Wednesday, December 25, 2013

néw01

The rain kept up for days, trying to wash 2013 right off Michigan. It rained in the day and at night, the rain froze and people crashed.

Mom slept at work, most nights. Mom had a new job and --right.

Where are we? There isn't some huge time jump. This is, like, Monday the 30th of December. I'm still William Metzger and about two months ago a bunch of acquaintances and a friend or two of mine died. Other people were going to kill them, but (spoilers) ________.

Yup. Seriously. Spoilers. No hidden text, just a fill in the blank. At least I gave you the right number of spaces. Or you could read the previous part of my story. Or don't.

This is the end.

My name is William Metzger and I like trilogies and I hate series.

Here's the short version: I'm, uh, I'm not. Well, I wasn't very nice. I don't think that's changed. I mean, its been, (uh) two days since my ex-best friend threatened to kill me because (spoilers) ______________________. Among other things, but mostly, (left arrow)That.

A lot can happen in two days.

For instance:
  1. I started doing yoga. I sweated profusely and rewound videos on Youtube.com often
  2. I dreamed I was running through the pylon fields. It felt like something was chasing me, but I woke up just as I looked behind me --I didn't see what it was. 
  3. Mom got a new job. She said one of the clients from -- Mom got a job. Whatever.
  4. I got a car! It's a hand-me-down, from Mom, but I love it.
  5. Dad went out of town on a work project. Mom said its the biggest job he'll ever have to do and that he'll be gone for a long while, out in the boonies of Europe. 
  6. Not, Mom assured me, Germany.
  7. I think Mom lied to me. About Dad, Mom lied, is lying, to me.
  8. I stopped sleeping on the lower bunk. (It smells too much like him no matter what.)
  9. I haven't had any weird or red dreams since I dreamed Mercedes threatened to kill me.
  10. I decided to join a gym, and not go back to the wrestling team.
Anyway. I Read the news on a tablet, sipped french press coffee. Listened to the rain. December 30th, 2013. My phone vibrated. It was a number I didn't recognize, with a message I couldn't ignore. It read:
My car just got stolen. Please help. I will pay you.

Now, I don't need money, but I could imagine the horror of someone having their car stolen. I mean, I thought about having my car stolen and I shuddered. Right? So I texted back:
Who is this? I will totally help. Where can we meet?
I got a text back with a name I didn't recognize and an address that turned out to be a new branch of an encroaching, corporate bakery-slash-coffee house. It was in a local mall. I sighed. I nodded, confirmed the time and location and checked the time. Two hours. Plenty of time to shower, get dressed and get a move on.

I had a minor episode in the shower. The dishwasher was running, so I thought the water would be cooler than it was when I stepped in and my vision went scabby around the edges. I sat down, cooled the water and sat, shaking, head in hands, for a few minutes. When the red resided I looked up, eased the water back toward warm and, shivering, stood and finished washing the accumulated boy-smell off myself.

I arrived forty minutes early, and sat and watched. Twice I thought I saw someone I recognized. The first time I knew right away I was seeing things --The shortish boy with the brown hair and a slight limp. The second time, I followed a short girl with red hair and a pair of thick sunglasses all the way into a Victoria's Secrets, but the short, busty (and teeth to match) sales girl was very firm about making sure I was comfortable buying undies, and was very thorough explaining their sales. By the time I took a few pairs of panties back to "try on" the short, red haired girl was gone.

I sighed. I looked at my mobile and realized I'd have to run in order to make it back to the meeting place on time. I ran, politely, loosely through the crowds. I used to marvel at the way people get out of my way; now I just appreciate it when I'm in a hurry.

I arrived and someone, a young man and a young woman holding his hands in her lap were sitting at my table. "Hello." I said. I smiled. I kept my deformed hand in my jacket pocket. I said, "I assume one of you texted me about a missing car."

"Yes." The young woman said. She was wearing a red and white letter jacket, had hair between her shoulders and her ears, pushed back behind her ears. "I'm Maddy, this is Josh. We're hoping you can help us." She smiled unconvincingly. My neck prickled and my arms goose-fleshed. It started raining. A child started screaming, somewhere.

I sat. I sighed. "Why would --"

"You're here, aren't you? And, you of all people should know--"

"How the cops are, around here. I'm sure they're very busy." I said. I looked from Maddy's wet, dark brown lipstick to Josh's moist pink mouth. Josh had watery green eyes and a faux-hawk. He was also wearing a red and white letter jacket, but I didn't recognize him from anything. But then, what did I know? I hadn't done sports last fall, I hadn't even called my team mates to let them know I wasn't going back.

Josh tapped me lightly in the chest with a finger. He said, "So you'll help us."

"I'll keep an eye out." I said. I stood up, and gave them both a half smile. I considered the options. "I won't charge you anything unless I find your car. If I do, it's a two hundred dollar finder's fee."

"Timeline?" Maddy asked.

I snorted. "No? You're not paying me." I said.

Josh said, "We can pay you! Lots!"

People turned and looked at us. I sat down. "Hush." I said.

Josh said, "If my parents get home and their car is missing, I'm dead."

I laughed. "Dead?" I cocked my head at him, and readied myself to leave.

"Sorry, sorry. Bad choice of words. Look. They'll send me to boarding school, okay? I'll be gone. I won't be able to --to graduate with my friends." But Josh was looking at Maddy when he said it.

"Fine. I'll make a pass through some of my contacts." I said. I smiled reassuringly at him. "That'll be three hundred up front, right now. For bribes and gas."

Josh swallowed and looked a bit pale. "If you find it, then it's another two hundred?" He asked.

I nodded.

Maddy said, "Okay." And rummaged in a purse I hadn't noticed. She handed me six fifty dollar bills. "Please hurry." she said.

"I'll see what I can do." I said, "First thing I'm doing is buying an umbrella. Wish me luck!"

"Good luck!" Josh said.

I bought a throw away umbrella at a kitsch store. I still had one of the very nice Umbrellas Mom gave Mercedes and I in the trunk of my car, but that didn't do me any good on the way back to the car, did it?

And no, I don't have any contacts. I don't have any friends, and the few people I considered friends were, well, they aren't any more, are they? Did I just take three hundred dollars from some poor kid? Nope. They didn't negotiate the price at all. I probably could've gotten more from them, but I didn't. I'm the fleeced, here.

As I walked through the gloomy rain to my car, my phone beeped. Then beeped again, then once more. When I was safely in the driver's seat, doors locked, I checked my phone. Grey BMW 2014. Five speed. Manual transmission. Leather seats. Police Rims. Tinted windows. The picture of the car was taken inside an immaculate, white garage with blood red tool cases on the far wall, next to a heavy metal door.

I had definitely under priced myself. But, really, I had no leads what-so-ever, and fewer contacts. So --call it a draw? I thought to myself.

I drove home, Mom wasn't there, so I did yoga, worked out, cooked myself a simple, forty minute dinner of chicken and a spiced sweet potato. Then I worked out some more on the punching bag and showered the sweat off. I decided to sleep on the bottom bunk, but couldn't fall asleep. While trying to ease myself back into my old bed, I skipped around in a print copy of "Gravity's Rainbow."

I had four dreams that night, none of them were red dreams, though they were all in reverse. In the first one, I was being dragged by the hood of my jacket away from Josh's BMW, in a the bottom of a parking garage. I struggled, and clawed at whoever was dragging me, and I got a look at their face, when they tossed me out into a snowbank on the side of a one way road lined with trees and ornate old houses. They were wearing an anonymous mask and black, leather gloves with white swirls stitched shakily into the fingertips.

In the second dream I was trying and trying and trying to start a car, but the seat was too small and it kept stalling out and, yet again, someone huge in an anonymous mask attacked me, punching me in the face and waking me up.

The third dream was me chasing --no, this was in reverse. I was being chased, in the third dream, by two people wearing anonymous masks. They were both wearing the same, weird black and white gloves that my attacker in the previous two dreams had --black with weird blocky spiderweb finger prints in white on the finger tips. These anonymous masks were red with white eyes, but the dream-color was otherwise normal.

The last dream, I was sitting at a table with a steaming, steel, teapot. There were two square, black cups sitting on the table, also steaming. Sat across from me was another anonymous mask person. Slowly, they shook their head. They despite their side to side head shaking, this anonymous gestured like I should drink the tea, and I did. The tea was bitter and made me choke, a bit, but I finished the cup. I smiled and started to speak, but a beeping interrupted me. I tried to speak over the beeping, but it drowned me out and I woke, shouting something about the correct way to brew green tea.

My nose was running --no, it was gushing. I had a gushing bloody nose when I woke up, and my alarm clock was very, very loud, scooting around and vibrating next to my pillow.

Pinching the bridge of my nose, with my good hand, I thumbed the phone off, careful not to touch my mutilated finger. It was time to get up, already.

I lay back down and spoke my dreams, as best I could. The parking garage had a modern, tension cable look to it. So, west. I nodded to myself.

"First though," I said out loud to myself, "breakfast."

Breakfast was slightly runny eggs on thick toast, with some of Dad's garlic butter. I drank a glass of water, and went through my yoga routine as well as another half an hour at the punching bag. I looked at my phone and adjusted my alarm. If I was going to get to school on time, even driving, I needed to be up twenty minutes earlier. I sighed and shook my head as I dressed.

I drove around aimlessly for a while, shuffling music on my phone. It was grey again, but not yet raining. I drove out to a nearby city, that I new had parking structures like the one in my dreams. I took my ticket and pulled in and circled down to where I thought the car would be. The structure was mostly empty on the last few floors and, despite myself, I had to keep remembering to breathe out. The car was not there. I drove to the top of the structure, but the BMW wasn't there, either.

The car wasn't in the next parking garage I drove through.

The car wasn't in the third parking garage I drove through, either. I sighed and decided to get some food. I parked on the street, and walked into a noodle restaurant at random --there were three within a block. I looked at the high, black leather benches; I looked around and as I focused on the three televisions hanging above the bar, the tired tattooed American girl shouted, "You gonna sit?" I shook my head, no, smiled, and walked out and across the street to a different restaurant.

Inside this next restaurant, the decor was close, cozy, one hundred percent clean, light, wood paneling. Floor, walls, ceiling, tables, chairs: clean, light wood panels. Behind the counter, there was a calendar hanging from a red, woven string with a clever knot at the top. There were small, jade, elephants on a shelf above the serving window. "Please sit!" A woman with crows feet and a black, bob hair cut said. She smiled at me, toweling her hands. "What you want to drink?" She asked.

