Virgil pulled gently on the joint, and inhaled the resultant smoke. The joint was starting to burn his hand and he had the fleeting thought that maybe if he didn’t smoke so much, he could remember where he put his roach clip. He sat on the roof of the house, legs crossed, watching the sun peak out from behind the clouds. It was beginning to drizzle. Maybe there was a storm coming, he wasn’t sure. From where he sat he could see the outline of the mountains out west. It was one of the many reasons he liked coming up here. He loved gazing at the Rockies. The other reason was to keep the smell of weed out of his room. His mother still poked in there from time to time. He only hoped that the neighbors didn’t see him. Their house was close enough, but there was a large tree between the two houses that provided some cover. It was still a couple of hours before he had to get ready for school, but after the dream he’d had there was no way he was going back to sleep.
He could still feel the hands around his throat, squeezing.
It felt so real.
He had a couple of hours to kill, which he could do by straightening up his room some. Perhaps he could start with the pile of laundry on his floor that was beginning to resemble the Rocky Mountains. Or he could just go online for a couple of hours. The internet won out. He logged into his FaceSpace account. A big picture of him and his family popped up when his profile loaded. His mother sat with his little sister on her lap. His sister, Celeste, had been just a couple years old when the picture was taken. Her hair was auburn and her smile was full of baby teeth. His mother had the look of someone who had practiced smiling to the point that she’d gotten it down. Her long brown hair draped over her shoulders, framing Celeste’s face. His father never smiled. He was wearing his dress-blue Air force uniform. His blue eyes looking hard at the camera and his balding head, reflecting the flash. But Virgil stood out the most in the photo. He didn’t share his family’s Caucasian features. His hair was jet black. His eyes possessed the Epicanthic folds that marked his East Asian lineage. He’d been adopted as a baby. He didn’t know anything about his true parents. Nor did he care. As far as he was concerned, the people in this picture were his real family.
He clicked on his homepage. He had no new messages. Although a couple of people had “liked” his last post about how he thought Coach Yval was actually the spawn of Satan. He clicked on one of his friends’ profile. A girl named Vanessa Alvarez. She had curly black hair and a naturally tan complexion. Her eyes were light brown, matching the light brown freckles on her nose. As far as Virgil was concerned, Vanessa was the most beautiful girl on the planet. And today he planned to win her back.
He had lost track of time while watching some Parkour videos when suddenly there was a knock at the door.
“What?” said Virgil.
“Are you up?” asked a prepubescent voice on the other side of the door.
“You know you have to take me to school today,” said Celeste, swinging Virgil’s door open.
“I know,” said Virgil, annoyed. “Get out.”
“It stinks in here,” she said as she closed the door.
Virgil took a quick shower and found some semi-clean clothes to wear. He put his contacts in and straightened up his hair a bit. The black roots were starting to show beneath the brown but he liked the look, feeling it added something. Celeste was already seated on the couch dressed and ready when Virgil got downstairs.
“We’re gonna’ be late,” she said.
“No we’re not, calm down,” said Virgil, as he rummaged through the fridge. “What are you taking for lunch?”
“Can you make me a sandwich?”
“I’ll give you the supplies and you can make your own sandwich,” said Virgil as he gathered some ham, cheese and bread from the refrigerator.
“I don’t want to make my own sandwich. You’re supposed to do it.”
“Oh, come on, CC, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put a sandwich together.”
“Then why don’t you do it?”
Virgil hesitated for a second. Then he stuck his tongue out at Celeste and made a face. She stuck hers out at him and made a face of her own.
Virgil locked the door and took Celeste by the hand. The two walked down the porch steps together and out onto the side walk. Virgil waived at the neighbor, Mr. Armstrong, who was getting the mail.
“Virgil,” said Celeste.
“Don’t get in trouble at school today,” said Celeste.
Virgil laughed. “Don’t worry, I won’t.”
“I’m serious. I heard Mom and Dad talking last night. They were talking about military school. I think if you get in trouble again, they’re going to want to send you. I don’t want them to send you away.”
“They’re not,” said Virgil as the two arrived at the elementary school building.
“So you promise you won’t get in trouble today?” asked Celeste.
“I promise,” said Virgil.
With that, Celeste hugged him then raced up the stairs and into the building.
