Authors: Flynn Meaney
As Jenny pouted into her folders and binders, which were all
-themed, I felt bad for her. As unmanly as I may be, sometimes I’m glad I’m a guy. It means I never have to get that bummed out by other people’s jeans.
It was the night after Halloween, which I’d celebrated quietly by seeing a horror movie with Jenny, telling her, “I don’t understand the big fuss about all this scary stuff, about fangs and monsters,” and also by texting Kate while she gave out candy with her parents and by avoiding Ashley Milano’s reality TV costume party.
At the dinner table, my mother announced to our family, “Luke is failing math.”
Luke had about half a burger jammed in his mouth but managed to express himself by rolling his eyes.
“What’s this?” my father asked, oblivious as usual.
“I went into school to speak with Luke’s teacher today,” my mother said. “His average is a fifty-six.”
“What’s that out of?” my father asked.
It’s pretty obvious my dad had gotten into Boston College only because he was a varsity athlete.
“I hate proofs!” Luke finally swallowed and spoke. “They’re so dumb. I shouldn’t have to write a paragraph in math. The only good thing about math is I don’t have to write stuff.”
“If he doesn’t bring his average up to a C,” my mother said, “he can’t play basketball this winter.”
My father gasped. My mother had such huge tears in her eyes you would have thought Lysol had been discontinued. This was a monumental problem. Where else could Luke use his talents for knocking people over and running really fast and breaking guys’ noses and making it look like an accident? If Luke couldn’t play sports anymore, his only choice would be to join the Mafia.
“What math class are you in?” I asked Luke.
“I’m in Math B,” Luke said.
“Finbar, could you work with him?” my mother asked, leaning into me. She gripped my arm like she was Leonardo DiCaprio and I was a lifeboat.
“I didn’t take Math B,” I said.
“What about the kids in your class?” she asked.
I thought about my precalculus class. I guess most of those Pelham Public kids had taken Math B last year. But currently, we were all pretty lost in math. Matt Katz was probably the smartest, but he was too busy resurrecting Tupac to help Luke. In terms of people who I wouldn’t feel awkward asking to my house to tutor my brother, I knew Jenny best, but she was only pulling off a C through the mutual efforts of me and her statistician father.
Of course, there was Kate. She loved math. And she was taking Math B right now, so she would be doing exactly what Luke was. In fact, she would be such a perfect math tutor for Luke that I felt guilty for not suggesting her. But I wasn’t ready for Kate to meet my family. I was almost as worried that my mom would scare Kate away as I was that my handsome brother would attract her back.
My dad turned to Luke and said, “You’ve just got to focus….”
Luke swallowed his last French fry and jumped up to scrape his plate above the garbage. He began humming loudly to drown out the conversation. I believe it was an R. Kelly song.
“Paul, it’s harder for him,” my mother said quietly.
Luke hummed louder, like screaming with his lips pursed. Yup, he was definitely humming “Trapped in the Closet.”
“Well, maybe we should look into a new medicine.”
“No!” Luke slammed his plate onto the dish rack next to the sink so hard it bounced back up.
“Luke, the plate!” From my mother.
Luke caught the plate and spun around. “I hate that medicine stuff.”
“Sweetheart…” My mother’s voice was calm, trying to soothe him—and preserve the wedding china that had somehow survived her wild son’s childhood.
“I’m not fucking with my heart again,” Luke said. “Then I won’t be able to play sports at all. Just—let me deal with it.”
“Luke—” my mother attempted.
My mother’s worst nightmare came true: Luke threw the plate on the ground. Unfortunately it didn’t shatter into a million tiny pieces, which would have been much more exciting to watch. Instead, it sort of cracked, and the top part tipped over and clanked against our kitchen tile. Don’t get me wrong, my mother still began to sob, but it wasn’t as cool to watch.
Luke stormed upstairs and I watched in amazement. Usually he was pounding up those steps soaked in pheromone-filled sweat and exercise endorphins, singing a Rihanna song at the top of his lungs. Luke hadn’t always been an easy kid to raise, but he had always been a happy one. While I was often moody and irritated and prone to shutting myself in my closet, displaying many signs of a future serial killer, Luke was always moving, smiling, always happy, always busy. But of course Luke was happy, I’d always thought. He was good at sports, girls liked him, and he had a hell of a tan. What was not to be happy about? Now for the first time, I wondered if Luke was actually happy because he
to be happy. I wondered this because for the first time I realized that between his grades, his failed medications, and his frustration at not being able to sit still—it might not always be easy to be my brother.
