's lip twisted unpleasantly. "Fuck'n small dick, anyway! Goddammit, save yer fuckin hard-ons for real women, you…" Alexis shook his head and his laugh was cruel and dismissive as he turned to leave the room. At the door, he paused, lurching against the doorframe. He was staring towards the stairs, no doubt ready to lumber back down them to continue getting pissed.
Then his tone changed as he seemed to remember something, and he peered back in the room. "Wait a minute, you’re jerking off in—“
“I WASN’T jerking off!”
“—in your fucking girly boxers, and your dickhead friend is in the house? Where is that asshole?"
Alexis waved the liquor bottle, threateningly. “Luke—and don’t take that fucking tone with me!”
Luke could see Ryan struggling into his pants, his ears and face burning as he said, "He's not here."
Alexis frowned. The muddled look could either have been because he was crocked, or it was because he was confused…probably both. "You say he's not here?" His eyes lost some of their glaze and began flicking around the space, then came to rest on the bed.
"Why should he—" Ryan persisted, and then stopped, and Luke wondered if he'd also just realized the massive mistake he'd made.
Luke could see Alexis was studying the extra clothing on the bed, but he still seemed puzzled, not yet clear-headed enough to put two and two together.
“So why’s his car parked out front?” Alexis asked—and Luke realized he’d probably had to park next to it. Alexis pushed himself away from the doorway and began to wander the room; he peered into the bathroom but not behind the door while Ryan looked on, tight-lipped and frozen
“His car?” Ryan began to fumble. “I..he…”
Alexis pushed open the door to the closet with his toe. Peering into the empty space, his tone became a little soured. “I think I asked you a simple enough question… Where is he?”
“Just get the hell out of my room and leave me alone,” Ryan growled.
It was the wrong thing to say and the wrong tone to use. His father rounded on Ryan and grabbed him by the neck.
“Don’t you fucking talk to me like that!” Alexis barked. His mood darkened abruptly. “Stop goddamn lying and tell me where he is!”
Watching it all unfold before his eyes from behind the door, Luke was horrified. He was already aware that Ryan’s father was nasty, and even that he took his temper out on his son, but seeing it for what it really was…it was awful! At the same time, he couldn’t bear to watch anymore of it—and knew that if he did something, maybe he could make it stop. He stepped into view, standing at the bathroom door.
“Stop it! Please leave him alone. I'm just in here!”
Alexis’ head shot up in surprise. He stared towards the bathroom, and grunted, “What the FUCK? What the hell are you doing in there?”
“Nothing!" Luke swallowed, peering around the door. "I was…I was just…”
“He was just getting changed!” Ryan grabbed at Luke’s stumble and ran with it. “Just leave us alone. I’ll come and move my truck in a minute!”
Alexis didn’t seem to hear him, but instead pointed the liquor bottle at Luke.
“Get out here!” Luke didn’t move until Alexis added, “NOW!”
Luke edged out into the bedroom from beside the bathroom door, holding his hands in front of his groin. He might be soft now, but he was still naked..
“I was getting changed—“
Still hostile, Alexis, waved the remains of his drink at Luke’s protective hands. “Oh for Christ’s sake—I’m not a fucking queer! At least you’re more of a man than fancy-knickers, here!” He turned his antagonism on his son and pointed what Luke could now see was a whisky bottle at the purple boxers still peeking out the top of Ryan’s pants
He pointed Luke to the bed. “For God’s sake, get some fucking clothes on and get your wet towels down to the laund—“
Suddenly Alexis paused.
“You’ve been swimming?”
“Not yet.” “No.”
Luke and Ryan’s replies collided.
“We were about to go swimming,” Ryan said. He reached for his tee. “We changed our minds.”
Alexis frowned, then pushed past Luke, went into the bathroom, and looked around.
“You said you were getting changed…so where’s your stuff? Your swim stuff?" His eyes narrowed. "Why were you fucking hiding in here…naked?”
“I wasn’t hiding…It wasn’t like that…” Luke stuttered and flushed, and his eyes darted around. “I…I was just using the toilet.”
