An experiment. This started off as a series of character studies, which evolved into a life of its own. This is my attempt at realism, there's not really a central theme here. Not everyone's lives are depressing and angsty, but not everyone lives in a fairy tale. It's just life.
Summary: They were family, this ragtag group of kids. But as time went on, they grew up. And in the midst, they carved out their roles and played the highschool game; the bad boys, the ice queen, the slut, the forgotten.
And despite their lower middle class living and their less than desirable labels, they played the game like winners. After all, they didn't, no, couldn't even care- how could they lose if they never wanted to play to begin with? The one fault they could ever do is to become a part of the game for real.
"I feel death is upon us," he said dramatically, as he squinted into the hazy distance. We watched him from under the tree as he flapped his dirt and sweat stained t-shirt in attempt to cool himself off. My sister snorted at his comment and blinked lazily, shifting her legs closer to herself as the shadow continued to recede as noon sun continued its journey across the sky.
The sun beat down relentlessly, and with the combined humidity it was nearly unbearable to do the simplest of activities, including breathing. It was a major feat that we had made it under this limited sanctuary the shade offered us.
After holding his pose for several more seconds, he let out a yell of frustration and cried, "It's a frickin' sauna out here!" and fervently pulled off his shirt, and flung it, hitting my sister square in the face.
"Ew, Toby!" she shrieked, and clawed the damp shirt off her face. "Ugh, nasty, it's wet. From your sweat." Pinching the cloth with her fingers, she tossed it away.
"Not like you don't sweat," Toby scoffed, and dropped onto the ground next to her. He picked up his discarded shirt and arranged it at the base of the tree, and used it as a pillow as he sprawled out.
"Girls don't," was the pointed answer. "We perspire. Glisten, if you will."
A snort came from the other side of the tree. "Right, right. Whatever you say, 'Na."
"K-Rod, I thought you were sleeping," said Toby.
"I think I was. Until you yelled something. Nali, you have anymore water?"
She flicked the empty plastic bottle. "Nope, drank it all."
I sighed, trying to shift myself without falling off of my perch. I had put a little more effort than everyone else and managed to secure the most shaded area on the lowest hanging branch of the tree. I envisioned myself to look like one of those lazy lions or leopards you see in nature magazines, the bark cutting into my cheek, stomach down, limbs listlessly swinging in the near non-existent breeze.
Nali reached up and poked the bare bottom of my left foot, and I uncontrollably twitched until I sat up to avoid falling. "Stop," I whine, as she smirked.
"Isn't this ironic?" said K-Rod. I glanced over my right shoulder to see him stretched out on the ground, also shirtless, his eyes closed. "I hate working, but today I can't wait to go, just because there's air conditioning there."
"Oh, shut up," Toby snapped. Toby worked at the nearby gas station/garage, where air conditioning didn't exist. K-Rod, coincidentally-on-purpose, worked at the convenience store across the street.
K-Rod grinned and stuck his tongue out, though I was the only one to witness it.
"Oh my god," Nali suddenly exclaimed, "School starts in a week. Can you believe it?"
"Don't remind me," I mutter.
"Shit," Toby said. "We're gonna be seniors."
"Not me," I said, though I was the only one who heard it.
"Damn straight!" hooted K-Rod.
"I don't wanna grow up," Nali said in a panicked voice.
"Tell me about it," K-Rod sighed, "We only have a few more months before we turn legal, and I haven't done half the things I wanted to do to abuse that fact."
"We could still get tried for adults on some things, even if we're not eighteen yet," countered Toby.
Nali was in her own little world. "Man, senior year..."
Toby glanced over at her. "What's the problem? I thought you hated highschool."
"So? Last year and we're out."
"I know! It's just... I dunno. Like K-Rod said, there's so many things we haven't done..."
"I assure you," K-Rod jumped in, "in comparison to the other average idiots in school, we probably have more things to brag about." He suddenly chuckled, as if he just reminded himself of some inside joke.
"Well maybe you guys do..." she grumbled.
"Hey what time is it?" K-Rod asked abruptly. "I gotta get to work by 12:30."
I checked my watch. "12:23."
"Fuck!" K-Rod jumped up, grabbed his shirt, scooped up his old sneakers and took off running towards his house. "See you guys later!" The two below me barely stirred, muted byes escaping their lips.
It was amazing how any of us were awake before twelve if we didn't have work until later, but today's reason had to do with Toby's aunt taking all of us out for breakfast at IHOP, like she used to back when we were still in elementary school.
"Hey I don't have work today, what about you guys?" asked Toby.
"Yeah. Five to nine," Nali groaned.
He smacked my foot. "How bout you?"
