A Storm Named Zach

by Flip McHooter

Chapter 3

I woke up the next morning flat on my back. Sometime during the night, I had let go of Zach and rolled over. Apparently, he had followed suit since his face was snuggled tightly into my armpit, a leg was thrown over mine, and his right hand was on top of my piss hard-on.

Awesome. More boner issues.

I gently tried to get out from under him, but he wasn't buying it and just held me tighter. Finally, I whispered, "Zach, roll over. I have to get up and let Indy out."

The kid said something undecipherable but did as he was told with a throaty grunt. I slipped out of bed and instantly Indy was hot on my tracks, raring to go. It was going on eleven, and because the dog never sleeps that late, I knew she urgently needed to get outside. Sure enough, the minute I slid open the glass door, she was out like a car pursuit on the Santa Monica freeway.

There wasn't much left from last night's storm other than wet grass and a light dusting of snow on the highest mountains that wouldn't last the more than a couple hours. In fact, it was already sunny and warming up quickly. It was going to be one of our famous, beautiful So Cal days, the reason everyone wants to live here. I wish I could tell them NO! It's not all Rose Parade, Hollywood, and jobs galore. But if you want to get killed by a drunk driver going the wrong way, sure, c'mon folks. I guess I'm never going to let that one go.

I left the door open for Indy and then snooped around the great room looking for my phone. I needed to talk with my sister, and I wanted to do it before the kid woke up. Phone in hand, I headed for the Keurig machine because I desperately needed some caffeine first.

It took a few rings before my sister picked up, and I smiled when I heard her cheerful voice. Losing both my parents when I was six made her my de-facto mom, and I always knew I could count on Sis when I needed something. And today, I did.

"Hey there, honey, how's everything? We miss you so much, Jeremy. I wish you could have come with us."

"I miss you guys too. But you know I couldn't have taken six weeks off from work, especially in the summer concert season. How's Barcelona? And Henry and the twins?"

"It's fantastic, and amazingly old. But it's so darn hot! You wouldn't believe it."

"I bet. Are the twins enjoying soccer camp? And has Henry looked up from his laptop for more than two seconds?"

"The boys absolutely love it here. They're having so much fun, and have made a ton of friends in the few days we've been here. Henry, well, he's still Henry. But I love him. He does watch the boys matches now that they have regularly scheduled games every day. How's Indy? I miss my baby girl."

"Indy misses you too. She keeps looking around for you guys. It was driving her nuts the first couple of days you were gone. I felt bad for her, so I took her to work with me. She loved all the attention from everybody."

"I bet she did. You didn't take her backstage, did you? That would be too loud and hurt her ears."

"Of course not. She stayed in my office in the basement, mostly. It was hard to get my guys to work. They kept coming by to scratch her belly or bring her treats they swiped from the green room."

"Good call. She must have been in heaven. I miss her so much. There's a cat that lives here on the property, and the boys are smitten. Me, not so much. So, what's with the call? I hear something in your voice."

"Geez, Sis, you can still read me like one of your porny-girly romance novels. Yeah, I need some help. Actually, advice is more like it. You remember that Zach kid who used to come over and swim all the time with the twins? That was a few years ago. He was on their AYSO team for a few years too."

"Oh, yeah. Cute, brown-haired kid. Kind of quiet. I think I remember his parents were kind of peculiar and uptight, especially his mom. He sort of disappeared when the kids started high school, right? Why do you ask?"

"Zach showed up late last night. Trevor found him huddled under a bus bench trying to stay dry. The kid had nowhere to go. Trevor thought we might be able to help him out since the kid told Trevor he knew the twins. Get This: That asshole's a cop now," I said.

"Oh, goody. Trevor's such a stand-up guy. Not," she laughed. No one around here was a big fan of my ex. "Trevor works for our police department? Seriously? I can't even imagine that. What's the issue with Zach?"

"Yeah, as unbelievable as it sounds, Trevor does. His uncle must have gotten him in there. As for Zach, it's a long story, but basically, the poor kid was running away after he found his mother dead from a suicide yesterday. Dude was soaking wet when Trev and his partner spotted him."

"Oh, God! No! That poor baby. Now I feel bad for dissing Trevor. And Zach! Oh, gosh. Is he okay?"

"He will be. But there's more. Did you know Zach's dad is Ziggy Dumont? That movie guy that skipped the country a couple months ago after all those women claimed he molested them?"

