Chapter 35

Home, Setalite City, 6:37 AM.
Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014.

Two days left until he was kinda, sort of, mostly free—he knew he’d be watching the hands of the clock the entire time.

Loren smiled at himself in the mirror before messing his hair up just enough so that it didn’t look brushed—it always looked weird to him otherwise, like he was trying too hard to make it neat. It was always a worry that someone might notice and call him on it.

His mother’s voice cut through the early morning, a few sharp words that were returned moments later by his father. The tenuous ceasefire that had briefly stretched between them had shattered already.

He watched the door uneasily as his mother’s voice grew loud enough to distinguish the words.

“Maybe you should have checked before you bought it—all you’ve done now is waste more money!” Leslie Parker snapped, projecting her voice down the stairs. “Get out of bed, Loren!”

“I’m not in bed—I’ve been up for a while,” Loren said clearly, still watching the door. “You don’t have to shout.”

Don’t take that tone with me.” Leslie snarled, rattling the doorknob. “What did I say about locked doors?!”

Loren winced and thought about a future in which he ignored her—and then quickly moved to unlock the door. He was on ‘thin ice’ already, he better not test his luck. His mother barged the door open before he’d even manage to get out of the way, and the edge dug painfully into his forearm.

“That hurt!” Loren yelped in protest.

“It barely touched you, you baby.” Leslie huffed instead of apologizing.

Loren gritted his teeth but said nothing. Leslie was thin to the degree that made her look sickly, she hadn’t always been like that, though. She had lost a lot of weight over the last year—at first, she had been pleased with shedding some of the excesses, but it had started to worry Loren’s parents enough that she had gone to the doctor with it.

“What are you doing in here that you need the door locked?” Leslie demanded, stepping further into the room and looking around.

Loren had tried the privacy argument once, and it had led to a ten-minute tirade about how he didn’t need privacy from his mother and a further discussion about staying away from drugs because that was the only reason she seemed to think that he might want to lock his door.

“I was getting changed,” Loren said quietly, trying a different approach. “I didn’t want anyone to walk in.”

Leslie gave the room another look over before turning to face him.

“Nobody is going to walk in on you—No more locked doors,” Leslie snapped, “Get downstairs. You’re going to be late if you continue to mess about.”

Another failure. He wasn’t due to be at the school until 8:30, but Loren didn’t test his luck by arguing, instead obediently following his mother to the stairs—there was a moment where he had an almost overwhelming urge to push her down them, but he clenched his fists at his sides and followed her down.

He was at the kitchen table when they arrived, eyes narrowed and his matching bad mood apparent. He gave Loren a wisp of a nod in greeting before returning to his paper, ignoring them both. Loren moved into the kitchen and made himself some toast, doing his best to avoid setting his mother off again.

The reason for the bad mood became apparent pretty quickly.

“Loren,” Charles said cooly, avoiding looking anywhere near his wife. “The cars broken, you’re going to have to catch a bus, I’ll give you some money—.”

The idea of not being stuck in a car with both of them for the next twenty minutes sounded amazing—but his hopes came crashing down a moment later.

“He’s not getting on one of those death traps!” Leslie interjected furiously, “He can walk to school; it’s half an hour at most. It’s not going to kill him, Charles!”

His dad looked pretty pissed off at his solution being shot down before he had even finished speaking, but he quickly lost interest in the two of them after that like he always did.

“You are looking a little fat, Loren.” Charles said indifferently, giving him a glance, “Might do you some good to get some exercise.”

He wasn’t even remotely close to being fat—Loren looked down at himself hesitantly, suddenly unsure of his own perception. What if it was one of those things where he was biased and couldn’t actually tell? Was he actually overweight? What was the appropriate weight for a boy at fourteen?

He’d have to look it up on the school computers at lunch–asking Isaac if he thought Loren was fat was just asking for trouble.

Loren ate quickly and avoided speaking, so he didn’t draw any more attention to himself. He grabbed his bag before heading out the door when his mother left the kitchen—but she still got her parting comment on the way out.

“Where did he—come straight home after school!” Leslie shouted after him, “If you aren’t here by the time I get back, you’ll be in your room for the entire break!”

That’s what she wanted from him anyway—tucked away where she could ‘manage’ him better and keep him from any influences she deemed inappropriate—It was suffocating.

He could see the top of Hope’s Bridge from the house, and it was only a couple of minute’s walk to actually get onto it. Loren looked up at the thick bridge supports, high above—damn, this thing was massive.

Twin walkways ran the length of the bridge, one of either side, situated slightly above the road level and fenced with a metal railing. Eight lanes stretched across it, separated by nothing more than white lines painted onto the tarmac.

Loren had seen it from the window of the car what felt like a million times, but he’d never actually walked across it before—Just being able to look up without the car roof getting in the way was great.

There were surprisingly few pedestrians on the walkways. He supposed the length of the bridge was enough that most people couldn’t be bothered walking—Or it might be that their mothers didn’t forbid them from riding one of the hundreds of busses that ferried everyone around the city.

