This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author's imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, business establishments or events is entirely coincidental. Comments and feedback are highly appreciated, send to firstname.lastname@example.org
"June, darling, come on, he's going to be just fine," I hear my father say, but his statement is overshadowed by the earsplitting crying of a child. It's so loud I can't hear myself think. I look around. My mom is standing a few feet ahead of me with my dad petting her on the arm gently. She's looking at me. She seems unsure and worried. She's biting her lip.
"I don't know."
"Let's go. Us staying here isn't helping the situation dear."
"Your husband is right, this is only escalating it. Once you'll leave he'll stop crying in no time, I promise," says a voice somewhere from far right. I can't quite see who it belongs to, but I don't like it. It has an eerie sound to it. It's trying to be soothing, but instead it somehow sounds repulsive, and sinister, and...gurgling, like it's choking on it's own spit.
"You're sure? This is a normal reaction?"
The child continues crying very loudly, so loudly it's giving me a headache at this point. Doesn't anyone else here have a headache? Why doesn't someone soothe the child? Why is it crying?
"Yes, it happens all the time. Once the parents are out of sight he'll be his usual energetic, happy self. Trust me on this one. We'll see you in two hours okay? Say bye Jeremy," says the creepy voice. I turn my head stunned. Did he just say my name? And all of a sudden it dawns on me, it's me, I'm the crying child.
I wake up with terror running through my body. I'm in hysterics. I turn the light on, and slowly calm myself down. I've dealt with this many times before. "It's just a dream, it's just a dream," I keep repeating. I check the bed sheets, they're wet. I methodically take them off, underneath there is a plastic cover. A shameful reminder that this has happened many times before. I put the sheets and my boxers into the dirty clothes bin. I realize I'm crying. I hold myself and let the tears come for a few minutes, embarrassed. I take a deep breath and try to relax. I go into my closet, get some clean sheets and put them on. I check my phone, 5:20. I want to take a shower, but I don't want to wake anyone up, so I sit on the floor and turn my laptop on. I check my e-mail. Nothing new, just some spam. Then I go on Facebook, even though I don't really want to. I click on the all too familiar name, and go to the all too familiar page, with the ugly smiling picture and the surprisingly normal looking wife. I sit and I stare blind with hate. How can you be smiling? Why are you ever allowed to smile? The last time I smiled a genuine smile was years ago, before I ever met you. I stare at the computer and let my mind wonder, and then there's water everywhere. Not beautiful blue kind of water, but chlorine smelling pool water, probably filled with piss. And I'm in it, I'm in the piss water, shaking, because I fucking hate swimming. Because I hate this place. And most importantly because I hate him. The other kids are splashing and having fun. We're taking a 15 minute break from the lesson. There's a little water slide and someone dares me to slide down, and I'm so excited about the fact that someone talked to me that I forget I can't swim. So I slide down and am immediately smacked with fear as I hit the water and go under right away. I take a huge gulp of water into my mouth and just as I think my life is over an arm comes into the water and pulls me out. I cough and spit, I'm alive. But then I look at the person who saved me, and I want to go under and never come out again. And now, years later, I wish it was over but it's not, is it you fuck? I'm still a little child, drowning in your piss pool, waiting for someone to rescue me, someone other than you.
A new notification wakes me up from my obsessive stalking and hateful thoughts. I click to see what it is, New Friend Request. My heart starts beating when I see the name, Mark Norton. I gulp, then bite my lip. What do I do? Do I accept now? Will that make me look desperate? I click on his name. His picture is simple, and it makes me smile. It's just him, in a black sweater and dark blue jeans, sitting on the floor and playing with probably the ugliest bulldog ever. I cringe and laugh at the same time. Mark is a magnet for ugly people and animals apparently. Of course it's a random snapshot of him, yet he still manages to look like a male model. His smile dazzling, his eyes brilliant green, his face radiating handsomeness and kindness at the same time. I sigh, envying the ugly creature in the picture with him. I accept the friend request and continue browsing his page. It seems he has a lot of friends, a lot of pictures, but it's mostly ones he's been tagged in by other people. There doesn't seem to be much activity on the page coming from him. I'm startled with a sound and a chat window opening. Mark Norton wants to talk to me.
