Olive Branches, Chapter 14

Sorry for the long wait, guys. Without further ado, another chapter by InsidiousCynic.

Wednesday, September 9 – Zane Patterson

Ronan’s dad stumbles into the house while we’re half-way through a game of Mario Karts. I’m winning, as usual, and though my older cousin insists that he’s letting me win, we both know where the gaming skills lie.

“Shouldn’t you two be in school?” asks Ronan’s dad. His words kinda stick together, and he has to lean against a door frame as he talks to us. After working the night shift, he likes to stop by the bar before coming home.

“Yeah,” says Ronan, his eyes glued on Yoshi. “Probably.”

My uncle shrugs. “Just make sure you don’t get caught. I ain’t talking to no teacher again.” He swears.

“Sure, Dad,” my cousin says. Ronan isn’t worried—his teachers have long given up on him. In fact, it’s been so long since Ronan last went to school, I would be surprised if anyone recognized him.

Ronan’s dad lumbers off to bed. I beat my cousin for the sixtieth consecutive game and threw my hands in the air.

“Okay, you really suck at this game,” I say.

“You’re just lucky I let you win all the time.”

“Oh please.”

“You think you’re so hot? Let’s go out and shoot some hoops.”

I roll my eyes. “Of course you’re going to win at basketball—you’re a foot taller than me.”

“What about hockey then? We have a net and a couple of sticks in the garage. And think I have a ball in my room somewhere…”

“Nah, forget it,” I say. I’m no good at hockey. I never got a chance to practice because the equipment was always too expensive. I barely know how to skate, can you imagine? A Canadian who doesn’t know how to skate. Embarrassing.

True, we don’t have money to afford a gaming console either, but somehow I’ve always been good at video games. Isn’t that great? My one talent is playing video games. Not math, not writing, not music — video games. Of course, if I was talented at any of that stuff, I wouldn’t know it; I make it a point not to try hard in school. 

Why? The way I see it, no matter how hard anyone in my family tries, they all end up broke and miserable. My uncle, Ronan’s dad, was class valedictorian in high school. But his dad, my grandad, wanted him to follow in his footsteps as a gold miner. He’s been a miner ever since. Not only that, but even if Uncle had wanted to go to college or something like that, they never had nearly enough money.

Why should I bend over backwards to do well in school when I’m probably just gonna end up like them anyway? I’m going to enjoy my youth.

I sigh. “Maybe I really should go to school. If I leave now, I’ll probably make it in time for lunch.”

“Why?” asks Ronan. “Isn’t your school on the other side of town?”

“Yeah,” I say, rubbing the back of my neck. “But my mom’s getting obsessed with me going to school. If she hears that I’ve been skipping she’ll flip.”

“Well you want me to drop you off then?” Ronan offers.

I think about it for a long while, check my watch, then say “sure.”

Ronan always drives like a maniac, like he’s the only person on the road. Luckily, today at noon in our small town, there really isn’t anyone else on the road — lucky for other people’s cars, unlucky for me. He pushes his poor old Mazda to the breaking point as we swerve around corners and fly over hills.

“Do you have to go so fast?!” I shout.

Ronan just smiles.

By the time we get to my school, I feel like throwing up.

“Who in their right mind gave you a driver’s licence?” I ask, stepping out of the car.

“Who said I had one?” asks Ronan. “Have a good day at school.”

Ronan holds in contempt anyone who goes to school after the sixth grade. They’re all snobs and idiots. I barely close the car door when Ronan lurches his car forward and races off into the distance.

The school yard is empty, except for this one custodian. He’s up on a ladder painting over the wall I had covered in graffiti. He’s looking at me out of the corner of his eye, but never stops painting.

“Hey you!” says the man, as I neared the school building. He’s a lean man dressed in overalls, splattered head to toe in cream-coloured paint. He wore a cap that made it hard to see his face.

I look up. “Yeah, what?”

“Can you pass me that can of paint there?”

I look at the paint for a second, then shrug. “Sure.”

I walk over and pass the man the can.

“Thanks, Zane,” he says.

I jump, but try to hide my surprise. That’s not creepy, maybe he heard one the teachers call me that…or maybe he knows me from church or something.

“No problem.”

“By the way,” the janitor adds, “I know it was you. I was there that morning.”

My blood freezes. I think about running for it, but I can’t move. Besides, what difference would it make? Either way, Mom’s going to find out. I can already see her crying by herself in the kitchen when she thinks Ira and I are asleep. Every time I try to live a little. Every time I try to get some room to breathe.

 “Don’t worry,” says the man, returning to his messy work. “If I was going to tell, you’d have already been expelled. Tell you what. Lunch is about to start, so you have about an hour before class starts again. What do you say you help me paint? That way, you won’t owe me any favours, and we can talk for a while.”

He descends the ladder and hands me a paintbrush. I take it.

“Why didn’t you tell?” I ask.

He shakes his head. “Because I know your mother wouldn’t take it well,” he says, removing his cap. It’s the pastor. 

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Olive Branches, Chapter 14

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