The Trillhouse SinThology

BY : Trillhouse
Category: +G through L > The Loud House
Dragon prints: 3593
Disclaimer: I do not own The Loud House, nor the characters from it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.

Royal Wood Elementary, 10:52 AM. While his classmates chattered and faffed about, one boy sat quietly at his desk, taking his post-recess time to continue reading a fantasy novel he'd randomly picked out from the school library. It was your fairly standard fantasy-romance tripe... the sort of thing that one might find at an airport news shop, with the cover bearing the handsome visage of Fabio Lanzoni. Lyle Loud, however, was not picky when it came to literature; as long as it contained sword, sorcery and adventure, he was more than willing to give it a read.

"Ow!" Lyle was snapped from his focus by a sudden, stinging pain against the back of his head. He turned around with a scowl to find that, as expected, the culprits were the two delinquents of his class: Hayden McCann and Andy Stroob. The boys were flicking paper darts at one another, laughing and hollering even as other students were caught in the crossfire. Lyle sighed and rolled his eyes as he returned to his novel. This was far from a rare occurrence… the two were notorious both in and outside of their class for their behavior, ranging from cheating to bullying to everything in between. Lyle himself was a frequent target of theirs, as were his brothers, but none as much as the meek and timid Bobby. In any case, it went without saying that Lyle didn't like them in the least.

"Okay class, simmer down. Everyone take your seats," Said their teacher, Mrs. Stewart as she stood up from her desk. Lyle breathed a sigh of relief as his rowdy classmates finally quieted down, and bookmarked his place in his novel before putting it away. "Very good. Now, get out your math books… we have a lot to cover today." Much of the class groaned at the prospect of math work, but Lyle had no particular issue with it.

The next few hours passed normally. Lyle listened intently and took notes as his teacher went on with her lesson, while many others simply leaned on their desks in boredom, barely managing to stay awake as the woman droned on. Of course, Hayden and Andy were snickering and whispering under their breaths, though Mrs. Stewart didn't seem to take notice. Lyle considered calling them out, but he doubted that would end well for him in the long run… the jerks would surely jump him once school let out for the day. At least it's Friday, he thought as he worked. After math class came science, then social studies, and before long there was little more than an hour left of the school day.

"Now then. There will be no homework this weekend," The teacher began, to the cheers of her students. "...Rather, there will be a project to be completed by monday." In an instant the relieved smiles of her students gave way to deep frowns and groans of disappointment. "Oh, enough of that," She scolded. "It's nothing difficult. In fact, you might even find it fun."

"Yeah, right," Hayden grunted, making his cohort snicker under his breath.

"Ahem." Mrs. Stewart cleared her throat loudly, silencing the duo. "Thank you. As I was saying… over this past week we have been covering the role of activism in promoting social and societal change. As such, over the weekend you will work in pairs to design a poster in support of a cause of your choosing… yes, Jonathan?" She asked as a student raised his hand.

"Um… what kind of cause?"

"Anything you feel strongly about. It could be something like traffic safety for example, or discrimination, or not talking to strangers… there are some topics that are not permitted of course, as will be specified on this handout." Mrs. Stewart took a stack of papers from her desk and began working her way down the rows of desks, handing one to each student along the way. Lyle looked his over; it gave fairly simple guidelines, mostly consisting of required materials, suggested materials, and some possible topics and pictures of others' posters as examples. As for restrictions, they mostly seemed to consist of anything that may prove too inappropriate or controversial: nothing sexual or pertaining to childbirth, nothing related to gun rights or any other sort of weaponry, etc. Lyle wasn't particularly happy that he'd need to waste precious weekend time on some project, but he was nothing if not a craftsman… he was sure he could finish something so simple with ease. "As this is primarily an art project, effort will be more important than the outcome, so don't think you can just slap something together for an easy A." The woman was sure to shoot a glance in Hayden and Andy's direction as she said this.

"Yeah, yeah…" Hayden grumbled as she gave him his handout. "Me an' Andy got this in the bag." The two friends exchanged a grin and fist bump, only for their teacher to clear her throat again.

"Actually," She began in a cool tone, "have taken the liberty of assigning partners for this project." The bullies' smirks faded in an instant.

"Oh come on!" Hayden whined.

"Yeah, what gives, Teach?!" Andy spat. "I don't wanna work wit' none'a these-" The boy trailed off as Mrs. Stewart shot him a harsh glare. "...I-I mean… why can't we jus' work wit' friends?!"

"Because, Andrew, I have seen firsthand what happens when you two are allowed to work together," She said. "That being: nothing. Now for both of your sakes, I suggest you leave the matter at that." The class began to snicker, much to the bullies' chagrin; Lyle couldn't help but smirk himself, though he did his best to keep himself from laughing lest the frustrated pair overhear him. Once everyone had their handout, Mrs. Stewart returned to her desk and picked up a list. "Okay class, listen closely, these will be the groups for this project. Jonathan Friedman and Melissa O'Neil."

"Cool," Said the boy in question, exchanging a nod with Melissa.

"Hayden McCann and Patricia Stanton."

"Ugh…" Hayden snorted, resting his chin in his palm as he tapped his desk in frustration. His partner looked no less disappointed than he did, and Lyle couldn't help but feel sympathy for the boy.

"Chase Stewart and Jessica Peterson," The teacher continued. "Scott Bernard and Eric Thomas. Tina Etheredge and Susan Lancaster…" As the woman worked her way down the list, Lyle simply sat in silence as he started exploring ideas for the project in his head. In truth, having to work with a partner was far from ideal for the boy… he was something of a loner after all, and as far as he was concerned the addition of a second party would only hold him back. Of course, it's not like he had any say in the matter, so he'd just have to grin and bear it. At least he wouldn't have to-

"Lyle Loud and Andrew Stroob."

"...Eh…?" Lyle snapped out of his daze in an instant, his eyes wide with horror. No, he thought. It couldn't be. "U-um… I'm sorry, Mrs. Stewart, but could you repeat that…?"

"Lyle Loud and Andrew Stroob. Do try to keep up, Lyle." Mrs. Stewart continued on, leaving Lyle frozen in shock. Andy. Why, out of everyone in the class, did it have to be Andy? Hell, he'd even prefer Hayden over that lumbering buffoon. "...And that's everyone," The teacher said as she finished the list. "Now, you may take the rest of today's class to discuss and plan things out with your partners. And no goofing off… stay on-topic. Go on, now." As the rest of his classmates got up, switching seats and turning desks to speak with their partners, Lyle remained frozen hin place. He turned slowly, glancing over his shoulder to find Andy glaring back from the back row, looking equal parts angry and disgusted at having to partner with one of his primary targets. A shudder ran down Lyle's spine and he turned away, swallowing before getting to his feet. Rather than approach Andy he shuffled towards his teacher's desk.

"Um… M-Mrs. Stewart…?" He asked the woman, who was currently writing something down in a binder. She glanced up from her work.

"Yes, Lyle? Did you need something?"

"Well, er…" The boy cleared his throat and scratched at his cheek. "I was… I was kind of hoping I could change partners." Mrs. Stewart frowned.

"I'm sorry, Lyle, but the answer is no," She said. "All group arrangements are final."

"I know, but, well… thing is, me and Andy... w-we don't really get along," Lyle explained. "At all."

"...Yes, I'm aware." The woman sighed and adjusted her glasses before looking up at Lyle with a serious expression. "However, I did need to take… balance into account. That is…" Mrs. Stewart glanced around quickly before leaning in to speak in a hushed tone. "You're the best student in this class, Lyle, while Andrew… well, isn't, to say the least. I felt that having you work with him would be the best option."

