Sometimes you have to stop and take a step back and look at what is going on around you. Sometimes this means acknowledging things you would rather not, either about yourself or your situation. Seeing things as they truly are oftentimes means that action is needed on our part. Lying to ourselves is our greatest flaw. The constant inner tirade of ‘I’m not good enough,’ ‘It doesn’t really matter,’ or ‘It’s none of my business’ weighs us down and prevents us from becoming who we truly are. Shaking off those thoughts might require a mental pry bar.
The past two years have been especially difficult for me for reasons I will not disclose publicly. I have found solace in writing and building better, longer lasting friendships with those who do not pander to my self pity but who extol me to exert myself in being not just good, but great.
In a recent blog, which I reblogged here, the advice to do that which breaks down all comfort barriers was put forth. Doing that which terrifies us is a step toward learning who we truly are. I stepped very, very far away from my comfort zone today and did something I have never dreamed of doing before. I sent a copy of Sorrow’s Fall and a hand drawn portrait to someone who I greatly admire along with a
fan letter. It still makes me feel sick to my stomach to think about it, but the deed is done and while I expect nothing to come of it, that little tiny flicker of hope is always there. Chances are flighty things, grab them when they light.
For those of you interested I am posting the first chapter of my first attempt at a literary style novel Burn Out. It’s raw so please excuse the errors. Any and all feedback is appreciated.
Growing up in rural Missouri with a step-father who runs a methlab, mother who is never home and a step sister who cannot seem to keep her hands to herself, Corentin takes what refuge he can in the routine at school. It would be easier if he wasn’t so different from everyone else.
I dragged my eyes open. The side of my face was still smarting from where I’d whacked into the wall as I’d tried to roll over. The first pale rays of sun light were struggling to penetrate the frosted glass of the window overhead. A tan arm smacked me across the bridge of my nose before thumping the wall. I lay there blinking tears out of my eyes for a moment.
“Jeeze, Tabby.” Shoving the limb off my head I struggled to sit up. No wonder I had been trying to climb the wall in my sleep.
Tabby slept sprawled across the rest of the twin bed, her short blonde hair rumpled. One muscular leg flung over mine. A faded band t-shirt was hiked up around her midriff. To top it off she was wearing a pair of my boxers. Sighing I bit back the desire to yell at her. She’d either beat the crap out of me or laugh if I made too big a deal of it. Shaking her shoulder, I tried to wake her. She’d made a habit of climbing into bed with me the week her dad moved in with my mom and me, almost ten years ago. She’d been eight and I was six at the time. I hadn’t liked it then, and I still didn’t like it even if she didn’t do it every night now. Something must have happened last night or she would’ve slept in her own bed. Hoping it didn’t have anything to do with what I thought it did, I tried to wake her.
“Tabby, hey Tabitha wake up. Go get in your own bed. Come on.” Shoving had little effect and just when I’d decided to forget it and go to her room she opened one eye.
Stretching so that the t-shirt threatened to reveal way too much she grinned at me mumbling, “Mornin’ sleepin’ beauty.”
“Get the hell out of my bed you freaking weirdo.”
“That’s not how you say good morning to your loving sister.” She yawned through half the sentence, rubbing mascara nearly to her temples.
“Step-sister and since when have you been loving? And why in the freaking hell are you wearing my boxers.”
“They’re comfy.” The pout lasted all of two seconds.
“Ooof.” I shoved at her shoulder as she flopped over on me. She was entirely too warm and heavy, not that I would tell her that. Her weight made it difficult to breathe.
“Besides you are so cute and cuddly when you are sleeping.” She mumbled into my ear sending chills down my neck.
“You are creeping me out Tab. We need to get up.” I didn’t need to tell her why. She sighed and I tried to ignore the feel of her against me. Step-sister or not, she had a nice body.
“Creeps you out, huh? You never used to mind. Besides, it’s not like we are related or anything.” Hugging me to her she snuggled closer.
