Liam was hanging up the phone, while already on his way into their youngest daughter’s room.
“Hey, do we have any plans tonight?” he asked Leonie, well aware they did not, and more as an intro to his request.
“No, not that I know of. Why?” she said, looking up at him from playing with Brianna.
“That was Nathan on the phone just now. They finally finished their new house and invited us over. The entire family. I said we’d be there. You okay with that?” he asked her.
“Sure! Haven’t seen them since Jakey’s birthday. I need to see that house! I’ll start rounding up our kids!” she replied, sounding excited.
Nathan and Mae Miller were her friends too and part of the old Clique.
Not even an hour later, they were on their way to Newcrest.
Once more, to a location just a few houses down from Liam’s in-laws.
He got it, Newcrest was still considered a relatively new development and real estate much more affordable compared to the other surrounding towns, yet not as far from everything as Brindleton Bay was.
But why did everyone have to live so close to the old Hanson’s place, Leonie’s childhood home? If any of them they saw them here or recognized the car parked not even a full block down the street, there’d be hell to pay for not stopping by to say hi. And that was really the last thing Liam felt like right now. Some months ago, evidently Leonie’s older brother Steven and his ex-wife Tess had decided to give their relationship another shot after years of bad blood, so her former sister-in-law moved in with Leonie’s mother, brother, their daughter and son – and the child, a girl, the sister-in-law had out of wedlock with another man, her affair and reason for the divorce, who evidently left her.
This would be immense drama by any measures, but especially so for a family as conservative as the Hanson’s. Sooner or later it was bound to blow up and Liam really did not want his and Leonie’s kids exposed to the ensuing mess.
The reception at the Miller’s new home was interesting.
Mae, Nathan’s wife, their daughter Harper, who was now 16 and son Ethan, who was about Everett’s age, were pleasant.
Nathan on the other hand seemed distant and unusually aloof, plus it was hard to miss the repetitive angry glances he shot his wife and daughter. He had never been the touchy, feely kind, but this was extreme even by his standards. Whatever had happened between the three was not a situation you should invite your friends with small children into.
Liam and Leo exchanged their own glances about this, but luckily all four of their children seemed blissfully unaware and were too wrapped up in exploring the playground and other interesting offerings with Ethan, who happily played the little host for them.
After listening to the adventures of home building in the Miller’s new living room over coffee and sodas, Liam lured Nathan out onto the patio under some pretext of home repair questions, while the women did the full tour of the home discussing decor and the kids went to Ethan’s room to play.
“So, what’s with you, dude?” Liam asked straight out.
“Huh?” Nathan overreacted harshly to a fairly customary question.
“You are stiffer than a pirate’s peg leg, man, and about as fun to be around. What gives?” Liam calmly tried again. Nathan visibly relaxed and in a much calmer tone of voice explained
“Nothing. Just tired. Work. This house. Finances. The usual crap us little folk have to deal with.”.
Liam tried for more information from a few different angles but Nathan’s response was pretty much always the same, which only served to feed Liam’s suspicions about the nature of the issue. Nathan knew something, but wasn’t talking. Not even to his lifelong friend. That alone was odd for the relationship they always had with each other.
Two days later, Friday, Nathan called Liam again. He sounded in need for company and wanted to meet, boys only. They decided to met up at the “Adult Daycare” bar in Newcrest. To Liam it sounded like Nathan was finally ready to talk.
When Liam finally got there he found Nathan at the bar.
Evidently he had gotten a good head start with drinking, already lightly intoxicated when they greeted one another. It was still fairly early, and hence the bar was empty.
Liam’s jokes bout Nathan already being several beers in just seemed to deflate his friend.
Liam knew this was not Nathan’s typical behavior, but said nothing, just ordered.
