Hey there! As promised in the last chapter I posted, things are going to take a different pace. This chapter we get to see how Hunter's life is more complicated than just being an ass kicking spy. This is when the story really gets going. I hope you enjoy.

A couple things, guys please donate to Nifty!

A huge thank you to my rock star editor extraordinaire Flip McHooter and congrats buddy, you know what about!

Next on the agenda, feedback had been little to non-existent for the last few chapters. Not to be whiny, I know there's someone in some dark, shady corner out there reading this story. To that guy/girl, drop me a line! It would be seriously appreciated. My address: blackarrow070@gmail.com

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Copyright 2013, 2014 Black Arrow

 

The life and times of a teenage Russian spy stationed in the US of A.

 

Chapter 8

Alien

I had tried to call Mason the entire of yesterday. He hadn't answered any of my calls. Admittedly, I was taken aback by that, though in light of recent occurrences maybe I shouldn't have been. He was however, replying to my texts. That was little consolation though. He remained distant and aloof in all the conversations I tried to initiate. I knew when he was being like this it was best not to push, but I also knew that Mason's proclivity to sulking wasn't good for him either. It was a rather awkward position for me to be in. A position I have never had to occupy before.

Grovelling.

The second snub was so not my fault. I needed an excuse to be away from home on the fly. Had I known how trying that last mission was going be, I wouldn't have led him to believe we'd hangout. I would never consciously plan on standing him up two nights in a row.

Again, the drawbacks of living a double life came back to bite me. There was a perfectly logical explanation for my absence but I couldn't share that with him. I couldn't share that reason with anyone. This is why I would remain misunderstood. Lies were an integral, necessary way of prolonging my existence. My cover. The need for duplicity ran deep. I couldn't be a hundred percent forthcoming to my friends, my family-not even my agency. There were some things that were best kept to yourself.

The constant deception and covering up my tracks was bound to cause a wedge in any sort of relationship I tried to have. Sometimes I wished the people around me would quit asking questions, then I wouldn't have to lie.

Back to Mason-Again weird part was, he was playing this awfully cool, not outright ignoring me but one word answers. He wasn't giving off too much. That was totally unlike him. It was perplexing and unnerving all at the same time. See I knew him very well, like the back of my hand and the Mason I knew would be livid at this point. There'd be no mistaking it for anything else- completely transparent. Not that I wanted him angry but opposed to the proposed nonchalant persona he was putting off, it meant I didn't recognize what I was dealing with. He had turned alien on me.

His passive aggression was even seeping into his diction. How did I know this? Certainly not from some advanced psycho-analyzing techniques offered in spy school. It was because he would repeatedly bitch about me responding to his texts with a certain word. Nothing would irk Mason more than that and yet he used it on me. That response was pretty simple:

From: Mason

K.

I ran the risk of getting frost bite radiating out my phone. This was going to be the longest Monday. Ever.

 

 

Downstairs my family at breakfast time was the usual disorder it always was: Mom telling Mathew not to feed the dog under the table, Justin finding new ways to set Tori off bright and early, Tori complaining to mom. And where was dad? Reading the business paper in the midst of this chaos like nothing was out of place. This was the Hayne's residence breakfast table set-up. Dad and I were the only two that didn't partake in the circus and so I was naturally the only one he'd actually exchange words with. Most likely because I was the only one who could actually hear him over the noise.

That was our routine and I tried to remain as far out of the table discussion as possible. I had my own mayhem to sift through. Matters were ranging from the intricacies of the unexplored realm of teenage dating and those pertaining to national security-the latter being the manageable part.

Aside from Mason, there was the issue of Friday afternoon. I know now that-that had been a major error- a lapse in judgement. I shouldn't have got on that bike and left with Ryan. I had broken the one rule I had made for myself to ensure the safety of my family and the continued good faith between my handlers and I.

I made sure to always appear as devoid of emotion as possible to dispel any kind of suspicion that I could be attached and therefore compromised. Knowing this truth meant understanding the fundamental construct that relationships were not for everyone. Especially someone like me.

