Inner Demon 16: Pains Without Gains
“For a house for two men, I certainly didn’t expect it to be so clean.” The woman Social worker observed as she ran a finger on along the top of a chair at the virtually spotless table. She lifted her finger, revealing absolutely no dust or dirt at all. Chris wondered silently what she would have said if she had arrived eleven hours earlier. Chris had never seen the house in such a sorry state in his life. There was a layer of dust, dirt and grime on everything in the house. Trash littered the entire house, ranging from wrappers, TV dinner boxes and, of course, tons of empty beer bottles and cans. It took hours to gather up all of the trash and scrub everything clean again. There had been enough trash to fill six trash bags, which Chris snuck into the neighbor’s garbage cans. As the Social worker complemented on the cleanliness of the house, Chris resisted the urge to say something right then and there, knowing full well that he was never suppose to say anything unless asked to.
“Chris’s a good lad.” His uncle said in a loud voice. Chris’s Uncle Joey was a big man with a growing beer belly. His muddy brown hair was sloppily combed over, and his face showed recent signs of very sloppy shaving. “I’m not the neatest person in the world, but he cleans up after me without a complaint.”
Oh I got complaints all right. Chris thought silently to himself.
The inspector walked along the counter of the kitchen, occasionally opening the cabinets to look at the contents inside. “You keep a very organized and well stocked kitchen, Mr. Sterling.” She said. “And whoever modeled this kitchen had very good taste.”
“My mom.” Chris said without thinking, and then he quickly snapped his mouth shut. His Uncle Joey threw a dark glance at him, and Chris immediately stiffened up his body to prevent himself from flinching.
“You mother must have been a wonderful person.” The inspector said, turning to look at Chris. He, however, cast his eyes down towards the neat tiled floor.
“Ah, sorry.” The inspector apologized quickly. “Let’s tour the bedrooms, shall we?”
Quietly, Chris led the inspector down the hallway towards the rooms. The wall was covered with several pictures. Some of them were of Chris and his parents, but most of them were of Chris and his Uncle Joey. Some of them featured them standing close to each other like real relatives, others where they interacted with the background. There were even some with other people, smiles displayed on all of their faces. However, each and every single one of those photos was fake. Chris and Uncle Joey made various trips to various places all to get a single posed shot. Uncle Joey even asked, sometimes even paid people to be in the pictures with them.
“Is this your room?” The Social worker asked as she stopped by one of the doors.
“Yea.” Chris answered. Quietly, he opened the door and allowed the woman enter to look over things freely. Chris’s “room” was neat and tidy. There were posters of some sports team on the wall, along with a shelf with some very small and insignificant trophies he had won when he was a kid. His bed laid in the corner next to the window, and his computer was nearby. For Chris, it was like coming into a stranger’s room. True, he did play a few sports when he was young, but he didn’t have the same enthusiasm for it anymore. He didn’t give a damn about who won last night’s game or whatever. The closet was filled with some things bought for cheap at several garage sale, and the computer hadn’t been turned on once since his Uncle Joey. The mouse and some of the letters on the keyboard was even worn out, giving the sense that Chris liked to use his computer often. Oh, his Uncle was very clever.
The Social worker made a quick tour of the rest of the rooms in the house. Chris almost choked when they came to his parent’s old room. Instead of following her inside, he waited in the hall until she was done. It killed him every time he had to clean up that room from his Uncle’s mess. As painful as it was to clean it up again though, it was harder to be in it as it was when his parents were still alive. Chris was on the verge of breaking down when the Social worker came out with Uncle Joey.
“Well, everything seems to be in order.” The Social worker scribbled on her clipboard. “Though I’m a bit concerned by the fact that Chris attends a school so far away from home…”
“All of his old friends are there.” Uncle Joey said quickly. “He was reluctant to attend one of the closer high schools, and I thought since, y’know, it’d be better if he was around his friends.”
“I see.” The Social worker looked at Chris. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to speak with Chris alone for a minute.”
Uncle Joey gave Chris a glance, one filled with all sorts of threats that were so subtle that only Chris could understand them. “Sure.” He agreed.
“Thank you.” The Social worker nodded, then led Chris back to his so called room. She sat herself onto Chris’s computer chair while he sat on the edge of his bed. “Now, I’m going to ask a few questions and I want you to be completely honest with me in answering them.”
