Pyro

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Chapter 13

Modern Day; November 5th; Cleveland, Ohio; Felix

Lately, I had taken to hanging out in Cleveland, Ohio more than Parcia. In Parcia, I couldn’t escape the thoughts of Lord Darylis lying dead on the floor and the evil glint in Lady Catherine’s eyes as she turned on her heel and disappeared. In Cleveland, I could meet up with Willow and Cierra when they got out of school.

That was what I told myself. But in reality, I was hoping to run across Beth again. I was quite taken with her and I wanted to get to know her better.

It was nearly three o’clock, which was when James Garfield High School let out, but I had some time before I would see my friends. I had been considering looking for a sweater in one of the stores nearby and this was my chance. I really needed some more sweaters.

I ducked into a Goodwill and looked around for something in my size. Thankfully, I was the average size between too small and overweight, so I never had to look long before finding something that fit me. Twenty minutes later, I was leaving the store with a parcel in my hand and a feeling of satisfaction from enabling myself to cross something off my to-do list.

I took off down the street, whistling a jaunty tune and smiling at the occasional stranger that I passed. Some of them nodded at me or said hi, but the others looked put out. I wasn’t surprised by this, since I often got weird looks for being friendly. I was just an overly friendly person and couldn’t understand people who wanted to be antisocial and stay alone in their own worlds. I was always desperate to barge into other people’s lives. If someone welcomed me in, that was a sign of someone who truly valued me as a person and wanted to be friends. And I liked it that way. Most of the time.

Sweater, check. Nice walk on a nice day, check. Meeting up with Willow and Cierra, pending. Finding Beth, who knows?

Just then, I noticed a strange feeling and looked down to see that someone’s scarf had settled around my ankles. I stopped walking and stooped to pick it up. I looked around for its owner and saw the young woman hurrying towards me, looking embarrassed and flustered. It was Beth.

Good God. I didn’t actually expect to come across her. What am I supposed to say now?

“And so we meet again,” I said. I held her scarf out to her. “You should be more careful. Your garments are trying to escape you. Maybe if you were nicer to them, they wouldn’t try to get away.”

She giggled, which had been my goal. I smiled to myself when I heard the glorious sound of her laughter.

“It’s just because it’s so windy out,” she said.

“That’s true, it is,” I said, hugging my parcel to my chest.

“It’s funny that we ran across each other again.”

“Yeah. Fate, I guess.”

“Why are you here?” She nodded at what I was carrying. “What did you get?”

“Oh, just a sweater. I’ve been running low on… Sweaters.”

“Your clothes have been running away from you too?”

Now it was my turn to laugh.

“How clever of you. Do you want to walk with me?”

“Sure. Why not? I certainly don’t want to go home yet. I never want to.”

“How has that been going?” I asked as we began to walk up the street. “Have you made any progress?”

“With my father? No. Not at all. I can’t face him. I don’t know what to say to him.”

“Tell him that you don’t like the way he’s been treating you and you don’t believe you’ve done anything wrong.”

“That would never go over well with him.”

“Do you want some help? I bet if I went with you, he wouldn’t hurt you.”

“Maybe, but he would hurt you instead. My father is a very violent drunk. He’s always drunk these days. I haven’t seen him sober in weeks.”

“That’s terrible.”

“I am fully aware of how terrible it is.”

I wanted to put my arm around her, but I hadn’t known her long enough and I didn’t want to frighten her.

“Where are you headed?” she asked me.

“I was going to meet up with Willow and Cierra, but that could change.”

“Depending on…?”

“You. If you want to go somewhere, I’ll go with you.”

I looked straight ahead and could feel her smiling at me. I wanted to look over at her, but I didn’t want to jinx the moment.

“Alright. I have some time to spare.”

We wandered into a music store and looked at all of the different instruments they had for sale. Everything was ridiculously expensive, naturally, so I would never have bought any of it. It was still nice to look at, though, and I liked spending time with Beth.

“Do you play?” she asked me as we looked at a row of different kinds of guitars.

