* * *
The cacophony of shattered glass was not as loud as Steven’s scream. “Stop telling me to kill myself!” He shuddered and held his bloodied knuckles to his chest. A shard of broken mirror sank into the rubberized toe of his shower shoes. He stood there shaking and stared at the missing mirror panel. The other two undisturbed mirrors showed a young man bleeding on the bathroom tile.
His chest heaved, and his attention fell to the broken glass on the sink and floor. Thousands of quivering figures looked up at him when his eyes met each reflective piece. The voice for the first time in as long as he could remember fell silent. Steven knew the voice would return, and the thought sent a shiver down his spine. No one came running to check on the noise. That suited Steven just fine. He didn’t need anyone. Steven knelt to clean up the glass fragments.
It didn’t take Steven too long to clean up the mess he made. He wondered if he would even need to explain himself. It wasn’t as if the staff at the halfway house cared what happened within its doors, as long as the government paid them for Steven’s stay. After wrapping a bandage taut around his knuckles, he quickly dressed and made his way to the lounge.
It was day three of his self-imposed vacation from school. Three days with the voice as his only companion. Others had come and gone, but they had their own problems to deal with. He silently endured his three days of torment. Steven looked up at a television in the corner of the lounge. The public access channel was showing a children’s cartoon. Steven was too old for the educational benefits of the simple cartoon, but the sounds filled his head where the voice had resided in earnest for the last three days. Steven leaned back, closed his eyes, and let the nonsensical sounds wash over him.
Since he wasn’t constantly battling the voice, Steven had a moment to let his mind wander. His thoughts kept returning to the Twin Oaks High School.
Had they noticed that he wasn’t there? he wondered. Were they relieved that he wasn’t there? At least he had a moment alone from their hurtful looks. At least the voice was silent – if even for only a moment.
As if his thought presaged it, the voice intoned, They won’t stop.
“They’ll find something else to focus on,” Steven muttered. “It’s not as if they want to see me there.”
You know what they really want, the voice replied. Make them happy.
“Please just leave me alone,” Steven begged the voice.
She wants you too…
Steven focused on the garbled noise from the television. He weaved the sound into a protective blanket as if it could protect him.
* * *
Steven spent the rest of the week and the weekend clinging to tattered sanity. The isolation nearly drove him mad. He had to return to school if for nothing else, to give him something to occupy his mind.
His classmates muttered curses and comments as Steven walked by. It wasn’t taboo to openly dislike Steven, and the student body took advantage of that. Apparently, some there thought he had killed himself. As if one death could somehow cleanse the other. Many didn’t even try to hide their disappointment that the rumors of him taking his own life were untrue.
Even the voice that always muttered missives was just background noise to the running commentary of the student body. Steven was so focused on the internal monologue that he didn’t notice that the flow of bodies in front of him had stopped. He collided with a backpack, and after realization had dawned on him, he recognized the backpack and its owner.
Robert turned and their eyes locked. Robert looked better than he ever had. His hair was styled and perfect; he wore a polo shirt and slacks. Gone were the gaming, anime, and Internet meme tee shirts he usually wore. Robert stood confident, straight and tall.
By contrast, Steven’s hair was unkempt, but not in a good way. His clothes were not dirty, but they were wrinkled. Steven flinched at every sound.
Robert surveyed his former friend and tried to move past him. Steven reeled back as if he had been struck, his eyes darting all around him for impending attacks.
Robert arrested his egress and stared at the boy pariah. After a tense moment or two, he asked, “What are you doing here?”
Steven swallowed, trying to lubricate his throat and by extension, his voice. “I just…” he began and cleared his throat. “I just decided to come back. Graduation … and stuff.” Steven saw doubt in Robert’s eyes. And maybe my old friend, Steven thought.
Robert inhaled to respond, but a hand grabbed his arm. Ruby emerged from the throng of students and stood beside Robert. “Robbie,” she cooed, “will you head to the cafeteria and get me a granola bar?” She met Steven’s eyes. “I’m still a bit hungry,” she concluded.
Robert nodded to Ruby and although it looked as if he still wanted to say something, he scurried off to the cafeteria.
Ruby’s gaze never faltered as Robert disappeared into the crowd. Her face was a mask of disgust and contempt. Steven had no doubt what she thought of him.
“How dare you,” Ruby seethed.
Steven blanched. “How dare I what?” he asked.
“Show your face here again after what you did,” Ruby demanded.
Steven considered telling her that every day was a living hell, and he hadn’t done anything, but he knew she wouldn’t listen. She had already made up her mind.
Steven tried to move past her, but she reached out and grabbed him by his wrinkled shirt. She slapped him across the face, pain radiating out from his cheek.
“You’re pathetic,” Ruby declared as she released Steven’s shirt. “You disgust me and everyone else here.” She gave him a final scowl and hustled down the hall to the cafeteria.
Steven’s hand rose to caress his cheek. The flow of students jostled him, but he remained frozen in place, Ruby’s words echoing in his ears.
Disgust? he thought. Everyone? He hadn’t done anything wrong. He even felt such remorse for Lindsay’s actions that the sadness had almost driven him to join her. Did no one stop to consider what he was going through? No, he thought, they only care about themselves.
For the first time since Lindsay’s suicide, Steven felt a lingering emotion that he hadn’t known since when he and she argued. The rage surged within, and Steven was surprised. Surprised that his rage subsumed into hatred.
Hatred he felt toward those that harmed him…
Hatred he felt toward Lindsay…
Hatred he felt toward Ruby…
Hatred he felt toward … Robert.