Chapter 17:

Together Down Memory Lane


On a calm afternoon, children of Leaf Elementary played as they enjoyed their recess break. Alone stood a young boy with a small affro. He was holding onto his backpack straps and looking around for somebody.

Around the corner, a group of obnoxiously loud children came around and noticed the lone boy.

"Look who I found," said the boy who seemed to be the leader of the pack. "It's this nerd again."

"Oh um, hi..." the lone boy replied, timidly.

"All by yourself today, huh? That means it's the perfect time to-"

Before the leader could finish speaking, he suddenly fell foward as he was struck from behind with a basketball.

Approaching the boy and his bullies, was a child with red hair and glasses. "You jerks never learn," he said. The redhead then grabbed onto the boy with an affro by the hand and said, "Come on, Will. Let's go somewhere we won't be bothered."

"Thanks Kenny," said Will, gratefully.

"Anything for my best bud," Ken said with a wide smile.

Before walking passed the other students, Ken looked the leader in the eye. With a threatening stare, he said, "If you guys keep trying to mess with Will, I'll beat you all to a pulp again!"

The other students ran off after hearing that, afraid of Ken's intimidating presence. 

"Hey, Kenny," Will said, nervously. "You know you don't have to beat them up for me, right?"

"I know," Ken replied. "But if I promise to beat them up, they'll think twice before messing with ya."

The two boys then wandered off together, enjoying their childhood without a care in the world. They talked about whether they wanted to and disregarded the presence of any nearby kids. Most of them were afraid of Ken anyway as he had been known to beat up anyone that annoyed him. At least that's what they thought. In actuality, Ken only beat up kids he knew were bullies.

This is a memory that dates back ten years ago. A story told from Ken's perspective about his childhood.

Sitting down together on the floor of Ken's room, Ken and Will played video games together.

"No way!" Ken whined. "I died again?"

"You're going too fast," Will stated while laughing. "You keep running in and getting ganged up on."

"Well, you should run in with me next time. We can take em' together."

"Right. But at least give me a signal before you go running off ahead of me."

The boys spent the remainder of the day playing games and talking about comic books and shows that they liked.

The boys then heard a knocking on the door to the room. A woman called out to them from outside saying, "Will, you're mother is here to pick you up."

"Okay, I'll be right there," Will replied. As Will opened up the door, he stood before a woman with reddish brown hair and yellow eyes. She wore a long white dress that covered her very slim body. This woman was Ken's mother, Michelle. 

"Did you have fun today, Will?" Michelle asked.

"Yes, I did," Will replied, happily. "Thank you for letting me come over again today, Ma'am."

"Of course. You are so polite, Will. I really hope that one day, your kindness will rub off on my son."

"Mom!" Ken yelled. "I'm fine the way I am. After all, Will likes me."

"Indeed, he does." Michelle smiled at Will, graciously. "But wouldn't you like to have a few more friends, Dear?"

Ken looked back at his mother with an exasperated look and said, "Not this again. I'm fine with just being Will's friend. Everyone else at school is annoying."

"And scary," Will added.

"Come now, boys," Michelle pleaded. "Yes, you're going to have bad experiences with people. But you shouldn't let that get in the way of meeting someone brand new. You should be forming new connections with as many other kids as you can."

After putting some consideration into Michelle's advice, Will nodded and said, "Okay, Mrs. Bailon. I'll work harder on making more friends then." He let out an earnest smile.

Ken turned his face away from his mother and went, "Meet new people? Tch! No thanks."

Ken and Will said their last goodbyes to each other as Will left home with his mother that evening. It was now just Ken and his mother who were home now.

"Alright, Ken," Michelle said to her son. "I think it's about time for you to go to bed."

"What?" Ken protested. "It's not that late. Dad and Miri aren't even home yet."

"Your father works late tonight, Ken. And Miri... your sister never comes home anymore. She goes out everyday and sleeps over at her other friends' houses all the time. It seems to me that just because she's nearly eighteen she thinks that she can do whatever she pleases."

"Can I move into her room then? Miri's is bigger than mine."

"No, Ken. Miriam's room will remain the way it is for when she actually does decide to come back home."

"Like that's gonna happen..." Ken then sauntered off back towards his room.

"Good night, Ken," Michelle warmly said. As her son walked away, she stared at him with a concerned glance. 

