Matt woke to the smell of bacon. He rolled over and picked his phone up off the nightstand. Barely eight o’clock. He felt like going back to sleep, but the smell of the bacon lured him into rolling out of bed. Matt grabbed some clean clothes out of his still unpacked suitcase and went into the bathroom to shower.
After a quick shower, Matt followed the delicious smells of breakfast into the kitchen. “Mm. Good morning, Aunt Nancy, that smells delicious.”
“Thank you, Matt. I thought you boys might want a nice breakfast this morning. Brad said that David went right to bed, so I imagine he’ll be good and hungry when he wakes up. Help yourself. There’s bacon, sausage, and waffles over by the stove. The syrup and juice are in the fridge.” Nancy said.
Brad wandered into the kitchen, followed by David. All three boys filled their plates with food and gathered around the kitchen table to eat. “This is awesome, Aunt Nancy. Thanks for cooking all this.” David said.
“No trouble at all. I like to cook a big breakfast on the weekends. I’ll be gone before any of you wake-up during the week.”
“David cooks pretty awesome pancakes from scratch. He uses dad’s recipe. You’ll have to taste them.” Matt chimed in.
David blushed and looked down. “They’re not as good as he made them, but I do my best.”
“Oh, shut up. Your pancakes are awesome.” Matt mock-punched his brother’s shoulder.
David smiled. “Thanks, bro.”
“Mom, look at these two. Can I have a little brother? I’m jealous now.” Brad chuckled.
“No way in hell. You’ll have to settle for cousins.” Nancy laughed.
“You probably should have asked that question ten years ago,” Matt said.
“Not even then. One Bradley is more than enough for me.” Nancy said, pointing at her son.
“Thanks, mom. At least I know I’m loved.” Brad rolled his eyes.
“What do you boys have planned for the day?”
“I’m going to show Matt around town.” Brad looked over at David, “You can come too, David.”
“Maybe another time. I want to get started searching the classifieds and help wanted ads.” He patted the laptop next to him on the table.
“I emailed you a few things for your job search last night, David,” Nancy said.
“Thanks. I’ll check those out as well then.”
“You boys have fun in town. I have to run a few errands. Would you like me to drop you off somewhere, Brad?”
“No. I’m going to start the tour in the park. Can you pick me up a couple more notebooks while you’re out?”
“OK. Do you other boys have any special requests while I’m out?” She asked her nephews while she gathered up the breakfast dishes and walked over to the sink.
“Nothing I can think of,” David said.
“Mountain Dew if you don’t already have any, please.” Matt chimed in.
David opened his laptop to check his email and do some online job-searching and Nancy left the house to run her errands.
Brad and Matt slipped on their shoes and ran out the door. “Come on. We’ll start the tour over there.” Brad pointed across the street. “This is Lakeside Park. It’s a big park. It has jogging paths, bike paths, a large section of forest with hiking trails, and even a lake in the middle of the park. It sits right in the middle of town, so anywhere we want to go, we can take a shortcut through the park.” Brad said.
“Wow. It’s huge. I would totally get lost in there and never find my way out. I’m used to city streets and beaches.” Matt laughed.
“Let’s take this trail down to the lake, then we’ll cut across to the school,” Brad said and started walking.
Matt walked along beside his cousin. “I hope you don’t expect me to remember this all in one day.”
“Of course not. I’ll be around to show you as often as you need, or some of my friends can. I’ll introduce you to everyone at school.” Brad said.
“Do you play school sports? I played baseball at my old school. How’s the baseball team here?” Matt asked.
“I happen to be on the baseball team, so I can tell you that we honestly suck.” Brad rolled his eyes.
“Great. On a positive note, if you guys suck, maybe I can make the team.” Matt smirked at his cousin.
“Tryouts are Tuesday. I’ll introduce you to the coach tomorrow.”
“That’d be awesome!”
They were at the lake now, and Brad led them to the left and started circling the lake. Matt was quiet for a while, lost in his own thoughts. Brad put a hand on his shoulder. “Matt, I know the circumstances that brought you here are beyond terrible, but mom and I are happy to have you and David here. If you ever want to talk about things, I may not know the right things to say, but I’ll be here to listen.”
