Nov. 24th, 2009 11:25 pm
backdrifter: I won NaNoWriMo 2009! (nanowrimo 2009)
[personal profile] backdrifter
Ryan sometimes wished he'd been born in January, or even July. A month starting with J, or any month, really, so long as it was before September. Scratch that, he wished that almost all the time. His December birthday meant he was in his first year of high school at age thirteen, though he'd been born in the same year as all the fourteen year olds that crowded his sides. They were waiting outside the school building on a blustery September morning for the doors to open and let them into their umpteenth day of school.

Ryan hadn't grown much. He was five foot two now, and he found trying to see if the doors were open yet an impossible task with all the heads and shoulders in the way. He had tried to ignore puberty as it happened to him, and thanks to his lack of a real growth spurt, it hadn't been too hard. He took very quick showers.

When the doors opened, it was like a hole in a dam, and the students began to flood in, bottlenecking at the edges and moving sluggishly in the center. Ryan was swept along, his feet sometimes not even getting a chance to touch down all the way before he was taking another step.

He hadn't gotten the best grades in middle school, and he hadn't gone to the best middle school. His performance had been average at best, and disappointing at worst, but he'd been passed out of some sort of pity for his condition, he assumed. As if he wasn't medicated for it. As a result, he'd gotten into an academically low-end high school, unlike his brother Danny at Brooklyn Tech, and that suited him fine.

He let himself be pulled into the stairwell, and he kept to the stream of students heading upstairs on the left staircase. His homeroom was on the fifth floor, in room 503, easily found after three months of routine. He had acquaintances, not friends, and they nodded the barest hello to him as he took his seat. He didn't know if it was the way his medication dulled his personality, or the way he dressed—was there something wrong with a plain t-shirt and blue jeans, neither baggy nor skin-tight?—or just something detectable by all but himself, but nobody especially cared to make friends with Ryan Kamizaki. Nobody called him Kamikaze, at least, but he hadn't heard that one since fourth grade, unless you counted that one time in sixth grade, soon after which the teacher set the name-caller straight on why Ryan couldn't be called anything but his first name. Ah, right, his condition.

Ryan's condition was well-managed on Seroquel, though in the fourth and fifth grades, his status as a schizophrenic was broadcast across the entire school—so that, he supposed, children his age and older would know to not tease or aggravate or even play too hard with him, and younger children would know to avoid him altogether. Like he was a bomb, encased in only the barest protection and waiting to be set off.

Since then, his condition was his to disclose or keep to himself, and he preferred to keep it very much to himself. It wasn't like anyone would believe him now, anyway, when the Seroquel kept his personality even and flat. It wasn't as bad as it had been when he'd first been dosed, but the Seroquel made him sleepy, too, and he found himself slumping into naps at whatever desk he happened to be sitting at. He knew the teachers were informed, knew they were told to wake him with minimal attention and zero repercussions, but he wished, just once, a teacher would call him lazy, or ask him, sarcastically, if he found the class too boring to stay awake.

There was one person in the entire school that caught his attention, however, and he sat in the furthest corner of his homeroom, legs outstretched as he leaned back and scowled. Nothing he wore fit his overgrown body, which had the appearance of being taken at both ends and stretched like putty; his shirts split at the armhole seams, straining across his pubescent chest, and the hems of his pants were never lower than three inches above his ankles. Ryan suspected he sat the way he did to keep his pants, never buttoned at the waist, from cutting off the circulation to his groin. The way he reeked some days suggested his tiny clothes weren't a fashion statement.

It wasn't his clothes, his smell or his scowl that made Ryan watch Thomas Wilkins, though. It was his striking resemblance to a ghost from Ryan's childhood, with his brown skin, shaggy black hair, and thick, angry eyebrows. He had the same small mouth, the same black eyes—the same enormous, bony hands. Ryan couldn't look at him for too long, feeling the bottom of his stomach start to fall out, though outwardly there was no change. Ryan missed emoting.

Thomas Wilkins. It was what he responded to now, during the tail end of attendance, but it couldn't be right. He could excuse the first name—Victor wasn't a particularly Middle-Eastern name, either—but there was no mistaking that profile, the certain tone of sepia that pigmented his skin. Sure, he went by the name Respa, but that was a nickname, not to mention completely made-up. Thomas—no, Respa—caught him looking from the other end of the room, and his fingers froze in the middle of playing with one of his many earrings as he mouthed Fuck off! Ryan looked away in a hurry.