"But-" Lyle began, before hanging his head with a sigh. "...Yes, Mrs. Stewart…"

"I understand this isn't a pleasant arrangement for you, but it's a simple assignment that shouldn't take more than a few hours," She said, offering the boy an encouraging smile. "Just make sure he works… this is a group project, after all."

"Yes, Ma'am." Lyle muttered. As much as he dreaded it, it seemed as though he had no say in the matter; the boy skulked towards the back of the room, where his reluctant partner was sitting at his desk in clear annoyance. "...So… I guess we're partners, then," Lyle said. Andy simply grunted in response, not even glancing towards him for a moment. Lyle sighed and took a seat at the desk beside him. "Well? Any thoughts on a topic?" He asked; again, the older boy gave no response. Lyle waited a moment, his irritation growing by the second. "Alright, listen," He huffed. "I don't like this any more than you do, but it is what it is and we have to-"

"Bite my ass, Lyla," Andy scoffed. Lyle took a deep breath through his nose and massaged his temples. He could already tell this was going to be a nightmare.

"...We have to work together on this, Andy," Lyle said in as calm a tone as he could manage.

"Together, huh. Lemme ask ya sumthin'," The bully said, tearing his eyes from the nearby window to glower at his partner. "Y'really think Mrs. Wrinkletits is gonna be able to tell the difference?"

"What do you… ah. Of course." Lyle rolled his eyes; of course the school's biggest delinquent would try to put the entire project on someone else's shoulders, taking credit while offering no assistance himself. The younger boy frowned. He was more than a little reluctant to chew out a kid that could easily turn him into a human punching bag, but he wasn't about to let Andy walk all over him like that. "Let's get something straight, Andy," The boy said, leaning forward with a stern glare. "You are not weaseling your way out of this. Either you do your part or I tell Mrs. Stewart that you didn't. I'm not taking a fall for you, of all people." Andy's eyes narrowed.

"...That so?" The boy hissed. Lyle swallowed and nodded, meeting the boy's threatening gaze with a look of determination. At least, he hoped so… it was taking all the resolve he could muster up not to backpedal and cave into the bully's whims. After a few moments, Andy simply folded his arms and turned away with a huff. It seemed that even he knew better than to push his luck when grades were on the line. "...What're we doin', then?"

"That's… that's what we're supposed to be figuring out, here." Lyle muttered. Andy clicked his tongue in irritation.

"'Ey, yer the brainy one here, ain'tcha? You figure it out," He said. Lyle buried his face in his palm, fighting the urge to scream in frustration. He took a deep breath and forced down his anger before continuing.

"...We're partners, Andy. I'd like you to at the very least try to give some input," Lyle said flatly. His partner groaned and grumbled under his breath as he finally took a look at his assignment sheet.

"Alright, uh… dis...crime nation…?"

"Discrimination," Lyle corrected him with a sigh. "So you're just going with the first suggestion, then?"

"Christ, gimme a sec will ya! I'm tryna read this shi… crap," The bully snapped. Lyle rolled his eyes and leaned back in his chair as Andy struggled his way through the sheet. "Yo, wuzzis one say?" He asked, pointing to a particular word on the sheet.

"...Scissors, Andy," Lyle said. "Those are recommended supplies, not topics."

"Oh. Right."

"Okay, look," The effeminate boy cut in. "How about traffic safety? That should be-"

"Psh. Lame," Andy huffed. "All'a these're lame."

"Well, I don't see you offering any better ideas," Lyle shot back. Andy narrowed his eyes and looked the paper over again.

"Well I dunno. How 'bout whores?" He asked as Lyle was mid-yawn, nearly making the boy choke in shock. "Should be more of 'em around, y'know?" Lyle quickly glanced over at Mrs. Stevens' desk to be sure she hadn't heard.

"Andy," Lyle hissed. "If you're not going to take this seriously-"

"Ah, get the stick out your ass, Lyla. I'm jokin'." Andy grunted. Lyle slumped back in his seat and dragged his hand down his face in exasperation. After a few more moments Andy pursed his lips in thought. "...Howzabout one'a them anti-drug things?"

"...Drugs, huh…" Lyle muttered. He looked over his own sheet with a furrowed brow. "I… think that should be alright, as long as we don't get into specifics."

"Just don't name 'em, then? Fine by me," The older boy said with a shrug. "'Less you gotta better idea." Lyle thought for a moment before shaking his head.

"No… I suppose that is a good cause, after all."

"Well that settles that, then," Andy grumbled, using his pinky to clean his ear to Lyle's disgust. "Now piss off."

"We're not done, Andy." Lyle said, much to his bully's annoyance. "We should at least try to work out a rough idea of the design-"

"I ain't workin' out nothin'," Andy scoffed. "Overthinkin' ain't never got no one nowhere. Just wing it, fer cryin' out loud." Lyle grit his teeth, his hands and fingers flexing as he imagined wringing the idiot's stupid neck. Granted, even if he were to try he doubted it would work out in his favor. The older boy merely smirked, clearly taking enjoyment in his partner's growing agitation.

"Okay, you listen here-" Before Lyle could finish, a bell sounded through the school's PA system, signalling the end of class for the day. Lyle groaned and hung his head; he supposed it was only natural that simply trying to get Andy to cooperate would take up the majority of their time.

"Alright, class," Mrs. Stevens said with a clap of her hands as she got up from her desk. "Be sure to get your partner's contact information and work out when and where to meet before you leave for the day… other than that, class is dismissed. Enjoy your weekend, and I look forward to seeing what you all come up with." With that the students began packing up their things, some bidding their teacher farewell while others wasted no time in bolting out of class.

"'Bout friggin' time…" Andy grumbled. He haphazardly stuffed the assignment sheet into his backpack before zipping it shut, standing up and slinging it over his shoulder with a grunt. Lyle sighed as he too got to his feet. "So… where we doin' this?"

"Hm?"

"The project, idiot," The bully scoffed. "When an' where we gonna meet up for this? Your place or mine?" Lyle paused a moment as he mulled it over. It was a difficult choice, to say the least. On one hand, he would certainly prefer to stay in the comfort of his own home… he had backup there, after all. Hell, if Andy dared try anything Ronnie would surely snap him like a twig. And yet the thought of having that jerk in his room, being around his family… quite frankly, that was enough to trump any upside to that particular arrangement.

"...Yours would be best, I think." The boy said with no small measure of reluctance. "Does tomorrow afternoon work for you?"

"Whatever," Andy replied with a shrug. "S'long as we get this over with. Weekend's too short to waste on losers." His partner rolled his eyes, then got out his phone.

"Mind texting me your address?" Lyle asked. "My number's 555-234-5552."

"Yeah, sure." Andy mumbled. He took his phone out of his pocket and, after fumbling with it for a bit, sent his partner the address 454 S Booker St.

 


 

"Booker Street?" Lincoln looked up from his plate to gape at his son, who was picking at his dinner with a glum expression. Lyle gave a small nod, and his father exchanged a concerned glance with Ronnie and Liena. "Are you sure you'd rather not do it here…?"

"I'm sure… why?" Lyle asked, cocking an eyebrow.

"Booker Street is a pretty rough area," Ronnie explained. "It's the bad side of town, you know? It can get pretty dangerous around those parts."

"Really? Sounds like my kind of scene," Lemy boasted.

"If you want a knife in your back, sure," Ronnie muttered with a roll of her eyes. "Anyway, it should be fine as long as you stay indoors, but-"

"Well I, for one, am against it," Lyra cut in.

"What a surprise…" Lupa muttered, earning her a nasty look from her older sister.

"As I was saying… I think you should listen to our father. Why go to a dangerous neighborhood if you don't have to?" Lyra asked. Lyle frowned and shrugged.

"I'd just… rather not have him here is all." He said before taking a bite of his meal.