Matt looked over at Brad, and tears glistening in his eyes. “That means a lot, Brad. More than I can express. It’s something that I will probably never get over but having someone to talk to does help.”
“I can’t even imagine the part about uprooting your whole life and leaving behind all your friends and moving three thousand miles away. I give you a ton of credit for holding it together as much as you have.”
“I still have David. There wasn’t really anyone else significant. David left behind more than I did.”
“Nope. I’ve never had a real relationship. A couple of dates here and there but nothing serious.”
“What about David? No offense, and don’t take this as me perving on my cousin, but he’s seriously hot. He’s got that whole surfer vibe going on with the shaggy blonde hair and dreamy blue eyes. I refuse to believe he didn’t have a boyfriend.”
Matt smirked. “You are totally perving on your cousin, but I won’t say a word.” Matt’s smirk quickly turned into a frown as he continued talking. “He did have a boyfriend, but it fell apart after the accident. I was in a bad way right after it happened. My therapist even considered committing me for a while. My grades at school dropped. I was a mess. David spent almost all of his time with me, and after a while, Brayden left him.”
“That is screwed up. That Brayden guy is a serious jerk. I can’t believe someone would do that. How shallow.” Brad was visibly angry.
“What about you? Any boyfriend for you?” Matt asked, trying to steer the conversation away from himself.
“No. I had one last year, but it didn’t work out. Oddly enough, my ex is connected to our family history. Well, your part of the family history anyway. The infamous Roxbury Falls werewolf curse.” Brad rolled his eyes and laughed.
Matt’s blue eyes lit up. “Are you serious? What do you know about the curse? Who is the guy? How is he connected to my family?”
“Whoa. Whoa. Slow down, tiger. Hold on, we’re just about at the school. Let’s sit down at the outdoor lunch tables, and I’ll tell you what I know.” Brad said as he led Matt out of the park and across the street to the schoolyard. They sat at a metal picnic table, and Brad began his story.
“Roxbury Falls is a small town, so everyone knows at least something about the curse. It’s not talked about as much now. People lost interest after your grandfather passed away, since all his direct descendants lived on the other side of the country.” Brad looked at Matt.
“Yeah. Us. So, what about your ex? How’s he fit in? What exactly do people say about the curse?” Matt brushed the hair out of his eyes and leaned forward, listening intently to his cousin.
“From what I’ve heard, the oldest male in the Montana family line is cursed to be a werewolf, but only if they live here. Supposedly, the witch that cursed your great-great-great-grandfather gave him a way out of the curse. Leave Roxbury Falls forever. My ex-boyfriend, Elias Carrier, is the last living descendant of the witch who cursed your family.” Brad paused to give Matt a chance to react.
“That’s a weird coincidence. How did you end up dating Elias?” Matt asked.
“I’ll try and give you a condensed version,” Brad said. “And let’s head that way,” He pointed, “We’ll hit the diner for lunch.”
“I could eat,” Matt said with a smirk, and they started walking.
“I’m beginning to think that’s your personal tagline,” Brad laughed.
“It totally could be, especially during baseball season,” Matt said.
“Anyway, my Elias story. At the beginning of my freshman year, I came out. I only intended to come out to a couple close friends, but one person told someone else who told someone else and, in typical small-town fashion, by the end of the week, the whole town knew. I started getting bullied. Maybe I should have told mom or the principal or someone, but I was afraid it would just get worse.” Brad paused for a second.
Matt reached across the table and grabbed his cousin’s hand. “Dude, I wish I’d been here back then. We could have totally kicked their asses together.”
Brad smiled. “Thanks, man. That means a lot. So, we’re a couple weeks into the school year now, and a new guy shows up. A new kid always shows up on a bully’s radar, but this new kid also happened to be a foster kid and gay. A bully trifecta. They didn’t forget about me, though. Elias and I both got bullied almost every single day.”
Matt interjected. “You’ll have to point these guys out to me tomorrow, so I can keep my guard up.”
