Chetachi vs. Teenage Mood Swings
Che certainly wouldn’t figure out how to infiltrate a highly guarded restricted area on an empty stomach. Besides, he’d need much more caffeine before he attempted that again.
As the elevator doors quietly shut behind him, he scanned the cafeteria, relieved to find there were many more students than he was expecting. Now that classes were going to end, it seemed like everyone else was skipping them entirely.
“You think you’re gonna be ready for the finals at the end of the week?” Tyson asked as the two of them made their way towards the line.
Che let out a sigh. “I’m not sure. It’s weird to think that today is the official last day. I don’t even know where to begin.”
Tyson nodded and grunted in agreement. “I’m gonna give it a try by Friday, but I know I’m probably not gonna to pass.”
Che came to a stop, looking up at Tyson with a determined expression on his face. “Hey, don’t say that! Of course, you can pass!”
Tyson shook his head. “Dude, I’ve never been that great at school. I’m not super smart like you.”
Che folded his arms. “Tyson, that…okay how about this? We’ll study and drill each other all week. Sound good?”
Tyson smiled, shaking his head in resignation, though Che could tell he was grateful. “Whatever you say, bro! Let’s get some food first, though.”
After getting three trays word of food between them, the pair settled down at one of the tables in the corner farthest corner of the cafeteria, even farther than where they normally sat. Che’s stomach had been rumbling since he’d woken up in the bunker, but the moment he brought his fork up to his mouth he found he’d already lost his appetite.
“Hey, you okay, man?” Tyson asked, looking at Che with concern.
Che slowly put his fork down on the tray. “I guess I just need a minute.”
“Oh, look who’s still here. It’s Sleeping Beauty and Prince Charming.”
Che turned to see Kim and Bella standing with their trays, Kim’s free hand naturally being used to stifle her trademark giggle. Bella regarded them with her usual disdain, though it was honestly a welcome expression to Che by now.
Kim smiled, looking from one to the other. “My, what’s with the long faces? Don’t tell me you two are already giving up on taking the finals.”
Che shook his head. “Actually, no. We’re determined to pass. It’s just…the food is weird today, I guess.”
Bella rolled her eyes. “You two are pathetic. How can you expect to pass your finals if you can’t even eat your lunch?”
“Geez, give the guy a break!” Tyson grunted between mouthfuls. “You know the two of us and Nikki got attacked last night, right?”
Kim and Bella exchanged a concerned glance. Kim stepped forward, the grip on her tray tightening. “What attack?”
Che realized the two had been standing in front of them for a while and gestured for them to take a seat. They reluctantly did so, Bella especially seeming highly unimpressed with the turn of events.
“On our way to Astronomy class, we got attacked again by that man from the student assembly,” Che explained, choosing his words carefully. “It was right when the explosions were going off. The guards found us and got us to a bunker underneath this tower before he could do anything serious.”
“Don’t forget to tell them he had two military recruits working with him!” Tyson added.
Kim’s eyes widened in surprise. “Two military recruits?”
Che nodded slowly. “The two that attacked us on the road on our way to Shrub Town that day. Reagan and Vista.”
Bella groaned. “Not those two! They’re still causing trouble?”
Che rolled his eyes. “I run into them pretty much once a week.”
“And you…” Bella looked from one to the other. “You two…”
Che nodded. “We take care of it.”
Tyson pounded his chest with his fist, his mouth now completely full. Bella’s face twisted in disgust, while Kim simply smiled as if this was all to be expected.
“So what now?” Bella asked. “Do they even know who this guy is at this point?”
Che shook his head, though he wished with every part of his being he could explain everything to them. “No, they still don’t have a clue as to who he is or why he’s doing this.”
“Oh, my poor Rowan! You’re safe and sound!”
Che turned just as Lorenzo enveloped him in a tight embrace, eliciting sighs, swoons, and gasps as usual from the other students. Che immediately pushed him away, glaring at the teen. How dare he even think to approach him after the stunt he pulled last night!
Lorenzo, either oblivious to Che’s fury or simply used to it, flashed him a cheeky grin. “I didn’t see you or Nikki during the chaos last night and got so worried something had happened!”
He started to reach out again, but Che scooted away in his chair, waving him away. “Don’t start, Lorenzo!”
