Warning: Mentions of child abuse & self-harm in this one.
Isaac shut off his alarm a minute before it would have sounded and slipped out of bed. He crept to the door and pulled it open enough he could listen for a moment. No sound came from the kitchen or living room. Or from his father’s bedroom down the other direction.
Good. The older man must still be sleeping after getting home from work. It was one thing Isaac liked about his father working this shift. If he could stay in the park most of the day, he only had to see his father for a few minutes before he left for work and he was still sleeping when Isaac slipped out of the house for the day.
After taking a shower and slipping into a shirt and pants, Isaac slid his bracelets onto his wrists, three on one hand, two on the other. The tips of his fingers brushed over the marks there, old scars, and he shivered a little. he pushed that feeling away, grabbed the small pack resting near his bedroom door, and headed out into the living room.
He stopped in the kitchen long enough to grab two granola bars, his breakfast and lunch, and head for the front door. Just as he reached it, his arm was yanked back. He barely kept from crying out and turned to look at his father. “I thought you were still sleeping.”
“So you thought you could just sneak out? I don’t think so.”
“I wasn’t sneaking,” Isaac said and instantly regretted it as his father’s grip on his arm tightened.
“Are you talking back to me, boy?”
“No, sir,” Isaac said, dropping his gaze to the floor. In these moments it was the only safe response.
And sometimes even that wasn’t enough.
Isaac snatched up his pack and walked as silently as he could down the hallway. He didn’t bother stopping in the kitchen today. He hadn’t taken a shower this morning either. Nothing that would risk waking his father before he got out of the house.
He had to get out today. The scars under his bracelets itched. He’d been so close to adding new ones the day before. He wasn’t completely sure what had stayed his hand. But, if he had to stay in this house another day with his father berating him, he wasn’t sure he’d make it.
He grabbed his shoes from beside the door, unlocked it, and stepped outside. He slipped on his shoes on the porch then hurried down the sidewalk. He glanced back once over his shoulder but the house remained dark and quiet. Good. It looked like he’d make it today.
He started to jog toward the park, but pain throbbed through his elbow, so he took it down to a quick walk, keeping his arm against his side. When he got to the park, it was still fairly quiet. There were some younger kids climbing on the playground equipment. He assumed it was their mother watching from a bench. He turned and headed away from that area, though, choosing a picnic table where he could see without being noticed too much.
He took a sketchpad out of his pack then drew out a couple pencils as well. He found a clean page in the book and put the tip of one pencil to it. He didn’t know how long he let his hand move over the page, sketching out the scene in front of him, shading in as he went. He’d put actual color to it later.
“Wow. That’s really good.”
Isaac’s hand jerked at the voice, the pencil scratching a line where he hadn’t meant for one. “Damn it,” he muttered, reaching for the eraser.
“Sorry,” the voice slightly behind him said. “I didn’t mean to startle you. I was just really impressed.”
Isaac finally put the eraser down. The line was faded even if not completely gone. A lot like his own scars. He turned to face the person who had come up behind him. And for a moment thought he lost all ability to speak himself.
The boy was beautiful. His skin was a light brown, not tanned but probably a sign of his Hispanic heritage. His eyes were dark, too, a dark, bitter chocolate. Isaac’s favorite kind, that his mother used to surprise him with when she could. His hair was nearly black, some of it falling into his face. Isaac’s fingers itched with the urge to turn the page and start sketching him. Then, the boy smiled, and it only made his face even more perfect.
“My name’s Jonas Pedera,” the kid said. “I think I’ve seen you around school. Aren’t you glad to be out for the summer?”
“Isaac Pollins,” he mumbled, not reaching for the kid’s outstretched hand. Isaac couldn’t believe Jonas actually recognized him. He did his best to blend into the background. He’d learned at an early age it was better to not be seen.
And Isaac doubted Jonas would believe the answer to his question. They’d only been out of school a little over a week, and Isaac was already counting down the days before they went back. His father couldn’t punish him for leaving the house to go to school.
Though he usually found another excuse for it.
Jonas was still smiling at him even though he’d dropped his hand to his side. Isaac finally averted his gaze from that beautiful face. He had to get out of here. If he got back to the house now, his dad might still be asleep and he wouldn’t get in any trouble. Or at least not as much.
He started pushing everything into his bag. “I’ve got to go,” he said, still not meeting Jonas’ eyes.
The other boy just watched him as he packed everything up. “I hope I’ll see you again,” Jonas said. “Will you be here tomorrow?”
“Maybe,” Isaac muttered. And he really wanted to be. He cringed when his elbow screamed as he threw on his pack and headed away. He saw Jonas furrow his brows but kept going. Maybe he could get back to the house without his father noticing.
But, his father was already waiting for him.
Five days. That was how long it had been since Isaac had been able to get to the park. He couldn’t risk leaving the house. If anyone had seen him, social services probably would have gotten called to the house again. And that would have only made matters worse.
So, he’d stayed in his room as much as he could. And now the bruises were fading. He probably shouldn’t risk it. His father’s anger was volatile lately. Maybe even more so than it had been right after his mother’s death. And it had been bad then.
But, he had to get out. Maybe he’d even get a chance to see Jonas again. That just might make it worth it. He’d sketched that face over and over, but it just wasn’t the same.
He stepped into the living room and saw his dad’s leg hanging over the end of the couch. He wasn’t working today which likely meant he’d drunk himself into a stupor as soon as he’d gotten home. It was the only time Isaac didn’t fear him, when he’d passed mean drunk right into unconsciousness.
He wouldn’t be waking up for a while. Hopefully when he did he wouldn’t notice Isaac was gone before he started drinking again.
