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Authors: Ryan G. Van Cleave

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UNLOCKED

Ryan G. Van Cleave

CONTENTS

Cover

Title Page

The Beginning

Sue

Nicholas

Me

Honesty

Blake

Rumors

Real

Aaron

Truth

Becky Ann

The Other Kids

What I Saw

World Of Warcraft

Grandma

Wheeze

Promise

Belief

The Keys

Pete

Blake

Me

Math Class

Lunch

Mr. Green

Going after the Gun

Health Class

Sick

That Night

Locker

Unlocked

Because

Caught

Why

Nicholas

Dr. Zigler

Anger

Dr. Zigler

Confrontation

Trust

Lunch

Early October

Confession

Blake's Family

Blake's Mom

Tutor

Revelation

Visit

Mistakes

Blake

Mcdonald's

Snake

Another Lie

Blake

Halloween

Confession #2

Asking

The other Janitor, Pete

Fring It

The Gun

Nothing

Father Issues

Mom

March 5

Home

Midterms

Christmas

New Year'S Eve

Spring Term

Mom

At Baskin-Robbins with my Father

Bad Monday

Texts

Valentine's Day

What we Did

Michael Jordan

Card

Hate

Why

March 1

March 2

March 3

March 4

1 Tried

Usually

Finally

March 5

I Wasn't There

Aftermath

Hero

Absence

And Then

After

Acknowledgements

Imprint

THE BEGINNING

August arrived
with 90° heat
and high school
began at last,
meaning five hundred
were funneled
in from four
different junior highs,
meaning
no one really arrived
having anything
except a sweaty
eagerness
to belong,
meaning we all
felt equally
displaced.

A few dragged
old cliques along,
but like magnetism,
the rest found others.
The beautiful
found beautiful friends.
Jocks found jocks.
Nerds found nerds.
Band geeks found band geeks.

Drama queens found drama queens.
Cheerleaders found cheerleaders.

When it all settled into
the Monday/Friday grind,
that agonizing slowness
of a school year,
I found myself

alone,

excluded,

along with three
others I couldn't
bring myself
to befriend—
Sue, Nicholas,
and Blake.

At least they
didn't have
their dad working
at the school
like I did.
That's who I
became:

the janitor's son.

SUE

Some days,
her hair was
lizard-belly green,
but more often,
it was pink like
it'd suffered a sunburn.
Sometimes navy blue,
sometimes violet.
Come November,
she'd shave it clean
to the white smoothness
of her skull.

She didn't hate me
any more
than she hated
everyone else.
She was equal
opportunity
angry.

NICHOLAS

The fourth
in a family
of seven boys,
he just got
forgotten
regularly
and managed
to stay
that way.

Like he could
turn sideways
and disappear.

Like he had alien
blood that turned
him transparent.

Wasn't as if people
disliked him—
Nicholas simply got
overlooked.
No one asked him
to share their table
in the cafeteria.
No one asked him
to let them copy
his biology notes.

No one even
Bless you'd
him when he sneezed,
like they didn't even
hear his enormous ACHOO!

How bad was it
to be simply ignored?
For a bookworm,
it probably wasn't
all that awful.

If only he liked
video games more
than reading at the library,
maybe we'd have
been friends.

ME

I didn't make fun
of anyone.

People who
eat cheese sandwiches

alone

on second base
of the softball field
during lunchtime
didn't crack jokes
to anyone
but themselves.

I hated my dad's
blue uniform,
his name
in mocking red
cursive:
Hector
.

I had to wait
an hour for him
after everyone
else had flown home.

Sometimes I helped,
but mostly

I just pretended
to push a broom
and listened to my iPod
when he wasn't watching.

Some days,
he let me have
a Coke
from the machine
in the teachers' lounge—
they replaced the ones
in the lunchroom machine
with fruit drinks
and bottled water.

The kids called him
Mr. Clean.
They called me
Clean Junior,
or CJ
when they were
feeling
particularly
cruel
(often).

HONESTY

I try to be
someone
who believes
in honesty,

but the truth
is that I can't
tell when
the world's really
out to flatten me,
or if it's just me
somehow
self-sabotaging
my own damn life.

Two years
of anger therapy

(thanks for nothing,
Dr. Zigler)

and that's all
I can say about
why my life's
a twisted knot
the size of a fist.

My name is Andy.

I'm fourteen.

I hate my life.

Some days I feel
so alone
that I might be
living inside
a shoe box
on the moon.

