Luckily, he didn’t give me a chance to make a decision.
“Is that what you were looking for in my room last night?” He gestured to a thick manila file folder on my bed.
I must’ve been fire engine red at that moment. All day, I’d been thinking about his behavior and what he was so afraid to tell me, and I’d forgotten about the fact that I’d let him know I was snooping in his room by shoving that picture at him last night. I guess I’d just wanted him to know that I knew something was up.
“Go ahead,” he urged gently. “Take a look.”
Debating for only a moment if he was serious or not, I walked to the bed and leaned down to open the folder. I nearly choked on my own air.
There were pictures, just like the one I’d found, of a boy—no, scratch that—of Jared bruised and bloodied. Scanning the pile of thirty or so photos, I caught Jared’s fourteen year old face in some of them. Others were of parts of his body.
I spread the photos out, carefully scanning each one.
The pictures detailed different injuries to the his body: legs, arms, but mainly his torso and back. In one of them, I saw the fresh mutilations of the faded scars Jared now had on his back.
I held my fist to my mouth to stifle a groan of disgust. “Jared, what is this? What happened to you?”
He looked down to his feet, and I could tell he was searching for words. Jared didn’t enjoy pity parties, especially his own.
So I waited.
“My father…he did that to me,” he spoke low as if he didn’t even want to admit to himself. “And to my brother.”
I snapped my eyes up to his. What?! A brother?
Jared, like me, didn’t have any siblings.
He continued, “The summer before Freshman year, I was hyped up to spend my whole summer hanging out with you, but as you remember, my dad called out of the blue and wanted to see me. So I went. I hadn’t seen him in more than ten years, and I wanted to know him.”
I nodded and sat down on the bed. My mind was reeling from wondering how a parent could do this to their child—or children—but I wanted to hear about everything, including this brother.
“When I got there, I found out that my dad had another son. A kid from another relationship. His name is Jaxon, and he’s only about a year younger than me.”
Jared paused, looking thoughtful. His eyes had lit up when he said Jaxon’s name.
I couldn’t believe he had a brother. I’d known him so well growing up, and even though he didn’t find out about this secret brother until he’d been fourteen, it still felt wrong that I didn’t know this about him.
“Go on,” I prodded softly.
“Jaxon and I got along really well. Even though it was a shock to find out I’d had a brother that long without knowing, I was thankful to have a family. We were close in age, both into cars, and he wanted to be around me all the time. Hell, I wanted to be around him, too.”
I wondered if Jared still saw Jaxon, but I decided to shut up and ask questions later.
He continued, “My dad’s house was a real dump. It was dirty, and there was never a lot of food in the place, but I was enjoying my brother. It was just the three of us. The first couple of weeks weren’t that bad.”
Not that bad?
“Then I started to notice that something was off. Our dad drank a lot. He’d wake up with hangovers—which was nothing new for me with my mom—but then I started seeing drugs, too. That was new to me. His house parties were filled with these horrible f**king people who talked to us like you shouldn’t talk to kids.” Jared’s eyes started to pool with unshed tears, and his voice was barely a whisper. I started to get scared.
What the hell had happened?
After a few seconds of pause, he let out a huge sigh. “I kind of got the feeling that Jaxon might’ve been messed with by these people. Like “messed with” other than just roughed up.”
Messed with? I sucked in my breath as realization dawned.
No. Please, not that.
He sat down next to me on the bed, still not making eye contact. “One night, about three weeks into my visit, I heard Jax crying in his room. I went in, and he was hunched over the bed holding his stomach. Once I got him to turn over I saw the bruises all over his abdomen. My dad had kicked him—more than once—and he was in a shitload of pain.”
I shut my eyes, trying not to picture the young boy.
Jared continued, “I didn’t know what to do. I was so f**king scared. My mother never hit me. I had no idea that people did these things to kids. I was sorry that I’d come but also glad, for Jax’s sake. If my father did this to him while I was here, I couldn’t even imagine what he did when I wasn’t around. Jax insisted that he was fine, and that he didn’t need a doctor.” Jared’s shoulders slumped, and I could feel the tension roll off his body as he spoke slowly and quietly.
“My dad targeted Jax. He was the bastard and worthy of less respect in my father’s eyes, apparently. He didn’t hit me until later.”
“Tell me.” I needed to know this. I wanted to know everything.
“One day—not long after I found out how he really treated Jax— my father asked us to go to a house and pretend to be selling something. He wanted to break inside and rob the place.”
“What?” I blurted out suddenly.
“From things they would say, I knew money was tight, especially with his expensive habits. Jax would tell me that this was normal, that he did this for my dad a lot. He never refused. My father abused him for anything and everything: burning dinner, making messes... Jax knew that saying no wouldn’t do any good. We’d still have to do the job but just with bruises. But I refused anyway. And my dad started hitting me.”