No Compañero, o No Comprendo?
Chapter 2: No Compañero, o No Comprendo?
“Oh my God! You’ve got a friend request from Freddie fucking Lewis, man,” Ryan laughed. What amused me most, however, was how we’d seemed to fix an expletive to the guy’s name. “Should I accept? Wait- yes. Yes, I will.”
I thanked him sarcastically for taking the decision out of my hands but he didn’t even hear me, too busy sifting through Freddie’s profile. I watched him from my cross-legged position on my bed as he snickered at photos or statuses or whatever, and sighed a little. Homework was scattered around me, but I had my phone in hand and I was reading a text from my girlfriend over and over.
Love you, it said.
“Hey, Ryan,” I started, hesitant to continue.
“Yeah, man? Shit this stuff is seriously priceless.”
“Can I ask you something?”
“Sure. Did you know Lewis had a boyfriend? Broke up some months ago. New ass needed.” Ryan cracked up, unaware of the chaos taking place in my head.
“Seriously, man. It’s... It’s about Courtney.”
He stopped clicking for a moment then, and turned around to look at me over his shoulder. “Yeah?”
“I don’t know...” I stretched my legs and swung them over the edge of my bed. Knowing my friend, it was likely that he’d only laugh and joke and shit, but he was better than consulting my own mixed up conscience. “She says she loves me.”
Ryan blinked at me for a moment, and then his face relaxed into a mild scepticism. “That’s it?” I shrugged. “So what? Probably doesn’t mean it anyway-”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t feel right, you know? I feel like shit, being less into it than she is.”
He turned back around. “Break it off then.” He always said things as if they were black and white; obvious. Maybe it was. Maybe I was exaggerating the whole damn situation and- “She won’t give a shit,” he continued. “She’ll get over it.” He chuckled weakly, “Probably get under someone else. It’s Courtney.”
I nodded, but I wasn’t completely convinced. “How are you?” I asked. Ryan turned back to me to throw an incredulous gaze my way but I simply shrugged. He laughed.
“I’d be better if we could watch some porn right now.”
“My mum’s home, man.”
“Never stopped us before.”
Morning came with an awful taste in my mouth and a muddy head. When I rolled out of bed, I did so more literally than I’d meant to and landed in a heap, twisting my arm painfully. On the way to the bathroom I stubbed my little toe and swore so loud I woke my mum up – so she was pretty pissy too. Then I burnt my toast, couldn’t find clean socks, and took ten minutes looking for my damn wallet.
A pretty shit start to the day.
Unsurprisingly, when I met Ryan, Courtney and Abby at the corner we meet up at on the way to school, I made it obvious that my earphones would be my only company, and they let that alone. Probably saw the rain cloud hovering over my head, or maybe my expression said it all. Ryan offered me a cigarette that I declined, as I always do, and that was it for the rest of the journey.
“Could I speak to you for a moment, Joey?”
The end of registration bell was screaming out in that awful way it does as I stood up and turned to my form teacher. Mr. Chou was looking at me like he looked at everyone; as if he’d committed some sort of crime against me but just could not figure out how to right his wrongs. His blue tie was askew, his shirt was a little crinkled and his hair was messily tousled at the front, more due to a habit of absent-mindedly running a hand through it than an attempt at style. He corrected his thin frames – complete with white tape around the left hinge. He looked a little like he woke up on the wrong side of the bed every day, so I felt something like sympathy for him and laid back on the scowl that had been commandeering my lips a moment ago.
“Mrs. White sent me an email about your behaviour in her lesson yesterday.” He blinked at me, and I did the same. He tugged at his tie. “She said to correct it by tomorrow’s lesson or she’d begin issuing detentions. Would you mind apologising to her?”
I shrugged, murmuring that I could do that, then he thanked me and I headed over to Spanish.
I tended to enjoy Spanish lessons. The language was cool, and I was pretty good at remembering the vocab, even if I was shit at pronunciation.
My usual seat was in the second row to the back by a window. It did what windows should quite well, and distracted me whenever boredom came a-knocking. I noted, though, as by the Baader Meinhof Phenomenon, that Lewis was seated directly behind me, accompanied by the girl from CT and a guy called Tom who was a genius when it came to Spanish. His accent was practically perfect. Then again, there could very well be some Latin blood flowing through his veins judging by the tinted tone of his skin.
