This is a collection of all the parts of my novel, What If It All Means Something, that I’ve posted on my blog.
What If It All Means Something
A Novel By William Louison
I really didn’t think I liked writing, but I started this journal because I was in a bad place and it helped me get through some rough times. But that doesn’t atone for what I did, so reading my journal now, I realize I have to set some things right, not just for myself, but for my family and for Laura. I guess I owe them an explanation, and even more so, an apology. I messed up. A lot. I made some bad choices, and even worse mistakes, which almost ruined my life.
It’s hard to put a ‘starting’ point to all of this because a lot of it has been going on my whole life. It comes down to, then, a matter of what is really relevant to what I need to say. I guess I could start with my parent’s divorce a year and a half ago. She found out he was cheating on her on March 17th, the day before my seventeenth birthday. I’m not trying to get sympathy for myself, I just want to make it clear that the divorce was the reason we moved last summer.
Everything happened so fast. After the divorce, I gave up on Grade Eleven and barely passed the year – I think the teachers felt sorry for me. I didn’t get a summer because my mom decided it would be better if we moved far away from Washington, and from dad. So move we did.
I always wanted to go to California, and so I wasn’t feeling too bad about this move. My mom bought a house in a place called Gold Beach, Santa Barbara. I’d never heard of it before, so I didn’t know what to expect. I guess it’s good that I didn’t get my hopes up, because Gold Beach proved to be the shabbiest town in America.
It was only about forty minutes from the coast, and a beautiful beach, which was a definite plus – but probably the only one. The town itself had just under ten thousand people. I moved from Washington, DC, so it was definitely a drastic change. It also felt very old…there were no modern looking buildings, only one movie theatre – which happened to be over fifty years old with the smallest screens – and not much else for entertainment.
Even before the divorce I was very pessimistic and got into lots of fights with my mom, but in the months that followed our family’s tragedy, things only escalated. By the time we got to Gold Beach, the stresses of the divorce, almost failing school, leaving my friends behind and moving to this dump of a town had all boiled up inside me and I couldn’t take it anymore. I tried to not get frustrated with Brett, my twelve year old brother, or Sherry, our nine year old sister, but I did take a lot of it out on mom. It got to the point where I felt like our relationship was beyond repair.
It’s at this point, then, that this story can really begin. My name is Darren and this is my story.
It’s August and we’re only now finished settling in to our little brown house. The weather is still beautiful so I’m hoping I might be able to enjoy my last few days before school starts, seeing as I wasted my summer cleaning our new house and moving all my families’ shit around. You’d think my siblings were invalids – they couldn’t do anything for themselves and it seemed I was always helping them with something and I never got any time to myself.
Mom’s been home even less lately. She’s working so much because she ‘can’t afford the bills’ so she ‘has to work all this overtime’ and will need me ‘to be a good brother and son and take on some extra rolls around the house’. Screw that. My life already sucks, so why should I have to suffer any more for her mistakes.
I haven’t had the chance to make any friends here, so I just know I’m going to end up at school on the first day looking like a fucking loser. No one’s going to want to talk to the ‘new kid’. And I’ve only gone to the beach twice all summer, and both times Brett and Sherry came with me. It’s really hard to try and check out all the hot girls when you’ve got these two, innocent children with you. Makes me look like the role model brother. I don’t want to be the role model brother. If they weren’t around, I’d wear my trunks a little lower and try to flirt my way into the sun-bathing glory of some beach goddess.
Obviously that didn’t happen. That’s why I’m stuck at home cleaning up these supper dishes. Why do I have to do all this? Brett’s more than old enough to wash some goddamn dishes. But if I mention this to mom, she just gets mad. I mean, Brett does help a little and he always cleans the table. He also picks up any crap lying about, because if there’s any crap lying about when mom gets home – even if it’s her crap – she’ll get mad and find a way to blame me. I can’t really be mad at the little man, though. He does help, he sticks up for me if mom’s being ridiculous, he’s my bro and we’re buds.
The last couple days have been pretty nice, too. Sherry’s know-it-all personality has been less annoying and mom being gone more means less time we have to be around each other pretending everything’s okay. I’m trying to forget all this crap anyway. What’s really on my mind is school. I’m kind of nervous about it. Back home in Washington, everyone liked me. I had my friends already. But here…I don’t know what to expect. It’s a small school too, only a few hundred students I guess. Will they all have their tight little groups and won’t want to hang with me?
I’m trying not to get worked up about it, but it’s frustrating. I don’t want to have to make new friends…how will I know which guys are cool? I don’t want to end up with some losers for friends. My thoughts explored all these possibilities, and more, as I finished the dishes. By then, Sherry and Brett were watching TV – mom wouldn’t care if they’re up a little later because it’s not a school night – so I went down to my room, which is in the basement.
It’s nice down here. Quiet. My world where no one bothers me. Brett and Sherry sleep across the hall from each other upstairs, by mom’s room. The TV is upstairs, too. The basement? That’s my place. It’s nice to just relax in my room, put on some music and forget about all this other crap going on. But tonight, I changed my usual routine.
Mom used to send me to counselors, thinking it would help me deal with the divorce. The only thing I really remember is one telling me that if I write down my frustrations, it will help me to not get so stressed about them. I never tried it, until tonight, and it’s kind of nice. I feel a little better, even though I didn’t write down too much dirt on mom, or dad for that matter. I did sneak get to sneak in my excitement about school, too.
This anticipation for school made the next two days go by rather quickly. My mind was much too occupied on school to fret over any stresses, and so the days passed without any major incidents with mom – thank God, because sometimes she just annoys the hell out of me. But I don’t think even mom could annoy me this morning.
I actually got out of bed early for a change – though I doubt this will last long. I’m so glad there’s a bathroom in the basement that I can have for myself. The nice part, too, is its right across from my room. Since Brett and Sherry are rarely down here anyways, I don’t have to worry about covering up when I go from my room to the bathroom for a shower. It’s like a little piece of freedom.
