During the break between second and third periods, Weston came to my locker with a very different look on his face than he had that morning on the way to school. His cheeks were red, and he was breathing fast.
“What did Brady say to you?” he asked.
I shook my head. “It doesn’t matter.”
“It matters. I heard he said you were happy that Alder died, and that you were benefiting from her death, and that he also mouthed off about Julianne, and you freaked out in class. Is any of that true?”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked, a little hurt.
“Are you upset?”
“No, I’m pissed off. I’m bordering on rage.”
He shifted. “Why let him get away with it, Erin? Why keep letting him treat you that way? He should get a fist in the face, his ass kicked, trip and fall face-first…something. People like that don’t just get to treat people like trash and go on with their life with no repercussions.”
“Didn’t you say the other day to feel sorry for them?”
“Brady makes it really hard to feel anything toward him but extreme loathing. It’s not just you. What about that impression he does of Annie Black every time she motors by in her wheelchair? What about Jenny Squires?”
“What about her?”
“She was the boys’ basketball manager just one season, because every night after an away game, she had to wash Brady’s snot out of her hair. He’d sit behind her, no matter where she was on the bus, and hock loogies in her hair. As many as he could clear out of his throat until we pulled into the school parking lot.”
“If you knew about it, why didn’t you say anything?”
Weston looked wounded. “You’re right. I should have done something. A lot of somethings. Especially for you.”
“Ten years too late. Just like Frankie said.”
“Better than never. You can’t save the world. I’m just curious, if you saw it and were so against it, why did you let it go on?”
He looked down. “Maybe I’m a coward.”
“You’re not a coward.”
“Maybe I was until now.”
Brady walked by and whistled his disapproval. “Still slummin’ it, Gates.”
Weston grabbed Brady by the T-shirt and turned, slamming his back against the locker next to mine.
I flinched and stepped back. Brady’s eyes grew wide, and in that split second, it was like we were both wondering the same thing: what Weston would do next.
“If Karma won’t kick your ass, I will,” Weston seethed, with a tiny hint of a wheeze.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Brady yelled.
I touched Weston’s arm, taking a quick glance to see if any teachers were coming.
“Weston?” I said, trying to keep my voice calm. “Weston. Let him go.”
Weston’s wild eyes slowly relaxed, and he released the two fistfuls of T-shirt in his hands.
“If and when his behavior catches up with him, that’s his Karma. How we react is ours.”
Weston’s breathing slowed, and his shoulders relaxed.
Brady walked off quickly, straightening his shirt and rocking his neck from side to side, as if he would or even could retaliate. All he had were his words, and even he knew it. That was why he used them so viciously.
Students had only paused for a moment, thinking a fight was about to break out, but it had ended so quickly, no one had time to congregate and draw more attention. Like nothing had ever happened, everyone walked to class, passing one another like two opposing rivers, taking the same path every day without knowing why.
“Sorry,” he said. “Lost my temper.”
The wheezing that had been barely audible before was more prominent. Weston worked a little harder to pull in a breath.
“Do you have your inhaler?” I asked.
He nodded, pulled it from his pocket, shook the palm-sized container, and squeezed, taking a puff. He kissed my forehead and then walked away without uttering anything more, except for a cough halfway down the hall.
Through the glass surrounding the library, I saw a few students staring at me. I shook my head and made my way to class. Within the walls of our high school were the weak, the sad, the pompous, and the proud, all flying down the same road at a hundred miles an hour to an end for which we weren’t ready. Students who were barely able to remember to bring their coats home from school were waiting to be unleashed into the world as adults.
Part of me was glad that I’d had to fend for myself for so long. Without their mothers nearby, most of my classmates had no clue how to balance their checkbook or even how much Tylenol to take and how often. In school we were babied, scolded, and told when to eat. We even had to raise our hands for permission to go to the bathroom. In just a few short weeks we would be free to rack up credit cards and student loans, or to sign contracts for an apartment we might not be able to afford, because we were taught how to learn, but not how to live.
That was one small thing I could always appreciate about my upbringing, and yet I still wouldn’t wish it on anyone else. I would never get my childhood back. In many ways I had always been the adult, and it was hard to adjust to having parents and now a boyfriend who wanted so much to take care of me.
My thoughts faded away as the posters taped to the wall drew my attention. Decorated in glitter, the posters had letters that spelled out things like FIRE AND ICE BALL and TICKETS ON SALE! By the excited chatter in the halls, it was obvious that prom was quickly approaching, as was graduation and summer. The energy in the hallways was nearing its peak.
Settling into my desk, I thought about Weston and the sound he made when he tried to breathe. I didn’t know a lot about asthma, but Weston didn’t make a big deal out of it either.
I pulled my phone from my pocket, looked up my messages, and clicked on his name. That seemed like the easiest way to go about it.
The bell rang, but I kept the phone in my lap and tapped the screen anyway.
🙂 Hey. Yeah? Why?
Just checking. You were kinda wheezing
The phone slid smoothly back into my pocket, and the exhilaration of breaking the rules came over me as Mr. Barrows began his lesson. I’d seen so many people do it before and couldn’t for the life of me figure out why they would risk getting in trouble, their phone taken away, or detention. It was clear to me in that moment why they did it, and it had nothing to do with the text message itself.
I promised myself I wouldn’t do it again, but that wasn’t the only promise I would break that day.