Two hours later the doctor and nurse had just left them alone again, having given Tiggy an examination and administred an I.V. drip and ordered his mother to make sure the boy got some food in his stomach. They were friends of the family and colleagues of Katarina and were glad to help out, thinking it would be best to make a housecall rather than take Tiggy out of his familiar environment and to a hospital. Now he laid on his bed and rested, having eaten what amounted to a square meal for him; less than half of what a boy his age usually consumed in one sitting - and even less compared to a really hungry boy like he was.
"Mum, I'm sorry", he said in a pained voice. "I... I didn't mean to make you upset!" He was going to start crying she saw, so she quickly intervened.
"No my darling, it's alright. I was worried about you, because I love you! I'll always love you, don't you know that?" She held his head to her bosom as they sat in his bed, stroking his straight, black hair gently. Soon, she began humming to him, and she noticed he was getting drowsy and thus let him lie down again and tucked him in. Reaching out, Katarina dimmed the lights in the room to speed things along, to give him rest.
"Do you think I'll see Emil soon?", he mumbled, almost in his sleep.
Katarina smiled. It was such a long time since he'd last spoken about Emil. "Hush my boy... Quiet now. Go to sleep", she replied in a quiet, gentle voice. And, he did.
Two days later, on a saturday, an almost frantic call came to Katarina. It was her old friend Mikaela, Emil's mother.
"That BASTARD!", Tiggy's mum growled with emphasis. "Oh, I'm so happy you're leaving him." Katarina didn't say she'd suspected for years that her friend's husband was abusing her, it wasn't the right moment for that. She WAS very relieved it was over now though.
"He never said he was sorry for what he did", Mikaela said with a half-sob over the phone. "He never apologized at all. I... I think that's why... Why I got the courage to..."
"I understand, girl."
"I mean, *I* am the therapist!", Mikaela almost screamed with great pain audible in her voice. "Why did I let him do this to me for all these years? I should have known better!"
Katarina felt hesitant asking, but she had to. "Did he ever, um, hit Emil?"
Mikaela sighed deeply. "No... Never. Just me. Thank god for that..."
They spoke for another half-hour, Katarina comforting her friend as best she could across a phoneline. The next day, Mikaela and Emil were already busy moving into their new house in their old home town, it had all gone so fast it had almost taken the breath out of both of them, but they needed to get away from that horrible existance they'd been in... The new place wasn't across the street from Tiggy's like before, but it was a really nice house. Much nicer than before, because Mikaela had a very good job these days, and the divorce settlement meant another pile of money, and she was suing her ex-husband in court too for the beatings she'd had to endure. Also, Emil would have his fourteenth birthday soon in just under a week, and that meant Tiggy would have his birthday then too. They'd always celebrated them together.
Tiggy was extatic. He was feeling much stronger, but was still almost as thin as a rake. He hadn't suffered any permanent damage though, Mikaela's doctor friend assured. She could have examined him herself, but she didn't trust herself to make an objective diagnosis, in her eyes she was exaggerating the severity of every rib she could count on her son's body.
Now he was on his bike zooming through the neighborhoods, tired and panting from going so fast, but eager and excited too. It had been two years. Two YEARS! It was almost a whole eternity. It wasn't until he reached the house - at the top of a very, very long climb of several hundred meters going up a scenic spot of increasingly good-looking houses (though none of them true luxury homes; they were too small for that) - and after he put down his mountainbike on the grass on the lawn in front of the nice 50s-style villa with its flat roof, teak garage doors and dark-stained wooden facades, that it hit him. He was nervous. Terribly nervous!
It really had been two years, and two years is an eternity between friends. They might not even be friends anymore, he realized! They might have aquired new interests, things that made them grow apart, learned stuff that took them in different directions compared to one another... It was the most difficult thing he ever did, walking those few steps up to the front porch of the house and press the doorbell button. There was the faint sound of running feet coming from the inside, light, quick steps like those made by an eager boy. Then they stopped, maybe a sign that boy inside had similar doubts as the one standing in front of the door. There was a pause...
Then the door opened.
