Title: The Monsters Are Due in Washington Square
Author: Lizbeth Marcs
Summary: Nothing’s the same after the monsters come to town.
Genre: Gen; Apoca-fic, dark fic, future fic
Series: Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel the Series
Characters: Xander, Faith, Willow, Angel, original characters
Pairings: Xander/OC; Xander/Faith (referred to in the past tense)
Warnings: Buffy and Angel comics are willfully and cheerfully ignored. Character (original character) death. Violence.
Author’s Note: Title inspired by The Twilight Zone episode, “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” written by series creator Rod Serling. Opening quote taken from The Twilight Zone episode, “Third from the Sun” written by Rod Serling. Story vaguely inspired by a mash-up of both “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” and “Third from the Sun”.
Disclaimer: Xander Harris, Faith Lehane, Willow Rosenberg, Angel, and all associated characters and organizations are the property of FOX and Mutant Enemy. Any mention of real life events and real people is not meant to imply that the people or incidents in question as they are used in the story have any relationship to reality. All original characters and the plot are mine. No payment was asked for or received in the writing of this story and no profit was earned. No copyright infringement on FOX or Mutant Enemy is intended.
Additional Media: Fanmix for The Monsters Are Due In Washington Square by krilymcc; Cover Art by tinylegacies is under the cut. Please give both people a big hand and some big love for their efforts.
Quitting time at the plant. Time for supper now. Time for families. Time for a cool drink on a porch. Time for the quiet rustle of leaf-laden trees that screen out the moon. And underneath it all, behind the eyes of the men, hanging invisible over the summer night, is a horror without words. For this is the stillness before the storm. This is the eve of the end. — Rod Serling, from the Twilight Zone episode, “Third from the Sun”
She pretends to sleep, but really she’s watching him through slit eyes.
Not that she can see much. His face is hidden in the shadows, so much so that for all she knows he might be sleeping.
She briefly thinks about quietly getting out of bed, sneaking to the door, inching it open, and escaping into the hall. Then she’d run and run and run and run…
Two things stop her from doing it.
First, she has no idea where she’d run to. She supposes she could always run back home, but if she did that they’d follow her and find her for sure. Maybe the worst thing they’d do is drag her back to him. Or maybe this time they’ll just kill her because she’s seen and heard too much and caused them too much trouble by running away.
Secondly, she’s pretty sure that he’s not really asleep. No one sitting that straight in a chair that looks like it’s about to fall apart with a sword resting across his knees could possibly be asleep.
Her hands clench into fists under the pillow. She momentarily freezes and wonders if he heard the sound of her hands against the sheets. After everything that’s happened, she has to think that it just might be possible.
Oh, God. She doesn’t even know what to call him anymore.
She closes her eyes tight and wonders how on earth she ended up here. Actually, she knows how she got here; it’s just that none of it makes any sense.
It was the voices that woke her up.
She blinked sleepily at the clock that read 1:11 and wondered why she dreamt about people having an argument.
That’s when she realized the voices were real and she wasn’t dreaming.
“…wasn’t I told?”
“Chris?” she sleepily mumbled. At least that voice sounded like her stepdad.
“Keep your voice down, dumbass,” came the softer reply.
Moira rubbed one eye with a fist as her sleepy brain tried to comprehend.
Chris said something in reply, but she couldn’t hear it.
She got out of bed with a groan. Chris and Mom rarely argued about anything, mostly because they were both so laid back. As for why they were arguing outside…
Whatever the problem, it must’ve been ginormous.
She shuffled to the window and looked out.
Chris was arguing with a woman all right, a woman who was most definitely not Mom.
The stranger was standing at the foot of the stairs with her arms crossed and glaring up the front steps. Even though the dark-haired woman was short, Moira thought she looked like the type of woman who’d kick the crap out of anyone who dissed her. Heck, she looked like the kind of woman who’d kick the crap out of anyone who even thought of dissing her.
“How nice of the Council to finally decide I told the truth.” That was definitely Chris’s voice and, wow, he sounded pissed.
A pissed-off Chris was so outside of Moira’s experience that she strained her neck to see if she could actually get a glimpse of him. He remained stubbornly out of sight. That meant he was under the overhang on the front porch.
The woman threw up her hands.
“And I should’ve been told about Buffy, Dawn, and Giles,” Chris added with a growl.
“Fuck, me. I told you why you weren’t.” She looked even angrier than Chris sounded. “Wasn’t like you could do shit about it anyway.”
Chris said something back, but Moira didn’t quite catch what he said.
