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Keep It Steady Episode 6

MORNING ANNOUNCEMENTS

Good Morning Columbus High students! Today is Friday, May 12th, 2006 and these are your morning announcements. Be advised this episode contains a depiction of an anxiety attack, drug use, and brief violence. The Prom Committee reminds you that today is the very last day you can buy tickets for the dance, see Ellen Smith at lunch if you still need to buy one.


ZACH NARRATION

Krista finds me in the hall the next morning before school. 7:30 AM. Eight hours until Gabe tells me whatever he wants to tell me.


KRISTA

Hey. How do you feel about lasertag?


ZACH

It’s tag with lasers? Like, I don’t know why we haven’t added lasers to everything, if we have the technology. Laser hockey. Laser sandwich. Laser dogs.


KRISTA

(SMILING) Talking robot laser dogs. I wanted to celebrate when we’re all done with finals. So really, as long as we all RSVP by the 20th, we should—


ZACH NARRATION

The twentieth. It stands out before I can even remember why: the twentieth, May twentieth, is the night of prom. It’s a thing I officially know now, because days ago Tori took it upon herself to make sure everyone bought tickets ahead of time, and she dogged me about it like the goddamn Ghost of Christmas Future.


(STARTING TO SPIN OUT) That was...that was almost a month ago.


Today is May 12th. Prom is in a week.


Holy shit, prom is in a week.


The fluffy white clouds vanish under my feet.


From time to time I can forget, but that sick shocky feeling is always waiting for me. All this time I’ve been passing notes with Leslie and talking music with Andy. I’ve been inching up my Algebra grade and working on Astro-Cat with Ponni. I’ve been driving Gabe home twice a week, the whole day spent waiting for those twenty-five minutes.


I’ve been so wrapped up in it, diving headfirst into the bright, fizzy distraction of Social Justice Club, that I’ve stopped taking time to remind myself how soon it’ll come crashing down.


The bottom line is, all these people who cheer me up and make me laugh and turn my head away from the angry conservatives in the room won't be around next year. I’m pouring myself into a bucket that will be dumped out on May 20th, in a week. School will end, and then there will be senior year, and the bad shit will still be there because people don't change, and I’ll have Tori probably (unless she ditches me for Krista, which she might because I am an asshole), but everything else that's been keeping me going—everything else—


Jesus Christ, the amount of time I’ve spent trying to get a real smile out of Gabe—


The amount of time I spent last night, trying to mash the puzzle pieces of our every interaction into something else, like I could fold it all up into a love story if I tried hard enough, bent my memories a little more—


It feels so small and sad all of a sudden, my delight that me and Gabe could like the same song, as if it meant something, our souls high-fiving out on the astral plane.


The reality is, there’s people who are liked, people who are easy to like (Leslie, Krista, Gabe) and then there’s me.


The reality is that I can’t RSVP to the party, because by the time finals end, the fake dating will be over, and I won’t even be talking to these kids anymore. Eight days. That’s what’s left. Eight days, and then prom, and then nothing.


KRISTA

(GROWING CONCERNED) Hey Zach? Wanna walk with me? What’s your next class? I have AP History.


ZACH

(NUMB) That’s fine. I can head down.


KRISTA

Great. I’ve been meaning to say—


ZACH NARRATION

(NOTE: PREVIOUSLY, ZACH’S NARRATION “FREEZES” THE ACTION, BUT HERE WHILE HE IS ABSOLUTELY FREAKING OUT, KRISTA CONTINUES TALKING WHILE ZACH THINKS.)

Christ, everyone’s been intending to talk to me lately. I wonder what the hell Gabe actually wants to discuss. Thank god I had this conversation first. Thank god I didn’t—


KRISTA

—anyway, point being, I’m sorry, and—


ZACH NARRATION

Krista, who has never done anything but give me free cider one time and harbor doubts about my pretend relationship. It's not her fault she knows an empty husk when she sees one.


I can't imagine where this is going. My mind is squirming furiously in every direction, but it’s motion with no purpose, like a swarm of something. Insects, bacteria, rats.


KRISTA

—worried it’ll be weird, I want you to know I wish I hadn’t interrogated you in the parking lot. It’s been a rough couple of months, and I’m glad you’re around. So, if you can’t make it, that’s fine. But if you want to come—you’re invited, okay?


ZACH

(VERY DISTANTLY) That’s great. I have to get to class now.


