Random chapter 3:

Elizabeth

After I met Rex in second grade, we became good friends. Not close friends, not best friends, just friends. When Katelyn was out or couldn't hang out, Rex would play with me. He was a little weird, but I enjoyed our time together. Once, Rex even showed me his secret hideout; a niche in the woods that overlooked the lake by his house. It was atop a slight incline, one that you could easily roll down and splash into the water, but Rex hated the water. Since I had met him, he had never taken off his protective layers of black clothing, no matter how hot it made him.

After he gave me the location to his little hideaway, we went there together every time Kate was to busy to hang out. I never asked if Kate knew about our small little niche, our place that we fit together, because I knew that the answer would be negative. It was an unspoken rule for the two of us: Kate wasn't to know of our hideout. Because, after a while, it was our hideout. I went there when I was upset or sad and Rex went there to be alone, unless he was with me.

In our niche, we talked and talked. I told him about Nicholas Runner, my brother—something I had difficulty divulging to Katelyn for some reason. The day I told him was an eventful one. It was a week or so after Rex unveiled his secret niche.

That day, I had been visited by my brother and his mother, Fiona Runner. It hadn't turned out for the better. My dad and my brother's mom got into a fight. They yelled about stuff I didn't comprehend until Ms. Runner was forced to leave, practically dragging her son away. Before Nick had been taken, he had kissed my cheek and told me that he wished he could know me better.

So I had run to the niche in seek of refuge.

Huddling, I sobbed into my knees, my arms wrapped tightly around my legs. I heard someone approach and looked up with tear streaked eyes.

Rex came into view, fumbling out of the foliage, tripping over his own feet. He came to sit beside me hesitantly, a polite foot of distance between us. "Your dad called my house." He said. "He's worried."

"Good." I retorted, my voice cracking with the effort. I wiped my eyes on my sleeve. "I don't want anything to do with him."

Rex was silent for a while, sitting beside me and quietly watching the still, mirror-like lake bed. When a sudden breeze blew the over the lake, ruining the peaceful stillness, Rex's dirty blonde hair flapped around his head crazily. He tried to fix his hair, but it stood up in a wild position. I giggled at his attempts to fix his messy hair.

"What? Your hair is worse!" He grumbled, reaching out to pluck a strand out of my face. "You look like a tornado hit"

When he continued to try to fix his unruly hair in vain, I stilled his hand with mine. "You look better with messy hair." I said with a smile.

Rex sighed and took my hand in his. He squeezed my hand and murmured, "You should get back to your parents soon, Lizzy."

I shook my head vehemently. "No. I hate him. I won't go back!"

The eleven-year-old boy gave the eight-year old girl a rueful smile. "You hate him? Strong words for little Lizzy, dude."

I shrugged. "I'm a strong person." I insisted.

"Sure you are." Rex's lips curled up into a playful grin. "And Barney won't take over the world someday."

That was the first instance that I ever heard one of Rex's Barney conspiracies. I laughed at his words and shook my head. "Barney isn't real, Rex."

His expression became dumbfounded, his mouth agape. "Really? No way! That's what the government wants you to think." Rex replied.

I sighed and scooted closer to him, resting my head on his shoulder. It rose and fell along with his subtle breathing, making me feel oddly comforted by the somehow soothing motion. I was surprised that he didn't move away from the contact; Rex usually avoided physical touch at all costs. But I was incredibly glad that he didn't move. I felt safe sitting there next to him like that. "Is my dad mad?"

I couldn't see his face, but he laughed without humor and replied, "Mad? No way, he's terrified for you, dude. He's so scared that I think he thinks that you actually think that Barney isn't real. That's hardcore horror, that is. And your dad is right to worry about that, dude. If you think Barney isn't real, then you run the risk of being coerced into joining his band of heinous child villains!"

I looked out at the lakebed and closed my eyes, trying to repaint the visual in my mind's eye. In my head, all I could imagine were two kids sitting together beside a boring lake. "Fine. I'll go home, but I want to talk to you about something."

"Don't tell me you're American." Rex warned.

"I'm American."

"Alright. What does that have to do with anything going on right now? Is that really the big secret?"

I giggled and shook my head, my cheek rubbing against his sharp shoulder. "No. I wanna tell you about my older brother." And he had listened; making jokes that helped me gain the courage to continue when I felt like it was too hard to explain. I loved the way he could make me laugh about nothing and everything.

And then there was a time when I had comforted Rex in our haven. It was the day I learned his big secret.

