It was his first day back in school after being suspended for three days. Jonah wasn’t thrilled about being back, it was school after all. However, he was starting to suffocate at home. Generalized boredom at first was a welcomed change from the gut-wrenching feeling of being on bad terms with his mom—yet again—but after a while he felt too listless to stay locked inside with nothing of interest to do. He snuck out a few times to the local park to sit and listen to music and play around a little, while he knew his mother would still be at work. He wasn’t proud of disobeying his mom, but his sanity was at stake and what she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her.
As if divine retribution, that morning he endured a seemingly endless lecture about his getting into trouble before his mom let him leave for class. So by the time he arrived at school, Jonah already felt exhausted by people, and it was only seven-thirty in the morning. He had a feeling that this day would a painfully long day.
The halls had returned to a normal state, with only a few banners still hanging after winning the homecoming game last week. Jonah thought how glad he was that he had missed all that nonsense as he drowsily made his way to his locker. He twisted and turned his combination lock with mindless precision, and shoved his backpack inside. In exchange, he removed a Geography book and folder with a mechanical pencil clipped on the front. He then shut the locker door, only to be confronted by an unexpected body looming beside him.
“Hey there, Tyson.”
“Jesus fuck.” cursed Jonah, nearly jumping out of his skin. He was so spooked at his surprise visitor that he didn’t notice that, on top of his usually haughtiness, Aiden stood there against the lockers with a particularly vicious look in his eye.
“Where’s your girlfriend?” asked Aiden with a playful sneer on his face.
Immediately knowing he was referring to Annie, Jonah shot back, “She’s not my girlfriend.”
“Ok, sure.” Aiden scoffed.
Jonah rolled his eyes, deciding to largely ignore the comment, and added, “And she’s not here obviously. Why?”
“Oh, just wondering…” came Aiden’s sing-song reply, his voice trailing off in a way that Jonah could tell was the iceberg tip of a threat. Jonah didn’t like it.
“What do you want?” he demanded, like a defensive dog with its hackles up.
“Funny you should ask.” Aiden kicked himself off the locker wall and turned to fully face Jonah square on. Since the first encounter with him, there was something about Aiden that had made a loud, red alarm bell of self-preservation go off in Jonah’s head. Jonah had long since learned to squash this kind of reaction, no matter the threat, so he wondered why it persisted this time. He thought it may have to do with Aiden’s chilling silver eyes and the serpentine grin he always wore.
Aiden continued, “I want you to meet me after school at the bleachers. 4 o’clock. Alone.”
“And why the fuck would I do that?” Jonah barked. Such remarks were a force of habit, and in that moment he half-regretted his crude delivery.
“Hmm, I don’t know. Maybe because you wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to your little friend.” Aiden leaned in, only inches from Jonah’s face, his last words pointedly rolling off his tongue. “Now would you?”
The fear building in Jonah’s gut was suddenly swept away and replaced by an unfaltering fury that shot up like a phoenix rising from the ashes. The reaction happening inside him was raw and primal; a second nature that needed no debate. Concerns about self-preservation fully went out the window as flashbacks engrained like DNA in his memory made him choose martyrdom over self-preservation any day.
“Understood?” Aiden reiterated.
With resolute obstinance written in his unwaveringly glare, Jonah grunted, “Fine.”
Aiden grinned, then turned and laughed, “See you after school.”
Jonah sighed as Aiden walked away. He hadn’t realized how much his heart was pounding until he leaned his back on the locker wall. His mind lingered on the bold coercion Aiden managed to pull on him. He had apparently succeeded at pissing Aiden off and didn’t even know why, but the more he pondered what was in store for him, the more Jonah began to feel sick to his stomach.
“Hey, Jonah. Good morning,” came a meek voice.
The quiet greeting was enough to break him out of his several minute trance. When he looked up to see Annie, all he could muster was a small “Hey…”
Annie launched into a speech as if she had rehearsed the lines, nervously rubbing the back of her neck as she spoke. “So, I’m gonna be busy after school today. We have to do some extra planning for the upcoming debate—it’s our first one—and then I have to hang up posters to advertise around school.”
She glanced down as she continued. “I know you’re avoiding me, but…maybe we can finish up the research for the project later this week?”
Jonah listened to the words Annie said—comprehended them, even. But he also was listening to the frantic voice speed-talking in his head.
“Yeah, whatever.” he mumbled half-heartedly.
“You’re not gonna tell me to go away?” she asked with a bit of hope.
While Annie waited for an answer, Jonah’s eyes glazed over as he struggled doing mental gymnastics. He thought about what he would do if Annie were ever hurt on his behalf. He thought about his mother—wishing things could have been different, that he could have done something. He knew he never wanted to be in that position again, defenseless, useless, scared. It’s why he would never back down from a fight. Not anymore. Still he was battling a fight or flight response triggered in his brain. The conflict happening inside made him want to throw up.
“Are you ok?” Annie interrupted the strange silence Jonah had fallen into. “You seem distracted.”
“Case in point.” she noted. No sooner than she snapped Jonah out of it, Annie was suddenly being whisked away by two soft yet unforgiving arms.