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Worlds Apart: A Fae Tale

Summary

Amari's world is about to collide with the one he left behind. His son, Georgia, has no idea of his true lineage. Now Amari's father, a nigh-immortal Fairy King, life nears its ends and wants his grandson to inherit the throne. Amari must face the repercussion for the choices he made all those years ago.

Prologue: The Lost Lord and The Trio

The Lost Lord

Cloaked in darkness an exiled lord squatted in an abandoned castle, and sat on a tarnished ivory throne. There he perched as a ghostly parasite conjured a hellish nightmare to torture his mind. Two moons one full and one crescent sat high in star-washed sky. The sounds of beating hooves drummed the ground. Steam billowed from his steed’s chrome nostrils, as its metal joints screeched under the strenuous ride.

“War mode!”
Ezra commanded.
A spiked armored bridal protruded from its mechanized skull as scale mail formed over its body. A few beats behind his apprentice, a young Armiger named Jakob, did the same. A cold stiff breeze chilled them to the bone.                                                                                                       
“Chief!”
Jakob called out.
Ezra remained quiet ever focused on the destination. 
“Chief!”
Jakob repeated.
“Dammit boy! I know. Just suit up, and ride!”

They both had sensed the same ill upon the wind. It was the Dark and it whispered death. Jakob’s right hand gripped the reins as his left folded over his body. In a moment of focused thought a swirling mass of concentrated airy energy formed over his palm. 
“Bond!” Jakob incanted as his left hand swiftly swept back down to the reins.

The condensed energy washed over his body lightweight scale armor. They galloped through a lush forest weaving through trees and brush with ease. Within moments, the forest parted into the clear sky. In the distance, there was a hill that overlooked their home. Ezra reached its precipice first and halted upon its green steeple. Then like his Armiger, he too manifested his armor from thought and word. However, his had no shine. It was shadowy and heavy plated. Upon his head was a helmet adorned with black Mohawk and four short spiked horns. Together they gazed upon their township engulfed in a hellish conflagration. The Dark had beaten them there, and its armies were plentiful. Anxious to aid Jakob rode ahead.    
  

Meanwhile Lorelei, his beautiful lover, accompanied by Raga- a hulking golden brown wolf, watched from a distance. They both were H’ru shapeshifters she was a follower of the Owl god Striga Raga followed Kainus the wolf.  She was a   slender honey toned wonder donned in a long grey and golden hemmed grown, like most Owl worshipper, feathered beadings were braided into her long white and brown streaked hair. The chamber resided on the smaller side of castle’s twenty lavish rococo inspired rooms. The previous owner reveled in opulence, but Ezra in his great confliction tossed aside its comforts. Every room in the castle was stripped bare. Only the most meager of furniture remained. Raga had the beautiful pieces that survived Ezra’s rage: white silk curtains with golden borders, oil paintings depicting a noblewoman, and marble statues craved in her visage, boarded up and stored in a separate room.           
                                                          
“The dark ora is getting stronger. He’s been under too long,” said Raga. 
 “Far too long,” said Lorelei with deep concern as a dark cloak enveloped Ezra’s body. “Lord Wraith is…” 
Lorelei interjected, “Don’t call him that! He’s not that…” 
“Forgive me my Lady, but that’s what the Lord wishes…” 
“It’s what that thing wishes. Not him!” Lorelei retorted. 
“He’s becoming more and more like those things every day,” said Raga . “I would end him now, if I could.”  
 
“I’m not going to lose him,” said Lorelei solemnly as she drifted across the bare white marble floor. “I have to bring him out now.” 
"Be cautious, my Lady.”
Lorelei smiled, “Am I ever?”

Lorelei inched forward watching as wisps of dark energy flowed and fluttered away from his being. Though driven by great love it was pursued by a healthy amount fear- well deserved fear. As she neared, Ezra’s darkness began to react to her presence-as if it knew her purpose.  The entity’s wispy tendrils whipped about lashing out warning her to stay away.                                                                         

“Ezra, you don’t want to hurt me, I know,” Lorelei said softly as the dark tentacles slashed her exposed skin with paper-thin cuts, which quickly healed. Though she could sense its malice she was not afraid and continued forward.
“Luctus!” proclaimed Lorelei. “Daemon of Sorrow. I call out your name.”
The entity chuckled and spoke in Ezra’s voice, “That’s not my name. I have many, and I have none.”
Lorelei paused she knew its tricks, and steadied her resolved, “You answered.” 
“How could I not? Your sorrow is so…invigorating.”  
“I will not let you have him,” Lorelei stated then seethed. “ You hear me! Demon!” 

Luctus moaned in ecstasy, “Oh, yes…I can give you your beloved. Yes, yes. Let’s give it a go.”  
It knew her pain, her longing. It had tasted her sorrow, and it wanted more. The darkness parted from Ezra’s face revealing the visage of the man she loved.
Lorelei paused at the sight of her beloved’s emaciated copper toned face, “Damn you! I will not give you what you want.” 
 “Yes! Yes! Give me more!”  
Raga called out, “Lorelei, steel yourself remember  your purpose!”
 “To bring him home, “Lorelei affirmed. “To bring him home!” 
Lorelei called out to Ezra she knew she couldn’t break its hold alone.
 “I know who you are! The man that you are!” 
Luctus cackled, “He can’t hear you.” 

Lorelei slowly stepped forward, “You hate me. And I know you would kill me if you could.” 
“If I could? I am in control!”
 Lorelei smirked as she continued her slow march forward, “Really, I don’t think you are.”
 Luctus growled his dark tentacles flailed about whipping and lashing her.”
Lorelei brushed off the pain and continued forward, “You can’t kill me! He won’t let you! You can’t break him. You are not in control!” 
“You know nothing!”   
“You are a parasite!” retorted Lorelei as she slowly absorbed energy from the atmosphere. “A lowly lonesome creature!”  
Luctus seethed, “You are nothing! I am the Bane of the World!” 
 

 Luctus anger was Lorelei’s plan. The more he raged his focused suffered. She waited for an opening a clear sign that Ezra was near the surface.  She waited watching for what seemed like minutes were only seconds then it happened−Ezra's pupils fluttered under their lids. Lorelei rushed forward the tips of her toes barely touching the floor before they cycled again.                     

“Ezra I love you!  Reach for me. Reach for the light!”

Only she could bring him back from the brink. Like the elf Elyse, she too was also a conduit of energy known as Ora. She was able to absorb it from the atmosphere and repel the darkness to enter the recesses of his mind. Raga watched as she leaped upon the throne and straddled Ezra’s lap. She placed her palms on his cheeks and kissed him deeply. At the moment, the darkness calmed and Luctus faded away.Ezra exhaled a guttural sigh as she placed her fingers upon his temples. She cleared her thoughts her pupils grew large and bold, and the sclera of her eye turned gold like that of an owl.  As she channeled energy through her being and into her hands, the darkness that engulfed Ezra’s crawled up his neck and funneled outward slowly swallowed her hands. She winced as the benign defense pricked and pinched her skin. Shrugging off the nuisance she began to meld their subconscious minds. 

“Okay…Where are we today?” Lorelei breathed. “Let it be the Fire. Not the Death.”

After a few moments of drifting through murky obscurity, a white light grew from a speck in the darkness. That speck grew bold and flickered, and that flicker, in turn, grew into a roaring inferno. 
 
“The Fire,” Lorelei muttered. 

Through his thoughts and his memories, she could feel the heat as if she was really there.  Donned in all white like a divine specter her subconscious self-stood in the middle of a cobblestone street. It was a vision replayed over and over in horrid detail. She knew every word that was spoken, and the exact moment of every ill-fated encounter. Wooden homes with roofs of split shakes and slate were engulfed in flames. The steeples of religious buildings crumbled raining brick and stone. Around her shadowy creatures, and corrupted man slaughtered both woman and child. She turned away as Jakob’s sorrowed filled eyes faded to black as he was decapitated by a dark talon hand.  Screams bellowed out for salvation as the native N’ru fled in droves.  Yumboe Pages donned in Dwarven scale mail aided those fleeing the city, while Armigers tried in vain to extinguish the fires. She knew what was next… The arrival of her love, Ezra First Chosen of Ekain, stoic in presence with eyes wrecked with pain. He rode into the center of his officers. Guardian Shari greeted him with the standard salute: left elbow bent with clench fist over the heart and a nod. Afterward, she began to update him on the situation. 

“Chief,”
Shari said, “They came without warning. And Jakob…We were dangerously unprepared.” 
“Yes, I know,”
Ezra lamented. “Tell me have you seen my Wards.
To Yumboes Wards are precious things. would beseech the King for protection and blessings; a Yumboe would then be chosen to protect their family line forever.
 “No,”
said Shari. “Our Pages and Armigers handled the evacuation…”  
“Save as many as you can!”
Ezra commanded as he galloped off.  

He rode along the cobblestone streets his heart ached as homes burned around him. He could sense a great darkness feeding the flames, but there was no way he alone could stop the conflagration-the city was lost.  Lorelei stood in front of the two-story Ekain family home that he had built as a gift and watched as it was swallowed by flames. The screams that surrounded her silenced as she turned to eye Ezra galloping; down the street. He approached with speed and purpose within seconds the steed was upon her. Ezra pulled its reins the animal reared crashing its hooves into the stone.

“You there, it isn’t safe you need to evacuate!”
Ezra demanded. 
This was the part she hated. Staring him in his brown pained filled eyes, and crushing all hope.. 
Lorelei sighed, and exhaled she could see the dark aura enveloping him, “You’re too late.” 
Ezra stared at her vacantly as he dismounted. Gazing into the flames he dismissed her words and waved them off as nonsense.
“Madam this is not a safe area you need to leave,”
Ezra said with calm strength
As he approached the burning home Lorelei sidestepped cutting him off.
“They’re dead,”
said Lorelei.  
 Ezra’s brow furled as he growled in anger, “Move, woman or I will move you!"
 “No!”   

Ezra’s body tensed as he shook in frustration; “I don’t have time for your stupid”
he blurted and shoved her out the way.  
As she tumbled to the ground Ezra kicked opened the burning door and rushed in.
 “This is the moment,”
Lorelei thought as she pushed to her feet, and rushed in after him.
Torrid flames danced a hellish waltz around them as wooden beams of ash and ember fell from the ceiling. Ezra stood paralyzed in grief as the blaze cackled a horrid serenade.                         
 “Ezra!”
Lorelei screamed out to him.                                                                                                 
Ezra turned his face twisted in sorrow and tears welled in his eyes. “Lorelei…? They’re dead…They’re all dead!”
he lamented as he dropped to his knees.

Lorelei approached and placed her hand gently on his cheeks, “If you stay here my love, you’ll be lost as well.”                                                  
 “Then leave me! Let me die here. I’m tired my love…I’m so tired.”                                                    
Lorelei knelt down the flames danced around them as she laid her forehead against his, “No you can’t die here. The Prince has been found. You hear me. There’s no honor in dying here! Remember who you are!”                                                     
The dark aura that surrounded him began to crack and lustrous shine of his shimmering armor pierced the dark shroud.  
"That man is not me anymore. I’m already lost"
wailed Ezra as the darkness crept about trying to seal away the shimmer.  

Lorelei professed her love as the darkness peeled and flaked away, “As long as we are together, I will never let that happen!” she proclaimed as she bent over and kissed him. 
Enveloped in darkness the vision faded to black…
Lorelei still straddled, and like her vision, the two were deep in an embrace. Slowly her eyes opened, and the dark shroud the engulfed his being had faded away.
Lorelei pulled back, “Ezra?” she whispered. 
Ezra opened his eyes and the murk that routed them dissipated. Lorelei smiled as she peered into his set of bright silver flaked brown eyes.                                                                          
 “How I long to stay this way,” Ezra smiled. “Alas, my love you know I cannot.”                                   
Lorelei sighed as she dismounted him.           
Ezra stood to his feet, and Raga slowly approached the throne. He knew he would want an update.  
“The boy’s location still cannot be confirmed,” said Raga.  
Ezra unwavered by the news questioned, “The ship?”                                                                   
“The dwarf has made considerable advancement,” said Raga. “The ship is about 60% repaired and the FTL core is stable.”
"It needs to be above 80% to be suitable for flight,” replied Ezra.
“Understood,” said Raga.                                                                                                                   
“Prep the Breed I want a horde ready,” said Ezra. “Once that ship launches The King will have no choice but to respond.”  
As they headed out the throne room Ezra stole a glance and smiled.  Lorelei didn’t notice and he was fine with that.

***
The Trio

 

It was a few minutes before the morning bell. A black painted locker door slammed closed with a thud revealing its owner wiry dark skinned frame- his name was Georgia Shyne.  At the same time, lurching through the crowd of teenage bodies were his friends, a willowy framed sparsely freckled red-haired boy named Royce Gooding; walking beside him was a cocoa tone half Puerto Rican an Dominican curly haired girl named Claudia Ramirez. From the outside looking in they were an odd lot, well outside the normal clique structure, but that was just fine with them. Claudia was rich, but rarely wore anything that would be considered designer by the mainstream fashion. She loved small boutiques, and underrated black designers like Tracy Reese, Azede Jean Pierre, and Carly Cushnie.  Georgia and Royce towed that so fragile lower middle class line. Royce’s mother still had the camper they slept in for a better part of a year, and Georgia’s parents just bought their first home in black Northwest side of town. Royce carried several thick text books which bogged his body as he battled gravity to stay upright. As he staggered toward his locker, which was a door down from Georgia’s, his friend gave him a mean side eye. 

Royce yawned as he sat his books on the floor, and propped his forehead against his locker, “Ugh!” he grunted.
Georgia turned towards him. A curious crinkle arched across his brow, “Dude, what’s up with the extra luggage?” he asked. “You look like shit.”    

A throated grunt reverberated off the locker door. It took a Royce a few seconds, but he eventually mustered enough will answer. Claudia stood off to the side. She was still new to the group, so she remained quiet and observed.

“… Extra credit…,” Royce stammered as he lifted his head from the door.
Georgia leaned against his locker. “Dude, I thought we agreed not to burn ourselves out on extra credit?”
A group of student paused briefly, Claudia gave them a sharp glare and with a snide retort they flash detested expressions and continued on their way. Royce opened his locker.  A small poster of his favorite anime character, Killua Zoldyck was taped to the lid.

