Hey all! Sorry for being late with chapter 14. I made a trip to Houston Tuesday night for my grandfather’s birthday on the first. A life filled with 91 years of parenting, working, and faith is awe-inspiring.
In this chapter, I explore Johan’s dark anxieties and flesh out Mal and Ross’ yearbook project. As always, I would appreciate any feedback immensely.
It’s about ten minutes before the first bell on Monday morning, and I’m wandering around the main building, trying to find Mrs. Coleman’s room. Malerie had texted me earlier, her message reading:
Hola! Meet up in Coleman’s room in the main building at 7:45. Bye!
Staring at her message again, I sigh and flip my cell shut. Behind and in front of me, two teachers are posted at the north and south entrances, on the watch for kids trying to get in and steal shit or cause havoc before school starts. There was another incident with graffiti in the math building on Friday, though I stop myself from making a snap judgment that it was one of the new kids from Goliad.
Pausing at the doorway, I spot the name “Coleman” on a little tag over the door. At least I can find my way again.
As I lean in I spot Malerie and Pablo sitting in desks facing each other. He’s the first one to see me.
“Well, look who’s here.”
“Ross!” Malerie turns, her eyes lighting up . “You made it!”
“Hey,” I say, sauntering in. “Yeah, I’m here.”
On the walls are posters of poignant sayings from literature. Quotes from Robert Frost, Neruda, Hemingway, the works.
“We were talking about her shirt,” Pablo says, gesturing to the aqua-colored one Malerie’s got on today. “It’s the best. Here, I’ll read it to you.”
Malerie grins and opens her arms. I can see black wavy cursive, much like her first shirt. In the background is an image of a small figure standing before an aquifer, the outline of a halo above her head. The sky above the water is a pinkish-purple, and the anime girl is holding up one of her arms.
“‘I saw God the other day, by the river on a rainy afternoon. He helped a kitten that was left all alone. It’s a God that only I can see. A black winged angel that came down from the heavens just for me.’” Pablo leans back in his chair and looks at me, his grin dark. “That’s Fooly Cooly, kid.”
“Anime,” I say, recognizing the name but not knowing the subject.
“A good one,” he says.
“Okay, down to business,” Malerie says, beckoning for me to come sit. “Oh, but tell me how your meet went first.”
“Be succinct,” Pablo adds, folding his arms and smirking.
“Aw, it was alright,” I sigh, taking a desk by them. “Honestly, we sucked.”
“Aw, no,” Malerie says, tilting her head in disappointment. “What place did you guys get?”
“Fourth,” I say, slouching, “but we should have expected it. New guys and all.”
“What about the rest of the team?”
“Not too good, either.” I sigh, Jake’s dry heaves and cracked smile coming back to me. “Mostly third and fourth places. I think we got two first places out of everyone.”
“Your sport is about pulling through suffering,” Malerie tells me, looking thoughtful as she moves her hand closer to mine on the desk. “It’s controlled chaos, and nothing builds character like it. You’re gonna grow, even when you lose.”
“I hope so,” I say.
“So,” Pablo says, rifling through a small stack of papers on his desk, “with less than five minutes till the bell, let’s go over the rules.” He passes us each a sheet of paper. “These are the instructions everyone got at the beginning of the year. Read them over twice.”
I look down at the paper, which starts with a paragraph welcoming students to the class and goes on to list the benefits of being a part of the yearbook staff. Greater writing skills, a better sense of time commitment, and the teamwork formed by doing little parts and adding them to the whole.
Malerie laughs. “I like rule number four: don’t abuse the copy machine.”
“Oh, it’s funny,” Pablo assents, smirking, “but you’d be surprised how often the class has gone through five hundred sheets of paper in a week. And most of it was for English papers and history homework.”
“Damn,” I say, reading over the other ten basic rules. Most of them are straightforward, like being courteous in every interview and remembering to save in Photoshop often.
“Yeah, and since you two will be mostly interviewing,” Pablo says as he chews gum, “you guys really remember the last four. Other than that, you guys should be fine.”
“Cool beans,” Malerie says, “We cheated a little and got two interviews already. Is there a specific number we should shoot for?”
“Doesn’t really matter. It’s your project. Coleman said for me to tell you guys that it’s your call. Long as you have them all by the end of March.”
“Aw, come on chief,” she says, looking at him with playful pleading, “I work much better under a quota. Unless you’re not fine with that, Ross?”
“Huh?” I look at her drowsily, surprised at how close to nodding off I came. “Oh, no, I’m cool with that.”
“Coolio,” she says, nodding at me. “So we’ll both get something good out of a requirement.”
“Twenty,” Pablo says, dropping the Texas drawl and throwing his arms up. “There’s your number, kids. Twenty interviews. And couples count as one, just like single people.”
Just then the first bell rings, and gradually the sound of footsteps and voices begins to fill the halls.
“So we’re good to go?” Malerie asks him.
“Oh, one more important thing,” he says, drawing a key out of his pocket and holding it out to me, “yearbook room, room 306, math building. There’s a computer in the left corner of the room, number 17. Boot it up when you guys have your shit together. I recommend at the end of every week, when you guys should have at least five more interviews or so.” He pauses to smile a little. “Looks like you guys have this week halfway covered.”
