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My eyes are getting bleary from all the editing. ~_~


Spitting Shadows

Chapter 4

"We Have a Mission."



In the far western district of the city, at the end of a scenic laneway that wound its way up through the woods adorning Shangri La Hill, stood the dignified and somewhat imposing buildings of Westwood High School. The view from the clock tower at the top of the school offered a spectacular panorama of the city and surrounding countryside.

Westwood High was undoubtedly a fine and upstanding institution, justifiably deserving of its reputation in regards to its progressive and innovative approach to education.

The school was well organized and its programs carefully structured to meet the needs of the entire student body. The uniforms were orderly and the teachers top-notch. It was unique in its setup, offering public education as well as private dormitories for those students whose families could afford them. This extra income was put to worthy use. The school had a nurse on staff, as well as an academic counsellor and a psychologist. The administration welcomed and encouraged the presence of the city police department’s school liaison officer and participated in programs designed to keep the students safe, law-abiding, and drug-free.

The school was the pride of the city and fully endorsed by every municipal official who amounted to anything of importance.

And in addition to all of this, Westwood High had taken on the admirable and delicate responsibility of sheltering and educating the three youths who had been at the centre of the city’s nightmarish period of bloodshed and murder a scant three years ago.

And now, thanks to the school, they were being given a solid chance to get their lives back on track. It was a shiny plan full of optimism and hope, a plan with nothing but the brightest of futures in mind.

Shue wanted to believe that the plan would work. And yet, here he was.

He stood waiting in the reception area just outside the school office, his hands stuffed in his pockets, absently jangling the keys within as he paced slowly back and forth in front of the glass doors. Anxiety seethed and twisted inside of him like a nest of venomous snakes. The secretary glanced up at him from time to time, her lips pressed together into a thin line. This wasn’t the first time he’d had a student paged to the office, though it was thankfully rare. But with youth related crime on the rise in town, more and more of the students here were feeling the nip of the law at their heels. He caught the secretary’s eye and smiled, earning a small but reassuringly friendly smile in return.

It was when he turned back to face the entranceway that his smile froze and dropped away.

His gaze had unexpectedly collided with that of the person who had just stepped through the open doorway, and they both stood momentarily motionless, as if held by an invisible force.

Violet eyes gone wide with surprise locked with his own uncertain gaze.

Gen.

For several long seconds, Shue simply drank in the sight of him, attempting to appease the thirst that had tormented him for the past three years.

Gen’s golden hair framed and complemented a face with delicate features and unmistakable eyes. The last time Shue had looked into those eyes, they had been clouded by grief and hurt and vulnerability. But before the tragedy, they had been as sharp and as clear as ice. Those eyes had always captivated him, no matter the emotion that brewed within them. There was something darkly unsettled in them now, and although they were still sharp, it was as if the ice had cracked, revealing the blackness of the cold sea below. The plain tan and beige of the school uniform did nothing to neutralize their intensity. A dark purple tie hung loose at the collar, skewing an otherwise orderly appearance. Gen had always been extremely pretty, but he had grown into an otherworldly beauty that took Shue’s breath away.

He forced a smile and took a step towards the boy he had known since a cherubic child, but whom he had not seen since that crazy night, and was dismayed, but not surprised, when he saw the sudden furrow appear between Gen’s eyes.

Gen took a step back, a step away. The beginning of retreat.

Shue stiffened, every muscle itching to bridge the gap. “Gen. Long time no see. You look well.” He spoke too quickly, as if trying to toss a net over a quicksilver fish, lest it make its slippery escape.

It was almost comforting, the way initial surprise hardened into the distant and haughty reservation that the Gen of the past had worn so well. But his eyes – his eyes still burned a path straight through Shue’s rapidly beating heart.

“Shue.” Gen’s voice, too, had matured. Shue swallowed heavily as the sound of his own name, spoken in that voice that was changed yet familiar, washed over him in a heady rush of warmth. And that was all it took for a thin tendril of hope to begin to sprout up like a timid vine that suddenly had permission from the sun itself to exit the shadows and thrive at last.