Nothing brought that fact home harder and faster than the chopper ride with the distrustful agent Coetzee. I couldn't shake this nagging feeling like he knew something or was trying to find it in that brief interaction we had. Regardless of what it was, it just didn't sit well with me. It was like a ripple effect and I still felt the ramification of that mistake now. I knew I had to end it cold. I just didn't know how to go about it yet.

That seemed to be a common feeling when it came to Ryan- confusion. The feelings of uncertainty I had experienced over the weekend have had time to manifest into a literal chest ache. I didn't know how to handle him. When I woke Saturday morning, I had felt apprehension at what I was leading myself into. It wasn't a field I was particularly adept in. In all reasoning, I was a fish out of water. It was a bad idea.

The plan had been to paddle lightly-tread with caution, but now that the option had been ripped from under me, I couldn't help but feel cheated. It seemed as though I had unknowingly wanted it more than I had led myself to believe. But it was no matter now; I knew what I needed to do.

I quickly realized that at this rate I wouldn't come to a resolution to any of these issues. It was time to switch back to basic default mode. Deal with everything like I always had in the past- systematically.

A list.

Bullet point.

In order of priority and urgency.

I had an unappetizing heaped plate in front of me, seasoned with all the uncomfortable awkward glory of being a sixteen year old. None of which my handlers ever thought of preparing me for. Speaking of-hadn't I agreed to host a party that I was yet to ask permission for? In conjunction to a major gymnastics meet I'd be competing in not more than a couple weeks away. The importance of which was not lost on me. This was one of the few things I was passionate about. That I allowed myself to indulge in.

I really wanted to make an impression on the USA Gymnastics board and be considered as a viable candidate to compete at worlds- despite my age. Of course individual aspirations were not a matter of significance as an agent at LoneStar- in fact they were discouraged. I hadn't received any serious warning as yet because it fit so well with my disappearances and augmented my cover splendidly but I knew it was only a matter of time before something was said.

So why would someone like me be wasting their time investing in a dead end pursuit? There's a perfectly logical explanation for this, by that I mean completely illogical. The pure exuberance and pride glowing from my parents while watching me compete was something I couldn't take away from them. I guess this was the payoff in parenting, witnessing your kids excel at something.

I feel as though it was the only thing I could do right where I wasn't the asocial, introverted middle child. I'm impervious to a lot of things- pressures accredited to societal vanities, several acts of torture and all sorts of life threatening tasks but the feeling of validation/accomplishment gained when my parents are there to support me at a meet is one weakness I was yet to rid myself off. And I still questioned whether I wanted to.

I shook my head trying to rid myself of these spiralling thoughts sending me into a loop. I decided it was too early in the morning to be questioning the aesthetics of my existence. Remember the check list I reminded myself? Not urgent.

Avoidance.

That would be my sole salvation for now. Pushing everything aside. A temporary reprieve from my mental anguish, cause let's just face it- I was never meant to have a simple life. I was damned from my very first breath so all this right now was just a mild preliminary run, a prelude to larger scale of trials and tribulations.

The one task I couldn't push aside though or prolong any longer was the issue of my pouty best friend.

Sigh.

The weather was overcast I observed absent -mindedly on the drive up to school. No indication of rain though, just shitty weather. I was far from the superstitious type but I had to concede to the fact that it gave a broody mood to the day already, like an ill omen.

That prior observation was confirmed as soon as I reached my locker. My friends were at the usual congregation point, since our lockers were in relative proximity to one another so it was somewhere in between. I tried to talk to Mason then. Aside from a brief hi, he carried on with an uninspired conversation with my least favorite person in the group, Damon.

The rebuff was less obvious if you didn't know what to look out for. We were a relatively large group of five so there was general conversation booming from all angles, other than that of loud hallway we were in the middle of. Nevertheless it served as confirmation of my suspicions. He was upset.

Seconds later, like the universe was trying to convince me of the merits of getting back in Mason's good books my locker decided to act up right on cue. The damned thing had a knack for jamming and the only person who could fix it with no trouble was Mason. And since he wasn't talking to me. I was on my own and attempting to box it to submission.

"Move aside." I heard the words but it took me a while to register the meaning. Not just of the literal command but really what it implied. Was I supposed to take this as a silent truce? I looked up into his large brown eyes. He wore a white t-shirt that hugged his muscular physique and brought out his dark features well. He gave me a small smile that didn't reach his eyes but he was still offering to help me out-that alone was encouraging. So I obliged and moved aside.

