He opened his eyes, and for the first time since he’d moved in found himself unsurprised that his room was empty. It had taken much longer than it should have. At this point, he had been sleeping in here longer than he had been sleeping in the room with the other two. He definitely was happy about that. He had been the one who’d chosen this, after all.
He groaned as he sat up, running a hand through his hair. It felt greasy. He probably needed a shower. He had probably been rolling around and sweating in his bed during the night. Nightmare? It could’ve been a nightmare, though he really didn’t have them in the first place. Things were changing, though. Things were definitely changing, among all the people in the Academy, and all the people in the City. There was no denying it. Anyone who tried to was idiotic. That, or they weren’t aware. And who was so dense that they weren’t able to see something was wrong, especially over the last few weeks? Certainly not anyone who he’d bother spending his time around. Which was— admittedly— most of the people here.
Why was he thinking so much about this stuff, anyway? He had stuff to do that was better than this depressing nonsense. Sessions to attend. Breakfast to eat. Throwing his blanket off himself, he trudged to the bathroom and flicked the light on, examining himself in the mirror. A dried line of drool ran down his chin and boogers encrusted his lower eyelids. He definitely needed a shower. He stripped himself of his pyjamas, stepped into the tub, and turned on the warm stream, letting the water rush over his head and face. Not having to share a bathroom was certainly one of the better perks that came with his decision.
Decisions. He’d made a lot of decisions over the past few weeks. The past few months, really. Some had been better than others. A frown crept up on his face and he struggled to push it away. Surely his decision to do this, to be alone, had been the best out of all of them. Honestly, he didn’t want to think of what he may have done otherwise. Like lash out, like he had done when he’d still had roommates. That event had led to the big blowout they had, which had led to… he shook his head, sending his hair swinging into his eyes. Grabbing the shampoo, he squirted it all over his scalp and scrubbed it around. Yes, it was his lashing out that had ultimately led to all of that. But it wasn’t really his fault, looking at it in the grand scheme of things. That situation had been started by other people, and culminated in him losing his patience over an understandable series of events. It wasn’t fully his fault.
Still, though. As much as he hated to admit it, as much as he didn’t want to, he did kind of regret it. He hadn’t wanted nor expected things to spiral out of control as quickly and suddenly as they had. Maybe he’d have been better off holding his tongue. Everyone else surely would have. As it was now, he had to live with the way things were— with him all alone, ruminating over his past decisions. With the thoughts weighing down on his mind. Knowing that Olive and Kendall probably resented him greatly, and that if he were still here, Peyton probably would, too.
Scout reached over and snapped off the shower flow. He stepped out onto the damp tile floor, wiping his hair out his face. The towel felt rough, almost abrasive as he dried himself off, but he ignored it. What was the point of being sensitive? He wasn’t going to be sensitive. He wasn’t going to be like Peyton, that bumbling dullard. Of all the mysteries in the world, why Kendall and Olive liked him so much had to be one of the bigger. He couldn’t take care of himself, constantly had to be babied. Maybe that was why they liked him so much. Too bad they didn’t even know if he was still alive, anymore. But that was their fault, was it not?
Scout pulled on his uniform and stepped out into the hallway, resisting the urge to yawn. The hallway had very few students in it. They were all sleeping more likely than not, unwilling to wake up until the morning bell forced them to. Well, he would get breakfast while it was still fresh and get to his session before anyone else. And he wouldn’t have to push his way through as many stragglers or trade shallow, vapid small talk with as many of his peers. There was nothing wrong with this situation, really. It was a win-win situation. They got sleep, he got stuff done.
He walked into the elevator, pressed the button to the first floor. Another student was rushing over from the other side of the hall, approaching fast. Scout pressed the button to close the doors. Tilting his head back, he sighed through his nose as the elevator began its descent. Maybe he would grab a sandwich, or an apple or something. Something that wouldn’t hinder his mobility, so he could walk to the Cassidy building as fast as possible. There was no way he was staying in the mess hall to eat. He’d known that since before he’d woken up, and he knew it now as the elevator doors opened and he walked out.