That was the other thing about Respa. The bell rang to release them from homeroom, and Respa gathered his tiny bookbag to be one of the first to escape the room. Outside, he met with the two girls he always hung out with—token goths, Ella and Cassandra. Ella was short and thin to the point of resembling a child, and Cassandra was large, almost obese, hiding behind a curtain of straight brown hair and a disgruntled expression. Behind them was their occasional companion, another mall goth (inexplicable in the most anti-mall city in the country) named Malachy who rarely attended school. He only ever hung out with these three, and he was openly hostile to anyone outside his tiny social circle.

Respa attended half his classes on good days, and there were days when he was nowhere to be seen. He seemed to spend his class time roaming the halls instead, searching for someone to intimidate and maybe hurt. After this particular morning, Ryan found himself hurrying to his first class, afraid to attract Respa's attention any further.

Ryan, unfortunately, had first period class with Cassandra, and he had to follow along behind Respa and his posse. He tried to trail some feet behind them, tried stopping and waiting until they were a good ways ahead, but he always seemed to near them.

They took a sudden turn, Respa leading the pack with his thumbs tucked into his miniature front pockets, and they were in a deep alcove of sorts that made the center of the hallway on each floor. Ryan meant to keep walking, to go to class. He wanted to sit down in history class and fight to stay awake, to attempt to take notes that made sense to him later. Instead he paused at the corner of the alcove, watching. Waiting in the alcove was a mousy, short boy with tightly curled brown hair and watery grey eyes. Why he'd been waiting there, when the sight of Respa made this boy hunch his shoulders up to his ears and buckle his knees.

"Please," the boy pleaded, and Ryan recognized him as Alex Steinbrenner, also in Ryan's first period history class. "Don't do this, Thomas."

"Shut up," Respa snapped, feinting a lunge forward that made Alex slide down the wall abruptly and scrabble at the tiles on it, looking panicked. Respa swung his backpack around to the front of his body, jerked the zipper open and produced a set of keys that he swung in circles around his index finger before holding them tight. "You want this, right?" Alex nodded, clasping and unclasping his fingers nervously. "Ten bucks."

"Ten—! That's not what we agreed on!" Alex yelped, and Respa laughed.

"When I've got your keys, I don't think it matters what we agreed on before," Respa sneered. "Ten bucks, Steinbrenner."

"I... I don't have ten dollars." Alex spread his arms palm-up beseechingly. "Please, yesterday I had to wait until one of my parents got home to let me in, and I couldn't even tell them why. My keys are important."

"I know," Respa said, pursing his lips and raising his brows. "That's why I took 'em." And he delivered a swift kick to Alex's lower abdomen that made the smaller boy double over with a groan of pain. Alex put his hands out as he fell, and when he landed, Respa kicked out one of his wrists, making Alex land even harder on one shoulder.

"Don't," Alex begged breathlessly, "don't do this, please, Thomas—" He earned himself another kick, this time somewhere in the vicinity of his stomach. He wailed.

"You want your keys back?" Respa asked softly, from high above the boy curling up on the hallway floor. Alex barely nodded, and without expression, Respa dropped the heavy key ring. It fell a long way to hit Alex in the face, and leave him with a cut over his eyebrow. "You got it. For free, since you convinced me so good."

It was then that Cassandra spotted Ryan, pointing a fleshy finger in his direction. "Hey! This faggot over here's been watching us!" She made a move toward him, and Ryan skittered away from her, half her size and quick from years of martial arts training. Unfortunately, Seroquel beat out that training, and Malachy—a daddy long legs in baggy, chain-studded clothing—caught him from behind, embracing him in a bear hug. Ryan could have easily broken the hold, knowing more than one way how, but Respa strolled up, and Ryan found himself frozen by the sight. His heart rattled the cage of his ribs, and he slumped forward slightly in Malachy's grip.

"You watching us?" Respa asked, clearly not pleased by the idea. "What're you watching us for? You gonna rat on us or something?"

"No," Ryan mumbled. "On my way to class. Same class as her." He nodded in Cassandra's direction, and she glared at him like she wanted him to die.

"So go to class. Why watch us?" What Ryan found strange, wrapped in Malachy's clammy arms, was that Respa seemed to remember to drop his propositions half the time. Like he was playing stupid. Respa stood now with his arms crossed, weight shifted to one leg.

"I dunno." Because it was like watching a car crash.

Respa strode forward, curling his fingers into the fabric of Ryan's T-shirt, and snarled, "I ever catch you watching me or any of us again, I swear to God, you chinky little bastard, I will kick your ass till you can't even feel it any—no more. You got that?"

