Tom and Molly’s chests pounded with extreme pacing. Watching Isaac and Sadie have such a close call had set a new threshold of paternal agony. Combined with not being able to watch Sam, at that moment, or ever again, they’d just swallowed enough stress for a full life cycle.

However, victory was short-lived; Isaac and Sadie being currently alive didn’t guarantee their protection. Their minds remained active, continuously scanning for whatever advantage they could uncover.

They were still working on the only available option, the muscular goon watching over them. Cracking Rock was the only thing that mattered, but the daunting task was becoming infuriating. They’d had their chance to buzz in and communicate with their children, but the opportunity was useless if they only knew as much about the playground as their kids did.

They’d tested the waters again a few times since Rock’s outburst. He remained stable enough that he allowed them to interject a question or two. He didn’t always answer, of course, but to Tom and Molly, even just allowing them to speak made it seem like he harbored far more compassion than Geraldine or Fuchs.

“I don’t understand what the point of us getting a chance to speak to our kids is, if we don’t have any way of helping them. There must be something you can give us?” Tom asked.

Rock said nothing. He continued to stare ahead at the monitor. One by one the big man watched each of the children disappear into the black hole with the oozing word ‘SLIDES’ above it.

“Even if it’s just a small hint, like how the flames appeared under the swings, anything. Nothing that would get you in trouble of course.”

Rock gritted his teeth once again and turned his head toward them. He still had a tight grip on Donnie’s bloody leash. There was something about the material that helped comfort him when he touched it.

“I’m not worried about getting in trouble. You should be worried about getting in trouble,” Rock grumbled.

“He didn’t mean it like that,” Molly said.

“How about you all shut the fuck up? Next game is about to start and we’d like to watch in peace without the background chatter, thank you,” Greg said.

He stroked Lacey’s pale hand and eagerly diverted his eyes back to the screen.

“Don’t you even care about your kids?” Molly asked.

“At this point, why should I? Dead is dead. It’s not like I’ve ever had anyone that gave a shit about me. Didn’t need ‘em anyhow. Fuck ‘em. Taught myself to play ball. Taught myself to drive. Taught myself to pull girls. It’s all a game. Life’s all just one big game, and I was born ready to play.”

Greg’s unflinching, casual nature was uncomfortable to be around. The glaring absurdity of his tone and views was wearing on Molly again.

“What do you mean?! Your fucking son is dead!” she screamed.

Trying to get through to Greg was like trying to reach someone on a broken telephone. There wasn’t even the slightest possibility of connecting. “Dead because of your boy! Instead of being a team player and taking

his shot like a man, he let it fall onto Kip! And now he’s gone! Gone forever!”

It wasn’t a coincidence that Greg saw the events the same way his son Bobby did. He’d been imprinting his warped perspective into the boy since he’d left Lacey’s womb. Of Greg’s entire lot, Bobby had simmered in his philosophies the longest.

“Isaac had nothing to do with that!” Molly cried. “Your boy’s a killer!” Greg yelled.

“No, he’s not!”

Tom tapped his wife’s arm, trying to steer her away from the pointless argument.

“I don’t expect you to admit it, but that’s alright. You fuckers wanna play dirty? That’s fine. I promise you, the Matthews can play dirtier. You’ll see.”

“He didn’t mean to! It wasn’t Isaac’s fault—”

“Just stop,” Tom whispered. “He’s a lost cause. Don’t let him drag us down. I need you to stay focused.”

As much as Molly hated how Greg saw the event, she knew it mattered very little in the grand scheme of things.

Rock watched on as Isaac guided Donnie toward the dark, unwelcoming hole. His heart felt a sudden strangeness inside, a hurt that was unfamiliar.

As Greg rambled on to himself, Tom calmed Molly and directed their attention back to Rock.

Tom’s eyes spied the stained leash in his hand.

“Why does he keep going back to that leash?” he asked. “I don’t know,” Molly replied.

While Tom’s question wasn’t directed toward Rock, his ears still picked it up. A grimace of discomfort found Rock’s face. His eyes remained attached to the screen but drifted back down under the sign. He now felt another sensation he wasn’t expecting: he was nervous.

His mitt toyed with the leash again as he repositioned his stance. Rock may have been in control of the situation, but he couldn’t have appeared more uncomfortable.

The cameras had yet to transition and Rock suddenly realized something. It had been in the back of his mind all along, but he hadn’t really appreciated the thought until Tom’s remark. Not only was he anxiously awaiting Donnie’s reemergence, but he cared about the boy.

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