He acts older than fifteen, much more troublesome. Like me when I was his age.
“I'm going out for a smoke,” Charlie says, and I know what that translates to. “Care to join me?”
“Wish I could,” I say, and then clench my jaw. “But, um, I got places to be.”
Charles' smile relaxes, turning ugly, dark. “I'm sure you do.”
"Like the mall, maybe?" Faye interjects, the ghost of a smile on her face—a false smile, masking rage. "Some slut's place?" Her nose crinkled at that one. She's mad, and it reminds me of my mother, my sensitive, over-calculating mother—but why?
Oh, right. That woman was the epitome of my existence—besides Dad—the rock welded beneath me, the one who, despite everything, always found a glorious way of making me feel small. My tear ducts prickle as a strong, tingly sensation rises within my chest. But no, I'm bigger than that. I try to remain calm, but discomfort has me about ready to explode.
Gordon and Rose make it worse by standing there, staring at me the whole time like robots programmed to make Faye look tough.
And Charles. I can feel the tension between him and Faye, like an electric, fatal bond, rising, boiling.
I use all the strength in me to turn for the doors.
“Is that any way to treat an old friend?" Charles asks. I can hear the smile.
Faye coughs up a snicker. "Bunk bitch."
I stop but don't turn, gazing into space. I might as well bash my head into the glass door until I pass out. Danny, my first-ever foster brother, would've liked that.
“What's wrong, orphan? Can't take the heat?” Faye says, and after a moment, I charge at her, my fists locked at my sides, nostrils flaring. I'm not sure what came over me, but I want to show her just how bunk I am. I want to release all of my rage and punch her pretty little face. If there's anything good about my parents' deaths, however, it's that they had reinforced the few morals they'd instilled in me. I have never, and will never, hit a lady. Even if she is a mouthy, no-good little girl.
“What do you want from me?” I ask.
"Hey!" Charles butts in, shoving me back. "This isn't even about her. It's about you, asswipe. You owe me."
"I don't owe you anything.”
Charles closes the space between us and glares into my eyes, no trace of fear in him. I breathe hard through my nose, lift my chin away from him, and clench my jaw.
"Remember?” he says. “A few weeks back? I paid for your weed, and I need what you own me. Now."
"I don't have the money." I pause. "Yet."
Charles shakes his head, then pokes my shoulder hard, saying, "Rob a bank if you have to. I need that money."
"Look, just back off."
"No, see, I don't play games, Winston. Pay up." Charles sucker punches me and I reel, my shaky hand hovering my bloody nose. I used to fight a ton—and win a ton—but these days, the voices have been so bad my mojo has been shot.
Charles kicks my shin. it feels like he's wearing steel toe boots.
“Care to do the honours?” I hear him say, blood staining my khakis as I grab the throbbing part of my leg, groaning.
Faye tackles me and pins my arms to the cold, tiled floor. She chuckles as Charles kicks the side of my head, and the world buzzes. I try to free my arms from Faye's manly grip as I turn my head in an attempt to block the repeated kicks.
I grunt and kick out. My Vans connect with her chin. When Charles turns back, I scramble to my feet. Rose, whose eyes are gleaming at the action, runs off, shouting, "Fight!" Loitering students takes up the call, running from door to door to spread the word. Gordon is a statue with an expressionless face. I sense sadness, however, his eyes askew.
Lightheaded, I feel my bloody ear and then step toward Faye, hands out. "I really didn't mean to do that!" I'm sorry for her, I'll admit. She cups her mouth, muffling her screams and sobs, and there's a flash of innocence, helplessness.
"You asshole," Faye growls. She springs up and uppercuts me. I stumble back, massaging my aching jaw.
Charles runs to block Faye. "Sean, you brought this on yourself. My sister is an animal.” Charles grabs my balls and gives them a twist. My core clenches and I lean over his shoulder, a yelp clogged in my throat. Shock, disbelief and pain rip through me. He leans in to whisper in my good ear, “And so am I.”
Charles lets go of my manhood, grabs my shoulder, and knees me in the gut, knocking the wind right out of me. Voices echo in me, dulling out the sounds of the world. I can't fight back, I can only feel pain. No motivation, no rage, no will to survive this.