There was a long silence where the mysterious, dark-haired woman seemed to be reacting to whatever Chris was doing. Although the woman’s face remained partially in shadows, Moira could see her posture relax.
“I know I keep piling it on,” she finally said, “but I thought I should warn you about what’s going down. I’m really sor—”
“A little late to say you’re sorry.” Chris’s voice was harsh and low.
“Hey, don’t take this out on me. I tried to back you,” the woman angrily said. “Problem is everything I knew was stuff you told me. I didn’t eyeball anything first-hand and I sure as hell didn’t have anything resembling proof. They weren’t about to listen to me. And if you think I didn’t pay for speaking up, think again.”
“You’re not the one who’s got a grave somewhere in California,” Chris snapped.
Moira blinked. Someone died? I wonder who, she thought.
That dark-haired woman held up her hands, almost like Chris was aiming a gun at her, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Chris disliked guns even more than Mom did, which meant that the house was a gun-free zone. Moira always thought that was odd, because Chris was a big archery nut so it wasn’t like he was philosophically opposed to weapons.
“Fine. That’s fair.” The woman dropped her hands. “But while we’re pointing fingers at each other about who fucked up the most, we’re losing sight of the important thing. You gotta think about your next step.”
“Oh, God. Katy and Moira.”
Moira felt a chill go down her spine.
This seemed to set off the dark-haired woman. “Yeah, well, you should’ve thought of that before you walked into their lives. What the hell were you thinking?”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“And you know better than to say shit like that to me,” the woman retorted.
Chris mumbled something that Moira didn’t quite catch.
The woman seemed to deflate just a little bit. “Yeah, we all had to sacrifice shit over the years, haven’t we? Guess I can’t really blame you for trying to get beyond it. Guess maybe I’m a little jealous you got that for awhile.”
“For all the good it does anyone right now,” Chris said.
“We don’t know that yet,” the woman quickly said.
Moira heard Chris laugh, but it wasn’t his normal happy-laugh. There was something in it that made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up.
“You’re probably right, but if you’re gonna be deluded you might as well go big, right?” The dark-haired woman didn’t sound any more amused than Chris’s laugh. She then pulled something out of her jacket pocket. “I gotta motor, but this is the message. You’ll get the full story then. If you’re lucky, it’ll hit the fan before it reaches here. But lucky or not, you’re gonna have to make some hard decisions.”
Moira frowned in puzzlement. What on earth was going on? It was clear to her that the dark-haired woman was delivering some kind of warning, one that involved her and Mom for sure. The problem was she couldn’t imagine Chris just standing there talking things over with someone if that were true. Chris tended to be Mr. Over-Protective sometimes, something that drove her crazy more than once.
Right now, though, she was kind of happy that was true. If Chris wasn’t running back into the house and waking up her and Mom to tell them that they were in trouble, then it probably meant that someone wasn’t going to murder them in their beds.
Chris finally stepped into view and took whatever it was the woman wanted to give him, which Moira’s now-awake brain registered as paper. Since his back was to her, she couldn’t see his expression as he unfolded it and read what it said.
“Seriously? You expect us to stay put until I meet Willow? After everything you just told me?” Holy crap, Chris was sounding pissed. Again.
“Keep your voice down,” the dark-haired woman ordered. “And yes, stay put. Running ain’t gonna do you any good. Way things are going right now it might even get them killed.”
Moira swallowed hard. Get who killed?
Chris turned away from the woman. Moira could see he was rubbing his face, but what he said in response was so muffled that she couldn’t understand him. Even so, she breathed a sigh of relief. If Chris wasn’t making like Paul Revere, then it probably meant that she and Mom were safe as houses.
Chris, on the other hand, was obviously in trouble. The real question was, “How much?”
“Smart move.” The dark-haired woman nodded at his back.
Chris looked up at the sky, but the shadows prevented Moira from reading his expression. “Just go, already.”
Without a word, the woman backed down the walk before she turned and disappeared into the darkness.
Chris stood in front of the house with his head down for a long time after that.
“Honey, I’m home!” Moira shouted as she walked through the front door.
“In here!” Chris shouted back from his and Mom’s bedroom.
Moira paused at the foot of the stairs and frowned. Chris was breaking with the usual schedule. She supposed that she shouldn’t be surprised after what she had witnessed, but she was hoping some alone time would give her a chance to ask him some questions.
She took a deep breath and thought. It was entirely possible that Mom was still at work. More than, actually. She’d still get that alone time and still get her chance to find out Chris’s deal.
