“No way!” Calvin stared up at the apartment complex. “You live here?”
Ethan shrugged. He looked embarrassed, and Calvin knew why.
“Yeah, it’s a really shitty neighborhood.”
Ethan nodded, his cheeks going pink as he looked down at his sneakers.
“It kinda sucks less now though.”
Ethan tilted his head, his brows drawn together in question. This was so awesome. Calvin couldn’t help his huge smile. He pointed to the apartment complex next door.
“That’s where I live.”
Ethan’s eyes went wide, and then his face lit up. He pointed to Calvin then at the building, and Calvin nodded.
“Yep. We just moved into that roach motel.” He scrunched his nose, and Ethan nodded. He waved a hand over his nose, and Calvin laughed. “Yeah. The hallway smells like piss, but it’s worse at night.” He followed Ethan inside the building and toward the stairs. Now that he was in Ethan’s building, he felt kinda scared. “What if they don’t like me?”
Ethan stopped on the steps, and smiled at him. He shook his head. It didn’t help that Ethan still looked kind of a mess from earlier when Ruben and those jerks had pushed Ethan around. His clothes were all dirty, his jeans torn, and his lips split. What if Ethan’s family hated him because he was a Human? Just because Ethan’s mom was Human didn’t mean she’d like Calvin. The rest of the Hobbs family were tiger Therians.
Ethan grabbed Calvin’s wrist, and started running up the stairs, making Calvin laugh.
“Hey, slow down! Some of us have short legs!”
Ethan laughed, and Calvin smiled wide, his heart skipping a beat. He had a best friend. He’d always wanted one. What if Ethan’s brothers didn’t like him? What if they told Ethan he couldn’t be friends with Calvin? The thought made the back of his eyes sting. He’d just have to show them that he’d be a good friend to Ethan.
They reached the floor Ethan’s apartment was on, and Calvin was out of breath. Man, he couldn’t wait to grow up and be tall. Maybe then he could be fast enough to keep up with Ethan. If Ethan’s family didn’t kick him out, he’d call his mom to let her know where he was so she wouldn’t worry. She wouldn’t be home until nine anyway, but still. It was almost dinner time since they’d had to take the extra long way home. Stupid Ruben. His brother and friends had come to pick Ruben up at after school and Ruben had told his brother something about Ethan. They’d chased Calvin and Ethan for blocks. Man, he was tired.
Ethan opened the door, and Calvin followed him inside, putting his bag down beside Ethan’s. The apartment was a little bigger than the one he and his mom lived in, except here there were four Therians sharing the tiny space. If Ethan was this big at eleven, Calvin couldn’t even imagine how big his brothers were.
“Hi, baby. I’m so glad you’re home. I was getting worried.”
A pretty woman around his mom’s height with dark brown hair and hazel eyes walked out of the kitchen, her eyes tearing up when she saw Ethan. She hurried over, and dropped to one knee in front of him to cup his face.
“Ethan, are you hurt anywhere else?” She checked him over, her worry turning to anger. “Is it those boys again?” She shook her head, tears in her eyes. “How much worse does it have to get before that sorry excuse for a principal does something? That’s it. I’m asking Rafe to go in and speak to him.” She stood, and Ethan grabbed her hand, his eyes wide as he shook his head adamantly. “Ethan, Rafe’s a THIRDS agent now. If that man won’t listen to me, maybe—”
Ethan shook his head, pleading.
“We’ll discuss this with your father later.” She looked at Calvin and blinked, as if seeing him for the first time. “Oh, hello. I’m so sorry. I’m Julia Hobbs.” She held her hand out to Calvin, and he shook it.
“Calvin Summers,” he replied. “It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Hobbs.”
Julia smiled brightly, and Calvin relaxed. She seemed really nice. “Are you a friend of Ethan’s?” she asked, looking to Ethan who nodded, his smile big.
“We’re best friends,” Calvin said cheerfully.
Her eyes grew glassy, and Calvin wondered if he said something wrong.
“Is that okay?”
Julia pressed her lips together, and nodded. “Of course, sweetheart. Hey, would you boys like some milk and chocolate chip cookies? Dinner won’t be ready for another hour. A couple of cookies wouldn’t hurt.” She winked at them, and they followed her excitedly into the kitchen. It was small, with a table and four chairs in one corner. Ethan sat on one side, and Calvin sat across from him. He thanked Julia for the glass of milk, and cookies. They were so good! They were homemade too.
Julia took a seat at the table with a cup of tea. She looked worried. “Calvin, do your parents know where you are?”
“My mom is at work. She won’t get home until nine. May I use your phone later to call her, so she won’t worry?”
“Of course you may. What about your other parent?”
Calvin worried his bottom lip with his teeth, and shrugged. “It’s just me and my mom.”
“And will your mother… be upset if she knows where you are?”
Calvin frowned. “Why would she be upset? She only gets upset if I’m not home when she gets home from work, since it’s late, or if she doesn’t know where I am. Stuff like that.”
“Does she know you and Ethan are best friends?”
Calvin shook his head. “We only became best friends today. She’s going to be really happy.”
Julia perked up. “Oh?”
Calvin nodded and took another bite of his cookie. “She’s a mom. She worries. It’s a new school.”
“And will your mom be okay that your new best friend is a Therian?”
Ethan stiffened, his brows drawn together, and his eyes watery. He pushed his chair back, and jumped down before running from the room. What the heck? Calvin jumped down, and ran after him.
Ethan ran into a room, and Calvin followed. There was a set of bunks beds on one side, and another bed on the other side of the room. Ethan threw himself on the bottom bunk, and covered his head with a pillow.
“What’s wrong?” Calvin asked as Ethan curled up on himself. He wouldn’t let go of the pillow when Calvin tried to pull it away.
Julia sat on the edge of the bed, her hand on the pillow where Ethan’s head was buried under. She looked so sad. Calvin looked up at her, not understanding.
“What did I say?”
“Calvin, honey, your mother might not want you to be friends with Ethan.”
Calvin frowned. “Why?”
“Well, because Ethan’s a Therian.”
Calvin stared at her. “Is that all?”
Ethan sat up, and smacked Calvin with the pillow.
“Ethan,” Julia scolded.
Ethan huffed, and crossed his arms over his chest. Was that really it? Wait. Was that why Ethan didn’t have any friends? Because the other kids’ parents didn’t want Ethan? The more he thought about it, the angrier he got.
“That’s stupid!” He marched angrily from one side of the room to the other. Really, he didn’t get very many marches in because the beds were so close together, but he was so stinking mad! “My mom doesn’t care. She says Therians are just like Humans and should be treated like equals.” He spun to face Ethan. “My mom is going to love Ethan. Just you watch.”
Julia smiled wide, and Ethan flew out of the bed, running into Calvin and knocking him over with a big oomph! They hit the floor, and Ethan hugged Calvin tight, making him laugh.
“You’re such a dork,” Calvin said, but he hugged Ethan tight.
Ethan sat up, his smile huge.
“In here, Seb, darling.”
Calvin sat up, his eyes going huge at the tiger Therian that stepped into the doorway. Oh my Gosh.
Part two next week. Copyright © 2018 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.