“I used to. Lately, though, I haven’t had much time to play music.”

“That’s sad. Why have you been so busy?”

I knew this was an offhanded way of her asking what my job was and I would have applauded her efforts, but I was too busy struggling to come up with a lie.

“I’m in security.” It turned out that I was actually incapable of lying. “At a place.”

“What place?”

“I’m actually not authorized to tell anyone because it would be in violation of the rules. Silly work guidelines, you know.”

Theeeeere’s the lie.

She nodded and moved on to look through some sheet music. I came over and looked over her shoulder. I found myself getting distracted by her beautiful hair. She was wearing it down today and it was long enough to reach her elbows. Blonde, sleek, and shiny; I wanted to reach out and touch it. The temptation was too great, so I moved along and looked at some saxophones. She joined me a minute later.

“I love music. Especially classical.”

“Really?” I said, looking at her. “Classical and Linkin Park?”

“It’s confusing, I know. I’m confusing.”

“That’s not a bad thing. I’m confusing too. I like all kinds of different music. It makes my heart sing, though, so I don’t think anything of it.”

“It makes your heart sing. That’s a good way to describe it.”

I shrugged modestly and we moved on to the next store, an antique shop filled with wooden furniture and knickknacks. We were barely in the door when I noticed a rack of CDs near the entrance. Beth laughed when I instantly fell to my knees in front of it and began examining titles.

“Don’t mock me. I have a growing collection and I like contributing to it.”

“I wasn’t mocking! It’s good that you’re consistent, though.”

I was suddenly overcome with the urge to be generous to this beautiful girl I was walking around with.

“I’ll buy you one, if you want.”

“What, a CD? Where would I listen to it?”

“Well… Good point. If you don’t have a CD player, there’s basically no hope for you.”

“Maybe someday I’ll be able to get one, but it won’t be any day soon. I would ask for one for my birthday, but my father never delivers. In fact, he usually forgets my birthday and I have to celebrate with Liza.”

“When is your birthday?”

I scanned the rack for anything interesting, but there was an excess of Jimmy Buffett, Rod Stewart, and Hootie & the Blowfish. I had nothing against Hootie & the Blowfish, but I already had every album of theirs.

“November 18th.”

“That’s coming up!” I turned around and looked at her. “We’ll have to do something for it.”

“You and I?”

“And whoever else. Melissa… Cierra… Willow… Liza, if you want. I don’t know her.”

“Once you’ve met her, you’ll never forget her,” she said, rolling her eyes.

I turned back to the CDs and said, “You sure have a strange relationship with her.”

“The strangest. I hate her most of the time and I spend most of my time with her anyways.”

“Whatever floats your boat.”

She laughed and grabbed a CD off the rack, holding it out to me.

“Look! Led Zeppelin!”

“You, my dear, have a good eye. I don’t know why I didn’t notice that one.”

“Because you were too busy looking at me, that’s why.”

I felt like she was trying to tell me something without saying it, but she spoke with a straight face. I shook away my foolish hopes and stood up.

“You’re really beautiful. I couldn’t help myself.”

I saw her mouth open in surprise before I grabbed the CD from her and walked past her, deeper into the shop. In the back there were intricately carved desks with lion paws for feet. I smoothed my hand over the surface of one of the desks and smiled at the feel of the well-sanded wood.

“You’re pretty good-looking too.”

I turned around. Beth had followed me and was smiling now. I saw my words had had an effect on her and felt my stomach jump excitedly at the prospect of success.

“That’s arguable.”

“Come and see this chest I found.”

She grabbed me by the arm – my heart soared – and took me to a large wooden chest of drawers made out of mahogany with little flowers and curlicues carved into it.

“Wow.”

“Isn’t it beautiful?”

“Yes.” I traced one of the curlicues with my finger and marveled at the skilled workmanship of its crafter. “I find woodcarving so fascinating. Someone takes something so ordinary and cuts some of it away to reveal what they had seen all along.”

“It’s really cool when you put it that way. Everything you say is so interesting.”

“You think so?” I laughed. “What makes you say that?”

