Fiction LGBTQ+ Friendship

In every timeline, Olivier Couture -known to his friends as Oliver- betrays the people who would become his closest family in order to save his grandmother. In one timeline, he loses everything. In the other, he is saved by the same people he betrayed. Both timelines, however, throw a girl named Mariam into Oliver’s life. This is not the story of a broken man trying to piece together the shards of his life while raising a girl who reminds him of what he lost. It’s the story of a group of people that went through trials and hardships to find family on the other end. Most importantly, this was the story of how Mariam met the people who thrived on second chances.

The car Oliver was driving didn’t match the house he had pulled up to. He owned a refurbished Ford Pinto, a car that had caught on fire three times in the past year. Mariam tried convincing him to sell it, but he would always laugh and tell her that he couldn’t afford a new car. The sight of the old vehicle pulling into the grand driveway of the mansion must have been comical. Mariam couldn’t help giggling as she imagined what the house’s occupants were thinking. Oliver parked behind an SUV and the car made a painful rattling noise as it turned off. 

“That doesn’t sound good.”

“You think?” Mariam pushed her glasses up her nose and yawned, “What state are we in?”

“According to the phone we’re in… Pennsylvania.” 

“You don’t know where your friends live?”

Oliver shrugged, “Honestly, Emma just sent me the directions a week ago and I didn’t look at it until we left New York.” 

Mariam grabbed her bag out of the backseat of the car, “So… these people… um…”

“They’re going to love you. Trust me.”

“But who are they? Are they like you?”

“Um…” Oliver pursed his lips and then ran a hand through his hair, “They’re… yeah, they’re like me. They don’t have the same abilities, but they’re like me. Except for Pandora.”

“Ex government agent, right?”

“Yeah. And she’s the most advanced form of artificial intelligence, but that’s not important.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

Oliver threw the car door open, “You’ll be fine! Just don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, okay?”

Mariam followed Oliver to the front door, a hollow, anxious feeling in the pit of her stomach. She was about to meet the people in the photos decorating Oliver’s apartment, and she wasn’t sure she was ready for that.

The front door swung open abruptly and a woman ran out, throwing her arms around Oliver. Despite the weather she wore a t-shirt with paint splatters all over it.

“Ollie you idiot! You should’ve told us you were going to be late! Aiden thought your car exploded and you were dead!”

“Hey Evelyn,” Oliver said with a broad grin as he hugged her back, “Miss me that much, huh?”

“Shut up.” Evelyn shoved him away, “So… that must be Mariam?”

Mariam stopped planning an escape route in her head and turned her attention to Evelyn.

“Don’t look so scared,” Evelyn said with a chuckle, “I don’t bite.” 

“She does bite.” Oliver muttered with a sharp grin that did not set Mariam at ease. Evelyn shoved Oliver into one of the bushes lining the porch and he made a squawking noise in shock before bursting into laughter. Mariam fiddled with her glasses, “Um… my name’s Mariam. I’m living with Oliver.” She paused, “You know that already.”

“It’s okay to be nervous.” Evelyn squatted down to Mariam’s height, “My name’s Evelyn, I run a tattoo parlor not far from here. It’s nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too.” Mariam glanced over at Oliver who was practically vibrating with barely contained energy. Evelyn followed her gaze, “Don’t look so excited, Ollie. You could’ve visited the house any time you wanted.”

“Not really.” Oliver shrugged, “I’m… y’know, busy.”

“Uh-huh. Sure.” Evelyn stood up, “Well don’t just stand there. I think Parker and Aiden are trying to bake a pie.”

“Key word being trying, I assume.”

The windows shook as something inside the house exploded, accompanied by cries of rage and fear. Evelyn rolled her eyes, and then offered her hand to Mariam, “I swear, we’re not as bad as it sounds.”

The interior of the house was not as impressive as the exterior. There was a staircase off to the side of the main hallway, a kitchen tucked away down a side hall, and a living room with a threadbare couch that was promptly knocked over as a man vaulted it in order to get to the door. He tackled Oliver with a hug.

“Jacob, you’re going to hurt yourself!” Oliver’s head slammed against the floor and he groaned, “Or you’re going to hurt me. Jeez, man, have you been lifting weights or something?” 

“You weren’t returning my calls.” Jacob pouted, “I didn’t think you were even going to show.”

“What, and leave my best pal all alone on Thanksgiving? I was just busy with things, that’s why I wasn’t answering your calls.” 

“What things…” Jacob trailed off as he glanced up at Mariam, “Oh… wow.” 

Evelyn rolled her eyes, “Jake, meet Mariam. Mariam, this is Jacob. Out of all of us he probably knows Oliver best.”

Jacob helped Oliver to his feet, “Nice to meet you, Mariam. I have so many stories to tell you about this lunatic here.”

“How is Oliver a lunatic?” Mariam mused, “He’s actually kind of boring. Er, no offense.”

“Wait, what?” Jacob frowned in confusion, “Are we talking about the same guy? The Oliver I know once stole a mannequin from a department store just because he could.”

“Not to mention everything he stole from me.” Someone breezed through the room to smack Oliver over the head with a spatula before wandering upstairs yelling, “Emma! I need a first aid kit!”

“That’s Parker.” Evelyn explained to a befuddled Mariam, “They’re… something else.” 

Since Parker had come out of the kitchen already, the next person to leave must have been Aiden. He stopped, blinked in surprise, and then raised an eyebrow at Mariam, “Gerstmann’s community?” 