“Definitely. After I joined the baseball team and made a lot of friends, they left me alone, but I will let you know who they are. Back to my story, since we were both being bullied, and it was obvious that neither one of us was going to tell adults, I decided to pull Elias aside and talk to him. He was very guarded at first, but I finally convinced him that I wanted to be friends with him. I wasn’t just another bully. We found that we got picked on less when we were together. We also found that we enjoyed hanging out.”
Matt touched his cousin’s arm to get his attention. “Is this the place?”
“Yeah. Will’s Diner. They definitely have the best burgers and fries in town.” Brad said. A waitress greeted them just inside the door.
“Hey, guys.” She looked closely at Matt. “New friend, Bradley?” She smirked.
Brad looked shocked, and Matt blushed and stuttered. “No. I’m his cousin. My name is Matt.” He stuck out his hand toward the girl.
The waitress ignored his hand and gave him a hug. “I’m Kim. Brad and I go to school together. Nice to meet you.”
Matt took in her long, raven black hair and dark brown eyes. “The pleasure is all mine. You got an open table for two hungry customers?”
She grabbed his arm and smiled warmly. “Right this way, sir.”
After they were seated and Kim had taken their order, Brad rolled his eyes at his cousin. “Do all straight guys who self-identify as shy introverts shamelessly flirt with every pretty girl they meet?”
Matt blushed. “More like beautiful, not just pretty. Even her name is beautiful… Kim. Is she single? Do you think she was flirting? I can never tell!”
“Kim’s like that with everyone. She wasn’t seriously flirting. She’s had a crush on another friend, Juan, for a long time.”
Matt shrugged his shoulders. “I told you I’m no good at flirting or reading when I’m being flirted with. You’ll have to help me out with that.”
Brad looked thoughtful for a moment. “Maybe I can help you with that. I know just the girl for you!”
“Should I be excited or scared.” Matt chuckled.
“You should be excited. I wouldn’t steer you wrong.”
“I can’t wait.” Matt laughed. “Now, let’s get back to your story. I want to hear what happened next.”
“Oh yeah. Where did I leave off? Never mind. I remember. So, anyway, Eli and I started hanging out a lot. We quickly became best friends. If he wasn’t at my house, I was at his or we were exploring all over town. About a month later, we were hiking in the woods behind his house, and he just stopped in the middle of the trail. I turned and asked him what was wrong. He didn’t even speak, he just stepped in close, grabbed my face, and kissed me. I was surprised at first, but I kissed him back. We didn’t question it, we didn’t have to have a whole “what just happened” talk, we just knew. We started dating instead of just hanging out, and things were beyond excellent.” Brad said. He spotted Kim walking up to their table with their lunches, and he stopped talking.
“Here you go, guys. Enjoy. With no other customers in the diner, if you need me for anything, just yell. I’ll be at the counter doing my homework.” She rolled her eyes, smiled at Matt, and walked away.
“Are you sure she’s not flirting with me?” Matt asked after she was far enough away not to hear him.
“Yeah, I’m sure. Everyone’s expecting that any day now, Kim and Juan will finally become an official couple.” Brad said.
“In that case, please continue your story, and I’ll just live vicariously through you.” Matt waved a hand toward Brad and then began eating his burger.
Brad started talking again. “Things with Eli and me were awesome for a couple of months. Having a boyfriend at Christmas and New Year’s Eve was the best. His fifteenth birthday was January seventeenth. We made special plans and had a great time. The next day things started getting weird. He showed up for school late, and it looked like he hadn’t slept at all. He got distant from me. He was canceling plans for no apparent reason. This went on for like two weeks. Then the rumors started at school. I heard people talking about him, and I was scared to death that I was going to hear that he was cheating on me. What I heard instead just made me confused. They said that Eli had been seen going into and coming out of the witch house almost every day for the last two weeks, which would be since the night of his birthday.” Brad said with a sigh.
“Witch house?” Matt asked. “What do you mean? Did you ask him about it? What did he say?”
