My head ached in misery the next morning. Not just an 'emotional' ache, but actual physical pain. My eyes hurt, my stomach hurt, the muscles in my face hurt. Everything was contaminated with this incredible amount of sullen misery that refused to go away. I was still dressed from last night, still wearing my new sling with my arm half out of it. And my mom was sleeping peacefully beside me, her arm wrapped around me in a warm embrace. She had stayed there with me the whole night, some of her lipstick prints left on my forehead. Probably giving me a comforting kiss through my nightmares and little twitches during the night. She already knew that I was hardly one for a 'peaceful sleep'. Ever. If anything, I purposely forced myself to stay up late just to keep from GOING to sleep. I guess I never really did have good sleeping habits.
I could have wiggled my way out of her arms to get out of the bed without waking her up, but I didn't. I stayed there in her sleepy embrace, hugging her close and enjoying the only warmth that I've had in this world for as far back as I can remember. I could hear her heart beating, and it was the most comforting sound inthe world. Even though my tear ducts had been bled dry the night before, they were able to muster up some extra waterworks that morning, running down my cheek in warm streaks. I closed my eyes and just tried to listen to that soothing heartbeat. My legs still ached, my jaws, my chest, my arm...I could feel my muscles still spasming in response to what had happened the day before. It was hard to swallow the pain at that point, almost forcing me to yelp outloud in discomfort. Still, my mom was there. She was holding me. She was my rock. My anchor to anything pleasant. It almost hurt to be so close and yet so distant from her at the same time. The emotions that I had to hide from her were some of the most important feelings in my life, and something about that truly cut a deep hole in my heart. She'd never know me...not ever. Not completely.
I caught slight flashbacks of the beating that I had taken, the look in my father's eyes, the tightness of his grip as it tossed me around the room. He was SO mad! I had to squint my eyes tighter together as I made an attempt to block out his voice. 'Dumb ass', and 'sack of shit', and anything else that he could come up with. I tried. But those words stayed with me. I'm sure they always will. I know that now. I hugged my mom even tighter, hoping not to wake her up. I just...I had to squeeze just to know that she was real. That she was a safe place in this hell of a life for me. She's all I had. All I would ever have.
Then...Brody. I ran out on Brody. And my mind, as battered and broken as it was at the moment, looked back at my time at his house and wondered if I had made it all up. Did I even GO to Brody's house yesterday? The whole thing seemed so hazy. I remembered a picture book, and being on his bed next to him, and then...and then...I remember a kiss. A KISS! TWO even! My first....my first kiss ever. My first and SECOND kiss ever! And they were both from Brody! And then...I....I ran away. I............I cried....and then I ran away. Why? Why did I suddenly panic like that? I don't know! It was like...my insides just turned to this jittery mush and it terrified me because I suddenly couldn't control my thoughts or feelings at ALL. I had to get away from there. I had to get away from HIM!
A huge part of me was thinking that I had made the biggest mistake of my life. I mean, I'm not stupid. There was a piece of me that was screaming out with joy. Saying that Brody actually LIKES me! And he KISSED me! I didn't even do anything to 'provoke' it...he just...leaned in and kissed me. If I hadn't pushed him away, who knows HOW far it could have gone! He wanted to kiss me again! He wanted to make out, and actually 'be' with the boy nobody wanted. He was giving me the sun and the stars, and I just wasn't prepared for it. Sure...there was a part of me that was thinking exactly that. But that part didn't make sense in the world that I've been living in for the last few years. To the type of logic that I've developed over years of being hurt and beaten...the very thought of Brody doing this was insane. It didn't 'fit'. Tell me all my friends were struck by lightning simultaneously, tell me I won the lottery in five different states at once, tell me JESUS just showed up at the Vatican...and asked to see ME specifically....but DON'T tell me that the boy of my dreams, the most wonderful boy on Earth, wants to be with me! Don't tell me that he lives close by, and he's cute, and he's got the most adorable personality ever, and that he's my age, goes to the same school, AND he's gay! All of that...and he's actually going to take an interest in me too? That's practically science fiction. If life worked like that, it would rain ice cream and gumdrops everyday. I'm not gonna let myself get lost in a fantasy world like that. Not unless I could live there forever.
Because there's nothing worse than getting to Heaven's gates...if you're only gonna be kicked out and chased away five minutes later.