They talked, about what Nathan called ‘the good old days’ Liam listened to Nathan complaining that once they all left high school, everything just went downhill. Nathan’s family did not have money, he was raised by his brother, so instead of college like the others, he went to work, learning a trade. Construction, which he still worked in to this day. He married Mae Pham, who was another member of the Clique, soon after the wedding they got pregnant with Harper, they settled down, had Ethan, and like many other families then engrossed in raising kids and trying to make ends meet, sometimes struggling with both. By the sounds of it their romance cooled, Mae started to complain about feeling stuck and like a commodity as Nathan worked his tail off to be able to build the house they now finally had. He stopped talking, took a big gulp of his beer, before he continued.
“She screwed around on me Liam. Mae did.” Nathan eventually said coolly and without warning.
Liam held his breath. He already knew this. It was Mae’s name he had found in Corbin’s little black book, plus all her very private likes and dislikes, details which only a lover could know.
“Are you sure?” he asked anyway to see Nathan’s reaction.
“Yup. Got my confirmation. From her – and him. I guess defiling my little girl wasn’t enough for the bastard, had to go after my wife, too.” he added bitterly.
“Do I … know him?” Liam asked carefully, wondering if Nathan would tell.
“Oh yeah! Your fucking bestie! Corbin, that asshole. But I told him what I thought of him … I beat some sense into that mother…” Liam interrupted him before Nathan could continue the rant.
“That was you!? YOU?!” Liam got confirmation of the terrible suspicion that had been lingering over him like the sword of Damocles. All this time he had been hoping it was just a nightmare, a misunderstanding, a compilation of terrible coincidences.
“Did he tell you?” Nathan asked quietly.
“No. He does not remember a thing. He still does not even remember me. All because of YOU!”
“He does not remember …?” Nathan’s intoxicated mind was slow to process it all.
“No, he does not, and if he does not start remembering soon, the prognosis is shit. I lost my best friend in a way. Because you could not settle this like adults, you Neanderthal!” Liam raised his voice until he caught the warning look of the barkeep.
“Oh shit, I really fucked up, man. I just wanted to talk to him, yell at him, but he was so arrogant about it and just laughed at me. Told me straight out about screwing my daughter and my wife. I blacked out and I punched him. Before I knew it he was all bloody and on the floor. I just left … I didn’t mean for this to happen. I didn’t think I hit him this hard. I am so very sorry… ” Nathan’s voice tipped over and he started crying into his arm on the bar.
“You ruined his life! He will never walk again, because of you! My best friend does not remember me, and maybe never will, because of you! It takes two to cheat, Nathan!” Liam flipped out, earning another warning glance by the barkeep. Nathan yelped, collapsed to the floor, shaking and sobbing.
Liam just stood there, watching the scene in disgust, trying to process what exactly this would make his friend now. A criminal? Eventually Nathan calmed down and struggled to his feet.
With a tortured expression he told Liam.
“I am sorry. I did not know you can paralyze someone with punches to the face …”
“Punches? Nobody is talking about the friggin punches anymore, you idiot! The punches are child’s play in the big picture. I am talking about you continuing to kick him, hard, in the head, when he was already on the ground, then putting the proverbial cherry on top by stabbing him in the back and cutting his face with some meat cleaver, you moron! Police found the weapon, naturally no fingerprints, making this a predominated murder attempt. I could understand throwing some punches, I know how arrogant he can come across, I really get it. Your friend betrayed you in the worst way. I understand. Hell, he’d even understand. But beating the crap out of him and then cowardly stabbing him, cutting his face like some deranged crazy person, while he is already unconscious on the ground – and after all that just leaving him for dead?! Which undoubtedly he would be, had I not found him when I did?! Nah, man, that is unforgivable! You disgust me!” Liam almost spit the words at him.
“What!? Kicks? Stabbed? I didn’t kick or stab him. I didn’t even have a knife. And why would I cut up another dude’s face. No, Liam, I did not do any of that.”
Liam was about to get angrier at the lame excuse when he realized Nathan wasn’t lying. It was not like him. He was too drunk to lie about this now. He knew him too well and believed him. This was not like Nathan. If you confronted him with his mistakes, he had always owned up to them. Always. After all he already admitted to, there was no reason to deny the rest, unless he had solid reason to. Or was that just wishful thinking to deny that one of his friends could have tried to murder another? Liam saw no use in going in circles, swallowed and calmly asked Nathan.