Scout actually had a pep in his step as he approached the double doors that led to the mess hall. Then he walked in for real, and felt it all evaporate in a second. At the other end of the hall, by the food line, there stood two people that he truly, honestly, did not feel like dealing with or even interacting with. Olive and Kendall. They were speaking to two other students, a boy and a girl, that he probably didn’t know the names of. Valen and Harper, or something ridiculous like that. He didn’t care, and he was sure that they didn’t, either. They were probably too busy planning out their grand revolution or whatever it was. Thank goodness he didn’t have to worry about that anymore.
But what was he supposed to do now? Scout glanced at the door, thought better of it, and walked toward the food line. He pointedly avoided looking at the others as he grabbed a peanut butter jelly sandwich, debating on whether or not he could carry a cup of juice all the way up to the higher floors of the Cassidy building without spilling it. He was thinking about swapping said juice for a cup of milk when he felt a pair of eyes burning into the side of his shirt. He turned to look. It was Kendall. They made eye contact for a split second before Scout looked away. He didn’t need anything to drink. He’d be fine. The bread gave under the pressure of his fingers as he walked to the exit. What was he feeling so nervous for?
He tore into his sandwich as he walked down the hallway, keeping his gaze straight ahead so to not make eye contact with anyone else. Already, he could imagine what Kendall and the others were saying about him. There goes Scout. There he goes, still all alone after ratting out on us and making Peyton disappear to who knows where. Curse that Scout. How hadn’t they gotten in trouble for that, anyway? How hadn’t he gotten in trouble for it?
Oh, yes, he knew. They had made it so they wouldn’t get in trouble, through some sort of miracle. He didn’t want to know how they’d went about doing that. Probably had themselves sitting on the official’s shoulders. Whatever. It wasn’t his problem anymore. It should have never been his problem; it had just become so due to some arbitrary circumstances that had made Peyton and Kendall his roommates. But now it wasn’t his problem anymore.
Scout walked out the student center building, through the courtyard, to the Cassidy building. He swallowed the last bite of his sandwich— maybe he should have gotten that glass of milk, after all— and stepped inside, going to the elevator. The morning bell rang just as he got in, but there were still three other students inside despite his earliness. At least they weren’t anyone he knew, this time. He pressed his shoulders against the back of the elevators and put on his best glowering face as one of them pressed the button to the fourth floor. This class he was going to was… ah, yes. Science. The one class that he’d used to have with Peyton. They still hadn’t moved his desk. They probably wouldn’t anytime soon.
The elevator stopped, and the door opened. Scout pushed himself out first, getting into the hallway before the others could. The hallway seemed to stretch on longer than it should have, even as he walked to the classroom. All the seats were empty, including the one to the right of Scout’s. Scout licked his bottom lip, nibbling a piece of dried skin off of it. Then he sat down and waited for the others to come in.
And come in they did. Scout didn’t look away from his desk as the students walked on one by one. He just wanted to get this class over with. He still had language work to finish. And he was pretty sure that it was due tomorrow. He didn’t have time for science. It was more than clear that he wouldn’t be following a career related to it by now. That was, of course, if he and the City even lasted that long for him to graduate.
He didn’t get much time to ruminate over it any longer. Mister Mallory walked in, and the students around him stopped their chatter and whispering. Scout sighed, propping his chin up in his hand. Another boring lesson. Maybe he would just zone out, like he always did. He had more important things to worry about and think about. Like why everyone suddenly seemed tense. He could feel it, even without looking at anyone— and even when he could do it he could see it clear on everyone’s face. Even Mister Mallory seemed tense. Well, that made sense, Scout was pretty sure, but what about the students? Did they know? Surely, if Olive had been spreading the word to others, then at least some of them had to have. He, admittedly, wasn’t quite sure what to think of that.
