by Kelley York
Eighteen-year-old Archer couldn’t protect his best friend, Vivian, from what happened when they were kids, so he’s never stopped trying to protect her from everything else. It doesn’t matter that Vivian only uses him when hopping from one toxic relationship to another—Archer is always there, waiting to be noticed.
Then along comes Evan, the only person who’s ever cared about Archer without a single string attached. The harder he falls for Evan, the more Archer sees Vivian for the manipulative hot-mess she really is.
But Viv has her hooks in deep, and when she finds out about the murders Archer’s committed and his relationship with Evan, she threatens to turn him in if she doesn’t get what she wants… And what she wants is Evan’s death, and for Archer to forfeit his last chance at redemption.
Praise for Hushed:
“How exciting that we live in a time when gay teen protagonists can be just as screwed up as straight ones—and their stories just as creepy!”
- Brent Hartinger, award-winning author of Geography Club and Shadow Walkers
© 2011 Kelley York
Sunday, August 31st
“I feel that suicide notes lose their zing when they drag on too long.” Archer emphasized the statement with a tap of his foot. “Don’t you think so? Whatever happened to ‘goodbye, cruel world’?”
By that point, Brody Hilton had filled four pages from top to bottom in shaky scrawl. He lingered on the last page, hand trembling. Next to him stood an open bottle of Vodka and an armada of pill bottles, lined up in a neat little row.
Not for the first time in the last hour, Brody swiveled around in his chair to stare up at Archer, pleading. His bloodshot eyes ruined the effect. “Archer… Don’t make me do this, man. You don’t understand. I don’t—”
“You don’t want to die.” Archer stepped around him, hiked a hip onto the edge of the table and waved his gun. Brody’s eyes followed the weapon. “That goes without saying. But honestly? I don’t care. You’ve spent the last twenty-five years screwing over everyone who has ever cared about you. Karma is a cruel mistress.”
“I’ll change.” A drop of sweat slid down his brow, the line of his blocky jaw, onto the paper. Archer wrinkled his nose.
“Tell that to your sister. ‘Sorry your life sucks because of me, Vivian, but I promise I’ll be a good boy now.’” Yelling would’ve made him feel better. No words were enough to beat into Brody’s head the impact of his decisions. “Now sign your letter.”
Brody sobbed like no grown man should, but he did as he was told. It didn’t matter that Brody outweighed him by a good forty pounds. While Archer was no pushover, Brody was built like a bull and could have plowed him over if he tried.
Brody was simply too high to realize it.
When he finished, Archer skimmed the letter, which could be summed up: ‘I’m sorry, it’s all my fault, everything was true.’ Yes, yes it was. Too bad it took the threat of impending death for Brody to realize it.
“Good enough. Now, let’s see what we have here.” He tossed the papers onto the table. Brody watched him blearily from behind the great wall of medication separating them. Archer plucked one of the bottles up with a gloved hand.
“We’ve got your standard-issue Klonopin, Valium, Norco, Stilnox… You could open your own pharmacy with all this.” Meds that weren’t even prescribed to Brody. Stuff he’d stolen from friends, from family. What he didn’t take for himself, he sold to his friends. Archer’s jaw tensed. He slammed the bottle onto the table before Brody, pills rattling. “A word of advice: the more you take, the faster it will be over.”
Beneath the weight of his stare, Brody, slow and mechanical, began removing lids.
The problem with pills? They were so slow. Whoever said overdosing was a quick or painless way to go had never watched somebody try it. It was getting late, and Archer had classes in the morning, but he waited.
Brody chased most of his medicine cabinet down with his liquor before staggering to his room. Muttering the entire way, “Archie, Archie, please…”
God, he hated that name.
Whether he wanted to or not, Archer forced himself to watch Brody crawl into bed. Watched him slip in and out of consciousness. Watched him toss and turn. What did him in before the actual effects of the drugs in his system was the way he vomited and proceeded to choke on it, and Archer forced himself to watch that, too.
He was taking a life. The least he could do was suffer through witnessing it.
Soon Brody was gone, and Archer tried not to feel nauseous.
The apartment was silent. Not the sort of silence when one was home alone, but the smothering silence that followed death. An all-encompassing, heavy feeling. Human instincts, maybe. The little warning bells in the back of his head quietly whispering run away because death meant danger.
But Archer didn’t leave. Not until he checked for—and didn’t find—a pulse. He could take his time sneaking out of the apartment building. It would be days or weeks before the neighbors complained about the smell and kicked in the door. No one would even mourn his passing. Maybe some would say they saw it coming. Just another suicide. How tragic.
Brody made three down…and three to go.
Sunday, September 7th
Vivian called in the dead of night to say, “Archer, Brody’s dead.”
Yeah, he knew. He also knew she would call him the second she found out.
She hiccupped and whimpered. It took a few tries before she managed, “Can you come over?”
Stupid question. Of course he would. Thirty minutes later he arrived at Vivian’s place with two coffees in hand, half-asleep. Viv answered the door with her hair a mess, eyes red and puffy. Some girls could look gorgeous when they cried. Vivian was one of them.
