Devon wasn’t in Journalism.
Few people were.
The five inhabitants of Room 203 sat scattered in desks
In a class like this, as with all others, you had one or two friends you spoke to. Without the presence of such camaraderie, you were bound to sit and text, pretend to look for something in a bag, or otherwise give the pretense of busyness.
Paige realized that Devon was the only person she talked to in class. The rest were passing acquaintances. She started on the top of a stack of articles.
The room was like the insides of an old house. Dead. Noiseless. Her brain buzzed in the white noise, her hands edited the papers mechanically.
Mr. Ferguson came out of his office and announced class as canceled. Journalism was marginally functional without its editor.
Paige walked out of the classroom, realizing that the afternoon was ahead of her, and that there was nothing she wanted to do.
Feeling as though she missed a great part of her day, she started down the hall. She spotted a familiar locker and sighed. Where are you?
Devon returned his attention to the room. Perfect. Not even a slither of moonlight filtered into the bedroom. The first few hours were misery. He expected at any second to turn around and see the girl sitting at his bed or standing at the door. The curtains were drawn over the windows and covered over with dark bed sheets. His bedroom door was locked.
The precautions weren’t to keep her out. No, no. They were to bring her in.
Earlier, he went around the room and took down the pictures of him and his friends, Cristina and his family.
Because Olivia didn’t like it. She didn’t like them.
He returned to his computer desk and waited. The vent shook and the heat turned back on. Rubbing his right temple, he squinted at the screen.
Akjizdcc fq; tkm
What he was writing wasn’t even English. He stared down at his fingers sitting uselessly on the keys of the keyboard. The letters blurred together, as if the keys was submerged in water.
He stretched his legs under the desk. His foot hit something. The objects toppled against one another, the clang-clang of bottle heads sounded like gunshots in his ears.
He was the one submerged.
His eyes were watered and red, partially opened as if vampire sensitive to light. An ache spread from his temples to the back of his head. It was a while since he missed consecutive days of school. But how was he supposed to explain that he couldn’t write in Journalism? That he hadn’t really written on his own in nine years.
Olivia entered the room.
Devon jolted up. He dared not turn around. He could feel his breath catch in his throat.
She looked different now. The light around her was faded gray. He didn’t know how he could tell without looking at her, but he could. They were connected that way. She could sense his anxiety just as well as he could sense hers.
At any moment she could fade back into the blackness of the room. But she wouldn’t. Sometimes she stayed for hours, and other times for minutes. But she never really left. She remained imprinted on the back of his mind for days, a restless ghost, a lonely muse.
Fingers starting to move, he typed the first keystrokes and listened.
And so he began.
Had Colin been real or a figment of his imagination?
Devon long learned he could see things other people could not see and hear what others could not hear. Maybe it was a part of writing.
It was a wet November day when they left the Detroit apartment. He remembered because it was after Thanksgiving. Tinsel Christmas trees hung around the streetlamps.
The air was cold and the sky cloudy. The snow from the night before sat in puddles on the sidewalk. Devon stepped over them. He’d gotten used to moving by then. He didn’t fuss as his mother led him and his sister down to the U-Haul van.
He remembered how his mother’s eyes looked. All red and watery, her breath held the faint drip of whiskey. Her gaze never left the road, but followed the dashed lines to their new destination.
He didn’t ask where Father was, or why Dad wasn’t with them. Too many questions had earned Devon a smack once. No. Better to keep silent.
It was lunchtime when they reached their new home in the cabin. It sat in a clearing in the woods; offset by a pond a few acres behind it. The forest was dense with trees. The dried, leafy tops reached the highest of heaven—at least it seemed that way to Devon.
Resting his Thomas the Train suitcase on the cabin’s porch, Devon journeyed inside.
There wasn’t any heat, but there was an iron-plated fireplace, and a stack of wood in the corner. The wall was decorated with fishing mounts, hooks, rods, and reels. A boat leaned against a corner. Devon ran a hand over its craterous surface. The wood was jagged and nicked. The boat wasn’t shined and probably hadn’t been used for years.
Whoever had lived there before was a hunter. Devon found an assortment of knifes in the kitchen. The blades flashed in the kitchen lights. Devon poked the metal in curiosity. The room next to the kitchen was a concrete slab. On the ceiling was a metal rack, from which protruded wires. It was used for hanging, drying, and pickling meat. The room stank of raw flesh and blood.
