Alternate Universe "Street Gang"
Fourth story in the Something... series.
There was nobody home and that was even better for him. Nobody to talk to, no one to make excuses to, no disapproving looks that he had had a hard time facing once again, he was on his own.
On silent feet, he climbed the stairs to his bedroom that was no longer his. After what had gone on tonight, he just knew he had outstayed his welcome and there was no reason to stay where you were not wanted. Better to leave before being thrown out or being kept out of pity because of his orphan status.
So here he was, in his soon-to-be-former-bedroom. Silently, he opened the wardrobe and picked up his bag. Still silent, he opened drawers and doors and started piling his belongings on his bed sorry, his soon-to-be-former-bed. And then, he filled the bag. Looking around to see if he hadn't forgotten anything, his eyes rested for a few seconds on his books. No. He hadn't paid for them. They were not his. They would stay. What would he use them for anyway? He wasn't going back to school, he couldn't. He would be found again and sent back to No! No books. No note-book. No trinkets. Nothing. He would leave here with what he had arrived with. Just clothes. And if the clothes he was leaving with were in better shape than those he arrived with, well, they would be a help to find a job and to face the coming Winter. After all, it was only two months away
One last time, he looked around, trying to tell himself that it was just to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything when in truth, he was saying good-bye to the best thing that had ever happened to him. No more family. No more friends. No more bonds tying him down, weighing him with responsibility. Now, he was free.
The sigh that exited at that thought would have been foretelling if there had been anybody around to hear it but he was alone as he'd always been, as seemed to be his lot in life. There'd be no more searching for some kind of company. He was far better alone. At least, he could count on himself. And if he ever let anybody down, it would be just him and nobody would be caught in the middle.
Nodding wearily, he stepped out of the bedroom, walked down the stairs and left the house, a shadow among shadows as the moon was rising in the starlit sky. He turned his back on Four Corners, walked to the highway and started walking on the side of the road, pointing a thumb at the oncoming cars, thinking that maybe somebody might want some company for a night drive and maybe he would be given a lift to somewhere to anywhere but here, where he had hurt so many people he loved and where he wasn't wanted any longer.
It was time to call it quit. It was time to understand that dreaming wasn't for him. Had never been. Would never be. Ever.
Six weeks earlier
Looking at himself in the mirror, Vin sighed. There was nothing he could do and he would certainly not cut his hair. He frowned, fighting the wind of rebellion rising deep inside. So many people had wanted to cut his hair well, all of the foster parents had wanted to but neither Maggie nor Ryan had ever talked about it. In fact, if they were to cut his hair, then they had to cut JD's too Damn, he thought, I react like a damn kid. He sighed deeply.
"Hey Vin, you ready?" Chris' call pulled him out of his thoughts.
"Just about," he replied, stepping out of the bathroom.
"You okay?" Chris asked, seeing the frown still on his forehead. "You know everything will be okay. Besides, we'll see each other at recess and lunchtime, you know. And it's not as if you'll be alone in there. Ez'll be right beside you." He smiled.
"You tryin' to get me worried?" Vin smirked, lifting one questioning eyebrow.
Chris laughed. "At least, he's the one stepping one class up and you're not one class down!" He sighed suddenly, turning around looking at the bedroom.
Vin smiled, remembering everybody's enthusiasm at his passing the entrance exam to the local high school. Miss Nettie and Maggie had already talked to him, mentioning the possibility that, since he had been away from any education for so long, maybe he would end up in a class with younger kids and that he should not be ashamed of it. Because the most important thing was that he had worked hard and had done well. So when the board had called Maggie and told her about his achievement and that she would receive the official papers by mail, well, they had decided to throw him a party! He had worked hard, but thanks to his new family, he had made it. Yep, his mother would be so proud of him and today was their first day of school!
