I spent the days after my unfortunate stalking experience avoiding Blinky as best as I could. Unfortunately, he made a habit of following me out to lunch after math and then, despite my various, rather desperate attempts to escape, walking behind me after school. All the way home.
"He's in love with you," Andrew stated plainly over the phone when I explained my predicament. I immediately hung up on him. I hate brothers.
The next Thursday found me stretched unceremoniously across my bed sheets, face-up with a leg crossed over the other. In my beloved M & M shirt and enormous pajama bottoms, I was in a deep one-sided conversation with CeilingEinstein as Prince rattled hyperactively in the corner. A by-product of insomnia. I'm not crazy.
I was in the middle of one of my passionate rants when the doorknob rattled, followed by a succession of loud knocks. I stopped and sat up quickly.
The doorknob rattled again. "Natti, it's Dad - open up."
Cue Vadar theme.
I twisted my mouth convulsively, but, nevertheless, got up from my bed and unlocked the door. Christopher walked in right away - I had to leap out of his path to avoid being run down. He looked around, probably expecting to see someone else there.
"Who were you talking to?"
Oh, great job, Natti.
Better than saying, "The poster on my ceiling," but not by much.
He raised an eyebrow at me and then started walking around the room, trying to scrutinize every space without looking like he was being nosy. I could tell he didn't believe me. "You were talking to your gerbil."
Christopher casually kicked the side of my sheets upward to check under the bed, saying in a forcefully light and cheery tone, "I'm taking you to school today, so get dressed and come downstairs."
"Why? I can walk."
"Because I want to."
"Why would you want to."
"Because I'm off work today, you're my daughter, and I'm going to take you to school."
"Why would you do that?"
He eyed me suspiciously, and then, maybe believing that I really was conversing with Prince, he gave the room a last glance-over and then headed for the door.
A half an hour later, I was sitting in the plastic-smelling leather interior of Christopher's SUV and giving him directions to Pierton. Well, "directions". Not that I wanted to be late or anything, but this was a perfect opportunity to (a) make sure he would never want to drive me to school again, (b) get the grease ball as lost as hell on the way back, and (c) end the excruciating conversation Christopher had attempted to impose on me once we got into the car.
I scratched the side of my neck, yawning a little. Christopher's brow was furrowed in concentration as he jammed the key into its designated hole.
"So," he boomed, starting the engine. "Natti."
"How do we get to this school of yours?"
"Down Brooklawn until I say stop," I said curtly.
The car jerked violently with an angry rumble. There were a few seconds of blessed silence as he charged forward in which I thought that this wouldn't be so bad. As long as we didn't communicate, all was good. How to get rid of Blinky ...
"You know, I was in a gang at your age."
What a character. Should've invested in pepper spray ages ago. Nothing says, "Please go away," like a shot of burning evil in the eyes and perhaps, a complimentary kick up the crotch. Why can't he just stick with people who actually like him? "Oh, Zachary, you're so hot. Oh, Zachary, you are uber-hardcore-rebel-awesome. Oh, Zachary, we looove you."
I gagged. Talk about nauseating.
"Natti, I'm talking to you."
My head snapped up. "What?"
"A gang. I was in a gang."
" - what?"
"A gang, Natti, listen up. A gang. I was in a gang. At your age. You following me?"
I stared at him, his stern face turned towards the windshield, not knowing how to react, and then I smiled, still trying to guess for the sake of me why in the world he was telling me this. "Oh. That's very ... nice, I gue - "
"We called ourselves the Bulldog Jetters. We were the coolest guys in school." Then, he quickly added, "but only so we thought. We only thought we were the coolest guys in school - "
"Uh - "
"Don't interrupt. We thought we were so cool. That we thought that we could pierce whatever we wanted. Natti, you hear me? And not only pierce ourselves, which, I'd like to say, is a disgusting, mutilating result of peer pressure, but we thought we could" - Christopher turned his head (I grabbed onto the sides of the seat incase he drove into a lamp post) to look at me - "dye whatever we wanted. You following me, Natti?"
I played with a strand of pink hair tentatively as he continued.
"Drugs. Violence." He chuckled rather evily. "Oh, ho, ho. It's a good thing I pulled out of that before it was too late. Look at me now. Successful. Those other hip kids didn't turn out nearly as well. This one kid, Harry Bo-bob-something, he's a janitor now, nothing respectable, I tell you. Me, on the other hand - "
Please, something, smash into this car and kill us both. Him, first, preferably. I shifted, slouching, in my seat, and looked around for something to bang my head discreetly against.
A tiny lightbulb lit up over my head. Ding.
Right before we were about to pass a busy intersection, I sat straight up.
