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The City of Brotherly Love, Part One is the first chapter of Endangered. The full chapter was released on October 17, 2019.

The City of Brotherly Love, Part OneEdit

MICHAEL (I)

“Good morning, Philadelphia! This is Georgie James coming to you live from CBA Philly. It is a chilly morning here in the City of Brotherly Love. 8am, 68 degrees, cloudy skies--”

Michael is reluctant to open his eyes. The high pitched, aggravating voice of Georgie James never fails to stir him awake. Even after the lowest nights, when he wanted nothing more than to eternally sleep, Georgie J managed to jolt him up.  He hates the bastard and his cheesy radio station but he does hold an appreciation for the DJ. Not only did Georgie prevent Michael from sleeping through the day, his show was also one of the only constant voices in his life of solitude. 

“My Brothers and sisters, let us talk about our boys in green. The Eagles trampled over the Cowboys last--”

Michael mutes Georgie for the day. He rolls himself off the bed, initially struggling but finding his footing after a stretch. The more control he gains of his body the more his usual ailments grow. His nightly hangovers often leave him with trivial headaches and fluctuating nausea--but it’s never something alcohol can’t get rid of.

He stumbles his way into the bathroom with a groan, kicking some clothes out of his way. After crashing against his sink Michael looks at himself in the mirror. Needless to say, he was not a pleasant sight. Shaggy brown hair with light facial hair, pale skin and glossy blue eyes, Michael Nicholson is best described as messy. He throws some cold water on his face to force himself awake, which works to minimal effect. 

After getting ready Michael makes the usual breakfast: burnt toast, scrambled eggs and whiskey infused orange juice. A very nutritious breakfast to start off his day.

He plants himself on his couch to start his meal. His apartment very much reflects the messy lifestyle. As a cheap, one room apartment in West Philadelphia, the apartment did not scream luxury. The small space only held a small kitchen area, a bed, couch, a tv and table. None of the furniture items were bought new. His laundry scattered itself around the room with other random assortments. His trash cans are overflowing with empty bottles. It was a shithole, but with his budget Michael considered himself lucky to even afford that.

He lives a pathetic life, a fact he can’t deny. A man near his forties who slaves his hours as a school maintenance worker and spends his free time drinking, whoring or sleeping: Michael knows full well the type of person he is and he has resigned himself to his fate.

Finishing up breakfast, Michael makes his way outside, watching the sky with curiosity as the usual clouds overlap the sun. This was always his favorite type of weather. A cool day where no sun crisps him alive and he can comfortably wear some jeans and a flannel. The heat was not held in high regard in Michael’s world.

Leaning against the walls, Michael takes a moment to enjoy a black and mild cigar before his walk. A nice smoke throughout the day always helps clear his mind. Not a healthy habit, he is aware. At this point everything he does is a step closer to killing him so he doesn’t worry over it. He relaxes himself for the moment and watches the activity across his street. 

Michael’s apartment was right on the border of University City, the coined term for the eastern portion of West Philly that sits alongside the almighty Schuylkill River. The name comes from the presence of Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania, two of the largest colleges in the city, who renovated the surrounding area to accommodate themselves. UPENN, as an ivy league school with big money, specifically led the charge in taking over the area. Some of the locals even nicknamed the gentrification efforts as ‘Penntrification’, which always gave Michael a strange chuckle. Still, the juxtaposition of old Victarioun housing and modern, sleek college buildings gave the area an interesting if strange culture. 

Michael got surprisingly lucky in securing a job at UPENN, even if only as a low level maintenance worker. He gets the joy of cleaning shit, fixing worn items, enduring college students and getting reprimanded by his younger boss for no damn reason. Living the American Dream. He shouldn’t mock considering the only thing that matters is him getting paid. As a college dropout Michael is content finding any job; bonus points if it isn’t retail. Additionally, since Michael cannot drive he appreciates being able to walk to work as opposed to dealing with public transportation. He sometimes misses having the luxury of a car but there is no way he can get behind the wheel again.

Michael is called out of his empty trance by a familiar face calling to him. “MikeMike!” He glances to the approaching college student. “How is it going?”

“Same old, Jake. Same old.” Michael offers the young man a dry smirk through the smoking. “You’re up early.”

“Unfortunately. I had a meeting. Now it’s time to get some breakfast and hopefully not pass out. You?”

“Off to work. Taking my time, though. Don’t want to be too early.” Michael gives his cigar another light. “Besides, can’t start my day without this.”

He takes note of Jake’s laugh. “You are a wild guy, Mike. I’ll see you around.” 

Michael watches Jake head to his house down the street. Jake is a decent young man; surprisingly, most of the students are. Even more shocking is that some of them have taken a liking to Michael, for some odd reason. They even have a nickname for him: MikeMike. Jake, in particular, has become almost a friend to Michael. 