He did his thing and the locker popped open, "Thanks, Mase."

"No sweat."

And that was it.

That was the briefest conversation I'd ever had with him as I watched him walk away with Damon to their next class. I had second period with him though. I was sure that if I just buttered him up a bit, he'd get over being stood up on Friday...and Saturday. I internally cringed at that myself. It did sound like a five-star douchebag move. Even to me.

Grabbing the necessary textbooks to get my crap Monday going I noticed the petite presence on my left with bright eyes and a sweet smile plastered on. I knew her naturally inquisitive nature would betray all such appearances.

"He's upset about Friday night you know," Jenny chimed in with her slightly nasally voice.

"Aren't we perceptive," I replied coolly.

"And he's not that upset." I corrected. More for my own benefit really.

"You're in luck. I knew not to hold it against you because Ziggy over hear told me about a certain senior," she continued.

I narrowed my hazel eyes on the short computer nerd. In his defence he wasn't exactly known for keeping secrets. He normally cracked from a mild stare down. And I hadn't warned him about sharing the info. He was with me before I left with Ryan on Friday. He was the last person to see me actually.

True to his character Ziggy was oblivious of what was even transpiring now in front of him. He was busy playing some game on his phone at the moment so it took him quite a while to realize it was his turn to join into the conversation.

"Huh, what?" he answered in mild surprise at being addressed. Ziggy had a problem with remaining within the borders of reality. He was more acquainted with the planes of the cyber world. He would let his mind wonder way to often to count; this was besides his involuntary affinity to such because of his ADD. Which made him a generally erratic person. Of all my friends I worried about him most, he was too smart for his own good. I knew how easy it was to catch the interests of secret organizations and he often skirted to close to that line. I periodically kept an eye on him just in case.

"You snitched on me. To her no less," I said jerking my thumb at Jenny because she was the last person you want to take interest in your life. She planned on studying drama in college. She was hardly short of theatrics.

Ziggy scratched his head presumably trying to deny it. "Uh, you see what happened was..."

"You always scratch your head before you lie," I said shaking my head. We were a pair of misfits him and I. I could just disguise it better.

"Fact withstanding, you left with a mysterious biker. Spill," she said with an excitable grin playing on her face. Following this she would be drawing parallels between my love life and a west end play I'd never heard of.

That's another thing about Jenny. She lived and breathed drama. She read scripts as a hobby, watched out-dated screen plays and went to the theatre with her ever encouraging parents frequently. Her dad a literature professor and her mom a museum director, she never stood a chance.

"Not if you want me to help you with your French," I said as my bargaining chip. I wasn't going to go into any detail of the events from Friday. The headache the mere mention threatened to induce was enough for me to want to kill any idea alluding to it cold.

"You my dear, play dirty," she said with mock indignation. And a Hackney accent to boot. Many of her phrases and obsessions stemmed from the silver screen if your cared enough to link the two.

Jenny had a big dream of acting in a period piece alongside both Leonardo Decaprio and Johnny Depp. She insisted that the only reason Leo was missing an Oscar was because he was yet to star with a female actress of note. Meaning herself. So it has always been really important for her to do well in French and hopefully speak the language by the time high school was done. I was her golden ticket. I just said I was good with languages and caught on quick when asked how I was able to help someone in the same year as me.

I just neglected to mention how many languages it was exactly.

First period went off without a hitch. It was calculus with Tori so beside the occasional whisper here and there; being the proficient student she was kept to her books. That suited me just fine. Although I caught myself trying to initiate conversation. Fishing more like it.

I wanted to know if she had seen Ryan today. I had this rat trap scenario playing out in my head and it was cause for anxiety. That despite the vast number of students in the halls he'd still find me. I was ill prepared for such a meeting.

What would I say to him? I've never been in this position before. I was at the juncture where it was pointless to deny my attraction to him. And sadly I had entertained the idea of a relationship with him just for it to go up in flames twenty-four hours later.

