“So are you happy now? Finally happy now, are you? Well, I’m exactly the same. I think I’ve lost everything”
Kevin doesn’t look at Riley when she asked the question. He was speechless. Not because she thought she was right, but because he didn’t know it was so wrong to hang out with her and her friends. Earlier, she said that they weren’t criminals, but now Kevin was starting to think otherwise. “You do, right?”, interrupted his thoughts. She was still looking at him, waiting for his answer.
“No. I don’t want anything from you.”, he defends himself. She nods, turning around to leave. As Riley walks away, Kevin suddenly has this urge to keep following her. Like she’s somehow pulling him to accompany her. And he does. He lets the invisible rope pull him. Without scanning behind her, Riley senses his presence there.
“Then, why do you keep following me?”, out of the blue, she asked, not looking at him, continuing to walk forward. As he continues to follow her, Riley starts to feel insecure and extremely uncomfortable. She puts her hands in her pockets and her hoodie up, hoping that in some way, it makes her invisible and Kevin won’t follow her anymore. Of course, that’s not what happened.
Kevin tried to think of a reason he was following her. To be honest, he didn’t know why either, but he knew he just had to. “Because I want to pay you back.”, were the first words that came to Kevin’s mind. Maybe he did want to pay them back for what they did. Perhaps he didn’t just want to be their new friend. Possibly he just wanted to thank them in a special way rather than the typical thank you.
Riley starts to look down at the ground as she walks, still covering herself up. Without stopping, she questions, “Do you?” Riley might have been thinking this to say to herself, given that she has no trust for the boy behind her. However, the question managed to slip from her lips, loud enough that Kevin heard.
Growing up, Riley self-taught herself that actions always spoke louder than words. She learned to show her emotions rather than saying them because showing, it makes them real and true. With that in mind, she prepared a test in her head, keeping it silent from Kevin. If he chose to follow her, he is being true to his word, meaning he could be different from others in Lylac. If he chose to run away, he lied, meaning the Witches Club can be in danger, and Chris would have been right all along.
With the test in mind, Riley starts to take a path that is in no way a direction to her actual destination: her house. Riley turns to walk behind a nearby building. As expected, Kevin, without hesitation, keeps following her. As she still senses him behind her, her confidence starts to grow, as well as her trust. She walks a bit more, still remembering that she had to get home soon.
After walking for around 15 minutes or so, Riley stopped walking, turning around to see Kevin still there. “Are you just going to follow me until you get what you want?”
He sheepishly nods. “Fine. I’ll let you pay us back.”, Kevin looks up at her. She suddenly grabs him by his wrist, walking the opposite direction from where they were previously walking. Kevin’s cheeks started to grow hot from the contact. He wasn’t a fan of social contact, despite being an extrovert. Somehow, he was a bit flustered.
“Um, where are you heading to?”, he noticed that she was dragging him somewhere and began to wonder.
“My house.”, indifferently she responded.
Riley shrugs, her lip pouting a bit. “You’ll see.”
At this point, Riley’s house is not far ahead, and she knows she’s not going to be able to get rid of him. She lets go of his wrist, even stopping before continuing to walk to her house. She turns around to face him. Kevin can tell that she has something important to say by the look she’s giving him. He makes sure to pay attention to what she is about to say. “Kevin, when we get to my house, I want you to stay outside and make sure you hide.”, she warns him. Kevin nods to her, showing her that she understands. It took a bit for her to trust him that he listened to her. Riley continued to walk, and Kevin continued to follow.
As Riley and Kevin approach her neighborhood, in silence, Kevin couldn’t help but wonder what Riley’s life would like; how she survived, and all that. They came across a poverty society. Every house in the neighborhood had cracked windows, cracks on the walls, or it was losing its original color. To other folks, this place would’ve looked abandoned. At this time of the evening, some peoples were seen drunk outside in the narrow streets, or people were having dinner in their apartments.
Of course, this was the neighborhood that Riley was very familiar with, not only did she live here, but her friends Nathan, Pepper, and Lincoln, also lived in this same neighborhood a little outside of Lylac. Lincoln and Nathan’s incomes were very low and recently Pepper had lost her house, forcing her and her dad to move here. But this only made Riley happy, now that her friends are closer.