"Well, aren't you going to say anything?", Tiggy tried lightly after having waited for a greeting or such and received none, but it was hard to mask the disappointment in his voice. It was especially hard because Emil had grown up to become one of the prettiest boys Tiggy had ever seen. His skin was just as pale as it had used to be, and the light-brown waves in his hair were there as well, but it was shorter now than in the past. He had slim, pink boy-lips giving a small hint of what looked like sparkling white large teeth, and the little button nose had a single red spot right on the side which actually enhanced the overall beauty of the boy's face. The eyes were what really caught Tiggy's attention however, Emil had always had expressive eyes, wide across from one corner to the other but usually nearly shut, giving them a dreamy beautiful appearance, the steel-blue in them often hiding feelings to those not as close and reflecting away probing looks, but Tiggy had been able to see through that, if only because Emil had used to let him. Now those eyes, though more beautiful than ever, were closed, bouncing away all attempts to penetrate and see what was hid inside, even though they were staring right back at Tiggy...
Emil didn't say anything, he just stood there looking at Tiggy, his mouth slightly open. He himself had of course grown a lot since he was twelve, but so had Tiggy! The boy was...so cute! His skin was just the same deep-brown hue, the hair just as long and straight and parted in the middle. The eyes were large and almond-shaped, shiny, and the irises that same enticing mix of coal-black and deep, rich amber if the light shone into them from the right angle. They each had grown, but it was still easy for both of them to recognise the other. Strange, eerie feelings rushed through Emil's mind upon seeing the now teenaged boy with his dark skin and black straight hair, but the strongest one was that he was back with his best friend again. Suddenly the calm emptyness of his face cracked, his lower lip quivered and tears started falling. Tiggy didn't even need to think, he just acted, catching his friend and holding him tightly and noticing they were both almost exactly the same height.
"I missed you so much!", Emil bawled, burying his face into Tiggy's sweater-covered shoulder and neck. "I missed you every day."
"I missed you too every day", Tiggy replied softly, his voice hoarse, his eyes blinking rapidly to keep back his own tears. It felt good to hold his friend again, holding him really hard, and a part of their brains even recognized each other's scents. Somewhat muskier, a bit more mature, but basically the same. Familiar, and very comforting. Both of them noted how thin the other felt in their grasp, but neither wanted to comment on it. They didn't need to because they understood.
They felt Mikaela move up behind them. "Please let Tig in through the door, Emil", she said in an amused-sounding voice. She wore dark sunglasses still, even indoors, because she didn't want to show off the black (though thankfully fading) eyes that was the parting gift her ex-husband had given her. Tiggy knew, but he didn't show anything when he hugged Mikaela too, showing how much he'd missed her as well. She laughed a giggly-like laugh over the unexpected yet welcome closeness shown by the dark-haired boy and hugged him back in return. "Shoo with you", she said with a chuckle. "Go to your room, Emil. The house's such a mess, I don't want you two running around in here before I get it straightened out."
It was a bit of a mess, yeah, but it still looked much better than one would have expected. All the major pieces of furniture were placed out, though flowers weren't put in order, the bookshelves were almost empty except when they'd been used as mere storage for various smaller items, and there were no pictures or paintings on the walls either. Of course, curtains were missing too. Still, it was visible Mikaela had had lots of professional help moving in all her stuff so quickly.
Tiggy was lead off to Emil's room, and he stopped just in the door after having dumped his backpack on the floor and stared in amazement. "Woooowww...", he mumbled, and saw everything was almost completely fixed-up. All the furniture was in place, posters on the walls, curtains, spotlights in the ceiling, and his mirror wall was up too. Something stirred in the boy's memory... He looked around. The colors on the walls, the bedspread, they all seemed the same, the light streaming in from the windows, and the shadows hiding in the corners... It seemed so familiar! Somehow he recognized Emil's room despite never having been there ever before. "Wow!", he repeated again, for emphasis. "This place looks just like... Just like when you were seven or something, Emil!"
"It was, uh, that was the happiest time of my life", the young adolescent boy said with a thick voice. "You, and me... You remember...?" A tear left each of his eyes even as he smiled, underlining the boy's wish to seek back to a better time of his life.
Tiggy moved in close. "Yeah, I remember, buddy...", he said warmly, and both of them were surprised when Tiggy's brown, warm hand slipped around Emil's pale one. Their fingers grasped each other, and a familiar feeling of closeness enveloped them. Emil started breathing a bit more easily. "I remember we laid there on the floor, reading your Gaston comic albums and laughing our butts off!"
Emil smiled weakly, though a great warmth filled him. "Yeah, we did. Man, we had so much fun..."