I showered quick, making sure I have time to shave and throw a little gel in my hair. After, I stopped for a moment to look at my body in the mirror. I was glad to see my six pack and biceps in fine shape. I guess all that work around the house gave me back the definition I started to lose when I stopped working out (after the divorce).
I hurried through the rest of the morning and ate a quick cereal bar – which is rare for me to eat anything for breakfast. Mom was going to drive the kids to their first day. She offered me a ride, too, but I can just imagine how that conversation in the car would go. No thanks, I’d rather walk anyway.
“Have fun at school, babe.” Even as I tried to sneak out of the house without having to talk to her, somehow I just knew I wouldn’t be able to escape unnoticed.
“Mom,” I sighed, about to argue her calling me ‘babe’.
“I don’t care how old you are,” she interrupted me quickly. That’s my mother – the mind reader. “I’m your mother and that gives me the right to call you ‘babe’ if I want to.”
I could’ve gotten mad, like I usually do, but today was starting off too good and I started laughing instead. “I’d rather have a younger, hotter, non-related woman call me ‘babe’, mom.”
“Maybe you’ll meet one today,” she said with a smile on her face. Since the divorce, it’s been rare to see her smile. It’s nice that she still can. “A nice one, mind. I’ll see you later tonight. Make sure you come home right away. But don’t worry about picking up your sister, Brett’s going to take care of it.”
“Bye, mom,” I said as I started to leave. She stood in the doorway and told me she loved me as I went down the front steps, but I didn’t answer.
If I could’ve seen the smile that faded from her face as I walked away without response, I may have told her I loved her too. But I didn’t get to see that, and it would prove to be a long time before I finally got around to telling her.
I guess that now is as good a time as any to make a note of something. As mom had mentioned that morning, I did end up meeting a girl at school. Her name was Laura. And as I’m sitting here looking back on these days, there’s something I have to make clear. Right now, this story may seem like it’s about me, but I should probably rephrase something I said earlier. This is not my story. This is the story of Laura Ann Wilson, and how she saved my life.
Gold Beach Senior High was a little bit smaller than most schools. It was a brown, stone building with a parking lot on one side, a field on a the other, and a set of large doors atop a wide stone staircase of half a dozen or so steps was front and center on the building. Basically, just like every other school, and it looked just as boring, lame and so not cool.
There was a group of guys smoking in the parking lot, a couple girls sitting beside each other one of the front steps and a several more laughing and talking around the bike rack out front. As I approached the school, I felt as if everyone’s eyes were on me. Watching the new kid. In a town this small and a school with fewer students than my entire Grade Eleven class, of course they knew who everyone was. Everyone except me.
Now they’re all staring at me like I’m some Goddamn freak show in a circus. I shouldn’t have come here. Not today. Look at these morons – how could I possibly ever think to make any friends here?
I passed the group by the bike rack and, as soon as I did, I heard not-so quiet whispers accompanied by not-so inconspicuous laughter. Great. What a way to end the summer. It’s bad enough I have to go to this stupid school-
“How do you like Gold Beach?”
My mind froze for a minute, everything kind of stopped. I had to make sure that the question was directed at me. When I looked over to who asked it, I saw a lone girl rising from one of the steps where she had been sitting and reading a book. Usually, if a girl’s into books, she gets crossed of my ‘list’, but there was something about her. She had straight, brown hair, an ordinary face without any make up and dark glasses resting on her little nose. Her blue jeans and green blouse were rather plain. Overall, she looked normal. Yet, there was something-
“You’re not an exchange student, are you?” she asked me, dropping the book from her hands into her shoulder bag.
“Me?” I asked, placing a finger on my chest.
“No, that dude beside you,” she said with an innocent smile on her face. It took me a minute to realize she was being sarcastic.
“Oh, yeah…funny.” Funny? That’s the best reply I have, really? Who is this girl anyway…she seems like a total nerd. I’d probably fit in much better with those good-looking guys and their hot girlfriends in the parking lot. So then, why do I suddenly feel so nervous? Must be the new school.
“So, you gonna answer me, city boy?” she said, her smile fading into a look of curiosity.
“Yes to the first and no to the second,” I replied, getting my thoughts in order. I looked back at the guys in the parking lot, with their cigarettes and ‘don’t give a shit’ attitudes. They were all staring back at me as if they were scientists and I was some lab experiment gone wrong. I quickly turned back to look at the girl. “So, how’s this hell hole?” I noticed, just for a second, a momentary flinch in her eye as if she was taken aback by what I said. Okay, miss goody-two shoes, it was just ‘hell’.
“Why do you keep looking at those guys over there?” she asked me. I could tell, by the look on her face, she was trying to read me.
“They seem kind of decent,” I said, not sure how to reply.
“Oh,” she said, glancing over at them. “I would stay away from them,” she advised. “They’re into drugs and other stuff.”
“Ah,” I said, feeling a little awkward. Who cares about drugs? Everyone has their own ways of having fun, and it’s all about having fun. Not for this chick, though. I guess she must be the teacher’s pet. I wanted to say thanks for the advice and walk away, but what came out was: “What’s your name?”
What the hell? She’s clearly not my type. She looks like she doesn’t know how to have fun…probably doesn’t drink. What am I doing? First day of school and I’m talking with one of those losers I didn’t want to meet. So why is it so hard for me to just walk away?
She looked at me for a moment, and then the smile returned to her face. “Laura. What’s yours?”
“Darren,” I told her as I was fixed on her smile. The curve of her humble mouth was…different than most girls. Laura was very unassuming. I think, even from this small talk, Laura would be the kind of girl mom would want me to meet. I guess that’s why it’s so hard for me to decide how I thought about her. Was she cool, or fun? I don’t know. It’s like a ‘take it or leave it’ situation. Right now she’s about as close to a friend as I have in this town, so I guess I better take ‘it’ before ‘it’ leaves me.