That quiet Sunday, I spent locked away in my room. I didn't feel like really facing my mom, and I don't think she wanted to invade my space. ot at that particular moment in time. Whenever I popped out of my room for a snack or something, she would give me the warmest look. I suppose...to let me know she was there for me, but would wait for me to ask for help. She was opening herself up to me, inviting me to let it all go and just...trust her enough to depend on her help. I just...I COULDN'T! I wanted to. I wanted to believe that she had the power to make it all better. But she didn't. I'd be putting us both in danger and destroying our whole household if I told. It's not fair that she should have to suffer just because *I* screwed up. He hits me because I can't ever do anything right...and if I could just be better somehow, or try even harder to be a lovable person...then things will improve. And she'll be happy. And my dad will be happy. We'll ALL be happy. And it's all riding on me and how hard I'm willing to push myself to straighten up and fly right. For her...I'll do it. For her, I'll try my HARDEST to be better. I swear. I just...I don't understand why I can't do anything right. I don't know how.
My father didn't talk to me once the whole day. He barely even looked at me. Not because he was guilty, or afraid of being caught. I think it was because he was even more disappointed that I could be 'broken' so easily. That I'd have to wear a sling and hide in my room like a baby. Deep down, I think he was disgusted that I was so fragile. If anything, that made me feel even worse. Because he was right. I must be some kind of delicate sissy to let myself get hurt so easily. I don't know what happened. My arm just 'snapped' and my shoulder seemed to come loose. I don't know why! When it gets better, I should work out more, or do push ups or something. Shit...look at me. I AM soft like a girl, aren't I? No wonder he thinks I'm a 'pretty boy'. I shouldn't be built like this. I look so stupid. I felt bad wearing my sling around him that day, and...to be honest, a bit ashamed. So that became a part of me just staying out of sight for a while. No need to remind him how much of a wuss I was by wearing this big blue 'handicap' in front of his face.
My mom brought my dinner into my room for me that night, saving me the trouble of going to the table. I guess she realized that I wanted to be alone, and didn't do anything to change that. And then she left. Small courtesies like that...they always let me know that I could make it. That I could handle this all on my own. The beatings, the secrets, the whole nine yards. It helped me to lift my chin, and become a soldier all over again. I can do this. Alone. I just need to focus and hold out long enough to make it better. I'll work at it for as long as it takes. One of these days...I'll make them both proud of me.
Monday seemed to pop up on me out of nowhere, and I found myself faced with the dilemma of whether or ot I should subject myself to the humiliation of wearing this sling to school. I don't know why I had to wear it anyway, the doctor had already fixed the shoulder, so what the hell was the problem with it? I knew my mom would be getting on my case to keep me bandaged up like a baby bird, though. So I didn't have much choice but to make it a part of my 'wardrobe' for the day when I left the house. I snatched a small breakfast of toast with jelly, and a glass of orange juice. My mom hates when I eat over the sink, so she promptly had me sit at the table. And that's when I saw 'him'. He walked out of the bedroom, across the hall to the bathroom, and closed the door. I could hear the sink running and all....and I felt this horrible emptiness in my stomach. A jumbled concoction of fear and embarassment. It was all I could concentrate on, and when I heard the sink stop running, I lowered my head until my chin almost touched my chest. I slumped down in my seat a bit further, hoping that I could hide the sling underneath it, and slowly tried to silently eat the rest of my toast. He walked into the kitchen and grabbed some milk out of the fridge and a glass...never even looking at me once. Not that I would dare to look back if he had. He didn't say a word, and I felt the shame of being weak carve a huge stigma into the soft tissue of my heart. I had let him down again...and NOW he can't even bear to LOOK at me. I pouted quietly at my own disgrace, and sheepishly wiped the crumbs from my mouth before getting up from the table. I walked softly passed him in sock feet, and then got ready for school. Making sure that I took the trash out with me. My mom said goodbye, but I don't know....somehow, I felt like she was secretly looking down on me too. I'm just some little boy who can't take a little pain without his 'mommy' having to step in and breastfeed him with warm smiles and cookies. It's the kind of thing that makes you feel really LOW, you know that?
I took my sweet time walking over to Adam's house that morning. I wasn't in the mood for video games. Not that I was able to really play them anyway with my arm in this thing. Grrr! I should just take this damn thing off instead. This is stupid. I was standing at Adam's door ringing the bell when I finally figured 'what the hell?' and started to slide my arm out of the sling. But Adam opened the door before I could get it off, and it was too late. "Jesus Zack! What happened to you?"
"Nothing. It's stupid." I said, and I stepped passed him to walk in. Both his mom and his dad asked me the same question, concerned with the injury and the details of it. But in all honesty, I just kinda wished they'd stop asking. If anything, it was gonna make me lie to them. And I didn't want to do that. I'd rather they just left it alone.
Adam got a package of cold poptarts and slipped them into his backpack before joining me at the door. "It looks like it's just us two today." He said.
