The Hurting Game

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Chapter 22

It was a long walk to Shawn’s house, and Iziah immediately realized he’d made a mistake. If Nick kept his promise and returned in an hour, there was no way Iziah could get back before him. He took a long breath as he walked down the familiar sidewalk, tipping his head back. That shouldn’t matter. He could do what he wanted. No matter what they had done, they couldn’t take that from him.

His surroundings were inky black, lit only by a thin sliver of a moon. Iziah wished he had a heavier coat. The icy breeze cut through his sweater and chilled him to the bone. Even with the hood pulled up, his ears were freezing. His knife and wallet weighed down his pocket. He had hardly any money, but it would be handy in case he wanted to call a cab. Besides the sound of distant traffic, the neighborhood was silent. Shivers traveled down Iziah’s spine as he cast a glance over his shoulder. It was stupid, being scared at the apartment and leaving just to be scared here. Was there anything he wasn’t scared of at the moment?

Curses rose to his lips, and he swallowed. He would feel better once he’d kicked the crap out of Shawn. Whether or not he was responsible for what happened, Iziah needed to vent the rage boiling inside him like a volcano ready to blow. He was shaking. Hatred swelled inside him, directed more toward himself than anyone else.

Voices screamed inside his head. Weak! Coward!

If only he’d been able to reach his knife that night. If only he’d stabbed one of them and made a run for it. Why couldn’t he just let it go?

This remembrance was everywhere he looked, inescapable. It was a predator, hunting him down wherever he went, raking its claws across his body and exposing his weakness. Every shadow harbored something dangerous and cruel. He just wanted to get past this stupid, pathetic fear.

The houses on either side of the road were neat and tidy, with gardens wrapped around the foundation and pleasant scenes showing through the windows. In most houses, the lights were still on. Through one window, he saw a family eating supper. They laughed and talked with one another as they shared a meal in warmth and safety. A little boy there talked frantically with a wild grin on his face, and the man who must have been his father reached over and patted his head. A little girl sat in a high chair with food dribbling down her face, a woman attempting to feed her. Iziah realized that he had stopped, mesmerized by the scene.

Strange... Was that what a family was supposed to look like? The only memories he had of his biological parents were a confused jumble of hunger and loneliness and fear.

Iziah shook himself and moved on, stuffing his hands into his pockets. Many people made do with less. He couldn’t give in to self pity now.

Finally, he reached the Davis household. The lights were on in the house, but it was Friday, so Mr. and Mrs. Davis would be out bar-hopping. Their lawn needed mowing, and a new car sat in the driveway. Iziah felt the urge to rake his knife along the side, but he knew that was just his anger talking. There was no guarantee that Shawn would be here. More than likely, he was out with the Crimson Serpents. But Iziah remembered smelling pot smoke through his bedroom window, coming from the back yard, and he knew there was a chance.

Iziah walked across the lawn, heading for the fence that separated the front yard from the back. The grass was damp, soaking his sneakers and wetting his socks. A smirk spread across his face at the stupidity of the situation. Was he really doing this? Had he really left his safe haven to trespass and risk getting arrested?

No turning back now. The walk left him half exhausted, and he wasn’t going to waste all that effort.

It had been silly and impulsive to come here, but he needed a way to shake his fist at the situation. To scream into the void: I am still in control!

You can’t break me, damn it!

Iziah opened the gate and slipped through, a wave of satisfaction washing through him as a familiar smell met his nostrils. Shawn was here. What a lonely, deluded bastard. Iziah slunk around the house until the back porch came into view. The back yard was barren and overgrown with blackberry briers crawling up the fence. Shawn sat on the steps of the porch, the light behind him casting shadows over his face as he smoked. A nasty haze floated around him. He looked like he’d lost even more weight.

Though Shawn had been treated better than Iziah, he still remembered Shawn’s parents making snide remarks about his size, talking to him like he was stupid. Iziah pushed the thought back, remembering all the times Shawn pushed him around and got him in trouble. He couldn’t leave any room for remorse. Not after all that happened.

Iziah clenched his fists, rage pulsing through him. He didn’t attempt to disguise his approach as he started toward Shawn.

Shawn must have glimpsed him out of the corner of his eye, because he turned. He looked dazed, his eyes at half-mast, but after a few seconds, a look of confusion spread across his face. He dropped what he’d been smoking and scrambled upright, stammering, “W—what are you doing here?”

Iziah took a swing at him the moment he was within reach. “You damn bastard!”

Shawn ducked. His nose looked a little bent after the last blow he’d taken. The boy dove past him, bolting across the yard. “What the hell?” he shouted, eyes wide and confused. “What are you doing?”

