The Opportunists

This follows the interconnected lives of six teenagers. Harvey, the sullen rebel. Eloise, the innocent performer. Liv, the outspoken dancer. Darcy, the writer without a cause. Josie, the quiet girl with high walls to keep people out. And James, the boy who's just trying to keep his life straight. Their lives all change at a little theatre, where opportunity struck.

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1. Chapter One: Harvey

 

            I’ll never understand how people can be so broken, yet so together at the same time. I have seen terrible things and good people. I’ve seen more than I’d like to. The people that I care about most sit around me. We are at a viewing. As I sit in the corner, I can see tears dripping down Eloise’s face as she walks away from the casket. Black looks unnatural on her. Like it’s sad to be around her, just as I’m sad to be around it. I don’t think the world is doomed, not yet. It’s terrible and broken, yes, very broken. But not doomed yet. I’ve seen good things too. This is not where the story ends, but it is where I will tell it.

            It all started when I was fifteen years old. I snuck out a back door between English and history class, crawled through a hole in the chain link fence that surrounded the school, and stole a school bus. I didn’t really go anywhere. I just rode around the parking lot for about an hour. The driver was pissed when he found me. He was fired for leaving his bus unattended. I was expelled.

            My principal didn’t press charges because he said he didn’t think I was a delinquent, I just had a “rebellious whimsy” about me. He decided he’d keep the police out of the situation if I participated in a “group trust activity.” Is that not the most ridiculous sentencing you’ve ever heard? I’d rather just go to the detention center.

            My mother was furious. This is the fourth school I was kicked out of. I’m not crazy or stupid or anything. I just get bored in school. I try to find ways to make it more interesting. All through elementary school I picked my answers on tests trying to keep a perfect C- average. I finished the fourth grade with C-‘s in every class. That was one of the proudest moments of my life.

            When it came down to choosing a group activity, I suggested basketball. I love basketball and I’m good at it. I was so close, too. She was going to put me on a team over the summer, but my sister decided that was too easy on me. My sister, Jill, is the type of person who tries too hard to make people think she’s smart. She always rubs things in your face or sticks her nose in your business. Jill wasn’t just stirring up trouble; she had a whole terrible plan.

            She found a flyer for auditions at a crappy little place called “The Capricorn Theatre.” She said that since I would hate it, it would better teach me a lesson. Ugh. Dammit Jill. She’s right, though. I would hate it. And with my luck, my mother was totally into it. She got me a timeslot and music for the audition and a new pair of shoes to impress the director. Mom was having the time of her life. All of it was killing me.

            I remember that night; Jill was prancing around with a big cheesy smile, trying to brush out her ratty black hair in her pajamas. She was practically singing, “You’ve got to audition.”

            “Shut up!” I screamed out of my door into the hallway where she was. She turned to me with her big white smile.

            “You shouldn’t have messed up so badly. You really are a stupid kid.”

            “Yeah. And you’re a bitch. Funny how that worked out.”     

            She turned toward the steps and yelled down to the landing where my mother was standing, “Mom, Harvey’s calling me names!”

            My mother scolded me and I rolled my eyes. My bedroom is on the right of the steps. It’s a little room, with a bed and a closet. It isn’t much really. Jill’s room is down the hall. She’s nineteen and I think that she should get a dorm room on her college’s campus, rather than still live in the house. I would love it if I never saw her again. She’s so snotty I could puke. I grabbed the hairbrush in her hand and darted into my room.

            I slammed my door and turned my back to the door. My bed was in the back left corner. It was a small bed, with a homemade quilt over top of it. I got that quilt in the mail for my birthday when I was eleven from my great aunt, Louise. She’s the only one in my family, besides my mother, that hasn’t written me off as a criminal. She’s probably about eighty, now. I haven’t seen her since I was eight, and she was in her early seventies then. That was seven years ago.