Lorenzo pouted. “Aw, why are you so angry with me? I only want to make sure-“
“Leave him alone!” Tyson had finished eating his second tray of food and dropped it on the table, glaring at Lorenzo. “He asked you to stop.”
Lorenzo drew himself back theatrically. “Tyson, you too?”
Che closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Look, I don’t have the energy for all this right now. I only got three hours of sleep last night and barely managed to get coffee this morning. I’ll continue to be mad at you later. Just sit down and stop being weird for like fifteen minutes. Please.”
Lorenzo huffed but complied, slowly taking a seat and crossing his arms over his chest. “You don’t have to be so mean…”
“Yes, he does…” Tyson grumbled.
Che just rolled his eyes. “Anyway. So, is everyone planning on taking their finals this Friday?”
“Of course! I only need a few days to study anyway!” Bella replied with a smile.
“At this point, the sooner we can leave the better,” Kim scoffed.
“Oh, but you can’t all leave yet!” Lorenzo interjected. “Especially Rowan! Who’s going to be my Sparring partner?”
“Lorenzo, classes are ending this week,” Che reminded him. “So you won’t have a Sparring partner anyway.”
“I guess…” Lorenzo looked away, seeming oddly dejected at the news. “I guess you’re right about that.”
Che pinched the bridge of his nose again, this time with his eyes open so that he could keep an eye on Lorenzo. How did he end up with everyone at his lunch table today?
He glanced at Tyson, who just shook his head and shrugged. Bella and Kim both brought food up to their mouths at the same time, and that’s when Che noticed the identical silver charm bracelets.
“Where did you all get those?” he asked, pointing to the bracelets.
The two girls exchanged a glance before Kim spoke up. “It’s not important, honestly.”
“Nothing YOU need to worry about,” Bella added.
Che eyed them suspiciously. “I was only asking since Nikki has the same one. I thought it was cool you all had matching bracelets.”
Bella paused for a moment, and Kim watched her closely. There was a long stretch of silence before Bella finally answered. “It was meant to symbolize a promise, but I guess it’s meaningless now.”
“A promise?” Che raised an eyebrow.
“Why are you asking so many questions?” Bella snapped, her voice suddenly sharp. “It’s not your business!”
Kim put a hand on Bella’s arm to calm her. “Bella, it’s ok. You know he’s a little dense. I don’t think he means any harm.”
Yet, Bella wasn’t convinced. She glared at Che, her blue eyes becoming hard and cold. “It doesn’t concern him.”
“Aw, what’s the matter?” Lorenzo asked, leaning forward. “You can trust, Rowan! He’s always so nice and dependable! Plus, he knows I’d simply die if something ever happened to him!”
Che gave Lorenzo a warning look, and he quickly leaned back, not wanting to anger Che further.
“But can we trust YOU, though?” Tyson asked Lorenzo, his gaze piercing.
The rest of the table turned to look at Lorenzo, who began to fidget in his seat. “Aw, Tyson, what have I done to upset you now? Why can’t we just be friends again?”
“We were never friends!” Tyson spat, standing up and pushing his chair back. Every head in the cafeteria turned to face them, and Che wanted to melt into his chair. “Don’t ever act like we were!”
“Hey, cool it, Tyson!” Che glared at Tyson and held up his hand. “Don’t forget Lorenzo helped us protect you and your family the other day! You don’t have to like each other, but don’t be so cruel.”
Tyson stood his ground, but he backed away from Lorenzo. “You don’t know him. You don’t know him at all. Everyone in our neighborhood in Camellia City knows he’s a freak! You can’t trust him!”
“Tyson!” Che glared even more at the teen. “Stop being an asshole! How can you call him something like that?”
“It’s okay, Rowan. He’s right, anyway,” Lorenzo said sadly, gathering his tray and standing up from the table. “Don’t forget what I told you. Eventually, you’ll feel the same way. Give it time.”
Che watched Lorenzo walk away, stunned. Was that how he actually felt about himself? Che sighed and shook his head. He was beginning to piece together the puzzle that was Lorenzo, but he still felt like he had so much to learn.
“Tyson, what is your problem?” Che asked, turning back to the teen. “Why do you hate him so much?”
