This story is by Stephanie A. Newbern and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Mondays were the worst for 13-year-old Ethan. At 3:00 AM, he struggled with the images haunting him for months.
Ethan screamed, “No, no, no, no! I’ll do whatever you want! Leave me alone!” He pulled the covers tightly around his head.
Big sister, Janet, burst into the room, grabbed his shoulders, and shook him, “Ethan, for crying out loud, you’re doing it again!” He bolted upright in a daze, trying to process his nightmare. The pillow and sheets were drenched in sweat.
Frustrated, Janet shook her head, “Ethan, I can’t do this anymore. If I have to save you from this one more time…”
Ethan whispered, “You won’t have to, I promise. I’ll get it together.” He knew perfectly well that was a lie, but he’d say anything to get Janet out of his room. Sweet old Janet. She had his back when the rest of the world did not.
Harvest Woods, Wisconsin has been Ethan’s home all his life, but he sure didn’t feel comfortable. The town was so small, Ethan felt like he couldn’t breathe. Everyone in everyone else’s business. But no friends for Ethan. There was something about him that creeped out many of the other kids.
7:00 AM and almost time to board the school bus. Ethan grabbed his book bag, and two wallet-size photos fell onto the floor. Janet snatched up the photos. “Not this time! You’ve done this long enough! Let’s go.” She dragged him by the arm on their way out.
During the ride to the middle school, Ethan could not sit still. Images of his life tormented him: the disappointing looks from his mother after every report card, the rejection when his classmates refused to invite him to lunch, the snickers as he walked past several groups in the hallway. Ethan needed something positive to hang onto. He slowly turned to sneak a glance at that girl in the rear of the bus–gorgeous Camilla. When it looked as though she returned his gaze, he slinked back down in his seat.
9:00 AM: Ethan fumbled in his locker for books for his next class. The locker door slammed shut, startling Ethan and almost crushing his hand. He jumped back and looked up to see that face he had been trying to avoid. He was too petrified to let out a mumble. Brandon McGee leaned against the locker, chewing on a toothpick, relaxed as could be. He did not take his gaze off Ethan.
“You got 24 hours, meathead. 24 hours.” Ethan couldn’t speak. He thought, “Please let me still be in a nightmare.”
Ethan stammered, “Uhhh, 24 hours for what?”
Brandon widened his grin to show all his teeth. “That cute girl, Camilla? Get her to go out with me, or I’ll tell everyone, and I mean everyone, your dirty little secret.”
Ethan’s stammer worsened, “I, I…d-d-don’t know what…what you’re…”
“Umm, yeah, you d-d-d-do,” Brandon mimicked, unable to contain his laughter. His attention turned to Camilla’s poster in Ethan’s locker. Clutching a corner of the poster in his fingers, he slowly tore it, crossing out Camilla’s smile. The noise of the tear was deafening to Ethan.
Brandon crumpled the torn piece, snapped off his toothpick, and turned away. As he watched him go, Ethan forgot where he was, until Janet rushed up. “Why the heck do you let him treat you like that? So what if your secret gets out? It’s so stupid! Nobody cares, NO ONE!”
Ethan paid no attention. Camilla and her friends walking past him, unaware of his presence, mesmerized him. He started after her, then stopped in his tracks and returned to his locker. How was he going to focus on classes for the rest of the day? It was only 9:07 AM. Why couldn’t he live like a normal 13-year-old kid? But there was no time to waste in pondering that question.
When Brandon was out of Ethan’s sight, he went into the boys’ room, nearly collapsing against the wall. He was so relieved he got the dimwit’s attention. “It’s all easy street from here on out,” he chuckled to himself. Brandon felt a vibration in his pocket then his throat swelled when he saw the display. “Can’t deal with him now,” he told himself, switching off the phone. He muttered a prayer before leaving the boys’ room.
10:30 AM: Co-ed badminton game in gym class. Two girls and two boys on each team. Ethan was on the same team as Camilla! His heart skipped a beat. On the other side of the gym, he caught Brandon watching him.
