Afflicted 17: Chapter 16


The morning startled Rick back into existence, and once he’d woken up he wished he could die. He was in an enormous amount of pain. Ditching his bike and the subsequent discomfort it had caused him had turned out to be a good thing. When confronted, he had merely stated that he’d been mugged for his bike, and that he didn’t want to report it because he couldn’t remember what the muggers looked like.

Despite this plausible story, when Rick had finally gotten home, long after dinner—a result of having forgotten to pack his phone that afternoon, and not being able to phone for a lift—his mother had immediately set upon him with a million questions, a worried look, and the expectation that he was about to expire. She clucked around him thinking he’d been in some godawful accident; but when she found out that he’d been beaten up, instead of being sympathetic, she verbally attacked him for not being smart enough to avoid dangerous situations. Rick’s mum castigated him for losing his bike, for running into the ‘wrong’ crowd and getting beaten up and, when he tried to defend himself, for being a smart-arse who answers back.

It was difficult for Rick to find the love in her actions; but when, at the end of her tirade, she wept and hugged him and thanked god that he was okay, he figured she must have just been overwrought. That morning, Rick’s back ached; so did his face, his arms, his neck, and his ribs were burning. He couldn’t move his face much because the wounds cracked and stung. His mother had taken him to hospital, where they’d reset his nose and caused even more pain. Cautiously, he rubbed his eyes and attempted to roll over and go back to sleep. The long, restless night and all of his tearing thoughts had finally resulted in the idea that he didn’t give a fuck about his two mates. As far as he was concerned, they had both finally fallen off the deep end into insanity.

Actually, thought Rick, Jack was a complete, bogan nutcase anyway.

The rise in Jack’s aggression and sociopathy had done nothing to stem Rick’s belief. Rather, it confirmed him in the vague notion he’d always had: that someone who is inherently aggressive rarely peaces out, even given time, even given extraordinary circumstances. It’s more often that they just continue the way they are until they either get knocked really hard, or they realise they’re not impressing anybody by their actions. Then, even if they do realise the latter, thought Rick, they just become a less offensive arsehole: they never actually lose their tendency towards being an arsehole.

Rick’s blistering thoughts had torn at him all night. In the face of threadbare friendships, friendships that he had thought were made of granite; in the face of an increasing sense of isolation and the degeneration of his friends into people he never thought they could be; Rick had asked himself the tough questions, and came up with righteous answers. Eventually, he concluded that he was himself and that was all he was; he came to an understanding that the others had to cope on their own, and that he cannot be responsible for their state of his friends’ mentality, regardless of how closely they are supposed to be tied through the bonds of mateship.

But his worry about Jack and Bevan, despite how beautifully logical all his arguments were, deepened. Bevan had always been a smoker but, he had to admit that Jack was right, the amount of tobacco that Bevan had been inhaling lately was cause for concern. Even though he didn’t like to face the fact that he had chosen not to notice Bevan’s distress, Rick knew, deep down, that his mate was unlikely to increase his smoking simply because he liked to do it. Thinking back to the previous day, Rick began to understand how Bevan wasn’t just chain-smoking. It was almost like he was trying to smoke, sure, but also getting involved with his own second-hand smoke as much as possible. If Bevan could carry a plastic bubble around with him and dutchy it up with tobacco smoke, then he would probably do it.

As for Jack, well, Rick didn’t really want to think about it. All he knew was that one day Jack would either get a kickin’, or would come a cropper. He just hoped that it wouldn’t have to involve himself.

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