I don’t know how he got there, but my father was passed out on the floor next to his overstuffed chair when I came downstairs to the living room.

It was the first day of a new school year-otherwise known as what very well could be the worst day of my life-and I had to step over him to get to the kitchen, which was a filthy wreck, just as it always was.

I went to the refrigerator, opened the door and saw what I usually saw-plenty of drink, but nothing for me to drink other than the carton of old orange juice that had been sweating in there for a solid month. I wanted to throw it out, but if I did, I’d catch hell for it. And so I gave up on the idea of having breakfast, moved quietly to my mother’s handbag on the kitchen island, and took a few dollars for lunch.

My father was the perfect distraction. His snoring was so loud, it was almost obscene given the noises he made. I went to the doorway and looked at him. Not even forty and already looking past fifty. He was a gem of a man. What a catch my mother landed when she agreed to marry Bill Moore. She found herself a true winner who had gone on to become husband and father of the year. Pick a year. Any year. Didn't matter the year.

I did what I could.

He was too heavy for me to lift without his help, so a gently shook him awake, and when I did, there were those mean eyes of his snapping open and boring into mine.


“Want me to help you get into the chair?”

“Fine here.”

“The chair would be better.”

“For who?”

“You’ve got a bad back.”

“What I’ve got are my fists.”

He was wasted. I could light a flame next to his mouth and be rid of him if I wanted to. And, really, that wasn't such a bad idea. Still, since there was no use dealing with him, I stepped over him and went to the door.

“Where you going?”


“Gonna get your ass whipped again this year?”

“Is that even a question?”

“Watch your mouth, pussy.”

“I’ll see you later.”

“That a threat?”

God, I hated him.

I left the house and looked around.

It was fall, the air was just this side of crisp and in spite of the trash lying in the yard, if I looked up into the trees, it actually was pretty because some of them were beginning to turn. Not too many-there was still plenty of green. But touches of color were transforming the landscape in ways that were fresh and interesting. Summer was my favorite time of the year-it meant no school and I could hide away from my parents and everyone else in town by staying in my room-but fall was a close second, if only because the trees offered a distraction by reaching their full potential in explosions of color.

I could hear the bus approaching before I reached the end of my street. Other kids were there, but they were too self-involved with their new clothes, smart shoes and summertime stories to pay attention to me. They’d turn to me later. I hung back and watched the great yellow beast stop beside them. Before entering, I looked up at the row of windows and in every one of them, I saw a smiling face of evil looking down at me.

I got on the bus and in a stroke of luck, I saw near the rear of it that there was an empty seat. As I walked toward it, I kept my eyes focused and looking straight ahead, even when one of the kids-Mike Hastings, who had made my life a living hell since first grade-made a loud hocking sound as I passed him. When he spit, I braced myself for the inevitable, but he missed me and instead his great glob of snot struck Sara Fielding square in the face.

Sara was one of the popular girls in school-cheerleader, pretty, blonde, not as dumb as she looked, the making of a great life ahead of her. For most of my life, I’d been spit on but this apparently was a first for her, and man, was she determined to let people know about it. At the top of her lungs, she shrieked, which made the bus driver look in his mirror and then pull to off to the right side of the road, where he stopped.

I took my seat near the rear of the bus and watched him stand. Now, Sara was standing. Her hands were in front of her face and she was still screaming, which amused me because she and Hastings once were an item. They'd obviously had their tongues down their throats before, so at some point she must have had his spit in her mouth. Why scream now?

For the attention.

Eyes shut, Hasting's spittle leaching down her face in thick rivers of rottenness, she managed to reach into her bag and pull out a tissue, which she wiped across her face, smearing her make-up.

I looked at Hastings, who was looking straight ahead while everyone else was looking at Sara, who continued to bleat like a sheep.

“What’s the problem here?” the bus driver asked.

Sara finished cleaning the spit off her face and glared at the man. Her father was one of the wealthiest doctors in town and she knew it. She was just days from seventeen and when she reached it, there was no question in my mind that Daddy would buy her a car and she'd be one of the coveted few at school who had one.

“What do you think is the problem?' she said. 'I was spit on. Somebody spit on me. They. Spit. On. Me. I want you to take me home. I'm not going to school like this. I need to shower, I need to change, I need to-”

“Tell me who spit on you,” the man said. “That's what you need to do. You need to tell me who spit on you.' He looked around the bus. 'Which one of you did it?”

And Mike Hastings, true to form, looked up at the man and pointed down the aisle at me. “It was Moore,” he said. “He spit on her.”

“Who’s Moore?”

This guy had been my bus driver for at least ten years and he still had no idea who I was. Story of my life.

Hastings turned in his seat and pointed at me. “Him,” he said. “The faggot in the blue jacket. In the back. Sitting alone.”

With no real conviction, the bus driver told him not to call me a faggot. As he walked toward me, Sara ripped her internal motor into overdrive and started squealing like a stuck pig again, saying something about how something had just dripped into her eye. Apparently, she was going to work this moment for all it was worth.

“You spit on her?” he said to me.

I shook my head.

“Then why is he saying you did?”

If I lied, I'd get beat up. If I told the truth, I'd get beat up. And so at the very least, I should earn that fist in my face. “Because he hates me,' I said. 'Because he’s always hated me. And because he did it. I stepped on the bus, he tried to spit on me like he always does and this time, he missed. This time, it went into her face, not mine.”

“You’re a liar.”

It was Hastings. He was up and out of his seat now, his athletic body more lean and muscular than it had been when I last saw him-at the end of school last June. I looked at him and wondered how everything had come together genetically for him. Already, he was over six feet tall. His dark hair was thick and groomed and seemingly

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