Pushing her away I propped myself up on an elbow. “Do you have any idea how crazy you sound right now?”
“What? I can’t think my step-brother is cute?”
“No! No you can’t.” That pissed her off. Shifting around she sat up, pulling the shirt down. She glanced at me over her shoulder.
“You know for being a football player, you sure are a wimp.” Shoving my head down into the pillow she got up. “I get dibbs on the shower. Unless you want to share?”
“Get out you sicko.”
She disappeared in the direction of the bathroom and I buried my head in the pillow. Soon the sound of running water could be heard. She was getting weirder by the day, used to be she was disgusted by me like any proper sister. She needs boyfriend, was my next thought, her and Jasper split six months ago. The last thing I needed was Gunner thinking I’d hooked up with his precious daughter. Grossed out by the thought I decided I was going to have to get a lock for my door, as soon as I got a door. Gunner had broken it last year in one of his drunken rages, or rather had used me to break it. We didn’t have the money to replace it, so I went without. Shoving that thought to the dark reaches of my mind with the rest of the painful memories, I made myself get up.
The carpet, matted into a nondescript brown was cold, must be pretty chilly outside then. Trailers aren’t exactly known for being well insulated. Without Tabby’s body heat the room was decidedly nippy. Best to get dressed. Stripping off the pajama pants I found a pair of jeans that were still decent, no holes in improper places at least. Socks were another matter. After a ten minute search I found a mismatched pair and threw a t-shirt and hoodie on.
Avoiding piles of clothes, clean and dirty piled in the narrow hall, I headed for the kitchen. The living room had been relatively clean yesterday, until Gunner came home. Now the coffee table, end tables and the floor were covered with beer bottles and cans and the occasional liquor bottle. The ashtray was overflowing onto the table and there were three empty packs of Camel’s mixed in among the bottles. At least the alcohol and cigarette smoke smell kind of covered the lingering cold greasy smell of last night’s dinner. My mom, Alicia wasn’t known for her cooking ability. Not cooking food anyway.
I stopped in the living room watching her through the pass-through window as she got her breakfast in the kitchen. Her personal cupboard was padlocked so we couldn’t raid it when she was gone. As always she looked completely out of place in our dump of a single-wide. Long blonde hair swung from a ponytail down to the middle of her back. Anytime she showed up for a football game all the guys would stare at her. She was pretty if not downright beautiful and she knew it. Why she’d ever hooked up with Gunner was beyond me. Maybe it had been desperation or something else, I didn’t pretend to understand it. She glanced up and I felt my pulse quicken. Please let her be in a good mood this morning, I begged whatever god cared to listen.
“Mornin’,” I ventured.
“Good morning Corentin. Make sure you fix Gunner’s breakfast before you leave for school. I’ll be gone all day, there is a realtor’s meeting in Springfield that I’m going to attend. Don’t expect me home before ten tonight. You and Tabitha are in charge of getting dinner on and make sure you clean the kitchen this time.”
I nodded as I headed to the refrigerator hoping there was something edible in it. As usual she was lying. I knew her real reason for going to Springfield. It hadn’t been much of a shock to find out the realtor bit was a cover for her drug running for Gunner. It was just really disappointing. I guess it had stopped being a shock when Gunner had made me help him at a couple of his meth labs. I hated it with a passion; it was hard, dangerous and smelly work. I’d rather do something legal and safe. My refusal to help often started many of our fights. They normally ended with me bleeding on the floor. Distracting myself with the task at hand I opened the fridge, almost welcoming the stench of rotting food. Half a dozen eggs and a nearly empty gallon of milk meant breakfast wasn’t going to be much. I’d have to see if we had enough money to go by the Save-A-Lot after school.
“Morning Alicia,” Tabby’s voice was muffled, probably by a towel. Grabbing the eggs and milk I shut the door with my foot. Sure enough Tabby was toweling her hair dry as she stood in the living room. I rolled my eyes and set the food down on the counter. She always pretended to be so polite, but I knew what she really thought of Alicia. I agreed with her too.