Moira forced a smile on her face, and bounded up the stairs on into the master bedroom. “Usually you’re waiting for me with the archery equipment,” she somewhat breathlessly said. “It is Wednesday, right? Or it was last I checked. Aren’t we going to a shooting range today?”
Chris poked his head out of the cedar wood-lined closet. “Sorry, kiddo. I totally spaced.”
After what she witnessed last night, she just bet he did.
As Chris ducked back into the closet she stole up to the doorway and leaned against it. Out of sheer habit she traced the intricate knotted design Chris had carved on the inside of the door. He said he carved it in that spot where no one could see it unless they opened the door because he only wanted to share it with people he loved.
Chris could sometimes be a big ol’ sap. A weird, big ol’ sap, but still a sap.
Then again, she was kind of a sap too, so it all worked out in her favor stepdad-wise.
God, she loved this closet. Chris built it and carved the design in the door shortly after he married Mom. When she was a little kid, she’d crawl in there and hide in the dark. She’d sit there among the shoes and take deep breaths. It always smelled so good, and it always felt so safe. It was like her private fort where she could pretend to be anyone and do anything.
The best part was always when either Chris or her Mom would open the door and let in the light. Mom would always ask what she was doing in there.
Chris always understood why she was in the closet. Whenever he’d open the door, he’d look down at her with that grin of his and ask, “So, monkey, you defeating the bad guys yet?”
She always was and she always did, because nothing ever went wrong in the closet.
“Your mother’s putting in so many hours at work that I thought I’d surprise her and bring out the dreaded winter clothes. Try not to die of a heart attack,” Chris said as he hauled down the vacuum-packed sweaters from the top shelf. “So raincheck on our weekly archery session. We’ll do it tomorrow, ’kay?”
And just like that, Chris told her everything she needed to know about whether or not the two of them were alone. And because nothing bad ever happened in that cedar closet, Moira knew that she was never going to get a better chance to find if Chris was in trouble.
Chris straightened up and swiped the moisture from underneath his fake eye. “What’s wrong, monkey?”
Moira took a deep breath. She should probably start small and work her way up. “Who was that woman you were talking to last night?”
Chris blinked at her. He opened his mouth, and then shut it again.
Moira plunged forward. “Don’t say I was dreaming, because you woke me up.”
Chris cleared his throat and turned to haul down another vacuum-packed package of winter clothes. “She was someone I used to know who showed up out of the blue.”
“In the middle of the night?” Moira asked.
Chris dropped the package to the floor. “Yeah. I got nothing for that.”
She could feel her stomach get tight as she asked, “Was she an ex-girlfriend?”
Chris snorted, but he didn’t look at her.
Moira shuffled her feet as she said, “I guess that’s a yes.”
Chris finally turned to face her. “Ummmm, it’s not…what I mean is…it was…complicated?”
“So, on-again-off-again?” Moira asked. Why she was pushing this angle instead of the are-you-in-trouble angle, she didn’t know. Maybe it was because Chris never said much about his life before he met Mom. She knew he grew up in California and that he lost his real left eye and gained a glass left eye and a lot of scars in a car accident, but that was about it. If it weren’t for that bit of information, she’d swear that he didn’t actually have a past and instead had dropped right out of the sky and landed smack in the middle of Newport as a handyman for hire.
“Not even that.” Chris let out a puff of breath. “I used to travel a lot. So did she. We were in the same line or work, actually. Sometimes we’d cross paths. A little more than ‘occasionally,’ and a little less than ‘often’. If we happened to be in the same town…” He let the sentence trail off in a shrug.
Chris’s voice had his ‘do not want to talk about it’ tone.
Moira leaned against the doorframe and tried to picture Chris as some kind of world traveler who had a friend-with-benefits, but completely failed. He was Mr. Homebody-Plus, and always had been for as long as she could remember. “Why is she here?”
Chris gave her a sharp look, but his expression immediately softened. “She’s not begging me to take her back, if that’s what you’re worried about. She isn’t that kind of person, and we didn’t have that kind of relationship. Besides, we’re talking 12 years ago, give or take. This falls into the realm of ancient history.”
“Looked like she was giving you bad news.”
“Moira…” He ran a hand through his hair, and seemed to think better about whatever he was about to say. “If you really want to know, yeah, that’s why she was here. Three old friends of mine from back in the bad ol’ days died. They died a couple of months ago, in fact. She felt I needed to know.”
Oh. Mystery solved. That grave in California he mentioned was obviously referencing those old friends. She was relieved that it wasn’t anyone she knew. Yeah, she felt a little guilty about feeling relief, especially since the news seemed to upset Chris so much.
Then again, it seemed to her that he was upset about a lot of things last night.
