"Do you know what we do to fags around here, Frank?" he asks me and I shake my head. His lip curls upwards and he flips his hair out of his cold eyes. "We kill 'em."
As I lie in bed gazing up at the ceiling my mind wanders back to the conversation Mr Way and I had after school.
“Don’t end up doing something stupid like I did.”
I wonder what he meant by that. What did he do?
Maybe he murdered someone?
No, he wouldn’t be allowed to teach if he had.
Maybe he got put in jail?
Or maybe he raped someone and got away with it... Me?
I wonder if he raped people other than me, because he clearly doesn’t recognise me. Maybe he was remembering another child? Maybe there’s a whole line of children who he sexually abused?
But then, wouldn’t he have been caught? Surely someone would have told their parents?
Unless they’re all like me; too ashamed to admit to what had happened, which is understandable, I guess.
I make a mental note to find out just what Mr Way did, although I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to do such without at least having civilised conversation with him. This could be hard considering I’m socially awkward and, of course, he raped me. I know he’s tried his hardest to talk to me, and really, I was just non co-operative, but not without reason, I guess.
I shut my eyes tightly, wishing things were less confusing.
This doesn’t answer anything.
Right, that’s it. I’m going to speak to Mr Way.
No, I can’t. What if I let something slip?
No, I can; I just have to keep my guard up.
But what if-?
“Shut the fuck up, brain!” I tell myself out loud, not meaning to speak quite so loudly.
“Mind your language, Frank!” Mom warns, calling through from the kitchen, so I shut my mouth, silently damning myself to hell.
I guess I’ll just take it as it comes.
When I arrive at school the next day (with a ton of my mom’s foundation slapped on my wrist in an orangey blob as a cover up) I glance at my timetable and smile. I have English last period. For once I’m actually hoping that Mr Way will ask me to stay behind, because today I have some serious shit to find out about him. I’m not going to lie and say I’m not nervou about the prospect of talking to him, because I’m positively shitting myself about it, but I guess it’s worth a shot.
I have music during second last period, and Mr Davidson’s off again today, so Patrick comes and sits with me like he did yesterday.
“Feeling any better today?” he asks me quietly.
I look up from the tuning pegs of my guitar that I’m fiddling with and meet his eyes shiny green eyes. He sits his acoustic down on the floor, folding one leg over the other and watching me intently.
“Umm... Yeah, I guess,” I try for a weak smile, and apparently Patrick is satisfied with this answer because he grins at me.
“Okay. Well, I’d better get on with some of my music, or Miss Blandford’ll murder me,” he chuckles, flipping through his folder until he finds the chord sheet he’s working from. He begins softly strumming away at the acoustic, and I know it won’t be long till he’s away off in his own little world. I take a moment to appreciate the warm chords that are filling the room, before I turn back to my own sheet music and put my headphones on, turning the amplifier up loud.
As my fingers dance over the fret board easily I think to myself; Am I feeling any better today?
I don’t know, to be quite honest.
I mean, I haven’t been okay for the past six years, never one hundred percent. The past couple of days haven’t been the best, what with Mr Way suddenly re-entering my life (not that he ever leaved, not really, not mentally). Is anything better today?
Well, I’m still fucking terrified of Way, I have achieved a total of nothing since yesterday, I’m still a loser, I still have a ton of cuts criss-crossing my forearms, I’m still set on a train to no-where in life...
I guess I haven’t cut in a while. Although I guess that’s because I’ve had other things occupying my mind 24/7.
That’s only one thing though.
Am I better than I was yesterday?
I have no idea.
When the end credits start running, Mr Way stops the DVD and stands in front of the class.
“Right then, tomorrow I’ll get you started writing a review of the movie,” he begins, “But it looks like we don’t have much time left today, so you can just talk amongst yourselves.”
The class – who have decided that Way is an amazing teacher over the past couple of days – immediately erupts in animated chatter. Meanwhile I remain silent; not even looking up till Patrick sharply prods me in the shoulder.
“... You’re sure you’re fine?”
“Yeah, Patrick, I’m fine, stop checking up on me!” I reply, a little too sharply. He frowns, looking away from me.
“Fine, I’ll stop trying to be a good friend, then!” he huffs, turning away and folding his arms. I sigh heavily.
He doesn’t say anything. I look away again, holding my head in my hands, and glare at the graffiti on my desk. He starts talking to the boy sitting on the other side of him, leaving me to glance up at the clock and will for the bell to hurry up and sound.