“You asshole!” Iziah seethed, chasing him. “I’ll kill you! Did you tell them? Huh? Did you tell them?”

“What are you talking about?”

If not for Iziah’s fury, he would have acknowledged the comic nature of the situation. They were running in circles through the yard, Shawn desperately trying to out-maneuver him and Iziah just a step behind.

“You told them, didn’t you? You told them how to find me! It’s all your fault! You bastard!” Hot rage pulsed through Iziah as he swung at Shawn.

“Stop! Leave me alone!”

Iziah roared, “If you were going to send them after me, why didn’t you let me fight someone else? Why didn’t you let me get destroyed all over again?” He didn’t care if he woke up the neighborhood. Let them come. “Do you think this is a game? This is my life! If I get my hands on you...”

Shawn finally whipped around, swiveling from side to side, ready to dive. Iziah skidded to a halt, watching his movements, every muscle in his body tensed. His face was red and contorted. “You told them, didn’t you! When they came back with the story about me killing their buddy, you told them who I was!”

“I didn’t know!” Shawn shouted, looking confused and desperate and a little high. “I didn’t know what they’d do, you stupid asshole!”

“This is your fault! I’m gonna kill you!”

Iziah lunged forward again before Shawn could react, knocking him to the ground. Teeth gritted, unable to think, Iziah pounded on him with his fists. Shawn yelped, thrashing, and shoved Iziah off. Iziah turned to leap on him again, grass soaking the knees of his jeans, but Shawn’s foot flashed forward, kicking him in the ribs. Iziah doubled over as pain shot through his broken ribs, groaning through his teeth and curling over on himself. Sweat streamed down his face.

Shawn scrambled into a sitting position and demanded, “What the hell?”

Iziah couldn’t speak. He could hardly breathe. Tears of pain and anger filled his eyes, but he forced them back, telling himself he would never cry in front of Shawn. “Go...ahead,” he choked. “Kick me...while I’m down... See if I care...”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

Iziah wanted to leap on him and wipe that stupid scowl off his face, but he was immobilized by the agony in his rib-cage.

“It was an accident, okay? I didn’t think they’d do anything that extreme, you idiot!” Shawn took a long breath, trying to slow his breathing, not meeting Iziah’s gaze. “You didn’t have to treat me so badly during the fight. I was trying to help.”

“I don’t need your help!” Iziah hissed. “You’ve done enough as it is.”

Shawn huffed. “You’re lucky I don’t call the Crimson Serpents and tell them you’re here. Hell, I could beat the crap out of you myself if I wanted to. But I haven’t.”

Iziah scowled.

“You’re the psychopath that killed someone. If you hadn’t done that, you wouldn’t be in this mess.”

“I didn’t mean to! He was strangling me! I had to do something. Besides, they wouldn’t have found me if you hadn’t give them a name.” Iziah finally managed to straighten himself, pale and shaking, clutching at his chest. “What on earth did I do to make you hate me so much? Huh?”

A sneer spread across Shawn’s face. “Maybe if you didn’t act like such a smug jerk.”

“I’m serious! When I came here, I hadn’t done anything to you, and you treated me like dirt! Why?” Iziah cursed himself for delving into past conflicts, but it was all he could do to conceal how hurt he felt.

“I don’t know! What difference does it make?”

Iziah sighed, glaring at the lawn. It made a difference because he didn’t believe Shawn was sorry, and he didn’t trust his attempt to “help” him. Why should he? There was never any kindness exchanged between them. In all truth, Shawn was right. Iziah had never deserved kindness anyway.

“Look, I’m sorry, okay? They crossed a line, but it wasn’t my fault.” Shawn spoke in a matter-of-fact tone, folding his arms. “You should leave. My parents will be back soon, and they’ll kick your ass if they find you here. You didn’t exactly leave a good taste in their mouths.”

“Likewise.” He was still furious, but he hurt too much to try to take it out on Shawn. And Shawn had obviously absolved himself of responsibility. Besides, he was right. Iziah could try to blame it on Shawn, but it was his fault. He was the murderer.

“I hate you,” Iziah snarled.

“Whatever. Just get out of here before I beat the crap out of you.”

Iziah scowled, slowly heaving himself to his feet. His legs wobbled a little, but he tried not to let Shawn see that. Shawn stood and stomped back toward the porch. Without saying a parting word, Iziah slipped back through the fence, glaring at the ground. He wanted to stay angry at Shawn, wanted to make him take the blame, but he couldn’t. This was his fault, and he was getting what he deserved.

Iziah walked down the road, trying to shut out all thought.

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