Everything about Steven Lero pisses me off. His obsession with music, his stance on the books I read, his stupid habit of collecting Sobe caps in his back pockets, and especially the way he can get me to laugh when I’m so set on being angry with him.
I am always mad at him. I was upset with he asked Kodi Copperhend to prom instead of me (even though he danced more than half of the slow songs with me and sang under his breath to all of them), and I was furious when he ditched me and my Sweet 16 party to go to the ‘On Air’ convention in California (even though he bought every single thing he could with my name inscribed in it and made all of my teachers (and lunch ladies) distribute them to me at school), and I vowed never to forgive him for blatantly telling the entire school—through his stupid radio station—that my favorite bra was pink and plaid (even though he was the one who bought it for me and the one who pestered me into giving out that stupid information).
And I hate him now for convincing me to try out for the end-of-year talent show by singing while he plays the piano. I loathe him for not even being here. I’m standing on the stage, gripping the microphone in my sweaty hand, glancing back at the piano and hoping he’ll pop in at any moment to join me.
Everyone is staring at me. Everyone. Even the people still talking to their friends sitting next to them. They have their hands covering their mouths, but their eyes are drilling into me. I’ll probably throw up. Over 2,000 people my age and younger waiting for me to do something. When I tear my eyes away from them to look desperately to the stage curtains leading to where Steven would come in, the SBO president is tapping their wrist to tell me my time is going away quickly.
If I don’t do something, I know that I’ll be a laughing stock—even if we do graduate next week and I don’t see 78% of these people ever again, I will forever be known as “the girl who got stood up for a talent show and bailed.”
Bringing the microphone up to my face, I let out what I think is a soft calming breath, but it rebounds out of the sound system as this harsh-dying-dragon-sound and I feel my face go even more red than it was before. I clear my throat into my elbow and not the microphone and finally start talking.
“Well, as most of you know, Stereo was supposed to play the piano for me, but he’s probably lost somewhere. So, I’m just going to get on with the song and…stuff.” This is already terrible. Terrible terrible terrible and I’m going to punch Steven so hard in the chest when I see him that it will send him into cardiac arrest like I’m pretty sure I’m in right now. One more deep breath (away from the microphone). “It’s empty in the valley of your heart. The sun it rises slowly as you walk, away from all the fears and all the faults you’ve left behind.”
The song comes out of my lungs like a hungry cat chasing after a mouse in a kitchen full of precious china plates. It’s terrible. I don’t have a pitch to match to and the words feel wrong even though I know I memorized the song ages ago. I’m singing fast, wanting to get over with this special kind of torture before someone decides to throw their lunch from earlier at me to get me off of the stage. I do a horrendous key change that had been going smoothly in our practice section for months and flail into the ending in the worst musical way possible by accidently letting the microphone slip from my fingers and almost clash to the floor.
Hesitant and patronizing applause walks me off of the stage in shame and I wring the bottom of my shirt around the microphone before handing it to the sound guy. After leaving the stage area where someone is starting their standup routine, I look for the best place to dig a hole for either me to live in or for Steven’s grave.
It was a dusty place, but the it wouldn’t have been perfect without the dust covering the old albums people had skipped over. It was the first store I had stepped into when I came to Seattle and it was now one I ventured to at least twice a week. The CD’s were well priced and they usually had the underground CD’s that you couldn’t even find online. The records and cassettes were the best. Rick, the owner, had accumulated this huge selection that he sold for $3 a vinyl and $1 a cassette. Justin and I met here the second week I had been a resident. He would stand on the other side of the records and hold up ridiculous cover art on vinyls and I would laugh, although secretly really liking the cover art. It was the one place we could go when we were having a bad day and the stuffy apartment was making us depressed. We would spend hours finding ridiculous cover art and blowing one of our measly pay checks. I think our lungs have a permanent layer of dust from laughing so much there. When we would take home our stack of vinyls and cassettes, finally feeling better, we would play them on his record player all night long while reminding each other how much we had fallen in love with each other. A love all thanks to that little record shop.
I hated Fal when we were in high school. She had the best body, the best singing voice, the best GPA, and the best group of friends. We only really had one thing in common and that was English. It wasn’t until Mr. Frost put is into a pair for a book report that I grew to like her. She listened to Strung Up, read and memorized Paul Baxter, and loved to go thrifting. Which was strange because I thought I was the only person who liked those things.
We both fell in love with Lance Brady who was this really attractive, really talented, really awesome lead singer of a local band. We talked with him after shows and eventually started even fighting over him. We went back to hating each other until he showed up on a local newsfeed on a social network that he was dating head cheerleader Brittney Wall.
We haven’t fought since. The apartment we share has walls lined with posters from concerts we’ve attended together and our bookshelves are stuffed full of the best scifi novels. I don’t mind when she brings her boyfriend over for a sleep over and she doesn’t mind when I sing in the shower and while I cook breakfast. She doesn’t mind when I’ve had a bad day at work and all I want to do is keep the lights off and listen to Strung Up and I don’t mind when she burns the popcorn for our weekly movie nights.
We don’t mind being best friends.
