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Scar Tissue {Prologue} This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

The first cut was an accident. And I was nine.

At nine, my dad was already worried about me. For a nine year old, who should have had no grasp on what was considered awkward, who shouldn’t have known the meaning of not being able to speak to anyone but my parents without an incontrollable stutter, I was painfully inept in anything that required me to do more than slide from one room to the other, never once leaving the sanctuary of an arm’s length from the wall.

Charlie always tried introducing me to his friends’ kids. They tried, I think, to be nice to me, but the thing about kids is this: they’re perceptive. From the first time they’re able to judge, they do. They take that feeling, that single gut reaction, and go on it without any sort of qualm or worry.

Mom called me quirky, and that was the end of it.

Charlie didn’t mind me in the living room, as long as the guys weren’t over. Then I was somewhat an embarrassment. His friends always brought their boys, who had been bigger than me for years, and with their gloating, doting dads they could talk baseball and basketball and all that something-ball crap for hours while all I could do was stare blankly and try to make sense of the running, the endless sprint from one side of the court to the other, or from base to base, from one goal to the other. I tried staying in there, though, I really did. I listened to some announcer scream about bases and points and stuff I didn’t understand.

Charlie put me in baseball once, and never did again when we discovered my—apparently inane—phobia of balls hurtling at my head. I thought it was perfectly normal, and Charlie just ducked his head in the parking lot on the way back to the car when the other dads walked by, smiling, with some snide, back-handed remark. “I think Wilbur’s better for the outfield, Charlie. Way outfield.”

Still I tried. I tried to sit there while they all yelled and got excited, Charlie accidentally crushing me into the couch, hugging me hard with one arm to his side and pointing at the TV, saying, “You see that, Wil? That’s how it’s played!”

“Yessir,” was all I could say before getting annoyed with the screaming. Something about getting so freaking wound up about guys in tight pants running around after a little ball had never been as enthralling as they made it seem.

“Where you going?” he asked and grabbed my shoulder, and everyone turned to look for a second. I slid my pencil behind my ear and sighed. He could talk to them, could communicate on some level that was interesting, God only knows why. All I could do was scribble, he’d act proud for a moment, and then push me off to the side before anyone else tried to look at whatever I’d tried to show him.

“Mom needs help with dinner,” I mumbled and turned away, shuffling out of the room, my shoulder pressed hard against the wall until it hurt. Someone laughed, cut off quickly. A small slap. A harsh word. I rolled my eyes and set my sketchbook on the kitchen table, grabbing my mom’s dress.
She looked down and smiled. A real smile. No matter what, my mom had always been happy, nothing ever forced, like I wasn’t worth getting disappointed or
embarrassed over.

“Hey, Wilbur,” she sang and grabbed my head, pulling me to her waist.

“…just saying the boy’s too attached to his mom. It’s not good for—”
“Drop it. Wilbur’s fine, we’ll have our time later.”
“The boy ain’t right, all I’m saying.”

I felt Mom tap my shoulder, forcing me to look up at her. “You okay, baby? Down here on Earth, we try to pay attention,” she said and winked at me.

“I’m gonna help with dinner,” I said, and she raised an eyebrow, wondering and smiling, shaking her head like she wasn’t exactly sure what to do with me.

“If you want,” she said, and the shine of the knife caught my eye as she lifted it and handed it to me. “Cut that pepper up for me. You’ve seen me do it before, right?” I nodded and didn’t think. Neither of us did. My attention span was rivaled by a squirrel. I could focus on nothing for hours. Which, I guess, was why neither of us noticed the blood at first. A flash of color, some bird that flew by the window, caught my attention, and held it, long after it had left, leaving just an empty window, endless blue sky and slowly rolling clouds.

“Wil?” Mom’s voice shook as she said my name.

“Hmm?” was all I could muster before I looked down. The gash was between my thumb and forefinger, wide and deep. The blood was dark, rolling down my arm. It stained, left tracks and dried just as quickly. Mom didn’t say a word, but grabbed my wrist and dragged me to the sink, running my hand under the water.

The sting was lost on me, but I saw her wince, and we waited. We waited until it thinned, going with the water, becoming nothing but a small pink stream that she couldn’t do much more but sigh and look at. But she looked at me, like she were waiting for me to cry, or say something, but I had nothing to say.

“Wilbur,” she said slowly, and pressed the cut carefully, “doesn’t this hurt?”

From the corner of my eye, I could see Charlie leaning in the doorway, his arms crossed hard over his chest, and he just watched me, wondering, his head tilted to the side. He didn’t move, didn’t take a step forward or back, didn’t blink or say a word. I looked up at her dumbly and shook my head. “No.”





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