No new story this week, but for those of you who follow the blog (real or imaginary), I'd recommend rereading Nuclear Family Fission. I made some revisions and decided now was the time to properly introduce it into the novel.
It's a good thing people don't actually keep up with my blog or there might be some folks getting irritated by the lack of new content. Hooray for minuscule readership!
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
The bus is abuzz with gossip when I step on. Boone heads back to his usual group and though they immediately start talking, I kinda doubt it’s about the same thing as everyone else. Boone’s never seemed like the gossipy sort.
Unfortunately for me, some of Anna’s friends are.
We plop down in an aisle across from Haley Zuelch and Monica Demanski. They start chattering away before we’ve even settled in. For the most part, I can handle the two of them. They’re decent people. But once a piece of gossip is on the wind, they can’t help but spread it as far and as fast as humanly possible. I slump back against the window and Anna squeezes my hand. I can’t tell if it’s an “I’m sorry about this” kinda hand squeeze or a “hang in there” or just “I felt you slip away a bit and didn’t wanna let go”, but I give her a quick squeeze back. Neither of us is huge on public displays (it’s really only fun when you’re trying to make people uncomfortable and that’s not what I want Anna and I to be), but we’ve labeled handholding as PG enough for both of our tastes.
“—like she thought it would never get out or something.” Monica’s already on a roll.
“And of all the music they could’ve been doing that to, why did they pick Alice in Chains?” Haley makes a face as she says it, as if music about drugs and self-loathing is somehow inappropriate.
Anna laughs. “Haley, did you even know that band existed before you saw their video?”
“Well…no, but I do now and I just don’t get it.”
Anna’s not one to spread gossip and she likes to give people who do a little bit of shit, but she’s a more socially normal high school student than I am. The latest rumors hold some intrigue for her. Which is fine, the only reason they don’t interest me is because I find most people intolerably boring so why would I wanna hear second-hand stories about their boring lives?
“And,” Anna continues, “of all the things for you to be worrying about here, the music is what you pick?”
Haley sighs, clearly a little off-put by Anna’s difficulty. “No, I think you know what I’m most concerned about in all this—”
I don’t say “spreading meaningless bullshit about people’s personal lives that won’t matter to anyone in a couple days” out loud because last time I was rude to Anna’s friends she got so far up my ass I felt her using my lungs as speed bags. Apparently the difference between what she does and what I do is that I’m a bit of a dick. Oh, and I’m not actually friends with them so it just comes off as mean. Who knew?
“—everyone knew they weren’t gonna last. I don’t know what made her think making a video like that was a good idea…”
I’m getting so tired of catching random snippets of conversations that I’m tempted to just ask what the hell they’re talking about. I’d much rather just tell them to shut the fuck up, but once again, frowned upon by the pretty young woman who is currently slumming it with me. So, rather than having to spend the entire bus ride tuning the world out, I decide to give being a normal high school student a try.
When Monica and Haley both stop to take a breath, I jump in. “So what are you guys talking about?”
Both of them give me a wide-eyed look like I’ve just asked who the Beatles are. Then again, they probably find being behind on the latest school news far more blasphemous. Anna just stares at me in a mixture of shock and dismay. If I wasn’t already so sure that I’m gonna regret asking, I would sure as shit know it now.
“Elizabeth Lauter and Raj Sharma broke up yesterday. Apparently it was apocalyptic. I mean, they always fought,” Monica tells me this as if I obviously already knew it, “but this time she threw his iPod at him and chipped one of his front teeth before leaving. Later that day, Raj posted a video of them online. It was the two of them, Liz giving him a lap dance and then the two of them having sex. All of it completely on camera.”
And, like, isn’t that just the most scandalous thing you’ve ever heard?
Instead I ask, “What song was playing?”
Anna snorts and rolls her eyes, but Monica and Haley just look at me like I’m not nearly as funny as I think I am. I get that look a lot.
I offer a sheepish smile that only Anna can tell is fake. She squeezes my hand again and purses her lips to hide a smile. “Just curious. You mentioned Alice in Chains earlier.” I shrug. “I went through a grunge phase awhile back.”
“Is the music really what you’re most worried about?” Haley turns a little pink when Monica scolds me.
I just shrug. “Mostly. I don’t care what they do with their personal time and it’s no skin off my ass if they’re dumb enough to make a sex tape.”
I can tell Monica is looking for a polite way to stop talking to me. Apparently I’m not very much fun. That’s okay. I’m not all that interested anyway. Tried to be normal. Didn’t give a shit.
I put one earbud in and spend the rest of the bus ride stroking Anna’s knuckles with my thumb and listening to Alice in Chains.
When we pull up to the school I hold Anna back a second to let her friends get a head start. She smiles at me. “You almost gave the two of them brain aneurysms.”
