My fingers spread across the soft, wrinkled surface of dozens of torn out pages strewn across my bedroom floor. The pages were pale, wrinkled, and quite pathetic looking, much resembling the skin of all of the more superior adults of this town who treated Carlos’s death like an inconvenience. An inconvenience like every other person whose skin is darker than the typical fake tanned Malibu Barbie, or like the pages thrown across the school hallways bearing every one of my brother’s thoughts that now bleed ink. I had collected them all after the echoing footsteps and devilish laughter of his tormentors faded away to go back to class because the fun was over and forgotten soon enough. Just like my little brother’s life.
I dug my hands into unruly, dark hair as I choked back a sob. I had mulled over every word he had written, anything to tell me exactly who was responsible. Yes, I could say they all were. In this town you were either the predator or the victim, and Carlos always had the odds stacked highly against him whether it be his scrawny physique, timid ways, or simply because our family couldn’t afford a sports car. Still, someone had to be the leader and Carlos’s words proved it.
“Gabriela,” I heard my mom call from the kitchen, her voice hoarse. “Come on, I picked up a pizza on my way back from work.”
I took in a deep breath, blocking the tears from falling for the millionth time. My tears weren’t going to get me anywhere. I was the tough one of the family while Carlos had always been the brains. That left my mom to be the hot mess, I thought, as I made my way into our tiny and now grimy kitchen. The stained wallpaper was peeling in areas, a huge mountain of filthy dishes was dangerously overflowing the sink, the floor was covered in crumbs and dust, and the miniature wooden table bared tons of unpaid bills as its table cloth.
My mom was slouched in one of the chairs with her eyes squeezed shut and head hung over the tiny box of pizza. Her sleek dark hair was falling into her eyes out of her ponytail, and her eye makeup was runny and smudged. Unlike me, my mom was forced to go back to work immediately following Carlos’s funeral. She had no choice since the nightmare of bills weren’t going to disappear on their own, but every night I could hear her empty sobs and at some points they were hard to distinguish from my own.
I didn’t say a word as I pulled the cardboard box from underneath her and grabbed a slice of greasy pizza for myself. Easily finishing that piece in a matter of seconds, I greedily grabbed for another. Unlike my brother who was a beanpole, I was what people generously described as curvy. In middle school, my brother was made fun of for being underdeveloped, whereas I was embarrassed for being overdeveloped. The kids once tried to make fun of me for being fat, as they called it, but soon realized I didn’t have enough money to have the luxury of being fat. Sighing, I reach for my third piece of cheesy goodness.
“Slow down there if you want there to be leftovers for tomorrow,” my mom said looking up at me, her dark eyes glistening in pity, though I’m not sure if it was for me or herself. She probably would only eat a piece or so, trying to keep to some new diet she was on to impress some new guy she had her sights on. She looked away from me, grabbed a slice from the box, and left for her bedroom without saying another word, slamming the door shut behind her.
She barely looked or talked to me much anymore, I’m guessing, because the guilt was too much. She was lucky to provide a box of pizza for supper for the next couple of days, and couldn’t even protect her own son from his tormentors or himself. Carlos was pride and joy of my family. He was so smart and had a promising future ahead of him. He would be the one to go off to college, become a doctor or scientist, and lift our family out of this pathetic state. Our mother truly had hope in him, and now, she had nothing. Nothing but an angsty, antisocial daughter.
I desperately wanted to avoid school for the rest of my lifetime and just hunt down all the pricks who ever gave my brother the wrong look, but according to the agreement I had made with the principal, I only had three days off after the funeral. That would definitely give me a sufficient amount of time to grieve then return to school to deal with all the pricks who pretended to give a damn for attention. Oh yes, our school went all out and had grief counselors for about two days so the administration wouldn’t look like the soul sucking demons they were.
I hastily shoved the box of pizza into our empty refrigerator which still reeked like last week’s tuna dinner and trudged into my bedroom. As I made my way down the hallway, I couldn’t help but glance at my little brother’s locked door. An ice shard stabbed away at what was left of my heart as I sprinted towards my bed, silently crying myself to sleep, feeling the suffocation of my brother’s noose.
A tight grip jerking at my arm sent me crashing back into reality. “Get up, now! You only have twenty minutes before we leave for school,” my mom snapped. Warily, I opened my eyes to see her peering down at me already in her showy uniform for her work as a bartender slash waitress. She pressed her now dark red lips into a thin line before leaving me to get ready. I let out a groan before slowly lifting my aching body out of bed. I change into a dark hoodie and pair of torn jeans I found off the floor before making my way to the bathroom. I attempted in vain to comb through my tangled mass of waves, probably pulling out half the hair on my head in the process. My eyes met my reflection’s which were now the color of mud after a rainstorm and had dark-purplish bags beneath them. My cheekbones were more hollow than usual, making me look like I hadn’t had proper sleep in a week which, in all reality, I hadn’t.
