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Jamel and Connor were deep in their lovemaking when their doorbell rang twice, then someone banged on it repeatedly. Connor stopped moving and they looked at each other as the banging continued.
“Who the fuck… It’s almost midnight,” Connor said in annoyance.
“I don’t know,” Jamel said as Connor rolled off him and began to put on clothes. Jamel did the same. They went downstairs together but Connor got to the door first and opened it. Freddie had been leaning on the door and practically fell into his uncle’s arms.
“Freddie!? What’s wrong!?” Connor cried.
But Freddie could barely speak and his legs were wobbly from biking too fast. Connor pulled him into the living room and Jamel closed the door behind him. “Fred, you’re scaring me, bud. What happened?”
“I got into a fight with my dad,” he mumbled.
“What do you mean you got into a fight with your dad?” Jamel asked.
But Connor knew.
Connor lifted up his nephew’s baseball cap and took one look at his face. His mouth opened slightly. He looked at Jamel whose face mimicked his in horror. Connor pulled his nephew into his chest for a hug and Freddie did not resist. Instead he held onto his uncle tight and began to cry. Connor’s face turned to stone in anger.
“Shit,” Jamel said quietly.
Ethan had warned them months ago that he suspected that Freddie was receiving harsh corporal punishment at the hands of his father. But this was beyond physical discipline. And Jamel knew he had to stop Connor from doing something drastic.
“He did WHAT!?” Ethan exclaimed as he walked back into the apartment from dropping the girls off at the bus stop.
Jack looked up from his computer. He had just signed into work as a therapeutic intake coordinator, where he worked part time doing initial assessments over videoconference. He couldn’t hear the other side of the conversation but Ethan’s shock caught his attention.
“Yea,” Jamel was saying into the phone. “His eye looks really bad and he has other bruising. Connor is keeping him home today, and we’ll probably have him throughout spring break next week too.”
“I knew it,” Ethan said sadly, as he put the mail on the table and sat next to Jack. “The way he handled him that night I dropped him off had all my senses go up. So what are you going to do?”
“Well after I convinced Connor not to kill his brother last night, we called Chantel, Kimberly’s mom, who gave us some good advice: to take pictures and let his parents know that the next time Fred shows up at our house with bruises we’re going right to the police. I’m hoping Connor sticks to the plan, but he’s really upset. After we got Fred settled and to sleep, I had to literally pull his gun out of his hands.”
“Why don’t you just go to the cops now? Or social services?” Ethan asked.
“I want to, trust me. But Connor keeps saying ‘no, it’s family business.’ I reminded him that I am family, that I love Freddie too and I don’t want to see him hurt either. So Chantel’s advice is the compromise. That and we’re keeping Freddie with us for a little while.” Mel sighed. “This is going to be a fucking mess.”
“Sounds like it already is,” Ethan said. He looked at Jack who was still looking at him in confusion. He said to Jamel, “Since Connor is out of the office today, I’ll stop by The Residence later on and check in. Keep Connor out of trouble, Mel.”
“I’m gonna try, man. But to be honest, I’m pissed off too. So I may need you and Jack to keep us both out of trouble this time.”
“I hear you. I’ll let Jack know what’s going on.” Ethan hung up the phone and looked at Jack’s still confused face. He told him what he learned.
“Freddie biked it over to their house in the middle of the night after his father hit him multiple times. He’s staying over there for a few weeks until they figure out how to handle it. Jamel said they have a plan, but Connor is pissed, understandably. So he’s trying to keep him calm and not go off on his brother. Handle it the legal way, you know?”
But Jack didn’t hear much beyond Ethan’s first line. “So Matty’s abusing Freddie? The same way that their father abused him and Connor?”
Ethan nodded. “Sounds like it. Mel said he had to stop Connor from paying Matty a visit last night with his gun. He’s worried about him, worried that-“
But Ethan stopped talking as he watched Jack slowly sit back in his chair and stare at his computer. He knew Jack was deep in thought and he did not like the look on his face. He had seen it before.
“Jack?” he said his name cautiously. Jack did not respond. “Shit!” Ethan moved his chair right up to him and turned Jack’s face by his chin. Jack’s face was stone and his eyes were as dark as green glass. “No, Jack. No.”
“No… what?” he said quietly.
Ethan squinted his eye at Jack. “No you cannot do what you’re thinking of doing. No.”
Jack shook his head out of Ethan’s grasp. “Matty is a fucking monster. Someone needs to put that dog down.”
Ethan turned his face again and looked him in the eyes. “And it can’t görükle escort bayan be you. That’s way too close to home. You cannot touch one hair on Matty’s head.”