“I told him if he needed help, I’m down,” said Claudia with a shrug, “but he didn’t call me.”
“Really?” queried Georgia. “She of all people offered to help you? And you said no? Nah, nah, that’s odd as hell!”
Claudia knew Royce had a crush on her but he hadn’t acted on it so she waved the comment off. In the meantime, she continued to ward off nosey passersby, with her usual sass and sharp wit.    
“Georgia. Don’t!” Royce pleaded in exhaustion.
Georgia shook in frustration, “See that’s that bullshit right there. That’s what I’m talking about.”
Royce sighed as he bent over to pick up the books.
“Hold up…Hold up!” Georgia exclaimed. “Matter of fact you got me thinking. Who books are those anyway?”      
Royce paused and glanced up at Georgia with a pale wide-eyed expression. At that moment, Georgia knew what was going on. His nose crinkled his brow furled as a heat churned in his chest.                
“Jamie’s man, damn!”
“Oh, hell no!” Georgia seethed as he kicked the stack of books over. “Fuck them books!”   
“Georgia!” Claudia implored. 
Royce grumbled, “Damn GA I worked hard on that yo!”
“Damn that! And fuck you for being a little bitch!”

Royce exhaustion washed away as he stood erected, and his chest bowed. He hated being called out like that even though his friend’s words had truth. He and Georgia stood face to face.
“Oh, you mad now? Good, be mad all you want. Just as long as you know what we gotta do!”
Claudia knew what the standoff meant, and she wanted no part of it, “It’s too early for this. I’m not getting suspended with y’all this time!” she exclaimed. “I’m going to class!”

Engulfed in ego and pride Georgia and Royce ignored her. She urged them one more time to rethink their stance, but of course, they refused, so in frustration filled huff she carried on to their homeroom solo. The gifted homeroom was on the other side campus. The school district wasn’t equipped to handle unique students but they tried to adjust to fit their needs. They were re-gifted a large warehouse that once belonged to the school’s MJROTC program, which had recently received funding for a better building. Claudia like always was amongst the first to enter.    
She placed her books on her center row desk and exhaled an irritated sigh, “Dammit guys. Why couldn’t y’all just let this go?”

Meanwhile, Georgia and Royce began their hunt for Jamie.
“Dude?” questioned Royce.
“I don’t want to hear it,” Georgia grumbled.
Royce shook his head in shame and sighed, “What was I supposed to do? You went home early… He caught me off guard.”
“Not do it! We both had the same training,” Georgia asserted.  “Remember sparring practice?  What did dad say? “
Royce thought back to that makeshift boxing ring in the garage, “No one is going to save us.”
Georgia’s eyes swept dark the corners, “We were weak then. No more remember. No more!”
Royce’s ears tuned for Jamie’s voice, “Yes, I remember.”

At the same time, Claudia caught a slender visage out her peripheral. A tall lean fellow with curly brown hair strolled into the classroom. It was their homeroom teacher Mr. Robert Lassiter he was the casual sort not too easy going, but easy to talk to. He paused in the doorway his glasses sat low on his face, as he sipped from his, ‘World best teacher’ coffee mug. He was well versed in all his students, names, quirks, classes, even home life, but of all his students the trio was one that beckoned most of his attention.                   

Robert took a sip from his mug and glanced at his watch, “Claudia early as usual.”
Claudia turned and hid her day’s frustration behind a pretentious smile. “Yup like always,” she said masking an exhaled sigh.
Robert knew them too well, and when it came to Claudia he saw through her. “You seem a little agitated?” he questioned. “Where’s the duo?”
“They’re around somewhere,” she replied. “You know how they are.”
“I know… When those two walk the halls it can be a little disconcerting. Are you sure everything is okay?”

Claudia thought about lying but he had pulled their butts from the fire too many times to counts, so there was no reason to prolong her reservations on snitching any further. “Royce did Jamie’s homework again. Of course, Georgia found out…”
Robert sighed, “Okay, how long ago was this?”
“About five or ten minutes.”  
“Okay, you stay here. I’ll go wrangle them,” Robert said then grumbled under his breath. “I swear those boys are too smart to be so damn stupid!

Claudia nodded and even though it irked her to stay she sat quietly at her desk. Robert placed his mug on his desk and dashed for the door. He quickly checked bathroom after bathroom knowing their methods. He couldn’t count the number of times he had found a known hard head unconscious on the floor. It was rare for them to make a commotion in the halls those moments he hated, because he had little influence over outcome. Someone had to save those boys from themselves, even though they hated being saved. At the same time, more students began to fill the hallways Georgia and Royce homed in on whereabouts Jamie.

“Look there’s Anton,” said Royce pointing toward a stocky white boy in a snug Aeropostale button-down.
“Where’s there’s an Anton there’s a Jamie,” retorted Georgia as they followed him weaving through the mass of students.         
As they closed the distance between them their hearts pounded against their chest in perfect unison. It was a feeling they both recognized- fear, and they quickly aimed to control it.

Royce exhaled his body shook with anxiety, “GA…”
Georgia knew his friend he needed to divert his thoughts, before total panic set in.
“Breathe folk…Remember granddaddy’s ranch.”
“Yeah,” said Royce with a pause then a smile, “… remember my switch to southpaw.”
“I remember I countered that shit with a jab cross,” grumbled Georgia.
“Yeah, but I hit you flush though.”
“It was luck,” retorted Georgia.
“I still won,” Royce exclaimed.
“By split decision,” retorted Georgia. “And I think the judge was lil' bias.”    
“It was your dad!” Royce exclaimed. 
“Whateva you owe me a rematch.”                

Georgia distraction worked and they found themselves a few feet away from Jamie and his crew. Six sophomores evenly split between boys and girls surrounded Jamie’s light skinned polo drenched framed. They exuded the pompous confidence that often came with letterman jackets, Aeropostale , and Hollister guises. Jamie Roseland was the football team’s wide receiver, not the star athlete, but good enough for some admiration. One of Jamie’s cohorts spotted them in the crowd and gestured his attention. The throng suddenly parted, and the duo found themselves alone on tile laden island. Georgia exhaled his fear Royce pushed his too his gut. Jamie turned and scowled a confrontation wasn’t how he wanted to start his day.

“Yo, you got that for me already?” queried Jamie as he played to the crowd. “You guys work fast, I gotta say.”
Their dance wasn’t new, but it rarely played out in public.
“Yo, I ain't got nothing for ya,” Royce retorted back
Jamie coolly gestured toward his squad, and smirked, “It’s cool you got till 3rd period.”
Georgia scoffed, “Like my boy said… he ain’t got nothing for ya.”
Jamie’s smirked faded and his brow wrinkled in detest, “That’s twenty percent of my grade, man.”
Aton looked and turned at Jamie with wide eyed worry, “Dude, I was supposed to copy that off you man. I can’t fail that class.”
“Not my problem,” said Royce.
“It’s gonna be a problem!” Aton exclaimed as he stepped forward with chest bowed.
Jamie hand darted upward cutting off his advance just as Robert broke through the crowd.
“Alright everyone break it up! Go to your classes!”

Royce exhaled a relieved sigh as the murmuring crowd dissipated. Royce and Georgia turned around to a very stern faced Robert. Jamie took the opportunity to ease away in the opposite direction, while Aton charted a path between them and shoulder bumped Royce as he passed.  Robert said nothing he just pointed towards the homeroom and walked the boys to class. It was long before the principal caught wind of the minor incident, and charted a course to the ones he knew were responsible.  After a not-so short silent walk, they made it to homeroom. Robert and the duo stood outside of the class.    

“So where’s the homework you did for Jamie Royce?” asked Robert.           
Royce shrugged, “What homework?” he queried.
Robert sighed, “Really you two? Really? If I were to check your lockers right now what would I find?”
“You’ll find all sorts of stuff in my locker, but we still don’t know what you are talking about,” said Georgia.
Little did Robert know that during the commotion Claudia had scooped up the wayward papers, and destroyed the evidence.
“So that’s the way you’re going to play it?”
“Play what?” questioned Royce. “I still don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Me either,” said Georgia.
Robert sighed, and shook his head in frustration, “Okay, go to your seats.”

As they entered the dimly lighted room they turned and glared at Claudia. She shrugged as they took their seats. Robert took a roll call, and a few minutes later the end of homeroom bell rang signaling a brief class break. Like there rest of their classmates, they began a long track across the unpaved parking lot to the nearest campus break area. The trio was quiet as they that was until Royce broke the silence.
“Why did you do it?” queried Royce.
Claudia replied, “Because of him,” she said with pointed nod aimed at Principal Crabass who stood by the rest area exit like a stone gargoyle.      

Georgia and Royce had a target on their backs and by association so did Claudia. She rarely wished ill will upon anyone but Principal Crabass or Crab-ass they called him was a special case.  Nevertheless, she wanted him to die and not a peaceful death something violent and bloody. To know him was to understand why, and as black republican go he was one of the worse. His self-hate was so deep it visible to everyone but himself, and he wore intolerance upon his sleeves like a badge of honor. He even had a portrait of Sheriff David Clark hanging in his office. 

“I get it,” said Georgia. “But you’ve been friends with us long enough. You know that’s not how we work.”
“I know,” said Claudia. “But when I see people I care about acting recklessly I’m not going sit by and just watch. Y’all should know by now that’s not who I am.”    
Georgia smiled, “Dude she just said she cares about us. Awe how sweet,” he joked. 
Claudia rolled her eyes, “Whateva…”
Royce swayed and bopped up and down, “You like us. You like us,” he joked.
“Like a fat kid loves cake,” retorted Claudia. “Haven’t y’all geniuses forgotten about the paper?”
Georgia and Royce's eyes widened in unison, “Oh shit!”
“Oh shit is right,” said Claudia. “You lucky I covered y’all asses, and got rid of it.”  
The duo exhaled a relieved sigh they rushed in and gave Claudia a huge playful hug.
“No… get off me,” Claudia said in playful jest. “What have I told y’all about nonconsensual touching?”
“Whateva, sue us.”

The day churned along and soon it was time for there was AP US History, which was taught by one Ms. Valerie Lawson. She was an elderly white woman in her mid-seventies, a child of the 60’s more radical counter culture movements. Her long dreaded hair was streaked with gray, and she favored long comfortable dresses with sandals. The class was filled with various students ranging in age from sophomores to seniors. Her teaching style often landed her in the crosshairs of the districts more conservative parents, and by default the principal. Truthfully, she hated the school curriculum and found it severely lacking but weaved it in between selections of history the textbooks leave out.  The trio was separated Claudia sat between a group of lacrosse players which Royce hated. He sat in the middle aisle while Georgia’s desk was next to the window. Royce tried not to stare, in all honesty, he wasn’t sure how he felt; he just knew Claudia was special to him. One thing was for certain the sight of those smiling trust-funded lacrosse players irked his last nerve.

A stiff finger poked him on the shoulder jolting him out of his head.
“Mr. Gooding? Earth to Major Gooding?” Ms. Lawson asked. “Your thoughts?”
“On what?” Royce asked.
“Clyde Kennard?” replied Ms. Lawson. “Your reading assignment?”
Royce exhaled a sigh while simultaneously twiddling his finger which aiding his thought process, “I was a little shocked by the story,” he said. “They framed the man with stolen chicken feed, so he couldn’t continue his education. I mean where’s the justice in that?”
“Yes, it was an injustice, Mr. Gooding,” said Ms. Lawson as she turned and continue to pace up and aisle. “Amongst the many during the time; he was just one of few seemingly forgotten martyrs of the Civil Rights Movement such as Juliette Hampton Morgan, Vernon Dahmer, and Jimmie Lee Jackson.”

Ms. Lawson rounded the room rapid firing questions. It just so happened one of the lacrosse players had gotten an easy one wrong, and it made him chuckle. Ms. Lawson snapped around and caught the exhaled remnants of the outburst fluttering around him.

“Is there something funny about the plight of people of color during the Civil Rights Movement, Mr. Gooding?” queried Mrs. Lawson.
Royce regained his composure and stiffened his posture, “Um, no ma’am.” 
Well then March 21, 1965?” 
“Umm, what about it?”
“What do you mean? It is in your notes. Like everyone else,” Ms. Lawson stated. “What happened on that day?”                                                                                       

For a moment his mind went blank, and as he started to thumb through his notes. She halted him.    
“Don’t touch that paper Mr. Gooding!” Ms. Lawson commanded. “Search that wondrous wayward brain of yours and give me an answer.”
Royce tapped his fingers rhythmically on his desk, as his mind scanned through dates and times hoping to give her the right one, so she would leave him alone for the day.

“Viola Liuzzo was shot when she was driving a black teenager to Selma.” Royce stated. “Is that right?”
“Correct, Mr. Gooding,” said Mrs. Lawson. “Over 300 people attended her funeral including Dr. Martin Luther King and Jimmy Hoffa.”     
Royce exhaled a sigh of release as she continued on, and didn’t call on him again for the rest of the day.
Before Royce knew it the class was over. The bell rang signaling lunch. As Claudia went to the rest room to wash up Georgia and Royce had a heart to heart.

“Dude, I saw you in class, man. Why don’t you just tell her?” questioned Georgia.
“Dude you’ve seen how she lives. My whole house can fit in her living room. And those lacrosse players take trips to Spain and shit, yo.”    
“Well, I’m not going to say she doesn’t care money. If I had her money I would,” said Georgia. “But she’s friends with us for a reason. Never once has she bragged about it or thrown her wealth in our face, man.”          
Coming from Georgia that brief insight held major weight. When Claudia first arrived it too him about two weeks to trust her.
“True,” said Royce.    
“I’m just saying she’s good people. Don’t wait too long to shoot your shot might miss your chance at a game-winner.”
Just then Claudia came out the rest room.
“What are you guys talking about?” she asked.
“Oh…pizza or salad,” Georgia deflected.

They entered the lunch room through a set of duel wooden doors, and embraced the chaos of the ruckus teen masses.    Like most lunch room settings the cliché cliques had their tables, and the trio had theirs. They waded through separate lunch lines all the while eyeing their table.  Georgia and Claudia chose pizza Royce opted for the salad bar. Their table resided near the westernmost windows, which peered out to the patio eating area. To the north of them were two glass double doors that led to the outside. Georgia and Royce opted for that table mainly out of strategy.  Claudia understood something to that effect, but she didn’t ask why. She just went along with the flow. The double doors made for an easy getaway if needed. Georgia set with his back to the window from his position he could see the entire lunch room. Royce always sat across from him so he could gaze out the window and cover Georgia’s back.  Claudia sat beside Georgia she liked studying Royce’s mannerism. As loud idle chatter resonated around them, they chatted about assignments and the weekend. Eventually, Georgia cycled around to Royce’s homework issue.

