I spent the first five minutes of my morning glowering at the ceiling. I could faintly make out the curled edges of peeling paint, and mentally noted to scrape them off before the decay got too far. Waking up with an eyeful of toxic chemicals was counterproductive to living to a ripe, old age.
I lay there quietly, trying to gather enough will to get up. But when I finally did, my body protested to any movement. I gave up after several minutes of helpless wriggling. The warmth of my blanket soothed the harsh coldness of the tiled floor, and I nestled deeper into it. The pinched muscles in my back reminded me of my earlier effort to shut off the blaring alarm. I’d successfully smacked it, but lost my balance and ended up sprawled on the floor.
As my mind slowly drifted away, I tried running through today’s schedule. First period was Math. Ugh. At the thought of linear equations, graphs, and god forbid algebra, I yanked my eyelids open. “Fuck. It’s Thursday.”
If Tuesdays are the greatest, then Thursdays are the worst. The universe is all about balance. I suspected having too much luck on a single day pissed off the big man upstairs – so he created a day full of bad shit to balance things out. Some people called them Mondays, I called them Thursdays.
Things that could go wrong on this day, would. It was a law of nature.
I’ve enough horrid memories to back up this fact. When I was ten years old, I got a bicycle for my birthday. It was a lovely thing, sleek and stylish with racing stripes, its frame the colour of amethyst. I loved that bicycle. I named it Wizard.
Wizard and I were practically inseparable. Even a five minute trip to the supermarket had me mounting it and speeding down the street, I rode it every damn chance I got. Three weeks after I got it, the man who got it for me left. For good, this time. I came downstairs to find my mother sobbing her eyes out.
I’d burst out of the house and nearly busted through the shed door to check on Wizard. I went back to the living room and joined my mother on the sofa, fat, ugly tears streaking down my cheeks. Wizard was gone. His beautiful purple frame never graced the shed’s half-rotting floors again. Why the man took my bicycle along was anyone’s guess, but that move made him a spectacular asshole.
I distinctly remember looking at the calendar that morning and seeing the word THURSDAY in red. Mike says it’s a coincidence my bad days happen to fall on this day, but I digress.
There are no coincidences. Especially not after Elisa broke up with me on a humid, Thursday afternoon, leaving me speechless on her doorstep with an anniversary gift in my hands.
I pulled myself off the floor and eyed the calendar wearily. The smell of pancakes wafted up from the kitchen – thank god for small miracles – and centred me enough to push me into being a responsible kid, and make the bed. Shower, breakfast, school, home, I recited and lumbered towards the bathroom to get ready.
My mood had improved somewhat after my shower, and I went downstairs for breakfast. Mom turned to look at me, greeting me with a gentle smile that highlighted the dimples in her cheeks. I smiled back and wrapped my arms around her in a brief hug.
“Good morning. I was starting to think you’d never come down,” She flipped a flapjack when it browned, chuckling when I huffed and settled into a chair. “You’re wearing your favourite shirt. Is there someone you’re looking to impress at school, honey?”
“I just feel like I need all the luck I can get, today.” I replied, and winced at how ominous I sounded. She eyed me for several seconds, a worried glint entering her brown eyes, before turning back to the stove. She loaded up two plates and slid one over to me. I brightened and grabbed the syrup bottle, spreading a liberal amount over the gorgeous circles of perfection.
“You’re lucky diabetes doesn’t run in the family,” She shook her head.
“Blame the sweet tooth, which is something I got from you, by the way.”
“So snarky. No pancakes for you next time.” She smiled when I pretended to look horrified. She loved pancakes as much as I did, there was no way she’d stop making it. “I’m making extras for tonight. I’m taking over Grace’s shift. She called in sick earlier today, something about the flu.” She couldn’t stop the downward tilt of her lips.
I snorted indelicately. That woman was, pardon my French, a lying sack of pickled, fatty meat. Grace was pushing thirty two, ten years younger than my mother, with one son, and a husband working as a pencil pusher. I heard from the grapevine, aka the gossipy old ladies who frequented supermarkets, the only reason she got a job was because her side toy had run off with her savings.
