Today will be different. Today will be all right. Today I'll-fuck it. This is going to suck, and I'll just have to man up and face it. I brought this on myself, after all. No one will fight my battles for me, and I don't want them to. Today, I'm going to fuck shit up, and if anyone gives me shit, I'll throw it back at them.
Of course, the hot pink cast will raise some eyebrows. Lifting my arm, I groan at the offensive color shining bright in the morning light. After my Dad insulted the doctor another half dozen times, the doctor put in a good word for me with the one putting my cast on. And by good word I mean, the doctor told them to tell us that pink was all they had left.
But that's fine, I told myself at the time, it's not like I haven't done enough damage to my reputation already. A pink cast will only add a nice garnish to the just desserts of my embarrassment. I sigh and walk out of the bathroom. Showering with this thing turned out to be a hassle, and I expect many other things will be as well. Losing the use of your dominant hand really screws you up.
I roll my eyes and turn toward my twin sister, Angela. She's standing in the middle of the hallway and staring at me with arms folded across her chest. She doesn't look happy, but it's hard for me to care.
"What's up, Bitch Booty?"
Angie lets out an exasperated sigh at the nickname, and her glare intensifies. "You took way too long in the shower. How am I supposed to get ready with only twenty minutes left?"
"Have you considered not wearing seven-layer bean dip for makeup?"
"You're such a douche."
"Isn't that what you're supposed to be doing right now? Douching?"
"If you only have twenty minutes left, you should be in the shower instead of berating me. So why are you still standing here?"
Angela growls and moves past me, I keep my eye on her the whole time, expecting her to attack me as she passes, but for once there's no violence. Maybe she feels bad about my injury? I wonder, lifting my cast again. Nah. She probably just doesn't want to waste time on the conflict. She already knows she'd win.
I head to my bedroom, preparing myself for the hardest part of this injury I'd discovered so far. Dressing. As much fun as it would be, I can't go to school in just my boxers. Pants are easy, though it's hard to get a grip with my left hand, which makes buttoning them harder than I'd like, but shirts are awful.
Opening my closet, I look through what I have available and sigh. Mostly signature t-shirts and polos, none of which I want to risk damaging by trying to force my cast through the sleeves. I slide the hangers aside one by one until I come across my suit jacket. It's wide, spacious sleeves would fit my cast easily, but who wears a suit to school?
And then I see it. On the other side of my suit jacket is a short-sleeve button up shirt I forgot I had. It's bright blue and durable, and I'm pretty certain I can get my cast through it without much trouble. I pull it out and carefully slide my left arm through the sleeve first, then follow through with my right, and realize I have a new problem. Buttons are the bane of anyone with an arm cast.
But I glance at the mirror and decide this shirt is worth the trouble. The bright blue wasn't something I expected to go well with the pink, but it works, and I love it. It's flashy and makes a statement, though I'm unsure what statement it makes. I'm already going to attract attention, and I might as well make any would-be tormentors' eyes hurt in the process.
I pin the shirt against my body with the cast and hold it steady as well as I can with my left hand as I start buttoning it up with my right. It takes me a painful amount of time, but after I finish it's easy to see the shirt is the right choice. I look good, and the shirt brings out my blue eyes. Now I only need something to match my dark hair.
One pair of black jeans and a few painful attempts at putting on a pair of black socks later, I slip into my sneakers and walk out of my room. My sister opens the bathroom door at about the same time, and I open my mouth to say something snarky but she beats me to it.
Her mouth hangs open for a moment before she whistles and says, "Gee, Clint, you actually look good today. What's the occasion?"
"The worst day of my life, likely, but I intend to survive it. That was unusually nice of you."
"Yeah, well, you may be a pain in the ass most of the time, but you don't need me to make your life hell. You did that for yourself yesterday. I figured I'd tone it down for a little bit." She smiles and shrugs her naked shoulders, shifting the white towel wrapped around her body and making me wonder if it's going to fall off. It doesn't, and I utter a quick prayer of thanks to towel gods. No gay teenager needs to see his sister's breasts.
"Thanks, Angie. Maybe I should be nicer, too?"
"No need to get all mushy on me, Clint. As soon as that cast is off, I won't be holding back anymore. Be ready. I'll have six weeks of material stored up to use on you."
"All right. I guess the truce only lasts till then. Thanks anyway."
Angie snorts but then smiles. It's been a long time since she's smiled at me, and I watch her pass me while I ponder what this new development will mean for her and me. Maybe there are perks to this injury I haven't seen yet.
"Clint! Angie! Are you two almost ready?"
