The music pulses through my cheap earbuds and into my head, calming my nerves. As I look around me at the presently empty hallway I can’t help but feel more at ease. Being alone always feels right. Always feels safe. If too many people are around I get nervous and scared and confused at what to do next. So music and no one around always feels right.
It would be even better if I had a book.
I thought as I turn a corner and look up at the ceiling, becoming enticed by the lights above. Every time my eyes land on another light I can feel my pupils shrink before expanding again when the light is gone. My vision soon becomes spotted with dark blue and purple splotches that turn to lighter colors like orange and yellow when I blink. It makes me smile a bit at the weird feeling. Closing my eyes I lower my head and stop walking as I bring my hands to my eyes. I push the heel of my hand onto my eyelid and rub as if it will help when in actuality it just makes my vision black. It takes a few seconds but once it's gone I continue my walk back to my period 3 English class.
I stop just short of the door, and pull my iPod out of my pocket and hit pause. Immediately I'm enclosed in the silence from the hall. There’s a faint noise coming from the classroom no doubt from the teacher talking but that’s barely audible thanks to the thick wood door. I pull my earbuds from my ears and let them drape over my shoulder. The absence of my music is unsettling but I bite the inside of my cheek and prepare myself for opening the door. When I do I know that the teacher will stop talking for a few seconds and everyone will look to see who it is.
Pulling in a deep breath I open the door and walk inside keeping my head low. I can feel their eyes on me as I walk and my face heats up from the unwanted attention. I bite harder onto the inside of my cheek and just try to walk normally.
They don’t see.
I tell myself.
They can’t see.
Soon enough I’m in my seat and no longer the eyes are on me. people are back to paying attention to the teacher who is giving his lesson on William Shakespeare. Someone we learn about every year.
My hands go to my pink mechanical pencil and I start fiddling with it and doodling on my purple William Shakespeare note taking paper. I had already completed it yesterday at the library after it had been handed out. There was really nothing for me to do. My ears twitch with the want of having the earbuds and my head throbs a bit with the absence of the usually loud music, but I keep myself from reaching for the iPod. If the teacher sees it out he will undoubtedly take it from me and keep it until the end of the day. That is unfavorable. My music is to me what coke and meth is to addicts. It’s my drug.
The clock ticks by the seconds and I continue to doodle until the teacher brings up the homework assignment. That’s when I look up. He writes it on the board and I almost smile as I realize that it’s finishing the rest of the note packet.
I thought smugly. It always feels good to be ahead of things so I try to be. Especially when it comes to school. I have to stay ahead in school to keep my grades up. Finally the bell rings signaling the end of my 3 period class. I stay in my seat as the others stand and gather their stuff. I’d rather not bump into any of them. Once there's only three people left, including the teacher, I stand and put my earbuds in before gathering my books and leaving the classroom.
As I walk down the hallway towards the cafeteria I keep to the sides of the hall and keep my head low. I hate crowded places and the people that are in them. They’re all strangers, even if we go to the same school. I pull in a deep breath through my nose and release it slowly from my mouth as I focus on the music pumping into my head. I say the words along with the singer and it calms me. Before I know it I’m in the cafeteria and searching for my usual lunch table.
The table is in the back corner of the cafeteria. It’s a secluded spot where people rarely sit if they have to. I, however, enjoy it. It’s my sanctuary aside from the library. I reach into my pocket and pull out my iPod. It’s nothing special, just one of the older models. There are scratches on its back and it’s obvious that it’s old. The color is a dark green which is actually my least favorite color but it’s best not to look a gift horse in the mouth. I got it a few years back from my aunt. She had found out my fascination with music and gotten it for me along with the iTunes cards to get music.
I scroll through my playlist until I decide to just re-hit the shuffle button. The music stops for a split second before coming back on. It’s not overly loud, in fact I can still hear the noise from everyone in the cafeteria talking. To remedy this I crank up the music all the way and instantly, the people talking vanish and I’m alone again with my music.
Pulling out my history book I put my feet up on the other chair at the table and get comfortable as I start to read tonight's homework.
