When I was a little kid, I used to think that my family’s toilet could talk to me. That was all because, once, at a restaurant, there was a toilet that would say something along the lines of “Toilet needs cleaning” in a robotic voice after a certain period of time had passed. I was convinced that my toilet could talk and it was just staying quiet to protect its secret, and no one in my family had the heart to tell me it was just the toilet at the restaurant that could ‘talk’ like that. So up until I was eight, I spent half of my time talking to a toilet. A stinky, freaking, toilet. After I learned that my toilet really couldn’t talk, I had problems believing things people told me. I had trust issues. That’s probably why when Mr. Raker – my English IV teacher – assigned me to be partners with Amy Shepherd, I did a double take. Was he serious? Amy was the smart, b***hy type. She shot death glares at people when they weren’t looking and constantly frowned at me. With my luck, she was probably going to make me fail. It didn’t really matter to me – I already had a full ride scholarship at UNC for football, so grades weren’t that important to me anymore – but it did matter to Coach. If I dropped below a C in any of my classes, I wouldn’t be allowed to play. Pretty lame-ass rule, if you’d asked me. But Coach was Coach. Half of his rules didn’t make sense to anyone. I took in a breath and glanced over at her from across the room. Her brown hair was the way it always was – pulled back in a plain ponytail. She wore the typical jeans and a t-shirt. I don’t think she’d changed the way she looked since kindergarten. I blew out the air I’d taken in in a gust and walked over to where she was sitting, pulling out my phone to check the time. Only an hour and a half left in this hell-hole called school, two hours for practice, and then I was home-free. First thing I was going to do was eat, then sleep. That was my daily routine. Wake up, eat, go to school, eat, go to practice, eat, sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat. I tried to smile, to turn on the charm for her. Maybe I could pull the typical Jacob Benson magic on her and she’d suddenly stop hating my guts. Yeah, like that’s possible. I groaned quietly and sat down beside her. Her muscles stiffened immediately as she stared at me, analyzing me. Suddenly she tensed up even more noticeably and scooted away from me. “You’ll have to wear less of your cologne if you’re going to be around me,” she said. “I’m allergic to Limonene.” “You know what chemical is in my cologne just by smelling it?” I asked skeptically, looking her up and down as I instinctively moved closer. How the hell could she do that? “Yes. So if you wouldn’t mind staying away from me, that would be fantastic.” She frowned in my direction. “Whatever.” I loudly pushed my stool away from her, throwing my arms up in surrender. “What are we even supposed to be doing?” She glared at me again and pointed to the piece of paper sitting on the desk in front of us. “See that thing right there? It’s called directions. You’re supposed to read them.” I clenched my teeth, trying not to flip my lid at her. She was just such a b***h. I didn’t know how I was supposed to take it. “These are some pretty big words. I don’t know if I’ll be able to understand all of them.” I smiled without humor, hoping she’d get my sarcasm. She didn’t even look up from her binder, nonetheless show any sign of a smile. “I have a dictionary if you need one.” I sighed and grinded my teeth, picking up the packet of papers to read them. And then I groaned. “We’re doing an alphabet book?” I asked disbelievingly. “I haven’t done one of these since I was in second grade!” “So this one shouldn’t be much different, since your mental capability obviously hasn’t improved since then, right?” she replied, still not looking up at me. I swallowed all the words I wanted to scream at her and slammed the papers down on my desk. “Fine,” I mumbled, given up on trying to fight back. It was just a waste of energy. “Just tell me what we’re supposed to do.” “Well,” she said, taking the papers from my hand, “if you’d read the directions, you’d know.” I grinded my teeth again and waited for her to finish explaining. But she never did. She just read a few papers and then went back to her notes. Read a few more papers, went back to her notes. On and on for the next few minutes. “Well?” I asked, looking at her like she was insane. “It’s a Senior Class alphabet book,” she sighed, handing me a sheet of paper. “We write about our experiences, everything that happens to us. The only different thing is that we start with Z and end with A.” “That’s it?” I wondered aloud. “How is that worth half of our semester’s grade?” “It isn’t about the grade, Jacob,” she sighed, glancing up at me from her papers. “It’s about remembering.” I raised my eyebrows a