by Eliza West
Rated: 13+ · Chapter · Young Adult · #2279689
Estranged from his big brother, Darcy tries to deal with a drunken uncle and school.
|Soft rumbles echoed from the dark firmament as the shadows of the old oak clawed the windows. I perched on a stool at the kitchen counter with a single yellow light above. My fingers typed away an analysis of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It was the second week of school, a Monday night. I glanced at the baby grand in the corner of the large living room. Uncle Maurice had been at Hopleaf Bar since three. If I could finish before he got home I could polish off the evening with Pickwick Papers instead of chaos. As soon as I typed print and save, the front door banged against the wall. “Darcy!” Maurice hung his coat and headed toward the library. “Bring me my coffee and light the fire.”|
I shuddered at his reptilian voice. “Y-yes, sir.” I ran my hands through my hair. I gripped the counter with pale, clammy fingers. My heart raced like a rabbit. “Calm yourself, Fitz,” I ground out. I spooned instant coffee into a red mug. It tasted terrible, but his inebriated mind couldn’t tell the difference. I could’ve poisoned him at any time, and he wouldn’t have noticed. Yet escape wasn’t worth a murder charge when all I had to do was graduate and then study overseas in a few months. I shuffled towards the lamp-lit library, my socks shushing at the hardwood floor.
I placed the mug on the antique Napoleonic-era desk as Maurice studied cryptic files and reports. This was his routine most nights. For a while, I’d known he was involved in shady business, but I never bothered poking into it. His piercing cyan eyes would’ve made one think he was from frigid, blustery Uranus. No one dared cross him, and I wouldn’t start.
“Planning another trip?” I bit my cheek.
“One must not only maintain enterprises but make new ones, Darcy. To the true businessman, the world is not enough.”
“How was school?” He rose the mug to his lips, eyes plastered to the screen.
“Um, f-fine. Great.” I knelt to the fireplace, laying five cedar logs in the firebox.
“Did you still not make any friends yet?”
“Huh. Figures. You’re a little freak, a born sociopath.” He shook his head.
I snatched the box of matches from the shelf above and lit one, but the fire failed before it reached the wood. I tried a few more, but he grew impatient and thrust me back with a fist in my hair. He swung his arm, and I ducked kicking him aside. I tried to run, but he pulled me back and boxed my ears against the floor. The ringing muffled the shouts and obscenities that made me numb and my veins cold. I weakly staggered away he pulled me back again throwing me against the bookcase. Hardcovers pounded down on me. I wheezed as a cry got caught in my throat. I raced up; his fist greeted my face. I tasted iron wetness and sharp pain on my lips. Fighting back had saved my life or my skin many times, but other days it didn’t. I resorted to tucking into myself as his foot kicked at me like a battering ram. “Come on. Fight back. Why don’t you fight back! Be a man for once, you stupid pack of bones. You freak!”
He threw a Jack Daniels onto my skull.
“Ahhhhh!” A broken scream bounced against the walls as I rolled on my back. I squeezed my eyes shut, trembling, cold, salty tears damp on my face. I touched my head. Sticky, crimson-stained my fingertips. The thump of footsteps and a squeak echoed. Wood crackled. “Clean the mess. Then you may go.”
I slid the books back in place. I swept up the glass. I muttered as I hunted for the first aid kit and the box of red pepper cayenne powder under the sink. Adrenaline sent me sprinting up the wide marble stairs to my room. I transformed the bathroom into an operating theatre. I grabbed the thickest towel from the bathroom cabinet. I groaned as ripped my shirt off, balling it up and putting it in my mouth to bite on. I tore off the cap and plastic sifter and clenched my eyes shut. Raw screams ripped through my throat as I poured the scarlet powder on my head. It clotted the blood as quickly as possible and dulled the pain. There was no lidocaine this time, so medical emergency tactics from a lonely night on Google now came in handy. Tears hung off my nose. I was near hyperventilating. No, no, no. Pass out now, and you’re dead. I took a deep breath, poised the tweezers over my head to remove the glass, cut a bit of hair, and poured alcohol over the needle to sterilize it. I exhaled sharply. “Come on. You can do this.” I gazed at the needle.
Four-year-old Darcy watched as Ambrose, eleven years the elder, sterilized the sewing needle and put peach silk thread through the eye. The one-inch gash on his eyebrow stung as Ambrose rubbed lidocaine on it. “Ambrose, I don’t feel good.” “Shhh. Drink this. It’s for nausea.” Darcy knocked back the scarlet water like vodka. His mouth tingled from the spiciness. Ambrose sighed and kissed the crown of his head. “It won’t hurt, I promise. It’ll just feel weird.”