Virgil took the bus over to Park Hill, hoping to catch Erk before he left for school. He wasn’t answering Virgil’s texts but more than likely was still at the house. Virgil couldn’t help but laugh at the scene unfolding in front of him as he arrived. Erk was outside in the street as his grandmother hurled articles of clothing at him. She was screaming at him and punctuating every sentence with a projectile.
“You no good…” she said as she launched a sneaker at her grandson to finish the sentence. Erk caught the sneaker in midair and placed in on his foot, while dodging the second sneaker in the process. Erk could be pretty agile when he wanted to be, thought Virgil.
“Hey Grandma Jones,” said Virgil.
“Oh hey, baby,” said Grandma Jones. “Do you mind keeping my idiot grandson out of trouble today?”
“I’m on it,” said Virgil. Grandma Jones hurled a backpack at Erk, which he caught. She closed the door as Virgil walked up to Erk and the two clapped five.
“You’ve got some Parkour moves there, bro!” said Virgil. “Have you been practicing?”
“I have,” said Erk. He was a little bit taller than Virgil, but his Afro gave him another couple of inches. His skin was the color of mahogany and he possessed a long slender frame. “I was watching some sick Parkour videos last night. Have you been practicing?”
“Nah, man I haven’t been doing much of anything lately. I’ve barely even been going to Ninjitsu,” said Virgil.
“Yeah, you are looking a little chubby,” said Erk with a laugh.
“Screw you! So what’s Grandma Jones mad about?” asked Virgil with a laugh.
“I broke curfew last night, when I was hanging out with Alice,” said Erk. “She wouldn’t let me leave, bro.”
“What do you mean ‘let you’?”
“She kept saying that we were, you know…gonna’ do stuff. I ended up just taking her to the movies and then out to dinner. Did you know that McDonalds doesn’t have a dollar menu anymore? Now I’m flat broke.”
“Why do you put up with her?”
“Dude, have you seen her?”
“Yeah, she is hot, I’ll give you that.”
“Does my ‘fro look good, dude?” asked Erk, adjusting his hair with his hands. “She didn’t give me time to look in the mirror; just started throwing me out.”
“You don’t look any uglier than usual. How much trouble you in?” asked Virgil.
“Eh, she’ll get over it. She just keeps saying that she’s too young to be a great grandmother. She took my phone. I’ll be grounded for a few days but I’ll probably be good by this weekend,” said Erk confidently. “Got weed?”
“Nah, I smoked my last one this morning, after I woke up,” said Virgil.
“Oh Wake and Bake!”
“Bro, I’m waking and baking, I’m baking before breakfast, I’m baking after breakfast. I’m baking for lunch, I’m smoking after lunch. I’m smoking before dinner, then again before bed. I’m out of control, man. I don’t know what’s up with me,” said Virgil, shaking his head.
“You’re stressed out,” said Erk.
“I think you’re right. I had the dream again. The one about Miss Tilley,” said Virgil.
“Which one? The one where she’s in that red dress or the one where she tries to kill you?”
“The one where she strangles me in front of the whole class, while wearing a red dress,” said Virgil. “It felt so real, man. The look in her eyes…it was inhuman.”
“Oh,” said Erk. “How did she look in that red dress?”
“Hot as hell. It was offset by the fact that she was in the process of killing me. But, yeah she looked great,” said Virgil.
“Hahaha. I’m just playing. Look, Miss Tilley isn’t trying to kill you. She’s just a substitute anyway, so it’s not even like you see her that often.”
The two friends waited at the bus stop for the RTD bus. They passed the time by attempting to run, and jump off the bus stop bench, and cling to the cover overhead. Neither could quite get it down. Erk almost fell face first on the sidewalk, while Virgil landed painfully on his back on one attempt. They kept trying until the bus arrived. Shortly after they boarded they made their way to the less crowded space towards the back.
“I hope Ali has some weed. I have a test today and I need to be thoroughly high before I take it,” said Erk.
“I’m not going to class today,” said Virgil.
“So, what else is new?” said Erk.
“I’m getting Vanessa back today.”
“What? How?” asked Erk, the alarm audible in his voice.
“I’ll tell you later, when there aren’t so many ears around,” said Virgil, motioning to the seats across from them that contained to other Les Freakly students.
“I think you should let that one go,” said Erk.
“Why?” asked Virgil.
