Malik & Nat

                                                           Prologue Pt 1

     The red LED clock read 10:48 PM in the dimly lit motel room. Nathaniel Spooner lay on the old bed centered in the room and pushed against the wall. The walls mainly consisted of pale plaster, yet the bed was pushed against a paneling of fake wood that one would commonly find in most basements from the 1990s. The room was as standard as they come for anyone wanting a feel of that decade. The bed frame was built of cheap aluminum painted to appear like brass. An old boob tube sat atop the dresser in the corner playing old reruns of Futurama on some syndicated cable channel. 
     Nathaniel, or Nat as most people called him, stood at 5'11" with chestnut brown hair feathered back that reached the tip of his shoulders. His driver's license stated he had green eyes, but most people would confuse them with blue or hazel depending on the lighting. Weighing at roughly 170 pounds, Nat was mostly thin with a slightly protruding belly from the high alcohol consumption he would partake in daily. His face contained some brief scruff on his chin that one could barely excuse as a goatee. His nose was long, pointed, and straight while the rest of his face was long in shape. 
     Nat lazily glanced over at the makeshift gravity bong from an old-fashioned 5-gallon bucket and an empty 2-liter bottle of Mt Dew. It sat upon an old desk that was painted the color of baby shit. An old mirror hung from the wall over the desk. 
     Perhaps most people wanted to make eye contact with themselves from time to time during their work hours on the road, Nat thought to himself. 
     He rubbed at his jaw while he debated whether or not he wanted to indulge in more of Mary's sweet THC. He laid back into the pillow mass he formed for himself at the head of the bed and opted to smoke a cigarette instead. He lit the menthol and took a deep inhale as he looked around his room. 
     A NO SMOKING sign hung awkwardly next to the television by a piece of scotch tape. It may have read "NO SMOKING", but it looked like it deserved to read "YARD SALE" more. The sign had not always been up. Nat removed it immediately upon checking in months ago and tossed it aside into a closet. He knew the nosy landlady of the property must have been in his room again and hung it back up. Nat took another deep inhale of his cigarette, and he flipped off the sign with a cocky grin as if it were the landlady herself. 
     Halfway through his cigarette, Nat grew bored with the television and switched to his cell phone. Who couldn't get lost in a year where technology was easily at your fingertips to allow you to scroll and read whatever your heart desires? He opened up a social media app and began to peruse the posts, ads, and for-sale items that popped up on the screen. 
     Nat stopped scrolling after a few seconds. His eye happened to catch a post that was made by his mother. He thought to himself how odd this was since she barely used social media, let alone made posts on her pages. He scrolled back up to see what she had shared. What he read made him out his cigarette and sit up. 
     "Everything I do is wrong. I guess I am worth nothing. My father was always right". These words stared back from the Alltel phone screen at Nat as his inebriated brain tried to process what he was reading. Knowing that his mother wasn't one for social media let alone personal posts of this magnitude, Nat decided to give her a call. 
     Nat and his mother, Kimberly, weren't always the closest in their relationship. They had many strifes together during Nat's earlier teenage years regarding a lover that his mother had taken to after his father. They had been able to patch things up over years passing in Nat's early adulthood. Nat personally attributed that to the birth of his son, Ashton. 
     The phone receiver gave 3 rings before the sound of Kimberly's voice came over the line.
     "Hello?" answered Kimberly. 
     "Hey Mom," answered Nat. "How are you doing?" 
     "Oh, I'm doing okay. How about you?" replied Kimberly. Nat knew this was typical small talk for how conversations opened with his mother. 
     "I'm hanging in there. Just relaxing in the room and having a few drinks. Are you doing okay? I was scrolling online and seen you posted a status that seemed like you aren't all right." 
     " saw that, did you? I had it up for only a few minutes and Ron made me take it down" Ronald Riddle, or Ron as Kimberly called him, was a current lover of hers. Kimberly had left home and her prior lover Nat was having complications. 
     "Well, I'm glad he made you take it down. But why did you put up in the first place? Are you okay?" 
     "Yea...yea, I'm okay. I'm just having a rough day and I'm really upset." 
     "Do you want me to come and visit you? Do you need to talk? I can come up if you want me to, Mom. It's not a problem." 
     "No, no that's okay. Don't you have to work?" 
