Miss Me Not (Page 2)

He nodded. "That sounds like something she'd do."

"Strangle me now," I said sarcastically, wrapping my fingers around my throat to emphasize my point.

"M, can I ask you a question?"

"Um, yeah."

"You think you'd still go through with it?" he asked.

He didn't need to clarify.

"I want to. I mean, I just want to disappear, leave nothing behind, but today showed me that's not possible. I don't want anyone here to falsely mourn me. I don't know. Maybe if I make it to grad, I can disappear and no one here will ever give me another thought once we walk out the doors the last day of class. What about you?"

"I guess I feel the same as you," he said, sounding anything but sure.

"At least we have each other. One day you'll be away from your dickhead father and I'll be away from my void of a life."

"If I make it that long," he said, running the stick in his hands against the metal railing of the walkway.

I didn't comment. Our friendship was formed on non-probing. He didn't ask about my lack of parental involvement or my inability to touch other people, and I didn't ask about his father or his bruises. We weren't typical friends. We were silent comforters. I felt his pain and he felt mine. We'd been friends since the start of freshman year when we both headed out to the portables during lunch to escape the crowds. It took almost six months for us to talk to each other the first time, and another six for us to actually hang out. He was the only friend I had and yet, there was still so much I didn't know about him.

The bell ending lunch interrupted any further conversation as we gathered our belongings.

"See you in a few," I said, heading toward the math building. Out of all my classes, I minded math the least. The teacher, Mr. Carson, was pretty straightforward. He'd cover the day's material for the first fifteen minutes of class and then give us the remaining thirty-two minutes to figure out the problems for the day's assignment. I usually spent ten of those minutes blowing through the problems, really not caring how many I missed, and would spend the rest of the time doodling in my notebook. I would have preferred to read, but I'd learned long ago that when teachers saw that you liked to read they started to expect more from you, so I doodled. I was a terrible artist, but the monotony of drawing helped make the hours slide away and gave me the excuse of not having to look up. Not that I had to worry about anyone looking at me.

When I first started freshman year, the stares of the other students followed me wherever I went. I could tell they already knew who I was. Maybe I should have been upset that my spotty reputation had followed me, but instead, it gave me the cloak of deception I yearned for. I was no longer the same person I'd been in junior high, but they didn't need to know that. I was fine with their assumptions. I didn't hang with anyone, and my appearance didn't tie me to any particular group either. My never-changing dark wardrobe, sometimes color-streaked hair and tattooed wrist were nothing that you would consider flamboyant. I didn't talk unless I had to, and I definitely didn't participate in anything. The part of me that would have cared died a long time ago.

Mr. Carson started the class off like every other teacher that day by bringing up Mitch's untimely death. "Mr. Wilson wants us to remind each student that grief counseling is available if you need it," he said, sweeping his eyes over us. No one moved. After four class periods of the same exact announcement, we all knew grief counseling was available. It was as if they were waiting for someone to break. To lose their shit, but that wasn't going to happen. No one really cared. Mitch wasn't an athlete, he wasn't a scholar, and he wasn't a geek. He had been nothing but a shadow. A shadow like me. A shadow like James.

The school didn't lose a student, they lost a nobody.

Chapter Three

Sixth period sucked ass. Mrs. Harrison, my language arts teacher, decided that we should get our feelings about Mitch's death down on paper. She assigned a five-hundred-word essay on what we thought about suicide. I stared at my blank page for more than twenty minutes before finally scrawling out "Suicide Equals No Peace" a hundred-and-twenty-five times. I was quite certain Mrs. Harrison had something else in mind for the assignment, but nothing summed it up better for me. I was now in the sound frame of mind that I would have to poke my eyes out if I heard the word "suicide" one more time. Months of thinking it was a viable option for me to disappear without a trace had melted away as quickly as ice on a hot summer day. There would be no escape for me.

The bell rang, ending sixth period, and for the first time in my existence, I was actually relieved to be going to P.E. class. P.E. meant running laps. No essays, no group talk and no grief counseling. No talking. Just running shoes pounding the track.