            My walls are painted blue and marked with stains that I couldn’t explain if I tried. How one manages to stain a wall, I’ll never know. I have a little desk across from my bed. Papers and binders are scattered on top of it. I’m always copying things down from library books. When I see something I like I write it down. I have stacks and stacks of papers on the top shelf of my closet. Whitman, Dickens, Poe. I have everything from little word choices to whole chapters written on loose paper in thick binders.

            I lock the door behind me and walk over the dirty carpeted floor to my bed. I throw myself on it and look at the ceiling as the sweet sound of Jill pounding on the door fills the room. She really is relentless sometimes. And very immature. But, if she wants to stand outside my door all night, screaming her head off, I’ll be happy to let her. It’s just a hairbrush.

            “Harvey! I will kill you if you don’t give me that back!” She yelled between pounds.

            “Well I suppose I have to die of something.” I say sarcastically.

            “Ugh! You’re so ridiculous!”

            I can hear her stomp down the hallway and slam her door. I chuckle beneath my breath and stand to look in the broken mirror next to my desk. I’m really quite small. I’ve always been short and skinny. People feel comfortable around shorter people. They always want to strike up a conversation about something stupid. I wish I was seven feet tall. Then no one would talk to me about anything besides how tall I was. Then, maybe they’d leave me alone.

            I don’t like people much. They act like they want to hear what you have to say, but they never really listen. They’ll nod in agreement, or smile when you pause, but their minds are always somewhere else. They are very self-centered. They do care about you, but only in regards to who you are to them. If you weren’t their cousin or brother or friend they wouldn’t care what happened to you. You’d just be another nameless gear in the machine that is their life. That’s what bugs me about people. They only look out for themselves.

            I look at my alarm clock. It’s only ten at night now. After about twenty minutes, I unlock my doors and creep downstairs to the kitchen. I haven’t eaten dinner yet and I’m starving. The steps exit into my living room. It’s nice enough, I guess. It has peeling old flowered wallpaper and a big tan couch that sits in front of the tiny television. It’s a very small room; you can’t fit more than about five people into it. On the left of the couch is a doorway into the kitchen. My kitchen was last remodeled in the 1970’s. Not one appliance or style has been changed in it since then. Whenever the stove or refrigerator breaks, we just call my cousin Artie and he fixes it until it breaks again. Artie works at the hardware store, but does odd jobs for his family and friends. My mom told me once that he was some sort of kid genius when he was in school, but he didn’t have any goals. He just sat around in my aunt’s basement until he turned thirty. Then she kicked him out.

            I open the refrigerator and pull out a piece of cold pizza. We never have much food in the house. If we do, it’s something leftover from a meal Artie’s girlfriend made. He always brings us leftovers. My mom doesn’t cook much. My dad used to; he made great food. But, he left when I was ten. He ran off with some women in Mexico. I hear they have a few kids. I hope I never meet them. I hope I never see any of them, ever. I wouldn’t even want to talk to my father again. I hope he likes Mexico.

            I’m still really bitter about it. He wasn’t much when he was around. He really just sat in the living room and watched television. But, you miss that when it’s gone. I never thought I’d miss having an authority figure around. But, hell. You notice when they disappear completely. My mom was really upset about it. She stopped taking Jill and I to movie theatres and wearing her favorite lipstick. She was almost an empty shell for a month or two afterwards. I remember Jill packing my lunchbox and paying all the bills while my mom just slept and slept.

            Jill was fourteen at the time. She looked very tired. I never really thanked her for taking care of me like that. I doubt I ever will. I know I should, but that’s one of those things that had its time. It’s too late now. Anyway, I know I love Jill and shit, but she’s an awful person. Oh, well. I’m still stuck with her.

            When I finish my pizza I creep back up the stairs into my bedroom. I had set the hairbrush on my desk, and now it has disappeared. Jill. Awful, but sneaky. I throw myself down on my bed and shut off the tiny lamp on my bedside table. A window lies on the wall against my bed. I fall asleep looking out it, every night. It’s always the same view. A pine tree far back to the left. A little maple near the house. A few overgrown bushes pushing over the tall wooden fence surrounding my tiny yard.