“Listen Royce about this Jamie thing….”
Royce interrupted him, “I know what you're going to say, and I’m down.”
Georgia was momentarily stunned, “Really?” 
Claudia head tilted in intrigue.
Royce fiddled with the lettuce in his bowl, “I gave it a lot of thought, and you’re right. Those first few months were hell, man,” he said. “I’m not going back.”                  
Georgia nodded and smirked, “About time you grit those teeth.”
Royce smiled he was one of the few who got Georgia’s anime reference, “Yeah, bro I snapped out of it.”   
Georgia grabbed a salt and pepper shaker and one of Royce’s dressing packets, “Awesome!” he exclaimed as he pushed his tray aside. “Here’s the plan. Chances are he’ll probably hit up again this afternoon for more homework. Lazy bastards are creatures of habit.”
“Yeah, I’m thinking probably around 2 o’clock,” said Royce. “When you left early Monday that’s what time he got me.”    
Claudia eyes widened, “Wait are y’all really planning what I think you’re planning?”
Royce chuckled, “… Yeah, this is when we do all your planning.”
Claudia sighed, “Y’all aren’t going to change are y’all.”
“Of course, but for right now this is how it has to be,” said Georgia.
Claudia exhaled, “Okay, I’m down. What do you need me to do?”   
Royce head shook in shock, “What…? No, Claudia this really isn’t your thing. I mean what about…”
Claudia gave Royce a sharp glare there was something she told him in confidence that she didn’t want Georgia to know yet.
Royce caught the glare, and amended his reply,“ …Well if you want to we kinda need a look out.”
Georgia used a salt shaker to represent the lockers. “  So she’s down… Okay, Royce I need you to meet with him at the edge of lockers near the freshman wing,” he said “They’re usually in class during our rotation. Claudia I need you to stand at the edge of the wall and keep an eye out for Crab. I’ll hang back in the crowd and watch, cool?”                     

Royce nodded and leaned in pushing his salad to the side.
Georgia moved the dressing packet left of the lockers to represent the bathroom, “Ease him down towards the boy’s bathroom.  I’ll pass by  and go in first. To make sure ain’t nobody in there.”
“Cool, cool,” said Royce. “Sounds like a snatch and grab, huh?”
“Yup, I’ll wait by the door and listen. When you get close enough give me a signal, and I’ll open the door-”
Royce interjected, “I push him.”                                                                                                         
Georgia continued on, “Yup, and I’ll snatch his ass in, and you lock the door.”
Royce chuckled, “Sounds like a plan.”
“How many times have y’all done this?” asked Claudia.
Georgia smiled, “Hey, what can say… It’s what I do.”
“I hoped he doesn’t take this ass whooping personally,” joked Royce.
“I hope he does, so he can get it again,” said Georgia.

With a firm strategy in place the day trotted along, and 2p.m came along before they knew it. The bell rang, signaling the end of another class. Georgia hung back in the crowd of students, his attention focused on his friend. Claudia took her position by the wall.  Royce stood by the lockers at the end of the hall when out of the corner of his eye; he spotted Jamie swaggering toward him with several textbooks in tow.

“What a douche,” Georgia thought.
Sure enough Jamie approached him again with a similar proposition.
Overflowing with pretense he placed an arm around Royce’s shoulder, “Listen, about earlier man…You how it is right when you’re around friends. They expect you to act a certain way, man. That ain’t me, man.” he queried   
“Eww,” Claudia thought.
“I know, you’re too damn lazy to do your own work,” Royce thought. “Yeah, I got you.”
“Listen Royce, how would you like to earn a few extra dollars. My boy LJ was wondering if you would do his science homework? ” asked Jamie. “I figured a brain like you should be able to breeze right through it.”
Royce graciously took Jamie’s books and started to play his role. He glanced over his shoulder at his friend; Georgia gave him a reassuring nod and the mission was underway.
“Sure, um, walk with me real quick,” said Royce. “I don’t want people to hear. You know, keeps us out of trouble.”
Jamie nodded his head as they walked, “I gotcha, I  gotcha smart guy, but listen though,” he replied. “I was wondering… But it’s totally up to you, if you wouldn’t mind helping me out with my algebra homework from time to time? Shit’s like Greek, you kno’ what I’m say’n. Of course, I’ll toss in a lil’ something myself?”    

Georgia trailed a few steps back as Royce continued to play his role. He kept Jamie occupied as Georgia stealthily breezed by and signaled ten seconds with his hand.  Royce acknowledged with a nod and began to countdown in his head.  Georgia darted into the restroom. He checked the stalls to make sure they were empty and took his post by the door. 
“Damn they got this down to art form,” Claudia though as she continued to keep an eye out for teachers.
At the same time, Royce and Jamie approached the bathroom door.  Their muddled voice resonated through the door.
Georgia proceeded to count down the remaining seconds in his head, “5 Mississippi, 4 Mississippi…”
Synchronized in thought Royce dropped the books he was carrying on the floor, “Oh damn my bad,” he said as papers and pens scattered about.        
Georgia heard the brief commotion through the door and readied.  In that moment of brief confusion, Royce scurried behind Jamie and pushed him with all his might. As he stumbled back Georgia swung the door open. With a quick step out, Georgia jumped up, and grabbed Jamie’s shirt collar and yanked him inside.  

“What the…!” Jamie uttered as he tripped over his own legs and his body lumbered to the floor.
Royce jolted in a locked the door. As Jamie struggled to his feet Georgia rushed him with a fierce overhand right to the jaw. Jamie’s body buckled to the floor, his forehead banged against the tile.
“My boy isn’t doing your damn homework anymore. You feel me!” exclaimed Georgia.
Jamie’s head pounded his vision was hazed, “… What?” he mumbled.
As he crawled to his knees Royce rushed him, and gave him a vicious kick to his ribs.  Air exploded from his lungs and he collapsed to the floor again. His body wrenched in pain. “You heard him I’m not doing your homework… And fuck LJ too!”          
“Okay,” Jamie whimpered as drool and blood dripped from his chin.
“Who’s LJ?” Georgia asked.   
Royce shrugged, “Some dude he knows.”
Georgia replied with a shrug, “Fuck LJ too,” he said as a knock reverberated  through the bathroom door. Time to go. ”

They left  Jamie there to suffer, and as they exited another boy tried to enter the bathroom. Georgia sidestepped to block him, and made up a quick excuse. “You don’t wanna go in there man, toilet water is everywhere.”
“Ew, really?” questioned the boy.
“Yup,” Royce cosigned. “Somebody dropped a big ol' deuce!”
The boy frowned in disgust and went on his way.  Claudia gave them the all clear and the rest of the day went smoothly, and the trio eventually went home and scratched off another well fought day.

 

 

 

Chapter 1: Welcome to Moville, GA

Chapter 1

Welcome to Moville, Georgia

 

Moville was a rare jewel amongst southern townships. Its namesake, now shrouded in conspiracy, rose from a Confederated General who revised the city’s true history. For nearly a hundred and fifty years the truth remained buried until a group of college students unearthed its secrets in the mid 1960’s restoring the honor to city’s true founders: Elyse Flowers, an enigmatic abolitionist, and the free slaves she gifted all her land too.  However, the city namesake remained mainly due to the lobbying efforts of General Moville’s family.  The Goodings live on the mostly white south east side. Their single story gray and white brick ranch style house was a part of a new middle class development. Royce stood by his bookshelf thumbing through his collection of Japanese manga. The Ramirez’s lived on the very posh south east side of town just a couple miles north of the Goodings. They were part of the new money set after Claudia’s mother had passed she was willed a very substantial fortune, and her Great Grandfather’s land. He was said to be a banker, and a real estate developer, but nothing else was really known.  The sprawling two story gold brick, and sandstone  manor sat on five acres of manicured lawn, and in the back lay a twenty foot lagoon in ground  swimming pool.  Claudia was home alone as usual her father’s work dictated such. Not having much in common with the old money kids in her neighborhood and she relished the normalcy of her new friends.  Dressed in cuffed jeans short, tank top, and small jacket she hopped on her bike and pedaled towards Royce’s house.  It wasn’t long before she reached Royce’s home.  She parked her bike on his lawn and knocked on the door. Royce was sitting on the floor reading, Resolution volume three of Hunter x Hunter when he heard a knock at the door. He knew it could be only one person, his mom doesn’t knock, and his other friend was grounded, so he quickly rushed to the bathroom gargled some mouth wash, and headed for the door.           

 

“… Hey what’s up?” Royce stammered as he looked at her.  
Everything she wore fit so well, which wasn’t necessarily a problem, but Claudia was a long way from thin, and Royce wasn’t a fan of thin.
“Nothing,” Claudia replied with shrug as she gave the room a quick once over. “Is your mom home?”                                                                                                        
“Nah, she’s with a client.”                                                                                                                  
Claudia chuckled, “ A client, oh Royce are we still pretending your mom isn’t a drug dealer?”
Royce sighed, “She’s not… She’s a Relaxation Consultant.”
“I could use some relaxation right now, myself.”
“Yeah, but I think we should talk about your mom,” Royce replied.
Claudia exhaled a deep breath and turned to face Royce. She placed both hand on his cheeks, and gazed into his eyes. Royce’s heart pounded , and his body tempt rose  several degrees as he stared into her hazel eyes.
“You’re sweet Royce, but we aren’t there yet,” said Claudia. 
“Well, I’m going to keep trying,” said Royce as he watched her flop down on the sofa.
Claudia smiled as she crossed her legs. Royce lost a bit of time as he gazed at her thighs.
“Yeah, you do that,” said Claudia with smile, “but right now I don’t want to think about it. You got that smoke are what?”
Royce shook the haze for his head, “Yeah, um Mid or Loud?”
“Mid,” Claudia replied, “I don’t want to be too gone just in case your mom comes home early.”

Royce rushed to his bedroom, he had  two ounces hid under his bed in a shoe book. Any more than that and his mother would start noticing. Claudia strolled over to the stereo, and selected “Purple Swag”, by ASAP Rock. Royce bought out his shoe box. In it contained the weed, and a five pack of Show spiral cigarillos. Claudia broke the cigarillos down it on the coffee table, and rolled them two blunts a piece.  
 

“What’s up with Georgia?” Claudia asked as she pulled the blunt and exhaled the smoke out her nose.
“He got suspended,” said Royce as he took a pull. “It was set up though. Crab was right around the corner.”
“Damn,” said Claudia “I kinda miss having someone to pass to.”
“Georgia’s not really a fan,” said Royce.
“…Well but he doesn’t say no,” said Claudia as she took a puff. “Peer pressure’s a motherfucker.” 
“I don’t mind,” said Royce. “I kinda like when it’s just the two of us.”
“Really, now?”
Royce took a big pull, “Yup,” he said as he exhaled the smoke out his nose.
“Interesting,” said Claudia. “Why doesn’t  Georgia have a girl friend?”
“He did once,” said Royce. “It was black British girl name Roslyn. Messed with his head bad.”
“Where is she now?”
“London I think?” replied Royce as he could feel that haze cloud his head.  
Claudia was already deep into her high, “Shit… Give me her last name I fly out to London on the regular.  I know people.”
Royce coughed and chuckled, “Georgia would love you for that. But let’s keep the international incidents down to minimum.”
“Nah, nah my boy needs closure.”
Royce chuckled, “You know what Claudia…”
“What?”
“I lo…”
Claudia interjected, “Don’t you dare say that unless we are sober.”   
Royce amended his sentence, “I’d love it if you’d pass me the other blunt.”             

The Shynes lived on the Northwest side of town which seated the majority of the city’s black population. Their modest burgundy and black two story townhouse posed like their physical reflection as it sat between a fenced in brick townhouse on the right ,and a dilapidated shotgun house on the left.  He took pride in his home, and as a new home owner Amari was out back constructing a patio. The song I'll Be There for You, by Method and Mary J. Blige streamed over a portable radio sitting on a bare balustrade. At the same time, a yellow flat nose school bus dropped off some local kids, as Georgia sat on the porch concrete stoop.His hair was cut in a low fade, his sneakers matched his blue gym shorts, and he wore a plain white t-shirt. He was grounded after another run in with the school bully Jamie Roseland, which ended in his subsequent suspension.  His brow knotted in envy as the other children rode their bikes down the street. Amari exited the patio through a set of white double doors that led into the kitchen. While rhythmically bopping, he continued to hum the chorus as he made his way through the kitchen and into the dining room area. A home office, sat adjacent to the dining room, his wife, Claire was at the desk diligently grading papers. She was a slender regal vision, comfortably dressed in a strapless royal purple sun-dress. A pair of thin framed black glasses rested upon her nose, and her curly black hair flowed over her coffee toned shoulders.  As Amari passed by the set of sliding glass doors that led into the office he paused. Poking his head in Amari playfully belted out the Mary J Blige’s chorus of the song.                                                                                                                                                     

Claire turned her head and flashed a sarcastic smirk, “No…,” she joked. “You need to leave that woman song alone.”
Amari chuckled, “Hater,” he retorted. “Where’s that boy at?’
“Porch, I think?  He knows he can’t go anywhere.”
“O-kay. Did you get a chance to read that over for me?”
Amari was blossoming author, with three fantasy books under his belt and one best seller. His wife was his truest editor. 
Claire paused what she was doing, and neatly laid her papers to the side, “Yeah… I did.”    
“And…”
“I’m glad you put us in it… But it’s a little too familiar,” said Claire. 
“Come on, you know I got a lot to draw from.”
Claire flashed a weary smile, “… Just don’t draw from too much.”
“Okay… I gotcha I’ll take a little out.”
“Thank you,” said Claire. “But not too much though. I love the part about the Wandering Island.”
Amari smiled, “Yeah, me too,” he replied. “Okay, I’m outta here. I’ll let you get back to your work.
“Love you,” said Claire.
“Yeah, love you too,” said Amari as he headed out.  

Leaving the dining room area through its arched entrance Amari continued on through the living room. He eventually reached its foyer and as he passed the stairs that led to the second floor he stood in the porch’s  doorway. Its mesh screen cloaked his presence. Georgia was off in his own little world blissfully unaware.                                           

“Hey!” Amari shouted his baritone voice conquered the ruckus joy of the school free youth. Startled Georgia nearly jumped out his skin.                                                   
“Yes, sir?” Georgia queried.
“This isn’t a vacation. Get your little ass up, and help me with the patio!”

Georgia quickly hopped to his feet. Amari felt for his son; he understood his reasons, but he had to be stern. Together they marched through the living room; Georgia eyed his mother sitting at her work desk.

Claire glanced up and smiled, “Don’t work him too hard he still has homework to finish.”
Amari retorted, “Oh, he’ll get that too.”
Georgia’s heart sunk into his stomach, “Homework too… Damn,” he thought. “It was a too nice of a day to be stuck inside.”                                                                       

The patio sat just off the kitchen. Its construction was nearly complete only a few boards needed to be laid. Four 6”x12’ decking boards rested stacked in a corner against the bare cherry wood balustrade. Georgia grabbed a board; his slender frame struggled against its awkward length but he adjusted. His father grabbed its end and set the board on the floor beams.

