She told me as I leaned over the dishwasher, the cloud of steam dripping commas and empty explanations.
It took a few sentences. Five. Six. I don’t remember much, I try not to, but sometimes it’s hard to tell your brain to stop listening before it’s too late.
...the jeep was found at the bottom of the ravine… a burnt out shell…
She spoke around the cranberry muffin, trying to cram it all in before she headed back to the hospital. I nodded like I was listening, like it was an ordinary conversation about the weather or school. She didn't know the difference, or at least she didn’t comment on it.
“I didn’t want you to hear it from someone else." She said slowly, eying me over her breakfast. "Scott, you should really come visit him sometime, he’d like that a lot.” Muffin crumbs dribbled past her lips as she finished, taking a quick swig from her coffee cup and sliding her arms into her white jacket.
I looked back at the dishes in the dishwater. I wished I could crawl inside and disappear in a bowl. She could scrape me out later and rinse me down the sink like some spaghetti sauce that didn’t quite get cleaned out.
“I’m fine.” I told her, dragging out a clear plastic tub, drying the inside with the dishrag. I took my time loading the rest of the muffins inside and snapping the tupperware lid on top.
She sighed softly, the words of protest dying on her tongue. There was a quick press of lips to my cheek, and a quiet whisper in my ear. “At least try, Scott.”
...the jeep was found at the bottom of the ravine...
The early sky is the color of vomit.
Of course, Stiles thinks, one would have to eat nothing but the bright pink salmon-flavored mush at the high school to get the different shades just right. But the wispy clouds do look a bit fishy, although maybe it’s more fish parts than the whole fish itself. There is a tail fin here, and a head there, and if he squints a little and tilts his head, Stiles saw a couple bodies scattered about.
Any other spring, this kind of sunrise would be beautiful. The boy would crack a couple jokes about how the fish overlord was calling his best friend, Scott, back to the mothership. He would make a face, puckering his lips and wiggling his fingers like gills. Scott would threaten to push Stiles off the roof, and everything would be okay.
But nothing had been beautiful since the world turned to shit. Or, more rather, since Stiles’ world turned to shit.
It wasn’t his fault. He tells himself that over and over, just as the nurses at the hospital told his father when it happened. It wasn’t his fault. The roads were slick from the rain. It always rains in the winter. No one could have predicted it.
Stiles shuts the curtains with a jerk, bathing his bedroom in a muted sort of darkness. A tiny stream of light streaks across the floor, a quickly fading reminder of what could have been. He pulls the curtains closed further, letting out a strangled noise of distress as he chokes out the rest of the light, along with the memory.
He doesn't need Scott. He is going to go to school and meet a whole bunch of new people and everything would be okay. There are two middle schools in the small town of Beacon Hills, California, and only one high school. Which meant this year there would be a whole two groups of freshman, plus the sophomores he hadn’t already made a fool of himself to. The juniors were mostly out of the question, since a handful were his
friends enemies former acquaintances, and the rest thought he was insane.
Baby steps, he reminds himself. Baby steps. School first, friends second, showing Scott he didn’t need him third.
Stiles dresses quickly, pulling on a hoodie at random. He digs through his dirty laundry, mentally cursing himself for not thinking ahead. He tugs free a pair of decent smelling jeans, guessing they'll do for the day.
His father is already up when he gets downstairs, prying open a tray of sugar cookies with a butter knife. Stiles stands on the bottom step, watching his father move silently around the kitchen. He keeps bumping into things and stomping his left foot, something Stiles had noticed as one of his angry habits.
Stiles clears his throat, stepping off the last stair and walking further into the kitchen. John Stilinski looks over his shoulder at his son, barely shrugging as he continues mauling the plastic container of cookies. He is talking. Stiles can see the slight movement of his head and how his breathing is different, but he can't hear a word that is being said.
“Da’?” Stiles crosses his arms over his chest, holding his elbows.
