VOLUME ONE [ #1 ]
Chapter One; Work With It
I wasn’t gay. Surely, a whispered “Fuck that” is the least I could do, but Mrs White had taken the ‘outburst’ for an excuse to lecture, once again. Profanity hinders learning, disrupts a teaching space. Diminishes the vocabulary. All the etcetera. Untrue—my vocabulary is exquisite. Ten minutes later, she asked if I understood. The wrong answer is a straight ticket to a lunch date with her; I muttered that I do.
I said nothing from then. Didn’t want to risk it; I was hungry - could already feel my stomach twisting in anticipation and growling to remind me that it was there and empty as heck. I allowed my head to fall onto my desk.
White, however, could not take a break. “Are you listening?” I nodded my head at my Citizenship teacher, but had no idea what she said next. Hardly gave a shit. What I’d heard so far was enough to drive me off the edge; building some kind of portfolio or CV structure influenced by personality and interests/subjects. It was meant to help towards university applications and the wider world of the working class hero. The idea of it was dull enough, and on top of that, I had just been assigned to work with Freddie Fucking Lewis.
I glanced towards him from my slumped position and therefore saw him from an angle. He was a couple of rows in front of me, leaning forward on his desk. The ginger girl beside him, duckling as I knew her to be, was whispering something in his ear and, for some reason, the action seemed incredibly sexual. I almost expected her to lick the shell of his ear and for them to then begin wildly making out, the way she had her arm around the back of his chair and her chest against his arm. But, of course, that would never have happened. Freddie Lewis was gay. Loved guys and dick. Neither of which the ginger duck could identify with.
And I was to work with him.
He laughed softly at whatever it is she said as she looked over her shoulder at me, smirking. Any idiot could tell the subject of their little joke. I flipped her off tiredly and closed my eyes.
Like I cared. Just wanted to be home.
“So done with this shit,” Abby muttered from beside me. I couldn’t conjure up a reply, but she’d pretty much taken the words right out of my mouth.
Speaking of mouths, the lunch bell rang out then, signifying the end of the lesson, and suddenly my tiredness was forgotten.
It was when I’d scooped my fourth forkful of pasta-and-God-awful-sauce into my mouth that I felt Courtney’s arm snake underneath my hoodie and around my waist, and her head fall onto my shoulder, as though holding it up was the most difficult thing in the world. She said, “Hey, Joe,” and I nodded in reply, focus on the plate in front of me.
Ryan slid in opposite us, soon followed by his girlfriend, Kelsey, who was holding a bowl of fruit salad. I ignored them, but Ryan was unwilling to grant me the satisfaction of a simple, bullshit-less meal. “Guess who Joe’s partnered up with in CT.” When I looked up at him to express my disapproval, he merely winked again and shoved another chip in his mouth. Our girlfriends took the bait, of course, and when he spilt the beans all over the table they laughed like it was the funniest thing.
“Are you fucking serious?”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Oh, he did!” Ryan interrupted. I rolled my eyes, allowing a small smile through then and continued to eat. “That’s the funny part. He swore and then fucking chickened out of saying anything else ‘cause White threatened to hold him back.” I wanted to protest but at the same time I honestly couldn’t bring myself to care. Besides, that was the plain-ol’ Jane truth.
They kept going on about it, making tasteless gay jokes, but I zoned out pretty quick. When I finished the pasta, I went up to a fountain to get a drink. Just my luck that, when I stood up and turned around, none other than Freddie Fucking Lewis was stood behind me and looking directly into my fucking eyes. I jumped backwards, incidentally stabbing myself against the tap, but I couldn’t care less just then. My face was likely more red than Ryan’s fingers that time I caught them in a door, and I swear he fucking smirked at me, like, who the hell did he think he was? Then he stepped back and to the side in a mocking bow sort of thing, as if the ordeal hadn’t been embarrassing enough.
Just hoped Ryan and co. hadn’t seen it, but when I started to head towards them stiffly, they were pissing themselves.
“That was hilarious,” Sherry snickered, covering her mouth with a pale hand.
“Precisely what I thought,” Tom teased playfully, and he stuck his tongue out in a way that was supposed to be seductive. I laughed along with them.
“There’s something very worrying about straight guys who get so bothered by the closeness of a homosexual man.”
“You’re a man, now?” Jenny grinned. Tom laughed, and whispered something in her ear that clearly argued in favour of my having reached manhood, causing Jenny to shriek and slap his thigh.
“Hmm, yeah, I’m not worried about Joey’s sexuality somehow,” Sherry piped up, nodding towards the table in the cafeteria that he and his friends were at. When we all, rather unsubtly, looked over, Courtney Bourne was practically eating his neck until some bald history teacher nervously stalked up to them and tapped her on the shoulder. They exchanged a few words, and then he began to shuffle away again (not unlike how I’d always imagined Renfield from Dracula to do so) and she snuggled back into Joey, who seemed completely unfazed by the whole occurrence.
I snorted. “That proves nothing.”
Once the bell indicating five minutes to the next lesson sounded, I checked my shoulder bag for my History books, only to find that I’d left my diary in the Citizenship room. I left the others behind to retrieve it.
“Seriously, Miss, I can’t work with him-”
“Accept it, Joey. I’m not allowing the swapping of partners. You rarely take part in lessons properly anyway, so why would I grant you favours? Something to keep in mind.”
Well said, Mrs. White, well said.
Joey was leaning on Mrs. White’s desk looking fifty shades of pissed off whilst she packed up her books and began to leave him. It was at this point that I made myself known. “Oh, Freddie?”