I felt like such a fool for falling for his charms and even further for indulging in the fantasy. But I think the real reason behind my avoidance and what it all boiled down to was because I felt guilt. Another emotion that was new to me. Why not throw another unintelligible feeling in there to throw me further off my game, right? I had led him on. I let him believe that irrational fantasy too. The difference between him and me was that I should have known better.

See this is why I am no good. I will inevitably hurt anyone around me, even when it's not my intention. So until I've figured out a way to deal with him. A way to let him down easy. I should just lay low. Avoid any direct contact with him until I'm resolved. Until I'm certain, it will be easier that way.

"You okay?"

"What?" I asked Tori as we packed up after the bell rang.

"You seemed distracted today. It's not like you to space out, for a second I thought to call for the nurse. You could have gone comatose"

"Funny"

"But seriously. You seemed exhausted this weekend too. You could be coming down with something. I should tell mom."

"Tori. Believe me, I'm fine. I've never had a cold before in my life. Why would I start now?"

She stared me down a bit like the protective older sister she is.

"Alright. But I'll be watching you. If you've been over exercising again I don't think you need me to remind you what mom would do," she fixed me with a scrutinizing look that women in my family were infamous for.

"Yeah, yeah. I have another class to get to. You can grill me at home if you're not done just yet, Katie Couric."

"That's what you get for caring," she dabbed fake tears under her eye.

"You're going to smudge your face," I said as closing statement and sped out the class evading her reaction to that. She insisted that she wasn't the stereotypical plastic type. She kept the make-up natural at school. So she took insult to anyone who claims the opposite.

Moving through the melee of students I found myself for the first time analysing faces. Normally I'd just mind my own and watch where I was going. But the feeling of being cornered by a certain senior was closing in. Every time I saw a head of short dark curly hair, I'd go into a minor panic. We're not even dating and this boy was already causing all kinds of physical responses from me and right now, none were good.

My next class was biology which I shared with Jenny and more importantly Mason. I would use the next period trying to get him to forgive me. Or at least give me more than a one worded response.

Walking into class I realized that mission wasn't going to be easily achieved. We sat at the back of the class. Mason was sitting as far as possible. We had a practical to do during class time and had to hand it in for assessment.

"I don't wish to be caught in the middle of your lovers quarrel. So with that said, I'll find another lab partner on the other end of the class. Ciao," Jenny sang with a smug smile on her face. Always the one to call it, she was my middle man in case he was playing hard ball. Now I was on my own.

I took a deep breath, subconsciously taking in his familiar scent. A blend of musk and shower fresh scent that lingered on his skin. The same smell that usually made me feel more at home than anywhere else in the world seemed to hold something alien to it today. Most likely the distance between us like a continental drift. And it wasn't the physical distance alone I was referring to.

I don't know, maybe I sought out his unique smell to calm myself. To anchor the elevating anxiety. This was the same guy I had been friends with all my life- no mystery. I had nothing to fear.

"Mason, look."

"Do you mind doing the writing? You know she always whines about my Poor Penmanship" he cut me off quoting the biology teacher. I was going to do the writing in any case. We both knew that. It was an obvious attempt to evade. Why was he acting like this? I get being a little miffed, but the on and off cold shoulder routine was confusing. He helped me out this morning so I thought he was warming up but now seems like we were back to mad.

So I just set up the microscope and got about preparing for the practical while he pretended to busy himself with something. We shuffled awkwardly around each other for far too long before we were set to start.

In a bizarre twist Mason pulled out his textbook and started peering through the microscope. This wouldn't ordinary appear out of place because we were in a biology and twenty plus other students were doing the same.

But c'mon, this was MASON I was talking about. Proactive, dedicated student-he was not. He would always opt to sit back and let me score him marks as far as reasonably possible. And even that was iffy at best. His definition of reasonable that is. So why the sudden studiousness?

I knew better than to question it. So for the first fifteen minutes we worked in relative silence. Merely exchanging observations and him seeking affirmation.

Working like this with him was making me feel increasingly uncomfortable for various reasons. Starting with the working part. And he was yet to make eye contact with me for any length of time. It felt so impersonal...distant a contrast to his usual warm presence. This whole dynamic wasn't us. It felt wrong.