John turns around slowly, his eyes wide and apologetic. He starts speaking again, slower, so Stiles can try to read his lips. ...Pa.. E? A flick of the tongue, that's a t. Pet.. Peter. Dr. Hale. Oh hell no.
Stiles shakes his head in a rush, turning his back on his father. That explains the cookies, his dad always likes to make a good impression whenever Dr. Hale comes over. He will probably crumble the cookies a little and put them on a tray, like he was a good dad who baked cookies for his son in the morning instead of one who bought a whole bunch of at once and pulled them out on special occasions. He must feel the need to stock up on Good Dad points whenever he can, since-
Nope. Not now. He has a list, and number one is school, not sitting in the kitchen trying to understand some shrink his dad’s job provided.
Stiles walks slowly to the cabinet over the sink, opening it and staring at the glasses arranged neatly inside. He clenches his fists at his side, watching the glasses tremble as his father walks around behind him. They’re screaming, Stiles is sure, if only he could hear them. He could help them. But he can't, and if he touches them, they’ll shatter and ruin his father’s Good Dad point opportunity.
There’s a hand on his shoulder. He shakes it off. He doesn’t need to see Dr. Hale. He has an appointment in a week, and he’ll go then like he’s supposed to. Not today. Not his first day of junior year.
Stiles shuts the cabinets, leaving the screaming glasses on their own. He doesn’t look at his dad as he grabs his backpack from the kitchen table, the worn material rough in his hands as he slides it over his shoulders. He turns around slowly, his gaze sliding around the room.
There are grease stains on the linoleum, clouds of anger in the air, and angry words piling in the cracks in the wall. We are trained not to see any of it, but when the world takes away your ears, they also rip off your eyelids.
His dad is talking again, the sound bouncing uselessly around the room before dissolving into the air. Stiles stands still, watching him snap the lid off the cookies and begin arranging them on a paper plate. A nice touch, Stiles thinks. Not the usual tray on the stove this time.
After a few moments, John turns to face him again. He opens his mouth. Hesitates. He puffs out a sour breath across the still kitchen, and slowly lifts his hand. He furrows his brows as he concentrates, trying to move his fingers in the right shape. It takes him a little longer than Stiles would have liked, but eventually he manages to hold up the correct sign. Thumb out. Pointer finger up. Middle and ring finger curled down. Pinky up. ‘I love you’.
Stiles flashes the same sign in response before he grabs an apple from the fruit bowl and heads out the door. At least his dad is trying. That’s all Stiles can really ask for at this point.
Stiles walks down the driveway, shooting a glance towards the empty space where his Jeep should be. There's a pang of guilt in his chest, right beneath his heart. It blooms out, rippling like waves, threatening to wash over him and drag him into the depths.
He shakes his head suddenly, his teeth clenching in anger as he adjusts the backpack on his shoulders. Stiles ducks his head down, averting his gaze from the vacant space on the driveway.
The pavement rumbles beneath him, the vibrations making their way up through the soles of his sneakers. Stiles doesn't look up at the cars passing by him, doesn't worry about the ground shaking. He's gotten used to it now.
The school bus wheezes to his corner. The door opens and he steps up, standing in the aisle as the driver pulls away from the curb. Stiles grips at the straps of his backpack as he glances around the bus. He doesn’t know where to sit. Stiles never was a backseat kid, if he sits in the middle a stranger could sit next to him and try to get him to speak, and if he sits in the front it will make him look like a little kid. But he figures that’s his best chance to make eye contact with someone who he’s spoken to before, if any of them aren’t driving themselves to school. They’ll probably be the best to sit next to, since they’ll have heard by now about the accident.
Students get picked up in groups. As they walk down the aisle, people who were part of Stiles’ group of
friends enemies old acquaintances give him these sidelong glances. He closes his eyes. This is what he’s been dreading. Stiles is the only one sitting alone as they leave the last stop and head to the school.
He can feel the clanking of the engine as the bus rolls along. If he rests his head against the window, there's a possibility of getting a small concussion from the vibrations. But at least that way he doesn’t feel so alone. He shifts in his seat, using his pack as a backrest as he leans himself against the window, his legs sprawled out along the seat.
