Terrible. Ew, blah, that was crap. I scratched that copy out and crumpled it. My writing got really shaky toward the end there; the pen I gripped too tightly was now a bent piece of plastic that leaked black ink. Along with the myriad of black stains across the paper, there were tears. Tears, which I was afraid to admit were my own. Black fingerprints signed the page without my consent, all smudged and distorted.
I leaned back in my chair. Why, Jared, why? I continuously pondered that sleepless day after sleepless day. Jesus. I was about to go straight out of my mind.
Morning, it was morning. No, scratch that; it’s too dark and early to be morning. I read the clock beside my desk, and it read 5:59a.m, 01/17/07. I sighed inwardly as I realized how ragged I was getting. This was the fourth night in a row I had slept at really late time and about to be the second I got no sleep at all. I could feel it—I was not sleeping tonight.
And, it was already too late to even try. It was just about six. The most I could do was try my best to wake up. Refusing to return to bed, I sat stilly in my chair, not moving at all.
I waited an hour, so it was seven, before I took a shower. Then I got dressed, and I noticed that my movements were becoming mechanically sluggish. And I had even dressed in appropriate enough clothing; gray shirt, black jeans a monochrome-patterned scarf, even. What a bright day today would be.
Maybe I was getting sick too. As I descended the stairs I was feeling incredibly lightheaded and I saw myself grabbing for nothing in thin air. Wow, okay Tylenol break here. I hobbled slowly down, trying not to run.
“Morning, lamer,” Wes said when I descended the stairs. Wesley McGrady was my brother, one and three months my senior and a complete ass. He always wore a stupid hat on his head, even when he was at home. He looked more like our dad, and I our mom; his hair was brown, tinted only a little black, and he had dad’s blue eyes. I’m so glad he graduated so home was the only time I really ever saw him. Unfortunately, he tries to make the most of our brother-brother time.
“Morning, Wes,” I said without even a trace of a tone in my voice as I reached for the cabinet door that had all the medicinal junk in it. Tylenol was on the first shelf; the McGrady family was a firm believer in the miracles of Tylenol. I grabbed two particularly bright red and purple pills and downed them quickly with a glass of water I had poured for myself.
“Sick?” Wes asked me. The smell of his fat-and-sodium laden breakfast—buttered toast with bacon on it probably had enough of both to kill a small rat—filled my nostrils as he walked by.
“Yeah,” I replied, trying to swallow the stubborn second pill. I hate pills, you know, they feel like something small and vulgar going down your throat.
“You’re just not getting enough sleep,” he said, walking past me into the living room.
“Maybe I’m just sick of you,” I said under my breath. He didn’t hear me; I scanned the fridge—which he had left open—for anything at all to eat, but all there was was a load of questionable food-like substances. I didn’t want to touch them, they might have growled at me. I heard the sound of the TV flicker on, and the music video stream channel’s irritating theme music came on soon afterward.
I closed the fridge and grabbed an apple off of the counter instead. It was still fresh, thank God. I started twisting off the stem as I walked to the living room, mentally knocking off letters of the alphabet.
“…B…C…D…E…” I murmured. It was a childish habit, I know, but it was ingrained in my head. Blame my friends.
“…H—” the stem broke off before I could finish uttering H. Hmm….
“Hanna Watson,” Wes said, his face stretched in a mocking grin.
“Yeah right,” I said dryly. Hanna’s one of my best friends and Wes is always trying to convince people—his jackass friends, for the most part—I’m going out with her. Even more so now that she broke up with her two-year boyfriend. We’ve been close. Maybe so close that a conniving older brother might just be watching close by.
“You know you’d totally do her,” he said nonchalantly. The sound of a music video was quiet against his voice.
“Can we not talk about her that way?” I said without looking at him.
“Come on, she’s a girl.” He said with a perfectly straight face as he watched the video playing.
“You’re a real jerk you know?” I rolled my eyes at him. “You say your girlfriend’s just about the best thing to happen to you, and then you call her nothing but an object behind her back.”
“Yeah.” He tore off a chunk of toast and gulped like a barbarian.
