The Bully and the Brain. Chapter 3

As I followed Ashton up to his room, I couldn't help but be a little apprehensive. I had no idea of what I could possibly be walking into. I mean, here was this guy I had made life horrible for. Now I was seeing just how horrible things really might be for him. It's not that I had never met anyone in such circumstances, but that had always been an "outsider" thing and here I was being first-hand thrust into the life of this, person. Of this guy who just wasn't what I was used to. Who reminded me of something so vividly I wanted to forget.

But, sometimes, I did wonder. He kept to himself. He never bothered anyone and for all intents and purposes, he tried to remain off of the high school radar. While everyone else was doing everything and anything to get noticed, he was content to just exist and get through the glory years.

As we got to the top of the stairs, I saw that everything about the house was relatively simple. There were five doors that were all open. I could see his mother's room, the bathroom, a door leading to the attic and then what I assumed was his room. I could see a swirl of color coating the bit I could see and as we moved closer, the more awestruck I became. When we crossed the threshold to his room, my jaw was resting somewhere on my chest. His room was one of the biggest murals I had ever seen. It was so beautiful, but simple at the same time. It seemed as if several works of art came together and blended into one amazing coalescent work of magic.

Before I realized what I was doing, I was turning circles in his room with my camera. I did my best to capture every inch of the room and when I ran out of film, I asked him for the camera he had yet to touch. Once I was sure I had every inch of his walls, I started to notice the other little artistic items around the room. Smaller portraits, paintings, pictures, photographs of some of the most beautiful things I had ever seen captured on film and they were all laying about, like more would come.

This art, his art, was only in its adolescence. Like there was a greater visual artist to be born of this. As I catalogued every inch of his space with my eyes, I couldn't help but be drawn back to him. I caught his eyes only once, but in that moment, something about him I understood.

'' You did all of this? You took all of these?"

Ashton: "Yeah. It's just a hobby."

'' A hobby? This stuff... this art, it's amazing. You should have it in a museum or an exhibit or something!"

I saw his look of shock as he registered my compliment. To me it just came out naturally. I didn't have an appreciation for art, it just wasn't my thing, but this, this I could appreciate. As I noticed the camera that he had sitting on top of a very populated bookshelf, I walked over to it and picked it up. I could see him running over to rescue it from me, but I wasn't an idiot. This was a 35mm camera and I knew that inside of it, there must be some magic awaiting a permanent place in reality. I cradled it like maybe, just possibly, it could give me the answers I was looking for. Like maybe it would whisper to me the things that I knew even this project wouldn't reveal to me. As I cradled his camera in my arms, I wondered, who exactly was Ashton?

Ashton

It had been quiet for a few minutes now. Marcus had gone around the room, looking at everything. Inspecting my life. For the life of me, I don't know why I let him. My mother had insisted we come up here. I knew she was tired, but my room was my domain. The one place where life and school never seemed to catch me. But here in this very moment, Marcus, the person who hated me so very much, was studying everything about me that kept me sane. He moved from space to space and just took everything in. I wanted him to go. I knew this was a bad idea and he had to go. But, I couldn't just tell him that.

As he went over to my sketch book, I had a mild panic attack. He was here in my space. He was in my room. There had been so many times when I dreamed up this exact scenario. Like I said, I knew I was crazy. How could you fantasize and want someone who you knew wouldn't mind if you just up and disappeared? But for the sake of me, I couldn't stop my mind from teasing me. From playing the sweetest nightmares. Showing me the side of Marcus I wish I could find.

Marcus: "I'm so sorry. I just never would have imagined this..."

'' From me?"

Marcus: "Uh, well... yeah."

'' You don't know much about me. Nothing, really."

Marcus: "I know that you're an artist. I know that you have talent and that you can run your ass off."

'' Those are skills. Learned out of boredom and desperation. They don't make me who I am."

At that he stopped talking. I knew I had to stop with the bitter act, but I was upset and for once, I was getting to the point where I didn't shut up and take it. Maybe it was the fact that he would have to get to know me, that for the next month or so, he needed me and that bred a false sense of being somewhat untouchable.

Marcus: "Let's just finish for the day...."

'' Sure."

