Don’t Forget Steven

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chapter 1

drop cap sTEVEN STOOD OUTSIDE THE house for a moment before going in. The house was quiet, no yelling or loud music or TV blaring that he could hear from outside. Jack’s bike and Russ’s car were both parked in the driveway, so they, at least, were home. It was starting to get dark out, and Steven was confronted by his reflection in the glass of the door before opening it. Tall for his age, too skinny, his mop of dark hair just a little too long and unruly, and dark eyes that even startled him with their intensity sometimes when he caught a glimpse of himself. Steven let his breath out slowly, and resolutely opened the door and walked in.

No matter whether he went in through the front door or the back—and he always used the back—he had to walk through the living room to reach the hall to the bedrooms. Which meant that he was always exposed, for a few seconds at least, as he skirted the edge of the living room before he could get to the safety of his room. Steven treaded silently across the sticky floor of the kitchen in his worn sneakers, and peered nervously into the living room. The glow of the TV filled the room with a flickering, bluish light and dramatic music. Not a wild or violent movie, something quieter, probably some kind of porn. He couldn’t see Russ’s chair from the kitchen, but he could see Jack on the couch, deep in a make-out session with a girl. That was a good sign. If they both had girls, they’d probably leave Steven alone. The girl’s cheap perfume drifted all the way to the kitchen, making him want to gag.

Steven swallowed hard and dropped his eyes to his scuffed, holey shoes as he walked swiftly through the room. He hoped that if their eyes didn’t meet, he would remain unobtrusive, not attract any attention. He hoped they would only go on with what they were doing and leave him alone.

It worked. He never knew when it would work and when the room would explode around him. Steven tiptoed into his room, and shut the door with a soft click.

Heart pounding in his ears, Steven let out his breath and dumped his schoolbooks on the bed. He went to his dresser, pulled out a drawer and felt in the back under his shirts for the bottle. He unscrewed the cap and lay down on the bed, plucking a paperback out of the books and shutting out the rest of the world.

Leo stood watching Steven’s door, waiting for Steven to come out. Steven was late, as usual. When the tall, slim boy finally slouched out the door, they were already half an hour late for school. Steven had on dark glasses, his books under his arm.

“Hey, Leo,” he greeted lowly.

“Hey, Stevie. What’s up?” Leo questioned, shaking his hair, longer and lighter colored than Steven’s, out of his eyes.

“Nothing,” Steven said with a shrug. “How’s it going?”

“Cool, except you’re late again,” Leo pointed out.

Leo touched Steven’s shades, pushing them down in order to see his eyes. Steven squinted in the bright sunshine, and shaded his eyes with his hand. “Hey, Leo!”

Leo nodded. “Hung over, huh?”

Steven shrugged. “Yeah, I guess,” he agreed painfully, pushing his glasses back up again.

“We’d better get to school.”

Steven nodded and they got on their way.

Steven slouched into the science room and folded himself into his desk. Mr. Bennett stopped his lecture and watched Steven sit down.

“You’re late, McCoy,” he pointed out.

“I know,” Steven agreed, putting his books on the floor.

“Class is nearly over. You bring a note?” he demanded.

“No.” When had Steven ever brought a note from home?

“Why are you late?” Bennett questioned, a note of frustration in his voice.

“Slept in,” Steven said flatly.

There were giggles from around the room. Steven didn’t care what any of the other students thought of him. They could laugh all they liked.

“You’ve been late for this class too many times,” Bennett went on. “Have you considered dropping it?”

Steven shrugged.

“I’ll talk to you later,” Bennett said, shaking his head and turning back to the board to continue the lesson.

Steven put his head down in his arms, folded on the desk. He closed his eyes and listened to the teacher drone on.

Too soon, the bell startled him out of his nap. He sat up, stretching stiff muscles out. He glanced at Mr. Bennett to see if he was going to be kept after class. Bennett was occupied erasing the board, paying no attention to Steven. Steven picked up his books and went to the next class.

The cafeteria air was thick with the smell of grease and the buzz of a hundred conversations. Steven was sitting down at one of the long tables, keeping to himself, his elbows on the table; a sandwich held in both hands was obviously occupying all of his attention. Sasha went over and sat down across from him, putting her books down.

“Hi, Stevie,” she greeted.

Steven glanced up at Sasha’s cheerful pixie face, framed with shoulder-length red hair. “Hey, Sash,” he greeted through a mouthful of sandwich.

“What’re they serving today?”

Steven shrugged, taking another bite out of the sandwich. Sasha watched him eat for a minute, his jaw working busily, her bright blue eyes sparkling.

“That gonna be enough for you?” she questioned.

