P1::Chapter 1: Home
SECTION I: DAVID
Life was a stampede, one that cannot be outrun. No way to dive for cover, and nowhere to hide from the trampling. Only the option to stand your ground and hope not to be mowed down in the process.
David knew this.
Granted, he had always assumed that the High School portion of said stampede would have completed its attack while he had actually been enrolled there, not so many years after. But he found himself back there, the memories of the tortuous chamber of lingering stares, stifled whispers and echoing footsteps down the concrete hallways rushing back to him and clipping through him like bits of shrapnel.
He had never planned to return home, but fate had brought him back much to his dismay. Or maybe it was guilt; he hadn’t yet decided.
Sitting on the splintered, wooden bench outside of the principal’s office, he felt oddly like a child again. David couldn’t help but find that amusing, the instant anxiousness that settled in his belly. He couldn’t help but feel overcome with a sense of guilt, though he knew there was no real reason for it.
It was simply the déjà vu of it all.
He looked down at his watch; 12:23pm.
David sighed, leaning backward, his back pressed against the poorly painted concrete wall. This job was important to him, though it wasn’t entirely glamorous. He hadn’t gotten a teaching degree nor did he have an inspired way of working with young people; he knew he wasn’t much better off than most of the children he’d be pushing the broom after, even in his nearly twenty-five years of age.
But janitors made money, and he needed money.
He needed to stay close.
A group of three young girls walked by, giggles and hair tosses encompassing their conversation of young men on the football team and whether or not strapless gowns were a good call for prom season. They caught eyes with David, cheeks flushing rose-colored as they rushed down the hallway yet again, continuing their giggling and staring back at him without shame.
David simply stared straight ahead, trying to pretend he didn’t notice the ogling from the under-aged.
It only made him uncomfortable.
Keep it moving, ladies.
“David?” A voice spoke, sounding a bit bewildered.
David turned to see a pleasantly familiar face. The woman stood before him, mid-forties, attractive yet stern, with her light blond hair pulled up into a high pony tail and pink lipstick on her mouth that matched the flowers in her blouse nearly perfect. “David Vernon?”
She looked appalled to see him there, files clutched to her breast against her floral, cotton top.
David smiled; he had missed this face. It made the agony of mental time-travel a bit easier to cope with.
“Hi Ms. Stewart.” He stood.
Aghast, she smiled back, stepping towards him and pulling him into a light one-armed hug. It was the sort of embrace that David could tell she wanted to make more affectionate, but also was determine to maintain a certain level of professionalism. David was relieved about that, he didn’t want his return to be made into an event.
Pulling back, David watched as the light in her eyes seemed to grey, the same questioning look she’d given him so often in school smeared across her face. The look that asked, what did you do and should I be concerned?
“So, you aremy 12:30?”
“Well, come on in sweetie.” She nodded towards her office, her smile finally losing its edge and truly inviting him in.
David looked around her office; it was perfectly organized and completely spotless, just as it always had been. He thought about how often he had found himself perched just on the other side of her desk, avoiding that same grey-toned stare that always somehow cracked his shell just a bit when she tried hard enough.
“Have a seat, David.” She sat her things on her desk and lowered herself into her chair, smile still hanging from her lips with the same cool stare.
David did as he was told, taking a deep breath and forcing a smile onto his face, reminding himself once more that he wouldn’t be getting sent home with a note. They were silent a moment, Ms. Stewart clearly trying to dissect the riddle that was David’s presence in front of her.
“So…” She said. “Explain yourself please.”
“Well, how have you been doing? Whathave you been doing? It’s been, what, almost six years since you graduated? I haven’t heard from you or of you, had the slightest idea of what you were doing with your life other than assumedly going to college. What are you doing back here for work?”
“I just needed a job.”
“And our janitorial position is where you see your future headed straight out of college, is it?”
“Already back to the therapy sessions, are we?” David chuckled, leaning back in his chair.
Her gaze on him steadied, focusing in on him with calm intensity. Grey eyes, grey stare, cool and tapered and piercing him.
“David what are you doing here?”