“The witch house is an old supposedly haunted house in town. I hoped he would just tell me that he was exploring the old house. That’s not what he told me. He told me that on his birthday, he had a nightmare about an old woman. The old woman insisted he go to the house. He said he woke up from the nightmare and felt compelled to go to the house right then, so he did. He refused to tell me everything that happened in the house, but he told me that the old woman from his dream was his birth mother and that she told him how to inherit the powers of his birthright.” Brad said.
“That’s unbelievable. Elias actually believed that he saw a ghost that told him that he could gain the powers of a witch?” Matt asked.
“That’s exactly what he told me. The rumors at school started getting worse. The bullying also got worse again. Now, not only was I called all the usual gay slurs, but I was also called “witch lover” and other much worse names. The physical bullying also got worse because now Eli avoided me, and I was alone again.” Brad said.
“Oh my God, Brad, that sucks so bad. Just when things were getting good, suddenly, bam! They’re worse again.”
“Matt, I’m ashamed of what I did next. I hope you don’t think I’m a bad person for doing it, but I broke up with Elias. I still loved him. I may still love him even now, but it was bad enough getting bullied about being gay. I just couldn’t take the added harassment. Plus, he was, for the most part, avoiding me. He acted hurt when I told him, but I just couldn’t do it anymore. That was when I decided to make some changes. I tried out for and made the baseball team and made a bunch of new friends. The bullying stopped, and now this year has been great so far.” Brad said.
“Do you still see Elias at school?” Matt asked.
“Yeah, but he pretty much stays to himself now and totally avoids me. Hell, he won’t even look at me. People say they still see him hanging out at the witch house, but even the bullies leave him alone now.” Brad said.
“I wonder if he knows more about the curse than you’ve been able to tell me.” Matt mused.
“Just leave him alone, Matt. Don’t get caught up in his delusion. The curse is a cool family story, but that’s all it can be, right? Curses and witches can’t possibly be real, can they? It’s just myth and legend and cool shows like Teen Wolf.” Brad said.
Matt thought about telling Brad about his own nightmares, but right then, Kim came back to the table. “Can I clear your plates away, guys? Want any dessert? We have cherry pie today.” Kim said
The two boys devoured a piece of pie each and then left the diner and started walking back toward home. Matt decided not to tell his cousin about the nightmares. Brad had already dealt with enough; he didn’t need Matt’s angst on top of his own.
David closed his laptop, stood up, and stretched. He glanced at the wall clock and was shocked to find that it was past twelve-thirty. David had spent the whole morning checking emails and searching online for local job opportunities. He needed to stretch his legs and get some lunch. Matt and Brad weren’t home yet, so David decided that he’d go out for a walk and find something to eat on his own. He peeked into Aunt Nancy’s home office and saw her at her desk. “You do know it’s Sunday afternoon, right?” He asked.
She laughed. “Running a newspaper and writing most of the articles isn’t a Monday through Friday nine to five job.”
“I guess not,” David said. “I really need to get away from the computer for a while. I’m going out for a walk and maybe get lunch. You need anything?”
“No. I’m fine. I’ll have a snack a little later. I’m making spaghetti for dinner. If you see the other boys tell them to be home before six.”
“Ok. I’ll see you later.” David said. He left the room and walked down the hall. David grabbed his jacket from the hall closet and left the house.
When he got outside, David looked around. He spotted what looked like a gas station and convenience store just a short distance off to his left. He figured it wouldn’t hurt to check out the store and see what they had. David walked up to the store and reached for the door when it opened, and Matt and Brad came rushing out, their arms full of snacks and drinks. He stepped back so he wouldn’t get trampled. “Whoa, guys. Where’s the fire. Slow down.” He laughed.
“Oh, hey, David. Done with your research?” Matt asked.
“For now. I had to get out of the house. Plus, I’m hungry.”
“You should go to Will’s Diner,” Brad said.
“Definitely! It’s awesome. We just came from there.” Matt chimed in.
“I’m sold. Where is it?”
“Back that way, maybe half a mile.” Brad pointed toward the diner.
“You guys heading home?” David asked.
“Yeah. We’re gonna just chill and play some Xbox until dinner.” Matt said.
