I slammed my hand into my phone, groggily trying to silence the obnoxious alarm that was ringing in my ear. My mornings were a continuous loop of dreaming about smashing my phone to bits, but not actually doing anything other than lying there, glad that I could at least make it shut up. The first two or three hundred times this had happened, I schemed up ways to turn the alarm off, but I’d long since given up. I still thought about it often, but it seemed like I was doomed to wake up at 7AM for all of eternity.
After I spent a few moments of staring at the ceiling, my phone buzzed with a notification. My hatred for the device’s very existence immediately ceased.
“Yeah. Going to school today?”
“Unless you have a better idea.”
“I don’t. See you there.”
Hayley was my only real friend. I had other people I called friends, but it was an act. Every time I talked to them, I broke out the same tired lines that they expected. I pretended nothing was wrong – like I was the same old Brendon they’d always known.
I threw on a pair of clothes that I hoped I hadn’t worn yesterday. Khaki shorts, a bright blue t-shirt, black Vans. I doubted anyone would say anything if this was the combination from the day before, since no one ever had.
There were days that I cared about school, and there were days I didn’t. A completed homework assignment was in my bag, just like every morning. I knew what it was because it was always the same, but I couldn’t remember the teacher assigning it. Today, I wasn’t in the mood for school. I was hoping Hay would tell me to meet her at her house, but after a while of doing that, a bit in my brain flipped, and going to school became the more interesting thing to do.
My car had a quarter tank of gas. Sometimes I needed to fill it if Hay and I decided to take a trip, but usually the quarter tank was enough. School was a mile away, and traffic wasn’t bad. I guess I was lucky in that regard. If traffic were bad today, it would be bad every day, and going to school would be a 20-minute affair instead of a five-minute casual drive.
I took my usual spot in the student parking lot, then leaned against the trunk of my car to wait the normal minute and 30 seconds for Hay to show up. She was always on time, despite her being the only variable in my life. Funny how that worked, but it was for the best. If Hay wasn’t dependable, I’d have gone mad long ago.
“Hey, Hay.” The first handful of times I’d greeted her in this way, she rolled her eyes at the corniness, but it had been forever since she’d so much as batted an eye at it. Other people in our class always had the same reaction, though. Laughs, giggles, eye rolls, surprise. I was used to it.
She took her bag out of the back seat and handed it to me. “Hold this for a sec?”
“Sure.” I took the bag and watched as she reached back in her car and pulled out another bag.
“You brought your laptop?”
“Marty’s class.” Ah, Mr. Martin Randal, our 3rd period English class. He always leaves the room ten minutes after class starts and comes back 15 minutes later.
“Oh, that puzzle game again?”
Hay had done this before, but it had been a while. Marty would leave class, she would pull out her laptop and start a new game. Her objective was to progress as far as she could before Marty returned. Having that particular game already on the laptop was a blessing and a curse. The game consisted of solving various puzzles in a 3D space, and if you played the levels enough times, you could complete them almost robot-like.
In turn, Hay got faster and faster at completing the levels, but the game had little to no variance in the beginning, so after playing it a certain amount of times, it became less fun. For that reason, Hay had come up with this meta-game of trying to complete as much as possible before Marty returned. It was less about playing the game itself and more about the concept of beating her own record.
I carried Hay’s regular bag since she had the laptop. She offered to take it back, but I refused. This situation had probably played out before, but in the context of a regular day, many situations often repeated themselves. It was only natural.
She glanced at me. “You gonna do a bathroom break for 2nd period today, or should I?”
It was the only class we didn’t have together. Not being with Hay during second period was lonely – a feeling she reciprocated – so we took turns coming up with excuses to leave our own class, then go and sit in on the other’s class. Usually we took bathroom breaks or said we were sick. Either excuse always worked without fail. There was no real reason to switch them up other than that we wanted to.
We walked past the crossing guard that guided us safely across the street every morning. He smiled and nodded at us, and I flashed a quick smile in return. My interactions with most people had become like this, except the times I was particularly frustrated.
The bell rang right as we walked into the school yard, which signaled students to head to homeroom. We timed it like this on purpose. There was no point in arriving early, and there was no way we’d be late. We had things like that down to a science.
Homeroom was with Mrs. Chen – a fact I’d be forever thankful for. Mrs. Chen had been married exactly three weeks ago by looking at the calendar. She’d gotten back from her honeymoon exactly two days ago, a fact I only knew because in about 15 minutes, she’d show us a slide show of herself and her husband, and then tell us about Hawaii, how wonderful it was, and how she’s still floating even though she’s back to reality.
