High School Never Ends

Chapter 8: Targeted

The day they broke up, Tetsuko found herself at Tomoe’s grave just as the sun set. She kneeled on the ground, sent up a prayer to her deceased boyfriend and then set about cleaning off his headstone with delicate hands. You’re so dirty, Tomoe. Guess that means I haven’t been here a lot lately, huh? Sorry. It’s nice you see you again. The stars are out tonight, the ones you used to be able to spot even through the smog. She brushed off some leaves from the headstone pillar and ghosted her hands along Tomoe’s name. I had a fight with Bunny, the most horrible fight ever! We broke up and I don’t even know if he’s going to talk to me again. Tetsuko sighed and began to cry again, the past few weeks’ emotions tumbling down in one weak moment. She banged her fist against the cold stone, breaking her skin on the rough surface. She wiped off the specks of blood and clenched her hand against her chest.

“I don’t know what’s going on. Everything was fine, and then it wasn’t. My whole life feels like it’s falling apart! I don’t know what to do, Tomoe. I’m so lost.” Tetsuko slumped to the ground, wiping tears away with the heels of her hands. She curled up into a ball and relived her and Bunny’s horrible fight. How did this even happen?

“I wanted to know what was going on with you! Why you’d been skipping work and our dates!” He looked so betrayed, like Tetsuko had ripped his heart out.

“I could ask the same of you!” She wasn’t about to let him pin this all on her! He’d given her the same treatment as she did to him! They were both yelling now, getting all their pent up frustration out in the open with one big fight.

“What?” Bunny snapped at the brunette. Tetsuko was meeting his own glare with one of her own that was just as fierce.

“I wanted to know why you were avoiding me two weeks ago, why you turned down all my invitations to hang out. I saw you with Kriem, you lying asshole!” Just saying the words brought up all the dirty emotions and hurt feelings she’d been keeping to herself. Tetsuko quickly blinked away tears that threatened to undo her rage.

“You followed me? You’re such a hypocrite!”

“You weren’t so forthcoming with information so I went to find out myself! Turns out your just a lying son of a bitch who was too much of dick to tell his girlfriend that he was cheating on her!” Tetsuko shoved Bunny’s shoulders, wanting him to feel something of what she was feeling. Getting physical was always her outlet, even if it happened to be on her boyfriend. Bunny shoved her back, retaliating with just as much force.

“I was not cheating on you! I was getting information from about Jake Martinez! He’s the one who killed my parents!”

“Good! Glad that’s all cleared up!” The brunette threw her hands in the air sarcastically, finally knowing the truth. It didn’t make her feel any better. “But it still doesn’t justify you lying to me.”

“You’ve been lying to everyone this whole time about your kid! Well I guess that proves what everyone says about you.” Bunny spit out the words like they burned his mouth.

“What?” She snapped back at him, venom dripping from the word.

“That you’re a slut and this whore baby proves-“ Tetsuko lost it. Her hands balled up in fists and before she knew it, she’d punched Bunny in the stomach. He reflexively clutched his torso and glared up at the girl.

“You can say whatever you want about me, but leave my daughter out of it.” She growled, baring her fangs as a threat. No one insults Kaede in front of me and gets away with it, she thought to herself.

“Whatever.” Bunny stood up, catching his breath and squaring off with the brunette. “I guess we’re through then.” Tetsuko knew it was coming, but it still hurt. To break up this way was horrible, but it couldn’t be avoided and now they couldn’t take back any of their hateful words. She nodded coldly.

“I guess we can’t work this out. Whatever ‘this’ was.” She gestured in between them bitterly and turned away to straddle her bike. She was done here. Nothing was left of what the two of them had.

“Well, if you can’t trust me, I can’t trust you. We can’t base a relationship off of something like that.” Trust. It’s such a small thing, but it’s a big deal.

“Yeah, you’re right, Bunny. You’re always right. I hope you’re happy now.”

Tetsuko’s head dropped in defeat, the tears flowing freely down her cheeks and onto the concrete. She was trembling; her hands shook as she clutched at her knees. I’m so horrible, Tomoe! I didn’t trust him, so he didn’t think he should trust me! All I wanted to know was why. Why, is that too much to ask? And now he probably won’t speak to me and I feel terrible. What should I do? Tell me what to do. The sigh of the wind was the girl’s only answer.

I miss you so much. Why did you have to die? Why couldn’t you stay with me? We were going to be together forever, just you, me and Kaede. You were going to be her other father, the one she’d bug for presents instead of me. I know you said it was the best thing to give her up for adoption, but then I lost you and I’ve sort of lost the last part of you on this earth by letting her go. She’s our child. She’s so perfect. Did you know she called Bunny a fucking asshole today? She yelled it so loud I could hear it a whole street over. The girl chuckled and looked up at the sky. If you can see us, will you watch over both of us? I may not know what I’m doing, but it’s nice to have someone who’s level-headed looking out for me. Like Bunny does. Or did.

“He keeps me in line so much, like you used to when you were class rep.” Tetsuko reminisced to the empty cemetery. “You’d nag my ass and whip me into shape when I made trouble for myself. In middle school you’d always fix my bow tie when it was crooked and share you lunch when mine got destroyed in a fight. And then you’d lecture me on my manners when I ate half of your food, you’d defend Antonio and me when we got in trouble and you were all set on being Valedictorian when we were sophomores. It would’ve been so much better if you were the one who lived.” Tetsuko traced out the kanji for Tomoe’s name on the ground as she spoke, going over the surface again and again. “If you had lived, I think you’d like all my new friends. And Bunny too, even though we’re fighting right now. He’s a lot like you: stern, strict and loves following the rules. But he’s got a caring side he doesn’t let everyone see, the one that you showed everyone often. He also likes giving little kisses all the time. I’m going to miss those.” Tetsuko, lightly smacked her head against the tombstone repeatedly, tapping out the beat of her heart. “Why can’t I seem to stay in a relationship without something major happening? I just don’t understand it. I try so hard to make things right and they just fall apart.”

Then don’t try so hard.

“Huh?” Tetsuko swore she’d just heard someone speak to her. She stood up and looked around. She was alone into the graveyard. She shrugged her shoulders. “Must’ve been the wind. I guess I should be going before the caretaker or someone else kicks me out. I sorta trespassed coming to see you and don’t need to end up in court. Again. Thanks for listening. Bye, Tomoe. I’ll visit soon, ‘kay?” Tetsuko brushed her hands across his stone again, one last time before running to the fence and hopping it. The brunette decided that there was at least one person she should talk to besides Tomoe.

“Hey, ‘Tonio. There’s something I have to tell you.” She scuffed her shoes on the ground as she walked. She was surprised that her best friend took her call, he was still at work.

“What’s up, ‘Suko?”

“Bunny and I broke up.” Well, that’s the simple, non-complicated version.

“Why?” He sounded concerned over the phone, but that could’ve been because of the background noise.

“Good question.” And then she let it all spill out. Well, most of it. She didn’t tell him about the day’s emotional torture (that was private girl stuff he wouldn’t want to listen to anyway); he didn’t need to worry about her. She was going to bounce back from this in no time. Maybe. Probably not.

“That sounded like quite the break-up. And you really punched him?”

“Yeah, I’ve been waiting to do that for a long time.”

“Now, what? Are you feeling okay?”

“No. I feel like shit that’s been stepped on all day. Do you have any booze? I feel like getting out of my head right now.”

“Sure, as long as you don’t take off you panties this time. You totally did that in a bar full of men last time you and Tomoe had a fight.” His voice went pointed, like he thought she’d forgotten that episode. It actually was a bit of a blur. Blame it on the alcohol.

