Authors: Katja Millay
Tags: #teen, #Drama, #love, #Mature Young Adult, #romance, #High School Young Adult, #New adult, #contemporary romance
In the mere seconds that I have been standing here, everyone else has gone back to what they were doing and maybe it’s my imagination, but the decibel level seems to have dropped just a bit, as if no one wants to be heard discussing what just happened. What the hell did just happen?
I’ll think about it in a few minutes, or after school, or maybe never, but right now I want to get the hell out of the middle of this courtyard. I make it across without any more shoe malfunctions, and mercifully, someone has stuck a book in the door to the English building so I’m able to walk right in. I glance down as I push through the door and see that it’s an art history book and sitting next to it is a smirking Clay, sketchbook, as always, in hand. I really want to ask if he knows what that was about, but I can’t, so I slip into the building. I make it halfway down the corridor and turn off into the stairwell and lean up against the wall, grateful to be alone in the quiet.
Before I can turn recent events over in my mind, I hear the door open again. I press my back to the wall of the stairwell, trying to make myself as inconspicuous as possible. If I press hard enough, maybe I can make myself disappear. I concentrate on the direction of the footsteps which are getting louder by the second. The cadence is slow and one foot falls ever-so-slightly heavier than the other. The steps are solid, but soft. They aren’t clumsy or awkward. It’s a graceful walk. Whoever it is, they’re taller than me; it doesn’t take them near as many steps to get to the alcove where I’m loitering. I wait for the footsteps to pass, but they don’t. They turn right at me and now I’m just hoping that whoever it is will simply ignore me. I look down at the floor so I won’t have to make eye contact and I wait for it to be over.
And then, before I can remember to hold my breath, a set of well-worn work boots stops in front of me. Steel-toed, if I’m not mistaken. I don’t need to look up to know who they belong to. I’ve been looking at those boots on the seat of an industrial metal bench for five days now. Apparently confusion and curiosity have turned me momentarily stupid, because against my better judgment, I do look up and it’s the closest I’ve ever been to him.
“I won’t do that again,” he says, impaling me with his sickeningly perfect blue eyes like he wishes I didn’t exist. But the way he says it isn’t angry. It’s just matter-of-fact. He’s completely calm. There’s almost no tone in his voice at all. He doesn’t wait for any sort of acknowledgement or response, even though right now I just might be pissed off enough to give him one, and it certainly wouldn’t be a thank you. Then he’s crossed the alcove and walked out the door on the other side of the stairwell as if he was never here at all.
I won’t do that again?
No one asked you to do it this time, asshole. Does he honestly think he just did me a favor? That, by calling attention to me and pissing off a bunch of vanity obsessed girls on my behalf, girls who will no doubt be seeking to save face when he is not around, he has helped me. He’s more delusional than I am. I’d like to tell him so. Too bad I don’t even know his name. And if I had a list of questions,
what’s your name?
probably wouldn’t even make the cut.
What I want to know is why anyone listened to him. They shut up like they were being reprimanded by an angry dad, because that’s exactly what he sounded like. It’s the same tone of voice he used with me just now. I’m almost surprised he didn’t throw a
on the end of it for good measure. Clearly, I’m the only one here who doesn’t understand why I’m supposed to listen to him. It’s as if he commands some sort of respect or reverence. Maybe his dad is like the principal or the mayor or a mob boss and no one wants to piss him off. Who knows? All I know is that
I’ve gotten through the rest of the day without seeing the girl again. I’ve mentally flogged myself for opening my stupid mouth at lunch. If there was a reason for it, I might cut myself some slack, but the girl really didn’t seem like the helpless type. Maybe I was just trying to stop her from making enemies of those bitches. Maybe I just wanted Sarah to shut the hell up because I know she’s better than that. Maybe I just wanted the girl to look at me again.