“I just needed a job.” He repeated.
“Did you finish your degree?”
David didn’t say anything, just continued to stare across the desk, their battle of nerves getting reasonably more involved than David had foreseen.
“What does that have to do with mopping?”
“David…” She groaned, leaning back in her chair, her hand moving to her forehead in the exact exasperation David had been attempting to side-step.
“Can we move on please?”
“Why didn’t you graduate?”
“Just didn’t work out.”
“What does that even mean?”
David sat up, straitening up in his chair, attempting to disguise how truly uncomfortable he felt.
“Look, Miss Stewart, I appreciate your concern and everything, but it’s personal, really.” His eyes pleaded with her, asking her to skip the interrogation. “Can you please just skip over the whole you are capable of so much more lecture? I just want to get to work. I’m perfectly qualified to clean up after sloppy teenagers.”
She sighed, pulling a file out and opening it up.
“Sure.” She said, looking back up at him. “After all, I’m not the guidance counselor anymore.”
“No, I guess not.” David said. He forced a smile, not wanting to let go of the bit of nostalgia he felt with her. “You were a good guidance counselor though.”
She smirked despite herself, pulling some paperwork out of the folder in front of her and handing it to him. He reached across the desk to take it, but she pulled it away a moment, looking at him.
“Tell me one thing, David.” His eyebrows rose. “Does this have a little something to do with your sister?”
David didn’t respond, looking down at the desk a moment, then back at the paperwork in her hand. She had managed to ask him the one question he had truly wanted her to skip over. It wasn’t her business, as much as he appreciated the care that she had always given him. His reasons were his and his alone; he owed no explanation to anyone.
She took a breath through her nose, nodding soft and defeated, then handed him the paperwork.
“This is the W2, you’ll need to fill this out.”
David looked at her, testing her, waiting for her to drop the catch; she didn’t.
“I don’t need to know anything else about you David, really. The job’s already yours, just do me a favor and don’t make this your life’s work, okay?”
“Oh, one more thing.” Miss Stewart said, stopping David from starting to fill out the form. “No felonies, correct?”
“Not since I was here.” David joked.
David spent that next hour in Principal Stewart’s office filling out paperwork and making idle conversation. He tried his best to avoid her probing questions about his personal life, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to escape them entirely.
She knew him all too well, even after all the years that had passed. He supposed it had been naïve to expect her not to probe, he had spent plenty of time spilling his heart out to her as a teen. It stung, knowing that she had seen him cry. Not a normal cry, not a single, stoic tear, but an ugly, brutal, heartbroken weeping that she saw more than once, and just once was more than David needed to remember.
“So,” She pushed, leaning back in her chair, hands crossed in her lap in surrender. “Explain?”
“Seriously?” David asked, not looking up from his paperwork.
“Yes, seriously. You already did your tough-guy routine, that was a blast, really. Now, I think the least you can do is explain to me what’s going on David.”
David sighed, clenching his eyes closed tight and tapping his pen against his forehead lightly in agitation. He wondered, briefly, if jamming the pen into his eye would be an overly-dramatic exit strategy.
“I just want to keep an eye on Amy.” He forced his hand back to the paper to jot down his social security number. “I just need to be here right now. I tried the college thing; it wasn’t for me.”
“That’s ridiculous, David.”
“Well, it’s true, ridiculous or not.” He said, handing her the stack of papers as a period to the end of a very long run-on sentence. “There, all done.”
He knew she wasn’t pleased, nor was she the least bit amused at the situation. David was pulling the same attitude he used to with her, the defensive sarcasm that clawed at the inside of his throat with birdlike talons, the short answers followed by pursed lips and disinterested eye rolls meant to make her think she wasn’t the lifeline she truly was.
Pulling out the drawer in front of her in the desk, she reached in and brought out a set of keys. David watched as she stood up out of her chair, walking around the desk to him and holding out them out to him like a rat by the tail.
“Well then, here you are.”
David clutched the keys in his hand, finally forcing himself up to his feet, his legs suddenly feeling as though his bones were paper.