“Are you in trouble?” Moira hated that her voice sounded so scratchy. “And don’t say no, because I heard you arguing with her.”
He seemed to deflate. “Honestly? I don’t know for sure, yet.”
“When are you telling Mom?” The ‘if’ wasn’t even a question in her mind.
“As soon as I know one way or the other, I’m going to have to,” Chris admitted. He looked like he didn’t want to admit it. “Moira, I hate to ask you to do this, but I need you to keep mum about this for now.”
Moira’s jaw dropped open.
He gave her a sad smile. “I know that sounds really bad, and believe me this could get a lot worse if I do anything before I get the full story. Please, I need some time. A couple of days, tops. As soon as I know everything, you and your Mom will know. I promise.”
Moira felt like she wanted to throw up. “I don’t like this.”
Chris reached out and pulled her into a hug. “I know. But I’ve never broken a promise to you or your Mom. I’m not going to start now.”
There’s the sound of a knock and she jumps out of bed with a scream.
“Shush,” he sharply hisses at her.
Her shaky knees give out and she plops back down on the edge of the bed. She must’ve fallen asleep after all, because she feels really out of it.
He’s halfway to the door with that sword in his hand before she even realizes that he’s moved.
“Yes?” his voice sounds low and growly, kind of like a mean junkyard dog.
He pauses and orders without looking at her, “Down on the ground between the beds. Now. If I tell you to run, you run. Understand?”
She stupidly nods and does as she’s told; although why she’s bothering to listen to him after everything that’s happened she doesn’t know.
She hears him take a deep breath before he opens the door.
“Mooo-ooom, you were talking for hours,” Moira complained as they left Cumberland Farms.
“I was talking for 5 minutes, you whiner,” Mom said as she playfully poked Moira’s shoulder.
“Mooo-ooom, stop it. You’re embarrassing me.”
Mom looked like she was trying to not roll her eyes. “C’mon, we have a couple more errands to run and then we’re home. I promise you can call all your friends and complain about what an uncool mother you have to your heart’s content.”
“I think you mean a dorky mother,” Moira pouted.
“Ahhh, that would be because I’m not letting you go that girl-boy party,” Mom cheerfully said as she unlocked the passenger side door.
“Are you going to change the battery in that remote, like ever?” Moira asked. “It’s got to be easier than unlocking the car door every time.”
This time Mom just sighed and leaned her head against the roof of the car.
“And yes, it is about you not letting me go to Joannie’s party,” Moira mumbled.
Mom stood up and began, “Honey, we talked about— Chris?”
“Hunh?” Moira asked.
“What on earth?” Mom asked under her breath as she stared down the block.
Moira followed her gaze and saw that Chris was talking to a woman with red hair in front of Tucker’s Bistro. The conversation looked pretty intense.
“Didn’t Chris tell us he was going to be in Bristol all day on a Saturday emergency for a client?” Mom asked.
“Unh-hunh,” Moira absently agreed as she frantically searched her memory. She was pretty sure that the woman she saw talking to Chris a few nights ago was a brunette, not to mention a lot tougher-looking. This woman looked a lot softer, although it could be because she was wearing a hippy-like flowing dress.
Chris had said he was meeting someone and this was a few days later. What was that name? Wendy? Wilma? Something like that.
Chris put his head in his hands.
The red-headed woman didn’t even hesitate. She immediately reached out and hugged Chris around the waist.
“Do you recognize her?” Mom asked.
“No,” Moira admitted just as Chris returned the hug and buried his nose in the red-headed woman’s hair.
“Honey, get in the car,” Mom ordered.
“But—” Moira began.
“Don’t argue,” her mother said shortly as she ran around the front of the car and fumbled to unlock the driver’s side door.
Moira tried again. “Mom, I think that—”
Mom’s head shot up. She looked furious. “I said now. Don’t argue.”
Moira gave up and did what she was told.
Chris still hadn’t come home by the time she went to bed at 10:30.
And he definitely hadn’t come home by the time she drifted off sometime after 11.
She knew Chris was home when she woke to the sound of her mother yelling at…
She checked the clock and groaned.
It was 3 in the morning!
Wait. Mom was yelling at Chris? She knew Mom was upset about Chris’s lie and seeing him with that red-headed woman today, but upset enough that she’d yell at him at the top of her lungs?
There was a loud crash and Moira froze.
What was going on? Either Mom threw something at Chris, or Chris threw something at Mom. That was scary to think about, especially since Mom and Chris weren’t even the type of people who had loud fights, let alone the type of people who’d throw things at one another just because they were mad.
