Chapter 11 :The Battle Line

Ash works his way through the unfamiliar hallways, thinking about his odd relationship with Sullivan. For years, they’ve been hiding their friendship for no good reason. No one would have judged them for being friends. Well, Brooke may have, but she doesn’t matter anymore. But his friends would have been fine with it.

The real hurdle is going to be Penelope. She hoards her friends. Holding them so close that no one else is allowed in. She goes out of her way to make sure she and Ash don’t hang out with the same people. She has this idea that all his friends are jackassy popular kids and she doesn’t want anything to do with them. He’s never understood her issues.  Penelope’s reaction to his friendship with Sullivan, or whatever this is becoming, is going to be unpredictable.

The image of his sister straddling his teacher pops back into his mind, stopping him in his tracks. Anger and disgust mingle in his stomach. Taking a deep breath, he continues to the door, grabs his shoes and heads across the driveway towards his house sock footed. The smell of warm chocolate and sugar floats down the stairs as her steps into the foyer. A loud growl from his stomach indicates that a hangover is not one of the injuries he’s woken up with today. Dropping his shoes, he starts up the stairs, not bounding up two at a time like he usually does, but placing each foot firmly on each step one at a time.

“Hey, Mom” He lowers himself gingerly into a chair.

“Morning, Ash.” His mother replies from where she’s standing at the oven scooping cookies from the hot tray.  “Or should I say afternoon?” She turns, grinning. A cookie shatters silently against the tile floor when she sees his face. “Good lord! What happened?”

“You know me. Clumsy, clumsy.”

“Did you fall into a cement mixer?”

“Yes, Mom, that’s exactly what happened.” He rolls his eyes as his mother closes the gap between them and tentatively touches his forehead. “I tripped over my pants and fell into a fence.”

“How many times have I told you to let me get your pants hemmed?”

“I will always listen to you from now on, Mom. You are a beacon of truth and light.”

“Don’t be a smart ass, Sonnyboy.” She laughs, turning back to the oven now that she knows he’s okay. She places a warm cookie on a napkin in front of him. “You look horrible. Go take a shower and then wake up your sister for lunch.”

“Yes ma’am.” Reaching around her, he grabs a few more cookies and heads back downstairs. In his room, he strips off the mud-caked clothing, frowning at the torn fabric along the back of one of his favourite shirts. “Shit.” He throws it to the ground, flips on the shower in his bathroom and steps cautiously into the hot stream. Inhaling deeply, he slides his arm under the water. As the crusted blood weakens, fresh blood starts to flow from the opening. His arm taking on a reddish tint as it washes clean. The top of his right thigh looks like it was attacked by a cheese grater. Hints of denim clinging to the dried blood.

“Mother-effer.” He mumbles under his breath, irrational anger towards Penelope growing quickly. Forcing the feelings away, he pushes his face under the showerhead. The water hitting his head wound makes him yelp. He picks up the shampoo bottle and squeezes a pile into his hand. Far more than he needs. He lathers his hair; the pain from the soap oozing into his injuries forces his mind to go blank. When the water stops running red, he steps out of the shower stall. Dripping onto the thick bathmat under his feet, he turns his back towards the mirror, trying to see the severity of the gash in his arm. Not as bad as he originally thought. He wraps a towel around his waist as he walks back into his bedroom, stumbling over the clothes lying in a heap on the floor. His ripped shirt catching around his foot. His leg stinging.

Opening his door, he crosses the few short steps to his sister’s closed door. Knocking, he waits. No response. He knocks again. Still nothing. Turning the knob, he pushes the door open.

“P?” Artic cold air slaps him in the face. The shock reminding him that he’s half naked. He walks into the dark room. The shape of his sister on her bed is barely discernable against the blackness. The fan in the corner is going full blast, the window wide open, letting in the frigid autumn air. Placing his hand on her shoulder, he shakes her “Penelope.”

“What?” An angry, sleepy mumbled response.

“Mom wants you to get up for lunch.”

“Go away.”

Instead of leaving, he flips the switch beside the door, flooding the room with light. “Get up.” His tone firm and unyielding.

“I don’t want to.” She crosses her arms over her chest, staring straight up at the ceiling.

“Awe, did Mr. Staal send you home? Give you a detention?”

“What?” She shoots up into a sitting position. He crosses his arms over his chest and simply stares back at her wordlessly. “Where were you last night, Ash?”

“Why?”

“Where were you?” She pushes herself off her bed.

“Why, Penelope?”

“Did you throw that bottle?”

“What bottle?”

“The one that smashed into the window of my boyfriend’s house and made me think we were being shot at.”

“Maybe if you weren’t being such a hobag….” He throws her own words back at her “Maybe if you weren’t messing around with our teacher!” The anger he’s been controlling finally erupts.

“You have no idea what is going on between us. And he’s only a sub!” She justifies. “You can’t possibly understand what he means to me.”

“Explain it to me then. Please. Find a way to explain to me how the image of you wrapping yourself around Mr. Staal is supposed to make sense to me.”

“Explain how you and Brooke were ever supposed to make sense to me.”

“That’s totally different, Penelope.”

“How? You were dating someone I didn’t approve of. Now I’m dating someone you don’t approve of.”

“He is a teacher! I’m not sure how to say that more clearly.”

“I’m aware of what he does for a living.”

“It’s not right. He’s taking advantage of you.”

“No, he’s not. He likes me. He knows there’s an age gap, and he won’t be our teacher forever.”

“But he is now. How am I supposed to go to school and respect him as a teacher?”

“How am I supposed to look at you and respect you as a person when you go around peeping into people’s windows?”

“Don’t be a bitch, Penelope.”

“Don’t be an asshole, Ash.”

“You can’t see him again. I won’t let you.”

“You won’t let me?” She walks towards him, stopping inches from his chest. “You won’t let me! I will see whoever I want. You do not control my life.” Pushing by him, she makes her way down the hall and up the stairs.

Ash watches her go, shaking with cold and anger. Shaking it off, he goes back in his room and pulls on some clothes. When he finally makes his way upstairs, the kitchen is empty. He finds his mother in the den sitting at the computer.

“Where’s Penelope?” He asks, leaning against the door.

“She went out.”

“I bet she did.” He mutters.

“What’s that?” His mother spins in the chair to face him.

“Nothing. I’m going to grab something to eat and head back over to Sullivan’s to work on a project for school.”

“Your father and I have a work function. You’ll have to fend for yourself for supper.”

“Yippee” He mumbles sarcastically.

“What’s with the attitude, Ash?”

“Sorry, Mom. I’m just hangry.”

“Hangry?” She raises a quizzical eyebrow.

“Yeah, you know, so hungry you get irrationally angry.” He smiles.

“Oh yes. I know that feeling well. You get that from me.” She chuckles. “Go eat something.”

“Will do,” He fakes a smile and heads into the kitchen to try and eat away his anger.

Chapter 12

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