For Irene, in loving memory of Bill
The two most joyous times of the year are Christmas morning and the end of school.
(aka The Big Fat Lie I Told Myself)
Ever have one of those days when you just knew that, by the time it was over, you’d never be the same?
Only, in a good way?
For me, today was that day.
From the moment I woke up, I knew it was true.
Less than fourteen hours later, I fell for the absolute worst, most dangerous lie of all: the lie we tell ourselves.
If even the smallest smidgen of it hadn’t been a lie, I wouldn’t have ended up here—held hostage—on a runaway psychedelic Christmas Trolley—with a deranged Santa at the helm.
Which is how I know the whole thing was nothing more than a big fat delusion from the very beginning.
“On, Dasher! On, Dancer!” the lunatic shouts, one hand gripping the tinsel-wrapped steering wheel, the other waving wildly, as though wielding a whip on an imaginary herd of reindeer. The opening of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” blares from the overhead speakers as the trolley thrashes from side to side, under constant assault from a blizzard hurling snowflakes the size of golf balls. The strings of twinkling Christmas lights swing precariously overhead as sprigs of holly and mistletoe and random ornaments unhitch from the walls and careen across the aisle.
“Better hang on tight!” The driver swivels toward me, the only passenger on board—the only one stupid enough to get on board—his long white dreadlocks flailing over his shoulder, his golden teeth gleaming, the spiral lenses on his glasses spinning so quickly in and out of focus they’re making me dizzy. “This storm’s about to get crazy!”
Only, when he says it, it sounds like “Dis stawmsaboutagit craaazy!”
I press my face against the window, pounding the glass as I frantically search for someone to help me, get on a cell and report this kidnapping in progress. But the snow is coming down so hard and fast, it’s impossible to see much of anything. So I hunker low in my seat and check my own cell phone. No service. Same as before, when I was waiting for the normal bus to take me home.
But the note app still works, so I fight to steady my hand and thumb-type everything that took place, exactly as I experienced it, from the moment the trouble started until the moment I decided it was a good idea to accept a ride from a mental hospital escapee.
That way, when my body is eventually discovered, not only will the authorities have someone to prosecute, but my family will rest a little easier, knowing the whole truth behind the unfortunate chain of events that brought me to this dreadful conclusion.
It’s the only thing I can do.
I’m pretty sure I won’t live long enough to regret this.
10:39 A.M.—11:50 A.M.
Today is the day my entire life changes for the better.*1
And yet, as many times as I’ve gone over it in my head, it’s still kind of weird to think that in just a little over an hour I’ll have made the transition from Brainiac Nerd to the coolest guy in school. And the crazy thing is—for someone who’s facing such a huge, monumental event—I’m not even nervous.
I guess it’s like my hero, rock star/actor/singer/model Josh Frost, always says: you can’t live it if you don’t fully imagine it.
Well, I’ve spent the last year and a half fully imagining it, and it begins with the way I sit in this chair.
If it seems like something that simple couldn’t possibly matter, trust me: when it comes to other people’s perception—and by “other people,” I mean seventh-grade girls—there is no detail too minor.
Seventh-grade girls, especially the popular ones, notice everything. And they can be pretty brutal with their assessments.
If you want to be noticed—and even better, accepted—then you need to wear the right jeans and the right sneakers (but you’ll probably want to stop calling them sneakers), and you definitely need the right hair, which is basically styled to look as though you barely ever think about it, even though the time spent making it appear as though you barely ever think about it forces you to wake up half an hour earlier so you’re not late for school.
And yeah, you even need to sit the right way, which is pretty much the opposite of how I usually sit, with both feet on the floor, my back mostly straight—you know, the way teachers and parents sit.