By Chris Bedell
I slipped out the front door at 7:30 P.M., giving myself a good half hour before Horatio got up.
A screeching sound rolled up my driveway a few minutes later. It was time to go to school. The doors popped open, allowing me onto the bus. I didn’t even look back at my house. There was no point. It wasn’t a home anymore, as it was just some place I slept at on nights and weekends. Nothing more. Nothing less. Although a seat in the first row of the bus was free, and I plopped myself down before shoving my backpack to the side.
Julian popped into my head. There was no way a rabbit visited me. It couldn’t be true. Rabbits didn’t talk. This was the real world, and there had to be a logical explanation for the open window, half eaten carrot, and wet jacket. Maybe I had a psychotic break. It would be understandable since I lived with a murderer. My teeth jabbed my lip. Horatio took up too much of my time, which was enough to make goosebumps cling to my arms and back.
There was also the possibility of Horatio being behind the weird things from last night. My break with reality could have been part of his plan. If I were being honest, I didn’t even know why he kept me around. Then again, Horatio’s actions made sense in a twisted way. Being a child killer was one thing a person wouldn’t want going for them, as it was too heinous even if he wouldn’t have a problem with it. But then there was the issue of the simplest explanation usually being the right one-according to my Social Studies teacher Mr. Tanner- which meant I would have to deal with the reality of Julian’s visit being real. My jaw twitched. It was way too early in the morning to think about depravity. I just couldn’t believe this was my life now.
If only Mom was still alive. But no! The universe ripped her away from me.
Life wasn’t supposed to be like this even if I didn’t have to be an adult to realize the world was unfair. It still would have been nice to have a few more years before reality slapped me in the face, though. Oh well. The idea was nice despite being naïve. But it still would have been great if my childhood innocence hadn’t been fleeting because my life before Horatio almost seemed like it never happened.
The bus pulled into the school parking lot after a few more stops.
“Are you going to get off the bus?” called out the bus driver.
I looked around. I was the last person on the bus and my cheeks soon morphed into a red color. Whatever! I didn’t have time for embarrassment.
I grabbed my backpack, shoving a strap onto my left shoulder. I then scurried off the bus and stepped onto the curb.
I flocked towards the front entrance of my middle school, pushing my way through the maze of people. I stole a brief glance at my watch. I still had a good 25 minutes before first period.
A burning sensation bubbled to the surface of my eyes. I would have to suppress the thought of Mom. At least until I got home. I couldn’t afford to give my teachers any reason to roll their eyes at me. I was in seventh grade, which meant I was supposed to be sunshine and rainbows. I was sure one of my teachers would call home if I fell asleep one more time. Doing so would add to a growing list of things I didn’t want to discuss with Horatio.
I could only imagine his red eyes staring at me while he hissed and gave me nonsense about drawing unwanted attention. Not that I cared about upsetting him. I didn’t. That was the least of my concerns since Horatio didn’t deserve any consideration.
I shuffled down the hallway and approached my locker while a new thought popped into my head. School might have not have been the best place in the world. But there were worse places to be since being here meant I wouldn’t have to see Horatio for a good six hours.
I would also get to spend time with Steven and Chace. Steven and I were kind of seeing each other and Chace and I had been best friends since childhood. But as grateful as I was to have them in my life, it didn’t take a genius to figure out there were things they didn’t understand. Chace and Steven had perfect lives since they didn’t know what it was like to deal with the loss of a parent. It didn’t matter how dramatic my feelings were. Dealing with the loss of a parent before turning thirteen was the kind of thing that someone didn’t get over. The kind of thing that haunted a person late at night while he or she attempted to fall asleep. The kind of thing that made a person curse and have pangs of denial and rage while trying to reason with the universe.
Whatever. Life could always be worse. Although that wasn’t an invitation for the universe to mess with me even more.
I did my combination, yanking the locker door open within a few moments before the image of Julian popped out at me. I blinked a few times. There was no rabbit when I opened my eyes. I would have to make sleep a priority if I thought a rabbit was in my locker. I shook my head while trying to concentrate on what I would need for my morning classes. I had Social Studies, Math, French, and Study Hall. I unzipped my backpack, not even noticing the clinking sound of the zipper before it opened up.
Grabbing the textbooks and notebooks I needed for my morning classes, and throwing them into my backpack without giving it a second thought was necessary no matter how fast my gesture was. Always having my pulse ringing in my ears was one of the many side effects of living with a monster.
A hand tapped my back.
Spinning around made a smile form on my mouth. “It’s good to see you, Steven.”
He flashed a grin. “You too. Have you started studying for the Social Studies test yet?”
I exhaled a long breath. “No. But I should start. I’ve just been a little preoccupied.”
Steven raised an eyebrow. “Everything okay?”
I couldn’t blab my conspiracy theories about Horatio to Steven even if we were kind of dating despite being only twelve. “Yeah. I’m fine. I’ve just been staying up too late reading books again. I really should learn to go to bed earlier.”
“Yeah. Whatever you say.” He swallowed the lump in his throat.
I didn’t like lying to him. It wasn’t a complete lie, though, because I spent a lot of my free time reading. But it was still my version of the truth, which meant I omitted things.
Our teachers always told us lying was bad. But teachers also said a lot of things that weren’t true. We would have to think for ourselves someday, and the sooner the better as far as I was concerned.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Steven asked.
I nodded at him, not even hesitating. “Yes. Absolutely. Would I lie to you?”
“You’re right. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t tell you what to think.”
I raised my hand at him. “Don’t worry about it. It’s not a big deal. The important thing is you care. That’s more than I can say for some people.”
