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Anti-Hero: Chapter 28


Watching Levy and Bram put together the final touches on Friday night dinner, I hang up my phone and think about how lucky I am. I just spoke with Trip Goodnight over at Rebel Sky. He learned Ant’s family was in town for the foreseeable future and wanted to make sure they knew they could join us for Sunday dinner.

I joked, asking him how he could possibly fit everyone into his house, and his reply was simple. “When there’s enough love, there’s no such thing as too many people.”

I thought that was a little sappy, but then again, I couldn’t exactly deny the sentiment, given how crowded the bunkhouse is tonight.

I’d like for it to be a bit more crowded since Charlie hasn’t had a chance to meet Ant’s grandparents, and I know they want to thank him. He and Justin had to pick up a friend from the airport, so we’re just going to have a big breakfast tomorrow morning for everyone.

In addition to Ant’s family, we have two special guests: Beckett, my priest friend-slash-ex-fuck buddy, and Ginger, the young woman responsible for helping us find Ant.

Like a few of the people we’ve rescued, she works with Beckett, volunteering at the same group home. Even better, the strung-out underweight girl I met in that warehouse a little over a year ago is now sober and healthy, her shiny, curly hair the color of copper pennies.

Ant barely lets her step out of the car before wrapping her in a big hug. They hold each other for several minutes, speaking in hushed tones.

Yaya, Emil, and the abuelos come up right behind him and shower her with more love than I bet she’s ever received in her entire life. Something tells me we’re going to see a lot more of her.

“Remind you of anyone?” I ask, nudging Ant as he watches them dote on her.

He looks up at me, surprising me with tears in his eyes as he nods.

“Anja and Georg.” He watches them for a few more seconds, then continues, “The level of kindness, love, and support your aunt and uncle gave me at the beginning… I can’t explain how far that went toward helping me trust again. To see how my family is capable of the same love and affection is bittersweet. I don’t know if that makes any sense.”

“It makes sense to me. I have parents who are completely incapable of this level of kindness. Your mom, your aunt and uncle, your grandparents, on the other hand… They’ve always been overflowing with it. That’s what was taken from you. So it’s sweet to see but bitter to fully understand.”

He nods, wrapping his arm around my waist, tilting his head against my chest. “But mostly sweet.”

A few minutes later, Bram lays out the last of his famous roast chickens and asks us to gather around the table.

“Now that the sun has gone down and the work is done, we welcome a day of rest and the chance to appreciate all the good things of this week,” he says, taking Nacho’s hand.

Nacho turns to Ginger, Beckett, and Ant’s family and explains, “We go around the table and say one good thing that’s happened this week, one thing we appreciate, and one thing we are leaving behind. You don’t have to participate if you don’t want to.”

I’m betting he meant for Ginger to go last so she could opt out if she wanted to, but she surprises us by going first.

“My good thing is that Beckett has helped me to see a way forward to a better life than I could have ever imagined for myself,” she says, gripping Beckett’s hand. “I appreciate that Charlie and Erik listened to a crazy, strung-out girl to rescue my sweet Ant,” she says, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. “And…”—she stops to wipe her tears—“I am leaving behind the belief that I can’t make a difference. It’s not true, and I don’t want to believe that anymore.”

Abuela and Yaya, standing on either side of her, cross themselves and put their hands on her shoulders. There aren’t any dry eyes around the table.

After taking a few moments to compose ourselves, we continue around the table. Unsurprisingly, it’s a particularly poignant evening of gratitude, save for Beckett’s leave-behind: his parish, due to an unfortunate incident involving him, the church maintenance man, and a confessional.

Abuela shakes her head, muttering qué bárbaro to herself while the rest of us howl with laughter. Beckett apologizes to her in Spanish while Ginger explains to the rest of us that the church asked him to continue volunteering at the group home since the teenagers felt safest with him.

Ant grins up at me when it’s his turn. “My good thing is I finally got this fucking Nordic tree to admit he loves me.”

“Ant, language,” Abuela chides, elbowing him.

He kisses her cheek. “I’m grateful for family, including the ones who stood up for me when they didn’t have to,” he says, kissing Ginger’s temple.