As the president of the neighboring fraternity, Jake does his best to keep the community happy so no one cares when they throw their partes. Michael has actually done a few favors for them. Such as when he stored some alcohol when the school searched their house. He is clueless as to why they like him although he appreciates the hospitality. 

A possibility sits with his Scottish accent, another with his deadpan humor, or perhaps they just pity the old man. Michael has no idea, but it can’t help but remind him what kind of an asshole he was at their age.

Finishing up his cigar, he crushes it to the ground before regretfully making the way towards UPENN for his ‘exciting’ job.


VICTORIA

It was a beautiful day at Temple University. Students roamed around the campus with joyful smiles, socializing with friends at the many spots around, while others were enjoying their time with music on their lonesome. After weeks of sunny, joyful weather, the sun is finally beginning to hide away in the clouds. A signifier that fall was to come and a reminder that summer was coming to a close.

As a native of the west coast, Tori always loved the summer. It reminded her of her childhood left behind. Sunny skies, light breezes, the shrieks of people trading their worries away. It wasn’t often Tori missed her town of Sacramento but she will always miss the sensation of riding her bike down the streets at sunset; the resting sun on her face made Tori free from her worries.

Restful days for a simpler time. Now even in her spare time Tori’s shoulders are never burden free. If she knew attending university would sign away her serenity she would have thought twice.

Victoria “Tori” Cummings sits outside Alter Hall on a cloudy day, struggling to keep her hair from flowing with the breeze. Snuggled up in her sweatpants and loose, cherry red Temple sweatshirt, Tori’s eyes were dronning into the void; one look at her and anyone can tell it is not her day. In Tori’s words, she’s experiencing something of a fuck my life kind of day--which, to be fair, she uses to describe all her days.

Instead of doing something exciting with her life she is wasting her day on more school work. Today, Tori’s time is dedicated to a paper on the examination of Alfred Chester and his experimental writing. Even with reading being one of her favorite pastimes, Tori found the assignment to be daunting. The majority of her classes have left her feeling a similar type of dismay. Is she really spending thousands of dollars a semester to learn about writing she’ll never use? Yes. Yes she is. American higher education really is a ‘magical’ system; of course, by magical Tori actually means bullshit.

At the very least music was successful in keeping her relatively sane. The playlist’s track, Paramore’s Hard Times, was always one of her favorites; but today, it speaks intensely to her. Aside from the vexing paper, Tori has been stumbling through life all day. She had no food in her apartment for breakfast, forgot homework for her overbearing professor and her precious iced chai latte was blown out of her hands. Lucky for her the angels working at Saxbys gave her another one. Brief miracle aside, the day has treated her rough. She is counting down the timer until her next screw up.

If she was being totally honest, the argument could be made that her entire college experience has been a screw up. Her early semesters at Temple had her switch her major four times, each subject wildly different than the last. She started off as film studies, transferred her way into law, immediately found herself yeeting to psychology, until finally collapsing into communications. It has been a rough journey with continuous ongoing complications.

God, what she would give to smoke weed right now.

“Tori!” She is thrown out of her dwelling by the intensity of her name, with the shock nearly dropping her drink. Approaching her is a colorful young man, whose curly hair made him instantly recognizable.

“Hunter!” She mimics his obnoxious yell as Hunter James takes his seat across from her. Tori’s childhood best friend, Hunter’s big smiles and warm eyes perfectly encapsulated his personality. After her family’s move to New Jersey, Tori spent the majority of her youth with her curly haired, quirky neighbor. From elementary to high school the two were inseparable. Unfortunately, despite their dreams of ruling Temple together, their college years have drifted them apart. “Was it really necessary to yell my name? You were two steps away from me.” Tori partially jokes but Hunter was the type of dude who will get your attention if spotted.

“You noticed me, didn’t you? I would argue my method worked”

“I wasn’t given the choice to ignore you.”

“Unsurprisingly, you would not be the first person to ignore me today.”

“Would I be correct in guessing that it was all women who ignored you?”

“You would be! I don’t know if I ever told you this but my superpower is actually repelling females. If they get within a ten foot radius they could potentially die.”

“Am I immune?”

“No, actually. I think my senses consider you a guy.”

“Ah. The classic mistake. I very obviously scream masculinity.” She flexes a nonexistent muscles. “I might be stronger than you.”

“A squirrel is stronger than me.”

“Well, no shit, have you seen those things? Philly squirrels are a special type of monster. I saw one carry a shoe up a wall. You’re not gonna catch me facing one.” Tori comfortably leans back on her chair. “Not to backtrack here, but what if I fell out of my seat? I could’ve broken my hand and sued you. I took a law class once, I know this” Tori speaks as a very knowledgeable, one semester, transfer law student.

