Two years ago, Dad died.
I'd been over at my friend, Tyler Porter's house playing video games in his basement when he was hit by the car. Can you believe that? My dad was dying, and I was busy stuffing my mouth full of popcorn and orange soda while racing a three dimensional car in circles. I wasn't even supposed to be there; Dad had grounded me from having a social life until my suspension was finally over.
But I didn't care. Because I wanted to go and hangout. I just had todo something other than sit around the house staring at the peeling wall paint.
He'd been looking for me when the car side barred him in the middle of an intersection. My mom still has the four voicemails he left on her machine when he realized I wasn't home. I've only listened to them once, and that's all I'll ever do, because every time I hear his desperate voice; I realize exactly how worthless I am.
Tyler didn't know that I wasn't allowed to be over at his house. He didn't go to my school; we were just neighborhood friends, so there wasn't really an easy way for him to know about the suspension. When he found out that it was all my fault, our friendship had a train wreck, and I haven't spoken a word to him since.
As for my mom, well we occasionally have our not-terrible days, and more occasionally have our cut-throat weeks.
So far this week, she's cried three times, screamed on six different occasions, and slammed her door in my face twice.
Cut -Throat Week.
So when I'm sitting back in class etching a rather violent cartoon onto the top of my desk, and I hear Mr. Croaker's deep, raspy voice say my name, I feel like curling up into a ball right then and there.
"Mr. Keeson…" his metallic voice says.
I don't look up at first…
"You'll be partnered with Ms. Westlawn."
I still don't look up, though my hand clenches so tight that I hear the snap of my pencil breaking.
I lift my head a little, looking through the strands of reckless brown hair that fall past my eyes. She sits in the row next to me, three seats up. I catch her auburn hair immediately. She starts turning and I look away, digging the front half of my pencil deeper into my desk furiously. I can tell she's looking at me passively through her glasses, and yet for some reason my face is heating up.
I put a hundred curses on Mr. Croaker for partnering me up with her.
This is Cut Throat Week, I can't have anyone doing a project with me at my mom's house; not when the tension in the air makes it hard to breathe.
So I pray to a God I stopped believing in long ago for two things in particular. One; that Emma would stop freaking looking at me. And Two; that we could do the project at her house.
I know him. He's the boy whose dad died a few years ago, isn't he?
Yes, that's him. It's like he fell off of the face of the planet after the crash.
Of all the kids in this class, why would I get partnered up with a boy who could care less about passing this course?
Maybe I should raise my hand; correct this apparent error Mr. Croaker has made. This is my junior year, and I can't have Harvard or Yale seeing that I got anything less than an A on a Physics project. I've worked too hard, too long for this.
So I start to raise my hand in the air, but against my better judgment, I decide to turn around and give this kid the benefit of the doubt. I saw a television show once where a guy was able to tell if a person was lying through the expression on their face. He'd look really closely, noticing the small movements and shifts of every facial muscle. It'd be like he was reading a book, except the words were facial expressions.
If I turn around and he's looking back at me expectantly, then I'd be able to somewhat infer his interest in passing this class. But If I don't, then no harm done. I'll just talk to Mr. Croaker after class. He'll understand my problem.
So I look back and am met with his downturned face.
For a moment I'm furious. I want to jump right from this seat and strangle this guy for being so nonchalant and for ruining such a perfectly good desk. But then I compose myself, realize that this will all be over soon, and turn back toward Mr. Croaker.
After class, I throw my books, pencil, sharpener, calculator, etc, etc, etc, into my backpack, and start weaving through the desks toward Mr. Croaker.
I'll correct this.
I'd rather work by myself than with-
"So when do you wanna start?"
I turn around and there he is; his backpack unzipped and slung over one shoulder. He snaps his head back, whipping that annoyingly long hair from in front of his eyes and gives me a look of pure loathing. At first I'm confused. Start? Miles Keeson would never want to start anything.
"Excuse me?" I reply.
"We can't meet up at my house…I've got… relatives in town this week…"
"Woah," I interrupt him. "Wait. You actually want to work on this?"
"Well," he says, his eyes shifting to everywhere except my own. "Yea."
"Why not?" He says this so naturally, it takes me a moment to respond.
"I was just about to ask Mr. Croaker if I could work alone."
"Why would you do that?"
"Because doing a project is not your forte, Miles."
He sighs heavily. "Look, it's not like I want to work on this."
"You two had better stop flirting and get a move one. I have a class coming in," Mr. Croaker says from the front of the room. I give him the best Death look I can and imagine a renegade bus hitting him his way home today. Sadly, he's looking down at his papers and the light reflecting off of his slick, bald head irritates my narrowed eyes.
I look back at Miles and he seems to be studying his shoe laces quite intensely.
"My house. Six-thirty on Friday after school. Bring your textbook and some rubber bands."
"Rubber bands?" A hint of a smile shows up on his face. I realize that I've just witnessed a rare and important moment in history, because Miles doesn't smile. His thin lips have been paralyzed into a scowl for the past two years. "You already have this project planned out, don't you?"
"Of course. What's so funny?"
"Nothing. The big red house, with the creepy gnomes?"
Tell me about it.
"Yes, with the gnomes."
Two days later, school lets out, and I trudge down the front steps behind the throng of kids who have long forgotten about me.
When Dad died, my existence was basically erased at this school. Kids who I once called "friend" when I gave them a high five now call me very explicit names while they think I can't hear them, and vice-versa. At one point, I thought that they were all in on a conspiracy with Tyler; everyone in my life just planned on turning on me right after Dad was buried. It wasn't until four months and eight days ago, when Howard Stacey punched me square in the nose for no good reason, that I realized that there was no conspiracy against me.
On that day, as no one helped me while I laid on the floor with blood spurting from in between my cupped hands, I realized that human kind is just idiotic and heartless and mean and prideful and stupid and mean and cold and spiteful and ridiculous and arrogant and mean and cowardly and cruel and nasty and mean and ruthless and self -centered and mean and mean and mean and just so freakin mean-
"…the rubber bands."
I open my shut eyes, relax my clenched jaw, and find Emma standing two stairs below me.
"What?" I say as my face begins to flush. She sighs and I watch her ponytail fly in the pre- autumn wind behind her.
"The rubber bands? You'll have them tonight, right?"
"Aw, yeah. I'll have them."
"Okay." She leans forward a little and raises an eyebrow at me. "What's wrong with you?"
"What do you mean?"
"You looked like you were asleep and having a nightmare when I came up to you. You doing drugs or something?"
"You're kidding, right?"
You've got to be kidding me…
"I'll have your stupid rubber bands, alright." And I storm down the stairs before she can say something that we'll both regret.
This world is so unfair.
Because everyone is so mean.
And because I hate them all too.
Because there's a cute girl who thinks I do drugs and looks at me like I'm worthless. Because I really am worthless and she really is cute.
Because Dad died and my relationship with Mom went with him.
I pull out my headphones and blast some silence as I head home to look for stupid rubber bands.