“Class starts pretty quick,” Laura said, glancing at her watch. She looked back at me through the lenses of her ordinary glasses. “What class do you have first?”
“Chemistry.” I spent a small portion of last night memorizing my schedule. I didn’t want to look like a dork carrying around my ‘timetable’. I just hope I can find the classrooms because I didn’t want be even dorkier carrying around a stupid map of the place, which is why I opted not to grab one at registration. Not even the freshies were grabbing maps.
“Oh, me too,” she said. There was that smile again. “I guess I can show you where the class is then.”
“How do you know we’ll have the same teacher and class?” I asked what I thought was a legit question.
Laura laughed, a delicate, quiet laugh that was almost cute. “There’s only one chemistry teacher at Gold Beach. Mr. Bins is kind of off his rocker, just to warn you.”
“Whatever,” I said. What sounded cool around my old friends back in Washington just sounded stupid around Laura. “Not like I care that much about the class.”
“Oh,” she said through parsed lips. Apparently she didn’t like my attitude. Now I remember why I didn’t like girls like Laura – they act just like my damn mother. “Well, should we head to class?” she asked me after a few seconds of awkward silence.
I sighed. I didn’t want to go to class. I felt like I had no summer, now this garbage all over again? Screw this. “Yeah, might as well get this bullshit over with.”
I followed Laura up the stone steps, through the front doors and into what proved to be the next circle of the hell that was my life.
Chemistry class was a drag. Mr. Bins looked a nerd, acted like a moron and tried to be funny but it was really, really lame. I was sure glad to get out of that class. Especially since Laura wouldn’t even speak to me in class. I’d try and tell her something or make a joke about the ridiculous teacher, and she would tell me to be quiet. Laura had calculus next, so thank God I had history. It was nice to sit at the back of the room this time, where I could much easier pull off not paying attention.
The desk in front of me as well as the one to my right were empty, and remained so even as class started. Not really much opportunity to make friends, nor jokes about the teacher. That changed when two guys walked into room and started heading for the empty desks around me. They were the only two empty desks that were relatively close together and so, naturally, the friends wanted to sit together. Before they got to their seats, though, Mr. Brody stopped his “Introduction to History” speech to call on the guys.
“Mister Daniels. Mister Redfield.” Mr. Brody was clearly unimpressed. “First day of class and you’re late? That’s a bad habit starting too soon.” He smelt the air in the room, and he looked even less impressed than before. “Speaking of bad habits, smells like you were out polluting your lungs.” The two students slid into the two desks by me, smirks on their faces. A couple other students around the room giggled.
“Is this funny, Mister Daniels?” he asked the taller of the two.
“No, Sir.” There was the slightest hint of sarcasm in his voice and several more snickers followed.
Mr. Brody’s genial face did a drastic one-eighty and he now looked positively inflamed. “Do I really have to tell you how bad that stuff is for your body? It’s revolting, unattractive and anything but ‘cool’.” He paused for a moment and the emotions on his face settled down a little. “I cannot, however, force you to stop this ridiculous habit, but I am telling you now it is no excuse for being late to my class. Are we understood?” The two guys nodded, but their facial expressions showed just what they were actually thinking.
“What a doosh,” Daniels said to his friend. He was sitting in front of me and when he turned to glance at his friend, he seemed to notice me for the first time. “Well, what do we have here?” he raised his eyebrows at his friend who started to laugh silently.
“I’m Darren,” I said, not sure what else to say.
“Alex. Alex Daniels.” He nodded to the other guy. “That’s John.”
“So, you new in town, Darren?” John asked me. What a stupid question, because he clearly knew the answer.
“How could you tell?” I said back as I realized that these guys were part of the group hanging out in the parking lot before school. Maybe I could finally meet some likeminded friends.
“Kay, so we knew you weren’t from around here,” Alex said. “But we didn’t know you were so desperate for friends.” His chiselled cheeks, practically perfect jaw and dark eyes seemed to dig at me, as if he was examining and taunting me for the few seconds before he turned back to face the front of the classroom.
“Yeah,” John whispered through small lips. He had almost grey coloured eyes, blonde hair and a blasé expression on his handsome face. No wonder they have such hot girls hanging around them. “We saw you talking to the ‘Librarian’.” John’s whispered voice snapped me back to the classroom, stopping my mind from wandering, as it often did.
“What the hell are you talking about? What are you smoking?” Were these guys just screwing with me? I didn’t go to the Library. Why would I ever go to the Library? Me and books don’t really go.
“Laura,” Alex whispered out the side of his mouth. Mr. Brody was too entranced in his own lecture he didn’t even notice us talking, which was good. I liked stupid, oblivious teachers.
“She seems alright,” I said, instantly regretting it. I got the feeling that wasn’t the response they wanted.
“Alright?” John said, sneering a little louder than expected and Mr. Brody pointed a finger at him.
“Do you have something to add, Mister Redfield?”
“Nothing you won’t cover exceptionally better than I ever could,” John responded, garnering a few more snickers. Mr. Brody pretended the remark wasn’t meant as an insult.
“Yeah man,” Alex was saying to me. “Laura’s like a freakin’ geek. She’s into books and studying and all that shit. That’s why we call her the ‘Librarian’. That, and she’s got like no friends.”
John laughed, sure to keep his volume on low. “You look like the kind of guy who likes to have fun.” He paused for a moment and I felt his eyes on me, examining me like Alex had. He gave a nod to Alex, and the continued. “Laura’s idea of fun is a night in studying. She probably wouldn’t know a beer or cigarette if it hit her in the face.”
“No shit man,” Alex affirmed. “But that’s where we come in. We’re here for you, bro.”
I think I like these guys. They remind me a lot of a couple friends I had back in Washington. Man, I really miss those guys. We had some good times.
“Why don’t you have lunch with us today, since you’re such a cool guy?” A smile was raised on half of John’s face as he waited for my response.