I took my place as Mrs Luy began to hand out starter sheets.
After having borrowed a pen from Fee, a European girl that sat next to me and very rarely spoke, I alternated between our grammar assignment, catching fragments of Mrs Luy’s instructions, and gazing out of the window.
I’d always loved how windows mixed a reflection with whatever was on the other side. Brought with it an idea of reality and unattainable desire. Bullshit. A familiar face that I’d hated but had grown to tolerate stared despondently back at me, layered against yards of concrete lined by a fence, and beyond that, a rolling field of grass that a younger year were playing tag rugby on.
Joey was looking out of the window. He always did that. Every single Spanish lesson he would find some point at which to abandon (all pretence of) doing any work and look out of it. Just, zone out. He’d be gone. I couldn’t understand it. I tried to follow his gaze but I couldn’t tell exactly what he was looking at. A games class was taking place on the field, but they were too far for me to see too clearly anything that would keep my attention... So my eyes drifted back to him.
He was completely in his own world, closed off from any and everything else. He had an elbow resting on the desk and his chin placed wearily in his palm as he stared to the left. I almost felt that if I nudged his shoulder or tugged at his hood and he turned to me, his eyes would betray that he’d no idea what he’d been looking for either, but he’d keep doing so. Maybe someday he’d find it. But then I remembered yesterday and shook myself inwardly, turning down to fact my worksheet.
Joey fucking Hartman.
“Tom,” I hissed. He grunted in reply, shoulders hunched as he scribbled down answers as if God himself was standing behind him whispering them into his right ear. “What’s 4a?” He nodded his head and Sherry laughed aloud.
“Oh, shit – sorry, just- look at mine,” and he pointed momentarily at his sheet before diving back into his delirious writing as if he was being timed. I rolled my eyes and leaned over so I could see properly over Sherry’s desk and copied the answer before continuing on.
“That guy is so going to fail the test on Friday.”
Sherry lifted her chin up in Joey’s direction with a look of less than pleasure. “I don’t get why he took this subject. Obviously none of his friends did seeing as he’s always alone. And he does nothing anyway.”
“Shut up, Sherry,” I murmured, returning to my sheet. “He isn’t deaf.”
“But he is out of it.” She laughed. “Besides, he’s chickenshit without all the other losers he hangs with.”
I blinked up, and Joey had moved. He was looking down now, finally filling in the sheet just as Mrs Luy announced that we open up our textbooks to page twenty-six.
Free periods tended to suck for me on account of the fact that my friends all had subjects in whatever option block I obviously did not. Usually, to remedy my loneliness, I’d wonder over to the music area and mess about on the piano, but all the practice rooms were taken. Likewise with the nearby IT suite when I opted to do some research for my History homework –which I hadn’t ended up finishing the day before. This led me to hazard stepping foot in the sixth form common room.
The common room did a pretty good job of being awful.
It was at the end of the sixth form block and connected to a sheltered garden area, but despite the school’s attempts, it still failed to live up to any scholarly expectations. Rarely touched bookshelves were only leaned against by the likes of idiots like Pete Lowood. He could often be found sprawled across one of the sofas, making crude jokes and swearing as though he was born on the seas.
Sure enough, of course, that was exactly how I found him when I walked in.
As per usual, the room was divided into two initial groups; the year thirteens and the year twelves. I wasn’t all that surprised, or even offended, that most of the older year chose to actively ignore us. In seeing the way Pete and friends lounged as if they owned the room and spoke at a volume that suggested everyone should have been taking notes because, Goddamn, the party they went to last night was so bloody sick, I would have actively ignored us too. They, ‘Lowood’s Lot’ as they were occasionally called, were probably a little right. It was so sick that if I remained in the vicinity and listened too long without competent distraction, I’d be some sort of ill too.
Other smaller groups always formed around the edges so as to avoid as much damage as possible, and I was to be one of them.
I strode into the room towards the quad doors and settled on a window sill there, ignoring whatever hilarious comment had been thrown my way.
Odious, Peter Lowood is thy name.
Digging my hand in and around my bag, I found what I’d been looking for and pulled it out before letting my bag down and opening it, allowing myself to get lost between the pages of a brilliant thriller; The Boy in the Suitcase by Danish writers Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis.
I’d always loved to read, and psychological thrillers in particular seemed to take my fancy, which was one of the reasons I ended up picking up Psychology this year.
I was addicted.