     "I can take off work Mom. It's not that big of a deal. You seem more upset than you're telling me. I can get transportation worked out and be up there sometime tomorrow. I'll talk to someone after work and can spend the weekend if you want." 
     "Well, okay. If it's not a problem then yea. I'll say something to Ron about it. We have a spare room that you're welcome to use." 
     "I'll call you tomorrow when I'm on my way up. Sound good?" 
     "Sounds good. Thank you, Nathaniel. I love you." 
     "I love you too, Mom." Nat ended the call and proceeded to scroll through his contacts. He reached out to his friend John about aiding him on a 2-hour ride up to see his mother. He promised to cover gas and expenses. They discussed the arrangements, and Nat made hotel reservations for his first night's arrival. 


     The following day passed by as most normal days for Nat. He awoke with a slight hangover that was easily cured by a hydrating drink and a hot shower. He spoke with his supervisors and was easily granted time off to travel. John met Nat later that night after his shift and they set for the long drive up north. It was a relatively smooth drive, smooth check-in, and smooth rest for the parties on the first evening. 
     The following morning Nat took John out for breakfast to thank him for his assistance as well as meeting up with a former friend he had once known while living in the area. The mountainous hills of northern Pennsylvania were always a place of comfort for Nat. Maybe it was due to him being born there. Maybe it was a core memory of his later life when living there. Maybe there was something from all the times he traveled through the areas with his parents while growing up. Regardless of the reason, the area had always felt like home for Nat. 
     After finishing visiting with his friend, Nat ordered an Uber from his Alltel to travel to the address that his mother had given him. It was a relatively short drive to the next town over considering how spread the towns were in this region. 
     Nat pulled up to an old-fashioned home painted a beige white with an enclosed porch. Barking could be heard immediately from the time Nat opened the Uber door. He graciously thanked his Uber driver and approached the house. 
     "Hey!" a voice called from the side of the house. Nat's mother emerged from the backside and entered the driveway. 
     "Hey Mom," replied Nat as he approached her. They gave each other a brief hug. Nat towered over his mother these days. 
     Kimberly Richards stood at 5'7" with blonde hair that had seen its fair share of grays over the years. A fine woman that aged well and seemed to find a way to walk the line of mother and grandmother in her appearance. She had classical brown eyes that would never win over any crowds but held a calming presence in them nonetheless. 
     They exchanged casual pleasantries, which included her asking Nat what he wanted to do for dinner. 
     "Well steak, Mom!" Nat shouted with glee. "How do you even need to ask anymore?" 
     "I know, I know," she laughed in return. "But it's also getting late to do any steak. Why don't we go shopping and get some for tomorrow? We can grab a pizza on the way back for tonight." 
     Nat agreed and they boarded his mother's car for the grocery store. When getting into the car, Nat noticed pillows and blankets in the rear. He gave his mother a look that she waved off. While on the drive she began to fill him in on the events leading up to her social media post. 
     "Ron's a great guy," started Kimberly. "It's just that when he drinks too much, he can become quite an ass." 
     "Okay," replied Nat. "I can understand that some. You've always said the same thing about Dad, and I know I can get a certain way sometimes when I drink too much." 
     "No, Nathaniel. I mean he can get really mean." 
     "Has he hit you?" 
     "No, nothing like that. He just...he can become really nasty and say really hurtful things. He always thinks that I'm talking to other guys. I'm not allowed to be on social media or anything. Anytime my phone goes off he is always asking who I am talking to. And he does it in an accusing tone. Not like he's just asking because he is curious or something." 
     "So he's a controlling asshole?" 
     "No. I don't know. He's really a great guy, Nathaniel. And I want you like to him and get to know him." 
     "Mom, why do you have pillows and a blanket in the back of your car?" 
     "He had a lot to drink the other night," she sighed in angst. "He came home from work in a mood and immediately started drinking. He went to do some work around the house, and I asked him what he wanted to do for supper. He kept saying that he didn't know but in a gruff, disturbed voice. You know what I mean? Like an 'I dunno'. He said why didn't I just go grab dinner with one of my social media guys. Before I knew it, we were hollering and he told me to go. So I went outside and he locked me out. He put a chair in front of the door even and I slept in my car for the night. His son was really upset too. He and his father don't get along too well." 
     "Well, you want me to like this guy, and I already don't like him", replied Nat. "He pulls shit like this while I'm up here then you know this is not going to end well." 