I shrug. “I don’t get why you’re such good friends with them when pretty much all they do is gossip.”
“That’s just all you see them do. They’re really sweet most of the time. You should actually spend some time with us.”
I try not to bristle at her using “us” to describe the three of them and not the two of us. This whole being in a caring relationship thing comes with a few obnoxious side effects—like being extra sensitive about “us” stuff. I’m not a big fan of being sensitive about anything. Sarcastic and irritating is so much easier.
“I don’t know what you guys do for fun…” But I doubt it’s my kinda thing.
“Well, it’s getting warm enough for the pools to open up.” Anna smiles like she knows exactly what I was thinking. “But I don’t want you to feel obligated or anything…”
I stop for a second and try to think of anything I wouldn’t do if it involved Anna in a bathing suit.
Nope. Not a damn thing.
Fridays in Modern American History class is article day. Two people bring in recent news articles, stand in front of the class, summarize, and then give their thoughts on the matter. I’m one of today’s two, me and Emerald. Emerald, unlike me, is ridiculously smart and ridiculously interested in school work. Her little report is gonna be way better than mine (and I don’t mean that just because I picked the first article I saw last night), so I volunteer to go first. I may not care all that much about school, but no one wants to follow Emerald.
I stand and deliver a monotone spiel about a failed attempt to free a political prisoner being held by North Korea. It’s not that I don’t care about personal liberties or the poor treatment of prisoners, I just hate that Mr. Karimov thinks he can make me care by assigning a grade to this shit. When I finish, I give a little bow (earning a few snickers and eye rolls) to lethargic applause, and sit back down.
Emerald steps to the front of the class and reads her headline.
“Murder of Post-Human Teen, Dennis Reaves, Being Investigated as a Hate Crime.”
Okay, how was that not the top news story when I was online last night?
Emerald continues. “So, this is one plenty of people are probably unaware of since it happened a little after midnight. But a high school kid from the Bluffs was killed last night. The police found him with ‘Restore Balance’ carved into his back in an alley a few blocks from his house. For those who don’t know, Restore Balance is a radical anti-post-human group that takes actions similar to the Weather Underground that Mr. Karimov mentioned in class the other day. What makes this unusual as well as tragic is that Restore Balance, like the Weather Underground before it, doesn’t generally commit violent crimes directly against people. They’ve vandalized, sabotaged, and even leaked secrets, but before today they were bloodless extremists.”
That’s an awfully civilized title for an organization built on a foundation of hate crimes.
“No official statement has been made by Restore Balance to take credit for the killing—”
I snort loudly enough to break Emerald’s train of thought for a second. She frowns at me.
“—but police are working under the assumption that what you see is what you get. OPHR has also been called in to aid in the investigation, but hasn’t released a statement of its own.”
She takes a deep breath, like maybe she’s steadying herself for another skeptical snort. When she starts back up, her words tumble out fairly quickly.
“Personally, I’m not convinced Restore Balance is actually responsible for this. While I am in no way sympathetic toward the cause, this is the first connection to or even allegation of murder connected to their organization. I just figure that if they’re going to change their MO all the sudden, they’d broadcast their reasons for all the world to hear.” She purses her lips and nods. “Thank you.”
The applause is even more sporadic for her than it was for me. She clearly did a better job, but she did a better job on a touchier subject. I’m sure there’s at least one person in the room who isn’t all that fond of post-humans and there’s probably a couple people who are hardcore pro-post-human activists, but the vast majority of people just wanna get by without getting involved. It’s that group that doesn’t want to clap too loud for fear of being labeled as having an opinion or something.
The school’s wi-fi barely covers this building, but at least I don’t have to worry about Karimov catching me on my phone. He’s up front, pacing and lecturing and gesturing at his PowerPoint, and as long as I look up from time to time and turn the page of my notebook, it’ll just look like I’m being vaguely studious. Which would probably look suspicious if Karimov wasn’t so focused on his lecturing.
It doesn’t take me long to find the article. Turns out, hate crimes make for good news. The first site reports it the same way Emerald did and I wonder if this isn’t the site she got it from. When the next two sites are all nearly identical I’m about to give up on finding out any breaking developments.
Ugh. Why do the police even bother investigating crimes if they can’t solve them within a couple hours?
My knee starts bouncing without my express consent and when I stop it from bouncing, my fingers start drumming on my desk. I’m neither Batman nor a private investigator, but I’m still having to fight off a nearly overwhelming urge to go out and try my hand at some detective work. Which is unwise on a number of levels. For one, I’m not a detective. I am, in fact, the exact opposite of a detective: some random, untrained teenager. And, more importantly, last time I went out in broad daylight in costume I couldn’t go five feet without being gawked at or chasing people off. Guess I’m gonna have to sit around and wait for this to get resolved like a normal person.
