Chapter 17


George. What a stupid name to have, anyway. It fit such a stupid person. Such a stupid, beer-bellied, disgusting, sleazy person.

Okay, so he wasn't really that bad. Shut up. But there had to be something wrong with his sick little mind to willingly date my mother knowing that she was hiding a divorce from her kids and go along with it!

So I had met him. Kinda. When I returned from the Asylum, already nice and pissed off, he had been inside my house eating my food and talking to… Well, he could talk to my mother until they both starved to death, for all I cared. But those were my pretzels, and I had told him that when I saw him in the kitchen and snatched the bag out of his unsuspecting hands. Then I had turned and fled upstairs and locked myself in the bathroom because it was the only room with a lock and I was trying to take Bishop's words to heart. I just didn't have enough cash for gas. Locking myself in the bathroom was much cheaper, even if it was incredibly boring.

So George didn't have any more fat than the average… well, I can't say American guy, because that typically did include a beer belly… He didn't have any more fat than the average international guy, anyway. He wasn't balding and his hair didn't look greasy like he never washed it. When I had walked in on my mother and him before, I must have been seeing what I expected to see. But George? He wasn't ugly or drunk or an asshole, not as far as I knew. Which sucked, because then I couldn't hate him as much.

I had stayed in the bathroom for a very long time. When I got out, it was almost nine o'clock and I was hungry. (George had drained most of my pretzels. Or maybe they had been in such short supply before… Nope, better to blame it on him.) So I microwaved some soup before going to bed early. Despite my early bedtime, I woke up at five pm the next day- the day I was supposed to go over to George's for dinner.

I dressed in one of those girl-cut rock band t-shirts after a shower. By the time I was done with the process of waking up, it was closer to six than five.

My mom was in her room, so it was safe to go downstairs and microwave some soup. The phone rang, and I let it for a while until I realized that my mom wasn't getting it. Just when the answering machine started to pick up the call, I darted over to the phone and answered.

"Hey, Anna, it's Alex," he replied.

"Oh, hey," I said casually. He called a lot now. "What's up?"

"There's this girl at school…" I rolled my eyes, figuring that he was going to start gushing over her. "I've told you about my friend Maria, right?"

"Yeah," I said, beginning to grin. She was supposed to be a tomboy- in his words, "a really hot one." Most of his friends were after her, as well as all the rest of the male population.

"Well she said that she'd be cool with you staying with her until I got enough money to find an apartment-" His voice cut off as I hung up. I had told him, in quite firm terms, to shut up whenever he began mentioning me moving to stay with him. Sure, some things sucked, but I wasn't willing to leave Bishop and the rest of my friends.

The phone began ringing again almost instantly. If I didn't tell him to lay off now, Alex would be calling me for the next week every minute he got, so I picked up the phone.

"Listen, Alex, I'm not moving to freaking Portland, okay? I'm fine here so just lay off!"

"You were going to move to Oregon and you didn't tell us?" Bishop asked on the other side of the phone. I gapped for a moment, eyes wide.

"Oh. Hey, Bishop. I thought you were Alex," I mumbled embarrassedly.

"Your brother's making you move to Oregon?" he asked again.

"No. I mean, yeah. But I'm not going. So I guess that means no." My cheeks heated. I was good at answering questions that required a simple yes or no answer.

"Right. That's good."


"So… What'd you call me about?" I asked after a long time.

"Don't go to George's for dinner."

"Wait- what? How'd you know about that?" Dial tone. "Bishop? Damn it, Bishop!"

Life was starting to get weird and complicated and annoying and I really had no cause to be liking it. I whirled around, feet stomping hard on the linoleum, when the dinger for the microwave went off (yes, I was microwaving another can of soup; so I can't cook or even make a sandwhich). I yelped when I nearly ran right into George. How had he gotten there? He was staring at me. That was incredibly uncomfortable. I took a step back. Hold on- Bishop knew him, so he knew Bishop, and Bishop didn't like him, so he probably didn't like Bishop, and he had heard me talking, and I had said Bishop! Holy crap!

"Did you just say-"

"No, I didn't say Bishop."

Heh. Good one, me. He cocked a brow, his eyes gaining this creepy glint. I shivered and took a step back.

"Um… I… have to… go… now… I'm going to… wash my hair…" No, out of the house. "At Jessie's… Soooo…. Bye."

I bolted. And ran into my mom.

"Anna, where are you going?"

I mumbled something about my hair and Jessie's house. She caught the "Jessie" part.

"But you don't even go over to her house anymore!" I was surprised she knew that. I subtly edged around her, trying to talk my way out of the room.