     "Please, Nathaniel. Behave yourself. I don't want any more drama, and I certainly don't need any testosterone wars raging." 
     "Oh, I'll behave myself! But if he starts shit Mom, I'm not going to just sit by and watch that shit. What's up with his son?" 
     "Ronald lives with us and his mother. He's a really good kid if you can call him that. He's really troubled though, and he and Ron don't get along as much as they used to. Ronald is gay, and Ron has a really tough time accepting that I think." 
     "Then I don't like this guy even more already. So how's he going to feel when he learns that I bat from both sides of the plate then?" 
     "Ron isn't scared of gays or hates them, Nathaniel. I'm not really sure what his entire problem is. It's just not his way and he doesn't like it. I think his son being gay really bothers him and he doesn't want to accept it. He kind of keeps his head in the sand on it." 
     "Well, that's a shame. I mean, I kind of get it though. Dad wasn't exactly the most thrilled when he learned that I like boys as well as girls. I'm not sure he still fully is excited about it, but he seems to have accepted it now. Hopefully, he can for Ronald too." 
     "I think you're probably right there. Ronald should probably be home tonight. Again, be on your best behavior." 
     "I don't know Mom. You just went ahead and bought me a big bottle of vodka in that back seat. And you already know that I have little to no filter, to begin with." 
     "Oh, don't I know it! Well just try. Also, Ronald does not like to go by his birth name." 
     "Now why isn't that a shocker!" 
     "What's that supposed to mean?" 
     "That you call him by his birth name, but he doesn't like to be called that." 
     "Oh, hush. You'll always be Nathaniel to me, and I'll never like you being called Nat." 
     "I know, I know. So what is it then? Does he go by Ron also then?" 
     "No, he came up with his own name. Last name too. He likes to go by Malik Booker." 

Prologue Conclusion

     Nat and his mother pulled back into the driveway of her home. Nat could hear barking now that he did not immediately recognize the first time he had arrived. Tied out back was a large yellow dog that appeared to be a yellow labrador on steroids. This was the source of the loud barking. Lying 15 feet from the gigantic pooch was another dog that was nearly the opposite. The age could be easily seen in her. She stood to approach her master and the companion that approached the house. Nat could see her wobble in evident pain. It reminded him of Chief from Fox & The Hound after the train incident. 
     "Jackson!" shouted Kimberly. "Down! It's okay, it's okay. It's just Nathaniel." She gestured toward Nat to walk towards the mongrel. Hesitant as he was, he calmly approached with an outstretched arm until the pooch grew comfortable that he was not a threat to his master. 
     Nat and his mother carried the groceries, liquor, and pizza into the house. They entered through the rear door which showed them into Kimberly's laundry room. A standard washer and dryer sat against the wall in one corner while a drying rack could be seen in the other. They continued their way into the kitchen. Nat looked around in awe at the home his mother now occupied. It may not have been the fanciest, but it held good roots and bones shown in craftsmanship by an individual. The kitchen contained an adjoining dining room with a bar in the middle of it all acting almost as an island setup. Nat and Kimberly unloaded the groceries into their respectable areas and commenced eating their dinner until Ron got home from work. 
     When Ron arrived, they immediately exchanged pleasantries with Nat acting on his best behavior as directed. Ron proceeded to grab himself a cold Busch from the fridge. He cracked it open with ease and commenced in the consumption of it. After a few swallows, he grabbed himself a couple of slices of pizza and joined the others at the table. 
     Ron Riddel stood roughly 5'10" and weighed close to 175 pounds. His hair was scruffed slightly and matted. It matched the scraggly, yet short beard he supported across his face. His eyes typically held a glaze that when one met their gaze was hard to depict what lay behind them. He dressed and walked like the perfect mixture of a logger and a coal miner, and he matched the smell to go along with it. 
     "What's going on?" asked Ron after his 3rd bite of pepperoni pizza. 
     "Oh, nothing much," replied Kimberly. "Nathaniel got here a couple of hours ago. We went down to the store and grabbed some pizza and drinks for tonight. We also grabbed a few steaks and potatoes tomorrow." 
     "All right," responded Ron as he extended a rugged hand to be shaken by Nathaniel. Nathaniel gripped and shook Ron's hand in response with a slight nod of the head in additional acknowledgment of the greeting the two had shared. "So what do you all want to do tonight?"
     "Oh, I don't know," replied Kimberly. "We could play cards or rent a movie."
