Universal Choking Sign

The strangest day of my life was the Monday that I found Patrick Graywake's diary in the boy's bathroom. But it wasn't because the school's basketball captain had a leather-bound journal that he happened to leave behind for me to discover. It wasn't even because I accidentally found myself in the boy's bathroom that morning in order to avoid an Algebra quiz even though I am not, in fact, a boy. No, the strangest part of my day had nothing to do with Patrick Graywake or Algebra or bathrooms, although none of those things really helped matters simmer down.

It was strange because it was the first time that DC Birch ever spoke to me. And it was the strangest because of what he chose to say. The whole encounter was out there, to be honest, but it was his statement that really tipped things over the precipice, past weird and on to straight up disorderly.

Okay. Let me start at the beginning and work my way down to Patrick's journal. It'll be easier for me that way.

So, this was what happened.

I slept through my alarm clock which left me scrambling around the house like a crazy person, as usual. I practically sprinted through my shower and threw on the first thing that looked passably wrinkle-free without really glancing it over. It turned out to be a white, long sleeve shirt and denim blue jeans... So I was reasonably sure that I didn't look like a circus freak. Well aside from the massive amount of brown hair that I'd had to leave down for the wind to dry due to my inability to tackle time management. And aside from the damp imprints that dripping hair was leaving on said white shirt, I guess.

Still it was nothing that should have attracted DC Birch's attention, of that I was sure. Nonetheless, something about me did because he zeroed in on me the second he stepped up to the corner where a group of us were waiting for the bus.

Ugh, okay, let me explain DC Birch before I get into this. Because it's more earth-shattering that way and because it makes more sense that way too. So, yeah.

DC is my next door neighbor and I believe he's around my age since I'm pretty sure that we're in the same grade. He's been my next door neighbor since I was eleven and we've gone to the same schools ever since. In all that time I've never had a class with him and I've only said hello to him once. That's right, one time. He hadn't said anything back. In all that time, I had never ridden the bus to school with him either.

That morning would be the very first time.

I was pondering that in surprise when I spotted his figure down the street, sauntering towards my direction. I was thinking to myself that he couldn't possibly be heading over to the corner bus stop because… well, frankly, because he never had. Meanwhile the guy in question was intent on proving my inner assertions wrong and hadn't deviated his course while my mind rambled impossibilities. Contradictory from the very first.

The bus was late. This wasn't a surprise to me, it actually contributed to the reason why I could never drag myself out of bed on time in the mornings. I had learned to count on the bus being late. But if it hadn't been then maybe this strangeness wouldn't have happened. I mean, I'd come out literally dripping wet just to make sure I didn't get left behind, and DC's approach was after mine. So maybe if the bus had been on time it would have spared me the encounter that changed my life.

Or, okay, if not my life then definitely my opinion of DC Birch. Which is so much less dramatic that it's not even fun to say, so we'll just stick with "life."

And just to clarify, my opinion of DC hadn't been high to start with. To be perfectly honest, it was more blank space than anything. These were the things that I actually knew about him: he lived next door to me, his mother was dead, he had at least three piercings, he possessed and drove a motorcycle, and he was probably my age. Ah, and then we get into the conditionals. Maybe, most likely, I suspected.

He wasn't exactly the kind of guy that a girl like me hung around, next door neighbor or no. The piercings and the motorcycle spoke volumes about who he was and his reputation only solidified those speculations. He was the kind of boy that mothers frowned at and fathers threatened. Not my father because he was also dead, but someone's, I'm sure. And it was because he had that motorcycle that he shouldn't have needed to take the school bus that morning.

I'd squinted towards our houses as if I could pierce through the closed garage door in his driveway with x-ray vision and figure out why his motorcycle had betrayed me. That was what I was doing when he walked up to me. And I do mean me, specifically, because I had sequestered myself away from the rest of the kids at that stop. I was a little upwind of them because Jacob Prince smoked and I didn't like to breathe in the scent of it, didn't like the idea of it lingering on my clothes throughout the school day.

