Monday morning, I walk out my front gate and grin as I see Win exiting his. Turning around, he sees me and a wide smile spreads across his face, his silver braces glinting in the morning sun. I feel my heartbeat thud in my chest at the sight. It feels like forever since we last talked with the weekend dragging by so slowly.
“Yo.” I raise one hand in greeting and walk up beside him.
“Hey, Per. Did you have breakfast?” He holds up a small sweet bun wrapped in a white paper napkin. “We had an extra and I thought you might want it.”
“Hell yeah!” This boy knows me so well. I quickly grab the treat out of his hand. “Thanks, man.”
“How was your weekend?” Win asks as we start walking away from our houses.
“Boring as fuck mostly.” I answer around bites. “We did have a totally kickin band practice though. We are so gonna breeze through the auditions. You’re still coming, right?”
“I’ll be there as soon as I’m done with duties.” Win promises.
“Sweet!” Finishing the last bite, I wipe my hands on the napkin and toss it at nearby trashcan as we pass by. It hits the rim and topples off the side onto the ground. Without a word, Win shakes his head at me and picks it up, dropping it into the container. I only shrug my shoulders at him. It’s not like I meant to miss. “How was your weekend? It looks like you survived the trip to your grandma’s.”
“It was…” Hesitating, Win twists his hands on the handle of his school bag. “…mostly quiet.”
“Quiet? What do you mean mostly quiet?” His answer confuses me since I know his dad’s mother is an extremely opinionated, conservative, and vocal person. How the hell could it have been quiet?
“Grandmother and I had a talk when I got there and then no one bothered with me the rest of the time.” His voice sounds odd and his eyes stay rooted to his bag.
“What did she say, Win?” Grabbing his arm, I pull Win to a stop and step in front of him. He remains silent and refuses to look up. “Win?”
“It’s nothing, Per. We better keep walking or we’ll be late to school.” He tries to step around me but I won’t let him pass.
“It’s obviously not nothing and school can wait.” Using my fingertips, I gently put them under his chin and lift his face to look at me. “Tell me, Win.”
“It’s really nothing. I promise.” Win’s eyes meet mine, begging me to let it go. He looks so lost, so sad, and it hurts to leave him be, but I step back and drop my hand to my side.
“I’m always here, Winnie.” It’s just one sentence, but I know Win understands. I don’t need to say anymore. Whenever he’s ready, or if he needs me, I’m never far away.
“I know.” Reaching out, he gives my shoulder a squeeze and smiles his thanks.
We continue on our way, arriving at school in plenty of time. Neither of us mention anything else about the weekend. It has become a taboo subject until Win says otherwise. Eyeing him carefully, I don’t see any new bruises or wounds which relieves some of my worry.
Our classes pass by quickly and Win is his usual smart, helpful self. Most wouldn’t be able to tell that anything is amiss, but I can. There is a dullness to eyes when he thinks no one is watching and a sad tilt to his lips. At lunch, he is quiet and I let him be, knowing that he will tell me when he’s ready. The afternoon classes pass just the same and soon the final bell rings. Win and I separate here with a promise to see each other at home since my club activities and band practice will take longer than his classroom duties. He’ll have to walk home alone, without me.
“Where the hell is it? I know I downloaded it.” Mumbling to myself, I scan the song list on my phone as I walk home from band practice. I’m trying to find the song we just practiced so I can let Win listen. Turning the corner onto my street, I hear a familiar voice shouting, echoing off the buildings on either side. I’m afraid to look up, to look where I know that voice is coming from. I don’t want to, but my stomach clenches and my chest feels tight. I have to look, to make sure Win is okay.
“Come here!” Win’s dad drags the shaking boy into the front yard by his shirt, the top buttons coming undone. Pointing to a box at their feet, he raises his voice once more, anger lacing every word. “Where did you get these things?! Who taught you about them?!”
Lifting up what appears to be a magazine, the man rips out several pages. He takes out a lighter and sets the torn sheets on fire before dropping them back into the box. “Look!”
Staying silent, I walk closer to their front fence. I wonder what’s in the box that has his old man worked up. So intent on reprimanding his apparently wayward son, Win’s dad doesn’t notice my presence at all.
“You ungrateful bastard!” Yanking again at Win’s shirt to pull him closer, the older man backhands him across the face. Win is knocked to the ground by the force and his right hand comes up to cover his face as he leans on his left. Tears streak down his face in pain, in fear… in shame.
It takes all of my willpower not to jump the fence and put myself between Win and his dad. I know it’s not something Win would want me to do and I don’t know what I could do. This is his father, the one person who should be protecting him, keeping him safe. The same one who just hit his own child and ridiculed him in front of the whole neighborhood. How do I fight against him? Can I fight him without hurting Win even more?
“Dad!” Win moves his hand down from his face and looks up at his dad. The man raises his hand again, threatening to hit his cowering child. Scared, Win brings his knees up and raises his hands together over his forehead in a desperate Wai. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to!”
Father or no, if he hits Win one more time in front of me, I won’t be able to hold myself back. My blood is pulsing in my ears and my fingers turn white from gripping my bag and phone. Please don’t strike him again. I’m begging you.
Win slowly lowers his hands, to swipe at the wet drops still pouring out of his brown eyes. His gaze slides to the left, avoiding the look of disgust from his father, and his eyes lock with mine. Panicked and upset, he quickly picks himself up off the ground and runs into his house through the open front door, leaving his dad and the burning box behind.
“Win! Where are you going? Get back here!” His dad screams at his disappearing back before following him into the house, closing the door behind him.
Stunned, I stand there motionless, staring at that box on the ground. Smoke drifts out of it lazily as the papers smolder inside. It looks so unassuming, so plain. How could something so average hold something bad enough to piss off Win’s father? Oh God, Win!
