Inside My Soul

By Courtney Hanner Hundrieser All Rights Reserved ©

Other / Drama

Chapter 7: Sweetbriar Lane

Leo

April 18, 2017

I jump into my jeep to go pick up the last load of stuff from our old house to the new townhome. Yes, my new townhome. We moved out. My mom dropped the bomb and finally left my dad yesterday.

I could see it coming for ages now. My mom had been acting all gooey and depressed for years, and my dad just didn’t care. It’s not much of a surprise, really. All I know, is that when I marry Becca Wheeler one day, well I probably may marry her . . . nope, I am pretty sure I will. But we won’t ever get divorced.

Becca is my girlfriend. Well, maybe I should say semi-girlfriend. She says we’re not “serious” yet. We have been “hanging out” for about a year, ever since the beginning of our senior year. She is in the cool crowd, and I’m stuck half way somewhere between the goons and the cool kids. I sorta bounce back and forth, I guess. But Becca tells me she likes that. She used to date Henry Gates, but they broke up cuz he started dating Lindsay Flanningan. But now all of a sudden, big ole’ Henry wants to get back together with Becca. And Becca says that’s never going to happen. We haven’t met each other’s parents yet, so it’s kind of weird. I took her to prom this year, but ya know . . . “it” didn’t happen. She doesn’t believe in having sex until we are in the “seriously dating” category. But I had never been to prom, so I’m glad I finally went for my senior year. Junior year, I didn’t bother asking anyone. I guess I was too scared. Well, not really, I just didn’t like any of the girls, until, well, Becca came along.

“Hey mom, here is the last box of stuff.” I carry it up the stairs and set it among a stack of twenty other boxes. Ugh, this townhome is weird. The place sucks. My room is the size of a closet.

“Leo, come over here. Bring me that box, is that the kitchen stuff?” she hounds.

“Yeah, I think so mom. Mom, this place is so . . . um . . . Why did we have to move here? Couldn’t dad have moved out instead?” I ask.

She turns a total deaf ear to my comment.

“These boxes are heavy, mom. What’s for dinner?” I ask.

“I just made some chicken and pasta. It’s on the table, Leo,” she looks at me in that total mom-like manner.

I walk over to the kitchen. This place is tiny. It’s just embarrassing. Ugggghh. I sit down at the table and pull out my cell phone. No missed calls. I am surprised my dad hasn’t called to check on my grades yet. That’s usually the first thing he asks me. I look over at my mom, who is frantically unpacking and decorating the place. Her hair is crazy disheveled, she looks like she hasn’t slept in weeks.

“Mom, I’m tired. I going to bed,” I tell her.

“Ok, Leo, get a good night sleep. Don’t you have that Math test tomorrow! Have you studied?” she yells from down the stairs.

“Not yet,” I yell back as I enter my room.

I sit on my bed and start writing Becca a letter. We write letters to each other almost every day. I just write them, because she gets mad if I don’t. One time, I hadn’t written her back, and she didn’t speak to me for a week. So, I just write ’em. I mean, I would really just prefer to call her, but her parents are really strict, and they don’t let her talk on her cell unless it’s the weekends. So, we write letters and exchange them after second period. That’s when I see her at school usually, because her Math class is across the hall from me, and after that, our classes are in different buildings all day.

Becca,

How are you today? I am sitting in bed, writing you this letter. I’ve been thinking a lot lately and wonder where we will be next year when we are both in college. I still want to date you then. Let me know what you think? I loved your hair yesterday. You looked smoking hot as always. I haven’t heard back yet from any colleges. Have you?

P.S. Is Henry still calling you every day?

May 3, 2017

I drive in and pick my favorite spot at the back of the parking lot and park my jeep. The parking lot is full, and I look at all the cars lined up in front of the football field. I usually roll in kind of late. You could say, last second. The cool crowd gets here about fifteen minutes earlier and they hang out at the front of the parking lot before the bell. I don’t.

There is a chill in the air this morning. I throw on my fleece jacket and swing my backpack on and run up the stairs, two steps at a time, to the building. The bell is about to ring. I look back at the parking lot. There’s Henry’s car over there to the right. I can see it. It’s all dented up, because he wrecked it last week, I heard from Sarah who has English class with him. She says he is failing all his English tests. She knows, because she sits behind him and she can see all his papers. She says his grades are so bad that he may not even go to college next year. He might live at home and work for his dad. I don’t really feel sorry for him. Truth be told, Henry scares me a little. He is fearless. He gives me these evil threatening eyes in the hallway like he is about to kick my ass at any time. I just keep walking, totally ignoring him. One time, he walked up behind me to my locker and punched it hard. I just put my books in my locker and turned away like it didn’t bother me.

