Deviation, Breaking the Pattern #1

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chapter 1

drop cap hENRY TRIED TO ENTER the room quietly and remain inconspicuous. Sort of hard when the class is all quiet for a lecture and you arrive halfway through the period. He scanned the room for an empty desk, and hoped that it was actually free, and not just empty because someone had gone to the restroom or was sick that day. He slipped in as quietly as possible, hoping that the teacher would just keep going. But Mrs. Phillips stopped mid-sentence, watching him. Henry sat down, his head down, his slightly-too-long hair falling down over his eyes. Henry’s round-framed glasses slid down his sweat-slick nose, and he pushed them back up again, leaning his forehead on his hand as he opened a notebook and prepared to take notes.

“Are you Henry?” Mrs. Phillips questioned.

The rest of the class watched with avid interest as she approached the desk.

“Yeah,” Henry admitted sheepishly. He tried to look confidently into her face and saw her eyes widen slightly as she took in his appearance.

“Let’s go talk in the hall,” she suggested.

With the rest of the students’ eyes on them, Henry followed Mrs. Phillips out of the room and into the hall. She shut the door as the class began to buzz with gossip. She looked Henry over once more.

“What happened to your eye?”

Henry grinned nervously.

“Looks like someone belted me, huh?” he said. “I got up in the night to go to the can,” he explained, “didn’t turn on the light. Slipped on my baby brother’s toy. I dunno what I hit—the doorknob or the counter or what. Knocked me cold. My ma freaked out this morning. Made me go to the hospital to get it x-rayed. That’s how come I’m late.”

“Wow,” she said, smiling, “I just wanted to be sure. You realize school started two days ago?” She cocked an eyebrow questioningly.

Henry felt his face flush, and sweat started to trickle down his back.

“We were on vacation,” he explained, “I guess my ma got the start day mixed up. If she doesn’t write things down, she gets the days wrong.”

“Okay. Go sit down; I’ll get you the list of supplies you need, and give you your assignment.”

“Thanks,” Henry breathed.

They headed back into the classroom. Henry slipped back into his seat, sweating heavily. Great way to start school; two days late and with a black eye. Good way to stay unnoticed. At least Mrs. Phillips didn’t seem to doubt his story. He waited for his heart to slow back down to normal, glancing around to see if any of his friends were in the class. There were a couple of acquaintances. No one close. But then, he wasn’t that close to anyone. He rubbed his sweating palms on his pants and plucked his shirt away from his body.

Miss Phillips came over and gave him the supply list and assignment that he had missed. She gave him a reassuring smile and then went back to the front of the room to continue with her lecture. Henry read over the assignment and got to work. With any luck, he’d be caught up by the end of the day.

Henry made it through the rest of the morning unscathed. Other teachers looked at his black eye but didn’t say anything about it. Since they were only a couple of days into the school year, they hadn’t covered anything new while he was gone. Just reviewing and warming up their brains for the upcoming semester. He wasn’t going to have to do a bunch of homework or studying to catch up again.

Henry scanned the cafeteria for familiar faces. The first year of high school, there were a lot of unfamiliar people here. And a lot more faces than there had been in junior high. The room was buzzing with barely controlled chaos. Hearing laughter nearby, Henry focused in on Andrew, a boy he had known since kindergarten. There was an empty seat next to him, and Henry moved over toward it and looked at Andrew questioningly. Andrew’s eyes lit up.

“Henry! Hey man, I haven’t seen you around,” Andrew enthused. “Thought that maybe you’d moved or something. Come on, have a seat.”

Henry slid into the seat.

“Thanks.”

Andrew took a bit of his sandwich, looking Henry over.

“Hey, you know you got a shiner?” he questioned around a mouthful.

There were giggles from some of the surrounding students. Andrew was sort of a class clown. He liked an audience.

“Yeah, I did notice,” Henry said dryly.

“You get in a fight or something? I should see the other guy?”

Henry shook his head, peeling back the edges of the plastic wrap of his sandwich.

“No… I gotta start putting on my glasses and the light when I get up at night. Stop walking into doors.”

Andrew laughed, nodding.

“Just how strong are those pop bottles? You blind without them?”

“If it’s pitch dark, yeah,” Henry agreed. “May as well have my eyes shut. In fact, maybe I’d see better with my eyes shut!”

Andrew giggled. He gestured to the boy seated across from him.

“Do you know Tony?”

“No.” Henry sketched a salute. “Hi. I’m Henry.”

“Henry’s a stand-up guy,” Andrew declared, “and real handy with homework if you need help.” Andrew nodded significantly. “Tony’s new this year, just moved into the neighborhood. He’s in most of my classes.”

