Spending the last four days puking his brains out wasn’t what Angelo imagined he’d be doing when he got to space, but it was all he could do. He felt too weak to get around, even without the force of gravity. Most of the time though, he just lied in his cot.
As miserable as he felt, his brother’s company made it all worth it. Leon might as well have been a part of the medical team, getting things for Angelo, helping him get more accustomed to floating, and generally making him feel cozy and cared for. It’s not for Emil and Roxie’s lack of trying. They did their best, and he liked them, but that just made him more self-conscious about being an inconvenience. At least Leon was used to dealing with him like this.
But even someone as clingy as Angelo needed a little privacy once in a while. Leon and Roxie left to get breakfast, and Emil hadn’t shown up yet. Left all alone, he had the perfect opportunity to rehearse his lies.
He scrolled through Leon’s phone, flicking through days’ worth of messages between him and his mom. She usually tried to keep conversation light, with him pretending ‘Leon’ didn’t know anything when she subtly dropped questions about Angelo’s whereabouts. He made up some nonsense about Leon’s speakers not working so he wouldn’t be expected to call, though telling that to the same woman who did tech support for a living might not have been his brightest idea. Things went smoothly otherwise, eerily so.
Until yesterday. Yesterday, he slipped up for the first time. Angelo never mentioned to his brother the fake ‘friends’ he made up to go to basic training, but apparently his mother did many times. They just didn’t text about it.
On top of that, the subtlety dropped. Questions came nonstop to the point where he had to mute the phone before anyone got suspicious. She never outright mentioned that anything bad happened, but it was obvious. Even Leon would catch on. Still, ‘he’ didn’t ask any further questions.
He got a new text. It came from his dad this time.
‘I love you.’
‘I love you too, Dad.’ Angelo texted back. The message caught him a little off guard; his father wasn’t much of a texter. Showering the family with random ‘I love you’s though, that’s normal for him. So why did it feel so wrong?
Angelo’s soul nearly left his body hearing the voice behind him.
“You feelin’ alright?” Emil leaned in through the door. “You seem like you’re doing a lot better than a couple days ago.”
“I-I don’t feel sick.” Saying Angelo was ‘okay’ would be an overstatement.
The lieutenant winked. “Good! I just came to check in on ya before grabbing somethin’ to eat. Roxie and Rookie should be back in a few. You want anything?”
Angelo almost said no, but his stomach answered for him. “Are there any tortillas left?”
“Yeah sure thing! I’ll bring some back.”
With a slap of the doorframe, Emil left just as he came. Angelo was alone again. His attention returned to the phone, where he’d gotten a worrying amount of messages from his mom.
The number kept climbing. Angelo looked on, frozen in horror. The messages stopped. Against his own will, he tapped to open them up.
She found out yesterday. His parents cut their vacation short because she got a bad feeling when he didn’t text back or answer calls. His grandfather, who he should’ve been with, stalled whenever she asked about him. It turned out he was trying to find Angelo on his own before they got back.
His grandfather also spent a few hours in the hospital the morning he ran away. As relieved as it made Angelo to hear his grandfather was still alive–he could cross ‘potential murder suspect’ off of his list of problems–the old man blamed him for putting him there in the first place. That wasn’t entirely untrue since Angelo called the ambulance, but that’s not how his mom described it.
More messages relayed stuff Angelo already knew, like what really happened after Leon left and the letter Angelo left behind in his suitcase. When he wrote it, he thought the letter would help his parents feel better about him leaving, but only now did he realize how naive that was, like putting a kiddie bandage over a bullet wound. His mother included pictures of the full letter. He saw fresh tear stains.
His mother hoped ‘Leon’ would have a better idea of places he might’ve gone or people he might’ve been talking to at the time, but if he hadn’t shown up here, the real Leon would be just as lost.
Aside from his brother, Angelo was a social outcast with no known friends and no social media presence. He talked to his accomplice maybe twice. She probably forgot his existence by now. In the past few years, even his parents didn’t know what all was going on in his life. The distance had been intentional on his part, but it still ripped his heart to shreds seeing his mother kick herself over it. Tears clouded his eyes. He wiped them away.
Angelo James Summers officially became a missing person. All of these traits made him difficult enough to track down, but thanks to his grandfather’s stunt, he could practically be anywhere in the world by now. Except he wasn’t.
He was in space.
His mother kept apologizing for not telling Leon what happened last month, for not telling him about this situation earlier, for reasons Angelo couldn’t begin to understand. This was all his fault. Why didn’t she realize that? Now he sat there, left alone to watch his family fall apart because of him.
Not for long. He heard the hallway door open. Someone could be in the infirmary any second. Angelo knew how Leon would respond to a lot of things. Angelo did not know, however, how his brother would respond to his disappearance. He didn’t know how to respond to his own disappearance!
‘He’s gome??’ Angelo’s hands shook so bad that the typo got left in. ‘I’m sorry I don’t know whatt o say…’
“Hey, I’m back with your tortill–uhhhh, is everything alright?” Emil’s blurry form hovered in from the doorway. “Do you need another barf bag?”
Angelo shook his head and lifted up the empty one next to his legs. He used it to dry his eyes only to start sobbing immediately afterward.
“Hey, hey, what’s wrong?” Emil leaned down toward Angelo and the phone, which he clutched away. “You can tell me if you want. Wait. You can’t talk right now, can you?”
Angelo shook his head again. He might just get out of this.
“Rookie told me you guys talk through text when this happens. Do you wanna try that?”
So much for that. He could say he didn’t want to talk about it, but if Emil didn’t pry, Leon would. Someone had to be told something.
Angelo switched over to the messages between his brother and his abandoned phone. ‘Grandppa was in hospital. Okk now ,, Plrase don’t tell Bigbro. I wan tto. Later.
“Ohhh, gotcha.” It took a second, but Emil was able to parse his word salad. “You still want this tortilla?” He held up some more packages. “Roxie made me take a tube of peanut butter so you could get some protein. And some water.”
The dark-haired boy held up his hand. He didn’t feel like eating. He felt like garbage. Angelo erased his message so that Leon wouldn’t see it later.
…Later? With everything he’s done, with all the lies and all the heartbreak, Leon should never get his hands back on this phone! It would expose Angelo for the miserable little leech he was, but even worse, it’d make Leon feel bad. He couldn’t let him have it back. Not at any cost. Angelo shoved the phone into the pocket of his Interstellar Forces-issued pajamas.
“I’ll just put these on the counter in case you want ‘em later.” Emil did just that. “Sorry, I got a little held up talking to Rookie. He keeps asking me if you’ll have enough time to see the stars before you go home, isn’t that funny?”
Not to Angelo.
“It’s like he can’t believe that you’re one of us now.”