I am happy to publish chapter 4, which I have carefully edited. This chapter was probably the most pleasant for me to review so far, as I feel like it really establishes the nadir that Ross is in. Also, these themes of the need for simple human recognition, honesty in dating, and overcoming one’s own selfishness seem to be weaving together nicely. If I’m totally off the mark on this then please let me know in a comment! I am completely bared for harsh criticism and the like.
The news reports are insane: flooding throughout the streets of Victoria and Goliad, images of trees split in half and burned black by lightning strikes, entire houses torn up and out of the ground by the, get this, seventy-five mile an hour winds. Hurricane Eduardo finally dissipated barely twenty miles outside of San Antonio around 4:30 this morning, but some inland cities were hit pretty hard. The rain soaked towns like Refugio and Beeville, forcing some people to evacuate their homes as flooding reached two feet in some areas.
Watching the TV with me in the kitchen, mom and dad marvel at the damage. I just watch over my bowl of Cheerios from the table, not entirely ashamed of my indifference. I can eat in peace because the pain from yesterday has subsided. It’s not completely gone, but the shards left behind don’t dig as deeply.
That’s a good way to start a Friday.
When I’m finished, I put my bowl away and head to the restroom to brush my teeth. As I squeeze some toothpaste on my brush, I hear mom call shrilly, “Ross! What is this dirt doing on your carpet?!”
I smile wider for the toothbrush, thinking of how best to repay Mark.
I get to school at 7:30 instead of the usual time because coach laid us off from morning practice on Fridays whenever we don’t have a meet. Another plus to the end of my week.
But I hate just waiting around school before the bell because I don’t see anyone. I mean, I know some people, but after almost three years I still have this unfamiliar sense of the place. Like I’m a stranger and everyone knows it in a subconscious way or something.
Walking through the front parking lot, which is almost completely covered in water with bits of tree branches and other debris from last night’s storm, I head toward the science building.
Let’s see. I could head to the pavilion and hang with Chris and Jose and a couple of other guys from track. Or I could meet up with Kristina and Jenny at the front of school, where they usually sit. But those are really my only choices. Mark never shows up at school any earlier than right at the first bell, and Analise…
I stop walking, realizing that I’m almost to the back of the science building. The place where me and Analise used to meet every day and listen to blink-182 on her navy blue CD player, touch noses and laugh about it.
I linger under the big oak tree marking the halfway point between the library and science building, thinking. Hell, I had nothing to say yesterday and I still don’t today. I can’t go back there. I’d be given weird looks by all of Analise’s friends. They would disown me as something like a piece of trash, no longer having a place around them.
Even if Analise still gave a sympathetic shit about me.
I turn and walk back toward the front of the library, feeling even more guilty and homeless at school now that I don’t have a girl to call my own.
When the bell rings for first block, the school intercom screeches on a second later.
Still outside, alone, I look up.
“Attention all students!” It’s Mrs. Chapa’s voice, still sounding ever commanding. “There will be a short assembly in the auditorium in ten minutes. We will start with juniors only. Juniors, please head to the main building instead of your regular first block. Thank you!”
I turn slowly and head back the way I came, keeping one eye open for any familiar faces. Anybody is good company right now.
In the auditorium, I see Chris and Kristina in separate places, both of them with their friends. People I don’t know. I sigh and take a seat in the middle row, feeling emo Ross from last night slowly creeping back. ‘Aw hell Ross, cheer yourself up. You know people. You have friends here in this city that been your home for a pathetic three years. You just don’t know their friends, and their friend’s friends…It isn’t so bad. You’re asking for too much.’
Somehow I’m not very convincing to myself.
When enough of the juniors are here, the teachers all beckon for us to settle down. The principal heads up on stage. I keep my eyes on her, not wanting to look around and seem lost.
“Good morning students!” Mrs. Chapa’s voice is terse and booming as usual. A few kids mutter a good morning back. But instead of opting to put her hand to her ear and ask the students “Was that a good morning?!” Mrs. Chapa simply nods and goes on.
