The next day Cary awoke before the Sun rose, an eagerness in his blood which had never been there before. He had to force himself to stop smiling and snickering long enough to eat two pieces of toast for breakfast before he headed off to school. Lana and Bird were both still asleep. At least he assumed Lana was, her door was as shut as it always was of late. Bird, however, snored away on the living room sofa, a spilled can of beer on the carpet below the coffee table. Cary picked up the can, set it back on the coffee table and sopped up the beer before he left for school. It wasn't until he was halfway to school he remembered something which cut the knees from under his joy.
I broke the bathroom window at Clearing's! How the hell did I do that? I'm not strong enough to break a window!
The whole scene flooded back to him, not just that he had broken the window, but he had left it that way. Had not made a point of telling Clearing about it. And as he walked, he knew he would not tell Clearing. It was as if in finding Bugs his friendship with the teacher now seemed awkward to Cary, improper. Still, he did feel bad about it. But there was no escaping the oddness of it, the fact he had been able to break the damned thing in the first place. Based on what he saw when Bugs tried it, he should not have able to open that window, much less with so much force the glass shattered.
It must have been stuck when she tried it. Nothing else makes sense!
The school suddenly loomed up from behind a last stand of thick pine trees which separated the neighborhoods around Happy Endings High from the school. The high chain link fence ran off into the distance. Cary saw groups of kids loitered around it, others moved steadily in towards the campus. Unlike most every other day of school, rather than being overwhelmed before the school day even began, Cary was calm.
The happy lasted until he had passed the great doors, his head swiveling this way and that as he looked for Bugs. Before he took two steps past the doors something pushed him hard from behind and he fell, sprawling, to the floor. He grunted more from shock than pain.
That didn't hurt at all, actually. Why didn't that hurt?
From the floor, Cary turned his head upward and to his dismay, saw Troy Smalls, Eric, Tommy, and Jonathan - along with another larger boy Cary didn't recognize. All five laughed, pointed at him and were red-faced with amusement, except Troy. His eyes bore a stinging maliciousness to them, a sparkle which did not trail down to his angular chin. He gazed down at Cary in a very disdainful manner, concentrating.
“We saw you this weekend, Ickie Queenie. Checking us out while were in our Speedos. Did you think you were just going to get away with because you had that old dyke with you?” Troy sneered and looked to the other four boys, who all nodded and gave Cary jeering, leering looks. “You see, ICKIE Queenie. Happy Endings is our school, our town, and we decided we don't want a fag here. Especially not a fag who can't stop looking at us. So, here's what you're going to do...”
At precisely this point, Bugs came through the doors, immediately swooped in on the torment. “Leave him ALONE!” she shouted and rushed over to kneel next to Cary. "Care? Are you OK?” She looked up and shot purest loathing at Troy, then his cronies, each in turn. Troy elbowed Jonathan and whispered something into the other boy's ear. Jonathan nodded, never taking his eyes off Cary. Cary made brief contact with his former friend's eyes and for a second thought he saw something there, something shiny and black. But he wasn't sure and it was gone quicker than even Cary's brief glance.
He realized where he had seen that look before. On Bird and Lana's faces.
What is Jonathan jealous about?
Cary started to say he was fine, but Jonathan moved speedily to grab at Bugs' shoulders. He jerked her away from Cary and shoved her backwards. Bugs put up a fight, but she was neither tall nor strong enough to give Jonathan any real struggle. The other boys laughed and made jokes about angry cats and ugly girls, only they didn't use the word “cats”. Bugs spluttered and cursed at Jonathan.
“I'm going to kill you, you know that, right, asshole?” she said. Cary wanted to laugh. Instead he wiped his hands on his shirt and tried to get to his feet. As soon as he lifted up to his knees though Troy pushed him back down.
"We're not done, Ickie Queenie.” Troy said, in a soft, gentle sotto voce near Cary's ear. Despite everything else the feel of the boy's breath against his ear sent a shiver of pleasure through Cary, which only served to confuse him further.
Cary didn't know exactly what made him think he could do what he did next. A sudden, urgent force rose up, bloomed under Cary's heart, and spread like spilled ink over blank paper until it suffused the whole of his body. This took only a split second. Troy had not even straightened up, he was still bent mid-shove. Cary's knees curled underneath himself and he threw his body upward at Troy, a spring released. His hands balled up into fists as he flew upward. He struck Troy directly in the chest. Both boys flew: Troy backwards, Cary forwards, until Troy's back slammed into the cinder-block wall of the main entrance. Tommy and one of the unknown large boys were knocked aside and to the floor by the force of Cary's sudden, utterly unexpected move.
Troy let out a “wuff” as all the air left his lungs. He sagged to the floor, his hands tapping at his chest and neck as he struggled to draw a breath which would not come. Cary had somehow landed evenly on his feet, thoroughly undamaged, though he shook slightly, breathed hard and heavy, panted.