"Oh...so...Brody's not coming?" I asked quietly.
"I guess not. Weird. Just a few days ago he said he was gonna wail on me the next time we played Soul Calibur II, and now the big coward doesn't show up. He knew what was up!" Adam grinned with a cocky stride. But Brody wasn't a coward. If anything...it was ME who was the coward. And I know he didn't come by because of me. Hell...after what happened Saturday...he may never want to come by again.
Adam and I walked along, starting our journey to school, and I was almost able to let my thoughts go enough to be comfortable again. Being able to 'change masks' was important. It was one of the only things that could get me through the day. ut Adam had only gotten to the end of the block before he started asking questions again. "So are you gonna tell me what happened, or what?"
"What happened to what?"
He gave me a 'doofus' look. "The third EYE on your forehead!" He said sarcastically. "Your ARM, you nutcase! What happened to your ARM???"
"I TOLD you already."
"No you didn't. You said it was stupid. I wanna know what happened." He said, and I felt a storm of ice begin to swirl up inside of my chest. The same storm that warns off any weary travelers looking to dig into a certain part of my life that's closed to all visitors.
"I just...I..." I thought about it a second and said, "I was taking out the garbage and like an IDIOT I fell down the steps. That's all."
"You fell down the steps?"
"Yeah. I told you it was stupid." I said.
"You fell on your shoulder?"
"But how did you...?"
"It doesn't hurt at all anymore." I quickly interrupted, hoping he'd stop asking so many damn questions. Can't I just be DONE with this already? It's over. It's finished. I don't wanna talk about it anymore. I don't even wanna THINK about it anymore.
"Well...I'm sure, Zack...but..."
"The doctor just wants me to wear this for a little while just to make sure. It doesn't look too bad, does it?" That's it Zack. Keep changing the subject, get him to lose focus, and you can walk away from this like you always do. "I think it looks ridiculous. At least I'll get out of gym, though."
"Don't bet on it. Chances are you're starting soccer today. You won't have to use your arms anyway."
"Shit...that sucks." I said, and the question was officially avoided. Good to know I'm good at something.
Then, we heard a bit of a screech as Sam called out to us from down the block. His voice cracking at the most ear splitting teenage pitch imaginable. Hehehe! Both Adam and I cringed together as we turned to see him running to catch up to us. He must have been running late or something. But geez...who would have known that walking with us was THAT much of an important part of his day? Sam was racing toward us like a bat out of hell, as if he'd miss something important if he didn't get there before we went any further in our conversation. And I watched his sweet young face turn pink under his blond locks as he huffed and puffed to get his breath back once he caught up. The rosey glow in his cheeks made him even more adorable than usual, and it was the first thing that morning that really made me smile.
"Hey! Who broke your arm?" He said in surprise after seeing the sling.
"It's not broken. I dislocated it the other day. That's all."
"He 'dislocated' it falling down the steps." Adam told him, but the tone in which he said it was one of disbelief. I really didn't like that. But trying to defend a lie is the most pointless thing in the world. Besides, I'd rather keep it as far away from our conversation as possible.
"Does this hurt?" Sam said, touching my shoulder with his finger.
"No. It's ok. I'm fine. Really."
"Does this hurt?" He said, poking me in another spot. I told him no, so he poked me somewhere ELSE. "How about this?"
"Ow...yeah, it's a little sore right there." I said. It didn't really hurt, of course. But if I knew Sam, he was gonna walk right next to me the rest of the way, and he'd keep poking and prodding at me until he found a spot that WAS hurt. It was better that I satisfied his need for causing me pain, and get it overwith.
We made it to school, and by then I had dodged every last question with the skill of a trained boxer. I was actually kind of proud of myself. Not only was I able to keep any talk about it to a minimum, but it acted as a good rehearsal for what was sure to be a high school 'media frenzy' of questions once I stepped foot in the front gate. So I guess it worked out for the best, and my 'mask' had been fitted onto my face perfectly again. Smile and wave, smile and wave. The pain can't touch us now...not if we just keep cracking jokes and laughing long enough. The only thing missing.............was Brody.