"Hey!" I stare at the message like I've never seen a hey before. I'm beyond nervous. How can he have this effect on me without even being in the room? Ridiculous.
"Hi," I write back and immediately cringe after I send it. Hi? Who says hi? How old am I?
"Why are you up at 5 in the morning?"
"Can't sleep," well that's partly the truth. "Why are you up at 5 in the morning?" I ask back.
"I like to start my day early." My eyebrows go up. He wakes up at 5 in the morning? That's a bit extreme. "Do you want a ride to school?"
"Thanks, but I'm fine," I write back. I really wish I could, but this will just mean more pain and heartache for me, more social embarrassment for him. When will he understand that?
"Okay, that's a bummer. I'm going for my run now, I'll see you at school," he says and signs off. His run? He runs at 5 in the morning? And he's bummed he can't drive me to school. This guy is too amazing. I sigh as I overanalyze our 5 sentence conversation for the next 20 minutes. Finally I turn my computer off and go to shower. I then throw on some clothes and make my way downstairs. The table is set with what looks like breakfast for an army. Only my mom. I sit and grab some pancakes and Nutella. My sister's on her phone. My dad's head is buried in his paper. My mom is busy making more food, god knows why. Nobody will be able to finish the first round.
"Mom, can I get a 20 for lunch?" asks my sister. My mom turns around surprised and laughs.
"Kayla, why would you need lunch money? I packed your lunch already."
"Ugh, I know but like it's embarrassing to eat my mom's lunch from a brown paper bag everyday. I want to be able to like go out and actually buy lunch, like normal people."
"Honey, how will you go out? You're not a senior. You don't have a lunch pass."
"Oh my God mom, you're so old school, there are a million ways to leave the school at lunch time. Ugh anyway, dad can I have a 20 since mom is being so difficult about this?" my sister asks turning to look at my father.
"Ask your mom Kayla," he replies, completely not following the conversation.
"Ugh!! You people are unbelievable! Can't I just go out with my friends and get some lunch once in my life? It's not like we're that fucking poor." My mom slowly walks away from the oven and goes to get her purse. She takes out her wallet and pulls some money out. She gives my sister two 20 dollar bills and then turns to me "Do you want some lunch money too?" At this point she sounds like she's about to cry. Cooking for us is her favorite activity. I want to strangle my oblivious, or maybe just simply mean spirited, sister.
"No mom, I like your lunch," I say smiling. She weakly smiles back.
"As a matter of fact you can give me Kayla's lunch too. I'll eat them both." My sister snorts and leaves the table. We hear the front door slam. Then a minute later she walks back in, looking like she's seen a ghost.
"There's someone out there for you," she says looking at me. I stop in the middle of taking a huge bite out of my pancake. I look like a stunned hamster with full cheeks.
"Who," I manage to mumble in between chews, but she ignores me. After a moment of what appears to be her considering something she gives me an annoyed but worried look and says "If you do anything to embarrass me I swear I'll kill you." And she leaves. I make my way to the door, curious. Could it be Lena picking me up? She usually calls ahead when she does though. I open the door and immediately my jaw drops. On my front steps there's a guy, the most fucking handsome guy in the world, ever so casually leaning against the railing. He gives me his killer smile when he sees me.
"Hi," he says.
"Hi," I mumble back.
"You uhmm, you have something on your uhmm there," he says pointing to my face and smiling charmingly. I blush, oh God. I wipe my mouth and realize I've got Nutella all over my face. Great.
"What are you doing here?" I ask a little too accusingly. Whatever, he can't just show up on my front steps, catch me with Nutella all over my face and expect me to be happy about it.
"Well since you refused to take my offer for a ride I figured we could walk to school together."
