Russell woke to Rana’s whiskers tickling his face, and he sneezed. Rubbing his nose, he sat up and scratched the Persian with his free hand. “Morning, Rana.” Russell glanced at his alarm clock with a yawn, then realized what time it was. Rana sprang out of the way as Russell launched himself out of bed, changing into a green baseball cap, a gray shirt and blue jeans before rushing to the bathroom. Minutes later he nearly ran into his father on the way back to grab his backpack.
“Whoa, Russell!” Terry exclaimed. “The gym isn’t going anywhere!” Russell snatched up his backpack and slipped it on as he ran into the kitchen.
“I know, but it’s mom! I can’t be late!” Grabbing a pancake, Russell burst out the front door and dashed down the sidewalk, dodging other pedestrians as he went. Halting outside the gym, Russell scarfed down the pancake, then yanked a water bottle from his backpack and took a few gulps before stowing it away. Taking a deep breath, he entered the gym and saw his friends sitting nearby. They’d all chosen to dress appropriately for the trek to New Bark Town. Hannah was wearing a pink baseball cap that matched her her light pink tee and khaki pants and was shouldering a sturdy brown backpack. Darren and Jimmy were both wearing jeans and had black backpacks, but Darren was wearing a red tank while Jimmy was wearing an orange shirt.
“Just on time!” Hannah cried, smiling as Russell jogged over to them. “We were starting to get worried.”
“Have you seen my mom?” The three friends shook their heads.
“Not yet,” Darren answered, an eager grin on his face, “but Austin told us she was almost done with a battle.” Hannah began jumping from one foot to the other.
“I’m so happy!” She squealed. “We’re really getting our licenses!”
“And then we’re going to New Bark Town!” Jimmy exclaimed, beaming, uncharacteristically loud from anticipation.
“I know!” Hannah threw her arms around Jimmy in an eager hug, causing his face to flush bright pink. Darren patted Russell’s shoulder.
“Hey, do you know which Pokémon your mom is going to lend you?” He asked curiously, his eyes bright with eagerness. Russell didn’t have time to answer. Movement caught his attention and he turned to see his mother and Austin approaching, both with smiles on their faces. Austin’s was a tad more anxious than happy, Russell noted, but what struck him more than that was the fact that Austin wasn’t wearing an orange jacket anymore. It was dark blue instead, and instead of khakis, Austin was wearing blue jeans.
“You’re a senior trainer now!” Russell noted. “That’s great!” Austin chuckled sheepishly.
“Thanks,” he said, face reddening a bit. He cleared his throat and straightened. “Are you all ready to get your licenses?” Four heads nodded eagerly. “Right this way, then.” Hannah, Darren and Jimmy hurried after him, but Russell hung back and glanced at his mother. She smiled at him and then knelt to give him a hug.
“Happy Birthday, sweetie,” she said in his ear before drawing back. “Are you excited?” Russell hesitated for a moment, then nodded. “Sorry for keeping you. Let’s go.” They hurried to catch up with Austin, who had led Russell’s friends into a nearby office. Four pieces of paper were laid out on the desk, and Russell ran up to take a spot beside Darren, who caught his eye and gave him a thumbs-up.
“Well,” Austin said, lifting a manila envelope from a desk drawer, “your IDs have arrived.” He opened the envelope and passed the light green cards out, starting with Russell, who waited until his friends had received theirs to examine it. It had his name, birthdate and hometown printed on it in bold white letters. He felt a little thrill of excitement in his chest and grinned ear-to-ear. “Keep them safe. If you lose them, it’ll take a month for a new one to be printed, and you won’t be able to travel during that time.” He glanced at the four new trainers. “If that does happen, then you need to let the nearest police station know so they can cancel your current card for safety. Your card information and number will always be on record, so they’ll have the means to look it up and cancel it. After that, you’ll need to visit the gym where it was issued to order a new one. Always keep it with you and make sure it’s safe.” He pulled out four items from the envelope that resembled plastic luggage tags with a clear front and green border and held them up. “These are your card holders. It will make it a little easier to keep track of your trainer cards.” After he’d passed them out, he gestured to the four new trainers to approach the desk. Beside each sheet of paper a pen was waiting. “You’ve all been studying the Trainer Guidelines, but give these a once-over and sign your name and the date at the bottom.” There was silence for a few minutes while the friends studied the thick sheets. Jimmy was the first to sign the document, but Hannah and Darren were close behind. Russell bit his lip and tried to calmly read the last few sentences at his own pace, but he could feel the eyes of his friends on him. Finally, he carefully signed his name and dated the paper. Glancing up anxiously, he saw his friends smiling encouragingly at him, and in relief he smiled back. Austin gathered the documents up one by one, looked them over, and handed them to Susan. She studied them and nodded at Austin, who put them each in a separate manila envelope. While he worked on sealing the documents, Susan addressed the newly registered trainers.
