Die Young, and Save Yourself

I was in my orchestra class about an hour and a half after the bus incident. I played second violin, and I actually wasn't bad. I averaged about first or second chair for the year, only playing the latter when I didn't practice the songs at all for one reason or another, mostly just laziness. I didn't want to be in orchestra that year. It was something that my mom had made me do because I was the only musician in my household besides my dad. None of my three brothers had a musical bone in their body, so that made me responsible for carrying the weight for the lot of them. I actually regret having such distaste for that class at the time, because honestly it was one of my favorites and it was pretty cool going to a class where you just played music. The only thing we were responsible for learning was how to get better, and all that really took was practice.

That was a memorable day besides the sunflower incident mostly because that was the day that I met Gwen Kauffman. She transferred from Carson and played second violin just like I did. She was a tiny little thing, and extremely nice to look at. She had long blonde hair that she wore in a ponytail. She also had these piercing blue eyes that were really alluring. She was very thin, until you reached below her waist where a cute, round behind sat on top of long smooth legs. She stood awkwardly at the front of the class while being introduced to us. She held her hands together in front of her and shifted from leg to leg until Ms. Benway, our teacher, told her to sit next to me at the back of the class, on account that we both didn't have our violins yet. I didn't have my violin because my parents would always forget to rent one. So I sat at the back like a lump while everyone else played. She didn't have hers because she was waiting on a donated one from the school, and that always took forever. Gwen placed herself right next to me and I just melted. I said hi to her right away, and was answered back with a gorgeous smile that had dimples and everything. We sort of stared at each other for a while until Ms. Benway shouted my name.

"Abel!" she bellowed. "Wake up boy! You just got a call slip from the office."

"Fuck," I whispered under my breath. I knew it was about what happened in the morning. I rarely got called to the office. I wasn't much of a troublemaker at the time and most of the faculty had taken a genuine liking to me.

"Better take your stuff," Benway interjected. "It says here that it's gonna take a while."

I grabbed up my backpack and stole another glance of Gwen as I walked out the door. I remember thinking, if I'm lucky, she'll probably think I'm some huge rebel or something!

I started on my way to Mr. Ho's, the assistant principal, office just to find out that the dumb ass school monitor had put the wrong office down for the call. Mr. Ho was on his way out to a doctor's appointment, but he did talk to Trevor. I spotted him on his way out of there, so I decided to walk him to class while he told me what had happened.

"That stupid bitch made such a huge deal," he started. "She said that our behavior endangered her life on the road. Jesus Christ, what a load of bullshit! Anyways, I'm fucking suspended from the bus for a week for being an accomplice."

"What?" I asked. "An accomplice? You threw the bag, how are you an accomplice?"

"Yeah dude, they wanted me to finger Ricky for it, but fuck that. No point in two of us getting in trouble."

I pondered this while I saw Trevor to his room and then headed off to Mrs. Doetree's office. Mrs. Doetree was our school counselor and definitely the nicest person who worked at our school. She had prom and football pictures of former students who kept in touch with her. My only complaint was that she never could pronounce my last name right, and I knew her for three years, so it shouldn't have been that hard.

I arrived at her workspace and thankfully accepted a free coke and a nice comfortable chair. See what I mean about being nice? She also commented on how pretty my hair was. I just rolled my eyes and took a thirsty slug from the bottle of cola.

"So I heard that you were witness to an unfortunate incident this morning," she asked me right off the bat. "Would you mind telling me about it?"

"I got to be honest ma'am," I said, trying to sound ignorant, "I really don't know what you're talking about."

Mrs. Doetree let out a sigh and then continued with her inquisition.

"About the incident this morning sweetie," she replied unperturbed. "I understand that you might have witnessed some misconduct on the bus."

"Well yeah," I answered, "you'd have to be blind not to see that kind of stuff on the bus ma'am."

"I would think so Abel. Why don't you elaborate on some of the misconduct that took place for me."

"Well," I paused, taking a swig out of the Coke before starting, "for one thing, Trisha Cox always stares at me like I have something coming out of my nose all the time. Another thing is, T.J. Holmes never wears deodorant. Do you know how gross that is sometimes? We live in Tucson for Christ sake! Also, he always cusses, like when some says something, he always goes, "Man, you stupid a…"

"I'm sure that you do see a lot of misconduct like that everyday on he bus Abel," she interrupted. "But what I was referring to was the matter of your friend Ricky this morning. Him and some sunflower seeds."

