Backlight Chapter 6

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Chapter 6: WOW, THIS SUCKS

I wake up in an unfamiliar bed, my arm in pain. What… is this place? Why am I here?

What happened?

Nigel. The university. The bottle.

Nigel.

Oh my god, what the hell? What the fuck?!

Why did he do that?

What did I do?

My eyes well up.

I don’t understand. What did I do to deserve that?

The door opens. A nurse steps in. She takes one look at me and sees that I’m both awake and crying.

Nurse: Oh dear. Are you in pain?

… Yeah. In more ways than one.

I nod and look away to wipe my eyes. There is a cast on my arm.

Nurse: Should I give you more painkillers?

Yes > No
If I’m going to be miserable in a hospital, might as well be stoned out of my mind doing it. The pain isn’t that bad. I can deal.
I nod and the nurse fiddles with my IV drop. I shake my head.

The door opens again. Dad steps in, followed by my sister, Aalto.

Dad almost runs to my bedside.

Dad: Valo! Valo, are you okay?

I sit up and he scrambles in to hug me. It hurts my arm a little, but I can’t protest without my phone.

The nurse checks the document at the end of my bed.

Nurse: Valo has a broken arm and some bruises. You will be sore for a few days.

Nurse: We’ll keep you in until tomorrow morning, just in case.

Dad: What happened? First, we don’t hear anything about you for weeks, then suddenly you’re in a hospital!

He slips to Chinese. That’s not good. He pulls back enough to look at me, but keeps his hands tightly on my shoulders.

I open my mouth to answer, but nothing comes out.

Dad must see my teary eyes and he hugs me again.

Dad: It’s okay now, Valo. Dad is here.

Goddammit. My breath hitches and I’m crying again. I cling to my dad like I’m five years old again and I skinned my knee at the playground.

Dad cradles me through it and rocks me gently.

Eventually, he gently pulls away and wipes the tears from my cheeks.

Dad: Valo. Tell us. What happened?

I sniffle. I need my phone. I mime tapping at a phone and dad blinks in confusion.

Dad: Phone? Your phone?

Aalto: What do you need your phone for? We’re right here.

I turn to the bedside table, looking for my phone. It’s settled on top of it. I grab it. It’s a little dusty and scuffed in one corner, but it’s still on. I tap into the text-to-speech app.

Valo: I need it to talk.

Aalto: What the hell? What do you mean?

I sigh.

Valo: It’s gonna take some time to explain… The short version is that I’m selectively mute for now.

Dad looks petrified. Aalto looks like she’s about to explode.

Dad: Is… is it because of the assault?

Valo: No, it’s a different thing.

Aalto: What has been going on with you lately?! You can’t talk? What the fuck is that?!

Dad: Aalto…

Aalto: You just fucking cut us off while we’ve been working our necks off arranging mom’s funeral! And you wouldn’t even answer our calls or messages!

Aalto: We don’t know where the fuck you are or what the fuck you’re doing!

Aalto: And then we get a call from the police that you’re in a hospital after breaking and entering!

Oh no, she’s starting to break down in tears.

Wait, something that she said doesn’t add up…

Aalto continues before I have time to process.

Aalto: Do you think you’re the only one who’s having a hard time right now?

Oh… Oh fuck…

With a sinking feeling, I realize that she’s right. God, I’ve been really selfish in my grief. I haven’t even been processing any of it, I’ve been just ignoring my problems and feelings while burying myself in… whatever Nigel would drag me in.

My chest stings at the thought of Nigel.

A whole lot of good that got me, too.

Valo: I…

Valo: I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry.

It takes me several dozen seconds to find words.

Valo: You’re right. I honestly don’t even have an excuse.

Valo: I was just avoiding. Everything. My problems and… everything.

Valo: I’m sorry. For not talking to you all and not helping with the funeral.

Aalto sniffles loudly and looks away.

Dad: Aalto… Come here.

He motions with his arms. Aalto grunts and steps into a hug. Dad wraps one arm around her and the other around me. I hear Aalto’s breath hitching as she tries not to sob out loud.

I close my eyes. I never realized how much I needed this.

Dad: When do you get out?

Ah, shit. What did the nurse tell me? I scan the room for her, but she must have left at some point.

Aalto: Tomorrow morning, the nurse said.

Dad nods.

Dad: I will be there to pick you up.

There was a knock on the door and Ivy, out of all people, marches in.

Ivy: Hewwooo!

UGH. Wait, no, what?! Why is she here??

Jahid: You know, it’s polite to wait for someone to open the door before you go in…

Jahid steps in after Ivy, followed by a woman I don’t recognize. A tall, statuesque, medium-dark skinned, Native American woman with long, black hair pulled into a ponytail. Her nose is proudly hawk-like and majestic, giving her an absolutely stunning profile.

Ivy ignores Jahid.

Ivy: Oh? Are we hugging? Is that what’s going on? Hugs?

Aalto immediately jumps away from dad.

Aalto: Wh-who are you?

Ivy: I’m Valo’s lawyer.