Not only were thrillers filled to the brim with mystery, suspense, and unrelenting intensity, they required buckets and buckets and shed loads of thought and effort to write. Planning. Any old idiot could write a romance, - XX meets XY. Hate, love, or love then hate then wonderful love. The end. Not an original bone in the body of work. But it took guts as strong as an ox (or however the saying went) to write something so shocking; controversial. Something that struck people, and stuck with them, had them holding their breaths without realising it, widening eyes, noticing that the rates of their hearts had increased tenfold within three paragraphs, and straining along with the protagonist. Also, opinion though it was, I felt writers of the thriller genre were a lot more skilled in the art of weaving words. Knotting letters together like string and laying them upon the page -not necessarily looking for the prettiest way in which they could do so, but the way that would make the most impact.
I was addicted, and The Boy in the Suitcase was not only feeding that addiction, but increasing the want.
“Joe! Man, where have you been?”
I looked up regretfully from my book and found myself out of Denmark and in a crowded, English school common room. Joey had walked in through the door and was heading towards Pete Lowood’s mini crowd. “Spanish,” he said. “Got held back.” He glanced at me once but hardly registered the fact. His friend, Ryan, beckoned him over excitedly. “You still having a house party for your birthday?”
“I think so, why?”
I returned to the book in my hands.
Moments later, however, I heard a burst of laughter that had the whole room looking up at the disruptive group in the middle. Just then I imagined Lowood as a ringmaster in a circus of monkeys. The part quite suited him. I could see him in a red and gold tailed-coat with a matching top hat and staff, which he’d use to beat the monkeys into submission. That smile, too, balanced so dangerously on the line between charming and cruel, and eyes that were as sharp and unkind as they were narrow - well, they were staring straight at me.
“Hear that, Fred?” he chuckled, drawing out what I knew would only be a stupid joke, but I humoured him. I arched an eyebrow. “We’ve been connecting the dots; your book, your love for ass...” He paused again, and the smile widened. My eyes flicked over to Joey’s vacant expression. “Do we have another Dahmer on our hands?”
I was confused for the briefest of seconds before something inside me caved in. Ha-ha. It was hilarious. Jeffrey Dahmer; American serial killer, sex offender; Milwaukee Cannibal; homosexual.
It was hilarious.
I don’t know what happened in the next few minutes, but all I remembered next was sitting in a cubicle fists clenched, angry tears streaming—mad as fuck.
I’d been called a paedophile before. What out-and-proud homosexual hasn’t? Shouted at me by my damn father, muttered and yelled, and burned through the eyes of ignorant citizens who’d witnessed my holding hands with ex-boyfriends before. And, of course, jeered amid school walls by school peers who I shared most of my damned days with.
And I was ordinarily so good at shaking it off. So good at tossing them an uncaring smile and brandishing the armour that they hadn’t succeeded in denting, but everyone and everything had a breaking point. Everyone and everything would crack and sink- and so suddenly, I was fucking tired of it being me.
It had been almost otherworldly how Freddie had slipped off onto his feet from the window sill. In all honesty, I’d been a little scared. Felt a genuine chill whisper down my spine when wind blew in from the half opened window and caught his hair. The book he’d been reading dropped from his hands, but he didn’t seem to notice, and when I looked into his eyes I swear I saw a shimmer indicating brimming tears. But, beyond that, there was nothing.
The guys just laughed.
I wanted to, too. I wanted to join in, but there was something too uncomfortable about the situation. I watched him walk weightlessly, and yet oddly wooden, out of the room, and no one else in the room did a thing. A couple of people looked over to us as if to say that we were real dickheads and we should go burn—scum of the earth—but no such condemning words left their lips. And no one stood to go after him. I couldn’t understand why I had such a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, nor why’d he become so damn upset over some joke that, in my opinion, hadn’t even been one of our most offensive. Then again-
“Guys, who’s Dahmer?”
Ryan laughed aloud, as did Henry and Chris while Pete just smirked like he always did. The others clearly had no idea either. “You don’t know?”
“Of course I don’t fucking know, who is he?”
“Some-” Pete waved his hand vaguely in the air as if he was looking for the word. “Homo. Killed guys. Cut them up, fucked them. Did stuff with their bodies and – ate them? – I don’t know. Google it, but it’s real fucking messed up shit.”