So they were trying to pin it all on Ricky. It really pissed me off to be completely honest. Ricky did have his share of stupid things, but sometimes it seemed like in school, they started making scapegoats out of the same kids over and over. Most teachers and faculty always labeled kids certain things and never really gave them a decent chance after that. I had seen that stuff happen way too often and I wasn't about to let that happen to my buddy Ricky.

"I really don't see what that has to do with what I just told you ma'am," I answered back.

A small smirk snuck out and onto Mrs. Doetree's lips for a moment. She knew that the cat and mouse game had begun. It wasn't her first, and it definitely wouldn't be her last either.

"Abel," she swooned, "witnesses say that you were seen talking to Ricky Fuentes on the bus this morning after he tossed a bag of sunflower seeds onto a woman's windshield. Apparently, you were also sitting far enough back so that you could have watched to whole incident in its entirety. I need to know what you saw."

"Who told you that I saw the whole thing?"

"Almost everybody!"

"Well, Ricky is more of an acquaintance then anything. We have Mr. Moreno's science class together and this morning we were talking about last night's homework. You know, comparing answers and notes."

"Was that before or after he hit the car with those sunflower seeds?"

"To be god honest, I didn't see anything like that."

"Oh come on Abel," she said, beginning to get flustered, "you know that you had to have seen something. I think that you just want to protect your friend. The faculty says that you two are far more than acquaintances, as you said before. They make it out like you two are inseparable."

"Mr. Moreno's class is no cake walk ma'am. Ricky has to tutor me; that's the reason why it might seem like we spend a lot of time together."

Mrs. Doetree friendly expression melted away momentarily into one of frustration. Then, she did something very peculiar. She propped her tennis shoe covered feet on the desk, leaned back in her chair, and put her hands behind her head.

"You know what Abel," she said, "I'm glad that you have a friend that you feel that strongly about defending. It's always good to have a friend like that. You know, I talked to Ricky right before you came in, and he said that he didn't know you too well either; that you tutored him in Mr. Moreno's class. Every educator instinct inside me is screaming for me to not condone this sort of B.S. from you Abel, but I'm going to let it slide this time around.

"I used to have a friend like that too," she went on, "and to be honest when they're gone you never forget about them. But a kid like Ricky will only make a kid like you lose focus Abel. I've looked at your grades and attendance. You're an excellent student. Loyalty to kids like Mr. Fuentes will only drag a person like you off track."

I winced a couple of times before she was finished, and felt my stomach drop down to visit my testicles for a while. I shut myself off for the rest of her heartwarming speech. She slowly realized that I wasn't paying her any mind at all and dropped the subject completely. She then dismissed me and I snatched my free Coke off the desk and walked towards my third period math class, thinking about Ricky and some of the things that Ms. Doetree had said.

Ricky epitomized everything that adults hated. He smoked pot, drew on desks, and always picked on teachers and faculty. When kids would walk near where he was standing, he would sometimes spit right where they were going to step, just to gauge their reaction.

Come to think of it, nobody liked Ricky. He came off as awkward and people never seemed to be able to decide if Ricky was cool or not. He always had nice, trendy clothes on his back and expensive shoes on his feet, and he always made tons of kids laugh with his stupid acts of misconduct. But, he still found it pretty hard to get over that hump of acceptance. The faculty did not find any of Ricky's actions amusing though, and it always seemed to me that the two factions were at war with each other all the time. Ricky treated them all like shit. To him, they were all there just to make his life a living hell, so he felt it necessary to return the favor back ten fold.

I myself had a hell of a time trying to find my place in the world that was Booth Fickett. I was very skinny and lanky, with very long hair that I always wore in a ponytail. I badly needed glasses, but never wore them, so I used to squint at everything that came into my view. A lot of people took a quick disliking to that. It also didn't help that I had a whole wardrobe of hand me downs and outlet clothing, definitely not all the rage at the time. I was the youngest of four brothers, so my mother would gather all of their old clothes and throw them on me.

"See mijo?" she would ask. "That looks good, doesn't it?"

If I ever said no I would receive a tongue lashing from my mom with a loud disappointing send off. I learned to cooperate quickly so that there would be a little more peace in my life.