“More importantly, I’m leaving behind vengeance. I don’t want to live to make other people pay.” After Gael’s attack, the abuelos know a little more than they did before, but we still try to be somewhat circumspect with the gorier details.

“Seems like a waste of a perfectly good life,” Javier says, his eyes shiny.

Finally, it’s my turn. “My good thing is this tiny Mexican shrub right here,” I say, dodging him when he tries to smack my ass. “I appreciate the friends who helped us find him,” I say, reaching out to kiss Ginger’s hand, “and I’m leaving behind…”

I pause to think about it, then smile at Ant.

“…the thought that he’s anything less than a man who has put his life back together brick by fucking brick.”

“Language, mijo!” Abuela says, smacking me.

Language, my son.

I pull her into a hug, and she squeezes me hard. “We are so blessed to have you in our lives. Thank you, mijo, for helping him to come back to us.”

By the time we sit, I’ve wrangled my emotions. Ant pulls his chair close to me and leans his head on my shoulder. Gael scoots in close to Ginger, holding her hand as tears stream down his face. We’re all quiet but so grateful as Bram begins serving the food.

He’s just about done when there’s a knock at the door. I do a quick scan of the table, looking to see if anyone is missing. Puzzled, I go to open the door and am surprised by my best friend.

“Charlie! I thought you were…”

“Tolly!” Ant yells and hops up from the table.

Charlie and Justin make their way in as Ant, Tolly, and I exchange hugs.

“Sorry for interrupting dinner, old chap. Thought I’d pop up for a quick visit, see for myself you were in one piece, give you an update on the kids, that sort of thing.”

Meanwhile, Gael leans over and explains to the abuelos and Ginger that Charlie is the one who talked his way into the hotel room where Ant was being kept. Abuela, moving pretty damn fast for a refined lady of her age, approaches Charlie with open arms and tears streaming down her face.

Abuelo hugs him from behind, and pretty soon, the entire Hernández family is in a big group hug with Charlie, and somehow, I get pulled into it as well.

Charlie then looks up and does a double take. “Oh my God. Ginger?”

Laughing through tears, she nods. Stunned, he pulls her in for a hug.

Wiping away my own tears, I grab Ant’s shoulder. “Don’t we have folding chairs in one of the spare rooms?”

He shakes his head. “Hallway closet,” he says, jogging over to the closet in question.

“We can make more room at the table, right?”

Everyone hops into action. Bram remembers a second leaf I didn’t know the table had, and within minutes, we’re all crowded around while Bram serves our newest guests, but not before they give us their good, grateful, and leave-behind things.

Tolly sits next to Gael and compliments his shoes, then expresses surprise when Gael says he made them. He has all kinds of questions about Gael’s process and business goals.

Ginger turns and whispers to Ant, “Are you seeing what I’m seeing?”

He leans into her shoulder. “I’m pretty sure I told Tolly that Gael makes shoes.”

Joining in on the gossip, I add, “I’m also pretty sure you gave him Gael’s website, which has the answers to all the questions he’s asking your cousin.” I tap my chin. “Isn’t there a picture of Gael on his site?”

“Yes, there is,” Ant answers shrewdly. “Something tells me he didn’t come up here just to check on me and give us an update.”


Ginger lifts her chin. “How do you feel about that?”

Ant looks over at Gael and smiles. “About a rich, kind man showing interest in my beloved cousin? Pretty damn good, actually.”

We kiss on it, and Ginger laughs, even over Abuela’s disapproving tuts. Her eyes sparkle with far too much happiness to ever take her propriety seriously.

Our guests stay long into the night, and Tolly finds himself staying on our side of the house after Beckett and Ginger take off toward Seguin.

After saying goodnight to everyone, I take Ant’s hand, leading us to his room. “Here’s hoping you can be quiet again tonight.”

He runs his tongue over his teeth. “Hm. Maybe you should be the quiet one tonight.”

I WAS NOT the quiet one last night, despite my best efforts. Even with Ant topping me, I couldn’t help but take over the direction of things. When I pass Tolly in the hall this morning, I get a royally arched brow and a snigger as he disappears into the bathroom.

