Read Personal Effects Online

Authors: E. M. Kokie

Tags: #Social Issues, #Family, #Juvenile Fiction, #Military & Wars, #General, #Homosexuality, #Parents, #Historical, #Siblings, #Fiction, #Death & Dying

Personal Effects

O
F ALL THE LAME SHIT ON
P
INSCHER

S
BACKPACK, HIS
War Is Not the Answer
sticker pisses me off the most — even more than his
Practice Nonviolence
button, which makes me want to practice some violence on his face.

It’s not enough that I have to listen to him run his mouth all the time. But to have to see all his slogans and crap on his backpack, watch him strut around and show off, laughing like it’s all a big joke — it’s almost too much to take. Especially on Monday mornings. Especially on a Monday morning after an even more shitastic than usual weekend.

Pinscher catches me looking. One side of his lip curls up, showing his teeth, making him look even more like the dog we named him for in fifth grade.

T.J. would wipe that sneer off his face.

“Matt?” Shauna’s hand waves in front of my face. “Hey. You OK?”

“Yeah.” Pinscher says something, and the others all look at me, then laugh. “Fine.”

Shauna pries my fingers off the locker door and curls her hand around my fist. My hand throbs like I’m still strangling the cold metal, the hard edge still digging into my palm.

“Forget about him,” Shauna whispers. She moves into the space between Pinscher and me, so close I have to blink and refocus to see her face as more than a bunch of shapes. I can’t even see him around her. Her fingers slide over my knuckles, back and forth, until my hand relaxes. “Seriously, he’s not worth it.”

We stand like that, so close I can’t see anything but her. Her fingers are warm and smooth. I’d forgotten how good her hands feel. Heat races through me. I yank my hand back, remembering why I started avoiding her hands. Touching leads to bad thoughts, which can only lead to total mortification. No benefits with this friendship.

“Yeah, I know.” I rub at my neck, try to shake it off — all of it — the tension left over from Dad’s glare, Pinscher’s stupid laugh, how I can still feel Shauna’s fingers and smell her herbally clean hair.

“What’s going on?” She’s got that worried look again, like she can’t figure out how to fix me, or if I’m worth the effort this time.

“Nothing.” I shrug. “The usual.”

She’s not buying it. Means I’m in for an interrogation. I reach into my locker and push my books around, hoping she’ll wait until later or that we can at least get out of the hall first. But when I look up, ready to negotiate, she’s not even looking at me.

She’s pointedly
not
looking at Michael, who’s hovering down the hall, obviously watching her. Hanging near enough to Pinscher to pretend he’s paying attention, but watching Shauna. Could be we’re heading for another round of their on-again, off-again drama.

Maybe she’ll be too busy to interrogate me.

If I have to watch Shauna get back together with Michael — here, now — I really will put my fist through the wall.

“Are you going to be OK?” She’s already hoisting her backpack to run, but her forehead is creased with worry. “I can’t be late for homeroom again. Señora Rosenfeld will make me
muerta.

“Yeah.” I force a smile. “Go.” I close my locker door carefully, like it’s made of glass.

“See you later?” Her brown eyes are squinty and dark. “Matt?”

“Yeah. No, I’m fine. I’ll meet you at your car after eighth.”

I’m late for homeroom, but Mrs. Rahman just waves me to my seat. Pinscher’s two rows over, playing around with the shit on his backpack. He makes a big show of peeling the paper off a new bumper sticker and pasting it onto the side of the bag. I make myself look at the wall.

The morning crawls by. Through bio and most of English, I wonder what the new sticker says. He was extra careful with it, like he was extra proud.

I make it through lunch, but take the long way to algebra to avoid, well, everyone, jumping across the threshold just as the second bell rings.

“Nice of you to join us,” Mrs. Tine says, waving me past with her bright-green review-o-rama folder. Like I’ve got a choice.

She practically dances around the room in full-out math love. It’s all review, and I actually get most of it, but Mrs. Tine is cool enough to skip past me when I’m sunk down low in my seat. She only calls on me when I look at her. Today I don’t look at anyone.

Pinscher’s two rows over and up. His backpack is on the floor next to his desk, the new sticker pointed right at me:
Not in My Name,
the words like a strobe light throbbing behind my eyes. Like any of them are over there for him.

All his talk and buttons and crap. His bracelets, like a girl, with the names of dead soldiers, who would have kicked his ass if they ever got the chance. And ever since Pinscher went to that rally in Philly, all he can talk about is Bush and the war. They made him stop wearing his
Bush Lied
crap in school, but he just tripled up with the antiwar stuff — buttons and shirts and stickers about the war, about the “troops,” like he gives a damn about them or what they believe.

