5. PARENTS’ CLUB, FREE DONUTS AND COFFEE
Marianne felt light, weightless, like immersed in a frictionless ocean where she kept floating, unable to move towards any point, because there was nowhere else to go. There was neither a bottom nor a surface. She was immersed in an endless sea with no escape.
She looked around with recognition. She had been there before, it seemed. The great sea of green and blue hues that she only could access in her dreams but could not remember later. She looked around, waiting for something that should happen, even though she was not sure of what. It was a sense of déjà vu.
“…Hello?” she finally said, waiting for an answer, for the inevitable thing to show up. Her voice traveled long distance and came back to her, sneakering into her ears, stunning her a little. She had to shake her head to regain her perception. And then it appeared. A bright winged figure with no defined features —or at least she could nott see them since it was made entirely of light— moved in front of her with a swift motion, as if able to manipulate the laws of physics at will. Marianne wanted to step back, but it was impossible, she was suspended in an infinite space without gravity.
«…You let it escape. »
«You don’t understand. And you won’t understand if you don’t capture it. »
“I don’t know… what that means…”
«Do you know who I am? »
The figure did not answer, just stood in front of her for several seconds without moving, dazzling her with its brightness until its wings suddenly spread with a swift movement, wrapping her with them so unexpectedly that Marianne slouched and hugged herself for protection. The light burned her skin, like acid trying to melt her.
Marianne woke up with a start, panting rapidly and looking around with wide eyes. She began to check her skin, almost expecting to see burns in it, but there was nothing. She felt her pulse slowing down and her body relaxing. Right at that moment, Samael appeared with a flash and a concerned expression.
“Are you okay? I suddenly felt your desperation. I had to make sure everything was fine.”
Marianne did not reply, only stared at him for a while with her breathing gradually slowing down. She could remember the dream and realized it was not the first time she had seen the winged silhouette. She had seen it the day of the accident too, and she could even remember it from much earlier, the day she almost drowned in that lake as a child, the Tokenblue. She had assumed it was Samael’s original form, the one he used to appear in her dreams before taking human form, but now she wasn’t sure. Why would he do it if it were no longer necessary? He was right in front of her after all.
“…I thought it was you,” she finally said with a gasp. “The silhouette… I thought it was you.”
“What are you talking about?” he asked, sitting at the edge of her bed.
“I’ve been seeing this winged silhouette in my dreams. At first, I thought it was you trying to communicate with me when you hadn’t taken human form yet, but… I’ve seen it again, and yet you’re here; it wouldn’t make any sense for you to appear in my dreams like that… would it?”
“…Why are you telling me this now?”
“Because I’ve just remembered. I think it used to be buried in my subconscious, but now…” she looked down at her arms, she was still rubbing them and were now starting to redden, so she stopped and closed her hands, “…It felt real.”
Samael recalled that one time he had a dream. A silhouette had also appeared to him telling, or at least whispering, incomprehensible things that were not quite helpful after all. The only difference is that it was not a winged figure.
“…May I see it?”
She did not have to respond, just sat up straight and looked directly in his eyes, thus giving consent to enter her mind. Samael focused on her eyes, starting to go through the mists of her most recent memories as if walking through a long hall lined with windows to different locations. The one that interested him was at the back, in the dark, as if hiding.
He approached and looked inside, though there was nothing but a vast expanse of what looked like bottomless and surfaceless water, which reminded him of the empty space he had been immersed in his own dream. He placed his hands on the frame, intending to enter, but when his hands came to rest on it, the window shone ablaze, forcing him to retreat. Intrigued, he made another attempt, but this time more dramatically: he would take off and jump through it.
He backed away a little more, his eyes fixed on the window and its infinite ocean extension. He got in position, ready to get a running start, and finally bolted towards it, gaining momentum while getting near it and took a dive inside. For a moment he thought he had succeeded, he had managed to get through and had plunged into the frictionless waters, but not for long. Everything around him began to glow with a brightness so powerful that it ended up expelling him, as if thrown by an explosion.
It was then that he broke the connection with a jump, bringing his hands to his face as if feeling momentarily disoriented.
“What happened? Did you see anything?”
“…No. Something is preventing me to access that particular memory.”
“What? But… it’s my mind, my dream. How could I be blocking it?”
“It’s not you, it’s something external,” Samael replied, straightening up and blinking to make sure he had regained his normal vision. “…It’s like your memory about the gray-hooded guy. A foreign entity that manipulates memories about itself to be protected.”
Marianne was silent for a moment with a clenched face, realizing the implications.
“It wasn’t a dream,” Samael said, looking at her with that solemn expression indicating another mystery to add to their list.
Marianne said nothing, just sat in bed feeling mentally exhausted.
“…What am I supposed to do then? Keep going like usual because there’s nothing we can do, and you can’t even check my memories? What are we dealing with?”
Samael simply shook his head, somewhat frustrated.
“Did it say anything specific?”
“… ‘You let it escape’,” she repeated, trying to remember something else that could have caught her attention. “…I don’t know what it meant. I never know, actually. I’ve been lucky to remember it so far.”
“And you thought it was me?”
“I don’t know! It was a winged figure, you’re an angel. I just made the connection.”
“How do you feel when you’re in front of that figure?”
Marianne frowned, trying to think about it, but all she could remember was the anguish of feeling her skin burning.
“…I don’t know. Right now, everything’s confusing. I guess that’s how I feel in front of it: puzzled. And if we add the feeling of the light burning me…”
“Wait, what?” Samael stopped her with a dumbstruck expression.
“Yeah, well… I can’t quite remember what happened, just that it suddenly came to me with all that glowing light… and I felt my skin burning. It was very weird,” Marianne said thoughtfully, and Samael almost seemed lost in his own thoughts, but unlike her, who was starting to calm down, he looked increasingly restless. “…Samael? What are you thinking?”
He looked back to her as if suddenly not recognizing her anymore or having an ill-fated omen in front of him, which started to make her nervous.
“…Why are you looking at me like that? Do you think I should worry?”
Samael seemed to react, and his features softened back; he didn’t want to worry her.
“…The important thing is that nothing actually happened. Maybe… it would be better for you to get some rest. I can stay here if you want.”
“Thanks, but I’ll be fine. I don’t think it will happen again in the near future.”
Samael nodded, but still looked distracted by his own thoughts. He stepped back and stood in the middle of the room.
“…Good night,” he finished with a smile that felt forced.