“You could sue me for all the twenty bucks to my name, sure. But you should sue Temple instead. Schmooze that hand up, get that cherry and white money.” After much raport the two friends finally break into laughter. Even though distance has grown between them Hunter always knows how to make her smile. 

His earnest attitude blended with the self-deprecation made for a great combination. She was always jealous, in a way. He takes everything thrown at him in a hefty stride, a trait she so desperately wishes she could learn. If Hunter is the type of person to laugh after embarrassing himself, Tori is the person who randomly dwells on it in bed five years later.

“How are you?” Hunter asks.

“Well, you know, I’m alive. That about sums it up.”

“You have God’s great gift of life, Victoria Cummings!” Hunter perfectly impersonates their youth pastor’s voice. Father Ennis was always a weird pastor, with his squeaky walk and undeveloped voice. He loved the kids he worked with--and as is Catholic tradition he was fired later on for related reasons. “And, personally, I’d argue that being alive is better than dead.”

“Is it though?” Tori asks as a joke but perhaps she wasn’t totally kidding.

“I’m a bit biased since I haven’t exactly died yet. If you wanna ask again in about five years I might have an answer.” 

“Well, as someone whose been internally dead for about...23 years, I’d counterpoint that it’s not too bad.” Tori always loved joking with Hunter. Other than her old roommate Lara Drake, Hunter is probably the funnest person she knows.

“Seriously,” Hunter transitions from the weird humor to casual. “I haven’t seen you in forever. I heard about your cousin.”

Tori did her best to give a pout at the mention of her. Isiss Fisher was Tori’s older third cousin, whose age gap prevented them from becoming very close. Isiss wasn’t by any means a bad person, she was even admitely better than Tori in some regards. A beautiful woman who spent years dedicating her life to public education. Admitely, she was also a coke addict that ruined her life, so there’s that. 

Tori feels wrong for not being torn up like the rest of her family. She isn’t not sad by it. Death is a tragedy, it’s sad, and no one should die young like Isiss did. She feels bad but she can’t bring herself to cry over it. She barely knew Isiss and her life isn’t going to dramatically change from it. It’s a reasonable thought process but it makes her seem uncaring. Which she isn’t except ...well, it’s complicated. “Yeah,” Tori finally adds after a pause, “It’s tragic what happened to Isiss I’m heading back home tonight for her funeral tomorrow.”

“I’m sorry for your loss. Give your family my best, though.” Tori’s family always loved Hunter, maybe even more than her. Tori’s mother loved most people more than her. “Have you kept up with photography at all? Out of everyone you always had the best eye.”

The question took her a bit off guard even if it was expected. Growing up her passion always was in film. She loved all aspects, although she really shined in cinematography and framing shots. It was only natural that she became obsessed with photography. Her years in high school consisted of her trying to be a professional photographer, except it never worked in her favor. 

“No. I haven’t had the time. One of these days I’ll get back around to it.” Tori did her best but she knew Hunter saw through her words even if he remained silent. Tori did miss being involved in the artistic scene. The whole idea makes her feel trapped. She wants to go back chasing her dreams. She knows she won’t achieve anything with it, though, so what’s the point of wasting her time? At least a communications degree, as pointless as it may be, will get her something. 

She can’t help but shudder at the irony of how she became the person her younger self was afraid of being.


JAMES

“Well, I don’t care now what you say

‘Cause every day I’m feeling fine with myself”

James Benjamin is nothing if not a man with prestige musical tastes. It was perhaps the only thing he could thank his father for. The music was the one area where the snob in him always came out. Anything to him made past the nineties were not worth his time. He was very much a “vintage” man, even if he refuses to believe the seventies are that old.

James is not a person looking for change in his world. He abides by what he knows and follows routines, which helps keep his world saner. To start off his morning he makes two eggs and sausages, listens to his tunes, and drink black coffee on the porch. He is currently living those last two steps, where he lets the tunes of Phil Collins soothe him while the coffee clears his drowsiness away. It was always during this moment of the day where he thought just how lucky he is.

James had a lot in his life to pride himself over. After-all, he is a senior partner of the highly prestigious law firm that is Hogarth, Dowes and Benjamin. It was far from an easy road to success but no problem was unsolvable by James. He didn’t get the reputation of being an unbeatable lawyer for nothing. In his over a decade of defense law James only had a handful of losses to his name. James would be fooling himself if he didn’t consider himself the best lawyer in Philadelphia.

The hard labor has certainly provided him much fruit. He comfortably affords an artfully crafted home in the upper class community of Radnor. Two acres, three stories, a large backyard with a wide pool, hot tub, built with classical craftsmanship, James is very proud of his home. He is proud of his luxurious mercedes. He is proud of his exquisite fashion. What he is most thankful for had to be how goddamn good he feels, even despite his growing age. In his mid forties, James remains a very well built, athletic man, with very little sores or anything to show his age.

