Fox awoke from his bed in the morning. He checked his messages.
| Call me. Now.
It was from Serah. The abruptness of it all was enough to jolt him awake. Still under the blankets, he sent out a response.
| what about? whats up?
There was barely any buffer time before a call request by Serah appeared on his screen.
“Hey, what’s up?” Fox scratched his messy hair and began to get out of the bed.
“Yeah… what about her?” He stretched his arms out. Serah gave an annoyed sigh on the other end of the phone.
“Philip. We were at the park taking the dogs out, and I saw a big bruise through her sundress. I kept asking her about it, and finally she admitted she had a fight with him a few nights before.” There was a brief pause here, where Serah took a deep breath and managed to struggle out the final line. “It’s getting worse, Fox.”
“Well, I mean… what do you want me to do about it?” Fox moved into his kitchen.
“Please, just… talk to her. Help her. She needs to get out of that relationship, surely you know that at this point.”
“Can’t… you do something?”
“Oh God, Fox! You know why I’m asking you! You’ve known her since you were kindergarteners, for fucksake. I always tell her it’s a bad idea but she doesn’t believe me. She says she’s happy. But I know she’s not. I just… I need you to go talk to her.”
Fox was taking a box of cereal out when Serah was giving these exasperated lines. At this point he finally stopped the routine and put the box off to the side.
“Serah, if it doesn’t work with you… it’s not going to work with me.”
“And what makes you think that?”
Fox sighed. “Serah, I haven’t spoken with Ana in three years. Everything I hear about her at this point I hear through you. It’s not going to make any sense for me to come out of the blue, three years later, and try to play some sort of savior role with her relationship. Life doesn’t work that way.”
“But, your guys’ friendship… it didn’t end on a bad note, did it?”
“No. No it didn’t.”
“You just stopped talking to each other, after some time, right?”
“Went our separate ways. Yeah.” At this point Fox returned to filling the cereal bowl.
“So it wouldn’t be too bad. Listen, I know what you’re saying. And I usually wouldn’t ask this of you. But this… I feel like things are going to get really bad if we don’t do anything. We have to stop it. Right? Don’t you agree with me?”
Fox placed his bowl on the table. He sat down in the chair, slouched, looking up towards the ceiling. “I’m just not seeing my place in this.”
There was a pause on the other line. “Is it okay if I come over a little later?”
“Around ten? Or later, whatever works for you.”
“Ten is fine.”
Serah showed up at ten. She was an American girl of French-Irish descent, with short bobbed red hair and an inkling of freckles. She wore a green cotton turtleneck and some jeans when she came into Fox’s apartment.
“Hey.” She looked him in the eyes, no way in particular.
There was a pause. She walked to the kitchen table.
“I wanted to show you something, let me show you this.” She took out her phone and showed Fox a picture on the screen. “This is what I took. Of Anabelle’s bruise.”
Fox took one look, then once recognizing the full weight of it all repulsed himself back, facing away from the screen. “You could’ve just sent me this.”
Serah took offense to this idea. “I’m not going to just send you something like this.”
There was another pause. Serah had both hands on the table, looking down at the phone, now black. Fox took a peek at her face and then quickly looked away.
“I want you to call her.”
“I already told you, I’m not-”
“No, just… just call her. It doesn’t have to be about any of this.”
He looked at Serah. She had these big, gray, intimidating bulbs of eyes. But there was something under that stormy iris that held Fox’s attention. Something more.
He reached toward his phone on the kitchen counter, meaning to say “Fine” but the air never came out and it sounded more like a muffled grunt.
He grasped the phone with limp hands. “What do you want me to say?”
“Anything.” Her words were delicate.
Fox eyed the black screen for a few moments before opening it up and calling the number.
There was a ring on the other end.
It went on for a while. Fox nearly turned toward the Irish girl to his right when all of a sudden the ringing stopped.
His heart began to palpitate. Serah must have been able to tell, as she put one hand close to his.
“Ana… is that you?”
“Ah, yeah, it’s me.” He scratched the back of his head. His armpits began to perspire. “I was… cleaning out my contacts list. Saw your name. Thought I’d call.”