“You know she’s lying right?” I stabbed a piece of pancake repeatedly. “She’s probably shacking it up with another idiot who got drawn to her incredibly, botoxed face.” My mother leaned across the table and pinched my arm. “Ow! No violence before I’ve had my coffee!”
“You don’t drink coffee.” She said, “And don’t be rude, dear. I’m sure she has her problems.”
“Problems with her back, you mean.”
My mother rolled her eyes. “In her defence, spending six hours marinating in the scent of body soap and bath salts is incredibly unappealing.”
I sighed. “And now, you’ve got to spend twelve hours in that hell-hole. It’s unfair.”
“Them’s the works,” she smiled, patting my hand, “Don’t worry, I’m already used to it. After all, I live with you twenty four seven.”
My fork scrapped against the plate, the sudden scream of clashing porcelain reflecting my embarrassment. “Why are you doing this to me?” I whined.
She laughed at my scowl, “Bring home your next girlfriend, and I’ll stop teasing you.”
“Oh god, not you, too.” I busied myself with taking a gulp of orange juice. “I’m not rushing into something just because you and Mike fancy yourself cupids. Remember what happened last time I had one?”
“You brought home a lovely girl last week,” she soldiered on, ignoring the plea written plainly on my face, “Anna, wasn’t it? You both looked great together.”
I gave her an incredulous look. “I told you, she’s dating Thresh.”
“I know that. But the more the merrier, right?” Her grin grew wider. I shuddered.
“Ma, I know you’re progressive, but no. Just, no.” Thank god I didn’t have people over. I think I would toss myself onto a busy road if Thresh, or god forbid, Mike, heard this. “I’m going to school and leaving you to your insane ruminations.”
“I’ve raised such an ungrateful son,” She sighed.
Classes passed peacefully. I had two with Mike and one with Anna, which meant I wasn’t completely dying of boredom. Lunch arrived quickly, and since it wasn’t a Tuesday, we all met near the bleachers of the football field. Anna and I chatted as we walked through the halls. Anna, bless her soul, was aware of my hatred for Thursdays and the trouble that usually found me, so she didn’t put up much of a fuss as we took the longer route.
Ten minutes after the bell had rung, we finally reached the shaded bleachers. Visitors probably knew where majority of our school’s funding came from, once they saw the overly large, shell shaped monstrosity that covered the entire length of metal seats from one end of the field to another. The football team wasn’t necessarily championship material but they did well enough for scouts to sit in for several games every season.
The field itself wasn’t sheltered and soaked up the sunlight beating down on it. A group of jocks were seated at one corner of the field, and we dutifully ignored them as we strode passed and climbed up the seats to where Mike and Thresh were waiting.
I grinned when Mike brandished a large paper bag, a spot of oil visible on the brown surface. I clapped my hands. “Sustenance! I knew I kept you around for something.”
“Count yourself lucky I even made any for you.” He joked, rolling his eyes.
Thresh greeted his girlfriend with a chaste kiss and scooted over to make space. I plopped down beside Mike, both of us facing the lovey dovey couple.
“If you didn’t, I’d just pinch some of yours. No biggie.” I leaned away, laughing when his half-hearted swipe missed me. I opened the bag and groaned when the delectable scent of fried meat hit me. “Turkey bacon with cheese and ham. God, I love you. Marry me.”
“I like my dates less hairy and top heavy, so no thanks.” Mike chuckled, taking out his own sandwich. It looked similar to mine, except it lacked cheese and was packed with so much lettuce it was practically bursting. I made a face. No offense to vegetables, but they ruined the taste of good meat.
“Is this chicken?” Anna asked, pointing to the slip of pink peeking out of her whole grain sub. Beside her, Thresh eagerly devoured his meatball marina, topped with onion rings.
“Yeah. It’s grilled, if you were wondering,” Mike gave her a pointed look. “As if I’d forget after the huge fuss you made last Thursday.” She shrugged, smiling cheekily at his disgruntled frown.