I ordered tea, and a bowl of beef with wide, rice noodles. It was warming in exactly the way you hope soup to be, and delicious, and slightly sour, and definitely spicy, and I had left overs. I smiled from the third slurp to the last, and carefully put my chopsticks back into their wrapper when I was finished.

"You like?" The woman asked.

I nodded vigorously and tipped generously. "See you soon!" I said as I left. Even the rain held off, just sputtering until I closed the car door, when the sky opened up and buckets and buckets poured down onto the city. Idly, I thought the rain was trying to wash me away. "Nonsense." I thought, "You're not --you'll be gone before the rain cares, anyhow." I smiled at that thought.

My phone beeped: ANY NEWS?
ME: Nope. Text you when I find something.

I drove around, driving top to bottom of two more parking structures. One was under an apartment complex, and the other was behind a strip mall. The second one was promising --the same sort of tension wires I remembered from my dream. The BMW wasn't in those, either.

I drove around until it was dark. I stopped and got gasoline, filling the tank using one of the fifty dollar bills Maddy gave me. I drove around some more. I passed a few places I shouldn't have, but I wasn't a creep or a slow roller about either of them. I didn't see anyone. I lived through the drive bys. I went home, did more yoga. I didn't have the heart to work the punching bag and went to bed without showering.

I dreamed I was awake, and I didn't realize until I was about to be shot that I was dreaming.

I was shivering, in a storage garage with a single, naked, bulb. I was sitting on a chair, staring at Josh's missing family BMW. I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt and shivering. I was barefoot, but my shoes were neat, next to the chair.

The door opened up, and a hooded, anonymous slipped in. I couldn't move. I wasn't tied to the chair, but I may as well have been.

"You." The anonymous spoke, distorted, somehow mechanical. Anonymous rubbed its gloved hands together. "Ready to die, at last, eh?"

I nodded, despite myself.

"Well then." The anonymous said, and drew a gun from its sports jacket.

Just like that, I was up and running. I knocked the garage door loose and bounced into the anonymous and off and rolled under the juddering door. I looked around; green doors, green roof, large industrial --mining?-- equipment behind me. The roar of the interstate close by. I turned around and watched a bullet slow motion toward me, it kept slowing and I smiled. I actually smiled, slowly, as a bullet careened toward my face. I reached out for it and I woke just before the bullet touched my palm.

I checked my mouth, my teeth, my tongue. I wasn't screaming when I woke up, this time. I smiled in the dark and checked my phone. I still had seventeen minutes before I had to be up.

I got up anyway.

I did my yoga routine, then I showered carefully. I had more thick toast with garlic butter, and a cup of green tea. With the tea, I minced ginger and chewed thoughtfully on it, as I considered what to do with my day.

I drove around some more.

It was going to be dark for hours before the sun came up yet; before I could actually see beyond the highway lines. When the sun started to peak, I was somewhere in Detroit, driving slowly through a checkering of burned out houses and timidly strung Christmas lights. I passed the husk of a car, autopsied between cinder blocks. I passed by the skeleton of an urban bean farm. I drove under rusty bridges with gang graffiti that made me think of demon summoning and --

I eventually found my way, quietly, back to the interstate and wound my way homeward. On a whim, I kept driving down the interstate. I turned the volume on my phone up and the heat in the car down. I pulled the on the hood on my jacket and wound the window down. I drove and tapped and drummed and hummed and watched the sky turn from orange and black to grey in the rear view mirror.

I texted Maddy, but not Josh, that I was following a lead and chuckled.

I was wondering what to do with my afternoon when I saw it. The mining(?) equipment from my dream. I took the next exit, slid just slightly on the ice and slowly, slowly, drove by a salt and cement factory. Next to the cement factory and salt refinery was a storage space, green roof house for an office, and green garage doors and white walls. I drove slowly passed the storage space. I passed a landfill, turned around and drove slowly back toward the storage space. I smiled.

I parked the car, but left it running, bringing the door lock dongle with me. I jogged up and down the two-truck wide isles and when I saw the scuff marks and the dented door, I memorized the storage space number.

I pulled my hood off, turned around, and waved hello at the very concerned, very sleepy, not-very-security guard. I pantomimed not being able to hear, then, hands at visible, I jogged toward him. I repeated the number to myself a few more times before greeting the guard, who looked at me with narrowed eyes and a working jaw. "You a renter here?" He asked.

"No, sorry. A friend is. I was checking on his locker."

"Everything alright?" Under his tan workman's jacket, he was wearing a plaid bathrobe; his boots weren't tied.

"Seems to be. He's down in Florida for the winter." I said, with a smile.

The security guard said, "Lucky son-of-a."

I nodded. I said, "I'm going to get going, gotta get to work."

"Work on New Year's Day?"

"Someone has to do it." I said, more glumly than I meant to.

"Good on ya, then."

"You, too." I said. We shook hands and smiled at each other. He followed my tracks and I circled back around to my car. Inside, I texted Maddy and Josh that I'd found their car, most likely, and they could, probably, pick it up from the Storage Space Place. I texted them both the address and the space number. I recommended they bring police, and that they call me an "anonymous tip."

It took me three tries to input the word anonymous, and my head swam a little, like the onset of a red moment that didn't come. I shuddered after I sent the text and, carefully, checking my mirrors and ignoring the music for a moment, set off back home.

I took a long while to get back home. I drove past my exit, twice, and looped around the subdivision, studiously going three miles less than the posted speed limits. Only one person honked at me, and I waved them around my slowly, slowly, driving vehicle. I left the radio off and let my thoughts wander over and through my dreams.

The drive home was quiet and grey. When I got home, Mom's car was still absent the garage and the thermostat hadn't moved from my sixty-seven degrees.

I contemplated food and decided on orange juice, then more toast and garlic butter. I sat at the weird, obsidian, table and absentmindedly picked at the edges as I chewed the bread. I stared at the stub of finger, incongruous and short on my left hand. I finished my toast and orange juice and washed my plate and cup.

I dressed for the weather, grabbed one of the serious, long umbrellas from the hall closet and went for a walk. It was snowing and windy, from the sound of things outside my coat, but I was wearing my specially tailored jeans and jacket, an extra pair of socks and waterproofed boots. With the jacket hood up, pulled tight, and my hands stuffed in the jacket pockets, I was, functionally, immune to the cold. I swiped my thumb gently over my stub as I walked; I bit the inside of my cheek.

It was still windy and still grey and still snowing when I slipped through the gates and slid along the High School's fence line. I shivered despite my warm clothes and paused on the edge of the fence where I knew the barbed wire was missing.

I double checked, and yes: a yard of the  barbed spirals at the top of the fence were still missing. I scanned the white baseball fields, but there were no security. I stared at the distant buildings, but couldn't make out security golf carts or trucks. I inhaled and exhaled slowly, watching my breath steam and gust away with the snow. I walked quickly for thirty feet then slowly sank into the snow; into a yoga resting pose with my hands in my pockets. I focused on my breathing for a while. I pulled my hands from my pocket and, eyes closed smacked and smacked my stub, then corkscrewed my nub into the ice and snow.

I gritted my teeth, squeezed my eyes even more closed, and kept twisting the raw stub into the snow. Pain shot through me like I'd only felt when the bullet ripped off my finger. At first, the pain came from everywhere, but eventually I traced the white hot streaks of pain from my missing finger through my body. I shuddered as the white streaks slowly overwhelmed the black of my closed eyes.

I kept grinding my stub in the cold. I hit a rock and that crumbled a wall of pain on top of me and my vision went completely white. Involuntarily, my eyes shot open and I found myself staring at a field of red. I looked up and looked around. Everything was congealing red and white. The clouds were a brainy pink. The fields a vibrant, scab red. My coat was laboratory white, my hands looked blood drenched.

I sat there, focusing on my breathing for I don't know how long. The wind whipped around me --bloody dust devils dervishing for minutes. I started to hear the wind and the snow dancing around me, flapping at my hood. Minutes more passed and the reds and whites started to fade to their normal colors. Careful not to move too much, I shifted my cold stiffened legs.

There was a popping sound as I straightened my legs and, abruptly, things were their normal color. Despite the color, the clouds roiled in a fast forward time lapse; darkness didn't slink slowly from the horizon, or stalk the sun, oh no. Darkness plonked right on down and there was a whoosh as night slopped over me; the snow within twenty feet of me melted and the ground steamed, was caught and whisked away by the wind. I stood up and looked around; there was a large, perfect circle with me in the center.

I nodded and sat down again. I focused on my breathing, calming myself.  Then I smashed a rock into the tip of my stub and color snapped from normal to white-is-black and black-is-red. The silence startled me and I I looked around, stood up and walked over to the fence. I stood there and counted to twenty, slowly, then walked back to the charred circle, through it, and up to the fence of a batting cage. I stood there until reality fade-snapped back to normal. The clouds cleared above me, swirled away with the wind. With a hiss there was more steam and the fence was damp, then dry. The fence started to glow red, then bright white. It started to melt.

I nodded.

I had a few other experiments, but I could see headlights bobbing in the darkness, over the bridge, toward me. I hopped the warm forest-fence where I had stood for half a minute, noted the melted snow, and jogged into the darkness of the woods.

The woods were quiet and I moved softly through the snow, hands in pockets.

I hummed to myself, a smile tugging at my mouth, until I was on the suburban edge of the small forest. I looked around, and started the tromp back to my house.

I was in the middle of a field --a communal area where kids used to play touch football in the summers-- when the black truck with the custom struts and high beams roared between two houses and

and it was simple. I gouged open my stub as the truck rocketed toward me, snow flying, and the truck shifted through my very own spectrum, right before my eyes and froze in mid air, a few feet from my face. I chuckled and contemplated my options.

I hopped on the now-white tire, onto the now-white hood. Three people, all wearing now-red anonymous masks. Nothing particularly striking, except one had a wisp of now-white-grey hair, a stray strand sticking out from under a dark red hooded sweater, and bright white, leather gloves.

I sighed.

I hopped off the truck's hood and walked a good fifteen or so paces away and right of the hood. I stood there and let reality take its time fading back to normal. I watched the truck engine burst into flames and the tires pop. I watched the truck thump into the snow and heard a dull snap.

I jammed my nub again and checked on the passengers; quickly quickly made sure they were all okay --seconds only, making sure nothing had burst through the cab, and that nothing was going to explode. Everything was fine and I sprinted away as fast as I could.

I made it to my house, which was only across a street and through another set of backyards. I couldn't stop panting, though, despite my easy pace.

I opened the garage door. I walked to the inner door. I thumbed the "close" button for the garage door, opened the inner door and

and woke up with throbbing shins and an egg lump bruise on my forehead. My bruised elbows, black eye, cracked and swollen lip, and pocket wet with blood weren't pleasant either.