If it hadn’t been for the countless students getting up and leaving the cafeteria, I think I most likely would have missed my afternoon classes. I stand up and stretch out the kinks in my body before picking up the rest of my books and leaving to my next destination, the library.
My free period, or study hall as the teachers like to call it, is the one I look forward to the most. It’s when I get to relax, however it goes by way too soon for my liking. I practically skip through the halls and jump up the steps, eager to get there.
As soon as I step through the door I feel like I can breath again. The weights on my shoulders seem to lift and just vanish from my life. Books are my salvation just as music is my drug. No matter what type of book it is, I can always escape inside of them and forget about the real world.
I hurry over to my small corner of the library and set my stuff down before going off in search of a good book. As I look around other students start to enter. Some having to finish projects or homework, while others just want to hang out with their friends. Everyone ignores me which is fine because I try my best to ignore them. Key word is that I try.
It’s not easy for me to ignore people even with my music turned up to full volume. I’m still tuned in to how close or far someone is to me or how their eyes might follow me. I just have this feeling that makes chills race up and down my spine and has my stomach doing somersaults. If someone gets too close to me I immediately jump away as if they have the black plague because to me they do, only it’s worse in it’s own way.
I move over to the fiction section and browse the books. Even though I can get lost in any book I prefer fiction just because it’s always funny in it’s own way. I love reading about the characters and listening to them and their own problems. I love how the author, if the book is written well, lets me escape to the characters world even if it’s only for a few minutes at a time.
My hand lands on a particular book called “Faking Normal” and it grabs my curiosity. I pull it away from the shelf and browse over it. The cover really grabs my attention and something inside me twists as I look at it. I know people say don’t judge a book by it’s cover but sometimes people can’t help themselves and right now neither can I.
It looks interesting.
I thought as I open up the hard cover and read the excerpt on the inside flap. I’m immediately sucked in and I decide that this will be the new book that I start to read. Happy with my decision I take it to the front library desk. On my way I pull out my earbuds and turn down the music so that it’s barely heard.
There’s a guy standing behind it who can’t be any older than I. His hair is a dark black and curls just a bit at the ends. It seems to hang slightly in his eyes which are a dark green. The same as my iPod really, however these eyes seem to hold something that my iPod's color does not. I can’t help but stare into them as I walk up to him. I’m stuck in a tans for who knows how long until he finally speaks up.
“Can I help you?” He asked and I immediately look away and down at my book a bit embarrassed. The guy doesn’t seem to mind though.
“I, um, this book, I would like to check it out.” I said as I hand him the book. He takes it and looks it over. I watch him again, this time looking over the rest of him. He’s tall, probably a foot taller than I am which would put him at 6’ something, I don’t remember my exact height. He’s wearing a baggy grey sweatshirt which matches my baggy thin grey jacket. He’s also wearing dark blue jeans that are worn beyond belief, though I’m not one to talk considering.
He looks up from the book and smiles slyly.
“Doing research?” He asked as he puts the book down. His smile sends chills running down my spine and I’m not sure if they’re good or bad. I look away and at the computer.
“My student number is 2017639.” I mumble keeping my eyes locked on the computer screen. He’s quiet for a second but then brushes off my brush off and types in the number. He clicks on my name and scans the book's bar-code before opening and stamping the card.
“It’s due back on September 12.” He said handing the book back to me. I take it and nod slightly before turning to leave. I feel his eyes on me the entire time until I duck behind some book shelves and take refuge at my corner spot.
The rest of the day is boring besides the book. Even though I’m only on the third chapter it’s still really good and I’m already a fan of the main character Alexi. Just for a second at the end of the day I wished that I rode a bus home so that I could continue to read the book. I immediately regret the thought however and carefully place the book into my worn bag. For a minute I fear that the bag may break from everything that’s in it but when I realize that it’s not that heavy I sigh with relief.
“I don’t know what I would do if this one broke.” I say to myself and then think about it.
I’d probably just duck tape it.
I thought as I place the earbuds in my ears and turn the volume up all the way. Closing my locker I turn and walk down the almost deserted hallway. The students are most likely all on their buses or are already walking home.
