Hey Christian! I'll pick you up in about 40 min, okay?
Okay, thanks Scott.
I got out of bed and looked at myself in the mirror. I was a wreck. Bruises covered my neck. You could see red handprints and finger prints if you lifted my shirt or pants up. Bags hung under my eyes. My body ached and hurt everywhere. On second thought...
I'm not coming to school today. I'm not feeling very well, so don't bother to pick me up. Thanks anyways though haha.
Oh, alright. I hope you feel better. :(
I carefully laid down on my bed again, trying not to hurt myself any further. My dad was home because I could hear him downstairs. Moody jumped up onto my bed.
"Hi cat!" I greeted, starting to pet his fur. He purred happily. At least one of us was happy. I decided I would go to the cafe to read and catch up on some missed homework assignments. I got up and stripped of my clothes, turning the shower handle for warm water. I wonder where my thoughts would take me this time. I stepped in and let the warm water hit my back. Looking down and wincing, I lightly ran my fingers over the new marks on my body. I wonder if I'll have to do it again. Will they give me more money? When should I buy my blade? Where? I wonder if everybody knew you could make art like I did. Should I tell people? No. She got sad when I told her. I don't want to make people upset.
I finished cleaning myself and dried off. After I was mostly dry, I changed into my clothes for the day. I have to wash Theo's clothes still. I grabbed the pile of clothes Theo lent me and trudged down the stairs. After I had started the washer, I made my way to the kitchen.
"The two men said they were very pleased with you. They scheduled again for next week," my dad said when I entered the kitchen. I smiled. Maybe they'll give me more money. My dad raised an eyebrow.
"What, you like going with them?" he asked and I nodded. If it made him smile, I'd like anything. He gave me a quick half grin.
"Why aren't you going to school?" he asked next. I stared at him for a few seconds, trying to think of what I should respond with.
"I don't want to go to school today. My body hurts," I decided to say. He laughed.
"That's no reason for you not to show up at school. Go on. Get your ass to school, Christian."
I nodded and went upstairs to change into something that would cover the marks. I didn't want people to see them. They'd stare a me. I hate eye contact.
"Hey, Tia!" she exclaimed, running up and enveloping me in a big hug. I smiled brightly and hugged her back. I loved her hugs. They were comforting.
"Hi!" I greeted. She smiled at me, but I looked at my shoes. I didn't want to make eye contact. It scared me.
"Hey. Look at me. I love your eyes," she begged. I smiled and looked into her greenish blue eyes. I hated this. I would get lost and I wouldn't find my way back.
After pulling the neck of my hoodie up to cover the marks on my neck, I went downstairs and put my sneakers on, tying the laces. I would stop by the cafe anyways. I had put the twenty dollar bill in my hoodie pocket.
"Goodbye dad!" I said, stepping out into the crisp morning air and shutting the door behind me. I shoved my hands into my pockets and pulled my hood up. I began to walk towards the coffee shop. I need to eat. I'm hungry. She always made me food.
"May I get a french vanilla iced coffee please? Regular sugar and extra cream," I told the cashier once I arrived at the cafe.
"What size?" she asked, pushing her wavy brown locks out of her face.
Somebody bumped into me, causing me to stumble and fall down.
"Oh my gosh! He is so sorry! Say you're sorry right now!" a boy who looked about eighteen or nineteen demanded. His British accent was very potent. A smaller boy who looked about seventeen or eighteen sheepishly rubbed his neck and held his hand out to help me to my feet. I stared at his hand, before reluctantly grabbing it.
"Yeah, sorry about that..." he apologized guiltily. He also had a British accent. We're they visiting? Did they live here? Are they brothers? Are they friends? Are they a couple?
"No, no, it's fine!" I responded with a smile. The smaller boy glared at the taller boy.
"Maybe I wouldn't have bumped into him, if you hadn't bumped into me! Fucking idiot!" he mumbled. The taller boy snickered and pulled him away by his arm. What an odd pair. The cashier cleared her throat.
"Sorry about them. They just moved here from London with me. I'm Kip, by the way," she said, holding out her hand. I stared at it for a second, before shaking it quickly. Kip smiled brightly at me. It reminded me of her.
"I'm Christian. May I have that drink in medium, please?"
"Yeah, of course. Is that all?"
