Author's Notes: NEW EDITED CHAPTER. I am slowly but surely editing and updating this fic so I can finish the story. Please forgive me if it doesn't make sense or have much continuity, because it probably just means I haven't edited the future chapters yet.
Me llamo Eduardo y no tengo cerebro. Mi cabeza esta completamente vacía.
That's how I'd introduce myself in first period Spanish if I could. It's not that I'm a mute or anything, I'm just a 17 year old American dude in Beginner's Spanish and I don't even know what half of those words mean in the reality that is my life. As opposed to the non-reality that is this headspace. Headspace now powered by Google Translate! On sale for 19.95. Limited time offer.
Anyway, the point is, if I had to introduce myself, it'd be like this:
My name is Eddie and I don't have a brain. My head is completely empty.
If that doesn't sound scientifically plausible to you, then you should know that I'm a modern miracle of medicine. The boy without a brain. Only cotton balls between my ears. Just ask anybody I've ever met - classmates, distant relatives, the cashier at my local convenience store, my Spanish teacher...
My Spanish teacher.
"Señor Cantwell," his voice breaks through my thoughts and I look up. The entire class has their eyes on me and when they see that I have no idea what's going on, they start to laugh. I can feel myself turning a pinker tinge by the second. I've never been a fan of being observed, and Mr. Harrison doesn't look as amused as everyone else.
"¿Sí?" I respond, keeping my voice low and soft like that might make everyone suddenly remember how boring I am so they can find something else to laugh about.
"¿Tienes tu tarea, sí?" Mr. Harrison has a grade book in his hands and I realize that he's checking if we did our homework. I nod, slipping a piece of paper out of my folder and waving it at him. He marks something down in the book and moves on to the person who sits behind me. Moment vanquished. Monster slayed. The noble knight has earned himself the right to slide further down in his seat and pray to all the gods above that he soon turns into a puddle of mud. His ultimate wish.
I'm not quite sure how long I'm lost in fantasies of what life is like for mud puddles, but soon enough, the other students start moving around. Mr. Harrison must have told us to begin working on our projects and I was just too spaced out to hear him - not an unusual occurrence, but more on that later. Right now we have more important things to discuss.
Bradley, or Brad if you're within his inner circle (I am not), or Diego if you're Mr. Harrison. We've all been granted pseudonyms by our monstrous, Spanish-speaking overlord; most of them are meant to be some variation of our real name (I, for example, am the humble Eduardo, pig farmer) but since Bradley is such a white person name, Mr. Harrison couldn't think of a fancy alternative and thus the legend of Diego was born.
Here's the thing - Bradley's not even white! How can you tell someone they have a "white person name" when they're Not White! By being evil, that's how. And intent on giving your students identity complexes.
I digress (who would've predicted!). The point is, Bradley/Diego is my partner for this project and Bradley/Diego is super hot. Super, super hot. Super popular. Superstar of the football team. Super everything when I am the essence of mediocrity. So you can understand my dilemma here, right?
"Yo," Bradley/Diego says, waving his hand in my face. I blink at him and he just raises his eyebrows. For the past week, ever since we've been assigned this project, Bradley/Diego has worn this exasperated look on his face, and who can blame him? He's paired with a certified space cadet who can hardly pay attention for five minutes, which is making this whole project process a lot more painful than it needs to be. Which is saying something. Anyway, I'm paying attention now. Sort of. I at least know he's speaking words from his mouth hole. "I was online last night and was looking up some stuff about..."
See, he keeps speaking, but here's the thing: I can't stop watching his hands. His skin is a dark olive; his fingers long and slender, with nails bitten down to the skin. How can someone's hands be this attractive? I imagine them gripping a football, or a barbell, or any of the things they probably spend their time doing. He slides his fingertips down a sheet of paper to show me something but the words are a blur and all I see is the hangnail he has on his pinky.
There's a pause, with his finger pointing to the paper, and I realize this is my cue. But I haven't been listening and all I can think about is fingers. "What do you think his hands were like?" I ask about the subject of our project, looking up. His face twists into something half amused.
