He slipped up the steep stairs and someone laughed. Maybe at him. Maybe at something near him at that same moment. Harrison stared at his shoes and wiped his forehead, more to cover his face than to remove any anxious sweat or rain. Just to the right of the accordion bus doors was a puddle that boys spat in and watched their bubbled saliva float around like captainless ships. There was plenty of room for the number of students who rode the bus home on Fridays, but Harrison felt like he was squeezing into his military green bench seat and might struggle to get out at his stop. The chaos of the first week of ninth grade and the sudden pulverizing evidence that some of the younger boys had not been introduced to deodorant slimed over Harrison’s damp hair and shoulders. James Hetfield screamed into his ears, and he closed his eyes, hoping the cheese chariot would slither away from the school he hated and friends in it who didn’t exist.
His mother’s handwriting greeted him at the door on an S-shaped knock-off pink Post-It. BACK SOON, KIDDO. YOU ROCK. And the final two words hovered over three thick straight lines. She was nowhere near as clever as she thought. Harrison found the illogically placed faux hideakey in the planter to the left of the door. He wadded up the sticky note and withdrew two Coke cans from the fridge. Once upstairs, he looked out his bedroom window for his mom’s car and, seeing nothing but the sharp landscaping of his neighbors retired hands, Harrison thought about Isabell’s creamy brown-skinned friend and masturbated in his bed. James Hetfield kept screaming the whole time.