As I made my way over to him and pulled my camera out of his hands, he flinched the tiniest bit. I made sure not to touch him at all, but I think maybe the proximity was even too much for him. He had had a death grip on my camera and I wanted to rescue it from him. It was the one thing I had from my grandfather and I cherished it.

I was self-taught for the most part. He had given me the camera on my 9th birthday and ever since then, I had been taking pictures. At first they were horrible, but then I started finding ways to make the pictures look good. I developed an eye for photography and through that, my love and interest in other art forms grew. I had never thought much about it, but with Marcus' words, it was very difficult to not let a sense of pride make me just a little happy.

As I turned away from him and leaned over my bed to place my camera on the shelf above my bed, my shirt lifted a bit and I heard a shocking gasp from Marcus. I cringed at the sound and I damn near threw myself away from him when I felt his hand on my shirt, lifting it up. Even though I had only moved a foot or so away from him, I was breathing extremely hard. Unshed tears were stinging my eyes and as I looked into his eyes, I pleaded with him, with words unsaid, I begged him not to go there......

Marcus


What the hell?!

I couldn't stop myself from moving closer to Ashton, and as he pressed himself to the wall, I could almost feel the fear radiating off of him... His eyes were wild with it and as the first of his tears started falling, I backed away. I couldn't imagine how I must have looked to him in that moment, but I had just never... I never would have imagined.

'' Ashton?"

As he looked at me, the look in his eyes changed. It was still fear, I could see that, but it was a different type of fear. I knew he was scared of me, but this was different. As I thought about it, I had never seen Ashton in any type of leisure clothing. In gym, when everyone else was wearing wife-beaters or no shirts at all, he'd have on his same standard black t-shirt. I had never thought much about it, but today, it was all starting to make a bit more sense to me.

'' Ashton..."

Ashton: "Please...."

'' Ashton, what happ..."

Ashton: "Please don't... Please..."

The pleading in his voice broke my heart. I had seen Ashton cry before. Hell, I had stared right in his face and made him cry. Had soaked it up like the big bad bully I was, but this... there was nothing in his face but pain right now. As he slid down the wall and cried, I tried to distance myself from the situation.

My legs felt wobbly as I took a seat on his bed and just placed my head in my hands.

There were scars everywhere. They were faded, old, but I could tell that at some point, the damage had been extensive. That someone had seriously hurt Ashton.

As I peeked out of the space between my fingers, I could see that he was calming down. He had a handful of his hair in his hands, but the tears which were streaming somewhat violently before, were now just a slow stream down his face. I wouldn't bring it back up. I couldn't. Although it seemed like the physical scars had healed and faded, the emotional ones were still very much in tact. I had never been so appalled in my life.

As my opinion of his mother started to drop, as I realized what a monster she truly was, what she said to me sang through my thoughts. And sometimes, without even knowing it, you bring hurt to them. You bring pain and sorrow and in the end, you're just as confused. Just as hurt and scarred.

As I watched Asthon gain his composure, I stood from his bed and turned my back to him. I gave him some time to get up and situated and when I turned back around, he was warily looking at me. I wasn't going to bring it up. I promised myself. But, I didn't have to....

Ashton: "Please don't tell anyone.... Please!"

'' I won't. I promise."

And I wouldn't.

Ashton

As I stepped into the bathroom to wash the dried tears off of my face, I couldn't help but think back. I wish I could forget, but everything was so vivid. Every moment. Ever strike. Every insult. All of it was so very clear in my head. Even though it had been years, some pain does not disappear. Some pain haunts you, keeps you up at night, invades your dreams, creates your nightmares. Some things, they were with you forever.

As a fresh wave of tears fell from my eyes, I cried for the little boy I vaguely remembered. The boy that I used to be before everything was torn away from me. Before my world was turned upside down. I wept for that little boy, because he was forever lost.


I didn't take much longer in the bathroom. I had left Marcus in my room and although it made me uncomfortable, I had to get my mind together and being in the same room as him, that was not going to happen. When I stepped into my room, I saw that he was on the phone. He didn't rush to end his call, but he told whoever it was that he was busy and he would call them later. I didn't know who it was, but I was definitely surprised that he thought he needed to get off of the phone. The less we talked, the more tears he wouldn't see.

