Rule the World - 5. Chapter 5 - Turtle Tricks
Don't close your eyes.
The first thing that happened when Zach stepped in after his absence was the librarian cursing out loud.
Aside from that, though, Zach made his glorious return after a week of cough and snot, delighted to see everything was just as he had left it.
No, seriously. "Wow. My chair is totally in the same position. NO ONE comes to this library, do they?"
Addy and Connor exchanged looks. They hadn't really paid any attention to the chair, so who really knew?
It made Connor think, though. "Actually. You're right. It's amazing how empty this place is during lunch. Maybe it fills up after classes?"
Okay, who cares?
Addy didn't. "Whatever. Zach, how absolutely obliterated were your lungs last week?"
Zach groaned. "Ugh you don't even want to know. It was way worse than I expected."
Oh, obliterated was a kind word. It was ragnacough on the poor guy's throat. In simple terms, back during the flood, the perfect conditions were created for an unusual mosquito species to develop and sting Zach in his poor sugar-overwhelmed arm.
After a few weeks incubating, the strain hit Zach with the overwhelming force of a million pillows stuffed with turtles.
Connor triple frowned. "I'm almost convinced that you're lying."
Zach feigned indignation, pain and distress. And then grinned. "Nah. It's legit. The good side, though, is that I got to be overdosed in painkillers! It was awesome."
Addy was slightly worried, having overheard her mother speak ill of overdosing in general.
But Zach was alive, so meh, right? "Okay. On the scale of two-for-one cake sale to winning the superbowl?"
"It's on the scale of mini Connors jumping over fences, and mini Addy piledriving a goat." Connor had a lot of issues with that sentence, but Addy cut him off.
"Just for the record, boys, I have actually wrestled animals before." 'Ooohs' echoed through the empty hall. Librarian included.
Zach couldn't hold his chuckles as he imagined Addy with the champion belt. "No way, girl. You're fifteen! Unless you suplex'd a dog or something. In which case...How could you, you monster!?"
Addy was giggling, and blushing. It was weird. "Oh nonono. Never. I took down this giant, angry pig back at my Uncle's farm."
But now Connor cut them off. "...I...I am not saying that is not impressive. But...why did you suplex a pig? Is that legal?"
It's accurate to say Zach ignored Connor's question. "Holy shit. How? Do you have a six pack, or something?"
Addy flexed her arms, which pumped up to unimaginable levels. "No six packs. I'm doing good, though."
Zach shivered. "Damn it. I thought I was just a sissy, but no wonder your smacks hurt that much."
Laughter was abound. Except for Connor. News at 11. "Are we completely going to ignore WHY she fought the pig?"
They did ignore it. Connor did eventually find out why Addy wrestled that pig, but it wouldn't be until much later.
On a small note about ignored things, it's easy to forget Zach and Addy do interact with their other classmates on a daily basis.
But nothing really interesting happens, so who cares about them? Well, that very day something important happened.
Zach and Addy were debating on how to fix Tic-Tac-Toe in that brief period between their library trips and the renewal of classes, when a Connor-sized and chirpy teenage girl from the next class approached them.
Petite in body, though. Not in-
"Zach I know what you want to say, and you better don't." Zach gulped as Addy death glared him. He had been forbidden from complimenting women's nice chests after Addy realized she had never been complimented on HER chest. Talk about a complex.
Their telepathic exchange was disregarded by the new girl. "Hey, you two! I'm throwing down a halloween party next week, and I wanted to let you guys know in advance! Bring your best costume, alright?"
The duo were handed a card each, displaying a pumpkin witch skating on a broom. Party at Ericka's! Was written with glitter on top of it.
Zach slammed the table and shouted instinctively. "Fuck yes, Halloween!" Addy and Ericka both stared.
Zach tilted his head. "Uh, I meant...holy shit, bring on the rave?"
More stares. "Um...yay?" Ericka thanked them for their time, and went off to give the rest of the class their invitation. Zach banged his head against the desk, as Addy patted his shoulder.