Devon spent most of his afternoons outside running among the dead pines. He tracked snow and ice under his feet. He reclined on tree limbs and watched the cabin for intruders.
He thumbed through the books in the cabin’s library. Most were deer manuals, a bird-watching book, one on trout, and the proper use of firearms.
Dull reads. He thought as he looked at the books.
Nevertheless, he would sit on his bed and read for hours, falling asleep with a book open on his chest.
At night, the cabin windows were thrice covered with blankets. Though the fireplace burned bright every night, the heat did not reach the greater part of living quarters.
The first night there, Devon wrapped his body in a comforter. Twice. He pushed another one over his head to keep warm in bed.
One night he felt a kick at his side. “Devon?”
He awoke. Devon didn’t have to squint to see his sister’s eyes. Hers were bright blue, just like his. Her finger poked into his side, over and over, like an insistent pest.
Lyn dragged her comforter behind her. “Can I stay here for a while?” Her voice was small and scared, but it had been that ways since she got attacked in the woods.
She curled up next to the foot of the bed. The air was damp and smelled of fungus and growth. She coughed repeatedly. But, she slept more peacefully than she would have alone.
Devon nudged her.
“Wanna trade spots?” he asked her. The bed was too small for both of them.
He took his turn lying on the woolen rug. How often had he stayed up listening to the sound of their prayers hitting the ceiling? Where was their daddy and what had brought them to this strange place?
Devon heard the rustle of the trees outside his window, and the scattered sound of snow falling against the leaves. He watched the shadows in the dark, the figures moving to and fro, to and fro…
He listened to the whispers of friends long departed. Closing his eyes, he listened harder. He thought he could hear Colin.
Face wet with tears, Devon rubbed a palm against his cheeks. He fixed his eyes on the ceiling until morning.
In the daytime, Lyn sat on the porch and played with her dolls. She seldom ventured pass the front steps.
Before running off to play, Devon watched her. He saw her through the wooden railing, staring back at him. Her eyes were sad. He knew she wanted to play too.
One day, he caught her wondering around the porch, counting her steps.
It was a spring day, and the weather had finally warmed up enough for them to start enjoying their time in the cabin. Lyn’s dress floated behind her. She wandered around the floorboards, her eyes on her toes. She paced, farther and farther away from the wooden railings.
She made it to the end of the front steps! She stared off a moment into the woods, and clasped her hands in front of her. Toes scrunched into the dirt. She sighed, dejected, before returning to her toys and the safety of the porch.
When he came back later, Devon saw her sobbing into her lap.
He started to spend more time sitting on the porch with her. He had a mental repertoire of stories. The woods inspired him. He told Lyn about his adventures there. Of the forest gods who sent rain, and ancient civilizations buried under the earth. Devon talked about the people there, the people under the earth, the ones who spoke with him. He recalled their stories, their blood red eyes and gray hands. He talked about the horseshoe he found, and the brown feather of a dodo bird, and the old coins, and…
“None of that is true!” Lyn retorted, too annoyed at her younger brother to let him continue.
Devon pushed back on his hat. “Maybe if you came, you would see for yourself.”
Lyn’s lips parted, as though about to speak, and then shut. She looked away from him, face growing red. She huffed, gathered up her dolls, and stormed into the cabin.
Later, she returned to him, bored out of her mind in the cabin, and enchanted by the stories. He wrote them down for her on Mother’s legal pad.
He poured out his days in between playing, and writing and imagining. The woods were good for that. It was his refuge. Problems were better not dealt with, and he had plenty of reasons to escape.
His parents were getting a divorce.
His mother already mailed off the papers to his father. It was only a matter of time.
There was a widower who lived in a cabin not far from theirs.
He had a daughter.
Her name was Olivia. She was fifteen.
He couldn’t write this.
His breath returned to him. He collapsed against his desk, worn. His body went into convulsions. The blood was rushing back. The stinging began at the crown of his head and spread to his chest and limbs. Frozen, his feeling returned in his neck, and he was able to move his head.
Devon’s breathing was short, panting. His heart skipped rhythms in his chest. He shook his head, unable to speak. His brain assessed the situation as he regained conscience.