There’s a big math test today. Trig. I didn’t really study for it. My study tactics are pretty easy. I usually go to all the extra study sessions and develop an outline for the test a day before. I don’t even study for it at home, I just study the outline in the class right before the test. It works every time. I have never made a B in my life—straight A’s all through. My dad once told me to go up to the teacher’s desk and tell them I was born with a hearing deficiency, so they would feel sorry for me and I’d get some extra help on the side, which really means, pass me. But I don’t do stuff like that. It’s stupid. I don’t need to. My dad, eh, we don’t talk that much. We used to. But, we don’t at all anymore. He is too busy with work and I’m ok with it, honestly, I am.

“Put all your books and stuff away, get out one sheet of paper and pencil, and wait for the test. I will place them face down on your desks. When I say ‘time,’ everyone turn your tests over and begin. You have forty minutes. When you are done with the test, turn it back face down on your desk, so I will know you are finished, and then I will come pick it up,” the teacher says in a robotic manner.

“Hey,” Frank Sanders whispers over to me from the front row.

“Hey, Leo, I heard Henry wants to take you down,” he whispers.

Frank Sanders is one of Henry’s best friends. He is in with the cool crowd.

I look back at Frank, “Yeah we will see about that.”

I look down reverting all focus on my test.

Letters-numbers-symbols effortlessly roll off my pencil like a breeze.

Done.

I turn it over face down on my desk. I watch everyone’s pencil scribbling formulas laboriously across their test papers.

After the bell rings, I go out to meet Becca in the hall. She is wearing a plaid hair-thing in her long brown hair; she has some sorta French braid thing going on. I don’t know what you call it, but she is hot! Her tan skin is almost glowing from underneath her uniform and she walks up to me with her usual sway. My heart starts to race, “Here’s my letter.”

She takes my letter and places the one that she wrote in my bag. She is always a step ahead of me. I walk with her through the hall to the end of the building and open the door for her. She smiles at me and then gives me a sweet little parting giggle. I think I love her. WHAT? What did I just say? Geez . . . I need help.

“I will see you after school in the parking lot,” she winks at me.

“Hey, Becca, will you walk with me to Krispy Krème after school?” I ask her.

“Sure,” she says as the wind blows through her khaki skirt. She is so freaking hot.

I turn around and start running to 3rd period— Spanish. Ugh. Definitely not my favorite.

I can’t wait to read it, so I open up her letter while running.

Leo,

How are you today? My sister dropped me off at school today in case you were looking for me in the parking lot. My car is in the shop. Needs new tires. Also, I wanted to tell you that Henry is still calling me, and I am not calling him back!

I just want to tell you that you’re the best boyfriend I have ever had, and you make me feel special. I want you to meet my parents on graduation day, and I want to meet yours too. Then after that, we can become serious. I think that’s the final step that needs to happen. Oh yeah, there is a bonfire party this weekend, Friday night, back off Sweetbriar Lane. Meet Lisa and me there at 8 pm. Don’t forget!

XXOO, Becca

I race into Spanish class as the bell rings, and I jump into my seat, slamming my backpack under my desk and propping my head on my arm. My Spanish teacher walks over to me with her flaming red hair, speaking in that high-pitched rolling accent, “Leo, next time you are not in your seat when the bell rings, you will be marked tardy.”

“Esta bien,” I mumble.

After Spanish class, I hit the bathroom real quick. Not paying attention, I accidentally bump into a guy wearing a gray hat who is coming out of the first bathroom stall.

“Watch it, dumbass,” his voice darts at me with hate.

I look up. Holy shit. It’s Henry.

“Hey, sorry dude,” my vocal chords feel like they’re cracking.

Henry looks at me with intimidating blue eyes. He is about a foot taller than me and a whole lot bigger. His body language speaks cockiness and arrogance. What scares me about him the most is that his personality almost seems to scream the words “I have nothing to lose.” Which means, he is capable of anything.

He looks me in my eyes and grabs me by the neck, “If you don’t break up with Becca, I will break you up in half,” he threatens. He loosens his large fist, letting go of my neck.

All I can do is swallow the big lump forming in my throat.

Thank God, he turns around to leave the bathroom, slamming the old wooden door with unnecessary force.

I try to walk over to the stall, but my muscles are in an acute state of shock. John Walsh walks in. He is one of my best friends. One of the goons.

“Man, it looks like Henry almost ripped your head off. Leo, dude, maybe you should just break it off with Becca. Y’all aren’t serious anyway, right?”

I try to collect my thoughts and walk to the sink. I turn on the water, letting it flow until my head clears.