Tyson grunted and paused for a moment before sitting back down. “Dude, just drop it. I don’t want to talk about it right now.”
“Tyson, you can’t just call him –“
“I said I don’t want to talk about it.”
“He helped us fight off that lunatic the other day!”
“I don’t care!” Tyson shouted. By now, the rest of the cafeteria had gone completely silent. “I don’t care about him, and I never will!”
“His family left him here that day, you know!” Che’s voice was growing louder with each word. “I know you saw them! They were nasty and rude to him, and I know you heard everything like I did! You just laughed and kept walking like it was nothing!”
The others watched as Tyson’s face grew red with anger. “Stop acting like you know anything about him or why I feel this way!”
Che looked at Tyson for a moment, shocked at how tense and angry he was. What had Lorenzo done that was so bad? Che paused, allowing a moment of silence so he could calm himself down. At the end of the day, these were still teenagers, after all.
To him, nothing was worse than what Yokan had done, but he was in an environment where someone having a crush on someone else could spell certain doom. He had to remember that what they considered a big deal to them wasn’t a big deal to him. Still, he wanted to get through to Tyson somehow.
“Look, I know he can be weird and a bit of a nuisance,” Che kept his tone even. “Believe me. I know, but that-“
Tyson jumped back to his feet, gathering both of his trays in one swift motion. “No, you don’t! You don’t know anything!”
And with that, Tyson quickly stormed away, leaving Che alone with his Bella and Kim. Che sighed and slumped back in his seat, feeling suddenly exhausted.
“Well, that’s too bad,” Kim sighed, picking at her untouched food with her fork. “You can’t make everyone get along, you know.”
Che let out a weak chuckle and nodded. “I guess you’re right.”
He then glanced around the cafeteria, noticing no one else had entered it since he’d arrived. “I just wonder where Nikki is. I haven’t gotten a chance to talk to her today.”
“So what?” Bella rolled her eyes and swatted the air.
“Don’t be like that,” Che gave Bella a stern look.
“Don’t be like what?” Bella’s gaze grew just as intense. “I don’t care where she is or what she’s doing.”
“You know what I mean,” Che didn’t break eye contact with Bella. “The way you two treat her, I don’t get it. I don’t get any of this right now, to be honest.”
“You don’t have to get it!” Bella retorted. “It’s none of your business!”
“Well, actually it is my business,” Che replied firmly. “Nikki is…”
“What?” Bella interrupted. “Your friend? Well, guess what? She used to be our friend too! Then, she made a promise and lied about it!”
Che closed his eyes and groaned. He couldn’t take any more grudge matches today. “Bella, I’m sure she didn’t mean to…”
“But she did,” Kim cut in. “She once promised to help us get away from a bad person, but when the time came, she didn’t help us.”
“THAT is the person you call a friend!” Bella declared, dropping her fork onto her plate and folder her arms.
Che shook his head. He knew Nikki wasn’t perfect, but he didn’t think she deserved the level of hatred Bella and Kim were displaying.
“Look,” Che spoke calmly, trying to defuse the situation. “Maybe she made a mistake, but I just don’t think-“
“SHE is the MISTAKE!” Bella shouted, eliciting gasps and shocked reactions from everyone around their table.
Che opened his mouth to retort when he noticed someone in the corner of his eye abruptly rise to their feet holding their tray. He turned to see it was Nikki, who had been listening to the entire conversation.
She stood there for a moment, her eyes meeting Che’s. He could see the hurt in her expression, and it broke his heart.
“Nikki, I know they didn’t-” Che couldn’t finish his sentence before Nikki cut him off.
“No, Rowan,” she whispered, her voice shaky. “You don’t have to explain anything.”
She quickly emptied her tray in a nearby trash bin and, without another word, made her way to the exit.
“Nikki, wait!” Che jumped to his feet and started to follow her.
Bella and Kim watched him without saying another word. Che looked back at Bella, who just silently shook her head. Kim was staring down at her tray, her expression unreadable.
Che sighed and turned back to Nikki, who had already made it to the elevator. He rushed to press the button to open the doors but was too late. She was already heading for the lobby. Che paused as he stood before the elevator, feeling frustrated and helpless.
Now wasn’t the time for everything to fall apart. That was exactly what Yokan would want.