She had thoroughly chewed him out for putting fried chicken into her lunch. It had been hilarious, because she still ate the entire sub despite complaining.
It wasn’t like Mike forgot on purpose. Anna had been eating Vegetable wrap since the start of the semester, and it was only two weeks since she’d requested to change it to a whole grain chicken sandwich.
Mike grunted and elbowed me in the side. “Dude, I want Mondays next month. Thursdays are way too much work to prep for, especially when this chick wants grilled, healthy shit.” Anna kicked him in the leg.
“No way. Making me cook on a Thursday is just asking for trouble,” I said, “I’ll stick to any other day of the week, thanks but no thanks.”
Mike rolled his eyes. “Superstitious little–”
I didn’t hear the rest. I fell backwards, tumbling down the bleachers until I ended up ass first on the grassy field. My head spun. I tried standing up, but fell over when an agonizing pain lanced through my body. My shoulder felt like it was on fire.
I could hear people yelling. They were too damn loud. I felt my eyes watering and shut them to keep out the blinding rays. The sun was also too damn loud.
The ground trembled, and I heard footsteps getting closer. There was a hand on my arm, helping me up. The grip was firm, and the touch was cool, a balm against my heated skin.
I could discern the voices around me, now. Mike was yelling, sounding absolutely thunderous. There was another voice, it sounded familiar, but I couldn’t recall who it was. My head hurt. I felt like I was floating through a fog. Everything felt muted. It reminded me of the times I pulled a blanket over my head and simmered in the muffled silence.
The grip on my wrist relaxed, and there was a hand gently brushing against the back of my head.
“Don’t do that,” I heard myself saying. My lips felt like lead weights, I wasn’t sure if I had said the words or thought them. I pressed my palm to my temple and slowly turned to look at the person who’d helped me up.
Virginia watched me carefully. “How does your head feel?” she asked, in a calm and measured tone. I struggled to process the words. I shrugged, and immediately regretted it.
“Hurts,” I choked, “Shoulder, too,” my hand hovered over said limb, “I fell.”
Her eyes hardened. “You didn’t fall,” she said. I looked at her questioningly. Oh, there were two Virginia’s now. I could feel her other hand ghosting over my arm as she tentatively brushed her digits against my clothed skin. I shivered. “At least you’re not bleeding. That would have been bad,” she murmured.
“See! He’s fine, it’s not like he split his head open.” I finally put a name to the voice. Actually, I wasn’t sure why I hadn’t pegged it sooner, it wasn’t hard not to recognize Clark’s rumbling voice considering how much I’d disliked him. “Get over it, Andrews.”
“Get over it? You wanna say that again, asshole?” Mike shot back, sounding more furious than before. I needed to stop him. He only used that tone when he was about to go downtown on whoever had pissed him off.
“Hey, are you okay?” Anna exclaimed, coming to a stop in front of me. She winced at Virginia’s glare and amended, “Okay, sorry. Stupid question.”
I tried smiling at her, but my head throbbed again, causing me to sway precariously. Someone’s hand shot out to steady me, and I mumbled my thanks.
“I’ll take him to the nurse. You’d better stop them if you don’t want anyone to end up eating dirt.” Virginia said, her hand on my arm tightening as she looked over to the rapidly escalating quarrel. I was actually surprised no one was throwing punches yet. I suppose Thresh was doing his best to stop Mike.
“Byeee,” I slurred, waving clumsily at Anna’s retreating back as I was pulled away.
Twenty minutes of pressing an ice pack to my head did wonders to clear up to fog meddling with my brain. The nurse was absent, which was a given since it was lunch, but Virginia seemed familiar enough with the place that she easily found everything I needed. When I finally found the energy to ask, she laughed and sat on the bed opposite mine.
“Cheerleading means falling flat on your ass is a regular thing. I can’t count how many times I’ve had to come here for a sprained wrist, or ankle,” she said.
“Sounds dangerous. I’m glad not to be one.”
“You couldn’t pull off this skirt with those legs.” It was my turn to laugh. Pain chased after my minor head bob, and I winced. Virginia sobered immediately, looking at me with the same intensity I often saw her levelling at her work.
