First Day of Senior Year
I stepped back from the door as the train slowed to a stop. Anybody who knew anything about riding the train, didn’t stand in front of the door unless they wanted that gust of wind to blast through their hair and ruin the look they spent twenty minutes getting just right. I grinned mischievously at the suit standing in the firing zone as the doors slid open and did a number on his head. What a chump. You’d think old people would know better, right?
After the guy with the windblown hair and some others stepped off, Janik and Steve jumped on, gave me a nod and grabbed hold of the overhead steadying bar.
“Dude, what are you feeding that thing?” I said, referring to the cold sore on Steve’s lip. It had gotten bigger since yesterday.
“Screw you,” Steve snapped, trying to catch a glimpse in the window’s reflection.
“It’ll connect with his sideburns by lunch,” Janik joked.
“Where’s Matt?” I asked.
“He said he’d be late,” Steve replied as the dinging sound indicated the doors were about to close and the train would speed off to the next destination.
“He’s full of it,” I exclaimed and stuck out my hand forcing it to reopen.
“Where are you going?” Janik asked.
“We’ll meet you guys there,” I replied and jumped off the train.
Moving up the escalator, I positioned myself behind a group of suits who acted as a nice barrier from the rampaging elements swirling down. The slight breeze worked nicely with my hair until a girl’s voice called my name.
“Wrong way, Trenton.”
I reluctantly turned. Sophie Carter and Jessica Barrera, two girls I’d known since first grade but hadn’t really talked to since they became part of the cool clique, rode the escalator down. I was about to give a witty reply – no really, it was going to be witty – but a gust of wind rustled against my part and flopped a bushel full of hair all over my face. I must’ve looked like a wild animal by their sudden laughter. I quickly brushed it back, but the moment had passed and they were already out of earshot.
Walking to Matt’s house, I was a bit worried he would try his old shenanigans and skip school. After all, it was the second big day of three. Today we would find out one of the names on our past lives list, while the rest would be revealed on Friday. Unfortunately, Matt’s printless predicament eliminated his ability to discover whether he had once been rich and famous.
Halfway to his house, my thoughts were redirected. Even though I had told myself I wouldn’t, a force deep inside that seemed to have instantaneous control, sent my eyes searching the adjacent cemetery and I quickly zeroed in on my mother’s grave.
Although it had only been three months, part of me was still in shock. The doctors had said she died of sudden heart failure. My father, a pharmacist, pressed for more answers, but apparently, there weren’t any. He explained that these things happened and no matter how advanced science was, the human body – an amalgamation of many biological parts working in unison – gave out sometimes and that was just part of the natural cycle.
I understood that, of course, but it provided none of the emotional comfort I needed. She was my mother and not some mass of tissues and muscles that I loved. She was so much more. She was the woman who never let me down and always pushed me forward.
Part of me had always felt a bit out of place by having been adopted and not knowing where I came from. But my mom – my dad too – had done a great job of keeping that alienation in a distant compartment, well below the surface. They made me feel accepted and part of a regular family.
Steering in the direction of her tombstone, the lump at the top of my chest started to make its way up my throat and I quickly walked away. If I let the emotions swell any further, the tears would start welling and it would take far too long for me to suppress them than I had time for if we were going to make it to class on time.
I turned the corner onto Matt’s street and as expected, noticed his mother’s car was gone. She was a lawyer for some coffee bean company and always left really early for work. I rang the doorbell and glanced at Matt’s room in the garden basement. They lived in a three-flat townhome and he had the entire bottom floor to himself. With his mom gone most of the day and his dad living somewhere in Idaho – or maybe it was Utah – he had free reign of the house.
I never actually met his father, only heard about him in abstract ways as if he were some distant entity with a tenuous hold on Matt. I could see that connection getting weaker by the day as we neared the last lap of high school. Truth be told, I think Matt desperately wanted a better relationship with his old man and resented him for not making it happen. In return, Matt milked him for everything he was worth and didn’t feel the least bit guilty. Matt had more high-tech gizmos in his secret lab than the military, all thanks to some guy he saw every couple of years or so.
The light below flickered twice, which was our secret signal indicating the coast was clear. One flicker would have meant his mom was home and I should wait for someone to answer the door. Three flickers meant she was gone, but he was working on one of his secret projects and would let me in after locking her down. If this was how spies around the world felt day in and day out, then sign me up. I smirked and opened the front door.
A loud series of explosions erupted from inside Matt’s room. I swung open the bedroom door and found him ensconced in his throne zapping aliens from atop one of New York City’s dilapidated skyscrapers.
“Dude, new version came out yesterday and I already mastered it,” Matt announced, fully pleased with himself.
“Cool,” I responded casually, “then it won’t matter if we scram now.”
He looked at me with a cocked eyebrow that suggested I was out of my mind.
“Yeah right, like that’s gonna happen.”
“Come on, who am I going to eat lunch with if you’re here killing zombies and aliens?”
“Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you,” he said hesitantly as an alien caught him off guard and a few of his friends landed softly on the rooftop, “but we don’t have lunch together anymore.”
“They switched my schedule.”
