"You little bitch! You fucked up my breakfast!"
"I'm sorry, I'll fix-"
He raised his hand and backhanded her, and with a loud slapping sound she flew across the room and into a chair. Tripping over the chair, she skittered backward on the floor away from the man advancing on her, but not fast enough. He kicked her in her side, his boot slamming her against the wall. Grabbing her hair, he tore her from the ground to a kneeling position and grabbed her chin, forcing her to look up at him.
"I feed you.I keep a roof over your head, and you can't do anything in return. You're a lazy slut! You mom's dead, so get over it! This is my house and my rules!"
He took her hair and threw her away with it, then walked to her again. She watched as his feet walked near her, his boot rising to kick her again. With years of practice on her side, she rolled away, feeling a hint of wind as his foot sliced through the air beside her. Getting to her hands and feet, she began running even before she was standing and opened the door, running out. She heard the door open again and knew he was yelling something, but what she didn't know. All she heard was her heart pounding in her ears as she ran blindly down the sidewalk. She continued to run until she tripped on a rock, skidding on the ground and erasing the skin from her elbow. She sat on the warm cement, cradling her elbow, and thought to herself as she tentatively touched the already forming bruise on her cheek, Just another day.

*****

Bret rose slowly from his bed, slamming his fist onto the demanding alarm clock and rubbing his eyes. He swung his legs over the edge of his bed and slowly lumbered to his dresser, studying himself in the mirror. Despite his tousled bed hair, he rather liked his body. He was the starting quarter back for his school's football team and had worked hard for his physical assets. He liked his strength, for it gave him a sense of authority, but it was more about the effort he had put into it. It made it completely his, made him something. Made him feel more there, more real. Of course, whenever he began to feel too there, Jake always had the stuff to snort it away.
Turning from his reflection, he ran his hands through his hair and walked to the bathroom, dropping his boxers and stepping into the shower. He turned the knobs and water so hot it was steaming poured out, but he stepped into the stream and felt himself waking up immediately.
He stepped out of the shower, shaking his head like a dog and wrapping the towel around his waist. He leaned over the sink and wiped off the steamy window, then proceeded to brush his teeth. He walked out of his room and took off his towel, pulling on his already prepared clothes. Tiffany was going to be there for his game today, and he had to look good. He turned to his mirror again and considered his hair's slightly upward tip. He stood back and studied his reflection, once again relishing the outline his muscles made on the shirt, and swung his backpack over his shoulder, heading downstairs for a bite to eat before he set out in his car.

*****
"Kurt!" This is the last time I'm going to ask you! Turn down your music, there are people still trying to sleep!"
He sighed resignedly and took his CD from his stereo, plopping it into his portable player as he situated the headset. Pushing the play button and cranking the volume to max, he turned back to his homework. There was no way he was going to finish it all in the fifteen minutes he had until he had to leave. He supposed he shouldn't have put it off, but the skate park had been open all night for free! How could anybody expect him to pass up that kind of opportunity? Looking sadly at the pile of books and trying not to think what that would do to his grade, he shoved the pile into his backpack and zippered it up. His favorite song on the CD came on, and as he banged his head to the music, he grabbed his backpack and board and walked out of his room, stepping over strewn dirty clothes, video games, and an old shoe or two. He turned into the kitchen and set his stuff on the ground and grabbed the milk carton, drinking straight from it as milk ran down his cheek and to his chin. He set the carton down and grabbed his toast from the toaster, eating quickly so he wouldn't be late. After a longing look at the fridge, wishing for the time for a better breakfast, he picked up his stuff and raced down the street, the wind whipping against his face as he enjoyed the steady rumble of his skateboard riding over the pavement.

*****

Rae slowly closed her door so her parents didn't know she heard them, and turned to the picture on her nightstand. Things had never been the same around her since her, and Rae thought that was what had caused the fighting. We left it behind.we left everything behind, even you, but we couldn't leave behind the fighting.
She shook her head to clear her thoughts and grabbed her backpack, swinging it over his shoulder as she grabbed her purse. She tiptoed downstairs and heard the screaming voices coming from the kitchen, and decided that she'd skip breakfast this morning. She walked out the front door and hopped in her car, jamming the keys into the ignition and revving it to life. She messed around with the radio dials until she found a good station and turned it up. She grabbed the gearshift and pulled it from park to reverse and backed out of her spot, then jammed it to drive and drove out onto the road. She bobbed her head to the music and made right and left turns respectively, finally pulling into the high school parking lot and turned off the engine. It ticked as it cooled off and she grabbed her bag and purse and walked in the front doors.

