The Move

Chapter 4

By Doug Smith

"Hi... I'm Dan."

The girl next to me introduced herself as Becky. One of the guys in front of us kind of nodded but the other didn't even acknowledge I sat down. Becky frowned and said the friendly ones are Chris and Ryan. Neither one of them said anything. 'Okay, this is going to be fun,' I thought. I glanced at them, took out a notebook and looked at the course syllabus.

The class was actually very good. Mr. Howard was very animated and told a lot of stories that got his points across and kept the class interesting. He asked a lot of questions to get the class involved. I surprised myself by trying to answer one of his questions. I'm not sure I was right but he smiled and said "good observation."

I took some notes and wrote down the homework assignment for that night. He said tomorrow he would hand out information on a project we'd be doing for this unit. All he said was that it would be a group project which didn't make me feel too good.

When class ended everyone stood up to leave. Kids were talking as they filed out to go to their next class. Becky started talking as Chris and Ryan walked by talking to each other but not really talking to anyone else, especially me. I don't know why it bothered me. I wasn't bothered they were talking. It was just that they had walked by without even acknowledging me. They didn't even know me. Phil was probably always saying stuff to them so I assumed seeing me with him was enough for them not to like me. Either that or they just weren't very friendly.

It really wasn't a big deal. They were just average kids, kind of cute but that wasn't what intrigued me. I only knew them because of what Phil had done. I didn't even know if they are gay. Phil saying it didn't make it true. I already thought he was an asshole. He might just call anyone he doesn't like gay but the thought that they might be made me feel like I had some connection with them. It wasn't like I wanted to jump them or anything. I also didn't think gay kids would be friends just because they're gay but in high school one doesn't always know who is and how isn't so it's a nice feeling to have some type of connection. At least it is for me. Besides, they both have nice butts.

"What's with them?" Becky asked. "They usually aren't like that. It's like they thought you're the plague or something."

"It's okay, I must have done something," I said softly. I tried not to show I was hurt but she looked at me and smiled.

"No, they're just being jerks. What could you have done? You just got here. I'll talk to them at lunch."

"No, it's okay, really."

She smiled and said not to worry about it. We rubbed against each other as we walked into the hall. She laughed and continued talking about the school, the kids, welcoming me town and other stuff I didn't really pay attention to. She said she had math next and that she'd catch me later. I had Computer Applications which was in the other direction. The same two kids were in that class as well but they ignored me.

Becky had said their names were Chris and Ryan. I did manage to get them to say something when I sat next to them but it wasn't very friendly. I tried asking a couple of questions which Chris answered in as few words as possible. His tone made it clear he was annoyed. Nope, definitely not too friendly.

I had Phys Ed fourth period but didn't have anything to wear. I gave my admission slip to the coach who said I could sit on the bleachers and watch today. He did say to make sure I was ready on Wednesday. Tuesday I had health class during fourth period.

I watched as the class played volleyball. There were two nets, one across each end of the basketball court. I noticed Phil and his friends were in the class and it looked like they were the typical jocks who thought they were God's gift to the school. 'This class is going to suck,' I thought.

There were five classes before lunch and three afterwards. That was more than I was used to. I only had seven periods a day back home. My fifth period class was Chemistry. The teacher was boring as shit. Maybe it was because I hadn't gotten much sleep but I'm pretty sure I fell asleep during class. I don't really remember much other than the buzzer going off at the end of class. Nobody from my other classes was in this class. Either that or I didn't recognize them.

One of the hardest things about starting a new school is not knowing anyone. It wasn't like I had trouble making friends. It's just that it takes time. I often saw new kids start school back home and didn't think much about it. My opinion changed now that the shoe is on the other foot.

Lunch was the time it became abundantly clear I was the new kid. Everyone was sitting with their friends. I could either eat by myself like it was no big deal, pick an arbitrary table and sit down introducing myself or maybe find someone I recognized from one of my classes and sit with them. In this case I opted for the latter hoping for the best.

I walked over to a table by the windows where Chris and Ryan were sitting with a couple kids. 'What the fuck,' I thought and put down my tray. I know I didn't get off to a good start with them but that wasn't my fault. Becky said they are good guys so maybe I could get them to see I was okay too. Like I said, I felt we might have something in common not that I was going to tell them.

