Carbon

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Chapter 36

I stared vacantly at the grey scars that stretched across my locker. My fingers lazily twisted the lock three times to the left and then continued to just twist and twist until the bell rang. Part of me was so frazzled I didn’t know if I was depressed or if I was indifferent. I didn’t care if I was late to class, I didn’t care if I attended class, I didn’t care what happened today, and I didn’t care what happened to me at school. Caring took too much energy from my small amount I barely had.

I just knew I couldn’t handle reality anymore. I dreamt of crawling back to sleep on the shag carpeting in the vacant living room with a blanket wrapped around me like an armadillo’s shell. No one could interfere with me then. No one would interact with me.

It had been nearly three days since it happened, and I hadn’t attended school for two—too broken to face my nightmare. Ned came by twice to check on me, but I hid in the attic every time I saw his car pull up. I would just watch him through the window, fighting back an anxiety attack that threatened my sanity.

I opened my locker and stared at the empty container—vacant from the beginning to the end. I never used my locker, just occupying a space to have as mine and mine alone. This was supposed to be my sanctuary in school to leave my baggage and work, but I was too reluctant to break away from my duty and chores. I languidly shut the locker, staring past the metal, past the molecules, past the atoms, and the electrons and neutrons and protons into a visualization of my imagination.

A silhouette stood waiting behind my locker door. His blue eye and green eyes pleasantly stared at me, and I felt nauseous thinking of how I would have given anything for him to look at me this way prior to the incident. How I enjoyed seeing his

smile in the morning despite hating getting up and attending this hell hole of a school. He ran his pale hand through his mousey brown hair and gave me a meek smile. He leaned against the locker beside mine and finally said, “Hey, where were you? I was hoping I would see you in the morning.”

“I don’t owe you any explanation,” I murmured. I turned to him and just absorbed his presence because I thought it would be the last time he would see me the way he wanted. The way his world and he contrived. My icy blue eyes fell from his handsome face that seemed to mature a little more every day to his clumsy feet that perpetually pointed to me.

His brow furrowed and stood away from the wall of lockers. “Dev, what are you talking about? I thought you were okay with making love. I lo—” he whispered before I boisterously interrupted.

I bared my teeth in a strained grimace and snapped angrily, “Don’t you dare call what you did to me ‘making love.’ What we did was fuck. You fucked me.”

Students’ ears perked upon my sudden curse, and half of the kids stopped to observe what they assumed would be a vile argument, seeing as Heath and I would often throw matches in the middle of the parking lot or the soccer pitch. My track record represented too much history of experimenting with verbal matches and eventually physical matches. From the corner of my eye, I noticed Lily and one of her material friends loitering in the corner with a hand perched over her smirk. She hid behind a hand as she giggled and sneered at my misery—how unoriginal.

And then it hit me as my eyes met his again. The tears collected in my eyes as I felt heat burden my shoulders, forcing me to breathe in shallow gasps. It took all of my strength to not allow my body to succumb to the usual fits I experience during emotional climaxes. I needed to deal, but I was afraid I could not.

He stalled for a moment. His eyes widened as he recognized my intensity, how I was hiding my guilt and shame behind a mask of anger. “Dev, what are you talking about? No, I meant everything I said. Everything we did, I did it out of love, okay? I would never—”

I clenched my hands into taut fists and choked, “But you did.”

His hand fell on my shoulder and gave me a squeeze, trying to assuage I guess my eruption of emotions, but I needed this to happen. I needed to confront him for what he did because if I didn’t… I don’t know. My brain wired me into thinking something chaotic would occur. “What are you talking about?” he whispered. He leaned in to my personal space, a few inches from my face.

I fought back the urge to smash my fist into his long, narrow nose. And then I rebelled against my body’s compulsion to collapse into him, to collapse into his warm embrace. The way my body curved and fit his body perfectly despite the height difference tried to persuade my body to abide by my urges.

I muttered, “You raped me, Ned.”

His hand fell away from my body, and he stiffened like a board. His eyes met mine, and they lost the glimmer of hope and inquiry, the sheen of curiosity. A barrier constructed itself between the two of us as I slowly saw the transformation from unknowing to an enlightening of his mind. His eyes tore away from me, and he murmured, “I thought you didn’t remember that night.”