Suddenly they were both down on their knees, looking at the lowest shelf of the bookcase where all the comic albums stood neatly stacked already. Tintin, the Smurfs, Lucky Luke, Asterix, Spirou, Yakari and Gaston, amongst many others. They immediately went for the first Gaston album and started re-living old childhood memories. Soon they were laughing so much their stomachs ached and tears fell from their eyes - though from quite different reasons than before. Each new page brought screaming laughter as Gaston's crazy inventions backfired on himself and everybody around him, and as his pets and monster cactus attacked anything that moved.
Emil's mum came by and looked at what they were doing, not to make sure they weren't wrecking the place because she knew they'd never do that, then returned with milk and some of the still fresh cinnamon rolls she'd baked and frozen just before the events that prompted her to move back had taken place. The boys ate gluttonously sitting at the desk, smiling and looking into the eyes of one another, and soon Tiggy was holding Emil's hand again, petting and stroking it. Mikaela almost wept when she saw how eagerly her son was eating, it was such a change from how he'd been these last few months, growing thinner and thinner by the day. He had often lied to her about having eaten when he hadn't, only picking at his plate when they had dinner. Usually his dad had yelled at him for wasting good food, but that had only made the boy even more reluctant to eat, making him feel guilty both about eating and not eating. Now the pieces of sweetbread were gobbled up as quickly as the two boys could chew them and swallow...! She quietly removed herself and closed the door, giving her darling and his closest friend the privacy they needed, then almost danced through the house, feeling new energy filling her now that her son was happy again.
The two young teens moved up to the windows of the room and stood there close together, looking out towards the west, up at the grey and overcast sky. They had an awesome view across the valley below, it was all covered with houses and roads and stuff, with the motorway and train tracks going south in the middle, along with lots of apartements on the opposing ridge that rose up at least a kilometer away. On the other side of that ridge, and even further to the west, was where Emil had used to live what felt like so long ago... It was autumn, and the trees had mostly shed their leaves. The few stragglers that remained were all yellowed or brown, and fluttered helplessly in the erratic gusts of air that blew through every now and then.
"We used to do this, remember?", Tiggy said. "Just standing at the window, looking at the sky like this."
"Mmm-hmmm...", Emil replied slowly. "I love the autumn. I think it's beautiful, and it's cozy too somehow..." 'Cozy if someone is there to keep you warm', he wanted to say, but felt too embarrassed to. Tiggy knew though, he did what he'd always done in the past and moved up behind Emil and put his arms around his friend's waist. Then they stood there in silence and watched the clouds gliding along, high up in the sky like lead-grey lumpy balls of cotton. The sky was all full of them, from one edge of the horizon to the other, and where one cloud left off another immediately took up, with no visible gaps. "I'm glad me and mum moved back, and I don't miss dad", Emil said softly and tried not to blush. "It's going to be fun to meet all our old friends once more..." He didn't understand, but he didn't want to move from that spot ever again, at least as long as Tiggy was there also.
"Geez", Tiggy blurted all of a sudden. "Nobody else even knows you've moved back yet! I didn't want to tell them until I was sure you were really here!" Also, Tiggy wanted to be the first to see Emil, to check they were still best friends. Perhaps it was a little selfish, but he needed that reassurance... "You wanna go meet 'em?" Tiggy seemed so eager it immediately gripped Emil too, but then he became insecure again. The last two years had been really rough for him, the kids in his new school hadn't been nice, and his father had become increasingly violent towards his mother too, making Emil develop a deep-rooted fear of leaving home for any reason. It was as if he felt it wouldn't be there when he came back, as if he'd be cast adrift upon some ocean never to be seen again. That, or worse, to be bullied by other people like he'd been for the last two years. However, his friend understood without even having to be told any of that... "Look", Tiggy said and took both of Emil's hands in his own. "I'm not going to let anyone be mean to you, alright? They've all missed you so much and they're going to be really happy to see you've come back, I PROMISE." Tiggy sounded so sincere and he pleaded so intently Emil calmed down and started smiling. "They ARE your friends! Just like me."
Emil couldn't help himself, his arms reached out as if on reflex, though just a little because he was scared still. Tiggy giggled softly though and took his friend in his own arms and put his face in close to Emil's cheek. They felt the warmth of each other through their clothes, and it felt way neat... They both silently agreed, that hugging ruled.