Once Isaac reached the park, he couldn’t help looking around to see if Jonas was here again. No sign of him, though. Isaac shouldn’t feel so much disappointment at that. There was a group playing kickball in the field. he wondered if Jonas was with them. Part of him wanted to go and watch. But, he stayed at his table.
He was in the middle of sketching again when he heard him approach. He didn’t know how he knew it was Jonas, he hadn’t even heard him last time. But, he was smiling as he looked up. And watched as Jonas’ face fell.
“What happened?” Jonas asked as he dropped onto the bench beside Isaac. Then, he was reaching out to touch his cheek. “Who hurt you?”
Isaac dropped his gaze back to the table. “Nothing,” he said. He’d gotten good with that lie. Not that he was sure too many people believed it, but it came so easily now.
“If someone’s bothering you, you need to tell someone. My brother’s a cop-”
“No!” Isaac shouted before Jonas could say anymore. “You can’t say anything to him. You can’t.”
“Okay,” Jonas said, holding his hands up in front of him. “I won’t. But you should at least tell your dad, or someone else you trust. No one should get away with doing you like that.”
Isaac started laughing. And once he started, he couldn’t stop. Then, Jonas’ hand slid over his knee, and Isaac lifted his gaze to Jonas’. “You want me to tell me dad?” he said, still gasping from laughing so much. “You want me to tell my dad about my dad hitting me until I thought I was going to pass out.”
He saw Jonas’ face pale at that and wished he hadn’t said so much. And yet the words kept pouring out. “I’m sorry I don’t have a perfect family. No cop brother. Or a father who says he loves me every night like you.”
“My father’s dead,” Jonas said, his voice tight. “He was killed by a mugger ten years ago. My brother used to be in a gang, when he was even younger than me. And my mom was an addict, until she finally got clean shortly before meeting my dad and having my sister and me. So, no one has a perfect family, but no one should hurt you like that.”
Isaac told himself to move away from Jonas’s gentle fingers on his knee or the ones that grazed over his chin. But, he liked it too much. “You can’t tell anyone. It only makes it worse when they look into it then send me right back to him.”
Jonas’ gaze dropped, not promising to keep quiet. Then his fingers left Isaac’s skin, too. And Isaac looked down to see him pulling the sketchbook closer. “This is me,” he said as he flipped back through it. “A lot of me.”
Isaac felt his face warm and dropped his gaze again. Jonas reached out and lifted his chin. “It’s great,” he said. “You’re really talented.”
Isaac opened his mouth but everything he would say was tinged in his father’s voice. So, he shut it again. Jonas hand didn’t leave his chin, though. “Can I have one of them?” he asked.
Isaac nodded, not able to take his eyes off the other boy as he flipped through the pictures. He finally stopped at one, and Isaac found it hard to swallow. Once he had the image of Jonas in his head, he’d been able to transplant him into any situation. This was one he’d wanted to draw over and over.
“They look like they’re about to kiss,” Jonas said.
“It’s us,” Isaac managed to say. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have drawn that. You’re not-”
“I love it,” Jonas said. “I want this one. Can I have it?”
“Yes,” Isaac said without even thinking about it. Then, Jonas was moving even closer to him. He ran his thumb over Isaac’s jaw, and Isaac let out a long breath. Just like the picture he’d drawn, their mouth were only inches apart.
Before their lips could meet, though, there was a harsh yell from behind him. Jonas jerked back, but Isaac didn’t move. He recognized that voice. “I need to go,” he said, reaching for the sketchpad. He ripped out the picture and shoved it at Jonas.
Jonas reached out for his arm. “Just wait. Why don’t you come home with me. My mom won’t mind if you stay for dinner.”
Isaac wanted to. He so did. But, he knew better. “I can’t. The longer I wait, the worse it will be.”
Jonas snatched one of the pencils before Isaac could put it away. He ripped the corner off the sketch and scribbled something on it. “Call me,” he said. “Let me know you’re okay.”
He put the paper in the bag with everything else but didn’t make any promises.
Isaac sat in the middle of the bed, staring at the small piece of paper in his trembling fingers. His father had shoved him around a few times, but he’d managed to escape to his room without too much damage. He’d heard a lot of swearing and things crashing around in the living room, but other than shouting curses and slurs his way, his father had left him alone. And now it was quiet again.
Isaac picked up his phone and dialed the number on the paper. “Isaac?” the voice on the other end said. “Is that you.”
“Yeah, Jonas,” he said.
“Are you okay? I’ve been so worried. Did he hurt you?”
“No.” It wasn’t the complete truth, but Jonas didn’t need to know that. “And I think he’s passed out now. He won’t be awake until morning.”
Isaac could hear the breath Jonas blew out. “You could still come over,” Jonas said. “My mom won’t mind setting another plate out for dinner.”
“I’m not worth that,” he said quietly. Even though he knew it was his father’s words he was repeating. Useless. Worthless. A waste of space. Better off dead. And those were the kinder things he’d said.
“Disparates.” Jonas said and made Isaac laugh, even though he wasn’t quite sure what the other boy had said. “You are worth it. Please come over. I’ll send you the address.”
Isaac ran his fingers over his knee, the same spot Jonas had touched earlier. “Okay,” he said softly. Because for once he didn’t feel like all those things his father said he was. He might pay for it later, but Jonas actually seemed to like him. So he wasn’t going to let his fear of his father keep him from seeing what could be there.
He just really hoped it was worth it.
Today’s Story a Day prompt was to write a story with a Cinderella story structure. When I was trying to figure out what to use for this one, Isaac started speaking to me. he showed up in one of my other novels, after him and Jonas met. So, this is going back before that. I may end up writing more of their story once they grow up a bit(I don’t really write much YA).