“Hold your end down,” Amari commanded.  
Georgia placed a knee and both hands on the end of the board, as he watched his father drilled holes and set the deck screws. Amari paused every so often to impart little jewels wisdom.
“What have I told you about those knuckleheads at your schools?”
Georgia grabbed another board and lay it down, “Don’t get caught,” he stated with a proud smirk as beads of sweat trickled off his forehead.
Amari cut him a sharp side eye that could pierce granite, “So you’re a smart ass now?”
Georgia smirk quickly faded, and his eyes widen in focus and fear, “No, sir…” he replied.
“That much is clear,” admonished Amari. “What have I told you? Control yourself…”
Georgia interjected but not out of rudeness, “Control the outcome.”  
“Yet he goaded you into that confrontation, and what happen?”
“I got suspended.”
Amari sighed, “You got set up that’s what happen. That principal is looking for any reason to screw your future.”  
“Well, what am I supposed to do? I can’t just do nothing.”    
Amari finished drilling a screw and smirked, “Sometime you have to lose a battle to win a war, son.” he stated as the raised a finger to Georgia forehead. “Use it. It’s your greatest asset”  

His father’s words swirled around in his head as he grabbed another board; then he uttered a less than confident, “Okay.”          
Amari sensed the uncertainty in his reply, “Don’t just okay me! You listen!” he demanded. “You’re gifted, and black the world is going to be especially harsh to you. You have to learn to choose your battles more wisely. ”
“Yes, sir.”

Back inside Claire took a break from grading essays. She made her way through the kitchen and slid open the patio doors. Poised over the boards, Amari glanced up and smiled as the sun’s rays embraced her in orange glow. She was his heaven a miracle embodied in an ebony frame.
Glancing over his shoulder Amari spoke at his son, “Go get your homework done, I’ll finish up out here.”  
Georgia nodded and as she passed by, Amari noticed the all too familiar wisp of concern flutter across his wife’s face. Georgia dusted the sawdust from his hands, as Claire stepped aside to let me through. Amari knew the conversation they were about to have, and it was a too familiar one.

He stood up and exhaled, “I know what you are going to say,” he stated interjecting his wife before she started.

Claire shook her head, “It’s not just this recent incident. They’re becoming more frequent.”
He’s fifteen and just trying to work life out.” 
Claire’s head drooped her eyes closed as she crossed her arms, “Right…,” she murmured. “You... Your father…”
Amari cut her off, and closed the distance between them, “Is not an issue… I am not an issue. I left all that behind remember?”  
“I know… I know,” said Claire, “but I can’t help but think there is something going on with him.”
Amari reached out and caressed her hand, “Love, it has been nearly twenty years, we haven’t heard a whisper from my family,” he said. “Please don’t read too much into it. He’s just a boy becoming a man.”       
Claire exhaled a relieving sigh, “Okay, I’ll try not to worry.”
“ Thank you,” said Amari. “He starts back to school tomorrow. Everything will be alright-You’ll see.”

As Claire eased back inside Amari’s thoughts wandered.  There were still secrets he kept. His magic wasn’t completely gone. Even his father in his ancient splendor couldn’t seal his inner stores.  He could cast spells, but the price of depletion was too high…And that price was death.  Normal was a word easy to say, but the truth was that he had lingering doubts. He watched his son closely through his infant years, and when Georgia didn’t show any odd signs, he tried brushing his worries aside. But the hard truth was, that when it came to humans and Ora its effects were random and impossible to gauge. But he had to believe it; he had no choice. He couldn’t fathom his son trekking through the same darkness he once had.

Meanwhile, a world away in a realm known as Ereda dusk had just settled upon a bustling metropolitan city known as Vesper. Carriages pulled by mechanized steeds roamed the streets as sidewalks teemed with passersby. Airy female elementals dressed in long flowing gowns chatted with elves in long hooded trench coats. Dwarfs donned in corporate dressing dined in an expensive restaurant as their rough and tumble cousins trotted by their window sneering in disapproval. Situated in the center of the city was a way station of sorts. The half hotel and lounge shared a strip alongside a bakery and a weapon smith.  A large circular hand carved sign hung from a post attached to a roof that read, Travelers Way.  Several mechanical steeds with synthetic hide of natural tones were parked along the roadside.   The building’s upper floor was honeycombed with rooms. Arched wooden doors assured the privacy of its occupants. Along the westernmost wall was a simple staircase that led to the lounge on the first floor. It was partially filled which was the norm for a weekday.  Various Fae races including the native N’ru and Halfling H’ru occupied the floors evenly spaced booths. Ivory spiral crystals hung like chandeliers from the ceiling emitting a soft light. To the north was a well-stocked bar white light reflected off mirrored glass adding alluring and temptation to its abundant liquor stock.  Behind the counter worked the Condalor and Elven duo, of Risa Ravencourt and Margo Lily Sea.

Risa was a Condalor maiden from the duly christened Empyrean Valley. She was of honey skin with almond shaped eyes and had long jet black hair.  Two large wings adorned in ebony and jade feathers  lay furled and strapped against her back . She was perter in her femininity than her tom boyish counterpart; who was a deeply tan Sea Elf with natural sky blue hair, and deep azure eyes. Her people were nomads by nature the sea their home. Though she has been shore bound for quite a while her ship, the Mallorca, along with those she called family were anchored off of Almarna’s eastern coast. She was the jeans and cowboy boots type of girl, but never objected to sexing things up, with one of Risa’s many corsets. Her friend (as one could probably guess) often opted for tank tops, minis, and thigh high boots.  A dwarfish male in the early stages of drunken slosh approached the bar. He wore khakis and a collared shirt; a loose tie dangled limply from his short thick neck. He and group of Black Mountain dwarves were bar regulars that came there to unwind after a long day of research.  He climbed upon a stool resting his forearms on the counter. Risa approached him while Margo cleaned and dried a pitcher.

The dwarf smiled, “Risa you  are a  sexy feathered wonder.”

Risa smirked, “Uh huh, what can I get you Wilfred?”

Wilfred glanced back at his boys. Their faces full of drunken glee. “Let me get another pitcher of honey wine for the fellas,” he said.

Risa like any experienced bartender kept an eye on their customers. She knew their limits, and felt they were at their end.

She took a chilled pitcher from the bars mini refrigerator, and opened the tap, “Alright, but this is your last one for the night,” she said.  “And tell our boys to hand over their syders. Can’t have you drinking and riding. I’ll call a carriage for you later.”
Endowed with the confidence that only inebriation could provide he replied, “You love me, don’t cha’?”

Risa chuckled and sighed, “I would love it if you guys hand over your syders.”

Wilfred fumbled his wallet out his back pocket, and pulled out a black plastic card on it was his picture and his steed’s nine digit registration number engraved on it. As Risa started to place it in a secure draw, he beckoned her.

Wilfred leaned on the counter, “Hey Risa.”    
Risa closed the draw, “What you want Fred?”

He drunkenly waved her over.  “Come… Come here. Let me ask me sum’n..”

She indulged his drunken moment.

“Ever made love to a short man?”

Risa chuckled, “Fred, I’m too much woman for you.”

“Never such a thing as too much. I’ll show you a little heaven closer to earth.”

 Risa exclaimed in laughter. “You’re a mess. Get your pitcher and get away from my bar.”


Wilfred left the table with a smile and as he slowly eased away, Risa reminded him about the group’s syders. He acknowledged her with a two finger wave and kept walking.

She and Margo both managed the floor while their boss was out on business. The lounges proprietor Elyse was hard yet beautiful Mountain Elf. To her people she was a rogue that opted for the world instead of life of seclusion. To everyone else, she was the Keeper, royal authority over all of Almarna’s Oran Gates, and owner of the best bar in the city. Her pointed Eredan features were accented by a blonde rockabilly pompadour, and gray eyes with specks of green. She wore a black leather bodice, and dark denim jeans. A black hilted dagger rested sheathed on her ample hips. Her right arm was bare, but the left was covered with a lace rose tattoo.                                                                                

Along with the bartending staff, patrons were served by disembodied entities known as the Faceless Ones. They are ancient entities whose history has long since been forgotten. They don’t speak and exist in service only their ivory white hands and bare feet are seen. They scurried about with platters of drinks as the house band’s jazzy melody filled the air.  The fragrant odor of Gnome’s pipes stuffed with cannabis collided with aromatic incense and potpourri. To the east lay a large wooden stage there the day's showcase of talent performed. Coolly dressed Fae men and scantily clad women flocked to floor rocking and swaying to their rhythms. Dark elves were beating upon hand craved drums; their vibrant cadence blended hypnotically, with the soulful wails of airy Elementals as a Dwarf strummed an acoustic guitar.  

Margo prepared to mix another Angel Isle Ice tea for an awaiting patron when a cloaked figure in a tan hooded trench coat entered from the streets. The patrons paid him little attention; shady visitors were common, but he caught her eyes immediately.  She continued to mix the drink, being careful not to bring the visitor any undue attention. Risa noticed him as well; a subtle hint of sadness fluttered across her face as she signaled one of the ghostly waiters. It scurried over; she knelt down and gave  it instruction.           

“Listen, the next rounds on the house,” Risa said with a gesture. “Table-7 with drunken Dwarves don’t give them another round. I'm cutting them off, and be sure you get all their syders. I have  make a quick run to the office.”

The disembodied hand gestured a bow, and hurried on its way. The hooded figure approached the bar, and took a seat on a stool.       
“Next rounds on me!” Risa yelled.
Cheers of appreciation echoed through the air as she, and the hooded figure stealthily made their way to Elyse’s office. The office was situated in a small cove between the stairway and bar.
Risa knocked on the door and poked her head in. “Elyse you have a visitor.” 
“Who is it?” asked Elyse.       
“Who else is more important than me?” said the hooded man in a gruff confident tone.
Elyse smiled and stood from her desk, “I got it from here.”   
Risa nodded and head out. Once inside Elyse locked the door, and with a wave of her hand she cast a privacy spell upon the room.
 “You stubborn old man,” Elyse sighed as her frustration melded into sincerity. “This is no place for a king. I would’ve come to you.”

The hooded man removed his cowl revealing long silver locked hair which rested upon his shoulders. His beard was full and slightly salt and peppered.  His cocoa tone face was youthful, but his deep brown eyes glinted with the mysterious wisdom that only comes with age. He was Josia El’Noran-Shynera -Yumboe Emir of the Almarnan Fae Union.  His people were warriors and guardians, which differed from the Fae of Oberon’s Seelie and Unseelie Courts.             

He waved off her concern with a sincere yet rebellious smirk.  “I needed the exercise, anyway.”
Elyse shook her head and sigh, “Josia what am I going to do with you?” she queried. “How’s are feeling?” 
Josia grunted hinting at her to change the subject.  Elyse already knew his pride wouldn’t let him answer.  
She flashed a pretentious smile and waved him over, “Come,” she sighed as she placed her palms on his cheeks, and close her eyes, “Damn, that Amari.”
“Don’t waste your time being upset. It was his decision to make,” Josia replied.
“Nope, I will stay upset. Thank you very much. Anyway,” she grumbled, “so how’s the Lady?”
“Worried.”
“That’s a scary thought,” Elyse said. “Beings like her shouldn’t worry.”
“We’re working through it. This is the price of nigh immortality,” said Josia.
“I just don’t understand why she can’t give you more time,” Elyse lamented.
Josia brow furled, “Don’t do that. We all know my end is coming. I’ve accepted it.  
“ I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” said Elyse as she forced back tears. “Have you heard from asshole?”
“ You mean Robin?”  
“Yup,” Elyse said with contempt.
“I sent The Messenger.”
“Ugh! He’s even worse  so anal retentive.”
Josia chuckled, “Don’t give him such a hard time. It’s his job.”
 “He needs to relax.”  
“I don’t think I want to see him relaxed…It’ll be too freaky…” Josia joked. 
“Yeah he tried to smile once and it damn near scared me to death,” joked Elyse.
 Josia began to chuckle uncontrollably. The thought of the Messenger’s  face twisted in such a manner was too much.
“I can imagine his face…”
Before Josia had to chance to add, Elyse interjected, “Shush no talking now close your eyes.”
“I would pay to see that before I die…”

Elyse sighed then smiled as preceded with the connection.  Amongst her many talents Elyse was an adept Oran conduit. She was able to absorbed ora from the atmosphere and channel it into his being recharging he’s stores. As she focused her thoughts the ora rich atmosphere began to affect the room around them. All the objects that were light in weight began to float towards them and pause in midair. Her body began to emit an airy white glow.  Then that glow slowly enveloped Josia’s body.

“Breathe it in,” Elyse directed.

Josia inhaled a deep breath, and the white airy energy funneled up his nose and into his mouth. He opened his eyes  and for a moment his pupil were white and void then slowly they regain their brown hue.  At the same time, a world away Robin sat upon a park bench sipping a Starbucks caramel macchiato wearing a three piece gray pants suit with a jade vest. His piercing green eyes accented his slightly exaggerated features. His pointed ears were hidden by locks of long red hair.  As his lips readied for another delectable sip a man appeared seemingly out of nowhere dressed in all black. His silver hair was pulled up in a tight bun. His posture was rigid his face was stern and emotionless.

Robin sighed as he sat coffee down beside him, “Erelah you have amazing timing.” 
“The God King has a message. Accept,” said Erelah.
Robin sat there he knew Erelah wouldn’t budge so he took a sip coffee, and set it down.
“Okay, I accept.”
Then like a recorder Erelah began to relay the message in an exact replica of Josia’s voice and tone.
“Puck, as you know I am running out of patience and time! You will do whatever is necessary to secure my Grandson!” exclaimed Erelah. “End of first message. Continue. Accept.”
“Puck really,” Robin thought as he rolled his eyes he hated the name and message, “What does he mean by necessary?”         
Erelah just stood there stoically waiting for Robin to accept the other message.
Robin became a little annoyed by Erelah’s robotic demeanor, “Accept,” he said in a huff.
Yes, I mean whatever is necessary!” exclaimed.
Erelah. “End of message. Do you wish to reply?”
“No,” said Robin.
With that said Erelah nodded, and walked away. Then as quickly as he appeared he was gone. Robin knew what that last message meant, and to say he wasn’t fond of the idea would be an understatement.
“Very well, you will have the boy,” Robin thought. “When he’s ready...”
A strong wind blew Robin took it as a sign from the Lady, “You can’t approve of this,” he grumbled as he vanished into the ether.                                                                                                  
Meanwhile back at the Traveler’s Way Elyse and Josia continued their conversation.
“So what was this message?”  
“I just told him to do whatever was necessary,” said Josia.    
Elyse didn’t like the sound of that. She knew Georgia was a halfling, and their abilities could manifest in times of great trauma. 
“Care to explain?” Elyse probed.
“No,” Josia stated.
“He is your Grandson remember that!” Elyse proclaimed.
“Yes, he is my Grandson!” Josia roared. “Now, open the door.”                    


