"Relax, this won't hurt. They don't bite. At least not anymore."
"Anymore?" Elias asked as he turned around to the girl walking beside him.
"Kidding. They still bite." Mia said as she did her best to look menacing.
"Well, that's to be expected. You are the princess of the family." he replied to humor her.
"Oh, stop it. I'm not a diva."
They turned the corner and passed by Charmaine's restaurant, just on the brink of opening. Charmaine paid off Kenton to stay out of the way as the place was being inspected top and bottom by the local health department. It's to be expected that he paid that forward and Olivia is also with him.
"Ooh, they have arcade machines?" Mia said as she looked in the window.
"Yep. I have the high score on the green one." Elias semi-smugly said.
"No, you suck."
"You suck even more."
"You both suck."
The semi-couple looked up to see William standing before them.
"Oh, hey, Will." Elias said, uncharacteristically happy to see the grouchy boy before him.
"Don't call me that. Address me as William. Or Mr. Spears. Or God. I don't care which."
"…God?" Mia said as she craned her head. Elias could only roll his eyes. William mumbled something and walked on by.
"…He just told us to 'truck off'? Is that slang for 'get out'?" Mia said as she scratched her head.
"I don't think that's what he said, Mia."
"What do you… oh…"
Mia's eyebrows came together in a point as she turned around and yelled "YOU THINK YOU'RE THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN SWEAR? YOU'RE AN ASSHOLE!"
"Humph. I told him, didn't I? Elias?"
Mia turned around to see Charmaine with a guy in an official-looking suit staring them down.
"Oh, hey, Ms. Hayes!"
"Young lady, I wasn't wanting to break out the swear jar until opening day!"
"Sorry, Ms. Hayes. She was provoked."
"Oh, it's okay, Elias."
The official walked over to Charmaine with a piece of paper.
"I hate to interrupt, but here's your results. Clean bill of health."
"Yes! Thank you so much!"
"My pleasure. Good luck, and I'm sure I'll be seeing you again!"
During this entire exchange, Elias and Mia continued to stand there and watch. As the official's car pulled off down Panther street, Charmaine turned back to the two.
"Elias, thank you so much for coming to test the arcade machines."
"Thank you for having me!"
"Oh, you're so polite! Good catch, Mia!"
"Thanks, Ms. Hayes." Mia said as she winked. Elias did a double take between the two of them.
"Come on, Elias." Mia said as she started to walk off. Elias nodded and took off behind her.
"Nice try using Ms. Hayes to get out of this." Mia said as she practically dragged him along.
They walked up to the door and Mia opened it up.
"We're here! Yo, Graham, this is the guy."
"Oh, hello, Mia!" her father said as he got up from his recliner. Elias looked around and admired the nice and clean house.
"And this is Elias?" her mother said she popped out of the kitchen door. This couldn't be real. This house felt like something out of a classic American drama. Just couldn't be real.
"Yes. Pleased to meet you." Elias replied as he stuck out his hand. The father took it and supplied a firm handshake.
"We'll be upstairs doing homework."
They went up the stairs and through a door leading to a loft where Mia's room was. While Kenton's house was less-than-impressive, Mia's room was just the opposite.
"This… is all yours?" Elias said as he looked around the upstairs.
"Yep. Entire floor to myself."
"Well, shouldn't we be downstairs? I know my parents wouldn't let me be upstairs with a girl."
"My parents aren't your parents. I have a very, well, open relationship with them. I told them that I have a boyfriend and that I'm not going to do anything relatively stupid. I mean that and they know that."
Elias tilted his head in amusement at the fact that "Mia" and "not going to do anything stupid" could reasonably exist in the same sentence.
"Wow, your parents really do trust you."
Then it hit him.
"I told them that I have a boyfriend"
They went on one date and hung out as friends afterward. By her definition, Elias could be considered Olivia's boyfriend. Or even Kenton's.
"Elias, are you okay?"
Meanwhile, Charmaine looked around the restaurant. The windows were spotless, and you couldn't tell the difference between the one that was replaced and the one that had been there since the day the building was built.
The compressors, shiny and new, kept the refurbished walk-in cooler at the perfect temperature. The floors sparkled, the counters shined, the new cash register hummed, and the chairs sat against the tables. The place looked like it could open at any minute.
"Look at this. Look at this, Andrea. This is what you didn't want me to have, right? LOOK AT THIS!" Charmaine screamed out into the empty building.
"You lost. You lost big-time. I don't know if I won, but I know for sure that you didn't win." Charmaine said as she sat down on one of the counter stools. This was the moment that this entire premise became real for her.