"No way! You've got to be lying."

"No, unfortunately I'm not.

"Wow, what a scumbag. And he's been to our house! So, what you're saying is Zach basically lost both his parents?"

"Yeah. That's pretty much the story. Well, truthfully, there's a whole lot more to it, but we don't have time for that now."

"Okay, what can we do to help? Do you need one of us to come home? You know either Henry or I will. I could probably catch the red-eye and be there first thing in the morning. Tomorrow afternoon at the latest."

"No, no. I can deal with this. But what I really need right now is the name of a good lawyer or two. Zach just turned eighteen, literally two days ago, and now I'm thinking he's going to be responsible for his mother's estate since his dad's still on the run. Not only that, he says their house is in foreclosure. We need to get in there and get his stuff, and maybe find some things he can sell or pawn. He doesn't have much money. But I need to know if Zach has a legal right to do that. I guess a real estate attorney, and maybe a financial attorney of some sort? Then there's the mess with his mom. He's in no shape to plan a funeral. I'm not real sure where to start here."

"Shit. That's a lot for anybody to deal with." I heard my sister yell at her son, and it made me laugh. "Randy stop. Yes, I owe you twenty bucks for cussing. Damn, Jer, I can't wait for the next two weeks when the boys turn eighteen and we can stop this stupid cussing thing."

"Your fault, Sis. You have the biggest potty mouth besides Fiona."

"No shit. Doesn't Zach's parents live in that huge mansion on Shenandoah?"

"Yeah, I think so. It's somewhere above the park. I don't remember ever being there. So, can you help me out? Maybe talk to Henry? He knows all the lawyers around town."

"Definitely. I'll go talk with him right now and call you back in a bit. Hey. Have you talked with Fiona? Her dad's a lawyer."

"No, not yet. I wanted to call you first. And besides, once she hears about this, she'll be over here like she has a beaming device, smothering the poor kid," I laughed. "And anyway, her dad's an immigration lawyer so I'm not sure that would work."

"Still, he might know people. And don't make fun of Fiona. She's your best friend since forever and would do anything for you. She's family, and the boys think of her as their wacky sister. You know that."

"I know. If you weren't my real sister, I'd make her my honorary one. I still might. But I'm going to wait until Zach wakes up so I can prepare him. Hurricane Fi will be all over him like a fifty-foot storm surge. I'm not sure he's ready for that."

"You're not wrong there. Okay. Anything else?"

"No," I said, running through my mental checklist. "I think that's it. Oh, wait. There is one more thing. Zach said his housekeeper's out of a job now, and I guess she's like his family, or what's left of it. I was thinking of interviewing her and if we click try her out for –"

"Yes. Absolutely, positively. You have the interviewing skills, and if you like her, keep her on until we get home. Then we'll reevaluate her terms and give her a raise. But make sure she's a good cook. That's my one and only request, okay? She can watch Jerry Springer or whatever on TV all day for all I care, but I'm done cooking. And I don't have to tell you to look at her papers. Henry can't afford to have a scandal bite him in the butt if he decides to run for office next year."

"No problem. I'll get on it."

"Great. I'm going to tear everybody away from their phones or computers or whatever they're doing so we can go have dinner and talk this over. They eat so late here. I'll call you back in a couple hours with some names, okay?"

"That's perfect. Thanks, Sis. I really appreciate it. Give everybody my love and tell them I miss them."

"Will do. They miss you too, honey. We all do."


I had barely hung up and finished brewing my second cup of joe when Zach came dragging into the kitchen. Poor kid looked like roadkill. His hair was askew. The PJ pants I loaned him were barely hanging on, but worst of all was the sad, sad look on his face. "Morning, dude. What's wrong? You look like dinosaur dung. No offense."

"None taken. It's my back. It really, really hurts. I guess I slept wrong or something. Think you could rub some of that pain cream you were talking about on it for me? And can I get some coffee? I feel like I've been run over by a speeding fire truck with no brakes heading to an arsonists convention at an oil refinery."

"Sure, buddy. You like Hazelnut Vanilla? I just finished brewing it."

"Oh, yes, please. That sounds awesome."

"Here," I said, handing him my cup. I hustled to the bathroom the twin's shared and dug through their junk drawer. There was a full tube of the stuff since the twins had just been to the doctor for their sports physicals so they could play in Spain. Luckily, the old guy was pretty liberal with his prescriptions since not everybody prescribed this stuff much anymore. Thing was, he only took cash. Go figure.