"Yeah, see, I was hoping to renew our friendship, you know, so it could be like good times again-"

"Well you can do that later," she said, stepping purposefully in front of me and putting her hands on her hips. "You are coming to have dinner with me and George."

"Ew! Gross, no!" Old Anna would have immediately shut her mouth after saying that and been embarrassed. New Anna- okay, so she wasn't any ballsier. She (Yes I refered to myself in the third person three times in a row- you should try it. It's fun.) was just really creeped out over George. "I gotta go. Have a terrible time."

"Anna!" she gasped, sounding appalled. She grabbed my arm, preventing escape. "What's gotten into you?"

"Lots of things. Now let me go before I call social services."

"Honey, I'll let you sort this out," George said. "I have to go over and tidy up, then I'll come right back and pick you up when dinner's on, okay?"

I didn't hear the end of that conversation. I yanked my arm away and bolted out the door to my precious Jeep. Then I realized that I'd left my keys in my jacket, so I just ran. I got away fast, like Bishop had told me to. But then I saw George pass me in his green car. He didn't even look at me. I slowed to a walk.

It was cold. I should have brought a jacket with me. Snow was on the ground, and my sneakers glumly kicked it into the air on the previously-untrodden sidewalk. No, not sidewalk. That bit of road that's on the right of the white line. Does anybody know what that's called? I never did.

I kept walking, not really minding where I was going. The neighborhood started to get worse and shabbier, but that was alright; most of King's crew probably lived here.

I stopped in my tracks. What a stupid, stereotypical, asshole-ish thing to cross my mind. Just because a kid smoked didn't mean he was a slummer. I was most definitely out of it.

I would have kept going, but someone was shouting. Only one person; it was like he was having an argument with himself. Except I couldn't hear the words. Whatever. I kept going, and the shouts got louder. I became slightly more aware that I was in what could be considered a dangerous part of town. Not quite aware enough to care.

Until I saw him.

The shouting drew my attention to a one-story white house that had a green car in the driveway and needed a paint-job. The shouting was coming from just inside, from a shadow of a furious man who didn't deserve my attention. But He was stepping outside.

He wasn't fighting back; his chin was almost lowered onto his chest and his bare hands were shoved into his jean pockets. He didn't have a shirt on, yet he was being forced out into the cold, below-freezing air. He didn't fight back.

When he was closer, out into his yard, and he looked back over his shoulder at the man in the doorway, I could see why. Two bright-red welts decorated his chest, one his abdomen. He looked more beaten and resigned than I had ever seen him. He didn't look up enough to see me. He was walking dejectedly toward the trees, wearing only jeans and shoes.

I looked up. Pawn was in the window, crying.

Bishop vanished into the woods.

"Don't come back, you no-good bastard!" George shouted from the doorway.

Then George saw me. I couldn't see from the other side of the street, but he gave the impression of a gasp. I glanced at the window. Pawn was staring at me. I turned back to George, because he was saying something to me. No, he was shouting. I dazedly half-listened.

"Your mother loves me, and I love her! If you dare get in the way of that I swear I'll kill you! I'll kill you and-" He continued describing a plethora of disagreeable scenarios. I just stared at him, blinking a bit too much. I must have looked like a kid who had just lost her mommy in the mall.

Then I shook my head to clear it, and then only one thing mattered: Bishop. I ignored George's threats and ran into the woods. Now I wasn't much of a tracker, but any idiot can follow someone's footsteps in newly-fallen snow. And even I could tell, by the length between the footsteps and the disrupted snow surrounding them, that Bishop had started to run as soon as he couldn't be seen from the house.

I followed for a long time, until I wasn't cold anymore. But that wasn't good enough. I felt like shit. I'm so pitiable, I have a few problems, I'm not universally adored, boohoo, I mocked myself in my head. Tears gathered unwillingly in my eyes at the thought of what Bishop had been going through and a scrubbed them away. How long as he had to go through with this?

My breath came raggedly, and my legs began to get tired. How long had I been running?

And then the chase was over. Bishop was right there, crouched up against a tree, in the snow, with his head resting on his kneecaps and his arms wrapped around his jeans. He didn't look up. Had he even heard me?

I didn't know what to say. Bishop, I'm sorry for never realizing what you were going through. Bishop, I'm sorry for kissing Derek. Bishop, I'm sorry I didn't meet you sooner. Bishop, I love you.

But no. I didn't say any of that, even though I should have. I should have said all of it. But I didn't.

"Bishop?" I whispered. He looked up. Tears made shiny streaks down either side of his face. My tears returned and I fell down beside him and put my arms around him. At first he didn't respond and his crying seemed to have stopped. But then he turned, his face buried into my shoulder, and wept. I cried too, but I did it silently; anyway, my tears were for him.