Increasing yelling bleeding through his music reminds him that not everyone was as content as him. He crooks his head to the door, peering through to find them fighting again. It feels like every morning they had to ruin the serene. He does his best to ignore them but apparently Angelina finds it necessary to yell and panic at Sarah before its even noon. It was always something with those two.

Sarah Benjamin is his teenage niece who the couple raised. Initially, James and Angelina had agreed not to have children since the time consumption would interfere with their professional lives. Tragic occurrences led James to raise his late sister’s daughter. Despite his aversion to children he never hesitated to take her in. It was a decision Angelina surprisingly never argued with, something James still is grateful for. Besides, Sarah at the very least was an adorable child.

He obviously still loves her but Sarah is no longer that adorable little girl. Somehow she was raised into this rebellious, angry person, who made it her mission to spite them. She had everything given to her by the Benjamins but it was never enough. She is never home, always gives them attitude, has nearly failed out of her academia and refuses association with them. He doesn’t know what he did to her. He chokes up her attitudes to just teenage girls being girls. She’ll grow out of it soon, he figures. He remembers his sister, Zoey, at that age. Sarah definitely has her mother in her; he prays she inherited nothing from her father.

While his relationship with Sarah was complex, Angelina was a different ballpark. There was a time when they loved each other. The early days of their marriage was full of passion and care. All their memories, the love that was there, is nothing more than a fleeting memory. Their fires have burnout and hearts turned cold. They don’t even fight it’s just empty. He sometimes forgets she’s next to him when he wakes up.

He averts his eyes away from their fight, content with letting them do whatever they want while he goes back to enjoying his morning. He had some interviews to conduct today and won’t allow the Benjamins to clout his mind.

---

Hogarth, Dowes and Benjamin. Seeing his name on the luxurious firm never fails to make James content with his decisions. This firm, after-all, was one of the more prestigious law firms known on the East Coast. Like James, the firm came from humble and troubled beginnings. The firm was founded over forty years ago by Mrs. Claire Hogarth and her husband Anthony Kripero. The mission of Hogarth and Kripero, as their slogan promotes, was to provide the best services available to those in need. Their continued properties turned their uncharted brand into an unsurpassed influence. Once situated in the basement of an apartment complex, they now conduct business on the fifty-second floor of One Liberty Place, one of the tallest skyscrapers in the Philadelphian skyline. Only the cream of the crop were allowed here.

Appearances are everything Hogarth will always say. It’s one of the many phrases that he has incorporated into his lifestyle. From his corner office to the tailored, English fit suit he wears, James makes sure to establish his dominance in the workspace. 

At his desk, James reads over the files of Randall Yokohara, a young public defender whose luck in some undesirable cases has earned her a small reputation. Randall sits across from him, dressed professionally in a dark suit. James can tell she’s nervous, obvious from the work put into her posture, but he respects how well she holds herself together. His experiences have led him to not have a high opinion on public defenders, seeing as how their workloads lead to de-energized work. It was a waste of potential in his eyes. Randall, he saw something different in. Matter of fact James asked her to come in for an interview as opposed to a typical application.

“Ms. Yokohara, you have quite the interesting experience.” James glances up from the resume to make eye contact with her. “In your five years as a public defender you have been involved in over two thousand cases.”

“I’m a hard worker, sir.” Randall is earnest. He can tell she puts her all into these cases, despite how cluttered the life of her job is. 

“Apparently so. However, you also have a success rate of 18%.”

“If I could add, that’s actually above the average in Philadelphia. I also do not think it entirely accurate. It only takes account for acquittals and not all the charges I reduced.”

“I’m aware. I’ve followed some of your career. You’ve gone against some damn good lawyers. You were against an associate of mine during the Vaniva case.”

“That was a difficult case, Mr. Benjamin, but I did my best on it.”

“You exceeded expectations. Don’t be afraid to boast about your successes.” The case was centered around a heist gone wrong against the Vaniva corporation. Randall was to defend the supposed mastermind of the heist. Everything was stacked against the defendant, from evidence to Vaniva’s heavy prosecution. Against the odds Randall was able to provide proof that her client was “fall person” while exposing the real masterminds. Miraculously the defendant’s were charges reduced greatly. James has kept a curious eye on her since.

“As the supervisor for recruitment here, I keep an eye out for people who I think can push our vision,” James continues, “When I think of new associates I don’t focus on graduates, as some of my colleagues do. I look at experienced people, people who have proven themselves. Ms. Yokohara, I believe you would be an excellent addition to our team.”

“I am flattered. Truly, I am. But I don’t know if I can accept in good consciousness.” The reply does fluster James. “I like what I do. I help those who can’t afford someone like you. It’s stressful, sure, but I like the challenge.”

