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“I’m Isaac. I’m from down south.”
The sea of apathetic seventeen and eighteen year olds mumble in acknowledgement. The teacher nods me to an empty seat in the back.
I draw my body closer to myself and head to the back of the room where I slide down next to a stoney faced, dark skinned boy who is almost too big for the chair and table. He looks up reflexively, unreadable expression studying me for a brief two seconds. Calculating and reading and summarising all in one moment.
We sit in uncomfortable silence for a few more moments as the teacher lists off generic announcements about the first day back.
I try not to draw attention to myself, but the boy next to me lifts his head again and turns to me.
“Hey dude. It’s Marcus.”
“Nice to meet you.”
“How was school?”
“Made any new friends?”
“It’s the first day. You don’t make friends in a day.”
“You should.” She sighs, not meeting my gaze as she shoves some of the leftovers into the microwave. “It’s about time you socialise with some people. It’ll be good for you.”
“I will,” I reply, entirely non committed.
“Get some plates already.” She hurries around the kitchen and I slowly set out everything for dinner.
As soon as my dad gets home it’s as if someone lights a ticking time bomb in the air.
My hairs stand on end as I sit between my parents, picking at the stale chicken on my plate.
“So how was school?” My dad asks shortly.
“I already asked him earlier,” my mom snaps back. “It’s the first day, you know how these things go.”
“I’d like to hear our son speak, if you’d be so kind as to give him a second.”
“I’ll be so kind then. Isaac?”
I chew on a piece of chicken which begins to taste like cardboard. I swallow with extreme difficulty. “Fine. Classes were good. I have a lot of homework.”
“And the people?”
“Fine,” I press back.
“You know you can’t act so exasperated every time we bring stuff like this up. It’s been months, you’re going to have to get over yourself soon enough.” My dad speaks curtly, looking at my direction, a sharp challenge.
I open my mouth angrily, about to retort, but my mom cuts me off.
“You know I’m right. He’s been sulking for ages. I know it was bad, but what Lucas would’ve wanted was for Isaac to move on.”
“I spoke to you about this. Don’t talk about it like that.”
“You think you know what’s best for him? You’ve been coddling him ever since. He’s seventeen, he doesn’t need to be babysat. He needs to learn how to deal with life.”
I grab my dinner and stand up violently, retreating back to my room and slamming my food onto my work table. I kick my door closed behind me as my parents’ voices continue rising in the living room.
I turn on my laptop and plug in my earphones, turning up the music, and finish my dinner in the dark.
I’m carrying a ton and a half in my eyelids the entire day at school. As lunch time rolls around it takes all my strength to carry my tray of unappealing macaroni and cheese to a corner of the cafeteria where I won’t be disturbed.
I put my earphones in and pour an ungodly amount of ketchup onto my food in an attempt to make it more appetising.
I’m only disturbed by a loud commotion at the other end of the room. I remove an earbud as a piece of food goes flying across the cafeteria, arcing over my head and landing a few tables away.
I whirl around and there’s a group of students laughing loudly and tossing food at a girl sitting not far from me. There’s a steely look on her face as she sits unmoving as they continue laughing.
I shove my tray to the side and in an instant the red – that scarlet, familiar red – floods my vision again. I’m on my feet and almost running towards them.
“Hey dude, what are you – ” one of them starts, but before he even finishes I’m grabbing the collar of one of the larger boys who’s about to aim another handful of macaroni and cheese at the girl and I drag him straight to the floor.
There’s a loud, ear splitting crash as his shoulder hits the bench then the ground and I’m on top of him, my fists flying forward almost of their own accord.
“Woah! Hey man let him go – ”
Somebody is shouting, a lot of people are shouting, but I have the larger boy pinned in shock to the ground as I pull down one of the spare trays and am just about to slam it into his face before something – someone – stops me.
They jerk the tray back and pull me off, scrambling.
I turn violently but it’s Marcus, his eyes wide.
“It’s okay,” he begins shakily. “Isaac, let it go. Let’s not send anyone to the hospital today.”
My vision begins to clear and I’m standing there, one student bloodied and in shock at my feet, and Marcus gripping my wrist, steadying me.
And a teacher storming towards me from across the room.
My heart falls to my stomach, and in my ears, a roaring river.