The air in the room held a tension that hadn't been there before for the most part. I definitely did not want to continue with the project at this point. I didn't want Marcus asking me any more questions.

Marcus: "I think I should go."

'' Yeah, it's been a long day. I'm sorry about this, but this project is just a bit too much right now."

Marcus: "Yeah... Ashton?"

'' Yeah?"

Marcus: "I meant what I said. I won't tell anyone."

'' I hope not."

At that we left my room. I trailed behind him a bit and as he headed for the door and my mom offered him dinner, he politely declined and left out the door. I made eye contact with my mother and I could tell she was upset, but luckily she didn't say anything.

We ate dinner in a silence that had become all too familiar and when I was done, I washed up my dishes and headed to my room. I knew my mom wanted to open our can of worms even less than I did, but it seemed that at the end of everything, at least one person would know our story the way it really was.


Tuesday...

The next few days were a blur as I tried to cope with everything that had happened at my house. My life was spinning out of control and everything that I had kept hidden was coming out into the open. I was petrified. I had tried to avoid Marcus as much as possible, but we had so many classes together. I wanted him to stop treating me differently. I felt like people would start to notice and then they'd start asking questions.

Marcus: "Earth to Ashton. Are you going to answer me?"

His question brough me back to the present and when I saw his tape recorder in my face, I couldn't help but scowl at him. I hated that thing, and by now, he knew that.

'' Can you get that thing out of my face, please?"

Marcus: "Sorry."

He looked somewhat dejected as he put the recorder out of sight. I almost felt bad, but I was fighting off a serious headache and working on this project with him was not helping.

'' What was your question?"

Marcus: "What do you want to do after high school?"

'' I don't know. I haven't planned that far ahead."

Marcus: "Why? I mean you must be looking at possible universities and such?"

'' No. I'm really just trying to get through the year."

Marcus: "You say that like there is an hour glass hanging over your head."

'' Maybe there is. Who knows?"

At that, I got up and walked away. Marcus just didn't understand. He never would.

As I stood in line to order another iced coffee, I couldn't help but look back at Marcus. I could tell he was upset by what I had just said, but it was the truth. Sometimes, I literally felt like my days were numbered. Like time was running out.

I took my seat across from Marcus and he wouldn't even look up at me. I didn't know why he cared anyway, but death was touch for anybody. I wasn't scared though. Death would be my release. Release from torment, from pain and sadness. It would be freedom for once.

'' What about you?"

Marcus: "What about me, what?"

'' What do you want to be?"

He didn't answer me right away. Since the start of this project, most of the questions had been directed at me. I was quickly learning that Marcus did not like being in the hot seat.

Marcus: "I want to be a writer."

'' Really? I never would have thought that."

Marcus: "Why?"

'' I don't know. I guess I just never pictured that being a hobby of yours."

Marcus: "You don't know that much about me."

I heard the reference there, but I ignored it and sipped my drink. There truth was, I didn't know anything about Marcus, except that he hated me.

'' Why do you hate me?"

His eyes jumped up to mine and I could he was shocked I had never really asked him any questions, but if ever there was an answer that I wanted, that was it.

Marcus: "I don't hate you."

'' You sure act like it. You've made my life miserable for the past how many years?"

Marcus: "It wasn't just me."

'' So you just treat me like shit because it's what the rest of the cool kids do?"

Marcus: "What's your problem?"

'' My problem?! I'm asking you what your issue with me is, and you're giving me some bullshit excuse for an answer!"

Marcus: "What do you want me to say?"

'' The truth. Start there. From the moment you met me, you made it your personal goal to make my life a living nightmare. You've had your friends pick on me, attack me, and for what?"

Marcus: "Fuck you, Ashton! You don't know anything."

As he jumped up from the table and walked away, I had to fight the urge to yell in frustration. I had let my emotions get the best of me all over again and I flipped out. But, I just wanted to know the truth.


Friday...

Marcus: "Do you want to come over to my house after school?"

'' Um... sure. I guess..."

Marcus: "Fine. Just meet me in the parking lot after ninth period."

'' Oh... okay."

