Chapter 17: Keep That Smile on Your Face Shining
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I’m sitting in my bedroom, but it isn’t my normal bedroom. Well, it’s kind of my normal bedroom, but just not anymore. It’s the bedroom that I’ve lived in from the moment I was born, and until I turned nineteen. After that, I moved to a place I could call my own. 

Posters of anime women in nothing but bikinis were the only thing decorating my walls. There was one exception, that exception being a Doom poster. I guess some things never really changed. 

In the corner of the room, a punching bag that had seen some abuse over time leaned against the wall. A piece of tape covered a hole I had created when I got angry and cut it with a pocket knife. I think I still have it, but I don’t think it would bring any good memories seeing it.

What was I doing? Well, I was steadily getting homework done because it was either that or my parents would put me in curfew. If there was one thing I didn’t want to deal with, it was my dad’s rage when I went against his rules. If I had a curfew, I better uphold it or else I’d never hear the end of it.

Sophomore year of highschool had just begun recently, and I was determined to leave that shit storm called freshmen year behind. As soon as I stepped into that building with my friends, it was as if everyone around us changed. The stuff that would make people laugh, get on everyone else’s nerves, or even put the fear of God in them changed. Whereas they moved on, I couldn’t.

That entire year was filled with nothing but failure and fuck-ups one after the next. Now, with a new year, I’ve got plans. I’ve been thinking of a way to make a name for myself in the new year. As I was planning out the big thing, I heard a knock at my door.

I look up from the papers on my desk and stare at my door. It’s probably Henry or James. They usually come around this time. I stand and open the door, expecting a punch to the face or something. Last time, Henry tried just slapping my cheek, but I blocked it and slapped him back. Then he said something along the lines of ‘Protect that pretty face of yours tomorrow.’ At first I thought it was weird that he called me pretty, but then he came out in senior year. Everything slowly pieced itself together after that.

But those two weren’t waiting at the door. Instead, it’s someone, a parasite, that can no longer escape my mind. No, they weren’t a parasite. They were a godlike being that brought life down on me. Parasite, or God. The choice is left up to me to decide. I don’t think I’m ready for that yet.

***

“Boo!” 

I scream and nearly fall off the fence. Before I do, Harmony grabbed onto my shirt and pulled me back on my feet. I turned to see who had startled me, and it turned out to be Karina. Now this. This is a parasite. 

“Sorry, I didn’t mean for that to happen.” Karina apologized.

“Whatever.” I say, brushing off the fear that was slowly seeping into my skin. I could’ve died right then, and there would be no one left to remember me past my generation. Not now for the existential dread, me. “What are you doing here?”

“I just wanted to get to know you two a bit better, so I snuck away. Miranda was all like, ‘Leave those two be’ and I was like ‘But we’re friends, right? They would want to spend time with me.’ Then she was-”

“Sshh.” I shush her and she quiets instantly. I hold my ear out and when there was truly no more talking, I began walking back to the stairs. “Harmony, come on. We’re probably going to be leaving soon.”

“Alright.”

As I walked away, I could hear Harmony and Karina striking up a conversation behind me. Something about what is the best cheese or something. I couldn’t really tell. 

I looked down at the miserable world that was becoming bigger and bigger the more I descended. The world and I looked at each other and we got into a contest. In fact, we’ve been in this contest since the moment I was born, and twenty-four years later, we’re still in a stalemate. 

But, after all this time, it looks like the world is gaining the upper hand. I could hear it mocking me as it created an earthquake on the other side of the world. Over a hundred people died during it. How much more people need to die before I can finally prove my point? 

I stepped onto the main plateau and Larry waves me off. I don’t answer him and walk off. There’s better things to think about.

***

“So that’s why American cheese isn’t American.” Karina said as we neared the main plateau. 

“How did we start talking about cheeses again?” I ask.

Karina shrugged her shoulders. “I rarely pay attention to my line of thoughts since last time I did, I came up with a connection between dogs and the civil war.”

Why did Ty have to walk away so fast? At first, I thought her personality was fun, but she wouldn’t stop talking the entire way down. I tried to return the conversation, but every single time I tried, my voice would be drowned out by hers.  

I still worried for Ty though. His face looked much more depressing than it normally does. Normally, if he went this far down the rabbit hole, he’d take a deep breath and smile. Then proceed to play his games and get angry at the other dude. But at least he wasn’t sad anymore. 

However, this was a far different beast. He’s not leaving those feelings behind like he normally does. He’s sulking in them and dealing with his problems all alone, like he always had to. 