bit at how nostalgic she was being. All I wanted to remember were the things involving football and cheerleaders. The rest I’d forget by the time I got to college. “Remembering,” I repeated softly, trying not to laugh. What a joke. “Class is almost out for today. Personally, I just want to get this done. If we can finish it in the next few weeks, we’ll never have to talk to each other again until we present it. And even then, we won’t really have to interact.” “Sounds good to me,” I muttered. “Come over to my house after school and we can start.” She looked at me expectantly, like she was daring me to put up a fight. “I have practice tonight until four.” “Fine,” she said, like it was some sort of sacrifice on her part. She reached for a blank piece of paper lying on her desk and quickly wrote something on it, pushing it towards me from across the table. “That’s my address. We can get started tonight.” And with that she left me, pulling all of her crap into her bag and leaving the room before I could protest. It’s only six weeks, it’s only six weeks, I repeated in my head, over and over again. It’s only six weeks. I only had to survive through Amy Shepherd for six more weeks and then I’d never have to see her annoying face again. That thought alone was enough to get me through the day. I was just about to get into my car to leave for her house when my best friend Sean stopped me. “I heard you got paired up with Amy Shepherd,” he said, shaking his head. “That sucks major ass, man.” “You’re telling me,” I mumbled. “She’s probably the biggest b***h on the planet.” “Eh, within no time she’ll fall for the old Jacob Benson moves,” Sean replied, elbowing me in the stomach and putting on his stupid grin. “Yeah, right,” I said, pushing his elbow away as I grinned back. “I think I’d have better luck with a piece of wood.” “For all we know, she just might have one,” Sean laughed, punching me on the shoulder. “That’s sick, man,” I laughed, pushing him back. “But probably true.” He laughed again as he shoved me against my car, trying to wrestle the keys out of my hand. “Come on, Jake,” Sean began. “One time. Just once, let me drive your car.” “I can’t, Sean. I’m supposed to go to her house to work on our project.” I made a fake gun with my fingers and pointed it to my temple, pulling the imaginary trigger. “Ouch. Sounds like fun.” He began to turn away, shrugging. “Hope she doesn’t rape you, or anything.” I laughed, shaking my head at him. “You are one f***ed up kid, you know that?” “Yeah, I’ve been told that before.” I sighed and sat in my car, turning the key in the ignition, and pulled out the slip of paper from my pocket. According to this, she lived on Elm Street. Creepy, I thought. Wonder if she realizes that’s the setting for an old horror flick. I shrugged. Probably not. As I pulled out of the school, I turned the radio up. My favorite rock song was playing and I wanted it to calm my nerves down while I drove. For the first time in my life, I was nervous because of a girl. Not nervous for the reason you’d think, though. Nervous because I didn’t know if I was going to find out her dad was some guy like Freddy Kruger, the dude that killed everyone in Nightmare On Elm Street. I shuddered. Hopefully I’d make it home that night – I still had Calc homework to work on. Sighing, I rounded the corner onto Elm Street. Her house was the first one on the right, pretty easy to find. It was a lot like I expected it would be. Small, quaint, with flower beds in front and blue shutters on the windows. The picture-perfect house for a picture-perfect girl. How annoying. I shut off my engine after I parked in her driveway and took in a breath. Only six more weeks, I told myself as I walked up to her front door. Only six more weeks and I’m done with her forever. “Who is it?” I heard Amy’s voice ask from somewhere inside the house when I rang the doorbell. “It’s Jake Benson,” I answered. Who else would it’ve been? Jesus? I heard her sigh before she opened the door. “I forgot you were coming,” she admitted bitterly. “Oh well. Come on in.” She held the door open for me and I cautiously walked forward, looking for booby traps or things that could potentially kill me. Before I saw anything dangerous, I noticed her shirt. It was a plain white t-shirt, but it was covered in some sort of sticky mush that looked like it was either oatmeal or puke. I tried not to look disgusted, but she must’ve seen my face because she quickly gasped as she looked down and saw what was on it. “Ugh,” she groaned. “Hold on. I’ll get another shirt.” She sighed and pointed to the living room. “Go ahead and wait in there. I’ll only be a minute.” I nodded uncomfortably and wandered over to the couch, looking at all of the pictures hanging on the wall. There was one with what looked like a younger version of her, someone I assumed to be her dad, and