The halls are already emptying out as I push my way towards the back of the school, against the flow of the rest of the students. I want to get to the theater wing before they lock the doors so I can pick up my level. I left it there earlier and I need it this afternoon. Plus, I won’t leave it overnight, anyway. It’s mine. It was my father’s. It’s old and wooden and archaic but I won’t use another one and I won’t take the chance that it’ll disappear if I leave it here; so I go back to get it. When I get there, it’s sitting where I left it on one of the unfinished shelving units I’ve been working on all week. I check my progress and run my hands along the edges. I’ll be done with the whole thing by next Wednesday. I could drag it out until Friday, but I’m hoping Mr. Turner will be done with the preliminary procedure crap before that. I’d like to get back to shop and work on something more interesting than shelves. I grab the level and head back out to the parking lot.
I’m almost to my car when I hear my name.
“Bennett! Josh!” Drew corrects himself almost instantly because he knows he sounds like an asshole calling me by my last name. He’s standing in the next row of cars and he’s not alone. He rarely is, so it’s not surprising to see a girl standing next to him as he leans against his car in the pose I have grown accustomed to seeing; the one where he tries to look casually indifferent while he works out the path of least resistance into a girl’s pants or down her shirt or up her skirt. Whatever the case may be.
What’s surprising is the girl he’s talking to. It doesn’t take more than a glance to know who she is; crazy-long black hair, tight black dress that barely covers her ass or her chest, black spike heels, black shit all over her eyes. Eyes that are turning to glare at me right now. As I get closer, the blank expression she usually wears changes. It’s subtle and I doubt most people would notice, because the change is mostly in the eyes, but I can see the difference. It’s not blank. She’s pissed, and if I’m not mistaken, she’s pissed at me. I don’t get much of an opportunity to examine it because she’s walking away before I even reach them.
“Call me!” Drew yells over his shoulder to her, laughing as if this is some sort of joke.
“You know her?” I ask, laying my books and my level on the hood of his car. Most of the parking lot has emptied out by this point. For as slow as the traffic moves into this place in the morning, the afternoon exodus takes no time at all.
“I plan to,” Drew responds, not looking at me. He’s still watching the girl walk away. I ignore the innuendo. If I had to acknowledge every thinly-veiled sexual suggestion that comes from his mouth, we’d talk of nothing else, which would probably make him happy.
“Who is she?”
“Some Russian chick. Nastya something I haven’t learned to pronounce. I was starting to worry that I was losing my appeal because she’d never talk to me, but apparently, she doesn’t talk to anybody.”
“Are you surprised? She kind of screams antisocial.” I pick the level up off the car and turn it over in my hands watching the water shift from one side to the other.
“Yeah, but it’s not that. She doesn’t talk, period.”
“At all?” I look at him skeptically.
“At all.” He shakes his head, smiling with warped satisfaction.
“Don’t know. Maybe she doesn’t speak English. But then I guess she could still say yes and no and shit.” He shrugs as if it’s of no consequence.
“How do you even know?”
“Because she’s in my Speech & Debate class.” He smirks at the irony of that fact. I don’t respond. I’m trying to process the information, and Drew can keep this conversation going on his own. “I’m not complaining. Gives me a chance to work on her every day.”
“Not a very good sign if you have to work on her. Maybe you are losing your appeal,” I reply dryly.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he says in all seriousness, looking down at his watch. His smile returns. “It’s 3:00. Better get your ass home.” And with that, he hops in his car and drives off, leaving me standing in the parking lot, thinking of pissed off Russian girls and black dresses.
I feel like I’m waiting here. Waiting for something that hasn’t happened yet. Something that isn’t yet. But that’s all I feel and nothing else. I don’t know if I even exist. And then someone flips a switch and the light is gone, the room is gone, the weightlessness is gone. I want to ask to wait, because I wasn’t finished yet, but I don’t have a chance. There is no gentle pulling. No coaxing. No choice. I’m wrenched out. Yanked, as if my head is being snapped back. I’m in the dark and everything is pain. There are too many sensations at once. Every nerve ending is on fire. Like the shock of being born. And then, there are flashes of everything. Color, voices, machines, harsh words. The pain doesn’t flash. The pain is constant, steady, never-ending. It’s the only thing I know. I don’t want to be awake anymore.
