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Joey by William Matheson


            It was one of those warm, damp, and very grey days of late April. The last of the snow had melted, leaving water everywhere. Tramping through the wet gravel/mud mixture on the side of the highway made Joey wish he had boots, or better, that he could have just beamed himself straight to his private school, like he could if he was a Star Trek character living in the late twenty-fourth century. Star Trek was much more fun to think about than school, and since his parents weren't driving him up to class this morning, he settled for pretending that he was walking up the corridors of his ten-kilometer-long Fleet-class starship, the U.S.S. Charlottetown. It had six warp nacelles, four warp cores, emergency tachyon sails, and everything! He had drawn the ship to his satisfaction in Math class, where an early draft had been confiscated by the math teacher.
            Joey thought about a great many things as he turned to walk up the driveway to the campus. He hoped that Mark or Adam or Jamie wouldn't be lying in wait for him along the driveway. ("One of these days we're gonna get you off the school property so the teachers can't do anything for ya. It might be tomorrow. Heh-heh.") That actually happened one day, but fortunately Joey was being driven in by his father that time, so they all ran back to the school. Today, Joey was relieved not to see them. This would make the second year he had been in fear of his physical safety on a daily basis, and it was quite taxing to his health.
            Joey also thought about how much he would like to be out of school for the summer. Two more months, and change. Then he could spend the summer with his Aunt on the island province. She and his other relatives were always very nice to him - not like all these mean people at school... not like regular life.
            He also remembered that he had math homework due this morning. He didn't do it, of course. Math had stopped being easy two years ago, and he wasn't going to expend his mental energy on something that bored him to tears. His first term mark was 36 percent. Maybe Mr. Leyman wouldn't do a homework check today...

            Clay Lake Western Adventist Academy was a private school with a residential option nestled among the vast forests surrounding Clay Lake. The nearest houses, in Joey's neighborhood, were about a twenty-minute walk away. About half of the 25 students lived in the residence, a long, narrow, two-storey vinyl-sided building on the other end of the parking lot from the school itself.
            Clay Lake was a religious school, geared to a specific, somewhat obscure Christian sect, but Christian students of any denomination were allowed to enroll. Actually, aside from a Bible Studies class every morning, and the Health/Science textbooks that denounced premarital sex and the concept that the continents are drifting around, the religious side was pretty laid back. Only a few students actually believed that their home planet was only six thousand years old - these 'ideas' weren't forced upon people.
            At the time, Joey was a highly 'principled' person, so he actually fit in with some of the beliefs surprisingly well. He knew he'd sure never have sex before he was married. Why were all the older teenagers so stupid? Of course, he might later realize that he was trying to reassure himself about not having his own girlfriend by confusing loneliness with righteousness. Plus he hadn't gone through much of puberty yet.

            It was time for the Bible Studies class. It was taught by an authentic Western Adventist pastor. He was a pretty laid-back kind of pastor. Today he read the class a story about a guy who was traveling in a car with Jesus, but every time he took the wheel himself, he crashed the car. Later they continued on with their game from the previous classes - a court trial! Joey was on the jury, and thankfully it was a Special Jury where you could ask questions, because Joey really did have a hard time keeping his mouth shut. In the last trial he was a suspect, and he got nailed for perjury because he just made up whatever story he felt like on the witness stand, helping the jury get the wrong person guilty, although that wasn't really by Joey's design so much as he just didn't feel like following the directions. But this time he got in the jury, and he sure wasn't going to let the jury convict the wrong person this time, especially with her being the one on trial this time.
            Her name was Jenni. She lived in the residence, and Joey didn't know much about her except that she was sad most of the time. Just like him. She probably didn't like Star Trek, though. But that didn't matter. She was the most wonderful girl in the Universe. She had long black hair, and she was in good shape. Joey didn't care what the evidence was. Jenni couldn't be guilty of anything.
            Fortunately, in deliberations, the rest of the jury didn't think she was guilty either. The prosecutors had probably chosen the wrong person the previous day, as the evidence presented in the trial wasn't very good. Joey was appointed to dispense this information.
            "Members of the jury, have you reached a verdict?" the pastor asked.
            "We have, your honor. We find the defendant, Jenni Lews Bladen, not guilty of..."
            A wash of relief spilled over Jenni's face as Joey continued his spiel. Joey wished he could go over and congratulate her, but he never felt like he could talk to her. He had been stating for years, despite his real feelings, that he didn't like girls. He didn't realize that this was Grade Nine, and that he could have stopped pretending that a year or two ago at least. In school when he was little, he only played with girls at recess, and there too there was a girl he liked more than anything else in the world. But sometime around Grade Four people started making fun of Joey for only hanging around with the girls, and he had to start saying he hated girls. Always one to resist change, even when his situation was almost intolerable, Joey just kept on behaving the same way. In fact, his behaviour remained sort of infantile even as his intelligence and knowledge skyrocketed.