"Mom, we're home! Well, sort of." Kenton said as he walked into the front door of the building with Olivia behind him.
"Oh, baby, didn't expect you back this quickly!"
"I'm a fast shopper. Right, Olivia?"
"Yes, you are." Olivia turned her gaze up to meet Charmaine's.
"Did you know that he'll agree to anything to get out of shopping?"
"Yeah. Did you try on the clothes to make sure that they fit?"
"Yes, Mom." Kenton sighed while trying to figure out why he let a girl who is officially-not-his girlfriend pick out his clothing for him.
"Elias and Mia stopped by on the way to somewhere. I didn't get a good look, but there was this tall boy that was hassling them."
"What?" Olivia said, clearly concerned about this.
"Are they hurt?"
Charmaine shook her head. "Nah, I was busy with the health inspector, but I do know that she yelled some inappropriate words at the boy."
"Yeah, that's a 'Mia' thing to do." Olivia said as she rubbed her forehead.
"I didn't recognize the boy. He was taller with spikey-blond hair."
"Dressed nice, but not too-too nice?" Kenton asked.
"William." Kenton said as Olivia nodded.
"Who's that? I've never seen him before!"
"He's in my class. He's also a bit of a jerk."
"A bit? He told Mia and me to shut up at school!"
"Okay, so he's a total jerk. I saw him at the waterpark, and he mumbled something about hoping that his little brother drowns."
Olivia and Charmaine both gasped at this. Olivia remembered Kenton's melancholy behavior at the park, like something was hanging over his head.
"That's terrible! We have to do something!"
"There's no way to prove that he said anything."
Olivia turned to Charmaine.
"You still work at the school, right? Can't you do anything about this?"
"I wish I could, but I have to hear him say it myself before I can."
"You've got to be kidding me…"
"Olivia, you don't know how much horrible stuff I've seen… it's sickening to see what people get away with. We just got to hope that there's a light at the end of the tunnel and that people who are truly hurting can find peace."
"Well, how old is his brother?"
"I have no idea. I've never seen his brother."
"Do you know his last name?"
"Not off hand."
"Well, if you find it out before my last day at the school, I could find the information out."
Kenton slowly nodded.
Back at Mia's, the poor girl found herself doing homework with a nearly comatose boy.
"Hello? Earth to Elias. You there, Elias?" she asked as she gave him a gentle poke with her pencil.
"OW! … Oh, sorry. What are you stuck on now?"
"Let's see… Uh, okay. This."
Mia slid the math book over to Elias and pointed to a problem. He craned his head in and looked at the problem.
"Well, it's pretty simple. What you have to do is get all of the numbers to one side of the equal sign so that the other side is simply zero."
As Elias scribbled down numbers, Mia felt her mind start to drift away. To her, this was straight-up boring.
"Now, each of these groups of numbers are called polynomials…"
"What is it?"
Elias took the book and flipped to the front to see a library card pocket. He closed it and looked up at Mia.
"I'm out of here."
"I thought that it was odd that you would be doing quadratic equations in the seventh grade. I also find it a little hard to believe that you're using a library math book instead of a standardized textbook."
Mia couldn't face him in the eyes. She was caught in her little white lie.
"Why, Mia? Why did you have to do this?"
Mia sat down on her couch and looked down. She took a deep breath to compose herself.
"Because I felt like we were drifting apart."
"What do you mean?"
"I didn't know where we stood after the day at the water park. I… well, I know that we're not exactly a couple, but I didn't want you to leave. I figured that you'd stay if I gave you a reason to."
"Then why did you tell your parents that I was your boyfriend if you don't think that we're a couple?"
"I dunno… I just didn't know where we stand."
Elias sighed and sat down next to her.
"You didn't have to lie to me, Mia. You didn't have to lie to your parents. I'm here because of you."
"You should have asked me from the start instead of stringing me along."
"I know. I'm sorry… I've just made so many assumptions."
"Yeah, you have. But at least you had the best of intentions."
"But… I still lied to you, doesn't that hurt?"
"Yeah, it does, Mia. But trying to bury it further isn't going to help fix things. I'm honored that you would ask me for homework and I'm… well, I honored just as much that you say that I'm your boyfriend."
"Really. Someone told me that if I really liked someone, I should either let them know and not string them along. So, I guess I'm just as guilty of it as you are."
"Gee, I wish this person would have given me the same advice."
Really? Elias thought that Kenton was just spreading Olivia's words. Maybe he needed to bestow that wisdom on her.