The girl across the aisle is wearing too much perfume. The boy sitting next to her tries to open his window, but the little latch locks won’t budge. They're all doomed to smother in the overpowering fruity stench. Stiles tugs his shirt up over his nose, trying to filter out the smell.
They pass the sign in front of the high school. On the steps of the school, there is a group of kids tossing a baseball back and forth. Baseball Jocks—a subsection of a clan. The entire school is divided into clans: Jocks, Richies, Cheerleaders, Human Garbage, Suffering Artists, Thespians, Goths, etcetera. And each clan has a subsection, like the Jocks have the lacrosse players, basketball players, baseball, and so on. Stiles? Stiles is now clanless. He and Scott used to be on the outskirts of the lacrosse subsection, but the coach graciously asked Stiles to leave the team since his accident-
Stiles bites his lip. He is not going to think about it. It was ugly, and totally ruined his life, but it’s over. It happened. It’s done. And he’s not going to think about it. His lip bleeds a little and it tastes like metal, jolting Stiles out of his thoughts.
The boy stays in his seat, waiting until everyone else has moved down the aisle. Then he stands slowly, tugging his hood up over his head. The bus driver shoots him The Look; a soft face, the corners of the lips tilted down, eyebrows furrowed. Stiles has gotten The Look since his mother passed away, but lately it's gotten worse.
With his head down Stiles makes his way up the front steps, avoiding everyone in his path. At least, he can't hear anyone if they tried to call for him.
He wanders down the hallway, keeping his head tucked until he reaches his locker. Stiles opens it carefully, trying not to make too much noise. It’s not like he can help it, anyway, he can’t hear if his footsteps are too clunky or if he’s slamming his notebooks down in his locker. He grunts past the lump in his throat, reminding himself not to think too much about what he can’t control. That’s what Dr. Hale always tells him.
He trudges to English, only to find not one teacher present, but two. The one at the desk isn’t new, he’s had her for the past two years. But the other one? She has no face, any features hidden behind a wall of bright orange hair. It's uncombed and stringy and it droops down on her shoulders. She doesn’t look up at us as the other teacher moves about the class, lips flapping open and closed too fast for Stiles to keep up with.
The teacher chats mindlessly with other students, and at some point the bell must ring because Stiles feels this weird shift in the atmosphere as everyone settles down.
He leans forward in his seat, elbows propped up on the tabletop as he watches his teacher and the faceless woman at the front of the classroom. As the teacher speaks, faceless woman scribbles everything she says onto the whiteboard. Other students watch the faceless woman write, sharing confused looks with one another.
It suddenly dawns on Stiles who she is and why she’s there. An interpreter. Only, Stiles doesn’t know much sign language, so she’s stuck scribbling word-for-word whatever his teacher says. The other kids in the class glance at Stiles every now and then, their lips moving silently as they whisper to each other. Their words land on deaf ears, literally.
Stiles flips open his notebook and starts to copy down the notes left for him on the board. He bites down harshly on his bottom lip, trying not to notice the amused glances thrown his way.
After English is social studies. According to his interpreter, social studies will be another review of Native Americans, Christopher Columbus, the Pilgrims, Industrial Revolution, all the way up to the World War I. They hardly ever get past that, because honestly, the class is taught by the lacrosse coach, Finstock. And Finstock always complains about how the history books are just lies made up by the government or whatever.
After social studies is lunch. The interpreter follows him around, face down towards the ground as she wordlessly trails along after Stiles.
The lunch is turkey with mashed potatoes, some sort of broccoli mixture, and a brownie. Stiles isn’t sure how to order anything else, although he does know how to fingerspell pizza. He isn’t positive if the interpreter is an actual interpreter, so he takes his tray along and lets the lunch ladies fill it up. They flash him sad little looks, and the one at the end gives him an extra brownie. He dumps the pity brownie in the trash as he exits the line.