"Is it Telephase?" he asked breaking my thinking. I gave him a brief look before checking myself. I nodded at him while simultaneously writing down Metaphase.

I was trying to get back into his good books. I wasn't about to start correcting him. That's counterproductive working with a fragile ego like his. If I was going to initiate any dialogue between us, now would be as opportune a moment as any.

"Is talking to me anywhere in your plans for the day?" I directed at him.

He visibly stiffened and looked up from the microscope with a blank expression. Whereas most times it was a standard facial state for him. I knew that this time it couldn't have been genuine. He knew exactly what I was talking about.

"We spoke- We are speaking," he said in a somewhat tense voice before he looked away soon after.

"Mase, I know you're upset."

"I'm NOT-"he raised his voice unintentionally at that point drawing some curios eyes in our direction. He realized this and his cheeks began to flush red.

"I just wish everyone would stop saying that I am," he finished in a much lower voice with strained control at that.

Yeah, he was upset.

I let him calm down and chose to play along with his rouse. So if he wasn't upset then he wouldn't mind me asking him a few more questions.

"So you would let me know if anything was bothering you?"

"Of course," he answered in a clipped tone.

He was still embarrassed from his earlier outburst. I could tell. So I let him be for a while and continued with the class assignment.

"Prophase."

I nodded in ascent.

Anaphase actually.

This went on for a considerably amount of time and I was starting to doubt any reconciliation was going to come from this class. Shuffling from his end caught my attention after a period of productivity. He was getting restless. Fidgeting periodically and noticeably. Most likely because he was over the charade of pretending to be interested in actively participating.

He took a deep breath which signalled he was ready to talk.

"Would it have killed you to at least call and say you were planning on bailing?"

I looked into his chocolate orbs and marvelled at how they got lighter closer to the center. He had a gold ring surrounding his iris. I always liked looking into Mason's eyes. They always betrayed so much. They radiated warmth so enveloping that it was able to melt my arctic insides. Those eyes saw more in me than most. A virtue I so believed never existed but he valued. He made me believe, even if not whole heartedly that I was human. Alive.

Mason was my eternal sun but right now his light was obscured by clouds of my own doing and I had to fix it. I owed him that much.

"No, it wouldn't have. I am sorry, really." I answered truthfully. "The same goes for Saturday night."

He held my gaze for eons. Not because he was staring me down but he seemed like he was in conflict. This just confirmed my suspicions. There was definitely more to this but for the life of me I hadn't a clue what it was.

"It's okay. It's not like I stayed up waiting or anything," he said looking away from me. I'm sure he meant it to sound like it was no big deal and not a sarcastic dig but I knew him better. The guilt I began to feel had adverse effects on me. I was starting to feel queasy. I was most likely allergic to such human emotion.

"Mase-"

I stopped because he was facing me again. He looked like he was about to say something but there was a lengthy delay. I saw his face slightly scrunch up to this odd expression I couldn't interpret before his features hardened. He was biting something back.

"Ziggy told me about Friday afternoon," he said finally.

My stomach clenched instantly at that and an image of the sexy biker Ryan flashed through my mind. Double dose of guilt in less than five minute intervals. I was yet to decide on a way to resolve that specific mess. I couldn't deal with the kind of questions Mason could possibly have because I didn't hold a single answer in my archive. Nothing.

He looked at me expectantly. This was the real moment and what he really wanted to know. I became irrationally nervous and started looking around the class for a quick out. I wasn't equipped to handle this. The realm of feelings was one I had yet to even venture into. It was the rickety rope bridge that hung over a huge drop.

I could feel his eyes and I didn't know what I would say. I opened my mouth just to close it just as quickly. No words could come out because I hadn't formulated any in my head. I had gone blank.

Then the bell rang.

I've never been so thankful for the end of a class before.

"I'll go hand this in," I said gesturing to the practical we had been working on. I was already done packing up and this was my escape. I'd be damned if I didn't take the opportunity presented. Yes I'm afraid I cowered- bolted out of there with no intention to return.

I was supposed to be a fearless spy. Military trained and equipped to survive perilous situations and thrive in the most arid environments. Yet you mention the name Ryan and I went instantly brain dead automatically. He was like a neuron destabilizer. He was so bad for me. Then why couldn't I stop thinking about him and that stupid kiss.