Henry nodded, munching on his sandwich. The bread was stale and a bit dry. And there hadn’t been nearly enough peanut butter to coat the slices. With just bread and jam, he was going to be starving by the time he got home. But he wasn’t going to use the school lunch program unless he had to. He got enough teasing as it was.

“And I guess you know everyone else,” Andrew said.

Henry glanced at the others in the immediate vicinity. A few familiar faces from junior high last year. No one that he was particularly friendly with, but no one who bullied him, either. He got a few nods of greeting.

“Yeah,” he agreed. “Hey.”

chapter 2

drop cap aFTER THE DISMISSAL BELL, other students were hanging around in the hallways and around the school, visiting, catching up with old friendships and trying out new ones. Already there were a few couples lip-locked in front of lockers or in corners, testing out the new freedoms of high school. In junior high, such displays had been immediately broken up by the teachers. In high school, they were ignored. But Henry didn’t hang around or look for any of his friends. He hurried straight home.

He dropped his books on the kitchen table. Bobby was crying in his room.

“Ma? Ma, are you home?” Henry called, looking around for her.

There was no reply. Henry made his way to his bedroom, where Bobby was standing in his crib screaming. He held onto the bars tightly. The baby’s face was red and sweaty. He sounded frantic, like he’d been crying for a long time. When Henry appeared, he immediately reached out his arms, the screams changing in pitch to an urgent uh-uh-uh! Henry reached in and picked him up. Bobby clung to him, his sobs slowing down. His fingers dug into Henry, sharp nails catching at his skin. He was holding on so tightly that Henry figured if he let him go, he’d just stay hanging there, like a baby monkey. Henry bounced and cuddled him, waiting for him to settle down.

“There, you’re okay,” he murmured. “I’m here. You’re okay.”

There were three empty bottles in the crib. Henry collected them awkwardly with one hand, wedging one under his opposite armpit. He went into the kitchen.

“Shh, shh,” he comforted quietly as he jiggled Bobby. One-handedly, he prepared a fresh bottle of formula for Bobby and handed it to him.

“There you go. Why don’t you put that in your mouth for a bit?”

Bobby’s sobs quieted, and he drank the bottle around sniffles. Henry took him into the bathroom to change Bobby’s reeking diaper. He gently wiped Bobby’s bottom, starting him crying again. His skin was bright red and inflamed, obviously painful. Henry disposed of the dirty diaper and left Bobby bare bottomed.

“There. You can play like that while I study and get a snack.”

Henry put Bobby down on the kitchen floor and made another jam sandwich for himself. He sat down over his books, eating the sandwich slowly while he studied, glancing over at Bobby every few minutes to make sure that he was happy and keeping out of mischief.

The front door opened. Henry looked over his shoulder to see who it was. Clint. A big man, wearing a construction hard hat, looking unshaven as usual. He smelled rankly of sweat.

“Hi,” Henry greeted, and looked back at his books, uninterested in further interaction.

“Hey, Hank,” Clint grunted.

“Don’t call me that,” Henry objected. “It’s Henry.”

“Yeah, whatever.”

Clint didn’t care. He had no intention of showing Henry the respect of calling him by his preferred name.

“You seen my mom?” Henry questioned, leaning back in his chair and rubbing the space between his eyebrows.

“No. She’s not home?”

“No.”

Obviously. Why would Henry ask about her if she was there? Clint wasn’t the brightest bulb in the box. Clint watched Bobby playing on the floor.

“How come Squirt’s got no diaper?” he demanded.

“Got left in a dirty diaper. It burns his skin. The baby book says the best thing is to let his skin get some air,” Henry explained.

“What if he whizzes on the floor?”

“I’ll clean it up.”

“Okay.”

Clint looked around.

“I’ll see you around, then, Hank.”

“You’re not staying?” Henry questioned.

“Not if Dorry’s not home.”

He adjusted his hard hat, showing a white band of skin where the front support of the hat kept the sun and dirt from darkening his face, and he turned and left. Henry sat for a moment, listening to his retreating footsteps. Then he shrugged and went back to work.

It was late when the door opened again. Dinner and homework were long since finished. Bobby was back in bed, asleep this time in a clean, dry diaper and onesie, tummy happily full. Henry put down his book and got up off of his bed quietly, so as not to wake Bobby.

“Ma?”

He walked out to the living room where she was taking off her shoes and her fall coat. Her face was pale and thin, dark rings under her eyes, her brown hair lank and uncombed over her shoulders. She forced a smile at Henry.

“Hi, Honey. How was your day?” she questioned.

“You left Bobby alone,” Henry accused, ignoring her greeting and question.

“I couldn’t take his fussing any more,” she told him, her voice flat and emotionless. “Don’t get on my case,” she warned.

“You could have called me at school. So I could come home at noon or something.”

“I didn’t want you to miss any more school. He was okay until you came home,” she asserted.

