Reread over last chapter...I really shouldn't write when I'm hungover. Oh well, Otto's general feelings in that chapter are important. These past two chapters were difficult to write. The next one will come easier.
There is no more suffocating a place to be than the tiny waiting area in the school's front office outside the dean's door. The air is thin. The dim, false light that drifts thickly from the overhead iridescent bulbs wraps around and presses into me, constricting. I'm not designed to be indoors, I'm not meant to be confined to small places, with an atmosphere so effervescently overloaded it should have its own musical score of easy listening.
Two women and a man in stiffly starched business casual outfits bustle around me pretending to be busy. They work in a high school office, there's only so much filing to be done. I gave one, I think the woman in red with a bouffant hairstyle, my dean summons, a tiny pink slip of paper. She told me to sit, magicked away the summons, and eased into a natural state of ignoring me. I don't let it bother me. Two can play at that game. Or four, I suppose, would be more accurate.
So there we all are, four people suffocating in the same room – because I know by their expressions that they're just as desperate for air as I am, pretending the others don't exist.
I'm sitting in a chair, the fourth in a row of six. It is gray and stiff and poorly padded. I swear, it was originally designed as an instrument of torture. I cannot lean back in it, I cannot lean forward. It pinches into my back and creaks with my every shift and shuffle, earning me accusatory glares from the office staff.
Oh yeah? Fuck you all too. It's their chair, I'm just sitting in it.
I sigh and pick at the lint on my sweatshirt. There's one day left. I've been tracking my position in time according to how far away I am from Saturday. My stomach cinches. I squeeze my eyes shut to filter out the sudden flow of emotion into the outside world.
In three hours, the final school bell will ring and another day will be gone, another barrier blocking my path.
I drift and linger languidly on a beautiful white beach far off the beaten path, a long and bruising hike from a hidden pull-off on the distant road. Rain is pummeling the sand and I am blistering heat in the sinewy arms of a damp lover. I catch my breath, hold it hostage a heartbeat or two, and release it hesitantly.
I haven't seen Lars since last Saturday.
The lust thrumming throughout my veins is nothing compared to the ache in my chest. I've decided it's his own unique way of tormenting me. Gives me a fleeting moment of fervent ecstasy then fades into the hidden recesses of my mundane life. God, he's such a prick.
I'm desperate for tomorrow. I think it will be the day I finally punch him in the face. Maybe on the lip, let it swell, then gnaw it raw.
I flush from my abdomen up, hurry the thought out of my mind.
The door of the dean's office opens. I glance it disinterested. Sam exits and I arch a brow. He darts a look my way. There is emotion flickering there, in shimmering blue eyes behind glass lenses flashing a glare of light, that I am afraid to read. He ducks his head – shame halos his features – and rushes past me out of the office. My heart rakes claws along the cavity of my inner chest. I feel nauseous. My jaw clenches and my pulse quickens. A terrible thing is happening.
The dean looks at me expectant. She ushers me into her office. I rise slowly from the rigid, gray chair. My feet carry me mindlessly across the floor. I don't even feel as though I'm walking, I feel as if I am floating, gliding, as if through a dream.
I remember the office. I've been there many times since starting high school and it never changes. A large oak desk takes up the bulk of the room. Its top neatly organized, five gold framed pictures in the far right corner, a decades old computer buzzing in the left, a steel-mesh pencil holder most likely bought from Wal-Mart and carefully filled with twenty-seven perfectly matched black pens, a stack of papers with an almost deliberately disheveled appearance, and a gold plaque that reads: Hilda Mouser – Dean of Students. Behind the desk is a cabinet, a two-decades old printer, more framed pictures – fourteen to be exact, and a high-backed, black, fluffy chair. In front of the desk are two plush, red chairs, pointedly smaller in size than the one behind the desk.
I take what I said earlier back. There is no more suffocating a place to be than this room.
"Take a seat, Mister Rocket," Dean Mouser commands. There is something in the way she says 'mister' that feels so very emasculating. The oxygen drags from my lungs and hangs explosive in the air. I move forward and plop into the plush chair. She waddles around the desk and eases into her own seat.
