At nine, Derek and I left for school. Mom practically shoved us out the door saying we didn’t need to worry about helping her take care of the baby and Avenly, she said that it was just a small fever and she would be fine.
So, we set out for school, which I don’t even like in the first place. I’m a sophomore in High School. Derek’s a freshman. Since I have a cool older brother, I’m not picked on or bullied by any of the Seniors but they don’t think I’m like him at all. And I’m not. He’s the sarcastic, laid back sporty kind of guy. He plays basketball, football, runs track and even tried out for swimming although he said he didn’t like that. He said the water in the pool was too gross.
I was more of a reader. I liked books and painting. I was pretty good in math too. But I struggled to pass science and history. I kept more to myself and let the world go by without me. I didn’t join any sports or clubs, and Derek was constantly reminding me that I would regret it once I graduate, but at the moment I really didn’t care.
The six block walk to our school was always chaos. The streets were full of cars, people, bikes, dogs, and trash. Beggars were on every corner with signs or tin cups begging for some money or food. But no one had any to spare these days. You were a very lucky person if you had a job. My mother was a writer so she sometimes got paid well for her books. But other than that we just had to hope that soon Derek or I could find work somewhere.
Two different fights broke out on our way to the high school, and we had to turn down about six different beggars. Maybe they were all different. They all looked the same to me, but Derek said they were like dogs; they all had their same place in the city where they went to every day at the same time. So I believed him.
Our high school was a big brick building with a few small sport fields. But Soccer, football, track, baseball and tennis was all done on the same field. We had about two thousand students here. And if there were six hundred to a class, then maybe only a hundred and fifty would graduate. The teachers here were all only here because they needed work, so they didn’t know squat. It was what I was used to though. So I didn’t complain. Plus school was the only place I could be with Lyric.
Even as I arrived, I could see her sitting on one of the benches outside the front doors focusing hard on her sketchbook. She was always drawing. Anything she could see, think up, or remember seeing, she would draw it. We both loved art, and we had actually become friends in an Art class.
Truth was; we had been dating for two years. She was the most important person in my life. She made everything better even if the day or the weather was horrible. When Lyric walked into a room it was like it was full of a million light bulbs. I don’t know what she thought of me, but she must have liked me enough to stay with me this long, and I was glad.
Derek saw me notice Lyric and he grinned, lifting his hand.
“Later.” He called and jogged off in the other direction. Instantly lost in a sea of people. There were so many people that trying to get through the hallways was like salmon in a river. So it took me quite a while to fight my way through the crowd and get to the bench Lyric was sitting on.
Today she was in a white T-shirt with a flower in the center and pink shorts. She had dark brown hair that was always up in a ponytail and lime green eyes. The exact opposite of me. Everyone in my family had messy white hair and brown eyes. Even though my father had darker hair and blue eyes, we didn’t get any genes from him I guess. Derek said it was because he’s always gone on business trips with the navy so our genes didn’t have time to examine his. I know that’s a dirty lie but I find it humorous all the same.
“Hey.” I said, taking a seat next to Lyric. She smiled up at me, pushing hair behind her ear.
“You’re here earlier than usual.” She pointed out.
“I know.” I said. “I woke up early today, and Derek can’t sleep when everyone’s in the kitchen so we just left early. “ I shrugged. “What are you drawing?”
She showed me the paper in reply. I could see it was I car with a dog standing on the hood. It looked like a border collie.
“Where on Earth did you get the idea for that?” I laughed.
“I saw it on my way to school. A dog just jumped up onto some guys car and he was yelling at it to get down but it just ignored him.” She giggled. “So I drew it so I won’t forget how funny that dog was.”
“It was probably just deaf.” I told her, but she waved my comment away as if it didn’t matter. She had her mind set that it was a stubborn dog and that it was not deaf. So might as well let it be.
“Don’t you have that big test in English today?” she asked me. I groaned.
“Oh man, I totally forgot about that…”
“What’s the subject?”
“Old American literature.” I answered. “Any thoughts of advice?”
“Those authors are all dead. So they should start buying stuff from people who are alive like your mom’s books and forget that old stuff.” She said in a very serious tone. I just laughed. She was always talking about how good of a writer my mom was when she had never even read one of her books. But she was just sweet that way I guess.
“Well, let me just write that under question number one and see how the teacher reacts.”
“Let me know how it turns out.” She grinned, pulling her book bag over one shoulder. “And don’t worry because I have a test in Biology which I know I’m going to flunk.”
