Skipping the review time; love you guys but in a rush to study for midterms. I know I promised a double update but the time here flies when your roommate's a bitch with passive aggressive issues and people who you thought at least tolerated you talk shit about you behind your back.
Meanwhile yours truly stays gracious and non-petty though if I opened my mouth, I would have these people crying.
Haven't gotten kicked out of school yet, so just hoping I make it past this semester with solid marks. Debating to drop the class I'm literally failing or try to work hard (HA!) to get it up to a passing grade.
Promise you'll get that double update, but not this time. Soon. I hope.
He stood with his back against one of the lockers as the bell rang shrilly and the students quickly shuffled out. The dank air of dark emotion in the hallway made Risk's hackles rise; he was slightly uncomfortable with the lack of chatter.
He wanted to pretend he was unaffected and he did with practiced ease. Just pretend he was at home when George was in a mood and Sunshine was having one of her fits from lack of medication.
He ignored the grief.
And acted as if each swallow of saliva down his throat didn't taste like metal.
His face was lit with a tinge of life and he kept an easy grin on his lips, finding that balance between confident and snarky as his eyes traveled across the sea of bodies passing him by, in search of a silver-ish blonde. It'd been a few days since he and Astrid had last spared with words, but a few days ago she hadn't made that ridiculous climb up the "Hot List" that he had dubbed.
She hadn't been number one.
Risk blinked quickly, breath stuttering from the force of that thought before he got lost in again in attempting to cool down as his lips pursed and almond shaped eyes narrowed.
Karl Renderson had been number one.
Karl Renderson was dead.
Closing his eyes quickly, getting rid of, trying to forget, the sight of sticky blood on the unyielding concrete path you had to walk through before entering the school, Risk exhaled sharply.
Opening his eyes again, conveniently he saw the familiar blond head of hair and small coolly walking frame.
Springing to action, Risk danced through the crowd before noticing the small unnoticeable signs that something was wrong.
Shoulders that sagged, downcast blue eyes, and a form that was slightly huddled into itself as if sheltering a wound.
Maybe she didn't see him, maybe she did and just ignored him. She continued to walk away.
"Astrid. Astrid! Astrid, hey wait!"
He grabbed onto her shoulder and turned her around, only to flinch, though he'd deny it, from the look she gave him.
It would be wrong to call it apathetic.
Eyes that were usually calm and half lidded as if the reality of life was boring and she was sleepy were now wide but her eyes weren't bulging out. They were just . . . aware. Her pupils were focused at everything and nothing, wide pools of darkness and an unconscious hostility staring at him but not completely seeing him.
Astrid blinked. Once. Twice. Registering that he was there.
Her steady composed voice that easily contradicted the look on her face put Risk on the edge harsher than the mass of quiet students but he ignored it in favor of what he originally sought her out for.
"We need to talk."
Light brown eyes slid calmly to Peter's nerve-wrecked form as he walked back and forth in Alex's dad's living room, which was basically an under glorified ballroom, with shiny primed floors, two chandeliers and the bright light of wealth shining off the cream leathers couches, a glass and mahogany table by the edge, and the smell of a better expensive version of Pinsol or whatever.
"Calm down idiot." Trish's rough voice snarled. She sat cross armed in one of the leather couches, in ripped tight blue jeans and a red halter top covered by a white wool sweater.
Air left Peter's nostrils in a rush, "How? How! Renderson is dead!"
Trish winced, but the block like shape of her head, an unruly smattering of red hair framing said block and it's unfortunate patterning of freckles, made it look like an ugly grimace as she tried to defend, "Ok. And?"
Peter stopped his pacing abruptly and Alex resigned herself to the same tantrum he had around eight in the morning when he arrived at her doorstep when she had just put her uniform on, before she elected that they skip school and work things out.
So far, they hadn't exactly working anything out and she was quickly getting annoyed. Especially since Janice and Allen Dimitri had elected NOT to come to the group meeting. So she was stuck with these two idiots.
"Renderson was number one! And he's dead! That means no one in his or her right mind would think of considering the poll! Our site? Shut down! The whole school's scared shitless. They're shutting the place down for a week!"
Alex calmly intervened, "We already shut down the site, stupid. If the authorities found it and traced it back to us, we'd be in deep shit, so we took precautions and put it somewhere else accessible by students with heavier security."
Feeling petty, she interrupted him again, after four hours of dealing with his nonsense, "And we still have the list to ourselves on the backup site that you need a password to access and everything. Except we control it now."
Trish opened her big mouth, giving what she thought was a good point, "And it's not like we need people to bet. It's supposed to be fun."
"Which led to the great idea of making Graves number one right?"
Trish stayed stubbornly quiet.
"I wonder how our idiot Class Prez feels about you using his idea to settle some stupid score cause she won't eat you out -" he said, pointing to a reddening Trish and ignoring the glare on her face, " - and because of some beef you have with her going way back till elementary school."
Alex scowled, "Watch it Pete, you don't have to be here."
Peter stared at her like she was the one acting crazy, like she was out of her mind before saying, almost calmly like maybe she'd finally understand, "They're saying it's a bullying suicide. Police are getting involved and sooner or later somebody from school is going to talk. Only reason I know is because my mom's on the force."
"Tell Mrs. Sean I sad hi." Alex replied blithely.
