Backlight chapter 8

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Chapter 8: WOW, THIS SUCKS

I wake up in an unfamiliar bed, my whole body sore. There is a dull pain in my arm. What… is this place? Why am I here?

What happened?

Nigel. The university. The bottle.


Why did he do that?

What did I do?

My eyes well up and overflow.

I don’t understand. Why, Nigel? 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 carefully sit up. The movement makes my sides hurt, but I manage to get myself into a somewhat upright position. 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. 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, but no broken ribs, thankfully. But 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.

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

Dad must see the tears on my face and he hugs me again.

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

Goddammit. My breath hitches and I’m crying harder. 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 pulls away and wipes the tears from my cheeks.

Dad: Valo. Tell us. What happened?

I sniffle. I need my phone. I mime tapping 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 my bedside table, looking for my phone. It’s settled on top of it, so I take it and tap into the text-to-speech app.

Valo: I need it to talk.

Aalto: What the hell? What do you mean?

Fucking hell, how do I explain that to them? 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: Okay, cool, but what happened to you now?

My fingers twitch.

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.

Aalto: Well? Start talking!

I sigh 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, both dad and Aalto were staring me in horror.

Dad: He just attacked you out of nowhere?

Aalto: You broke into the university?!

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?!

Aalto: You have some fucking nerve!

Dad: Aalto…

Aalto: We’ve been working our necks off arranging mom’s funeral and you’ve been god knows where, doing fuck knows what! You wouldn’t even answer to our calls or messages!

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

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

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

Jesus Christ.

She’s right… 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.

I sigh.

Valo: You’re right.

Valo: I'm sorry.

It takes me several dozen seconds to find words.

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

Valo: I honestly don't even have an excuse.

Valo: I was just running. From my problems and my feelings.

Aalto sniffles loudly and looks away.

Dad: Aalto… Come here.

He motions with his arms. Aalto grunts and steps into a hug. Dad hugs me with his other arm.

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

Dad: You get out tomorrow morning, right?

Dad: I will be there to pick you up.

There was a knock on the door and Ivy, out of all people, marches in, followed by Jahid and a woman I don’t recognize. A tall, statuesque, medium-dark skinned woman with long, black hair.

Ivy: Helloooooooooooooooo!

Tall woman: Manners, Ivy.

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

Aalto immediately jumps away from dad.

Aalto: Wh-who are you?

Ivy: I'm Valo’s lawyer.


Dad and Aalto turn to look at me.

Wait… What???

Ivy: I hear someone has been naughty and broke into the university~

She practically singsongs the last word.

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

She suddenly turns so serious that I almost get whiplash.

The tall woman with them clears her throat and nods towards dad and Aalto.

Ivy: … Or we can do that later.

Dad: Is Valo going to jail?

Ivy: If I'm representing them, no.

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 really nothing left to do. Just show up, if you feel like it.

Aalto: … You could take photos. Bring your good camera.

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 were 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 never seen her before.

Dad shakes hands with Ivy and Jahid too, who also introduce themselves as my friends. Which in Jahid’s case is more accurate. Ivy is on thin ice.

Ivy: So how badly did you get beaten?

Jahid: Broken arm, bruised ribs, some cuts.

Jahid had been reading my file.

Jahid: Nothing too serious, but you’ll probably have a hard time cooking until the cast comes off.

Dad frowns and rubs his chin.

Dad: I could come 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 gotta take this.

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

Ivy: Finally. Now tell me everything that happened before the police arrive.

I nod and retell yesterday’s events, this time in more detail. I still have a hard time believing all that, but going through it again helps me process it.

After I finish, there’s a moment of silence again.

Sonela looks grim.

Sonela: Otto was right…

Sonela: We should have intervened…

Valo: What do you mean? What is going on?

Sonela: It’s natural that you’re confused.

Sonela: We’ve been monitoring Nigel for some time now. We knew he was up to something.

Sonela: But we weren’t sure what his exact plan was and now you have gotten hurt as collateral damage.

Sonela bows her head.

Sonela: I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive us.

Valo: Explain what’s going on first.

Valo: I don’t understand.

Valo: What is going on? Was what Nigel said true?

Ivy: Which part? He said a lot of bullshit.

Valo: … all of it?

Ivy: You're going to have to narrow it down a little.