He couldn’t help it, there was an unsettling feeling inside him that was starting to grow even more. It wasn’t something he was sure of yet, but his suspicion that her father might be at least partly a demon seemed to reach a new height. That thought had been eating him inside since a long time now because it contradicted all of his preconceived ideas, but after giving it much thought, agonizing with it, he had come to the conclusion that it wouldn’t change anything regarding Marianne. His need to protect her remained the same; so, when he said he was learning to tolerate the fact that not all demons followed the same pattern, he was serious, Demian was another proof of it. He still had some issues with the idea, but he was really trying. The only thing that was clear to him at that moment was that no one should learn about it and least of all her. He didn’t want to cause her any identity conflict, after all, there was still the fact that she was an Angel Warrior; that was the reason he was sent to her as her guardian angel… wasn’t it?
The next day Marianne seemed too tired to even care about the class, so she just looked around out of boredom, taking on the little things no one seemed to notice from their seats. For example, Kristania’s failed attempt to act as if nothing had happened the day before. Despite the layers of makeup hiding the bruise in her left cheek, her pride was probably the most hurt at the time. And worst of all, she couldn’t do any of the things she normally would because of the façade she had to maintain, but that didn’t stop her from throwing death glares at Addalynn, when she thought no one was watching.
Marianne was widely enjoying this when a paperball fell over her desk. She watched it almost scornful, remembering the last note she had received from Dreyson and then glanced at him. He kept his eyes straight ahead and seemed completely unaware. She crumpled the paper and threw it in the compartment of her desk without even reading it. She wouldn’t give him the pleasure.
As the teacher asked them to open their books, she leaned to take her school bag and when she straightened back, there was another paper on her desk. Her face contorted, unable to believe his boldness. She finally clasped the paper and turned furiously to him.
“Stop doing that!” she yelled.
All eyes strayed on her, including the boy, who seemed clueless. Marianne realized too late that she had reacted impulsively and attracted everyone’s attention.
“What’s going on back there? Is there a problem?” the teacher asked, pushing his glasses on the bridge of his nose. Marianne said nothing, just sank into her seat, wishing she had been able to control herself in time.
“Four-eyes is bothering her!” someone said suddenly, and soon everyone raised their voices until the teacher shut them up with a motion of his hands.
“Is that true?” he asked, but Marianne declined to say anything, just bit her lip, and looked down.
The teacher now looked at the boy, who stood undaunted at the allegations.
“…Well, I have no choice then. Please, get out of the class.”
The boy held his gaze for several seconds and then gave a quick look around, noticing the several jeering faces that seemed to be enjoying the moment. Without saying anything, he stood up and left as he had been asked.
Several guys broke into applause and whistles, even though the teacher tried to get the class back to normal. Marianne struggled against her tendency to jump in defense of someone in disadvantage. He wasn’t worth it.
“What happened? Was he bothering you?” their friends asked in whispers.
“No, just… it doesn’t matter,” she replied with a sigh, deciding it was pointless to tell them about the notes. The others shrugged while Vicky leaned a little bit more towards her.
“Did you get my notes?” she asked in a low voice and Marianne paused, processing her words. “…The ones I threw at you a while ago?”
Marianne watched the paper she was still holding in her fist, and remorse started to creep on her once she realized she had claimed the wrong person and even worse, he had been accused and kicked out of the class. She was no better than Kristania in that regard.
“I… haven’t read them yet. Sorry.”
“Never mind. We’ll talk about it later.”
They focused on the teacher again, back to the class. Marianne, meanwhile, took the first crumpled note from her desk and tried to smooth it out.
‘My brother said your father is our legal guardian.
Would it be too much for him to represent Addallyn too at the meeting?’
Marianne let out a long exhalation. There seemed to be a recurring theme chasing her lately. Now it turned out everyone needed her father as their legal guardian. He might as well put his own representation company after quitting his job. She then took the second paper and unfolded it.
‘By the way, Samuel is so cute!’
She rolled her eyes. Speaking of people who could open their own business.
After class, they went out for a break and found Lucianne and Frank sitting on the stairs at the intersection.
“Didn’t you have class?”
“The Biology teacher didn’t come. No one has seen him since school started,” Lucianne replied.
“Maybe he’s dead and we’ll be out of teacher for the rest of the year.”
“Frank, don’t say such things!” Lucianne said, slapping him on the arm. “…By the way, we saw your brother with three other kids down the path that leads to the gym.”
Marianne frowned, thinking it was strange.
“And taller than him,” Franktick added and she frowned.
“How does that matter?”
“I just thought it’s something that deserves attention,” Frank replied, shrugging indifferently, but with an expression that seemed noteworthy.
“Hey, did you read them?” Vicky asked, appearing behind them.
“Yes, uhm… about that…” she said, glancing at Addalynn right behind Vicky. “…I don’t think there would be a problem, but I don’t know if he’ll be able to represent so many people on the meeting. He’s already marked as your legal guardian and Samuel’s and…”
“Ohhhh, really?” Vicky interrupted with a smile spreading across her cheeks.
“…Let’s just wait and see what he says,” she finished, starting to move towards the side door. “…I’ll go check on my brother.”
“You have a brother?” Vicky asked and she only waved her hand.
She got to the dome after a while, but the front door was locked. She wondered if there was some other way to get in and retreated a few steps to get a complete view of the building. She then saw three kids getting out on one side, laughing. There was no sign of Loui.
“…Hey, you!” Marianne shouted to get their attention and the three boys bolted. “…Get back here!”
She walked to the side where they had come from, but before she could even get close, she saw another figure walking slowly and then pausing, as if taking its time. It was dripping water and didn’t even make the effort to squeeze it.
“…Loui!” Marianne said and he immediately jolted. “What are you doing here and why are you all wet?”
“…I just wanted to freshen. That’s all,” he replied, avoiding her gaze. He was completely soaked from the waist up.
“With your clothes on?”
He just shrugged and tried to walk past her, but she held his arm.
“Are those kids bothering you?”
Loui scowled and released his arm with a yank.
“Right now, you’re the one that’s bothering me!” he snapped with a sudden fit of rage and then ran away before she could say anything, leaving a trail of water behind him.
“Loui!” she shouted, but he was already several feet away from her. The boy could be extremely fast when he wanted.
She knew it was pointless to follow him if he wasn’t willing to admit what was going on; he was just like her, he preferred to bear his problems on his own. And she could even make things worse if she did something. Be defended by the big sister wasn’t exactly the best way to earn anyone’s respect.