A tear streaked down my cheek as I realized the guilt he held was not due to his actions but the fact that I remembered. He was not upset he took advantage of me but was dismayed I comprehended the whole incident. I hissed, “You promised you would help me figure out who raped me. You promised you would help me through everything.”

He callously shrugged. “Look, I didn’t realize you were as drunk as you were. You came on to me, and I just went with it. And then you came to me claiming you were raped. What was I supposed to do?”

I cried, “You lied to me, Ned. You lied!”

His hands shot to his chest, and he pounded against his heart. “I didn’t want to lose you because of what happened. I didn’t want to lose you because of you.”

I whispered fiercely, “I was drunk! That’s not consent! That’s not anything! You promised you would take me home when I asked. You promised you would make sure everything was okay.”

“I’m sorry, you made out with me, and you were the one who unbuckled my belt. If that is not consent, I don’t know what the heck it is, Dev.”

I shoved my finger in Lily’s direction. “Ned, you had a girlfriend. You had a freaking girlfriend. How could you cheat on her with me? How could you do this, Ned?”

He froze for a moment.

“Ned, answer me, asshole. You raped me like a coward, and you want me to feel sorry for you?”

His eyes flickered to the lockers and then back to my eyes. I couldn’t control my tears anymore as they cascaded down my cheeks like heavy boulders from the cliffs of my cheeks.

“Ned, answer me!” I finally roared. “Say something!”

Numerous eyes stared at the two of us as if we belonged on Jerry Springer or some other trashy show that crowds attended just to see the ludicrous actions of normal people. The bell rang loudly throughout the hall, but none of us moved except for the one or two students who needed to attend Calculus II, shuffling away with their massive books and even larger calculators.

Ned licked his lips sluggishly. His calm, no longer defensive eyes fell onto my face, and I could tell he was stuck in a moment of nostalgia. He was busy thinking of us. He was preoccupied with knowing that the past was capable of catching up with the present and capable of hurling consequences. “You want to know something, Devin? Before you give me this great pity and pep talk about how disgusting I am as a human being, do some introspection yourself.”

I shook my head quickly and opened my mouth to spew a quick retort, but he interrupted me.

“You were begging me to have sex with you. And you want to know who you were calling me, Devin? Do you really want to know how desperate you were that night?”

I tore away from his critical stare and just observed the scuff marks on the spackled concrete floors of the hallway. A piece of purple gum glued to the ground. Analyzing his actions and why he thoughtlessly did them was so much easier on my conscience than to actually understand what I was doing that night. It wasn’t supposed to happen at all.

He promised.

“You were begging for Heath. You were begging for me to have sex with you because you thought I was Heath.”

My heart stopped; I bit my lip as hard as I could, expecting a droplet of blood to unfurl from underneath my fangs. My apologetic eyes fell back to Ned’s unwavering gaze. The tears slid down my cheeks like waterfalls easing down rocks of a cliff. I was lost in his eyes as I realized the frailty that was my heart for the first time since Heath died, how frail I really was. How badly I needed to be accepted and how badly I needed the love of anyone. Because I lost my one security and everything else associated with him, I lost my control in a totally different way than normal.

“‘Heath, oh my god, I’m so glad you came back. You came back, and they said you died. What a bunch of idiots!’” Ned mocked, talking with a hand on his hip and the other flailing around in the air. “You were so happy to see me as him. You looked like you could have lived life back to when you were happy. That was the first time I really saw you alive. You were alive and vibrant, Dev.”

“What?” I asked under my breath, barely loud enough for Ned to hear.

He explained, “You were saying his name and just pretending I was him. I didn’t know what to do, and I wanted to make you happy because I’m a dumbass people-pleaser. I obliged. I was your proxy for the night. And guess what? It sucked not having sex because you love me. Let alone, we were having sex because you love him. And this past weekend, I bet you were thinking about him while we were having sex, huh?”

“No.” And part of me wondered if that wasn’t right. I was supposed to be thinking of Heath, but Ned was beginning to let me not be haunted by Heath. Then Ned was scolding me for every action I partook in that involved himself as well as Heath.