The one constant thing in any teenager's life, the one thing we really know for sure beyond all things...it's that school is school. It runs and operates the same exact way, no matter whether or not you're in love, having trouble at home, haven't had any sleep, are dying of pneumonia, or have just WAY too much shit on your mind. The only way anyone is gonna care about your individual problems outside of those classroom walls is if you're going to cause a disturbance for the other students who are trapped in the same bland prison as the rest of us. So that only leaves you with three options. One...you ditch. Which has very bad consequences involved if you get caught. ESPECIALLY in my case! The LAST thing I want is to spend a suspension period at home with my dad. He'd put me in intensive care for SURE! Two...you play sick. Which can be an art if you know how to do it right. But that takes teacher involvement, and a convincing acting job, and then a trip to the nurse, and then a phone call to my mom, and then a walk home....by the time it's all said and done, you end up only missing an hour or two of school anyway. Hardly worth the effort. So I go for choice number three....assimilate. As much as school wants you to believe that they're all about wide open minds and encouraging a learning experience...what they REALLY want is a quiet classroom full of assimilated robots who will stare at the blackboard, or their books, or their test papers, and just let the teachers do what they do so they can go home for the day. So you give in. You sit back, you try to be like everyone around you, and you just stay quiet and locked in your thoughts until you're free to deal with them on your own. Strange. Looking at things this way...school almost seems to get in the way of..well...'life'.
My thoughts were drawn back to Saturday afternoon, and while I spent all Saturday night in pain, Sunday in seclusion, and this morning in shame...this was the first time I allowed my mind to wander back to that wonderful kiss on Brody's bed! I know that I was seeing it happen in my mind's eye, and I know that I felt it when it happened. But...it still seemed so 'made up' to me. I couldn't even prove that it was real. But I could practically feel his warm lips pressed softly against mine, and his breath on my cheek, and his hand on my arm. I could still feel his slight tremble as he leaned into me. I could still see him closing his eyes as he got too close to focus anymore. Replaying the feel of it in my head, over and over again, brought some color to the once 'nonsensical' situation. And I began to wonder...did Brody REALLY kiss me? What does that mean? Does that mean...I mean...like...what if...ARRRGH! How am I supposed to concentrate on ANYTHING with this super girly teeny bopper bullshit running through my mind every 30 seconds?!?! Geez!
But....you know...if he DID really kiss me...and I'm NOT saying that he DID...but IF he did...then he's damn good at it!
Damn...there it goes. That little window inside me just opened, and I'm getting wrapped up in a fantasy again. And yet, as much as I despised myself for falling for such an obvious trick, such a blatant miscalculation of judgement, I wanted so badly to be lost in that magnificent dream. To just...'taste' that kiss and fill in the appropiate ending to all that happened before I freaked out and ruined it all. So...for JUST a minute or two, I let my mind run free. And I kissed him back. Sighhhh....it was like the memory got stronger, and my doubt of its authenticity began to fade. The imagined kiss of a genuine crush can seem to pull the breath right out of you sometimes, leaving you feeling like soft warm butter on the inside. I had a hard time trying not to smile. I just stared off into space, and enjoyed, for the first time, being truly loved by someone I adored with all my heart.
That class was a total blur. The teacher's desk could have caught fire, and I wouldn't have known. I was too busy holding my dream boy close to me, absorbing his scent onto my clothes as he pressed his lean body against me. Feeling my eyes roll back as his kiss made me dizzy. Wow...it was a world that I wanted to spend the rest of my life in. But inevitably, the beel rang. And class was over. Reality had chased me down and forced me to look it in the face. The truth was that I had either made the whole thing up in my head and Brody didn't like me at all, Brody made a huge mistake and never wanted to see me again....or he really, TRULY, liked me....and I fucked it all up by being a dork about it! Funny, but neither one of those options seem very promising. And they haunted me, my belief transfering from one possibility to another endlessly, until lunch time came around.
After all of my dreamy gazes off into space, and my continuous loop of sensual, but not yet 'sexual', fantasies about Brody that morning...I didn't really expect to actually lay eyes on him for a while. Imagine my surprise when I stepped out of the lunchline to see him sitting at our table with Sam and Adam. I froze. Stopped dead in mid step, and the guy behind me had to squeeze past me to get into the cafeteria. It felt like my whole body went numb, and I couldn't move an inch. Even if I COULD move...it wouldn't be in the direction of that table, that's for sure! I was afraid that if I lifted one foot from my standing position, that I would drop my tray and go running like mad down the halls of the school! So I just stood there for a few moments.....watching.
Look at him. Sighhhhh....Brody's sweetness and cute personality just glowed on the surface of his smooth skin. I was immediately magnetized to him, and it felt as though he had pierced my heart with a fishing hook. Painfully pulling me closer, one step at a time, while I wiggled and fought to be free of whatever terrible fate awaited me at that table. Please be gentle Brody...You're better than I am, and I don't know if I can handle things as well as you can.
