It had been a long day. It was so quiet and monotonous, but the man wouldn’t change that for anything in the world. After all, to see the world, to travel, that was why he’d gotten into this business.
Of course, that didn’t make the Sun any less hot, the day any less long, or the desert any less arid.
The Dingo region was a nightmare to cross. It was so big and uninhabitable. The days were scorching, like being inside an oven, but the nights were so cold that anyone who wasn’t careful could quite easily freeze to death. It was completely uncharted and uninhabitable. Not to mention, with little to no landmarks, it was so easy to get–
“Hey, Laguna, are we nearly there yet? It feels like we’ve been walking for weeks. Nobody said this hick town would be so far away, and you never said anything about crossing an entire desert. Where are we anyway? Don’t tell me we’re lost again.”
“Hold on,” Laguna replied, shielding his eyes from the Sun with his hand. “Let me check the map.”
After rummaging around in his pack for what felt like minutes, he finally unfurled the large paper map and examined it for a long, silent moment. “Uh guys, I don’t think you’re gonna like this.”
“Let me guess, bad news?”
“Yeah. I have no idea where we are. This place all looks the same. It’s all just golden sand and blue sky. If we had a shore and a nice breeze we could take a load off and relax a bit, but yeah, we’re lost.”
“I knew it. I knew we were lost! I told you we were going in circles.”
“Really, how can you tell?” Laguna looked to his flustered companion, then to his other companion who remained wordless.
“Give me that map!” the first companion snapped, snatching the paper from Laguna’s hands. As he tried to find the group’s bearings, Laguna looked over his two comrades. Kiros, the one with the map, stood tall and thin, weedy like a beanstalk in a children’s bedtime story. He was dressed in the uniform all three of them wore, but was differentiated by the dreadlocks that ran down to his waist, and the dark, perspiring skin that seemed to be glistening under the hot, beating Sun.
The other with them was a true monster of a man. Standing over two metres tall and with his massive, muscular frame and tragic, scar riddled face and bald head. He was clearly the most intimidating of the three, augmented by the fact that he never spoke a word. Ward was what Laguna jokingly referred to as a silent giant.
Kiros and Ward. Comrades, companions, the best of friends. There were no two other people in the entire world that Laguna would rather be lost in the Dingo dessert with, not that he wanted to be lost in a desert with anyone, but if he had to be lost in a desert with anyone, he was glad it was them. Now, if only they could find their way out, they’d be all set.
Winhill village. They were so close. They were almost there… if Kiros would hurry up and finish with the map.
“Hey, what’s taking so long? Are we moving or not?” Laguna simply laughed off the suddenly murderous looks in both of his friends’ eyes.
The morning Sun was shining through the Windows and into the kitchen of the Dincht residence, where there sat two youths from the night before.
To the casual observer, it might seem as though they had been there all night: Zell Dincht and his pregnant Bella. That wasn’t the case, of course, but with neither of them able to sleep, they had decided to get up early.
Now they sat at the table. Doing nothing, saying nothing. Simply basking in the other’s company. For Zell, this short moment of silent contemplation was a record. Never before had he sat still or gone so long without speaking or making some manner of loud sound.
That would make for a moment of amazement in and of itself, were the situation not already so dire and serious.
Again, Bella felt her hand slowly creep toward another, only to be engulfed within. It was strange to think how much comfort the girl took from such a simple act of human contact. Of course, touching was not something done within her home. Her parents were not the touchy-feely sort. They never hugged or kissed or spoke about their feelings. In all honesty, if Zell hadn’t saved her, she didn’t know what she would have done. How was she to inform her parents of her current predicament? She and her parents never even spoke as it was, short of the usual small talk. A distant hello in the morning, a dismissive ‘night’ in the evening.
No, nothing had changed. Zell hadn’t saved her from that fate after all. She would still have to tell them at some point. Bella had simply disappeared with no note. Surely they would wonder where she was. Surely they would come looking. Wouldn’t they? They’d have the entire village up in arms, looking for the foul kidnappers insane enough to dare touch their little girl.
This place was a nice escape, but Bella couldn’t hide out in this kitchen forever. She’d have to go back sooner or later. The last thing she wanted was to make trouble for the Dincht’s, but if she stayed, that’s what would happen. If she stayed, they would come looking.
“Zell?” she began. Bella was not looking forward to this conversation.
“What is it?” the blond asked.
“I… I have to go back.”
