Author's Note: Hey guys! Look! not an AU! Well, it could be AU since it takes place in the past, but you know what? It doesn't make a difference. Just kinda got this idea into my head a while ago and wanted to do something more awkward than the usual fair. Timeline wise...Tom's 17/18 at this point, so yeah...it's the 90s. Best Decade Ever. Anyway, don't know why you're reading this. Carry on. (Also, story starts now, the line-break is making the formatting look weird and I am most displeased).
"Go on. Go on! He's harmless. It's just a bit of fun."
"Ah, I dunno…he's weird…like real weird. Ya know…really, really weird. Besides…I'm here with you, Rich…"
"C'mon, then do it for me. It'll be funny. I promise. Besides, that ol' limp dick won't do anything to ya. I swear."
"Ah…alright. If you say so, but what'm I gonna do?"
"Oh, I dunno…just mess with him a bit. You know…mess. I'll help. C'mon…"
"Ok, ok…but you owe me if this doesn't work."
Tom had been doing his best to mind his own business, blend in, entertain himself. It was hard though as he watched his fellow classmates dancing to the overplayed songs and others joking at obnoxious volumes to their friends. He'd tried to talk and do the "people thing", but that had yielded no results. School functions were social occasions, and they weren't much fun if no one wanted to be social with you, and that was just Tom's problem. He had no one to be social with. No one wanted to dance with him. He didn't have the faintest idea why. He could dance all right. He tried to be nice to everyone. He'd bathed especially well, made sure his hand-me-down tux looked okay, smiled when the opportunity presented itself…so why was everyone avoiding him?
Well, he knew why, but he was trying to cheer himself up. Rationalize. It wasn't working.
Who goes to prom without a date anyway? Oh wait…me.
His mother had wanted him to go with the nice, neighbor girl, and she was nice and all, but it was an act. It didn't make him like her all that much. Tom knew even if that clever bitch fooled everyone else. Knew she didn't like him very much either. Besides, she had those weird braces that got food and shit in them, and that was just gross. All wet and old and smelly. Little chunks of slimy plaque. At the thought of it Tom felt his stomach twist itself round in knots, and he felt like he was going to puke. The room felt stuffy with all the moving bodies, and he just couldn't take it. His head was spinning and leaning up against the wall wasn't helping any as colored lights moved and shined in his eyes like little, fake, stars. He needed to get out. He needed some air. He just needed to be away from all this.
The hallway was nicer. Less crowded, but there were still people roaming about. Mostly couples talking to one another quietly and holding hands and…whatever else. The sickness had subsided, but the spinning hadn't, so Tom started heading in the opposite direction, away from people, in as straight of a line as he could manage. It wasn't like they were going to notice anyway. He'd made it to the corner when his pilgrimage was brought to a halt.
"Mr. McKnight, where are you going?"
Tom perked up at the familiar voice of one of his teachers. She was one of the chaperones for the event, but the teenager hadn't seen her all night. Tom had quietly wondered where she'd been hiding away all this time. She must have been on hall duty or at least good at flying under the radar. Her name was slipping his mind as he blinked a few times like it would put the older woman into focus.
"Just getting some air. My stomach was upsetting me. I wasn't doing anything bad. I promise."
The teacher nodded, a frown creasing her already aged face. "Oh, I'm sure you weren't. You're much better behaved than your classmates you know." Tom didn't even hear the monotone compliment as he stared dumbly in response. The nausea was coming back, and barfing all over your teacher's nice shoes was generally frowned upon. "You said you're not feeling well. You want to sit in the nurse's office for a little bit?"
"No, no ma'am. I'm fine. Must've eaten something that didn't sit well. I'm fine. Really."
"You're sure, Thomas?"
"Uh huh…" Tom nodded his head a little too quickly, but the teacher must have taken it for sincerity as she simply patted the teen's shoulder and headed in the opposite direction. Tom leaned against a locker, pressing his head against the cool surface as he thought.
Mrs., Mrs. What? Mrs. Wilkerson. Yeah, that's what her name is.
