Just then Mateo walks around the corner. He narrows his eyes as he approaches. “Everything OK here?” he asks.
“I was just trying to figure that out myself,” science teacher says. “She’s having a bad day, I think. I didn’t mean to upset you, Shannon. I’m happy you’re getting your work done quickly. And I’m sorry you got caught in the red tape.” He shrugs, looks at Mateo like he can take over, and then walks back to his classroom.
I escape into the bathroom and lock myself in a stall so I can smoke. No one gives a fuck if I smoke in here. There are no teachers patrolling hallways. If that science teacher’s expectations are low, the office staff’s expectations are nonexistent.
This might be the most shocking thing about school here in Anaheim.
No one gives a fuck.
No one gives a fuck about the kids, no one gives a fuck about the curriculum, no one gives a fuck about the rules. Oh, unless the rules are seniors with seven extra credits have to take an entire year of math and science over again for no reason. Suddenly everyone gives a fuck about that rule.
Back in Ohio everyone gave a fuck.
I’m not judging too harshly, either. I’m not overreacting. I’ve been to three high schools in California since I got here a year ago, and each one has some non-fuck-giving staff trying to make me give a fuck.
Why should I give a fuck?
I think I’ll just continue to say fuck in my thoughts all day long. Maybe that will make me give a fuck?
“You’re stupid, Shannon,” I whisper to myself as I smoke. But it makes me smile. I check my phone and I’m already late for trig. It’s five-twenty. Maybe Mateo went home?
God, I hope he went home. I don’t know why I’m so pissed off, but I am. I’m pissed about everything. The credits thing, the night school shit, the teacher calling me on my temper tantrum, Mateo and his weirdness.
I’m pissed about Danny, I realize. Because I like him. And that story Mary told about him coming to her rescue as a little kid, well, it clinched it for me. He’s not as bad as he looks. I felt it immediately when I met his eyes in the counselors office on Monday. He was sympathetic to my plight.
He gave a fuck.
So why does Mateo’s warning unsettle me so much?
There’s a knock at the door but I say nothing, just lean against the yellow cinderblock wall, smoking my cigarette.
“Shannon?” Mateo asks from the door. “I can smell the cigarette in the hallway, I know you’re in here.”
“I need the night off.”
“I’m not in the mood for your shit or your head games. I worked ahead anyway. I’ve gotten five chapters outlined already.”
“Trying to get it all done so you don’t have to come here anymore?”
“What do you think?”
“I don’t think it will be as easy to breeze through trig like you did science.”
I blow out smoke rings as my response. “You’re a fucking genius.”
“Why are you so pissed off?”
“Why?” I huff out some air. “Just go away, Mateo. I’m not coming to class today.”
A second later the door closes with a soft whoosh.
Well, mission accomplished. I wait in there, smoking my brains out, until the whole building goes silent. And thank God, when I finally decide to leave, the hallways are empty.
This has been the longest week of my life and it’s not even Friday. I push through the front doors and a weight lifts off me. Mateo is stressing me out. That’s why I’m mad. Mateo and his rules. Mateo and his weirdness. Mateo and his fucking dick.
I have a problem. A really big problem. And it’s not Mateo. My problem is me.
Jason is drunk when I get home. “Nice,” I sneer at him. Olivia is awake, but Jason has a bottle of formula propped up on a blanket and she’s slurping quietly in her swing. “I guess you won’t be needing my services for much longer. Not after you get fired for showing up drunk tonight.”
He drags his glazed eyes from the TV and stares at me in the chair to his right. “Be careful, kid. If you start nagging me like a wife, I’ll start expecting more than just babysitting.”
“You try it, I’ll cut your dick off when you’re sleeping.”
“Tough girl, huh?” he says back, taking another swig of beer.
“People underestimate me all the time, Jason. You have no idea who I am. So feel free to join the rest of the world. You’ll see what happens if you ever lay another hand on me.”
He gets up, throws his empty bottle in the trash with a clang that says it’s not his first today, and then grabs his keys and walks to the door. “You’re so dramatic, Shannon. It’s not my fault you fuck every guy you meet on the first date.”
“Oh, is that what you think?”
“Jill talked just as much shit about you as you do about her. I know exactly who you are.” He walks out the door, slamming it behind him.
Olivia starts and begins to cry. “Shhhh,” I say to her, taking the bottle and lifting her out of that damn swing. I hold her close, rocking her a little as she rests her head on my chest. Poor baby. She’s stuck with him and she has no idea what kind of a piece of shit he really is. “I won’t leave you here,” I tell her softly. “I promise. I won’t leave you here.”
We sit on the couch and mindlessly watch TV together. Well, she drinks her bottle and I do the mindless stuff. And before long she’s her usual sleepy self. I take her back to Jason’s room and place her in her crib, covering her with a light blanket.
When I get back to the living room my phone is chiming a message.
Mateo: Did you eat?
I’ve been using the money Jason leaves on the counter for me for bus fare and school lunch all week. I haven’t eaten since last night. I’m secretly hoping for a dinner invite when Mateo messages back.
Mateo: Check the back porch.
I get up and walk to the sliding door and look down at the ground where a brown paper bag is sitting. I open the door and look to my right, trying to see if he’s in the alley beyond the gate, but there’s nothing there.
I grab the bag and go inside, my mouth watering before I even set it on the counter. There’s another note stapled to the bag, so I rip it off and open it up.
Remind me to remind you to tell me about how people underestimate you all the time.
Jesus Christ. He’s watching me. Listening, at the very least. I bet he came over with food and stood right outside the slider.
I sigh, take out the food—leftover lasagna, hot—and get a fork. I can’t shovel that stuff in my face fast enough, that’s how hungry I am. I’m lucky if I eat once a day. I’ve never been this skinny in my life. I’ve lost so much weight since we moved to California, I’m probably about a hundred pounds. Which doesn’t look bad on me, since I’m so short. But my stomach hurts every day from hunger. I just smoke to forget about it. I always have those, Jason has cartons of them on top of the fridge and for whatever reason, he doesn’t bitch about me taking them, so I help myself daily.
You’d think that asshole would at least bring food home from the restaurant, but no. He doesn’t.
My phone rings and I fish it out of my pocket and press accept. “Yeah,” I say.