The heat was roaring, the garage door was open. I shivered despite my jacket and pants. My legs were too jelly to hold me up so I dragged myself into the house, closed the door with a leg flop and passed out again, curled fetal in the kitchen.

I was still on the kitchen floor when Mom woke me up. Mom pushed and heaved and rolled me into the shower and let me warm up in the steam. Mom didn't bother taking my shoes off, or any of my clothes for that matter. After some time in the warm bathroom, Mom said, "Are? Are you? Can you walk? I'll get you some dry clothes. Hold on."

"Okay." I said. I heard the door open and close. I kept my eyes closed and breathed in the balmy air. I smiled and leaned against the wall, aching knees pulled up almost to my chest.

Mom reached in and turned the shower off. "There's clean sweatpants and a t-shirt on the toilet. Shout if you need help." She said.

I said, "Thanks." Then, "Love you."

"Oh sweetie. I love you too. Climb out. Just leave your clothes in the shower." Then, Mom was gone.

I managed to pull my clothes off, shoes and socks first. Three of my toes were black and numb. "Huh." I said, "That's probably bad." I sighed. I stood and pain shot through my feet like searing needles. I closed my eyes, gritted my teeth and, leaning heavily against the wall. I managed to climb out of the shower. I toweled myself off sitting naked on the toilet rug. When I was mostly dry I pulled myself onto the toilet and wrestled into my warm, soft clothes. "Thanks." I said.

I stood up and opened the door. I eyed the stairway down to my room for a while. "Night Mom. Going to bed." I shouted.

Mom didn't respond.

Carefully, slowly, and with many winces, I made it to my bed, where I promptly rolled under the covers and fell asleep.

I know I dreamed, but I don't remember much. Images, mostly.

  1. Holding a handgun that looked large, even in my hands.
  2. Staring through my reflection in a window high, high in the air, down onto a small apartment building, watching a couple kiss on a balcony, the snow melted off by a barbecue. 
  3. Driving down an empty highway with snow flurries so thick I almost slammed into the back of a truck without lights. I spun out, spinning and spinning and spinning; brakes refused to unlock, then woke. 
Mom was sat on the edge of the bed, gently stroking the top of my head in the darkness. I smiled up at her. I said, "Hi Mom." Mom kissed my forehead with dry lips and quietly slipped out of the room. I drifted back to sleep.

I woke up Sunday morning and had to have my three blackened toes amputated. Mom drove me to the E.R., who sent us to a hospital proper where they did a CAT scan of my head, and found nothing unusual, and where they amputated my blackened toes. The doctors could not explain the rapidity of the frostbite, or what might've caused the loss of blood flow to "the extremities." I sighed and swung my dangling legs. I wiggled my toes, then dry heaved. "I'd like to go home." I said.


I slept until Sunday. When I woke up, I stayed in bed, stared at the ceiling and tried to wiggle my toes and my stub until dinner time.


"Don't do it again, whatever it was, eh?" The nurse said as he helped me climb carefully into Mom's car. "Keep the bandages on until tomorrow, and then be careful." The nurse continued, "You'll probably have more phantom limb sensations than with your finger. Sheesh. You're. You'll be okay." He smiled and patted me on the shoulder, then closed my door for me. Mom nodded, screeched the tires as we pulled away and apologized the whole way home, no matter how many times I told her well done, and good job on the tire screech.

After we ate dinner and I promised Mom I would be fine, she went back to work.

I did some yoga, but it didn't warm me like I was used to. I found it hard to balance in a lot of the poses, with the bandages around on my feet, which itched wildly and decided to work on the punching bag instead. After minutes of punching, I tried a kick and fell over, landed on my bruised elbow. Laughed. Sighed. "No more kicking." I said.

I sighed again.

I did another ten-ish minutes on the punching bag, shivered while I showered, and went to bed early. "School tomorrow." I said to myself. I lay, staring at the top bunk. I rolled over, stared at the wall.

I rolled the other way.

I pulled the blankets off the top bunk and spread them over myself too.

I pushed the blankets off and lay in the chill of my room.

I stood up, turned on the bedside lamp, and rummaged around in my drawers. I set out my under clothes for tomorrow, then put some socks on and padded upstairs to make sure my jacket and jeans were dry.

My jacket and jeans were dry, though my jacket pocket was slightly discolored. I sighed and contemplated washing it again.

I stayed up and washed my jacket again.

My jeans were fine, thankfully. Thankfully.

While my jacket washed, I went, slowly-slowly, through some basic, beginner yoga routines. After the yoga, I stood and stared at the washing machine as it ran through its cycles. That didn't help. I made myself some green tea and poked around a few different books on a tablet.

When my jacket was finally washed, I laid the jacket out on the obsidian table and examined the pocket. I found a flashlight in the guest room and examined it. While wet, I couldn't tell if the stain was gone or not. I sighed. I clucked my tongue. I put the jacket in the dryer, on low just like Mom told me. I fell asleep on the couch and woke up to my alarm blaring from the basement.

I rolled off the couch and smiled at my landing. I stood up and winced at the pain in my feet. I went and turned the dryer on then showered. I rubbed ointment on my toes and got dressed.

While I waited for the kettle to boil I made sandwiches and sliced apples for breakfast and lunch. We were almost out of bread. I nodded, frowned, as I sealed the plastic tub full of sandwiches and put it in my backpack.

I opened the dryer and pulled my gently dried jacket out. I carried it to the table and laid it out. I turned on all the lights that I could. I sighed. The pocket was still stained, and other parts of the jacket were looking a bit grayed out. I shrugged, shoulders limp.

I signed into my school email and checked which building my first hour class was in.

I drove to school, parked, and was early to Math. I couldn't get warm and kept my coat on. I shivered through Chemistry which was in the same building as Math. Spanish was in the same building, too, and I huddled and got laughed at when my teeth chattered. Then lunch. I caught myself blocking an exit door, rooted. I sighed. I turned around and apologized my way upstream through the press of bodies, to the lunch room in the same building as my first three hours.

I stood, blocking another exit. I stood, arm outstretched, holding the door open, teeth clenched, legs tense. Mercedes sat, her back to me, at the table closest to the emergency exits on the far wall. She was using a pair of flat, grey chopsticks to eat something that looked delicious.

So. This lunch room is sort of a weird polyp on the school building. It sits on the west side and so gets a lot of light in the afternoon and not very much during A lunch. Fine. The purchasing carols are on the south east side of huge hall, and there are three tiers with gentle ramps and exits on the bottom and the top. I'll just sketch it out, here:

[image]

Across from Mercedes sat Jennifer  Liu. She saw me right away; our eyes met and hers narrowed. Calmly, she put a hand on Mercedes's wrist and said something to her. Mercedes sat up straight, cocked her head, but didn't turn around.

Right? So. The M on the map is for Mercedes and I'm the dotted line that ran and stopped in the opposite corner. I sat and couldn't bring myself to open my sandwiches.

I stared at the heavy glass and plastic container. I swallowed. I sweated. I shivered.

"Hey, mind if I sit here?" A boy's voice. Clipped consonants. I looked up. The boy had messy, sandy, bob-cut hair, dyed blonde. He was holding a lunch tray with a startling number of carrot servings and two milk containers. He smiled, close lipped, at me with a huge mouth. "I said: Do you mind if I sit here?"

I startled and shook my head. I said, "Uh, no. I mean, go ahead --"

"Have a seat? Thanks!" He sat down. "The minority table weren't having me," He said, with a pulled cheek and a frown. He said, "Figured that'd be me, but I guess not." The boy with bleached hair sat down across from me. He was wearing a fancy black leather jacket with tight dark red shoulder straps and two thick red zippers that ran armpits to belt, which was also abnormally thick and dark red.

I asked, "Minority table?" I said,"I like your coat."

He smiled. He said, "Yeah, the Albino, Black, and Asian girls down there." He chuckled and continued, "Thought I'd just slide on in, but nope! I'm Joe, by the way. Joe John Jones, " Joe stuck his hand across the table and when I shook it, his eyes went wide. Joe asked, "What happened here, dude? All y'all people are blown up!"

It was my turn to chuckle. "I happened." I said, watching Joe carefully. "I happened."

Joe held my gaze.

I sighed, small.

Joe pushed three carrot sticks into his mouth. He chewed, carefully, swallowed twice, then said, "Huh." He ate a few more carrot sticks, easy, calm. Easy enough that I opened my sandwich container and ate a few apple slices.

Joe reached over, then stopped, hand poised above my apples. "May I?" he asked.

"Sure." I said with a half smile and pushed the container toward him.

"Want a few carrot slices?"

"Sure." I said and reached across, took a few carrot sticks. "Thanks." I said.

We ate in silence, after that. Joe kept smiling, like that was his mouth's resting state, and I smiled back at him when I looked up, and our eyes met, and our smiles blossomed a bit more, and then the bell rang.

"Where you headed?" Joe asked.

"English hall." I said, "Composition."

"Hall?" Asked Joe.

"Yeah, all the subjects have their own halls where those classes are clustered."

Joe said, "Ah."

"New here?"

"Yup."

"Well. Welcome. Where you headed?"

"Chemistry."

"Cool."

"Is it?"

I laughed. I patted Joe on the shoulder. "Depends who your teacher is." I said.

"Great." Joe purred the word, stretched it out, wrapped it in a smile.

We shook hands and parted.

I grinned all the way to the set of stairs that lead to the English hall. My grin froze, got brittle, then shattered as I started the climb. Looking up, Phoenix was stood, hands in pockets, at the top of the stairs. We made eye contact and my stomach lurched. Phoenix smiled at me, showing me incredibly white teeth. Phoenix waved and turned and walked through the hall ahead of me. Phoenix turned before the English hall and, without turning around, lifted a hand from a pocket and waved --four short flicks of the elbow.

The first bell rang and I slumped into the closest desk, heart pounding. I looked around slowly, but no one looked familiar. The late bell rang, the teacher wasn't in the room yet, so people kept talking. I put my head down on my arms and practiced relaxed breathing.

After a few minutes, a very tall, very young woman wearing a very dark pencil skirt and a prim, white button down shirt walked in. "Hello class" She said, "My name is Ms. Belle and I'm going to teach you how to argue." She didn't yell. Ms. Belle didn't slap the desk, or smash a ruler into the whiteboard, but everyone went quiet and sat down in their desks.

I shivered.

Ms. Belle had her brown hair pulled into a tight, prefect bun. She wore black, very shiny, very platform shoes with huge heels. Like, gigantic Mercedes-would-be-proud heels. Serious shoes. My toes throbbed and pulsed. My stub itched. I sighed. Class passed and the bell rang. We were assigned reading homework.