ZACH NARRATION

Tori is waiting for me in Spanish. Someone has carved some ugly words on my desk. I can hear my backpack drop to the floor. I don’t care, I don’t care.


ZACH

(WHISPERING) Tori. Tori, you need to get me out of here.


TORI

Señora Johnson? I don’t feel good. Uh, estoy enferma.


SEÑORA JOHNSON

Que lástima. Vaya, chica, vaya.


FX: ZACH AND TORI WALK OUT OF THE CLASSROOM, DOOR SHUTS, AND DOWN THE HALL. PEOPLE ARE STILL TALKING AND WALKING; THE BELL HASN’T RUNG YET. NOTE: ZACH DOES NOT PICK UP HIS BACKPACK.


ZACH NARRATION

We haven’t done this in years, but she knows the drill. Maybe she saw this coming. She always was the smarter one.


TORI

I can’t miss fifth hour.


ZACH NARRATION

Including lunch, that gives us four and a half hours. Plenty of time to calm down. Maybe.


TORI

If you want to smoke, Nick stopped by yesterday.


ZACH

He’s out of jail?


TORI

Time goddamn flies.


ZACH

Yes. Please. Where?


TORI

My house. (A BEAT) It’s fine, they won’t be home.


ZACH

If you’re sure.


TORI

I’m sure. C’mon, bell’s gonna ring any second, hide in a bathroom or something. My house in ten.


ZACH NARRATION

We used to do this all the time. Freshman year—my second freshman year—there was this weird mental spiral I used to get sometimes, a claustrophobia inside my head. Pretty much anything could set it off: a frown from a teacher, a dickish comment, retaking an English quiz I’d failed the year before, whatever.


It got to the point where Tori could tell if I needed to skip by looking at my face. She would say when and where to meet, and then I’d slip out of class, walk casually towards the east entrance, and make a break for it through the woods behind the school.


It’s not the most direct route, but it has the least visibility, and I was paranoid about getting caught back then. In retrospect, it’s funny: like my teachers would’ve been wringing their hands over the absence of another teen burnout. By that point, nobody was trying to talk to me about my potential anymore. But it hadn’t sunk in all the way yet, that I was no longer the kind of kid people worried about.


When Nick was arrested halfway through sophomore year, we cut back, for obvious reasons. By then, my freaky little brain cyclones had settled down, so there was less reason to skip. Still, it turns out I can navigate the woods by memory. Some shit stays with you.


TORI

Can you hand me that book? Over there? Grimm’s Fairytales?


ZACH NARRATION

Tori's bedroom is some kind of twisted monument to the girl she must have been before I knew her. Pink light fixture, pink bed, Disney-themed everything.


FX: A HEAVY HARDCOVER BOOK IS OPENED, A PLASTIC BAGGIE CRINKLES


ZACH

Whoa, a book with a secret compartment?


TORI

Pipe is on the windowsill.


ZACH

(LAUGHS A LITTLE)


TORI

What?


ZACH

Spy moves to stash your pot, but your pipe gets to hang out in the open?


TORI

Have you ever tried to hock a used pipe? Zero retail value. Now move, I need to light some incense.


FX: FLICK OF A LIGHTER, TWICE.


TORI

You need a refresher on how to do this?


ZACH

You’re hilarious.


TORI

(TAKES IN A LUNGFUL OF SMOKE)


ZACH

Give me that. (TAKES A DEEP, LONG BREATH OF SMOKE, BARELY NOT COUGHING) Muscle memory, man.


TRANSITION


ZACH

(VERY HIGH) Tori.


TORI

(ALSO PRETTY HIGH) What? We’re out. (FX: ZACH SHIFTS AROUND ON TORI’S FLOOR) Stay by the incense, it’ll hide the smell.


ZACH

Still think we should’ve gone with my plan.


TORI

Spraying each other down with Febreeze? That’s...a lot of things but it’s not a plan.


ZACH

Tori!


TORI

What?


ZACH

Didn’t you used to have a bookcase? And a desk? And a—like. Probably a dresser?


TORI

Some things change.


ZACH

(SAD) Some things don’t, but also some things do.


TORI

Yeah.


ZACH

I just—I like him so much.


TORI

I know.


ZACH

Him and all his—damn friends. I’m gonna miss them so much—


TORI

Why, where’s everybody going?


ZACH

After the break-up? The quote, unquote breakup?


