2. After the Fire

That was the last time I saw Ryker. Ten years have passed. I barely understood what had happened myself. I just remember waking up in a strange place. The last thing I remembered was being in the hospital, before the doctor came to get me to runs some tests. The next thing I know, I'm waking up in a strange bedroom. 

Over time, I had come to find out that there had been a major warehouse fire, that I was somehow involved in. My parents had come there for some reason, but unfortunately they had died in the fire. It never made a lot of sense, but I quickly found out that no one cared to tell me what actually happened. The more questions I would ask, the more questions I would be left with. They would only tell me basic information. Such as, because I had no other family, and Ryker was too young to take care of me. I was placed into the foster system. I had been deemed an orphan. I wanted so much to see my brother again. I dreamt every night to have him back. That night, I didn't just lose my parents. I lost my brother as well.

It’s been over a decade since I’ve had what everyone else has. A family. My parents died in a tragic fire when I was only eight years old. My life from that day forward disappeared with it.

It’s been years since I've heard from my brother. The foster system didn’t allow me to keep in touch with him. No one would tell me what happened to him. I never knew if he was ok or not. It hurt me, to think that something may have happened to him. As much as I tried to prevent myself from wondering, I sometimes found myself wondering what he was doing now. Did he miss me, as much as I missed him? Is he doing ok? What about Xavier? 

So many questions, and what if's would float around in my head. I eventually turned to books as a coping mechanism. I was driving myself crazy from not knowing, and creating potential scenarios in my mind. So I turned to books. I wanted to learn everything and anything. It was a way to get my mind to stop focusing on the unknown, instead focus on the present. I started teaching myself different languages. I had always enjoyed travelling when I was a kid, so learning another language seemed obvious. I first started with French, then Spanish, then Italian, and before I knew it. I was fluent in over a dozen different languages.

Ever since that day, my life drastically changed. I'm no longer that young and naive child, that would follow around my brother and his best friend. Rather, now I seek isolation, a sense of calm from the storm which is my life. 

 I never cared about any of my foster homes. They were just filling a temporary void. I would often run away from my foster families, in hopes that I could find my brother. I missed him. I wanted to make sure he was doing ok. I had also secretly hoped that if he found me, that he would take care of me. So I would never have to go back to my foster families again. I was never that lucky though. I spent years looking for him, in the only way I knew how.

I would travel the streets at night. I walked every street in the city looking for him. I soon knew the city better than everyone. I became friends with what people would consider as 'the outcasts' or homeless people. They were always really nice to me, and would tell me stories about the dark side of the city. They would tell me tales of the Dragons and the Scorpions. That's all they were at the time. Just tales. Stories that people made up. However, as I got older, I realized that every story has it's origin. Meaning that while I had thought the Dragons and Scorpions were made up, they were actually rival gangs in our city.

By the time I was a teenager, I had pretty much given up on the hope of ever being reunited with my brother. Instead, I found myself looking over the city at one of my favourite spots. The roof of an old abandoned building soon became my escape from life. Whenever I was here, I felt safe. A feeling I never got from my life any other time. 

I would spend my time, looking out at the stars, watching over the city. The stars have always given me solace. A feeling of calmness. Whenever I would feel lonely, or just wanted to get away, I found myself here.

 It reminds me of when I was a kid. Ryker and Xavier would invite me to camp outside in our backyard. My brother loved the outdoors, and Xavier loved the night sky. So camping was a frequent hobby of theirs. 

Xavier was fascinated by the stars so much, that he hoped that one day he could be an astronaut. He knew every constellation. As a kid, I would relax by his side, as he showed me where each of the constellations were located. I often fell asleep beside him under the stars. Xavier spent more time at our house, then he did at his own. We never talked about why that was. I just got the impression that he just didn't like going home.

Whenever I'm up here, I often find myself dreaming of what could've been. What life is like for Ryker and Xavier. Are they doing better than me? Are they having fun. I find myself lost in my daydreams about what life would be like for them. I can picture Ryker as the captain of the school's soccer team. He always loved soccer. Soccer meant more to him than school itself. I can see my brother getting home from school, excitedly announcing that he has won yet another game. I see him going on to play for the big leagues. 

When I think about Xavier, I see him next to my bother, enjoying life together. Ryker had him try out for the soccer team as well. Xavier made it, but unlike Ryker, Xavier could care less. Soccer was never his passion, rather Science was. I can see him going to the science fairs, and winning every competition. I can see him volunteering at the local observatory, in hopes of further pursuing his dream of being an astronaut. 

