This was fun, but some might deem it an emotional roller coaster, depending on the experiences they've had in this lifetime. The cover art is done by the ever lovely Malsavaidity, or Heroic Pen here on . She does wonderful work, so you should pay her a visit on deviantart. :)
Pretty, pretty please, don't you ever, ever feel
like your less than, less than perfect?
Pretty, pretty please, if you ever, ever feel
like your nothing, you are perfect to me.
- Pink, Fucking Perfect
It was no news that rumors spread like wildfire once released to a high school campus. However, the topic of the rumors now consuming my school was something else entirely.
The oh-so-popular and perfect wonder boy, Alfred Jones, was in the hospital. That didn't seem strange to me at all as I stared dully at the clock, hearing students behind me buzzing about in worry or excitement. Alfred was a major part of our football team, so naturally I brushed my classmate's words off with ease. It wasn't like I cared in particular for Alfred's health. The daft fool was a meathead jock stereotype who received way more attention than he deserved. His presence annoyed me to great lengths and I went out of my way to avoid listening to or about him.
He probably tried to climb a tree to save a poor, little kitten and had fallen out due to his klutziness. I snorted. That sounded more appropriate. The boy really did try and do more than he should, acting as if he were some sort of hero.
I started to gather my bag and books when the bell rang, another day over as quickly as it came. I sighed under my breath, loathing adjusting to my parents move to America. This country was just so… not home.
I stilled, though, and dropped a book on accident when I heard a girl talking to another behind me.
"Yeah, I heard he tried to kill himself when his mom walked in."
Both girls glanced up when hearing the clatter, seeing me staring at them with a sense of disbelief before I caught myself and bent to pick my book up hastily. They brushed it off quickly and began making their way out into the hall.
"It's just surprising. He always seemed so happy whenever I saw him."
I stood up properly and blinked, a trickle of surprise lingering in my bones. Alfred had tried to commit suicide? Somehow my mind wasn't even able to comprehend that. Weren't the popular blokes supposed to be all cheerful and happy? Perhaps I had watched the wrong movies or something because that's what I thought Alfred was. I frowned and followed after my classmates out of the classroom and into the bustling halls.
No, this was probably just another rumor. It was unheard of that someone such as Alfred would do such a thing. The school seemed to think he had such a bright, endless future. I didn't care where he ended up, however, and it was reasonable to feel that way. We had never had a pleasant conversation in my life. The only times that he did talk to me was to go out of his way to joke about my eyebrows or copy last-second notes off of me.
It was just a stupid rumor, that was all.
And yet a week later, after the rumors of Alfred trying to take his life developed into its own entity, there stood Alfred in the doorway, not looking as he always did. He didn't look different, though, per se. I sat up in my chair and watched the tall blonde glance around the room of talking students. He dressed the same, his face looked the same, and nothing seemed out of place physically with the boy. Alfred just appeared to be… withdrawn? Was that the word I was looking for?
There was no large, sparkling smile. There was no strong and confident posture. There was no boisterous voice or chipper shout to his friends across the room. He was just… there.
The classroom went nearly silent as most of the students caught sight of the golden boy, and many stared. Alfred fidgeted, almost seeming nervous, as he smiled a weak smile in comparison to his usual pearly whites and walked into the classroom, as if he was trying to seem more positive than he was.
I looked away and seemed– and was (was) disinterested when I shifted through my notes I had done the previous night. Alfred took his normal seat next to me and flexed his fingers out against the desktop. It was obvious to see that Alfred was uncomfortable from all this attention. I had a slight feeling that he knew word had spread of what he supposedly did.
It was actually a little ironic. From what I've known about Alfred since arriving in America to this school four months ago, Alfred was an attention whore. At least that was what I labeled him as. Constantly needing to be in the spotlight and being the star of the show, Alfred seemed to light up under the gaze of people's eyes. The tables seemed to have turned, making him shy away self-consciously from the dozens of eyes on him now.
For the first time in my life, Alfred looked stiff and uneasy.
The quiet was soon breached when the teacher walked briskly into the classroom, not even noticing the blonde cowlick in the front that had been missing for nearly a week and a half. He started distractedly passing out papers.
"Alright, alright. Quiet down, we're taking a test now. I don't want to see any cheating, so put your books and bags under your desks and–" he paused when stopping in front of Alfred's row. I glanced to see Alfred look up at him behind his glasses with a hesitant expression on his face. The teacher stared a moment before continuing his task of distributing the papers.
"Glad to see you back, Alfred. Have you been doing the homework I sent you?" he asked, bypassing Alfred.
Alfred gave a quelled laugh that sounded a little fake to me. "Uh… no, not really. I tried to do it, but then I realized that I didn't want to make pie charts on the Civil War."
Our teacher, Mr. Carter, smiled with a snort. "Right. That was completely my bad. I guess you'll just have to take this test blindly, then."
Alfred sat up with a look of disbelief before Mr. Carter laughed. "I'm kidding. Of course I'll give you sufficient time to make up for your absences."
His gaze lingered on Alfred, who shifted in his chair and nodded, digging around in his backpack for a notebook. I thought he understood how far these rumors could go; they even breached the teachers. Before I could gauge the atmosphere of the classroom, we were ordered to be silenced once more and take our tests.