Jack turned his whole body to Ethan. “Do you know how much I wish I knew what was going on when we were teens? If I knew that Connor was being beaten back then, I would have done something about it.”
Ethan gave him a skeptical look. “You were 16-years-old, not exactly the skilled avenger you are now.”
“Maybe not then, but after Connor went into the Marines? If I had known back then, he would have come home to his father’s funeral,” Jack said seriously.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” Ethan said back. “You need me to say it? NO! You cannot kill your best friend’s brother. Your son’s best friend’s father. You can’t do it. NO! I’m putting my foot down about this!”
Jack stared back but did not respond, so Ethan decided to distract him.
“Besides, we have our own family business to attend to.” He rummaged through the mail and handed Jack a thick manila envelope from Greenwich Family Court. Jack’s attention turned to their current issue.
“Shit,” Jack murmured.
“Right. The court hearing is in three weeks, so we have to get prepared. My lawyer connected us with Cindy Margoles in her office who specializes in family law. So I need you to focus on this, not that.”
Jack sighed. He opened up the documents and began reviewing them. “Set up a meeting with Cindy tomorrow so we can put together a plan of action.”
“Got it. And you-” He leaned into Jack again. “Leave Matty to Connor. If anyone gets to give Matty what’s coming to him, it’s Connor. Promise me, Jack. Don’t touch one hair on his head. Promise me.”
Jack sighed. “Okay.” He turned back to his computer. “I’ll check on Connor this week and convince him not to do what I want him to do. And hope he doesn’t listen to me at all.”
Ethan smiled. “That’s the spirit!”
Jack knocked on The Starling Residence glass leasing door to get Connor’s attention. Connor was playing music loudly and busy imputing data on the office computer when he looked up.
Hey,” he yelled happily. He turned down the music and got up to open the door. “What’s up?”
Jack walked in pushing Jamie in the stroller and said, “Hey, Con. I bought us lunch from Red Rock.”
“And you brought my favorite little guy,” Connor said as he took the stroller from him. Jamie was sleeping soundly. “You walked all the way over here?”
“It’s only about three miles, not bad at all for a Spring afternoon. I finished a paper and he needed a nap so we went for a walk.”
“Hmm…” Connor stared at the boy, then smiled at Jack. “Who sent you? Ethan or Mel?”
Jack smiled back. “Maybe both.” He went under the stroller and pulled out two wrapped sandwiches. “Lobster rolls. Let’s eat.”
They sat at the small conference table to eat and talk. “So how is Freddie?” Jack asked as he unwrapped his sandwich.
Connor sighed. “He’s okay. I dropped him off at school today with a pair of sunglasses. He’s actually enjoying the mysterious look.”
“Like you used to do,” Jack reminded him. “Remember when Adam punched you in the face and you proudly wore your sunglasses for weeks?”
Connor smiled. “Remember when you beat the shit out of Adam because he punched me in the face?”
Jack laughed. “I beat the shit out of Adam because he dropped my apple and called me a pussy.”
“Yea, keep telling yourself that,” Connor said sarcastically, making Jack laugh again.
Jack asked, “So how are you really doing?”
Connor looked away. “I was gonna kill that motherfucker. How could he do that to his own son? After everything we went through as kids, he’s just choosing to continue the cycle of abuse.” He looked at Jack. “I can’t let that happen. I will kill him dead before I allow Freddie to go through what I went through.”
Jack nodded in understanding. “But you can’t kill your own brother. Your nephew’s father? The boy you love like your own would never forgive you.”
Connor blew out air. “Trust me, I know. That’s probably the only thing stopping me. That and Jamel hid all the bullets from both our firearms.”
Jack laughed. “Smart man.” Connor rolled his eyes and took another bite of his food. “So what’s the verdict?”
“Stephanie said it was a one time thing and won’t happen again. She said that Matty lost his temper because Freddie was being a smart ass and talking back. But she was fine with me keeping Freddie through spring break, said they needed a break from each other.”
“Do you believe her?” Jack asked with his eyebrows raised.
“Nope,” Connor said right away. “She’s going to cover for him the same way my mother covered for Owen. I know this has been happening for a while. And Freddie’s not talking, so I know it’s worse at home than what everyone is letting on.” Connor sighed again. “I can’t let him go back to that house, Jack. I can’t let Freddie end up like me.”
“Well it sounds like you have bursa otele gelen escort a few options. You could call the county and get social services involved.”
Connor shook his head profusely. “I’m not doing that.”