Besides, if my mother ever caught a whiff that would raise some awkward questions.

Anyway, DC stopped right next to me. The side of his arm literally brushing against the fabric of my shirt like he'd never heard the concept of personal space before. He stopped so close to me that I could feel his body heat and I could breathe in the spicy soap scent emanating from his person. So, naturally, I froze in panic and my eyes bugged out of my head like a fish. By the time that I realized I probably shouldn't stiffen (because he would feel it, he was close enough), it was too late.

If there had been any justice in the world then the bus would have come down the hill at that exact moment so that I could have flung myself in front of it. But that obviously didn't happen. What did happen was that I twisted my head to look at DC Birch full on in his face without realizing it, because I have some serious issues that I probably should address with a therapist in the near future.

If I could have been a normal person then I would have managed to stealthily peak at him. But I, being me, actually turned my whole body so that I could full on gawk at him instead. It was too much to hope that he wouldn't notice; he was looking back at me.

As if in slow motion, his head angled into a tilt so that he could look more closely into my eyes. He had blue eyes, like the sky. Like the ocean in a storm. And one of his copper-tinted eyebrows, the one with the double piercings, arched sarcastically as if daring me to say anything. Obviously I didn't. And then, mercifully, the bus came.

No, I didn't throw myself in front of it. I probably should have. Instead I scrambled to be the first one on and took my usual seat, smack in the middle. I actually liked riding the bus, contrary to what most people my age felt. Being a Junior meant that I could have acquired a parking space and started to drive myself to school, except for two things: I lacked both a car and a license. Trying to learn to drive had been stressful and I'd given up almost as soon as I started out with it. Drivers Ed was definitely in my future because trying to let Camille teach me anything behind the wheel of a car was an impossible task. My mother was a lot of great things but patient was not one of them.

I liked riding the bus because I didn't really know any of the kids that rode it and none of them tried to know me. That anonymity was crucial to my happiness.

It was something that DC took away from me that morning when he slid into the same seat as me and closed the distance between us without hesitation. He put the side of his body against the side of mine with such an ease of familiarity that it floored me.

I mean, it blanked my mind of anything else. All I could concentrate on was that fact that he was beside me. That and the erratic beating of my heart because of how close he was and how odd that made things.

He put his book-bag down next to him, on the remainder of the brown leather seat that wasn't being occupied because we were so squeezed together, and he just sat there in silence. The bus pulled off, went through the regular route, made all the normal stops, while both of us sat there with our heads turned straight ahead without saying anything to each other. But every time we jolted my clothes brushed against his clothes or the skin of the short-sleeved arm against me.

It was unnerving, to say the least, but it still might not have been the strangest thing that's ever happened to me. What made it so unique was what he said once we got to school.

The bus pulled to a stop in front of the school, behind the others, and the doors swung open but DC didn't make any move to get up. He leaned closer to me instead. As if closer were a possibility.

He put his nose against the damp barrier of my hair, right where my ear was hiding behind it, and whispered his statement against the curve of my jaw. I could feel the heat from his words slither down my skin as the shock absorbed in my blood stream.

This is what he said: "You know, if I were a serial killer you'd be on my list."

Then he leaned back, reached for his book-bag and slung it around his shoulders in one smooth motion as he put space between the two of us. And his blue, blue eyes were staring into the brown of my own as one corner of his lips inched upwards into a smirk before he stood to saunter off the school bus. I know this because I started staring at him again after the words registered. All openmouthed, deer-in-headlights, terrified confusion.

He smirked and walked away.

At that point I probably should have followed him but I was all frozen incredulity and had to be shooed by our bus driver before I could get my shaky legs to cooperate.

I thought, if she had a list then she'd probably added me too. I thought my knees were going to buckle. I thought my legs were actually rubber.