I turn around, “John, I don’t know, ok. Just let me make my own decisions.”

I walk into the stall and yell over the door, “Oh yeah, John, meet me at my house this Friday. We are going to a party!”

The rest of the day flies past like a shooting arrow and I run out to my jeep after the final bell on Friday. I haven’t been able to get the image of Henry’s fist around my throat out of my mind. I look at my cell phone. No missed calls. I am going to need to talk to him soon. I need advice. I can’t remember the last time I went to my dad for advice. It’s been like years. And I don’t go to my dad for many things, but right now, I really need him. I can’t talk to my mom. I know what she’ll do. She is so protective, if I tell her, she will ride up to the school and cause a scene in front of everyone. Ugh . . . total embarrassment! I hit the call button. Ring, ring, ring, ring— “Hello, this is Benjamin Lawrence Investments LLC. I am unavailable to take your call right now, please leave a message and I will return your call promptly.” Beep!

“Dad, this is Leo. Listen, I really need to talk to you about some things. It’s important. I am in danger. Can you please call me back? Bye, Dad.”

May 5, 2017

Ding-dong. “Leo! John is here, downstairs!” my mom yells. I run downstairs and we both stand in front of each other, wearing the same button up shirt. Uh, nope.

I turn around and run back upstairs. I check my cell phone. No missed calls. My dad still hasn’t called back. Gee thanks. I throw on a different color shirt and check my hair in the mirror.

“Ok, ok, hey John,” I yell as I come running back downstairs. John is now talking to my mom in the kitchen.

She is still wearing her ridiculous work clothes and she is walking around the kitchen, stressing over everything. “Are these all the groceries in our refrigerator?!”

“You’re eating too much, Leo! I just bought groceries and poof, they are practically gone! I only have so much to spend now, so please eat proportionally!” she says right in front of John.

I feel my ears burn.

“Come on John, let’s go,” I demand.

“Be home by 10:30 p.m. or else you’re grounded Leo!” she yells as we leave.

We both jump in my jeep and drive as fast as possible to good ol’ Sweetbriar Lane. It’s a street all of us high schoolers know about. It’s way out, past the back roads on the west side of town. It’s a dead-end street that was never developed all the way, and a field has grown past the end of the street, backing up against miles and miles of forest. The cops don’t really mess with that area unless they see cars parked up in the front of the road. So, everyone knows to park all the way at the end of the street—the very back and inside the woods.

I’ve driven out here a few times, but I haven’t actually attended a party on Sweetbriar. I have just heard about the parties. In other words, us goons would drive up and down the street during the parties but we never parked and actually went.

I look over at John while we drive up and circle the dead end. I see the nervousness starting to spread across his face.

“Come on, man. Let’s live a little. We are seniors! Who cares if we don’t roll with their crowd. We can’t finish high school, never having been to one of these parties. After this summer, we won’t even see these douches again,” I explain in my most persuasive tone.

My father always told me I am a good debater and speaker and that I could persuade the best of them.

“Ok,” John squeaks.

I park the jeep at the edge of the woods, and we both slide out onto the gravel road. I can hear my boots crunching along the rocks, while we walk further into the woods over towards the field. I can see the orange flames through, the trees and I hear Led Zeppelin playing.

Two guys come stumbling up to us, “Well, hello, hello.” They laugh and walk past us.

I see a large crowd around the fire, and the sky is pitch dark now.

Becca spots us through the opening in the trees and comes running over in her skinny jeans. She has a beer in one hand, and she grabs my arm with the other.

“Hey you two!” she gasps.

All three of us walk over to a side of the bonfire. I grab a beer out of a cooler. I don’t even know whose cooler it is. I just know I need one in my hand to look cool.

Pphhssssssssst! I crack open the beer. I take a big gulp. Ugggh, gotta love hot beer. Tastes awful, but I drink it anyway.

John grabs a beer. Ppsssssssssst . . . the metal tab detaches from can and beer foam immediately explodes all over his shirt. He laughs like a dork.

I look around and there is a group of girls standing on the other side of the fire. They are whispering and giggling as they stare at a group of the “cool guys” playing flag football. It’s funny watching them. It’s so obvious who each of them is sweating. But they think they are inconspicuous.

I whisper in Becca’s ear, “Is Henry here?”

She whispers back into my ear, cupping her hand over it, “No, he is in trouble, I think, at home I mean. He is grounded. He isn’t coming.”

A big wave of relief washes over me. I relax and chug my hot beer down.

John piles more sticks and twigs on the fire.

I watch it blazing, about nine-feet high in the air. The orange flames are dancing. Shadows from the fire pulsate, twist, and curl high above the group of girls.