“I promise not to take off my panties.” The brunette put her hand up in the air oath-style, even thought the Spaniard couldn’t see it. “But I make no promises about my bra.”

“Great,” he replied sarcastically, “and one more thing,” Antonio paused, to make sure she was listening.

“What?”

“Don’t go through that Buddha/yoga phase again. It was creepy.”

“A girl’s got to have her self-improvement. Hey, wanna hear a really awful poem I just made up about Bunny? Just because I could?”

“You’re going to tell it to me anyway even if I say no, right?”

“Yep.”

“Let’s hear it then.”

“It’s a limerick, mind you.” She cleared her throat professionally and began to recite, “Bunny’s a real big dick, all the time he acts like a prick, he don’t give a damn, his life is a sham, and he takes care of his hair like a chick.”

“Fantastic. That’s even worse than the one you made up for Doc Saito.” Antonio chuckled on the other side of the line.

“Just wait until I get into my haiku phase.” Tetsuko

“Dear god, no!” Antonio shouted so loud that his boss started to yell at him to get back to work.

“Bunny is an ass, even the donkey thinks so, they should go out now.” Tetsuko counted out the poetry syllables on her fingers as she read them off in a broken tone.

“I said, ‘dear god, no’ Tetsuko! That means: DEAR GOD, NO!”

“I didn’t listen.” She broke up the words again, counting off the parts like she did in the haiku.

“I’ll pick you up as soon as I’m off work, so please stop making up poetry!”

“Good. Hurry up your ass!” She hung up with a click. Post Brea- Up Ritual: bad poetry about ex: check, drop dead drunk night: in progress, new self improvement/make him jealous plan: consult Nathan.

Antonio picked up the girl by their favorite drug store and they snuck into the Kaburagi’s shop to restock the bull-man’s stash of beer and then drank half of it anyway. Tetsuko woke up at home the next day in Antonio’s shirt, missing her bra and recalling the vague memory of doing something with a stick of butter, a can of paint, diet cola and Mentos. She rolled out of her bed and onto the floor with a smack. It was only five in the morning and her hangover was already pounding in her head. The girl groaned but made the effort to get up and get ready, even if it was ungodly early. I will not fall into the post break-up grunge stage. I have to at least look presentable. Ow, my head. Flipping on the bathroom lights was a bad idea and Tetsuko collapsed to the ground, holding her head under her arms.

“Damn it! Why must drinking have such shitty consequences?” She grumped as she went through her morning ritual, making a list of things to do as she brushed her teeth, did her hair and applied make-up.

“Get more ice cream, you ate all of it in the house the last time you caught Bunny with Kriem.” Her teeth were squeaky clean. “Do not drive past Bunny’s apartment like a crazy ex, it’ll only waste gas and you have other things to buy. Like a manicure and pedicure.” Tetsuko’s hair was now pulled into a messy-on-purpose pony tail. “Reminder: get Nathan’s advice on what style’s in season for nail polish and where the best place to get a relatively inexpensive makeover is. Buy a new razor; you chipped the last one when you dropped it in the shower that last time you shaved. Reminder: keep shaving.” Make- up now done, the brunette trudged back to her room to get dressed. “You should try growing your hair out, Tetsuko. Tomoe liked it long that one year it fell past your shoulder blades.” She grabbed a fresh, not-missing bra and donned her school uniform. She slung on her jacket as she grabbed her backpack and headed downstairs for breakfast.

Tetsuko dreaded seeing Bunny. She got to school really early, that combination of nerves and alcohol got her up before the sun so she decided that to school she would go. She was in the grounds before she knew what was happening. The brunette stayed awake through first period and actually took notes this time. Homeroom was hell. She couldn’t even look at Bunny without starting to cry, her self confidence from this morning evaporating, so she stared straight ahead, avoiding his concerned/angry (how was that possible?) glances and couldn’t even take pleasure in the fact that he was drowning in fan girls again. It just hit home that they weren’t dating anymore. She wasn’t his girlfriend, she was an ex now. Lunch was held in the girl’s bathroom because Tetsuko didn’t want to face her friends and her ex. They both refused to look at each other in their P.A. meeting and didn’t even brush shoulders at work.

The next Thursday, Tetsuko did something she regretted: she went to a salon. One fabulous friend clued her into a fantastic place that had moderately cheap prices and set her up with an appointment for like everything. Mani, pedi, eyebrow wax, not-eyebrow wax, facial, massage and make up lessons. And then he joined her, of course, chatting her ear off when it was possible between and during his own treatments. Tetsuko loved the pampering on her feet and nails (she went with emerald green, you just can’t go wrong with a classic), hated the ripping out of her hair with hot fucking wax, thought the facial was sort of weird but enjoyed it nonetheless and absolutely adored the massage. All the aches, pains and knots embedded into her muscles just melted away as they were kneaded out by skilled hands. Nathan was on the table next to the brunette and continued talking to her, turning to more serious conversations after a while.

“Did your boobs get bigger, girl?” He poked the side of her boob from the next table over.

“Yes, don’t touch. I’ve been eating ice cream lately.” Tetsuko batted his hand away from a second attempt at prodding.

“So the weight does go to your boobs first, interesting.”

“You’ve been listening to Karina way too much.”

“Have you been eating ice cream because you and Handsome broke up? What happened? You guys went through a rough patch for a bit but then it seemed to get better. So why end the relationship?” Nathan turned his head towards the girl, his fuchsia eyes imploring.

“Bunny sniffed into something he shouldn’t have. I also did some sniffing I shouldn’t have. We didn’t trust each other and it got in the way. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” Tetsuko folded her arms so she could rest her head on them while lying on her stomach, not making eye contact with Nathan.

“Oh, well then I guess I’ll ask later.” Nathan dropped the subject, but Tetsuko knew that he was dying to know what the hell was going on.

“You do that.”

“Anyway, did you hear about the new car Cleo’s dad’s stepmom is buying for her? She’s totally going to wreck it the second she gets behind the wheel because we all know she’s a terrible driver. I mean seriously, the girl can’t even tell left from right and let me just say…” Nathan went back to being Nathan and Tetsuko fell asleep on him. Afterwards they got coffee at a cozy café and Tetsuko actually felt sort of normal. Except for the gaping hole where her heart used to be. I hope this doesn’t last too long, I can’t walk around not trying to pretend I’m not a zombie. Or that I hurt. Or that I still care. Tetsuko left her transvestite friend just as the sun was setting, getting home to show off her new nails to her kaa-san before doing her number one alternative to falling asleep quick that didn’t involve any beer: studying. She set a new record: five minutes.

Friday she was still avoiding Bunny, but she secretly kept watching him to see if he noticed her knew nails and make-up. He didn’t as far as she could tell. Damn, my plan to make him jealous is not going according to plan. She resisted the urge to chew her glossed lips and painted nails in frustration. She spent lunch in the bathroom again. Tetsuko didn’t even go to their usual Friday before-work hang out session; she raced around town instead and then went to work. Something’s not right. Everyone’s acting really weird. Tetsuko watched her fellow heroes, noticing the one she usually didn’t notice was missing. Where’s Origami? She caught Bunny looking at her and set her eyes to Death Glare. He glared right back, looking ridiculous while doing it in his pink bunny headphones, dispelling the gloomy mood and replacing it with a tense one. After work, she didn’t stick around and stepped on Bunny’s foot for good measure as she rushed out the door.