She flinched, before steadying her eyes on him, flushed face, hair usually sliced back with grease out of place and haphazard. He had even disregarded his varsity jacket he was so proud of and never left the house with for a hastily put on wool sweater and scarf. He stared at her like he didn't even know who she was anymore.
Taking a steady breath, Alex started, "We'll make the site more private, switch access codes more often - "
"Oh my God!" he interrupted, aghast, eyes widening as he held his head and roughly plopped on the expensive leather couch closest to him.
"Peter - "Trish uselessly tried before she got cut off.
It was a resigned and almost cold and hollow admission that Alex felt from his bones to hers. An angry heat flowed in her blood as her heart beat in her ears the more his declaration echoed, indignant and slightly embarrassed that she was being painted as the crazy over-zealous popular girl in those chick flick movies they used to watch when the two of them were actually friends. Now it was just a compulsion from knowing each other for years, an obligation he should be grateful she didn't just drop right now!
"Don't act like you didn't want to be a part of this!"
Alex was breathing heavily; was that her voice? Bastard. Screw him.
"I'M NOT!" his voice bellowed back, stronger. Self-righteous bastard who probably thought he was better than her.
No one was better than her.
While she fumed, Peter looked tired and haggard. His face was red and fists clenched. The only thing that filled the room was the sound of hot air until Peter spoke again.
"You're right. God damn it, you're right! But it was just supposed to be for shits and giggles!"
Alex blinked, wondering where he was going with this while at the same time, she just knew.
"But then everyone in school started acting weird, like people dying, killing themselves and shit, is cool because they were losers and it was after our freak president started that stupid idea that making a shit list of all the losers in school would magically make them not do that anymore because it was pointing them out, everyone had their eyes on them. It was fucking creepy! Oh! Let's put all the losers and freaks and nobodies on a list of who's most likely to die, cause if we call them out, then obviously they won't do it!"
Alex winced. It sounded cruel when he put it like that.
"I didn't give a fuck, one, because nobody important was on it, and two, it was actually kind of working, no more deaths and in-school funerals and shit. I was cool with it. But now! Now that Renderson is dead, This! Is just sick!"
"This is still working!" Trish started, interrupting with her commentary, "Renderson is the only one in two months whose died, and yeah, I'm gonna say it, with his track record, it was bound to happen."
Pete paled at her words as Alex tried to act like there wasn't a callous cruelty in them that she agreed with. She vaguely recalled herself using Karl Renderson as a shit-wiper, as was his nature, when she herself was stressed. Through others of course, not the type to get her hands dirty. Trish manhandled him once a week, Pete sneered and at times participated in humiliating him in the locker rooms with the other guys.
Rising her nose in the air, chin upward, looking at the light, Alex agreed. It was bound to happen. Karl Renderson was treated like a third rate sack of shit and did nothing about it, before and after the list. It wasn't the list's fault.
"God you two are crazy." he muttered, soundly lost and slightly disgusted which made Trish bristle.
"Oh, get the fuck off your high horse! You were there! You wore the same shitty mask and for fuck's sake! You beat Renderson up! You helped tie him and spray paint him!"
"Yeah! Well he's dead!"
"We get it! That was his choice! Last time I checked, you used what we did in the video after the debut of the list to try and pick up chicks. And by that I mean try."
"That was one time!"
Something in Alex's mind, from the small piece of absolving herself and the list for Karl Renderson's death, sparked, and she immediately fixated on him with a glare that showed she wanted to burn his skin off.
He didn't notice.
"Yeah, and the girl clearly had the good sense not to fall for your shit."
Alex saw Trish trying to steer the conversation away from the previous topic but Peter began to make a U-turn.
"Yeah, instead I told her we were a part of that." he said, voice raising in pitch and nervousness. She could see he was quickly coming to the same conclusion she had.
Alex's eyes widened, and for a few seconds, she took the time to try and remember the girl he had been trying to score with a few weeks back. Black hair, heart shaped face that was really pale, and narrowed blue eyes.
She recalled talking to her for just a second, and the teen's response had been clipped and an obvious haste to get away. Disgust even. Maybe fear.
Alex heatedly hissed "You idiot . . ."
Peter's great eyes flashed toward her as Trish snarled, "You already put us in a pile of shit and now you wanna bail?!"
Alex haughtily added, "You've implicated yourself, stupid. You're worried about the authorities finding our hidden site that has yet to be found again after that fiasco with that sophomore and her soccer mom reading her texts and finding it and giving it to the school."
"Thank Gawd the school cares more about itself that us." Trish interrupted.
"What if she goes to the police?"
Peter's pallor became ashen as he bit his lips, "I didn't give her any specifics."
"What did you say?"
This time he glared at her just as horribly as she glared at him, "That same bullshit your new boyfriend fed us! That it was for the good of the student body and that we're trying to wake people up!"
"Then what happened?"
Peter's harsh gaze faltered a bit, when he bit out, "I don't know. I thought she was into me, the next thing I know, I'm waking up with marker all over my face being called a lightweight by some dudes."
Alex sneered, "Ah. So you fainted after telling a complete stranger, who you wanted to bang, what we did while giving the excuse that would paint us as the good guys -
"Which obviously didn't work." Trish interrupted, before Alex shushed her like an animal with a quick and final quirk of her lips.
