3. Honaw High

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A screech ripped the night apart, and I turned over restlessly under my thin sheet. Dawn burned dimly through the curtains. Slippered feet padded into the room and stopped by the dresser. The alarm clock went silent.

"You ready?" said Aunt Sandy, her voice as soft as a shadow.

The road that runs through Honaw is five miles long, which also happens to be the distance my family and I were from my aunt's house when our summer road trip ended. On street signs it is labeled Grand Avenue, but to the locals it is simply the Road. It starts up in the mountains by the copper mine, abandoned in the seventies and un-abandoned in the oh-tens. I say 'starts' because everything goes with gravity, and that's just what the Road does, winding down and down through the woods into the town's center, where its straightens out for a drag strip of fast-food joints and bars. To call this stretch the heart of Honaw would be unfair to anything able to pump blood. For its last two miles the Road gets back to snaking through pine trees and the occasional stumpy cousin of a Redwood, until finally it reaches the schools, all three of them sitting in a row, and terminates in front of Honaw High.

I kept my neck locked and my head straight as Sandy pulled away, knowing she was watching me in the rearview mirror, not wanting her to see me watch her back. A new-car smelling wind teased across the school's front lawn. There's a lot of grass. I grew up in the desert east of Los Angeles and that was the first thought out of my dust-fed brain: there's a lot of grass.

Honaw High was a matchstick model blown up into life-sized proportions, everything timber, ramps and stairs everywhere. Across the lawn stood the front office and library, windows peeking in at shelves of books. Between the buildings I could make out an open, concrete space lined with benches and tables. Above that towered the gymnasium, a thirty-foot grizzly bear mouth roaring on its front wall. The bear looked in pain to me, its brown eyes staring in rather than out, lost in some deep unimaginable agony.

I wondered where the football field was.

I dug my untrimmed fingernails into my thighs.

The library doors opened and a boy emerged, hunched under a bulging backpack. He marched to a pothole in the center of the lawn, dropped his butt into the dirt, and pulled out a fat paperback book. His head was shaggy. His shirt was bright orange, his shorts dark blue. He could not have been less inconspicuous.

More kids were arriving from the bus loop and student parking lot. Someone walked right into the boy, knocked him down onto his back, and gave a drawling, "Sorrrrrrrry."

The boy picked himself up, laughing like he was a part of the joke, like he was in on it, then he settled back into his pothole and re-opened his book.

I glanced down at the diamond ring on my middle finger.

Inconspicuous, I thought. Real inconspicuous.

Leaning forward in my wheelchair, I pushed myself down the path toward day one of Junior Year.

Back in my hometown, I'd ignore the morning school bell. I'd linger down in the parking lot against my beat-to-shit Corolla until the last possible second, Brittany's hands deep in my front pockets, my hands deep in her back pockets, both our tongues deep in . . . you can guess. Six minutes after the seven-minute bell there'd come the warning bell, the get-your-ass-into-gear bell, and I'd steal another slow kiss from the girl, give her butt a squeeze for it to remember me by, and then, only then, would I make my relaxed way to period one: "Sorry, Mr. So and So, I got tied up."

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