Right, because our parents’ biggest issue at that moment was the fact that I’d put dirty socks in my sister’s mouth.
* * *
I went digging into my dresser and pulled out a pair of underwear and one of my oversized T-shirts to sleep in. I knew I should’ve been in bed already. School didn’t really care if I was tired in the morning. School didn’t care that my life was going through a complete upheaval. School didn’t care that I was moments away from a breakdown.
School just wanted me there by the first bell.
I hopped into the shower to try to clear the fog that was residing inside my head. The water rained down on me for over an hour before I stepped out and dried myself off with a towel. The mirror in front of me felt mocking. My fingers fell to my stomach, and I stared into the mirror trying to understand how I could look the same, but be so different.
I slid the T-shirt over my head, and I glanced at myself once more before walking out of the bathroom. I cringed when I saw Dad lying on the living room couch. He looked like a giant trying to get comfortable on a seashell, twisting and turning unsuccessfully.
My lips parted. My brain searched for the right words.
After standing still for a minute, it was clear there weren’t any right words.
So I left.
* * *
Monday morning Mike refused to drive me to school.
He said it was because he had to be there an hour early to lift weights before school started, but that had never stopped him in the past. I always ended up going to the art room and messing around for an hour before school.
Even so, he was very adamant that I wouldn’t ride with him. I wanted to complain to my parents about it, but the timing couldn’t have been worse, so the bus was my only choice.
The bus stop was two blocks away from my house. When I tossed my backpack on and left, I saw Simon already standing on the corner. The moment I stood beside him, he could tell everything I hadn’t yet vocalized—best friend extrasensory perception.
“You told them?” he asked.
“Mike’s making you take the bus?”
I nodded again.
“Are you all right?”
I shook my head, my eyes studying the curbside. “But if we could get through today not talking about it, that would be great.”
“Right. Well, I’ll make sure to bury you so far into my own issues that you’ll completely forget about your own. Trust me, I got a lot going on in this weird brain of mine.”
Before he could say anything else, a pair of blue Chucks appeared beside me. My head rose up to the person standing next to me. My eyes met the pair of brown eyes that smiled without even trying, and I got lost.
His lips loosened into a small grin, matching his eyes.
I smiled back. At least I thought I did. I couldn’t tell. His grin widened, making my stomach swarm with butterflies.
He was so beautiful that it was almost offensive. He looked like a whisper sounds. Sweet, gentle, and romantic. It was making me dizzy.
I shouldn’t be looking at him.
Maybe one more glance?
Maybe two more glances?
My head dropped again. I stared at our shoes. My hands gripped the straps of my backpack, and I pulled them closer to me, my elbows pushing against my sides.
“Hi,” he said. Swarming butterflies, sweaty palms. I wasn’t sure if he was speaking to Simon or me, so I remained quiet. Out of the corner of my eye I could see him still smiling. I’d wished he would stop doing that smiling thing. Except, not really. “Is this where the bus picks us up?”
I bobbed my head once before I started kicking around an invisible rock with my left foot. His blue Chucks started mimicking the movement. We kicked invisible rocks together until the school bus pulled up.
Simon was the first to get on the bus, but not before stepping on and off four times before he slid into the front seat. I stepped backward to let Deer Boy onto the bus before me.
He gestured toward the yellow caged vehicle. “Ladies first.”
“Thanks,” I replied, stepping onto the bus.
A small laugh was heard as he followed behind me. “So she does speak.”
My first class of the day was calculus with Mr. Jones. If I had to pick my worst skill, it would be any math class. Being homeschooled, I pretty much avoided the math sections until the very end of the day. But now, with a premade schedule, I was forced to face it first thing in the morning. It was a special kind of hell.
Mr. Jones stood outside of his classroom, greeting everyone.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” a voice warned me. I’d been about to place my books on a desk in the front row. Turning behind me, I saw a guy with spiky hair, a gold chain around his neck, and something that looked like a wannabe mustache. “Mr. Jones is the Sylvester the Cat of Mayfair Heights.”
“What does that mean?”
“You know.” He rasped up his voice and added a lisp with a ton of spitting. “Sufferin Succotash! He’s more into spraying it than saying it.” He patted the seat next to him in the back row. “You’re free to join me back here.”
I accepted the offer.
“You’re the fresh meat that every chick’s been gawking at, eh?” he asked.
“Nah, I think you got the wrong guy. No one has said one word to me yet.” Except for the girl at the bus stop who said thanks, but even that was like pulling teeth.
“Which is exactly why you are the fresh meat. They are studying their prey before they attack. And with that accent?” He whistled low. “Man. You’re going to get girls pregnant just by looking at them. Toss in a wink and they’ll have twins. Which is why you’re going to need me,” he said, patting my back. “The name’s Connor Lincoln, and I am your saving grace, my friend.”