“Have you been to see him?” meaning Corbin, who was still in the hospital and would be for an undetermined time longer.
Nathan just shook his head, looking at the floor.
“We are going to see him tomorrow. You and I. You will tell him you are sorry. And mean it! You’ll look into his eyes when you apologize to him.” Liam demanded.
“Liam …” Nathan looked straight at him, his eyes begging for mercy.
“You go with or I will call the police and have them deal with you.” Liam said firmly.
“No, please don’t. I’ll be there.”
“Damn right you will be.”
Liam wanted to see how Corbin would react to seeing Nathan – and vice versa. Maybe then he would make a decision about his next steps. Something just did not feel right here, no matter how straightforward it all seemed.
They met at the hospital. Nathan was right on time. It was easy to see the regret and discomfort.
Liam checked them in, then took Nathan to the all too familiar room. Liam had been by to see Corbin every single day since the day he had found him, even while he was in a coma. Every day, rain or shine. They had made some progress, at least Corbin recognized Liam now, even though probably not as his childhood friend, but as a welcome disruption to the dull days of being bedridden, hence forced to spend his days sleeping or staring at a white ceiling for an hour or so each day. Corbin had a TV, but with his brain injury it was hard for him to truly follow anything without him ending up in a tizzy when he realized nothing was making sense to him. He was unable to read at the moment, that would have to be re-taught once he was well enough.
He now addressed Corbin first, who seemed to be napping, but it often was misleading. There was not much he could do here, so even if he woke him, it wouldn’t matter.
“Hey buddy, Nathan is here. You remember Nathan? We all went to school together … and got into trouble together. LOTS of trouble.”
Nathan sat on the chair, chuckling nervously, until Corbin opened his eyes and turned his face to him. It was covered in scars, obviously permanently disfigured. Nathan swallowed hard and fought with keeping his composure. Corbin seemed to sense it, turned his head back to look at the ceiling, then closed his eyes again.
“Talk to him” Liam encouraged Nathan, looking at him.
“Ok. Hey Corbin. It’s Nathan… N-A-T-H-A-N …” he tried, seemingly overwhelmed.
“I am a cripple, not a toddler, you idiot…” Corbin mumbled, but grinned up at Liam who laughed.
“There is the famous Bjergsen charm we all know!” he said, and all three men chuckled.
“If someone could fix up my pillow, getting a crick in the neck here …” Corbin requested. Liam was about to when Nathan gestured him that he would do it.
They spoke a bit, and it became clear, how little Corbin remembered and how impacted he really was. This caused Nathan, who was always the least emotional one of the group to break down completely, repeating how sorry he was and begging for Corbin’s forgiveness.
When Corbin got exhausted, they left. In the hallway outside Corbin’s room, Nathan hugged Liam, crying.
“I didn’t do that! I swear to God I didn’t do that… on my own life I didn’t do that…”
Liam did not know what to tell him. Nor what to do.
Do nothing, and kind of betray one friend, Corbin, by not bringing his assailant to justice?
Turn his other friend in, Nathan, even though Liam believed Nathan’s claims of innocence?
Nathan was the type who would beat you, but not cowardly kick or stab a helpless and unconscious person. That just did not sound like him at all. Until Liam had better evidence, he would wait and see.
Few days after this, Liam and Leonie were in the middle of watching a movie, when Liam’s phone rang.
Leonie seemed annoyed, until Liam looked at the caller ID and told her it was the hospital.
She muted the TV while he answered. His mood soon dropped. By the time he hung up, Leonie knew something was wrong. She asked him.
He looked up at her, the news still processing in his head.
“Corbin … he’s in a coma again. It’s bad Leo….” Liam fought the tears.
“Oh my god, what happened?!” Leonie asked, holding on to Liam, rubbing his back.
“They said … someone … there was … an attempt on his life.” Liam had trouble saying the words, but continued
“It’s not looking good for him … hanging by a thread. Leo … odds are not good.”
The prior night at the hospital …