“You wanna do something fun?” Joe turned. There was no way Paige Gains was actually talking to him. But if she was--he swallowed hard.
“I’m all yours.” Zach Kingston scooped her into his arms.
“Right.” Joe mumbled as he closed his locker. He glanced at the two of them and cringed. They reminded him of a snake trying to swallow a rat.
“Take a picture, Freak!”
Joe’s cheeks burned. How Zach had been able to see him with his tongue so far down Paige’s throat was a mystery. Joe hung his head as he walked down the hall. An empty feeling filled his chest. It didn’t make much of a difference, but at least the day was over.
He climbed onto the bus and waited. Every day was the same. Go to school, sit through class, and eventually sit in this seat and wait for the bus to stop. He studied his reflection in the window. Images of his classmates wandered through his mind. He watched as his face hardened. If he died tonight, he doubted anyone would notice.
The bus screeched to a stop. Joe ran his fingers through his hair as he moved to the exit. He wondered if the others could even see him. The driver was nice enough to wait until he was on the bottom step to take off again. Joe tripped onto the gravel driveway barely keeping his feet beneath him. He tightened his jaw. There was no point in getting angry. Nothing was going to change. He lifted his head and sauntered to the door. It wasn’t locked. The room was dark but he was able to make out a shape on the couch. He sighed. Four O’clock and his father had already passed out. Joe carefully knelt next to him and screwed the cap on the whiskey. At least he wouldn’t have to listen to the sobs.
His stomach growled. He draped his arm on the door of the fridge as he looked around. Nothing. He slumped back to the whisky and dropped onto the floor. It was better than nothing. A burning sensation ran down his throat and he winced. Maybe not better.
He braced himself and took another sip. His core burned more with anger than whiskey. He couldn’t do this again. He slammed his fist on the coffee table before marching to the bathroom. It’d been more than a year since mom passed and he might as well have become a ghost with her. He grabbed the clippers and removed a line of hair. His classmates, his teacher, even his father--another line. Hadn’t the cancer been hard enough? His vision clouded. Mom was supposed to beat it. His hands fell to the counter. The doctors said--he wiped the tear from cheek. It didn’t matter anymore. Dead is dead. He grabbed the clippers and continued. If he was already a ghost, what was the point of pretending? When he finished, he ran his hand across his freshly buzzed head and smiled. Tomorrow, everyone would see him for the first time.
The next day, he was focused. He marched the hall with his eyes fixed on his target. He knew heads were turning, but it didn’t matter. Zach elbowed one of his friends as Joe got close. “The military must be desperate if they’re letting losers like that in.” He turned to Joe. “Boot camp start next week?” Paige giggled.
Joe reached for the back of Zach’s head and pulled him close. He shoved his tongue as far as he could down Zach’s throat the same nauseating way he’d seen Zach do to Paige a thousand times. Zach bit and shoved. “Get off me, Freak!”
Joe stumbled back and smiled. A metallic taste lingered. Zach must have drawn blood.
“What’s going on here?” Principal Adler was pushing through the crowd. She narrowed her eyes. “I need to see you both in my office immediately.”
“You first.” Joe bowed and followed Zach through the hall.
The principal closed the door to her office as Joe slouched into a chair next to Zach. Joe grinned. The jock was squirming as if expecting another attack.
“Does one of you want to tell me what happened back there?” Adler crossed her arms.
“I was just standing there and this psycho came on to me!” Zach nearly screamed. “It was assault! I want to press charges! Harassment or whatever.”
The principal spoke calmly. “Let’s just settle down for a minute.” Zach dropped back to his seat. “Joseph, do you have anything to add to this explanation?”
He looked at Zach and licked his lips. “I kissed him and he freaked.”
Zach’s face turned bright red. “You oughta be suspended you fag!”
“That’s enough!” Adler raised her voice. “That type of hateful language will not be tolerated in this school! Just because Joseph here has an orientation that is--well--different from you or I, doesn’t give us the license to bully. I’m sure he just misread your behavior.”
Adler gave Zach a stern look and turned to Joe. “If you feel you need to speak with a counselor, make sure you--”
“Alright then.” The principal motioned to the door. “You can go onto your class. I’ll call you back if I have anymore questions.”
“I think your mouth has gotten you in enough trouble today, don’t you?” Adler glared at Zach.
Joe grabbed his backpack and slipped into the hall. He laughed to himself as he imagined the rest of what the principal had to say. There was a voice behind him. “Hail, he who has risen from the dead!” Cody the theater nerd decided he was worth talking to today. “Seriously, I’ve known you since fourth grade and never thought you were...well…”
“I’m not.” Joe rolled his eyes.
“But the kiss! The whole school is talking about it!” Cody wrinkled his forehead. “If you’re not into dudes, then why--”
“If I’d kissed her, I wouldn’t have gotten away with it.”
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I love the opening! Just like Joe, I got my hopes up that he and Paige would have some sort of adventure together. I felt my shoulders sag with Joe's as I read about his home life. You made him feel very real- even a bit scary- and I would be very curious to know what comes next for Joe!
Thank you for the positive and honest feedback! I love cliffhangers when reading but they seem to be my Achilles heal in writing because stories shouldn't end at the edge of a cliff. Maybe there will be more to come of Joe in the future!
Oh, there has to be more !!