“You could kill your brother and his wife, then take custody of his children,” Jack said with a straight face. “Make it look like an accident.”
Connor stared back at him, then he smiled. “What’s my third option?”
“You can make sure Matty knows you’re serious about not letting him abuse Freddie anymore. Ethan said something about taking pictures and threatening to go to the police?”
“Yeah, that’s what Chantel said, Kim’s mother. She used to work for the state. She said that’s what they do in child custody cases, where if a child shows up at one parent’s house with bruises on him, the other will take pictures and present them to the court as evidence of abuse. She said it’s going to boil down to word of mouth, so if I have the evidence, it will be easier to take custody of him if I ever needed to.”
“It makes sense,” said Jack. “That way Fred wouldn’t have to testify against his father. The pictures would speak for themselves.”
“Or I could just kill him and Stephanie, and take custody of Freddie,” Connor said with a straight face. “I’ll take Deann too. She hates her parents and has already asked to live with us a million times. Maddy wouldn’t come, she’s a daddy’s girl, but the other two? Definitely. I can raise them.”
Jack stared back at him, then smiled his sideways smile, making Connor smile back at him. Jack said, “I thought you didn’t want to be a father?”
“I don’t. But I’m not Freddie’s father, I’m his uncle. The fun one.”
“But if you and Jamel end up raising him, then you don’t get to be the fun uncle,” Jack told him. “You’ll have to set down some ground rules for him and provide structure.”
Connor waved his hand dismissively. “Uncle Mel will do that. He’s the responsible one. I’m the fun uncle. The Funcle.”
Jack laughed loudly. “You’re stupid.”
“Want to get the boys together next week?” Connor asked.
“We’re all going to California for spring break, getting Susie and her sister together,” Jack told him.
“Oh yea, I forgot you do that every few months.” Connor was thoughtful. “Mind if we tag along? If there’s enough room at AJ’s house.”
Jack said, “AJ lives in a freaking mansion. There’s plenty of room. But let me square it away with Ethan and AJ, you square it away with Matty and Jamel.”
“Okay cool. I’m sure it will be fine.” Connor changed the subject. “So listen, I’m getting married.”
Jack smiled at him. “You’re already married. Did you forget?” He purposely glanced at Connor’s tattoo ring then back up at his face.
“Yea I mean…. We’re having an actual wedding ceremony.” Jack’s eyes went wide as Connor turned away with a smirk. “Yea, yea, I know.”
“Holy shit, Connor! You’ve officially joined the darkside. Are you wearing white too?” Jack teased.
Connor shrugged. “I don’t know what I’m doing. Neither does Jamel. It’s our mothers. They’ve been freaking out since we got married in the courthouse back in October, bringing it up every chance they got how disappointed they are because they didn’t get to see their sons get married. So Jamel and I agreed to let them throw us a wedding. They’re doing all of the planning, and we just need to show up on October 17th again.”
“How is your mother planning a wedding for you?” Jack asked. “Does Owen know?”
Connor smirked again. “My mother told Owen that she was helping her friend Denita plan a wedding for her son, without mentioning who her son was marrying.”
Jack laughed out loud. “Wow.”
“Yup. My sisters are going along with it, covering for her.”
“But don’t you think he’s going to figure it out when half the town is talking about your wedding?” Jack asked.
Connor shrugged again. “I really don’t give a shit what Owen knows or doesn’t know. He’s not my father anymore and I don’t owe him one explanation of who I am or who I love. As long as he doesn’t put his hands on my mother over it, we won’t have a problem.”
Jack smiled at him. “Look at you all grown up. A career. House. Marriage. Kids are next.”
Connor shook his head. “Funcle.”
Jack laughed. “Yea, we’ll see.”
“Anyway,” Connor said changing the subject back. “I’m telling you this because I need a best man. It’s between you and Sam.”
Jack threw his hands up in confusion. “You want us to duel it out for the title?”
Connor pretended to be thoughtful. “Shirts off, in mud. Winner takes all.”
Jack laughed. “If Sam wants it, it’s okay, I won’t be offended.”
“Well I didn’t ask him yet,” said Connor. “I’m asking you first because even though Sam and I were closer growing up, you’ve always known the real me. You’ve always had my back, especially when it comes down to this part of me. So if I have to choose, I would want it to be you.”
“Then why didn’t you just say that?” Jack bursa escort bayan asked.
“Because I lean on you a lot, Jack, ever since we were in high school,” Connor replied. “I still lean on you a lot, for relationship advice and gay advice and overall emotional support. That’s why it was just Afia and Ty at the courthouse when we got married last year. Not because we didn’t want you and Ethan there, but because I asked that we didn’t lean on you for one day.”