“Sounds good. Aunt Nancy said she’s cooking spaghetti tonight, and dinner will be around six.”
“Mom’s spaghetti is killer. You guys will love it!”
“See you guys at home,” David said. Brad and Matt turned in the direction of home, and David continued to Will’s Diner.
The bell rang over the door as David entered the diner. He saw a young dark-haired girl get up from the counter and walk to greet him at the door. “Welcome to Will’s Diner, sir. Let me show you to your table. My name is Kim. I’ll be your waitress today.”
“Thank you, Kim. This place came highly recommended, and I can already see that the service is excellent.” David said with a smile.
“You’re the second handsome stranger to come in here today.” She smiled. “You’re either Brad’s older cousin, or Roxbury Falls is experiencing a population explosion.”
“Busted. I’m David. Nice to meet you. So, you go to school with Brad and Matt?”
“Guilty as charged. What about you, are you gonna apply at our community college or a bigger school upstate?”
“Not going to school right now. I need to get a job and help support my brother. I can’t expect to sponge off my aunt forever.”
Kim’s expression entirely changed. “Oh my God, that’s right. I’m such an idiot. Brad told some of us what happened. Well, not any details, but that it was just the two of you now.” She reached over and touched David’s hand. “I’m so sorry. It’s such a sad story.”
David shrugged his shoulders and smiled a smile that barely touched his lips and never reached his eyes at all. “Thank you. It’s ok. We’re dealing. Can we change the subject?”
“Of course,” Kim said. “Plus, you probably want some food.”
David laughed. “Yeah, that is why I came in. How about a burger and fries? I heard they’re great.”
“Coming right up,” Kim said and went into the kitchen.
A short time later, Kim came back out with David’s meal. “Here you go. I hope you like it.” Kim said and sat next to David again.
“It looks delicious.” He said and took a bite.
“So, how many girls got left with broken hearts when you left California?” Kim asked with a grin.
“None.” David laughed.
“Oh, come on. I find that hard to believe with your surfer boy looks and sweet personality.” Kim smiled.
“Nope. No girls at all. There was a guy, but I ended up with the broken heart, not him.” David said.
“Now I’m really interested. Spill the tea, mister.”
David rolled his eyes. “There’s not much to tell. Brayden and I started dating two months before the accident. Things were going well. I thought we were serious about each other. Then the accident happened. He was supportive at first. Matt struggled for a long time. He still has nightmares to this day. I had to spend a lot of time with Matt. Brayden gradually started coming over less and less until one day, he told me that he wasn’t coming back. I was crushed at first, but I soon came to realize that if he couldn’t support me caring for my brother during such a rough time that he wasn’t worth my tears. I am so over him it’s not even funny.”
“He’s an insensitive jerk. Good for you for realizing that. I bet I can find you a guy a hundred times better than him.” Kim smirked.
“That’s not necessary, Kim. Dating is not top on my priority list right now.” David said.
“That’s why it’s tops on my list. Don’t you worry, David, I’ll find you the perfect love connection.” Kim thought for a minute. “My friend Devon has an older brother who graduated two years ago. He’s a hottie just like you. I think he’s single, but I’m not a hundred percent sure. I will be sure and get back to you, though.” Kim winked at David.
David finished his meal and paid. “Thanks for the conversation, Kim. It was great. Don’t worry about the other stuff. It’s no big deal.” David laughed.
“I will hook you up,” Kim said with a grin.
“I’ll see you around,” David said and left the diner.
David still needed to clear his head and organize his thoughts. He walked across the street and into Lakeside Park. David wandered the paths until he reached the edge of the lake. He hadn’t been on a real run since high school, but that was precisely what he felt like doing right now. David set his jacket on the park bench and bent down to tighten his shoelaces. After a few stretching exercises to warm up his body, he took off for his jog around the lake.
Nancy poked her head into the family room. “You two need to finish killing whatever you are killing and get cleaned up. Dinner will be on the table in a half-hour.”
“Ok, mom!” Brad yelled. The sounds of machine gun fire and explosions lasted for about ten more minutes before they turned the game off.”
