01

Prologue

One night in October, when the clock struck eleven and ten minutes, the house, quiet as a mouse, two high school kids were in bed upstairs having sex.

Clenching his teeth tight and grunting harshly, Augustine pounded hard into his girlfriend Winona Layman, who was now on all fours. With each thrust he speared her with, her face surged into the pillows and the brass bed creaked through the night. It didn't matter. Her parents weren't home.

"Oh fuck baby," Winona cursed through her teeth when he delivered a harder thrust and her stomach pulled tight inside.

Hardly able to keep up, she fell on her front, almost hitting the edge. Sweat shimmering on his forehead and body burning in heat, Augustine leaned over her back, watching her thrash beneath him.

Winona screamed into the pillow, pulling on to the sheets and arching her back like she was offering her ass up to him on a silver platter. A great view in a way but he always hated a screamer. Nevertheless, he found her a good fuck. Never refused him.

When they finished, Winona laughed breathlessly, and Augustine collapsed on top of her, burying his face in her neck and catching his breath.

"God," Winona panted, causing him to laugh too.

He lay with her for a while - the girl hugging him- before he got up and wore his clothes back on. Winona watched from the bed as she sleepily stretched out her body.

"Stay," she groaned indolently, coming over to him at the edge of the bed.

"Can't. Mom's waiting at home," Augustine replied as he zipped up his jeans.

Frustrated, Winona flopped onto the bed. As Augustine wore his T-shirt, his phone buzzed, unleashing the world's loudest electric guitar riff from his jeans pocket, seemingly blowing off the walls of the room.

"Please," Winona groaned, rolling her eyes and pressing a pillow over her ears.

Augustine answered, sandwiching the phone between ear and shoulder. Seating himself at the edge of the bed, he began putting on his shoes. It was his younger brother, Romeo, calling in a frantic rush.

"Yeah. What? Calm down!" Augustine said, pulling his right shoe on.

"It's mom!" Romeo cried into the phone. "She collapsed and I wasn't strong enough for the CPR. You need to come home!"

"Call 911," Augustine instructed as he pulled his other shoe on.

"I have. But you need to come home now!" Romeo sobbed into the phone.

Augustine rushed out of the room without another word to Winona. "Calm down, Romeo. I'm on my way. Where's Ari?"

"She's here. I'm holding her."

"Good. I'm on my way. Sonya there?" He jumped into his SUV.

"Yeah. But you gotta be quick, August."

"I'm there. Nearly there." He swerved his car out of the driveway, nearly running over the garbage cans.

Romeo sniffled from the other end, and began sobbing into the phone again.

Raking his hand into his bronze hair, Augustine sighed and called softly, "Romeo."

"Yeah."

"Everything will be alright. I'm almost there."

Fifteen minutes later, Augustine arrived home to a pitch-black October night. Ambulance lights illuminated his front yard as he witnessed his mother being loaded onto a stretcher in the back. Her closed eyes and the chilling sight of an oxygen mask sent shivers down his spine, inducing a cold sweat.

"August!" Eleven-year-old Romeo sprang from the porch steps, dashing down the driveway towards him.

Swallowing his fear, Augustine pulled his brother close. Not a word was exchanged. An eerie somberness loomed, casting a shadow of predicament and Augustine felt numb. Romeo pressed his forehead into his brother's side, gripping his shirt.

Glancing towards the front porch, Augustine spotted their neighbor Sonya Martinez conversing with a medic, cradling their one-and-a-half-year-old sister, Arizona, in her arms.

"Who's coming along?" asked a medic.

August swallowed dryly, giving a single nod. He turned to Romeo, instructing him to stay home with Sonya.

"Can't I come?" the boy's tear-stained face implored.

"Ari will be looking for you."

"Will mom be alright?"

He offered another single nod, finding words strangely unfaithful in that moment.

Climbing into the rear of the ambulance, Augustine observed Romeo standing beside Sonya with Ari sleeping in her arms. An unsettling silence enveloped him, as if he had been thrown out from his own life, forced to make sense of the chaos. Watching his siblings, a wave of sorrow washed over him. He attempted to push it aside, but the feeling lingeredβ€”he felt sorry, deeply sorry.

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Hermyne Khaling

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Hermyne Khaling

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