One October morning, high school junior Bryan Dennison wakes up a different person—helpful, generous, and chivalrous—a person whose new admirable qualities he doesn’t recognize. Stranger still is the urge to tie a red sheet around his neck like a cape.
Bryan soon realizes this compulsion to wear a red cape is accompanied by more unusual behavior. He can’t hold back from retrieving kittens from tall trees, helping little old ladies cross busy streets, and defending innocence anywhere he finds it.
Shockingly, at school, he realizes he used to be a bully. He’s attracted to the former victim of his bullying, Scott Beckett, though he has no memory of Scott from before “the change.” Where he’d been lazy in academics, overly aggressive in sports, and socially insecure, he’s a new person. And although he can recall behaving egotistically, he cannot remember his motivations.
Everyone, from his mother to his teachers to his “superjock” former pals, is shocked by his dramatic transformation. However, Scott Beckett is not impressed by Bryan’s newfound virtue. And convincing Scott he’s genuinely changed and improved, hopefully gaining Scott’s trust and maybe even his love, becomes Bryan’s obsession.
With a foreword by C. Kennedy
~ * ~
I’D NEVER hidden in the high school boys’ bathroom, or any other bathroom, come to think of it, before. Not even once—from anybody or anything. I guess already being six foot two, and sharing no resemblance to a rack of bones, in my freshman year had kind of relieved me of the burden most ninth graders suffered of needing to hide from the terrible seniors—I’d already towered over most of them. But in more general terms, I didn’t hide because: A) I was too big to find any sort of a decent hiding spot in a men’s room, and B) everybody else was too busy hiding from me so all possible hiding spots were occupied. Nonetheless, here I was, cowering in a bathroom stall.
I needed to be alone for a few minutes. I needed to figure out what the fuck was happening in my life. I’ll put it this way: I was starting to get a sneaking suspicion that this weird personality change that had come over me went well beyond a desire for a red cape. Yeah, this was something far more complicated.
Inside the stall, the toilet had no lid to sit on, so sitting down on the toilet seat in a dignified manner, with my pants up, did not seem to be an option. On TV, I’d seen plenty of crafty characters hide in bathroom stalls by standing on top of the toilet seat so that if anyone looked under the stall to see if somebody was in there, no feet would be dangling down. But if I was to try that tack, I’d put my head right through the ceiling, as I’d grown at least two inches since freshman year. I guess six foot four wasn’t always an advantage. So I went with sitting cross-legged in front of the toilet. Unsanitary? Yes. Pathetic? Quite possibly. But it was the best I could come up with in the heat of the moment.
Strangely, when I finally got my long body folded into that bent-up position on the floor in front of the toilet, I could see that there was already someone curled up on the floor in the stall next to mine. So much for my solitary thinking time.
I directed my question to the lifeless body. “Excuse me… um… are you feeling okay?” I had no choice. I was called to respond to an insatiable drive within me to help those in need. And this guy had to be in major need or he wouldn’t be crumpled up into a fetal ball on the filthy bathroom floor. “Like… dude, want me to go get the nurse or something?”
I couldn’t see his face, as it was covered up by his arms. He didn’t make a sound.
“Is it your stomach? There’s a lot going around right now, I’d say. My mom is a nurse at County General Hospital and she told me that….” I let my words trail off, suspecting the guy wasn’t listening to me anyways.
“Just leave me alone.”
Well, that was a start, wasn’t it? I mean, we were communicating now.
Positive thinking, Bry.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that.” I was afraid too. I was afraid the new chivalrous part of me wasn’t gonna let me leave the bathroom until I had gotten this guy onto his feet and smiling up at me. And class started in ten minutes, which didn’t leave me a hell of a lot of time to accomplish my lofty goal. “At least tell me what’s wrong.”
“Like you don’t already know.” His response was both muffled and pissed-off sounding, but, again, it was communication, so I felt thankful.
Thankful to whom? I had no idea. I was just thankful, period. (Try to hold off on the fucking analysis at this point, okay, reader?)
“Call me clueless, but I have no idea what is troubling you.”
He slid to the edge of my stall and stuck his head in. I saw a flash of blond hair and wire-rimmed glasses perched on an adorable nose—it was Scott Beckett, the kid from the cafeteria.
“Yeah, asshole, it’s me. So, go ahead, do what you came here to do. You going to give me a swirly? Make me lick the urinals…. What’s it going to be this time, Dennison?”
I had no idea how to respond. I’d never so much as laid eyes on this kid before, and he was acting like I’d been in on some kind of a bullying brigade directed solely at him. Either I had missed something major, or he had a very vivid imagination.
