Each handicap is like a hurdle in a steeplechase, and when you ride up to it, if you throw your heart over, the horse will go along, too.Lawrence Bixby
One day after school Declan was walking to our home, his parents both had gone into their offices downtown San Myshuno for work meetings rather than work from home as they both often did, both wouldn’t be home till late, and on days like that the boys would always come to our house for lunch and to have us supervise their homework, they usually stayed till dinner.
Our house was just a short walk up the road from Windenburg High, and Rett still came over daily anyways to practice with Blaine. Today Rett had football practice after school, so Declan walked alone. Suddenly he heard someone run behind him, then Rory appeared next to him.
“Hey stranger!” she offered, slightly out of breath.
Declan started to panic and walked faster, but she kept up.
“Sorry again about just showing up out of the blue at your grandparents’ place the other day, I realize surprise visits by people you barely know aren’t your thing, knowing how you panic and all, but I was totally desperate. In case you’re wondering, I ended up failing the test, so yeah … My parents are so gonna kill me, it’s gonna be a huge drama, once they find out, even though the teacher is letting me retake it since I am so new. Not sure if that’ll change much, the retake test is scheduled for tomorrow and my mind is just as 100% devoid of anything Math-related as it was the first time around. Might as well be hieroglyphs.”
“Oh … crap. Ssssss … orry about th-th-th-that. Wa..wa…want some he-he-he-help studying?” Declan worked out the words best he could.
“Wow, what was that, two sentences, three even? I feel honored. Are you just trying to be nice now or do you actually mean it? I mean, I have been begging for your help for days now.”
“F-f-f-f-f-feel b-b-b-bad … run-ru-ru-running. Sor-sor-sor-sorry.” Declan stuttered.
“Yeah, I admit it’s pretty weird and I have been wondering a lot why you don’t like me, when you don’t even know me. I mean, I haven’t done anything to you and it was a teacher who sent me your way initially. Not like I threw a dart and hit you or something.”
“NO! I …. I …. I …. don’t NOT like you. I … like …. uh .. wait .. what?” Declan lost the trail of his own thought.
“Don’t ask me, I have no clue what you are trying to say. Guess I don’t speak Declan Cameron. Wanna come over and help me study now? Any help is welcome, cos I am about to majorly freak out here. Seriously Declan. Please! Just this once!”
“But, but …. but …. you…you…. your parents?” Declan mumbled.
“They’re not home. Again. As usual. Nothing changed since we moved. They’re always working. And even if they were there, I am allowed to have people over.”
They went to her house, Declan texted me that he was helping a friend and would be by later. Now in Rory’s home he was incredibly nervous, when she ran upstairs to her room to get the books. Once it was all about Math though, he went into tutor mode and was fine, he could even speak coherently without too much of a stutter. Together they got her frazzled mind unraveled, with his help Math quickly started to make sense to her again and Declan realized she was smart too, just overwhelmed with a sudden move in the middle of a school year, new people, a new town, all alone. He sympathized.
“So, do …do ….do …. you miss your old schoo…school?” he managed to ask.
“Yeah, I g-g-g-g-get it. Hi…hi….high school su…su….su…sucks.”
“Sure does. Big time.” Rory agreed, followed by a big sigh. Something about her acknowledging his weird behavior without riding around on it calmed his nerves.
“Girls have it easy though.” Declan shocked himself with his own words. So many at once. Without a stutter.
“Are you kidding me right now?! High school is the worst for girls! Boys have it easy! You just beat each other up sometimes, then hang out again. Girls aren’t like that, once you pissed one off – which isn’t hard to do – you’re enemies for life. They also have a million cliques and constant warfare, everyone hates everyone. Never pretty enough, cool enough, thin enough, rich enough, someone always tries to steal someone else’s boyfriend, …”
“Di…di…did that ha…ha….happen to you?”
“Me? No. Look Declan, I don’t know why you have such a problem with me, but I really am not the enemy here and I think we could both desperately use a friend. I don’t know what your deal is, but know this: there are more people who can’t wait to be done with high school, probably for the same reasons as you.”
“You may be surprised. I mean, you wanna know why we really moved in the middle of a school year just before the start of my last year of high school? My parents aren’t stupid, they would never normally, unless they saw no other way. Because of me. I was bullied so bad in my old school it wasn’t even funny. I was a wreck. Still am, just putting up a good show so nobody here realizes I already got a big, fat target on my back.”
“Why would anyone bully you?” Declan exclaimed, not even realizing he didn’t stutter at all.
“I don’t know. Why are you so weird around girls?”
“Well, chances are you’d find out eventually, might as well tell you. Me being like this is what happens when you live in a small town and everyone at your school has seen your junk from every imaginable angle.” After the words had left his mouth, Declan’s heart raced. No stutter! But why did he tell her that?!
“Assume that wasn’t voluntarily.”