“Back where?” Zell’s tone was clueless, but his eyes filled with worry. The girl could tell. He wouldn’t like where this conversation was going.
“You know where. Back home.”
“Zell, calm down. I have to. It’s for the best.”
“Don’t give me that. Don’t you remember what Squall said yesterday? Any future you still have in that house isn’t going to be worth living.”
“I know! But they’re my parents. What am I going to do? Hide out here and hope they don’t notice I’m gone? They’ll come looking for me, Zell, they’re bound to, even if it’s simply to save face and keep up appearances. There’s no way they would allow me to run away, or be taken by someone else. Their pride wouldn’t let them.
“Besides, we have to let them know why I left in the first place. We have to tell them that… that they’re going to be grandparents.”
When the girl had finished, she saw that Zell wasn’t looking at her. Instead, he was staring through the window behind her, looking out into the morning Sun. For once in his life, the blond was speechless.
“You don’t need to go anywhere,” he finally spoke.
“I do Zell. I don’t want to, but it has to be done. I don’t like it any more than you do.”
Zell shook his head. “Turn around,” he instructed, and when Bella had done as he asked, her very blood ran cold.
Why? Why, why were they here? And how did they know where to find her?
This was surreal. She had to be dreaming.
This has to be a nightmare, her mind frantically screamed at her. I must be asleep, tell me I am!
Even as she directed these denying thoughts inward, the two adults came steadily closer. No matter how much she wanted to turn away and tell herself that this wasn’t happening, that this wasn’t real, her eyes betrayed her.
Her parents walked past the window and past her field of vision. They’d be at the door soon.
Oh, if only it were locked. If only she hadn’t decided to get up early. They could have hidden upstairs. They could have pretended that nobody was home.
But of course, that would not work. Such childish games would not serve her purpose here.
A point that proved to be all too true when they heard the door open and her parents stepped over the threshold, staring at her without a word. Their stern, hard glowers said more than words ever could.
The nerve of them, they hadn’t even bothered to knock. They just barged on in as though they owned the place. Who knew, perhaps by their reasoning, they did.
“Humph,” the female among the two intruders vocalised. “I knew we’d find you in this rat infested dung trap. I told you, didn’t I Arthur.”
“Aye, that you did, m’dear,” her husband replied in a no nonsense manner. Bella’s parents were not ones to jest, and everything about them oozed seriousness.
“Hello, Mother,” the young brunette replied. The room was then overtaken by a hushed silence, until….”
“Rat infested dung trap?” Zell began to scowl at his guests. “Listen, lady. This is my house! You don’t just barge into someone else’s home and start insulting it! Didn’t they teach you anything at Etiquette College? Two million Gil a semester, and for nothing!”
“Your little boyfriend fancies himself a comedian, Bella,” her mother pointed out. “Funny; in my day, the poor were seen and not heard. I don’t think much of your taste in men… boys. Was this one really the best you could find? Still, coming from this area, I can’t say I’m too surprised.”
“How did you find me, Mother?” the brunette asked, ignoring her parent’s judgment of her boyfriend.
“Since you so discourteously decided to disobey my direct, implicit instructions, I had to wonder, ‘to where of all places might have run off,’ I asked. Was it not obvious where I might find you? Where else could you possibly have gone?”
“I suppose that makes sense,” the girl conceded.
“I guess this is for the best then,” Zell pointed out. Bella, you were just saying how you needed to tell your parents something. Now you don’t have to go anywhere. They came to see you.”
“You have something to discuss?” the plump brunette asked her daughter, “then speak. But have no illusions as to what will follow. You will be coming home, and you will stay there, and you will not be seeing this… imbecile again.”
Zell’s eyes widened. “You can’t do that! Bella may be your daughter, but you don’t own her! She’s a person, not part of your property! She’s not one of your business assets that you can just buy and sell whenever you feel like it!”
“Nobody has ever spoken to us like that before.”
“Here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to sit down, you’re going to shut up, and you’re going to actually listen to your daughter for once. And when she’s finished saying what she wants to say, you’re going to leave. You’re going to get the hell out of my house, and you’re not going to bother us ever again. If Bella sees you again, it’s gonna be on her terms, got it?”
“Very well. We’ll play it your way, for the moment.”
“Bella, what did you want to tell them?”
The girl licked her lips, but said nothing. For a long moment, there was silence. The brunette looked from her parents to Zell, then back. Finally, she opened her mouth to speak.
