The next morning, I got up and got dressed before looking at the abandoned homework I had still on my desk. Thank God for Study Hall. I closed my books and shoved them into my back pack before zipping it closed and I slid one of my arms through one of the straps before doing the same with the second one, then I looked out into the hall left and right. Once I was sure it was quiet, I quietly made my way into the hallway towards the stairs that took me downstairs and I immediately turned into the kitchen. There were dishes from last night waiting for me. I started my dad's coffee first before washing the dishes with warm water, dish soap, a sponge that had a soft side and a rougher side. I continued washing all the dishes before drying them and putting them all where they go, then I searched for my day's car keys to start his heater. He always keeps them in the same spot, on the coffee table in the living room in the little dish we have there.
I grabbed them and walked outside into the cold, January air. I opened the driver seat door before bending over to slip the keys into the ignition, then I slid my way out into a standing position after turning the heater on and I closed the door.
I turned my head before smiling as I waved at Cole. He waved back from two houses down with a bright smile.
"Your dad up?" Cole asked, cupping his right hand by his mouth as he yelled.
"No, but if you yell loud enough he might hear ya!" I yelled back before chuckling as I watched him rush his way over.
He panted once he slowed to a stop in front of me, bending over to catch his breath while holding his US history book to his side and he turned his head to look up at me once he could breathe better. "So, where'd you go yesterday? I was going to walk with you home, remember?"
"Uh...yeah...my...dad wanted me home earlier so..." I lied.
"Oh, that's okay. Just text me next time, okay? I got worried." Cole said as he straightened himself.
"Okay. I will." I replied with a soft smile.
"EMMETT! Get your FUCKING ass in here!" my father yelled from the house.
"...your dad's a dick..." Cole muttered.
"Believe me, I know." I replied softly.
"You want me to walk you to school?" Cole asked.
I shook my head almost immediately. "N-no...my dad needs me. You go on ahead."
"Oh...okay...I'll see in first period, then." Cole said.
I watched him walk away as if he really didn't want to. He's a good friend, a really good friend. I don't deserve someone so kind as Cole to be my friend when my life inside my own home is in the shitter because of my-
"C-Coming, dad!" I said as I rushed inside hearing the anger in his voice intensify.
"Get me a new shirt..." dad grumbled from the kitchen after he heard the door close behind me.
I shuffled up the stairs to his bedroom that he used to share with mom and returned in the kitchen doorway with a clean work shirt. He'd spilled coffee on the one he was currently unbuttoning while he muttered curses under his breath. I helped him get his arms into the clean one before taking the dirty one to the laundry room.
"You start my car?" he asked when I returned.
"Yes..." I replied.
"Turn the heater on high?"
"Good. Thanks, boy." Dad said softly before kissing my forehead upon passing me.
I widened my eyes at the gesture. For a moment, my heart stopped.
"I'll be home late...don't forget about dinner." he mumbled before leaving, closing the door behind him.
I was still frozen in shock. The last time my dad had kissed me on the head was...my thirteenth birthday...
I left the house with a numb head. As I sat on the bus, I stared out the window thinking about that day, the day I turned thirteen and my life changed forever.
Everything was calm that morning. It was Saturday, so me and my brother didn't have school. Mom was making pancakes in the kitchen when I walked in with my brother who was still rubbing the sleep out of his right eye while I held his hand, Dad was reading the paper with a fresh cup of coffee sitting not too far from him on the kitchen table. She turned around, smiled at us, and walked away from the stove to give me a warm hug like she always did, then she told me "Happy Birthday." Dad wasn't really saying anything, but he didn't ignore me either. When I came over by him, he closed the paper and set it aside so I could crawl into his lap. He pulled the cigarette from his lips to kiss me on the head after telling my "Happy Birthday" and I hugged him around his neck.
"You're smoking around him again?" I remember my mother asking in an irritated tone.
"Don't argue with me, woman. Today is Emmett's birthday and we're going to be a normal family." Dad replied warningly with a large hand on my back.
"You always make a big deal about Emmett's birthday..." Mom said under her breath. I heard the clicking of the heels of her shoes on the tiled floor as she returned to the stove.
I pulled back from Dad to look at my brother who sat at the table across from Dad with his head down. Tyler never looked at Dad much, but at the time I never really paid attention because I thought he loved Dad too and never said anything when I saw him get tense around Dad.
