“Really?” the corners of his mouth tightened again. “And what’s that?”
“Will you hold me?” Tears welled up in my eyes and streaked down my cheeks. Trystan instantly became the man I knew, and forgot about his worries. Stepping forward, I walked into his arms, and he held me tight.
When sunlight poured into Trystan’s room earlier that morning, he tried the door. Still locked. Glancing out the window, Trystan saw that his dad’s car was gone. Shit. Trystan stretched, his back aching from sleeping on the hard floor. His dick of a dad turned the heat off so that he was freezing, too. Although it was cold, Trystan refused to close the window last night. It was better than being trapped in the darkness. It was a good thing Trystan didn’t take off his jacket when he walked through the door.
Running his hands through his hair, Trystan looked at the door. He knelt in front of it wondering what time it was, if he was late for school yet. The teacher’s would ride his ass, threatening to not let him graduate. Some tried to threaten him by saying he couldn’t walk at graduation—like that was a threat. He didn’t care if he walked or not. It’s not like anyone would show up and clap for him. No one cared what happened to Trystan Scott. While the other kids got pats on the back and ushered off to college, Trystan got a psychotic parent who blamed him for everything.
Trystan stared at the lock, wishing he could remember his mother—at least a little bit—but there was nothing. No voice, no sense of safety, no warm memories of his mother cradling him in her arms or kissing him good-night. It wasn’t something that he usually dwelt on. That was the past. There was nothing Trystan could do to change it. She left. No amount of wondering would bring her back, and Trystan had no plans of looking for her either. What was the point of chasing someone who left him behind? Trystan had had enough misery from the time she left. The thought of finding her and having his mom turn her back on him again was just too much. It wasn’t worth the risk. Not now, not ever.
Staring at the golden lock, Trystan realized his Dad changed the knob. Trystan could have picked the lock if it was the old one, but not this thing. Rising, Trystan stood back. He took a deep breath, braced himself, and kicked his boot into the door. The door shook, but it didn’t give. Trystan kicked it again and again, trying to weaken the frame, so that it would crack and let him out, but the jam was too strong. Again, another of Trystan’s ways to protect himself came back and bit him on the ass. After a few moments, he was huffing and the door gave no indication of opening. Trystan sat down on the floor hard, and banged his head back into the wall.
“I have to get out here,” he muttered to himself.
He stared at the black bars that shuttered him in. They were solid. There was no way he could bend them or slip out between, they were too narrow. Pushing himself to his feet, Trystan walked across the room to the window. If he drew attention to himself, someone might call the cops, and Trystan learned early on that cops were bad. If they showed up, he’d be in a worse situation than he was already in.
Trystan leaned on the windowsill and turned his head, making his cheek press into the cold bars. They were jagged with rust. The paint on the bars had blistered and peeled long ago. When Trystan pulled his face away, he felt the grime on his cheek and wiped it away. It left an orange smear on his fingers. Wonderful.
Trystan stared at the bars, wondering if he could manage to kick them. They were a little loose, like the mortar holding the bolts in place had grown weak. Trystan’s hands clenched at his sides. Before he spent more time thinking about whether or not he’d get into trouble, Trystan kicked. His boot came up and punched the side of the frame hard. To his surprise, his foot kept going. The bars went flying to the ground and bits of brick flew back into Trystan’s face. One piece of shrapnel collided with his cheek, raking a deep cut as it flew by. Trystan swore, but he didn’t have time to look at the cut. The window was the only way out. He was wearing the same clothes as yesterday, didn’t get to shower, and now his face was covered in rust and blood.
Trystan swung his leg over the windowsill and jumped out. He landed next to a dead bush on the other side of the wall, and ran to grab the bars. Lifting them, Trystan wedged the rusty metal back in place. To his surprise, it held. The only problem now was making sure the school didn’t throw him out when he got there and then he’d have to deal with his dad later.
When Trystan walked into the high school, Tucker was in the lobby. Trystan stopped mid-step and swung around, ready to bolt, but Tucker grabbed him by the shoulder.
“You missed first period, Scott. What do you—” Tucker stopped speaking as Trystan whirled around. His chubby jaw slipped opened for a second, before taking a deep breath. “What happened to your face? Is that rust?” Tucker lifted his hand like he was going to touch Trystan, but stopped when Trystan flinched.
Trystan didn’t mean to wince, but so much had happened. He was overly tired and his body was reacting without thought. Shit. Shit. Shit. Trystan tried to laugh it off, by saying, “If you’re suggesting that I—”
But Tucker cut him off, “Save it, Scott. Nurse’s office. Now.” The smirk fell off Trystan’s face. They walked down the hall in silence. Why did things have to be like this? Why was Tucker gunning for him? Trystan grew more defensive, which made his wit so sharp it stung. When he walked into the nurse’s office, Tucker followed.
“I don’t need a babysitter,” Trystan said in a snarky tone, but Tucker ignored him.