A couple of girls I’ve never seen before are sitting on blankets to our left.

“Are you having fun?” Becca asks.

“Yeah.”

And I am. I am enjoying the loud crackles of the fire and the smell of the smoke wafting through the air.

I like watching the sticks at the bottom of the fire burning red and slowly turning into gray ashes.

I see a glimpse of the moon through the canopy of trees. It’s a slender crescent. I watch its luminous glow in the dark night.

My stomach turns with excitement.

I swig my beer again.

“Let’s go talk somewhere, “she says in a suggestive but super cute tone.

I grab Becca’s hand and walk her to my jeep.

“Get in,” I smile.

We both crawl into the jeep and I put on our favorite Cure song. “A Thousand Hours” plays softly as I look at her face. We have traded Cure songs back and forth so many times. We teach each other new songs all the time. I usually replay them over and over when I am alone and just think of her. She told me once that she does the same thing. I can see her inching over towards me, so I wrap my right arm around her shoulder.

“How many beers have you had, Becca?”

“Three, well maybe four,” she giggles.

I can smell her beer breath, and all the breathing inside is fogging up the windows a little bit.

“And you?” she asks, kind of slurring her words and tossing her long brown hair around.

“Yeah, like six so far,” I lie. I have only had two. Somebody has to drive home soon.

I pause for a minute. A slow song is next on the playlist, and I kinda feel a flutter in my stomach. Why does this always happen around her.

My stomach is turning and fluttering.

“So, about your letter . . . you think if we meet each other’s parents, we can get more serious?” I ask. I couldn’t hold back any longer. I had to ask.

“Yeah” she says looking into my eyes.

“I want you to meet them. And then after I meet yours, then we will be you know—together—together—serious,” she says.

I look out through the front windshield.

“Becca, I need to tell you something,” I confess like it’s the biggest secret in the world.

“Yeah?” she looks deeply into my eyes as she taps her fingernails on the middle console of my jeep.

“Yeah, um, you see . . . I wanted to tell you this, but I haven’t yet. My mom left my dad, and we kinda moved out this week.” It feels so good to have that off my chest. “We don’t live in Providence Neighborhood anymore. We moved into a small townhome off Brent Road.”

I take a deep breath.

She looks at me with the most love I have ever seen in her beautiful green eyes and smiles.

She doesn’t say a word. She reaches over slowly and starts to kiss me all over my mouth. Over and over. Oh shit.

I am in heaven. My soul is on fire. Nothing could be better than this very moment of time. Swirls of emotion start to rise up through my stomach and into my chest. It kinda feels like opening a million Christmas presents all at once. The biggest conquest of my life is sitting right in front of me as I run my fingers along her soft skin. I take control and kiss her back deeply and passionately. And then . . .

Knock-knock. Knock-knock.

I hear the rudest knock of my life on my window.

I jerk around.

A large face is smashed up against my jeep’s foggy window. The face laughs and starts to lick the window up and down.

I open the door, “What the . . .?”

“Well, well, well . . . if it isn’t little Leo the lion and Becca . . .”

Holy shit, it’s Henry.

Henry bangs his head against the window and challenges me, “Step out of the love shack, Leo. We need to have a little talk, bud.”

“I thought you were grounded,” Becca yells. I step out of the jeep.

Henry grabs me by the collar of my shirt and slams me on the ground. I can feel the mud in my teeth.

I stay there. I don’t want to look up. I don’t know whether to bury myself in the ground right now or get back up.

“Get up little Leo,” he snarls.

I can hear a crowd of people who are now standing around us yelling. “Fight. Fight. Fight . . .”

Finally, I get up almost stumbling over my feet again.

“Leave him alone,” Becca yells. Her face is white as a ghost’s.

Henry raises his fist in slow motion and pretends like he is about to punch me in the face. And then, he stops, holding his big fist, right in front of my eyes.

“This is my last warning,” he threatens. “I will give you one final chance.”

Then he spits in my face and walks over to the bonfire.

I grab Becca and lead her back to the front seat of my jeep. I open the door for her. John is already in the back seat, his feet propped up and his mouth hanging wide open.

I crank the ignition and drive them home. I don’t say a word. Becca tries to hold my hand, but I grab my cell phone instead. No missed calls. He still hasn’t called back. And to make matters worse, it’s 11:30 p.m., and I will probably spend all of next week, grounded. Awesome.

May 6, 2017

9:00 a.m.

I wake up in a funk. I feel humiliated. I wipe the dried blood crusted up and around my nose. My first party on Sweetbriar Lane, and I end up face down in the dirt. Even my teeth are sore. What’s worse is that Becca and entire cool crowd were standing right in front of me.