"Here you go, boys." Mom said cheerfully as she placed two plates of pancakes on the table.
I moved out of Dad's lap to sit beside him where my plate was. They were already covered in maple syrup. Dad returned to his paper while me and Tyler began eating and Mom placed a plate in front of Dad by his coffee.
"Honey...you mind putting that away so you can be with us?" Mom asked softly.
"Just a minute...I'm looking for the news about our latest project. A buddy of mine said it would be here somewhere." Dad replied, turning the page.
I looked from him to Mom. I expected her to be happy about the news like she always was, but instead there was a look of irritation she quickly hid with a bright smile when she saw me look at her before she turned away back towards the stove.
"Mom? Aren't you happy for Dad?" I asked concernly.
"The boy asked you a question...dear." Dad said when my mom wouldn't answer after a few seconds.
For a moment my mom tensed and froze when my dad put an emphasis at the end of his sentence. At that moment I could tell something was wrong. My mom turned back around when she relaxed her shoulders and smiled her normal smile.
"Why...yes, I'm very happy, sweetheart." she said warmly.
I just stared at her, trying to see past that smile and see what she was really thinking, but I couldn't. I continued eating until there was nothing else on my plate. Tyler barely ate any of his pancakes. He always loved Mom's cooking and never complained, but again I didn't say anything about it and instead asked if me and Tyler could go play in the back yard before our family members arrived. Dad ruffled my hair with a "Go on ahead". Just as me and Tyler walked outside to the back yard, I could hear the phone ring and I saw Dad rise to get it.
"Do you notice anything weird about Mom and Dad today?" I asked Tyler as we bounced a ball back and forth to each other, me still in my blue t-shirt and red boxer shorts and him still in his white t-shirt and black pajama pants.
"You didn't hear them yelling last night?"
I frowned. "No...what were they yelling about?"
Before he could answer, me and him both turned our heads to the house hearing Dad slam the phone onto the receiver and he started yelling. After a moment, Mom started yelling back. We couldn't hear what they were saying. I could make out a few "Tyler"'s during the argument and I looked at him to see he was close to crying. I pulled him into my chest before looking at the window to see Mom beginning to cry and Dad getting even more furious as he practically screamed at her at the top of his lungs in a voice I'd never heard him use before. Mom shrunk away from him with a terrified expression on her face and took her chance for the back door. Mom pried my arms away from my brother upon reaching us before she walked away towards the front.
"You can keep YOUR son, then! At least he'll grow up to be just like you, you BASTARD!" she shouted through her tears while strapping my little brother into the car.
"I don't ever want to see that filthy wretch around here again, and I won't complain if I never see your disgraceful self either! Just go!" he yelled back after stepping onto the back porch.
My mom drove off with my little brother tapping on the window crying for me. My shock didn't fade until I heard my dad talking to someone on the phone and I silently walked into the house to see my dad sitting at the table with his fingers pinching the bridge of his nose while he talked to someone over the phone. I later discovered it was my grandpa. He was telling my grandpa to cancel the party because he wanted to be with me for awhile, alone. The rest of the day, me and dad ate the cake Mom had bought the day before and had stored in the fridge, watched movies, played together with the toys he and Mom had gotten for me for my birthday, and for awhile the pain in my chest disappeared as if it was never there. That day...after she left...the day I spent with my father was the last happy memory of him I have.
That night, I slept with him in the bed he shared with my mother with my head on his chest, listening to his heartbeat while he rubbed my head until he went to sleep and his big hand stayed on my head. I clung to my father's shirt without letting go the whole night. Everyday that followed after was...a nightmare. My family split apart, my dad's side against my mom's. My Uncle Jake, my mom's older brother, was the only one who didn't want to get into the fighting. He was...neutral, the only thing he wanted was to see me and my brother and to keep us together, so he tried his best to convince my mom and my dad to get back together and get counseling so that we wouldn't have to be split between the two. What fucking good that did. It made things worse, because then the accusations came up. My dad accused my mom of cheating and my mom accused him of cheating, my dad however brought up the phone call he received on my birthday by someone at the local paternity clinic who told him that Tyler, my little brother, wasn't his. That left the biggest sore spot in my father's side knowing he's been raising someone else's kid for nine years and my mom never brought up the fact that Tyler might be someone else's child, that the baby daddy didn't want him.
