Loneliness is not a product of being alone. It is the result of feeling that nobody cares. - I. Winifredd
He wasn’t sure how long he had been sprawled on his bed and staring at the shapes formed in the plaster of the ceiling. The storm was still raging on outside his window, deafening claps of thunder still echoing through the silence. Though the argument with his mother had long since passed, he still felt angry and misunderstood. Maybe he had not made himself clear enough and she took it the other way. Yes, he was upset with her and felt that she was not doing anything to better the situation.
But her hands were ultimately clean and free of the blood of the innocent.
Sky sighed and rolled over on his side, eyes now tracing imaginary lines into the chipping blue paint of his bedroom walls. He remembered the time when having the freedom to decorate his own room was a priority to him. His parents had eventually given into his childish protests, his unconvincing speeches of growing up and becoming a man. He wrinkled his nose in disgust. Begging for freedom from someone who believed himself to be some sort of God. Who did that man think he was taking away lives of people who had every right to live on this earth?
Thirteen total victims and many more injured. Thirteen people who were brutally murdered in front of husbands, wives, parents, brothers and sisters. People who left loved ones behind to cry themselves to sleep and thrash around helplessly in their beds as pleasant memories turned into gruesome nightmares. He felt his stomach churn in unease. How can he live with himself now? He had looked so calm and composed when they took him away, a ghost of a smile playing at the corners of his lips. He’s disgusting. He was ashamed to have ever looked up to that man and aspired to be like him.
And mom has the nerve to keep defending him?
Then she was just as sick as he was. He remembered the trial; the cold eyes of the middle-aged judge, the saddened jurors, the weeping family and friends hugging themselves and crying tears of regret and relief. Serena Joshua had just stood there by the solemn attorney, her face blank as she and her husband’s eyes met one final time. There were no tearful goodbyes, no desperate pleas for a retrial like he had assumed. Sky suddenly sat up in his bed, heart throbbing wildly in his chest. As if she already knew the fate that would befall her husband.
Whoa, Sky. His mouth dropped open in his disbelief. That’s impossible.
But was it? What if…?he couldn’t bring his mind to complete the thought. Surely his mother had nothing to do with the crimes. But if she did, then why would he take the fall for her? Why would he just stand there and bear the burden of a crime that he did not commit? He had to make sure that he was wrong. If his mother really was the mastermind behind everything, then that would mean that he was wrong about him. That the whole world was condemning a man who possibly knew about the wrongdoings, but didn’t commit the action. His mind was whirling with the new possibilities.
Use your head. How can that be possible? The other half of him was now arguing with him. On the other hand, the witnesses all singled out Ian Joshua as the shooter. The footage picked up by the security cameras showed the very same thing. He was the one responsible for the mass murder. Sky’s stomach dropped to his knees. Of course it had been him. How could he be so stupid to once again try to reason with a killer? People like that only lived to spill blood and revel in the tears of the helpless.
Sky sighed and rose slowly from the bed. I should just eat something and go to bed. That’s enough mystery for the night. He stepped out into the hallway and descended the steps slowly, stifling an oncoming yawn. The house was in darkness save for the glowing screen of the TV and a few nightlights still glowing in different corners of the house. Why do we have so many nightlights anyways? He wondered as he was just starting to notice them.
When he reached the bottom of the stairs, he made a beeline for the kitchen, the rumbling of his stomach too loud for his liking. He flipped on the switches and checked the microwave first, sighing in relief to see a plate wrapped in aluminum foil with a sticky note with his name on it. He snatched the foil off and tossed it aside carelessly and began to heat up his dinner.
“Mom?” he called out.
There was no answer. He glanced at the clock above the stove. 8: 12 PM. He scratched his head. She should be home. Her shift starts at ten. He abandoned the kitchen and began to search for his mother, opening doors to other rooms in the house and poking his head inside. Aside from the loud rumbling of the dryer, he did not find her anywhere. His heart skipped a beat. Where could she be? He returned to the living room and dashed to the window and noted that her BMW was no longer parked in their driveway.
Instead, it sat in the driveway of the Kedzior family across the street.
