Best Worst Day Ever (Part 3)

Best Worst Day Ever (Part 2)

Matt crossed his fingers before the door opened. But as he made his way onto the cheese wagon, his hopes for a relaxing morning ride went out the window. Four rows back, under an unruly mop of black hair, a pair of ferret-like eyes glowered at him—Kurt Lowermilk. Leigh blinked at the sight of the overgrown sixth grader, a veritable man-ape, then shot into the first available seat, furthest from Kurt as he could get. He sat on the outer edge, so Matt couldn’t slide in next to him.

“Move over,” Matt implored.

Leigh avoided his eyes and shook his head, “No.”

Damn you. He scanned the available seats, and only two became apparent, the one in front of Kurt, and the one in front of that one. Bingo! Now if he will stay put, I might have a chance. He moved quickly to his goal, avoiding the feral eyes leering at him.

Dear God, if Kurt moves, hit him with a lightning bolt.

From behind, the scrunch of plastic seat answered him.

“Hey pussy,” Kurt said, spraying spittle on the back of Matt’s neck. “How come you aren’t sitting with your boyfriend?”

Matt froze. And so it begins. To punctuate his despair, Kurt’s dog-paws flicked his ear with a thwack. Sharp pain radiated down his neck. “Ow,” Matt jerked forward, cradling his ear. “Stop it, Kurt.”

“Stop it, Kurt,” the boy taunted in a falsetto voice. He smacked Matt in the back of the head, causing him to strike the seat frame ahead of him. “What are you going to do about it, pussy?”

Nothing. Matt rubbed his forehead. Not a damned thing. So, he slid down in the seat. The ape-man’s arms kept flicking and slapping him. As he wiggled further down into the seat, the slaps changed to painful jabs. He felt the bus change direction. From experience, he knew it must be the drive into the school drop-off. Drops of spittle sprayed the side of his face. Suddenly the seat lurched upward, nearly tossing him off it. If nothing else, Kurt was predictable. Kneeing the seat always happened as the bus made the turn into the school. Again and again, the seat bucked until the brakes hissed.

Matt jumped up and darted toward the aisle, but the man-ape’s sharp elbow greeted him, knocking him back onto the seat. He rebounded to see Leigh leap out of his seat, but Kurt reached out and seized a handful of the boy’s hair.

“Owwwwwww,” Leigh whined.

With a shove, Kurt tossed him back into his seat and stepped toward the front of the bus.

Bus driver Chuck shifted in his seat. “What’s going on back there?”

“Nothing sir,” Kurt said as he pushed past other kids and toward the bus steps. “I think the little ones are having a lover’s quarrel.”

Chuck looked at Kurt, “I’m on to you, Lowermilk.”

Kurt gave him a toothy smile, “Yeah, whatever.” He stepped off the bus and headed for a low cinder-block building labeled Gaines Middle School.

Shaking off his bruises, Matt slunk toward his first class. He slipped inside Mrs. Linn’s fifth-grade classroom, and walked to his cubby, depositing his jacket and lunch bag. With some effort, he stuffed the lunch into the arm of his jacket, to avoid getting it stolen by the cubby trolls, who made a habit of stealing bagged lunches from those–like him–who couldn’t afford to buy school lunch. Then he grabbed a coffee can with a piece of masking tape across the face of it, spelling out “Matt Stevens.” He looked at it in disgust, all that was missing was the word–Loser! Oh well, it’s what he had. With a quick grab, he seized the can and slid into his seat.

The Wilson twins, Cassy, and Carla looked at him, then at the coffee can. Cassy sniffed and pinched her nose shut. “Ewww, what stinks?”

He paused to consider his options. The daily pecking order throw-down had begun. So he peeled the plastic lid off and held out the coffee can. “Cowpie. Want it? It’s fresh.”

Cassy recoiled dramatically. Carla rolled her eyes but suppressed a smile.

Matt chuckled. Made ya look. He pulled his pencils and erasers out of the can as Cassy placed her pink David Cassidy book bag on the table.

When he glanced up, Cassy said, “Why don’t you get a decent bag for your stuff?”

Duh, cause we’re poor.

To salt the wound, Carla spoke in a low whisper, “Cas, his family probably can’t afford it.”

Cassy kept her eyes on Matt as she answered loudly, “Why not? His daddy is an officer in the Army. Don’t they get paid … something?”

“You know my dad is retired,” Matt shot back, his face becoming hot.

“Oh, right, he doesn’t do anything now.” She feigned surprise. “In fact, he doesn’t live at home anymore.”

Carla’s eyes shot daggers at her. “C’mon Cas, stop it.”

The corner of Cassy’s mouth ticked upward. “Didn’t he marry his secretary?”