“Yes ma’am.” Chris said politely.
“Does your Uncle beat you?” She asked.
The bruises underneath his shirt were a definite yes. “No.” Chris lied. “He doesn’t believe in that sort of stuff. He yells me sometimes when I make a stupid mistake, but he’s a good Uncle.”
The Social worker gave Chris a short glance before she scribbled some more onto her clipboard. “Does he mistreat you in any way?”
The scant money, the stinking apartment and being forced outside of his childhood home was more then just mistreatment; it was cruelty. “No, he’s very fair on me. He’s just a little strict, but that’s because he cares.” He cares? Ha!
The Social worker placed her pen down and leaned in. “You don’t have to be afraid, Chris.” She said softly. “If your Uncle is doing anything to you, and I mean anything, we can help you. I can’t do anything unless you tell me though.”
Chris took in a deep breath. “I have no clue about what you’re talking about ma’am. I’m perfectly happy living here with my Uncle. I don’t know what you think he is, but he’s a good person, and I like having him as my…my guardian.”
The Social worker sighed and stood up. “Thank you for your time, Chris.” She said.
“You’re Welcome.” Chris said as she walked out of his room. Since the Social worker had left the door open, Chris was able to hear a quick exchange between her and Uncle Joey. After a few minutes of polite conversation, Chris heard the front door opened and closed. Silently Chris sat on his bed, waiting. Five minutes, ten minutes, thirty. After a whole hour went by, Uncle Joey finally stormed into the room.
“What th’ fuck did ya tell that nosy bitch?” He demanded, towering over Chris. He wasn’t as tall as Kou, but he still intimidated Chris.
“N-nothing!” Chris tried to say calmly, but he couldn’t help but stutter.
Uncle Joey slapped him across the mouth. “Don’t lie to me boy!” He bellowed. “Now tell me!”
“S-she wanted to know i-if you b-beat me and s-stuff.” Chris cowered back on his bed. “I told her y-you didn’t do things like that.”
“For yer sake you’d better ‘ave!” Uncle Joey turned and stomped out of the room. “Go git me a burger, boy.” He said as he slammed the door behind him.
Chris slowly moved from his bed and headed towards the door. Before he opened it, he pressed his ear against it and listened. There were noises from a TV, which meant Uncle Joey had gone into his room to sit in his recliner chair, probably already opening his first bottle of beer. Quietly, he opened the door and crept down the hall and out the front door, being careful not to make any noise. When he was out of the house, he breathed more naturally as he went in search of a burger at 8 o’ clock in the morning.
* * *
Kou placed a hand on his cheek. For a moment there he thought he felt something, but it could have just been his imagination. He couldn’t feel anything besides extreme pain, after all. Quickly, he glanced at the empty seat next to him for the twenty-first time that period. He looked back at the clock on the wall, then back at the empty seat. Kou wondered about Chris. Maybe he slept in…or perhaps he didn’t feel well so he decided to stay home. Either way, Kou felt somewhat guilty. True he had been avoiding Chris for the past two weeks, but still…
At that moment the bell rang, ending the period. His mind still occupied, he gathered his things and headed towards his next class.
“Hi there.” Maria greeted Kou as he entered Bio class.
“Hi.” Kou replied somewhat dully and sat down into his seat.
“What’s wrong big guy?” she asked, leaning in towards Kou.
“Nothing.” Kou responded dryly without turning around to answer her.
“Really?” She pressed her forefinger against her lips. “Oh hi Chris, what are you doing here?”
Kou shot out of his seat and turned like a launched cannonball. “Chris! Where have you-“
“Kidding.” Maria flashed a dimpled smile.
Kou gaped at her. “You’re a horrible woman, Maria.”
“I never pretended to be a saint.” Maria chuckled.
“If you two are done playing…” The biology teacher coughed at the front of the class. “I would like to start class right now.”
Kou looked around and saw everyone’s eyes were on him. With his face red, Kou sat back down in his chair. “Y-yes ma’am.”
* * *
Chris hesitantly knocked on the door to Uncle Joey’s room.
“About freakin’ time.” Uncle Joey’s voice said through the door.