“Like HELL you were!” Flecks of spit flew from him mouth as he yelled. “There’s no toilet behind the door! Why were you hiding there?”
“Because he was SCARED!” Ryan said, raising his voice. ‘You just came and kicked my door down!”
Alexis scowled, but appeared to accept the explanation. “Bloody kids,” he muttered. “Just get your fucking clothes on, then, and get out of my house!”
"Luke...just go." Ryan said.
Luke didn’t need any encouragement to obey as fast as he could. Alexis stood over him, glowering as Luke pulled on his pants and tee shirt, stepped into his sneakers, grabbed his socks, and fled to the door. On the stairs, he could feel Alexis on his heels at every step.
At the bottom step, they were confronted by Ryan's mum. Beyond her, through the partly open front door, Luke glimpsed the freedom of the sunshine. He could just see to where Ryan's badly-parked truck was blocking access to the drive.
Standing in their path, blocking his escape, Helena demanded, "What in God's name is going on here?"
“This little—“ Alexis didn’t complete his expletive, “has outstayed his welcome.” He gave Luke a push. “I don’t want to see you back here again!”
Behind them on the stairs, Ryan was incensed. “You can’t tell me what friends I can have!”
“Ethan, what are you talking about? This is Luke!”
“I caught him hiding naked behind the door in Ryan’s bathroom while Ryan was in just his girly little undies.” The twisting sneer on Alexis lips was nasty. “Knowing him, he was probably jerking off!”
“Oh come on!” Alexis growled, the slurring tones reminding Luke how pissed the guy was. “You’re the one who pays for our boy to go to that prissy boys’ school! What the hell do you think goes on there? The place is full of fucking queers!”
There had been nothing in Alexis’ tone that actually indicated he knew what he was talking about or that any of it was anything more than a drunken outburst, but Luke still flushed with embarrassment.
Helena stared at Luke and then over at Ryan who only had on his tee shirt and pants. Her eyes widened and flicked back to Luke. the look in them appearing as though she’d just put two and two together…
There was a long, uncomfortable pause.
“What the hell…” Alexis swung round in front of Luke, and his mouth dropped as he studied Luke’s face, too, watching it burn redder by the moment. He stared, his eyes widening, and he made his own liquor-aided conclusions. “Oh my God! You’re not a fuck’n queer, are you?”
“What? No…no…it’s not like that…” Luke tried to back away, running into Ryan.
“ETHAN—you can’t talk like this! This is Luke!”
“I’m right, aren’t I, boy…" Alexis’ ignored his wife. His words were less slurry and his voice was becoming suffused with poisonous anger. He shoved Luke, who stumbled backwards. “You’re a fag and you were hiding behind the door of the bathroom, jerking off while watching my boy undress!”
“No!” Because it was so close to the truth, Luke’s tone had that incredulous sound to it. Still the look on Ethan’s face scared him and he spun and shuffled away, trying to put some distance between him and Ryan. Everything he did made him look more guilty, not less.
"Dad, PLEASE!" Ryan cried.
“You stay out of this.” Alexis waved a hand towards Ryan. “You don’t know what this is. I’ve seen perverts like this before."
“But we were getting ready to swim!” Luke muttered.
“You said that,” Alexis said, jabbing his finger into Luke’s chest, “but Ryan says you weren’t. So who’s lying? And if you were getting changed, where was your bathing suit? I don’t believe a word of it! You were peering through the crack in the door, watching him and jerking off!”
“ETHAN! STOP IT!”
“What were you doing!”
“I… I told you….”
“No you LIED to me!”
It seemed that Alexis suddenly changed his mind about throwing Luke out. He ignored his wife, elbowed past her and strode to the front door. Dropping his bottle on the hall table, he reached for the door, slammed and locked it and put the key in his pocket. Suddenly Luke got scared… really scared.
“I’m damn well going to get to the bottom of this!” Alexis strode back and pushed into Luke’s face, smelling of belligerence, stale cigarettes and alcohol fumes. "I deal with lying little shits like you all the time! I’ll ask you one last time—what were you doing up there?"