“Course not. Rett and his friends and I went camping. He wandered off into the woods with a girl to … well, I am sure you can guess and I went swimming. Some of the boys had brought alcohol from who knows where, they were loud and obnoxious, so I got out of the water to go back to my tent, they were teasing me, suddenly one held on to me, another pulled down my swimming shorts and tossed them in the lake where they sank to the bottom. When I turned around, EVERYONE was there, laughing, pointing, taking cell phone pics and videos. Even a girl I really liked. That’s when Everett came back, he got so mad at them, tried to shield me at first, yelling at them, when they wouldn’t stop, he pulled off his shorts, gave them to me to put on and ran after every single one of them completely naked, holding his business into their faces yelling ‘you wanna see some dick?! Here! LOOK!’ while I just was paralyzed and thought I was gonna die.”
“Oh shit! What a bunch of idiots. But your brother sounds a lot nicer than I thought he was. Thought he was a totally arrogant airhead poser. He’s actually a great guy then, I guess. I am seriously impressed.”
“Yeah, Rett’s really smart and the best brother imaginable. But still … After that weekend when we all got back to school … man, I have never felt so humiliated. All those comments. The girls were the worst. That’s why now … well, you know. Guess it really is mental, seeing how I am talking to you now not sounding like a complete moron.”
“Yeah, I get it though. That’s traumatic. Well, full disclosure, you are talking to ‘Nerdy Gertie’. Someone I didn’t let copy my answers during some test once found out that my dumb parents gave me my grandmother’s name as a middle name, Gertrud. Yeah. As if my first name wasn’t already bad enough, most people read my name and think I am a boy. Well, when ‘Nerdy Gertie’ didn’t stop, I finally went and told my parents, of course they ended up raising hell with the school and it turned into this huge shitstorm. I literally had no friends anymore. The cherry on top was when I came to school and someone had sent my face pasted to some porn actress’ naked body along with my cell phone number to EVERYONE. It was obviously fake, but rumors were started about me being loose, whenever a teacher asked me something in class, someone would play porn sounds, moaning and stuff, I couldn’t go anywhere without ridicule, and it got too much. So, yeah, Declan, I do get it. Where do I rank on your lucky people list now?”
“Well, at least the body they pasted you too was probably pretty hot. My original just obviously isn’t. That alone is reason for embarrassment enough. And everybody saw it, literally EVERYBODY knows what I look like without clothes. I wish they had just pasted my face to some naked hunk, rather than highlight I am nothing but a lanky nerd.”
“Seriously, that is what you take away from me pouring my soul out?! Wow. Self-absorbed much?”
“What do you want me to say? Sorry it happened? Obviously. But, I still cannot talk to or even function around girls, while you act perfectly normal around everyone. Sure, you had to move and I get that’s rough, but for you it’s over and you get a fresh start. I am still simmering in it and still get ridiculed for it, whenever Rett isn’t around to punch their faces in, which he has done plenty. That alone is humiliating enough, I am the older brother, I should be protecting him, not the other way around. He’s nailed almost every chick at our school at least once, while I haven’t even … never mind. It just continues to suck for me daily and I have no idea how I am supposed to get through college. I am probably gonna be a drop-out because I am literally handicapped. Forget about any kind of fun memories, like dances, proms, first dates, keg stands, … all that shit I will probably never experience.”
“All right, fine, I guess, you got a point there. I don’t think your condition is something permanent though, maybe after graduation you reset and all is well again. At least you’re speaking to me now, in actual sentences and without sprinting away. That was seriously stupid, and got old REALLY quick, gotta tell ya.”
“Yeah, I know, I am just as surprised as you are. Thanks for sharing your story with me. I know it’s not easy to talk about that. I have to say, it is easier to talk – period – when you have full use of the English language rather than sound like a rusty typewriter. Sorry about all that stutter. I can actually talk. Sometimes.”
“Yeah, I figured. When Mr. McMichaels told me you were awesome at Math and then your brother said you were a gamer, I thought ‘jackpot’, friend material. I just had an inkling that you had gone through some shit like I had, courtesy our lovely fellow students. And I was right. I just felt it. You had to be just like me. I am a nerd by choice and because I don’t want to disappointed my parents. I always liked computer and video games more than dance clubs, I don’t give two shits about makeup and fashion and I just don’t fit in with the other girls. Sadly for me, instead of sharing my hope for some sort of coalition of the nerds with me, whenever you see me you evidently only ever hear the starting gun to a race to get far and fast away from me and no interest in becoming friends. Well, sucks to be me, I guess.”
“Didn’t mean it like that. I just didn’t know you. And I wasn’t looking for a new friend. Still am not. Just want to get done with high school and move on. Anyway, my behavior towards you was never anything personal. Honest.”
“Have you tried therapy yet?”
“I am so not going to lay on some couch and tell a perfect stranger about … that! I mean, come on now. Not even my family knows, except Rett. No way! And how would I tell them anyway? Most of the time with strangers I sound and act like Rainman.”
“You could just send them all that video that went around school and let that speak for itself.” Rory giggled, but stopped when she noticed Declan wasn’t amused.
“You’re right, sorry. Didn’t mean it like that, was just trying to get your mood out of the gutter. Sorry, that was in bad taste.”