"Mind if I sit here?" I asked only to sit down before anyone said anything.

Chris scowled at me while Ryan watched me sit down.

I smiled and introduced myself to the other two kids at the table. "Hi, I'm Dan Johnson. I hope I'm not interrupting anything but I didn't want to eat alone and stick out as the new kid. At least there are a couple of familiar faces here," I said nodding towards Ryan and Chris.

"Whatever," Chris said. "It's a free country."

I surprised them when I said, "Look, I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume you're not the assholes you seem to be. Becky said you aren't so I can only assume you're acting like this because of what happened before school."

The guy and girl sitting at the table just looked at me. They probably knew about Phil but obviously didn't have a clue what I was talking about.

"I think you got the wrong impression about me. I know I was standing next to that jerk but I don't know him. I was just there because Mike Anderson gave me a ride to school. He lives across the street from me and I met him when I went out for a run this morning. I don't know what that guy's problem is but I'm not like that. I can understand you not liking people who associate with him but he's the asshole, not me. I didn't know he was like that. I just don't want people to judge me thinking I'm friends with him. If I'm wrong just say so and I'm out of here."

They looked at each other. It was like they were communicating without talking. "Alright," they both said. "We're sorry." They laughed at the way they were both talking. "It's just we can't stand Phil Clayton or his friends. He's always saying or doing something. They're all the same although Phil is the worst. We just assumed you're like them when we saw you standing there."

"Like I said, I was just there because Mike gave me a ride to school. He seems okay but I don't really know him."

"Mike is probably the best one of the bunch. He doesn't seem to belong in that group. Let's start over," said Ryan. "I'm Ryan and this is Chris. The ugly guy across the table is Tim and the cute girl is Abby. For whatever reason she's his girlfriend. We can't understand what she sees in him. We think she feels sorry for him. The guy just sitting down is Randy. Everyone else should be here soon. That would be Tanya, Debbie and Josh. It's Dan right? Did we hear you say you're from Chicago?"

I smiled. I felt better now that they were being friendly.

"Just outside of the city actually. My dad got transferred and we moved in late last week. I never thought I'd be the new guy but here I am."

"Well, welcome," Tim said. "I'm sure it's different than what you're used to but it isn't a bad place and there aren't many people like Phil."

Speaking of Phil he was standing in back of me as we spoke.

"It looks like the fag table has a new member."

I looked up at him. "What's your problem man? Nobody is bothering you."

"They are," he said. "These two fags bother me. All fags bother me and if you hang with them then you bother me."

"Look," I said, rather loudly while standing up, "I don't know what your problem is but I don't like that word. To be truthful I don't like you either so I don't really give a shit if I bother you or not. Why don't you go sit with whoever is dumb enough to be your friend and leave me and my friends alone."

I was staring at him and could see his face getting redder and redder. He obviously wasn't used to people standing up to him. I don't think he knew what to do which told me he's basically a chicken. We were standing face to face glaring at each other when a teacher came along and asked what was going on. I said it was just a misunderstanding. The teacher just told us to get back to our lunches. Phil looked at him, obviously pissed, but started to walk away.

"This isn't over," he said as he walked to a table across the room. I watched as he sat down with a group of guys who obviously were jocks before I sat back down beside Chris. 'Yup,' I thought, 'that guy is an asshole'.

"Jeez Dan, do you always go around putting a bulls-eye on your back? He's an asshole but he's not someone to mess with. I think he'd beat his mother if she pissed him off."

"Whatever. He doesn't worry me."

"At least if he's pissed at you he may leave the rest of us alone for a while."

"Glad to help. The guy is a jerk," I said. "He just pushes my buttons."

I felt someone move the chair next to me and sit down. "Who pushes what buttons?" he asked.

Ryan answered, "Dan here almost got into it with Phil. If Mr. Williams hadn't come over they might have gone at it right here. Dan, this is Josh."