I couldn't help but sink into my seat a little bit. I had been sitting at a table in the corner of the lunch room, due to the rain, and he had separated from his friends to come over and talk to me. I didn't understand why people were so interested in why anyone would talk to me, being a social pariah and all, but as I pulled my homework closer, I tried to forget all about the stares.

I was a bit surprised though. Marcus had basically stayed as far away from me as possible since the other ay. I had seen him early in the day and after he scowled at me, he basically acted like I didn't exist. It was fine though, I but I knew sooner or later, we'd be back to doing our project.


Later that day...

I stood in the parking lot and waited for Marcus to finish talking to his friends. I was just content to read the book on my iPhone until he was ready. I thought he would take a long time, but just a moment or so later, he was heading in my direction. I couldn't help but watch him as he walked towards me. Some people just had a pull about them. Like they had gravity resting inside of them, bringing people closer. Marcus had that in spades. People just wanted to be around him.

As he stopped in front of me, I could tell he still somewhat had an attitude. It's not like I had meant to piss him off, but I guess my approach wasn't the best.

Marcus: "You ready?"

'' Yeah."

I couldn't help but be blown away by the car he was driving. I could feel everyone's eyes burning into the back of my head, but as I admired the beautiful sleek of his Camaro, I ignored everything.

Marcus: "You getting in?"

I came out of my trance and he was staring at me like the idiot I was starting to become around him.

'' Uh, yeah."

As I settled into my seat, my heart started beating out of control. All types of scenarios and paranoia started rampaging through my thoughts. I couldn't help but think about the fact that I was going only God knows where with someone who barely tolerated me at this point.

'' I can walk you know?"

He looked over at me with the most mischievous look in his eyes and then he sped out of the parking lot. I couldn't get my seatbelt on fast enough and I was nervous as hell.

It didn't take long for me to relax as the power of the car roared smoothly beneath us. I couldn't help but glance at him as he steered the car through the late afternoon traffic towards destination. He had such confidence about him. He was made of it.

As we pulled up to one of the biggest houses I had ever seen, I saw who I guessed was Marcus's mother and father pulling groceries out of their Range Rover. I couldn't help but be a little bit envious. I mean, they were all but swimming in money and my mother and I were barely getting by. I didn't even want to get out of the car, but Marcus was waiting on me so he could lock the doors.

I stood awkwardly off to the site as he spoke to his parents and I would have been content to just stand there and be invisible, but unfortunately in my case, that was never the case for long.

Mrs. Kingston: "And who do we have here?"

Marcus: "This is Ashton. We're working on that project together that I told you about."

Mrs. Kingston: "Oh okay. You don't bring friends home often...'

Marcus: "We're not...."

'' ...Friends."

I wish I had never spoken, because everyone's eyes landed on me and it felt like a spotlight was beaming directly on my face. Marcus gave me another look that basically said 'shut the hell up' and I did. I hadn't meant to say anything, but if I acknowledged it before he said it, maybe it wouldn't hurt so much....

Marcus: "What I was going to say was, 'We're not going to need your interviews today.' We're just going to be in my room getting some more of the basic questions out of the way."

I walked dejectedly behind Marcus as we stepped around his parents and went into the house. He looked back at me and scowled, but I just kept my head down and followed him.

I tried not to look at their house, but it was hard for my eyes not to jump from expensive thing to expensive thing. Everything about their home screamed money. The big screen television. The sound system. The expensive d├ęcor. It all just blended so seamlessly together, without having that lifeless manufactured feel to it.

Marcus: "Come on."

I followed Marcus up the stairs to his room, ogling every inch of their house along the way. It was easier to admire the walls than what was ascending the steps in front of me. I made sure I stayed three steps below him at all times, I didn't want to give him a reason to flip out on me.

I noticed that the stairway continued up another flight or so, but Marcus headed down a hallway and we ended up in his bedroom. Almost in the same fashion that Marcus was surprised by the painting on my walls, I was blown away by the sheer number of books lining the walls of a room that would have swallowed mine three times over. My eyes roamed every inch of his room and the many titles he had. Some I had never heard of and how worn some of them looked, they might have even been original publishings.

'' This is amazing. Are some of these originals?"

