Speak & Listen

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DEAL

DEAL

“We’re discharging you today. I’m sure you’ve been waiting to go home.” The doctor, Mr Charlesman, smiled above my head.

It had been almost a week since the incident.

After I had changed into a two-piece tracksuit, mom handed me my crutches. In the past days, I had attended physiotherapy as well. Just not therapy. I still shook my head whenever someone suggested such. I was fine. In fact, I was ready to go back to Clever Cats.

Mom drove in silence, even she couldn’t say anything genuine as a mother to ensure that something of that sort would never happen to me again. I knew I was alone. Not even my mother could share words of encouragement because she chose to close me out of her life the day I came out as gay.

Flashback:

“You have a boyfriend?!” Mom had said when I introduced her to Alan, my then-boyfriend. We were at the house, specifically at the lounge nobody uses anymore, dad was around.

“That means you’re gay?” Dad laughed with a proud smile.

I nodded with a frown. “Yes, dad.”

“Oh, baby...” He hugged me. “I always knew you were and I’m so proud of you for telling us. That’s really brave of you, son.”

"Brave?” Mom roared. Alan’s hand vibrated in mine. “Do you know how much you’ve disgraced this family? Do you see any gay men in our family?”

“Cynthia! That’s not how to talk to your child!” Dad yelled.

“Oh shut up, David.” She shot a death glare at her then-husband. “You’ve spoiled this kid too much, treated him like a princess and this is what you get, David! You get a gay son that can’t give you children but a boyfriend to drill his ass! I did not give birth to a faggot!”

She stormed upstairs and a loud bang of her bedroom door followed.

Dad sighed, shaking his head in embarrassment. “Don’t worry. She’s like that when she hasn’t had afternoon sex!”

“DAD!” I yelled with widened eyes. Alan lightened up a bit by giggling.

“Oh come here.” He opened his arms. “You too, Alan.”

Alan and I approached him with a bear hug. I shed tears as I held my father close to me. He had tried to enlighten the tense situation, however, mom’s words could not be reversed. She would always hate the fact that she had a gay son.

“I love you both. Son, I love you just the way you are. Give her time, she’ll learn to love and accept you too.”

Present:

“I’m going back to work. Call me if you need anything.” She was in her car and I was outside her open window.

I nodded, knowing I wouldn’t need her help, even if I did.

She drove off. I limped to the house in my crutches. When I pick-pocketed my pants for the house keys, I heard a bicycle chain clanking and when I looked behind me, it was nobody else but Jeremiah Simone. He always preferred travelling with his bicycle instead of his convertible. He put his bicycle down and ran to me.

“Jeremiah.” I took my eyes off him.

“Hey.” He smiled. He took something from my fingers and it was the house keys. I always had the habit of looking for something while it was in my hands, and he knew that. “I believe you’re looking for this.” He grinned.

I nodded, with an awkward smile. “Thanks.”

He jogged to the door and opened for me. “Can I come in?”

I wanted to say no, but I ended up nodding. He took my right crutch and replaced it with his left arm and bonded my hand with his. He helped me inside. “There you go, you’re almost there...” we limped towards the kitchen, to sit on one of the dining chairs. “And...there you are.” I finally sat down.

I nodded at him once more, failing to maintain eye contact. “Thanks. What are you doing here?”

“To apologize, but mainly to see how you’re doing.”

My eyes widened. To apologize? “I’m fine but...what do you have to apologize for?”

He grabbed one of the chairs and sat right opposite me. “For not seeing you at the hospital. Benjamin and I got suspended for fighting with the jocks.”

By the mention of the word, ‘jocks’, my mind sunk back into a dark hole where Jeremiah’s voice was beginning to fade. All I could see was darkness, but somehow the memory of me being gang-raped in the toilets at Clever Cats recited in my head like a tape on repeat. The heavy breathing, the numbing pain, the coldness, the impact trauma...everything came back and before I could hold them back, lukewarm tears escaped my eyes.

“Adrian.” When I heard his voice again, I saw his face again. He was looking directly in my eyes with deep concern written all over him.

“Uhm...Jeremiah, I don’t think I can be of good company right now.” I looked away.

“That’s okay. I didn’t need good company anyway.” He whispered.

“I mean...” My voice went up by two octaves. “You’re not bothered by the fact that you got a letter, two letters from a person who you assumed was your friend? How are you sitting here and pretending that you’re not mad at me?”