Startled, he stopped mid-sentence, slammed his foot on the brakes with screech! of wheels skidding against pavement and jerked the steering wheel hastily. Then he made a crazy turn, narrowly missing the car waiting at the stop sign and almost tipping us over.
But the second all four of our wheels were zooming again on the road, I screamed, "No, back!"
ScreechToStop! Turn, turn, turn. JerkToStop!
Suicidal? Oh, no. Just ... radical.
Okay, fine, evil.
People nearby were yelling at us from their cars, a few flashing rude signs and the others beeping noisily. Mayhem! Chaos! Oh, how I love it all.
Christopher's hands looked awfully sweaty, and they kept slipping from the wheel. He opened his window and stuck his head out to repair the damage with a nervous smile and shrug, but was rewarded by even more curses. Then, turning back to me, he roared, "What do you think you're trying to pull?"
"My mistake. Dad."
I did this a few more times with slight, heh, heh, variation. By the time we pulled up in front of Pierton, Christopher's hair was stuck up in odd places and he was bright red with rage. I got out quickly, closed the door behind me, and - I couldn't risk death now that I'd come this far - dashed away.
Or began to.
No more than four feet from Christopher's (cursing) eyes, I rammed straight into Blinky.
That sick moron. He never announces his arrival. Ever. Just has to make the statement of, "I am here," by waiting for someone to scream at the sight of him. I didn't scream or anything (courtesy of being stalked by the punk for three days straight), but I was quite rattled.
At least I didn't fall onto my rear, which is nice.
"Stalking again," I snapped.
He blinked, indifferent to my obvious rattled-ness. "Hi."
"Hi yourself. Will you quit it?"
I didn't get this guy. Why won't he take a hint? Did he think my stalking comments were - oh, please, no - flirty? I shuddered inwardly at the thought. To all you men out there, when a girl is threatening to break you in half every other second of the day, she probably means it. So back the hell away quick before she whips out a bat and beats you into a bloody -
Then I realized that Christopher's big honking SUV was still parked beside us. He wasn't red anymore - more of a dark purple 'about-to-pop' color that really brightened up his entire demeanor.
That's a bad omen if I've seen one. I discreetly dug the heel of my sneakers into the toe of Blinky's boots in a manner that clearly said, "Hi. I am in deep crap if this greasy raisin knows that I am associated with you, so if you want to live, disappear quick-like and don't return. Ever. Now, you idiot."
But whether his damned boot was too thick (probable) or he didn't get the message (even more probable, that half-wit), all he did was take a step closer to me so that my shoulder was touching his.
(Begin temporary loss of maturity)
"Who are you?" Christopher demanded, spit unintentionally flying from his mouth.
Blinky didn't budge. "Zachary Leaver, sir."
"Oh? You twofriends?"
I choked on my saliva and started coughing loudly. "(cough) Whatthehellnoway (cough)." Blinky looked at me with a blink, but Christopher didn't seem to notice, still examining him closely.
"I'm ..." Blinky began, not really sure how to end the sentence.
Natti's stalker. Natti's unwanted, underschooled stalker. Say it, damn it, don't you even think of mentioning anything close to friendship or even an aquaintance -
" ... a buddy."
A buddy? Oh, god, no. What a dumb kid.
"A - buddy?" Christopher repeated. I could tell he was trying to be all cool about it, but the slight bull-like grunt he was making after every word he spoke was not helping matters. "Study buddy, I assume?" He shot me a look."Is that right?"
"N - y - uh - "
No? Yes? No: Christopher will assume we are some other sort of buddies, a said other sort that I would rather not explain. Yes: I would be agreeing to buddyism with said dumb kid.
So I choose a very dignified gurgle.
Something flickered across his face. Suspicion? Malice? Constipation, which would match the color of his head at the moment?
"Well," he said to me, not giving Blinky another look, "I'll see you after school."
I nodded. With a screech of tires, he was off. I watched him drive down the street, take the wrong exit, make a U-turn, drive past us again, screech to a halt, sit in the middle of the road for a second, back up a bit and then take another wrong turn (which he probably thought was right, because I didn't see him anymore after that).
I did a better job than I thought.
"Who was that?"
"No one,"I said, still looking absentmindedly at the corner where Christopher had disappeared. Without thinking, I added, "My mother's husband." Blinky turned his head quickly at this. Blinky ... did dear Christopher think Blinky wasmy gang buddy, or, worse, one of my friends? I mean,yes, he probably thought ill of him, for obvious reasons. The kid looks like drug-dealing happily-knifing heroin-junkiesmoothie experiment gone terribly wrong. But ...
"You mean, your dad?" said Blinky.
What? Did I say something? I snorted, snapping out of my reverie. "What? No."