     "You want to play cards, do you? Are you sure?" Ron had become quite advanced with luck in any card game that Kimberly got him to play since they started dating. Whether it be Uno, Skip-Bo, or even Phase 10; Ron always had the luck of the cards on his side. And he knew it too.  
     "I'm down to play," chimed in Nat. "I'm always up for dethroning one who thinks he is a king." Nat playfully cracked his knuckles which drew a well-inspired smack to the tricep by Kimberly.
     "Stop that!" Kimberly shouted. "You and your brother always find noises to drive me crazy."
     Nat gave a hearty chuckle any child would give for having fun with their parents. They decided on a card game and commenced to clean off the bar seating around the kitchen island for a playing table. It didn't take them long for the game to be set and alcoholic drinks to be poured around. Nat soon came to find out that Ron was indeed King of the Card Games. After a few hands, another person entered the house. 
     "Hey Ronald," said Kimberly as a young man walked in the back door that Nat and Kimberly had entered through hours ago. Ronald gave a quiet greeting in return as he entered the kitchen area where everyone was playing. Ronald "Malik Booker" Riddle stood at about 5'9" with almond brown hair that was styled in a manner similar to a male model. He was slim, weighing in at around 160 pounds. His eyes were a unique mixture of amber and honey that one saw in the color brown. He carried an aura with him that Nat would typically become from most artists. An indescribable yet natural beauty from within. 
     "How's it going?" asked Ronald as he walked towards the leftover pizza to grab himself a couple of slices. 
     "It's going okay," replied Kimberly. "This is my oldest son Nathaniel. He came to see me this weekend from back home." 
     "Hey," said Nat. "Ronald? Right?"
     "It's Mal," replied Ronald. "I don't like my birth name. That's my dad's name. I'm Malik, or I'm Mal. But I do not like Ronald." Kimberly could be seen giving a slight eye roll outside of Nat's peripheral vision. 
     "That's okay. I really don't care for Nathaniel either." Nat returned the same eye roll towards Kimberly's way in a joking fashion. "Why don't we just stick to Nat and Mal and then?"
     "Sounds good to me."
     "So hey," interjected Kimberly. "Do you want to join us for a round of Phase 10? Your dad keeps kicking our butts, and we could use the help."
     "No, that's okay," replied Malik. "I kind of just want to relax and go to bed. Did you go to the store today?" 
     "I sure did, we grabbed some steak and other groceries for dinner tomorrow."
     "Awesome, did you grab my milk?"
     "Oh crap, I'm sorry. I didn't even think of it. We can get you some tomorrow"
     "Can you get chocolate too? That's the best."
     "I'll do my best to remember it for you."
     "Now that's what I'm talking about," chimed in Nat. "No one enjoys milk for how great it is. I used to get PB&J's at school all the time in the day and eat the real peanut butter parts last until I could barely open my mouth. Then I'd dribble chocolate milk in and feel it slowly break down the peanut butter. It was my favorite part of lunch."
     "I would just die without milk," joked Malik in return. "So what's your favorite thing to eat then?"
     "Meat! I love pretty much any kind of meat that you can think of. Hence the steaks for tomorrow night. I'd probably say the best I've ever tried was moose so far to this point."
     "Dad's always bringing in weird meats to try from the butcher shop. You ever have camel tongue before?"
     "Camel tongue? No, I can't say that I have. But I have had camel toe before. That shit is delicious, you should try some."
     Nat began to feel the stinging across his tricep again before the sound of the smack from Kimberly even reached his ears followed by another shout of his name. He glanced over with a large smile across his face, obviously pleased with his own joke. By the time he returned to meet Malik's gaze, he could see the color drain some from his face. The comment clearly made him uncomfortable for a first appearance. 
     "Wow," was all Malik was able to muster in return, along with another slight eye roll. He even let out a slight chuckle prior to excusing himself from the table to go to bed. Nat, Kimberly, and Ron poured themselves more drinks and returned to their game of Phase 10 for the night.


     The following day came and Nat awoke from the living room sofa. His mother had offered him their spare bedroom, but Nat had always had an affinity for wanting to sleep on sofas and couches. He believed it may have stemmed from his childhood days of sleeping on sofas whenever he visited his mother. He decided to put an old sitcom on the living room TV while he awaited for his mother to wake and come down the stairs.
