“I’M COMING OUT OF MY CAGE AND I’VE BEEN DOING JUST FI—” Nick’s fist hits the alarm. 7:25am
He rolls over and pulls his right arm out from underneath him. It feels like the black and white static on his TV, and he slings the sleeping arm over the edge of his bed.
He lays there a few minutes like he does every morning. He thinks of a million reasons not to go to school. But with his mom, the odds are a million to one, and the one always wins. He gets up and walks with squinted eyes to the bathroom. 7:37am
His dark hair hangs into his lashes. Between that and the fluorescent light, there’s no way his eyes are opening right now. Nick’s eyes stay tiny slivers as he brushes his teeth and gets dressed. He pulls on brown corduroy pants and a faded black sweatshirt. He walks downstairs, and the scent of maple syrup rises to meet him halfway. 7:46am
“BUTTERCUP BABY JUST TO LET ME DOWN,” Nick’s mother sings to the radio in the kitchen, her voice a deluge of vowels rushing together. She never pronounces her consonants crisply—one of Nick’s many pet peeves. He avoids eye contact and grabs a muffin on the way out the door. She yells at him to have a good day. 7:48am
Nick’s heels hit the sidewalk. He sighs off his mother. He sighs off the burned muffin. He sighs off the fact that he’s walking to school right now, and it’s only Tuesday.
He pulls out an old iPod and tangled, cheap headphones from the depths of his corduroy pocket. He untangles the cords and puts the earbuds in. “GO AHEAD AS YOU WASTE YOUR DAYS WITH THINKING.” 7:53am
Nick pulls hard on the charcoal metal door at his high school. The door opens right into the hallway where his locker is, and kids aren’t supposed to use it. But come on, it’s so convenient. Two years ago, Nick figured out how to pull the door while holding the handle at just the right angle to tug it open—a perfect entrance to the quiet hallway that students hadn’t poured into yet. Nick pulls off his headphones and drops them in his pocket. 8:12am
All the lights aren’t even turned on. The kids are being held in the lunchroom till 8:15, and then they’ll have ten minutes to go to their lockers and make it to their first class. Nick stuffs his backpack into the red locker and sits with his back against the wall, legs sprawled into the hallway. He loves the quiet, the peace, the absence of teen chattering. He closes his eyes until the bell screams, and the speakers begin drooling the fuzzy high school radio station—“I THOUGHT LOVE WAS ONLY TRUE IN FAAAIRY TALES.”
Nick hears the roar of the oncoming crowd and pulls his iPod back out of his pocket. He plugs his ears. “IF YOU’RE SLEEPIN ARE YOU DREAMIN IF YOU’RE DREAMIN ARE YOU DREAMIN OF ME?” He walks to class and avoids eye contact and turns up the volume at the chorus. It rises and rises until it’s above his head, and if he were to close his eyes, he might not know anyone else existed. 8:21am
He drowns out the day, he drowns out the walk home, he drowns out his parents at dinner, the volume getting louder and louder. He’d drown out the night too, but for some reason he can’t ever go to sleep to music. Nighttime is when Nick comes up for air, when he drains his eardrums and listens to the quiet. Tonight his ears ache when he pulls his headphones out, and for a moment the silence is as loud as a storm.