I'm not sure what I imagined juvie to be like. I'm not sure I ever imagined it at all. And now that I am here, I'm still not sure what I think of it.
It's very gray.
The walls are gray, the floor is gray, the clothes they made me change into are gray...even the lights give off a kind of grayish glow. Not that I expected rainbows, but still.
It's not so much like a prison as like a school, though those are basically the same thing. My room is just that – a room, not a cell, with six bunk beds and a little bathroom. There are bars on the window, but I'm not really looking up anyway.
I haven't met the other kids yet. They're all at some sport thing. The people in charge offered to let me go, but I said no. It's weird how they ask you. I guess they're pushing for the whole “reforming” aspect.
I sit on my uncomfortable bed, trying not to think about anything. Not about Melissa, or the look Wood gave me at the police station, or Owen and Cheryl and especially not about Tanya.
It doesn't work that well.
I roll over onto my side and pull the thin blanket over me. Sleep sounds nice...it's been like eight hours since my nap in lunch. I close my eyes, but they keep popping open. I guess I'm too freaked out to sleep.
The wall right next to my bed is so covered with graffiti, my eyes blur from trying to pick out individual words. There's the usual stuff like so-and-so rocks and so-and-so sucks, but also some poetry. Mostly depressing stuff. I don't read much.
I'm staring at some gigantic R somebody carved into the wall when I hear voices and footsteps. That must be the rest of the kids, the ones who sleep in the other five bunk beds. There's only a couple of voices, though. Most of them are pretty quiet. I don't turn around.
Pretty soon, the lights go out and the couple of people who were talking stop.
“Hey, new kid.”
I glance over my shoulder. Long hair and a pointy nose hanging upside down from the upper bunk.
“No crying, all right?”
The words aren't unfriendly, but they're not reassuring either. I give a small smile of acknowledgment and turn back to my wall.
I hope I can keep that promise.
The next day drags. I think. I'm not really aware of anything.
As far as I can see, there's not much to our schedule besides three meals and some sort of recreational thing. Some – well, most – of the kids go to therapy at some point, but I guess they've decided I'm sane enough not to have to do that. Yet.
I basically just keep my head down and keep quiet, though I do pick up a few bits of information. Which kids are “different”, where to stand in the lunch line if you're a new kid, who the nasty guards are and what it feels like to be shoved into a prison wall.
It's not that different than other walls.
None of the kids target me specifically, they just pick on whoever happens to be in their way at the time. At least I hope they do. For some reason, I keep catching this one kid glaring at me. He's got weird, shaggy, spiky hair and a little charm on a string around his neck. I try to stay out of his way.
The recreational thingy tonight is a movie. Some kind of PG slapstick comedy...I think they're trying to make it as harmless as possible. I mostly look at the other kids. I haven't really had an opportunity to while keeping my head down.
They're all about my age, but look older...must be the gray everywhere. It's not separated by gender or anything, so there are some girls around too. In fact, they're pretty much clustering around the shaggy-haired kid. I don't know why...he's not that attractive and these scary-looking girls probably wouldn't be into him even if he were.
The shaggy kid notices me staring and glowers at me again.
I look away and try to concentrate on the movie.
Later, they dismiss us to our rooms and I get to see the kids who came in last night. The shaggy kid isn't there, thank goodness, but I do see my bunkmate. The kid who told me not to cry.
We get into bed pretty quickly and the lights go off within about ten minutes. I lay staring at the giant R carved into the wall, before making up my mind.
“Hey.” I poke the bottom of the upper bunk. “You awake?” My voice sounds weird to me...I haven't used it all day.
The long hair swings down as the kid dangles upside down. “Yeah. What's up, new kid?”
The hair is long and it's pretty dark and I'm not exactly sure if they're a boy or a girl. I think a boy, because they wouldn't put girls and boys in the same bedroom. “Do you know the one kid with really shaggy, spiky hair?”
“With the charm around his neck?”
He nods upside down, which looks weird. “That's Jared.”