The lesson droned on and on. Scout could feel his patience slowly slipping away, even when he wasn’t paying attention. Occupying his fingers with a crumb of bread on his desk, he snuck glances at those sitting around him. All of them looked restless, bored, or worried. As restless, bored, and worried as he did. Maybe even more. Sessions in the Academy could be very grating on the nerves, sometimes. Lucky for them that they usually only had one per day. Or maybe that wasn’t much of a good thing. It gave other people too much of a chance to get into trouble.
After what felt like an incomprehensible amount of time, the bell signifying the end of dismissal rang. Scout was among the first to stand, stretching out his legs, arms, and neck as subtly as he could. Already there were students filling the hallway, going downstairs or upstairs or outside or whatever. Scout, in particular, was planning on going straight back to his room as soon as he could. Lunch? Lunch could wait. He wasn’t hungry, though he was thirsty— some of the peanut butter from his sandwich had caked itself onto the roof of his mouth, making it hard to swallow. But that was no big deal. He could always just drink water from the bathroom faucet.
He could still remember when he had to help Peyton get back to the student center. First-year students always tended to be like that— Scout had been a first-year student last year, but still… his point still stood. Surely he hadn’t been as useless as some of the students that walked around this place sometimes. But they would probably grow into their shoes in time, though. Hopefully.
Would Peyton have a chance of doing that, one of these days? Scout still didn’t really know what had happened to Peyton. As far as he knew, nobody did. Scout’s last memory of him had been him saying that he didn’t want to know why Olive and Kendall had been hiding such secrets from him. Scout, of course, had told him anyway, then announced that he wouldn’t be a part of Kendall’s and Olive’s plan for any longer, that he was going to get switched out as soon as possible so he would never have to deal with any of their foolishness again. Could have that played a part in why he had disappeared so suddenly? Scout had been interrogated after he’d requested a new room. He’d kept his head on and didn’t say anything the officials didn’t want to hear, and was therefore set free with nothing much more than a slap on the wrist. Maybe Peyton just hadn’t been able to keep his temper as well as he had. And because of it, he’d paid the consequences. But what was the consequence in the first place?
Scout shook away the thought as he walked to the exit of the classroom. On a whim, he looked back for a split second. Instantly, he felt the hairs on his nape stand on end. By the desk, the teacher— Mister Mallory— he was staring at him. And he didn’t exactly look pleased, either. Scout probably would have asked him what was the problem if a student hadn’t nudged his back, prompting him to go forward. With a grunt, he did. The goosebumps on his arms refused to go away. He shook his head as he walked into the hallway, shouldering past a cluster of students in his way. He just needed some rest. A nap, maybe. And some water.
The courtyard felt thick and muggy as he walked through it. There were too many students. Too many people. Or maybe he was just more rattled than he’d thought he was. He’d never been a people person to begin with, but with the combination of everything that had happened over the past few months… no. He just needed rest. A few hours’ nap would leave him feeling good as new. And if it didn’t, well— who was he trying to please besides himself?
He walked into the student center, used the elevator— there were only two other students in it, thank goodness— and rushed into the hallway once the doors opened to the fourth floor. The inside of his wrist tingled as he put it on the sensor, and the feeling didn’t dissipate even as the door opened up for him. With a sigh, he walked inside and let it slide shut behind him.
The room was empty. Empty, and quiet, too. Scout had never been one to deck out his room with gaudy decorations that he’d end up throwing out a week later, even back when he lived in Rosenvale. But even this felt too… blank for his liking. He scratched the back of his head and frowned. This had never, ever bothered him before. He was making issues where they didn’t exist.
Scout’s bed, still unmade from when he’d woken up that morning, coaxed him to come forward and flop down onto it, and forget all his thoughts. Scout did just that, before his dignity got the better of him and he sat back up. Rubbing his nose with the back of his hand, he looked to the closet. Where he had put his medication, right after he’d moved in. It was still there, to this very day.