Connor shrugged once more. “And now I’m giving you permission to say no. To let me go. You don’t have to be there for me anymore, I’m figuring it all out by myself.”
Jack shook his head. “You’re one of my best friends, Con. And that’s what friends do, they lean on each other for advice and support. They’re there for each other through thick and thin. If you weren’t so busy fucking all of your best friends, you would know that,” he said seriously.
Connor busted out laughing. “Not…all.”
Jack started rattling off, “Me, Afia, Winter…” He grabbed a handful of French fries and threw them at Connor’s face. “Mina, my fucking cousin!”
Connor ducked and laughed harder. “At least she wasn’t your sister at the time!”
Jack growled, “I should kick your ass for that.”
Connor shook his head. “Don’t worry, Sam already did when he found out back in high school.”
“Well that makes me feel a little better,” Jack said smugly.
Connor cringed. “I’m really sorry about that, Jack. I was an immature asshole back then.”
“You’re still an immature asshole,” Jack confirmed. He reached over and put his hand on the table face up. “And I would be honored to stand with you on your day as your best man.” Connor put his hand down on Jack’s and squeezed.
The children walked ahead excitedly. “Whoa, whoa, everyone wait right here,” Jack said to them as he pulled his carry-on next to him, with one hand on Jamie strapped to his chest. “Have a seat on the bench until we get the rest of the bags from the carousel.”
They had just arrived at Baggage Claim and all four of the children were restless from the five hour flight. He turned to Ethan to say something but Ethan was listening to his phone and had a scowl on his face.
“What’s wrong?” Jack asked.
Ethan looked at Jack, then turned to Connor. “Connor, why is your brother leaving twenty angry messages on my phone about you taking Freddie to California without his permission?”
Jamel turned around in alarm, and looked at Connor. Jack looked at him too. Jamel said, “Connor, you were supposed to call Stephanie five days ago when I booked the tickets. You didn’t call her?”
Connor cringed, then smiled. “Maybe I forgot.”
“What the fuck, Connor!?” Ethan said angrily.
“Connor!” Jack yelled in astonishment.
But Jamel spoke the loudest. “Are you insane!? You can’t just take Matty’s son across state lines!”
Ethan and Jack were both shocked, never having heard Jamel raise his voice before. But Connor yelled right back at him. “Fuck him! He didn’t care enough about his son before, why should he give a shit now!?”
“Connor!” Jamel yelled again. Then he stopped. He clasped both hands in front of his face, closed his eyes, took a deep breath, exhaled, opened them slowly. He stared at Connor like he wanted to start yelling again, then scoffed and walked away from the group.
“Jamel,” Connor called after him but Jamel kept walking, needing to get away before he exploded again.
Jack said, “Connor, Jamel’s right. You can’t take Freddie across state lines without his parents’ permission. It’s literally kidnapping.”
He turned back to his friend. “No it’s not, I’m his uncle.”
“It doesn’t matter, you’re not his guardian!” Ethan yelled at Connor again. “I’ve been trying all these years to be civil with your asshole brother for the sake of my son to have a friendship with his son, and now he thinks we’re all in cahoots with your dumb ass.”
“Fuck off, Ethan,” Connor said back. “He’s my responsibility, not yours, so if Matty has a problem, he’ll take it up with me. I-“
But he stopped talking as Jamel came back and walked up to Ethan. “Can we borrow your phone? Matty’s not going to pick up for me.”
“Sure,” Ethan said and handed him his cell phone.
Jamel turned around and said to Connor in a calm voice, “You’re going to call Matty right now, and apologize for not getting his permission. You’re going to give him the address of where we’re going, the flight information and when our flight lands. And if he asks you to bring him home when we get back, we’re bringing him back home, right from the airport.”
Mel picked up Connor’s hand and put Ethan’s phone in it. Connor glared at him angrily but Jamel was just as angry. “Now,” he said quietly but forcefully. Connor sighed roughly and called Matty.
“Ethan!” Matty yelled.
“No, it’s me,” Connor said.
All the adults heard Matty yell through the phone, “Connor, where the fuck is my son!?”
“Calm down, Matt,” Connor replied nonchalantly. “He’s with me and Jamel in California with Ethan and his family. I figured it was spring break, we’ll give the kids a chance to hang out, have some fun. Sorry if I worried you.”
Matty continued to yell and the others could make out words like “irresponsible fuck”, “fucking moron”, and demanding they come home right now or else.
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