Archer slipped inside and set the coffee on a small end table in the living room. “Where’s Mickey?”
Vivian bit at her lip, sinking onto the leather couch. Her silence was enough. Mickey, such a loving and concerned boyfriend, was nowhere to be found. That was why she called Archer. He wasn’t the prick who always let her down.
“He’s working late.” She sniffed, staring down at her toes as she wiggled them against the carpet.
Right. Like Mickey could hold a job.
Mickey was a jackass. An unattractive one, at that, unless you liked the pothead look. When people saw him and Vivian walking down the street, they stared only because they were wondering what the hell a gorgeous girl like her was doing with a waste of space like Mick.
She could have done better. Much better. Why not him? The one guy who would never ditch her, never hurt her. God knew he’d waited around long enough for her to notice him. He’d been tempted to add Mickey to his list months ago, but there was a line Mick hadn’t crossed to push Archer that far. He was an ass, but he hadn’t physically hurt her. Yet.
Archer opened his mouth, thought better of saying anything that might result in an argument, and sat beside her instead. Now wasn’t the time. “Going to tell me what happened?” Not that she had to. Wasn’t hard to forget holding a gun to someone’s head while forcing them to off themselves.
Vivian tore at a tissue between her fingers, eyes welling with a fresh onslaught of tears. “I went over to his place this morning. His car was there, but he didn’t answer. I got his landlord to unlock the door…”
His stomach somersaulted into knots. No, no no no! That wasn’t how it was supposed to go. The cops were supposed to find Brody. Hell, even a neighbor. Not Vivian. Not after everything she’d been through.
He scooted up to her side, slipping his arms around her. She twisted and wound her thin arms around his neck and buried her face against his chest. A familiar position. How many times since grade school had Vivian cried all over him?
Like he always did, he pet her hair and let her cry until the sobs died down to sniffles and whimpers. All the while keeping his eyes locked on the opposite wall at an old family portrait. Vivian, Brody, their parents. Before her dad bailed and her mom, Marissa, got sick. Before Brody started popping pills like candy while letting his buddies feel up his little sister.
The thought made his jaw clench.
“You haven’t seen him in months. What made you go over there?”
Viv sniffed. “He snuck a couple hundred bucks out of Mom’s account again. She’s too sick to deal with him, and I’ve just…had it, you know?” Her body shuddered. “He killed himself. Left this long letter about how sorry he was that he lied to everyone, about stealing from Mom… Everything was in there. I didn’t think he cared about any of that.”
“I’m sorry, Viv.”
Just like that, she was gone. Gliding away from him like a ghost, across the room to the bay windows. After a million years of silence—“Can I tell you a secret?”
She took a deep breath, wiped at her eyes. “The entire way to Brody’s place… I kept wishing he were dead. Hoping he, like, got drunk and drove off a bridge.”
Archer wished she would turn around so he could see her face. Her eyes told a lot that her body language didn’t. Her guilt, her shame, her happiness.
“It’s not your fault, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“I know it isn’t.”
She sounded sure of that. Good. Part of the reason he’d put off killing her brother for so long was because he worried how Vivian and her mother would take it. The purpose was to help Viv, not screw her up further. “Then why is it a secret?”
Vivian turned. “Because that’s not the bad part. The bad part,” she said, and her voice dropped as she leaned against the window and stared at her feet, “is that I don’t regret it. I’m glad. He’ll never make Mom cry again. He won’t use or hurt anyone else. He’s dead, and I’m happy. Isn’t there something wrong with that? Doesn’t that make me the worst person on the planet?”
She was beautiful. Oh, she’d always been beautiful, from the first time he laid eyes on her on the playground. But never more so than that exact moment. With those words. With the moonlight wrapped around her body in gentle blue-white caresses that made her hair shine. She should have exuded self-confidence, but Brody and his friends had ruined that for her. The depth of the scars they left behind had never been more obvious. Her brother was dead, and all she could express was relief. That was all he’d hoped for as he watched Brody die.
Archer was a step closer to freeing her.
He allowed a crooked smile and got up. “No, Vivian. There’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong with that at all.”
Wednesday, September 10th
Archer could’ve had his pick of other colleges in other cities. But he liked it here, where he felt a little distanced from the outside world. There, in Candle Bay, California, he knew people. There, even if he couldn’t be comfortable, he could manage.
Besides, who would’ve taken care of Vivian if he left? She did a poor job of it herself. Which was why Archer was stuck in the cold. Because if he didn’t wait to see if she came out of class to take her to lunch—Wednesdays were their lunch-date days—she would take it personally and he’d hear about it later.
The last of the students filed out, but no Vivian.
So she’d missed class. Again.
When they started college and Vivian told him she wanted to major in some kind of nursing program, Archer made bets with himself on how long she would stick with it. Not because she would get bored but because, undoubtedly, Mickey would screw it up. If not him, then some other guy. Viv was infamous for letting her boyfriends ruin every good thing she had going for her.
