Chapter Two

You know what's worse than having a nightmare? Waking up right after it to realize it was not a nightmare after all. Right now I would give anything to erase the memory of my ex-best friend almost killing me with a soccer ball. What an utterly pathetic way to go…

As I open my eyes, my senses kick in one after the other. First, I smell the irreplaceable scent of my own sweat mingled with something unfamiliar. That combination appears to be lethal to my nose, and it takes me all the willpower I got to persuade my stomach not to empty itself right then and there.

Next I feel my arms and legs go from numb to unpleasantly tingly, and the headache from hell is back big time. I toss my head to the side and groan, thus popping the proverbial cotton out of my ears, and now along with the pain and the stench I can hear voices not far from me, murmuring something unintelligible. My vision is still blurry and at first I assume those are angels whispering, but then I hear someone exclaim 'Jesus fucking Christ!' in what sounds like astonishment, and I think to myself that if this is heaven, how do they refer to Jesus in hell?

I blink rapidly in attempt to moisten my eyes and I scan my surroundings. The walls are white and the people standing in the doorway are dressed in a white shirt and jeans. Wait, jeans? Wow, while I was out like the light heaven sure got a tad cooler.

But I've already pretty much established that this isn't heaven, and as though proving me right, the obnoxious voice from before is back again. "Fuck guys, he's awake!" No I'm not… well, technically I'm no longer asleep, but I won't refer to the state I'm in as 'wakefulness' either.

I close my eyes when the figures at the door start in my direction, the obnoxious black guy included. What was his name again? Dim… no, David? Was it David?

"Fuck, I bet he's mad. I bet he's lying there, faking sleep or whatever and just waiting for you to come closer, bend over him to check his pulse again and then BAM! And you're dead, Jay."

"Shut up, Dave."

Dave! That's him, the black guy with the weird golden chains around his neck and a limited vocabulary. And Jay, formally known as Jason, is my ex-best friend whom I tried to kiss years ago. Right… it all comes back to me now. And am I really that scary? I know I don't have a thousand facial expressions like some people, but it doesn't mean I'm some socially inept bully.
And I don't have to pretend to be asleep. See? I'm already feeling the edges of my consciousness darken. And now reality slowly… blurs… out…

At least until someone grabs my shoulders and shakes me violently. "Hey… Hey! Wake up."

That's not Dave, the voice is calmer and the trademark F-word is absent. Nevertheless, I grit my teeth and slap the hands away from my shoulders. What the Fuck is wrong with everyone today?!

"Nurse's orders," the calm voice– must be Jason's –answers, and I understand that I accidentally voiced that last thought. "He told us to keep you awake in case you regained consciousness."

"Well if you're so worried, then you shouldn't have put me in this state to begin with, Jay." I'm not sure if I made my mocking of his nickname clear enough, with the light buzz in my ears my speech must be slightly incoherent and the sarcasm is not at its best. Well at least I know I'm at the infirmary, and just as I'm about to thank him for at least bringing me here, he speaks again.

"Whatever. I already apologized so—"

I force myself to crack one eye open. "Apologized?" Is this guy kidding me? We meet again after god knows how many years, and the first thing he does is knock me out. Then he coolly apologizes when I'm too busy being unconscious to hear him, and now he's ready to just walk away as though I'm just some random student he unintentionally hit. There would have been nothing wrong with this picture if I was, indeed, just a random student, but for Pete's sake, we've been best friends for years!

My voice is barely above a whisper, but whatever disbelief I failed to put in that one question shows on my face, and Jay, who was standing at the feet of the bed with the rest of his gang, suddenly sits down, missing my feet by a mere inch and a half. So now he wants to break my legs too. Greedy much?

"What do you want?" He says with a huge sigh, and it angers me even more. I'm the one who should be sighing tiredly here.

"To see the principal," I rasp in all honesty. Well, that was the plan before I got hit, but he'll probably think I want to report him. Good.

He instantly recovers from that 'resigned martyr' show of his, scowling at me in disapproval and boiling anger. Now it's my turn to act all cool and haughty, and I close my eyes again and tip my head to the left, making it very clear that he isn't worth the effort I put into looking at him.

"Fine." He stands up so abruptly that the bed creaks in protest and my feet jump up slightly in the air. I still don't spare him a glace as he stomps out of the room, but I can't keep myself from flinching when he shuts the door with needless extra effort. Punk.