In short, her mood was as good as it would ever be, and she was already a nice person to begin with. It was the most opportune time to get away with anything I wanted to do, which was, namely, sleep.
We took our time walking across the school yard. The line to get through the doors and into the building was long, so there was no point in rushing. We’d make it inside in time. Our school didn’t use lockers since all of our books were digital. Strolling down the hall brought us right through the middle of the Locker Graveyard, as we called it. Walls and walls of the things, a staple in high school movies, completely unused. It was strange in a way – or at least, it used to be – but I’d certainly rather carry an eReader or tablet that weighs less than a pound over 10 or more pounds of heavy books. My mom blames her scoliosis on that very thing.
My desk was next to the wall when you walked into the classroom. Hay’s was behind mine. Brendon Walker, Hayley Wilson – it was like that in every class since they all had assigned seating in alphabetical order. It was a stroke of the most fortunate luck we could have, I guess.
We took our seats, a few seconds passed, the clock struck 7:45, and the final bell rang.
Homeroom was 10 minutes long – five for attendance and settling in, and the other five for morning announcements. Mrs. Chen quickly went through attendance since every seat was filled except for the two behind Corey Yates, which were extra, and thus always empty.
“You plan on having any fun today?” Hay whispered.
I shrugged. “Haven’t decided yet. Later, maybe.”
“Gonna try to sleep again, huh?”
“After the slideshow.”
“I don’t know how you manage to sleep like that.”
“I don’t know how you manage to have so much energy.”
The TV in the front of the classroom turned from black to the school logo, and Principal Groves appeared on screen. I forgot who did the announcements before, but judging by his body language and general temperament on camera, it didn’t see like something he wanted to do.
“Good morning students and faculty. I will be reading the morning announcements today due to yesterday’s events.” He shuffled some papers on the desk in front of him, then continued in his usual overly-rehearsed tone. “The PTA meeting next week has been postponed until the end of September. Though emails have been sent out, please let your parents know if they’re in the PTA.” More paper shuffling. “Lunch in the cafeteria today will be chicken tenders, tater tots, fruit salad, and choice of milk, juice, or water.”
Hay poked me, and when I turned around, she pointed her finger at her tongue and made a barfing sound. I’d taken to skipping lunch, although sometimes I brought something to eat or at least pick on. Hay usually never made anything more complicated than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, so when she grew tired of that, she’d try the cafeteria lunch for a while. She’d gone back and forth like that for as long as I could remember, and she was currently on the PB&J half of the cycle.
“Eventually you’re going to start skipping lunch too.”
“No way,” she practically snorted. “Food is life.”
“If you weren’t rotating between chicken nuggets and peanut butter, I’d be less tempted to argue with you.”
“They’re tenders, not nuggets.”
“Brendon, Hayley, pay attention to the announcements,” Mrs. Chen said. I think at one point in my life, getting scolded like that would’ve made us both turn beet red, but we were long past that.
“Sorry Mrs. Chen,” we replied in deadpan unison.
The announcements we’d talked over were about homecoming and a parking lot rule reminder. Nothing important.
“…stay between the lines and hang your parking tag from your rearview mirror where it is easily visible.” Mr. Groves did one final shuffling of papers. “Lastly, please remember to silence all portable electronics while in class, and remember that no personal devices are allowed out except during breaks or when otherwise permitted by teachers. Now, everyone get ready to focus on learning, and have a great day.”
The broadcast ended, and Mrs. Chen grabbed the remote for the TV, switching it to the input that was connected to her computer.
“Alright class, this morning we’re going to start off with a little personal show and tell. I wanted to share a few pictures from my honeymoon in Hawaii.”
Right on schedule.
The first picture appeared on the TV. It was Mrs. Chen and her husband standing atop a cliff, the backdrop painted sky-blue, slowly melting into ocean.
“Mrs. Chen, he’s so handsome!” Hay whispered mockingly, just loud enough for only me to hear.
“Mrs. Chen, he’s so handsome!” Emily exclaimed.
“Thank you, Emily! I most certainly agree.” Mrs. Chen was beaming. She had a connection with the class that a lot of teachers failed to make, I think mostly because she was 26 years old. I guess eight or nine years is a long time to everyone else, but my intuition said Mrs. Chen still related to the students because she still could easily look back on her high school days.