“But when you’re working so many cases can you honestly concentrate the effort to each one? Considering you’re lack of choosing in these clients, many of them are deadends and wastes your time. I’d wager your pay does not reflect the work you do neither. Here at our firm, you can still be the ‘defender of the downtrodden’--it’s why we like you.” James slides forward a paper with the firm’s payment offer to her. “If you accept our offer you’d be made an attorney. You’d have access to an assistant to help you with workloads. You can branch out to get your own client base. You’d be able to do what you do now. Except you would pick your own cases and have the energy to put your effort into them.”

James notices Randall’s eyes grow after a double take on the offer. “You think outside the box,” James adds, “You are young, intelligent, my firm will need someone like you.” 

Randall remains silent in thought for a moment. “Could I think it over?”

“You can take all the time you need, Randall. My door is always open.” James stands to give Randall a firm handshake. “I hope to be hearing back from you.”

James escorts Randall to his door, sharing the closing formalities. Randall is very appreciative of the offer, thanking him and promising to be in contact soon, but James admits he is perplexed. In her shoes he would have jumped on the offer, especially if he was stuck in the hellish field of public defending. 

James watches Randall head down the hallway, still remaining curious. He makes quick work to get it out of his head, otherwise it would nag at him all day. He leans against the doorway to turn his attention towards a woman in his waiting area. His next appointment, Nicolina Clark, a beautiful woman whose youthful glow lit a room, is one of the best young attorneys at the firm. Her intelligence instantly gained James’s admiration. She has been at the firm for around a year now, with their work together being some of his favorite memories as of recent.

“Nicolina,” he calls her attention, “I can see you in my office.”

She enters his office with a smiling gaze that vitalizes his spirits. Safe from sight behind his walls, Nicolina makes the first move in kissing James, ignirting the fire in them. “I’ve missed you.” Nicolina rests her head on his shoulder. 

“I apologize. I haven’t had a light workload.” James pulls his lover in for an embrace. “This Benson case is more difficult than I thought.”

“I know. I’m not mad, just--I feel like I barely see you.”

“Our anniversary is coming up. You are going to see plenty of me then, I promise.” Nicolina soothes into James’s arms. He runs his hand across her hair, smiling at her quiet giggling. He wishes their love could exist in the open instead of this confinement. When she holds him he can feel the happiness that the Benjamins strip away from him. Lovingly, James plants a kiss on her forehead and pulls her closer, proud to have her in his life. 


SARAH

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Father Jakobs recounts the bible passage, Matthew 5:4. The typical priest attire of a black suit feels a little more dark today, reflecting the somber mood of the school. 

Sarah Benjamin watches the frail pastor with indignation. She is not a fan of the old pastor, who was more interested in raising an army of blind devotion than living what he preaches. That was always her problem with religion; more specifically this has been her problem with her school, Father Thomas Academy. The Christian school prides themselves on being caring and accepting. If one examines closer they’ll see nothing except rampant hypocrisy and pride behind closed doors. As an observant and independent seventeen year old, Sarah considers herself intelligent enough to see through the smoke and mirrors. 

Sarah spent over a decade of her life in this building, from daycare to now her senior year of high school. It’s safe to say that her experiences here have formed her character. She can effortlessly recount the different phases she has experienced: her outgoing, bright-eyed girl phase; that out of character, awkwardly religious phase where she actually was spiritual; and now her self-assured, enlightened, “rebellious” phase. Even though she hates the label that it restricts onto her, Sarah has come to accept the term.

Sitting in the corner of the room, Sarah leans against her chair. She stands out amongst the crowd of surrounding students. Rarely seen out of ripped jeans and a rundown leather jacket, Sarah is a trophy of distant punk culture. Trapped with the majority white, religious, conservatives around her, Sarah is proud of her counterculture ideals.

Jakobs’s repeated rambles have Sarah struggling to keep focused. If this were a regular chapel she could maybe stop dreaming of a quick death; to her dismay, today’s chapel is focused on the sore subject of Mariah Cooper.

Mariah Cooper is a girl from Sarah’s class. Despite being amongst the youngest of the grade, Mariah was leagues ahead of them all. To best describe Mariah would be as a sincere, thoughtful, energetic young soul looking to spread joy in the world. As someone who actually practiced Christianity, Mariah refused to be like their pastors. Instead of forcing religion to others Mariah’s plans were traveling to help others in need. Sarah respects the hell out of her.

Respected, Sarah should say, considering Mariah committed suicide last week.