For a moment, the room is so silent that I can hear my own heart beating unsteadily in my chest. Why unsteadily? Well, let's just say that I have this condition—

"Hey man, listen…" Oh right, how insensitive of me to sink into my own thoughts while there are still people present. Did I say people? I meant an idiot and a midget. Yes, the girl is there as well, her torso barely visible above the bed, but just like last time she lets that thug talk in her stead. What is it with females these days? Some don't even pause to take a breath between sentences while others are more silent than the dead. Aren't they familiar with the word 'moderation'?

"Hey!" Dave tries again, and I take pity on him and hum in acknowledgement. I still keep my eyes close, though.

"Don't be too hard on him, aight? He's got it pretty tough, ya know what ah mean?"

Oh I know what you mean. I first met him when we were still sucking our thumbs, we practically grew up together. He was such a crybaby, always running next door, to my house, when his parents were fighting. Now that I think about it, since he started to ignore me pretty early in our friendship I never got the chance to meet his parents. But thank god for small miracles such as gossiping mothers… Once I overheard my mom saying that Jason was being beaten by his mother and that one day his father couldn't take it anymore and beat the crap out of her. I can't tell just how accurate that information is, but it gave me something to think about for days and it almost made me go over to his house once to comfort him. Almost.

"Did ya hear me?" damn, I completely forgot about the brute in my room. But was he seriously expecting an answer to that?

My migraine is finally reduced to a bearable throbbing, so I open my eyes and turn my head to face Dave. "Was that a demand, a threat or an order?" I ask in my best emotionless tone. It's funny how some people find apathy irritating.

For a moment it seems as though Dave actually ponders that question and fumes at my tone simultaneously. Then he goes back to just fuming. "Listen, you fuckin' idiot, it's your fault that you crossed the field without looking."

"I was looking. You're kind of hard to miss, you know what I mean?" Childish of me, I know, but so much fun.

"You fuck…! So you did it on purpose!"

Did I mention that this guy is a complete idiot? "Oh sure, I did it on purpose." I lift my hand to wave it nonchalantly at him. "In fact, I planned it all - Receiving the ball into my head, landing face first on the concrete pavement and even passing out! You know Dave, it could have been the perfect evil plan if only it wasn't so damn pointless to begin with!"

Okay, so this guy almost made me lose my temper. But seriously, his stupidity is in a far too advanced level for me to face it calmly. So when he simply spits 'fuck you' and strides out of the room the second I'm done with my tirade, I can't say I expected anything else.

I remember that there was a girl with them, the red-haired midget, but when I scan the room after Dave's departure, I discover to my utter surprise that it's empty. I wasn't just seeing things, was I? Not that I believe in ghosts or anything of the sort, but she sure was silent through the whole ordeal. Ah, no… she's real alright. I remember hearing her talk or shout or something when I got hit. Well, too bad I didn't get to hear her opinion on all of this.

I am about to drift back to sleep when the door creaks open. I certainly don't believe in ghosts, but creaking doors in dead-silent infirmaries make my skin crawl. Only when I hear footsteps approaching do I open my eyes, and I jump up slightly when the face of the intruder comes into view.

It's not a ghost, but Ruben Krause's face is so pale he could easily pass for one. Did I mention that he's far too young-looking to be a principal? I mean, you probably need a whole lot of experience before you could become the head of a high-school, and with all due respect, Mr. Krause doesn't look a day older than 30.

He comes to a halt a foot or two from the bed I'm lying on. He smirks and after smoothing the front of his suit with both hands, he intertwines them and says in a voice so low it could be called a hiss. "How are you doing, Mr. McKenzie? The gentleman outside said that you wanted to see me."

I stare at the man in front of me and almost gape. "How—how did you know my name?"

"Oh I am familiar with much more than the students' names, Mr. McKenzie," his says with a light chuckle, as though speaking to a naïve child. What kind of answer is that? More importantly, am I supposed to say something in return?

Mr. Krause solves the dilemma for me. "Well then, what was it that you wanted to see me about? And how come you are here and not in my office?"

Right. Should I start with how I was late for the umpthiest time to Mrs. Brooks' class, so today she decided to report me for something I haven't done and I was trying to get to Mr. Krause's office before her so as to prepare him for all the lies she might tell? Or maybe I should first tell him about how I risked my life and got into this unfortunate accident on my way to his office, and then inform him of my awful sleeping habits.