As they walked, Kevin looked around. He wasn’t admiring the buildings but was dismayed. He had just entered a very different world than he was used to and he didn’t know what to say or think. Finally, Riley stops at one of the buildings in the middle of the neighborhood. It was an apartment building, a very old one. Riley looked around trying to find a place for Kevin to hide. She notices a dumpster across the street next to another apartment building.
“Hide behind that dumpster.”, she points. At first, Kevin was displeased with what she was pointing at but he trusted her.
“I′ll be back, okay?”, he nodded, obeying her instructions, and waiting for her as she went inside her house.
Kevin patiently waits for her, occasionally peaking at her front door to see if it would open. After minutes passed, suddenly, Riley busts out the door, running. She runs to Kevin’s direction, grabbing him by his shirt, not stopping. Kevin runs at her pace, but he couldn’t help but look back as Riley pulled him. Her dad came out holding his crotch area painfully.
“Come back here!”, Kevin managed to hear him yell. Riley showed no signs of stopping.
She was scared. This was the first time her dad had acted like this. Her dad had always mostly had a bad temper, especially when it came to Riley and her friends since they were all mostly boys, but her mom was always there to calm him. It always worked. But the night her mom passed, and Riley returned home, she found her dad unconscious.
Since then, she’s been trying to help him, but it never worked. Not even with all the times Chris had wished his luck on her. He lived because he couldn’t die. Now, he did this. Riley wasn’t just scared for herself, but for Kevin, now that he had seen him with her. Kevin was still confused about what just happened.
“Riley, what′s going on?”, he yelled, trying to get her attention.
“Just, don’t stop”, Riley lets go of his shirt but kept running. Kevin followed her at her pace. They left the town running as fast as two criminals being chased by the cops. Finally, after what seemed like hours, Riley’s legs gave up. Kevin didn’t know where they ended up, but they were in town, an abandoned part of town where businesses never succeeded. Kevin was panting hard, but not as hard as Riley.
“Who was that?”, he panted. “Was that... your dad?”
Riley nodded. She bent over, pressing on her stomach, still catching her breath. When she is finally able to take in a gulp of air, she looked up, walking to an abandoned wreck of a building, but one can tell it was once a barbershop. Riley carefully places her hand on her cheek but hisses in pain at the touch. Kevin hears her.
The moonlight and darkness of the night don’t allow Kevin to see the red mark that was caused by her father, develop on her cheek. Not to mention, he was still catching his breath since he was not one to work out. But he still heard her pain. “Are you okay?”, he asked concerned, still puffing for air.
“Y-Yes... I′m fine.”
“Are- are you sure?”, Kevin was not convinced.
“Yes.”, Riley looked at the old barbershop for a while. She daydreamed through nostalgia. Memories that were once created here, both good and bad. After a few minutes of admiration, she decided it was time to leave. She turned to looks at Kevin.
Kevin and Riley walk to Chris’s house. The house itself was a normal two-story house. It was perfect for Chris’s family. Kevin looked at the nice house in front of him. It reminded him of his own, only his house had more space, considering it had to hold three kids and two adults. Riley instead went to the side of the house, not the front door like Kevin thought she would.
There were pebbles on the ground. She picked one up with her fingers and threw it at a window upstairs. It made a light tap sound on the glass. After that, she went to the front door and waited. Shortly, the door opened to reveal Chris in his striped pajamas.
He let them both in and told them to quietly head to his room because his parents were asleep. As they walked up the stairs, Kevin looked at the pictures hung on the wall. There were pictures of Chris, his parents, and a little boy that he’s never seen before. There was a family portrait that caught his eye. Chris was wrapping his arm around the little boy’s small body.
Chris looked so happy in the photo, very different from the Chris Kevin met and knew right now. He wanted to ask Riley who the boy was but instead, he decided not to. He knew he must have caused a lot of struggle for Riley and her friends and he didn’t want to add more to their shoulders. When they entered Chris’s room, Johnny was the only one there in the room illuminated by the moonlight.
“Johnny, what are you doing here?”, Riley asked once she saw him.
“Chris called me.”, Johnny noticed that Kevin was there, so he tried to be careful with his words. “He called all of us, actually.”
“Is everyone else coming?”
Johnny took a while before he replied. “I don’t know. My mom is still at work so I asked my sister if I could come.”