The silence shifted from something odd I couldn't seem to place my finger on, to something familiar. It felt like that of a school again, the sound of pencils scribbling on paper and the ticking of the clock. It became halfway through my exam when I heard a small, irritated noise to my right.
Pausing for a moment, I peeked blankly from the corner of my eye to see Alfred erasing quickly at a page in front of him. I suppose he was trying to finish the homework he hadn't done wherever he was when he wasn't in class. Alfred looked frustrated down at the paper and dug his fingers into his hair, eyebrows knit in concentration.
I felt something jump in my stomach – due to what, I'm still uncertain to this day – when his jacket sleeve dipped down and I caught sight of something that looked quite certainly like gauze.
So it was true, then.
When Alfred's eyes drifted up to mine suddenly, I realized I was staring. In embarrassment, I quickly resumed my test taking, ignoring the wavering silence at my side. After a moment Alfred went back to writing and I let out a breath that I didn't know I'd been holding.
I didn't know why I was so surprised. I had no connection in particular to Alfred. We barely ever conversed, and rarely saw each other outside of school. I thought it was because I'd never known anyone who had attempted suicide, and that if someone like Alfred would try it, what was stopping so many others who weren't the popular go-getters in the world?
When class was over and it was time to leave, I found myself slipping back into old, familiar habits. I had completely forgotten about Alfred's presence after being in contact with him for a set period of time. So, when I walked past him and his regular group of friends took my place, I didn't even bat an eyelash.
"Hey, Al! Where ya been, buddy? It feels like it's been forever," I heard one of his football pals laugh.
And even though Alfred laughed back and cracked a joke, I didn't even need to turn around to see the forced smile on his lips.
Routine was something I loved. It was something that made me comfortable and helped me through the few remaining months left before graduation. But most importantly, routine didn't throw any curve balls.
A few days after Alfred had returned to class, everything seemed to go back to normal. Alfred went back to trying to play the part of his old popular self, and I had to admit that he was quite good at it. If he grew up to be an actor I wouldn't be surprised. But there were flaws with his acting. He'd pause a little too long here, and his smile would waver there. To the untrained eye Alfred's performance would be flawless.
But from my seat next to him in history I could see all of these things. I didn't know why I was starting to notice and pay attention to Alfred more, but I did. I toyed with the idea that it was because Alfred had done… you know, that. But since it was only speculation, I had nothing to go on. Alfred never outright came out and said that he tried to take his own life. He kept away from why he was gone from school.
I suppose that was his mistake, because the student population was getting impatient and antsy with where their star pupil disappeared to.
And one afternoon before class let out a week later, pressure had mounted.
I sighed in relief when the bell had finally rung. For some reason I was eager to go home and enjoy my weekend. There was a pillow I needed to finish mending and a test to study for. I stood up from my seat and began collecting my things. Slinging my bag over my shoulder, I walked out into the busy hallway and exited the building. It was a nice spring day that greeted me as I walked down the front steps of the schoolyard. Oh, how I was glad it wasn't raining anymore.
I pulled my car keys from my pocket and began to head for my vehicle when some loud jeering caught my ears. I glanced off to the side to see Alfred and his friends by the crosswalk. A large fellow who played on the football team with Alfred had his arm looped around the boy, a grin slipping onto his face as he nudged the blonde.
"Come on, Alfred. You can tell us what you did. It's killing us to not know," he smiled.
A girl from the cheerleading team giggled into her hand. "You mean, it was killing him."
The group laughed at the play on words. Alfred smiled but his nose crinkled in what looked like discomfort. "It's nothing, guys. Just forget about it."
"But we heard you cut your wrists in your bathroom," another girl commented.
"Where did you hear that?" he asked, eyes wavering when looking around the expectant faces of his friends.
"From the gym teacher!" exclaimed the boy at his left. Alfred's smile faltered, a look of horror floating behind the blue of his eyes. I paused when seeing how still the Alfred got, despite his friends being careless and not noticing how sensitive this topic was. Perhaps Alfred wasn't aware that the teachers all knew of his supposed suicide attempt.
"So, is it true?" the burly looking boy asked.
"Guys…" Alfred tried weakly with the best smile he could muster.
"Did your mom really find you after breaking down the bathroom door?"
"You didn't fight with the paramedics and try to open the door and jump out on the freeway, did you?"
"I heard they stuck you in the nut house for observation."
"No! There's no way Alfred would survive the nut house," laughed another boy, nudging Alfred again with his elbow, who had now gone completely silent. My fingers flexed around my keys before I pivoted my feet at the last moment and strolled over to the group of students who didn't seem to notice how pale Alfred had gotten. They only noted my presence when Alfred looked up at me, surprise hovering over his face like a cloud.
"What's up?" a large brunette male asked me quite pointedly when I raised my eyebrow at him.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, but I just remembered that your mother called, Alfred, and she wants you to get her Tupperware back that you left at my house last week."
Alfred blinked stupidly at me and I wanted to roll my eyes. Damn myself for being too nice to people who didn't deserve it. If Alfred looked confused, his pack of mindless buffoons looked absolutely bewildered.
"Last week?" his friend asked, shooting Alfred a humorous expression of confusion. Alfred looked back at him with the same amount of perplexity in his eyes.
"Wait, you were at his house last week when you were gone? I thought you–"
"You're mistaken," I interrupted calmly. "If I were you, I would ignore the senseless drivel drifting about the campus. You can never trust whatever nonsense the rumor mill spits out." I looked over towards Alfred, who had his mouth open like a gasping fish out of water. He looked positively clueless, and it was somewhat amusing.