I don’t want to go to school on Monday. I just want to go find a dark cave somewhere and never come out. God. This sucks!

Ding-dong. The doorbell rings, and I get up to look out my window to see who is at the front door. Who is . . . who is . . . who is that? It’s a guy with long hair done in a hippie-like ponytail. He is holding a leash.

I run downstairs and open the door.

“Hey maaaaaa’n. Hey dude . . . I live next door. And, man. My dog got loose . . . uh, have you seen him?” he asks.

This guy is already annoying me. He takes five minutes to get a simple sentence out.

“No,” I’m almost about to shut the door, but then I ask, “What does your dog look like? In case I see him.”

“Well, he’s got . . . he’s got like . . . long shaggy hair. It’s white . . . and . . . and . . . he’s about this tall, and like . . .”

“Ok, that’s enough. I get it. I will bring him over if I see him around. Ok? Bye!” I shut the door.

I walk into the kitchen and pour a big-ass bowl of cereal. I sit down and shove as many tablespoons of Captain Crunch in my mouth as I can. Damn, I just want to cry in my bowl of milk.

I am pitiful. Life sucks right now. The flat screen in the living room is on, and it’s, oh my favorite of course, the news channel. My mom loves the news. It sucks her in somehow.

What’s the hot topic for today? Lemme guess, a mass shooting or terrorist attack. It’s a sad world we live in, worse when you watch the news.

There is one tiny little piece of Captain Crunch floating on the milk. Should I leave it? Or eat it?

Bark . . . bark . . . bark . . . bark . . .

I look out the back window from the living room. A ball of white shaggy fur is flinging across the yard from here to there.

Bark . . . Bark . . . bark . . . bark . . .

There he is again. He runs back and forth diving into the bushes.

“There is a dog out there! He is chasing a squirrel!” my mom yells from her bedroom upstairs.

“I know mom!”

I will go fetch him, I guess. I don’t think my neighbor has enough brain cells to find him, to be quite honest.

I slide open the screen door and walk out to the back patio.

Bark . . . bark . . . bark . . . bark . . .

The dog has a squirrel cornered at the edge of our patio. Just as he turns his head to look at me, the squirrel races up a tree on the other side of the yard.

“Oh, bud. He got away. Come here. How did you get loose?”

I manage to pick him up and carry him over next door.

Knock . . . knock . . .

The door flies open.

“Well, hey . . . man . . . you found him . . . like where did you even find him, man?” he slowly asks.

“Here, he was in my back yard, see ya!” I squelch.

“No . . . man . . . like, come in for a second . . . I gotta show you something, man. You’re gonna like it . . . like, it’s really cool,” he says.

“Um yeah, ok. Make it fast. I am not in a very good mood,” I walk in. “What is it? And seriously, what’s your name man?”

“Dreadscol is my name” he says slowly.

“Huh? I haven’t ever . . .”

“Well, it’s not really Dreadscol. It’s Paul. But don’t call me Paul. Call me Dreadscol” he scoffs.

“Um, yeah, ok,” I say.

His dog barks and then lies down on his bed beside an elongated brown dirty-looking couch.

I take a second and look around the townhome. It’s totally weird in here. There are blankets draped up over the windows. I guess those are supposed to be curtains. And there are stains all over the carpet. Pizza boxes are stacked up all around the kitchen counters. There is some sort of lava lamp on the counter, and it’s whirring weirdly.

“This is what I wanted to show you, man. This lava lamp! Like . . . do you want to buy it?” he asks.

“Is this a joke?” I chortle at him.

“No, man. I am serious as all get out. Do you want to buy this lava lamp, man? Like . . . dude . . . look at it. It’s worth about fifty dollars man,” he snorts.

“Um, yeah. I will make it simple for you. No. Now I gotta go,” I blurt out as I wipe my nose.

“Look man, I really could use the money,” he says.

“No.”

“Wait sit down for a minute, man. You need to cool yo jets man. You are like—so uptight man,” he says.

I look at his bloodshot eyes. His hair looks like he hasn’t showered in days. And his jeans are ripped so bad the threads are dragging along his dirty carpet. He looks in his mid-twenties, I think. But I can’t tell for sure. I am not good at that kind of stuff.

He takes a big bite from a piece of cold pizza.

“Who do you live with? Is that your mom, man? She is . . . like she is kinda hot,” he says in a deep voice.

“What?! My mom is like forty-five years old! How old are you? Who are you, creep?! What’s your deal?”

“Ok, man . . . chill . . . man . . . chill. I am twenty-five. I live with my girlfriend. She works at Domino’s pizza. I don’t work right now, man. Like, I am looking for a job,” he says.