Chris, Buck and Nathan were in the same class; Ezra and him in another, one level under; and poor JD was all by himself, two levels under. And that worried all of them, with his mother's death still so close in everybody's mind
"God, I still can't believe summer went so fast and now, I'm a senior and I'll be graduating at the end of the year "
" and you'll be eighteen in about what? Six months or so? Man, you're getting old!" Vin smirked.
"Not as old as you guys are gonna feel if we're late to school!" Buck's jovial tone interrupted. "Come on, guys, the kids are already ready and we're to meet Nathan at the park to pick him up. Hurry up guys, I just can't let the other guys put a move on all the new girls!" He threw over his shoulder, walking towards the stairs.
Chris and Vin looked at each other and shook their heads. Of course, there had to be an explanation for Buck being so happy to go back to school and getting up so early in the morning without moaning!
He still couldn't remember how it all started. He knew he had been walking fast, being late to join the guys at recess. He knew he had bumped into somebody, the light cry of surprise jolting him. He knew he had dropped down to pick up the books he had 'helped' scatter around. And then, as he had handed them back to their owner, he had suddenly looked into the bluest pair of eyes he had ever seen. He could remember her mouth moving, saying something, but all he could remember was to smile at her. She had smiled back and turned to leave. And he had walked in a fog-induced reverie to find himself outside, wondering what it was again he was supposed to be doing now.
He had then seen the guys waving him over, already seated at a table, with Sarah and a blond girl he knew he had seen somewhere but couldn't remember where.
"Vin? You okay?" Chris asked, shaking his shoulder firmly.
He looked up, and blushed, suddenly aware that they must have been trying to talk to him for some time and he hadn't even noticed.
"Sorry," he muttered, blushing.
"Man, you look like you've seen your best dream come true so who was she? Anybody I know?" Buck joked then laughed outright when Vin went deep crimson. "Come on, man, give! Is she around here?" He insisted.
Vin opened his mouth to answer when he suddenly noticed the girl sitting just two tables behind Buck. And the expression that crossed his face had them all turning to see who he was looking at. He blushed furiously, knowing that Buck would never let him off the hook.
"So, it's her, huh?" Buck said in a strange voice that had him looking up.
Buck was frowning, apparently not one minute thinking about teasing him.
"Buck " Chris trailed, obviously warning him to watch his mouth.
Buck opened and closed his mouth several times, as if looking for his words but not too sure how to say it.
"Spill it, Wilmington, ya're lookin' like a damn fish!" Vin growled.
Buck looked helplessly at Chris, who sighed.
"We don't rightly know how to say this, Vin " Chris said softly.
"There's no two ways to go about that one," said the blond young woman dryly.
"Mary " Sarah warned, then sighed. "Vin, it's like this. That girl " She hesitated, debating on how much to say so early. "Well, she's already spoken for, if you see what I mean "
" and her boyfriend, Will Richmond, is on the football team. Or maybe I should say 'is' when he's not out because of his temper. I evicted him four times last year for unnecessary use of force on the field. If it were only me, he would be off the team, but his old man has money and the school needs the funds. In other words, Rich is a mean s.o.b. who doesn't like when another guy looks at his woman."
Vin shrugged, "I wasn't planning on marrying her anyway but ya can't blame a guy for watchin', can ya?"
They all sighed and Chris looked about to add something but decided not to.
"Buck and I have football practice at three, you guys want to come see us or you gonna walk back home by yourself?" Chris asked the youngest.
"Well, I for one suggest we go to the stadium and while you gentlemen are practicing, we can always start on our homework," Ezra volunteered after a look at Vin and JD who agreed.
"Okay, we'll see you then," Chris saluted as they all went their separate ways for the last hours of work.
Chuck lifted his head as a group of teenagers entered the diner, then relaxed as he recognized them those were 'The Peacekeepers', as the downtown shopkeepers had nicknamed them. During the summer, the kids had taken the habit of spending a few hours in the place and had nicknamed it 'The Saloon' due to the decidedly western style of the furniture and posters and pictures hanging on the walls.