“Well done,” she said approvingly. “You’re properly registered trainers now, and old enough to make the trip to New Bark Town.” Jimmy and Hannah shuffled excitedly and Darren grinned ear-to-ear. Russell swallowed nervously, feeling his heart thumping faster. “I will lend each of you one of my Pokémon for the trip.” She approached Hannah and Jimmy and held out a Pokéball. Russell felt a tingle at the base of his neck and had to bite his lip to keep himself from talking.
“Hannah and Jimmy, I’m sending Chansey to travel with you. She’ll stay right with you and will protect you when any wild Pokémon show up.” The two nodded seriously. “I’ve instructed her to only use Sing. When the wild Pokémon falls asleep, if you can, move it somewhere protected and leave. Pokémon wake up from Sing fairly quickly.” The two nodded once again and Susan held the ball out. Jimmy looked at Hannah, and she nodded and took the Pokéball carefully. Russell tried not to fidget as his mother turned her attention briefly to him. “Darren and Russell, you two will have Wigglytuff traveling with you. He knows Sing, and it’s the only move he’ll use, as well. Remember to hide the wild Pokémon and get away quickly.” Darren and Russell nodded rapidly. Russell reached out to take the Pokéball when Susan held it out, but he froze suddenly and bit his tongue. Darren shot him a worried look before taking the Pokéball. “Travel safe, and take your time. It will take a few days for you to reach New Bark Town, so remember that there are safe places to rest at Pokémon Centers, and they’re free for trainers to use. Take care of yourselves and the Pokémon, and you’ll be fine. None of you should fight any trainers. If you are challenged, let them know you’re Rookie trainers. They’ll understand.”
“Thank you!” Hannah burst out gratefully. “We’ll take care of your Pokémon really well!” Jimmy nodded in agreement.
“No problem!” Darren added, and Russell laughed nervously. Austin looked up, finished with the envelopes.
“You each have a map, is that right?” The friends nodded. “You should first head for Route 35.”
“That means we’ll get to see Violet City!” Hannah stated. “I’ve always wanted to go there.”
“Let’s get going now, then!” Darren cried, turning on his heel and bolting for the door. He was almost at the main doors before Russell caught up with him.
“Hang on, Darren,” he said, tugging Darren’s arm. “We we all going to go meet up for lunch, remember?” Darren turned and wriggled his arm free.
“Oh, yeah….for your birthday.” He chuckled and held up his arms. “Sorry.” Russell shook his head, grinning.
“It’s okay. Let’s go back and wait with everyone. My dad’s going to be here soon, and then we can go.”
“This is so fun!” Hannah chimed as she strode along Route 35, the shadows of trees flickering across her face. She stopped and hugged the Chansey who was walking beside her, and the Pokémon giggled and returned it. “I just can’t believe we’ve got our licenses!”
“Me either,” Darren agreed, “but I wish we could battle.”
“We have to train a little before we can do that,” Jimmy reminded him, and Darren sighed in annoyance, rolling his eyes.
“I know!” He said. “But it’s boring.”
“I’m fine with that, actually,” Russell sighed, smiling over at his mother’s Wigglytuff. “It’ll be a nice trip with Wigglytuff and Chansey.”
“You guys are lame,” Darren huffed. “I hope we meet other trainers soon! We can find out if they have any cool Pokémon.” Hannah gasped and eyed Darren, her expression aghast. She pressed her hands flat on either side of Chansey’s head, covering the places where she thought would best block the Pokémon’s hearing.
“Don’t say that!” She exclaimed disapprovingly. “They’re cool!”
“And nice,” Russell added, smirking as Darren threw up his arms.
“They’re cute!” He cried, annoyed. Hannah removed her hands from Chansey’s head.
“Well, yes!” She retorted. “But they’re cool, too!” Jimmy halted and turned back towards Russell.
“They’ll be at it for a while,” he sighed, and Russell nodded.