When school finally finishes for the day, I’m out of the class in a heartbeat. Patrick’s walking on in front with the boy he was talking to in English – I think his name was Adam, or something – and is now apparently ignoring my complete existence, because he doesn’t even look at me when he passes me, just continues to chatter away to Adam.
It’s not until I’m halfway down the corridor that I realise I never spoke to Mr Way today, at all.
The very day that I actually want to talk to him, and he doesn’t ask me to stay behind!
I guess I could go back, maybe tell him that I want to speak to him about something, and ask him some questions while I’m there? No, because I don’t have anything personal I want to speak about. Not to him, anyway.
Or I could-
What else could I do?
I could tell him something about something, I guess. Just avoid the details, sort of skirt the main issue and get right onto the dirt about him? I guess it could be worth a shot...
I don’t know whether or not to go and see Way, or to continue down the hallway and out of school, so I just stand for a minute trying to make up my mind.
Okay, I’m leaving now. I take one step forward, before stopping again.
No, I’m going to see Way.
I can’t though.
I tell my brain cells to shut the fuck up, pinching the bridge of my nose and sighing.
I guess it’s now or never.
I knock tentatively on Mr Way’s classroom door, chewing my lip. Maybe this is a horribly bad idea?
“Come in,” he calls cheerfully, and I slide open the door, looking at my converse.
“Frank?” Mr Way asks, sounding confused, “I didn’t ask to speak to you...”
“I know sir,” I reply, still nibbling on the ring threaded round my lower lip, “But I wanted to speak to you.”
I glance up at him, and he’s smiling warmly at me. “Well then shut the door and come and take a seat!”
I do as he says, sitting on the chair closest to his desk, but moving it back slightly. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to be comfortable around this guy.
“So, what is it that you wanted to talk about?”
I don’t say anything for a moment. What do I want to talk about? I really should have considered this before I came here.
I could tell him about my arm, seeing as he knows already. Or I could tell him about my dad. Or I could tell him about Laurence, Luke and Kier...
I don’t know.
“Frank?” he prompts.
I look up too quickly, hurting my neck, and mumble, “Uh, I, uh- You know how, I- Uh, got chucked into a bin the other day?”
“Yes, I remember,” Mr Way nods, “You want to tell me what exactly happened?”
“Umm... I was walking home, and, umm, yeah, beaten up,” I shrug, avoiding his intent gaze.
I take a moment to congratulate myself on having not freaked out yet; normally I would have broken down at even thinking about a beating, let alone telling a teacher about it.
And Mr Way isn’t just a teacher either.
A rush of pride fleets around my body, and the ghost of a smile dances across my lips, but fades almost immediately.
“I’d gathered that much myself,” he nods, “So...?”
I look up, giving him a questioning look.
“Any idea why it happened?” he presses.
“Well yeah,” I nod, slightly more confident now, “I’m just the emo fag, ain’t I? It’s like the law that I get beaten up or something?”
“Frank,” Mr Way leans over his desk slightly, and upon instinct I automatically move further away from him in my chair. He gives me an apologetic look before continuing, “Nobody needs to get beaten up.”
“How would you know?” I ask, frowning; he’s not the one who’s currently being dragged through the hell that is high school, how on earth can he just assume that I don’t deserve every single hit thrown at me.
“Do you remember what I told you yesterday, Frank?” he asks me, “We’re more similar than you think.”
I glance down at the cuff of my hoodie that’s covering my foundation-slapped wrist, and when I look back up at him, he’s looking down at his wrist too. He looks up, catches my eye and smiles weakly, his eyes losing their sarcastic sparkle and just looking dead. He turns his arms back over, folding them in on each other, and then he looks at me.
“Yeah,” I nod slowly.
“And if we understand each other,” he says, “Then we’ll get on better. Right then, do you understand that nobody deserves to be beaten, stepped on, or dragged down with words, no matter if they’re a so-called ‘emo-fag’ or not?”
I nod again.
“I do understand, Frank. I went to high school too, you know? And I’m only twenty seven, so really, it wasn’t that long ago. See, I was sort of like you; just a bit different from the rest of the guys...”
His eyes are distant and vacant; the shiny green orbs that usually dominate are gone, and instead they seem almost like black pits that you could fall into, exposing every little sick, sad detail of his past.
I look away from his eyes sharply, not wanting to fall into his secrets because I’m too scared of what I might find.
