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Authors: S. Walden

Interim (6 page)

BOOK: Interim
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On and on she read, listening every now and then for movement near her bedroom door. She laughed and cried at his words, learning about an anguished boy who just wanted to be left alone. He didn’t even need a friend, if they would just leave him alone. Her name popped up frequently, and those were the moments her guilt roared, demanding she stop intruding where she didn’t belong. “You have no right!” the guilt fired along her synapses, and she shook her head to scatter the words—confuse her brain. She couldn’t stop. She wouldn’t.

Brandon Whittaker needs a bullet between his eyes . . .

***

Jeremy tore through his locker, tossing books and notebooks left and right. He dropped to the floor and picked through everything, praying for a glimpse of red to erase the growing panic. No red. He searched again, this time carefully and deliberately stacking his books in one pile, his notebooks in another. No red.

“I left it at home,” he said. “That’s where it is.”

He flew out of the building and ran all the way to his front door. It wasn’t far, but he stood with his hands on his knees anyway, panting hard, trying to regulate his heartbeat. He knew his father was inside, and he knew there would be payback for this morning.

He backed away from the door and crept around the side of the house to his bedroom window. He left it unlocked. Always. For easy escape. He slowly pushed up the sash, listening intently for any movement inside the house. None. He slid the wooden crate below the window and hoisted himself up, wriggling through the small opening and falling as soundlessly as he could onto the hardwood floor. He waited, holding his breath. No sound.

He snuck around the nearly empty room, searching every crack, every hiding place. He found the old carton of cigarettes he stole years ago. An abandoned comic book. A crusty, old comb.

He checked the closet a third time before forcing himself to face reality: the journal wasn’t in his room. The journal wasn’t in his locker. Somewhere in the space between escaping home this morning and visiting his locker a final time at the end of the school day, he’d lost it. Someone may have thrown it away. Someone may have taken it to the lost and found in the office. Someone may have kept it and was reading it now—all his secrets. All his anger. All his resolve. The thought of this infringement sent him into a rage, and he grabbed his desk chair, hurling it across the room where it crashed against the far wall.

“Goddamnit!” he screamed, echoing his father’s favorite curse word when he was drunk and impudent. “Goddamnit!” he yelled again, flinging the table lamp that fractured into a million yellow pieces—stars that fell from heaven and lay lifeless, hopeless on an un-swept floor.

He grunted and grabbed the desk, flipping it over, thinking absurdly of Jesus in the temple, tossing tables and destroying the wares of greedy sinners. He thought of the person who was sinning against him now—the person violating him over and over with every turn of the page. Absorbing his words. Committing them to memory. Storing them away for retaliation.

That somebody would tell the administration at school. Maybe call the police. Jeremy would be escorted to the station, questioned up and down. He’d be arrested for conspiracy to commit a crime. Locked up. Maybe taken to a mental health facility. They’d force pills down his throat. They’d ask him to explain why. They’d try to make sense of his decision based on his home life. They’d blame his father. They’d justify it. They’d make excuses for him, say it’s not his fault. “If you promise to take your pills, we’ll let you go,” they’d say. He’d nod. They’d let him out in a few years. And he’d come back, strapped from top to bottom to shoot them, too.

“Oh God, oh God,” he cried, pacing his bedroom.

He thought about his plan. He thought about the guns in the safe. It wasn’t time. He knew it wasn’t time and yet he’d run out of it. If not now, then when would he get the chance? He heard the shuffling feet—knew his father stood in the doorway. He turned.

“What’s got you so upset?” his father asked.

Jeremy noted the bandage on the side of his face. It was identical to the shit job they did of his own bandage back in sixth grade.

“A lot of stuff,” Jeremy replied, still trembling with rage.

Mr. Stahl scratched his beard. “Well, that’s obvious.”

“Then why’d you ask?” Jeremy snapped.

Mr. Stahl whistled low. Jeremy said nothing.

“You wanna talk about it?”

Jeremy frowned. “With you? No.”

“You wanna talk about anything?”

“Why do you want me to talk to you?” Jeremy asked warily.

“I’m your father. I’m older. Wiser. Maybe I can help,” Mr. Stahl replied.

Jeremy’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head. “Seriously?”

Mr. Stahl cleared his throat. “Well, come on then and let’s have a beer. Nothing like a beer to set things right.”

Jeremy stared.

“You hear me?” his father asked.

“I split your eye open this morning,” Jeremy reminded him.

“I know that,” his father said. “You think I forgot?”

“So you plan to get me drunk and then beat the shit out of me,” Jeremy said. “I’m not stupid.”

“You got that all wrong,” his father replied. “I’m sitting down with my son to share a beer, man-to-man.”

Jeremy snorted. “I’m a man now ’cause I struck you?”

“That’s right,” Mr. Stahl replied. “You stood up for yourself, and that’s what men do.”

Jeremy thought of the guns in the back room. If he shot all his enemies, would that make him a man, too? He’d be sticking up for himself, after all.

“Let’s go,” Mr. Stahl said. “I’ll grab ’em. You just go on in the living room.”

Jeremy watched his father disappear to the kitchen. He had a choice. He could stay or walk out for good. Seemed like an easy decision and yet, in that moment, he found his feet cemented to his spot. He couldn’t move. Or didn’t want to.

He realized he was just as lonely, broken, bitter, and angry as his father. Who better to commiserate with? And it only had to be for tonight. Perhaps the alcohol would drown him if he drank enough. And then his missing journal wouldn’t mean a thing anymore.

He headed for the couch.