There was a giggle on the other end. A familiar one. It calmed him a bit. “Well… it’s been a long time, hasn’t it?”
“Yeah. It has.”
“You still live in Ravendale?”
“Yeah. Well, Muenster. So pretty much Ravendale.”
There was another giggle. “Yeah, pretty much.” A pause of static hit the line. “…So, you wanna meet somewhere? Catch up?”
“Ah, well… Sure, yeah.” He stood up in his seat, forgetting that Serah was still there and beginning to draw in more interest.
“How about… Cambo’s? Next week?”
“Yeah, yeah, that will be good.” Fox went to grab a notepad off the table, only to realize there was no notepad and he was grabbing at nothing. He redirected his attention back to the phone.
“Alright! I’ll text you details. See you soon, yeah?”
“Yeah. See you soon.”
“See you soon! Bye!”
Ringing. Fox ended the call. Serah surprised him.
“So, what’d she say?”
“Cambo’s. Next week. Text me details.”
Serah gave a faint smile. “Good to hear.” She got up from the chair, but hesitated and put a hand on its top rim. “Listen, Fox. You don’t have to do anything. I just… I don’t know. I just want you to talk to her at this point.”
“I’ll… ask her how she is. See if anything comes up.”
“Alright. Sounds good.”
Serah moved around the table. Fox moved his chair in to give her space. But she stopped on the way and put a gentle hand on his shoulder. “And Fox… Thank you.”
The red-haired girl was almost to the door when the boy stopped her. “Want to stay for coffee?”
She turned around. There was a smile on her face. This time a full one. “Sure.”
Sure enough later that night Fox received a text from Anabelle with the details.
| r u good with tues 1pm? can’t wait to see you again!!!!!!
Fox checked his calendar. There was nothing on it.
| Sounds great. Looking forward to it!
Tuesday came around faster than he would have liked. Fox spent most of the morning rehearsing the meeting, planning out what he was going to say and when. He still had one picture of her — from their high school yearbook — and he took a look at her to try and remember everything. It was from when she was on the soccer team. Her frizzly dark hair, grown out, was shaped into a ponytail on the back. Beads of sweat ran down her brown skin. She seemed to eye something off photo. The caption below read:
UNSTOPPABLE: Anabelle Lahari (#7, right) and Katelyn Buckle (#23, left) helped lead Ravendale High to 14-2 season
He rehearsed one last time, took a big sigh, and went off to the car.
When he arrived at Cambo’s, he asked for Ana’s name. The waitress checked the list and nothing came up. He asked for two. Under Fox. Went inside.
He didn’t see her come up, since he was scrolling through his phone. She got his attention, with a sprawled “Heeeeyyyyy”, which eventually when they did lock eyes turned into a peaked “Hey!”
There were a couple of details that the yearbook couldn’t touch. She was a bit taller than he remembered. Her hair was still frizzy but now cut short. There were freckles on her cheeks that Fox had forgotten about. Right under her eyes. She had a denim jacket on and carried a red purse. She put the purse down and the two hugged.
“God, Fox… it’s been forever, hasn’t it?” She asked him as they released from the hug.
“Yeah, really feels like it, doesn’t it?”
A waiter passed by and asked Anabelle what she’d like to drink. “Oh, just a water for now. Thanks.”
Her fingers tapped at the hardwood table. “So, what have you been up to?”
Fox leaned back in the booth. “Well… job hunting, mostly.”
“Not… quite yet…” He took the straw in his ice water and started swirling it around. “But I’m currently interviewing with a bank right now. A local one. As a teller.”
She gave a real smile. “That’s good to hear. So you have an interview soon?”
“Damn, that’s coming up.”
There was something about the way the words came out of Anabelle’s mouth that Fox couldn’t help but smile at. “Yeah. But, I think… I think I’ll be okay.”
The waiter dropped off Anabelle’s water. The two kept in silence for a bit, browsing over the menu. Finally, Fox shot next.
“So, what about you?”
“Oh, well…” She gave a skirt smile and looked up, to the left, trying to compile all that happened in three years. Then, something came up. “Well, I have a boyfriend now. That’s new.”
“Oh, really?” Fox pretended to be surprised.
“Yeah. His name’s Philip. I met him at, uh… I met him at church, actually! The one over near the lake.” She laughed as she remembered.
