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Life is Fringe

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Listening to Mr. Jefferson prattle on about photography early in the morning was akin to doing your taxes on the tanned hide of a screaming infant. Well, maybe not quite that bad, but it was blatantly evident that the man liked to hear himself speak. The day’s topic had long ago been left behind as the ‘far too famous for his own good’ and ‘I’m hip like all of you young kids, I swear’ Mr. Jefferson went on and on about obscure artists long dead and the styles that they had allegedly pioneered. His ability to jump from tangent to tangent was a marvel to behold and Kevin was only too sure that his own talents in tangent hopping were being upstaged. After a moment of reflection, he decided that worse things had happened. Being upstaged in this regard wasn’t the end of the world after all.

Possessing such ‘impressive’ skills did of course have drawbacks. The mind-numbing boredom that Kevin felt was clearly not just his own, since the rest of the class was showing glaring symptoms of the disease’s inexorable spread. Across the room, the drama queen Victoria Chase was texting (because of course she was texting) and Mr. Jefferson was so caught up with himself that he simply hadn’t noticed yet.

The nearby Kate Marsh was either lost in thought or staring at the floor, which did seem somewhat odd. She was usually attentive and eager and ready to overachieve. Her composure today certainly confirmed Kevin’s suspicions that he wasn’t alone in thinking their illustrious photography professor was overrated. Despite the lack of necessity for further proof on the subject, he also noticed that Max Caulfield, the only girl in the class that could possibly adore Mr. Jefferson more than Victoria, was asleep.

She was sitting upright in her chair in the back of the class, and oddly enough her head was still steady and perfectly straight even though it was wavering from side to side ever so slightly but her eyes were closed… or were they? Upon closer inspection Kevin noticed that her eyes were just slightly open and the apparent motion of her head was due to slightly elevated breathing. After a quick survey of the rest of the room, it became quickly apparent that no one else had noticed Max’s state.

Her arms lay flat on her desk, hands balled tightly into fists poked out from underneath her light-gray hoodie. Either imagined or perceived, it seemed as if occasional tremors were pulsating through the petite girl’s frame. Before Kevin could continue his observation any further his attention was wrenched away as one of his all too famous headaches unmercifully tore its way through his head.

The migraine spawned out of nothingness and manifested itself instantly into near blinding agony. The breath that he hadn’t known he had been holding wheezed out of his lungs so feebly that no one seemed to notice. Lights in the room burned themselves into his now straining retinas, the metallic taste of blood plagued his now parched throat, and his nostrils were overwhelmed by a horrifyingly putrid scent. The very air around him seemed to be adding to his suffering, smothering him relentlessly. Just as Kevin thought he was going to pass out from the intensity of the sensation, it was over.

Blinking and in a state of near shock, he recovered from perhaps the strangest experience of his life. His head buzzed slightly from the memory of the trauma, but the intense pain that had ravaged him was suddenly gone. Involuntarily stifling a yawn, Kevin shook his head to cleanse his tormented mind of the ordeal. Never before had one of his legendary migraines struck so fiercely, overwhelmed him so entirely, exhausted itself so immediately. If the event, seemingly impossible to imagine, hadn’t been so fresh in his mind, he would have doubted his sanity. Taking stock of the room to quickly ensure that not a single soul noticed whatever the hell had just happened to him, he caught Max’s stare piercing into him… shit.

Nope, just his imagination! Or was it wishful thinking? Max was indeed awake, but had merely been looking around the room at the exact moment he had been, and their eyes had briefly met. Of course, the chances of the introverted photo-nerd noticing him at that exact moment were next to zero. Taking in her surroundings, Max seemed to be recovering from whatever had been afflicting her a moment ago.

Watching her out of the corner of his eye, he watched as Max brushed her neck-length brown hair back behind her ear as she picked up a photograph from her polaroid camera, scrutinizing it heavily. Perhaps nothing out of the ordinary had been happening with Max, and Kevin’s super-migraine had simply put him on edge. Max seemed to be stressing over her photograph, as she was known to do, but his classmates’ self-consciousness toward her own artwork wasn’t his biggest problem.

