Theodore was only fourteen, but he could already hold his own in a fight.
Greatly distanced from the principal’s office, the court behind the science block was renowned for its lunchtime brawls and ability to obscure sneaky smokers. Most days it was the older kids who loitered here, those of self-inflicted societal inferiority, the miscreants with a cigarette behind their ear and a knife in their back pocket. These kids were bigger, stronger and meaner, each with a chip on their shoulder so heavy it propelled them towards a constant stream of violence. With his loud mouth and hotheaded nature, Theodore frequently found himself on the receiving end of such violence. Usually it was warranted.
His blood splattered across a wall of dirtied red brick, nose tingling and slightly askew, Theodore swayed in place, blinking repeatedly to clear his vision of circling stars and disjointed shapes. There was a tightness in his chest so exaggerated by a quickly flourishing rush of acrimony that his breaths were short and sharp, each more painful than that before it. Every thought in his mind seemed incomprehensible, jumbled by both a flurry of fists and the bewilderment of seeing familiar faces. Two of his best friends stood by idly, watching, neither budging to lend a hand. He couldn’t make sense of it.
Fury turning his cheeks red, Theodore tried to straighten his posture. A slap to the cheek swiftly struck him back down. He bit back tears with a strangled groan.
“Fucking goatbanger,” Kyle spat, his hand still raised. He had recently become a man, and yet he was puny, all bones and no meat. Still, he could be fantastically cruel, destined to follow in the footsteps of his stepfather. A ginormous bruise painted his cheek purple, but he took no notice, too focussed on pummelling the younger boy hunched before him. “You never learn, do ya?”
Theodore staggered, dropping a knee, but managed a cheekily baiting smile. He had always been one to laugh in the face of a serious situation, so much so that he would likely antagonise a man holding a gun to his head. “It’s hard to learn much from you when you can hardly speak your own language,” he muttered. This earned him another slap.
Expression unreadable, and his body uncomfortably rigid, Harvey’s eyes flickered back and forth between the two as though spectating a tennis match. The wavering of his pupils was subtle, but just enough to embody an inner turmoil, the struggle to choose between his big brother or close friend, the bad or the slightly less bad. He was woefully weak, the walking stereotype of every nerd, his head full of unruly auburn curls and his porcelain skin dotted with a chaotic arrangement of freckles. He was skinny and delicate, the type to blow away like a leaf should the wind ever grow too vigorous, and often struggled to speak in a voice louder than a whisper.
Playing his exact opposite and bumping against his shoulder was Andrew, a mass of hulking muscle and outspoken wit, the kind of kid who could’ve taken on any other without breaking a sweat. Unfortunately, his desire to utilise his fists was restricted by the beliefs of his family, warped and controlled by their religious ideologies. He could’ve been anything if only he had been allowed the freedom.
Harvey could have played the perfect distraction. He was clever enough to talk himself out of a dire situation, to jumble Kyle’s thoughts so exceptionally that the bully would forget who he was bullying. Andrew could have trounced Kyle into the ground with a single fist, knocked some sense - or perhaps even an inkling of fear - into him. The two could have teamed up, pairing verbal trickery with athleticism and strength. However, although starkly different in nature and build, both of Theodore’s friends refused to intervene. They appeared hesitant even to pull him back to his feet.
“You watch your fucking mouth, or you’ll get what’s coming to ya,” Kyle growled, voice strained as though fighting to suppress a shout. God forbid any of the school faculty catch him. He was on his last legs.
Sometimes too confident, Theodore met Kyle’s gaze, unblinking, trying to defy his superiority with a single glance. He was in terrible agony, trembling with the effort to ignore the ceaseless aching of his jaw, but he wasn’t scared. He knew Kyle could only do so much damage on school grounds.
“And what’s that? Are you going to slap me again?” Theodore pressed, words laced with sarcasm. He allowed his other knee to drop, but held his head upright, unrelenting. “You think I’m scared of you, Kyle? Honestly, you hit like a girl.”
Like a flash of lightning, Kyle darted forward and latched onto the collar of Theodore’s shirt, fingers twisting. His face contorted with a snarl so monstrous he nearly ceased to appear human, the glint in his eyes a red so horrendously unnatural, like blood seeping into steely blue irises. His breath shot out in hot spurts, jagged, uncontrolled. “You ain’t got a clue what I’m capable of, Theodore. I can take everything you love and break it apart. I can make you and everyone around you hurt. I can send you to Hell and back, like the fucking dirty, little mutt you are. I can-.”
Harvey, so small and frail, stepped forward to carefully place his hands atop Kyle’s shoulders. He tugged back gently, slowly. His expression remained stiff, unchanging, but again it was his eyes that exposed him. He was terrified. And he had chosen his side. “David doesn’t want attention drawn to any of us right now.”
A perplexed frown slipped onto Theodore’s face. He had heard that name before, yet he couldn’t place it, couldn’t comprehend why Harvey would have connections to this person or how they had anything to do with this stupid schoolyard scuffle. He had a million questions fluttering through his mind with their wings of anger and betrayal and confusion. The sinking feeling in his stomach was screaming at him, desperately trying to tell him there was something greater at stake here, but in the end, he was still just a kid.
There was no way for him to know that two of his best friends were already beyond redemption.
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