“Huh, never took you for a good-hearted Christian.” He gave a stealthy grin as he took a sip of water.
“Yeah, well… I’m not. Momma Theresa still tries to bring Maurice and I to church sometimes. It was one of those. Philip was in the back, with me, we got to talking and… kicked it off.”
Fox looked up and gave his first honest laugh of the lunch. “Oh wow, ‘Momma Theresa’! I forgot you called her that. How’s she doing, anyway?”
“Ah, you know. She’s still kickin’. Dad and her still live in the same old house. You know the one, on Mulberry.”
“What about Maurice?”
Anabelle was taking a sip of her water when Fox asked the question. She quickly swallowed it down to answer. “He’s in… high school now, actually. Good old Hawks.”
“Ah, staying with the dynasty, I see.”
“Yup.” She looked down. The both of them were smiling now. “You know, it’s funny. All his teachers, when they see his last name, they’re like… ‘Oh! You’re Ana’s brother! I loved Ana!’. And he hates it. He tells me all about how mad he is.” At the end of the last line she began to laugh, and Fox began to laugh too. Afterwards they were interrupted by the waiter to take orders.
There was another bout of silence. Fox was so involved with the girl he hadn’t seen in such a long time that he almost forgot the point of the whole thing. He took a deep breath, then decided to take a sip of water, then took another deep breath, and remembered his rehearsal.
“So… you happy with Philip?”
Anabelle was looking down at her phone. When she got the question, it threw her off guard. She looked back up at Fox and tried to chuckle it off.
“Well, if I wasn’t happy with him, I wouldn’t be dating him, right?”
A wave of embarrassment hit Fox. “No, sorry, I meant like… I’m just curious how you two have been doing. That’s what I meant.”
She put her phone back in the red purse. “Yeah… well, we’re living together. We got an apartment relatively close by. It’s why I chose this place.”
“Oh, well… that’s good.”
Anabelle looked back at him. In his eyes. A face that hypnotized him. Her lips were up curled, but not in a smile. Just a friendly look. It reminded him of high school, and middle school, and elementary school. All the same story.
“Hey, Fox… you alright?”
He broke the spell and scooted back in the booth. He tried his best to look happy and normal and all that. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
She took his hand that was still on the table, pushing it to the center. With gentle fingers she covered it with hands of her own. “Listen… I’m happy with Philip. I promise you.”
“I know. I believe you.”
“Good.” Now she smiled. “I’m glad.”
He didn’t dare bring the subject back up again. When they got their food they stuck with discussing miscellaneous topics and other catch-up items. After the checks were in, Anabelle took a look at her phone.
“Ah, I should get going. Philip’s going to be home from work soon.”
“Yup.” She shimmied herself out of the booth. “Hey, Fox… it’s been nice catching up. We should do this again some other time.”
“Yeah. We should.”
She walked out of the restaurant. Fox walked out not long afterwards.
The next day, he had a different lunch, at a different place, with a different girl. This time, the girl was Serah — she wore a casual red dress with rounded glasses. Over the dress was the same denim jacket Anabelle had been wearing. When he saw her, Fox pointed it out.
“Funny. That’s the same jacket Ana was wearing.”
She looked at him and grabbed the collar end of the jacket with two fingers. “Oh, really? Yeah, I got it on her recommendation. I wouldn’t have worn it if I knew she had — table for two, please!”
“I think it looks good on you.”
“Do you?” Serah put her hand on her hip. “Who do you think wore it better?”
Fox rolled his eyes. “They don’t pay me enough to answer that.”
The two got seated. Serah was the first to talk.
“So, what did she say?”
“Said she was fine. Said she was happy.”
“Did you see the bruise?”
“Well, no.” He took a sip of his drink. It was a coke, this time. “She wore the jacket the whole thing.”
Serah gave a curt sigh. On the table she twiddled her thumbs for a few moments before speaking up again. “Anything she said that caught your attention?”
There was a spark of hesitation within Fox. “No.”
Serah caught on to the spark. “Are you sure?”
“No… well… No, nothing. Nothing at all.”
Serah leaned in. “Fox. Tell me.”