I refresh each of the three news sites I’m on five times.
No new updates.
When I get back to the house, Susan’s waiting. Which isn’t the same thing as her just being home. It’s easy to tell when someone’s walking with a purpose and this is the same thing. She’s home with a purpose. When she hears the door, she pokes her head out into the hall and when she sees me, she waves.
“Wes, can we talk?”
No one ever asks to talk unless at least one person won’t like what’s gonna be talked about.
“Certainly seems like it.”
Susan sighs. “No, I mean really. Can I talk to you about something?”
“Fine. But whatever it is, I’m reasonable sure this time that I really didn’t do it.” Which is only a half-lie, since from the second Susan caught me sneaking into the house in-costume I’ve felt uncontrollable guilt every time she tries to have a talk with me about anything.
She gives me a pained look and clenches and unclenches her fists spastically for a second. “Wesley.”
I purse my lips and remind myself that with all the shit she puts up with from me, I probably owe her a few minutes of serious conversation, painful though it may be to admit. “Okay. Whatcha got?”
“Well…I’m not really sure where to start with this…I don’t know what you know…I haven’t actually had much time to think about how I want to say this…”
Oh God, just say it. Whatever it is can’t be as uncomfortable as this build up.
“But word has gotten around that two of your classmates made a…personal video and…I thought this might be a good time to talk to you…”
No! No, go back to the build up!
“You and Anna are both good, smart people, but I know how things can be at your age…”
I can’t possibly have done anything to deserve this!
“You’re both fairly young still and I know you…feel certain things and think a certain way right now…but I really hope you two are…”
While she grasps for a word, I wonder if it’s possible for my face to get any redder without being water boarded with auto paint. I can feel wavy lines of heat radiating off of my ears like asphalt on a hot day. If I could pay a post-human criminal to bust into my house and start a fight right now, I would. Without hesitation.
My only consolation is that Susan can’t actually know what Anna and I are up to. Not that we’ve done anything sex tape worthy, but still. If I could keep Susan from knowing we even held hands, I would.
Susan digs her thumb into the palm of her hand. “I don’t want to sit you down and shove a lesson down your throat. My parents did that and it never worked. I got mad and stopped listening. They got frustrated and started yelling. And after it was all said and done…I usually went out and did exactly what they told me not to. Even if I hadn’t planned on doing it before.”
Huh. That’s new information. I didn’t really figure Susan for having a “fuck you!” side. Then again, I’ve never really considered that Susan might’ve been a teenager at one point in her life.
“I think we can both agree that I’m fairly lenient with you and Boone. I may get on your case about your…costumed activities, but I let you guys get away with a lot. You come and go as you please, so long as you leave a note or let Paul or I know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. We don’t harass you about homework. We look the other way on profanity. We respect your privacy. And by this point I think you know Paul and I talked you up a bit to Anna’s parents when you two started dating.”
I feel real guilt well up, not the almost compulsive kind from earlier. When she lays it all out like that, I feel like an asshole for giving her any trouble at all.
“And I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt here as well. Paul and I talked about how we wanted to handle things when Boone started dating. Admittedly, some of the same precautions don’t apply to him…”
What with the difficulty of him getting pregnant with another guy.
“But the principles remained the same. We wanted to trust him and we want to trust you. Plus, unless we want to lock you in your room, we can’t stop you from going out and doing what you’re going to do. And I think in your case, even locking you in your room wouldn’t work.” She smiles a tight smile that can’t decide whether it means she’s okay with that fact or if it still stresses her out. “So I’m going to struggle to tell you the same thing I struggled to tell Boone: we trust you, please use your best judgment, and be respectful.”
If I weren’t such a manly man, Susan telling me she trusts me would make my eyes feel a little hot and wet. But I am, so my rapid blinking is just because something flew into my eye at an inconvenient moment.
I swallow and nod. “Thanks Susan.”
She hesitates for a moment before reaching out and giving me a hug. I let her, awkwardly returning her hug with one arm just before she pulls back. This time, when she smiles it’s closer to her normal levels of cheeriness.
“Oh, and since Paul couldn’t get home in time to do his part in this, I’ll have to do it on his behalf: sex is a natural, wonderful thing and you should enjoy it.”
Yup. There’s a surefire way to torpedo my libido.
“I’m really not a fan of this socially conscious thing you’ve got going on here.”
“Fuck off, Boone.”
Susan sighs. “Would you two stop?”
Paul throws a piece of popcorn at Boone. “Yeah. Don’t discourage his interest in the daily goings on around us. If he isn’t nurtured, he might wanna stop watching the evening news and if that happens then I have to stop watching the evening news. I like having a television majority.”