“It’ll have to be,” Steven pointed out. Sasha knew that he didn’t have money to buy anything else, didn’t have any food to bring from home. The school lunch program only provided limited rations, and didn’t include any of the hot food that the cafeteria prepared, the smells of which hung tantalizingly in the air.

“I’ll get you something, if you want,” Sasha offered.

“Whatever you want,” Steven agreed with a shrug.

He wasn’t too proud to take food from a friend. After all, lunch was often the only meal he ate all day. Sasha nodded and went up to the lunch counter.

A boy Steven didn’t know, blond with a broad, pink face, was sitting nearby. He looked over, sneering at Steven. “You let your girl buy your lunch for you?” he questioned, lip curling.

Steven was surprised at the interruption. He looked the boy over, sizing him up. The boy wasn’t particularly big or well-developed. Steven knew that skinny, wiry guys could be strong, like Russ, but this boy looked soft.

“That’s right,” Steven agreed in a flat, controlled voice.

“Don’t you have any pride, man?”

“Nope.”

“You’re pitiful.”

Steven popped the last bite of sandwich into his mouth and stood up. He wound his fingers into the boy’s shaggy blond hair and pulled him forcefully to his feet. “You finished?”

The other boy struggled, but only ended up hurting himself more, and held still. “Let go!” he insisted.

“I don’t think so,” Steven said calmly. “I don’t like you.”

“Come on man! I was just joking around!” he protested, choking out a weak chuckle.

Steven yanked hard, jerking the boy’s head back. “I don’t have a sense of humor. Got it?” he demanded, trying to keep his voice low and even.

“Yeah, I’m sorry man, just let me go!” the boy squeaked.

Steven slowly released his grip. The other boy danced back, then rushed forward swinging. Steven looked around the cafeteria while he stood pat and held off the onslaught. His instinct proved correct—the principal was just entering the room. He was slightly overweight, slightly bald, and wore an uncomfortable looking brown suit that really wasn’t his color. Steven looked at the other boy.

“Why don’t you give it up?”

“You a coward too?” the boy taunted, his pink face now flushed purple with rage.

Steven blocked another punch. The boy circled closer.

“Come on, fight! You a sissy wimp?” he taunted frantically. “Your girl do the fighting for you too?”

Steven backed away. The boy nearly jumped out of his skin when the principal put a hand on his shoulder to stop him.

“You do get someone else to do your fighting for you!” the boy said in disbelief. He tensed up and whirled around to fight. He saw who it was and lowered his fists, the color draining from his face.

“I think you just won yourself a suspension,” the principal announced gravely. “Go ahead to the office, I’ll catch up and write you up.”

The boy looked back at Steven. “This isn’t over yet,” he warned tightly.

Steven nodded. The other boy stormed out of the cafeteria. The principal studied Steven. Steven could smell stale cigarette smoke on his clothes. “In trouble again, McCoy.”

“I wasn’t fighting. He was,” Steven pointed out.

“This time, maybe, because you saw me coming.”

Steven raised his eyebrows and sat down at the table to eat the remainder of the other boy’s lunch. “So what if I did?” he asked.

“I hear you were late again today.”

“What else is new?” Steven picked up the sandwich and took a large bite.

“You’re not going to do any good here if you’re always late. I know I’m talking to myself here, but I wish I could do something to convince you of the importance of school,” the principal said earnestly.

“I come, don’t I?” Steven countered.

“Maybe so,” the principal admitted. “But I’m not sure why. I don’t think you’re learning anything. You have to do more than just come to school to get a diploma.”

“Are you suspending me?” Steven demanded.

“Not this time,” the man sighed.

“Expelling me?” Steven persisted bullishly.

“You know I wouldn’t do that without a pretty good excuse.”

“Then if you don’t mind,” Steven said irritably, “I’d like to eat my lunch so I’ll be done in time to get to my next class.”

The man stared at him in silence for a moment. Steven was unintimidated, munching his way through the sandwich. The principal turned to go.

“I’ll be watching for you, McCoy,” he warned.

“I’ll be watchin’ for you too,” Steven said dryly.

The principal smiled wryly, shook his head, and headed back to the office.

Steven was just polishing off the other boy’s fries when Sasha got back.

“What’s with all the excitement?” she queried, grinning. “What’d you do to get Potter mad?”

“Is that his name?” Steven said carelessly.

“Yeah, didn’t you even know who he was?” she said incredulously.

“Sure, he said: ‘Hi, I’m Potter, and I’m going to put your lights out’.”

“Okay, okay. I assumed you knew each other, that’s all. I don’t usually get into fights with people I don’t know.”

“Yeah, well, I get into fights with pretty much anyone,” Steven returned. “Is he any good, since you know him?”

