As per the norm, I can’t really get you guys anything for Christmas… except my writing. Seemed fitting, especially since you stayed with me after I spent almost a year in hibernation. So here you go – the beginning of ‘The Boy and the Theatre Girl,’ my NaNo18 novel. Thank you so much for your friendship, and Merry Christmas!
I’d always thought it incredibly sexy whenever someone correctly used a semicolon. Honestly, it should be called a sexicolon. Comma splices are used way too often now. It’s like there’s a widespread panic to use them up, even incorrectly, before they’re gone. As if there are a finite amount of commas in the world. Please. Just switch it out with a semicolon and, barring any other grammatical errors, I’d be yours forever.
Now, granted, being “yours forever” would provide that I actually talk to the person. I’d always heard that fluent communication is the key to relationships, even if I’d never really seen it played out in my own life. But maybe this communication could occur via the written word instead of verbal.
Another assumed factor in this fairy tale scenario is that someone would actually take the time to try to communicate with me. This is the most fantastical of the factors in this scenario.
It wasn’t that I was a hard person to talk to. I’d always thought of myself as a very approachable person. Shorter than the average twelve-year-old, I didn’t really look like a kid anymore. Honestly, it was the part about talking with me that tripped people up.
I could spend a long time explaining my reasons why, but the short and sweet answer was that I didn’t talk. The shorter and slightly more bittersweet reason was that I couldn’t. I used to, but for the last four years, I haven’t said a word.
The last family I stayed with only lasted a week. They were convinced I couldn’t actually talk – that I had been born a mute – and that my “special needs” and “disabilities” were, to quote the file Sheri had unsuccessfully tried to hide from me, “more than they could handle at the time.”
I was surprised; I thought they’d only last three days tops. That’s how long the previous family had kept me, but the reason I was taken away from them after such a short time had more to do with the fact that they had beaten me repeatedly. They’d claimed my inability to speak was due to rebellion and that, if they just showed me who was really in charge, they could “break my will.” But what they didn’t know – what nobody seems to understand – is that I was willing to feel a little temporary pain. It was better than the alternative.
I had learned the hard way that sometimes it’s just best to keep your mouth shut. I’d kept it shut ever since.
All of this lazily tumbled through my head as I sat on the bed, my tattered and dog-eared notebook in my lap and my worn backpack beside me as I mulled over how to word something I’d been trying to write in the notebook for the last hour. I had inserted a semicolon between two phrases and it had rounded out the stanza so nicely that I had to take a moment to admire it.
A knock sounded on my door, and I looked up as Mr. Jackson poked his head in. “Ten minutes, Zach.”
Mr. Jackson glanced around the room, looking anywhere except at me before finally fixing his gaze on me. “You ready?”
Again, I nodded.
After a moment, he nodded back, knocked twice on the door, then stepped back, closing it in front of him.
I looked down at my notebook, but none of the words would focus.
This always happened. I was always, constantly, endlessly in a cycle of hellos, attempts at adapting, not fitting in, and goodbyes. It would never end. Not until I aged out.
I blinked a few times, then frowned and rubbed my nose.
Six more years.
Closing my eyes and shaking my head as if to clear the cobwebs inside seemed to help a little. After a moment, the words became less blurry. I clicked my pen and continued.
Twenty-one minutes later, I sat in the back seat of Sheri’s car, my arms around my backpack and my head leaning against the window. I didn’t watch the Jackson’s house fade in the distance. It had been a while since I’d done that with any of the houses I’d left. It was better that way.
“You just had a birthday, didn’t you?”
I opened my eyes and caught Sheri’s gaze in the rearview mirror. I nodded, feeling the tension slowly start to ease out of my shoulders.
“I think there’s such a big gap between eleven and twelve. Obviously not in age, but in mentality. Twelve just seems so much older. Right?” She looked back at me and I nodded back. I knew what she meant. “And don’t even get me started on thirteen. You can never turn thirteen, okay?”
I didn’t smile, but my face softened and I felt my the knots in my insides slowly release a little. Only Sheri knew how to do that.