Being out here on his own and unaccompanied was amazing. Usually, the only times he had without the piercing gaze of his mother was when he was at school—or until she got off work in the afternoon. His father was usually home from his own job by then, though, so there was still some supervision.

He’d just have to enjoy the small freedoms while he had them—he wouldn’t be stuck here forever. Loren felt kind of guilty about making a big deal out of it—not because it wasn’t bad, but because his best friend had it so much worse.

At least his father never hit him.

Cafeteria, Setalite City, 12:37 PM.
Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014.

Loren didn’t actually get to meet up with Isaac until lunch due to him being a year older and a grade higher than him—different classes and a different schedule.

“You look like you didn’t get much sleep,” Loren said smiling, “You stay up all night playing Crescendo again?”

Isaac smirked.

“Some of us are actually allowed to play games at home—doubt you’d know about that, though.” Isaac taunted before elbowing him good-naturedly. “I’d invite you over to stay the night again if your mom didn’t hate me.”

After the last time, he didn’t really want to go to the other boy’s house.

“She thinks you’re an idiot, and she isn’t really wrong either,” Loren joked, biting a chunk of his sandwich off. “At least she’s not as bad as your parents.”

“Yeah, well, thanks for reminding me,” Isaac said, annoyed, “I didn’t exactly get to choose them, dickhead.”

Loren winced as what he’d just said hit him.

“Sorry, man,” Loren mumbled, realizing he’d said something pretty insensitive. “I didn’t think that one out before I said it—”

Isaac just waved him off.

“Whatever, is the warden ever going to let you play again at least? My teammates always suck.” Isaac lamented, moving away from the topic of his parents. “I can’t carry two scrubs—I need at least one good player helping.”

Loren coughed in amusement at the term ‘warden,’ he’d have to remember that one.

“Just play solo’s; it’s so much easier than trying to get others to listen.” Loren sighed, “I’ve asked her a bunch of times, but she just tells me to stop asking—I’m starting to think she actually sold my headset.”

“You’re joking,” Isaac said, alarmed. “That woman is pure evil.”

Loren just bit of another bite and shrugged it off—He’d searched most of the house for the headset. Nerve-wracking stuff, really, but either it was buried in a time capsule in the backyard to force him to wait out some indefinite time period, or she’d gotten rid of it. It didn’t really matter, she’d been letting him play less and less as he got older.

“You don’t seem too cut up about it—actually, why are you in such a good mood today anyway?” Isaac said curiously, eyeing him. “Don’t tell me—Kristy Reed asked you to sneak back behind the gym after class and fill in for the rest of the football team—”

Loren choked on his sandwich.

Dude!” Loren coughed, trying to warn him. “Her brother is sitting right there—”

Isaac laughed off the warning, thinking it was just a joke—and then the girl’s brother smashed his fist into the side of Isaac’s face, sprawling him off the bench and onto the floor with a cry of shock.

“That’s my sister, you fucking rat!” Daniel snarled, punctuating his statement by kicking the downed boy in the face. “Try saying it again!”

Loren stumbled out of the bench, struggling to keep up with what was happening—He only knew Daniel Reed by reputation, and he didn’t have any sort of relationship with the boy.

Could he try and talk him down? The only person who would probably be able to get Daniel to stop would be his friends, and they’d never spoken. What was he supposed to do here? He’d seen fights, but he’d never been in one. How could he convince the other boy?

One of Daniel’s friends stepped around the fight and struck Loren across the face catching him completely blind, and he fell backward from the force into the massing students, and his head bouncing painfully off the ground. Loren’s vision went completely white for a second, and he blinked a few times before it cleared.

“Stay down bitch, or you’re next in line,” The boy snapped.

Loren, terrified and disoriented, didn’t get up.

He watched as Isaac curled up while the two boys continued to kick him—one particularly strong hit left his face bleeding heavily. It was far too long before the teachers finally got through the mass of other students and into the thick of it, harshly pulling the older boys away from him.

Isaac was pulled to his feet by one of the teachers, and they quickly hustled the three boys out of the room. Loren watched it happen from his place on the ground, and just before they were out of sight, Isaac looked back—expression filled with anger, pain, and confusion.

Ms. Gracen, the school nurse, approached him, and he noted in a distant part of his mind that she was intimidatingly tall.

“Are you alright?” Ms. Gracen asked, concerned. “Oh my, your cheek is bleeding—come on, up you get.”

He was bleeding—he tried to touch his face, but she easily caught his hand and stopped him.

“No point in you touching it,” Ms. Gracen said gently, “Your hands are dirty—I’ll take care of it for you, okay? Are you dizzy at all?”

He answered her questions as best he could, but his mind was just stuck on the look that Isaac had given him. He should have done something to help him—he just couldn’t get himself to move, everything had happened so quickly.

He should have helped.

Loren was soon seated in the nurse’s office, and she dragged a swivel chair over to him.

“Isaac was bleeding too,” Loren said quietly. “Shouldn’t he be here?”

Ms. Gracen touched his face and turned his head gently, dabbing at his cheek with something that made it immediately start to sting.