I’ve got to hurry or I’ll be late. Tetsuko mounted her bike and rocketed out of the parking lot, taking to the streets at no less than fifty miles per hour. She weaved in and out of traffic at reckless speeds, heading towards Bronze. She passed through the Stage border after twenty minutes of driving and drove in the direction of the abandoned water canals. The girl arrived just in time.

The races were in full swing, the drug dealers were selling like crazy, and the technos had set up a DJ booth to blast music since the warehouse district was empty at night and the police never patrolled this area anyway. The brunette pulled into the race quarter, her Chaser glowing green amid the dim lights of the canal. Below the surface but open to the sky, the canals stretched for miles and twisted under speedways and buildings, perfect for any type of race whether drag or long distance. Tetsuko shut off her engine and dismounted wearing her usual race attire: black skinny jeans, clunky black combat boots, a black lace up corset and her black and green visor helmet. The only thing missing was her neon green and black tiger jacket (which she’d misplaced somehow) and instead she’d substituted it with a black one.

“Hey Tiger, glad you could make it.” The proprietor of the races, Mr. Micah Trotsky walked up to the girl with a smile on his face. The man was in his late twenties now, but he’d been gathering racers here since he was in high school.

“Glad to be here, Micah.” The brunette took off her helmet and shook out her hair, happy he had the foresight to leave on her domino mask after work. She walked up to the older man and shook his hand. “Is it a free for all tonight or matched?”

“Matched,” the blond man ran his hand through his hair and brushed some dust off of his leather jacket. He may be the CEO of the biggest car company in the city, but that didn’t mean he had to wear a suit to have fun at his own games. Micah was in all black, looking like he was going to race himself. He had the most massive sideburns that stretched down from his hairline into an impromptu beard that ended before his chin, possibly a trait from his teenage rebel days. If I had a beard it wouldn’t be that big. Too much work to maintain. Something small, but cool!

“Who’s my match?” Tetsuko asked.

“Romero Gonzalez.”

“Good, I’ve been waitin’ to pound down his ego,” she growled with a smile. Romero and Tetsuko were vying for the title of best motorcycle racer and they hadn’t had a match race yet, but he’d rub all his victories in her face and she’d do the same to him. One time they even got into a fist fight over it.

“I know, so this is a reward for all you hard work. Romero was leveling out before you joined the ranks. Now he’s got a run for his money since your scratching at his heels. And speaking of money, tonight’s winner gets to take the purse.”

“How much?”

“Since it’s not a tournament the pot isn’t massive,” Micah shrugged, “but you two always churn out bets no matter where you race. Five thousand.” That’ll pay for almost two semesters of college. I have to win!

“Good.” She didn’t let her excitement show, keeping her face in neutral satisfaction. “Drag or distance?” Tetsuko’s and Romero’s specialty was drag, short and fast.

“Distance.” Damn. “Otherwise it’s no fun!” Micah smiled devilishly. “We’ll also be filming for the big screens so put on a good show.”

“You bet.” Tetsuko worked it out in her head: Romero had more skill when it came to the distance races but the girl had been practicing with Bunny on their way to work so her skills were improving. She was also more prone to take risks that Gonzalez wouldn’t take unless he was absolutely sure he could pull it off, which left him with few tricks to pull.

“Go get ready, you’re race begins in ten minutes.”

“Gotcha.” Tetsuko went back to her Chaser for a last minute check and kneeled to inspect her bike. You know, when Bunny accused me of drag racing on school property, he was half right. Satisfied that her motorcycle was in perfect order the girl rolled to into the spot that was dubbed “on deck”, a waiting zone for racers. She straddled her bike again and clipped on her helmet while she waited.

“Hey, Tiger! Ready to be declawed?” Tetsuko knew that irritating voice.

“Enough with the bad puns already, Romero!” The tigress flipped up her visor to yell at him.

“But it’s so much fun, kitten.” The Latino sauntered up, rolling his monster Harley with him. He had dark skin and hair, slicked back and paired with piercing black eyes. Tall- but not as tall as the Japanese girl- and lean, a lot of girls found him attractive. Tetsuko just thought he was irritating. Romero flicked his kick stand with his booted foot and leaned against his bike casually.

“I’m not anyone’s kitten, scumbag.”

“Butt licker.” He smirked.

“Gutter trash.” She snapped.

“I’ll make you eat those words when I win.”

“I’ll chew you up and spit you out like a rancid piece of meat.”

“Ooo, we’d better get you spade, bitch.” Tetsuko bristled at his jab. “How about we have a little bet? Since everyone’s betting on me to win, naturally.” Romero checked his reflection in his side view mirror.

“Yeah, right.” Tetsuko folded her arms. “Name your game.”

“If I win, you’ll have to do me some favors.” His voice dropped into a husky tone, implying something of a sexual connotation. The girl shivered in her jacket. Its quaking in your boots, idiot. She sighed internally. It’s more fun when Bunny corrects me. Forget him! Focus.

“And if I win?” Her voice betrayed nothing of her nervousness.

“You’ll not only win the purse,” he got up and slinked over to her and put his hand on the Chaser’s seat, “I’ll throw in an extra thousand from my previous winnings, because I know how much you love money, little kitten.” And then he pinched her butt. She spun around and slapped him in the face.

“Letch! I’m going to cream you.” She hissed, shoving his hand away.

“Only if you lap up my cream like a good little kitten.” He licked a swatch up his palm and fingers, staring at her hotly. Tetsuko blushed at the innuendo, grateful her mask covered most of it.

“You’re disgusting!”

“Only if you want me to be.” He smirked and slunk back to his ride. “Get ready to lose, Tiger.”

“Get ready to be mauled.”

“I thought bad puns weren’t cool.” Romero tsked the girl as he stuck his airhead into his helmet.

“They’re cool when I make them.” Then Micah was announcing the start of the matched race and both riders were moving into position. The track was straight for a half mile and then banked into a sharp right turn to get into the old sewage system (cleaned, thank god) where they both would wind until they popped up to the surface and sped along the highway and raced back to the canals to the finish line. The track wasn’t hard, just dark and cramped. Whoever made it into the sewer first would have the advantage. Now there was a part of the track that could make or break a race: the minefield. It was a torn up section of the canals that was only a few hundred feet from the finish line, a death trap that could kill a bike and racer if taken wrong. It was the point where contenders usually slowed down so their wheels didn’t hit a crack in the concrete and spin out. People could actually die if they didn’t take the minefield seriously.

The start girl walked out onto the track, boobs bouncing in her jacket and heels. She stopped between to two motorcyclists and raised her handkerchief. Two engines came to life with the crowd, barely heard above the roaring voices. Tetsuko’s eyes narrowed staring into the distance where the sewer started. And then the cloth dropped, fluttering to the ground. Tetsuko floored it.

Her Chaser shot forward with barely a complaint, perfect reaction time. Romero was right next to her, matching her speed. Faster. The girl throttled her machine, gaining a few inches, her blood racing with her bike. Romero was still too close for comfort. Faster! The stars streaked above the girl, her own green streaks fading into the night. She swerved towards Romero to get him off her tail and increased her speed. Somehow, the Latino stayed with her and just before the right turn into the sewers, he inched in front of her. At the turn, they both rotated at dangerous speeds and Tetsuko’s right leg scraped the concrete, her bike nearly parallel with the ground. They shot off into the underground tunnels, Tetsuko on the heels of Romero. He laughed and the sound echoed all around the girl, unnerving her. Focus, Tetsuko! You have to win this! Not only for your pride and the fact that you don’t want to do anything for that asshole, but you have to win to prove to yourself that you can do something right! The girl coached herself, racing into the darkness after a pair of taillights.