“I mean, she said she had to get home before Philip arrived. And I thought it was kind of weird. But, it isn’t like… it’s not crazy. I think you’ve just got me grasping at straws here, Serah. You can make anything look like anything if you stare at it long enough.”
Serah gave another sigh, more drawn out this time around. The waiter came by to ask for their order.
“I’ll have the Pad Thai. Thank you.”
“Same for me. Thanks.”
Serah looked at him. “I thought you hated Pad Thai?”
“I’m not that hungry.”
“Then you shouldn’t have gotten the Pad Thai. The portions are giant.”
“I’ll just keep the leftovers.”
Serah shrugged. Unlike Anabelle, she had her jacket off. Her shoulders were bare.
There was another string of silence before Serah cut it.
“So… are you two gonna meet again?”
“We said we’d keep in touch.”
Serah put both of her hands on the table and looked at Fox. Fox tried to look away from her, but he couldn’t. “Listen, could you… just keep in contact with her? Just keep an eye out? I don’t know what you think of her now, but… she’s still one of my best friends. If anything bad happened to her, it’d kill me.”
“I still don’t understand why you can’t just keep an eye out for her yourself.”
“I told you! She won’t tell me anything. It’s gotten to the point where every time I even bring up Philip she just ignores me.”
“Then maybe you should just stay out of it. Maybe we should stay out of it, and just let them live their lives.”
“‘Live their lives’? Fox, this is not a normal relationship. I know that. Two weeks ago Ana came to me crying saying that Philip hit her to the point where her arm turned numb. And I told her to call the police and she just threw it all off and said I was overreacting and that everything will be fine. Well everything is clearly not fine. And we need to do something about it.”
“Do we? Do we need to? I don’t know what gives us the right to just reach in and control someone’s life, as outsiders, just because we don’t like the way it looks.”
“God! You really don’t get it do you? This isn’t about – … thank you.” The food arrived. Serah lowered her voice considerably. “This isn’t about controlling someone’s life. This is about protecting them when they can’t protect themselves.”
There was a pause. Serah took a bite of her meal. Fox swirled around his, and then took another sip of coke. Then he continued.
“Listen, I’ll keep talking with her. But I won’t pry into her life. If something comes up — naturally — then I’ll let you know.”
Serah nodded. “It’s a deal.”
There would be another few weeks before any other major incident. Anabelle and Fox stayed in contact, mostly by phone, though they did have a few more lunches here and there. As Fox grew once again closer to the friend he had lost, he continued to dwell on why he had lost her in the first place. The truth was relatively simple; after high school the two went down different paths. There was nothing more to it — at least, nothing more he could remember.
And then there was Serah, who would come and see Fox sometimes, always being desperate in knowing what was going on with their mutual friend but still managing to keep her mouth shut on the topic. After all, there didn’t seem to be too much to be concerned about anymore. After Fox got back in contact, Anabelle was notably happier in her interactions with Serah. And that was all Serah really wanted.
One afternoon, some time after Fox had gotten back from work, he received a text. From Ana.
| hey… it cool if i crash at ur place tonight?
The text caught him off guard. He shot back.
A few minutes later.
| i can… explain when im there. if thats ok with u.
| yeah. Thats fine. Come on over.
About thirty minutes after that, the doorbell to Fox’s apartment rang. He received it and found Anabelle, her hair frazzled, in that same denim jacket, with a cropped rock band tee and some dark red corduroy jeans. She gave an ironic smile and tipped her head up.
“Can I come in?”
Fox moved himself and the door out of the way. Anabelle took a few steps and collapsed on Fox’s couch — the first seating available. Fox moved behind her into the kitchen.
“Want something to drink?”
She leaned her head back into the couch. “Have any alcohol? Nothing strong, but… I dunno. It’s that kind of night.”
Fox checked the fridge. “There’s some Natty in here, if that’s what you’re feeling.”
Anabelle’s face cringed. “Have anything a little less… redneck?”
Fox chuckled. “Well, there’s also some Sheriff’s. Is that good?”
“Yeah, that will be fine.”
Fox got a bottle out and poured the two a glass. He came back over and placed it on the table. Anabelle mouthed the words “Thank you” and grabbed it.