It was three years after we had met. I was ten and Rex was thirteen. I was heading over to the Star household to visit Kate and Rex after school that day, but when I got there, the household was in a mess. Mrs. and Mr. Star were running around crazily, talking loudly on the phone, pacing around the rooms, ignoring everything.

"You gotta go, Lizzy." Kate whispered. "Something happened to Rex today at school and he disappeared. No one knows where he is."

But I knew. I knew exactly where he was. I told Kate I'd see her tomorrow and headed for the lake. I was frantic. What had happened that had made Rex run away? Was he hurt? What if I was wrong and he wasn't in our haven? I shook my head and carefully made my way through the bushes and branches to our niche.

When I brushed the last branches aside, I saw him sitting quietly. He was wet, covered in water and his shirt was ripped and torn. When he saw me appear, he winced and concealed the right side of his body with the rags of his former black shirt.

I dropped to his side, my eyes wide in fear. "Rex? What's wrong? Are you hurt?"

He shook his head silently.

I reached out in an attempt to remove the black cloth obscuring my view of his chest, which I was sure would have ragged wound or something that was causing Rex to act this way, but he cringed, cried out, and slapped my hand away.

"Rex!" I yelped, nursing my reddening hand against my chest. "That hurt!"

He didn't reply, he stared at his hands as if shocked that he had reacted that way.

I simply stared at him, not sure of what to do. After a while, I decided I had to get him to talk and touched his shoulder hesitantly. He flinched and shifted away. "Rex," I murmured in what I hoped was a comforting tone. "It's okay; it's me, Lizzy." I felt like I was trying to approach a wild, crazed animal.

"Go away," Rex muttered, eyes averted. He held his stiff arms over his chest protectively, making sure that she could see none of the right half of his body.

I reached out and tugged on the black clothing in vain; Rex would not let go. "Rex, what's wrong? What happened?"

He closed his eyes in frustration. "I'm a monster." He whispered in a low, hateful voice.

I punched him and he fell to the ground, eyes opening in shock. I stood over him, anger obvious in my pale eyes. "You are not a monster, Rex. You are Rex; just Rex" I grabbed his face with my hands and forced him to meet my eyes. "Whatever you did, I'll understand."

He stared into my eyes searchingly, much as he had done the first time we had met, and, slowly, he nodded, agreeing to admit what had happened. I let go of him and drew away, sitting a polite foot away from him, my legs crossed. "I'm a freak." He said. I didn't interrupt him; I knew that he would need me to be quiet for him to continue. If I interrupted I understood that he wouldn't have the power to go on.

So, I waited and listened, offering my support through my eyes—eyes that I was sure showed no judgment whatsoever, eyes that held all the caring in the world.

"The guys at school," Rex continued, tone frail and vulnerable, his brown and yellow eyes never leaving mine. "mocked me for wearing black clothes… and they ripped them off and saw…" he swallowed and plowed on. "My burns."

Rex hesitantly let the black rags fall from his body and my eyes widened. I forced myself to remain calm—to not show any signs of fear or revulsion. Scars covered his entire right arm, stopping just before the wrist. Burn scars covered his stomach, twisting and deforming his bellybutton to almost nonexistence. The last trail of scars disappeared into the waistband of his black sweatpants.

I tried to joke, although I knew I wasn't good at joking. "So why're you wet?" I forced my eyes to shift from the part of my friend that I had never seen to meet his desperate eyes. I gave him a fake smile and he returned it with a cautious one of his own, appreciating my attempts to lighten the mood.

"When I look at them," he said, seeming to gain in confidence somehow. "I—I remember how I got them and I remember the pain… I jumped into the lake to escape the heat." He looked away. "I'm a freak."

I stood up and grabbed his right arm gently, holding it soothingly in my palm. I traced the lines of his burns in an attempt to console him. "You're not a freak." I enforced hotly. "You're Rex. Kate's Rex. Mr. and Mrs. Star's Rex. My Rex."

Rex reached up, my fingers sliding down to wrap around the thin, frail wrist. He cupped my face with his palm and watched my face. It was as if he expected me to suddenly push him away in revulsion, to reject him because he had a deformed body. But I wouldn't—couldn't do that. He was Rex. My Rex. After a second of hesitation, Rex asked, "I'm not scary?"

I shook my head, my cheek rubbing against the soft skin of his palm. "You could never scare me, Rex."

He leaned forward, his eyes confused and delighted at the same time. I held my breath, not knowing exactly what I was anticipating, but excited nevertheless. His cold, irregular breathing had and oddly warming effect on my mouth and he closed his eyes as he drew ever closer, pressing his lips to mine.