“Brace yourself, man. I was on FaceSpace last night and I saw that Vanessa had ‘liked’ one of Darren’s pictures; the one where he has his shirt off. I don’t know, bro, people have been seeing them together a lot. She changed her relationship status on FaceSpace from ‘single’ to ‘it’s complicated’.”
“ ‘It’s complicated’ because she still has feelings for me. The only reason we broke up in the first place is because I was getting in trouble and stuff, but I’m not doing those things anymore. I don’t tag stuff anymore. And I haven’t talked to Lee or the gang in months. She was just worried that I was heading down the wrong path, but I’m good now,” said Virgil.
“Yeah, I’m glad you’re not chillin’ with that cat, Lee, anymore. He’s trouble.”
“He’s cool, he just has a rough life. He’s still my boy, but if I have to leave him alone for a while in order to get Vanessa back, I will. Whatever it takes.”
“When is the last time you talked to her?”
“I don’t know. She’s been ignoring my text messages.”
“That’s usually what people do when they don’t want to talk to someone,” said Erk. “You guys had a good run, man. You’ll always be her first kiss. It’s just different now. Move on, brother.”
Virgil shook his head. “I can’t. What we have is special. If I give up, it’ll be like losing the most important person in my life. Her father has been really sick and I’m sure she’s just confused right now,” said Virgil. “I’m going to win her back. You’ll see.”
Ali was waiting for them in the alley between the gym and the main building. He was sitting on the steps with his head down when they walked up.
“Yo yo! Got weed?” said Erk.
Ali didn’t turn to face them. He just held out a freshly lit joint in their direction. Virgil went to grab it, but Erk got to it first, taking a puff and blowing smoke in Virgil’s direction.
“Thanks, man,” said Erk. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Don-Juan-Hammers-chubby-cheeks-Master-Splinter died this morning,” said Ali.
Virgil turned to Erk and mouthed the words: “who,” Erk whispered: “His hamster.”
“He was only a couple of years old, man,” said Ali, accepting the joint being passed in his direction.
“I’m sorry to hear that, man,” said Virgil. “What happened? Cancer? Diabetes? Suicide?”
“I don’t know. One minute he was fine, then he just died. He was laying inside his cage, not moving. Then I picked him up. He looked at me as if to say: ‘You got the Juice now,’ then he kicked his leg one last time, and he was gone. He died in my arms, man!” said Ali, reenacting the drama that had unfolded, by holding up his brown hands and simulating staring at his dead companion with his dark brown eyes.
“He died in your arms?” said Erk, holding back a laugh.
“Well, not in my arms, cause he was just a little-ass hamster, but he died in my hands!”
“You’ve seen one too many movies, Ali,” said Virgil, he and Erk exchanging grins.
“You don’t understand, V-man. That got me thinking. Death, man. It’s coming for all of us. And you never know when it’s going to show up. All you know is, you can’t stop it,” said Ali sagely.
“Amen,” said Erk.
“You better get right with God,” said Ali.
“I thought you were Muslim,” said Virgil.
“I am. I’m talking to you. You better get right with your God,” said Ali.
“I don’t have a god,” said Virgil.
“You don’t believe in God?” asked Ali in surprise.
“Nope. He’s a straight up atheist,” said Erk, shaking his head at Virgil.
“So? What’s wrong with that?” said Virgil taking a long drag of the joint, then hiding it from view as a couple of students walked by.
“It’s just weird. Who do you think created the Earth and the stars?” asked Ali.
“I don’t know. Steven Spielberg.”
“Touché,” said Ali. “But who created Steven Spielberg?”
“George Lucas,” said Virgil.
“He’s kind of got a point there,” said Erk.
“Look,” said Virgil. “You guys could mock me for not being able to prove that there is no god, but you can’t prove to me that there is one. Watch.” Virgil looked up at the sky and raised his hands. “If there is a god, say something. Send me a sign.” He waited a few seconds and then turned around. “See?”
“Wait! Wait!” said Erk. He began convulsing and making gurgling noises. “Virgil!” he said, in a mystical tone. “Viiirrrrrggillll! You are going to helllllllll!”
“Shut up!” said Virgil, as he hit Erk lightly in the stomach.
The three of them laughed.
“So, what’s this plan you’ve got to get back Vanessa?” asked Erk.
Virgil told them.
