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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A teenage high school student makes friends with the cool new kid. But all is not what it seems with Russell Potter.

Submitted: October 07, 2010

A A A | A A A

Submitted: October 07, 2010




A slight breeze of chilled, processed air brushes my cheek, originating from the window mounted air conditioner across the room. It snuck up into my nose, cooling my sinuses and giving me a headache. The air lacked any character. It had no scent, no odor, no moisture. It wasn’t air, it was recycled oxygen. Zombie air. I’ve gotten used to this air, and the white noise hum of the air conditioners that spew it into the room.
Sitting across from me, in a tall, leather armchair, the psychologist hides behind his clipboard with a pencil in hand. I don’t like him. His tie is perfectly straight, ironed to perfection, precisely centered on his white, collared shirt. His hair is styled up in the front, spiked like the straight-out-of-college yuppie he is. He stares at me with what he thinks is a piercing glare, full of false understanding. He cocks his head back and to the side, as though he can see right through me.
“You don’t like me very much, do you?” he says.
“Very perceptive.”
He smiles.
“Well then, why don’t we pick this up at the beginning? Sound alright to you?”
I shrug my whatever.
He sits just a bit higher in his chair and adjusts his grip on his pencil.
“Start by telling me about what things were like before the incident.”

* * *

I always liked school; but I was only somewhat good at it. I brought home mediocre grades, but that was just because I was lazy. To me, grades aren’t a measure of intelligence, they’re a measure of work ethic. I had intelligence, but I never felt like doing the work. Teenage pursuits always seemed more rewarding at the time.
I suppose I didn’t like school as much as I liked the people that I interacted with at school. They were my friends, and they were my enemies. I loved them all. More than the actual people, I just liked being included. My biggest fear in the world was being alone, being the only one left out. And when they included me, I felt like I belonged.
I looked up. My English teacher Mrs. Lehman was staring icily at the student next to me. He’d fallen asleep. She said his name again and he snapped upward. He had a large, red mark where his cheek had been resting on his arm. It looked like someone punched him in the face.
“No sleeping in my class. I know The Great Gatsby isn’t Star Wars, but I ask that you do please pay attention.”
I smiled, thankful that it hadn’t been me that she’d singled out in the middle of class.
Between periods, I aimlessly roamed the hallways on my way to study hall. I bumped into a couple of the guys from the football team. They were talking amongst themselves and laughing, probably about the scores from the latest college game.
I smiled, matching their enthusiasm.
“Hey guys!”
They walked past. They must not have heard me. “Oh well, I’ll catch up with them later” is what I usually told myself when this happened, which was often.
I don’t think I could tell you anything of particular interest about school, or at least nothing that has anything to do with Russell. People always ask me who Russell was. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you today if I tried. The only person who truly understood who Russell exactly was, would be Russell. Tan, handsome, and completely fucking insane. That’s what Russell was, but as for who, I have no idea.
So there I was, this average teenager set adrift in an ocean current of adolescent life, managing to keep my shitty little rowboat from sinking. I thought I was happy. I thought I had everything I wanted. I guess I thought wrong.  

The snow outside of  Mrs. Lehman’s window fell softly and daintily, dancing on the slightest current of air. How ironic that this beautiful little snowflake’s destiny and sole purpose was to seek its own destruction. It teetered gracefully to the ground, where it was stepped on or shoveled into some dirty pile with loose gravel, or at best, melted to the point where all that was left was a grainy brown slush. Why did the snowflake not simply stay in the air forever, where it was still beautiful? At least up there it was not slush.
Ideas like this filled the black and white crevices of my term paper for Composition I. A descriptive essay over a person, place, or thing. I chose snowflakes. Not for their beauty, but for their suicidal tendencies. I found it rather fitting. Most things in life that are beautiful are simultaneously self-destructive.
How appropriate that this would also be the day that I met the man who would be my own undoing, Russell Potter.