Ethan’s heart sank, but he took a deep breath, “Uh, hey Camilla? See that kid over there, Brandon? He’s really, really good. I’ll switch places, so you can play together.” Camilla’s face looked blank, but she shrugged. As they walked past each other, Brandon smirked, patting Ethan on the back.
12:10 PM: Brandon surprised Ethan from behind, seizing him by the collar. Something was dangerously different. Ethan felt the fury in the hands around his neck.
“It didn’t work this time, jerkface! She wouldn’t even look at me when I tried to talk to her!”
Once again, Ethan could not muster the courage to speak.
“Remember what I said,” Brandon threatened before releasing his grip. He bumped Ethan roughly, as he passed him.
All that afternoon, Ethan’s head was in a tailspin, as he thought, “Will Brandon really do it? Maybe he’s just blowing hot air! Why me?” The clock in his mind was louder with every tick.
3:30 PM: As Ethan headed for the bus, his attention turned to two men appearing to be arguing. Intrigued, he inched closer, trying to be invisible. Homework can wait; this was too good to pass up.
It was Brandon and a smaller man, though much older. Brandon looked down at the ground, as if being scolded. Ethan wondered if the man was his father. Brandon held up his hands as if to shield his face. The voices became more audible.
“You no-good coward! You don’t have what it takes to be friends with a girl,” shouted the small man.
“B-B-B-But…But,” Brandon began. Ethan’s jaw dropped and he quickly left for his bus.
“So, maybe big McGee is not the ringmaster after all,” Ethan thought.
8:20 AM, the next day: Brandon stood inside the door waiting for Ethan, blocking his path.
“You know what’s going to happen today, don’t you?” Brandon spat on the ground, just inches from where Ethan was standing.
“I sure do,” said Ethan.
Ethan motioned for Brandon to follow him down the hall to where Camilla and her friends were. Everyone quieted down as the two boys got closer. Camilla turned toward them.
“Camilla, my friend here wants to tell you something he hasn’t had the guts to say before,” Ethan patted Brandon on the shoulder. Camilla just stared, puzzled. Nervousness crossed Brandon’s face. “This can’t be the nerd talking, can it?” he wondered.
Ethan pulled out a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket, and one from his notebook. “Brandon, here, has a love poem he’d like me to read to you. But before I read it…” Ethan began to unravel the crumpled paper. Brandon instantly knew what it was.
“Wait a minute!” Brandon began. “This bonehead here is so obsessed with you, it ain’t even funny! He’s completely wacko! You should see his locker! Every inch of it…”
Ethan fired back, “And you! You wouldn’t leave me alone until I got you a date with Camilla! You and your dad argued about it, I even saw you two!”
Camilla did not know what to say. She dropped her book bag, took the crumpled paper from Ethan, and held it up to Brandon’s face. She could barely contain her anger.
“You are the most filthy, disgusting piece of garbage I’ve ever laid eyes on,” Camilla pushed Brandon so hard he bumped hard into the locker. “I wasn’t interested in you before, but you really think I’m going to talk you now?”
Brandon opened his mouth to protest, but no words came. He could only manage the tears rolling down his cheeks.
Ethan witnessed what he never thought would happen: Brandon scurrying away, no fight left in him.
Camilla and Ethan turned towards each other. “That took a lot of guts to do what you did. Thank you.”
“She’s actually talking to me and thanking me,” Ethan hoped to himself.
“You should know I’m not interested in guys now. Grades are important to me.”
The anticipation he felt left like a punctured balloon.
“But you stood up to him. I respect you for that, and I’m so proud. Any girl would be lucky to have a boyfriend like you.” She kissed him on the cheek.
He realized her words mattered more than any date ever could. “I made someone proud of me,” he mused.
For the first time in months, Ethan managed to form a smile. He looked forward to Mondays as the new, improved Ethan.