I hunch in my seat and doodle in my notebook while waiting for class to start. I hate the class. I love history.
Somebody drops into the chair behind me. The loud noise of a backpack being flung to the ground makes me jump in my desk and I slam my knees. He does it on purpose, every fucking day we have class together.
"Hey Mackie," says Andy from behind me. You can practically hear the sneer in his voice. I don't respond to him. There's no point.
A jolt goes through my chair/desk combo and my stuff falls off my desk. Andy kicked my chair. Of course. I sigh and bend down to get my stuff.
"Not nice to ignore people, Mackie," says Andy. I look at him and imagine myself punching him and that perfect smile, or stabbing his stupid hazel eyes with my pencil. But I don't. I don't do anything. No, that's a lie, I do; I obey him.
"Sorry," I say. Andy smirks.
"That's better," he says. Then a couple of his friends from whatever sports walk in and he starts talking to them and finally stops talking to me. Class starts and they keep talking. I want to tell them to shut up, that I can't hear the movie. It's about the Holocaust, and Ms. Abernick already told us we were having our unit test on World War II on Friday. I can't fail it. I can't.
I try to focus on the movie over the conversation Andy and his friends are having. Occasionally Ms. A tells them to be quiet, and I can take notes on all the horrible things the Nazis did. Sometimes pictures are shown of the starved Jews and I try not to think about how if I lose just a few pounds—not out of the question, really—I could look like them. I don't want to. But there are a lot of things I don't want. The movie is depressing and I don't think I can watch any longer, but I force myself to try.
It gets harder when Andy kicks my seat again. I jump and curse at myself for it. He wants that reaction, but I can't help it. He and his friends laugh.
"Told you, every time," he says to one of his friends. "Hey Mackie, did you see that one picture? Are you sure you're not a time-traveller? He could have been your twin!" His friends laugh like a bunch of apes.
"But seriously, are you anorexic?" asks one of his friends. They all laugh.
I sigh. If people are starting to notice I don't know what I'm going to do. Nobody can know.
"Hellooo? He asked you a question, fag!"
I wince. You like it, don't you? Fucking faggot.
Another kick to my chair. "No," I say, hoping they leave me alone, and knowing they won't. Nobody does unless I need them.
"I don't believe you, fag," says Andy maliciously. "Why else would you be such a fucking stick?"
"Fast metabolism," I tell him, trying to believe it myself. He grunts and stops talking. In the front of the room, Ms. A is turning off the TV. I missed almost the whole movie. I'll fail the test and it'll probably drop my grade to an 89 or something horrific. I won't be able to leave my room for a week. I'm mad at Andy, but he can't know why I'm so pissed, so I can't even yell about it. I put my head down on my arms instead and try not to cry.
I get off the bus and stand at the end of my driveway, staring at my house. I suppose it's beautiful; it's one of the bigger ones in town, because my dad's parents were rich and he has a great job. But I can't really think about how nice it is. I barely even get to see any of it anymore. Even before mom left he kept locks on the doors, but now I'm hardly allowed out of my room.
I've considered running away before. Stealing dad's debit card (which I memorized the code for when I was ten), taking a few thousand dollars, and just going. Maybe I'd skip the country and head to London or something. I even planned what clothes I'd bring, what food I'd be able to eat. What shirts I could wear without worrying about bruises or scars. Those plans included mom though. It was a long time ago. I don't know where my passport is (he might have thrown it out), or where my mom is (coked up banging her dealer probably), and I have more scars and fewer chances of getting out of the house.
Other times (most times) I think about just checking out. I can't tell anybody. He'll find out, and he'll kill me. He's said so. Not only him, but so would Frank. They'd do it together. They're both "respectable men" so nobody would think about them. Poor old Joe Mack, did you hear? First his drug-addicted wife runs off, then his 16-year-old son goes missing. Kid's probably doing drugs too. Probably wasted or dead in some alley. Poor Joe Mack.
I only wish I was dead, even if it was in an alley. It may sound weird that I'd rather kill myself than have him or Frank kill me, but they already have so much control over me.
I realise I've been standing outside for a good ten minutes, and head for the front door. I go in and look around. My dad's not home. I check the kitchen door (like always) and it's locked (like always). I sigh and head up the stairs to my bedroom, the only room in the house that isn't locked besides the bathroom. He locks that sometimes too, but only when I've been really bad.
He comes in at seven, as I'm doing homework.
"What are you doing?" he demands.
"An English essay. It's on—"
"Do you think I care? Finish it, or you don't get any of the pizza Frank and I ordered."
I look at him, my eyes wide. I wish I could hide my fear. "Frank's here?"