The presentation continued with a few more cliff side pictures, some of the couple hiking, two near a waterfall, and a beach picture that I swear Mrs. Chen only included because of how proud she was of how she looked in that two-piece bikini. Some of the other guys in class would make comments about it later.
“Alright, now, let’s go ahead and pick up where we left off on our discussion of the eukaryotic cellular structure.” She switched the presentation from her bikini picture over to a PowerPoint that was actually relevant to class, then grabbed a dry erase marker. “Yesterday, we covered the energy center of the cell, an organelle known as the…?”
A few hands shot up.
“Correct, excellent.” She drew a very poor sketch of a cell and added the mitochondria, then added some squiggles, pointed to it, and said, “Today we’ll be looking at the endoplasmic reticulum.”
Because the next slide had a cell cross-section on it that was much more detailed than she could’ve possibly drawn, there was absolutely no point in her drawing the cell. Mrs. Chen did unnecessary stuff like that, and like showing us her honeymoon pictures.
However, “endoplasmic reticulum” was my cue to try and get some sleep. I rested my head against the wall to my right, rubber-banded my pen to my thumb and forefinger, and deliberately let some of long-ish hair fall into my eyes. It was a completely dumb plan. Sometimes it worked for a whopping two minutes, sometimes it worked for the rest of the period. It depended entirely on when I fell asleep and how I shifted while sleeping.
“Why do you even come to school if you’re just gonna go to sleep?” Hay whispered.
I didn’t answer. She already knew the answer anyway. I’d tried skipping first period before to sleep in late, but once the alarm goes off, I just can’t go back to sleep. Ironically enough, listening to this boring lecture on endoplasmic reticulum was the only way I could get some shut-eye.
Plus, even if I was asleep, it was nice knowing Hay was around.
I jolted awake as the bell for second period crashed and clanged in my ears.
“Whoa,” I muttered.
“Did you sleep through the whole class?” Hay asked.
I nodded and rubbed my eyes. Honestly, I’d found it to be about 20:1 odds that Mrs. Chen would wake me up within 15 minutes. I’d gotten really lucky today. This meant I’d finally have a day with a bit more energy than usual.
“Huh, well, glad it worked out.” She stood up and pressed her skirt down where the edge had flipped up. “See you in Mr. Dolman’s class, right?”
“Yeah. See ya.”
She bent down and kissed me on the cheek, which was at least one thing that didn’t get old.
She smiled. “Later.”
I watched Hay walk out of the classroom and sighed, mentally preparing for the conversation Brent had with me at the end of every class. He sat right in front of me, so he often overheard our conversations.
“Whoa, are you dating Hayley?” he exclaimed.
“Yeah,” I said, picking up my bag off the floor.
“No way, I’ve never even heard you talking with her before today.”
“We’ve been dating for a while.”
“It couldn’t be longer than a few weeks, could it? Didn’t she just-”
“We’ve known each other for a long time.”
I began walking toward the door, ignoring Brent in the way that I typically did when people inquired about Hayley and me. No one could understand the situation we were in. They wouldn’t even believe me even I told them – which, trust me, I’ve tried – so there was no point in repeating myself even more than I already did.
“Dude, I am so jealous.”
I kept walking. “Yeah, I gotta go though, later Brent.”
“You better give me more details tomorrow!” he shouted.
The words stung in my ears, just like they always did. No matter how I steered the conversation, it always led back to him finding out that Hay and I were dating, and he always asked for more details tomorrow. I’d had the conversation with him how many times – tens of thousands? I tried to keep count at one point, and I know it reached at least 2,000 before I gave up. Last I asked, Hay said it was 15,457, but it had been a while.
Every day I woke up to August 28, 2018, and no one but Hay remembered. To my classmates, to my family, to my friends, it was just another day. Tomorrow was a day away rather than a foreign concept. My tomorrow was today, over and over and over again, for what was at least 42 years. Probably 43 or 44 by now, since I didn’t ask Hay that often what the count was. We’d spent a lifetime as 18 year olds, surrounded by clueless peers, in a situation we’d long given up escaping from.
Brent couldn’t possibly understand how those words stung, yet I was subjected to them every single time I went to school. My only option was to grin and bear it, so just like every day, I turned and smiled through my despair as I faced him from the doorway.
“Yeah, Brent. I’ll tell you tomorrow.”