"Would you like a ride to pick it up today? My mum doesn't want it in her kitchen any longer."
Alfred remained silent, all of his friends looking at him for direction.
I cocked my head with a stiff motion of my shoulder towards the parking lot. He snapped out of his reverie and nodded, quickly sliding out of his buddy's hold. I ignored the wave of cologne that hit me when his large body moved next to mine. "Y-yeah. Sure, that'd be cool. I'll see you later, guys."
His group of friends looked at each other in confusion before calling out to us as we walked away. "Text us!"
When we entered the parking lot I felt that awkwardness seep back in between us and I nearly regretted helping Alfred out of that pickle. Doing things on impulse was not something I should continue doing. I unlocked my car and we both slipped inside. I briskly made my way out into the street and started driving away from the school.
Alfred shifted beside me and curled his fingers behind his neck. "Hey…"
"Hm?" I replied flatly, pulling up to a stoplight.
He looked over at me and I glanced at him with forced boredom. "Uh," he let out a small chuckle before continuing. "Thanks for that."
I looked away and focused back on the light. "Don't mention it."
Alfred slumped against his chair and let out a breath through his nose. "No, seriously. What you did was–"
"I said, don't mention it."
He looked at me with large eyes. "Oh. Oh, you meant literally."
I nodded. "Which way towards your house?" I asked politely.
He clicked his tongue against his teeth before pointing right. I blindly followed his directions as I drove in silence. I could tell that it was smothering Alfred, but I already helped him out once today. I didn't need to assist in a pointless conversation when we would simply go back to being distant classmates after the weekend.
After four minutes Alfred had finally had enough. Not that that was surprising; he did talk a lot previously before that mysterious week and a half. "Your name's Arthur, right?" he asked.
"And you're Alfred," I responded. "As if anyone wouldn't know your name," I smiled without gentleness, which made a smile tug at his lips.
"Ha… Yeah, well, it's not convenient for everyone to know that now. Why the hell is this school so obsessive?" he groaned and rubbed his palms against his eyes. I shrugged and took a left where he pointed.
It was silent once more before Alfred chewed at his lip, continuously (and annoyingly) glancing at me. "Why'd you do that, anyway?" he asked, genuinely curious.
"I believe I said to not mention it," I said dismissively. In all honesty I didn't know why I did that. Obviously I was going to be questioned and included in this suicide rumor (which I wasn't so sure was a rumor) when school started again on Monday. Perhaps it was the trapped look on his face. Perhaps it was the topic. Or perhaps it was because I was bored. I didn't know, nor did I intend to find out.
"Yeah, but it's weird. You and I never talk, so of course I'm going to ask why you–"
"Would you rather I didn't get involved?" I asked simply. He stiffened and shook his head. I smiled. "I guess that's that, then. Now will you please tell me we're close. I don't want to drive around for an hour trying to find your house."
"Yeah. It's just up that hill."
As I headed up a steep road, Alfred jumped slightly before removing his cell phone from his pocket, frown pulling at his lips when seeing the caller on the vibrating object. "Man, it's my mom." He flipped it open. "Hey, mom. Yeah. No– no, mom, I'm coming home. No, don't send him to pick me up. I got a ride– mom, will you listen for one seco–" he groaned and ran his hand down his face. "I'm almost there. Look. I can see you right now. Yeah. Bye."
With a heavy sigh, Alfred looked out the window of my car to see a quaint blue house sitting off to the side. I observed the house with the white picket fence that looked like it jumped out of the 50s. Well, everything except the woman fretting in the window.
Alfred opened the door and turned to me with a smile. "Thanks for the ride. I appreciate it."
"Goodbye, Alfred," I said and waited for him to move from the car. He stood up and gripped the door as if to shut it before he peeked his head in, eyes holding me to my spot as he continued to chew at his lip.
"How– how come you haven't asked me about… you know?" he paused. "Everyone else has, but you…" he faded off his sentence, confusion overpowering thoughts, apparently.
I mulled this over for a moment before smiling at him. "I have no idea what you're referring to."
Alfred stared for a while before deciding that he liked my answer. He attempted his old sparkling grin at me, though it wasn't as powerful as it once was, before leaning back up. "See you at school, Arthur."
When he shut the door, I flipped the car around and sped down from the cul-de-sac on the hill.
I only then realized that once I got home, my car smelled heavily like Alfred. And no matter how hard I tried after that, I just couldn't get the smell to go away.
I looked up from my book in the library to feel somewhat surprised to see Alfred standing across the small table. He was smiling at me nervously, fingers pulling at his backpack strap on his shoulder. I raised an impressive eyebrow at him. Upon seeing recognition slide onto my face, Alfred continued.
"Is anyone sitting here?" he asked, gesturing to the chair across from me.
I turned my attention back towards my book and pulled my legs in. "By all means."
Alfred slowly sat down and looked around the quiet library. He whistled under his breath. "Haven't been in here in a while. Man, it's quiet."
"That's what libraries are for," I said, turning the page. "Do you need something?" It had been nearly five days after the incident with his friends and we hadn't conversed at all. Occasionally Alfred would chance a peek at me, but other than that, we really went back into old patterns.