“... And, and things happened to me too. I was the ‘emo-fag’ who ‘deserved to be beaten’. Most days I didn’t feel like going to school at all, I was so sick of everything; I just wanted to stay in my room and work out how to get revenge. My parents made sure that I left the house every single morning though, so I came, I endured everything, and I somehow survived another day...
“It got really bad at one point,” he continues, “When it reached the point that I was so used to being on the receiving end of threats and beatings. They never exaggerated their threats either; they would fulfil every single detail, no matter how horrible they may have been,” Way shuts his eyes tightly for a moment, as if he’s trying to block out all the memories. I know the feeling; I’ve tried so many times before.
It doesn’t work.
He opens his eyes again, and smiles weakly at me, “But then,” he says, “I spoke to one of my teachers about it, and it got better almost immediately. Do you get it now, Frank? I’m so much more like you than you first thought.”
“Um,” I don’t really know what to say, so I close my mouth again.
Mr Way sighs, slumping back in his seat and pinching the bridge of his nose, looking stressed. Then he sits up again and looks at me closely. “Sorry.”
“What for?” I ask, taken aback because I’m not quite sure what he’s done wrong here.
“Everything; complaining about shit that happened years ago, trying to get you to talk to me, just being a general screw up; everything!”
He throws a pile of papers off of his desk, looking furious. The sheets of paper fly skywards before softly falling to the floor. I look back up from them, and he’s sitting with his head in his hands, looking quite tortured.
Maybe things didn’t get better for him quite as much as he’d implied.
His shoulders tremble lightly, his dark hair shielding his pale face from view. I think he’s crying. I don’t know what to do; no one has ever told me how to act when your English teacher gets all emo, and you’re too scared to go near him because certain things happened when you were ten.
I can’t go near him, but I don’t really want to leave either.
“... Sir?” I ask cautiously, and he sniffs loudly, looking up. His eyes are slightly shiny, and look emptier than ever, but he smiles at me apologetically.
“Sorry, Frank,” he says, rubbing his eye carefully with the back of his hand. “Life’s just shit, s’all.”
I nod in agreement; well now there’s something we agree on.
“Sir?” I ask carefully, praying that he won’t freak out at the question, “Can I just ask you something?”
“Sure, fire away,” he nods, and he’s apparently composed himself again which certainly helps the situation for me.
“Um, yesterday you told me not to do something stupid like you did, or something?”
“... Yes, I did,” he confirms, looking at me curiously.
“Erm, I was just wondering what you meant by that?”
Mr Way frowns, his forehead creasing.
“I’m quite sure you don’t want to know,” he dismisses me.
“I do!” I insist, “Please!”
“I did some stupid shit when I was a teenager, Frank,” he sighs, shaking his head, “I can’t tell you, it’d kill me, you’d hate me... I can’t. But Frank, I will tell you this; when I first taught your class a few days ago, the minute I looked at you... I don’t know; I saw myself in you-”
I shiver, thinking of this in the way that he definitely didn’t mean. I don’t think I’m ever going to get even slightly over what happened.
“- and I wanted to help you. But I can’t tell you what I did. Not yet, anyway.”
“So you’ll tell me some other time,” I ask hopefully and he smiles, although it doesn’t quite meet his eyes.
I walk along the bridge, thinking about what he said to me.
I guess this means I’m going to have to talk to him a lot more, but hey – I don’t seem to be quite as nervous around him now. I mean, of course I’m still fucking terrified, and I jumped when he was only leaning over his desk a little, but I kept up a conversation.
Wow, it’s sad that I’m able to think of holding a conversation as an achievement.
But then again; most people don’t sit down with a rapist and have a nice little conversation about how generally shitty high school is.
Oh well, it’s an achievement none the less.
I jump down the steps on the other side of the bridge two at a time, my converse splashing a puddle around the ankles of my jeans, water seeping through. I smile, remembering the times when I used to end up soaked in water right up to my waist, just because I was jumping in puddles. It seems so long ago now that I’m quite surprised that I remember at all, but I remember nonetheless.
Patrick used to jump in the puddles too, but somehow he managed to keep his clothes bone dry. He never did teach me the art of it.
I can’t believe it’s been so long since I was so innocent and naive; when the slightest things like a sunny day or going to the park would seem like such important dates, things to be treasured. Then the harshness of reality came along, smacked me in the face, and left me standing on the sidewalk wondering what the fuck happened.
Mr Way is reality.
And then it just went downhill from there.
Where the hell did my childhood go, and why can’t I go back there and hide from the truth?
