[WARNING: Mentions of bullying and abuse]
Kai clenched the round, holding it in his fist. His knuckles turning white in disbelief.
After all this time…he still remembers.
Kai would've been lying if he said he wasn't against Max being his DL. His father insisted and a replacement was not up for discussion, but the relationship between him and Max ended in a way that he admittedly wished could've been avoided. Kai knew he had wronged Max, taken away the warm smiles of the frail boy of his past and created a monster. No, a demon which now was in control of his every waking moment…waiting like an alligator to nab its prey. However, Kai was in too deep...so deep that the past was best kept in the dark reaches of space.
Yet, what shocked Kai the most was the man before him. He was built like a rock, his muscles indenting into his white button-down shirt. Moreso, Max was tall, hovering over six feet, and Kai could see the sliver of a tattoo brush his neck when he grasped the car door. The fact that he even let a needle decorate his skin was surprising based on the trauma of Max's childhood. No…everything was almost impossible to witness. How Max's hair was neat, slicked back, and fashionable, how his suits were well kept, and his maroon eyes…they still could take his breath away. How could the man before him be the same skittish boy who clung to him every night?
Kai sighed, too many overwhelming thoughts clouding his mind as he closed his eyes.
The first time Kai met Max was sophomore year in high school.
As the class President, it was Kai's duty to help the new students get acclimated to campus. What he didn't expect…was to see the new classmate.
"Good morning, class! Please give a warm welcome to our new student, Max Ray. He is here as our scholarship winner, so please be nice to him."
Kai couldn't ignore the laughs as he stared at the new kid. Max held his head down, whether because he was shy or didn't care to be there, but he didn't shift his gaze from the lemon-colored tiles. Kai gazed at the long greasy and unkept hair that fell over the school uniform that was a size too big. He honestly looked ridiculous, constantly shifting so his polo wouldn't expose his frail shoulders. Kai rolled his eyes, unamused. He guessed that they'd let just about any old stray in if it meant more money for charity.
"Kai, if you would be so kind as to show him around, that would be great." The teacher asked.
"Yes, sir." Kai smiled, amongst his friend's snickers and jokes.
Max sat near the back of the class, letting the slurs pass him by. He barely looked at anyone, didn't pay attention to the lecture…instead he just stared outside. Kai couldn't help but be curioius. Max almost appeared feminine. There was a slight curvature to his small body, a waviness about his hair…and Kai wasn't the only one who noticed. The jackals were already staring at their prize, slobbering in wait for the lunch bell to pounce. Even if Kai thought Max was out of his realm, he didn't like their snarles. It was his job to help his classmates adjust.
So, once class was over, Kai showed Max around the school. He made sure to keep him close, which deterred the jackals: who decided to move on to their next victim. Kai did his best to be a good tour guide, but he suddenly realized Max wasn't paying him a lick of attention. He didn't say a word, nor did he lift his head to acknowledge a thing he said!
Kai had been ignored at home, which is why he decided to be the class president. This position gave him a voice, allowed him to be heard. So who…who did this kid think he was to treat him as such?
"Max." Kai said, to no avail.
His head was stuck to the ground…almost like he was invisible.
"Look," Kai said angrily, reaching for Max's collar, "at me when I'm—"
Instinctively…no like a wounded animal, Max cowered away from Kai's touch: slamming into the brick wall that made up the school's entryway. Kai was speechless, watching Max act like he had seen a monster…or worse, lived through a terrifying reality. But it was Max's eyes that struck Kai the most. Underneath that tangled mess were the most unique velvet eyes he'd ever seen. They almost seemed unreal…too vibrant to be human. But when tears began to well in Max's eyes, Kai couldn't help but snap back to reality.
"I'm so—" Kai started.
That didn't help. Max took off, sprinting away from him. In that very moment, Kai caught a glimpse of Max's shoulder that protruded out under his baggy uniform. It was badly bruised...almost looked infected. Is that…is that why he flinched?