Fifth hour was Swimming, and sixth hour was Weight Lifting. I

 . . . blah blah blah, I worked out. Swam in an over chlorinated pool. Showered twice. Chapped lips. Drove home to dinner by myself and homework, then yoga, then punching, then my fourth shower of the day and not being able to get warm during any of that. And my toes hurt. My toes hurt more than they did during fourth hour, they had turned a reddish, pink, so that should have been a good sign. And pain is feeling, so they weren't going to fall off. I was pretty sure they weren't going to fall off. Anyway, ouch.

I sniff checked my jeans. I laid out the rest of my clothes and went to bed.

Lunch!

The next day at lunch, I hurried straight to the table where Joe and I met and stopped. Mercedes and Jennifer were already there. Mercedes turned around and I froze. I felt colder than I had in weeks.

Mercedes lifted her bright red eye patch and stared at me; her blind, milky eye wobbled in its socket. Mercedes's vibrant green eye was like lightning into my soul. My whole body tingled from the inside out, and I had trouble breathing.

Jennifer smiled at me with her eyes closed, and waved goodbye to me with her fingers.

Gasping, I turned and walked away. I sat at the end of the table furthest from Mercedes and Jennifer. I could hear the other people at the table talking, but couldn't make out any of the words over the dull roar of blood passing through my ears. I put my hands on my ears.

My toes stung.

I sighed.

"Hey." Joe said, "Mind if I oh. Dude. Skootch." I skootched and winced when I knocked my knee into the table's hang bar.

"Dude." Joe said. He tried to reach around me, then patted my back. He said, "I brought us some carrots."

I choked on my thank-you and smiled weakly at him. I tried twice more to thank Joe for the carrots, but the words got stuck.

"Dude." Joe said, "Just eat some carrots already."

I sniffed. I ate a dozen baby carrots. Joe did the same, and he took one my sandwiches, too. He said thank-you, and I nodded and cracked a small smile. At some point, Joe yelled at someone further down the table, but I couldn't make out the exchange at all.

The bell rang.

Joe said, "Hey, so, I'll see you tomorrow at lunch, yeah?"

I nodded limply and stared at the few carrots still in front of me.

Joe poked me hard in the shoulder with two fingers.

My toes burned.

"Hey." Joe said, "Lunch! Tomorrow; yeah?"

"Yeah." I said. I sighed. I said. "See you tomorrow. Thanks for the carrots." I looked up. Joe was staring very, very intently at me. I couldn't even force a small smile, and that made me want to cry even more.

Joe said, "Okay dude. Until tomorrow."

I managed to live through the rest of the day. I went home and did some Yoga. Mom wasn't home, but there was a note telling me she loved me, she was almost through the new year order rush and that she would be home tomorrow night, and we could go out for dinner if I wanted. I folded the note and put it in my backpack.

We were out of bread. I cooked some rice and chopped some carrots and put them in my glass container, put the contained in the fridge. I did my homework.


I slept for ten straight hours.


I woke up cold and sighed in the darkness. Mercedes's wobbly eye floated above me in the darkness. My toes throbbed. I gulped.

I got up and carried my clothes upstairs with me. I started a basic yoga routine, but stopped half way through and showered and rushed to school. Classes passed. My toes felt burned, or tingled like pins and needles. Each class, I was called on to answer a question. I didn't know the answers, and I told my teachers so politely, but firmly. Each class, I was only called on once, though all my teachers eyed me all the way past their desks as I slid out of their rooms.


Lunch.

I scanned the cafeteria carefully and found a table on the edge that was mostly empty. I nonchalantly quick-walked over and sat down. I pulled out my rice and carrots and opened the container and realized I didn't have any utensils. "Huh." I said. I sighed. My toes burned.

"Hey!" Joe said, behind me. I turned and involuntarily smiled right back at his beaming face.

"Hey." I said. "How are you?" I patted the bench next to me, but Joe slid around and sat across from me.

Joe pulled out a sandwich bag full of carrots, and another stuffed with a skinny, limp sandwich, the peanut butter and jelly smeared across the inside of the bag. He opened the carrot bag and said, "Carrot?"

"Thanks," I said, and took a few. "Brought my own, too." I said. I showed him my rice and carrots. "Need a fork though." I said. I asked, "Could you watch my stuff?"

"Sure dude."

"Be right back." I stood and walked into the serving area of the cafeteria. I passed the long line of other students and grabbed a fork.

"Hey! What the --?" Someone yelled from far back in the line.

I turned around. I said, "What? I need a fork. I'm not buying anything."

Someone called me something rude.

I turned and looked at the space I'd heard the voice come from. I shouted, "Yup, sure am. Come sit with me if you're interested!" I blew a kiss at the line and walked out, waggling my fork over my shoulder. I laughed all the way back to the table.

"Fork!" I said, Smiling.

"Three kinds of awesome." Joe said. He held his hand up for a high five.

Our high five was really loud.

I chuckled. My toes tingled sharply.

"So, what's up with the red headed security guard?" Joe asked. He pinched one half of his sandwich between two fingers and twisted his head, trying to neatly eat a messy sandwich.

I said, "Phoenix? Phoenix is Phoenix. Phoenix doesn't like me. Phoenix once tasered me in detention for no reason whatsoever."

Joe said, "Sure, that sucks. Look, is Phoenix a guy or a woman, though? I seriously cannot tell."

"You know, I have no idea either." I said, "Phoenix is just Phoenix. Like weather. Why?"

"Phoenix almost busted me smoking this morning." Joe said.

"You smoke?"

"Roll them myself. But wait. You got tasered on school property, during detention, for no reason, and nothing else happened? Phoenix wasn't fired?"

I sighed. I said, "Phoenix probably wasn't even reprimanded. This is place can be like that." I shuddered. I ate some rice. I said, "You smoke? But you don't smell."

"Its Good stuff. Cool, huh?" Joe winked at me. "You should try it."

"I'll pass." I said. I added, "Why?"

"Why what? Smoke?" Joe shrugged. "Whatever. So, Phoenix. Boy or Girl?"

"I don't honestly know," I said.

Joe grinned. He put his hands on the table and said, "I'm going to ask, right now, then."

I felt my eyes go wide. Wide mouthed, I said, "What! Are you serious?"

Joe stood up. "Come with me?"

"No way." I shook my head.

"Fine. Be right back." Joe strode through the cafeteria. I turned and watched. He disappeared behind a thick pillar, then reappeared by the exit into the school proper. He pushed open the door and stepped into the hallway, still holding his sandwich. Phoenix appeared as if by magic, accusatory hands waving  at Joe.

Joe swallowed his sandwich in one go and three chews. He said something. Phoenix yelled at him so loud Joe closed his eyes.  Placatingly, Joe held his hands out. Phoenix punched the glass window and it thundered and cracked. Everyone in the lunch room turned and watched Phoenix yell wildly at Joe, who smiled, eyebrows raised. Still smiling, Joe said something else and Phoenix stopped yelling. Phoenix tapped Joe in the sternum twice with narrowed eyes. Still smiling, Joe nodded and said something short.

Phoenix whipped around and strode past Joe toward the auto shop.

I watched, mouth slightly open, as Joe calmly, slowly, strutted down the length of the cafeteria and sat down across from me. With great care he pulled the other half of his sandwich from its destroyed coffin and took a bite. Joe set the sandwich down on the lid of my container and ate a few carrots. All while I eyed him, raising and lowering alternate eyebrows.

At one point Joe let a chuckle slip out, so I made my eyebrows dance for a few seconds before he looked around. Joe asked, "You want to know?"

I nodded.

Joe looked around and very carefully leaned very far over the table, toward me. Joe raised a hand, still balanced on his elbows, and made a come-hither gesture. I half stood and leaned forward.  He said, "Hi." and smiled. Joe's breath smelled like ginger and leather. He leaned even closer to me, took my head in one spidery hand and whispered, "Phoenix says we can refer to him as Sir."

"Sir." I whispered back. Joe's breath was like walking into a heatwave after an overly air conditioned sixth hour. I felt my skin warming from nearest to furthest, ears to toes. I blinked.

Joe was sitting down again, smiling at me, his eyebrows pushed up above his nose. Joe said, "You're welcome."

The bell for class rang. We smiled at each other some more and waved.

I stood for a minute, then hurried after Joe. I tugged at his backpack and he slowed and turned. I said, "Hey. Uh, so."

He stared at me, with his piercing, light blue eyes. He said, "Yes, Will?"

"Thanks for the carrots!" I said. I patted Joes backpack, softly, turned and fast walked back toward the cafeteria. "Idiot!" I said. A small gaggle of girls chuckled as I passed them in the hallway. I managed to answer the questions my teacher's asked me, and received nods of approval.

I went home. I started my homework. I cooked dinner, making enough for Mom and I. I finished my homework. I ate dinner alone.

I checked my school email. I beamed at the tablet and clicked the first message:

From: Joe Jones
Subject: Hey, if You're the Will I eat lunch with, please respond
Body: Hey Will,
How are ya? I didn't get a chance to ask you for your number, so I'm sending this message to every William in the student directory. If you're you, what did we find out at lunch, today?

Peace,
JJJ


I wrote Joe right back:
Subject: <  -- Will From Lunch
Body: Hey!
YOU found out we should refer to Phoenix as Sir when at school. Should we refer to Phoenix as Ma'am out of school, then?

Peace,
Will(iam)

I also included my phone number, as a p.s. Which I kicked myself for. Like: did I really forget it? I remembered to add it at the bottom, why not just edit the body of the letter? Anyway. I gave Joe my mobile number. I smiled. My message wasn't too goofy, and wasn't too touchy-feely.

I waited, but didn't get a response.

I decided to do some yoga. I did three half hour routines, and between each of them, no message, call, or text message from Joe.

I decided to do half an hour on the punching bag. I was sweating profusely, in the middle of the ten technique combination when my phone went off --Text message! I gritted my teeth and worked through the longest twenty minutes of my life in 2014. Finally, as I was wondering if I'd set the timer correctly, it went off. I raced to my phone, checked my messages.

From: MOM
Hey Sweetie, I won't be home tonight. So Sorry! I will make it up to you this weekend, if you're free. xxxooooo

I sighed.

ME: Hi mom! Hope work isn't killing you! This weekend sounds great! TTYS xoxoxox 
"To shower, or not to shower?" I said. I grabbed some sweat pants and a t-shirt, for sleeping, and showered carefully. Once I was clean and dressed, I checked my phone.

