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The early summer night air was chilly as Dani sat on the roof of her family's home just a few feet from her bedroom window. She had a thin flannel shirt on over her tank top but it was doing little to help keep her warm. Despite the unusually cool night, she still had on her jean cutoffs and bare feet. Part of her was convinced if she kept acting like it was summer then the weather would remember what time of year it was supposed to be.

She flicked some ash off the end of her cigarette and watched as the lit tip glowed in the dark. During the day, she could see see several blocks away before the view was marred by old trees and other two story homes. To one side was an apartment complex with brick red exterior and broken souls inside. This was a depressed neighborhood both because of the poor families who lived in it and how run down it was. It had been a while since the city had bothered to repave their street and it was full of potholes the neighbors kept trying to fill with dirt that would just wash away in the rain. There was a playground at the end of their street but it was used more by older kids wanting a place to hang out and cause trouble than it was by children. Most of these houses were what she referred to as 'pancake' houses. They were ranch cookie cutter buildings that had been built after all the soldiers came home from World War II with no personality and small yards separating them from one another. Elliott's family lived further down the street and had one of the few two stories like her family had. Actually, hers wasn't really two full stories like theirs was, it had a bedroom with slanted ceilings on this upper floor. It was hers and her sister and mother shared the one downstairs. It bothered her sister a lot that she didn't have her own room, but with how often her mother was gone it hardly mattered.

No one knew she was out here but one individual. Her younger sister was too busy being self-absorbed and her mom out at work like she always was. It wasn't like at Elliott's house though, so she was grateful for the neglect. Some kids might be angry at their mom for always being at work, but she was a realist. Without a dad in the picture, her mother had to work two jobs to provide for the girls. It was a tough life and Dani hated that it had to be this way, but she had accepted it over the years. She planned on getting a part time job after her next birthday to help out, but it would be tricky with only one car.

At least it wasn't like the Gilberts. It was her mantra when she got lonely or her sister wouldn't listen to her. She did the best she could to watch Heidi, but it was hard. The headstrong preteen was hellbent on being on a path to destruction. All Dani could really do was try to postpone the inevitable as long as she could. Some day, her sister would get pregnant or be partying with the wrong people or worse. It might seem like she was callous, but there was only so much she could do to stop it. Besides, she had her own life to live.

Dani didn't even react when she heard a grunt of exertion as Elliott climbed up the drainpipe to join her. This was their spot and their time of the night. No one was around to judge them. He came here often to escape his home life and- though she'd never admit it aloud- she loved his company. They were kindred spirits in this street of broken dreams and backbreaking labor. In an irony of stereotype, this was neighborhood had quite a few Jewish families. They were the ones who didn't measure up to the more prominent New York City areas that were well known as having a large Jewish population. Elliott's family had been in this area for a while but Gray's had moved in when Dani was in third grade. Her mother had been on the disgraced list after having Dani out of wedlock and to someone not of the faith but when it happened a second time, it got unbearable. When Heidi was four and Dani was eight, they found this house. Dani didn't really care. She thought the whole religion was a crock of bullshit anyway. Besides, they wouldn't take too kindly to her being a lesbian.

Elliott didn't say anything as he picked up the pack of cigarettes and used her lighter. She could sense his stress without even having to ask. Even though they were technically the same age of fifteen, she viewed him like another younger sibling and he responded to her the same. Sometimes she worried about how naive he still could be despite everything he'd already been through. People would take advantage of that lingering innocence and hurt him. Dani just hoped she was around to protect him. Finally looking up at him, she felt her heartbreak at the tears in his eyes. He wiped them away quickly, as though he could really hide them. As strange as it was, who he was trying to hide those from were himself and not her. There had been far too much times they'd each used the other one's shoulder to be self-conscious of it now.

"Was it Jason?" She asked quietly, unable to resist it any longer. She hated that guy. He was one of few people that if she had the opportunity, she would drown him or cut off his balls. He was a junior in high school who for whatever dumbass reason, Elliott was infatuated with. In the fall they'd be in the same school with the jerk so Elliott didn't understand why their age difference was such a big deal. What Elliott couldn't see, which again just boggled her mind, was that he was a joke to the older boy. The soon-to-be senior knew of Elliott's orientation and was seeing just how far he could push him.

Sadly, just like Heidi, there was nothing Dani could do but watch and wait for when this all blew up in Elliott's face- if it hadn't already. That thought had her stomach sinking. As she watched her friend, she realized just how hard he was crying. "Oh no.. L," she murmured, using her pet name she'd coined for him, before scooting closer and drawing him against her chest. She hated this feeling. She hated feeling so helpless when she could see the pain coming to those she loved and they wouldn't listen to her.

"H- he said.. he said he loved me," Elliott sobbed, pressing his face against her neck. "H- he said things would change.." The pain in his heart was worse than he ever thought he could experience. The agony was so intense, he thought he would die from it. He'd rather take a beating from each of his brothers in a row than this. She felt ill as his words confirmed her fears. She kissed his ginger hair and rubbed his back soothingly. It wasn't much, but the only thing she could do now was listen and let her heart bleed with his.

"I'm so stupid, Dani! I'm so fucking stupid!" He cried angry at himself and humiliated. "H- he had a camera, Dani. I didn't see it.. this is going to get out. What if my brothers see it?"

This was going to get ugly. She tried to think of anything she could do to stop this, but there wasn't anything. She was just a weird girl from middle school who wore all black and liked the wrong kind of music and the wrong gender. Looking back out into the night, she put her cigarette out on a shingle before flicking it down toward the gutter. He was looking for guidance, but she didn't have any now. Her advice was only good if he'd listened before doing whatever sexual thing he shouldn't have been doing. Now he'd given a piece of himself away to someone who didn't deserve even the dust from his boots. Taking the cigarette from him before he burned himself or her (something he's done before when he forgot it was in his hands) and put it out.

"Come on, you're sleeping with me tonight. No hogging all the covers, I'm cold," she teased.

Wiping his face again, he let her guide him back into her room and pulled out of his jeans. She tossed her shorts and the flannel shirt and crawled into bed with him behind her. She doubted he'd be getting much sleep, but it was easier to hold him this way. Drawing him close in her arms, she sighed and let him cry himself to sleep. She was awake a little longer visualizing ways she'd castrate the bastard for hurting her friend.

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Elliott Gilbert

November 2016

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