Some days
I don't feel
anything
at all.

BLAKE

He was popular

once,

the kids from
his middle school say.
Really popular.
TV-sitcom popular.

The kids from
my middle school
didn't care if it
was true or not.
But I was intrigued
by the idea of such
sudden, drastic change.
A metamorphosis.

They said he
could blast
a soccer ball
straight over
the south wing
of the school.

Could zing
a spitball faster
than you
could see.

Birthday parties
with trampolines,
BBQ pits, and
live rock bands;
he had friends.

Now Blake roamed
the yellow-tiled halls
of Jefferson High
by himself
and wore
a big green
army belt
looped twice
around his waist.

He didn't talk
to anyone,
not even
the teachers.
His old friends
avoided him.
The other outcasts
steered clear of him too.
Sue was too busy texting
to care.
Nicholas read comics
constantly,
never looking up
to see Blake
sitting solo.

Sometimes I
watched Blake
and I wondered
what he was thinking,
if he had dark dreams
like the ones
that shocked me
out of sleep,
but I didn't ask.

Still,

even an outcast

like me

heard the rumors.

Everyone said …
everyone suspected …
everyone thought …
that in his locker
he was hiding a gun.

RUMORS

They spread like wildfire.
They lurked in lockers,
in the gymnasium,
in the cafeteria, the library,
the study cubicles,
the dim corridors
by the wood-shop room.

Kelly's pregnant.
Clark sold beer bongs
every Saturday at
the Dunkin' Donuts
just south of the school.

They ached for release.
They yearned to be shared.

Mrs. Trenton's son
is in jail for mail fraud.
Zachary stares too long
in the locker room.

Richard has an STD.

That new girl, Yvette,
failed second grade.
Twice.

Blake has a gun.

I liked the idea
of wiggling my way
into the lives of others.
I liked to slip unnoticed
into their world, like
a burglar over a window ledge
in the dead of night,
falling softly onto carpet.

When people don't pay
attention to you,
it's easy to hear more
than anyone thinks.

I liked the idea of a gun,
its massive sense
of potential.

Blake has a gun?

I listened.
I watched.
I wondered.

REAL

The only one
who ever said
he actually saw
Blake's gun was
Nicholas,
who refused
to talk about it
anymore.
Like a closed book,
you couldn't
read anything
from him.

Nose deep
in comics—
Graphic novels
!
he corrected
when accused
of loving the Hulk
and Superman—
he didn't care
much about
being popular,
which he could've
been if he dared
spread his story.

But he made
the mistake of talking—

and who wouldn't,
with a secret this huge—

to Louis, who told Megan
and her sister, Wendy,
which meant that everyone
knew by fourth period,
and people were
staring, pointing.

That's how Blake
became of interest
to us all, a freak show
to be eyed from a distance.
Like he was a bug-eyed monster
who vomited on his lunch
before slurping it all up.
People stared.

AARON

slammed the books
out of Blake's hands
like he was dunking
a basketball.

“Butterfingers!”
he laughed,
and I seethed
as everyone cracked up.

Then he knocked past
Blake and shouldered
me into the lockers
hard enough to make
my ears ring.

If it wasn't Aaron,
it was someone else
going spaz on us “losers.”
A bully. A jock.

Some ass who needed
to be knocked down
a few dozen times.
Someone who deserved
to have teeth kicked in.

Blake sighed, then picked up
his books, straightened the spine
of
Algebra I: The Basics
,
and just walked away.

When I realized my nose
was bleeding, I just hid
in the guys' bathroom
and stuffed towel wads
up my nostril. Again.

TRUTH

If it wasn't me
being knocked down,
it was Nicholas or Blake
or some other puny
freshman with more
acne than friends.

I should've done something
at some point to make it stop.
But I'm too much like
Shakespeare's stupid hero Hamlet:
a do-nothing whiner.

Except he's got a girl
who loves him.

I didn't even have that.

It's an awful thing to confess—
being a coward.

BECKY ANN

Long-limbed
and blond
like an endless
shower of starlight,
she was the love
of my life.

Worse,
everyone
knew it.
Especially her.

I made the mistake
of admitting
I found her stunning
to Joshua
in PE
three weeks
into the year.
I knew Joshua
from our old school
and thought
I could trust him.

He told
everyone,
CJ's in looooove
.

You'd think
a kid with
cold sores
and too many
freckles
wouldn't rat
anyone out.

Joshua had friends
now, so it's hard
to blame him.

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