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Wild Card Ch. 03

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Chapter Three — Whatever Cory Wants

Dusk stole over the roofs and treetops. The stark tree branches etched into the shades of pink and orange that broke over the horizon, painting the clouds before bleeding back into the dark. Sounds of life rose despite the chill in the air—the rustle and call of winter birds, the foraging and chittering of squirrels—all echoing in the light morning fog.

The newly dawning day was a poetically beautiful sight, but I was too occupied to appreciate it.

Instead, I contemplated my truck.

Somehow, I believed that by not unpacking, I could escape the necessity of figuring out where all the pieces of my life had fallen—at least the ones that hadn’t slipped through my fingers. But, there was only so much sleeping I could do—at some point, lethargy and inaction become impossible to sustain. Sometime before dawn, I had slipped out of bed to enjoy some quiet before Efrain forced me to eat or nagged me again to call my friends, and my feet had dragged me into to the kitchen where I automatically set a pot of coffee on to brew.

As the familiar morning scents filled the kitchen, I stared out the window over the sink. The fog was thin enough that I could make out the shapes of other houses, but those shapes only served to put mine and Efrain’s vehicles in focus, making it impossible to stare into space. No matter how much I tried to not see it, the fluttering of blue tarp kept drawing my eyes to the driveway. Eventually, I found myself standing in the cold morning air, staring at my truck as the sun came up.

I recalled some of what I’d packed in my flight from Texas, but some things under that blue tarp were a mystery. In my haste to leave, I had grabbed blindly, only stopping to consider what I was packing when I realized I couldn’t take it all. I couldn’t be certain what percentage of my whole life rested in the bed of my truck, or which of the things that I’d been forced to leave behind I wouldn’t be able to live without, or what would happen to those abandoned parts. It was entirely possible that my things were now sitting on the curb, waiting for garbage pick-up. Pieces of my childhood could be laying in some unknown Texas landfill before the day ended.

So, what parts of me weren’t trash? What parts had been saved? Were they the worthwhile ones, or were the remains of my life just useless junk? Question piled upon question as I stared at the truck, waiting for the weight of those questions to overpower my fear of their answers. My body took over as my mind warred with itself, closing the distance between myself and the truck bed. I pulled loose the cables and let the tarp fall over the side to reveal what I had stashed there three days ago.

Slowly, I lifted a storage tub and carted it into the living room before going back for another. Once I had the bed emptied, I grabbed my keys and started on the cab. I had used any bag I could find to pack things up, resorting to garbage bags at one point, and just chucking things in the back toward the end. Loose items were loaded into laundry baskets from the basement until I had everything laid out in the living room.

One-by-one, I looked through the boxes, making a mental catalogue of everything I’d recovered. In one bin, I found my homecoming mums packed in small boxes under a stack of old football and soccer jerseys. Some of my old athletic gear was in another. Would have traded both to have the rest of my Mexican lanterns, but I considered myself lucky to get at least one box of them. I had most of my books, some of my old pictures, and more shoes that I didn’t really need (but was glad to have). As I had recently packed them, I knew what was in the bags, but still found myself going through them.

That was when I stumbled upon my unopened Christmas presents.

Now that I thought about it, it seemed childish to go back for my presents, but I knew there’d be money in some of them, which I was going to need since I only had myself to rely on. I pulled the gifts out of Cameron’s duffle bag and stacked them next to me. Out of habit, I found a notebook and a pen to list out who gave me what. My mother wouldn’t be around to die of shame if I never sent out thank you notes, but it wouldn’t hurt to keep up the practice.

As I thought, Uncle Johnny, my mom’s mother, and a few others, sent me some of those credit card gift cards. Aunt Mary made me a beanie with matching scarf and gloves. One of my Dad’s friends gave me a wallet, and I got some books from the Wrathburns. Mom and Dad gave me a watch. I added them to my list, even though I didn’t think they’d accept a card from me, regardless of the purpose.

I wondered if they’d even bothered to open what I had left under the tree for them.

~*~*~*~

Our bed was half-empty and cold when I woke up. Cory’d been sleeping rather soundly when I undressed and crawled back in bed with him, rousing only to snuggle closer when I spooned up behind him. However, the guy had been Belek escort asleep for almost two days in a row, while I’d barely scraped together one decent night’s sleep. I shouldn’t have been surprised that he was up and about long before I was.