Back in the kitchen, I said, "All right, found it. Take off your shirt and let's have a look." He did as instructed, and I was totally shocked to see how much worse it looked today. Maybe it was the daylight, but more likely the bruises had darkened and settled in for the long-haul. Either way, it looked horrible, and it was hard for me not to gasp. But I got it together and said, "This is a big change from last night when you didn't want me to see you."

"I was embarrassed. But now you know my story, so…"

"I get it. And we got to know each other again, so that's a bonus too. But, um, dude? Honestly, this does look ugly. Do you think something might be broken? Maybe we should get you to Urgent Care for an X-Ray."

"No, I'm pretty sure nothing's broken. If a rib were fractured or something, I'd know it. I had a hairline fracture once from playing soccer, so I know what that's like. And I broke my collarbone once, too, when I fell off my skateboard. That was way more painful. Especially since Mother wouldn't like me ride it again. And I can take a deep breath okay, and it doesn't hurt any worse. I think this is different because it hurts all over. Everywhere. I'm probably just stiff and being a wuss."

"Dude, I'm not going to repeat this again. I thought we had an understanding about that? Don't call yourself names. Got it?"

"Yes."

"Good. If you do that one more time, I'm going to institute the cuss fine, only for you, it's going to be the self-deprecation fine."

"What's that?"

"Every time you call yourself a wuss, or a dork or a whatever, you get fined twenty bucks. My sister started it to keep the twins from swearing. Unfortunately for her, the twins make a lot of money because she swears s much."

"Okay. I'll try my best. It's just…"

"I know, buddy, I know. Like I said last night, thoughts are things and you're none of those words. You are way better than that. You're a smart, handsome young man going through a rough patch. So back on track. You're positive nothing's broken?"

"Yeah. It just hurts. Bad."

"We'll take care of the pain in just a second, I promise. The twins have dealt with bruised ribs in the past, so I kinda know what we're looking for as well. I just don't want to take any chances, you know? Any blood in your pee? Anything else I should know about? You don't need any more on your plate, so speak now or forever hold your peas."

"Really? Peas?"

"Trying to lighten the mood, buddy. I don't like seeing you like this," I said as I went to the cupboard over the dishwasher and rummaged around. "Here's a couple of Advil's. These are supposed to work fast. Did she hit you any other place? Somewhere else I haven't seen? Below the belt, if you catch my drift? I honestly was trying to give you your space last night, but we're past that now. Don't be embarrassed, because dude, you have absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about. I only want to help and get you past all this, so if something's not right, you need to tell me. And be truthful. You and I have the same parts, so it's no big deal if they're different models."

"All right," he sighed. "No, no blood. But how'd you know she did that to me? There?"

"Just a thought. Maybe she was taking her anger about your dad out on you. I don't know."

"She did whack me in my nuts a couple of times. Jeremy, how can you tell if your balls are broken? They just hurt. Everything hurts." His lips started to quiver, and I could tell he was about to have a full-blown meltdown. I wanted to give him a giant hug and tell him everything was going to be all right, but it seemed like the wrong time, and it might make him even more uncomfortable. I honestly didn't want this poor, broken kid to get even more worked up.

"I know it hurts, buddy. And while I'm no shrink, it has to hurt even more on the inside. Zach? Zach! Look at me. Take a couple of deep breaths. Just breathe. In and out. I promise you we're gonna fix this and get you better. You have my word."

"Okay. I'm just a –"

"Don't you dare go there again! The way I see it is we've got two choices here. You can let me take a look at your whole body, and if I see something that looks wrong, we'll get dressed and jump in my truck and head to Urgent Care. If you're not comfortable with me looking at you, then put your shoes on, and we'll go to Urgent Care or the E.R. right now and have a doctor check you out. Your choice."

"I think I'd rather have you do it, if that's okay. I don't like doctors much to begin with, and I'd really freak if it was a lady doctor looking me over like that. I don't ever want a woman to touch me again. I just, I just couldn't..."

"Gotcha. I don't blame you. Thanks for trusting me. But if I see one little thing I don't like, one thing that seems weird, we're out of here straight to the doctor. Fair?"

"Fair. But no women doctors."