Charles punches my sore gut, roaring with every hit. I collapse to my knees with a growl, arm wrapped over my tender stomach. Blood stains my teeth and lips, dripping to the floor. I curse then spit, blood stringing.
A crowd had gathered, phones held high to record the mayhem. They're chanting, shouting, screaming, surrounding us, blocking my way out. Teachers burst through the students, trying to clear the halls and restore order.
"I'm not done with you," Charles says, then kicks my side.
He gazes at Faye, his facial expression hardening, and then he spins around. What feels like a minute passes before he flees into the chaotic crowd, blending like an assassin.
A girl breaks through the human barricade and kneels down next to me, trying to pull my hands away from my stomach.
“Andrea, don’t,” I say as she tries to lift me. “It hurts—damn!"
"Enough!" One of the vice principals jog to the scene, his sharp black eyes cutting through the clearing crowd.
Mr. Shaw is a tough, barrel-chested man. He intimidates all the students, and most of the teachers. It isn't because of the lifted scar on his bald head or the massive muscles rippling beneath his shirt, but because of his loud, rough voice. It's worse when he shouts, like the entire school is erupting. The crowd disperses as if nothing happened.
“I want to see you in my office, Mr. Winston,” Mr. Shaw says as he holds his hand out for the whiny freshman to grab.
“Gotta take a leak,” I say, my voice straining as Andrea helps me up.
"There's a washroom in the office."
Andrea wraps my arm over her shoulders and we hobble behind Mr. Shaw, Faye, and Gordon, who's informing the VP of the incident.
“What a freak,” Andrea whispers through a chuckle as we walk.
“Who?" I ask.
“Uh." Andrea sniggers. "They handed you your own ass, Sean. I mean, look at you. You can’t even walk.” Andrea looks away for a fraction of a second, as though surrendering to the idea of showing compassion. “Okay, look, I know for a fact you didn't get beat up for no reason. You're not my brother, with a face just asking for it. You obviously know what you did wrong, so why don't you learn from your mistakes?”
“Because, Drea, I can admit I don't make good choices, but I didn't even start this one!”
“Sure you didn't,” Andrea shoots back. "You gotta open your eyes, bad boy, and stop being so aggressive and mad at every little thing.”
I roll my eyes. “I do not get mad at every little thing.”
“Whatever. That broad was way too easy on you, though—you know, if she actually did attempt to mess you up. She’s pretty strong for her age. Someone said she does some sort of karate.”
I snicker. "I'm surprised she didn't kill me, then."
“She must like you.” Andrea winks at me.
I try juggling the odds.
“It's really not rocket science. You're hot.”
I guess I'm okay-looking, just not as good-looking as Andrea emphasized. Before I can thank her, we get to the office and Andrea knocks on then opens the washroom door. This movement sends a spike of discomfort through my abdomen.
“In you go,” she says. “And don’t forget to flush and wash your hands.”
“Ha-ha, very funny.”
I limp inside and flick on the light, nearly falling, and the door closes behind me. I stagger to a sink to support myself and bow my head, trying to stabilize my breathing. Feeling my bottom lip, I then moan at the bright pink blood on my fingertips. I spit into the sink and cough, splattering blood everywhere. I swallow, turn on the tap, and watch light crimson swirl down the drain.
Before I can turn off the tap, I vomit frothy blood and grab my rigid stomach. Despite agonizing abdominal pain, I dash to the toilet. After birthing my shit, I wash my shaky hands.
I examine my paler-than-usually face. What happened to you? I've been dead for almost four years, but at least then I had a vigorous flush to my face, my stamina. Sighing, I turn off the tap and light.
I step out, fighting every fibre of my being not to leave. The office isn’t busy. A few kids are waiting in chairs in front of the secretary’s desk. Faye's one of them, her purple schoolbag sitting between her feet, and she's pinching her lip with bloody tissue. The secretary's name, according to the gold plate perched at the edge of the desk, is Mrs. Bierce. I've been here loads of times, but her name always escapes me.
“Sean Winston?” Mrs. Bierce says, peering at me over thin eyeglasses. "Mr. Shaw will be ready for you."
“Yep,” I say, and then slump next to Faye.
“Thanks a lot,” Faye mumbles.
“You talking to me?” I ask, giving her a dirty look.
“Yeah. Who else?”
