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Authors: Phil Earle

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BOOK: The Bubble Wrap Boy
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S
ecrets are for other people, not me.

It's not how I'd choose it, but there it is.

I'd like to be able to take one and bury it deep inside me, reveling in how smug it made me feel. Other people manage it; why not me?

But instead, secrets burn a hole inside my brain, until I can feel their heat seeping toward my skin, till my face is beaming like a beacon. Anyone within a two-mile radius can see what's going on within seconds.

Especially Mom.

She leaned over the breakfast table, her hand shooting to my forehead, where it rested.

“I'm not sure you should be going to school today, young man.” She looked worried. As usual.

I continued to chew on my Cheerios, playing down her concern.

“You're hot.” She sighed. “Are you sure you're feeling okay? Any rashes or other symptoms?”

“I'm fine, Mom. Really.”

“But you're sweating.”

“It's nothing. I've been working out in my room, that's all. Push-ups and stuff.” I flexed my biceps but felt unimpressed. There was more meat on a pencil.

“Well, you look sick to me. Maybe you should stay home. No point taking risks.”

I leapt from the chair, banging my head on the lampshade above.

“There's no need!” I yelled, more urgently than I should have. “Honestly. Stop fussing. There's nothing wrong with me.”

Staying home wasn't an option. Today was the day I was mustering up the courage to go down to the skate park for the first time. The day when the kids at school would start to see me differently, or for the first time see me at all.

The last two months had all led to this point. The hours of practice, the endless books and articles I'd devoured. I was ready. It had to be today or I'd always find an excuse. And I couldn't live with that.

“Please, Mom.” I lowered my voice, seeing the hurt on her face. “There's no need to worry. I feel fine. Better than fine. Magic, in fact. But I'll put another layer on if it makes you feel better.”

“You're a good boy, and I'm sorry to fuss.” She looked all misty. “First sign of a cold, though, and I want you home, got me?”

“Got you.” And to hide my guilt I gave her a hug, trying not to grimace when she squeezed my bruises a bit too hard.

“Okay, Mom, you can let go now.”

She didn't. I practically had to slither to the floor to escape. I'm sure as I reached the door I heard a loud sniffle from her direction. I hoped it was due to a cold, not anything I'd said.

Five minutes later, though, I was doing an awesome impression of Mom at her eccentric best.

There I was, butt in the air, digging on all fours under the bush at the end of the road, branches and leaves flying everywhere, until I'd unearthed my board.

I'd been hiding it there for the past few weeks, since Mom had almost found it “tidying” my room.

She did that from time to time, although we both knew she wasn't really interested in making it look neater.

What she was really doing was looking for anything dangerous, like a sharp-cornered textbook or a suspicious zipper on my jeans that could injure me grievously.

She always left empty-handed, of course, without the death-inducing ninja throwing stars or grade-three plutonium that I'd stashed on top of my dresser for a rainy day.

Hiding the board outside was a risk, I knew, and my heart always thudded in my chest until I found it again, but it was the best option I had.

I'd spent quite a bit on it, paid for with the tips I'd zoomed around town to collect, and as a result it didn't feel like Bunion's board anymore. It was mine, tailor-made to my own specs. I liked to think no one could skate on it but me.

As my fingers rested on its wheels, my heart rate fell in relief, only to jump skyward again when a hand gripped me from behind.

I turned, head spinning, fearing a rocket from Mom, only to find Sinus towering over me, his nose, as always, right in the middle of my business.

“What are you doing, dweeb?”

I grabbed his sweater in relief, not sure whether to kiss him or whack him for sneaking up on me.

“Nothing!” I yelled, stashing the board in my backpack as best I could.

“That a skateboard?”

I stared at him, mystified by the sheer idiocy of his statement, wondering if it was actually some kind of trick question.

“Um, yes?”

“You still doing that, huh?” There was a hint of hurt on his face.

You see, the thing was, the skating had kind of taken Sinus's place. I really didn't think it would bother him, had always imagined I would be replaced in his life by a new, impressive-looking wall. But from the annoyed expression on his face, I'd clearly gotten that wrong.

“And how's it going? Lost any teeth yet?”

I showed him my pearly whites. “Not a single problem,” I lied, neglecting to mention my body's worth of bruises.

“Can't say the same for Bunion,” he huffed. “He's put on ten pounds since you started dealing to him. Mom wants to put him on a diet. Keeps threatening him with one of those fat camps if he doesn't stop eating prawn crackers.”