“Left my planner,” I said. She smiled at me and nodded, exiting the room as I entered.
“Fucking gay,” Joey groaned. In all honesty, his comment was likely directed more at the situation and out of frustration than at me, but I grinned all the same.
“Flaming is usually the word.”
He turned around to shoot me a look, which I chose to ignore. Having picked up my planner though, I remained where I was and looked him over slowly. Joey Hartman only shoved his hands in his hoodies pockets deeper, the crease in his forehead seemingly ingrained there. Five-foot-seven – maybe eight – inches of angry bastard stared at me through clouded over blue eyes. “Want something?” I asked. That I ‘fuck off’ was a pretty simple request, so I strolled out casually, and didn’t look back.
I downed my cup of water in one go as I rose from the table. “Thanks for the meal, Mia,” I called out. Her faint reply from the kitchen had me smiling as I jogged from the dining room, into the hall and up the stairs. Rather than going straight into my room, however, I continued until I reached a door with some Psychedelic! poster that I’d always loved taped up on it. My second knock was answered with a grunt indicating that I was permitted to enter, and when I did I was hit with the ever-familiar whiff of incense sticks and scented candles that I loved so much.
Louisiana was not only the sister closest to me in age, but in terms of relations too. She was my best friend.
I was the youngest child in a family of seven; two parents; four daughters and a homosexual son. Lou, being almost eighteen, was the only other of us who lived at home with me on a permanent basis, having been in her last year of sixth form. Bethany and Catherine, twenty and twenty-one respectively, had started university, and twenty-three year old Paris had already started her own little family (though, unfortunately for little Georgia, her conception was an – albeit well received – mistake).
It wasn’t a surprise that Lou’s room had always felt more ‘home’ to me than mine had. It was like an explosion of her personality had gone off in there, but there was no damage done. Only beauty and rainbows and odd little charms created from the blast. It was full of little trinkets and boxes of so many random treasures which she’d often find in car boot sales and charity shops. Endless dream catchers hung from the ceiling and colourful fabrics frothed from brimming drawers; it was different from the rest of the house. Entirely so. Her clothes were pretty odd too, but Lou, being an incredibly pretty and odd person, pulled them off beautifully. Even now, she looked as fragile as one of the little objects she often fiddled with, dressed head to toe in a pink and green genie costume she’d bought from France. There was a needle in her mouth and it seemed like the intention was to sew a patch of material over a hole in an old pair of jeans. I closed the door before going to take my place opposite her, then I looked at the four walls surrounding us.
They were my favourite part.
Painted purple and filled with endless posters of who-the-hell? bands, and indie films, what looked like treasure maps and old To-Do lists, and train tickets, and so much more. The other, the one opposite the foot of her bed, was splattered with white, adorned with a large, single painting of her and an ex-boyfriend of two years. His name was Alfie and, supposedly, it had been love between them. The real deal. When he’d had to move to Portugal, they’d planned a trip to California for two weeks, where he had family, and that was it. The last time they saw each other. She was heartbroken in the months after, locked herself up for a while. Then the painting arrived on our doorstep one day. He’d painted it. Lou was never outwardly sad about him leaving again. I’d always felt that she reserved herself to a kind of doleful happiness. It was the item she valued more than anything else in the world. She probably still loved him even then, but never said, and I doubted she ever would.
“Freddie, honey.” I blinked over to her. “Are you alive?”
“No-” I dragged the word out for much longer than I needed to. Lou grinned at me, needle still stranded between her teeth.
“Speak,” she said, then, “Ooh, thread this through for me?”
After a sigh and an exaggerated eye roll, I took the needle, gingerly felt around for the end of the thread offered and brought them up to eye level. “Just a school dick. Nothing new.”
“Really? Is it the one with the stupid haircut?”
“Ugh, they all have stupid haircuts,” though, having thought about it, Joey’s short, spiky blonde deal was beginning to grow out and with a bit more length it wouldn’t be half bad. Not half bad at all. “But no, not the one you’re on about- fuck!” Needle; finger; freakin’ ow.
Lou only tutted at me, however, and reprimanded my language. She was all into good aura and Buddhism, meaning no swearing or squashing of little insects, but it was cool because it was Lou. Felt a little like Joey must have in Mrs. White’s class though, which made me laugh. Lou hurried me on with her eyebrows as her fingers began to pin the fabric down in place.
“Whatever. It’s some guy called Joey. It doesn’t matter. How are you?”
Lou sighed heavily and let her handy work down. “Keith is still hating on my clutch control. I might have to give up driving—it’s driving me crazy and I’m still so bad.”
“I refuse to believe that you’re bad.”
Lou sent me a look that was attempting to be unserious but had glare-like undertones. “Mia told me you were scared when you sat in last week.”
“N-no!” I lied, raising my hands, complete with the threaded needle. “Just over that bump thing! And the traffic light changed too quickly the other time.” Lou’s eyes narrowed as she took the needle from me.
“Yeah.” I smiled slowly before rocking forward to kiss her quickly on the forehead. “I’m gonna do some homework now.”
“In here?” Lou asked.
“Sure.” I stood and turned to go retrieve my bag. I had to chuckle to myself a little when I heard Lou yell out to me through the door that I had to tell her more about this Joey guy too, whether he was cute or not. Cute? With his short, blonde hair and clear blue eyes... He had a nice smile too, though it was never aimed in my direction. And I loved the way his ears stuck out a little, and flushed redder than the rest of him when he was embarrassed– or angry.
Well, damn. Okay. So Hartman was a little cute. Damn ignorant too, and, most importantly, straight.