Frustrated by not being able to do anything else, she snorted and decided to retrace her steps. And suddenly she stopped. A little further from the swimming dome, the boy with thick glasses was sitting on the stands of the athletic field, his feet hanging from the railing and his arms resting on it, attentive to what was happening in her direction rather than the field —though granted, it was empty at the moment, so there wasn’t much to see.
Marianne tensed and her first reaction was to get defensive.
“…Were you spying on me?”
The boy looked around as if to make sure she was talking to him.
“I’ve been here a while ago.”
She felt again that twinge of guilt for having him kicked out of class without really having done anything, but unwilling to admit it, she just chose to ignore him and walked back to the main building.
“Why do you get so upset at the mention of your father?”
Marianne stopped short and looked up furiously, with clenching fists and arms tight to her sides.
“…Listen, I don’t know what’s your fixation with that, but you won’t intimidate me! Okay, I’ll admit I was wrong today, and you had nothing to do with those notes. For that I apologize, but had done it before, so obviously I’m gonna feel attacked, especially since you were rude to me from the very first day!”
The boy just stared at her as she finished her rant, wheezing like having lost her breath.
“…The first day?” he finally said like she had spoken in another language.
“Of course! The two guys that pushed you and made you lose your glasses. I gave them back to you and you were rude when I was only trying to help.”
The boy kept staring at her with those brown eyes magnified by the glasses. Showing no regret or even acknowledging the fact, he just shrugged and shook his head.
“I didn’t even notice.”
And that was it. He didn’t even try to apologize for his behavior, perhaps because for him there was nothing to apologize for. Marianne didn’t know whether to exempt him for that detail or get more enraged that he hadn’t even noticed it. It had been very quick after all: first day at a new school, a couple of bullies pushed him and surely the last thing he wanted at the time was for anyone to see him.
“…Well, whatever! That doesn’t mean you can try to harass me with your notes and comments about my father!”
“I wasn’t trying to harass you.”
“Oh, really? So, what’s your weird obsession with it then?”
He shrugged again, like it was something he usually did unadvertently, and she just snorted, realizing she wasn’t going to get any straight answer from him.
“I was just curious,” he said and she threw him an even more confused look. He was a weird guy, no doubt about it, but since everything else was clarified, Marianne thought she had no reason to keep his grudge on him for something that happened the first day and he didn’t even remember.
“…Well, forget it then. I’ll just give you an advice if you want to survive highschool,” she said, pointing at the main building with her gaze. “Don’t give them weapons they can use against you. And that includes staring at a girl like a creep. It’s disturbing.”
The boy held her gaze for several seconds —more than he normally would— with his unfathomable expression.
“What am I supposed to do then?”
“I can’t help you out with that, it’s up to you,” she answered, raising her hands. “Just take it into consideration the next time you think that touching a girl’s hair without her consent is okay.”
He didn’t respond, just kept his intense chestnut gaze fixed on her.
“…Well, that’s my advice. Take it or leave it. You’re on your own now,” she finished, opting to continue on her way.
“Was that your brother?” he asked and she stopped again, rolling her eyes and thinking it was more of the same. “You don’t seem to get along.”
“Well, we won’t be the first or the last siblings to act like cats and dogs. Excuse me.”
“Would you say it’s normal?” he kept going, interrupting her walk once more.
“…You’re weird,” was the only thing she said, drawing an arch with her eyebrow and he just shrugged again.
“I’m just curious.”
“Whatever you call it, that’s exactly why everyone’s got their target on you. You’ll have to change some habits if you want to survive highschool, and as I said, it only depends on you,” and with that, the exchange ended. She walked away quickly before he would keep asking things.
She didn’t even understand how they ended up talking like that, but at least her rage had subsided.
Since they were supposed to go out with their faher after school, Marianne decided to send him a message, but time passed and received no answer. After class she went out the hall and tried to call him, but the ringtone just kept on and no one answered.
Puzzled, she ended up digging into her pockets to pull out a card with the address of the hotel where he was staying. She asked Samael to take Loui back home while she went through the side door to the bus stop.
Since her mother’s car was out of circulation, she could no longer continue with her plan to monopolize their time; they were free again to come and go, not as much as they pleased, but away from her scrutiny… At least until they got home.
She stopped at one side of the bus stop and noticed Dreyson was already sitting there, staring at the coffee shop. She rolled her eyes and shook her head; apparently the change would have to be gradually. She was about to make some comment when another voice interrupted her.
“Are you heading to the coffee shop or waiting for your mother?”
Demian showed up right behind her, also coming out of school.
“I’m waiting for the bus. I’ll go see my father. I texted him, but he didn’t reply.”
“That’s east town.”
“And that’s why I’m taking the bus,” she said while a bus coming from afar stopped at her side, blowing her hair; she checked the route, but it wasn’t hers.
“Did your guardian let you go by yourself?”
“…I don’t need his permission,” she replied with a scowl as Demian pulled out some keys from his pocket.
“Well, you won’t have to take the bus. I’ll take you there.”
“…What? But… there’s no need. Besides, your sister must be waiting at the coffee shop,” she said, glancing at the Retroganzza right in front of them, picturing her friends stuck to the window while making up their own stories. She didn’t want to stand there, giving them something to talk about. She finally managed to move her feet and looked over her shoulder at the bust stop, which was already empty. Maybe the boy with the glasses had taken the bus already.
“…Seriously, you don’t have to do this,” she said as she got into his car, torturing herself about what Lilith would say at that moment.
“Your father has been really helpful to us; the least I can do is take you there.”
For some reason she seemed disappointed and immediately sulked into her seat and fixed her gaze outside the window.
“So… I heard that a guy in your class was bothering you, is it true?”
She averted her gaze from the window and looked at him, confused that he would ask about that and surprised at how fast he had learned about it. Demian noticed the way she was looking at him and tried to explain.
“Vicky told me. She texted me actually. As you get to know her, you’ll notice that news travel faster through her.”
“…Well, it was just a misunderstanding.”
“Really? Because if someone is bothering you, I could…”
“Do you think I’m unable to defend myself?” she asked with inquisitive eyes. “That I need someone else to do it for me?”
Demian kept silent, aware that he had pressed on her buttons again.
“…I’m sure you don’t,” he finally said with a long exhalation. As much as he tried to show how his gratitude, she always made it difficult.