Are you kidding me? He let the curtain fall back into place and moved to the front door, yanking it open and squinting through the heavy rain at the familiar vehicle hastily parked on their cracked pavement, and the silhouettes of two women laughing together in the living room visible through the curtained window. Sky roared in rage. She was with them again? She was spending time with the woman who was making his life miserable in Gannings.
How could she just go and betray him like that?
He reached over for his jacket, but stopped short when the neighbor’s front door was pushed open and Chelsea stepped out into the rain with her yellow raincoat and a tray wrapped in aluminum foil. Sky quickly stepped back and slammed the door shut with anger. What does she want? He imagined the tray in her hands had some homemade sweets underneath the covering. Was Ann Kedzior trying to bribe him into accepting her into his circle? He shook his head firmly. He would not fall for such a cheap tactic. Sky dropped onto the couch, his face twisted in a grimace of foaming rage. He dug his nails into the denim of his pants. Why did the Kedzior family suddenly have an interest in his family? Most people stayed away from them, fearing public shunning if ever caught associated with the Joshuas. So why was she so giddy to have Serena Joshua as a friend while bullying her son? Sky felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.
Was she an informant of Ian Joshua? Was she pulling information?
He didn’t have time to think any further because the doorbell rang. He rose stiffly and shuffled to the door, the wheels of his mind turning as he concocted a new plan. Two could play at that game. If she was pulling information from his mother, then he could pull information from Chelsea. The girl was already too chatty anyways, so it wasn’t like she would actually notice his interrogation efforts.
He sighed deeply and opened the door.
Chelsea stood on the porch, dripping with rainwater, and held the tray out to him like a peace offering.
“My mom made these,” she said breathlessly and smiled. “Chocolate chip. Your mother said that these are your favorite.”
Chelsea isn’t the only chatty person around here, he thought bitterly and begrudgingly stepped aside to let her in. She stepped into and Sky offered to take her jacket. “Thanks,” she said and followed him into the living room. They dropped in front of the TV in time to watch the opening credits of The Twilight Zone episode playing across the screen.
Sky carefully tore the foil off the tray and set it down on the table.
His stomach rumbled in appreciation to the smell of chocolate trickling his nostrils.
Chelsea giggled and popped one into her mouth. “Eat up,” she insisted and took another one. “Your stomach says that you’re hungry.”
Sky forced a smile onto his face. “Sure.”
He popped a cookie into his mouth and quickly swallowed. These are great. He took another and shoved it into his mouth.
“You like this show?” Chelsea asked and motioned to the black-and-white program. “My mom does and she says it’s better than anything there is on TV these days.”
“Yeah?” Sky chirped and turned to face her. “What do you think? Do you like it too?”
Chelsea shook her head. “Nope. I prefer stuff like Beyblade or W.I.T.C.H. You know, Tyson is the best blader of the Bladebreakers. Max’s style is boring, Ray isn’t good enough on attack, and Kai is too overpowered.”
Sky shook his head in disagreement. “No way!” he said and rolled his eyes. “Max’s defensive style is just unappreciated. You can’t have a good offensive without a good defense. He’s a smart blader and is the member with the most endurance and perseverance. I will agree that Kai is overpowered. I never saw the hype behind Dranzer and his blading style. Ray’s okay, but Tyson attacks without thinking. He only wins because he’s the main character of the series. There are plenty of bladers on the show that could beat him. Like Lee from the White Tigers.”
“Pfft,” Chelsea said and waved off his argument with a jaded flap of her hand. “Please. Tyson is the strongest. He had proved it many times so far and you say that Lee from the White Tigers can take him? He couldn’t even beat Ray and Ray is definitely not the strongest blader out there. In fact, he’s the weakest link of the team. No consistency in his blade work. But at least he can easily beat Max since aside from sitting in the middle of the ring getting pummeled until his opponent gets tired, he had no other good tactic. He’s, like Ray, is next to useless.”
She licked the melted chocolate off her fingers.
Sky chuckled. Tyson as the best? As if! His grin widened as Chelsea looked at him.