> The “virus” > Magic > Nigel
Valo: The part with the virus. Valo: The talk about magic. Valo: …
Ivy purses her lips and looks at Sonela. Jahid: It’s not true, right? Valo: Was Nigel…
Sonela: I’m fairly sure Otto could give more clear answer to that than I. Sonela closes her eyes for a moment. When she opens them, she begins to speak. I blink, tears rising to my eyes again.
Ivy: We would’ve brought him but he has work. Sonela: It is true. Valo: Did Nigel plan to use me all along?
Jahid: What are we going to do if Valo is infected? Sonela: Magic is returning to this world. Valo: Was that all he wanted with me?
Sonela’s silence makes my stomach twist into an uncomfortable knot. I meet Jahid’s eyes and see the same anxiety reflected in his eyes. Jahid and I stare at her in quiet shock. Sonela’s eyebrows pinch. Jahid looks crestfallen. Even Ivy looks like she’s pitying me.
Sonela: We don’t know. Jahid: I’m sor… what? Somehow those expressions hurt more than they should. I squeeze my eyes shut. I should have kept quiet.
Ivy: Magic is coming back. Sonela: I can’t tell what Nigel was thinking.
Jahid: So we’re just supposed to accept that magic is real now? Sonela: But we will be here for you from here on.
Ivy: Pretty much, yeah. Ivy: Unlike some.
Valo: …

Sonela: Anything else?

I still have questions…

> The “virus” > Magic > Nigel

Sonela: I have a feeling there’s still something on your mind.

> The “virus” > Magic > Nigel

Sonela: …

Sonela: This is a lot to process, I’m sure.

No shit!

Jahid: What now, though?

Ivy: Now-now, I’ll wait here until the cops arrive and talk to them. I gotta figure out the legal side and all.

Valo: Wait, so you’re really a lawyer?!

Ivy: Haha, yep! And a good one! Don’t worry about a thing.

Somehow I’m not reassured.

Valo: …

Valo: Are you going to represent Nigel too?

Ivy: Ahahaha!

Ivy: Hell no!

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

Ivy: But. Since you didn’t know you were breaking and entering, the university might not even press charges.

Valo: That's good, I guess.

Jahid: …

Jahid: And after? What are we going to do with this whole… situation?

Sonela: All we can do is to lay low and wait for Nigel's next move.

Jahid: But he's arrested.

Ivy: Not for long. He will find a way to break out.

I feel a chill. I don't like the sound of that.

Sonela: Then he will do something, I'm sure. We will deal with him from when he does. He will not bother you when we are done with him.

My blood freezes.

Valo: What do you mean by that?

Sonela: …

Sonela: Don't worry about it.

Valo: What are you going to do to him??

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

Cop: Afternoon. Is this Valo… Huang's room?

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.

Cop: May I ask, who are you?

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

She smiles widely and offers her hand to the cop.

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

He shakes Ivy's hand.

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

I glance at Ivy. I don't really feel like talking about it for the third time…

Thankfully, Ivy takes the reigns and tells the cop that last night was just an elaborate ruse from Nigel to string me along and assault me. And that I had no idea that what we were doing was illegal until the end.

The cop seems a little incredulous, but he also looks absolutely exhausted. He looks like he wants to take the easy way out with this case.

Which might be why he seems to accept Ivy’s explanation of the events without asking me to talk. Ivy seems to tell the cop seemingly hears what he needed because he eventually excuses himself.

When the door closes behind the cop, exhaustion washes over me. I sigh deeply and settle against the headboard of the bed.

Jahid: We should let you rest. You’ve had a hectic few days.

Sonela: I agree. We will talk more tomorrow when you discharged.

Sonela and Ivy shuffle to the door just as the door opens and dad steps back in.

Dad: Sorry about that. Work stuff.

Sonela: It’s quite fine. We were just leaving.

Dad: I saw police leaving. How did that go?

Ivy smiles and pats his shoulder.

Ivy: Don’t worry about a thing! I have everything under control.

Dad sighs in relief.

Jahid: When do you get discharged tomorrow? I’ll try to come meet up then.

Jahid, dad and I make arrangements and agree that I leave at nine tomorrow morning. Which is about eleven hours later than I want, but I can’t go now.

After Jahid and dad exchange phone numbers, he leaves with Sonela and Ivy, leaving dad and me.

Ah goddammit. I should have asked the cop what they're going to do to Nigel's android.

Night arrives and it’s one of the hardest nights in my life. Not because I’m in pain, but because I can’t turn my mind off. I keep replaying the events at the university and my previous meetings with Nigel over and over in my head, trying to find some indication that Nigel was using me all along.

I don’t know if I got any sleep.

Morning can’t come fast enough.

It feels like it takes three years, but morning eventually does arrive. By the time Jahid arrives, I’m ready to jump out of my skin and run all the way home.

Jahid: Morning.

Jahid: Lim isn’t here yet?

Valo: No.

Jahid: Good. Because I need to talk to you about a few things first.

Oh no.

Jahid chuckles at the expression I make.

Jahid: Nothing bad, don’t worry.

Jahid: I was talking with Sonela and she fears that Nigel will come after you now. She thinks that you shouldn’t be alone until they deal with Nigel.

Jahid: So, um…

Jahid: Would you… like to live at my apartment until then?

