Miss Me Not (Page 4)

I pondered her words that night, coming to the conclusion that maybe Santa was Satan after all since their names had the same letters. As a matter of fact, I was so convinced that the next morning before school I scrawled Santa=Satan on twenty-six slips of paper, one for each of the students in my class, and one for Ms. Price, my kindergarten teacher, in case she hadn't been let in on the secret like me. Those twenty-six slips of paper earned me a one-way ticket to the office that day. When Donna picked me up from the principal's office, she almost looked proud of me. Almost.

Convinced I had found what would finally make a space for me in her life, I decided to set the record straight on the whole Santa conspiracy. I was back in the office the next day when I bloodied Brad Mitchell's nose after he informed me I was "stupid and ugly" for believing Santa was evil. Donna didn't look quite as pleased this time when she picked me up, especially after the principal told her I would be suspended for the day if I didn't let the subject drop. During the car ride home, Donna lectured me about how Santa wasn't Satan because he wasn't real. I was sent to bed without dinner that night to reflect on keeping my hands to myself in the future, but instead I plotted my revenge on Brad and the other kids who had laughed at me.

The next morning, Brad pulled his spelling workbook out of his desk and I almost died laughing when he fell out of his chair from a squirming mass of worms that landed in his lap. The worms were courtesy of my dad, though their actual purpose was supposed to be for his upcoming annual fishing weekend. My punishment was doubled for that prank, but it didn't deter me as I spent the rest of kindergarten exacting my revenge. I didn't mind the punishments since Donna was forced to pick me up each time. She'd spend the drive lecturing me on my "atrocious" behavior. I'd tune out the actual words, just pleased that she was actually talking to me. Eventually though, she stopped lecturing and the drives were filled with angry tense silences until finally, I lost interest and stopped.

Not wanting to think about the past anymore, I walked over to my stereo and docked my iPod. I selected the rock playlist and blasted the volume. The steady beat of the music throbbed through my room, drowning out the bothersome memories. I selected a book off my bookshelf and plopped down on my bed.

I didn't open the book though. Instead, I allowed the events of the day to run through my mind like a filmstrip. Mitch's death played havoc with my mind as I morbidly wondered how he'd done it. I'd given suicide so much thought that I was convinced that an overdose was the only way to go. Donna would have had a fit if I would have made it messy, and I figured a clean death could be my last parting gift to her. Maybe then she'd finally forgive me for all my past sins. For a while, I'd entertained thoughts of doing it on the awful floral print sofa in the front room which would have been the ultimate exclamation point. Suddenly, it occurred to me that all my thoughts seemed to focus on how I would have done it, not how I was going to do it. The oddity of my thoughts truly puzzled me as I lied there contemplating it all. Strangely enough, what I think I felt was relief, but how is that possible? I was pissed this morning when Mitch ruined my plans, and now I'm relieved? Did that mean I never would have gone through with it? I was just a hack the whole time. A fraud.

Chapter Five

The next morning I still felt like a fraud. My epiphany didn't suddenly change my life so that now there would be birds chirping happily outside my window. The sun beams didn't beckon me to dance beneath them, and it certainly didn't change the limited greeting Donna gave me as I entered the kitchen and grabbed my typical breakfast from the refrigerator.

I returned her greeting with Coke in hand before sliding in my earbuds. The music drowned out all other noise, but I knew from past experience Donna had nothing else to say. I gathered up my backpack while Donna tossed away her empty yogurt container and placed her spoon in the dishwasher. We left the house together without a word and within a few minutes she pulled up in front of my school.

"Bye," I said, stowing my earbuds and iPod in my backpack as I climbed out of the car.

"Bye," she replied, picking up her phone as I closed the door. I watched her talking on the phone as she drove away. If I cared, I would have wondered who she talked to when she wasn't with me. I would have wondered if she ever laughed or even smiled at a witty comment, but I didn't care, so I didn't wonder.

