Chapter 15 – Raising awareness
Thursday, December 1st, 2016
After Calo and I hung out on Monday, he has been too busy to hang out again. I’ve been working on my assignment for the missed field trip, trying not to bother Calo too much. I don’t want him to think of me as desperate or whatever. Normally, every so often, Pyper and I play videogames together because she doesn’t want me to sit alone at home every day, or wander around the city taking photographs, on my own.
But she’s been over at friends for two days straight and I can’t help but feel bored.
She’s awfully cheerful on Thursday, skipping around the house, singing a song, heading over to school early for one of the last days of her suspension.
Mom stares after her, shaking her head as id to wake herself up from her thoughts as I hop into the kitchen.
’Morning honey. Good or bad day?”
’Average. I’m so bored.” I whine out once more. ’Can we do something after school? I still need to take my typewriter out to get it repaired.”
’We could do it this afternoon.” She nods and smiles. ’I’ll take it with me when I come to pick you up, okay?”
I nod and sigh deeply. What sixteen-year-old has to hang out with his mom to not be bored? ’Can we go to the movies or something? I’m sick and tired of being home all the time.”
Mom frowns shortly, but then nods. Though she seems worried.
’What’s going on?” She asks, sitting down in front of me. ’You’ve changed lately.”
’You never felt much need to go outside, or to socialize. You always had plenty of ideas to keep yourself busy.”
’And now I know what it’s like to have a friend and I want to go out more. I never really missed it, because I never really had it.”
’Are your appointments with Dr. Delgado helping you in someway?”
’I think so. I have less bad thoughts. It’s just that it feels weird to not do something I always do. It physically makes me uncomfortable. But on Tuesday he said it’s normal to feel restless and uneasy. He said we’ll take my compulsions one at a time, starting tomorrow.”
’And which is going to be the first?
’I have to decide, and I think I want to tackle my need to always organize my desk first.”
’Any good reasons behind that idea?”
’The other day, Cay asked why I did it and I really don’t know why I started it. I clearly remember not doing it. I just don’t remember starting it.”
’Then I think it’s the right choice to start there.” Mom tells me, taking my empty plate and glass to do the dishes. “And what’s going on with the anti-bullying program? Are they finally taking action?”
“Yeah, by giving me detention for protesting the statement they didn’t really have a reason before. Just because Calo had a bigger mouth and makes the bullying more visible, doesn’t mean I wasn’t bullied before. If any, thanks to Cay, I feel less bullied.”
“I bet they’re just trying to save their own reputation before it’s too late.” She sighs. “But I guess it’s good. Maybe it’s a little late for you, but if they start to actively take action against bullies, new students with problems will have less problems.” She shortly turns to look at me. “And I still can’t believe you got in detention, again. I’m beginning to doubt your friendship with Calo is a good thing…”
“Mom!” I stare at her with wide eyes. “He’s the best that ever happened to me!”
“I know, I know.” She giggles annoyingly childish. “I was kidding. I like Calo, I really do. He turns your frown into a smile and I don’t know a lot of people who can do that.”
“Neo!” Angela comes running up to me, waving a card in her hand. “Did you check your locker already?”
“I did not. I don’t really use my locker a lot.” My gym-clothes, washed and unused, are probably the only items that I would find in there. Thinking about it, I should maybe take them home some day.
“Check your locker.”
I frown, wondering why she can’t just tell me why I should check my locker, but then I shrug, leading her the way to my neglected locker in the far end of the hallway. Someone wrote the words “Faulty Favre” on the locker, and someone else tried to clean it, failing since it’s still vaguely there.
“That’s childish.” Angela mutters, obviously talking about the insult chalked on my locker.
“I didn’t see it before.” I shrug, not really feeling like caring about it. Then I search my key to unlock the locker, indeed finding my P.E. outfit – a bit muff-smelling – and a card;
Tell the truth, or take the dare
T: Who was your first ever kiss?
D: We dare you, for one solid day, to stop organizing your stuff.
Fail, and the truth will be told…
I swallow, staring down at the card in wonder, only to look up to find multiple students looking in my direction, whispering and probably gossiping about me.
“What did you get?” Angela tries to lean and read my card.
“Tell me yours, and I’ll tell you mine.”
“I wouldn’t mind telling my truth, but I’ll take the dare anyway.” She shows me a card, revealing the fact she’s been asked to tell who she got a crush on, or to…
“Skip the first and last steps of the stairs for a day?”
“Calo is behind this, right?”
“He has to be.” I grumble, snatching the card from her hold. “Why would he do that?”
“I don’t know, does it matter if people would, for another day, act the same as you do? The last time had been fun.”
“Right.” I take in a deep breath. “Did more people get these cards?”
“Everybody got a card, and for as far as I know, there’s three dares; jump the spots in front of the doors, not touch any lines between tiles, and skip the steps of the stairs.”
“Yeah, but I haven’t seen a lot of people playing, yet.”
“Why don’t you just tell the truth?” I ask her casually, while we head over to the classroom we’re having our first class in.
“Oh, well…” she drawls awkwardly. “I said I’d take the dare, right?”