As soon as the older woman was a good distance away Tom straightened up and then bent over, hands on his knees as his stomach heaved painfully to no avail. Nothing but air and a burning sensation in the back of his throat. How disappointing. Once the painful lurching stopped, Tom straightened himself out once more and continued on until he was face to face with the double doors that lead outside. Indoors was just too…indoors. He needed out, if only for a little bit.
Tom took a deep breath of the night air as soon as he stepped out of the building. It was still warm out, it was May and this was California after all, but at least it was nature and not the recycled breathing air of his fellow students. He didn't hate them or anything, well, not all of them…not exactly, or something. It really didn't matter all that much anyway, or maybe it did.
Whatever, he was outside and they weren't. He could be alone for a few minutes before returning to the overly warm den of teenage hormones and pop songs. Or at least he'd thought so.
"Hey! Hey, you…ain't you that Tom guy?"
"Who wants to know?" Tom turned his head as he addressed whoever it was. It was some girl, same grade as him if memory served, kinda short…really short, talkative he thought. He'd never really talked to her. Not that he could remember anyway, at least not for a significant amount of time. How do you know my name?
"Oh, you know…jus' little ol' me." The girl laughed, and Tom scowled partially because of how vague the girl was being and partially because of that laugh she had going. It was one of those really shrill, high-pitched, laughs. Why would anyone have a laugh like that? It was obnoxious and much too loud. He'd come out here for space and quiet, not pig squeal laughing. Tom grit his teeth. It was like nails on a chalkboard. "Whaaaaaaat? Don't tell'me ya don't recognize me!" the girl continued, her smile reminding the teen of the Cheshire Cat, all teeth and no sincerity. And you really shouldn't trust that cat. Tom shook his head, suddenly feeling like his throat had barbed wire shoved in it as the girl took a few shaky steps toward him before leaning into his chest muttering something unintelligible into his shirt. He wrinkled his nose as she tried to bury her face deeper.
Oh, God…she stinks of cheap beer and car sex. Get off. Get off. Get off. I'm already sick to my stomach. You're really not helping.
"Look, miss, you've got the wrong guy. I don't think I'm the right Tom." I'm never the "right Tom". Tom shook his mind of the thought and continued. "Now, if you would just stand up, please, I'd like that." Tom did his best to politely shove the girl off of him as he spoke, words courteous to the point of being ridiculous, but the all mighty power of drunken dead weight was against him as the girl wrapped her arms around Tom's torso, mumbling some more. "Excuse me?"
"I know who you are! I'm not wrong, no way. You're that…that freak kid. The McKnight kid…you know the really weird one. Never talk to nobody or anything…'cept when you do, and then he's just super creepy, like…super, super creepy. Total spaz. Him an' his family…no wait…just him. Total spaz. Yeah…total spaz."
"Oh, what a charming description," Tom replied sharply, feeling annoyance flush his cheeks. He felt himself pull away once more, but the girl wasn't giving in as she gripped tighter and giggled.
Fucking cackling. Jesus Christ.
Still, Tom's luck wasn't ready to improve just yet. Not that it ever really was.
He didn't mean to do it. It just sorta happened as he used more of himself to get away, pushing the girl off of him more forcibly than before. Tom had thought he'd felt her starting to support herself more, but it turned out she had only started to lean back, letting go of Tom at the exact wrong moment, her body landing on the pavement with an unflattering thud.
"Shit, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do that. Jesus…you okay?" Tom asked, his voice rising and falling with nerves.
"You pushed me! You fucker! You pushed me over! That's…that's n'way to treat a lady. Nuh uh…" the girl huffed in indignation, getting louder and making no effort to stand up on her own. She scowled at Tom, and all he could do was stare blankly, scared half to death at the girl's sudden rage. "I said," she continued drawing the words out. "That's no way to treat a lady!" she finished, voice becoming unearthly shrill.
"Calm down, please. I was just about to help you up. Really I was. Just, please stop yelling," he replied anxiously as he fidgeted. He leaned down and offered the girl his hand hoping that she would be nice enough to cooperate, especially after her little show.You want me to help you, I'll help you. Stop making such a scene. She gripped his hand too eagerly, too soon, and too tightly, squeezing his fingers in a surprisingly strong grip. She's fucking drunken SuperWoman.Tom winced for about half a second before returning the tight grip as best he could and pulling the girl up, using his free hand to support her back once it was off the ground and help her up.