"Didn't you just ..." His voice faded at the face of death I was displaying in all its glory, but he continued to studied me intently, looking concerned. "So," he began slowly, "is he your stepdad or something?"
"No" - idiot, dear lord - "will you shut up?" I snapped, anger rising in mychest and up my throat. "It's none of your damn business." With a huff, I turnedand stomped ahead as fast as I could, inwardly berating myself for opening my mouth in the first place.
Unsurprisingly, Blinky followed.
Room 6 was unusually hectic that morning. The entire class was in the back of the room, crowding around a piece of paper tacked up to the bulletin board on the back wall. People who usually had their cheeks snuck to the textbook via dried saliva were excitedly chatting, some covering their mouths in horror and others leaping for joy.
Exam results were in.
I inched through the masses, Blinky not bothering to look (finally giving me a moment's peace) and, as the crowd parted to discuss their scores, I went on in and looked at the paper.
Math Standards Exam Scores
1. 31 - 100
2. 10 - 98
100. Not too shabby.
I blinked several times, rubbed my eyes, and looked again. Something was very wrong here. I was number 10, not 31. 10 was next to a 98, not 100. 31 was next to 100, not 98. 31 is not me, but - someone else? But then, that must mean -
Someone just beat me on an exam.
The color left my face as all my innards turned into gelatin, causing my boneless bag of skin to fall to the floor, and with the sound of a balloon running angrily into a knife, I popped open, my guts flying out and splattering the classroom with an array of multi-colored slime.
Or, at least that's what it felt like.
Actually, I just walked even closer to the paper, caught in some sort of trance. I ended up with my face mashed against the bulletin board while my legs kept moving, my knees knocking repeatedly into the wall. Face - flattened - kneecaps - cracking- can't - stop - describing - symptoms - of - impossiblity -
Finally, someone angrily pulled me away, saying a string of gurgling nonsense that sounded like, "Getoutofthewaywewanttoseetoo-cakes."
I stumbled back, dazed.
Did someone just beat you on an exam? Did someone just beat - you on an ... exam?
I screamed and grabbed the first person I saw.
In no time, I was shaking the heck out of Lance Prensky while the rest of the classroom looked on with horror. Poor guy. He suffered from severe paranoia and was probably not the best person to assault on a Monday morning.
"Er - E-Elizabeth?" he stammered, trying to keep his head from bobbing.
"Who is 31?" I shrieked, shaking a little harder. "Who is 31?"
"I d-dunno - "
"Who is 31?"
I felt someone take me by the shoulders and pull me away from Lance, gargling in alarm, "HeystoptryingtokillLanceyoumaniac-cakes." It was Omar. I whirled around and started shaking him, too.
"Omar! Who is 31? Who is 31? For the love of soup, tell me!"
Right then, the bell rang. Omar shrugged at me, tore himself from my grip, and, like everyone else, rushed to his seat, leaving me alone at the back of the room. Ms. Olleve came in about a minute later.
"Morningeveryonehowwasyourweekend-cakes," she said.
There were a few unenthusiastic mumbles, before she said to me, "Please get to your seat. The bell just rang."
I didn't move, still staring at the 10 and the 31 and the 98 and the 100 and the - oh, god, the wrongness of it all. She repeated herself a few more times, and once I finally processed her words, I nodded dumbly and walked slowly to my spot in the middle, center seat of the room, back in a trance state.
"What'd you get?" someone whispered from behind me.
I didn't answer.
Something had just occurred to me. Ms. Olleve handed out numbers in the beginning of the year in alphabetical order, back when we had exactly 30 students. When Blinky came, she didn't bother redistributing numbers, which must mean that she'd just given him the next number.
After class, everyone rushed out to go to lunch. I was still staring at the graffiti on the desk when someone tapped me on the shoulder. Tap-tap. Tap-tap. Bzz. Bzzzz. I turned around slowly in my chair and rubbed my eyes. It was Blinky.
I stood up slowly. "I was ... study ... that is ... thing ... vandalism ... "
I nodded, in too much of a daze to notice that I was actually volunteering to be the company of my alleged stalker.
I couldn't stop staring at his profile as we walked, my mouth slightly open. Some punk kid. Some skating, I-think-I'm-so-hardcore-emo punk kid with clothes fit for a suicidal goth elephant. Beat me. He must've cheated. Of course. No one can get 100 on his first exam. No way. Inconceivable.
I tailed him, passing quite a few staring hall minglers, until we were standing in front of the boy's restrooms.
"Gotta go," he said bluntly.