"Walk? Together?" I repeat, trying to make sense of whatever foreign statement he just made.
"Yeah...unless you're walking with someone else or something," he adds, slightly less sure of himself now.
"No, no I'm not walking with anyone else," I say almost laughing to myself. Only Mark would be nice enough to think that someone other than him would want to walk to school with me.
"Good," he says smiling again. My moms pops her head out the door.
"Oh hi," she says in Mark's direction.
"Hi, I'm Mark. I just moved in to town a few weeks ago."
"Oh, right of course, I heard a lot about you already," she says politely. He quizzically raises his eyebrows while looking at me and I realize he thinks it's me she's been hearing about him from. Great, fucking Kayla ruining my life once again. Now he thinks I'm some creep who talks about him to his mom. Jesus, how will I live through this.
"Well come in for breakfast dear," says my mom. Oh no, I think to myself, but before I can decline the offer for him he says "Sure, thank you," and invites himself in, winking as he walks past me. Even though I'm really mad I can't help but be giddy inside thinking about the fact that Mark Norton just winked at me.
I follow them inside and we sit down at the breakfast table. My dad introduces himself and him and Mark make small talk while I sit around anxiously twiddling my thumbs and wondering why in the world Mark wants to walk to school with me. I quickly tell my mom that we only have about 20 minutes, but both her and Mark seem to ignore me. She piles a plate stacked with food up to the ceiling, and hands it to him. Does she really think anyone can eat all that? Has she completely lost her mind? I wonder. But I quickly realize that she hasn't, as Mark rapidly yet at the same time gracefully finishes the whole damn thing in under 5 minutes. I stare in disbelief.
"Wow, that was really great. Thank you so much." My mom beams.
"You're welcome dear. Jeremy here doesn't eat much, and my daughter eats like a zombie who can't taste anything, so it's nice to have someone appreciate my cooking for once," she says jokingly. My dad grunts, displeased.
"Okay, we have to go mom," I say annoyed.
"You still have 10 minutes honey. Let me pack Mark some lunch." And before I can protest she starts gathering Capri Suns to put in Mark's lunch bag. Mark looks at me amused, I frown at him.
"So can I see your room?" he asks sounding a little too innocent.
"No!" I say frowning and getting an anxiety attack about just the thought of Mark being in my room. God forbid he saw the plastic cover on my mattress, I don't think I could ever go back to school if that happened. I cringe just thinking about it. Finally my mom hands Mark his bag, I get my backpack, and we leave what can only be described as the most awkward breakfast ever.
"Stop frowning," says Mark when we get away from my house. He's smiling. I shake my head and continue frowning as we walk.
"Your mom is a great cook."
"Yeah, she loves cooking."
"She has a point though, about you not eating enough. I noticed that too." I look at him stunned. When has he had time to notice I don't eat much? I decide to change the subject.
"So, do you run at 5 in the morning everyday?"
"Yeah usually, it's nice, nobody is out that early. Would you want to go with me some day?"
"Uhhh run at 5? I don't know, I'm not really that good at any sports, or any physical activity really." He raises and eyebrow and grins at my statement. I turn red.
"Well I can go at your pace. Or we can just make it a walk."
"Okay, I guess." I say and look away. His intense gaze is making me nervous. As we walk in silence a car drives by slowly. I look and with dread notice that it's my sister with Spencer, Chad, and some other slutty looking girl. I inwardly cringe, and put my head down. The car slows down to almost a stop, right next to us.
"Marrrkk, what's up?" says Chad.
"Not much man," Mark replies calmly.
"You want a ride?"
"No I'm good, thanks."Spencer looks annoyed with Chad, but doesn't say anything. Of course after the last incident I can imagine why he wouldn't want to ride in the same car with Mark.
"C'mon man, you don't wanna be seen walking with that guy. Trust me," he says with an ugly smile on his face. Mark remains cool but I can see his body tense up, and I'm puzzled by it. His jaw seems clenched for a second, but then he responds with a smile.