“Oh, no you’re not. You’re smart.” I argued.
“Okay, well, I’ll give you my report cards and let you see if you change your mind.”
“You know I won’t.”
“My parents certainly did.”
“No they didn’t you liar. You’re smart. The end.”
“What a fantastic story. Go tell it to someone who cares.” She shook her head as we walked through the school doors towards her locker. “Besides, it’s not like I care. I’m going to make hundreds off my artwork. I don’t need good grades for that.”
“You’re not going to try for college?” I asked. She sighed.
“Heaven knows only the rich kids get into college. And the prodigies. I like this town anyway.”
“Eh.” I looked around at the school’s crumbling colorless walls as if that could tell me about the town.
“I’m leaving first chance I get. You’re coming with me.”
“I guess if I have to.” She laughed. “Not like I’m going to argue.”
We continued those pointless little conversations until the bell rang for classes to start, and I gave her a hug before hurrying to my classroom. The short time we had before school started was probably my favorite time of the day. I didn’t see her during lunch because there were three different lunch schedules, and I didn’t see her after school because unlike me, she worked with road traffic. It was a common job and she kept saying how it paid well and they would probably accept me. But I knew if I got a job before Derek he was kill me. And Derek was too proud to work with traffic. Plus I felt as though I couldn’t leave my poor family along for too long. I booked it home the second the bell rang for school to end.
First class was French. I hated French. I couldn’t pronounce anything and I didn’t understand why they made you take a foreign language if you didn’t even plan to try for college. Next was chemistry. After that was English where I took my wonderful test that I didn’t feel to confident on. Then I had lunch. Usually during lunch I sat with Derek and some of his buds. I was lucky I at least had someone I knew to eat with. I didn’t have a lot of friends at this school. I didn’t really talk much to other people.
After lunch I had art. Which was followed by geometry and US history. Finally, at long last; school was over and I could shove all my homework into my backpack and hurry home. I didn’t know what I hated more. Being at school, or being at home. Both were pretty depressing, and constantly reminding me how the world was now. It was so full, it was empty. There wasn’t enough food to go around, people were starving. The governors of each state were doing their best for keep spreading the food and the money equally. But there were just too many people. Angry, sour, bitter people. They couldn’t keep things in line any more.
I knew, scratch that, everyone knew, that eventually the government was going to snap, and do something about it. We just didn’t know when.
Derek didn’t have basketball practice today, so we walked home together. I always felt better when Derek could walk home with me. The streets were scary, especially in the evening. I’m glad that Lyric took the bus home so she didn’t have to come into any encounters with the crazy people who took advantage of the crowd here and tried to jump people for money. Derek had been jumped once. Father had been so mad he had gone out and tried to hunt people down and get the money back but it hadn’t been any use. That was the last time any of us dared to leave the house with some extra money in our pockets.
When we got home, the first thing I noticed was the smell. Walking in the front door I almost doubled over and took off down the apartment hall again, but I just mouth breathed and walked in while Derek wrinkled his nose behind me. It smelled like stomach acids and rotten clay. And I instantly knew that Avenly had more than just a fever… Mother walked in from the bedroom hallway and pulled of a doctor’s mask she had over her mouth to keep from breathing in the air and getting sick herself. We couldn’t afford having anyone else sick. She looked relieved to see us home and gestured towards the baby, Amy who was wailing mercilessly.
“Derek, could you please take the baby?” she sighed. “She’s been sobbing all day and I’ve been trying to take care of Avenly…” Derek nodded and scooped the infant up, trying to coax her to be quiet. Mother sighed, picking up a basket of laundry, I noticed they were Avenly’s blankets and I didn’t want to ask what was on them.
“I need to take this down to the laundry room.” She sighed.
“I’ll do it.” Derek said. “Sean will take the baby.”
I sighed, knowing he only volunteered because he didn’t want to hold the kid. But I didn’t want to take the laundry and so I held the baby and tried to shush her but she was bawling her lungs out, Derek turned and left with the laundry basket and I turned back to mother.
“How is she?” I asked.
“Not very good.” She sighed, swallowing. “She’s been throwing up anything I try to feed her and she won’t take warm water she just spits it back out… the air itself is so bad I can’t breathe when I’m in her room…. You had better sleep out in the living room with Derek tonight.”
“Okay.” I swallowed. But I was scared to death. We couldn’t afford to take her to a doctor. We couldn’t even afford medicine. Things were so unfair now.
If only I had known how much worse they were about to become