“Stop acting like you owe me your life or something,” she blurted out. “I didn’t do anything to make you feel indebted, not to me or to anyone. I just want things to be like before all this… madness.”
Demian gave her a sideway look as he maneuvered the wheel. With ‘madness’, of course, she meant finding out what he really was and him trying to kill them all in a vengeful fit and amid an identity crisis. He wasn’t proud of it, and just like her, he would rather go back to the way it was, but it was impossible. Everything was still so fresh in his mind, ever present in his memories. Especially for the detail that still haunted him all the time and everywhere he looked.
“…I killed your father,” he said without daring to look at her reaction.
“I don’t know what you mean. He’s alive.”
“He’s alive, okay? That’s all that matters.”
“Even if he is, that doesn’t change what I did.”
Marianne huffed and leaned back on the seat, folding her arms.
“…No, but it makes it a mistake that fortunately had a solution. Stop torturing yourself with that. My father is alive, you are alive, we all are. Let’s leave all of this behind. You don’t need to show me how grateful you are at every given chance; you don’t owe me anything. And don’t say that we could have killed you and didn’t do it, because you could have done it too. We’re not so different, after all.”
Demian kept his eyes on the road, listening without uttering a word. He understood her point, indeed he could have killed them if he wanted, but ultimately didn’t. He’d found himself delaying it, and even giving them opportunities to kill him. By now he wasn’t sure if what he really wanted at the time was to kill them or just die.
In short, he didn’t have to do anything just out of gratitude, and yet he kept looking for ways to do things for her…but why? To spend more time with her? He suddenly felt puzzled at the paths of his mind, so he quickly tried to focus again.
“If you want everything to go back to the way it was, you know what that means,” Demian finally spoke and she turned to him curiously. He gave her a sideways glance with half a smile. “You’ll have to hate on me again for being the guy who did NOT run over you.”
She resisted the urge to smile back and squinted until her eyes were slits.
“…Who says I don’t? In fact, I only agreed to get into your car as a part of my meticulous plan to destroy it from inside once you get distracted.”
Demian gave her a look of fake surprise followed by a ‘Monster!’ and they both ended up laughing.
Minutes later, Demian parked outside a hotel that looked far more luxurious than she thought her father could afford.
“You recommended my father to stay in THIS hotel?”
“My father had some business with the chain owner. I just asked for a favor in his memory,” he replied, shrugging like it was no big deal.
She just sighed, wondering the price of a single night stay. She started to head towards the hotel entrance while Demian also got out of the car, making sure it was locked.
“Do you want me to come with you?”
Marianne looked at the hotel and then at him, feeling a sudden rush of blood pumping to her head.
“No offense, but… maybe we would give the wrong impression if we go in there together,” she replied with an awkward expression.
“…Oh, right. I get it. I’ll wait here then.”
She tried to show a shy smile and walked into the huge hotel lobby. After an attempt from the receptionist to call his father’s room with no response, she was allowed inside. Even though she knew the room number, the bellhop escorted her to make sure she arrived at her destination: Room 327.
She was surprised to confirm the luxury of the hotel, with huge halls, expensive carpets and decorations. It made her feel even more uncomfortable, thinking that somehow Demian was actually taking care of his father staying.
The bellhop knocked on the door politely and even spoke through an intercom, waiting a few seconds for a reply. There was no sound coming from inside, perhaps because the rooms were designed so the noise wouldn’t filter, another detail showing the hotel’s level of luxury. The bellhop finally decided to slide his special card for emergencies and the door opened instantly.
“Thanks. I’ll take it from here,” Marianne said and the bellhop just bowed as if she were royalty —or the kind of influential people they were probably used to receive.
She waited a few seconds until he was far enough and entered the room. She thought to be prepared after seeing the luxury of the hotel and still couldn’t help but being surprised at the inside. That wasn’t just a room, it was practically a condo. Everything was neatly ordered as if just waiting to be occupied. The only thing that betrayed someone’s presence was a suitcase seated next to a couch in the huge space that seemed to be the living room. On the right there was even a kitchen, although it seemed unused and to the left there was another door that probably led to the bedroom.
Suddenly, she felt a lump inside, as if she were about to invade someone else’s private space. What if her father wasn’t alone and she entered in the least appropriate moment? The mere thought made her nauseous, but she tried to get that thought out of her mind and opened the door.
The interior was lit by the sunlight coming through the window, so she could clearly see the silhouette of her father in bed. He seemed to be alone, so she sighed with relief.
She glanced around before getting inside, noticing everything was perfectly organized. Just across the bed was a huge flat screen stick to the wall. It was definitely too much for her father to afford, which made her go back to the idea that Demian was doing much more than simply asking for a favor. And she was sure that he’d done it driven by guilt, as some sort of compensation, which made her uncomfortable.
She walked to the bed to wake her father up and noticed that his cellphone was resting on a nightstand, blinking with missed calls and incoming messages. She frowned in puzzlement. It was right next to the bed. He just had to stretch his hand and pick it up, why didn’t he? Feeling increasingly restless, she approached the bed and took a closer look. He seemed in a deep slumber state and his expression was peaceful, but there was something bothering her and spent several seconds trying to figure out what it was, until it finally hit her: he didn’t seem to be breathing.
Distraught, she pulled the sheet and he was still unmoving. Her stomach began to harden and turning into stone. She just stood there in a daze, unable to react. Several thoughts ran through her mind; she had to call someone, but who? Demian was waiting outside, she could make a quick call and he would go up immediately… but did she really want him there right now? He already felt guilty enough, this… would be too much.
She was internally crumbling, but the shock didn’t let her react. Move your legs, your hands, do something! And then she realized something she hadn’t noticed before: he was holding a paper.
She could perceive a peculiar scent she already knew: lavender, the one from the mysterious envelopes her father used to receive. The mind often gives ways to escape from stressful situations and focus on the familiar things to react to. For Marianne, it was the pending mysteries. She fixed her eyes on the paper between her father’s fingers, as if he had fallen asleep clutching it. (Sleep. Even her mind refused to acknowledge any other kind of word for it.)
She stretched her trembling hand towards the paper and tried to focus all of her thoughts on it and its content.
She caught a glimpse of her father’s features, placid and peaceful despite his unsettling stiffness; her hands couldn’t stop shaking. She gulped just as her fingers touched the paper and as she was ready to pull it out, her father suddenly snapped open his eyes and sat up, causing her to leap back with a loud gasp, expelling all the air from her lungs in a single exhalation.
