The quilt was emerging from the wood nicely. The patterns I had planned weren’t perfect. Drawing wasn’t my strong suit. But with the three-dimensional aspect of the wood I could salvage the designs. That was where my skill lied.
I had brought my tools to my room before I had gone to sleep. This morning I opened my shutters and, pushing bedhead and cowlicks aside, went to work, littering wood shavings over my clay-stained sheets. Early to bed and early to rise, they say.
My room was cluttered with old pieces already. Some of them were finished, many weren’t. My work wasn’t well-planned. If I had an idea, I started it. If a piece slipped from my mind, which they often did, it lay forgotten and gathered dust.
There were also sculptures hidden around the house. Not in places where my parents would see them and scold me for making a mess, just unused shelves and cabinets with doors that stuck too much to allow for easy, daily use. A few of my found-object pieces were stored in caches at the fringes of the woods behind my house like dirty magazines from the 80’s. That wasn’t ideal. I only put things that were sturdy and easily-washed outside, like plastic. I don’t know why I care about that. I don’t have room to display them anywhere even if I wanted to. Cleaning my sculptures would be as pointless as preservation already was. Yet, I refused to allow any of my pieces to become unrecoverable.
Time ate away at the morning like my tools ate away at the wood. Slowly, but steadily, and not in any way that I could measure. Suddenly, my alarm broke me out of my stupor. I put my tools on my nightstand, counting them twice, then three times, to make sure none were hidden in my pile of sheets. I left the sculpture where it was.
Getting ready was routine. I noticed that the sole of my shoe was starting to wear through. I could dig my finger into the heel, which was apparently hollow. Cheap. I looked at my old pair of shoes, faded and word, then to the cabinet that held the duct tape. Old shoes. Duct tape. I went to the cabinet.
On the way out I made sure to scratch my dog behind the ear and get him some water. Someone had left his bowl empty. I went to my car. The adhesive of the tape stuck to the ground where a corner had folded over. It would wear off eventually with enough steps. I got into my car and tightened my laces. I used to drive my neighbor, but eventually she told me that she didn’t need me to drive her anymore. She didn’t give any more detail than that. Now it was just me.
It was a quick ride to school down the narrow, winding road spotted with potholes that always made me feel like I was drifting off the road. Once I got to school, it was the same long walk to the school doors from where I had parked. Already I felt clouds settling over me like the fog that clung to the football field. I looked at how the haze played against the grass, the chalked lines, and the stands. My fingers twitched, molding clay in my head. I was gone.
The morning was uneventful. I put forth effort in my classes, as much as I could muster at least, but the tests that were too tough for me didn’t really get to my head. Some people said that made me a burnout. I disagreed. I did as much as I could to prepare, and from that point any failure is unavoidable. Why worry about what one has no power over?
The only thing in the entirety of the school day that truly had sway over me was the lunch bell. I would have been the first one out the door if I wasn’t the only person whose bag wasn’t packed up already. I was too spacey to put all those movements together until the drone of dismissal snapped me awake. I missed my headstart while I put my things away, my muscles suddenly obeying me again, then made my way out as quickly as I could.
It took all my effort not to throw open the teacher’s door like a madman. Under the guise of calm, I returned to the same spot as before. Michelle and Lily made room for me without a glance this time.
“Ashton, do you have Mrs. Jacobs?” someone asked. I started. It was Jace. I shook my head, and he continued into some sort of grievance he had with a social studies teacher. My eyes found his lips. I sometimes read lips if my ears weren’t working fast enough. That was all this was. Yes.
After that, I slowly joined lunchtime conversations more and more. At first it was only Jace including me. My fingers twitched every time my name was shaped by his lips. Lily joined him soon and, organically, Connie and Michelle followed suit and began including me too. Asking me things. Saying my name.
I got into the flow over time. Sometimes I would say something wrong, or throw in a statement that didn’t fit quite right. But so did the others. We weren’t a perfect group. But we were bound tightly to each other with sinewy thread that even the blades of a sculptor couldn’t hope to sever. And I’ll be damned if I didn’t try. But there was something that always kept me with them. It was an urge, something primal, that whispered how strength lay in numbers. No matter what happened between us, no matter how strained our bonds became, I never left them. None of us left. The thought of sitting alone again, biting into apples and my tongue while listening to music with heavy guitar and thumping drums, was not even a possibility my brain would entertain. Going to the same classroom at the same time every day was the only way things could be. It was inevitable, like gravity.
So I didn’t even think twice when I went to the same room the next day. And the next. And over and over until I was one of them, getting glimpses of a past that I had never been a part of.
They were thrilling. We talked about everything. Sometimes one person would just talk about their day, or their week. Sometimes we all would. Sometimes we would talk about ethics or morals or politics. If one person was home sick, we would talk about them behind their back. I could only imagine they all did the same for me. I didn’t mind. My ears could burn all they liked. It was worth the drunken thrill of digging up the bastard flaws of the people who I was starting to call friends.
Sometimes we would talk about books. I didn’t read much. It took me a while to get through a book. The only time I really read was during downtime in class or just any time I got bored at school. Addison was the one who got the most into it. She was analytical in a way that only a writer can be. The rest all faded in and out. They had favorite genres that they didn’t stray too much away from. Jace’s was realistic fiction. The rest all muddled together. We often had two or three conversations going at a time, so if anyone hadn’t read that day’s book, there were other things to say.