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“The mind can go either direction under stress—toward positive or toward negative: on or off. Think of it as a spectrum whose extremes are unconsciousness at the negative end and hyper consciousness at the positive end. The way the mind will lean under stress is strongly influenced by training.” -Frank Herbert 2021-DECEMBER-FLORIDA Nodding grimly, a hand on her forehead, Talia said, “God, it was awful right after it happened. It seemed like everybody knew about it and the kids at school used to pick on Arris all of the time. They would rough him up and call him names and tell him he would end up a murderer, just like his granddad.” That was awful to hear as Adeline sat back against the counter in amazement. She was scared of what Talia had to say next. “And, Arris did a pretty good job of blending in. But, when one of his sisters got bullied, he had beaten up the kid that he was almost on the verge of dying-” “What!” Adeline interjected aloud. Talia sighed, “Yes, and as a result, he was suspended from the school. From then on he got himself involved with the wrong people. I asked him to stop seeing those gangs, or whoever he was meeting with, but he didn’t. He used to come with bruised cheeks, bloody lips, black eyes, and to protect his little sisters from the environment we were kind of living in, I sent them away to their Nana’s home and one day, just like that, Arris left the home, leaving a simple note behind, which said- Take care, I’ll not trouble you now.” Typical Arris Jonathan. Listening to Talia, Adeline was lost in her own thoughts when she got bullied in school and she came back home crying. Seeing her, James asked about the matter, and on knowing that, he said some golden words which would never be old. He said: “Sweetheart, it is a myth that the strong bully the weak. It is those who cannot handle their stress with grace, who attack the gentle-natured. You are attacked because you have self-restraint, a trait often only seen in adults. You are mature beyond your years, although you are still a child. Those bullied are often the "too many" children; they are too clever, too pretty, too kind... The things said to justify the abuse are false. They are excuses and no more. No person can tell you who or what you are, for you build yourself with your own choices, as do they. With every choice to be unkind, they build themselves to be unkind. You're different. That's good. With every choice you make to be kind, you build yourself into a kinder person. Every great person I know was bullied as a child. That which makes you a target now will make you great in your lifetime. Through sadness we learn empathy, to know how others feel in pain transforms us, and we make ourselves kinder all the more." From then on, Adeline tried to build a friendship with those who tried to bully her, eventually, they became friends and Adeline passed on the message to the ones who found themselves bullied at some point in their life. Maybe all Ace needed was somebody to show some sort of kindness and friendship towards him, to let him know that what happened with his grandfather reflected nothing back on him. If the idiots at school thought Ace was an automatically horrible person for what had happened to him, they clearly were stupid. The school was only temporary, and after we graduated the chances of seeing those people were slim to none. “What… What exactly is the matter with Ace?” Adeline asked, choosing her words carefully. The last thing she needed was to upset Talia when everything else had gone completely disastrous. Talia sighed again as Adeline waited for an answer with bated breath, hoping everything was not as bad as they seemed to be right now. “Arris has MDD,” Talia said after a moment, looking up at her. That one got Adeline stumped. “MDD?” Adeline repeated slowly. “What is that?” “Major depressive disorder,” Talia answered. “He has had it ever since his dad died.” Oh god, that certainly made a ton of sense to Adeline now. “But he seems so pissed all of the time, not angry.” Adeline pointed out, trying to be as quiet as possible. “Apparently anger is a sign of depression,” Talia told her. “That was just the way Arris’ takes form.” She slumped back against the counter, her mind spinning with all of the information she had just been told. Talia had post-traumatic stress disorder, and Ace had a major depressive disorder. How could they both have such serious disorders like those and still continue on with their lives as if nothing was wrong? Because PTSD was a whole-body tragedy, an integral human event of enormous proportions with massive repercussions. Adeline had no idea how any of this was possible. It made her heart hurt, more than she thought possible, well it was kinda possible in her scenario. “Does he take antidepressants?” Adeline asked before she could stop herself. “Yes,” Talia answered slowly, giving her a curious look. “He does, they’re mostly what keeps him at ease, I think.” Well, there should not be a question of how Adeline knew about antidepressants because she had been visiting a psychologist for the last five years and she kinda knew about all of these things. There was this nagging thought in the corner of her mind that made the hair on the back of her neck stand up, she was going to have to dig a little deeper into this whole thing, even if it wasn’t going to be pleasant. Before Adeline could ask anything else, Talia asked, “I have meant to ask you this for a long time Adeline, how do you know Arris? I know there was a reason James kept you away from us, and that is why I have never told you about our relationship, but how did you get to know him?” Adeline was not sure that Talia even had a slight glimpse of what was happening and what was going to happen in the coming ten days. Nevertheless, Adeline opened her mouth to tell Talia something, but the sound of an old phone ringing loudly beat her to the punch. Talia scrambled to her feet and reached over the front counter to grab the ringing phone. “Hello?” She answered breathlessly. She paused, listening to the person on the other line speaking. “Yes, this is her.” Waiting and watching the display of emotions coming over Talia’s face as she listened to the caller made her realise that something very, very wrong had happened. “Wait, what? Are you serious? Well, are they alright?” Talia broke off mid-sentence and slammed the phone back on the hook, sucking in sharp breaths that made it seem like she was fighting back tears. “Talia?” Adeline said, her voice barely above a whisper. “There was an accident,” She answered the moment later, her voice shaking. Those exact words just about flipped Adeline's world upside down, she clutched at the counter while her head spun in dizzy circles. “A-Ace?” Adeline stammered out, her eyes wide. “Not just him, I don’t know.” Talia walked over to the kitchen and got the coats. She threw Adeline’s coat to her and jumped the front counter, gesturing to follow her, all but sprinting towards the door. Adeline did not hesitate for another second, she threw herself over the counter and ran after Talia barrelling her way out the door and then they started running, she had no idea where this ‘accident’ had taken place, but Adeline had a pretty good idea and this was definitely no accident, whatever had happened. And as Talia said ‘not just him’, meaning there was someone else with him. Most probably Katerina and Carolina. Thinking of that Adeline’s eyes widened as she kept praying over and over in her mind that nobody had been hurt and that everything was going to be alright. Talia and Adeline jogged down the sidewalk after sidewalk, Adeline muffling and puffing the entire way, shoving people out of the way. A few moments later it became perfectly clear where they were running- the Central Park where Ace took Adeline a few days ago. When they rounded the last block towards the candy shop, the sight that was waiting for them was completely unexpected……. What might be the seen in front of Adeline’s eyes? What could have happened to Ace, Katerina or Caroline? Was it an accident or a conspiracy?
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