10 | Back To School
I started training Wesley just about every day. He was a fast learner and I actually had fun with him. I’d forgotten what it was like to regularly hang out with someone your own age. Over time, we had become sort of friends. I didn’t talk about myself at all and he didn’t talk about himself very much either, but I’d started to feel comfortable around him and even enjoyed his company now.
The day before school started, we had just finished for the day, and were sitting on a spot of grass outside the garage, talking about the fights we’d seen. There was a pause at one point, and he looked at me.
“When I asked you to train me, you asked why I’d started fighting in the first place.” He said, plucking a blade of grass and playing with it. “Do you still want to know?”
I hesitated. I did want to know, but at the same time, I’d come to respect that everyone has secrets they don’t want revealed, and this seemed like it was probably one of those.
He grinned, as though reading my mind. “I don’t tell very many people what happened, because most people would see me differently, but I think you might understand.”
I pursed my lips a little. “Okay.”
“It happened when I was nine.” He said, propping himself back on his hands. “My sister was thirteen.”
I swallowed. He’d never mentioned a sister, but then, had I ever mentioned Ashton to him?
Wesley continued. “We lived in Louisiana at the time, in an apartment building like this one. My parents were out one day, and me and Ashley were playing hide and seek in the basement, where all the storage was. I was hiding and Ashley was looking for me, when two men came down. I heard them talking to Ashley a little, and then she screamed. I ran over, trying to stop whatever they were doing to her, but I couldn’t. One man held me while the other raped her right in front of me.” He clenched his jaw. “After that, they just grabbed something and left, like it was no big deal. And I hadn’t been able to do anything to stop them.”
I gave him a sympathetic look. “You were nine. Nobody at that age could’ve done very much against two grown men.”
“I don’t believe that.” He looked at me. “Tons of kids that age know how to defend themselves. Are you saying if you were in my spot at that age, you couldn’t have done anything?”
I bit my lip. He had a point. “What happened to your sister?” I asked.
“She’s fine now.” He plucked another blade of grass. “We moved here right after it happened and did everything we could to forget about it. Ash seemed to do okay, but I…” His voice trailed off and he stopped. “Are you alright?” He asked, a concerned look on his face. “You just turned white.”
I just stared at him. His story had already been reminding me of my own story, but when he’d called her Ash…
I snapped out of it and realized Wesley was still watching me. “Sorry, I-uh, got distracted.” I stuttered.
He looked at me a moment longer. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah.” I said, regaining my composure. “So your sister is fine?” It was a poor attempt at redirecting the conversation.
“Yeah.” He still had an odd look on his face. “She’s married now, a baby on the way. But I’ve never been able to get over what happened. I swore I’d never let anything happen to my family ever again, but my parents wouldn’t let me learn martial arts. So, I taught myself to fight.” He gestured to the garage. “As you can see, I’m still not very good.”
“So why did you start street fighting then?” I couldn’t quite make the connection.
“I just wanted to watch, but they wouldn’t let me hang out unless I either fought or bet. So I fought. And it turned out to be a good way to get real-life practice.” He added, grinning.
I smiled, shaking my head. “I don’t get how you can just act like everything is totally fine. I mean, you can’t tell anything wrong ever happened just by looking at you.”
Wesley shrugged. “I can’t change what already happened, so there’s no use in grudging when I can use that time to help myself be more ready for what happens in the future.”
It was a good point, but I didn’t think it would ever work like that for me. And not to make Wesley’s story sound insignificant, but I was pretty sure my problems were a lot bigger and they were also current.
“You need to call your Mom.” Damen said as we were cleaning up after supper. Gia had left the room momentarily and Damen seized the moment, turning it into yet another reminder to call Mom.
The only time I’d called her since I arrived was the day my stuff arrived, and it had been a short conversation. I knew Damen talked to her regularly, but talking to her was still hard for me.
“I will.” I always said it, but I never did.
Damen stopped and looked at me. “No, right now. School starts tomorrow. She’s worried you’ll try to avoid people and not make friends.”
I rolled my eyes. “Of course I’ll make friends.”
“She doesn’t know that.” Damen was still looking at me. “Go to your room, call her, and tell her that you’ll make friends. She just wants to hear from you and know you’re alright.”
I gave him a look. “She could just call me herself you know.” I mumbled, heading to my room.
