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School Shadows

Kevin moaned and leaned against the front counter, propping his feet against a printer in front of him, and basking in the buzzing fluorescent lights of the bank, letting his blond locks hang loose and free. His hand slid toward his pocket, itching to vape and cover the lobby in smoke while our manager was on break. I prepared to hold my nose and focused on the computer screen, checking over the new bank accounts created last week. I tried not to look at the clock in the bottom right corner of the screen and tried not to notice that I still had two hours before I could leave.

“I wanna go home and nap,” Kevin said, stretching out every joint and gaining a temporary few inches. “No, nap and Netflix.”

“Yeah,” I said, trying to make light conversation and focus on my task. Another set of accounts sorted. “You watch Daredevil yet?”

“Nah, heard it’s good though.”

“Oh, it is,” I said and was about to launch into gushing adoration for it and all superhero shows in general when the bell at the front door jingled.

“Nooooo,” Kevin said under his breath, trailing off into fake sobs and an ugly cry face.

I looked up and was surprised that I recognized our new customer. A haircut bordering on a bowl shape like he had tried and failed to join Herman’s Hermits. A face and build that one could tell used to be fat, and despite dropping a lot of the weight years ago, still betrayed his past. He came in, a handful of documents in his hand, and made a beeline for us. I wondered if he would remember me after all these years. It had been what, five years, give or take?

“You want this or should I take it?” Kevin asked before the guy was in earshot.

“I got it,” I said and put on a small, customer-friendly smile. “Hello, how can we help you today?”

The recognition slid onto his face. His expression barely changed. “Hey, how’s it going?”

“Not bad. You?”

“Not bad,” he said. “Trying to get an internship with the city’s electric company.”

“Cool,” I said. Requisite small talk over, I took his papers and resumed employee mode. “So what brings you in today?”

“I need to open an account,” he said.

I nodded, bringing him over to an accountant’s desk. The accountant flashed a larger smile than mine and walked him through his account options as I headed back to my desk.

Soon, I heard the accountant wrap up his explanation of the types of accounts available. “We have plenty of good choices. What kind of account are you interested in?”

“Just a checking account.”

“Okay, I’ll need you to fill out some forms. And I need some ID, like a driver’s license and a social security card.” He printed off the forms and handed him a pen. The customer jotted down his information while the accountant scanned his license and card. I watched the whole time, absent-mindedly checking the new bank accounts now and then.

When the customer handed back the forms and the process was completed, he nodded to me. “See you.”

“Alright, take care. Good luck with the internship.”

“Thanks,” he said and left.

The accountant dropped the papers for our new client on my desk to process. Skimming over them, I noted that the customer still lived at the same address he had since high school with his parents.

Kevin puffed out a string of vape smoke and I held my nose. “You know him?”

Know him? “Yeah, Jared. He’s,” my former best friend since middle school? Part of my high school graduating class? “a guy I went to school with.”

*  *  *

Last day of high school. You really can’t imagine the mixture of sheer giddiness, anticipation, and surreal nature of not having to go to school anymore after today. Sure, I could go to college, and I planned to like many others, but I didn’t have to. It was my choice, not the government’s.

Jared and I stood in the middle of the courtyard, surrounded by the four main buildings of the school that held most of the classes. Everyone was gathered there, waiting for the morning bell to ring and shooting the breeze like always. But there was a general excitement to the air, especially among us seniors.

“Man, I’m going to go home and take a nap after today,” Jared said. “My ass isn’t getting up for anything.”

“Yeah,” Pete said. One of Jared’s friends, not mine. I kind of just hung in the back and agreed, not really talking. “Or I would, but I got a shift at work after today.”

“Hah, sucks to be you,” Ray said. Another of Jared’s guys. Never knew what became of either of them. Hope they did okay. Pete shoved Ray, who in turn slapped his arm.

“So,” I said to Jared while Pete and Ray slapped one another, “decided on where you’re going to go yet?”

“Not yet. Probably get my AA at GCC. You going there?”