Boone rolls his eyes. “I’m just trying to do him a favor here. The whole ‘I’m too cool to try at school, but secretly I actually care about things’ bit is all kinds of cliché.” He looks up at Paul with his most innocent, concerned look. “And you wouldn’t want to raise a cliché, would you?”
Paul holds a finger up to his lips, shushing Boone. “I’m too busy getting my way to pretend I believe you.”
Susan tries hiding a smile and swats Paul’s shoulder. I take a minute to figure out if I can give Boone the finger without anyone else in the room noticing. Victory without mockery is a hollow thing indeed. I don’t quite manage it. Paul throws a piece of popcorn at me and rolls his eyes, but he’s wise enough to know it’s useless trying to keep us from getting after each other.
It doesn’t take long for the news to get to the murder and when it does I’m left a little cold.
Bad enough that there’s a radical organization that thinks people like me are abominations. Being a part of any kind of minority earns you some degree of animosity. Worse still that said organization might be willing to murder some kid for being what they see as an abomination, but again, there are some bastards looking for any excuse to gun down kids of a different color.
And then there’s this. Some macho high school showdown gone wrong. Two kids never got along and it didn’t get any better when the blatantly anti-post-human guy found out what the other guy was. Not that similar things haven’t happened before. Gang affiliations, sexual orientation, and race have all led to violent situations like this. But I guess it doesn’t really matter that this stuff also happens in the real world, it’s still the worst option of the three.
Those groups, those are adults. Adults dedicated to hate. But people my age? Most of them aren’t dedicated to anything. Most of them probably aren’t capable of real dedication.
But this kid? He’s dedicated now. They’ll probably try him as an adult. He’ll be that guy who committed a hate crime. And murder, at that. He’s buried himself way behind the eight ball as far as making up for high school mistakes goes. Might end up being easier for him to just roll into the mistake. Especially if he serves time.
I can’t tell if I’m sadder or angrier about this.
And then it occurs to me that in an attempt to get away with it, he mutilated the other kid’s body. Anger takes the lead.
I manage to excuse myself without swearing and walk up to my room without storming off, so when I get up to my room I feel rather entitled to some sort of outburst. I’m sorely tempted to put a hole in the wall, but I know I’d just feel bad about it later and patch it up myself. Even still, I consider it. It’s not even nine o’clock, but if I’m not gonna punch something here I might have to head out and about to find something to punch.
Have you ever had one of those lives where everything seems to go wrong?
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
“Oh, come on!”
Boone snorts, finally getting his breathing back to normal.
“It’s hard enough to get any respect without everyone thinking I’m some idiot teenage Peter Parker wannabe!”
“Aren’t you just some idiot teenage Peter Parker wannabe?”
“That is so freaking beside the point! As if I didn’t get enough shit as it is, now I’m gonna get ‘kiddo’ and ‘sport’ thrown my way like a hot chick catching cat calls! There is no way I deserve this!”
Boone ruffles his hair. “I think you deserve it.”
“You’re an asshole.”
Anna pokes her head in.
“Why’s Boone an asshole?”
I arch an eyebrow at her. “That might be the most ridiculous question I’ve ever heard.”
She rolls her eyes, “Okay, why is Boone an asshole now?”
I grumble and wish I could throw something at the television. “Some damn reporter-guy poked around in my costuming business, talking to some of the people I helped or jailed and even the police who cleaned up after me. Nobody said anything slanderous like I kicked their baby but the general consensus seemed to be that they were dealing with a…” I wince and sigh and wish everyone would leave me alone, “plucky young man looking out for the average citizen.”
There’s a pregnant moment of silence before the dam breaks and Boone, still a little short of breath, looses a fresh gale of laughter. Anna follows shortly after, neither willing nor able to hold back for the sake of my dignity. She falls forward onto my chair, draped over the back for a minute before falling to the floor.
I look over the arm of the chair at her. “I hope that hurt.”
“Y-you’re—you’re plucky!” She jams her fist against her mouth, shaking.
I hear something coming from the kitchen. I think even Susan’s laughing at me. She doesn’t approve of what I’m doing and she’s laughing at me. My life sucks so unimaginably much.
Boone can’t even form coherent words. He just mumbles a string of muted vowels and consonants in between throat-strangling bouts of laughter. I throw the remote at him. He gets his arms over his head in time to block it, but the remote still makes a satisfying whump against his forearm.
I lean the recliner back as far as it’ll go and pull my hood over my head.
The microwave bleats and Susan calls Anna back in to collect her popcorn. It takes a minute for her to regain enough composure to stand and she’s still wheezing when she heads back to the kitchen but she manages. Boone’s crying. Tears are actually welling up in his eyes. Susan comes in, sounding a little out of breath. I try to lean further into my hood like maybe I’ll fall into the abyss if I can only push my skull a little further back.