"Oh yeah, and why's that?" Fuck, he shouldn't have said that. This is so humiliating. I want to run away, but I can barely seem to move at this point.
"C'mon man, are you serious? I think you know why. Just get in dude."
"Yeah Mark, Chad's right, he likes to walk by himself," adds my sister batting her eyelashes. But Mark seems more repulsed than anything else. His reactions are really starting to confuse me. Anyway, since he's such a good guy and probably just doesn't want to hurt my feelings I add "Yeah go ahead, see you later," and start walking away fast. Tears stream down my cheeks but I quickly wipe them away. I knew this had to end sooner or later. I shouldn't have gotten my hopes up. It's not fair of me to try to selfishly keep Mark as a friend, when it will just make his life more difficult. A minute later the car speeds past me and I hear the word "faggot." I don't look up because the sight of Mark sitting in that car would kill me. So I just keep walking with my head down. All of a sudden I hear footsteps running behind me. I turn around and to my surprise I see him.
"Why didn't you.." I trail off.
"I already told you, I want to walk with you." He says and smiles, then continues walking. I stay glued to my spot for a few seconds then follow, very confused, yet happy. When we get to school I can feel some whispers and stares, but maybe I'm just paranoid. Lena comes out of nowhere and says "Hey, there you are Jear Bear."
"Hi," I say back.
"Oh, hey," she says noticing Mark, who's still looking at me quizzically after hearing my nickname.
"Hey," he finally says back, and I wait for him to walk away from me now that we're in school, but he just stands there. Me and Lena look confused. Finally she smiles and says
"Did you guys walk to school together?"
"Yeah," Mark replies smiling back at her. Her smile widens.
"Cool. Did you finish shooting that roll of film? I think we're developing it today right?" The bell interrupts her question and we say bye to Mark and start heading to Math class.
"So what was that all about?" Lena asks.
"What?" I ask innocently.
"You know what? Why is Mark Norton walking to school with you?"
"I have no idea," I reply truthfully. She inspects my face to make sure I'm not lying and when she's done she says
"You think he's got a thing for you?" I stare at her with my mouth open.
"No, of course not. And don't say that out loud! What is wrong with you." She giggles.
"What, you can't be the only gay person in school. Maybe he's gay too."
"Lena, even if he was he would still not have a thing for me. Are you crazy? Can we just stop talking about it?" I ask pleadingly. She agrees to drop the subject. We walk into class and I immediately zone out.
After what seems like eternity photo class time comes around. I'm beyond excited to develop my first roll of film, and a voice inside tells me that I'm also excited to see Mark, but I tell it to shut up. The teacher hands out metal looking round things he calls reels, and a bunch of used film.
"Okay, you guys have to practice first. Putting film on the reels can be a bit tricky. When you do it, it will be in total darkness so you have to completely rely on your hands. You have to put the film onto these little hooks, and then roll it all the way." He demonstrates how to do it, and of course makes it look super easy. "So practice for 15 minutes, and then each one of you has to do it in front of me before you go into the film cabins." Lena gets up to go to the bathroom, which leaves my table with Mark and Julia. Mark expertly puts his film on in no time and chuckles as he watches me completely fail at it. I get more and more frustrated as I frown at him and almost rip the film. He moves to sit next to me.
"Here," he says and takes the reel and film away from me. "Close your eyes." I just stare at him dumbfounded.
"Come on, we only have 10 minutes left. Close your eyes." I close my eyes. I feel his hand brush against mine, as he slowly hands me the reel.
"Now feel for the two small hooks with your thumb," he says gently. I turn the reel slowly and finally find the little metal pieces sticking out. "Got it," I say. I can feel him smiling. He takes my hand again and passes me the film. This time he doesn't let go.
"Now the key to getting it attached and then rolling it smoothly is to bend it a little. It's much easier to control that way." His voice is barely above a whisper. I swallow hard. He shows me how to do it with his fingers. His skin feels electric on mine. We roll the film on together. I open my eyes. He's smiling at me, and Julia is burning holes in my head.
