Authors: S. Walden
“Oh, my God.”
“There’s something weird about a teenage girl hanging with her ten-year-old sister on a Saturday night instead of her awesome friend and boyfriend.”
Regan chuckled. “Whatever.”
“We have movie plans!” Casey whined.
“Hey, take it up with Caroline.”
“Oh, I will.”
They hurried into class before the bell rang. Regan slid into her seat, then took an inventory of the room, searching for him. It wasn’t her intention to stare, but as he sat in the back gazing out the window, she couldn’t turn away. She had a perfect view of his scar and the defiant chrome rod that intersected it. She remembered in the past when he tried to camouflage his wound. She witnessed on several occasions him pulling on the tips of his blond hair, trying hard to obscure his eye from sight. Now he sat exposed, and he didn’t seem to care.
She froze when he looked her way, locking eyes with her. Something unpleasant manifested itself in a frown that spread slowly across his face. She wasn’t sure if he was mad or confused, but something urged her to look away. Leave him alone. Everything went darker, and it was the first time she was afraid of him.
He wants to hurt me
The thought shocked her, and her eyes bugged. His narrowed.
Stop looking at him!
her brain screamed.
But the staring contest continued—neither willing nor able to concede victory. Jeremy finally broke the connection when a pen rolled off his desk. He leaned over to retrieve it. Regan turned around slowly, trying to register what happened—trying to make sense of his silent message.
“Why do you look like you’ve just seen a ghost?” Casey asked, leaning in her friend’s direction.
“Pssst! Regan! Hello?”
Regan whipped her head around. Her face was drained. “Huh?”
“What’s wrong with you?” Casey asked, glancing behind her shoulder. She caught sight of Hannah and lowered her voice: “Is it the lesbo back there?”
“The wha—? No! And don’t say that!” Regan hissed.
“Well, you act like she just assaulted you. That happened in ninth grade, Regan. Time to move on.”
“Oh, that’s rich coming from you. You harass her all the time. And anyway, she didn’t assault me. Stop twisting it around.”
“I do not harass her,” Casey argued.
“Bullshit. I’m forever apologizing to her for you.”
to her?” Casey cried.
“I try. I don’t get much of a response,” Regan said.
Casey stared. “You
“Oh, shut up. You act like it’s weird.”
“Um, it’s weird.”
“I love you, Case. You know I do. But can you please try to be nicer? Just sometimes? I’m not asking for all the time. I know that’s too much for you. But sometimes?”
“What are you talking about? I am nice.”
“You’re mean to Hannah, and I don’t like it,” Regan whispered.
“Why do you even care?” Casey asked. “She’s a freak.”
“No, she’s not.”
“She wants to be in a
with you, Regan. She’s obsessed with you!”
“She’s not obsessed with me. And there’s nothing freakish about people wanting to be in relationships with each other.”
“Whatever. And by the way, I
nice,” Casey muttered.
“You know I’d do anything for you, right?” Casey said. “If someone hurt you, I’d take them out. I wouldn’t think twice about it.”
Regan thought for a moment.
“I don’t like people messing with you,” Casey went on.
“She wasn’t messing with me, Casey. I swear. When . . . when I told you initially, I was just a little freaked out. I think I over-exaggerated the whole thing.”
“Uh huh. No one messes with my girl.”
Regan smiled patiently. “I know. And she wasn’t messing with me. She misread the signs, that’s all.”
best friend,” Casey reminded her.
“Yes. Now leave her alone, okay?”
Casey pursed her lips. “I’ll try. But if that bitch so much as looks at me weird—”
“She won’t,” Regan interrupted.
Casey glimpsed the back of the room and scowled at Hannah, who was oblivious.
“Go on and give me a look,” she dared.
She turned to Regan. “There’s too many weirdos in this school.”
Regan ignored her and pulled out her history book. She watched their teacher walk in and sighed relief. Conversation over.
There was no reasoning with Casey over “the weirdos”—no shifting her point of view. She used to be one, and it was imperative she put the maximum distance between herself and them. She was embarrassed. She didn’t want any reminders. Regan, on the other hand, didn’t have an issue with reminders. She thought she should have tied her finger with string all along. Then she would have never forgotten who she really was.
“I saw your tenants moved out,” Jeremy noted as he lay on his back under the car, draining its oil.
“Bought a house,” Roy replied. “You know anyone who needs a place?”
“You don’t work enough to afford the rent,” Roy said.
“I know,” Jeremy replied, rolling out from under the car. “But I thought you could give me more hours.”
“What hours? All your spare time goes to that thing,” Roy said, jabbing his thumb to the left where Jeremy’s ’78 Camaro sat. Still dead.
“I need to get out of that house,” Jeremy confessed.
Roy scratched his fluffy white beard. “’Cause you’re not a kid anymore?”
“’Cause I’m done paying his bills,” Jeremy said. He stood up and walked to the sink.
“I thought his disability did that,” Roy replied.
“No, that pays for the booze.”
Roy considered his employee’s position. He knew a little about Jeremy’s situation. He knew Jeremy’s dad was a jerk and that Jeremy was itching to graduate and leave Moutainview. He also knew Jeremy had very little money, so he helped him out when he could. He became a surrogate grandfather of sorts, glad to have a teenager around after his grandson left for college on the east coast. His grandson left behind his snowboarding equipment—lamenting that there were no good places to ride on the Atlantic—and Roy lent it to Jeremy, whose board was smashed last year by a drunken, enraged father. He turned a blind eye to Jeremy’s stolen lift tickets and turn style jumping. He’d bail him out of jail if he were arrested.