I take the stairs two at a time and round the corner into the kitchen, surprised to see my dad standing there and packing up sandwiches for my sister and me. "Dad, what are you doing here? Shouldn't you be working?"
"I thought I told you yesterday that I would drive you to school today. Didn't you get my . . .?" He shakes his head and laughs. "Of course you didn't get my text. I need to go in and smooth things over with the school. Since they never got an answer to why you weren't in class for your first two periods, I have to give them an excuse."
"Um, Dad, you're not-"
"Not going to tell them why you were really in your locker? No, not really my game plan, though I still haven't figured out exactly what I'm going to tell them. I don't like lying to them, but I can understand why you don't want me to tell them everything, so I won't."
"Maybe you could just tell them you don't know where I was, because I won't tell you."
"Yeah, I might be able to sell that. Then I could add that I don't think you need any additional punishment, considering what happened to you."
I breathe out a sigh of relief. "I can definitely get behind that."
My dad nods and says, "Okay, that's what we'll do. Though I really hope you won't do anything too crazy today."
"Hey, Clint, why were you in that locker?" Angie asks as she enters the room, a towel wrapped around her head to dry her hair.
"Clint wanted to make a statement about being-" my dad starts revealing my secret, but hesitates as I shoot him a glare. "About being vegetarian."
"What?" Angie asks, turning toward me with surprise. I shrug and share a look with dad, then sigh dramatically, buying myself time to think of something to say.
"I didn't want you to know," I begin, speaking generically as I search for a good way to continue this train of thought, "because I didn't want you to make fun of me, but I'm considering becoming one. That's why Dad made Peanut-butter and jelly for me today."
Angie raises an eyebrow and turns to look at my dad who nods solemnly, confirming my every word. She then turns back to me and asks, "How does that have anything to do with you being in a locker?"
By this point, I have it. Memories of a video I watched on YouTube a month before flash into my mind, and I say with more confidence than I should, "Are you aware of how confining the spaces are that they keep the animals at some of those factory farms? It's horrible. I wanted to show other people what it was like."
Angie snorts, but then gives me an appreciative look. "You're weird, but I can respect that. Actually, I've been thinking of going vegetarian myself."
An awkward silence settles on the room for a moment before my dad clears his throat and asks, "Are you going to be ready in time, Angela?"
"Sure, Dad," Angie replies, removing her towel and shaking out her hair. "Give me another five minutes, okay?"
She leaves the room while dad and I watch her go, waiting until we hear her climb the stairs before letting out a collective breath we hadn't realized we'd been holding. My dad looks at me, a question in his eyes, and I know what's coming next.
"Why don't you want her to know that you're gay?" he asks. "She's your sister, and a pretty good one on that."
I sigh and look back at the entrance of the room where Angie was standing moments ago. "I don't want anyone at school to know until I get a chance to tell everyone at once. It's an all or nothing thing for me. I want coming out to be over and done with in one moment. That's why I want to do something big."
When I turn back to my dad, I find him nodding to himself as he processes the information. "All right," he says after a moment, "but you really shouldn't keep it from her. She's going to get the wrong idea. Nice save on that vegetarian thing, though. I wouldn't have known how else to finish that sentence."
"It's cool," I say, shrugging as I step into the living room and grab my backpack. I return to the kitchen and put my right hand on the side of the doorframe before nodding back toward the front door. "Let's just get to school. Being late won't help my situation one bit."
The first time I saw the dark, red brick building which the locals called Westbench High, I thought it was small compared to the middle school I'd attended the year before. Clearfield is a smaller town with fewer students, and it didn't need the capacity my old school had. However, as I stand in front of it now, it's far more oppressive a building than I'd ever thought it would be.
It looms over me, casting its shadow over me, and I wonder if I'll be swallowed whole by that darkness today. Okay, maybe I'm being melodramatic, but the last thing I wanted to do was leave the safety of my dad's car and venture onto that cement walk toward the front doors.
Unfortunately, Dad was due back at the worksite in Sharpton, and he had to rush in to meet with the principal about yesterday's absence. That meant I had to get out of the car. That meant I had to be seen.
Dad didn't wait for me, and I didn't want him to. Accompanying my father into school is not the quickest route to popularity in high school, though at least I no longer attended J. P. Anderson Middle School. Middle schoolers are pricks.
I feel the strange sensation of a comforting hand on my shoulder. It's warm and friendly, and when I see the arm it's attached to I'm even more surprised. Angie steps up next to me, her hand sliding down to my bicep as she gives it a supportive squeeze. "Hey, it's going to be all right."