He nodded to them as they passed, walking straight to their usual table. Then, he dropped his head to hide his smile as one of the eldest, Buck if he remembered correctly, stopped suddenly in the alley and did a double-take before swaggering confidently towards the counter and Chuck's brand new waitress.
"Well, hello there you're not from these parts, aren't ya " Buck drawled.
"Senior," the girl saluted, face blank. Then, she stepped up to the group's table to take their order, Buck hot on her heels.
And that set the tone of the afternoon. For the next two hours, Inez -as Chuck had called her- went about her business taking orders and bringing food and drinks to tables, not one time paying attention to the young man following her around, trying to weasel a date out of her.
"Come on, Inez, let me buy you a drink sometime," he smiled winsomely.
"Hmm. Let me think about that," she hummed, mock-faced. "Nunca!"
"That means never," Nathan laughed. "The devil himself doesn't get burned that bad "
"We've been here a mere two hours and already she sees through you like a pane glass window," Ezra joked.
"I say Buck has met his match," Nathan crowed.
Buck sighed impatiently at their antics, then looked back at Inez.
"Excuse me, Inez. I don't speak much Spanish, but to me nunca sounded a lot like... tonight," he winked.
The girl whirled around to face him, hands on her hips.
"Then let me translate. Never!" And she walked to the kitchen, leaving behind a dumbfounded Buck.
Chris was looking upon all that with a slight smile on his lips. It wasn't every day that Buck got shot down in flames like that
"Come on, guys, we gotta head back home now. We have chores to finish and we promised Mom we wouldn't be late for dinner today. She's gonna want to hear all about our first day back," he added with an amused smile, leading his posse out of the diner.
"Where you goin', Buck?" Ezra taunted, "Nunca sounded an awful lot like tonight," he laughed.
"Well, let me translate for you, Buck," Nathan mimicked
"Never!" Ezra and Nathan chorused, laughing uproariously while following their friends down the street.
"Oh hell. It wasn't that funny," Buck muttered while the rest of the group broke into loud laughter.
"It was rapturous," Ezra said, wiping his eyes. "Why, I never imagined you'd lose your touch so fast."
"Well, at least, you got a chance to learn how to speak Spanish," Nathan added before breaking in guffaws again.
"Now hold on, here! Buck Wilmington never says never!" Buck swore, stopping dead in his tracks. "Now that I put my mind to it, that girl's never is gonna turn into a yes faster than a jackrabbit with its tail on fire," he added with a determined frown.
The guys looked at him and then went back to laughing when Nathan said: "I'd say your rabbit's already been cooked, Buck. Nunca!"
The following days went in a blur, with Vin crossing paths with the blue-eyed girl he had learned was called Charlotte, and with Buck spending as much time as he could at the Saloon, trying to get Inez for a date and giving his friends a good laugh.
Yet, Vin was in a quandary. Never a girl had spent so much time trying to get his attention and never had he had a girl like her notice him before. Girls like her were more interested in jocks like Chris or Buck or even Nathan. Not quiet, unassuming guys like him. So, every time she came on to him, he ended up tongue-tied. He had never flirted. He had never been in love. And if the state of his heart (ready to pound out of his chest at the mere sight of her blue eyes) was any indication, he was falling hard.
And that was not good.
He had already had encounters with Charlotte's old boyfriend. In the school's hallways and the football field. And he was still wondering if he should be grateful to Chris for having stepped up to his defense or mad because of their words after it. He could still remember the whole scene.
He had just opened his locker to put his books down and to take the ones he needed to work that evening, when the door had suddenly been shut in his face, missing his fingers more out of his good reflexes than per the guy's intention. The guy that had done that was not really physically impressive. Maybe a bit taller than he was and certainly more muscled. But the fire in this eyes, the hatred that burned there was to be reckoned with.
"Charlotte's mine, punk, you hear me?" He had threatened. "I see you more one time with her, I kill you."
And then Chris had stepped in between them.
"You got a problem with my brother, Richmond?"
