Las Vegas, Nevada
The warning signs had been read correctly, whether they had the evidence or not. Red flags had abounded everywhere for weeks. Carter had vehemently denied any wrongdoing on the part of his boyfriend Lazarus, insisting that it all had been a terrible misunderstanding, even going so far as to lash out at anyone who insisted his relationship was anything but perfect. But now in recent weeks things had taken a turn for the worse. A busted lip. A broken finger. A physical fight overheard by an innocent party that spelled disaster and turned into something far worse than just domestic abuse. But now the time for guess work and worrying was over. Those closest to the victim decided it was time for action.
And what brought them to that conclusion? The simplest of signs, but also the most concerning. Carter seemingly vanished off of the face of the earth. Not only did he (or someone) deactivate his Twitter account, sparking further concern, but he hadn’t texted his best friend Ariana lately when their usual routine was to exchange texts morning, noon and night - even if it was Carter sending his bestie a dirty text just to try and make her lose her composure when around her fiance Francisco. If that wasn’t bad enough, he also gave zero response to the latest “thirst trap” picture posted on social media by Miles Kasey. And if you knew how Carter felt about Miles then you knew full well the signs were not good!
But then the most damning evidence of all; Ariana had received a call from Carter’s mother asking if she had heard from her son because he had not called her nor his beloved Grams in days. And he called them more often than anyone else in his social circle. That was when Ariana and Miles decided they were through waiting and hoping.
And that was where we were joined currently, inside of the cage elevator in the building that Carter and Lazarus called home in their newly purchased loft. Ariana had specifically asked Miles to join her, not knowing what they might be walking into. And when Ari mentioned what they were up to, there was simply no way their mutual friend Krystal Wolfe was going to be left behind. But even they were not alone in this “rescue endeavor” as Ari had flown Carter’s mom and Grams from Seattle to Las Vegas to help. Carter would be hardcore stubborn where his friends were concerned, but hopefully things would be different because his mom and grandmother were present as well.
The elevator was on the rise with the four women and one man inside, each one of them feeling the pangs of fear and concern in their bellies the nearer they drew to the floor that housed the lost.
“I swear if he hurt Carter, I’ll have his balls for earrings!” Carter’s mother Joanna McKinney murmured to herself, but loud enough in the surroundings to be heard between the five of them.
“Dear…” Joan “Grams” McKinney leaned over to whisper to her daughter, “try to be more ladylike. Say ‘bollocks’.” Joanna turned to her mother with a quizzical frown to which “Grams” answered, “Everything sounds more refined when it’s British.”
Profound silence followed, save for the suppressed snort of a laugh being held back. Grams turned to glance over her shoulder to Miles who fought somewhat successfully to smother the smile he just got out of the matriarch of Carter’s family. This was the first time Miles had the fortune to meet Carter’s mother and Grams, and he could easily see where his friend got his wit from.
The elevator then stopped and the doors slid open, Miles taking the initiative to press forward and step out into the hallway just outside of the loft door. Not to sound misogynistic but as the man, he simply felt protective on the off chance there would be trouble.
“Are you sure Lazarus isn’t home?” Krystal asked, to which Ariana answered, “His car is gone, but I saw Carter’s beetle…”
“And who cares if he is home?” Miles said absently as he approached the door. “If he starts trouble, I’ll toss him out the window.”
Miles stepped up to the door and reached up with his first to knock, but something caught his attention; the door was not latched shut. It was slightly ajar which was highly unusual. He knew Carter well enough to know one of the young man’s phobias was a break in, so there was no chance Carter would be home alone and not shut and secure his door. He gently pushed against the door with his fingertips and the door swung open freely and silently.
Miles glanced back at the four women, everyone showing concern in their eyes and on their faces. He said simply, “Let me go in first.”
Ariana turned to Carter’s mom and Grams and suggested, “Maybe you should wait out here?”
“No.” Krystal said before Joan or Joanna could utter a protest. “If they stay out here and Lazarus comes back, there would be even worse trouble.”
Miles then stepped all the way inside of the loft, followed by the women. All of them gazed at the impressive surroundings of the luxury loft. It was clean and in pristine condition, but as they looked further into the main living area, they saw a comforter blanket thrown from where it has resided on the back of the sofa and to the floor. It was in a state of disarray, and Ari recognized it as a gift from Mrs. Wagner, the elderly woman who was Carter’s former neighbor in his previous building. Ari knew something was wrong just seeing this because Carter adored Mrs. Wagner, even if the near-blind old woman was convinced he was a she. And she knew he loved that comforter because Mrs. Wagner crocheted that by hand.
There was also an open book turned over on the sofa, and a table lamp on its side having fallen to the wood paneling of the floor.
“This isn’t right…” Ariana admitted, the fear growing inside of her by each passing moment. “I’m scared.”
“Carter!” Joanna, his mom, suddenly called out. The “momma bear” syndrome was showing itself and she started moving past the others in search of her son.
“Dear, stop.” Grams said, taking her by the arm. Joanna turned and said, “I will not ‘stop’ mother! My son is…”
“Listen!” Grams hissed between clenched teeth, and everyone did as said and they listened, and heard the sound of the shower running from the bathroom just fifteen feet away. They walked toward the door, when they heard the water being turned off, the shower ending. Miles held a hand up to stall the ladies. If Carter was in there and in a state of undress, it would be best were he the one to see him first to prevent any discomfort from anyone present.
Plus if there was any of the old Carter in there still, Miles walking in on him naked might get a positive reaction.
Miles closed his eyes and took a deep breath before he raised a hand and rapped the closed bathroom door with his knuckles. “Carter?”
The shuffling inside came to a stop, as if inside someone had frozen in shock or fear.
Miles called out, “Carter, it’s Miles.”
“I will NOT ‘go away’ Carter!” Miles barked back. “You’ve scared us shitless! Ari and Krystal are here with me and so is your Mom and Grams…!”
“... What?” came Carter’s soft voice from behind the door.
“Yes!” Miles announced. “You had your family so worried that they flew all the way from Seattle to make sure that you’re safe…”
Miles slammed a fist against the door, rattling the wood and demanding, “Then open this door and PROVE it!”
“Carter Reece McKinney!” His mom bellowed in her most commanding tone of voice, and when you hear that ‘mom voice’ who uses all three names…? “Open this door NOW!”
Even Miles cast Carter’s mom a respectful side-eyed/wide eyed glance. A brief, unsettled silence passed by before they heard the tell-tale sound of the lock on the bathroom door become unlatched. Miles immediately grasped the handle to the door and with a deft turn of the wrist, he pushed the door open.
“Carter, I…!” But whatever else he was going to say was frozen in his throat at seeing his friend’s physical condition. Joanna closed her eyes, her hand on her breast as Carter’s mom closed her eyes tightly, a tear streaking its path down her cheek.
There Carter stood with his back to them, clad in nothing but a towel around his waist, but his reflection in the bathroom mirror showed everything; the heavily bruised right side of his face, the swollen cheekbone; the right eye blackened and swollen almost completely shut. His nose swollen, possibly broken, and obviously having been bloodied heavily recently, and both lips split wide. His friends, his family and loved ones stood silent as he looked at them from the reflection in the mirror before his gaze turned downcast in shame.