Prologue (2)

The bullying had ended, but Derek's social life never stopped being miserable. How could he possibly make any friends with such a shameful private life?

He had to constantly hide his bruises with long sleeves and had run out of plausible excuses for his streak of black eyes months before. His classmates and professors simply pretended to not know about the abuse and he just pretended to believe he was that good of a liar.

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It was painful, but manageable. Derek still had his little brother to share that pain with. Carl was all he had. He was his family, friend, and confidant. He was Derek's whole world.

But when that age came, he started to have crushes toward girls in his school, and those feelings weren't easily suppressed. Once again, Derek felt utterly helpless.

He couldn't tell anyone about his problems nor he could allow people to getting close to him. Otherwise, he would have to make up a reason for not being allowed to bring a friend home. Let alone a girl he liked.

Derek was tormented by cruel thoughts, often asking the heavens why what others took for granted was but an impossible dream for him.

Fueled by his hormonal storms, Derek's rage grew relentlessly. He started having trouble sleeping at night, thinking about all those lovey-dovey couples out there.

Derek knew he was different from them. His crippling flaw wasn't being shy or having a bad case of acne. His problem couldn't be cured by any doctor, because it had a first and a last name. Ezio McCoy, his trash bag of a father.

Derek started to conceive plan after plan to get rid of his father, even if it meant killing him. At night, he would devise elaborate and meticulous scenarios that often involved prolonged torture.

Death was too easy, Derek wanted Ezio to suffer as he did for all those years.

But when morning came, he would always realize they were dumb ideas, more wishful thinking than anything else.

Derek lacked the means and ruthlessness necessary to get rid of Ezio. No matter how much he hated him, Ezio was still his father and Derek was just an angry teenager.

Kill Ezio? Sure, and then what? Live his whole life ridden with guilt? Running away from home to avoid being arrested? With what money?

Killing Ezio would have meant abandoning Carl forever and destroying any possible chance of being happy in the future.

So, every morning Derek would swallow his most recent plan along with some porridge and move on. His only real prospect was to cram like a madman, get a scholarship, and get out of that hell as soon as possible.

Time flew and in the blink of an eye, it was the last summer before Derek's first year of high school. Despite the hot climate, his heart was as cold as ice.

Derek had already hit his growth spurt. That combined with his martial arts and muscle training had given him a mean look.

Ezio was aware of that and being a coward, he decided to avoid beating Derek and made Carl his new favorite target.

Derek had already tried standing up for his brother, but the only result had been Ezio buying a nightstick from the local Army Surplus. Ezio started beating Derek with a nightstick instead of his bare hands.

He saved Carl from suffering the same fate by begging and crying, and it only worked because the ruckus alarmed their neighbors.

So whenever Ezio threw one of his tantrums, Derek could only watch his brother get beaten time and time again.

One morning, Ezio received his first big commission in years. He wore his best suit despite the heat and had Derek prepare him his briefcase and laptop.

Ezio was in a real hurry. He could not afford for his competitors to snatch this whale. It could have been his career-making commission!

Derek rushed to the door where Ezio was already waiting and helped him adjust the laptop's satchel.

Ezio ran to the elevator, pushing the button like a madman, but the light remained red.

Cursing his damn condo, the building manager, and his rotten luck, Ezio made a rush to the stairs.

That's when Derek noticed it. Turning his head to follow his father, Derek noticed that the daylight was strongly reflected on the hallway's floor.

Ezio had just passed in front of him when Derek realized that the janitor had just washed the stairs, but forgot to put the wet floor sign down.

Everything happened in an instant. Ezio made a long heavy stride, shifting all of his weight down and forward on his front leg. Then, his foot slipped.

Derek could have warned him. He could have even extended an arm and prevented the fall, but instead, he chose to remain still.

Ezio tumbled down the stairs, bounced around the corner, and tumbled again, crashing downstairs. His body was a broken mess, all of his limbs bent in unnatural angles.

