The second day of school. People aren't as tired, but the teachers ramp up the work, so by the end of the day it might as well be Monday again. John, however, was in a slightly less irritable mood than usual; though he disliked being helped, he had taken Joe's advice and went to sleep an hour early. He was right; it did feel better.
It was about halfway through the school day, which made half a day of avoiding Neils and Steph. They had pretty much owned him yesterday, and they knew it. It was a win-win situation for them: if he talked to them, they'd bring it up again; or he avoided them and didn't get to talk to Neils anymore. Wait, no, taunt. Oh god, they were right. He was a lonely. How pathetic.
Maybe if he - No. No apologising. John Twistleton-Fledgeley never apologised to anyone! After all, why should he? He wasn't sorry in the least.
These arrogant thoughts were pushed aside as Joe lumbered towards his current position at the far corner of the lunch hall. Maybe he should have had his lunch elsewhere. Joe sat town with his tray of processed junk, and began to eat without a word said. John couldn't help but feel wary already.
Joe gulped down something indescribable, and turned to him. John craned his neck up to glower at him, and Joe spoke.
"I heard you, Steph and Neils' conversation yesterday."
What, was there no escaping from it?
He put his sandwich down, but Joe kept on eating. "Yeah, so?"
Joe shrugged. "Must have been pretty rough on you."
"Not really." Lies, all lies.
"I just wanted to know if what she said was true."
His eyes widened slightly. If he was honest with himself, he wasn't really sure if he had an answer.
"I mean, she had some pretty good evidence backing her up."
His mind went into overdrive. Never before had he been so confused; this is why he liked schoolwork. They tell you how to work something out, or formulate this, or decipher that, but this subconscious mumbo-jumbo was something they never taught you. I mean, maybe he wasn't lonely, or maybe he was in denial.
"Am I really that intimidating?"
John was woken up into the real world. He blinked and said, "What?"
"You said you bullied Neils but not me because I'm intimidating. I don't mean to be. Is it because I'm tall?"
He shook his head. "No, it's just... well, yeah, that's part of it. You just have kind of an angry-looking face, I guess."
"But so do you. I mean, you're always glaring at everyone; I don't think I've ever seen a time when you weren't at least a little bit annoyed."
He realised at that moment he wasn't scowling enough. "Yeah, well, that's because I'm always annoyed."
"I don't know. Things just piss me off easily. No-one really ever gave me a reason to like them, and it's just..." he trailed off, not really knowing where he was going. It occurred to him he was divulging a little too much personal information to him, but oh well. Maybe if he answered his questions, he'd go away.
"Easier?" Joe said, before stuffing another forkful of something green into his mouth.
John raised an eyebrow. "Why that choice of word?"
"It's easier to hate than to love. Love takes work and dedication, hate requires only ignorance and is easy."
John couldn't help but feel slightly insulted. He worked hard in all his subjects, how was this any different? Actually, the more he thought about it, the more it made sense. He hadn't really tried to like anyone here. He hadn't even tried to know them. He'd just kind of assumed they were all jerks.
"Hate also comes from fear."
Fear of what? John wasn't scared of anything. Although he didn't really understand other people like he understood maths or science, and fear comes from the unknown... and it wasn't like he had had many people be very nice to him. His parents were barely there throughout his childhood, and his experiences in school weren't the nicest. Maybe it was why he isolated himself so much, and perhaps where this newfound loneliness stemmed from. Maybe fear.
Meanwhile, Joe watched the mixture of emotions take place on the smaller boy's face. He was beginning to figure out the answer himself.
"Love means taking risks. Even friendship has an element of danger in it. But humans are pack animals; we can't survive without social interaction."
John nodded, broken out of his emotional stupor. "I get it, Joe. I get it. I should be nicer. How about you tell me something I don't know?"
Joe shrugged, and turned away from him to concentrate on the muck he called lunch again. John also turned to eat his tuna sandwich (oh yay, another fish product. Like he was a big fan of fish). They sat in silence for a while, John not telling him to move out of a mixture of fear and laziness, before John turned to say something that had been bugging him for ages.
Joe looked confused. "Penelope?"
"You know, your little retarded friend. Curly hair, bright eyes."
A look of realisation came across his face. "Oh, you mean Pippi. She's not a retard and she's not in. Influenza."
"If she's not a retard, why's she so hyper and distracted and shit? I mean, it isn't normal."
Joe pinched the bridge of his nose and looked away for a moment, before replying, "You have a lot to learn."
Joe was really confusing sometimes.
"Well, I'm done. Thanks for not kicking me off the table like I thought you would." And with those parting words, he put his tray away and left the room, hands in pockets. John wondered what he would be doing for lunch, but then dismissed that thought. It wasn't like he cared.