“Good morning Tabitha. Mrs. Coontz said they have a job opening at the Pizza Hut in Camdenton. You should go apply today.” Today was stressed in a tone that meant you did it or you suffered major consequences.
Tabby’s smile was as fake as they come, “I’ll check it out after I drive Ren to school since he missed the bus.”
“I was going to take my bike.”
“No,” They chorused glaring at me.
“It’s getting too late in the year and I don’t like you riding it anyway.” I almost snorted, she didn’t like me riding it ‘cause it meant I had wheels faster than hers.
“It’s a lot cheaper on gas than the Dodge.” I countered.
The Dodge was a 1978 Ram Charger more suited to off-roading or mudding than driving down the road. At least it was it better shape than the Chevy Gunner drove. He’d nearly totaled it last year running from the cops. Alicia drove a new Beamer that none of us were allowed to even look at much less touch. If she really cared why didn’t she use some of that drug money to make our lives a little easier? I knew the answer even as I thought the question. She don’t care ‘bout us, not any more than me and Tabby are tax deductions.
“Tabitha has to go into town anyway. No more discussion Corentin.”
I flinched at the tone. Cringing as she walked behind me I was not spared the smack to the back of my head. She was the only person who ever used my full name and I hated it.
“Tabitha, I want him home immediately after football practice. You are not to go anywhere else.”
“Okay.” Tabitha’s false meekness wouldn’t have worked on anyone else, but Alicia never seemed to notice.
One last check in the mirror by the door and she was gone. Rubbing the back of my head I set about making breakfast for the rest of us. Scrambled eggs and toast just isn’t filling especially when we had to leave half of it for Gunner. Tabby came up behind me ruffling my hair.
“You know you shouldn’t argue with her. Now she’ll think about it all day and be totally pissed by the time she gets home.”
I shifted away from her, cracking the eggs into the skillet. “Doesn’t matter. She’ll come home in a bad mood anyway, like she always does.”
“So you shouldn’t make it worse, shorty.”
“Hey, it’s too early for name calling.”
Tabby and I were cleaning up the mess when there were several thumps from the back of the trailer where the master bedroom was.
“We’d better hurry.” Her voice was low and shook a bit. “He had to move another lab yesterday.”
Swearing under my breath I hurried to put the dishes away. Tabby, white lipped and silent wiped the counters clean with swift economical movements. Moving a meth lab was always risky especially with the local highway patrol already watching Gunner like a hawk on a snake.
“What the hell are you two still doing here?” The question was like a rifle shot, stopping us both dead.
“We’re just leaving, Daddy.” Grabbing my arm she hauled me out of the way. I barely managed to snag my backpack from by the couch.
“You better get a job Tab, you and that half bred mutt need to pull your weight around here.”
“Don’t call him that.”
“Who gives a shit, it’s what he is. Get out of here.” A beer bottle glanced off my shoulder and shattered against the door frame.
Tabby shoved me out the door and slammed it behind her. She let loose with a string of cuss words she’d never use within ear shot of Gunner or Alicia. Once we were in the truck and it’d safely cranked over she finally looked at me.
I nodded. I’d been hit a lot worse, there wasn’t even any blood this time.
“God sometimes I hate that man. I’m really sorry-“
“Don’t apologize for him okay. Just try to get that job.” I stared out at the trees that surrounded the ugly squat trailer we called home. They were still mostly green, the fall colors wouldn’t really get going for a few weeks yet. I wanted nothing more than to hop on my bike where it sat at the end of the trailer and leave. Gunner would hunt me down like a wounded deer if I did and who would help Tabby then? “Pick me up right after school, I’ll skip practice for today. I think there’s a place where I can get a job.”
She didn’t say anything. I glanced over to see her dabbing at her eyes with the sleeve of her shirt, lips trembling.
“Let’s just go, ok.”