"I didn't get invited." Were the first words Connor let out on the walk home, after Zach blabbered about the party for a good four minutes.
Addy seemed sad, but Zach was plain hurt. "Huh? Why not?"
Connor looked away. "I've told you before...I'm just not wanted in those places."
But that answer just confused Zach. "I just don't get it, being serious for a moment. You're pretty awesome."
Connor bit his lip, and stared at the pavement. "Only you guys think I'm not a waste of space."
Addy played with the bangs in front of her eye. She was kind of worried. "Hey, Connor? What happened to not caring about the haters?"
It made Connor flinch. It was so easy to say things like that back in the library. But it was just saying things. Acting on them was a whole different beast.
Connor sighed. "It's...It's not that simple, alright? I'm just a loser to them, end of story."
"Bullshit!" That was Zach and Addy at the same time. They silently fist bumped, hoping Connor wouldn't see. He did.
Zach tapped his feet on the ground. He wasn't going to stand for a bestie feeling like that. "You're coming with us! It's time they actually meet you! Y'know. Cool Connor."
Zach smiled brightly and raised his thumb. Connor wasn't convinced, though.
More than anything, he was getting frustrated. "There IS no Cool Connor. To them I'm just a bookworm, alright!? I don't know what you two actually see in me, but it's not coolness."
Addy was getting frustrated too, but out of concern. "Hey, stop saying you're a loser! I think you're better than those guys."
Connor hated the you're not a loser talk. He hated getting it from his parents, and he definitely didn't want it from Zach and Addy. It suffocated him.
The sooner he could end it, the better. "Look, let's just leave it at that, alright? You can go to the party, and I can stay home."
Zach frowned. And he didn't frown often. "No, we can't leave it at that! Because it's just not true! You're not a loser just because they say so!"
Connor clenched his teeth. In his eyes he WAS the definition of a loser. He was contrarian to everything his classmates enjoyed. They made sure to remind him of it.
He didn't need their pity. "It IS true! I'm not athletic, and I suck at jokes! I hate the noise in parties, and meeting new people is terrifying! How can you two not see I'm a loser!?"
Addy groaned. "Ugh, so what! So you're not a jock, and you don't get hammered like a retard every saturday. Being different doesn't make you a loser!"
Zach rode the wave Addy's splash had raised. "She's right, dude! We can have fun being ourselves around you! You're cultured, witty, disciplined...And you're kind of scary at chess. How do you do it?"
Addy tugged on Zach's arm. "Zach! Not the time."
Connor just stood there, taking the words in. He wanted to ignore them. Everytime he thought he was more than a nobody someone would push him back down.
It was hard. He was too used to being alienated, and not cared about. He had tried to look better for others back then. But the hill got steeper every time he looked at it, and he had eventually resigned to it.
That he was a loser.
Connor remembered all the insults over the years, and he never understood why it had ended up that way. How did he end up thinking of himself as so unlikeable?
He could forget it as long as he was with the friends he couldn't understand having. But when they left, it all came back.
But now this stupid party he'd been left out of had come up, and he couldn't pretend those feelings weren't there.
Connor tightened his fists. He didn't want to go to that party. He didn't want to face the people who had tormented him so long. Or rather, he was scared of being hated even more.
That was the keyword. He was scared. Afraid of fighting back, and getting knocked down one more time. He didn't know if he could stand up again after that.
Connor looked up at the other two. Their eyes were filled with worry. He couldn't speak. There was a knot in his throat, one he recognized all too well.
Suddenly, Connor felt himself choke up slightly. Was he crying? He better not be crying. He didn't need THEM two to think of him as a loser too. Damn it, just thinking about it made him actually start tearing up. He felt stupid, angry, and embarassed.
He had to go. It was better that way anyways. Addy and Zach beamed at enjoying their lives, while he was basically the grumpy gnome in between them. He didn't need to make a fool out of himself any longer, so he turned to walk away.
Zach's hand gripped his arm. Hard.
"Let me go! Y-You guys should just...go and make better friends. Friends who don't hide in the library, or cry about how stupid they are, alright!?" Zach was having trouble holding him back.
