Tyler Clouse lounged in his desk in a sedated, almost comatose, state. Whoever decided that a mathematics class should be last period of the day deserved to die a slow and painful death. The teacher droned on and on about things that his friends has learned last year and would teach to him later. Ah, the glories of being in slow math, he thought, though few they are great. He felt mildly demeaned to have to sit in a class where the teacher spoke like she was teaching fifth graders. It wasn't like Tyler was a total idiot or pothead like some of the kids in the class; he was just never all that great at school. He'd never forget that meeting in ninth grade when the principal told his parents he was going to be put in slow classes. Just thinking about it brought on waves of embarrassment.
The bell rang, breaking Tyler out of his reverie and snapping the classroom into sharp focus. It was just like every other classroom with its desks in ordered rows in front of the blackboard. The only thing that set it apart were the cheesy math posters all over the walls and the thick calculus textbooks that sat precariously on a bowing shelf by the window. The teacher, an aging man with a beard and a tweed suit who belonged in a university and knew it turned to the class and said in a bored voice, "Test tomorrow."
Tyler grabbed his notebook, still without a single note though it was December, and followed the crowd hurrying out of the room.
"Hey Tyler," a voice behind him called. He turned to face Victoria, who was debatably the prettiest girl in the school with her bleach blonde hair, slim figure and fake tan. She batted her green eyes in a way that was supposed to be irresistible but that Tyler was obvious to. She stalked him out into the hall, talking the entire time, "Are you going to the dance on Friday?"
Tyler didn't answer immediately, so small was the chance of his going that he hadn't even really thought about it. Unfortunately, Victoria took this silence as a yes and launched into a monologue about being his date because, of course, all high school seniors needed dates to go anywhere in public. He tried to lose her in the shuffle of people going to their lockers and trying to catch buses but she was persistent and had been for a while. Everyday after math class she would follow him to his locker, talking at him about some ridiculous topic or another. No one knew if she really had a crush on him or if she just wanted to be seen with the handsomest guy at school so people would think they were dating. Tyler, for certain, didn't know as he expected neither of the above but thought she was trying to be friendly.
"Sorry Victoria," he interrupted suddenly, "I'm not going."
"What?" she asked, surprised her rant had been derailed.
"I'm not going to the dance. I never was. Now, I've got to go but I'll see you tomorrow."
Her jaw dropped and it stayed that way as he walked off. He sauntered through the parking lot, trying to remember where he parked with one part of his brain and trying to fathom Victoria's obsession with another. He was handsome with his unruly mop of jet black hair, deep brown eyes and sharp, angular features. His nose had a bump in it from where he had broken it when he was a child but fit him. His skin was a natural tanned color that lasted all year and covered a tall and solid frame with broad, square shoulders. Tyler wasn't exactly muscular but he was lean, his build hinting at possible muscles underneath. And it wasn't like Tyler didn't know any of this, he knew what he looked like, he just didn't care and he expected everyone else not to care too. So the notion that he looked like a god to Victoria hadn't even occurred to him.
He found his car in the lot and yes, it was his car that he'd bought with his own money, not one his parents had bought for him. Although David and Michelle Clouse had repeatedly offered to buy him a car right after he got his license, he wanted the car to really be his and for that to happen he knew he would have to work for it. And that he did. Tyler had no problem with work, he even did all his homework every night, and so it hadn't really surprised anyone when he said he wanted to work for his car.
"Hey Tyler! Where're you going? We have practice!" It was Adrian, indisputably Tyler's closest friend. He was already dressed for the occasion in sweatpants, long-sleeves, gloves and a winter hat; all in various colors, none of which actually went together.
"We have track practice today?"
"Yeah man. If you'd get a cell phone you would know these things."
"Alright. Tell coach I'll be out in five minutes," Tyler called over his shoulder as he jogged back into the school to get changed.
* * *
Two hours later found Tyler pulling into his driveway. Practice hadn't really taken that long but it got dark early now that it was December and it had started snowing as soon as he had started driving. The drive was clean, however, and he guessed his dad must have plowed it out when he got home.
Their house was small and ordinary, in the suburbs where nothing exciting ever happened. It was painted a cheery green on the outside and Tyler had always thought it looked like a smiling face with two windows for eyes and a red door for a mouth. He let himself in and tromped up to the left eye where his room was. He flicked on the light and the deep royal blue of the walls met his eyes instantly while other, darker shapes came into focus slowly, the simple black furniture on the light-wood floor.
Carelessly, Tyler tossed his books on the floor, wishing the most ill on the math book, and wandered downstairs to the kitchen. The house was dead silent and so clearly, no one was home or, at least, his little sister Megan wasn't home. Megan was just like her mother, a little blonde spirit, fierce, intense and determined to get her way. His father, consequently, was a pragmatic man, a doctor who always seemed to have a lot on his mind. Tyler never really seemed to take after either of his parents, lacking both a volatile and raging heart and a scholarly mind. He was calm, like a placid lake and he was intelligent but not in a way that was going to set the world on fire. But every family needed a strong and steady one, didn't they? They all needed a peacemaker and negotiator for when Megan refused to come out of her room because she didn't get a pony for Christmas. It was a necessary part of the family structure.
At the bottom of the stairs the delicious scent of lasagna guided him to the dining room where a big plate of it was sitting out along with a note. In a barely legible scrawl that could only belong to his mother there was written:
At Megan's ballet recital, be home soon. Eat the lasagna, it's good! Love you - Mom
Gratefully he ate the food which was, in fact, good despite his mother's inability to cook cereal. He decided to play along and act like his mom cooked it so she'd buy it again, that usually worked once or twice.
After that, it was all chores: dishes, laundry, homework. He split it up and worked fast so that he had finished everything by nine. And still, they weren't home. Tyler tried to stay up watching some mindless sitcom but after he'd fallen asleep for the third time he decided to give up and see them in the morning. He went upstairs, brushed his teeth and went to bed without knowing that everything was about to change.