a little boy that was apparently her little brother that I didn’t know she’d had. They were laughing hysterically and I wondered why no one at school ever saw her smile like that. Before I could look at anymore of the pictures, I heard a man clearing his throat from behind me. “He-l-lo,” the man stuttered out, smiling at me. “M-y name is Za-ch-a-ry Shep-p-herd.” I felt my mouth drop. He sounded like Mitchell, my little brother, did when he talked. Mitch had Down Syndrome. Is that what Amy’s dad had? “Hi,” I said confusedly, walking over to shake his hand but stopping when I saw his eyes widen in surprise. “I-I c-can’t mo-o-ve my arms m-much,” he choked out, staring at my outstretched hand nervously. “Oh. I understand, Sir.” I took a step back and smiled tentatively. I knew, all too well, the effects having someone with disabilities in your family had on a person. For some reason, I felt myself thinking, Poor Amy. “S-so y-our na-ame is Jac-c-ob?” he asked, smiling a carefree grin at me. “Yeah, Jacob Benson,” I replied, trying to enunciate my words. I knew with Mitch, he had a hard time understanding what people said when they mumbled. “I’m in the same grade as Amy.” “A-Amy’s my daugh-t-er,” he said proudly, grinning. “S-she lo-oks like h-her moth-e-r.” “I bet she does,” I whispered, feeling myself smile. I’d never met anyone with a mental disability besides my brother. I’d never met someone as happy as him, either. But Amy’s dad seemed to be a close second. I heard the stairs creak as Amy walked down them and looked up instinctively, only to see Amy staring daggers into my eyes. “Daddy, are you doing okay?” she asked, walking over to him quickly to touch his hand. “Are you hungry? Do you want me to make you something?” He smiled up at her peacefully and said slowly, “N-no thank y-you.” Amy sighed and smiled slightly, looking at me painfully. “We’re going to go work on our project now,” she whispered. “Just call if you need me, okay?” He grinned up at her from his seat and replied something that sounded like okay. As I walked up the stairs with her, Amy looked like she was ready to punch a wall. Or worse, maybe my face. “You weren’t supposed to see him,” she said, trying to be quiet but failing. “He was supposed to be with his speech therapist.” “Why would you hide your dad?” I asked, disgusted. Though not everyone in school knew about Mitch, I sure as hell didn’t try to keep him a secret, like Amy had. “Don’t sound so accusatory!” she shouted. “I love my dad. Don’t you dare try to make me be the bad guy.” I took a step back and widened my eyes. “Amy, why didn’t you want me to see him?” The hateful expression on her face twisted into something of pain, pure agony. I’d never seen anyone look so… miserable. “My family was in a car crash three years ago. He had brain damage, and it changed him… Now he can barely function. It’s like I’m the mother, and he’s the two year old. Don’t get me wrong, my dad is my life. I love him. That’s why I didn’t want you to see him. I wanted to protect him!” “Protect him from what? Me? What kind of guy do you think I am, Shepherd?” I asked incredulously. Did she really think I was that horrible, that I would hurt her dad? “I didn’t want you to laugh at him! That’s what everyone like you does. Then they go and tell all their friends that Amy Shepherd has a retard for a dad who can’t even feed himself. And then everyone makes fun of him, because he doesn’t understand that they’re laughing at him. They make me want to slaughter all of them. That’s why I didn’t tell you.” “I’m not like all of them.” “Really? How do I know you’re not going to go telling all your football buddies about him? How do I know you won’t hurt him, or hurt me?” “Because my little brother is exactly the same as your dad. And there’s no way in hell I’d do anything to hurt him or anyone like him.” I clenched my jaw and stared down at her with pure anger. How could she have been so judgmental? What was wrong with her? I watched as Amy’s jaw dropped and she stared at me in confusion. “Your little brother was in a car accident?” she whispered, looking at the floor. “No. He was born with Down Syndrome. But he and your dad act the same way.” “I didn’t know that.” “Of course you didn’t. I’m just a jock who probably goes around f***ing with every person who’s different, just to be a d**k. I know how it is with people like you. You see a letterman and immediately think asshole.” “That’s not fair,” she objected, and I blew her off by giving her the middle finger. I knew I was being immature, but I wasn’t known for being the most grown-up person when I was pissed off. “Life isn’t fair, Shepherd. Get used to it.” I shook my head bitterly at her and adjusted my cap, forcing my legs to carry me down the stairs and out of her house. Towards my car. Away from her. I was never going to set foot in that house again.