John's alarm woke him promptly at 6 o'clock on Saturday morning, exactly four and a half hours after he had fallen asleep. Despite having gone to bed early, he had lain awake for most of the night. His past had played out for him in slow motion, like some old rerun of This Is Your Life, only more morbid, and with no one to tell him how much he had meant to them. He rolled back over and closed his eyes; he wasn't ready to face the day yet.
The third time that his alarm went off, John finally got up. It would be far worse to spend the day at home than it would be to spend it in the school library, he had decided. Even if it meant having to deal with Richard Vernon, his third least favorite person on the planet.
There was a light frost covering the ground that morning, and John could see his breath as he stepped out of the house, but the wind was thankfully non-existent. He walked quickly to combat the chill, and stopped at the McDonald's on the way to the school. Four o'clock was long way away, and since he was too cool to brown-bag it, he needed something to hold him over until then. It wasn't until he opened his wallet that he recalled that his lesson the previous night had been an expensive one. As if he had needed another reminder of his stupidity.
John dug through his coat pockets for the loose change that he knew had to be in there somewhere. He pulled out a handful of old wrappers first, then a cassette tape, and then finally a few coins. It wasn't much, but it would buy him a cup of coffee.
As he waited to place his order, he searched for a familiar face behind the counter—one that might give him a free Egg McMuffin—but he didn't recognize anyone who was working. It was probably just as well. It would've taken him far too much effort to pull off charming and seductive that morning anyway.
John got his coffee and then moved over to the condiments station where he dumped three packets of sugar and two creams into his cup. While his stirred his pseudo-breakfast, he considered what the next nine hours would bring. If he was lucky, he would be the only student there and Vernon would leave him alone. Then he would be able to sleep for a few hours. He'd have to do something to get the library door to stay closed, but he'd thought up a solution to that problem weeks ago, and that day was as good as any to implement it. If he wasn't the only student in detention, then he supposed that it would be business as usual. Though, maybe he'd break the door anyway, just to mess with Vernon.
Back outside again, John sipped his coffee, savoring the warmth of the hot liquid as it spread through him. The caffeine did a good job of waking up his body, but it did nothing to clear away the fog from his brain. He wasn't surprised. It would've been a miracle if something as simple as coffee could have fixed him.
Nevertheless, John finished his drink as he walked along the sidewalk, and it wasn't long before Shermer High was in sight. He stopped before reaching the edge of the grounds and stuffed his empty stryofoam cup inside the mailbox of a house across from the school. No Indians would be crying on account of him that day, although a white, middle-class family might get marginally upset.
John didn't have any idea what time it was, but he was about eighty-six percent sure that it wasn't quite 7am yet. The only clock around was in the school, and he wasn't about to go inside and check it. The moment he entered those doors, he became a prisoner, and he wanted to enjoy his freedom while it lasted. He leaned up against a tree and lit a cigarette—it was time to do a little surveillance.
From his position across the street, he had a good view of both the front and the side of the school. Previous experience had taught him that the back entrance would be locked, so anyone entering the building would have to do so through one of the other doors. He decided that if he didn't see anyone arrive in the next fifteen minutes, he'd waltz into the school and make a fashionably late entrance, consequences be damned.
To his surprise, the first car that John saw turn in to the school was a white Chevette. He craned his neck to get a better view of the faculty parking lot off to the side of the building. How had he not noticed that Vernon wasn't even there yet? Christ, he must have walked faster than he'd thought.
The Dean of Students got out of his car and closed the door behind him in a hurry, catching his coat in the process. John chuckled as he watched Vernon fumble with his keys, unlock the door, yank his coat out, and then slam the door shut. He then ran up the steps to the side entrance of the school before rushing immediately back down them again and re-locking his car door. John got the feeling that it wasn't actually him who was early, but Vernonwho was late.
His hunch was confirmed moments later, when he saw a BMW pull into the bus loop and drop a student off. A station wagon appeared soon after that, and a second student got out, joining the club. So much for it being a quiet day, John mused. He finished his cigarette just as a third vehicle, a Ford Bronco, pulled up.
It was show time.
John crushed his cigarette butt under his boot and pulled his sunglasses out of his pocket. He didn't need them for their light-blocking properties, but slipping them on always helped him get into character. He shoved his hands into his pockets to complete the look and tried to appear nonchalant as he strode across the grass toward the front entrance. John Motherfuckin' Bender was on the scene, and those losers weren't going to know what had hit them.
Detention was not something that John was a stranger to. He had been stuck in that library more times than he could count over the past four years, and it had always been the same routine. Early on, he would show off in order to cement his reputation as the resident badass, and then the rest of the detention would be spent either keeping to himself, or trying to see how far he could push the others before he got a reaction out of them.
That Saturday was no exception, and John started the morning by playing the exact same role that he always played. The day proceeded as predicted, until about halfway through lunch, and then everything went horribly awry. John didn't know if it was from the lack of sleep that he had gotten, or because he had just stopped caring, but instead of being the one doing the breaking, he was the one that snapped.