“SHUT UP,” Matt shouted, banging his balled-up fists on the table.

Silence. Uh-oh. The whole class looked at him as Mrs. Linn slowly rose from her seat. “Matt Stevens, we don’t talk that way in class. Do you understand me?”

He looked at the ground. “Yes, ma’am.”

She pulled out a pink slip of paper and scribbled on it. “Take this to the office, immediately.”

He nodded, slipped out of his chair, and made his way to collect the referral. “What do we say?”

He stared into her dead eyes. “Sorry,” he said with utterly no remorse, intent or meaning whatsoever. There are you happy?

She frowned. “Be off with you.”

Matt darted to the hallway and made his way to the principal’s office. At the entrance to the inner sanctum, he pulled up sharply at the sight of the secretary, Mrs. Nix, whose high blue hair contrasted sharply with the redness in her reptilian eyes. She glared at him over a set of cat-eye reading glasses, connected by a chain to the scales on her back, or, so he supposed.

“What brings you here?” she asked between chews of gum. At least he hoped it was gum. Leigh said she ate children, which he hoped wasn’t true unless the unfortunate victim happened to be Kurt Lowermilk. With a quick glance, she spotted the referral, and ripped it out of his hand.

Her eyes slithered over the note. “A troublemaker, huh?” She smiled, in her usual grotesque fashion as a gap appeared between her false teeth and gums. With a withered tongue, she adroitly pushed the upper fangs back into place. “Well, we got what will cure you,” she said wagging a bony finger toward the bench in front of a door labeled, “Clinton Younder, Principal.” He could hear voices behind the door.

“Honestly, Dwight,” came Younder’s booming voice. “Why are you always in here?”

“Why are you always giving me shit, man,” came a drawling response. Matt immediately recognized the voice of Dwight Agar, otherwise known as Dewey. The only kid in school that regularly told adults where to go, how to get there, and what impossible anatomical feats to do with corncobs.

“None of that talk Dwight. You know the drill. Let’s get this over.”

“Son of a bitch,” Dewey said tiredly. Sounds of movement reached Matt’s ears, followed by a loud SMACK, and an ear-splitting yelp from Dewey. This happened at least four times as Matt cringed lower and lower on the bench. De Fuhrer was in superb form today.

Silence, followed by sniffles, preceded the door opening. Dewey shuffled out, rubbing his backside, his face and eyes red. He looked at Matt and managed a small smile. “Got his excellency warmed up for you.”

Matt shook his head. The kid had balls, though they were probably inflamed and bruised. Younder stuck his golf-course tanned head out the door, “Dwight, go back to class, and I don’t want to see you again this week.”

As he turned his attention to Matt, Dewey flipped the bird. Matt’s eyes darted to Dewey and Younder seeing the movement, whipped around, but the boy deftly changed his gesture to scratching his nose. The Principal glared at him. “You heard me. Get to class.”

Dewey saluted. “Yes, suh.” He then tore off into the hallway.

Best Worst Day Ever (Part 4)

Best Worst Day Ever (Part 2)

Best Worst Day Ever (Part 1)

Ugh. He turned and slumped toward the den, now Mom’s “bedroom.” Parting the curtains that separated it from the living room, he looked inside. To his left squatted a potty chair. Directly ahead was a medical bed, on which his mother lay covered by thin white sheets. To her right lurked an IV stand, from which hung several suspicious looking bags of fluids. Bundles of plastic tubes snaked from them under the covers. The astringent smell of disinfectant hung in the air.

Anna Stevens turned her head as he stepped further into the room. “Let’s have a look at you.”

Matt lumbered forward. Picture day inspection has begun. “I’m late for the bus, Mom.”

“You heard me,” she muttered wearily. He stepped into her line of sight. “Oh no, that hair will never do.” She tried to reach for his head, but her swollen left arm refused to cooperate. With a grunt, she rolled on her left side and groped his cowlick with her right hand.

But she had no more success with the mange than he. With an exasperated sigh, she said, “You just need to comb that out.”

“I can’t find my comb. Besides, I need to go, or I’ll miss my bus.”

“Nonsense,” she muttered, then clawed at the nightstand next to her, yanking open the drawer. Her hand shuffled about before quickly retrieving a large toothed plastic brush. “Here, take this, and fix your hair before you get your picture taken.”

A quick glance at the brush sent a chill down his spine. Crap. There’s no way he was going to be seen with a woman’s hairbrush. He opened his mouth to protest, but then his gaze drifted to Mom’s scalp and the few patches of reddish-brown hair her chemo treatments hadn’t taken. Forget it. “Thanks, Mom,” he whispered to the walls.

“Hurry, before you miss your bus.”

“Bye,” he said darting for the front door.