"Thanks," I reply, smiling appreciatively. "I don't want to be accused of being mushy, but I really am grateful."
Angie withdraws her hand then gives me a light punch on the arm, grinning as she does it. "Don't sweat it, Buttbrain. I'm here for you, even if you are a douche sometimes."
I roll my eyes but I can't help but smile back at her, and there's no malice in my voice as I reply, "Yeah, whatever, Bitch Booty."
She sticks her tongue out at me then notices one of her new friends a dozen yards away. "There's Megan. I gotta catch up with her and ask her where she has her hair done. I'd kill for a good stylist in this town!" She moves away from me at a brisk walk before stopping halfway between me and Megan and turning around to give me a little wave. "Have a good day, Clint. Text me if you need anything!"
"I don't have a phone!" I call out as she disappears from sight, but it's already too late. I sincerely doubt I would have texted her anyway. As much as I appreciate this new change in attitude from her, I still don't consider her a reliable source of support. No, I expect I can only count on myself from here on out. It's time to face my fate and get this over with.
With my head held high, I walk toward the doors of the school. The eyes of the nearby students turn toward me, watching me as I approach. I can feel their stares; they're itching to make a point of what happened yesterday, and I'll soon be the butt of every joke.
"Hey, nice cast!" Some douche calls from the side. I turn to look at him and he gives a solid upward nod as I meet his eyes. He's short and skinny like me, not the type to be a bully, but I'm not taking any chances.
I start formulating a smart ass retort when one of his buddies, a bigger guy, chubby not muscular, notices and says, "Yeah, real men wear pink, am I right? Sweet choice, man!"
They both give me thumbs up and I stare at them open-mouthed before they return to their business without even noticing my expression. As I look around then, I realize no one else is watching me at all. I might as well be invisible for all the attention I'm drawing. Maybe no one has heard.
That can't be it. No, it's even better. Not a single person in this school knows who I am yet. You can't start a rumor if you have no idea who the victim is. What would you say? That brown-haired kid was found lying in a pool of his own blood yesterday? I have nothing to worry about.
I walk easier from that point on, straight to my locker without a care in the world. These people aren't going to make fun of me, because they haven't yet connected the dots. If my luck holds up, they never will, and I'll get out of this without incident.
My locker door doesn't give me any trouble today, and I pull it open wide, surveying the scene of the crime. My books are all still there, in as bad a state as when I'd left them. As I start to crouch, a timid voice behind me asks, "Hey, are you all right?"
I turn to look at the source of the voice, and I'm surprised to find someone shorter than me. I'm used to the idea of other people towering over me, but I have several inches on this guy at least, a difference which does little to diminish his other favorable qualities. His strawberry-blonde hair hangs messily around his face, framing his dark, thick-rimmed glasses. Blue eyes similar to my own watch me cautiously from behind the lenses, as if they're hiding from me, waiting to retreat should I say something frightening. Along with being short, he's also skinny, making him seem even smaller, and I doubt if he even weighs more than a hundred pounds. I could possibly bench press this kid, if I had someone to spot me, anyway.
The important thing is, he's not threatening, and he's not trying to make something of what happened to me. He's scared, but genuine, and I have to give him credit for even being brave enough to approach me. I raise my cast and smile my most disarming smile, pointing at it with my right hand. "No. But I'm getting there. Maybe in six weeks?"
"Why'd you go with pink?" The boy asks, smiling slightly. This expression, like the look in his eyes, also feels fleeting, like it could disappear in a moment if I said the wrong thing. I promise myself to not let that happen. This is one of the few times a fellow student has reached out to me since coming to this school, and I can't let the opportunity for friendship go by without giving it my all.
"Because the doctors didn't like me. I definitely would have chosen a different color," I reply, shrugging, then stick out my right hand for him to shake. "I'm Clint, by the way."
"Travis," he says, smiling more broadly now as he takes my hand. It's warm and soft, which feels odd in my hand calloused from several years of rock climbing. "Travis Beauford. I was the one who went to get the nurse yesterday when you, ya know . . ." he pauses and lowers his voice so I can barely hear him, "had the shit beaten out of you."
"What?" I ask, releasing his hand. "That isn't what happened!"
"Then what happened?" Travis asks with wide eyes. "Seriously, everyone thinks someone got to you. The school even promised to find whoever was responsible and punish them accordingly. Why else would someone trash your locker and leave you in a puddle of blood?"
I shake my head in disbelief and let out a hearty groan. "This can't be happening . . ." I say under my breath. After closing my eyes and inhaling deeply, I continue. "Trust me, Travis, that isn't quite the way it happened."