"I just wanted to say thanks again for the ride," Alfred said, blue eyes still shining even in the dully lit room.
Alfred clacked his teeth distractedly against each other before scratching at his head. "Sure, sure. So I wanted to ask if you liked burgers."
I slowly lowered the book from my vision and stared at Alfred for a moment. "Why?" I finally asked. He fidgeted some more.
"You know, to properly pay you back and stuff. I was gonna buy you a burger or something after school, if you want."
"I've never eaten a burger," I explained, hoping this would suffice. Alfred's reaction was far beyond overdramatic.
He sat up in his chair and placed his palms flat against the table, a look of pure shock etched on his features. "You what!" he exclaimed.
Heads snapped over in our direction and I looked around at the many faces quickly, heart leaping from such a loud sound.
"Shhh!" shushed the school librarian angrily. I hunkered down and nodded as Alfred covered his mouth and sank back down in his chair.
"I mean, you what?" he asked in a whisper. I rolled my eyes.
"I've never had a hamburger. Is that really such a shock to you?"
He looked at me like I was an alien from outer space. "Duh. It's, like, the best food in the world. How the hell could you not have eaten a burger? Seriously, are you from mars or something?"
I took offense and snapped my book shut. "It is not a big deal."
The librarian smacked a book against her desk and hissed. "Shhh!"
I frowned at being reprimanded for Alfred's inefficient vocal chords. I rubbed at my temple to alleviate the pressure building there. Now I remembered why I disliked Alfred to begin with. I had somehow gotten used to the quiet, sort of withdrawn Alfred. I forgot how loud the regular Alfred was. "Please, be quiet."
"Sorry, sorry. So you gonna let me pay you back?" he asked.
I started packing my things away and stood up. "I'm going to have to decline. It really is a nice gesture, but it's not necessary. What I did, I did of my own free will. I don't expect a repayment."
Before I could even get three feet from the table, Alfred's hand was gripping at my elbow. I looked down at it before up at him. He stuttered and shied away, apologizing. I rubbed at my elbow before frowning.
"I'll feel better, though," he said.
"About what?" I asked, crossing my arms. He looked up under the hem of his cornflower bangs and pulled his lips in a tight, thin line.
At that moment I wanted to rip my hair out in frustration. I already knew what about. Why the bloody hell did he have to be so- ugghhh. Gritting my teeth, I cracked my neck and blew a puff of air from my lips. Being nice twice in a row to the same person. I can't say I've ever gone out of my way to do it before, but I did it now.
"One meal," I reluctantly agreed to. Alfred instantly sprung to life again, looking surprised.
"But that's it. No more debts to repay," I explained before taking my leave, uncaring if the librarian yelled at Alfred when he got too excited and bumped his knee against the table with a holler.
By the time history class had arrived, Alfred had gone back to chatting with his regular friends. I would look up at him a couple of times, and the moments where our eyes met, he would smile at me. I didn't know what to think about his behavior. Perhaps he was just feeling obligated to return a favor of kindness. People like Alfred didn't usually go out of their way to notice every little thing with their classmates, let alone do something about it.
My mind flashed back to that small glimpse of bandage that I'd seen on his wrist.
… Maybe Alfred didn't fit the category of what I'd placed him into.
When the bell rang and everyone gathered their things to leave, Alfred returned to his desk and slung his backpack over his shoulder, eyes looking down at me with patience. I looked at him for a second before bypassing him.
Alfred caught up in no time as we made our way outside. "You know what."
"No, I don't believe I do."
Alfred furrowed his brow and bit at his cheek. "Uh, I was gonna buy you a burger today."
"Oh, you meant you wanted to do that today?" I asked, just thinking that Alfred had intended to forget about it, or buy me a meal some other day. We made our way down the steps when Alfred sped up to get my attention.
"Well, yeah. Why else would I have brought it up in the library today if I didn't want to do that today?"
I opened my mouth to respond (I wasn't sure with what), when a voice called out behind me. I shifted to see over my shoulder as Alfred's group of football and cheerleader buddies were standing by the steps and waving. I turned back to Alfred, who was looking at them with a sense of hesitance.
"It looks like you're busy," I said matter-of-factly. He pursed his lips in a small bout of annoyance.
"Wait here a minute, 'kay?"
I watched him with confusion as he maneuvered around me to jog up to his friends. From the spot I was at I couldn't hear what they were saying, but whatever Alfred was telling them made all of them look at me simultaneously. I shifted my feet awkwardly under the gaze of so many "important" people, before Alfred patted his friend's shoulder, who nodded and did the same. They waved and became immersed in their own little world again as Alfred broke off and came back up to me.
He smiled and began walking again towards the parking lot. "You ready for a taste sensation?" he asked jokingly. I followed after him cautiously, chancing one more glance over my shoulder at his friends.
"You blew them off?"
He fidgeted with his jacket sleeve and looked up at the distant sky. "It's not like I made any plans to begin with. They'll get over it. I'm heading over to Josh's house later anyway."
I didn't recognize the name of his friend but assumed it was one of the boys by the steps. As we entered the parking lot, Alfred looked a little sheepish down at me. "Uh- do you think you could drive? I don't have a car with me."
I knew for a fact that Alfred drove one of those gas guzzling red trucks that made a tremendous amount of noise. I almost was going to ask about it when deciding against it. The look on Alfred's face made me feel like I shouldn't be prying. I sighed and nodded, making a beeline for my car when someone else called out.
