That's right. I'm back. I'll do my best to resume my original upload schedule. Enjoy the resumption of this series. If you need a refresher, check out the Cerberus Center to remind you of the events up to this point.
Zachary and CJ walked wordlessly in the soft green grass. CJ was leading, but they were walking side by side. The pace was slow. So slow, in fact, that Zachary wondered if they were actually going somewhere or just aimlessly wandering.
CJ stopped before a tall tree and let the calm linger a while longer before he spoke.
"You beat me, Zachary. And it wasn't even a fair fight. Even with the advantage, I still lost to you. You have all my respect."
He turned to face Zachary and removed his shades, revealing the same calm eyes Zach had seen last time. But he had a nasty black eye.
"When you were up 'gainst that wall and punched me," CJ continued, "It was not a light punch. And it carried more than just self-defense. You knew what you were fighting for all along. Since the very first day."
He returned the shades to their usual resting place on his nose.
"Zachary, I never meant to become what I am. My old man is a thief and a crook. He lied and cheated his way to power and always wanted me to do the same. I didn't want to become him. I hated him. So every day, he beat me."
CJ paused and looked down at the ground, softly kicking a pine cone.
"He beat me until I said I couldn't take anymore. Then he'd beat me more and yell at me for being weak."
"CJ I'm so sorr-"
"Let me finish."
"He told me to get out and make something of myself. The state required him to allow me to attend school, so he told me to start there. That's how I eventually started my gang. To prove to him I wasn't worthless."
"But then you come, Zachary. The determination you had to defeat me was the same kind that fueled my desire to prove my father wrong. I looked in your eyes... and saw my own self staring back. And I knew I could never win against you in that moment. You proved me right."
"My old man still sneaks out every night. He doesn't know I've seen him do it. I never see what he comes back with. Except when the bills be due and he pays for dinner. Somehow there's always enough cash even though he's an underpaid chairman for a public school board."
Zachary finally spoke up when CJ paused.
"You're better than your dad, CJ. And you don't need to be like him to prove it."
CJ chuckled and shook his head.
"Sweet words, Zachary. But don't mean much. I'll always be worthless to my father. And everywhere I go, I'll be fighting to make something of myself. I did that here. It worked out just fine as long as I ignored morals daily. Now I've become just as numb as my old man."
Zachary sighed. "That's not true, CJ. Were your actions just as wrong as him? Yeah. But the difference between you and him is that you don't want to be this way. You have a choice now to change things and start fresh. Are you going to take it?"
"Is it that simple?"
"Well... once you figure out what to do with your gang, yeah."
"Then I'll take that chance. But let's agree to have each other's backs if things go sideways."
CJ extended his hand and Zachary shook it firmly. Zachary deepened his voice as he agreed.
"We're clear, CJ."
CJ chuckled at the impersonation.
"Y'know, Zachary, I think we'll get along just fine."
Zachary smiled cautiously.
"As long as you don't try to kill me with any more throwing knives."
"Oh, right... I forgot 'bout that. I don't know what happened to my mind. I lost it completely and I swear I didn't mean to do the half of it."
"Eh," Zachary shrugged, "it'll take a while for me to trust that, but thanks."
It had been a long day. Everywhere Zachary went was more back-patting and congratulations for the day before. He actually felt sorry for CJ now since no one respected him anymore. But he did that to himself, so he couldn't feel too bad. Especially with two broken fingers and a very irritated stab wound.
He fumbled with the combination lock on his locker. Everything was harder now without his dominant hand. He got it at last and opened his locker to pack his backpack. He stopped suddenly as the reflective shine of metal caught his eye.
"Carl, How in the world am I going to take this harpoon box home?"