Forthcoming, Chapter Twenty-Five: Home

Mom had been halfway insane when she’d seen the bandages.  She’d helped take the ones of my hands, but I’d convinced her that my arm was still too sore for the bandage to be removed.  I’d unwrapped it privately; it didn’t look as sickening as I’d expected.  

     The weekend had passed quietly–I’d had no idea what day it had been, but apparently I’d returned from my “fishing trip” on a Friday.  I was glad because that gave me two days to rest before school.   

     Mom was still furious at me for missing over a week of school.  Fortunately, she felt so upset over my injuries that she didn’t have the heart to ground me.

     That made Monday seem a little better.  At least I’d be free to hang out with Reb after school.

     I sat on my bed long after the alarm clock had rung.  The room was dark.  I could hear a bird outside my window.

     I exhaled, sitting up.  It felt strange–even now–to be in my room.  I wondered how it was even possible for a whole slice of my life to feel unreal, as though I’d lived through a dream.

     My eyes flitted to the bare corner in the room.  If the space didn’t make me so angry, I would have laughed: even after being kidnaped and tortured I was still upset about my record player.

     “Todd!”

     “Coming,” I said, so quietly that I was sure she couldn’t hear me.  I rose, throwing on a Pink Floyd t-shirt and sliding into a pair of jean.  I combed my hair quickly than ran down the stairs before my oatmeal could get cold.  (Mom had been particularly motherly since I’d returned.)

     I sat at the table, watching the television from the kitchen.  I listened deftly as the reporter discussed a bank robbery in Philadelphia.  I shoveled the oatmeal in my mouth–I didn’t really like it, but Mom thought it was a “comfort food,” so I let her make it for me.

     “Authorities have still been unable to determine the cause of the explosion at the IMPOS headquarters in Chicago,” the reporter began, her tone sickly-professional.

     The story caught my attention.  I scowled as the picture changed to an interview with Cyrus, himself.  He seemed very composed, his features well-practiced.  “We believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was an accident.  We are looking into the system, trying to determine what went awry.”

     “Wasn’t there a security breach the same night as the explosion?” one reporter asked, shoving her way through the crowd.

     Cyrus’ face hardened for an instant.  “A flaw in the system.  We believe there was a virus that caused the accident and the confusion.  Again, we are working to fix this.”

     “Mr. Stokes, do you think this will disrupt production?”

     Cyrus eyed the reporter, his gaze lowering.  “I assure you, this minor dilemma will be dealt with effectively.”

     The picture returned to the anchorwoman, though I was no longer listening.  I’d pushed my oatmeal to the side, reaching for my backpack and running to the door.

     “Todd?”

     “Don’t wanna be late, Mom,” I hollered over my shoulder.  I was suddenly furious, and there was no way I’d be able to explain my rage in a way that was logical.

     The spring air was bracing and it cooled my temper instantly.  I began to breath normally and my pace began to slow.

     “So how was France?”    

     I jumped. 

     Reb grinned at me, pulling his car to the curb. He waved, motioning for me to get inside.  I nodded, opening the door and throwing my backpack inside.

     “Hey, Reb.  What did you say?”

     “Asked how France was.  You were drafted into the Foreign Legion, right?  That’s why you disappeared?”

     I laughed.  Well, Reb was a bit closer than Mom. “Nah, fishing trip,” I lied.

     Reb narrowed his eyes, pulling back onto the road.  “Didn’t know you liked fishing.”

     “I don’t.  It was more of a bonding thing.  My long lost Uncle Chuck all of a sudden showed up–long story.”

     I’d practiced the story so often with Chay that I told it easily, as though it really was the truth.

     Reb raised his eyebrows. “Wow, sounds like a soap opera.  Now all we need is for your long lost uncle to get amnesia, and every middle-aged woman in the world will want to watch us!”

     I laughed.  “You forgot his evil twin.”

     Reb slapped his hand against he wheel.  “Ah, of course–that’s what’s going to win us an Emmy!”

     We both chuckled. “Man,” he said, “It was way too quiet without you here.  I forgot how much eating alone sucked.”

     I nodded.  “Yeah.  So anything interesting happen at school?”

     “You’ll never guess!” He turned to me.  His hair was an even darker shade of black than normal, the ring returned to its normal place in his lip.  “Someone stole Carling’s car!”

     “Really?”

     “Yeah, and you wanna hear the really funny part?”

     “Okay?”

     “She’s convinced it was you!  She said she saw you jump in!  Can you get any more paranoid?”

     I laughed, hoping that it sounded genuine.  “I told you she had it out for me.”