I felt a trickle of irritation prick at me when I turned to look at Alfred expectantly. I had forgotten how popular he was. But when I noticed a boy with a similar face pulling up in his car, I could tell that this wasn't one of Alfred's friends. Alfred gulped and frowned when the car stopped right next to him, the more timid boy looking displeased.
"What are you doing, Al?"
Alfred let out a heavy breath but plastered on a smile. "Mattie, you can go home without me. I'll be back in an hour."
Ah. I remembered something somewhat familiar when looking over the boy's upset face now. I think I had a class last semester with Alfred's quiet twin brother. Matthew looked like he was trying to convey something important to Alfred without voicing it.
"I don't know, Al… You know what mom said–"
"Don't worry about it. I'm just going to get–"
Alfred flinched at the tone of his brother's voice, will crumbling under the worried stare of Matthew. I could feel the air getting thicker with something indiscernible as I glanced between the two.
"Get in the car and I'll take you home. Dad said he had something for us to do after school," Matthew explained, glancing at me awkwardly when he noticed my presence. It wasn't hard to sense the discomfort radiating off of Alfred from this unforeseen circumstance, so I went out of my way to assist him again.
"I'm sorry for being a burden right now. Alfred was going to pick up some extra notes I had at my house for the test tomorrow. But if he needs to be home, I don't mind. I suppose we could do it later since it isn't important."
I could see a sense of guilt bubbling up inside of Matthew as he debated what to do. He looked back at Alfred, something lingering behind his eyes in a serious pleading notion towards his brother before he took the car out of park. "Just come home right after, okay?" he said, hesitance coating his words. I could tell there was something deeper behind this conversation than I cared to find out.
Alfred smiled reassuringly and stuck his thumb up. "You can count on me."
Matthew paused, wondering if he could believe Alfred, before he looked away and drove out of the parking lot. I opened my car door and slid inside, waiting for Alfred to do the same.
"We don't have a test tomorrow," Alfred said with a smile. I smiled slightly as well and started the car, pushing Matthew's unsure face from my mind. For some odd reason, I felt a little guilty myself for aiding in Alfred's distance from his family.
"Let's make this quick, then, shall we?" I said, leaving the parking lot for the closest eating establishment near the school. Unfortunately for me, the place was packed with other students consuming the most repulsing food I'd ever seen in my life. I wearily eyed the chatter and greasy food around me when Alfred returned to our booth with two trays. I winced at the smell of the meat sandwich so close to my face and looked up at Alfred's grinning face.
"Eat up," he assured and took an impossibly large bite of his burger, the juices pooling out of the bottom. I nearly felt bile rise up my throat.
Coming to terms with this as my punishment for probably getting Alfred's brother in trouble with his parents, I picked up the heavy burger and took a small bite. Surprisingly it wasn't completely repulsing. I washed it down with the drink from the drink dispenser and noticed a few eyes lingering on our table.
After a small bout of silence, I spoke up curiously. "Is it really that strange?" I asked.
Alfred blinked at me and swallowed a large bite of his meal, tilting his head, not understanding. "Hm? What's strange?"
I cast him a knowing look with an amused smirk, bobbing my head in the direction of the general public. Alfred's vision followed mine and he tensed when seeing at least four pairs of eyes on us. So, he really was unaware of his surroundings. "You mean people?" he asked.
I shrugged and poked in boredom at my burger. "Someone like you and someone like me having one meal together," I elaborated.
He furrowed his brow and slurped an ungodly sound from his soda. "What do you mean someone like me and you?"
"You're not that ignorant, Alfred," I said, not really wanting to pretend to cast a blind eye.
"Ignorant of what?"
I frowned and sighed. Alfred tended to make me do that apparently. "You are the school's pride and joy, top athlete, handsome, and charismatic golden boy. Until now nobody, including me, has ever seen someone like you going out of your way to hang out with someone like me."
It seemed it was Alfred's turn to frown. "What? Someone who's smart and nice?" He scoffed and rolled his shoulder as if to dismiss the idea. Even though Alfred looked annoyed, I could see that his self-consciousness was starting to rise above the irritation. He continuously glanced in paranoia towards the other booths. "I don't like when people label others like that," he said so very quietly.
"You didn't seem to mind it before," I said offhandedly, making Alfred shoot his vision towards me in surprise. He was quiet for a moment, frown pulling at his lips while he squirmed in his seat and stared at the table as if he wished to burn a hole in it.
"You might be real smart, Arthur, but you don't know everything," he muttered.
I took a long sip from my beverage. Well, I guess he could be right about that. I obviously didn't know as much as I thought I had previously had. Alfred's mysterious disappearance seemed to be proof enough.
"Alfred," I spoke, that sour expression dissolving from his face as he looked up at me, cheeks full of beef and bread products. I almost laughed at his humorous expression, but settled for taking a mental photograph. "How're you doing?"
He glanced around as if to see how he was supposed to respond to such a random question. "Good?"
I smiled and shook my head, leaning back in the booth. I gestured towards some of the more popular people glancing at Alfred and laughing. "I meant with the rumors going around."
He visibly gulped, senses jarring under the question. Maybe it was the strong stare I had focused onto him that was making Alfred look so stiff, or maybe it was just the implication my question held. Either way, I figured that if I was going to continue helping Alfred out with his friends and brother, then I needed some sort of explanation.