"I don't blame you…" Bobby said. "Andy's… kind of a jerk."

"Yeah, total asshole," Lemy agreed.

"Language!" Lyra, their father and Ronnie all snapped at once. The young metalhead grunted under his breath and turned his focus back to his dinner. Lyra shook her head and sighed before continuing. "Anyway, I don't like it. I think it'd be for the best if you-"

"Ah-hmm." Liena cut in, clearing her throat loudly. "Ah thin ih will be-"

"Liena, please, there's no need to force yourself to speak on my account. I can understand you just fine," Lyra said with a chuckle, earning her an incredulous look from her older sister… as well as everyone else at the table. Liena hesitated a moment, then began motioning with her hands.

(I think it will be fine.)

"Liena!" Lyra gasped. "There's no need for such language!" To Lyra's confusion those present broke out in groans and snickers, some burying their faces in their palms in second-hand embarrassment. "...W-what? What's so funny?"

"...She said she thinks it'll be fine, Lyra," Liby explained. Liena smiled warmly and nodded at her before continuing.

(Lyle is responsible. He will have his phone. It will be fine.) The mute girl signed.

"But-"

"I trust Liena's judgement," Lincoln cut in. "It's only for a few hours anyway, right?"

"...Yeah." Said Lyle. With that, the conversation came to an end and the rest of his family moved on to other topics. Not that Lyle was listening… quite frankly, his family's concerns had only made him dread the coming day even more than he had before.

The rest of dinner passed by as usual, save for a cranky and overtired Lulu chucking grapes at anyone in the vicinity. After helping Liena with the dishes he retired to his room for the evening, figuring he may as well continue reading his book until bedtime. Thankfully his brothers were playing elsewhere, giving him a rare moment of peace and quiet. Before long the silence was broken, however, by a soft ding from his phone… a received message. It was from Andy, unsurprisingly; Lyle had asked no less than three hours ago if he had any art supplies at his home.

Do i look lik a fukin loser 2 u

Lyle sighed and set his phone back down. In truth, he'd more or less expected an answer like that. Well, no matter… Lyle had plenty of craft supplies himself, and he supposed he could just pick up a poster board on the way tomorrow. Not that he was crazy about having to use his own supplies for a group project, but chances were he'd be doing damn near everything himself anyway, right?

 


 

Liena hummed along with the music as she drove through the streets, a far more apprehensive Lyle seated in the back of the van and through the windows as familiar surroundings gave way to run-down, filthy slums. Now it was clear why the others had been concerned… Booker Street was an absolute dump. Sketchy-looking pedestrians eyed them as they passed, and Lyle found himself shrinking back to avoid their gaze, even if the tinted windows hid him from clear view. By the time they arrived at Andy's home, Lyle was almost looking forward to getting inside.

(Okay, Lyle. Have fun,) Liena signed, wearing that sweet smile of hers as always. (Send me a message when you need me to pick you up. If there's an emergency, call dad or Ronnie, okay?)

"...Yeah. Thanks, Liena," Lyle muttered as he got out of the van, a poster board and bag of supplies in tow. He couldn't help but cringe at the sorry state of the house… it was a small, single-floor home in a considerable state of disrepair, with faded, crumbling paint and little architectural design to speak of. The front lawn, if one could call it that, was withered and dry, and one of the front windows seemed to have been shattered…in its place was a wooden board, and it as well as the other window were protected by iron bars that looked far newer than the rest of the house. All in all it was a dump, and Lyle felt like he needed a shower just looking at it. He looked to his sister with a despondent expression, finding her looking back with a small, supportive smile. "Well… see you later, I guess."

"Mmm-hm." Liena gave a small nod, and Lyle shut the door with a sigh. He hesitated a moment before trudging up to the front door and ringing the doorbell… only to hear nothing, not even the faintest sound of a buzzer. He cocked an eyebrow and took a closer look, noticing a small piece of cardboard taped above the doorbell with 'BELL BROKE PLS NOCK' sloppily scrawled across it in black marker. The boy shrugged and gave the door a firm knock. Immediately a loud bark rang out, making Lyle jump and look around frantically for the source; thankfully, the barking seemed to be coming from behind a nearby fence bearing a 'NO TRESSPASSING' sign along with an image of a threatening guard dog. He could see the gate bang and rattle as the dog on the other side tried to get through, and could only hope that it was strong enough to hold back the beast. Beyond that, for quite some time there was no response, and Lyle started to wonder if there was even anyone home.

"I told you to get the door!" Just as he was about to send a text, Lyle heard the muffled shouting of Andy from inside. Shortly thereafter, after a few clicks and clacks of the latches and lock, the door opened to reveal a characteristically disgruntled Andy. He was clad in shorts and a simple white tank-top, and it dawned on Lyle that this was the first time he'd seen the boy without his trademark knit cap, revealing a head of buzzed short blonde hair. "...Hey."

"...Andy."

"Sorry 'bout that. Bro wouldn't get off his ass," Andy huffed, before stepping aside. "Anyway, c'mon. Let's get this over with." As Lyle reluctantly entered his bully's domain, Andy took a glance at the van parked along the side of the road, meeting the warm gaze of Liena. She gave a small wave before drawing her index finger across her throat in a threatening gesture, still wearing as kindly of a smile as ever. Andy couldn't help but shudder. He may not have been the sharpest tool in the shed, but he understood her warning loud and clear. With that, she drove off down the street. "That your mom?"

"Sister," Lyle replied. Andy gave a small whistle.

"Damn. She thiccer than a bowl of oatmeal," He said with a sleazy smirk. Lyle scoffed and shook off his comment; he doubted anything good would come out of telling Andy off. Instead he took a moment to adjust his eyes to the dimly-lit living room. It was fairly standard, with a couch on one end and a TV on the other, and as expected both the sofa and carpet were in a poor state as well. There was a young man sprawled out on the couch, idly watching the television with half-lidded eyes; he bore a clear resemblance to Andy, albeit taller and with longer hair, but didn't seem old enough to be the boy's father. Lyle could only assume this was the brother Andy had mentioned.

"Oh, uh… hello," Lyle greeted the man. He seemed to be in a world of his own and didn't so much as glance in Lyle's direction.

"Hey. Ron." Andy snapped. "This is Lyle, my… partner for this stupid thing." Ron lazily raised his head, looking to his brother before noticing the newcomer beside him.

"'Sup," The man grunted, raising his hand in a half-hearted greeting before turning his focus back to the TV. He raised an odd-looking cigarette to his mouth and took a deep drag, holding it for a few moments before exhaling. It was now that Lyle noticed the pungent, earthy smell permeating the room… even from a distance, Ron's plume of smoke reeked and forced Lyle to cover his mouth and nose with his hand. For his part, Andy didn't seem any more pleased with his brother's behavior than Lyle was, and turned away with a scoff.

"Fuck's sake. C'mon, dweeb," He said as he walked past, and Lyle followed him further into the house… not that there was much 'further' to go. To the right was what looked to be a small kitchen with a table against one wall, and to the left was an open doorway leading to what looked like a short hallway as well as a second door against the back wall. All in all the home was very tiny as far as Lyle could tell… hell, it looked like the entire place could fit within the second floor of their own home with room to spare. "That's the kitchen," Andy said with a nod in its direction. "I'd say we could do this in there, but with fuckface stinkin' up the place we should probably do it in my room."

"Oh… that's fine…" Lyle mumbled. "Er… are your parents around by any chance…?"

"Nah. Mom's workin'," The bully replied before heading into the short hallway. Lyle frowned, feeling a pit forming in his stomach. No parents. No one to keep Andy in line save for a brother who, quite frankly, seemed as though he couldn't care less. Lyle truly had walked into the belly of the beast. "That's the shitter, if you need it," Andy said, pointing towards a nearby door. "Reserver's a bit fucked up-"

"You mean the reservoir?" Lyle corrected him, receiving a nasty glare in response.