It came as a shock to everyone. Mariah Cooper--the school’s perfect student, the church angel, the future missionary, found overdosed on pills. The idea of her cold body laying there, pills spilled across the floor…..the image is seared on Sarah’s mind. The tragedy has turned the past week of school into a teaching grounds for mental health and suicide prevention, which is ironic considering pastor Jakobs would tell everyone that mental health “doesn’t exist”. Everyone around the school has made it their mission to prevent the next Mariah. It’s not as if they really cared, though. Most of them rarely spoke with the reserved Mariah, some probably forgot she existed; but now everyone loves her, they can speak about their “favorite stories” about her, they all ache sending their thoughts and prayers to the Cooper family. To them, all they did was lose a face in the crowd.

To Sarah, she lost her best friend.

Even if their personalities evolved drastically different, Sarah loved Mariah. The two girls grew up together, with Mariah the sibling Sarah never experienced. When she needed to get out of the house the Cooper family would always take Sarah in. They were good people, who always did their best to make Sarah smile. Even with Sarah and Mariah not spending much time together, due to different friend groups, the love was always there. All the sleepovers, the games, their secret codes, all those treasured memories do nothing except bring her pain now. She hates the feeling, she hates the memories, she hates seeing Mariah’s face everywhere. She can’t stand it.

It’s wrong to speak ill of the dead, especially loved ones, but Sarah couldn’t help being angry at her. Dwelling too long on Mariah has Sarah heat up in her rage. How could Mariah do this? Sarah struggles to wrap her mind around why Mariah would be so selfish. Sarah would’ve ran day and night to talk with her, she would’ve hurt anyone who made Mariah feel that way, she would’ve--fuck, Sarah would have done anything. Instead, Mariah never gave her the chance to help. Sarah felt betrayed that she would spit on their friendship like this. All those years ...for nothing. 

Sarah scoffs at her thoughts, failing to keep Mariah out of her mind. Restless, she does the best she can to keep her attention elsewhere until this chapel ended.

---

“You want to know the most bullshit thing Father Jakobs ever said? It last year during that spirit week, during the day where they split up the guys and girls.” Sarah’s friend, Brandon Sky, begins his story. “He talks to us guys about ‘sins hurting the men’. Eventually, he starts going on about porn. How evil it is, how sex is corrupting, you get the gist. But wanna know what he says? This man straight up says that watching porn will turn you into a pedeophile.

Even Sarah doubted that Jakobs could be that much of a dumbass. Making her way down the train tracks with her two friends, Sarah turns to face Brandon. “No way, you’re joking.”

“I shit you not!” Brandon exclaims. “This dude said, exactly, ‘You start watching a young girl do that now and 20 years from now the FBI will be at your door’. Like, what the hell? I’m not trying to--you know...beat it to a kid.”

“Reminds me of the time where he gave the girls a lecture on emotional porn. You know those movies that are very romantic, all about feelings, love, that bullshit? Yeah, those are actually bad for us. Because, in his words, ‘porn brings sexual arousal. Like porn, these movies bring out emotional arousal.’ I still fail to see the logic.”

“So if I were crying to the Notebook, that is as bad as masturbating to porn?”

“In the holy eyes of Eric Jakobs, yes. Crying is equal to masturbation. Remember that.” Considering the numerous tears she shed from The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Sarah must be an expert masturbator. Sarah laughs at the absurdity of her school’s logic. Brandon quickly joins in on the fun.

Although she dislikes the majority of her school, Brandon Sky is someone she tolerates. Which is surprisingly considering he is one of their star athletes, the type of one who is always parading around in his letterman jacket. His mild-mannered character balances out the more robust humor of Sarah and Lyanna, the last member of their ‘outcast trio’.

Lyanna Thompson is divergent from the other two. A spoiled only child of an upper class family, Lyanna is used to getting what she wants. She strolls around as a queen of no subjects. Most view her as the typical rich bitch--Sarah included, but Sarah was able to find some of the good qualities in her. While she could be considered quiet to some, Lyanna can often be fun and adventurous, which played right into Sarah’s style. 

The three of them may have never interacted if it wasn’t for a fateful detention. Here they are now, having their own exclusive club. The three usually meet up after school on the nearby train tracks. Sarah forgets why this became their meeting spot, although she assumes it has to do with their habit of smoking. She’s come around to appreciating the dirt hole. She likes kicking the litter, or sitting on the rare patches of grass. Sometimes she dazes off watching the rails travel away until vanishing from her sight. The reason she likes it most is that it delays her from returning to the hatefulness of her home.

Sarah flips open her lighter for the next cigarette. Not a healthy habit, she is aware. After the strain of this past week Sarah is looking for anything to relax herself. “In all honesty, you wanna know what I hate about him?” Sarah puffs out smoke. “The way he judges us. He acts so high-and-mighty, says he’s here to encourage us...but if you don’t fit his image than he doesn’t care. Not just him either. Everyone working there is just an asshole.”

“Mrs. Shapiro is the worst,” Lyanna pipes up from her phone, “The other day my shirt wasn’t ‘lady’ like so she made me put on a sweatshirt. Lady like? Does she think it’s 1692? Apparently exposing my shoulders is sending me to hell.”