"Probably weird," he answers, and I'm thrilled that he's playing along. I squint in his direction.
"How does someone have weird hands?"
"I dunno, but Salvador Dalí is probably the dude who'd figure it out. They'd be melted." He holds his hand up, wiggling his fingers spookily. I'm completely charmed. 100%. Bradley/Diego would be the light of my life were it not for the fact that he absolutely does not like me at all. You may think this is debatable because we're talking so amicably right now, but the fact of the matter is, my theory is backed up by two years of experiencing his friends treating me like crap. He's not necessarily the bully, but guilty by association and all that.
So this is not a path I can let myself go down. It'll only lead to my pathetic disappointment, as do most things in my life. I just smile and we move on. In the last minutes of class, when Mr. Harrison is lost in his computer screen and everyone has abandoned their partners for their real friends, Bradley/Diego's back is turned to me and the bitter taste of poorly avoided disappointment lingers in my throat.
Wayne and Gary, Gary and Wayne. Bradley's two best friends and fellow football players. One's a huge dick, the other's a magnum dong. But, you know, whatever.
They start to talk about the things they like to talk about and I zone out rather quickly. I'm slumped in my seat again, counting the ceiling tiles and praying I don't pull a muscle in my neck. I get all the way up to fifteen until I'm interrupted.
"What the hell are you doing?" Gary asks, and he's laughing, because I'm his favorite circus clown. I slowly bring my head down, willing my cheeks not to redden, but they do anyway. I feel like every time I'm put on the spot - by anybody, not just colossal assholes - I fuck it up somehow. I'm a social leper and my limbs keep falling off.
"Counting the ceiling tiles," I say truthfully. Louder laughter comes right at me as Wayne and Bradley start laughing, too. I'm starting to think I should have my own special on Comedy Central where all I do is stand on stage and act completely normal, because that seems to entertain the masses for some reason. A reason that escapes me. I scratch my ear and try not to make eye contact.
"You got a girlfriend?" Gary asks, and all three sets of eyes are on me. I don't know where the question came from, but it's not uncommon that Gary turns me into a spectacle.
"No." In fact, I've never had a girlfriend. It's embarrassing, but a fact of life. I'm not good with girls. I'm not good with human beings of any gender. Not just in a romantic way, but in all ways. A guy without friends is a guy without girlfriends. A equals B equals C. We won't put the questionable sexuality thing in the equation; that's for advanced mathematics.
"You a fag or something?" Gary questions, like he can read my thoughts or something. I have a mini-heart attack with the implausible thought that maybe he can, maybe God is cruel and granted awesome powers to the one guy in the world who probably deserves them least, but I remember the advanced mathematics thing and Gary barely passed Algebra II.
"No," I say again, still not looking at them. Gary doesn't believe me.
"Oh, that's what they all say, Fag-a-sauras Rex," he says, flicking my pencil off of my desk. In an alternate universe, I'm sure I'm amazed at his creativity with words, but in this one, I'm annoyed and embarrassed and ignoring the sound of the high five he gives Wayne. I bend down to pick up my pencil, but it's a little too far away and getting out of my seat to get it felt shameful for some reason.
Then it's rolling toward my hand. I'm thinking 'TELEKINESIS' for all of a second before I register that Bradley's foot is moving back into place. He kicked it over. I look up at him, but he's facing his friends and laughing at some stupid joke Gary must've made. I guess that's life.
Sixth period Study Hall comes around and for that I am thankful. As the world's worst student, it's a nice break from continuing to make sure I keep my place at the bottom of the heap. Besides, Ms. Reinders, who oversees the period, is by far the best teacher in the entire school. Not only does her name remind me of Christmas, she's the sweetest person I've ever met. Sometimes I think her hair might be made from actual gold because she's clearly an angel.
I could go on extensively about the many good deeds of Ms. Reinders, but the best thing of all is that Gary happens to be in this Study Hall as well and, unlike every other teacher I've ever met, Ms. Reinders does not put up with the antics, so to speak.
