Dead Ends

'People shouldn't treat you different just because you're - whatever - challenged or something.'

'You treated me different.'

'What? No I didn't.'

'Yeah, you said you wouldn't beat me up - because of how I look, right?'

'A touching coming-of-age-story with the humour of The Fault in Our Stars and the poignancy of Wonder.' We Love This Book

Dane Washington and Billy D couldn't be more different.

Dane is a bully. He says he has 'standards': he doesn't hit girls, and he doesn't hit special ed kids.

Billy D is too kind to hit anyone. He has Down syndrome and hangs out with teachers in his lunch break.

But one chance encounter leads them to realise that they have more in common than they think . . .

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1. Chapter One

 

 

I had a foot on some guy’s throat and a hand in my pocket 
the first time I saw Billy D. He was standing across the 
street, staring – not even trying to be sly about it – just 
staring without a word, without even blinking.
‘What are you lookin’ at?’ I called.

His mouth fell open in a silent little O, but he didn’t 
respond. He didn’t leave either, just kept on staring.
Something gurgled inside the throat under my foot, 
and I glanced down. The guy looked like he might be 
struggling to breathe, but his face wasn’t red yet, so I 
turned my attention back to the other boy.

‘Get out of here! Or you’re next!’

That was kind of an empty threat. Even from across 
the street, I could tell by his vacant expression, that slack 
jaw, and the strange way he hunched his shoulders that he 
was different – probably in special ed. And I didn’t beat on 
those guys. Standards, y’know?
‘Hey, you deaf or something? I said get lost!’

He hesitated, shuffling first to the left, then to the right.

He looked once more at me and at the boy under my boot,

then moved his gaze to the pavement and stomped away.

Freak.

The hand in my pocket closed over a piece of gum. I

popped the stick in my mouth and refocused on the task at

hand. Below me, surrounded by pavement grit and gravel,

that face was definitely turning a little pink. I lifted my

foot and kicked a loose bit of rock so it pinged off the guy’s

shoulder. It must have stung because he winced between

gasps for breath.

‘You think that hurt? That’s nothing compared to what

I’ll do to your car if you mess with me again.’

He hadn’t found his voice yet, which was lucky for

him because he was probably just dumb enough to say

something to piss me off even more. He pulled himself

up to a sitting position and crawled along the pavement

towards the street, where the door to his bright red

Mustang still hung open. It was restored vintage, from

back when Mustangs were still cool. He was halfway across

the road when I called out. ‘And you better find another

way to school. If I see your car on this street again, you’ll

have a broken windshield and a broken face.’

The guy finally pulled himself up into the driver’s

seat and turned just long enough to glare at me before

slamming the door shut. I responded with a raised fist,

and even though I was still on the pavement and couldn’t

possibly touch him, I heard the door locks click. I had to

laugh.

What a pussy.

The Mustang roared around the corner and disappeared.

I scratched my palms out of habit, but it wasn’t necessary.

The itching had evaporated with the car.

It always started like that – with the itch. I would feel it

in the centre of my palms, a buzzing sensation I couldn’t

ignore. If I did try to ignore it, the itch would spread like a

spiderweb, radiating out to the edges of my hand, tingling

down to my fingertips. Closing those fingers into a fist and

giving that fist a landing pad was the only way to scratch

the itch.

I never knew what would trigger it. It could be as subtle

as a guy rolling his eyes when I spoke up in class or as

obvious as some asshole in a bright red Mustang rolling

down a window and asking why I couldn’t afford a car. Not

much I could do about the former – I was this close to

getting kicked out of school as it was. If it wasn’t for my

good grades, they’d have shoved me out the door already.

But the latter would get a guy dragged out of his car for a

lesson in pavement humility. I would have done more to

the Mustang moron, but the freak across the street had

distracted me. Something about his eyes – kind of slanted

and round at the same time – unnerved me. I felt like I

was being judged – a feeling that normally made my palms

itch. But in the case of the slack-faced kid, it made me want

to scratch my head instead of my hands.

The turd in the red Mustang was right about one thing.

What kind of self-respecting sixteen-year-old didn’t have

a car?

I kicked rocks aside as I shuffled down the pavement.

I wasn’t the only junior at Mark Twain High without a

car, but I was one of the few. Columbia, Missouri, wasn’t

exactly the home of the rich and famous, but most families

could at least scrape together a few bucks for a clunker.

I turned the corner in the opposite direction the

Mustang had gone. Haves to the right. Have-nots to the

left. I pulled myself up a little straighter, as if the guy in the

Mustang could still see me. Who needed four wheels when

I had two fists?

The further I walked, the more overgrown the yards

became, the deeper the peels of paint on the houses. My

street was the last one before those houses and yards

became trailers and gravel driveways. I rounded the

corner and spotted the now familiar removals van parked

directly across the street from my own house. That thing

had been there for almost a week, blocking my view of

just about everything else from my bedroom window.

How long does it take to unpack a U-Haul?

I cocked an eye at the house next to the van, wondering

what kind of lazy neighbours were moving in to drag the

’hood down even more, and pulled up short. On the front

steps of the house, another set of eyes met mine – eyes

so distinct in shape I recognised them instantly. Just like

before, the kid watched me without blinking. Maybe it was

because he was a safe distance from me, or maybe it was

because he was too dumb to sense the danger, but he didn’t

look away when I caught his gaze.

‘It’s rude to stare,’ I challenged him.

He adjusted his backpack in response, shifting it higher

on those strangely curved shoulders. He was short and

a little bulky, so the move, combined with his awkward,

stooped posture, made him look top-heavy. Actually,

everything about him fell sort of heavy, from his eyelids

to his arms. I waited a moment to see if he’d tip over, so I

could have a good laugh, but he held his balance.

‘It’s stupid to stare,’ I tried again.

He blinked.

What was that? Fear? Mocking?

I waited for the itch, but it didn’t come. It was tough

to get mad at someone when I had no idea what he was

thinking. Finally, I pointed a warning finger in his direction.

‘You’re lucky I don’t beat up retards.’

A shadow passed over his face – a glimmer of emotion.

‘I’m not a retard.’ He said it with some force, like he

actually believed it.

Even his voice made it clear he wasn’t like other kids. It

was a little high – still waiting for puberty, this one – and it

sounded like his teeth were getting in the way of his tongue.

‘I’m not a retard,’ he repeated, louder. He stamped his

foot for emphasis.

‘Fine, fine.’ I turned my pointed finger into a hand held

up in surrender. I wasn’t looking for a fight with some

challenged kid. I just wanted him to stop eyeballing me.

‘But enough of the ogling, got it?’

I turned towards my own house and was halfway there

when his voice rang out again.

‘Your clothes don’t match!’

What?

I spun around. He had his arms folded across his chest

in a smug gesture. This, he must have thought, was the

final word in insults. Inexplicably self-conscious, I glanced

down at what I was wearing. How could jeans and a hoodie

not match? I looked back up to ask him – genuinely ask

him – what the hell he was talking about, but the steps

where he’d been standing were empty. I got only a quick

glimpse of a backpack disappearing into the house.

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