B U R B E R R Y H E I G H T S:
Tuesday, August 21st, 2018 - 7:00am | Cross Residence
“Lucas?” Knocking lightly and listening for any sound of movement behind the closed door, all Marianne could hear was the insistent, incessant alarm beeping like mad. “Are you awake? I’m coming in.” And in she went. The boy was lying on the bed, on top of the covers and still dressed in yesterday’s rumpled clothes, covering his ears and glaring at the ceiling. For a moment, she only frowned between his pained expression and what she assumed was the cause, before stepping farther inside and hitting the sleep button herself. The sudden quiet was astonishing.
She considered adjusting the volume to something less jarring as Lucas sat up a little warily. Hard-pressed not to laugh at his expression. “It wasn’t shouting up.”
He seemed surprised by this magical skill of hers that turned off alarm clocks, but she could only shake her head and keep her questions to herself. Why he hadn’t turned it off on his own, she didn’t know and might never find out. She wasn’t even sure he needed the alarm, since he seemed to be awake before she was half the time. But this being his first day back to school, she hadn’t wanted him to be late. “Well, never mind it now, the thing’s off and you can leave it off if you want. But come on, then, up. Get changed. Breakfast. Time to get moving. Let’s go.”
Chivvying her reluctant charge up and off the bed towards his dresser, she didn’t need to keep pressing home the point once he was moving. Slow but steady, she left him to it for the moment, continuing her own morning preparations that the alarm had interrupted. He seemed fine with most every day routine, perfectly able to start the day without prompting, though sometimes she noticed he left out a few bits. Those times always coincided with headaches and obvious frustration though, so she couldn’t tell if he was forgetting them or purposely deciding not to brush his hair or teeth. The first two weeks of living together, she’d watched him like a hawk, using her time off and vacation days to do so. It had helped her figure the boy out. His close-mouthed, quiet turning inward hadn’t, and she’d eventually kicked him out of the house just to give him something other than the ceiling and walls to stare at.
Three hours later, she’d found him crying over a toy in the backyard. And Marianne smiled a little wistfully when she saw the same one peeking out of his bag as he came down the stairs, one hand on the railing, the other dodging pictures on the wall. When Gregory called her not six months ago, sounding like death warmed over, she’d been leery of what he was asking from her. To start with, bringing any kid into her house was a bit of a laugh: she’d never been the nurturing type. But to hear that he’d need extra consideration had given her pause. She’d only agreed to try because of her guilty conscience, though she’d refused to make any promises. Then she’d gone and made all that fuss about letting him have a proper teenage experience instead of holing him up in that hospital (nice though it looked when she actually visited) and she could have bitten her tongue, listening to herself. Maybe it had been worth it though, after the harrowing trip back, to see this odd, dejected boy open up and smile so widely when she showed him the ravine.
She still wasn’t sure she knew what she was doing, but she wanted to be good on her word. And had to admit that she’d be glad to know he had somewhere to be and something to do every day while she was working. Watching him eat his dry cereal while finishing her toast, Marianne hoped he wasn’t as nervous about this as she was, but given his abandonment of the usual routine and currently hunched shoulders, she had a feeling he wasn’t looking forward to the rest of the day. She’d hoped his outlook would improve since they’d gone through the meet and greet with Miss Dahl and been shown around the school. The woman seemed well suited to her job, and ready with all sorts of ideas for helping him get through the day, with an answer to every question. They were both MMS alumni, with their pictures hanging on the wall alongside the rest of their classes. She knew the school staff would do their best to ensure he did his
Lucas hadn’t seemed interested, though he’d smiled faintly when he saw the pictures, and her hair… He hadn’t tried arguing against the idea anymore, either. Maybe this was just a case of extra butterflies in his stomach, first day jitters. Maybe a show of support… “Looking forward to meeting your classmates?” A glance up, then back down to his bowl, and she grimaced at the twinge of conscience telling her she was a horrible mother for sending her son to school. The boy was 17 for crying out loud, and not without teacher support, he’d manage. He needed the routine and the socializing, not to mention the education. He hadn’t had to redo the first grade he’d missed, but he still tested out one behind. She wanted to see him graduate secondary, then they could figure out his future. This had
to be good for him.