"...Whatever. Anyway, it's broken. So if you gotta go, you gotta fill up the tank to flush."

"I'll… keep that in mind…" Lyle muttered, silently hoping that he wouldn't have to make use of the facilities until he got home.

"There's a bucket under the sink, just fill it and dump it in. Anyway, this is my room." Andy led Lyle to the very end of the hall to a door bearing a sign reading 'ANDY'S ROOM, KEEP OUT' and marked with flimsy imitation CAUTION tape, the sort one might find at a Halloween store. He opened the door and paused a moment to shoot Lyle a threatening glare. "Touch my shit and you're dead, got it, twerp?" With that, the older boy headed into his room. Lyle rolled his eyes and followed; as if he had any intention of messing with this idiot's things.

As expected, the room was very tiny… perhaps no more than two and a half times as large as the linen closet Lupa called home. In one corner was a twin-sized bed, the blanket thrown haphazardly aside. Beside that was a nightstand holding a bluetooth speaker, which was playing rap music from Andy's phone. The walls were completely covered with posters, most football or wrestling related, and the floor was littered with unwashed clothes and other belongings, giving the room a rather unpleasant musk. Despite his best attempt to tread carefully, he still nearly tripped on a baseball mitt as he entered.

"Hey!" Andy snapped. "Watch it!"

"How about you clean your damn room?!" Lyle shot back; for a moment he thought he may have pushed his luck too far as Andy's eyes narrowed and fists clenched, but thankfully the boy simply looked away with a huff. "Anyway, where are we supposed to do this? I don't see a desk or anything."

"The floor. Duh." Andy haphazardly kicked some clothes out of the way to clear a section of floor. Lyle looked down at the stained carpet with a small grimace. Still, he supposed there wasn't much of a choice… between this and breathing in Ron's secondhand smoke, he'd certainly prefer the former. The uptight young boy sat down with a sigh, laying down the posterboard and setting aside the bag of supplies. Andy, on the other hand, simply sat down on his bed. Lyle fully expected him to lie down and try to get out of doing any work, but instead he picked up a notepad from his nightstand and started jotting something down. Then, he set it aside and switched on his stereo. Lyle frowned as loud rap music pumped through the speakers.

"...Do you mind?" Lyle asked. "That's very distracting."

"Deal with it." Andy grunted in response. Lyle sighed and massaged his temples.

"Well at the very least turn it down a bit." The older boy glowered at him, but nonetheless lowered the volume while grumbling under his breath.

"That good enough for you, your majesty?"

"That's… fine, thanks," Lyle muttered. He supposed there was nothing wrong with a bit of background noise, especially if it placated his unruly partner. Besides, at least it was better than the head-banging tripe Lemy often subjected him to. The effeminate boy started laying out the supplies he'd brought with him; markers, acrylic paint, construction paper, scissors and other assorted materials. There were also a few sheets of paper full of rough sketches. "Should I even bother asking if you've had any ideas since yesterday?"

"Nnnope," Andy said with a yawn. His partner rolled his eyes and gathered up his sketches.

"Here," Lyle said as he handed them to his bully. "I worked out a few rough concepts last night. We don't have to follow them to the T, of course, but I figure they could be a good starting point." Andy looked over the sketches with a raised eyebrow.

"You did all this…?" He muttered. "Why?"

"Because it's best to have some sort of direction for this sort of thing," Lyle explained. "It'll save us time in the long run." To his surprise, Andy didn't seem to have any smart-ass response to that... he simply scanned the pages in silence. "So… any thoughts?"

"Don't get your panties in a bunch, Lyla, I'm lookin'." The propositions were varied, ranging from simple designs to more abstract ones. "...What's the deal with this fucker? Ain't got nothin' to do with drugs," He said, pointing out an image that seemed to be a man held down by chains.

"He's… he's being held back by his addiction, Andy," Lyle said with a sigh. "It's a metaphor." Andy's face scrunched up in confusion. "You know… something that means something else? Symbolism?"

"Oh. Lame," The bully scoffed. "Ain't nobody tryna think that hard." Lyle simply rolled his eyes, and the boy got back to looking through the designs. "...Here. This one," He said, pointing one out to his partner. It was a simple design… the simplest of the bunch, in fact. It was just a large image of a cigarette, what seemed to be a vague baggie of something or other and an unmarked pill bottle with a big red 'no' symbol over it. It was surrounded by vague decorative elements and a 'say no to drugs' slogan. All in all, it was about as standard an anti-drug poster as one could imagine. Lyle frowned.

"I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that you would choose the easiest option."

"What's wrong with that?!" Andy snapped. "It gets the point across, don't it? Ain't no sense in gettin' all fancy if nobody knows what the hell they're lookin' at." Lyle averted his gaze and pursed his lips in thought. Though he was loath to admit it, the idiot had a point… while elaborate designs had their place, considering their audience was children it may be best to keep things straightforward. Besides, the easier the task, the faster he could get out of there.

"...Alright." Lyle said with a nod. "Let's get to it, then. Can you draw at all?"

"What do you think?" The boy scoffed.

"I'll take that as a no," Lyle sighed. "I'll handle that part, then. In the meantime…" Lyle got on his knees and leaned over the posterboard. Using a pencil, he sketched out a rough circle in the center of the poster. "Paint this circle black. Think you can handle that?"

"Whatever," Andy grunted. He grumbled under his breath as he slid off his bed to sit on the ground. Lyle handed him a tube of black acrylic paint and a medium-sized brush, which he stared at with a disgruntled expression. "Seriously? I gotta use this dinky little thing?"

"If you want to stay in the lines, yes," Lyle said. "You're gonna want a cup of water to stick the brush in, too."

"Fuck's sake, I just sat down." Andy sighed and got to his feet, muttering obscenities as he trudged out of the room. Lyle shook his head and got to work on his task: drawing the drugs and other decorative elements on construction paper so they could be cut out and glued to the poster. He figured that would be a better option than drawing them directly on the poster, especially considering the rest of the circle would be filled in with black.

Lyle worked carefully, taking his time and using a ruler when necessary. The drawings needed to look better than the rough sketches he'd done beforehand, after all. Thankfully, the music didn't distract him as much as he expected… in fact, if anything it was helping him keep focus. Or perhaps it was just the temporary absence of his reluctant partner.

Speaking of which…

Lyle looked towards the door with a frown. It had been several minutes since Andy left and he still had yet to return. Had he gotten held up with something…? Before he could pursue that thought, Andy finally rounded the corner into the hallway.

"There you are," Lyle said. "For a second I thought you were-" The boy furrowed his brow as he noticed that his partner was holding not a cup of water, but a can of Bepis Cola. "...Seriously?"

"What?! I needed a drink," Andy scoffed. "I'd offer you one, but, y'know. Fuck you." He took a big gulp of soda before letting out a loud, undignified belch. Lyle buried his face in his palm.

"That's not… where's the water, Andy?" The bully furrowed his brow in confusion, then smacked his forehead with a groan.

"Dammit, knew I forgot somethin'..." He mumbled. "Ugh, hold on." With that, the boy wandered off again, leaving an exasperated Lyle in his wake. The younger boy sighed and shook his head, returning to his task as he waited for Andy to come back.

And waited.

...And waited.

Lyle shut his eyes and took a sharp intake of air through his nose. This was ridiculous. Leaving him waiting once was one thing, but now Andy was clearly jerking him around. Lyle got to his feet and stormed off to find his partner. Not that it took long… Andy was in the kitchen, leaning against the sink and chuckling to himself as he looked at his phone.