Looking down at his desk, he regarded his own work with a cold and calculating gaze. The problem was that Mr. Jefferson, intolerable bastard that he was, had insisted that every student in his photography class submit a photograph into this pretentious contest. And of course, it was called “Everyday Heroes,” what else would it be called? The contest itself wasn’t the issue, though. The issue was that Kevin was such a perfectionist with his own photography that in the past two weeks he had taken dozens of photographs and only three had seemed worthy. Now, naturally, they all seemed ridiculous. Having spent most of last night sorting through possibilities, he had narrowed his possible entry down to the final three failures that sat before him.

Calling them failures is a little harsh I suppose, he thought as he scrutinized each one in turn. In fact, if he was honest with himself, and he usually was, each picture was near perfection. But near perfection was not perfection. Each picture had its own merits, counteracted by minor flaws which ruined any chance of being put forth to enter any contest, never mind winning one. Sighing heavily, he looked down upon his creations like a harsh, unfeeling god.

The first was perfectly framed. In the foreground, a variety of colorful flowers encircled an adorable golden retriever that sat center frame, its head cocked slightly to the left. Behind man’s best friend was a serene pond that reflected the lush and plentiful forest on the opposite bank. A fantastic photo by any means, positively crawling with living color, but at the end of the day it was just a picture of a dog with some flowers. Lame.

The second picture was, embarrassingly enough, a selfie. In some delusional moment, he had snapped a quick close up shot of his own face while he was walking through the woods just before sunset, and somehow the shot had turned out great. His head had been offset to the left of the picture and cast in shadow due to the falling light, and in the top right of the picture the falling sun could be seen piercing through the sparse, almost barren, fall trees. The contrast of colors was very eye catching, and the lighting made him look quite dashing, he had to admit. Still, it was just a selfie… something he’d rather not share, with anyone. Also lame.

And finally, his third picture was a super-close-up shot of a tiny bee maneuvering its way through the insides of a light purple flower. The background was just slightly out of focus, which drew the eye right to the center where the miniature bee sat enshrined by the flower’s petals. The bright and clear colors of the bee contrasted starkly against the smooth colors of the flower and yet the contrast was still appealing. The insects’ translucent wings and its delicate features only added to the aura of the picture. However, in the end the picture was simply a flower with a bloody bee in it.

He loved the pictures for their qualities, and yet he hated the pictures for their simplicities. In the end, when push came to shove, he would just select one at random and hand it into Mr. Jefferson and be done with it. But what about winning? Wouldn’t his best chance for winning such a contest be achieved from the best picture? The problem with that line of thinking was that he had no idea which one was best. In fact, he knew with certainty that the best picture had yet to be taken and was not present, so he would have to do with the mediocrity that lay before him. Great. Lost in contemplation, the meanderings of Mr. Jefferson slowly faded away.

A sudden mechanical noise snapped Kevin out of his deep thought only to realize that the culprit was none other than Max. She had just snapped a selfie with her super retro polaroid camera. Goddamnit Max! You fool! Now Mr. Jefferson is going to regale us about Robert Cornelius or daguerreotypes because you just had to snap one of your “famous” selfies right in the middle of class! And sure enough, Mr. Jefferson, never one to miss an opportunity such as this, launched into a tangent of that very subject. Max however looked ever more uncomfortable now that she was the center of attention.

Kevin couldn’t help but feel sorry for the poor girl as Mr. Jefferson threw a question at her and not only did Max fumble the answer, but the ever ready to impress Victoria pounced. Not only did she answer the question perfectly, but even went the extra mile and added vaguely necessary details just to show that she was a know it all. While Mr. Jefferson was praising her for her superb answer, it seemed that Victoria was wasting no time at all rubbing the salt into Max’s fresh wounds with a backhanded comment of some sort. The whole exchange made Kevin think of a remark made by Ernest Hemingway: “A bitch is a bitch is a bitch.”