TORI

Why do you assume everyone’s gonna shun you? That’s not—and you’ve got a whole week left. You should enjoy it.


ZACH

How.


TORI

Like, just. Roll it all up into one ball, and tear through the—through the iron gates—


ZACH

Whoa, you smoked what I smoked, how are you on acid right now.


TORI

It’s poetry, you jackass.


ZACH

Classy.


TORI

You’re smarter than you think. But you’re also so so stupid. Zach, they like you. I like you. People who aren’t bigoted dicks like you.


ZACK

I like you too. You’re normally not this cuddly when you’re high.


TORI

Shut up.


ZACH NARRATION

(NOTE: WHILE ZACH IS HIGH, HIS BACKGROUND MUSIC IS IN SOME WAY DISTORTED. BACKWARDS? SLOWED DOWN?) In the quiet of Tori’s room, with my back on the floor and my feet braced against her cotton candy-colored walls, I can remember how to breathe. My muscles are loose. My mind is blurry. Above me, an iridescent dolphin in a Lisa Frank poster is kinda giving me the stinkeye, but. For the first time in a long time, I feel relaxed. I feel okay.


I might doze off, because then Tori’s patting me with her foot.


TORI

Sober up. Time to sneak back into school.


ZACH NARRATION

Coming back is harder than leaving. Maybe there's a metaphor in there somewhere, but I’m focused on sneaking through the hallways unnoticed. We timed it wrong; fifth hour isn't over yet. Tori leaves for English and meanwhile, my backpack is still in Spanish. I’m not sure I thought this through.


FX: TENTATIVE FOOTSTEPS IN AN EMPTY HALLWAY.


ANDY

Zach!


FX: A PAIR OF RUNNING FOOTSTEPS TOWARDS ZACH


ZACH

Andy?


ANDY

Shit, dude, are you okay?


ZACH

...yeah.


ANDY

One sec.


FX: ANDY PULLS A FLIPPHONE FROM HIS POCKET, FLIPS IT OPEN, AND BEGINS TO RAPIDLY TYPE.


ZACH

(COMPLETELY CONFUSED) Who’re you texting?


ANDY

Everybody, man.


ZACH NARRATION

I open my mouth to remind Andy that everyone we know in common is way too rule-abiding to have their phones on during class, just as he finishes typing, slips his phone back in his pocket, and crushes me in a hug so tight it could double as a wrestling move.


Is Andy drunk? He doesn’t smell like alcohol.


ANDY

That was completely nuts. I want the full story later, okay?


FX: ANOTHER SET OF RUNNING FOOTSTEPS


GABE

(BREATHLESS) Zach? You okay?


ZACH

(COMPLETELY LOST) Gabe. I’m fine.


GABE

Thank you, Andy. For everything. You should get back to class.


ANDY

Yeah, no doubt they miss me. See you at the meeting!


FX: ANDY’S FOOTSTEPS JOGGING AWAY


GABE

You really are alright?


ZACH

Um, yes? Are you?


GABE

What happened? Where were you?


ZACH

Stepped out for a while.


GABE

Why? Did someone threaten you? Were you hiding?


ZACH NARRATION

Gabe is asking a lot of questions for someone who still hasn’t explained what he’s doing in the hallway during class. Except maybe I didn’t ask? My thoughts are sticky and slow-moving.


Is this the flip side to hanging out with a movie hero, that everything becomes a melodrama? ‘Hey, I noticed you were away, by any chance, were you tied to train tracks while a football player snarled and twirled a mustache?’


ZACH

No big deal, man.


ZACH NARRATION

My balance threatens to tilt but I catch myself conveniently against Gabe’s shoulder, the fabric soft under my palms. Gabe reaches up to steady me, automatic. I take a deep breath of orange-y smell and think maybe if I stand very still, everyone will forget about me and I can just stay here, like a mostly washed-out stain. (‘Yo, Gabe, you’ve got something on your shirt.’ ‘Oh, that’s just Zach.’)


ZACH

(GIGGLES)


GABE

What. (A BEAT) Are you drunk?


ZACH

(STILL AMUSED DESPITE HIMSELF) Dude, uh, wrong substance?


GABE

Did you—did you literally leave school at seven-thirty in the morning to get high?


ZACH NARRATION

Gabe pushes me away. We’ve been locked into the bubble of our pretend world for so long, I had genuinely forgotten he could do this to me, make me feel like pond scum with one look.


ZACH

(MUTTERING) Would you chill.