"They've changed slightly since the last time I spoke with you," I muttered, placing my chin in my palm. "People are saying now that I was the one who helped your mum break into your bathroom, and that I gave you blood for your blood transfusions." It was a little funny, I had to admit. "I was just wondering what you were thinking about them," I said honestly.
Alfred swallowed, relaxing a little when hearing me explain. He sat up and rubbed at his head awkwardly. "I dunno. People… say some stupid things without knowing what they're talking about, I guess."
I nodded, humming in the back of my throat as I shut my eyes with a smile. "You can say that again."
Alfred laughed and changed the subject. All the while he wasn't aware that every time he ran his fingers through his hair in that same habit I'd noticed he kept, his sleeve pulled back to reveal a mysterious white cloth beneath his jacket. I didn't tell him, though. I guess I just knew that if I told him, Alfred would become even more withdrawn and paranoid than he seemed to be when returning to school.
And it took a little while to notice, but those helpless looks befalling Alfred's face bothered me. They didn't suit him one bit.
It was a very strange feeling when Alfred continued to seek out my company at school. It started out as him saying hello every day before history class started. He usually got that out of the way early before he pranced away to his regular group of friends. But as the days piled up, Alfred began to say more things to me than just hello. He would soon start having conversations with me and didn't go talk to his football friends like he used to. They noticed this as well and began to tease him more often, making Alfred try and laugh it off in an unconvincing manner.
I grew accustomed to Alfred's presence after two weeks and even began to look forward to our conversations in class quite a bit. He was a mystery. One moment he would be cheerful and happy, and then the next he wouldn't want to talk to me anymore and seem distracted by his regular group of buddies.
It was only when Alfred had started to try and hangout occasionally outside of school that the student body began to notice Alfred a bit more.
It was the weekend, and I stood by the steps of the school waiting for Alfred, who was finishing up a quiz he didn't study for (surprising). He had asked me to try skateboarding when he found out that I'd never set foot on one before. I refused, but after badgering me all period, I gave in. It was only the third time we would see each other outside of the school (if you counted that first car ride and the meal at the burger joint).
I tapped my foot against the cement and folded my arms impatiently. If he didn't show up in the next ten seconds I was going to leave. My attention was brought to a large individual behind me when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked up at a tall brunette boy who I vaguely recognized as one of Alfred's friends. He was giving me a strange look.
"Hey. You're that dweeb Alfred's been chillin' with recently, huh?" he asked casually.
I frowned at the reference. "If you count sitting next to each other in class as chillin', then I suppose so. Why?"
"Listen," he said, leaning in as he balanced against the stone walls beside the staircase. I eyed him cautiously and leaned back when I could smell the cigarettes on his breath. "I don't really know why Alfred started taking a liking to you. Maybe it was because you helped save his life after he went a little nuts and carved himself up with an ice pick. I don't know."
"Is there a point to this?" I asked, feeling my lips pulling down at the corners when crudely referencing to something so mean about a friend.
The boy grinned. "Yeah. My point is that no matter how much we ask, Al won't tell us what's wrong. I was thinking that you'd know something about why he's acting so weird."
"Well, I don't."
"See, now I don't believe that," he said, standing up taller as if to frighten me. He looped his arm around my shoulder in what was probably supposed to be a friendly gesture. "You look like a smart guy. I know if Alfred is your friend too at all, you'd want to tell others how to help. Power in numbers and shit like that. I'm just sayin' that if you know something, you better tell us."
I narrowed my eyes at his "persuasive" face, worming my way out of his hold. I didn't know if that was a threat directed towards me or Alfred, but I didn't get a chance to ask. He quickly ruffled my hair with his over-calloused hand and strolled away.
"I hope to hear from you soon, Harry Potter!" he waved over his shoulder.
I growled and flipped him off, very much wishing that I didn't have to live in this stupid country. "When I graduate, so help me God, I'm moving back to England."
"Who's moving to England?"
I jumped and turned to see Alfred smiling down at me as he walked down the stone steps. I let myself cool down for a moment before I shrugged indifferently. "Nobody. Are you finally ready? I was about to leave."
Alfred laughed, the sound coming out in thick chunks that tickled my ears before he patted my shoulder. "Yeah, yeah. Keep your pants on. Are you that eager to eat it on the cement? Although, I guess you don't really have anything to worry about. It's not like your teeth can get any worse than they are now–"
I swatted at him as he continued to laugh and jump away. "Oh, come on. You saw that coming."
"Not all British people have fucked up teeth," I argued. Alfred offered a haughty smile.
"I've yet to be proven wrong."
Another swat and Alfred was running towards my car with chuckles. As I approached, I wondered when Alfred had become accustomed to the idea of trying to mooch rides from me. I wasn't sure if the thought made me comfortable or otherwise. I unlocked my door and let Alfred inside and we drove the fifteen minutes to his house on the hill, pulling up to the curb outside of the large but quaint looking house. Alfred turned to me and unbuckled his seatbelt with a small smile.
"I'll be back in a minute."
I sat back and waited as Alfred went up his driveway and opened the door by the handle. He scurried around his garage piled with boxes all over the place. I noticed Alfred's red truck parked in the driveway and furrowed my brow at this. If Alfred had a car, it only made sense for him to drive it.
