Learning to Trust
By Chris the Blizzard
By Chris the Blizzard
"Mike, Jason, Matt, do you have your bags?" Janie asked us, in a rush.
Apparently she was late to work this morning, or so I assumed. I was packed and ready to go. Ms. Fitzgerald, bless her heart, had registered Matt and me at the new school on Friday, before we met Janie or moved here. That meant instead of getting a couple lazy days, as I had hoped, after only a day of getting to know the Benets, we were going to go to school. I would be a junior and Matt would be a freshman. At least we were going to the same school this time around!
I just nodded at Janie.
We all avoided her on our way out, since she seemed to be stressing out a little. Not in a bad way or anything, just being particularly busy.
"Matt, did you take your meal-card?" I asked. Henry had purchased one for each of us.
"Yes." He said.
"Do you have your schedule?" I inquired further.
"Yes." He replied again, starting to sound annoyed.
Those were actually the only things I wanted to know from him for the moment, but I decided to pull his leg a little.
"Did you brush your teeth? Did you eat enough breakfast? Did you take your vitamins?"
"Geez, lay off, Dad." The snarky little bastard replied.
Naturally, I punched him. We stopped fooling around for a moment and I noticed Mike was smiling at us.
"What's up?" I asked him, feeling a little self-conscious.
"Nothing. It's just really cool to watch, you know. The way the two of you interact." He said, still smiling.
I took a moment to really look at Mike. So far, he had been nice and open with us. He seemed interested in getting to know us and tried to get close to us. Instead of going out on Sunday, as I am sure a guy like him would usually do, he stayed home to get to know Matt and me. I hadn't noticed when I first came here, but attached to the garage next to the house was a basketball hoop. Me being the basketball-lover that I am, I went for a couple of hoops, joined by Matt. After a while Mike came to see what we were doing and joined us. Playing with him had proven to be a lot of fun, and not only because he was really good. Sure, I loved playing with Matt, but he was never real competition. Besides, once I got too far ahead he always became frustrated, though that is fun, too, in a way.
Mike, however, was about as good as myself, which led to a couple very intense matches. But not only was he a good player, he was also neither a sore loser, nor a bad winner. Sure, we had a couple jibes for one another, but all in good fun.
However, what impressed me most of all was the way he treated Matt. Most teenagers saw underclassmen as some kind of sub-par species, and treated them as such. I admit, at first I was worried the two of them wouldn't get along. Mike always included Matt, though, and never once treated him like a pest or an annoyance. In my book, if you were nice to Matt, I would be nice to you, so we got along swimmingly. I would hate saying goodbye to him once we had to move again, I was sure of that already.
"What's wrong?" Matt asked.
I must have let something show on my face.
I didn't want to get too close to Mike. I didn't need to make friends I would have to leave in a couple months anyway. Making friends had come easily to me before my parents died, but I found out quickly how shallow people can be. You can't trust them. At first they tried to maintain some contact, as did I, but with time the e-mails got shorter, the phone calls stopped and I was left alone. I tried calling every once in a while, but they would always be "busy" or "Their parents needed the phone". Well, I got the hint. Their lives had moved on, and I was not part of the ride. Making friends really is an exercise in sheer futility.
I liked to take pride in knowing myself pretty well. Once I got attached to something, particularly people, I had a hard time letting go. That meant not getting attached in the first place was easier in the long run. Besides, I always had Matt and that was enough. I really have to be careful around Mike, though. I thought he expected the three of us to spend a lot of time together, and that could end badly. His attention and desire to befriend us meant I really needed to get my guard up.
After a ten minute walk we arrived at Franklin High. It was a big school, with three different buildings; two housing classrooms as well as a fairly large gymnasium. There were fields for the various sports teams and the school grounds appeared to be humongous.
"Okay, this is where we split up, sadly. Matt and I have science classes in building A, since that is where all the labs are. I would show where your classroom is, too, Jason, but we are running a little late. I hope you don't mind." Mike said.
"No problem," I replied. "I'll manage. I've been the new guy lots of times now."
"It's a shame the two of us don't share any classes, but nothing we can do about that, I guess. We don't even have the same lunch period, for crying out loud! You and Matt do, though, so I guess that's something."