What?

Dad and Aalto turn to look at me.

What??

Ivy: I hear someone’s been naughty and broke into the university~ 🎵

She practically singsongs the last word. But then she turns serious so fast that I almost get whiplash.

Ivy: I need to hear everything you did. Don’t leave a single detail out.

Aalto: I would like to hear it too. I think you owe it to dad and me.

Oof. Well, okay. I have to explain this to them at some point, I guess.

Oh god, how do I even begin to explain this clusterfuck of a situation I’m in?

Valo: I got beat up.

Aalto: Yeah, we can see that.

A silence falls on us as I try to gather my thoughts.

I grit my teeth and start typing. I tell them about Nigel (but not how I met him), and (a very cleaned up version of) what we were doing when he sicced his android on me.

I don’t tell them about the bottle, though. I have a hard time believing it myself, let alone expecting anyone else to believe it.

After I finish, dad, Aalto and Jahid are staring at me in horror. Ivy and the tall woman look thoughtful.

Dad: He just attacked you out of nowhere?

Aalto: You did break into the university??

Wait, that was it! The bit that didn’t make sense earlier!

Valo: We didn’t break in! We were picking up a package for Nigel!

Aalto: That’s not what the police said.

Blood freezes in my veins.

Valo: What?

Aalto: Who do you think we got the call from?!

Ivy: So you didn’t know you were breaking and entering?

Valo: No! Nigel just told me we’re picking up a package his friend left him! I thought we were there completely legally!

Ivy nods thoughtfully.

Dad: Does Valo have to go to court?

Ivy: If I’m representing them, no.

Ivy: But the fact that they didn’t even know what they were doing is a good thing. The university might not even press charges.

Dad relaxes visibly.

Dad: Thank goodness…

Ivy grins.

Aalto: Hm.

Aalto: I need to go. I have work.

Valo: Wait!

Valo: Is there anything I can do for the funeral?

Aalto pauses.

Aalto: There’s nothing left to do, really. Just show up, if you feel like it.

Aalto: … Bring your good camera, if you do. You could take photos.

Valo: Okay. Yeah, I’ll do that.

Aalto nods and leaves.

A silence falls into the room. Dad clears his throat.

Dad: I don’t think we’ve been introduced.

He walks up to the tall woman and holds his hand out.

Dad: I am Huang Lim, Valo’s father.

He shakes hands with the tall woman.

Tall woman: Sonela. I’m Valo’s friend.

I have literally never seen her before.

Dad shakes hands with Ivy.

Dad: How fortunate that Valo already had a lawyer.

Ivy: How fortunate that he knows a lawyer.

She winks.

Dad moves on to shake Jahid’s hand too.

Dad: Good to see you again, Jahid. I’m glad you and Valo are still talking.

Jahid: Of course. Valo is my friend.

Ivy: So how badly did you get beaten?

Sonela: Broken arm and bruises.

Sonela had been reading my file.

Sonela: … Nothing too serious.

She seems relieved.

Jahid: But you’ll probably have a hard time cooking until the cast comes off.

Dad frowns and rubs his chin.

Dad: I could come to cook for you until your arm heals.

Oh god no. I can’t let dad see the state my flat is in. He’s already worrying enough.

Jahid: We can figure that out tomorrow.

Dad’s phone rings. He digs it out of his pocket and checks the caller. He grimaces.

Dad: Sorry, I have to take this.

He leaves the room. Ivy immediately sits on my bed when the door closes behind him.

Ivy: Finally. Now tell me everything you left out earlier. What is Nigel’s real plan?

Sonela: Tell us what he said to you, exactly.

God, fuck. What was he talking about again?

Valo: He said something about bringing on a new era…

Valo: He mentioned something about myths and… magic?

As soon as the TTS says that out loud, I realize how dumb that sounds.

But when I look at Ivy and Sonela, they’re both dead serious. Even Ivy… She looks exactly the same as after our failed ghost hunt. It’s almost scary seeing her like this. Jahid looks kind of confused.

Valo: I mean, he believes magic is coming back… Or something.

Ivy looks at Sonela, who nods thoughtfully.

Sonela: Did he say how he was going to… bring this new age?

I rack my memory. God, it was such a shock and I’m kinda loopy on painkillers.

Nigel… he wanted to…

Oh my god, what the fuck.

I remember the virus and I feel sick.

> If Valo got infected > If Valo didn’t get infected
He made me drink that. I was just a pawn for him. He wanted me to be his pawn in his whatever fucked up plan he has.
Sonela: Is everything okay? Sonela: Is everything okay?
I snap back to reality. I snap back to reality.
Valo: Yeah. Valo: Yeah.
Valo: Wait. No. Valo: It’s just… Nigel almost gave me something.
Valo: Nigel… He forced me to swallow something. Valo: Like… a virus.
Ivy pales and Sonela’s eyes widen. Jahid looks horrified. Ivy pales and Sonela’s eyes widen. Jahid looks horrified.
Sonela: What was it? Sonela: Go on.
Valo: He had this… virus? Or something. And he made me swallow it. Valo: He had this… virus? Or something. He almost made me swallow it, but the cops came.