“When will we get to Violet City?” Russell questioned. Jimmy thought for a moment, a hand to his face.
“Fifteen minutes, or so,” Jimmy said, then glanced at Hannah and Darren, who were facing each other with their arms crossed. “But it’ll be ages if those two keep this up.” Wigglytuff looked curiously up at Russell and tugged his sleeve. Russell glanced down and shrugged.
“We’d better snap them out of it,” Russell muttered. Wigglytuff jogged forward and stopped just short of the two bickering trainers, then lifted both hands and clapped them sharply. Darren jumped and Hannah squeaked, startled.
“Hey!” A strange voice called sharply. “Who’s there?” A tall man in a blue shirt and jeans was walking down the wide path towards the small group. He smiled when he reached them, and Hannah gave him a polite smile back. Jimmy and Darren nodded in greeting, but Russell shuddered, folding his arms as if he were cold.
“Are you a trainer?” Darren burst out eagerly. The man nodded.
“Sure am. I was just on a walk when I heard you guys.” He glanced at Wigglytuff. “Is that your Pokémon?” The man asked, his blue eyes curious.
“My mother’s,” Russell told him. “She’s the gym leader of Goldenrod City. We all just got our licenses today.”
“Gotcha,” the man said, nodding. “You’re headed to New Bark Town, then?” Russell stared at the man, then nodded hesitatingly. “Well, you’ve got a ways to go yet.”
“What kind of Pokémon do you have?” Darren questioned, grinning eagerly. “Could you show us?”
“I’m in a hurry, I’m afraid,” the man said, and Darren’s shoulders slumped. “But I can tell you before I go. I’ve got a Ledian, a Spinarak and a Clefairy.”
“Spinarak sounds cool,” Darren remarked, and the man laughed.
“Yeah. Well, I’d better go.” He waved. “Have a safe trip.” He ran off a few feet, then turned and glanced back at the group. “I know a shortcut,” he said, walking back. “Follow the route until you come to a building, then turn right and follow the path through a tall grass patch. I made my Pokémon cut down a tree that was blocking the path.”
“Your Pokémon know Cut?” Jimmy asked, impressed.
“Yep,” the man responded, nodding. “I’ve been authorized to use it.” He glanced around. “Now I really do have to go.” With another wave, he rushed off down the path.
“Thanks!” Hannah called, waving. She turned to her friends. “Let’s go find that shortcut!” Jimmy and Darren smiled in agreement, but Russell shook his head. Wigglytuff pressed up against him comfortingly, patting his arm.
“I don’t think we should,” Russell muttered. “It probably would just cut a few minutes off, anyway.”
“Oh, come on!” Hannah begged. “We’ll be able to see more Pokémon this way!”
“Yeah, come on!” Darren echoed, playfully digging an elbow into Russell’s side. “You afraid of tall grass?” Jimmy and Hannah giggled behind their hands, and Russell felt his face burning.
“I’m not afraid of grass!” He protested hotly, scowling. “It just wouldn’t be worth it.”
“Who says anything has to be worth it?” Darren challenged. “It’ll just be some fun for once! Come on, Russell!” Without another word he turned and ran up the path. Jimmy looked at Hannah and she nodded, then took off. Jimmy looked nervously from Hannah to Russell before letting out a sigh and running after her.
“It’ll be fine,” Darren said, then started off, leaving Russell standing with a wary look on his face. “We’ll walk fast and get through it quickly, okay? Catch up with us soon.”
“Alright, okay,” Russell agreed tersely. “Just give me a second.” Chansey gave a worried murmur and frowned at Russell. “Go on with him, Chansey,” Russell encouraged the Pokémon. “It’s alright.” Chansey hurried off to catch up, and when they’d all gone, Russell knelt immediately and set his backpack down with a thud. He quickly reached into his backpack and pulled out a folder, then a pen that was inside it. He pulled a leaf of paper from the folder, getting a paper cut in the process. Ignoring the sting, he began writing frantically. When he was done he tossed the folder and pen into his backpack, then swiftly folded the paper into thirds and handed it to Wigglytuff. “Wigglytuff, I need you to take this right to mom, okay? She’ll know what to do.” Wigglytuff carefully took the paper and gave Russell a worried frown. The Pokémon’s long pink ears drooped. “That trainer had a Koffing, Wigglytuff. He might be allowed to have one, but if so, why didn’t he tell us?” Wigglytuff nodded, now looking serious. Russell hugged the Pokémon tightly, then drew back. “Get to mom, and she’ll come back with you to Violet City.” Wigglytuff nodded once more and Russell drew back. “Thanks. Be careful, okay?” Wigglytuff took off back towards Goldenrod City, and Russell bit his lip with worry, then turned and broke into a run. He reached the building and glanced right, seeing his friends off in the distance. He hesitated before stepping into the grass. It came up to his waist, but it was easy enough to push through it. A sharp crackling noise made Russell turn, and he felt a jolt of fear. The man from before was there, easily making his way through the grass. Russell turned and was about to yell out, but a hand clamped over his mouth and another hand grabbed his arm tightly. The man was dragging him backward through the grass. Russell struggled vainly as he was pulled into a clump of thick bushes beside the path.