My legs were trembling in a panic, my lunch tray was literally shaking in my hand as I tried to balance with one arm. My milk almost ready to turn over on its side. But after what seemed like ten miles worth of carefully planned footsteps, I made it to the lunch table and sat down. I wanted to hide the secrets in my heart, and be sure that they didn't show on my face. But if anyone looked closely, I was sure that they could tell. Love was hitting me hard. Infecting me with it's all encompassing virus. And I was unfortunately letting the 'illness with no known cure' win against me!
"Hi...." I said, just barely breaking a whisper. And everyone returned the greeting while eating their lunch. Including Brody, who sorta looked at me out of the corner of his eye briefly to mumble...
"Hey..." And that was it. He started eating his lunch, and he didn't look back over at me. He didn't talk to me. He didn't even acknowledge my existence outside of a brief loo of concern on his face when he saw the sling. But he didn't ask about it. And that wasn't the worst part of it all. The absolute worst part of the whole situation was the fact that I was still nervous around him. I could still feel that loving surge of adrenaline pumping through my veins just from being around him. I was still very much in love...to the point of almost being SICK from it. It was the most pleasant poison that I knew of. I was still drawn to Brody....and he didn't want me at ALL anymore. Whatever spark he saw in me...it was gone. And he just didn't seemto care any longer.
The seconds ticked by at lunch, with Adam and Sam talking away happily...but Brody and I stayed silent. The only thing we concentrated on was our current source of nourishment, and nothing else. I waited, taking short glances at him whenever I could. But unlike before...he never looked back. Not once. He simply refused to give me the wonderful attention that he did before. It was worse than the indifference my father had shown me that morning. It was the second time that this had happened in a day, and that meant that there HAD to be some truth in what I was thinking, right? I mean, if one person decides to turn their back to you....it could just be a fluke, an opinion, or that they're just an asshole at heart. But when I start seeing a pattern of pain forming, a cycle that happens repeatedly, that strikes me often, and keeps digging into my soul again and again...then there must be something wrong with ME. That's logical, right? I mut be doing something to make these people HATE me so much! I'm fucking up again, and I can't seem to stop! And now I've lost Brody. And I knew that he was one of the only inspirations I had left to be a better person. The only one. And he's gone. Just like everybody else. That's when I felt mysef begin to 'sink' inside. My heart, my emotions, my soul...they seemed to get heavy and awkward, as though my whole world were dropping into some dark abyss, tied to a stone of limitless weight. Hearts don't break, you know? No. They're made of tissue...and they get slowly torn and ripped apart by strong hands, squeezing and sloppily stretching it until the soft bloody tissue splits in two. Like pulling apart a piece of uncooked chicken with your bare hands. It hurts more than anyone who hasn't been through the real thing can ever understand. To those who have lived through it, they realize why, for a short time, death would be preferable.
Every breath that I took during that lunch period seemed to make the pain worse. As though it was trying to force tears up into my eyes so I'd look like an even BIGGER fool than I already did in front of my friends. I didn't know whether to force my stare down to the table top where they couldn't see my sadness, or up at the ceiling where my tears couldn't drop from my eyes. My heart got heavier and heavier, and I knew that it was over. I had fucked up worse than I ever had before. This time I had done irrepairable damage to something that I really wanted...that I really CHERISHED as something 'good' in my life. The ONLY thing 'good' in my life. And it was then that my father's insults came flooding back to me in stereo. They always did when I was weak and alone. Clawing and scratching at my self esteem in the most disgusting ways. Stupid...ugly...worthless...piece of shit. Not worth the dirt I walk on. He doesn't love me. I don't WANT him to love me. I don't want ANYBODY to love me! Why would I want that? So I could disappoint them, hurt them, drive them away? What's the use of pretending I'm something I'm not, just to fool someone into caring about me for a little while? They'll find out what a sickening piece of ugly fucking TRASH I really am eventually...and they'll end up hating me. They'll hate me for even making them think for a second that I could be somebody special. They'll hate me for making them waste their time imagining me as someone worthy of any kind of decent treatment at all. Well....why don't I just cut them off at the front door NOW? Before it gets to the point of no return for either one of us. I'm NOT worth your time, Brody. I'm NOT worth your love, your attention, or your effort. I never was. I'm flattered that you might have thought I was for a little while...but you can't live inside of a fucking stupid LIE any more than I can. So if this is the end of our rainbow, then so be it. Better now than later. Because later would hurt even more. And I can't even grasp the concept of a more painful fate than having you hate me like this right now.
"Zack?" Adam asked, and I shook myself out of my self torturous haze to look over at him. "You ok?"
"Yeah. Why?" I asked.
"You look like somebody just stole your favorite bike. You sure you're alright?"