They focused in and out. Orbs and tiny pinpricks of color. The star on the top looked like it was on fire if I stared at it for too long. Just like the way this Christmas party felt—fire. Fire in the oven put out by grandma’s favorite hand towels that she only uses for decorations. Fire down the adults throats as a bottle of whiskey was passed around. Fire in the casserole when someone accidently used three tablespoons of chili powder instead of paprika. Fire fire fire of gunshots on the tv as the young boys played their first person shooter game together. Fire in her mouth as my girlfriend talked in the hushed voice of our normal fighting. Fire in my palm where something salty is getting into a cut I have on my hand from slicing the turkey drunk. Fire again down my throat. Fire on top of the Christmas tree to sing us to a drunken and food induced sleep as we wait for a mythical figure dressed in firetruck red clothing to deliver presents that will hopefully put out the fires.
We sleep on the shore of the lake under a red plaid blanket your grandmother sewed so long ago that your name is no longer stitched into it. Your hairy legs are entwined with my equally hairy ones. Neither of us have shaved any part of our body for a week. Your lips taste like the lake and your sweater smells like the pines covering us from possible rain. Our heads of hair don’t know what a brush is and feel just as course as the fine rocks by our toes. I wake you by letting my finger leave a trail of cold up the bridge of your nose. Your eyes match the grey of the sky and your first order of business for the day is to kiss me. Kiss and kiss and kiss until we’re made warm again with love underneath that red plaid blanket.
You hate it. You don’t find it fair. You can’t go home for fear of the fist; you can’t go to school for fear of the words. Your throat hurts from screaming at daddy every night to stop. You heart throbs from being stabbed every day by peers. So why do you keep going? Why do you get on that bus headed for hell twice a day? Why are you getting off it now?
You walk slowly up to the school building—trying desperately to be invisible. You can already hear the laughing behind your back and you self consciously tug at your shirt fearing the gauze placed on last night is showing.
“Freak” a boy whispers in your ear as he runs past you. You keep a straight face and keep walking. Today’s going to be different you decide. You’re going to try and smile. You get to first period and sit down at the back row desk. You’re the only person the teacher doesn’t look in the eye when they take role. You don’t understand why, you’ve been a good girl, never tardy, never absent, never loud. They probably have heard the rumors about you.
You watch silently as a note is passed desk to desk, being unnoticed by the teacher, and eventually ends up on your desk. You stare at the words that everyone’s etched over in their own shade of ink as it glares right back at you.
FEAR THE QUEER!
You fight back tears. You hate those untrue words almost as much as you hate your dad. You ignore the snickers, the notes, and the untrue gossip as best as possible.
You soon find yourself on the bus again, destined for a more fiery hell. Luckily, the house is silent, and you know dad is getting wasted, preparing for tonight.
You trot up the stairs to the bathroom and stare at the dark circles under your eyes and slowly brush through your hair. You whisper to yourself, praying to a God you don’t believe is there, to help you make it through another painful night.
You realize tonight will be number thirteen. You shudder at the thought of your dad coming home. You lift your shirt and pull the strip of gauze off your pelvis slowly and carefully. You wince at the slice from daddy’s fingernails as it cracks and starts to bleed again.
You hear a door slam downstairs and freeze. You hear him clatter and clang his way up the stairs. He skips all the stuff he usually screams at you about your mother dying and your brother leaving and how it’s all your fault. He cuts straight to the point and collides his fist with your jaw. You scream out as you collapse to the ground in shambles and he kicks your side. He grabs a hand full of your hair and drags you across the carpet out in the hallway, leaving rug burn on your arms, and to the closet. He throws you into it amongst the coats and shoes.
“Take off those damn pants!” he demands.
You sit at school the next day, calm as a flower, the assembly going on around you. Everyone is rallied up for the basketball season and is jumping up and down screaming. Everyone but you. You smile sadistically and stand slowly. You can’t hear anything as you pull the semi-automatic handgun from your jacket and cock it once. No one notices you. No one ever does. You take careless aim at the person jumping up and down with her girlfriends in front of you.
One down. Twelve to go.
Everyone screams as the girl falls lifeless to the floor, blood everywhere. They all scramble around, like bees in a hive.
You don’t hear anything any more as you shoot five more times.
You hear a voice in your head. A much missed voice. That of your mothers, calling out to you softly. “I’m coming mommy. I’m coming.” You whisper back.
Thirteen times. Thirteen times your dad beat you. Raped you. Left you half dead in the closet, the kitchen, the bathroom, the garage. Thirteen times he stole a bit of your life.
Hardly anyone but the twelve dead students and yourself are left in the gym. You can hear police officers trying to get past the mob of kids trying to get out.
You turn the gun to your temple and suck in your last final breath before your finger squeezes the trigger and you hear your mothers long lost voice clearly for the first time in thirteen months.
I see ghosts of you everywhere
not shocks of longing or
spurts of electric yearning
but hollow flashbacks to the last memory I have of you
but not you
just red, red on the carpet
soaking through and through into infinities you never fathomed
Today, your character is saying goodbye to someone. Who are they saying goodbye to? Why? Are they emotional? Are they going away or is the other person? Write the scene.
“Seattle? Kaelee loved Seattle.”
“I know.” I grip onto my backpack strap. I don’t want to talk about things Kae loved. I don’t want to talk about Kae.
Her aunt is a mess. I’ve never seen her without make-up—not even when she was fighting with her husband and she was emotional—and she’s in sweat pants and one of Kae’s hoodies. It’s one I’ve only seen on Kae once, so I’m not concerned about having it for myself. “Can I help you?”
Write, in second person, a dream your character is having. Whether it be a nightmare or something happier, describe the dream in its entirety.
You’re walking down the street. The houses are all the same, punched out of a mold made by some architect with no imagination. You’re searching for her house. All you want is to find her house and make sure she’s all right. She never called you last night. Never said she loved you before your slumber.