Please, don't look at me that way
don't tell me you're afraid of the dark inside me.
"Tivoli, population 1,953. A nice community," the brown-haired teenager read from the old sign. Now with a temporary population of 1,954, he thought to himself, and as nice as any New York village could possibly be.
"Welcome home, Philip," Gabe Caldwell turned from the driver's seat to face his foster son, his response as sincere as the youth's sarcasm. After the long drive, nearly three hours of sitting silently together yet so alone in the pickup, Philip had finally spoken. Gabe didn't take any of Philip's behavior towards him too personally; after all, the kid had every right to be upset and resentful towards his short-term guardian. They had all met before, of course, with the Social Services worker, but there's a big difference between talking about what could be and suddenly living in that scenario.
Philip nodded his head in recognition more than gratitude, then turned back to his appropriately named 'everything fucking sucks' playlist. That playlist had started off almost as a joke, back when he was in middle school, and at this point he could find nothing remotely funny about thousands of sad songs. Each one seemed to be sung just for him, and each one could have been sung by him, if he could feel those emotions and not just have them blaring in his ears. At that thought, he started to make a new playlist- 'numb'.
Five weeks later...
Maybe life wasn't all bad in the small town. Philip could sleep all day and listen to his music, pretending he was still back at home. At least Gabe certainly seemed to care enough, or maybe Helen just didn't give a shit about anything other than work. Traffic cop who thinks she's all that because she used to work up in Buffalo. Wanted to settle down, be nice and domestic, and she got it. She got me, but I guess I'm more than she bargained for. And does she really think that-
"Philip?" Helen called from the other side of his closed door. "Can I come in?"
No, Helen, you can't. Leave me here, and only come back when Mom is with you, and I can go with her. "Sure," Philip answered as he opened the door. Dressed in the same pair of sweats he'd had on for four days, with his hair a tousled mess, it was obvious to everyone in the house that the sad-eyed boy was in more pain than he would ever admit. The sheriff tried to disguise her self-disappointment before she spoke, however, when Philip looked back at her, she saw the word that he so desperately wanted her to say: pity. That to her, he would only be a basket case.
I'm trying my best, Philip. "You feeling okay?" Stupid question- look at him. What about him is okay?
The boy cleared his throat before he replied. "Yeah, um, I'm just adjusting to being here." Looking around the room it was clear that Philip had no intention of ever being settled - all of his clothes were still in the worn navy-blue duffel bag, and the rest of his belongings remained in his over-the-shoulder bag. When Philip had first arrived in Tivoli, he'd acted like this, and after about two weeks he had felt comfortable enough to unpack. Now, only his essentials - his phone, iPod, and their chargers - and of course the necessities that hadn't seen much use - remained on top of the lone dresser.
"We understand that you need your time to get accommodated," Helen tried to make eye contact with her foster son as she spoke. "And as you know, school starts next week. I was wondering if you needed anything for classes, or if you wanted to delay -"
"-why would I want that?" Philip's eyes looked up to meet Helen's. "What, you think I'm not ready? That I can't handle myself? Yeah, sure, that's going to go down well with everyone- the new kid in town who can't go to school on the first day because he's scared." Philip's voice shook with rage and self-mockery as he began to rant at Helen. Who does she think I am? "Let's give the newbie some special treatment, sure, put some pathetic little city kid in the spotlight where he belongs. Might as well tape a sign on me that says 'please be my friend' and by the end of the day I'll end up in some Dumpster with my face punched in." The agitated teenager paced around now as he spoke, his volume increased loud enough for Gabe to show up in the bedroom doorway.
"Everything all right?" Gabe asked, in his usual calm tone, his eyes surveying the scene for warning signs of bad news.
"You, too?" Philip sneered. "Both of you just leave me alone!" He advanced on the couple, causing them to stand in the hallway.
"- I forgot - you're a cop, so who can I report you to for trying to watch me as I dress?" Philip slammed the door and bolted the lock shut. In a fury, he dumped the contents of his bags onto the bed, pulling out clothing at random while he stripped out of his pants. Within a minute he was dressed in jeans, sneakers, an old t-shirt, and his Grandpa's Ranger jacket. He grabbed his iPod and wallet, purposefully leaving the phone behind because that bitch didn't think he knew she would track his GPS location to keep tabs on him. Ignoring whatever she and Gabe were saying about him, Philip stormed out of the front door to grab his bike. He pedaled fast into town, knowing that he didn't have a particular destination in mind. Not like this fucking shithole has anything in it.
After half an hour of biking around aimlessly, Philip's emotions had become more worn out than his body. I can feel again, although I'm not sure that's a good thing. Breathing deeply, he settled his bicycle on the side of a small convenience store and debated which ID to use. Except everyone knows everyone here, so what's the point? Head down, shoulders slumped, with the door's little bell announcing his entrance, Philip purposefully moved to the back of the store. Starting from the last aisle, he walked up and down each one until he eventually reached the checkout with a bottle of Coke and a new pair of earbuds.
"Can I get a pack of Marlboro's?" he asked the middle-aged cashier as she rang up his items. He could feel the harsh gaze she gave him like it pierced his chest, yet after a moment she rang up the pack and said, "That'll be $9.85. You take care, young man."
Philip paid and took his small bag outside, looking up at the evening sky. He placed his bag next to his bike and took out his iPod to take panoramas of the setting sun. Photography helped clear his mind, and the sky was clear as well. He took some pictures of the sun, the surrounding trees, and the occasional squirrel crossing the narrow road. A few minutes later, beginning to feel like he was being watched, Philip slowly turned to find a tall blond his age sitting on a motocross bike a yard away from his own bike.
"Take a picture, it'll last longer," the blond said with a smile, gesturing to Philip. His eyes reflected the honest friendliness of his smile, which confused Philip. Nonetheless, he snapped a picture of the stranger.
"Do I get a name to go with the face?" Philip asked, a smile at the corner of his own lips as the tall guy approached him. What does he want from me? There's no way he only wanted a head-shot.
"Lukas,"he answered, holding out his hand to see the picture Philip had taken. "Man, that's amazing."
"It's just a profile," Philip shrugged, secretly pleased with himself that this guy appreciated the lighting and framing of his shot.
"So now that you got a name for the face, do I get a name for the photographer?" Lukas asked, returning the iPod to Philip.
"Philip,"he replied with a grin on his face. Maybe there are some good things here after all.