I pulled out my phone and called Mom.
She picked up on the second ring. “Hi Hayden.”
“Hi Mom.” I plopped down on my bed. “What’s up?”
“Not much.” I could tell she was glad to hear from me. “Work is keeping me busy, what about you?”
“Nothing, really.” I lied. “Damen took me to a dojo a few weeks ago, but it wasn’t that great, so I haven’t gone back. But school starts tomorrow.” I tried to sound happy.
“Are you excited?”
“I’m mostly nervous.” I lied again. “Like what if I can’t make friends?”
“Oh Hayden, don’t say that. You’re wonderful at making friends.”
“Mom, I’m in high school. Everyone already has their own friends; they aren’t looking for more.” I wasn’t even looking for more friends.
“Damen said you’ve been training with a guy.”
I blinked in surprise. I didn’t know Damen had seen me with Wesley. “Uh, yeah, his name is Wesley and he lives in our building. He saw me training and asked if I would teach him a little.”
“Is he cute?” Mom asked.
“What?” I could tell she was smiling. “I just asked if he was cute.”
I sighed. “Yeah, I guess.” I hadn’t really thought about it. He was pretty cute, but so were a lot of guys.
“So do you like him?”
“Mom!” I knew she wasn’t asking if I liked him as a friend.
“Okay!” She laughed. “But you would tell me if you had a crush, right?”
“Of course.” I’d only had one crush before, and she’d known all about it.
I was in fourth grade and the guy I liked, Zayne, was in fifth. He was cute, but looking back, I can see he liked me, and that was the only reason I liked him. The day I realized that was the day I decided I was going to save myself for marriage.
“Well it sounds like you’re getting along alright.” Mom sighed. “I’m glad.”
“Yeah, it’s been fine. Damen’s apartment is nice, and Gia is really–“ I stopped. Had Damen even told Mom about Gia?
Apparently, Damen had not told her. I sighed. “She’s this other girl I met.” I said. “She’s been hanging around a bit and she even took me shopping for school. You’d love her. I added, making a mental note to chew out Damen for not telling her.
“She sounds really nice.” Mom said. “I’m glad you made a friend.” There was a long pause. “Well, it’s getting late here.” She said. “I have work tomorrow and you have school, so make sure you go to bed early tonight.”
“I will.” I waited for her to mention the nightmares, but she didn’t. I knew she knew I was having a few back in Virginia, but had Damen not told her I’d been having them here?
“Well, I’m gonna go then.” She said. “Have a great day at school tomorrow, I love you.”
“I love you too, Mom. Bye.” I hung up and dropped my phone on the bed next to me.
Sighing, I walked over and pulled open my closet door. What the heck was I going to wear tomorrow?
I stared at my clothes. Every other year I had dressed a little extra cute for the first day, but then, Demi had made me. Now, my style was different, I was new, and I had no Demi making me do anything.
Realizing that, I shut the doors again. I wasn’t going to plan my outfit this year. I didn’t care if nobody noticed me, I wanted it that way.
I sat down at my desk and pulled out a piece of paper. Ashton had started a tradition when he was in first grade. Every year we would write down our goals at the beginning of the school year, then put it up somewhere and throughout the year, look at it to see how we were doing.
I picked up my pencil:
#1 – Keep my past hidden.
#2 – Don’t draw attention to myself.
#3 – Get good grades.
That one had always been easy for me, but I still put it on the list every year.
#4 – Don’t be a loser.
I didn’t want to be popular, but neither did I want to be bullied because of my social status.
#5 – Make one friend.
#6 – Improve my 100-meter dash time (11.3 sec).
#7 – Ignore guys.
#8 – Get a Kawasaki Ninja.
Damen had taught me to ride his 650, but I had no idea what he’d say about me getting my own. I was sure Mom wouldn’t really like it, but if I got it before she moved here…
I couldn’t really come up with anymore good ones in the moment, so I set it aside. I’d wait a few days before putting it up in case I came up with anymore.
The next morning, my alarm went off at 7:00. I had always been an early riser, and at one point in my life, 7:00 would have been sleeping in, but this summer I’d started to sleep more till eight-thirty or nine, and now I felt like I was getting up in the middle of the night.
I took a quick shower, blow-dried my hair, and threw on a little makeup. The bus was supposed to get there around 7:40, so by the time I got back in my room, I still had twenty-five minutes.