“How about I drive you, just for today since I’ve got the time?” He didn’t even look up this time, so she reached across the table and waved her hand where he could see it. She didn’t like being ignored. “Lucas. How about I drive you?”
She’d expected some hesitation. Getting him into a car could be hit and miss, emphasis on the miss. But the widening eyes and quick shake of his head as he leaned away from her still hurt. An extra pinch of salt for all the years she’d never even called. She just wanted to do something
for him, but he was too old to have his mum walking him to school, wasn’t he? And she didn’t have the time for that either. He’d refused to take the bus, too. As stubborn as his father, though not half as articulate. Most of the time it was just a stolid shake of his head and refusal to move. He wouldn’t tell her why he didn’t like it, or complained about noises she couldn’t do anything about. So, she kept her lips pressed together and didn’t try insisting. A glance at the stove clock told her she didn’t have time to argue, nor to wait for him to finish his bowl.
“At least the weather’s nice. Alright, I have to get going.” It felt like she was talking to herself. Maybe she was. Standing, Marianne reached for her satchel and took his arm to make sure he was listening. “Don’t skip. It’ll be fine, Lucas. Miss Dahl can call me if you need anything. Anything, alright?”
He nodded after a heavy pause, eyebrows pulling together, intent on her words. “Alright, okay. It-It’s okay.”
“Good.” Another pause as she wondered what to say next, but after all that, telling him to have a good day seemed a bit… callous. So, she just gave him a smile, she hoped it was encouraging, and his arm a bit of a squeeze before hurrying to the garage door. She was going to be late. It was for the best he didn’t want her driving him, but when she glanced over her shoulder, the last thing she saw was him pressing his hands into his lap, shoulders tense and curling in on himself, sitting alone at the kitchen table.
Mouth tight, she started the car.
M A T H E R M E M O R I A L H I G H S C H O O L:
Tuesday, August 21st, 2018 - 12:30pm | Cafeteria balcony
Peace was caught up in relative quiet slipping through the cracks and drifting away. He wanted to follow it. Just walk, out of the halls, out of the school, out of the walls. The park was silent, sinful temptation behind his seat, as close as he could get to the railing where wind rolled around warm fingers and he didn’t mind the chill. But he couldn’t go. If he left, he wasn’t coming back.
There were too many people here. Too many things to count. Too much idle conversation and too much weight in his head. Made his head hurt, figuring it all out. He’d caught himself leaning in his seat more than once, caught himself halfway between closing his eyes to push it all as far as he could and letting it wash on by with every breath rocking him into the simple rhythm of letting go. But he didn’t want to get lost running away in his head here and holding all that up was heavy.
He needed it to stop. Staring at clocks made time slow. Watched pots…
Lunch couldn’t have come soon enough.
The assembly had been bad enough, with so many people in one busy place. Squeaking shoes. Bright lights and bold lines expressed. The subdued racket of chair seats bouncing hard rose and settled beneath the whole student body. He didn’t even wince when the microphone screech announced the first attempt to start over the whispering rush, just whimpered. His hands were already covering his ears. Didn’t care if anyone was staring, just listened to the echoes of never forgetting what the school was called. Mather Memorial. Mather Memorial. Mather Memorial. He was practically glaring a silent shut up
by the time the principal rescued the microphone from their musically inclined, or uninclined, librarian.
Splendid show-off the covered everything now. He didn’t care. Just stood up as soon as the hand left his shoulder and walked out. They beat the crowd, but not their feet, and he followed the wall close enough to avoid them all squishing his brain, focusing on the rough texture of the walls beneath his fingers and letting Miss Dahl lead him to his first class. They’d already gone over where everything was. His locker: loudly dented in the middle. Morning classes: far enough apart it counted as exercise. The cafeteria: cluttered with clattering and the smooth slide of trays; there was so much dripping off the edges, it smelled of everything and oil. The afternoon had one free period and one class: just right for playing catch-up. But it was hard to remember in the confusing patterns stepped out on the floor. So, she led, he followed and traced a trail with his fingertips until a busy locker row ruined it. Too many swinging doors and too much hollow rattling.