I looked at their cookies. Hmm.
"May I have four snickerdoodle cookies to go with that, please?" I asked politely. She nodded her head and tapped something on the iPad.
"Ooookay. That'll be right out for you, Christian."
I smiled and nodded, walking away to sit at a table and wait. I wonder if I'd ever get a job. Maybe I'll work here. I come here a lot anyways. My thoughts were about to take me away, when somebody called for me.
"French vanilla iced coffee and four snickerdoodle cookies for... Christian?"
I got up and retrieved my order, heading out the door. I started walking to school. I was very late, but I'm sure Scott told a teacher or something I wasn't coming. He always did.
Theo? I turned my head and there he was. He was in his car, driving beside me. He motioned for me to get in, but I shook my head. I couldn't get close to anybody else.
"I'll walk, it's fine," I said, picking up my pace. Of course, he just followed me in his car. Seriously?
"You're going to get sick. It's not very warm outside in the mornings."
"Yeah, I know. I'm fine. You should be at school," I replied. Why isn't he at school?
"You should too, you know," he said. I didn't want to ask, but my curiosity got the best of me.
"Why aren't you at school?" I asked.
"I could ask the same thing."
"Yes, but you didn't. Just tell me, please," I said, looking at him for a split second with a smile. He tsked and shook his head. What? Did I do something wrong? Did I say something wrong? What did I do?
"Sorry..." I muttered. He gave me a confused look, before returning his eyes to the road. I could see the school now. Maybe if I ran...
"Why are you sorr- hey! Wait! Carson, come back!" he yelled after me as I sprinted towards the school and burst through the doors. Third period was just starting and the bell rang. Uh oh. I ran to third period and opened the door. My eyes scanned the room, looking for Scott. When I spotted him, I smiled and made my way towards him.
"Hi Scotty!" I said, fixing the neck of my hoodie. He raised an eyebrow.
"Feeling sick, huh?"
"Yeah. My dad told me it wasn't a good reason to skip, so here I am!" I explained. This time his eyebrows furrowed in worry. Why is he worried?
"That's a pretty good reason if you ask me. If it wasn't, you know I would be shown up at your house and dragged your ass out of bed and to school," he said. I smiled and nodded. Scott was a great person and a great friend. Maybe I would tell him about her soon. Maybe not. I'm lucky Scott was so pushy that day in fourth grade.
"Hi! I'm Scott!"
Who? I looked up and saw an Asian boy with medium wavy black hair. His eyes were hazel. Why is this boy talking to me? I don't know him? Stay away.
"Go away," I retorted. There was silence for a few seconds, so I looked up. Scott was frowning and looking at me through sad eyes. Why is he sad? I looked back down at the picture I was drawing. A girl with her hair blowing in the wind. She was looking up at the night sky. There was a bright moon in the corner.
"Where are the stars?"
"I hate stars."
Silence again. I looked up and he was frowning again. Then, he hugged me.
"Get off!" I yelled, trying to push him off.
"I'm just hugging you! Shut up and accept it, idiot!" he pouted. I slapped him in the head, but he didn't let go. After a couple minutes, I got used to the warm hug and slouched against him.
"There you go! Happy!" Scott said, happily. He took a white pen from his bag. I watched silently as he dotted stars all over the night sky.
"The night sky is incomplete without the stars. You need them," he explained. I watched him stick his tongue out of the corner of his mouth while he carefully drew the stars. I nodded eagerly. I didn't know that. It was only my first year of school.
I never forgot the stars after that day.
"Hey, man, you listening? Party on Friday night. When should I pick you up?" Scott asked, lightly hitting my arm. I looked up at him. He was the only person I could hold eye contact with for a little while. He forced me too when we were little and I never broke the habit. I smiled and hit him back.
"I'll just ride with you to the party after school. We can help set it up," I answered. He didn't have to ask if I was available. We both knew I'd be free for the party.
When I got home from school, my dad called me into his office. I gulped nervously, before knocking at his door.
"Come in," he answered gruffly. I cracked the door open and slipped inside. I nodded for him to talk.
"Remember the two men who borrowed you last night?" he asked. I nodded. How could I forget? My body still ached in pain and marks lined my body.