“Everything you’ll need is in the janitor’s closet down the hallway. Rita in the front office will get you sorted out with the rest. I have a lot to do today otherwise I’d help you out. But you can figure it out, I’m sure.”
“I think I can handle it.” David said, smiling. “Who’s cleaned more desks during detention than me, right?”
She smirked a bit, still not totally amused, but he knew she couldn’t help it. Ever after all the years that passed, she had a soft spot for him and he was well aware. He knew he could charm her just a little, enough to get that one single laugh out of her, enough to pull her away from him a bit, but even still, he knew she pitied him.
That was the worst feeling of all.
“Keep living the dream, kiddo.”
Well, that stung.
He kept walking, out of her office and back to the main one, ignoring the dig that those last few words.
David was finding the mopping fairly therapeutic, to his own surprise. The back and forth of it was calming, repetitive; it was easy to get lost in the task almost immediately. Classes were in session, and David had worked himself into his coveralls the very next day after his meeting with Ms. Stewart, and now found himself elbow deep in trash bins overflowing with month old homework assignments, Candy bar wrappers, the remains of the day’s lunch periods, and empty Fruitopia bottles.
As the worked to remove a patch of vulgar Sharpiework from the tiles of the bathroom wall, he caught his reflection in one of the mirrors. It was strange, seeing himself standing in a place he’d stood so many times before, but with such a different reflection. His hair, once neatly trimmed, was much longer, limply tied back with a rubber band at the back of his head. He couldn’t remember his last haircut, and in the time had passed he had grown attached to his mane. The five-o’clock shadow he’d always kept shaved was becoming darker, David’s hand briefly rubbing at the square edge of his jaw. He had some dark bags that were beginning to grow beneath his eyes, and out of nowhere he felt as though his youth had truly slipped through his fingers.
The wheels whirred against the linoleum floor as David pulled his janitor’s cart back into the hallway, clicking against each and every uneven piece of ancient floor tile. He flipped through a few songs on his iPod absentmindedly, wondering what would be helpful in making time pass faster, then halted at the feeling of something light bouncing off of the back of his head. He turned to see a balled-up piece of notebook paper beside his feet and his sister no more than ten feet down the hall.
She grinned at him, her backpack slung over one shoulder of her Guns N’ Roses t-shirt. Her jeans were tattered and faded and her sneakers were worn and dirty, but her smile was always beautiful through everything. The way her big green eyes seemed to light up beneath the blonde strands of hair that were always too long for her bangs; she looked just like their mother.
“Poor form to taunt the janitor on his first day at school.” David smirked.
“Can you really expect anything less from me?”
“No, I guess not.” He sighed as she closed the distance between them a bit more. “Shouldn’t you be in class?”
“What? And miss my big brother in action?” Amy chuckled, falling back onto the bench against the wall. “Never.”
“Come on, Amy.” David eyed her, not at all amused by the idea of her skipping class.
But Amy simply grinned, her arms folded nonchalant across her chest and back rested lazily against the wall behind her. Her face told him she was messing with him, and he knew she was, but there was some part of him that couldn’t hold back the chance for a brotherly lecture.
“I have a free period,” She rolled her eyes. “I was walking to the library and saw you here, decided breaking the fourth wall was worth the detour.”
“Breaking the fourth wall?”
“You know,” She leaned forward on her elbows. “I’m supposed to pretend like I don’t know you’re here, all the time, watching me. It’s like the babysitting job that wouldn’t end.”
“I’m not babysitting you, Amy. I moved back to be closer and I needed a job.”
“How convenient that worked out.”
“You know I have a 3.9 GPA, right?”
David’s arched a brow, failing to see whatever connection she was trying to draw at all.
“My point, dear brother, is that the only class I ever don’t pull an A in, is P.E. and that’s only because I skip runs for menstrual cramps,” She air quoted the last two words. “All I do is study and work at the clinic. I don’t hang out, I don’t go to parties; school is literally my only focus. So why on earth you feel like you need to watch over me or keep me out of trouble or whatever it is that you’re doing is beyond me.”