The characteristic creak of a classroom door being opened drew my attention away from my paper. I caught motion out of the corner of my eye, and got my first glimpse at him. He stood about 5’7’’, a height that made his built, muscular frame slightly more noticeable. The fabric of his gray polo shirt hugged the curves of his musculature, and was complemented by a pair of light blue designer jeans, the kind with strategically placed rips and tears that add to the price tag more than the aesthetic. On his feet were a well worn pair of black, high-top Chuck Taylor’s.
He took two sideways glances at the room through his orange-tinted glasses, as though he was expecting a package to be waiting there for him, and then he smiled. He removed his shades, and strolled over to Mrs. Lehman’s desk. He casually tossed a crinkled and folded up piece of paper on her desk. After several seconds of silence, Mrs. Lehman had still not reacted, so this new kid simply shrugged, and made his way to the empty desk next to me. He leaned back, folded his arms behind his head, and closed his eyes.
I admired this new student, even though I knew nothing about him. His infinite cool in an awkward situation made me think he must have been a master of social graces, and it intrigued me. His appearance drew me to him more than anything. He wore the clothes of a Jersey shore rave-monger, and yet, his light brown hair looked as though he had just gotten out of bed, styled up in a seemingly random yet strangely appealing fashion.
“Stop staring at me.” he said, seemingly out of nowhere.
I then realized that I had indeed been staring at him since he walked into the room.
I murmured an apology, visibly embarrassed. I tried to tell him that I didn’t mean to stare at him.
He didn’t move, and continued to speak with his eyes closed.
“Don’t give me that, of course you meant to. You were trying to dissect my personality by staring at me until my outward features conveyed some sort of meaning, or gave you enough clues that you could draw some sort of conclusion about me. But I have some advice for you my friend.”
I gave him a puzzled look.
He sat up and leaned toward me, deliberately yet gracefully, holding out his open hand.
“Introducing yourself works a whole lot better.”
I didn’t move or say anything. His manner of speech confused and thrilled me. Smooth, with a slight gruff hint to it; it was not quite a rough voice, just very masculine. It carried with each word a touch of swagger and confidence, strong enough to be noticeable, but just faint enough to leave you curious. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to him speak.

“Do people not shake hands anymore?” he asked, his hand still outstretched, “or are you still trying to figure me out?”
I shook myself back into reality and grasped his hand with mine, shaking it three times and letting go again.
“You’ve got a good handshake, has anyone ever told you that?”
I said no.
“You do everything right. You have a firm grip, you look me in the eyes, and you shake my hand rather than letting me shake yours. Just think, if you made some signs and had a few million dollars to spare, you could be a politician.”
I laughed.
“But you wouldn’t want to be a politician. You’re too smart for that. Aren’t you?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“On second thought, maybe you’re not. A politician’s job is to lie to people. To lie straight to their faces, and smile while doing it. Their job is to help them lie to themselves, and to make it seem like everything is going to be fine. Who wants that on their conscience?”
“That’s true I suppose,” I chuckled, “you’re a very interesting person, you know that?”
“No, I don’t think so. I’m just not socially neutered.”
I smiled and shook my head.
He spoke again, smiling right back, except that his smile was more of a satisfied smile than a happy one.
“Russell Potter.”
“My name, is Russell Potter.”
I nodded, understanding.
“It’s nice to meet you, Russell.”

* * *

Over the next few weeks, I don’t believe I saw Russell make a single new friend. I was the only person he ever interacted with at length. He would bump into people and apologize, and would be occasionally asked to pick up a dropped pencil or hand someone a stapler, but he was never really socially engaged with anyone but me. We spent most of our time at school together, hung out after school, went to the movies, and rather quickly became fast friends.
Russell is, most likely, the best friend I ever had. And even more likely, he’s the only actual friend I ever had. Sure, I had acquaintances, but before Russell, I never had any friends, and I was slowly realizing this. My new best friend gave me a basis for comparison, and I found that most of my social circle consisted of people who simply tolerated me. The closer I grew to Russell, the farther I realized I was from everyone else.

Once, we were walking home from school together. He lived several streets down from me, but I enjoyed the talks we had on the way to his house, so I didn‘t mind going out of my way. We discussed politics, religion, and the state of the world; all the things that teenagers have no business discussing. But today, we talked about something different.