It's a good thirty minutes before I'm called into Mr. Shaw’s office. I'm the last one here.
“Sean, sit.” Mr. Shaw gestured as he said it.
With a deep sigh, I slouch in one of the two seats opposite him. Mr. Shaw folds his hands on his desk and leans forward. There's a picture of him between us, just off to the side, of him, his wife, his three kids, and his dog. I'm envious, disgusted even. My families—every one of them—never looked as peachy keen as his, not even behind the thin glass of a picture frame.
“Faye Gourmont is fifteen years old,” Mr. Shaw says. “Why would you assault her?”
“Assault her?” My jaw drops. “Big word, don't you think?”
“You're what, seventeen?" Practically eighteen. "As a twelfth grader, you should be the role model. She's fifteen, Sean, three grades younger. Yet, you busted her lip, chipped her tooth --” He stops himself, cocking an eyebrow. “Must I go on?”
“She should be the one you’re busting, sir; she attacked me.” Part of me doesn't want to be a snitch, especially in the name of Charles Gourmont. It was bad enough I got browbeaten for being in unjustified debt. I figure Faye was a ploy to reel me in, prepare me for the wonders of Charles.
“Uh-huh. It was likely self-defence, Sean.”
My eyebrows knit together. I stand, tired of being blamed.
My chest locks. I tut as I turn to face Mr. Shaw again.
“For god sakes, sit.” He stares me down with superiority. I can't take it, so I obey, reluctant.
“Listen, Sean. You've noticed the amount of absences these last couple days, I'm sure, Faye’s younger sister, Katherine, included. Do you know her?”
I shake my head.
“Well, I was informed that Katherine is missing, so I want to be light on Faye about this. She is the victim here, Sean, and I know how I would feel if my younger sister—or daughter for that matter—went missing. It’s a terrible thing, something I don’t expect you to understand anything about.” I'm offended. He knows I'm an orphan. He continues, releasing the few first words in a heavy sigh as he
rests back into his chair: “When I spoke to Faye earlier, she told me you were planning on leaving school with a couple of friends. Do you know anything about the other absences?”
I shake my head again, remembering Daniel. Just as I'm about to tell him about the fence, Mr. Shaw crosses his arms over his chest and says, “Didn’t think so,” scepticism woven in his expression. “So I assume you were only trying to escape—again.”
I don’t know where to look. It's not such a bad thing, and, escape? What a weird way of looking at it.
Mr. Shaw folds his hands on his desk again. “You know what? The dismissal bell is about to ring and you’re going to go home, but I don’t want to see you back here for a few days. I don’t want to do this because we have enough absences, but if I don’t, no one will take me seriously—and I sorta got this whole reputation thing going.” He gestured his hands in tiny circles as he said, 'whole reputation thing'. “And—you know how it is.”
Mr. Shaw picks up the phone on his desk next to the computer and asks me for the number to call. I can't remember it, so he's forced to consult my file.
I hate the wait. His voice rises from a calm tone to an annoyed one as he addresses his concerns. When he's done, he says, “Okay, Sean, collect your things and go home." He stands. "When you're due to return, don't even think of pulling a fast one on me. I know where you sleep at night."
Rolling my eyes, I leave.
I'm half-excited I'm getting out of having to go to school, but the other half of me doesn’t want to go back to that place I call home.
I reach the side doors, stand outside, and hug himself, goosebumps rising—the chilly breeze licks my skin and brushes the curled, auburn ends of my hair. I pull my beanie on tighter.
Daniel is gone. I gaze upon the broken fence. Looked like a tornado had tore through it, bits of the wiring tangled in the bushes.
Where did you go?
There's a greenness about the air, something strange, as though a spell had been cast on the world. Dark clouds waft into each other overhead, turning the sky dark.
Something burns my nose and I jerk.
I look up and a drizzle rushes toward me. The raindrops are painless and wet.
Ignorant. I shut my eyes and then turn to head back inside, needing the washroom again.
I slow, and then puke on the tiled floor. The lumpy pile looks like coffee grounds. I fall to my knees, and then puke some more.
I wrap an arm over my excruciating stomach, feeling lightheaded and weak. I cough up bits of blood, using my free hand to support my upper body. The coughing settles.
I fall onto my bloody puke, lifeless.