I take a deep breath. Well, here goes nothing! "You see, Sir, it all started in September…"

"Let me get that for you, you must still feel dizzy after today's events."

Holding the bandage firmly in place above my left eye, I nod and let the principal open the door. Stepping into the hallway I sway slightly as the October breeze, which was missing in the tiny infirmary, fills my lungs. Mr. Krause is two steps behind me, and I feel his big hand press between my shoulder blades to steady me. "Alright?" he inquires, and I dumbly nod in response. The touch is firm, so one wouldn't refer to the gesture as 'comforting', but his palm is uncharacteristically warm against my back and I think to myself that despite the ghost-like paleness, he is still human after all. Now that thought is comforting.

His hand lingers, no longer pressing but not quite letting go either, and I feel like squirming under the half-touch. All of a sudden, a female voice is carried through the hallway, and the principal drops his hand as though scalded.

"Mr. Krause!"

"Yes, Marie-Anne," Ruben Krause almost growls as he turns to face his secretary. With the principal's attention elsewhere, I feel as though a spell has been lifted off me and I'm once again able to move. As I step away, I try not to listen to what their saying, but I can't keep myself from catching that Mrs. Brooks is waiting for him in his office. I smirk at that and shut their conversation out completely. For a moment I wonder if my smirk looks anything like that of Mr. Krause's.

As I walk towards the exit of the main building, fingering the bandage unconsciously, a very familiar calm voice stops me. "Two hours to report an assault?"

It's Jay. He's standing in the doorway of one of the spare classrooms that are kept in the main building. He leans on the doorframe, never breaking eye contact with me. "Ruben is not the kind to lend you a shoulder to cry on, so if he wasn't comforting you for two hours straight, then I assume you made the little story about the ball hitting you into a fuckin' novel."

He does think that I reported him. How cute. For a few moments I just look at him – first his eyes, then I move my gaze to the little black earring on his right ear. I rapidly scan him this way, taking in the new haircut, the dark headband, the drooping eyes, the new attire – everything, and when I'm done, I fold into laughter, barely holding my bandage in place.

I know him well enough to be sure that he'll wait for me to get hold of myself again, before speaking his mind. But I don't want to hear him right now, so with my eyes still wet at the corners from the hysterical outburst, I take a breath and motion him to enter the classroom behind.

"Listen, Jay," I tell him once we were seated on the tables, not facing each other but the blackboard. "First, don't ask me what's so funny. I won't answer and you know it. Second, why would I report you to the principal? We all know it was an accident."

Finally I get an expression out of him that isn't that of disdain. He looks positively surprised, and I can't keep the chuckle in my throat. "But in the infirmary, you said—"

"I said that I wanted to see him, yes," I then scratch my head sheepishly before going on, "let's just say that I had a pressing matter that couldn't be discussed any later." Only thinking about the word 'late' and the number of times it came up while I was talking to the principal makes me uneasy.

"So, about the brow…" Jay starts, but I interrupt him again in a cheery voice.

"Three stitches. Nothing I can't handle."

"No, I meant what did you tell the principal? You know, about the accident?"

Oh that.

"Oh that. I told him I haven't slept well last night and I was tired so I tripped and fell. And you guys were nearby and saw the whole thing, so you brought me to the nurse." Really, who cares how many stitches or what happened? I'm just happy to be talking to him again. I wonder if that means that he got over his homophobia from when we were ten.

"Wow, thanks man," he exclaims and I turn to see him smiling brightly. "I have so many issues with the principal, you have no idea." He chuckles and I only smile in return. Something isn't right here.

"So anyway, I feel we started on the wrong foot here."

I sigh and touch my bandage lightly. "Please don't mention anything even remotely related to soccer, feet included."

He laughs. He laughs and I practically melt. It's no longer childlike and high-pitched like when we were ten. It's rich and low, and all of a sudden it brings back Aaron's laughter, and I realize that the sound is so very much alike that I confused them for a moment there and practically melted.

"Alright, sorry," he answers and chuckles, and in a blink of an eye I forget all about Aaron and melting and I'm suddenly very angry. It's his tone that's pissing me off, since he's still speaking as if I'm just some random student who took pity on him out of the kindness of my heart. It almost sounds as though…

"So hey, what's your name anyway? I'm jay, but you already know that."

… as though he has absolutely no idea who I am.

Today's quote: "Always be nice to your children because they are the ones who will choose your rest home." - Phyllis Diller