RED

By Merrylea Bullock

Drama

Chapter 16

I barely wake up the next morning. It's warm and safe under my blankets and outside the world is white and gray and unpredictable. I consider taking a sick day, but I wouldn't know what to do all day. Besides, I do want to see Melissa.

I drag myself out of bed, yank on a t-shirt and some pants, spray myself with my deodorant, and feed Tanya. Wood's probably still asleep, but even so, I do it quietly, making sure not to rustle the bag or kick the dish.

Tanya's not up at all. She's still curled up in a ball under the covers, tails twitching. I allow myself one small moment of envy, then poke her in the side.

She growls softly.

“Are you listening?”

She lets out a short breath through her nose. Yes, but I'm not happy about it.

“I gotta go to school today. I gave you some food, you know where the litter box is and I'll be back around three. Okay?”

She nods and I pull the blankets back over her.

I check the clock. I have about ten minutes until the bus comes. I usually don't like the bus, but today, it's snowy, I don't have a coat and I'm just so tired…

I grab my vest, my school backpack and the bag of dirty litter from on top of the litter box and sneak out of the apartment. I consider taking the fire escape (which is what I've been doing for the last week), but that might look too suspicious. I walk out the front door instead, dropping the bag into the trash can by the curb.

The bus comes fairly quickly and I choose a seat somewhere in the middle, over a heat register. The other kids talk about what they did for break and the radio blares a guitar solo, but I just rest my forehead on the window and stare at the frost on the glass and worry.

“Hey.”

I turn and see Owen grinning at me. I hadn't even noticed him coming to sit with me. I grunt and turn back to the window.

“Haven't seen you for a while.”

“Busy.”

“You never came to that fight.”

I try to remember, then give up and shrug. “Sorry.”

“Dude,” It's softer and very serious-sounding for Owen. “You didn't even try.”

“I'm sorry, okay?”

Silence.

I wonder why he's so worked up about this. Maybe it's just because he's used to everyone doing what he says. Or maybe he's gone gay for me and misses me. The thought makes me snort.

That sets him off. “You think I invite everyone to the fights?” I turn again and see that he's not smiling for the first time. “Or to parties? I try to include you and you just keep blowing me off!”

I'm too tired for this, but I have to apologize, otherwise my life will become a living hell. “I'm sorry. I really am. I've been busy.”

He glares at me darkly. “I know you have.”

He stands up and goes back to his seat, leaving me with a headache.


The day is generally gray and boring. Nobody seems willing to talk to the teachers or to anyone else – their minds are still at home, with their presents and holiday leftovers. The teachers give back papers from before the break (I failed most of them) and get angry more easily.

Gotta love January.

I run into Melissa sometime before third period and I smile for the first time.

She gives me a quick hug, then looks at me strangely. “Have you told anyone about...us?”

I take her hand. That's the best part of having a girlfriend, having someone to hold hands with in the hallways. “No. Who would I tell?”

“People keep congratulating and teasing me,” She shrugs. “A lot of people. And I know Rock wouldn't tell, so...”

“Maybe Owen and Cheryl.”

Her head whips around. “You told them?”

“No!”

“Then how do they know?”

“I don't know!” I sigh. “All I know is that they said something about it once and – ”

The bell rings and I catch a glance of her face – confused and upset – before we're swept in different directions by the crowd.

She's not in lunch later.

I sit alone (Rock is still serving his last detention) outside, raindrops occasionally falling on the table in front of me. I don't have a lunch or a jacket and I just remembered that today would have been Rock and Melissa's anniversary.

I bury my head in my arms and take deep breaths, trying not to cry.

It doesn't really work.

I can't really remember the last time I cried – I was close to it when Rock cheated on Melissa, but that was more angry. Right now, I'm just stressing out about Tanya being discovered, worried that I'll fail math, scared that Melissa doesn't like me anymore and really really really freaked out in general. I can't deal with this, I can't deal with this, I can't deal with this, I can't deal with this, I can't deal with this...

The next thing I know, someone is shaking me awake.

I open my eyes. I'm stiff and my hands are still asleep and my mouth tastes like sawdust.

“Are you okay?”

I look up, blinking a couple of times.

Gina is standing next to me, holding an umbrella and looking concerned. It's not raining hard, just drizzling, but I guess she doesn't want to ruin her hair or something –

“Dash?”

I blink again and think vaguely of the classes I must have missed. “What time is it?”

“About two.”

That's like ten minutes before the last bell. No sense going to class for only ten minutes.

I try to stand up, wobble a little, then rub my eyes and finally wake up for real. I notice for the first time that my back is all wet.

“Yeah, I'm okay. Thanks, Gina.”

“No problem.” She smiles and heads back inside.

I should say something about Rock, or ask her about him or say something, but my tongue feels heavy and any words would come out loud and awkward.

I grab my backpack and head back inside, towards the exit. I've been so worried about Tanya, I might as well go home early to check on her. Besides, it's gotten a little warmer and I'm already wet. A little walk won't hurt me. I slide past the hall monitors, who are all half asleep or pretending to read books and push open the door.

I slog home through the puddles and half melted snow, trying to hum a song I only know half the lyrics to. The world's too bright after my nap and my thoughts are completely scattered. I wonder if it's raining in the park...the weather there always seems to be different.

When I get to my neighborhood, I spot Owen and Cheryl leaning against the building next to mine, smoking. The cat isn't with them and the slightly psychotic part of my brain worries about that. I brace myself for drama, but they barely even look at me as I walk past.

Either they're high as hell, or they're mad at me. I don't worry too much though. I can live with their disapproval.

The stairs up to our apartment seem steeper than usual and I get tired by the time I reach the door. I consider sitting down right there and going back to sleep, but I need to check up on Tanya.

She's fine. She's sleeping on my bed, the sheets all mussed up and when I come into the room, she looks up and wags her tails.

“You cause me a lot of trouble, you know that?” I drop my backpack and flop next to her. She licks my ear, which makes me laugh and then settles down on my back.

It's comfortable and my headache is going away and my eyes start to close again...

The next thing I know, the door slams open, Tanya jumps off so hard it hurts my back and I sit bolt upright.

It's Melissa, crying again.

I stand up. “What's wrong? What time is it?” The second question was stupid, but I just woke up.

She takes a couple of breaths and calms down. “I was on my way over here to apologize for earlier – ”

“Mel, it's okay.”

“– and I saw Owen and Cheryl in a phone booth and I was going to yell at them and tell them what jerks they are, but I heard who they were calling and...” She pauses for breath. “They were talking about a Nonextant...”

I clench my fists. “Probably talking to one of their buddies at the gym.” Tanya whimpers.

Melissa shakes her head. “Dash, they're calling the cops. On you.”

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