I looked out my window when I heard another engine passing me by and made eye contact with Alfred's brother, who looked absolutely confused at my presence. I hunkered down in my seat, that guilty feeling rising up again as Matthew parked outside of their fence. He exited his car and made his way towards Alfred, who looked like he had just found gold when he pulled out an old skateboard. When Alfred's blue eyes turned to his brother, he froze.
Again, because I was so far away I couldn't hear exactly what they were saying, but it didn't look pleasant. Alfred's mouth was going a mile a minute as he frowned at his brother that was pointing towards the house. The situation just got that much worse when Alfred's mother came out, looking between her two sons with confusion.
I had absolutely no idea what Alfred was saying when he pointed towards me, making both Matthew and his mother crane their necks to look in my direction. I waved awkwardly.
After a few more moments of Alfred arguing with his mother and brother, he pushed passed them and hopped into my car. I blinked stupidly at him and opened my mouth to say something when he beat me to it.
"Alfred, I don't think–"
"Just go! It's fine," he assured me, though his face didn't look reassuring. With one last glance over Alfred's shoulder at his astounded mother and unhappy looking brother, I pulled out and drove back down the hill. After a minute I glanced at Alfred, the skateboard held tightly to his chest.
"Should we drive out of the country now and change our names?"
Alfred snorted, some of the anger on his face dissipating. "No. It's not that bad. Mom just doesn't want me out after school today. There're a lot of chores to do," he explained. And though Alfred seemed to choke on the word 'chores', I ignored it and continued driving until we reached a smaller hill of cement.
Alfred clambered out of the car eagerly, completely brushing off the incident that occurred in his front yard just moments ago, and propped his skateboard against the sidewalk. As I shut my door, I watched him wearily as he stuck his leg out like a paddle on a boat and began picking up speed. He looked almost so natural riding that board as he steered it gracefully towards me.
He smiled at me and stopped. "You want to give it a try?"
"No," came my definite answer.
He laughed and propped the board up to grab it with his hand. "I thought that's why we picked this thing up today."
"I'm not getting on that," I said firmly. Now that we were on the hill, I felt uncomfortable. I could feel my hands sweating at the thought of getting on the skateboard. Alfred made it look too easy. There was no way steering that blasted board could be easy.
Alfred pulled his vibrating cell phone out of his pocket to click it off with indifference before looking at me gently. Well, gently and a little bit smugly. "I'll teach you."
I remained silent, eyeing the skateboard carefully.
"It's not that hard, Arthur. I've been doing it for years. You'll pick it up in no time, promise."
With my throat tightening in apprehension, I could only nod at him slowly. Alfred moved close to me and I became engulfed in the cloud that was his scent. He set the board in front of me and smiled at me expectantly. "Get on it."
I felt my stomach coil before shooting Alfred an uncomfortable expression and placing my foot against it. He tapped at my other foot with his own. "It's not rocket science. Just slowly push yourself with this leg."
Alfred trotted back ten feet before turning around and patting at his knees. "Now come here," he encouraged.
I scowled at him with a huff. "I'm not a dog, you git." He simply chuckled at that, which made me irritated and somehow more confident. I firmly planted my foot against the cement and pushed forward. My newfound confidence quickly faded when I pushed too hard and nearly lost my balance. In the blink of an eye, Alfred had his hands clasping onto mine in an instant, his smiling face breaching my vision.
"That was good for a first try," he said, and I felt a tingle deep down in my chest. I looked down at our connected hands and felt a little too overwhelmed with both Alfred so close and his thick smell. Quickly shaking off his hands, I tried again and began slowly and wobbly making my way in small circles.
Alfred moved back and watched as I began to get the hang of this stupid board. "There you go. I guess you can do something athletic."
I smirked at him and nearly fell off the board, planting my other foot against the cement quickly. "I used to do fencing in England, you meathead."
He grinned, making two indents of dimples appear on his tanned cheeks. "Fencing?" He whistled in mock impression. "You pegged me as a doily kinda guy."
"I knit those, too," I said casually, getting used to the feeling of motion on wheels. I didn't want to brag or anything, but I was pretty bloody good. For a beginner, I meant.
Alfred and I talked about everything ranging from sports to homework to life growing up. I realized that I had judged Alfred too quickly. He wasn't just some self-absorbed popular jock who was on a higher pedestal than his peers. He was someone who loved animals and helped out at the local shelter in his spare time. He preferred baseball over football, but was already in too deep to get out of playing the rough sport, he said. He believed in aliens and felt like people thought he was a dork for getting glasses his freshman year.
Who knew all it took was two hours on a wobbly board to start understanding the cheerful boy sitting on the curb in the sunset.
I watched him carefully as he told some story about switching places with his twin for April Fools Day to see who would believe it when I felt it. Yes, it.
That moment when people realize there is something wrong with the current situation. No, mine wasn't the peculiar feeling settling deep down in my stomach as Alfred's face and hair were painted with a pallet of reds and oranges. My 'it' feeling was when the world started to spin just a little too fast.
I turned my head curiously before my heart leapt out of my throat and my eyes bulged. I knew it was a bad idea to do this on a hill. Screw Alfred. I didn't care if he was more than I used to think he was. He wasn't invited to my funeral when this killed me.
"A… Al – Hey – Al-Alfred!" I shouted, trying to get him to shut up from a story I no longer cared about. He glanced up at me in curiosity before his features mirrored mine. I would've thought his face looked comical if I hadn't been picking up speed down the hill. Alfred sprung up from his seat and made his way towards me as fast as he could.
