17. Cool Kids

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She sees them walking in a straight line. That's not really her style - Echosmith

4:02 p.m. Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Without a word to Lee, Harry nods at Patrick as he grabs two jump ropes from the box by the door. Jogging over to his friend after glancing at his coach, Patrick's forehead is furled. Harry hands him the rope and begins jumping furiously, causing the rope to barely be seen as it swishes over his head.

His thoughts are churning. This town. How could they pretend to not know him? Glaring at the other boys in the boxing program, Harry skips the rope as he turns to face the wall. He can't hold the teens responsible for a decision their parents made and forced on them, but his hurt and anger sit equally side by side in his gut. Lee had known who he was. No wonder he hadn't pressed for an explanation when Harry made the comment about sleeping on tour.

Honestly Harry would pack up and leave town without a second thought if not for the Ps. The attachment he feels to these children is what anchors him. He'd thought he was on his own here, making his way. His anonymity had surprised him, but it had also made him feel normal.

Betrayed. No other word for his current emotional state.

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4:03 p.m. Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Phoenix enters the house at a full-on jog, sprinting past her aunt and sister who are playing a game of Connect Four in the living room. The tears haven't stopped flowing, although the sobs have subsided. Now it's just the hiccups that give her away. If she can get upstairs before Aunt Chele notices, then maybe she can disappear. Perhaps a hole to the underworld will open up and suck her in.

She can never go to school again. Never talk to anyone again. Maybe she can enroll in an online high school, allowing her to stay home forever. Or until she quietly graduates and can move far, far away.

Throwing herself on her bed, her cries begin again in earnest, and she knows the snot and tears are going to cover her pillow. At this moment, she doesn't care. Nothing matters anymore.

A soft knock on the door causes her to freeze, ceasing her sniffles as she waits to hear the demand.

"Phoenix? Honey? Are you okay?" Aunt Chele calls, and then she hears her mutter, "Stupid question, Michele. Of course she's not okay." There's a throat clearing, and then a soft, "Phee? I'm coming in."

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4:14 p.m. Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Silently, Harry leads Patrick through some shadow boxing moves. The older man is in a mood, and Patrick can't figure out what's happened. Or what could possibly cause it. They're in Nowhere for crying out loud. Nothing happens here.

Coach Lee approaches a couple of times, but Harry ignores him, physically turning his back at one point. When they've shadow boxed for a few minutes, warming up their feet and arms, Harry removes some jab pads from his equipment bag. Holding them up to Patrick, he encourages the boy to practice his punches.

"Give it a little more lift from your elbow," Harry instructs, and Patrick listens, surprised at how the small movement changes the trajectory.

"You okay, Harry?" Lee asks, moving closer again, standing with his arms folded across his chest.

With a grunt, Harry passes the pads to his partner and begins jabbing. When Lee doesn't move, the punches come harder and more quickly. Patrick braces himself each time, confident that Harry won't purposely hurt him, but his hands are starting to sting.

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