Ned paused, expecting for me to answer with “yes,” predicting and comprehending my responses to prepare a witty retort or analysis quickly to defy my accusations. He finally mustered, “Do you know how hard it is living in the shadow of Heath? Everyone knew him, and everyone knew me as his shadow. And you, even you, made me feel like a shadow for the longest time. For once, I could be the guy everyone knew. I could be the guy you really knew.”

I clenched my eyes shut.

“Devin, you know I love you. Please, just realize we both made poor decisions.”

I didn’t answer him.

“Devin, come on. Please, just say something. I’m going to have to give up on you if you can’t answer me. You don’t understand how hard this is for me, too.”

Just say something. Please, God, say anything, Devin.

“Shut up, Heath.”

“See, you even bring him up in this, Dev.”

“So what?” I finally screeched, my voice cracking and breaking as I held back compulsory sobs. “What about it?! I fucking killed him, and you expect me to not harp on it? I was there, Ned. I was there!”

“Yeah, and you won’t get over it because you can’t live your life. You are just stuck on him and so dependent on him that you aren’t willing to move on. You have people who are willing to love you and accept you, but you push them away for his sake!”

“How the hell am I supposed to be okay, Ned? How am I supposed to be okay with all of this? I love him, Ned!”

Loved him. He’s dead, Dev! He’s dead, and you know it!”

I clenched my hand in a tight fist and flailed it through the air right into Ned’s face without knowing exactly what I hit. I didn’t hit him hard as my hand stuttered reluctantly right before making contact, guilt-ridden and apologetic for just waiting on Heath.

Ned was right. Heath was dead, and there was nothing I could do to change that.

And then I opened my eyes to see Ned frozen in frustration. His cheeks rosy from anger and jealousy because he could never surpass Heath. He could never be him, and maybe that was why I couldn’t bring myself to love Ned.

“Dev, you didn’t just do that.”

A teacher came streaking down the hallway and jumped between the two of us, separating me from landing another hit, but I was tired. I was so tired of just breathing and just standing. I didn’t care anymore. I should have cared, but I found myself just remaining indifferent. I did not have enough in me to retort or parry anymore attacks upon my own persona or Heath’s ego. I needed something in me to motivate me and pull me up, but I was suffocating on Ned’s venom.

And then my mind wandered and I found myself in the principal’s office. I could not remember making my way down to the office or how I ended up in there. I just remembered glancing up and seeing the principal with his balding head gleaming underneath the fluorescent lights and the glare of the artificial lights on his glasses. “Miss Sebold, your behavior has been apprehensible since…”

“Jude got out of prison.”

Mr. Sir stumbled for a moment before continuing on. “You recognize you physically assaulted Mr. Edwin Mortis today before first block and then did not attend first block as to complete an argument with your fellow peer.”

My eyes wandered to the man’s desktop covered in papers in indiscreet piles that folded and melded into each other like lava over the lip of a volcano. Notes were scribbled across the pages in fresh blue ink, smeared to the right. I glanced at his right hand to see an ink stain on the outside of his palm. “Yes, sir, Mr. Sir.”

“May I ask what the two of you were arguing about that led to a physical altercation, Miss Sebold? Perhaps we can prevent future incidents if you cite the cause of this interaction.” Part of me became annoyed at the man’s pedantic vocabulary as if he just wanted to prove he was superior to all of the students attending Polk-Jefferson. He was already the authoritative communist influencing the entire school, so why did he feel the need to enhance his power by prancing around individuals and showing his status?

I then understood the minimal joy the classes had in addressing Mr. Sir as he then sounded like a colonel or perhaps a major in the military. It added to the ambiance of the lack of freedom and speech that is high school.

“Now, Miss Sebold, you are very rarely a concern for the school, as you obviously know. This is your second offense since you have attended Polk-Jefferson High, and I expect to not see another offense before you graduate, yes?”

I nodded my head, barely listening, not particularly caring as I sulked in the injustice I felt had been thrust upon me and the indifference I was feeling. Shouldn’t I be feeling angry or furious at Ned? Shouldn’t I be willing to chop off his dick and throw it out the window of an airplane or throw him in a human-sized blender? Shouldn’t I want revenge?