I made it through my second Monday at school. You’d think I’d be drained just from the constant suck of it all, but apparently not, because I still can’t sleep. I’ve been in bed for two hours now; I know it’s after midnight but I can’t see the clock from here so I’m not sure exactly what time it is. I think about the composition book tucked under the mattress beneath me. I reach down and shove my hand under to touch it. My three and a half pages are done, every word accounted for, but still no sleep. Maybe writing them again would help, but it won’t bring me the soul-sucking exhaustion my body is begging for, so I pull my hand back and rest it on my stomach, opening and closing it to the rhythm of my breathing.
I can hear that the hard rain has stopped, so I peel off the covers and look out the window. My window faces into the backyard and it’s too dark to see if it’s still pissing rain, so I head to the front of the house and peer into the beam cast by the streetlamp. There’s no rain visible in the yellow glow reflecting off of the wet sidewalk below and I’m stripping out of my makeshift pajamas before I even get back to my bedroom, giddy with the thought of running out the past few days, pounding my aggression into the sidewalk and leaving it behind me as I go. It takes no time to slip on a pair of running shorts and a t-shirt and throw on my shoes. My feet love me again. I glance at the clock. 12:30. I hook a canister of pepper spray onto my hip and grip the kubotan that holds my keys in my right hand, even though it’s annoying as all hell to run with. It’s my security blanket. Clutched in my fingers, offering me the illusion of a security that doesn’t exist.
I lock the door behind me and force myself to ease into a jog, down the driveway and into the rain-drenched streets, but it’s not easy. I want to tear down the road until I can’t breathe, until there is not enough oxygen left in the world to keep me from suffocating. The humidity is brutal, especially paired with the late summer temperatures, but I can’t care. It’ll only mean more sweat and I can handle that. Every drop is the stress leaching out of me, taking with it all of my anxiety and energy so I can collapse into sleep tonight or this morning or whenever the hell I crawl into bed. Maybe I’ll stay out until it’s time to go to school and then sleepwalk through the day. All the better. My feet disobey me and break into a full-throttle run only seconds after I hit the road. My legs will hate me later, but it will be worth it. I run fast and far the way I’ve become accustomed to running. I wish I was on one, long, straight expanse of highway so I could just keep going without having to turn or think or make decisions of any kind. Instead, I head right and follow my feet without thinking. I don’t pay any attention to the houses or the cars. My body and my mind have missed this over the past couple of weeks; first through the drama of the move to Margot’s house, and then with the constant nightly rain that traps me indoors. If this is what I have to do every night—wait until it stops, even in the dregs of night—then I will. I won’t go this long without it again.
The first night I ever ran, I ended up throwing up all over my shoes. It was one of the best nights of my life. It didn’t start out that way. It started out with me fighting with my parents. Followed by me listening to my parents fight about me. I sat in that room and sat in that room and sat in that room on the comforter that looks exactly like the one I sleep on here. I sat in that room until I couldn’t sit there anymore. I couldn’t be in that house, listening to another fight that I caused. My father would ask my mother why she kept blaming herself and my mother would ask my father why it didn’t bother him and my father would tell my mother that it killed him inside but that he didn’t see the point in drowning in it and my mother would tell my father that as long as I was drowning in it, she would be, too. It was always the same fight on an endless loop.
It was nine o’clock at night and the first shoes I could find were a pair of sneakers and I shoved my feet into them without socks and ran down the stairs, flinging the door open and not bothering to close it. It was my very unsophisticated, very literal version of running away. I ran and ran and ran. There was no slow warm up. There was no pace or purpose. There was only away.
I don’t even know how far I made it that night, probably not very, before I was gasping and my lungs ached and my stomach convulsed and I puked right where I was standing. And it was awesome. It was cathartic and constructive and destructive and perfect. Then I sat on the ground and cried—the ugly kind of crying where you keep sucking breaths in all at once and it makes that horrible sound as the air scrapes against your throat. Then I got up and went home.
I ran every night after that. I learned to control myself and to warm up and to pace myself, but I always ended up pushing too far, running too hard, running too long. My therapist told my parents it was healthy. Maybe not the vomiting so much, but the running in general. It was a
. My parents love the word healthy.