“You know, most of those people don’t even know who you are. And I don’t mean in the way of names or your basic information, this isn’t facebook. I’m talking about really knowing who you are.”
“I’m not sure I follow you.”
“Fucking liar.” Russell laughed quietly, “You know exactly what I mean. These people wouldn’t be able to tell you a single thing.”
“But I grew up with most of them…they’d have to know something about me.” I said, more to myself than to him.
“That’s not what I’m talking about. There’s a difference between knowing someone, and knowing about someone. Knowing about someone is easy. Knowing someone is difficult. It actually requires you to give two shits about the person, and a willingness to take time out of your busy schedule to spend time with them. Why the hell do you think I hang out with your ass so much?”
He prodded me and his smile widened.
“So you do care.” I said, elbowing him in the side. I cracked a smile.
“Of course I do.” he replied, “It’s those other assholes who don’t give a damn.”
“Well they have to care at least a little bit…”
“See, that’s the thing, they really don’t. We live in a world where we’re taught from an early age that it’s easier to pretend to like someone than to spend time getting attached to them. For whatever reason, they’ll play nice with you at school, work, whatever. But outside of that small little world where tact is the governing body, they don’t even need to associate with you, let alone actually care.
“Let’s be realistic. Have any of them ever actually made an attempt to act like your friend unless they had to? Have they ever invited you over to their house? Offered to take you out to dinner? Made any attempt at all to make themselves related to you in any way?”
My smile faded. Searching my memory, I found that he was correct on all counts. I had no recollection of any instance where any person but Russell had truly acted like my friend.
I simply said no.

“Exactly,” Russell began again, “which is exactly why you shouldn’t bother with them. If they don’t care about you, why would you waste your time caring about them?”
I despised him for how much sense he was making. I turned his words over in my mind again and again. I’d spent my entire life working to earn the approval of my peers, whether or not I knew it was so, and to see my life’s work systematically picked apart before my eyes left me broken. I now latched onto Russell’s words, which now represented the only truth I knew.
But I still had the ache, the urge to belong. I wanted approval, I wanted attention, I wanted to stop feeling like the only one being left out.

As though he could sense my inner turmoil, Russell’s face hardened and he sighed.
“Look, I haven’t the foggiest fucking idea why, but apparently, you still want your classmates’ attention. Right?”
I nodded without looking at him.
“Well, then I suppose you’ll just have to make them pay attention!”
As he finished this final sentence, we reached his home. A door in a sheer concrete wall which concealed a single, small apartment. Russell affectionately referred to it once as “the cave”.
Without another word, he started down the path toward the door, leaving me standing on the sidewalk alone.
“How am I supposed to do that?!” I called to him.
Without turning around, he threw his arms up and said, “I don’t know, man! Pull the fire alarm or something!”

* * *

Losing your mischief virginity is not easy. If you’ve always been the one who stays out of trouble, whatever the cost, and actually listens to your conscience, then you know how much of a struggle it is to take that first step down the road of delinquency.
I stared at it for a long time. I fought a subconscious battle between my conscience and my desires. I wanted attention, and I knew doing this would get it, but my programmed definitions of right and wrong held my hands to my sides like they were bound there. It’s situations like this where you can’t think about the decision you’re about to make, you have to let your emotions decide. You pit your desires and morals against each other, and you have to sit there and watch to see which would be victorious.
This is stupid, I thought, it’s just the fire alarm. How much trouble can you really get in for pulling it? Certainly the benefits of attention would outweigh any possible repercussions.
I never got a chance to find out. My punishment for indecision came in the form of three of the local farm boys. About as smart as the cattle they raised, they strutted over towards me, hands in their pockets, John Deere and PBR paraphernalia decorating their persons.
The largest of the three, a tall, muscular boy with a baby face, bug eyes, and a chinstrap beard, stood beside me and crossed his arms triumphantly.
“The fuck-err you doin?” he said loudly in that slurred Midwestern drawl.
“Nothing.” I replied, my eyes facing straight forward so as to not meet his gaze.
“Looked like you were gonna pull the fire alarm!” cackled another, a wide boy with platinum blonde hair.
“No, I wasn’t.” I said flatly, showing no emotion at all. This was something I learned from Russell. Simply let them do what they want, and don’t register any emotional response, because that’s what they’re after.
The baby-faced boy yanked down on the scarlet lever, breaking a glass tube and sending a shrill alarm screeching through the hallways.
The third boy, a hulking mass of hairy muscle in a sleeveless John Deere t-shirt, abruptly shoved me to the ground in one deft movement while he boomed, “Why’d you pull the fire alarm? You stupid or somethin?”
The trio promptly spit on me while I lay on the dirty cement floor, their spittle reeking of chewing tobacco. After laughing heartily at me, and tossing a few demeaning terms my way, they departed, leaving me on the floor, waiting for whomever may come to investigate the source of the false alarm while the rest of the school evacuated.