I blinked at my reflection and glanced at the old scar on my eyebrow then at the needle. I tilted the vanity mirror and sutured the laceration, stitch by stitch. I held on to the last tug and knot before I taped a wad of gauze to my head, threw up my lunch, and passed out on the cold, ceramic tiles.
“I love you. I’ll always be there for you, little brother. Always.”
My six o'clock alarm blared. I awoke with renewed nausea and expelled algae-coloured bile into the toilet again. My right ear felt partially blocked in addition to the persistent tinnitus. It would go away in a few days. My clothes stuck to my skin. A mess of cotton, bloodied instruments, and dried red spots littered the floor and sink. I pulled myself up to observe my handiwork in the mirror. Blood and tan puss encrusted my outer right ear. Maurice must’ve torn my eardrum. I cared for it immediately, washing it with a wet washcloth and inserting an orange silicone earplug. It somehow made the ringing more prominent, but I had no choice when I had to shower and deal with the school bell that rang five times a day, five days a week. At least I’d remove the moulded foam between bells. My eyes focused on my recent scar, the puckered garnet skin, the stained white thread amongst loose blonde curls. Snippets from last night’s fiasco flashed in and out of my mind, even as I disinfected the bathroom with paper towels and loads of rubbing alcohol before spraying lemongrass water to banish the stench. I took my shower from the neck down. Then came the old routine. I groaned as I massaged lavender oil on the livid bruises that mapped my tanned skin. The cheap Band-Aids marked the conquests of my uncle’s fists. I sighed. When school was out, I had more luck avoiding his wrath by being at the beach and out in the city, returning after he’d gone to sleep. Now, it started again. I brushed and took more cayenne. I slipped two Motrin in my palm in case my ear bothered me later that day. My head pressed against my eyes. I had two long-sleeved shirts. I couldn’t stomach red, though, so wheat would have to do, and one ratty pair of old hand-me-down jeans.
I sneaked onto the roof through the attic window. The waves of Michigan Lake oscillated to and fro, and shimmered in the sun. The orchestra of Chicago was playing its morning symphony: glissando sirens, honking horns, shouts of indignance. The fresh breeze after a thunderstorm lingered and cleared the cobwebs in my brain. Dawn’s masterpiece today was of lavender, orange, and gold. The sky looked like a sigh. “To be, or not to be. That is the question.” My mother’s Bible beheld the answer, but it didn’t make life easier. To live for God was one thing, but there was no one to love as myself. No one to care about. The only reason I kept going all these years was Ambrose. Although I still left him messages from time to time, we hadn’t spoken in seven years, not since Maurice had interfered and said something to make Ambrose cut me off from his life. But in ten months I’ll have graduated and flown to London. I would show up on his doorstep and make him tell me why. Ambrose was the only true family I had left. “Only 309 days to go, brother mine.” I sighed.
Maurice bellowed. I sighed a prayer and slunk back inside, taking my flat cap with me. We stopped at Starbucks for Maurice’s daily grind before heading to Derrick High. I observed the buildings and trees blur into brick-red and green as we drove in silence. In a moment of boredom, I scrolled the news on my phone, briefly catching the headlines.
New York fashion week coming up. Political campaigns boiling. More oil spills spark nature activists’ protests. Environmental research on the rise, funds lacking. Another animal rights lawsuit. Boring. More boring than my previous level of boredom. I closed the app and got out of the car as it stopped.
Lost in my thoughts, I strolled onto the school grounds preparing myself for another day.
“Sorry.” A student bumped into me in the cafeteria and drew me out of my head.
I looked back but saw no one. Odd.
Or…not so odd. Upon reaching the counter, I realized I had ‘lost’ my wallet and phone. The kid must’ve pickpocketed me. Yesterday, Maurice had forgotten to place the lunch deposit, and I didn’t get to ask him about it after they’d let it slide. I trudged off with an empty stomach. I passed the navy lockers and the chatting students. I pulled one of the counterfeited doctor’s notes from my satchel and filled it out in the bathroom with my left hand (so that the writing was unrecognizable as mine). I used it to get a note from the nurse for special dispensation to wear a hat for a while. That done, I head to class with caution. I breathed a sigh of relief on making it safely to AP English. No ambush from my bullies today. Ms Opal prepared the slides on her projector, and her sepia brow furrowed in focus. “Good morning, Devereux.” She smiled.
“Morning.” I nodded in recognition with a slight tug of my lips. Ms Opal was one of the few professors who didn’t hate me. She was in her early 30s and recently engaged. I rued the day she’d leave on her honeymoon and some incompetent substitute teacher took over. I hung my satchel on the chair closest to the back right corner of the room to the desk I was divinely assigned. Posters of literary principles and writers from Shakespeare to J.K. Rowling covered the whitewashed walls. I read the ending to Pickwick Papers finally. A minute later, her heels clicked towards me.
