Khalil thought he had imagined her face when he walked into the room, there were to many new faces, to many new smells, to many news sounds, to focus on one thing at a time, but when her name was called aloud, there was no denying that it was her. He hadn’t meant to stare so intently, but he couldn’t help but satisfy his curiosity. She still looked the same as she had that night on the street, her dark ebony black hair twirling in the wind, her red tear-stained cheeks, the combined lights of the police car and the ambulance reflected in her watery eyes. From the frightened expression he had left on her face in homeroom he was convinced that she didn’t remember him, though he wasn’t sure why she would, it had been years since they had even been in the same room, she had moved on with her life after the fire it seemed.
All day he could barely focus, the image of Mina’s face burnt into the back of his mind, he wished he could talk to her, to ask about her, to ask about her parents but the looks he was receiving warned him to stay far far away.
He wasn’t sure if the students at Palm Valley knew that he was aware of all their rumors circulating through their school, or if maybe they just didn’t care, though judging by their lack of secrecy he assumed it was the latter. Every classroom he entered and every hall he walked down, he was met with looks of disgust and unhushed whispers. None of it was true, and yet everyone seemed to take the rumors in stride, never wondering if the words they were whispering had any inclining of falsity.
He couldn’t even eat lunch in peace, for being stared at by every person at every table. He felt like a caged animal, everyone around him was free to do and say whatever they wanted about him, but he just had to sit back peaceably and try not to get himself in trouble. Even when a group of broad and burly looking boys, all proudly clad from head to toe in the dark emerald green of the school colors, poured an abstract lump of food over his pressed uniform, he had had to clench his fingernails into the palm of his hand to keep from punching all of them. The only thing calming him, the cold piece of metal hanging from around his neck, and it took all of his will not to run out of the school, pushing people out of the way, when the final bell rang.
“Khalil!” Khalil jumped at the sound of Donna’s light, airy, voice, in his face as he stepped through the threshold of the front door. Beau pushed through the door past him, as usual paying no attention to Khalil’s existence whatsoever.
“How was your-” Donna paused, her eyes finding the miscellaneous stain of light orange trailing down the shoulder of his shirt and running down his arm. Khalil had been hoping that Donna would have been out when he arrived home from school and he have could slipped by with his stained shirt and sulk in his terrible day unbothered, of course his entire life had never gone the way he had planned, so he wasn’t sure why he had gotten his hopes up this time.
“Y-your shirt!” she spluttered, her mouth gaping like a fish. “What happened?” Beau paused in his plight up the oak staircase, and even from where he was standing Khalil could spot his flashy white grin, no doubt waiting to witness the awkward conversation that was to follow.
“They gave him a Palm Valley Welcome!” He snickered matter-of-factly from the steps. Khalil shot him a dirty glare from across the room, only causing him to smile harder.
“What?” Donna looked between the two of them confusedly, soaking in Khalil’s ruined uniform and Beau’s malicious grin. “W-what does that mean? Who did this to you Khalil?”
“Nothing!” Khalil shouted, throwing his hands into the air at the both of them, he wanted nothing more than to sink into the floor below him. “Nothing and no one!” He let out a loud and exasperated sigh, he was fed up with the entire day. “Look, I- I have t-things to d-do...homework to do!” Not a single one of his teachers had assigned him homework but he wasn’t eager to relive his first day as the rich peoples’ play toy over again, so instead he did what he did best.
“Khalil!” Donna’s voice grew increasingly more annoying with every exclamation.
Turning on the ball of his foot without falter, Khalil made his way across the room to the base of the wooden oak staircase where a built in door to the basement sat ajar.
“Khalil!” Donna yelled again, both fed-up and confused, her entire being seething with anger.
Khalil ignored Donna’s protests and empty threats, blocking out the sound of Beau’s enjoyment behind him and pounded into the basement without a second thought. He slammed the only door separating him from his grievances behind him with a loud thud praying that neither of them would try and follow behind him.
Beau’s snickers echoed through the wall and Khalil held himself back, enabling all the will he possessed to stop himself from throwing his body through the wall and onto Beau’s sneering figure.
“Let him cool off!” Beau’s voice reverberated through the thin plaster of the basement walls and Khalil suddenly became aware of his frantic breathing and heaving chest, his emotions controlling him yet again. He let out a labored breath of frustration before he engaged in the loose slats of wood that served as makeshift stairs descending into the dark mess of spider webs and moth balls that was the basement, shutting out the voices above him all the while.