Chris, at least she assumed it was Chris talking, said something in a low voice. Whatever he said set Mom off again in another round of yelling.
Moira chewed on a thumbnail as she tried to figure out what she should do. She supposed she could stay in her room and hide from whatever was going on downstairs. Then again if they were mad enough to throw things at each other, maybe she should go downstairs and show that they woke her up. If nothing else, it might get them to stop fighting.
She swallowed hard and forced herself out of bed, out of her bedroom, and down the stairs.
She made it all the way to the bottom, and managed to take a few steps into the living room besides, before either Mom or her Chris noticed her.
“Moira!” Mom shouted in the same tone she had used to yell at Chris.
“You woke me up,” Moira meekly said as she tried to puzzle out the scene in front of her.
There was Mom standing by the fireplace and pointing a wrought iron poker at Chris like she was about stab him with the pointy end. Chris was backed in a corner with his hands raised and hunkered like he was ready to run if Mom actually did attack him. The crash obviously came from the overturned end table and shattered lamp on the floor.
The only good thing in all of this is that it looked like the end table had been accidentally knocked over instead of thrown at someone.
“Moira?” Chris asked as he straightened up. “Are you alr—”
“You stay away from her!” Mom shouted as she ran across the room to grab Moira in a hug with her free arm. She kept the fireplace poker pointed in Chris’s general direction.
Chris put up his hands again. “I’m not—”
“You’re not a lot of things, but you are a whole bunch of other things, aren’t you?” Mom sounded like she was so angry that she could spit. “You lied to us!”
“Please, let me explain,” Chris begged.
“So you can lie some more?” Mom furiously asked as she pulled Moira toward the dining room.
“Mom, what’s going on?” Moira asked.
“Later. Much later,” Mom said through her teeth.
“Katy, there’s more I need to tell you,” Chris insisted as he carefully took a step forward.
Mom dropped the fireplace poker and reached across the front of Moira to pick-up the phone. “I have the police on speed-dial, which you know since you insisted on it. I want you out now! And no, you don’t get to pack some clothes. Take your coat and just go.”
Chris froze. “Look, we all need to calm down and take a few deep brea—”
“If you don’t walk out of this house right this second, I’m putting the call through.” Mom held up the phone, her thumb hovering over the speed dial button.
“Okay, okay, I’m leaving,” Chris said quietly. He kept his hands up as he edged toward his coat on the couch. “But we really need to talk, and soon. Your lives could be in danger.”
“Oh. So now you’re going to scare me into letting you stay. I don’t think so,” Mom angrily said.
“I’m not trying to scare anyone!” Chris protested.
“Out. Now. Don’t come back,” Mom said. “And if you try to get in contact with me or my daughter, you can bet my next call will be to the FBI. Wonder how much help I’ll get if I drop the name Alexander Harris.”
“Who?” Moira asked.
No one seemed to hear her.
Chris froze. “You wouldn’t.”
“Watch me,” Mom snarled.
Chris looked pale and worried as he stared at Mom.
“I’m dialing the police now,” Mom said as she pressed the speed dial button.
“You don’t have to. I’m leaving,” Chris quietly said as he snatched his coat from the couch and beat a hasty retreat.
Moira could hear the tiny sound of, “Hello? Hello?” from the phone as the front door slammed.
Mom put the phone to her ear. “Sorry. I pressed the wrong speed dial number,” she said in a hoarse voice.
Then she hung up.
“Mom, what happened?” Moira asked.
Mom put the phone in its cradle, but didn’t answer.
“Why did you throw Chris out?” Moira insisted.
Mom let out a shuddering breath as she spun around and grabbed Moira in a tight hug.
“Mom?” Moira gasped.
Then Mom began to cry.
“You can get back into bed. False alarm,” he says.
She thinks about staying where she is just to spite him, but the carpet is disgusting and she’s pretty sure there are things living under beds. Mice, cockroaches, and rats would be the nicer choices.
She reluctantly gets up, but instead of getting back under the covers she sits on the edge of her bed.
Crap. That dark-haired woman’s here and she looks just as mean as when she first saw her.
“You both look like holy hell,” the woman remarks as she drops a large Army surplus-sized duffle to the floor with one hand and holds up a large paper bag with the other. “I brought food. I went with a place that wasn’t serving ptomaine on a plate.”
He backs off from the woman. “Close the door.”
As the woman does as she’s told, she says, “You reek. Worse, you look like you reek.”