“Fuck no,” I said. “I’m going to Full Sail. Should have enough with my Bright Futures Scholarship.” Found out later that the Bright Futures Scholarship didn’t pay dick for private schools and that a degree from Fullsail was worth less than two years’ work experience at McDonald’s. So I ended up at GCC.

Jared shrugged and focused more on Ray and Pete and I gradually faded out of the circle. I was good at that. Years of being a painfully shy introvert, not to mention people forgetting I was even in the room or me not really holding conversations well, had taught me the oft-sought art of slipping away from any situation, awkward or otherwise. So it became a gradual flow: I got shut out and slowly receded into the background.

I scoured the yard for my other friend, Greg, also from middle school, but kept a close eye on my watch. When the first bell rang, I abandoned searching for Greg and headed to class, priding myself on always being one of the first, if not the first, one there.

As the others filed in one by one, our teacher, Mr. Hanson, went on about how much he would miss us, how he hoped the best for our future, and I listened to him. He was one of the better teachers here. As soon as he finished, everyone broke up into groups to talk, reminisce, or gather last-minute yearbook signatures.

Like all the mornings that year and the year before, I considered briefly confessing to my crush, June, sitting right behind me. She was a gorgeous girl, tanned skin, dark hair, and a dazzling smile, not to mention a body to die for. She was nice enough, even with her prep girl personality, but she was far out of my league. Far, far out of my league. And constant rejections through the years had turned me into a pussy, so I shoved my nose back in a Michael Crichton book and ignored a lot of the talk outside of short answers to a few people.

Thankfully, classes were cut short today for seniors and we only had to stay until after all the lunches finished at about half past noon. Not only that, but all the teachers took it as an easy day, so each class was just a repeat of the courtyard, with a couple of teachers wishing us the best in our lives. Same bullshit I was sure I would hear at our graduation ceremony. And every graduation ceremony I would ever attend for other family members.

*  *  *

After work, my mom asked me to pick up some bread for spaghetti that night. French or Italian bread, of course. None of that crummy Cuban stuff that tastes like gravel in your mouth.

When I picked out a checkout line, I spotted another old face. No way. I quick stepped out of line and hopped into the one beside it. When I got to the cashier, he looked up and smiled. “Hey, man.”

“Hey, Leo.” I hadn’t seen him since middle school, but he looked the exact same, as if he had carefully preserved his image. Shorter than me and everyone else, almost like Greg. Not as short though. He still had his military buzzcut too, which didn’t gel at all with his green apron and nametag. “How you been?”

“Good,” he said, grabbing the French bread and sliding it across the scanner. “You?”

“I’m good. Got my Bachelor’s. Just working over at the bank down the street.”

“Oh, yeah. I know the one. $1.07.”

“How about you?” I fished out the money. “What have you been up to?”

“Going for my degree. Aeronautics. Then the Air Force.”

“Cool.” He handed me my receipt. “Good luck with that. See you later.”

“Thanks. You too. See you.”

I’m not great at small talk. Or any talk really. That’s about as good as any of my conversations could go. Plus, I didn’t want to hold up the line. I grabbed my bag and headed to the car.

On the way out, I thought I saw Jared pushing in carts from outside. I double checked and sure enough, it was him. I caught his eye, but before I could say anything, he wiped his hands on his apron and hurried inside into a backroom.

Two people from school in one day? That was crazy. But even crazier was when I unlocked my car and saw another person. Jonas, one of the class clowns from high school. He was more subdued than I remembered, no laugh on his face, his thick, wavy curls tied back. He was walking beside a pregnant woman carrying her round stomach. His wife? Girlfriend?

I got in my car without saying anything. I had never known Jonas personally. I knew of him and saw him around. Would’ve been awkward, walking up randomly. Hi, you don’t know me, but we were in the same graduating class. Yeah, that wouldn’t be weird at all.

Besides, he wasn’t the first person I vaguely remembered from my school years. I had seen people around whose faces I knew, but not their names. Who were in my class, but I never really talked to them. I’m sure everyone has, but it was still odd seeing so many today, especially in our town of thousands. It was like the old school campus had expanded wider over the years, covering a larger area to bring everybody back together, mingling new faces with old ones, hoping to re-introduce me to past friends and help me make my acquaintance to people I missed the first time around.