I held him for a long time and, even though his weeping stopped quickly, he stayed with me and didn't lift his head. I kissed the top of his blue head. Eventually he straightened, not quite looking at me. My arm was still around his shoulder, and somehow his arm was around my waist.

"I'm sorry," he mumbled. "It's not your problem." I was shocked. Did he think I didn't care?

"Bishop, of course it's my problem, because it's your problem, and I…" Love you. I couldn't get the words out of my mouth. Bishop wiped his eyes and looked at me.

"I think I need to explain." I didn't say anything, so he continued. "That was my stepdad. Our mom died a long time ago, so he doesn't have to pretend to like me anymore. Pawn was… He's her dad. But he…" Bishop took a breath. "When he does things to me and I fight back, he threatens her. I can't… I can't let her get hurt because of me." I opened my mouth to say something, and even I wasn't sure what, but he covered my mouth. "No. If I don't say this, I don't know if I ever will."

He closed his eyes and took another breath.

"All those times I talked to you about Render… When I acted stupid and crazy and messed up… It's because he's my dad. But you can't say anything to him. I'm serious. He'll think I'm looking for pity or…" He trailed off. "Do you see why I don't want you around George?"

I nodded. He obviously wanted the subject changed, so I left it that way.

Then it hit me: Render was Bishop's father. I was stunned. How was that even possible? Render must have been fifteen or something… But then, he had grown up a lot faster than most. And now Bishop had grown up faster than most.

Render was Bishop's father.

Render was Bishop's father.

Render… I blinked and shook my head.

"Bishop, you don't even have a shirt. Come on; my mom should be at your house by now. You can have something of Alex's."

"Is he the one that wants you to move to Oregon?"


"You won't, will you?"

Not without you, because I love you.

"No. Come on, Bishop, you'll freeze and die and it'll be all my fault." He managed a weak smile and let me pull him up to his feet. We started walking, first out to the road and that half-sidewalkish thingy.

A bunch of cars slowed down to stare at us, and I learned to stop looking when a bunch of girls from my high school nearly stopped to gape at us. They don't know anything.

In a familiar fashion, the sand on the road gave me the impression of wheels spinning more slowly. Very slowly. This time, the car took almost a minute just to get on level with us, so I had to glance over. It was Rook.

"Bishop," I whispered. He looked up too, and together we got into the back of Rook's car. He didn't say anything but turned the heat on full-blast. He didn't even look at us in his rear-view mirror. Bishop and I shivered until the car was hotter than Miami in the summer.

"You want me to drop you off at Anna's?" Rook asked.

"If my mom isn't home," I said.

"She isn't. Pawn called me. She was worried about you guys." He pulled into my driveway. We got out, but Bishop stopped when Rook called him back with an open window.

"Do you-" he said, then saw me. He lowered his voice into a whisper. It was a short question, and Bishop said, "Yes." My heart sank. Was I still not trustworthy?

I trudged toward the house, my sneakers beginning to get very soggy and cold. When we were inside, I got Bishop a shirt and made hot chocolate.

"Why did you ask me where he was?" I asked, sitting next to him on the couch. He knew what I was talking about: that time in the slums, when we were alone.

"I don't know," he answered, swishing his drink around. "I really can't tell you. I just… I know where he is, but if I go barging up there…. I want him to see me on his own account. That's when I'll know he cares. I don't think he does."

"Bishop, you know about chess." He nodded. "Did you know- no, you couldn't. He protects his bishops more than his king."

Bishop kept his eyes on his hot chocolate. He didn't speak. I knew what he was thinking: Why put effort into protecting a figure that was meant to represent him rather than actually speaking to him? I reached out my hand and put it on his knee. His hand wrapped around mine.

It was perfect. His hand was warm, his grip tight. I swallowed and he looked up at me. I couldn't read his eyes at all; was he sad, or angry, or confused, or apathetic? I didn't know. But his gaze was intense and I found myself licking my lips.

"Don't talk to him about me," he said. "Please. I can't… He needs to talk to me on his own account."

What if he never did? I didn't voice that thought. Bishop was obviously thinking it anyway.

Suddenly Bishop buried his face into his hot chocolate. I stared at the wall, my mind having a difficult time processing all of the shock.

"You should go," he said. My head snapped over to him and a gave him a quizzical look. "I mean… To Oregon, with your brother."

I just stared at him. He looked guilty, as if he had instantly regretted what he had said. But he met my gaze, not contradicting his decision as I prayed that he would. Take it back, tell me you can't bear to have me leave, please take it back.

He didn't.

"Why?" My voice cracked. I could have punched myself.