Kevin felt that he was already slowly starting to understand them a bit more. Based on Johnny’s personality that Kevin created by his words, Johnny was obedient, and Kevin guessed the rest of Riley’s friends were too.
“Riley, so why are you here?”, Chris entered the conversation.
Instead of answering Chris’s question, Riley decided to introduce Kevin to Johnny and Chris, since she could see that Johnny was only staring at him, confused.
“Johnny. Chris. This is Kevin Grant. Kevin, this is Chris, our leader and this is Johnny, our photographer.”, she introduced.
It got a bit awkward for Kevin when he was introduced to Johnny. He didn’t know if he should do a handshake because of the last time that happened with Riley, so Kevin just nodded a greeting. Johnny returned it, so Kevin guessed that was the right thing to do. You could say he was a bit proud of himself.
“How do you do?”, Johnny asked, making sure to use his manners that he was taught at youth.
“Fine, thank you.”, Kevin gave him a small smile that Johnny also returned.
“So why are you both here?”, Chris asked, breaking the short silence that followed the introduction.
“He says he wants to pay us back after saving him.”, Riley explains. Johnny and Chris’s eyes widen when they hear that.
In disbelief, Chris asks, “Are you serious?”
“I do, mister-”
“Don’t address me formally. Call me by my name.”, Chris interrupted Kevin as he started speaking. Kevin nods, shutting up.
“Right,” Johnny faces Kevin “you never thanked us.”
At that moment, a pebble was heard, making them all turn their attention to the window. Chris left his room to go open the front door. Soon, Anthony entered with Chris following him. As soon as Anthony enters, Chris closes the door quietly, so he won’t disturb his parents.
“Hey, guys.”, were the first words Anthony said when he entered. His eyes looked worried but physically he seems to be calm. Then, he saw Kevin. “What did I miss and why is the kid here?”, he asked.
“He says he wants to pay us back after saving him.” When Johnny tells him this, Anthony has the same reaction as Johnny and Chris had earlier.
“Really?”, he looked at Kevin then at Johnny, his eyes still wide in incredulity. Johnny nods.
The only thing this kid must do is to not say anything about us. That’s the only thing we want from him. Is there anything that he wants from us? Anthony thought.
While they were talking, Chris decided to turn on the lamp in his room. When he did, the room became brighter. The moonlight that entered through the uncovered window also helped in illuminating the whole room. Unfortunately, now everyone could see that Riley had an injured cheek.
“Holy shit. What happened to your cheek?”, Anthony pointed out. Riley’s eyes widened. She tried to cover her cheek with her hand, but the contact made her hiss in pain and she quickly removed her hand from her cheek. Everyone else in the room was also shocked, but it was too late. Riley couldn’t hide it anymore. As an instinct, Kevin reached out to touch the mark, but Riley slapped his hand away as it got closer to her.
“Nothing. I’m fine.”, were the only words that seemed to come out of her mouth. She tried hiding her cheek with her long hair, even looking down, not making eye contact with any of them. But Chris doesn’t buy it.
“Anthony, you are spending the night at her house. Kevin, we will continue this discussion tomorrow. Good night.”, Chris says.
Riley and Anthony walked back to her house. They have no supplies with them other than Anthony’s medical backpack.
“I still can’t believe he made you stay here. I can take care of myself, you know.”, Riley whines.
“Stop acting like that and appreciate the fact that he cares about you.” when he said that, Riley shuts up and she scolded herself while thinking of what Anthony said. She muttered a small I’m sorry. Anthony sighed.
The rest of the walk is silent. Anthony glances at Riley occasionally. He sees that there is guilt wiped on her face. Once her apartment building can be seen, Anthony decided to change the topic and cheer her up. “You have a friend tonight.”, he looks at her. “Isn’t that great?”
She smiles. “Fine. You see that window?”, she points to a window on the third floor. Anthony nodded. “That’s my bedroom window. I don’t want my dad to know that you’re here...”, she started to get quiet while saying the last sentence.
“Right, he always hated me.”, he said as they entered the building.
“He hated everyone.”, Riley whispers, probably trying not to wake anyone up.
