"Listen up," he growls, striking my cheek. "You are nothing. You always have been nothing, and you always will be nothing."
"Amen to that, brother!" another says.
"We don't need to remind him, he already knows!" a third crows. I try to open my eyes so I can see their faces, but each blow to my body only makes my eyes close tighter.
The bell rings, signaling the end of lunch, and the group scoffs.
"Don't forget, you're ours after school," he hisses, probably with a smirk on his face. I can practically hear the smirk.
Great, I can't wait to see your stupid face some more.
"Let's go," he says a second later, and I listen to their footsteps growing dimmer and dimmer, leaving me in my state on the floor of the school's abandoned faculty room.
I lay on the ground for a full minute, eyes still closed. Yay, lucky me. Isn’t my brother just the loveliest person you’ve ever met?
"Fuck you, Conner," I mumble.
I love him, but he makes it really hard to with all of the shit that he’s done.
Maybe if I was dead, he wouldn’t hate my guts. Maybe if I died, he would accept me as his brother.
The bruises forming on stomach begin to ache, and that's my cue to sit up and open my eyes. As expected, the lights are still broken. Not like I expect it to be fixed; Conner appreciates the darkness when he makes me cough up blood.
The second bell rings, and I curse. I only have two and a half minutes to limp across the school to my class.
I slowly clamber to my feet, swearing up a storm under my breath as my lungs beg for all the air they’re not receiving.
“Damn it all to hell you piece of actual fucking shit,” I growl, clutching my aching stomach. It takes me over a minute to grab my shit off of the floor, which leaves me less than a minute to get all the way across the school.
When I open the door, I expect to run into someone, but don’t. And, of course, I’m late to English.
“Go to your seat, Jason,” Alex says, pointing to the table at the back of the room. I trudge back, avoiding about four outstretched legs, and sit down without an issue. “Now, where was I?”
“You were talking about modifiers,” a quiet voice says. I look in the direction of the speaker and see a small, black-haired girl tapping her fingers nervously on the back of her chair. She’s sitting in the desk in front of my table, and I mentally face-palm for not noticing her before.
“That’s right!” Alex exclaims. “Thanks, Xael.”
The girl nods and continues tapping her fingers.
“Anyways, as I was saying-”
“Teacher’s pet!” someone hisses. Xael doesn’t look at the person speaking, as all of her attention is directed towards Alex. “Hey, nerd! I’m talking to you!”
Xael still doesn’t bother to look around, and moments later a paper ball hits the side of her head. It’s followed by a barrage of more soon after- at least six others- and Alex snaps.
“Knock it off or you’re getting suspended!” he shouts, slamming a textbook onto the table at the front. “I will not tolerate bullying in my classroom, Mr. Roye.”
Of course it’s my brother.
“My apologies, Alex,” Conner says, not sounding sorry at all. “It won’t happen again.”
Alex rolls his eyes and resumes teaching, keeping an eye on my brother and his goons the entire time.
“There’s an assignment on NRI in order to practice with modifiers,” Alex explains, finishing up his lesson. “I’m giving you the rest of class to work on it. If you need any help, feel free to ask me or come in during a study hall.”
The noise level in the room swells so quickly I get a headache. From the looks of it, Xael and Alex do too, as they’re rubbing their foreheads along with me.
“Fuck!” I growl some time later, slamming my computer closed after getting a question wrong for the nth time in a row.
“Do you need some help?” Xael asks, tapping my closed computer twice. I sigh and nod, opening my laptop and signing back in.
“I don’t understand the fucking switcheroo thing,” I groan, gesturing at the screen. “I’m fucking stupid.”
“No, you’re not,” Xael assures me, walking around and leaning over my shoulder. “Switching everything around can be a little tricky for anyone.”
Xael walks me through the steps of the problem, and I actually get it right.
“Nice job!” Xael says. She leans back and helps me less and less, until I don’t get a single question wrong and finish the assignment.
“Thanks, Xael.” I lean back and look up into her ice-blue, sleep-deprived eyes. She holds her fist out, to which I bump with my own.
“No problem, Jason,” she replies. I watch her as she walks back to her own seat and opens her laptop, a document full of words appearing on her screen.
I spend the rest of class- which was only about seven minutes ‘cause I was a fucking idiot- reading a story on a website I found. Don’t remember what it’s called. Pattwad, maybe? Wapptap?
Whatever. It’s called something. I don’t care anymore.
