Authors: Charles Benoit
To you. You know who you are.
ou're surprised at all the blood.
He looks over at you, eyes wide, mouth dropping open, his face almost as white as his shirt.
He's surprised, too.
There's not a lot of broken glass, though, just some tiny slivers around his feet and one big piece busted into sharp peaks like a spiking line graph, the blood washing down it like rain on a windshield.
He doesn't say anything clever or funny, doesn't quote Shakespeare, he just screams. But no one can hear him, and it would be too late if they could.
You're thinking, this wasn't the way it was supposed to go, this shouldn't be happening. And now things are only going to get worse.
You're just a kid.
It can't be your fault.
But then there's all that blood.
So, maybe it is your fault, but that doesn't make things any better.
And it doesn't matter one way or the other.
When did it go wrong?
No, before that.
That was part of it, but that wasn't when it started.
Of course, yeah, it would be easy to say it was Zack. But that's not it, is it?
Before Ryan. Before Max or Derrick or that whole thing with the wallet.
Before tenth grade even began.
ou run your finger down the list of homeroom assignments until you spot your name.
Kyle Chaseâroom 202âMr. Lynn.
You're looking through the other names when Max comes up behind you, pretending to bump into you as if he didn't see you, like he always does.
You ignore him. Like you always do. Max is the closest thing you have to a best friend in this school, and that pretty much says it all, doesn't it? Back in eighth grade you never said two words to him, but that was before everybody you hung with went to Odyssey High. Things are different now.
“See who's in your homeroom?”
Of course you see who's there. You walked halfway around the building to check the list, but you act as if you don't hear him.
He leans in as he says it, his voice getting all nasal like he's five frickin' years old.
“So?” You shrug, wondering for the thousandth time why you ever told him anything.
“What do you mean,
?” He's getting loud now and you just wish he'd shut the hell up. He'd be all right if he wasn't so immature or deliberately stupid, but that's pretty much everything he is. When he's not around anybody, when it's just you two, he's different. Not a lot, but enough. You
ignore his question. He's used to it.
“I got Lynn,” you tell him, and he nods. Mr. Lynn is the whacked-out English teacher who likes poetry way too much, but he's always been fair to you and to the other so-called hoodies, the name coming from the black sweatshirt jackets you wear. The rest of your schedule might suck, but at least homeroom will be tolerable.
“I got Perez,” Max says. “Derrick's in there, too.”
You nod, but you're thinking about Ashley Bianchi, something you've been doing since June, when she left for her family's cottage up on some lake. You tell yourself that summer would have been a lot better if she had been around, positive that you would have actually called her up and gone out to the movies or something. And there would have been times when her parents were out or your parents were out and you could have been together without everybody standing around staring. But before you can think too much about it, about this hookup that would
have been excellent, two chimes sound and teachers step into the hall to corral everybody into their homerooms.
Welcome to the official start of tenth grade.
Welcome to the last year of your life.
r. Lynn reads off the attendance list and you raise one finger when he calls your name. He smiles at you and says “Welcome,” just like he did for the lacrosse players and the honor-roll students and you wonder why the other teachers can't treat you like that.
The room's dead quiet. After months of sleeping in till noon, six o'clock came too early and everyone has that glazed-over, already-bored look in their eyes. You recognize most of the people in the room, know about half of their names, but there are some kids who are obviously new, doing their best to look
like they've been here before.
sitting up front on the other side of the room, and when Lynn calls your name she turns in her chair, a look on her face like she's surprised to see you, and she smiles and waves. You can't help but smile back and you give a goofy wave and immediately feel like an idiot. She has that effect on you.
She's got a dark tan, helped along by her Italian genes, and like every other white girl in the class, in the school, in the country, she's wearing her hair long and straight and parted on the side. You remember her hair being longer at the end of the year but then realize that she must have gotten it cut for the start of school, probably the same weekend she bought the jeans and shirt she is wearing. You know every outfit she wore in ninth grade. This one is definitely new.
Last weekend you were supposed to get a haircut too, but you told your parents that you forgot. And you didn't buy any new clothes, either. You've got drawers
full of black T-shirts and worn-in jeans, and there are three hoodies in your closet, two regular black ones and a black one with these flaming skulls on the arm that your one cool aunt bought you last Christmas. Your friends drill on the sheeplike posers in their Aberzombie & Fitch sweaters and AÃ©ropostale button-downs. You never bother mentioning the T-shirt/jeans/hoodie uniform you all wear.
Lynn's reading off the day's schedule. He tells the class things they already know, like how the school has a rotating schedule and that today you'll spend a short time in all of your classes and that lunch will be blah blah blah and tryouts for blah blah blah will be after school in the auditorium and right then, ten minutes into your first day back to school, you start counting how many days it will be till the end of the year so you can get back to what you did over the summer.
Which was nothing.
But it wasn't this.
It's your favorite subject. Which surprises you.
Last year your teacher tried to convince you that you had a real “aptitude” for math, but all you got in the end was a B minus. The truth is you weren't even trying. But then you got low Cs and Ds in all your other classes and you weren't trying there, either, so maybe you are good at math after all.
You like it because either you're right or you're wrong. Not like social studies and definitely not like English, where you always have to
explain your answers
support your opinions
. With math it's right or it's wrong and you're done with it. But even that's changing, with Ms. Ortman up there at the whiteboard saying how this year you'll be writing something she calls Mental Notes, which
how you solved the problem and
answer, saying that having the right answer isn't as important as explaining how you got it and bam, just like that, you hate math.
