Chapter Seven

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Michael turned around slowly, his eyes closing to near snake-like slits as he surveyed the person before him. A few minutes passed by, the thick silence encircling the room, getting tighter and thicker.

"Yes?" He asked, almost daringly.

I sucked in a deep breath, holding it, my heart thumping loudly in my chest to the point it echoed in my ears. My fists clenched and unclenched at my sides, sweaty with the rising tension in the room.

"Zoey doesn't know anything. If you want to ask anyone about anything, it should be me. I'm the one you should be speaking to," Mark replied with decisiveness.

I looked at him, eyebrows furrowed together in puzzlement, eyes searching his but he refused to meet my probing stare.

What is he doing?? I practically screamed in my head. I knew he hadn't spoken to Mr.Fairbrass. He wouldn't have...could he? I thought in bewilderment. And yet, he stood before me, calm as can be, almost...challenging Micheal.

That's absurd, I thought, he wouldn't do something so stupid. Right??

"I would watch what I say if I were you, boy. Being brave," he almost spat out," wouldn't be very clever." He smirked at Mark, accepting his challenge, knowing full well it was merely a tough act, one he would crush instantaneously, and with remarkable force, leaving shattered pieces of a once brave Mark littering the floor.

"We'll have to see about that then, won't we?" Mark answered, his voice faltering towards the end somewhat. "Do you want to talk or not? 'Cos right now you're wasting my time and yours."

At that, incredulous shock flashed across Michael's face momentarily, quickly being replaced with something else. Uh-oh, I thought in panic, worry creeping across my features, etching itself snugly across my face. I knew that look. We all knew that look. It was one we'd come to learn very quickly, one we'd all come to dread and avoid at all costs. Rage. Micheal contained it well at this point, a small smirk playing at the corner of his lips, like a lion bating it's prey. But I knew it was only a matter of time before he unleashed the full wrath of it. And his target would ultimately be Mark.

...

Minutes after Mark and Micheal had left the room, I felt the air leaving my chest like a balloon being sullenly deflated. I didn't even recall at what point in that entire juncture that I'd held my breath. Now that I'd let it go, my breathing heavy and starting to get heavier as the hard thump, thump, thump of my heart rose in ridiculous volume as a million scary thoughts flooded my mind; twisting and turning and growing, almost monster like, giving way to all sorts of inescapable, gripping fear.

I stood rooted to the spot, my hand firmly grasped around the wooden frame of the bed, my knuckles white with tension, my shoulders hunched over in dejection.

I whipped my head up, thoughts hurtling over each other quickly, calculating.

No, I thought. Mark is innocent, he's trying to protect me. I'm sure of it. Something needs to be done, I decided firmly.

With renewed resolve, I let go the wooden beam and proceeded to the door, quickly sucking in a shaky breath, knowing that what I was about to do, may either be the bravest or stupidest thing anyone who knows Micheal, could do.

I swiftly turned out of my room and hit right into something hard. I lifted my dazed eyes to see who was obstructing my way.

"Jackson. What are you doing here? Where's the kids?" I asked, peering absentmindedly behind him, searching quickly down the hall for three bounding children.

My heart stopped momentarily as my eyes snapped worriedly to meet Jackson's.

"What happened??" I asked in a fearful whisper, dreading the answer, but needing to know nonetheless.

"What?" Jackson asked, confused. "Oh, no, they're fine." He replied dismissively with a light throw of his arm, his full attention returning to me. "What are you doing, Zoey?" He asked me quietly, eyes focused squarely on mine, forcing me to look him in the eyes.

"What do you mean, Jackson? Look, I need to go right now, but I need you to go back to the kids and keep an eye on them. Someone needs to. I'll be back later," I replied, eyes flicking down the hall behind him and back up to meet his.

"Don't do it."

My eyes jumped up to his in surprise as I asked,"Do what?"

"Whatever you're thinking of doing. Don't do it. Mark can take care of himself. He wouldn't want you, or me, or any of us in harms way. And whatever you're thinking right now, is putting yourself exactly in harms way."

"You don't know what's going on, Jackson."

"That may be, but I know what you're thinking of doing isn't exactly smart," he replied, eyebrow raised.

"Maybe so, but Mark's always looked after us. He's always taking a beating for us, protecting us, making sure we were okay. Maybe it's time we did that for him now," I answered. I raised my hand up at Jackson at the hint of a protest. "And no. By we, I mean me. You're still a kid, Jackson. I need you to be okay. I need all of you to be okay. So I want you to go back outside and stay with the kids until I come back, okay?"

I waited for him to reply, my eyes trained on him sternly.

"Be careful, Zoey," he said in defeat. "Don't trust Micheal for a second."

"I won't," I smiled as I promised. I reached around him, pulling him to me in a hug. And for the first time in a while, Jackson reached around me and returned the hug, holding on for a time.

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