     Reb nodded.  “You weren’t kiddin,’ but that’s really low.”  He shook his head.  “I think she’s just looking for a scapegoat.  She’s had to hitch rides with Erwin.”

     “Ha!” I chuckled so hard that my cheeks hurt.  “Erwin and Carling?”

     “Love is in the air,” Reb sang, and I began to laugh harder. 

     “Okay, okay.” I breathed heavily.

     “The latest rumor is that you hijacked the car and ran away.”

     “Any idea as to where?”

     “I think I heard someone say Vegas.”

     If it wasn’t for the seatbelt, I would have fallen to the floor.

     “That’s fantastic.  I’ve n-never heard any-anything that fun-unny.”

     Reb was laughing nearly as hard as I was. He was gripping the steeling wheel harshly, straining to keep his eyes open.  “The rumor’s have served as sufficient entertainment.”

     “Yeah!”  I sighed as we pulled into the parking lot.  We were one of the last cars to pull in.  Reb leapt out of the car and I quickly followed.

     “Thanks for picking me up.”

     He shrugged.  “When you said you’d lost your bike, I figured I’d do you the favor.  Then you disappeared.  I’ve been running by your house, trying to figure out what the heck was going on.”

     “Well, now you know.”

     Reb laughed, walking toward the school. I

followed, making sure my backpack didn’t rub against my arm.  I stared ahead, spotting a girl getting out of a bus.  She didn’t look familiar, and–in a small school–it’s rare to see someone you didn’t know.

     “Hey, who’s that?” I asked, nodding toward her. 

     Reb followed my gaze. “Who?”

     “Her.  The one with the brown hair.” I didn’t add that her hair was unbelievably shiny. 

     “Oh.  Janine Colly.  She moved in last week.”

     “What grade she in?”    

     Reb eyed me suspiciously.  “Ours.” His lips perked.  “Don’t give me reason to tease you, Todd.  Believe me, I will.”

     I shrugged. “I didn’t say anything.  I was just surprised that you forgot to mention someone decided to move to Middle of Nowhere, USA.”

     “I’m ashamed,” Reb said, feigning seriousness.  “How could I forget such a rare phenomenon!”

     That statement created new laughter as we came closer to the school. 

     “You hanging out with freaks now, Shakespeare?”

     I looked up.  Alvin stared at me, his eyes glassy.  Maria chortled beside him.

     “No,” I said simply.  “I stopped doing that a while ago.”

     I turned my back on them, walking more quickly.  Reb caught up, sniggering.  “Nice.  I don’t think they got it, though.”

     “Probably not.” I shrugged.

     We continued into the building, stopping at the doors to allow a very-flustered Miss Carling to pass us.  She stopped when she was level with us, eyeing me disdainfully. 

     “You!” she hissed through her teeth.

     “Yes, Miss Carling?”  I tried my best to look innocent, but I think all I managed was smartalec.

     “I know what you did, Everett.”

     “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

     She seemed to swell.  Miss Carling was silent for so long I considered continuing my walk.  Instead, I stayed where I was, keeping eye contact with her, waiting patiently.

     “You still have a detention to serve with me.”  She said the final word with a deathly finality, then stalked into the building.

     Reb released a low whistle.  “You’re lucky to still have your life after that, man.”

     I laughed.  “I saw my life flash before my eyes.”

     We walked into the building, the day beginning remarkably well for a Monday.

#

     “And that is why the school would die without french fries,” Reb finished, plopping another fry into his mouth.

     I raised my eyebrows.  “A real revelation.”

     He nodded.  “Yep.”

     We were silent for a long while.  I had a notebook balanced on my knee, but I was ignoring it.

     “Well, there’s the bell,” Reb announced, grabbing his tray and running to a trash can.  “See ya’ in Spanish!”

     I nodded in response, walking toward the hallway.  I was pushed into the mass of students.  I followed them, stopping at my locker to grab my favorite pen.  I turned sharply, running into someone.

     “Shoot–sorry!”

     “No, it’s my fault.” 

     I froze.  The voice that answered me was absolutely beautiful–soft and alluring.

     I realized quite suddenly that I was staring into the eyes of Janine Colly.

     “Hi.” I muttered stupidly.

     “Hi,” she said uncertainly, holding out her hand.  I shook it numbly, staring at her eyes.  They were a beautiful hazel color, brown with green streaks ebbing the pupil.

     “–Janine.”

     “Todd.”  I hadn’t heard most of her statement, but I told her my name instinctually.

     She nodded. 

