Time out apparently consisted of Oblio being thrown back into the guest room he had been in before. Only this time he was locked in.
His head felt fuzzy and his hands were tingling - those were the first things he noted when he opened his eyes. Pushing himself away from the pillow, he saw a black stain on the pillowcase where his mouth had been. A glance out the window still showed the raindrops and heavy clouds and a glance to the clock on the nightstand showed that the time was 6:47 in the evening.
Tan’s party was starting soon.
Oblio sat on the edge of the bed, shifting around slightly and feeling himself move. His whole body felt sore. He touched the back of his neck where Tan had jammed the needle through his skin. He couldn’t feel anything out of the ordinary. Moving his hands to his lips, he found the skin there was dry and cracked.
Tilting his head upwards, he peered at his reflection in the mirror across from the bed. His eyes had bags under them. His lips and chin were stained black and his hair was a disheveled blue halo. There was a spreading bruise along the left side of his jaw. He didn’t remember being slammed into the desk that hard.
“Ah, you’re awake.”
He looked to the foot of the bed to see a holographic image of Dr. Tan, who was already pacing back and forth across the bedroom, hands clasped behind his back.
Oblio only managed to grunt in response.
The image of Dr. Tan stopped pacing and approached Oblio, standing a few feet away from him and the bed he was seated on. “Are you going to play nice?”
Oblio ignored his question. “What are you planning?”
His question was also ignored and met with silence.
The holographic image crossed his arms over his chest. Oblio could picture him standing in his office upstairs, watching the guest room on a monitor and reacting accordingly. The thought made his skin crawl. He finally turned his head to look up to the real-time image of his stepfather.
“Don’t you want to see you mother again, Oblio?”
“Not at the expense of other people. Not like this.”
“Oh, please. I’m not going to hurt anyone—you act like—“
“This was never really about my mother, Tan, was it?”
The question caught Dr. Tan slightly off guard, but he regained his composure quickly and moved back to the foot of the bed, where he began to pace again, once more. “It was. Not completely. But it was.”
“Why do you have all those robots at the Tandance Building?”
Upstairs, Dr. Tan’s face twisted into a sneer. Oblio had been snooping more than he had originally thought.
“That’s none of your business.”
Back on the floor below, Oblio managed to push himself to his feet, stretching his muscles that had ached and grown stiff from whatever Tan had introduced to his body. He felt dizzy for a few moments, his vision blurred momentarily, but he steeled himself and waited for it to pass before speaking again.
“It is my business. I’m the one who’s been helping you. You told me we were bringing my mother back.”
“I never said that we weren’t doing that. And that wasn’t a we thing. I would be bringing your mother back. You were just assisting by gathering bits and pieces for me.”
Oblio shuffled to the door, pushing the handle down and finding it locked. There was no noticeable way to unlock it either.
“Ah ah ah.”
“Why don’t you talk to me face-to-face?” Oblio said to Tan, his body still turned towards the door and his hand still shaking the handle.
“Because I have a party to get ready to attend. Now you stay here and think about what you’ve done.”
The image of Tan vanished right before Oblio turned around to face him. He was left in an empty room once more.
In his office, he double checked the stats for that hallway on one of his monitors. The guest room Oblio was in was locked – the door and windows.
He figured he’d leave Oblio there for a bit. He knew all the questions the boy had and all the things he had seen would drive him into that state he always got in when he was overwhelmed. Tan had seen it many times when he was married to Bernice. Oblio would retreat into his own little shell. Alone. And that shell would begin to slowly break him down.
Tan was sure he would do that again. Especially the little nudges here and there that Oblio would experience the longer he sat in the guest room…
And that was all he needed. Then Oblio wouldn’t be a problem anymore.
“If you have any problems you call us, alright? Any sign of anything out of the ordinary.”
She handed him a few sheets of paper – his discharge forms and prescriptions for his pain medication.
Kerith watched the doctor exit the room and slowly stood from his bed, heading towards the bathroom in the corner. His stomach dropped when he looked at himself in the mirror for the first time since putting makeup on the night before. There were no traces of the makeup left – they had cleaned it all off overnight – but the bruises and cuts that spread across his face were enough to make his breath catch in his throat. Some of them were covered with bandages, but not all of them and some looked like a sick representation of the makeup he had been wearing.
His sister appeared in the mirror behind him and Kerith stared at her reflection. Her gray eyes were wide, inquisitive. Her hair, wet from the rain during her walk to the hospital. She was looking back at his reflection, swallowing a mouthful of dry air and trying not to let her expression twist into a frown.
He opened his mouth to say something to her, but her reflection vanished from the mirror and he could suddenly feel her behind him, her arms wrapped around his waist and her cheek pressed against his back in between his shoulderblades.
Kerith looked at his reflection for a moment more before carefully spinning around in her grasp and placing his arms around her.
“I’m sorry,” her voice was muffled by his hospital gown.
“It’s okay, Jaryn. It’s not your fault.”
“I shouldn’t have left—“
Kerith pulled back from her and placed a pointer finger over her lips. “Hush. We’re not arguing about this.”
He pulled his pointer finger away and replaced it with his whole palm, his lips thinning and his eyes widening in an exaggerated fashion.
Jaryn grinned faintly. He couldn’t see the grin behind his hand, but he could tell by the way her cheeks shifted and the corners of her eyes upturned that she was smiling.
They were twins. Reading each other was like a second nature.