As soon as I step outside I’m hit by an almost overwhelming heat and I’m glad that My jacket is thin. It still doesn’t stop the sweat from forming on me almost instantaneously. Stopping I take a black hairband from my wrist and pull my light brown hair into a high ponytail though it doesn’t exactly take the hair from the back of my neck. It’s still long enough to cover it. I tsk in annoyance.
“I should probably just cut it all off.” I mutter but then remember the heat won’t last much longer and winter will be upon us. “Maybe not.” I reconsider. Winters here in Virginia tend to get pretty gruesome in the cold department.
Shrugging I make a left and head towards where the school buses enter in the morning. As I walk I keep my head up since there are really no more people out. I start to make out a figure leaning against the school building though. At first I don’t recognize him without his sweatshirt but then I realize that it’s the guy who was behind the library desk.
I lower my head once again as I pass by him wishing to become invisible. I know it doesn’t work though because I can feel his gaze on me as I hurriedly pass by. Thankfully he doesn’t stop me.
He has no reason to.
I tell myself. When I’m far enough away I lift my head back up as I walk, never once looking back at him.
I get home about ten minutes later. I hold my breath as I pull open the front door praying that it doesn’t make any noise. I don’t want to wake my mom or dad. Luck is on my side for it makes no noise as I pull it open. Quietly I step in and turn towards the door as I close it slowly. Again it makes no noise.
As soon as the door is closed I’m shrouded in darkness from the foyer. However there is a dim light coming from the living room just down the hall which means someone is watching the T.V. This sends more chills down my spine as I gulp. Hornets knock around inside my stomach as I tiptoe towards the light. The stairs are just past the living room. I quickly pause my music and I’m overflowed with silence and the muffled sounds of the T.V. However they grow louder with every step that I take. My pulse quickens as I get closer to the light.
I peek into the living and look towards the recliner and the couch. My father is passed out and my mother is no where in sight which means she’s either out or in her room upstairs. I pass the living room and tiptoe up the stairs towards my room. As soon as I’m in the room I sag against the door with relief. I don’t bother to turn on my light and just walk over to my desk. Setting my bag beside my desk I open it and pull out my bio homework. It’s only two questions. Some people may have thought they required a lot of thought however they’re pretty simply. I answer them easily and relax back in my desk chair.
There isn’t any other homework.
I thought happily as I put away my bio and take out the book I got from the library. I’m just about to open it to read a few more chapters when my room door bursts open startling me into dropping the book on the floor as I stand in a haste from surprise. My mother comes in, in a drunken stupor, stumbling all about with a lit cigarette between her fingers. She looks around, her eyes passing over me. For a second I think the darkness has hidden me but then her blue eyes land on me. It takes a second before they seem to focus but when they do she scowls.
My mother may have been beautiful once but any traces of it are long gone. He hair is a grey mess that is always tangled. Her skin has a nasty color to it as well, probably from barely getting out at all. I know her teeth are tinted yellow permanently as well. She is skinny but not in the good way.
“You brat!” She yells, her words a bit slurred. I flinch a bit and take a step back. “You didn’t do the damn laundry!” She yells coming towards me and stumbling the entire time. “How many fucking times do I need to tell you to do the damn laundry until you get it through that thick skull of yours?!” She slurs and I flinch at her cursing. I never did take to the words. They always sound vile to me. Evil, in a sense.
“I’m sorry.” I say as I continue to walk backwards until my back hits the wall. The I just start shrinking in on myself.
“Yeah? You're sorry?! Well that ain’t gonna get my laundry done now is it?!” She says stopping in front of me. I shake my head at her question.
The laundry. Why did I forget about the laundry?
I ask myself as I shrink back into my thin jacket.
“It ain’t gonna get it done.” She repeats herself and looks confused for a moment. I try to step away from her then but she's not drunk enough to miss me. Her non cigarette hand whips out and catches me across the face. I feel her dirty nails dig into my right cheek and I see stars for a moment as I lift a hand to my cheek and lean against the wall. “Don’t try to walk away while I’m talking to you!” She yells at me, spit flying on my face. I flinch and shrink back. “Turn around! You need discipline and I got it right here.” She said waving her lit cigarette around in the air. Some of the ash falls from it and sizzles when it hits the floor. I don’t move, paralyzed from my fear. She scowls at this. “BURT!” She yells for my father and my whole body spasms from this.