“Glenda,” Tucker said as he crossed the room to the nurse’s desk. “This one looks like he was hit in the face with a rusty bucket, but he won’t say what happened. Can you take a look at it and clean him up?”
“Sure,” Glenda said, eyeing Trystan. She’d always been kind to Trystan, but he didn’t want people fussing over him. It just made things worse. She told Trystan to sit in the chair next to her desk. When he didn’t move, Tucker gave his shoulder a shove.
“How’d this happen?” Glenda’s voice was kind. She bent over and examined the cut, careful not to touch him.
Trystan’s insides were twisting. Fear clung to his throat in thick clumps, making it difficult to swallow. They’re going to find out. They have to know. Trying to muster his charm, Trystan said, “I ran into a burning building and saved a few babies on the way to school. I must have stepped on a rake on the way in.”
Glenda grinned at him, “Always a kidder,” she leaned closer, her fingers pressing on Trystan’s cheek. He forced himself to sit still even though it was sore. “So this is rust?” Trystan nodded. Glenda stepped away and got a brown bottle and some cotton balls.
She dabbed the cotton with the stuff in the bottle and then on his cheek. “It might sting a little,” she said too late. Trystan didn’t flinch this time. He sat rigid in the chair, staring straight ahead. As she patched Trystan up, she spoke about the weather and other things that nobody cares about.
At some point Tucker left, because he was alone with Glenda. That was when she said, “Did someone do this to you? It looks like you were hit in the face with a shovel.”
“I wasn’t,” Trystan responded, his voice flat.
“Maybe it was a brick, then? Or something else that bruised your face? Trystan, when was the last time you had a tetanus shot?” It didn’t matter what she said after that. He didn’t answer. Glenda was young enough to still be patient. When Trystan wouldn’t answer, Glenda touched her hand to her forehead and said, “I’ll have to call your father and ask.”
Trystan wanted to jump out of the chair and run from the room. Suddenly he was more cooperative. “I don’t need one. I’m fine. And thanks for cleaning me up. You were always my favorite nurse.”
Her hands were on her h*ps as she watched Trystan inch toward the door with a smile on his face. “Wait, I haven’t bandaged that yet. When you smile, it’s going to bleed.”
“It’s okay,” he said over his shoulder, exiting the room. “I’m fine. I’ll come back if it opens up again.”
Trystan’s heart was pounding. His nerves were like brittle old wires, ready to snap. When he turned down the hallway, Tucker was standing against the wall, his massive arms folded across his chest. There was no way to get away from the teacher. Tucker insisted on talking. They’d gone into the auditorium and Trystan found out that talking meant having Tucker question him for nearly the whole period and Trystan sitting there fuming, not saying much.
By the time Mari walked in, Trystan felt his sanity slipping away. Then, Tucker left and Mari had questions in her eyes. Trystan couldn’t unwind. Watching his reflection in her eyes, Trystan saw a man that looked too much like his father. Trystan was ready to turn and leave her there if she pressed him for answers, but she didn’t. Instead, she asked him to hold her and tears streaked down her cheeks. All the anger and fatigue melted away as Mari pressed her wet face against Trystan’s chest.
His arms closed around her shoulders, holding her tight, wanting to fix whatever made her like this. Trystan ran his fingers through her soft curls, pushing it away from her tears, “What’s wrong?”
Mari’s body shook gently. When she looked up at him, he wanted to make her smile so badly. Tears didn’t belong on that perfect face. Trystan’s thumb wiped a tear away as it spilled from her eye and ran down her face. “I’m sorry. I just had a really bad night.”
Trystan pulled her close and held on tight. “I know what you mean. Mine was less than stellar, too.”
“I would have called you, but I didn’t know what your number was. Either way, my parents probably would have gone postal on me if they knew I was talking to you.” She sniffled, trying to smile. Trystan felt Mari’s back rise and fall as she sucked in huge, ragged breaths.
After a moment, Trystan suggested, “Let’s go downstairs for a little while. I’ll hold you all you want and we don’t have to worry about anyone walking in and seeing us together. Sound good?”
The pulled apart and Mari looked up at him, nodding. When they got to the basement, Trystan flipped on the lights and they descended the stairs. No one was down there. No one was ever down in the basement during the school day.
Trystan sat on the couch and pulled Mari onto his lap. She fit perfectly, like she was made for him. When Mari leaned back into his shoulder, Trystan felt whole. The emotions that flooded him earlier were gone and he found himself wanting to confide in her.
Trystan squeezed his arms, which were wrapped around Mari’s waist. She slipped her arms around him and held on harder with her face buried in his chest. Trystan could smell her hair. The mingled fruit scents filled his nose.
When Mari pulled back, Trystan asked, “Do you want to talk about it?”
She shook her head. “Not really. I finally stopped crying and there’s only twenty minutes or so until the period is over. I’d rather just sit here like this. You make me feel so much better, I can’t even tell you.”