“Why not,” I said. “Not like I have anything better to do.” It took them a few seconds to realize I was joking, and they both chuckled.
I watched the back of Alex’s head nod up and down. He didn’t turn around when he said to me: “I think we’re gonna get along just fine, man.”
The cafeteria felt so…small. Was this really all the kids in the whole school? It took me a minute to realize that this was really it. I guess when you’re just sitting in class you don’t realize how small the place actually is. It was kind of freaky, in a way. I felt like everyone knew everyone else’s face and I should, too. But I didn’t.
I just paid for my food – a slice of pizza, a banana and a carton of chocolate milk – and grabbed my tray off the counter. I turned around to look at the cafeteria, and realized I was just standing there like a moron looking at boobs for the first time. Well, it wasn’t really my own realization. What actually snapped me out of it was someone calling my name.
I turned around and saw Alex waving his hand at me. “Man, get over here,” he said, with an almost demanding tone. “Saved you a seat, bro!”
I nodded as I sat down across from him. “Thanks man,” I said, glancing around at the table. John was beside me, I realized, so I casually nodded to him. There were a couple other guys, one on each side of Alex, and some girls – the same ones from the parking lot – a little farther down the table.
“So, Darren,” Alex said to get my attention. He noticed my eyes were wandering. “This is Connor,” he said pointing to the brown-haired, blue-eyed guy on his left. He shot a thumb towards the guy on his right, a really slim, orange-haired guy. “This is Dave.”
“Hey man,” Dave said with a mouthful of pizza. “Where you from?”
“Washington,” I told him as I opened up my chocolate milk carton. I took a sip and savoured it for a second before I swallowed. I really loved chocolate milk. “D.C. Washington, D.C.”
“Yeah, yeah, we got it.” Alex was half smiling as he gulped back some juice from a plastic bottle. “So, why’d you move here?”
I shrugged, not sure what to say at first. Waiting till I swallowed my bite of pizza, I decided just to say it as it was. “My parents divorced. My dad was having an affair and mom wanted to move away from him.”
“I think you moved far enough,” John said, laughing. He was tracing the rim of a cola can with his finger, not looking me in the eyes when he spoke.
“My parents split, too,” Alex said. “While ago. Nice to get out, somewhere else.”
I shrugged again. “I guess so.” I didn’t know what else to say and apparently I wasn’t very good at making first impressions. “It’s nice here. Warm.”
“We gotta take you to the beach sometime, man,” Dave said right away. “Bet they don’t have anything like it in Washington.”
“Been once or twice already with my brother and sister,” I told, shoving more pizza into my mouth. “Didn’t have anyone else to go with.”
“Come with us, sometime,” Alex said. “We go there quite a bit.”
“Yeah, sure,” I said, trying to play it cool. “That’d be sweet.”
“Too bad you missed last weekend,” Connor said, the first time I heard him speak. “Every year on the last weekend of summer there’s always a huge party at the beach.”
They all started laughing, and John filled me in on why. “We all got so wasted. It was awesome.” Again, they laughed. I was trying to remember the last time I was drinking. It was definitely before the move.
“Yeah, it was fun until Dave barfed everywhere,” Connor said, laughing even harder. “Doosh can’t handle his alcohol!”
“Fuck you man,” Dave managed to say between bouts of laughter. “I’ll out drink you any day.”
“You’ll out drink anyone,” Connor said back. “You’ll just throw it up after.”
“Whatever man,” Dave said, stuffing the last of his pizza into his mouth. “Shit happens.”
“What about you, Darren?” Alex asked me. “You drink?”
“Oh yeah,” I said, thinking it was a stupid question. Doesn’t everyone? Well, everyone who wants to have fun.
“Of course he does,” John said. “Everyone does.” Amen,
“Except the Librarian,” Alex said with mocking smile. “Who Darren was trying to hit on this morning.”
“Yeah right, man,” I argued. “Not even. She came up to me.”
“Maybe her lack of a boyfriend is finally starting to get to her,” John suggested. “Or just a friend at all.” He pointed a finger over to the corner closest to us.
I looked over, shoving the last of my pizza in my mouth as I did. Trying to chew it all down, I saw here sitting at a table by herself in the corner. Laura. She had a textbook out she was reading from, and a notebook she was writing in. It was such a pathetic way to spend lunch, but I figured it was probably her own fault she had no friends. So why did I feel so sorry for her?
“Guys, I’m not trying to bang her or anything,” I said, trying to keep myself from smiling. “Just talked with her is all.”
“Sure, man, we’ll believe you.” John’s sarcasm was all too evident and Connor could barely control his laughter.
“She’d be an easy score,” Dave said. “In all honesty, it’s true. For anyone.”
“Sounds to me like Dave here has a hard on for Laura,” Alex jabbed. He leaned over and looked down, pretending to stare at Dave’s crotch. “Looks like it, too.” That’s when I lost it, too, starting to laugh with the rest of them. The girls at the table, who I still hadn’t been introduced to, looked unimpressed and I could’ve sworn I heard one mutter “boys”.
“I guess Dave’s hand hasn’t been doing the trick these days.” With John’s comment, Dave’s face started to turn red, but he was still laughing.
I’m not sure why, maybe because I thought these guys were cool, maybe I thought they were funny, but I wanted to join in. “I doubt she’s a very naughty librarian, though,” I said, which sent the others into obnoxious laughter. Eating, talking and laughing with these guys really made me forget that it felt like the whole cafeteria was watching me. It didn’t matter as much anymore, and I was hoping they’d want to be friends with me. After all the crap this summer, it’d sure be nice to have some friends again.
As our laughter was slowly subsiding, I turned my head to glance at Laura once again. I’m not sure why, but as soon as I did I regretted it. For just a brief moment our eyes met across the cafeteria and, for that moment, I felt a sharp sting of guilt.
