Eight months earlier...
Craig made a sound something like, "Ooooff." But not quite. The sound you make immediately after being punched in the stomach when you aren't ready for it. Only he hadn't been punched. It was just a basketball. It hadn't even been on purpose. At least it didn't look that way. Craig had just finished snapping his lock shut and turning away from his locker when he was hit by the ball. At least he didn't drop his backpack from his shoulder.
That would've looked pathetic.
"Jamison, throw the ball back here." The voice came from a boy Craig vaguely knew from a couple of his classes. Craig was surprised that he knew his name. The boy had thrown the ball down the hall towards a friend of his, another twenty feet down the hall from Craig. This was strictly forbidden of course but most of the kids in Craig's school proudly adhered to the moral code that if you aren't caught, it isn't wrong. Craig's turning and stepping two steps away from his locker had put him in the line of fire.
Craig tried to ignore his lunch trying to work its way back up from his assaulted stomach and did his best to casually reach down and throw the ball back in one smooth motion. Of course he wasn't at all surprised when it didn't quite work out that way.
For the past several months Craig felt like he couldn't even get out of bed in the morning without doing a face-plant. Sadly, he felt that way because, at least this morning, it was true. His feet had grown two sizes since school let out last spring. Hair was shooting up in spots that had previously been bare his entire life. He had sprung up five inches in height. And close to two inches in another, more personal, measurement. The last one was the only one of these he wasn't annoyed at lately, in fact, he was kind of proud of that one. The rest of them, well, they just seemed to cause him all kinds of problems.
Craig reached down with his right hand towards the ball. He had been intending to coolly scoop the ball from underneath and smoothly launch it into the boy's waiting hands in one motion while nodding a casually indifferent smile towards the other boy.
What happened instead was the story of his life lately. Ever since moving into this stupid town during the summer and then starting school at this horrible new school two weeks ago. As he reached down, his backpack, balanced precariously on his left shoulder, slipped off and, thanks to the strap hooked on Craig's arm, swung around his body hitting the ball squarely mid-scoop. This caused the ball to veer sharply right and down. The toes of Craig's right foot, two inches bigger than they were supposed to be and forward to keep balance during his effortlessly cool swoop, just happened to be in the perfect spot for the re-directed ball to bounce off of them. Craig's foot moved reflexively. This naturally caused the ball to change vectors yet again. This time sharply left and almost straight up.
Craig watched with a resigned sense of familiarity as the ball hit a fluorescent light in the ceiling, which promptly went dark, and then banged loudly off the row of lockers before bouncing once on the floor and landing on Craig's fallen backpack, and finally softly rolling off and stopping innocently against it.
Craig looked at the ball, and then up at the owner. He kept his face impassive. What was the point in showing a reaction? It wouldn't make a difference. Just bear the shame stoically and move on, waiting for the next humiliation of the day.
A teacher poked his head out of a classroom, one hand covering the mouthpiece of a cellphone. He looked straight at Craig menacingly for a half-second. "Hey! No throwing balls in the corridors!" he said before resuming his conversation and disappearing back into the classroom.
The other boy and his friend began laughing. "Hey, nice move Kobe. Show up to basketball tryouts after school will ya? I want you to show us how that's done." They smiled sarcastically at him before retrieving their ball and moving off down the hallway.
"Fuck me," muttered Craig to himself as he hoisted his traitorous backpack and moved off towards math class, head down and eyes firmly planted on the floor.
The worst of it was, Craig had been considering going to the tryouts. His mom was bugging him to get involved in extracurricular activities this year, and to, "try and make some friends for a change." Yeah. Like it was just so easy. After today's little adventure there was no way in hell he was going to show up there after school.
He plopped down into his desk in math class with a quiet sigh and unzipped his pack to pull out the necessary books. Basketball Boy, from the hallway—Craig couldn't remember his name—was sitting beside him and caught his eye. Smiling rudely at Craig he said, "Hey Craig. Or should I say Kobe?" Then he chuckled sarcastically. Craig kept staring straight ahead, the pen in his fingers rapidly vibrating back and forth. It was the only sign of what he was feeling.
After getting no answer or reaction from Craig, the boy shrugged slightly and turned towards the front of the class. Craig couldn't quite figure out the look on the boy's face.
Math class was easy. So it seemed to drag on forever. He spent most of the period daydreaming. Dreaming of what it would be like to have friends, and social skills. He only occasionally focused enough attention on the teacher and his book to ensure he kept track of the lesson. Eventually the teacher finished his explanation and assigned some work from the textbook.
"You have the rest of the class time to finish the assignment, and then the rest will be tonight's homework, as I don't think too many of you will finish before the bell," said the teacher. Craig saw that he was looking right at him when he said the last bit, and he couldn't help wonder at this.