“As you all may have heard, there was one hell of a storm” – some people hoot at her cussing, but the teachers barely groan to get them quiet again – “last night. Thankfully, it missed our beloved town and school. Unfortunately, the town of Goliad was struck very hard by the hurricane. Their city is absolutely devastated. The high school suffered some of the worst damage. As of today, there are just a few bricks and support beams left of it!”
Most of us could care more about what’s on the menu for lunch. All around me, people are sighing and looking down at their phones for Facebook and Twitter updates.
“In response to this disaster, the administrators and I have been working in conjunction with the Goliad ISD since early this morning. We have all decided, as of Monday, that 30 of those high school students will be joining us here at Bishop Lynn High School.”
Touch screens stop clicking. There is a second of silent processing.
Then words erupt. Rumors start flying in hushed whispers. I raise my eyebrows, marveling at that. Thirty extra kids is a lot in this already jam-packed school.
Mrs. Chapa pulls the mic away from her mouth and waits until everyone shuts up.
“That’s right, students. We are a supportive school and will accommodate each and every one of those adolescents to the best of our ability. Hopefully we can help them to continue their education, uninterrupted. We’re not sure how long those kids will be with us, but I want to be sure that each of you will treat them as if they were family. Can we do that?”
Everyone, including me, shouts an enthusiastic “Hell yes!”
“Alright!” Mrs. Chapa smiles, obviously proud of her student body. I seriously doubt that anyone will be very welcoming of these new kids for long.
To be honest, I can relate to them.
With a wave of her hand Mrs. Chapa yells, “You are dismissed!”
“Dude, it’s retarded.”
I glance to my left at red-headed George Hernandez as I walk down the aisle of desks and find mine at the very front. He’s talking to Gerry, who’s sitting on top of someone else’s desk, energetic as usual before speech starts.
“But think of all those people, man,” Gerry says, kicking his legs back and forth. “Where are they gonna go?”
George just shrugs, then smiles from ear to ear. “The new and old gyms, just like during TAKS days.” They both laugh at that. We all know how it feels to have been herded into those gyms with the stink of shoes and basketballs.
As I take out my spiral and pen, I look back and watch as Jacob approaches his desk, his eyebrow cocked at Gerry. I just catch his gaze and grin at my teammate.
“Alright everyone,” Ms. Collegio calls, rising from her desk as the tardy bell rings. “Make sure you’ve finished copying down today’s journal, and then we’ll continue working on our projects for the famous speakers that you guys picked out in the library on Tuesday.”
After Collegio finishes her spiel on communication techniques, I get to work on writing down an essay for Robert Cormier, having already finished the colorful artsy paper with a couple of his pictures glued to it. A figure crosses in front of me. George.
He approaches the arts and crafts cart under the chalkboard, sifting through the scissors and colors with a guarded serious look. He finds a blue and green crayon and turns around, looking down at Gerry. “How far along are you?”
“Almost done,” Gerry says, coloring faster than a second grader. “You?”
“Meh.” He clicks his tongue, watching his teammate scrawling. “Just finished the essay. The pictures are the last thing I’m doing.”
“I guess,” Gerry says sourly. “I don’t want to do the essay George. Freakin’ George. Can’t make a shot in basketball.”
“Yeah whatever,” he retorts, his straight lips curving into a kidding sneer. “I was off yesterday. What, Gerry, you wanna go?”
“No, I got work to do,” he says in a matter-of-fact way, and I almost laugh at that. I write down a sentence about Cormier’s first book. George is slow in passing my desk.
“You talked to Mel yet?” Gerry calls after him. I look up as George pauses, and I can see uncertainty cloud his usually stoic eyes. I feel a stirring inside of me.
“Yeah dude,” he replies, looking back at him. “We’re doing good.”
“You have a girlfriend?” I ask him, playing it off as no big deal.
“No,” he says, looking at me with feeble longing in his eyes, “but we’re getting there.”
“That’s good, man,” I say before looking down to signal my cutoff point.
“What do you think about the hurricane people?” he asks me with a nod of his head.
Yeah, what do I think about thirty displaced and probably pissed off students?
“I think they’re lucky,” I say, giving him an apathetic look, “that they survived.”