GABE

Are you—you’re not even going to apologize?


ZACH

For what? Look, I’m sorry not everyone can meet your godlike standards, but it’s a free country and I skipped—not even a whole day—


GABE

(ALMOST TOO ANGRY TO SPEAK) Zach. You were gone. Do I need to spell it out—


ZACH

Jesus. Aren’t you taking the clingy boyfriend act a little far, dear? Tori was gone, too. You gonna freak out on her, or am I special?


ZACH NARRATION

Gabe is so quick to judge me, so prepared. Maybe he’s been waiting the whole time. Through all of the rides in my van and the smiles across the cafeteria and the arm around my waist in the hall, maybe Gabe has been running a countdown in his head until the day I inevitably proved myself unworthy.


Never mind that he was right.


GABE

What are you talking about? Tori left because she was sick. You disappeared. For five hours.


ZACH

How do you know that?


GABE

Because we looked, Zach. (GABE’S VOICE IS CLIMBING) Because when we couldn’t find you at lunch, we checked—all the classes you’d missed, the library, every bathroom, the parking lot. (HE SWALLOWS) The ditch around the parking lot. Because we all skipped fifth hour to keep looking. Leslie took a zero on a test, just to—


ZACH

Okay, how is that my fault?


GABE

Jesus Christ, can you just think for one second. (THIS IS THE ANGRIEST WE HAVE EVER HEARD HIM) We go to a school where kids get attacked and threatened as a matter of course, do you have any idea how—Ponni was halfway into a panic attack—and you know what the funny thing is? Your Spanish teacher told us you’d probably skipped. And we were so mad, for even suggesting—Krista kept yelling, ‘He wouldn’t leave without telling one of us, he’s our friend—’


ZACH

Um.


GABE

You’re right, it is a free country. And when you’re on your own, fine, you can go be a burnout, I don’t care. But when your bullshit hurts my friends—


ZACH

I’ll, um. I can—tell them I’m sorry. At the meeting.


GABE

Don’t come to the meeting today. You and me, I can’t sell this right now.


ZACH NARRATION

This is the guy I thought might like me back. It feels like being punched in the stomach. I manage to nod. I think I manage to nod. I can’t argue with it, can’t argue any of it.


GABE

Do you, uh, need to go to the hospital?


ZACH

Why?


GABE

Because of all the drugs you took.


ZACH

(LAUGHS MEANLY) Nobody in the history of time has ever overdosed on pot.


GABE

Fine.


ZACH NARRATION

He has one foot like he’s about to go, and if I skip the meeting, that means I can’t drive him home, which means we can’t talk in my van. Eight more days and—smoking didn’t work at all; I’m still panicking.


ZACH

Gabe. Uh, what were you—


GABE

What.


ZACH

In my van after the meeting. There was something you wanted to talk to me about? Or ask me, or—


ZACH NARRATION

Gabe stares at me. I stare back, trying to read anything there like fondness, any sign that I wasn’t insane for thinking maybe I wasn’t alone in this stupid crush.


GABE

God. Never mind.


FX: GABE’S FOOTSTEPS WALK AWAY DECISIVELY


ZACH

(EXHALES SHAKILY)


ZACH NARRATION

There’s no point going back to class. The problem is, my backpack is still in Spanish. I trudge down, peer through the door window. I’m aware I should wait for passing period, but it’s hard to care. Everything feels a little numb and distant.


When I look up again, Señora Johnson is standing there in the hallway with my backpack hanging from one hand.


SEÑORA JOHNSON

Found this behind a bookcase.


ZACH

Uh.


SEÑORA JOHNSON

(ALMOST CONVERSATIONAL) You know, your grades have been improving?


ZACH

Thanks.


SEÑORA JOHNSON

Your friends came to check on you.


ZACH

...yeah.


SEÑORA JOHNSON

Look. I understand you're having a hard time right now. But that's no excuse for truancy. I won’t report your absence to the office. This time.


ZACH

Okay.


SEÑORA JOHNSON

Let this be a learning experience. We're on Chapter 15. Questions one through eighteen. Nineteen and twenty for extra credit. Here, take your backpack.


ZACH

Thanks.


SEÑORA JOHNSON

Zach, I’m sure this can’t be easy, but don’t do something you’re gonna regret, okay?


