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Todd Benson couldnâ€™t begin to count the number of times heâ€™d thought he was going to die. Probably, he guessed, every time his hell and brimstone preaching daddy had grabbed a belt, or a cane, or a switch. Thereâ€™d been those two times with the crop, and another with the electrical cord. Those were just the times he remembered. Sometimes he wondered if he hadnâ€™t blocked out even worse episodes of abuse.
But heâ€™d survived the abuse, no thanks to most people in the small town of Shasta. As an adult, Todd knew now that everyone just about had to have been aware of what was happening to him when heâ€™d been a kid. And as a member of law enforcement, a certified, bonafide deputy, Todd knew they knew.
Forgiving the people of Shasta for turning a blind eye to the abuse heâ€™d suffered was something he was still working on. The only people whoâ€™d really tried to help him had been Mr and Mrs Staley, his best friendâ€™s grandparents. That hadnâ€™t really gone so well, but it had helped Todd, knowing there were people who didnâ€™t think he deserved to be treated so badly. When theyâ€™d died, Todd had cried like a baby. Gabe, their grandson and his closest friend, had been devastated as well.
And somehow, Todd had developed more of a backbone then. His father and mother had already condemned him to hell for being friends with Gabe since Gabe was one of those demon possessed homosexuals. Well, Todd had news for his parents, he was too. He was just too scared to do anything about it. He was too scared to even talk about it, because if his parents found out? All those times heâ€™d thought he was gonna die, well, those would be nothing compared to what would happen.
Todd had heard his parents rant before, and heâ€™d been subjected to some severe beatings over being Gabeâ€™s friend even once heâ€™d passed the age of eighteen. It was, Todd knew even though it shamed him, very hard to break out of the cycle of abuse. He still hadnâ€™t, he supposed, because itâ€™d just been earlier in the day that his father had slapped him so hard Toddâ€™s entire head throbbed. And here heâ€™d been wearing his badge and...and he hadnâ€™t done more than hang his head and leave.
At least heâ€™d made his father stop hitting him otherwise, and heâ€™d moved out. Those were two accomplishments, and Todd was intelligent enough to know he needed to give himself what positive reinforcement he could. His confidence was almost non-existent and he had plenty of other problems, but he had to believe heâ€™d get better. Maybe one day heâ€™d move away from Shasta, because heâ€™d need to get away from his parents if he ever wanted to be able to be himself.
But first heâ€™d have to figure out who he was. That was just frightening, because Todd knew that despite the badge on his shirt, he was a big old coward. If he wasnâ€™t, heâ€™d be out like Gabe, and he sure wouldnâ€™t let anyone smack him around.
"Get off your lazy ass and go find out about the new vet thatâ€™s moving in to the Duggart place."
Todd looked up from the papers on his desk. How long had he been sitting there staring blankly at them? Long enough for Sheriff Kaufman to catch him at it. Kaufman was only mildly better to Todd than his parents were.
"New vet?" Todd said, and if he stuttered a little, oh well, Kaufman tended to scare him. The man was cruel on a whole different level than Toddâ€™s parents were. At least even they didnâ€™t get their rocks off abusing and shooting stray dogs. Kaufman was a sociopath with a badge as far as Todd was concerned, and that was a combination that should terrify everyone, not just him.
Kaufman snorted and kicked Toddâ€™s desk. "Yeah, now get your lazy ass up and go check him out. I think he looks too pretty not to be one of those fags. We already got that Staley freak here, at least until I can run his fruity ass out of Shasta. Donâ€™t need no more of â€˜em around."
Todd bit his tongue to keep from pointing out that Gabe didnâ€™t actually live in the town of Shasta, but on the outskirts. He pushed away from the desk and grabbed his jacket and hat. Better that he not say anything to draw more attention to Gabe. Soon enough Sheriff Kaufman would catch on to what he was doing, and probably to the fact that Todd was helping him. Together, Todd and Gabe had set about rescuing the stray dogs around the area. It was as close as Todd had come to making a stand, but he couldnâ€™t live with himself if he sat back while Kaufman tortured some of the most noble creatures on Earth.
So Todd tried to make sure he got the calls about strays, and he and Gabe would sneak out and rescue them. Sometimes Kaufman got the info first, though, and those times were just awful. Todd had ended up puking for a good couple hours after the last time.
Sheriff Kaufman stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. Todd couldnâ€™t quite look into the manâ€™s squinty little eyes. "You tell me if heâ€™s a faggot, or an asshole whoâ€™s gonna shit bricks over our stray policy. Iâ€™ll handle him from there." He slapped Toddâ€™s arm hard enough to bruise. "A few tickets and a little roughinâ€™ up and I bet heâ€™d run off cryinâ€™."
Todd waited until he was outside to shake his head. It was like an epic battle between good and evil or something, except the Bible had it wrong, because the devil couldnâ€™t be as hateful and cruel as people were, could he? Sometimesâ€”a lot of timesâ€”Todd thought Hell was right here on Earth, and the little town of Shasta was at its epicenter.
He didnâ€™t have time for philosophical bullshit though. Right now he had to go warn the good veterinarian about the evil sheriff. Yep, good and evil, Todd thought, and smiled for the first time that day. Now, if the vet turned out to be a total douche, thatâ€™d skew Toddâ€™s budding philosophy on religion and God and all that. Todd didnâ€™t even worry about being sacrilegious any more. His father had beat it into him that God knew what was in oneâ€™s heart, and if that was the case, and what Todd felt and thought secretly in his heart was wrong, then he was toast anyway.
But, if his father was wrong and God wasnâ€™t the hateful being his father thought he was, then Todd figured he was going to be okay. His father and mother, on the other hand, were in for some hot weather in the afterlife.
Todd rolled his eyes at his thoughts. He spent too much time on stuff like that, but considering the way itâ€™d been drilled into him all his life, he reckoned it was understandable. It wasnâ€™t like he had friends other than Gabe to hang out with and distract him from his own stupid brain, either. Todd was, as weird as it might seem considering his job, so shy it hurt to talk sometimes. Plus, who could he trust in Shasta? No one, besides Gabe.
"I really need out of here," Todd mumbled, then nearly wrecked his cruiser when he rounded the corner of Main and Brentwood. As it was, he hit his brakes a little too hard and the tires screeched on the asphalt, and the man who was bent over digging through the back of his SUV stood up and turned around.