Before Mr. Jefferson could jump into another tangent, the class bell rang and freed the students from their seats. As the students made their escapes at varied speeds, their teacher managed to get some parting remarks in just because he liked the sound of his own voice. As Kevin gathered up his effects into his sturdy black laptop bag, he noticed that the nearby Kate had yet to move from her seat, as if she barely noticed the outside world at all.

In Kevin’s short time at Blackwell he had talked with Kate more than any of the other girls in school and probably knew more about her than the rest put together. That being said, it didn’t mean all that much, since almost everyday they would exchange small talk and he would always find a new way to trip over his words. She was kind and sweet and always in a good mood, which contrasted starkly with her recent behavior.

“Hey Kate!” As if she had just woken up from a troubling dream, Kate turned to look at Kevin with the ghastliest expression that he had ever seen on her face. Immediately regretting his decision, he nearly tripped over his own tongue as he lamely asked how she was doing today. Kate’s polite response was a poor excuse for a lie when she replied that she was fine. Her eyes were sunken and red and she had abandoned her usual ruler straight posture for a depressing slouch, shoulders slumped in obvious defeat.

Thankfully, he was spared saying anything more as Kate’s attention was drawn to Max who had approached as invisibly as an introverted, slightly self-conscious geek is known to do in social situations. As Kevin departed he noticed the two girls talking quietly. Despite his impeccable hearing, ears were rendered useless by the verbal diarrhea match that Mr. Jefferson and Victoria were having at the front of the class. She was probably hitting on their not-so-old yet not-so-young teacher again in her not-so-subtle way while his teacher did his best to fend her off. Kevin quickly decided that he didn’t care, so he made his way out into the hall.

The lockers on either side of the hallway were broken up by doors to classrooms and the hallway was cluttered with students traveling to and from their respective classes. Being a small school, it was never overly crowded, which was one of the reasons Kevin had chosen to travel all the way to Oregon to attend Blackwell Academy. He hated crowds, so the small town that supported the school didn’t bother him either even if sometimes the area felt like a forgotten speck of humanity.

This didn’t bother him too often, but at times he felt very homesick and even regretted attending a remote yet prestigious school just because he liked taking pictures. It had seemed like an excellent idea especially since the incredibly famous Mark Jefferson had left New York just to teach at the school. Shaking his head and letting out an exasperated sigh, Kevin easily maneuvered his way through his peers. Returning to his dorm seemed like a solid plan since he didn’t have another class for quite some time.

Most students would spend their time outside in small isolated groups between classes but in his few weeks at the school he really hadn’t made any friends. This wasn’t to say that people weren’t friendly with him because things were quite the opposite. He only had to put up with mild flak from the more aggressive students due to his Canadian nationality. His accent was readily apparent and he spoke clearly and concisely unlike most of the other students. Oftentimes he was accused of ‘speaking like an adult,’ but then he had never picked up on the local slang of his hometown of Sarnia Ontario and would probably never assimilate into the local culture of Arcadia Bay, either.

Even though he sometimes begrudged being different, the rest of the time he cherished it. Daily, in an almost semi-conscious manner, he would wear something that identified himself as Canadian. In the beginning, he had always carried his red Roots Canada backpack but due to his infrequent classes he had traded it out for the more professional look of his sturdy black laptop bag. He was, after all, an adult now, so why not look the part?

Today, he was wearing a pair of rugged yet professional looking blue jeans with a black belt and a red plaid button up collared shirt that he left open just so people could see that his white undershirt commemorated Canada’s previous winter Olympics participation, which of course was also from his favorite Canadian clothing store: Roots Athletics. Maneuvering through the hallway, he noticed that three of the Jock types were in the process of harassing one of the nerdy kids as they were known to do. The poor kid was pressed up against the lockers and surrounded by the much larger students. Cursing his inability to put names with faces, especially since the three jocks looked eerily identical, Kevin moved closer to intervene.

“Oh come on buds, whatcha’ doin picking on the poor guy for, eh?” Kevin didn’t always talk like a stereotypical Canadian but he had found that his accent combined with words like ‘bud” and ‘eh’ disarmed most people down here almost immediately. The three Jocks turned and whatever ire had been plaguing them faded instantly when they saw who had disturbed them.