"That's too bad." I said, secretly happy. We had compared our schedules earlier and saw they were completely different, which meant I only had to spend time with him at "home" and I could keep my distance at school. Though it might sound cold, it would be the best for all involved.
"Bye Mike. Smell ya later Matt. See you here at, what was it? 3 PM?"
"4 PM, actually. See you at lunch, Jay." Matt said.
"Bye Jason. Let's go." Mike said.
With that we split up. They headed toward the farther building while I entered the one right in front of me. I ran around, trying to find my locker first, to stow away all the excess books I wouldn't need for now, but I got lost in a maze of lockers and identical hallways. I admit it, my sense of direction is bad sometimes. Put me in a forest or on a mountain trail and I can get around without any problem, but inside of buildings, full of halls which all look the same other than what is written on the doorplates? Forget it.
After what seemed like an eternity, I managed to get to my locker and hurried to push my stuff in it. At least I had a good idea on where to find my classroom. I glanced at one of the clocks hanging all around school and realized I was already late. I had noticed the bell ring, but I had hoped it was just a warning to start getting to class, not the beginning of class itself. Some schools did that. Though I guess the empty halls should have been a clue I was going to be late, anyway.
As I hurried down the hall I thought I heard something. Curious, I stopped and listened. A grunt? I turned and followed the direction the sounds seemed to be coming from and found myself in one of the boy's bathrooms. A rather beefy guy stood over someone else, his back turned to me. Apparently I had just walked in on a friendly disagreement. The guy on the ground, obviously the victim, seemed to be rather small, especially compared to the Hulk's little brother who planted a kick in his stomach, eliciting another grunt. I'm not sure why, but I found myself angry. I say I'm not sure, because even though most people might be mad at this injustice, I had shut those kind of thoughts down quite a while ago. Compassion, empathy, both useless. Neither of them helps you out, you just find yourself shouldering not only your own problems, but also those of other people. But then again, I was undeniably angry. I guess these feelings are harder to turn off than I thought.
"Hey man." I called out.
He spun around, surprised at the intrusion.
"Walk away." Came the rather angry reply.
"Only if you come along. Anyway, what's your problem with that guy? Did he steal your marbles?"
"Well, you look like you've lost them. I figured that was the problem." I gave him the cockiest grin I had.
"Fuck off, buddy." My new friend was obviously not amused. "This is none of your business. Unless you want a remodeling of that pretty face of yours."
"Why, thank you for the compliment. Don't ask me out though, 'cause I cannot say the same thing about you."
That certainly got his attention. This guy was such a typical jock, he was more like a walking stereotype than a real person. Everything from his arrogant attitude down to his football jersey just screamed "I play sports, pay attention to me!", and loudly, at that.
"What did you say? Do you think you can take me on? Huh?"
Now that I think about it, maybe attracting his attention wasn't the smartest thing to do. But it did do the job, the poor guy on the floor was forgotten, it seemed.
"Maybe, maybe not. But if you are just a tad smarter than you look, you can see I am close enough to your own size that a fight will be neither easy nor quick. And as my coming here proves, this isn't really a private location. So if you want to get suspended, be my guest. I'm looking forward to a little vacation time, actually." I gave him the hardest and coldest stare I could muster. And it was good, I had learned from the best after all.
It always helped if you're not scared, as well. Once you've seen the real depths of what humans are capable of, these petty playground bullies really lose their hold on you.
I was also an idiot, though. I mean, this is my first day, before my first CLASS even, and here I was, picking a fight with another student. And judging by his attitude, probably a popular kid. Well, at least I wouldn't have to worry about people trying to be friends with me, considering I would soon be at the bottom of the food chain.
We had a little stare-down and while I wasn't scared, he sure was. My threat wasn't empty either, I knew how to handle myself in a fight and I'm pretty well built. Whenever I get the chance to work out regularly I always took it, and I forced Matt to, as well, though there is always lots of forcing and even more groaning involved.
Come on, back down. You know you don't really want to fight me. No one is around to see, either. It's just not worth it, plain and simple.
"This ain't over, asshole." He said, apparently coming to the same conclusion, then stepped around me and probably went somewhere else he could skip class. Soft as a jellybean, if you know how to handle them.
I breathed out a sigh of relief and knelt next to the guy on the ground who was still holding his stomach.