     “It was really my fault, though,” I said, my words coming out too quickly. “I wasn’t paying attention.”

     She smiled.  (I felt suddenly warm.)  “Don’t worry about it, Todd.”

     I grinned.  “Yeah.”

     The bell rang and she shrugged.  “Well, there’s the bell.”

     “That means it’s time to go to class.”

     She narrowed her eyes.  “Yeah, either that or the signal for the prisoners to go back to their cells.”

     Janine turned to leave and I smiled after her.  “Only if you’re going to math!” I managed to say, but I doubted she heard me–she was already halfway down the hall.

     “A bit late on the punch line.”

     I spun on my heel.  Reb was standing behind me, trying–and failing–to hide laughter.

     “Shut up,” I snapped at him, grabbing my notebook and pen.  I sprinted for study hall, barely making it without being late.

     I sat and fumed for a few minutes, before shaking my head.  I had something more important to do than worry about a girl.

     I opened the book to a clean page and poised my pen above the paper, waiting to see if the familiar feeling of falling came.

     It didn’t and I breathed a sigh of relief as I began to write.

#

     “Who’s that?” Reb asked, staring across the parking lot.  Chay was leaning against a small black car, his hands shoved into his pockets.

     “Ch–my Uncle Chuck.”

     “What’s he doing here?”

     “I… don’t know,” I began.  For once, I was telling the truth.  I’d been hoping to hang-out with Reb after school, but–apparently–Chay had other plans.

     “I’ll see ya’, Reb.”

     “Later.”

     He waved, walking toward his car.

     I shrugged, repositioning my backpack and ran toward Chay.  He saw me coming, and nodded, getting into the car.  I recognized the vehicle as the one he’d threatened to run me over with–the memory seemed distant and unreal.

     I opened the door, throwing myself into the seat.  “Is something wrong?”

     Chay shook his head.  “No, I just wanted to keep an eye on you.”

     He turned the key, pulling out of the school.  I didn’t argue with him, though I did feel slightly aggravated.

     I’d never seen the inside of Chay’s car before: it was strangely neat.

     “So,” I began, “what happened to Carling’s car?”

     Chay released a low laugh, turning to the left.

     I noticed after a while that the radio was play softly in the background.   

     “Since when do you like The Who?”

     Chay shrugged, parallel-parking in front of the Agenton Apartments.  He killed the engine, jumping out of the car.  He kept the door open, waiting for me to follow.

     I complied, stepping around the car so that I was level with him.  We headed toward the apartments, both of us silent.  Chay was in quiet concentration.  I, on the other hand, was thinking about what was in my backpack.

     “Um… Chay?”

     “Hmm?”

     “I wrote something.”

     He stopped halfway up the stairs.  “Really?”

     “Yeah?”

     He blinked a few times, continuing upward. “I’m surprised.  I thought you’d avoid writing for a while.” He chuckled.  “I was afraid I’d have to force you.”

     “No, I…uh… wrote something really important.”

     Chay turned to me, his features calm.  “Can I see it?”

     I handed my notebook to him and he flipped it to the first page.  He walked as he read, his face stiffening the longer his eyes scanned the page.

     I pursed my lips, refusing to look directly at him.  Instead, I watched each step as I advanced toward the upper apartments.

     “Todd–”

     I closed my eyes, waiting for the lecture that would come. I was a prophet and my writings shouldn’t be taken lightly–what I had done was very irresponsible.

     Chay snorted.

     Then laughed, closing the notebook and throwing it back at me.

     “Chay?”

     “Nice try, Todd.”  He laughed some more, stopping me in front of an apartment.  “But I wouldn’t ever call Aislynn ‘babycakes,’ even if we were dating.”  He chuckled again.  “Thanks for the laugh.  I needed that.”

     “It was supposed to be a hint.”

     Chay raised his eyebrows.  “Some people just aren’t compatible, Todd.  It’s not your fault.”

     I shook my head.  “Those people don’t include you and Aislynn, Chay.  I know that ‘cuz I’ve written it.  I know you don’t feel that way about her.”

     Chay shrugged.  “It’s not really any of your business, Todd.”

     He opened the door for me, nodding for me to enter.  I walked through the door as he flipped on the light. 

     Chay’s apartment wasn’t anything like I’d expected. Somehow, I’d thought that someone who worked for the government would be living in a place that was… cooler.

     It was smaller than Derek’s apartment.  There was a kitchenette along the far wall and a door that led to a bathroom.  There was a television placed in front of a futon–there wasn’t even a bed.

     Chay sighed. “It’s not much but it’s where I need to be.”