I touched down off the stairs while Karina still talked while trailing behind me. This time, she was talking about a serial killer with a spoon. I had no clue how she got to that from cheese, and so quickly, but she somehow managed. 

Before I could walk away, the guard, Larry, waved me over. I told Karina to go ahead of me and she ran ahead to find Ty who was probably should distracted for the moment.

“What is it?” I ask.

“You saw how Ty looked when coming down?” Larry asks. I nodded, and he sighed. “I remember his last time here. He brought a girl with him. It was the first time he came here without his friends. They stayed up there for like an hour, came back down, and never came back.”

That has to be why he’s down. In an effort to cheer me up, he faced his own demons and lost miserably. There has to be a way I can turn the tide.

“Do you know who the girl was?”

Larry shook his head. “I never got a name. I do remember the basics of what she looked like.”

He didn’t say anything to elaborate on that very important statement. “What did she look like?” I can’t believe I actually had to ask.

“Well, she was a redhead, for one. Also pretty serious for someone her age.”

Wait a second. We have a redhead. That redhead also happens to be old friends with Ty. She also works as a detective, which is a pretty serious job that only a serious and intelligent person could take up. I think I cracked the code.

“Thanks Larry.” Before I walked away, I turned back because there was one question that burned in my mind. “Why does Ty call you Larry, anyway? That sounds like a normal name.”

“Apparently, I look like some sort of cable guy or whatever. They started calling me Larry, and it stuck.”

That’s a weird reason for a nickname, but now’s not really the time for that. I walk away, planning the next couple of minutes. I need to be steps ahead and it would really help if I could read the future. If I could read the future, then who knows how fast I’d be able to accomplish my dreams. 

If I was going to ask Jessica to help Ty, I need to do it right. I don’t just want to blurt out that I was looking for information about them. That would make me seem like a stalker, and I don’t want that. Especially since she’s a detective. Just her being around is making my tail squirm. 

But then how am I supposed to cheer up Ty? It’s not like he’s just somewhat sad. He looks miserable. Me talking to him won’t do anything, but as his friend, I don’t want to see him like that forever. 

As I climbed down the final set of stairs, I came to a decision. I need to take that risk. If anything bad happens to Ty, and it turns out I could have stopped it, it would just eat away at me. If she somehow figures out my identity, I’ll just run, and I’ll keep running. I haven’t stopped running since I got here, so another few miles wouldn’t make a difference.

I took a step on level ground and walked to the table that I saw Jessica and Miranda sitting at. When I saw the table, only Jessica was left there. Miranda had left to do something else, but she had yet to return. Meanwhile, Jessica sat down with a cigarette in hand. Smoke trailed up into the air and vanished into the surrounding scenery.

“How was the sight?” Jessica asks.

“How did you know I was up there?” 

“Where else would Ty take you? He’s not a person who can stand it when someone looks sad.”

“That’s what I’m here about.” I take a seat across from her and look at her. “Did you ever come here with Ty?”

Jessica held the cigarette to her lips and breathed the toxic smoke into her lungs. She lowered it and smoke came bellowing out of her mouth like a dragon that’s about to breathe fire. 

“Once, and I remember that day well.” Jessica looked up at the plateau that hung over the heads of the entire city. “I remember when he invited me up there. He only brought his friends up there, so it was strange that he was inviting me.”

She looked back down and tried to stare at me directly in my eyes. I had to look away, but I didn’t want to be rude, so I kept part of my eyes focused on her. 

“As soon as we got up there, he began bawling his eyes out like crazy. I won’t tell you why, though. That’s for you to find out cause I don’t want to just spout our business. However, I will tell you that was the last time I saw him. At least until a few days ago.”

That story only intrigued me further. There was one thing that I wanted to ask, just to see if my guess was right. 

“Did you two date back then?” I ask.

She shook her head. “No, we were just friends back in the day. We hung out every now and then, but I wasn’t in his inner circle, so he barely gave a crap about me. However, he would give a crap about people when they looked sad. He was an exception in his group just from that alone.”

So he really never changed since back then? He was still the same man that would go around and help people without a smile, no matter how much it hurt him in return. I didn’t know if it was stubbornness or a sense of finality that kept him from changing, but being like that for so long couldn’t be a sign of a healthy person. 

There is still so much more that I need to know about him. I remember the first time I met him. He would stare at me so creepily and was a grade-A dumbass, but when I cried in his arms, at the moment he could take advantage of my desperation and hunger, he wouldn’t allow it. He made sure that I had a smile on my face before anything else. 

I want to return that favor, but Jessica is way too silent about the situation. There has to be a way to find out without asking Ty. But that’s a predicament for another day. For now, I just have to wait.

7