Before he could think things through, he had gotten up from the bed and was standing by the ajar closet door. The crumpled paper bag was sitting forgotten on the top shelf. Standing on his tiptoes, he reached up and nudged it off the shelf, letting it fall into his hands. Then he walked back to his bed, unwrapping the top. Two needles were nestled near the bottom, as well as a container of chalky white pills. Were they even good anymore? It’d been so long since he’d last gotten new ones. And yet he hadn’t been penalized for not taking them. He wasn’t even sure if the officials even noticed. He wouldn’t be surprised if they hadn’t, or if they had but just didn’t care. He didn’t know which one would be more concerning.
His pointer and middle fingers twitched a little as he took out one of the needles. It was still green. No discoloration, no cloudiness. The viscosity even looked the same as it had all those days ago. Scout frowned, turning it over in his hands. Now that he really put some thought to it, unlike others he was sure, he didn’t know what the medication was even made out of. Hormones? Chemicals? Or, perhaps, could it even just be some sort of placebo that didn’t do anything? It was unlikely, but still possible. What he really wanted to know was what exactly the use of it was. For some reason, after he’d moved in here, he just hadn’t had the inclination to take it, and he didn’t feel like much had changed. Until now. Scout raised the needle to his mouth, plucking off the cap with his teeth.
The knock at the door almost made him choke on it. Gagging, he dropped the cap into his hand, put the needle into the bag, tossed the bag underneath the bed, and turned to the door, struggling to find his voice again. “Uh… who— who’s there?”
He didn’t say his name, but Scout recognized his voice immediately. He would recognize it any time of day. His heart jumped to his throat, and he swallowed it back down. “Oh,” he said. “Oh. Well, uh— what do you want? Do you want to come in?”
“If you would like me to.”
Scout sat there for a few seconds longer, internally debating on what he was supposed to do. Then he stood, smoothed out his hair, and walked to the door. It slid open. “Come in,” he said.
Kendall came in. He stood by the entrance for a while, looking around dispassionately. “Your room’s pretty plain looking,” he finally said.
“Uh. I know. I never bothered to decorate it. It never seemed important to me.”
“After you moved in?”
“Yeah. I don’t see the point of it. I’d just have to take it all down in a few months, anyway. Doesn’t make sense. The place speaks for itself, anyway.” He stared at the barren gray walls and the simple black furniture.
Kendall’s eyes burned into the side of his head. “All of his stuff is still in there, you know. They never came to pack them up, take it all away. And I’m not going to do it.”
“Don’t you remember, Scout?”
Scout moved to look at him at last. “‘Course I do. It’s not like I have retroactive amnesia, or something.”
“That makes sense.”
Kendall didn’t say anything else. Scout frowned, feeling a vein pulsing in his temple. “Well? Did you come in here just to drill me on my stylistic choices, or what?”
“No. I came in here to see if you were alright.”
Scout blinked, feeling his annoyance melt away— but only slightly. “Oh. Wait, really?”
“Mm-hmm.” Kendall stepped forward, barely sparing Scout a glance. “I saw you downstairs during breakfast. You didn’t look all that happy.”
“What’s it matter to you?” Scout walked back to his bed and dropped down onto it, feeling the springs creak under his weight. “You don’t have to pretend that you’re my friend anymore. I’m not your roommate anymore. And I’d prefer if it stayed that way.”
“Just because you aren’t my roommate anymore doesn’t mean that I can’t be concerned for your wellbeing, Scout.” Kendall stepped forward, pausing at the foot of his bed. “Can I sit down?”
Scout swallowed. He looked away and scratched his cheek. Weird how he wanted to be so close after so long. And after they’d separated on such bad terms, no less. “Sure. Fine. Yeah, you can.”
Kendall sat down, and the mattress slouched under his weight. He folded his hands on his lap and stared out the window, pursing his lips. “You looked upset.”
He almost wanted to laugh at that. “You’ve told me that already.”
Kendall paused. “No, I didn’t,” he finally said. “I said you didn’t look happy. That’s different from being upset.”