*****

"Hey! What's up?"
Bret slapped hands with his fellow football players as they milled in the hall, waiting for the bell to ring.
"Yo, that's what we wanted to ask you. We were talking to Tiff last night, and she says she doesn't remember having sex with you half as many times as you say you guys did. What gives?"
Bret's friend pushed him playfully, but she knew that his masculinity, his power over Tiff was being questioned. He wouldn't stand for this. He'd prove that there was no end to the strength of Bret Naes. "Okay, so maybe I slipped and gave her a little too much cocaine once or twice. What's the big deal? You all are just jealous that I get twice as much as all of you put together."
They all started laughing and shoving each other around, but suddenly Bret stopped and eyed an approaching girl, clad in all black with her head bent.
"Psst, guys," he whispered, "Check it out. Fresh meat."
They all sneered at each other and as the girl passed them Bret grabbed her. She looked up at him, looking surprised, and Bret saw a sprawling purple bruise on her cheek, spreading from her chin to her eye. He started to rethink what he was going to do, but he saw his friends form a circle around them and knew he couldn't back down.
"Hey sweet stuff, how you doing? I'm in a good mood today, so how's about a bit of fun?"
He smiled horribly at her and started to hug her, wrapping his arms around her fiercely struggling body. He laughed at her and let her go, shoving her into the arms of one of his friends. He held her just as tightly and made kissing motions at her, calling her demeaning names before he shoved her again to somebody else, who did the same.
Finally, when she had gotten around to all of them, she was shoved into Bret again and he smiled down at her.
"Hey, anytime you're feeling lonely, make sure you look me up, okay?"
To the jeers of his friends, he pushed the girl away onto the ground, her books flying from her hands.
Still laughing, they all walked away together and around the corner, where they saw Tiff chatting with a few of her friends. She looked up and saw Bret, waved to him and said goodbye to her friends, then walked over to him. She flipped her hair for him and he took her, kissing her and relishing the fact that his friends couldn't say anything about him now.
"Hey, I'm really not feeling the whole school thing right now. What do you guys think about a party? My parts are at work, and they never care anyway. Besides, Jake is always available, so if you guys pitch in we could really have fun."
Nobody had any objections about this plan, and after everybody had pulled out their wallets and forked over some money, Bret led them all outside to his car.

*****

Aya fought terribly against the hot, angry, shameful tears welling up behind her eyes. She tried to blink them away and failed, then started to look for her books with her blurred vision, and after a moment she had found them. She bent down to pick them up, finally blinked her tears away, and saw her hand had set down on somebody else's trying to pick up her books. She jerked her hand back as if it had been burned and looked up, instantly regretting this.
"Hey. That was really low what those guys did to you. Are you okay?"
They both stood up and he handed her the books. She looked down at them in amazement, thinking, A guy being nice to me? The girls have always been bad enough, but no guy has ever been genuinely nice to me.
She looked up at him and shook her head yes, turning her face a bit in an attempt to hide her bruise.
"Good. Well, my name's Kurt." He extended his hand and she took it, still in shock, and as they shook hands she replied.
"I'm Aya. Nice to meet you."
"Aya." Kurt said, giving the name a sort of musical, godly quality, as if something to be worshipped or revered. "Well, I was just wondering-"
But what he was wondering she wouldn't find out, for the bell's shrill cry cut him off. He looked at her as if he had been woken from a dream and stared at her with a look of horrified embarrassment, and as his face flushed red he mumbled goodbye and took off.
She watched him leave and looked down at her books, then walked off to class. The bruise on her face began to sting horribly, like a demon stirred from sleep. Was this a trick? It had to be, or a bet, or something.but she walked on to class anyway, attempting to push the mystery of Kurt from her mind and failing.