Bradley's here too, with his girlfriend, Rosie. She's a field hockey girl with gorgeous blonde hair and I hate her with every fiber of my being even though she's never wronged me. Envy, you know. She seems to have her life together in ways I can only imagine. How does she manage to perfect her hair and makeup while keeping consistently good grades, a high social standing, and consecutive national field hockey championships? I can hardly construct an entire coherent sentence.
Then there's Corrie. Excuse the introductory biographies, please, but I need a little exposition to paint the picture. Corrie's also a beautiful girl ("all the right junk in all the right places" for sure) and she sits at the same lunch table as I do. That is, she sits on one end with her squad, and I sit on the other end with my imagination. Still, technically... same table. Larry, who is also in this Study Hall, sits with her. He wears the same cross necklace every day. Matt brings up the rear on the Study Hall roster; he's Bradley's friend, and a behemoth ginger. Roll the footage.
As I was saying, Study Hall comes and for that I am thankful. The television is turned on and I am quietly minding my business, watching Gilmore Girls. Ms. Reinders is doing a crossword, and everyone else is talking about Homecoming.
"So who're you going with?" Gary asks Corrie, perched up on top of one of the desks. She chews thoughtfully on a cracker for a second, tucking a strand of hair behind a pierced ear.
"Nobody," she says, wiping some crumbs from her lip. It's impossible not to watch when they're in my direct line of view. I'm trying to focus on the trials and tribulations of Rory and Lorelai, but I've never been great at focusing on anything at all.
"So I guess you wouldn't mind go-" Corrie cuts Gary off, holding her hand up and peering around him to look at the television. It's quiet for a full minute before she settles back in her seat and looks up at him again.
"Okay, now what was it that you wanted to discuss with me?" she asks sweetly. He flashes her what I guess he believes is an irresistible smile. The Crest commercial kind. It doesn't look like she falls for it.
"Well, you see," he says, "I was thinking that you and I co-"
"You and I? As in 'we'?" Corrie cocks an eyebrow. "No, no, no, no, no. Whatever it is, no." Gary's friends start laughing, and after this morning, I'm finding the whole thing pretty funny myself.
"What are you laughing at, Can't-do-anything-well?" Gary asks me with a sneer across his face. My smile fades and I tune out his words, focusing my attention on how ugly his face looks.
"Nice one, Adams," Corrie says, rolling her eyes. Gary folds his arms over his chest, looking a lot like a kid about to throw a temper tantrum.
"It's true though. Fag-a-sauras Rex can't do anything right," Gary insists, reusing the name he'd called me earlier. It's almost easy to watch them talk about me, like they're a scene in a TV show and none of this is real, including me.
"I think it's about time we removed you from public. Exposing people to you can't be healthy for them." Everyone laughs again and Corrie shoots me a wink before spinning around to Larry so that her back is facing the rest of the room. It's the highlight of my day, someone sticking up for me, despite the fact that it was barely anything at all. Goes to show how often things happen to me. Even so, I let myself feel nice for once.
I'm still feeling warm inside by the final bell. I leave Economics and take my precious time at my locker. I prefer being alone in the halls, because crowds tend to make me anxious. It's a claustrophobic thing, maybe. Too many people touching me and breathing on me and it's hard to keep track of where I am. So I linger, and when the masses have dispersed, I zip my bag up and head down the stairs to make the short trek home. No after school activities for this guy. Too uncoordinated and awkward for sports; too lame for anything social; not lame enough for Chess Club.
The halls are so empty now that my footsteps echo as I walk down them, so when I round the corner to see Bradley still at his locker, it's enough to make me take pause. He doesn't notice me yet and I take the time to appraise him. It definitely makes me look like a creep, but it's hard not to stare. What's that song? 'So tall and handsome as hell.' It's enough for a guy to risk copyright infringement.
