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And it seems like I've known you forever

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The running water in the sink washes over the scraps of Troy's knuckles only succeeding in turning it into a pool of red. Still not satisfied he continues to scrub his hands violently not caring that much when his efforts leave him red and raw.

Looking up at his reflection in the mirror he can tell the skin underneath his left eye is definitely darkening.

**

The high school Troy currently attends in the old residential district of El Sereno is made up of young teenagers of mostly Latin American descent. Troy definitely stands out. For instance, he’s older than most of the juniors in his class and is already well versed in many subjects despite not having a proper education.

He has a stunted look about himself, like not too long ago he was blending in with all the peers he towers over now. Though his height is man-like he’s still quite young. All long, boyish limbs and dark tannish skin. You can take the boy out of the country but you can never take away that farmer tan.

Ever since having to adapt to a more suburban setting the transition had been anything but easy. He’s spent a large chunk of his life isolated and isn't well socialized by any means. As a result he ends up getting into fights threatening his chances of graduating.

Despite popular belief Troy really doesn't want to get kicked out. He genuinely enjoys learning new things and absorbing as much information as he can using it to his advantage. The routine can get pretty mundane though. No matter how bright he is more often than not he finds himself very particular in what piques his interest. Some classes seem more important than others and before he becomes aware of it he's completely zoned out missing all the material.

He’s rushing to his fourth period class having gotten lost in the library reading some old novel, Lord of the flies. It was an intense book, intrigued by the strong themes of moral ambiguity and the clash of civilization and savagery. Back home he’d read just about every book they owned and living in a less than rural area where there was never a shortage was a bit of a culture shock.

The hallway is dead silent with no one in sight having already gone to class. As he descends down the stairwell he notices two guys in dark baggy hoodies loitering by the ramp exchanging what looks like bongs of marijuana.

Troy fights the urge to roll his eyes. He’d soon learned not long after living here in metro Los Angeles that drug dealing was a common day occurrence. But doing it in broad daylight on campus grounds no less? Now these dumbasses were just plain stupid.

Just then the two guys shoot him a dirty look when he passes them by like they can read his thoughts.

Troy's been told ever since he was little to mind his own business. Never stir up trouble or draw unnecessary attention to himself. Keeping a low profile isn't something that comes naturally to him. He was born with that reckless gene that always comes creeping out. Right as Troy turns abruptly to face them they don't give him much choice in the matter.

He's too gutsy and unrestrained, always causing a disturbance, one way or another.

Right away, the look in their eyes makes him feel like they want something from him.

His suspicions are only confirmed when one of the guys grabs him roughly by the arm going on to inspect the silver Rolex watch around his tanned wrist.

“Nice watch, man.”

“-Thanks,” Troy quips while keeping a wary eye on them both. He doesn't fail to miss how their eyes are red rimmed and focused on him looking slightly blazed in the process. It's a wonder they haven't managed to get caught yet.

Troy anticipates it before it happens. The guy squeezes his arm tighter making an attempt to seize the other before he uses his free hand to punch his stomach hard. Meanwhile, the other of the two attempts to catch him off guard but luckily his reflexes are quick proceeding to connect his fist with the guy’s face. He hears the satisfying crack of breaking the dude's nose and can't help but grin a little worked up from the rush of it all.

“Hey! What's going on?!”

Troy quickly turns seeing a teacher passing by at the ramp above him.

One of the guys recovers barely just in time, balling his fist into Troy's cheekbone just as he’s distracted. He's sent flying backward and ends up falling down the stairs landing flat on his face.

Troy's day ends up going from bad to worse in a surprising matter of moments.

**

He first sees her when she's coming out of her office that's connected with the principal's. The printer is whirring next to him when she makes her way over as he’s picking at his gauze. He begins to look at her without really thinking about it. She's grey-suited with a plain white tee underneath. Her hair drapes down, curling softly at the ends and tucks back a loose strand behind her ear as she's gathering a stack of papers. It's mostly blonde, streaked with soft brown hues giving her warmth when she comes off stern.

That's when she looks up, as if sensing some internal judgement being made about her and their eyes meet.

“I have an ice pack in my freezer.” She says.

“ Eh?” He lifts a brow at her, as if surprised she's even talking to him.

“ Eh?” She pulls, tight-lipped, “ Eh what? You look bad.”

He shrugs, a confirmation this time. An okay, whatcha gonna do about it? shrug.

The woman continues to stare back at him, brows furrowed in what resembles concern. Her face is marked by the angular lines and pallid tints of age but he finds himself pulled in instantly by her dark eyes that are a little too hard assessing him.

“ Something tells me you come here often.” She returns, promptly handing Troy the ice pack that he presses against his left eye. The stinging lessens and he's grateful for her interference. When she brings up his bad reputation he begins to wonder why he hasn't noticed her sooner.

“Yeah,” He smiles at her briefly, twitching his nose. “ Today's just not my day.”

She makes a sceptical sound, acting indifferent about his circumstance not going on to press him for further details. She probably thinks he brought this on himself. It wouldn't be far from the truth he supposes considering the kind of person he is.