"Thanks Mark," I say sounding extra shy. Great. He just smiles. Lena comes back and Mark moves to the other side of the table. I still feel electricity running through me. It's amazing what liking someone this much can do to you. I mentally kick myself. You can't like him. This will end bad.
After everyone passes the film rolling test we start going into the dark booths. Unfortunately there are only two, so the teacher tells us to go in pairs to make it quicker. Our table is last to go, naturally I'm assuming I'll go in with Lena but all of a sudden she speeds up and goes in with Julia, winking back at me as she does so. I scowl at her. Fuck, this means I'm going to be in a completely tiny dark booth, with Mark next to me. I take a deep breath and tell myself to relax. We walk into the small room and set up our station. One small metal tank each, one pair of scissors, two reels, and film. The film opener is attached to the table.
"You ready?" he asks. I nod my head and he turns off the light. Immediately I feel an enormous amount of tension between us. My hands start trembling. I hear Mark cracking his film open. Focus, I say to myself. I try to hold my film steady and open it but it keeps slipping and nothing is happening. I sigh with resignation. I hear Mark chuckle.
"You need help there?"
"No, I'm just peachy here." He laughs. I hear the sound of his film rolling, and then the metal reel hit the bottom of the metal tank.
"Done," he brags. Great, I think, I haven't even started.
"Oh give me that," he says after a while, and reaches out in the dark to find my hand. He grabs the film from me while I try not to breathe too fast. I hear the can pop open. The top of the film hits the floor with a tiny clanking sound. He cuts it for me and hands me the film. I try to put it on but my hands are shaking and sweaty. Fuck, this is so mortifying. With every second that passes I feel more and more anxious. I feel him move. I completely freeze, and then I feel his body behind me.
"Here, let's do it together," he says in a low voice. The front of his body is slightly pressed up against the back of mine, and it's a complete shock to me. Especially THAT part of his body, that's now slightly pressing against my lower half. I'm partly terrified, and partly excited. I think I completely stop breathing. He grabs my hands and finds the reel hooks. My heart is beating furiously and I can feel his breathing deepen. He starts rolling the film, while slightly holding my hands. But my hands are limp and useless at this point. His hands feel strong and steady. I realize that his arms are enveloping me. They feel strong and masculine. And even though my hearts about to pop out of my throat, and my hands are limp, and I'm almost trembling, I feel a sense of security. Like nothing will happen to me as long as I have Mark with his arms wrapped around me.
"There," he says gently. He reaches forward to grab my can, which presses him up against me harder and for a second I think I feel something else pressing against me, but I shake that idea off. That's not possible. He puts the film in the can and closes it.
"Okay, I think we're ready." He turns on the light. We look at each other, and I feel the electricity pass again. We hear a knock at the door. "Guys just letting you know the bell's about to ring," says the photo teacher. Mark opens the door and we walk out. Lena smiles when she sees me. I ignore her. The bells rings and I walk out of class feeling dizzy.
When I get home everyone is already in the living room, about to have lunch. I put my backpack away and sit down. Once again I feel too anxious to eat, but know I have to eat something. My sister is making ugly faces at me, and I do my best to ignore her.
"So, my retarded brother finally made a friend," she says sarcastically. My dad looks up from his book and my mom is about to scold my sister but she continues talking. "Anyone at school, and of course you choose to ruin everything with the one guy that I like." I look at her in complete shock. She's actually serious.
"I don't know what you're talking about," I say putting some potato salad on my plate.
"Oh really, what the hell did you say to Mark? Why is he not talking to me?"
"I don't know," I reply.
"What is going on guys?" my mom asks. My father just looks from me to my sister and back, confused and uncomfortable.
"Well mom if you want to know, freaking Jeffrey Dahmer here decided to talk shit about me to Mark." I cringe when I hear what she calls me. I can feel my blood slowly boiling.