“Yes, it was. Honestly, you don’t know what this is like. Nobody is letting me live down what happened and even after graduation, college is probably just gonna be the same with new people. More people. How am I to ever have a normal life, a job, a girlfriend? Or even just female co-workers? As soon as I start flipping out, or if I were to try avoid women altogether, they’d shove HR down my throat thinking I am some mysogynistic moron and I get fired. I wanted to travel the world, experience stuff, then when I am done with adventure one day I’d find a nice girl, do the home life for a while, eventually get married maybe have a kid. Forget about all that. I’ll be the male version of the crazy cat lady, live and die lonely and it would probably take months for anyone to find me, nobody would miss me.”
“Jeeze Declan, chill. I almost think I liked you better when you didn’t talk to me, when I still thought you were sweet and just really shy. You’re pretty negative and resentful. Not everything has to be doom and gloom.”
“Except for me it is! My family is pretty great, but as soon as I leave the house I have a target on my back. Anywhere I go, I will run into someone from school who has seen the videos or pictures. So can you blame me for not finding a positive spin?! At this point I just want to be left alone, graduate and leave all this behind. Hopefully. And hopefully I can function in college and beyond. I am not really convinced, but hope dies last, as they say.”
“Don’t you think having a friend who knows what being bullied feels like could be an asset? Just saying, I kinda like the idea knowing you can relate. Still.”
“Rory, don’t take this the wrong way, no offense, but I don’t need any new friends. I don’t know if I could even handle any friends other than Chad and Dale, and especially not a girl. And why bother anyway? Just over a year left of high school, during most of which we’ll be preparing for graduation and college, then we’d probably go different ways anyway. So what’s the point?”
“Fair enough, but what’s the point of any friendship and a year is a year. And there is still summer break and all in between. I mean, come on now. What do you have to lose? And who’s to say we don’t end up at the same uni? I am not married to any specific one yet. Obviously I am gonna be going for some science field because that’s what my parents expect, but almost all universities offer that. My parents don’t give two shits about which college I attend, as long as I graduate with a Science degree.”
“Honestly, if you want friends so badly, you should hang out with Rett. He is popular and if he likes you, you have it made and everyone automatically likes you then. And obviously, he likes you. Surprise he hasn’t … well … you know.”
“For your information, it still takes two to tango, Rett’s cute and all, but I don’t date younger men. I am 17, he’s just turned 16 now. So no, thanks. And great plan, getting on everyone’s friend’s list via him, what exactly do you take me for and also, just saying, but that theory worked out great for you – NOT.”
“That’s different. And nobody would dare tease me with him around. It’s just that we’re not Siamese twins, and when I am alone, I act like a weirdo. How wouldn’t I? How would you act if you knew everyone you talk to has seen you naked? Not a great feeling. Unless you are my brother. I think he wouldn’t care. Evidently he doesn’t. He was on the video too and after that made the rounds, girls were blowing up his phone to date him.”
Their discussion eventually dead-ended, Declan left soon after, on his walk to our house, during dinner and once at his own home at night until he finally fell asleep Declan felt guilty for blowing Rory off like he had.
Windenburg High School
The next morning Declan made sure that he got to school early and was waiting for her to arrive. When she finally did, he followed her to her locker like a puppy, trying to get the words out.
“Uh, about .. uh ….. last night … I mean .. afternoon. I … well … I think … ahem …”
Rory rolled her eyes and turned to face him.
“Are we back to that again now? Do you factory reset each night at the strike of midnight or something?”
“Nnnn – no. I … ahem … do you still want to be friends?”
“A pity friendship? Do I look THAT desperate? Really?”
“No, not pity. I mean … I felt guilty for how I reacted. You are right, being bullied sucks, and yours was probably every bit as bad as what happened to me, maybe worse. I was an idiot yesterday. Plus, you said you like video games, you’d fit right in with Dale, Chad and me, I mean that’s all we do all the time. And I mean, science is one of the fields I was thinking about looking into for college anyway. So … maybe this friendship has more of a future than I thought. Chad and Dale, my friends, they are thinking about Business or Politics, but I am not sure I am interested. Can you imagine me as a politician?” Declan rambled on and on trying to come up with more reasons.
Rory laughed, Declan smiled.
“N…nnnnn…no. I ca-ca-ca-cannot.” she quipped, imitating his occasional stutter.
“Yeah, I deserve that. So, what’s the verdict then?”
“Honestly Declan, I just don’t know. We really weren’t off to a great start here.”
“Pretty please! I promise I won’t make you regret it, just need a chance. I swear, one day you will look back to this very moment and think ‘wow, best decision of my entire life right there, giving this poor dude a break!’.” he pleaded.
Rory couldn’t help but smile.
“All right fine, let’s be friends then. But I swear, the first time you start stuttering or running from me again, I will do what your grandpa said and whack you in the head so hard it’ll lift you out of your socks!”
“And you would have every right to. Awesome. So now, let’s meet your other two new friends, because we come in a multipack. Chad and Dale, they are gamers too and we have been friends all our lives. You’ll like them. Hey, just wondering, what’s your stance on ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ …?”