My name’s Jake Grinley. You can call me Grin. Everyone does, especially now that it suits me so well. But I’ll get to that later. For now, I want to start with the day I died.
For about two weeks, something had been following me. Watching me. I could feel its eyes on me at night as I tried to sleep. When I was out after dark, I could feel it behind me. It went on almost every night until it finally came for me. I was lying in a ditch, bleeding to death, my motorcycle crushed against the guardrail on the road above.
That day started out normally enough, but days like those usually do. I left my house at half past seven. My mom was passed out on the couch and my stepfather was asleep. It was springtime, and it was warm enough to ride my motorcycle to school, instead of my old Caddie. My bike is a black Triumph Rocket III. On that morning, I came roaring into the crowded parking lot, listening to Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen” like it was my own personal soundtrack. It kinda was. But, I’m not just your average high school metalhead, flirting with girls, fighting with guys, smoking in the boys’ room, and pissing off teachers. I mean, I did all that, but I also had a GPA of about 3.4. That’s because I wanted to get out of that shit town Findlay, and to be able to do that, I needed to go to college, and to go to college, I needed scholarships, and to get scholarships, I needed good grades. A damn lot of good all that work did me…
I’m getting ahead of myself again. So, it was Friday morning, and I was at my locker. I took off my motorcycle jacket and hung it up, the white Misfits skull—the Crimson Ghost, if you’re picky—grinning at me from the back of it. Beneath, I was wearing a black W.A.S.P. t-shirt and the tattoos that covered my arms. Stitches around my wrists and shoulders, spider webs on my elbows, and sleeves I’d designed on my forearms and upper arms. I also have a flaming Viking funeral ship on my left shoulder in memory of my father, the name “Laura” on my right for my mother, and tattered, bleeding bat wings on my back. I’m addicted to ink.
I took a pack of Marlboro from one of the epaulets on my jacket and rolled it up in my shirtsleeve. It may not have been too chilly outside, but my knees were still frozen from the ride in. My jeans were ripped in both knees. I pulled out my hair tie and put it in my pocket, and shook out my long black hair, bangs falling into my face. My hair goes down just below my shoulder blades, so I put it in a ponytail when I ride.
“Hey, Grin,” a voice said from behind me.
I turned around. It was Sarah. Damn, we made an interesting pair, standing there in the hallway together—me in my heavy metal regalia, she dressed nicely in a gray-and-pink-striped t-shirt and blue denim capris like a model in a Macy’s catalog. She smiled her beautiful, Hollywood starlet smile.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I had a huge crush on Sarah. I had since junior high. She was perfect. She had wavy chestnut hair, blue eyes, gorgeous pink lips, delicate curves, and that heavenly smile. She was also the kindest person I’d ever met.
“Hi, Sarah,” I replied, grinning back. I wasn’t surprised to see her. She had taken some kind of interest in me over the past month or so. I didn’t know why, but I wasn’t about to question my luck. I leaned against the lockers, crossing my arms. “What’s up?”
“I was just wondering… Are you doing anything tonight?” she asked.
I knew she couldn’t be asking me out. She had a boyfriend—a stupid jock named Kelly. He was a dick, but Sarah wasn’t a cheater.
I shrugged. “The usual. Ride around, raise some hell, maybe hang out in the city.” I meant Arlington, the city just across the Mississippi River. Shitville was about twenty minutes away from there. “Why do you ask?” I wondered.
“My parents are out of town for the weekend, and they said I could have a party tonight.”
“They said that?” But I wasn’t too surprised. Her parents knew what an angel she was.
“Yeah, just as long as the place is cleaned up by the time they get home Sunday night,” she said with a laugh. “So, do you wanna come?”
I thought it over for a sec and asked, “Is our sports star gonna be there?”
She rolled her eyes at the way I referred to her boyfriend and nodded.
“I dunno… This isn’t some kinda set-up, is it? Y’know, you invite me to this party, I show up, Kelly and his goons vandalize my bike and push me into the pool…”
“No, this is nothing like that!” she gasped. “I wouldn’t do that to you. To anyone.”
I smiled. Of course she wouldn’t. The girl was a saint. She probably had plans to join the Peace Corps after college.
Just then, I recognized Kelly as he was coming down the hallway. Spiked blonde hair, red and white letterman jacket, pink polo shirt with the collar popped, expensive jeans made to look like they’d been worn for years, and basketball shoes. The classic jock. We made eye contact and he stopped dead in his tracks, wide-eyed and slack-jawed. I grinned and waved my fingers at him. His idiotic expression twisted into a snarl.
