What the fuck is that? I open my eyes and take a look around the room. I must have fallen asleep on the sofa because there’s a game show on TV and shouting coming from the apartment above me.
I grab the remote and turn off the screen, leaving my apartment in silence as I strain to hear what’s being said through the ceiling. I can’t make out anything more than jumbled words but the wall shakes as something pounds against it. My guess is a fist but it could be anything.
The building is silent for a moment then another pounding on the wall and something falls to the ground. After hearing a door slam, there’s a soft dragging overhead that gets me worried. More worried than I was before.
I don’t like to butt into other people’s drama. It’s not my business. God knows I’ve been on the other side of curious stares and concerned looks in my time. And all I ever wanted was for people to look the other fucking way and not ask me what’s going on. But the slow dragging above me has me picturing a dead body being shoved into a suitcase or something. Maybe I shouldn’t have mixed beer with the pain killers because I’m not usually so dramatic.
While I’m contemplating whether this is the kind of shit that happens every day while I’m at work, I hear another door slam and pounding of boots on the staircase.
I take a step into the shadow of my hallway and watch as a heavy set man in some kind of uniform jacket lumbers past my window with a lunch box in his hand. He’s probably in his early fifties but is wide enough that he could do some damage if he wanted to.
The image of the boy from earlier makes my heart stop. Did this guy and that kid come from the same apartment upstairs? I never noticed who moved in because I’m rarely home. I work all day then head to the gym and eat out every night, unless I’m working at Ray’s. I only come home to sleep and change so I’m never around during normal human hours.
The sound of shuffling above me sets me at ease. At least someone is alive up there. I decide to give him ten minutes then I’m going up. I’ll ask to borrow a cup of sugar or some lame shit like that. I just need to make sure there isn’t someone bleeding out upstairs because I was too lazy to check on them.
I watch the clock. Time seems to be crawling until I can’t wait any longer. I grab a small coffee cup and step outside. It’s not exactly a measuring cup but I don’t cook or bake so I don’t have that stuff. I do, however, drink an assload of coffee so this will have to do.
Just as I take my first step on the stairs, I see the kid from earlier. He’s sitting on the top step with his head leaning against the railing and his eyes shut. If I couldn’t see his narrow chest taking shallow breaths under the bloody wife beater, I’d think he’s dead.
I clear my throat quietly to get his attention. He rouses slowly then opens his eyes. I expect to see surprise but the fear reflecting back at me is heart breaking. “Hey, you okay?”
I take a step forward and he leans back and shakes his head. Does that mean he’s not okay or he doesn’t want me to move any closer?
“It’s okay.” I raise my hands out in front of me. “I just wanted to check on you.”
“I’m fine.” His voice is so quiet I almost don’t hear him. He opens and closes his mouth a few times like he tastes something funny then he looks around with a panicked expression. “I’m gonna be sick.”
I take the steps three at a time and reach him as he bends over the rail and pukes. I don’t want to spook him but he doesn’t look stable and I don’t want him to take a header over the side so I stand close enough behind him to grab him if he leans too far over, without actually touching him.
After he empties his belly and spits a few times, he seems to be more coherent. But he still doesn’t look at me and his body is tense again. “Sorry about that. Um, I should go lay down.”
I take a step back and nod. “Is there anyone home that can keep an eye on you?”
He frowns as he looks up at me. “I’m not a baby. I’m fine by myself.”
I offer a small smile and pat his arm gently. “I know. I just mean, if you’re feeling sick, you might get worse. Is someone home that can get you to the doctor if you need to go?”
“I don’t need a doctor.” He stands to his full height of six feet, exactly my height. “I’ll be fine.”
I take a deep breath and look around. The small complex is unusually quiet. There doesn’t seem to be another soul out tonight. “Look, I’ll feel a lot better if you aren’t alone. Want to hang out with me for a while? I was gonna order a pizza.”
“No, thanks.” He glances up at me but his eyes stop at my mouth. “Um, I’ll be okay.”
Now I’m watching his mouth. His full lips look extremely kissable even though I know he just puked. He’s classically handsome with a sharp jawline and nose that may have been broken once or twice. It’s perfect.
“Come on.” I lift my hand and show him the cast. “I just broke my wrist and I’m stuck home for a couple weeks. It’s only been a few hours and I’m already bored out of my mind. Just help me eat a pizza so I don’t inhale the whole thing and turn into a ball of dough while I’m waiting for this to heal.”
The corner of his mouth turns up just a bit. Seems like he doesn’t smile too often. That makes me want to give him a reason to smile even more. “Yeah, okay.”
