He was only sixteen.
That was the truth, and yet, as Hunter observed himself in the bathroom mirror, he found himself tracing his fingers along different cuts and healing bruises. There was something so perfect in that. It made him feel like a badass warrior, with his wounds serving as reminders of all his past victories. They reminded people not to fuck with him.
The teen smirked to himself, thinking of the bastards running for cover earlier that same hour. Same old, same old: a bunch of muscle-headed assholes who started shit with him and talked a big game, but couldn’t actually back it up when it came time to fight.
Hunter picked up the not-so-gently used rag next to him on the sink and began patting away at the side of his lip. It stung, but he gritted through the pain. Right then, Hunter’s biggest focus was to clean up some left over dried blood from his last fight. And usually he wouldn’t give a shit, but tonight he was going to a party in the local junkyard and figured he should at least look somewhat presentable. After all, those parties always had the hottest girls.
It’d been another lousy day. Slogging through the daily--or weekly, in Hunter’s case--prison sentence known as attending public high school. Sleeping through class as much as possible. Disrupting the infinitely boring lesson. Getting lectured after class by different clueless teachers about his “bad behavior” and “wasted potential”. Then, something sarcastic would slip out of Hunter’s mouth, and the whole thing would just go on even longer. After that of course came Hunter’s personal favorite, being sent to the school guidance counselor’s office. As if being lectured by his balding English teacher wasn’t enough. The counselor was always even worse, with their fake compassion and endless questions, including asking about if things are going okay at home, and where Hunter sees himself in five years if he keeps going down this path.
Thanks, but no thanks. Hunter didn’t need anyone’s misplaced sympathy or them thinking they’re better than him just because they had a few decades on him. As far as he was concerned, they were all gonna die from heart disease or stress in a few years anyway, so he wouldn’t have to put up with them for much longer.
The final kicker was Hunter almost getting jumped by a rival group of punks, leading to his current situation of half-assedly cleaning his face up. A lot of bullshit in one day, but it was his norm.
That night’s junkyard party promised a break from the mundane of this awful town known as Meadowbrook. A chance to drown the monotony in music, alcohol, and the allure of fleeting connections. For a few hours, he could let loose, shed the suffocating skin of expectations, and just be.
Hunter tossed the stained rag into the sink and glanced at his reflection once more. This is who he was. Vulnerability wasn’t a part of his persona.
With a quick check of his jean pockets for his stash of cigarettes and a few crumpled bills, Hunter strode out of the bathroom. He slung his backpack over his shoulder—a bag with straps that were hanging on for dear life, barely held together by duct tape—and slipped out the front door, the hinges creaking slightly, but the noise was drowned out by the background hum of the afternoon.
The teen ran a strong hand through his blond hair, sauntering down the sidewalk with a casual stride that only someone with so much cockiness could muster. It was only around 5pm, so he wasn’t on his way to the junkyard just yet. He had plenty of time, but didn’t want to just lay around the sad, cluttered space of his house, either.
Hunter felt his phone buzzing in his pocket. A couple of texts in his buddies’ group chat, asking about the party, location, and so on. He replied that he’d be there later, and for his close friend in the chat, a boy his age named Evan, to bring the best cigs and alcohol that he could snag from his folks.
“Hey, Hunter,” Evan wrote in the chat. “Heard about what happened. Did you win at least?”
Hunter smirked as he responded to the message. “Don’t I always?”
The newbie of the group, some kid named Kyle, chimed in with a question of his own.
“Kicked the asses of some dumbfucks who tried to jump me.” Hunter sent back.
“This guy’s a fucking beast, dude.” Evan said, his pride in his friend unmistakable. There was a pause in the chat for a moment, the three ellipses signaling a reply from Kyle coming and going a few times.
Finally, he sent in, “Jump you? What for?”
“Stupid shit. Doesn’t matter.”
“Fighting’s a really bad idea, man.”
Another pause. Hunter rolled his eyes and clicked on Evan’s profile, deciding to just start a private chat with him instead. He was getting sick of texting, so he hit Evan up on Facetime. Within a couple of seconds, his friend’s grinning face appeared on the screen.
“By the way, man, Nat’s gonna be there. I think she’s been asking about you lately.”
Hunter’s mouth slid up at the right corner, as he pictured the girl Evan was talking about. Cute face and a nice body, which she had a penchant for showing off in too-tight clothes.
