Everything is made to be broken. Well, not designed specifically I guess – and before anyone thinks this is some kind of emo kid, lame philosophy – it's not. Everything dies. Everything wears out – breaks, in other words. No matter how well you make something, it's going to go away someday. Even things we have now that are hundreds of years old like Pyramids, the Pantheon and Betty White will disappear one day as if they had never been. Sometimes it's not a bad thing – like an old relationship has to break in order to reform into something better. Sometimes it's just a worn out part, and once it's replaced the whole is better off.
My phone dinged and I glanced down at the screen. Alessia. I rolled my eyes as I read her trite crap. The best relationships are the ones you never saw coming.
Ever since she started dating Braxton Floyd she'd been on this kick of rainbows and butterflies and sunshine coming out of her ass. Braxton did get lucky. He moved from down south somewhere – I didn't pay attention when he said where – and he hit it off with Alessia right away. He was a nice enough guy, so far, but I'd be happier when she was through this honeymoon phase.
I just hoped I wouldn't have to deal with the phase where she is posting things to social media and texting me things about how guys are supposed to treat girls. Please.
I shut my phone off, to ensure that my mother wouldn't hear it vibrate if I got a text message, and hid it in a pocket on the bottom of my bag. She never looked there. I slung my backpack on my shoulder and headed downstairs. My mother was in the kitchen waiting for the coffee pot to finish brewing.
She glanced over at me. “Do you have your key?”
I patted my chest, where my house key hung on a chain from my neck. “Yep.”
“Let me see.”
I paused and bit back my sigh. I reached along the collar of my shirt and lifted the chain out to show her the key attached to it.
She pursed her lips as if disappointed I was responsible enough to have my key. “Come straight home after work.”
“I will,” I said and continued past the kitchen door. I slipped my shoes on and headed next door. Alessia and her older brother, Teo, were just coming out the front door.
“I don't think so,” Teo said to Alessia as I met them at the bottom of their porch steps. He glanced at me. “Hey, Drew.”
“Morning,” I replied. I fell in with them as we walked to Teo's car.
“Hi, Drew,” Alessia greeted me with a smile, then looked back at Teo. “I mean, I can understand why people might think that.”
“Think what?” I asked.
“That blood is blue until it’s oxidized, then it turns red,” she said promptly.
I looked at her skeptically. “People believe that?”
“Well, yeah,” she said.
“Some people believe the Earth is flat, Drew. Am I right?” Teo said with a roll of his eyes. I laughed and we climbed in for our ride to school.
I'm old enough to have a license, but my mother won't allow it. She brings up the cost, and how responsible you have to be and how irresponsible she thinks I am. She points out she doesn't have a car, and why should I need one if she doesn't? She also forbid me to have a phone, but Teo gave me his old one and I pay for a card every month or so so I'm not completely cut off from my peers. Alessia and Teo are the ones to contact me most often, but still – it's the principle of the thing.
Once we got to school Teo headed off to his homeroom and Alessia and I headed off in the same general direction. She was looking at her phone as we walked and I tugged her by the elbow to keep her from running into things.
“Oh my God, he's so sweet!” she said, squealing yet trying not to. “Look!”
I glanced at her screen, kind of unwillingly. Braxton was looking back out of the screen and there was text in front of his face. Slobbery prose about how beautiful Alessia was and how he wanted to make her happy and blah, blah, blah – excuse me while I throw up. I grunted to acknowledge I'd read it, and went back to making sure she didn't run into anyone.
I sat down in homeroom and went through my bag, even though it really wasn't necessary. Because my mother was always up my ass I had everything organized. It didn't matter much, she'd still go through everything and find fault no matter what I did. I pulled out my folders and made sure they were in order by the time of day I had the class. I checked inside each folder for my completed homework and compared it to my agenda.
I glanced up as Talia Devries rested her butt on my desk. “Hey, Talia,” I said as I started replacing the items in my bag.
“Did you see the sweater Monique got? Isn't it fabulous?” she asked.
I don't know why she was asking me. I glanced over at Monique, who had the darkest skin of any person I'd ever met, and looked at her sweater. It was fuzzy – and I mean really fuzzy. It sort of looked like it was shedding, the threads were that long. But it was a light thread, so sort of like actual fur. Whispy fur. Is that a thing?
“Looks warm and fuzzy,” I said, looking back up at Talia.
“You should tell her. I'm sure she'd like to know you like her sweater,” she advised me.
The bell wasn't ringing soon enough. I leaned around Talia. “Monique – nice sweater. Very...fuzzy.”
Monique smiled radiantly. I don't know if her teeth were whiter than average or if it was just the contrast with her skin, but it was a mega-watt smile. Then she got up and started to walk toward me.
“You like it?” she asked as she drew closer.
“It's totally unique,” I said honestly.
