Frank's mom invites their new neighbour round.
I fiddle with a loose thread on my left fingerless glove, trying to decide if I should go to Mr Way’s classroom or if I should just make a run for it. I decide that things will probably be worse for me if I don’t show up, so I sigh heavily and drag my converse clad feet in the direction of the English corridor. I knock quietly on his door, hoping that he’ll maybe have forgotten and gone out somewhere but of course he hasn’t. The door flies open and he looks down at me (which isn’t exactly hard since I’m smaller than about seventy-six percent of the school) and a small smile plays on his lips.
“Come in, Frank,” he invites, pleasantly enough.
I don’t return his smile as I shuffle into his room. I stand awkwardly and chew on my fingernails as I wait for him to tell me what to do.
He closes the door and turns to face me. I avoid making eye contact with him and instead I practically burn a hole in the toes of my trainers with my gaze.
“So, Frank,” he says, “How was your first day back?”
I look up at him. He’s sitting on one of the desks with his legs crossed and a pleasant smile on his face. I consider for a minute before answering.
“It was alright, I guess,” I mumble and he nods, satisfied.
“Good, good. Now, I’d like you to clean all the writing off of the whiteboard.” He stands and presses a few paper towels into my hand and gently pushes me in the direction of the board. I nod quietly and start to remove the various notes (and the occasional stick man) that has been put there for the benefit of the first year class. I’m wiping away the third doodle that I’ve come across amongst the words when I can feel something warm against the back of my neck. I freeze it’s gone.
“Something wrong, Frank?” Mr Way asks curiously, but I can hear the smirk in his voice.
“You were breathing on me,” I accuse, turning round to face him and narrowing my eyes. He smirks.
“Sorry, I won’t do it again,” he raises his hands in surrender and I turn back to the board, wiping the rest clean. I drop the paper towels into the bin when I’ve finished and look at him again, praying that I can leave now.
“Okay, now you can do the hoovering,” he smiles, gesturing to the vacuum cleaner that sits in the corner. I frown but nod, making my way over to the corner and plugging the vacuum in. I turn it on and start cleaning, going over the carpets as quickly as I can, desperate to get out of here and back home. Suddenly two strong arms wrap around my waist and I jump, tripping over the vacuum cord and stumbling. Mr Way’s grip keeps me standing though and he quickly pulls me closer to him. My heartbeat increases rapidly and I struggle against his arms.
“What’s wrong, Frank?” he breathes in my ear and I whimper.
“Let go of me!” I squeak and he complies. I turn the vacuum cleaner off and turn to face him. He has his arms folded and one eyebrow raised.
“Is there a problem?”
“Don’t do that!” I try to sound confident and pissed off but my voice comes out hoarse. I go red and look down at my trainers, not risking meeting my teacher’s cold green eyes. Something warm and soft caresses my cheek and I shiver, my heart drumming a tattoo inside my chest. The hand feels so familiar and my thoughts go rushing back to that day from six years ago immediately. I can feel thin fingers touching me all over, up underneath my shirt and down my underwear, the small of my back and tangled in my hair; the same fingers that are now stroking the side of my face.
I jerk away from his touch, tears rising in my eyes. I look up at him and for once the cruel smirk has left his face and he looks genuinely concerned.
“Frank? What’s wrong?” he asks, and when I don’t answer he mumbles, “Sorry. I’ll stop touching you if you don’t want me to.”
His hand drops from my face and back down to his sides but I can’t stop a tear from running down my cheek and he sighs.
“You know,” he says, “If there’s something you want to talk about, I am here to help. I’m not some kind of monster!” he chuckles, but there’s still concern clouding his usually cold eyes.
Oh Mr Way, you are such a liar.
“No, I’m fine,” I mumble, not looking him in the eye. He looks at me closer, scanning my features right from my short messy brown hair down to the shiny ring threaded through my trembling lower lip.
“Well I know you’re not, but if you’d rather not talk about it that’s fine,” he shrugs, giving up, “You can go now if you want, I’ll finish cleaning up here myself.”
I nod gratefully and bolt out of the door before he can say another word.
When I reach the bridge I realise something; Mr Way doesn’t recognize me. He doesn’t know that I’m the very same boy that he sexually abused six years ago. He doesn’t know that just by stroking my cheek he brought back so many bad memories. He doesn’t know... But I do. And I’m not sure if I’m going to manage having him for my English teacher for my final two years of high school. I stop halfway across the bridge, leaning over the edge and watching the water ripple below me. I could always ask to change classes so that I don’t have to see him every day, or I could just drop English altogether but somehow I don’t think I’d be able to do either. The timetables are all very strict so I doubt they’d be able to kick me out of my class just like that. I sigh, realising that I’ll probably just have to face Mr Way every day and I slam my fist against the barrier. My life’s just so fucking perfect, isn’t it?
