Status: updates when inspiration and free time collide.

Sotto Voce


Zack’s house was empty. He carried me in and laid me down on the large brown suede couch before dashing to the kitchen for some ice. I couldn’t even bring myself to take off my sweater because stretching hurt that much. I wasn’t bleeding, I think. The girls avoided my nose and teeth, at least. Sure, they slapped me silly when they cornered me in the bathroom, but that was about it for my face. Once I was adequately discombobulated, they dragged me out to the parking lot, threw me on the ground, and promptly proceeded to kick the shit out of me. It was terrible.

All to make sure that I knew that Kelly didn’t appreciate having her precious face punched.

“Let me help you,” Zack said gently when he returned with several packs of ice and a towel. He placed them on the table and knelt down to grab the hem of my sweater and lift it up. He stopped when he heard me gasp in pain, though. “Sorry, sorry,” he said hurriedly, pulling the sweater over my head, finally, but I held onto it so I could keep my arms in the sleeves. I lay back down and closed my eyes, trying to move as little as possible. “Do you, uh, do you mind?” he asked, gesturing to my shirt now. I blushed, but shook my head, arching my back a bit so Zack could push my shirt up. “Oh my god,” he breathed when he saw my skin.

There was red splotched all over my pale skin where the girls kicked me, and the red was slowly but surely receding to blue. Bruises everywhere, and I wouldn’t doubt that some bones were at least cracked, if not broken. “Brett… Brett, I don’t know what to… what can I do to make it feel better? Or… hurt less?” Zack asked helplessly, and he looked more upset than I felt.

“Um… just wrap all those ice packs in the towel, and give it to me,” I instructed him. Zack did as I asked, so I laid the towel on my torso. The cold was slowly but surely seeping through the cotton. “Can you make one for my back, too?” Zack nodded and went back to the kitchen. He returned a few minutes later, and he put the ice pack towel in under my back. I sighed in relief, enjoying the numbness, even if it would only last for a little while.

Zack sat down on the floor and rubbed his eyes, like he couldn’t believe I was really here. “Why did they do this to you?”

“Because I punched Kelly in the face, remember?”

At the very sound of her name, Zack’s hands clenched into fists. “If she wasn’t a girl, I’d rip her lungs out,” he said rather loudly, making me cringe at the anger in his voice. “What a coward! Using her posse on you because she can’t handle you herself…”

“Please calm down,” I asked as I pulled the pillow out from under my head to cover my eyes with it. Zack exhaled sharply, the sound reminding me of an angry bull, but he fell silent after that. “Can you turn out the lights now? And close the blinds?” I heard him move around and the room grew dark - as dark as it could be for ten in the morning. I pulled the pillow back under my head. “Why are you so worked up about it? It’s not like you’re the one who’s covered in bruises,” I scoffed, folding my arms across my chest.

Zack sat down on the couch with me and pulled my feet onto his lap so he could take my shoes off. “You’re my friend. And no one fucks with my friends,” Zack said flatly, placing my Converse on the ground.

Friend… The word weighed heavily on me and crushed the memory of our almost-kiss on Saturday completely out of my mind. “Ok.”

“Want some painkillers or food or something to drink?” Zack asked after a few minutes of silence. His hand rested idly on my knee, his other arm hanging off the arm of the couch.

“Could you… could you just stay with me?” I asked, hesitantly laying my hand on top of his.

Zack didn’t move his hand. “Of course.” He smiled, squeezing my knee. I couldn’t help it – I was ticklish. I only laughed momentarily before I winced because the movement hurt my ribcage. “Sorry,” Zack muttered, pulling his hand away now.

I didn’t want to tell him I liked it, so I said nothing. I kept my eyes closed, drifting in and out of consciousness. I woke up when I felt Zack leave me, though. The condensation from the ice packs had soaked the towel. My skin felt clammy and cold, but I was numb enough to attempt movement now. I put the towel that was on my stomach down on the floor and slowly sat up, rolling my shirt down. I put the second towel on the floor, too, before the suede got wet. It was only then that I noticed my sweater was gone… and the scars on my forearms were exposed.

My eyes widened and sought out Zack. “Zack?” I called out hesitantly. I spotted my sweater on the arm of the couch and quickly slipped it back on, making sure that, as usual, only my fingers were visible past the sleeves. I slowly got up and began to wander around his house. I found him in the kitchen, looking at something in the oven.

“Whoa, take it easy, Brett,” Zack said as he rushed over to me when he saw me leaning on the wall.

“I’m fine,” I promised, not allowing him to hold me this time. “Oh, man, that smells amazing. What are you cooking?”

“Um, it’s this casserole thing that I was really, really craving… there’s, um, cheese, and rice, and chicken, and broccoli,” Zack rambled, going back to the oven. “But, you know, if you want anything else –“

“No, I’d love to try your cooking,” I cut him off. “How can I help?” Zack only let me take out the plates, spoons, and forks, and get us glasses of water. He put a heaping pile of the casserole on my plate, though. “I like it,” I said of the cheesy concoction. I could see Zack practically melt with relief as he smiled at me. “What time is it?”

Zack glanced at the clock on the wall. “Mmm… Time for you to get home?” he asked, It was a quarter to three.

“Yeah… I just have to make a few calls,” I muttered, pulling my phone out of my pocket. I called my aunt to let her know I was getting a ride home from a friend. I called someone to cover my shift at work, too. “Ok, let’s go.”

“Are you sure you’re feeling alright?” Zack asked, narrowing his eyes at me. I nodded and forced a smile, so he reluctantly drove me home. “Hey, Brett, can I have your number?” Zack asked when he walked me all the way to my front door. Again, he shocked me into silence. “Just so, you know, you can text me if you need anything, or want to talk about anything, or… anything…” I nodded and added myself to his contacts in his phone. He texted me so I had his number, too.

“So… Can I call you tonight?”

Zack positively beamed when I asked that.
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thanks for reading; hope you liked it!
all of you who commented last chapter; i appreciate you!
my week at the beach has definitely recharged my writing mojo.
i'll be sure to update relatively soon-ish.