“Amy, I know you’re smart. Like I said, I’m not here to watch over you. I’m just here to be… here.”
When he said it, it sounded so strange hearing the words come from his mouth. Here to be here? Once upon a time, all he’d wanted was to be as far away from their small home town as possible, to leave the second he was able to and never look back. But upon doing so, he forgot a crucial part of the puzzle. One he hadn’t even considered in his immature, teenaged brain.
“I shouldn’t have left you with dad.” He said, finally, his words seeming to fall heavy out of his mouth.
Amy was quiet a moment, her face thoughtful as she mulled his words over.
“It is what it is.” She shrugged, her smile softening, but not disappearing. “Really. I’m better at handling things that you think I am.”
“That doesn’t matter, Amy.”
“It does, though. You were eighteen, you had a chance to get out of here, you had a scholarship, it would have been stupid not to go.” She stood up, slinging the backpack onto her shoulder again.
“Just let me be here, Amy. Okay?” David hated pleading, with anyone, but something about it with his kid sister felt all the more pathetic.
He had no real right to ask for forgiveness from her; he had abandoned her. Amy was resilient, he couldn’t deny her of that. But regardless of how strong she was, or how smart she was, or any other factor, he had failed her as an older brother. He was going to make up for all of it, and as soon as she was done with school, he was going to make sure she got as far away from there as possible.
“Chill, dude.” She smiled, punching him playfully in the shoulder and giving it a squeeze, her eyes locking onto his with undeniable sincerity. “I’m glad you’re here, David, I am. Just try not to be so weird about it. Like you owe me a debt or something.”
David laughed, dry but relieved, despite his overwhelming urge to be serious. He loved her, truly unlike anyone else in his life. She was purely good; a sweet, funny, true human being.
She deserves better family…
“I mean, can you blame me?”
Amy’s lips parted to say something else, but she stopped. Her eyes moved from David’s and over his shoulder, something behind him stealing her focus from their conversation and filling them with what David could only identify as bewilderment.
David turned to see a young man walking hurriedly down the hallway in their direction. His head hung low, a clear attempt at avoiding eye contact as he moved to pass them by with his hands clutched tight to the stack of papers and books against his chest. David stifled a small chuckle in his throat, the feeling of his brow quivering to arch, as he saw the boy was wearing khaki pants, a white collared shirt, a navy-blue sweater vest with black socks; no shoes.
“Andrew?” Amy’s voice was soft but concerned.
The young man, Andrew as David now knew him, turned hesitantly to face the two of them. His eyes, large and icy blue, struck David in a place within his gut he had never felt triggered before. Beautiful, cool blue eyes, and haloed by red, his cheeks a bit puffy as well. David’s amusement with the boys’ state went away almost immediately as it had come the moment he realized the poor boy had been crying.
“You okay, man?” David probed, taking a step closer to him.
“I’m fine.” Andrew mumbled, then turned from them with no intention of lingering.
It was as if he’d found the one invisible rock in the hallway, his toes catching the floor, his body stumbling forward, and all of his school work and books flying out and spilling across the linoleum, followed by his hands and knees.
“Shit—” He hissed, sharply as he hit the floor.
Amy and David moved to help himself up, as well as his life and pride from the floor. David managed to make eye contact with Amy, her eyes worried, but also determined to pull whatever had happened to her classmate out of him with a bit more ease than he was wanting to give.
“Andrew?” Amy handed him a handful of mismatched essay papers. “What happened to your shoes?”
“Chris Fortner.” He said, flatly, not bothering to look at her.
Amy sighed, the sound stifled within her nose, her shoulders rising and falling her face twisted a bit with withheld words.
“Sounds like a douche bag.” David chimed, his words coming out before he had a chance to check them.
Andrew eyed him a moment, then nodded.
“Yeah, that’s one way to put it.”
“Where did he put them?”
“In the trash bin near the water fountain in the science wing. It’s fine, I don’t need them back.”
“But I can—”
“He pissed in them.” Andrew stood, his pile of documents clutched tight in his hands once again.
David couldn’t believe the words for a moment.