Sarah glanced back at him and turned to me again. “There’s Kelly. I gotta go. Are you going to come tonight?” she asked.
“You know I’ll be there. What time?”
“Expect me around eight, then.” I smiled and tried to hurry and gather my books.
“You like to show up fashionably late?” she ventured as Kelly approached. He reminded me of when an animal puffs up its fur to look bigger. He held his stomach in, shoulders square, chest out.
“I like to make an entrance,” I said, and closed my locker with my shoulder. “Catch ya later.”
I tried to leave before Kelly did something to make me bloody my fists, but it was too late. I had only turned away when he joined Sarah and asked, “Hey, baby. Is this asshole bothering you?” and shoved me in the back.
“Kelly, stop it,” Sarah protested in a whisper.
I turned around and scolded, shaking my finger at him, “Watch your language, sport. There’s a lady present.” Then I spun around and started down the hall.
“Hey! Get back here, headbanger!” he called.
I didn’t answer, just looked back at him, smiling, and gave him the finger. That really pissed him off. His eyes narrowed, his teeth gritted, and his face burned red. But I just strutted off down the hall. I couldn’t wait for him to pick a fight with me. If I kicked his ass hard enough, maybe he wouldn’t be able to make it to Sarah’s party.
There were still about ten minutes until class started, so I went in the boys’ room to study. I know it sounds weird, but I wanted one more smoke before the bell rang, and I didn’t feel like going outside. Besides, that would make me late for class.
I stood in the last stall, beneath the air vent, reading up on the second scene of the first act of Hamlet. I’d read the play a million times before. It was one of my favorite stories. Still, I wanted to brush up on it, because I’d be reading Hamlet’s parts aloud in class. The English teacher used to teach drama, so he assigned his students characters to read for whenever we studied a play.
“‘If it assume my noble father’s person,'” I began, “‘I’ll speak to it though Hell itself should gape and bid me hold my peace…'” I looked away from the book and took a drag, then continued from memory, “‘…I pray you all, if you have hitherto conceal’d this sight, let it be…’ Uh… shit.” I looked back down at the page. “Oh. ‘…Let it be tenable… in your silence still, and whatsoever else shall hap tonight, give it an understanding, but no tongue.'”
I heard the door open and got ready to drop my cigarette in the toilet, just in case it was a teacher, but when I saw the feet of the guy who had come in, I relaxed. Whoever it was, he was wearing faded red Converse and jeans.
Of course, I’d forgotten that Mr. Brooks wasn’t into the whole suit-wearing thing. “C’mon, Jake,” he said. “We both know what you’re doing in there.”
“Yeah, I know,” I murmured. “Now get out before you make me go flaccid.”
He opened the stall door on me and crossed his arms. Busted.
“Shit, Brooks,” I said, coming out of the stall. “What if I really had been—?”
“It certainly wouldn’t have been the worst thing you’ve done in here,” he interrupted.
I smirked to myself. There had been a rumor going around last semester that a cheerleader had given me head in that restroom during the homecoming game. I never confirmed or denied it. And I never will.
“Look, I told you if I caught you smoking in here one more time, I was going to suspend you,” he reminded me.
“I know, I know,” I said, and took another drag. “Want one?”
He sighed in exasperation. “What the hell.”
I unrolled the pack from my sleeve and handed him a smoke. He lit it with his own lighter. Mr. Brooks was a pretty cool guy. He was somewhere in his sixties, with white hair that was long for his age, and a scruffy, grizzled face. An ex-hippie if ever there was one.
“I was actually studying,” I said, waving my book.
“I thought you knew Shakespeare cold,” he commented, walking up to one of the urinals.
“Shakespeare, no. Hamlet, kinda. I just wanted to go over it again so I don’t screw up and embarrass myself in class.”
He laughed, unzipping his jeans with his back to me, the cigarette dangling from his lips. “Like any of these kids care.” He started to piss. “I was actually hoping I’d catch you before class. I wanted to talk to you.”
“Do we have to talk while you’re standing there with your junk hanging out?”
“It’s about Hamlet,” he continued. “You don’t have to read the part if you don’t want to. I know it’s a little close to home.”
“It’s fine,” I said, and went to drop my cigarette butt in one of the toilets. I came back and leaned against the wall. “It was half my life ago. I’m pretty over it.”
He nodded and zipped his fly back up. “All right. Just remember, if it gets to you and you want to skip, I’ll write you a pass to study hall.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I dismissed. “‘All that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity.'”