They decided to bike back to Tiggy's house and look up some of their old buddies, Tig promised they would have such fun! Mikaela again felt tears of joy burning in her eyes as she watched the dark-skinned youth's enthusiasm lift the spirits of her son. He'd become so scared in the past year in particular, convinced he was all alone and that nobody liked him, and now it was as if he dared to believe maybe that actually wasn't true. Emil smiled small hesitant smiles every time Tiggy looked at him, blushing faintly at all the attention he was being shown. The two quickly changed into football gear in Emil's room because they wanted to go play immediately upon arrival; Emil grabbed his out of a suitcase because he hadn't had time to unpack all his clothes yet, Tiggy had his stuff in his backpack. It would get a bit chilly, but they planned on riding their bikes really fast so that would keep them warm. As they stripped, they became a bit body-conscious. They'd always undressed and showered in front of each other in the past, but that was before puberty set in and they both had only had little earthworm penises and zero bodyhair anywhere. Now their voices were acting up, they were getting the odd spot on their faces, and their armpits and groins were sprouting small patches of fuzz. They both blushed and modestly turned away from each other without really meaning it, but neither took it the wrong way. Once their naked butts touched as they leaned down to pull up their long-legged football shorts and it made them both gasp quietly! It felt really weird, but also good. That was weirdest of all... The other boy's butt was so satiny, and soft, and firm! Then they pulled on a pair of sweatpants and sweatshirts each too because Mikaela refused to let them leave the house wearing only shorts and T-shirts. It was only ten, twelve degrees centigrade outside she said sternly, did they want to get pneumonia riding their bikes with barely any clothes on at all? Emil had several pairs of shirts and pants that fit perfectly on Tigg y's trim body, the deep-blue set he'd selected settling snugly around his slender waist. The two were almost exactly the same size!
Tig's arm snaked around Emil's shoulders as they went out the door, the boy unconsciously making sure his friend would feel safe and protected as he left the bastion walls of his home, but he had to let go once they mounted their bikes of course. Emil was smiling though, so it was okay. He wasn't scared anymore!
It was a long bike ride, but the first part was all downhill so Emil did not have time to reflect on the 'danger' he was putting himself into by throwing himself out into the outside world almost recklessly like that. Reaching the bottom of the hill, they were already going at such a brisk pace there wasn't room to think, and then they continued downwards toward the city center past the now winter-closed amusement park, through the center, and then westwards into the suburbs on the other side. They were getting tired and it was slower going, giving Emil plenty of time to look around. He recognized pretty much everything, little had changed since he moved, mostly it was just the ads on billboards at bus-stops and such, and he started to feel rather nostalgic somehow.
They reached their old playgrounds, biking past all the tall orange apartment highrises with their wide, concave facades on the right side and the mysteriously wedge-shaped highrises pointed towards the west with their curved front windows on their left side, houses that somehow reminded them of tall ships sailing off towards the horizon in formation. Then they passed the big bus station and the adjacent tramstop and shopping mall, went further still across the walkway bridge over the motorway up the hill and beyond. They met several old buddies, both boys and girls, and they tagged along, following Tiggy and Emil towards the old football field. It was a good reunion, but despite the friendly treatment, it was hard for Emil to believe everything was OK. He was still hesitant.
The area had a high content of immigrants, so their wide group of friends from school, football and other activities came from all kinds of remote corners of the globe. India, Pakistan, Iran and Irak, Gaza and the West Bank, Sudan, Somalia, Algeria and Libya. Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Equador and Panama. Bosnia, Albania, Romania, Turkey, Ukraine and Belaruse, amongst others. Having so many nationalities and ethnic groups living so close together wasn't always problem-free, but overall they all got on pretty well with one another.
The friends they met on the way called other friends on their cellphones, and soon much of Emil's entire old school class, some of his old football team and a few other assorted friends, upwards of 30-odd young students were converging on the football field.
The location of the field - which wasn't nearly full-size of a real football field, it was meant just for kids to train on and have fun - was also quite out of the way of everything, past the mazes of apartement blocks on top of and around the base of the hill, and beyond the expanse of single-family homes, and just across the ring-road encircling the entire suburb area. There was nothing beyond the field except reeds and marshy wetlands for about 20 meters or so, and then a small and shallow saltwater bay which wasn't really good for anything, the bay being part of the jagged coastline. Tiggy and Emil hurried ahead of everyone else on their bikes, taking the old and familiar route between houses and shortcutting across green spots even though one was supposed to ride on the walkways. It was neccessary to do it, just to remember old memories...
