As he walked home he felt a general malaise about his life, all in response to a question which managed to surface above the others.
“Why me?” Cary said aloud to the empty air around him, the only response the swaying of trees on his left. He hardly ever asked this question anymore as there never was a satisfactory answer. It wasn't as if some better life waited for him. Cary had ceased having that stupid dream before he turned six. He could imagine other kids might have believed such, or hoped for it, but he did not. He kicked at a pebble lying on the sidewalk, it skidded on to the street and stopped near the center line, vibrating.
“Why me?” Cary asked again, his own better judgment and long time efforts crumbled. “I wish I had a REAL best friend! I wish I had a better life!”
That last he had not said out loud in memory. And moments after he did he knew why it was better not to have said it at all. His despair only deepened. Of course he wanted a better life. Of course he had to question why me. But none of that helped, there was no magic about to happen, no wish could lift him up out of it. No one coming to save him. Despair in him merged with leftover feelings from the day's events, from the torture of Gym class and Coach Mandy, to the cruelty of boys like Troy Smalls, to the feelings of confusion, doubt and vague hope Clearing had left within him. All this came together and struck some chord within until he shook as he walked.
He was nearly overwhelmed and he knew it, he'd be crying soon if he didn't stop. Cary's mind dwelled on all this the entire way home. By the time he made it inside he was sweating and breathing hard as though he had run the entire distance. He went into the bathroom and washed his face. Looking up from the sink into the mirror he was drawn and angry looking, with red-rimmed eyes. His brown hair was wet and bedraggled against his forehead, his narrow, thin cheeks dripped.
Cary took a step back from his own reflection and gasped. His normally bright blue eyes were different. Unable to look away, Cary leaned nervously forward, his head shaking in quick vibrations. He was afraid to blink. His left eye had changed, radically. It was as if the whole eye had turned a milky white, as if the iris had disappeared. Slowly, Cary leaned forward towards the mirror, his left hand pulling gently down on his cheek as he inspected his strange new eye, hardly daring to breath. The upswell of emotion which had overtaken him on the walk home faded into the background and was subsumed. Cary stopped shaking. This can't be real... He shrieked in surprise and darted back from the mirror.
His milky white eye had begun to change as though it were slowly filling in the center with blue liquid. Cary blinked rapidly, mesmerized as he leaned forward, pulling down on his cheek again. The change was slow but,oddly, as he calmed down, it accelerated. His eye was entirely back to its normal, icy-blue color, as if it had not happened at all. Cary remained staring at himself, his face mere inches from the mirror, for a minute or so, waiting to see if some other change would occur. It didn't.
Cary's chest heaved. Am I going crazy? Losing it. This precise thought ricocheted through his brain, kicked away every other thought. The front door opened and slammed shut. Cary squealed and darted away from the mirror, sure he didn't want to be seen staring at himself in the mirror by either Lana or Bird.
“BOY!” came a shout from the other room.
Cary sighed and ambled into the living room where Bird oozed over the sofa. Bird's lank hair was unwashed, his eyes angry red and a medium sized paper sack was clutched in his left hand. Bird glared at him, watery brown eyes narrowing dangerously.
Bird's face changed and he sighed, waved Cary over. Hesitant to put himself within striking distance, Cary hung back until Bird began to snivel his way towards inevitable rage. Cary relented and walked over. Bird gently rubbed Cary on the shoulder. His foster-father was at a loss for words, choked up. Were it not so early in the day, Cary would have just assumed the man was drunk, but some innate sense of Bird told him the opposite was true.
Somehow, for some reason, Bird is reasonably sober. And being nice to me.
Cary looked down at the carpet, the swirl of brown fibers capturing his mind and pushing almost everything else away. A very urgent part of him wanted to run. His inner voice strained to screech questions, errant thoughts, demands in his mind.
“I know we ain't always got along..” Bird began. He scooched down on the sofa and patted the cushion for Cary. Slowly, warily, Cary sat down next to Bird, but he did not look up.
“I know that damned-ass Melvin Mandy tried to mess you over today...” Bird struggled to find words. “Beverly Jenson called me. Said Mandy tried to make it out like you was some kinda weirdo, and well I know you ain't exactly normal, what with the talking to yerself and all, but you ain't some weirdo. That damned-ass is just angry cuz I got Merina in high school off him. And he's takin' it out on you.” Bird snarled these last words.
Cary gaped at the carpet.
Bird is defending ME?
It was enough to boggle Cary's mind entirely. He could never remember Bird having defended him before. Not to anyone, anywhere. Worse, it seemed Bird was convinced Cary was not some... weirdo.
Fag. Fag. Fag.
Instinctively Cary realized Mr. Clearing was exactly what Bird meant by “some weirdo.” He shivered, almost uncontrollably. I don't want to be “some weirdo.” Bird reached out again and patted Cary on the back. "Don't worry about Melvin Mandy anymore kid. I'll see to his damned-ass, sure as shootin', I swear I will!”
Bird snarled something else under his breath and proceeded to open up the bottle he had been hiding in his paper sack, dropped his head back, took a deep, long swig. Sighing in pleasure afterward, Bird wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Get about your chores then, kid. And don't worry about Melvin Mandy...” Bird mumbled just as he took another swig, Cary forgotten. “Merina....”
Cary knew Bird would only go downhill from there. He did his best to do his chores and stay clear of Bird. The strangle of emotions inside him was rough enough without further additions: Clearing to Lurlene and Principal Jenson, not mention Jonathan, which somehow kept melting into his dislike of Troy Smalls as though somehow they were two sides of the same thing, and finally his utter shock at Bird's sudden pseudo-parental concern. Ladened as it was with some expectation Cary be something other than "some weirdo.” And hearing the man whine for his lost wife...it was enough for Cary to almost pity Bird.
As he loaded dishes back into the cabinets after washing them, Cary determined at least one thing. He would not be “some weirdo.”
Does that mean I can go to Clearing's on Friday?
He dared to hope Bird's change would last. I'm still grounded after all. Clearing's promise of a computer of his own rumbled through Cary's mind and he knew regardless of anything else, he must go.
I'll sneak out if I have to, like Lana used to do.
It would be worth it to have a computer.
Lana had one, an old clunker she had gotten from Bird's sister before the crone had died two years before. But Lana kept in her room and even Bird didn't go in there. Cary had never been inside it without getting smacked.
When all his chores were done, Cary went to the bathroom and cleaned himself up, checked the mirror every few minutes to make sure his eyes were still blue. His hair was still a medium brown, hanging just above his ears. And his eyes were both still blue. His face still thin, angular and pale. Chores done, Cary went to the guest bedroom and climbed into the bed to sleep, his mind running circles around the gaggle of things which had happened to him over the day.