Fighting Redemption
Author:Kate McCarthy

The school bell rang, shrilling its warning to get inside. Not wishing to make new friends, Ryan turned and started up the stairs, anxious to leave the pair.

 

Jake quickly fell into step beside him, already appearing comfortable in Ryan’s company. Glancing sideways at Ryan, he asked, “What grade are you in?”

 

“Five,” Ryan replied curtly, picking up the pace. Jake kept up alongside him, and feeling stupid for being rude, Ryan asked, “You?”

 

Jake grinned. “Same. Fin here…” he nodded at where she followed quietly behind the two of them “…starts grade three.”

 

Loud and quick to laugh, Jake was hard to ignore. They became fast friends before Ryan even realised it was happening. When they talked about the future, he found himself trusting Jake enough to talk about his dream. Impressed and excited, Jake shared it with him—both of them making a vow to one day join the Army together.

 

The beatings didn’t go away though, and there was only so much you could hide from your best friend. A game of basketball in the driveway revealed a set of bruised ribs when they were twelve. Jake had a hand shoved in Ryan’s chest as he leaped for the basket. Doing his best to block the shot, Ryan shoved back and they both went crashing to the ground. Jake’s elbow caught him hard, and Ryan curled into a ball, stifling the cry of pain.

 

“Dude, what the fuck?”

 

His stomach rolling, Ryan blinked, focusing on Jake’s face peering down at him.

 

“You okay?”

 

Frowning, Jake’s eyes fell to where Ryan cradled his ribs, as though trying to keep the pain from getting loose. Grabbing the hem of Ryan’s shirt, he shoved it upwards and his eyes went wide.

 

“You can’t say anything,” Ryan whispered, not looking at him.

 

“Who did this?”

 

They sat there in the driveway, the sun fading warmly in the humid afternoon as Ryan told Jake what happened to his family. He kept it brief, holding onto the basketball and twirling it in his hands as he spoke.

 

From that day on, Ryan spent most of his time at the Tanners’. Their home in Cottesloe became his refuge—the one place he never felt worthless, only welcome … and safe. Ryan would stay over often. While everyone slept, he could let the hurt he hid so well rise to the surface. The tears he kept back would spill over, falling silently down his face and soaking the pillow.

 

Jake, it seemed, had it all. Ryan tried not to let jealousy eat him up because Jake was sharing it with him. Mike and Julie Tanner became like parents to him. Mike was tall and broad, fit from years of playing rugby at national level. He settled into a career of physiotherapy, but he got both Jake and Ryan into the sport. He would ferry them both to and from rugby training, sometimes staying to help out. Jake and Fin got their green eyes from their father, but their blond hair came from Julie. She worked as a personal assistant, but she still found time to get involved in team administration: sorting sign-ups, uniforms, and coordinating schedules.

 

Spending most of his time at the Tanners’ meant growing up with Fin. Fin was quiet and not quick to make friends like Jake was. She was the person who sat back until she had you figured out. Ryan knew the moment she was comfortable in his company. The lowering of her eyes around him stopped. Instead, he watched them fill with light and laughter, revealing a personality beneath that was just like Jake’s, only softer. It was a side she didn’t show many people, and he felt special being the one to see it.

 

Fin would spend time hanging out with them. Jake would get irritated with her tagging along all the time, but Ryan didn’t mind. He liked having her nearby where he could watch out for her, or just simply watch her. He was fascinated at seeing the way her brain ticked over, absorbing life with her smart, analytical mind. Fin seemed to have swallowed the world encyclopaedia, spitting out facts at random moments and making him laugh. She saw things in a way he never could—with an open heart and a smile.

 

Eventually, Fin found her group of friends. They would sit around in her room on weekends, playing boy band music that made him and Jake gag. In retaliation, Jake would turn their own music up until the walls started thumping. It usually ended with Mike yelling up the stairs to “turn that bloody crap off.”

 

If their music wasn’t painful enough, the giggles started. With Jake and him lazing on the couch in the living room watching television, the girls would walk by and break out in squeals of laughter before dashing quickly away. Jake would roll his eyes and ignore them, but Ryan always had a smile for Fin. He liked that her eyes would brighten when she smiled back. It warmed the coldest part of him, the part buried so deep it rarely saw the light of day.