Silence reigned in the entrance. No one spoke, the only thing heard amidst the silent crowd of onlooking kids was Troy's futile gasping. His cronies, back on their feet, started at Cary. Eric and Jonathan made it to Cary first. A ham-fisted hand landed on Cary's shoulder, grabbing, and he was jerked around. Somehow he moved into the motion and managed to grab hold of the boy's wrist. Cary twisted and with a strength as unbelievable to him as to everyone watching, Cary threw the larger boy across the hallway into the wall opposite Troy. The boy sank into a heap on the floor and was still, unconscious, his head slumped forward on his chest, body eerily stilled. Dozens of teenage gasps of shock tore at the silence. Jonathan froze, as did Tommy and the other large boy. Cary just stood there, staring around himself fiercely, a cornered animal. Bugs approached delicately, one arm raised, palm outward. Her eyes were wide, hesitant, soft with concern. Her face pleaded for him to stay calm. The force drained out of Cary, as if there were an outlet valve just under his rib-covered heart, and he felt his face redden with heat.
What have I done?
“What is going on here?” a familiar voice shouted. Principal Jenson pushed her way through the throng of students who surrounded the fracas. Cary had the momentary urge to run away and if cornered deny everything, but he was surrounded. He never thought to just use his strange new strength to force his way out, had yet to understand he even had a strange new strength.
Bugs looked at him with a mingled expression of confusion and, oddly to Cary at least, respect. Everyone else looked utterly perplexed, as though they could not believe what they had just seen. They shied away from Cary as though he were leprous.
“Can you believe that?”
'He THREW Jeremy!”
“I think he actually FLEW at Troy!”
“He must be like a fucking Karate Kid or something.”
These comments came to Cary's ear but there was a roaring sound as well. An impending doom noise which made all the commentary insignificant. He bowed his head and stared at the floor. Waited for Principal Jenson to apprehend him and issue whatever punishment would surely be meted out.
“Move!” Jenson barked, pushing at students. “Aside, Harkey! Get to class Miss James. Lewis, Parkinson if I have to put you two in detention for a month I will!”
The crowd broke up, faster than Cary would have thought it could, like smokey cold under a new spring Sun. Bugs alone stayed next to Cary and though he resolute stared at the floor and could not see her face, an expression of clenched-jaw commitment covered her features. Troy had finally made it back to his feet and though he had mostly caught his breath, still clutched at his chest. His friends circled around him solicitously, as had some frosty-haired girl Cary had seen but did not know. Troy gave Cary the most hate-filled look, from between his friend's shoulders, Cary had ever seen, one Bird or Lana would have been hard-pressed to match. Those surrounding him flashed similar looks at Cary as they fawned over Troy.
Finally Jenson made it through and looked around, her red hair bobbing as she tried to make sense of what was going on. Her eyes settled with suspicion on Troy and his group, studied Cary and Bugs with obvious bewilderment.
“Ha..Carver? Miss Edgecombe? What is going on here?” Jenson asked. Before either could answer, the frosty-haired girl fawning on Troy moved over and spoke.
“He ATTACKED Troy, Miss Jenson and now Troy is HURT and can't breath right and he's got a swim meet next weekend!” the girl wailed in a nasal whine. Jenson blinked at the girl and pushed her glasses up her nose.
“That seems highly unlikely, Miss Jackson.” Jenson said cautiously. But she definitely gave Cary a more considering look. She faced Cary directly.
“Well, Carver? Is this true? Have you been fighting?” Jenson asked.
Cary gulped hard but Bugs spoke before he could even form thoughts. "He was on the ground Principal, all those boys were around him, laughing and threatening him! And NONE of those idiots helped, what was he supposed to do?”
Cary winced. He hadn't planned to say anything, but Bugs had said too much. Cary raised his eyes up, without looking at Jenson, who nodded at him.
“Come with me Carver. You too, Smalls. Miss Edgecombe, you and everyone else here have EXACTLY one minute to get to class or I'm sending the bunch of you to detention with Coach Mandy! Now MOVE!”
The last few stragglers hustled off rapidly, including the frosty-haired girl Miss Jackson and the rest of Troy's cronies. Jonathan was gone first, head held steady, not looking back like the others. They all gave Cary looks which promised retaliation. Cary sighed, refused to look at Troy, who still breathed with effort, clutching at his chest. Bugs did not move.
“Miss Edgecombe, I. Will. Not. Tell. You. Again...” Jenson said. Cary felt a hot rush of pride as Bugs defied the Principal on his behalf, that she cared enough to stand with him, regardless of consequence.
A real friend.
“It's OK, B. I'll be fine.” Cary mumbled, looking up to meet her eyes. “Don't get into trouble over me.” Bugs looked quite unsure, but after a searching look into Cary's eyes she left, glared at Troy the whole while with unclouded, plain menace.
“Alright then you two. My office. Now.”
Inside Miss Jenson's office, Troy and Cary were told to sit on separate sofas while Miss Jenson sat at a desk before them, pretended to shuffle papers and folders. The office was empty of people otherwise. After a minute or two of this Jenson sighed and banged a fat sheaf of folders bottom down against the desktop, straightening them. “Fighting.” she growled. “In my school.”