"Night," Ken replied, plainly, as he walked away.

Although it was getting later and later, Ken stayed up a few more hours before going to sleep. If Miri ignores our parents, then why shouldn't I? Ken thought to himself. It's not like I ever get to see Dad anyway. And Mom is always nagging me to do this or do that or whatever...

As Ken was complaining about his parents, drowsiness overcame his vision. He went into a deep slumber with his game still on and T.V. revealing a game over screen.

The next day at school, Ken and Will sat down next to each other in class. None of the other kids would get near Ken at all unless they absolutely had to. The students that were assigned to the seats near Ken's were always slow to sit down as they feared that Ken would hurt them if they did something he didn't like.

Before class started, Ken stretched out his arms while letting out a yawn. The girl assigned to the seat to his left flinched as she saw Ken's arm fly in her direction.

Ken looked back at the girl, confused to why she got startled. As he did, he noticed the girl's somewhat messy green hair. This girl was a younger Ari, who wasn't well acquainted with Ken at the time.

"You okay?" Ken asked, plainly. He sounded disingenuous, but only because of how confused he was at her reaction. 

Ari didn't respond to him and quickly turned her attention to the front of the classroom.

Ken shrugged his shoulders in response. What's her deal? Ken asked himself. What was she so put off by? He glanced at her again for a brief moment as his eyes narrowed onto a bracelet she was wearing. It was an aqua wristband with white stripes and a symbol that formed the shape of a small tidal wave.

Ken wanted to ask her about it but missed his chance as the teacher grabbed everyone's attention to start the first lesson of the day. Ken forgot about his curiosity over the wristband as class ended.

"I hate math," groaned Ken. After class, he walked around the playground with Will for recess. As he spoke to him, Will seemed distracted.

"Uh-huh," replied Will, simply.

"I wanna go home already. Not that anything interesting will happen there though..."

"Uh-huh," Will said again.

Ken then turned to Will and noticed that his friend was staring blankly at the sky while following Ken around. Ken stopped moving to see if Will would stop too. Instead, Will seemed to continue going forward.

After a moments pause, Ken shouted, "Dude, you alright?!" He raised his voice to try to snap Will out of his trance.

Will then jumped as Ken started him and quickly turned back around. "Y-yeah," Will replied, nervously.  "I'm all good, man."

"You don't sound all good. You're super nervous. Did something happen to you when I wasn't looking?"

"N-no. I mean... yes. But it wasn't a bad thing!" Will tried to assure Ken that something unusual did happen, but that it was nothing of concern.

"Okay... So you wanna tell me what's going on, bud?"

"Oh um... Sure." Will acted timidly as he began his explanation. "You know Crystal from class, right?"

"The girl that sits next to you, right? Crystal Rose or whatever." Her last name escaped him but he didn't even bother to try and remember it anyway.

"Rivera," Will stated, fervently. "Crystal Rivera."

"Right. What about her?"

"I talked to her for a little bit and she said I was pretty cool."

"You must've been dreaming, dude," Ken dismissed him.

"Nuh-uh. I really did talk to her!" Will protested against Ken's denial.

"You talked to a girl? You can barely speak up against the jerks that pick on you."

"That's different," Will claimed. "She started talking to me after I picked up a pencil she dropped. And... it's different when I try to talk to someone I actually like."

Ken let out a sigh and smiled at Will. "Alright, I'll take your word, man. It's true that you have no problem talking to me, and I know that I'm someone you like."

"Only sometimes," Will said, jokingly.

Ken chuckled. "So it's like that, eh? Come here." Ken then grabbed Will, who was the same height as him at the time, and grinded his knuckles against the top of Will's head.

"Cut it out, Kenny!" Will cried out. "Don't give me a noogie!"

Ken then let go of Will and chuckled. "C'mon, learn to take it. You need to know what pain feels like before you get into a real fight."

"I'm not you, Kenny. I'm never going to fight anyone."

Ken then sighed and said, "If you say so. I don't get the whole pacifist thing with you, dude."

"I don't like hurting people. Is that hard to understand?"

"It is when bullies pick on you everyday."

"Dude, can you just let it go?!"

Sensing Will's frustration over this topic, Ken decided to shift the subject. "Well anyways, back to what we were talking about before. How come you like Crystal?"