“Do you know why Jefferson suddenly decided to use me as a human baseball?” I blurted, after several seconds of uncomfortable silence.
“You mean you don’t know?” She sounded surprised, hesitation clear in her voice, “I’m not sure I should tell you.” Was what she heard so terrible that she didn’t want to break the sordid news to me? My head throbbed. What a lovely Thursday this was turning out to be.
“Save me the trouble, please. If my friends don’t know, it means I’ll have to ask less…savoury sources.” Elisa’s face flashed in my mind. Somehow, I had a faint niggling she’d something to do with this. I never registered on Jefferson’s radar, until two days ago when she started talking to me in Spanish. To have the school’s number one hottie – not my words – trying to murder me meant that a) he was absurdly jealous or b) he finally decided to act on his budding psychopathic tendencies.
Virginia looked torn. Finally, she expelled a breath and leaned in. “Clark and Clements are taking a break. It happened this morning, when they met after morning practice.”
My first thought was, cheerleaders have morning practice? Followed by overwhelming sympathy. In high school speak, taking a break was like a break up without the benefits. What the instigator meant by playing this card was ‘We’re still sort of together, but I’ll be fucking other people, too.’
“Yikes.” I muttered.
“That’s not what set him off,” Virginia continued, “During first period, another rumour started floating around. The cheerleaders were the only ones heard it, but knowing those blabber mouths, I’m sure the entire school knows by now.”
“Let me guess,” I said, “It’s about Elisa and me making out in the car two days ago. It wasn’t my fault. She did it without my permission and– my god, what’s wrong with your face?” She looked downright murderous. If I wasn’t holding the ice pack to my head, I would have tossed it at her in hopes of sparing my life. “Wasn’t that what everyone heard?” I carefully inched away.
“No,” she replied, grinding her teeth hard enough to turn them to chalk. “It was about you and Elisa dating back in middle school.”
“Oh. Well… you didn’t hear that from me,” I cleared my throat. Now things were doubly awkward. “But my point still stands. Elisa initiated the kiss, if I could rewind time and stop her from doing it, I would. But moving on… I don’t get it. Yeah, Elisa and I dated. It was a long time ago. She and Jefferson have been together, what, a year? If he wanted to pummel me, he should have done it when he first started dating her.”
It would have seemed more romantic, then. Beat up the ex and save the day. I groaned. “This makes no sense.” I should be the one tossing him down the bleachers, not the other way round.
Elisa and I weren’t much for PDA, we barely talked in school even when we dated. Not for any lack of trying, on my part. Jefferson on the other hand got to prance around with her on his arm. There was also the fact Elisa broke up with me to be with him.
Virginia stopped looking like she wanted to stuff me face-first in a blender and sighed. “He’s just upset you dated her first. He’s prideful like that. The thought of getting a guy’s sloppy seconds, plus the whole taking a break thing, probably made his tiny brain implode.”
She suddenly looked murderous again. “This won’t be the end of it. He’s going to hassle you until Elisa runs back into his arms.”
“Now I know to look out for any attempts on my life,” I put down the ice pack, the events finally overwhelming me. “God, this sucks.” I looked at Virginia, my own lips curving up when I saw her amused smile. “I never thanked you for helping me. So, yeah. Thanks.”
“Count yourself lucky you’re good at Spanish,” she smirked, “My life would be slightly harder without a good project partner.”
I shook my head, suddenly aware of the fact we had an actual conversation. We never talked like this prior to me swan diving down the bleachers. At least something good came out of being a human ragdoll. Virginia seemed less cold, and more open than before. It was nice. I felt better when she wasn’t giving me her deadpan stares all the time.
“How modest.” I wheedled, laughing lightly. “I–”
“Matt? There you are.”
My next words died when Elisa strode into the nurse’s office like it was her birth right. Virginia’s pleasant expression had frozen. Elisa arched her eyebrow, her gaze sweeping over us.
What would my mother say at a time like this?
“Shit’s about to hit the fan.” I mumbled, suddenly wishing I was anywhere but here.