“Remind me before we get to the Keller’s that I have a present for you in the trunk, okay? I got it the other day and was going to bring it to the Jackson’s, but then there was this situation with two sets of triplets – triplets, Zachary, and two sets of them – and the time just got away from me. You should’ve seen them. So cute. Both sets were identical, so that made for a very interesting weekend…”
I listened to Sheri ramble as I stared out the window. It was easy between us. It’d always been that way. Even when I’d leave a house and everything was awful and it didn’t feel like it would ever get better, I knew I’d see Sheri and, for at least a few hours, everything would be okay.
As my social worker, she knew everything about me, so she was the only person who never pressured me to talk or asked any awkward questions about my past. She was the only person in the world who understood me, but knowing there was at least one person out there who could help me, even on my very worst days… it just helped.
“So this family has a cat – did I tell you that?”
She glanced over her shoulder and I shook my head, letting go of my train of thought.
“An orange tabby,” she told me, flicking on her blinker as she pulled onto an exit ramp. “You know I despise cats, but I hope you can be friends with him. I think his name’s something Shakespearean – Hamlet? Macbeth? I don’t know. Anyway, I think he’s sweet. They said he was. But that’s an oxymoron. A sweet cat? Are you kidding me?”
I pursed my lips, but knew that my dimple had made an appearance. After all these years, she’d been the only one who’d consistently been able to make it appear. Of course, she was the only consistent factor in my life over the course of those years.
“Now, they’re a little farther away than I like for you to be,” Sheri continued, briefly glancing back at me again, “so you’ll be in a different school. I’ve already talked to some of your new teachers, though, and I’m pretty sure you’ll be ahead in some subjects. The best thing about staying with the Jacksons was definitely the school. Good decision on everyone’s part.”
She cleared her throat and I stared at the rearview mirror, noticing how she looked everywhere except at me.
“However,” she said, her grip tightening on the wheel for a split second, “Mrs. Keller has tossed around the idea of homeschool. It’d be mostly cyberschool, with some textbook learning. No co-op, no tutors, nothing with physical interaction.” She braked at a stoplight and turned back to me. “How does that sound? Something you’d be interested in?”
I held her gaze for a moment, then looked at the center console. Thoughts rushed around my head in chaotic swirls like money in a money machine, and I, its confused occupant, was unable to grasp at any of them.
“Want to at least try?” she asked softly.
Homeschool was something I’d heard of and almost wanted to do since before I got into the system, but it always seemed more like a pipe dream. It scared me, but the thought of pushing through bodies and standing awkwardly in front of teachers as they tried to make me talk scared me even more.
After a while, I nodded.
Sheri smiled. “You’re a good kid, Zach. You know that?”
I felt my face grow slightly red and my gaze flickered up to Sheri’s as I tried not to smile too widely.
Suddenly, a car behind us honked their horn, making Sheri jump and spin around.
“Gosh, can’t they wait a second?!” she shouted, accelerating. “Trying to have a moment with my favorite boy here!”
I snorted in my attempt to conceal my laughter. Sheri glanced at me in the rear-view mirror, beaming with glistening eyes.
“Sappiness aside, I really think you’re gonna like this family.”
I leaned my head against the window and closed my eyes, just listening.
“I know I don’t say that about every family, because it sure as hell isn’t true for every family.” She turned on her blinker, tapping her finger against the wheel as she waited for a chance to merge. Sheri’s language usually grew a little flowery whenever she was in a stressful driving situation, and it appeared that today was no exception. “But I’m serious about this one. Their daughter Emilie is seventeen and an only child, so you don’t have to worry about little ones invading your personal space. And they’ve all obviously been made aware of your situation, so you shouldn’t have a problem with that, either.” She glanced back at me for a second before merging. “Sorry about the Jackson’s kids, by the way. I didn’t know it was going to be an issue.”
I opened my mouth slightly, feeling the words “It’s okay” pushing against the edge of my lips. But, as always, I couldn’t say it. I swallowed and just smiled up at her a little.
I’d never been closer to speaking to anyone than I’d been with Sheri. I felt so at ease around her that I knew if I could talk around her, I would. But every time I seemed to make it to that point – to maybe, almost, possibly saying a word or two – she’d drop me off and drive away for who knows how long.
I understood why, and it wasn’t like I was mad at her or anything. After all, it was her job. I just always wished we could have a little more time together. Then maybe I could finally talk to somebody. Maybe.