It woke him up on Thursday, an hour before the day even started. It kept him cold and paranoid as he got dressed. It gave him a stomach ache as he tried to eat his oatmeal. It was a tension that would be with him until six PM that night.
"Eat your oatmeal, Brendon." Paula shoved a spoonful of baby food into Josie's mouth, but it all came out and dribbled down her chin.
"I'm not hungry."
"You don't feel well?"
"That's an understatement."
"What do you mean?"
"I feel like my stomach ate itself, threw itself up, and then took a giant dump on my liver."
"That's wonderful table discussion."
Brendon lifted the spoon up to his mouth, but then decided against it. He let the utensil clank back into the bowel. "Mom, I really don't want to do this."
"What doesn't kill us makes us stronger."
"Yeah but, but what if it does kill me..."
Paula lifted up her head as she heard the school bus pull up next to their house.
"... and then steals our silverware..."
"There's the bus!" She jumped up and grabbed Brendon's bag. She shoved it into his arms. "Have a nice day!" She pushed him out the door and locked it, Brendon clutching his school bag like there was no tomorrow, staring up at the big yellow monster.
Contrary to popular belief, Shannon DID go to Brendon's school. People usually thought otherwise because no one ever saw Shannon at school. This was due mainly to the fact that Shannon... well, never really went to school when he was supposed to. Or went in general. Brendon could only assume he was out vandalizing property, or... or stepping on cats or something. Doing things Shannon would usually do. Whatever they were. Brendon reminded himself of this as he shakily put his jacket and books in his locker.
"Shannon isn't here. Shannon never comes to school. He won't beat you up. Shannon isn't here. Shannon isn't..."
The books Brendon was putting away toppled onto the floor as the poor boy banged his head on the top of the locker entrance in sheer surprise. And horror.
"Sha... Shannon! H...hi! I didn't... I mean... you scared me. I didn't expect to see you at school..."
"Well, like you said, I rarely ever show up." The bully examined his nails in a nonchalant fashion, his body leaning casually on the locker next to Brendon's.
"Well no, I mean you come every once in a... actually, yeah that's true..."
Shannon pushed himself off the locker suddenly. "Welp, I'm off. Thinking of letting the air outta McGuirk's tires..." He nudged Brendon in the shoulder with his elbow, then put his hand in the younger boy's hair and ruffled it up, a little too violently for Brendon's taste. "See ya tonight." He let go suddenly, causing Brendon to stumble a little before catching his balance on his ajar locker door. When he looked up, Shannon was gone.
"I'm gonna die."
Recess. 1:00 PM.
Brendon was crouched behind a trash can outside with his empty lunch bag over his head. The voices of the other students running around and playing tag created a comforting drone in the background, and he was thankful that it wasn't too quite.
"It's me. Melissa."
"Oh, hi. What do you want?"
"Jason's gonna eat a cricket and he wants you to be around when he does it."
"As magical as that sounds, I really can't come out from behind here. I mean, what if Shannon sees..."
"Brendon, Shannon's not allowed to come out to recess. The courts can't handle all those "race related beatings" and "vindictive man-slaughter" accounts anymore."
"Yeah, I guess you're right."
Melissa took his hand and led him to the other side of the playground next to the wire fence that separated the play zone from the street. There, Jason sat examining the contents in his hand, while Walter and Perry looked on in fascination.
"He's gonna do it, Perry!"
"He's gonna put it in his mouth... in his... and then eat it!"
"...gonna eat it!"
"Shhhh!" Jason put his finger to his lips. "I need complete concentration for this to work."
"Hi Jason. I brought Brendon."
"I, er ah... hi Jason."
"Brendon... you look stressed."
"EAT it!" Walter shouted.
"Yeah, eat the damn cricket!"
"SHUT uuuuuuup, I'll do it when I'm ready! Okay I'm ready." Jason stuck the whole insect in his mouth and seemed to chew it thoughtfully without the slightest hint of disgust on his face. Melissa covered her eyes; Walter and Perry cheered.
Brendon laughed for the first time that day.
Bus ride home. 3 PM.
For some strange reason, all Brendon could think of on the ride home was an episode he and his mother watched on the food channel. He supposed it was his mind's way of dealing with all the nerves and extra adrenaline, but still. It would have been more productive to memorize all the fire exits in his house.
When the bus slowed down at his stop, Brendon practically somersaulted off and made an impressive sprint to his door. He slammed and locked it behind him, and just for good measure, he attempted to block the door-knob with a chair.
"Brendon, that's a good chair. Put it back in the kitchen."
"I'll tell you what, how 'bout you put the chair in the kitchen and I go hide under my bed."
Paula bounced Josie on her hip and gave Brendon a look that she invented solely for him, a cross between 'don't be smart,' and 'what in the world are you talking about?' Brendon sighed and dragged the chair back to the table, briefly looking at the counter-top where his mom had apparently made snacks for the two boys. Peanut butter on celery and two glasses of milk. Paula saw him glancing at it.
"You know, I should put the milk in the fridge. Just in case he gets here late."
Brendon's face lit up. "Or in case he doesn't show. I mean, maybe he won't even come. Maybe he'll just blow it off and then it'll be his fault and Mr. Lynch won't make me do this anymore."
"Honey," Paula closed the fridge and took Brendon's face in her hands. She squeezed it in the loving, motherly way which made Brendon role his eyes. "You're worrying over nothing. Everything is going to be fine."
Brendon sulked and looked towards the floor.
"Now here," Paula said, "take Josie upstairs with you, I'll let you know when he gets here."
Instead of putting Josie in her crib, Brendon brought her into his room. He set her down on the floor, plopped up by a pillow, and rummaged around in his toy chest for his favorite action figures.
"Well, Jos, I might not make it out of this alive, so why don't we spend my last few remaining hours playing our favorite game: Destructo-Zombies!" He dropped the toys on the floor, and Josie immediately began to put one of them in her mouth. Brendon took it away, "let's not make this another marble incident..."
From downstairs he heard a knock at the door, and held his breath as he heard his mom walk over and open it.
"Oh, hi Mr. Adelburg."
Brendon sighed and slumped over, it was just one of his mom's students. He picked up his favorite zombie action figure and began to make Josie laugh by tossing it up and down in the air and signing a wacky song. Not too long afterward he heard his mom knock on his door.
"Is he here yet?" he asked, making his way over to the opposite side of the room. He didn't hear an answer, so he assumed he was right in his assumption that Shannon would ditch the whole appointment. "I told you, he's not coming. Now I get to tell Mr. Lynch and he'll be the one to get in trouble, not me. Heh heh, Brendon one, Shannon zer..." Brendon opened his door to see none other than Shannon on the opposite side, equipt with his plate of celery and his glass of milk. He downed his drink quickly and then handed his glass to the stunned boy, who slowly opened his hand to accept the glass, just as his mouth opened and closed with no words coming out.
"I'm sorry," Shannon said, "what was it you were saying? Brendon one, Shannon zero?"