With narrowed eyes barely concealing her cold, contained fury, “The Beast” watched him pass by.

He suppressed a grin–Mom obviously forgot to crucify him for not eating moldy toast. With a sense of relief, he made his way to the bus stop across the street from the local coffee and donut shop, “Sweet Doughs.” His next-door neighbor, Leigh, stood there, staring at the ground.

“Hey,” Matt shouted.

Leigh looked up. “What are you doing tomorrow?”

Matt swallowed. Tomorrow was a court-ordered visit with his father. How do I explain that? Might as well be talking about aliens. Screw it, I’ll be honest. “I have to visit my dad.”

Leigh blinked. “Oh.”

The awkwardness was evident on Leigh’s face, so Matt quickly interjected, “What about you?”

“We’re going to the lake in the morning, and then to a golf tournament at the country club.”

Where the rich go to play and keep the riff-raff away. He’d seen the country club from the road. The manicured lawns and spotless facilities gleamed behind signs that said, “Private” and “No Trespassing.”

The silence stretched like over-chewed gum. “Guess what?” Leigh asked.

Matt resisted a gag-reflex. Here it comes. What did you get now? “Uh, what?”

“Got another crate of Legos; now I’ve got three.”

“Cool,” he replied. Leigh got everything, and lots of it, all year long. On the other hand, he got the yearly opportunity to drool over the glossy pages of the Sears wish book at Christmas, a joyous mirage of things he could lust for but never have. With a sigh, he pushed the glimmering image away and looked at Leigh. The boy stood there with a finger buried in his nose.

Geez, why are we friends? They had very little in common, beyond the fact they lived next door to each other. Maybe it was because no one else would associate with them. At least he knew why he was uncool and unpopular — being poor and freakishly ugly. Leigh seemed clueless. One reason was obvious — the boy was a foot shorter than nearly everyone his age. But the other didn’t appear until he opened his mouth. From that came racist jokes, hatred of Jews, and prehistoric ideas about women. All this suppressed vileness was packaged into a small frame; hence, the reason Leigh was more commonly known as the “pocket Nazi.”

Most of this Matt managed to ignore since there was an advantage to being Leigh’s ‘friend.’ Ready access to toys he could never afford and a chance to ogle Leigh’s older sister, who looked like a clone of Farrah Fawcett Majors.

A sound like rocks in a cement mixer drifted toward them, and they looked up to see the school bus chugging around the corner.

Best Worst Day Ever (Part 3)

Best Worst Day Ever (Part 1)

Matt poked his head into the bathroom. “Aren’t you ready yet?” he asked casting a quick glance his watch. Late. Today was setting up to be as bad as usual.

“I have to brush my hair,” Emma replied in an exasperated voice, accompanied with her usual preteen eye roll.

“You’ve been at that for ten minutes, get your book bag ready. We’re leaving in five minutes.”

She huffed and slapped her brush down. “Fine. Just ruin picture day,” she said, breezing past him.

Matt whispered to the ceiling. “Good God, what is she going to be like when she starts her period?”

No response. Thanks for nothing once again. He turned and caught sight of the hairbrush. It lay on the sink counter, a few stray auburn hairs dangling from the bristles. Same auburn color as his mother’s hair had been. How long ago had that been? Forty years?

Eleven-year-old Matt Stevens stared at the ceiling of his bedroom listening to the steady staccato of the alarm clock. Sunlight poured through the windows, pushing shadows back into the corners of the room. The high-pitched buzz dug deeper into his ears. After swinging his feet out of bed, he stumbled over and slapped his hand on a clock. Another school day. He rubbed his head. It was something else as well, but what? FRIDAY! Tomorrow is the weekend! Whoohoo! Time for the Friday victory dance. Fists in the air, he shook his hips. Today is Friday. Today is Friday.

Suddenly another thought bubbled up from a dark corner of his mind. Uh-oh, it’s also picture day. If there was one day he could live without, it was the prospect of having his ugly mug plastered on photographic paper. From his closet, he pulled out his “nicest clothes.” Ha! Nicest meant those he wouldn’t get caught dead in but passed parental inspection, suitable for church or other public floggings. The outfit consisted of a hideous paisley shirt and rust colored corduroys–none of it new, but acceptable. Though hand-me-downs from the Bodean’s, a feral family down the street, at least they hadn’t been worn by Dan Bodean (who was Matt’s age) and, therefore, did not reek of urine. To be sure, he gave them a reassuring sniff. Ugly clothes were bad enough without them being fruity.