“He hits me.”
Roy’s head shot up. “What?”
“Roy, you heard what I said.”
“Jesus Christ, Jeremy, how could you never tell me?! When did this start?”
“Six years ago.”
“Look, I’m not telling you this so you feel sorry for me. I’m telling you because I need a place to live. I’ve got nowhere to go. You know I can’t afford your rent. So we’ve gotta figure something out.”
“Live with me and Carol,” Roy said. He didn’t think twice.
“No offense, but I’m nineteen. I don’t wanna live with you and Carol.”
“I know you need that income,” Jeremy said.
“No, I don’t.” Roy replied. “I just like it.”
Jeremy held his breath.
“But I don’t give stuff away for free.”
“I don’t want you to,” Jeremy replied. “Make me work for it.”
“Fifteen extra hours a week,” Roy said.
Jeremy’s heart dropped. It was fair, and it also meant he’d never get his Camaro running—the Camaro Roy bought him at a car auction over a year ago for a few hundred bucks.
“I’ll never sleep,” Jeremy said.
“Sleep’s overrated,” Roy replied. “And you’re young.”
“My dad beats the shit out of me,” Jeremy reminded him, playing the feel-sorry-for-me card for the first time.
Roy stiffened. “Fine. Ten.”
“Ten unpaid hours a week for rent. You’re responsible for your utilities.”
“And you’re required to have Sunday night dinners at my house with Carol and me. Non-negotiable.”
That was fine with him. Carol was a master chef. Her pot roast was his favorite.
“No drugs,” Roy said.
“I don’t do that stuff.”
Jeremy snorted. Roy glanced his way.
“It is, actually. Have you not listened to a thing I’ve told you about my social life for the past two years?”
“No girls,” Roy repeated.
Roy nodded and wiped his hands. “Now, I’m going over to your house.”
“To beat the shit out of your father.”
“No!” Jeremy blocked his way.
“Well, someone’s gotta do it.”
“Roy, please don’t.”
Jeremy knew short, pudgy Roy was no match for his giant of a father. He doubted Roy had ever been in a fight in his entire life.
“Your dad needs to learn a lesson,” Roy said.
“He will,” Jeremy replied.
And that was the truth. Jeremy didn’t need anyone sticking up for him, though he appreciated Roy’s loyalty. He already had the plan set in place, and it was months in the making. Would seem a shame for someone to swoop in and mess it all up in an instant.
“I don’t want you going back there,” Roy said.
“I have to get my stuff,” Jeremy replied. “I’ll be fine.”
Roy was doubtful. “Let me get your stuff.”
“No. I don’t want you going in there.” The words spilled out before he could stop himself.
Pure shame. He didn’t want Roy witnessing the derelict house in which he lived—smelling the stale odor of alcohol that permeated the foyer when he opened the door. Following that same scent throughout every room in the house, including Jeremy’s, though he tried to mask it with air freshener. He didn’t want Roy seeing the filth he tried hard to clean—piled-up dishes in the sink and ringed toilets. One more reason it was impossible to have friends—his home life. How could he ever bring kids back to that dump? He felt like redneck trash, ashamed of where he came from and the person he was destined to be.
He fought against it. He kept his room tidy, which is why it struck him as almost comical that his dad beat him over an unmade bed. He didn’t even give Jeremy the chance to make it—something he planned to do right before the attack. And his father of all people, concerned about neatness. The same guy who sat in a greasy chair among piles of empty beer cans and whiskey bottles, collecting like the dust on an abandoned mantle.
“There’s no use wasting your time feeling ashamed of someone else’s failures. You start blaming yourself, and that’s not right,” Roy said.
“That house is an embarrassment,” Jeremy whispered.
“Is that your fault?”
“Stop shrugging. Men don’t do that.”
He stood up straight.
“You gonna get in and get out?” Roy asked. “Not fool around and waste time?”
“I’ll move my stuff tomorrow.”
“It’s just one more day,” Jeremy said. “It’ll be fine. I know how to avoid him.”
“I don’t like it. I want you moved in here tonight.”
“Roy, please. I wanna work on my car.”
Jeremy stiffened then jerked his head when Roy brushed his bangs aside. Roy kept his hand planted on Jeremy’s forehead.
“He do that?”
“You know what. That scar. Did he do that?”
Jeremy pushed his hand away. “Years ago.”
“You move in tonight,” Roy said. “I mean it.”
Jeremy scowled. He had plans. He had plans to fix his car, drive to Regan’s house, steal her, and drive out east until he hit the ocean.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” he heard Roy say.
“Jeremy, stop saying ‘huh.’ It’s irritating as hell. Choose a more decisive word,” Roy snapped.
“Sorry. What did you say?”
“I said obviously that’s a yes.”
“A yes to what?”
“I asked if there was a girl at school you like.”
“I don’t like anyone at school.”
“In that huge high school, there’s not one girl you like?”
“It’s not that huge.”
“In that semi-huge high school, there’s not one girl?”
Jeremy shrugged. “How’d we get on this subject?”
“We came to a decision about your move-in date. I decided to start another conversation,” Roy replied matter-of-factly.