"Andy." No response. "Andy." Again, nothing; Lyle had to clench his fists and force down his anger. "Andy!" He snapped.

"What?!" The boy shot back. "I'm just checkin' my texts!"

"We have a project to do, Andy," Lyle spat. "I didn't come down here for you to waste my time. Either you get the hell in there and do your part, or I'll tell Mrs. Stewart that you tried to weasel your way out of the assignment. You got that?!" For a long while, Andy said nothing in response… he simply glared down at the smaller boy with a fiery gaze, face scrunching up in anger at his audacious threat. But Lyle didn't falter; sure, maybe Andy could punt him across the room with ease, but if there was one thing that made his blood boil it was having his time wasted by buffoons. Finally, Andy let out a derisive snort and snatched an old glass from the cupboard, filling it with water before skulking off towards his room. Lyle watched him go with a frown, then followed.

 


 

The two boys said little as they worked, save for Andy's disgruntled mumbling. Perhaps Lyle's threat had done a better job of spooking him into action than he expected, or perhaps the effeminate boy's defiance had simply pissed him off enough to want the job done ASAP.

"Hehe." Or not. Lyle glanced up from his work towards his chortling partner, finding that he had filled in most of the circle, with the exception of the crude but unmistakable silhouette of a phallus remaining unpainted. The boy sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"Andy-"

"Ah, get the stick out your ass. Lemme have a lil' fun, at least," Andy grumbled as he began filling it in. Soon, the circle was completely black. "There. Now what?"

"We need to let it dry, so for the time being, you can start cutting these out… carefully." Lyle handed the older boy the drawings he had finished so far and a pair of safety scissors. "And no funny business, unless you want to re-do them yourself."

"Alright, alright. Sheesh…" Andy muttered. He decided to start with the pill bottle, deeming that to be the easiest of the bunch. Carefully-or as carefully as the heavy-handed lad could manage, anyway-he began to cut out the picture, doing his best to stay within the black outline. While he was doing that, Lyle worked on the large red 'no' symbol that would go over the drugs. It would need to be large enough to take up the center of the poster, so he needed to use four sheets of red construction paper to make a curved line he could piece together into the outline of a circle, plus one more for the line going through it. The unused scraps, he figured, could be cut up and used to decorate the rest of the poster. He glanced up periodically to make sure Andy was doing his part, albeit clumsily. Lyle was grateful that his partner was working, though admittedly the silence was somewhat uncomfortable. He wondered if he should perhaps try to strike up a conversation with the boy.

Yeah, that'd be the day.

"So what's the deal with that sister of yours?"

"Eh?" Lyle looked up with a raised eyebrow.

"That babe who dropped you off," Andy snickered. "Hard to believe she's related to your scrawny ass… bitch lookin' like a full course meal." Lyle narrowed his eyes, pursing his lips in irritation.

"...First of all, I'd appreciate you not talking about my sister like that," The boy said with a huff. "Her name's Liena."

"Liena. What y'alls deal with the 'L' names?" Andy asked. His partner opened his mouth to reply, then shut it again, rubbing his chin in thought.

"I… guess I've never asked about that," He muttered. "Just a family tradition, I guess."

"Well, it's weird." Quite frankly, Lyle couldn't really argue with that assessment. "She fine, though. She single?"

"...I guarantee you she would have no interest in someone like you, Andy," He bristled. "Besides, she's got her hands full with culinary school." Andy's face scrunched up in confusion and Lyle let out a soft sigh. "Cooking school. She wants to be a chef."

"Oh. Guess that explains that, then." Andy noted. "Ain't complainin'. Gotta love a big girl." Lyle rolled his eyes.

"Anyway, she's really good at it. Especially baking," The boy said with a chuckle. "I'll tell you, she makes the best lemon meringue pie I've ever had."

"...Huh?" Andy paused his work and looked at Lyle, perplexed. "The fuck is a meringue?"

"It's, well…" Lyle racked his brain for a proper explanation. "It's, y'know… meringue. It's kind of like a cream, but, um… a bit firm, I guess…? But kind of light, too." His description only seemed to further confuse his dim-witted companion, and he simply shook his head with a sigh. "I don't know, it is what it is. And it's my favorite. Tart, but sweet, and the way she makes the lemon custard-"

"Lame," Andy cut in with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Sounds like some hoity-toity fancy crap to me."

"To each their own, I suppose." With that, the conversation seemed to come to a halt, and the two continued working in silence.

"Shit," Andy hissed as he over-angled the scissors, cutting almost halfway through the image. "Hand slipped." Lyle glanced at the damage with a furrowed brow.

"...It's fine," The younger boy assured him. "It's going to be glued in place anyway, so a clean cut like that is an easy fix. Just be more careful with the rest."

"Yeah, sure." Andy got back to work with a sigh. "I ain't cut out for this artsy-fartsy BS."

"It's an assignment. What's important is that you try," Lyle said plainly. "Besides, that's why I'm here." The bully grumbled out what Lyle could only presume was some sort of acknowledgement. For several minutes they continued to work in silence until Andy set down the three cutouts: the pill bottle, baggie and cigarette.

"There. Now what?" He asked; Lyle lightly tapped the black circle and checked his finger for wet paint.

"...Still needs a bit more time to dry…" Lyle muttered. "You could work on decorating the rest of the poster. I've got glitter-"

"You even think about openin' that shit in here and I'm gonna tear off your head and shit down your throat." Andy's tone left little room for argument, and Lyle let out a nervous laugh.

"R-right. No glitter, then…" The boy cleared his throat before continuing. "In that case, you could cut up those leftover scraps into little-" Before he could finish that thought, the silence was broken by the muffled cries of an infant elsewhere in the house. "...Eh?"

"Oh… guess it is around that time… hey, Ron!" Andy shouted. "You gotta feed Kristy!" No answer. Andy scoffed and got to his feet. "RON!" He barked even louder. "Time to feed Kristy!" Again, nothing; Andy waited a few moments, his lips tightening into a scowl before he stormed out with a growl of irritation. Lyle watched him go with a frown, and mere seconds after Andy dipped out of view he could hear him shouting from the living room.

"Did you hear me?! It's time to feed-"

"Gimme a few. Shit's gettin' good."

"Pause it, then."

"She can wait a bit longer. She ain't starving."

"She's a baby! Will you stop being a selfish prick for five fucking minutes?!"

"If you've got time to bitch, why don't you take care of it?"

"Because I'm busy with this dumbass assignment! You're just sitting on your ass!"

"Yeah, and I'm also the one in charge, so either get off my back or do it yourself."

"You… ugh, you know what, fuck it! I'll do it. Again."

"A'ight, cool. Thanks, bro."

"Mhm. Yep. You're fucking welcome, Ron." As Lyle heard his partner's heavy footsteps approaching he did his best to look preoccupied; lest the boy realize he'd been listening in. Not that he seemed to care at the moment… to say that Andy didn't seem himself would be an understatement. He leaned against the doorframe with a sigh and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Hey, uh… I gotta… take care of a thing. It'll be a few."

"Er… sure, that's fine. I'll… be here, I guess," Lyle replied. Without another word Andy turned and skulked back down the hall, leaving his partner alone in the room. The sudden shift in demeanor was somewhat jarring to Lyle; the boy seemed so uncharacteristically deflated. Not that he could blame him… as much as he and Lemy had their differences, Andy's relationship with his brother seemed downright dysfunctional.

Lyle continued working as he waited for Andy to return, not that it was easy to focus over the cries of a hungry infant. The boy set down the sheets with a sigh and glanced at his phone. They'd been working for just under two hours now… with any luck, they could be finished in less than three. In any case, he figured he may as well stretch his legs a bit. Lyle got to his feet with a grunt and stretched his muscles, stiff from sitting on the uncomfortable floor for so long. If nothing else, at least he'd gotten used to the musty odor by now.