“Gen… we need to talk. Will you walk with me?” He jabbed a thumb in the direction of the front exit, through which the afternoon sunlight attempted to breach the subdued halls of the school’s interior.

There was an uncertain pause before Gen finally replied. “I was in the middle of class.” But it sounded more like uncertain reluctance than outright refusal. Not wanting to sacrifice his hard earned momentum, Shue pushed on.

“This is important, Gen. I’m here not only as a friend, but…” He hesitated, carefully gauging his words, already feeling the needle of regret. “It’s police business.”

It sounded hard, too clinical. But perhaps that was best - buffer this conversation with the heavy, blunt padding of professionalism. This meeting felt like tearing off a scab, and he needed something to soak up the blood from the open wounds beneath.

He watched with trepidation, and some relief, as the controlled expression on Gen’s face shifted into a slight narrowing of the eyes, the trace of a scowl, a touch of something still hard around the edges but indecipherable within. Shue longed to pry open the window to whatever it was that was concealed inside. Instead, he merely waited for a reply.

“Then I suppose I have no choice, detective.” Gen turned smoothly and began to walk ahead at an even pace, and as they exited the vestibule, Shue quickly fell into step at his side.

They walked in silence for a moment, until the main school building was behind them and a couple of loitering students were well out of earshot. It was a pleasant enough autumn day, the sun still warm but with a fresh coolness in the air. Shue couldn’t refrain from stealing glances at Gen, who walked quietly next to him while looking straight ahead as if challenging the very air itself to defy him.

But was that confidence as strong as it appeared?

After a short walk across campus, Gen paused, and Shue waited while he fished out a pack of cigarettes from the pocket of his school sweater and deftly slipped one out of the box. Shue jumped upon this small morsel of camaraderie and hurriedly procured his own lighter, stepping forward with his offering. Sharing a smoke wasn’t a bad way to break the ice. Cigarette dangling from his lower lip, Gen raised coolly speculative eyes, looking up at him through bangs in need of a trim.

Shue still couldn’t look away. His thoughts were far from what professionalism would demand.

Without breaking eye contact, Gen leaned forward, offering the tip of his unlit cigarette and Shue set it alight with a touch of flame. Gen abruptly broke eye contact then, pulling away and taking his first puff. The smoke wafted lazily in the slight breeze. Gen’s ease with the cigarette spoke of one who had already become accustomed to the habit.

Shue could not stop his wayward eyes as they followed the movement of Gen’s hands, lingered on the long sleeves concealing slender wrists. He wondered what sort of scars remained etched upon those wrists.

It was Gen who finally broke the moment of awkward silence. “I don’t have all day.” Blunt and straight to the point.

The corner of Shue’s mouth quirked up. Maybe Gen hadn’t changed as much as he had feared. There were so many things Shue wanted to say to him. But his words were careful and restrained.

“About that night…”

Gen tensed, turned his head away.

Shue hesitated yet again, thought better of what he had been about to say. “About that night, I just want you to know how glad I am that…”

…How goddamned grateful I am that you didn’t die, that I happened to wake up in time. How sorry I am. How good it felt to hold you, and after, how sick I felt, still feel. How much I’ve missed you, thought of you, longed for…

“…how glad I am that you’re okay.” His simple statement sounded stale and hollow to his ears, like the mere cardboard wrapper meant to hold all the bleeding truths his heart truly wanted to spill.

He cleared his throat. “So… How’re things at school? Are you…” He resisted the urge to reach out and touch Gen’s shoulder, so close, so real, right here, at his side. Alive. He’d always known that Gen didn’t like to be touched, that he valued his personal space. And he had always respected that -- until that night.

But it had happened. It wasn’t just a dream before the nightmare. And things would always be different, now. It would probably never be possible to slip back into the friendship they had once known.

He forced a smile. “And since when did you take up smoking?”