The sewers were a complicated tangle of tunnels and both racers had to slow down to navigate the darkness, Tetsuko harassed Romero every chance she got, tailing his back wheel, swerving into him to get the guy to scrape the wall and curse that she was going to pay for the damage to his bike. She laughed back at him, challenging him to beat her. They turn and wove and nearly crashed several times before they reached the surface, Tetsuko just a hair’s breath behind Romero. They entered the highway with the other traffic and began a game of hide and seek between the cars. This was more Tetsuko’s pace; she did this all the time with Bunny. The girl got in front of the boy and taunted him as she dodged cars. He flipped her off, which she saw in her rearview mirrors. She flipped him off too as they sped along the road. The exit came up to head back to the canals and Tetsuko took it at nearly ninety miles per hour. Her tires squealed around the turn she needed for the warehouse district, the wind tearing at her clothes, as she whooped with chapped lips. She bolted in between the closed storage warehouses, getting air on speed bumps and skidding though turns and pivots, surprised when Romero ended up side by side with her. Even though they couldn’t see any expressions with their helmets facing each other, Tetsuko knew he was glaring at her like she was glaring at him.

The last turn was a piece of cake, now it was a straight shot to the finish line: one mile of who could gun it the fastest. Tetsuko pushed her Chaser faster as the speed marker climbed higher. One fifteen, one seventeen, one twenty. Romero was struggling for his small lead as the girl gained on him, putting all or nothing on her motorcycle’s superior speed. He may have more refined skills, but I don’t back down easily! Tetsuko whooped as she came neck and neck with her enemy. Then he was gone, behind her at a slower speed. What the hell? She’d completely forgotten about the minefield until it was right on top of her. Quickly acting, the girl got her butt off the seat of her bike and shifted her weight rearward right before she hit obstacles. She took the cracks and dips at a ninety degree angle so her front tire didn’t glance off of anything and lightened it by letting off the break and rolling the throttle. Keep your eyes on the goal, straight forward. Keep your body loose, old lady, that way you can straighten the bike faster. Bunny’s impromptu driving lessons popping into her head. The cracks tipped her bike this way and that, Tetsuko was terrified of crashing. She rolled over dips and breaks, slowing her speed to something more manageable but still speeding by every definition. The brunette sweated as her wheels navigated the cracks, praying that she wouldn’t crash, that she would get out alive and not die in a fiery explosion-then she was out. The torture seemed to last an eternity, but in reality was second and by some miracle she’d made it though the minefield alive.

The girl hunkered down over her bike, creating less wind resistance as she hurtled towards the finish line, increasing her speed with every passing second. Her goal so close she could taste it. She shot over the line at a hundred and thirty two miles per hour. She yelled her victory with the crowd, skidding to a stop a hundred feet away from the end line and dismounting to jump up and down like a girl, even with her right leg bleeding onto the pavement.

“I won! I did it! WHOO HOO!” Romero crossed the finish line and chucked his helmet on the ground when he came to a stop. Strings of Spanish curses littered the air as he vented his wrath on the asphalt. He glared at the girl in the domino mask as Micah came down to congratulate her and hand over the purse as they were both swamped with fans and racers. Tetsuko inched her way out of the crowd five thousand dollars richer and went to collect her personal bet money.

“Cough it up, Romero! You owe me one grand!” Tetsuko called to the Latino man. He glared at her, hate flaring in his eyes.

“Like hell I will!”

“You lost the bet, so pay up!” She grabbed his jacket collar and hauled him up two inches to her face.

“Fine, fine! You bitch, put me down!” He grabbed her hands and pushed down. She dropped him on his ass and towered above the man until he handed the brunette her winnings. She felt really cool then. That night after the other races (which weren’t quite as amazing) and the partying (she’d never been so high), Tetsuko left richer than when she drove in and higher than cloud nine. I’ll have to get some body work done on the Chaser, but other than that I’m still sitting pretty on money. Tetsuko smiled, finally happy that she’d accomplished something worthwhile. If only my friends and Bunny could’ve seen that. Her phone beeped and she checked it once she’d pulled into her driveway in the Bronze Stage. It was from Micah.

“He sent me the video footage! Cool!” She called to thank him personally and went to sleep smiling.

Keith was absent from work the next day and Ivan was still gone. Geez, everyone’s taking a vacation lately! And now because Sky High and Origami Cyclone are both gone, I have to cover their shifts as well as their sections. I hope nobody else bails on the job or else Ben’s going to have to put that hiring sign back up in the window. Why did they just suddenly disappear? I haven’t even seen them at school. Where could they be anyway? Keith’s SBO president, he can’t just up and leave without telling anyone! His historian Nana Brandon even asked me yesterday after lunch where he was, so he hasn’t told any of his fellow officers were he went. And that’s strange of Keith because he tells everyone everything, twice. So what’s going on with him? And Ivan’s gone too. He probably wouldn’t really tell anyone where he’s going but he wanted that new manga I was going to loan him on and he wasn’t at school the day I brought it. So where is he now? Tetsuko gripped her head with both hands and ran them around her skull. Arg! Thinking is not what I’m good at! I usually just leave it to Bunny. But I can’t now, can I? The weekend just got worse when, on Sunday, Antonio pulled one of those I’m-not-going-to-text-you-back stunts and Tetsuko was left hanging out at home by herself with a metaphorical dark cloud hovering over her head. She watched the race footage to make her feel better and counted her money for fun. Three times she counted her green. She even did that cliché thing where she rolled around in a small pile of bills just to see what it felt like. It felt good.

Tetsuko was up in a tree when Antonio finally texted her on Monday afternoon. The sky was gray and looked about ready to dump its load of rain, but the girl didn’t want to go inside yet. She’d skipped the girl’s bathroom for lunch and had ended up outside for a change of scenery. She wasn’t going back inside until Bunny had left the cafeteria. She swung her legs back and forth from her branch as she sifted through her backpack for the beeping phone.

Bison: Hey ‘Suko. Before you go to work, do you wanna meet me somewhere? I thought we needed to hang out.

Tetsuko: Sure. Where do you want to meet?

Bison: How ‘bout the old middle school building? It’s near both our works.

Tetsuko: I’ll meet you there after school, k?

Bison: Be seein ya

Tetsuko walked back to class, happy for once that she was going to do something other than work and school and eat fattening ice cream and then go work it off. The smile she wore inside actually felt real this time. She hummed during cooking class and daydreamed away English. Once the bell rang to let school out she was practically skipping down the hall (but she didn’t, bad girl reputation and all). She wanted to rub it in Bunny’s face, make it look like she was meeting a new boy or something, to make him jealous since the makeover hadn’t really worked. When she got into the hall monitors commons room on the first floor, the girl was surprised to see Nathan, Karina and Pao-Lin clustered around Bunny.

“What’s up, Tets?” Nathan asked, looking a little pale and sick and he rested his chin on his weaved fingers. In fact, Karina looked nervous as well. She was chewing her lip and her eyes kept shifting around the room like she was watching for something. Pao-Lin (who was usually bouncing off the walls) was just sitting in a chair with her knees up to her chest and her arms hugging her legs. She just stared straight ahead, not even acknowledging the brunette’s presence.

“Nothin’. Just came to let you know that I might be a little late to work today. Will you tell Ben that for me?” She flipped her hair and checked her nails, loving how the green shined in the light.

“Why?” Bunny asked, his the dark circles under his eyes standing out. He looked like he didn’t get any sleep at all for, like, the past week. Not that Tetusko cared. Maybe. The brunette sidled up to his seat, doing the classic Nathan’s-breaking-my-personal-bubble lean and smirked in his face.