Every week some new shirt, paraded around like
he
’s won something.

Bullshit, radiating off his backpack even when his freaking mouth is shut.
War Is a Waste. Not in My Name. Iraqis Are People, Too.
What the hell does that even mean?

The bell makes me jump, banging my knee on the desk. Everyone starts moving, but Mrs. Tine hovers next to me. I slack back and wait. Once the room is empty, she taps the blank page of my notebook, where my notes from class should be.

“Barely hanging on to a C right now, Matt. Don’t blow it.”

She drops my quiz from Friday on top of the blank page and walks away. A green 70 cowers next to my name in the upper right-hand corner of the page. When the school year started, Dad was pushing for all Bs. Now he’d flip for a C. But since I haven’t exactly been paying attention, I’m gonna need a miracle to get through the final and hang on to a C for the year.

The halls are too loud. I cut out the side door and walk around the outside of the building.

When I get to my locker, Pinscher’s still at his, holding court. He pulls his sweatshirt over his head. The T-shirt underneath is pristine, bright white with red letters on the front and red and black on back. Has to be new. The red words on front shout at me:
Support OUR Troops: Bring Them Home . . .
He turns, showing it off. All the black type on back is too small to read from across the hall, but the large red
And not in Pieces
screams off the shirt.

Not.

In.

Pieces.

My books scatter on the floor.

Pinscher turns and flattens back against the lockers. He’s talking, but I can’t hear him over the roaring in my head. Someone grabs my arm, but I shake him off and pull at Pinscher’s shirt.

I need to see.

I spin Pinscher around, shove his face against the lockers. My hand slaps flat against his back. Everything stops except for both of us heaving in air. I hold my hand over the words I couldn’t read from across the hall. Up close they’re huge.

I’m gonna tear them off him.

“It’s a waste, dude,” Pinscher says over his shoulder. “Don’t you see that? The money, and all the innocent —”

“Shut up.”

“I’m supporting them.” Fucking asshole. “It has to end before —”

“You have no right —”

“I have every right. It’s my —”

He struggles. The shirt rips. I’ve still got a piece of it. Not enough.

“Get off me!” he yells.

Other voices. Someone pulls me away. I shove back, but then they’re between us, someone holding on to Pinscher.

“Put your sweatshirt on,” someone says to Pinscher. Pinscher sputters. “Put it on,” he — Michael — says again.

“You ripped it?” Pinscher snarls.

I leap at him. Someone forces me back. We wrestle until Michael shoves us both farther away.

“Pete,” Michael says, “just go.”

Pinscher edges around Michael and starts backing toward the office, holding out a piece of the ripped shirt. “Don’t you get it? Bush lied. It was all lies. Every time we torture —”

I break free, slam Michael into the wall, and charge. Pinscher tries to get away, but I’ve got him. We stumble into the lockers. I wedge my arm into his throat and tear at the shirt until I get another chunk.

Pinscher kicks and twists.

I won’t let go.

The shirt rips all the way to Pinscher’s neck.

The others grab at me, but I shake them off and swing.

“My nose!” Pinscher clutches his face. Blood seeps between his fingers, floods his mouth and chin. “You broke my —”

My fist misses his jaw, gets his shoulder. T.J. wouldn’t have missed.

He swings back, but I punch the side of his head, then his neck. We fall.

I swing wildly, both fists. Blood everywhere.

Hands grab at me, pull me. I clamp my knees around Pinscher and keep swinging.

Pinscher covers his face.

T.J.’s voice tells me to go for his ribs. Dad eggs me on.

A roar, and I’m knocked off Pinscher, slammed into the wall. My head bounces off the floor. I spring up, the way T.J. taught me to, aiming for the nearest body. A crash, then glass everywhere.

Pinscher’s crawling. I dive for his legs.

Words keep coming. Dad’s words.

Wuss.

Show him.

Make him.

Fight.

Harder.

Hoisted up by my arms, I kick out, but I can’t find the ground.

I fight, but they’re too strong.

I’m hauled back until my feet hit the ground hard, vibrations running up my legs. Ears buzzing.

“Cut it out.” Coach Simpson. “You’re not going anywhere.”

“Stop.” From the other side. Mr. Lee. “Matt, stop.”

I suck in air. Can’t breathe. Gulp in more. Like I was drowning. Now I can breathe.

“Get him out of here.”

They pull me down the hall.

Pinscher’s
Practice Nonviolence
button is on the floor. I kick it as they drag me by. It skitters all the way down the hall.

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