“Yo bros, it’s Canada!” Kevin somehow managed to remember that the speaker was Logan, or at least he thought it was, and the name that popped into mind for the slightly overweight nerdy kid was Daniel. Lacking this certainty Kevin decided to leave out names and continue without them. Snapping his attention back to the approaching jock, it seemed that he would have to submit to an overly aggressive high five or an equally overly aggressive fist bump. After submitting to the fist bump that almost knocked him off balance, Kevin continued to de-escalate the situation.

“Daniel is a friend of mine buds, so if there’s some problem here…” The two other jocks released the now confirmed Daniel and even had a hint of sheepishness in their eyes. But the biggest surprise was the reaction from Logan, or at least Kevin thought that the jock standing in front of him who seemed to be suffering an existential crisis was Logan.

“No, there’s no… We were just… We didn’t mean nuthin by it… we’re just messing around, bro.” As Logan stumbled over his words, both he and the other two jocks kept looking back and forth between Kevin and Daniel.

“We cool, Danny?” Kevin’s ability to keep a straight and serious face was being tested to its extremes. He was certain that never in Logan’s life had he ever affectionately referred to Daniel in such a way and probably never would again. The new nickname was completely lost on Daniel however, as he stood with his back still pressed up against the lockers where the jocks had left him.

“Yeah… cool,” Daniel spoke, finding his voice after a few moments of hesitation. Logan seemed satisfied and enthusiastically nodded his head and turned back to Kevin as if looking for his approval.

“Yo Canada, we’re going outside to throw the ball around, you game?”

“I’ll be out in a few minutes guys. But keep in mind we Canadians are far more able on the ice than throwing a football around so you might have to give me a few pointers.” Despite Kevin’s massive lack of experience with football, in both the catching and the throwing departments, he felt it was a good idea to accept Logan’s all too predictable peace offering. No such offering was extended to the still petrified Daniel, though, and even if it had been Kevin mused that the chances of him accepting such an offer were close to zero. “And when it finally starts snowing I can teach you guys a thing or two about hockey, eh?”

“Right on!” One of the three jocks exclaimed as they jostled each other back and forth as they made their way around the corner of the hallway towards the school’s main entrance. Shaking his head Kevin turned his attention to the now mystified Daniel who was smoothing out his short black hair and adjusting his thick rimmed glasses.

“You okay? Danny?” Daniel grimaced slightly and Kevin cursed himself for using the probably not-so affectionate nickname that had just been bestowed upon the recovering nerd. Making a mental note to avoid such mistakes in the future, Kevin shrugged off his worries. It probably wouldn’t be much of a problem due to the fact that the two had barely said two words to each other since the school-year had begun. Daniel tended to stay busy mastering the art of invisibility. Face planted in his sketchbook, he usually succeeded in this endeavor. During one of these moments, Kevin had spied a glance and had discovered, with only a small amount of surprise, that Daniel had quite a talent for sketching.

“Yeah… thanks. How did you manage to scare them off?” Daniel eyed Kevin hesitantly as if he was now in the clutches of an even worse predator. Kevin couldn’t help but smile at this. Sure he was about as tall as the massive jocks. At a respectable six-feet, his shoulders were slightly on the broad side and he had a fair amount of leg muscle but the rest of him was mostly skin and bones. Kevin was quite sure that he had gone through his nineteen years of life without being able to intimidate a soul, except for when he was playing hockey… and maybe soccer. He had a competitive nature that was noticeable at times which was probably the only reason why he was even considering attempting Mr. Jefferson’s infuriating photo contest.

“Fear had nothing to do with it, Daniel... If I had tried to scare them off, they would have had me up against the lockers right next to you.”

“So… how did you do it?” Kevin really had no idea what to tell him.

Ever since day one at Blackwell Academy most people had treated him with an odd mixture of mockery and respect. Rarely did he get called by name, instead he had been immediately given nicknames like ‘Canada’ and ‘Canuck’. Despite the almost constant mockery of how he talked and pronounced certain words, he was treated with a great deal of respect. Girls thought it was adorable how he was consistently polite, and the guys probably didn’t want to lose faith with the girls, so they mostly treated him well. People weren’t exactly trying to be his friend or anything but it certainly could have been worse.