“…Dad?” she muttered, her heart about to pop out of her chest. Noah turned confused to her, with narrowed eyes.
“…Marianne? What are you doing here? How did you get in?”
Relief was all she could feel at the moment, but still tried to stay in in control in front of him.
“I’ve been trying to reach you all morning, sending you messages, calling your phone, didn’t you hear it?”
Noah turned to his cell, still looking disoriented.
“Sorry, I must have fallen asleep. I was so tired.”
Indeed, he had never looked so tired in his life. He seemed so lost lately. Maybe his sleep pattern was all messed up because of the foreign gift inside of him. She wondered if he would assimilate it some day or remain like that forever. But all things aside… he didn’t seem to breathe while sleeping.
“Sorry, I should be more careful,” he repeated after checking his messages and then realized he was still holding that piece of paper. He loosened his hand to fold it and put it in his pocket under Marianne’s watchful gaze. “…Anyway, have you eaten? I’m starving.”
“Uhm… no, I was planning to…”
“Good. There’s a very good restaurant downstairs. Let’s eat there. It comes with the hotel’s service anyway,” Noah suggested, getting out of bed in the same clothes he was wearing the day before, as if he had been lying there and lost track of time. “Maybe I should change clothes first.”
While he pulled some clothes from his luggage, she glanced out of the window and saw Demian down there, leaning on his car while waiting for her. She grimaced and pulled her phone to type something and then looked back outside. She saw Demian pulling his cell from his pocket and checking it out for a few seconds.
Then he just kept it, turned around and got into his car to drive away. It was impossible to see his face from Marianne’s position, so she had no way of knowing if he was upset or not.
“Shall we go?” her father said, peering into the room once he had changed clothes.
She nodded, pulling away from the window after one last look to the street, though Demian was already gone.
“Everyone was asking why you didn’t come back to the cafe,” Samael said later that night, sitting on the floor in Marianne’s room while she was doing homework in her desk.
“I told you I was having lunch with my father.”
“And I told them too, but they all seemed confused after seeing you leaving with Demian,” he answered while eating a pack of chocolate chip cookies, which had become his favorites.
Marianne stopped writing. Just what she feared; now would surely start speculating.
“And then he arrived and didn’t answer any of their questions.”
“Did he look upset?” she asked without looking up from her notebook.
“Hmmm… not exactly. Although, he’s not usually expressive, anyway.”
That was true. He was always discreet about his own personal issues and rarely spoke to anyone about them. The only exception was, perhaps, when he had come to her after his father’s death, believing she might have the answer of what was happening to him. She didn’t, but their communication had been more open since. And that included the sudden discussion from hours before in his car, when he suddenly let out what no one had dared to mention for the last month. This led her to think of her father. She didn’t understand what was going on, but it really unsettled her.
“Are you going to tell me what’s bothering you?” Samael interrupted her train of thought. She looked at him as if just awakening from a dream.
“…My father wasn’t breathing,” Marianne said faster than expected and after noticing Samael’s confusion, she tried to explain. “…Or so I thought. I walked into his room when he was sleeping. There was no movement, no sign that he was alive, I thought…” She forced herself to stop. She couldn’t finish the sentence. Then swallowed and took a breath. “…I tried to take something that was in his hands and that was when he woke up. He gave me the scare of my life.” Samael said nothing, just listened carefully. “…He’s also been so tired lately; you’ve seen it yourself… Do you think it has something to do that he now has someone else’s gift?”
She waited for him to say something, but he remained silent for several seconds, as if trying to process that information and come up with a satisfactory answer.
“…I don’t know what to tell you,” he finally said with a sigh. “The fact that he’s even alive with a gift that doesn’t belong to him is already something unprecedented. It must be affecting him inside, changing his lifestyle, maybe even his behavior.”
“Demian also spent some time with all of the gifts inside him. Gifts that didn’t belong to him. And they just gave him advantages in some respects, such as the use of my power… but beyond that, his behavior wasn’t… uhmm… seriously affected.”
“Sure,” Samael said like he’d rather let her keep thinking that way for now.
“Don’t humor me, tell me what you think.”
“I already told you what I think. When you saw him asleep, you saw his real condition without the gift.”
Marianne tightened her mouth.
“…Are you telling me that my dad is a zombie? He won’t start eating brains or anything like that, right?”
“I’m almost pretty sure that won’t happen,” Samael said, unsure of whether she was serious or joking. “…Listen, he’s been like that for a month, his body will eventually assimilate the new gift. Even though it originally belonged to someone else, it’s now part of him. It just needs to adjust to his new owner until they end up merging completely into one. It’s not a process that occurs in a matter of a couple of months, the gifts usually take years to mature and acquire their owners’ characteristics to manifest. So, chances are, your father would stay like that for a while longer before he can get used to his new gift.”
His words ended up reassuring Marianne. She couldn’t think of her father as undead, but if the gift would eventually become one with him, she could cope with the process of assimilation.
“Come on, tell me! Where did you go with Demian? It will be easier if you just say it or I could get the wrong idea and my imagination can fly a loooooot,” Lilith asked while heading to the auditorium for their basketball practice.
“It was nothing, okay? He just did me a favor by driving me to the hotel where my…”
“Oh, my god! Did he take you to a hotel? I thought you were a lot more prude, young lady!” Lilith gasped, taking her hand to her chest in a shocked gesture.
“…To the hotel where my father is staying!” she clarified, her cheeks reddening and trying to hide it with a scowl. “I had to see him because he wasn’t answering my calls!”
“Your dad is staying in a hotel?”
Marianne gave a long exhalation while massaging her temples; that was precisely one of the subjects she preferred not to touch.
“…It’s temporary. And I don’t wanna talk about it.”
Lilith just nodded and kept silent for the rest of the road. Parents were always a delicate issue to handle with pins and needles, so Marianne had no doubt that it would be an awkward moment for most of them.
After leaving school, her father showed up to take them to lunch. They had no way to refuse this time and even Samael ended up included in the mix. Noah looked more relaxed than the previous day; maybe those hours of sleep were all he needed.
“I’m thinking of going back to work,” he let out during lunch, and they all paused as they heard it. “I had asked a time out while your mother was recovering, but now that she’s fine I see no impediment to return.”
“Are you going to travel again?” Loui asked, looking up from his plate.