My mom recoiled with the fact that my father had been hanging out with his ex-wife, Julia. I liked Julia, she was nice like Mom and very attractive, but I think she posed as a threat to my mother because she was younger, beautiful, and didn't have any kids of her own even after her and dad got divorced after three years. While my dad maintained that what he had with Julia was gone, my mother ignored it and instead questioned my father's habits as far as the weekends go. My dad always took me to Julia's house and they'd talk, drink wine, and talk about things that, at the time, I didn't understand and later understood that they were discussing their careers. Julia was a real estate agent after she divorced my father. Tyler was always left with Uncle Jake.
Then my mom brought up all the years he pretty much treated Tyler like shit behind my back and behind the backs of everyone who thought he was happy with two kids, even though my mother pretty much lied to him from the day of Tyler's birth that he was my dad's.
Bottom line: the counseling was what led to the divorce. My dad, not reading the fine print, basically gave up his parental rights to Tyler in the process of the divorce, though I don't think he would've argued, and agreed to give my mom half of his earnings and whatever else she wanted. That included the car, half of what money he had in the bank, and me. My dad wasn't going to let that happen and when he saw that part in the typed letter, he called his lawyer and brought this to court. The judge, probably after listening to my parents back-stab each other, decided it would be best that the decision should be left to me. Immediately, I clung to my father after I jumped out of my grandfather's lap in the court room. When I glanced at my mother, the scorn on her face told me she was pissed, at me I don't know.
Behind the mask of lies I was led to believe all through the thirteen years I'd lived with my parents was a marriage on the edge of tipping into an abyss of blackness that was filled with the lies and deception starting with my brother, my father's control of my mother of how she has to dress in the house, and my mother's party life. My dad also blamed her for my asthma, saying she was doing shit she wasn't supposed to do during the pregnancy and that caused my condition.
"Emmett? Hey, Emmett!"
I quickly lifted my chin from the palm of my left hand and turned my head to see Cole sitting beside me at one of the long tables in the center of Study Hall.
"You okay? You've pretty much ignored me the whole day." Cole asked in concern.
"Yeah...I...sorry..." I sighed, looking down at the homework I was doing.
"It's okay. I...I know how hard your dad's been on you lately..." Cole said softly in reply as he patted me on the back.
I remained silent while staring at where my pencil had froze on the notebook paper laying over the right page of my opened Chemistry book, my fingers curling to clench the pencil so I could keep calm as the warmth from Cole's hand touched my back a few times.
"Hey, I found something." Cole said as he turned to the side opposite from me to dig into his back-pack.
I turned my head as he did so and watched. Cole was 6' tall, had a lean muscular build that was a little more than average only because he ran once a week to stay in shape for the track team. Chocolate brown, short messy hair, warm brown eyes, slightly pale skin that darkened when summer rolls around. He had a goofy way of smiling. His jaw was triangular and almost completely hardened even though he's eighteen. Me and Cole go back freshman year, when my dad stuck to just hitting me a few times a month...now it's everyday. Cole...he...suspects some things, but I try my hardest to keep other things from him. The minute he finds out what my dad really does to me, the minute my life spirals out of control, at least that's what I believe.
"Here. I found your extra inhaler." Cole said as he offered a red and white inhaler to me. "You left it in class yesterday. I was gonna give it to you this morning, but...I-I kind of forgot."
He sheepishly looked down at the table as he finished his sentence and I smiled while gently curling my fingers around the inhaler. "That's okay...thank you."
He released it and smiled at me brightly. "I guess I should leave you to your homework. I'll see you at lunch."
I nodded and watched him walk away before I looked at the inhaler he had found. It was the inhaler my dad had gotten me on my birthday, my thirteenth birthday. It had a red top with the face of the red Power Ranger to push down and the body of the inhaler was designed like his armor. I gave it a test shake to see if there was any medicine left in it, half full. Depending on how the week goes with my dad, especially after this morning, I might need a little more than that to last me until Friday. I still don't know what was up with him this morning...he's usually predictable, when he's unpredictable he's dangerous. I looked at the clock and saw I only had a few minutes left to finish what I had left of my homework. I'd already finished my math homework, I just need to finish these few problems.