With a simple wave of her hand Elyse begrudgingly removed the privacy spell place upon the room. Josia covered his face and exited the room. He knew in his heart that his actions were harsh, but there was more at stake that Elyse realized. Some spells had to be passed on no matter the cost. Meanwhile, back at his home, Georgia was sprawled across his living room floor. His math book was opened to a chapter on equations. Crumpled pieces of scratch paper were scattered about the floor. His mother only allowed the use of a calculator as a checking tool. Still grading papers she glanced up periodically to check on his progress.

“Are you stuck or thinking?” Claire asked.
 Georgia sat motionless as he calculated multiples in his head. “Thinking… the cube root of five thousand eight hundred and thirty two is eighteen right?” Georgia asked.

Claire remained focused on her work, “Is it?” she replied.

“Yes,” replied Georgia confidently.

“Alright, then there you go.”

Georgia continued on with the second half of the equation.

“Your friend called,” Claire stated. “He asked about your study session this weekend.”
Georgia paused his eyes widened, “What did you say?”

Claire replied, “.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Georgia continued to work. His math merged into science as the evening faded into night. Amari came back inside covered in sawdust and reeked of sweat and deck stain. He took a quick shower and headed to the kitchen. Amari understood that Claire’s college work took a lot out of her mentality during the day. Over the years, he became quite adept in the kitchen. So he prepared a quick supper, which consisted of spaghetti with meat sauce, dinner rolls, and salad. He prepared the table with the appropriate wares, which included two wine glasses for him and his wife. After everything was set, they all sat down at the dining room table, and enjoyed their meal. Though they all were tired they attempted to have a conversation. Amari and Claire strayed away from topics that focused on Georgia’s attitude as of late. Instead, they talked about his classes, their work, and the pending summer. Time ticked away drained from the day’s activities they all settled in for a peaceful slumber.

Meanwhile in Almarna, for some the weekend meant peace and relaxation, but for the  few it brought struggles and contemplation. A wooden cabin secluded from most prying eye rested along a mountain side. A dagger lay on the window seal residual darkness emitting from the blade edge sizzled in the sun. Robin in black a-shirt and jeans sat at a little wooden table eying a small framed picture of his then infant daughter, “Forgive these wrongs. I will bring you home,” he said as he placed the picture upon the mantle.       

Walking over to the window seal he gave his dagger a quick inspection ,and shook the  dark corruption from the blade. Later that night his mission began again. Donned in black hood and bow  he stepped out the door and like those with blood like he vanished upon the coming breeze.  Minutes later, in a whirl of air and ora, he reconstituted on the eastern shore of a distance island. Night drenched the coastline as waves broke upon the beach. A few feet before him lay a massive forest that stretched beyond view trekking forward he vanished into its brush. About an hour later he reemerged from the woodlands, and just as he arrived he vanished once more. That morning was just a normal day for Robin; he dressed in earthbound casual: khakis, collared shirt, and  Topa bangles he had needed to visit Earth for a quick stop.  Travel between realms was strictly restricted but as an Agent of Ereda he had unique permission. Robin teleported just outside of Vesper’s city limit to avoid undue attention and footed the rest. Though Vesper was a royal and safe city teleportation was considered a talent that only a special few had.  And for those special few their blood was a sought after commodity in underground markets for power.  After a short walk and a carriage ride he arrived at Traveler’s Way.  Robin entered and though he wasn’t a rare a customer he wasn’t a particularly liked customer. Of course Elyse had her feelings, but the Margo had a severe distain for Avalon Seelies, and their culture of bondage.  Robin walked in and took a seat at the bar. Risa played him little mind she was occupied giving a Gnome and his pipe a light, as  Margo flashed him a contempt filled glare.   

Robin sighed, “Margo don’t be that way can we talk please?”
Their history was as long as it was complicated. As a child she was his wife’s Unseelie house servant, and part-time nanny to his daughter, until he freed her and vacated his title.
Margo remained silent as she brought him his usual Earth Scotch straight with no ice. He hated silence from her, and she knew. Truth be told he loved her like his daughter, a fact that wasn’t oblivious to her. And if she was honest she would say she loved him too ,but sometimes the past can be a little hard overcome.

“That isn’t my world anymore,” said Robin. “You know that.”
Margo sighed, and broke her silence, “Is it?  What are you doing about it? All I see is a whole lot of nothing.”
Robin exhaled a frustrated sigh. He wanted to tell her he had  plans in motion but he couldn’t. She lacked the proper the clearance, and her roots were too embedded in the struggle.
“Just know I’m going to make it right,” Robin said. “ Is Elyse in I need clearance?”  
“ Yeah she’s in. I’ll let her know,” said Margo as she headed back to the office.
She knocked on Elyse’s door and announced.
Robin entered Elyse’s faced showed indifference. She didn’t hate him, but she’d rather keep him at arms distance.
Elyse opened a wall safe and removed a medium size black box with a hand print scanner and a key pad.
She placed her palm on the scanner, and typed in a seven digit code, “Someone is very busy. Where are you headed?” Elyse questioned as she turned the box towards Robin.
“The Eastern Passage,” Robin said as he placed his hand on the scanner, and typed in his  eight digit code.  “Listen Elyse about earlier…” 

Elyse headed towards her back wall and with a wave of her hand the back wall shifted and flipped revealing a panoramic map of Ereda and its five major land masses: Almarna, Avalon, Icy Vale, Shaded Isles, and Nameless Earth. Scattered across each continent were ten nodes brightly illuminated in blinking green,  reds, and grays indicating gates in use and those not in her jurisdiction.

Elyse pressed a  green blinking  node on the south eastern portion of Almarna’s coast, “I don’t want to know what you and  the King are stirring up. But if you hurt that boy…”she said as she watched the blinking stopped then flickered again.
“Harming the boy is the last thing I want,” said Robin.
Elyse turned and saw the sincerity in his eyes, but she couldn’t bring herself to trust it. “Alright…Well you’re all set,” she said.
Robin nodded, “I should be back in a couple of days,” he said as he headed out.   Just like earlier he caught a carriage out of town, and the once the mechanical transport left he vanished.
He rode the wind east and reformed on a paved stripped. The gateway was housed inside a small fort of concrete and steel. Four guards patrolled the outside: two   Dark Elf archers on the roof, and two  Guardians in full shining armor  on the ground.  Robin approached cautiously Gateway Guardians  took their duty seriously and were sticklers for protocols.
“Halt!” A Guardian demanded as a single archer readied his bow from above, “State your business.”
Robin knew the routine, and didn’t hesitate, “Travel.”
“One moment,” said a Guardian as he knocked on the steel door, while another eyed him attentively.
Slowly the door groaned opened, and out strolled another Guardian carry a small black box similar to Elyse.
“Hand,” the Guardian demanded.
Robin placed his palm on the scanner.
“Agent number.”
“484984128,” Robin said as the Guardian typed it in.
A few seconds passed as it scanned records, and Robin’s true name flashed on the digital screen.
“Name.”
“Puck O’Alberich’,” said Robin.

After his name was verified Robin was finally able to enter the compound. Inside the walls were lined with sigils that prohibited shapeshifting and body transmutation of any kind. Even Air and Water Elemental were forced to solidify when they entered. The long hallway led straight to the gate. There were no turn-off only rooms where the guards slept in shifts.  As he approached the end of corridor two more Guardians stood stoically at the chamber’s entrance. Robin ignored them and continued forward.  Before him was a large monolithic arch. Engraved on the stones were constellations alien to Ereda’s realm. Adjacent to them  artful etchings of the golden ratio. Truthfully Robin had the foggiest idea how the gateway work he knew it had something to do with energy nexus, and ley lines. And each gateway latitude and longitude aligned perfectly with its earth’s counterpart.  As he placed a hand under the arching columns the ether rippled like water, and he stepped in.  Almost instantaneously he was on the other side. Eastern Isle wasn’t on any map Almarna’s special operation made sure of that. It was a small island several miles off of  Georgia’s eastern coast The gate was housed in a large hangar. Unlike the Almarnan fortress , Earthbound gateways were less guarded, and more relaxed due to Earth’s  Ora lacking nature. Two N’ru guards Ren and Shay  were casually dressed.  Orion sat a desk watching movies on a laptop while the other slept.

 He glanced up from the screen, “What’s up Robin you need the boat or the plane.” 
“The boat,” said Robin.
“Roger that,” said Ren as he opened the desk draw looking for the keys. 
Slightly annoyed that they weren’t in there Ren walked over to Shay sleeping on an ugly tan sofa and kicked the base.
“Dude, where the boat keys?”
Shay stretched and yawn, “Whaa?”
“The keys… to the boat?”
Shay scratched his stubble beard and spoke through another yawn, “Oh in the boat. Had a lil’ fun with the waitress from mainland.”
Robin shook his head but he wasn’t surprised.
“The one with the ass or the titties?”   
“The titties.”   
“Damn,” Ren retorted in envious approval. “I gotta take this one ashore I’ll be back in a few.”

Robin followed Ren outside; the  island was still largely untouched  since its  rise nearly two thousand years ago.  It was about a half mile to the beach, and docked on a wooden pier was a thirty foot motor yacht that Robin donated after he swept aside all his royal trappings. As they boarded Ren  trashed  empty wine bottles and open condoms wrappers.
“Sorry for the mess. You know bitches love the yacht?”
Robin shrugged and smiled, “Yeah, I know.”


 Meanwhile the weekend passed slowly for Georgia. His father made sure he stayed busy with lots of manual labor and he still had two days of suspension left.  Monday would show to be an interesting one for Royce. Not only did he have to brave the savage lands alone he was about to have another surprise.  His mother pulled up to the school in her red Dodge Caravan. Royce glazed out the window of their, and sighed. Vice Principal Adams was in her usual mode channeling the throng of parents to the student drop off area. She was a stark contrast from her six foot tall bald counterpart Principal David Crabass; who stood under the school's main entrance sign, like a black gargoyle sneering at all who dared to violate the dress code            .                                                                                              
Lauren looked at him her face creased in worry, “ I know your little friends not here. Do you want me to pick you up a little early?”

As a single parent she was slightly over protective, which annoyed Royce to no end.  Deep down he knew she meant well, but her motherly nature often caused him added difficulty.
“No, mom. I’m good,” said Royce as he opened the car door.
“Are you sure?”
Royce sighed, “Yes mom. I’m sure,” he said as he closed the door.   

As his mother drove away he caught Principal Crabass’ eye. Royce eyes narrow and  his brow creased Crabass retorted with  an vindictive smile. Royce continued across the parking lot scanning the masses for his usual set of problems when he caught sight of Jamie Roseland out the corner of his eye.  Royce turned and chuckled to himself as he saw his face. Jamie’s jaw as swollen and he sported a very pronounce black eye.  Royce hoped he would be too busy fending off questions about his face to be concern about him. If anything he had to worry about retaliation from the drones he called his crew. Trying his best stealth run Royce evade eye contact and headed through a side door.  Rows of black lockers were lined against muted golden yellow walls. Faint sounds of student voices echoed from distant corners as he weaved down the halls towards the backside of campus, and exited out a non-functioning emergency exit  and crossed the parking lot to the trailer.

 Royce was usually early, but Claudia was already there. He smiled internally when he saw her. She wore khaki shorts, a yellow flora top, and sneakers.  Her curly dark brown hair set like a puffy halo upon her head. The class held about a dozen other advanced placement students; Royce sat in the middle row she was directly adjacent to him.                

 She looked at him and tilted her head in curiosity, “Where’s your twin?”     
Royce paused in midair as he sat for a moment he was lost in her eyes, “ Dude say something. Say anything,” he thought. “ My twin ha, ha, very funny. He’s suspended for a couple of days.”
The morning bell run signaling the start of the day. One by one the rest of the homeroom slowly filed in.
“Suspended for what?  How?”
Royce responded, “Jamie, he was set up…I believe he was set up anyway. Crab was right around the corner.”
Claudia shook her head, “Damn! Y’all are usually so careful…” she replied but before she could dive any deeper another bell rang signaling the end of homeroom.      

They ventured out into the throng of adolescence and chit chatted about where they were from, and what it was like being the youngest in everything. Royce was so engulfed in all thing Claudia that he failed to see the host of eyes upon them, but Claudia didn’t. She was well aware; it wasn’t something she was new too but at some point, it began to annoy her.
“I hate this cliquey bullshit.”  
Royce replied, “Well you are one of the richest  girls in school, and I’m me so...”
“It’s not easy is it,” Claudia said solemnly.
Royce heard the hint of sadness in her tone, but chose not to prod it, “Welcome to the team,” he said with a warm smile. “I would show you the secret hand shake, but we ain’t got one.”
Claudia shook her head and smiled. At that moment she knew she had chosen the right set of people. As the day dragged on Royce began to notice the extra work she was taking on.
“Sure packing on the extra credit,” said Royce.
Claudia sighed, “I got a C on that last big report, and I need to balance it out.”
“That’s a lot of balancing,” replied Royce.
Claudia paused she had a sense of where the conversation was headed. She had  been through it many times before, and someone always ends up feeling used. She wished to avoid that Royce was too good of a friend.
Claudia replied, “Nah, most of it is just worksheets you know. The books make it seem like a lot.


Royce wasn’t buying it he  made excuses like that before but ultimately  he knew it was her choice to make. He hid his concern as he watched her pile the extra work into her locker as they head off to their AP history class. As always Ms. Lawson class was thought provoking and engaging, and though she rarely handed out homework research and extra credit was advised.  Claudia took it upon herself to add a research assignment to her growing workload, and Royce couldn’t help but notice. It brought him back to his times of heavy workloads, long nights, and little sleep.

“Okay, Claudia this a little much,” Royce said. “Is this why you smoke so much… Cause I thought I smoked a lot?”
Claudia stared into his worrisome green eyes, and tried to change the subject, “So how long have you and Georgia been friends?”         

Royce answered the question, but he knew he was being handled so he just let it go for the moment. Claudia knew she would eventually have to let him in but it was too early to talk. Too early to let him know why her family left Chicago, and why she was so far behind. The lunch bell rang signaling the freshman rotation. Like most schools the cafeteria was the social mecca. The cliché cliques were seated at their perspective tables. As they weaved through and around tables, they caught the eye of classmates and enemies. Some nodded the others said nothing. Neither of them was hungry so they opted for the salad bar. Making their way through the line, Claudia sensed someone staring.  Turning to investigate, she noticed a group of kids sitting at a table glaring.  
Claudia turned to Royce, “Why are they looking at us like that?”