"Kayla, first of all do not call you brother by that name. Second of all, calm down and explain what you're talking about," my dad says.
"What I'm talking about? I'm talking about this shit head obviously saying something to Mark to make him stop talking to me. I mean why else would he?"
"Maybe he stopped talking to you because you're a raging bitch," I say calmly. I put my plate away and walk upstairs, leaving my whole family stunned. I never talk back, no matter how annoying my sister is, or how ignorant my dad acts, I never say anything back. Well until now. Confused by what's happening to me I go up to my room and lay down on my bed. I fall asleep quickly and deeply, not even waking to the sounds of Miley Cyrus next door, on volumes that were probably as loud as a live concert.
"You can be a good swimmer you know, you just have to try a little harder," I hear the voice saying. And this time I know exactly who it belongs to. I immediately feel dirty. I hate when he talks to me. It's me and him sitting in the dressing room. Everyone else is slowly leaving, as their parents are coming to get them from the swim lessons. But I'm always last to go. My dad says it's something with me learning how to be more independent. "Have you showered yet?" he asks. I shake my head no. The last boy leaves the room and now we're alone. "Well let's get you showered then," he says and grabs my arm. We go into the shower together. I look down at my small boy feet and start crying, but nobody hears. My parents pick me up 30 minutes later, and as I cry in the car my father tells me to stop feeling sorry for myself.
I wake up covered in sweat and shaking. I try to catch my breath, but it's not working. I start crying and this time I'm cussing as I do it. I'm more angry than scared. Angry that this asshole ruined my life. Angry that I'm too weak to do anything about it. Angry that I can't face it. Angry about everything. I get up and go downstairs feeling more and more furious by the minute. I walk out the door and start running. I'm so angry I want to smash everything in my way, so I just keep running, faster and faster. It's still dark outside, but I don't know what time it is. I get to the bridge and slump down exhausted. A strange sound comes out of my throat. I'm crying and choking at the same time, and I can't stop. But all of a sudden I see a figure running towards me and I start feeling really scared. Who the fuck else besides me would be running in the middle of the night? And then I realize who. And now I'm not only sweaty, angry and crying but also completely humiliated. He runs up to where I'm sitting and takes out his earphones.
"Are..you..okay?" he says breathing heavily. I nod my head. Even though he's obviously been running for quite some time he still looks completely put together and not fazed. He's wearing a grey hoodie and black shorts. I imagine what I must look like. Red face, wet white shirt, and grey sweatpants. A complete mess. I try hard to stop the sob that's about to come out of my mouth, and I end up making an even weirder sound. I look at the ground and bring my knees to my chest. His breathing slowly evens. He sits next to me, looking really concerned.
"You wanna talk about why you're here crying at 5 in the morning?" He asks gently.
"I'm not crying," I say defensively.
"Okay. Why are you here then?" he asks.
"It's none of your business,"I say, my voice breaking. Great. Now he looks really concerned. I'm surprised he hasn't punched me or left yet. I take a few deep breaths, forcing myself to stop crying. Finally I find the courage and ask "Why are you trying to be my friend?" He looks a little stunned and confused.
"Because I like you," he answers. I shake my head, it makes no sense.
"Well can you please just stop, you're making this harder on everyone. Everyone hates me even more now because you're choosing to be friends with me instead of them. And why would you want to have one friend when you can be friends with all the other kids? It just makes no sense. Why?" I end my rambling. He looks at my for a while.
He slowly says "Because there's something very endearing and sweet about you, and you don't even know it...Because you're shy, and your voice trembles when you say my name, and you always close your eyes for a second longer when you lie."I stare at him not breathing, he continues. "Because you don't know how great you are, and you let people walk all over you. Because you have the saddest and yet the most beautiful face in the world. Because when you do smile or laugh once in a year, it's the most delightful sight and sound to me. And because something happened to you, and you're too scared to talk about it. And that makes me want to hold you, and make it all better."