Marcus: "Yeah. I collect them. Consider it my 'bottle-cap' collection."

Three of the walls were covered with his expansive book collection, but the last wall in the room that lead to a very discreet walkway where I assumed his bed was, was really just a big glass window and it had one of the coolest entertainment systems I had ever seen. Not only did he have all of the gaming systems, he had movies; foreign and American. Music that was so diverse it was astonishing, and his game collection was to die for.

While I drooled over his room, Marcus had plopped down on his futon and was turning on his PS3. I turned at the sound of it coming on, but halfway to seeing where the noise came from, my eyes landed on Marcus and everything stopped.

For the first time, I was seeing Marcus with all of his layers stripped away and I don't even know if he realized it. But as I watched him exhale, it looked like the stresses of the day literally drained out of him. This person was the Marcus no one ever got to see, the person he hid behind his "popular-jock" veneer.

Honestly, it just wasn't fair. I had the thought so many times, but why did he have to have such an effect on me? Why could he stir up those feelings inside of me that I knew would never turn into anything more than a flightless dream? A crush that had no substance, because there was no chance in hell. Besides, he hated me anyway.

Marcus: "Are you going to keep standing there, or are you going to sit down?"

His voice tore me away from my trance and I opted to sit at his computer desk, rather than to share the futon with him. He eyed me for a little bit, but I acted like he wasn't. As he focused back on his game, I could see the smallest of smirks on his face, but I didn't understand why. As I basically sat in the chair and twiddled my thumbs, I couldn't help but to glance at Marcus occasionally. I would have thought that he might forget I was even there, but every now and then, he would catch me looking at him.

Marcus: "What are you looking at?"

'' Uh... Nothing."

Marcus: "You keep staring right at me."

'' I'm sorry... You just look different."

Marcus: "What do you mean?"

'' You just look like a different person. You just look so relaxed. I don't know. Free."

I don't know if analyzing him had him on edge, but I could almost see the wall come back up and as he turned the game off and pulled his bookbag closer, I knew we were about to get down to business.

Marcus: "We better get started."

'' Yeah. I guess so."

He got up from the futon and went to a rolling chair against his bookcase that I hadn't even noticed before. As he brought it towards the desk, he slapped his notebook down and sat next to me. It was like there was an invisible force separating us, but I slid a few inches away from him to give him some more space. Not that he needed it.

Marcus: "Is there something wrong?"

'' What do you mean?"

Marcus: "You keep cringing away from me like you're waiting for me to hit you or something."

'' I'm just giving you your space."

Marcus: "I don't need that much space. It's a big desk. Just relax."

'' That's easier said than done."

Marcus: "Why?"

Because you make me stupid. You hate me. I'm gay. Pick one. I quit the mental self-berating and turned away from him.

'' It just is, okay?!"

Marcus: "Whatever."

Yeah. Whatever.


A few minutes later, we were ready to get started. Ever since my 'blow-up,' I had been banned from asking questions. So for now, it was all about me. The project was starting to feel a bit one-sided, but it was okay. Honestly, I didn't know what to ask him. His life seemed absolutely perfect.

He had stopped letting me see the recorder, even though I knew it was on, but it made it easier to focus.

Marcus: "If the questions I'm going to ask are too personal, just let me know."

'' Okay."

Marcus: "Okay."

I could tell her was apprehensive and that made me nervous, but when he went into the first question, my nerves flew out of the window.

Marcus: "Where's your dad?"

'' Uh, he's in the military. I think he said he was in Russia the last time he was able to call."

Marcus: "You're close? I never hear you talk about him. I thought it was just you and your mom."

'' It is. But that's just because he's away. He never comes here. My mom doesn't want him to, so whenever he's off and we have school breaks or something, I'll meet him and we spend some time together."

Marcus: "Your mom doesn't go?"

'' Not with the way she has it at work. She doesn't really get to have time off and the money stays pretty tight."

Marcus: "That was the guy from the pictures in your house? I thought that was your father, but I didn't know if it was an Uncle or something. He looks young."

'' I don't know my uncle. But my dad, he was. Well, in that picture he was twenty, I think. He's just a year and a half older than my mother."