"Yeah, soon." I shifted my legs around and leaned out of the tree until gravity pitched me down, and I landed lightly on my feet. "Actually, I should go now too."
Nali and Toby gave me lethargic waves, already beginning to doze in the hot summer heat. I trudged down and across the street to my house to grab my things.
For the past two summers including this one, I worked at the more ghetto of the public pools in this area, life guarding the kiddy area. I didn't even get the wooden highchairs that the other life guards got, just a simple, cheap, dingy white deck chair with an umbrella tied to the armrest. I spent the time watching parents dip their kids into the three foot deep water and building up a gradual but even tan. Occasionally I'd sigh into my whistle and give the eight year old raucous boys a look to make them stop splashing, but with the numerous over-protective mothers around, I really had no reason to be there, image aside.
I chose to life guard this area on purpose, as that I really had nothing to prove to six year olds, and have yet to encounter a blindingly attractive mother. I haven't seen anybody from school in my section either, so I've come to safely assume I would never run into anyone I know. So I have no reason to feel self conscious as I doze by the side of the pool, though I really shouldn't be any more, thanks to puberty.
So thankful, I am, that I seemingly developed a swimmers build, the long torso and the sinewy arms and legs, with the genetic blessing of being lean without ever having to consciously work out. Not that I'm completely satisfied, I wish I wasn't as thin as I was, but I don't care enough to do anything about it. A gift I suppose, for being the skinniest one throughout middle school and halfway through highschool, the kid who's ribs you could count from across the playground. Needless to say, I was glad puberty treated me nicely when it hit, I was socially awkward enough I suppose, so physically I had it easy and didn't have to deal with the whole tripping over my own feet deal. Though I must say I could've done without the cracking voice. And the acne, which with the help of medication stolen from my sister, no longer exist except in scar form for the worst ones.
When I was thirteen, we all went through a piercing phase. Meaning, after my sister went and got her ears pierced for the first time on her fourteenth birthday, the rest of us bought studs and stole needles, rubbing alcohol and ice cubes from Toby's house. What remains of this is a small silver hoop in my left ear, and very slight scars from where other holes were accidentally made.
Toby, I remember, convinced K-Rod to try to give him a piercing in the cartilage of his outer ear, and we all ended up screaming and panicking on the bathroom floor as blood cascaded onto the linoleum. His aunt had found us and after the ensuing wrath we had to face for being so stupid, she ended up taking both him and K-Rod to a professional place to get pierced just so they wouldn't go and try it again.
Speaking of Toby, if we all had to pick a sport and the stereotypical build type that came with it, Toby would be an all star soccer player. Except, unlike me and.... no, K-Rod probably did this too... but anyway, unlike me, Toby most likely worked out some- not obsessively so, but enough to retain his beloved abs. Which, back when he did used to play soccer, gained purely by accident but positive feedback convinced him to retain it. And by positive feedback, it most likely was my sister making some belittling remark that poorly masked her approval.
Despite the fact that he's had several girlfriends already, I believe he remains today, oblivious to the opposite sex. Where K-Rod controls his admirers like well behaved cattle, I think that Toby only ended up having girlfriends through accidentally saying the wrong things at the wrong times while listening to his other brain located in his crotch. Association with K-Rod also added to that, and them being tight as brothers was another factor, and K-Rod had it figured out that double dates played well with the women.
Everything he did seemed almost by accident and in a daze, but in a very strange way because Toby was far from klutzy or ignorant, as his standardized test scores show. Though his grades say otherwise. It's like his hair, which he got fed up with one day and chopped at it haphazardly with scissors one night. And somehow, it worked. Not too many guys could pull off side-parted bangs and naturally spiking hair in the back with the success that Toby had, and I know for a fact that he just rolls out of bed with it. Also, his affinity for track jackets, all found at thrift stores and worn collar up with the zipper pull all the way to his chin, came seasons before it became popular and a critical part of other guy's wardrobes.
When we were kids, Toby was always the most reckless of us. K-Rod came in at second, but not in the innocent way that Toby was, who usually would jump into things headfirst without thinking. No, K-Rod was devious about things, and would work his manipulative charm, which would usually end in disaster for everyone.
Taller than Toby, K-Rod was like a newborn colt: lanky limbs everywhere. It doesn't help that his metabolism is on crack, ousting all of us in the eating department. He is, in my mind, the epitome of a tall, lanky cowboy, if one can imagine one coming from the lower middle class suburban northeast of this day and age. I suppose I only get that because I remember when K-Rod began nagging his mom for information about his long gone father, she had only replied that he was like a charming stray alley cat from Texas, slyly slinking through the door soundlessly in his cowboy boots, with the eye and a walk which no woman could tame. Or so said K-Rod's mom, who I imagined said the last part without meaning to. K-Rod was ten at the time, and in relaying the information to us, made it sound like his missing father was a hybrid cowboy-ninja who could shape shift into a cat form.