First period was filled with note taking while we watched a movie on the reconstruction of Europe's ravaged cities after World War II. I doodled on my page, listening with half an ear. It wasn't just me. Most of the class whispered and texted each other throughout the movie. Mitch wasn't mentioned in the whispers, and no one uttered the word suicide the entire period. I wasn't surprised. People were fickle and attention spans were short. Today's juicy nugget was how some junior named Pam had gone down on two jocks behind the bleachers in the gym. Gossip was a weird beast. Everyone always scoffed at being labeled a "gossip," but they had no qualms about passing damaging information along, which is the ironic part. All the whispering, glaring, pointing and judging makes them no better than whoever or whatever it is they're gossiping about.

Before I put my foot down and stopped going to church, I'd seen gossip rear its ugly head many times. Religious people were big on saying the "tongue is a mighty weapon, so use it wisely," and then forsaking this claim when the music director slept with the minister's wife or when the youth minister did what he did. The plain and simple fact was everyone sinned. Either they were good at hiding their sins, or they weren't. I fell in the latter category. My sins had been featured front and center, on display for everyone to judge.

The rest of the morning passed much like first period had. No "Mitch" mentions, but tons of how wide Pam's mouth is. James was waiting for me outside the cafeteria when I joined him.

"Hey," I said, munching on the barbecue chips I'd bought from the vending machine.

"Hey," he said in a lackluster voice.

"Same old crap?" I asked, not needing to clarify.

"Yeah," he said, pulling up his sleeve to reveal a bruise in the shape of a handprint circling his wrist.


He nodded, accepting the only form of sympathy I knew how to give.

"Just till grad," I said, attempting to be reassuring.

"I guess," he answered, pulling the sleeve of his hoodie back down to cover the mark. He stared off at nothing, lost in thought.

"You want to hang out after I get out of tutoring?"

"I thought that was a one-day thing?"

"Nah, Whore Cat is making me do it all week," I lied.

"Oh," he said, still distracted. "I can't come over anyway."

"You sure?" I asked.

"Too big of a risk. It's better if I just go home."

I didn't pry. I knew from personal experience that the last thing he needed was me nosing into his business. We spent the rest of lunch in silence. After awhile, he seemed to relax a little, and his shoulders didn't droop quite as much. Like I said, we were silent comforters.

"See you tomorrow," I said, slinging my backpack over my shoulder.

"See ya," he said, heading toward the science building.

My afternoon classes dragged after lunch, and I found myself watching the clock more than normal. It loathed me to admit that I was excited about tutoring. It was like someone had granted me an hour in Willy Wonka's Chocolate factory. It was wrong to think of it like that, but for the brief hour, I was allowing my feelings a pardon from the tight lockdown I normally kept them under. For one hour, I was going to let myself talk to someone in something other than one-word answers. For one hour, I was going to enjoy myself. I was going to be normal.

Dean was waiting for me at the same table as yesterday, only he was already sitting on the side we had shared.

"Hey, ready for some more World War II?" he teased.

"Uh, sure," I said with a mouth that felt like it was suddenly stuffed with peanut butter.

I discreetly moved my chair over to put distance between us before sitting down. I pulled out my book and the crumbled study guide. I should have been embarrassed at its wrinkled state, but I kind of enjoyed seeing his reaction.

"Okay, we left off on question twenty-nine," he said, smoothing out the paper.

I looked down at the table wanting to smile more than I had in years. Something about his expression made me almost happy, and his obsessive-compulsive behavior was kind of cute.

We spent the first half an hour of tutoring much like the previous day. Dean would read the question in his radio voice, and then provide the correct answer while I jotted it down. I never enjoyed schoolwork like I did at the moment. Maybe that's where the school system had effed up. They should have hired radio personalities to teach the classes. Grades were bound to skyrocket.

"So, what college are you going to?" Dean asked out of the blue after asking me which city suffered the most devastation after the war.

"What?" I asked confused, forgetting the answer I was jotting down.

"Got a college picked?" he repeated.

"No," I answered shortly, looking back at the textbook for the right answer.

"'No,' you haven't picked one, or 'no,' you don't know where you want to go?" he asked, pointing at the answer in the book.

"No, as in no college in their right mind would be interested in a student like me," I said.

"Sure they would," he said, looking at me with an intensity that made me uncomfortable.

"It's not like I have any interest in going to college anyway," I said sarcastically, pulling my shield firmly in place.

"I'd help you. You know, tutoring and helping you study for exams."

