A Better Life

Jason took another plate and stacked it on the edge of the table before picking up the whole set and walking to the sink. As he began washing the dishes, his husband spoke up.

Adam said, “Before I head out, just letting you know, I heard some scratching in the wall I think.”

“Could you get some rat traps on the way home?”

Adam stood up from the table and walked up to Jason. He wrapped his arms around him. “Sure. I could get a few from the hardware store.”

“I’ll set them up. It only seems fair if you’re getting them.”

Adam leaned in and gave Jason a quick kiss. “You’re good for me.”

Adam disentangled from his smiling husband and picked up his suitcase. “Hate to kiss and run, but I have to get going.”

“Can you take Danny with you today?”

Adam looked into the living room and saw the little troublemaker watching cartoons. He looked at his watch and then said, “It’s the exact opposite direction.”

Jason turned away from the sink and looked his husband in the eye. He stared with wide pleading eyes.

Adam broke. “Alright.” He turned back towards the kid again and said, “Alright Danny-boy. Let’s get moving! Pop has a tight schedule and I need to get your butt to school.”

As Danny started to get up and walk towards the door, picking up his lunch box and jacket, he spoke up and said, “Can’t say butt!”

“I’m an adult. I can say butt, now get your butt in the car.” Adam turned back to Jason one last time and smiled at him before closing the door.

Jason walked to the window and watched as the love of his life wrestled their kid into the back seat. He smiled and then waved goodbye as the car pulled out of the driveway and onto the suburban street. 

And finally Jason exhaled.

He stood there for a second picking at a long healed burn scar along his left forearm, then a deep breath, and went back to his day.

He took a newly clean plate, dried it off with a towel, and loaded it with sausage, bacon, and toast. As he took a bit of the toast he walked towards the stairs, taking a moment to check what the news was saying. They were still talking about the attack on the detention center, so Jason turned off the TV and climbed the stairs.

At the top of the stairs Jason heard the scratching in the walls, coming from above. He looked up at the ceiling and took another bite of toast before pulling the cord that lowered the ladder towards the attic.

The top of the ladder was pitch black, but Jason set the plate of food on the floor and climbed up anyway. With his newly freed hand he flicked the switch there and turned the light on before turning around.

Back against the wall was an unshaven man holding a butcher knife towards him.

Jason stared at the man, his eyes narrowing.

Jason said, “Daniel, put that damn thing down.”

“Y-you can’t be too careful.”

Jason finished climbing up the ladder and stood up in the attic. “What if it was Adam, or one of the kids?”

Daniel mumbled, “I’d never hurt the kids.”

“Jesus Christ, Daniel.”

“Is he gone?” Daniel began to stand up to match Jason’s gaze.

“Yeah, yeah. It’s safe to talk.”

Daniel mumbled again. “You should leave him.”

“What?”

Louder, Daniel said, “I said ‘You should leave him.’”

“Look, I’m not having this damn conversation again.”

Daniel looked at his feet as if they were the most interesting pair in the world. “I…I know, guest in his house, but…I just…”

Jason walked toward Daniel and placed one hand on his bicep and the other over the handle of the knife, slowly taking it from his hand. Daniel flinched as Jason’s fingers brushed across the bandages over his fingers. Daniel’s eyes darted to that familiar matching burn on Jason’s arm. Jason raised Daniel’s chin with his freehand and put the knife down on a box behind himself. Daniel looked away to the side.

Jason broke the silence. “That’s the past. And you can’t keep living in it.”

“It doesn’t have to be, the past I mean.”

“Sure, but it will.”

Daniel finally matched Jason’s gaze. “You’re going to turn me in.”

“I won’t if you leave.”

“You…you promised I’d be safe here. That I could stay until things died down.”

“I can’t keep that promise.”

“You think I’m a monster, don’t you. You,” Daniel’s grew higher pitched, “you knew why I did it.”

Jason said, “I’m not saying you did anything wrong, okay? I mean. I…I kind of wish…”

Daniel interrupted him, “If you kick me out now, I’m as good as dead. You get that right?”

“I can’t risk my family.”

Daniel took a step closer to Jason, staring at him in the eyes, the same eyes that used to burn with fire and passion for freedom. The same fire that took light in Daniel’s heart after meeting Jason, and now, the flame was gone, but a spark. He could hope for a spark.

Jason couldn’t match Daniel’s gaze and instead fell to his lips where they lingered for a second longer than Jason was comfortable with, so he pushed the man away.

As Jason started to go back down the ladder, he pushed the plate of food towards Daniel before saying, “You have another day. And then you need to leave.”

With the panel rising back up to meet the floor of the attic, Daniel slumped back down to the ground.


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