I was late to school. I told the secretary it was because I overslept. The excuse I gave Reb was that it’s a Monday.
I didn’t tell anyone that I’d been busy all weekend trying to predict the future. Ever since I’d talked to Chay, I’d been unable to write. Every time I picked up a pen, his words came back to me. This was more than Writer’s Block, this was like Writer’s Electric Fence, surrounded by a moat and guard dogs. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get past it.
And–to be perfectly honest–I wasn’t sure that I wanted to.
The little sleep that I had gotten this weekend had been plagued by nightmares, most of which involved being chased by quadratic equations, armed with exploding crystal balls.
I laid my head against the desk as soon as I got to home room and closed my eyes.
The bell rang.
I had a headache.
And I had Miss Carling first thing in the morning.
I was glad that Reb had that class with me. I’d never really realized how many classes I had with him. Reb was simply one of those people who blended into the wall. He was normally very quiet–I’d never heard him talk in class. In fact, I’d been more than surprised that he’d even talked to me.
Maria and Alvin bustled past me on my way to the door: evidently, I was pretty invisible myself.
Maybe that was why Reb had started talking to me.
As though on cue, Reb was beside me. His hair was less stringy that it was most days, and the ring was missing from his lip.
“Hey,” I responded, turning a corner in the hallway.
“I hate Mondays.”
I nodded in agreement.
“Carling’s going to suck today.”
“She hates me.”
“Yeah–I’m gonna agree with ya’.”
“Thanks.” My eyes rolled slightly.
Reb shrugged. “Truth hurts, Todd. Carling has a bitter soul.”
“And it’s the most bitter to me.”
“No, her soul’s most bitter to all–it’s not just you.”
I would have liked to believe the statement, but I knew it was false. I took my seat–front row, dead in the middle (better for Carling to torment me)–and opened my composition book.
I closed it instantly.
I realized then how much of a reflex it was for me to simply turn to The Man In The Shadows: for tranquility, for release, for reassurance.
Carling’s class was filled with the usual torture: I received a C on my research paper, despite the fact I had done precisely as she’d instructed. Twice she called on me when I didn’t know the answer. And I lost track of how many times she told me to wake up when I hadn’t been sleeping.
As I moved to the door, Carling caught me, “Everett, I just wanted to remind you not to attend Writer’s Oval this week.”
I didn’t even turn as I answered. “I know.”
“Writing isn’t for everyone, Everett. Maybe you should start considering something simpler–the way you’ve been going in my class, you’ll never be able to survive college.”
I made my way to second period wanting to punch something.
When it was finally time for lunch, I sat at my usual seat, though this time without a composition book to keep me occupied. Alvin and Maria were excitedly talking about some sort of party they’d attended over the weekend and were comparing the amount of alcohol the two of them had consumed.
It wasn’t until Reb was right on top of me that I noticed he was there.
“Wanna come sit over here, today?” he asked. (I wondered if I looked that miserable.) I agreed, though; Maria and Alvin were completely oblivious that there was table was minus one member.
Reb sat in a corner on the floor. It was darkened and very private.
I felt immediately at home.
“Thanks,” I muttered.
Reb nodded, motioning toward his fries. “Where’s your lunch?”
“I don’t eat.”
“Have some of mine; I never eat it all.”
I obliged only because the fries smelled delicious, obviously filled with extra grease and salt.
We were both silent.
“Still got writer’s block?” Reb asked.
“I noticed that you weren’t writing. How’d you end up with those two air heads?”
I laughed. “Good question.”
Reb seemed to think about it. “There must have been a split in the universe.”
“Yeah–the space time continuum was interrupted, and you just happened to fall at their table.”
“And you know this how?”
Reb grinned. “I’m psychic–I can see things.”
I put the fry I was about to eat back on his tray. I felt suddenly ill.
“You okay, Todd?”
I nodded, but I still felt nauseous. Carling had managed to make me forget about Chay, but now his words seemed as powerful as ever.
I started. Alexis and a few other preps were staring at Reb at myself, making exaggerated faces as they pointed at us. “The freaks found each other!”
“I’m sure you’ll be very happy together!” spat a basketball player I knew only Smith.
“Yeah,” Reb said excitedly. “We’re going to sacrifice a lamb after school–wanna come?”
“Freaks,” Alexis spat, and she and the others walked away, cackling and jeering.