“Weird,” I said, and started the car.

 

*  *  *

I spent most of the day reading, talking to a few classmates, and trying not to constantly watch the clock like everyone else. Easier said than done. Band was the only time that passed by somewhat quickly, as me and the rest of the drumline huddled in a corner, talking and just relaxing. Whatever the conversation, it was always interesting and killed time easily. Or maybe it was because we could sleep if we wanted. Let me tell you, sleeping next to some tuba cases and tall cupboards in the corner isn’t all bad.

Lunch rolled around and unfortunately, I didn’t share the same lunch period as anyone I knew. The faculty made exceptions for seniors today, splitting them into two groups instead of three. I had hoped this meant Jared and Greg would be able to come, but five minutes in, I was alone at the table like I always was, minus the PB&J I normally bring. No sign of Jared or Greg.

Of course, being alone and with several empty chairs at my table, people kept taking them for their table. I had long ago tried not to get up hope that someone would actually sit with me. At most, they only asked, “Is anyone using this?” and barely waited for me to shake my head before whisking it away to their table to sit with their friends. I wanted to yell, “Sure! Take all the fucking chairs! Not like anybody will sit with me!”

Sure, I wasn’t exciting or engaging to be around, but I did try. Certainly did better than my earlier freshmen and sophomore years, when I only found out after the fact that I had been an annoying shit. Now, it was most of my other friends who had moved on from friendships with me and gone on to be douchebags.

After the last chair was taken, I consigned myself to just sitting and staring at the table. But then someone grabbed the last chair from another table and brought it over. “Hey,” she said. A freshman girl from one of my electives. A bit on the short side, heavy like me, and cute, unlike me. She opened her notebook, flipping through some pretty good drawings that I was jealous of. I wish I had talent like that.

She didn’t talk much usually, just drew and showed off her pictures. But she was sweet. “Excited about the last day?” she asked.

“You bet.” It was only then I realized I hardly knew a thing about her besides her name (which I can’t remember now), her art interest, that she wore the same black jacket every day, and we shared a class. “You?”

“Yeah.”

“So,” my mind wandered to any sort of topic, all of them terrible. “Planning to do anything for summer?”

“Not really.”

That was it. I gave up and just watched her draw an anime character, nodding and telling her it “looks great.” I had no idea who half the characters were. I was a gamer first and anime was further down the list. Sue me.

When the bell rang, I waved goodbye to her and headed off with the rest of the seniors. As I merged into the crowd, I felt guilty I had never gotten to know her better. She seemed like a good person. Perhaps we could’ve been friends until today. But I had blown my senior year.

Seriously, don’t believe what you see on TV. High school sucks.

 

*  *  *

I pulled into the driveway at home and entered the house. It was dark, my mom was asleep in her chair, and everyone else was at work. I did a double fist pump and a little dance. Just the way I like it. Quiet and alone.

My sister’s cats meowed for attention on the way to my room. I pet them, enjoying their purrs as they raised their backsides to make sure every inch of them received attention. My girlfriend’s cats assaulted me for love as soon as I entered our room and after I paid the toll of more behind-the-ear scratches and full-length back strokes, I made it to the closet and changed clothes.

In the corner of the closet, I spotted my stack of yearbooks from both middle and high school. Maybe it was all the people today, but I pulled out the yearbooks and flipped to the signatures page, starting to match up people I used to know and reminding myself of those I couldn’t remember.

It was like taking a trip through time, browsing the pictures, seeing how everyone aged and changed over the years. The writing definitely matured from middle school to high school. Signatures of “Rock out with your cock out!” and “I’m the clown who came to town to sign your yearbook upside down” changed to “Have a great life and hope things go well for you” and “It’s been great knowing you” and long farewells. Sappy stuff written in the heat of the moment when that air of never seeing one another again hung over the actual good friends and infected everyone else.