“You know,” he said slowly, “I may have a way of settling this…disagreement.”
Chelsea’s thin eyebrows shot up in curiosity. “Oh? Is that a bet you’re waging?”
Sky leaned forward and lowered his voice. “Yes. We can make a bet. Each time we watch an episode, we can count the number of wins our favorite characters achieve and count them at the end of the series. If I win, then you have to wear a Max and Draciel T-shirt to school and admit that he is the best blader of all time.”
Chelsea laughed. “Okay, but if I win, then you have to do the same with a Tyson and Dragoon T-shirt and admit that he deserves to be the Worldwide Champion of Beyblading. Deal?”
They shook each other’s hands, grinning challengingly.
“I’m glad to see that you guys are getting along.” They both spun around on the couch and saw Mrs. Joshua standing there, her coat draped over one arm and a dripping umbrella in her other hand.
Chelsea smiled sheepishly and rose slowly to her feet. “It was nice talking to you Sky,” she said in a trembling voice. “I’ll, uh, see you around.” With that, she stepped around the glowering woman and dashed towards the front door, already sliding into her raincoat.
Mrs. Joshua waited for the door to slam shut before she dropped her eyes to her son, who met her glare with one of her own.
“You know I don’t approve of you being home alone with someone unless I’m aware of it,” she said sternly.
Sky rolled his eyes. “And you know I don’t approve of you hanging out with Mrs. Kedzior—the woman that has made, and continues to make, my life a living hell since we got here.” He cleared the table and wandered into the kitchen to drop the empty serving dish in the sink. He twisted the water on and let the hot water run.
Mrs. Joshua followed after her soon, shoes scuffling along the wooden floors. “And since when do I need approval from my son to speak to whomever I please?” she questioned and watched her son move to the refrigerator and pull out a pitcher of orange juice. He reached up and ceased a glass from the cabinet above him and poured himself a glass.
“I asked you a question, Skylar. Don’t ignore me.”
Sky set the pitcher down and took a swig of the cool refreshment. “You mean the way you always ignore me when I tell you how I feel?” he argued.
Mrs. Joshua dropped her car keys on the counter and leaned closer to him. “I don’t appreciate this rebellious attitude that you’ve taken up, Skylar. The cynicism, the back talking, and leaving the house whenever you want without telling me. You don’t have to approve of the decisions that I choose to make for the both of us, but I will not be disrespected in my own home.” She narrowed her eyes menacingly at him. “Have I made myself clear?”
Sky tightened his hold on his glass. “So…now is when you want to care? Now is when you want to put your foot down and act like a mom to me? Where were you when that husband was yours was doing all of this? Why didn’t you say the same to him? I don’t recall you ever giving him an ultimatum.” He dropped his eyes to the diamond wedding ring twinkling on her left ring finger. “You even wear that stupid ring like you are proud of being the wife of a killer. Or did Mrs. Kedzior talk you into staying in the obedient wife role you play these days ?”
Mrs. Joshua clenched her teeth together. “You watch yourself and how you talk to me, Skylar. I mean it. I could have you sent to a boarding school in an instant.”
Sky snorted. “You don’t get it, do you?”
Mrs. Joshua remained silent. Sky continued. “I would welcome a chance of being away from you and that bloodhound sperm donor I once called my father. I won’t be shackled to him just because you want to be. So if you must, then go ahead and do it. But just like you, I have the right pick where I stand in this whole mess. You’re not the only one entitled to change because of circumstances.” He tightened his grip on his glass. “I’m done living this way. If you even care about me as much as you pretend to, then just send me off. It’s the least you can do for allowing him to ruin my life.”
Mrs. Joshua’s eyes flashed with fury. “Not another word. I swear to you that there will be consequences that will make prison seem like a walk in the park if you keep this up. Do not push me, Skylar. You don’t know who you are messing with.”
Sky laughed humorlessly. “I don’t know who I’m messing with?” he echoed and shook his head. “I have a better one for you.” He leaned over the counter towards his mother. “You don’t know who you’ve been sleeping with.”