It takes a few minutes but then I hear his heavy footfalls as he comes up the stairs and into the room. My father is a somewhat grizzly man with a scruffy beard that needs to be shaved . He has a small beer belly that’s visible from his white stained shirt. His teeth are an ugly yellow from smoking and not brushing them. He has muddy brown eyes that are barely ever focused.
“What?” He asked as he scratches his head. Those muddy brown eyes go from me to my mother.
“She needs to be disciplined but she isn’t listening to me.” She said with her slurred voice. Those eyes focus in on me again and I shrivel at the look he’s giving me.
“Why don’t you ever listen? Is it that hard?” He growls as he walks over to me. I try to make myself disappear but it’s no use. He grabs me by my wrist hard enough to bruise and I whimper at the pain. “You do this to yourself dammit!” He growls as he pushes me down to the floor. My cheek is rubbed into the carpet and I feel tears prick my eyes as my jacket and shirt are pushed up. The cold air kisses my back but not for long as I feel a pain opening up in the center. I cry out only to have my face pushed deeper into the carpet. The pain is almost unbearable. It’s hot and stings. I hear the sizzle the cigarette makes on my back and it’s the same as when the ash hit the carpet. If it weren't for the carpet in my face I would probably smell my skin burning as well.
“Please.” I cry but it’s muffled by the carpet. I don’t know how long it is until I feel my father's hand leave me and my bedroom door close. They’re both gone without another word but I just stay there. Too scared to move in fear of them coming back in and of the pain that I will feel from the fresh wound.
Pushing up a bit I sniffle and wipe away some of my tears only to have them replaced by new ones. The pain in my back isn’t too bad as I stand. I realize that it’s only when I bend forward or back that it hurts the most. I don’t let my jacket or shirt down from where the pushed it up to however. I hold it up with both hands. Heat will only make it hurt more. I pull the shirt and jacket up and over my head before going to my closet and pulling out a thin grey camisole. I gently pull it on and wince at the slight pain but overall its bearable.
I go over to my bedroom window and open the thick curtains letting in the sunlight so that I may survey my wrist. It’s already turning an ugly shade of black and blue. My index finger presses on it lightly and that even hurts it. Pulling away I let my eyes survey the rest of my arms, they’re spotted with bruises in different stages of healing and I flinch at how ugly the look on my pale skin. My hand goes to my cheek and I can only imagine what that must look like. Letting the curtain close I go back over to my desk and pull out a small mirror I have hidden away before going back to the window. I look in the mirror and sigh as I survey they two thin lines or red. As my index finger brushes over them the blood smears and I finch. There's a bruise forming around the thin cut.
“I’ll need a bandage from the bathroom.” I whisper to myself as I look at the door and then back out the window. The sun is just starting to set. Letting the curtain close again I hide the mirror back in my desk before picking up the book. A single tear burns my face as I notice that a handful of the pages got bent and my stomach twists. “I’ll have to keep it at school.” I said as I take the book and sit in a corner of my room as I wait for my parents to fall asleep or go out.
I wake up to the alarm on my dresser and immediately silence it. A cold sweat starts up over my skin and I ignore the pain from the wound on my back.
Did it wake them?
I wonder as I wait, scared to even breath. After about another five minutes I sigh and get out of bed going over to my closet. I pull out my thin grey jacket and put it on over the camisole. I’d rather not risk the added heat of another shirt. I also pull on another old worn pair of jeans that also have holes on them in various places.
As soon as I’m dressed I grab the mirror from my desk and take it over to the window. My cheek is still black and blue and a bit swollen but the bandage I put on it keeps the scratches hidden.
It’ll be okay.
I thought as I hide the mirror again and pull on my ratty sneakers before grabbing my bag and carefully putting it on my shoulder. My iPod is slipped into my pocket and I hide the earbud cord inside my jacket before zipping it up. I pull my hair to one side of my neck before putting up my hood and leaving my room.