“I’ve just got to go meet someone.” She pointed her words, trying to prickle him. It worked. Bunny glared at her hard, clenching his fists until his knuckles shown white. I should be to work soon after that though.” She disconnected from Bunny, brushing off her shoulder like it was disgusting that she touched him. “See y’all later!” Tetsuko sang and she sauntered out of the room, pleased with her ticking off plan.

“What’s wrong with her?” She heard Bunny snap. The girl shrugged, happy that she’d gotten under his skin. She whistled down the hall, not hearing the soft tap of her phone hitting the floor as it fell out of her bag. The girl ran to her bike and switched on the engine so she could turn around and head for the old middle school building where she and Antonio used to go to school. Every once in a while they’d come by to vandalize some walls or steal what was left of the desks just because they could. The building had caught on fire and the firefighters saved most of it, but then the school board decided that the building was outdated, so they built a new one. Unfortunately they forgot to take down the old school, so now it was the hangout for creepy parties and pranks pullers.

Tetsuko parked her bike in the weed infested faculty parking lot and walked inside. She didn’t know where Antonio wanted to meet her, so she reached into her backpack to text him. She couldn’t find it in any of the pockets. Crap! Where did I lose it now? This is like what, the billionth time I’m misplaced it? Oh well. I’ll just have to walk around until I find ‘Tonio. She roamed the halls, checking the abandoned classrooms and avoiding the burned out section of the building. The girl eventually made her way into the old gymnasium and found that the door was open.

“Antonio?” She called, peeking inside. The windows were all cracked and falling apart and the wood floor was missing sections, exposing the concrete underneath. She stepped inside, her instincts putting her on high alert. Something’s not right here. She took a step inside and the door slammed shut behind her. Tetsuko flipped around and yanked on the handle, finding out it was locked. “Hey! What’s going on?” She banged on the door, trying to get out but stopped when a voice behind her spoke from the gloom.

“Well, hello there.”


Barnaby opened the email, ROUND TWO glaring at him from the screen. The preview showed a shot of Jake and Kriem laughing at something and just seeing their faces ignited a deep hatred in the boy. “We’d better sit down.” He said, leading the group back inside the dark restaurant. Barnaby knocked his foot against something, and it flared up in pain. He hopped around carefully, cursing the old lady for stomping on it just before she left. Karina flipped on the light unlocked the break room with the key Mr. Jackson had given her, not even laughing at the boy like she usually would. The teens clustered around the blond boy, taking their seats and scooting closer once he’d sat down.

“Ready?” Nathan asked, visibly sweating.

“No.” Pao-Lin answered. Barnaby clicked play and the audio turned on.

“Did you change your recipe?” Jack asked the woman holding up his bowl and chopsticks. They were sitting on a couch set up in the middle of a stadium. Sternbild High’s rival school’s stadium. A bigger version of Kriem’s damn umbrella was opened and propped up behind the couch to shade the couple, the black spades shining in the light of the afternoon. The camera seemed to be on some sort of table or tripod because Kriem wasn’t filming this time. She was dressed the same in the bowler hat and halter top, but he’d gotten weirder, exchanging the pleather jacket for a completely furred one and completely ditching his shirt.

“Yeah, can you tell? Do you like it, Mr. Jake?”

“Whatever you did keep doing it ‘cuz this is great!” They laughed for a moment until there was a noise from somewhere on the field. Kriem set down her food and grabbed the camera, giving the audience a view down her shirt as she did. The woman pointed the camera at someone entering onto the field. It was Keith.

“Oh no! Keith’s been missing all day! He didn’t even show up for work, remember?” Nathan pouted as everyone guessed what had happened to the cheerful man.

“He was here instead,” Barnaby concluded after pausing the video. “And if the other video is anything to go by, then he’s in the hospital now.”

“Do we have to watch it?” Pao-Lin whined, folding into herself again on her chair.

“Yes, but if you don’t want to look, just cover your eyes.” The boy patted her on the shoulder as the girl nodded and ducked her head into her knees. He pressed play again and the show continued.

“What’s going on here? And again, what? Why did you call me here to this place?” Keith took the long walk to the thirty yard line on the side where Jake and Kriem were camped. The couple smirked from their end zone. “Why did you call me here-“

“I heard you the first time, twinkle toes.” Jake drawled.

“We’re putting on a little show, Mr. President, and Mr. Jake is the star! You’re his enemy and you’ll have to fight him if you want to leave this place.” Kriem narrated for the competitor.

“So yeah, come at me bro.” Jake stood up and clicked his chopsticks at Keith before tossing them away with his bowl.

“I do not understand. Why do I have to fight you? That’s against the law and is considered assault. I will not do something like that to you. I have no reason.” Keith rambled on as Jake moved closer.

“Look, chatterbox. This is a game to piss off all your friends. Specifically Kaburagi and Brooks and if you don’t fight back, you’ll end up like little Ivan: in the hospital, unconscious without any metaphorical balls.”

“You’ve put Ivan in the hospital? How dare you, evil doer! I will bring you to justice for my friends!” Keith slipped into his Sky High inflection of speaking as he charged the man, the one to make the first move this time. His first punch was dodged by the pink and yellow haired man. And the second one as well, and then the third. He couldn’t seem to land a blow to the criminal. Then Jake began fighting back and the blond was the one dodging, having experience in fighting that Barnaby didn’t know he had. The way Sky High fought was by avoidance, he’d attack offensively, but the second he was on defense, he’d get close to his enemy and walk circles are them. This technique was supposed to frustrate his opponents, but Jake seemed to love it.

“You’re light on your feet, twinkle toes! I like it!” Sky High struck unexpectedly, a low punch to Jake’s side, and knocked the man to the ground.

“Yeah! “ The room of teens cheered, all except Barnaby. Something wasn’t right with that attack. It didn’t have a lot of force behind it, so why is Jake on the ground?

“Oh no! Looks like Mr. Jake is down!” Kriem cried from the camera’s spot.

“There! Now surrender at once! At once!” Keith stood above the prone man as he called to cease the fight.

“I actually almost felt that last one, champ.” Jake’s intense eyes snapped open as he leapt into action. He lunged at Keith and punched him in the gut, sending the teen flying. The blond landed hard on the ground, the air knocked out of him as Jake pounced pummeled him into submission. “Check mate, fly boy.” The psycho crooned over the unconscious man.

“Mr. Jake has defeated the air head with all the style and grace he possesses! You are magnificent and glorious as usual, my love!”

“Thank you, my sweet!” Jake twirled towards the camera and took a bow. That was much more entertaining than the last fight, I hope you enjoyed yourselves. Thanks for watching. We’ll see you next time.” The video winked out as the lens zoomed into the man’s menacing grin.

“Oh, Keith.” Karina sighed, her eyes tearing up.

“This is bad.” Pao-Lin said, finally looking up from her knees.

“That’s an understatement.” Barnaby huffed.

“What do we do? One of us could be next if we don’t do anything!” Nathan squirmed in his seat, clasping his hands to his chest.

“So we don’t answer to any number we don’t know on our phones, we don’t go anywhere alone and we all always stick in groups. Just like on a field trip in kindergarten.” Barnaby laid out the safety plan quickly, trying to reassure the others as well as himself. On the outside, he looked relatively calm and collected, but on the inside he was a four year old again, watching the man who murdered his parents take pleasure in harming the people he’d come to know as friends.

“Okay, I like the plan. That’s a good plan.” Pao-Lin looked a little more confident and the others nodded with her.