*****

"Sure, but it's going to cost you a good deal. Do you remember how much more it is when I have to leave school?"
"Yeah, no problem. It's no big deal, but you better get here soon. There's cheaper dealers out there, and there's nothing but the fact that I trust you keeping me from switching."
"Don't worry, I won't let you down."
Jake closed his cell phone and dropped it in his pocket, then walked out of the bathroom. With no regards to the fact that his biology teacher was expecting him back, he headed out a side door and to the parking lot. Taking his keys from his pocket, he turned on the car and enjoyed the leather seat rumbling softly beneath him. It had taken him a good while of dealing to pay for this car, and he was proud of it. Knowing that Bret always expected his drugs within ten minutes no matter what Jake was doing, he sighed and backed the car from the space and drove away. At first the houses were small and close together, but as he got closer to Bret's house the houses grew and spaced themselves out. Finally he had reached Bret's massive house, located in a complex made simply for the richest of the rich. He turned off his car after he drove into the driveway and leaned over the passenger seat, grabbing a packet out of the glove box and walking out of the car. He slammed the door shut to warn them of his arrival and walked to his porch, stepping up the steps and knocking on the door. It opened immediately and Bret's face stared at him for a moment before letting him in.
"Hey guys, look who's here! It's the delivery boy! Get it? Delivery boy? Heh, heh heh heh, heh."
Bret staggered a little bit and stepped on an empty beer can. Jake counted them and saw that one of the usual count was missing, but sounds in the background suggested he was off gathering heavier stuff than beer. He knew that selling the drugs to them when they were already wasted wasn't the best idea, but his conscious had never gotten in the way of his sales before, and there was no reason for them to now. He pulled the packet out and exchanged it for a wad of bills. He opened them up and carefully counted them, and when he was satisfied he shoved them into his wallet and tipped his head.
"Nice doing business with you, Bret. That's the finest cocaine in half the country. Well, have fun you guys, and remember-you didn't get it from me."
He stood in the doorway for a moment longer, watching them all laughing and drinking and snorting together, then pulled his eyes away and walked down the steps. He opened his car and sat inside, and longingly wished he were one of them. Sure, he had spending money galore, and as a dealer he could always keep just a bit of it for himself, but he would never belong. People never paid him any more attention than it took to buy drugs from him and send him on his way. It was as if as soon ass the transaction was made, he didn't exist anymore. He felt powerless, helpless, meaningless. He was no more than somebody's TV, to be turned on and entertained when they wanted, but never more. Something that could easily be disposed of and replaced. He needed power, he need to feel in control. He didn't even have a girlfriend, so he couldn't take a leaf from Bret's book and drug her for sex. He would never be in control, especially not in control over a girl. Unless.
Jake threw his car into reverse and backed out of the driveway, speeding home as wonderful half-plans and half-fantasies formed in his mind.