“Man…” Amy groaned. “I’m not even going to pretend I’m shocked.”
“This guy sounds like a—”
“Fuckin’ asshole. Yeah, because he is.” Andrew’s voice was momentarily a flame, his nostrils flaring a bit with embarrassment as he seemed to shrink back down into himself the moment he went quiet.
Amy collected the last of his papers from the floor, handing them to him to add to his mismatched nest of crumpled homework.
“He’s just another spoiled, rich, over-privileged bully. It’s like he was clipped out of a stereotype catalogue. His dad owns that God awful fucking Sporting goods store they put in a few years back.”
“The one with $500 rollerblades in this town?” David rolled his eyes. “That’s… so… sad…” David’s voice trailed off, his bewilderment staining the words.
To his surprise, Andrew laughed a bit. David looked at him, a small smile creeping onto Andrew’s face.
“Um, thanks for your help.” Andrew said, finally, beginning to move past them again as a light haze of pink overtook the apples of his cheeks.
“Hey, wait a second.”
David ran a few meters down the hall, unlocking the door to the janitor’s closet and stepping inside. He pulled aside his backpack, unzipping it and yanking out a pair of old Nike sneakers. They wouldn’t exactly go with the conservative nature of the rest of his outfit, one that he was sure a Sunday School teacher could only have picked out, but they would do well enough to get him through the day.
Returning to where Andrew and Amy stood, David handed Andrew the shoes with a sympathetic smile. Andrew stared at them a moment, then at David, but made no move to take them.
“Oh, no…” Andrew shook his head. “I’m fine, really I—”
“It’s fine, dude, I just have them spare for when I go running after work. I know sharing shoes with a stranger is not ideal, but you just can go walking around the rest of the day like that.”
Another moment passed, the air hanging thick between them. Andrew bit down on his bottom lip, still avoiding David’s gaze, then slowly slipped the shoes out of David’s hand as though they were made of the most precious of materials, as if no one had ever handed him anything so meaningful.
Still no eye contact.
“It’s no problem.” David gave him a pat on the shoulder, and Andrew nearly flinched from the gesture. “Just bring them back to me tomorrow, I’ll be here. They might be a little big for you, but it’s better than nothing.”
“Might be, Sasquatch?” Amy Smirked.
Andrew flushed red again, biting down on another tempting smile and simply nodded, tucking the shoes up against his homework.
“Thanks again, both of you.” He nodded.
“Later…” David’s voice followed after him as Andrew turned and made his way down the hall and out of site.
Just put the shoes on kid…
Jumpy, isn’t he?
“Man…” Amy sighed, shaking her head. “That poor kid.”
“Who is he? What’s his deal?”
“Andrew? Fuck all if I know.” Amy shrugged. “Chris has had a target on his back since we were kids. He tortures the poor kid and no one does anything about it because Andrew won’t snitch, always been that way. I try to talk to him when I can, he’s a sweetie when you get him talking, but he’s still kind of illusive. His dad’s the sheriff too, so he’s super strait laced and rides an extremely strait line.”
David looked at her quick, his brow furrowing as he put her words together in his head.
“Yes, David, Sheriff Braiden. The same guy who gave you all of those rides home when we were younger.” She chuckled.
“Damn, why don’t I remember him having a kid?” David searched his brain for the detail. “Shit, that’s gotta’ be a sobering experience.”
“Nah, I’m sure the kid’s in khakis and a sweater vest because the house is one giant party all the time.”
David shoved her, chuckling as he made his way back to his janitor’s cart. She followed, kicking him lightly in the calf as he pushed it back to the closet just to watch him buckle.
“Alright, well I’ll see you after school.” Her voice was wind chimes in his ears. “I better get out of here before Principal Stewart catches me out here distracting you from your hard work.”
“Yeah, okay.” He waved her off, aching deep down to see her go. “Call me later.”
David took a breath, the quiet settling in around him through the hall. Once his sister was in a room, that feeling she brought with her was what filled the space entirely, and as soon as she left the emptiness that was left was what David imagined a rubber room might feel like.
Lonely, colorless, life.