Royce glanced over his shoulder, “That’s one reason,” he said  as they made  their way down the aisle passing directly by Jamie’s table.         

Nobody said a word; Jamie just glared as they passed. Royce and Georgia sat at the same table every day and when one of them wasn’t there it threw the seating dynamic out of whack. To cover his angles Royce sat at the end of the table with his back against the wall. At least from there he had a peripheral view.  Claudia knew nothing of their strategy, but sat in Georgia usual position with her back towards the window.       

“Can we talk?” question Royce.
Claudia knew where it was headed, “About…?” she questioned as she sipped her juice.

“Come on…Don’t do that you know what about.”
Claudia huffed, “Damn you’re not going to stop are you? Just have to be good guy huh?”
“Yup it’s in my nature,” Royce said with a smile.
Claudia sighed, “Well, I signed up for advance college placement and their so few seats,” she explained. “When I moved here it took too long to get my records and with that C I’m in danger of losing my seat.”
“That report was a while ago. I mean how long have you been doing this?” Royce asked.    

Claudia sighed, “Not too long. I come in early to work. Do a little bit here and there.
“If you were that far behind why didn’t you say anything?”
“I can’t start depending on other people to solve my problems. It’s not something you can understand. Georgia would get it.”
Royce nodded at that moment he knew what at least part of it was all about, “I wouldn’t huh, why because I’m white?”
Claudia sighed, “Royce…It’s just that we have to be…Twice as good…”
Royce interjected, “For half as much recognition. Yes, I know you don’t think I see it. Of course, I will never know what’s  it’s like to be black, but I experience it through you and GA,” he said, “ He has been my friend ever since we fought over toy trucks in pre-k, and the teacher gave it to me even though he had it first.”
“Let me guess lil’ woke Royce gave Georgia back the toy?”  
“Hell nah, I played with that truck,” Royce chuckled. “The next day me and Georgia fought over the truck again, and just like the day before the teacher gave it to me. But this time Georgia didn’t cry.”

Claudia didn’t think she would be interested in the story, but she was all in, “Okay… what happened.”
“Georgia smacked the shit out of me. I cried and the teacher took the truck away,” said Royce. “Me and Georgia we didn’t like that, so during nap time when she left we took all the stuff off her desk and trashed it. I mean we ripped up all her papers, broke her pencils and everything.”
“Little asshole,” Claudia chortled. “Enemy of my Enemy, huh?”
“The next they both our parent were there. Long story short… a teacher resigned. I learned to share, and gained a friend.”
Claudia chuckled, “I can’t believe y’all broke all her stuff. Guess y’all learned a lot of things in life isn’t fair.”
“Yeah, I mean I guess my mom talked to me about. I can only assume the Shynes did the same. After that we had a lot of play dates.”
I just can’t help but think  there are other students who are probably working twice as hard as me right now without help,” she said. “If I start depending on you for help what does that say about me?”
“You know what…. Georgia and I have a saying about other people…Fuck those other people!” Royce asserted. “Understand this. The people at this table are more than a team. You caused us twins remember…Georgia…the Shynes are my family, and now you are a part of that. So you can accept it or find some other place to sit.”
Claudia smiled, “Well, I don’t wanna find another place to sit. I’m quite comfortable here. Thank you very much.”
Royce smiled as he took a sip of his juice, “Good so after school then?”
“I don’t know yet,” Claudia replied. “But I’m thinking yeah…”

After lunch they had a few more classes and before they knew it the day was done. The bell rang signaling the end. He walked her out of class and watched as she took a load of books out her locker.      
“So is your dad coming to pick you up?” asked Royce as he watched her shove two thick books in her backpack.  
Claudia slung the weighted satchel over her shoulder, and toted the others, “Nah, I got a driver.”     
Royce was taken aback, “A driver…. You got a driver?”
Claudia pulled out her cell phone scrolled through her contacts, and settled on Monte.
Claudia pressed send, “Well, I am rich…Sometimes I act like it…”
The phone ringed twice and a proper toned male voice answered.“Ms. Ramirez  how can I be of service today?”    
“Hello, Monte I need you to come pick me up. School north parking lot by the buses.”
“Be there in ten minutes.”
“So you don’t need a ride. I’ll call my mom and cancel.”
“Then how are you going to get the extra study material,” Claudia said miming a blunt with her fingers.
Royce smiled, “Oh, yeah I can do that…”
Claudia nodded then quickly changed her mind waving him off, “ You know what…don’t worry about I got it cover.”           

Just like clockwork Monte pulled up in a black Jaguar . He stepped out in full three piece suit, and chauffeur cap, and opened the passenger rear door. They both hopped in. Royce looked about awed by the whole experiences. First he never been in a luxury car before, and the whole chauffeur thing was uber fancy.
The partition rolled down “Where to Miss Ramirez?” 
“Home Monte.”
Royce chuckled, and mocked her in douchey British accent, “Home Monte.”
Claudia chuckled, “That’s right…You never actually been to my house? Have you?”
“Nah, you kinda been stand offish about it, you know,” said Royce. “Always meeting us places.  We kinda thought you had really snobby neighbors.”     
“She does have really snobby neighbors,” interjected Monte.
“Oh, so do you drive them too?” asked Royce.
“Not anymore…Thank god.”  

For a long time Claudia wasn’t his only client. He was the private chauffeur for half the rich kids in her neighborhood, but he soon grew tired of the drugs and upper-class douchery.  Like most newly rich he noticed she wasn’t spoiled by the life, so he approached her father, and proposed the idea of a retainer and became her personal driver. It wasn’t long before they pulled up to the gated  large gold and white manor . Monte pulled up to the gate, and type in the access code. The gate slowly opened and he drove up the quarter  mile drive way to the front portico. Monte opened their door in customary fashion. Royce hopped out first cause he was close to the door, then as he glanced back he notice Claudia struggling with her books. Then like a good friend and gentlemen he offered to  help. Little did he know Monte  took mental notes of the exchange, and self-nodded in agreement.    

Shifting her satchel from her hip she fumbled in her pockets and pulled out a set of house keys. Dangling on its chain were two small flags one Puerto Rican and the other Dominican. The Dominican flag was for her mother. Opening the door the house was quiet and empty.  Her dad’s new position at the hospital kept him busy so he was hardly home. She didn’t mind it much she like having the house to herself. Directly to her left on a small end table was a shrine to her mother. A photo of her in uniform sat between two Virgin Mary figurines, a box of medals and wedding ring.  Royce paused a few steps in and took the time to slowly ingest his surroundings.  As he turned, he noticed the shrine on the end table. He took a moment a paid proper respect, and as he looked at the photo a few questions came to mind. He wondered about her mother’s ethnicity Claudia’s last name was Ramirez but her mother looked black, as he turned he saw a hint of sadness flash, so he decided to hold that question for later. Instead he asked about the shrine, and want happen to her mother. 

“Some bad happened at work I really don’t want to talk about it right now,” Claudia lamented. “There’s a lot of work that need done, you know.”    
“Gotcha,” said Royce as he eyed the living room. “What time does your dad gets home?”
Claudia shrugged, “You don’t have to worry. He gets home late.”
Knowing that they had the free reign over the house made working easier  they both sat on the floor and hashed out a plan. They unpacked all her books and laid them all out on the tan living room carpet. She took her usual spot on the living room floor. There they organized her work by course and due date.  After a few minutes Claudia stood too her feet to get a better view of her work load.      
She placed her hands on her hips and shook her head, “Damn!” she groaned as she looked at the multitudes of folders covering nearly the entire floor.          
“Told you that was a lot of work,” said Royce. “Okay, I’ll handle your reports. I remember all of mines  you can change some stuff.”
“Awesome, cause I hate reports,” said Claudia. “I’ll focus on Chem and my history worksheets.”    
About two hours later.
“Study break,” Claudia inquired as she stood to her feet. Royce stood to his feet, and stretched as Claudia disappeared. She made her way upstairs, and in her large walk-in closet above all her expensive shoe was a large black pouch.  Claudia grabbed it from the top shelf. Then she turned, and bent down. In a draw below her shoes as a small wooden box  in it was a half-ounce of blue-berry kush. A few minutes later Claudia strolled down stairs, and into the living room. They took a comfortable seat on the floor.


Claudia unwrapped the glass bong, “Have you ever smoked out of one of these?”   
Royce shook his head, “Is that bong? That’s some white boy shit?”  
“Welcome to the other side, white boy” said Claudia. “We get high and high grades over here.”
Claudia loaded the bowl, and hit first then she passed it to Royce. He was new to the whole thing, Claudia smiled, and lit the buds.  Royce inhaled Claudia cautioned him.
“Slow and easy.”
Within minutes, Royce was the highest he had ever been in his entire life. His head was full of haze, “Claudia, I don’t like being this high...” Royce chuckled. “I can’t feel my face.”         
“You took too big of a hit,” cautioned Claudia. “Give it a minute to settle.”
Royce scooted  back  and rest against the sofa base. He tilted his head and rubbed his face with his palms. After a few minutes his high came back down.
“Okay, I feel more like me,” said Royce. “You wanna finish the rest of these worksheets?” 
“Yeah,” said Claudia. 
Before they knew it was a few minute till ten when they called it a night. With his help she carved a major piece out her work load.
“I can’t believe how much we got done,” said Claudia. “Thank you Royce.”
“Don’t sweat it,” said Royce. “After the reports Math and Science were cake, you know.”   
Claudia smiled, “I mean it. No one has every helped me out before. I’m usually helping other people.”       
“Well, I know how it is…You know,” said Royce but before he could finish he was interrupted by a hug.
Claudia had caught him off guard. He didn’t want to do or where to put his hands. So he just let them dangle at his side, and smiled. After the brief embrace they parted, and exchanged an awkward chuckled.
“So again tomorrow?” Royce asked.  
“Yeah, but maybe less work,” said Claire.
“And maybe no bong?” questioned Royce as he slowly back out the door.
“Yeah…Maybe.”

The next school day was more of the same. Claudia blurred through her coursework to have less to do at home. At lunch they sat together, and dove into more personal conversation. Claudia asked about his mother. Then the conversation moved to his father, and he gave her the usual spill about him being adopted, and his mother fiancé  bailing before the process was complete.
“I don’t know what I would do without my dad?” Claudia queried.   
Royce fiddled with the food on his tray, “Well, the Shynes have been cool about things, so I haven’t missed much. We all are like family.”
“Family?” Claudia questioned somberly not knowing how she would fit in.  
After lunch the day went by rather quickly.  Unlike the day before Claudia opted for the ride home instead calling her driver. Lauren with a big cheesy smile did the expected embarrassing mother thing, and asked questions- lots of question. Claudia waded through the polite interrogation as Royce sat in the passenger seat and ran interference as best he could. A short ride later, they had reach Claudia’s home.
They quickly got out the car exhaling a relieved sigh they both scurried through the gate.
“Okay, sweetheart,” Lauren replied. “ Don’t study too hard. Y’all remember to take breaks, now.” 
“Yes ma’am,” they said in unison.

The study session was more about learning about themselves than  studying. He even convinced her to give the bong a break. In between math, and reports they talked family, and friends. Royce disclosed his trials, and the run-ins he and Georgia  had.  Claudia reminisced about her mother, and her travels to the Dominican Republic. When everything was said and done they had knocked out another large chunk of her workload, and became even closer friends.

                                               


***

The next morning was a peaceful one for the Shynes. Claire always woke well before dawn; as a working mother, she rarely slept in. Her husband, on the other hand, was fast asleep. He loathed mornings as a writer the night was his muse, it was considered odd if he slept before dawn. Claire understood that so he let him sleep. After her shower, she wore a long black skirt, with a matching belt and stockings, with a white collared shirt. Her black briefcase was by the desk, where she left it the day before. Amari woke at 6am, not because he needed to, but because his wife appreciated the extra help in the mornings. Yawning and sleep filled he continued down the hall passing by the stair way.  Georgia’s room resided on the far northern end. Like him, his son was notoriously difficult in the mornings. Their routine usually ended with Georgia getting pulled out of bed by his ankles.  Wiping the sleep from his eyes Amari knocked on the door, and as expected− silence.  He opened the door and poked his head in but to his surprised Georgia’s bed was freshly made.  
Amari lurched in the shock swept the sleep away, “Georgia?” he queried.     
Seconds later, Georgia strolled out of his personal bathroom showered and fully clothed wearing jeans, a collared shirt, and sneakers.
“What’s up dad? Humpday !” Georgia enthused.  “Mom finished breakfast yet?” 
Amari paused and replied drowsily, “I don’t even know?”    
Georgia sprightly replied, “I’ll go check.”

He rushed downstairs to the kitchen. The scents of hot blueberries, and warm butter wafted through the air pleasuring his senses. Claire was nearly finished cooking; during the week breakfast was quick and light. It consisted of homemade waffles, omelets, and juice. She glanced over her shoulder just as Georgia scampered in bright eyed with hunger in his smile.

Claire smiled knowing her son’s intentions, “Someone’s up early.”
Georgia responded with a smile as he grabbed some plates and set the table, “Yes ma’am. I’m ready for school. Get this day over with.”           
Not far behind Amari strolled in comfortably dressed in jeans and t-shirt. “I see someone’s trying to get to that birthday party.”
Georgia tried to hide his attention behind pretentious calm, “It’s just a party. I’m just ready to get back to school. I’m tired of being home.”

Amari smirked as he quietly approached his wife from behind. He covertly groped her ample bottom as he wrapped his arms around her, and whispered a sweet nothing in her ear. Claire responded with a suggestive smile. Georgia eyed his parents’ sentimental moment a retorted with a groan.
Amari chuckled, “Whatcha groaning for how’d ya think you got here?”        
“Ew, I don’t wanna know all that!”

Amari chuckled again; as the tender moment faded, he opened the overhead cherry wood cabinet, and pulled out two green and white glasses. Claire rarely ate breakfast at home; she really liked to be at school early. As a professor the empty classroom allowed her time to think and prepare before her students arrived. So as always, she grabbed her satchel and left around a quarter till seven, leaving them to their own devices. Shortly after Amari and Georgia finished off their breakfast. Much like the stay at home parent he had grown to be, he filed Georgia into his black Montè Carlo, and trotted him off to school. The drive was abnormally quiet. Usually it was filled with the normal male chatter about school and girls, but both of their thoughts were elsewhere. Georgia rested with his back against the seat, and gazed idly out the passenger side window. He thought about the party, school, and their talk from the day before as lush forest thickets and farmland passed by in rhythmic monotony. Amari also thought about the past day. He was comfortable with the idea of a normal son, but there was a side of him that didn’t want him to be. The universe was grand place and though his connection was muted his memories were not.