“Because I’m not. I don’t have the strength to be mad at you, Adrian.” Jeremiah whispered. “And it’s quite flattering that I got two.” He giggled.

“Flattering.” I snorted.

“Look...nothing, not even a letter or two, will change the way I feel about you.”

The way I feel about you? Why was he talking like this?

“I don’t want to hurt you.” My voice wobbled.

“There you go, again!” His eyes rolled.

“What?” I looked at him as he stood up.

“You say that as if staying away from you will make things easier. Why do you think I’m better off without you? Why do you assume I want that for myself...do you understand, at all, how much I value you as a friend?” He had stood up with his fists formed.

“Well those letters didn’t insinuate anything about wanting a friendship. Did you even read the letters?” My voice squeaked.

“I...didn’t.” His eyes widened. “But wait...you...”

“Please leave, Jeremiah. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He raised his arms in the air, wanting to say something, but all that came out was a sigh. He grabbed his brown leather jacket and left. And I stayed there, wondering if Jeremiah reading those letters would change anything...drift us apart or pull us closer. I didn’t want to drag Jeremiah Simone into my world. He didn’t deserve that. I expected fury and anger from him, that reaction would have been appropriate. Whatever I wrote on those letters was meant to be incinerated before anyone could read them.

There were leftovers in the refrigerator, so I didn’t cook. Instead, I limped upstairs to my room, almost fell back to the ground on the last step, but I managed to make it to my room. I turned off all the blinders and left the lamplight on by my bedside and since I failed to get any immediate sleep, I decided to read some of Shakespeare’s novels, Hamlet.

A lot would accuse him, William Shakespeare, for his misogynistic themes and other discriminatory ideologies, however, his gift in poetry and articulation and expression, in general, was simply amazing. He was one of the most inspirational writers in history and I was a huge fan of his, despite being a feminist.

But I couldn’t. I couldn’t distract my mind long enough to forget about the fire I set in Clever Cats and I had the responsibility to extinguish that fire the following day. I had to fix things, I had to explain to them as well that some of the letters were written in past years and none of the crushes is recent. I had to explain to Benjamin why his letter was recent.

What about Sophia? Did I blame her for anything? Yes, to a certain extent. I wanted to strangle her and squeeze the life out of her lungs as I watch her beg for her life. I want to hear her squeal in pain and misery, face the same embarrassment that I felt everywhere I went. Fat-shame her over social media? Run her over with my car? Or get the satisfaction of watching her die by slicking a knife through her throat?!

But that wasn’t the kind of person I was. The kind of person I was wanted to move on, wanted to bury everything in hopes that the nightmares would fade away. I hoped the phase would end and everyone, just like before, would forget about me or not acknowledge my presence at all. I was okay with that. But things changed...Sophia wasn’t in the picture anymore. Sophia was the traitor. She made life in Clever Cats seem manageable to live through. But I had to find my individuality.

Yes, I had to, at some point, find some sort of defence mechanism, one that will at least keep me alive. I knew I wasn’t safe anymore and it may sound like an exaggeration, but there’s nothing sweet nor welcoming about Clever Cats as you’d assume.

Clever Cats was a snake’s den, a dark cave where, when in, there was no way out. I had never noticed much because Sophia was always there. She was my voice. I trusted my friend. She covered my eyes against bloodshed, covered my ears against the horrible screams and whimpers of forgotten victims in that school.

The school was a silent pool of dead bodies that were never buried but walked amongst us as ghosts that imitate that they were once alive.

My eyes closed.

They opened once more, and I was no longer on my bed, by my lamplight nor in my room but I was, again, at the cemetery. But the strangest thing was...everywhere else was covered in mist. I couldn’t see houses outside the premises of the cemetery nor did I see the road. The sky was white as if I was in heaven and white flower petals had been raining from nowhere else but the sky. Every exhale was accompanied by a visible fog that escaped my mouth, although I wasn’t, at all, feeling cold.

I was attired in a black oversized dress that covered my feet. I ran to Nana’s grave but instead of the peace and silence I anticipated, it was a bunch of kids from Clever Cats High dancing around her grave, throwing stones on her tombstone and the jocks urinating on her very grave-bed. Some females were smoking marijuana around her grave, some spilling alcohol around her grave...

I felt my chest closing, my head aching and my fingers trembling. I was beyond angry, beyond raged. I wanted a gun, any weapon that would shoot all of them dead. I wanted to see their blood gash all over, oozing from their very mouths but I just redundantly stood there, doing nothing.

