There aren’t enough places to hide in this school. No matter where I go, people seem to find me. Well, not me exactly; they don’t actually talk to me or acknowledge me in any way, they just invade my personal space. In the library, they pushed past to get books like I wasn’t even there; in the empty classroom, a group of Neanderthals – no, I’m not looking at the football team, I’m looking at year 13s who should know better – come in and argue about their American history assignment on a topic I thought everyone had some idea of, even if we are English; and in the science storage closet, which is actually a small classroom filled with equipment, a couple decide it’s a good place to make out. Like I’m not traumatized enough.
Now I’m in the IT tech room, because it’s the only place I’m allowed in that other students don’t come to. One of my dad’s friends works here, so he lets me sit in the back and has given me the school’s WiFi password to keep me quiet. Mostly because he knows I would have just gone through his stuff to find it if he hadn’t, but as long as no one else knows – except the two other guys he works with – all is good in the world. I really don’t know why I didn’t come here sooner, it’s usually where I end up anyway; I guess I had misplaced faith in the library. The rest of the rooms just led me here.
The password protected WiFi, the one that the school computers are automatically logged into, is better than the unprotected WiFi visitors can use; it’s faster, for one, you’re not waiting ten minutes to connect your phone to it, if it even let’s you on at all. But because a lot of people are using the computers, using it on a phone still requires a few minutes wait to connect and load pages and apps and stuff. So I choose not to try Skype and talk to Brett, I can wait an hour till I’m home, and instead go to a website that allows me to read. Don’t tell anybody, but I’m kind of a fanfiction junkie. I even dabbled in writing it a few times, but I personally prefer my own works. I’m not all that interested in putting my own spin on books I already love. Some people, though, write really awesome stories, especially when they expand on the world I love rather than outright changing it, and they’re a great way of passing the time until my dad finishes work and can pick me up from school. Normally, I’d get the bus, but I ran out of allowance buying books and it’s a half hour walk I’m not up to trying, not now that Jay Thomas is back in school. It’s bad enough that he lives in the street behind mine.
Anyway, I sit in my usual chair at the back of the tech room, ignored by the two in there, and absorb myself in a familiar world with a slightly different spin on it. The real world is so far gone that I’m eight chapters in and have to be poked by my dad’s friend numerous times before I can hear him tell me that my dad is outside waiting for me. Thanking him with a short smile, I reluctantly close the internet, grab my bag and head for the parking lot. My dad’s car is easy to spot – duh, it’s bright blue – and parked just outside of the school gates. In the car, Dad is doing something on his phone, something that requires all of his concentration – he’s an architect, working on sealing a deal for some new project last I heard.
“How was school?” he murmurs, eyes still on his phone. Don’t get me wrong, Craig O’Connell is a good guy and a good dad – despite his weird obsession with horror – and I don’t mind that his work is important to him; he worked so hard to get where he is now, and the risk of running his own business has pulled off. But I can wish he would look at me with genuine interest when he asked me a question, right? Or even just look at me?
“It was fine,” I tell him, sinking into my seat. “I learnt complicated Math and interesting History and that the Science storage room is apparently a good place to make out.”
Dad actually chuckles at that last part and finally turns to look at me. “Kids still do that?” Then he recognises the outright horror on my face and his smile drops. “I didn’t do that.”
Liar, and more importantly… eww.
Traumatised yet again, I stare out of the window instead; I focus on the dead fly in the corner while I pull out my iPod and slide my headphones over my head. “We’re no longer on speaking terms,” is the last thing I tell him before it’s on and as loud as my ears allow it.
Dad only shakes his head and puts his phone away, because he knows it won’t last. With only him, my sister and Brett to really talk to, it’s hard to genuinely cut any of them out of my life. People are habitually social creatures, they need that human contact to function as normally as possible, to walk and talk and not freak out when someone tells you you’re a freak. Hell, even taking a piss requires training. And while I don’t need a whole lot of physical human contact, I search for people like Brett online, and I admit that it’s good to have people in real life to talk to.
Besides, my dad is the one who controls my allowance.
Walking home may take half an hour, but driving is less than fifteen, ten if the traffic lights are on your side. So I don’t have to worry about crumbling in the car; more than likely I can last with the not speaking until dinner tonight. That’s usually how it goes when I say I’m not speaking to him; he bribes me with Chinese food just to end the silence that much faster and gloat about finding my weakness. He’s an arsehole, but a bloody clever one.