"Huh?" The sudden shift seemed to catch Will off topic. "Oh, well... you know." Will was bashful after hearing Crystal's name brought up.

In response, Ken was incredibly dense. "No, I really don't."

"Well... You know how Crystal is really cute, right?"

"I guess... Actually, no. Not really."

"I like her, Kenny!" Will finally exclaimed. "The special kind of like..."

"Okay... Oh, I get it now! You like like her."

"Yes... I like her," Will said one last time.

"Well dang. I never expected to hear that from ya."

"What do you mean?"

"My shy best friend saying that he likes a girl. But I think telling her that you like her will be harder than telling me."

"Tell her? I can't do that!"

"Why not?"

"Because Crystal is so cute and popular and I'm just... I'm just me. The kid who gets bullied everyday. I'm a--"

"Person who cares a lot about his best friend," Ken interrupted. "And really good at video games. You're a fast runner. And you're always clean. Or like my mom says, you have good hygiene." He was complimenting Will so that he wouldn't put himself down any longer.

"I don't know about all that..."

Ken smacked Will's back roughly yet playfully. "Believe in yourself more, buddy!"

As Ken retold this part of his past to his friends, Rayner and Blake listened intently. Ari was keeping her mouth shut as Ken went down memory lane. Not only to be polite, but to also understand the story from Ken's point of view.

"So you used to be friends with Will?" Blake asked. "I would've never guessed? What happened between you two that made you so distant?"

"It started with his crush on that girl, Crystal," stated Ken. "He wanted to impress her so badly that he decided to try getting into sports. Which we all know how that ended up... But anyway, I rooted for him at first, but he started to find himself hanging with other crowds. Particularly, crowds that didn't like me. Next thing I knew, I was told by his new friends that he didn't want to hangout with me anymore. I wasn't even given the chance to tell him about my mom's death."

"But you and I became friends during that time," stated Ari. She smiled and did her best to keep Ken in a brighter mood.

"And we've been best buds ever since," declared Ken.

"All thanks to the two of us nerding out." Ari let out a chuckle.

"Is it true that the other kids were afraid of you?" Rayner asked.

Ken nodded and said, "Yeah, I got into a few fights when I was young. I only beat up kids that would pick on people but that's not what the other kids thought. They saw me as a punk kid who would beat up anyone."

"Even I was scared of Ken before I got to know him," admitted Ari. "My friends at the time told me about the scary rumors about him and told me to avoid Ken at all costs."

"Ken was rumored to be a bully," Blake thought aloud. "Now why does that sound familiar?" She looked to Rayner, teasingly.

"It would seem that Ken and I have had similar experiences," Rayner commented.

"I guess so," Ken stated. "I kinda forgot about all that until now, though. But hey, that means we have something we can relate with." Ken flashed a wide grin in Rayner’s direction.

Rayner smiled back nervously and then moved on to another topic he was curious about. "You seem to describe your sister differently back then compared to now."

"Yeah, admitted Ken. "Back then, Miri liked to hangout with her friends 24/7 and rarely ever went back to our house at the time. It wasn't until after both of our parents were dead when she took on her responsibilities. I suppose I should continue telling my story, eh?"

"Wait." Rayner stopped him suddenly. "It's starting to get late and I want to share my story with you and Ari as well. I don't mean to cut you off but I don't think it's fair that you've been the only one sharing your bitter past today. Therefore, I hope to enlighten you about my family incident that you two must have heard rumors about."

"We have heard the rumors," admitted Ari. "There. Are. A. Lot of them..."

"But are you sure you're ready to talk about it, dude?" Ken asked. "That's such a delicate topic."

"I'm sure," Rayner confirmed. "I've already told Blake everything before, so it should be easier telling it again. Plus, I really want to open up to you two because I realize how much I care for you both. You two and Blake mean so much to me. I feel like it wouldn't be right not to tell you guys about it."

Ken and Ari looked at each other and then nodded.

"We're all ears," stated Ari, happily.

"Our bonds have leveled up, I see," Ken said, playfully.

Rayner spent a better part of an hour explaining everything that happened with his family; his sister's runaway, his father's drunken frenzy, and everything else he thought was relevant. 

"Damn," Ken said, astonished. "That's a really rough two days you went through, my guy."

