“Eli I swear to god, if you miss the bus again I’m gonna ground you for a month. Get the h*ll up!!”
Sh*t. Not again…
“I’m not kidding Eli! I have to get to a board meeting today so if you miss the bus you’re on your own, and I don’t think Mr. Cabell would appreciate you being late again.”
“Yeah mom, I’m up! I’ll be down in a minute!” I throw my duvet off myself and grab my jeans and a dirty red shirt off the floor while my mom crashes around downstairs, chattering about how annoying her boss is and how much easier things would be if she had at least one kid who got up on time. I can hear my little sister and brother arguing about toothpaste in the bathroom, something about who has to clean up a mess. At least it won't be me, I think.
After hurriedly pulling on my clothes I clip my watch to my wrist and snatch my book bag off the floor before grabbing a pair of socks and dashing out of my room. I pass the bathroom on my way to the stairs and catch a glimpse of Georgia and Aiden gesticulating at each other and arguing over a mess of toothpaste on the floor while my cat Oliver winds himself between their legs. I laugh, my siblings are annoying yes, but their shenanigans always make life interesting. “See you later guys! Don’t eat the cafeteria pizza!!” I shout at them. Georgia turns around with one ponytail in and a flushed face, “you need to clean the cat litter, it’s making the house smell like sh*t”.
My mom shouts up the stairs, “hey! Georgia! What have we said about dirty language! You two get your bags and get your a*ses down here, you’re gonna be late too if you keep dawdling like this!!” I jump down the last few steps and grab a muffin off the counter before quickly hugging my mom. “Love you mom”.
“Your socks don’t match,” she says distractedly after kissing the top of my head. I let out a laugh and slip my shoes on just as the bus stops outside. I rush out the door and shut it loudly behind me as I race down the front steps towards the Yellow Vessel of Doom. Mr. Harris smiles at me as I enter and nods solemnly, “figured you’d be running late so I made sure to take my time getting here”. He winks one of his dark blue eyes and turns to pull the bus out of Park. I give him a quick thank you and head towards the back seats, keeping my head down.
Once I find my seat in the very back of the bus I pull out my phone and earbuds. I open Spotify and click on “Silence is For the Weak”: a playlist my best friend Jonathan made when we were in sixth grade, before he moved to California with his movie-star family. I think about him now while Hot Girl Bummer blares into my ears. We used to be so close; we’d spend every evening outside together, playing dumb roleplay games and skateboarding to the drug store to buy candy. Sometimes we’d have sleepovers at each other’s houses, although I always preferred being at mine because his family seemed too stuck-up and... self-important. It made me feel inferior for living in a three-bedroom apartment with my single mom and two messy siblings instead of the mini-mansion Jonathan and his uber-successful family lived in. His dad was a movie-director and his mom was an actress for a few small films and music videos. His older sister was on her way to becoming a famous singer and his younger sister performed in every single school play. The only reason we knew each other was because we happened to be on the same soccer team when we were five and had an instant connection. Now that connection is lost and we haven’t communicated in about a year.
On some random whim, I decide to open up our old messages. Immediately our last conversation pops up. I turn the brightness down and look at it for the first time in a month.
>EliDuck77< it’s not my fault you decided to hook up with your girlfriend on your last day instead of hanging out like you promised. That was our last f*ucking day Jonny, and you spent it with a girl you’ve known for a month. We’ve been friends for 12 f*cking years now man. f*ck this. go talk with your new girlfriend if she’s so great. don’t bother hitting me up
>MiiSteak_03< Eli please, I’m sorry. how many times do I have to say that?? I know I shouldn’t have but I just didn’t know how to deal with everything happening and it was all moving so fast and when Ariana told me to come over I just... gave in. I couldn’t help it. I just wanted an escape. I guess I just thought somehow that if I ignored what was happening it would go away.
>MiiSteak_03< and now you’re gone and it’s all my fault...
>MiiSteak_03< I’m sorry Eli. I really am. If you want space then that’s what I’ll give you but please, if you ever wanna talk I’m here
I wipe the wetness from my eyes and close the app.
He was the bad friend, not me. I need to toughen up instead of looking at old texts like a sappy ex.
I run my hand through my curly black hair and wipe my glasses. The school was coming into view now, a red brick box in all it’s glory against the cloudless dawn. Someone on the bus laughs loudly and I turn to see Brodick Patterson showing his buddy Chris a video of some girl in her underwear on his phone. “Look at this b*tch, apparently she goes to school. I bet you’d love to get her to do some of this sh*t for you huh?” He grins slyly and elbows Chris in the side. “Oh hell nah, did you see her? She’s probably a B-cup at best. You know I don’t like girls unless they’ve got at least a D,” Chris replies, flicking his bleached hair from his face and holding his hands against his chest while moving them up and down as though fondling nonexistent breasts. Brodick laughs obnoxiously again and I can see Mr. Harris chuckle to himself from the driver’s seat.
Disgusting. I put both earbuds back in, turn the volume up on Cradles, and close my eyes as we roll into the bus entrance to the school. The bus comes to a shrieking stop and idles for a few minutes, waiting for the bus in front of us to unload its passengers before the doors squeak open and Mr. Harris waves us out. I wait until everyone else has departed before getting up and making my way down the empty aisle. Just before I’m about to step off Mr. Harris grabs my arm, “you know, you’re a fine-looking boy... if you ever want to stay on the bus a little longer I can take you somewhere nice...” I pull my arm back out of shock and look into the middle-aged bus driver’s face. His pouchy cheeks are smiling cockily and those deep-set navy eyes are staring back at me with un-contained desire that makes my stomach turn. “I-I uh... I’m gonna miss the first bell...” I stumble down the steps and nearly drop my earbuds as I try to straighten my t-shirt. Flustered, I hurry to the big front doors of the school and head inside. I rush to the nearest restroom and lock myself in a stall, breathing heavily as I drop my bag to the floor. Anxiously wiping my glasses on my shirt and trying to steady my breath I frantically try to come up with a valid reason for what just happened. He wasn't actually suggesting... no, I'm sure I'm just assuming the worst. He was probably offering to get me dinner or go fishing or something. Grandpa used to do that all the time, maybe Mr. Harris just misses having kids or something...
After calming myself down a bit I grab my bag and stuff my phone into my pocket before opening the stall door and rinsing my face with cold water from the sink. I look into the mirror, seeing my wire-framed hazel eyes meet their reflection. My cheeks are slightly flushed but otherwise--I'm relieved to find--I look normal: my hair messy as ever and a small stain from yesterday's lunch still on my shirt. Sighing with relief, I head out the bathroom door and make my way towards advisory, scratching at that stain. I want to look normal, not sloppy.