“Sorry.” Chris apologized as he opened the door. Uncle Joey’s room was by far the largest in the house, and although Chris had just cleaned it there were three bottles of beer on the ground, several stains and some candy wrappers. “I couldn’t find any place that was open.”
“I don’t care about yer lame excuses.” Uncle Joey rumbled. “I just want my burger!”
“Y-yes sir.” Chris said as he scurried up to his uncle and held out the greasy bag.
Grunting, Uncle Joey roughly grabbed the bag and took out the burger. Tearing away the wrapper, he took a big bite. “What the hell!” He spat out the burger. “There’s tomatoes in this shit!”
“S-sorry!” Chris apologized, cursing himself for forgetting his Uncle’s distaste for tomatoes.
“Sorry? Sorry?” Uncle Joey jumped out of his recliner and rammed the burger into Chris’s face. “I give you a place to live and food to eat, and this is how you repay me?”
“I-I’m sorry.” Chris said again, backing away.
Uncle Joey threw the remains of the burger at Chris. “Go buy me another one!”
“Yes sir!” Chris said and turned to leave.
“On second thought, get me a large supreme pizza instead.” Uncle Joey flopped back into his seat.
“Yes sir…” Chris said as he left, closing the door behind him.
* * *
“ Aren’t you thinking too much about this?” Hunter asked as he set his juice box down.
“I’m just a little worried, that’s all.” Kou said as he poked his food on his lunch tray with his fork.
“Don’t get your undies tied in a wad, bro.” Lucas grinned.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Kou raised an eyebrow.
“It means don’t worry about it so much.” Mark clarified. “Getting sick is normal, and it isn’t something to tear your hair out over.”
“Mark’s the expert in getting sick.” Paige said with a slight smile on her face.
Mark shrugged. “I can’t help it. And besides, a week or two in bed isn’t so bad.”
“You were in that hospital for the last month and a half Mark.” Hunter pointed out. “If you had just waited a bit longer before finishing off that demon, you wouldn’t have gotten so sick.”
“Is it really that dangerous?”
“He’s merging himself with a diseased mind, so of course it’s dangerous.” Paige told him.
“Mark’ll be lucky to live to be twenty-one at this rate.” Lucas threw and arm around Mark’s shoulder and gave him a noogie. “Cuz he’s so damn heroic and everything!”
“H-hey, cut it out!” Mark laughed as he struggled to get out from Lucas’s hold.
Kou looked at them when thought of something. “When’s Chris’s birthday?”
Hunter turned his head towards Kou. “Why? You don’t know?”
Kou looked down bashfully. “I, uh, never got around to asking him. And since he’s my friend, I thought, well…”
“Paige, you’ve known Chris the longest, right?” Lucas asked while still giving Mark a noogie. “Do you know when it is?”
Paige closed her eyes and tried to remember. “It’s been so long that I’ve forgotten about it. I remember handing him a present once, but he gave it back and told me he didn’t celebrate his birthday anymore.”
“Was that when you two were still in elementary school?” Hunter asked.
“Yea, it was.”
“He’s a little young to not be wanting his birthdays, right?” Lucas observed.
“If he doesn’t want to celebrate his birthday, then we shouldn’t push it on him.” Mark said quickly.
Kou looked down at his lunch tray. No birthday, huh? It seemed like Chris and Kou had more in common then he thought.
* * *
When Chris delivered his Uncle’s pizza, he went into his room and laid on his bed, silently counting the minutes and hours as they ticked by. He had taken a great deal of time remembering every little thing his Uncle liked and hated with his pizza. Plenty of onions, no olives, mushrooms must never be on the same slice as pepperoni and so on. He probably looked ridiculous as he told the pizza man this order, but he wasn’t about to be beaten up just for the sake of appearances.
He desperately wanted to leave and return to his run downed apartment, but doing so without his Uncle’s consent meant a reduction in his monthly allowance. He was already in trouble money-wise due to the fact that he had just spent three day’s worth of money on the food his Uncle forced him to buy. He probably could have just asked his Uncle for money to buy them, but then again, his Uncle was never known for being generous.
Suddenly the door opened. Leaning against the frame was his Uncle, his vast bulk filling up the doorway. His eyes seemed a bit unfocused, and his movements were sluggish and strange.