The girl cleared her throat, and attempted to give voice the thoughts that had been ransacking her mind all morning.
“Mother, Father… there’s something you need to know. The other evening, Zell and I told you about us, about our… relationship.”
“You told us about how you let him violate you like a cheap–“
The girl’s mother was cut off by the sound of Zell’s chair scraping across the floor as he leapt to his feet.
“Zell!” the brunette cried, stopping him in his tracks.
Zell froze. “But she…” The girl’s expression was enough to quiet the blond, who sat back down, releasing a sharp sigh. He responded to her mother’s smug look with a glare.
“Okay,” Bella began. The thing is… well, I’m not sure how to say this exactly.”
“Bella’s pregnant,” Zell stated flatly.
“Zell!” The brunette cried, shooting a look of her own to her blond boyfriend.
“What? Somebody had to say it.” A long, oppressive silence fell over the room, one that none of the occupants would dare to break. Finally, the girl’s mother spoke.
“You’re… pregnant.” Her tone now lacked the fire it carried only moments ago. She was expressionless, stoic, catatonic.
“What, already?” her father asked, incredulous, speaking up for only the second time that morning. Apparently, his wife had a big enough mouth for the both of them.
It took a while for Zell to register what the man had said. Then it clicked. Did he think they’d just recently gotten together? “What? No! We’ve been together for months. I mean, I just met you a couple of days ago. It’s not like it could have happened in that short time.”
“Yes, do be quiet Gerald,” the woman chastised her husband. Her eyes then hardened, piercing directly through those of her daughter, as if staring straight into her soul to be sure she heard the truth. When she spoke, her tone was calm. It was low. It was clear. It was… scary, such a remarkable change from just moments before. She spoke only two words, but they cut directly to the Chase. “How long?”
“How long have the two of you been physical? Actually, I don’t care. More importantly, how far along are you?”
“I don’t know exactly. About two months or so.”
“Two months, I assume you’ll be keeping it?”
“We haven’t given a thought to the alternative.”
“I see. In that case, we have preparations to make, and things to plan. You’d better come with us.”
Bella’s eyes widened. She looked to the blond. “What about Zell?”
“Ah, thank you for reminding me.” The plump woman turned to the young man. “I thank you for putting my daughter up for the night, but your services will no longer be required. From here on out, this is a family matter, and you’re not family.”
“But, he’s the father!” Bella pleaded. “He should at least stay involved. We can’t–“
“That’s enough, Bella. You are an unwed teenage mother. As far as I’m concerned, there is no father. Don’t you think you’ve disgraced the family enough with your foolish actions?”
Bella froze at that remark. Disgraced the family? Is that all she was? A burden? A disgrace? A load to be bared?
“You are going to have this child. As a grandparent, I will do everything I can to assist you. All of this I accept without hesitation, but as for this imbecile of yours, you are not to see him ever again. After all, we don’t need your unborn child ruined by these people.”
“These people?” Zell asked with a cocked eyebrow.
“If anyone asks, we can tell them you were assaulted on the street. Yes, that will work. It will fit together perfectly with us taking you out of school.”
“You can’t!” Zell protested.
“Don’t look at me like that, Bella. You don’t think you can continue to mix in that cesspool of degenerates you call a school. Not in your condition at least. You should have been home schooled from the start. We could have put an end to this nonsense before it began. I told you this would happen. I told you, Harold. You wouldn’t listen. Now look what our stupid fool of a daughter has gone and done to herself. And with a member of the underclass, no less. This is your fault.
“Yes, sorry, dear.”
“Stop!” Bella cried, tears threatening to burst from her eyes. She’d had enough. This couldn’t go on. “I’m not going with you. I’m not going to let you shut me away, and I’m certainly not going to pretend I was raped. What’s wrong with you?
“You know? I was afraid of having this conversation. I’ve been dreading it ever since I found out. I was scared to death of how you might react but you… you managed to shatter even my expectations. You say my child would be ruined by these people, but if this is how you’re going to be, maybe you shouldn’t even be in this child’s life at all.”
“You’ve never spoken to us like this before. I knew it. You’ve changed. You consort with this brand of degenerate filth, and it’s only too clear what happens.”
Zell jumped to his feet.
“Shut the fuck up!”
Blue eyes snapped wide open. The outburst had been on the tip if his tongue, but it had not been his voice that sounded. Able only to stare at the brunette before him. Incredulousness bore into his eyes as Bella vented what were probably the frustrations of a lifetime.