"Only for her to completely walk out of the party minutes later like we were a disease."
Peter began to look down, and Alex gained the upper hand, reclaiming her place on the throne of ruling the conversation, "Yeah, sure. But I swear Alex, you know I can hold my drinks! I don't know what happened."
She snorted, "Because a girl barely 5'4 can somehow magically knock out a guy almost two hundred pounds who's on the wrestling team."
Pete just blinked at her words before leaving the conversation, going over what happened that night in his head while Trish for once said something somewhat intelligent.
"Did you see who she left with? Was she by herself?"
Both Alex and Peter turned towards Trish, a firm scowl resting on both their faces. It was Alex who spoke and Pete who vehemently nodded.
"I saw her come in with Red Death."
Tabitha's brown hair was wind-blown and she looked like those supermodels in magazines who tried to pass themselves off as frazzled, but still ended up looking effortlessly flawless while doing so, especially her at the given moment, with long legs in fitting blue jeans, and a fluttery grey blouse.
The only kind of strain on her face was the biting of her lips and nervous furrow of brows in response to the dull look Granite gave her until Jiro pulled back her attention.
Granite only nodded, refusing to speak until she was out of earshot.
Jiro on the other had was experiencing an odd form of deja vu, having already avoided his place because of big sister troubles, only to find out Granite was having the same issue, but while he would rant about it to anyone willing to listen, Granite had fallen back into her bad habits of restraining herself and thinking her opinions weren't worth a damn.
Tabitha spotted him and tried to diffuse the already awkward situation, "Hello, I'm Tabitha, Tabby if you prefer . . . uh, I didn't know Granite was having people over." She extended her hand for a handshake and Jiro debated judging this person Granite so obviously hated.
Granite uncharacteristically coolly observed while Jiro felt put on the spot, not knowing the issues but thinking it couldn't have compared to the crap Haru pulled. But if anything he was loyal to a fault, so he was calmly impartial, and shut down her attempts to worm her way into Granite's bubble through her friends.
He put himself in her situation and knew he'd be pissed if he caught his friends talking to Haru, so she can try and worm her way back into his life just to ruin it again.
Ignoring the hand in front of him, behind his eyes he slowly worked out the connection between Granite's low self esteem issues and this woman, the only thing in his mind her tear streaked face in the instrumental room and a flash of her trying to jump off the school roof over two years ago.
He coldly smiled.
"I don't really think it's something you needed to know."
Tabitha blinked owlishly with a sharp and wary intake of breath, but Jiro was quick and almost in as bad as a mood as when Haru tried this shit with him. He outright ignored the woman in front of him and stood up, grabbing Granite's arm.
"Let's go talk in your room." he said softly, rewarded with her quiet grateful look colored with shock and something unidentifiable that made her the Granite he enjoyed being around. Her cheeks quietly colored as they walked up the stairs.
Jiro smiled, ignoring the twinge at the back of his head that was refusing to think about where Haru was now.
The warm air of Hollowmill was welcoming as Astrid stepped through the threshold between what she considered home and the worst day she's felt that she'd experienced so far, emotionally. She kept waiting for the numbness to fade over her emotions, the cold ice of logic propelling her to action.
That was how it had always been.
Instead, her chest felt like it had been stabbed by knives still stuck in her chest, and her throat as if it had been dragged out and ridden all over. It was a piercing hot pain that wouldn't stop thrumming, even if her outward facade hid it rather well.
A step in the direction of her room and she saw the slumped unidentifiable body of Karl Renderson, broken and bloody and exploded, noise in her ears.
She swallowed deeply.
She twisted the doorknob, and felt the hot poker prods of Linden Davenport, red lips and brown eyes, smarter, slapping her with her own incompetency.
Her inhales became short and brisk, almost as if she were hyperventilating.
She opened the door to her room, coming to the sight her desk, plain and made bed, television, all stagnant in what she searched for, substance. She saw the dulled and emotional resignation on Leon's face. The pain that was held back, everything almost flowing only to be stopped. She had lost her right to his openness.
"Astrid, are you okay?"
It was the sound of Tuesday's voice that stopped the prickling behind her eyes from bleeding through, ending the trembles and shakes seen from her hunched over back. She froze over, skin paler than usual, eyes bugged out, but her control regained.
She was still waiting for the numbness.
From the worried and shocked look on Tuesday's face, she needed it sooner than she thought.
"We have a new visitor. She uh, came in few nights ago. When you were out."
"Ok." she said, infliction blithe. If the cold wouldn't come, she'd fake it until it did.
"Yeah, she's just mainly stayed in her room, and since Mr. Graves, both of them, aren't here at the moment, I asked the supervisor over the phone, some lady who's number we have."
Tuesday vehemently nodded, "Yeah, that lady who'd rather eat nails than visit an "unruly orphanage"."
Astrid scoffed lightly.
"I asked her what I should do, and she was all like, if the owners of a dangerous establishment or whatever can't control who comes in or not, what's the point of involving her."
"None either way. What do you need?"
"Well, since you've been in and out for a while, I just let the workers know that I let someone who's homeless into the home and to keep an eye on her. Like if she has sticky fingers or if she's just crashing with no actual excuse."
"That was a good decision."
Tuesday's half concerned look shined into one of adoration at the praise. She loved being young and doing things that made her seem mature. Which was more to say than for her brother.