I sit down on the couch. “Um ok, look. I am sorry I am being so blunt. I am not myself today. I had a really bad night, and . . .” I wipe my nose.

“Man, chill out and relax for minute. What, like, happened last night, duuude?” he asks.

“I went to a party, and there was this guy who used to date my girlfriend, he almost kicked my ass in front of the whole party, and I am…”

“AWWWWWWW no! That didn’t happen, like, did it?” he seems concerned, genuinely.

“Yeah, it did. It happened. It was bad, man. My girlfriend was standing like right there . . .”

“AAAAAWWWWW NO,” he sulks.

I hear the dog whimper in his bed.

“Yeah so, I am all gloom and doom right now—unless—” I pipe up with an idea.

“Unless, I can hide from Henry somehow for next few weeks, I think I can . . .”

“No, no, no, no—like, you can’t do that man,” Dreadscol says. He pulls out a clear zip lock bag. “Take one of these,” he says.

“What is that?” I ask.

He opens the bag and pulls out these little brown dried up chunks.

“They are mushrooms. Shroomies man . . . like, dude have you eaten one before?” he asks.

“No, I mean I have eaten a real mushroom, but—”

Dreadscol laughs so hard he has tears in his eyes.

“No man. These are the psychedelic type of mushrooms. They aren’t like regular mushrooms. They will change your life,” he says.

“Eat one,” he points to his mouth.

“Yeah, no I . . . I don’t—”

“Listen, man, these give you new ideas and thoughts you have never dreamed of. These might just give you the answer to your dilemma man, like dude, these could give us the answer!” he yells all excited.

I scrunch up my nose, the bone feels partially broken. I tilt my head back. All I can think of is Henry walking towards me with that huge fist and then pounding me in the face. I can just see the ambulance racing through the school parking lot. Sirens going off. And I see Becca’s face, mortified, sitting there beside me in the ambulance.

I grab that little brown dried up mushroom and chew it up. Gulp.

“Ok, ok, ok, ok, man. Naaaice! like, I will eat one with you too, man,” he says.

We both sit on the dirty couch, and he turns on some ridiculous comedy show.

I twitch around for a few minutes. “I will be right back,” I say. Then I run across to my place, swing open the door, grab my cell phone, jam it in my pocket, and run back over to this dude’s dirty place, plopping back down on the couch.

He is laughing at the TV.

He hands me a Sprite. I crack open the can. “I don’t feel anything. I don’t get what this is all about,” I say sarcastically.

He laughs. “You will soon, broooo,” he says.

I look over at the dog. His face looks like it’s angry. I rub my eyes a little. I look back again. And he looks like he is talking to me. He is saying, “Gotcha, you fool!”

What?!

My hands start to feel lighter and it feels like a weight is pressing down on my head. I hear a tiny humming, or is it whistling, inside my head.

Oh damn.

The air becomes slightly smoky, a little blurry.

“Hey man, like I apologize, I forgot to ask your name!” he speaks up suddenly.

NAME, NAME, NAME, NAME . . . The word rolls in and out of the air mysteriously.

“Huh?” I squint at him.

“Your name?” he asks again.

I look at his face; he is laughing. Crap, I think he can see inside my head. He knows what I’m thinking. I don’t want him to.

I turn my face away. He knows I’m just a skinny high-school dork that doesn’t fit in with the cool crowd.

As I try to distract my chain of thoughts, I get up to walk to the bathroom stumbling in through the door. I shut it fast like a scared little puppy. I hear something. The police are coming! I hear them behind the door. This is all a set up! Dreadscol is part of some sort of scam, yep.

Uggghh.

I lock the door.

What am I thinking!? This is nuts.

I sit down on the toilet seat and look up at the light reflecting on the mirror. It looks weird. I see an image. Oh damn. It looks like—like—like—an angel! Omg! It is an angel!

I look back down at my hands again. Ewwww. Are those my veins? I never noticed the veins in my hands before. Weird! The veins are so blue. They are bulging out of my arms. Ugh! I don’t wanna look at it.

I unlock the door and run back to the couch.

“Man, sit down, man. You’re freaking out . . . like, dude. You’re bugging out. You’re gonna have a bad trip if you don’t relax,” Dreadscol says.

Ring . . . ring . . . ring . . . ring

My cell phone vibrates and rings at same time in my pocket.

My eyes light up like saucers as I pull out this weird bar out of my pocket. It’s Becca!

Should I pick it up?

Swipe. “Hello,” I mumble.

“Hey, Leo! I have wanted to call and talk to you all day. I am so sorry about last night.”