*****

"Very disappointing, Miss Lee. I know you can do better. Show a little more care in your work, even if it's just by keeping the spots off your tests."
Aya took her paper from Trigonometry teacher's hand and looked sadly down at the F slashed across it. She saw the reddish-brown splotches and touched her lip, feeling the yet-healed split wound. Her dad and her had gotten in a particularly vicious fight that morning and her lip had still been bleeding by last period. She couldn't concentrate all day, and if she had many more days like that she wouldn't be passing Trig, or any of her classes for that matter. The bell screamed through the halls and everybody rose around her, storming out of the class and home to freedom. But not me, Aya thought. I go home to be a prisoner instead.
She slowly rose from her desk and gathered her books, walking out of her classroom and to her locker.
She pulled various books and binders from her locker and closed it, wishing that she could have had time to grab her backpack, and set her skateboard on the ground and rode through the hallways and out the doors.
She weaved through different sidewalks and reached the parking lot. She looked to the left to check for oncoming cars and saw Kurt riding his own board. Was it a trick? It must have been a bet, nobody likes me, nobody even knows me. But why did he leave when the bell rang like that? It must have brought him to his senses, and he must have taken a look at me and realized that no amount of money was worth this, and he grabbed onto excuse he could and got out of there while he could. I bet he and his friends were just having a good laugh about-
Aya flew off her board and smacked face first into the pavement, blinding lights flashing in front of her eyes. Pain took hold of her lip and tore it apart, spilling blood in shiny rivers down her chin and onto the ground. She rolled over onto her back and stayed there, fighting the sharp throbs pounding across the bruise on her cheek. Suddenly a girl appeared above her, and she could barely make out what she said.
"Hey, you okay? That's one hell of a nasty cut on your lip."
Aya held back painful tears and tried to mumble her reassurances, but all that came out was a pained moan and she hated herself all the more for it. The girl above her gave her a look of pity and extended her hand, giving Aya no choice but to take it and be pulled up.
"My name's Rae. I skateboard a bit too, and even snowboard, although I try to avoid the face plants."
Aya tried to smile but the pain split her lip and she settled with, "Hey, I'm-"
"Aya!" Kurt sped to her side and looked at her. "Are you okay? Shit your lip's bleeding like hell."
What's he doing here? Aya thought. Maybe he told them he'd never do it for that much and his friends offered him more. "Yeah, I'm fine."
Rae looked between the both of them quizzically, "What, you two know each other?"
"We're friends," responded Kurt at the same time Aya said, "We just met."
Rae gave them a weird look again and Kurt looked at Aya. She thought he looked genuinely upset before he began staring at his shoes. But why? It's just a bet, why does he care? Maybe he's just a good actor. But in the back of her mind she had doubts fighting to be recognized, but she pushed them away before turning back to Rae.
"Well, thanks for your help and all, but I'm going to get heading."
"Hey wait. Where are you going?" Rae asked.
"I'm not sure. Anywhere but home." Kurt and Rae both wonderingly looked at her and quickly added, "My Dad'll kill me if I go tracking all this blood in the house."
Kurt looked satisfied, but Rae didn't look too sure. At any rate, she smiled and said, "I know how you feel." Be glad that you don't, thought Aya, and Rae continued. "I'm in no hurry. If you want, we could all take a drive in my car. That is if it's okay with you two."
"Sure, I've got no place to be."
Aya took a little longer to answer. She had been planning to go to her favorite haunt, a bench under a large oak tree in the park, but here in front of her were two people who appeared to be acting nice to her. Her doubts of Kurt's motives resurfaced, and she decided to take the risk. "Sure."
"Alright then, let's go." Rae turned around and led the way to her car, unlocking it for the both of them. She tossed her bag in the backseat and got in, and Aya followed suit. But to Aya's surprise and wonder, Kurt grabbed Rae's bag and Aya's books and tossed them in the passenger's seat with his own, then hopped in the backseat next to Aya.
"So, anyplace in particular you guys want to go?"
"I've got nothing."
Rae turned in her seat and looked at Aya, waiting for her response. How easy would it be to take them to the park? To sit on the bench with them and tell them all about it? But no, some places are best kept secret. "Nope, nothing I can think of."
"Fine with me. I don't need to drive anywhere in particular." Rae turned the key in the ignition and the seat rumbled beneath Aya. She set her hands down on the seat on each side of her, mentally trying to hold on to the strangeness around her.
"My mom's going to flip when she finds out I didn't do any of my homework. I forgot that huge history essay too, and it's going to kill my grade. She's so touchy when it comes to grades, but the skate park was free! That almost never happens, and yet she still expects me to care about school."
Rae nodded her head to Kurt by the rearview mirror and agreed. "My mom's like that too. I got As and Bs all my life, so when I came home with a C freshman year she damn near killed me! It don't get it, it's like if I do okay then it's not good enough, but if I do good then she'll always expect me to be perfect. Ugh, anyway, does you mom give you a hard time about grades, Aya?"
She's dead! Aya wanted to scream. She's dead, she died and left me here alone with him! Alone to go insane, alone to die. But instead she said, "My mom passed away eight years ago."
"I'm sorry." Kurt looked at her sadly and took her hand in his. She looked down at it and swallowed hard, her mouth going dry as sweat popped out on her forehead. He really is sorry, and he really does care. He already knows that Mom's dead, how hard could it be to say more? If only I could tell him those four words that I can never manage, then maybe he would take care of me. If only I could say, My dad abuses me. If only.but he's only like a stepbrother or something. Somebody who might worry but never care enough to help. Just a brother. But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't find a single sisterly thought inside of her.