Actually, he looks like he was at the bad end of a beating. There’s a vivid red cut across his right cheek and a bruise is blossoming very nicely on the left cheek. His hands and his clothes are still covered blood. The knowledge that the blood belongs to someone else makes her want to scream and throw-up, pretty much in that order, just like the first time she saw him looking like this.
Just like the first time she saw him for what he was, but before she understood what it meant, she doesn’t scream or throw up. She clenches her jaw and glares at both of them.
The woman notices the death glare, despite the dim light in the room. “If looks could kill.”
He spins away from the woman to return to his chair. “Can’t blame her.”
“Nope. The way you look ain’t helping,” the woman says.
She wants to remind them both that “she” has a name and that “she” is in the room with them, but she doesn’t want to talk to either one of them. She concentrates on glaring at them instead.
“It’s been more than a day since we got the hell out of Dodge,” the woman says, “so I’m thinking shower time for you.”
“And who’s going to watch—”
“—for trouble? That would be me.” The woman holds out a hand. “Gimme the sword and take a shower. You show up at JFK looking like that, TSA will be all over your ass.”
She hates herself for curling forward. As much as she hates him right now, she has a feeling that the woman would probably kill her without even thinking about it if she breathed wrong.
He looks like he’s thinking about whether or not leaving her alone with that woman is a good idea.
She’s disappointed but not really surprised when he finally hands the woman the sword and again gets up from the chair.
Sunday morning breakfast had a ritual. Chris hunkered over the local news sections, Mom wielding the scissors over the coupons and bogarting the main section of the paper, and Moira reading the Sunday funnies and the entertainment section, in that order. Conversation mostly centered on what kind of family thing they’d be doing that day.
Without Chris, the ritual pretty much went out the window.
The Sunday paper was nowhere to be seen. Moira figured it was probably still out on the front stoop.
Instead of eggs, bacon, and toast, it was cold cereal and orange juice for her and a cup of coffee for Mom.
Instead of talking about going to the movies, or Roger Williams Park, or Narragansett Beach, or McCoy Stadium to catch the Pawtucket Red Sox, or the Providence Civic Center to watch the Providence Bruins, or maybe even heading up to Boston to hit the Science Museum or New England Aquarium, Mom just silently stared at her coffee.
Moira wanted to ask what had happened, but she was kind of afraid of the answer. If Mom had thrown Chris out because she thought he was cheating on her with that red-haired woman, Moira would have to find a way to convince her that she was wrong. The problem was that she’d have to admit to knowing something secret about Chris. After last night and seeing how Mom seemed ready to kill Chris with the fireplace poker, Moira was afraid to admit to anything. What if Mom started yelling and screaming at her the way she did Chris?
Moira knew on some level that it was a pretty stupid thing to worry about. After all, she confronted Chris — minus the yelling and the brandishing of pointy things — after she witnessed his argument with that dark-haired woman. Chris even answered her questions, sort of. And it was Chris that told her to keep his secret while promising that he would tell Mom once he knew what was going on. It wasn’t her fault if she believed him and went along with what he wanted.
Besides, maybe Mom threw Chris out not because she thought he was cheating on her with the redhead in the hippie clothes. Maybe Mom threw Chris out because he kept his promise and told Mom everything.
Moira wavered back and forth between saying something and keeping her mouth shut.
Luckily, Mom decided to talk first.
“You’re probably wondering what happened.” Mom sounded like she’d been crying all night. No surprise since Mom looked really awful, like sick-awful instead of crying-awful.
Moira nodded and waited.
“Chris…” Mom’s voice trailed off and she cleared her throat. “Chris has been lying to us. About everything.”
“Lying?” Moira asked. “Like, about what?”
“About everything,” Mom repeated again as she tapped the table with her fingertips.
That wasn’t the most helpful answer.
Moira dug into her cereal as she continued her silent debate about whether or not she should tell Mom everything she knew about Chris and his secrets.
“Honey, have you ever noticed anything odd about Chris?” Mom suddenly asked.
Moira just barely stopped herself from saying, Mom, Chris’s picture is in the dictionary next the definition of odd. She was pretty sure making a joke about Chris’s sometimes weird quirks wasn’t the way to go right now.
Instead, she asked, “Odd? In what way?”
Mom put her head in her hands. “I don’t know. Just…odd. Maybe…maybe…seeing him pace the front porch while he mutters to himself? Or throwing salt around the backyard as a joke? Or splashing bottled water on a windowsill and acting like it’s an accident? Anything like that?”
“You make him sound like he’s crazier than the usual,” Moita joked. She immediately sucked in her lips. Stupid, stupid, stupid, she thought.
