Wincing as Karen scrubbed at his bruised and bloodied lip, Jarrod mentally tuned out her tirade.
"Fighting. I can't believe you. What could possibly have been going through your head to make you get into a fight, today of all days?"
She hadn't paused for an answer during the last five minutes, and Jarrod's face was beginning to ache from her continued doctoring.
"There's no excuse for this. You should know better."
Jarrod tried once more to explain, but was immediately cut off.
"No, I don't want to hear any excuses. There are no excuses. Whatever happened doesn't matter. What matters is that you get your act together and stop behaving like a wild beast. Now, you're going to be very familiar with your schoolwork over the next few weeks, because you are grounded until every last mark is gone. I can only imagine what people would think, seeing you walking around looking like that. Do you ever consider things like that? No, of course you don't."
Again, Jarrod let her words fade into a dull buzz in the background of his thoughts. Staying in their room wouldn't be so bad. At least he'd be by himself most of the time since Karen would be busy with her new duties as High Priestess.
Over the next two weeks, Jarrod diligently worked through his lessons, completing several chapters ahead of schedule. Nothing he could do seemed to make his mother any happier. Their days had become a routine of breakfasts and dinners, punctuated by long absences as his mother worked. Soon after eating, Jarrod would crawl into bed and try not to think of what Mark, Dennis and Eric might be doing to the younger kids during his absence.
His face had healed, and all the bruises on his body were faded to a faint yellow, before his mother finally gave him permission to leave the room again. His first stop was the gym. When he walked in, he noticed the kids on the climbing bars freeze for an instant - until they realized who had entered. Apparently the torment of the younger kids had not stopped during his absence.
"About time you showed up." Emily's quiet voice sounded loud in the nearly empty room.
"Grounded," Jarrod shrugged.
He stretched, before starting a familiar exercise routine. Emily joined in, not saying anything else. As they finished, Jarrod finally spoke again.
"Did I miss anything?"
"Not much, unless you count Mark throwing his weight around. The little ones are too afraid to resist, so they either scatter or just do whatever he demands. Word got around that he hurt you pretty badly. A couple of kids thought you were dead. I talked to your mom, though, and she said you were studying."
Jarrod frowned, considering his options. Emily was a decent sort, friendly and nice. He took several minutes to make up his mind before speaking again.
"Hey, want to go see the goats? Sometimes the ag people let me help feed the little ones."
"Sure," Emily smiled, "the baby goats are cute."
A half hour later and Emily sat cross-legged on the floor with a baby goat in her lap, speaking softly to it as it drank out of a bottle. Jarrod had three young goats standing around him, one nibbling at his shirt sleeve, another butting his head against Jarrod's side demanding to be scratched. The third was falling asleep, leaning against Jarrod's knees.
"I think you got the easy part this time," Jarrod laughed as he once again pulled his shirt out of the little goat's mouth.
One of the ag workers came over and led the little goats back to their pen as soon as Emily's bottle was empty. Jarrod and Emily wandered around for a little while, before long finding themselves among the crates of cargo. They climbed up the stacked crates, having nothing better to do at the moment.
"Hey, look what I've found." Emily called Jarrod over to her discovery.
Clambering over a crate near the top of the stack, Jarrod let out a low whistle.
"Nice place you've got here."
Emily had found a two meter square gap between towers of crates. Sitting down, she couldn't be seen from floor level and it would be difficult to find the spot unless you knew it was there. A solid patchwork of crates formed a mostly level floor, with one a little higher to one side.
"This would be nice with a blanket spread on the floor. The raised bit could serve as a table. Kind of like a fort."
Jarrod smiled at Emily's enthusiasm. The spot did have potential. The best part was, Mark and his lackeys would be hard pressed to find them here.
"I'm pretty sure I can snag an extra blanket," Jarrod agreed.
"I'll bring a cushion or two and some books." Emily grinned.
The evening alarm sounded, startling Jarrod and Emily.
"Time to get back to the room," Jarrod gave Emily a half-smile. "See you tomorrow?"
"I'll be here." Emily returned the grin.