“Alright, you guys it’s past my bedtime. Sleep well and don’t stay up too late.” Susan leans over the back of my chair and squeezes my shoulder. “Stay plucky, dear.”
I growl and suffer through another round of breathless laughter.
“You people are the worst. I hope you know that.”
“Yeah!” When Boone comes to my aid, I know something’s about to go wrong. Well, more wrong. “You’re all gonna regret picking on a nice young man like Wesley! For shame.”
Susan has to stop climbing the stairs for a second to catch her breath. Anna comes in pressing a bowl of kettle corn against her stomach to keep from dropping it, but she can’t stop a few pieces from rolling down the sides and to the floor. She holds it out between us, pressing her lips together and trying to look bashful. The hysterical, lunatic laughter rolling around her eyes undermines the attempt a bit.
“I brought you a peace offering.”
I glare at her for a second but can’t really get any oomph behind it. I make what I hope is a properly begrudging face and tilt my head from side to side.
“I accept your apology.”
Anna scooches onto my lap, leaning against my chest and dangling her legs over the edge. Wherever she makes contact with me goes hot and tingly. I sit still and hope that if neither of us moves for a few seconds I’ll be able to bring my heart rate back to healthy levels. And keep control of...other things.
“And I never said I was apologizing, that was fucking hilarious. I’m just offering popcorn and my company to soothe your tortured soul.”
I scrunch up my face and shrug. “Suppose that’s close enough.”
I root around the kettle corn with my left hand. I’d almost forgotten how much I love the stuff. It’s like someone drizzled sweet wonderfulness on salty popcorn. I chew through a few handfuls of popcorn until I’m sure that Boone’s caught up in what’s on TV and kiss Anna’s neck once, twice, three times. She presses more tightly against me.
I suppose I’ve had worse nights.
“If you two are gonna start that shit, I’m going upstairs.”
And just like that, a flash fire breaks out across my face. Whoops.
Anna shifts herself as far to the outside of my thigh as she can, as if she’s decided sitting on my lap wasn’t a particularly good idea. I find myself simultaneously agreeing and damning the notion to hell. This must be what adults are always talking about when they use their condescending tone of voice and mention “raging hormones”. Fuck, I hate when people other than me are both condescending and right.
Anna bites her lip for a second before sliding off my leg and onto the floor, taking the kettle corn with her. I can’t help but feel this wouldn’t be so awkward if we weren’t so fresh off a big fight. It’s not true, neither of us are big fans of public displays, but it’s hard to shake the feeling. We’re still sort of feeling each other out again.
Anna sets the bowl in Boone’s lap.
“I think my eyes were bigger than my stomach. You wanna finish it?”
She nods. “Yeah, it’s getting late anyway. If I eat all that now, I’ll still be digesting an hour and a half after I should be asleep.”
You’d think sooner or later, karma would have to start breaking my way. I’m not a big fan of accepting I.O.U.’s, but I don’t think there’s much room to argue with the forces that shape the universe. I’ll just have to hope there really is a sense of balance to things.
I hop off the chair and walk Anna to the door. You wouldn’t think twenty feet could encompass all that much awkward, but I assure you, it most certainly can.
It’s a bit of a strain to wish her a more sophisticated good-bye than monosyllabic grunts. “I’ll, uh, see you tomorrow.”
An awkward smile and a kiss on the cheek from Anna and she’s out the door.
Not a good day.
Boone snores like a small, well-worn bellows being pumped slowly and carefully. A raspy inhale, slight pause, and a long wheeze. It’s not loud enough to keep anyone awake, but it’s hard not to notice in the silence of 2:17am. Thoughts of Anna and I keep winding their way around my wondering what it means that I’m getting all this media coverage. Both of which crash over the nagging worry that all this attention is gonna get me in trouble with the bigoted folks who just wish us post-human freaks would leave the regular people alone. And that’s not even considering what OPHR might be thinking of the displays of the Sentinel. Them being the big-shot post-human organization, I imagine they keep track of as much post-human activity as they can. And I still haven’t let go of my grudge against Boone. I stare at the ceiling, watching the shadows twist and wave, not really trying to get to sleep anymore.
It’s official. I can’t sleep.
Seems like a good time to sneak out the back door and burn off a bit of restless energy. After all, it is Saturday morning. Not like I have anything to wake up for.
An overturned ice cream truck. Of all the things I expected to see tonight, an overturned ice cream truck wasn’t even on my radar. Overturned and lying in the middle of the street with the rear door ripped off. The door’s on the sidewalk nearby. I climb on top of the truck—er, I guess I’m climbing onto the side of it technically—and look around. No signs of explosives, no spike strips; I don’t see anything that could flip a big truck like this. The front end isn’t crumpled either.
