Upstairs, not knowing that they were being talked about, Tia was kneeling in front of Alex as he sat on he sat on his bed, she was making the younger boy take deep breaths in and out, while also trying to figure out what was wrong.
She pushed Alex’s soft, thick and messy white hair out of his eyes and stocked his ruddy checks, forcing Alex to look at her. This seemed to snap him out of whatever it was he was in, his eyes shifting frantically from Tia to the rest of the room then back to Tia.
“I’m sorry.” Alex said still shaking from his panic attack “I’m sorry.”
“Want to tell me what happened?” Tia asked sitting next to him on the bed.
Alex just leaned against her, resting his head on her shoulder. He missed the surprised look on the dark haired girl’s face because of the action, but the expression quickly slid into a small smile as she put her arm around Alex companionable and brought him close.
“I know you told me that it would be okay if I brought my family photos.” Alex softly said, his voice trembling in time with his body “I just wasn’t ready to risk them getting mad.”
“Why would they get mad?” Tia gently asked, it was a tone that was reserved just for him, one that the rest of the world hadn’t heard since Harmony was alive and kicking “They’re just pictures of you family.”
“My dad… he wasn’t fond of them. That’s how it all started, did you know that? When we moved into this house, he told me to unpack everything and I did, but when he saw the pictures, he got really mad and started yelling, so I hid them from him.”
“This has been going on for that long?” Tia asked, she was concerned and was hoping that this hadn’t gone on for that long.
“It was only yelling at first. He would fly into fits of rage and scream about the smallest of things. Then he started to throw things, not always at me or for something I did, sometimes just to watch them smash. He started to drink to try and stop these fits. He didn’t want to hurt me, but the pain was too much for him. I could see it in his eyes when it was over that he was sorry, but he didn’t know how to apologize. That’s why he started drinking to try and numb the pain, to forget the hurt, but one night he got really drink and he… he woke me up in my room… and… I started sleeping in the hidden red room, well I did until I finished the tree house, then I started sleeping in that. I liked being outside where I knew he couldn’t reach me. In the red room there was always the change he would find me and then he would really be angry, seeing that I kept all the family photos. He had to quit drinking a year later; because his boss threatened to fire him and sent him to rehab if he didn’t. That’s when he started to hit me.”
“Alex… why didn’t you tell anyone?”
“At first… I thought he would get better. By the time things had gotten really bad, no one in school wanted anything to do with me. People had found out about my mum… I still don’t know how they did, but everyone treated me like I was a disease and parents didn’t want their children hanging around the boy who may have killed his mum… so on one would have listened to me anyway.”
“How did you become friends with Scarlet… if that was the case?” Tia asked, she was curios beyond belief and was taking advantage of Alex’s out of character willingness to open up.
“Scarlet was really popular in elementary school. She was sweet and pretty, the first girl to really hit puberty… so she always had the attention of any boy she wanted. But when we were thirteen, Scarlet’s parents went through a nasty divorce. She was having a rough time at home and all her friends were so fake that they didn’t notice or they just didn’t care. At any rate… Scarlet become who is today because of it… one day she was picking on me after school. She had always done that even before the divorce, it was just something all the cool kids did. I was small for my age, quite, with white hair and red pinkish eyes, what kid had white hair and red pinkish eyes?”
“Anyway… I think she was looking for a reason not to go home because she followed me all the way to my house… teasing me the entire time. Well, my dad was home and had heard us approaching, I turned around to Scarlet and pushed her into the bush under the kitchen window before he knew she was there and ran inside. I guess she must have seen him hit me because later that afternoon… when I went outside she was still there waiting for me. We become friends of sorts after that. She’s really not mean… no she’s just scared of being hurt again.”
“But what about you Tia?” Alex asked,
The two shifted so they were comfortable leaning against the headboard.
“What about me? Tia asked, she was surprised by the question.
“Well… why are you friends with me? You keep everyone else at arm’s length, no don’t try to deny it, we both know I’m right, so why bring me into your world, when you try so hard to keep everyone else out?”
“You were different from the start.” Tia explained, trying to find a way to explain it to Alex, and her reasoning behind her actions “You were the first person not to throw themselves at me… you didn’t try to be my friend or boyfriend, as arrogant as it sounds. In fact… you barely seemed to notice me, so I become curious about you, I just didn’t know what it was. For the first time I was paying attention to someone other than myself. Man… I’m making myself sound arrogant and I swear I’m not, I just canna suit everyone out after Harmony passed. When I did figure out what was going on, I got angry, but I didn’t know why… I had only known you for a few days by this point, so I didn’t understand why I was bothered by the idea of someone hurting you, but I was, so I had to do something about it.”
“That doesn’t explain why you’re my friend.”
“Don’t worry Alex, I’m getting there. After I found out about your dad, I wanted to get to know you more. It made no sense to me how you could have such an awful home life, yet, still be so kind and nice to everyone you meet. You were the first person I met that was like me. You say that I keep people at arms lengths, well you keep everyone at arena’s length. You never pushed me to open up to you, to do anything, and you never expected anything in return. That made me like you and made me want to become your friend, because you wanted to know me as a person, but you didn’t force me to open up, if I didn’t want to. I care about you and so far you have been handed the short straw in life. I want to protect you from any more short straws because you deserve better.”
Alex snuggled into her arms in response, like a little child, drawing strength from her warm embrace to stop the shudders that still wracked his small frame, relaxing into her grip. Believing for the first time in his life that he did actually deserve better… better than what he’s always been given.