I turn away from the side of the bridge and continue walking, turning the corner and passing the familiar setting of sandstone houses and well kept gardens. A group of little children run around the street, enjoying the good weather while it lasts, without a care in the world. I pass them, feeling a stab of envy somewhere inside of myself, wishing that I could be like that again, instead of the moody introverted teenager with no hope for the future that I’ve become. Oh, and instead of having to bear the memories of being raped just after my tenth birthday. I turn onto the street where me and my mom live and sigh happily, but the happiness is cut short when I spot three familiar figures walking in my direction. I’m not sure if they’ve noticed me or not so I pull my hood up, praying that they’ll just walk past. Just when I think that I’ve gone unnoticed they shout at me.
I tell myself that they might not even be talking to me and I keep walking although my pace does increase dramatically.
“Oi! Emo fag! Don’t fucking walk away from us!”
I start running then, praying that I’ll reach mom’s flat before they can catch up with me, but apparently years of skipping p.e. class takes a toll on my abilities and within half a minute I’m gasping for breath and even keeping myself upright is a challenge as I try in vain to keep running. I glance over my shoulder and they’re barely five metres behind me, sneers distorting their faces as they laugh at my attempts to get away. They know they’ll always win; they know they can always beat me; they know they’re better than me. They know they’ve made my life a living hell for the last few years and they take pride in that fact.
Who can blame them?
Suddenly two pairs of hands are tightly holding onto either of my arms, restraining me from moving anywhere. I look up into the sneering faces of Luke and Kier and shiver, biting down on my lip hard. Someone laughs coldly behind me.
“Well, well, it’s little Franklin!” Laurence says, “Where’ve you been the last few weeks Iero? We’ve not hung out in ages!”
Yeah. Hang out, right.
I don’t answer. He walks past Luke and comes into sight, turning to face me. He shakes his black hair out of his eyes dark eyes and smirks at me.
”Well?” he raises an eyebrow expectantly.
“I was at my dad’s,” I reply, my voice barely audible. Laurence hears me though.
“Well,” he says, “We have so much to catch up on!” he grins at me before raising his fist and hitting me square in the face. I stagger backwards but don’t fall because Luke and Kier still have my arms, and Laurence laughs before striking me again. Warm blood runs down onto my lips from my nose and my eyes water at the stinging sensation. When I stumble this time the two holding me let go of my arms, causing me to fall right on my ass (probably landing on some chewing gum or something disgusting like that). Three Doc Marten clad feet collide with my ribs, knocking the wind out of me. I splutter and they laugh their cold laughs. Luke grabs a hand full of my hair and forcefully pulls me to my feet. I yelp as several locks fall out into his fist and a few more tears run down my cheeks as they continue to throw punches all over me. Eventually they seem to have gotten bored so Laurence pulls over a trash can from Mrs. Jackson’s driveway, tips the contents all over me and walks away dragging Luke and Kier with him, leaving me lying on the pavement bleeding and covered in old takeaway cartons.
I jump upon hearing my name and look around frantically, hoping that it’s not Laurence and his cronies again, but when I find the source of the voice I’m met with Mr Way. I yelp, staggering to my feet and almost falling over again when pain shoots through my system. Way grabs my arm to steady me and once I can stand properly he drops his arm back to his side.
“Frank, what happened?” he asks, sounding concerned.
“Nothin’,” I shrug although it’s quite obvious that something happened because what normal person goes around covered in mouldy banana peels and actually enjoys it?
Mind you, I’m not exactly what you would call a ‘normal person’.
“Who did this?” he says, waving his hand at the upturned rubbish bin. I look down at my feet, fiddling with my fingerless gloves.
“Umm, no one?”
Mr Way raises an eyebrow but doesn’t press the issue.
“Will you be okay to get home?” he asks me, “Because if you need a lift I can-”
“No!” I reply a little too quickly, “I mean, umm, I just live a few houses down anyway, I’ll be fine, honest!”
He smiles slightly, “Okay then, but you may want to get your ass home soon because some of the crap from that bin really reeks!” he chuckles before patting me on the shoulder and walking off up the street. For one crazy moment I think he’s going towards my house but just two houses away from mom’s flat he turns and walks up a driveway and unlocks the front door. Just as he’s opening it he notices me staring and smiles. I jump and start walking, quickly making my way to my own flat.