“Well… it’s part of my job.”
“But you said you wouldn’t leave us again,” Loui added, his tone increasingly disappointed.
“I can’t stop working forever, champ. I have bills to pay,” he answered with his usual warming tone and showing his most charming smile.
“You can get a job here.”
“It’s not as easy as you imagine,” he replied with the same soothing tone and Loui suddenly got up from his seat, resting his hands on the table.
“It would be if you really wanted to stay with us!”
And then he ran out of there before their astonished expressions, and tens of other gazes around the restaurant, curious at the sudden dramatic exit.
Noah sighed and after taking a sip of his drink, also decided to stand up.
“…I’ll go talk to him,” he solved with a serene smile and going after Loui.
Marianne just stared at her dish, aware that the rest of the patrons were now starting to whisper and even could feel their eyes on her, including Samael, who was trying to make sure she was okay even if she wouldn’t speak. And she didn’t. She just decided to keep eating, ignoring all those eyes, and with a slight kick under the table, she indicated Samael to do the same, so he followed her example as a form of support.
“What do you think? Pulled out or loosen? Which one makes me look younger?” Enid asked, pulling out her hair in a ponytail and then releasing it.
“…It’s a parents’ meeting, not a night club,” Marianne reminded her after noticing she was dressed more like an older sister about to go to a pub.
“What’s wrong with my look? There are only a few occasions I’m able to meet new people. Do you know how hard it is that all my colleagues are double my age and don’t like to go out after school?” her mother replied while pulling her hair in a ponytail and looking into one of the mirrors.
But Marianne knew the real reason why she behaved that way; she did the same every time she was upset with her father and whenever he came home lately. She suddenly disappeared and reappeared perfectly dressed up, as if to throw at his face what he was missing. In many ways she was still like a bratty teenager.
“Have you ever thought about getting in touch with your former school friends?”
“Do you think I haven’t tried? Most of them have left the city or are too busy with their first level jobs which give them no time to breath. I’m short of options, I need to meet new people; perhaps I will have more in common with your friends’ parents, at least we would have something to talk about: you guys.”
Marianne shivered just to think of their parents sharing stories about them and starting to meet regularly as a ‘Parents whose children are involved in mysterious activities club’, starting to dig deeper into their lives and even playing detective to end up finding out that they were actually the ‘Parents with children who fight demons club’. Coffee and donuts on Fridays.
“Your uncle Red is coming for us, so you’d better be ready soon,” her mother said while she finished combing her hair. The sound of a car outside the house alerted her. “…Oh, he’s arrived. Loui, Samuel, are you ready? It’s time to go!”
The sound of footsteps down the stairs rumbled while Marianne just stretched out, closed her coat, and pulled her hoodie over her head.
“Seriously, are you going dressed like that?” she insisted, and her mother just squinted and wrinkled her nose, taking a long coat from the rack and putting it on.
As they opened the door, they found out that the car parked outside was actually Noah’s. He was waiting for them, leaning on the car in a casual pose, and outlining one of his charming smiles as he saw them out. He was wearing one of his formal suits to look more responsible and mature, Marianne assumed.
“What are you doing here?” Enid asked with a scowl.
“I decided to come for you. After all, we’re going to the same place, right?”
Marianne glanced at her mother; she seemed about to shoot lasers from her eyes and her whole face was clenched in a huge pout. She waited for the moment she would break out into one of her monumental tantrums, but instead she walked reluctantly towards the passenger seat and pulled out her cell, surely to tell her brother not to pick them up. Noah opened the door for her with his usual manners of a gentleman and then opened the back door.
“Go ahead,” he said towards them, pointing at the back seat. Loui was the next to get in the car without much eagerness after the drama at lunch, and then Marianne went in with a sigh, followed closely by Samael.
Arriving at school, they first met Lilith and Belgina with their respective mothers. The three girls introduced their parents and Noah immediately acted as charming and attentive as ever… maybe a little too much; the two women seemed delighted with his conversation while Enid remained virtually relegated to the side, throwing glares like daggers at Noah. It was like going back to middle school.
“Hmmm… dad, shouldn’t you be waiting for Demian and his sister?” Marianne said, noticing her mother was already twisting her mouth. Noah took his cell phone and checked his messages.
“Don’t worry, they’re on their way. I’m sure we’ll see them when they arrive.”
And he continued with his fascinating talk. Marianne sighed and made a shrug that meant ‘I tried’. Her mother was starting to look around for distraction and suddenly started waving once she saw what seemed to be her salvation. Commissioner Fillian was coming with Lucianne and soon joined them.
“Perhaps you know my brother Red,” Enid said, seizing her opportunity to regain control over the conversation. Commissioner Fillian greeted the women and recognized Lilith’s mother as his nurse during his time in the hospital, so he had some words of gratitude for her.
“…Noah,” he then said, nodding politely at Noah, though by his bitter tone he probably still hadn’t forgiven him for running away with his little sister sixteen years ago.
“Red,” he replied with another nod, albeit more sincere. He then pulled his phone again when it began to ring and vibrate with a flashing light.
“…Excuse me, I have something to do,” he excused himself from the group and gave Marianne a look while heading for the side door. “They’re here.”
Marianne hesitated; she didn’t know whether to follow him or stay there while her mother seemed more confident again. She saw Demian arriving with his sister and Addalynn, and then meeting with Noah. Vicky practically hugged him as if she knew him from long time ago and he responded in a foster-fatherly way that only Noah could pull. Next, Demian introduced Addalynn.
She looked like a porcelain doll with the same frozen expression on her face, looking at him for a couple more seconds than she usually would for anyone. But it was what her father would do next what concerned her the most, given the way the girl reacted to any attempt of approach, and when she saw her father’s hand starting to stretch out, she couldn’t help jumping up and rushing to stop him. But as she was already a few steps away, she saw Addalynn responding the greeting, shaking hands as faintly and briefly as possible, almost forcing herself to do it. Marianne stopped, thinking that maybe she had reacted hastily, but before she could retrace her steps, they noticed her presence and was reluctantly integrated to the group.
While Vicky and Noah had all the talk monopolized, Marianne glanced at Demian, hoping to find some sign to indicate whether he was upset with her or not. He noticed she was looking at him and a slight curve appeared on his lips, and that was enough to change his expression, and enough to confirm Marianne that he wasn’t upset. She smiled back, but quickly looked away, noticing that Addalynn looked askance at them, just for a couple of seconds though, she never seemed to focus too long on others more than necessary.
