Chapter One: When The Light Gets Into Your Heart
"...So I turned myself to face me,
but I've never caught a glimpse of
how the others must see the faker.
I'm much too fast to take that test..."
The sun rose over Shermer Illinois as it always did, it's light reflecting off the cars traveling down Shermer Road. Brian Johnson, Shermer High student and "brain", watched the skies hue change with the dawn of a new day. He sighed deeply from his position on the living room couch.
"Are you still up?" His father asked, walking through in his bathrobe. Brian merely nodded. "You know Son, it's not good to stress yourself out like this. I know you're upset about this detention thing and all but as long as you straighten up now you'll be fine."
Brian nodded again. "I know Dad. I'm fine, really."
"Okay." Mr. Johnson patted his son's head and ruffled his hair lightly. "Now I'm going back to bed. I suggest you do the same."
'Yeah, right.' Brian thought solemnly. He knew there would be no sleep for him that night, or the next for that matter. So much had happened the day before, it was impossible for his mind to rest. He was afraid to go to school in some ways. It had never been something he looked forward to, but the events of the next day were certain to be of importance and that made him nervous.
He had sworn not to ignore any of the friends he had made in the library prison that they had shared and he didn't plan to. But what if Claire had been right? He couldn't face the humiliation if they ignored him, or even worse insulted him while he stood there. His reputation was already at the bottom of the barrel, any lower and he'd disappear completely.
As the same sun rose in a different area of town, John Bender stepped out into the brisk cold air and quickly headed down the street. He had to leave early in the mornings to avoid his father and mother. That was why it didn't bother him so much to have to go to school on Saturdays. Then he didn't have to explain why he'd been gone all day "avoiding all the work that needs to be done."
Saturday detention. He'd faced it many times but the last one was different. Maybe it was coincidence, all their problems piling on until each one of them broke on the same day, in the same room. Or maybe it was the weed. He laughed inwardly. Whether it was fate or something else, they had all opened up. But was that really such a good idea? He'd walked home that day thinking that maybe things could change. If five "kids" could change all of their views and perceptions in a single day, maybe other things could change as well. Then he got home, and those feelings were shattered as he watched his father wail on his mother. His parents couldn't open up to each other, and he certainly couldn't open up to them. And now he'd have to face four people who knew his secret.
He had been so stupid to say those things. But Andrew had just pissed him off so much, Bender couldn't help showing him how much worse it could be. What if they told someone? Things were bad at home but he didn't want some social services group snooping around. Then everyone in town would know what really happened in the Bender house. His reputation would be shot, and suddenly everyone would see him as a helpless child. What would Vernon say? Maybe if everyone was suddenly worried about Bender, they might believe him about what happened in the closet. Man how he'd love to nail Vernon like that.
But for all he knew there would be no change. Claire had said it herself that they wouldn't remain friends the next day and who was he to doubt that. He lifted his hand to finger the diamond stud that looked so out of place in his ear. But there was always a chance... He scoffed at the thought. No, that Princess was just looking for fun the day before and she'd hardly glance his way on Monday, and he'd be sure to do the same.
Day broke in full over the next few hours while Brian continued to watch. His mother stared at him from the bottom of the steps for a moment before confronting him.
"You know you could at least be studying." She chided, catching his attention. "You wasted all day yesterday with that damned detention of yours, I won't see you waste all of today moping about." She added some cheer to the end of her sentence, trying not to sound too angry. But as Brian only stared at her silently, as if waiting for her to go away, she found herself unable to brighten her mood. Her lips tightened and she shook her head slowly with annoyance.
"Now you listen to me Brian Johnson. You do not ignore your mother." Brian continued to stare. "I don't know what's gotten into you but I won't have my son turn into some hooligan, slacking off and playing around."
"Playing around?!" Brian yelled back, so surprised by his own outburst that his voice squeaked. "Playing around? You, you have no idea, do you? You think when I do anything other than studying I'm 'playing around' but it doesn't work that way. I work hard. Real hard. All you ever tell me is study, study, study, and that's all I do. And I deserve a break sometimes!"
His mother stared at him in shock, desperate to scold her son but unable to form the words. Brian bit the inside of his lip, wanting so much to continue, and let everything out. Tell her the real reason he was in detention was because her overbearing behavior had forced him to bring a gun to school. Oh, that would just knock her off her feet. He couldn't help chuckling a little at the thought.
"Oh you think this is funny?" His mother asked clearly, having found her voice. "Nearly gave your mother a heart attack, jumping at me like that, and you think it's funny. Honestly." She drifted away, obviously unable to retaliate against her sons complaints. Brian sat back near tears of frustration and also release. He had never stood up to his parents before and it was almost exhilarating, but for the small sinking feeling he felt in the pit of his stomach. He briefly thought about Andrew, who faced similar problems with his father. He had been the bravest, Brian thought. He was the first to show his true side, and how he really felt. He'd given Brian the strength to do the same.