"Well, you're here now. So, I guess the responsibility of letting her stay goes to you."
"It does. The safety of the other patrons and workers relies on her state of character and actual need. Though if nothing's happened so far, I doubt it's questionable."
Tuesday nodded, "Yeah, she's usually just really quiet. And washes her clothes in the bathroom, but has been wearing the same thing day in and out. I don't think she knows we have a washing machine."
Nodding, the interruption of her internal suffering was put on hold, and Astrid welcomed it, "Well then, it seems like as good a time as another to tell her, also a convenient chance to meet her."
"Kay, she's in the South section, room K613, the farthest to the right."
Astrid nodded, patting Tuesday's head in the way that her hair would be ruffled and her face would be flushed from embarrassment and appreciation.
"I'll take care of it, go and do homework or something."
"I can make sure Argon does his, and pick up Zaahir." she offered, wanting to be even more helpful than she already was.
"Please.", she had foolishly forgotten. Lost in her self like a selfish teen going on about her problems, she had forgotten that she had other responsibilities. And a little eleven year old had to cover for her.
She was truly pathetic.
Tuesday beamed, unaware of Astrid inward self-loathing, "Sure."
Watching the tiny redhead go off on her newest errand, Astrid wondered if she was going to crumble again, but reined herself in. She decided to go off to see the newest member of the home first.
It wasn't like Hollowmill only took in victims of crime and cases. There were also some homeless folk who didn't even have cars to sleep in that were taken in, seeking something stable before getting back on their feet. The only reason they weren't overrun with them was because the building was ostentatious, meaning intimidating enough to think that they'd actually judge your situation here instead of give a home.
She had run the reality of if to her grandfather a few times, but the building was already made, standing, and firm. Nothing she could really do about it but make sure that those here were living life okay and taken care of while Grandfather was abroad, and Kamden was -forcibly- at college.
She got a few waves from the workers, and patrons, all going about their own business while she continued on to the South part of Hollowmill. It was far, and where they put those they weren't completely sure about. But it seemed this woman was fine, so Astrid was at the moment keeping herself occupied while watching this new character.
Coming up to the door, she knocked briskly.
She was half-asleep, dreamless and not really feeling anything but a constant pull to the soft bed and need to not be awake. But her heart jumped at the knock. Like what if they decided to kick her out; they could find out if she has family, right? They lived like ten blocks, and two train station stops away, but still!
Going from peaceful to frantically worried, like biting the skin off her lip worried, Haru jumped at the second knock, more harsh and sharp than the first.
Crap! She really didn't want to piss anyone off. What if, she pretended that she wasn't there? Like, people here often left during the day to look for jobs. But most of them stayed for some reason.
Wait, this wasn't even her house. What if they left and got a key?
A third knock, short. The person behind was reaching the end of their line, and Haru felt her heart leap in her throat as she took a few short steps and opened up for the person.
A scary faced teenager.
She was short, well, shorter than her, with narrowed blue icy eyes, and a pale face. Blond long hair evenly parted, so she could see the scrunched up skin between her eyebrows in a frustration that was definitely Haru's fault.
"Are you deaf?"
And a voice that cut like a goddamn knife.
Haru blinked owlishly, it would be utter bullshit if she were to say she couldn't hear.
"I couldn't hear."
The girl's facial expression didn't change, and that was worse than at least any other reaction at her blatant lie.
Sizing her up, the girl sighed, and then asked, "Name?"
Haru swallowed, "May I ask why? And who you are?" it wasn't a far fetch to assume that maybe this girl also lived here was just trying to see another person in her situation. She wore the same uniform Jiro wore, so maybe her parents lived in this large building too, so she could still go to school.
The girl's eyes narrowed, "My grandfather's this building's owner. I'm here in his stead to make sure we aren't wasting resources for those who don't need it."
Far fetch! Really far fetch!
"I'm sorry!" She exclaimed, but the girl was unaffected.
"Name?" she repeated tonelessly.
"Haru Hideki." she said, the sound of her last name grinding in her ears. At the very least, please don't let this girl know her -
"Any relation to Jiro Hideki?" her robotic voice retorted. Expressionless. Like the iceberg that sank her titanic.
She could lie, but she felt like in front of this girl, that'd be stupid.
"Yeah . . ."
She blinked, then said, "Alright. How long do you think you'll be staying here?"
That was it?
"Uh . . . until I get on my feet."
"Have you found a job?"
"Looking for one."
She nodded, "We have positions here, if you don't mind the meager pay, most of it goes to the workers who work full time here."
Haru nodded vehemently, "I could work full-time."
A raised brow, "Most don't want to clean after people, or cook, or really do any work. Most desperate enough aim for part-time, which is a solid eight hours a day."
Haru blanched. Eight hours? A day!
"I'm not sure how you would find the time to look for a job, and work here."
Something in Haru grew annoyed, the girl sounded like she was almost mocking her. Like she knew what she could and couldn't handle despite only knowing her for what, a good five minutes?"
Haru's eyes were burning, "Look kid, I'm a high school and community college dropout. I have no degrees, and my family wants nothing to do with me. If I say I can handle whatever work you give me to earn my keep, I mean it."
The girl's gaze narrowed haughtily, "Have you ever been arrested or convicted of a crime or felony?"
