The Anti-Rafe

Under the “read more” link is a short story I found on my flash drive. It’s as finished as it’s gonna get, because I submitted it to a writing contest in 2015 (didn’t win or even place). Might as well get some “mileage” out of it by putting it here. A word of warning: It’s about high school kids, so there’s some questionable language. 🙂

That slit is perfect. Jon slid into the last of the school bus’s brown vinyl seats and surveyed the flaps that reminded him of a slack mouth. He tugged them to widen the slit. A yellow, mousy smell emanated from the seat’s stuffing, which Jon began to pull out by the handful and shove into his backpack. An observer would have taken him for a skinny Neanderthal—jagged-stone knees ripping through dark-wash jeans, hair hanging as low and heavy as the fronds of a prehistoric tree—gutting the seat like it was prey. But no caveman ever hid something inside his victim’s carcass.

Jon eyed the students who had begun to board the bus, ready to be taken home after another day of not-learning. He grabbed the evidence of his former life from his backpack and jammed it into the slit until it hit the metal seat frame and could go no farther. He then extracted a tube of super glue that he’d found oozing in a drawer in his computer engineering classroom. Jon sealed the flaps of the slit together, pressing so hard that his fingers whitened. He capped the glue and stashed it in his backpack. “Now that’s how you break a habit,” he said.

The seat shook with the force of someone bouncing onto it. Sarah leaned over the back of the seat toward him, her cleavage peeking out from her raincoat like two plastic-wrapped loaves. Jon tried to forget that he was hungry. “Hey. What’d you just put in the seat?” Her affected Southern accent grated his ears.

“Damn,” Jon growled. The bus shuddered to a rumbling start, but Sarah stayed in place. Jon tried to look anywhere but at her cleavage and focused on the green outline left by the chain around her neck. Her lips formed a blow-up doll’s O. Even her hair had an artificial sheen. He thought that if he pushed it back to reveal her scalp, he’d see the holes where a machine had plugged it in.

“Seriously, what did you put in there? ‘Cause I totally saw you.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Yes it does. Or else you wouldn’t hide it. So what is it? Homework for a class you’re flunking?”

Jon looked out the fogged window, following the trail of a lone raindrop as it scudded across the pseudo-glass. “Get out of my face.”

Sarah giggled. “You know you like looking at me, Jon. I saw you staring.”

“Shut up. I don’t stare at girls.”

“Whatever. So what’d you hide? Pot? Oh, wait. I know. You built a little meth lab in the bus seat. Creative!”

“Even if you guess it right, I won’t tell you.”

“You should tell me. I bet Rafe already knows.”

Jon’s stomach clenched at the thought of Rafe excavating and demolishing his secrets. “I’m sick of being his brother. Sick of being like him.”

“You’re jealous,” Sarah said, “because he’s dating me and you’re not. That it?”

“Hell no,” Jon said. “Not everybody wants you. Get over it. I tried to do a good thing today.”

Sarah leaned closer. Her cheap lipstick, lip gloss—whatever girls used—didn’t seem to be doing its job. Her chapped lips were as dry as old fish scales. Super glue would have worked better. It’d seal her mouth shut, too. “A good thing?” Sarah laughed. “How is ‘destroying school property’ good? As soon as you get off the bus, I’ll tear up that seat and find out what you hid.”

“Then I’ll tell Rafe you’re fucking Peter behind his back.”

Sarah paused. The O of her lips flattened, and she put her hand to her chest like he’d stabbed her in the heart with the threat alone. The mousy smell from the seat’s guts seemed to return. Or maybe that was just fear. “Ew,” she said. “Why would I mess with Peter? He’s a weirdo—wearing that dang clown hat all the time and pretending he’s a court gesture. Anyway, Rafe would get really pissed if you told him that.”

“Jester,” Jon said. He touched the slit and pinched some extra super glue between his fingers. Dry already, damn it! “I can handle Rafe getting pissed.”

“You can’t.” Sarah poked a gray-and-purple storm cloud of a bruise on his forearm.
Jon flinched. “Got that from computer engineering. Tried to put an old-ass CRT monitor back on the shelf, but it fell on me.”

“Sure,” Sarah drawled. “You got that from a computer, and I’m fucking Peter. Lies, lies, lies. So tell me the truth. What’d you hide?”

“Forget it.”

“Someone will find whatever you hid. All that glue makes it look like someone sneezed all over the seat. It’s so obvious.”

“No one cares,” Jon said. “They’re too busy doing what you were doing with Peter last week.” He jerked his head toward a seat in the front, where a couple kissed as though they were acting out a dramatic reunion scene.

“Why would I mess with Peter when I have Rafe?”

“Because you have Rafe.”

Sarah’s pale coloring gave way to an ugly smeared blush like her face had been slapped with a splash of war paint. Again, her hand crept to her chest. “You can’t use me to protect yourself from your own brother.”

“The bruise came from a monitor. In computer engineering.”

Sarah opened her mouth to retort, but the bus snorted to a stop before Jon’s disappointment of a house. A busted VCR sat on the downcast porch with a ribbon from a VHS tape drooling from its mouth. “Remember,” Jon said. “You rip that seat open, and I’ll tell Rafe what you did with Peter.”

“Fine.” Sarah’s blush faded. She twisted the chain around her neck.

As Jon trudged to the door of the bus, backpack full of seat stuffing over one shoulder, he could hear her get up. She’s not opening that seat. She’s following me out of here. So she can tell Rafe what I said. His mouth flooded with bitterness: the gustatory equivalent of looking into his brother’s eyes.

Jon was halfway up the gravel driveway when the sound of paper ripping joined with the pattering rain. He saw details of the tattered fragments as they moistened and covered him: the sans-serif P in Penthouse, an image-edited breast, the sultry eye of some celebrity whose name he had forgotten, words from an unread story.

Sarah leaned out the window as the bus began to pull away. “Everyone already knows you’re a pervert, so why’d you bother hiding it? And Rafe already knows about Peter, see?” She tore open her raincoat and lifted her shirt, and even though he didn’t want to look, Jon saw the watercolor bloom of an old bruise just below her breastbone.

“I’m done using girls. I’m going to be the anti-Rafe,” he said, but she hadn’t heard. The bus left him in a film of exhaust with pieces of the magazines clinging to his skin.