A smile graced his face as he reminisced about centuries passed. Images of lazy philosophy filled afternoons with wise old ash trees.  Picnics on lush grassland with winged maidens adorn with feathers of indigo, and gold. The morning sun beaming through the windshield served his recall as the hints of sky blue allowed his mind to drift over the barriers he had ascended. That smile slowly faded as his thoughts drifted to the adoptive sister he left behind.  Mia was just child then lively bopping through the mansion court yard in her lavender sun dress.  A crown of roses dressed her two braided pig tales their rose tints highlighted the rufescent hues in her warm sienna skin. Her youthful innocence nearly routed his sadness as visions of her diminutive self climbing upon their father’s wicker throne made him to chuckle.             

“Do you think mother will come to my coronation?” she asked.
“Of course, she wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“Good, cause I’m going to be the bestest queen ever.”

Amari felt the tears well, but he refused to let them fall.  His choice had been made and though it left a scar upon his soul he refused let it show. Beside there was nothing anyone could do. It was his reality to face… alone. It wasn’t long before that black Montè Carlo puttered its way into the high school parking lot. Georgia exhaled  as he gazed up the school’s main entrance sign. Vice Principal Adams was in her usual mode channeling the throng of parents to the student drop off area.  Crabass stood at usual station  pointing out dress code infractions. As his father parked the car, Georgia gathered his things as he peered out his window. The parking lot teemed with student life. Georgia sighed loudly, which caused Amari to glance back.

“What’s going on?” asked Amari.
Georgia had spotted Jamie, the boy he had punched days before; he was in a group of five eyeing the masses trying to weed him out.
“Nothing, I got it,” replied Georgia.
Amari sensed something awry; he knew that was guy code for something you don’t want to deal with, but have to.

His eyes waded through the crowd, and he noticed a suspicious group standing by a far entrance.                                                                                                                
“Listen son, don’t worry about them go to your class,” said Amari.                               

“I’m not going to say anything to’em,” said Georgia as he opened the passenger car door.
 “You got your cell on you?” Amari asked. “I might have a meeting this afternoon. I’ll call you around lunch.”      
“Yeah.”                                                                                                          

 “What?” Amari tested.                                                                                               

Georgia quickly corrected his reply, “Yes, Sir. It’s in my bag.”                                  

“Alright then.”                                                                                                       


As he stood beside the car he briefly thought about making a break for one of the side entrances, but his pride over-ruled his brain. He wasn’t a runner, beside his father was there. He wanted to seem strong in his eyes. Exhaling deeply, he expelled the nervousness from his being, and gingerly walked towards the group of young hoods.  His surroundings slowed to crawl, honestly, he wasn’t looking for confrontation. But he thought they saw him, and he couldn’t be seen heading for the side door. He couldn’t afford to allude to any signs of weakness.

 Unbeknownst to Georgia, Royce and his mother had just pulled up.  Royce gazed out the window and exhaled. His breathe fogged up the window, and he wiped it away with is hands.   Even though it was a day before his party his thoughts were elsewhere. Georgia was finally back, and he knew the regular headaches would be out for him. And as his friend he had to keep him out trouble, especially today. Scanning through the masses he spotted Principal Crabass eying Georgia as he headed towards trouble. He looked on, his posture stiffen as a sinister smirked graced his harden face. 


“Damn!” Royce thought as he darted out of the car.             

“I’ll pick you up after school!” Lauren yelled, but Royce was already gone.

Royce wasn’t sure why, but he knew the Principal had it out for him, and he   needed his best friend at his birthday party. So come hell or high water, he was going to get him there.  A red freckled blur raced across the campus. In a single fluid motion, he took his shoulder hung back pack, and placed both arm through its straps securing it to his back.

Meanwhile, Amari watched him from the hood of his car, “ Hmm, he’s  fast”, he thought  with a smile. “They don’t make friends like that anymore.”
As Georgia neared the crowd of agitators, he caught sight of Royce out of his peripheral, but it was too late. Before he uttered a word, Royce grabbed and pushed him towards the nearest side entrance.
“Damn, man let me go!” Georgia yelled as Royce tugged at his shirt. 
Royce grabbed Georgia and turned him towards Crabass, “Dude, look!”
 Crabass grunted in disbelief.  
Georgia exhaled a relieved sigh, “ Thanks dude...”
“You  know Crab has it out for us, man. Why even walk over there?”
“I just wanted them to see me. To know I’m back.”   
“No,” Royce stated with emphasis as he pulled open the heavy steel door and pushed Georgia in. “I cannot… Not have my best friend at my party!”  

As Georgia vanished inside Crabass caught sight of Amari and they trade glances fit for mortal enemies.     
“Fuck you,” Amari mouthed as he sensed his condemnation from afar. Oh how he longed to use magic he knew a couple great curses he was eager to test out.
Inside Royce and Georgia’s voice echoed off the hallway walls. Behind them was a stairwell  they paused in the cove.
“I wasn’t going to do anything.”
 “Do you know who you talking to? I know you, man,” Royce asserted. “In about five minutes we all would’ve been suspended.”                                        

Georgia chuckled, “We?”
“Yeah, we. I got your back. You know that.” 
“Yeah, you do. I’m just messing witcha’,” Georgia said as they headed down the hallway. “So, what happen while I was out?”

“Oh, you talking about Jamie? Nothing actually,” said Royce. “He kinda kept to himself that bop you gave him had his whole face swoll up.”                                                 

Georgia snickered, “No, really?”
“Yup, you had ol’ boy walking around here lookin’ like Quasimodo,” Royce joked.

Georgia snickered.

“Oh, yeah did you get that Science homework done?”

“Yeah, why you need it?” Georgia questioned with a pause. “Wait…You’re not doing somebody else’s are you?”                                                                                       
Royce paused he contemplating lying, but he told the truth instead, “Claudia needed some help. She got a C and was worried about her seat in the placement program.”     
“So she’s really worried about that?” queried Georgia. “Well, if y’all aren’t caught up I’ll help too.”            

After a few minutes they eventually made to the make-shift classroom. Lassetter’s classroom door was open, but he was away getting his morning coffee. They were early but Claudia was already there. She wore a flora sundress and yellow cardigan. Her curly hair sat like a crown upon her head. Royce slowly walked to his desk as he sat down, Claudia glanced over at him and smiled. Royce  replied with a quick subtle smile.
Georgia sat back eyeing there silent exchange and sighed, “Dude just tell her,” he thought as he stealthily passed Royce his copy of yesterday chemistry homework over his shoulder.
“Thank ya, thank ya,” Royce replied.
“Just don’t get caught with it.”
Royce took book and binder out of his backpack, “Have we ever?” he queried.
As Royce slid the paper in-between the blinder’s folds, and began to copy away. Georgia waved him off and began to respectfully beckon Claudia’s attention.
“Hey…” stated Georgia.
Claudia turned, “What’s up?”
“Royce said he needed help catching up?” Georgia asked. “If you need me I’m down.”
“Really?”
“ Yeah, we people, right?” Georgia questioned with a smile.

Suddenly, Royce and Georgia caught the image of someone out of their peripheral. A tall slender fellow, with curly brown hair strolled into the classroom. His glasses sat low on his face, as he slipped from his, ‘World best teacher’ coffee mug. The  trio’s attention turned towards the door.

 Lassetter spoke at Georgia, “Nice to see someone is back,” he said. “I hope you got ‘whatever that was’ out your system.”                                  
Georgia shook off his agitation as he head back to his desk. “Oh, yes, Sir… I won’t get into any more trouble.”
Lassetter smirked, “Right… and you Mr. Goodling give Georgia back his homework, before I confiscate it.”
Royce’s and Georgia eyes widen in disbelief.  For the life of them they couldn’t figure out how he knew. 
Lassetter sat his desk and propped his large satchel on its top. “You are my students. Come now, you don’t think I know how you two operate?”

Royce gave Georgia a blank piece of paper and kept copying away.
Lassetter pointed and spoke at Claudia. “Miss Ramirez. I need you come up here for a second.”

As she strolled up to his desk Royce watched as her body blocked his view.  Moments later, the rest of the students began to file in. After everyone settled Lassetter called roll, and checked attendance. The morning bell rang shortly after, and he gave everyone well wishes on their way out the door.  Georgia and Royce paused outside the door and waited  on Claudia.
“What did he say,” they both asked in unison.
“He told me I’m 5 points behind some girl in Iowa right, but if I keep up the extra credit. I should catch her. ”

“5 points that’s all  you got that easy,” said Royce.
“Really, I mean five points that’s still some work,” said Claudia. “She’s not going to stop either.”
“Nobody is taking your spot believe it!” proclaimed Georgia. “About time we’re done she’ll be crying in the car cause her grades ain’t good enough.”                       
“Georgia!” Claudia chuckled in gleeful awe. “Savage.”
“Fuck that bitch!” Royce cosigned. “Can’t fuck with the team! 
“Really you too,” Claudia laughed.    
“Believe it,” said Royce as he felt his heart  beat through his chest. “Oh yeah, there’s something I want to ask…”                                                                                                                                       

“Yeah…,” said Claudia with a smile.

“Will you come to my birthday party this weekend?” asked Royce. “It…It’s nothing big just pizza, and video games.”

“Of course, I will be there,” said Claudia. “Why wouldn’t I?”

Royce paused, “No reason…” he stammered. “I just thought you might have something going on.”             
“If I did I would cancel those.”

It wasn’t long before the bell rang signaling the next class.  During their break the outside teamed with adolescent bodies dawdling towards the break area. Royce headed towards his locker to put some books away.  Claudia stood beside him with her backpack on the floor.
 Georgia pulled up beside her, “I got question? Can we talk for a sec?”
They had about five minutes  before the Vice Principal started ushering students along. 

“Question about what?”
“This whole college placement thing,” said Georgia. “Why? I mean you’re rich. You can go to any college.”
“It’s not about the money,” said Claudia. “I don’t want to buy my way through life. Plus my  mom and dad went to Brown I just want to be sure I get in.” 
Georgia nodded in respect, “You know when I first met you I was bit iffy, but now I see you’re really quite awesome. I have to say.”
“Aww…”
“Ew!” retorted Georgia.
“Okay, my questioned. “Why aren’t you and Royce in the program.”
“Cause we decided not to burn ourselves out. I mean why bother?” queried Georgia. “We both got perfect SAT scores. I’m black and from the hood I can pretty much bullshit my through the perfect essay. And Royce’s life was harder than mine. Hell, he was homeless for almost a year. Colleges are already lining up to give   us full rides.”           
“So you’re probably thinking what I’m doing is stupid, huh?”
“No, my dad said we all have our path. There is no set right or wrong way to traverse this life. We just have to walk it and see where it goes.”                                               

Just then Vice Principal Adam strolled from around a corner and ushered everyone on to class.
You might think that since Georgia’s father writes for a living that English would be his favorite that’s sort of true, but he adores history especially the way Ms. Lawson taught it.  Her teaching methods were seen as controversial, as she often provoked the ire of some conservative parents.  She had been fired twice only to be reinstated weeks later due to petitions, and letter writing campaigns from past and present students-including Claire Shyne.  She greeted them at the door like she always had. They walked in Georgia immediately turned his attention towards the board for her daily quote, which read ‘History doesn’t forget king or heroes, only the silent martyrs.’

“Silent martyrs…Okay?” said Georgia as he turned and headed towards his desk.
Soon after they all settled Ms. Lawson closed the door and began.  She stood in the center of the class, her posture was poise an exuded command; her eyes showed a subtle gentleness.
“Okay class…” said Mrs. Lawson.

A hard knock at the door interpreted her. Standing outside was Principal Crabass and four other students. In their arms were several large brown taped boxes.
Valerie looked at him with a rather befuddled expression. “David I wasn’t expecting you. What is going on?”

Crabass and his entourage filed in and placed the boxes on the floors. “These are new text books,” he said with a smile. “They were just approved yesterday.”

Valerie was shocked, “No one told me of such a thing. In my deal with school board I have to be informed about changes in the curriculum.”

“Yes you did…With the old administration,” Crabass retorted. “Enjoy your day.”

Without uttering another word Crabass left the room before Valerie could reply he slammed the door with authority. Valerie looked over the class all eyes were fixated on her.  Valerie sighed, and shook her head, “So let’s see what’s in these text books shall we?” she queried  as she strolled behind her desk and pulled out a pair of orange handled scissors.


She used its blade to cut the taped on boxes. In them were twenty shiny new books titled , For the People, by Leeam S. Hosso.  Valerie took a book and sat it on her desk. She proceeded  to give it a quick scan through, and as she flipped through it fresh stiff pages she became increasing frustrated.  It pages were lined with historical gentrification, concepts of American exceptionalism and religious propaganda.  Valerie sighed as she closed the book, and gripped its bounds firmly in her hands. Truth be told she wanted scream, but held it in as every expletive in the English language cycled in her mind.  She had been fighting for truth and reason for a long time. Ushering in small changes to the curriculum for years, but now she was tired…Tired of all the bureaucratic nonsense and the stupidity the often accompanied closed mind parents. Georgia like the rest of the students could see the frustration written across her face. They all sensed she was about to be fired again.


“Is everything okay, Mrs. Lawson?” asked Georgia.

Valerie placed the book down and smiled, “Yes everything is fine, but I won’t issue out these text books today.”                                                                                       
She stood up in front of her desk. “Since we were interrupted we will use the reminder of our time have a little discussion,” Valerie said.

Royce raised his hands, “About martyrs?”

“That was my plan, but my process was polluted. So I will be discussing you all.”

“O-kay,” stated Royce.

“When I look around this room all I see is untethered potential,” said Valerie. “That’s why the truth is so important… Y’all deserve nothing less.”

“Ms. Lawson why does it sound like you’re leaving?” queried an Indian girl with pigtails.

Georgia stood up, “Wait you can’t leave. I don’t want another teacher sitting at that desk.” he declared. “Not gonna to happen.”                                                                     

“Yeah!” exclaimed one male student.
Georgia took a seat.

“We  love you Mrs. Lawson!” exclaimed a female student.
Valerie chuckled as she held back her tears, “I’ve been teaching for almost 45 years, Georgia.  I’ve even taught some of your parents,” she said. “Don’t you think it’s time for me to retire?”

“No,” Georgia replied.

Valerie exhaled a sighing chuckling, “I love y’all too,” she said. “But I’ve learned something in all my years. Something you have to know when it’s time to stop fighting. Especially, since I’ve already won.”

Before Georgia could ask why the bell rang signaling their lunch rotation, and as the students gathered their things Valerie left them with one final quote.

“Remember sweet hearts…”

All the students stopped and listened.

