The Hurting Game

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Chapter 42

A month later, Nicolas and Iziah were on a bus to Seattle. It was a clear day, and beams of sunlight fell over Nicolas, warming his body but failing to rid him of his anxious shivers. He watched the crowded streets pass by, trying to calm his nerves. Tall buildings loomed all around, and, on occasion, he glimpsed the Space Needle. It was a Monday morning, and they were caught in traffic. Nicolas ran a hand through his hair.

The month had been a hassle. They were kept in the city with several agents watching over them. Testifying in court hadn’t been a problem for Nicolas, but Iziah had been nervous. It might have been because he didn’t want to see the Crimson Serpents again, or maybe he just didn’t want to be reminded of all that had transpired. Both of them were glad when the men from the Crimson Serpents were declared guilty. Now they’d escaped the red tape of the Witness Protection Program.

Nicolas looked over at Iziah. The boy sat next to him, his crutches leaning against the seat in front of them. His leg was healing well. After the incident, the doctors kept him in the hospital for several days. They’d also removed the cast from his wrist and fingers.

Iziah was trying to see out all the windows at once, his eyes flitting about, occasionally twisting around to see out the back. He’d never visited Seattle before, and his eyes glistened with excitement. The color had returned to his face, but something else was different too. The broken, haunted look had faded from his eyes.

While they were cooped up in the apartment with agents hovering about, Nicolas convinced Iziah to see a therapist. Iziah had been hesitant – and a bit indignant – insisting that he didn’t need one. But finally, Nicolas won the argument. Iziah had been seeing a therapist every week, and, though it would take time for him to recover, he thought he saw a difference in the boy’s attitude. As Iziah looked around, his gaze met Nicolas’ for a moment. He smiled, then went back to looking out the window.

Nicolas smirked, taking a long breath. It was good to see Iziah looking so content, even if Nicolas was scared as hell.

A week after the incident, Nicolas had received an unexpected call from Martha. She’d read about what happened in the paper. He’d been stunned by the amount of concern in her voice. After talking for thirty minutes, they agreed to meet, and then Iziah spoke with her for another half-hour. Nicolas had considered going alone so he could talk to Martha in private, but he knew how excited Iziah was to see her.

Nicolas rubbed his hand against the back of his neck. The fact that she wanted to meet meant one of two things. Either she wanted a divorce or she wanted to initiate some form of reconciliation. The latter seemed unlikely. How could she trust him again when he’d failed to save their family? When he had been so helpless?

Nicolas didn’t know how would go, but they planned to search for a new apartment while they were in town.

The bus pulled up at a station a block away from the Space Needle. The pavement was full of bustling people moving in large groups, laughing and talking. The sun hid behind a skyscraper, casting a shadow over them. People inside the bus began to stand. Nicolas stood and stretched. He reached over to help Iziah to his feet, but the boy had already situated his crutches under his arms and was swinging himself toward the front of the bus.

Nicolas chuckled, following. “Hey, kid, wait up!”

Iziah looked back at Nicolas and grinned. “Don’t be such an old man!”

Nicolas shook his head, waiting for an old couple in front of him. Iziah paused outside the bus, looking around. Nicolas joined him.

There was no sign of Martha, but she might have been hidden in the crowds. It felt like an eternity since he last saw her. Nicolas led the way to a nearby bench and sat down. Iziah shifted back and forth restlessly. Nicolas didn’t like having the boy out in crowds, but he supposed they would have to get back to living normal lives sooner or later. They couldn’t hide from the world forever.

“You gonna sit down?” Nicolas asked.

“Nah. I’ve been sitting for an hour already.”

Nicolas chuckled.

For once, Iziah didn’t look tired. He still suffered from nightmares, and they had maintained their nightly routine of television watching. Nicolas didn’t sleep well because he was always listening for the tell-tale whimpers. But Iziah’s demeanor had changed over the course of the month. Instead of slinking around with anxiety carved into his face, he walked with more of a swagger now, holding his head up. A certain amount of confidence had returned – perhaps a bit more grounded than before. They planned to enroll him in High School as soon as the next semester began, and while Iziah was embarrassed to be the oldest kid in the classes, he seemed to be looking forward to it.

Iziah looked to the side and grinned, “Mrs. Pierce?” before hurriedly limping forward.

Nicolas turned, his stomach twisting.

Martha looked the same as he remembered. She was a tall, slender woman with fair hair and a delicate face. Her eyes reflected a deep intelligence that simultaneously intimidated and fascinated Nicolas. By this time, Iziah was enveloped in her arms. He was taller than her, but his head was tipped down, leaning against her shoulder.

Nicolas stood quietly and started in their direction. Martha wore a matching dark blue skirt and jacket, complete with heels – her usual business-woman getup. He loved it even now.

Her eyes were squeezed shut as she lifted one hand and stroked it Iziah’s hair. “Oh, honey, I missed you so much.”

“I missed you too,” he whispered, holding tight to her.

Nicolas’ heart twisted. He wished Micah was here. He wished they had been able to adopt Iziah before he was moved to the Davis household, before everything went so wrong. But maybe now they could rebuild and give each other what they had lost.


He stopped a few feet away, unsure of how she would react to him. After all, this was the first time they had seen each other since she left. He felt like he was choking.

After a long moment, Martha opened her misty eyes and looked at Nicolas. He stared back at her without speaking. A faint smile bloomed across her face. Keeping one arm around Iziah, she opened her arm to Nicolas and said, “Get in here.”

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