Craig glanced at the problems, turned back a page in his text to see the examples, then used the next five minutes to finish the assignment before resuming his ruminations while pretending to read his textbook until the bell rang.
As he filed out of the classroom the teacher looked up at him. "Craig, please come and see me after school today."
Now what? In trouble already, thought Craig to himself as he barely nodded at his teacher before exiting the classroom and promptly forgetting about it.
The rest of the day passed fairly uneventfully, much to Craig's relief, and he was halfway home from school before he remembered he was supposed to talk to his math teacher. Fuck it, he thought to himself and he resumed his trudge towards home, eyes planted on the ground three feet in front of himself.
He wasn't looking forward to getting home. The first couple of hours would be ok. He would have some time to himself, have a snack, watch some TV, surf the internet, jack off at least once, and have time to clear his browser history before his mom got home from work. Then it would begin.
Sure enough, two hours later, it began the way it usually did. His mom walked in, kicked off her shoes tiredly, smiled towards Craig, and asked, "How was your day honey?"
Craig tore his eyes away from the computer monitor, now safely showing a gaming website, and muttered his usual answer. "Fine."
God, why was she always so nosy?
She looked at him for a moment, the smile frozen on her face, before asking, "Well, did anything fun happen today? Maybe meet some friend material?"
Jeez! She never let up!
"Nope." This time he didn't take his eyes off the monitor.
He could almost hear her changing gears for the next attempt. "Well, did you think about joining a team, or one of the clubs?"
He sighed overly loudly. "No mom. I didn't." He pretended to be extremely interested in reading the legal disclaimer on the bottom of the web page.
She was getting upset. He could see it in her subtle change of facial expression, just visible out of the corner of his eye. Well, good. Serves her right for bringing him to this stupid town!
It took her a moment before she spoke again. Visibly trying to control her frustration. "Craig...." She tailed off briefly before trying again. "Craig. If you at least try..."
He couldn't deal with it. To be fair, he couldn't deal with much of anything these days, but right now, this was too much.
Craig interrupted hotly, finally looking right at her. "Try?! Try what? To make a friend so you can tear me away from him again? To pretend I can actually make another friend?! To...." He shut his mouth tightly, aware that he had gone too far, and turned his head sharply back to the computer before his mom could see his eyes.
Craig's mom's voice had a slight edge to it now, her frustration beginning to leak through her tight control. "Craig, you need to step out of yourself for a moment, try not to be so self-absorbed. I think you'd find that..." Once again she was interrupted.
"Self-absorbed? I'm thirteen! I'm supposed to be a little self-absorbed? What's your excuse?!"
Seeing the look on his mom's face at that Craig knew that, if he had gone a bit too far with his last comment, now he had leapt well and solidly over the line. His mom's mouth drew itself into a tight firm line, and she turned brusquely away before moving into the kitchen and too noisily began to prepare something for supper.
Craig stared at the computer monitor without seeing it. He sat still, his hands in his lap. Fighting for control of his emotions.
Craig felt guilty. Again. But he tried to ignore that, and to feel vindicated instead. He then tried to pretend that it worked.
It was a quiet and tense supper, sitting across from each other, only talking when absolutely necessary. Craig saw his mom open her mouth several times to say something, but then apparently change her mind, a bit of a lost look on her face. Like it was some stranger sitting across from her, not her own son.
Up in his room later Craig couldn't help wondering what the hell had happened. How did he get like this? Dad dying in that accident changed everything. He had never been a particularly confident or self-assured boy, never really had a lot of friends, but somehow he seemed to manage. Then, it just seemed to get worse and worse. The money problems, his mom cranky all the time, and Craig withdrawing so much into himself that even the neighbors were worried.
Meeting Tim at the Frostee Freez had started to change things. He had practically dragged Craig screaming out of his seclusion. Maybe if they had stayed there things would've been different. Maybe. But then his mom received a job offer after being unemployed for months, just when Dad's life insurance was running out.
A job offer in another town. Hundreds of miles away.
Fuck. His life sucked. How could it get any worse?
He was lying in bed, with his lights out. Doing the one activity that seemed to take his mind off his problems for a brief few minutes. Naked except for his socks he pumped his penis frantically, blocking out everything else, until he grunted and squirted onto his belly, immediately feeling guilty for his fantasy. Tim wasn't like that, and Craig knew it. Just another reason why he hated his life. He pulled off one sock and used it to clean himself up, tossing the wet sock onto the floor.
Falling asleep, he remembered wishing that everyone would just disappear and leave him alone for a change. For some reason, just before nodding off, he thought of Basketball Boy, from school. Something in his expression from math class was bothering him. Maybe there was more going on there than he had originally thought.
Oh well. Deal with that tomorrow.