“Nice try,” a voice whispered in his ear. “Good thing I had to come back.” Russell jerked his head back and forth and kicked his legs. “I really wonder how you knew I had a Koffing. I’ve never let him out where people could see.” Russell dragged his nails at the man’s hand, trying to pull it away from his mouth, but his other arm came up and slid around his neck. “Now, listen. Your Wigglytuff managed to get back to Goldenrod City, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to let you go.” Russell thrashed in panic and began frantically grappling at the bushes and turf, trying to get a grip on something. “Knock it off, brat,” the man hissed angrily, tightening his grip. Russell let out a hoarse squeak as his oxygen was cut off. Suddenly something came crashing through the bushes. Wigglytuff lunged at the man and struck him twice, hard, across the face. He yelled and dropped Russell, who staggered up and managed to drag himself out of the bushes.
“Russell?” Arms yanked Russell to his feet and held him tightly. Russell jolted, trying to pull away, but the arms just held him tighter. “It’s me!” Russell stared upward, finally recognizing his mother’s voice, and he threw his arms around her and sank to his knees. He tried to speak but only managed a hoarse croak. He felt his mother lifting him up. “Wigglytuff!” She called sharply, her voice suddenly commanding, and the Pokémon dragged the man out of the bushes. He had two bruises forming on either side of his face. “What were you doing to my son?” She demanded, eyes narrowed furiously. The man staggered upright, glaring while he rubbed his face. Without warning he gave Wigglytuff a strong shove and held up a Pokéball.
“None of your business,” the man growled, and as Wigglytuff lunged at him again he tossed the Pokéball into the air. When the flash of light faded, a Koffing hovered there. Russell felt a tremor of fear when he caught sight of the skull and crossbones on the Pokémon’s body. “Smokescreen!” The man cried. The Koffing opened his mouth, letting a dark cloud of smoke issue forth. Russell closed his eyes and covered his mouth and nose with both hands. After a moment he gingerly opened his eyes and saw the smoke still billowing around them.
“Wigglytuff!” Susan called, and ran through the smoke clouds. Suddenly the air was clear. “Russell? Russell, look at me. What did he do to you?” Russell looked up at his mother through watery eyes, and coughed. He attempted to speak but had a coughing fit instead. “Hang on, Russell, you’ll be okay.”
“What’s going on?” Russell recognized Hannah’s voice, and glanced around for her. “Is there a fire?”
“No, there’s no fire,” Susan said quickly. “We need to get to Violet City.” Darren gestured frantically back the way they’d come.
“There’s a shortcut over here!” He said, and Susan rushed off. Russell closed his eyes; they were still burning from the smoke. He heard grass rustling around him.
“Are you okay? Russell?” He heard Darren ask, but couldn’t answer. “We’re almost to the Pokémon Center.” There was a rushing noise of automatic doors sliding open.
“What happened?” Someone asked in confusion.
“We need help,” Susan responded urgently.
“Over here,” a woman said.
“Russell? Open your eyes.” Russell gingerly cracked them open and saw his mother and a Pokémon nurse leaning over him. He was lying on a small bed in a white-walled room. “Can you talk?” Russell shook his head once, and winced when the nurse began gently touching his throat.
“I think it’s mostly bruising—no tracheal damage,” she said, a frown of concentration on her face. “But there’s a lot of bruising, as you can see…I’ll be right back with medicine and bandages.”