Dean Mouser is a stern-faced woman. The lines of her expression appear carved out of granite. Her frown is pronounced, her eyes droop slightly, three deeply engraved wrinkles dip across her forehead, the crows feet around her eyes scatter haphazard and catch the granules of her mineral foundation like tiny nuggets of gold embedded in the vein of a mine. Her body is bulky, her gargantuan breasts rest heavily over her bulging belly fat. Her large lips are just as crinkled as her aged face, and the dried and cracked crimson rouge of her lipstick accentuates their uneven texture. Her skin is a dark mocha color, her eyes a sullied copper, her flat-ironed raven hair frames her round, pudgy face in a classic bob.
She folds her hands atop the desk and sets her gaze on me. I slump over my knees, stare up at her with an expression I hope is not the least bit guilty looking. Overhead, I hear her fancy, brass clock tick away the seconds.
"I heard an interesting story today," she begins.
I bite back my instinctively sarcastic response. There is a way that my mouth betrays me, speaking without warning things that bypass my mind and head straight for my tongue. It happens more often than I like in front of people with the authority to take my freedom away.
"One of your fellow classmates, one I trust to be forthright and honest, informed me that you were not the one responsible for the disruption of the Choir and Orchestra's assembly at the beginning of this month."
My stomach drops clear through to the floor. I can only stare, blank-faced and paralyzed, at Dean Mouser's mouth as it moves open and closed, making recognizable, yet, meaningless sounds. The room is spinning, a swirl of gold and black. A thought fortifies itself against my dissolving mental stability: Sam is dead.
"I was also informed that you are aware of the identities of the real perpetrators of the disruption and that they may be threatening you with violence, Mister Rocket, to keep their identities a secret and suffer their punishment for them."
Dean Mouser purses her lips, leans the bulk of her weight across the desk's edge, balances it on her forearms. Her eyes burrow into mine, searching the inner workings of my mind.
I realize after a prolonged series of seconds – during which my blood is replaced with liquid ice – that she is waiting for my response. The muscles of my throat clamp together, a vice on my voice. I make a noise, non-committal, a croak like the heartfelt trumpet of a crushed frog.
She draws her breath in through her nostrils and lets it out in one gush. She straightens a bit, shifts the weight of her breast off the desk and pulls them up with her haggard shoulders. She shuffles the papers around on her desk, finds a tiny white sheet folded neatly in half and holds it out to me.
"These were the names your schoolmate gave me. I only need you to confirm them for me, Mister Rocket."
I don't move to take it. I stare at it as though a scorpion poised to strike. Dean Mouser drops her brow. Her lips press together, rippling the caked lipstick.
"I understand your apprehension, Mister Rocket."
She hasn't got one fucking clue.
I don't think I have any fucking clue.
"But the charges filed against these young men are serious offenses. Furthermore, you are doing no one any good by protecting these students. They need to face consequences for their actions."
I draw my brow together – picturesque obstinate – chew my inner cheek until I taste blood.
"You aren't doing yourself any good. Many of your teachers have already noticed a drop in your schoolwork, Mister Rocket. I know it's not easy to concentrate in such a highly stressful situation."
It's not easy to concentrate when you're desperately yearning to see the dark, sultry figure of a tryst gone viral either.
"I can't do anything for you, Mister Rocket, unless you tell me the truth. You can be a trouble-maker at times, true, but I know you're good at heart. You're also a smart young man and I know you are smart enough to figure out what the right thing to do is."
She wags the paper at me. I scowl at it. Hateful bit of bleached mulch. Stomach acids sear the top of my throat. I take the paper from her outstretched hand. Unfold it. Glare at it. Will it to crumble into dust. There are three names neatly scrawled in Sam's nervous, trembling hand.
I realize, in that moment, that single moment arching into eternity, that I've lost something. With the ease of a falling guillotine he's written it away. This something...something I cannot name or describe or vividly draw a picture of in my mind's eye. Yet, it is something precious to me, something I didn't even know I possessed, but now that I'm losing it I cannot bear the pain of being without it.