“Do. Not. Do that,” said Erk. Ali was almost on the ground laughing.
“What? It’ll be hilarious!” said Virgil. “You just don’t get it, but she will. We used to watch Samurai movies together all of the time. She loves this kind of stuff.”
“I’ve got to start taking Ninjitsu!” said Ali.
“I think it’s funny. Ali thinks it’s funny. But we’re both high,” said Erk. “You shouldn’t do things that you come up with while you’re high.”
“I didn’t come up with it just now. I came up with it last night,” said Virgil.
“Were you high last night when you came up with it?” asked Erk.
“I don’t remember.”
“That’s what I’m trying to say!” said Erk.
“Don’t listen to him, Virgil,” said Ali, placing his hands on Virgil’s shoulders. “If you love her, then go and get her. Because life is short. One minute you could be running along on your little hamster wheel, eating pellets and drinking water through a big metal straw. Then the next minute, you’re dying in somebodies’ arms, scarring that person for life. Go for your dreams, son.”
“I’m going to do it,” said Virgil.
“Hey, are you getting really good at Ninjitsu?” asked Ali.
“I’m getting pretty good with throwing stars. I’ll show you after school.”
“Hey!” cried a voice in the distance.
A janitor all but ran towards them, but they all scattered before he could catch up with them.
When lunch period came up it was time to make his move. He made his approach in a confident stride, gently sidestepping other cafeteria students and round lunch tables as he moved. As he neared her table, Vanessa spotted him. She smiled weakly as he made it to her table. Vanessa’s friends, one by one, began noticing Virgil too. All talking amongst the friends ceased at his arrival.
“Vanessa, can I talk to you for a second?” said Virgil.
“I’m eating,” said Vanessa, turning her eyes away.
“This won’t take long,” said Virgil.
“She doesn’t want to talk to you,” said Jocelyn, one of Vanessa’s friends.
“Jocelyn,” said Vanessa, holding her hand in a halting position. “What, Virgil?”
“I just wanted to say,” said Virgil, kneeling down on one knee.
Vanessa’s eyes grew wide with horror.
“If you do not want me, then I humbly offer my life. I will commit Seppuku for you!” He drew a pair of chopsticks from his pocket and held it out with both hands, the pointy end pointed towards his abdomen. “I have draped, thy blue flag over this dagger and am prepared to use it at your beckoning, to end my life,” said Virgil, he drew a butter knife from his belt and held it like a katana blade. The motion drew a startled reaction from Vanessa’s friends. “When this ritual is complete, you must sever my head from my body with mine own blade.” He placed the butter knife on the table next to Vanessa. He pointed the makeshift dagger at himself once again and held it at the ready. “Just say the word, Shogun!”
“What the hell is wrong with you?” said Vanessa, standing up sharply from her chair in anger. Virgil sat in silence, one knee on the ground and a pair of chopsticks with silk wrapped around them pointed at his stomach.
He suddenly felt silly.
“You’re not going to kill yourself!” said Vanessa. This got the attention of other students and the lunch monitors.
“Vanessa,” said Virgil, rising to his feet. “It was only a joke.”
“A joke? You don’t joke about killing yourself! That isn’t funny!” said Vanessa. A lunch monitor came over and stood between Virgil and Vanessa. Vanessa’s friends also rose from their seats and gently restrained her.
“Vanessa, I was just…remember the movie Hara-kiri? We watched it together…I was just trying…” Virgil began, but the look in Vanessa’s eyes silenced him. This was the exact opposite of the reaction he was hoping for. Other students around the cafeteria started snickering and mumbling. Virgil gazed around the cafeteria and saw all eyes were on him. Some people looked amused, others confused. He suddenly felt very alone in this crowd of people. “I’m sorry.” He reached out, but one of the lunch monitors grabbed his wrist.
“Go to the principal’s office, now!” she said.
“I’m sorry to call you in from work, Mrs. McFeeney,” said Principal Goodman. His tone gave away nothing. Virgil couldn’t tell if he was on his side or not.
Pam McFeeney, Virgil’s mother sat in silence, next to him, across the desk from the Principal. She wore business casual attire, an off-black skirt and a white button down blouse, her brown hair in a tight bun. She crossed her legs and folded her arms across her chest. Virgil sat in silence also, his head hanging low as he fidgeted in his lap.