I didn’t feel like going home right after school was done at three, so I went for a short walk around town. I already knew the place pretty good, but it was nice just to walk and think. I couldn’t believe that only one day of school had gone by; so much happened today, it’s awesome. I think I’m going to like Gold Beach. Definitely going to like my new friends today. But they weren’t on my mind so much.
I was thinking about what mom said this morning. About me finding a ‘nice girl’, and I keep thinking Laura is the kind of girl she would want me to be friends with. I didn’t want to be friends with Laura. Or was I just telling myself that? If I really didn’t want to be friends with Laura, why am I not able to stop thinking about her?
I tried to clear my head before heading home. I didn’t want to have to dwell on any of this tonight. Or ever. I tried to not let things bother me, or worry me, but sometimes I can’t help it.
By the time I got home – shortly after four – Brett and Sherry were already home. I barely got in the door before I heard Brett’s voice from the coach in the living room. “Where’ve you been?”
“Since when do you care?” I asked, pretending to be upset. Brett could tell I was joking.
I walked into the living room and dropped my backpack on the floor. Sherry wasn’t in the room. I assumed that she was probably in her bedroom. Besides, I didn’t really care where she was.
Brett turned his attention away from the television and stared at me, feigning an unimpressed look on his face. “I thought you’re school ends at three. Where’d you go for an hour?”
“Oh, sorry mom, I thought you were Brett for a second,” I joked, walking towards the couch. “Let me just tell you my life story.”
Brett shook his head. “Man, I really just want to know if you stayed behind with a girl. To, you know, “study”.” His face was overtaken by a sheepish grin and he started to giggle.
“Is that all you think about?” I asked him, falling down on the black coach beside him. It was true, though. He was always talking about girls. How he wanted a girlfriend or how just how great they are. I mean I get that’s he’s just starting puberty and the girls are…developing. But was I this horny and excited at twelve years old? God I don’t even know.
“Really, Darren?” Brett asked me, this time his boyish voice was free of sarcasm. “Of course that’s all I think about. There’s nothing else worth thinking about.”
“You think they’re hot now? Wait a few years.” I figured that would get him going, which was funny to see, and it did.
His brown eyes went wide and he looked a little embarrassed. “I wish I was seventeen. You get all the babes.”
I had to laugh. He really was obsessed. I wasn’t this bad, was I? No way I was. I reached over and punched him playfully on the shoulder. “Come on, man. Keep it in your pants. I don’t want to be an uncle yet!”
Brett looked at me, his face showing a mixture between a smile and a look of shock. “And you say I’m bad?” Then, without warning, he jumped up so he was standing on the couch and dived at me like a suicide bomber.
I caught Brett half-way, pulled him back down to his seat and put him in a headlock. He started to laugh as I started to squeeze. The tighter I squeezed my arms around his neck, the more he was giggling. His thin arms were flailing wildly until, finally, I let go. He was laughing for a few seconds as I fell back into my spot on the couch, until he punched me in the gut. It wasn’t very hard, but I cried out anyway and we both started laughing. It had been a long time since we’d had any fun together. A very long time. Last time we wrestled like that was more than a few years ago.
“That was fun,” Brett said as he sat back down. “But weird.” He looked at me with an expression of curiosity that I was very familiar with. “You’ve been different lately.”
“What do you mean?” I asked him, not sure how to feel about that.
“I don’t know,” Brett said with a shrug. The smile left his face.
I tapped him on the shoulder, trying to encourage him to talk. “Come on, you can tell me.” My eyes met his and I nodded my assurance. “I’m your brother, man. We’re buds. You can tell me if you want.”
He looked at me with a sudden sadness in his eyes. I wasn’t sure exactly where it came from, but a had some pretty good guesses. “Since dad left, you’ve been different. I don’t know how. And I know you and mom don’t get along.”
Oh, this was what he wanted to talk about. Great! “It’s just a lot to deal with,” I tried to explain. “Lots of stress and sometimes stuff happens. Me and mom fight just to relieve the stress.”
“She talks about you when you’re not around,” Brett said, like it was his duty to tell me. “It’s not nice things.”
“Brett, please,” I started, trying to find the right way to phrase what I wanted to say. “It’s not mom’s fault. She can say whatever the hell she wants. I’ve been a dick to her. I know that.” It was definitely hard for me to say, but I had to. If not for me, then for Brett. “It’s just a stress reaction. A lot going on and I take it out on mom sometimes.”
Brett nodded. I think he understood. Everyone was stressed from the divorce, but it bothered me so much more. Maybe because I was older and I’ve been in relationships before? I don’t know. I could tell though, from the expression on his face, that Brett wasn’t finished.
“Can I ask you something?” He was avoiding my eyes for some reason. What was up now? What the hell did mom tell him now?
“Yeah, man,” I said, nodding. “Anything. You know I’ll tell you the truth.” I would, too. Just for him. Brett really was a good brother, and he deserved to know the answer to any question he wanted to ask.
“Earlier this year, when we still lived in Washington,” Brett started. I noticed he was fidgeting with his fingers. Why was he nervous? “One night, you were out, mom was on the phone with Aunt Carrie. I was supposed to be in bed, but I couldn’t sleep and wanted some water. I got halfway down the stairs when I heard mom talking on the phone. I knew I wasn’t supposed to hear, so I didn’t want mom to know I was up.” He finally looked at me, a little guiltily. “I knew I should’ve just gone back to bed, but I sat there and listened because she was talking about you.”
“You don’t have to feel bad for that,” I said, feeling a little sick. My stomach felt like it was turning and my mind was running through all the different things she could have possibly. “If it’s something I did, it’s my fault, not yours for overhearing.”
“Mom just said some stuff about you and your friends that I couldn’t believe.” Oh shit. I could feel my stomach work against me. What did he hear? I tried to not let my nerves show as I waited for him to finish. “She said you and your friends liked to drink a lot and party and….” he looked away again, and he looked to be in deep concentration, like he was contemplating telling me or not. “She said you guys did drugs, too.”