Travis doesn't seem convinced, and he returns his voice to the same conspiring whisper. "Hey, man, I've had my fair share of bullies. I know what it's like. You don't have to sell them out to me if you're scared of them, but I can keep a secret."
"Seriously, bro, that just isn't what happened. No one beat me up. It was just an accident. A bunch of shit went wrong in the absolute worst way possible."
"Okay, don't tell me," Travis replies, raising his hands in surrender. He bites his lower lip and gives me a considering look, then continues in the same timid tone he'd originally approached me with. "Either way, this is the first time we've spoken, and I was hoping we could be friends. I know you're new around here, and I don't really know a lot of people that well, either, so . . ."
Eager to make a new friend and to stop him from rambling at the same time, I quickly step in and rescue him from his own timidity. "Sure, bro. That'd be tight."
Travis' excitement is etched into every feature of his face as if he's just won the lottery. He whips out his phone and says, "Okay, let me give you my number."
I pat my pocket where my phone usually rests and remember yet again that it's empty. "Shit, man. I don't have my phone with me."
"Oh . . ." Travis says slowly, drawing it out as his smile fades rapidly. I bet he thinks I'm making an excuse not to give it to him, and I can see this going downhill quickly.
"No, it's not like that," I say quickly. "I broke it yesterday; it's probably even still in my locker. Give me a sec and I'll show you." I turn away from him and crouch down to look into my locker again, rifling through the papers and books at the bottom. I find homework assignments from last week I forgot to turn in, but no phone. As any teenager will tell you, a lost phone is one of the most tragic moments in our lives, and my heart began to race as I dig through my locker one last time. "What the hell? Where is it?"
"It's missing?" Travis asks worriedly.
I look up at him and see he's more concerned for my missing phone than he is about my not wanting to give him my number. For the first time in my life, I have an epiphany about my phone. Some things in life are more important than technology, like making new friends. "Yeah, but I'll worry about that later. Maybe someone from the office took it because they were worried about it being stolen." I straighten from my crouch, though I look one last time at the mess below me, wondering where my phone could have gone. "How about Kik. Do you use Kik? I have it on my tablet, and then we could at least communicate until I get a new phone."
"I have Skype," Travis offers. "Would that work?"
"I'm not really a Skype guy." I sigh, then gesture at his phone. "Give me your number, and once I get a new phone I'll add you."
"Sure. Do you have something to write it down on?" he says, shrugging as if it no longer matters. He doesn't seem to believe me, but at least he's willing to give me a chance. A chance I have every intention of taking.
"Yeah, gimme a second," I say excitedly, patting my pocket with my left hand and feeling the pen there. I also feel the weight of the cast on my arm and remember that I'll have to write Travis' number down with my right hand. This won't go well. I draw the pen out with my right hand then reach down and snatch one of the papers from the bottom of my locker. It's one of the homework assignments I forgot to turn in, but I doubt it will do me any good now.
Before I can straighten up, I hear a loud, deep voice from behind me, clearly projecting his words toward me. "Look, Donny, it's the guy they're saying I beat up."
"Brent," a calmer male voice interjects, "you shouldn't do this."
"Why the fuck not?" the deep voice asks. "I have a reputation to keep up."
I stand up then and turn slightly toward the voices, getting a look out of their owners from the corner of my eye. Brent is tall, a foot taller than me at least, and broad-shouldered. His biceps are thicker than my thighs, and he's obviously in good shape. He's wearing a tight, white shirt which shows off his muscles, and I briefly wonder if he has anything else going for him other than his athletics. His blocky face contorts in a meaty scowl directed straight at me.
His friend Donny is leaner, though his muscles are still a lot thicker than mine. He has one worried eye on me, another on Brent, and he's standing defensively between us. Whatever trouble Brent wants to cause, it's obvious to me Donny wants to stop it, though I don't know how much good it will do. Donny's softer features make him seem less intimidating than Brent, and I doubt he'll be able to convince Brent to back down. I mentally prepare myself for trouble as I hand the pen and paper to Travis then turn to face Brent.
"Clint, that's Brent Niven," Travis whispers. "He's the quarterback on the junior varsity team, and he's looking at you. What did you do?"
I mutter, "Huh, don't know him."
"Hey, new kid!" Brent calls. This is it. He's coming for me. He pushes Donny easily to the side and walks toward me, his scowl deepening.
"What can I do for you?" I ask, flashing Brent an easy smile, hoping it will come across as sincere, rather than insolent.