Mick didn’t like sharing her attention with anything, even school. Archer was willing to bet he even bitched about her going to Brody’s memorial service. Not that he bothered going with her for support or anything. He likely wouldn’t attend the actual burial, either, once the coroner had finished with Brody’s body.
Archer waited a few more minutes just to be sure before hiking his backpack up to his shoulder and slinking across campus. As much as he would seethe about being ditched—again—the entire way home, he’d be over it before he talked to Viv next. Staying angry at Vivian? Never one of his strong points.
Past brick buildings and barren trees, Archer was almost home free from the crowds of people moving from one class to the next, coming and going like the tide. And inevitably, someone dashed by and, in their hurry, slammed their shoulder into him with enough force that he stumbled, backpack hitting the ground. And someone—not the jerk who hit him and quickly vanished into the crowd—caught his arm to keep him from toppling over.
He hated being grabbed. But he hated falling on his ass in front of a group of people even more. Fair trade.
“Woah, are you okay?”
Rescuer-boy was taller than Archer by a few inches, so he had to look up to see his face, his dark eyes and mousy brown hair. Every inch trim and lean where Archer was slim and willowy. The guy took one look at Archer’s tight-lipped expression and let him go, pocketing his hands.
Archer scooped his bag off the ground. “I’m fine. People never watch where they’re going.”
The guy quirked a smile. There was something about the soft shape of his mouth, something that made him stare a moment longer than necessary. “You say that like you’re used to being bowled over.”
“I guess.” He shrugged. Not much different from high school. Anyone who said people became kinder and more tolerant when you stepped into college was full of it. People didn’t mature; they found sneakier, more manipulative ways to be assholes. “Anyway, thanks. See you around.”
“Hey, uh—What’s your name?”
What? No. That should have been it. Archer didn’t do small talk, especially with strangers. But he was raised with manners so he stopped, turned, looked at him. Patience. Another thing he wasn’t great at.
“Archer. I’m guessing you’re new.” Not because everyone knew him, but because it was a small campus occupied mostly by people he remembered from high school, and this guy’s face wasn’t familiar. He was also dressed in a t-shirt and khaki shorts, obviously not prepared for the cold weather.
“I’m Evan.” He offered a hand. After staring at it for a second, Archer reluctantly took it. Evan’s fingers were warm, making up for Archer’s freezing ones. “I came in a bit late, yeah. Everything was pretty full up so my class selection sucked.”
“I’ll bet.” If Evan were better at reading people, maybe he would’ve picked up on the don’t-talk-to-me vibe Vivian insisted he gave off. But no. He kept talking.
“In fact, I’m trying to find the administration office.” Evan’s grin turned sheepish. “I have some scheduling stuff to figure out. Think you could show me where it’s at?”
Archer could’ve pointed him in the right direction, but it was on the opposite side of campus and in a non-descript little building that took him forty-five minutes to find his first trip there. Again with the manners. Archer exhaled and gestured for Evan to follow.
Evan kept at his side. Funny, with Evan as a shadow, people actually got out of Archer’s way. Probably because this guy was bigger. Or maybe it was the way Evan held his head up when he walked, shoulders squared, while Archer tended to shrink in on himself, willing himself invisible. Untouchable.
Archer stole a glance at him. “How are you not freezing?”
“Oh. Used to the cold, I guess. Grew up with it.”
“So have I, and I’m freezing.”
Evan came to a halt, catching Archer’s elbow in a large, warm hand. “Are you? Here–”
Before Archer could protest, they’d made a detour to one of the two coffee stands on campus. That time of day, there was never a line.
“Order something,” Evan said. “My treat.”
I can pay for my own drinks, thanks. Except his wallet was in the car. Not much help. “No, I don’t—”
“Come on. As a thanks for showing me around.”
The girl behind the counter stared at him expectantly, and he really didn’t want to argue and draw more attention. He let Evan order him a coffee, and Evan got a hot chocolate for himself. Admittedly, the warm cup did feel good when he wrapped his fingers around it, and he muttered a quiet “Thanks” when they were on their way again.
“Like I said, it’s a thank you.” Evan sounded pleased with himself. How annoying.
They rounded the back of the campus, and the admin building came into view. Evan lingered by the door, offering him a smile as warm as his coffee.
“Thanks again. I get all turned around in new places.”
A woman in office-casual and a tight braid moved past them. “Good to see you again, Mr. Bishop. I have those papers for you,” she said to Evan and slipped inside.
Archer stared at him. Evan stared back.
“Never been here before, huh?” Archer asked.
Evan’s face reddened all the way to the tips of his ears. “I saw her at—you know… orientation. She must remember me.”
He didn’t know whether to be annoyed that he’d been lied to, confused as to why, or amused by the look on Evan’s face. But whatever. Archer had delivered him to his destination, and his drink would only keep him warm for so long.
Evan stared down into his cup. “So I guess I’ll see you around.”
Smiling thinly, Archer shook his head and turned to leave without a word. But there was something about the humiliated look in Evan’s eyes that made him toss a wave over his shoulder and, as he rounded the corner, “It was nice meeting you, Evan.”