"Hey man, do you think you can stand? Maybe I should take you to see the school nurse." I hesitated for a second "You'd have to tell me how to get there, though, I don't know where it is."
He didn't look to be seriously injured, but looks can fool.
"How can you not know where the nurse's office is?" He asked after propping himself up. Now that he was no longer curled into a ball on the floor, I actually got a good look at him. He was rather small, probably not quite 5 feet tall and had mouse-brown hair. His features just looked so… innocent, but his eyes were sharp.
"It's my first day here."
"Wait… Let me summarize: It's your first day here and instead of going to your first class, which you were late to either way, you get in here and almost into a fight with the school's star quarterback, Frank Pitts?"
"Are you retarded?"
My chin hit the floor even as my eyebrows rammed into the ceiling. What an ungrateful little prick! Here I am, doing what he just said I did, to help him, mind you, and the first thing he wants to know is not my name or maybe how he can repay me, noooooo, he wants to know if I'm retarded.
"Uh, sorry, I meant, uhhhh, mentally challenged."
I finally got over my surprise. I had honestly not expected this kind of attitude from someone I went out of my way to help.
"And are you a masochist or just plain stupid?" I replied. "You do realize I am the guy who just chased off the guy beating you up. I might be worse than he was. In fact, I think he might have had the right idea all along."
I didn't really mean that, but the temptation was too strong to resist.
"Neither. Plus, I didn't need your help anyway."
"Right, I'm sure you were about to break his foot by smashing your face against it."
That made him flush. Too bad for you buddy, you're not the only good one at dishing out insults. Contrary to my expectations, he didn't continue to verbally assault me.
"Okay, maybe you're right."
"Ugh, you're annoying, you know that?
"Sure do." I said with a grin. "It's what saved your sorry ass just now."
"Whatever. I guess I should say "Thank you", so thank you. You do realize though, Frank meant what he said; he doesn't like being challenged. Better watch your back."
"I'm not scared of that idiot." I said truthfully.
"I can see that. But I think you should be."
I just smirked at him.
"Thanks for the concern. I'm gonna get going then." I said and turned around to walk out of the bathroom.
"Don't you even want to know the name of the damsel in distress?" the guy yelled after me.
"Not interested." I said and waved over my shoulder.
Soon enough I found my classroom, and I was "only" 15 minutes late. When I entered, a grouchy teacher looked me over and asked why I was late. When I said I got lost, which was the honest truth, minus a few details, the whole class laughed. I don't get embarrassed easily, though, and just laughed along with everyone else at the teacher's stumped expression.
"You must be the new kid then."
"Yes, sir. My name is Jason Miller."
"Sit down, then. Since this is your first day I'm just gonna assume you actually did get lost. Take a seat, Mr. Miller."
I looked around and there was only one seat available.
"Jason," the boy to my right whispered to me, "You didn't really get lost did you?"
"Of course I did." I said, omitting the fact there was more to the story.
"Hmm, but that's not everything, right?"
I am honest enough to say I was startled. I like to think I am good at lying and hiding what I think and feel. How did he know?
Finally I took a look at him. To say I was impressed and surprised would be an understatement. He was about my height, at least as far as I could judge while he was sitting, well-muscled under clothing that revealed just enough of his physique. Dark brown hair sat atop a face that seemed to have been taken right out of a catalogue of teenage models. The thing which captured me the most however, were his eyes. They were a really light hazel, almost like honey, with little specks that seemed to shimmer like beads of gold. They were soft and piercing at the same time, juxtaposed as it may sound, and as he looked at me it seemed like he was looking right through all the facades, all the defenses I had erected around myself and right at who I was. Not what I presented to the world, but who I actually was. The very idea scared the shit out of me. So I put on my best annoyed face and frowned at him, "What are you talking about?"
"That's what I want to know. I talk about 'it', but I have no idea what 'it' is." He said, grinning.
"How about you cut the crap and listen to the teacher." I replied, putting a little venom in my voice. He seemed taken aback, but took it in stride.
"Whatever you want, your majesty." He said and I could hear the suppressed laughter in his voice.
"You're an ice queen." He said.
Seriously, is every single person in this damn school crazy? First the gorilla football-player, then the sassy victim and now Dr. fucking Phil was doing a psycho analysis with his eyes and giving me stupid nicknames.