What the shit?
I squat down over the driver’s side door. No one’s home. No blood either, thankfully. Seatbelt’s not cut. The airbag’s been deployed and deflated. I pull the door open and lower myself into the cab. It’s a narrow fit and when I crouch down to get a better look at things, it feels even narrower. I have to keep my knees bent straight ahead or I won’t fit at all. Glass crunches beneath my boots. The keys aren’t even in the ignition.
Seriously, what the shit?
I can’t even begin to figure out where to go from here.
Pressure’s starting to build in my temples like my head’s been dropped on a workbench and clamped in a vice. This is definitely not helping me sleep. Why do I do these things? I climb back out and sit down over the front of the truck, letting my legs dangle. Truck’s flipped for no reason. No sign of anything or anyone. No one’s investigating. Doesn’t even seem like anyone’s called the cops.
What is an ice cream truck even doing driving around this late?
I hop down and walk around to the back of the truck. I poke my head in. It’s cool in there, but not freezer-cold. Same temperature as the outside world. Maybe the motor burnt out or maybe it just stops working once the truck’s engine stops running. I dunno.
I’m about to take a closer look inside when that hair-raising, eyes-boring-into-the-back-of-my-head sensation washes over me so intensely that I actually expect someone to tap me on the shoulder and ask me to “please step away from the vehicle with your fingers laced and placed on top of your head”. I turn, running my eyes over the street. A car drives down a cross-street two blocks away. Someone’s yappy little pocket-dog yips inanely. I shift my gaze to the rooftops. Steam billows up from a couple roofs. Nothing else. No cop leveling a service pistol at me. No criminal crew rocking assault rifles, ski masks, and covered in ice cream. No manically grinning super villain types prowling the roofs. I take a couple deep breaths, (hold them, and then exhale) trying to steady the overly enthusiastic beating of my heart.
Getting worked up over what’s probably just some soccer mom with insomnia peeking out her bedroom window. Great.
Back to the truck. It’s hard to shake the feeling that someone’s watching me, even if the actual feeling itself is mostly gone. But unless I’m willing to comb every inch of the block at street-level and then on the roofs, I’m gonna have to ignore it and get on with life.
I spend thirty seconds in the truck before the headache comes back, bulling past the feeling of being watched and reestablishing itself as the dominant presence in my head. There’s no ice cream in the truck either, just a couple empty boxes.
I quit. Sooner or later someone else is gonna find this and they can figure it out or outsource it to Batman or whatever it is that needs to be done to solve the Ice Cream Truck Mystery (sounds like a freaking Nancy Drew book) and I’ll catch the outcome in the news. If I keep at this I’m just gonna fry my brain and spend the rest of my weekend a useless vegetable. Mind you, that’s not a huge outward change from my usual weekend behavior, but the constant headache I’d be contending with is something I’m just not willing to deal with.
I step out of the back and poke the tires (nothing) before officially calling it quits. No use beating my head against a wall.
Not the best night out I’ve ever had.
I think I missed something.
Anna rolls her eyes. “Carla Flores. That reporter with a thing for post-humans? She talks about you in her latest article.”
After the last bit of publicity I got, I kinda wish people would just leave me alone.
“What does she say?”
“Good things. You’ll have to read for yourself if you want more.”
“I think I’d prefer if someone just called me a menace and started a campaign against me. I’m getting pretty tired of everyone saying nice things about me. No one’s scared of the nice superhero.”
Anna pats my cheek. “Poor baby. Do you want me to go talk to them and tell them to be nicer to you?”
“No!” I crease my forehead and frown, pouting. “That’s the exact opposite of what I want!”
Anna presses her lips together, smothering a laugh.
I growl and turn back to the TV. It would probably be easier to check online news sites for an update on the Ice Cream Truck Mystery, but my laptop’s all the way upstairs and I really don’t feel like fetching it. Physically gifted post-humans are entitled to a bit of laziness too, especially on Saturday mornings.
“And in this morning’s post-human news, an overturned ice cream truck was discovered last night on Mason Street downtown. The truck was turned onto its side and the rear door was ripped off, no injuries were reported. The police gave an official statement this morning, connecting this bizarre event with the post-human vigilante known as Lodestone. Known for her magnetic powers and work targeting child offenders, Lodestone is believed to be responsible for rescuing a child that had been imprisoned in the back of the truck by two men looking to sell her into slavery. In a statement taken by the police, the victim said that Lodestone stopped the truck as they were passing a stop sign, turned it over, and rescued her from the truck. With the victim safe, Lodestone apprehended the men, left them on the front steps of the police station, and brought the victim to the hospital. With…”
“Magnetic powers? Come on! How was I supposed to figure that out? I would’ve ranked alien prank above Lady Magneto…”
Anna looks over at me like I’ve just sprouted a horn and a couple tails. “What?”