When I get into the flat I throw my bag down in the corner of my bedroom and flick on the CD player. I turn the volume up loud before going through to the bathroom and locking myself in. I peel off my filthy clothes, dumping them in the wash basket before climbing into the shower and turning it on full blast. The warm water washes over me, stinging slightly when it comes into contact with my bloodied nose and the bruises forming on my skin. I stand for a moment and part of me wishes I could just drown myself in the water so I don’t have to face Laurence and his friends or Mr Way ever again.
Through the mist and rushing water I can hear the familiar rhythms and bass lines and guitar chords of The Misfits and it soothes me slightly and I flick open the cap of my shower gel, singing along to Saturday Night under my breath as I wash the dirt from the filthy concrete and the memories of the beating out of my skin and down the plug hole.
After I’ve showered I go back into my bedroom and crash down on my bed. Fuck, I forgot how much of a challenge school was. I let my guard down during the holidays while I was in Newark and I need to rebuild my wall. I shut my eyes and press my thumb and middle finger around the bridge of my nose and sigh, trying to concentrate on the music, letting it fill my system and clear my head. My breathing relaxes slightly and I smile, mumbling the words to Descending Angel. Down the hall the front door clicks and my mom opens my bedroom door.
“Hey Frankie,” she smiles, turning the volume on my CD player down slightly so she can talk to me, “How was your first- Oh god!” her face falls.
“What? Mom, what’s up?”
“Honey, what happened to your face?!” she asks, sounding horrified. I turn and look into the mirror that’s hanging on the wall behind me and realise that my nose has swelled slightly and there’s a dark bruise underneath my left eye.
“Oh... Umm, it’s nothing, Mom,” I shrug.
“Darling, it’s not nothing! Your face is all swollen up! Look, let me get you some ice or-”
“No, honestly I’m fine!” I protest and she sighs.
“Alright love, whatever you say. Anyway, we got a new neighbour a couple of weeks ago while you were at your father’s house and he’s coming round for dinner tonight so you can get yourself right out of those tracksuits and into something presentable!”
“Hey! What’s wrong with my trackies?!” I demand before looking down and realising that they’re covered in food stains and tears and I think there’s even a blood stain or two in the mix. “Yeah, you’re right, Mom!” I chuckle, “Okay, I’ll go change.”
She smiles at me and leaves the room while I dig around in my drawers, pulling out some red skinny jeans (can’t take any chances – even my neighbours could be against me), a black t-shirt and a stripy hoodie. When I’m dragging a comb through my hair the doorbell rings and my mom calls through to me from the kitchen, “Frank, could you get the door?”
Wondering what the neighbour will be like and if they’ll get on with my mom like most of them or if they’ll be a dick like Mrs Milligan, I open the door and when I see who’s on the doorstep I get the shock of my life.
“Hey there, Frank!” Mr Way says cheerfully, running a hand through his greasy black hair, “Your mom’s in, yeah?”
I’m frozen in shock. I had known that he lived a few doors down but how could my mom invite him round? He just screams evil! I mean just look at the way he hasn’t tucked his shirt in to his tight jeans? I seriously hope mom berates him about it. And threatens him with her wooden spoon (believe me when I tell you how terrifying that is).
“Frank? Is your mom in?”
Finally mom decides to leave the kitchen and she gently shoves me out of the way.
“Hi Gerard!” she beams, “I’m glad you could come! Right this way, make yourself at home! I trust you know Frank from school?”
“Yup,” he smiles as he passes me, meeting my eyes only for a second before he turns and continues through into the living room. My mom follows him, pausing in the doorway.
“Frank? Aren’t you coming?”
“Uh... I have homework?” I excuse myself lamely, ducking into my bedroom before she can say anything.
I turn the volume on my CD player up louder, not caring that it’s probably going to wake the little kid upstairs and annoy the shit out of the couple below us because right now I’m too pissed off to care. Mr Way; my rapist and now fucking English teacher; is currently sitting in my goddamned living room, chatting to my mom and acting like he’s just a pleasant young man who recently moved here. I consider calling my dad and begging him to let me stay with him in Newark for a while but then I remember that I hate him and sigh, sitting down on my bed and staring up at the ceiling, wishing that there was an easy answer to all of my problems. My mom is talking to my English teacher, blissfully oblivious to the fact that he sexually abused me when I was ten years old, my dad doesn’t give a shit about me anymore and Patrick just wouldn’t understand. I pick at my brown hair furiously, hating that my life is so messed up and there’s no one there to help.