Marcus: "Wow. But wait, are you not close to your family?"

'' It's just me, my mom and dad."

I saw he was confused, but for me there wasn't any other family. My dad was in the system, so he didn't even know his family and my mother's family, well they chose not to deal with me and in turn, my mother chose me over them. It had been a struggle from that moment since, but we made it work alright for the most part.

'' Your grandfather,... the guy from the pictures, he's like the biggest corporate mogul of the year. Like, he's huge!"

'' Yeah, so I hear,"

Marcus: "Why aren't you close?"

'' He doesn't want to see me, okay? None of them do!"

He was surprised by my anger, but my heart hurt. I had been disowned by my entire family for things I had no control over. I mean, who could help who they were attracted to?

Marcus: "Why?"

I could almost hear sincerity in his voice, but I was just beyond frustrated by now.

'' Because I'm gay! There you go. They don't want anything to do with me for the very same reason you hate me."

I had to get a grip on my emotions and the crying bit was getting old too, but this project was tearing me apart on the inside. Marcus looked like he wanted to be doing anything but this, but I couldn't help it. I made sure that for the most part, I never thought about any of this. But, low and behold, this stupid fucking project was ruining everything.

He pushed a box of Kleenex towards me and he excused himself from the room. I took that time to try and get myself together. It took a second to calm my breathing and the glass of water Marcus brought me helped a lot. I was tired of making an ass of myself in front of him, but... I just wanted it to end. My tears dried quickly enough, but I was just so tired.

'' I'm sorry."

Marcus: "It's cool, man."

'' I think I should go."

Marcus: "But we just got started."

'' I don't want to keep crying."

Marcus: "It's okay. I mean, we all cry sometimes."

'' I guess."

I took a few more moments to collect myself and Marcus was just content to sit there. I caught him looking at me a few times, but I didn't mention it. My past was so heavy on my thoughts, that my words started spilling out without thought.

'' My grandfather and I, we used to be really close. My grandmother and I had the typical relationship, but I was my grandfather's little boy. I was his only grandkid and we did everything together."

Marcus: "Sounds nice."

I thought I heard a bit of envy in his voice, but I didn't mention it.

'' It was. It was great. My dad had left by then and after some instance, some issues, I came out to my mother. She was like completely fine with it. She was just happy that I was honest with her."

I took another second to try and orient myself. I glanced at Marcus and it looked like he was taking it all in. This was the first time I had ever shared this pain with anyone.

'' But, when she told my grandparents, they immediately changed. It was horrible. My mom had invited them over, sat them down and told them everything. I was listening from the top of stairs and as they told her they wanted nothing to do with me if that was my choice, she politely told them to leave. The last time I saw them, they were walking out of our front door. My grandfather looked right up at me and it was like he was a different person. Like we were strangers. Whatever love they had for me, it died right there. They still try to have a relationship with my mother, but it's like I don't exist."

Marcus: "That had to hurt. I never got to know my grandfather."

'' Did he pass?"

Marcus: "No. My dad and him aren't close. I go visit my mom's parents every summer, but I think their going on a cruise or something this year."

'' I'm sorry to hear that."

Marcus: "It's cool. Can't miss what you don't know."

'' Yeah. You can."

The energy in the room had become even more somber as we sat there for just a few moments. I honestly did miss my grandfather, but it was a dull ache now. I just didn't understand how your love for someone could just turn sour so quickly. Without thought, he abandoned my life like I never meant anything at all to him. I knew I didn't have anything to say, I was very much buried in my thoughts. We still hadn't said anything to each other, when there was a light tap on the door and his mother poked her head in. When she saw that we were just sitting there, she came further into the room.

Mrs. Kingston: "Marcus, I just wanted to let you know dinner was ready."

Marcus: "Alright, Mom. We'll be down in a minute."

Mrs. Kingston: "Oh, Ashton... are you staying for dinner?"

'' Uh, no... I wasn't planning on it."

Mrs. Kingston: "Oh, it's fine. I mean, there's more than enough, and it'll be nice to have some fresh blood at the table."

That's exactly what I was afraid of. I mean, they had never been mean to myself or my mother, but I knew they knew our whole sordid history. But, whenever they came into the diner as a family, they always treated my mom really nice. But I don't know, it always felt more like pity than actual sympathy.