Mrs. Joshua reared her hand back and swung, catching her son on the side of his face with the palm of her hand. Sky was knocked off his feet, a fiery explosion of pain throbbing on the side of his face. He crashed to the floor, the glass of juice shattering on the checkered floor. His eyes were swimming, his ear ringing painfully. Though his lips were moving and his body broke into a jag of quivers, no sound came from his mouth. Mrs. Joshua towered over him, eyes wide in horror and disbelief. She reached for him, but his flinched away from her grasp.
“Sky?” she called out and moved towards him. Her voice sounded faint and far away as if she were calling him from another world.
He could taste the coppery metallic taste of blood in his mouth and winced.
She just…hit me? His vision came back into focus and he could make out the distress on his mother’s face. She dropped to her knees and pulled him into a fierce hug, stroking his shaggy mane of blond hair. She was sobbing loudly and sputtering out an endless stream of apologies. “I’m so sorry,” she choked out and planted a sloppy kiss on his forehead. “I didn’t mean to do that. I—I don’t know what came over me.”
But Sky was stunned into silence and frozen in his mother’s arms.
Mrs. Joshua rocked them back and forth and kept her face buried in his hair. The pain was dying down, but the blood in his mouth drizzled down the corners of his gaping mouth. I’m bleeding, he mused and felt his anger flare inside of him. She hates me that much? What does she see when she looks at me? With a cry of anguish, he pushed himself away from his weeping mother and sprinted towards the door. He grabbed his coat and slipped his shoes back on before pulling the door open and flinging himself into the torrential rainstorm. He could hear his mother’s quick footsteps behind him. He ran into the night and disregarded his mother’s frantic cries for him to return.
His breathing was heavy, his mind spinning from so much disoriented thoughts shuffling inside his skull. His bitter tears were falling from his eyes and mixing with cold rainwater, but he just ran as far away as he possibly could. Away from the home where he no longer felt welcomed, away from the town that wished him nothing but the worst. And even farther away from the one person he thought he could trust in all of this. A vociferous clap of thunder boomed above his head, but he pushed himself to keep going. Past the houses of neighbors who watched his every move and beyond the accusatory fingers and jeering whispers.
And he would never come back.
A flash of green lightning flashed across the sky and Sky halted in an abrupt stop, bewilderment written on his features.
Green lightning? He shook the thought out of his mind and continued until the last of the town had fallen away from around him and he burst into thick foliage of green trees. His body was shaking violently as he slowed to an end, crashing down to his knees in the spongy dirt beneath him. He leaned over, panting heavily, and finally allowed himself to cry.
“Why?” he wailed loudly. A choked sob escaped his throat.
His lungs were burning for air, his legs aching for the long gallop through the sleeping town. He refused to go back. What was waiting for him there? His family was lost, his friends long since turned into enemies. He felt alone and misunderstood. He was afraid of what the future would hold for him. What if someone is finally so fed up with me that they decide to kill me themselves? A layer of goose bumps broke out on his wet skin. He leaned back against the rough bark of a tree and brought his knees into his chest, chin resting on top. He dragged his soaked coat sleeve over his watering eyes.
Worse, what if the whole until town gain up on me and decided to do away with me once and for all? He had no one on his side anymore. Would anyone even miss him then? He already felt unimportant to those around him. If he really were to die, would anybody even bother to should up at his funeral? Or would they leave his mutilated corpse to rot in an abandoned alley to be devoured by maggots and larva? He broke into a jag of hiccupping sobs. He wished he was never born as a Joshua. He wished with all his might that he could just go back and stop all this from happening.
Was he cursed? Would things always be this way?
After several moments, Sky collected himself and stood up on wobbly legs. He was hungry again and could feel the fatigue setting into his body. With a glum sigh, he trudged through the maze of trees, shrubs, and an occasional wildlife animal. Where am I? He wondered and shivered. He looked up and smiled faintly at the crescent moon glowing dimly against the black night sky. He shoved his hands into his pockets and bent his head low. I should just lay low and stay out here for a bit. He found a dry patch behind a thorny cluster of bushes and, with some effort, managed to curl into himself on the hard ground like a ball and at last let his eye flutter shut.