Steven was right despite being misguided. I never doubted if he was genuine or not. He was good. Unlike Horatio! I would never miss an opportunity to insult him because no amount of time would change my opinion of him. He was repulsive, and I would think that till the end of time. Horatio could rescue me from a burning building for all I cared. But he would still win the villain of the year award.
He his teeth stabbed his lip. “I’m going to put it out there. And it’s only because I care. How is everything with Horatio?”
Steven also called him by his first name even though adults should be called, “Mr.”, “Ms.”, “Miss,” or “Mrs.” It didn’t matter because Horatio didn’t deserve respect. I also wondered if Mom respected Horatio. She must have a little. She married the monster. Whatever. No use having my stomach twist in ten different directions. I couldn’t change how Mom married Horatio. Regret was just another thing I had to live with.
“It’s fine.” I tucked a lock of hair behind my ear before continuing. “The important thing is we keep to our separate corners of the house. He doesn’t get in my way, and I don’t get in his way.”
The blood vanished from his face, turning his cheeks pale. “If you say so.”
I wouldn’t deny it. It was kind of annoying he brought up Horatio. The whole thing still irked me. He remained a sensitive subject since Mom hadn’t even been dead for a year. Chace was a different story, though. At least he was smart enough not to continue his inquisition. I would give him that. And even if I only saw Chace as a friend, I was thankful he understood the Horatio thing. Maybe that was because we were next-door neighbors. He was silent about Horatio 99 percent of the time. But the stolen glances told a different story. They were adequate for me because I didn’t even need to talk about it. Knowing that someone cared was enough. Kind of like when someone squeezed someone’s hand after getting terrible news or witnessing something horrific.
I would have even laughed at the irony if it weren’t so tragic. I wanted to let someone in about Horatio, yet I was unable to tell Steven the truth. Horatio would probably cackle at the thought; I would have bet my life on it.
Chace approached the two of us, shooting a grin when he arrived. “I’m not interrupting, am I?”
I shook my head. “No, of course not. We weren’t talking about anything important.”
Steven nudged him in the shoulder. “Yeah. What Esme said.”
I snickered. “You worry too much, Chace. You should learn to lighten up. It’s not a crime to enjoy yourself.”
Hmmm. Maybe I should have taken my own advice. I couldn’t let Horatio consume me for the rest of my life. Then again, I had more important things to do instead of worrying about my hypocrisy.
Chace rubbed a bead of sweat from the side of his face. “I suppose you’re right.”
He sweated too much since social situations seemed to make him nervous. That must have been why he never rode the school bus. The funny thing was Chace’s mom always drove him to school, which was enough to make me huff. Having a friend to chat with on the bus would have been nice.
Steven elevated his eyebrows. “I guess we should go to class?”
“When have you ever wanted to arrive early to class?” I asked.
“I don’t know.” His shoulders bounced up. “I’m getting tired of standing.”
I suppressed a smirk. “Yeah. I can see that.”
We clipped down the hallway in unison. I was on the right while Steven was in the middle, and Chace was on the left. It was nice how the three of us could all be friends even though we were a group of three. Because there was something awkward about groups of three 90 percent of the time. But not us! We were special.
I realized there was something different about Chace while I thought about the matter more. He didn’t jump at the opportunity to play sports. He also watched shows like Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl. It wasn’t a big deal, and didn’t bother Steven and I. We would always be friends with Chace no matter what happened. We cared enough not to listen to the whispers in the hallway about how Chace came across as feminine. There were more important things in the world to deal with. Our Social Studies teacher could tell us that; it wasn’t a secret. Being Chace’s best friend also entailed wanting him to be happy, which meant letting him be the person he wanted to be. Not the person I thought he should have been.
It sometimes seemed like there was something different about Steven too. I noticed his stolen glances at Chace. It didn’t bother me because it wasn’t a big deal. Friends exchanged looks over inside jokes all the time. At least according to me. Besides, there was no way there could have been something more than friendship between them. Unless of course there was. The Horatio situation proved how intuitive instincts were often right despite not always being logical.
We made our way into the Social Studies classroom before we picked our usual seats in the back. Steven and I sat right next to each other while Chace sat behind Steven. It was perfect. The three of us would always be together, and no one could break us apart. Not even Horatio.
I almost dozed off halfway into class. But I checked myself this time. Thank goodness!
“You should learn to pay attention,” squealed a voice. “You’re going to need everything you’ve got to defeat your stepfather.”
I slapped my hand over my mouth, silencing my gasps. A rabbit sat down on Mr. Tanner’s desk. It couldn’t have been Julian. Blinking my eyes several times was pointless. He was still there after I opened them.
He swayed his head back and forth. “But don’t worry. I’m a big believer in second and third chances. I’ve gotten a few myself over the years.”
I put my hand over my neck, grabbing it for a moment. I didn’t know why, but seeing Julian in class was unnerving. His unexpected appearance revealed he didn’t have any boundaries.
My heart pounded inside my chest, getting louder with each passing second while I stared at Mr. Tanner’s front desk. Julian vaporized a moment later, as if he had never been there in the first place.
It was another night of fidgeting around in bed, and I eventually jumped out of bed before walking over to the window. It didn’t matter if the air was cloaked in black. The outline of a figure approaching the shed in the backyard still remained visible. He did the combination before going inside, making sure to close the door behind him. My eyes glanced up at the moon, taking in the contrast between the light and dark before thinking back to Horatio’s shed. I could only begin to speculate about what he was up to even if I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the truth.
Chills crawled up my back, begging the issue of whether it was best to leave some things to the imagination.
I glanced up at my wall. Red burst out from the same spot as before.
Boy this was some life. NOT!