Suddenly the girl's arms were wrapped around him once more, restraining his arms in a straight-jacket hug, and Tom took in a sharp breath of surprise as his lungs were compressed.
"Oh, thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" the drunken prom date squealed. Tom was going to respond politely when a forceful tug pulled his head down to the girl's face. Without a second thought she smooshed, there really was no other word for the sudden wet sensation, her face against his in a non-consensual kiss.
The dry heaves returned, as Tom tasted something that wasn't the inside of his own mouth. He tried to move away, but the superhuman drunken strength wasn't going away as the girl gripped the back of his skull, messing his hair, and holding him hostage by his lapel.
"The FUCK is going on over here?"
The girl almost instantly released her grip, turning to the source of the voice as if she'd been expecting it, leaving Tom just hanging awkwardly in his spot, eyes wide like dinner plates, tongue lolling out stupidly as if it would make the tastes of acid and other person remove themselves from his mouth faster. It wasn't the taste of day old food and spit, but the taste of cheap booze and whoever or whatever else had visited the girl's mouth that evening wasn't exactly a preferable alternative.
"The hell, Monica? What're you doin' kissing this fucker?"
"Hey, hey, don't worry. We weren't doing anything. I just helped her up. That's all," Tom blurted out suddenly finding his words, swallowing back his nausea. He opened his mouth again, but he wasn't fast enough.
"Thank God you came when you did! He tried to rape me!"
"I tried to what?" Tom exclaimed snapping his attention to the girl, the acid taste of nausea giving away to the burn of indignation as he saw the self-righteous look on the girl's face. "Fuck, you kissed me you fucking bitch!" And just like that I forget how to be a gentleman…fuck, I'm not sorry. Bitch kissed me first.
"And now he's spreading rumors! It was terrible. I saw my life flash before my eyes."
"Why you rotten sonovabitch," the other boy, I think his name's Rich, growled. Tom looked at him, focusing this time. He was on the shorter side, like the girl, but he had the kind of build that warned anyone looking at him not to mess with him.
Just like Curley…in Of Mice and Men.
Tom shook his head, ready to retort, but before he could try to defend himself he felt pain as the other boy's fist flew forward, catching him square on the nose. Gasping and grunting from surprise and pain he stumbled and fell to the ground, nose blocked up with the scent of his own blood. He'd always been a bleeder, and now his head hurt as he tried to sit up, pressing one hand on the back of his skull and using the other to push off the ground. There were some loose bits of gravel in his hair, but he didn't feel anything wet, so Tom was fairly certain he wasn't bleeding, but a lump wouldn't have been surprising, but still he wasn't bleeding. At least not from that part of his head, and the hand that had been holding his skull went to his nose, doing its best to keep the blood from running down onto his clothes.
He tried to open his mouth to speak, but all that came out was a pathetic whimper, his instincts telling him to plead for mercy while he was still alive. Perhaps this guy would be satisfied and leave him alone. Just leave me alone to tend to my possibly broken nose and aching pride. That'd be nice.However, the boy didn't read Tom's body language and quiet whine in the way he'd hoped and was on him again, pushing Tom's head back down onto pavement.
The impact caused Tom to see darkness for a moment, but he'd never been one to go down so easily as his fist developed a mind of its own, hitting the other boy's jaw with sudden force.
"You skinny, little, fuck," the other boy yelped through his hand as he rubbed his now aching jaw. He was going to have one hell of a nasty bruise. Both he and Tom knew it. Tom's head was still spinning as he felt more blows to his chest and face before the smaller boy pinned his head down with his hand, other hand in a fist. He's going to fucking kill me. Well, should have known something like this would happen to me. Tom clenched his eyes shut, feeling the soreness in his face protest. He wanted to cover his face, but for some reason his arms remained frozen, bent and pressed against his chest. He must have moved them there when he was getting punched in the chest. At least I tried to save myself for a little bit.
"Ah, Rich, lay offa him…we, we got him good. Let's get outta here…" came the girl's voice, her words becoming better formed in her moment of clarity. "Ya busted up that honker a his, an' I'm sure he's gonna have more brain damage than before…leave him alone."