And there it was. It was like someone stabbed a knife in my side. Now it was me who couldn’t look Brett in the eyes. I tried to find the words to speak, but nothing came. I didn’t know what to say, and I felt awful that he had to hear that. I mean, I wasn’t a druggie. I smoked a few joints, is all. There were a couple times when it maybe got out of hand, but just a couple. I didn’t even know mom knew…
“So you did do it, then?” Brett asked me when I hadn’t answered for nearly a minute. “I thought it wasn’t true.”
“No, man,” I said right away as the guilt I was feeling increased. What kind of role model am I? A downright shitty one, no doubt. But now I better tell him. I can’t lie to him. “Listen, Brett.” I finally found the courage to look back into his eyes and all I saw was a helpless look. I felt like I betrayed him. “Stuff happens, alright.” I had to take a deep breath, hoping it was going to calm me down. I could feel my hands shaking, vibrating on my legs. “It was only a couple times. When I was really down and I thought there was no way I’d be happy again. I was never addicted, or anything. It was only a couple of times.”
When he looked at me after I spoke, I couldn’t tell if he was upset with me or feeling sorry for me. I really hoped it was neither. I don’t want him to be mad with me, but I’d rather have him angry than feeling sorry for me. I don’t need anyone’s pity. “You don’t do it anymore, do you?”
“No man,” I told him, putting on a fake smile. “Not since we moved.” It was true. I didn’t have any friends who smoked. I wonder if Alex and those guys do?
“Darren,” Brett said, interrupting my thoughts. Why was I so easily distracted these days? My thoughts always seem to be wandering on nothing in particular.
“I want you to promise me, Darren, that you won’t do it again.” His face was stern. Whenever I forgot how old he was getting, it was moments like this that reminded just how mature he was.
I took a deep breath. Promise him? What if Alex smokes? I’ll look like a loser if I turn it down. Shit. Whatever, Brett’s right. “You know what, man? We have a promise.”
“Really?” Brett’s face lit up and the smile returned. I was glad that he was glad, and I tried not to think about Alex. My brother is more important than some guy I don’t even know. “Good,” Brett continued to say. “’Cause that shit is bad for you.”
What? Did he just say ‘shit’? “Excuse me, young man?” I said in a mock authoritative voice. “Watch your mouth.”
“Oh like you never swear, man!” Brett argued. He had a good point. Guess I’m not much of a role model. “And, come on. I’m in Grade 8 now. Everyone talks like this at school.”
“Really?” I asked. Really? Did we start swearing that young, too? I can still remember when we used to swear just because it was cool.
“Just a little,” Brett said, nodding. “The other kids swear way more than me. I think every second word out of their mouths is ‘fuck’.” Again, what? Fuck? Where is this coming from? Where’d my brother go?
“Okay man. I can’t really lecture you on swearing because, well, obvious reasons. No one wants to be a hypocrite.” That got him laughing again and made me smile. “But,” I said, raising a finger, “don’t let mom hear you or she’ll rip you a new one.”
“Yeah, I know,” Brett sighed. “Besides, I only feel like swearing when I’m at school. It was the same back in Washington. I guess I just wanted to fit it.”
“There’s nothing wrong with not fitting in,” I told him. That’s when I realized, though, that the people who don’t ‘fit in’ are the same people I always say are losers. What’s gotten into me lately? Why do I care so much about all of this crap? “No matter what people think of you at school, you’ll always be my brother and you’ll always be my buddy.”
“Darren, you’re a sweet brother.”
I couldn’t help but smile.
“Thanks for feeding your siblings, Darren.” Mom was standing with me in the kitchen, drinking a glass of water. She had just got home from work about five minutes ago, shortly after nine. She was a tall woman, just a couple of inches shorter than me. Her hair was dark like mine, and everyone said we had the same eyes.
“No problem, mom,” I told her. I didn’t feel like starting on my usual complaining. I was tired and just wanted to finish the dishes, which I was in the middle of when mom got home.
“I really appreciate all of your hard work, babe. Oops, sorry, you hate that word.” Even though my back was to her, I could basically feel her smile.
My hands were in the soapy water, wiping off the supper plates. There was leftover roast beef from the other night in the fridge. I had to heat it up for supper, as well as bake some potatoes and cook some veggies. I was turning into a veritable chef. Okay, not really, but I could do a lot with leftovers. Make it into a whole new meal. “Mom, it’s really okay. I didn’t have any school crap to do.”
“Okay,” she said, walking over to me and setting the cup down beside the sink. “I just want to make sure you know how much I appreciate everything you’ve done. All summer, Darren. We wouldn’t have been able to move without you.” I just nodded and kept washing, s she kept talking. “I got some good news today, though. Patty from the Doctor’s office is moving somewhere with her husband for his work, so her job opened up.” Mom was working as a night cleaner at an eye doctor’s office. She basically went to work every night from five o’clock, when the office closed, until nine, and cleaned the office. Because it was only twenty-four hours a week – the office is closed on Sundays – mom had to get a second job as a server at some diner, working from lunch time until about four.
“Patty was a receptionist at the office. They offered me her job. Full time hours. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are seven to three, and Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays are nine to five.” I hadn’t seen her this happy in a long time.
“Does that mean you can quit the diner?” I asked her. It would be good for her to just have one job. She’s going to wear herself out working two.
“I think so,” she told me. “I’ll get paid more to be the receptionist, so I’m hoping I can leave that diner. It’s really a crappy place to work, and Paul keeps hitting on me.” Paul was the diner’s owner. His wife was the cook, but apparently she was oblivious to all of his advances on the servers.
“That’s great mom,” I said, putting the last piece of cutlery on the drying rack. Dishes done. I pulled the plug on the sink and grabbed the hand towel off the stove. “That’s really great.”
“I know,” mom said, still smiling. “But, enough about boring old me.” She was still smiling when she asked me, “So, how was school?”