He’d been dead.
The only part that remained from before, were his hands, which had typed the entire time. They were warm.
He couldn’t figure out why Olivia would take him there, of all places. Somehow, through the trance, he’d regained control and was able to return to his room.
That’d never happened before.
Nostrils flaring he struggled to catch his breath. “I can’t write this,” he said. Louder. “I can’t write this.”
He couldn’t hear the response, but he could feel the anger. From the start, her intention had been to kill him. The realization dawned on Devon and he tried to move his arms.
I am not writing this!
It overtook him again. The scenes still played out before him. Vividly. The girl, the one he shot. Her smile. He fought to open his eyes
He couldn’t move. Her presence wrapped tightly around his body. Behind him, in front of him, everywhere.
Stop! He opened his eyes only for them to immediately shut again. The trance overtook him; the scenes of a green woods and two children laughing, mocked him.
(Devon Connors! Devon Connors! Devon Connors!)
He tried moving again, but could not. The air around him grew warm, and then hot, and then blasting.
The colors were distorted, like a picture put outside to be corrupted by the rain. Again, he felt the shiny metal in his hands. The surface of a gun.
(I dare you, do it again. Shoot!)
His breath left him.
There she was on the ground. Snow fall petrified her features. Her skin was made craterous by the wind and elements. There were holes in places were insects burrowed. Fragments of a ripped bag lay at her feet. A bag?
Falling on the ground, he cradled the gun in his hands, eyes bleeding with tears.
A knocking sound pierced through the trance. A voice: “Devon?”
Devon looked around the snowy woods, confused. “Mom?” Olivia’s head turned swiftly at a noise. She tore away from him, ripping out of his esophagus with such violence he slumped forward.
Devon came to, bringing his hand to his mouth just in time to hack up the first cough. He doubled over and gagged. Specks of blood covered his palms.
The door creaked open.
He lifted his head.
“Lyn!” Devon rested a hand against the desk. His head swam, and for a while he could see two of her in the doorway.
She hurried toward him, engulfing him in her arms. “Hey, lillebror.” Lyn said.
Devon hugged her back. “Don’t little brother me,” he said. She was only fifty-two seconds older than him.
He cleared his throat, voice still shaky. “Where have you been?” His throat locked as he held her skinny frame. Her jacket smelled of weed and musk. Garland, what’s happening to you? He pulled away and observed her.
Lyn’s smiled faded as she looked beyond him. He followed her gaze.
There were bottles on his desk. Two were toppled on the wood, their sides gleaming in the dim light. Next to the computer keys was the third. The bottle was upright and uncapped. Empty.
Lyn stared at the carpet. “You’re always drinking, Devon.”
Devon ran a hand through his hair. “I didn’t drink that much.”
She faced the door, her fingers twitched at her side. The lines around her mouth seemed deeper, her eyes vacant. She resembled a hardened woman approaching forty, not a budding girl of eighteen.
“Devon, Devon…” She, sighed, and shook her head. There was a smirk on her face, as though she found the entire thing amusing.
“You act as though I’m an alcoholic.”
She shrugged. “I’m just worried about you, that’s all.”
“Me?” He leveled her stare. “I haven’t been gone for over a three weeks.” Lyn brushed pass Devon. Lyn, talk to me. He watched her pace around the room. She stopped at the bookcase. Her fingers ran over the book covers and froze at a title. She paused and closed her eyes.
“Did you just get here?” he asked. Her hair struck out at angles around her head. She wore men’s pants, pleated and khaki. Her feet were bare.
“Remember when I used to read all those books?” Her voice was soft, reminiscing. “You still write stuff, lillebror?”
She focus returned to the bookshelf.
“Where the hell were you, Lyn?” he said. Unable to hold back any longer, he heard his voice rising. “You just can’t walk in and out whenever you want. Do you think that’s funny? Are you that attention starved?”
Lyn was back at the front of the room. Light encapsulated her form. Unwaveringly, she met his eyes. Silent. And then he saw it. There was a scar on her cheek. The purple-black surfaced shined, as though it had been greased with oil or Vaseline. Her eyes watered.
“Devon, you already know I can’t stay here.”