“It's called mohair,” she said as she continued to smile and look down at the garment before straightening it a little, drawing it a bit tighter across her chest.
“So, what animal's hair is that anyway?” Talia asked.
Having no idea what mohair was, I looked to Monique for the answer.
“Um. A Mohawk?”
“That was a native American tribe and a haircut,” I said, waiting for her to change her statement or pick one of the choices I'd given her. She looked confused and glanced at Talia, who was looking it up on her phone.
“It says it's made from...goat hair? Eww,” she said, wrinkling her nose.
“Liar!” Monique accused and tried to take Talia's phone. Thankfully the bell did ring then, and I got the hell out from between them.
“Drewbie-doobie-do, how are you?” Mr. Rockland asked, singing his little dittie to the tune of Scooby Doo as I entered his classroom.
“Morning,” I said, trying not to smile at his stupid greeting. Mr. Rockland was my favorite teacher. He taught English, and we were heavily into reading independently as well as creative writing.
I'd no sooner sat down than Braxton rushed over and dropped into the chair beside me. “Drew, help a brother out?”
I looked at him with confusion.
“Alessia. She's pissed at me.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Already?”
“I know!” he said, adjusting his ball cap.
“What's she angry about?” I asked. He frowned lightly and dug his phone out of his pocket. He was a nice looking guy, had a little southern accent to go with his brown hair and eyes. His ears stuck out a little, and he was annoyingly good looking in braces.
“She said I should have texted this morning?” he said, his tone one of disbelief. He looked up at me. “Dude, I sent her some sappy shit last night so she'd see it first thing and she seemed totally happy. Now I'm in shit?”
I sighed as the bell rang. Mr. Rockland had the attendance sheet at his podium and was glancing between it and the classroom.
“Put a nice note in the pocket of your hoodie and give her the hoodie,” I said.
He raised an eyebrow at me. “Should I apologize?”
I shook my head. “No. Just tell her how much you've been thinking of her. Miss her. That sort of thing.”
He glanced down and then back up to me. “My hoodie?”
I nodded as Mr. Rockwell started class. To the casual observer it may have just looked like I'd sold my best friend down the river by giving her boyfriend tips on making her happy. This is true, to a point. No one can completely figure out Alessia, and Braxton seemed like a genuinely decent guy. Alessia liked him a lot, so helping him out a little was equivalent to helping her out as well.
Besides, she had a motto. Actually, one of several mottos. It went something like 'If a girl gets upset over little things it's because she cares. If you don't want that, get some hoe who doesn't care about you or what you do.' I think it was just license to be a brat. She'd dated enough that I'd seen things that were smart moves with her, and ones that would get you broken up with publicly.
After English I had Social with Alessia, then Algebra and computer lab before getting to lunch. I noted Alessia wearing Brax's hoodie and smiling stupidly at me as I approached our table.
“He wrote me the sweetest note,” she said.
“Yeah?” I asked as I took my seat.
“I want to do something nice for him. What do you think?”
“I think he would like it if you were nice to him,” I said, knowing that wasn't what she meant.
“That's not what I meant,” she snorted. “I'll invite him for a movie. I'll even let him pick it out as long as we cuddle. What do you think?”
I nodded. “Sounds like a smart move.”
“We need to get someone for you,” she said absently. I ignored her and unpacked my sack lunch. Our table filled up with a few people – Brax, his two buddies Gordon and Malik. Not long after, Dina, Carrie and Julia joined us and the table was a hotbed of talk about apps, music, politics and stupidity. But I repeat myself.
“Ugh, I hate you!” Alessia said to Brax while smiling in a most unhateful way. “You did not see them live, did you really?”
“I did. Want to come with me? They're playing in like two weeks.”
“Who?” Dina asked.
Alessia turned toward her excitedly. “The Avatars. Have you listened to them? So freaking good!”
“Oh, yeah,” Dina said, sounding less than sure. “They're going to be playing close by?”
Alessia turned back to Brax, and he nodded. “My mom works at the Arena, and she told me she can get tickets if I want.” The Arena was a local venue that hosted concerts mostly, but a few other odd-ball things like monster trucks and home shows.
Alessia was totally wrapped up in her excitement, so I pulled my phone out and checked through a few apps – one for news, one for general crap and the few social media accounts I followed. Teo was pretty good at taking pictures with his phone and there were a ton on his account. The newest was kind of odd, though. It looked like it was from that morning and was of Alessia and I walking down the hall. It must have been taken right after we separated to go to our separate homerooms.
I scrolled back through his images. Teo is gay and there were a few pictures of guys he'd dated, along with just general pictures. He seems to like older guys, and by that I mean guys in college. He'd dated three or four of them. I never really met them, and he didn't talk about them all that much. In between the images of his old flames were pictures of trips to the beach, selfies doing stupid stuff like flexing after a workout and eating cereal for some reason I don't understand. Who takes a picture of themselves eating? Answer: Teo does. He had one picture of the three of us with a skin care mask on that was kind of a teal color. We looked like idiots, but it was a fun memory. I'd grown up next door to them and had always been close to their family. They were a welcome respite from my mother.
