Bender’s got friends in low places, and friends that used to be in low places. To some people, they still are, but they’re better off than he’ll ever be, he thinks.
He’s got friends from other schools, some his age, some younger, who sell dope and steal whatever they can get their hands on, just like he does. He’s got friends older than him that he imagines were in the same dump he’s in, once upon a time. Pipeliners, offshore workers, mechanics, people like that.
He knows a guy, everyone calls him Red, who’s around his mid-thirties, says he’s been pipelining since he was sixteen. He told Bender that if he’d finish high school and put in an application, he’d take him as part of his crew. Bender figures it’s probably his best shot at not ending up in jail.
The point is, he doesn’t have one ounce of a reputation to upkeep. So when he comes to school on Monday and starts talking to Allison and Brian like they’re buddies, no one’s around to question him.
He walks into the cafeteria, shoes stomping on the floor and drawing more attention than really necessary, pulls out a seat beside Brian and his nerd friends—who look terrified, understandably—and sits down like it’s a completely normal thing. Allison’s there, too, and she gives him one look and starts laughing like the maniac she is.
“Something funny?” He props his feet up on the table and puts his hands behind his head.
She makes a squeaking noise for a second before answering. “You don’t belong over here,” she says, mischievous little smile on her face.
“Yeah, well, I could say the same thing about you.” He looks around at the scared faces of Brian and the rest of the geeks, takes his feet down, leans forward in his seat, and asks, “So, Brian, and the rest of you dweebies, anything happen today worth mentioning?”
Brian stares, eyes blown wide.
“Cat got your tongue?”
He seems to snap back into reality then, rambling and stuttering all over the place. “Well, um, I, I had a math test last week, and we’re supposed to get our grade back, um, today, I think? And I don’t know if I did good or not, which is, um, bad, because I don’t want my parents to be mad again because, you know, the elephant, you remember the elephant? They said if, if I can’t make above a ninety-five on all my tests for the rest of the month, they’re gonna—“
“Woah, man, chill out. Jesus, your parents are fucking weird, you know that?” He doesn’t wait for a response before continuing, “Probably did fine on your test, genius boy. Don’t think it’s possible for you to make bad grades. Except on elephant lamps, but math tests usually aren’t on those.”
“Yeah, no, it wasn’t.”
Bender’s about to make a sarcastic comment, but his attention is taken elsewhere when Allison takes off her shoe and slams on the table. Everyone looks at her as she promptly takes all of the contents of her sandwich and shoves it inside the sneaker.
“You gonna eat that?” Bender gestures to the food in the shoe.
And so, lunch becomes more fun than what they’re used to. For Allison and Bender, hanging out with some nerds is an improvement from sitting alone under the bleachers and trying to sell dope in the parking lot. For Brian, having people that don’t want to talk about school all the time and encourage him to go out of his comfort zone is pretty nice.
Bender doesn’t remember when Brian became Bri or when Allison became Alli, and he doesn’t remember when they started calling him John. He doesn’t know why his guard has slowly been let down after being friends for a while, or why he trusts them both so much. It just happened.
They make an alright bunch. Even though Bender’s an asshole, Allison’s insane, and Brian’s scared of the both of them sometimes, they compliment each other surprisingly well. Brian’s mother isn’t too happy about his new friendship developments, but he’s decided that for once in his life, he doesn’t care what his parents think.
That being said, when Brian suggests they hang out outside of school, he also makes it very clear that it cannot be at his house.
“Maybe we should, um, go to someone’s house sometime? Or maybe to a movie, or, or just to some fast-food restaurant, or something. It can’t be at my house, though, because my mom said that, um, that she’s not, under any circumstances, letting a kid like John Bender into her house.”
John snorts. “Something tells me I’m not very welcome in the Johnson household. But yeah, I’m up for it.” It’s left unspoken that they’re not going to his house, either. They’ve seen enough of John’s dad in the bruises and cuts he tries to hide.
“We can go to my house,” Allison says, rather loudly. “My parents don’t care who I bring home. They don’t care at all.” So, when school lets out, they get in the car with her. Brian has to call his mom first, of course. He just so happens to leave out the part about Bender being there.
Riding in the car with Allison and her parents, it’s evident that, just like she said, they really don’t care. They don’t say a word about Brian or John, don’t ask her about her day, don’t even greet her when she gets in the car. It would be completely silent if it wasn’t for the sound of Brian nervously fidgeting with the straps of his backpack.
“Chill out, Einstein,” John says, and grabs
Brian’s hand. “Getting on my nerves.”
He thinks he might of heard a whisper of “sorry,” but it was too faint to really tell. Instead of the rubbing the bag, Brian starts to run his fingers over all the scars on John’s hand. It bothers him a little bit, but he doesn’t say anything.
When they get to Allison’s house, she runs inside to her room, buries her face in a pillow, and screams. No one can blame her. For all the shit in her bag, her room is surprisingly empty with plain white walls—a bed, a dresser, and a chair being it’s only contents. Done with her screaming, she sits up and asks what they want to do.
John holds up a bag a dope. “Think your folks would mind?”
She smiles, all teeth, because no, they never do.
It turns out that a high Allison is a pretty funny thing. Between trying to convince Brian that trees aren’t real and telling John about the monster that lives in her closet, everyone’s pretty entertained. John knows that ain’t all the dope, though—Allison would say that sober.
At some point, she decides the fun is over and leaves the room without a word. Brian goes to check on her and finds her staring at the TV in her living room. It would be pretty normal, except it’s turned off. He makes the wise decision not to bother her.
He bothers John instead. He’s lying on the bed in nothing but a old white tank top and boxers with his hands propped up behind his head. Brian lies beside him, and for the second time that day, becomes fascinated with the scars all over his body. He traces over each of them, slowly, and even though it’s only faint, he notices when John tenses up a bit.
“Are they from your dad?” He whispers. “From fights?”
He doesn’t get a response and figures he shouldn’t push it. His eyes wander up to the diamond in John’s ear. He still wears it even though Claire hasn’t done so much as look at him since that Saturday. It makes Brian think he may have real feelings for her, however odd that sounds. Thinking he can use being high as an excuse for anything he says, he asks about it.
“Why do you, why do you still wear that earring?”
“Pretty enough, ain’t it?” Yeah. Yeah, he guesses it is.
They lie like that for a while, in silence, until Brian gets tired and ends up curling into John’s chest. Sleepily, he looks up at his face.
“You know, you’re kinda cute, um, when you’re not being all mean and tough and all.”
John smiles. “You’re pretty cute, too, genius boy.”
Brian falls asleep practically cuddling him, and Allison comes back into the room not long after. She starts giggling when she walks in, like a madman. In response to the questioning look from John, she says, “You two. You’re cute.”
“Oh, shut up,” he says, but it doesn’t sound as menacing as means for it to be.
She just stands there for a minute. “You’re hogging my bed, you know.”
“Well, if you also think I’m a pillow, the other half of my chest is still open for use.”
She takes him up on his offer. He’s a pretty good pillow, just for the record.