A new message, from a number I didn't recognize. My heart pounded as I thumbed the message.

734-___-____ Its Maddy. I have your money. Can we meet at A lunch?
"Seriously?" I said. I sighed. I added Maddy's phone number to my contacts.

ME: Maybe, I'm on C lunch. What building are you in? 
Maddy ?: North West, that work for you? 
ME: Nope. I'm South East almost all day. Before school? 
Maddy: Too early! 
ME: After school? 
Maddy: Sure, NW parking lot. The BMW you found. :-) 
ME: Cool.

"Who adds the nose to smiley faces?" I asked. "Sheesh." I said.

I put dinner away, packaged Mom's dinner as lunch and breakfast for tomorrow. I grabbed a tablet and an extra blanket and went to bed. While I browsed the internet, I wondered and day dreamed about how I was going to spend the extra money Maddy was going to give me. Mom and I were well off, and I didn't really need anything. I decided to save most of it, and see if Joe wanted to see a movie, or have dinner, or get pizza or whatever. I smiled and fell asleep imagining the two of us sharing a frozen slush cola in an otherwise empty movie theater.

I woke before my alarm with a desperate urge to pee. I dashed upstairs and made it to the bathroom. There was a towel in there, so I decided to drop my routine and shower.

I was scrubbing my scalp with conditioner when I realized: Towel! Mom! I finished quickly and wrapped the towel around me.

Carefully, I walked wet foot into the kitchen.

My toes stung.

The house was dark.

I sighed.

I opened the fridge and grabbed the ground coffee. I did a double take and took the light pink envelope from off my lunch. I carefully tore the envelope open and read the letter while the coffee brewed.

[letter]

I sighed. I shivered. I smiled. It was a cute sketch of a narwhal. "Thanks Mom. See you tonight. Love you." I said.

I got dressed in the same warm outfit as yesterday.

School passed.

Joe wasn't at lunch.

The rest of school passed. The bell rang and I and stretched, and dressed apprehensively. I thumbed my phone and noticed I had a voice mail. "Later." I said. I was stood in the hallway between the two locker rooms.

"Later!" A girl said, as she passed by me. The girl had bright blonde hair and bright blue eyes and a nice summer blue cardigan jacket. She waved at me, and I waved back, forcing a smile.

"Bye." I said.

I looked back to my phone and thumbed through my text messages until I found the picture of Maddy's BMW. I nodded and made my way to the exit closeted to the next building. It would be longer overall, but I'd less time in the cold. Hood up, hands in pockets I started my trek.

I stopped.

I laughed, wetting my scarf with my breath, and changed direction. Cold? Whatever.

The walk was pleasantly chilling. One of the few cars with their lights on, exhaust steaming low and slow. The windows were steamed and I was wearing dark clothes and carrying a dark umbrella, in winter storm gloom. I knocked on the passenger door window.

After a moment the window rolled down and I smiled into the darkness and bent down, stiffly resting my hands on my knees and the umbrella in the crook of my shoulder and neck. "Hi." I said.

Maddy smiled at me. She pressed something and the interior lights came on. She held out an envelope from the passenger seat. "That should do." She said, still smiling. Her lips were very, very red.

I smiled and took the envelope. It felt heavy and my heart soared. I went to open the envelope but it was sealed. Thunder rolled over us and the rain started up. "Thank-you." I said. "All here?"

"Think so. Bye!" The passenger window rolled up. I stood up. The BMW lurched away with a short screech. I patted the envelope and walked slowly to my car in the far parking lot. I smiled and thought about sitting down across from Joe in a dim booth with high backs and a small candle slowly waving in the middle of the table. We were going to order two kinds of samosas and smile coyly, before feeding each other Try-its of each other's samosas. We were going to share a dish of Baingan Bartha and "Oof, sorry oh." I said as I ran into someone.

I looked down. Mercedes looked up at me. Mercedes scowled and adjusted her eye patch. Her nails were blood red. Her eye patch was electric blue, with a very thick strap. Mercedes said, "Watch your step, would you?" And narrowed her eye at me. She tapped my chest with the palms of her hands and I stepped back. "Watch your step. Seriously." She said. Lightning arced from the flag poll on the Football field announcer's booth; thunder cracked overhead.  Mercedes whispered, "I worry about you." as she brushed hurriedly passed me.

I stood there, holding my umbrella. My heart raced and my hand shot to my breast. I patted the envelope and breathed a sigh of relief --no holes, a solid envelope bulge. I smiled in the gloom.

My phone went off --text message.
734-___-____: Don't you check your voice mails? 

I laughed. I checked my voice mail. It was Joe! He apologized for not being at lunch, and explained he'd had an asthma attack and spent the night in the hospital. He was okay, but his mom over worried about him, and they had good health insurance now, so she took advantage of that and

And he gave me his phone number. I nodded and entered it into my phone, along with his name. The message became:

Joe J Jones: Don't you check your voice mails?

I smiled. I texted him that I was on my way home (owm) and I'd call him when I got there. I hurry-limped back to my car, slowing only to check my phone. Joe responded! He texted: Hurry up lol.

I slid into my car and jammed the ignition button. The car started, and the drive home was easy since all the other students had already tooth and nail'ed their way out of the parking lots.

Home was empty, but that was okay. I had food I could cook, it was the weekend So Soon, and that meant Mom and I were going to get dinner. And! And Joe and I had texted. Were texting! As soon as I texted him back, Joe and I would be texting. I pumped my fist before I opened the fridge and triumphantly grabbed the water jug.

I unzipped my coat and took out the envelope. I thumbed it open. I looked at the pile of money, smiling. I didn't need to work, but, "Who am I kidding?" I said. "I didn't do any work for this, either. Not really. I drove around and had a lucky dream." My stomach turned. The stack of twenties turned out to be a stack of eight ten dollar bills, and one twenty dollar bill. "Huh." I said.

Determined to have a good evening, I texted Joe a smiley face and the message: Whatre you up to?

I made a pot of tea while waiting for Joe to respond to my message. I started, and finished, a short yoga routine while waiting for Joe to respond to my message. I started and finished a longer yoga routine. I cut short a meditation session and worked the punching bag for an hour. I thought about showering, but didn't. I started the rice cooker and chopped some Bok Choy. I put oil in the pan, and minced a few cloves of garlic. I minced that garlic incredibly fine and smiled. My phantom finger tingled.

My phone was silent.

The kettle boiled and I poured it into the tea pot with some loose green tea. I minced some ginger and added it to the pot.

I checked to make sure my phone had a signal.

My phone had a signal, and full 3G service, and was connected to our WIFI. I thought about texting Joe a question mark, but decided to dice some carrots, and an onion, and see if we had any raisins instead. Mom loved raisins. I sprinkled turmeric, lemon grass, salt, and pepper into the oil and turned the stove on. I added the onion to the oil. I cooked and ate dinner, and showered, and went to bed, and was asleep before Joe texted me back.

JOE: Did I wake you?
Me: NP. You okay?
JOE: Ya my mom doesnt like me texting. She's asleep now
JOE: ^_^
Me: Cool
Me: You be in school tomorrow?
JOE: Nope. One more day off. See you Monday though!
Me:

I sat and stared at the phone. Was he trying to make me make the first move? Should I ask him where he lived? Was he trying to avoid me? Should I try and check the hospital records to see if he really had been admitted? Was I paranoid? Was I
JOE: See you Monday?
ME: Certainly! 'night!

I closed my phone and rolled over. I snuggled into my bed and pulled the covers up, and my phone beeped again. I frowned in the dark. I rolled over again.

JOE: Are we done?
Me: Wha? No! Do you need someone to bring you homework?

"Smooth!" I said out loud, and smirked at myself.

JOE: Thatd be awesome. Ill email you my schedule. Sec
Me: Okay I will get it in the morning.
Me: Thanks!
JOE: Youre the one doing me a favor!
JOE: How was school?
Me: It was

I sat and thought about it. I shrugged.
Me: It was okay I guess
Me: Ups and downs for sure
JOE: sorrry to hear
JOE: Well sort it out monday
Me: Awesome

We chatted a bit more about school, and Phoenix, and Joe told me about his teachers. Eventually I started to nod off between his messages

JOE: So then I was like whatev and walked out
Me: She didn't follow you?
JOE: Nope!
Me: Amazing!
Me: Time for me to sleep! School tomorrow!
JOE: Luuucky you!
Me: *Hug*

There was a drawn out, breathless pause, almost a full minute, before
JOE: *hug!

Smiling I laid my phone face down. I closed my eyes still grinning and fell asleep, straight into a dream. The dream was vivid, and muted, but normally colored. I was sitting at a large, white iron table. The table was welded to mimic, poorly, vines and leaves. I looked across the table and one of the red masked anonymous giants nodded at me. It was my height, and wore the black with white spider webs gloves from previous dreams, but I didn't feel the need to run away, this time. I simply sat. We looked at each other --I focused on his chin. He rested his elbows on the arms of the wrought iron chair and held a cup of tea just above its plate. He had his pinky out.

There was a voice, robotic, tuned and phased far from the human register. The voice said, "Hello, William. William, right? That's your name?"

I replied, "Just Will is fine, thank-you."

"Bill?" The voice asked.

"No. Don't like Bill, sorry." I shrugged and grinned sheepishly.

We sat and talked for a while. We crossed and uncrossed our legs synchronously. I woke up smiling.

I couldn't remember the conversation.