After school I met Alessia and Teo in the parking lot. I worked at a chain burger joint that was on the way home, more or less. They brought me to work, and then decided to come in and get some junk food before going home. I had about thirty minutes before I had to clock in, so I got some fries and hung out with them.
Teo bit his finger trying to shove too many fries in his mouth at once. It was typical of him to do random things like that.
“Where's your boyfriend?” Teo asked his sister.
“Football practice,” she said and wrinkled her nose. “One downside is he loves football and I'm supposed to be a good girlfriend and go support him. I don't think he can take too many more hits to the head, though.”
“Is he having trouble in school?” I asked.
“I don't think so. He can just be kind of special sometimes,” she said, a smile playing about her lips. “But he's sweet as hell, so I guess I can put up with it,” she said breezily and then laughed. She looked over at Teo as if she just thought of something. “Why are you asking about Brax? You have your eye on my boy?”
Teo looked at me then back to her and laughed. “No. You can keep that one.”
“I told Drew I was going to invite Brax for a movie. I'm thinking tomorrow night, since it's Friday. Are you dating anyone? Want to make it a double?” she asked.
“Nah. Hector and I broke up a few weeks ago,” he said.
“Really?” I asked. “I thought you guys looked good together.”
He smiled at me a little indulgently. “Thanks, Drew. We weren't good together, though. Nothing in common.”
“Well, since you're both single, Drew can come and not feel like a third wheel because you'll be there, too. Right?” she asked.
Teo grinned while chewing a fry and looked at me. “What do you think, Drew? Want to come over and watch a movie, maybe make fun of my sister's boyfriend?”
I chuckled. “Sure, if my mom will let me out of the house.”
“I'll check with her,” Teo assured me.
They headed out and I clocked in. The night was going steadily and was typical for a weeknight. Business was moderate, someone peed all over the men's room floor and a diaper was left full and open on the changing table in the women's room. Just once I'd like those reversed for the sake of equality – better yet, people could learn to aim and clean up after themselves.
Around seven-thirty Brax came in with a buddy from the football team. They were both sweaty, their tee shirts soaked in a V from their necks down the front of their chests. While Brax had dark hair, his friend had golden brown hair that was streaked darker with sweat. Brax's friend was Cole Thomas, and I wasn't really sure why they were friends. Cole was really cute, but kind of a jerk.
“Hey, Drew,” Brax said to me and gave me a little wave.
Cole glanced at me and jutted his chin out. I nodded at him and they went to the counter to order. A woman came in a moment later, phone pressed to her ear and fussing with her purse as she caught up with the guys to pay for their food.
Cole headed to the bathroom and Brax filled his cup before wandering over to me. “You are the Alessia Whisperer, man. Do you know everything about her?”
I shrugged. “A lot. We've been friends a long time.”
He shook his head. “Why aren't you dating her then? I mean, no-homo, but you're a nice looking guy.”
I chuckled. “You're a nice looking guy, too.” I pointed at myself. “Total homo.”
His eyes opened a little wider and he chuckled. “Damn. I just stepped in it, didn't I?”
I shrugged again. “Not so much as others.” I glanced toward the restrooms where Cole was emerging. He glanced at us, then headed to the counter for his cup.
“Cole? He gives you shit?” Brax asked, sounding surprised.
“No, I wouldn't say that,” I demurred. “I have to get back to work before the boss sees me.”
“Hey, Drew,” he said, taking a half-stop toward me. “If anyone says...I got your back, man. You've been nothing but good to me. Y'hear?”
I smiled lightly and bobbed my head. “Thanks. I think I can kick Cole's ass if I need to.”
“Yeah, maybe,” he said with a chuckle. “But as long as I have your back, try not to pick really big enemies that might kick my ass, okay? Little consideration?”
I laughed at him, then Cole was there. “What's up?”
“My man Drew has been keeping me in my girl's good graces.”
“High maintenance,” Cole snorted. His cheeks were a little flushed and it made him look cuter.
“She is,” Brax agreed and smiled. It was a nice smile, kind of whimsical I think. “But she's worth it.”
Cole shook his head. “Okay.”
I finished wiping the tables down and headed back though the employee door to stock before I clocked out. I had gotten a good feeling from Brax before, but those were some next level words from him. He didn't have to say any of that, and I found myself feeling pretty good. After punching out I popped my headphones on and dialed in some music from my ancient iPod. My mother refused to allow me a phone, so Teo had given me his old one. It was hooked into his family's wifi, and I tried to squirrel away enough to buy prepaid cards for it. I was careful with the data, but enjoyed being able to text a few people or follow some social media accounts of the people I knew.