But perhaps too much strength was drawn from Andrew Clark as he now lay across a weight bench while his father spotted his reps.
"What's wrong with you Son? You're not in it today. Your moves are weak and clumsy. You've got a match in less than a week and I won't have you wussing out on me now. I want you in top form."
Andrew nodded shakily and put the barbell back into place, then sat up. His father came over to sit alongside him.
"You now how important this is, right? I know you think you're young and you can still slack off, but those college recruiters will be here before you know it. You've got to have a perfect record when they do Boy. That's why you've got to win!" He slapped his son on the back with a laugh. "Now come on, lets head outside for some laps before we go home. And make sure you towel off first, it's still chilly out."
Tossing Andrew a towel he headed out of the weight room of the Chicago City Gym. Andy looked at the thin white towel and grit his teeth. He quickly ran the cloth around the back of his neck and over his arms, knowing there was still a good deal of sweat on his body. But he didn't care, because if he was sick, it might give him the chance to miss the match. Although his father would just drive him harder for the next one.
He'd considered just coming home on Saturday and saying "Dad, I quit" but the moment they were in the truck his father was going on about the next match, and school rivalries, and how things had been when he was in school. He watched his father smile as he talked about his win last week, and then realized there was no way he could quit. The only time his father had looked on him with any kind of pride was when he was a winner. He was afraid of what might happen if he lost that.
Begrudgingly he walked out onto the field and began to trot along the track while his father egged him on. He hated that his father was more like a trainer than a Dad, but at least he was there.
Allison stared into the mirror, her own somber expression staring back at her. With a puff of air she blew her bangs away from her eyes for a brief moment. They still looked puffy, though not as red as they'd been earlier.
Walking out she went down the hall and down to the first floor, making her way into the dining room of her house and stared at her mother who was setting the table for what appeared to be a big dinner.
"Who's coming over?" she asked meekly. It wasn't often that she took the time to speak to her parents, because she knew there'd be no answer. Her mother continued as if she couldn't hear her daughter over the sound of clinking silverware. Sighing, Allison walked towards the kitchen where her father was on the phone.
"Yes yes, that right." He said to whomever was on the line. "No, not tonight. The museum curator's coming by to look at those pieces we picked up while in Europe..."
Allison had nearly forgotten about the trip her parents had taken in January. They hadn't even told her they were going. She just woke to find them both gone and an envelope of cash on the kitchen table. Strangely though, that envelope had been a source of comfort to her. It was proof that her parents knew she existed.
Allison slowly trudged back to the bathroom and looked back at the mirror. Her hair was a mess, moreso than it usually was when she went out. Apathetically she grabbed a brush and ran it through her hair, feeling the strands as they pulled on her scalp. In the hamper next to her was the pale pink top she had worn home the day before. Allison smiled.
She could clearly remember Andy's eyes and the way they closed so slowly when he reached to kiss her. He'd given her her first kiss, or should she say kisses, the day before. And he, along with the others, gave her the strength to change. She'd watched her parents as she got in the car and smiled as her mother looked at her in the rearview mirror, paying her attention for the first time in years.
It hurt so much for her parents to ignore her, so a while back she started to act out. She couldn't count the number of things she'd stolen, just waiting to be caught so her parents would HAVE to come for her. But either she was good, or no one cared, because she was never caught. In desperation she had lied and told her parents she had detention to get them to notice. She had at least succeeded in getting them to drive her to school together. And her impromptu makeover had at least made her mother take notice. Looking again at the pink top she nodded her head with a new determination.
Heading back downstairs she went into the now empty kitchen and pulled the phone book out from the second drawer of the phone table. She opened it to the residential numbers and looked up the name Standish. Luckily there were only three, and her luck rang true again when she got the right number on her first try.
"Hello, Standish residence." A female voice answered. Allison cleared her throat to fight back her nerves.
"Hi. I'm looking for Claire Standish."
"Just a minute." Allison could hear the woman call for Claire and a few moments later she heard a click, followed by Claire's voice.
"Hi, Claire? It's Allison."
"Oh." She paused for a second. "Hi."
"I'm sorry to call you so suddenly..." Allison's voice trailed off.
"This is where you tell me why you called." Claire laughed.
"I just... Couldn't take the silence."
The two continued an awkward conversation until Claire heard a knock at her door.
"Allison? I gotta go."
"Oh, hold on." Allison interrupted."My parents are having a dinner tonight. Do you think I should eat with them?"
Claire glanced at the door. "Well, yeah. Why wouldn't you?" The door knocked again. "Sorry but I really gotta go. Bye"
Claire waited for a response, but after a few seconds of silence she hung up and ran to get the door. Her mother stood in the hallway, a stern look on her face.
"You're father's working late again tonight. I'll be ordering dinner in half an hour." Her mother's face lightened up. "We can get whatever you want, okay sweetie?"
Claire shrugged apathetically. "You can choose. I really don't care."
"All right, I'll order us some veggie wraps. Got to stay in shape, haven't we dear?" She nudged Claire gently, then left. Rolling her eyes Claire shut the door and stared at the phone.