I nodded, watching the door close behind him. After a minute or two, I made up my mind, and followed. It was very luckily empty besides a certain someone. Blinky was at one of the sinks, washing his hands. He hadn't heard me come in. I drew nearer to him, vision slightly hazy. What to do, what to do.
My fist squeezed so tight my knuckles threatened to pop out of my skin.
Bzzt. Target located. Shall I send in the units? Bzzt.
Bzzt. All's clear. Take no prisoners. Bzzt.
I charged in.
I keeeeel you!
With a bloodcurdling battle cry, I grabbed the collar of his shirt, threw him against the wall, and with one mighty heave, tried to lift him with one hand in a typical I'm-about-to-bust-you-open-loser fashion. Unfortunately, he was rather tall now that I thought of it - so, after pulling upward a couple of times, I gave up and just hung onto the cloth.
But he did look intimidated by the fist held in front of his nose, which is nice.
He blinked. "Yes, I am me. And you are a girl. In the boy's bath - "
"I keel you!"
I tried to sucker-punch the heck out of him, but he ducked quickly, slipping out of my slack grip bemusedly and dodging a second attempt of mine. "Whoa, hold up there, sweetie. What are you talking about?"
Sweetie? Did he just -
Okay, he's dead.
"Olleve's exam, you half-wit!" I yelled, still flinging punches. "And it's Natti! And - I keel you!"
On my last effort to pummel his face, he caught my arm, and before I knew it, I was screaming and shruggling with both my hands held tightly behind my back. This was not happening. This was not happening! Gah!
"Christ, just calm down!" I heard Blinky say through the other shouting voices in my head. "What did I do?"
"Let go, you jerk!"
"Let me go!"
"Not 'til you tell me what I did."
"You existed, you moron! You existed!"
"I can't really help that - "
"Oh, don't give me that 'I'm innocent as a daisy in the meadows' crap," I yelled. "You don't even know who you're dealing with, pal - you're dealing with me. Me! Do you have any idea who me is? Me is only student in the entire school to get a 4.0 for every quarter I've attended! No one beats me in exams - and least of all some new skating loser with the IQ of a dinosaur! You get in the way of my being valedictorian again with that stupid cheating trick of yours, and I will kill you! Now, let go of me!"
He paused. "No."
"You liar! You're a liar and a cheat! You - "
"But I didn't cheat."
I jerked violently again, and then when I figured my arms were a lost case, attempted to step on his feet. He dodged that too, so we ended up doing some weird sort of crab dance. Scuttle, scuttle, stomp, stomp, roar of frustration.
"Er, truce?" Blinky said, sounding embarrassed.
"You want a truce? You want a truce? How about you stop bothering me every second of the day, leave me alone, never come near me again, keep your head and undeserving grades down, and you let go of me!"
He released me.
Absolutely furious, I immediately stomped toward the exit, not bothering to say good-bye. Behind me, Blinky said happily, "See ya, Natti." I ignored him, muttering angrily to myself, pushed open the door -
- and found myself face to face with Principal Chan.
"Uh - "
My voice died in my throat. A girl with a round face and gleaming eyes - one of the last-minute stranglers we'd passed on our way to the restrooms - was behind her, smiling with deep satisfaction.
"Ms. Dasley," Principal Chan said to the girl. "You can go have lunch now."
She left. The principal turned back to me, her lips tight and her skin a little pale. "School rules," she said disapprovingly, "I'm sorry, but you're going to have to follow me to my office."
"No, you don't understand! Blinky, he - "
"Rules are rules. Come on."
She ushered me along. I looked back, eyes wide in disbelief. Blinky was leaning against the bathroom door, face expressionless, holding up a peace sign. Peace? Wait -
No, not a peace sign. There weren't two fingers, but three.
My mouth fell open.
"Step three. Find out subject's name."
Note from the author: First of all, I hate the new Fiction Press Quick Edit feature. It completely screwed up my formatting.
Secondly, ugh about this chapter. That was a lot crappier than I planned. I'm so, so, sorry about the delay and the rather anti-climatic result. Christmas break is coming up, which means the next installment should be arriving shortly. Hopefully it'll be better than this chapter.
I know, I'm in a bad mood. But still, so much thanks to aiur, khaotiik, reality's remix, floorcollision, Christine, Chocolate Herrings, Lily, ladydragon317, philophobia, concordance, The UGLY American, precocious, Shaking Leaf, Emily West, angel-essence, meg87, becaboo14, Black Seraphim, Mint, neecoal, pools of crimson, hummer, TruaMethist, charmgirl, OneRebelGypsy, Bananalogic, JazWillow, steph, Fallen Fantasist, stranger, Aurelione, Adele Rising, purebliss90, emubadger, Midnight Owl, Nep Sinycfoo, Onion Ring, and sinceritea.