My abdomen feels sore and the fabric of my clothing brushing up against it every few seconds makes me flinch and the wound underneath hurts more. When I came home from the fight last night, I climbed up the long thick lines of ivy that reach my bedroom window. It's risky and a bit of a strain to get to the rim of my window, but it's the only way to get back inside without my parents knowing.
They think I've stopped.
They think running off and going into the underground fighting circuit was just a quick phase and that I'm now safe and clear of any other problems. They think that I'm now normal—fixed. They don't know that I keep going back, that a few nights a week I find myself within the confines of a human circle as another person stands opposite me, waiting to punch.
Sometimes I want to scream at my parents. They think it's easy. That you start fighting, lose your way a little and then get thrown on the right track and that's it. No catch. But there's always a catch. And right now, I'm living with that catch looming over me.
The bell to go to second period had just gone and now people are everywhere, milling around the hallways, mingling around lockers. The sound of metal on metal grates my bones. I come out at the end of the hallway, standing by a large window that nearly reaches the entire length of the wall. I lean my arm on the railing and stare out at the little droplets of rain falling lightly to the ground, passing through the trees on their way.
The front pocket of my jeans vibrates, and I flinch briefly before reaching down and snatching my phone out of my pocket. I press the main button and the screen lights up, showing a new text message from Ethan.
I'm in the parking lot. We need to talk now.
I look up, my eyes scouting through the cars parked in the school's lot until I see him, leaning up against his motorbike. His phone is in his hand and he's watching me from across the large expanse of the parking lot.
I sigh as the second bell rings and the hallways become deserted. I'm about to slide my phone back into my pocket when another message comes through, from Ethan again.
I place the phone in my pocket and don't look back at him as I shove my shoulder against the door to the stairwell, budging it open. I take the stairs quickly, my annoyance showing in my strides. I come out at the bottom and open the back door that leads directly to the parking lot. Little droplets of rain spit down on me as I walk across the terrain until I'm standing directly in front of Ethan.
His blond hair is spiked up and his tall body is hunched in on itself a little. He's wearing a dark brown shirt and light, denim jeans. He crosses his arms over his chest and raises an eyebrow at me. Ethan is one year older, just out of high school and not doing anything worth a damn.
"You're quitting," he says simply. It's not a question or an accusation, just a plain observation.
I look at him and let out the little breath I have been holding in. "Who told you?"
"No one needed to tell me directly, Tyler," Ethan says with a little more bitterness in his voice this time, "everyone knows. Everyone's talking about it."
I shrug. "It's not a bad thing."
"How old did you tell them you were when you first started fighting, Ty?" Ethan asks. "Huh? Did you say you were eighteen?"
"Stop it, Ethan," I say. "Everything's fine."
"You can't just leave," he says. "You know that. You can't just stop fighting. Not with a boss like Carl constantly hovering over your back."
"Is that what you came to tell me?" I ask. "You came to tell me what I already know?"
Ethan sighs and runs a hand down the side of his face. "You're a weak link now, Tyler. People know you want to get out of the circuit. In their eyes, you're now weak and vulnerable and an easy target in a fight. So you need to make sure that you're not what they see you as. You need to be strong. Stronger than usual."
I look down, kicking my feet into the ground and watching little rocks trip their way across the surface.
"Because now there's nothing stopping them from tearing you apart," he says. "And they will."
"Don't you have any faith in me?" I ask with a little humorless chuckle. "I could easily tear them apart, too."
Ethan just looks at me, his lips quirking up at the corners. He glances over to the football field. The sun is peeking down onto the field, warming skin, a respite from the rain earlier.
"You're always so confident, Madden." He shakes his head. "That could either make you or break you."
"Well then let's hope it makes me," I say. "That all you wanted to tell me? I'm kind of in the middle of school."
Ethan laughs, which makes his shoulders shake a little as he turns around and grabs his black helmet from the top of his bike. "Since when did you give a crap about school?"
I don't answer and just take a step back as Ethan slides the helmet over his head, pushing his hair up until it is confined underneath the tight armor. He hooks his leg round the motorbike and sits down, starting up the engine. The bike is narrow, with skinny tires that have deep grooves running down them. It's a sports bike, of course--bike racing has been Ethan's main pastime since getting out of school.
He's trying to make a name for himself and slowly he's getting there. He doesn't see though how violent and dangerous it is. But then again if I even bother trying to tell him so, he would just call me a hypocrite. I fight in an underground fighting circuit that has definitely not been accepted by any sports board.
I'm not in any place to tell Ethan what to do. We're both in the same area when it comes to our less-than-safe hobbies.
Ethan kicks the stand up and the bike is now solely in his hands as he balances it on the ground. He thinks for a second, hesitating for a bit. Before he drives away, he lifts his hands and pulls his helmet off. He looks at me, his eyes narrowing a little. "Be careful, yeah?"
Ethan doesn't usually show that he actually worries or gives a damn, so to hear those words takes me aback, but I nod anyway. "Yeah," I say dumbly. "You too."
Ethan nods, slides his helmet back on and then he's gone, driving away from the school and off down the main road. The sound of his bike carries down the street and I put my hands in the pockets of my leather jacket, sighing.
The sun blinds me as I look out over at the football field. I walk over, my shoulders hunched as I look at everyone playing football. I recognize them immediately. It's the boys I used to play with. The boys who were on my team, the boys who had my back no matter what.
Now where is that?
Shoved onto the ground and stomped on until it became a part of the dirt.
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(French edition of my book ASK AMY is available in bookstores in France and online retailers outside France)
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Bulletproof (Publishing 2023) ✔Teen Fiction
When Franny learns why former popular boy Tyler fell from grace, she gets thrown head-first into his dangerous world but also closer to his timid heart. ***** Eighteen-year-old Ty...