It was hard finding acceptance at the time from anybody, so I thought of my few friends as the most important and cherished things in the world. Ricky had quickly become a very good friend of mine. One that I would have protected through thick or thin, right or wrong. So as I strolled out into the halls and back to class, I threw a silent "fuck you" towards Mrs. Doetree's office and daydreamed through the rest of my day.

The sunflower incident was followed up for a little while longer, until the faculty figured that they couldn't pin anything on Ricky. What they did instead, out of punishment to all of us, was split seating for the rest of the semester. All it meant was that a bus monitor would decided where you sat for you, but the asshole monitors never let you sit with your friends or anybody that was fun. They knew who your friends were, because they rode the bus just like everybody else, and they knew how to press your buttons.

Like all middle schools, Fickett had its cliques and groups that populated not only its campus, but its buses as well. The initial split came from race; whites with whites, all the minorities mish mashed with each other. From there, they branched out into jocks, druggies, rich and poor kids, smelly kids, and of course, those god damned student government students. The student government kids were always just the most popular kids in the school, and the only reason they get elected is because everyone votes for them, not because of their decision making skills.

After the split seating assignments, I'd usually find myself seated next to a group that we would personally call "the twerps." The twerps were these incredibly annoying kids who would hover over the back of your seats and bug the living shit out of you while riding the bus. On most days after the start of split seating, I'd usually try to squeeze in a couple of chapters of an Animorph book or maybe listen to some music, but these kids felt it necessary to ask for my help on every little thing that they could think of.

"Hey Abel, do you think this shirt looks cool?"

"Hey Abel, should I buy Pepsi or Coke for lunch?"

"Hey Abel, are you good at fractions? Would you mind going over my homework with me?"

Trisha Cox and Monique Harris were twerps, two of the only girl twerps in the whole school. Trisha was a short brunette who lived across the street from me. Monique was her black friend who had an oddly shaped head. Instead of being rounded at the top, it stayed flat, almost like Hammerhead from Spiderman. When Ricky would want to get his jollies off bugging Monique, he would try to land paper airplanes on her head like it was a runway. Both were very awkward girls who got shunned a lot, but they were the only two twerps that I liked. I even had a small crush on Trish, who had a gorgeous set of green eyes. Plus she had this cute way of stealing sideways glances at me, where she would try to read a book and position it so that she could look over the top of it at me.

On the days where I would have to sit in the twerp section, I would just sit back and wait for Monique's mahogany head to pop up from somewhere in my vicinity and we'd just yammer on about whatever came to mind. She would bounce in her seat as the conversations would get more intricate, or the arguments more heated. She and Trish would also break into uncontrollable laughter from time to time, as most young girls will, at inside jokes that I was not let in on.

One day, as I plopped my backpack onto my seat and fidgeted with my skipping Discman, Monique bounced in right next to me on the seat. Her brown eyes flashed a gleam of excitement and bliss. She rushed through her usual good morning very quickly and then started speaking very queerly.

"So what's been up with you, Casanova?" she asked with a huge streak of delight in her voice.

"Nothing much besides getting really annoyed with people who called me Casanova."

I flashed her a smile as she rolled her eyes.

"From what I heard, that name fits you just fine Articulate."

I raised my eyebrows as she bounded off to another seat that was about seven rows behind me. When I got up to ask what the hell she was talking about, the bus monitor yelled for me to sit down again.

I have three older brothers. Their names are Estevan, Jay, and Mateo. I'm the youngest of the four of us, with Estevan being the oldest and Jay and Matt being the middle ones, in that order. My brothers were always getting in trouble, which drove my parents, crazy and also made it so they were always mad. My mother and father would always be stressed out and it caused for a pretty loud and angry household.

I would mostly just sit in my room and try to read quietly or maybe do some homework. For some reason it would irritate the hell out of my brother Estevan for me to do stuff like this and he would constantly harass me over it. I would be sitting in my room just minding my own business and then… BOOM! I would be on the floor with Estevan's 315 lb frame on top of mine. I weighed about eighty pounds at the time, so it was pretty much impossible for me to be able to fight my way out of being under his control. When I would open my mouth to defend myself or try to reason with him, he would just spit right into it.

For years I thought Estevan hated me. I can't remember why he would beat the hell out of me sometimes, but the things he would do are still pretty fresh in my memory. One of his favorite things to do was to grab my nose and hold it tight between his fore and middle finger while he brought a ham-sized fist down with his other hand. After a routine of this everyday for a couple of months all he had to do was grab my nose and I would hit the ground with intense pain shooting through my face. All I could see was white for about fifteen seconds and then taste blood on the back of my tongue. Once my mother asked what was the matter with me, and I would just pretend like it was nothing.