She didn't expect be getting calls from the friends she'd made in detention, especially not Allison who was such an introvert it was a shock for her to make any noise, never mind speak. Why had she called? They hadn't talked about anything in particular, just a few fashion things which seemed out of character for Allison. Then again after Claire had given her that makeover she probably just wanted tips on how to keep her new look.
Would she keep the look? And would Claire acknowledge it on Monday? It was a question she woke up with that morning. On Saturday she'd told all of them that they wouldn't remain friends, but then something changed. She didn't know what had done it exactly, but all of a sudden she thought their friendship would be worth fighting for and for the rest of the night she felt like they would keep it, like there was hope for them. But when she woke up the next morning, reality hit and she knew how hard it would be. She could stay in touch with Andy no problem, she had already known him before hand, so it wouldn't seem odd. But how could she hang out with a nerd like Brian, or Allison who was known as the school freak? And then there was Bender, or should she call him John? What would her friends say if they saw her with the school junkie?
But, if anyone, Bender was the one Claire was willing to make the sacrifice for. She had seen him around school before and he'd intrigued her then, while getting on her nerves at the same time by doing his best to ruin school for the people in her social circle. When she'd seen him walk in on Saturday morning she thought he'd make the day absolutely miserable, and in some ways he did, but he had opened up like the rest of them. He showed her that he didn't screw around to hurt other people but just to have fun himself, and with a life like his he needed to have fun somewhere. He still pissed her off, but it was different, especially at the end of the day. The things he said and did, they were aimed at the way she felt and the fears she had, about being seen as a prissy "daddy's girl", or being another sheep in the flock. What he said was true, and hearing it out loud made it all the more real to her.
She had always heard that there was something about the bad boy that attracts the good girl, and she understood the saying now. Though she wasn't a prude as he'd called her, she wasn't big into dating and guys like the rest of her friends were. None of them really excited her, mentally, emotionally, or physically. But John Bender did all three, and that was why she'd gone to the closet in the end, to give him her first true kiss.
Claire bit her lip, feeling somewhat silly thinking about these things, and once her memories were interrupted, her worries returned. She wanted to see them all on Monday, and greet them with a smile, but could she? And if she could, would they return it? Allison would. She'd shown that by having the courage to call. Glancing at the phone again, Claire wondered how Allison was doing at home.
"Now this one you really must see.." Mrs. Reynolds voice carried through the house. "It's a beautiful, hand carved wooden amulet. I found it in the smallest little pawn shop, and darned if I know how they got their hands on it. All I know is it was a great deal."
"Yes indeed." John Rhyse, a curator from the local city museum, stated, eyeing the piece. "You've got great taste. I'll have you working at the museum eventually."
Allison's mother laughed in a tone that grated her ears. At the top of her steps the shy teen sat, listening to her parents boast about their collection. They'd be eating dinner soon and she had to time herself perfectly or she might look out of place. She heard a dull buzzing.
"Oh, there's the roast. Please, join my husband in the dining room. I'll be right there."
The three gathered around the large cherry wood dining table where Mrs. Reynolds had prepared an extravagant meal. Biting her lip, Allison made her way down the steps and into the dining room. Both her parents looked at her in shock.
"Is this little Ally?" The curator greeted. "Why I haven't seen you since you were this tall." He gestured to his waste. "It seems that you're always out when I come to visit. Oh to be young again."
'Not out' Allison thought. 'Just shut away, avoiding the world.' She suddenly wished she hadn't come down. Her parents had seemed perfectly content to have her stay in her room before. What would they do now?
After an awkward silence, her mother interjected. "Well, now that we're all here, let's eat." She discreetly put out another plate while watching her daughter, who was wearing clothes she hadn't seen since they were bought. Her hair was pushed away from her face, and her mother way amazed to see how much older she truly looked. Allison gave her mother a weak smile and began to eat.
His mother tapped lightly on his door and waited for him to open it. Brain sat on the other side, not moving. Knowing her son well enough, she spoke through the door.
"Honey, I'm sorry about earlier. You know I'm just looking out for you. Your father worked hard to get where he is today. Just because we have all we need now, it doesn't mean you'll always have that in life. I just want you to be prepared so you can make a good living for yourself... But whether or not I pushed you does not excuse the way you spoke to me. Now I came here to make amends, and I expect an apology from you too."
Knowing he hadn't handled things well that morning Brian apologized solemnly and waited for his mother to leave. He stood by the window and looked out at the now dark sky. There was something about watching the world make a complete circle that put things in perspective. He was still nervous about going back to school, but he knew there were bigger problems in life, and he shouldn't waste so much time on something that would happen as it wanted to no matter what.
Suddenly the effect of having stayed up all night caught up with him and his eye lids grew heavy. Setting his alarm clock and checking his bag for the next day, he lay down in the same clothes he'd worn since the night before. Before he knew it, he was waking to David Bowie's "Changes" on the radio.