I got home in about fifteen minutes and left my shoes by the front door.
“It's me, Ma,” I said and headed for the stairs. A shower to wash off the burger smell would be nice.
“Andrew! Come here!”
I sighed and turned back, standing in the doorway of the living room and leaning against the door frame. “I stink, Ma. What's up?”
She had muted the TV and pursed her lips. “Why did it take you so long to get home? Did you stop somewhere?”
I frowned lightly. “No. I walked straight home.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You're lying. Where were you? What's her name?”
“Mom! There's no one!” I exclaimed. “I punched out and walked straight home. I have a test tomorrow, so I have to shower and study.”
“A test? It wasn't on your schedule!” she snapped.
I sighed. “It's for Global.”
“I have told him and told him,” she said with real anger. “You may have to quit this job if I can't get notified when you have conflicts at school.”
“I'll talk to him, mom,” I promised. I waited a moment and when it seemed she was done, I turned only to be halted by her voice.
“Theodore stopped by. You're invited to a movie next door. Tomorrow night.”
I turned back toward her. “He said he was going to check with you.”
She studied me for a moment. “What are you going to watch?”
I shrugged. “Alessia invited her boyfriend, Braxton. She said he was going to pick.”
“Braxton? Is he black?”
I frowned. “No.”
“Yeah. I forget from where, but he moved this year.”
“Smells like a southern name.”
“Don't you mean sounds?”
She glared at me. “No. Smells. As in it stinks of their hypocritical values.”
I waited to see if she was going to clarify. When it seemed she wasn't, I said, “I'm going to shower and get to my studying.”
She stared at me and then said in a deadly calm voice, “Who is Monique?”
I was momentarily puzzled. My school acquaintances rarely came into contact with my home life. “Um, girl from school. I have her in homeroom.”
She stared at me for a moment. “Still want to act like you didn't stop anywhere on the way home from your...job?”
I frowned again. “I'm not acting.”
“I'm going to call your manager. Just to see if you actually were there for a whole shift,” she said, her voice sounding predatory. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up.
“She'll tell you,” I said, my voice taking on a tremor.
She continued to glare for a moment, and my heart slammed inside my chest.
I widened my eyes. “What?”
She stood suddenly, and I noted the belt in her hand. “I don't think you were at any job mister. You might think I'm stupid, but you didn't work – you went to screw this Monique whore, didn't you? Didn't you?”
“That's why you want to clean up so quickly, isn't it?” she asked, a mean gleam in her eye. “Strip, now!”
“Mom,” I said, my voice faltering in resignation. I wasn't fast enough and she lurched, bringing the belt around so that it slapped the skin of my arm.
“Ow!” I yelped and started to comply with her demand. I felt ashamed, but I knew where this would go if I didn't. I'd woken up more than once to her hitting me for some perceived slight. I pulled my shirt off, unbuckled my belt and then the buttons of my pants before pushing them down around my ankles. She quickly stepped closer and leaned in to look at my neck, poking me with her finger as she looked for something incriminating. She turned my face by pushing on my jaw, studying my neck. She growled and looked down.
“You screwed her, didn't you?”
“Males are all alike!” she snapped and pulled on the waistband of my underwear. I jerked back in surprise and embarrassment, but she hung on, yanking them down and exposing me. “Hold still!”
I was still bowed away from her, instinctively trying to hide my genitals. She glared at them and then frowned deeply. She looked up at me. “You wore a condom. Didn't you.”
“I didn't have sex, mom!” I said, my voice cracking from stress and extreme mortification.
Her eyes narrowed. “If I find proof, I'll cut your balls off. Do you hear me?”
I nodded jerkily. She made a disgusted snort and turned from me. I quickly pulled up my pants and underwear, and carrying my shirt I took the stairs to my room two at a time. I had no tears to shed, only wrestling with a complex twist of emotions – self-loathing, disgust, anger and an empty feeling I really, really didn't want to dwell on.
I took a minute to gather myself and then got in the shower. I felt ashamed that my mother treated me that way, and more that I allowed it. She had cowed me for years, and the few times I'd fought back she'd become enraged and found ways to catch me off guard – like waking me in the night, beating me with a belt or some other object. I'd locked my door at night after that, only to find that she had the door handle replaced so there was no longer a lock. As much as she pushed me in school, I actually wanted to excel so I could escape her. I wasn't sure if that was possible – she'd probably always be in my mind.
After getting clean, I sat down at my desk and opened the notes I had for Global. I glanced at the clock on my nightstand and sighed. It was a quarter to ten, but if I studied for about three hours, I shouldn't be too tired tomorrow. With that thought, I turned back to my notes and the worksheets we'd done on this section and started to work.