I turned to look at who sat down and immediately froze. Thinking back I wish I could have seen the look on my face. My jaw must have hit the floor. Sitting next to me, looking right at me, was a carbon copy of Aaron. Yeah, he was older but Aaron would be older now too. Whoever he was he had the same wavy brown hair covering his ears and forehead and the same brown eyes that sparkled when he smiled which he was doing as he looked at me. He even tilted his head the same way Aaron did when he was perplexed. I could feel tears forming in my eyes.

Suddenly it was like I was in a time warp. I was in the cafeteria eating lunch but it was a different cafeteria. I was in a cafeteria 1800 miles away and over a year earlier. Aaron was sitting beside me just as he should be, just as he always did. I shook my head. "This isn't right," I mumbled. My head began to hurt and the room started to spin. I started to get dizzy and everything became a blur.

The next thing I knew I was laying on a hard surface and it was pitch black. I could hear voices in the distance but they were fading away. There was a fog covering the surface. It was eerie. I tried to get up but couldn't move. I could see a light coming towards me which got brighter as it got closer. I raised my arm to shield my eyes when it got close. There was a shadow in the light but I couldn't make it out. I kept trying to see what it was and finally realized it was a face, someone was walking towards me.

As the light got closer I felt my heart pounding. I tried to get up on my elbows and slide away but couldn't move.

"Whoa buddy, you've never been afraid of me before."

"Aaron?? Is that you? What's going on? Where am I? You can't be here, you're d ..."

"But I haven't left you Dan. I told you I'd never leave you. I just can't be with you but I am watching you. I've heard you talking to me. I've heard everything you've said to me. I know it's been hard for you. I've missed you too but you need to be happy. You can't live like you are."

"I don't know if I can Aaron. I miss you so much. I'll never find anyone like you. I don't want to."

"Dan, you have your entire life ahead of you. You can't live it moping around thinking about me. I miss you too but there's nothing we can do to change that. You can keep talking to me, I'll hear you but I won't be able to come back to you, you know that. It hurts me that you're not happy. I want you to be happy."

"But Aaron, what am I going to do? We moved and I don't know anyone. How can I just start a new life?"

"You're not starting a new life. You have your parents and you have Scott. Chris and Ryan are good guys. I know that. Josh looks like he's kind of cute too," he smirked. "I can't tell you how things will work out but you have to try. Try to remember me as someone who loves you and wants you to be happy. "

"But Aaron, why couldn't it have been me? If it had to be one of us I wanted it to be me."

"I know you did buddy but that's not how it is. Besides, if it had been you then it would be me wishing it was me and not you. Don't worry, we'll be together again."

"I tried to kill myself you know. I wanted to be with you."

"I know and I'm glad you screwed it up. It doesn't work that way. If you killed yourself we would never be together. Killing yourself wouldn't have solved anything. Deep down you knew that."

"Aaron, what am I going to do? My parents moved so I could have a new start and now you're here but you're not here. It's someone else. How can I deal with that?"

"I can't tell you that. Things will work out like they're supposed to be. It will be how you make them. I want you to be happy Dan. Please don't worry about me. I'm fine. I'll always be with you, maybe not physically but in here," he said holding his hand over my heart.

"There is something you need to remember. The kid you saw isn't me. I know it'll be hard seeing him every day but remember he has feelings too. I don't know if you'll be friends or not. You'll have to figure that out on your own. Just be the person I know you are. I know you. It'll tear you up inside but remember he doesn't know about me or us. Don't hurt him."

"I won't hurt him. It would be like hurting you. I couldn't do that."

"I know you wouldn't do anything intentionally but you could do something if you keep the pain you have inside of you."

"I'll try Aaron. I don't want to hurt him but it'll be hard to deal with him."

"I know. One thing I've realized since I came to where I am is how special our love for each other was ... is. I'm sorry I can't be with you. I wish I could tell you how things are going to work out but if I do then things won't be as they're supposed to be. You have to walk your own path."

"Now it's time for you to go back. Go back to you life, to your parents and friends. I'll be watching. I want the best for you. I wish I could help you and tell you things are going to work out but I can't. I know you don't understand but it's because I love you so much, I always did and I always will. If I told you then it would ruin everything. Now I have to go and you have to go back."