“Okay then, let’s get out of here. It’s late and I don’t think Mr. Jackson would like us staying here all night.” Barnaby stored away his infernal technological device and the girls locked the restaurant behind them.

That night when Barnaby figured that he wasn’t going to get any sleep when he was still up at three am, and slunk out of bed. He poured himself his ritual insomnia glass of milk and slumped tiredly into his lone chair. The blond glanced at the family portrait framed on his table, sadness creeping into his eyes as well as hate. I’m so close to him, mom and dad, but your killer keeps slipping through my fingers. He’s right in front of me and I can’t get to him because innocent lives are in danger. This impasse was taking its toll on the boy, that and the fact that his personal sunshine was giving him a wide berth. Barnaby sighed and reached for his backpack. He’d dropped it next to the chair when he got home and left it on the floor while he showered and tried to fall asleep. He rummaged around for his cell phone and flipped it open once he’d found it. His background wasn’t that boring generic one, nor was it still Tetsuko’s stupid duck face. It happened to be of that picture she’d taken when they’d gone out for hotdogs and then visited the Fortress Tower. Barnaby had sent it to his phone from hers when she wasn’t paying attention.

We look happy. Barnaby gazed at the pixilated image, going over details he’d gone over a thousand times. The bright lights of the mall, the sparkle on the fountain’s water, Tetsuko’s arm slung around his shoulders, her huge grin and Barnaby’s own surprised one. It was the only picture he’d ever really wanted to keep just because. Besides his family’s picture, of course. This was when we were just getting used to each other. Why do we looker happier here than when we were actually dating? What happened? Was it really my fault? No. She didn’t trust me. She didn’t trust me enough to tell me what was going on, where she was going or even that she had a kid! The boy took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, the late night getting to him. He’d gone over their fight, the days leading up to it and just couldn’t figure out where everything had gone downhill. Again and again he’d tried to figure it out, but the blond couldn’t pinpoint the event that had changed everything. I guess there wasn’t just one specific thing that did it. But I do feel bad that I said those horrible things to her. Even she didn’t deserve it. He’d also debated whether or not to call or text her several times, but he wasn’t going to make the first move. She’d wronged him and she was going to have to contact him. That was that. Barnaby stopped puzzling over everything involving Tetsuko Kaburagi and went to review the footage from both of Jake’s fights.

It seems that he’s studied each person. I can tell a difference between the ways he attacks in both videos, the boy mused after staring at the glowing computer screen for an hour. Jake’s aggressive with Ivan because Ivan’s completely defensive and with Keith, he strung him along for a long time. As if he was waiting for the man to attack him and once he did, Jake creamed Keith. He’s changing his fighting style with each match. I bet whoever’s in the next video will run into the same problem. Ug, I hate thinking like that. I don’t want to see anymore videos, but until I figure out what to do, that’s the way it’s got to be. Barnaby glanced down at his computer clock. Five ‘o clock already? I’ve been up all night. Again.

Barnaby got dressed in some exercise clothes and drove over to the gym to vent for a few hours. The blond paid great attention to his leg exercises, determined to tone the hell out of his muscles. He rounded out his leg work out with some arm and shoulder routines and then ran a couple miles. Feeling rejuvenated despite the lack of sleep, Barnaby grabbed a cup of coffee to keep him awake on his way home to shower. He got a call from Pao-Lin as he was drying off and picked up his phone.

“Hello?”

“Hey, uh, Barnaby, can I get a ride to work with you? I asked Fire Emblem but he’s picking up Blue Rose at one of her gigs and it’s out of the way from my place.”

“Sure, I can pick you up. I’m glad you’re all sticking together.”

“Yeah, I can’t go anywhere now without thinking that someone’s going to jump me and drag me off to beat the stuffing out of me.” They talked a few minutes more before hanging up and Barnaby buckled down for a few hours to get some homework done. Finishing earlier than he thought he would, the blond played mindless puzzle games on his phone to pass the time when he found out he wasn’t tired enough to take a nap. He beat his high score twice and slipped into his usual street clothes to pick up Pao-Lin. His pulled up to her boarding house twenty minutes later and she came running out in her yellow jumpsuit.

“Thanks, Barnaby!” He noticed several pairs of girl eyes glancing at him from windows as the blonde girl ran up to his bike. Apparently he had a following here too. The girl leapt onto the bike, setting into the seat and wrapping her arms around his waist. Barnaby felt himself yearning for a pair of stronger, tan arms instead of the little Chinese girl’s. Don’t think like that. It’s never going to happen. He drove to work trailing a squealing girl who yelped at every turn and stop. They were the first ones to show up, besides Mr. Jackson who opened up the back doors so he didn’t have to let everyone in himself. Apparently he had a ton of paperwork to do.

Barnaby and Pao-Lin changed quickly and were joined by Nathan and Karina shortly after and then Tetsuko last of all. When she walked out in her Wild Tigress outfit, Barnaby had barely enough time to hide his blush. It was getting worse. Just seeing her in such a revealing outfit just turned him on. Maybe the draw was that the girl wasn’t his anymore. What ticked him off again was that see seemed in such a good mood, swaying her hips seductively as she basically bounced out onto the floor. If he was in such a shitty mood, why did she have to be so fucking happy? Oh no, her speech has corrupted my mind! I never used to swear this much! Even in my damn head! Shit. There I go again. Barnaby scowled internally but he was still smiling as he took an order. At one point he saw Tigress lost in thought at the soda fountain, but then she growled and ran her hands through her hair like she was frustrated about something. Good, now she matches the rest of us. Wild Tigress caught him looking at her and turned away with a huff. After the restaurant closed for the night, Dragon Kid came running up to the teens that were left behind. Ivan and Keith were in the hospital and Tetsuko had fled the scene once again.

“Hey guys!” She was actually smiling for real this time. The incidents with Jake had really depressed the girl and despite the overall fear in the air, it was nice to see her at least a little happy. “One of my friends just sent this really cool video to me!” The three teens tensed up at the word “video.”

“What is it?” Barnaby asked.

“It’s not like those videos!” The Chinese girl stopped in front of them and started tapping her touch screen. “It went viral the second it hit the internet but I haven’t looked at my phone all day. Check it out!” She enlarged the video screen and held it out to the others. It showed two motorcyclists talking across their bikes, the camera on the far side of a woman and a considerable distance away. The video was shot at night, but there were flashing lights and the music drowned out whatever the man and the woman were talking about as people walked in and out of the shot.

“Look at her boobs!” Karina slipped into her fetish mode and pointed at the woman. She was wearing all black and only the dark skin on her cleavage and neck were showing. She did have some impressive breasts and trapped in that corset top they bulged out, ready to pop. The man walked over to the woman, and said something close to her face and he pinched her butt. Barnaby couldn’t see her face, but by the force of her slap, the boy guessed she wasn’t very happy. They watched the man lick his palm and then they both were moving to the start line. The blond saw that the woman’s bike was the green Chaser and his stomach got butterflies. No, it couldn’t be.

“Is this a drag race?” Nathan asked, fawning over the woman’s dark skinned opponent.

“Sort of,” Pao-Lin answered. “It’s not short like a drag race, but they race on a track that would be perfect for it. Just watch! Whoever filmed this hacked into traffic cams and other monitoring equipment because they got the whole race!” Both helmets on and visors down, the racers waited for the signal to start and then shot off faster than bullets. The leading position went to the woman but right before they shot off in to the sewers the man inched in front. Barnaby noted that their turn was so sharp that the woman’s right leg was torn up from the asphalt. The view switched from a side view to a top view, cameras in the ceiling of the sewage tunnels. The man was still in front, but the Chaser’s rider was harassing him into walls and they could faintly hear her laughing.