“Honestly, I have no idea but I’m glad I could help.” Kevin shrugged and leaned up against the lockers with Daniel, seeing him relax by the second. After a few moments of crowd watching, the awkward pair’s attention was caught by the mousy Max Caulfield as she warily made her way through the light crowd. Kevin rarely saw Max without her earbud headphones in when she shuffled her way through the halls, her camera bag bouncing lightly behind her.

He wondered if they had any music tastes in common - then immediately doubted that Max would be interested in Scandinavian metal like Nightwish or Sabaton. It was probably for the best that Max hid behind her music. The upper echelon of Blackwell’s female population always seemed to find time to make rather rude comments as she walked by. Unless, of course, they knew that Kevin was within earshot then they seemed to show some amount of restraint. Unfortunately for the girls, Kevin’s hearing was rather impeccable so he easily saw through the thin veil of decency.

“So we’re friends now, eh?” Daniel didn’t seem to notice the question, his gaze tracking Max as she made her way past. Trying a different approach, Kevin lightly and playfully elbowed Daniel and leaned over, conspiratorially mentioning how cute Max was. Daniel slowly nodded to show his affirmation but Kevin hadn’t needed him to respond, he saw it on the boy’s face as plain as day.

“It would be… I would love to draw… I mean... I would like to ask her if I could sketch her sometime… she would be a great new muse.” Daniel seemed almost enchanted and Kevin wondered what he had meant by ‘new’. Mentally shrugging, he gingerly patted Daniel on the back as he made ready to leave. Daniel continued to speak, entirely unaware of Kevin’s presence. “Rachel Amber was so… perfect… it’s so sad…” His words trailed off as he slowly remembered himself. As if coming out of a trance, he visibly checked himself. Wrenching his gaze away from the retreating Max, he turned to face Kevin once again as he spoke.

“Ask her sometime then, just try not to be too creepy about it and I’m sure she’d be reasonable.” And with those parting words and Daniel beaming with something akin to confidence, Kevin set off towards his locker. Rachel Amber… she’s the missing girl whose face is plastered all over the school… it’s weird how everyone seems to know her but no one seems to know what happened to her. Sinking deeper into his own thoughts he slowly made his way through his peers to his locker.

While he was on his way he couldn’t shake the sensation that he had missed something important about Max. As he fiddled with the combination lock to his locker, his mind went back to Max’s slightly paler than usual freckled face. Failing his first attempt, he also recalled her walk being slightly more timid and her posture more rigid than it usually was as well.

Letting out a long and rather audible sigh, he let go of his combination lock after failing to open it for a second time. A quick scan of the area led Kevin to deduce that Max had made a beeline for the women’s bathroom. Due to her recent composure, it was quite possible she was feeling the effects of bullying as well today. His suspicions didn’t sit well with him, not at all. Forcibly clearing his mind, he went back to his locker, grimly determined not to fail a third time at a task that should be so simple. Especially since he knew his combination to his locker by heart… or did he?

Before the truth of the matter at hand could be ascertained, a loud crack jolted him upright. Without even thinking he spun around, moving away from his locker his heightened senses desperately sought out the source of the disruption.

A gunshot, that was a gunshot, do guns sound like that?

As his heart pounded and the frozen fingers of fear began to claw at his chest, a voice inside of his head demanded immediate action. But before the battle within his mind could be resolved, a blast of hot searing pain crashed through his head.

Staggering in shock, his vision went blurry. He felt control flooding from his muscles as he was pitched forward. Choking back the urge to vomit, the metallic taste of blood caught somewhere in the back of his throat, he fought with all his might to stay conscious. The dreaded feeling of weightlessness overtook him as his body lost the fight and the ringing in his ears intensified to an alarming level. Wanting to cry out but unable to do so, Kevin put one last herculean effort to regain control of his body and with a snap the world changed right before his eyes.