“You’re disgusting.” I kept my eyes on the screen so I wouldn’t lose my temper. “Hanna’s just a friend.”
“Funny, funny.” He chuckled once and said nothing more.
It was sad because Wes and I had been close as kids, really close—as in doing everything together. And then with the onset of high school, he quickly learned that it wasn’t cool to like your dinky kid brother. I’d accepted that well enough by Grade Seven.
The apple wasn’t doing much to keep me awake. I finished it and quickly put on my shoes and coat as silently as possible. Wes was still eating his disgusting breakfast. Slowly, though, he inclined his head toward me as slow and decisive realization crossed his eyes.
“Aw, damn—” he started to say. I didn’t hear him, because I already had the keys in hand and was outside the door and at the bright cobalt blue Versa before he could finish. In a matter of seconds I had the key in the ignition and the engine roared to life.
“Get back here Jared!” Wes shouted across the lawn. “You little shit!”
“Bye Wes!” I said cheerfully as I pulled out of the driveway and darted down the road. He was driving the old Civic today. Jerk. My brother and I had this competition going on. Whoever got out to the new, shiny Nissan Versa first could take it to school. The other got the crappy old Honda Civic our dad saved from death—which it wasn’t far off from, now. Wes always used to win because dad always took forever to get up, but ever since I got my G2, I’ve had a good amount of wins myself. Despite not having slept, I still got the Versa.
I smiled my victory—in the corner of my eye, I saw Wes going back inside, knowing he’d been defeated, and realizing he’d stepped into the snow without shoes. That’s what you get, Wesley.
Turning on the heaters to warm the inside of the frost-chilled car, I drove down the road at an easy pace. There was not a huge rush to get to school, and I had some time before the first bell rang. Trees were frozen—their leaves in frosted patterns all over. The bright pink morning gave way to visible blue frost, and the tiny suburb started to crawl alive.
I pressed a button on the panel and the CD player came to life. My favorite CD was in there; I could hear it whirring around, and the first track, a slow piano and vocal number, came on. It was perfect; it was quite soothing.
The smile I still had on my face quickly withered into a sheepish thing. That opening song reminded me of why I was writing that stupid love letter at six in the morning. It was why I was beating myself up over a little thing, a little crush that wouldn’t go away. The song reminded me of why I’d been getting next to no sleep lately.
It hit me.
The wall of sleepless nights finally got to me. I slumped a little over the wheel and the world in front of me blurred in a strange marvel of snow and concrete. Sharply it returned for a split second—and then I saw nothing but white. I drove mechanically down the roads I knew would take me to school, because I’d traveled the same way hundreds of times before. Before heading right to school, I stopped at my friend’s house.
Sarah’s front yard was massive. And I meant massive. This girl was so rich she didn’t even really care anymore. Everyone on Green Way was rich, but her family was obscenely wealthy. I made my way past the snowy manicured potted trees and knocked on her front door—or, rather, one of the three. It opened just as soon as I touched it.
“Jared!” Sarah greeted me, the one eye not covered by her long red-brown hair widened in surprise. Sarah O’Leary was one of my closest friends, as we told each other nearly everything. She was incredibly eccentric, and she had her own set of sound effects, if you may. She purposely dressed in subdued colors mixed with bright fluorescent ones; she told me that it was a “fuck you”—not her words, but mine—to the rest of the people who dressed completely similarly.
“Surprised to see me?” I murmured.
“A little, yeah,” she said. “I assumed you were gonna stay home today.”
“Why would I?” I wondered aloud, letting my eyes wander on the now-lifeless iron trellis that surrounded the doors. In other seasons, it was decorated in all manner of roses.
“You were so tired yesterday.” She half-closed the door. “I’m going to school with Jared today, Allie! Anyway, yeah. Why don’t you go back home? You look like you got no sleep again.” She closed the door fully.
“I didn’t,” I confessed, walking her back to my car. “But don’t worry, I’ll be just okay.”