Ari looked back at Rayner with a disdainful look. She raised her voice and exclaimed, "I can't believe assholes at our school ruined your reputation over this!"

"It's just hearsay," Rayner stated. "And it's not like I tried to correct anyone either."

"But still... Rayn, it's not right for them to say whatever the hell they want about you! You were miserable enough after your family split up! It's not okay that you had to deal with these rumors that are full of shit too!"

Seeing Ari get upset for his sake put a smile on Rayner's face. "Forgive me if this isn't the right time to say this. But seeing you get worked up over my troubles really means a lot to me. Thank you, Ari."

Seeing Rayner’s grateful expression, Ari let out a long sigh to calm herself down. "I'll let this go for now," she declared. "But if I hear anyone badmouth you from now on, they're gonna get a piece of my mind!"

Rayner chuckled and said, "I won't stop you."

"That'll be a disaster," Ken commented. 

"Oh yeah?" Ari retorted. "And why do you say that, Ken?"

"No reason, " he replied, sarcastically. "Just that you tend to go overboard when trying to protect people sometimes."

Ari blushed. "I do not," she tried to deny. "It was one time, Ken. I didn't know that bully was all bark and no bite. I yelled two little things at him then he ran off crying for his mom."

"You must've scared him straight. That dude never even walked in my direction ever since that day."

"Well to be fair, we were already almost out of junior high at that time. And I'm a lot more tame than I was back then."

Rayner then let out a chuckle, although he tried to hold it in. While doing so, he unintentionally grabbed Ken and Ari's attention. "Sorry," he said. "I wasn't trying to laugh at you or anything. It's just that I always love seeing the two of you banter back and forth like this. You both speak in such a playful way that I can tell how genuine of a bond you two really have with each other."

"Well, yeah," Ken voiced. "Ari's known me at my worst and stuck with me through it all. It's obvious we'd have a strong bond."

"Feeling sentimental, Ken?" Ari asked, playfully. She then dropped her smirk and said, "But no, I understand. Ken's seen a less proud version of me as well. At this point the two of us are in it for the long run."

Rayner couldn't help but smile at the heartwarming scene before him. Then with a hint of sadness, as night drew near, he said, "I really want to know more about you two, but I think that Blake and I should start heading back to our part of town now."

"Of course," Ari agreed.

Ken looked up at they sky and saw that sunset was drawing near. "Damn, where did the time go?" Ken commented. "Alright, we'll catch you guys tomorrow, Rayn. Stay cool, Blay."

Blake nodded her head and said," I shall do just that. Have a good night, Ken. You two Ari."

The four friends shared one last group hug before splitting up into pairs to go home. Rayner walked with Blake while Ari, of course, went on her way with Ken by her side.

While on the way back to their neighborhood, Blake looked to Rayner and said, "You're really growing, Raynie. Socially, I mean."

"Right," stated Rayner. "Rebecca even gave me her number today."

Blake stopped in her tracks and looked at Rayner in shock. "What?! You are so lucky! How come she's cool with you but not me?"

"I don't know," Rayner replied. "But I can give you her number if you really want it."

Blake then made a stern face and sharpened her tone of voice. "Don't do that," Blake warned him. "Rebecca trusted you with her number. I, on the other hand, am not that close with her yet. Don't be so quick to give out people's phone numbers without their permission first."

"Right, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have offered." Rayner felt embarrassed as he was lectured by Blake.

"It's okay," Blake stated. "You didn't know, and I don't blame you. But just be careful about this kind of thing in case someone asks you for somebody else's phone number in the future."

"Yes, ma'am," Rayner replied, formally.

Blake giggled and said, "You said that as if I was like your boss or something."

"I was trying to joke around like Ken and Ari do when they do silly voices. Was I not funny?"

"No, I liked it," commented Blake. "It just sounds super weird coming from you."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Hmm..." Blake went into a deep thought. "I'm not able to find the words to describe what I mean exactly. You'll have to forgive me for that. But I'll let you know what I mean when I figure it out myself."

Left puzzled, Rayner said, "That doesn't make much sense..."

"Dont worry about it," Blake suggested. She then turned the corner that led to her home and said, "See you tomorrow, Raynie."

"Bye. Have a good night, Blake." Rayner waved at her and watched her merrily go down the street before continuing on his way back home.