“‘All truths are easily  understood once they are discovered. Your mission is to discover them.’”  Valerie quoted. “Never stop searching.”          
They let her words settle in, and  somberly filed out. As the trio walked down the hall Georgia took his cell phone out his backpack, and checked for messages. He remembered his father saying something about a meeting, and sure enough he had one new voicemail.  The halls teemed with hungry teens as idle chatter echoed off the walls.      
Royce saw him glancing at his phone, “Ya  pops got a meeting?”
Claudia looked on and listened.
 “Yeah.”
“So you riding home with me or catching the bus?”

 Students rushed by hurrying for a place in line.
Georgia thought for a moment, playing Madden over Royce’s house did seem like a good idea. But he remembered that Lauren was probably still buying decorations for the party, and she would insist on them going shopping-and he hated shopping.


“Nah, ya mom’s probably still decorating for the party?” Georgia replied.

Royce paused for an instant as he and Georgia spoke in unison, “Ugh shopping!”

Claudia being ever so much the girl interjected, “What’s wrong with shopping?”
Georgia and Royce gazed at Claudia like she was some newly discovered creature.                  

 Royce stopped in his stead; his pale face turned muted white.  He remembered that he didn’t tell his mother that there would be a third person coming to the party… especially a girl.  He knew she would over react; she damn near blew a happy gasket when Georgia visited for the first time.                

“What’s wrong Royce you look sick?” asked Claudia.                                           

Royce turned to Claudia, “I didn’t tell my mom you would be coming to the party.”               

“And that’s an issue…why?”

Georgia began to laugh, “You didn’t tell your mom you were bringing your girlfriend to the party?”        

Royce eyes widened, his knees started to buckle.

Claudia’s jaw nearly dropped to the floor, “Girlfriend…I’m not….Wait… What Royce?”

Royce snapped out his comatose state, “She’s not my girlfriend…Dude come on!”              
Georgia chuckled, “Well, your mom is going to think so.”

“Oh, no!” Royce exclaimed.                                                                                               

“Oh, yes…This is going to be funny. Now, I have to go to your house.”

 
Claudia remained silent, but her eyes begged Royce for a resolution. Royce looked at her, he saw the panic in her eyes, and he knew he had to find a way to fix it if he wanted her at the party. They all exhaled an anxious sigh as they entered the cafeteria dual wooden doors. Neither of them was hungry so they routinely opted for the salad bar. As they round the buffet island Georgia glanced over at Royce. 
“So do she know the deal?” asked Georgia.                                                   

Claudia interjected, “About Jamie,  yeah I know.”
Georgia brow crinkled he wasn’t too keen on her butting in, but he let it go.
“I caught her up while you were out,” said Royce.

Royce glanced over his shoulder.  “G. A look, it’s Jamie and his assholes.”

Georgia replied nonchalantly, “I know I see’em.”

“How long has this been going on?” asked Claudia.

Royce replied, “Since we got here.”

“Wow, what exactly happen that day you got…Well you know?” asked Claudia.

“Some bullshit,” said Georgia.            

“Yup” replied Royce.

Claudia’s brow furrowed, “That still doesn’t explain what happen. If I’m going to be friends with you guys, you gotta keep me in the loop.”

Georgia looked at her and shrugged, “Well, okay whatever.”

 “I’ll tell you at the table,” Royce assured.

They made their way down the aisle passing directly by Jamie’s table. Nobody said a word; Jamie just glared as they passed. Georgia and Royce sat at the same table every day.  Claudia sat by Royce of course she knew nothing of their strategy, and for them it became routine, so they thought nothing of it.

“So somebody…” demanded Claudia.
Georgia sighed, “Really… why are you at your table anyway?” he questioned with a chuckle.
Claudia rolled her eyes, and stared through him. Georgia eventually caved.
“Okay, it was like this,” Georgia explained. “It was a day like today. I wasn’t trying to get into any more trouble; then he bumped into me.  So I turned around, right? The only thing I wanted was for him to say was excuse me, but I got the finger instead. ”

Claudia shook her head, “And you couldn’t let that go?”

Georgia smirked. “Um, no!  Besides it was like he wanted me to hit him… So I did.”

Royce giggled he almost squirted juice out his nose.

Claudia looked at him and frowned, “That is not funny. You boys and your ego, I had friends like you in Chi…”

Claudia went silent oblivious to her mood Royce pressed on.

“Chicago… You don’t talk much about it,” Royce stated.


Claudia silence slowly turned to sadness, and it showed. It was so clear that Georgia and Royce couldn’t help but see.  Like them, she too had a story.  After her mom died   her job covered it up. Only her father knows the truth. He told her it had something to do with art thieves.  

“Claudia…” said Royce.

“Hey…” said Georgia.

Claudia was lost in thought; Royce continued to try to get her attention. After several attempts, he resorted to a less mature method. He took his juice straw, and blew air in her ear. As immature as it was, it worked the minor annoyance snapped her out of her mood.
Claudia tried to flick the irritation from her ear, “Ew! My ear is wet. Why did you do that?” 
“You zoned out for a second there,” said Royce.

Georgia leaned forward, “Was that because of Chicago?” he asked somewhat concerned.

Claudia went silent for a moment, “Yeah.”

Georgia saw the pain return, he tapped the table with his finger and got Royce’s attention, “Dude we aren’t mentioning Chicago anymore.

“Yeah.”

Claudia looked at them and smiled, “Georgia you’re being nice to me now?”

“Well, a little.”

Claudia continued to smile, “It’s cool… I’ll talk about it… But there is something I have to do first.”

Claudia stood up from the table, and turn around. Georgia and Royce were confused as they watched her walk away.

Royce looked at Georgia, “Wait, where is she going?”

With a focused poise she strolled down that aisle, and headed towards the center of the cafeteria.

“Oh no…,” grumble Georgia “is she going…?”

Claudia headed straight for Jamie’s table.

“G. A what are we going to do, man?” Royce implored. “We can’t let her go solo.”

“If your girlfriend wanted us to go she would’ve said something.”

“Dude, she’s not…,” said Royce. “Girls just do  stuff  they don’t think about consequences, man!”                                                                                                                                               

Georgia thought about his statement, and moved to Royce’s side of the table.

“Oh… Okay, let just stay back and watch for a moment,” said Georgia. “If they  breathe wrong-”

“We whoop they ass!” Royce interjected as he unbuttoned his button down.

Georgia looked at Royce and chuckled, “You’ve been hanging around me too long.”

“I’m not messing up my school shirt.”

“Good idea,” said Georgia  as he pulled his collared shirt over his head.

 

Claudia paused halfway and turned around. Georgia and Royce stood from their seats looking over her.  She knew they would be watching, and gave them an assuring wave. It didn’t ease them they were still prepared to fight. Her heartbeat pounded as he neared the table. She exhaled a calming breath as focused on her purpose. She wanted to end any further conflict before it got too out of hand.  As Claudia neared the table one of Jamie’s friends pointed at her, causing him to turn around. Claudia paused about an arm length away. Jamie gave her a bothered yet curious glare.

“You’re Jamie right?” asked Claudia

“Yeah, whatcha want?”

“You’re that new chick… Um, what’s her name?” another cohort uttered from the background.

Jamie waved them off, signaling them to be quiet as he pondered her name. For Royce and Georgia the clamor of the cafeteria became quiet as their focused tunneled on Claudia and Jamie.

“…Claudia right, I heard your name around,” state Jamie “Why you hanging around lame and lamer?”

Everyone at the table chuckled.

“They’re my friends.”

“ Friends,” Jamie snickered, “ you picked the wrong set!”

Claudia sighed, “I don’t think so but I just don’t want to see anyone get in trouble,” she stated. “I just want it to be over.”

Jamie sighed then smirked, “Want it to be over? Did Georgia send you over here?”

“I knew ol’boy was a bitch yo,” said another cohort, “had to send  ole girl over and shit.”

Claudia’s eyes swept  the table, “I think y’all know Georgia is anything but that,” she defended.  “With that said, I came over here myself. I think it would best for everyone if we all just move on.”                                                                                                                        

At the same time, Georgia and Royce were in the midst of a conversation as well.  

“Dude, I wonder what she’s saying?” Royce queried.

“I don’t know, but I’m not apologizing for a damn thing,” Georgia declared.                       

Jamie’s and Claudia’s conversation continued. The memory of the assault in the bathroom was still fresh.                                                                                                  
Jamie pointed to his blackened eye, “Look at what he did to my eye. I had to explain this to grandma,” he expounded. “Don’t you know how embarrassing this is? I mean damn, everybody asking me about it?”                                            

“I’m sorry, but he got in trouble for that, and you didn’t. I’ve seen you around,” Claudia retorted. “I know the Principal’s probably watching you too. That’s why Georgia is trying to chill.”  

Back at their table Georgia and Royce chatted amongst themselves.

“Man, I hate this,” said Royce.

“I know, right!” Georgia replied. “Look at his boys over there laughing  like this shit funny. ”

Royce sucked his teeth, “Ain’t  a goddamn thing. Boi they just don’t know.”

Jamie thought about Claudia’s statement, and the Principal’s warning. Expulsion was on the table, and he couldn’t risk that. His grandmother didn’t have the money for him to go to school in a different county.              

“Well, if Georgia really wants this to be over tell him to talk me himself,” said Jamie.

“Okay…I’ll talk to him,” said Claudia as she turned around.

She waved Georgia over Royce started to follow, but she stopped him and wave him off.  As Georgia neared she meant him halfway.

“What’s going on?” asked Georgia.

“He wants talk to you.”

“Talk to me about what? I’m not apologizing,” said Georgia.

“It’s more than that Georgia.”

Georgia grumbled, “You don’t how many assholes like him I had to fight just to get them to leave me alone.”

Claudia grabbed Georgia by the hand, and looked him the eyes. Her somber doe-eyed stare pierced right through him, “Look you’re right I don’t know. But I had a friend just like you…And-”     

Georgia saw the grief return, but there was something different this time a glimmer of promise. Royce continued to watch from the background. He hated being out of the loop and started to fidget. The ambient chatter of students resonated around them. They were too engulfed in their own conversation to notice what was going on in Georgia section of the world.

“This is about Chicago isn’t it?”

“Yeah, maybe just a little. You’re my friend right?”

“Uh, yeah I guess so.”

“So as my friend can you do this for me? Can you end this please?” Claudia asked while forcing down a smile.

Georgia looked at her, “Don’t look at me like that. You really want me to do this, huh?

“Yes, I do.”

“Okay… I’ll do it.”

“Thank you Georgia,” Claudia said and smiled. “Want me to go with you?”

“No, I got it,” said Georgia.


Claudia glanced over her shoulder and noticed the rather frustrated look on Royce’s face. She returned to their table and filled him in on the finer details as Georgia made his way to Jamie’s table. Georgia paused and turned around shaking his head admonishing the task before him then he continued on.

“I can’t believe you actually got him to do it,” said Royce.

“Me either,” said Claudia. “I thought I knew guys like him but I don’t. There is something different about him can’t you feel it.”    
“Well, he does have his own way of doing things,” said Royce.                                    

Once again one of Jamie’s friends pointed at him to turn around. Georgia stood an arm length away.

“You know, I didn’t think you would come over,” said Jamie.

“Yeah, I’m going to make this short. I’m not trying to get in anymore trouble. Can this be over?” asked Georgia.    

“What you’re not even going to apologize for punching me in my eye?”

Without pause or blinking Georgia replied with a smile, “Hell no, you know that’s not who I am. But like I said, I’m not trying to get in anymore trouble are you cool with that?”

Jamie glanced over his table of allies, they all were silent.  “Yeah, I’m cool with that,” said Jamie.

Georgia slowly back away careful to not turn his back until he was several steps away. While he faded into the distance Jamie conversed amongst his friend.  

“Dude, you just gonna let that side?” said one friend

Jamie replied, “Yup, I’m glad he came over too. Remember what happened the last time I got suspended? My grandma would kill me.”


After lunch the remainder of the day went smoothly for the trio. Time trickled away and soon the final bell rang signaling the end of the day. As the hallways teemed with students anxious to get home and start their weekend the elated trio met by the lockers. 


“I’m so glad this day is over,” said Georgia.
“I can’t wait for this party tomorrow,” said Claudia. “Did you tell your folks was coming
Royce eyes sunk low, his skin turn pale shade of green, “Oh…..”

Claudia looked at Royce his sudden sicken expression worried her. “Royce what’s wrong?”

Georgia looked at him and started to chuckle, “You haven’t told your mom about her have you?”

Claudia was confused she didn’t understand what the problem was. “So just tell her when she comes to pick you up.”

“Pick me up, oh no…”

Georgia looked Claudia all the while trying to hold back laughter. “

Our parties usually consist of us two eating pizza, and playing PlayStation on surround sound really loud,” Georgia explained. “Now, there’s you and Ms. Gooding doesn’t know…This is going to be funny.”
“I still don’t see what the problem is?” questioned Claudia.
The color slowly returned to Royce’s face, as he recovered. “My mom is the problem,” said Royce. “She makes a big deal about everything. It’s so embarrassing.”
“Remember our first sleep over when she hired an event planner?” Georgia queried.
Royce exhaled a sighing chuckle, “Yeah, it even made the morning paper.”
“No way…Really?”
“Yes, really,” said Royce. “So do you still wanna come?”
“Of course, we’re friends aren’t we?” questioned Claire.
“Yup we are,” said Georgia. “Now let’s go get this over with already. Your mom’s probably waiting.”
Georgia was right Royce’s mother was already waiting.                                                         

Royce paused causing everyone else to stop too, “Georgia you gotta ride with me, folk. Don’t let me face this alone.”                                                                                                           

Claudia looked at them and shook her head.

“I got ya, fam,” said Georgia as they continued on.                                                    

As they approached the red minivan Lauren poked her head out the driver side window, “Hey y’all who’s your little friend!”  She yelled.               
Georgia remained quite as Claudia nudged Royce with her elbow.

Royce stepped forward and stammered “…Oh, mom this is Claudia I invited her to my party.”

Lauren eyes widen her mouth gapped open. She was giddy with excitement. “Oh, my, my and me without my camera!” Lauren exclaimed. “Y’all need a ride?”

Claudia looked to Georgia for guidance.
Georgia shrugged, and mumbled, “We might as well. She’s not going to let us say no, anyway.”
With that said they both agreed to the ride, and headed toward. Royce was about to take the front seat when his mom objected.
“Royce be a gentleman, and let your lady friend have the front seat!” Lauren demanded.     

Royce was petrified by the possible implication. But he had little choice, so he let Claudia have the front seat, and seat in the second row with Georgia. Claudia tan tone turned a little pinkish. She knew what was coming next, but she wasn’t ready to answer a barrage of questions. After a long awkward twenty minute ride Georgia was dropped off first. Claudia and Royce continued on alone.