"It won't be safe here, anymore. If you convince your mom to leave George he'll be pissed, and he's capable of more than you'd think. If your mom won't listen… You'll be like Pawn. But maybe he'll hate you like he hates me, and knock you around too. You can't stay here, Anna, as much as I want you to. Please. Please leave." His grip tightened on my hand as he pleaded. I silently shook my head.

"Why not?"

"I-I couldn't. I'd…" die without you, because I love you.

Damn it, why couldn't I say that instead of think it?

But he nodded, as if he understood- or thought that he did.

"I didn't think you would. I had to try, right? But… I'm glad you aren't going to- not that you shouldn't if you change your mind. It'd definitely be best for you to go." A small smile touched his lips. "Even though it's definitely best for you to stay here." I laughed. He grinned sadly and hugged me around the shoulders.

I hated to ruin the good moment; I really did. But there were things that just had to be done. I reveled in the warm embrace for long moments before speaking.

"We're going to the Asylum."

Bishop jumped up and took a couple of steps back, his eyes slightly wide.

"No," he said. "No we aren't. I'm not going, and you're definitely not going, and we're staying right here."

"And waiting for my mom to get home?" I asked. "What will George have said to her by then? Bishop, we can't stay here. And you can't avoid Render your whole life."

"Avoid?" he shouted. "What are you talking about, avoid? I've never avoided him! He keeps from me like I've got the plague! When I first found out who he was, when I was eleven, Rook's brother drove us to the Asylum. He brought us up to Render's room. The door was locked. He wouldn't answer. I cried because I knew he was there but he hated me so much that he didn't want to see me. You don't understand, Anna- I can't. It's not something I don't want to do; I can't."

"You'll let a locked door stand between you and someone you love?" I asked, getting to my feet to be nearer to eye-level with him. "That's not the friend I know." That's not the kid I fell for. But I couldn't say that, of course.

"Maybe you don't know me as well as you think!" he snapped, and I flinched like he had struck me. But immediately his eyes got wide and he apologized, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean… Everything that's been going on's just got me on edge, you know? I'm sorry."

"No, you're right," I said eventually. "I don't know much about you. And you can tell me everything I should know on the ride to the Asylum."

"We're not going there."

"We are. Because Render- I'm sorry, Bishop. I'm so sorry. But Render won't come to you. He'll wait for you to come to him. And if you don't go, you'll never find out if it will work or not. And if it doesn't work? Then you know. Then you've tried."

Bishop stared at me for a long time. Then he shook his head.

"No. You don't understand, Anna."

"I understand fine," I said. "You're afraid he'll reject you again, and that'll mean that he never wants to see you. So then you can hate him. But what if he doesn't? Then you can love him. Either way, it's better than moping about him all the time!" His eyebrows slanted into a glare. I swallowed. Please don't be mad at me.

"Stop trying to analyze me and my choices! You don't have any idea what goes through my head when I hear his name, or what I've been through to try to get to him. It's my life- I'll do what I want."

"Like Conan did what he wanted?" I shot back. "Like Diablo does what he wants? Like George does what he wants?"

"Don't compare me to them!" he shouted. I wanted to cry. Don't be mad. Please. But I had planned what I was going to say after he finished yelling at me, because he couldn't ruin his life like this. I refused to watch it. "I'm nothing like, George, nothing like Diablo! Don't even mention them around me! Especially not George! I'm not beating some bastard kid, I don't rape little girls, and I'm not taking a fucking knife to my throat!"

"You're still killing yourself, Bishop," I had meant to shout. I didn't shout it, though. It came out as a whisper. Maybe that was more effective, anyway. "Slowly, but more painfully. Sometimes what you want to do isn't what's good for you or anyone around you. You don't need me to tell you that." He didn't speak, so I went to the door, pulling my jean jacket off the hook and slipping my arms into it. "Just don't get caught here alone."

I turned my back and left. With tears in my eyes, but I left. Have you ever tried to turn your friend in to guidance counselors at school because your friend was doing drugs, knowing that you were saving his life but at the same time knowing that he was fully capable of hating you forever and longer? But it had to be done, because nobody wants their friends to die.

And I didn't want Bishop to die. Not literally, of course, but on the inside. He was a beautiful person, inside and out. That might sound corny, but he had shining personality that only came out of the shell of when he wasn't thinking of Render. And he thought of Render a lot, recently. Render made him melancholy and depressed, and I couldn't bear to watch Bishop tear himself apart behind his beautiful eyes.

I was hoping that, as I got into my Jeep, he would come running out of the house at the last second, his mind changed. I went through the process of pulling out of my driveway as slowly as possible, but no Bishop. As soon as I was out of sight of the house, I slammed my foot down on the pedal.

I was going to the Asylum. Except this time, I wasn't running from my problems. In fact, I was probably creating a million more.