I had hoped to smooth things over with Mason in biology and I came awfully close to it but I fear my melt down near the end killed all progress made. I was back where I had started. Damn it. He's never stayed mad at me for this long. I couldn't help but feel like there was more to this. Maybe it had something to do with that redhead, Amber. I made a mental note to find out.

Usually a couple minutes of me poking would coax him out of whatever funk he was in. That was one of Mason's character traits. He may be over six foot three, solid as a tank, essentially the stereotypical jock- minus the co-ordination. He may play up the macho game like so many guys our age, but I knew better. He was just a big kid. He liked being coddled, even if he wouldn't admit it.

 

The hardest part of my assignments wasn't the missions. That fact had eventually become as clear as day for me. It was being expected to be a teenager. How do people do this shit? I didn't get a KGB issued handbook on adolescence 101.

Its holes like this I'd accredit to the fall of our empire. Who didn't account for this?

I walked into the locker room wrapped up in my dilemma. I hoped we would be doing something particularly hard. Something I could concentrate my energies on and not have to think about what a perpetual mess my life was.

I was somewhat aware of person parking themselves next to me on the bench I was occupying. It could only really be one other person in my gym class who would dare.

"Just when I thought you'd fallen off the face of the earth."

"I'm sure you'd be all broken up about that," I answered in my usual dry voice.

"Maybe," I looked up then to meet Damon in the eye. His eyes betrayed the ambiguity he tried to portray. He wore his patented `I couldn't be bothered' expression.

I wouldn't put any further thought into that and dismissed it as him being his usual ironic self. I hadn't the faintest interest in going one on one with him. I had other people, who mattered, to handle. So we proceeded to get dressed and ready for class side to side without further words being exchanged.

On the way out of the locker room I could feel a pair of eyes trained on me. He wanted to say something. I hoped for the both of us, whatever it was, he would keep it to himself. I wasn't in the mood to humor his challenging character. Our brand of relations mostly consisted of wit and sarcasm more often than not.

"Okay dude, cut the crap. What gives?" he asked once we had stopped in the middle of the gym where the other students were clustered waiting on coach and socializing with friends.

Damon and I had a very special kind of relationship. It was purely based on us both having ties to a single individual, Mason. Otherwise we don't get along half the time and the times we do, it was in Mason's company. Our middle ground.

Yet whenever we were in gym class, the only class I shared with him where none of our other friends were present, we stuck together. It was somehow natural, even considering our differences.

"What are you talking about?" I asked although I knew what he was getting at. It seemed to be the only thing worth discussing today. I was growing steadily impatient with this topic. I wish we'd all just let it go. But I knew that `we' couldn't unless Mason did. He had a large presence over our group so if he was still sulking everyone was inadvertently affected by it.

"Standing him up two nights in a row. You're supposed to be his best friend."

"Gee, I didn't know he appointed you as his defense council."

"You know he wouldn't call you out on your shit."

"And that makes you what? The public protector? Besides, Mason has never been shy of words. He can speak for himself"

He scoffed, "Not when it comes to you."

Who had bestowed thy with the duty of protector of the towns folk? He's being awfully standoffish for someone who shouldn't be affected by my absence. In fact he should have been relieved by it. Damon's drug of choice was a blend of dry humor and wise cracks. In other words not directly confrontational. So what had he's panties in a bunch? Again, he doesn't even like me so why was he acting like I had directly offended him? That was beginning to piss me off.

I was about to ask him what he meant by that when the coaches whistle went off. Gym class was in session. Now I really needed something to absorb myself into. Couch had us stand single file after breaking us up into girls and boys. He brought out the balls and a slow grin spread across my face.

"Okay, we're playing dodge ball. I hope I don't have to remind you lot not to hit each other in the face," the burly older man commanded. Great, now I found an outlet to vent my frustrations.

Damon and I had coincidentally ended up on the same team. Damn I was kind of hoping to use his mug as target practice. I was intent on ignoring the asshole for the next thirty minutes. The game started off and it was complete madness. Balls were sailing through the air, people were shouting out of excitement and others out of pain as the ball made contact with bodies. The sound of tennis shoes screeching on the caught and the occasional flesh meets ball sound occupied the area.