I opened my closet and stared at my clothes again. Oh my gosh, I was such an idiot for over-thinking.
I shut the closet and pulled on some ripped white skinny jeans along with a loose grey-camo tank top. I added my black Vans and new leather jacket and then glanced in the mirror. It was good enough.
Since I still had twenty minutes to meet the bus, I pulled out my flat iron and loosely curled my hair. I didn’t want to go over the top with everything, but I was nervous, and I needed to be doing something.
When I was done, I grabbed my phone and backpack and went out into the kitchen. Damen was sitting at the table, eating.
“You look nice.” He checked the time. “Are you going to eat?”
I grabbed an apple. “You should know by now that I don’t really eat breakfast.” I glanced around. “Where’s Gia?” She had been staying over more often and was usually up at this point.
“She’s still sleeping.” Damen said. “We stayed up kinda late last night.”
I smirked. “Doing what?”
Damen gave me a look. “Watching TV, what do you think?”
“You really want to know what I think?” I hopped up on the counter.
“No.” He glared at me. “Don’t you have a bus to catch?”
“Not for like ten minutes.” I shrugged. “We can talk about your love life if you want. Or how you still haven’t told Mom that you’re dating?”
Damen winced. “Did you tell her?”
“No! But I thought you’d told her! I mentioned going shopping and Mom’s like “Who’s Gia?”. What was I supposed to say?”
“Fine.” Damen leaned back in his chair. “I’ll tell her tonight.”
“What’s the problem? Why haven’t you told her yet?” I didn’t get it. Yeah, Mom might freak out a little with excitement, or be upset that he waited seven months to tell her, but the longer he waited, the worse it would get.
“Told who what?”
Damen and I both turned to find Gia coming into the kitchen.
I shot a glance at Damen. “Told you how much I want you to stay here and go to Portland State with Damen instead of leaving for Oregon State on Wednesday.” I said to Gia, hopping off the counter and giving her a hug. “Hi.”
“Hi.” Gia gave me a look. “I doubt that’s what you were talking about, but it’s only an hour and a half drive.” She said. “I’ll be able to come back most weekends.”
I sighed and shook my head. “I still don’t know how Damen will manage.”
Damen rose from the table and came over and kissed Gia. “Hayden’s right, you know. I’m completely lost without you.”
“Okay.” I picked up my backpack from the floor. “I’m gonna go to school now.”
They glanced at me.
“Have a nice day.” Gia said, grinning.
Damen nodded. “Yeah, get good grades.”
I stuck out my tongue at him. “I probably get better grades than you.”
“Whatever.” He rolled his eyes. “Get out of here.”
I was almost to the bus stop when I glanced up from my phone and stopped. There was a guy already standing there. The guy turned and both our mouths dropped open.
We both said it at the same time and then laughed.
“I forgot we’d be going to the same school.” Wesley said as I finished the last ten feet to where he was standing.
“Yeah. Me too.” I grinned.
“Is this your first time at a new school?”
I nodded. “Yep.” A thought crossed my mind. “You won’t tell anyone about my street fighting, right?”
Wesley gave me a look. “Of course not. If I did, I’d have to explain how I knew that and that puts me in an awkward spot.”
He had a point.
“But that goes for you too.” He raised his eyebrows. “No telling about me either. Deal?”
“Deal.” I grinned. “I guess I know one person on my first day.” I glanced at him. “Unless you’re someone I don’t want to know.”
He laughed. “It’s always good to know as many people as you can, as long as you pick your friends wisely.”
That was once again good advice from Wesley. I gave him an accusing smile. “How do you always have the perfect advice for ever situation?” I laughed. “You’re like a grandma!”
He grinned. “We did live with my grandma for three years.”
The bus arrived right then, and we started towards it.
“Sit with me.” Wesley said, motioning me on the bus. “I’ll introduce you to everyone.”
“I don’t– “
“This is Zach.” Wesley pushed me forward, gesturing to the driver.
I barely had time to nod before I was pushed forward again. I’d been hoping to just stay in the background, but Wesley didn’t give me a choice.
I got through all the introductions with a smile on my face, but when we finally sat down, I glared at Wesley. “Are you gonna do that with the whole school?” I asked. “I didn’t think you were serious when you said you’d introduce me to everyone.”