No response.

“Leo, it’s Becca. Are you there?” she asks.

“Yeah,” is all I manage.

Dreadscol starts laughing again. He pulls out a big pipe kinda thing and starts slurping up a mouth full of smoke, coughing non-stop.

“What is that noise?” Becca asks, sounding very worried.

“Huh?”

Tap. Shoot, I hung up on her. My finger just did it on its own. I can’t seem to talk. I can’t even manage to speak more than one word in a sentence. It just won’t come out. I’ll call her later.

“Hey y’all!” The front door bursts open.

A girl walks in through the kitchen door. She shuffles through some of the pizza boxes.

Hssss. Dread, which one of these pizza boxes can I throw out. They are all piling up. Hsssss.”

She keeps making a hissing noise. What on earth is that?

She walks over to us beside the couch, “Who’s this, Dread?”

“Oh, like, yeah, man . . . this is um, our neighbor,” he belches.

“Oh, yeah? My name is Tee Tee,” she hisses again. Hsssss.

Hssssss. She walks up to the TV and changes the channel to the QVC channel and plops on the couch.

I can’t help but laugh. She has three tiny pony tails on the top of her head. She is wearing these baggy sweat pants and old high-top shoes. Her make-up looks like a clown got stuck in a hurricane. Her hair is like a weird brownish-purple color. Geez.

Hssssssss. “Dread, did you feed that dog?” she hisses.

“Yeah,” he squabbles.

I start laughing, I mean, hard and I can’t stop laughing.

After about five minutes of hardcore laughter, I pluck out my cell phone again. No missed calls.

I look at the wall behind an old CD player and receiver. CDs are scattered all over the floor. I walk over and bend down sorting through them. “Who still has a CD player anyway, these days?” I laugh.

“This guy man.”

“These are awesome. All old stuff. Love it. There’s the Cure! Hey, can I play this?”

“Yeah . . . like, play whatever you want man!” he says excitedly.

I flip the disc in.

“Figure head” plays through the speakers. I can feel the music seeping into my body.

I think about Becca again. She feels so far away in my head. Maybe, I should keep pushing her further and further away. Feels different, but I kinda like it. I’ll just push it all away. The pain fades.

I take a sip of my Sprite.

And maybe, I should just let Henry win. You win, Henry. Maybe, that’s the answer I am really looking for. You can have her.

I lie back on the couch looking at the ceiling taking a couple of deep breaths.

Hssssss. “You like the Cure, huh? Listen to this one,” his girlfriend yanks out the CD and plays a new one.

“The Same Deep Water As You” blares through the room.

I can’t stop thinking about Becca. Her long brown hair blowing in the wind. I can even feel her soft kisses on my skin.

My stomach starts fluttering again.

May 7, 2017

The rain is beating against my window. I wake up.

“Leo!” my mom screams outside my door.

I wipe my groggy eyes.

“Leo! Leo! Look outside your window!”

I roll over and look outside my bedroom window. Rolls of toilet paper have been unleashed all over the trees, the yard, and even a tiny side of the townhome wall. It has to be over two hundred rolls. The humiliation starts.

Knock . . . knock . . . knock . . .

She busts through the door like drinking ten Red Bulls.

“Leo, get dressed and come outside with me. Right now! We need to start cleaning this up! We got rolled!”

My feet hit the floor, and I slide over to my dresser onto the hardwood floor. I get dressed and mope downstairs in a haze.

There is only one person on my mind—Henry.

May 15, 2017

The school bell rings. I race down the hall. I have all my books in my bag. I mean, literally, all of them. My back is killing me. I don’t change out my books anymore. Matter of fact, I don’t even go to my locker any more. Nor do I walk through the halls. I run outside the buildings to each class. Not the halls. Except, second period. Just that one. But I don’t talk to many people nowadays. And I pretty much avoid everybody except Becca after second period. Even with her, I don’t spend as much time as I used to. I just get by.

Ok, all I need to do is get through these last few weeks of school without seeing Henry’s monstrous face. I can do this. Yes, I can.

Then, my thoughts blow off in another direction and I imagine him kicking my ass in front of the whole school, and I start to sweat. Oh, man.

I run into history class and bury my head in my arms on my desk. The teacher hands out the final exam study guides, and I tear a piece of paper from a notebook and put it on the study guide.

Dear Becca,

Today at the school assembly, I will be in the back row on the far right. Don’t come up there and sit with me. And you know, maybe with us, maybe we should just chill for a while. My head is spinning lately. Too many things are going on, things are mixed in my head. And as for graduation, I’m sorry but you won’t get to meet my parents. That’s not going to happen. Maybe another time.