I mean, seriously! Who says something like that to someone? Anyone in general, but especially me? I wasn't the kind of person that other people took notice of, if you know what I mean. And I liked it that way. I did as little as possible so as to keep it that way. I enjoyed being background noise. I was very good at blending. I was a chameleon. It suited me.

But that was how DC Birch started my downward spiral.

It was because I couldn't stop thinking of that unbelievably insane encounter that I couldn't focus during Algebra. Well, okay, I might have wanted to skip out on the pop quiz that Mrs. Anderson sprung on us regardless, but on a normal day I would have frowned into my palm and guessed my way through it. On that day, however, I faked being sick and snuck off to the bathrooms.

It was my decision to explore the Senior halls in my delinquency that found me hiding in a stall in the boy's bathroom.

On accident, okay?

I did realize I wasn't in the right place for my gender, fairly quickly. I did. That's totally true…


Okay, I actually didn't recognize it until I heard the voices outside and then my eyes landed on the urinals. In any case, I rushed into a stall and prayed that neither boy would pick out my sneakers as oddities while they did their business.

So that was when I heard Patrick and his friend have a brief argument about a party that I had no knowledge of and I didn't pay too much attention to the details of because eavesdropping was kind of rude. But the argument was followed by a tussle where Patrick's bag was upended.

They picked up the stuff hurriedly, worried about being late for class, and scampered out of the bathroom. I took that opportunity to quickly use the stall I was hanging out in (because I had been sitting there too long, by then, not to have to use it, you know? Stalling in a stall...), and then I hastened out of there before anyone else could catch me in the act.

In my rush to get out, I nearly broke my neck slipping on something. It was a notebook: small, encased in brown leather, it had the name "Patrick Graywake" engraved on the front of it.

Maybe I should have just left it there but I didn't. I shoved it into my bag and high-tailed it out of there like a ghost was tailing me.

So that was it. That was the strangest day of my life. The beginning of the end.

To be continued...

Detailed Summary: After DC told me I fit the qualifications of someone he'd want to murder, I never wanted to speak to him again. So I probably shouldn't have blamed him for something he didn't do, against someone he couldn't stand. It sort of cheesed him off... Okay, this is what happened: Patrick Graywake - high school basketball god - lost his diary. I - high school nobody with debilitating shyness - found said diary. Let's just say "circumstances" led me to publicizing the item in question for the entire high school to peruse. And when caught? ... Yeah, I might have accidentally blamed my next door neighbor, DC Birch. Who scares the pee out of me! So now DC thinks I owe him and he thinks I can repay him by singing in his band. And I think I have to because I'm about ninety-nine percent sure he'll kill me if I don't. It's not looking like it's gonna be my year. Now I'm on the radar of an angry jock, a drummer with an anger management problem, a bitter ex-girlfriend, and a possible sociopath... Yeah. Things could be better.

Rating: Rated T (for teen) due to adult topics, language and themes. Some mentions of sexuality.

Rewrite Notes: This is the first chapter of the rewrite of UCS. So here's the deal... The rewrite will start out with largely the same story arc as before, because I didn't want to change the plot of the story. Just, somewhere along the way I got a little lost and I need the fresh start to go forward with this story. I have changed the minutest of things, and those changes will shape and develop the story so that it differs from the original quite a bit. But these changes won't become extremely noticeable or pronounced until the first couple of chapters are out of the way. That being said, I recognize that the original version might have had a more engaging introductory chapter. What I ask is that you stick with me, as I promise the changes I made were all for a reason and ultimately contribute to a better outcome. If you are returning and would like to see the new and rewritten version of this story to completion, then I welcome you wholeheartedly. If you simply want a repost of what was here before, I'm afraid you might be mildly disappointed. If you're completely new, hello! Thank you for taking the time to discover this and I hope you find something worthwhile.

Oh! I forgot to mention. I changed my username. I figured if ever I was going to do it, now was the time. It's been years since I've updated anything! I picked that name in middle school and I have since graduated college, so... I think I deserve it. But if you've noticed and were confused, that is why.