Brent stops a couple feet in front of me and says, "You can stop telling people I beat the shit out of you, or I'll make the story true."
My eyes widen, and I almost laugh, and only don't because my last shred of good sense stops me. "That's a strange threat, since I didn't tell anyone anything like that. Are you sure it was me you beat up?"
My smartass response only increases Brent's anger, and he gets in my face immediately, backing me up against the closed lockers next to me. "Listen, punk. I don't care if you've got a broken arm. I'm one suspension away from getting kicked off the team, and I'm not going to let your lies do that to me, got it?" His arm snaps forward faster than I can blink and lifts me from the ground by the front of my shirt, pressing me up against the locker as he growls, "If I'm going down, I'm taking you with me."
"Jesus!" I yell, struggling to get out of his grip, but it's iron tight. "Let me go, fucker!"
"What did you just call me?" Brent roared.
"I said let me go!"
"Listen, kid, I don't have . . ." I stop listening as he goes into a long rant of how I'm fucking things up for him. Since I did no such thing, this is his problem, not mine, and I'm completely done with this oaf. I don't care what the repercussions are, I'm going to find some way to shut him up.
As he curses up a storm, drops of his spittle hit me constantly; I've had enough. I bring my cast up between us and shove it right into his open mouth. He doesn't notice my movement and the cast collides with his tongue and teeth as he leans into it, practically biting down on the cast before he realizes it's there.
Brent drops me and steps away, sputtering and spitting at the strange taste in his mouth. I take the opportunity to smooth out my shirt and wipe Brent's saliva off on my pants as he recovers. It doesn't take him long, but by the time he does, I'm grinning, and his scowl has only intensified.
"What the hell?" Brent scrells. Yep, turns out, he knows the same secret my dad does. Go figure.
"You kept opening your mouth," I say, shrugging. "I thought you wanted to be fed."
Brent fumes, his face turning red as a vein in his scalp starts to twitch, but he doesn't come after me again. "You're dead once the season is over, kid. You pull another stunt like that, and I don't care what they do to me."
"You brought it upon yourself, Brent," Donny says as he steps up to Brent's side and places a hand on his shoulder to calm him down.
"Fuck off, Donny," Brent snaps, shrugging off Donny's hand immediately and storming down the hall. Donny watches him go, shaking his head until his friend disappears then turns toward me to offer an apologetic smile.
"Hey, dude. Don't worry about him," Donny says, shrugging noncommittally. "He's all bark. Hope your arm gets better soon." Without another word he turns on his heel and follows Brent down the hall.
"That was awfully nice of him," I say, watching Donny until he disappears from sight.
Travis' voice is filled with awe as he says, "You're telling me. I've never seen Donovan Sharpe act that civil."
I snort and return my full attention to Travis. "He's certainly nicer than his buddy."
"Brent's a total hothead," Travis says, shrugging. He then hands the paper to me. "So, here's my number and my email address. It's not much, but at least you can get back to me if you want."
"Cool," I say, looking at the perfect handwriting and marveling at this strange teenager in front of me. No fifteen-year-old has penmanship this nice; it's almost pretty. "I don't email often, but I'll keep it in mind. Don't we have a couple of classes together?"
"Yeah," Travis replies, nodding. His expression clouds over though as he adds, "but one of them is with those two."
"They're in our gym class, huh?" I ask, remembering where I'd seen those biceps before. Neither Brent nor Donny ever spent any time near the freshmen, so I'd only caught a couple of glimpses of them, but now I would definitely notice them.
"Yep. Gym." Travis shudders.
"I'll never get used to that mixed grades in gym thing. We had it separated by grade at my school. The fact they don't shower here is pretty weird, too."
"Really?" Travis asks, eyes wide. "I thought that was pretty normal. What kid wants to shower after gym?"
"People who don't want to smell bad the rest of the day?" I shake my head in disgust. "It's our first class of the day, every other day. If we don't shower, we either end up smelling like sweat or loads of awful spray deodorant. Who wants that?"
"I don't know, dude. Showering with people would be weird. But I bet it would be even weirder to be the only one showering. Since it's not mandatory here, I doubt you'll ever see someone else in there."
Not that I'd want to see anyone in there. No wait, I guess I would. It's not like I'm gay and curious what the other boys are packing. I'd been in changing rooms my whole life, and I'd never thought anything of being naked in front of other people, at least until I came here. These people were backward in some ways. Some very prudish ways.
"Hmm. Maybe it's time to change that," I say out loud, when it was meant to be in my head.
"What did you say?" Travis asks.
"Nothing," I say, a wicked smile spreading across my face. "I just have an idea."