Kai tried his best to find him after that. Hell, he ran for miles, asked people on the street if they had seen the boy that just moments ago ran from him…but it was to no avail. Kai sighed, chuckled a bit and started off toward home. He had never run after anyone like that before, it was almost embarrassing.
Months went by and Max continued to come to class. He was still a disheveled mess, was still picked on, and still ignored anything and everything around him. Kai honestly wanted to ask him about what happened that day. He didn't in any means feel responsible for it, but he did think if something was going on at the home he stayed at, that he should get help. But Kai also knew it wasn't his problem. As the son of a well respected senator, he had one job: avoid drama.
"The mutt won't take off his shirt!" A boy yelled in the locker room.
It was swim class that day. Everyone had to do a skills test for physical fitness. Kai had been dreaming of this day all semester because he wanted to impress Nick Join. He was the top athlete on the swim team and honestly Kai's biggest crush. He idolized him since they were in middle school, and even though they talked, it was more as acquaintances than friends. After spending money on private swim lessons, Kai knew today was his shot at grabbing Nick's attention. But now, instead of his mind being focused on his heat, he was looking back at Max. The jackals, the jock football players in their class, we're surrounding him.
Max tried to run away, but kept getting knocked back down. No one was going to intervene, especially not for him.
"You do know what swim class is, don't you? Or are you too afraid to show your boobs?"
"Ha, his hair is long enough to be a chick!"
"Why don't we find out?"
The largest of the three, Tanner, grabbed Max's shirt. Max clawed at him, tears in his eyes, trying to fight him off but he wasn't strong enough.
When Kai heard Max yell and the sound his clothes tearing, his eyes bulged.
"Oh, shit!" Tanner exclaimed, surprise covering his face.
Kai clenched his fists. No matter who Max was, he didn't deserve to be treated like that. He already had injuries.
"Get off him, Tanner."
Tanner tuned, dropping Max who held onto his ripped shirt. Tanner chuckled, spitting on Max.
"Wouldn't want the class president to cry wolf, now, would we?" He said, walking away.
His boys followed as Kai relaxed his fists. He knew the one thing that would ruin them was a pink slip. They loved football more than anything and even if they were jerks, they weren't interested to get in trouble: that meant the bench. But…this act of charity would come back to haunt him.
As the boys in his class began to leave the locker room, Kai walked over to Max. He was shaking. Kai tried to hide his disbelief, but seeing Max there shivering, he realized he was severely malnourished. Did they even feed people in that boy's home? No wonder he didn't want to take off his clothes.
Kai didn't say anything, just handed Max his shirt: he had plenty more. Max looked up at him then, his hair parting away from his face, but his eyes were wet and his cheeks were red. It oddly made Kai's heart beat fast…he had never seen anyone…so beautiful. Even in that moment of Max's distress, he felt a blush come over him.
Max put his head down and grabbed the shirt. He turned from Kai so he could undress. That's when Kai saw his bruises, which made him gasp. They were not clean…it looked like they were infected. And someone carved the words "guard dog" into him…it was inhumane.
"What happened to you?" Kai asked, almost in shock because he didn't realize it came out of his mouth.
Silence ensued as Max buttoned up his new shirt. He turned to Kai, now looking him in the eye. But he did the strangest thing, he smiled. Kai's heart raced.
"Nothing. I tripped."
Max started to get his things, but Kai blocked his path. He knew he didn't trip. You don't trip and get scars like that.
"You probably don't trust me enough to tell me what's going on, but if you're in trouble and you need help," Kai said, writing down his number. "Call me. I'll get you out of it."
Max took the paper and held it like gold. Kai watched him stare at it as he turned to leave.
"Oh, also don't worry about swim class. I'll tell them you're sick."
Kai closed the door to the locker room, leaning on it. He exhaled, unsure of himself.
Shit…what have I gotten myself into?