He’d picked up his clothes at some point, either putting them back on or throwing them in the hamper, but there was no other sign of him in the room. I listened, trying to figure out where he was or what he was doing, but heard nothing. Yet again, I found myself needing to go out to find my boyfriend. I slid out of bed and slipped on sweats and t-shirt. The room was comfortably warm, but the hardwood floors were cold as fuck, so I nabbed some socks before shuffling out of the room and following the scent of coffee into the kitchen.

Cory had put on a pot, probably when he woke up, which was fucking awesome because I needed the caffeine. I assumed that he’d only been awake for a little while since the pot was full, but the coffee was ice cold when I poured a cup. I know for a fact that the coffee maker stays on for at least two hours after it brews, so this pot had to be way older than that. I still drank it (because cold coffee is still coffee, and I was half-asleep), but poured out the rest and set up a new pot. While fresh coffee brewed, I rubbed sleep from my eyes and tried to clear out my foggy brain enough to calculate how long Cory had to have been out of bed. I stifled a yawn and gave up, deeming it too fucking early for timelines.

As I waited, I caught a flutter of blue outside the window. The tarp that had been over the truck now hung loose over the side, the stretch cables used to tie it down were left on the ground. The boxes and bins, as well as most of the items in the cab, were gone. I cursed. If he’d left the front door unlocked, he may have done the same for his truck.

“Cory?” I called, but received no answer. I at least found him when I made it to the living room, and solved the empty truck issue. He really had gotten an early start to the morning. Half-a-dozen boxes and bins with his name on them in a woman’s neat and flowery script, along with the couple trash bags I saw last night, formed a semicircle on the living room floor. He’d nabbed the laundry baskets out of the basement to bring in all the odds and ends he’d crammed in. The guy even had time to riffle through everything, as a considerable amount from each container spilled out onto the floor. Strings of tin star lanterns, shoes, clothes, bedding, sports equipment, books, old football and soccer jerseys.

In the middle of all that sat Cory Indian-style with his back against an old duffle bag with “Cameron C.” stitched on the side. He’d pulled a beanie with a Fair Isle pattern done in our school colors, Chicago maroon and burnt orange, over his hair and had the matching scarf around his neck. Neat little stacks of greeting cards and gift cards on his left contrasted with the messy heap of ripped envelopes and Christmas wrapping paper on his right. Other things, like gloves that matched his hat and scarf, a Fossil watch case, and a new leather wallet, laid in front of him. He’d even located his cellphone.

I don’t think he really saw any of it, though. I couldn’t even be sure that he noticed I was in the room with him. He just sat there, messing with the fringe on his scarf and staring into space.

I set my coffee on a side table and crouched down in front of him. “You with me, man?”

“Huh?” He stared at me blankly, then shook his head. “Sorry, just thinking.”

“About?” I asked. He lifted the book he had open in his lap to show me the cover. “Modern Fables?”

“The couple I volunteered for gave me some books for Christmas,” he said. “Mr. Wrathburn used to help me with my AP Lit work. I think that’s the only reason I scored a four on that exam.”

“I see,” I said. I looked at the page he’d had open. “Humpty Dumpty?”

He shrugged. “Was kinda thinking that it was weird that everyone thinks he’s an egg. Ya know? Like maybe it’s just a guy, and he’s on the wall, then he falls and splat! But, you can’t put a guy with his brains all on the sidewalk in a children’s book, so you make it an egg.”

I nodded, unsure of how to react.

“But, then I got to thinking,” he continued. “Why is he on the wall and why does he fall down? Was he pushed, or was he suicidal? Why doesn’t anyone think about that?”

“How long has that been going on?”

“I don’t know,” he said, his tone empty. “It was still dark out when I woke up, but I couldn’t get back to sleep. Thought it was good a time as any to unload the truck.”

“I was wondering about that,” I said.

“I was just grabbing things when I left, so I wasn’t sure what I packed. Still have a lot back at my parents’, but I’ll deal. I forgot that I stole my Christmas presents before I took off.”

“That took some balls,” I said.

“Decided to open them.”

“I can see that.”

Cory grunted in acknowledgement.

“That Belek escort bayan mean you’re holding up better?”

“I think so,” he said, unaware of how unconvincing he sounded.

“Hey, there’s an upside to this,” I said.

He gave me a strange look.