Rae pulled up closer, waiting for the light to turn green, and said to Kurt, "Hey, what's your name anyway?"
"Kurt."
"Ah, well, I saw you boarding earlier, Kurt. You're pretty good, although I prefer boarding myself." Rae continued talking about snowboarding and fun times she had had on the slopes, and Aya looked over at Kurt. His eyes darted away and she noticed that his breathing had gotten heavier and his palms sweaty. He's just as nervous as I am.
It was nice to just listen to the both of them talk to each other about their interests, although she didn't give much of her own input. Every once in awhile they would ask her something and she'd give them a one or two word answer, but not much more. What did she have to talk about that didn't include The Secret?
"Hey, Oh Quiet One." Rae turned around, looking at Aya, and she grew bright red in shame and embarrassment. "Listen to this real quick and tell me what you think." She handed Aya a CD player with headphones and turned back to the road. "Jut put it on and unpause it."
Aya looked down at the CD player uncertainly and put it on. She pressed the play button and immediately her face lit up. Ah, this was something she could handle. The music raged in her ears, screaming and demanding, and she gave it what it wanted, taking what she needed. She felt as if her lungs had expanded and her heart made feather, rising in her chest and into her throat. She smiled widely and looked up at Kurt, who was wide-eyed and staring.
As the thumping bass ended, she stopped the CD and handed it to Rae. "That's some heavy shit, but it's pretty good."
"Yeah, thought you'd like it." Rae stayed silent for a moment, chewing her lip in thought, and finally said, "You know, you really should smile more often."
Aya bowed her head and went silent, then caught sight of her watch. "Shit! God, I'm too late, he's home and I didn't cook!" She turned to Rae and pleaded, "Rae, please, take me home. I have to go."
Aya laid a shaking hand on her shoulder and Rae looked at it, a strange look on her face, then she looked at Aya but not straight in the eyes, as if concentrating on something else. Aya saw the cogs working behind her face and watched as she came to half conclusions, but Rae shook her head and said gently, "No problem. Where do you live?"
"1274 Midnight Way."
Rae nodded and drove, but to Aya she looked like she was on autopilot, her mind on something else. She looked over at Kurt and saw that he was distracted too, but his mind in a happier place than Rae's.
Finally they reached her house and Aya got out, thanking them. She went around the car and got her books out of the front seat, then turned around and resolutely walked out her front door. It opened before she had touched the doorknob and her father stood menacingly, framed in the doorway. His cold eyes locked on her and he whispered, his voice cold and sharp as ice, "You're late."
She lowered her eyes and he grabbed her arm between her elbow and shoulder, his grip as tight and painful as an iron vice, and he led her inside. As soon as the door shut behind them, he lifted her and threw her into a wall. She crumpled into a heap on the floor and contorted her face in pain as he kicked her in her stomach and breasts. She bit her lip so hard that she drew blood, but she would not allow herself to scream until she was sure that Rae and Kurt had left. Her dad grabbed her chin and slapped her repeatedly with the back of his hand, first on the right and then the left on her bruise. He raised his left hand to his right eye and rocketed onto her cheekbone so viciously that her head wrenched free from his grip and slammed onto the hardwood floor. He kicked her head twice and then stepped back. Aya heard a car engine rev and drive away, and she breathed a sigh of relief. He bent down and picked her up by her neck, slamming her head into the wall over and over again, and she yelled at the pain. He punched her jaw and threw her on the ground, leaving her in a bloody mound as he walked away. She blinked blood out of her eyes and watched his feet come back to her. She felt as if her scalp was going to be ripped free from her head when he grabbed a fistful of her hair and stood her up, smashing her head against the wall again. He raised his other hand and Aya saw what he had left to get-he held in his hand a delicate vase that had once been her mother's, and now here he was, wielding it like a weapon. His hand flew down and she closed her eyes, expecting it smash into her face, but an almost musical tinkling sounded as he slammed it against the wall beside her. She opened her eyes and saw him holding the mouth of the vase, now ending in sharp, jagged edges.
"This is the second time in one day. You're slacking, and I think it's time we go over your lessons.
He sneered at her and twisted her head into position. He lowered the broken vase to her cheek without the bruise and pressed a particularly sharp point to it. Then, keeping the pressure on, he slid the glass from her cheekbone down her cheek, leaving a cruel, deep cut behind. She screamed and struggled, which was stupid because it only angered him. He let go of her hair and grabbed her arm, twisting it behind her back and shoving her into the wall headfirst. He pressed the vase just below her shoulder and slashed downward, tearing through skin. She let out a whimper and he jerked her wrist up, flames racing through her arm in an excruciating flash, but it did not break. He threw her on the ground again and she looked up at him from fear-flooded eyes, but this time he simply walked away. She tried to run upstairs but the pain was too great, so she limp-skipped her way. When she had finally made it up the two flights of stairs to her room, she collapsed on her bed and into tears. The tears were hot with anger and shame, but they were silent; there was no need to anger her father with her tears and cause him to start up again. The blood ran off her cheek and dripped off her chin, while the red stream flowed freely down her arm and over her knuckles. She stood up and grabbed a red bandana off of her dresser, then wrapped it around the cut on her arm, but she could think of nothing to do for her cheek besides take one of her clean socks and hold it against it. She closed her eyes and lay back on her bed, but still the tears broke past her lids and ran down to her ears. She tried to take a calming breath but it changed to a shudder in the middle, and she knew she would get no sleep tonight.

