Chapter 2: Daniel

1794 Words
Daniel's betrayal was fresh again and despite all his efforts to the contrary his brother's rapid spiral into drug addiction still sat inside him, eating Fresco up as surely as it took Daniel. His sudden and complete reversal from happy and loving older brother to hard-edged addict who Fresco barely recognized flashed through his mind in a series of painful images. Daniel smiling, ten years old, helping Fresco up after a nasty fall, wiping his tears away the dark-haired brother defending the smaller, fairer from bullies on their block Daniel, his gray eyes laughing, tossing Fresco the game ball of which he was the star the tall, thick-shouldered brother he so adored withered and hunched, stunning smile missing, spirit sold to the drug taking him over It seemed like overnight they lost him. When Daniel vanished, Fresco was desperate to find him. Despite his parent's best efforts, it wasn't until Daniel showed up, a shadow of himself, that Fresco finally understood what his brother valued. at the back door, hiding from the full light, eyes haunted, sunken begging for money, help from what was eating him alive his mother sobbing, father furious, sending Fresco to his room watching his brother from his bedroom window, powerful body reduced by the hunger, slinking away into the black It was the last time Fresco saw him. That night, the handsome, dark hero of Fresco's life, once his idol and confidant, disappeared, devoured by the drug he chose over his brother. Fresco shivered despite the warmth of the second floor hallway. He succeeded in the past two years to block his brother from his mind. He absorbed himself in school and football. His parents practically smothered him in love and attention, as though doing so would prevent their youngest from following in Daniel's footsteps. They even lied to everyone they knew, told neighbors and friends the older Conte was away at college and doing well, thank you very much. Since there were no uncles or aunts or cousins to pry, no grandparents living to ask the hard questions, everyone simply nodded and smiled and believed. It hurt Fresco the first time his parents lied about Daniel in front of him. He was so floored by their deceit he hadn't been able to say a word to the contrary. "Best for everyone," Ray told him in the stuffy station wagon on the way home. Fresco watched the flash of the passing streetlights on the wet pavement, ignoring them. "Honey," Fran said, reaching back to pat his knee, "you know we love you. We're just trying to protect you." And had been doing so, he realized with a start, quite effectively, even from himself. When did they clear out Daniel's room? He fought the rising anger. Where was Daniel's stuff? He started to shake from the rage. A headache, teasing him the last few days with jabs of pain, flared into life. And with it, a heavy feeling in his chest and a sensation of burning deep inside. Fresco didn't know how long he stood there, absorbed in his hurt. "Fres!" His mother's voice broke his concentration. The headache eased, retreating to its familiar and ignorable ping. "Coming!" He got a hold of himself. He needed to have a talk with his parents. But they trained him well. He would wait until they were alone. Fran must have seen the trouble in his face when he made it to the kitchen. Her smile melted to concern but, like him, she held her tongue. Instead, she pressed the containers of cookies into his hands, her eyes radiating love and concern. Fresco risked the inevitable backlash and leaned down to kiss his mother's cheek. "Love you," she whispered. "You, too." Fresco refused to meet Justin's eyes as they walked out the door. He continued to ignore his friend as they made their way down the neat, gravel path to the driveway, past perfect flowerbeds and fresh cut grass. Fresco heard the double beep of Justin's car alarm as he stepped up to the passenger door of his friend's massive and perfectly polished black truck. The thing was a gift from Justin's parents for his seventeenth birthday. Fresco's folks gave him a watch. He fumbled his jacket and the containers, managing to get the door open without fingerprinting the paint. Justin would be sure to check later. A tall hop and he was in the leather seat. Justin relieved him of the top box of sweets, sliding it into the console between them. He popped the top. Two cookies vanished in rapid succession before he even turned on the ignition. Fresco fastened his seat belt and waved at Fran who watched them through the front window. Justin made kissing noises around the cookies, his expression nasty. Fresco punched his shoulder, hard. Justin winced. "Lay off! That's my catching arm." Fresco felt his evil nature well up, part of him enjoying his friend's pain. "What arm?" He hit him again as Justin turned the key. Heavy music blared through the speakers. Fresco knew from experience the bass blasted outside the sealed windows. Justin hit him back. It hurt like hell, but Fresco refused to acknowledge it. Instead, he leaned forward and turned down the music. Justin turned it back up, twisting the knob even louder. Fresco sighed. His friend was