The whole slavery deal with Bunion hadn't done much for my stress levels either. I'd had to invent orders to Dad, then come back without money for them, claiming the customer had refused to pay. Made me realize how lucky I was that Dad was so quiet. Anyone with a temper would've been banging on doors waving a cleaver until they coughed up!

As a result, I felt nothing for the fat boy Bunion. Served the greedy jerk right. He could've given me the board for free if he'd really wanted.

We started walking toward school, Sinus flicking through his notebook as we walked. I had no idea what he'd written in there, but he looked pleased with himself.

“So, how good are you?” he asked.

“What, at skating?”

“No, ballet. Of course skating.”

“I can get by.”

“You doing any tricks?”

“Not really. Haven't tried yet. But I can turn now.”

“You can TURN? Sweet lord!” His words dripped with sarcasm. “Must make the eight weeks seem SO worthwhile.”

He was getting on my last nerve. Did he have to pick holes in every single thing I did? It wasn't as if he was filling his life with anything better. What was
he
doing to stop others from thinking he was a freak? At least I was trying.

“You know, you could try supporting me instead of laughing. I heard through the grapevine that that's what friends do these days.”

He looked at me, completely baffled.

“What?”

“Why
do
you hang around with me, Sinus? Seriously. Do you even like me?”

“That's got absolutely nothing to do with anything, Charlie,” he said, deadly serious. “Don't you get it? We fit, don't we? No one else wants to be friends with us, so we might as well just get on with it.”

He meant it, but I tried not to believe it or let my newfound confidence crumble as a result. I shook my head and marched on.

“What?” he asked. “What did I say?”

“Nothing. You haven't said anything. Nothing I shouldn't have expected, anyway.”

“Don't be like that,” he moaned through his nose. “Tell you what. I'll come watch you. On your board. Today after school.”

“Wow, that's really big of you,” I said sarcastically.

His chest filled with pride as he slapped me on my back.

His irony radar was off-kilter.

“That's just how I roll.” He grinned. “That's what friends do!”

There was no answer to that. I walked on, not stopping when he became distracted by a newly plastered wall at the school gates.

T
his had been a bad idea. Terrible, in fact. The worst idea since the captain of the
Titanic
forgot to wear his glasses on that final night shift.

I swore the ramp had grown another four feet overnight. Either that or I'd shrunk.

I didn't know which possibility was worse.

Sinus wasn't making things any easier either. Not that that should have come as a surprise.

“Ha!” he shrieked. “Are you kidding me? Are you seriously going to throw yourself off that thing?”

“I wasn't planning to,” I said with a sigh, “but I might throw
you
off it if you don't shut up.”

“You can try.” He shoulder-bumped me, a little harder than a friend really should have, causing me to drop my board with a thud.

I picked it up sheepishly, hoping the kids by the ramp hadn't noticed.

“I think I'll stick to the other parts of the park for now. You know, just to ease myself in.” I was talking to myself really, but of course Sinus heard.

“Good thinking. Why don't you take a dip in the shallow end? Get your suit on and I'll grab the hose.” He snorted through his nose, dislodging a booger the size of a family car.
Classy
.

“Do me a favor and sit here, will you?” I motioned to the grass outside the skate area. “I think your support might overpower me otherwise.”

“Good idea.” He threw himself down and became immediately fixated on both a public restroom wall
and
his notebook. With a bit of luck he'd be staring at them for the next hour and not me.

My heart was thumping out of my chest as I walked through the gate; it felt like I had the chance to forget a lifetime's embarrassments and start again with a clean slate.

Immediately, I knocked a kid off his board as he sailed past.

“Sorry!” I yelled.

He waved back with a grin as he climbed back on board.

My heart clambered back down inside my chest, warning me not to mess up again.

There were bodies everywhere, all of them flying in different directions, some of them higher in the air than I thought humanly possible. I could feel the wind whistle as they went past; it was every bit as exciting as I thought it would be.

I settled on the edge of a bench, only for another skater to use it as a ramp. He didn't bother telling me to move first.

He was so in control that he cut the air beside me, missing intentionally by inches. In that moment I fell in love even more.

Two boys were watching, filming the move on their phones, whooping encouragement before sliding toward me. I knew them from school, older kids. All floppy hair and awkward shuffling feet. It seemed impossible to imagine them being graceful on a board.