"No. I haven't." she ground out.
"Then I'll be back later with your shifts, I'll tell the cleaning crew that they'll have another hand on deck. You start tomorrow."
Blinking in confusion, she watched the girl leave, only to turn around.
"Ah yes, and Tuesday wanted me to tell you that we have a washing machine. Several, in fact. You're free to use them."
There was a hollow gaze in her eyes, and Haru wondered what her deal was before coming to terms with the fact that she had a job.
Frankie felt a hole in her heart, but covered it with polite smiles as she waited at the Running Field for Risk, who had texted her a while ago to meet her here. The only thing she could feel was tired at the thought of Keir, who she had avoided all day, and Astrid, who's issues even Leon couldn't find out, as shown from the pure heartbrokenness of his face as he told her he couldn't help.
Biting the inside of her lip, she wrestled with the thought of texting Astrid before hearing the familiar falsetto drawl of Risk, who went for a goth pastel theme that evening, while Frankie had come in her uniform. A part of her burned at the fact that she had waited eons for this idiot while he had gone home and dressed up.
Still, that didn't mean he looked damn good. Hair, no wig, in a bunched bun atop his head with bangs curled inward hiding his forehead, skirt teasingly short yet modest, paired with tight highs and Doc Martens Frankie could swear she had at home. And a cute large pink sweater.
"What's the occasion?"
Risk shrugged, "Trying to un-depress myself."
Suddenly remembered what happened at school today, Frankie flinched, "Oh, yeah."
There was silence, before she suggested, "Want to go over to the food court?"
He raised an eyebrow, "Hungry?"
"No, tired of standing waiting for your late ass." she spat back with no real acid.
"Sorry, my ass isn't late. Fine and tight, yes, late, no."
She scoffed, continuing the banter, "I'm sure Red could let me know."
From the way Risk kept his silence, Frankie took it as a win on her side.
"What did you call me for anyway?"
"Other than what you think I'd call you for." he drawled, walking over to a relatively un-greasy table to the nearest Panda Express he could fine. She ignored that maybe she was hungry, because Risk would definitely call her out on it, she retorted, "I don't know, that sentence was confusing. Are you saying you can read my mind or something?"
Risk sighed, "Seriously, basic mind aren't as fun to play with."
She made a face, expecting his roundabout insults but still offended, "Sorry for being basic."
Rolling her eyes, she tucked a loose strand hanging in front of her round head behind her ear, "So that's it? You called me out to insult me. At least treat me to dinner first."
Risk was uncharacteristically silent, shoulders stiff underneath his cute large sweater, and his legs were crossed, the back of his heel hitting his left thigh.
He was nervous.
"I'm just trying to figure out if you know anything."
"Like. . ."
"What's wrong with Astrid?"
And there it was, "I didn't think you'd care."
Sharp acid eyes cut through her bravado, "Maybe so. But after the last few days, I figured her best friend would be behind her in all of this."
Feeling the heat of embarrassment come up her throat, she hissed back, "Why do you care all of a sudden?"
"Because I talked to her today about doing something about it, the list, and she completely blew me off. She was out of it."
"Maybe because she's number one. And maybe you should worry about yourself, you're not that far off."
Sneering, his prettiness was ruined by his rotten personality, "Like I care about what some prehistoric Neanderthals think about me. Most of them were having a field day with this, and now they grown morals."
"Can you blame them?"
"Yes." he hissed, vehemently. With an intensity that made her throat dry up as his pearly greens tore chunks of her shield apart from one another.
There was a pause of silence between them, Frankie's mind trying to catch up and Risk patiently waiting for her to do so.
It was Risk who spoke first.
"I hate when people decide to act a certain way when others are watching. At times it can be other people, and if not, then their conception of a large man in the sky. Without it, they'll act how they're really are, and in this case, beat up a kid gleefully one day only for him to end up dead about a month later."
He paused for a dark chuckle, expression less pretty, and more sour, harsh.
"And the funniest part, is they'll ask, "Why?"."
"What does this have to do with Astrid?"
Risk gave her a weird eerie look.
"You didn't hear?"
Frankie blinked owlishly, openly admitting that she was confused, "Hear what?"
He gave her a dark smile, canines gleaming, and eyes shinning with a nervous unbound energy that rubbed her the wrong way. He laughed again, a short bark at her expense that regressed into a snort.
"Hear what." she ground out.
Risk pulled out his phone, eyes narrowed as he tapped on the screen a few times, scowling as the false sardonic expression on his face melted into an uncharacteristic grimness.
"Not only was the list updated, but it was moved somewhere else. Exactly after news of Karl Renderson's untimely departure became social media fire."
A part of Frankie sank.
"They still want to play."
"Leon, hon? That you?"
Leon jerked a bit at the noise. Abe had reached the toddler stage of taking all her attention, that plus work, and his mom's odd obsession with being the perfect housewife, and he had pegged her occupied to completely forget his existence.
It had worked a few nights ago.
"Yeah." he yelled back, heading straight for the stairs away from his mom who was heavily invested in his romantic life. And was soon to be aware to the lack of that left a big gaping hole in his chest.
He really didn't want to deal with her.
Coming around the corner, heels clacking on the hardwood floor, with a food stain covered Abe on bouncing on her hip, she took him in and for a moment it seemed like she was about to ask what was wrong, and Leon, one of the worst liars in the world, had considered taking it up again when she suddenly closed her mouth.
