Without Jeremy, Ch 13: Word of Mouth

Word of Death Man soon spread through the school. Our little project was a hit with students and staff alike. Mr. Falco, the psychology teacher, called it “gritty” and “like the way-old Batmans.” Most of the students agreed with the basketball player Andrew had run into; they called it “badass.” The girl whose locker was next to mine called it “gross. . .no offense.” So we couldn’t please them all, I guess.

Jenny wasn’t upset about getting pulled in to Mr. Clark’s office, but she was upset with Andrew that he had used the copying equipment, which she had permission to run the literary newsletter on.

“Andrew, you could have asked me. I would have helped. I can be bad.”

She couldn’t. Andrew and I agreed, getting Jenny to do anything bad would have been like
making a unicorn cheat at poker.

Even Chris liked Death Man, and Chris didn’t like anything lately. Since he and Brenda broke up, his main focus in life seemed to be cataloging all the different ways everyone was an asshole.

“Man, Mr. Clark, what an asshole! I mean, he didn’t even give you detention? You wrote the friggin’ thing. I would have given you detention too. When they caught PJ and me smoking out behind the shed, we both got detention, and I had already finished my cigarette. What an
asshole.”

Meeting Jeremy’s mom had given me a far different perspective on Jeremy’s life and especially his death. Steve was dumbfounded when I told him about it.

“She was always so mean to me; how come she gave you treats?”

“Andrew said you hit Jeremy with a hockey stick?”

“Yeah, that’s how me and Jer met. You know how he was always like. . .not there, like he was a shadow or something. Well, me and my cousin were playing hockey in the street, and all of a sudden, this kid comes out of nowhere, and I catch him in the face with my stick. Real bad, too, gave him a gusher right at his hairline. So I run inside and grab a dishtowel, and we walk Jer home. His mom was pissed! She started yelling at me, called me ‘lummox,’ and slammed the door. She hated me.”

“You smashed her son with a hockey stick!”

“Not on purpose!”

And what Jeremy’s mom had said about me “helping” Jeremy had me in a twist. I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out what she had meant. I started going over every little thing I had ever done with Jeremy, but I was coming up blank. It was just school lunches, walking home sometimes with him and Steve, Steve’s birthday party; that was it.

Andrew and I did start meeting with Mrs. DiScala once a week. She gave us some ideas on how to storyboard, how to draw things from different perspectives. Like if someone is going to reach for a gun and try to plug Death Man, draw a close up of the gun in hand from behind and draw Death Man way in the background reacting to it. It was good advice, even though I thought Andrew already had a good handle on stuff like that. If I were to draw these scenes, everything would have been flat, like a Peanuts cartoon. Andrew did a great job at drawing depth and perspective, which really brought everything to life in my opinion.

Andrew’s dad was not happy about the detentions, of course. Andrew wasn’t allowed to do any after school stuff for two weeks, which put a big damper on our writing.

“What did he say about the art department and art show and all that though?”

Andrew didn’t say anything right away. “He’s proud, I guess; he said it was positive and good for me.”

My parents, who thought the Death Man stories were far too mature for me even though I wrote them, were at least excited and supportive. It seemed like Andrew’s father was never quite happy, like he accepted progress but always looked ahead. I wondered how you ever caught up in an environment like that, how you ever got ahead when any progress you made went unnoticed and the only focus was on what was next.

Andrew and I had no classes together, so for the two weeks that he was grounded, we only had our short meeting time before school with Mrs. DiScala to talk and that was focused mostly on Death Man. I was excited when the two weeks was up and we could return to our normal course of hitting the library and storyboarding and stuff. And talking, especially talking. Without having Andrew around, I really realized how much I was able to open up to him. That first Monday back to normal, we walked together to the library.

“. . .and that cute girl whose locker is next to mine, she said it was gross! It was hilarious!”

“Great.”

“And I showed it to my uncle and his girlfriend and her daughter, Lizzie; you have to meet Lizzie. Anyway, I showed it to them, and they went nuts, and Lizzie was like, ‘No one at my school would ever do anything like this,’ but in a good way. She goes to Oak Crest, so like no one there is doing anything as cool as this.”

“Gee, so you have sycophants in other towns now?”

“Psycho-whose-whats?”

“Jesus, Casey, how can you be such a good writer and have no grasp of the English language? Sycophants, not psycho-phants. Lickspittles, ass-kissers. Like your little mafia you hang out with?”

“Huh? Mafia? Chris is Portuguese and Steve is half Polish!”

“Not those two, I mean the stooges who follow the three of you around. Your little trench coat mafia.”

“You mean the guys, like Dave and Big Rich and those guys? What’s wrong with them? They’re just guys—they’re funny—we hang out.”

“Casey, they follow everything you guys do. You wore a Mr. Bungle shirt; every single one of them went out and bought Mr. Bungle shirts. Steve wore that stupid fedora; suddenly everyone was wearing a stupid hat. Artie’s hat is wicker; it’s ridiculous.”

“I know, and it smells weird!”

“Shut up, Casey, shut up! Why is everything a joke to you? Do you care about anything? You think you can just float along and. . .and charm everybody, and just everything works out for you. You can just smile, and everybody loves every stupid thing that comes out of your mouth. You don’t give a shit about Jenny or her feelings or anything about what happened to me. I mean, you could have stepped up for me, not just let me take all the heat.”

I didn’t know where all this was coming from, and it was far too much information. Too many pieces: my supposed ‘mafia,’ something about Jenny, the fallout from Death Man. I was trying to just sit back and listen, but it was all so confusing.

“Hold it, what heat? Heat from what? From printing out a thousand copies of Death Man and throwing them everywhere? Oh yeah, without telling me? I tried to save your ass from Mr.
Clark; you’re the one who got me dragged in there.”

“Oh, poor Casey, finally has a blemish on his perfect record. You deserve it.”

“What do I deserve? And what do you mean about Jenny, what’s wrong with Jenny?”

“Don’t play dumb, Casey, she’s been in love with you for over a year now. And you just stand there all cool, and you don’t even care.”

I didn’t mean to break the moment because Andrew was really upset, but this Jenny news put an instant smile on my face.

“Wait, Jenny’s in love with me? She said that?”

“Fuck you, Casey. You’re not going to just waltz out of this. You know she’s in love with you, and you don’t even care. You didn’t care that I got in trouble; you don’t care about anything. It’s just a big joke to you, everything’s a joke.”

“Andrew, seriously, I’m just. . .I don’t think it’s a joke. I don’t know anything.”

Andrew pursed his lips and stared at me. “Then I pity you, Casey.” Then he turned around and walked away. I just stood there on the sidewalk for a while. Then I walked home.

 


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Dan Pullen lives in Connecticut with his wife and three children. He writes stories about simple people and their complex lives.