            Before Math class began that day, some of the teachers, headed by Mr. Leyman, made a small presentation to Joey and his fellow Grade Nine students about a new language policy.
            "Now we've been getting concerned about how much swearing we've been hearing..."
            "... if anyone swears from now on, they'll be suspended for three days..."
            "... We don't want to hear the 'f-word,' or the other 'f-word...'" This Mr. Leyman actually wrote on the board, F-WORD.
            Jamie leaned over to his brother Scott. "What's the other f-word?" he whispered.
            "Besides 'fuck?' 'Frig,' I think."

            Joey spent math class drawing starships and writing a list of which vessels would be in his fleet, and of what design class they were. To his relief, no homework check was done at the end. Instead, Mr. Leyman used the time to pass back the tests from the previous week.
            Joey got a fifty-four. Not bad! Many of the questions on the test were based on a lesson given on a day he paid attention. It was a fluke, but he made it. It was the (not doing) the homework that really got him, anyway.
            "I passed! I passed! Yes! Yes! I passed!"
            It was not Joey yelling this, but Jenni! She ran around in a circle, ran out into the library, then ran back in again. She had passed.
            "Yesss! I passed!" She was happy. She wasn't happy very often, so this occasion bore some importance.
            Joey watched. It was great. He smiled even before he remembered to feign complete disinterest in Jenni.
            "Is she on glue?" Craig whispered to Joey.
            Joey didn't care. Joey loved it that she was "on glue." She was so happy and funny, jumping and running around and shouting like that. It was the best sight he had seen in days, maybe even better than anything on the Star Trek he so compulsively watched.

            Today in gym class, everyone was going to play ball hockey. Joey groaned on the inside, but at least it was better than doing straight-out exercises. Especially jumping jacks - those were quite inspiring to his enemies. "Look at what Joey's doing... heh-heh," they'd say as he flopped around hopelessly.
            Things weren't going very well. James, although no doubt inspired by his new Patrick Roy goalie mask, was letting in as many shots as not. They were losing, but Joey had lost count of the degree. He glanced at his teammate Nick, who looked frustrated. "What's the score?"
            "Who wants to know!?" Nick yelled, giving him a beastly cross-check. Joey bounced against the floor.

            Crying, Joey walked out of the gym through one of the stage doors. As he approached the corner of the hall and the back doors, the most unexpected happened.
            Jenni was there, with her arms extended as to hug him. "Oh, what did he do to you?" she cried.
            Inside, Joey wanted to be hugged more than anything else in the world. His heart's desire was to have a good cry with his heart's desire. He wanted to know what it felt like to be in her arms.
            Instead, Joey turned his back to her and grumbled, "I don't want to talk about it. Leave me alone!"
            In his minds eye he would later see Jenni standing there staring at him as he walked away, with an very sad and rejected expression, all because Joey wasn't ready to open up. He would cry about this later. But he would cry alone.