"Oh." He sees me now and I jump out of my thoughts, prepared to hightail it out of there to avoid being shoved into one of the nearby lockers. But he doesn't seem offended, just slightly surprised. He smiles and waves a little sarcastically. "What's up, Eddie?" I tilt my head at him, trying to think of something to say that won't sound stupid. I know I must seem like the weirdest person in the world and Bradley raises his eyebrows in the silence, so I swallow and spit something out.
"Not much, dude." I sound like an alien trying to imitate human speech. He lets out a small laugh and I want to die. My hands are so sweaty. "I... I'll see you tomorrow." I rush away, hoping I don't trip as I leave because that would be the cherry on top of a really horrible cake.
"Later," I hear him say in the distance.
I spend all night trying to think of something cool to say to him the next morning.
"What're you thinking about, Spaghetti?" my brother asks, crawling onto the couch next to me. He smells like lavender soap and he's blocking my view of Jeopardy, but I wasn't paying attention anyway.
"Bradley McCourt," I say, prone to that honesty thing. Jake's heard the name before because I use him like a diary most of the time (not that I have a choice, he's very inquisitive), so he just laughs and ruffles my hair. It'd be annoying if it were anyone else.
"The infamous," he says, and after I explain what happened after school, he laughs a little more. "I wouldn't sweat it. Most people aren't nearly as weird as they think they are, and that includes you." Easy for him to say. He's the older, handsome, talented brother. I'm the brother with the freckles and the 2.3 GPA. "You shouldn't care what that dick thinks anyway."
"I know..." I let out an exaggerated sigh at my brother's insistence on sounding like an episode of Glee. "But I do. I care a lot." I care what everybody thinks and I know I'm not supposed to admit that. It's not cool to care, yet I can't stop myself. I care aggressively. Being alone is harder than people think, especially when you don't like yourself. I'm perpetually stuck with the worst company of all. It's exhausting. The worst thing of all is that I have no idea how to fix it. How do I get away from myself?
"Pay attention, Spaghetti," my brother says softly, shaking me out of my thoughts. Apparently he's been talking the entire time I've been thinking, but I zoned out on him. I don't know why, but whenever that happens, Jake looks at me with this weird expression on his face as if my daydreaming is an incurable, flesh-eating disease that I picked up in the jungle. I look at him expectantly, waiting for him to repeat what I had missed, but he doesn't get the chance because my mother comes in the room.
She plops down in an armchair with a groan. "My back is acting up again," she says by way of greeting. "It's my sciatic nerve. I feel it all the way from my neck to my tailbone." She stretches as though to demonstrate. We glance at each other with the same question in our eyes: back pain or pill addiction? The line's fuzzy these days. Did one bring about the second or is it the other way 'round? Sometimes hindsight's not 20/20.
"I can get your prescription refilled next week," Jake says, because he knows it's what she's gunning for. I roll my eyes and start to drift off on Alex Trebek's mustache, but Mom brings me right back to Earth.
"Edward!" she shouts. I jump. She seems miffed, which means she's tried to get my attention multiple times. It happens. She gets angry the way Jake gets weird.
"Sorry," I say, lifting my head to look at her. She shakes her head.
"I got a call from the school today," she says and dread fills my chest cavity. Write it down as fact: phone calls from school are never a good thing. "When were you going to tell me you're failing three different classes?"
"I... I wasn't not telling you."
"Honestly, Eddie." She sighs, rubbing her temples as though my existence is giving her a migraine. "All this daydreaming is getting out of hand if it's affecting your schoolwork."
"Mom," Jake interjects, his tone sounding cautious for some reason, and she shoots him a glare.
"Well!" she says, offended by his tone. "It's true, isn't it? What am I supposed to do, Jacob? Do you want him to fail out of school? Someone in this family has to get a degree, even if it's from fucking community college." My brother stiffens against me, but backs down. College has always been a sore spot.
"I'll fix it, Mom," I say flatly. She reaches for the remote, turning the volume up on the television.
I immediately start to zone out.
My head is empty.