“You’re being pedantic. Are you going to try and make a point, or what?”
Kendall sighed, the bed sheets wrinkling under his clenched fingers. “It’s okay if you’re not exactly happy, Scout. I don’t think any of us are happy right now. But you can’t be upset. Not right now.”
“Why? Because Olive says I can’t?”
Kendall didn’t say anything. That was more than enough of an answer for Scout. He crossed his arms and looked away, fully aware of how petulant and child-like he must’ve looked. “I don’t care what Olive thinks,” he said. “She’s the one that caused this whole mess in the first place. She’s the one that caused Peyton to be sent away— and for what? Why do you even look up to her so much?”
Kendall frowned, a crease forming in between his eyebrows. “Don’t talk about Peyton like that,” he said, and there was actually an edge to his voice. “Or Olive, either. She knows what she’s doing.”
“Clearly, she doesn’t.”
“She wouldn’t have sent him away if she didn’t think it was the right thing to do.”
Scout huffed through his nose, because it was all he could do to hide is incredulity. So that had been intentional, then? Making Peyton vanish into thin air after he threw a temper tantrum? Some friend she was. Kendall, too. He supposed he should’ve been glad he never really got along with any of them. The less people close to him that could mess up things for him and everyone else, the better.
Kendall started to talk again. “I know you don’t believe that she does, but— she does. She’s going to make things better for all of us. You haven’t been around her long enough to know that. But she will. You’ll see. She’ll bring Peyton back when everything is alright again. She just wanted to make sure that he was safe through it all, after what happened.”
Kendall’s voice had grown quieter. Reverent, almost. Scout snuck a glance at him. He was still staring into space, like a fool. Scout sighed. “You have a lot of faith in her,” he said. “Too much of it. Things are starting to fall apart.”
“How so? Can you give any concrete evidence of that?”
“Well— there was Peyton disappearing. After screaming at you and me, no less. And everyone… everyone seems… more scared. Like they know that something bad is going to happen.”
“That just sounds like paranoia to me.”
“How can you not be paranoid? It makes no sense not to be. So much bad stuff is happening. Things aren’t even working anymore— I haven’t even been taking my medication anymore. And I always have. If I tried that a few months ago then I would definitely end up being questioned by the officials.” He faltered, squeezing his hands against each other. “It’s just— it’s like things are just… hanging by a thread. Like the smallest disturbance will make everything go crazy.”
Kendall didn’t say anything for a moment. Then he put a hand on Scout’s shoulder, ignoring the way he stiffened underneath his touch. “You need to be optimistic, Scout,” he murmured. “A bad attitude is only going to end up making things worse. A lot worse.”
Scout wanted to pull away, knew that he really should have. But something stopped him. Kendall was actually talking to him. Actually seemed concerned for him, as selfish as the source of that concern was. That was what stopped him from completely giving in. He was probably going to end up regretting that “I know that being hopeful’s a good thing,” he said. “Usually. Don’t you think that it may be a little less of a good thing in this situation? Maybe it’ll just end up making things worse than they are?”
“I don’t think so.” Kendall squeezed his shoulder a little harder. “Why don’t you hang out with Olive for a little while? She’ll likely be able to reassure you better than I can.”
And just like that, Scout found the courage to finally move away. “Uh— no, thanks,” he said. “I think I’m good. You coming here to talk to me was enough.”
“Oh. Okay.” Kendall dropped his hand back into his lap. He flexed his fingers, frowning at them. “My wrist hurts,” he muttered, more to himself than to Scout.
Scout stared at him for a second. Then, on impulse, he rested his fingers on Kendall’s wrist, pressing down slightly. It did feel kind of warm. Maybe he was getting a fever. But that wasn’t the point, right now. “Hey,” he said. “Just because I don’t want to go see Olive doesn’t mean that I’m upset you came to see me. I just said that to you.”
“Yeah.” Scout lowered his head, lifting his fingers from Kendall’s wrist. “I appreciate you coming to check up on me, I guess. Maybe… maybe I’ve been lonelier than I thought I was.”