“Is he an asshole to everyone?” I don't usually curse, but these people might take me more seriously if I do. “And why does he have all those girls around him?”
He chuckles a little. “I have no idea. But yeah, he's kind of an ass.”
“To everyone or just me?”
Somebody from a different bunk curses. “Hey, shut up!”
The long hair flips back up.
I turn back to stare at the R. I stare at it so long that my head starts to hurt and my sleep-deprived mind turns it into something scary that somehow represents every bad thing that's ever happened to me.
Finally, I close my eyes.
You're going crazy, Dash. Next thing you know, you'll be one of those freaks who watch nothing but anime cartoons.
The thought makes me smile, but I still don't sleep.
The next day isn't much different.
There's macaroni and cheese for lunch instead of soup and instead of a movie, they send us to run around in the gym, but it feels pretty much the same.
I keep my head down again and if Jared glares at me, I don't notice. In the gym, I sit against the wall, staring at the people pretending to play basketball. I'm not the only one sitting, but I'm definitely the lamest looking one.
“Hey, new kid!”
Wow, that is an annoying voice. High pitched and whiny without being chipmunk-cute. I look up.
It's Jared, surrounded by a bunch of scowling girls. Maybe one of them has that annoying voice.
“What's your name, hotshot?”
Nope, it's Jared's voice. Yikes. I clear my throat. “Dash.”
“Is that your real name?”
Please, make this guy stop talking. “It's close enough.”
He folds his arms. “Well then, can you 'dash'?”
I stand up. My neck was getting sore looking up at them. “I'm a runner, sure.” I'm already regretting talking. I've had enough experience with jerks to know that the more you talk the more stuff they have to torment you with.
“So you wouldn't say no to a race,” He smirks. “Say...twice around the gym?”
I groan inwardly, but outwardly, I just shrug. “Sure,” I hope this isn't some kind of trap.
The gym looks a lot like most school gyms – basically a big basketball court with a bunch of lines around the outside. Jared and I line up between a couple of them. No one else is watching us, except for his girls and we crouch down.
“No cutting corners?” He's still smirking.
I grimace and shake my head. I didn't think anyone could be as annoying as Owen.
One of his girls counts off. “Ready...set...go!”
We take off.
I wasn't expecting much. As I said before, I'm not called Dash for nothing. I've set records for my track team and I can run the mile in about six minutes. Nobody's even come close to catching up to me.
But Jared is fast.
I run as fast as I can and just barely manage to keep up with him. I almost stumble going around the second corner and he pulls ahead by a couple of feet. It takes me the remaining lap and a half to get back into stride with him and even then, he wins by a couple of inches.
For a minute or two, we both hunch over to catch our breath and don't say anything. Everything hurts. I should've stretched.
He straightens up first and gives me that smirk. “You're pretty okay...but not good enough to be called Dash.”
His girls snicker. Maybe they do like him.
“Smell ya later, loser.” He and his entourage turn their backs and walk across the gym.
I stare after them, then sit down again, fuming. The first time in my life I ever lose a race and it had to be to a pompous, arrogant asshole like Jared. I mean, I guess I haven't been running much lately...but still, I should have been able to beat him. And who says “smell you later”? Or calls people losers? It's like he came out of the 90's to push me around.
After a while, we're herded out of the gym and towards the showers. It's not that bad, not compared to all the scary stories I've heard. About the same as showering with the football team – intimidating, but harmless.
I'm starting to get used to my uncomfortable bed, which scares me. It's only been a couple of days and I can barely remember what my own bed feels like.
I stare at the R until I start to get stiff, then roll over and stare into the middle of the room. It takes me a while to get tired enough to actually close my eyes and as soon as I do, they snap back open.
In the middle of the floor is a purplish cloud of gas, a hazy shadow with huge, fierce-looking eyes.
I blink again and it's gone.
I roll over again and stare at the bottom of the upper bunk, massaging my temples.
You really are going crazy, Dash.You really are a loser.