“Yeah.” She put the truck in reverse and pulled out of the driveway. Clenching trembling fingers in my lap I stared out at the scenery flowing by. My shoulder was throbbing sending little spirals of pain racing down my arm. Gunner could throw freaking hard. I’d woken up with a concussion once after he’d thrown a beer bottle at my head. All he’d said was he was surprised he’d hit such a small target. Biting back a sigh I didn’t want Tabby hearing, I laid my head against the window letting the cold jolt through me. We didn’t talk the rest of the way into town.
The truck rumbled to a stop in front of the high school and Tabby gave me one of her little half-hearted smiles. I returned it and tried to open the door. It was stuck. Maybe it was a sign I should skip school today.
“Stupid rusted out piece of crap.” I slammed my already sore shoulder into it and it sprang open about two inches before grinding to a halt. It groaned in protest as I pushed it the rest of the way open and slid out.
“I’ll just get a ride from one of the guys. No sense you having to come back to get me.”
Her eyes narrowed, “You sure about that? I remember last year you said the same thing and I had to pick you up trying to walk home.”
Sighing I shouldered my backpack and nodded, “I’ll be fine, that was last year anyway.”
She put the truck into gear and a belt started whining. I barely heard her mumble something about some things not changing. Getting the door shut took two tries.
I didn’t want Tabby knowing that she was right. School had started only a couple of weeks ago and nothing had changed. If anything they were worse, mostly due to the stupid little cliques that dominated the social network of the school. Last year had been bad enough. There had to be someone who could take me home, maybe the new coach would if I asked.
Keeping my head down, I headed inside. I consciously practiced being invisible, not catching anyone’s eye or attracting attention. I’d learned that from being around Gunner. Don’t look around, keep your eyes on the floor, and keep as low a profile as possible. Most of the time it worked, and I didn’t think to hard about why.
I glanced around chest suddenly burning. Someone had called me that last year and it had stuck along with another more popular nickname that I refused to answer to. No one at the school called me Corentin, not even the teachers. Tobey Andrews lumbered along beside his older brother Cody, they were both grinning. Separately they looked nothing alike, but get them together and it was obvious they were brothers. Same dirty blond hair and fair skin with pale blue eyes, the typical American look. They were both on the football team, Cody was the starting quarterback and Tobey was a defensive lineman. While they were friendly I didn’t know them that well outside of football. Tall and broad shouldered they both towered over me. I resisted the urge to back up against the lockers as I was surrounded by a wall of dense flesh. The grins got wider.
“Um . . . hi guys.” I hated how lame I sounded. “What’s going on?”
“Our sister wants to meet you.” Tobey was smiling so wide it had to hurt. “She’s a junior too.”
“Sister?” I had a sudden vision of some huge Amazon type. “What? Why?”
Cody waved my questions away. “She’s a girl, why the hell would we know why she wants to do something. You just be nice, ok.”
“Well . . . uh yeah, of course.” Could I sound any stupider? Cody gave me this glare like he knew I was stupid. I looked down. As the team captain and a senior he could either make my life easier or much harder than it already was. I swallowed and made sure nothing showed on my face before I looked up again. “What’s her name?”
“Misty.” Tobey volunteered. “She likes short guys.”
From his grin I didn’t think he meant it to be mean. I kept my mouth shut and hoped to god my expression didn’t show the disgust I felt. So most likely she was tall, at least taller than me and that wasn’t saying much, most of the girls were taller than me. And just like that they were gone, parting the growing crowds like a couple of bulldozers at a crash-up derby. Why in the hell would their sister want to meet me? It must be some kind of sick joke.
Tossing my backpack into the bottom of the locker, I kicked it shut. I’d just turned when something slammed into my shoulder knocking me back against the cold metal. I juggled my armload of books for a moment. A hand pinned me to the locker before I could recover, laughter ringing in my ears.
“This year is going to be so much fun.” Her grin was exactly like her brothers’, just a little on the nasty side though. I wasn’t sure I knew what she was talking about and some of my surprise and confusion must have showed because her grin got bigger.