I placed my fraud of an essay upside down in the basket on Mrs. Harrison's desk before shuffling out the door. I was the last to leave the room. The jostling of the students in the halls made my "no touch" policy tricky, so I waited against the walls of the hall until most of the students had scattered to their appropriate rooms. I would then sprint the distance to my next class, always sliding in just as the tardy bell would chime.

P.E. was easier since we had five extra minutes to dress-out, but I would have gladly given up that five minutes in exchange for never having to dress-out again.

I hated it. Whoever came up with the idea should be hooked to Times Square's New Year's Eve Ball in their underwear. It was criminal to make teenagers strip down in front of each other. Was it too much to ask for privacy booths? Nothing elaborate, but something that would at least help the students keep their sanity. As wrong as the teenage "striptease" seemed, the communal showers boarded on medieval torture. I was pretty sure I would have preferred ancient thumbscrew torture over showering with my classmates. If I was thankful about anything about my time in this institute they liked to call high school, it was the ability to switch our schedules around. I'd managed to manipulate my schedule, making P.E. my last class of the day. No public showers for me. I headed home every day in my sweaty gym clothes, feeling my damp clothes were a small price to pay to avoid the communal watering hole.

Standing in front of my gym locker, I pulled my freshly laundered P.E. shorts out of my worn-out backpack. I had five pairs. Anal retentive yes, but I didn't care. I liked pulling on fresh shorts every day. With my back to the wall, I stretched down the waistband of my plain black t-shirt so that it covered my ass, and then used the toe of each foot to remove my black Vans. Placing my shoes on the bench in front of me, I pulled off my black jeans in one fluid movement. Within seconds, and without looking around, I yanked on my generic P.E. shorts and straightened up. I was putting my Vans back on when a conversation five lockers down snagged my attention.

"I heard they're planning the memorial service for Friday. It would be some sweet shit if they let us out early for it. Nothing like starting our weekend off with a half-day." Obviously the grief counseling had worked wonders on Megan considering she was bawling her eyes out in first period.

Ignoring her today was harder than it normally was for me. I wanted to knock her down on her skinny-iced-latte-drinking ass, but I fought the urge since it would most likely require me touching her. Instead, I kept my eyes down, and hurried out of the locker room before I did something stupid.

Coach Clark was waiting by the track with clipboard in hand.

"Madison, no gym shirt again?" he asked, shaking his head.

I shook my head, not bothering to watch as he added a mark by my name. It was an automatic ten-point deduction off your grade if you didn't dress out. I dressed out halfway so I lost five points. Not having to pull my shirt off in front of anyone in the locker room made the five point punishment totally worth it in my book. Even with the deduction I still got an A in P.E. every quarter. Coach Clark and I had an unspoken agreement. I would run laps the entire period without complaint, and he would allow me to skip out on any group activities he might have planned for the day. We'd reached this agreement when I flat-out refused to participate in basketball, volleyball or God forbid, field hockey. As punishment, Coach Clark would make me run laps, but I actually didn't mind. Laps became my norm. I wasn't a fast runner, but I could handle long-distance running without having to work at it. Running was the one thing I felt I could control. Coach Clark had tried to hit me up to join the track team when I was a sophomore. I shot him down before he could even get the words out. There was no way in hell was I going to join an organized sport. I shuddered at the forced camaraderie that would accompany it, like butt slapping, chest bumping and group huddles. The mere idea of it all made me want to hurl. Solitary is all I wanted. Solitary was what I deserved.

P.E. passed in a blur for me as I circled the track over and over again, matching my breathing with my pace. The track belonged to me today. The rest of the class was divided up into teams that chased a black-and-white ball across the soccer field. I didn't glance their way, continuing my way around the track as I processed the radical turn of events my life had taken in the span of a day. My future seemed uncertain and hazy as I contemplated making it through the rest of the school year, and then from there, the rest of my life. I had clutched at the idea of suicide being a viable out for so long that I felt shaky and strung out as the idea of actually living loomed in front of me. The class period ended, but even as I walked off the track the shakes persisted, following me like a dark cloud. I yearned to be home so I could curl up on my bed and put the awful day behind me, but I still had the tutoring session that Whore Cat had set up to attend first. I was stuck here.