I looked up at Brody, and he briefly glanced back, wondering if maybe he was the cause of my discomfort. But I just looked away, and held my position. "Yeah. I'm fine. Forget about it." And I gulped down the rest of my lunch in silence. Just praying for the time when this period would be over and I could get away from him for a while. I'd be smart next time, and I wouldn't even come to lunch. Not if Brody was going to be here.
After the period ended, we all got up and marched out of the cafeteria in a huge crowd of kids. I didn't look at Brody, and he didn't look back. But it was pointless to think that we didn't know the other was standing rght next to us. There was this awful tension between us, and it was building more and more by the second. I could have sworn that I felt his hand brush lightly up against mine in all the confusion, but there was no more to be said. We had practically separated ourselves to the opposite ends of the world. And I took in one extended glance of his beauty before turning and walking off to class. He was soooo incredible to me. It hurt to hold back my frenzy when it came to something as simple as the green splendor of his warm and inviting eyes. But I did. Even when Brody looked up, drawing his eyes from the floor, and mumbled a subtle "G'bye...." before turning to walk away from me towards his next class. I just closed my eyes and prayed that I was doing this right. I just....I didn't want to be in the way of him being happy with someone else. Someone better. All things aside...I just didn't want him to regret ever knowing me. Most times, the fantasy of what I'd be like, and the reality of it, are two very different things.
The rest of my school day was drenched with thoughts of the times Brody and I spent together. I scrolled through them all, almost as if in tribute. As if I needed to say goodbye to the joy he brought to my life once and for all and let the both of us move on to bigger and better things. I remembered how cute he was, asleep on that desk during that video the first day I laid eyes on him. I remember the way my heart leapt up into my throat the first time I saw him at Adam's house that morning. I thought about him and Sam laughing, and him rubbing the bump on my head, and the fun we had at the movie, and our bikes collapsing on each other near the lake, and counting lightning bolts in the rain while I tried not to stare at his smooth flat chest in that wet shirt...all flashes of light in a very dark closet. I thought about how happy he made me, and wondered if I'd live long enough to feel that sensation ever again. By the last bell...I was nearly in tears. And just wanted to go home. I needed time alone.
Normally, the urgency with which I run to my locker was pushing me to run almost frantically to get out of that place. But not today. I didn't have the fuel to burn. I might be home late, and he might hurt me again, but....whatever. I don't care anymore.
I made it to my locker and opened it up to grab all of my stuff for the night. Homework, workbooks, whatever. Then I closed it back and headed for the door. I crossed paths with Brody on my way out, and he stopped in midstep, this time looking me directly in the eye. His stare was different this time however. Like...he was confused by me. Almost as if something were wrong with me. But I didn't take any time to really decipher it. I gave him a gentle nod, and sadly whispered, "Bye..." as I walked past him. That was it. It was me softly closing the door on everything for the last time, and locking it out of my life once and for all. I'll miss you Brody. You really were something special.
When I got home, I was maybe abut five minutes late. I didn't run that day, didn't take any shortcuts, didn't make any attempt at all to really make my 'scheduled appearance'. I moped all the way home, kicking every stone and soda can that I came across. I was so slow that I had to force myself to walk faster before Sam and Adam caught up to me. I couldn't handle that, not today. I don't think I would be very effective in hiding this from anybody. It was stronger than I thought it would be, and just when I felt the emotion dull down enough to lift my chin a bit, I'd remember the look in Brody's eyes when he leaned forward to kiss me...and it hurt all over again. It sounds strange, but I hated myself for allowing it to feel good. I hated myself for 'believing'. It made me feel like a sucker. I didn't want it to be silly, I wanted it to be real. But I knew better...and there was no guaranteed 'safety' in reality. It's best that it stay in my mind where it belongs. No risk, no mistakes, no pain. Besides, I've got plenty of other things to worry about.
I half expected my dad to jump on me the second I walked through the back door. I entertained the idea of him sparing me for a while because of the sling. But opening that door, I had all but abandoned that idea. And I prepared for whatever he had to dish out that particular afternoon. However...walking in, there were no sudden poundings or harsh words waiting for me. I found it a bit strange, but I heard some voices coming from the living room, so I went to go check it out. My dad was sitting on the couch watching television.....next to some 'lady'.
I didn't speak, I didn't even move. I just stood there and stared at the two of them for a long moment, before the lady looked up and saw me. "Well, hello there." She smiled.
