The Melancholy of Laughter

December 29, 2009
Looking back on the occasion, Leo admitted to himself that it wasn’t really a good idea to have stolen his adoptive mother’s wallet at four in the morning and paid a random homeless man outside of the 7-Eleven to buy a six pack of cheap beer for him. But he had only planned to have one to make everything feel a bit softer before going to the first day of school, to take the edge of the rolling, burning ball of pure dread in his stomach. That had turned into drinking the entire pack. And by then, he was too inebriated to realize that walking into the school completely and utterly drunk was not his best idea. And by now, he had realized the full implications of what he had done--stumbling into the school and bursting into a random classroom and puking the contents of his stomach into the lap of one very pretty girl--and the horrifying mortification that was currently washing over him in almost overpowering waves was threatening to make him puke once more. Or burst into tears.

But he wasn’t about to tell that to his principal.

So he plastered his usual unfeeling mask upon his face and pretended that he didn’t care that thirty of his peers had seen him at his worst, that the entire school was probably in hysterics at the moment, that all he wanted to do was wrap his arms around himself and hunch over and cry for the first time in years.

He was, fortunately, good at hiding his emotions; when he was still a kid, the only person in the world who Leo truly detested with all his soul had beaten the tears and the laughter and the feeling and the life out of him because emotion was considered weak and weakness was unacceptable.

When his lip quivered, just an almost undetectable tremble, he chomped down on it out of reflex, his teeth the unyielding, monstrous steel trap and his bottom lip the unfortunate prey.

The pain that burst from his lip like scarlet fireworks came with the warm metallic taste in his mouth. He winced.

“Mr. Benson, are you alright?”

Darn it, he thought, He had forgotten about Ms. McKnight. Raising his eyes from the floor in almost a Herculean effort, he met her concerned, chocolate brown eyes for the first time since being dragged into her office. And felt like he had been punched in the stomach.

Her eyes were exactly like his mother’s.

He couldn’t breathe.

Leo didn’t notice he was standing until he was at the office door. He opened it with a trembling hand.

And then he ran.

To where, he didn't know. Didn't care, really. Something inside of him was begging him, ordering him, to get away. So he let that direct him down the hallway to somewhere.

The thought came to him--or rather burst upon him, crashing down with a weight that plunged down into his stomach--that he was, simply, a coward. A spineless, worthless, weakling.

He didn't realize he was airborne, that he had tripped, until his face met dirty linoleum and the oxygen was squeezed out of his lungs.

The whimper escaped him before he could comprehend its existence in his voice box. Leo cringed.

With shaking arms, he pushed himself off the floor, shaking his dark shaggy hair out of his eyes.

Still trying to catch his breath, Leo walked--or limped, if he cared to admit it--over to the leaky water fountain at the end of the fine arts hallway in the dark purple drama wing and pressing the filthy button, gulped down the lukewarm water that had an unpleasant metal taste to it, trying to drown the horrible, agonizing, unbearable ache of longing in his chest, or at least get rid of the vomit taste that still lingered in his mouth.

Leo knew he would be safe here; the people who associated themselves with theater were usually too caught up in their own drama to pay attention to anything outside their little world. So he let himself relax, let his aching and protesting muscles ease their tensity.

After drinking his fill of the almost undrinkable water—what he wouldn’t give for a cold bottle of Dasani--Leo dipped his free hand into the jerky stream of water, enjoying the sensation for a moment before wiping it across his forehead.

Closing his eyes and leaning against the rough wall, he sighed when it predictably failed to dull the steady throbbing. It felt good, though, soothing the hot skin and calming him down a little. A drop worked its way down his face; he could feel the wet little thing sliding down, only to be stopped above his lip.

Puzzled, Leo touched his face with his wet hand, grimacing with remembrance when he felt what could only be dried vomit. He must look so stupid right now. The thought of what he had done brought another wave of overwhelming embarrassment crashing over him. Drowning him.

With a silent scream of shame, Leo slid down the brick, his Converse squeaking in protest as they skidded along the floor, and collapsed on the dirty linoleum. He slammed the back of his head into the wall, once, in disgust. The instant pain, a deep and searing throb that attacked his mind and pulsed with the beat of his racing heart, he knew he deserved.

Leo sighed, shakily. God, he thought, he hurt. The effects of the alcohol were slowly ebbing away, leaving him drained of energy and putting a mountainous headache in its place; now, his entire head was a massive ball of hurt. Grimacing, he rubbed his forehead, kneading the skin with his icy-cold hands. Even though his entire body was throbbing, he felt safe.

And then the bell rang.

Leo froze. As the doors to the multitude of classrooms lining the long hall entered and hoards of students flowed out, he instinctively curled his legs towards his torso and wrapped his arms around them, burrowing his face into the space between his knees. Hiding.

If he still believed in a god, he would have prayed with all of his soul that he wouldn’t be seen; instead, he only chanted a single word mindlessly in his head. Please please please please please.

The cacophony of raucous laughter and voices slowly waned, the thundering of shoes and dropped items disappearing. That’s when he heard the whispers.

Automatically, he raised his head to see what was happening. His breath hitched in his throat.

Staring back at him were hundreds of students, crowding around his little corner. The whispering got louder as did the beat of his heart.

The muffled laughter followed, an abrasive sound that cut into his ears: the high pitched giggles of the popular girls, the low snickers of the jocks, the nervous chuckles of the outcasts who were just glad it wasn’t them this time.

David turned his head away, finally, tearing his eyes from the flock of students that grew bigger as word spread through the halls, tucking himself into the plum-colored wall so he couldn’t see the faces of those who took pleasure in his humiliation.

God. Squeezing his eyes shut almost painfully, David whimpered softly. He felt like screaming.

Inside his head, David pleaded with the crowd to go away, pleaded for the bell to ring, pleaded for a teacher, any teacher, to notice him.

But nothing happened. No one helped. No one cared.

So he waited. Alone.

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