“I guess it’s because you’re older. All the guys my age talk about stupid things like video games and sports.”

“I don’t have anything against video games. And I love a good football match. Arsenal has been doing incredible this year.”

“Sure, but you don’t talk about that all the time. You talk about intellectual things. I’ve never met someone like that before.”

“Well, I’m glad I’m enlightening you.”

“It’s like you see things in a different way from everyone else.”

“That’s because I’m an artistic person. Artistic people tend to think differently.”

“Artistic? How are you artistic?”

I touched each of my fingers as I listed off things.

“I used to play guitar and I listen to music all the time, I love going to the theater to watch plays and musicals, I can appreciate the efforts of other artists, I like to knit, and I occasionally journal. I enjoy the creative process.”

“Okay, you win. Did you say you knit?”

She looked like she didn’t believe me and I laughed at that.

“Yes. I made this, actually.” I touched the dark green beanie I was wearing. “I also make scarves. Lots and lots of scarves. The people… Back home get so tired of me giving them things that I’ve made.”

“That’s actually really cool. I’ve never met a guy who knits before. Can you make me something?”

“Sure. What’s your favorite color?”

“Blue.”

“Consider it done.” I winked at her and we walked down a row of chairs. “Tell me about yourself, Beth. What do you like to do?”

“I don’t really know, to be honest. I mean, whenever I have free time, I usually hang out with Liza or go for a walk. My life is really unexciting. You know enough about me.”

I could never know enough about you.

“You really don’t have any hobbies?”

“I can’t afford to.”

She wasn’t meeting my eyes, so I knew that she didn’t want to stay on the subject anymore.

“I understand. I like going for walks too.” She smiled at me and I knew I had said the right thing. “They’re very relaxing. Sometimes it’s just nice to get away.”

“Exactly.”

I get away because I don’t want to think about someone I know who was murdered in front of me and she gets away because she’s afraid for her own life.

“It’s a crazy life that we live. I wish it wasn’t so crazy so we didn’t need to escape all the time.”

“Me too. I just want to have one day of peace.”

“Someday, you won’t have to worry about that anymore.”

“I really hope you’re right. Do you want to get out of here?”

“Wait.”

Over her shoulder, my eyes had rested on the most beautiful thing in the entire shop: a wooden piano with lots of potential. I walked straight over to it and slid onto the bench, resting my fingers on the plain white keys before starting to play.

Beth watched me open mouthed for a minute before she said, “I thought you said you didn’t play!”

“I didn’t say that. I mentioned that I used to play guitar, but you didn’t ask about piano.”

I hadn’t played piano in ages, but my fingers flowed over the keys like I had never stopped.

“Is that Chopin?” she asked.

“Yes. ‘Nocturne in E-flat Major,’” I replied. “It was one of the first pieces I ever mastered. I was fifteen at the time, I think.”

Beth bowed her head and continued to watch me play, looking mesmerized. The song was so gentle, yet moving. It took me back to a time when I still was with my parents. It seemed like forever ago. I closed my eyes and remembered summer days when my father would teach me how to play the piano. We would play for hours and hours just because we could. During the school year, I played all the time and my mother would scold my father for keeping me from my schoolwork. He would wink at me and then teach me some more. I opened my eyes again and stopped playing.

“What?” Beth asked me when I turned to look at her.

“Nothing. That song just makes me sad sometimes.”

She put her hand on my shoulder and we smiled at each other. Her eyes were so beautiful.

“I’m sorry. Can’t you play something happier?”

I stroked my chin thoughtfully and pondered for a minute before I returned my fingers to the keys and began playing part of “Rhapsody in Blue.”

“Gershwin,” she said with a fond smile.

“Bingo.”

This was a piece I couldn’t close my eyes for because it was more challenging, but my fingers still remembered where to go. I hadn’t forgotten a thing.

“Felix?” Beth said after a while.

“Yeah?”

“When do you work?”

“Er –” I swallowed my surprise. “It varies, but usually the night shift. Are you wondering why I’m out and about at this time of day?”

