Greetings! After an almost apocalyptic day at work, coming home and editing chapter 6 has been a perfect little getaway. I realized that chapter 5 was a little bit too long (2,746 words, ouch!), and so I will try and revise that within the next week. Chapter 6 is a much more manageable 1,688 words. I will also be sure to follow up with my readers and thank you all by visiting your blogs and commenting on/liking the stuff that I really find enjoyable and informative!
It’s a weird feeling, walking into a room and seeing strangers next to friends.
In our track home room, every desk is occupied, plus the sills under the windows and all the floor space below the chalk board up front. New guys left and right. I count seven of them, and all the extra chatter is grating on me.
“HEY! SETTLE DOWN!” Coach Lara’s hoarse yell hammers at my eardrums. I plug my ears with my fingers, strafing out of the doorway to an empty spot on the light green floor. Immediately all the talk dies down and all faces turn to him. I shake my head to clear the ringing, saying, “Damn coach.” But he doesn’t hear me.
“Listen! You guys are three fucking inches apart!” As expected, the new guys drop their jaws and look at each other incredulously. I can’t help but grin. What a welcome.
“That’s right! I swear to get my point across when people are hollering back and forth to each other!” Coach frowns, walking to the podium up front and slamming some keys down on it. He stares around at everyone, his face stone-solid. A few seconds of silence tick by. Jensen enters the door and takes a seat at the teacher’s desk, raising her eyebrows in a modestly disapproving look. Everyone stays still, but some of the younger guys are grinning like this is fun.
“Alright,” Coach breathes, finally chilling out. “For those of you who are new. This is not how we do things. There are now-” he glances at a piece of paper in his other hand, “-thirty-one guys in this room. We have seven new guys.” A couple of whistles.
“Damn,” Jacob says behind me. “That many?”
“So, guys. For God’s sake, while you’re in here don’t yell! There’s classes on either side of us, and all this talk is a huge disruption. Keep. It. Down.” He pauses once again to gather his thoughts and tap his pen against the lectern. He’s gonna say drills as punishment, I know it.
“You new guys got lucky, because we’re not practicing today.” Coach looks at Jensen for confirmation, and she nods. Happy murmurs go around the room. But I wanted to practice today!
And as I turn, there, out in the hallway, are LeRoy and Ana. Standing face to face, talking. Like a punch to the brain. I can’t comprehend what I’m seeing, my ears becoming deaf to coach and everybody else.
What is she doing?
Why did he just reach out and touch her arm?
Somebody give me an answer, dammit!
“I’m sure you can guess,” Coach Lara says, drawing me back somewhat, “that with this many guys, we’ve got some extra planning to do. But rest assured, we are going to practice tomorrow. That means everyone, new or not, bring your stuff.”
Lara starts walking toward the desk, and then looks back at all of us with an amicable half-grin. “I skip the formality crap, but I’ll know your names before the month is over. If I don’t get Alzheimer’s, that is.”
A few guys laugh. Laughter.
I glance back just in time to see LeRoy passing in front of me. I look up and he looks down, making me feel like a damn little kid sitting Indian-style like this. Behind his glasses, there is a certain satisfaction, like he’s made progress. But he just nods at me without a word and finds a spot on the other side of the room by Jordan.
I clench my fists, my jaw, and every single muscle that can be consciously tightened on the human body.
That rotting piece of selfish shit.
And back in the empty hall lingers nothing but some fading trace of Ana.
I look up. Coach beckons with another paper in his hand, smiling. An errand.
“Could you take this by Mrs. Flores’s office in the math building?”
“Sure coach,” I croak, jumping up to take the form.
“Thanks champ.” He pats me on the back, and I feel reassured. Needed.
From behind, I hear Jordan call in my direction, “Go get ‘em, bro. Haha.”
I throw up a hand and call over my shoulder: “Girls, right?”
“I mean your new girl,” he says coyly, and his relaxed voice is chilling, even from across a room full of murmuring track guys. “It’s never too early to start looking again.”