As long as he was taking a little break, Lyle figured he may as well explore Andy's room a bit… not that there was much to explore, mind you. Nor did the boy's belongings hold much interest to Lyle, mainly revolving around football, wrestling or other topics that held little appeal to him. He idly wondered if the room he shared with his brothers would look this bad if Lemy were left to his own devices. Hell, he'd hardly be surprised if Lemy were capable of worse.

As Lyle approached the nightstand, his gaze fell upon the notepad Andy had been writing in earlier. A journal, perhaps? Lyle furrowed his brow and sucked his teeth in thought. Normally, he'd never even consider snooping around like this, especially with something as private as a journal… and especially not one belonging to a sasquatch of a human being like Andy. But when else would he have an opportunity like this? He was in the belly of the beast, and the prospect of peeking into his bully's mind was tempting to say the least. Besides, he left the book open, didn't he? So, with a glance towards the door and one final attempt to dissuade himself, Lyle let out a sigh of resignation and picked up the journal.

 

People be acting like life here's a dream

But these Woods ain't so Royal when you ain't got no green

Living in the squalor, the mean streets, the bad side

Running from a future I ain't get to decide

They lie when they say you can be what you wanna be

Momma tried to make it but there ain't no escaping the streets

Now she turns tricks for a dime, a life of crime

Society got us trapped, holding us back

Ain't bout white or black, just facts

Treat us like rats, like trash, like clowns

Tell us to rise above while kicking us back down

Ain't no escaping when they seal all the exits

I ain't tryna live like this

Ain't tryna die like this

Life's a bitch, ain't it

 

As he read Andy's words, Lyle's mischievous grin faded to a look of mild confusion. Rather than the mess of half-thoughts and dick drawings he'd expected, he instead found hastily-scribbled poetry. Or, at least he assumed it to be such… though he'd hardly be surprised if Andy's handwriting was naturally that sloppy. A quick flip through the notebook confirmed that the rest of the pages were much the same; messy penmanship aside, Andy's writings had a tone that one wouldn't expect from such a lumbering, foul-tempered oaf.

"Th' fuck do you think you're doin'?!" Lyle yelped and dropped the notebook. He turned, his heart plummeting into his stomach as he spotted Andy in the doorway with the harshest glare he'd ever seen. He was cradling a bundle to his chest with one arm and a baby's bottle clutched tightly in his other hand; quite frankly, Lyle half expected him to chuck the thing at his head.

"I, uh…" The younger boy let out a nervous laugh and quickly stepped away from the nightstand. "Sorry, I didn't mean to-" He gasped and recoiled as Andy stormed over to him, nearly stepping on the unfinished poster in the process. The bully loomed over him with fire in his eyes.

"Don't. Touch. My. Shit." Andy snarled. "You got that, punk?!" Lyle swallowed and gave a small, nervous nod. Andy held his glare until a soft whine from the bundle in his arms drew his attention; it was now that Lyle realized that the 'bundle' was a baby girl loosely wrapped in a floral blanket. The older boy chuckled and sat down on the edge of his bed. "Alright, alright… I know, you're hungry." After testing the temperature against his wrist Andy held the bottle to the infant's lips, which she gladly accepted. "Geeze, Ron really kept ya waitin', huh…" The boy said with a sigh. "Dunno why mom keeps leavin' that asshole in charge." Lyle couldn't help but watch with a curious gaze. To see Andy bottle-feeding a baby in such a gentle manner was borderline surreal, far removed from the callous bully he knew. "...The hell you lookin' at?" He spat.

"Er… nothing," Lyle muttered with a small shake of his head. He cleared his throat before continuing. "Sssooo… that's your sister, huh? She's cute." Andy glared at him a moment longer before turning his focus back to the hungry baby. "How old?"

"...Couple months," Andy said. Lyle gave a small nod and, after a moment's hesitation, sat on the edge of the bed himself; the look Andy gave him was nearly enough to make him spring right back to his feet, but the older boy simply looked away with a huff. There was an awkward silence between them, and Lyle found himself grateful for the background music more than ever.

"I, uh…" Lyle began, before hesitating. He was pretty sure he'd pushed his luck more than enough already, but… well, now he was curious. "I never would've taken you for a poet." His bully noticeably bristled at that.

"I-it's not poetry," Andy scoffed. "...They're lyrics." Lyle raised his brow in surprise.

"Lyrics? Like… rap?" The boy gave a vague grunt of acknowledgement. "Guess I should've figured."

"What's it to ya, anyway?" Andy grumbled. "Ain't none'a your business."

"Well, no… I just thought it was interesting," Lyle said with a frown, scratching his cheek. "Everyone needs a hobby."

"Yeah, well, you better keep your mouth shut. My rhymes ain't for nobody but me, got that?"

"Fair enough," Lyle agreed. "But I don't think it's anything to be ashamed of. There's nothing wrong with expressing yourself, especially when, well…" The effeminate boy trailed off. "...When life's got you down." Andy fell silent, looking down at his sister and wiggling the bottle to make her keep drinking.

"...Don't act like you know me."

"Excuse me?"

"You don't know shit," Andy grunted. "You don't know me, you don't know my life, and you'd better fucking pray that you never have to find out." Lyle frowned and averted his eyes.

"Well… yes, I suppose that's true."

"I'm willin' to bet you've never had to struggle for much," The older boy continued. "You got your big house, your family, food on the table. Y'know what I've got?" Andy waved his hand, gesturing around the room. "This. This, my sister, my mom, and a brother who ain't worth the air he breathes. So don't talk about how 'life's got me down.' You don't know a goddamn thing." Lyle winced at his harsh words, though he knew he could never possibly refute them. He drummed his fingers against his knee in thought.

"...You have Hayden," He said at last. Andy frowned, then gave a small nod.

"I have him, yeah," He muttered. "Dunno what I'd do without 'im. But that don't change nothin' 'bout this."

"Well, why don't you take school seriously?" Lyle asked. "You've already failed twice, right? How's anything supposed to change if you don't even try to apply yourself?" Andy narrowed his eyes.

"...Shit's hard."

"Of course it's hard. It's school," The younger boy pressed on. "But is it harder than living like this?" Andy didn't respond, turning his focus back to the infant in his arms as she gulped down the last of her formula. Lyle sighed and shook his head. "Look, I doubt you care what I have to say, but if you act like this is it for you, it really will be. You're right: I don't know what it's like for you, but I do know that you've got a chance, at least. So stop wasting it." Andy remained silent, save for some gentle murmurs under his breath as he held Kristy over his shoulder to burp her. "And you know," Lyle continued, "I get that you're bitter. I would be too. But that doesn't mean you can just take it out on other people."

"Eh…?" Finally, Lyle's words seemed to pierce through the older boy's mask. "What're you talkin' about?"

"That's why you keep screwing with us, isn't it…?" Lyle asked with a knowing smirk. "You hate us for having the life you want, don't you?" Andy simply stared at him with a baffled expression, and Lyle's look of pride quickly faded. "...Right…?"

"The hell're you on about…?" Andy asked. "We fuck with you 'cause it's hilarious." Silence. Lyle and Andy stared at each other in mutual confusion, until finally Lyle glanced away and scratched the back of his head.

"O-oh…" He muttered. "I, uh… I just figured-"

"Not everythin' has a reason, idiot," Andy grunted. "You're dweebs, you're easy targets, and you make funny noises when we kick you around. That's it." Lyle wasn't exactly sure how to respond to that, but thankfully Kristy finally let out a small burp. "There you go… nice one, sis." Andy said with a smirk. He tickled the infant's tummy, eliciting a giggle from her before getting to his feet. "A'ight, I'mma put Kristy back in her crib, then we can get this bullshit over with."