Aaron stood up and started to walk away. Before he did he leaned forward and gave me a gentle kiss. It felt so good, so peaceful. I could feel his love flowing through me.

One more thing he smiled. "What's this crap about you giving up on karate? That's such bullshit. You love karate and you know it. Just because I'm not there doesn't mean you shouldn't do it, okay?

I just looked at him.


I just nodded. "I'll think about it."

"You're going to be fine. I'll be watching and if you aren't I'm going to visit again – just to kick your ass." Then he was gone. He just faded away. It almost looked like he was transported like on Star Trek. First he was there and then he just de-materialized.

It was also getting lighter. The fog rising around me started to dissipate and I could hear voices again.

"I think he's coming around. Dan, can you hear me? Don't try to get up."

"Just lie still young man," someone said. I think it was the teacher who had come by earlier. "We need to get you to the nurse's office and call your parents."

"No," I said. "I'll be fine. Just give me a minute. What happened?"

"What happened?" Chris laughed. "You took one look at Josh and fainted. We've always told him he's ugly but he isn't that bad."

I looked at him and our eyes met before I quickly looked away.

There was a crowd of people around. 'Great,' I thought. 'Just the impression I needed on my first day.'

"I need to get to class," I said.

"Son, you need to lie down and relax."

"Please. I'm okay," I said sitting up. "I'm not going to the nurse and please don't call my parents. Just let me go to class. I have Pre-Calculus right after lunch." I was starting to get agitated. I really didn't want my parents to know about this. I didn't even want to think what they would do.

"That's my class," Mr. Williams said. "It's against my better judgment but you can go. But .... if I see anything I don't like you're going to the nurse's office immediately. Is that clear?"

"Yes sir," I said.

He looked back. "Josh, you have me next period. Can you make sure, ahh ... what's your name?"

"Dan," I said.

"Can you make sure Dan gets there okay?"

"I can make it on my own. I don't need help," I said rather coldly. I looked at Josh and shook my head almost daring him to come closer. I remembered what Aaron had said but didn't know how I could. How could I be nice to this kid? He doesn't deserve to look like that.

He got the message and turned away, shaking his head. I'm sure he thought I was an asshole but I couldn't deal with him now. I wasn't sure I ever could. How was I going to live here having to see him all the time? My parents wanted me in a place that wouldn't have all the memories and they brought me here. And here was the biggest memory of all.

He did walk with me or rather nearby even after what I said. We didn't talk and I walked as fast as I could thinking I would get away from him sooner. All it did was get me to class sooner. I made a point of not sitting near him but unfortunately the only seat available gave me a direct line of sight to his seat. He was in front of me and a couple rows over and while he didn't turn around during class I'm sure he knew I was watching him.

The more I watched him the more I saw Aaron. The way he fidgeted in his chair. The way he held his head in his hand while he took notes. Everything was so familiar. I barely paid attention in class. All I could think about was how to deal with this. The more I sat and watched the stranger it felt. I couldn't just ignore him. He was obviously friends with Chris and Ryan and I wanted to be their friend too. I'd have to figure out how to deal with him.

I don't think I heard a word Mr. Williams talked about. He walked by a couple of times as he was speaking and asking questions but he didn't ask me anything. He probably wanted to make sure I didn't pass out again.

After class he asked me to stay so he could give me the text and other class information. He said I seemed pretty out of it during class but assumed it was because of what happened in the cafeteria. He also made a point of saying he hoped it wouldn't be an everyday occurrence. He was worried something was wrong with me and said I really should see the nurse. He was worried he could get in trouble if something happened and he hadn't done anything. I assured him I was fine and that my next period was a free period so I wouldn't be too busy. I really just wanted the day to be over with.

I could either go to the library or to a classroom designated as a 'study' during my free period. We hadn't had those at my school back in Illinois. We had been pretty much free to do what we wanted as long as we didn't disturb classes. I went in to sit down and noticed quite a few of the kids who were in my earlier classes there as well. Ryan was there and asked if I was okay. He seemed different without Chris around. He seemed more cautious. I smiled as I sat down next to him. He asked if I was okay.