No, I was failing to feel anything but sadness and despair.

My heart was broken again after I had begun to slowly piece it back together like a child with a paper mache sculpture. I was meticulous and tedious as to where to put the strips of muscle and strength, but the drying process left my heart cold and brittle, broken in pieces across the frigid ground with one minute touch.

I stared vacantly at the green chalkboard as the literature teacher groaned on in her morose tone. She cut across the chalkboard eerily with a slim piece of pink chalk, emphasizing the dissection of yet another sentence from the repulsive story of The Lord of the Flies. I quietly clicked my pen back and forth, silently sulking in my own memories.

“Either I’m a slut or I’m a virgin. There isn’t any in between.”

I caught myself in time to watch the tip of my pen smear against the page. I fell back into reality and attempted to force myself to focus on the teacher.

I should have just been truthful from the start. As soon as she called me, I should have been honest with her that I was the one who slept with her, but I was afraid.

I was terrified.

I couldn’t let my chance for scholarships be destroyed. I couldn’t destroy my future in one fell swoop.

But I should have thought of that before I did it.

I cuffed my hands to my ears and visibly began to shake. I remember believing I was not going to be alright. Something omniscient and omnipotent in my mind persuaded me with illustrious thoughts that I lost something that couldn’t be replaced. I lost the one thing I feared losing the most in just a matter of seconds.

I lost her as soon as she called me, obviously drunk. She needed a friend is what she inferred, so I sleepily abided, still aimlessly driving around, thinking of how beautiful and honest she was with me. I showed up to her house, the front door cracked open. I slowly, hesitantly walked into her house and lumbered to her bedroom. She sat on the edge of her bed, and her eyes meekly absorbed me. Her lips turned to give me a perfect smile, a crooked smile. “Hey.”

I hesitated at the doorway, startled to see her so vulnerable and figuratively naked. “Devin, are you okay?”

She glanced at the window for a few moments. Rain began to plaster the outside of the glass, pulling in a draft from the outside. Her full lips quivered in the dull light—her makeup removed to regale her normal beauty—well, her abnormal beauty. She admitted, “I like the rain.”

I smiled, “I do, too.”

I slammed my hand onto my desk from the sheer frustration against my past actions. I never would have had the nerve to initiate anything with her before that night. I don’t know why she was so alluring all at once. How I couldn’t control how nervous or anxious I was around her all of a sudden.

My peers started at my sudden violence “Ned, is that necessary in my classroom?!” the teacher roared.

I stared at her with wide eyes, suddenly realizing where I was. I stuttered, “Piggy shouldn’t be bullied for his physical appearance. He can’t help he’s a little overweight.”

A kid behind me scoffed, “Fag.”

I rolled my eyes before turning to see Ethan Car giving me the thumbs up.

My heart sank. How could a kid who nearly did the same thing I did give me a thumbs up? Were we equals? Were we remotely the same person? I shuddered and turned back to the assignment as soon as the teacher mentioned finals.

What does it take to be known as a slut? What actually fits the criteria? How many people need to have dove into your pants? How many people that give you the most suggestive gaze? How many appointments does it take?

I shook my head from the thoughts and disintegrated into myself. I let my neck roll and fall limply as I twisted my gaze across the empty room, fully contemplating the tree. My raw mouth begged for liquid to slither down my throat, but I only allowed myself discomfort. My glazed eyes slithered across the tree that mirrored the stemming, steeping cuts that ruggedly tore through the soft underbelly of my arms. The vodka bottles allowed for a hermetic, sanitary way to further destroy myself, and I succumbed to the wants of my drunk self.

I knew the alcohol would only add to my dehydration, and I knew it would add to my nausea. However, a part of me no longer cared what happened to me. I was sure no one noticed I cut class to sleep off another hangover.

I etched another tick on my wall. I silently counted, the numbers forming on my lips—ten days. I smiled and thought to myself, “Ten more days.” Ten more days, and I could be legally independent from my parents for the first time in my life.

