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Into The Void

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Chapter One: Rise and Shine

Three months before

I tossed and turned in light sleep, gently feeling a hand press against my back. Feeling the small pieces of crust piercing the corners of my tear ducts, I wiped them off quickly before opening my eyes. I couldn’t make out who it was as my vision was still adjusting from its sleepy haze. “Good morning,” my mom said. I reached over and shuffled around the surface of my nightstand, trying to find my phone. Grabbing it, I focused my sight on seeing what time it was.

“Are you kidding me?!” I dropped my phone on the ground and groaned. “It’s only Six. I still have fifteen minutes, Mom!” I shrugged her off me and turned to my side, pulling the blanket over my head.

“Oh no, you don’t!” she countered. Walking over to the butt of the bed, she grabbed the blanket and pulled it off me. “You do this every year. Breakfast is almost finished, and if you don’t get up and come downstairs, then I’ll drag you down myself. I’m not going to repeat myself. Now get up, John.”

She gave me a stern and final look before storming out of my room and slamming the bedroom door behind her. It isn’t a school year morning without a complementary death threat. Despite my mom’s abrasive attitude, I still stayed in bed for fifteen more minutes until my alarm finally rang. When you’re going to school so early, you need every minute you can spare. Who even wants to wake up this early anyway?

Stretching my entire body and cracking my knuckles, I forced myself to get up and stumble toward the bathroom. A shower was the only thing that could help wake me at this point. Little did I know of the rude awakening I was going to experience when stepping inside the tub. Taking off my clothes, I turned the nob and hopped in expecting hot water. All I felt was ice-cold needles jabbing against my back. I waited and hoped that the temperature would change the longer it ran, but it remained the same. After so long, I quickly turned it off and called it quits. Wrapping a towel around my waist, I walked out of the bathroom in frustration. I then heard my sister laughing.

“Like my sloppy seconds?” she asked. Turning to her, I could tell she was thinking of an insult. “Nice look, douche.” She flipped me off and smiled before heading downstairs. How does she do this every single day? Where in my life did I screw up to get an asshole for a sister?

In my mind, I still did not fully understand as to why she’s even here. You think a college kid would want to be gone from their parents’ home? Who am I kidding, though? Why would she leave if she has it made here? I guess it’s smart on her end. Saves her the money while leeching off our parents. Maybe if I just woke up earlier as my mom pushed me too, I could have gotten in before her.

Rolling my eyes, I tried not to let her get to me as I got ready. I combed my hair, brushed my teeth, and smacked some cologne on my chest before getting dressed and racing downstairs to the kitchen. I could smell the freshly cooked bacon in the air along with toast and butter. Feeling my mouth salivating from the aroma alone, I knew my stomach was ready to feast on what my mom made for me.

When I arrived, everyone was already sitting down and eating breakfast without me. Taking my place, I sat down at the table and looked around. I realized there wasn’t even a plate set up for me. “Um, where’s my food?”

She gave me a glared look and swallowed her food before speaking. “Well, you decided to take your sweet little time, so I decided not to care.” I sat there in silence, not knowing what to say. First, I get woken up early, then gifted with a cold shower, only to end up empty-handed and starving.

She pointed at everyone’s plate. “You can take what’s left if you can. As I said, you took too long. It’s okay, I think you can manage to eat at school. I know they serve breakfast.”

“Oh, come on, Mom!” I begged. “No one eats the food at the school. It’s gross. Seriously, I think it’s a health hazard. Has anyone ever actually inspected the food before? I mean, isn’t three years torture enough?”

Stacey chuckled. “Oh, don’t start whining like a little kid. If she does not want to cook, then she doesn’t have to. You’re old enough to get something. Don’t you have money stashed in your sock drawer or something?”

I looked at her with an annoyed expression. “Really? Is the moocher going to lecture me? I’m sorry, shouldn’t you be in college or something? Oh, wait! I forgot you flunked out.”

“I didn’t flunk out!” She defended. “I dropped out. All the constant long nights and studying like crazy for exams. College just isn’t for me. I lived off of top ramen and coffee for months. I’m not the only one who has done it.”

Laughing at her comment, I added, “Yeah, just the only one to spend long nights and study sessions with your professors.”

“Mom!” she cried out.

My mom turned and gave me a quick, agitated glance. “Johnny, you’re eighteen. You’re an adult now so start acting like it. Also stop, slut-shaming your sister? Is that right?” She looked toward Stacey for validation. My sister nodded her head, confirming that was correct before my mom continued. “Right, okay. Stop shaming your sister. There’s no need for this so early.”

Stacey smirked devilishly at me. “Yeah, Johnny, be nice to me. No need to be rude,” she strained with sarcasm. I looked away, pretending she wasn’t even here. Am I seriously the only one who can see past her manipulation? Stacey smiled and jumped with excitement when her phone lit up and vibrated on the table. “Got to go; Steve is calling me.”