“You sure?” Sarah slid into the passenger seat while I slumped tiredly over the wheel again, fumbling for the key. “Um, maybe I should drive.”
“You’re nuts.” I yawned. “You don’t have a license yet.”
“Well, you don’t have the alertness. And I know how to drive. The school isn’t far from here. Come on, Jared….” She took me by the arm and led me out.
“No….” I said it childishly, but before long I found myself lying down in the back while Sarah had the car going and we were driving down the road at a cautious speed. The CD was still going on quietly on the background, and it was on a ballad. A rather soothing and spacey ballad…jellyfish, shooting stars….
I knew what she was doing. She put me in the back so I could—
…Sleep…and I did.
Next thing I knew I was outside of school and a steaming cup of coffee was in front of me. The steam seemed vibrant in the bright morning. Sarah was nowhere, and I was still lying down in the backseat of my car. The heat was on, a weak trickle from the front. There was a green sticky note attached to the lid of the cup.
“What happened?” I asked nobody. I looked at the clock on the dashboard—9:45. Oh damn it, I had missed math….
Actually that’s okay, math is a lame subject anyway. Now, I had drama, which was sure to be good. I pulled the sticky note off of the lid and read it to myself.
Jared, I can’t let you wreck yourself like this. I went to get coffee. French vanilla for me and black for you! I know you hate it but it’s gonna keep you awake. Enjoy your day! -Sarah
Wow, I guess I missed the mark there. I think I was supposed to wake up before the first bell rang. I took the faintly-steaming cup of coffee with the now-lukewarm bitter black stuff swimming around in it, and exited the car. She had parked us in right in front of the left wing exit, where the drama room was nearby. I love Sarah, God bless her soul.
The bitter chill of the air stung me a little as I took the first sip of the unwelcome slurry of bitter liquid. It tasted absolutely terrible, but I could feel alertness creep up on me. Still, she could’ve gotten me a Red Bull or something. I tried my best to down it on the way to drama.
Just before I opened the door I downed the rest of it one huge gulp; the burning—my God it was hot at the bottom—wore down my throat raw; rushing pain followed. I crushed the cup in my hand and threw it out in the garbage next the door. And then I put on my very best face that didn’t make it look like I choked on hot coffee. Okay, ow ow ow.
“Hi, Jared,” Ms. Freney said from her desk.
“Sorry I’m late, miss….”
“Did you bring your props for your CPT?” She didn’t lift her eyes from the page she was writing on.
“Yeah, I—” Wait, no I didn’t. “Um, no.”
“Just join your group.” I could imagine, behind her straight blond locks draped over her face, that she was rolling her eyes.
The drama room was attached to the auditorium stage by a short staircase in a tiny hall, and so I opened the door to the stage. There were lots of people in my class; I scanned thoroughly for my group.
They were in the far corner. In my group was Sarah, Jeremy, Emily and Amy, who wasn’t there because she was in Florida. Emily and Amy were Sarah’s friends, and I was good friends with them too. Jeremy was put in our group because there were too many people in the group he wanted to join—he was also Hanna’s now-ex-boyfriend. He knew I hated his guts and for some unfathomable reason, he was scared of me. I smiled at Emily and Sarah, purposely not looking at Jeremy.
“Did everyone memorize their monologues?” I asked the group. By some odd de facto, I was the group’s leader. I got a simultaneous “yes” from all of them. “Great. We can do more blocking today.”
“We’ve been doing a lot of work lately,” Emily said. “I just wanna take a break. We have three days next week anyway.”
“That wouldn’t be a bad idea,” Jeremy murmured.
“I didn’t ask you, Jeremy,” I said. I hated the sound of his voice, to be honest. I didn’t like when he talked. He was too nasally-sounding for his own good.
“Maybe Jeremy’s right,” Sarah said, stepping in. She always tried to make peace, to smooth out the tensions that were obvious between me and him. “We have been working a lot. And we do have until Thursday, anyway. Maybe we should take a break.”
“It wouldn’t hurt,” Jeremy said. He was asking for it.