As they walked up the flight of stairs, Anthony saw how the building was treated. The floors were dirty, meaning they wouldn’t clean this place, some leaks on the roof, the lights flickered occasionally, and the smell of the building wasn’t pleasant. The truth is, it smelt like sweat and piss. It made Anthony vomit a bit. Riley, however, was used to the smell. Once they arrived at Riley’s apartment, she tells him to stay outside so she could check if her dad was awake.
As he waited, his mind started wondering. He started to think about Riley when she entered the house. It was obvious what happened to her today and it was clear who hurt her. That’s what worried Anthony, whether the second she stepped inside the apartment, she would be struck. His train of thought is cut when the door opened.
“Coast is clear. Come in.”, she invites him.
They both tiptoed to her room, trying to be as quiet as possible. Riley locks the door the second they both entered her room. Anthony noticed how different Riley’s room was from the building. It was clean. He takes off his backpack, placing it on the floor.
Anthony looked around the room he’s never been to before. He notices that it’s not very big, but it was perfect for her. She had a lamp on the floor at the foot of the bed, a closet right next to the door, and a dresser next to the bed. The only light source was the light coming from the moon.
He watched as Riley went to her closet. It was quite empty. She probably only had two shirts, a coat, three pairs of pants, and a nightgown, which is what she grabbed.
“I’m going to change in the bathroom, alright?”, Anthony nodded. Riley starts to head towards her bedroom door.
“Anthony, don’t unlock the door, okay?”, she directed, turning around to face him. She was solemn. Anthony nodded. He notices that when she opened the door, she immediately locked it and exited.
Anthony didn’t know what to do once she was gone. Instead, he decided to grab a pillow from her bed and put it on the green plastic chair with a pink, dirty rug on it that Riley had in her room. This was technically his first unplanned sleepover, so he didn’t have anything. He didn’t care though. He didn’t want to go home to get his stuff anyways before he came here.
However, he made a mental note to wake up early so his mom wouldn’t find out he had snuck out. Luckily, Anthony had always been a natural alarm clock. If he tells himself he must wake up early, that’s what he does the following morning. It was a weird technique but it benefited him a lot, thus most of the time, he was glad to have this technique. Riley entered, scaring Anthony, for he thought it was her dad. He let out a breath of relief when he saw it was her.
She held her dirty clothes with her left arm, and if he looked at her right hand, there was a key in it, which explained how she got in.“Don’t be afraid. It’s only me.”, she states when she notices how startled he was when she unexpectedly entered the room. Riley sees that he had put one of her pillows on the chair.
“You’re sleeping on the chair?”, she asked with her eyebrows furrowed.
“Yes. Where else would I sleep?”, Riley knew him well enough to know that he could sometimes be stubborn and not ask for what he wants. Someone else had to do that.
“Wouldn’t you feel more comfortable if you slept on the bed?”, she asked.
Anthony looked over at the bed. He also knew how well she knew him, and he would sleep better on the bed than the uncomfortable chair. Perhaps he was used to being spoiled. But he also didn’t want to invade her space. Nonetheless, he nods and Riley smiles.
“It’s okay. The bed should be big enough to hold two people.”
Anthony states a quiet ‘okay’ when Riley tells him that. Then, Riley gets the pillow from the chair, taking it to the bed. They both get under the thin blankets. Once they were warm under the sheets, the lights turn on at the apartment in front of Riley’s. Riley sits up and looked out the window to her neighbors.
The shadow of a little girl and her parents can be seen. The girl’s parents are hugging her. Seeing this causes something in Riley. It could’ve been jealousy or envy. Either way, it makes tears form in her eyes. Anthony noticed something was wrong when she wouldn’t lie down again.
“Hey, are you okay?”, Anthony sat up when he noticed that she was just staring out the window. He places a hand on her shoulder, knowing that there was something wrong. He tries to comfort her for that reason. He also sees the loving family across the street.
“Yeah, it’s just... it’s nice that she has someone who loves her.”, Riley feels some tears fall down her eyes.“I envy her.”, she whispered.
Anthony moves closer to her and back hugs her when she says that. He holds her tightly. Riley lets him hug her, placing a hand on his arm that is over her chest.
“I love you, Riley.“, he whispers.
“I love you too, Anthony.”, she returns. After a few minutes of silence with Anthony holding her and slightly rocking her side to side, Riley breaks it.