It was not the incident itself that bothered me the most. It was the fact that this whole mess simply confirmed what Russell had told me. Not a day before, I’d been joking with those same three boys in the lunch line. I suppose people are becoming better and better actors every day.

* * *

I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling as though I was willing something to appear on it, and I reflected on the day’s events. After my confrontation with my three attackers, I was told by the principal that I would not be blamed for the fire alarm, and that they would be punished for assaulting me. But I knew that this would not phase them in the slightest. Detention, suspension, whatever the principal may do to try and teach them a lesson, would not cause them to lose any sleep. They simply didn’t care. There can be no justice when punishment loses its meaning.

I sat up and put my head in my hands. The clock on my dresser reads 12:09AM. I stood and began to pace around the room, wiping from my brow the cold sweat that forms when lying in one place for too long. A tap on the window, followed by another several seconds later broke my trance, and I opened it and leaned into the dark, cold winter air. I could see nothing out of the ordinary, but somehow, I felt unease sink its tendrils into me.

I still don’t understand how, or why, but suddenly, I felt very much like taking a walk. To no place I could think of, and yet, I felt an outside force guiding me towards somewhere.
I grabbed my coat from the hook downstairs, and began my journey. I walked, totally blank. I let my feet do what they wanted, I couldn’t stop them. I didn’t even want to. I felt like walking away from everything.
I began to lose track of time. I knew what time I left the house, but all memory of the route I was taking or what I’d been thinking along the way was all blurred and smeared like some little kid’s finger painting. I felt like I was sleepwalking, half conscious and half asleep, and things I thought about seemed to cross over into reality.

I finally reached the end of my journey, and I found myself in front of the school. It stood silently, a monolith to education and teenage life and bullies and all the things in the world that I now despised. I hated these things because they didn’t love me. I was like a painting that had been rejected by the artist. I was not beautiful enough to be displayed like everyone else.
I found myself walking towards the school’s large double doors. Strangely, a fresh set of footprints marked my path in the snow before I took it. Almost as if I’d been here before.
Pushing open the door, I once again found myself following that unseen, unheard force. It guided me through the halls and entranceways, using its will to move my feet for lack of my own. I followed the currents of this force to the gym, where a single light was turned on, illuminating half of it in florescent light. Standing, arms outstretched and head back, was Russell. His spiky hair was now a sickly yellow, his hair held up by a pair of square rimmed goggles on his forehead. He wore a black, leather jacket, and black jeans, his trademark Chuck Taylor’s still on his feet.
Hearing me enter, he took a deep breath, and exhaled before turning to face me.
“You should not have come here my friend.” he said, stern.
I could see now that he held a strange looking, jury-rigged device in his left hand. It had a single, green button, and a crooked antenna jutting out from the top of it.
“What are you doing here Russell?” I asked, my tone more akin to a statement than a question.
“That’s the question isn’t it pal? I’m simply doing what you are afraid to do.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m tackling the problem at its source.”
I shook my head, confused.
“What problem?”
“Your problem. What you want is attention, but what you need is absolute isolation. The longer you chase these delusions and fantasies, the closer you come to ripping yourself apart. And I can’t have that. Trust me, I’m living proof that you are one little nudge away from complete and total meltdown.”
“What fantasies?!”
Russell rolled his eyes and sighed.
“These insane desires for everyone to like you. I’ve told you again and again and again, it is not going to happen. And it doesn’t need to happen. You already have the thing you need!”
“And what is that?”
He dramatically raised his hand over his head, and pointed to himself.
“I’m the perfect friend, man! An improved version of yourself, that knows what’s best for you! And in the end, I will be the only one who can save you from yourself. A little backwards isn’t it?”
I said nothing, and Russell began to pace back and forth, examining the device he held in his hand.
“What is that?” I asked, pointing at the mechanism.
“Oh this old thing?” he held it up, “just a little remote detonator.”
I squinted in confusion.
“For what exactly?”
“Well, since you refuse to abandon your hopes for peer acceptance, I’ve been forced to take matters into my own hands, so to speak. If you must know, I intend to burn this school to the ground. I’m nipping this thing in the bud before it gets out of hand…”
My heart skipped a beat. I almost didn’t register his statement, because his tone made it sound as though he could’ve just been going to the grocery store.
“What did you just say?”
“…and I cannot have you fucking this up.”