Goddammit, Sam. Why didn't he just jab a red-hot rod of iron through my eyes?
I skim the names. I don't really read them. I'm concentrating on keeping my face a mask of emotion. I'm feeling too many things at once and I'm not entirely sure of their meaning or how to even begin processing them. Mostly I just want to break something.
I nod, quick and short.
"Yeah. That's them," I murmur. My voice is strange. It doesn't sound like my own. It is faraway. A harsh and strangled whisper, the dying plea of a man torn asunder.
I hand the paper back. Dean Mouser accepts it. She smiles at me, its meant as an encouragement, but it crawls under my skin and nibbles at the bone.
"I'll take care of these students. I'll give your father a call today, also, let him know what's been going on. I'm sure he's worried about you at home if your recent behavior at school is any indication."
My father's only concern at home is the hamburger grill. I think I'm going to be sick. I feel her next words more than hear them.
"Congratulations. Your Saturday detentions are over, Mister Rocket." Her smile widens, she flashes a hint of caffeine stained porcelain. "I'm sure you're eager to get back to surfing or skateboarding or whatever it is you'd much rather be spending your weekend doing."
Fuck you, bitch.
She wouldn't know the half of what I'd rather spend my weekend doing. She probably can't remember the last time someone bent her over a desk and fucked her senseless.
I screw my eyes shut, close out the suddenly blinding light of reality. I try to hold my heart in, its attempting to rip out of its cage. I'm back to the beginning of two years ago. I never see Lars Rodriguez. He is a thought of a thought of a thought hovering in the back of my mind. He is so far away, I can't even spot him in my peripheral. His last word to me, tumbling carelessly from his lips to my ears, fades in the passage of time: Dork.
It isn't fair. There was only one more day. I knew where I was before, but now I'm lost. Time and space are unwinding around me.
"Well, now, that's over and done with. You can head back to class, Mister Rocket."
I steady myself, breath in and out a few times. Try to get my bearings straight. I grip the arms of the plush chair, use them to lift myself up.
Over and done. Yes. It is all over and done. I exit the room, wander aimlessly through the front office, stumble out into the school hall. I've been hit by a speeding vehicle, knocked flat on my back. Part of me, an automated part that has suddenly kicked in, recognizes that it's passing period. Students are rushing through the halls, brushing past me, or gathered in circles with friends laughing and chatting, disregarding me as I search for my standing in this new and foreign place.
And then, I see him.
Purpose overwhelms me. I cross the hall in long, solid strides. He is slammed back against the locker, it answers in a rickety scream of protest, and I snap firmly back into the here and now.
"What the fuck did you do?" I hiss. Timid blue darts to my face then races away once more. He quakes under my grasp. His bottom lip droops out, it trembles pathetic. I almost want to let him go if for nothing else than to avoid getting the fear oozing off him onto myself.
"What you should have done," he remarks. He doesn't sound convinced.
"Otto, what the hell is your problem?"
Oh, well, shit. My sister is here too. She hovers beside us, eyes narrowed and lips pursed. She seems caught, uncertain of whether to break us apart or simply watch the impending disaster. I don't care what she does. In the end she'll take his side, she always does. Fuck, I don't care what either of them do. Both of them deserve each other. Stuck up, know-it-all, nosy jerks.
My fist slams the wall near Sam's head. He flinches violently, body coiling into itself, face pinching shut.
"Stay away from me," I tell him. All of them can just stay the hell away from me.
I turn away and stalk away down the hall. My sisters call after me but I don't hear her. Fuck her. Fuck the both of them. Fuck every single one of them.
None of them understand how I feel.
Fuck, how could they?
I don't even understand how I feel.
Dammit. I have my Saturdays back, I should be happy.
Everything pounding in my head, every single question, every single thought is the same: Lars. I swallow down the lump in my throat. I close my eyes a moment, shudder against the calm of the coming storm.