            Joey, quite bummed out, sat on the stage behind a ping-pong table, overlooking the gymnasium. Everyone else but Jenni was still playing ball hockey, Jenni had disappeared. It reminded him of the day Ray disappeared - that is, he stopped coming to school - and the police came, and Joey was sitting in the exact same spot as they called people out to take private statements from. They didn't call Joey, which was just as well because Joey never knew what was going on. People were saying something about "sexual harassment," though. Joey wasn't sure what that was, but it sounded bad. He wasn't even sure about what he had just done to Jenni, except that he wished that he was in her arms crying. Why did everything have to be so hard?
            Joey was getting tired of just sitting there. He needed to go for a walk. Maybe he'd see Jenni. He walked down off the stage again and into the corridor.
            Jenni was nowhere to be seen. Joey thought that she might have gone outside, so he went out the back doors.
            As Joey was stepping out, he saw Mark appear at the end of the hall behind the glass of the doors. Mark was in Grade Nine as well, although he was older, tougher, and very mean. He had been kicked out of nearly every public and private school in the county before ending up at Clay Lake.
            He also locked the doors from the inside.
            Joey couldn't be convinced that Mark was a Christian. To normal people, that wouldn't be an arbiter of goodness, but Joey knew that Mark was an evil person; and since his prejudice was 'good = Christian,' thinking that Mark could not possibly be a Christian was the best way for him to express his angst about Mark.
            At any rate, Mark was the one who had locked him out, so his opin- wait! What about the front doors? Joey leaped into a run around the side of the building. Unfortunately, Mark did the same thing on the inside, and by the time he got around into the porch, Mark had locked the inner doors.
            They stared through the glass at each other, Joey frustrated and Mark feeling - well, he had an evil grin on his face if that could be any indication of what is practically indescribable.
            Feeling like he had nothing else to do, Joey opened his mouth. "Boy, you're... you're..." he began to growl.
            "An idiot?"
            With lightning speed, the inner doors opened. Unfortunately, Mark wasn't opening them to let Joey in so much as he was opening them to let himself out. He grabbed the mortally-terrorized Joey and began to pound down repeatedly on the top of his head. Aside from the physical pain and helplessness, Joey was feeling sad about how he didn't have any friends and about how very cruel Mark was to him. Sadness and misery washed down over the top of his head like a cold shower.
            Somehow, it came to be over with, and Mark left. Fortunately, he left the inner door open behind him. After crying for a few minutes, Joey stumbled out into the hall. Mark happened to be passing through again.
            "Why - why?" sobbed Joey.
            "You want me to do it again?"
            Joey shook his head 'no,' which scattered some tears a little.
            "Then shut up, and don't tell anybody." Mark stalked off again.
            Joey stayed where he was in the hall until Mark disappeared behind the gymnasium doors. Joey was still sad. Everything was going wrong. He needed attention, and since crying wasn't working (or, that he couldn't face up to the results like he could when he was little)...
            "FUCK YOU!!!"
            That got everybody running, just as Joey knew it would. The principal's office was behind him, so before he knew it the principal was dragging him by the arm into said office. He was seated in a chair. He was discussed. His parents were phoned. It was all a blur to him, but Joey was overwhelmingly aware of the fact that Mark had done the most wrong yet Joey was the one being punished. That didn't make him feel any better, but he wasn't crying now. He felt vindicated, and justified in his actions. He was making a stand for what was right, even by swearing and getting kicked out of school.
            Mr. Leyman personally drove him home. It was the kind of individualized service that one might only wish to get in public school. Joey slung his backpack over himself as the van drove away, and he walked to his door. His mother came out.
            "Joey, I'm shocked." And she looked shocked.
            "You got the call?"
            "I'm shocked, Joey."
            "Well, see, Mark was-"
            "But if you think that you're going to spend your three days off school doing nothing, you got another think coming, buster! If you're not going to work at school, I've got lots of things around the house for you to do; so put that in your pipe and smoke it!" She flared her eyebrows as she said this, then she turned around and walked back into the house, slamming the door.
            Joey didn't like housework, and his mother yelling at him made him sad again. Why did everybody have to be so mean? Why doesn't anybody understand, and just be nice to him? I'm nice! Aren't I? Pretending that he had just disembarked from a shuttlecraft, Joey entered his house.

(Someday I may add an interlude and a "ii" to this story, and that was my original plan, but this seems unlikely now. I feel like I've made my point with just this.)

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