"What is this, save-a-loser day?" I asked, making it clear I wanted the conversation to be over.

"You're not a loser," he said, looking like I had offended him somehow.

Someone at a nearby table shushed him.

"I am, and guess what? I don't give a shit. Got me? I'm a nobody. You don't need to save me. No one does," I said.

My tone took the wind out of his anger. "I can help you," he repeated calmly.

"Look, scholar boy, I don't need your help. I just don't care about this stuff. Don't take it personally."

"Why?" he asked, looking down at the book.

"Why, what?" I asked, trying to cover my impatient sigh.

"Why don't you care?"

I eyed him, wondering if he was yanking my chain. "Seriously, either you're trying to be an ass or you're dumb as one," I said, tapping my pencil on the table in aggravation that we were even having this conversation.

He raised his eyebrows at me before answering in short drawn out words. "I. Want. To. Help. You. Got me?"

"Do I have 'charity case' stamped on my forehead? Or wait, are you trying to punk me? Because seriously, I've seen all the movies. Pretend to befriend a social outcast and then just when she starts to trust you, throw pig's blood or something equally as macabre on her in front of all your cronies. I'm not a fool," I said, dismissing him as I jotted down the next answer on my worksheet.

He remained silent, and after a moment, I couldn't resist chancing a discreet look at him beneath the veil of my hair. His eyes clashed with mine, and I swallowed the sudden uncomfortable lump in my throat from the hurt look on his face.

I actually felt a little guilty which was a shock. I didn't do guilt anymore. I may pay the price for my sins for the rest of my life, but I'd vowed I'd no longer get trapped into feeling guilty. I didn't ask for anything. I didn't owe anyone anything. Anger replaced the guilt that was making me feel emotions that were dead to me. Damn him. Why couldn't he take pity on some stray animal or something? Wasn't there a whale to save or some dolphin with a broken fin that needed attention?

The silence between us stretched on uncomfortably, and I tried to ignore it as I continued to scratch the answers out on my paper. I waited for him to move on to the next question, but he remained stoically silent with his arms crossed over his chest. I knew this game. He could sit there like that until hell froze over for all I cared. I would not cave.

And that's pretty much how the rest of tutoring went. I searched for the answers while he sat silently next to me, never moving a muscle. When the hour ended, I stood up and gathered my things, preparing to leave without a word.

"Same time tomorrow?" he said, leaving before I could.

I stood there shell shocked. He didn't really think I was coming back again? I'd pretty much chalked up the whole experience as a failed attempt at being normal.

Dean was long gone by the time I finally shook myself out of my stupor and headed out of the library with the clearly aggravated librarian on my heals. I was tempted to tell her to get a grip. So she had to stay five extra minutes while I stood like a guppy with my mouth open. You didn't see me bitching that I was forced to stay late at the bane of my existence. Shit happens. Get used to it.

I wasn't surprised when she left me on the sidewalk outside the front doors of the school without a word, hurrying off toward the lone car in the parking lot.

People didn't enjoy being sucked into the shadows that were my constant companion. They wanted perky, cheerful and butterflies out the ass as they danced beneath rainbows and singing birds. They didn't want silence and darkness.

The two-mile walk home went fast as I contemplated the disastrous tutoring session. I mentally kicked myself for even saying anything. I'd broken my code by opening my mouth. One thing was for sure, he could wait all afternoon for me, but I wouldn't be there the next day. No way in hell.


He was waiting for me the next day when I strolled in five minutes late. I wasn't going to come. All day I told myself I was going to leave him high and dry. I didn't need his psycho-analysis shit. I'd been heading out of the locker room, intending to head right home, but my feet seemed to have a mind of their own, and here I was. I convinced myself it was because we had unfinished business. My plan was to basically tell him to eff-off and then I'd leave. Quick and clean. No harm no foul.

My eff-off moment never came though because he threw me for a loop.

"Hey, I'm really sorry about yesterday. I know I came across as do-gooder-asshole," he greeted me, raking a hand through his short dark hair. It stood up slightly from his touch, giving him a rumpled just-woke-up look. "I can be pushy sometimes. Forgive me?" he said, holding his hand out for me to shake.