“You’re mine now, and I don’t have to let you go for the holidays ever again.”

“There is that,” he said.

“So, unpacking and staring into space all morning?” I prompted.

“Was taking stock of what all I have. The truck and my insurance are in my name, so my parents can’t take that. I took their names off my bank account and credit card a few months back, so they can’t cut off my finances.” He looked down at his knee where one end of his scarf rested and started picking at the fringe. “I have enough in scholarships and grants that I can make it on my own. Might have to get a job or something during the off-season. I can handle that.”

“You got me, gatito,” I said, straddling his lap and tilting up his chin. “So none of this ‘on my own’ shit, alright?” He nodded, closing his eyes as if trying to hide how they watered up. I held his face between my hands before he could turn away. “Also, if it comes to it, I’ll help you out.” His arms wrapped around me as I brushed a handful of kisses across his lips. “Just, don’t disappear on me again. Please?”

“Sorry,” he said, his lip trembling.

And then, I found myself doing something that would have sent my ass running if another guy pulled it on me—I rubbed noses with him.

Fucking Eskimo-goddamn-kisses.

All while brushing tears off his cheeks. I don’t think I had anymore barriers that this guy wasn’t going to run roughshod over, but the really scary thought was how little I minded the invasion. I let him press his face into my chest and ran my hands through his hair while he composed himself. There may have also been some kisses on the top of his head.

“We should get out of here,” I said, silently adding “before I do anymore cutesy crap and they revoke my ‘man card'”. Cory nodded against my chest. “Do something to take your mind off stuff.” I stroked over his back, and contented hums started cropping up between sniffles. He still wasn’t sobbing or puking his guts out, so I considered it a vast improvement over last night. “Could start with food. Then maybe…” I cast my eyes around the room for ideas before I noticed the bin of sports equipment. “Hey, you were going to play intramural soccer with Gio this semester, right?”

He gave me a muffled “Uh huh.”

“Maybe I could sign up with you,” I said.

“I’m not sure…”

“Come on, it’ll be great. You could coach me, and I’ll get mad skills. Then you, me, and Zoe can team up against Juaquin and Eric when we go back for Easter,” I told him.

He gave me a skeptical look.

“You can’t tell me handing my brother his own ass again wouldn’t be fucking awesome.”

“Fine,” he sighed.

“Let’s go then,” I said, getting up off his lap and reaching down to pull him up with me.

“Why?”

“I need you to help me pick out cleats.”

~*~*~*~

Here’s the thing I never got—why do they always have big box pet and athletic stores in the same plaza? Do they sign up together or something? Do people really need to buy shit for their pets and athletic crap at the same time that often?

Cory had allowed me to drag him into the shower and into a change of clothes, and had limped along with me as we grabbed something quick to eat. He even stayed with me enough to help me pick out soccer cleats, and a decent pair of indoor soccer shoes just in case. We’d discovered that he’d brought back more soccer equipment than he originally intended, so I didn’t need to get shin guards, but we both needed to pick up some socks to go over them. I even convinced him to buy a few things for himself with his gift cards, reasoning that the givers would’ve wanted him to treat himself.

“You might want to shave your legs,” Cory told me as we left the store.

“Come again?”

“I never had to because my leg hair’s not that bad,” he said. “But, the other guys used to. Said the socks and shin guards pulled the fuck out of their hair, and that it was just easier to shave.” He shrugged.

I trailed behind him, trying to remember whether or not Juaquin shaved. Not that I really paid attention to my brother’s fucking bowlegs, but they did look kinda silky smooth during soccer season.

This was going to suck, but my boy was still too fucking morose for me to go back on my promise. Maybe I could wear pants until the end of the season. Or, go full cholo with some knee-high socks if I really had to wear shorts.

Just as I was thinking of some way of asking Preston how to not look like a bitch until my leg hair grew back in without him coming up with another stupid nickname for me, Cory stopped in the middle of the sidewalk in front of the PetPlanet.

“Cats,” he said.

“What about cats?” Escort Belek I noticed him studying the sandwich board advertising an adoption and fundraising event.

“Cats will make me happy,” he said, and wandered on into the store.

Great.

I followed him into the chaos. In the warmer months, these kinds of events would crop up in the parking lot. However, the winter weather had forced everyone inside. The fish and small pet sections were fine, but the rest of the store had been taken over by several adoption and rescue organizations. The dog agencies had their charges in pens in the front of the store and throughout the expansive dog section. The cat agencies took up the large aisle between the hamster cages and the cat grooming supplies, with a couple others in the back.