So Addy tugged on his other arm. "Connor! Come on...let's just...let's talk about this. We're here for you."
Connor didn't really have the strength to wrestle out of their grip. He was pouting and mumbling incoherencies. Still, they eventually got him to sit between them on a nearby bench.
Connor just wanted to go home and be pathetic by himself, but now he couldn't even have that. "Even if...you guys say it. They'll never think like you do. They'll always hate me. Damn it!"
Zach wasn't ready for it, all of a sudden. Seeing Connor's face displaying that level of sorrow did things to his heart he could barely handle. He wanted to hug him. No, it wasn't that.
He wanted to cheer him up, permanently. It was then, while seeing Connor's most vulnerable state, that Zach's feelings for him really became real.
But right now, he couldn't do anything. He was too scared of making things worse. His only option was to wait out the storm, and pick up the pieces.
And so, they listened patiently ass Connor sobbed, moaned, whined and stuttered. Until he finally stopped. Connor realized it felt great to just let it all out. They didn't judge him, and it was what he needed.
Then there was a brief, peaceful silence between them.
Zach was absolutely terrible at consoling people. He gathered up the courage to be himself. "If it makes you feel better, I didn't know plants could drown until Addy told me."
Addy sighed. "If it makes you feel better, at least we're not Zach."
And Zach extended his arm over Connor's head to flick Addy's ear. "Hey! This is a hugparty, don't be mean!"
Addy reached over and tugged softly on his hair. "You FORCE my hand! Read the mood, idiot! Connor's going to think we're lame!"
But he didn't. He thought they were incredible. His classmates? They were all boring. He'd never heard from them anything that made him laugh or feel good. Why DID he care about their opinions? When he had...these two?
He realized as he was under their flick fight, that he was friends with the coolest people in school. And he was one of them. How? Because...he was awesome too.
It was a weight off his shoulders. He still had some bags chained to him, but he definitely felt lighter. Connor smiled. He'd been doing that a lot more these days, but it always felt just as good.
And then he chuckled. Full of joy, and volume.
"God damn idiots, you're the best. And you know what? I AM incredible at chess."
Zach smiled wide and catapulted from his seat. "Hell yeah, you are! Let me see those punks try to checkmate this badass!"
As Zach finger banged the air, Addy placed her hand on Connor's shoulder. "It's okay, you know? We love you anyways. Those jerks don't deserve you."
Connor nodded. She was right. The second he became friends with these two, he wasn't a loser anyone. Because they cared about him.
He stood up, took a deep breath, and shouted towards Zach. "Let's RULE that party, BRO! ...No. I'm sorry. I'll never do that again."
Zach tackled Connor into an enthusiastic hug, giggling like mad. It was impossible for Connor not to blush under that embrace. It felt good. And weird. But mostly good! Smiling felt great, on top of that. Too bad his face'S neutral state was probably stuck in a frown by now.
Zach's body was pretty soft. Connor thought that he could probably hold on to him for a pretty long time. Wait, what? God, it was getting weird.
Connor pushed him off gently. "Thanks, you two."
Completely in sync, Addy and Zach exclaimed "Anytime!". And high fived.
Connor scratched behind his ear. How DID they keep doing that? He had much to learn, still.
The day had arrived. Hide your wives, hide your kids! Halloween was Zach's favorite national holiday. His mom kept insisting it wasn't actually a holiday, but he ignored her.
Bottom line is, it was a day where Zach could adquire free sugar. And eat all of it unjudged. They should call it Hallozach. Zachoween?
Zach nodded to himself, as he finished zipping up in his turtle costume. Definitely Zachoween. He stepped into the living room, for a proud display.
Cody rustled his son's hair. Well, he tried. The costume was kind of in the way. "I'm proud of you, son."
Zach tilted his head, his expression unknown. "For putting on my costume?"
His dad laughed strongly, and patted him in the back with equal strength. Tough love. Ow. "Son! It's like you've forgotten you hate this place! Remember your first week here?"