Stiles sees a few friends—people he used to consider friends—but they don’t see him. Or at least, they pretend not to see him. Think fast, think fast. Stiles eyes the faceless interpreter behind him, groaning internally and rolling his eyes at how pathetic he must look.
He turns to ditch his tray and hide in the library when someone grabs his arm. Two green eyes smile up at him as he’s dragged through the cafeteria. Stiles is abruptly shoved at a table, nearly falling down in the process.
Lydia Martin sits across from him, lips moving quickly as she resumes talking to the girl sitting next to her. She’s new. A freshman? Stiles doesn’t recognize her, but she doesn’t look anything like a freshman.
He starts eating his turkey flavored whatever. It’s totally not meat, but hey, it’s edible. Stiles tries to ignore the interpreter standing behind him as he eats, watching Lydia’s mouth move as he tries to catch a few of her words. He sees his own name there a couple times, and a couple J’s. The way the new girl’s face falls must mean she’s hearing about the accident. Stiles prepares himself for the soft look he always gets when they hear the news.
Instead, the girl lifts a hand and slowly moves her fingers around, letting Stiles read the word she’s spelling out. 'K-I-R-A.' Kira. Stiles nods excitedly and pushes his tray away, lifting his hand and showing her the back of it, fingers spread out in a five-shape. He moves his other palm around the fingers in a jerky motion, not really sure how Dr. Hale did it the other day, eyebrows furrowed before he signs school. ‘What grade are you?’
Kira’s face lights up in a smile as she reaches forward, fixing Stiles’ mistake before tapping his pointer finger. ‘Junior.’
So Stiles was right. Not a freshman. Kira starts signing like crazy, and Stiles must be making some sort of face because Lydia stops her and shakes her head, laughing as she say something to her. Kira blushes, circling an S on her chest. ‘Sorry.’
Stiles laughs before shoveling a spoonful of potatoes into his mouth. Kira flinches at the sound, and Lydia beams at him. She holds up a finger to her lips in a quiet motion, and Stiles realizes he was probably louder than intended. He doesn’t care.
Step one was school, and he’s basically got that in the bag. Step two was friends, and while he never thought Lydia Martin would be that to him, he has to admit it’s kinda nice. Briefly, he wonders what Scott will think when he sees Stiles with the Lydia Martin, and the new girl. But the thought is quickly shooed away when the faceless lady taps his shoulder. Lunch is over. Three periods down, four to go.
Saturdays were the worst. When he was a real boy, and we were best friends with sleepovers and jokes and laughter, Saturdays were cold pizza eaten while watching cartoons. At Stiles’ house we’d eat waffles that we made with that fake corn syrup maple stuff drizzled on top while his dad scolded us for making such a mess. He didn’t really mind, we knew that, and after we cleaned we’d read comic books-
No. I couldn’t think of that. I won’t pollute my insides with couldbewashavebeen. I was good. I was strong.
The trip from the car to the front doors of the hospital took longer than usual. My mom was behind the desk. White walls. Blue chairs. Tired people who have been waiting for the news of their auntsisterdaughter. Mom made eye contact with me. I pretended not to notice. I slumped down in a chair full of lost hope and broken dreams. Maybe if I sat there long enough, it would absorb me too.
...the jeep was found at the bottom of the ravine… a burnt out shell…
He had called me three times that night. I didn’t pick up. I didn’t listen to the messages after. I was too angry.
… jeep was found…
What was he doing out that late? What was he thinking? There’s no point in asking why, even though everyone will. I know why. I do.
Mom bent down before me, breaking my attention away from the bad thoughts. She smiled, a soft smile that all moms seem to have. Her hand graced along my knee before she motioned for me to stand.
Nurse Mom led me down the hallway to his room. I wasn't allowed inside, it could compromise his health. I stared at him through the little window, my palm pressed up against the glass.
He was a thin little bird. His white feathers hid his face. His wings were beating so hard I couldn’t hear anything else over the rush of my heart in my ears.
It was nothing more than a burnt out shell.