Second period didn’t end for another half hour, but I mostly stayed silent from then, feeling the guilt that Lowood should have been. Hating my inability to say something - how that had been too far, maybe. How he should have felt some sort of regret in seeing Freddie’s reaction. It could all be fun and games until a guy left the room looking like that.
Freddie... Hadn’t really provoked anything.
Pissed off as I had been in hearing it, when I’d overheard Lewis’ friend tell him I was ‘chickenshit’ or whatever, I’d known it was true; I’m a coward, through and through. Even more so, perhaps, around my so-called friends. And that was why I waited until the break bell to ring for all the guys to leave, then I put Freddie’s book - and a bracelet that he’d apparently dropped too - into my bag to give to him later. When I realised he’d left his bag too, I put that into my locker and then left in search of Courtney.
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been looking forward to Citizenship slightly. All I thought about through break, Design Tech. and lunch was returning Freddie’s belongings and accepting his thank you with a cool shrug, then we’d start our project and we’d be good. What I wanted to do was apologise, but I honestly wasn’t aware how to do that, and besides, Ryan would be there—shit! Ryan would be there.
The whole gay thing was still an issue, but I didn’t have to touch him, nor him me. It was just a project. That was all.
Things didn’t go how I’d imagined them to, though. Freddie Lewis didn’t touch me like that at all.
I walked into Citizenship late and alone, having left Ryan and Abby to go ahead of me whilst I retrieved Freddie’s bag.
Freddie and the ginger girl were standing at Mrs White’s desk. They had their backs to me, but from what I could see of Mrs White’s face their conversation was not a pleasant one. Then Abby called out my name.
At the sound, Freddie and friend both turned to me. Eight seconds passed by, in which I noted three crucial things;
Number one: Freddie’s eyes were bloodshot and red. Of course he’d walked out with tears easing their way out back in second period, but that was around ten-thirty. It was gone half-past one now. Even if he’d been called a homosexual, paedophilic, necrophiliac, he’d have pulled himself together by now. But, evidently not.
Number two: Those red eyes had zoned in on his bag in my right hand, and they did not look happy about that. The opposite, in fact. They were furious.
Number three: The observation that had scared me the most by far for good reason. I hadn’t noticed him move, as though my brain had lagged for a moment, but he was suddenly too close. Worst of all, his left arm was pulled back, fingers bunched into a scary looking fist.
In the ninth second a dull pain sprouted from my jaw and lips along with an impressive spray of blood, and then, before I could fall, Freddie had grabbed me by the neck of my hoodie to punch me in the gut.
Like, fuck, it hurt. Who knew he’d know how to inflict pain like this?
“You bastard!” he was screaming. “You mother-fucking bastard, what have I ever done to you?”
He was crying, too. And confusion was accompanying pain as it spread around my body like food dye in water. I felt my fingers loosen as I let his bag fall. The dull thump switched on the rest of my senses which seemed to have turned themselves off in an attempt to lessen the pain. They’d made the wrong decision. The sudden noise of the classroom was a great distraction from the fact that Freddie was still punching me despite the what seemed like eighteen people unsuccessfully attempting to pull him off me—but I was seeing double, or triple, or some such number, so my eyes weren’t entirely reliable. For example, every time his right hand would reach to try and grab at my face I’d see three arms loaded with bracelets galore, three sets of fingers distorting in his rage. Then the three would become two. It was kind of funny really –I think I was smiling.
Then someone - his ginger friend, I thought - shouted something that I missed in my disorientation, but it must have had magical power of some sort because the whole room literally froze mid-action. I could hear the breaths of the whole fucking room synchronized in timing, but through the one eye that could see semi-clearly, I watched Freddie’s chest heave up and down.
Maybe it was the pain numbing all common sense. Maybe it was the anger I felt towards him considering the kindness I’d intended to show... And maybe it was a simple fear of losing face in front of Ryan, Abby and the other eighteen-odd students in the room, but I twisted my head as much as I could to look at him properly, then I laughed without humour.
“Go fuck your dad.”
I’d edited the common slur just for him. He was gay—it was funny, right? I thought I deserved at least a laugh or two for that one, but the collective gasp I received instead went unnoticed due to the gay guy sitting on my hips sending another punch to my face.
Realised I hadn’t apologised to Mrs White like Mr Chou had asked me to. I reserved myself to the detention that would surely be directed my way regardless, before slipping out of consciousness.