“Now, tomorrow you'll have a quiz worth sixty percent of your grade this quarter.” She pauses like she's some stand-up comedian before she adds, “Only kidding,” as if it wasn't obvious. But then you notice half of your classmates sitting there with their eyes all popped out and you think, are they really that stupid?
She glances up at the clock, so of course everybody else does, and she sees she's got eight minutes left in the shortened period. Time to launch into the math version of the same speech you've heard in all of your classes so far and you wonder if they teach this time-wasting crap at teacher school.
“The first day of the year is always my favorite,” she starts, and you already know where this is going. “All of you begin with an A plus, nobody has turned in their homework late, I haven't had to send any of
you to the principal or give you detention or call your parents.” She nods in your direction. “I always think of the year as a big, blank canvas. Everything you do throughout the year is like a brushstroke, and how you fill in your canvas is completely up to you. Some of you have your year all sketched out. Soccer in the fall, then into rehearsals for the winter concert, then it's tryouts for either the basketball team or the school musicalâunless of course you're like AJ here, and you do
.” And as if on cue, the class looks at handsome, athletic, all-sport AJ with his perfect smile and his J.Crew polo shirt, and he fakes an embarrassed shrug and does this little wave thing like he's saying “aw, shucks,” and you find yourself hoping some fat defensive tackle takes out his knees in practice.
“It's important to keep in mind that you have control over your year,” Ms. Ortman is saying. “If you don't like the direction your life is going”âand now you're positive she's looking at youâ“then you have the power to change it. If you're not happy
where you're at, figure out where you want to be and make it happen.”
Which all sounds good, but you know it's ridiculous. You know where you want to be and there's no way you can make it happen.
Because if you could make it happen, if you could suddenly be back in eighth grade, you'd do it.
Because this time it'd be different. You'd work your ass off in all of your classes, just like Rick and Dan and Denica and Ari, and you wouldn't have spent all that time morphed to your Xbox, and when it came to picking a high school, you would have had the grades to go to Odyssey and not ended up at Midlands High. You'd be in the honors program with the friends you knew since fourth grade, doing those geeky after-school programs like MindQuest and Brainstormers and Forensics, which doesn't have anything to do with dead bodies. And you wouldn't have that scar on the back of your right hand and you'd be able to bend your
middle finger all the way and you wouldn't have had to talk to counselors. And you wouldn't have to talk with losers like Max or Ryan or Derrick, either. You wouldn't have even
But that would mean you wouldn't have met Ashley. And now you have to think the whole thing over.
One way or another, it's going to be an interesting year.
nd then nothing happens until October.
Well, nothing worth mentioning. Every day you get up, go to school, fake your way through your classes, come home, get hounded about your homework, go online, fake your way through your homework, go to bedâand the next day you get to do it all over again. Weekends you hang out with the other hoodies, stay out as late as you can, sleep
in as late as they let you, get hounded about finding a job, go to the mall, hang out. Repeat. Some of your friends get dragged to church, but other than your baptismâwhich you don't rememberâand your grandmother's funeralâwhich you don't want to rememberâyou've never been inside a church. Weeks of your life have slipped by, as if that matters.
If there was something that all that time had in common, what your English teacher would call a “theme,” it would be this: Don't get caught.
Don't get caught copying homework, don't get caught going to certain websites, don't get caught climbing up onto the roof of the mall at night, don't get caught stealing beers from the fridge in the neighbor's garage, don't get caught kicking the side of your father's Bronco, don't get caught slipping into all eight movies at the Cineplex, don't get caught sneaking glances at Ashley every chance you get or sliding up against her at lunch or finding yet
another reason to put your arm around her shoulders. And definitely don't get caught lying wide awake in bed thinking about her.
You don't get caught, which means they must not be trying too hard.
Maybe it would have been better if you had.
But you didn't.
Saturday night. Halloween is this Tuesday and that sucks. You haven't gone trick-or-treating in years but there's something wrong about Halloween being in the middle of the week. No one's talked about it, but everyone's treating tonight as Halloween. Everyone's a little edgier, a little more pumped up. Not your parents, of courseâthey don't notice these things. Neither does your kid sister, but she's only five. Paige is excited about Halloween and she doesn't care what day it falls on. She's going as some Disney princess and she'll look real cute, which is good since she'll haul in more candy than she could ever eat. But that's what older brothers are for.
You're cutting down Thornapple Crescent to Ryan's house when you see Derrick cutting through the Fullers' yard and out to the sidewalk. He sees you and nods.
“What's up?” He says it all ghetto, like it's one word with a
in it, the way you all say it, just with a harder edge, like he owns it. Derrick's father's an accountant and his mother teaches French at the community college. It's hard to be ghetto when you live in a middle-class suburban development twelve miles from any building over four stories. But since he's black, people seem to expect it, so he gives it to them. You heard he's smart enough to have gone to Odyssey High but chose to come to Midlands. If it's true then he's not that smart after all.
“Goin' to Ryan's?”
“Yeah,” he says. “Nothing else to do.”
“Thought you'd be over at Shannon's.”
He shrugs but doesn't explain. “Why ain't you with Ashley?”
“I didn't call her,” and you're thinking, what the hell, does everybody know your business?
“I don't know what you're waiting for.”
Neither do you, but you don't say it.