“I only saw his face for a moment,” Ms. Gracen admitted, “He’s most likely going to need stitches, they will have called in an ambulance by now—You don’t need to worry about that, okay?”

Loren couldn’t even process that—how had all of this happened so quickly? One second they were just sitting and eating lunch—he was startled out of his thoughts as she turned his head back around to face her.

“Loren? I want you to focus on me, okay?” Ms. Gracen said, smiling, one hand now rubbing his shoulder. “Forget about everyone else—How’s your vision? Nothing blurry?”

Everyone else, not everything else—the wording was off in a way that he didn’t like. She was getting awfully close to him now, having scooted her own chair right up in front of him. Loren was starting to get a little nervous as her knee pressed against the inside of his own.

What was she trying to do exactly?

“Nothings blurry—“ Loren said quickly, wincing as she touched the back of his head. “I think I hit my head on the floor.”

Ms. Gracen scooted forward another inch, and he was uncomfortably aware of her knee’s position.

“That’s not good, sweetie.” Ms. Gracen said, speaking softly. “Let me have a look at you, you poor thing.”

Bedroom, Setalite City, 4:32 PM.
Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014.

Loren startled awake, lifting his head off his desk and wiping the sleep from his eyes—having fallen asleep at some point. Nobody had given him a key to get back into the house, so he had needed to climb through the window he’d ‘forgotten’ to lock this morning. His father wasn’t due back for another half an hour.

His head and cheek still stung—but according to Ms. Gracen, because he wasn’t going to call the woman by her first name like she had asked him to before he escaped, he most likely didn’t have a concussion.

She had said she was supposed to contact his parents, but he’d managed with surprising ease to convince her not to—convince was far too strong of a word, he asked her once, and she agreed immediately. It was unnerving just how strangely she had began to act, it was like she’d undergone some kind of rapid personality change while he sat next to her.

Loren had never met someone who wanted to make so much physical contact with him, and despite the things he’d heard the older boys brag about this kind of attention from the other girls at school—all he felt was extreme discomfort. He’d ended up fleeing the room after she started to rub his thigh, stammering out several excuses and ignoring the hurt that flashed across her face.

The entire situation had been entirely unnatural, and he felt sick just thinking about it.

It was almost enough to keep him from thinking about the situation with Isaac—almost. Loren had let his friend get badly hurt when he could have just done something. He knew without a shadow of a doubt that if it had been him on the ground, Isaac wouldn’t have hesitated to save him.

Everything was just becoming too much—his phone lit up on top of the desk, he picked it up quickly.

‘I’m at Hope’s Bridge. Meet me there.’ – Isaac Myer.

Isaac must have wanted to avoid going home on account of his parents—there was no way they didn’t know what happened. They would have been contacted at some point today by either the school or the hospital, and they definitely wouldn’t have let a minor leave without his parents present—which meant he’d most likely run away from the hospital.

That kind of thing wasn’t exactly out of character for him.

Loren had twenty minutes before his father was back and an hour and twenty minutes until his mother returned—he would just have to risk being too slow and losing his holidays. He made his way back out the bedroom window—unwilling to leave the front door unlocked while he was gone.

He followed the same path he had taken that morning, almost on auto-pilot—wondering what Isaac was going to say. Did he hate him now? Was their friendship shattered irreparably—because he’d been unable to act when the pressure was on, and he needed his help?

He checked the walk signal, but it was still red.

Maybe he could still fix this somehow, although he didn’t actually know how to go about it. He wasn’t really sure he could explain how the two of them had become friends in the first place—all the memories just kind of blurred together now. He’d have to just hope that the other boy didn’t hate him—he had sent the message, after all, that meant he wanted to talk.

That was something, at least—a hand brushed his arm, and a horrible chill ran up his neck. He slowly lifted his head—a woman in her late thirties, also waiting for the lights, was staring at him, facing him dead on, hand half-raised.

Loren took a very careful step backward, and the woman pulled her hand back, looking stricken at the rejection.

“S-sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you,” The woman said quickly, “I just wanted to ask you your name—”

The walk signal turned green, and Loren moved to cross the street, walking quickly. He left the woman behind and the question completely unanswered, trying to put the potentially crazy woman out of his mind and focus on the upcoming discussion.

It wasn’t that easy—He peeked over his shoulder and saw her still following his path. It was possible that they were both just walking in the same direction—but why had she tried to touch him when she could have just spoken first instead?

What the hell was going on?

He stopped at the last set of lights before the bridge and did another shoulder check—the woman was still making her way towards him. Surely he’d made it clear that he wasn’t interested in whatever she was trying to do—no, she was making eye contact and everything.

A rising sense of dread, apprehension, and confusion filled him.

“Young man,” The woman said quickly, standing uncomfortably close. “I just want to talk to you for a little while. If you come with me, just for a little while, I promise—”

Loren didn’t wait for the lights, he shot across the street, a loud horn cut through the air, something struck him, and then nothing.

One thought on “Chapter 35

  1. Chapter Warning: There are several uncomfortable topics and power dynamics in this chapter.
    The first chapter of season two! Let’s get it. Two chapters ahead over at my Patreon.





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