Steph lay on Neils' bed, hands behind her head, whilst Neils himself was on the computer, finishing his homework. Well, he had been; now the computer had completely frozen, so he was stuck aimlessly clicking whilst he talked to Steph to pass the time. It was after school, and Steph had come round to his house. He suspected she might stay the night again, even though it was only Tuesday. He couldn't blame her; her parents, being the violent drunks they were, weren't the best company in the world. Plus, she lived in a seriously dodgy area. He had been there once... never again.
"So, what was that yesterday?" he leant on the swivel chair (god, how he loved swivel chairs) and spoke to her.
She leant on her hands to face him. "What was what?"
"Your little John-analysis. I don't know, just seems unusually insightful of you."
She narrowed her eyes. "That's another way of saying I'm stupid, isn't it?"
He shook his head vigorously and held his hands up in defense. "N-no! I wasn't calling you stupid! I mean, your maths grades could use a little work, and your history too, but –"
She rolled her eyes. "Calm down, I was only joking. No need to dig yourself a hole. I know full well I'm not the smartest gal in the world."
Neils looked relieved. "O-oh."
"In answer to your question..." She stuck her tongue out thoughtfully. "I don't know. I was just kind of ponderin' why it was only you, and then all that stuff came out."
"Wow. Well, I was impressed. It really made sense. I think John even had something to think about afterwards." He swiveled to face her properly.
She shrugged. "Yeah, well, don't be expecting any more genius observations, as blunt as I am. That was a miracle of nature there."
"Oh, I don't know. You're smarter than you give yourself credit for," he said, smiling.
She smiled right back. "Thanks, Nelly. So, you think things'll change?"
He leant back on the chair and exhaled. "Maybe, maybe not. I'm no prophet. I know John'll realise you were right, sooner or later."
"But I don't even know if I was right. I mean, what if he really is the conceited snob he seems to be?" She said, her brow furrowed.
He looked downwards, stroking his chin like a wise man, then said matter-of-factly, "Sometimes, we have to take risks, and have some faith in the unknown. I reckon he's not. I mean, looking at the clues you gave... "
She pursed her lips. "I s'pose. Still, I don't want to overestimate him."
"Go ahead, so long as I get to say I told you so," he said, smirking mischievously.
"Neils, you say that and I'll knock your block off." One of her hands punched her other open palm.
"Can't stop me from thinking it!" he almost sang.
She chuckled to herself. "Fine, then. Think it, and I'll think the opposite. Say, what's wrong with your computer?"
He shrugged. "Don't know. It's been frozen for ages now. I don't think it's ever going to unfreeze."
"Try turning it off and on again?" She suggested. She didn't know all that much about computers, not having one at home.
"Might have to, yeah. Pity, my homework was on there."
"Oh no, for once in his life Neils won't hand in a piece of homework! Oh my! The tragedy!"
"You could do with handing yours in a little more, missy," he said, his face covered by the table that held the CPU underneath, turning it off and on again. Or at least, off. He couldn't quite get it on again...
"Funny. It's not turning on."
"Yup," he said whilst unplugging the whole thing and plugging it in again, then proceeding to attempt to restart the computer to no avail.
"No! The thing's not working. I don't want to do the work on paper!"
"You'll have to strain your dainty little fingers just this once."
"What a drag," he said, before getting up from under the table and collapsing onto the bed next to Steph.
"You've got time, bro. Chill out."
"Time, but not money. Besides, how are we supposed to lug this thing to the repair shop?"
Steph simply shrugged, staring up at the ceiling. They both lay there for a while, before Steph spoke up.
"You know, it's a pity us and John and that Joe and Pippi didn't make friends at the beginning of school. Heck, we didn't even become best friends 'till over summer."
A glimmer of hope found its way into Neils' eyes. "We're best friends?"
"No shit." She said, looking over to him and smiling. He smiled back, and then they went back to inspecting the ceiling until Steph suddenly sat up, a look of realisation on her face.
"I'm a genius!" she said.
Neils stuttered, startled, "Y-you are?"
"Like, visualize this. If the people who didn't fit in, like us, the rejects, had hung out already, life would be a lot better, right?"
"Yeah, we said this before..."
She looked straight ahead, eyes sparkling. "So, why not help other people do the same?"
"I'm not following."
"Okay, so get this. We start like, a club sort of thing, gathering all the miscellaneous people. Only it's not really a club, more like a whole new clique. Or maybe it should be a club? Yeah, and we could have a website! To help the people who don't fit in, fit in! We can have forums and stuff! And people will be able to have friends and meet up and stuff..."
Neils looked at her, putting the pieces together in his head. "Okay, I kind of get you, but I don't know if two kids could really start this up. I mean, you're forgetting about the dangers of meeting people over the internet, we don't even have the money to run a website... heck, we don't even have a computer. Besides, isn't bringing a bunch of kids together who nobody likes a bad idea? I mean, who's to say they won't hate each other?"