“I don’t know him,” Sasha clarified. “I just know his name. He’s pretty tough, I guess, and he’s got a lot of friends.”

“Well, I got friends too,” Steven said, though his circle of friends was pretty much limited to Leo and Sasha. And Sasha wasn’t a fighter.

Sasha handed Steven an apple and bowl of soup. “Something good for you.”

“Thanks,” he said, taking them immediately.

Sasha sat down. She leaned in closer to him, and reached for his hand. Steven jerked back from her touch. Sasha withdrew her hand more slowly, contemplating him.

“You know, I’ve really been worried about you lately…” she started, then stopped, biting her lip and looking down at her own slim hands.

“Why?” Steven questioned, shaking his head. He pulled the lid off of the styrofoam bowl and inhaled the sweet and spicy scent hungrily.

“Well, you know… the way it is at home, and you drinking so much…” she trailed off, scratching at a piece of petrified food stuck to the tabletop.

Steven glanced around, and leaned toward her. “Sasha! You don’t need to broadcast it!” he protested in a low growl.

“But I’m worried,” Sasha insisted, looking up at his eyes. Steven looked down at his soup, spooning it as quickly as he could without burning himself.

“Nothing’s changed,” he said. “Why bring it up now?”

“It’s getting worse.”

“It’s not that bad,” he assured her.

“It is. I’m scared one day I’m going to get to school and you won’t be here. Ever.”

“That’s not going to happen.”

His ears were burning and he continued to stare intently at his soup.

“Leo’s worried too,” Sasha added.

“Nothin’ worries Leo,” Steven said dismissively.

“You do. Every time he stands on the corner waiting for you, and you’re late—”

“Just drop it,” Steven insisted, looking around again to make sure that no one was listening. But Sasha had momentum now, and kept going.

“We always worry that you’re in hospital, or at home knocked out, or passed out—”

“Sasha,” he said, voice very low, but intense. “Lay off.”

Sasha stopped talking. Steven went on eating. He glanced up at her face after a few minutes of silence. Her usual teasing smile was gone, her eyes sad.

“What do you expect me to do about it?” he questioned irritably. “Run away from home? How’s life on the streets going to be better? Just what do you expect me to do?”

“Talk to someone,” Sasha suggested. “A professional. And stop drinking.”

“See a shrink or social worker and go dry. Yeah, that’s really gonna improve my life.” Steven laughed bitterly. He leaned back from the table, the soup now all gone. He grabbed the apple in preparation to leave. “My life’s a mess, but there ain’t no cleaning it up.”

Sasha was silent, tears glistening in her eyes. Steven looked at her, tilting his head to the side slightly and scratching the base of his skull. “Look, I know you’re just trying to help, Sash. But believe me, if there was anything I could do to improve it, I would. But I’m pretty much a lost cause, so don’t keep bringing it up.”

Sasha sighed. “You’re not a lost cause,” she insisted.

Steven got up from the table.

Steven was torn between spending more time with Leo and going home. He hated having to leave his friends so early, but he also knew that if he got home too late, there wouldn’t be any avoiding the consequences. If he went home on time, at least he could probably go to his room and drink the evening away alone. He didn’t like to drink in front of his friends—especially after that little lecture by Sasha. Leo caught him looking at the mall clock yet again, and advised against going home.

“Come on, man. You can stay over at my place,” Leo invited. He elbowed Steven slyly, “or Sasha’s,” he said, drawing her name out and raising his brows. “You don’t have to go back home tonight.”

“No…” Steven protested. “I gotta go home.”

“How long’s your luck going to hold out?” Leo questioned, raising his hands. “Stay with one of us this time.”

“I can’t, Leo. I got a lot of homework tonight,” Steven looked at the clock. “I oughtta get home.”

“It’s your life,” Leo sighed, giving up.

My messed-up life, Steven acknowledged in his head. But he didn’t say it out loud.

“Okay… I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Everyone’s cars were in the driveway or in front of the house. Steven looked at the orange-streaked sky and the growing shadows, a tight knot in his stomach.

The four men were in the living room. No girls this time, numerous crushed empties scattered around the floor and the stink of stale sweat and beer permeating the house. Dix was sitting sideways across a chair, legs draped over the arm. His gaze wandering away from the TV. He was the first to see Steven peeking around the doorway. He gave Steven an amused half-smile. Dix had short, spiky dark hair, just a hint of five o’clock shadow, and sky blue eyes. Steven often wondered what he was thinking. Dix was the youngest, closer to Steven in age than to the others, but Steven never could tell when he was going to be decent to him or join right in on the abuse with the others. Sometimes Dix’s eyes were distant, far away, like he was dreaming something that no one else could see.