"I'm fine. Haven't you ever taken a nap during lunch?" I asked with a smirk on my face.

He laughed and pulled out a book. It looked like he liked to read in his spare time.

I tried not to think about Josh but it was difficult not to. I didn't know what to think. I couldn't hate him. I knew that it wasn't his fault he looked like Aaron and for some reason Aaron had made a point of saying not to hurt him. Part of me wanted to hate him. Aaron was unique, maybe not in an extraordinary way to other people but unique as a person, like any person is unique. People deserve to be unique in their own way, unlike anyone else. Aaron deserved that. I felt he deserved it more because he didn't live long enough to make his uniqueness known. Maybe that doesn't make sense but it is how I felt. I saw Josh as stealing that from him.

I was reading some of the papers I had collected in my classes trying to take my mind off the last couple of hours when Ms. Washington walked in.

"Dan, what happened? I heard you passed out during lunch. Why didn't you go to the nurse?"

"It's no big deal Ms. Washington." I said trying to play it off. "Just anxiety or something. A lot has been going on lately. I'm really okay."

I saw Ryan watching as Ms. Washington talked with me.

"You still should have gone to the nurse. Didn't Mr. Williams tell you to go."

"Yes, but I didn't want to go. It's not his fault. I told him I wouldn't go." I lowered my voice and looked at her. I didn't want Ryan to hear but knew he would hear something. "Please, I'm fine. If I had gone to the nurse then she would have called my parents. They would have gone into parent mode and I don't need that. I'm okay really. I know what happened and it won't happen again." I only hoped I was right.

Ms. Washington looked at me skeptically. "Do you want to talk about it?" she asked.

"No, ... ah, I don't know, it's so fu, ah, messed up."

"Come with me. We can't have our students passing out and not doing anything about it."

I looked at Ryan as I stood up collecting my papers. "I'll catch you later." He nodded and watched as I walked out. I turned to smile as I walked out the door seeing a curious look on his face.

Ms. Washington didn't say anything as we walked towards her office. The halls were mostly empty since classes were going on. A few kids were walking around. Not that I found that unusual, I just wondered where they were going, what they were thinking. They weren't really looking at me but I still felt self-conscious. I know it was dumb but I had passed out in front of a lot of them after all. Ms. Washington shut the door when we got to her office.

"Okay Dan, what's going on? I know you're going through a lot. Did something happen? Did someone do something?"

"No, nothing like that Ms. Washington. Well, one kid kind of mouthed off because of who I was eating lunch with but it wasn't a big deal. I was just sitting there talking when ...," I paused.

"When what Dan?"

"This is still between you and me, right? For some reason I feel I can trust you but my parents can't know about this. At least not yet."

"Dan, you can trust me but I also have responsibilities to the school as well as legal obligations. If this affects the school or if there is a legal issue I won't have any choice but to do something. Otherwise, anything you tell me stays between you and me. I give you my word on that."

I looked at her for a minute. "It's nothing like that. It's just weird" I said pausing before continuing. "Okay ... you said everyone knows everyone in a small school, right? Do you know Josh ... Josh Sullivan I think his name is."

Her face brightened and she smiled. "Yes, of course. Josh is a good boy. He's one of our better students. I can't believe he did anything."

"No, no .. He didn't do anything. Well, not directly anyway."

"I don't understand. What do you mean 'not directly'?"

"It's hard to explain. Maybe I should just show you," I said as I reached into my pocket and took out my wallet. I pulled three pictures from behind the flap and put them on her desk. They obviously weren't taken recently since it was summertime and I looked younger in them. She looked at the pictures for what seemed like several minutes even though it was really only a few seconds. She looked at me with a confused look on her face.

"Dan, I don't understand. You just moved here. These pictures were obviously taken a while ago and not around here. That looks like Lake Michigan. I know Josh has never been there."

"That's just it Ms. Washington. That isn't Josh. ...... It's Aaron. There were tears in my eyes. That one was taken when he and I were on vacation with our families over a year ago. That one was taken at my house when we were goofing around and that one was taken at my birthday party. Aaron and Josh look identical. Josh even acts like Aaron. I don't think Aaron's mother could tell them apart." Well, okay, that was a bit of an exaggeration but she certainly would do a double take.