Ryan nodded, wide-eyed, and Malachy set him free. Malachy grinned maliciously as he fiddled with his long, greasy black ponytail, and Respa untangled his fingers from Ryan's shirt. "Get the fuck out of here, go to class," Respa barked, as if he were reminding them. "You too, Cass, can't be failing that shit." The way his tongue moved silently showed anybody who was paying attention—essentially, Ryan—that he regretted not dropping the g on failing. "Go, you little midget!"

Ryan had class with Alex Steinbrenner after lunch period, sitting directly behind the shrimpy (well, no, it wasn't right to call him shrimpy, when he still stood at least four inches taller than Ryan) boy. Alex was withdrawn into an enormous windbreaker today, speaking only when specifically and very specifically called upon to do so. Ryan couldn't say he blamed him. He wanted to talk to Alex, but that proved a problem when Ryan woke up at the end of the period, not realizing he'd fallen asleep, and Alex was already gone.

He wanted to feel anger—anger that Alex had left without waiting for him, though how could Alex have ever known?—anger that his teacher hadn't seen fit to wake him up, and really, that desire was justified. It felt muted, though, the emotion barely reaching his brain before subsiding. Instead, he packed up his things, drooled-on notebook pages and all, and went to see if he could track Alex Steinbrenner down.

Alex moved quickly, darting like a minnow in the stream of slow-moving students that seemed to go out of their way to block Ryan's path. By the time Ryan had gotten past a particularly thick knot of fellow students, Alex was long gone.

He went home alone, trying to keep his nose out of rush hour armpits. He was always the second of the Kamizaki brothers to get home, because Kenny's middle school was only a couple stops away, and Danny went to high school in Brooklyn. It also helped that Kenny came straight home from school to fold himself up on the couch and do homework, and Danny no longer believed in homework.

Kenny was, as expected, on the couch when Ryan arrived. At twelve years old he was already five foot ten, with monkey arms and long stilts for legs, his torso not quite with the program yet. With the exception of his height, though, he slotted right into the stereotype of every Asian-American boy his age, with hair his peers called "Koosh Ball hair," a smattering of acne on each cheek, and a strict ethic that especially involved an aptitude for math. Ryan might have been good at math once; the pills made him average at best. Just looking at Kenny made him sigh.

Kenny never greeted him verbally, but he glanced up with his slim eyes that were the opposite of Ryan's, and the corners of his mouth turned down. Then he stretched his long legs across the couch, disproportionately large feet brushing the arm on the other side, silently denying Ryan any access to the couch. Ryan stood for a moment, looking first at the couch and then his brother, and then went to put his things in his room. He wasn't going to care whether or not Kenny liked him today.

His room had been repainted since he'd been diagnosed, going from a bright yellow in his childhood to a more soothing moss green. The doctor hadn't said anything about color therapy, but someone in the waiting room at Doctor Sobel's office had mentioned that after she'd painted her daughter's room a cool tone, she seemed to be calmer, at least while she was actually in her room. Ryan thought he didn't need any help calming down.

He woke up an hour later, only vaguely aware that he'd touched down on his bed, and when he returned to the living room, Kenny was done with most or all of his homework, and was sitting on the floor in front of the couch, playing the Gamecube the three of them shared. "Gamecube sucks," Kenny said by way of acknowledgement of Ryan's entrance, though he seemed perfectly absorbed in Mario Kart. If his virtual driving skills as a seven year old had been shoddy, he was a perfectionist now, blowing through the top levels with ease. "I wish Dad would get us a PS2." On the screen, Donkey Kong cleared the finish line with time to spare, his partner that Ryan could never remember the name of celebrating with him. Kenny looked bored.

"I like the Gamecube," Ryan said, feeling lame as he sat down on the now-empty couch. It was a different couch, too; after he'd told his parents that his bed and the couch were the two places Victor had favored most, not only had both rooms been repainted, but the old couch and bed had been tossed immediately, leaving them with a hole in the living room until someone made the time to go to IKEA. (His mother had wanted Crate & Barrel or Pottery Barn, but a quick review of finances sent them elsewhere.) Ryan had slept in his sister's room until his new bed came. Treacherously, he thought he preferred the old, smaller red couch to this navy juggernaut.

"You would," Kenny snorted, scrolling rapidly through go-kart choices for his next race. "Play this shit with me, Ryan."

"I have homework to do." Ryan wished he didn't feel like the younger brother.

"You never do your homework. Come and play this with me, the CPU is too easy." Kenny patted the floor next to him, face enigmatic. "Come on."