After Mariam’s mom had died, she had ended up living on the streets in a community of homeless people. Contrary to popular belief, the group of people she lived with were better than any foster home the government could have put her in, and that was mostly thanks to Mr. Gerstmann, a kind and fair man who put up with so much just so Mariam could stay out of the hands of her mom’s awful sister. 

“How’d you know?” Mariam asked.

“I used to live there too.” Aiden admitted, “I run the free bed and breakfast nearby. I think you’ve stopped in once or twice.” 

Mariam nodded, remembering a tall blond man who always had a warm bed and food ready for anyone who needed his help. 

“I should’ve recognized you.” She muttered, “Oliver has a lot of pictures of you guys.” 

“You could’ve dragged him down to visit.” Aiden leaned against the wall casually, “Although from what I’ve heard you’re a bit of a shut in now.” 

Oliver shrugged, “Not a shut in, just making my way through this mess of a world one step at a time.”

“More like walking away from us one step at a time.” Parker walked down the stairs with Emma in tow. Emma rolled her eyes, “Parker, please. We all know you’re still bitter about Oliver stealing your throwing knife set, but he gave it back.”

“No he didn’t. He gave me the box back.” Parker blew their hair out of their face with a huff, “Kid, take it from me. Out of all the people you could’ve ended up with, you’re living with the worst of us.” They paused, and then put a hand to their ear, “Oliver!” 

“Yes, cher?” Oliver blinked innocently.

“You stole my goddamn earring!”

“Your ears are pierced? You’re always wearing that secondhand beanie, so I never noticed.”

“Give it back you motherf-”

Emma grabbed Parker before they lunged at Oliver, “Um, you’ll have to excuse them. They were raised by a gang leader.” 

Mariam simply nodded, not knowing how to respond. Oliver tossed something at Parker, who caught it out of the air. They put the earring back in, “You’re such a showoff.”

“Au contraire, je suis artiste." Oliver grinned, “And Parker? I hope you’ve taken these years to learn French otherwise you’re not going to have a very fun time this weekend.”

“Well he seems back to normal.” Jacob elbowed Evelyn who chuckled at the scene playing out in front of her.

“Honestly, Ollie? I think you might need to stick around more. You leave the group for one second and suddenly you’re a responsible adult.”

A peculiar look crossed Oliver’s face. To anyone else he seemed void of emotion, but Mariam knew that was a look of melancholy. From the looks the others were giving Oliver, they recognized that expression as well. Then someone new walked down the stairs.

“I was wondering what the commotion was. I thought the pizza you had ordered arrived.” 

Pandora’s eyes widened as she saw Oliver and Mariam, “Well… I didn’t quite expect this.”

They moved into the living room, where Evelyn was showing Mariam how to make popcorn over the open fire.

“Don’t let it explode.” She handed the pot to Mariam, “We’ve had enough of that for one night.” 

Aiden had the decency to look sheepish. Parker just looked proud. 

“So, Oliver.” Pandora tucked her legs underneath her on the couch, “What have you been up to? Other than raising a child.”

“Um, being raised by a child.” Oliver joked, elbowing Jacob.

“I kind of expected you to be in jail by this point,” Parker said with a smirk, “I mean, I didn’t know the klepto could change.”

“To be fair, you should be in jail too, Parker.” Aiden said.

“I’m not paying bail for either of you.” Emma warned, pointing a pair of scissors at Oliver, then Parker.

“Relax, I’m not going to jail. I’ve turned over a new leaf.” Oliver waved his hand dismissively, “I’ve got the kid to think of.”

“If you go to jail I’ll break you out.” Mariam promised, shaking the pot a little to get the popcorn kernels coated in oil. Evelyn grinned at Oliver, “Forget stealing objects, Ollie, I’m taking your kid.”

“You can try.” Oliver winked, “I invested money in a security system for the apartment.” 

“Why is Oliver suddenly the mature one?” Emma asked, looking around the group for answers. Mariam decided to answer for them.

“He’s being mature because he thinks he owes it to his grandmother and to you guys. Apparently he can’t keep up the act because in the time he’s been sitting on the couch he’s stolen like, three wallets.” 

“Ha, your daughter just psychoanalyzed you.” Parker broke the tension in the room with one halfhearted joke. Oliver shook himself out of his stupor, “How are you so smart? You’re ten years old!”

“You suck at hiding your secrets.”

The room was silent, and then Pandora spoke up.

“I’d like my wallet back, please.” 

Emma had a room set up for Mariam, despite knowing almost nothing about her. The room was lined with bookshelves.

“I haven’t really spoken to Oliver since we were almost arrested and shot for treason against the American government.” Emma admitted, “But I figure this room would be okay? It used to belong to my uncle.”

“I like it.” Mariam traced her finger over the spines of several books, “I really like reading.”

“Me too. Tell you what, I’ll let you take home any books you want.”

“Really? That seems too generous.”

“I’m living off a family fortune. I can afford to give away a few books to my niece.” Emma paused, “You don’t mind if I call you my niece, do you?”

Mariam thought about her aunt who had disowned her since she was born out of wedlock.

“I’d love to be your niece.” She told Emma with a smile.

“Nice. I promise I’ll be the best aunt ever. Well, probably not as good as Evelyn who basically mothered me, but I’ll be the best aunt I can be.” Emma put an awkward hand on Mariam’s shoulder.

“Welcome to the family.”

Mariam woke up the next morning to Oliver sprinting down the hall after Jacob wielding two pillows and shrieking as Parker chased them both with kitchen knives. The house seemed to bring out the immature side in everyone, and Mariam had never felt safer than she did surrounded by the crazy people her adopted father called family.

November 28, 2020 01:07

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