He could see the blame in each of their eyes; he wasn’t stupid. He could hear them all thinking the exact same thoughts: This is the person who got AJ killed. Although Joe felt despair for the girl’s death, and yes guilt did tinge his emotions, he knew he wasn’t the one at fault. He had told her where the fire escape ladder was, he had called her name. It wasn’t his fault she didn’t hear.
It wasn’t his fault she got herself killed.
A sudden tidal wave of anger washed over the teenager. Fury at the world and the way it had easily gone to shit. Hadn’t it had better protection than this? Hadn’t the government planned for something like this?! They were totally unprepared. Every damn soul on the planet was unprepared. Including him.
Including his parents.
The guy Sophia had called Scott sauntered up to him after an hour of lecturing the girl.
‘Kid. You got a name?’
‘Joe. I’m not a kid.’
‘Right,’ Scott scoffed. ‘How old are you?’
‘I don’t really see how that’s any of your business,’ Joe bristled with his newfound courage. Irritation flashed through Scott’s eyes momentarily before his mouth stretched into a thin smile.
‘It’s my damn business because I’m the one who could throw you back out onto the streets at any second.’
‘Scott! Pack it in,’ Sophia snapped.
‘I need to know. What are your strengths and weaknesses? How are you gonna contribute to the group, huh? Have you brought any supplies? How the hell are you gonna CONTRIBUTE?!’ Scott shouted this last part so loudly that Joe stepped backwards automatically, his anger being immediately replaced with immense fear. It was like an instinct now; whenever someone directed their anger at him, Joe seemed to shrink into himself. He went to a completely different place. It was all the years of bullying that he had suffered which made him this way.
He started to do it now, completely ignoring Scott and reigning in his emotions. His mind flashed to happier times: times when his parents were still alive. Standing there completely still and completely detached, Joe allowed himself to relax. It was the only way he could. He allowed himself at least five seconds of this before he’d return.
‘Kid, are you alright?’ A distant voice whispered through his state. He ignored it.
‘I think he’s gone into shock.’
‘What the hell have you done Scott?’
‘Someone get him a glass of water.’
All at once, he was back. He had ended up on the sofa with a glass in his hand. It was shaking; the water trembling along with him, sloshing up the sides of the container.
Scott appraised him from the other side of the room, impassive. Everyone else seemed to be worrying about him. He stood up.
‘You sure?’ Sophia raised a brow.
‘Yes.’ He handed her the glass. ‘Thank you.’
He wasn’t going to last two seconds in this group. He had been better off alone. The thing that baffled him the most though, was not how long he’d last before they kicked him out. It was how long he’d last before he snapped completely.