     A couple of hours had passed when Kimberly made her way down the stairs from her slumber. She looked like someone who also had spent most of her night drinking and playing cards. She promptly greeted Nat for the morning and made her way to the kitchen to start up a pot of coffee. 
     "Morning Mom," said Nat as he followed her into the kitchen. 
     "Morning again honey," chuckled Kimberly in return. "Do you want a cup of coffee?" 
     "No, that's okay. I'm already indulged some in the hair of the dog this morning. I could really go for some lunch at this point though."
     "Holy cow! I guess it is lunchtime already. I slept right through breakfast. Didn't even hear Ron get up and leave for work this morning. Yea, we can do lunch. What are you hungry for?"
     "I could honestly go for some Subway. It's been a while"
     "Okay, yeah. I haven't had that for a while either. Did you see Ronald this morning?"
     "I heard him leave earlier this morning before I had fully woken up, I think. I thought it was Ron, but it could have been Malik."
     "Well, I need a smoke and a poop before we do anything. You want a smoke? I'll reach out to Ron and Ronald and see if they want anything from Subway too." 
     "I'm good on the smoke. I don't really care for them in the morning. Especially after a night of drinking. They make me feel sick and give me a nasty head rush. Is it okay if I smoke a little weed instead since Ron isn't home?" Kimberly had given Nat the heads up about Ron's stance on marijuana during yesterday's grocery shopping. 
     "Oh, I suppose. Just make sure it's outside and put it somewhere in the garage when you're done. Do not bring that inside the house." Nat agreed to the rulings and proceeded to go for a smoke of his green tobacco while his mother stayed behind to smoke her brown and make her calls. 
     While Nat took his own smoke, he decided that he wanted to reach out to his sister, Patty, was doing. Patty Dovers was a beautiful woman with many physical features. She carried with her the face of Marilyn Monroe with the nose of Andy Samberg. She was slender yet curvy and stood at a nice height of 5'7". Her hair was always a range of colors depending on her mood, but she had found herself settling closer to a natural brown as she grew older. 
     Patty and Nat were always close growing up as children. They had different mothers, but the same father. The 5-year age gap between them eventually brought them their separation once Patty hit her middle teenage years. As a child, it wasn't much that Nat could understand, but it was always a difficult struggle to wonder why his older sister seemed more privileged than him or his younger brother. The separation between Patty and Nat only grew worse once Patty found herself with a drug addiction in her early adult years. Even with the stolen property, stolen cash, and lies, Patty would conjure to Nat and the rest of the family; Nat always held a soft place for his sister in his heart. Maybe it was loyalty. Or maybe it was the inability to let go of a peaceful memory in time. 
     Nat listened to the phone ring a few times but no one picked up on the other line of the call. He decided to send her a text message instead of trying to meet up since he was in the area. Nat pocketed his phone and made his way to the garage to hide his paraphernalia and then made his way back to his mother. 
     "Hey," called out Nat. "Everything all good? Are we ready to go?"
     "Yup," replied Kimberly. "All good. Ron will be home in a couple of hours. He said he doesn't want anything from Subway, but I'll probably just save him half of my sandwich. Ronald went to hang out with a couple of friends in town. He said he will be back later before dinner but that they'd already eaten lunch."
     "All right. If you're ready, then let's go." Kimberly ousted her cigarette and finished her coffee prior to standing up. She made a motion to the bathroom and informed Nat that she would be ready in fifteen minutes. 
     The two of them made their travels down to the local Subway and proceeded to place their orders. They opted to place their orders to go as Kimberly now had the hankering to join Nat for a hair of the dog herself. Nat had to chuckle to himself as he had never really seen his mother drink much alcohol before let alone on back-to-back days. 
     They drove home and enjoyed their meals as their alcohol-ridden stomachs thanked them for proper sustenance. Little were they aware that they'd be buckling up for another ride on the booze train later that evening. Once finished with their meals, Kimberly opted to get a shower and get around for the day that lay ahead. 
     Nat decided it was a good time to check his phone for messages while his mother got herself around. He was grateful to see a reply from his sister. Until he wasn't. Just like many other times in the past decade, something had occurred that didn't allow Patty to be able to meet up with Nat. Nat was highly disappointed and made it known to Patty that he wasn't in the area very often and was making an effort to want to see her. The conversation then escalated quickly until Nat couldn't take the berating any longer and blocked her ability to message him on his phone. Unfortunately, it was impossible to argue with a drug addict when one drinks and smokes weed. 