He laughs. "Frank's here?" he mocks, and spits at me. "Yes, Frank's here. Hurry up with the fucking essay or you don't get any dinner. And Frank wants you to eat with us."
He turns around and slams the door behind himself. I let myself whimper. I just started the essay. There's no way I'm getting it finished before ten. That means no dinner (no food for two days now, my stomach growls at me). It also means that if I don't eat with them, Frank will be mad. When he's mad, things are even worse. I try hard not to think about it, but as I type my breath starts hitching and I notice tears on my keyboard. I wipe them away. I wonder what my punishment will be for not finishing the essay tonight because Frank will want to spend time with me. Probably the belt, I think. Or the closet. Or both. The weekend is coming up.
At eight, dad comes back in. "The pizza is here. If your essay isn't done in the next five minutes, you're waiting until dinner tomorrow. I'm sure you wouldn't want to disappoint Frank either. He came over tonight to see how you were doing." He smiles at me (I swear I see fangs) and walks out of my room.
I hold my breath. I have another page to write. I'm starving. I weigh my options. I could lie, tell him I'm finished with the essay, and finish it another time, getting to eat tonight, or I could just keep writing and wait until tomorrow night. The first one! screams my stomach. It's been so long! I sigh heavily.
"I know…" I whisper to it. It growls at my encouragingly. "We can't," I say. "Shut up." He'd find out if I lied to him. Lying is unforgiveable. No matter how bad I feel like things are now, they'd be worse then. You can live two days without food. I've done it tons of times. The only problem this time is that Frank will be mad at me for not coming down to have dinner with them. Dad surely told him that I just didn't feel like it. It's the sort of thing he does.
The laptop is closed and tossed on the floor and please let the essay be saved or I'll have to start all over again. The blankets are bunched up and now they're dirty with—no, they're dirty, and they need to be washed, and while I'm at it I'll do my laundry too. Later, I have to do it after, but it has to get done. I can't ever fall asleep. Think about something else, anything else.
The lights are still on and Frank—there are clothes on the floor and it's messy and if it's left that way I am so dead. I learned my lesson the first time, and I make sure to pick up, even after—
He always leers, snarls, pretends to smile. Be my friend. I'm not fooled.
Closing my eyes doesn't work, it never does, because reality is bad but imagination is worse. I'm living in a nightmare, how is that possible? I think I must already be dead. I'm probably in hell. I deserve it, that's what he says. They both say. They all say. I'm not sure if hell exists but if it does it can't be worse than this.
I get on the bus and immediately wish I wasn't there. Last night was bad. I have more bruises and I'm sore everywhere. I had to wait for Frank to leave and dad to go to bed before I could shower and wash my sheets. Then I finished the essay and started a chemistry project. I can't sleep on nights Frank visits.
Luckily my stop is one of the first ones and I get an empty seat to myself. Nobody ever asks to sit with me either, and maybe some people would be offended by that, but I'm not. I know my limits, and having someone six inches from me is definitely one of those limits.
In school I remember why eating is one of those things that's necessary. As I sit in the middle of chemistry my head starts spinning. I feel like I'm trying to move through mud, with how tired and dizzy I am. I blink a few times and take a few deep breaths. Maybe if Frank hadn't…come over last night, and I'd gotten some sleep, I would be okay.
"Andrew, are you okay?" I hear, and look up to see Mrs. Rupert looking down at me. The rest of the class is doing pre-lab packets, but I catch Andy smirking at me from across the room.
"I'm fine, Mrs. Rupert," I tell her, and make myself believe it. I can handle this. I've done it a thousand times before.
"Are you sure you don't want to go to the nurse?" she wheedles.
No! my mind screams. They'll find out! I can't go to the nurse. Nurses ask questions, and I don't, can't, have anybody know. That Andrew Mack, what a poor excuse for a man. Can't defend himself at sixteen years old. Pitiful. More than pitiful. He does deserve it, every bit. More. No. Nobody can know. Especially the nurse, just because I'm a little dizzy.
"No ma'am," I tell her. "I uh, I'm fine. May I go to the water fountain?"
She smiles at me, apparently satisfied now. She's a nice woman. She dyes her hair red. She must be at least sixty. She has pictures of her kids and grandkids on her desk. I don't look at those. I smiled like those kids once too, I'm sure. I don't remember it though. So I don't look.
"Go on. Come back soon." I wait until she walks away to stand up, and I'm glad I did. I sway a little bit and my eyes go dark. I blink and take a deep breath. Once it passes, I walk out of the room, ignoring the pain in my muscles.
I drink a lot of water at the fountain, enough to trick my stomach for a few minutes that I'm not hungry. I don't feel like going back to chemistry, and toy with this idea of staying in the cool, quiet hallway for the remainder of class. I'm tempted to just curl up in a corner and go to sleep because of how tired I am, too, and I imagine the floor would be comfortable despite how hard it is. But I can't. I could never skip a class.