"I was changing my clothes to go swimming when you started pounding on the door."
Alexis suddenly reached out and grabbed Luke by the nape of his neck. "Lying bitch!”
“Get off me!” Luke squealed at the pinching pain. "I wasn't doing anything!"
"ETHAN, YOU’RE DRUNK! LET GO OF HIM!” Helena sounded completely shocked and tried to come to Luke’s aid, clawing at her husband’s grip on Luke's neck.
Alexis ignored her seeming to be lost in his own world. “Not fucking pissed enough not to know a flaming faggot when I see one! In there…now!” Abruptly, he dragged Luke away from the bottom of the stairs, and towards the kitchen. Helena pushed after them, still reaching for the grip on Luke's neck.
Still holding Luke in an agonizing grip as they reached the kitchen table, Alexis shook him and spat, “What have you got to say for yourself, fag?"
"I'm calling the police," Ryan cried, bursting through the door behind them. Ryan reached for the cordless phone that was kept in a wall mount.
“Put down the fucking phone—we’re going to get to the bottom of this!”
“No…you can’t do this…” Ryan started punching buttons.
“I said NO! What do THEY fucking know?” Alexis swung an arm at Ryan and swept the phone out of his hand. It went spinning away, bits flying off it as it hit a corner of one of the wooden cupboards.
Ryan stared at the broken pieces with incredulity. “You’re INSANE! You think they won’t find out about this?”
Alexis jabbed his finger at him. "I’m not warning you again—"
"Everybody calm down!" Helena looked frightened, too, but was making an attempt to get control of the situation. "ETHAN—what’s wrong with you?! You have to let go of the boy!! His parents…the police…you have to let him go! NOW!"
“You think I care about his fucking parents…or…or fucking anyone?” Alexis was becoming incoherent and Luke grimaced in renewed pain as strong fingers dug harder into his neck. “They think they can just piss on me after twenty years in the army? TWENTY FUCKING YEARS!"
Alexis didn’t seem to know the three of them were there, and to Luke, he wasn't even making sense. But, from nearby, Ryan cried, “Oh my God…I knew it!”
Ryan’s tone jumped many notches, and as realization struck him, he dove at his father and tried to prize his his fingers off Luke’s neck. "Get off him…it’s not his fault! LET HIM GO!"
“ENOUGH!” Alexis gave Ryan a massive shove that sent him crashing into the kitchen table and onto the floor, knocking a chair over in the process. The man pointed a wavering finger. “And that’s your LAST warning!”
Something seemed to give way in Ryan as he bounced straight back up and hurled himself towards his father. "I've had enough of your fucking warnings and beatings! Now get the fuck off my friend, or else!"
At last, Alexis let go of Luke's neck and swung towards Ryan. His twisted expression brimmed with hateful spite. "Or else? Or else what, you stupid little—"
Suddenly his right arm swept around, and he backhanded Ryan across the side of his face. Ryan’s head snapped to one side from a blow that was fierce enough to open up the cut on his mouth.
"STOP IT! DON'T HURT HIM!" Helena tried to push herself in front of Ryan, but Ryan was too enraged to stay behind her. Wiping away the blood, he elbowed her aside.
"You want another taste of that?" Alexis raised his fists like a boxer, reaching out with short, sharp jabs that kept Ryan reeling and unable to defend himself. Dazed, Ryan staggered, but stayed on his feet as Alexis drew back his arm yet again to continue the punishment.
"Stop it! STOP IT!" Helena was getting hysterical, still trying to get in the way.
Luke, quite overwhelmed by the violent outbreak, had been cowering to one side. But now, seeing Ryan taking such a beating, he launched himself forward, too, and tried to stay the blows. He had to do something! It might as well have been nothing, though, as without even turning, Alexis elbowed him so hard in the stomach, that he doubled over, gasping in pain, and staggered back against the wall.
This couldn't be happening!