He was silent, froze by the image of his sister in the doorway. That bruise looked as though someone had put a knife to her cheek. Blood rushed to his face. Calm down, calm down.
His jaw clenched. “Maybe. But I know you can’t go back.”
Lyn scowled. “Don’t be a fucking idiot. You want me to stay here? With Dad?”
“Dad doesn’t hate you, Lyn.” He said, “You should have come back.” Her body tossed somewhere in a dumpster. The image flashed in his mind and stayed there. He shuttered.
She swore. “He doesn’t want me here. He’s never wanted me. Why would he when he has you?”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
Her laugh was dry, sarcastic. “You wouldn’t know because he loves you. He’s never called you stupid or worthless or a whore.” She was in Devon’s face now. “He worships you, and why do you think he pushes you so much? Just so he can keep living vicariously through the golden-boy.”
The amount of hatred in her tone shocked him.
Devon stared at her. “I didn’t realize you were jealous of me.”
“Jealous?” Lyn smirked, “I don’t give a fuck. You’re just a prop.”
He glared at her. She’d gotten to him, and she knew it. “Get out.”
She didn’t stop. “When I’m here all you can do is judge me.” Lyn said. “Oh, I must be jealous of you! ”
“I’m just concerned about you,” Devon said. He returned to his desk. He pressed his elbows on the wood and held his face in his hands. His eyes bored into the hardwood desk in consternation.
“You never help when it matters,” Lyn said. “You never even ask about my life or what I want—
He lifted his head. “Wait. You are not blaming me for your problems.”
Devon pushed his chair away from the desk. “I am not obligated to do anything for you, Lyn. You’re so right. Your life is your life. Fine. Help yourself. I was dumb to give a shit.”
Lyn sucked in a breath. “Never mind,” she said. “I can’t talk to you.” She turned for the door.
Devon sighed. “Lyn, I’m sorry—stop, please.”
She wavered at the door, obviously wanting to go. He walked up to her and touched her cheek. Her eyes were downcast.
Devon touched her shoulder. “Lyn, please, tell me what happened. Who gave that to you? Was it Rob?”
Lyn backed away. She shrugged. “How do you know I didn’t do it myself?” Her eyes were sad.
“You’re lying to me.” She stared at her feet, her toes curling over the carpet. His face furrowed. “You know that Stevens died that night, right?”
She didn’t answer. She began to dig through her pocket, searching, searching.
She turned out her pocket inside out. She took out the lint. Still searching… cursing.
Devon grabbed her shoulder. “Lyn, please.”
Her head snapped up. Lyn clenched her teeth. “Yes Devon. I know.”
“You’re not going to tell me where you were, are you?”
She gave a mean smirk. “What made you guess?” He could see her facetiousness hadn’t left her.
Devon hugged her. “I’m just glad you’re back. Maybe you should stick around a little longer. Just enough to graduate, hmm?”
“I’m glad I’m back too,” she said honestly, letting him go.
He looked at his laptop. The screensaver played; him and Cristina. He observed the fabricated smiles of the couple. Their too white teeth, edited pristine in PhotoShop. He saw his own blue eyes, for all of its color, lacked natural emotion. His smile appeared contrived.
Devon closed the laptop. Too much had gone on tonight. Too much had gone on ever.
“Devon…” Lyn’s voice called out to him. That voice sounded just as it had when they were younger.
His eyes were tired. “What is it Garland?” he asked, knowing that she meant for a favor.
She pulled her sleeves. “Can I stay in here for a while?”
“Lyn, we’re too old for this.”
Her gaze dropped. Lyn nodded. A dismal cast overshadowed her face; her features were hidden from him. Nevertheless, he saw the moisture in her eyes and felt pity.
He gestured toward the corner of his room. “Okay.” He said. “Hope you don’t mind the mess.”
Devon flipped the light switch. He grabbed a blanket from the closet, and sank on the couch. The pillow from the night before was still there.
Lately, he didn’t even sleep on his own bed. He regarded the piece of furniture as a second shelf. Homework, laundry, and papers crowded his bed. Pens struck out underneath pillows, and ink from highlights stained the covers.
Lyn pushed the junk off and sat down. He tossed her a comforter. “Catch.” She did.