Scout nodded. He swallowed, a sour taste lingering in the back of his throat. “Yeah. I’ve— never had that many people who actually cared for me, I guess. Probably because I’m kind of a…” he trailed away. “I think people don’t usually understand me, the way I think. They think I’m not good enough for them, or something.” He paused, then laughed. “That’s why I got you and Peyton for roommates, I’m pretty sure. So the Academy could force me out of my shell some more.”
Kendall pulled his hand away, putting it on his lap. “I can see why you’d think that.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m glad that you can see that.” He paused. “Hey, look. I know that we— we kinda got off to a bad start. I know. I’m sorry. But— maybe things aren’t completely wrecked?” He rested his hand on Kendall’s exposed wrist, feeling how hot it was. “Maybe we can start over? Maybe we could try to… repair our relationship a little bit, you know?”
“You know what I mean. We should try to start over. We don’t even have to become roommates again or anything. I just…” a lump formed in his throat; he coughed a bit to clear it away. “I think we should just try to repair things a little bit. See if they go anywhere… better from there.” He wrapped his fingers around his wrist. “You get what I’m saying, don’t you? What do you say?”
Kendall looked down, his face unreadable. And then— as if he’d just had refuse spilled all over him— he wrenched his hand away, rising to his feet. “No. Not right now. Not when everything is still going on.”
Scout’s mouth dropped into a gape. “What— what do you mean?”
“You know what I mean.” Kendall barely spared him another glance as he went over to the door. “Peyton is still gone. I can’t forgive you for what you did to him until he comes back. I’m sure that you understand.”
Scout blinked up at him, at a loss for words. Then he clenched his fist. “But… I’m pretty sure you just told me Olive took him away so he could be safe.”
“Yes. Safe from the situation that you ultimately put him in.”
Scout shook his head, pushing himself off the mattress. “It wasn’t me. It was you. It was Peyton himself. If he hadn’t overreacted— if you hadn’t been doing all of this and keeping it from him in the first place— then maybe none of this would have been a problem. Peyton wouldn’t have been sent away. We wouldn’t even be having this conversation right now. This is your fault. And you’re denying me because of it?”
“Everything would have been alright if you hadn’t intervened. He wouldn’t have had to leave. Everything would be alright— as it should have been.” Kendall took a few steps to the door, opening it. He wiped the inside of his wrist on the thigh of his pants. “Maybe when he comes back, and I can make sure he’s alright. When I can help him, and be with him again. But until then? No. I’m sorry.”
He didn’t sound very sorry at all.
Scout watched him leave, at a loss for words. He got his voice back a minute too late. “Fine,” he snorted at the re-sealed door, then turned away. “Fine. Be like that. Wait for your precious little Peyton to come back! See if I care! See if he cares! He was always just Olive’s little doll anyway!”
Silence. Scout swallowed, clenching his fists and glaring at nothing as his voice fell into the empty air. His anger in his stomach died from a flare to a slow, constant simmer, leaving behind a growing pit. Then he was left wondering what he could do to get rid of it.
He stood there by his bed for a while longer, waiting until he felt calm enough, stable enough to move. Then he crouched down, pulling the bag out from under it. This had been a mistake. All of it had been a mistake. He shouldn’t have let himself be so vulnerable. That was stupid of him, and he wasn’t usually stupid. Unlike everyone else in this stupid place. But he’d gotten his rationality back. He knew what he had to do now.
Kneeling on the floor, ignoring the pain in his feet and knees, Scout took the open needle and pressed the tip of it against his wrist. Kendall had said his wrist was hurting. Probably because he was stupid enough to think forgoing such an important part of life was an okay thing to do. Well. Scout wouldn’t be that stupid. He wouldn’t go down that route. And he wouldn’t let himself get so soft just because of a little closeness ever again. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, steeling himself. In and out. Parallel to the wrist. Just like it had been taught to him his whole life.
He did everything right, but it still hurt.