I don't really care at this point.

Valo: Sure.

Jahid nods, smiling a little.

Jahid: We have to get you clothes from your apartment, though.

Jahid: …

Jahid: Did you tell Lim about… Nigel and the whole situation with him?

I shake my head.

Valo: I can barely believe it myself.

Jahid: Good. Sonela also thinks that we shouldn't make him worry more.

We end up waiting for dad for maybe half an hour. Jahid fills the time with one sided conversation.

Dad finally arrives. He brings a bag of clothes to change in. And… a thermos bottle.

Valo: Are these yours?

Dad: You can change into your own clothes when you get home.

Valo: What’s the thermos for?

Dad: Soup. You need to eat.

I shrug and change into his clothes behind a curtain. Dad and I are the same size, so the clothes fit. Size-wise that is. Style-wise, however…

Fuck, whatever, my life can't get worse than this, might as well look like it, too. with my messy, overgrown hair and disaster beard and now old man clothes.

I step from behind the curtain. Jahid gives me a look from head to toe and smiles.

Jahid: That… looks good on you.

Is that an insult? I narrow my eyes at him.

Jahid: I'm not making fun of you!

Dad chuckles.

Dad: Valo looks like me when I was young.

Jahid looks between me and dad a few times.

Jahid: They do!

Dad: Except I didn't have a beard when I was their age.

A nurse appears.

Nurse: Are we ready to go?

Lead by the nurse, we head out.

Just as we're stepping out of the building, my and Jahid's phones ding. Group text from… Ivy?

Ivy Wilson: Nigel escaped, as we anticipated. Be careful.

Dad: What is it?

Jahid: … Ivy, Valo's lawyer, remember?, just texted me that the man who assaulted Valo has escaped.

Dad pales.

Dad: What? He’s free?

Jahid: I'm afraid so…

Dad looks at me, worry written all over his face.

Dad: I can’t let you… Will you be okay alone?

Jahid: We, Valo and I, we just talked about that before you got here.

Jahid: And we thought it’d be better Valo lived with me until their arm heals.

Dad relaxes and even smiles just a little.

Dad: Now I feel better about this.

We arrive to dad’s car and Jahid opens the door for me.

Dad: You’re going to have to direct me to your apartment, though.

Jahid: Of course.

I spend the car ride in silence as dad and Jahid talk about whatever. We get to Jahid’s after a while and Jahid leads us to his flat.

As soon as the door opens, I hear the sound of claws tapping on the floor and barking. A yellow, loaf-shaped dog barrels into Jahid’s legs and starts sniffing him.

Oh my god, Jahid has a dog!!!

Jahid: Yes, yes, it’s me.

The dog snorts and seems to deem Jahid thoroughly sniffled and moves on to me.

Oh my god oh my god oh my god!!!!!

> Boop that snoot > Smoosh those ears > Let it sniff my hand
That is an extremely boopable snoot. The dog grunts and shakes its head, ears flopping. The dog inspects my hand thoroughly before giving it a lick.
The dog licks my finger.

Jahid: That’s Panda. My roommate’s dog.

Dad: Panda?!

Valo: I would die for Panda.

Jahid snorts a laugh.

After Panda has gotten its pats from dad, we move deeper into the apartment.

It’s very clean and neat. The furniture looks well-loved and there are colourful carpets on the floor. The air smells faintly of some kind of cleaning solution. Did Jahid clean just for me?

We sit in the living room and talk for a while. I find out that Jahid isn’t a huge fan of dogs, but he tolerates having Panda around. Also, Panda is a Finnish spitz and corgi mix, which is way more important.

Dad: Oh, right. The funeral is the day after tomorrow.

Ah. The funeral… I had forgotten about that…

I nod.

Valo: I’ll be there.

Dad nods too, with a sigh.

Dad: You can bring Jahid too.

The corner of dad’s mouth twitches to a thin smile.

I look at Jahid.

Valo: You can, if you want to, but you don’t have to.

Jahid: I’ll come if you’ll have me.

Dad: Of course! I’m sure Aalto would be glad to meet you in a better mindset too.

Jahid nods.

Jahid: What’s the dress code? Black or white?

Dad: Black. It’s a Finnish-style funeral.

After a bit more talking, dad starts to leave.

Dad: Thank you for offering to take care of Valo for us.

Valo: I’m right here.

Jahid: Of course. Valo is my good friend.

Dad: I hope the soup is enough. If I had known Valo would be at a friend’s place, I would have cooked more…

Valo: It’s enough, dad. You’ve been busy.

Dad: … If you say so.

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.

I nod. That actually does sound good.

Valo: Yeah, let’s do that.

Dad smiles and pats my cheek.

Dad: We’re going to be fine.

I nod and hope he's right.

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