*****

Why did he run away like that? He kept beating himself up over it, running over the same "what ifs" and "what if nots". He shouldn't have just walked away like that, that was for sure. He was a coward, he got cold feet at the last moment and he hated himself for it. But there was something special about her, something he couldn't explain. He sat replaying their meeting in his mind during History, thinking of her beauty. He had taken one look at her and it was as if his stomach had broken into thousands of tiny butterflies. She tried to hide it, but he had still seen the bruise. He did not count this against her, but rather he thought it made her even lovelier, as if that contrast to the rest of her made her even more beautiful. He had been too entranced with her long black hair, how it reflected the sun in just the right way, how it contrasted to her amazing green eyes to wonder about the bruise and how she had acquired it. As his history teacher continued to lecture about disputes amongst Western Europe, he wondered if it was simply physical attraction that had drawn him to her. He thought that it was possible, although he doubted it. Sure, she was a spectacle of her own kind, but there was something else, something that he hadn't seen but rather sensed about her. He had a gift when it came to judging people, and when he had studied her eyes he was disturbed. He saw pain, anger, secret and shame, but he was delighted to see that some fire still burned there, not yet extinguished by the secrets that ruled her life. Everything about her entranced him, making him wish that she were his even more. But that's stupid, he thought to himself. We just met, and you don't anything about her. For all you know she could be a dealer, like we don't have enough of those around, or maybe even a druggie herself. It's just some stupid immature crush, so get over it.
The bell ran and he rose from his seat, storming out of class with the rest of his peers. He found his locker and opened it, pulling out a few books and a binder or two, shoving them into his backpack and slinging it over his shoulder. He pulled his skateboard out and rode around people, ignoring their glares as the breeze wiped away all of his cares. I made that breeze.I worked and pushed and rode to make that breeze.
He swiveled his hips and bent his knees, leaning forward and then back as he turned around a large group of people standing in the hallway. He sped through the doorway and outside, then he started picking different paths that lead to the parking lot. It was a large open space, perfect for practice, and it would be empty soon. Tan pavement turned into black asphalt as he rode into the parking lot. The wind whipped through his hair as he tried a few simple tricks, but a crash got his attention and he turned to see Aya lying on the parking lot.
"Aya!" He rode over to her as a girl he knew by face but not name pulled her up. He reached her side and looked at her lip and winced. "Are you okay? Shit, your lip's bleeding like hell."
"Yeah, I'm fine."
The girl who had helped Aya looked between them and asked, "What, you two know each other?"
He said, "We're friends," just as Aya said, "We jut met."
He looked at her hurtfully and stared at his feet thinking, You let yourself get ahead. She obviously doesn't like you, so what are you trying so damn hard for? You're wasting your time, give it up. But the other side of his mind thought, I can't, not yet. I need to know what it is, I need to know what about her I'm missing here.
Aya started to leave but Rae offered them both a ride. Hoping that Aya would come too, he agreed. He watched her and she was silent, and for a moment he thought that she would refuse and it would just be him and some girl he didn't know. But eventually decided to go and they all followed the girl. The both tossed their stuff in the backseat and got in, and when he put the stuff in the front seat and sat next to Aya, she looked surprised. Is that a good thing? he wondered. Does it mean that I'm doing well? Or doesn't she want me to sit there, and that's what that look means?
They all agreed that they had no place to go in particular, and off they went. Kurt turned the conversation to grades, but his mind was still on Aya. What is it about her?
"My mom passed away eight years ago."
Kurt looked at her sadly and recognized that pain reaching out to nobody through her eyes, and he said, "I'm sorry." He set a comforting hand on hers and she looked down at it, still silent, and Kurt looked at her eyes again. The pain in them grew, and he saw hints of confusion and even shameful anger again. He wondered what she was thinking as her brow furrowed, and he was angry with himself for causing her these thoughts. However the corners of her mouth turned up the slightest bit as she continued to look down at his hand holding hers, and he took comfort in this.
"Hey, what's your name anyway?"
Kurt turned to Rae, "Kurt."
Rae began to talk to them about snowboarding, engaging Kurt in conversation, but he noticed that Aya didn't say much. She was still staring at her hands, her eyebrows creased and her eyes calling.
Rae stopped for a moment and looked at Aya, in the rearview mirror, her face set in thought, then she grabbed her CD player and handed it to Aya. "Hey, Oh Quiet One. Listen to this real quick and tell me what you think. Just put it on and unpause it."
Aya took it from her and put it on. As soon as she unpaused it her face lit up in a wonderful smile and she was transformed. Who is this girl? Can it be the same quiet girl whose mother died eight years ago? He stared at her, eyes wide as she looked up at him and smiled hugely. He felt as if his body had dissolved, become one with her smile almost, and he understood. That's what it is, that's what's missing. She's so sad and in so much pain, and yet she can still smile. That's what I want, I just want to her to smile at me everyday.
His breath caught in his chest just before she handed back the headset, because for a moment, as the music dug deep and touched something terrible in her, the fire in her eyes illuminated everything else. All of her fears and sadness, every last secret, all lay naked, and for the half- moment they were there he half-understood.
But it went as quickly as it had come and the CD player went back, Kurt with no conclusions and Aya saying, "That's some heavy shit, but it's pretty good."
"Yeah, thought you'd liked it." Kurt watched as she chewed her lip and her eyes clouded over in thought. He was rather annoyed by this, because he felt that if somebody had the talent to read what the eyes told then people shouldn't make it difficult by hiding their thoughts. But he let it go, and Rae finished, "You know, you really should smile more often."
She bowed her head as shame overcame the fire in her eyes and he immediately missed it, but confusion won over loss as Aya yelled, "Shit! God, I'm too late, he's home and I didn't cook! Rae, please take me home, I have to go."
Aya sat her hand on her shoulder and Rae looked at her as Kurt tried to interpret the fear and secretiveness lashing through her eyes like bullwhips. She's afraid of the secrets.whatever it is that's got her scared she isn't telling. God, what is it? What is she hiding?
Rae spoke to her gently and Aya gave her her address, and as they drove he wondered, Why the gentle voice? And then it hit him, She understands, she's put the clues together and she understands a hell of a lot more than I do. All I have is questions, but she's already working on finding the answers.
He opened his hands and gazed at his palms, trying desperately to find answers. After a few minutes, he saw Rae get into her car, which was strange because he didn't remember her ever getting out of it, and they both had a silent drive to their houses.