I take another minute at the water fountain and start walking back to the classroom. Andy comes out and starts walking towards me. For a second as he passes me, I see Frank, and I flinch away from him. I keep walking, speeding up in case he decides to hit me. He never has, but there's a first time for everything; guys like him love seeing guys like me flinch. Out of the corner of my eye I see his head turn to look at me. I focus on my shoes and keep going until I'm in the classroom.
Safe at last.
What the fuck is his problem? I'm not gonna fucking jump him, for Chrissakes.
I duck in the bathroom and do my business. And, weird, as it sounds, I think about Mack.
He fucking flinched when I passed him? I've never even hit him before, so what the fuck? He's more of a pussy than I fucking thought. Or he's just trying to trip me out so I leave him alone.
I don't know why I fuck with him really. He's just there all the time. Sitting there are all quiet, not ever looking at anyone or anything. He's sort of a freak. Seriously. And anyway, it's so funny to see him jump or turn red. My friends think so too. And nobody's really tried to stop me, so they probably think so too.
When I get back to class we're starting labs and everyone's picked partners already. I look at Jon across the room and he partnered up with that cunt he likes, Julie, or Jamie, or something. He shrugs at me and I turn to Mrs. Rupert.
"Oh, Andy, you're back. Can you please join Phil and Drew's group?"
Drew. Mack. Nope. "Can't I work with Jon?"
"Today's lab can be dangerous if you mess around. I'd rather you not work with Jon today. Thank you."
I groan and pick my shit up on the way to the lab table where Mack and Phil are standing, already measuring god-knows-what into vials.
"Hey Phil", I say to the short little band guy. He's cool though. He plays like ten instruments. He's funny as shit too.
"Hey Andy. Not with Jon today?"
"The bitch made me come over here. No offence to you, of course." Then I look at Mack, who has somehow ended up practically three feet away from me and Phil. "Going somewhere?" I ask him.
He looks at me, but only catches my eye for a split second. I realise that he seriously looks like shit. Pale as fuck, huge bags under his eyes, his cheekbones sticking out a little. I feel a little bad.
"No. Just…" He doesn't finish, just lets it trail off. Then I feel really bad. He's probably dying from the flu or something, and everyone knows his dad is a hardass about grades. Ever since seventh grade when he came in and yelled at him during a meeting with the principal. He'd gotten some sort of award for being a ridiculous genius in social studies or something, but his math grade was like, an 80. I swear to god, every class in the middle school heard every word that guy shouted. It was brutal. And then Mack came back to class, calm as anyone, and fucking answered every goddamn math question the teacher asked. He's never absent. The least I could do is not fuck with him when he's sick, I guess.
I get home after cross country and my mom has dinner on the table already. It's going to be part of my sister's rehabilitation, having regular sit-down meals or something, so my mom decided we should get in the habit of doing it before she comes home. After cross-country I love to eat, but I hate doing it now. Mom and dad don't talk at all, and if they do it's to me. And if I talk to one of them for too long, the other one gets jealous. It's fucking annoying. And I don't think it's really going to help Jessica too much if all the meals we have are as fucked up as they are.
I eat dinner as fast as I can so I don't have to deal with them and their bullshit. I head upstairs to do my homework and watch TV before I crash for the night.
The next day I meet up with Jon as his locker. His girlthing is there and he gives me this look like he can't believe I'd intrude on their little whatever. I roll my eyes and decide to go find Mikey or Riley or anyone. I start walking toward the quad where they all hang out. On my way there I see Mack at his locker. I wonder for a second if he has any friends, since I never see him with any. I know Riley went to his elementary school, so he might know. Although it would be sort of weird to ask, so I decide not to.
In the quad, my friends and their friends and their friends all talk. In one corner, about ten guys try to play hacky-sack. I kind of wish I had foot-eye coordination, but I don't. It's why I run. Most of the people in the quad are juniors and seniors, with only the occasional sophomore. I don't think there are ever freshmen here. Last year when Riley was dating a freshman, she still wouldn't come in the quad. Fine with me, too, because she was fucking irritating.
"Hey Andy!" calls Riley. He's got his arm around his current set of boobs. Now don't get me wrong. I'm not a sexist. I don't think girls need to serve me sandwiches or anything. But practically all the girls in this fucking school are sluts. Annoying tan little monsters with push-up bras and squeaky voices. I put up with them because I love my friends, even if they have really shitty judgement.
"Hey Riles," I greet him. I look down at the girl attached to his hip. "Hey…" I realise I don't remember her name. I think he's been dating her for a few weeks too, so that's awkward. I look at Riley.