such a child sometimes. Justin jerked the monstrous truck backward into the street without looking, not even stopping at the urgent blat of a car horn. He gave the angry driver the finger and, laughing, spun away, tires squealing. The rumble of the big engine roared as Justin sped through the suburban neighborhood. "Better have your game on tonight," he yelled at Fresco over the music. "I know, finals." He refused to grab the chicken bar as Justin took a corner too fast, tires humming. The seatbelt dug into Fresco's side with bruising force. "Damned right, finals." Justin crammed in another cookie, face dark. "Can't afford to have any weak links. Those bird lovers are going down this year." The Madison High Raptors were their most bitter rivals and held the prized regional school trophy for the past four years. "Our team's stronger," Fresco hollered back. "We're kicking ass." "Just don't screw up," his friend threatened him with his typical heavy-handedness. "I'll have to kill you or anyone else who keeps us from winning our senior year." Fresco felt equally as driven, so he forgave Justin his enthusiasm. This was their last chance to win one for their school. Graduation meant college and not necessarily football. The thought of college made him think of Daniel, and the headache came rushing back. Fresco squeezed his eyes shut against the pain. When he opened them, he felt better, but the dull throb of it for the last few days felt worse than ever. He helped himself to a cookie to distract himself. Justin slapped at Fresco's hand, his own busy in the container, when his cell phone lit up and bounced its way across the dash. Fresco couldn't hear the ring over the pounding music, but its activation was obvious. Justin grabbed for it. "Jen," Justin said with a smirk. "Wants to know what I'm doing after the game." His new conquest was firmly in hand. Fresco rolled his eyes. He preferred to hang out with the girls, not tear them apart one by one. Justin punched buttons, texting her back. Fresco saw the stop sign approaching, felt the acceleration of the truck, and knew Justin didn't see it or the car with the right of way. Before he had a chance to shout a warning, the headache took him over and fire filled his vision. Everything was gray as time moved in slow motion. The car, a mid-sized blue sedan, sped in quarter time toward him as they cleared the stop and entered the intersection. Fresco watched, detached, as the pretty blonde woman behind the wheel opened her mouth in a large "O" he guessed backed a scream. Her eyes were huge and stared into his. Just as her bumper touched the passenger door of the truck, time stopped. Fresco looked around. Justin grinned, checking out his phone, the open box of cookies beside him. Over his friend's shoulder, through the glass, Fresco saw a robin paused in flight, preparing to land on the street sign. He looked down at his hands. He seemed transparent to himself, ghostly and unreal. He looked up again at the woman. Such naked fear shone in her eyes he wanted to call out to her, to reassure her, but there was nothing he could do. It wasn't until he dropped his gaze from her that he noticed the toddler secured in the back. In a flash of terror, Fresco reached out with his mind and grabbed the child. He had a heartbeat of time to register he now stood on the sidewalk next to the stop sign. The sun beamed down on him, warming his face. The world was silent, a jolting change from the blaring music. Justin's black truck roared past in the next breath, careened into the intersection, T-boned by the blue sedan. The impact rippled the air, rushing over, through and past him in a shockwave. He felt it before he heard metal shriek and clash, the deep thrum of humming tires, the sharp bellow of shattering safety glass, the pop of releasing airbags. The two vehicles melded together with enough force to spin them 180 degrees and come to a screeching halt against the opposite curb. Smoke billowed from the front of the blue car, bits of yellow and red plastic scattered as though tossed with casual disdain. Something within the crippled four-door hissed and sputtered its way down to death, its bonnet compressed, embedded in the passenger side of Justin's 4x4. The truck bent inward where the cab met the box, but appeared almost intact compared to the crumpled mess of the family midsize. People rushed from houses, from hastily parked cars, pouring over the scene. Fresco heard voices, harsh with shock, calling for help on multiple cell phones. An older woman, a stranger, hovered in front of him. Her mouth moved, face lined with concern, but he couldn't make out what she was saying. He stood frozen, lost and empty of emotion. How? Where? He tried to make sense of what happened. The woman gestured to Fresco, but he was still having trouble understanding her. She reached for him, tugging on him, on something he held. His arms tightened reflexively. He could not-would not-let go. It was hard to think. Someone cried, and the crying distracted him. Fresco looked down. The boy from the back of the car bawled in his arms. ***
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