“Great.” I watch him steady himself for the climb down the steep staircase. I climb just a step ahead of him so if he does lose his balance, he won’t go far before I can catch him.
We get inside my place and I walk to the fridge. “Want some water or…” I dig around toward the back. “I’ve got a can of 7-Up in here. That might settle your stomach.”
“Anything’s fine,” he says quietly.
I look up and see he’s swaying on his feet, still standing just inside the door. “Have a seat, um, I don’t think I caught you name.”
“Oh, Luka. My name is Luka.” He reaches for the can of soda I offer and takes a seat in the far corner of my couch. “Is this okay?”
I notice he’s gesturing to his position on the couch. “Of course.” I can feel my brows furrow as I watch his timid motions. “You can sit anywhere you want.”
“Thanks.” He leans back and pops the top on the can.
“Anytime, Luka.” I sit in the armchair next to him. Close but not too close. “I’m Brad, by the way.”
His eyes meet mine and hold there. Afraid to make any sudden movements, I don’t even breathe while he’s inspecting my face then letting his eyes linger down to my chest.
That’s when I remember I’m not wearing a shirt. No wonder he was scared when he first saw me. The dragon wrapped around my side and blowing fire across my belly is probably a little intimidating. “Sorry.” I stand and walk across the room. “Let me just grab a shirt.”
Luka quickly turns away without saying a word. He’s certainly a quiet kid. Nothing like me when I was his age. What is his age anyway?
I return wearing a faded Seahawks t-shirt. I’m probably projecting but he seems to be almost disappointed.
“So, Luka,” I open a water bottle and take a seat, “Wanna tell me what happened to your head?”
“Walked into a door.” His words sound rehearsed, almost instinctive. And very obviously a lie.
“I know that’s not what happened,” I say calmly, hoping to win his trust. “You can tell me the truth. I might be able to help.”
His eyes grow wide and he shakes his head, then winces at the movement. “You can’t. I’m fine.”
“Okay,” I want to comfort him in some way but there isn’t any appropriate way for me to touch him so I don’t move. “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. But, I promise not to judge you or cause any trouble.”
I pause to see if he’ll respond. He doesn’t but his eyes flit to mine before they lock on his hands in his lap.
“Just know that if you want to talk, I’m here.”
Luka nods almost imperceptibly then pinches the bridge of his nose.
“Yeah.” He takes a slow breath then peeks over to me. “You got any Advil I can borrow?”
I smile at his choice of words. Unless he thinks he’s gonna puke it back up and return it to me, it’ll be a gift instead of a loan. “No Advil with a concussion but I’ve got some Tylenol around here. Gimme a sec.”
With his eyes still closed, he takes a sip of the soda and relaxes into the back cushion. The couch isn’t fancy but it’s damn comfortable. I head into the kitchen and dig through a basket on top of the fridge where I toss random stuff. There are rolls of gauze and packets of antibacterial ointment and several half full containers of pills.
I spill two white and red capsules into my palm then set the bottle on the table in front of Luka. He’ll need more later if he feels as bad as he looks.
When I realize he’s asleep, I take a moment to really look at him. His chiseled features bear zero resemblance to the man I saw leave his apartment earlier. He must look like his mother, unless that asshole that knocked him around isn’t actually his father. Maybe he’s a stepdad. Who the hell knows? What I do know is that he needs to rest and I don’t want him to leave.
It takes me a minute to battle with myself over whether or not to wake him. I know it’s fine for him to sleep even if he has a concussion but he doesn’t look comfortable at all. He’ll wake up in more pain than he started in if I don’t get him to lie down.
“Luka,” I whisper, nudging his arm. That’s when I notice all the bruises on his arms that are in various states of healing. Fucking bastard must do this on a regular basis. “Luka, how about you lie down so you’re more comfortable.”
He doesn’t respond so I start to get nervous that maybe he has slipped into a coma but then he wakes with a jolt. “What? What happened?”
“Nothing,” I say, rubbing a clear patch of his arm. “I just wanted you to lie down so you can get some rest.”
He looks at me with confusion for a minute then remembers where he is. “Oh, thanks but I should go home. I’m really tired.”
My hand instinctively closes around his arm, holding him in place. He tenses and fear fills his eyes as he slowly looks down at my hand.
I immediately release my grip and step back. “Please, stay.” I give him a small smile that I hope looks concerned and not creepy. “I’ll wake you up every few hours to see how you’re doing. But I’ll worry all night if you’re up there alone.”
He watches me for a long time. His eyes move from mine to my mouth and then to the hand that was just holding his bare skin. He is considering it but still on the fence.
“I promise you’ll be safe here.”