'' It's okay, really."

She had a sad smile on her face as she 'Okay'ed' and backed out of the room. She was being very nice, but I just didn't think I could be here and see them in their perfect lives. It was all just too much. I hated to look at Marcus and see the silent relief on his face, but that wasn't what I found at all.

Marcus: "You sure you don't want to stay? My mom is actually a pretty good cook."

'' Uh, no... It's okay. I don't want to intrude on your family."

Marcus: "That's kind of what this project is about. And besides, you're not intruding, you were invited by my mother and now I'm extending an invitation as well."

I couldn't help but be apprehensive, but it was just dinner and it would give me more of an opportunity to see Marcus and see how he truly was around his family. I mean, they seemed to have a great dynamic, even though I knew his dad wanted him to be something he had no interest in.

'' Umm, okay. I'll just let my mom know."

Ashton left the room and I made sure to text my mom and tell her exactly where I was, and although I knew she'd be worried, before I got her reply message, I turned my phone off.

He didn't take long, and as he came back into the room, I took a breath just to get my head back on straight. I didn't know how this was going to turn out, but I definitely did not want to embarrass myself further in front of Marcus or his parents.

Marcus: "Ready?"

'' Yeah. I'm ready."

We made our way downstairs and as we went into the dining room, Marcus's mother was bringing out a bowl of salad. It seemed that even though it was just the three of them, his mother usually cooked a big meal and the food smelled absolutely delicious.

Mrs. Kingston: "I'm glad you're joining us, Ashton."

And dinner commenced.

It was definitely an interesting experience. The relationship that he had with his parents was completely different that I was expecting. Although his dad was hard on him, they seemed to have a great relationship. For the most part, I stayed relatively silent during dinner, but I was definitely cataloguing everything I could. There was more than a few times they asked me what colleges I was interested in, but I told them the same thing I had told Marcus, that just wasn't my focus. College was, but I just hadn't started looking at specific schools just yet. That lead into another conversation and I actually found myself enjoying the conversation with his parents. They were very intellectual people and his father was actually giving me some good advice. It honestly made me miss my own father.

I was just finally getting completely comfortable, and then the doorbell rung. From the looks on everyone's faces, they weren't expecting company, but Marcus got up and answered the door. I started talking back with his parents, but that was until Marcus came back, friends in tow.

I stopped mid-sentence and the looks on their faces was enough to stop anything I was doing anyway. They looked back and forth from me to Marcus. The tension in the room shot completely up, but I was already getting to my feet. I saw Marcus's parents looking back and forth between us, but I had basically completely forgotten about them.

Trey: "What the hell is he doing here?"

Marcus: "We're working on that project for Mrs. Elcide's class."

Lee: "Looks like more than just some class project. Are you friends with this freak?"

Mrs. Kingston: "Excuse you, Lee."

'' I think I'm going to go. Thank you all so much for dinner."

I didn't wait for a reply as I moved away from the table. I had to pass by Lee and Trey to get out of the dining room and when I passed Lee, he slammed his shoulder into mine. It hurt, but I didn't let him see that. I walked to the door and I could hear someone coming up behind me. I thought it was maybe Lee or Trey, but when I turned around, ready for whatever, it was Marcus. I could see the apology on his face, but the damage had already been done.

Marcus: "Look, I'm sorry. I didn't know they were coming."

'' It's fine. I never should have come here."

Marcus: "They're just being idiots."

'' I need my bag."

I realized I didn't have it, but I wasn't stepping one foot further into his house again. I could hear his parents having a heated discussion with Lee and Trey, and it felt good to know they were getting a good tongue-lashing, but they were Marcus's friends and they would still do the same thing they had always done.

I waited for Marcus to come back down and when they rounded the corner and headed for the steps, they both had looks of hate in their eyes. I was just so frustrated. Like, what had I ever done to anyone? I watched them as they walked away and when they got to the top of the stairs, I thought they would head in the direction of Marcus's bedroom, but they continued up the stairs about the same time Marcus came back down them.

Marcus: "Here's your bag."

'' Thanks."