     He closed the door, tossing his keys onto a small table.  I walked forward, stopping when I reached the window.  There was a chair placed beside the window and a filing cabinet across from that. 

     There was also a pair of binoculars.  I opened the blinds, staring at the street below–the exact place where I crossed the street to get home.

     Well, Chay most certainly was thorough.

     “Hungry?”

     Chay tossed a bag of chips in my direction and I caught them.  “Thanks.”

     Chay nodded toward the window.  “Hope that’s not freaking you out, Todd.  You know I’m just doing my job.”

     “I know.”

     I heard Chay sigh, and I looked up at him.  “This, however,” he began, “isn’t part of my job.”

     He turned to the closet, reaching inside.  I heard the sound of the wheels against the carpet before I saw it.

     “My bike!”

     He jerked his head upward, but didn’t smile.  “Thought it would be easier for you.  And what’s easier for you is easier for me to keep tabs on.”

     “Thanks.”

     “I shouldn’t have done this, though.”

     I squinted in confusion.

     “It’s in the closet.”  He turned back to the kitchen, reaching into the refrigerator.

     I walked into the closet, stopping dead in my tracks the moment I had a clear view of what was inside.

     I couldn’t speak, I could just stare at each individual album–at the record player.

     My record player.

     “My albums,” I whispered.

     Chay’s voice sounded closer. “I know you tend to write when you listen to music.  The more you write the better.”

     I whipped around.  “Thank you.”

     “It wasn’t a favor, Todd, it was business.”

     “Sure.” I smiled, not listening to Chay’s retort. I picked up the player and the albums, setting them beside the nearest outlet. “Mind if I listen?”

     “Help yourself.”

     I reached for the albums, placing a record atop the turntable.  I didn’t even notice what album I’d selected until Eric Clapton’s familiar guitar began to fill the room.

     I smiled, settling myself into the chair beside the window.  I grabbed at a nearby notebook and pen–this felt normal.

     I closed my eyes, listening and relaxing.  Chay didn’t say anything, just moved about the apartment.

     It wasn’t until I heard a knock on the door that I looked up.  Chay jogged to the door, opening it quickly.  Aislynn stood there, looking solemn.

     “Aislynn,” Chay greeted.

     “Chay.” She let herself inside.  “I just came to check in.”

     “Things are great.”

     “I see that.” She bit her lip, eyes darting to the side.  Her eyes landed on my notebook.

     “Did Todd write something?”

     “Not really.”

     She didn’t listen to Chay’s response, but grabbed it quickly, scanning the words hungrily.  Her face froze.

     Chay smirked.  “Todd felt a bit guilty.  He decided to try and patch things up between us.”

     Aislynn was silent.

     Chay frowned. “I thought it was funny.”

     She didn’t move.  

     Chay walked up carefully, taking the notebook from her.  “Please don’t feel obligated to do anything.  Todd wasn’t doing any sort of prophesying when he wrote this.”

     She remained perfectly still for a moment, before she opened her mouth, as though in shock. “Babycakes?”

     Chay howled with laughter, Aislynn quickly joining in.  They leaned against the wall, supporting each other.

     I felt my face redden. “It’s the best I could think of.  I only have a forty minute study hall.”

     They laughed even harder.

     I rolled my eyes, flipping open the notebook.

     If they’re going to be like that, then….

     “Chay!”

     I nearly jumped when I heard Aislynn shriek.  I looked up quickly.  Chay had his arms locked around her, smiling cheekily.  “You know what I like about fighting?”

     “Chay, let go!”

     “Making up.”

     Chay allowed his lips to brush her cheek and she froze.  I stared at him in shock.  I’d never seen Chay show such outward emotion.  I was downright startled.

     Aislynn seemed equally surprised. She turned to stare at him.  “Chay?”

     “What do you say, babycakes?”

     “Urgh!”

     “Nope, don’t think so!” He held onto her more tightly, and she shrieked again. “Chay!”

     “Aislynn.”

     She stared at him furiously, before sighing, allowing herself to lay against his chest.  He sat straighter, his lips twitching.

     “You’re such a jerk,” she muttered.

     “I know,” Chay whispered back.

     I grinned, flexing my hand.  I grabbed the pen, poising it above the paper.  The only sounds were those of the record player–the music still playing steadily–and Chay’s whispers.

     I smiled.

     I didn’t know if this lifestyle could possibly be permanent–in fact, I highly doubted it could be.

     But I hoped that it would last for a while, because I could get used to this.


Copyright Sarah Davidson 2021

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