“Yeah, Shapiro. God, she’s horrible. This one time I gave Rebecca Stauncher a hug--after her dad died, you know?--and she immediately made us split up saying we can’t do that.” Brandon reflects after his last puff of smoke. 

Sarah recalls her own meeting with the ‘guidance counselor’, although she doubts Shapiro is legally one since she doesn’t have a degree. “Recently she pulled me aside. Wanted to talk about my home life or something, I don’t know. I shrugged her off and she got all pissy at me, saying I wasn’t going to do anything with my life. Screw her! She doesn’t know what I’m gonna do with my life, what my plans are.” 

She remembers the embarrassment Shapiro put on her at that moment. Sarah hates when anyone imposes themselves on her. They don’t know anything about Sarah, they lack the right to judge. Sarah can do whatever she pleases with her life. “Well, I mean, what are you plans?” Lyanna sits herself against a bench, sliding her legs to take all the room. “I never heard you talk about them.”

“I have lots of plans, Lyanna.”

“Like?”

“I have plenty, don’t worry about me. What about you?”

“I want to be a lawyer. Put the bad guys away and all that stuff.” Sarah doubts Lyanna could ever be a lawyer, let alone get through law school. “Unless Instagram works out, that’s the dream. I have ten thousand followers now.” Like most rich, attractive girls, Lyanna has her eyes set on becoming social media famous. Her Instagram has become a page for showing off her body with new fashions. Sarah dislikes the new trend of so-called ‘influencers’, although it fits right up Lyanna’s aile. 

“I’m gonna be in the NFL,” Brandon brags, “I think I have a shot. Colleges are trying to recruit me! Someone from Ohio State is coming next week.”

“And if that doesn’t work?” Lyanna questions.

“I don’t know, probably business something. Seems like the go-to.”

Sarah neglects their conversation. Everyone is focused on their futures, dreaming about the hopes they wish to accomplish--all except for her. She has ambitions ...in a way. Nothing college or job related, but Sarah never conformed to the majority. Sarah wants to find herself a new path, one seperate from all of this. Even so, Sarah would be lying if she said the constant doubting from others doesn’t hurt her. Sarah convinces herself not to worry over it. 

Too many doubt her, seeing her as nothing more than a deadbeat. The school thinks she’s a bad influence, who is only allowed to stay due to her guardians’ money. Classmates think she’s a loud mouthed loser. Her aunt Angelina is convinced Sarah will become her bastard of a dad. Uncle James refuses to see Sarah for who she is, instead clinging to the hope that she’ll ‘rise up’ to become a perfect angel. Even Mariah was concerned about the way Sarah was going.

She’ll prove them all wrong. She doesn’t need their anger, their pity, their judgement. She’ll find her path, somewhere, somehow. She refuses to be worthless. Quietly she reassures herself, “I’m going to do plenty.” 


MICHAEL (II)

It’s been a long day.

It’s been a long life, as a matter of fact.

Michael sits at a bar counter, drowsily grasping his double shot of whiskey. He’s on his fifth of the day. Maybe sixth? It’s hard to keep count nowadays. Never one for staying sober, Michael sips the last of his liquor.

He often wonders why he keeps living like this. He doesn’t like the taste, it nearly pains him to finish alcohol. Michael feels cursed with his own vices, stuck in an infinite loop of bad choices, resigned to his terrible decisions until death sets him free. His regular bartender is quick in sliding him a new drink. As the non functioning alcoholic he is, Michael gives thanks before slipping further into his pit.

“Craigellachie?” Michael’s attention is called to the questioning woman next to him. He recognises her from the bar although the name slips his mind. She is similar in age, although she is much better looking than the grouchy Michael. “What kind of person likes Scottish whiskey?”

“A pure-blooded Scottsman.” Michael proudly sips his drink to the flustered woman. “Don’t be so pink, love. I’m not offended. The taste is not for everyone.”

“I love the accent.” A nice accent was key to starting a conversation, at least from Michael’s experience. “Were you born there?”

“Aye. Born in Glasgow.”

“What was it like?”

“Truth be told, I forget a lot of it. I moved to the states when I was a young lad. My parents had a messy divorce, you could say.” When sober Michael is not much of a socializer, but deep in drinks he’ll play the socializer. He is very much a man of Irish courage. “I remember it was pretty. A sight for sore eyes. Lots of hills, views to take in, very outdoorsy. Lots of history, too--”

“Like Braveheart?”

“Oh, yeah, sure.” Michael is not a historian, but it always annoys him when everyone he has ever met mentions Braveheart to him. He never even seen the film. “I hope to go back there someday. Maybe my final moments could be out in the hills, whiskey in hand. A better end than I deserve.”