Whatever else, Saturday was great. It was warm, even if it wasn't. Here's how Saturday went:

  1. Woke up to the smell of bacon, and almost got my forehead burned. Mom looked down at me, wide eyed. She said, "Hello! I made bacon!" and sluiced the pan around in front of my face. Mom also said, "I made coffee, and bread, then some toast."
  2. Breakfast was delicious. Mom and I talked about  how school was going. I told her about Joe and she smiled and patted my hand from across our obsidian table.
  3. We went to the mall and walked around and looked at CD's and DVD's, but didn't buy any. We looked at coats and chuckled and I hugged her right there in the department store.
  4. We had lunch at her favorite Thai food place, and the owner came out and chatted with us, while his wife eyed us from the edge of the service window. The noodles were spicy and moist and the tofu was perfectly cooked and seasoned.
  5. We went to the library and checked out books about psychics and time travel.
  6. We went to a local firehouse museum, then a local modern art museum, then sat outside in a covered arcade with real modern stonework. We sat outside on fleece covered iron chairs at and sipped coffee from delicate cups that clanged against the fancy, chair matching table.
  7. We bought incense from a weird "Asian import store" next to a record store. 
  8. We had Indian food for dinner, but it wasn't as good as our usual place. It was good! It was!
  9. We saw a movie at the art house theater and it made Mom cry, and I didn't enjoy it very much.
  10. I tried to talk to Mom about her job, but she always shifted the conversation. Eventually, I bluntly asked her if she was employed and if she was working with Dad, and how was he, anyway? She didn't answer.
  11. We rode home in a silence broken only by the thunk of interstate potholes and Mom's occasional sniffle-then-wipe in the car's dark interior. My toes ached and my thumb itched.
  12. We got home and I sighed and gave her a hug and apologized very vaguely.
  13. Mom reached up and took my hands in her face. She sniffed. "William Metzger." She said, "I love you, and you never, ever, have to apologize to me for anything. I love you." 
  14. We hugged and hugged and hugged. 
  15. We talked about our plans for the week. Mom wouldn't be home until Thursday. I had homework and texting Joe to do.
  16. We said our see-you-laters and went to bed.
  17. I couldn't sleep for the aches in my feet.
All throughout the day Joe and I texted. About football, at first --him ranting about how awesomely his team was going to beat the other team on Sunday. Mostly, I sent him snarky, anti-sports gifs and one re-purposed gay porn gif. It took him a long time to respond after I sent that, so I assume he enjoyed it more than I thought. That thought made me smile, at dinner, and between bites of Aloo Goobi, Mom asked me what was so clever and I had to lie, badly, to her and delete my browser history and texts before she wrestled my phone from me.

I texted him goodnight, set my alarms and went to bed.

Sunday, Mom was already gone when I woke up. Mom left me fresh bacon, coffee, and the left over Indian food in the fridge. Sunday, I did homework and yoga and punched my punching bag very, very hard for a long, long time. I smiled while I punched the punching bag and sweated a lot; I showered carefully and did more yoga, then more homework, all before dinner.

Sunday, for dinner I burned the butter I was trying to make garlicy and parsley-y butter with. Whatever. The toast was perfect and the butter was very sharply garlic. I smiled in the dark. I realized I was eating in the dark and turned some lights on.

Sunday, I texted Joe in the morning and he texted me back a smiley face and a warning that he was busy all day. Joe texted me around 2:07pm.
JOE: Hey! Thanks for the smiley. Still w family. See you at lunch tomorriw.
ME: You got it
I texted Joe before I went to bed, after I finished my homework. I went to bed. I did not dream, or if I did I don't remember what I dreamed about.

Monday. Monday it rained. Not sleet, or ice. Rain. It was, relatively, warm. I still bundled up. I sighed at the boys on the football team wearing shorts and puffy thermo jackets.

Before homeroom, I smiled at the serving lady, who smiled back. I wandered around, telling myself I wasn't going to run into Joe. I didn't run into Joe, but I did get glared at by Jennifer and her new clique. Mercedes wasn't there, which I appreciated.

Classes passed. Lunchtime arrived. My stomach churned. I nodded to myself, puffed my chest and stepped through the lunchroom doors. Immediately, everything smelled like burnt potatoes and I leaned heavily against the wall, steadying myself for the red-shift and a mad dash into the cold, toward the forest.

The red-shift did not come. I looked around. There was smoke coming from the kitchen, but the smattering of students at tables didn't seem to be bothered by the sight or the smell.

"Hey! William!" Someone shouted.

I looked around, didn't see anyone.

"Hey!" Joe's voice. I walked forward a bit, confused; looked around. Standing at a table, waving his arms, was Joe. "come sit with us!" He shouted. Joe was sitting with a small group of hunched students. Those with their backs to me turned, nursing milk carton straws, or cans of pop.

I hesitated.

Joe smiled and made come-hither motions.  I smiled back, and strode to their table. I sat on the end, a few seats away from Joe, and on the other side. I smiled. "Hello." I said.

"Sup?" A few of them replied.

"Honestly, very little." I said.

Everyone chuckled. Joe said, "Introductions!" And sat down. He clapped a tall, skinny boy with glasses and a neat afro on the back. Joe said, "This is James."

"Just Jim." James said and held out his hand. "How you doing?" He asked.

"So many Jay names." I stage murmured. I shook James is actually Jim's hand, "Pleased to meet you, Jim." I said.

"Jim is in my fourth hour." Joe said to me. To the rest of the table, Joe said, "William --"

"Just Will," I said and grinned at Jim.

"William saved me from the crazies, as you call them. I tried to sit with them, and they weren't having it, so William kindly let me sit with him."

"Aw. How sweet." Someone else at the table said.

Someone else said, "So you two are butt buddies now?"

Joe and I must've blushed the same shade at the same moment because everyone was silent, eyeing the two of us. Then, everyone was laughing. Everyone but Joe.

"What?" Joe asked.

"William is not only the biggest boy on campus, he's the homosexual-est." Jim looked at me, "Gay-est? Out-est? What do you call yourself?"

"Just Will." I said, again. I shrugged. I said, "It hasn't come up lately." It took me two tries to pull my lunch bag out. Then, slowly, carefully, I set the Styrofoam containers on the table and peeled the tinfoil off half my piece of naan.

Someone said, "Phew. What is that?"

I smiled, "Extra Spicy, uh, eggplant and peas."

"Looks like a used diaper." Someone said. We all chuckled. Yes, I chuckled too. I could handle my food being made fun of. Food; that was an easy bridge to build.

I laughed and wafted the container under someone's nose. "It smells good, though, right?" I spooned some of the pureed eggplant onto a corner of the naan and ripped it off. I held it out. "Once you get past the look," I said, "Its pretty delicious."

I chuckled at the flock of smirks and scowls. I smiled at the pulled back hands and the sudden perfectly posture aware group of people I was with. I stuffed the corner into my own mouth and chewed, eyebrows thoughtful as I forced myself to pay attention to the flavors. I swallowed. I said, "It's like, well. Its almost smoky, but sweet, and the peas give it a --"

"Yeah yeah, culture boy." Joe threw a limp french fry at me. "We get it, you're cultured."

I frowned at him. I asked, "Where're your carrots and apples, veggie boy?"

Joe sat up straight. "What?" He said. He raised an eyebrow.

I said, "Yeah man. You were mister health nut last week. What's with your greasy processed junk, now? Good luck pooping later, too." I held my nose when I said that.

"Ooh, someone got Called Out." Someone else said.

We all chuckled and the conversation drifted. Mostly, I listened. Joe was exceptionally boisterous and playful, but not with me. So I sat and took mental notes of band names and artists and nodded and chuckled when I thought it was appropriate. The bell rang and well all stood up.

Joe looked at me and said, "See you tomorrow, Will."

"Oh. Sure thing." I replied. I hoisted my backpack and walked to class. My toes ached, my stub burned. I sighed.

The rest of the day passed in a blur. I went home and did a long yoga set. I worked out on the punching bag for forty minutes. I turned the oven on and carefully showered. I ate dinner a dinner of sweet potatoes with almonds, and cilantro, lemon grass chicken. I did my homework. I set my alarms, grabbed a tablet, and went to my bedroom.I hopped onto the top bunk and plugged in my phone. I opened a page and




Tuesday, December 17, 2013

natIVE

It was Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve was awesome.

I woke up before anyone else and put the tablet back where He'd left it. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and the twenty-sixth are a warm blur. Here's, basically, how it went:

  1. Christmas Eve
    1. Mrs. Swanson agreed to come over for Indian leftovers and eggnog
    2. Mrs. Swanson and Mom cooked two chickens, and mashed potatoes, and a cornucopia of other vegetables, and stuffing and this all ran into Christmas Day, too and 
    3. Mercedes, he, and I all gave each other gifts on Christmas Eve, so we wouldn't be so excited we couldn't sleep in on Christmas Day.
      1. I got him a dark grey Detroit D hooded sweater with a faux fur lining
      2. I got Mercedes a pair of shin-high boots with a thick, modified sole. When she walks in mud or snow with them, her foot prints looked like wolf prints. 
    4. Mom and Dad invited Mrs. Swanson to stay the night, and she protested, trying to claim that Skype was why she wasn't staying, but our spare bedroom has a computer, too, so Mrs. Swanson and Mercedes stayed for Christmas Eve through Christmas Day (Mercedes stayed for the twenty-sixth, too, but Mrs. Swanson volunteered at a soup kitchen.)
    5. We *all* cuddled onto Mom and Dad's gigantic, custom, bed and watched classic Christmas movies and ate popcorn and drank eggnog.
    6. Mrs. Swanson Skyped with Mr. Swanson for an hour and a half. 
    7. Dinner was delicious --turkey and ham and cheese sandwiches.
    8. The house smelled like homes should during the holidays (you know what I mean.)
    9. I think, but am not positive, I was the first one to fall asleep during our Christmas movie marathon
  2. Christmas Day
    1. We slept in (I woke up in my own bed) and I was, indeed, the first one to fall asleep.
    2. For breakfast, Dad served all of us champagne and thick, homemade and oven cooked toast. The toast was perfectly golden, with garlic butter Dad minced and prepared by himself. 
    3. Mom surprised us with (she called it an authentic) Pork Pie, and a mince meat pie, too. As she sliced it, Mom told us that the mince meat pie was actually not that authentic, as it was, in fact, vegan. No one believed her, but it was delicious either way.
    4. Mom gifted Dad a coat that matched mine.
    5. Dad gifted Mom a slinky, corseted black dress and a cardigan he promised her was very special, even though it didn't do any of the things our coats did.
    6. I gave Mrs. Swanson a card with a long, rambling letter about how sweet and awesome her daughter was.
    7. Mercedes got grounded for not calling the police during our down town mugging. 
    8. No one mentioned the part where we almost (and in his case did) got hit by cars.
    9. The grounding would start in the new year, and be for one week.
    10. Christmas Dinner.
      Christmas Dinner was amazing. There were too many of us and there was too much food for everything to fit on the weird obsidian table, so Mom and Mrs. Swanson improvised a buffet style serving by laying the food out on the center counter-top in the kitchen.

      We sat down to eat, and Mrs. Swanson said a lovely, not very religious, prayer about keeping us all safe and blessing us all, to keep us from harm's way.

      Dad said, "Amen to that." and He chuckled. And we all ate.