ZACH NARRATION

I climb back up the stairs, sneak down the hallway. The bell’s ringing as I ease the side door open. Nobody stops me. I scuttle back to my van like a beetle crawling under a log. It's barely one o'clock. I back out of the parking lot and head home. The one saving grace is that it's Friday. There's nothing to keep me from collapsing face down onto my bed and sleeping until I forget my own name if I want.


I want.


When I open my eyes again, it's dark out. My cellphone says 10:22. I stare at the ceiling. On some level, I know I should eat, but the blankets are warm, and I’m not hungry. I wonder what they talked about at the meeting. Maybe it's good this happened, I try to tell myself. If Gabe doesn't want me around—well, in the long run that will be easier. This is what I wanted anyway: a clean break. I was never Gabe's favorite person to begin with. In the long run, nothing's even changed.


I wrestle myself out of bed and shuffle towards the door. From the kitchen, I can hear a cabinet opening and closing. The familiar shush of the dishwasher starting up. Dad, probably. I circle back deeper into my room.


I could call Tori, see if she wants to come over. I realize, with a lurch, that she doesn't even know yet about the mini-manhunt, about my fight in the hallway and the cold fury on Gabe's face. The last time me and Tori talked, I hadn't even ruined everything yet.


Except really I ruined everything hours before, when I decided to skip.


Except really I ruined everything when I asked Gabe to prom in the first place. When I started going to meetings. When I saw Gabe that first day in detention and didn't run as hard as I could in the other direction.


There's no point calling Tori. It would go straight to voicemail anyway. On the off-chance she'll answer an email, I grab my ancient, blundering laptop and sign in.


There's one new message in my inbox, no subject line.


It's from Gabe.


The timestamp says it was sent six hours ago. Gabe must have written it right after he got home. What possibly couldn't wait until Monday? Does Gabe want to talk, or—? My hands are shaking.


FX: ZACH CLICKS.


ZACH NARRATION

The window loads, sluggish.


GABE

(VOICE TINNY AND FAR OFF) ‘Told them you were ill.’


ZACH NARRATION

That's it. No greeting, no sign-off, just one sentence. Well, what in the world was I expecting? A “Hey, just kidding”? An apology?


Dad is probably upstairs by now. I really should eat something. I should get up, leave the room, find food, eat it, rinse the dishes, change my clothes at some point—


I dig the heel of my hand into my eyes and look back towards my bed. It’s not really a hard call.


Saturday afternoon, my phone rings. Unknown number.


FX: CELL PHONE RINGING.


ZACH

Hello?


TORI

Good evening sir, just calling to let you know your special order came in. Five copies of Everybody Poops, just for you.


ZACH

Hey, Tori.


ZACH NARRATION

She does this sometimes, calls me from the library phone while the head librarian’s on a meal break, pretending to deal with annoying customers.


TORI

(IN AN UNDERTONE) Talked to Krista. Kinda figured you’d text someone to tell ‘em you were leaving, dude.


ZACH

Didn’t think about it.


TORI

She said Ponni got so worried, she threw up.


ZACH

What?


TORI

Didn't even aim it into Richardson's office. Waste of puke.


ZACH

...yeah.


TORI

So, like. If you’re still wondering if these people give a shit about you.


ZACH

They wouldn't, if they—I mean, if they knew what really happened.


TORI

Gabe told them you missed because you were like, delirious with fever.


ZACH

I know.


TORI

You're lucky he covered for you.


ZACH

(IN A RUSH) He's never gonna forgive me. Tori, he was so, so angry.


TORI

Dude, you can't know that. Never is a long—


ZACH

(SNAPPISH) I get how 'never' works. You weren't there, okay? It was bad.


TORI

So, Krista works at the Joann’s by Panera and today, a lady tried to shoplift six skeins of Merino wool by shoving them down her own pants. Turned out she was mega allergic. They had to call an ambulance. She was screaming at Krista for not putting a warning on it. Like, 'Danger: wool contains wool.'


ZACH

Tori—


TORI

‘‘Do not shoplift. Do not put on butt.’


ZACH

Tori, what’s your point?


TORI

Don’t get a job. It’s a trap.


ZACH

He hates me. He hates me, and I don't blame him. What do I—


TORI

Dunno, man. If it makes you feel any better, the library’s so boring right now, I think I’m actually jealous of the girl getting yelled at by a lady with yarn in her underpants.


ZACH

Why do people always say that, ‘if it makes you feel better’ and then some shitty thing that happened to them? What kind of asshole would I be if that cheered me up?