I am sorry,

Leo

It’s no use. I can see the writing on the wall. My parents aren’t going to be able to meet Becca at graduation. My dad hasn’t returned any of my calls. My mom is stressed out all of the time about her new job. She wears these weird gray colored dresses. I don’t even know if I want Becca to meet them anymore. And right now, it will probably do more harm than good.

It’s sixth period, and I hold my head down and walk into the assembly. The whole school is in the gym, and it’s our annual end-of-the-year pep rally. I hop up the bleachers and scurry all the way to the back row. I walk over to two guys with long hair who are already sitting up there. They are secluded and off to a side from the rest of the row. Oh, It’s Blake Rouse and Paul Windover. They are losers. I scoot around them and sit at the end of the bleacher. They stink. I can smell the cigarette smoke reeking from their clothes. I heard that Paul has failed the 12th grade three times. He looks like he is about twenty years old, so it’s probably true.

I slouch down and look across at the whole school sitting on the bleachers below me. I can see Becca sitting on the left with her group. Everyone is laughing and talking. Except Becca. Her face looks solemn and broken. Her long brown hair is loosely hanging around her babyish face as she stares off into the crowd. She puts her left index finger on her mouth and squints her eyes. She always does this when she is thinking deeply about something.

The cheerleading squad comes barreling into the gym doing summersaults and flips across the floor. Candice White stands on top of another girl and starts cheering at the top of her lungs. Candice is one of Becca’s best friends. It looks like Candice will fall at any moment, but she doesn’t. It always looks like they are going to fall when they stand on top of each other like that, wobbling in the air and holding their short arms and muscular legs out so straight. I try not to laugh.

One time, I asked Becca why she wasn’t a cheerleader. She says she tried, but she was too tall and lanky. Becca ran track. I had gone to all of her track meets this year except one. That day, I was sick. I like Becca just the way she is. I love her long legs and long arms and the way she waves them in the air when she is excited. And her lips, when she isn’t smiling, pout like a little girl.

The principal walks out to the gym floor in her tacky blue suit and heels. Every time she speaks, I get sort of nauseous. Her voice has this tiny mousy fake pitch of happiness, and it has the capability to make one sick to their stomach—Mrs. Langley—she raises the pitch higher and higher at the end of every single sentence, so it goes up each time. Very strange.

As Mrs. Langley begins a slideshow of school pictures, I look around the gym for Henry. My anxiety increases. I see the back of his head. He is sitting ahead of me, on the second row. The curls in his hair have grown out, and they are hanging out from his blue hat. Of course he would be wearing a hat. We aren’t allowed to wear hats inside the school. But somehow, he gets away with it. He keeps looking at Becca and back at the pep rally. He looks like an angry beast. My chest tightens. I slouch back a little further into the bleacher. Blake and Paul start laughing like Beavis and Butthead, and I pull my cell phone out of my jeans pocket to make sure it’s silent. No missed calls.

After the pep rally, I walk out to my jeep with all my books, because I skipped my locker again for the sixtieth time. Just as I open the door, a light tap on my shoulder startles me. I drop my keys.

“I had a talk with Becca, and she says you two are taking a little break. Aawwwww, that’s so sad. So, since you two are on a little break, I decided to ask her out this Friday. And guess what. She said NO! So, I just thought that this Friday I will instead give you a gift. From me to you,” Henry is raging mad with both hands tightly squeezed in a ball.

He raises his right fist backwards. “And guess what it’s gonna be?” he growls.

“It’s time Leo. I have been waiting for this all year. Meet me in the parking lot this Friday before school. 7:45 a.m. sharp. We’ll see who can kick the other’s ass first. Don’t try to escape this either. If you do, I will find you. I have told everyone. They all know. And they will all be waiting for us in the parking lot. And if you don’t show up, I will come to your house. Oh, wait. Not your big beautiful house anymore, is it? I will come to your new townhome where you stay with your mommy,” he taunts and then laughs.

“Fine,” is all I say to him.

“I WILL find you Leo. I know where you live. I’ll be on your front step—waiting.” he delights in his own evilness.

Without flinching, I get in my jeep and kick it into drive, staring at him in the rearview mirror. What in the name of hell am I going to do now?

I pick up my cell phone and decide this is the last time I am going to call him. Ring-Ring. Ring-Ring. Ring-Ring. Ring-Ring. Ring-Ring . . . “Hello, this is Benjamin Lawrence Investments LLC. I am unavailable to take your call right now, please leave a message, and I will return your call promptly.” Beep.

I park my jeep, run upstairs, slam my bedroom door, and lock it. I blast my music and lie in bed trying to swallow all the pain.

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