“Boring,” I said, hanging the hand towel back on the stove door’s handle.
“I’d ask how your classes are, but I don’t think I’d get much of answer.” I was going to walk out of the kitchen and head downstairs, but I knew there was more she was going to ask me, so I just stood there waiting. “Did you meet any friends?”
“Yeah,” I replied, nodding. “Couple of guys.”
“Are they nice?” she asked me. What, does she think I can’t find ‘nice’ friends?
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It’s not supposed to mean anything.” She shrugged her shoulders and I realized now she really did mean nothing. I guess she’s just curious. Then why is it so annoying to me? “I was just wondering if they were decent guys. Like, nice and fun. That’s all.”
“Yeah, they’re pretty cool.” I tried to sound not so frustrated.
“And?” she asked me, but I didn’t know what else she wanted me to say, so I said nothing. “That’s all you’ve got?”
“Since when do you care so much about my friends, anyway?” It’s really not neither her business nor her concern.
The smile was gone from her face, and she even looked a little hurt. “Darren, you’re my son. Of course I care.” She sighed. “I’m sorry I asked.”
“Are you done?” I really just wanted to get out of this kitchen and go downstairs to my room, where I could relax alone.
“I’m just trying to talk with you, Darren,” she explained, frustration starting to creep into her voice. That’s okay though, she’s always frustrated with me for one thing or another. “Is that too much to ask? You’ve just been so distant lately.”
“It’s just been a long summer, mom,” I said. It wasn’t much of an excuse, but she seemed to take it. “What did you want to talk about?”
Her face lit up a little more. “You. Your day. Did you meet any cute girls?”
I shrugged at first, not sure if I should tell her about Laura. I guess she could see right through me because she asked me what her name was. “Laura, I told her. But she’s kind of a nerd.”
“So?” Mom leaned against the counter and crossed her arms across her chest. “There’s nothing wrong with nerds.” Oh great, now all mom is going to want to talk about it Laura. I can just hear it already. “Don’t count her out just yet, Darren. Give her a try. Maybe you’ll be able to meet some nice friends for a change, not like your old ones from Washington.”
Here it comes already. She’s never met Laura, and now all of a sudden she’s going to be a fucking angel compared to my old friends? What the hell do they even have to do with this? “Something wrong with my friends, mom?”
“Old friends, Darren,” she corrected me. “And that’s a stupid question. You know I didn’t like them.”
Rolling my eyes I sighed and tried to control my temper. “You know what? I don’t even care what you think about them. That doesn’t bother me. But what do they have to do with anything?”
“I just,” she started, trying to figure out what she wanted to say. “Look, Darren, this is how I feel. I just don’t want you being friends with the same kind of people you were in Washington. It gets you involved in the wrong situations.”
“Why do you have to do this?” I found my voice was harsher than before, and my question came out more like a demand. “I don’t even know what you mean.”
“Don’t play stupid with me.” Mom’s voice had gone from calm and collected to sharp and disciplinary. I guess something I said must’ve pissed her off, as usual. “I want you to be safe and healthy. I don’t want a son mixed up with alcohol, sex and drugs.”
I could feel my heart start to beat a little faster and found myself clenching my hand into a fist. “Mom, everyone drinks. You’re just going to have to deal with it.”
“Deal with it?” She stood away from the counter and pointed a strong finger right at me. “I’m your mother, Darren. That means you’re the one who has to do the dealing.” I watched her arm fall down to her side, and I decided not to say anything in response. “And you know damn well it’s not the alcohol that I’m most concerned with.”
“I don’t do drugs, mom.” I was trying not to yell, I didn’t want to upset Brett or Sherry, but I couldn’t help it anymore.
“Don’t even lie to me.” Mom’s voice was raised too, and I could tell she was real pissed at me now. “I deserve more than your lies. The least you could do is be honest with your mother.”
I was going to slam my fist into the countertop, but at the last minute I decided against it. I ran my hand through my hair instead, to keep it occupied. “I don’t want a lecture.”
“Well too bad because now you’ve ticked me off.” Her arm was back up and her finger was back in my face. “As much as you think so, I’m not an idiot. I know you used to smoke pot with your friends.” Oh my God. This is ridiculous. I’d rather not have this conversation, but I don’t think I have much of a choice.
“I didn’t say you were an idiot.” I didn’t even get the whole sentence out, though, because mom cut me off half way through.
“I’m not finished.” Her voice was louder and sterner now, and I knew the rest of my evening would be ruined. “I knew about the pot, just like I knew you were sleeping with that little tramp.”
“That’s not fair, mom,” I argued back. “She was my girlfriend. Don’t call her a tramp.”
“Fine, I’m sorry.” She didn’t sound very apologetic, but I knew it was the best I was going to get. “It doesn’t matter, because I knew what the two of you were doing together.”
“We weren’t having sex, mom!” I can’t believe this. Why should I have to deal with this shit? Some days she makes me so angry I just want to punch something.
She looked at me with that disapproving look she was very good at – the one that I was very used to seeing. It made me feel even worse, which just made me get angrier. “I can tell when you’re lying, Darren. It’s a little trick us mothers know.”
She’s just trying to get me going. There’s no way she knows about anything I’ve done or haven’t done. Is there? How could she know, though? She doesn’t know anything.”
“Oh, now you don’t have anything to say?” I could see her mouth start to open, and I knew she was going to say more, but I beat her to it.
“Screw this!” It wasn’t really much, but I put all my anger behind it and I could tell by the expression on mom’s face that it had the desired effect. “I’m tired of this fucking bullshit.”
“Darren James Harrison!” When she used my full name, she wasn’t just pissed off, she was really pissed off. “You watch your language, young man. I don’t want to hear any more of that garbage come out of your mouth! Now you’re going to listen to me! The past is over and I want to talk about now. And I am telling you right now that you better get your act together, or this will not smooth sailing for you! Do you know what means, Darren? You better pick your friends real well and make sure they are respectable. If I ever find out that you’re pulling any of the crap you pulled in Washington, you can get out of my house. Am I clear?” Her tone made absolute certain that I would respond with a simple ‘yes’.