     The back door opened and the sounds of multiple people could be heard entering the house. Nat looked up from his laptop at the island in the kitchen to see Malik, another guy, and a girl enter the house. The guy and girl appeared to be your average teenager/young adult friends that everyone has growing up. Seeing them reminded Nat of some of his that he had not seen in a while. 
     Mal and his friends walked into the kitchen where Mal exchanged greetings with everyone. Nat looked among them and could immediately sense it. Almost like a 420 radar that every pot smoker has integrated into them after their first indulgence in the Mary Jane. Mal and his friends all had wide-grinning smiles that revealed how much they were enjoying their high while also showing how much they couldn't hide it. Mal excused them all upstairs to his room and left Nat to return to his laptop. 
     After a few moments had passed, Nat could hear the shower turn off. Kimberly exited the bathroom shortly thereafter with a towel wrapped around her hair and dressed in her attire for the day. She asked Nat if he wanted a shower as well which he politely declined. Kimberly announced that she needed another smoke and the clock read "Drink Thirty". Nat could hardly disagree with her as he eagerly poured together two cocktails for them. A loud crash rang throughout the house causing both Kimberly and Nat to jump and look at each other.
     "What the hell was that!" shouted Kimberly in a mix of shock and terror. 
     "The fuck if I know," responded Nat. "Sounded like it came from upstairs. Mal got home a bit ago while you were in the shower, and he has a few friends over. They must be horsing around up there."
     "Yea, well he already busted down his bedroom wall. Ron's going to have a flipping shit fit if he destroyed something else up there."
     "What do you mean he busted down his bedroom wall?" 
     "His room was originally 2 different rooms. He and Ron got into it badly the other week and Ronald absolutely just tore down the wall separating the two rooms. Ron was pissed."
     "Yea, I can imagine he would be. Dad always provided us with punching bags growing up. Can't say I ever took the time to think about destroying a whole wall though." Before Kimberly could respond, Malik and his friends came down the stairs and joined Kimberly and Nat in the kitchen.
     "Hey Kimberly," spoke Malik in a soft tone. "Can I bum a cigarette please?"
     Kimberly gave him one of Malik's signature eye rolls at the sound of this question. "Oh, I suppose," she responded. "What the hell was with all the crashing and banging upstairs?"
     "What do you mean?"
     "Don't play stupid with me Ronald! You don't think we couldn't hear you all upstairs? It sounded like a herd of buffalo was roaming on through."
     "We weren't doing anything bad. We were just wrestling around and having a pillow fight. Opal jumped on me while I was laying on the bed, and we heard it make a noise," he continued while gesturing at his female friend. 
     "Were you two showering together?" chimed in Malik's female friend, Opal. 
     "What the fuck!" responded Kimberly in clear surprise at the question asked. 
     "I don't know," began Opal. I just saw you were in the shower earlier. When I came down I didn't see Nat anywhere."
     "He's my fucking son! What the fuck is wrong with you?" exclaimed Kimberly in return. "Wow. I'm going out for a smoke." Nat, clearly confused by what he had just witnessed, followed Kimberly out to join her and have his first smoke of the day. 
     "Jesus Christ," opened Nat as he lit up his cigarette. "What the hell was all that about? Like, who seriously asks that kind of a question? I almost want whatever the hell she's smoking."
     "You think she's smoking something?" questioned Kimberly in response. 
     "Mom, come on now. I'm pretty much a veteran weed smoker these days, and I can tell you that they were all definitely smoking before they came back to the house."
     "Ronald always said he didn't smoke. That he never had an interest in it. His older brother though smokes a lot."
     "Well, I can't answer how often Malik smokes but he was definitely smoking with them earlier. I can tell by the giggles and mannerisms that they're all doing. Let him enjoy his buzz though. It's a gorgeous day."
     "Hopefully he can hide it from his father then. Speak of the devil, there he is." Nat met her gaze up towards the driveway to see a Chevy Blazer making its trip down towards the house. Ron pulled the Blazer to a halt, killed the engine, and exited the vehicle.
     "Hey," said Ron as he approached Kimberly and Nat. "How's your day been?" He didn't wait for an immediate answer as he leaned in and gave Kimberly a welcoming peck on the lips. 
     "It's been okay," she responded once her face had once again become her own. "Ronald has some friends over. Opal and some guy that I've never met before."