*****

"Hey, you okay? That's one hell of a nasty cut on your lip."
The girl on the ground moaned and Rae looked at her in pity. She held out her hand and pulled the girl up. She tried to joke about face plants, but the girl's smile was more of a grimace and she let it go. As soon as the girl stood up she noticed a horrible purplish-blue bruise across almost an entire side of her face, but she said nothing of it and instead introduced herself.
"Hey, I'm-"
"Aya!" Rae watched, bemused, as a boy a little older than her skated up to them. He looked at Aya and Rae saw him wince. "Are you okay? Shit, your lip's bleeding like hell."
"Yeah, I'm fine."
Rae looked between the both of them, thinking, Am I missing something here? "What, you two know each other?"
They both disagreed on this matter, and Rae saw that the boy seemed hurt by Aya's reluctance to pronounce them friends. It's because he wants to be even more than friends. She studied Aya's bruise again and realized that it was older than her fall. She already knew the most likely reason why she would have a bruise like that, but she pushed those thoughts away.
"Well, thanks for your help and all, but I'm going to get heading."
"Hey, wait. Where are you going?"
"I'm not sure. Anywhere but home." Rae looked at her, wondering what she meant by that, and she hastily continued, "My Dad'll kill me if I go tracking blood in the house." The boy automatically accepted this answer, but Rae wasn't sure. Wouldn't a dad help her out and make sure she was okay? Even if he would be upset about the blood, she could always clean up and then go home, right? But she decided to allow Aya this secret, at least for a little longer, and smiled. "I know how you feel. I'm in no hurry. If you want, we could all take a drive in my car. That is if it's okay with you two." Rae had been excited when she could move past her permit and get an actual license, and ever since she had driven whenever possible. Plus, she wasn't feeling too great about the idea of leaving Aya to walk wherever she was headed with her lip bleeding like that. She figured that maybe company was what she needed at the moment and was glad when the boy accepted the invitation, but became worried when Aya hesitated. She thought that maybe the drive had conflicted with some other plans, and she saw the silent debate take place. Aya looked at them both as if determining whether it would be smart to go with them, and Rae clouded her eyes, making sure to show no emotion or intention that might be detected through them. She had a harder time controlling her face and hoped that Aya would see nothing that would cause her to refuse. She eventually agreed to go along, and Rae allowed herself a mental sigh. Why do you care so much whether she goes along? she asked herself. Because all the clues are in front of me-the bruise on her face, the fear and hurt in her eyes, all of the secrets that even her eyes won't tell-and I need to make sure that I'm right when I put them together.
They both followed Rae to her car and she got out of her keys, jingling them a bit before she unlocked the car. She got in and threw her book bag in the back seat, then watched as Aya sat in the back and put her books on top of her stuff. She watched without much surprise as the boy put his bag in the front seat and moved their stuff up with it, then sat next to Aya. She looked out the windshield and allowed herself a small smile as she thought of the boy. It was obvious he had at least a crush on her, although Rae wondered if Aya had noticed.
She turned back around and asked, "So, anyplace in particular you guys want to go?"
The boy answered instantly that he didn't know of anyplace, but once again Aya hesitated. Rae looked as she thought and figure that there was someplace, but it was too special for her to disclose just yet. The thought, She's careful about what she says because she really needs to watch her words at home, flashed through her mind before Aya agreed that she could not think of anywhere, and Rae wondered how many lies she had told to keep her secrets.
"Fine with me. I don't need to drive anywhere." And this was true. Rae had always enjoyed driving with no destination, the music playing and the car humming as she explored new highways and uncharted alleyways. She turned the key in the ignition and Rae saw Aya in the rearview mirror grab onto the seat, fright darting around her eyes. She's not used to being around people, to talking to them, probably not even used to them being nice to her. I wonder how the people at school treat her?
The boy began talking about grades and homework, and Rae jumped on this opportunity for conversation. She agreed that her mom was also touchy about grades, and decided to get Aya in on the conversation by asking, "Ugh, anyway, does your mom give you a hard time about grades, Aya?"
She looked at Aya and saw sadness, deep, heart wrenching sadness, mingling with the pain and multiplying. She even heard the very faint tremble in Aya's voice when she responded, "My mom passed away eight years ago."
Rae could have kicked herself had she not been driving. How was she supposed to help anybody or get any answers if she kept asking questions that would make her close up? It's like a turtle, a turtle that I need answers from and I can't scare or else it will draw back into its shell.
She heard the boy apologize and saw him take her hand in his. She looked into her eyes again and saw the secrets become clearer, realizing that she was on the verge of revealing them. Rae gripped the steering wheel so hard that her knuckles went white as she waited, but Aya drew back into her shell and Rae could have screamed. But when she saw the genuine worry and pity in the boy's eyes, a hatred of herself suddenly welled up in her chest. Who was she to be so nosey? Where did she come off daring to be angry with somebody deciding to keep their secrets their own? I shouldn't be angry, but I really want to know.