Thankfully, Cory bypassed the crowds of squealing children and noisy animals, finding a quieter corner of the store, where space had been allotted for “Tom and Queen’s Haven”. Cages of kittens and cats had been lined up on the foldout tables, with an attractive guy in his mid-to-late forties and a couple volunteers tending to them. Something about the man’s face looked familiar, but I couldn’t place it. I was beginning to think it was all in my head, until he gave a surprised start when Cory drifted by the cage he’d been straightening. His eyes went even wider and he laughed when he saw me following behind. But, I still couldn’t recognize the guy, let alone where I’d know him from. One of the school alumni, maybe?

Fortunately, the man didn’t force me to come up with a name.

“Jimmy Douglas,” he said, extending his hand with a huge smile plastered on his face.

“Efrain Garza,” I answered, shaking his hand. He tilted his head toward my boyfriend, whose attention was already fixed on a cage full of fluffy tabbies. “Cory Card,” I supplied.

“Aha, kinda wondered about that,” he said, his deep voice adding to my confusion. I knew the guy from somewhere, so it was driving me a little crazy that I couldn’t figure it out. “Welcome to Tom and Queen’s Haven for Cats.”

He started going into some spiel about not-for-profit fosters and no-kills and spay-and-release programs when a young woman interrupted him.

“Hey, Dad, I got Sassy,” she said as she plonked an indignantly mewling cardboard pet carrier onto the table. Her voice was as soft and feminine as Jimmy’s was deep and manly. “Papa found her hiding under the couch with her hoard.”

“Great, of course she’d be there. I’m sure your sister will be happy to have back her stolen barrettes,” he laughed. “You can put Miss Thing in the second kennel.” The woman nodded then opened the carrier to pull out ‘Miss Sassy Thing’, the source of the angry, but tiny, meows. “Oh yeah, Josie, love?”

“Yeah, Dad?” she answered, her attention fixed on the carrier as it suddenly started rocking side-to-side. Josie seemed to have caught her charge and was pulling it out as her father extended his hand to me.

“Want to introduce you to Efrain,” he said. Her jaw dropped and she halted in the middle of lifting the kitten out when she finally noticed me. The small cat—cream colored with pale orange on its nose, ears, and tail—struggled in her hands as Jimmy directed her attention to Cory, who’d just turned around at hearing my name. “And his boyfriend, Cory.”

“Wait, how did you—” I started, but got cut off as Cory had taken it upon himself to notice “Sassy”.

“Holy shit! Can I hold her?!”

Josie shook herself. “Um, yeah, sure,” she said and handed over the wriggling little bundle—the same wriggling little bundle that turned into a little ball of feline affection as soon as Cory started cooing at her.

“Such pretty blue eyes you have,” Cory told the cat.

“You’re in luck,” Jimmy said. “She’s the last one out of the litter with those markings.”

“There were a couple points like her, but the rest are all tabbies and tuxedos,” Josie added.

“Tuxedo?” I asked.

“Black with white markings,” she said. “Sassy’s an apricot lynx-point. No papers on her, though.”

“Aw, listen to that engine,” Cory said to Sassy, who, I must admit, was purring pretty damn loud. “Must have a hemiblock under there!”

“This dumb broad got a registered colorpoint shorthair thinking she’d get into breeding,” Jimmy said, most likely misinterpreting my perplexed look as confusion over Josie’s words and not the on-going interaction between my boyfriend and the kitten. “Only, the cat ran out the house during her second heat and found her own stud. Luckily, little kitty was able to carry the litter and her idiot owner surrendered the kittens to us.”

“Dad, I’m telling Aunt Tara you’re talking shit about her again.”

“You’re a sweet little girl, huh?” Cory said, ignoring the rest of us.

“Love the woman, but she’s still a dumbass,” Jimmy said, waving his hand dismissively. “Anyhow, we raised them ourselves, with our cats and dog, so they’re good with both.” I half listened as Jimmy continued, my attention more on Cory, who held the cat up to his face and was rubbing noses with her. Oddly enough, the cat seemed to like it, her meows sounding more like responses to his sweet talking. “Like Josie said, Sassy here is the last of the litter with points.”

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