The first Monday in November, none of us skipped physics lab. But many of us would later wish we had.
Our teacher, Einstein in Drag (henceforth called Einstein for short), had gotten us all excited about this particular lab. It was a competition among two-person teams to see who could build the best roller coaster out of these plastic toy pieces. Once you built it, you had to race toy cars along the track. What, you may ask, made it the “best” roller coaster? Basically, you got lots of points for each fancy-schmancy addition: a really high peak, a really sharp turn, and, the king of all kings, the loop-de-loop. Oh, and you lost a hell of a lot of points if your car went off the tracks, because that meant that your riders died. However, you didn’t lose
your points, which showed how sadistic our teacher was.
And let me tell you—when you’re making a roller coaster, it’s damn hard not to kill people. In fact, I’m scared to ride a roller coaster ever again. Jason Burke and I were complete failures at the really sharp turn and the loop-de-loop. The really sharp turn threw our car violently across the room each time, and the loop-de-loop resulted in our car just dropping straight down to the ground. So we decided to focus on one high peak and named our coaster Everest. We decided our ride would be all about marketing.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t even master that one high peak. Every time it approached, the car would roll backward. But at least no one died.
At the lab table next to ours, Matt Katz was building an epic roller coaster called the Ball Screamer. The name was weird, but the roller coaster’s motto was simple: “You’ll scream your balls off.” On Matt Katz’s team, Matt was the visionary, and Kayla Bateman, his partner, did all the dirty work. First, Kayla had to count out all the pieces they needed to build Matt’s scrawled-blueprint masterpiece. Then, after she’d discovered they were forty pieces short, Kayla had to steal pieces from other groups. We were each only supposed to have fifty. I let Kayla have five of ours. She could be persuasive somehow.
“All right!” Einstein waved to us from the front of the classroom. “By now, your coaster should be working. And you should have recorded the average velocity of your car.”
I frowned at Jason. He shrugged.
“I’ll be watching for cars going off the tracks,” Einstein continued. “It’s go time!”
Matt Katz directed Kayla. “Get at the end of the coaster to catch the car.”
“Get them in place now. And when I blow the whistle… GO!”
Jason fumbled with our car at the start of our track. Everest built momentum on a series of small hills. “Go!” Jason and I cheered urgently, guiding the car with our eyes like it was a bowling ball. “Keep going! Faster!”
The car directly disobeyed us. It barely attempted the big hill before stalling and falling lazily backward, like an old man sinking into his couch.
Jason groaned. “Do you think we’ll fail?” he asked.
I shrugged. “We didn’t kill anyone.”
We turned to watch the Ball Screamer, which was still going because it was extra long from all the stolen pieces. Matt was watching it like a crazy person, his face bright red, his fist clenched.
“Yes!” he’d cry out each time it made a turn. “Yes!” When it made it over a hill, Matt Katz got so loud that the whole class turned to look. And Einstein was loving it. She watched in wonder as the Ball Screamer looped its loop—and didn’t drop!
“An A, Mr. Katz!” Drag Einstein proclaimed.
Matt Katz was thrilled. He was so thrilled, in fact, that he forgot about Kayla, who was still waiting at the end of the roller coaster. Kayla was only mildly interested in the loop-de-loop, and she didn’t watch it carefully enough to realize that the car had really gained a lot of velocity. As all physics students know, velocity is speed in a certain direction. The Ball Screamer’s speed was headed in the direction of Kayla Bateman’s face.
I realized the car was about to fly into Kayla’s face and cringed, and Ashley Milano realized and gasped, but neither Ashley nor I was faster than the Ball Screamer. It hurled the toy car into Kayla’s face.
Instantly, Kayla raised her hand to her cheekbone, where the car had hit. Most of our physics class was laughing, and someone said, “Too bad it didn’t hit her in the tits; she wouldn’t’ve even felt it.” I smiled rather than laughed, because in my pre-vampire life I probably would have been the one hit in the face. Still, it was pretty ridiculous to be injured by something called the Ball Screamer.