“Okay.” I tried to hold a grip on my raging fury that ignited by just looking at him. “Break time it is.” Break your nose time, maybe. Maybe then he’d talk like a human.
“Wonderful!” Sarah said, hitting a riser nearby with her hand. “Jared, can I talk to you for a moment?”
“Sure.” I stood up when she did; she took me by the wrist rather forcefully and pulled off toward the side. She moved far away from the group and veered away from the group Hanna was in. I sighed inwardly; should’ve seen this coming, I guess.
She stopped behind a tall stack of black risers—I could hear some douche saying “Whoo, Jared and Sarah in a corner alone!” but I kept my eyes on Sarah. They were really intense, as they were when she was serious.
“Hanna’s upset enough that Jeremy broke up with her,” she whispered in a stern tone. “Please don’t make it worse, Jared. You’re her friend—you should be supporting her and not out for Jeremy’s blood.”
“I can’t get over what he did, Sarah! He deserves to have his face inverted and plastered onto his ass. And then kicked. Over a bridge over sharp rocks in the Atlantic.”
“I know—Atlantic? Oh my. Anyway…please, think of Hanna. You’re one of her best friends. If she sees you getting this worked up over what Jeremy did, she wouldn’t be able to take it.”
“Sarah…. I mean, come on, he—”
“I know what he did, and I’m just as mad because of it. Please, Jared, do the right thing.” She put a hand on my shoulder, and the one ice-blue eye visible beneath her ginger bangs bore into mine. Damn it.
“Okay, you got me.” I put up both my hands in conceding. “But if he tries anything to hurt her, he’s gonna have to find someone to write his will for him, due to a lack of hands.”
“Yes,” Sarah agreed. She turned her head away for a second, and when she turned back a playful smile was dancing on her face. “So how did you like your black coffee?”
“It sucked,” I laughed, walking out of the shadow of the risers. The same guy started laughing again like an ape, but whatever. Emily had gone to talk to other people, and so did Jeremy. “I tried to drink it all just before I got in the drama room.” I clutched my throat, being careful not to cough. “Still hurts….” She laughed loudly, slapping her knee.
“Oh, Jared. Did it least wake you up?”
Did it? I felt more alert. I could move my limbs around without it feeling sluggish. My vision was fine. However I still felt drained inside. It wouldn’t last very long, but if for now I could function, then that was enough.
“I guess,” was my answer.
The rest of drama class passed by smoothly—Ms. Freney had assumed that we were all busy doing our CPT but she never actually came onstage. So I got off with lazing away completely, really.
Right after drama was lunch, but there wasn’t lunch today, with it being Friday, as I had other commitments. And with it being Friday, I had to be in the art room for an exhibit that a painting of mine was soon to be in. I grumbled inwardly as I traveled down the winding and cramped hall to get to the art room on the other side of the school.
My God is it ever hard to travel these halls. People seriously just couldn’t find a room and go in when there are others in the hall. I passed the principal, a middle-aged egg-like man named Mr. Romney. He seemed to stare at me with his beady black eyes. When I finally arrived at the door, I saw that it was still closed. Odd. I touched the door handle and it turned before I could turn it myself.
“Excuse me,” a girl said and moved past as she exited. I went into the room right after her and I saw the art room was all drapes and covers, tarp and sheets. This was really weird. The paintings were supposed to be dry now, I mean come on, we painted them last week.
“Miss?” I called into the room. “Mrs. Auckland?”
“Yes, Jared,” I heard a voice from behind one of the drapes. Mrs. Auckland stuck out her head from behind one of the paintings, her head of spiky jet black hair distinct against the white sheets. It was obvious she was leaning dangerously far out.
“Just wondering…actually, what’s going on here?” I looked around—every painting that was supposed to be in her exhibit was covered.
“The exhibit has been postponed until next Wednesday,” she said, ducking back behind the cover. Suddenly the cover of the painting she was behind came off with a swooping noise and decidedly disturbing piece littered with corpses was in front of me.
“Um, wow,” I murmured. “That’s…cool.”