“Damn, she’s reckless. If he crashes in there she’s going down too.” Nathan squirmed, loving the competition.

“Yeah, but she seems to know what she’s doing.” Karina stated. “But this view sucks. You can’t even see her boobs.”

“Shut up about the boobs already!” Pao-Lin barked. “Look, they’re almost out of the tunnels. This is where it goes to traffic cameras.” She was right, as the two contenders raced onto the speedway the camera angle became a bird’s eye view, watching the green streaks of the Chaser as it sped along. They woman dodged cars and got in front with skill that even Barnaby had to admire. The man seemed to be shouting obscenities at her by the way he waved his hands around as he struggled to catch up. He flipped her off and she flipped him off and then the woman took an exit that led them both back to the warehouse district. As they wove between storage complexes, the man gained and got in front again, holding his position as they jumped back into was the blond guessed was the canal systems in Bronze. The race was a straight shot from here but all of a sudden the man shot behind the woman, decelerating rapidly. What is he doing? He just gave her the race! Then the boy figured it out when panic seeped into the woman’s body language. She shifted her weight backwards in the stance for rough roads and Barnaby spotted splinters and gaps in the concrete. She’s going too fast. She’ll crash. She didn’t. The woman made it through the rough patch and sped over the finish line at an unprecedented speed. She skidded to a stop and leapt off her bike despite her leg injury and proceeded to destroy her bad girl image by jumping around like a dork. Then the feed cut out.

“That was so cool! I especially loved watching the man from behind. His behind.” Nathan giggled as Pao-Lin commented on the internet.

“I loved her boobs!” Karina folded her arms over her own chest.

“You should,” Barnaby started.

“Why?”

“You try to grab them every day.” Barnaby was met with blank stares. “That was the old lady, couldn’t you tell? The bike is a green Chaser, she’s got tan skin and huge boobs-“

“So you noticed the boobs,” Karina fixed him with a look.

“Of course I noticed the boobs, they were right there!”Barnaby threw his hands into the air, “Anyway, the reckless driving, the taunting, her bike and body type, it was definitely Kaburagi.”

“I think you’re right. It’d be just like her to do something like this.” Pao-Lin still hadn’t looked up from her screen. “And if it was her, she was so cool!”

“Don’t let her hear that, she’ll let it go to her head.” The blond told the other blonde.

“I can’t tell her, she’d gone already, ga-doy.”

“Yeah, she’s been avoiding you since she dumped you.” Karina pouted again. “I can’t even enjoy looking at her chest since she’s never around.”

“She did not dump me, we both ended the relationship. There’s a difference .We both dumped each other.” At least that’s how the blond saw it. Neither one had actually dissolved the relationship, they both decided to end it.

“Whatever, it’s still your fault.”

“How can I be my fault? You don’t even know what went down!”

“It’s always the boy’s fault.”

“Is not!”

“Is too!” The conversation digressed from that and everyone left in pairs.

On Sunday afternoon, Barnaby was attempting to take a nap to make up for the past sleepless nights. Saturday did not produce a video and that irregularity kept him up all until the morning hours. Barnaby was a creature of order; he loved schedules for their steadiness. Jake was not ordered apparently, he was chaos incarnate and it unhinged the boy with the way he operated. In the middle of his pacing and researching, the red computer pinged. The schedule was back on but Barnaby didn’t feel any better. In fact, he felt ready to lose what little of his lunch he’d eaten. The blond took out his phone to notify the “girls,” (and he used that term loosely) to meet him at a park that was convenient for all of them.

The day was contrastingly sunny for Barnaby’s gloomy mood. It hadn’t snowed yet but winter had permanently set in at this point. The blond boy walked through the park until he came to a statue of Lady Justice near the tree where the four of them were meeting. The night at the Fortress Tower popped into his head. Kaburagi had taken a picture of a much bigger version of the stone art that night. That night they had acted like real partners, friends even. I miss you so much old lady, but I’m not telling you that. Barnaby was yanked out of his thoughts when a girl’s voice called his name. Karina walked up to him in her baby blue coat and striped scarf, her cheeks red in the crisp air.

“You’re the first one here.” Barnaby fiddled with his backpack strap, trying to socialize with Kaburagi’s friend without being pushy or awkward.

“I figured as much. I live the closest.” The blonde girl pouted, clearly nervous about the meeting. They stared at the statue in silence, standing side by side. Barnaby shivered in his red jacket, his already low body temperature adding to his discomfort in the chill. Pao-Lin showed up next in a bright yellow coat despite her somber mood and joined the other two blondes in their staring game. Nathan came over last a few minutes later, his fuchsia trench coat adding to the collage of color already worn by the other teens. They moved over to a tree and sat on the ground as the boy retrieved the laptop, cursing the citywide wifi connection. The video loaded up, labeled ROUND THREE and Pao-Lin went into her safety pose, leaning against the tree trunk while she hid her face. Nathan sat on the ground and clutched the hand the blond didn’t need to type and Karina leaned on the pinkette’s shoulder next to him. When the movie popped up, the setting was different than the others: a back alley somewhere in the city. At first there was no one in the shot, just the dirty alleyway and the sound of cars nearby. Then a furry clad arm got in the view of the camera.

“Where is the bull-man? He’s late.” Jake Martinez complained, waving his gaudy zebra striped jacket in Kriem’s face.

“I don’t know, Mr. Jake but I’m sure he’ll be here soon.” A pause, “There he is!” She whispered excitedly. A huge figure walked into the shot from the other end of the alley, reavealing a man that they all knew.

“Not sweetcheeks!” Nathan cringed and turned his head away, knocking Karina’s head with his scalp.

“Ow! Watch it, drag queen!”

“What are you doing here, Martinez?” The Spaniard called, folding his arms across his barrel-like, hairy chest. He wore the outfit that Barnaby had met him in: leather jacket, V-neck shirt, jeans and boots. He knows how to fight, the old lady told me that they street fought together. He’ll stand a good chance at beating Jake.

“Just messing up your old turf a bit. I thought you’d love a good fight, Lopez, since you’ve become so soft lately.” The criminal taunted lightly, stepping forward into the camera’s full view.

“I can still kick your ass any day, Martinez.”

“Even without your partner in crime? You know how much she loves this sort of thing.”

“’Suko’s a great wingman but I don’t need her to take of you.” The bull-man took a fighting stance.

“You’ll eat those words.” Jake took a stance as well.

“Mr. Jake’s ready to battle now!” Kriem became a commentator again. “How long will the heifer last?” Antonio lunged first, punching straight. “Here he comes!”

Jake danced away and swung his right arm around in his own punch. Lopez caught it with his shoulder, blocking the attack, but grunted as Jake’s left fist jabbed him in the side. They broke apart and the bull-man lunged again and was dodged. The fight kept going like that: Lopez would attack and Martinez would dodge and counter, slowly chipping away at the Spaniard’s endurance and defense.

“Tired yet, heifer?” Kriem mocked while following the fight with her camera. Antonio was breathing hard, but by no means out of the fight. He’d been going for ten minutes nonstop and was only now showing any sort of fatigue.

“Not on your life, skank.” He wiped some blood off his lips, a consequence of not defending his face. “I’m just getting warmed up.”

“No, you’re getting slow roasted, beef. You haven’t even landed a hit yet on Mr. Jake. Isn’t he magnificent?”

“You’re disgusting.”