"I'll make sure of it. I promise. Why don't you turn around, put your hands on the counter and look at the beautiful trees outside? It's an astounding day, and you can focus on your secret place while I rub this on your back. While I'm doing that, I'm going to press on the bruises to gauge your pain level. If one of them is super-bad, then we have to see the doctor, okay?"

"Yeah, Jeremy. Thanks. You're good with the mind tricks. Is it okay if I pretend Pete is here?"

"Absolutely. Pete's the best. He's your champion."

"No," Zach whispered. "You are. Thanks."

"No thanks needed. Now turn around and assume the position." I squirted out a big glop of pain cream in my hand and rubbed them together so it wouldn't be too cold. "This has lidocaine and something possibly illegal in it so it might be cold. I'm going to start with your shoulders and work my way down. Tell me if I'm pressing too hard."

"Okay."

The kid was a trooper and held up pretty well. I could tell he was in a lot of pain, despite him saying he had a high tolerance for it. There was one particular bruise on the side of his back that was ugly, deep purple and mean looking, but when I pressed on it a couple of times, he didn't flinch. That was a good sign.

"So far, so good. How you holding up?"

"Better. The caffeine just kicked in, so I don't feel so exhausted. And that stuff you're working into my back is tingling. I think it's helping."

"Awesome. Did she whack you in the butt too? I see some bruises that go down under the waistband of your pajama pants."

"Yeah. I tried to crouch down as low as I could and cover myself, but she got in a couple of good hits down there. Jeremy? I have a weird question. Is it wrong to be happy she's dead?"

"I'm not sure. Maybe. But I think happy is probably the wrong word. How's this: Does relieved sound more accurate?"

"Yes! Exactly. She can't hurt me anymore."

"You're right. She can never, ever hurt you again. Physically or mentally. Okay, buddy, let's get this over with, so we can have some breakfast. I don't know about you, but I'm starving. Slip off your pajama pants and let me look at your ass. Then we'll tackle your business in the front. Sound like a plan?"

"Yeah. But tackle? Do you do that on purpose? Are you like this all the time?"

"Pretty much," I said as I rubbed some cream onto the top of his butt cheeks. It wasn't too bad looking, luckily. "My family just ignores me, but it drives my staff crazy. By the way, you're coming to work with me later in the week. I need an assistant, and you're gonna need a job."

"Is it hard? What would I have to do? I've never worked before."

"You know how to count and fold t-shirts? Follow orders? Go on food runs?"

"Yeah, of course."

"Then you're hired. Dude, looks like your butt's okay. Turn around and let's look at Itchy and Scratchy."

"Oh my God. You're too weird."

"I know. But I've taken your mind off how awkward this is."

"True. How do the boys look?"

"See! Now you got it. And the fellas look okay. They sure need a haircut, though. Do you ever check yourself for cancer? Guys our age are the ones that generally get it."

"No."

"Okay. Let's pretend all I'm doing is giving you a testicular exam. I'm gonna feel around and if anything hurts, let me know."

"Sure. Just for your information, this is super-weird."

"I know it is, buddy, I know. I'll try and be quick. Okay, I'm going in. Does that hurt?"

"No, not really."

"Good. Let's try the other one. Wow, dude, you've got some low hangers."

"I know. That's my favorite part."

"That hurt?"

"No."

"How about this?"

"No. Um, Jeremy? Jeremy?"

"Hmm?"

"Jeremy! There's a lady standing in your great room!"

"Shit. That didn't take long. She have short, blond hair? Skinny? Huge, fake boobs? Looks kinda slutty, like Barbie?" I didn't even bother turning around.

"Y-yeah? I don't know about slutty, but she kinda looks like a model. Why is she smiling at us?" he asked so quietly I could barely hear him.

I let go of his balls and told him to pull up his PJ's. "Zach, meet Fiona. Fi, meet Zach."

"Jerry," she boomed as she and Indy walked into the kitchen. "I never, ever, would have imagined you feeling up some twink in your kitchen. Of all places. I don't think I've ever done it in a kitchen, now that I think about it. I'll have to try that sometime. But this is so great. Hi, Puppy, I'm your Auntie Fiona," she said, sticking out her hand to the kid.

"Oh, God," I said. Then I whispered to Zach, "Buddy, I'm so sorry."

"Quiet, Jerry. You're cute, Puppy, and you look familiar. Do I know you?"

"Um, no, I don't think so. Look, this is none of my business, but who are you and why did you just walk into Jeremy's house like that?"