“Yes.”

“And why did you decide to come over in this area? Don’t you live close to the school? I heard you were Melissa’s neighbor and I know she lives one street over from it.”

“I just… Didn’t want to go home yet. I felt like a walk.”

“Fair enough.”

I continued to play, but then Beth said, “Shit!”

I turned around and saw her hurrying towards the front of the store. I jumped up and ran after her.

“Beth! What is it?”

“It’s almost five o’clock! My father will be home soon! I can’t believe I let it get this late! If I’m not there when he gets home, I’m a goner!”

“Well, at least let me come with you!”

But she had run out of the store already and left me in the dust. I made a split-second decision to go after her and was surprised when a torrent of rain fell on me as soon as I exited the shop. It was pouring down rain so hard that I could barely see in front of me. However, I recognized Beth’s blue book bag and brown jacket and ran after her. The rain beat on my face like a million tiny arrows and I had to squint my eyes to prevent water from running into them.

“Beth!” I yelled. “Wait for me!”

She wasn’t going to stop running, so I kept chasing after her. I didn’t want her to go home alone and I was determined to escort her, even if I wasn’t right beside her. I cared about her safety more than I had cared about anything before. The thought of what might be waiting for her when she got home legitimately frightened me.

I looked both ways before dashing across a busy street and followed her distant shape as it passed James Garfield High School and turned onto the next street. I felt like I was drowning in my wet clothes, but I didn’t care about that right now. All that mattered was Beth. I saw her go into her house and I ran up her driveway, stopping on the front porch. I debated going inside and then decided against it.

I’ll wait here for a few minutes and if everything seems okay, I’ll leave.

Standing there in the rain and listening for any sounds of anger was nerve-racking. I felt like my lungs were going to explode from how heavily I was breathing. Thankfully, I didn’t have anger problems like Scott, so I could handle my frustration by breathing slowly and focusing on staring at the upper left corner of the front door for a few minutes. I could definitely hear voices inside now, over the rain, and they were getting louder.

Oh God, how can a person take his anger out on his daughter? How can he dare to hit her? Beth is the most intoxicating person I’ve been around. Whenever I spend time with her, I feel like I’m flying and I don’t feel like that with other people. Whatever this is, I have to figure it out and I have to help her.

“BETHANY WINFRIED, HOW DARE YOU WALK AWAY FROM ME!!!” a thundering voice said, startling me.

“Good God,” I said under my breath.

As I heard Beth’s screaming responses, I realized that I was being stupid and quickly dialed 911 on my cell phone. The emergency was simple: domestic violence in its worst form. I quickly rattled off the location and the details, emphasizing how urgent situation was. Then I hung up my phone and opened the front door.

Beth was lying on the floor in the front hall with blood streaming from her face. Her father, a balding, quivering drunk with a gin blossom nose, stood above her holding a kitchen knife tightly in his hand. His eyes were wild and bloodshot and I was immediately terrified of him. My heart jumped into my throat and I could feel it hammering inside of me.

“Get away from her, sir!” I said in my fiercest voice, which ended up sounding like a croak.

“I knew it,” the man said. His lip curled in a sneer. He didn’t look surprised to see me at all. “I knew she was fucking someone. She’s a whore, just like her mother. A lying, stealing, philandering whore.”

“I don’t care how drunk you are, I will not allow you to say such things about her. It’s not true. Your daughter is a wonderful person and you’re an idiot, frankly, if you don’t realize that.”

I looked down at Beth and saw tears trailing silently down her face, along with the blood. Just from seeing her in such a vulnerable position, I felt like crying. I looked back at her father, summoning all the courage I had. He was just a man, after all, and I was much more than that.

“How dare you come into my home and call me an idiot. You have no right!”

“You have no right to hurt her!”

“I have the right to do whatever I damn well please in my own home!”

“Felix, just stop it. Just get out of here. This isn’t any of your business,” Beth said.

Her eyes said otherwise. Her eyes pleaded with me, begging me to stay with her.

“You’re the one who has to get out of here.”

