(Note: This book is the first editing project I took on. The reviews on Amazon reflect the first time the book was posted on Kindle. I’ve since gone over the manuscript again. Aside from a few missing hyphens, I believe this copy falls inline with a good reading copy.)
A breeze moved along the interstate. Trees and grass bowed in respect while cars and trucks of every size ignored its existence. The wind flew around and over boulders as animals and critters scurried about. It found a pond and glided across the glassy surface, disturbing a cluster of dragonflies.
She kneeled in the grass with her hands on her legs. She bent forward and tried to catch her breath. A single flower lay by her knees. Its yellow brightness stood out against a small, white cross that stood beside it. She ran her fingers down the wooden memorial and dropped her head.
The breeze wafted from the woods and nudged at the yellow flower, rolling it over. The flower yawned at the touch. The breeze blew harder until the flower touched the girl’s knee. She picked up the kingcup and stood it against the cross.
Tears streamed down her cheeks with memories of excitement and love. She wanted to scream and release all the agony held inside, but could only muster whimpers. She fell forward and kissed the ground. She welcomed the loneliness that had become a part of her soul.
“Mr. Aames? Hayden, are you with us?” Mrs. Prescott, the twelfth-grade honors English teacher asked.
“I’m sorry. Yes. What was the question?”
The class laughed. Eric, Hayden’s best friend, nudged him on the shoulder. Hayden’s face began to glow red, but then he realized he didn’t care what the others thought. He sat up straight at his desk and folded his hands together.
“Nothing specific—I just wanted to make sure you were paying attention. You’ve been drifting off lately into a world the rest of us might be interested in. Is there anything wrong?”
“No, ma’am. You can continue with your ever so interesting lecture.”
Sarcasm rang in his words. The class laughed again, which brought a visit to the principal’s office. Hayden shoved his English book into his backpack and left the room. He stopped by the bathroom on the long walk. The boy’s room smelled of urine and bleach. The camera facing the bathroom entrance was meant to scare off any students who wished to smoke or hide out during classes, but the small device had little effect. A clean white sink hung below a small, water-spotted mirror. The reflection disgusted Hayden on several levels.
“What’s the point,” he said to himself while shaking his head.
He pulled out a small knife that he kept under his belt. Bullies in junior high had influenced Hayden to carry a weapon even though he never found the courage to use it. He opened the three-inch blade and put it to his wrist.
Before sliding the blade, he looked back in the mirror. His black hair, which wasn’t black enough, hung past his eyes. His blue eyes were barely seen, but didn’t have enough life in them. His slender frame was complimented by a button-down white shirt and black slacks, but the hidden muscles would never be grand enough. All imperfections screamed for him to create a river of blood from his palm all the way up his forearm.
A toilet flushed, which startled Hayden. He frantically closed the knife and shoved it in his pocket. He turned on the water and silently scolded himself for being so dramatic, just to stir his own emotions. Hayden would never slice open his own skin. Principal Kroger stepped from the stall. He adjusted his belt before seeing the present student.
“Hayden, how are you doing today?” His deep and friendly voice offered trust.
“Fine, I guess. I was just on my way to see you, sir.”
“I wasn’t paying attention in English. I made a derisive comment about Mrs. Prescott’s lecturing methods. I don’t see why the adults can’t joust in conversation without immediately taking offense and sending the kids to you. Don’t you get tired of seeing us for such mediocre complaints?”
“Yes, sometimes, but order has to be kept,” he sighed. “Some teachers are just like kids themselves, and then some students are more mature than teachers. Take Coach Adams for instance…that goofball would be out of here if he didn’t know how to coach a three-point shot so well.”
They both laughed. Kroger thought his joke was authentically funny, but Hayden was laughing to keep the focus off his earlier mistake. He played psychologist with the principal, hoping it would work in his favor.
“Hayden, your grades seem to be slipping slightly. Up until this semester, you’ve had straight A’s, but you received B’s in two classes. Don’t be alarmed, but I like to keep a close eye on students that I believe have great potential. Is something going on at home that you want to talk about?”
Kroger finally started washing his hands. Hayden made a point to notice and did the same. He hoped Kroger would see that he followed by example and would assume the good trait outweighed any bad ones.
“My seemingly melancholy demeanor does not start at home. Nothing starts at home. Dad is always away on business, and Mom is doing the usual juggling of responsibilities. Xbox online keeps me company most of the time when I’m not studying the arts of life. Most of the time, I feel like I’m stuck in neutral. The world is certainly not pushing me into drive like you guys promised it would.”
“Well, I can see why Prescott sent you to me. You have an underlying sarcastic tone, but nothing too rude. One might even consider it humorous. Just promise me, you will try to bring those B’s up to A’s. You have potential. When you get out of this sheltered world of public education, you’ll need all the options you can get your hands on. As far as the world is concerned, it pushes us all. You have to find the right current and dive in.”
He patted Hayden on the shoulder and left the restroom. Hayden heard the words that were spoken, but only a few hit their intended mark. The metaphor of a surging river stuck with him. He splashed water in his hair and slicked it back—glancing in the mirror. Hayden brought his hair back down to cover his eyes.
“Suck it up, coward. You’re acting like a girl.”
In his mind, his reflection made an obscene gesture as he sauntered back to the classroom. He opened the door and rejoined the class by taking his seat. The other students wanted to know if he had gotten in trouble. Eric nudged at him, but he kept his focus on the teacher until the end of class.
The dismissal bell rang. Hayden and Eric started their usual walk home. They watched different students gear up on their methods of transportation. Skateboards flipped through the air, Rollerblades slid across the concrete, trick bikes rode on one wheel, and sneakers danced around bouncing basketballs. Hayden classified each group in his mind and placed himself outside of them all. He was one of those who liked solitude while choosing not to own a vehicle.
Eric’s two-story brick house came first. His mom moved in a stooping position by the flowerbed and waved at Hayden when she noticed them walking up. She greeted him, but all Hayden saw were the tops of her large breasts peeking out of her tight pink shirt. He mumbled to himself and walked off. After fifteen seconds, sure that Eric was inside the house and his mom was gardening again, he glanced back to see if she was bending over. She was, which brought a smile to his face. He felt the ridiculous grin and immediately stopped.