Ryan had never fully lost his distrust of televisions, though, even knowing that they could no longer do anything to him so long as he stuck to his medication. He shook his head, crossed his legs to draw them up onto the seat cushion. Kenny shrugged, said, "Whatever, short stack," and went back to playing by himself. Just as Kenny said, though, Ryan made no move to do his homework.

Danny generally rolled in a little bit before their parents did, which was the case today. Though he'd been admitted to Brooklyn Tech for his general brilliance, the fact that he hadn't gotten into Stuyvesant—the best of the best, the top of the top, the holy land of high school academia—had never stopped bothering him. Homework became a sporadic thing with Danny, and now at sixteen years of age, he was dangerously close to repeating eleventh grade, something nobody had seen coming.

His head was shaved now, combining with his darker olive complexion to make him look like a monk. Any money he got his hands on went toward the tattoo sleeve he was getting done in bits and pieces; neither of their parents approved, but they'd always taken a laissez-faire approach to parenting. Danny stumped them.

"Hey, little bros," he said as he pulled his earbuds out. "Ryan, how come you're not playing? Kenny not letting you?" He hung up his leather jacket, a creaking and worn thing he'd found at the thrift store, and strode over to flop onto the couch next to Ryan.

"Not let—! I asked him if he wanted to, what the fuck, Danny? Like I'm an asshole or something." Kenny grumbled to himself, releasing his aggression with a shell missile at Princess Peach nearby. He cursed again when he missed.

"Hey! Language, Kenny," Danny said, toeing off one slip-on sneaker to hit Kenny in the back. "Come on, you're only twelve."

"I don't look twelve, I can talk however I want," Kenny retorted. Danny's second sneaker hit him in response. "Ow!"

"Ryan, how come you don't wanna play?" Danny asked, even as he took up the second controller. "Kenny's getting too good at this shit, he needs somebody to put him in his place."

"Don't wanna," Ryan said quietly, picking at the pills on the couch.

"Thought you liked the Gamecube." Danny reached to swap the controller jacks, fending an indignant Kenny off with one arm as he did. "Kenny, shut up."

"I like, um, Pikmin." Pikmin was a single-player game that involved focus, micromanagement, and absolutely no collaboration.

"Pikmin sucks," Kenny said loudly as he tried to switch back the controllers, rather in vain. "Pikmin's gay!"

"Kenny!" Danny snapped, shoving Kenny off violently. Kenny flailed, limbs everywhere like an insect on its back. "Watch your mouth!"

Since Victor, Danny had become a strict moderator of any talk of gay or homo or faggot around Ryan. It was generally considered an easy way to call something stupid by any boy of any of their ages, but it set Danny's teeth on edge.

"Whatever," Kenny muttered, pulling himself upright and picking up his controller. He didn't try to switch them again.

When Ryan woke up again, annoyed that he hadn't even realized he'd fallen asleep, both his brothers were gone, leaving him alone with a TV they'd forgotten to turn off. Without the cable on, it was just a lit black screen, buzzing with white noise. Ryan hurried off the couch and down the hall.

"Ryan," Danny said as Ryan entered the kitchen, chewing a bite of a sandwich, "don't forget tomorrow to go see Doctor Sobel."

"I don't forget," Ryan sighed, opening the fridge. "I won't, I mean." He couldn't bring himself to point out the hypocrisy in Danny being the one to nag him, when Danny didn't do anything he was supposed to.

"Mom and Dad pay a lot for those sessions. On top of your karate." Danny took another bite, chewing thoughtfully. Neither Ryan nor Kenny said anything about how their parents had paid a lot for Danny's extra lessons and tutoring, either.

"Don't forget the art therapy," Kenny added with a jeering tone, because he could never leave an opportunity to jab at Ryan.

"Art classes," Danny corrected, but Kenny was right. There were no normal students in Ryan's art class, held in a private studio downtown, and he was the youngest by a good handful of years. Schizophrenics whose medication wasn't covering all the proper bases, some of them higher-functioning than others. To his dismay, Ryan wasn't the highest-functioning, though he was certainly a contender. The fact that his art skills were actually coming along wasn't much of a comfort.

"Therapy," Kenny countered, peeling a banana. "Because Ryan's crazy, and he can't have just an art class. You can't—"

"Kenny!" Danny said again, and Kenny fell silent, scowling and muttering something about how it was true, wasn't it? "Ryan, close the fridge, you're letting all the cold air out."

Ryan gave up on getting anything to eat, and went to fall asleep one more time, this time on purpose.

June 2011

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