“The other professor?” I joked.

My dad chuckled, not expecting my comment. My sister grunted in frustration and stormed out of the kitchen, whispering to herself. Even though I felt some sort of satisfaction, I couldn’t help but feel bothered. Stacey always had to interject on everything I said. Whether it was small or not. She can never just leave well enough alone.

Now that she was gone, I could focus on my mom without her interference. I had to convince her of this whole breakfast scenario somehow. “Please, I don’t want to eat there. Come on, Mom, show some mercy. I’ll love you forever if you don’t make me eat there.”

I kept pleading over and over, hoping she would reconsider. All she did was shrug her shoulders. “I have enough love. Now hurry along, or you’ll be late. Also, make sure you don’t forget your backpack. Don’t have time to leave work today; now go.” My mom said her goodbyes before looking back at her phone and ignoring my presence.

My dad told me not to mind her and hugged me. “Have fun this year,” he said. “You’re only a senior once.” He grabbed my backpack and gave it to me. I told him I would try while slipping my converse on. Soon after, I walked out of the front door only to bump into Leviticus.

“Oh crap!” he stumbled back a few feet, clutching his chest. “You scared the shit out of me, man!”

My back was against the door, just as startled as he was. “Ever try knocking? It is a useful thing to learn, dude.”

“You never gave me a chance to knock! You came out before I could.” I caught my breath for a few seconds and told him just to wait next time. I guess it was just bad timing on both our ends. “Well, since we handled that, BRO!” He screamed with enthusiasm.

“BRO!” I mimicked.

Pulling me in and pressing my head against his chest, he started chanting. “SENIORS! SENIORS! SENIORS!”

I pushed him off and told him to get a hold of himself. He shrugged my comment aside as he was too excited. He had way too much energy this morning. He was like a hopped-up kid on too much caffeine.

I started walking away while he explained himself in detail. “Don’t you get it? We are finally senior’s man! Three years of going through utter bullshit just to get to this year. We can be our ultimate selves! We can leave campus for lunch, have some privileges in our favor, and especially no more water bottles thrown at us or toilet paper or our locks getting glued with notes saying we’re pansies!”

I scoffed at him. “Man, that only happened in the first few months of freshman year, and that is it. Although I do admit, mid junior year was shitty for us. The pants fiasco was...”

“And we said never to talk about it,” he cut in. I apologized to him quickly and held my tongue. I didn’t know he was still sensitive about the subject. “Anyways,” he continued. “We are now on top of the food chain! We can carry on and do it to the new class rolling in. Isn’t it awesome?”

“Not really,” I told him. Leviticus grabbed my shoulder, giving me the stink eye. “I’m serious, man. If we hated it, I’m sure they will too. Why repeat the same things?”

He laughed at me and shook his head. “Because it’s the tradition, you prude! This founding testament has been happening since the dawn of schooling. We can’t break it now!”

I rolled my eyes and crossed the street. Sometimes I forget just how overwhelming my friend can truly be. “Look, Leviticus, I just...”

“Ah, ah, ah!” He interrupted. “What’s this whole thing about calling me Leviticus? I told you, it’s Levi now. I even had it changed on my school papers this year.”

I looked at him, confused. “Why change it? I think it’s pretty unique.”

“Unique?” He looked at me as if I was crazy. “Bro, are you cray-cray? Have you not been at our school for the last three years? How everyone made fun of it? How the hell is it unique?”

I sighed, knowing I shouldn’t have said anything. “Because man, I’m sure not many people have a name like that and the people making fun of you are stupid anyway. We don’t even talk or associate ourselves with them.” Levi laughed out loud in a fake manner. He still didn’t think that was a good enough reason, and hearing my thoughts did not change his.

“As I said, my name is Levi now,” he confirmed. “I’m tired of people laughing at my name, dude. I want this year to go by smoothly. I don’t want to encounter any problems. I want to go out with a BANG, you know what I’m saying?”

“Is that why you’re acting extra... well, extra?” I asked him.

“Hey, better to go out with a boom than a thud,” he replied.

I had to give it to him. I ultimately agreed on that part. I genuinely hope this year goes well. Sure, I may not have been as excited as Levi was, but I was eager for what this year had in store for me, and I prayed it was a good one.

We turned the corner of Cook Street just a few minutes out from school when I saw Jenny in front of us. Feeling nervous, I tried to think of what I could say to her. It’s been all summer since I saw her, and if I wanted this year to go differently, I had to start with her. Levi, the intuitive and nosy guy he was, automatically knew who I was looking at, which gave him the opportunity to mess with me.

