Chapter 8: Awkward Meeting

The paperwork was as brief as promised. Afterwards, Mr. Lawrence brought Bryce to the cafeteria. There were about twenty teenagers there of both sexes. Bryce judged the oldest to be about nineteen while the youngest appeared to be fourteen.

"Go ahead and grab something to eat. You won't get another chance after this until Afternoon Snack which is at three and I'm sure you must be famished."

Bryce didn't answer, but he did get in line for the meal, which turned out to be a slice of pizza with a small salad.

"You're new here," the girl just ahead of him observed.

"Yes," Bryce agreed. "I just got here half an hour ago. Bryce Lynch."

"Alison Parker," the girl introduced himself.

Bryce flinched. "Parker?" he asked darkly. It had to be a coincidence. The name Parker was rather common after all. Just a coincidence. But what if it wasn't.

The girl frowned, her darkness matching Bryce's. So much for coincidence. Bryce turned away from her, not really wanting to talk to a relative of the man who was the reason he was stuck in this place.

Alison frowned herself. She guessed immediately why Bryce wasn't speaking to her. John Parker was, indeed, related to her as Bryce had wondered. It was a fact that had lost her quite a few potential friends and she hated that. Didn't they realize that he had molested her as well? Maybe they assumed she had never spoken of it. That it was her fault that they had been hurt. Why hadn't her parents believed her? At least she had gotten rid of those horrible things he sometimes used on his victims. The entire bedroom had burned as a result and they'd nearly lost the house. But she felt her parents deserved to lose their home after what they allowed to take place in it.

Bryce moved along quickly in the line as if trying to increase the distance between them. But Alison decided she would be damned if she let her worst relative lose her another potential friend.

"I'm not my uncle," she hissed at him under her breath. "I really wish people would stop judging me by his behavior. I was also a victim of his."

Bryce didn't look at her, but his posture seemed to relax a little.

Alison sighed. She guessed that it might be possible to befriend this newcomer if she worked at it.

Bryce collected the rest of his meal and sat down at a nearby table which was occupied by two boys who seemed to be about sixteen and fourteen, and a girl of seventeen.

Alison considered sitting with him, but decided not to. If she was going to prove to him that she was nothing like John, then the first step was to not force her presence on him. She would let me warm up to her the way her first grade teacher had taught her class how to make friends with the new kittens that were born to the stray cat that lived by the school, many of which found new homes that week.

"Laura Peller," the seventeen year old girl introduced herself.

"Any relation to Simon Peller?" Bryce asked.

"Third cousin," Laura replied. "I'm the black sheep of the family. They all supported his campaign. I'm here for trying to sabotage it. One of my friends is a Blank and my asshole cousin had her arrested for no reason."

"Careful, Laura," the younger of the two boys warned. "You've already paid twenty credits to the jar this week."

"The jar?"

"It's not in the official rules," the older boy explained. "But we have a little jar that we have to pay into every time we swear. Laura here is practically our local hero. Last week she paid so much we all went on a field trip." he and the other boy laughed while Laura blushed.

A look of recognition hit Laura. "You work at Network 23, don't you? I thought I recognized you. I've seen you there when I was forced to go to one of my idiot cousin's stupid speeches. What the hell are you doing here?"

"Three credits, Laura," a passing staff member commented.

Laura ignored him. "Well? What are you in for?"

Bryce wondered what they would think of him when they learned he was a murderer. No, he reminded himself. It was self-defense not murder. Either way, he had killed somebody. He doubted they'd want to be friends with him if they knew that. Not that he needed friends. He had Edison's team back at Network 23, after all.

"What? Did you kill someone?" the older boy asked, laughing at his own joke. When Bryce looked down at the table rather than at him, his eyes widened. "You did kill someone?"

"Self-defense," Bryce muttered.

"And you wound up in here," the younger boy said, as if he didn't quite believe Bryce.

"Bureaucracy," Laura explained with a tone of sarcasm. "What would the world be without it?"

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