The girl spoke up again as Fox got seated. “So, how’s work been?”
He crossed his legs in the chair. “Oh, I mean… it’s been good.”
“You don’t seem super enthused.”
“Well, it’s… work. But still. Something to get me by while I figure out what the hell I even want to do.”
Ana took a sip and then turned to the window on her left, her arm holding her head under her chin. “Yeah, I feel that.”
“But what about you? What happened?”
She sighed, looked away from the window now to roll her eyes. She looked back and Fox and gave a slim smile. “Philip and I… got into a bit of an argument. And, I just think, it’s probably good to give him… to give us… some time to just, cool off, ya know?”
Fox paused. He looked down at his drink and swirled it in the cup. Suddenly he focused back at Anabelle.
“Does he know you’re here?”
“He knows I’m… staying the night at a friend’s place. I didn’t think he needed to know more than that.”
“Do you think… he would have gotten mad if he knew you were staying here?”
Ana seemed annoyed. She looked up to the ceiling and brought her hands up. “I mean, I don’t know, aren’t all dudes weirdly possessive? I don’t think this is a Philip thing. All guys seem like they’d be mad if their girlfriend stayed at a guy friend’s place, don’t you think?”
Fox thought for a moment. He took a sip of his drink. “Not the normal ones.”
Anabelle sighed and put her hand to her face. “What’s your problem with Philip, anyway?”
“Everytime I bring him up… it feels like, I don’t know. It feels like you’re so aggressive about him.”
Fox retreated. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to.”
Anabelle took a sip. “It’s fine.”
“What was the fight about, anyway?”
This time she looked towards her right, her arms on her legs. “Sometimes he just… gets upset, when I don’t do something. Like he’ll ask me to take out the trash, and I forget, and he yells at me… then I say he’s being dumb… then he gets more mad, and breaks something or whatever…”
Fox showed concern in his face at this last comment. Ana backed herself up.
“No, I mean like, small things. Like, I don’t know, pencils. He’s really not an aggressive guy, overall. He just needs… he just needs to learn to cool off. He had a bad childhood, you know.” Ana took a quick drink from her glass, then kept it to her lips as to avoid having to speak more. This only served to further Fox’s concern.
“Does he…” Fox began, swirling his drink. But then he realized it all might be taken the wrong way, and backed his own statement up further. “I mean, I don’t mean this in a bad way, but… does he ever lash it out on you?”
Ana put the drink away from her lips, and turned her head. “Like, hurt me?”
“Yeah. Or, I don’t know, touch you.”
“Touch me?” She said the words with a certain irritant. Fox backed himself up, even farther this time, in an effort to try and get her to understand. It was too deep to simply back away now.
“I just… you’re my friend, and I want to make sure everything’s alright with you, yeah? And… if it is alright, then there’s nothing for me to worry about. And I’ll leave you to it. But right now, I’m just worried about you, Ann. That’s all.”
Her mouth was open. She hesitated for a few moments, then got up from her seat. But she was still facing Fox.
“Did Serah set you up to this?”
Fox played dumb. “What do you mean?”
“That’s what it is, isn’t it? Why you called me in the first place? You just wanted to spy for Serah, didn’t you?”
“What? No, Ana, I… I don’t… just, sit…” Fox stumbled over his words. Anabelle looked over him with a fire in her eyes. In a few moments she snapped the connection of their interlocking eyes and began to storm her way to the door. She was just about out the door until she could hear Fox yell at her from behind.
“Wait! Just, wait! Please!”
She looked off to the side. There she contemplated going the rest of the way, but she decided to give her best friend the chance. Just this once.
Fox got up.
“Serah asked me to do it, but I refused. I didn’t want to be a part of your life that way. I wanted… I just wanted closure, I guess. To see you again, even if for a little while. I don’t know, maybe my conversation with her got me into thinking about Philip. But that was never my intention. I’m sorry, okay? I really am. I just want to stay friends with you. I just want you to stay part of my life.”
Anabelle closed the door. She looked back at him, still reeling in her own way.
“Just don’t mention Philip again, okay?”
Anabelle slowly lumbered back to her seat, only to sit down with her face in her hands. She gave a drawn out sigh.