“That totally blows.”
“I know,” he replied. “Hold on, why don’t you ditch with me? I mean, it’s not like you’re going to open your letter anyway. I thought you didn’t want to know who you were.”
“I don’t, but I still have to pick it up,” I explained and noticed something new hanging on his wall. “Where’d you get that sword?”
“Sweet, isn’t it?”
I stepped closer to examine the gleaming object. The curved blade looked perfectly balanced against a nicely crafted wooden handle.
“Is that a scimitar?”
“You bet it is.” I reached to pick it up, but Matt interrupted. “Don’t touch it ... that thing will cut your hand clean off.”
His quick reproach startled me and I put my arm down. “What in the world did that cost your old man?” Matt grinned cunningly. “You’re going to bankrupt him, you know that, right?”
Matt held a peculiar stare as if deciding whether to let me in on a secret. A moment later, an alien crunched on his outnumbered hero and proceeded to share him with the rest of the gang, but Matt didn’t seem to care any longer. He slid his chair over a couple of feet and punched in a few keystrokes. I eyed him curiously as his hacker portal appeared on the wall-screen and he motioned me to join his scandalous party.
“I can get you one too,” he claimed.
“That’s your dad’s cash. I don’t want one.”
“Who said my dad paid for it?”
A cautionary jolt shot up my spine as I had a good idea where this was going. Matt’s special gift was hacking. I’m pretty sure he was born with the talent as was evidenced by his innate ability to absorb computer languages and dismantle security firewalls. I had watched him do it and even learned a few trade secrets over the years, but I didn’t have the knack or the desire to spend countless hours trying to one-up some other punk halfway across the globe. Matt loved it, though. In fact, one had to wonder if the trail of bread crumbs from this special talent might lead back to some previous life’s pursuit. But Matt would never find out. His barren hands made sure of that.
“Let’s just say, I know a guy who knows a guy who got a hold of some personal numbers.”
“What the hell does that mean?” I asked. “Are you talking about credit cards?”
“Maybe,” he said mischievously.
“That’s insane. What did you do?”
“A little homework – got ahold of someone’s info who travels on business and had the sword sent to his house when he was out of town.”
“You figured out he was out of town, huh,” I replied rhetorically. “But that still doesn’t explain how you got the darned thing.”
“It was delivered without the need for a signature.”
“So you took it off his doorstep?”
“See, now you’re getting the hang of it,” Matt replied gleefully.
“Dude, you’re going to jail!”
“Take it easy. It was the only time, besides-”
“You just wanted to see if you could do it, right?”
No surprise there. Matt was a pretty smart guy – above average, actually, if you considered the aptitude test as a measure of one’s intelligence. His marks put him in the 80th percentile or slightly above that, which was the key to virtually guaranteeing yourself a nice future full of cool jobs and money. The government and private industry saw to it that anyone scoring in the 80th percentile or above was offered a scholarship at a top-tier school; however, as with everything that seemed too good to be true, there was a catch. The caveat was that in order to secure this generous benefit, you had to major in a subject you were an expert in during one of your past lives. For example, a past life chemist would have to choose to be a chemist in this life.
I know what you’re thinking, though. What if I wasn’t an expert in anything in one of my past lives? What if I was a blue collar worker, like an electrician, or had a profession that society considered low value, like a screenwriter?
The simple answer was that you were out of luck. I mean, special consideration might be given if you were an Oscar winner or something of that order, but the chances were slim. Besides, if you were that successful in your past life and didn’t squander all of your money, your self-inheritance in this life would easily pay for college.
I, on the other hand, was torn between disappointment and relief when I learned that I had only scored in the 70th percentile. I actually thought I’d done better on the test, but then again, I was never a very strong test-taker. I know, everyone who does poorly says that, but in my case it’s true – really. My relief, as you can imagine, was in the reduced pressure to open my Past Lives Letter and find out who I was. If getting a scholarship was off the table, then what was the point in opening the letter?
“That’s not cool, man,” I said.
“Settle down, do-gooder. It’s some rich guy anyway. He probably won’t even notice and if he does, it’s just a drop in the bucket. You never know, he might actually like the idea of having a sword and buy another one. Sure you don’t want one?”
“You’re an idiot,” I said and stepped toward the door. “Come on, last chance to join the real world and get out of this bunker.”
“No thanks,” Matt cried. “Oh, by the way, Mr. high-and-mighty, can you call in sick for me? I’d rather my mom not find out I skipped today.”
“Because I’m the one who got busted last time, remember?”
It was true. Last year we decided there were better things to do on the Friday before Spring Break and ditched. I was elected to make the phone call since I had the deeper voice and felt real proud I had pulled it off. Fortunately for Matt, it worked. Unfortunately for me, when I got home that evening, my dad was waiting with an unforgiving eye. You know that look they give when you’ve done something you probably shouldn’t have and they know it – and they know you know it? Well, that’s the one I faced that day. My father simply said I’d better not do it again and that I should tell the guy who faked his voice that he’d better not quit his day job.
Not wanting to repeat the episode, I left Matt to his faltering ways.