“Good,” she said after a long pause of heavy breathing. “Now get out of here and go to your room. I can always count on you to ruin a good day.”
I walked past her, heading for the stairs, which were just outside the kitchen. I desperately wanted to make a final comment, piss her off even more, but I didn’t want this conversation to go on any longer. So I just went downstairs to my room in silence.
I got down the stairs and headed for my room, my hands still clenched with anger. Now I was mad, and I was going to be thinking about this all night. What a way to ruin a night. I don’t get why she’s so concerned. It’s really none of her damn business who I want to talk to and who my friends are. We don’t run around murdering people, so I think we’re okay. She just doesn’t understand. I doubt she will.
When I got in my room, I shut the door behind me and started to play some music. After a minute or two of pacing, I threw myself on the bed and tried to clear my thoughts. What a stupid fight anyway. My friends in Washington weren’t that bad, were they? I wasn’t that bad, was I?
That’s when I remembered the look on Brett’s face this afternoon when I confirmed that yes, indeed I had smoked pot with my friends before. I shouted out a string of bad words. It felt good to curse out loud, and I accompanied it with slamming my fist into my bed. This was stupid.
I pulled out my cell phone from my pocket and checked the time. Ten after ten. I wasn’t ready to go to bed yet, either, so I just laid there with my eyes open staring at the white ceiling. It was plain, flat and full of shadows from the lights. Almost like my life, I thought to myself – plain and boring. Except it wasn’t really like my life because at least the ceiling had some use for this house and this family. Me – not so much.
I’m not sure how long I laid there for; I didn’t checked the time when I got up.
My thoughts were a mess, covering a hundred different things all at once – mom, Brett, the divorce, the move, Washington, Gold Beach, my old friends, Alex, Laura and more. It was hard to follow and I couldn’t keep up with everything I was thinking. I finally decided to get off the bed and get ready for sleep.
I pulled my socks off and threw them the corner with the rest of my dirty clothes. My shirt was next and it went in the same pile. My jeans were still good to wear another day, so I tossed those to the other side of my room. My underwear went to the first pile and I was about to pull on a pair of pajama bottoms when I suddenly decided I wanted a shower. Maybe that would help relax.
I left the pajama pants on my bed and opened my door to the dark basement. A cool draft blew against my body, but it felt nice because I had gotten so worked up yelling with mom. That was another reason why I liked the basement. It was cooler than the rest of the house, and California was so freakin’ hot.
I headed across the floor, trying to think of anything but tonight. Before I got in the shower, I stopped to look in the mirror. I desperately wanted to reassure myself that everything was going to be okay, but I just couldn’t. Somehow I knew it wasn’t. I saw the empty look in my eyes and I had to turn away.
I made sure the water was hot and when I stepped inside, it felt good. My muscles were tense and this helped to relax them. I tried not to think about anything while showering. It worked, mostly, so it was nice just to relax. I didn’t bother actually washing myself or my hair because I knew I was going to have a shower in the morning before school. I just wanted to relax.
The water was steaming, probably hotter than I usually had it, but I didn’t notice too much. I mostly just stood there, letting the water do all the work. I really hadn’t had much time to relax like this. I also didn’t realize how much strain was on my body. Nearly all summer, I had done the bulk of the moving, carrying of heavy boxes, setting all the furniture in place and so on.
When we first moved here, I had to carry all of the boxes downstairs. One by one, as we were sorting through stuff and putting it in its new home, I had carry each of the boxes back upstairs. And there was the cleaning, also. When I wasn’t moving boxes I had to dust or vacuum or sweep. I felt like a maid or something, only I wasn’t getting paid so it was more like being a slave. Brett helped with stuff, he was a good duster, and Sherry did a little, too. But, it usually took less time if I just did it by myself.
I guess I hadn’t even realized how hard I had been working this summer. I had had no friends, so I didn’t notice because I was home all the time and I never had to miss going out to do housework. I’m hoping, though, that mom will get that receptionist job and be home more. Besides, now that I’m school, I can’t do everything either.
Here I am, thinking of all of this again, not sure of how much time has passed. I finally realized how tired I was, so I shut off the water, reached through the shower curtain and grabbed my towel. I felt a yawn coming, and realized my body was yearning for sleep. I really didn’t know how long I had spent in the shower, but it felt pretty late.
Towel wrapped around my waist, I headed back to my room. My music was still on, and I quickly turned it off. I didn’t want it to disturb anyone sleeping upstairs. I finished drying myself off in my room and was too lazy to take my towel back to the bathroom, so I just let it fall to the ground. Slipping into my pajama shorts, I collapsed onto the bed.
The last ten minutes of my evening I spent writing in my journal. It’s a good stress reliever, because I feel like I’m actually talking to someone, but I knew I could write whatever I wanted because no one was going to read it. That was the nice part. I thought it was weird that I had this journal, but it really helped me keep some things in order. The weight that was lifted from my mind every night I wrote was enough to make it worth it. I knew that if I didn’t have this journal, I would’ve probably been on edge all the time, and my and mom would’ve torn ourselves apart by now.
Finally I closed the journal and stuffed it back in my desk, under my clothes. I had a sudden flashback to me hiding those condoms in my room, and relieved my shock that mom knew about them. But a journal was different than condoms, though, and mom knew I wrote in my journal. Even if she ever found it, she respects me enough not to read it. That I knew for a fact.
I took another deep breath, turned the lamp beside my bed on and then flicked my ceiling lights off. I went back to my bed and pulled the covers back. They were soft and cool, just how I liked them. I climbed underneath, still shirtless. I always slept without a shirt. I switched the lamp off, and then darkness was around.
I took one more deep breath before I finally closed my eyes and went to sleep.
Not The End