I’m dragged from my thoughts by a yell of, “Oi! Emo! Pay attention when I speak to you!”
I glance over my shoulder and sigh when I’m met with a sneering Laurence, Luke and Kier standing behind him as henchmen.
Just the people I wanted to see right now, I don’t think.
I raise an eyebrow, waiting for one of them to say something.
“Right emo, you’re too close to that teacher, Way,” Laurence accuses, jabbing me in the chest with his index finger. My jaw drops.
“No I’m not!” I deny, shocked that the idea of me having a student/teacher relationship with Way even crossed his mind.
“Well then why’ve you been going to his room after school every day?” he demands, glaring at me.
“Because he wanted to talk to me!”
“Yeah; and a lot more too! Trust me, Iero, I’ve heard things about that guy, and as much as I hate your guts, I don’t want him to, I dunno, butt-rape you or something! Teaching you a lesson is my job, so you just stay away from his room after school, okay?”
“He hasn’t done anything wrong!” I protest. “... Well, he did once, but that’s it!”
He’s touched you a lot more than once, Frank.
“He admits it!” Laurence yells victoriously, “So what did he do? Oh god, I’m going to get that filthy faggot in so much trouble!”
“He’s not a filthy faggot!”
“Stop sticking up for him, Iero! ... Unless... Oh my god! You’re one too; you actually like it when he feels you up... Ew!” he pulls a face. I’m not entirely sure if he’s messing around or being serious, so I say nothing. I feel my cheeks go slightly red, and wish I had enough confidence to just walk away from him.
I don’t though.
Laurence doubles over laughing, and Luke and Kier snigger stupidly from behind him. I roll my eyes, too proud to deny being gay, but not brave enough to confess. Instead I just shuffle away slowly, praying that he won’t try and stop me.
Of course he does.
“Iero! Did I say you could leave?” Laurence says sharply, and I jump, looking up and meeting his cold eyes. He smirks, “No, I didn’t think so.”
I chew on my lip ring, breaking the eye contact we’d been holding to look at my scuffed converse.
“Do you know what we do to fags around here, Frank?” he asks me and I shake my head, feeling my tooth pierce my lip. His lip curls upwards, and he flips his hair out of his cold eyes.
“We kill ‘em,” he breathes, just loud enough for me to hear.
I breathe in sharply, my eyes widening. “What?”
“You heard me, faggot. We. Kill. ‘Em,” he smirks, glancing over his shoulder at Luke and Kier, who step forward on command. I take a quick step backwards, then another, and then I turn and run, my bag flying out behind me.
It barely takes one street to completely exhaust me, and I feel myself gradually slowing down, but whenever I glance over my shoulder Laurence, Kier, and Luke are still keeping the pace. Increasing the pace, even! I swear loudly, and turn a corner, shoving someone’s trashcan over in an attempt to slow them down.
When I glance over my shoulder Luke and Kier are still shuffling round the bin, but I think Laurence jumped it or something, because he seems closer than ever.
“You’re dead, faggot! You can’t run!” he taunts, “You’re probably still sore from taking Mr Way’s dick up your ass!”
I stop running.
I’m not sore from taking Mr Way’s dick up my ass, not anymore anyway, but the scars are still there. Of course, Laurence doesn’t know these scars exist. I don’t think he really even thinks that his accusation is a little truthful, because he’s always been a major cunt.
But he has reawakened some of the pain that never really left, and suddenly it’s almost like I’ve gone back in time; right back to that day when I was ten.
I can barely feel Luke and Kier grabbing my arms and leading me back down the road. I can hardly hear Laurence laughing, telling me how he was always going to win, reminding me that I’m just an emo fag, and I’m the loser.
I can’t see where they’re taking me either, I just let them guide me because I’ve lost every basic function of my body. All I can feel is Way’s hands on me, all I can hear is my own choked whimpers of pain and distress, and all I can see is two dark eyes glinting in the half light of the alleyway as they steal my innocence away from me.
And then I’m winded as my middle hits something cold and metallic, bringing half of me back to my senses.
“You know what we do to fags ‘round here, Iero?” Laurence breathes smugly into my ear.
“You kill them,” I whisper back, still half caught up in my past.
“Well done, Franklin!” Laurence smiles, before nodding to Kier and Luke who hoist me into the air.
Wait, what? What’re they...
“Stop!” someone shouts, their voice filled with rage and horror.
What’s happening? What’s going on?!
I shut my eyes tightly, trying to come to my senses.
I open my eyes.
We’re on the bridge.
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