“Do you have any idea how you come across to these people? They hate you.’
As the girl spoke, her words were laced with venom, and she spat them with so much malevolence, so much hate. Zell was used to hearing these kinds of rants, but not from the quiet girl before him. It was as though she were channelling Squall.
“They. Hate. You. And you know what? I don’t really blame them. In fact, I’m starting to agree with them. You talk about this village like it’s infested with scum. They’re all banding together to help each other make the best of a bad situation. What the hell have you ever contributed? All you ever do is segregate yourselves from the others and stockpile resources, hoarding food and money that we could all use. You two are the scum. I don’t think this child should even know its grandparents, so you know what? You may as well leave right now. You’re never going to see him, or her, whatever, I’m staying here.”
“No you’re not!” The plump woman grasped her daughter by the arm, dragging her out of her seat and toward the door.
“Hey!” Zell exclaimed, leaping toward them. Let go of her! If Bella wants to stay, then she’s staying. You can’t force her to do anything! You were just supposed to listen! Listen and then leave. You agreed! You promised!”
At that moment, the struggle was brought to a standstill by the sound of a shell being pumped into the chamber of a shotgun. Zell turned to face the source of the sound, and when he did, his jaw dropped to the ground by what he saw. “Ma?!”
“Don’t be surprised, Zell,” his mother replied. “With the way things are today, I doubt there’s a single house in this village that doesn’t have someone who’s armed. Now,” she turned to face the other mother in the room, who she happened to be aiming at. “I think it’s time you left. Let the girl go and step back. Don’t do anything stupid. I warn you, I used to be a crack shot in my youth, and I still have some skill. You move to lay a hand on that girl again, and I will blow it off.”
The two women stared each other down for a long, tense moment. So tense, in fact, that Zell couldn’t breathe.
Finally, likely after careful deliberation, Bella’s mother backed off.
“It seems we were wrong,” she admitted to her husband. “Our daughter isn’t here after all. Come along now, we should get back home. You know what these peasants are like. We don’t want anybody looting the house while we’re gone.”
Without another word, she left.
Her husband however, remained behind. His eyes met those of his daughter. They retained contact as though speaking without words.
Finally, after a shrill “come along, Stanley,” the man gazed upon his daughter once more, then, with a curt nod of his head, he turned on his heel and left, following after his wife.
After all was done, the strength and resolve that had allowed Bella to stand up to her mother suddenly disappeared and she collapsed back into the kitchen seat in which she’d been sitting.
“Listen,” Mrs Dincht said, resting her gun on the table. “I’m still not happy with this situation. Frankly, I’d hoped Zell would have had more responsibility than to let this happen, and the same goes for you.” Bella nodded her head, and suddenly gained a newfound appreciation for the kitchen floorboards. “But of course, sometimes these things just happen and we have no choice but to deal with them as best we can. I don’t know what those parents of yours are planning, but I’m not going to let them hurt you if I can help it. You’ll be safe here.”
Bella’s eyebrows picked up. “I can stay?”
“We don’t have much, and I’m sure you’ve seen for yourself by now how small the house is, but you’re welcome to stay for as long as you need.”
“Don’t mention it. Just remember, if you ever hurt Zell…” the woman left her sentence unfinished, picking up her gun and leaving the two teenagers alone.
Message understood, Bella mentally answered. You have nothing to worry about there.
“You think they’ll be back?” Zell asked, taking a seat beside her.
“You heard my mother. I doubt it.”
“Looks like you’ve been disowned then. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I think so. My mother and I were never what one might call close. Not like you.”
Zell held the girl in a one armed embrace, which she returned, allowing her head to rest on his shoulder. “You’ll be all right now.”
“Yeah. Actually, I feel better right now than I have in a long time. I feel… relieved, like a burden’s been lifted.
After a moment of silence, Zell was the one to speak. “Bella?”
“What is it?”
“What’s your Dad’s name?”
The girl simply shook her head and said nothing. Eventually, she could feel the hooks piercing the corners of her lips pull upward as her porcelain face cracked into smile.
It was true. She hadn’t been this relieved in such a long time. For the past year, Zell had been her resolve. Seeing him at school was the sole reason she got up in the mornings.
Now, he’d be right there beside her. Life still wasn’t perfect, but it had just gotten a far sight better. Finally, the girl had something worthwhile going for her. Finally, she had something to look forward to. For the first time in a long time, she was happy. For the first time in a long time, the future was looking up.