Just then, I felt an invisible sledge hammer strike me across the face, knocking me to the ground. As I struggled to rise, another impact to my ribs sent me back to the floor where I collapsed with a thump. Russell never moved. I tried again to stand, and this time, I got to my feet just in time for a strike to the face to send me flying into the air. I landed on my back, and the wind was forced from my lungs.
As I lay on the ground, groaning in pain, I felt blood trickle down my lips and onto my chin. My vision began to blur, and as the world swam, two Russells simultaneously walked toward me, fading in and out of each other. They squatted next to me and held the detonator up to my face.
“See you on the other side.” they said matter-of-factly, before holding the green button down with their thumbs. The universe faded to black.

* * *

As I neared consciousness, stimuli began to barrage my senses again. I felt a breathing mask over my face, and I heard the wailing siren of an ambulance through the thick metal walls of the vehicle.
As my eyes fluttered open, I could see the EMT’s working hard to keep me in a stable condition as we drove to the hospital. I heard one say something to another; something about the school and an explosion, then a reference to my condition. I could not form their words into sentences for some reason.
I looked to my left. Sitting in the ambulance right next to me was Russell. He was dressed exactly as he was in the gym. He appeared as though nothing had happened, no singe marks, no obvious wounds or burns.
He brushed a bit of rubble from the shoulder of his jacket and leaned in towards me. His voice echoed off of the inside of my skull, resonating with each word.
“Hey there kiddo. Feeling alright?
He smiled.
“Don’t worry, you haven’t suffered any serious injuries, just a broken bone or two. Now listen, I hope you don’t take that whole business back at the gym personally. I was doing what had to be done, for both of us. I have as much at stake here as you do, and I simply couldn’t have you running around, making your own decisions. I mean, let’s face it, without me, where would you be? I’ve shown you the truth, and made you better for it, whether you realize it or not.
“I exist because you need me. You need me, because you don’t know what you want. This is the basis of our relationship. I am everything that you need, and I am all of your subconscious desires brought to life. I know everything you know, and even some things that you don’t know. For instance, how to make plastic explosives.
“But let’s be honest here. You created me, which may have well been the best thing you ever did for yourself. I mean, you’re not doing yourself any favors by lying to yourself about what you need. You’re not a politician.”

As I choked on these revelations, Russell stood up and placed his hand on my forehead, petting me gently a few times before leaning down to speak in my ear.

“Get better, sport.”

* * *

I stared at the wall just past the psychologist. He had one of those motivational posters of the cat which read, “hang in there baby”. I examined every characteristic of the cat. What color he was, what breed, and what exactly he was doing hanging from a tree.
The young doctor placed his clipboard on his lap and began sucking on the eraser of his pencil pensively. He stared at me, deep in thought, even though I paid no attention to him. I was done talking now. I was done talking for a while.
“Well, that’s quite a story you’ve got there son.” he finally said, as if he had the right to call me “son”.
“If you don’t believe me, I could tell you some lies to take back to the university with you. That might be more believable.”
“No, no that’s alright.” he sucked on his pencil again and glanced around the room before excusing himself to go make a phone call.
I looked to the opposite side of the room, near the window with the air conditioner, where Russell Potter sat in a beige leather chair. He leaned forward and looked at me, smiling.

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