      For dessert Mom made an apple, then pecan pies appear, and Dad made us all mimosas and bloody mimosas with the rest of the champagne. It was amazing and delicious.
    11. We all fell asleep early again.
    12. I remember thinking how quiet the house was, as I stirred.
    13. I woke up on the couch, in a quiet house around 3:00AM and went sleepily back to my room, climbed onto the top bunk and passed out.
  3. The Twenty-sixth
    1. We had more toast and garlic butter and bloody mimosas and a few Bloody Mary drinks for breakfast. Mrs. Swanson joined us for breakfast, chatting happily before heading out.
    2. We agreed on a trilogy of trilogies and 
    3. Mercedes, him and I decided to run to the store, for more eggnog.
    4. I thought I saw a Jon, in the grocery store, but I wasn't fast enough, and lost sight of him, somewhere around the fish tanks.
    5. No one believed me when I told them what I'd seen.
    6. Dinner was turkey, cranberry, and garlic butter sandwiches on more of Dad's homemade, golden toast. Mercedes sliced Brussels sprouts and added them to her sandwich. I added gravy and mashed potatoes and carrots to mine. It was like a delicious, mini-pot pie.
    7. In the coziness of Mom and Dad's bed, I was, again, the first one to fall asleep.
4. The twenty-seventh.
I was the last one awake, when I stumbled, rubbing my eyes, into the kitchen. It was sunny and smelled of good, fresh coffee and crepes in the kitchen. Mercedes sat on the counter, swinging her legs and leaning into him. They were chatting about something, but stopped when I tripped over the first step. 

He turned and smiled at me. He said, "Hello, sleepy! I am making crepes." 

"Aren't crepes French?" 

"Aren't you clever?" He said and he and Mercedes laughed. 

I chuckled, too. "I will be after I drink some coffee," I said, "Then we'll word play tangle. Something something. Coffee. What goes on Crepes?"

Mercedes laughed. "Whatever you want to go in a crepe goes --whatever you want on a-- Anything, anything goes on crepes. I'm having Nutella on mine." 

"When will they be done?"

"These are the last two." 

He was still smiling, he poured and handed me a cup of coffee. 

"We're getting dinner at the Liu's place with Morgan at six. Is that okay with you?" Mercedes said. "I thought we might get Jennifer to talk to us, too. If she was there." 

"I like their noodles." he said. 

I stared out the window. The icicles were blinding, melting in the almost noon sun. "Cool." I said. "What are we gonna do before that?" I sipped from my coffee cup and swung a chair around, so I was facing them.

He turned back around and deftly flipped two crepes at once, one pan per hand. I clapped and Mercedes whistled. He took a bow and, using a towel, pulled a cookie sheet with more crepes from the oven.

He said, "I recommend them with sugar and lemon juice."

"Nutella for me." Mercedes said.

"I'll try two of both, if that's possible." I said. I sipped my coffee; it was delicious. I said, "So, today? I'm going to catch cabin fever if we don't go out."

"Cabin fever?" He looked at me. He said, "That is very serious. We must leave right after we eat. Where can we go?"

I said, "I haven't been to the DIA in a while. I'll see if they're open."

"On it!" Said Mercedes. She poked at her phone.

He prepared the crepes and set them, steaming, on the table, three plates with parallel. diagonal crepes, each set of crepes crossed with a fork. "Eat!" He said, and we did.

I finished first and scraped at the spilled Nutella with my fork. I licked the fork and drank some coffee. "That's good." I said, "That was all good."

Mercedes nodded. She patted his arm. She said, "The museum is open until 10pm tonight. I'll shower and get ready and we can go."

"I need to shower too." I said.

He sniffed. "Yes." He said, "You do."

Mercedes and I stared at him. He  managed to keep a straight face for a few moments, but buckled and laughed shortly. "It was not funny this time?" He asked.

I laughed. "Very funny." I said, "I'll go first."

"We could shower together, to save time." He said.

I blushed, instantly, I could feel my ears burning. I watched in disconnected horror as I said, "Uh, no. That wouldn't be quicker, and would be much, much harder. For me. To get clean. Um." I stood up, dropped but caught my coffee mug in shaking hands and fast walked into the bathroom, where I locked the door, turned on the shower and the fan, and sank to the floor. "Hah." I said. I said, "Seriously? Now? Belated Christmas Gift, much? Sheesh. And you turned him down. Mercedes is here. There'll be time later. Tonight. Bring it up tonight. Yeah. Cool." I nodded into my sweating palms. I breathed deep --I did smell boyishly dirty-- and stood up. The shower was hot when I got in and, eyes wide, I turned it down quickly and let the chill seep through me before I turned it to a manageable temperature. "Whew." I said.

I got dressed and Mercedes showered next.

While we were alone, he chatted with me about Germany, talking about his family and what school was like there, for him. How his dad had conscripted him early due to his size. "I am very strange in my family. My father is short like my mother, who died giving birth." He said. He sat on the bed, took his shirt off and brushed past me. He rummaged in his drawers in our dresser as I pulled my clothes on. I made sure whatever I wore, I would be able to get my new jacket on and still squeeze into my letter jacket. I chose dark blue jeans and a light grey t-shirt, since my new coat was so warm, and had a hood, I decided against a hooded sweater.

"Shower's free!" Mercedes said from the top of the stairs. She shouted, "I'll be down as soon as I've done something with my hair!"

He tossed some jeans, a t-shirt, and the hooded sweater I gifted him on his bed. "I will shower now." He said. He disappeared and I was left to futz on my phone while my friends readied themselves. I smiled. I was excited to go out during the day, for more normal things. "No killing! No Jons!" I swore to myself.

Mercedes drove us to the DIA. We chatted about the trilogies we'd watched, and what sort of sequels and prequels we would like to see, given the chance. He was adamant that such things were a bad idea, and Mercedes and I swore we would prove to him otherwise, but it didn't happen on the drive to the museum.

It was strikingly warm, and thus wet, as we walked the block or so from our free parking ("Why wouldn't I park on a street?" --Mercedes) space to the Museum entrance. Just like at the mall, we linked arms and swung and dance kicked our way into the museum, laughing and catching each other as we went. The sun danced with clouds, occasionally bouncing off the puddles, blinding us.

We bought tickets to the special exhibit, since entrance for us was free. We laughed until we were shushed, and then we giggled quietly all the way through the modern art section. We stared at the fire exit until an exasperated guard walked over to us. She said, "It's an exit." Then she quickly added, "But not for you three."

Mercedes and I said, "Amazing."

"It's not art." Said the guard.

He didn't stop staring at the door. "Isn't it?" He said. "Look at the opposed wood grains of the two sides of the door.. Look how they only sometimes line up, in the center that isn't actually the center of the piece."

"It is a fire exit." Said the security guard. She turned on a heel and walked off, arms crossed.

We howled, silently, with laughter.

Mercedes and him got into a long, terse discussion about politics in the Rivera atrium mural. I tuned them out and stared at the drinking fountain. I looked right and caught the same security guard shaking her head at me, one cheek dimpled.

We locked arms and tromped quickly through the colonial portraits section. We laughed, quietly, our way through the puppet exhibit.

We walked reverently, hand in hand in hand, through the Native American section.

The sun set as we sipped coffees in gigantic leather chairs and played footsie with each other somewhere between thumb wrestling with feet and

"Hey, we should get going soon if we're going to get dinner with Morgan an Jennifer at six." said Mercedes.

I stood up and brushed imaginary crumbs from myself. I said, "I'll bus our mugs." and swept the other to --clink clink-- into my left hand.

The wind was sharp on my bare hands and cheeks as we dashed silently back to the car. The drive to the interstate was full of gouting, gusting steam from the sewer lids and storm drains. A bus full of tired looking people passed us, its interior lights acidic in the dusk.

We arrived before Morgan, tinkling through the door into the low, cozy restaurant.

Jennifer was pulling our usual table away from the wall; she set it next to another in the center of the restaurant, even though they weren't exactly the same height. She stood up straight, still tiny, and stretched her arms above, then behind, her head. "There." She said, and smiled. "Hi you guys! Happy, err, twenty-seventh!"

"Thank-you!" I said. I took my letter jacket off and slung it over the back of a chair. I asked, "Can I help with anything?"

"Is this your restaurant?" Jennifer asked. She stared at me. "Seriously. Is this yours?" She said.

I stared back at her. "No?" I said.

Jennifer said, "Then sit!" She giggled. "Be right back, with tea!" She said, and slipped through the saloon doors, painted purple now, with a small swoosh.

He was already sat, folding and refolding a napkin.

Mercedes looked around then sat too, on the far side (right side) of him.

I moved my coat and sat on his right side, with a hard swallow. I said, "I'm thirsty."

"Good timing then!" Mrs. Liu shot through the saloon doors with a ridiculously tall, dangerously wobbling stack of tea cups in one hand and a gigantic, metal tea pot in the other. "Just finished steeping. Fresh as you like!" She said, "I'm so excited to have you all here! I'll get the soup ready shortly. No appetizers for you today!" And with a bang she was gone; there were seven cups in total, all filled with tea; not a wasted drop.

The door tinkled and we turned, waved hello to Morgan, who shuddered and shook her auburn hair out and adjusted her red and black eye patch. "Hello! Happy twenty-seventh!" She said. Morgan sat her fur lined aviator hat at her end of the table and shrugged out of her puffy black winter coat. She dabbed at her good eye with a tiny, shiny, cloth before sitting. She was wearing a denim dress and two or three (I couldn't tell) layers of tights; untied brown winter boots with rubber feet and fur tufts and incongruous thick black laces. "Oh! Tea!" She said, and took her finger-less gloves off, and wrapped her hands around one of the cups of tea.

Jennifer came back in, looking somewhat glum, and pulled the shades down. "Drafty." said Jennifer as she sat across from us. "So," She said, slowly turning a cup of tea gently with her thumbs. "Here we are."

Mercedes said, "Let's just --"

"Take a tour of the kitchen, right? I remember Will grousing that he didn't get a tour of the kitchen last time, or the time before? Didn't you Will?" Before I could respond, Jennifer continued, "You wanted a tour, and were mad that he got one and you didn't. Well. What do you say? Tour?"

"If I won't be in the way!" I said. I smiled. "Awesome!" I stood up.

Jennifer made ushering gestures at me, "You first, around the counter." she said.

I unzipped my coat and walked around the corner; there was a distinct, delicious smell coming from the kitchen as I pushed through the (surprisingly heavy) saloon doors.

Ahead, on the left, Mr. Liu looked up from a chopping board, cleaver in hand. "Oh." he said.

I smiled and waved and said hello and kept walking, making sure everyone would fit in the narrow but incredibly efficient kitchen. On the immediate right were the deep fryer and a eight burner stove --all immaculately clean. Pots ranging from gigantic down to minuscule hung from thin, dull, chains in the middle, like a reverse metal forest, obscuring the rest of the kitchen. Somewhere behind Mr. Liu, a heavy refrigerator door swung open. Mrs. Liu came out, she had one of the Huge Pots hoisted with both hands, balanced on her apron knot. "Oh." She said and carefully set the pot on the closest burner. "We not going to eat first, then?" Mrs. Liu asked.