“It’s just,” continued the Principal. “That this is a very serious offence. Your son caused quite a disturbance in the cafeteria this afternoon.”
Pam pursed her lips together tightly and nodded.
“It is policy that when a student threatens to harm himself or someone else, that we search the student’s locker. Upon a search of Virgil’s locker, we found these…” Mr. Goodman reached into one of his desk drawers and pulled out a Ziploc bag with three ninja throwing stars in it, and placed in on his desk.
Pam stared down at Virgil, but he didn’t dare look back. He was all too familiar with his mother’s ability to incinerate him with a look.
“These, alone,” said the principal. “Are grounds for expulsion.”
“Now hold on a second–” began Pam in a panic.
“I’m not saying I’m going to. It’s just that because of our Zero tolerance policy, I could. However, because I don’t believe Virgil means to hurt any of his classmates, and since only me and one of the janitors know about this, I’m willing to make it go away.”
“Oh, thank you,” said Pam.
“However, it is on the condition that Virgil see the district psychiatrist,” said principal Goodman.
Pam stiffened up. “My son does not need a psychiatrist.”
“Mrs. McFeeney, your son threatened to commit suicide in the cafeteria.”
“Oh, come on! My son was not going to kill himself with a pair of chopsticks and a butter knife. He is not crazy. He’s just an idiot,” said Pam. She turned to Virgil to add emphasis. “A big, giant idiot.”
“Ma’am no one is suggesting that Virgil is crazy. But he’s been cutting class, he brings weapons to school and he threatens his own life. Jokingly or not, this is something that we have to take seriously. And looking at the facts, there does appear to be some issues that need to be resolved. This is hardly Virgil’s first time in my office.”
“And I agree with you. Virgil’s father and I will take care of our idiot son when we get home. He doesn’t need a psychiatrist.”
“But, Mrs. McFeeney, the problem could be something that is going on at home.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” said Pam, leaning backwards as if she’d been physically struck.
“I am not calling your parenting into question. Please don’t take it that way. All I’m saying is that a psychiatrist would be beneficial for him. He might tell a professional things that he wouldn’t tell you. We’re lucky enough to have one of the best psychiatrists in the state working in our district. We just want her to talk to Virgil, that’s all.”
“No that’s not ‘all’,” said Pam. “I know what these ‘professionals’ do. They want to take my son, and they wanna’—they wanna’ tell him he’s broken and that only they can fix him. That all of these natural feelings and emotions that he has are some form of sickness. They want to diagnose him with ADD and ADHD, and LMNOP, and whatever other acronyms they string together on their Scrabble boards.
“Then you wanna’ dope him up on every kind of drug on the market until he barely knows who he is anymore. Then you want to give him some more pills to correct the effects of the last pills, and then again and again; until he’s so strung out that he needs a cocktail of pills just to get through the day. Then you want to send me the bill! Well, I’m not going to let you turn my son into a junkie. I’m not going to let you diagnose him with something that is going to follow him around for the rest of his life!”
“Well, he’s not going back to class until he’s looked at by a professional,” said the principal.
Pam said nothing.
“I can schedule an appointment with the premiere child psychiatrist in the area. She works at several schools in Denver and Arapahoe counties. She’s very good. And you’re welcome to sit in on the meeting if you’d like. I probably won’t be able to get him in to see her until next Monday. Unfortunately, I’ll have to suspend him until then.”
“You’re going to suspend him for the whole week?” asked Pam in horror.
“Yes, but so that he doesn’t miss too many days of school, I’ll allow him to attend night school for the week.”
“That’s great but what am I supposed to do with him during the day? I can’t miss any more work, and I don’t want him sitting around unsupervised,” said Pam, glaring at Virgil. “If my son had any judgment whatsoever, then I wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”
“There’s this new program we’re implementing. It’s a sort of a community service program. The students are driven from place to place where they perform community service projects during the day. It is supervised by a member of our faculty. He’ll have to be here at the school at 9:00 sharp, and a van will pick him and the other students up. This teaches public service, teamwork, and discipline. Also, it’s worth one credit towards graduation. But there is a limit, Virgil, just in case you’re thinking of graduating on credits earned by getting in trouble. He can start tomorrow.”
“Great,” said Pam. “He’ll be there. Who’s supervising it?”
“One of our substitute teachers. Her name is Miss Tilley.”