“Thanks.” He mumbles, noticing the gold chain necklace that dangles from her neck where her chest is slightly exposed, golden over the light muscle of her collarbone. A constellation of freckles mapping out her body like a road-map. Something about her physical appearance is striking to him in the way he's never paid much interest to his female counterparts before.

Normally, Troy isn't used to people helping him for no good reason and even if it's an obligation for her the fact remains that she's still here.

She has this look of unshakable concentration about her, like she's trying to solve something like an algebra question. Like she's trying to solve him. It's a look he isn't used to when he's so used to reading others than they are him.

Finally, she speaks.

“Well I hope we don't see each other anytime soon. In the meantime, try to stay out of trouble.” Her voice has a parental sternness to it he doesn't miss.

She leaves just as the principal’s tired voice is calling him inside like there's other things he’d rather be doing. Troy can't help but wish he would've caught the woman's name at least, or if she was a teacher here.

He sincerely hopes there’ll be a next time.

**

Troy opens the door where Scout his Uncle's German Shepherd jumps on him wagging its tail and barking excitedly. He's been surrounded by animals his whole life to develop a fondness for them since he didn't have many friends growing up and stops for a minute to run his hands through its fur.

Inside, he's trying not to think about the late night conversation he'll wind up having with his uncle for having been involved in yet another fight. Whatever, it's not like he's already making things difficult for his new family as is.

Still, he hates being a disappointment to his Uncle when it seems he’s the only real family he has who’s ever been on his side.

“You're home early.” Right away Troy notices his aunt Neenah standing in the front room raising an eyebrow in mild curiosity. She was a small, quiet woman who always wore her long hair down her back and smelled of burning candles like she was constantly warding off evil spirits.

Her name simply meant running water, a calm stream, nothing too profound or meaningful when he went and asked.

Already he can sense the general unease that always comes between them.

“My last period is study hall,” He quickly explains. “I already finished all my homework.” He shrugs off his backpack noticing her get all stiff when she stares at his blackened eye for a moment.

She opens her mouth like she has something to say but at the last minute decides against it.

“Oh..” Is all she says before retreating back to the kitchen to escape the sudden awkwardness. Despite her making an effort to treat Troy like family he can sense she's unsure how to approach him at times. He tends to have that effect on people.

His aunt and uncle are both honest, good-hearted people who were generous enough to take Troy into their home in the city while he attends high school. It’d originally started out with him staying there for summer vacations doing various things like helping his uncle fix cars teaching him how to use his hands like he was trying to fix him.

He finds he doesn't mind though. It keeps his mind occupied. Far away from himself where living out secluded in the desert makes his head swarm with all kinds of crazy thoughts.

Living out in the middle of the desert isolated from the rest of the world was like being a lone rock in a stream of consciousness. While other kids his age spent their youth sheltered by their parent’s love tucked in every night by their mommies and daddies living comfortable cushy lives he was out alone exploring the monotony of untamed wilderness.

In the absence of friends he was left tottering along under the burning sun in a completely and utterly desolate lonesome environment. Surrounded by immense landscape, Flora and fauna was all he knew.

It was a crucible of death, of vastness of unadulterated beauty.

Everything fell around him there, gravity, luck, the stochasticity of existence.

As a kid, Troy rarely dreamed.

He never considered nightmares dreams. Not those imaginings with naive connotations. Sweet dreams, child dreams. That was all a foreign experience to him. He was only six years old when he accepted he’d never sleep peacefully.

Every night as soon as he’d close his eyes he’d be tormented by all those big bad thoughts spilling out of his skull. Every latent ugly terrible thing about him bubbling up and simmering to the surface. He felt like he was drowning.

Growing up he began drawing connections, building a logical network to map out the origins and causes of his neurosis. With each new violence that twisted him in his sleep a new piece to the puzzle was added.

It happened one day.

The final click, when everything came into place. He tilted his gaze towards the imposing figure that was his father, eyes matching his after leaving him bruised and broken. Each and every injury served as a blight to his character following him deep into his subconscious making him a child of violence. That same violence imprinted deep into his psyche savage enough to bear into reality.

It made him crazy.

Barely out of grade school and crazy.

It'd be so easy to go and blame his drunkard of a father. Easier at least to go and admit something was wrong with him. Sometimes Troy had the feeling even without the parental prick there would've been something off about himself.

After all, screws fall out all the time. The world is an imperfect place.

All that angst and suffering was what made him who he was.

As far as he knew, Uncle Felix and his old man never had the best relationship. Troy grew up with a racist father who had a firm belief in white supremacist ideals and his uncle never approved of him for being such a bigot. To make matters even more complicated he’d gone and married a native woman.

They never visited the ranch for holidays, birthdays or any other special occasions. It was like they never even existed.

Thus a rift was created between the two and they hadn't been on good terms since.

When Troy had mentioned about wanting to go to school again his uncle took him almost immediately on the offer somehow managing to sway his old man into taking his hands off him for awhile.

It had just worked out that way.

Now though it seemed he was in danger of ruining his own chances.