He banged his forehead against the wooden railing of the staircase out of frustration. For the second time in two days, he had turned into a complete fucking idiot. He'd always thought that when he finally lost it, he would cut loose on whatever or whoever was around, kill a guy, and then end up in jail until he was fifty. It never occurred to him that he would actually implode in on himself and let his guard down in front of a bunch of strangers instead. What the hell had possessed him to act out that scene from home anyway?
He knew exactly what. It was that stupid wrestler's big mouth. He couldn't believe that he had actually let the jock get under his skin like that, but John couldn't help it. The way that asshole talked reminded him of Mark. Saying things like it wouldn't matter if he disappeared, and then talking about the big party that night as if John wouldn't know about such things. Well, newsflash, he made those fucking parties! But he guessed no one ever mentioned that.
The worst part was that the one time in his life that he'd actually been honest, no one had believed him! Did they think he was making that shit with his father up? Hell, showing them his scar probably hadn't even convinced them. They probably all thought that he had caught it on a fence or something. Well, fine, fuck them! He was going to stay on the staircase for the rest of the day. Then maybe he'd do a swan dive over the railing, right at four o'clock, just to give them all a little something to remember him by.
John sat alone, chewing on his thoughts for almost a good fifteen minutes before he heard someone climbing the stairs. He figured Sporto's conscience had finally kicked in and he was coming to tell him how soooo sorry he was, blah, blah, blah. John scowled at the thought. He didn't need—and he certainly didn't want—his fucking pity.
The wrestler wordlessly joined him on the landing, but John continued to stare straight ahead defiantly. He didn't want to give him the satisfaction of acknowledging his presence.
"How long are you going to stay up here?" a very non-masculine voice asked.
"Until the big hand is on the twelve and the little hand is on the four," John replied, slipping back into his smartass persona.
"That's too bad."
He whipped his head around and looked up at the redhead in surprise. "Why?"
"You were the entertaining one," she replied. "Now I'm going to be bored for the rest of the afternoon."
"You could stay up here," he said, sounding more desperate than he meant to.
"I could," she conceded. "Or you could come back downstairs."
Yeah, he wouldn't want to stay up there with him either. "I'll think about it," he said brusquely.
She turned toward the stairs, but then stopped and said softly, "Andy shouldn't have said those things to you. I made sure he knows that."
Oh great, now he had Rapunzel fighting his battles for him. "Yeah, well, let me know when he wants to kiss and make up, and I'll come rushing right down there, lips puckered," he said, voice dripping with as much sarcasm as he could muster.
He expected her to leave, since she had already said what was on her mind, but for some reason she sat down next to him instead. Her actions were baffling, and John racked his brain to come up with an explanation. The only thing that even remotely made sense was that she was hoping that he was going to make some kind of move on her. He had probably gotten her all hot and wet with his dirty talk earlier, and now she was waiting for him finish the deed. Too bad for her that he wasn't in the mood to feel her up over—or under—anything.
He was prepared to reject her. He wasn't prepared for what came next.
"You never told me your name."
Dumbstruck though he was, a single word managed to escape his lips.
"John?" She sounded surprised, as if she had been expecting him to be named Axel, or Bruiser, or Randy.
"It's a family name," he replied, mimicking her response from before.
"No," she said, shaking her head slowly, "It's a bald man's name."
He stared at her with a mixture of disbelief and awe. Was she actually feeding his bullshit back to him?
She continued, "See, I don't know if you know this, but John is what prostitutes call their clients. So, you're going to grow up, go bald, and then be destined to have to pay for sex for the rest of your life."
John finally cracked a smile. "Is that right?"
"Uh-huh," she said, and then added, "It's also the name of a toilet."
He laughed, and she looked extremely pleased with herself. It was at that point that he made a decision. "Do you want to get out of here for a while?" he asked.
"And go where?"
She raised her eyebrow and asked skeptically, "Why, what's in your locker?"
"Something that promises to make the rest of the afternoon a little more enjoyable," he told her.
"What about Vernon?" she asked.
"I don't think that he'd make for an enjoyable afternoon, do you?"
She gave him a look. "You know what I mean."
"Yeah, and all we have to do is wait for him to leave his office," John said. He had a handle on all of Vernon's habits by now. That man couldn't sit still for more than an hour at a time before he was up and roaming the halls.
"I don't know…"
"Trust me, it'll be fine."
She chewed on her bottom lip, and John held his breath as she searched his face for any hint of deception. Or maybe she was trying to determine if he was setting her up somehow to fall. Either way, for one heart-crushing minute, he didn't think that she was going to give him a chance. Then she spoke.
"Alright, but I'd better not get caught."
"You won't," he promised.
And he didn't let her down.
John rolled the diamond stud back and forth between his thumb and forefinger. He was still trying to process what had happened in detention that afternoon, and the only thing keeping him from believing that the whole day had been a dream was the earring that he held in his hand. John watched the diamond sparkle as it caught the light. It was his best souvenir yet.
Without thinking, he reached for the shoebox under his bed. He lifted the lid and was about to toss the earring inside when he suddenly realized what he was doing. She had given it to him—Claire, the 'not-that-pristine' redhead with the family name. She had given it to him, and he hadn't even had to ask.