“I found that truck last night. That overturned ice cream truck full of kiddy pervs? I found it overturned and completely empty last night. I couldn’t sleep so I went out and about and I found the truck they were talking about, but I couldn’t figure the first thing out about it.” I shrug. “So I left, vowed to catch it on the news from the mouths of people who got it from the mouths of experts, and now here I am. Thoroughly confused.”
She presses her lips over a smile. “You found an overturned ice cream truck and your first thought was aliens?”
“What? No. Well, not my first thought…and you weren’t there last night. That shit was eerie.”
She pats my cheek. “I’m sure it was, Wes.”
I shrug her hand off and pretend not to notice how hot my face is. “It wasn’t a serious thought or anything…I just...shut up.”
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Anna’s not waiting by the front door, nor is she in the kitchen with Susan and Boone. My phone tells me it’s 7:28. The bus doesn’t get in ‘til 7:37-ish, but Anna’s usually here five, ten minutes before now. I sit at the kitchen table until 7:34 before giving up and walking out the door with Boone.
Susan looks curiously at me and then at the empty chair, but has the decency not to ask.
“What’d you do?”
Boone, however, has never bothered with tact in his life.
I browbeat her with my petty hurt. “Shut up.”
His smirk twitches, like for a second it’s too heavy to hold up.
“Wanna take a ditch day to soothe your wounded soul?”
He shrugs and runs a hand through his hair. “Offer stands all-day.”
Ask me again!
I grunt and step onto the curb to wait for the bus. Anna’s not there either. The bus is running a few minutes late. Not a surprising turn of events. There are always assholes who go running up to the bus as it’s about to leave, yelling from a block away to hold the doors. Do that at every other stop and being late becomes the new on-time. Not that I would know from first-hand experience or anything.
The bus rolls up at 7:41 and Anna still hasn’t showed. I stall a bit, pretending I forgot a book and then rooting around my backpack a bit before “finding it”. She still isn’t anywhere to be found, so I shuffle aboard.
Anna’s sitting in the third row from the front, on my left and with her nose buried in a book. Literally, buried. She looks too close to be able to read more than one word at a time. Waves of heat ripple out from my chest and across my body and the hairs on my arms snap to attention.
She’d rather wake up early and walk an extra five blocks than wait at the bus stop with me?
Her ears are so red her hair looks dull and brown by comparison, but she keeps her head firmly down and her backpack in the spot next to her as I walk by.
Boone gives me a look over his shoulder. I ignore it. I plop down in the first empty row I find and stretch my legs out across the second seat. Boone wanders further back to sit with Shelly McCourtey and Danton Park. I pop my headphones in and close my eyes. Two stops and a song and a half later someone taps my foot. My eyes open immediately, completely sure they’ll see Anna, ready to bury all this shit in the backyard. Or beneath some water below a bridge. However this metaphor works. Instead, I see a placid looking girl, cupping her elbows in her hands. She’s tall and gangly and her crimped brown hair is pulled into a tight bun. I recognize her round, freckly face but can’t stick a name to it. Marissa? Melissa? Martha? I dunno.
I slide my feet onto the floor and pull one earbud out.
She shakes her head and settles in next to me. “It’s okay.” And after a pause, “Don’t you usually sit with Anna?”
I stare at her for a second, wondering if I’m really supposed to know this girl. I’m bad with faces (a side-effect of a lifetime of not caring) and can’t be sure so I don’t tell her to mind her own fucking business. My face must tell her for me because she backtracks.
“Sorry, that was rude. You probably don’t even remember me.” She waves a hand at me. “I’m Melanie.
Anna and I are friends.”
I nod and smile tightly (is it a smile or a grimace?). “Ah, Melanie. That was gonna be my first guess.”
She doesn’t seem to mind my forgetfulness or my flippancy.
“She looked pretty upset when I walked by. Do you mind if I ask why?”
Because I suck. “Sorry, I know you and Anna are friends, but I don’t know you all that well. Personally, you know?”
Did that sound as diplomatic out loud as it did in my head? Did I seriously just say something right?
Melanie nods. “That’s okay. Just thought I’d ask. Some people like to be asked.”
I tilt my head from side to side. “Fair enough.”
But I don’t put my earbud back in. I feel too hot and my mouth’s too dry and yesterday’s headache is coming back. Before I can remind myself that my problems are my problems, I start talking.
“I yelled at her, like really fucking yelled at her. She got mad and said something she didn’t mean and I blew up.”