My phone buzzed and I checked my Facebook notifications. One of my friends, a high school crush from the one day I found a bunch of people from high school and sent requests to them, had posted that she was having her second baby and had received a promotion. All her friends and family congratulated her and her husband.

I hadn’t spoken to her in a long time. After I asked her out and was rejected, I harbored resentment against her the rest of my time in school and drifted away. I set the phone down and went back to the yearbook. It would’ve been pretty strange if the first thing I said to her since friending her, the first thing in years, was “Congrats on the baby and the job!” Nah, I’d wait for a better opportunity. Wait for one and forget, what with my bad memory and all.

*  *  *

“FUCK THIS SCHOOL!” Jared yelled at the top of his lungs as our crowd headed to the front of the school. Others joined in his rallying cry.

“Yeah, fuck this school!”

“Fuck all ya’ll!”

“Fuck this!”

Jared laughed and we headed to the sidewalk, waiting for our rides. Most of the other seniors had their own cars and headed to the parking lot. I still hadn’t found Greg anywhere.

“Parents picking you up?” I asked.

“Nah, I got a ride with Fred. We’re heading out to celebrate. Me and a bunch of other guys.”

“Oh,” I said, feeling uncomfortable about wanting to join in. I didn’t have any plans when I got home and shuffled my feet, hiding my discomfort. “Have fun.”

“Yeah.” Jared missed it. But then again, I am an expert of the art of the introvert.

“You seen Greg around?” I asked, searching the crowd coming down the hill and to the parking lot. Figured I wouldn’t see him again until the ten year reunion. Didn’t know where he lived anyway. Not like I ever visited anyone’s house or they came to mine. I wasn’t even sure most people in high school did that.

“Nope. Don’t care anyway.”

“Yo!” A gangly ginger waved to Jared from the parking lot.

“See ya,” Jared said and walked off.

“See ya.” I sat in the grass, watching the school empty out. Friends passed by, some laughing and high-fiving one another. Others bawled and hugged each other, promising to totally keep in touch. I wanted to throw up.

Soon, my mom’s minivan pulled up and I climbed inside. I mouthed her question as soon as she asked it. “I bet you’re happy, huh? No more school at all.”

“There’s still college,” I said as we drove away. That was all until we came home. I grabbed a handful of chips from the kitchen, headed straight to my room, threw down my backpack, and took part in my normal school’s-out routine. But with more enthusiasm:

One, Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out for Summer” cranked up while doing a little victory dance so bad that every other white guy would have to personally apologize for it.

Two, Diet Coke.

Three, video games all day.

Or the video games would’ve lasted all day, but the surreality of not having to go to school settled in and I felt contemplative. So I flopped onto my bed and stared at the ceiling, dwelling on school, my future, where I was now while System of a Down came on. I’d like to say I had some kind of epiphany or insight into a life lesson, but mostly, I was simply amazed I made it through school.

I grabbed my yearbook out of my backpack and flipped through the scant amount of signatures. Well, scant compared to other people. A good 30 or so wasn’t that bad. I hummed to an Offspring song, mumbling the lyrics under my breath.

Finally free.

*  *  *

I found my picture in the yearbook, working in an engineering class and messing with a 3D printer. I hadn’t changed too much. I wasn’t as fat and I shuddered to think I had once thought dying my hair was a good idea. But other than that, same face, same personality, albeit one that put on a friendly face in public and could fake social interactions instead of wearing my shy self on my sleeve and not talking to anyone.

I’ll admit, I longed for the old days. Not for high school itself. Not on your life. But the old group. It was fun then, back when the worst we worried about was homework and lives hadn’t turned out terrible for most. As I scanned face after face, my mind assigned the outcome to each of their lives, which made me more and more depressed.

Darla. Last heard, she had moved in with a bad boyfriend up north and her life had gone down the drain. Hearsay, but still nothing hopeful.

Ramon. Was in college, got a degree. But couldn’t find a job and lived in squalor.

Mick. Former athlete and ladies’ man. Had gotten super tall, super fat, and become a pothead last I saw of him working at the theater.