I continued to stare after them. “What was that?”
Reb shrugged. “I think its healthy to be smartalec back to losers like that.” He grinned. “Let’s go.”
The bell rang then, and I felt slightly happier knowing that the day was almost over.
It would have been nicer, however, if Carling would have left me alone. But no, apparently she hadn’t had her fill of torture yet.
She caught me in the hall after Spanish. I was ready to go to my locker–finally escaping high school for the day–when she called my name in her venomous voice.
“Everett, can I speak to you a minute?”
I turned dramatically, and stopped by her classroom. She closed the door behind her (gulp) and looked at me with eyes that reminded me of tsunamis–violent and spilling over with menace.
“Everett, I think that we should really discuss your placement.”
I didn’t respond because I positive if my mouth opened, I’d yell.
“It’s just that I think this college preparatory English class might not be the best course for you.” She waited; I thought she looked disappointed that I hadn’t retorted. “Have you ever considered a general class? You could start taking one your senior year.”
“You want me to go ahead and suit up for the factory?” I spat.
“Everett, you will not speak to a teacher like that!”
“Why not? That’s how you speak to me!”
Carling flared with both enjoyment and anger. “Everett, if this work is too hard for you–”
“It’s not hard, just unbelievably dull the way you teach it!”
“And no, I’m not changing classes! Maybe my grade would be better if you’d actually grade things fairly!”
I hadn’t raised my voice, but Carling looked as though she’d been slapped.
“Everett.” Her voice was deadly, as she reached for something on her desk–a pink slip.
Great, detention–just what I needed.
“Todd, you really need to learn some respect.”
I waited until I was outside of her line of vision to punch the wall. I got my things from my locker, rubbing my sore hand, cursing Carling again and again.
I was surprised to find Reb’s car waiting at the front of the school. I breathed slowly in an attempt to ease my anger.
It didn’t work.
I stalked to the car, opening the door more harshly than I should have. Reb was sitting in the driver’s seat, listening to his CD player, his Algebra II notebook opened on his lap.
He didn’t look up when I entered, nor when I sat, but he said, “Math is the devil in disguise.”
My voice lacked the humor that it should have contained when I said, “I believe letters and numbers are two separate mediums.”
“I believe I’m never going to use logarithms.” Reb closed his notebook with a frustrated flourish and pulled off his headphones. He threw his things into the backseat, and grimaced. “So, Carling stick you in the stockades?”
“No, she was in more of a ‘water-torture’ mood.” I should have smiled after the statement, but instead I turned to the window, not wanting to continue this particular conversation.
Reb gave a dry laugh, pulling out of the school. “What’d she say?”
I inwardly groaned–apparently I’d have to talk more than I really wanted to. I didn’t have any desire to complain to Reb, but he seemed genuinely curious, so I continued.
“I just want to know what I did to tick her off.”
Reb shrugged, letting another student pull out into the road. “She just doesn’t like people who are different, Todd. She’s not too crazy about me either.”
“Then why hasn’t she kicked you out of Writer’s Circle or anything else?”
Reb gave a small laugh. “I’m not proud to say it’s cuz my dad’s a doctor and my mom’s a lawyer.” He shook his head. “I’d rather solve my own problems myself, but sometimes my family’s prestige precedes me, so I get off easy.”
I was silent, looking strangely at Reb.
“What?” he asked, looking at me for the briefest of moments, before turning his attention back to the road.
“I didn’t know your family was that… affluent.” I chose my words carefully; Reb didn’t argue with them, but I noticed that he was frowning.
“Yeah, speaking of that, Todd, do you mind if I stop by my house before I drop you off?”
Reb shrugged, stopping at the red light in the middle of town. “I have a book to take back to the library, and I promised my brother I’d run off some flyers for him.” Reb grinned. “He’s running for president of the sixth grade,” he explained.
I laughed. “Well, wish him luck.”
The light turned green, and Reb began to move forward.
“I hope he does well–”
My body lunged forward, as the car screeched to a stop. I was suddenly very grateful that I’d worn my seatbelt.
Ahead of us, a blue car was swerving. The driver seemed to be trying to both break and go forward at the same time. The car spun in a circle, straightened itself out, then continued forward as though nothing had happened.
Reb’s foot was still on the brake, his eyes wide. He was suddenly stiff, gripping the wheel.