"I'm not sure mom," I would answer, holding back tears. "I don't think it's a big deal though."

"Áye Abel!" She would exclaim sometimes. "Then quit wailing like a pregnant woman!"

It wasn't that I wanted Estevan's treatment towards me to continue, I just knew that there was nothing for my mother to do. She and my father worked long hours through the day to support us, which left the house to be ran by Estevan all the time. That meant that if I did tell on Estevan for anything at all, he would have me alone in the house at some point in time. So it was really just the smarter choice to try to let things be as they were and not really make more trouble for myself. When he got really mad at me he would do things that were worse than just spitting in my mouth or pounding on my nose. Sometimes he would drag me around the house by the root of my hair, waiting until I started to scream like a banshee and beg for him to stop. Once he told me that the only way he would stop would be for me to lick his asshole. This time I absolutely refused, which provoked him to grab me by the roots of my ponytail and shake my head like it was a magic eight ball. It's sad to say, but after a while I got used to the beatings, and they didn't seem so bad after a while. At least he would leave me alone afterwards.

It was unusually cold that morning. Cold weather gives me a pretty good feeling most of the time (because I'm from Arizona), but this morning it just made me feel uneasy. I remember getting on the bus and finding that none of my friends had gotten on the same bus that day, and it left a very deep feeling of loneliness inside the pit of my stomach. Ricky was nowhere to be found, Kevin was out of town for a funeral, and Trevor and Steve had gotten rides to school that day. Troll had actually been on the bus that day, but he was behind on homework and he had to catch up before first period, so I sat there in solitude for the whole trip to Fickett. I would watch cars whiz by and I had this feeling of emptiness just overwhelm me. It sort of felt like someone had taken an ice cream scooper and went to town on my intestines. As I got off the bus, the feeling of melancholy did not leave, and I drifted into the inner workings of the school.

When I approached the school, I noticed that Ricky was actually already at school. He was standing against some railing outside of the eighth grader's hall huddled in his hoodie. His eyes couldn't be seen yet, but as I got closer and closer, I noticed that they were red and puffy. We locked eyes from about fifteen feet away, and Ricky did not seem happy about it. He tried to look away, but I could still make out the tears welling up on his lids, more and more building as the ordeal went on and on. I stepped through the crowd and stopped in front of Ricky. A cold wind cut through my jacket and long hair as I smiled in Ricky's direction, which went unanswered.

"Hey Ricky, what's up?" I asked in a very nonchalant manner.

A single, enormous tear slid down Ricky's face. A slight quiver trembled through his lips momentarily. Gone was the smartass Ricky with his witty banter, bad attitude, and stupidity beyond reason. In his place stood a broken little boy, trying to hide in his Starter sweater from the cold, cruel world.

"Abel," he started, "last night, my dad killed himself. He took a whole prescription bottle full of pain killers, and he didn't wake up last night for dinner."

Almost instantly after he said this, the Ricky of old appeared and a smirk stretched itself out over Ricky's lips. I tried to lock eyes with Ricky again, but to no avail. He kept them darting away from mine. Meanwhile, I stood there silently. I didn't really know what to say to my troubled friend. I wish I could sit here and say that I gave this long, poetic speech about the darkest part of night is before the dawn and all that other jazz that you see people say on movies and TV shows, but the truth is that I stood there with my jaw hanging to the floor. After a while of silence, I approached Ricky and put my arm around his chubby shoulders.

"It's alright man," I said to him. "I'm here for you."

And with that, Ricky started bawling hysterically. I knew that he just had to let it out, so I stood there trying to block everyone from seeing my broken buddy salt the concrete for a couple of moments. After about two more minutes of it, the sobbing slowed down until it came to a complete stop. It lasted about a total of ten minutes, and after that the Ricky of old appeared, wiping away his tears and his sorrow. When I asked Ricky why he came to school the day after his dad committed suicide, he said that he just wanted to be out of his house for a while, and I completely understood. It reminded me of my own issues with Estevan that I had to deal with, which in turn made me feel guilty. Here I was thinking about my own problems, when I just witness my good friend go through something that I would never have to endure. It made me feel a bonding with Ricky unlike anyone else I've been friends with before, and I made a promise to myself that I'd always be there for Rick, through thick and thin.