“Mr Devereux, you do know that the school prohibits hats worn indoors.” She crossed her arms and tilted her head.
“Oh. I…” I bit my tongue. “I had a biking accident yesterday and needed to get stitches on my scalp. I have a note from the nurse and my doctor.” I pulled it out and handed it to her.
“Oh, I’m sorry. This looks right. Thank you for showing me.” She pursed his lips and returned the slips. “Hope you feel better.”
Drriiing! My ear pinched at the sound of the bell. I needed to track the time to slip the ear plugs in and out.
The professor had clicked back to her projector as students inundated the classroom. The game was afoot. And by that, I mean I made a game of deducing the students. For example, Cole had made up with his girlfriend Winny; just now he tried to rub her Coca-Cola lip gloss off his neck, and they glanced at each other with lustful eyes. Next, Carrie Harding had her lingual braces removed; she ran her tongue over her teeth and grinned intolerably at me. Yeah, nope, still not letting her ask me out. Girls were…not my area, and my life was complicated enough. Also, Luke Gallagher, an Italian exchange student, his father had left for the Middle East again, dark puffy circles under Luke’s eyes told of lost sleep and hidden tears; his rigid posture and neat haircut, one of his parents is military; balance of probability says it’s his father in the Middle East.
I found Luke particularly interesting. He lived across from me as my new neighbour, but we hadn’t talked. He had a younger sister my age. No friends yet, but the girls, however, had already shown their interest in him since he arrived. What was it with exchange students and people with foreign accents that made them instantly attractive? Being desired should’ve started with the character of a person instead of their external features. It allowed for less pain and less wasted time. My father, though he grew up in Detroit with my uncle, was of English descent; so naturally, the Aldershot dialect carried on to my brother and me. During my first weeks of high school, I received many requests from girls (and gents) to, quote-unquote, “hang out sometime”. Consequentially, new enemies also reared their ugly little heads.
On went the lecture on Cicero’s orations, O’Donahue’s poetry, and a short look over the due analysis of Shakespeare's The Tempest. I slipped in the earplugs before the bell. Then, drriing! The class bustled and started the roar of conversation. Backpacks rustled, and chairs buzzed out D4s and B4s out of tune (my curse of having perfect pitch). The next class was chemistry. A student actually set the bench on fire for a few moments. While everyone was going to the cafeteria, I stalked out in the opposite direction of the lunch room to the daisy-plagued park with olive green grass. I slumped into the bench under the cooling shade of the maple tree. “What a mess,” I muttered. “I’ll come home to an empty fridge with a ridiculous explanation of how I lost my wallet and my phone. God knows how that’ll go.” My uncle would not be pleased.
But lo and behold, my vision focused on the Brawny Bunch occupied with someone else for the day. Luke Gallagher had bumped into my archnemesis, who then flirted with Lucy. “Walk away,” I muttered from a distance. I sighed, shaking my head, and would’ve continued in my rant to the hibiscus and daisies, but the more I listened, the more I recognized Luke’s voice. From where, though? My brain was slow today and probably would continue to be until my head healed.
“Luke. Let’s leave, please.” Lucy tugged Luke towards the door.
“Yeah, Luke. Listen to your sister.” Mason laughed.
“Fine. Let’s go inside.” Luke turned around, ready to walk away until Mason made another inappropriate comment toward Lucy. Then all bets were off. When Mason dodged Luke’s punch, he dealt one of his own. I pursed my lips. I had seen this many times. Luke wasn’t the best of fighters, not that strong or tall either. He was on the ground, rolled into a ball to block kicks to the stomach before he sprang up and hit Hamish in the jaw. Never seen that move before. My lips quirked. However, the victory didn’t last as Logan tackled Luke, joined by Mason and Hamish. It was understandable that Luke told Lucy to keep away. Against my instincts, I walked over to the spot with a plan.
I harrumphed. “Mason.”
“Wait your turn!”
“Mason, we need to talk.”
“What?!” He whirled round.
“Might I have a word with dear Tadpole here?”
“I have a…grudge to settle.” I gave a fake smile.
Mason smirked, my appeal to his mischievous side doing its work. “Okay.” The group dragged Luke up and handed him to me. I nodded to them as I took Luke aside. For some reason, he walked away with me willingly without running. “One minute!” Mason simpered.
I lowered my voice. “I need you to say the word, ‘sorry’.”
“Why do you need me to say ‘sorry’ for?” he scoffed.
