Unexpected Ties

Puzzle Pieces

Cory blinked. "... What?"

Riley frowned, looking down. "It's just for a book I'm reading for English class," she mumbled softly. But Cory wasn't too sure she was telling the truth.

He took a long look at his daughter. She looked tired, dark circles under her eyes. She had a distracted look in her eyes, like she was thinking of a million things at once. He was worried about her.

Someone she knows is... Oh, God, no. Maybe it is just for a book... Cory tried to convince himself. He didn't do a very good job of it. So what was he supposed to tell her?

He took a deep breath. "First, I would tell a trusted adult. Let them know who it is and who might be in danger. And then you let them handle it, so that you don't put yourself in danger as well."

"Th-thanks, Dad," Riley said softly. "That really helps."

Cory tried to smile. "It's what I'm here for."

Riley left, and Cory tried to get back to concentrating on his papers. He only had a few more left-if he were able to concentrate he probably could have finished before his planning period was over. But his mind kept wandering, his worry for Riley and her friends growing stronger by the second.

After what felt like ages, the bell rang, signalling the end of the period. He could hear the students filing out of the classrooms, their loud talking audible through the thin walls.

One by one, kids started to enter the room, making their way to the desk. As the bell rang again, Cory looked around the room. Not one person was absent... Except for one.

"Has anyone seen Mr. Friar?" he asked.

No one said a word.

After a few moments of awkward silence, the door creaked open, and Lucas walked in. "Sorry I'm late, sir," he said, sounding slightly nervous.

Cory paused for a second, examining the boy's face. Bruised and slightly swollen, it made him feel sick. A pit opened up in his stomach, his eyes moving from Lucas to his daughter, and her question echoed in his head.

...if you knew someone who could be being abused at hom,e and you knew others might be in danger, what would you do?

He brushed his thoughts to the side, ignoring the pounding of his heart. "No problem, Mr. Friar. Have a seat. May I ask what happened to-"

"No, no!" Riley sprang from her seat, her chocolate brown eyes wide. "Everything's fine, don't ask!"

Cory stepped back, eyes wide. What was he supposed to do or say to this?

Continue the class, Cory, he mentally scolded himself. Everything's okay... You can ask him about this after class. It's time to jam some learning into their heads.

Class went on as usual. Even Riley seemed back to normal, openly participating in class discussion, and not so jumpy and stressed-looking. But Cory was still more than relieved when the bell rang.

Students began to pack their things and leave, talking quietly amongst themselves. Cory stood up and stopped one of them from leaving.

"Mr. Friar?" he asked. "Can I speak to you for a moment, please?"

Lucas turned around, a slightly panicked look on his face. "Y-yes, sir," he stammered.

"I'll meet you outside, Lucas," Riley whispered softly, then grabbed her bag and left.

Once all of the students had gone, Cory beckoned Lucas to his desk. "Have a seat, Mr. Friar," he ordered, trying not to sound too harsh.

Lucas obeyed. "Mr. Matthews, is everything okay, sir?"

"I could ask you the same thing, Mr. Friar," Cory said gently. "Is everything alright at home?"

Lucas froze. "Y-yes, sir. Why do you ask?"

"No reason," Cory shrugged. Way to go, you, he thought bitterly. You're making him uncomfortable. You're doing the exact thing you set out not to do... Well you can't just not say anything else.."You know, Mr. Friar, if you ever need to talk about anything, I'm always here."

"Really?" Lucas asked.

Cory studied the boy's face. He seemed genuinely surprised. "Really. But why do you seem so surprised?"

"It's just that, with all due respect, sir, I was under the impression that you don't like me because I'm friends with your daughter."

Cory laughed awkwardly. "What gave you that idea?" he asked, knowing the answer before he even asked the question.

"Everytime I'm near Riley you chase me out of the window," Lucas pointed out.

Cory couldn't argue with that. Over the past few years Riley had been accumulating a vast array of shoes that he himself had pulled off of the boy's feet.

"I guess you're right," Cory frowned. "But I do like you, Mr. Friar. You're a good kid. I guess I'm just not ready to let my little girl grow up. You can understand that, can't you?"

"I understand, Mr. Matthews. And...-" Lucas paused for a second. "Thanks."

Cory nodded. "No problem. You may go now."

He went. And Cory couldn't help but feel like he'd done something wrong. It was as if a pit had opened in his stomach.

The puzzle pieces had already begun to click together in his head, and the conversation he'd just had put the final piece into place. And the picture it had created...

Well, needless to say, it wasn't very pretty.

To Be Continued...

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