So, together, we both skip the first step of the stairs as we start climbing it. I can’t help but smirk. “It’s Calo, huh? You got a crush on him? You stood up for him on Monday.”
“I do not have a crush on Calo. He’s hot, yeah, not my type exactly.”
“So, who is your type?” I nudge her teasingly, her face flushing. “Tell me! Who cares? I don’t have any friends to go and gossip with anyway.”
“That’s not true. You could totally gossip with Calo, and Pyper. And I bet if you go over to my friends to tell them secrets about me, they would listen.”
“But I wouldn’t go over to people who would only talk to me when I have juicy gossip about their friends.” I laugh at the idea. “That’s not me.”
“True.” Angela takes in a deep breath.
“So, who is he?”
“You are, Neo.” She whispers shyly. “I like you.”
My eyebrows fly up high as I stare at her with my mouth slightly agape. What’s going on with these people?
Should I check if she has a temperature, if she’s got a fever that would explain the fact she’s obviously delirious.
“Are you feeling okay?” I ask her hesitantly, causing her to chuckle.
“See, you’re funny.” She looks down as we stand in front of the door to the classroom. “You’re cute… you have an awesome smile and… well… I’ve got a crush on…”
“Move, nerd.” Luke pushes Angela away from me, snatching both her and my card from my hold, as I was still holding onto hers. “What’s this? Freak?” He reads the cards.
“Another stupid game?” Jimmy reads along over his shoulder. “Who got a card, Faulty Favre?”
“I think everybody did… I don’t know.”
“Hey,” Angela pushes Luke back, snatching back the cards. “Stop acting like jerks, you’re not cool.”
“Did you just push me?” Luke steps towards her. “Are we excluded from your childish game, Freak?” He looks back at me. “Afraid you couldn’t handle our dare?”
“It’s not…” I can’t help but frown. “You don’t… I don’t…”
“What are you stammering, freak? Forgot how to talk?”
“It’s not how it’s played, Luke.” Angela pushes him away from me again. “You don’t get to ask a truth or dare back. We don’t know who started it, but it’s for the entire day.”
“It’s stupid, that’s what it is.”
“Ahw, do the two empty-heads feel excluded?” Calo sounds behind them with a sing-song voice. “Got cards left, want one?” He waves a stack of cards, while Pyper is right by his side with a grin on her face, holding a stack of her own.
“Wait, you guys?” I stare at Pyper in disbelief.
“Luke, your truth, I got one especially for you, is going to be…” Calo holds up a card. “What happened to you that caused your face to be that disformed? As a dare, we dare you to walk around with a paper bag to hide your ugliness from the world.”
“You want a fight? Delgado?” Luke now steps up to him, Pyper stepping forwards too.
“Want another beating? Want to cry like a baby again?” She hisses. “I don’t mind another suspension.”
“Hey!” I snap at him, pushing him from behind. “Don’t ever call her that again…”
“What, or else?” He swirled around to face me, before stepping out of the way since he’s surrounded by me and… my friends.
“You will regret the day I was born…” Calo sighs. “We’ve been over this, guys.” He drags me and Pyper away from them, Angela following with a chuckle. “You know you would regret it if you’d go on.”
“I will rebuild your ugly face…” Pyper grumbles, right before Calo covers her mouth.
“You need to go and show your face for suspension, I’ll take care of the rest.” He grabs the cards from her hold. “Thanks for helping me out.” He pecks a kiss on her cheek and with a flushed face, Pyper nods and leaves.
“We’ll have fun today, Neo.” Calo cheerfully tells me, putting an arm around my shoulders to pull me towards the classroom, Angela following us again.
It’s lunch, and so far, not many people play the game. I haven’t heard many truths, I haven’t seen many people behave like me. It seems like this game isn’t as big of a hit as The Floor Is Lava had been.
I’m seated with Calo and Angela, watching as people go about their every day business.
“I appreciate the effort, Cay,” I tell him since he seems a bit cranky. “Don’t take it personal that nobody is playing the game.”
“Most of the students in this school have too much secrets to hide, and too much of a reputation to lose if they play along.” Angela agrees with me while nodding her head.
“They’re weak,” Calo mumbles, while he gives me the impression his short-lived happy mood is about to vanish into thin air again. “It’s annoying.”
“Well, how about we play the real game? You know? Tell a truth, or take a dare, before asking someone else?” Angela shrugs. “I already told my truth to Neo.”
“You did?” Calo frowns, staring at her with curiosity. “What was the question?”
“If I have a crush and on who.” Angela shrugs. “I have a crush on Neo.”
That causes Calo’s eyebrows to fly up, while I feel my face flush a little.
“Well, that’s nice.” Calo shrugs the matter off without too much enthusiasm, while I feel flattered, having two people tell me they have a small crush on me in a matter of a couple of days.
Then again, Calo might feel a bit threatened. Angela is a cute girl, and she accepts me for who I am.
“It’s not important,” Calo continues. “If nobody is playing, my plan failed.”
He takes in a deep breath. “You’re not alone, Neo. And I wanted people to open up about it.”