“Refresh my memory, Beckett. Tell me what I did… uh, the last time.”
Still sprawled out flat on the floor beside me, directly underneath the stall divider, his pretty face screwed up into a tight knot, he squealed, “Fuck you, Dennison! Acting like you forgot is even more insulting than what you did to me in the first place. Like, I can believe that you and your buddy torture any kid who looks like an easy target, so you can’t remember all the evil details of each individual case, but what you did to me? Saturday night? Just… just fuck you!”
I nodded and then shook my head. I was clueless and confused… and starting to feel guilty. For what, I didn’t know.
Plus, Scott Beckett was just so… so interesting. So appealing.
Why would I ever try to hurt him?
“God, you’re an even bigger asshole than I thought you were… and that’s sure saying something.” Scott dragged himself up off the floor. Once he was standing in the stall beside mine, he asked me, “So, other than last Saturday night, you usually play the role of the evil sidekick when you’re out in public. Where’s your buddy Wilson—the instigator?”
“Ya think? Let me guess… five, four, three, two, one… looks like he’s late, isn’t he? But I know he’s going to burst in here, conveniently, at any second now, right? Or maybe he’s waiting outside the door for an audio cue or something?”
I stood up too. What this dude was implying about my personal character was highly disturbing.
“Should I scream? Is that the signal—or are you going for the tears again, you fuckwad-asswipe?”
“No, Brandon’s back in the cafeteria. Now listen, buddy, just do me a favor—”
“Did you just call me ‘buddy’?” He asked me so loudly that his voice echoed in the tiny stall.
“Just tell me what I did to you.”
His stall door slammed, indicating he was now out in the main part of the bathroom. So I came out of my stall as well. And Scott Beckett was just standing there in front of the sink, glasses in hand, looking up at me with round bright eyes, his pretty pink-skinned face saturated with the purest fury I’d ever seen, and it was all directed my way. I mean, this kid fucking hated me… and I didn’t know him from Adam. “I’m not about to do you any favors, Dennison.” His thin top lip curled up in disgust, and then he added in a low voice, “Besides, we both know what went down.”
With one last scathing look, he fled the bathroom. And I was even more flabbergasted than I had been five minutes before when I’d come into the men’s room to think.
That kid is completely full of bull.
Yeah, that had to be it: Scott Beckett was messing with my head. Right? But… but back in the caf, hadn’t Brandon suggested that we had done something to this kid… and that he seemed to be looking forward to the two of us finishing the job we’d started on him? And, for that matter, Jack had referred to the fact that Brandon and me had made more than one trip to the principal’s office in regard to bullying this kid.
I grabbed a hold on the sink, because the entire bathroom was suddenly spinning all around me. I was dizzy, but I was sure it wasn’t because of the shocking realization that I may have done something seriously nasty to Scott Beckett (that I somehow couldn’t remember) to make him hate me this way. No, it wasn’t that at all… convenient memory lapses don’t just happen. Most probably, I was dizzy because I was exhausted. I guessed that maybe I’d drunk more than my fair share on Saturday night, because, in truth, Sunday was mostly a blur too. Or maybe somebody had slipped me a roofie, which could definitely be the reason I was sick and dizzy and I couldn’t remember shit. All I had to do was just make it through the rest of the day, and then serve my detention, go home, and get a good night’s sleep. I’d tell Mom I was sick… that I wasn’t up for a big dinner. That was the truth too—I really wasn’t up for food or conversation.
Rest was all I needed… and tomorrow when I woke up, things would be crystal clear again.
But, shit, I hope Mom brings home those sheets.
~ * ~
Mia Kerick is the mother of four exceptional children—all named after saints—and five nonpedigreed cats—all named after the next best thing to saints, Boston Red Sox players. Her husband of twenty years has been told by many that he has the patience of Job, but don’t ask Mia about that, as it is a sensitive subject.
Mia focuses her stories on the emotional growth of troubled men and their relationships, and she believes that sex has a place in a love story, but not until it is firmly established as a love story. As a teen, Mia filled spiral-bound notebooks with romantic tales of tortured heroes (most of whom happened to strongly resemble lead vocalists of 1980s big-hair bands) and stuffed them under her mattress for safekeeping. She is thankful to Dreamspinner Press for providing her with an alternate place to stash her stories.
Mia is proud of her involvement with the Human Rights Campaign and cheers for each and every victory made in the name of marital equality. Her only major regret: never having taken typing or computer class in school, destining her to a life consumed with two-fingered pecking and constant prayer to the Gods of Technology.
My themes I always write about:
Sweetness. Unconventional love, tortured/damaged heroes- only love can save them.