“HEY!!” I yelled, my voice echoed.

However, no one turned to look. I marched closer to the grave and Sophia was there too, drinking alcohol. This made me even madder.

When I looked at my arms again, my hands both held a huge firearm, which I assumed was a rifle. When I cocked it, I could feel its power overwhelming me, giving me supernatural strength on both my arms and shoulders. It felt as if I could kill the world. I emitted a complacent, sadistic laugh.

“Adrian, what are you doing?” A voice yelled.

I looked at my far right and there he was, attired in the brown leather jacket that complimented well with his brown skin, as well as his blue tight denim jeans and black boots. His golden eyes widened at me.

“What are they doing at Nana’s grave?” I yelled back.

“You’re not a murderer, Adrian. Don’t do this. Live.” Jeremiah walked patiently towards me as if he thought I would shoot him. I couldn’t. I didn’t have the strength nor motive to actually kill him, even to be angry at him.

Tears left my eyes as he confiscated the firearm from my hands. I broke down into tears but stopped when I saw a mischievous grin written on Jeremiah’s face. He, afterwards, released one maniacal laugh.

When I looked behind me, every student from Clever Cats was standing right behind me in a widened crescent formation. Jeremiah walked towards Sophia, who also held a mischievous grin, and handed her the firearm. My eyes widened.

She grabbed the firearm and pointed it towards me. She, too, released a maniacal laugh, followed by the rest of the students who cheered her on as her one finger hugged the trigger. Benjamin, from behind her, embraced her waist with a grin and looked directly at me. I felt betrayed by everyone, I was mad at everyone for standing against me. Not even one stood with me in front of the gun.

“Bye Adrian,” Sophia whispered with a smirk.

A gunshot went off.

My eyes shot open, my body jerking forward and my back shivering as if I had caught a cold. No, I was just sweaty. I let it register that it was all a dream, hoping to tell myself not to take the dream so seriously. After all, it was nothing but a dream.

It was morning, judging from the sun’s beaming light peeping beyond the blinders and curtains. Yes, I did change my mind that morning. I remembered that I was a coward and there was no way I was to go back to that school ever again, most especially after that dream.

But I had to. I had persuaded both Jeremiah and mom that I was fine and I’d be back in Clever Cats the following day. By the way, I had a lot of schoolwork to catch up on. So in an hour, I had gone through my normal morning routine and ate my cereal.

Mom was already at work. I didn’t take time to imagine the trauma my mother had gone through these past few weeks. She lost her mother. Her mother was her best friend, most especially after the divorce. Mom, under the persuasion of my grandmother, had gone through therapy after the divorce. She, Nana, had introduced her to Judaism, to help her with her spiritual wellbeing and finding solace after a traumatic break-up. Really it was, traumatic that is.

She had begun drinking, did not go to work for months and would deduct my allowance money I’d get from dad to buy herself more alcohol. I suspect she did coke too, judging from the empty zip locks I’d find beneath the basin in the bathroom. Her mood patterns scared me the most, how she wanted to talk this minute and would curse you the other. I had experienced some form of abuse from her during that time as well, mental and physical abuse.

She would indoctrinate that being gay was an abomination and I should be ashamed of myself and would blame me for separating with my father. I never was angry, just disappointed in myself every time because I believed her. Sometimes she’d wake me up at midnight just to beat me up with a baseball bat or any convenient weapon she could find and would yell ’This is not your house, get out!’. But sometimes I was able to block out the clamour by visiting Sophia or Mia various weekends or sometimes, I would go to Alan’s

Flashback:

I knocked on Alan’s apartment’s door one midnight, my car parked outside and my face covered in tears. He lived in Garden Heights, a suburb in Belvyn.

He, after a long while, opened for me. He looked at me in the eye and being the emotional creature he was, without any questions, he embraced me.

“She’s drunk again, isn’t she?” He whispered above my head.

I nodded, sniffing.

“C’mon. I’ll make you some hot chocolate.”

We walked inside. Yes, he lived alone in a three-bedroom apartment. His parents were filthy rich and owned about five penthouses in Alex, including a yacht. They were businesswomen. Yes, Alan’s parents were lesbians.

Alan had admitted that having lesbian parents was like having any other parent, however, their absence on business trips and giving less attention to their son has, at one point, made him wonder how life with his real parents would have been. But then again, he would assume that his actual parents, who abandoned him in some old, dilapidated orphanage when he was only five, only left him there in hopes that he would be adopted by a rich family who could afford him and give him a better life. But he’d say that riches weren’t everything, but love was.