He loosely felt along the broken wall beside him until his fingers touched the smoothness of a small white light switch, hidden in the shadow of a bookcase that looked as if it had never seen the light of day, or any light whatsoever. A soft yellow light flooded over the room, illuminating the only furniture in the living-room sized space. A soft beige stained couch with nails protruding from the surface sat in the middle of the basement, accompanied on both sides by two matching armchairs and a miniature brown wobbling table.
Khalil still couldn’t believe how little things had changed since he had left, even the same ancient desktop computer from his childhood sat pushed against the wall surrounded by mountains of worthless objects and old magazines. He wondered if it still worked.
Khalil tossed the backpack Beau had lent him onto the floor next to the couch and made his way over to the plastic chair that served as a makeshift desk chair. He pressed the silver power button on the bottom right corner of the computer monitor and was surprised to hear the soft rumble of the system waking up, a flicker of light that brought the blue screen in front of him to life. There was no password.
Suddenly Khalil’s curiosity was once again overtaking him, and his thoughts again returned to the image of MJ in homeroom. His fingers had gained a mind of their own, tapping rapidly against the dark wood computer desk, his free hand lost in the waves of his long hair and before he was even aware of what he was doing he had clicked on the chrome icon at the bottom of the screen and was typing away in the search bar. It took Khalil all of two seconds to find what he was looking for and he didn’t even realize what he had done until MJ’s bright, energetic smile was staring back at him through the screen. Pictures of her face loaded, filling the page before him in row after row until she was the only thing he could see.
He slowly began to scroll down her Instagram feed, taking in every picture and every caption, her entire life laid out before him at the click of a button. There were pictures of she and her friends at football games, pictures of she and her boyfriend on dates, she had documented every memory and every important date in her life in one digital space. He couldn’t believe how many pictures there were! He kept scrolling down further and further, year after year, until the sight of MJ’s figure squished between a man and women standing on either side of her caused him to double take. He immediately clicked on the picture, blowing it up to fit the entirety of the computer screen. Khalil recognized the two adults bordering her, and the caption confirmed his thoughts: “Family Brunches 10/10” This time both Khalil’s hands migrated to his hair, his frustration growing by a tenfold yet again. They all looked so happy, as if they had not a single care in the world, though why would they when they had gotten everything they had ever wanted out of life. His fingers tugged at the stray metal around his neck and he could feel himself getting hotter once again, billowing steam like a broken engine.
With furrowed eyebrows Khalil grabbed the computer mouse once again, this time with a different agenda and a new sense of urgency. He opened a smaller tab in the corner and began blindly typing away at the keyboard, clicking on the first linked that popped up he found himself peering at a news article from several years ago. The heading was in big bold black letters, staring him down and reminding him yet again of the night he had tried relentlessly to forget.
“Mendes Estate Goes Up In Flames: Arson or Accident?”
His eyes scanned over the article without hesitation, though he didn’t have to read the page word for word to know what lies it held, what fictitious lies it presented for the public eye in order to maintain the reputation of a scheming million dollar company. He gripped his pendant hard between his fingers twirling it between both hands like a dreidel, though it was doing nothing to stifle his rising infuriation anymore. All he could think about anymore were the echoing screams of past life that seemed to be fake,
“What are you doing?” Khalil jumped at the startling sound of a deep, inquisitive voice behind him, though he didn’t have to turn around to know who it was that had decided to disturb his peace. Khalil turned sideways so he was looking at his intruder, annoyance written across his face.
“Do you not have anything better to do than bother me?” Khalil asked sarcastically, though Beau steadily ignored him as usual.
“You missed dinner yesterday.” he crossed his arms over his chest matter-of-factly. “Donna sent me to make sure you don’t make a habit of it.” Beau explained.
“What are you doing?“He echoed once again, tilting his head to the computer screen behind Khalil with interest, and much to Khalil’s dismay, this time he had a perfect view of everything laid out on the screen.
“Is that MJ?” His eyes were plastered to the monitor in disbelief as his voice steadily rose accusingly.