“We know you, don't we?” the taller one asked.

“Yeah, you're the kid from the Chinese place. The weird one.”

I didn't dare correct him. Anything I could come up with under that kind of pressure would only reinforce his opinion, especially with my squeak of a voice.

The taller boy, who was sporting a flimsy, misguided attempt at a beard, pointed and smiled.

“Yeah, I know you. You're the one who broke the janitor's leg. Legendary fall that one. BIG ladder!”

“Fifteen metal rods he had put in,” the other one chirped.

This wasn't quite the level of anonymity I'd hoped for.

“Charlie,” I blurted, offering my hand.

“Dan,” said one.

“Stan,” said the other, and they both grabbed my hand in an elaborate shake that I struggled to keep up with. They were more dexterous than they were intelligent. I wondered if I should make it easier for them by changing my name to rhyme with theirs.

“So how long have you been skating?” asked Stan, eyeing my board.

“Not long. Few weeks.” I didn't want to say any longer in case I stunk. I wanted them to be impressed, not appalled.

“Excellent board. New wheels, huh?”

I looked at them, hoping I'd made a good choice.

“Yeah, been saving up my money. Wanted something that gave me an edge.”

I really hoped they hadn't seen me on the steel rhino. I didn't think I could ever live that down.

“Wicked, they are. Not cheap either.” They spun the wheels quickly, practically salivating at the speed.

My board opened up a whole line of conversation, and even though they were older than me, and obviously way better skaters, they were kind of, well,
interested
. In
me
. They asked where I'd been practicing and, more importantly, what tricks I'd mastered.

“Not many.” I blushed. “Been concentrating on not falling off, really.”

CRINGE! Wrong thing to say? I had no idea but feared the worst.

Dan waved his hand dismissively. “Nah, you don't want to worry about wiping out. People who stay on their feet obviously aren't pushing hard enough.”

“True,” agreed Stan. “Check this bad boy out.” And he rolled up his sleeve to reveal a bruise that matched any of mine. “Did this on the library steps.” He beamed proudly.

“Managed the first six. Seventh one laid me up, though.”

“You'll nail it next time, bro,” Dan said, slapping his friend roughly on the back.

“Too right,” I added, wondering where I should whack him too, or whether that would be too much too soon.

I had no idea where the boundaries were; this was virgin territory for me—a conversation with someone
other
than Sinus?

With that, they pulled me over to the side of the park and started teaching me to do an ollie.

“It's the best place to start. No better feeling than air between your board and the ground.” Dan had a sappy look on his face as he said it, the kind of expression your grandmother gets as she puckers up at Christmas.

Emotional looks disappeared quickly as they talked me through it, though, and man, they were excellent teachers.

Within half an hour they had me flicking my board up into the air, and even though it was only a microsecond until my wheels hit the asphalt, I felt like I was flying.

They seemed pretty impressed too.

“Good skills,” chirped Dan.

“Oh yeah. Took me ages to get that,” agreed Stan. “Few more weeks and you'll be on the half-pipe, no problem.”

This was going freakishly well. The stuff of legend.

Remembering Sinus was watching, I turned to him, but he didn't look back. Well, he did at first, for a split second, before burying his nose and pencil back in his book.

“That your friend?” Dan asked.

“Um…”

Stan interrupted. “I've seen that kid at school. Everyone thinks he's wired wrong. Just stands there and stares into space like some kind of loser.”

What followed was a regular old-school character assassination, the type I overheard about myself as I walked down the hallways, the kind that made me feel like the biggest outsider to ever enter the school gates.

They snickered and pointed at him without a trace of subtlety, but for some reason I didn't set them straight, tell them he was all right, that he was my friend.

Instead, I stood there silently as they ridiculed him, and even when Sinus looked back in our direction I still didn't speak up. Instead, I put my board on the ground and went back to practicing my ollie, feeling a pang of guilt as Sinus gathered up his stuff and walked away.

“Want to meet some of the others?” Dan asked, once Sinus had slunk out of sight.

I should've said no. Thanked them for all their help and called it a day. I should've chased after Sinus. But I didn't, of course.

I buried all thought of him and nodded like a dog in a car window. Naively, I followed them, feeling for the first time in my life like I'd arrived, like I belonged.

BOOK: The Bubble Wrap Boy
10.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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