Instead of jumping on her for making a bad joke like Moira expected, Mom just pinched her nose. “You’re right. You’re right. I’ve got to be imagining things. But the things he said…”
“What did he say?” Moira tremulously asked.
Mom blinked at her, like she had forgotten Moira was there. “I’m going about this the wrong way,” she finally said.
“Has Chris ever asked you to keep any secrets?” Mom asked.
Moira’s voice was caught in her throat.
“He has, hasn’t he?” Mom was obviously with-it enough to catch her delay in answering the question.
Busted, Moira thought. She was going to have to tell everything she knew. It was kind of a relief to have the decision taken out of her hands.
“I, ummm, see, he woke me up a few nights ago around 1 in the morning and…”
Mom stiffened. “What did he do to you?”
The question had come right out of the blue. “Do to me?” Moira asked.
“You said he woke you up. In the middle of the night, no less.” Mom’s hands clutched her coffee cup like she was getting ready to throw it.
Now Moira was really confused. “Hunh? What?”
Mom took a deep breath before saying, “Honey, I want you to know that I won’t be mad at you. I mean, I’m not mad. At you. But you really need to tell me. After he woke you up, what did he do or say to you?”
That’s when the light finally dawned. “Mom! You think Chris was perving on me? Seriously? I’ve known him since I was, like, 3 years-old.”
Mom let out her breath in a woosh and almost smiled.
“Besides, they tell us all about bad touch-good touch at school. Every year.” Moira knew she sounded angry. Well, yeah, she really was angry that Mom that would think that Chris could do something like that to her. “Not to mention you and Chris going over the whole bad touch-good touch thing. Don’t you’d think I’d tell you if Chris or anyone else tried to mess with me? Or, well, at least someone if that happened?”
“Okay, okay!” This time Mom actually did smile. “Message received. I wasn’t implying anything. I swear. I was only making sure that I wasn’t blind and flailing on the motherhood front on top of everything else. ”
Moira huffed a breath. “This is Chris we’re talking about.”
“I know, I know.” Mom shook her head and her smile disappeared. “Two days ago, the idea would’ve never even crossed my mind, but after last night I don’t know what to believe about him anymore.”
Moira was still so twisted around by the turn the conversation had taken, that she blurted, “What happened last night to get you all weirded out about him?”
Mom tapped the tabletop again and didn’t look Moira in the eyes. “Some things about his past, none of which makes any kind of sense. None of which can possibly be real.”
“Except for that Alexander thing you threatened him with,” Moira added.
Mom’s head snapped up. “What? How do you know about that?”
“You threatened to call the FBI and tell them about some guy named Alexander-something. Remember?” Moira asked.
“Were you there at that point?” Mom rubbed her face. “Oh. Wait. You weren’t there when he told me about…about…never mind. You were there after. Sorry, honey, I’m still trying to sort through everything. Reality is still a little soft and fuzzy around the edges.”
“Are you going to tell me?” Moira asked.
“Not right now. I have to figure out what’s real and what’s not first. As soon as I figure it out, I promise to tell you everything,” Mom said.
First Chris needing to figure stuff out before he told anyone what was going on with him, now Mom. It seemed to Moira that the adults were so busy trying to figure stuff out for themselves that they forgot to actually talk to anyone. Or, at least, talk to her.
“And you can start helping me figure out what’s really going on by telling me why Chris woke you up at 1 in the morning,” Mom said.
Moira cringed. “Oh. Yeah. Right. That.”
Mom took a deep breath, and said, “I’m waiting.”
There was no help for it. She’d have to tell everything she knew. She began with being woken up by the sound of voices in front of the house; seeing the dark-haired woman who didn’t look anything like the redhead they saw talking to Chris a few days later; her confronting Chris; the bits she was able to glean about Chris’s secret past based on what he told her; and the fact he swore her to secrecy until he figured out whether or not he was in any trouble.
Moira felt like it took hours for her to spill everything she knew. Through it all Mom’s eyes got bigger and bigger and her jaw slacker and slacker. She interrupted a few times to ask questions, but not nearly as often Moira expected she would.
When it was over, Mom rubbed her forehead like she had a headache.
“You’re not mad at me, are you?” Moira asked in a timid voice.
Mom let out a breath through her pursed lips. “Honestly? A little bit. You should have come to me right away.”
“But Chris promised he’d tell you everything,” Moira weakly protested. “I believed him.”
“And you’d have no reason not to believe him,” Mom quietly said. “I suppose I can’t blame you. If the same thing happened with my dad, I’d probably do the same thing.”