I find myself lost in these thoughts. To the point that I 'talk' to them. I keep 'them' updated on how my day was. The bad things that would happen, just like I would if we were still together. I find peace when I tell them. I know they can't really hear me, but for me its a fix. Like going to your mom to kiss your injuries away. The kiss never actually does anything, but the belief that you're stronger and miraculously healed, is the best euphoria.

Tomorrow my life is about to change. I just don't know yet if it will be for the better, or for the worse. Tomorrow is both my high school graduation and my 18th birthday. I'm both excited and nervous. With a life like mine, I'm more used to bad things happening, so I'm always on edge for what could happen next. I live my life feeling as though I'm walking on egg shells, and at any moment, one could break.

Like most nights, when I'm out here, I fall asleep under the stillness of the night sky. I wake up as the sun begins to rise. "Shit!"  I yell, as I jump up from my spot, and run from the abandoned building in hopes of getting home before he wakes. My foster father Craig, is the ever growing thorn in my side. I can't wait to be able to leave that place for good. He treats me like a servant girl. Someone he can do whatever he want with, and demand they do everything he pleases. He will be pissed if he finds out I was not home last night. Craig is horrible on the best of days, there's no point stoking the fire.

I rush home. Silently opening my bedroom window to slip inside. Once inside, I sigh in relief when I've made it back undetected. My room is still quite dark, as I slowly approach my bed, hoping to get a couple more hours of sleep, before having to get ready for school. 

"Where were you?" Says the one person, whose voice I was dreading to hear. Shivers run down my spine in fear. My eyes begin to adjust to the darkness in my room, and I can see Craig sitting on my bed, staring at me. Unsure as to what to say, I stay silent in hopes he will just walk away. However, I know I'm not that lucky. He shifts, then stands up, slowly making his way towards me. He grabs my arm in a vice like grip. 

"I said... where were you." 

Trying to think of any excuse that could get myself out of this situation, I gasp "I went out for a walk. I couldn't sleep, so I thought some fresh air would help."

His eyes stare daggers into mine. Looking for any sign of weakness, any sign of deceit. Agitated that he can't find any, he swings me around him, and pushes me onto the bed. 

"You better not be lying to me." He says in a gruff voice. 

"No, I swear. I wouldn't lie to you." I say, as I look up at him, pleading that he will forgive me. 

"Either way you need to be punished. What have I told you in the past. If you want to go out, you must ask me first." 

I shrink into the bed in fear. There is only one punishment he enjoys giving me, and I was hoping that I would never have to endure that punishment ever again. As predicted, he begins to remove his belt. 

"No! Please, I promise I won't leave again!" My pleading is useless though. I know once he is like this, I've no other choice than to obey. If I don't my punishment will be much worse. He begins to walk over to me. When he reaches me, he forces me to my knees. 

"Kneel." He says in an agitated demeanour.

"If you're truly remorseful, you will do whatever pleases me."

He doesn't give me a chance to respond. Rather he whips his belt around. It crashes unexpectedly on my back. I wince from the pain. He continues to lash me, until he is satisfied with my punishment.

Content, Craig then leaves my room. I close my eyes, and turn on my side, and try to fall asleep. I think about running away, but it never does any good. Nearly every day for years, I would run as far as I could, all in hopes of finding Ryker and Xavier. Every time, however, I was brought back to my foster parents' house. It's because of running, that I found the abandoned warehouse. It was the only place where I felt safe. A place where I knew no one would find me. A place where I could just be myself. It took me a while to find that place. I quickly became familiar with the entire city. If something happened in the city, I knew about it.

I run to the bathroom silently, and begin to nurse my wounds. Apply a homemade poultice to help my wounds heal. After several minutes, I head back to my room, hoping to get at least a few hours of sleep.

I twist and turn in my bed, forcing myself to wind down, only sleep never comes. Instead, I get up from my bed, and work my way to my closet to get changed for the day. I put on a simple yellow dress. I don't have much to choose from. Craig has demanded that I only wear dresses. He finds all other clothing too restricting and time-consuming. When he wants to do things to me, he wants immediate access. He doesn't want to work for it.

I sigh in defeat, and put on the dress. Hoping that I can make my way out of the house undetected. I make my way through the house, and silently leave, heading to school for the last time. 

Thoughts of the future cloud my mind. Now that I'm eighteen, I'm no longer allowed to stay at my foster parents' house. Not that I want to anyways. I would much rather live on the streets, than have to go back to that volatile house ever again. I take a deep breath, trying hard to forget the events from earlier.

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