Not After Everything - Michelle Levy

ONE

A thick, pink-polished fingernail strikes the edge of my desk—two succinct taps—and I look up from my poetic masterpiece, right into Mrs. Hickenlooper’s eyes. They bulge like her three hefty chins are trying to choke the life out of her.

“Am I boring you, Mr. Blackwell?”

I return to scratching the letter S into the top left corner of my notebook. “I assume that’s rhetorical.”

Muffled laughter from the class. Mrs. Hickenlooper’s bulbous eyes narrow—no easy feat.

“Out.” She juts her talon in the direction of the door, as if I’m too stupid to locate it myself.

I feel another sarcastic remark bubbling up, but I swallow it back as I casually finish the last of my scratching.

There.

Now F-U-C-K T-H-I-S will be visible in the top margin of at least the next thirty sheets of notebook paper. I know it isn’t particularly clever or imaginative, but I smile all the same. Then I calmly collect my belongings and stroll out of AP macroeconomics, unsure how, exactly, being forced to leave all this is a punishment. She expects me to report to the guidance counselor’s office like she has the last three times, but of course I won’t.

I drift down the mostly empty hallways until . . . I don’t know, whatever. Truthfully, I kind of hope the asshole hall monitor will find me and dole out some sort of actual punishment.

“’S up, Tyler?” one of my old teammates says as I pass the gym. Before, I would have taken my frustrations out on the weights. Now it just seems so stupid. I nod a greeting to Ted and continue walking.

Time’s not the same as it used to be, and suddenly the hallways are filled with people I used to be able to stand. I never even heard the bell. I have AP chem now, but it doesn’t really matter if I show up. Mr. Waters wouldn’t dare fail me. Even crusty Mrs. Hickenlooper will probably still give me an A. I wish she wouldn’t. I wish they would all stop tiptoeing around me just because my mom offed herself over the summer.

A firm hand grips my shoulder, forcing a jolt of adrenaline through me.

“Jeez, man. Relax.”

Marcus.

His girlfriend clings to his arm like if she let go, he’d instantly find another chick to hook up with. In all fairness, he probably would. Marcus isn’t picky. Well, that’s not entirely true. Marcus, much to the chagrin of his mother and the entire African American female population of our school, only likes white girls. Preferably blondes, although this one—number twelve, I think?—is a rare brunette. Probably because she has huge tits. I make the mistake of looking at her face. She stares back at me with that infuriatingly caring look. If people knew how that face really made me feel, they’d be more careful. One of these days the wrong person is going to look at me like that, and I will seriously lose my shit.

“Baby,” Marcus says to poor unsuspecting number twelve, “I’ll meet you after gym by my locker, ’kay?”

After a disgustingly public tongue bath, Twelve finally leaves.

“Yo, Tyler, where you headed?” Marcus yells down the hall after me.

“AP chem,” I say, not stopping.

“I got English,” he says, catching up.

Marcus was my best friend, but now . . . I don’t know. It’s just kind of awkward. I mean, I guess we mostly only ever talked football. But football just doesn’t seem all that important in the grand scheme of things. Not to me. Not anymore.

“Well, I’ll see you in gym,” Marcus says, slowing until he’s fallen behind me.

• • •

When I reach the lab, I hesitate