“I’m sorry I yelled at you.”
Fox grabbed his drink, but hesitated. Then he set it to the far end of the table. “It’s okay. No biggie.”
“You know, it hasn’t been all sunshine and flowers. But I think… I think it’s gonna be okay. I think it’s all gonna be okay.”
The two continued talking, finishing their drinks. At around two in the morning, they went to bed; Fox in his room, Anabelle on the couch.
Fox awoke from his bed in the morning. He checked his messages.
| What the hell happened?
It was from Serah. The abruptness of it all was enough to jolt him awake.
This time he didn’t respond. He simply went back into the living space to find Ana no longer there.
There were a few moments of him looking for any signs of her departure until he noticed a folded up lined paper sitting on his kitchen countertop. He picked it up and read:
Sorry for leaving without telling you. Woke up early and you were still asleep. Philip called me asking me to come back. He seemed a little angry.
I think he found out I’ll see you again soon!
He skimmed through the note a few times. He could feel the sides of his head pulsating. His heart skipped a few beats. He took out his phone and called Serah.
“Hey, what’s going on? Ana texted me some angry-”
“Do you know… do you know where Ana and Philip live? Like their address?”
Serah stopped. “Yeah… why?”
“Can you give it to me?”
“Fox, what… what’s going on?”
His head hurt. He sat down and held it in his hands. “I don’t know, I… Anabelle was here, last night. She said she and Philip had a fight, and she left me a note saying Philip was angry and all, and… shit. Shit, shit, shit.”
“Is it serious?”
“I don’t know, it might be. God, I feel like I’m having a panic attack. This could really be nothing. I think my brain is just fucked. I have a bad hangover.”
Serah spoke in a much more calming tone compared to Fox’s frantic half-whispers. “Well, better safe than sorry, right? I’ll text you the address and meet you there, okay?”
Serah soothly whispered to him. “It’s gonna be alright, Fox.”
Fox got there early. He parked on the other side of the street. The neighborhood wasn’t great, and the house looked a little worse-for-wear… but beyond that, there really wasn’t much else of note. Everything looked normal. Fox could feel his heart continuing to pound into his chest, his greasy hands sweating up the car wheel.
Serah came in her blue sedan, some minutes later. She came out of the car wearing the same green turtleneck she wore in that first meeting. She went over to Fox’s car and knocked on the window. Fox rolled it down.
“Notice anything?” She looked back at the house as she spoke.
“Alright.” She turned back to Fox. “I’ll stay out here, and if I notice anything bad, I’ll… call the cops, okay?”
“And… and you sure you want to go in there?”
“I’ll be, I’ll be fine. Let’s just keep to how we planned it.”
She turned one more time back to the house, then returned to Fox. She gave him a weary smile. “Just give me the signal if anything goes wrong, alright?”
Serah returned to the car, and a few moments later Fox left his own. The cold air around him was deflected — not by his jacket, but by his anxiety. He walked up to the door and rang the bell.
There was silence, for minutes. He rang the bell again. Suddenly, a scuffling — but it stopped. He rang it one more time.
A familiar girl opened the door, in a red t-shirt and some yoga pants. She seemed upset.
“What are you doing here?”
There was a voice from within the house, though Fox could not see who it belonged to. “Who is it? What’s wrong?”
Fox redirected his attention back to the girl in front of him. “Can I come in?”
The girl stayed defensive. “Why?”
“What’s going on, Ana?”
For some reason, this last comment — particularly “Ana” — rubbed Fox the wrong way. He blew past Anabelle’s arm and into the room, which opened up to him as a cheap living room, with a tattered couch sitting amongst an old TV and some various boxes and miscellania hanging about. In the moments anteceding those a man walked into the room, a tall buff white man who looked only a few years older than Fox and staged his sleek black hair into a bun on the back of his head. He pointed to Fox but turned to Ana.
“Who is this?”
Fox looked at him, giving him an unflinching stare. There was something built up now, inside him. The adrenaline of walking up to the door had been replaced, or perhaps translated, to something angrier. Flight had turned to fight. He took a few more steps into the house.
“Are you Philip?”
This caught the man’s attention. “Who the fuck are you?”