Lyn still looked troubled, disturbed by some thought or perhaps a demon from the past. She did not lie down, but instead stared at the ceiling, her face perplexed.
On the couch, Devon turned on his side, fluffed his pillow, and shut his eyes.
“What did I miss at school?” she asked.
He opened his eyes. “A lot,” he said. He paused, considering how much to tell her. “There was a drug bust this week.”
“Really?” she said. “Glad I wasn’t there.”
He gave her a chance to say more. Lyn sat on the bed and pulled her legs under her. Mute. “The football team is under suspicion of using,” Devon continued.
“Under suspicion?” Lyn chuckled.
His managed a laugh as well, though he found nothing amusing. “That’s the official report so far. Bass Towers has kept it really quiet; it’s not even on the local news yet.” That didn’t stop the town’s gossip channels. “Our scholarships can be pulled.”
She sobered. Both he and Lyn knew what they grew up hearing: No scholarship, no college. Their parents had set aside no such savings.
“Oh,” Lyn said.
He bristled at her cavalier attitude. “Oh? You think I want to stay home another year, or go to a junior college?” He swore. “It’s fucking stupid, that’s what it is. Everyone wants to shit on the football team, just because of who we are, easy target. You don’t see them threatening anyone else’s scholarships, do you?”
“I don’t know.” Lyn pushed the comforter over her shoulders. “I don’t exactly keep up with school work?”
Lyn had fallen silent. Devon knew that she’d moved on to her own thoughts.
“Things are never as simple as we would like.” Devon said, more to himself than anyone else.
She didn’t respond. He listened to her soft breathing. She’d fallen asleep on him.
They’d had a tumultuous past, with only brief intermissions of quiet. He remembered when they used to stay up and talk, while fighting went on downstairs. They would sit together on the steps and watch when the police came. Life hadn’t afforded them much use for parents, but they had each other. No matter how the years had separated their personalities, one thing was certain: he would kill for her. And Devon knew she would do the same for him.
Paige’s stomach clenched with nausea as she knocked on the last classroom. This never got any easier. She poked her head through the door and spotted the teacher lecturing at the whiteboard.
Paige walked in. Snickers and murmurs rose to her ears, squeezing her stomach tighter. She knew it wasn’t her more than it was the surprise of having someone interrupt lecture. Every eye was cast on the distraction. The students critiqued her before they turned away, laughing at their observations.
The teacher paused at her talk, her face pinched and lips in a tight line. Her fingers were stained with green dry-erase marker.
“The Bass Update, ma’am,” Paige said. The leaflets were handed to the older women. The teacher only gave the stack a disparaging glance before she said, “Put it on my desk.”
Then she was out again, shutting the door hard behind her.
She touched the satchel on her hips, and sighed with relief. The bag was empty. She was done for the day.
Paige turned the doorknob to Room 203, and stepped inside. Her footsteps echoed against the ground, a sad and lonely little click-clack. She had papers to file, articles to edit, and tasks to complete.
She turned on the radio. Music filtered through the room. This was a good song. Her favorite. She wiggled her hips as she moved to the filing cabinet.
Pulling out the folder for next week’s paper, she stopped when she found an article by Devon J. Connors.
Two weeks and the editor had yet to make an appearance to Journalism. He was still supposed to be helping her with her story. Okay. So it was more than that. Paige pulled out the article and read the first few lines. She kinda missed him too.
She grimaced. Okay, not everything about him…
Devon still let her write articles on occasion, though none had of yet to show up in the paper. A week and a half. She spent that long on an article only to receive a rejection and a pat on the head. “Not your best,” he said. And there was that condescending smile, as if he knew all there was to know in the world and she knew nothing. Ugh!
Where was he anyway? It was peculiar that the boy who hadn’t made it to Journalism nevertheless managed to turn in an article.
She looked around and walked toward the shredder. The red light blinked at her, like the eye of a Cyclops.
Oh. But she shouldn’t. What if she were found out? The papers were lost somehow. He never turned in an article. Lia forgot to file them. Something. She was thinking too much. How many articles of hers did he do the same thing with?
She turned on the shredder. Not your best, she thought with a smile.
He hadn’t meant to stand there so long.
