The Academy:Friends vs. Family

By: C. L. Stone

Silas’s hands found me in the dark. He hugged me close, tightly enough that my breath escaped my lungs. I froze, too stunned to move. His chin dropped to the top of my head, and the breath from his nose mixed into my hair.

With trembling fingers, I slipped my arms around his neck to hug him back. Was this what he needed?

His right arm went under my butt to hold me up and his other holding at my back to press me to him. He scooped me up off the floor. My feet dangled on either side of his legs.

I buried my face into his shoulder, too breathless and consumed by his embrace. It was too close and everything I wanted right then. How did he know?

“Aggele mou,” he whispered, and he moved his face until his cheek was next to mine. “Sang, don’t ever do that to me again. Don’t you ever fucking wait...” His breath was hot against my ear.

I couldn’t speak. Tears stung my eyes. I hadn’t realized until that moment that Silas had been holding back something from everyone, waiting until we were alone to tell me this. I swallowed heavily, tightening my arms around his neck. My fingers slipped into his hair, feeling the smooth black locks. I felt so bad. I’d scared him.

Secret L ives

I dreamed a wind swept through a valley, laced with fire and blinding anyone that it came across. I was tied to a tree, unable to dodge the fire no matter how I struggled. All I could do was wait what was coming for me.

Part of me felt like I deserved it.

“Sang?” a voice woke me from my dream.

I sat up in bed, shivering, confused. It was dawn. My alarm hadn’t gone off yet.

A knock sounded at the door. “Sang?” my father called. “Are you awake?”

Was something wrong? Was he going to the hospital with my mother? I kicked off my blankets, my heart rattling hard against my half-asleep body. My father never came to my door unless something was wrong. I swallowed back my fears, tugging down the hem of my t-shirt on my body as it had crept up my stomach while I was sleeping. When I was decent, I opened my bedroom door, peeking out.

My father loomed in the hallway, dressed in dark slacks, a white collared shirt and tie. A suit coat hung off of his arm. If he was going to the hospital, he wouldn’t be wearing that. He peered in at me with his dark and tired eyes.

I opened the door more, tilting my head. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I’m going on a business trip,” he said. He nodded toward the stairwell, in the direction of his bedroom, where my mother was likely still sleeping. “I won’t be back for a couple of days. I need to make sure you get your mother to eat something while I’m gone. You know how she gets when she doesn’t.”

I nodded. Since I was about nine years old, my mother had been sick. She first went in for a sinus infection but came back weeks later with bottles of morphine for an illness I wasn’t privileged to know about. She’d never been the same since, traversing in and out of hospitals almost as often as I went to school.

Her illness was bad enough as it was. The drugs, however, made her paranoid. My sister and I spent most of our childhood and early teenage years at her mercy, keeping us isolated in our rooms. She told us that men would rape us; monsters would kidnap and kill us. If we disobeyed, if we left the house and she found out we’d talked to anyone outside the family, she punished us by getting us to kneel on a hardwood floor or sit on a stool for hours at a time. If she didn’t eat, didn’t take her medicine, the punishments got worse.

“Where are you going?” I asked. It was Friday, and not only did I have school, but I also had something secret to do with the Academy. I’d have to hope the boys were right, and it wouldn’t take all day.

“Mexico,” he said. “I’ll be back soon. Tell your sister.”

Marie, my older sister, was probably still asleep across the hall. I wondered why he told me and not her. I couldn’t remember the last time he went on a business trip. I usually didn’t notice until he was already gone. I hardly saw him anyway, he was always working. It had me wondering why he mentioned it this time. Maybe he expected to be away longer.

He marched down the stairs, turned the corner and was gone. A moment later, the sound of his car starting echoed through the house. His suitcase must have already been in the car. Telling me he was leaving was like an afterthought. No goodbyes. No promises to call.

A hollow household with hollow people. We did what we had to do.

I got dressed for school in shorts and a blouse. When I was ready, I went to the kitchen downstairs. I found some crackers in the cabinet and grabbed a yogurt cup and a spoon, along with a bottle of water. I tiptoed through the quiet house toward my parents’ bedroom.

My mother was slumped over her pillow, her mouth open and she was snoring. Her graying hair was pulled back in a ponytail, recently brushed out and fixed up. If I didn’t know any better, she looked almost normal, peaceful.

I didn’t want to wake her. I dropped the crackers and everything onto her bedside table. I hoped it would be enough if she woke up and was hungry.

Something glinting under the bed caught my eye. I checked my mother again to make sure she wasn’t going to wake up. I dropped to my knees next to the bed, ducking my head.

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