The locker room was loud and obnoxious as the end-of-day high teased us. Locker doors were slammed hastily and clothes were thrown in backpacks that were quickly slung on shoulders as everyone crowded out of the smelly room. I remained behind until the last girl was gone so I could change out of my shorts since I was sticking around after school. Checking between the rows of lockers to make sure I was alone, I finally changed out of my shorts and slid my jeans back on. My shirt was still damp and smelled of sweat, but I didn't have much of a choice. Hopefully, the stench would bother the tutor enough that she'd cancel the session. A girl could dream anyway.

The halls were quiet when I finally exited the locker room and headed to the school library where Ms. Jones had set up my torture session. The library door squeaked loudly, announcing my arrival and I grimaced as several heads turned my way.

"Yes?" the librarian asked when I stopped in front of her desk.

"Ms. Jones set up a tutoring session," I said, praying to any possible god that might help me that it had been cancelled.

"Your tutor is waiting for you back in the media section," she said, pointing to the back of the room beyond the bookshelves.

I headed in the direction she pointed and let out a sigh of relief when I saw the backside of a guy waiting for me. A male tutor had to be at least a little better than a girl. Maybe I could talk him into quitting early. I walked around the table and slid into the seat across from him, placing my backpack on the table before finally looking up.

Fuck me. Seriously, out of the entire student body, Ms. Jones would pick him. As an obvious rule, I didn't crush on anyone, but if I did, Dean Jackson would be worthy. Dean was everything I wasn't, smart, funny, charismatic and all-around good guy. I wasn't in the same league as him in academics, so we shared none of the same classes, but I'd seen him in the halls over the years. His easy laughter drew me in, and I couldn't help looking for him sometimes in between classes. By all rights, I should have hated him. He was the very essence of those that hated me. He was possibly the king of the Populars, but I didn't hate him. His laughter and easy going attitude entranced me. I wondered how it must feel to be so carefree.

"Madison?" he asked, checking the slip of paper in his hand.

I nodded, not sure if I could trust my voice to produce coherent speech. Something about him flustered me, making me lose the shield that I normally had in place.

"Ms. Jones left me a note saying you were having problems with some of the material. Is there a particular section you'd like to work on?" he asked.

I shrugged my shoulders, suddenly mortified that he was going to see my stupidity firsthand.

"Hey, it's normal to fall behind, especially with the stupid-ass grading module they're using. They'll do away with it in a year, but that won't help us since we'll be long gone by the time they decide to change it," he said, smiling at me. "Do you have your textbook?" he asked when I continued to look at him like a moron.

"Uh, sure," I finally stuttered, pulling out my book from my backpack. "I need to be able to pass the summative exam on chapters five through eight," I managed to get out without wanting to strangle myself.

"World War II," he said without having to open the book.

I looked at him like he had sprouted an extra head. He laughed out loud.

"You're not the first person this term to have a problem with this section. The dates are a bitch, and it's easy to mix up the timeline. I'll show you a few things that I use that help me keep the dates straight," he said, pulling out a stack of index cards.

I could have told him I didn't need the help. That the only reason I bombed the test was because I didn't care enough to study. I figured I'd study enough to retake the summative and squeak out my normal passing grade. While everyone else bitched about the new grading module, it actually suited my study habits. If I didn't feel like studying right away, I could always just retake the test if I failed it. My plan had been working fine until Ms. Jones decided to throw a monkey wrench into my whole strategy by threatening me with a parent conference. I opened my mouth to tell him, but abruptly closed it. I could at least wait until we ended the current study session before I broke it to him.

"First, you should know that sixty percent of the questions on each of the exams come from the subheadings in each section. That means those should be your priority. If you memorize those, you're more than halfway to an A. The rest is a little trickier, but I've learned that dates are always a given. I always make a point to go through the chapter and write down all the dates. It's a pain in the ass, but I think teachers like seeing us suffer," he said, shooting me a grin.

If I could smile, it would be at a time like this. But I can't, so I don't. If things were different, I think I could have gotten lost in his smile or the twinkle in his eye. That pulled at me like there was an invisible string hooked to my abdomen. For a moment, I wished like I had never wished before that I was normal.