She was so distracted she hadn’t heard the creak of the door. Paige paced across the room in a strange dance. Her feet were light and quick on the floor. Slightly off-key, her lips mimicked the same shrieking tones on the radio. She moved toward the shredder, her hips still moving, but a bit faster, jerkier. She froze in front of the machine, as if in decision. Then she started the machine with a head bob, moving to the music as the shredder warmed up.
“Not fair. I never had so much fun editing.”
He could admit it: he loved startling people. Jumping up, she banged her hand against the shredder. Her eyes widened when she saw him. Her flyaway, red hair gave her an even more crazed look. Shock, embarrassment, confusion: emotions her face went through before it settled on joy.
She switched off the shedder, the grin on her lips growing. “You’re here!” She nearly tripped over her feet rushing to hug him.
He smirked, patting her back. “I didn’t die.”
Paige pulled away from him. “Two weeks out of Journalism?” She raised an eyebrow. “You may as well have.”
“Seems to have done pretty well.” He pulled out a rolled-up stack of paper from his back pocket. The Update. “So was it you or Lia? Because I know Cristina didn’t do anything.”
Paige giggled. “Me mostly. Cristina was out most of the week too.” Her brow furrowed. “I thought you knew. You didn’t go to classes at all? Or did you only skip Journalism?”
He brushed a hand through her hair, smoothing it out. “Went to some last week. After school, I mainly had to do things involving the team.”
“Oh.” She got the hint that he didn’t want to talk about it.
Devon lowered his hand, allowing her hair to fell back over her shoulders. “I see you have things under control here.” He took a step away from her, his gaze drifting around the room. Papers were scattered over the floor. Clippings and pictures crowded the top of the printer.
Paige rested the paper in her hands on a desk. “Did you come to help?”
Devon closed the scanner and hit the green button. “I think we’re done. You did distribution already for this week?”
Paige stopped sweeping and nodded. “I just need some help putting back the files.”
Devon grabbed a stack of papers on the front desk. “Sure thing.” Paige continued to push the broom around while Devon sorted, threw away and filed papers.
“So…how’ve you been?” he asked.
She leaned the broom against a corner of the room, next to the dust pan. “Good. I have ten more chapters of my story.” Paige strutted toward him, a smirk of self-importance on her face.
“Oh.” He frowned.
“I’d like you to look at it if you don’t mind.”
“I dropped a few characters, I don’t know how it changed the story, and I think the ending is—
“Paige, I don’t want to hear about this.”
Her lips parted and her eyebrows knocked together. A flicker of anger danced across her eyes.
Devon shook his head, incredulous. “I ask you how you’re doing and the first thing you tell me about is your story? I want to hear about you.”
She sat on the front desk, a fist kneaded to her mouth so that her knuckles pressed against her lips. Her face was still wrinkled in confusion.
“Let’s start over.”
“Okay.” She put her hands at her sides.
He reached for her hands. “So…what’s up?”
Her face was pink. She wanted to laugh. He shook her hands slightly, causing her to clear her throat. “Okay, okay.” She bit her bottom lip. Her huge, green eyes scanned the floor beneath her, as if hoping to find the answer there.
She smiled at him sheepishly. “Um, you first.”
“Come here.” He put his arms around her waist and pulled her off the desk.
“What?” She stood in front of him.
Her hands were cold when he reached for them. He rubbed them between his own. “Maybe I missed you,” he said, his voice low.
Her gaze dropped to the ground. She looked back at him, nervous and shy, and maybe even a little bit in love. A small smile graced her lips.
He couldn’t breathe and he couldn’t think. Had she always looked at him that way?
But maybe there were a lot of things he didn’t notice.
He remembered how long they held each other to say goodbye after their day on the beach, and the expression on her face when he left her on her doorstep. And maybe he’d missed journalism so much, not for papers and books, but because of her.
He put his arms around her waist. Rubbed there. “Did you miss me?”
“Of course I did.” She absently straightened his collar. “You’re the only friend I have in this class. It gets kinda boring without you.”
He planted a kiss on her forehead.
She looked at him, the adoration in her gaze unmistakable.
Or maybe he was projecting. He couldn’t take his eyes off her.
They both turned their heads at the creak in the door.
Mr. Ferguson stood in the doorway holding a stack of papers in his hands. Standing right behind him was the sports journalist: Cristina Spradley.