Oliver. In jail somewhere. Not sure for what.

Greg. Smart as they come with a bright future ahead of him. If you believed Jared, then Greg was a meth addict who had run away. Then again, Jared had gotten an inflated ego over the years and looked down on anyone from high school, thinking himself better. Even when we ended up in the same college, he figured we were the only two to climb out of the pile of “failure”. But he also avoided me as well. Maybe I reminded him of where he came from.

No, I liked to believe the other report I heard about Greg from his parents. Maybe it was wishful thinking, maybe his parents sugarcoated matters, but they had told me Greg was in school and doing well. That seemed like a better outcome than the constant misery flung on everyone else.

I looked around the room and noted that my outcome hadn’t been too bad either. I wasn’t where I had planned, no, but I had a place to live, food, bed, family, a girlfriend, and a decent job that was always looking up. Things could be worse.

*  *  *

If you’ve never been in a high school marching band in Florida, then you’re lucky. I think the heat bakes the minds of the band directors, because they feel it would be best to have band camp in summer. The hottest fucking time of the year. Hell, one year, our band director made us have band camp on the dot after a hurricane hit and the school itself had cancelled all other activities. But not our band director.

We marched on the field like the dumbasses we were, holding our instruments, marching to the “Hall of the Mountain King” or some other piece. Being an incoming freshman, I was given the task of clashing the cymbals. Part of the time, I held the cymbals out for the rest of the drumline to hit. So naturally, they hit my fingers more often than the cymbal. And I’ll tell you, drumsticks leave pretty sizable welts.

When we finally had a break, Jared and I plopped onto the edge of the field on the hill, overlooking the courts, sports fields, the stables for the agricultural classes, the bus drop off zone, and the back of the school. This is where we would be going to. And we were excited.

I gulped down water from my oversized thermos until I felt sick, then leaned on my arms. “I hate summer.”

“Yeah,” Jared said. We sat in silence, listening to people mill around and enjoy their five-minute break. “It’s crazy, you know.”

“What is?”

“We’re going to be in high school. It’s like, elementary school seems so long ago and I remember it. And now we’re here.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Crazy.”

He laid back, staring at the sky. “I don’t know what the future will be. It’s kind of overwhelming. But cool.”

“Yeah,” I said, nodding. I kept an eye on the school, already imagining all the things that would happen. This was the first step into a larger world. Toward an adult world. I couldn’t wait to form all the memories people talk about in high school. I hoped it was great.

All I really knew for sure is that I didn’t know what the future held.

*  *  *

I realized something. It wasn’t anything that made everything suddenly make sense or was some hidden meaning behind the universe’s grand design. It was a simple constant that I often forgot about, but was still there, as it had been from the beginning.

As I closed my yearbook on the band section and opened my laptop to write, I realized I still didn’t know what the future held.

Property of The Pen Vs The Sword. Please do not use without permission. Thank you.

So this is more of a personal project, the likes of which formed in my mind while listening to "Dammit" by Blink-182. For some reason, that song always makes me nostalgic and think of the past with old friends, instead of the crappy break-up music video they used for the song. The more we listened to it, the more this came about and we tried some different things for it. Not that there's any real point to the story. Just a series of vignettes with no real connection that we could find, but were compelled to put down on paper for some reason. Or put down on computer screen.

Some of the events and most of the people in the story are real, and I remembered what I could to the best of my ability. The rest we ad-libbed. Yes, some of the language is colorful, but we tried to capture what my friends and I were like back then. So we do not recommend younger people reading this.

This story belongs to The Pen Vs The Sword. Please do not use without permission. Thank you. In order to protect the identity of people within the story, names, places, and other personal information has been changed.

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:iconlegendofright:
legendofright Featured By Owner Jan 27, 2017
This is very nice and very touching. A lot of meaning comes out of this. I can literally feel it. I'm sure we've all been through hard times. This could be like a small book lol.
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:iconthepenvsthesword:
ThePenVsTheSword Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2017  Student Writer
Thank you very much. Although, I doubt it could be a book. This is more just personal musings on my part.
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