"You fucking BASTARD!" Gaining his footing in the brief respite, Ryan shook the dazed look from his eyes. He wiped blood from his face that was ablaze with fury and stood his ground again. He started shouting. "That's all you do, isn't it...you beat up kids! You're fucking worthless! I HATE you, and if you want to know…if you hate 'fucking fairies' so much, then that's fine with me, 'cos I'm one, too!"
The room went still and Luke inwardly groaned. Weren't things bad enough already?
“No...no...no..." Helena held her head in her hands. She seemed to be in her own little world with just herself and Ryan. "Don't tell him that!"
The fists that Alexis had clenched dropped to his side, and his face gave way to surprise…and then confusion. His eyes flicked between Ryan and Helena.
"What did you say? He’s… fucking gay?”
Ryan was incensed enough that he didn't even seem to register the danger.
"Yes...you heard...FUCKING GAY!" He shouted at his father, repeating it as he spat in fury. "A fairy, a queer...call it what you FUCKING like. You're a BASTARD and I HATE you—I wish you were NEVER EVEN BORN! I HATE THIS FUCKING HOUSE! I've had ENOUGH! Luke and I are leaving and we're filing charges!"
Alexis reddened further at the outburst, but he didn’t immediately react. Instead, he seemed more focused on Helena than on his son. “You knew about this…you hid…this…?"
"Yes...I mean, no..." Helena seemed aghast at herself. Words continued to trip out of her, and Alexis’ face darkened as she floundered. She did know. How, Luke had no idea, but it was clear that she knew something. He used the distraction to try to edge around the man and towards the door.
“It was YOU!” Alexis pointed at his wife and then towards Luke, skewering him to the wall. “YOU and HIM that made him like this!”
Ryan looked taken aback, too, as though realizing what he'd just done. He spoke up urgently. "Mom! We have to go…all three of us! NOW! It's not safe here."
Abruptly, Alexis wheeled.
At first, Luke thought he was going to attack him again, and he ducked, holding up his arms defensively as Alexis moved towards him. But the man strode to where his uniform jacket rested at the far end of the table. He tossed the jacket aside and pulled his service weapon from the holster hanging on the arm of the chair. Pointing it at where Ryan stood, his voice was cold.
"Nobody's fucking going anywhere!"
Helena stared at the gun, then screamed.
Alexis spun towards her, cold, semi-drunk, and dangerous. "You stupid BITCH! No son of mine is going to be a FUCKING HOMO!"
With his father momentarily distracted, Ryan launched himself from the side. He managed to lock his hands onto the wrist of his father's gun arm. They tussled for several moments, banging into the table and chairs, but, though Luke knew Ryan was strong, he could see the boy was never going to be a match for his father. Alexis finally wrenched free, shoved Ryan away, then followed up, striking him across the side of the head with the barrel of the gun.
Ryan staggered, blood was streaming from a deep cut across his ear. He shouted, "LUKE…RUN! GET OUT OF HERE! CALL THE POLICE!"
Luke didn't need any extra encouragement. All he could think of was to get out of the house, but, as he turned to the door, Alexis spun around and lifted the weapon. Luke froze, trembling as he stared down the barrel.
Was Alexis actually going to shoot him? Kill him?
"NO!" Ryan threw himself forward again. He sounded petrified, but seemed to turn his fear into reckless desperation as he got in the way of the gun. Screaming, he battered at his father with his fists. For a moment, Alexis was wrong footed and put off balance. Ryan pushed him back by sheer determination, driving his fists into his father's face and stomach without letup.
Somehow he managed to send the gun flying across the floor. He screamed again, desperately, “MOM! RUN!”
But Alexis was made like a bull. Those hammering blows had to have hurt, but he shook them off, bellowing in rage. A right hook came out of nowhere and Ryan’s eyes rolled to the back of his head as the haymaker dropped him to the ground. He lay still as though dead.
“YOU LITTLE—” Alexis stood over the crumpled form, breathing heavily as he wiped his hand across his mouth, pausing to study the smears of blood on it.
Still poised over Ryan, he began to search the ground around himself, and seemed to be looking for where his gun had ended up after skidding off. He finally saw it, close to Helena’s feet. She hadn’t noticed it was there.