“No!” Khalil quickly turned the computer to the side, out of Beau’s line of vision, clicking the power button until the gentle buzzing of the computer’s system had faded to silence, but it was to late. Beau had already taken in the images of MJ’s face duplicated across the screen and read the bold heading of the newspaper clipping sitting quietly in the corner of the monitor, Khalil had been caught.
Khalil quickly pushed back from the plastic white chair he was sat in, almost overturning himself in the process as he attempted to push his way past Beau, though he never reached the door. Beau’s six foot tall figure blocked Khalil’s path, and he was left staring at Beau’s chest as his eyes searched him over, daring him, challenging him to be incompliant.
“Why were you looking at pictures of MJ?” Beau’s voice had become eerily quiet now, his arms uncrossed as his hands now rested at his side, though his own fist were steadily clenched by his side awaiting the opportunity when they would finally connect with Beau’s jaw and leave him stumbling around the room dumbfounded.
Khalil didn’t answered, attempting to push past Beau’s broad figure once more only to be disappointed again. “Get out of my way!” he thundered in annoyance, his nails now digging into the palm of his hand trying to keep himself calm.
“Why were you looking at pictures of MJ?” he echoed again, “What?” he spoke again when Khalil didn’t answer, getting in his face when he tried to turn away and maneuver around him yet again. He didn’t realize what a dangerous game it was that he was playing. “You have a crush on her or something, like the rest of the school.” he began to laugh at his own joke, priding himself on how uncomfortable he was making Khalil feel, but his amusement was short-lived as the realization of the situation suddenly dawned on upon him.
“Your parents.” Beau’s smile had evaporated from his face and instead been replaced by a distinct frown, and what Khalil had learned to detect over the years as intense pity. He didn’t want pity from anyone, especially the boy that locked him up for two years. “This is about your parents isn’t it?”
If Khalil wasn’t seething before, he was now. He wanted to scream aloud, to connect his fist with Beau’s face over and over again, to feel something..anything other than the anguish that was running over his body in waves.
“It’s none of your fucking business.” Khalil was clenching his teeth together so hard now, that he was almost afraid they might break.
“They’re gone, Khalil. Dead! They-” He wasn’t sure if Beau could see it, but he was making matters worse, only adding fuel to the already blazing fire inside of him and each word that escaped his mouth was making it harder and harder for Khalil to simply walk away.
“Get the fuck out of my way!” Khalil interrupted Beau’s lecture, giving him one last change to evaporate before he grabbed him and slammed his head into the nearest wall. He attempted to push past the towering boy in front of him a final time, a low growl erupting from the back of his throat as he received a push back this time.
“I know you want there to be a further explanation, to hold someone responsible for what happened, but it was freak accident.”
Khalil was trying to drown out Beau’s words, to focus on steadying his erratic breathing, but suddenly the only thing he could think about was the accident vivid in his mind, MJ and her parents at the scene looking as dumbstruck at the surrounding civilians as they watched millions of dollars of their estate go up in flames without the flinch of an eye.
“It was an accident Khalil”
“There was no one else in the building!. The police said it was a faulty gas line.” Khalil couldn’t stop a manic chuckle at the lie the press steadily fed the public, the lie made absolutely no sense but that the city accepted willingly without question. It was the least messy option after all, and no one wanted to believe that anybody would ever plot against the Mendes family, because everybody liked rich people..right?
“You need to let go and move on with you life.”
“Shut the hell up!” This time Khalil couldn’t hold himself back, he hadn’t realized he had grabbed the pendant around his neck in the commotion, but he abruptly let go of the cold metal as he balled his fist tightly, never hesitating once as he connected it to the side of Beau’s face over and over again. He never stopped screaming the entire time. “Shut up!” There was blood all over Khalil knuckles, the skin busted at the repetitive connection against Beau’s jaw, but he didn’t slow down, and he didn’t stop. He couldn’t feel anything.
He couldn’t feel anything until Beau landed a succession of three punches across the side of Khalil’s own face. There was a pause as Khalil brought his hand up to meet his now bruised face, the skin of his lip dry, swollen, and bleeding profusely and a large small lump forming over his left eye. Khalil grinned manically watching Beau’s carefully calculated gray eyes studying his face nervously, he thought the fight was over. It wasn’t. Doubled over like a battling ram, Khalil headbutted Beau’s stomach wrapping his arms tight around his torso as he slammed them both into the plaster wall behind them. Beau fell to the ground with a loud thump, even then still trying to reach any part of Khalil that he could, but Khalil had straddled his limp body and was repeatedly landing punches to both his abdomen and his face, his silver metal pendent swing from his neck crazily.