Oooh. Of course he remembered! He was alone, stuck with his parents. And he missed everyone back at their old home. He kinda lucked out, actually.
His expectations were meeting boring people, in a boring school, and being too awesome for all around him.
Zach played with his thumbs. He didn't like admitting defeat. "I just made super awesome friends, Dad. Otherwise you'd be stuck with pancakes, still."
And Zach's dad groaned.
Then Zach's mom squealed in joy. "You two are oh so cute! Line up, we're taking a picture!" Zach's mom was dressed as a hipster photographer. Or was that just what she wanted to be?
Zach's dad adjusted his cowboy hat, and the three posed for the photo. It took them a few million shots, since Zach kept trying to look like a teenage ninja.
And then the doorbell rang. It had to be them! Zach jumped in his spot and ran towards the door. He opened it and-
"Trick or Treat!" Addy shouted! She was dressed like quite the cop. Tight pants, leather jacket, cute hat. Badge and everything. Gun holster with a fake gun to boot! Zach hoped it was fake, at least.
"Trick or...Treat?" Connor mumbled. Zach's jaw dropped. Connor was in full Samurai Warlord Armor, with the traditional helmet included. Connor's blue eyes were the only part of his body visible. He was holding a hopefully fake sword, too.
Damn, Connor's costume looked hot. As in, actually hot. High temperature. Thankfully their climate was pretty cold at night.
They both laughed at Zach's cute turtle costume. But Zach said nothing. He stared into Addy's eyes. Well, the turtle costume's cute eyes did.
Addy was still laughing. "I'm sorry Zach! It's just, a turtle? A turtle. God! You look so-" And then Zach unzipped the costume's head away.
And revealed below it the disfigured, bloody face of the ruler of the underworld. Puss dripping from his left eye, his right eye missing from the slash of a blade. His lower jaw missing. His cranium torn open, with his brain openly in display.
Connor screamed, and tripped.
Addy shouted "AH! FUCK!" And punched Zach in the face. Zach was knocked out immediately.
Addy apologized endlessly to Zach's parents during the fifteen minutes he was out cold, while Connor awkwardly stared at the floor.
Then she apologized to Zach for about five minutes, before Zach finally got her to shut up. Thank god the mask covered his black eye. They'd wasted precious time already! They had to get their share of candy before Ericka's party.
And get their candy they did. Zach had plotted out an efficient map that would allow them to grab the most amount of treats possible before returning to his house to store the goods.
They stormed out. And what house could resist the power of the Devil-Turtle Samurai Cop teens? At one point, their baskets got filled, so they stopped to eat some of their loot before continuing on.
Well, Addy did. After taking off both his masks, Zach had gobbled half his basket in a minute or two. They actually had to take the basket away, lest he overdose.
And Connor insisted he had more than enough candy already. Geez, the innocent child.
Addy munched on her chocolate bar, inspecting the handiwork of Connor's armor. "Damn. Your costume's pretty high quality. What gives?"
Connor sighed. "As you know, mother wanted to help with the costume. She insisted we pay tribute to her Japanese roots, so..."
Zach whistled. "I've never met a tanned Japanese ginger. I'm like...half American, half German."
Connor looked like he was battling with saying something, but he opted to stay silent. Who got that guy?
Addy felt like seventy bad jokes she could make about Zach's origins. None of them would make her good like a good person, so she shrugged. "I'm one-hundred percent American. Suckers."
And that marked the end of their chat. They finished travelling their route, and dropped off their earnings at the Russell household.
As the group walked toward the party, there was one walking just slightly slower. You know, Connor. His body felt stiff, and his chest had at least three anvils chained to it.
Zach noticed, though. "Hey, Connor...It's going to be fine, you know? And if it's not, we'll just leave and party at MY house!" Zach raised his fist to the heavens.
Connor knew that Zach was most likely right. But you can't just erase your issues in a few weeks. No matter what, he was going to be scared of his classmates tonight.
Connor gulped, when the group came across Ericka's house. Blaring with lights and music, there was no missing that party.
If there was any day to get over fears like that, it was Halloween.
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