"Oh, uh… right," Lyle said. Andy carried his sister towards the door, and Lyle too slid down from the bed. "Hey, Andy…?" The older boy stopped at the doorway, glancing over his shoulder. "For what it's worth? I think your lyrics were pretty good." Andy looked at him with an expression that was difficult to read; he lingered for a moment before turning and heading out the door, muttering something indistinguishable under his breath. Lyle shrugged it off, deciding that was as close to a 'thank you' as he was going to get. His eyes fell on the notebook once more, though he resisted the urge to pick it up for a second look.

His discussion with Andy had been enlightening to say the least. It dawned on him that until now he'd never actually considered that his bullies were people in their own right; he'd only ever seen them as a couple of punks with nothing better to do but get their kicks at the expense of those weaker than them. But they had their own lives, their own struggles, their own set of circumstances unknown to their peers. And despite everything, knowing what he knew now he couldn't help but feel a sense of empathy and perhaps even some measure of respect towards his tormentor.

Lyle glanced down at the unfinished poster. They still had a bit to go, but as long as he and Andy worked diligently they could be finished within an hour or so. The black paint was surely dry by now, and the hardest parts were mostly done already. He'd intended to have Andy decorate the outer part while he handled the important bits, but now he felt he had a better idea.

 


 

"Excuse me, coming though…" Lyle said as he carefully made his way through the hallway, weaving his way through the throngs of students with special care to the poster loosely folded in his hands. Mornings at Royal Woods Elementary were always chaotic, a mixed bag of those miserable to be back in school and those happy to see their friends after the weekend. Lyle was used to navigating the crowd on his way to class, but the last thing he wanted was for the poster to get damaged.

When he arrived at his classroom, Andy wasn't there yet; unsurprising, as it was rare to see him or his partner in crime until the last possible minute. Hayden, however, was rushing to finish some last minute repairs on his own poster while his partner egged him on.

"Hurry up!" She barked as Hayden attempted to glue a protruding decorative coil of paper back on.

"I'm trying, but the stupid thing won't stick!" Hayden shot back. "I told you glitter was a dumb idea!"

"And I told you that our poster has to stand out!"

"Well if you'd just listened to my idea-"

"Your idea was boring!"

"My idea wouldn't be falling apart, now would it?!" Lyle rolled his eyes and strode past the bickering pair towards the teacher's desk. Mrs. Stewart looked up from her work and smiled warmly.

"Good morning, Mrs. Stewart."

"Good morning, Lyle," She greeted. "Good to see you here bright and early as always. I do hope everything went well?"

"Yeah, I'd say so," Lyle said, unfolding the poster for her to see. Mrs. Stewart adjusted her glasses and scanned over the poster before smirking.

"Well now, excellent work as always." She said, and Lyle grinned with pride. "And Andrew didn't give you any trouble?"

"We… made it work," Lyle said, earning a chuckle from his teacher. "He did his part."

"Good to hear." Mrs. Stewart smiled and folded her hands on her desk. "Now, everyone will be showing their designs to the class, so you can leave it against the wall with the others until then."

"Okay, Mrs. Stewart. Thank you." The woman gave him a nod and he headed to the side of the classroom, carefully leaning the poster against the wall with the rest. Taking a cursory glance at the others' projects, he felt confident saying that theirs was the best… not that it was a competition, of course. As he walked to his desk, none other than Andy himself finally made his appearance; he let out a loud, unceremonious yawn as he walked in, looking as though he'd woken up just a few moments prior with his backpack haphazardly swung over one shoulder. As his yawn subsided he blinked his bleary eyes a few times, then took notice of Lyle.

"'Ey," He grunted, approaching the boy.

"...Hey," Lyle replied with a nod. "You look well-rested."

"Bite me, Lyla," The boy huffed as he rubbed the crust from his eyes. "Whoever decided school should start at 8 should be kicked in the nards. Anyway, what's goin' on? You brought the poster, right?"

"Of course I did," Lyle said with a roll of his eyes. "It's right over there. We're going to have to present it to the class, so-"

"Yeah, I think I'll let you do the talkin'," Andy said. Lyle frowned slightly, but nonetheless nodded in approval; quite frankly, he couldn't deny that was probably for the best. Before anything else could be said, the bell rang, signalling the start of class.

"Alright, class, quiet down. Everyone take your seats," Mrs. Stewart said with a clap of her hands. Hayden and Patricia let out a groan of frustration, and the latter skulked over to the wall with the unfinished poster in hand, dropping bits of glitter and confetti on the ground as she walked. Andy headed to the back row and took his seat beside his friend.

"Hey, man."

"Hey," Hayden grumbled. "Hope you had a better time with this crap than I did."

"Eh." Andy shrugged, then leaned in. "Hey… you got that thing I asked for?" He asked in a hushed tone. Hayden's frown broke into a devious grin.

"Yeah, picked it up on the way."

"Sweet." The bullies snickered amongst themselves, and Lyle raised an eyebrow in curiosity before shrugging it off and turning his focus back to the teacher as she called roll.

"Lovely, it looks like everyone's here. Now, over the weekend I had you work together to create posters supporting a cause," She said. "I do hope everyone enjoyed the project?" Mrs. Stewart awaited a reply, only to receive little more than a few unenthusiastic murmurs in response. She cleared her throat before continuing. "R-right, well. I'd like to give you all the chance to show your hard work to the class. Who would care to go first? Anyone?" Again, silence; the teacher frowned and looked amongst her class, finding none willing to take the plunge. She sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. "Alright, then… I suppose I'll call you up one group at a time. Lyle, Andrew, would you mind going first?" Lyle looked over his shoulder, meeting Andy's gaze.

"Um… yes, Mrs. Stevens," He said. He and his partner got to their feet and approached the blackboard, Lyle stopping to grab their project along the way. Mrs. Stevens gingerly took the poster and affixed it to the blackboard with magnets for the rest of the class to see. Lyle felt a lump in his throat as he glanced at his classmates; though he wasn't a shy boy by any means, there was always a certain pressure that came along with being first to present before the class. Even Andy kept his gaze downcast, and he didn't even have to say anything.

"Now, why don't you tell us a bit about your poster?" Mrs. Stewart asked with a smile. "It seems that you chose to tackle drug awareness as your topic."

"Er, y-yes." Lyle cleared his throat and straightened his posture. "We decided to go with a straightforward, simple design we feel gets the message across clearly."

"Boooring."

"Ahem." Mrs. Stewart shot a glare towards the back row, where none other than Hayden was rather conspicuously doing his best to play innocent. The teacher sighed before turning her attention back to the pair. "Well, it certainly does a good job of getting the point across. There's nothing wrong with simplicity for the sake of clarity." A self-satisfied smirk crossed Andy's face, and Lyle couldn't help but breathe a small sigh of relief; if there had been any aspect of their poster that had concerned him, it had been the straightforward nature of their design. "And I quite like the slogan you've written up… 'A Life Wasted is a Life Wasted'. Excellent use of a double-meaning."

"Well… that was all Andy, actually," Lyle said. A noticeable hush fell over the class, and even Mrs. Stewarts' eyes seemed to widen in surprise.

"Is that so…?"

"...Y-yeah," Andy mumbled. He kept his face downturned, and Lyle could see the faintest hint of a blush on his cheeks. Clearly, he wasn't used to such positive attention.

"...I see." Mrs. Stewart gave the boy a warm smile. "Well, perhaps some extra credit is in order, Mr. Stroob." Andy blinked, then looked up at his teacher in disbelief.

"Really…?!" He gasped; Mrs. Stewart chuckled and gave him a small nod. He pumped his fist and looked to Lyle with a grin that the boy couldn't help but return in kind.