"Do you mind watching Abe for me tonight?" she quipped, voice raising an octave, hiding her sudden nervousness and surprise, with some kind of motherly demand.
He'd take it. God yeah, he'd take it.
"Your dad and I are going to do our taxes, we won't be back till late."
"Kay." so he had a whole night of sulking to himself. Yay.
"You could take him - " she started, but stopped, flushing. Leon focused his eyes on her as she backtracked and changed whatever she was going to say, " - actually scratch that. It's that time of the year, where it gets darker sooner. Just remember to feed him -
"That goober stuff. I remember."
She smiled softly, patting his shoulder fondly and comfortingly, and maybe he hadn't known just how much he needed that because he melted for a moment back into the age where he could tell his ma anything and she would listen.
But instead he was seventeen, a kid who thought like an adult in a teens body. It was difficult.
"Alright, I'm leaving. Lock the door, answer the phone when I call, and don't eat all the food when we're gone."
"I'll make no such promises." he said unconsciously, biting back a twinge of cold pain as he remembered all the times Astrid had said the same thing, cheekily, monotonic, a drawl through pink lips before -
No. He needed to stop.
He managed to dig himself out of his mind around the time his mom finished the rest of her directions. He wondered if she noticed.
"Alright. Take care, we'll be back by tenish."
"Gotcha." he said, picking up Abe's hand, stiff and chubby, and waving it until he waved it himself, entertained by the wave and adoring smile he got back from their mom. Big pink cheeks flushed in joy and Leon witnessed a sparkle only kids had in their untroubled eyes in his.
"Bye!" she cooed.
"Buh-Bi!" Abe cooed back as Leon closed the door.
Leon ignored the whimper of confusion from Abe, wondering where Mom had gone even though a second ago he had been waving to her, and had settled with putting both of their minds through the gutter with a marathon of SpongeBob, much to the kid's glee.
Sitting Abe firmly in front of the TV, but not too close, Leon reclined on the couch.
Tie loose, toeing off his shoes, his eyes remained unnaturally aware, paying attention to Abe's shrill cry and the F.U.N. song. To the time, to the homework in his bag, to his phone, which he now had the oddest urge to throw against the wall.
To his breathing.
To the way he'd bite his lip before he caught himself and force himself to stop, angrily.
To the hot lava, burning his insides, behind his eyes.
When Abe turned to him to smile, expecting one in return, he struggled but pulled through. When it was time to feed, and eventually change his diaper and bath him, he focused on that. Each chew of dinner was plain and the act rudimentary, and each scrub of Abe's soft skin, thoughtless.
Anything to keep from recalling those big blue eyes, downcast, hurt in a pain he couldn't do anything about. That he wasn't allowed to understand.
That hurt him.
That for some reason, being around him hurt her.
He blinked, brain catching up to Abe's form crawling up his leg, freshly bathed and clothed and fed.
Leon opened his mouth, only a crackled short pitch coming out for a second. He tried again.
It hurt. It hurt so bad he wanted to rip his heart out.
Abe only looked at him for a second longer, before patting his face, hitting his eye.
Smiling crookedly, he sat the kid down back on his lap, resigning himself to doing homework on the train, despite knowing he had a sleepless night ahead of him.
It hurt so bad, he had to lie.
Risk doesn't have friends.
He has rivals, acquaintances, employers, and people he plays with, with no regards of the hassle that is their emotions and tendencies to get attached.
He has people who tolerate his ambiguous gender, those who enjoy the spectacle of it, and those who loathe his very existence.
He likes to believe he is solitary. Even if it just so happens that he does, maybe, probably, frequent this group a little too often. To the horrifying point that people have associated him in their little odd aberration of rejecting normal high school social standings, crew.
But still, people are predictable. And if they aren't, they act in ways that soon become annoying, especially when all human beings are capable of logic.
He thought maybe Keir and Astrid were different.
They matched his intellectual pace not academically, but with actual thought.
But Keir seemed to have a habit of playing the martyr in his head while overworking himself with absurd jobs that paid less than minimum wage, along with an annoying prideful complex in refusing to even look for help despite what logic clearly dictated.
And now even Astrid was stuck, getting involved with emotions while trying to retain that cool indifferent composure she was infamous for. With the tendency to get herself in situation after situation, solving crimes, playing detective, whatever, she unconsciously sunk into herself, leaving herself vulnerable.
As always, people disappoint.
The corners of his almond shaped eyes crinkled, watching Frankie's eyes bulge at the sight she'd been staring at for several minutes.
"Wha-what . . . what do you want me to do?"
Take this problem off his hands.
For some reason he didn't say it, meeting her big brown eyes with calm green ones.
But even when they eventually succumbed to their meager humanity –
"We're going to help your best friend catch the dickwad who keeps telling this sick joke."
He was incandescent. Nothing ever stopped him, fear of rejection, nor submission to societies standards. Drama? Done. Assholes? He'd seen it all before. Been there, done that, not impressed.
Terrorizing the school body with the reality of death as the great equalizer amongst an age where social standards seemed to be the most important thing in their small little teenager pee brains.
He licked his lips in trepidation and anticipation.
"And we're going to stop this."