     "Oh, is everything all right?" 
     "Not really, no. They're being loud and rude. You'll never believe what Opal said to me." Kimberly gave Ron the recap as to what had happened throughout the day. She would have thought Ron was ready to yell after explaining the loud crashing noise. However, she continued until she reached the question asked by Opal regarding conjoined bathing. 
     "That shit's not happening. I'll handle it." With those two quick sentences, Ron had turned for the house and was gone from Kimberly and Nat's sight. Kimberly and Nat sat in silence while they each finished their cigarettes. 
     "Well, I don't know about you, "started Kimberly. "But I think we need to go back to the liquor store for refills."
     "Damn," chuckled Nat. "Where was this side of my Mom growing up? Yea, I could also use some more vodka if we're going to drink like we did last night."
     "I don't know all about that. I have to work in the morning. Which means I'm going to miss the solar eclipse."
     "That's right! I completely forgot that was supposed to be happening tomorrow. I'll have to keep an eye out for it on my way home. Well, I'm ready to go to the store if you're ready to go."
They each put out their cigarette butts and made a motion toward Kimberly's car.


     Kimberly and Nat made it back to the house roughly an hour later. Their liquor is ready for consumption and their extra grocery items are ready to hit the grill. Upon entering the back door they found Ron standing in the kitchen near the sink. 
     "Hey, we're back," said Kimberly as she placed down the bags of alcohol. 
     "Hey," Ron responded. "So what exactly happened again with Ronald and his friends this afternoon?" Kimberly retold the events from hours prior. "Was he smoking?"
     "I don't know. If he was, he wasn't smoking here. They got home when I was in the shower. Nathaniel thinks they were smoking." Kimberly looked over toward Nat. Ron's gaze followed.
     "I mean, I don't know for sure," said Nat, clearly uncomfortable with how the conversation had turned toward him. "I'd like to think my 420 radar is pretty accurate, but I didn't see them smoking. They were just really giddy and rowdy. Like a couple of high teens."
     "Where is Ronald," asked Kimberly
     "He's up in his room," replied Ron. "I told his friends they had to go and that Opal is not welcome back here. Did you know that they busted the bed frame in his room?" 
     "Is that what that noise was?"
     "Yup, it's completely broken. There's no fixing it."
     "What the Hell! So what's he doing now?"
     "I don't know. He was on his phone when I left him. When do you want to do these steaks?"
     "I'm ready as soon as you are. How about you Nathaniel?"
     "I can eat steak anytime. Let's do it." Ron left the house to light the grill while Kimberly unloaded the liquor bottles and remaining groceries. Nat picked up one of the grocery bags and pulled out two items. "I'm going to go see Malik. I know my fights with my Dad all too well. Hopefully, this will cheer him up some." Nat grabbed a glass from the kitchen cupboard and proceeded to fill it with ice. He then retrieved the two items he pulled from the grocery bag and added them to the glass to create chocolate milk. He strained the ice cubes from the glass and proceeded to make his way up the stairs. 
     Nat entered what he believed to be Malik's room and was later confirmed by the sagging bed to his right. He looked around the room but didn't see Malik anywhere. As his gaze swept he found himself coming across an average bedroom. A dresser sat against the side of the furthest wall. Another bed sat next to this one. A large poster of a young male actor hung above it. On the other side of the bed in a corner was Malik. He was curled up in a ball position with his feet and rear planted on the floor. His arms lay folded across his knees, and his head lay in his arms. Nat felt great empathy and hoped to calm this upset person he didn't know yet felt in the way that he did.
     "Hey," said Nat as he placed a hand on top of Malik's right shoulder. The ice-cold glass of chocolate milk is still in his left hand. "Are you okay? I didn't mean to cause any trouble or anything. I'm really sorry if I did." Malik remained in his position. "I brought you up an ice-cold glass of chocolate milk. I made it extra cold. I hope I put enough chocolate syrup in it for you." Malik remained in his position. Nat stood and placed the cup of milk on an end table next to the bed. 
     "He's such a fucking asshole," muttered Malik.
     "Yea, I'm finding that out some."
     "He doesn't deserve your Mom. You have no idea."
     "Actually, I'd like to think that I have somewhat of an idea. I'm all the way up here right now to see my mom because of issues she is having with your Dad."
