Chapter 15 - Salve, Salve

Steve gave into the misery and cried his heart out on the steps. He didn't care who saw him, or what anyone said, or anything else. He wanted to go home, but he didn't have one anymore. All he had was the clothes on his back and the paper tag on his wrist. He was, for all intents and purposes, an orphan.

He felt someone touch his shoulder, and he jumped. The small, dark haired woman. She asked if he was alright. Steve shook his head, still crying balefully. She pulled her windbreaker off and draped it around Steve's shoulders. She sat down next to him and asked him what was wrong. He shook his head again, unwilling to tell a stranger his story so close to the hospital, and therefore, the psych ward.

She put an arm around him and told him she wasn't leaving until he stopped crying at least. He looked at her and tried to stop the tears, but he just cried harder. She patted his shoulders and told him not to rush, she had all night, the guy she was visiting wasn't going anywhere. Through his tears, Steve managed to ask her about her friend.

Not a friend of hers, she corrected. She'd never laid eyes on him. She was a friend of a friend. She'd borrowed her best friend's car for the day, but she had to promise to visit someone in the hospital before she brought the car back. She thought that was a weird request, since she'd offered more than a hundred bucks for the trouble, but her friend was adamant. No visit, no car. Keep the money. Apparently, this guy was alone in the world and her friend was his only link to the outside.

Steve sniffled and said he wished he had a friend that dedicated. He couldn't even figure out how to get himself home. Hell, he wasn't sure what city he was in. He just hoped his coworkers would put out a missing persons report in the morning.

She gave him a strange look and said that was ridiculous. She told him she wanted him to come inside and warm up while she talked to this guy, then they would work out how to get him home. She didn't plan on staying more than a second, just to give him a thingy her buddy said should cheer the guy up. She shrugged and said she didn't see how, but if that's what her best friend wanted, that's what she'd do.

Steve got to his feet and looked at the hospitals automatic doors with a great deal of reluctance. He was incredibly cold, but he felt like if he went back through those doors he might never come back out. He stuck his hands through the sleeves, then in the pockets of her windbreaker, figuring that would keep him warmer. He'd started to tell her he'd be alright waiting outside, especially if she let him borrow the jacket, when he felt something in one of the pockets.

The woman paused and turned to him, waiting for him to finish his statement. He furrowed his brow and asked if the necklace was the thingy for the guy in the hospital. She nodded, a dubious look on her face. She told him she thought that was weird, but weirder yet was the instruction not to let any of the staff see it, or they might take it away. Why would anybody want a rock on a chain?

Steve yanked the necklace out of the pocket and looked at it. His pendant! He started to cry again. The woman asked if she needed to get a doctor, but he waved her silent, pulling the chain over his neck. She blinked, looked him up and down and asked if he was Stevie Morantes. He laughed through his tears. Stevie Morantes? He'd been called that before, but not officially. Then he sobered. This girl was Adam's best friend. His girl. She'd described the 'guy in the hospital' as being alone in the world. That was the only reason Adam was talking to him. Because he knew Steve was lonely.

Steve asked the woman how long she and Adam had been friends. Years. He nodded and turned toward the parking lot. She asked how in the world did he get out, since she'd been told he was trapped in the hospital. Steve sighed and started walking towards the car, offering to tell the story once they were on the road.

It was a twenty minute drive, but Steve figured they couldn't have been going any faster than 30 mph at any point whatsoever during the ride to Adam's. He told her an incredibly abbreviated version of events, figuring she'd start harping on his health like everybody else. She listened the same way that Adam did, never interrupting, never negating, always supportive.

It was weird.

When they arrived at Adam's, she commented on the beautiful Mercedes in front of the house, noting it had been there all day. Steve smiled broadly and told her it was his. She looked from him to the car and back at him. Then she asked how did a cute young thing with a car like that end up so lonely?

She smiled like a hungry tigress.

He hoped he was still smiling like anything.

She led the way to the front door, banging on it like she wanted to knock it off the wall. Steve could hear Adam calling out, telling her to hold her freakin' horses. She yelled back, and they went back and forth for a minute before he came out. He was smiling through the door, asking if she'd had any trouble finding his Stevie.

Steve blinked. His Stevie??

The girl demanded he turn on the stupid porch light and see for himself. The light came on and Steve heard a little gasp. Then the poor girl was knocked right into the shrubbery by a screendoor slamming open in her face. Adam tumbled out of the house and scooped Steve up in a bear hug that nearly pulverized every rib in his body.

He wasn't orphaned after all.

The girl cleared her throat and asked if she could get a ride or what. They let go of one another and Steve pulled the windbreaker off while Adam helped his friend to her feet. Adam shooed Steve in the house, telling him to find a sweater if he wanted to tag along, or go watch television or something. Steve ran in the house and grabbed one of Adam's sports coats, then ran to the car, hopping in the back seat.