“Anthony, can you sleep without a pillow?”, she asked. Anthony looked at her, bewildered.
“Why?”, he asked, still hugging her but not rocking her anymore.
“I sort of have to sleep with a pillow between my legs.”, she explained.
At this point, the family from across the street had already gone to sleep, therefore Riley had nothing to look at to feel sad and pity herself anymore. Anthony pulls away from the embrace. He hands her the pillow and she smiles, thanking him. It was a bit uncomfortable to sleep without a pillow, of course, but he didn’t care if his childhood friend was satisfied and pleased.
“Good night, Riley.”their backs were facing each other, tucked in the warm sheets.
“Good night.”, she replied before closing her eyes. Anthony his closed eyes too, unknowingly scooting closer to Riley’s back, so he could have a share of the pillow supporting her head.
Mike wakes up startled and panting, some sweat can be seen dripping down his forehead. On the other side of the door, his parents are heard arguing in the living room. Mike grabs a pillow and heads towards his older brother, Jonathan’s, room. His parents don’t notice him when he exits the room. That made Mike thankful.
When Mike enters the room, he sees Jonathan reading a book in bed with a flashlight in his hand. He looks up from his book, seeing Mike standing in the doorway. He already knows why Mike is there. This wasn’t the first time.
“Come on.”, Jonathan invites him over.
Jonathan scoots over to make room for Mike. Mike smiles and goes to lay in bed next to him. Jonathan wraps his arm around his little brother, pulling him towards his chest. Once they both have gotten comfortable, Jonathan starts to read his book again, this time out loud for Mike to listen. Their parents arguing was like clockwork.
They both have gotten used to it. While others would grow tired of the bickering, hate it, or it would even hurt them, for Jonathan and Mike, it brought them closer. To be honest, they don’t even remember when it started but they didn’t care because it created their bond to what it is today. Their parents didn’t just fight. Sometimes, one of them was absent, and the other times, they wouldn’t look at or talk to each other.
Either way, every night their parents argued, Mike would always come to his brother’s room. Since they couldn’t sleep with the quarreling going on in the living room, Jonathan always had something ready for Mike. Like a book. And Mike always liked it when his brother read to him.
Jonathan started getting drowsy, therefore it began to become difficult for him to keep reading. Mike started to see how his brother would trip on his words as he read, so he told Jonathan to rest. Jonathan, on the other hand, didn’t want to sleep with Mike still awake.
“What are they fighting about?”, Mike asked as his older brother started to put the book and flashlight away. Yawning, Jonathan answered.
“I don’t know.”, his yawn was contagious, making Mike yawn too. Suddenly, the arguing stopped, the slam of a door ending it. Seconds later, another slam was heard. This made Mike grow curious.
“I’ll be right back.”, he advised his brother.
“I’ll go with you”
They exit the room to their parents’ room. The door is closed and all they could hear was their mother’s cries. They inaudibly look around their small house, but they don’t find their dad. Mike decides to check outside. Surely, there he was, putting a briefcase and a piece of luggage into his car. Mike decides to run to his father on that chilly night. As he ran out, the coldness of the night didn’t affect him.
“Dad, where are you going?”, Mike asked concerned as the man put his suitcase into the trunk of the car. The sound of Mike’s voice causes him to freeze for a second. Nevertheless, he shoots Mike a small smile.
“Don’t worry. I’m just going to work. They called, saying they need me.”
Mike could see that his dad was lying. He wasn’t new to detecting lies and when one is lying. Now he knew, his dad was not happy here. That was the only truth that Mike never saw. If his dad wasn’t happy there, the best thing to do was to let him go, even though it was hard.
Mike goes to hug him his dad, which is something he did not normally do. His dad hugs him back tightly. Jonathan, standing on the doorway the whole time, starts to walk towards their grasp. His dad sees him after pulling away from Mike’s hug. Mr. Taylor walks over to hug Jonathan.
“Take care of your mom and brother for me, will you?”, Mr. Taylor whispers into Jonathan’s ear as they hugged. Jonathan frantically nods, some tears threatening to come out of his eyes.
After the hug, Mr. Taylor gave them both a warm smile before getting into his car and driving off. The two boys were left crying on the front lawn.
“He’s not coming back, is he?”, Mike sniffles as he watches his dad’s car disappear.
“No. Never again.”