“You can’t leave him alone like that! What if he got out of his crib? Or someone came into the house? You know Social Services would take him away if they knew you left him alone.”

“Well,” she shook her head slightly at him, “no one is going to tell them.”

“You want him to be taken away?” he challenged.

“They’d put him in foster care for a while,” she said uncaringly. “Then they’d give him back again.”

Henry remembered being in foster care many years ago. When she was recovering from a relationship and couldn’t “handle” him. She probably didn’t even remember the man’s name anymore. But Henry did. He remembered Frank. He remembered a lot more than she thought he did, though neither one of them brought it up.

“Bobby’s got a real bad rash,” Henry told Dorry. “Was he dirty when you left?”

Dorry swept her hair back from her face with both hands in a tired gesture. She went to the fridge and looked through it listlessly, eventually selecting a small juice box of lemonade that sat alone on the top shelf. Henry watched her remove the straw, removed the wrapper from it, and poke it into the top. She took a couple of small sips and put it to the side on the counter, where she probably wouldn’t pick it back up again.

“Of course not,” she told him. “I made sure he was okay.”

“You can’t just leave him by himself,” Henry repeated. “The baby book—”

“Henry,” she interrupted him tiredly. “I don’t care what the baby book says. The baby book doesn’t have to listen to him cry all the time. I do. You know how he’s been the last few days.”

“Yeah, ‘cause he’s been sick,” Henry pointed out. “And I was the one taking care of him then, not you. Did you even stay with him at all today? Or did you just put bottles in the crib and leave as soon as I was out of the house?”

“You’re not my mom,” Dorry said bitterly. “I’m yours. And you don’t get to tell me what to do.”

Henry exhaled sharply in frustration. He picked up his books from off of the table, closing them loudly and putting them into his backpack.

“Is that how you took care of me when I was a baby?” he demanded.

Dorry looked at him for a moment, her pale brown eyes expressionless.

“You turned out okay,” she said, ruffling his hair.

That was as close as she ever got to saying that she loved him. Henry didn’t fail to notice that she hadn’t answered the question.

Henry woke up several times during the night. Not because Bobby was fussing, but just because Henry was worried about him. He would get up and check Bobby’s diaper, worried that the rash was going to get worse if Bobby had to sleep the night through in a wet or dirty diaper. He checked Bobby’s temperature to make sure that his fever hadn’t returned. When he couldn’t think of anything else to check, he just stood there by the crib in the moonlight, looking at Bobby’s cherubic face as he slept peacefully. Then Henry climbed back into bed and tried to force his mind to slow down and let him return to sleep.

“Hey, Henry,” Andrew sang out, “ain’t that the third time today I seen you on the phone?”

Henry started and turned around guiltily.

“I don’t know, did you see me the other two times?” he quipped, trying to make light of it. The last thing that he needed was for someone to be monitoring how many times he went to the phone. Many of the students had cell phones, but they weren’t allowed to use them at school, on danger of having them confiscated, and that meant that there were long lineups and steep competition for the pay phones, especially during lunchtime or the short breaks between classes. Henry had already been late to a couple of classes, and used the phone when he was supposed to be running to the restroom.

Andrew laughed.

“Yeah, man. What’s up, you got girl problems?”

Henry gave him a significant look and turned his back on Andrew again, facing the phone and waiting impatiently for the call to be answered.

“You wanna give me some privacy?” he suggested, hoping that Andrew would just go with the idea that Henry was trying to connect up with some girl he was interested in, and leave him alone.

The answering machine picked up. Henry frowned, waving Andrew off. The boy finally backed off, laughing. Henry cupped his hand around the receiver so that no one would overhear him.

“Mom, it’s me,” he said urgently. “Pick up if you’re home.”

After a moment, there was a click. Henry sighed with relief.

“What’s up?”

It was Clint’s rough, impatient voice.

“Oh, hi. Mom’s not there?”

“No.”

“Is Bobby there? Do you want me to come home?” Henry suggested worriedly.

“He’s fine. Dorry decided to take him to that moms and tots thing. And he’ll be tired and have a nap when she gets back.”

Henry breathed out.

“Good. Are you gonna be there after school?”

“More than likely,” Clint growled. “So?”

“If you’re both there, maybe I’ll go to the mall for a bit after school. You can have some time to yourselves.”

Clint grunted.

“Sure. Just don’t stay out too long. She’ll get worried.”

“No,” Henry agreed. “Just an hour or something. I won’t be long.”

Clint hung up. Henry hung up the receiver slowly. He felt a rush of relief. Now he could finally relax and concentrate on his classes. Bobby was okay. There was nothing for him to worry about. He moved out of the way of the phone to let the next person make their call.

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

Deviation, Breaking the Pattern #1

By P.D. Workman

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