“Shit,” he exclaimed, staring after the car as it slowly disappeared down the road. “He didn’t even stop.”
I’d never heard Reb curse before and it caught me off guard.
The blue car was no longer visible. Reb shook his head, his color slowly rising, his eyes returning to a normal size. “Idiot,” he mumbled, slowly accelerating.
He turned back to me, giving an odd smile that was more of a grimace. “That’s the closest I’ve ever been to an accident, I swear.”
I nodded, not really sure of how to respond. “Still don’t think you’d like to see the future?” I asked hesitantly.
Reb seemed confused, then appeared to remember Saturday. He laughed and the tension eased. He turned down a road I was unfamiliar with, and said, “It would be helpful sometimes, huh?” He was silent for a second; I noticed that he still hadn’t loosened his grip on the wheel. “Man, where are the cops when you need them?”
I agreed, as Reb continued.
“I still don’t think I’d like to see the future.”
“You were nearly rammed off the road, and you don’t think it would be nice to be able to avoid things like that?”
“It’d be nice. But this world isn’t perfect. If you could predict every little thing, then you’d be perfect. I wouldn’t like that.”
I laughed. “Now, that’s the strangest thing you’ve ever said.”
“No, this is the strangest thing I’ve ever said: super-intelligent cats are controlling my brain to learn how to dance the tango!”
“Yeah, cats would be way more interested in the charleston.”
Reb gave a shout of a laugh. “Ha!” He turned onto another road, still chuckling. “Fantastic, now every time I see a cat, I’m going to have 1920’s flashbacks. Good to see Carling didn’t ruin your sense of humor.”
“That’s what I meant by not wanting to be perfect.” Reb drummed his fingers against the wheel. “I mean, Carling and all the preps she favors, they either think they’re perfect, or they like pretending to be.” Reb shrugged. “No one’s perfect, and I’m not any exception. People have problems–we need to have them.”
“Yeah, they’re great.”
Reb frowned. “I think they form our personality. I wouldn’t like to see the future–I think I’d be missing out on something.”
I didn’t respond. Reb didn’t know, but he’d just managed to make me feel ten times worse.
Because he had a point–a good one.
“So the Writer’s Block still at ya’?”
I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. Normally, after a day like today, I would be able to write and release my anxiety into fictional characters.
Or not so fictional.
But not now.
“Still there,” I confessed.
“Ooh, that sucks.”
“You don’t know the half of it.”
Reb had stopped at a house–a very nice house (nicer than mine at any rate). It was two-story Victorian with a wrap-around porch.
My face must have conveyed how I felt, because Reb said quietly, “I’ll be right back.”
It didn’t take him long to get what he needed. He came back quickly with his things, and grinned. “My brother says hi, and my mom says she wants to meet you.”
I raised my eyebrows.
“I told her we were running late, so let’s go.”
He began to pull out, staring behind him carefully.
“What’d she say about the near-wreck?”
“Didn’t tell her–she wouldn’t let me anywhere near a car again.”
He switched on the radio as soon as we hit the road. Queen was playing, and he began to sing along. “Like Queen?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“Money for Nothin’? Are you kiddin’ me?”
Reb nodded, smiling. “Peter Frampton?”
“No.” I shook my had exaggeratedly, and Reb moaned.
“Ah, come on! Peter Frampton!”
“Not my thing!”
“I don’t get it–just not my thing.” I shrugged.
Reb shook his head. “I guess I’m going to have ignore that oversight on your part.”
“Ah, come one!”
“I mean, I’d never be able to forgive myself if I kicked you out of the car and a band of circus freaks picked you up and forced you to perform for peanuts.”
“Yeah, you could be the one who doesn’t like Frampton–right next to the beared lady.”
I felt the need to hit Reb upside the head, but I didn’t want to go off the road.
Reb was laughing, ducking to the side.
“And so what’s your excuse?” I snapped back.
“Being a freak–I mean, gothic when your parents are practically rich. You should be playing baseball and flirting with cheerleaders.”
Reb laughed again. “That would be exactly why I’m gothic.”
The car stopped and I realized we’d arrived at my house. I shook my head and thanked him for the ride.
As he pulled away, I noticed that Virgil’s truck still wasn’t in the driveway.
For a moment, I forgot all about Chay and my stories.
Until I got inside.
Copyright Sarah Davidson 2020