"If he stays out of my way and leaves my girl alone, then we got no problem," the jock hissed menacingly.
"And maybe she should stay out of his way too, then," Chris grinned humorlessly.
Richmond looked at him with hooded eyes, then he nodded and left.
"Chris," he had said before being cut off.
"This has gone on long enough, Vin. The girl's no good. She's playing with your feelings and now that fucking maniac has you in his sights. What do you think is gonna happen? That he'll let you get away with this out of the goodness of his heart? Damn it Vin, they're both of them fucked up and they don't care who they take down with them."
But Vin had just looked at him, refusing to let out the anger and hurt. He had just nodded and walked away, sullen.
And then, the next day, all hell had broken loose.
Charlotte had been waiting for him and they had both walked to the football field where Ezra, Nathan and JD were waiting for him. And before he could climb up the steps to sit with them, he had been tackled to the ground, only his quick reflexes allowing him to fall beside the stairs instead of cracking his head on the concrete.
Luckily for him, they were on the football field, the whole team and the coach were there and got Richmond off his back before too much damage could be done. But not before the jock got a lucky punch and gave him quite a shiner.
"Damn it, Vin, this is getting out of hand," Chris had muttered between clenched teeth, helping him up. "I ain't judgin' you, but this ain't the time or the place for it."
He had wrestled out of his grasp, swearing, "One more person sticks their nose in my business, and I'm gonna do something I'll regret. So I'm tellin' you now, Chris, you stay out of this." And he had walked away, before words he didn't want to say could be uttered.
And now, here he was in the Saloon, with a glass of coke he couldn't even remember ordering, wondering when it had suddenly all gone down the drain.
And he sighed impatiently when a shadow slipped in the booth in front of him. He was about to ask for peace when the voice of his guest registered.
"You gotta cut him some slack, Vin, he's scared for you we all are "
Lifting his head, he met the cool and concerned green gaze of Ezra.
"Mind you, I'm not judging anybody here, that's not my place. But the way this Neanderthal reacted to the sight of the two of you together, maybe it would be better for the time being if you were to hmm let's say, back off a little, you know, let things cool down " Ezra shrugged.
Vin nodded mutely. Maybe Ez was right. Maybe all they needed was a little time to look things straight in the eye and decide what to do. Or for him to at least understand exactly what was going on and why he just couldn't think about anything at all when his eyes would cross the cornflower blues of Charlotte.
Without another word, Ezra picked up one of his books and started to study, leaving Vin to his thoughts.
About half an hour later, the rest of the posse arrived and before Chris could open his mouth, a sign from Ezra and a warning look told him all he needed to know. They had already talked and Vin was still sitting there, deep in thoughts. He couldn't ask for more.
Things had seem to settle down then, Vin doing his best for a moment to avoid Charlotte without being too obvious. Taking great care not to be in Will Richmond's path not that he was a coward at all he knew damn well he could hold his own in a fistfight. Still, the fact that Sarah had more or less warned him against Charlotte weighted quite a bit in the balance.
Not, she told him, that Charlotte was indeed leading him on. After all, they had no proof of that yet and Vin was quite a catch he could still remember her teasing smile at his blush, though he couldn't very well understand how she could peg him so Chris was something, yes, as were Buck and even Ezra despite his young age. But as far as he was concerned, he was nothing like them. 'But that's all your charm', Sarah had insisted. 'You're gonna be one hell of a man, you know ' She had smiled at his frown. 'Besides, when you look with the eyes of the heart, the one you love always is the most beautiful person in the whole wide world', she had murmured stealing a glance towards Chris on the practice field.
So okay, there certainly was a girl out there for him, someone who wouldn't be repulsed by his long hair and his too thin frame, or by his lack of education or his dyslexia, or by the fact that he wasn't much of a talker and maybe that girl was Charlotte
He stopped his wayward thoughts when Ez called softly to him. There, at the back of the Saloon, a group of Mexicans was blocking the alley.