The girl appeared at the window a moment later and smiled. She offered to let him have the front seat, but he shook his head. Ladies get priority seating. She shrugged and slid in the front seat. They chit chatted while waiting for Adam to lock up the house. She pulled a string out of her purse as she talked, and wrapped it around her waist. It looked as if she was taking her measurements, but she only had a plain piece of yarn, nothing accurate. She continued to yak as she looked at the string, shaking her head. Then she returned her full attention to Steve.

Steve consciously failed to comment on that bit of weirdness. If she needed to put a string around her middle right now, hey, whatever. He was glad, however, when Adam showed up a second later. Adam jumped in the conversation and Steve eased out of it, listening to the two people in the front. They didn't coo and smile at each other. They poked and prodded, called one another insulting things, then laughed uproariously. They acted like a cross between the goofy girls that came to see the band and the band itself.

They weren't lovers at all.

Steve pondered this all the way to the girl's apartment, uncertain what to make of it all. When the car stopped he got out, ready to hop in the front - but paused when he saw the girl kiss Adam. Okay... He stepped back to let the girl pass, but she marched right up to him and smacked a kiss on his lips. Then she tousled his hair, telling him it was disgusting how good it looked, and laughed wildly. Adam was laughing just as loud, so Steve figured what the hell, and laughed too. The girl ran to the security gate and let herself in, then turned and waved through the grating. Then she was gone, disappearing around a corner.

Steve sat down in the front seat and scratched at his head in a half-assed attempt at fixing his glossy red locks. He asked Adam where he'd found that odd girl. Adam mumbled about having classes with her. Then he changed the subject abruptly. He talked about the ideas floating around for the promotional video clips they would be filming soon, and how everyone seemed to settle on the idea of a staged concert.

Steve was about to ask about the girl and her string, but he figured he'd better just let it go for the time being. If Adam wanted to talk about work, then that was what Steve wanted to talk about. They discussed the ridiculousness of lip-synching to a loudspeaker in a phony concert, and who the hell was going to pay the actors, and why couldn't they have conceptual videos like non-rock bands.

When they got home, Steve was sent straight to his room, where a small television and shelf radio were positioned for his viewing/listening pleasure. Adam was behind him, explaining that he'd rather Steve stayed in bed for a couple more days, not overtax himself. He touched Steve's shoulder lightly, told him if it was too lonely, they could use one room instead.

The scandalous offer went right over Steve's head. He was more interested in checking the numbers on his scale. He smiled and hugged Adam, then told him he'd be fine. He said good night and took Adam's coat off. Adam took the coat and the hint, and left the room without protest.

Steve inspected the TV and radio, wondering why Adam would give him such a gift. If it was to keep him busy while he was in bed, why couldn't he just hang out on the living room sofa? Steve pondered it for another minute, then shrugged, dismissing it as yet another quirk, like the food thing.

Steve slowly removed his clothes, folding them neatly and resting them in a corner, though he had no intention of wearing them again until he washed them. Then he pulled out his scale and notebook, setting them neatly by the bed. He checked the water level in his ceramic pitcher - empty. Frowning, he took the pitcher to the sliding glass door and set it on the floor. He peeked behind the curtain - nobody out there. He opened the door just wide enough to get his head through - if he pulled his arms together he could narrow the width of his shoulders enough to slip through the five-inch space without too much trouble.

He darted out to the water hose and snatched it up. He switched on the faucet and dashed back to his room, trailing water. He filled the pitcher to capacity, then tossed the hose back outside, hoping it landed somewhere near the grass. He promised himself he'd pay the water bill if Adam said anything about it, then shut the glass. He picked up the pitcher and turned around -

To see his mother. Adam was behind her, looking apologetic, trying to pull the door closed between Steve and his sweet mama. Steve gulped, then smiled, trying to play it cool. He lowered the pitcher a bit, covering his exposed genitals. He shrugged and smiled a little wider, greeting his mother as if it were the most natural thing in the world to fill giant jugs with garden hose water in one's bedroom when completely starkers.

She stalked into the room and yanked the pitcher from his hands, splashing water everywhere. Adam protested, but she kicked the door shut in the startled man's face. Steve began to inch away fearfully. His mother ignored his retreat, grabbing a sheet off the bed instead. She stormed over to him and told him to put it on. When Steve shook his head, she growled something along the lines of it being his choice and dropped the sheet. Then she grabbed a handful of hair and dragged him through to the door, through the living room, and out the house, oblivious to his hysterical cries.

She shoved him to the sidewalk and put a foot on his belly. Then she started rummaging around in her purse. She was so intent on finding whatever it was in her bag that she had no idea Adam had followed her until he hit her over the head with a lamp. She stumbled away from Steve, dazed. Steve curled up in a ball, terrified. He heard scuffling noises and tried to make himself invisible.

After a while, gentle hands rested on Steve's arm. A soothing voice told him everything was alright, that the monster was gone. His eyes snapped open. That was not Adam's voice. Steve slowly turned his head to see his mother smiling beatifically at him. He asked where Adam was. She shook her head, told him the man left, but now she could take him home and make everything all right. She would have him cleansed.

Chapter 14
Chapter 16

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