The sides were slightly disproportioned though. The other side was bigger in general. They had a mixed lot of school athletes. Most of which could deliver a mean swing. That said, it meant most were larger targets so our side gave as good as it got. Towards the end of the period the game wound down to a dramatic finish. Everybody in the gym watched as five on the other side versus Damon, some random kid who now looked petrified and myself. People always tended to root for the underdog in instances like this. So we suddenly became the fan favorites without knowing it.

Now, although Damon and myself didn't get along most of the time. The times we did were over some sporting game. He knew of my above average athletic ability and he didn't resent me for it. Instead he was always fascinated by it. He was no slouch himself. He was Mason's gym buddy and had quite the athletic build himself. It came as no surprise to me when he chose to approach me to strategize. But how he went about it came as a bit of a shock.

"Okay look, you do this for me and all is forgiven." He looked at me with determined eyes.

I arched my eyebrow in question; he'd have to give me more than that.

"Hey, I was upset by your absence too," he mocked sincerity. This was the sardonic s.o.b I was used to.

"Here's how you can make it up to me," he started.

I gave this a closer look than I normally would. I reasoned I was already on the outs with Mason, so maybe it wouldn't hurt playing nice with Damon. Whatever that actually meant for us two.

"Who do you want me to hit?" I asked already knowing what this was about.

"See that asshole Tyler. He's been a serious pain at baseball practice, thinks he owns the school or something. Take him out first. I can hold my own with the others," I followed his eyes as they turned to steel staring at the guy across the court from us. He was dead serious; he really didn't like this guy.

"Fine, but you do something for me. Find out why Mason is really so upset."

His eyes widened a bit before he met my gaze. "Sure, whatever. Let's just beat that jerk."

As soon as the couch blew his whistle, it wasn't even a fair game. It was a massacre. Damon took one out immediately and I hit two at once. I wanted to squeeze as much out of him as possible so I had to be more strategic in my plays. No point in going for the kill first.

In the end it was just Damon and I left on our side and on the other, no other than Tyler. The evil grin Damon had plastered on his face as he eyed the other guy like prey was bordering on psychotic. Tyler was big; over six feet tall and clearly confident in his ability, however, he couldn't ignore the obvious. He was outnumbered two to one. He looked at Damon with an air of disdain so the feeling was clearly mutual. Somehow I didn't like the way he looked at him. Rights to stare him down were reserved .He was my friend after all-using the term very loosely here.

I looked at my partner who had sweat running down his face and heaving quite a bit after the long game. But he was in shape, he could handle this. Mason and him liked bragging about how much they loved the burn of a good work out so he was completely in his element right now. As much as I hated to admit, he made a great team mate. He didn't weigh me down.

Knowing that this was the final stage. I wanted him to have the honor. Don't ask me why, I just felt like he'd earned it. Or some part of me knew how important it was for him to show this guy up.

"After you," I said to the sheer elation he had at my signal.

I didn't need to use my ball after that. I dropped it as the whistle rang to signal the end of the game.

After showering I had to duck out of the locker room from the praise we were getting from our class mates. I was seriously out of the loop in terms of social issues. I hadn't even seen this Tyler kid before today but it seemed as though everybody hated him for some reason or other. Though I wasn't the most popular person they applauded me in helping take him down a notch.

Damon just lapped up the attention. I couldn't bear to stick around any longer. This was against my low profile way of business. All this attention was making me feel awkward-I had to escape. So after a quick word with the over inflated ego that belonged to Damon, I was out.

I had a free period then and headed for the library where I'd spend it with Jenny and Ziggy. I always tried to get as much work done at school as possible because of how busy I got with gymnastics and other things. I'd like to think I earned an ally in Damon. Maybe then I had a chance at figuring out what really had Mason so upset.

The library was its usual busy self during school hours but the head librarian kept such a tight ship all students knew to be quiet at all times. Jenny would occasionally ask me to translate a couple phrases and explain an idiom in French every now and then but other than that it was smooth sailing. I was relatively immersed in my homework at this point and luckily the other two had been minding their own business. Well, that was the case until I got this nagging feeling that-that was about to end.

