I wish I knew the reasons. I wish I knew why. When it started, why it started. I slaved over that, agonized even. Who and how, those are all I'll ever have.
It began at the age of six, sometime in nineteen ninety-eight. My mom never married my father, and every time I think of it I hear a sheepish giggle in the back of my mind. They weren't good for each other; neither of them good for me either.
She did marry my sister Leah's father, I liked him. For the most part. Wes was an ex-marine, tight-lipped and stern and he wore a serious face beneath his eyeglasses. I remember he would force Leah and me to eat our uneaten vegetables from the night before for breakfast.
On off weekends he would take us both up to Boston; his mother lived there. We called her Nana and she would yell at us for trying to sneak Oreos from a blue metallic tin she kept in a drawer in the kitchen. Us being Leah, me, and Leah's half-brother Riley-he was always there. I would usually find him in the living room, watching one of those Ronald McDonald VHS' on an old, clunky box Nana called a television.
"Play nice," Wes would say, fixing his bifocals to the bridge of his nose. "I'm goin' to take a nap." Nana scuffles through the hallway, both of them make eye contact-he'd grunt and vanish up the stairs. Thinking on it now I don't recall Nana and him really speaking much, but that's just how they were. Just how I thought Riley was just how he was. He seemed average on the outside, videogames, Ronald McDonald, cars. But he got quieter when he was seven. He wouldn't share with Leah and Nana would always yell at him, even hit him-but I saw no glimpse of fear in him at all.
"Help me find something in the closet" he said. It was the afternoon-or was it night time? He still had on his pajamas, white with something on them. Like trucks or trains.
"Okay." I say, and follow him into the dark.
He locks the door shut behind him, I whip my head around in hear of the sound but he called to me and found my hand in the black. A faint whisper of "Touch me" tiptoed through stale blackness as I could no longer feel the warmth of his palm, but the warmth of something else.
I heard Nana erupt from the other side of the door just then. "Where the hell are you kids?!"
Riley clamped his hand over mine, forcing my grip around him though I manage to pull away. I hear him slip on his pajama pants, the ones with the trains and I pretend to fuddle through the mound of toys at my feet. Nana slings the door open and reprimands us for locking ourselves in. I didn't lock that door.
Where was Leah?
The year must have ended because Riley's birthday was in March-that's when Leah and I saw him again. She ran straight in, greeting Nana and asking for chocolate cookies to which Nana shrugged off and said no. I expected her to whine a little like at home, but not at Nana's.
No one else came to wish Riley a happy birthday, not even his mom. It was then I realized he didn't live with her. A little twinge of guilt poured over me and I took back all the thoughts of not wanting to be around him. What if he just wanted to me my friend? I found him again after Wes handed him some Super Nintendo game, the corners of his lips pulling downward and his eyes sunken in on either side of his nose.
"Happy birthday." I choked, curling my lips into what I thought was a smile. Whether it looked genuine is something I'll never know.
"Thanks." He said plainly.
"…Do you wanna play?" I ask, my fingers twisted, entwining with each other, the same way my stomach would later on.
"Yeah." His eyes seemed to go from lightless to deviant, except back then the only word I seemed to manage was "creepy".
It wasn't in his bedroom this time. Leah was in there I think. Probably playing Super Nintendo. A loud buzzing came from the basement and Nana went downstairs to get laundry. I think Riley wanted it that way. Alone.
"This way." He beckoned, grabbing my arm and we were under Nana's bed. It smelled like dust and baby powder, like the rest of her room. Riley's free hand was suddenly full but I could only make out the sounds of a cellophane bag crinkling behind him. Pulling it in between us, I make out the orange reflection against the eggshell paint on the wall behind us. Cheese curls.
"These are delicious." I say, dunking my hand into the infinite bag of curls loaded with cheddar. Riley stops me.
"We're playing a game, remember?" He smiles at me, carefully placing one between his teeth. "You're s'posed to eat as much as you can." He breathes, tiny speckles of cheddar dust get on his jeans. I want to go home, I don't want cheese curls anymore. I hate birthday parties. I rock back on my elbows, wanting to shuffle away. Wanting to move. Where is Nana? Why does Leah have to play Super Nintendo?
I bit down on my end of the cheese curl, unmoving. Riley looked straight at me, chestnut orbs burning my face with a stone stare. He advanced, a rhythmic crunching that seemed to propel him closer to me. I could feel his breath on my upper lip, his tongue parting them both. My face torched and I shoved him hard enough to hit the bed post behind him. I searched his face, wanting to find any sign. Anything to tell me what we were doing was wrong. I didn't find it.
Nana trudged up the stone steps from the cellar, a mesh hamper in tow, clicking the quaint door closed behind her I jolted up and away from Riley, and wiggling out from under her mattress.
Wes divorces my mom in nineteen ninety-nine, he says she was terrible at paying attention to us and didn't understand discipline. She decides a better life awaits us in Tampa, Florida. We traveled there by car and mom has an old friend, Audra who has been living there for three years already and for us thinks it's "a perfect fit".