leaving behind my echoes

Rafe fucked up.
Crushing his knee running from the police, his chances of a scholarship to college are gone, and his ability to read isn’t getting better; words simply doesn’t make sense. So moving from Melville, he swears Corbet High is gonna be the last school ever.
But Gardner, struck by OCD, and Tulsa, the compulsive liar, are gonna change things. Coz otherwise it wasn’t worth it.

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2. R A F E

 

I rest my forehead against the passenger-side window, and let the dark green colors slip past me. The train moves like the trucks from my old town, the tracks rasps like a poor-greased bicycle, and my teeth clatter as the wagon shakes. The woods on the other side of the glass are wet with rain and hanging low, turning Salt Forest to a bleak sight. It’s like I’ve never left Mellive.

The next stop is announced over the radio, declaring Corbet one station closer. I sigh, rubbing my eyes. Caffeine is something I’m craving when the wagon stops with a howl. My head bumps into the window, knocking the glass against my nose.

“Shit,” I moan, tapping my fingers against the seat in front of me. A kid blinks at as he turns around, staring at me. “Sorry,” I mutter, leaning back and pull my cap down my forehead. There’s a beginning storm coming, as passengers starts to complain about the sudden end of the road.

I wait and wait, chewing on my thumb as minutes go by. There’s a three mile path to Corbet. “Damnit.” I smack my hand at the seat, and pull my bag over the shoulder. The kid turns again, frowning as I make my way through the train. My boots shriek like a choked cat, and it turns out leather is a bad combination with the moist weather in Washington. I sweat like a pig and my hair flops around my head.

I push the doors open to the next wagon, facing a conductor explaining someone that the train is in fact, broken. He doesn’t say anything as I tear the door open to the tracks beneath me, and jump down on the rocky ground. Walking to Corbet is gonna take around half an hour if I keep a steady pace.

“Hey, don’t run on the tracks!” the conductor shouts at my back. I cross the railroad and find the path adventurous teens have walked when backpacking from town to town. Corbet is just a pit stop on the way, but you gotta move through to keep it on further. It’s stamped down and easy to walk as I place one boot in front of the other.

My knee hurts after ten feet. The brace around my right leg feels warm even through the fabric of my pants, and I have to remind myself that there’s no good in tearing it off. There’s just nothing you can do when you’ve busted your kneecap.

“Shit,” I repeat. My phone counts down the minutes to school, and I can’t be late for my very first day at Corbet High. I’m not worried about making a bad impression, we are way past that already, I just don’t need to get kicked out again.

“You should have stayed on the train.” A voice slaps at my the back of my head. I spin around, facing a girl. Her shaggy brows are raised in a smirk smile, but her arms are crossed over the chest like she has to keep herself together. “You know, impatient doesn’t get you as far as a car.”

“What? You got a car?” I snap, resisting to rub my throbbing knee. Yet, her eyes rest on the brace.

“As a matter of fact I do,” she fires back. Between her fingers rattles a set of car keys with a pink ball of fur attached to it. “Need a ride?”

“I might,” I mumble. Her eyebrows move again, she waves at me to follow. I weigh my options. Two miles remain to Corbet, a small town, but I still don’t know how far there is to the school from the town border. Taking the ride is my only option if I ever want to arrive at the high in time. Finally, I follow her through the thin trees to the highway on the other side. An old 1985 jeep is parked by the road side.

“Five minutes to the high school,” the girl announce when I’m bumped into the passenger seat.

“I’m Tulsa, by the way.”

“Rafe,” I introduce myself, watching her out of the corner of my eye. “I’m not headed for the school.”

“Liar,” she grins, starting the engine and pulling out on the road. She shifts the gears and hit the speeder towards the big, blue sign we pass before entering Corbet. “Everyone at Corbet knows your face already. It’s a small town.”

Smaller than Mellive apparently. God I hate small towns.

Tulsa keeps her eyes on the road and I keep my head low as we stop at the only traffic light for miles. In the midst of Corbet is the police station and a coffee place. Everything else we pass is either big houses or fence-surrounded trailer parks. Nothing in between. I only see one supermarket, otherwise they have a basketball court.