“Hi, I’m Misty.” She was blonde and blue eyed like her brothers but not so bad to look at. She had to be at least six inches taller than me and probably outweighed me by another thirty pounds. She put both her hands on my shoulders and leaned down so we were eye level. I could smell her lip gloss and that’s when I realized she was way too close. Being small and quick can be real handy at times, so does training to slip away from defensive linemen twice my size. Wasn’t no way I was letting some chick kiss me, besides, Cody’d skin me alive. Standing in the middle of the hall I watched as she turned hoping she would give up and leave. She just laughed and told me she’d see me later. Not if I could help it. Be nice my ass.
I headed to my first class in a foul mood. I couldn’t figure it out. Normally the girls didn’t give me even a first glance, no matter what Tabby said about how cute I was. It didn’t really bother me. I got to see too much of what went on with the so-called couples to want to be involved in any of it. Waste of time and energy if you ask me, which nobody ever did. Maybe it bothered me more than I thought if I couldn’t quit thinking about it. I’d probably end up telling Tabby about it later anyway. She’d be able to help me know what to do in case Misty didn’t back off.
Things remained close to normal until lunch. Since I my one friend was assigned a different lunch this year I’d quit eating lunch in the cafeteria. It sucks wondering around trying to find a seat when the only time anyone lets you sit with them, it’s to make fun of you. Since I hadn’t had a chance to make my lunch this morning I was going to have to brave the mob. Yippy. Fishing around in my pockets I realized I only had enough money for a drink and a sandwich. I should have asked Tabby for some cash. After that skimpy breakfast I was starving. Maybe her working at Pizza Hut wasn’t such a bad idea, might get decent meals then. Gathering up my determination I got in line.
I knew I must look stupid trying to look in every direction at once and forced myself to calm down. The kid behind me seemed harmless and-I stopped myself. I wasn’t at home and even if there were a couple of kids who were jerks, Gunner wasn’t here. I didn’t need to be on guard all the time, but damn it’s hard to relax with that many people around. Grabbing a milk and a plastic wrapped peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I paid and headed for my favorite haunt-the library. Or tried to.
She looked like something out of a magazine, all perfect and glittery. She had that same cold slick feel about her too, like if you tried to touch her your fingers would just slide off. She was looking at me like I’d just crawled out of the drainpipe at her feet. Pouty mouth all puckered, arched eyebrows slanted down over electric blue eyes.
“I knew the football team here was desperate, but who knew they were letting bishonen on the team.” I didn’t recognize the word and she knew I wouldn’t that’s what sucked. Ain’t nothing worse than being called some bad word you don’t know is bad. She smiled then and it made it all worse because the smile was real and no girl ever smiled at me like that. Another girl, I recognized her as Randy the photographer for the school paper, wandered up giving me the evil eye.
“What are you doing here Tink?” She was sneering, knowing I hated the nickname. “You’re not bothering Bryanna are you?”
“No,” It came out all sullen and I wished like hell it hadn’t. She gave me another one of those hateful grins.
I jumped as someone knocked the milk carton out of my hand. Sean Jackson glowered down at me, the burly linebacker had never liked me, he didn’t like anybody that wasn’t white. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Randy bend down to get the milk.
“You best be gettin’ on, wouldn’t want the coach thinkin’ you were making a nuisance of yourself.”
Knowing from the look in Jackson’s eye that any response would be the wrong one, I turned to leave. No sense making a big deal out of it. Something cold and wet poured over my head and down into my eyes. At first I was too shocked to think clear. Then it hit me, Randy had poured the milk on my head.
“Wouldn’t want you to forget your milk.” The sarcasm in Randy’s voice was so heavy it should have crushed her.
Blinking what I hoped was just milk out of my eyes, I couldn’t ignore the hot tightness in my chest. Laughter rained down on me like hail. Better not stay here, I told myself, unless you want more of the same. Careful to not look up at anyone I brushed by the model wannabe and left the cafeteria wondering why I hadn’t just skipped lunch altogether.