Then Kayla dropped her hand and we all saw that (a) she was crying and (b) she was bleeding. There was a deep gash under her eye and bright red blood was running down her face where tears should have been. Her hand had blood on it, too. I felt sick to my stomach, which probably made me very similar to the imaginary riders of the Ball Screamer.
“You’re BLEEDING!” Ashley Milano shrieked.
“Oh, dear. Oh, dear. I’ll get some gauze,” said Einstein, rushing to her desk.
“I’m bleeding?” Kayla said anxiously. Then she raised her hand to her face and shrieked. “Oh, God, I’m bleeding!”
Then the class began to buzz with indistinct conversations, and THEN—everyone turned to look at me.
“What?” I asked. I actually asked it out loud. What was I supposed to do about Kayla’s injury? I wasn’t taking First Aid class. First Aid class was the only class wussier than Nutritional Science.
Then Kayla turned to look at me, too. And she let out the most incredible scream. Seriously, a horror-movie scream. It reverberated through the classroom and hallways. It was louder than any fire alarm I’d ever heard.
“What’s going on here?” Einstein asked.
I wanted to know myself. I stared at Kayla, completely bewildered. But when I met her eyes, I saw this raw, primal fear. Where had I seen this look before?
Chris Perez. Chris Perez was scared of me like this. He was scared of me because I’m a vampire.
Kayla couldn’t even speak. She pointed to me with a trembling hand, and Einstein, scurrying back with gauze in hand, asked, “What? What did Finbar do?”
For my part, I backed away nonthreateningly. I made every “safe” gesture I could think of. I held my hands up where Kayla could see them, like I was surrendering to the police. I crossed my hands in front of me, like I was an umpire above a runner sliding into home plate. I kept my distance from Kayla. But I was still looking at her. And I was still seeing all that blood gushing out of her face. Oh, God, that nonstop blood.
Don’t think about how creepy it is. Don’t think about how disgusting it is.
But, only five feet from the door—my escape—I passed out.
As I became conscious slowly, I realized I was in the nurse’s office. I could smell the scent of disinfectant and of girls faking migraines to skip gym. I also became aware of the doubtfulness that anyone believed I was a vampire anymore. Vampires didn’t faint like Southern belles at the sight of blood. Shattering my own vampire myth could possibly be a good thing at this point. I meant to frighten guys like Chris Perez, but I didn’t mean to frighten girls. I meant to
“Finn?” Jenny whispered.
I opened my eyes and squinted. Jenny looked extra pale under the lights. And she looked legitimately worried, like I was a soap opera character in a coma.
“Hey,” I said.
“Are you okay?” Jenny asked.
“Totally fine,” I said. “Sorry about that.”
“You kind of freaked everyone out,” Jenny said.
“Did I?” I asked. “What happened?”
“No, no, no,” Jenny reassured me. “Kayla got stitched up. And she’s not scared of you anymore.”
“What?” I tried to sit up. Some blood rushed to my head. Jesus. “How is she not scared of me anymore?”
“Ashley and I explained it to her,” Jenny said. “You know, the reason you passed out.”
Once again, I was completely confused. Ashley and
, Jenny, my biggest vampire groupie, had told Kayla that I was scared of blood and wasn’t a vampire?
“Sure,” Jenny explained. “We told her that you don’t… you know,
eat your meals
… in school.”
“Well, isn’t that why you don’t have lunch with the rest of us?”
“So,” Jenny chirped brightly, “we told her you just passed out because you’re hungry!”
I had to recover super fast from my fainting spell, because I had an important night that night after the roller coasters. I was going to dinner at Kate’s house.
She’d claimed it was because her dad was a really good cook.
“He ordered all these new weird pots and he’s cooking Thai food,” Kate said. “Do you like Thai food?”
I was from Indiana. I’d never eaten Thai food.
“Yeah, I like it,” I said.
“Good!” she said. “Come over tonight at, like, eight? You can meet my mom.”
“Oh, okay, cool,” I said, completely thrown. “Is… anyone else coming?”
“None of my siblings are home,” Kate said. “So it will just be us and my parents.”