After years of experience, it had become easy to figure out which of the Claw children were at her door, down to the way they knocked. Tuesday, in her young age, maintained a politeness that was admirable, despite it speaking volumes of her fear that anything less would warrant her and her brother's immediate removal from the home, much to everyone's confusion. She knocked lightly, opening the door bit by bit if Astrid didn't call out.
Argon's knock, however, was like his newly procured pre-teen personality, blasé and self-involved with dashes of arrogance and pleasure at catching her at the most impromptu moments. He just came right in after one short rude knock, smoothly as if he were doing her a courtesy, regardless if she was changing, sleeping, or in the bathroom. He took the term "my home is your home" very literally, more so than what was required.
And that's just what he did that evening, giving Astrid only seconds to compose herself; an improvement on previous feelings of frazzled nerves he would cause.
She had just finished mind-numbing homework, reminiscent of the feelings from early middle school, back where her life was mundane schoolwork and no friends.
Perhaps she was being a bit melodramatic, but a hole was forming in her chest despite outward appearances, one that she had assumed would make her stronger.
She only felt lonely.
It wasn't as if she could call Frankie, who she had iced out on her own accord, or Granite who had her own problems. Hurting Leon probably closed the doors off from Jiro, and Keir was smart enough not to get involved, especially with all the extra stress he had piled up on his plate that he thought no one noticed.
That left Risk and Red.
She'd honestly rather not, only leaning towards doing so because Red had an inkling of her situation, revealed from his drunken tirade and story telling, and Risk already knew.
She was considering it when she heard Argon's sharp knock before he came busting in, phone in his hand, and saunter in his stride, "Yo." He drawled, socked feet padding into the room with his fiery brown eyes on her.
Looking over to him, she wondered if he could smell the blood, the vulnerability on her. That would be overestimating his wish to annoy her, thought. She raised an eyebrow at him, silently asking who it was.
"It's Mr. Graves." He said, voice taking on an odd tone.
"The old one." He snarked.
"The one who gave you a house to live in." she snarled back calmly, wordlessly taking the phone from his grasp without a struggle.
He rolled his eyes, "Yeah, the old rich one." He jokingly sneered, "He's in Europe or whatever."
"Dublin." She corrected.
He shrugged in a surly style, and she quietly reminisced about when he was cute and nicer to her. It was a good enough distraction from the heavy weight of the light phone in her hand, because if anyone could define the inner turmoil rejecting the cold logic in her currently confused mind, Grandfather definitely would. Effortlessly.
Argon stepped out of the room, giving her a sidelong look before exiting, and she was a bit grateful that he had been considerate enough to close the door. This wasn't going to be a civil conversation, at least to wandering ears.
She didn't want to speak to Grandfather because she was unsure of the result, because it made her think of her own stupidity and yet smart decision in not telling him, like how she told no one when she was sent those threatening texts.
Because it made her question her decision to involve no one, and to endanger herself.
Would have telling, even the impartial street smart Risk, or the –attempting- empathetic yet rough around the edges Red, or anyone for that matter, could speaking to them, with the irrational emotion in her head have kept her from doing what she did to Leon?
Would it have even helped?
Astrid bit her lips, tugging on loose skin, before letting go.
She brought the phone to her ear.
Clearing her mind, she asked, "How's Dublin?"
"It was pleasant. I'm now in Paris. Would you like a souvenir?"
"No thank you."
She could practically hear the nonchalant but in control roll of his shoulders as he continued, "Well."
She blinked, pain blooming in her head and jaw. Now they were abruptly done skirting around the main point, "Well."
A tired exhale, "Astrid. It doesn't take different time zones, continents, dozens of languages and their hundreds of dialects, coupled with my irresponsible habit of contacting you only once in a while to stop me from being aware of what's currently happening in Davenport."
She bit her lip again for a second, "I'm fine."
"And that child from this morning, was he?"
Frustration ate at her from having to tango with someone smarter than her twice in one day, especially now that it was someone she respected, "I've already deduced that they're probably murders."
"As opposed to a suicide pact?"
"None of the victims were known to be in the same social circles, and were separated by years, interests, and activity, so yes."
"Which makes it more so dangerous."
"Unlike any other case I've taken on? That a few times you've personally requested for me to solve?" she asked rhetorically, a biting edge entering her voice. She already had a bad day, she didn't need his harsh worrying disguised by his need to argue to ruin it further.
"You and I are already on the same grounds that these are murders, and not suicides, yes?"
She opened her mouth to counter but he beat her to the punch, "Then please refrain from comparing this to kidnappings by amateurs, embezzling schemes from greedy businessmen, and other crimes in the same demographic as calculated consecutive murder towards children."
Astrid stiffened, knowing that there was nothing she could say to that.
"I would never knowingly put you or Kamden in a situation like what's happening over there, despite you two's obstinate need to solve. Out of justice, or pride, whichever you identify with more."
A silent pause. Astrid was still unable to form words.
Another sigh, "You're an intelligent young woman Astrid, with a mind that can change the world. Don't let this situation, this unofficial case that I haven't screened and given to you, that can put you in danger, take that away from you because you got in too deep."
A jolt in her head, striking her pride with the insinuation that the previous cases she received weren't because he wanted to see if she could solve it, but because she already could. Like she was merely being entertained.