“Thank you,” Susan said gratefully as the woman left. She knelt beside Russell and took his hand. “Wigglytuff came and got me, and I ran out as soon as I could.” She hung her head. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t faster.” Russell squeezed his mother’s hand, then smiled when she looked up. A door clicked and the nurse was back with another woman in a long white coat.
“I’m one of the doctors at the Violet City Hospital. Someone said a child had been injured.” She glanced towards Russell, who looked away. “Ma’am, what happened?” She asked, while Susan moved aside so the nurse could kneel beside the bed.
“A trainer attacked him,” Susan told her, her jaw set. “When I got there, he’d pulled him into some bushes beside Route 35.” She shook her head. “My family’s Wigglytuff attacked him to make him let Russell go, but he got away when his Koffing used Smokescreen.” Russell tried to sit up when his mother handed something to the doctor, but the nurse pushed him back down.
“Stay still, alright, kiddo?” She said gently, while lightly rubbing some cream over his neck. “This will help the bruises feel better.” Russell nodded.
“A Koffing?” The doctor repeated.
“I’m sure he isn’t allowed to have one,” Susan muttered darkly.
“We’ll pass the information on to the police station,” the doctor said. “They’ll be able to find out easily since your Wigglytuff got his trainer license.” The nurse helped Russell sit up, and he leaned against the headboard while the nurse wrapped bandages firmly around his neck.
“There you go,” she told Russell with a reassuring smile. “Take it easy for a bit, alright, kiddo? You’ll be feeling better soon.” She rose and left the room, and the doctor moved towards Russell’s bedside and checked him over.
“Did either of you inhale much smoke?” She asked while she examined Russell for other signs of injury.
“Not much,” Susan answered. “But I doubt it helped him.”
“Right,” the doctor murmured. “Well, he doesn’t have any other injuries apart from the bruising. I’d recommend he stay here for the rest of today, at least.”
“Alright,” Susan murmured gratefully. “Thank you.” After the doctor left, there was a thudding of footfalls and suddenly Darren, Hannah, Jimmy, Wigglytuff and Chansey were stampeding into the room.
“What happened, Russell?!” Jimmy exclaimed, his eyes wide with worry. Susan moved away from the group and left the room.
“Who was that crazy guy?” Darren butted in, running to Russell’s bedside. He winced when he saw the bandages. “That loser!”
“Are you going to be okay?” Hannah asked softly, wringing her hands. Russell could only nod. Wigglytuff trundled closer to Russell and touched his hand.
“Wiggly?” He asked, patting Russell’s hand. Russell squeezed it, then gave Wigglytuff a thumbs-up.
“Is your voice hurt?” Jimmy asked anxiously. Russell held up hand and moved it side to side. “Sort of?” Russell nodded.
“Are you going to come with us to New Bark Town?” Darren asked hopefully. “We still all have to get our Starters!”
“Russell is going to rest here for a while,” Susan said upon returning to the room. “Austin is coming here now. He’s going to take you five to New Bark Town, and Russell is going to go tomorrow instead.”
“But—!” Darren cried in dismay, whipping around to stare up at Susan. “He has to come with us!”
“We’ll stay here!” Hannah added. “It wouldn’t feel right without Russell.” Susan rubbed her forehead and sighed.
“Austin’s already on his way,” she said. “I told him to take you today.”
“Why don’t we wait until Russell can go tomorrow,” Jimmy suggested, “and Austin can still take us there.”
“Hey, yeah!” Darren cried in agreement. “That’d work! Right?” Susan closed her eyes in thought, crossing her arms.
“I’ll ask Austin what he thinks,” she relented a moment later. “I suppose it could be more practical.”
“Alright!” Darren burst out triumphantly, turning back to Russell. “We’ll still be able to get our Starters together!”
“You’re welcome, Hannah,” Susan said with a tired smile.
“They’ll probably catch that guy soon, huh?” Darren questioned, smirking. “So we might not even have to worry!”
“That would be good,” Susan remarked. “Let’s hope.” She rose to her feet. “And now I think we should let Russell get some rest.”
“See you later, Russell,” Hannah told him. “Feel better soon.” She smiled and waved, then left. Jimmy waved as well and followed Hannah out. Darren furrowed his brow, then shook his head.
“We’ll be back later,” he told his friend. “Bye for now.” Russell nodded and sighed as Darren left. Susan leaned over and kissed Russell’s forehead.