Tom let out a shaky breath, whether or not it was from relief or holding his breath he didn't know. Still, something about this wasn't sitting well with him. They got me good? The hell is that supposed to mean?
"Ah, but the little chickenshit hit me."
"I don' care…I'm not nearly drunk enough for this to be okay," the girl, Monica, continued, her momentary sobriety holding out a little bit longer. "Besides…y'never said you were actually gonna hurt him. Just scare him a bit…"
Said…said? This was a plan?
Tom felt anger welling up in his chest, but his arms remained frozen as his ribs ached and his face rebelled at each tiny shift of expression.
Rich lingered for a second more before moving to stand up, releasing his grip on Tom's head at what felt like the very last possible moment. "Chickenshit…" he grumbled once more, glaring at the boy on the ground before walking off with the girl.
He could have sworn he heard them talking as they walked away, but Tom's ears were ringing deafeningly, a headache immanent. He knew he heard one of them say "Not worth the effort", but he was beyond caring which. This had been a plan. They'd wanted to scare him. Well, they'd succeeded, and Tom just couldn't find it within himself to move as he lay on the cool ground, arms finally falling to the ground, and tasted the blood in his mouth. It hurt like hell, but he couldn't even cry. One, he was certain it would be horrifically painful. Two, his eyes felt dry as he looked up into the sky, the soft orange-yellow glow of the outdoor lights in his periphery.
He stayed there in the mix of unnatural and natural light, hovering between the ground and oblivion. When he did sit up at last his ribs rebelled, but he ignored it. The blood on his face was getting stickier as it started to dry under his nose and around his mouth. His head was pounding, but he was suddenly painfully energetic. He couldn't just sit there. He had to move. Go somewhere. Anywhere at this point.
Somewhere where I could get this shit off of my face would be nice.
Tom carefully got to his feet, arms wrapped around himself defensively even though he couldn't hear anyone else outside. He couldn't even tell if anyone was left in the building as he walked over to it, leaning against a door, propped up by his arm. The door was locked, so Tom figured he'd been out for longer than he'd thought. Still, he couldn't move. Wouldn't move. His back felt locked in place, and his feet were like lead. He hung his head, staring at his useless feet, not wanting to look at his reflection in the glass window. He'd zoned out again when a tapping brought him back. He almost fell over backward as he looked in the window and saw a face that was not his own looking back at him.
The next few seconds passed by in a blur as the door was opened and Tom walked in, feeling what he believed to be like one of those stumbling zombies in movies. Just shuffling around dumbly incapable of proper thought.
"Son, are you alright?" the man who'd opened the door asked looking genuinely concerned. "You look pretty darn well beat up."
"No, no…I'm fine," Tom replied, shaking his head as he came to from his zombie state, but looking away from the man. "I just fell and on the pavement. I'm ok, really."
The older man narrowed his eyes. Tom knew he didn't buy it, but his jaw was twitching, and he didn't feel like he could use it for a little bit. Tom figured he must have been the janitor given his outfit and the smell of cleaning products that he could sense through the dried blood on his face.
"Yeah huh," the man nodded, though even that looked skeptical. "You need anything?" he continued, voice softening with understanding.
"Just a bathroom…" Tom brought his hand up to his face, lightly rubbing his jaw, recoiling slightly at the flaky feeling of where he'd been hit. The man gestured for Tom to follow him, and the teen did so without fuss. He stood behind the janitor silently as he pulled out his keys and unlocked the bathroom door. "Thanks," Tom nodded, stepping toward the door, but the older man stopped him with a rather loud clearing of his throat.
"You didn't fall did you?"
"No, sir," Tom replied quietly. "I didn't." He held the man's gaze for a few seconds before the man frowned and turned away. Tom stood by himself for a bit more before heading back to the bathroom. The bright, white, light of the bathroom caused him to squint, but fortunately his eyes adjusted with some ease.
He made his way to the sinks, turning on the water and messing with it until it was a comfortable temperature. Tom felt his muscles twitch, and before he could stop himself he looked up into the mirror.
