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It was hard to leave a friend. He’d done it a couple of times in the past, but each time left a scar that couldn’t be seen, a mark on the soul that sounded melodramatic to anyone else but was etched deeply and without possibility of healing. Sitting on the back porch of one of the man he’d cut out of his life years ago, watching the traffic go by on Hazel Dell Avenue off to the right and mayflies dancing over the ragged lawn that surrounded the small concrete patio, he couldn’t help but wonder once again why he’d come back. He didn’t owe the guy anything, not anymore at least. They’d settled up a while back, and the cost had been relatively low for him, but had included a busted nose and a broken wrist for his former friend. That had been two years ago though, when his buddy had reached out to him after unceremoniously casting him aside, saying that he’d betrayed him and that he was a worthless piece of shit.

He hadn’t done anything of the sort to be fair, but he had stated that his friend needed to remain in jail. Anyone that choked out their fiance for no better reason than being drunk and irritated deserved the punishment they received. He’d said as much to his friend when they’d talked on the phone, and his friend had agreed.

“Hey man, you want a beer?”

The voice of the man he was here to protect, a twist of irony to be certain, interrupted his thoughts as he inhaled through his nose, leaning back in the rickety lawn chair that felt ready to crumble beneath him at any moment.

“Sure,” he replied. His friend handed him a cold, gold-colored can that he took gratefully, cracking the top as he then took a hearty swig.

“Did they say when they’d be coming?”

He shook his head as he swallowed, his mind traveling back to a better time at that moment, a good time, a better time at least.

“You remember when we met?” he asked. Clinton, his red hair and scruff liberally splashed with grey and white, nodded as he grinned.

“I do,” he said, almost wistfully, “It’s been a long time since then though.”

“Yeah,” he admitted, “Yeah it has.”

17 years ago…..

The sharp rap of knuckles on the screen door leading out to the deck startled him as Tyler looked up from the assignment he’d been working on. He knew who it was at least, that was something, as he recognized his parents’ downstairs renter. Curtis, or Colin, or something, that was his name.

“Hey man,” the neighbor said, his wide smile telling Tyler that he might have been a bit inebriated at that moment, “What’s up? You wanna come down and hang out with us?”

Tyler looked back to the laptop sitting on desk in front of him, its soft glow almost telling him to go on, to just have some fun for once. He’d been studying pretty hard as of late as he was trying to obtain the first of many degrees he wanted to earn in his college career. There were still three pages of a project he had to get down, but he still had another day to make it happen, and he’d always been able to finish his assignments on time without fail. Plus, his parents were out of town, he was 22 and legal to drink, and didn’t have much else going. So why not?

“Who’s ‘us’?”

The neighbor shook his head slightly, still smiling, “Just me and a few friends is all. We’re downstairs just chillin’ and I thought it might be a good idea to come and get you, see if you want to hang with us.”

And that was how it had started.

(to be continued)

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