I bent to help her up and her father growled in anger and flung his knife. I caught a flash of it in my peripheral view, but did not have enough time to react and found myself flung back against the floor. I yelled out as I felt great pain in my shoulder. I could feel a warm wetness spreading across my chest and I gritted my teeth.

“Felix!” I heard Beth scream.

“I’m alright,” I managed to say, gasping.

I needed her to know that I was okay, but I wasn’t likely to convince her in my current state. She had no idea that I could heal myself, but I couldn’t exactly tell her. She dragged herself over to me, touching my face in concern.

“Bethany, I’m ashamed of you!” Her father grabbed her by the front of her shirt and jerked her to her feet, glaring into her face. “Ever since your mother left, you’ve been disobeying me left and right.”

“That’s because you’ve been a ridiculous person ever since she left. You’ve been drunk the whole time, practically! I know it’s because you’re in love with her!”

I heard him slap her and struggled to get my feet, but yelled at the pain I felt when I did so. I yanked the knife out of my shoulder and almost blacked out as a shudder of unbearable pain shot through my body. I gasped and held my wound with my right hand as I struggled to stand up slowly.

“Beth, come on!” I said.

I grabbed her arm and pulled her out the front door. We ran as fast as we could away from the house and could hear Beth’s father yelling at us still in the distance. We were holding hands as we ran, blinded by the rain. When we reached the end of the street, we stopped running and looked behind us to see if we were still being pursued, but there was no sign of him. I sighed in relief and bent over with my hands on my knees. Beth gasped with exhaustion. I looked over at her in concern. She was still bleeding from her face, but I could tell that her tears were not tears of physical pain. I reached out to her but she looked away, as if embarrassed.

I heard sirens in the distance and wondered if they were the ones I had been expecting. When they got closer, I turned around and watched as two police cars appeared and pulled up at the curb beside us.

The driver’s side window of the car nearest to us rolled down and an officer yelled, “Are you two okay? Are you the ones that reported –?”

“Yes!” I said before he could finish. I already knew what he was going to ask. “We’ve just gotten away from him.”

I stepped away from Beth to give the officer the information he needed.

“Can I get you some help? Call an ambulance? It looks like you’re both bleeding.”

“We’ll be fine. It’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a little cleaning up,” I said.

The officer nodded and the two cars pulled away. I looked back at Beth and saw worry written all over her face.

“Felix, you’re not okay! He stabbed you in the shoulder!”

“I’m fine! It was just a scratch!”

“No, it wasn’t! I watched it happen!” She came over to me to look closer at the wound. I tried to push her away, but she saw it before I could stop her. A look of shock came over her. “How is that possible? It’s all healed up already.”

She looked in my eyes and I wondered if I should tell her or not. We didn’t know each other very well, but I knew it would still change the way she saw me.

“I’m fine. Really.”

“I can see that. But… It’s like it was magic or something.”

I gulped. No matter how long I stared into her eyes, I knew I could never know exactly what she was thinking in that moment, but I wanted to desperately.

“Let’s just say I heal really quickly. I’m not exactly a normal guy.”

She stared at me, but I couldn’t go on. I wanted to tell her. It just wasn’t the time, though. Instead, I put a hand on her face and focused on the cut on her cheek until it had closed up. Beth gasped and reached up to touch the place where the cut had been. Then she slid her hand onto mine and let her fingers fall between mine. I held my breath as I held her hand and she held mine. I wanted this moment to last forever.

“What am I going to do now?” she whispered to me.

It was like she had forgotten the enormous thing that she had just discovered about me. Either that, or she was treating it like I had merely confessed to preferring kiwi fruit over strawberries. Her reaction was not what I expected at all. I didn’t know how to react, so I didn’t.

“I don’t know. I think that’s a choice that only you can make.”

“I can’t go back there. They’ll take him away and he’ll probably never come back. I need somewhere to stay.” She looked over her shoulder and her brow lifted with realization. “Can you walk with me?”

“Absolutely.”

We were still holding hands and we stayed that way until we had reached the porch of the Curran house.

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