"I'm the only one here who even suspects that these are murders." She said in a small voice.
"Under what grounds?" he asked, tone molten and powerful. He wasn't letting her keep all her cards, forcing her hand to reveal them. And if Grandfather wasn't anything, it was foolish.
"One of the girls found in the classroom a few months ago, was assumed to have slashed her wrists but reports say that she wasn't bleeding out. Under those grounds it was thought that the cuts were applied post rigor mortis, but it was disregarded with the continuous other deaths. So they termed it a suicide."
"Speculation." He said solemnly.
Inhaling sharply, she tried again. "Anita Reyes was suspected to have jumped off the roof of North Fieldwater, and her body was found in less than stellar condition, the first death, however, she was still identifiable. This morning, many students, like with Anita Reyes's situation, were witness to Karl Renderson's corpse, also suspected of jumping off the roof. But his body -
"Was in pieces and unrecognizable. A discrepancy."
"I know it sounds like I'm reaching Grandfather, but it doesn't feel right."
"It doesn't, but there's something you're not telling me here. Other than being contacted by the town hospital, since I'm your legal guardian, not once, but twice. Gallivanting in morgues and visiting patients who have panic attacks at the mere sight of you."
There was a twitch in the bottom of her stomach, from guilt at inconveniencing the man who had taken her despite her quirks and impossible personality when her own parents had given up on her. Her throat was thick this time, not with heartbreak, but exhaustion. She was overwhelmed.
Everything was too much.
"I know there's something else you're not telling me." He said, voice inflectionless. Something inside her wished she could get back to that. It was as if everybody was starting to see through her thick skin and see exactly what she currently thought of herself.
Astrid's voice was quiet with despair when she spoke again, "The supposed . . . killer, or killers, might have a personal connection with the school. They've been watching me . . . and know that I'm on to them."
The aggravated worry in his voice was evident, "Astrid –
"They threatened me. And a person I deeply care about. They contacted me through text." She rushed out.
Hot breaths flowed from her mouth as air came out of her in shaken little spurts, "I . . . I don't know what to do other than pursue this . . what if . . they come after Zaahir and . . . and Argon and Tuesday . . . or anyone else . . . j-j-j ust because –
Because she wasn't smart enough to figure it out.
What is she couldn't figure it out on time, and she came to school to find Leon's body? Broken and battered and soulless and cold.
Her breathing pitched, breathes increasing.
"Astrid, Astrid. Calm down, you're having a panic attack. Get your inhaler. Now."
Her hands shook as she reached towards the edge of her desk, grabbing the odd little thing that she had to depend on to save her life.
"Astrid, I need you to breathe, alright darling? Breathe."
She pressed and inhaled with the sharp gushing sound of medicine into her throat, her lungs, her chest easing but the pain still there. Everything around her steadied, but still decayed. Her back was slant as she leaned over almost like she was cowering into a ball, hunched in her chair at her desk.
"Are you okay?"
Grandfather was worried, and a part of her lurched at recognition of emotion in his tone, but the rest felt –
- like it had been hollowed out with something more acidic than rubbing alcohol, powered by a debasing fear enough to corner the edges , filled with a numbing Novocain.
"Are you okay?"
She didn't know how to answer. She was still there, aware, but couldn't form words, "Astrid, for your safety, I'll have to ask that you distance yourself from this case. The risk and reward, I understand and acknowledge are monumentally important to you."
A tiredness and weary ache entered her bones as her hair acted as a shield that couldn't protect her from his honest words.
"But understand that your life has more weight than that to me."
Than all those lives lost?
Than all those lives under threat?
Than the flickering bright flames of Leon's or Frankie's, or anyone else's if whomever's responsible just turns around and sees them worthy of their crime?
She felt a pang, an echo amidst the broken glass shards of her persona, beyond indignant, relentless, and unyielding.
She just needed to try harder.
"Astrid, I need to know that you heard me."
She needed to pull herself together. Regress and lament only when the culprit was caught. When everyone was safe. Regardless of her sacrifice, or what she had given up for a cause that should fill her with a feeling of self-preservation, not an irrational selflessness that could hurt her.
"I heard you."
- CLICK -
Maybe even kill her.
I'm going to try to update by April 1st if not earlier. Reviews before then would simply be glorious while I suffer from Organic Chem and retaking Calc. Ugh.
If this storyline sets off any triggers or makes anyone uncomfortable, please, please, PM me. To me, even though there are some personal parts that hit my past, it's just a plot, however to others, this could makes things they left behind resurface. I would hate to have done that to anyone.
I write this for you guys, and though there are some who are gun-ho for the dark topic, others, might not be as eager.
Did I hit the characterization of some of the POV's right? I was worried, still am, about how to portray Leon. I'm trying to distance him, create a character outside of Astrid, though there already is one. Problem is that it's small. I wanted to develop him more, and though this was already going to happen, like there was no stopping the pseudo breakup, I want to take this chance to let him grow.
Don't know if I have the time to shift part of my focus back onto Keir, since I did the same with Jiro and Granite. Seems fair, but then again, I've been terribly unfair to Red, who hasn't had a decent line since 2014, my poor baby.
Feel free to throw some inspiration my way, though I already have a vague notion of the rest of the story. The end is near, yet still far off, so I gotta make it count.
Sidenote: Please pray for my GPA