"I was just telling Katrina about that one time we got lost camping," he says to me. I laugh along with him as he tells the story again. We'd been like twelve or something and all our dads decided to take us camping because that's what men do, or something. Me, Riley, Mikey, and this kid Davey who moved, all snuck off in the middle of the night to go kayaking across the river to an island and go swimming. Somehow we ended up like two miles away. It was terrifying and it sucked but it's always funny to tell now.
The bell for first period rings and Riley's little girl kisses his cheek and runs off. Me and Riley have math together so we walk together.
"So do you hate Katrina too?" he asked me as we walk. I glance at him.
"What, you hate her already?"
He shoves me and laughs. "No, I meant do you hate her just like you hate every other girl I've ever dated?"
I shrug. "It's nothing against you, man. I just hate girls."
He rolls his eyes. "Dumb. Even if you hate them, you can't say you wouldn't go out with one for the sex. Anyway, I really like Katrina. So try an' be nice, okay?"
"Sure Riles," I say, and ruffle his hair a bit as we walk into math. I think about what he said about going out with girls as I ignore Mr. Greene. I never really felt like going out with girls. But it's not like I'm gay. I just don't like girls. They're almost all irritating. Basically the only girl I know who I don't dislike is my sister, and she doesn't count because she's my sister.
After math ends we head to history. I'm a little excited to go to history because I've got Jon, Riley, and Mikey all in my class. Stupid of whoever does the schedules really, but it works for me. Not to mention Mack sits in front of me, and that's always a lot of fun.
I take a seat on top of my desk when I get in the room. Mack is, unsurprisingly, already in his seat. He's got his textbook open and keeps flicking through the pages. He's still all pale and weird so I figure he's probably still sick.
"Hey Mackie, whatcha doin'?" I ask him while waiting for my loser friends to get here from making out with girlthings.
Mack looks over his shoulder at me. "Test today. I have to study."
I roll my eyes because there's no way he has to study for anything history related. "No you fucking don't."
"Ye-yes I do," he stammers. I smirk. Seriously, he's hilarious. "I haven't had time to study and the movie on Wednesday…"
"Was boring as fuck, whatever. Study away you fucking nerd." I leave him alone when Mikey walks in, finally having someone to talk to.
After the test, which by the way I probably failed, Ms. A announces that we're starting our super legit American History unit. As an American student, I can safely say I've heard it all every year for the past eleven years. Public school is the fucking worst.
"But as part of the curriculum, we'll be taking an extended field trip to Washington D.C.," says Ms. A. That's when I actually start listening to her. We'll apparently be taking a five-day, four-night trip to D.C. at the end of the unit, the week of Halloween. We'll do all the tourist stuff and god knows what else, but it's apparently a "great opportunity". All I know is that I'll be out of my house and out of school for five days with three of my best friends.
There's no way he'll let me go, I think. I panic.
There is no way he'll let me go. I'm not allowed out of my bedroom, do you really think he'll let me out of the state? Is Ms. A crazy? Who authorizes a five-day out-of-state field trip? Can you imagine the sort of money that'll cost? I know our school district is rich, but that's insane! I can't go. I can't even ask him. It's ridiculous. No. I can't believe it's even on the table. It's stupid. And I'd have to sleep in a hotel, which is not going to happen. Especially not with any of the people in my class. No.
I wait until after class to talk to Ms. A. Andy's friend "trips" on my chair so I have to pick all my books up before I even approach her.
"Ms. Abernick," I start. "Um, I'm not sure about the trip. I mean it sounds great, but I don't think I really wanna go. Is there any other—?"
She cuts me off while packing her bag. "Drew, the trip is mandatory, and the opportunity of a lifetime."
"But if there were anything else I could—"
"Drew, if you're worried about the cost, the school can help you with that."
She doesn't get it. "No, it's not, just my dad likes me to be home after my mom, uh, left." There. Mostly truth.
Her eyes soften a little bit (the women's always do, it's why I don't tell them) and she smiles like she's understanding. "How about I give your dad my number and he can give me a call with any concerns, okay?"
That's not going to help at all and will probably make it worse, but I let her write her number on my information packet anyway. I wonder what would happen if I just didn't ever hand in the permission slip. I wouldn't be allowed on the trip, obviously. Would Ms. Abernick give me another assignment? Would I fail?
"Okay, but um, you're sure there's no other assignment I could do in place of the trip?" I try one last time. She gives me a look.
"I'm sorry Drew, it's just one of those things. Tell your dad to give me a call, okay? Do you need a pass to your next class?"
My head drops and I look at my feet. I'm absolutely fucked. "Yes, please."