***

I have a radical idea. Well, maybe it’s not so radical because it’s been done before—done to death, if I may make a really tasteless joke. But I plan to do it a little different. See, I’m not interested in blowing through the building and shooting people left and right. I don’t want to be responsible for a meaningless bloodbath. I want it executed right. I want it executed in a way that shows justice and mercy. I’m only interested in killing those people who’ve wronged me. That’s where the justice comes in. I’m leaving alone all the others. That’s mercy. And I’m not just doing it for me. I’m doing it for every single person those assholes have abused. Every single person they’ve belittled, tormented, passed over.

Why am I taking up this cross? It’s simple. No one else has the guts to do it. No one has the balls to say, “Hey, you know what? These are just really bad people. They’re not changing. They’re not getting better. They’re getting worse. And guess what? They don’t get to live in a civilized society with good people when they’re fucking assholes. Aren’t we trying to make the world a better place?” So, I guess I have to be the person to do that. With my semi-automatic.

“Jesus Christ,” Regan breathed.

She stared at her reflection in the mirror on the opposite wall. She felt the notebook slide down her thighs, and reflex urged her to grab it. But she let it
slip slip slip
to her knees, teetering perilously, giving her one last chance to rescue it. She wouldn’t, and it fell to the floor like it meant nothing to her. But that wasn’t right because those words, that boy, meant everything.

Curiosity killed the cat, Regan.
Oh God, was he going to kill her? Was she one of his targets? Surely not! He practically confessed his love for her throughout the pages of his journal.

“So what?” she said. “So what that he did? People kill people they love! Happens all the time!”

She spoke to her reflection, waiting for a response. It came in the form of uncontrollable shaking. She lifted her hands in front of her face, thought for certain she could see the perspiration push its way out of every pore. So much sweat.

“What’s happening to me?” she whispered, crying softly so that her family wouldn’t hear. She fisted the quilt on either side of her, trying to wipe away the perspiration.

She had no business opening that journal.
This is exactly what happens when you meddle where you don’t belong!
her brain screamed.
You discover things you wish you never knew, and now, whether you like it or not, you’re responsible! You’re a dumb bitch, Regan!

“What do I do?”

Her face leaked—tears streaming in fast succession. Snot seeped, threatening to crawl into her open mouth. Anxiety flipped the switch, closing the valve, and she couldn’t breathe, every inhalation of air caught in her chest, collecting in a pile of racking sobs. They would choke her to death. The panic strummed her nerves like an electric guitar, and her whole body submitted to its piercing tune—a heavy metal dirge screeching through her veins.

“Mom,” she mouthed.

She stumbled about the room, trying for one long breath. She just needed one. But her chest closed in each time, severing it, and her heart screamed, begging for life. Face numb. Arms numb. Legs numb. She tried to open the bedroom door. Locked. She fumbled with the knob. Her fingers slipped.

“Dad,” she croaked.

She lurched toward her bathroom and threw up the toilet lid. Tell. Don’t tell. Live with the fear, the guilt, the anger. Ruin a life. Don’t ruin a life. Lock him up. Save dozens. Don’t lock him up. Kill those people. No! Talk him down, instead. Yes, yes! Talk him down. But wait. That doesn’t work. That never works. Tell an adult. Tell an adult. Tell an adult . . .

“Get it out!” she screamed, and she vomited violently, purging the yellow bile sobs. Purging her racing thoughts. Purging the terror.

Banging on her bedroom door.

“Regan!” her father shouted. “Open the door!”

She vomited again. This wave hurt worse, her stomach constricting in painful you-haven’t-fed-me-for-days cramps.

But I did feed you
, she thought absurdly.
I did
.

“Open the door!”

She couldn’t move. A third rush of acrid bile. It meant to punish her. She couldn’t go back. She couldn’t pretend she didn’t know. She heaved, releasing the last of her ignorance. Her innocence. It splashed into the toilet water then floated about lazily—a little, aborted piece of goodness. Worthless now that it wasn’t inside her. Only a faint bitterness remained, coating her tongue and teeth with regret. A byproduct of the shift. It didn’t taste good—this knowing—and she wanted to cover up, hide away.

She flinched at the sound of cracking wood. It splintered and screeched, and in an instant her father flew into the bathroom, dropping to his knees beside her.

“It’s okay,” he assured her, pulling her gently to his chest.

He didn’t know what was happening. He just knew to break down the door at the sound of his daughter’s screams. He knew to hold her when he reached her. He knew to let her soak his shirtfront with tears until she was drained.

He had a clear view of her bedroom, watching the light pour in through the slats of her window blinds. It moved clockwise, sweeping the dark floors in a deliberate arch. Five thirty. Then six. The light inched along to six thirty, and that’s when his back began to ache. The side of the porcelain tub jabbed at his spine—made all the worse as Regan slumped deeper into his chest. But he didn’t dare move. Not until she spent the last of her tears.

“Has this happened before?” he asked gently.

She shook her head.

“Did something scare you?”

She nodded.

“What scared you?”

She hesitated. “I don’t know.”

Silence.

“Do you ever feel anxious?”

“No.”

“School doesn’t make you anxious?”

“No, Dad. I love school. Well, soccer.”

He squeezed her and chuckled.

“So you’re happy?” he asked.

“Happy as a clam.”

“You feel like a clam,” her father pointed out, tracing her hairline with his finger, and she frowned.

Her tongue was heavy and swollen in her mouth, weighted by the damp lies she’d already concocted. They sat waiting to emerge, one by one, slowly and deliberately from the pinkish-gray shell of her lips.

“What should I be doing right now?” he asked after a moment.

“Huh?”

“You were clearly having a panic attack. So what should I be doing? Setting up an appointment for you to see a doctor?”

“Why?”

“Because I broke down your door, Regan. You were freaking out. That’s not a talk-this-through-and-everything-is-better sort of situation.”

“It’s not?”

Mr. Walters sighed. “I don’t know. Half the time I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.”

BOOK: Interim
4.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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