Bad idea. Very bad idea. Oh my god…my face. Jesus Christ…
The nausea returned as Tom scanned the bloodied face in the mirror. He must have gotten his harder than he thought, but he wasn't entirely surprised. When he bled, Tom bled a lot. He was too distracted with the redness to see anything else of his face, and he started to feel dizzy as well. Suddenly the smell of blood was revolting, and he didn't want to look at himself. Tom bowed his head, sticking his hands under the faucet, and started to wash his face, trying to ignore the red on his hands and in the sink.
Once he was satisfied, Tom finished by washing of what was left of the blood on his hands, grabbing some paper towels and drying his face carefully when he was satisfied with that as well. He looked back into the mirror, but this time he did not turn away. Scared. They were trying to scare me…am I scared? Tom stared back at himself, finding it incredibly to hard to hold his own gaze. He was going to be pretty bruised up, but his nose didn't look broken, just banged up. Things could have been worse, but he would have appreciated it more if his headache would go away.
"They got me good," he sighed, tapping the mirror solemnly. His hand dropped, and he turned around, throwing away the paper towels he clung onto as he headed for the door. However, he stopped short as he spotted a poster taped onto the door. Tom blinked a few times unable to read it until he realized it was one of the posters that had been up for weeks advertising the prom and it's theme.
Memories to Last a Lifetime…
Tom wrinkled his nose at the sentiment, ignoring his face's protests, and pulled the poster from the door. "If I'm lucky I'll forget this." He folded the paper up and was going to throw it away, but ended up clinging onto the paper as he spotted the paper towels, tinted red, in the garbage. This night just wasn't going to disappear from his memory, and he was suddenly quite sure of that fact.
The folded up poster found its way into the pocket of the now ruffled and somewhat filthy tux. His mother was going to be most displeased, but Tom wasn't concerned with that anymore. Pains were taking priority in his mind to the cleanliness of some borrowed outfit. He shut off the light as he left the bathroom no longer wanting the white light in his eyes. The janitor was nowhere to be seen, so he slipped out the doors quietly into the night once more. Hopefully, this time it would be less eventful.
Memories to Last a Lifetime. That phrase usually meant good memories didn't it? But what about the bad ones? Those stuck with people too. Just as well if not better than the good. Post traumatic stress disorder is a terrible thing.Tom reached in his pocket and pulled out the poster, unfolding it and looking it over again feeling no less glum.
"People are stupid," Tom stated, crumpling the paper and tossing it into a garbage can as he walked toward his car, ignoring his aches. "Horrible, but entirely stupid."
Finally, he made his way to his car, or rather the scrap of mobile metal his dad had allowed him to use. Well, at least it was something. Tom planted himself firmly in the driver's seat, scanning the empty parking lot, catching his gaze in the rear-view mirror.
"I'm not scared," Tom said firmly, his gaze unwavering as if challenging himself. "I am not scared," he repeated a few times more. Tom closed his eyes. "They didn't scare me. They'll never scare me. I'm not scared. I'm not going to forget this."
Tom started the car, opening his eyes once more. Memories to Last a Lifetime. A whole lifetime…Tom backed out, and headed for the exit, repeating the phrase over and over in his head.
Memories to Last a Lifetime. Memories to Last a Lifetime. Memories to Last a Lifetime…
Tom didn't know so much about the memory itself, but he did know he was going to remember what this felt like. It felt like self-pity. It felt like rage. It felt like loneliness and nausea and a whole body ache that would never fully go away.
And Tom knew they'd persist. Not just for a couple days, weeks, nor months. No, this was an ache that would last for years if not forever, and that was abundantly clear. He couldn't say he liked it, but there was something comforting about this knowledge. Another constant to tack onto his pathetically short list.
Tom opened the windows and listened to the breeze as it whipped around his head, one hand on the wheel and the other massaging his ribs. His anger had become dull, his fresh memories tucking themselves neatly away in the back of his mind. Stored away for whenever he'd need it. Whenever he'd need that anger he'd know just where to find it.
He didn't know when he'd need the anger that he now harbored. He didn't even know if he ever would. All he knew was that after all this time of being "that guy", the freak, the outcast, he finally had what he needed inside of him to combat it one day. And when that one day occurred he'd remember. Remember the nausea the pain the embarrassment and the righteous fury. He'd remember them and feel them just as strongly as he'd just been feeling.
After all…memories do last a lifetime.