Moira barely remembered grandpa, since he died when she was 6. The only thing she could remember was that he lived in a nursing home and was sick all the time. Still, he must’ve been young and somewhat Chris-like once upon a time. “You would?”
“Yeah, I probably would.” Mom then gave her a Serious Look. “I want you to promise me something.”
“I want you to stay away from Chris.” Mom was now using her I’m-dead-serious voice. “Don’t try to find him, don’t try to contact him. If he approaches you at school or on the street, immediately find a responsible adult and tell them to call me. If you can’t find anyone, you call the police and stay on the line with them. Got it?”
“Why?” Moira asked. “You don’t seriously think Chris would do something to us, do you?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. Or maybe I hope he won’t. I just don’t know anymore,” Mom answered.
Newport wasn’t exactly a small town. On top of that, it was also a mini-tourist Mecca between the old mansions, the Cliff Walk, beaches, Fort Adams State Park, theaters, and the Newport Yacht Club.
However, it was small enough.
Moira knew when she walked into Thompson Middle on Monday that no one would know that Chris had been booted out of the house. That pretty much changed by Tuesday morning. By the end of the day Tuesday it seemed like it was common knowledge, despite the fact that she hadn’t breathed a word about what happened.
Right on schedule, really. She was kind of hoping she’d have longer than Tuesday, but she really wasn’t expecting it.
Things got really weird by Wednesday. That’s when wild rumors started getting back to her.
She heard that Chris was seen handing money to some brunette woman in front of the Motel 6 before the two of them walked into one of the rooms. She also heard that Chris was seen entering a different motel room with a redhead at the Best Western.
Moira wondered if it was the same dark-haired tough chick she had seen arguing with Chris and the same redhead she’d seen Chris talking to in front of Tucker’s Bistro.
The weirdest rumor of all, though, was the one where Chris was cruised by a tall, dark-haired man in the Marriott hotel bar. After a brief talk, Chris supposedly followed the man up to his room.
Moira couldn’t picture Chris in a bar. He avoided bars like the plague. Sure, she’d seen him with a beer in his hand, and sometimes a glass of wine, but only occasionally and only on special occasions. Then there was the whole getting cruised deal. As far as she knew, Chris wasn’t even bi, let alone gay.
That wasn’t even taking into account that Chris couldn’t possibly be at all three hotels at the same time. The Marriott was down by Long Warf, which was nowhere near the Best Western or Motel 6.
She suspected the rumors were probably someone in a rival clique who was trying to start trouble and make her feel more like crap than she already did. Her bet: Missy Ellington and her little toady Barbara Quinn.
The repeated rumors about Chris jumping into bed with anything that moved now that he was out of the house got to Moira so badly that she knew she had to get away. She pleaded stomach cramps in the middle of her last class of the day. Instead of going to the nurse’s office, she bailed completely and snuck out a side door.
As soon as she hit the outside air, she took off at a run as she angrily swiped tears from her eyes.
She hit the sidewalk in front of the school, and ran for a bus stop. Hopefully, she’d catch a city bus before school let out. The last thing she needed was for a school bus to drive by and have everyone see her waiting for the RIPTA, because then everyone would know that she’d heard the rumors and that they bothered her. School would quickly become all drama all the time if that happened.
Moira skidded to a halt and looked up. Chris was leaning against the trunk of a car she didn’t recognize with his arms folded. He looked like he hadn’t shaved, showered, or slept for days. As for the state of his clothes, it looked like he’d slept in them despite the fact they appeared clean.
If it was possible, he looked even worse than Mom did.
She had been distracted. She didn’t even see Chris until she was almost on top of him. When she later told Mom about what happened that was the excuse she used.
Of course, she had no excuse for what happened next.
“H-h-h-hey,” she stuttered.
Chris unfolded his arms and stood straight. “Can we talk?”
Moira looked behind her to see if anyone was watching before looking back at him. “Mom says I have to stay away from you.”
He seemed defeated as he nodded. “She tell you why?”
“Not exactly.” Moira took a step forward. “Chris, what’s going on?”
“Feel like a Del’s?” Chris suddenly asked.
“Are you going to answer my questions?” Moira asked.
“Yes,” Chris promised. He winced. “Well, mostly yes.”
Moira decided. “Mom might see us if you take me to Del’s.”
“Not if I take you to the one in Middleton.”
“Mom can’t see you driving me home,” Moira said.
“I’ll drop you off around the block.” Chris shuffled his feet. “Okay?”
Moira could practically feel the weight of her cell phone in her backpack. She knew what Mom wanted her to do, but she needed to do this for herself.
“Okay,” Moira agreed.
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