Ivy: What the fuck.

Sonela: Did he say what the virus does?

What the fuck was it? Lowering inhibitions, simpler time…

Valo: I think it makes people more aggressive… He wants people to be more violent.

Jahid: But why?

Valo: Simpler times,” he said.

Ivy curses heavily.

Sonela looks grim.

Sonela: We should have intervened…

Sonela bows her head.

Sonela: Our inaction lead us here. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive us.

Oh. Wow. That’s a little dramatic. Why is she so invested?

Valo: It’s just a broken arm.

Sonela: …

Sonela: This is a lot to take in, I’m sure. You’re still in shock.

Sonela: … Maybe this is for the best.

Sonela: But, also. I think you shouldn’t be left alone in case Nigel tries to contact you.

Jahid: But he’s arrested. What can he do?

Ivy scoffs.

Ivy: Police won’t be able to keep him still too long. Trust us on that.

Valo: What do you mean?

Sonela: Is there a friend you can stay with?

I glance at Jahid, who nods.

Jahid: They can stay with me.

Sonela: Good, good.

Sonela: As for the virus… Do try to keep calm and keep an eye on your moods. Otto will figure something out about that, I’m sure.

The door opens and dad steps back in.

Dad: Sorry about that. Work calls.

Sonela: No worries. Ivy and I were just about to leave, right?

Ivy: Actually no. I have to wait until the cops get here so I can talk to them.

Ivy: Gotta make sure Valo doesn’t get a criminal record~ 🎵

Sonela: Ah, that’s right. I’ll just take my leave, then.

She shakes hands with dad once more before she leaves.

There is a moment of silence, but dad starts talking.

Dad: It’s so nice that you two are still in contact with each other, Jahid.

Dad: I remember when you were in high school…

Jahid chuckles uncomfortably.

Jahid: So we were thinking… Valo could live with me until their arm heals.

Dad’s posture relaxes a little.

Dad: If it isn’t too much of a bother to you. That’d help me very much.

Jahid: Of course it isn’t!

Dad: Bless you, thank you so much!

He hugs Jahid.

Dad: That helps me and Aalto tons! Thank you, Jahid.

Jahid chuckles and hugs him back.

Jahid: Of course.

There is a knock on the door and a police officer steps in.

Cop: Afternoon. Is this Valo… Huang?

Ivy immediately stands up.

Ivy: Yes. You are the officer working on this case, I take it?

Cop: …Yes. I was the one sent to the scene last night.

Ivy: Excellent. I’m Ivy Wilson, Valo’s lawyer. Very nice to meet you.

She smiles widely and offers her hand to the cop. He shakes it.

Cop: …Aha. Good to know. I’m Arttu Jokinen and I’m working on the case.

Cop: With that out of the way, can you explain what happened last night? From your point of view?

I nod and suppress a sigh. I explain again what happened yesterday. Sometimes Ivy steps in to emphasise some details and expands on them. She makes it seem that last night was just an elaborate ruse from Nigel to string me along and assault me and that I had no idea what we were doing was illegal until the very end.

The cop just nods along and takes notes. I’m not sure if he buys any of it. After he seems satisfied with the information he got from me, he excuses himself.

Ivy: Alright. That’s that. I’ll skitter along too. Work to do and shit.

Valo: One more thing.

Ivy: M-hm?

Valo: … Are you going to represent Nigel too?

Ivy: Ahaha!

Ivy: Hell no!

Ivy: He can go to jail for all I care.

Ivy: Anything else?

I blink in surprise.

Valo: No… Not really.

Ivy: Alright. I’ll just go, then. Text me whenever if you have questions.

With that, she bounces off.

Dad: She’s… a personality, alright.

Valo: You can say that again.

Jahid: She’s a little… eccentric, but she’s reliable.

Dad, Jahid and I figure out the schedule for tomorrow morning. Dad invites Jahid for the funeral, then we talk about anything else than Nigel or the funeral.

I honestly needed this. I need some normalcy in my life right now. I almost forget about every fucked up thing in my life at the moment. Right now I’m just a normal genderfluid mess of a person being taken care of by their father and friend.

It’s all I need.

Dad: …Well, I better get going. You rest up and be safe, okay?

Dad: And try not to bother Jahid too much.

Valo: I’m not 13 anymore, dad.

Dad laughs and pulls me into a hug.

Dad: I know, I know. But I still worry.

Valo: …

Valo: I’m sorry.

Dad pulls away from the hug and ruffles my hair.

Dad: The best apology is changed behaviour.

He cups my face and brings our foreheads together.

Dad: We could look for someone for you to talk to and work on… this. After the funeral.

That actually sounds good. I nod.

Valo: Yeah, let’s do that.

Dad smiles and pats my cheek.

Dad: We’re going to be fine.

Dad: You have us. We’re here for you. Lean on us for a change.

I nod.

Dad: We’re going to be fine.

I nod again. I hope he’s right.

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