Once parked in the driveway, I’ve decided it would be past to spend the rest of the afternoon in my room; keeping some distance between us will help. Besides, he’s got his project and I have homework to do if I want tomorrow completely free for The Harvest and Sunday free to sleep.
I’ve decided that I’ll do it. For everyone else, the game is something they’ll go back to next year. For me, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, a rite of passage Brett says. Never again will I scare myself silly or waste a night on some online game rather than wasting it on Tumblr or YouTube or, God forbid, watching TV. It’s all in the name of fun; one night of gaming with my one best friend.
I can do that.
In my room, I go through my daily routine of dropping my bag, turning on my laptop and logging into Skype. Since his name is saved as a favourite, Brett is the first one I see. That’s when I notice the most unusual thing: he’s not online. He has never not been online before, not once in the two months I’ve known him. But I can’t deny the proof; the little green cloud by his name is
not green or yellow or even red, it’s absolutely clear. In the conversation, he’s put a message.
Brett: Family emergency.
It’s good of him to at least give me some explanation as to why he isn’t waiting to talk to me, even if it is only brief – not that I expect the guy to explain something as personal as that, it would be wrong of me and it goes against our ‘no personal info’ rule. Yes, I consider him my best friend online, but I’m not an idiot about crimes and wrongdoing on the internet. We need to be friends for a lot longer than two months for me to begin thinking of opening up. Even so, I feel a strange sense of sadness build up, starting in the pit of my stomach and rising like bile. It’s so weird not having him to talk to after school. I’ll have to settle for doing my homework with my iPod on.
Regretfully, the works a lot better than talking to my friend would have been, and Math and English are done just as I notice the door open in my periphery and Dad peer his head inside. Knowing exactly what’s about to happen, I pretend to be stern and slide my headphones off to rest around my neck.
“Chinese?” he asks. I say nothing. I’m stronger than that… for now. “If you talk to me again, I’ll let you order anything you want.”
Interesting. Usually it’s a starter and a main, nothing more and nothing less. If I can order anything I want, it means he recognises whatever action led to my silence as wrong and feels bad. Well, good; traumatizing your child by talking about your love life, no matter how small, is practically a criminal offense. I might have to sue for psychological damage. That thought alone keeps my mouth shut.
“Fine,” Dad huffs at the door. “But just so you know, every minute you don’t talk to me I take a pound of your allowance.”
“I only get thirty quid!” I gasp, outraged. Then I curse as I realise what’s happened.
For some odd reason, Dad doesn’t gloat about getting me to talk. He must be sick. “Thirty quid a week,” he picks up on instead. Oh, maybe not sick then. “Tell me of one other sixteen year old that gets that.”
I snort, the battle lost. “I don’t ask people about their personal lives.”
He decides that looking smug is the thing to do, which pisses me off enough for his decision to be a good one. “So, Chinese?”
I shrug. “Can I still order anything I want?”
“I wouldn’t have offered it if I was planning on taking it back.”
“Sweet. I’ll be down in a minute to order.”
Nodding, Dad walks away, keeping my door open since I’ll be coming down. Considering Chinese food a win, I put away my work and stand, stretching my back in hopes of relieving myself of the ache that resides at the base; my body cracks, which feels weird and sounds even worse, but as I walk I find it’s done the trick. It’s not hard to guess where my dad and sister might be, and sure enough, I find them both in the living, my dad sitting across the chair with his legs dangling over the arm and my sister curled up on one end of the couch. I take my regular spot on the other end and anticipate the menu, as well as the pen and pad we use to write down our orders, being thrown at me – they hit me at random places, the menu scratching my chin, the pad bouncing off my knee and the pen poking me in the face, just above the eye. Kat at least looks guilty for that last one, but I don’t get my apology. That’s too much to ask in my family; we blackmail, bribe and trade. Sorry is for wimps.
It doesn’t take long for me to pick my order, mostly because I always go for BBQ ribs and beef in black bean sauce. They are delicious and I won’t have anything else if I can only pick a starter and a main, but since Dad has green lighted ordering anything, I add chicken and sweetcorn soup and an extra bag of prawn crackers. He orders them anyway for us all, but these will just be for me. How delicious does that sound? It sounds pretty dam delicious, if I don’t say so myself.