All interest in the box leaves my mind as I run along the fence and throw open the gate to my own house. I rush inside and up the stairs, not bothering with any greeting for anyone who may or may not be home. The only thought left is that of Win, of getting to my window and seeing his face looking back.
In my room, I throw my stuff on the bed and head for the window. I slide it open and look at the empty window across the way. Grabbing a stone from our jar, I toss it at Win’s closed window. Nothing. I toss another… and another. Win finally appears and slides the pane open, wiping tears from his eyes and reddened cheeks. His softly rounded lips form a sad pout. He’s here and I can breathe.
I grab my whiteboard and write a question that is the most important to me.
Nodding, I set the board and marker down. Win nods back and we slide our windows close. Watching Win walk out of his room and closing the door, I stand there and hope he can find his way to me without any more trouble. Turning away, I leave my empty room, the shadows licking the walls as the sun lowers in the sky. The house is quiet and still as I make my way down the stairs and out the door, not bothering with a goodbye just as I didn’t say hello.
It’s a short walk to the playground in the park and I find Win already sitting on a swing, swinging listlessly and staring at the ground. His shoulders sag with the weight of the world it seems. I hate to see him like this, as if he’s even too tired to breathe. Creeping up slowly, I give his back a little shove and greet him the way I love the most. “Boo!”
Win, startled, turns his head to look at me. His mouth open, ready to shout, and his eyes wide. This is a much better face for him. “What? Still not used to it, yet?”
“When will you stop doing that to me?” Win asks as I sit on the swing next to him.
“Never.” It’s an honest answer and I give his shoulder a soft nudge. “So… what happened earlier?”
“It was nothing.” Hands in his lap, Win stares at the ground.
“Didn’t you tell me you wanted to talk?” Leaning down on my knees, I look over at Win.
“Well… it’s hard for me to bring up.” His shy voice is hard to hear.
There isn’t much in this world that Win would keep from me. Pursing my lips, I think about it carefully. “If I have to guess, it has to do with your dad burning that box in your yard?”
Win stays silent, refusing to look at me or say a word.
“Silence.” Looking down, I consider it some more before looking at my best friend. “So, I’m right! I’ll keep guessing then. That box probably had something you shouldn’t have had, something bad, which is why he was so pissed at you… cigarettes?”
“No.” Win shakes his head.
“Worse than that?” Pausing, I consider other possibilities, but they don’t seem likely either, so I try to get a smile out of him. “Weed?”
“How did you even come up with that?” It works and I see the corners of Win’s mouth turn up.
“You were gambling and he caught you so he burned all your money cause it was dirty money?”
“Not that either.” Win chuckles quietly and my heart gives an extra thump.
“Then what is it? Tell me?” Tugging on his arm, I beg him like a little kid. “Come on. Just tell me.”
“Ow!” Wincing, Win grabs his arm.
“You’re hurt?” I carefully raise the sleeve and see bruises scattered across his pale skin, the rest disappearing under his shirt. The sight of them twists my gut, but I keep my fingers gentle. The last thing I want to do is hurt Winnie. “Sorry.”
Anger boils up in me as I move away from Win’s arm. “He went that far? You should call the cops if he’s gonna keep doing this to you.”
“He is a cop himself, though.” Win’s voice is shallow, defeated.
“Don’t you think he crossed the line though? What did you do that was so bad that he had to do something like this?” Really, I don’t care what Win did. There’s nothing he could ever do that would make me think he deserves this.
“Ssssss…” Win breathes in through his teeth before answering me. “Porno magazines.”
“Are you kidding me?” Of all the possibilities, this is not one that I would expect. I didn’t even know that Win was interested in things like that, not that it’s weird that he is. He is a guy, after all. What the fuck is his dad thinking? “Sorry, but your dad must have lost his damn mind. All this over some pornos? Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill. He went as far as publicly humiliating you, too… And acting like he has never seen any? His son’s grown enough. Porn isn’t that strange.”
“Yeah.” After listening to my rant, Win gives a slight nod but doesn’t say anymore and still has a worried look in his eyes.
“Hey. Don’t worry about it.” Standing up, I move behind Win who grabs the chains on either side of his seat. “I got caught reading porno magazines before, too.” I give Win a push as I continue. “I hid it in the bathroom ceiling.”
“How’d you get caught?” Win asks as his body sways with the motion.
“Guess what happened.” Grinning, I look down at Win. He gives me a blank stare. “A mouse gnawed on it. Pieces of the magazine fell out and my mom saw them.” Laughing, Win looks up at me, his own troubles forgotten for the moment.
“So I switched tactics.” I pause, a mischievous glint in my eyes. “Since I couldn’t use the bathroom in my own house, I hid them in a toilet at the school instead.”
“That’s even worse than before.” Win’s giggles fill the air and the knot in my stomach unwinds a little at the sound.
“See? Everybody does it. Why stress yourself over this?” I set my hands on Win’s shoulders for comfort and reassurance. “Just let it go.”
“I got it.” Win agrees finally.
We stay in the park for a while longer, happy in each other’s company. I push Win on the swing for most of it and we talk about random, unimportant things. I grumble about missing the treats P’Noh brought back for everyone in the club and he tells me about dropping an entire bucket of dirty mop water on the floor during clean up duties at school. The night settles around us, stars warmly twinkling overhead, and the moon lights our way home along with the glow of the streetlights.
“I’ll see you right here, first thing in the morning.” I tell Win when we get to his gate. “We can grab breakfast from the vendors on the way to school.”
“Okay.” Win easily agrees, a smile lighting up his face.
“Don’t forget.” I walk backwards toward my own gate as Win goes through his. “Night, Mawin.”
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