I finished just before the bell and put my things into my back-pack before standing to go to lunch. I walked into the cafeteria and over to the table me and Cole usually sit, then I set my back-pack on the ground and sat down. Cole arrived not too long after with a tray holding two wrapped hamburgers, two small white bags of fries, and two cans of soda. He gave me one burger, one bag of fries, and one can of soda. He always has this thing about buying me my lunch and never asking for anything in return no matter how many times I offer to buy his lunch, he always says he wants to be the one buying. He started doing this freshman year when he first met me and has been doing this ever since.
"So, you ready for the test?" Cole asked.
"Trying to be." I replied as I opened the can of soda with one hand.
"You look more ready than I am...I can't understand some of that stuff." Cole chuckled.
"I can help you...it's no big deal." I said.
"Really?" Cole asked, surprised.
"Yeah, just tell me what you're having problems with." I replied while pulling a fry out to eat.
"...uh...everything this week so far..." Cole said before sheepishly chuckling, rubbing the back of his neck.
I rolled my eyes. "And we have a test Friday."
"That last quiz kind of hurt me..." Cole mumbled.
"Why didn't you say something earlier?" I asked, chuckling a little.
"You seemed so busy trying to bring your grade up. I didn't want you to feel bothered. You've been trying really hard to raise your grade in the class." Cole replied.
"You never bother me..." I said softly.
Cole blinked. "Really?"
"Yeah...you're my best friend, Cole." I said.
Cole grinned and nudged me with his elbow. "You're only friend, right?"
"Right." I chuckled.
"...you're my only friend too." Cole said.
"I-I am? What about the guys on the track team?" I asked, completely surprised.
Cole smiled and shrugged while looking to the side, "Well, I don't really have a lot in common with them. All of them talk about the gym, girls..."
I blinked. "You had that girlfriend sophomore year. You can relate, can't you?"
"Yeah, it just...it makes me feel...awkward. I didn't have anything in common with her either...she got mad at me because..." Cole trailed off and looked away.
"Because why?" I asked. I never heard the reason why he'd broke it off with her.
"...I...kind of used to talk about you a lot...creepy, huh?" Cole asked with a sheepish smile.
I blinked, not really knowing what to say.
"I just...talked about all the fun we had and...I guess I made her feel left out, but...the truth is, I never really liked her like that anyway. I just went out with her because she guilt-tripped me, saying that she liked me since junior high and I never noticed her. I know it's...kind of pathetic of me..."
"No, it's not...she should've left you alone." I replied.
He looked at me in surprise.
"No one should have to be in a relationship if they don't want to be...I just...wish you would've told me, I would've stood up for you, Cole."
Cole didn't say anything for awhile, then he broke out a sheepish smile. "Thanks, Emmett..."
"No problem." I said before bringing another fry to my lips.
The rest of the day went smooth. I took notes like I should, turned in my homework and ended up having to come home with more, all reviews for the test on Friday that was just two days away now. I decided to break my normal routine and wait for Cole to get done with a track meeting so I could walk home with him. When he emerged from the track, I approached him and he looked surprised.
"Didn't you say your dad gets pissed if you're not home before he is?" he asked.
"I know he's going to be late...so, I thought we could walk together." I replied.
He smiled brightly. "I'd like that, Emmett."
We walked home together in silence, though walking home with him at my side made me less lonely than when I walk alone. I always walked home alone to beat my dad, but I knew for a fact he'd be home late because he took a lunch box with him. He only did that if he was going to be late enough that he'd miss dinner, one of his buddies usually buys lunch for the other workers. Saves me the trouble of having to make his lunch and cook dinner for him.
"Hey...you want to...stay at my house for a little while? My folks are gone for the week, so it's just me and my brother, and he's probably at his girlfriend's house." Cole offered.
I hesitated. "Uh..."
Cole looked at the ground and still smiled. "It's okay...I just thought maybe it'd be easier for you to stay at my place to help me with Chemistry than it would be for me to come to your house, seeing as your dad doesn't really want me around."
I frowned. Dad always got pissy whenever Cole came to the house, at me especially...like I let a terrorist in the house and called him my friend. If there's one thing that I will not ever let that drunken bastard control, it's who I decide to hang out with whenever I want.
"Let's do it."
Cole looked at me with a surprised look again. "R-really?"
I nodded and took his hand before rushing down the sidewalk with him laughing behind me as he struggled to keep up before he and I were rushing along to his house together, his hand returning the grip on mine. It's been a long time since I've head Cole laugh...it was a warm sound, not too loud and not soft enough that you can't hear it. It wasn't a hysteric laugh, just...happy.