His eyes reddened and puffy from crying, he slowly raised his head from his pillow to find his bedroom door ajar. The sounds of his mother cooking breakfast came from the kitchen; the bacon popping in the frying pan, the clink of the toaster indicating toast was ready, coffee percolating. He glanced at the clock. It read 6:56 AM.
Getting out of bed and wiping his face, he looked down at his feet, then across the room to his closet. The door was still closed, so he knew she had only opened his bedroom door to check on him, and hadn’t bothered looking in the closet. His secret was safe. She never really cared to know exactly what was going on with him. Her main interest was whatever man she was trying to impress. Today was no different. He knew that as soon as he walked in the kitchen, she would pretend like she thought he wasn’t going to come down to breakfast, and that is why her boyfriend was eating all the food he smelled as he woke up, and none was left for him. She would begrudgingly pour him some cereal, and spout off something about his homework not being done, or the yard being unkempt, or the trash needed to be taken out.
“Well look who decided to come join us,” Stephanie said sarcastically, as she eyed her son staggering into the kitchen, wiping the sleep from his eyes. Her boyfriend was eating buttered toast and bacon, sipping on some hot coffee. He didn’t bat an eye as Joey entered the kitchen, and just kept scrolling through his iPhone as though nothing else existed.
Joey looked at his mother as she stubbed out her cigarette and reached for a bowl in the cupboard. He sat down at the table across from Todd, the new man in his mother’s life, and waited for his Frosted Flakes.
“Did you do your homework?”
“No, Mom,” Joey said, putting his face in his hands. “Today is the last day of school. We don’t have homework.”
She plopped the bowl of cereal down in front of Joey and poured the milk on top of it. “Don’t sass me, boy,” she warned. Walking back toward the counter to retrieve another cigarette, she forgot to give Joey a spoon to eat his cereal.
Joey pushed the bowl away. “I’m not, I just don’t have any homework, that’s all.”
Todd glanced up at Joey. “You better eat your breakfast, kid,” he said, attempting to exert authority over the boy.
Joey looked up at Todd and immediately back down at his hands. He had no wish to fight with him this early in the morning. “I’m going to go take out the trash.” He pushed the chair out loudly, walked toward the living room picking up the bag of trash on the way, and slammed the front door as he walked outside to dump the bag into the trash dumpster and take it out to the curb.
As Joey walked back toward the front of the house, he paused, taking a moment to look at the place he had spent the last 10 years of his life in. This was his home, but it hardly seemed like one. It was nothing like his friend Charlie’s house. Charlie’s mom was so nice, and always made them cinnamon rolls, or cookies. She hugged Charlie and helped him with his homework. Charlie’s dad always brought home new toys whenever he came home from work to give to Charlie. Joey wondered why he didn’t have Charlie’s life, and why his own family seemed to hate him so much.
∞ ∞ ∞
The bell rang for lunch and all the kids made a mad dash for the classroom door, to be the first in line at the cafeteria, where they were serving pizza for the last day of school celebration. Joey and Charlie made it to about the middle of the line, where they both joked that there probably wouldn’t be any more pizza left by the time they got there, and they would be stuck with bread and ketchup or something equally as disgusting.
“Is your mom still going to take you out of school early today?” Joey asked Charlie, and Charlie nodded, smiling. “Lucky,” Joey replied, grateful that his only friend wouldn’t be around for the celebration. He didn’t want that to be the last thing Charlie remembered about him.
“She’s coming after lunch,” Charlie said. “She told me she would let me have pizza, then she is going to take me and my brother to the park.”
Joey smiled. “I wish my mom would do stuff like that.”
∞ ∞ ∞
Looking down at his hands, he started shaking uncontrollably. He looked up again at the mess and it seemed like he was in another world. Like this was all just a scene from a movie. An incredibly terrifying, bloody, horror movie. This couldn’t be real. Even for as long as he had imagined it, he never believed it would look like this when it actually happened.
Bobby was lying in a pool of blood, his hands around his neck where he had been shot. His eyes were still open, with an expression of disbelief. Sarah’s pretty white dress was stained red from her own gunshot wounds, but her face was peaceful; eyes closed, a tiny smile on her face. Carlos had his head between his legs, his arms down to his sides, and it looked like he just fell asleep after eating lunch, with some ketchup dribbling down his shirt.
The sirens wailed loudly, and Joey knew they were coming closer. He scanned the room and saw Mr. Jackson sobbing, clutching his thigh where a bullet had grazed him. Mrs. Thompson was gurgling and clutching her throat, blood spurting from her mouth. The janitor stood motionless staring at Joey, his eyes probing his little face, searching for an answer to the question nobody dared ask him.