“Here. Are you good?” He smiled a bit.

I nodded. “Thanks.”

“Does your dad know about this? I mean, telling him could at least...”

“No. Dad left us for a mistress, I beg he doesn’t give a shit about me anymore.”

“He still gives you an allowance, doesn’t he?” He sat next to me.

I gave him a stare. “You should know that money isn’t everything.”

I saw his face turn to a frown.

“Hey...” I held my face in my right hand. “I’m sorry, that was insensitive of me.”

“It’s okay. But you know David still loves you. I certainly do.”

“But why did he leave?” My voice squeaked as tears left my eyes. “Why didn’t he take me with, at least? I don’t think a person who loves you would hurt you by leaving you behind.”

“Give him time, baby.” He played with my hair. “He’ll soon call and ask for a meet-up to explain things. In the meantime, you can sleep here for tonight or any night.”

“I’m sorry for dragging you in my shenanigans,” I whispered.

“That’s what I’m here for.” He embraced me once more and kissed my forehead. “I love you.”

“I love you.”

Present:

As much as I used crutches, I was able to drive on my own. The crutches were to support my waist and backbone, however, I was able to drive, although I was not supposed to. Mom should have never allowed me to drive, but I didn’t expect her to stop me either.

The flashbacks had helped me get to Clever Cats sooner than I premeditated. I parked the car, which was now fixed by mom by replacing the broken window. At least, at some point, she cared. I limped out of the car and from the passenger’s seat, I leaned to grab my crutches and bag. I locked the car and embraced the crutches beneath my armpits.

I limped towards the school’s building, with many other students who passed me without acknowledgement. In the school building, the posters that were all over the lockers and walls about me were all gone. It was like a forgotten memory. I walked in, limped through the passage and all eyes once more were on me, but no one said anything. No slurs or nasty comments or something close to that, just silence.

I went to my now clean locker and when I opened, my equipment was still there untouched. I took whatever I’d need for the first period and locked again.

“Let go, bitch!” I heard someone yell.

I limped towards the noise, making sure I was out of sight. But I wish I had not involved myself in the matter. It was the jocks again, with their maroon jackets, holding a certain female against the wall, emptying her wallet. Some even touched her underwear...it was blatant, public molestation and I stood there, not doing anything about it.

When one jock noticed me, he yelled. “Boys, let’s go.”

They all collected themselves and like a herd of sheep, they walked together in unison, as if they owned the school. They all walked passed me and gave me one perverted look, one that made me remember very well what had happened that day at the toilet.

I remembered one jock, he was Craig’s infamous friend back in sophomore year. He always wore tight blue denim jeans and formal shoe wear. His blonde hair blown up, giving him a badass, punk-ish look that managed to scare me every time. The others I failed to recall.

They disappeared from sight. Everyone who was in that school paid no attention to the screaming victims who begged for help. I looked at the poor girl, who wore very fashionably. In fact, she was really beautiful. I limped towards her as she picked up her accessories from the floor. We were at the passage facing the cafeteria, a bit away from the crowd. “Hey,” I whispered.

“What do you want?” Her voice yelled with a growl.

“No, it’s okay. I won’t hurt you.”

“Yeah, obviously you won’t.” She looked at my crutches.

“Look...I’m sorry this is happening to you. They’ve been doing the same thing to me too.”

She shot a glance at me. “Yeah? Why have you been quiet, then?”

“Why have you been quiet?”

“Because when I start talking, that happens. I see them everywhere! It’s like my weakness makes them stronger and the more I keep silent, the more I give them the satisfaction they need. I don’t think I have the energy to stand up for myself.”

“But we can...together. Who knows? Maybe this will help other victims...”

“Look I know you’re trying to help and everything, but I’m okay. I’ve lived through this for years and I’ve been perfectly fine on my own.” She stood on her feet.

“This has been taking place...for years?” My eyes widened at her. The part that shocked me most was the fact that I wasn’t the only one who experienced this gross violence at school. Many others, like her, have been silent victims for years!!

“I got to go, Adrian.” She strapped her handbag on her shoulder. She walked around me with her head down, followed by the clack of her heels.

“Wait...” I yelled.

She stopped before she opened the doors leading her to the lockers’ passage. “What?” She turned with her eyes rolled.

“What’s your name?”

She paused for a while and the corner of her mouth hid a smile. “Julie.”

She walked out of sight.

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