“End of the line,” Tulsa exclaim, parking by the trash cans behind Corbet High. There’s probably a reason we don’t use the real parking lot, but I’m not asking. No need to bond with anyone.

“Thanks,” I say, slamming the car door and stepping into the moist.

“No problem,” she answer, and that’s it. We don’t utter more words to each other as we step inside the emergency doorways and into the halls of Corbet High School. Tulsa leaves me as soon as we are floated by the crowd, and I’m on my own. Heads turns towards me, there’s whispers in the corners when I make my way through people. There’s an exceptional amount of students considering the small town.

I follow the flow, not exactly sure how to find the secretary’s office. Searching through the different signs outside of class rooms, I’m not finding anything to point me in any direction. Then of course, I can’t read anything else than the numbers on each door.

“You look profoundly lost.” Tulsa is back as it thins out in the crowd. She is standing right in front of me, and her blondish hair hits me in the face when she turns around. The curls comes with a scent of shampoo, and then it’s gone when she sets down the hallway. I follow, trying to keep the same pace as her, until we finally stops by a glass door.

 “Good luck,” Tulsa say, and knocks at the door. “You’re gonna need it.”

She’s gone when a woman comes out to meet me.

“Mr. Martinez,” she exclaim, clapping her hands together. “I’m principal Tate.”

The lady holds a stack of papers, looking from me to the words written down. Then she sets the aside, deciding that it’s to embarrassing to mention.

“Well, you tutor will go through them with you. Right now, all you need to know is that your class is happening in Room 44.”

“Sure.” I turn around. She shouts at me, thinking I don’t know the way. She doesn’t understand than remembering things is how I get through life. When you can’t read directions, you surely remember where you came from. Two halls down, one step right, and I am by Room 44. Three knocks and I am inside.

“Rafael Martinez,” the teacher announce to the class, all knowing who I am.  

“Rafe,” I correct him. “It’s just Rafe.”

I find a seat, ignoring the buff boys to my left, grinning and poking each other while looking at me. Probably the school’s football team. I already know they are gonna be the biggest problem.

Mr. Riley begins the class. Paying attention is hard, since the whisper doesn’t stop. I have to hear every word and memorize them, but I can’t with the jerks showing off by my side. I wonder what their laughing at most, how I blow off every change of a good life, or how I can’t read. Probably both.

“Is it true though?” A boy says, sitting right behind me. “You can’t read?”

“Whoa, heading straight for the gut eh?” someone else laughs. I slope a pencil between my fingers, repeating the same words in my head, they are not worth it. My dad used to say it when he needed me calm. A kid who can’t read in seventh grade isn’t exactly popular, and I responded to it all with my fist. Honestly, my hands a itching for smacking the boy two tables over.

“James,” Mr. Riley warns, trying to silence the class.

James leans back in his chair, winking at me like a warning. I smile at him. “Overconfidence,” he sneers when Mr. Riley turns around. “Try spelling that.”

“Why? You need someone to tell you how?” I answer. Someone giggles and James turns red. I bet I’m dead before lunch break.

I swing my back over the shoulder, vanishing from Mr. Riley’s class as fast as possible when the bell rings. People move like I’m Moses crossing the Red Sea, like they all know my funeral is coming.

“Rafe,” a hand grabs around my shoulder. I turn around, ready to knock someone’s teeth out, but it’s just another boy. He looks like a straw and so fragile I’m afraid I might break him just by looking at him. Hitting him would probably tear him in half.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I just wanted to know if you can’t read.”

I shrug, turning around. I never need apologies, they aren’t worth shit. “I’m serious, I’m sorry,” the boy runs after me. “I can’t help you if I don’t know.”

“What, you’re my tutor?” I turn to him in disbelief. The boy looks at me with eyes so blue they make the sky seem colorless. He turns small under my burning glance.

“No, I just wanna help you.”

“Don’t need it.”

I push myself past him, and gets myself trapped in the crowd leaving class. My knee is burning and I need to move and stretch after having been seated for so long. That’s when I finally find the boy’s room. It’s empty and big enough for me to pace around. I walk back and forth, eating my sandwich at the same time just to make time pass. I’m only half way through my peanut butter and jam, when I decided that school just isn’t worth it.

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