Gen regarded Shue with a keen sideways glance and then snorted wryly. His shoulders eased a little as he shifted his stance. He looked away as he spoke. “People act like this school is some kind of fucking godsend, saving our precious society from castoffs like me. It’s a joke. Still, I suppose the dorms are preferable to the hospital ward.”

There was a deliberately languid pause as Gen blew out a slow mouthful of smoke and flicked away the ash. The smoke seemed to flavour his words. “It’s been what, three years? And now you want to know? How I’m doing? I’m touched by your consideration, Shue.”

The words hurt, even though Shue knew he deserved them. He said nothing.

“I’m still in counselling,” Gen continued. “But I’m off the meds, thank fuck. I exceeded everyone’s expectations regarding my ability to catch up with the schooling I’d missed. Made honour roll, easy. But it’s all pointless anyway.” His eyes flashed. “And to answer your other question: I only smoke Marlboro Reds.”

On the outside, Shue’s eyes crinkled in a fond smile, but on the inside, his heart squeezed with the ache of longing and loss. “Well, you’ve got better taste than I do. I’ll smoke whatever’s available. You look good, Gen.” That last bit just slipped off his tongue like a mouthful of syrup grown too sweet and heavy to swallow, and he immediately regretted its escape.

“God help me,” he thought. “Nothing’s changed, has it? What the hell’s wrong with me?”

Gen studied him evenly, and Shue hoped his thoughts weren’t as transparent as they felt. “Three years,” Gen said, his voice as soft as a shadow’s fall. “Has anything really changed?”

The breeze picked up suddenly, gently stirring Gen’s hair, temporarily obscuring whatever was contained within that quietly searching gaze.

Shue caught his breath to speak, though he was reluctant to break the spell. “Look. I hear you’ve formed a band with some friends. That’s great. You know… Quinn would’ve been proud.”

Gen turned his head to exhale another thin stream of smoke before looking Shue directly in the eyes again. His lip twitched and he leaned towards Shue slightly, as if sharing a secret. His voice was hushed and deliberate, a rhythmic emphasis to his words. “I’m not singing for fun. Minus Wave is only a means to an end. We have a mission to accomplish.”

Something about the sudden change in tone put Shue on edge. He frowned. “Mission? What mission? So… is that what you call this? From what I hear, you’ve been encouraging these kids who listen to your music to go run amuck. What are you trying to do, Gen? Stirring up trouble? Why?”

Gen shrugged, and he was back to his former self, the sudden shift gone as if it had never been. “I’m not forcing anyone to do anything. It’s not my problem if the morons in this shithole town can’t think for themselves. Pathetic.”

Gen’s attitude was oddly encouraging and yet frustrating at the same time. As tempting as it was to tell himself that everything was fine now that Gen was back and that it didn’t matter what he did as long as he was all right, Shue still had concerns that he couldn’t just ignore. He sighed and braced himself to push on. “I hear you’ve got Naotaka and Hawk in your group. You know their stories, right?”

Gen’s response was swift and sharp. “I’m well aware. But they haven’t done anything to warrant your current suspicion. You will leave them out of this.”

The fierce note of protectiveness was a surprise, but not unwelcome. Gen had always been a loner and had seemed to disdain the very idea of forming connections with others, especially with children his own age. To see him shielding others now was a promising sign that perhaps this tendency had changed.

That’s why Shue felt so guilty about what he needed to say. He took a deep breath. “You just told me how well you’re doing, right? So don’t jeopardize your whole future by hanging with the wrong crowd. Look, right now you haven’t done anything other than sing. There’s no law against that and there’s nothing linking you directly to any of the crimes these kids have committed. But consider this an official police warning: stay away from those boys. Concentrate on getting through school. Study hard. Plan for college. Stay healthy. Keep focused. Live your life, Gen. You don’t need to risk any more trouble.”

There was a desperate passion leaking into his tone, colouring his words in the murky, sordid shades of personal involvement, muddying his intentions with the dirt of selfish desires. His feelings were trespassing where they had no right to interfere, perhaps attempting to insinuate themselves back into Gen’s life.