“No, you are, cow.” Kriem snapped.

“Your mother’s the cow.” Antonio smirked and the camera shook where Kriem’s hand was trembling.

“Your mother!” She shouted back.

“Kids, play nice.” Jake took Antonio’s distraction as an opportunity to sock him in the face which knocked the man into the wall. “And pay attention, I don’t like being ignored. I’m not only teaching you a lesson, out viewers are getting educated as well.” Jake pounced and grabbed the huge teenager by the jacket and threw him into the opposite wall. Antonio’s head cracked against the bricks at just the wrong angle and he slumped to the ground completely knocked out. Jake studied the brunette with distaste and turned towards the camera.

“Well that was a disappointing end.” He picked his nose in front of everyone.

“You’re just too good for all your opponents, Mr. Jake. He wasn’t worthy of you.” Kriem’s hand came up to brush against her boyfriend’s arm as she walked towards him. The camera tilted down to Lopez, displaying all his bruises and split skin. Well, what was exposed anyway.

“Well, hopefully the next one’s more entertaining.” Jake grabbed the camera and turned it to his face. “Be seeing you next time.”

“Oh, my sweet Antonio!” Nathan was actually crying by the end of the video and Karina was trying to comfort him. Barnaby once again hid his terror, trying to be the voice of reason in all this chaos.

“So he’s not just going after other students we know. He’s going after people we know and associate with, no matter what age,” he concluded, shutting the laptop with a click.

“And that’s a good thing?” Karina glared at him, upset that he didn’t care about the emotional man clinging to his arm.

“No. it just defines his game more. It also makes it harder to pinpoint where and against whom Jake’s next ambush will be against. I am sorry that Lopez and President Goodman and Ivan have gotten hurt in this whole sick game, but until we find a way out of this, we have to protect our acquaintances as best we can.”

“So what do we do?” Nathan asked, wiping his shadowed eyes.

“I don’t know.” They left in a group after that and went back to their homes to worry.

“Seriously, we need to tell someone! Three people we know are now hospitalized!” Karina reiterated, chewing her lips. She as well as Pao-Lin and Nathan had all gathered at Barnaby’s workspace in the hall monitor’s commons room Monday afternoon.

“Who can we tell? It’s hopeless.” Pao-Lin leaned back in her seat, drawing her knees up close to hug them. Barnaby tapped his pen on the table, flipping through ideas and rejected all of them. He couldn’t think of a way out of this.

“It’s not hopeless; we just haven’t come up with the right idea yet.” Nathan patted the blonde girl on the shoulder from his seat on top of a desk. He’d been to see the guys in the hospital. They hadn’t looked good. Ivan was bandaged all over his torso and head, President Goodman had plasters on his face and arms and legs and Antonio had to wear a brace after injuring his neck when he hit the wall. Besides them all being drugged up and miserable in their green scrubs, all the boys expressed concern for the others that hadn’t been attacked yet. Antonio also asked Nathan to look for his phone; he’d lost it at some point and suspected the black man had stolen it for his own devices.

“But what can we do? Our hands are tied. We can’t tell the police because Ouroboros will attack whoever is in the videos, which now includes Antonio as well as Keith and Ivan. If we do something about it ourselves and break the game rules, they could come after us. So what are we supposed to do?” Barnaby asked, still wracking his brains for a solution. Just then the door opened and Tetsuko waltzed in. Barnaby eyed the girl carefully; her absence from their activities hadn’t gone unnoticed. She looks prettier today, more put together than normal. Barnaby noted her meticulously pressed school uniform, the way that her skirt was the correct length and her blouse buttoned up and missing the obnoxious tie. Her jacket clung in all the right places and her shoes clicked sharply on the tile of the floor. How come I notice her more now that we’re not together? She’s been taking more care of her appearance lately, is she trying to make me jealous?

““What’s up, Tets?” Nathan asked, since no one else would.

“Nothin’. Just came to let you know that I might be a little late to work today. Will you tell Ben that for me?” She flipped her hair and checked her nails; the polish was the perfect color for her, a deep green just like the skirt of the school uniform. Barnaby had taken note of the manicure, but hadn’t complimented her. They were fighting after all. Right? Right. And one does not compliment one whom one is fighting with.

“Why?” Bunny asked, wanting her to leave before his tongue made a fool of him and said something nice about her, or apologized. That would be disastrous for his image. The brunette sidled up to his seat, leaning heavily on his shoulder as she smirked at him. He loved that look on her.

“I’ve just got to go meet someone.” Her words jabbed his conscience. That was what he’d said to her when he went to meet Kriem. She was trying to get him to feel bad about their whole situation. It worked. Barnaby glared at her hard, clenching his fists until his knuckles shown white, keeping in some choice words. I should be to work soon after that though.” She got off the boy, brushing off her shoulder like it was disgusting that she touched him. “See y’all later!” Tetsuko sang and she sauntered out of the room, hips swaying tantalizingly in time with her footsteps.

“What’s wrong with her?” Barnaby snapped once she was out of ear shot. “How can she act like that, like she doesn’t have a care when her friends are lying in hospital beds?”

“She’s just one person who doesn’t dwell on the negative.” Nathan shrugged his shoulders. “But I totally saw her trying to get you to crack.” He leaned towards the blond, giving him a fixed stare. “Was she referring to Kriem when she said she was meeting someone? The black haired woman did mention that you’d hung out a bit.”

“Yes, Kaburagi was making it seem like I was the one who wronged her, let’s just leave it at that. So what are we going to do?” They talked for another forty five minutes and came up blank. They had no clue what to do and no way out of this dire situation. They all got up to leave, the call of their jobs making them move. When Nathan opened the door he squealed.

“Is this Tets’ phone?” He snatched the device off the floor and disabled the password in about ten seconds. “It is! Let’s see who she was texting!”

“Why does it matter?” Karina’s depressed voice asked.

“Because we can see who she was going to meet!” Nathan scrolled though the messages as the three teens clustered around him. “Huh?”

“What is it?” Barnaby asked, leaning over the boy-girl’s shoulder to get a better look.

“She’s meeting Antonio. That’s nothing special to rub in.” Nathan’s shoulders slumped, disappointed.

“Wait, she’s meeting Bison?” Pao-Lin perked up, straining for a glance. “But-“

“He’s in the hospital and he told Nathan that his phone was missing,” Karina pointed out.

“So how could she be meeting him at the old middle school building?” Nathan asked. “Wouldn’t she go to the hospital?” Barnaby put all the pieces together at lightning speed.

“Unless she didn’t know he was in the hospital. Did any of you tell her what’s going on with the videos?”

“No.” Karina answered.

“Not me.” Pao-Lin glanced around nervously.

“I thought you would since…oh that’s right. You’re not dating anymore. And she’s been kind of avoiding all of us being we’ve been with you.” Nathan amended.

“If no one told her then…” Karina started to guess at what Barnaby already knew.

“She’s walking right into a trap!” Nathan finished for her.

“We’ve got to stop her!” Barnaby shouted and the teens dashed out the door just as the laptop pinged. They turned towards Barnaby’s backpack in dread. The blond took out the computer, hoping against hope that the old lady wasn’t in the new message. They walked back inside and sat down as Barnaby logged in. The room darkened with the coming storm, casting eerie shadows all over the walls.

“Please, please, please, please…” Karina chanted clenching her hands tightly together. Barnaby opened his email and saw a new message: ROUND FOUR. He clicked it opened and his heart dropped to the floor as he saw the bloody face of a girl as the preview to the video.

“God, it’s the old lady.”

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