He smiled a little and ashed his cigarette into the urinal. “How’s your mom?” he asked.
I didn’t answer right away. I remembered seeing her on the couch that morning. She’d passed out with a bottle in her hand and I’d cleaned up the spill before I left.
“She’s fine,” I said. Mr. Brooks had taught both my parents when they’d gone to Findlay High. He’d gone to their wedding and my dad’s funeral. “See you in class.” I started for the door.
“And in lunch detention,” he added.
“Can’t,” I said. “I’ve got a fight to get into.”
“Work with me, Jake. I’m letting you off easy.”
“How ’bout after school?” I suggested.
He sighed. “Whatever. Just get your ass to the classroom,” he growled.
I smiled and went out into the hall.
At lunchtime, I got my wish. I was standing in the parking lot by my motorcycle, smoking a cigarette, minding my own business, and listening to some music. Before long, Kelly showed up with one of his jock friends.
“Grinley!” Kelly yelled angrily.
“Yeah?” I murmured, exhaling smoke.
Kelly walked up and stuck his finger in my face with his friend standing behind him. “Listen up good, asshole. You better stay away from my girlfriend, or I swear I’ll kill you. Got that?”
“Don’t worry about it, sport. She’s not really my type,” I said, pointing my cigarette at the friend he’d brought along.
“Enough bullshit!” Kelly shouted, shoving my chest. I just acted like it hadn’t happened. He wasn’t angry enough yet. “I’m talking about Sarah. Don’t even think about her. She’d never give a fuck about a piece of shit like you.”
“See, I think she’d never give a fuck to a piece of shit like you, and you’re taking your sexual frustration out on me,” I said sympathetically, like a therapist. “Would you like to talk about it?”
Now, I can deal with a guy getting in my face, calling me names, and threatening me. But it’s the little things that get to me. So when Kelly snatched the cigarette from my mouth and ground it out under his foot, that was when he pushed me over the edge.
My smile disappeared. I felt my eyes flaming with rage. “That was a fucking Marlboro,” I said through my teeth, and whipped my switchblade out of my jacket pocket.
“Look out! He has a knife!” Kelly’s friend shouted. Kelly was momentarily surprised as the blade flashed in the afternoon sun. I swung my arm like I was going to backhand him, but all that connected was the tip of the blade to the bridge of his nose. He stood there with this stupid look on his face while a drop of blood ran down the side of his nose and into the corner of his mouth. While he was stunned, I grabbed him by the front of his letterman jacket and swept his feet out from under him with my leg. He fell on the ground and I put a boot on his chest.
“Mark, you dumbass! Fucking do something!” Kelly yelled as he kicked, clawed at my leg, and tried to escape. The other jock moved fast and grabbed my knife away from me. Whatever. I didn’t need it.
I reached over my shoulder for my smokes, then into my pocket for my lighter. I tossed them on the ground near Kelly’s side and leaned over, putting all my weight on the foot I had on his chest. He couldn’t get up.
“Open it,” I said.
“Fuck you,” Kelly spat.
I pushed my foot down harder. “Open it.”
His hand searched the pavement and he found the box. He opened it.
“Give me one.”
“I’m not your bitch, you—”
I pressed my heel up beneath his sternum, smirking as he screamed.
“Okay! Stop it! Fuck!” he cried. I eased up just a little. He carefully took out a cigarette and held it up to me. I snatched it from his hands and put it in my mouth.
“Now light it,” I demanded.
That time, he didn’t resist. He picked up the lighter, lit it, and lifted it to the end of my cigarette. I inhaled and took it out of my mouth, then bent down and blew the smoke into his face. He cringed and turned his head.
“Give me back my shit,” I said. He handed me the cigarettes and lighter. I put them back in their rightful places and turned to the other jock. “You too, Mark,” I added. He closed the knife and handed it back. The weapon went back into my jacket pocket. Finally, I took my foot off Kelly and leaned against my bike again.
Kelly staggered to his feet with no little help from his friend. He touched the bridge of his nose and winced. I almost laughed as the other jock murmured, “C’mon, Kel. Forget it,” and tried to pull him away by the sleeve.
Kelly shook him off, staring at me incredulously. When he managed to find the words, he said as he backed up, “You’re dead, Grinley. Do you hear me? You’re fucking dead!”
He turned and walked away, still trying to look tough. His friend gave me a worried look and followed.
“Not yet, but a few more years of these oughta do the trick,” I said, taking a drag and breathing it out into the sky.