“Hey, wait up!” I call, as Xael’s already halfway out the door. She pauses and steps back into the classroom. “Let me walk you to class.”
“Jason, you don’t have to do that,” she says. I throw my bag onto my shoulder and walk quickly up to her.
“Too bad, I’m doin’ it anyways,” I laugh, gesturing towards the door. She rolls her eyes and walks out quickly. I follow close behind her.
“So, Conner fucks with you, too?” she asks. I nod. “But aren’t you guys related?”
“Doesn’t matter to him, he does it to who he wants and when he wants to,” I explain. Xael opens the door to the Science classroom, then looks back at me.
“Well, you have completed your mission,” she chuckles. “See you around, Jason.”
“See ya’ later!” I exclaim. Okay, free period. Do I a: go to the band room, b: go to the choir room, or c: go chill in my truck and pray that no one attacks me?
Option c it is.
I leave the school building through the door by the wrestling room, which has been propped open by a small piece of wood, and swiftly walk over to my truck, unlocking it with the press of a button on my keychain.
“Hello,” I murmur, getting into the truck. “My brother can go fuck himself.”
For thirty minutes, I listen to Bo Burnham and sing along.
Until I spot Conner & Co. shoving someone against a wall.
Well, that’s… not a surprise, honestly.
“Hey, jackass!” I shout, hopping out of my truck and slamming the door shut behind me. “Leave her alone!”
Conner moves away from the wall and reveals Xael, who has a bored expression resting on her face.
“Are you asking to take her place?” Conner sneers. I shrug, walk up to the wall, and gently move Xael out of the way, crossing my arms and leaning against the rough brick of the school.
“I mean, why not?” I ask. Xael rolls her eyes, grabs my arm, and pulls me back into the school, ignoring Conner’s shouts of protest.
“You’re a dumbass,” she says. “I hope you’re aware of that.”
“I am well aware, thank you!” I exclaim. Xael flaps a hand at me and walks off, the bell ringing after she takes two steps away. I do attempt to follow her, but she loses me in the crowd of students very quickly.
“Hey, you weren’t supposed to walk away!” Conner growls, throwing his arm over my shoulders. “We weren’t finished with you yet. Or her, either, but she gets impossible to find.”
“You actually noticed something about her?” I question, surprised. Before my brother answers I shove his arm off of my shoulders and walk away.
“I said that we weren’t finished yet!”
“Whatever!” I call back, weaving through the throng of students in the hallway.
“Nice job,” Xael remarks, opening her locker door. I nod and lean against the locker to the left of hers, watching her pull out different books.
“Is that a good series?” I ask. Xael ignores me, closes her locker, and walks away. I watch her go, her black curls entrancing me as she moves efficiently through the crowd of students.
“Excuse me,” Conner hisses, clamping a hand on my shoulder. “We weren’t done yet!”
“Fuck off,” I groan, attempting to shove his hand off of me. I fail and am dragged out of the building, no one bothering to try and stop us.
“Not so tough now, huh?” Frank sneers, shoving me to the ground the second Conner lets go of me. “Only strong when your slut’s around?”
“She isn’t a slut,” I spit, standing back up. “Don’t talk about her like that.”
“Why’re you so quick to defend her? You’ve never spoken before!”
I shrug, falling silent as no explanation comes to mind.
Twenty minutes. That’s how long Conner & Co. decide to smack me around before getting bored and leaving.
“Shit,” I groan, clutching my stomach, more bruises beginning to form next to the ones that were created earlier. I attempt to stand and fall back to the ground, the muscles in my legs screaming at me to stay down.
I don’t know how long I stay like that. It starts raining and four bells ring inside of the building before I pull myself into a sitting position, every single injury on my body begging me to stay still.
I eventually manage to stand up and stagger over to my truck, gasping with each step.
“Hey, Mom,” I say once I’m in my truck, holding my phone millimeters away from my ear. “I don’t feel the greatest, so I think I’m going to head home now. Is that okay?”
“Yeah, I’ll call the school and let them know. By the way, your father and I are at the airport right now, and we’ll be back on the first. Love you, don’t make a mess of the house please!”
My phone beeps at me, signaling the end of the call and I toss it onto the passenger seat, swearing up a storm with every movement I make.
I don’t bother turning on the radio and settle for driving fifteen minutes in silence, the sounds around me drowned out by the rainstorm picking up strength.
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