            I try to shut my eyes and sleep. I have trouble falling asleep. I think and think for hours. My body is exhausted, but my mind keeps rolling, rolling, rolling. Never stopping, never resting. It moves from thought to thought, faster than a freight train. I wish I could stop it, I really do. But, I’m not sure how.

            It takes about an hour or two, but I finally drift off to sleep.

****

            The next morning, I’m roused by the sound of my alarm clocks and Jill screaming my name. I smell bacon downstairs. I wipe the sleep from my eyes and sit up in bed. My clock says its nine-thirty now. The audition is at eleven. I walk down the narrow hallway to the door that leads into the bathroom, take a shower, and walk downstairs. Jill and my mother sit at the table in the kitchen, eating eggs and bacon. Well, my mother is. Jill is a vegan. She’s eating carrots.

            “Good morning.” Mom says with a smile. I nod and sit next to Jill. “Are you excited for today?” She asks, almost nervously. I can hear my sister giggle through the napkin she holds firmly to her mouth. I shake my head and my mother looks down at her lap and presses her lips together.

            God. I hate that. That classic look of disappointment. It kills me.

            I always get that look. I feel like a walking disappointment. I wish I could do better, for my mother. But, I can’t. I am what I am. Nothing more, nothing less. I had to accept that a long time ago. My old principals and guidance counselors always told me I had to “clean up my act!” or “get my life in order!” Really, that just means they want me to change who I am. They want me to be more studious or courteous or kind.  But, that’s just not me.

            Jill starts blathering about some sort of rally her and her hippie friends are throwing, so I tune everyone out and finish my eggs. Maybe I’ll tank the audition on purpose so I don’t get in the show. I’ll act like I forgot the words to the song or something. Anything.

            Looking back, I wish I hadn’t stolen that bus. My last school wasn’t that terrible. Avery High. It’s just some crappy little out of the way public school. I almost liked it. I don’t understand why I do what I do. I just get so bored and annoyed with all the other students. Especially in history. It’s just these simple facts. It’s a memory game. Remember this man’s name, remember which war this battle was in, remember this law that oppressed the nation. It isn’t hard. I don’t understand how they don’t get it. I just don’t understand.

            The analog clock over my oven creeps slowly towards ten o’clock. The theatre is close; I could walk there. But, my mother demands that she accompanies me. She wants to witness the torture. Only, she calls it “emotional support.” Why do adults always make things sound so clinical? Can’t things be what they are?

            Mom stands to get dressed and Jill leaves for her social psychology class. I reach under the kitchen table and pick up a polo shirt I had hidden. My house is kind of a mess. It always had been, even when my dad was around. There are clothes everywhere and all of the surfaces are coated in a thin layer of dust. I throw the shirt over my head and run up the stairs to my bedroom. I put on a pair of jeans I have laying on the floor.

            Mom is done getting dressed in about half an hour. It usually takes her forever.

            She walks softly down the steps and we exit through the front door. Our house exits onto the street. We don’t have a front yard; it’s all paved over. Our entire house is squeezed onto a tiny plot. We barely have four feet of grass. Next to the exit is the car parked in the lot. It’s a crappy, faded, blue station wagon. Jill must have taken the pickup truck.

            We get into the car and Mom smiles at me. “Are you ready?” She asks.

            I look away and roll my eyes. Mom sighs as she starts the car and pulls out of our lot.

            We drive down Dawson Street, where I live, and turn off down Main Street. All of the town’s businesses are on Main Street. I don’t leave my house much, but when I do I visit Artie at the hardware store. We’ll sit in the back room and eat stolen chocolate bars. I like Artie. He comes the closest to understanding me. I’m kind of confusing.

            We sit silently for ten minutes until we turn a corner into a well-kept parking lot. Great.

            Just kill me.

 

 

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