Jordan Sykes bothers the hell out of me sometimes. A junior like me and six others, he is both way too talkative and reserved in appearance. Sometimes, like when I walked in today and saw him sitting cross-legged on the ledge by the windows, I can’t even look him directly in the eyes, because they are too deep and almost like plastic. Amber-green in color, they are constantly brimming with either mellowness or horniness, depending on who he’s around. Unlike most of us, Jordan has also reaped the benefit of a nice tan from running outside so much. Add to that his long dark hair and full lips, and you’ve got yourself the incarnation of a Mexican prep. But what unnerves me the most about him is his smile: the ends of his lips seem to always curl up effortlessly, like someone up to no good. Personally, when I really look at him and face that tiny grin, all I can see is the smile of a weasel.
Jordan has also gotten bigger since I was a freshman. His arms have become more ripped, but the funny thing is it makes him more disproportionate when you see his skinny legs. But the ladies don’t care; they fall all over him all the time. Tan, easygoing, and fast in his races, Jordon has it made.
“Like a Mexican Gary Cooper,” Jose told me once as we were waiting for the front of the bus to clear out, talking about Jordan, who had just transferred from McHi in September. “But without the good guy cowboy look.”
“A Mexican Gary Cooper,” I said, raising my eyebrows as we stood up to get off the bus. “Wow. Really man? Can’t say I’m as hardcore of a classic movie watcher as you are.”
Jose just shrugged and smiled sheepishly. “Well, you know what I mean. Girls like the heroic-looking types.”
Jordan is anything but heroic.
Pausing in the doorway, I can’t help but look back at him. He tosses his hair out of his eyes, pursing his lips as he holds up a single Polaroid picture. Though I can’t see the front, he holds it up to the light, and the silhouette of a girl becomes visible. Then he lowers the photo, kisses it once, and tears it in half, dragging it out like he has to savor the hiss of the paper and the smell of alkali. He quarters her, then tears her in to eighths before tossing the bits of film in the trash. Then he winks at me before dropping the pieces in the trash. “Moving on to the next one,” he mouths. Next to him, LeRoy cocks an eyebrow.
“Whatever you say, man,” I say under my breath, feeling like he’s targeting me for something sinister.
I walk out the door, trying not to look over my shoulder. The halls look clear, so I walk on. Still, with every step I half-expect Ana to come back for something and have to face me.
That worries me, because I don’t know how I would control myself if she came up to me to talk.
Outside, the walkway between the history and math building is empty. Keeping my expression chill, I lift a fist and sock one of the canopy poles. It’s not a forceful punch, but I release some – some – of the loathing with the pain, the metal ringing a little. Exhaling, I shake my fist and keep walking.
It’s hard to be reasonable when anger is your addiction, isn’t it?
In the math building, I pass the classrooms and arrive at the hallway junction, where Mrs. Flores’s office is. Peering through the windows, I see that her desk is empty. Next to the computer, a vase of purple mountain laurels sits. I sigh and stand back, looking down both hallways. Everybody seems to be disappearing for fun lately.
Then there’s a muffled holler. It’s a girl. The nurse’s office is across from me, and I know something’s up. The door’s closed, but I approach and pause, breathing cautiously. Nothing for a second, then: “Oh, Laurie. Get me some ice, now!”
“It’s hurts!” I instantly remember that voice as Malerie’s. “Oh, God.”
“It’s alright, honey,” the nurse says, her voice wavering. “Did you take your pills?”
“Of course I did! I’ve been taking pills since I could walk!” Malerie groans with even more agony, and I find myself yanking the door open. Two nurses, one with an empty Ziploc baggie, look up at me with startled faces. Malerie is lying on one of the blue nurse beds in the middle of the room, clutching her stomach. Around her eyes there are these light green bumps, like a bad allergic reaction. She looks at me and squeezes her eyes shut.
“Young man, you need to leave!” The nurse sitting by Malerie starts to rise, looking alarmed. But realizing that Malerie needs her attention more, she takes the ice pack another, younger, nurse gives her and presses it to the bumps on her face. The other nurse, who has red hair and looks scared out of her mind, approaches me and says, “Look, she’s fine. Did you need anything?”
“No…” I say, finding my voice and looking into her eyes. “I was just…making sure nobody was hurt.”
“Thank you.” She smiles weakly, opening the door. “That’s nice of you. But she just needs to rest before her medicine kicks in.”
I nod repeatedly like a bobblehead doll, taking her hint and making my retreat. Malerie has quieted down, but my head is spinning in confusion. As the nurse smiles at me one last time and closes the door in my face, I wonder why I’m feeling so scared.