Next to Dix was Jack. Just looking at him, Steven had to swallow his fear, a great lump burning in his throat. Jack was just about as bad as Russ. He was always in good humor, laughing at everything; that mocking, cruel laugh. Like the funniest thing in the world was someone getting hurt. His eyes were dark and fierce, cruel eyes crinkled up at the corners with laugh lines, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, his handsome wavy hair swept to the side like some heart throb on the front of a chick flick romance. But nobody ever mistook his cheerful demeanor for a good nature. It was like looking at a laughing devil. His beard was heavier than Dix’s, running along his jawline, with his cheeks clean-shaven.

Steven could just barely see Mitch. Mitch was a bit different from the others. More laid back, not quite so intense. He was both watchful and reckless, a weird combination of taking in everything around him and a devil-may-care daring. It didn’t look like he had shaved in several days. His hair was artfully messy; he’d probably spent an hour trying to make it look like he didn’t care what it looked like. When Mitch smiled invitingly or winked his dark eyes slyly… every girl in the room swooned. Mitch noticed Steven too, but he didn’t smile like Dix. He just raised his beer can and took a drink, watching Steven thoughtfully.

Steven couldn’t see Russ from where he stood. He was just around the corner out of sight. But Steven could feel his presence, and could hear him when he threw a comment at the TV or one of the other boys. Steven could see Russ’s face in his mind. Long and lean, unsmiling, a pointed chin, and shadows under his eyes like he wasn’t sleeping or eating; wasted looking. Though his frame was slight, he was wiry and immensely strong. Steven knew he was the strongest, and the nastiest, of all of them. His eyes were green, but he wasn’t handsome, you knew the instant you saw him that he was pure evil. Pure, unadulterated, malice and depravity.

Steven took a deep breath, swallowed, and tried to make himself invisible as he slouched across the room towards the back of the house. Mitch threw his half-full can of beer in Steven’s direction, hitting him on the back of the shoulder and spraying beer in his face.

“Where do you think you’re going in such a hurry?” he demanded.

“Just to my room,” Steven said, trying to continue on.

“No, I don’t think so. You spend a bit too much time all alone in that room of yours.”

“I got homework,” Steven protested, showing off his books.

“Who do you think you’re fooling? Who here thinks little Stevie actually does his homework when he gets home?”

There were derisive comments all around.

“Come pleasure us with your company,” Dix urged. “Come on, we never see you anymore, kid. We got us some videos tonight.”

Steven tried to swallow the lump in his throat. He studied their faces desperately for tiny indicators of what temper they were in. He knew he’d be tempting fate to refuse, but probably by the end of the flick they’d be so drunk, they’d beat him up even though he’d done what they asked.

“If you don’t get over here and enjoy this movie with us…” Russ started in a low, threatening voice.

Russ scared Steven more than the others put together. His voice sent an electrical charge through Steven, spurring him to action.

“I’ll just put my books away,” he said quickly, heading for his room again.

If he could get in there, shut the door, and push the dresser and bed in the way… Steven heard one of them get to his feet, and he made a desperate dash for the safety of his room. A hand closed around the collar of his jacket, yanking him roughly to a halt with a jerk that made him choke, then holding him still. Steven didn’t try to fight back.

“I’m just putting my books away,” he said reasonably, trying to hide his heavy breathing.

“You think you’re any better than us?” Jack’s rough voice grated. He laughed. “You think that you got better company to keep? You’re scum, kid. You’re sewer scum, just like any of us. Now get your sorry butt back in there, or I’ll whip the hide right off’a you!”

Steven’s heart was beating fast. He couldn’t catch his breath.

“I’m sorry,” he apologized, voice cracking. “I was comin’ back.”

Jack knocked the books out of his arm and they tumbled down the hall. He slapped Steven sharply across the cheek. It stung and Steven’s face burned with humiliation.

“Go enjoy the movie,” Jack mocked.

Steven went ahead of him; back out to the front room. The others grinned when they saw him slinking back in like a whipped dog.

“Hey, hey, Stevie baby. Come back to enjoy the film with us, huh?” Dix taunted.

“Yeah,” Steven agreed, and dropped himself morosely into the musty old chair. They had one of the movies on, and Steven could hardly even look at the screen. The one they had on was a snuff film, by the looks of it, and the one by his toe was a triple-x porno. He picked up one of the cans of beer and opened it. If he was going to pollute his mind with filth, he might as well pollute his body too. Maybe he’d be drunk enough to block it out, and by the time the videos were done, maybe he’d be drunk enough that he wouldn’t feel anything.

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

Don’t Forget Steven

By P.D. Workman

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