He must not let his weakness be another’s undoing. Not again.

But it was so hard to step away.

The pair had gradually been making their way around the perimeter of the school grounds, beginning to approach the outbuildings behind the main compound. It was quiet here. There was an athletics class out at the sports field, the students practicing in their blue and white gym uniforms, their shouts too far away to be distinct. The pair passed the gardening club’s carefully cultivated patch of pumpkins, the bright orange fruit proudly representing the current season. A rake, its prongs carelessly pointing upwards, lay forgotten at the edge of the patch of tilled earth. As they continued a little further, the sports field disappeared from view behind the garden shed.

There was no one else in sight.

Gen stopped again, gazing out beyond the shed towards the further outbuildings, a couple of which were no longer in current use. They stood in silence a moment, just smoking. There was a lone crow perched on the garden gate. The glossy black bird was peering in their direction, sharp eyes glinting in the afternoon sun.

Shue began to feel uneasy. His eyes were drawn to Gen’s throat, and lower, to the pale skin exposed above his shirt collar where the top button had been left undone. Shue swallowed. His uneasiness was tinged with a stab of guilt. Perhaps Gen was uncomfortable being out here alone with him, with nothing but a solitary carrion crow to act as chaperone. He couldn’t blame Gen for that. If Gen detested him, reviled him, then it was only what he deserved.

He drew in a breath, gathering his resolve as he prepared to make his offer. He felt as though he were serving his heart on a platter. He could bear the pain of being bitten by sharp words – it was utter rejection that he feared the most. “You know I’m always here if you need anything. I’d rather not be a stranger to you, but… the decision is yours.” He dug into his pocket for his notepad, hastily unclipped his pen from his shirt pocket and scribbled down his phone number. He ripped off the page, handing it over to Gen.

“Contact me anytime.” Please. His unspoken plea seemed to hang in the air between them, caught up hopefully in the fibers of the paper between his fingers, imbedding itself in the ink.

The wind picked up again, stronger now, threatening to steal the small slip of paper from his hand. The crow called, its rasping cry echoing across the school grounds like a warning signal. Shue was waiting for a denouncement, already feeling the pinpricks of shame and loss. But it never came. Instead, Gen dropped his cigarette onto the footpath, grinding it under the scuffed toe of his black Oxford, and Shue wondered whether, in the next moment, his soul and his expectations would be similarly crushed into the dirt. And then Gen reached to accept the note, the brief touch of his fingers so warm and real that in that moment, Shue felt he could soar, no matter how heavy and ashen his wings may have become.

Gen slipped the note into his pocket without a word.

Relieved and filled with hopeful gratitude, Shue took a last puff of his own cigarette before likewise discarding it. He stuffed his hands into his trouser pockets, not quite trusting himself at the moment -- that instant of physical contact had felt too good.

“Well, I’ll let you get back to class. Uh, maybe you already know, but I’m actually the school liaison officer here, so… I’ll be around from time to time. Keeping an eye on things, you know.” He tried to smile, but if ended up feeling forced, and it dropped from his face like a flag without wind.

He didn’t want to go, but there was nothing else safe that he could think of to say and Gen’s silence seemed to have formed a transparent wall that he wasn’t sure he should break. Broken glass could be a very dangerous thing. Perhaps it would be safest to give Gen some space. Again.

“It really is good to see you, Gen.”

He risked a last lingering look, a little too familiar, perhaps, a little too open, a bit too raw. And then he turned and walked away briskly across the field before he gave himself away completely.

He let out a long, deep whoosh of breath. Excitement and elation dared to replace the anxiety that he’d been living with for the past three years.

Gen was back in his life. Gen was back! Suddenly, it didn’t matter what the circumstances were. It didn’t matter what manner of storm Gen was brewing. It didn’t matter about the state of his mind, the nature of his actions, or what would happen next.

Shue told himself that things were going to be different this time, that perhaps there was such a thing as a happy ending, after all.

A silent shadow crossed his path as the crow took flight and flew into the distance over the trees.


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Ditch Gospel

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