Anabelle’s gaze turned to one of protection to one of concern. “Wait, no, listen…”
Philip took a few more steps forward. “I’m gonna ask you to leave, right now.”
Fox stood his ground. Looking at the man in front of him only built up his energy.
Anabelle put her hands up in front of the two. “Guys, please.”
Philip came right in front of Fox’s face. “I’ll give you ten more seconds.”
“No, Philip! Stop!”
The voice of Anabelle’s screaming triggered a chain reaction in Fox’s brain. In one fell swoop he swung a rough cross at Philip’s face, hitting the edge of the jaw. Philip knew just well enough when to dodge his head, and then in the very same instant went on the offensive, slamming Fox in the gut and following it up with a straight punch to the nose. It was hard enough for Fox to fall straight down and hit the carpet.
“Philip, stop! Please!” Anabelle’s screams got coarser, and higher pitched. Philip ignored them, instead opting to walk over to Fox and grab him by the shirt collar, bringing him up some ways without completely lifting him off the ground, and positioning his head to look straight into Philip’s eyes.
“What’s your fuckin’ problem, huh?” Philip demanded. “What’s your problem?”
Fox didn’t respond. Instead he used a free hand to grab at Philip’s ears, ripping them every so slightly. But Philip was in another league physically, and was easily able to get him off and slam another punch right down on Fox’s face.
The rest of it was all fuzzy. Fox felt numb all over, except for a rhythmic thud that hit his head. His vision, slowly brunning a red tint, fell straight towards a vision of Anabelle crouched in a corner, crying, begging. But, at some point, something else happened.
The thudding stopped. Anabelle, still crying, looked off to a distance that Fox couldn’t see. A few more actions happened, too fleeting for Fox to really understand. A boot passed his vision. Ana was still begging, but now seemingly begging for something else, to something else, an off-screen deus ex machina that had come on the stage.
The last thing Fox saw before he blacked out was Philip being slammed into the ground next to him, and a man forcing onto him a pair of brass handcuffs.
When Fox next awoke, he found it hard to open his eyes. But he saw himself in a white hospital bed, and on the end of that bed was Serah, looking into the screen of her phone.
He groaned. This seemed to catch the redheaded girl’s attention, who went swiftly yet gingerly to his side, sitting next to him on the bed and grabbing his head. Her touch felt smooth, and delicate, and a welcome change from the now dull pain striking through his entire upper body.
“How are you feeling?” Fox could hear her voice ask, though he couldn’t move his head up enough to see her.
“I… could be… better.” The words struggled to get themselves out his lips. But Serah heard, and smiled. Next came Fox’s realization of his condition, and the new understanding of the moments preceding and anteceding his black out caused him to ask a question of his own.
“How… am I… looking?”
Serah’s hands moved up, now floating up to Fox’s cheeks, where she then massaged them lightly. “Not… the best.” She spoke in a sort of sarcastic, yet light-hearted, tone of voice. “But it’s over now. You did it. We got him.”
Fox could feel a numb prickling sensation move its way from the back of his head. Then goosebumps from Serah’s touching. His muscles and voice made what was to be a mix of the words “Huh?” and “Who?”.
“Philip. It was all true. They found a bunch of bruises on Ana’s back, just like before. And that’s not… to mention what he did to you. They took him down to the station. Lord knows he’ll be going to prison, and likely for a long time.”
But Fox didn’t seem satisfied. There was a confusion in his body, which made its way to irritation, then anger, then sadness, then before he knew it there were hot tears streaming down his face, touching the edges of Serah’s fingers, which caused her to remove them.
“What’s wrong, Fox?”
He shook his head. “I don’t… believe… it.”
“What? What do you mean?”
“What… we did…”
He used the force remaining in his body to crane his neck open to see the girl at his bedside. They locked eyes, and in the reflections of her glasses he could see himself, but not really, rather a striped mask of white gauze and bandages and dark, dried blood. He used his last energy to utter his words to the best of his ability.
“Did we… do the right thing?”
Serah looked down on him in pity. “Oh, of course we did, Fox.” She moved her arms around him, and in a sweet embrace grasped his broken body into hers. And there he cried, within her bosom, in that sterile white room, with her hands softly stroking the back of his hair.
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