I reached for the handle of the door and made my way outside. I was just done. I was tempted to tell him I was done with the project again, but I bit my tongue and just walked to the end of the drive.

Marcus: "Where are you going?"

'' Home."

Marcus: "I'll drive you."

'' It's okay. I'll just walk."

Marcus: "Do you know how far that is? It's going to be dark soon."

'' It's fine. I just need to be by myself."

Before he could respond or say anything, I walked away, quickly turning it into a sprint and then a full-out run. I didn't find many reasons to run these days, but I wanted to escape and running had always given me that escape.

Running was freedom.

As the wind cut across my face, I found my stride. I let the thoughts all flow out. Everything that had bothered me. Every hurt. Every insult. I let it all flow fee. As the wind stung my eyes, the first of my tears fell.

I just wanted to be free.


Monday...

As I slammed my locker closed, I tried to think positively about the rest of the day. I hadn't talked to Marcus for the entire weekend since I was over his house, and today was the first day of the week and we had already had Mrs. Elcide's class, so I was forced to work with him. I knew Friday, hadn't been his fault, but it was just something else on top of a laundry list of bullshit I had to endure.

I turned around to head to my next class and Lee was running right at me. I barely had time to brace myself as his hands found my chest and he shoved me into my locker. My breath exploded out of my lungs and pain vibrated up my back. I could see the crowd of students milling around waiting to see what was going to happen, but as Lee started going off on me, I had had enough. I was so tired of all of this.

I swung on him. I swung hard.

My fist connected and blood sprayed out of his mouth. I could tell her was confused, but that didn't stop him from punching me back and the fight was on. I definitely wasn't a fighter, but I wasn't a push-over either. And right now, I was fucking tired. So very tired.

I couldn't even count how many blows we traded. I could hear kids yelling in the background, but it wasn't the same ferocity that I had seen them exert when other people fought. I think they were legitimately surprised I stood up for myself and that I was holding my own.

Then. Next thing I knew, I was hitting my locker again and I slid to the ground. I could see Marcus standing over me and he was pissed. I didn't take long to get back up to my feet, if I was going to go, I was going to do it standing up, but he wasn't trying to fight me. He picked Lee up and had to restrain him against the other side of the hallway. I spit up a wad of blood as I watched him try and control his friend. I had never been so mad in all my days, but now, a numbness was settling down inside of me. This is how it would always be. This would be my life.

He looked back at me with nothing but disgust in his eyes, but I barely noticed.

I could hear him talking to Lee.

'He's not worth it.'

'He's a loser.'

'.... he's pathetic. Fuck him."

As he made his friend feel better about being a damn idiot, I grabbed up my bag and walked away. I passed Mrs. Elcide's class on the way and as she phoned to the principal, I gave her a parting glance. This was it. I was done.

I made my way to the closest set of doors and walked out.

When I made it to my mom's job, she was in hysterics. When she saw my face, she damn near lost it, but she was good at keeping it together. I didn't want to worry her, but I hugged her and told her I'd see her when she got home.


As I stared at my reflection in the bathroom mirror, the last few days came crashing back with a vengeance. The last few years. All of it. It all came back and it hurt. Why did I have to live with this? I had endured so much, but yet, my suffering had not ended. I had been through things that people could never even imagine and I had survived, but this.... this was breaking me. It had broken me.

As I let the water in the tub fill up, I wrote my letter.


It was so easy. So effortless.

I had everything I needed.

I opened the medicine cabinet and took down three of the biggest pill bottles my mother had. Anti-depressants. Anti-anxiety. So many pills used to make a person happy.

As I popped the first pill, my heart sped up and my head cleared out.

Freedom.

Just on the horizon. This was what I had been waiting for.

I chased the first pill with a swig of the vodka my mother had, and then I repeated the cycle. One pill become two, two turned to four, and then I just put the bottle to my lips and swallowed as many as I could, chasing it with alcohol.

I could feel it coming.

Freedom.


I was free.


Okay... A chapter has been coming for some time. Just life intervenes in writing some times and it just sucks I'm not able to post stories more often. Oh and sorry about all the tears. Join the group http://groups.yahoo.com/group/highschoolx/