He wasn't sure exactly what that meant, but he knew enough to understand that her earring was the first item in his collection that actually wasn't meaningless. It didn't belong amongst all the faceless, nameless junk that he had acquired. He replaced the earring in his earlobe and then shoved the box back out of sight.
There was a shouting match going on in the other room, and John didn't want to ruin his good mood by walking in on a fight, or by having a fight walk in on him, so he grabbed his coat and hopped out the window. On his way down the driveway, he stopped to check if Mark's car was unlocked. It was, so he helped himself to a handful of change and an open pack of cigarettes. Then he headed for the mall.
The plan was to hang in the arcade for a while and burn through every stolen quarter that he had in his pocket. Then maybe he'd go to the party at the mansion and start making back the money that he had lost the night before. But first, he was going to head to the food court to satisfy his craving for a hot pretzel.
As he was standing in line, studying the menu board, he felt someone came up along side him
Shit. He'd forgotten that there was a reason that he had been avoiding the mall. "Hey."
Lori-not-Jen leaned in close and confided in him, "Mary Ann was furious with me for pulling that little stunt last week."
"Who?" Honestly, he was terrible with names.
"You know, my 'friend' that works at The Limited?"
"Apparently we made a lot of noise or something, I dunno. Anyway, I think she's just jealous because Chad left her. He wanted to get back with me after that, can you believe it?"
"No," he answered, not really paying attention to what she was saying. He was more interested in figuring out if he could buy a drink and still have enough left over to play Galaga for a couple of hours.
"Well, I turned him down," she said, pausing to watch him count his change. "You know, if you want to get something, you can come over to the Orange Julius. I'll give you a discount."
"Nah, it's fine."
"Alright, well anyway, I just came over here to tell you that I get off in an hour. The rest of my family's away for the weekend, so if you want to come back to my place, we can finish what we started in the fitting room."
"So, if you're interested, meet me back here, okay?"
John bought his pretzel and soda, and then sat down on the edge of the fountain in the center of the food court. He watched the crowds of smiling, laughing people pass by as he ate. Some paused just long enough to toss coins in the water before moving on. He recognized a lot of faces from school, which was normal for a Saturday night, but because he was quiet and wasn't making a scene, none of them noticed him.
After he finished his pretzel, John thumbed through his wallet. It was full of lies, broken promises, and girls that thought he was only good for one thing. Two, if he counted drugs. It was always about what he could give them.
He looked over at Lori-not-Jen from across the food court, and watched her work while he considered what to do. If she knew who he really was, she wouldn't want him. She only liked the idea of him. She liked what he did for her. She wouldn't be afraid to walk down the hall at school with him—she'd flaunt him. And somehow that was worse.
That morning, the thought of someone using him wouldn't have bothered him, but John had started to realize something very important—there might actually be a light at the end of the tunnel. Things didn't necessarily have to be the way they were just because that was the way they had always been. He didn't have to be that guy.
He didn't have to end up like his brother.
John had been searching for something different for a long time, but it had taken Claire to finally show him that it actually existed. She hadn't come to him on the stairs because she had been trying to make someone jealous. She hadn't kissed him because she had wanted to show off in front of her friends. She did those things because she wanted to. She had seen his scars and had liked him even more at the end of the day.
He still wasn't sure that he believed in the whole 'one guy, one girl' thing, but maybe Claire would manage to convince him of it one day. Or maybe it would be someone else, ten years down the road. He didn't know. The only thing he was certain of was that he wasn't going to be convinced by some mallrat who only wanted him for his dick.
He took one last look down at Lori-not-Jen, slid her picture out of his wallet, and then threw it in the fountain behind him. He was done considering.
In bed that night, John attempted to come up with another round of gruesome ways to meet his untimely demise, but failed miserably. The harder he tried to focus, the more his thoughts kept drifting to Claire, until finally she was the only thing left in his mind. He could still feel the spot on his neck where she had tenderly pressed her lips and somehow managed the impossible. With one simple kiss, she had breathed life back into him.
It was the first time in years that John could remember falling asleep without feeling like he wanted to die.
A/N: First, a few footnotes…
1. The line about John not making an Indian cry is a reference to a pretty famous anti-littering PSA from the 70s.
2. The line about John's scar is a nod to an article I read where John Hughes and Judd Nelson were discussing Bender's backstory. Judd was convinced that Bender was telling the truth about the cigar, but John happened to think that he'd probably just caught it on a fence and made the story up.
3. That scene in detention is something I've wanted to explore for a while now. It always seemed jarring that in the movie it goes from Bender being upset and going off to sulk, to Vernon spilling his coffee, and then back to the library where Bender is fine again and has rejoined the group. All in a matter of two minutes? What the heck happened in between? Am I over thinking this? (probably).
Anyway (and more importantly), I want to say a gigantic and heartfelt thank you to everyone who gave this story a chance despite the warning at the beginning. And double thanks to everyone who reviewed, you all keep me wanting to write more :)