She stepped out in front of the painting, arms stretched dramatically toward it. Mrs. Auckland was a quirky sort of person. She’s ahead in her years but it was like she became a teenager and stayed there. Her petite frame and eccentric style of dress especially gave her the air of being young. She looked like a walking hurricane; her spiky black hair gave the illusion of that.
“I know, it’s amazing, isn’t it?” Mrs. Auckland chuckled, coming up beside me. “The stuff of nightmares. It’s by a new student of mine, Danielle Layton. Do you know her?”
“I think,” I replied. Layton? Danielle…. There was a new student who came here last week, and it was a girl. Maybe she’s Danielle Layton. In any case I didn’t know her.
“She’s the one who left the room just as you came in,” Mrs. Auckland told me. “Shy kind of girl, but she just hasn’t made any friends yet.” She put a hand on my shoulder. I sighed inwardly; I knew what that meant.
“I guess I could talk to her….” I said, breaching the subject before she could.
“Would you?” Mrs. Auckland smiled widely. “It would mean a lot to her. I wasn’t going to ask you to, really….”
“You lie like a rug, miss,” I mumbled at her.
“I know.” Her smile grew wider. “And think about it this way—if not for me, do it for your report card!” I whirled away from her hand—albeit dramatically I admit—and stared at her.
“Are you kidding me?” I articulated every word to get my point across.
“Well, yeah, I mean I can’t really do that,” she scoffed with a flat expression. “I’d get in so much trouble that I’ll be in jail until I see the next Ice Age!”
“Thank God.” I breathed a genuine sigh of relief. “I thought you were serious for a second.”
“Now what are you on and where can I get some?” she said with a sarcastic face.
“Life, it’s everywhere,” I said. Oh yeah, recovery. It was our own way of saying we liked each other, really. We’d been going at it for years and we were still at a draw.
“Clever, clever,” Mrs. Auckland mumbled in her own form of praise. She strolled over toward where my painting was—I’d called it something with “orange” in the title, but now I forgot what it was. She waved across the tarp, presenting it to me.
“Why, yes, that would be my painting,” I said, smiling. A strange look came over her face; thoughtful, pensive.
“Your paintings have been best in the exhibit for three straight years now, Jared McGrady,” Mrs. Auckland said almost reverently. “But, I do believe that this year, and I’m displeased to say this, you’re giving up that title.”
“What?” I said, completely disbelieving. “How?”
“Danielle Layton may be new, but she’s got talent,” she said; “and lots of it. Look at her painting.” I did that, carefully pivoting on one foot. Still corpses.
“Miss, how?” I said, still disbelieving. “They’re dead bodies. It’s too macabre.”
“Look closely, Jared,” she urged. “Are you not an artist? Use that eye, man, use it!”
I sighed as I more closely examined Layton’s piece, and I was trumped. Every intricate line within the painting was a new face, connecting and whirling to make the shape of another cadaver…. And upon closer inspection, I saw they weren’t even corpses. They were just normal people, splashed with different colors made to resemble blood. Now that I saw it that way, it was amazing, pure brilliance.
“The color scheme she used makes the mind automatically think of gore and disfigurement,” Mrs. Auckland explained, coming up behind me. “And that’s what you thought, no?”
“Yes,” I admitted, at a total loss for words.
“She’s brilliant, this girl. Not saying you aren’t—you’ve been one of my best students—but it’s time to give up the ghost, right? You can’t keep this up forever.”
“Yeah, but I at least wanted it for one more year…”
“You’ve gotten it three out of four. If not everything you got most of it. Don’t worry yourself, yours will still be spectacular.”
“Blah,” I murmured, trying to make the mood less heavy. “That’s fine with me then. I’ll retire.”
“You’re eighteen, man, relax yourself.” Mrs. Auckland then took a quick glance at her watch and did a double take. “Oh and, you’ve got two minutes until the bell.”
“Crap,” I groaned, and turned on my heel for the door. “See you Wednesday, miss.” I pushed the metal frame open, not slowing my pace.
“Bye, Jared,” she called after me, and I saw her spiky black-haired head last moving behind the covers before the door finally closed.