"Let's go," Vin muttered, not liking the situation one bit.
For the last two weeks, there had been inquiries made by the Mexicans but they had had yet to see any of them in down town Four Corners. And now, here they were, apparently ready to fight. And Vin got even more worried when he saw Buck was in the middle of it all, keeping close to the side of the girl he had been hounding since the beginning of school in late August the famous Inez.
The boys arrived just in time to catch the end of the conversation.
"Please, Don Paolo, leave me alone," Inez asked in a quiet voice to the tall Mexican looking down at her.
"We have many things to discuss. Many things," he said in such a sweet voice that Vin could feel shivers of apprehension down his spine.
"I have nothing to say to you," Inez returned, hardly keeping his anger in check.
"She said she's got nothin' to say," Buck stepped up closer to the girl, using his size to try and impress the Mexican.
"No Raphael", the Mexican said, holding out a hand to stop one of his cohorts.
"Y'all got a lot to learn about showin' respect to a lady," Buck intoned, sarcastic.
"Buck, please," Inez worried, clenching his shirt sleeve to hold him back.
"You have made some new amigos, I see," the Mexican sneered.
"No, no. He's no one to me," she hastened to say, her eyes suddenly widening in fright.
"I wonder," he replied, looking Buck up and down, disparagingly.
"You know what, Mister? What's between the lady and me, it's got nothin' to do with you. So it's best you just walk away," Buck threatened, getting even more riled.
"You call her a lady, Senior, but she's nothing but a thief. She had offended the honor of my family," the Mexican said hotly.
"Well then, that should make it really easy for you to just walk away," he sneered.
"Buck please, stop this!" Inez admonished, truly frightened now.
"You insult me, Senior," the Mexican said haughtily, raising a brow.
"Oh, I'm just warmin' up. You touch that woman again, and you're gonna see a real insult," Buck poked the man in the chest.
"What the hell's goin' on here?" Vin walked up to them, Ezra by his side.
"Are you challenging me?" The Mexican asked, wiping an imaginary dirty spot on his lapel where Buck had touched him.
"No, he isn't!" Inez intervened.
"Oh, I reckon I am," Buck answered as if she hadn't talked.
"Easy now, Bucklin!" Vin said.
"Oh, this guy wants a fight, he's got it right now," Buck smiled coldly.
"No, Senior. I demand satisfaction in the customs of my people. We meet at 7 tonight in the park to discuss the terms of engagement. You better pack your bags, Inez. You'll be coming home soon. Raphael, vamonos. Guillermo, watch her until this is over."
"What have you done?" Inez turned onto Buck.
"I'm not afraid of him," Buck said quietly, watching the man go.
"You should be," Inez said, shaking her head sadly and returning into the Saloon.
A few minutes later saw Inez and Vin entering her house where she was renting a room, closely followed by Guillermo.
"Leave me alone, Guillermo," Inez said wearily.
"You ain't followin' the lady to her room," Vin said standing in front of the guy while Inez unlocked her door. Then, they both entered.
"Thank you," said Inez, looking around at her meager possessions.
"You all right?" He asked softly.
She sighed, then started gathering her things on her bed. "I'm leaving. They can't fight over a woman if that woman is not here," she said trembling.
"Where you gonna go?"
"I will find a new town. Start over."
"You sure that's what you want?"
"I had a new life here. New job new people. Now what choice do I have but to move on?" She asked on the verge of tears.
"Wherever you are, he'll find you," he answered with certainty.
"I know," she sighed, resigned. "What would you do?"
"With people like that guy, sooner or later you got to make a stand," he smiled sadly to her.
She looked him straight in the eyes for a few seconds then breathed deeply and opened the door to address her unwanted guard.
"Then I'll make my stand here. Hear that, Guillermo? I'm not leaving! Go tell that to your boss!"
Vin stepped outside the bedroom, smiling amicably to the other man. "Better get used to seein' me," he said coldly.
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