“We’re just cool like that,” Malerie says, flicking her imaginary collar.
“Now I best be off,” he says, heading for the door. “Coleman won’t be here today, so you guys will have to meet her some other time.”
“Will do,” I say, saluting.
“Can’t wait,” Malerie tells him, and with a brief returning salute he’s gone. Malerie looks at me with bright eyes. “Dude, I can’t believe how excited I am!”
“It’s getting interesting,” I admit, smiling and standing.
“So who’s gonna be our next interview?” she asks.
“Whoever, I guess,” I say, as the first couple of students saunter in. “What lunch do you have?”
“Okay, great, me too. Let’s meet up like ten minutes before the bell. Outside the library okay?”
“Sure,” she nods, her smile patient, “I’m gonna run. Gotta make sure I have a locker in band now.”
“Alright,” I grin, as we walk out into the hall. “I’ll hold onto the key, alright?”
“Oh yeah, please,” she says, laughing. “I lose little things way too easily.”
Watching her walking down the hallway, her detached stride now a more open, friendly walk, I pocket our key and imagine her playing the piccolo with perfect harmony.
At lunch, Kristina has changed our usual group.
When I turn from the cash register, my tray with a turkey sub and chips on it in hand, I can see a small, stout guy with curly black hair and some black stubble sitting next to her.
“Hey guys,” I say, keeping things normal as I set my backpack down, Matt, Kristina, and this new guy looking up at me. “What’s up.”
They say hey back, the guy’s voice deep and soft. Taking my seat, I nod at Matt and wait with my tray on the table.
“I’m Ross,” I say, offering my hand across the table.
“Marco,” he replies, nodding with an unopened mustard packet in between his teeth and shaking my hand. “Nice to meet you, man.”
“Sorry, yeah,” Kristina says, shaking her head as if she’s been in a daze. “This is Marco.”
I flash her a grin. “AP wearing you out?”
“No, not really,” she says, her eyelids sagging as she fingers her hair behind her ear and stares at her plate of half-eaten spaghetti. “I just haven’t been getting much sleep lately.”
“Try reading,” Matt offers.
“I do. I finished half of my new book last night. Oh, Eclipse is still so good. I can’t wait for Breaking Dawn to come out.”
“Twilight” Marco tells us, his grin almost pitying. “She talks about it a lot.”
I can’t keep back a snicker, and Kristina shoots me a dirty look.
“They’re good books,” Matt concedes, looking at me.
“So I hear.”
“How was the meet?” Kristina asks me, and I feel that dejected pang of irony. I nod at Matt for him to tell her.
“Not too good,” he says dourly, looking down at his tray. “I got fourth in the 100 meter run, and my long jump was terrible.”
“I did alright,” I tell her, looking around as I take a drink. “Two fifth places. Could have been better”
“Hm. Well, I’m sure you’ll pick it up in time for Districts,” she says, her voice as matter-of-fact as someone who’s never felt the raw strain of a harsh run before.
Outside, we decide to mingle with the sophomore group, since Matt is a sophomore and likes to be with his own kind from time to time. However, under the towering oak tree I catch sight of only Malerie and Johan, who both look distraught.
“…And you think it’s okay to take out your frustration like that?” she asks him, as he cowers and cups one fist in the palm of his other hand. Blood is caked on both of his hands. Clearing my throat, I lead my group to them and, without missing a beat, call, “Hey Mal. Everything okay?”
Turning to me, her hazel eyes gridlocked in disapproval, she shakes her head once, then lets the anger go. “Not really. Maybe you can talk some sense into Johan.”
“What’s going on, man? You alright?”
His nod is even slower than hers, and I watch as he unravels his checkered neckerchief and wraps it around his bloody fist. “I took my anger out on this tree. I punched it. Because of Sara.”
The others take a seat on the opposite bench, Kristina waving at Mal and saying, “Hi. You must be the Mal that Ross always talks about.”
“Salutations,” she says, returning the wave before folding her arms and looking back at Johan. “Sorry if I look a little pissed. I just am surprised at Johan. We went to Goliad High together.”
Immediately my intention to defuse the situation deflates. With a half-smile I clear my throat. “He’s with us in track, too,” I say, stretching out my hand toward Johan. The bleeding has stopped, and he winces as I cup his fist. “I’m with you, Mal. Doesn’t look too bad.”
“Thank God,” Mal says, her body racked by a sudden spasm. “I just saw him wailing away at this tree, and I had to tell him to stop. I don’t think he processed that the tree would win in the long run.”
Her humor brings a little relief as I grin. “Come on, Johan, let’s talk.”
Instead, the bell rings, and he backs away slowly. “Can’t. English. Have to go.”
“Then we talk tomorrow at lunch,” I say, my words like nails being driven into wood. I can’t be soft on him, even if we share that brotherhood. Johan just calls back an “Okay” before taking off. Mal watches him go, her eyebrows furrowed. Matt shivers; the sight of blood always gets under his skin.
“Maybe he’s suicidal,” Kristina offers, her voice strained with compassion as the five of us watch him go. “You’re so caring, Ross. You’ll be able to help him.
Looking down, I rub off a tiny trace of blood from my ring finger and collapse on the bench. When Mal puts a hand on my shoulder, I look up, her face determined. “We will.”