I read through my textbook and I could feel someone burning holes into my forehead. If they stared any harder- they just might.

"Ziggy you're staring," I said not looking up from my text.

"I'm thinking!" was his brilliant response.

"Well, find somewhere else to stare while you pretend to think."

"See I was gonna find a more tactful way of doing this but-"

Jenny butted in then, "Pfff tactful, you? That's laughable."

He shot her an irritated glance. "I have two movie tickets and no one else wants to go."

I cringed and opened my mouth to reject his offer.

"And since you missed my epic Friday night-"

"Say no more." I started to feel like I was never going to live this down. I didn't want any further reminder of what I was doing that day. The memory of that stirred unknown, uncomfortable feelings in me which I had no business investigating, certainly not now. And maybe not ever.

I looked at Jenny. Why hadn't I thought of consulting her powers of female intuition first? She's always been the most astute of us so maybe she held the missing puzzle piece. Beyond the theatrical aspirations was a lady wise beyond her years. Pity, she felt it made her too mature for boys in our grade.

"Did anything else happen that I missed. I feel like there's more to Mason's offish behaviour than my absence,"

"Who Mason? Of course," she shrugged her left shoulder like it was the most obvious observation. Well not to me, it took me a while to reach that conclusion.

"Mason's an open book. You boys are so daft. For people who talk so much you say very little," she said in a very matter of fact tone.

"Now you're speaking in riddles. Do you get what she's saying? I don't get what you're saying," Ziggy interjected at this point in his rapid fire fashion.

He had a point though. I really didn't get what she was alluding to. Mason and I say a lot to each other-today not counting though. So this should be something obvious, that I could figure out. I didn't have much time to examine that because the bell for lunch rang.

I decided then that this was ridiculous. I should just get him alone and beat the answer out of hm. Okay, things wouldn't get to that point-I hoped. I'd just strongly suggest he tell me what's up. Simple. I'd see him during lunch hour.

When the three of us walked into the cafeteria it was in all out chaos. More so than usual.

"Fight!" screamed Ziggy as he made his way to the source of the commotion. I lagged behind with Jenny because I had no interest in petty school tiffs.

"You wanna get to the food line while everyone is distracted?" she asked me over the raucous.

"Sure," I said following her as we had to push through more students doing as Ziggy just did and running to the center of attraction. Honestly, where was the teacher on duty? The noise was enormous how could anyone within a two mile radius miss it.

The scene reminded me of the rainy season in the Serengeti when all the wildebeest were migrating in thousands and trampling everything in sight. This fight had to have some big guns to incite so much excitement amongst the students because most would have been stopped by now. If not by teachers, by other students. After having to push through one more body.

"This is stupid!" Jenny yelled in frustration. We weren't making that much progress either in our hunt for food. "What is the big deal?"

That caught the attention of a kid nearby,"Don't you know? It's the fight of the decade. The two football players who hate each other, Marcus Keslin and Justin Haynes are going at it!" he cheered. I spun on the spot immediately now trying to get to the fight myself.

"Hunter wait!" I heard Jenny shout over the crowd but I was too far in for her to catch up.

I had no trouble forcefully removing people out of my way to get to my brother. Just as I got to the front row I could clearly see Justin with a ripped shirt in the center of the crowd. He didn't seem to have much in the form of bruises that I could make out from where is stood. Despite the big hoopla I don't think these two got to hit each other for long because they both had people holding them back but the only problem was the testosterone driven beasts really wanted at each other. The guy holding Justin back was having a hard time under my brother's strong arms, he wanted out.

I stood back for a second; it looked like things were under control. If the other guys held the two long enough the principal or some other teacher would be here soon. Well soon wasn't soon enough. The other guy I'm assuming is Marcus Keslin got free and was bee lining for a restrained Justin.

I sprung instantly intent on stopping him from reaching my brother when someone else beat me to it. I sighed in relief. Mason grabbed his shoulder and tried to secure him when the asshole turned around and punched Mason square in the eye.

I SAW RED.

 

 

That's it for chapter 8! Again, in case you missed it in the beginning, my email: blackarrow070@gmail.com

Thank you for reading!