Melanie looks over at me like I didn’t just blurt out something really personal to an almost complete stranger on a goddamn school bus. Like this isn’t weird. Her lips are pressed together and her eyebrows are scrunched up, like she’s listening to her best friend vent his troubles. She’s all patience and sympathy. I don’t know if that makes this better or worse.
“Did she apologize?”
I break eye contact. “She tried.”
“How can someone try to apologize?”
By having an asshole boyfriend. Or by being one. “She called. I didn’t pick up.”
I shrug, still not sure what’s possessed me. “I was pissed, I guess.” And guilty.
“Do you want her to come to you and apologize?”
Jesus, who talks like this? “I don’t know.” And who answers?
“There’s nothing wrong with wanting her to apologize for hurting your feelings. You’re not trying to blame the whole thing on her. You’ll apologize too, right?”
Profusely. “Yeah.” I look up at her, still wearing that same calm, concerned expression. “You are being remarkably laid-back here despite the fact that a nearly total stranger is unloading on you and unloading about a friend of yours at that.”
She’s the one to shrug this time, glancing up at Anna. “Anna’s a sweetheart, but it’s hard to ignore how she gets when she loses her temper.”
For a brief second I see Patty Campbell in Melanie’s face, hear her words coming out of Melanie’s mouth.
Henry’s a good man, but—it’s just the accident. He can’t walk without pain sometimes and it’s frustrating and it just makes him do things he wouldn’t normally do…It’s really not his fault…
And then Melanie shrugs and it’s her again. No more Patty.
“Not that that’s an excuse, it just kinda is. She’s an intense person. Mostly, it’s a good kind of intense, but no one’s always cheery and wonderful. Although, that day after you kissed her she sure seemed like she’d be happy forever.”
I blink. “What?”
Melanie’s calm breaks for a second and a deep flush rolls up her neck. She smiles nervously and waves me off. “Nothing. I don’t think I should be spilling girl talk to a boy. I think it’s against some sort of code.”
I want her to go back. Go back and expand. Tell me exactly what was said and how it was said. Instead I try to remain composed (or as composed as I can after puking up all my feelings to a stranger).
“Is that why you’re over here with me?”
She shrugs. “I like her. She likes you. There’s a mathematical property that says I have to help you.”
“Is this what math teachers are always talking about when they’re telling us that math really is useful in real life?”
Melanie smiles, big and bright. “No, they probably actually think we’ll need to determine when a train will arrive at Station X, but I imagine they’d take credit for this anyway.”
An honest smile touches my face for the first time in twelve-ish hours. “Seems somewhat dishonest. What will become of us without good role models?”
Melanie giggles and it feels good to laugh with someone. Feels like all I’ve done with people of late has involved sulking or yelling. Or punching. I might need to get to know Melanie better so I can figure out a way to pay her back.
“I…I’m gonna go talk to Anna.” My smile tightens a little. “Thanks.”
I’m not really good at subtle or delicate, so I go for direct. I slide into the seat next to her, dropping her backpack onto my lap. Anna’s ears go a brilliant, painful shade of red. She’s still giving the book a colonoscopy with her nose, but I think her body eases up a little. Maybe.
Now that I’m sitting next to her and she’s not starting up a conversation and I still don’t know what to say, my courage starts to wane a little. The irony of this is not lost on me (or is this just weird instead of ironic?). I can face down knife-wielding muggers, drug dealers, and post-human crazies, but having a normal conversation like this leaves me flatfooted.
Something soft bounces off the back of my head.
I turn around and see a little ball of paper on the ground. When I look up, Melanie’s leaning out into the aisle, mouthing “Do something!” at me. I frown and turn back around.
My mind’s still a blank and I think someone’s jammed a bellows in my chest and is steadily pumping harder and harder.
Before I can completely meltdown, I reach out and take Anna’s left hand. Freed from one hand, her book sways drunkenly against her thigh. The pressure in my chest eases slightly. She doesn’t take her hand back, just looks down at it for a second before smiling a small smile and squeezing back.
I press my lips together. “I’m sorry.”
Nothing’s fixed. Apologies aren’t magical, no matter what your parents say. I’m still an asshole with anxiety issues, trust issues, abandonment issues, intimacy issues, whatever. And in one moment of intense anger, she still completely cut me down. But I guess that’s what caring for someone does, makes you stupid and reckless and willing to get hurt and show pain again and again because when she strokes my knuckles with her thumb I goo-ify a little bit. Or something. I think I got distracted.
For a few minutes, I decide to ignore my feelings on public displays of affection and slump down in the seat, resting my cheek on her shoulder. Anna must agree because she props her chin on top of my head. For a few minutes, things are okay.