This knowledge really impacted K-Rods life, and in the next seven years picked up his father's habits, specifically the slinking and untamable with women part. He has, on several occasions, worn cowboy hats, and boots (but not ever together) and never quite picked up the extremely baggy pants look.
I remember K-Rod, hair wise, used to sport the surfer shag look long before it became popular with the rest of the country's youth. Back then, everyone else had the short crew cut, with the spiked hair. One day last year, when he realized that the males around him began to bear his hairstyle, he ran over to our house and handed Nali his battery operated razor. We spent a portion of that night throwing socks and other articles of clothing at his head, as we explored the velcro-like properties a nearly shaved head had.
The only contender to K-Rod's metabolism would be Nali. Proof of this is when she eats something bad for her, five minutes after digestion will you see her rushing to the bathroom. She loves it though, and whenever we go out to eat she just pigs out, with flourish. She scoffs whenever she hears about people who complain too much about their weight, and thinks anyone that goes on a severe dieting binge is weak. But then again, she considers most people to be weak willed, and didn't realize that people didn't appreciate that until it was too late. Much like how it took her a while to realize that most people don't understand her strange sense of humor, which has been considerably toned down since.
Strangers we couldn't avoid having conversations with when we're together commonly think we are twins. Which doesn't mean all that much being that we are a year or two apart (depending which month), but most people round down, and for someone who doesn't wish to be old, Nali gets a little offended when people guess that she's fifteen. It doesn't help that I don't act as outwardly immature as most boys my age do, and Nali's the one who cracks the inappropriate jokes. Also, we share the dark hair and eyes, as well as lips, nose and chin. Thankfully, our hair is of completely different consistency and unfortunately for her, she was the one cursed with the uncontrollable hair of a lion's mane. We're also the same exact height, which will be changed with the next growth spurt I hit.
We were more or less friends just because the location of our houses, as we all lived on the same street. Toby's aunt, who is actually his grandmother's sister, used to take in the neighborhood kids and babysit us all. It was strange how in the end, it was Nali, Toby, K-Rod and me who remained close, even if it was just because it was more convenient than anything.
There was, at one point, a fifth member of us, or whereas Nali, Toby and K-Rod were their own little clique, I had my best friend. Her name is Amara, and she lives at the end of the street.
Last year, during school, if I was lucky I'd spot her down the hall through the crowded throngs of people, and I'd wave, and she'd sometimes smile. Walking to school, I would watch the cars pass me and sometimes I'd see her in the passenger side of some speeding vehicle. Before all of this, we used to walk to school together, and I have fond memories of us swinging our clasped hands between us as we dragged each other to kindergarten. We were prone to spending our time playing in our imaginary world, where'd I'd always end up playing her sidekick. We'd still hang out with the other three of course, but we had our own special thing as we hid under my porch and traded invented secrets in code. Some nights, when she was afraid to stay at home out of fear or her alcoholic and sometimes violent mother, I'd let her in and we'd curl up between my blankets like a litter of sleepy kittens. When we were in middle school, I guess you could say that we were inseparable, up until the middle of eighth grade. Which was when she discovered sex and entered a totally different world I have yet to enter.
I remember the day clearly, I spent nearly all period searching all over the middle school for her because I couldn't find her during lunch. I finally found her outside, seated at a table with girls that dressed years above their age. I didn't even bother trying to approach her. From then on, Amara rarely turned to me, and when she did, it was because I was her last resort and even then, we never played like we used to. I still considered myself her friend, and was willing to drop everything just to hang out with her again. Eventually, I was forced to let go and realize that she was never going to look at me the same way again, and that realization hurt as much as the fact that she never just came out and said it and left me hanging. Like being stood up but worst, because she was right there all the time, just not to me. And it made me really sad, not only because of the loss of her continuous presence, but also the loss of who I was when I was around her. She made me feel special.
These days, though, I do see her around occasionally, and I find myself going out of my way to pretend that nothing's different between us. I'm almost ashamed at how far I try to rehash the past during our little run-ins. To no avail however. She had become a different person, and as dramatic as this may sound, a part of me still wishes there was some rewind button in my life, and I can hang out with the old Amara just one more time just to say goodbye.
0 0 0
I watched as the plane streaked high across the sky, a white yellow line of water vapor trailing after it. The only other clouds that spotted the perfect blue sky were wispy and textured, reminding me of spinal cords, sea horses, and the underside of horse shoe crabs.