Quietly I sneak down the stairs and into the laundry room. I put a load in the washer and sit in the corner as I wait for it to finish. For the next forty five minutes I listen for anything hinting at either one of my parents waking up thankfully there's no such noise. As soon as it's done I put it in the dryer and get on my way to school. I know I’ll make it because that’s what my alarm is for. To wake me early enough to do anything that needs done in the house before school starts.
Ten minutes later I’m walking up to the school building with my head down and music blaring in my ears. It’s hot already for it being morning but I know the heat won't last much longer. It’s almost October.
Yesterday the heat didn’t bother me as much as today. I try to focus on the music and the lyrics but its almost impossible from the stinging I’m getting from the cigarette wound as my sweat goes over it. My nose starts to itch with fresh tears but I suck it up and push them down. I take a deep breath thru my nose and slowly let it go from my mouth.
You’re in control of your emotions.
I tell myself just as I run into someone. I go still before moving away quickly and looking up. My earbuds leave my ears as I pull them out and look up. The guy from yesterday stands in front of me.
“Ah, um, I’m….sorry.” I said quietly as I lower my head again and quickly move past him and towards the entrance. “I need to get something cold on my back.” I whisper to myself.
Sometime later I make it to the girls bathroom. I quickly wet a paper towel and go into a stall before lifting my jacket and camisole. Gently I place the wet paper towel onto the wound. It feels good and I sigh and lean forward against the stall door. Every few seconds I have to move the paper towel to get a new cold spot.
Eventually the warning bell rings and I pull the paper towel away before unlocking the stall and stepping out. No one is there which is a relief. My back starts to sting again but this time it’s easier to ignore. I pick up my bag and throw the paper towel away on my way out.
My first three periods go by as they usually would it’s my lunch that takes me by surprise. Sitting at my table is grey hoodie guy. He’s relaxing in the chair with his legs spread out beneath the table. His eyes are closed and he seems to be asleep but I’m proven wrong when I get closer to the table. Those green eyes look at me and I meet them head on, confused.
“Why are you sitting here?” I ask as I pull my earbuds out and set my bag down. He shrugs.
“New scenery.” He said as he looks around. My stomach does more flips as I sit down as far from him as I can. I would find a new table but I know for a fact I wont be able to find any so I have to put up with him, whoever he is. I feel his eyes on me as I take out my history book. “That’s a pretty bad bruise. How’d you get it?” He asked and my hand comes up to my cheek. I’d been asked this question a lot already by teachers.
“I tripped.” I repeated the lines I’d rehearsed last night. They sound real and not made up as they had then. My eyes go to his for only a second before they go back to the history book. I put my earbuds back in and hit play. The volume goes to full before I sigh and start reading.
More than a few times I can feel my stomach growl from the smell of the food but I ignore it and stay concentrated on my history book. I don’t know how much time passes before I see a shadow and look up. There's a hand and I flashback to last night. My heart races and I jerk away from it out of reflex. My earbuds are ripped from my ears as my chair tumbles to the ground with me in it. The sound echoes out through the cafeteria. Thankfully most everyone is gone and only a few people look back in curiosity.
My body shakes a bit as I look up at the sweatshirt guy. He’s obviously surprised from my reaction and I scramble away from him and to my history book. Nothing is messed up with it and I close it, thankful that it’s alright. I stand up and gather my stuff before looking at him.
“Sorry, you startled me.” I said before lowering my head and moving past him quickly. Somehow he catches up with me and I look up at him feeling a tiny bit annoyed. “Can I help you with something?” I asked.
“No.” He said looking back at me.
“Then why are you following me?” I asked as we both turn down the same hall.
“Did you forget? I help out at the library.” He said and I feel stupid. He does, I saw him yesterday. I lower my head and speed up my pace trying to get away from him but his long legs only help him to keep pace with me. By the time we both get to the library I’m out of breath.
I never was the athletic type.
I thought as I look up at him. He’s smiling, obviously amused at my attempt to get away from him. I scowl and hurry to my corner. Thankfully he doesn’t follow me there, no doubt because of his library duties. After a few seconds of moving around I finally get comfortable with the book and start to read.
Too soon the bell rings ending my escape into the world of “Faking Normal”. I sigh as I put the book back in my bag.
It was getting good too.