“Frank!” my mom shouts, dragging me out of my thoughts. She pokes her head round my bedroom door, “Frank, I’ve been calling you for dinner for five minutes now!”
“Sorry, didn’t hear you,” I shrug and she narrows her eyes.
“You would if you didn’t have your damn music up so loud,” she leans over to the CD player and flicks it off completely, “Now come on, stop being antisocial and come and talk to Ger- Mr Way!”
I sigh heavily, dragging myself off the bed with an overly dramatic effort, following her through into the living room where a pizza is sitting on a plate in the middle of the coffee table. I grab a piece and make to go back to my room but mom closes the door and raises an eyebrow.
“Sit down, Frank,” she instructs so I sit on the seat in the corner, tucking my legs underneath myself and looking out of the window. Mom and Gerard try to make conversation with me but I don’t even bother answering most of the time, and when I do I’m monosyllabic. I didn’t ask to be here, let alone answer questions about my summer and my grades and friends (or lack of) and films and other pointless stuff like that.
“So, that was The Misfits you were listening to, if I’m not mistaken?” Mr Way asks suddenly and I look up. I hadn’t expected him to have such a good taste in music. I nod once before looking back out the window again. “Famous Monsters, right?” he presses, “I love that album.”
I turn round again, “If you’re trying to get conversation out of me you’re not going to get very far,” I mumble, and focus my attention back on the blackbird sitting on the fence down on the ground. Behind me my mom sighs.
“Frank, don’t be rude. Turn round and speak to Mr Way properly!”
“You can call me Gerard if you like, when we’re not in school and stuff,” Way offers, smiling at me slightly.
I turn round and eat my pizza silently, looking from mom to Way and back to mom.
“So,” says mom after a very awkward silence, “Where did you live last, Gerard?”
“New York,” he replies.
“Ah, very nice! And why did you move here then? I’m not going to lie; Belleville isn’t exactly the nicest place around!”
“Just needed a change,” he shrugs, “And I... Umm... May have lost my job,” he adds quietly. My mom looks at him quizzically and he looks uncomfortable, his eyes shifting from side to side.
“Umm... A student, umm, said that I... I did some... Things,” he murmurs, ashen faced and immediately I feel for whoever he touched.
“Oh? What kind of things?” Mom asks, oblivious as ever.
“He accused me of rape,” he breathes, “But of course I got cleared of charges – The incident never took place!”
Mom immediately buys this crap and relaxes. “Ah well, some kids are like that,” she shrugs, “I’m sure you’ll like Jersey very much!”
Gerard’s eyes flicker in my direction. “Yes, I’m sure I will.”
When my mom goes to make another coffee, Way turns his attentions to me.
“So, Frank,” he says, “Fancy a chat? Tell me what happened to you earlier when you got covered in shit from a trash can? Why you got upset after class? You know you can trust me with anything!”
“No, I can’t,” I mumble, “And you know why I got upset after class.”
“I’m quite sure I don’t.”
“You did rape that kid back in New York, didn’t you?!” I accuse, narrowing my eyes at him.
“I did no such thing! What kind of person do you take me for, kid?” he gets all defensive, folding his arms.
“A dirty child molester,” I mutter, not expecting him to hear me.
“Okay Frank, you listen here and listen good,” he says, going in to strict teacher mode, “I did not rape any student at the last school I taught at. We never got past kissing, so you just stop-”
“You were kissing a student!” I gasp, “You were trying it on! That’s what you were doing to me after class... Holy shit, haven’t you done enough to me already?!” my voice rises along with his eyes.
“No! No! Frank, you’ve got it all wrong, I-”
“You were trying to get me to... Oh my god,” I hug my knees to my chest, shaking horribly. Images of that day six years ago flash through my head, and I can almost feel his lips on my own, his breath on my skin, his hands-
“Frank? Frank! Why are you crying?” he stands up and reaches a hand out but I shy away from him.
“Get away from me!” I sob and he complies, pulling his hand back by his side.
“Frank,” says my mom sternly, “What are you- Oh god, Frank, what’s wrong now?”
I point up at Way, still trembling and practically blinded with tears. My mom sighs heavily.
“Frank, stop being silly!”
I stand up. “I’m not-” I pause and hiccup, “-being silly! You don’t understand! He’s a fucking rapist, but you wouldn’t know, would you!?”
I sob loudly, and march straight out of the room leaving my mom looking tired and Mr Way extremely confused.
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