“And what do you deserve?”

“If I got what I deserved I wouldn’t be here.” Laughing to himself, Michael tries drinking the truth away. He notices her uncomfortable shift in demeanor. “My name is Michael. Yours?”

“McKenzie.”

McKenzie. Beautiful name. I met a McKenzie once--and, let me tell you, I really hope you’re better than her.” Michael directs the bartender another round of drinks. He smiles at her, hoping to make her comfortable again. “What is your story, McKenzie?”

“I grew up in Delaware. Boring, I know.”

“Don’t be so hard, I’m sure Delaware has some redeeming qualities.”

“Look at me in the eyes and tell me one good thing you’ve heard about Delaware.” Michael looks to her preparing a snarky remark about the pointless Delaware, only to find himself lost in her eyes. Her emerald green eyes mesmerize him, tempting him to his worse impulses. “See, you can’t think of anything.” An unaware McKenzie finishes her takedown of Delaware.

Michael forces down another drink. “You’re right. Delaware really is awful. And now you’re here in the City of Brotherly Love. What do you do for fun here? Besides having terrible whiskey, I mean.”

“Very funny.” McKenzie sarcastically laughs along. To his dismay she proudly downs her glass; it was physically painful seeing someone enjoy Old Crow. “I’m in a few dancing classes around the city.”

“So like Zumba and all that?”

“No, no, not Zumba. Real, actual dancing. My sisters and I grew up doing it. My sister, well she’s the one who made it, not me. But hey I’m still having fun with it!.” McKenzie’s laugh is infectious, with even the grim Michael chuckling.

Twirling his drink, Michael’s eyes reluctantly undresses her. His shallow laugh hiding his sensual thoughts. He grieves knowing what comes next.

---

Shame.

It’s the only thing Michael can still feel. Shame. He feels it when waking, it coddles him drinking, he achingly feels it after fake intimacies. Shame seethes through his mind consistently, trembling him into dwelling on his depraved life. No matter how many drinks, no matter how many women, he can never escape it. Anchored to him, Michael is a sinking ship in the sea of misery.

What kind of person is he? Whenever he has a chance to improve himself, Michael always falls back to the same habits. Michael Nicholson is an alcoholic and a sex addict. He finds no comfort in what he does, only growing hate. Whenever the bottle or the person is finished, Michael always tells himself never again. Never again turns into one last time. It is never the last time. Years of trying to break his mold have led him to the acceptance of a singular truth: this is who he is. He can never beat himself. Michael lives in the debauchery, his hollow heart beating to nefarious rhythms.

He sits on the edge of his bed, careful not to wake the sleeping McKenzie with his smoking. Remorsefully watching her sleep, Michael knows she deserves better than being another body count. He thinks about the stories she told him, her goddamn smile energizing the room around them. She was looking for something he can’t give her.

After crashing on his pillow Michael’s eyes catch the framed picture on his tabletop. The picture is a constant reminder of his failure. Against his better judgement, Michael pulls his family picture closer, stroking his thumb against the glass with a bitter smile. The happiest moments in his life were with his marvelous family: the love of his life, Zoey Benjamin, and his two children, Sarah and Jonathan. Michael would tear up if he hadn’t run out of them.

When Michael closes his eyes he can picture himself with Zoey. Her wide, maple eyes, the dimple forming at the edge of her extraordinary smile, the fall scent from her luxurious hair. She was more real than the world in front of him. He wants nothing more than to grab her mirage, holding her close to tell her that he loves her; to tell her that it should’ve been him and not her.

They were going to be a happy family. Their oldest, Sarah, was shaping up to be a young Zoey: kind, smart, affectionate. Jonathan, barely a few years old, was a mischievous rascal. Michael was going to do his best to be a good father, to give his kids the lives they deserved.

Life had different plans. After the accident it was only Michael and Sarah. He was too broken to care for her, so it was best for all parties that she stay with his rigid brother-in-law, James. Michael had once hoped that in a few years time he’d fix himself and get Sarah back home. Instead, nearly a decade later Sarah still resides with the Benjamins. James has raised her longer than Michael ever did, which is for the best.

Michael trusts that Sarah is making smart choices with her life. After everything that happened he knows she’ll make better choices than he did at her age. Gently placing it back, Michael prays that Sarah is happy.

Closing his heavy eyes comes easy for Michael, allowing him some needed solace in past fantasies until morning brings reality.

NotesEdit

  • The chapter was split into two parts, to space out the introductions of the main point of views.

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Book One
Book One

Prologue A City of Brotherly Love, Part One A City of Brotherly Love, Part Two New Opportunities Cherry and White The Bright Side Love Once Pure Admist a Crashing World The Chains Wear Heavy A German's Tale Zoey The Answer Calm Lost Souls Epilogue

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