I thought as I remember the way Bodee had managed to help Alexi out of the closet and helped her to count the vent spaces.
“Too bad no one like that exists.” I mutter as I walk towards the library doors. Standing beside them is sweatshirt guy and I lower my head as I try to become invisible. It doesn’t work.
“I can still see you.”
“Then I must be doing something wrong to be drawing your attention.” I answered him and I hear him chuckle. It’s a nice sound. I try to walk fast again but it’s pointless with the people in the hallway. When he continues to follow me down the same hallway again I look up. “I know we don’t have class together.” I said.
“No, we don’t but my class is down the same hallway.” He said simply. By now the hallway is relatively clear and I rush down the hall, surprising sweatshirt guy enough that I actually get away from him. I escape into my classroom and take my seat in the back of the classroom, resting my head in my arms.
What’s up with him?
I wonder. It’s the only question going through my head the rest of the day until the final bell rings. That’s when reality hits me.
“I didn’t fold the laundry or do the dishes.” I whisper to myself as I’m overtaken with fear. I don’t even wait for the room to clear out I hurry towards the door and as soon as I’m through I take off down the hall. “Please still be asleep.” I beg under my breath as I race towards the stairs. I feel peoples eyes on me but thats the least of my worries. As soon as I’m outside I pull my hood up to hide my face and hurry down the sidewalk. Obviously my hiding trick is futile seeing as sweatshirt guy still recognizes me.
“So where’s the fire?” He asked and I can’t help but smile at that. However It quickly disappears as I remember. I don’t answer him, instead I try to run faster. He easily keeps up which just annoys me more.
Why does he have to follow me?
I asked myself as I stop. He also stops.
“Don’t follow me.” I said quietly. “Just leave me alone!” I yell as I look up at him but then flinch from the injury on my cheek. I think he’s surprised at my sudden outburst. I kind of am too. I rarely raise my voice anymore. A lesson a long time ago taught me to be quiet. He doesn’t answer for a long time so I hurry off.
I have better, more important things to do than deal with him.
I thought. Sweatshirt guy doesn’t follow me at least I don’t think he does and I’m relieved that when I get home and turn around that he’s not there.
“Hopefully he got the message loud and clear.” I whisper as I quietly open the front door. There’s no sound, not even the T.V. is on. “They must be taking a nap. Good.” I said as I go to the kitchen and start cleaning the filthy dishes. It takes me all of an hour but when their done I feel a weight lift off of my shoulders.
Going to the laundry room I start to fold the clothes when I hear a creaking from the floor above. My entire body freezes up as I hear his heavy footfalls move about. It takes a few minutes for them to get to the stairs but when they do they move down slowly.
Go to the living room. Go to the living room. Go to the living room.
I chant silently but he doesn’t go to the living room he goes past the living room. I shrink into a corner on the laundry room shielding myself with clothes. He passes by without a glance and goes into the kitchen. I let out I breath I had been holding and go back to folding the laundry as quietly as I can.
I’m almost done when he yells,
“Ridley!” I jump at his deep voice but stand up and scurry over to the kitchen. If I’m too slow he’ll get angry.
“Yes?” I asked. He looks up from the fridge and at me his eyes not focused.
“Were out of beer. Go get some.” He said and I swallow a lump in my throat before saying,
“I’m too young to go into the liquor store.” I feel a pain in my side as I’m thrown to the right. I land on my stomach and cry out. Tears prick my vision and travel down my face. His hand clamps down on my hair and lifts me up.
“Don’t back talk me girl!” He growls and I whimper as I feel the bruise form on my side. He tosses me back onto the dirty tile floor before leaving. It’s quiet for a few seconds and then the door slams closed. I stay there crying silent tears for a few minutes before pushing myself up and going back into the laundry room and finishing the laundry. Once that’s done I hurry up to my room and close the door before going to the window. Putting my bag down I open the curtain and lift up my camisole and jacket. On my right side the bruise is already forming. I whimper again just looking at it before going over to my corner and curling into a ball.
It’ll be okay.
I tell myself as I pull my bag over and take out the book.
I hope you enjoyed these three chapters of Ridley & Jay. If you would like to read more of the book please buy it on Amazon!