Happy with my order, I throw them pad at my dad – it lands on his stomach – and drop the menu and pen onto the coffee table, since they’re no longer needed. Dad is our designated talker unless he’s working, then Kat is. I’m a socially awkward freak, remember. Do you see me using a phone?
While he’s busying himself with the order, I turn to whatever Friday evening quiz show has decided to grace our TV screen until the soaps start. Not that I watch the soaps; I have no interest who’s cheating on whom, or who’s dead. I do think the writers need new material, though. Then again, you can’t have cheesy soaps without an abundance of clichés and nothing says soap opera like a sordid affair and a whodunit scenario. It makes me kind of glad that I want to be a fantasy author rather than a Television screenwriter; anything can happen in a book, so people don’t expect a lot more than the traits a certain type of book commonly has.
The first soap is halfway through and I’m on the verge of suffocating myself with my cushion or the safer – and saner – option of demanding to know why no one’s turned over the channel when the doorbell rings and Dad pulls himself up to pay for our food. The remote is not on the chair he has currently vacated and after craning my neck, I find that Kat doesn’t have it either, which explains why they haven’t turned the channel over. Grimacing, I check around my space and find it wedged between the arm’s sleeve and the seat.
I go to Sky Movies, finding the latest Spider-Man movie after the third flick through and settling because only one of us will complain… and she’s rolling her eyes at me right now.
“Oh, thank God for that,” Dad sighs from behind me, moving around the front and gesturing for us to sit on the floor. He puts the meals into our own groups and puts himself in between me and my sister so we’re all leaning against the couch with a good view of the movie while we eat.
Which is just as well, because though I know it’s payback for putting on a film she has no interest in and I should just ignore it, Kat makes me want to hurt her by asking, “Nathan, why are people asking me if you’re gay?”
Dad chokes on a cracker. I do the sympathetic thing and force my arm between him and the couch to bang on his back until he pushes me away. That does so count as a good deed.
“Excuse me?” is all I manage to say on the matter.
“Freddie Tucker, Dana’s little brother. You remember Dana, right? Anyway, he asked me if you were gay because he thinks you’re cute and wants to ask you out. First I laughed, because the very thought of you being considered cute has that effect on me, then I said I didn’t know.”
“How could you?” I mutter dryly.
Kat apparently agrees. “So are you?”
“Please stop,” Dad begs.
“I’m decidedly asexual,” I tell her.
Dad turns to my sister directly this time. “Why can’t you be like that?”
“He is not,” Kat scoffs, finding the idea as ludicrous as saying I was attracted to doors. Actually, she’d probably find that more believable, the bitch. “I’ve had the unfortunate experience of hearing him as I passed his bedroom. All on his lonesome, which is a little pathetic, I might add.”
Dad puts the cracker down, burying his head in his hands and making noises I swear are sobs. I can’t tell if they’re faked or not.
“I do not want to go out with Freddie Tucker,” I growl. It’s something I really should have said in the very beginning. But then she shows off her smug smile because I still haven’t confirmed my sexuality and she knows it. Unfortunately my gut reaction is always to not make it easy for her and I blurt out, “I’d much rather date Jay Thomas.”
“The bully who tied you to a lamppost in your underwear?” she asks with a frown. Dad is quiet now; clearly, he’s given up. Payback for the car incident, me thinks.
“There must be a reason I keep going back for more,” I say in my most wistful voice. Yeah, it’s that he lives across the road and I can’t hide.
That’s when Dad chooses to return to the conversation. “If you let Jay Thomas anywhere near you and/or this house, I’ll kick his arse and kick you out.”
“You’re so good to me,” I tell him. Sarcasm is in full force today.
“And don’t you forget it,” he says, his finger pointed to my meal. “Now eat your meal and watch the movie.”
He does the same to Kat seconds after me; we both nod once and pick up our food. I wait for the room to settle, allow that sense of calm to wash over us as we return to normal and watch Peter Parker become Spider-Man. And when no one anticipates it, I reveal to them one of many reasons I shouldn’t be allowed to socialise.
“I love Peter Parker. The things he does to me.”
Soup goes everywhere as Kat snorts and laughs, torn between embarrassment and amusement. Her face is bright red while the poor guy in the middle is as white as a sheet. I officially feel better about this afternoon.
Dad demands the remote.