"Have a little faith in the unknown, Neils. Isn't that what you said before? Besides, I know someone who definitely has a computer. In fact, he probably has several, and the money to start a website."
The next day, John was sat in maths, waiting patiently for everyone else to finish with the questions so they could move onto the next set. He tapped his pen irritably against the cold wood of the desk. He was just about to give up and start doing the questions of his own accord, when the girl who sat next to him poked him on the arm. He ignored her at first. What was her name? He looked at the sticker on her closed maths book (that is, the question-book, not the one you write in). Cheryl. She poked him again.
He looked sideways at her and whispered an irritated, "What?"
She took a deep breath and said, "Steph told Neils to tell Joe to tell Rico to tell me to tell you that Steph and Neils have a proposition for you, and that they'll see you in the English corridors at lunch."
He sighed. Usually, he would tell them to go bug someone else, but maybe it was time he faced this so-called fear. Besides, he was curious; what kind of proposition could they possibly have for him? In the back of his mind, hope started blossoming, although he was only semi-aware of it. Hope that, for some reason, this proposition was to be friends.
It was lunch, and it was the English corridors. Steph and Neils waited, Neils hovering anxiously with his hands in his pockets and Steph pacing, arms folded, muttering to herself. John was late.
"Where the fuck is he? I knew he wouldn't come. Bastard; doesn't even have the decency to tell us he isn't coming!" Steph kicked a can of energy drink to the end of a hallway, and Neils sighed and out a hand on her shoulder.
"He'll come, don't worry."
"Says you, Mr. Worry-wart. Stupid fuckin' midget."
"Excuse me, who's a midget?" Steph and Neils' heads turned towards an annoyed-looking John standing near the door to the stairs, arms folded. He was panting slightly, like he had run here but slowed down before he entered so it wouldn't be so obvious.
Steph was not impressed. "I was talking about you, shortie. You're late."
"Shut up, lesbo. Nobody's bloody perfect."
Neils stepped in between them before any more insults could be shared, though Steph was still silently fuming behind him. She hated when people accused her of liking girls just because she had some tomboyish characteristics. It was annoying, untrue and also, in a way, homophobic. She supposed the fact that she shortened her name to Steph didn't help, though.
"I-I'm glad to see you came." Damn, he couldn't get the stutter out of his speech. He guessed he was still afraid of the shorter man.
"Yeah, whatever. Just tell me what this proposition is."
Steph stepped forward, shoving Neils out of the way, who looked fearfully at her. God, he sure hoped she didn't say something stupid...
"Now look here. We got an idea. Long story short, we want to make a website, but we don't have the money or even a computer, or even anyone who knows how to make a website. We heard that you're loaded and you spend most of your life on the computer, so we were gonna ask if we could borrow 'em for a while. The general idea is to create a community in which people who can't find a place to fit in, can fit in. So, are you in, or are you out?"
In the background, Neils grimaced, and John stood there, wavering slightly, all hopes dashed down the drain. Well, there goes that. It wasn't about him, it was about the money.
"Ya hear m –"
"Yeah, I heard you. So, you want to use my money and my resources for your stupid idea? No thanks. I have better things to do with my time." He began to turn away.
Steph growled and took a step forward, but not before Neils stopped here. She glared at him, but he shook his head, and she realised what she'd done wrong and took a step back. Neils grabbed John's shoulder only to flinch when he turned sharply back around, but they were still within close range.
"What?" John snapped at Neils.
"We... I... was hoping that... during this project... since it's about bringing people together..."
"Get on with it!"
Neils flinched again at John's harsh tone, but continued, though the stutter in his voice was apparent. "I-It would enable us... to become fr-friends..."
And it was at that moment that John realised that it was fear. It was fear of rejection, fear of people, fear of getting hurt, fear of everything that had caused him to keep to himself and keep away other people. But at the same time, he realised that it wasn't just because of fear. It was because it was easier, just like Joe had said. It was easier to stay away than to have his hopes dashed by other people's wrongdoings. It was easier to put others down first, before the same happened to him. And it would be easier to decline than to accept, and have that fear.
"Sorry. There's no way that I would ever want to be friends with a dork like you."
And it was only as he turned and left, catching only a glimpse of Neils' hurt expression, that he wondered if he had done the right thing.
A/N: So I wrote the second chapter~ This stuff is just pouring out of my fingers! So, reviews anyone? I mean, I need some motivation other than my own personal interest in the story, plus it's nice to know someone's reading it, even if they don't like it. FYI, I plan for this story to be very long, so there's a lot in store. And is it just me or does this website change some of the things you type? I keep seeing typos that weren't there before, or punctuation which has been deleted.