“Bro! Are you still crushing on Jenny Cruz? Dude, when are you going to ask her out? You’ve been drooling over her since before puberty!” I told him to shut up while trying to ignore his comments. I had to get my thoughts in order.

“Invite her over,” he whispered.

“No!” I countered. “I’m not ready. I-I haven’t even come up with anything to say!”

“Come on, dude!” he said in a pepped manner. “It’s senior year. The last year to actually do something memorable. Like, I don’t know, asking out a childhood crush before you two head to separate colleges!”

Rubbing my head, I said, “Dude, I know, I get it. It’s just...”

“Do it, do it, do it,” he began chanting.

“No, Levi. Come on, man. Just let me figure out something to say before I act like an idiot.” He raised his eyebrows and smiled at me. Not a friendly smile where it’s sincere and all. More like, If you’re not going to do it, I will.

“HEY, JENNY!” he yelled.

“Dude, stop playing right now. I’m serious!” I warned him.

“JENNY! WOOHOO! Hay, girl.” She turned around and looked at us. He waved his hand in the air like an idiot and continued to talk. “What is up, girl! I haven’t seen you in forever. Is that a new outfit?” She looked at her friend in a confused way and slowly starting walking towards us. Levi smiled at me and began rubbing my shoulders, giving me his eccentric version of a helpful speech. “Bro, it’s time to get that. Remember, stay classy and a bit trashy okay? Go get her tiger.” He then pushed me forward.

Slamming into her, I accidentally knocked Jenny’s binder out of her hands, forcing her papers to spill onto the ground. Pretending to be sincere, Levi came up to us and gasped. “Oh no, Jenny had a little accident. Someone should help her pick it up.” He slowly wrapped his arm around her friend Anna. “Anna, beautiful, long time no talk. Want to tell me how your summer went?”

“Oh, Smooth,” she said unamused or impressed.

“Always, now come and talk a stroll with these gorgeous Greek legs.” He put his arm behind his back, giving me a thumbs-up before walking away with her.

I quickly apologized to Jenny about the whole situation. I did not want my school year to start out like this with her. She crouched down and smiled up at me. “It’s okay Johnny, I know it wasn’t you. Levi isn’t exactly subtle, you know?” She grabbed her binder and stood up again.

“Yeah, can never get him to shut up either. Not even duct tape can hold his lips.” We both laughed, followed by a moment of silence. I stared awkwardly at her, figuring out what to say next. “So, uh, how was your summer?”

“Oh, it was good!” she replied.

I guess that was an excellent topic to bring up. She started telling me about how she traveled to Spain with her family and visited several art museums. She always loved historical art. It was the one thing she never stopped showing interest in, even in middle school. I wouldn’t be surprised if she became an art historian when she graduates college. I did express to her how awesome her adventures were. Her trip sounded so enlightening and adventurous compared to my summer, which only entailed hanging out with Levi and PS4. Not exactly a topic worthy subject to bring up.

We were enjoying our conversation on how this school year would go when Levi yet again butted in. “I see sparks flying over there!” We both stopped talking and looked over at Levi. “You look cute together for real! Don’t they, Anna?” He looked over to her, but she smacked him in the chest and told him to shush. I looked at Jenny and decided to end our conversation before Levi said anything else.

“So, I’ll see you later?” I wondered. She nodded her head and told me she couldn’t wait. Joining by Anna's side, they both said their goodbyes before leaving us.

Levi came up behind me shortly after and grabbed my shoulders. “Aren’t I a matchmaker or what! I should be running a dating service. You think tinder would be open to some suggestions?”

I turned around and punched him. “Dick!”

He rubbed his chest, not knowing what he did wrong. “Why are you hitting me, man?”

Annoyed, I started to rip into Levi. “I said no, let me figure it out! No, as in N-O. What part of that word didn’t you understand?”

“Bro, someone has to be your set of balls! I swear you’re going to die before asking that girl out and don’t come crying to me when you’re living in a trailer, huddling in a corner eating vanilla soy bean whatever the ass ice cream you like while playing cat man.” I stared at my friend, dumbfounded. What the hell was he talking about? “Listen, John, real talk? You’ve been chasing after that girl for a long time. It’s our last year, man. It’s the year that can define us or break us.” He straightened out my shirt before grabbing my cheeks. “Now what I need you to do is to get you and little Johnny two toes down there to work together and muster up whatever balls you do have in your sack to take advantage of this year! Because I will not be the only one going guns blazing in this relationship.”

I pushed his hands off me in confusion. “What are you even talking about?!”

He gasped and shook his head, sarcastically. “And you said we were soul mates.” He jokingly strutted away while I stood there in awe. Why do I have an idiot for a friend? Why did I not make more friends? This is going to be a long year, I can already tell.

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