Matt looked over at his cousin. “Next time, how about Fallout 4 or Skyrim? I play Call of Duty but I’m not a big fan.”
“Sounds great. I love Fallout. I can’t wait for Fallout76 to come out later this year. Do you play Gears of War?” Brad asked.
“Yeah. That one is ok. Much better than COD.” Matt said.
They heard the front door, and they glanced toward the hall. David came walking in drenched in sweat.
“What did you do? Join a track team while you were out?” Matt chuckled.
“No, but I did go for a run around the lake. I feel great now. You guys should join me next time.”
“Let me see what the baseball coach has me doing before I commit to more.” Matt laughed.
“Oh, believe me, there will be more than enough running.” Brad chimed in.
“The offer stands if either of you decide you’re interested. It smells like dinner is almost ready. I’m going to go take a quick shower and change my clothes. Don’t eat everything before I come back down.”
“I make no promises when it comes to food,” Matt said.
“Believe him. I’ve seen him eat.” Brad rolled his eyes and laughed.
“Oh, I know,” David said as he ran upstairs.
All three boys got to the kitchen table at almost the same time that Nancy was setting down the plates of food. Matt helped her with the remaining dishes.
“Aunt Nancy, this looks fantastic. I don’t remember the last time I had homecooked spaghetti.” David said.
“Reheated Chef Boyardee doesn’t count?” Matt asked in fake astonishment.
“No, it definitely does not.” David laughed.
“Dang it! I thought I was ready for a junior chef cooking show.” Matt said.
“Not quite yet,” David said with a chuckle.
“How’d your job search go?” Aunt Nancy asked.
“Good, I think. The most promising looks like Sonny’s Coffee Shop and Warehouse. They’re looking for a delivery guy and someone to help when they get big deliveries themselves.” David said.
“I know Sonny. He’s a good friend of mine. Make sure you tell him that you’re my nephew.”
“I’ll remember that. Thanks!” David said.
After dinner, they all went into the family room to watch tv. Everyone voiced their opinions on what to watch, but finally, they agreed on a new Netflix remake of “Lost in Space.”
“Did you ever watch the old version of the show, Aunt Nancy?” Matt asked.
Nancy smiled. “Maybe a rerun here or there, but “Lost in Space” was before my time. I’m not that old, Matthew. I do know the classic quote “Danger, Will Robinson,” but that’s about it.”
“Oh, cool. It’ll be a new show for all of us then. I hate when people are always comparing new shows to the originals. Remakes aren’t supposed to be replicas, in my opinion.” Matt said.
“They should honor the source material, I think.” David chimed in.
“But not copy it exactly.” Matt insisted.
“True enough,” David said.
“Can we watch it already?” Brad whined.
Nancy rolled her eyes and started the show.
After four episodes of “Lost in Space,” Nancy announced that it was time for bed. Brad moaned about school night curfews but got up and headed upstairs. David yawned and stretched. “I’m going to bed, too, Aunt Nancy. Good night.”
“Good night, boys,” Nancy said and turned off the tv. Nancy turned off the family room lights and locked all the doors before finally settling in at her desk in her home office.
David lay on his bed, unable to sleep. Thoughts of the last couple of days kept running through his head. His brother’s anxiety had been sky-high just before the move, but Matt seemed to be settling in now that they were here. David was thrilled with that, plus his job search seemed to be going well. If Aunt Nancy’s friend hired him, that would be incredible.
David heard the crash of one of the metal garbage cans in the backyard falling over. He got out of bed and went to the window to see what happened. The outside light wasn’t on, but the yard was lit up by the light of the nearly full moon. David didn’t see anything at first and thought it must have been the wind, but then movement at the edge of the yard caught his attention. Just inside the forest that borders the property, David saw a large dog. He thought to himself that the stray dog must have been looking for food in the trash and knocked the can over. He’d be sure to tell Aunt Nancy about the stray in the morning.
As David lay back in bed, the thought occurred to him that the weirdest part of what just happened was that it looked like the dog was just sitting there staring straight up at his window. David pushed the thought out of his mind and finally drifted off to sleep.