"Okay, well they have friends who are going to start scheduling with you," he explained. More? I don't know if I could take any more. I nodded and faked a small smile. He nodded.
"I'm going out tonight," I told him and he nodded, telling me to leave his office and not bother him for the rest of the night. I went upstairs and into my room. Grabbing my pack of cigarettes and shoving them in my pocket along with a small lighter, I left the house. I turned left and began walking to the park. Tears threatened to come out, but I pushed them away. I can't cry. I'm happy. I'll get money. It's worth it.
But even I couldn't convince myself that that was the truth.
When I reached the park, I headed for the bush lining in behind the swings. After pushing through those, I saw the familiar clearing with a worn down path from years of walking on that led to my cave. Nobody knew about this place. Not that I know of. I lazily climb the rocks to the top of the rock hill and hopped into the opening at the top. Landing on my feet, I stood up straight and looked around. In the middle of the cave was a lagoon where you could swim in through if you didn't climb.
I sat down on a rock and took a cigarette out of my pocket along with the lighter. I glanced at the black lettering on the lighter, fading from years of use.
I missed her. I clicked the lighter on and watched the flame appear in front of me. It flickered and twisted. I liked to think that the lighter was like me; used, normal, plain on the outside, but on the inside, a flame was burning. You just had to hit the right nerve to light it up.
I laid back on the rocks, breathing smoke out and grabbing my phone. I switched a song on. When I could create art, I smoked and blasted music. I held the cigarette up to my lips and closed my eyes, blowing the smoke out.
We've been there for weeks
You don't know what could buy me
Just roll up the cigarette
And just forget about this mess
I relaxed and felt my problems slowly fading, but I knew better than to actually believe they were fading. They wore a mask, like me, but I could recognize them from miles away.
My eyes snapped open and I sat straight up, looking around. I spotted Theo peeking up from the pool in the middle. He had swam in. I quickly turned my music off and hid my cigarettes and lighter. He couldn't see. It would give away way too much information he didn't need to know.
"Hi, Theo! I didn't know you came here!" I exclaimed, smiling brightly. He got out of the water, shirtless, and walked over to me, sitting cross-legged in front of me. He was wearing a blue beanie. He didn't even take it off when he was in the water.
"You were smoking?" he realized, sniffing the air. My eyes widened in fake shock.
"No! I wasn't! It smelled like this when I came in," I lied. He narrowed his eyes, obviously not believing me.
"I don't believe you. You don't have to lie to me. You know, I'm worried about you."
Why? Why is he worried? Why would anybody be worried? I'm always happy!
"You don't need to!" I smiled. He shook his head and chuckled. I tilted my head to the side in confusion. Why is he laughing?
"Talk to me. Let it all out. I know you're hiding things from everybody. I can see right through you, so just... let it out," he said. I stared at him. What is he talking about? I'm happy. I'm content with how the way things are. I saw him squint his eyes again. Then he reached out and pulled my hoodie collar down. What is he doing? Why does he look like that? Is there something on my neck?
"Carson, your... are you... Carson?"
I looked at him in confusion and brought my hand up to touch my neck. I winced in pain and realized what he was seeing. The bruises. My eyes widened and I quickly pulled my collar up again. No, no, no! Wake me up! This is all a dream! Please!
"Carson?" he asked, his voice weak. I looked down at my shoes. My breathing became uneven. My hands were shaking. I was shaking. My vision was blurring. Not now! Not now! Don't cry! Stop! No tears! You're happy! I blinked the tears away long enough for me to grab a cigarette, light it, and smoke it. When I had calmed down, I glanced at Theo's facial expression. He looked horrified.
"You... I'm worried about you. Don't do this to yourself! You need to stop! Please, just let me help you!" he pleaded. I smiled an empty smile at him.
"Stop what? I'm not doing anything to myself? Look, my dad wants me home before dark, so I've got to go. See you, Theo," I said, standing up. He grabbed my arm and pulled me down.
"I want to be friends. Come to my house tomorrow. Please," he begged. I shook my head.
"I'm not somebody you want to be around, Theodore," I warned with a dark smile. I yanked my arm free and climbed out of the cave. I needed a smoke. I needed to relieve stress. Theo showed up, so I didn't get the chance too, but my stress was relieved.
Was there another way to help me besides art and smoke?
[November 24, 2020]