He picked a desk, each time, in the middle of the back row, away from walls and lockers on the other side. Not wanting to listen. Not wanting to talk.
No one asked him anything. If anyone stared, he didn’t notice. He sat watching the turn and twist of a brown prescription bottle, mesmerized by the steady impact of pills against top and bottom until Miss Dahl prompted him to replace empty bottle with textbook, already turned to the page he was supposed to be looking at, and the words settled a little. She wasn’t there to do everything for him. Three times they’d said she wouldn’t always be there, either. It was just to help him make the transition, during the first few days, so he sat up and tried to follow. It was better when they wrote on the board, and Mr. Alden repeated himself so many times it was almost easy.
Part of him remembered how it all worked. It wasn’t hard to fall into the flow of doing what he was told or sitting still and turning pages. But after so much free time and months of escaping into quiet woods and open air whenever he needed to, Lucas was tired enough by the time the lunch bell rang that he didn’t even realise it was
the lunch bell until they got to the cafeteria. Seeing sandwiches made him laugh, relieved to find finger food. But he still picked a table as far away from the walls as he could get, happier outside.
Noticeable enough that Miss Dahl never bothered relocating to the library when everyone vanished back to their classes. There wasn’t much to go over during the spare, but she made sure he’d written down the homework and remembered the classrooms and teachers before leaving him to work. He didn’t need help with that. He just needed time.
Tuesday, August 21st, 2018 - 02:22pm | The ‘Loft’
The word of the day was never-ending.
Like start, don’t stop the beaten track meeting in the middle. A breath of fresh air then back into the fray. If he followed the shifting tide of other students he’d never have found the class by himself: last one. Almost there. He did find team spirit pounded through the floor though; clap along to ravens, ravens, ravens. Loud and proud and making him scowl. But climbing the stairs and slipping into empty space seemed strange. Haunted halls.
Where was everyone?
Taking the time to look around before they came to the end of the hall he recognized age as much in the distance between his head and the louder voices as in the old style of worn down floor polish and door handles. It wasn’t as bad up here. The echoes of footsteps followed them down the hall. But the room was a rustle of papers and soft voices and the same tap-tapping scrape of chalk on the blackboard and dust falling like rain as he paused to watch the teacher’s back and brisk motion. Seeing that question mark flourish at the end, Lucas avoided the man’s eyes when he turned around and picked a corner seat, sinking down in the chair and making himself small beneath a mop of unruly hair.
As Miss Dahl took the seat beside him, his old pill bottle came back out of his sweatshirt pocket. White top, press down and twist, with smooth sides shiny and dark between his fingers. Every time he turned it end over end the empty air inside rattled against his skull. The medicine was gone, but he could still feel its weight. Making an odd sort of rainstick melody, hypnotizing. Little pinpricks in his head of upside down dazed sliding. He watched the light reflect off the brown tinted sides, blurring the black on white smudged ink of his name instead of watching the other students stepping through the door. Over and over, around and around until someone cleared their throat.
Chain reaction. He paused to glance up, bottle and fingers still for a moment as he registered the voice. Bald head. Bald tone.
He listened without really listening, in one ear and out the other because that was easier than holding onto it all, but he could
hear it. Mostly. And the bottle slipped slowly back to its circles, gaze drifting around instead of down as he finally took note of the others in the class. It wasn’t as big a group as he’d thought it would be. The other classes were bigger. Same mix of sharp, distant, attentive though. Were they supposed to be taking notes?
She wasn’t writing…
One guy was though.
Everyone else was talking. Discussion period. That’s what questions on the board were for. Find your own answers until someone tells you wrong. Think out loud. He’d rather not.
He got the question. It was floating white on black and easy to read. But he didn’t want to open his mouth with so many people listening in. And he didn’t know what to say, besides. From was a word that didn’t separate, just stretched distance between here and there, then and now, this and that, because it meant leaving behind a change of pace. The human animal made him think of monkeys walking down the line of evolution like in the textbooks and on the t-shirts. Two hunched figures between them. Didn’t want to think about it any harder than that.
He didn't care about existentialism either. Or was this class not where anyone else belonged? He'd just followed the schedule, and Miss Dahl. But now he was listening properly, too. Confused by the shift in direction between who asked the questions and who answered.