Like any teenager, Derek had his smartphone at hand, so he took several photos to prove that the floor was wet and there was no warning sign.

His mind was already planning on hiring the best shark lawyer he could find and sue the building managing firm responsible for his condo.

After that, he carefully walked down the stairs to confirm Ezio's death. He was still alive, yet incapable of making a moan or asking for help. His eyes were fixated on Derek, begging him for mercy.

Derek grinned to him and said: "Do you really think I am so stupid that I never learned anything from you? As you taught me more than once, never delegate. If you want something done right, do it yourself. Your smartphone is in your pocket, take it out and call 911.

"I'm just a failure of a son, I don't want to mess this up for you daddy."

Ezio's eyes were full of shock and hate, but that only lasted a moment. His head went limp, his gaze blank.

A laugh fought to come out, but Derek suppressed it. Instead, he started shouting for help putting on his best terrified son impression.

As always, Derek's mother was too obsessed with her problems, her grief, her feelings, to bother to look for a lawyer. She left everything in Derek's hands since Ezio was no more.

Three birds with one stone. After careful research, he contacted and hired the best shark lawyer they could afford so that Derek would be his client instead of his mother.

He told him everything about his father's incident, the domestic abuse, and the requirement to make it so that the money would be split between the three of them, mother and sons.

Both Derek and Carl were very firm on that point, they wanted the lawyer to start the process to get the emancipated. With the money from the compensation and their inheritance, they had enough to be self-sufficient until Derek could provide for them both.

What followed was the happiest period in their life. First, they obtained the inheritance, and shortly after they got emancipated. They could finally move away from their mother's place.

Not even a month later, they received a very generous settlement from the building manager. They used it to settle down and make proper plans for the future.

During the following years, bullies were not a problem. Derek and Carl were now both martial artists and had each other's back. Now that their domestic nightmare was over, they could experience having friends and girlfriends,.

They suffered many disappointments though, since too many of those so-called friends turned out to be people who wanted to use their parent-free apartment as a party house.

Also, they had a hard time figuring out what being a normal teen was supposed to be. While their peers seemed only to be interested in having fun and skipping classes, they were focused on studying and saving as much as possible.

Derek and Carl would spend holidays and vacations doing part-time jobs to slow down the thinning of their bank account. They were not poor, but not rich either.

They knew they had to save as much as possible in case rainy days were to once again fall upon them, but all in all, they had a good life.

Derek got a scholarship and obtained a bachelor's degree in chemistry, soon followed by a master's in biochemistry. Carl did well too, he had already got his engineering degree, he was about to start his master's and already had a steady relationship.

Despite being really happy for his little brother, it was really a painful thorn in Derek's side. He had always been the more socially inept between the two and never managed to get into a stable relationship, not even in college.

Derek had no problem talking to girls, the issue always lied in him being picky and ended in his inability to trust. He had had many crushes, but never fell in love.

In the beginning, he put the blame on his bad luck, always finding shallow or idiotic girls. After finding more than one good girl, he put the blame on his dark past.

When confronted with Carl's happy relationship, he could only blame himself. While Carl had suffered almost the same things, he got out much stronger and purer than Derek.

Derek was just too scared of being hurt again to let any relationship grow above a certain level and that was an enemy he could not just beat up.

Derek accepted the first decent paid job he got, working on the night shift of a big chemical company in the Q&A department.

Carl had confided to Derek that he was going to propose to his girlfriend, as soon as he got his master's. Hence Derek needed money because he only had two years to save enough to give his little brother a decent wedding.

Derek did not like his current job, but it was a way to start his working career and fill his curriculum. Also, it was well paid and he resolved to use the company's medical insurance to seek psychological counseling.

He knew he had problems and wanted to work them out. Derek consulted several doctors before finding someone he was able to work with and after several months, he felt he was finally starting to make some progress.

Alas, such happiness was not bound to last.

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