     "I didn't know that." Malik lowered his knees and his arms followed. He now sat crosslegged with his hands in his lap. "He always accuses your Mom of cheating and she's not. He gets drunk and says really nasty things that she doesn't deserve. Just the other night she went outside and my Dad fucking locked her out. She slept in her car. She says she loves him, but my Dad needs to stop his shit."
     "I'm not really here like you are, but I do know my Mom." Nat took a sigh as he looked briefly around the room to contemplate his next words. "My Mom can be quite the instigator herself sometimes. We also have quite a weird mother-and-son relationship that's gotten better over recent years. She's a grown woman though, and she's capable of making her own choices with her life. It's not my place to say. With that said, however, if she would ever ask for my help or your dad would ever harm her...that's a whole different story."
     "No. My Dad's a lot, but I don't see him ever physically hurting your Mom."
     "Thanks. I actually really appreciate hearing that. It does make me feel a little better with all this. What do you say about coming downstairs and helping me with the steak?"
     Malik shook his head. "I'm not dealing with him right now."
     "Okay, do you just want to stay up here or...?"
     "I've been messaging my Mom for a bit. I want to see if I can go stay at her place."
     "Oh, okay. Well, I liked meeting you. Sorry for the camel tongue joke the other night."
     "Don't worry about it," Malik scoffed back with a smile. "It was actually funny."
     Nat stood and exited the room. He went downstairs to assist Kimberly and Ron with starting the grill. He found Kimberly in the kitchen pouring herself a rum and diet cola. He stopped at this sight and thought to himself that a drink sounded like a great idea. 
     "Everything all right?" asked Kimberly.
     "Yea," responded Nat. "I think so. We talked for a little bit. A little about him, a little about his Dad, and a little about you. I think he's all right. Are we ready for the grill?"
     "I think so. I'm going to step out for a smoke and check on Ron. You want to come out for one?"
     "No thanks. I'm going to stick in here and catch up on some baseball news awhile."
     Kimberly grabbed her smokes and drink and headed out to check on the grill. Nat pulled up his laptop and began researching news updates and articles on multiple sports websites. Fifteen minutes or so had passed when he started to hear Malik come downstairs from his room. Malik spotted Nat in the kitchen on his laptop. He thanked him again for the chocolate milk and the talk and informed him he was heading over to his Mom's. Nat closed the computer lid and decided a smoke didn't sound so bad after all. 
     He exited the back door and found Kimberly sitting in her chair finishing the last bits of her cigarette. Ron was standing in front of the grill. A grill brush was in his hands as he vigorously cleaned the grates of the Charbroil Grill. Nat approached Kimberly and asked for a cigarette. She rolled her eyes at him as she ousted her own cigarette and pulled out a new one for Nat. Ron turned from the grill to face him.
     "So who's cooking the steaks?" asked Ron while looking directly at Nat. 
     "I figured you were," replied Nat. "I can if you want me to, but I just assumed that you'd want to since it's your grill."
     "I don't mind if you want to grill them, but we eat ours well done here." 
     "Yea, that's going to be hard for me," Nat chuckled in response. "How about I season them and you can grill them then? I don't mind well done. Mom over her went ahead and raised me on it. As long as I have plenty of salt then I'm good to go."
     "All right, sounds good to me. I'm going to grab a beer and see if Ronald is joining us for supper."
     "Oh, he left actually. He had his Mom pick him up, I believe."
     "He had his Mom pick him up? When was this?"
     Nat looked over toward his Mom as he could feel the aura of the day turning sour once more. "It must have been five minutes ago. I'm sorry. I didn't realize it was going to be a problem. We were talking for a while and he said about going to stay over at his Mom's."
     Ron didn't say anymore in return for Nat's explanation. He turned in a huff and entered the back door. No doubt in search of the beer he originally intended to grab. Nat looked back over at this mother. 
     "I'm really sorry," he began. "We just had a nice conversation. I thought it went really well. I didn't mean to cause further problems or get him into any trouble."
     "Don't worry about it Nathaniel," said Kimberly in a soothing tone. "Ron will have a couple of beers and he honestly probably won't bring it up again. Ronald has done stuff like this before."
     Nat sat there listening to his mother reassured him that nothing was wrong. He wasn't entirely listening, however. His mind was somewhere else. Somewhere with a young man who he continued to wonder if was okay. 

Chapter 1 - Weathering the Storm

Publication scheduled for 04/02/23 22:00 EST