It felt good. All he had read from her recently had been anger and frustration. He removed his hand and started to turn back to the mirror to look at himself once more.
“No, stop.” She grabbed him and shook her head. “Staring at it won’t help. It never helped us before.”
Kerith could only deliver a numb nod in response. He had spent countless hours in their old house, staring at his bruises and scars in the mirror. She was right, it never did a thing.
“Brought your clothes for you.” She motioned to a bag by the door. “Didn’t think you’d want to leave the hospital in… your… goth stuff.”
He chuckled weakly and moved away from her to pick them up. He began pulling them out of the bag as he made his way back to the small bathroom. A simple pair of jeans and a green t-shirt. Perfect.
He changed slowly, being very mindful of his injuries. Jaryn sat on the edge of his bed, flinching every instance he did – every time he accidentally grazed one of his bruises or cuts. He forced a smile to her after he finished, “I need to make sure I stop by the pharmacy on the way home.”
“But I’m starving.”
“Want to head home and I can pick something up for you?”
“Can we go somewhere and sit down and talk? I feel like I haven’t seen you in forever.”
Jaryn stood and crossed the hospital room to her brother. “Three years,” she said, pulling at a piece of his sleeve that was folded up. “Chinese buffet?”
“God, yes. Please.”
Oblio found himself staring out the window of the guest bedroom, hands pressed against the glass and eyes glazed over. He had watched each one of his acquaintances show up to Tan’s estate. Dare and MacCoy came in cackling together. Emilia and Aubrey came in arguing with Angel in tow while Taye and Mo followed. They were discussing something and holding their hands out in front of them, describing something to each other and laughing. He saw dancer after dancer pull up, file in – he could feel the bass of the music under his feet.
He had already tried opening the window. No use.
His eyes met with the ornate chair in front of the desk and went back to the glass. They moved back to the chair again. That was when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye.
One of the framed pieces of art over the bed had become a screen. It was filled with static. He felt himself moving away from the window and shuffling across the plush carpet to the framed screen on the wall. The static cleared and he could see security tapes of Jaryn dancing. The footage was scratchy, there were waves of static through it, but he could see her dancing in the studio. The tapes switched to the sea of robots Oblio saw at the Tandance building. They were booting up. It shifted again and Oblio could see the back halls of Cathedral. He saw a girl in a corset stumble out into the back alleyway. Kerith was following her. He looked lost, like he was in some sort of daze. Suddenly the face of that gold heap of limbs Oblio had seen in his dream filled the screen. It didn’t move. It just… looked back at him.
Mere heartbeats later, the screen became the framed painting of a French countryside once more.
He could feel himself shaking as his hands met with the painting. He tore it off of the wall. It was a light wooden frame with a canvas inside. Oblio shook his head, fingers scrambling around the frame for wires or switches – anything.
He finally threw the frame to the ground, shattering the glass on the front.
He knew what he had seen.
The door. He tried the door again. Still locked.
His head was filling with voices, those questions again. They were growing quite overwhelming at a rate that alarmed him. Inhaling deeply, Oblio planted himself on the edge of the bed and began to breathe deeply, letting his eyes drift shut. He kept telling himself to calm down and let the feeling pass. Meditation always seemed to help him—
He heard a bang on the window and his eyes shot open.
Stumbling over, he planted his hands back on the glass and looked down.
On the ground below his window, standing and peering back up at him was that thing. That gold thing that Tan said would become his mother again. Pressing his forehead against the glass, Oblio exhaled and shut his eyes tightly. When he opened them up again, the gold robot was gone.
Without any hesitation, he grabbed his phone from his jacket on the bed and brought up his contact list, scrolling to Jaryn. Her voice would--
No, that’s what he wants me to do. He wants me to get her here.
Oblio wouldn’t let that happen. He wasn’t even sure just what Tan wanted her – wanted any of them for anymore.
He just knew he wouldn’t let her walk into this. Not now.
Dr. Tan straightened the collar on his jacket and stepped away from the mirror in the master suite of his estate. Crossing the hall to his main office, he stopped in front of the bank of monitors, focusing on the one that had the live feed of the guest room Oblio was in. He was seated at the desk now, furiously scribbling at a piece of paper. Tan had seen him pacing earlier. He had also watched him stare out the window, gnaw on his nails while seated in front of the bed and curl up in a fetal position on top of the cushy comforter. He had been all over that room, back and forth, mumbling to himself and talking to whatever was going on in his head.
There was a very small part of him that felt wrong about what he was doing to Oblio – especially because of how much Bernice had cared for her son and how Tan had felt about Bernice…
…but Bernice was gone. She would never know how Tan was treating him now.
With a thin smile, the man pressed a blue button on the panel under the monitors then moved towards the exit of his office and headed down to the wing where Oblio stewed in one of the guest rooms. He opened the now unlocked door a crack and peered inside. Oblio was seated on the edge of the bed, his jacket and helmet next to him. His back was straight and his eyes were red. His gaze moved slowly to the door where his eyes met with Tan’s through the sliver between the door and the frame.
“Are you ready to play nice?”
Oblio said nothing.
“Go downstairs and dance.”
Tan watched him pull himself off of the bed, gather up his jacket and helmet in his arms and stumble slowly out of the room, shifting down the stairs in the hall, one by one.
Tan knew how Oblio’s brain worked and he knew that the boy would no longer be a problem – he would no longer be that wrench in the works of Tan’s master plan.