"Very good work, you two. You may return to your seats." The pair made their way back to their desks to scattered applause from their classmates. Hayden, however, snickered as his friend approached.

"'Reawwy~?'" The boy mocked in a nasally tone. "Pfft, dooork."

"Hayden, Patricia, you're next," Mrs. Stewart called.

"...Crap."

 


 

"Hi, Lyle~!"

"Huh?" Lyle looked up from his locker towards the source of the voice, smirking as he saw none other than the bright, smiling face of Gloom Forester. Lyle had precious few friends outside the family, but Gloom was easily his closest. "Oh… hey, Gloom. What're you doing on this side of the school?"

"Well, I was thinking that maybe we could walk home together?" She asked, before looking away with a bashful giggle. "Um… if you want to, anyway…" Lyle's face lit up and he gave a small nod.

"Sure, I'd like that," He said. "Let me just get my things." Gloom grinned happily, and Lyle let out a chuckle as he turned back to his locker. The eager girl practically bounced in place as he rifled through his locker, and admittedly Lyle had some difficulty resisting a peek as a certain pair of assets bounced along with her. "Er, s-so," The boy stammered in an attempt to distract himself. "How was your day?"

"Oh, it was fine… math class was super hard, though," Gloom said with a pout. "Now they're adding, like, all these letters and stuff! I thought math was all about numbers!" Lyle snickered into his palm, which only made the black-haired girl pout even harder. "Lyleeee…"

"Sorry, sorry," The boy laughed, then cleared his throat. "Well, we haven't started learning anything like that yet… but maybe we could meet at the library sometime and try to figure it out together?" He offered. "Like… this week, maybe...?" Gloom blinked, then smiled warmly.

"Ooh, I'd love that~!" She said happily. "I can always count on you, Lyle." Lyle's cheeks turned a light shade of pink and he let out a nervous chuckle as he zipped up his backpack and slung it over his shoulders. He closed the locker, popped the lock shut and gave it a little tug to ensure it was secure.

"Alright, that's that. You ready?" His friend nodded, and they set off together down the hall.

"So… how was your day?"

"Oh, fine…" Lyle said. "I had an art assignment over the weekend, though."

"That sounds fun!" The bubbly girl said.

"Well, it could've been, I guess…" Lyle mumbled with a sigh. "But I got paired up with a total jerk."

"Oh…" Gloom muttered. "Was it one of those bullies you've mentioned?"

"Yeah. Andy," The boy clarified. "I mean, it went better than expected, but… you know. Definitely wasn't a good time." His companion frowned empathetically, and seemed to be thinking of something to say, but Lyle continued. "I… I guess I learned a lot, though."

"Hmm?" Gloom tilted her head in curiosity. Lyle furrowed his brow in thought, then slowed to a stop. "Lyle…?"

"Hey, Gloom…" He began, sucking his teeth in thought for a moment before pressing on. "Do you think, I dunno..." The boy scratched the back of his head. "Up till now, as far as I was concerned Andy was just some dumb jerk that lives to bully others, but… well, it turns out things aren't so simple. Heck, he might even be a good person deep down, but it doesn't change the fact that he and Hayden always push me and my bro… er… cousins around. So I guess I'm just not sure what to think of him anymore."

"...I see." Gloom averted her eyes and pursed her lips as she mulled over his words. "Lyle… do you remember when we first met?"

"Huh? Well… yeah, of c-"

"You were really rude, you know." The girl's blunt comment made the boy sulk a bit in embarrassment, and he muttered something unclear under his breath. As if he needed a reminder… Lyle was hardly a people person now, but a few years prior he'd been downright standoffish. Gloom, however, just giggled at the memory. "I guess I did come on kind of strong, but you were still pretty mean."

"Gloom-"

"But," She pressed on. "...I could tell there was more to you than that. I could tell you were lonely, and needed a friend, and I thought maybe you just didn't know how to make one yet! So I kept trying, and now look! We're besties~!" Lyle couldn't help but smile.

"Heh… yeah, I guess we are." Perhaps it was just her understanding nature, or the fact that she reminded him so much of his mother; whatever the case, the girl had been so persistent that she'd managed to crack through his caustic shell. It was funny to think that the girl he'd once found so irritating was now his dearest friend, and perhaps someday, he hoped, even more than that.

"So just because he's been mean to you before, that doesn't mean things can't change!" Gloom assured him. "I mean, you did a project together, right? And something must have changed if you're thinking about this, right?"

"Well… true," Lyle said as he rubbed his chin in thought. Indeed, the terrible twosome had even left him alone for the remainder of the day, but did that really mean anything? "I don't know, though… I mean, I don't even know where we stand now."

"Well, ask!" His friend said cheerfully. "Maybe you can smooth things out, at least." Lyle had to admit, she had a point; come to think of it, he couldn't recall any point where he or his brothers attempted to talk things out with the pair. And, seeing as how he'd just helped Andy in a major way, surely he had nothing to lose by *asking* if things were cool between them.

"You know… you're right," He agreed. "Tomorrow, I'm going to-"

"Yo, Lyla!"

"...Eh?" As if on cue a familiar snide, nasally voice called out from behind Lyle. He turned just in time to see a white, round object hurtling towards his head. Lyle was barely able to shut his eyes before a pie hit him square in the face in a splatter of filling and bits of crust, knocking him off his feet. He fell to the ground with the pie tin still on his face and the laughter of surrounding students filling his ears.

"Ohmygosh!" Gloom let out a gasp of shock and immediately kneeled down to help him; as Lyle sat up the tin fell to his lap, revealing a face all but hidden by a mask of pie. He growled in irritation and wiped the mess free from his eyes, glaring through the crowd of bemused students to the culprits in the back: none other than Hayden and Andy. The two bullies howled with laughter.

"Thanks for the A, dork!" Andy sneered, and he and Hayden shared a high-five before disappearing into the throngs of students.

"H-hey! Get back here, you jerks!" Gloom called after them, but they were already gone; for a moment it looked like she might chase after them, but instead turned her attention back to her humiliated friend. "Are you okay…?"

"Yeah, just peachy…" Lyle grumbled, shaking off as much of the pie as he could before Gloom helped him to his feet. "Thank you."

"It's fine…" Gloom helped him wipe off some of the mess before turning to the gathered students with a glare. "What're you all looking at?!" She snapped in a tone that Lyle had only heard a few times before, and the crowd quickly dispersed. Gloom huffed and shook her head. "I can't believe some people…"

"Par for the course, I suppose…" Lyle muttered. "Though, I suppose that answers my question." Gloom gave her friend a sympathetic frown, and Lyle sighed as he brushed dollops of pie filling off his shirt. He supposed he should have known better than to expect some sort of grand reconciliation with his bully… as though one shared assignment would be enough to change someone for the better.

Was Andy a different person than he had thought? Yes. Was he a good person at heart? He very well might be. But that didn't necessarily mean he was a nice person, and perhaps he never truly would be. At the end of the day, even a good-hearted jerk was still a jerk, and just because Lyle respected the guy didn't mean he had to like him.

"...Huh?" Now that the shock had worn off, Lyle's brow furrowed as he detected a pleasant citrusy aroma. He looked down at the slop coating his hand, hesitating before bringing it to his mouth and licking a dollop off his finger. His eyes widened slightly as a familiar flavor coated his tastebuds. Tart but sweet, with the prominent taste of lemon… it may not have been as good as Liena's, but the taste was unmistakable.

"Lyle?" Gloom cocked an eyebrow and tilted her head in confusion as the boy chuckled under his breath. "What's so funny…?" Lyle simply snickered and took another taste before looking up at Gloom with a smirk.

"It's lemon meringue."



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