“Hey, I need you for something.” Hunter started, changing the subject for now.
“Yeah, what’s up?” Evan drawled, taking a puff of a cigarette he was working on behind the screen.
“Lend me a twenty later? I’m short for the ride home.”
“A twenty? C’mon, man, I barely have enough for myself.”
“I’ll pay you back.”
“You always say that…”
“You gonna tell me no?”
Evan didn’t reply, but he didn’t have to. He didn’t say no. Ever.
“I’ll see you guys in a couple hours.” Hunter finally said, looking off into the distance as he continued his stride down the neighborhood sidewalk.
As the bruised boy walked along, he felt another chime from his phone a few seconds later. Evan sent a picture of himself, stretching a twenty out between his hands.
Sitting down at the nearest bus stop, Hunter took a cold water bottle out of his backpack and placed it on his bottom lip. He hissed out an appreciative sound, glad that it hurt less than earlier. The cold slipped through him and began to numb the sting, and he found himself returning right back to the chill state that he was so used to.
He still had time, but figured he might as well take the next bus into town, find something more fun to do there, and work his way towards the junkyard.
For a few minutes, he watched people coming and going on both the street and the sidewalk. A handful of them looked as though they wanted to sit at the bus stop Hunter was at but decided not to after seeing his roughed up appearance. Whatever. The less rando human interaction, the better. Even at the party, Hunter wasn’t planning on talking to people outside of his immediate social circle of equally callous teenage boys. Well, them and Nat, or any other girls who were interested. A shady junkyard party was one thing, but in the regular old day-to-day, it was too much work, trying to relate to others who really had nothing to offer you.
He fiddled around with his phone for a minute, attempting to play some game despite the heavily cracked screen--a result of him dropping it way too many times to count. Soon after he opened a notepad app, taking down the dollar amount that he’d owe Evan later, when he had some crisp new money in his account. He might be poor as shit right now, but he meant it when he said he’d pay his friend back.
He was no liar. Never again.
Hunter sat back with a sigh, dropping his arms between his outstretched legs, still gripping onto his phone. He continued watching the passersby in front of him and in his peripheral vision, becoming increasingly bored as he waited for the bus to arrive.
Just then, as Hunter was about to go back to his phone, the sound of close footsteps on his right caught his eye, and he glanced over. He was both surprised and irritated that someone might come to stand next to him after all. It prompted him to double-check, fully turning his head towards it to stare full-on. But no. He was right.
There beside him, alone at this quiet bus stop, was another teenage male. Pale-skinned, thin as a girl but still boyish in appearance, with thick eyebrows and neatly combed jet-black hair that caught the light of the setting sun in subtle waves. Behind thick-framed glasses, his eyes scanned the area with a sort of quiet confidence, framed by dark lashes that accentuated their depth. The kid was dressed in immaculately pressed clothes, his button-down shirt tucked neatly into charcoal trousers.
This guy, who was a few inches shorter than Hunter, absently ran his hand through his dark hair before opening his backpack. He pulled out the bus schedule in a motion that was unnecessarily graceful, observing the arrival time of the vehicle they were both waiting for. With a little sigh, he put the item back. He readjusted his posture, even though he was already standing straight, and looked off into the distance once more. He exuded a sense of refined elegance that Hunter had never seen in this rough-and-tumble town before.
He probably thought he was better than everyone else.
Hunter clicked his tongue as he continued eyeing the boy.
The whole “rich kid” thing he had going on would usually be enough to piss him off, but to add salt to the wound, the raven-haired boy didn't even meet Hunter's eyes before gliding over and standing calmly in place. Even now, minutes later, he still hasn’t bothered to look at him. And that was both annoying and disappointing, because there was nothing more entertaining than watching someone hesitate for a few seconds when they make eye contact with Hunter. It would have been especially interesting to see how this guy, a total stranger who had the balls--or blindness--to approach him would react.
So, if he didn’t want to notice, Hunter would make him notice.
The blond smirked to himself, as different intimidation tactics rapidly fired off in his mind. He began to rise from his seat, carelessly tossing the water bottle to the side.
Got some news for you, rich boy. You chose the wrong stop.
But then, just as he was closing in, the boy did turn to look at Hunter. And the delinquent could almost feel himself choke on air.