Do you?
Doubts rose and spread through her mind like wildfire, but she pushed them away and attempted to start up another conversation, "Hey, what's your name anyway?"
"Kurt."
"Ah, well, I saw you boarding earlier, Kurt. You're pretty good, although I prefer snowboarding myself." She kept talking about snowboarding, engaging Kurt in conversation, but no matter how hard she tried or how many questions she asked, she couldn't get Aya to join in. Suddenly a horrible thought struck her-What if she doesn't trust us? Now that she thought about it, she didn't blame her. Here she was, snooping into some girl's life, interpreting every look, analyzing every word. Why?
Because I care, and I'm worried.
Rae was startles by this thought that had seemingly come out of nowhere and looked at Aya, realizing that it was true. The anguish, the fear, all of it scared her. There was so much of it, much more than anybody should have to deal with. As she thought of what could have caused such feelings, that same doubt came back.
Do you?
She shuddered and thought of something that might help. All she thought she knew about Aya told her that this would work, and if it didn't open her up then at least it might cheer her up.
"Hey, Oh Quiet One. Listen to this real quick and tell me what you think. Just put it on and unpause it." She handed Aya her CD player, preset her favorite song. Aya put it on and unpaused it, and as Rae glanced back she saw something amazing-Aya was actually smiling. Not a grin, not a smirk, but a full-blown smile. The sheer happiness that lifted the corners of her mouth almost to her ears changed her into something of beauty. Everything about her, from the bruise to the light in her eyes, became magnificent. Rae pulled up to a red light and stopped. She looked back at her and was startled by what she saw this time. She looked closer and saw the same nakedness as Kurt, the terror, the pain, the anger, magnified a million times to what she saw last time. She also saw something that Kurt had missed-power. There was so much, too much of all the horrible emotions that Rae recognized it as some power, power of emotion, power of spirit. Power so strong and volatile that Rae was afraid of Aya, and she darted her eyes away, she thought again.
Do you?
The light turned green and she followed traffic, caught in her own thought and was startled when Aya spoke.
"That's some heavy shit, but it's pretty good."
"Yeah, thought you'd like it." She took the CD player from Aya and thought how that happiness had changed her. Her smiles seemed to lighten her burden, if only temporarily. "You know, you really should smile more often."
Rae watched as Aya bowed her head and became the same old Aya again, and she wondered whether this relieved her or not. She didn't have time to think, though, because out of nowhere Aya began yelling.
"Shit! God, I'm too late, he's home and I didn't cook!" Aya turned her eyes on Rae and she saw a horrible desperateness in them. She began pleading, "Rae, please take me home. I have to go."
Aya laid a hand on Rae shoulder, and she noticed it was shaking uncontrollably. She looked down at it with an expression of confusion and surprise mingled with a frown. What was it about going home that scared her so much? What could possibly make her hand shake like that? She looked up at her bruise and freed her eyes of emotion, though she knew she was failing in keeping her face under control. She started to understand things as she continued to look at Aya, all of the pieces beginning to fall into place.
Do you?
She shook her head to free herself of these doubts, breaking up her thoughts before she had completely figured anything out. She thought of that horrible bruise again and said softly, "No problem. Where do you live?"
"1274 Midnight Way."
Rae nodded and began driving in the direction that she figured Midnight Way was, and began thinking again. Why is she so scared? If she's afraid of going home, why is she insisting that getting home is so urgent? If she's afraid, then shouldn't I be? It's not like she's afraid for no reason, so why am I driving her straight into possible danger?
She turned onto Midnight Way, and that same bone-chilling thought occurred.
Do you?
She watched the houses flick by and paid attention to their numbers. She was on the 1100 block, so one more block and she would arrive at Aya's house
(Aya's doom)
(Do you?)
She reached the 1200 block and drove slowly, reading the numbers as they crawled by, until she had finally reached 1274 Midnight Way. She stopped in the street and let Aya out, watching as she gathered her stuff and walked to her house. The door opened right away and a dangerous looking man walked out and grabbed her. Was she seeing things, or was his grip just a little too tight? Was it just her, or were his eyes a little too dark, a little too violent?
Do you?
He led her inside and the doors shut, but Rae heard a loud thud and got out of her car, standing beside it. She heard more thuds followed by a few cracks, as sharp and short as a gunshot. A particularly loud one was followed by a loud slam, and then a car drove past her and she couldn't hear. After it had past, her heard a lot of loud slams, this time accompanied by a painful yell. Rae stood up straight, her head perked and her whole body alert. There was another loud thud followed by silence, and Rae tilted her head, straining for any sound at all. After a few moments there was a crash of glass and a few seconds later, a scream. Rae's mind snapped and she did something that would haunt her sleep; she jumped into her car and sped off. She barely managed asking Kurt's address, and the entire drive was silent. But inside there were screams, fearful screams, painful screams as her mind asked the same question over and over again.
Do you?
Do you?