After changing clothes, he drifted across the hall to the bathroom. In front the mirror he stared at the red-haired, freckled faced, big-eared freak glaring back at him, and the shock of hair impudently perched on his head, defying his angry gaze. He licked his fingers and tried to flatten it, but it jumped to attention the moment he let go. Even a dollop of tap water refused to discipline the mangy creature. Through clenched teeth he growled. If you can’t beat them, join them. Digging fingers into his hair, he tousled it. He studied himself in the mirror and sighed. Now his head looked like a strawberry colored haystack. It’ll have to do. With a shrug, he quickly finished the rest of his morning routine.

Let’s review the hallway procedure. Step right, skip left, move to the right and slide. If all worked well, he would avoid spots of known creaks and groans in the floorboards just outside his sister’s bedroom. He had to avoid disturbing the slumber of “The Beast”–his seventeen-year-old sister, Karen. One must never wake “The Beast” so early in the morning. Not that it mattered, she was pretty much a psycho at any time of day, and all because he had committed the sin of being the youngest.

Once beyond that cave of horrors, he stood in the doorway to his brothers’ room. It stood empty as it had been for the last two years after Scott went off to the Army to fly helicopters, and Wayne moved on to work in Peoria assembling and testing scuba equipment. When would he see them again? He tried to remember the last time they were home but drew a blank. What would he say to them if they did? The problem was they were thirteen and eleven years older, so other than the same set of parents, he had nothing in common with them.

Now they were gone, he seldom had time to think of them.  But when they were here, they apparently thought about him, “the late mistake.” What did that mean? Well, maybe he’d see them during the holidays. Reason enough to tolerate each other for a few days. At least their presence kept “The Beast” preoccupied. Then again, they ate anything and everything, leaving the refrigerator nearly empty for days at a time. So, Mom would get stressed; Karen would start barking at shadows. It got to be like a three-ring circus. No, maybe it was for the best.

A couple more steps down the hall and he stood at the entrance to the master bedroom once his parents’ bedroom. The queen-sized bed sat empty, covers pulled tight; the room showed no signs of habitation, but that was no surprise. Dad was a shadow except for court-ordered visits every other weekend, and Mom… well… he knew the reason for that. With a sigh, he turned his back on the bedroom; there was nothing for him there.

Down the steps, he went, careful not to let his footfalls echo in the foyer. Stealthily he passed through the dining room into the kitchen.

“It’s about time,” a growly voice said.

Matt cringed. His timing, as well as his luck, stunk. “The Beast” had been awake after all. She sat cross-legged on the kitchen counter, like a spider surveying its prey. “Yes, I came for breakfast,” he said walking over to the pantry.

“Sit then.”

“I’ll just get some cereal,” he said, grabbing a box of Rice Krispies and a bowl.

From the silverware drawer, he dug out a spoon, and from the fridge, he grabbed a carton of milk.

“Don’t use too much,” she prattled.

With his back to her, he rolled his eyes. Karen always obsessed over how much milk he put on his cereal. Dumping a couple tablespoons into the sink after finishing his cereal was a felony offense in her bizarro world.

“Don’t be making faces at me,” she hissed.

What is she, a bat? X-ray vision must be something you get from hanging upside down all night. He sat in the breakfast nook and prepared his cereal.

But just after he shoveled the first spoonful into his mouth, Karen suddenly asked, “You want toast?”

He stopped mid-chew and looked sidelong. Was she serious? Did hell just freeze over? Then again, there always is a first time. “Sure.”

“Sure what?” she quickly rejoined.

“P … L… E… A… S… E,” he spewed, hating his mom’s ill-formed tradition of saying please and thank you, even if you didn’t remotely mean it.

He read the cereal box while Karen stuck bread in the toaster. “What’s going on at school?” she asked.

Ha! Like you care. No way am I mentioning picture day. “Nothing, just the usual.”

The toaster dinged, Karen grabbed the bread and quickly buttered it. “I heard it was picture day, so Mom wants to have a look at you.”

He groaned. Oh, God no. She placed the toast in front of him and gave a tight-lipped smile, “Here you go.”

“Thank you.” He picked up the toast and took a bite, only to gag and spit it out. A bitter, metallic taste coated his tongue, and he glanced at the bread; furry green mold swam under a thin layer of butter. “HEY! This is moldy!”

With a lopsided smirk, Karen replied, “What are you whining about? The heat from the toaster killed the mold. Now eat.” She stared at him with narrowed eyes.

“I’m not eating this.”

“If you don’t, I’ll tell Mom you wasted food.”

“Go ahead.”

She snorted. “Fine then, be ready to explain that to Mom.” Turning on her heels, she stormed out of the kitchen.

Now is my chance. He dashed to the sink, dumped his cereal and toast, grabbed his books and bounded toward the foyer. But as he turned the corner from the dining room, “The Beast” stood blocking the front door.

She flashed an impish smile. “Mom wants to see you.”

Best Worst Day Ever (Part 2)