“We’re going to get some food. You want anything? Soup?” Russell nodded once, smiling weakly. He was starting to feel drowsy. “Alright, honey. It won’t be too long.” She left and flicked off the light, leaving the door half ajar. Russell looked around the room, picking out other beds once his eyes had adjusted. Sighing, he closed his eyes and rolled over a few times in the bed before he fell asleep. A shuffling noise stirred him from the nap, and he lay still for a moment, listening hard, before rolling over. Someone was standing next to his bed.
“Russell?” A voice asked softly, and Russell recognized Darren’s voice. “You awake? How’s your voice?”
“Better,” Russell answered in a raspy whisper. “What’s up?” There was a pressure near Russell’s feet as Darren sat down.
“It’s late,” his friend said quietly. “Well, early. You slept for a long time. Are you hungry?”
“Kinda,” Russell rasped, and he felt Darren take his hand and push something soft into it.
“It’s a cheese and cucumber sandwich,” Darren explained. He put a small bottle of water into Russell’s free hand. “I got water, too.”
“Thanks,” Russell croaked, sitting up. He took a bite of the sandwich and chewed slowly, then took a drink of water and swallowed gingerly, feeling that his throat was still tight and sore. “Where’d you get these?”
“The Pokémon Center café,” Darren responded. “They were in the fridge, so I got them and left them money on the counter.”
“Russell?” Darren whispered a moment later. “Your mom explained some of what happened.” Russell froze as he was about to bite into the sandwich. “How did you know that guy was lying?”
“I j-just…” Russell stammered in a low voice. His arms began to shake and he felt himself choking up. “I-I don’t r-remember v-very well…b-but it…started when I was little.”
“You okay?” Darren asked, leaning towards Russell. He looked down and hesitated, then reached out and took Russell’s shaking hands. “You don’t have to tell me, but whatever it is, you can tell me.” Russell sniffed and swallowed heavily.
“I’ve…I’ve h-had this weird…ability…ever since I was little. My parents told me that one day I just…started predicting which Pokémon someone had, before they’d even let the Pokémon out of the Pokéball.”
“What do you mean?” Darren asked slowly after a moment.
“I could see it in my mind….I guess,” Russell told him. “They took me to doctors…did tests and stuff…and eventually I guess they figured out it was something psychic related.”
“You’re a Psychic?” Darren repeated incredulously, but he didn’t let go of Russell’s still-trembling hands. “Like, you can lift things with your mind, and stuff?”
“I can’t do that,” Russell muttered, subdued. “I can only see into Pokéballs. That’s how I knew that guy was lying. He left Koffing out, but I could see him.”
“Whoa.” Darren was silent for a moment. The two sat in the dark, not speaking. Darren let Russell’s hands go when the trembling died down. “So….”
“So….I wanted to tell you lots of times. You, Hannah and Jimmy….but my parents said it probably wasn’t a good idea. I don’t know why.” Russell sighed. “Maybe this is why.”
“Well…it’s not like it’s bad, right?” Darren asked brightly, trying to cheer his friend up. “You could use it to find bad guys out, or something!”
“I did already, and it didn’t go very well.”
“Or maybe to strategize,” Darren added.
“To cheat,” Russell corrected darkly. “No one else can see which Pokémon someone has in a Pokéball.”
“Well,” Darren tried again, “you were born with it, right? It’s a natural ability! And they wouldn’t know, right?” Russell shook his head angrily.
“I would know,” he muttered. “And they’d find out that I was doing something to figure out which Pokémon they had. I’d get in trouble.”
“Come on…” Darren pressed him. “This is neat!” Russell growled and shook his head.
“I won’t,” he snapped. “I can’t. And I’m really tired and my throat hurts. I’m going to sleep, alright?”
“Alright,” Darren mumbled, rising from the bed. “Sorry…I still think it’s cool, though. Don’t worry about it. You’re normal.”
“If you say so,” Russell yawned, rolling over. He glanced back over his shoulder. “Thanks for the food.”
“You should finish it,” Darren said, gesturing, and Russell took it and ate it slowly, drinking water with each bite.
“Thanks.” He forced a smile, and Darren returned it.
“Do you want me to stay?” Russell pressed his lips together, unsure of how to answer. “Well…I think you were having a nightmare when I came in.”
“I’ll stay if you want.”
“Um…sure.” Darren got into a bed that was just opposite Russell’s. “Thanks.”
“Night,” Darren said. Russell took a swig of water, then set the bottle down on the floor.