"Apparently it's tour first, then eat." I said.

"Hah." Jennifer said.

"Hah." he said. He brushed against me and I jolted.

I don't know why. I just moved. I barged through the pots and grabbed and pushed Mrs. Liu out of the way, my chest heaving. I turned. Everyone was staring at me.

"Jumpy much, William?" Said Mercedes.

They were all staring at me. Mercedes chuckled, but it rang hollow and I frowned at her.

A pale blue knife clattered to the floor at his feet.

"What is this?" I said.

The floor was slippery with condensation and the pots clanged against each other while my question hung in the air.

"You killed so many kids, Metzger." Morgan said, "You killed so, so, many kids."

"What? You were there!"I shouted, "You watched Jon shoot Jay with his cane gun thing! Then the anonymous all attacked us and --"

Jennifer cut me off, "And then what, Metzger? What happened next?"

He crouched and picked up the blade. He handed it to Mercedes, who pocketed it, without taking her eyes off me. Mercedes said, "We've talked about it. We pieced it all together over the last three days, William."

"Oh, not you too, Mercedes!" I said. My chin shook when I tried to speak, so I just shut it instead.

Mr. and Mrs. Liu had snuck through the swinging pots and stood, dwarfed by Him and Mercedes.

"It's not like we want to do this." Morgan said. She put her deformed hand to her eye patch. "Sort of. You did good by Jay, and you've got good intentions."

"Sort of." He said.

"Sort of." Jennifer said.

Morgan said, "But near as we can tell, you're like a, a bomb, and you don't know how to set yourself off, and you don't know how to stop yourself from going off."

"And when you do." Mercedes said. She rubbed her ruined head with her wrecked hand. "And when you do go off."

"He does!" I said. I pointed at him. "He can stop me! He can teach me! When we were exploring the house the first time, I felt myself slipping, like, twice, and he stopped me from exploding, or seeing red, or whatever. He stopped me! I didn't go off, not once. And I don't think I've done it since!"

Everyone turned and looked at him.

He snorted. "You need me? That is worse than a bomb."

"Who are you anyway?" I asked. "One minute you're one thing, the next you're another. It's." I stopped and thought. I said, after a moment. "It's horrible, really. Its worse now. This is your doing isn't it?"

A door behind me slammed shut and suddenly I was in a headlock; meaty arms pinching my shoulders to my ears. "I see I missed dinner," Said a Jon, unmistakably, his breath hot in my ear.

Then, things started to slow. It was parabolic, and different, but still also red. Jon shouted as I turned in place, his arms came with me as I turned, they tore out and he fell on his knees, screaming, I think. Jon's mouth was open.

All I could hear was an oceanic roar. Everything was a flood of red and white.

My turn back took twice as long as my turn toward Jon. I started to raise my scabbed hands, plaintively, and watched as a bullet rippled, black waves from a white tip. The white bullet charging me from a gun in His hand, through the bloody chain forest.

It took minutes for me to open my jaw to shout and by the time my mouth was open, everything was moving as if through thick jello.

The bullet slowed to a snail's pace, feet from my face. Everyone else was caught mid dash, posed dynamic and useless, trying to run toward me as I tried to lift my hands.

Then, like a breaking rubber band, the roar was gone and I could move normally. I frowned.

Everything was still red and white, but silent now.

I reached out and touched the bullet, experimentally, and screamed as it blew my finger apart and THUCK'd with a whizz into the far wall. My blood slowed to a crawl half a second after I vaporized my own finger. Held my own hand and pushed at the stump. The blood stopped flowing.

I breathed in. I pocketed the gun.

I touched him from behind. I flicked the back of his head and he slammed clumsily through the pots and pans and crashed into Jon's falling-through-mid-air arm, steadied himself on it.

He stood and turned. "You are in over your head, William. You need to let us help you."

"Kill me, you mean." I said.

"Maybe." He said with a short nod. "Probably. Do you know --have you figured out how this works? The longer we are in here, the more they are going to be rubbed. In about two minutes, they're going to be suffering from more than  --"

My bullet shattered his chest and knocked him back.

I closed my eyes and popped my ears and squeezed and squeezed and squeezed my fists.

I opened my eyes and everything was still frozen and red. He hung face down and un-moving on the hunched crumple of an albino Jon.

I fled with his body.

I tossed his gigantic, limp body across my shoulders and barreled out the back door and tossed his body over the low scab colored wall. I hopped the scab colored wall and dashed, steaming black, carrying him with me through a dozen blood red backyards.  After I lost count of the fences, of tossing his corpse, and panting, picking him up and throwing him again and again over the blood or scab colored fences and walls I stopped.

The snow hung frozen and motionless in the air as far as I could see.

I tossed him then hopped over a high chain link fence and tossed him and climbed the beige brick wall protecting the back of a gigantic department store --the cuffs of my coat gripped the bricks easily and I was over in moments.

He was still dead.

I kept shuffling along, crunching snow under his weight until I could hear nothing but my heart's roar in my ears. My legs gave out in the pylon field a few miles from the Liu's restaurant.

I flopped face first into the vibrant red snow, buried under him. I scrunched my eyes closed against the cold.

I pulled my hood up and flopped out from under him, onto my back. Orange sky and white snow greeted me, when I opened my eyes. For a while, I watched clouds roll across the sky, not far from the power lines.

There was a puff and, in fast-forward, he caught fire, smoldered, and burned to ash in the snow.

My missing finger started to throb and i jammed it into the snow, then retched in horror --the snow was mixed with his ash. The ash and snow darkened and rivulet'd around my stub.

My phone buzzed. It was Mercedes, asking where I was. I threw my phone as far as I could, stood and took two steps and fell to my knees. I stood and stumbled and fell over and over and over until I reached a road. The dirt shoulder bit my knees, sent shocks knees-to-scalp through me when I fell down.

A blue truck sped by; it's horn dopplered.

I huffed a single, painful laugh and toppled over. I closed my eyes.

Mom said, "Wake up sleepyhead."

It was cold and the sky was pink.

I opened my eyes. Mom peered at me, cheeks streaked with makeup. She sniffed. "I knew it. You're okay." She said.

I threw up all over myself. "Sort of." I said.

Mom laughed. She held her hands out and we struggled me to my feet, then leaned against her car. "Just let me." She said, opening the passenger door. Mom helped me into the seat, reached under me and tossed Dad's mobile into the back. "Don't need that any more!" Mom said.

I closed my eyes and rubbed my head.

"Drink this." Said Mom. She put a large water bottle in my lap. She said, "It's water. You'll need it."

"Are we going home now?" I asked.

Mom said, "Yes, sweetie. Yes we are."

The drive home wasn't full of talking. Mom just drove. She turned the heat all the way up and shrugged out of her winter coat.

I said, "Mom, I'm fine. I'm wearing my good coat. See?"

Mom said, "Your feet, though, and your hands are blue. I can see them. They're blue. You need to warm them up. Do I need to take you to the E.R.?" She slapped my hands and I yelped. Mom said, "Okay, you can feel and oh my god you're missing a finger why aren't you bleeding more? We're going to the E.R."

I said, "Can't Mrs. Swanson fix it?"

"Oh honey." Mom said, "Mrs. Swanson and I couldn't stay friends. They're." Mom drove the rest of the way to the E.R. in silence.

It was bright, and empty, and they cauterized my stub and didn't ask questions and gave me some medicine that Mom and I both took when we got home and fell asleep.

I woke up to a gray, wet, day. I shuffled down to my bedroom and flopped onto the bottom bunk.

I knew I was actually dreaming, when I woke up, because I was in Mercedes's room. Mercedes was sitting at her computer desk, typing away. I coughed politely and her hands stopped moving.

She turned around. She wasn't wearing her eye patch. She said, "I wasn't expecting you so soon. Can I get you some tea?"

I said, "I'm glad you're okay. I thought I might've screwed up and set the restaurant on fire, but he sort of tipped me off a bit. I think. I'm getting the hang of these powers."

"It doesn't matter." Mercedes said. Her blind eye was all red; a tiny, red, oval stuffed in her eye socket. "So many kids died this year, and we didn't help at all. We could have --"

"How could we have helped?"

"We helped last year! This year we could've gone to the police, to the FBI. Instead some guy from Germany showed up, and instead of helping, you killed him."

"He was going to kill me!"

"Maybe you should've let him!" Mercedes cackled, a strange, rasp from somewhere in her lungs that turned into a cough. When her coughing stopped, Mercedes said, "Besides, if you'd helped him, he wouldn't have wanted to kill you. And, since you asked. I've met one person who wanted." Mercedes said. "And."

"And what?" I said, "I saw you kill that Jon. I was there. That Jon wanted to die, so fine. Why did it run? Maybe it was scared? It was happy to die. But I'm not that person. I don't want to die. And indiscriminate killing is wrong." I said.

"Well, if you ever do want to die, let me know. Send me a text, I'll see what I can do." Mercedes said. She continued, "Now. I'm going to ask you to leave."

I said, "But, listen. Aren't --can't we --"

Mercedes pointedly reached up and dropped an immaculate finger on her mouse button.

I woke up as if struck by lightning. I looked around my room. It was dark. The sheets smelled faintly of him, and my best friend had just threatened to kill me. Sort of.

I sat there for a minute. Staring into the darkness. I kept staring, but nothing materialized.

The door burst open, Mom came in, backlit with far away stairway light. "Sweetie!" She shouted. "Sweetie! What's wrong? Why are you screaming?"

I was screaming?

I was screaming.

"Oh." I said.

I stopped screaming.

Mom came and sat down next to me on the bed. She slowly rubbed my back, circles and circles. After a while she turned and hugged me, pushed my head down onto her shoulder and let me cry.

I sniffed and apologized for the snot on her shirt.

Mom said, "It's okay."

I smiled, in the dim room. I said, "Can I go back to sleep?"

"Why don't you sleep on the top bunk, hey?" said Mom.

I nodded. I climbed, stiffly, unto the top bunk and let Mom shuffle and tug the covers aside. She tucked me, kissed my forehead and said goodnight.

"Is it night?" I asked.

Mom said, "It is, sweetie. It is. You sleep well, okay? We'll start sorting this all out in the morning."

"Okay. Thank-you."

"Oh sweetie." Mom hiccuped, just once. "You're welcome. Sweet dreams."

"You too."

Mom hopped off the bed and closed the door behind her. I lay there, staring into the darkness for a while. I closed my eyes and chased the shapes that bubbled up on my eyelids and in so doing lulled myself to sleep.


(End Part 1)