By: S. C. Stephens

Out of the corner of my eye, I had watched the dark-haired stranger taking in what was happening with wide, shocked eyes. By the way he glanced between my dad and me, uneasily shifting his weight back and forth, it was pretty obvious that he was uncomfortable witnessing the confrontation. I didn’t blame him. It wasn’t exactly a great welcome-to-the-neighborhood moment.

Through clenched teeth, I’d asked my dad, “You gonna introduce me to our guest, or are you gonna try and scalp me with your bare hands?”

Dad had snapped his gaze to the stranger among us and immediately dropped his hold on me. Mom, in all her maternal glory, had let out a beleaguered sigh. “Don’t be so dramatic, Kellan. It’s not like he hurt you by ‘touching’ your hair.” From her tone of voice, it had sounded like Dad was only playfully ruffling my hair. Strangely enough though, her words had made me feel like I was overreacting.

Puffing his chest out, Dad finally introduced us. “Kellan, this is Denny Harris. He’s joining us all the way from Australia. Denny, this is Kellan…my son.” That last part had been added with clear reluctance.

With an affable smile, Denny had stuck his hand out. “Nice to meet you.”

Touched by his sincerity, I grabbed his hand and said, “Nice to meet you too.”

After that, Denny’s bags had been thrust into my face, and I’d been ordered to be the house butler while my parents showed him around. My parents expected obedience from me, so no kind words had followed their demand, but Denny had thanked me for my assistance as I’d taken his stuff. That had instantly made me like him. His simple gratitude was more heartwarming than anything Mom and Dad had ever said to me.

My moment of warmth hadn’t lasted long though. The second Denny disappeared with Mom, Dad had grabbed my arm and sneered, “Don’t push me, Kellan. You need to be on your best behavior while Denny is here. I won’t put up with any of your crap. You step out of line, I’ll whoop you so hard, it’ll be a week before you can stand up straight. Two before you can sit properly. You understand me?”

Dad had shoved his finger into my chest for an emphasis that I hadn’t needed. I’d understood him completely. Unlike some parents, Dad hadn’t been giving me an empty threat to keep me in line. No, he had meant every word he’d just said. He would ignore my cries and pleading for him to stop. He’d leave me raw, just on the verge of bleeding. Because he was in charge, and he wanted me to know that. I was nothing to him. Absolutely nothing.

Reminding myself that my father’s threats didn’t matter anymore, I pushed the memory to the far recesses of my brain and focused on Denny. I was thrilled to be hearing from my old friend. It had been ages since we’d last talked. That was unfortunate, since he was living stateside again and keeping in contact should have theoretically been easier now. Denny was frequently in my thoughts though, and I often wondered how he was doing with college.

Denny chuckled. “Yeah, it’s me. Long time, no hear, huh, mate?”

My smile grew. “Yeah, way too long. I think we’re due for a reunion  .”

“Well, actually…that’s kind of why I was calling. I’m moving out to Seattle when I graduate in a couple of weeks, and I was hoping you knew of a place I could stay. Well, a place my girlfriend and I could stay. Preferably someplace that’s not too expensive. Things are kind of tight right now.”

I blinked in disbelief. He was moving back here? For good? Excitement danced up my spine. I couldn’t wait to see him again. “You’re coming here? Seriously? That’s great, man. And your timing is perfect! I have a room free. Fully furnished too, since my last roommate left a lot of her stuff. I’ll rent it to you for whatever you can afford.” I would have told him he could stay for free, but Denny wasn’t one for handouts, and I knew he’d never accept that offer. This offer though, there was no way he could say no.

There was a pause on the other end that dampened my spirits some. Hadn’t I just told him great news? Shouldn’t he be ecstatic? “Denny, did you hear me?”

“Ah, yeah, I just hadn’t expected…You sure you’re okay with us staying with you?” His accent thickened with what sounded like concern. Was he concerned for me? Did he feel like he was imposing? That couldn’t be farther from the truth.