"You got a smart one this time, Jerry. Way better than that dumbass Trevor. To answer your question, Puppy, I'm Jerry's baby sister. And I have a key." She looked so perfect, lying like that. "Not that I needed a key since the sliding glass door was wide open."

"But, but," the kid tried hard to form a question. Unfortunately, he was completely flummoxed.

"Zach, I have only one sister. You know that. And she's the twin's mom. This is my best friend Fiona – and I use the word friend very loosely right now. We've been friends since I was six. Regrettably for everyone around her, she's completely insane. Her parents won't sign off and commit her. I don't know why. And yes, she's younger, by two freaking hours. We share the same birthday."

"Jerry, shut the hell up. Back to the twink. He's cute. Where'd you get him?"

"Fi, I put up with a lot of shit from you, and I take it well. But this…you need to shut the hell up. Right now."

"But –"

"I'm serious. This is not the time for your theatrics. We weren't having sex. You should know that. I'm not a one-nighter like you."

"Wow. Always so opinionated. If you're not boinking him, what's the deal? Can I? I bet Puppy's a virgin. He should be with someone with way more experience." I looked at the kid and sighed. His face had a combination of fear and confusion, but surprisingly, I think he was enjoying this little drama.

"Fi? Can you do something for me? Right now?"

"I guess, if I have too."

"You do. I insist. Go outside and have a vape. Take Indy with you. I didn't have time to fill Zach in about my crazy-asshat best friend. Please? I don't ask you for much."

"Oh, all right. C'mon girly-girl. Too much testosterone in here anyway. Jerry, you have five minutes, and then I want answers."

"Geez," I said under my breath when she started walking away. "Zach, I'm so sorry about that. That had to be totally embarrassing for you."

"Actually, in a weird way, it was kinda funny. Who is she? I know she's not your sister because she doesn't look anything like you. And she just walks right on in? What's up with that?"

"Here's the Cliff notes: When I moved in here after my parents died, Fiona was my first friend I made at school. I was still pretty shy and introverted from my life being turned upside down, but she was my lifesaver. For some strange reason, we clicked. I felt comfortable telling her about my life, and she made me laugh when I really needed it."

"Can I ask what she gets out of your relationship? You guys seem like polar opposites. You're big and brawny and she's like a princess."

"Good observation. And we are totally opposite. Thing is, her parents pretty much ignored her, so I was like a sounding board, maybe. I've always had a way of figuring out people, and well, she needed someone to listen and not judge her. We became fast friends that first summer, and over the year's we've become best friends. I really do think of her as my sister – she means that much to me. And she feels the same way about me. She lived around the corner and was always over here because her parents were working sixty-hour workweeks. My family loves her, and she loves them. Especially the twins. She even hired a ginormous limo to take the twins to the Valentines dance when they were freshmen."

"Why would she do that? I gotta say, I bet the guys loved that because she's beautiful."

"They were battling zits back then, and were kind of awkward. And yes, she does walk right on in. That's just how she rolls. Fiona has no filter or boundaries. She'll say anything, do almost anything and not have a care in the world whether it pisses someone off or not. Calling her a free spirit would be a gross understatement. But if you're a friend, you're a friend for life."

"Why does she call you Jerry?"

"Because he despises that name," Fiona said, slinking back into the kitchen. "Are you boys done trash talking me? Because I want to hear all about Puppy. And I'm famished. Did your sister leave us any frozen leftovers?"

"Go look. There's tons. If you don't see anything good, go look in the other freezer."

"I love that girl. Jerry, you're a lucky man to have a sister like her. You would have starved since you know I won't cook because I don't like to get my hands dirty. And you can't eat Pizza all day, every day. Puppy? You hungry?"

"Actually, yeah, I'm starving too. But would it be all right if I cooked something?" Zach asked shyly, looking at me. "I love to cook, and I never get the chance. And this kitchen is so great. You even have a salamander! I can make just about anything. If you have eggs, I can whip up a frittata pretty quickly."

"Well, pull my finger and call me farty. That's the best news I've heard this morning. Puppy, you and me are going to be great friends. I can feel it already." She walked across the room to give him a hug, but the kid kind of recoiled a bit. When he did that, he turned sideways just enough for Fiona to spot his bruises. Then she screamed so loudly I thought she'd break all the windows, "Who in the ever-loving-hell did that to you? So help me God, I'm going to track them down, shoot them dead and then roast their fucking head!"

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