Emil went around the football field two times on his bike riding solely on the rear wheel of his mountain bike. It was slow and pretty wobbly, but he didn't have to go down on the front wheel or use his feet a single time. He did it just to keep his mind clear, keep the panic at bay. On the second lap people really started to arrive, and while Emil kept to the far side on purpose, Tiggy greeted them and prepared them to see his friend.
"Guys", he started softly. "You be nice to Emil now, alright? He's a bit scared because his dad has been hitting his mum, and they weren't nice to him at his new school either. If any of you people are mean to him I swear I'll knock your teeth out, just so you know." Tiggy was never violent and almost always rather soft-spoken, and he was the same right then as well, but despite his thinning, all the kids could see the radiant power contained in him. They knew he meant every word.
"Jesus Tig! You know we wouldn't do that!", Susanna said with emphasis. "Emil's our friend too you know, and we've been missing him a lot."
Tiggy smiled at her and felt relieved. He waved Emil over, and he came rapidly and eagerly, knowing from Tiggy's body language it was safe. It was a happy reunion, he got a hug and pats on the back from all the guys, and a hug and smooch on the cheek from the girls. He blushed really cutely in the beginning dusk, and the girls said he looked really tall and handsome (even though he was only of about average height), and some even called him cute which didn't really help either! They talked a bit, catching up on things a little because there was so much to know. When he'd left they'd been in middle school and now they were in junior high school, so everything was new. The school itself, the teachers, even many of the kids were new, a different mix than in their old place. Emil got to hear who was doing what these days, and also which boy was checking out which girl, and the other way around. He smiled and suddenly exchanged glances with Tiggy, who smiled back and they both giggled. Here most of the kids said goodbye, they had to get home and do schoolwork, or chores, or go to swim practice or have early dinner or a million other things like youths do these days (one even said he had to go play Nintendo with his little brother which made everybody crack up), but all were honestly happy to see their old friend again and they all hugged him until poor Emil blushed up to the roots of his brown, nearly-curly hair... Someone even touched his butt, and he couldn't figure out who because there were so many people crowding in around him, it could have been either a boy or a girl! It wasn't Tiggy though, because he was hovering nearby in front of Emil, being protective without having to stand right next to his friend...
Then followed some footsie between the tightest group of friends, their old teammates mostly. Tiggy still played a wicked game if he put his mind to it, and would of course have his best friend on his side too, but these past two years had not been kind to Emil's ballplaying skills as he hadn't had opportunity to practice at all. He was very rusty, and his overall level of fitness left a lot to be desired also. Therefore as evening started to fall for real at only five thirty, they merely passed the ball between each other in a large circle at a rather lazy and laid-back pace, not just because it was really getting dark, but also to give the boy some practice while they continued to talk and laugh amongst each other. Emil started to feel his old skills come back to him, and when he made a good shot, everybody else congratulated him, especially his best friend...! All this made a warm, fuzzy glow spread through the young teen's chest, and he was smiling a lot, much more in just these past few hours than he'd done for months in total!
After a while, they discovered it had gotten so dusky they could barely see each other's faces through the evening gloom. Just a tiny hint of light remained in the sky as the horizon was almost all hidden by hills with fir trees on them. One would easily think that small amount of light was all that could fight through the thick cloud cover, but in reality the sun had already gone down beneath the edge of the world, and that faint glow was actually light refracted in those very clouds to spread back into a part of the world that would otherwise have been all cast in darkness. Above them there was only the faintest amber glow of sodium yellow from the city lights bouncing on the cloud cover down at them, and then there were some additional rays leaking from the streetlights along the slightly curving length of road next to the football field, and from the steady stream of cars with lit headlights going past as well. People were heading home after work, ready to make dinner and be with their families...
"Oh crap! I was supposed to be home almost ten minutes ago!", Masil said in his cute accent. He spoke the language really well despite only having been in the country for four years, but the accent was there still. Emil liked it, it was like music in the young boy's ears. Warm and welcoming. "Look guys, I gotta run or my dad will tan my hide. Sorry Emil!" Masil gave his friend a quick, tight hug. "See ya all in school, alright?", he yelled out and then dashed across the road and into the maze of houses on the other side. The rest of the group started to slowly disperse, other people had to go home and eat as well.
"Let's go see what mum cooked up, okies?", Tiggy said with enthusiasm. It had just struck him again his best friend was back again, and back for good!
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