The rest arrived in the next minutes and joined the growing group in the middle of the hall, finding out some coincidences like the fact that Commissioner Fillian and Angie’s father went to school together, but didn’t frequent the same circles —giving the build and physical type from both of them, anyone could locate them on opposite sides of the student pyramid: the athlete with imposing presence that was Commissioner Fillian and the thin and frail-looking man that was Angie’s father; it wasn’t difficult to picture him stuck in a library and spending his nights studying instead of partying, inhaler included. Among other notable coincidences, Lilith and Belgina’s mothers had also studied together, but neither shared the same circle of friends.
Suddenly, Commissioner Fillian frowned as if having seen a group of terrorists bursting through the windows and taking the school hostage. He then pulled Lucianne away from the group.
“…Would you explain this to me?”
Lucianne followed his gaze with confusion and saw the reason: Frank was several feet away, stepping aside from his family and starting to walk towards them with hands tucked into his pockets and tense shoulders.
Lucianne stammered for a proper answer; the school was supposed to be their sanctuary, where they could be unsupervised. And now this would no longer be a secret.
“That’s… That’s Frank, dad. He’s also a student here.”
“And why am I finding out about this until now?” His eyes showed how much he resented the news, and she didn’t want him to be rude to Frank, so she took a breath and forced herself to face him up.
“I’ve told you he’s my friend and you will have to deal with the fact that we’re also teammates, so don’t be surprised the day we do homework together.”
Her father turned to her with eyes ablaze, but Frank had already stood in front of them with almost a military posture.
“…Good night,” he greeted the most formal way he could, and the man just returned the greet reluctantly. “…Hey, would you lend me a few words with your father?”
She gave him the most horrified look she could, but Frank only made a slight gesture with a wink and a nod to indicate that everything was fine, and he knew what he was doing; Commissioner Fillian, on the other hand, looked like a doberman about to pounce at his jugular at the slightest move.
“I’ll go say hi to my friends,” Lucianne finally said with a sigh, hopefully not in anticipation of a catastrophe.
Once Frank was left alone with Commissioner Fillian, he took a breath and tried to behave as natural and measure as he could.
“…Well, Mr. Fillian, I know you don’t like me and would prefer me to stay several yards away from your daughter, and why not, even ask for a restraining order against me because let’s face it, you have the tools and contacts to do so, but considering you haven’t done it yet, I think I still have some hope of improving your opinion about me,” Frank blurted out in one go, as if reciting it by heart. “I may have made some —many— mistakes in the past and I’m certainly not the kind of guy any parent would like to be near their daughter; but I want you to know that my intentions are honest. I’m not used to do this kind of stuff, but Lucianne has changed me in many ways. I want to be a better person for her. Let me be that.”
The man just watched him with that fierce expression, like slowly skinning him alive with his eyes. He was shorter than Frank, but his presence was imposing with his solid built and the gray thundered line on one side of his hair.
Frank waited in silence as he stood firm and undaunted in front of him. He had said what he needed to say, spat like a parrot from all the times he had rehearsed it, perhaps a little faster than he intended and not as humble as he wished, but it was said, he could do nothing to change it, just pray that he would grasp the sincerity of his words. After several minutes that seemed an eternity to him, Commissioner Fillian finally drew a smile which, however, wasn’t at all as he expected.
“Do you know the fable of the scorpion and the frog, boy?” the man said in a calm voice that reached some lows that added an intimidating tone to his baritone voice. Frank tried to control the grimace that was forming in his face. “Given your expression I’m gonna assume you do, so I’ll make it brief. I won’t allow you to poison my daughter with your promises to change, you may have fooled her but not me; I know your kind: brats with authority problems, violent attacks at the slightest provocation…” a brief gesture was enough to let him know that he was aware of the incident with Officer Perry, probably even alerted by him, “…they don’t end well and also don’t care to drag their loved ones in their fall. I won’t let you drag my daughter with you, okay? Save your scorpion venom or you’ll regret it.” Frank said nothing, just stared back at him, while the man seemed to focus his attention beyond him. “…Now, if you’ll excuse me, I wanna say hello to an old friend.”
And he walked away just like that, leaving him with a look of stone and body so stiff that he had to turn around completely to give some kind of answer, despite being aware that it would make things worse. But once he did it, his face clenched and became as pale as if just having seen a ghost.
“Well? How was it? What did you talk to my father?” Lucianne asked once she saw the opportunity to intercept him again, though Frank didn’t seem to hear, he just stared forward with a furrowed brow and mouth half open. “…Frank?”
She followed his gaze and saw her father talking to a man a little older than him with all the look of a professor, with patches on the elbows of his jacket and glasses that made him look like an intellectual. She didn’t remember seeing that man before, not even at school, so she looked back to Frank and tried to talk to him again, but he just muttered a curse and ran away to her astonishment.
“Have you seen Loui? —Marianne asked, tapping Samael’s shoulder—. My mother seems so delighted with her new circle of friends that I could be struck by a lightning right now and she wouldn’t notice.”
“I saw him walking out of the building. Didn’t say where he was going, just seemed to see something on the other end and decided to go on the opposite side.”
Marianne stroked her chin with a suspicious look and was about to make a comment when a resounded slap was heard, followed by several gasps.
“Don’t you dare go near my daughter again! If I wasn’t clear the first time, I hope that’s enough!” Belgina’s mother shouted, pointing menacingly at Mitchell who covered his cheek with a befuddled look on his face while Belgina seemed unable to believe what her mother had just done. Then she grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her away, while she kept turning anxiously at him.
Mitchell was white as paper and didn’t come out of his perplexity, even when his mother had already moved to his side to take care of him.
“…Now that was unexpected,” Marianne said, raising her eyebrows to reflect her surprise. Over the speakers was announced that all parents should go to the auditorium, and after a few instructions from their children, they headed for the side exit.
“That must have hurt,” Lilith said while Mitchell stood aghast, and once he lowered his hand, they could see his cheek reddened and even with a slight scratch. “You might want to pour some water in there to prevent any infection.” He just nodded wordlessly and sleepwalked away, searching for the nearest bathroom. “Poor thing, he’s in shock. One would think he’s never been slapped in his life and I refuse to believe that.”
“Perhaps not coming from the mother of someone he cares about,” Marianne replied with a shrug.
