Ace slammed the door to his room, and locked it carefully. Even so, he was careful to check thoroughly before he permitted himself to walk with his usual confidence.
The room was filled with soft sounds, even before he turned on his music. Most of them were alarms of some kind. He worked his way through them, until he was sitting in front of his computer, with a cold can of Coke from his mini fridge, and a plate of snacks. One thing he could give his mother credit for was keeping his snack cupboard up here well-stocked. He was sure it was just another reason to prevent him from going downstairs. From his mother’s point-of-view, the only time Ace was safe was when he was safely inside his room. In this house, she was right.
Running his hand through his hair, Ace allowed his hands to roam over the familiar keyboard and the last of the alarms whispered into silence. Barely moments later, it started again. Ace smiled. That was exactly what he’d hoped for.
“Hey you, where have you been?”
Ace had never been so glad James was blind. He knew he looked a mess, and the last thing he wanted was for his friend to know how rattled he was. He swiped the back of his hand across his nose, wiping tears of self-pity from his cheek at the same time. Maybe this hadn’t been such a good idea after all.
“What makes you think something’s wrong?”
“Don’t bullshit me, Richmond, what’s happened?”
Ace sniffed. Who had he been kidding? He could never hide anything from James. “Just came back from the hospital.”
“The hospital? What the fuck happened? Are you okay?”
The concern in James’ voice warmed the cold place that had been growing inside Ace’s chest since he’d returned to his room after lunch to find that, in the short time it had taken him to recover from Logan’s assault and make the decision to lock the door of his room, Logan had run up the stairs and thrown a handful of marbles in through the door. Ace had always felt safe in his room and hadn’t been on guard when he stood on the marble and came crashing down on his bad shoulder.
Whether by good or bad fortune his mother had heard his yells and come running up the stairs. Ace would never know if her curses had all been because of his pain or because she’d seen the marbles. In any event, she’d bundled him up and drove him to the hospital for a professional assessment on his shoulder. He’d been in so much pain he hadn’t argued. After four hours at the hospital, more pain than he could ever remember, and a bagful of drugs he couldn’t wait to swallow, Ace was home with his arm in a sling and a warning to keep the shoulder moving or it would get stiff. His mother told him he should be thankful it was nothing more than a sprain. Ace couldn’t find much comfort in that.
“You know I hurt my shoulder at school with that stupid frieze?”
“I fell on it and it hurt so much my mother made me go get it checked. It’s fine. Just have to wear a sling for a couple of days, and if it doesn’t get better I might have to have physiotherapy. It’s nothing major, just me feeling sorry for myself.”
“How did you fall?”
There was something dangerous in James’ voice and Ace didn’t want to say another word, but the need to get everything off his chest was too great and in the end he told James about the marbles.
“I’m going to kill him. I don’t know when or how, but someday, somehow, I’m going to kill the bastard.”
Ace shivered. He knew James didn’t mean what he said, no matter how serious he sounded, but he also knew that James would find some way, short of murder, to pay Logan back.
“Please, James, don’t. For all his faults, Logan is my brother, and I don’t want to see him hurt. Besides, if you do anything I’ll get blamed. Just let it lie. Anyway, it won’t be long before I’m safe with you.”
James growled. “You should be safe there. It’s your home. Your mother is so fucking worried about danger everywhere, why can’t she see how dangerous it is in her own fucking house?”
“Stop swearing,” Ace said automatically. He’d never been completely comfortable with swearing, and James did it a lot.
“Oh for fuck sake, stop trying to divert the topic.”
“I wasn’t. I just don’t like too much swearing. You know that.”
Speaking with James always made Ace feel stronger and calmer. James’ unhesitating support and righteous anger on Ace’s behalf could be worrying sometime but it always made him feel better. He smiled at the screen, even though he knew James couldn’t see him.
“You’re my knight in shining armour,” he said.
“What?” James snapped, no doubt thinking it was another ploy to divert the topic. He’d be half right.
“You always come rushing in to my defence, no matter what, like a knight on a charger.”
“Oh for God’s sake, Richmond, you sound like a bloody….”
“A goddamn princess.”
Ace laughed out loud. “I’m a princess in a tower, and you’re my knight. Come rescue me, Sir Knight. Save me from the horrible people who keep me prisoner and want to murder me.”
“I want to murder you right now.”
Ace smiled. He could tell that James was amused and that the amusement had, at least temporarily, killed his anger. To be truthful, he couldn’t give James answers to any of his questions. He’d asked them to himself often enough, and had come up with nothing. All he knew was that if he tried to make a fuss it made everything a whole lot worse and he was always the one who came off badly. Even when his parents did take his part against Logan or Nick the fallout was horrible.
“Don’t make me talk about all this shit, James,” Ace pleaded. “Talk about things that make me happy.”
“I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about those things on a computer,” James said, his voice suddenly husky. “My mother might read them.”
“That’s not what I was talking about and you know it.”
“I bet you’d love me to talk dirty to you, wouldn’t you?”
“Yeah right. Dream on.”