Chris felt his heart start to beat faster. He recognized that face all too well.
“Look a’ yer.” He slurred. Even at that distance, Chris could smell the alcohol on his breath. “A fuckin’ fag. My freakin nephew, a freakin’ god damn faggot!” He stomped over and towered over Chris, who had scrambled to the back of his bed and pressed against the wall. Although they varied greatly, his Uncle Joey frightened Chris just as much as Kou’s demon half did, and they both seemed to tower miles above him.
“Why the ‘ell did those two ‘ad to go and leave me with a freaking pussy like you? Ha?” Suddenly he lashed out, striking Chris in the ribs. “How da hell do ya make yer kid a faggot, huh?” He struck the side of Chris’s head. “Are you happy with this?” He struck repeatedly at Chris, soon not bothering to yell out and focused his entire attention in hurting Chris.
After what seemed like an eternity of pain, Uncle Joey finally seemed to have enough and left, muttering insults as he exited the room.
Chris, now soundly beaten up, moved painfully off of his bed and limped out of his room. After his Uncle Joey beats him up, it usually meant that it was time to leave. So, now sporting a few aches and bruises, he headed home.
* * *
“Ow.” Kou said absently as Lucas planted a hit on his bulging right pec. They had spent a whole five hours sparring with each other in that basement. Lucas, of course, was all swelled up with muscle that could easily win a Mr. O title with no competition at all. Compared to Kou, however, he was an amateur while Kou was the king.
“Ow?” Lucas laughed, backing up a bit and relaxing his pumped up muscles slightly. “First time I heard ya say that.”
“Sorry, I just suddenly felt like saying it.” Kou shrugged, his shoulders rolling and rubbing against each other. “Can we call it quits for today?” Kou asked, sitting down on the ground and rotated his thick arm. “I’m feeling a bit stiff now.”
“Hey, no pain no gain!” Lucas laughed and gave Kou a hearty pat on the back.
“Ow.” Kou said dully again. “And what’s with the ‘no pain, no gain’ saying? I’ve been meaning to ask about it for a long time, but I’ve never had the chance.”
Lucas looked at Kou, stunned. “You’re serious, huh?” He said finally.
“Uh, yeah.” Kou felt slightly offended.
Lucas scratched his head, his bicep stretching his nicely tanned skin. “Well, when you’re lifting weights to build muscle, what you’re actually doing is tearing apart the muscle tissue in order to allow it to heal itself slightly larger and stronger so it can handle more strain in the future. The pain you’d normally feel is the feeling of yourself destroying your muscle tissue, but in the end you gain something just slightly better. Hence, ‘no pain, no gain.’”
Kou stared at Lucas. “Wow.” He said in stunned admiration. “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard anything that sounded intelligent from you.”
“Oh thanks a lot.” Lucas said, obviously annoyed. “And here I thought you were smart ‘nuff to know ‘bout that kind of stuff in the first place.”
“I knew about the biological portion.” Kou replied. “I just didn’t know that pain was associated with it.”
Lucas gave Kou a funny look. “Does that mean you’ve never lifted weights to get as big as you are?”
Kou shook his head. “I just grew into this. To be honest, I’ve never lifted a single heavy object in my life…at least, they weren’t heavy to me”
“But then…” Lucas started, and then realization dawned on his face. “Oh. I forgot you’re not, uh, human.”
Kou’s eyes softened up.
“Sorry bro, I didn’t mean to put it that way!” Lucas said quickly.
Kou quickly rubbed his eyes, wiping away the tears before they formed. “No, it’s alright. It’s just that you’re the first person who’s treated me like I’m completely normal. Besides Chris, that is.”
Lucas breathed a sigh of relief. “Yea, Chris’s a good guy alright.”
“If only…” Kou began but left it hanging.
“If only what?” Lucas frowned, his eyebrows coming together.
Kou looked down sadly at his powerful hands. “If only he didn’t have someone like me for a friend.”
“What are you talkin’ about bro?” Lucas asked.
“No, it’s nothing.” Kou shook his head. “I…I better get going. Later.”
Lucas watched as Kou bounded up the stairs and exited through the door. What did he meant by that? Lucas wondered. “If only he didn’t have someone like me for a friend…” Lucas repeated, wondering about the meaning behind those words.