My father turned around and smiled as well. More for her benefit than mine, I'm sure. "Come here, Zack. I want you to meet somebody." He said, but my feet refused to move. This was new...this was inforation that hadn't been adopted into my emotional bank just yet. I looked over at her, and felt this helpless surge of anger rise up inside me. "Come here." He said, a bit more firm this time. Part of me wanted to jump over the coffee table and attack them BOTH! Another part of me wanted to turn and run out of that house as fast as I could. Another part wanted to simply collapse into a heap on the floor and let it all out. But the one part that won, the part that always obeys, took a few slow shakey steps forward. "Zack, this is Lynn. Lynn, this is my son, Zack."
"Hey, he's a little heartbreaker, isn't he?" She said, and reached out a hand. I didn't take it at first. I didn't dare. Not in THIS house. But as my heart got torn further and further in half, I didn't want to make things any worse. Embarassing my father would be a crime, and he'd punish me severely for that. Slowly, I gave her a limp handshake, and looked back at my father, who was being nicer than usual. In fact, he lightly put his hand on my back and I jumped. My whole body tightening up as though it was readying itself from another punch, shove, or kick. But he merely rubbed the small of my back in a 'fatherly' way, and patted me on the shoulder. "What happened to your arm, sweetie?"
"Nothing......I fell." I mumbled, offended by her calling me 'sweetie'. I didn't know this bitch from anybody, and I was sure that she could feel the frost growing on my shoulders as I emotionally backed away from her completely.
"You've got to be more careful. Kids." My father said, quite flawlessly. Only adding insult to injury.
"I've got homework." I said, my voice cracking a bit. Standing in that room, I think I was honestly more scared of HER than I was of him. And I needed a way to get out of that room before I shook myself to pieces in front of them. My father's eyes squinted ever so slightly in my direction as though I were walking on thin ice. Silently telling me to watch my step. So I relied on my manners to slide out of his constricting grip of fear on me. "It was nice to meet you...Lynn." And I turned around to leave. No more was to be said. I went to my room and shut the door as tightly as I could. Leaning my forehead against it as I felt my heart race with a nervous twitch. How could he DO this again? This has to be the third time now. God...how can anyone be so...so heartless. I can understand him hating me, doing all he could to hurt me...but Mom? Mom was better than anyone. Mom was perfection. I just don't understand.
I felt a tear roll down my cheek as I pressed my forehead into the wood of the door, and sniffled quietly to myself. Then I heard a female laugh from the other side of the door, and I opened my eyes. I backed away from the bedroom door, and turned on my music. Not loud. He'd burst in and smack me good if I turned it up loud. But loud enough to block out any laughter coming out of that room, that's for sure. I just sat there on the floor, right under the speaker, and pulled out my homework. It was all I could do. Having a say in all this was not an option. Might as well make the best of it.
And hour passed, and my homework was a breeze. I heard the front door close earlier, so I figured that the 'lady' had left. Things were beginning to finally balance out again. As long as you push the 'bad stuff' down in the pit of your stomach, it feels like you're rid of it as soon as it's over. And right now...I was free of it. Forgotten before I even had a chance to really be conflicted about it. It felt MUCH better.
I got up to go into the kitchen to grab a drink, and put the milk on the counter. By the time I had heard his footsteps, he was already right behind me. He pushed me up against the fridge, and the whole wall seemed to shake! He only slapped me once in the head, and then pointed hard at my chest with his finger. "The NEXT time I introduce you to somebody, you'd better be on your best manners! You hear me? Huh?" He grabbed a handfull of my hair, and clutched it hard for a moment while I winced in pain. "You HEAR me?"
"Yes..." I said, and he let me go. Thankfully, that was the end of it.
"Wash the dishes." He said, looking down at my sling. "Take that thing off." And he walked out. I didn't bother to argue, not even with myself. I just slid my arm from out of my sling and turned on the sink. It didn't even feel like it was really me doing it. My body was simply going through the motions. And I felt like I couldn't stop myself if I wanted to. My will was that far gone from me.
I let the warm water run over my hands, my face emotionless, and let the suds build up as I started to wash out the glasses one by one and put them in the drying rack. It was such a methodical motion...dunk, wash, dunk, rinse, drying rack. Over and over. It took no thought at all. And I felt numb inside. Completely numb.
That's when...while washing a large cutting knife...my mind felt a gentle spark. As though something inside had raised my antenna. I stared at the knife, the shine of it gleaming with the light from the kitchen. And as the water ran over it to rinse off the blade...I found myself unable to let go of the handle. My focus was locked onto it...and...and for just a QUICK second...I wondered what would happen. It might have flashed through my mind for a split second, or maybe it lasted a few minutes...but the thought was there, clear as day. I could stop this. In my hands...I had the power to put an end to all this. Whether I used it on him, or turned this sharp point on myself...I could make all the pain go away. I could be DONE with it. All I needed was a moment's courage. JUST A MOMENT'S WORTH!!!