She was staring at Ryan’s unconscious form, and shock seemed to have robbed her of words. Slowly, she raised her eyes and met Alexis’. They started at each other for a long moment across the space between them as though still trying to comprehend what was happening. Their eyes were locked together, neither able to look away.
Then Helena blinked, as though coming out of a trance. Her eyes flicked down as she at last seemed to realize what was at her feet. As it dawned on her what she had to do, she stooped to reach for the weapon.
Luke screamed in his head for her to move faster.
If she could get hold of the gun, then just maybe…
However, Alexis moved faster than she did, and had years of combat experience to draw on. Even though he was drunk, he still reacted with the instinctive agility of a leopard. It looked like he’d already measured the threat, and even as the gun came up in his wife’s hand, he was surging across the kitchen to reach it. Luke's own body seemed made of lead. All he could do was stare in horror as the horrifying scene played out in slow motion before his eyes.
Before she could get her shaking fingers into the trigger, Alexis was on her. However, it wasn’t over. Even though they both had hold of the gun, something in Helena had snapped—or maybe it was actually a long-standing fracture that healed itself—and she seemed to gather herself. Luke had never thought much of the woman before, but her expression was fired by anger as she threw herself into the struggle. Suddenly armed with an animal-like instinct to protect her child, she found what looked like impossible strength. She screamed hysterically, and the couple crashed around the kitchen as she refused to let the gun go, even as blows rained on her as Alexis sought to tear himself—and the weapon—free.
At last, Luke kicked into action; he turned and ran.
He was already past the doorway when the gun went off, though, behind him, the screaming continued. The deafening discharge shocked him, and he cried out in fear, though he didn't look back or stop running. He rushed through the atrium and past the piano to reach the front door. He grabbed the handle and wrenched at it.
The door didn’t move. Twisting and turning the round handle, he pulled desperately, but it was locked. His head screamed in voiceless disappointment, as only then did he recall that Alexis had pocketed the key. Rapidly, he moved around the entrance area scanning the surroundings in the hope that there might be another key on a hook or on a table. Behind him, the shouting and sounds of crashing furniture was horrendous.
He had to get out!
He rushed back to the door again and after a futile moment of tearing at it with renewed terror, he looked desperately to see if there was a way to unlock it without a key. Then, another shot rang out, and all at once, the house turned deathly quiet.
As the second shot reverberated from the kitchen, Luke spun and pushed his back against the door. Trembling, he stared through the atrium and towards the kitchen. The angle was wrong to see in through the door, but at any moment he expected Alexis to come flying out after him. He was frozen, unable to deal with the fact that he was trapped in a house with a maniac—maybe worse, a murderer! He wanted to believe that the second gunshot was just into the wall or something...anything else was just too...
Shaking and trying not to cry out, he became hysterical. He spun and wrenched desperately at the door handle again, risking the noise of shaking it. His car—his way of escape—was so close, but the door was locked solidly with a deadlock, and the only key he'd seen was in that madman's pocket!
Luke spun again. Sounds continued to drift from the direction of the kitchen, and he strained his ears in an effort to hear what was being said, but it seemed that Alexis was having a conversation only with himself, muttering and cursing.
Coming to a decision, Luke abandoned his way of escape through the front of the house. Eyes feverishly darting to the piano and around the wide hallway, he searched for a place to hide.
There was nothing.
His body shaking from fear and adrenalin, he began to creep back the way he had come to the point where he could see into the kitchen. He had to bite his tongue to stop crying out as he saw Alexis hunched on bended legs over Ryan’s unconscious form. Alexis looked up, and he and Luke locked eyes, and Luke’s heart almost stopped as he knew he’d been seen. Alexis quickly stood, although he seemed to be content to ignore Luke. He moved and was then out of eyesight in another part of the kitchen.
Luke knew he couldn’t just stand there and wait. There was no way out through the front, and he didn’t dare go any nearer the kitchen, which he’d need to do to reach the door that led out to the back of the house.
There was only one other direction.