My friend, realizing last night that Gael had also been badly traumatized by the events of the last several days, stepped back his flirtations. He always was a good one, never wanting to take advantage of someone in a compromised situation. I hope for his sake and Gael’s that they can make something of what seems like a mutual attraction.

I go to the kitchen to make Ant’s ridiculous morning coffee, loving it when he tries to encircle me with his short arms. I turn and catch Ant’s bemused expression.

Laughing, I grab a chair and stick it right in front of him. He scrunches his nose at me, then climbs onto the chair and throws his arms around my neck, kissing me as the coffee percolates.

“Hey,” I say, nosing his nose.

He smiles, nosing me back. “Hey.”

We kiss like a couple of lovesick fools and are—once again—interrupted by a knock at the door. Cursing, I open the door and it’s Anders and Hopper, looking sheepish.

Never a good sign.

We usher them inside and gesture at their guilty looks.

“What gives, fellas?” Ant asks, staring up at them in challenge.

They look at each other, then point for us to sit, spiking my anxiety. “Spit it out, fellas,” I demand.

Anders’ expression turns…hm. Hopeful? Maybe? Turning to Ant, he says, “So, a little birdie told us you weren’t going to use the list anymore.”

Ant sinks into his favorite oversized chair as worry crosses his face. “I can’t, guys. I know you’re disappointed in me, and you would totally be within your right to kick me off Murderer’s Row, but—”

“Wait, what?” Hopper asks, shaking his head. “You’re always gonna be our little murder buddy, no matter if you kill another person or not.”

“You promise?” he asks, relief flooding his features.

“Cross my heart and hope to die,” Anders says, miming the action.

“Then why do you both look so guilty?”

They exchange looks, and Hopper starts, “Well, if you aren’t going to use the list…would you mind terribly if we took over? You can say no.”

“You want to take over my murder list?”

My cousin nods, a little too enthusiastically if you ask me. “A lot of work went into that list. We know where they are and, you know, we sometimes have gaps in our schedules. I mean, we don’t ever want to leave you out, so you can come whenever you want. It’s just…they kinda deserve to die, and we can’t stand knowing they’re out there, you know?”

Ant goes quiet for a solid three seconds, then doubles over, his shoulders shaking. Anders and Hopper look at each other in horror until Ant inhales sharply, finally letting out peals of laughter. Bunny and Moose come racing in through the doggy door right as Ant falls to the ground, unable to contain his laughter.

They bark and snuffle Ant’s hair, pacing between me and Ant as if to tell me I need to check on him. Still laughing, he pulls himself up to standing and commands both dogs to sit. When he catches his breath, he pulls the two serial killers into a big group hug.

Moose lets out a low woof and Bunny goes up to Hopper, recognizing his old friend.

“Of course you can take my kill list,” Ant answers, finally composing himself. “I’m so grateful you’re willing to keep going.”

Anders and Hopper do a little happy dance with the dogs, and Ant sends me an amused look that makes me love him just a little bit more than the day before.

Smokey saunters into the room, sees the insanity, and saunters right back out, swishing her tail. Not even Hopper is immune to feline judgment.

Unfazed, Hopper, looking more sincere than I’ve ever seen him, puts his hands on Ant’s shoulders. “If you need us to make it hurt a little extra for any of those assholes, just put a little asterisk next to their name, and we’ll take care of it.”

Ant pulls him into another hard hug. “Thanks, my friend.”

With that, Anders and Hopper head straight for the door.

“Fellas,” I call out, “you don’t have to rush out. Wanna join us for breakfast?”

They look at each other and then back at us, shaking their heads.

Anders grins. “One of the guys on the list is in Houston, and Hopper’s never been to the museum district. Figure we can take care of what needs taking care of, then check out the butterfly exhibit.”

Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much time around insane people, but that actually sounds like a good time.

I send them a short wave. “Have fun killing the assholes.”

Hopper snorts. “You’re so funny, Erik.”

They take off, and I lead Ant back to the big chair, pulling him onto my lap as the dogs take their places on either side of us. He curls up against me, still laughing.

“Who would’ve thought we’d end up like this?”

“Not me,” I admit freely, “and I’ve never been gladder to be wrong about something in my entire life.”


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