The phone rang, and I dropped the knife back into the water. It was turned up extra loud in the kitchen and it startled me. I turned the hot water off and dried my hands. My father picked up the phone before I could reach it though, and I just turned slowly to go back to the dishes. Then I heard him get up. "Zack...telephone." He said.
"For me?" I wiped my damp hands on my shirt and went into the hall to take it from him.
"Make it quick." He told me, and I took the cordless phone into my room.
"Hello?" I said....but nobody answered. "Hello?" I repeated, still nothing. So I started to turn off the receiver, but then I heard a voice on the other end.
"Don't hang up." It was Brody's voice. "Please? Just don't hang up, k?"
I felt this giant surge of energy swirl up inside me, causing my hands to tremble, and as much as I tried to fight it, that same giggly energy rushed into my heart and spread all over my body. "Hold on a sec..." I said, trying not to sound 'excited' or anything. And I closed the bedroom door, running over to the other corner of my room to sit on the floor and have some privacy. "Hey..." I said, sooooo enchanted by the surprise of hearing his voice.
"Zack..can we talk for a minute? About...Saturday?"
"Yeah, sure." I didn't know what else to say to him. I was thankful that he was willing to do most of the talking.
"Zack..." He paused for a while, and it sounded like he was struggling for words. But I couldn't even offer him a word of comfort myself. I didn't dare open my mouth. I couldn't take the chance of interrupting or influencing what he had to say to me in any way. I was frozen, even with Brody's undeniable warmth coming right through the phone. "...I know we haven't talked since then, and I know that you were feeling freaked out the other day...but..." He paused again, taking a deep breath before going on. "....When I saw you at lunch today...I started thinking...I mean...you don't think I'm mad at you or anything, do you?"
It took a moment for me to realize that it was 'my turn' to speak. "Um...no..no not at all." I lied.
"Because I'm really NOT, ok? I don't want you to think...that we can't still talk and stuff. Maybe even...hang out, once in a while?" He said nervously. I could hear the shaking in his voice.
Again, I felt the conflict inside. Does he like me, does he not, am I being stupid again, do I want this, can I live without this, isn't this what I've been dreaming about, can I handle this? A million questions flooded my mind at once, none of them agreeing with one another. With all that going on inside, all I could answer with was..."Sure." And then silence, on both sides of the phone. In that moment, I felt myself slipping again. The mountain I was climbing to get away from possibly being hurt by Brody was beginning to crumble, and my foothold was slipping, as I fell for him all over again. Every warning, every alarm, every bell and whistle in my head went off simultaneously, trying to convince me to keep my heart safe and locked away in a box where he couldn't get to it. But I was lost...it was too late to hide my heart from him now.
"So...are we ok, then?" He asked, a hopeful whimper in his voice.
"We're ok. Promise." I said, and with a shakey voice of my own, I added, "And I'm not mad at you either. I never was. Don't worry, I can forget all about it if you want me to."
Much to my surprise, he came back with, "No...I don't want you to 'forget' it. I just...won't do it anymore. K?" He said sadly, and I wondered exactly what he meant by that. How was I supposed to take it? He was much too serious to be joking. "I'll see you in school tomorrow." He said.
"WAIT!" I yelled. I couldn't let him go....not yet. "M-m-maybe...we can hang out again? On Saturday, I mean." What the hell was I DOING??? I was pushing it again, wasn't I?
"You don't have to prove anything, Zack...."
"I'm not. I just...I wanna see you, ok?" It wasn't me speaking, my heart had possessed me like some sappy demon, and refused to let me stop it from making the biggest mistake of my LIFE! "So...can we?"
Brody's voice was a little brighter, and I could hear that super cute grin in his speech, "Ok. Saturday then. That'd be cool."
"Good. I'll..uh...I'll see you then. K?"
And I heard him hang up the phone. As soon as I heard the click, my body felt like it was instantly drained of its energy. I leaned back against the wall in the corner...actually, it was more like I FELL back, and an uncontrollable smile spread across my lips as I stared up at the ceiling. That rush came back to me, and it was like being scared and trying to laugh at the same time. The kind of feeling you get on that first drop of a rollercoaster, but it lasts all day long.
I took a few moments to really soak it all in and smile, and then I stood up on my feet to go finish the dishes. Omigod...I can't believe he called me. God, I'm stupid. Falling for this again. But I was also curious to see just how far fetched this fantasy could get. What if? That was the big question. It's nice to think that maybe God is watching, and finally said, 'Here ya go kid. Sorry it took me so long.'
Oh man...I hope I know what I'm doing.