She looked at the pictures then she looked back at me. "This is incredible Dan. They look like twins."

"I couldn't believe it when I turned and saw him sitting there. It was like I had a flashback or something."

"I can't imagine how you felt when you saw him. It must have been quite a shock. Given what you told me this morning I think I can understand why you fainted. I can't believe they look this much alike."

"Look, act, sound --- I watched him during math. He probably thinks I'm a weirdo but he is pretty much a carbon copy of Aaron. I don't know what to do. I know I'll have to deal with it if I stay here but I don't know how. How can I look at him every day?"

"Dan ... Josh isn't Aaron."

"I know that and I know it isn't his fault but I still resent him. Aaron was special. Josh doesn't have any right ...," pausing. "I'm sorry," I said.

"It's okay. I know this is hard. Josh may look like him, he may even remind you of him because of the way he talks or acts but he isn't Aaron. You only met him briefly at lunch. Wait until you get to know him. Give it a chance. In time you'll be able to see him as Josh and not Aaron."

"I don't know. I know he's probably a good kid. I was really cold to him when I came to but he still walked me to my next class to make sure I got there. I appreciated that but he must think I'm a total freak for the way I acted."

"Josh isn't like that. I'm sure he was concerned and maybe confused by your attitude but he is one of the most caring, loving people I know."

"Loving?" I asked, a little confused.

"Josh is the nephew I told you about. I don't see him much out of school since he lives with his father. That man and I don't really get along. Josh stops by here and we talk quite a bit though. He's a good boy despite his father. I don't know what my sister saw in that man but she must have seen something and Josh is the result. She was killed in a car accident when Josh was eight."

This was getting weirder and weirder by the minute.

"Oh, I'm sorry but this is just too weird. I don't know what I should do. I don't want to tell my parents because they'll be all concerned and try to fix things. Their last solution for fixing things was to move here. I just don't know how to deal with him. I don't want to see him upset. If nothing else it would be like hurting Aaron. I can't just tell him that he looks like my dead boy .. ah, best friend and that he freaks me out. I don't know what to do."

"Just give it time. Like I said, Josh is a good boy. He's really caring on the inside. I know you were close to Aaron. I don't know how close but I think I'm getting the picture. What do you think he would want you to do?"

I looked at her. I didn't understand why I felt I could talk to her. I just met her this morning.

"I know what he'd want me to do," I said. "He told me."

"What do you mean --- he told you?"

"You're going to think I'm crazy or that I hit my head when I passed out."

"What are you talking about Dan?"

"Well, when I was unconscious it was like he came to me. He knelt right next to me and told me he had been watching me. He said he couldn't be here physically but said we'd always be together. He told me a lot of stuff but basically said he was sad I wasn't doing better. He wants me to be happy."

"Dan, I don't know what happened but I'm sure whatever it was he does want you to be happy. You have you're whole life ahead of you. You can remember how special he was but you can't let it consume you. You know he wouldn't want that."

"I know and I'm trying. I really am. I thought I had been doing better. This is just a bump in the road," I said trying to smile.

"Don't worry about Josh, okay? I do think you should talk to him at some point but that's for you to decide. I would like your permission to talk to him myself however."

"What??? You said this was between you and me."

"And it is. I won't tell him anything you don't want me to say just as I won't tell you anything he doesn't want said but Dan, he is my nephew. I don't want to see him hurt."

"I'm not going to hurt him."

"I know you won't. At least intentionally. He's just sensitive and I'm sure he's wondering what's going on. I'd just like to tell him it's not him."

"No way!! If you say something he'll really think I'm a freak. I'll tell him something."

"Good," she smiled. "I thought you might."

I realized I'd been set up and smiled. "That will only work once."

"Maybe," she said. A big smile on her face. "Are you feeling up to going to your last class? You've got five minutes."

'Yeah, I'm okay. I have Philosophy last period then I can just go home."

"Get a good night's sleep. You've had a tough day."

"Thanks Ms. Washington. I feel better talking to you."

"Any time Dan."

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