Floating, or attempting to at least, in the small kid pool I life guarded over, I felt serene and calm, my ears submerged under the water blocking out most sounds. The pools were about to close, and the mothers dragged their kids out a half hour before I even had to start warning them to begin to pack up. So for a blissful forty minutes, I let myself relax in this diminutive, three foot deep pool, which glistened with the oily gleam of suntan lotion slicked off of children's backs.
The whine and clanging of the chain link fence made me jump up, spitting water out of my mouth and shaking my wet hair out of my eyes.
"Hey..." a guy not too much older than me stood by the gate, giving me an dubious look. He held a clipboard in his hand, a towel draped around his neck, and his bright red shorts "You the life guard on shift here?"
"Yeah..." I glanced around, trying not to look as guilty as I was.
He blinked and gave me another skeptical look. "Well, just here to remind you to straighten up and to remember to lock up and all before you punch out," he said, indicating to the skewed deck chairs. Discarded toys littered around the pool, and a forgotten towel laid on the cement.
He turned and wandered back to the main pool, where I still heard active sounds of splashing and girls giggling. I know it's a bit strange for me to not know my own co-workers, but it was just another reward of working the kiddy pool. It's not like he knew who I was either, but at least I knew he went to the same highschool as me, and that I remember him buying weed off of K-Rod on several different occasions.
Speaking of highschool...
The way the town's set up, there are two main public high schools, Maitland High, and Somerton. Both are underfunded, over crowded, and on the brink of being set out of commission if we fail one more fire drill. But one more than the other. Three middle schools feed into the one we go to, Maitland, four to the other one, so it was always nice to know that if you didn't fit in during those disgusting years of prepubescent living, you had a chance of finding your niche when you hit highschool.
I guess it worked relatively well, until the townships redrew the lines. It wouldn't have mattered much, really, except it just killed the entire social system in Maitland highschool. Before they redid the boundaries, it was quite obvious that it was split according to class. Granted, we were all middle class here, but that side was the upper middle class. We were the lower middle class. We were East Side. Somerton, the one which we were supposed to go to had a pretty hefty drop out rate to boast about, and already had government teachers placed there in an attempt to shape it up. Barbed wire fences graced the perimeter, and police cars camped out in the parking lot to stop drug deals 24/7. I think we would've done okay there; that's how our middle school was.
I guess because Maitland, being the way it was, became a prime playground for K-Rod, Toby and the other East Siders who managed to stick together. They built up crazy reputations by just the way they walked. Or, swaggered should I say. And with that, just used it to their advantage.
The rest of us don't try to stand out; being reminded that we weren't going to be getting new cars when we got licenses, or that our wardrobes were never brand name wasn't something we enjoyed. We were also vastly out numbered.
It didn't matter to the guys; K-Rod was positively fascinated with highschool and its social hierarchies. He and Toby set out with what they called 'Social Experiments' and I swear I have seen them jotting down observations in those cheap, black and white composition notebooks. The first day of freshman year was the day of their first experiment. Toby and K-Rod went all out, and sauntered into school in extremely baggy jeans, wife beaters and glorious amounts of fake bling on their knuckles and talked only of drive by shootings, and gratuitous drug use. They kept it up for a week, and then rescinded back into their normal attire, but people still remembered them.
They cemented their psychotic reps when they jumped me the first day of my freshman year, without warning. It was like any of our other boyish brawls, and our audience, which consisted of the entire school, had then promptly decided that K-Rod and Toby were a force to be reckoned with and from then, nobody messed with them, the newly proclaimed East Side Bad Boys. Which is practically the lamest name they could ever be dubbed, but I had no say in anything; I was the one who ended up with a black eye when Toby accidently slammed his knee into my face.
To Nali's chagrin, it was actually their unorthodox way to protect me. Or so I believe. I admit, I'm an easy guy to pick on and it's happened before, so when K-Rod and Toby singled me out, they made it clear that nobody else was to mess with me. Either that, or what most likely happened was they decided two seconds before they physically ambushed me that I was the best target because they knew I would play along.
It kinda backfired though, and I never made friends all that easily before, and having those two shove me around for show in between classes hasn't made me into great friend material. You'd think that it'd gain me some empathy from some of my other peers, but highschool is much too cruel for that. The worst part is that I can't hit them back until school is out, but my sister still had free range. In the 'Social Experiments' notebook, K-Rod had it stenciled out correctly that the school believed that he and Toby were out of the social circles and imbalanced the entire school, while being dangerously attractive to the ladies, I was the poor guy who still remained safely anonymous by name, my sister, who was not only known for 'standing up against' Toby and K-Rod, but also against any other guy who's ever said a stupid thing to her.
School was going to start real soon. I liked having knowledge and all and tests and quizzes were never that hard for me, but for what it's worth, I'd rather just not go.