I was fuming, but at least that made the class pass more quickly. Not that there had been much of it left when I arrived. Once the bell rang I quickly gathered my notes and practically bolted out of the door, eager to leave the strange boy and his inquiring eyes behind.
I almost got lost on my way again, but this time I was punctual. However when I looked the room over, once again, there was only one seat left. And next to it sat that boy, the one giving me the third degree about being late to class. I froze in the doorway. Honestly, the desire to just turn around and leave was surprisingly strong. I got over myself though and sat down, hoping he wouldn't speak to me. Of course, how else could it be, my hopes were in vain.
"I spoke to Lucas just now, you know." Were the first words out of his mouth.
"Thank you very much for the status report. That matters to me, because…?" I replied confusedly and in an annoyed voice.
"Oh, right, he mentioned he didn't tell you his name." He laughed and continued, "He is the guy you saved this morning. Thanks for that, by the way. He's my best friend and his mouth gets him into trouble sometimes."
He was trying to be friendly and I was disliking it.
"Tell him it was a one-time thing. I'm no one's personal bodyguard. And judging by what he said to me, that won't be a one-time incident."
"Oh he knows. He said you probably hate him, now. Did he really ask you if you were retarded?" He asked, snorting in laughter.
"Yes," I said, "And I do hate him."
Why the heck did I say that? I thought.
Well, that at least got a negative response from Dr. Phil (I have to call him something). The smile on his lips died and he raised an eyebrow.
"Don't take it personally. I hate people in general." I said, assuming he would take it as the joke I didn't make. Naturally, he surprised me again.
"You're not kidding, are you?" He asked, his eyes boring into mine. His head was slightly cocked, like he was trying to see me from a different perspective. He looked at me the same way people looked at an intriguing puzzle they can't figure out. I could practically feel him turning me over in his head like an unsolved Rubik's cube, examining me. And that made me decidedly uncomfortable.
"How did you know it was me who helped him, anyway? I never told him my name either." I asked in an attempt at diverting his attention a little farther from myself.
"Well, he described you as, and I quote, 'The blond new guy who can be kind of a dick.' All the evidence pointed to you."
"That does sound like something the snazzy little twerp I helped this morning would say about his hero." I said.
"Oh, so you're a hero now? Maybe I should call you iceman instead of ice queen then." He said with that infuriating, knowing smirk. I gave him a flat stare.
"I would prefer it if you didn't call me anything. At all."
Why am I being such an asshole? I wondered to myself. Usually, I had no trouble keeping a distance between myself and other people and still be polite. It's not like I was looking for trouble, at least at the moment. However, something about Dr. Phil got under my skin, because he didn't seem to be fooled by the arrogant and aloof persona I had created for myself.
His face hardened.
"I see." He said and pointedly turned away. I thought that would be the end of it, but throughout the class I saw him sneaking glances at me. Not hateful ones, as I had expected, more… curious. Again, I felt as though I was being examined under a microscope. When he didn't seem to be inclined to talk to me again, however, I began to relax. The class passed without any further interaction between us.
"Jason, wait." I heard just as I was about to walk out of the classroom. I froze and turned.
"Yes?" I asked.
"You seem like a nice guy. If you want, I think we could be friends. I know Lucas would be fine with you, too, because he only talks trash to people's faces when he likes them. Otherwise he does it behind their backs. Actually, strike that. He talks trash to and about everyone. That's what got him in trouble with Frank in the first place." He said with a laugh.
"Fascinating." I deadpanned.
'Seem like a nice guy? Is something wrong with his head? I just pretty much straight up told him not to talk to me.'
"Anyway. My name is Brandon." He continued and held out his hand.
I looked at it and decided to cut things neat and clean.
"No thanks." I said and looked him in the eye, dead serious. This time I wasn't sorry for being an asshole. If slightly more subtle methods didn't do the trick I wasn't exactly shy about telling him that, no, I was not interested in making friends. Not with him, not with Mike, not with Lucas or whoever fucking else was gonna start in on me next. Other than Mike, who I was living in a house with, I didn't have to worry about a fallout or anything either, I could just avoid them until Matt and I moved again and that would be the end of it.
Holding the eye contact just long enough for my decision to settle in, I turned around and left without another word. I ignored the hurt I saw on his face.