"So, let's just admit that we've both made some mistakes."
"Yeah, okay. I'm sorry for what I did."
"I'm sorry, too."
"So, let's settle the score right now."
Mia pointed over to the TV across the room and said "No, I'm serious. You and me. You pick the game, and the loser gets the blame."
The two of them spent the next forty-five minutes battling it out in a two-player dual version of the same game that Kenton and he conqueror last week. After the final boss was defeated, the game gave a final grade of the two players and their performance.
PLAYER 1: A+
PLAYER 2: A
"Ha! I win!" Elias said as Mia dropped the controller and pouted.
"Well, we both defeated the boss and saved the kingdom, so we both won!"
Elias reached over and pulled out a DVD case holding the sequel to the game.
"The kingdom gets taken over again. So, technically we both lost."
The two started laughing as Mia playfully tossed a pillow at her co-adventurer.
"That was awesome, though."
"Yeah. You're really good at this game."
"I told you that I have the high score down at Kenton's mom's restaurant."
"So, how about we just both take the blame."
"Oh…" Elias said, having completely forgotten about the situation that led up to this impromptu gaming session.
"Sounds fair, right?"
Elias smiled and nodded.
"One more thing… do I even have to ask…" Mia said, looking around the room.
"What are we?"
"We are two people that have a lot of fun together."
"So, we're basically just friends?"
"Would you have opened up about what you did to Olivia or even Kenton?"
"Exactly. Don't wonder anymore. Just remember that your boyfriend is one of the best arcade gamers in this town!" Elias proudly declared.
Mia smiled and replied "Yeah, until he's derailed by his girlfriend!"
"Oh, I don't think so!"
"Prove it. Put that game in."
The two spent the next few hours conquering kingdoms, saving maidens, catching monsters, escaping dangerous caves, and most importantly, enjoying themselves.
The sun was starting to set as Elias glanced up and saw that the clock was a quarter-past eight.
"Oh, no! I have to go!"
"Really? You can't stay?"
"I wish I could. See you at school tomorrow?"
"I think I had more fun today than I did at the waterpark." Elias said as he packed up his stuff.
"Yeah, me too."
"We are so not doing that."
"Definitely not. Gross."
"Hold on, though."
Elias walked over to Mia and gave her a quick kiss.
"There, no nerves or anticipation. Our first kiss, quick and painless, like pulling a bandage."
"Yeah, so do you."
Elias ran down the streets of the town. He spent a good chunk of the afternoon and a bit of the early evening with a girl that he could say was his girlfriend. Now, the time was 8:25 PM and he was supposed to be home at eight.
"Hey, what are you doing? Where are you going?" a voice said as Elias felt a jerk backwards. Someone had a hold of his backpack. He knew from the voice who his "assailant" was.
"William. What do you want?"
"Blood. Yours, to be precise."
Elias turned and looked at him. For some reason, there wasn't a fear that most people would have.
"You turned your back on me. Then you have the balls to go on that stage and insult everyone with more than half of a brain cell! And for what? Now they love you. It’s so stupid."
"You're kidding me, right? That was just for fun."
William started pulling the strap to reel the boy in.
"Bro, just let him go. It's not worth it."
"Shut up!" William turned around and snapped to his younger brother, who was sitting on the steps behind them.
"You shut up!"
William's eye twitched as Elias wormed his way out of the backpack.
"Oh, that's great. You're a little Houdini!"
"You don't have to do this. Look, I have a wonderful group of friends who I'm sure would be willing to help you. You don't have to go about this alone!"
William hesitated a bit at what Elias was offering.
"Bro. Listen to him!"
William turned around and swung the backpack at the younger boy, knocking him off the steps. This struck a nerve with Elias. William's little brother got up a slight daze.
"You don't have to do that."
"Shut up. This isn't about him. It's about me and you. Now, don't think that I don't know about your little friends. Idiots. If you're not going to bleed, maybe they'll bleed for you. Let's see how far they'll go for you!"
"Don't you dare touch them, you… you psychopath!"
"Oh, I'm not going to literally make them bleed. I won't lay a finger on them. But I can make them wish that I would."
"You're a real son of a…"
"Here. Take your little bag and run off. Think about what I said. Have a good day."
Elias picked up and bag and looked at William's younger brother. Something in his eyes said, "Don't worry about me, you save yourself."
Elias got into his house to find that he surprisingly beat his parents home. A quick shower later, he climbed into his bed and contemplated everything that was said during that fateful trip home. What did William mean? What was it going to take for this nightmare to be over?