“There’s a lad.” Same timbre, same voice qualities, it was him. “It was you who pickpocketed me at the breakfast line, wasn’t it?”
“What? You’re pazzo.”
I shoved him against the oak tree. “No, no. Try again.”
“Fine! Yes, okay! I did. What do you want?”
“A quid pro quo. My phone and wallet for help with your joust of chivalry.”
He snorted. “Help me? According to everyone else, Mason and his buddies are the ones beating you up. You can’t even fight back.”
“Not can’t, won’t. I’m not fond of getting punished for defending myself. Idiotic zero-tolerance policy.”
He scoffed. “Can’t, won’t. Semantics.”
“Fine. Mason!” I shouted over my shoulder.
“Wait!” He grasped my arm.
I shrugged off his grip. “What?”
“I-I don’t have them anymore. I threw them away.”
“Where? Do you remember?”
I rolled my eyes. “I will intervene on two conditions: help me find them, and cease from pick-pocketing me forthwith.”
“But what about the policy?” He arched an eyebrow.
“Never mind the policy. I’ll make an exception, unlike the school. You have ten seconds.” I looked back at Mason.
“Okay. Deal.” He stuck out his hand, but I ignored it.
“Stay here.” I arranged my cap and turned on my heel.
“Time’s up, Darcy!”
I marched towards Mason. True, I was less muscly than Mason and his jockeys. They trained to tackle in football while I trained to outwit and disable with a feathery swiftness during all those summers and boring weekends. Shakespeare had a good line for it: “Many strokes, though with a little axe, hew down and fell the hardest-timber’d oak.”
“What’s going on?” Mason crossed his arms.
“I’ve struck a bargain.”
“May I have this fight?” I gave a small bow in jest.
“Ha! You think you can take three of us?”
“Within 20 seconds. Unless you decide that neither Luke nor I am worth your time and you’d rather make it to lunch without delay, in which case I understand.” I grinned and waved towards the door far off.
“Haha. Not today, Shakespeare.”
“Okay. Don’t say I didn’t give you an out.”
His arm curled for a right hook, and with a swoop, I slid my left leg under his right foot. My fragile balance teetered, but I held my ground while Mason reeled. Then Logan wrapped his elbow around my neck. I kicked him in the groin with my elbow. He landed on Bart. Two in one blow. In one last attempt, Mason yanked my foot to the ground. We tussled about. I bit my lip as my head hit the ground, and my cap fell off. Why did I think it was a good idea again? He pinned me down, but I trapped his right leg with my foot and used it as a fulcrum to switch our positions. Pity he didn’t know the same defense. Ha. I made an effort to ignore the nausea creeping and the horrific buzzing sound in my head, or at least not show my discomfort.
“Hey, let go!” Mason grit his teeth.
I lowered my face near his ear and deepened my voice. “Listen closely. If you come near Luke or Lucy, glance at them, or direct a word in their direction ever again, you will see worse than this. If you report this to anyone, you will see worse than a few bruises and a kicked pride. Comprendmez-vous?”
“Good.” I let go of him with a jerk.
And with that, he fled.
“That was fun.” I slipped my cap back onto my head before staggering to the bench. Vertigo. Another symptom. I subtly swallowed the two tablets from my pocket. Fighting after a brain injury and with a perforated right eardrum, was a necessary evil, unfortunately. Luke looked on at me with widened eyes and an open mouth while I rested.
“That was amazing!” Lucy puffed as she ran over to us.
“That was Shakespeare, and not so amazing: I’ll get detention for showing off. Suspension, if I’m unlucky. Expulsion, if I’m extremely unlucky. Hmm. Anyway, they’ll leave you two alone now," I smirked. "Oh. Word of caution: don’t bump into him and steal his watch next time. You provoked him before he provoked you.” I winked.
Lucy interrupted, “Thank you.” She wanted to shake my hand.
I shook my head. “Luke and I made a bargain. I fulfilled it. A matter of honor, that’s all.”
“What bargain, Luke?” She raised a scolding hazel eyebrow.
Luke rubbed his neck. “Uh, if—if he dealt with Mason, I’d help him find his phone and wallet.”
“Uh-huh. ‘Find them.’ More like give them back.” She pressed her lips together.
“Anyway, I’m glad he did step in because you would’ve been tenderized meat by the time they finished with you.”
“How many more times are you going to start fights, eh?” Lucy said in Italian. At least my mind could still translate it. “Every time. We move, and you start.” She rubbed her milky forehead.
Luke shoved his hands in his pockets. “Can we go, pazzo?”
I tipped my cap towards Lucy. “Good afternoon.”