After brushing my teeth and lacing up my converse, I follow my mom into our 2003 Ford Escape. It was a miracle it kept running what with it being mostly made up of duct tape. She quickly drops me off at the gates of hell, also known as Winston Prep. It was shocking that someone like me went to a prep school, but me and my brother were one of those special scholarship kids. Also, we had grandparents who refused to see us or our mother, but still wanted us to go to prep school so we wouldn’t end up like mom: pregnant, highschool dropout, and disowned by her perfect catholic family.
I roll my eyes in disgust, yanking my hoodie up, and quickly scurrying away from the grand fountain in the front of the huge, medieval castle looking building to the timber in the back. I sigh a breath of relief once I’m enveloped by the cool, dark shade of the trees that silenced all the annoying chatter of the rest of the students. I continued deeper into the woods before I found my spot. Brushing the stray leaves off of the large fallen log, I made myself comfortable and reached my hand into the hollow of the branch, pulling out a familiar flask. Carlos was so angry at me whenever we came here, and I would take a few swigs of the whiskey. He would constantly remind me of all the rules I was breaking, how I would get expelled and ruin my future, ect. I didn’t drink for fun, instead having a shot here and there to calm my nerves or stop a headache caused by nerves. Unscrewing the cap off the cool flask, I gulp down the burning liquid as it sends a warm feeling to my stomach. Closing my eyes, I contemplate just skipping for the day and sleeping here all day.
“You wouldn’t want to get caught with that on school grounds,” I hear a voice say ahead of me, lilting with a slight British accent.
My eyes snap open and my hands curl into tight fists. I see a boy around my age sauntering towards my spot with a smirk on his face. As he gets closer, I can make out his perfectly styled and gelled caramel hair, shining grey eyes, and a varsity letterman’s jacket on.
“Crap,” I hiss, feeling anger bubble inside me. “What the hell are you doing here?” I all but growl at him.
“I could ask the same of you, but you’ve made it quite obvious,” he says nodding at my flask.
“That’s none of you buisness,” I snap. “Now you can tell me what you want or get the hell away from me.”
He throws his hands up in defense, “I was just walking around, saw you, and got curious. No need to bite my head off.”
I narrow my eyes at his stupidity. If he wasn’t going to leave, I sure as hell would. Getting up, I stuff my flask in my pocket, planning on hiding it elsewhere from the nosy pricks. I hear the leaves crunching behind me, as I groan out loud and throw my head around to see him following me. “Go away!” I shout, picking up my pace.
“What did I do to make you so cross with me?” he asks. “Fine, I just wanted to give you something.”
This causes me to slow down and glance back at him. He’s completely stopped, his face sobered now. “They are some things of your brother’s.”
I freeze. “Why do you have my brother’s things? I swear if you…”
“They are just things he had in his gym locker. Coach wanted to just give them to the school, but I took them to give to you instead.”
I turn around to face him, locking my eyes with his own. He doesn’t look away and steadily meets my gaze. We stay like that for a long time before I knit my eyebrows together. “Take me to them,” I mutter.
I see him chuckled under his breath as he wordlessly leads me back to the campus. Once we reach the building with the boys’ locker room, he goes in and I don’t hesitate to follow. He leads me to a row of lockers before opening one and grabbing neatly folded clothes out. I don’t know why this jock guy went out of his way just to give me my brother’s clothes. “What do you really want from me?”
He says nothing, instead smiling and handing me the folded pile of clothes, before he walks off. I stand there for a few seconds deciding whether to go after him or not. What if he was planning something against me? That’s when rationality caught up with me, and I barked out a laugh. What could the idiots of this school actually do to me? Walking out of the room that stank of sweat, I sit down on the sidewalk and rifle through Carlos’s clothes. As I picked up his wrinkled shirt and held it in front of my, I saw a piece of paper flutter out of between the pile and sink towards the ground. Immediately I picked it up and gasped when I saw my brother’s handwriting. Scrawled on the page were the words, Backup Journal: For I know I can trust no one.
Frantically flipping over the page, I find more writing, but it’s not my brother’s.
There’s more and I may be able to help you find it. I’m pretty sure someone else has it hidden. Just trust me.
Colin Ames? As in our school’s superintendent's son? He was a living, breathing god. I had heard rumors of him finally coming back from a prestigious boarding school back in England. His father wanted to build him into a perfect and athletic version of himself. Colin Ames must’ve been the one who took me here. That’s why I didn’t recognize him. I could feel my heart accelerate in my chest. I was either going to make the stupidest or smartest decision in my life.