I couldn't see anything else as I was forced to turn my face and get a wave of wind pushing back against my cheeks as I flew down the hill. Colors blurred and I could distantly hear Alfred cussing like a sailor. My life flew by my eyes in a moment and I wanted to laugh at how short and dull it was.
An old house on a crowded street in England.
Top grades in class but only a handful of friends.
Sewing and cooking lessons that seemed to be a waste of time.
The move to America.
I nearly fell asleep watching it. I realized then that my life was painfully dull. No wonder I had lacking interest in almost everything I did. A bright face flashed before my eyes and it took a moment for me to comprehend it was Alfred. Alfred grinning at me and scribbling doodles on his papers and his cheeks filled to the brim with burgers and laughter and jokes.
Alfred, huh? Hm. It seemed Alfred was the only interesting in my life right now. I didn't know whether to feel depressed or overjoyed.
I didn't have much time to consider it before something quick and strong wrapped like a boomerang around my abdomen and knocked the wind out of me. I was ripped away from the skateboard as it swerved out of control and landed painfully loud in the gutter when I landed on the corner of the cement.
A sharp pain traveled up my spine as it hit the curb of the sidewalk and I dropped my head back. I lay there for a while just staring up at the orange sky, waves of pain rippling down my back to my ankle. Oh, it was blinding pain. Fuck skateboards. Who the fuck liked doing this, anyway? Oh yeah. Fucking crazy people.
The warmth at my side started to move away and I craned my neck to see a head of blonde hair and brown jacket shaking in an attempt to sit up. It clicked just then and I began to force my spine not to snap in half as I sat up.
"Is my skateboard fine?" he asked and rubbed at his head.
I scowled in disbelief before spitting in the direction of that damned skateboard. "That's the first thing you think of? What about my bloody spine? I think I'm paraplegic now," I groaned and rubbed at my back that was sure to get a large bruise later.
Alfred plopped his butt against the cement and finally looked at me, making my eyes widen. He sighed. "Well, then I guess it's a good thing you were learning how to skateboard. Now you have practice for your wheelchair," he joked weakly. I guess Alfred had landed on his face or something because his glasses were broken and there was blood in his hair and on his cheek. Wait, was that blood from his face or from his arm? Ah, bollocks.
"Alfred, I think you need to–"
"No. No, no, no, no, Arthur. Just – no," Alfred blurted, shaking his head before I could even say anything. Whatever I was going to suggest it seemed that he would hear none of it. Despite the horrible bruising pain in my back, I seemed to focus more on the struggling expression that was bestowing Alfred's face. His nose crinkled as his eyes glistened over with water when he wiped at his wet cheek by his bloodied hair.
Wide eyes became larger when he pulled his hand away and saw the blood.
"Aw, m-my mom's gonna kill me," he choked, rubbing violently at his face. I gulped and maneuvered to place my hands against his shoulders. He tried not to look at me as he frowned at the cement.
"No, it was my fault."
"How the hell is it your fault? You can't skateboard, Arthur," he argued, now frowning at me. I leaned back against my calves and figured we looked like a messy pair of idiots. Thankfully there were no cars driving by to see this.
"Let me drive you back home so you can at least wipe your face off," I offered as gently as possible. Alfred tried to get away from me, very much disliking my idea.
"What part of 'my mom's gonna kill me' don't you understand?" he asked breathlessly. "Jeez. This is what I get for thinking I can still do this," he grumbled to himself but I overheard. With an uncertain frown, I got to my feet and hobbled my way over to grab Alfred's chipped skateboard and walked back up to him. He watched me with a blurry vision, most likely from his cracked glasses. I extended my hand out and waited as Alfred stared at it for a long time before grasping it. I helped him to his feet and led him back to my car.
We awkwardly got inside and threw the skateboard into the backseat, and as I pulled away from the curb and painfully made my way towards my house, Alfred's antsy demeanor returned. He blinked as blood dribbled into his eye and looked towards me nervously.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
I heaved a breath and turned just as the streetlights began to click on. "Don't worry about it."
He paused with a hitched breath, eyes darting towards the turn where his house would be. "Arthur–"
"Trust me for once, Alfred."
He looked back at me and bit his lip. We smoothly passed his street and I could feel the tension fading from Alfred's muscles. He sat back against the seat and held his jacket sleeve to his forehead. I continued to drive and for once Alfred continued to stay quiet. It was only when we pulled into my driveway when darkness consumed the streets and houses that Alfred sat up curiously.
"Where are we?" he asked.
I opened my door and shut it, blandly. "My home."
I just assumed that I was doing good deed number three and cleaning up Alfred's cuts and bruises from his heroic rescue attempt. I never knew that by allowing Alfred into my house that it would change everything. It would later be a reoccurring event for Alfred to come over in the future. It would be a different atmosphere that would make us become very close friends. But most importantly, this was the place where that dreary rumor would unravel itself for me to know the truth, and unfortunately, I would be sucked into more than just Alfred's supposed suicide attempt.
Everything would change.
Well… if things weren't already changed from that sunset hilltop with the smiling blonde laughing for me. What a painful and thrilling thing Alfred was doing to me. It almost left me with a stomach full of dread and a feeling that left me breathless.