“If you mean that they had to open up about possible illnesses, then I get why they’re not playing.” I simply shrug, staring to my phone as Pyper sends me a message to ask how things are going with the game. I tell her the truth, and how nobody is seemingly joining in on it.
We sit in silence for a while, just eating our lunch, Calo texting on his phone absentmindedly, Angela every so often smiling at me insecurely.
Then, Calo takes in a deep breath. “Angela, could you maybe get your friends to join us at the table?”
She frowns shortly, before looking at me, also very briefly, before she shrugs and nods. “I’ll go get them. I’ll be right back.”
We both watch her get up and leave, before I turn to Calo, sending him a questioning look.
“Why would they want to sit here?”
Calo rolls his eyes in response. “Just wait, okay?”
I want to say something back, as I’m a bit sick and tired of having to wait for answers to simple questions, but I accept it and sit in silence, watching Angela walking back to us with two friends. Only two out of six agreed on sitting here. I guess two out of six o her closest friends like her enough to bare sitting with the biggest outcast of school.
“This is Miranda, and this is Kaley.” Angela gestures from a girl with long black hair, curly but in a ponytail, to a girl with shorter blonde hair, who both smile at Calo and me, but obviously feeling a bit out of place.
“Did you two get a card?” Calo instantly starts talking about the business he want to discuss with them.
“Huh… yeah… Is it your game?” Kaley sits down opposite from me, staring at Calo with curiosity. “I bet, if people would know for sure this is your game, they would play along some more.”
“It is mine and Pyper’s game. We want to raise awareness.” Calo shortly looks at me, before looking back at Kaley. “But it obviously needs a bit of a push to get the game going. I’m asking for your help.”
“We’ll help.” Miranda nods with a smile, before she looks at me. “Is it to raise awareness about bullying? Since they started that programm…”
“I don’t know.” I shrug carelessly. “I think Calo is trying to make me realise that I’m not the only one who gets bullied…”
“Who has a mental illness.” Calo interrupts me, correcting me in the same time. “If I call out my truth, will you three follow my lead?” His eyes flicker from one girl to the other, ending with Angela, who shortly looks at me before she nods.
“I’ll follow your lead.”
Miranda nods too, instantly, but Kaley seems hesitantly.
“How about you, Angela and Miranda do it, and Kaley can wait and see how everybody responds?”
Calo and Kaley share a look that I don’t quite get, but then Kaley shakes her head.
“I’m not calling it out, but I will tell Neo my truth if you, Ang and Mir dare to call it out.”
“Deal.” Calo slams the table with a loud bang, already catching the attention of some nearby students in a busy hall full of hyper-active teenagers. Normally, I would sit at the very side of the lunchroom, first of al to make myself invisible as much as possible, secondly to not take up a place that is obviously meant for people with more than one friend.
I’m a bit surprised as Calo gets up from his seat, climbing on top of the table. He whistles loudly, with the use of his fingers, getting more students to stop talking and looking in his direction.
I can’t help but slump down in my seat a bit now that most eyes are on our table. But why would I hide? For the first time ever, I sit with four people who are all here by free will. I didn’t force them.
Then again, Angela might have forced Kaley and Miranda.
“Yow, words out that everybody, except Jimmy and Luke got a card in their locker!” Calo calls out loudly, turning around to take a look at all the students surrounding us. Most stopped talking loudly, but some whisper to each other, while keeping an eye on Calo in the same time. “And I think most of us are scared to be the first one to actually show some guts, and tell the truth, or take the dare.”
“What’s his question?” Kaley leans forwards to address me, while I’m keeping my eyes on Calo in surprise. He’s actually speaking in front of all the junior and senior students in this school. Talk about showing some guts.
“I was asked if I am familiar with any mental illness myself…” Calo fished the card from his pocket, waving it around. “And to support those who think it should be a secret, I’ll now openly admit, that I, Calo Delgado, suffer from chronical depression. I have a mental illness and every so often, I cry like a baby for days.”
At first, there’s a silence, some chuckling, but before anyone is able to really register what Calo told them, Angela climbed up onto her seat, her face flushed.
“My card asked on who I have a crush, and I have a crush on Neo Favre.” She speaks calmly, and it causes people to look back and forth between Angela and me. I slide down further in my seat, respecting the two for doing this, wishing people would stare at them instead of me.
“And I was asked about my biggest fear and I’m afraid of clowns.” Miranda joins them with a flushed face.
People, by now, started talking while still looking in the direction of our table. Some laugh, Luke and Jimmy hollering and laughing at them for doing this, joined by some friends.
“Well, I hope that’ll set it off.” Calo nudges me. “At least people now know you’re not alone with your illness.”
“Neo…?” Kaley leans forwards. “I know why Calo wanted Angela to come and get her friends…” She clears her throat awkwardly. “Calo and I have met before…”
I look back and forth between her and Calo, focussing back on her while I’m curious as to what it is she’s about to say.
“I was still at North Haven when Calo got there…” Kaley’s face is as red as a tomato. “I was there because I have a Borderline personality disorder.”