And I could run away far, far away from here.

How?

I didn’t have a clue; I just knew I needed to escape to survive.

I stood in her front yard, mentally absent but physically present. My discolored eyes nailed into her window that midnight, and I considered writing this massive apology. I considered doing the things I’ve seen in movies to get the girl back, but I knew I couldn’t expect to have my apology accepted.

I crumpled to the cool grass and meekly stared up at the window, sitting criss-cross like a minute student waiting for an assignment of simple arithmetic. My hands settled on my knees as I straightened to fully absorb her, but I also did this to hide from her view. I rustled my hair as shivers ran up my body with the frozen gust of wind whipping through me.

A whimper crumpled my concentration for stealth, and I turned back to the dark window.

She pressed against the window beside her bed (well, where it used to be), burying her face into her folded knees against her chest. Her back rose and fell fiercely as she heaved sobs that were audible from the outside of the house. A plaid shirt Heath had loaned her rested loosely on her thin frame. Her claws curled into tight fists that shook as they pressed to the sides of her head. She let out a wail before peeling away from the window. Shadows struck across my view, and then she returned. Blood trickling down her knuckles.

Devin’s electric blue eyes turned toward me, and I froze in my spot. Her eyes fell upon me, but she really wasn’t looking at me but past me. Maybe she was contemplating the mistakes she made in the past, maybe she was thinking about how she should never have met me. Her hand pressed against the window, and my heart stopped.

She kept mouthing his name, and I was so sickened that I had to compete against somebody who was the embodiment of perfection. Heath never would have raped her, and he would never abandon her like this because she would let him in. I pulled my knees to my chest and rocked back and forth on the cool grass.

Her hand slid down the window as she peeled away from the window yet again. I would have killed to have been that window just so I could feel her with me, so she could trust me again and rely on me for light. I wished so many things.

“You really do love her, huh?”

I jumped and whipped around, falling out of my contorted position. I furrowed my brow to focus my vision as I pieced together the identity of the silhouette. “Leslie?”

He nodded his head as he shoved his hands in his pockets. “Yep.”

I scrambled to my feet and hopped up, towering a few inches above the frail Leslie my buddies and I always gave a hard time. I patted the dust and debris off of my jeans as I whispered, “What are you doing here?”

“Checking on her.”

I snapped under my breath, “I thought you two hated each other.”

“We do. Esther cracked the whip and forced me to come over here.”

“Wow, you are whipped.”

He quickly evaded my comment and turned back to the dark window. He heaved a sigh and inquired, “How long have you been coming here at night?”

I nonchalantly shrugged, “Every night since she told me to leave her alone.” Two weeks. Every night I waited until midnight and snuck out of my house to saunter and climb over fences and through yards to just catch a glimpse of her before she went to bed. Every night had been the same.

Devin would curl into herself on the window sill and burst into tears suddenly, fighting back the emotions as she would gently bump her head against her knees in a rhythm. Her nails would dig into her scalp as a sob would escape her lungs, and her toes would curl with the ferocity. Her nightly ritual would usually end in her staring longingly at the stars and then peeling away until the next night. I would wait usually twenty minutes after she left to make sure she wouldn’t be coming back to explode into a tearful mess, and then the acrimonious guilt would burden me even more heavily.

I turned back to watch her window, shoving my hands in my pockets. “I don’t know what to do anymore. It’s like I’m just doing things; I can’t concentrate on anything but her. I just want to make sure she’s okay.”

He smirked and scoffed, “Ned, what the hell do you think?”

“Well, why isn’t Esther doing anything about it? Huh? Why isn’t she coming to her sister’s aid?!”

“She can’t.”

“Why the hell not?”

“Because Devin won’t let her!”

I froze, astonished. “What?”

“Devin wants nothing to do with Esther anymore because Devin thinks she will hurt her. Neither of us understand what she’s talking about, but Devin ignores her and throws away any mail we send her. Esther even made her a basket of food as an apology for leaving, and you want to know what she did? She stared directly at Esther and threw it in the garbage pail.”

I whispered, “Why is she doing this?”

“The hell if I know.”

The scariest thing was I don’t think she knew either.

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