“I should expel you both.” Troy started to protest, but Jenson's eyes landed on him and they were fiery. His mouth snapped shut. “Good boy. Don't think for a second I'm fooled Mr. Smalls.” She smoothed her hair. “Ha..Carver doesn't start fights. And perhaps you should take this as a lesson about life, that starting a fight does not necessarily mean it will finish in the manner which you expect.”
She smoothed her hair again, as though nervous, fiddled with her voluminous blouse, straightened its flappy collar. “And you Carver ... surely this is not the first time someone has baited you? Threatened you? Will you get violent every time simply because you can? Because you are strong?” She said the word strong as though she didn't quite believe it was the truth. Shook her head. "I expect better of you.”
Cary felt both amazingly angry and guilty, both at once. He wanted to shake Jenson, tumble some sense into her; tell her a month's worth of stories about what it was like to be him and see if she still felt this way. She was all but implying he was a bully, for fighting back against a bully. Worse she seemed to understand Troy was indeed a bully.
She needs to spend a weekend with Bird on a bender and Lana on a tear about the “Divine.”
Surprised by his own anger, Cary started to speak, but Jenson growled wordlessly and his mouth snapped shut. Her red hair bobbled, chest heaved, as she looked from Cary to Troy and back again. “I see no other choice but to force the two of you to get along. So here's what you two are going to do.”
She paused and glared at the for a moment longer. “The school needs a new computer lab. We don't have enough money, so I want the two of you to plan a fundraiser and if you don't find a way to work together to make it happen, I'm going to expel you both. And don't bother with excuses about swim team, Mr. Smalls and nothing out of you either Mr. Carver. My mind is quite made up. Now. Go to class. I'll be checking in on you both in a few days to see what you've come up with. And NO MORE FIGHTING!”
She waved them towards the door and immediately ignored them for papers on her desk. Cary and Troy had near identical open-mouthed expressions of shock across their faces. “GO!” Jenson barked and both boys high-tailed it out of the Principal's Office into the empty hallway outside. For a moment neither boy said much of anything or looked at one another. Troy broke the silence. “This is your fault Ickie Queenie.” But the other boy backed up as he spoke. Sudden understanding that Troy was somewhat afraid of him dawned upon Cary. He smiled meanly and raised his fists in what he wanted to be a threatening gesture. The gestured hovered between the two boys, comically, though neither boy laughed.
“You're a fucking freak.” Troy said. “And a fag, I don't care what kind of karate you know, this isn't over. So you better come up with something good to keep Jenson off our backs, or else.”
Cary's new found confidence raged. “Or else WHAT exactly?” He said, lowered his voice and tried again to be threatening, impressive, like a rogue cop in a movie, the effect spoiled when Cary's voice rose an octave on the word “what.” Troy blinked and moved back another step, despite hearing Cary's voice break.
“You can't be everywhere, Icarus Carver, and if I can't get at you, I'll get at your friend Edgecombe and your stupid sister. Don't think I won't.” Troy said. Cary wanted to laugh at the thought of someone trying to hurt Lana to get at him. He wanted to tell Troy to “go for it,” but the other part of what Troy said reverberated through his mind.
Bugs. Troy just threatened Bugs!
“You touch her and you'll see what I can do..” Cary said, but his reedy voice couldn't sustain the threat. Troy pushed his chest out and moved at Cary. Cary squealed and fell backwards. Troy laughed maliciously. “You're nothing Ickie Queenie and it's pathetic watching you try. Now take care of this fundraiser or else.” Troy turned away and sauntered towards his first hour class, still rubbing his chest. Cary stood still, befuddled.
What am I going to do now?
The hallway was empty still. Cary turned to face the row of lockers lining the wall and out of desperation, anger, and curiosity wrapped his hand around a thick padlock. In one swift, but unsure motion, Cary squeezed the padlock and jerked downward. With barely a twinge of resistance the lock snapped opened and the metal shattered in his grip. But he did not let up, he kept squeezing and the metal in his hand crumpled into a lump of warm fragments. Shocked, Cary stared at the lock in his hands.
The door to the Principal's Office opened a moment later and Jenson stuck her red-domed head out, peered up and down the hallway. She smoothed her hair before she spoke.
“What was that noise, Ha..Carver?” Jenson asked. “Didn't I tell you to go to class?”
Stunned, Cary shifted his hand with the lock into his pocket. “I tripped and fell against the lockers.” Cary lied. Jenson studied him for a moment and said, “Get to class then Carver.” She paused and a look of sadness on her face. “And I'm sorry about... everything.” She ducked back inside her door without another word, shut it with a boom which echoed through the empty hallway.
Cary trotted nervously down the hallway to the boy's bathroom, went inside and threw the lock away, burying it in the trash under a mound of used toilet paper. He splashed water on his face and considered his reflection.
What am I? What is happening to me?
Uncalled, an picture burst into his mind, a shining black tablet and the image of a book with lightning letters, his own face reflected in the glassy surface making a wish...
The Book of Fates.