There was blood everywhere, though neither of them could tell who it belonged to anymore, they were both covered in each other from head to toe, Khalil’s frustration at the miscellaneous stain of earlier completely dissipating. He was so blind with rage he didn’t even hear the echoing pitter-patter of flat feet coming down the wooden slat stairs of the basement or the loud and repeated protestations of Donna’s voice entering the small area until she was practically pulling at the collar of his now red-stained shirt. Beau’s lifeless body was slumped against the white plaster wall un-moving.
“No! No! No!” Donna protested, pushing Khalil out of the way without a second thought, hovering over Beau’s body as she cradled his head gently into her arms like a child. “Beau?” her voice was wavering and he could hear her choking back a flood of tears. His eyes suddenly fell to the face of the boy draped across her lap, or rather what was left of it. The entire left side of Beau’s face was covered in his own blood and both his eyes were almost entirely swollen shut and growing larger by the second, his entire face throbbing grotesquely. Khalil stumbled backwards, his work laid out before him for him to marvel in.
“Shit!” he muttered under her breath, wiping his sweaty brow with the back of his arm and his mouth with the back of his other. The sight of the mess he had created around him was making him nauseous and he was afraid that his was about to see his school lunch for a second time. It was no secret that he and Beau hated each other, but he never wanted to see his blood spread across the floor, cripple him, kill him. He hadn’t meant for his anger to get so out of hand. He looked up, his eyes apologetic, searching Donna’s face for any sign of understanding, any sign of forgiveness, but all he could see was fear. It was the look that he had worn all his life, uncertain of where his life on the run would take him next.
The wooden slats of the basement creaked again this time in a steady, unwavering, symphony and Khalil was suddenly staring into nine pairs of small wildy naive eyes all of them taking in the scene unfolding around them with wide eyes. Undoubtedly, their expressions began to resemble Donna’s as they examined the hot stench of blood around them, and a few of the younger ones began to cry in utter confusion. Khalil wanted to cry too.
He couldn’t take the wary stares anymore, he couldn’t take the tears, or the blood, he couldn’t take any of it anymore. He wished that he could sink into a hole in the middle of the floor and disappear forever, unluckily for him the world had never been so thoughtful. Before Khalil could shove his bloody fist into one of the plaster walls confining him he found himself running up the basement stairs and through the house like a roadrunner, eager to escape the hell of his own making.
The fall breeze rushed around him in an air stream, as he threw open the front door of the small bungalow with an earsplitting thud, he couldn’t stand to be in that house for a minute longer. Where he was going, he had no idea, but he knew that if he didn’t get out of that house he was going to vomit all over the broken wooden floors before he tore the rest of the building to shreds.
The smell of smoke and hot trash filled his nostrils as he ran, cutting through random yards and between abnormal looking trees and bushes, but even that smell was better than the musty stench of the bungalow. Khalil had never been the athletic type and his limbs immediately began to ache unbearably under the duress of his speed, but he didn’t dare slow down for a second, power through the pain until he found himself in the parking lot of an abandoned and deteriorating building at the very end of the street. He assumed that the government hadn’t reached this side of town with their gentrification quests quite yet.
Before he could stop himself his overwhelming emotions were taking control of him once more and he was slamming his, already skinned and bruised, knuckles against the side of the brick building beside him. He immediately regretted his decision, cradling his hand in his other arm as he began to pick up stray rocks and pebbles instead, hurling them at the already broken glass windows of the building as a release. It didn’t help as much as he hoped it would and, though he tried adamantly to shake the vivid memory of the basement from his mind, the image seemed to take over all his thoughts until Beau’s limp body lying on the floor was all he could think about. Khalil’s earlier thought of running away resurfaced in his mind, at least this way no one would come looking for him if he decided to disappear for a while. He couldn’t disappear, and he couldn’t get kicked out either.
“You need to move on with your life!” Beau’s words boomed vaguely in the back of his mind, but how was he supposed to move on with his life when he knew that MJ, Mr. and Mrs Mendes, were so close.
Suddenly Khalil couldn’t think of a better reason why he needed to stay.