She then saw Dreyson arriving with his clothes two sizes bigger and hair falling over his face. There was a woman beside the boy, shorter than him with narrow features, dark hair and eyes, looking around almost like a scared mouse. Probably his mother. No one seemed to pay attention to them, not even to tell them the meeting had already started, so they just stood by the door, waiting for instructions.
Marianne glanced around, hoping someone would notice them and say something, but everyone seemed immersed in their own business, or just ignored them. She finally sighed, aware that she would have to do it herself, and she headed towards them. She didn’t even know why she bothered; maybe she thought it was unfair for the poor woman to suffer his son’s unpopularity.
“…Excuse me,” she said to get their attention and both dark eyes rested on her. The woman was almost as overdressed as her son, with a long skirt that reached her calves and thick wool socks underneath, a coat also made of wool and a scarf wrapped around her neck that she was constantly accommodating to keep it in place. “Uhm… the meeting has begun. They’re all in the auditorium.”
The woman smiled and said nothing, just gave a look to his son as if waiting for him to indicate her where to go. He just nodded and turned to Marianne again.
“Did it start long ago?”
“Not much, about ten minutes,” she answered, and the woman started to make some gestures with her hands, which Marianne eventually realized it was sign language. The boy remained unfazed and only moved his head in response.
“She wants to know if you’re a friend,” he translated without showing any emotion.
Marianne kept silent, not only because she didn’t know sign language but because she had no idea how to respond to that.
“…I don’t know sign language.”
“She can hear,” he said, and she began to babble in search for an answer.
“Uhm, I… yeah. You could say so… My name is Marianne,” she finally said, feeling now the responsibility of becoming said role.
The woman smiled and signed to his son again, to which he only answered with a simple ‘No’ and when she thought he was going to translate what she said, he just left.
“I’ll take her to the auditorium,” he finished, taking her away.
The woman leaned forward in some sort of bow and her scarf slightly untied. She quickly pulled it back on its place, though Marianne got to see a pair of finger-mark bruises on her neck. She pretended not having seen it and just responded with a quick nod.
As they marched towards the side door, she let out a deep breath while already starting to wonder about their situation at home; perhaps that was the reason of his behavior.
She turned back to her friends and noticed that Demian was watching her, but immediately averted his gaze and refocused on his sister, talking nonstop.
“Hey, what were you doing with that boy? Wasn’t he bothering you?” Lilith asked.
“No, that was… a misunderstanding. I just thought someone had to tell them the meeting had started,” she replied, trying to shake off her mind the image of those fingerprint marks on the woman’s neck. Beside them, Lucianne looked worried at her phone in hand. “…What’s going on?”
“I don’t know; it’s Frank. He suddenly ran off after talking to my father and he’s not answering.”
“Was there something they needed to talk?” Lilith asked, wiggling her eyebrows.
“Not in that sense. I already told you we’re just friends.”
“By god, give the poor guy a break. No wonder he must need some time off if you’re still with that old song that you’re just friends,” Lilith said, rolling her eyes.
Marianne turned around again and saw Demian going out without telling anyone. She frowned puzzled but couldn’t just follow him. She would have to wait until the meeting was over
“…Dammit!” Frank shouted, spinning around like a caged beast in the back of the school, far enough from both the main building as the auditorium so no one could hear him vent. “…Why now?!”
He stopped in front of a wall and hit it so hard that even the foundation shook, and he had to refrain, aware of the consequences if he continued. So, he just stood there, shoulders up and down to the rhythm of his heavy breathing, while waiting for his rage to diminish.
“…I’m an idiot,” he muttered, almost spitting out the words. Suddenly, he heard voices nearby. Voices and laughter.
He followed them to the tennis court behind the track field. There were three boys across the net, gathered around something he couldn’t tell, hearing some loose phrases like ‘Grab him tight’ or ‘Don’t you dare to move’, but until one of them stepped back, he realized they were holding a fourth kid, who happened to be Marianne’s younger brother. They had lifted his shirt and drawn a circle in his stomach, and even though he was clearly fighting to break free, he was smaller and therefore weaker than the other three.
“20 points to whoever reach the center; 10 for the periphery and 5 if it diverts to any other part,” said the boy that had stepped back, taking a racket from the ground with a tennis ball and getting ready to shoot. “What’s the prize this time?” One of the boys holding Loui checked the kid’s pockets and pulled out a gameboy, displaying it like a treasure. The boy with the racket smiled and waved it in his hand. “Awesome!”
“Hey!” Frank yelled and the three boys immediately released Loui and ran away, not even checking who was coming.
Loui picked up his gameboy and rubbed his stomach to try to erase the ink, but it seemed painted with a permanent marker, so he just pulled his shirt down.
“You all right, kid?” Frank asked, standing in front of him and Loui just looked askance at him. “Did those brats do something to you?”
He just shook his head and kept his device back to his pocket, looking disgruntled at the floor while Frank stood there, thinking what to say in what he supposed was an awkward moment for the kid.
“…I don’t want anyone to find out,” Loui said hoarsely, shaking his clothes. Frank didn’t even lift a finger to help him up.
“I was also bullied when I was around your age; it was humiliating, and I didn’t want to tell anyone, but it didn’t last. I learned to defend myself and they never messed with me again.”
“…How am I supposed to defend myself if I’m shorter than them? Shorter than my whole class, actually.”
“How old are you? Twelve? At some point you’ll hit puberty. I wasn’t taller than you at your age and it wasn’t until I was fourteen that I began to grow. In addition, there are other ways to defend yourself, you just need to outsmart them,” Frank said with a keen gesture to indicate that he would come up with something. He then took his hand to his pocket and pulled out a cigarette and put it in his mouth, noticing the boy was watching him with a mixture of wariness and admiration, so he couldn’t help to draw a smile, squeezing the cigar between his lips. “…Your sister doesn’t take crap from anyone, I’m sure you got something from her within you.”
Loui was about to protest when he saw something behind him that made him stop and look curious at first, but then his expression transformed into bewilderment, starting to take a few steps back. Frank squinted and decided to turn around.
He couldn’t finish his sentence; a cloud of smoke went through him and his body suffered an instant blackout, falling to the ground and leaving behind a disembodied mass of smoke that began to emerge in a humanoid silhouette with a glowing orb in his hands.
Loui watched paralyzed with fear, unable to react properly when he saw the smoke figure clearly outlining a smile on that shapeless face with feline eyes. It was then that he decided that the best he could do was run.