TORI

I don’t know. How’s it going sitting around listening to the same five-year-old nu metal album over and over and feeling sorry for yourself?


ZACH

Joke’s on you, madam. I’m not sitting, I’m in the fetal position.


TORI

(SNORTS)


ZACH

Wanna come over? After your shift or whatever?


TORI

Krista’s picking me up. Just, don’t spend the whole weekend by yourself. Invite somebody over. But not Leslie, she’s with us tonight.


ZACH

Jesus, then who?


TORI

Andy? Ponni?


ZACH NARRATION

Yesterday I gave Ponni what sounds like more than half a panic attack through my own carelessness. I’m not sure I could look either of them in the eye right now.


ZACH

(GROANS)


TORI

Y’know that thing where you make everything way harder than it needs to be?


ZACH

You mean my every waking moment?


TORI

I don’t really know what to tell you, Zach. Nobody’s dead. Nobody’s dying. In the scheme of things, this is not that big of a problem.


ZACH

(SNAPPISH) Thanks for the sympathy.


TORI

Alright sir, and we will call you when the Hello Kitty chapterbooks are available for pickup.


ZACH

Is your manager back?


TORI

Mm-hmm, we’ve got your number on file.


ZACH

Sorry. That was shitty, I'm just—shitty, today. Have fun with Krista and Leslie.


TORI

Thank you, and remember, you can always count on your local public library.


FX: CALL ENDS


ZACH NARRATION

My scalp itches. I haven’t washed my hair since Thursday. Tori’s right about a lot of things. The whole weekend’s been nothing but Linkin Park and whining to myself about what a waste of carbon I am.


I look down at my phone. When I dug it out of my bag this morning, I had nine missed calls and four voicemails, all from my supposed disappearance. One of the voicemails was from Leslie, one was from Andy. At least one was definitely from Gabe. I made myself delete them all, because otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to stop myself from listening.


I’m not sure if any of the calls were Ponni, but maybe she was freaking out too badly to hold a phone. I roll over onto my stomach, trying to think of a subtle way I could maybe figure out if she’s okay now. Would it be weird to send a quick “Yo are you recovered from your panic attack” text?


ZACH

(FX: TYPING ON A PHONE) “Hey dude—” That’s not enough. Something else, c’mon. (FX: SLOWLY TYPING ON A PHONE) (SLOWLY) “tell me something cool about space?”


ZACH NARRATION

It’s the dumbest text I’ve ever written to anyone. We don’t know each other that well. We only hang out when Ponni teaches me Algebra or talks to me about her webcomic. If she’s still panicking at all, there’s no way she’s got the energy for that shit.


ZACH

(TO HIMSELF) Well damn, you can’t make it worse than you already did. Hit send. Hit send. Hit send.


FX: THE MESSAGE SENDS


ZACH NARRATION

I look down at my phone, but it doesn’t immediately do anything because Ponni isn’t telepathic. How long will it be before I can tell if she is officially not-answering my text? I scratch at my head some more. My fingers come away shiny.


ZACH

(TO HIMSELF) Maybe you should take a shower, dude.


FX: SHOWER


ZACH NARRATION

The shower actually helps about five percent. If I think about what happened Friday, or what’s going to happen Monday, it’s like staring into an abyss, but the warm water is nice. The soft towels are nice, and when I come back, I have ten new texts from Ponni.


PONNI

(TINNY AND DISTANT)

frick that is harsh, man. ONE cool thing?


like asking me to pick my favorite child if i had 5000 children and some of my children were BLACK HOLES


EVERYTHING ABOUT SPACE IS COOL


ok one thing: the universe is always expanding in every direction & always expanding faster & eventually its gonna grow faster than the speed of light!!


also we’ve got a planet in our very own solar system that spins sideways and each pole gets 42 YEARS of day/night bc thats how far uranus is tilted


(that’s what she said)


Sorry


no wait! my actual favorite space fact


in the 50s when we put out our first satellite we threw on a radiation detector for the heck of it, nobody thought there was radiation in space


BUT TURNS OUT above the atmosphere theres giant belts of charged particles trapped by earths magnetic field (!!!)


they’d been up there the whole time, wrapped around the planet, protecting us from solar winds & nobody even knew


ZACH NARRATION

I hug my arms to my chest, blinking fast.


ZACH

(TYPING) “Thanks.”


FX: PHONE BUZZES WITH A TEXT


PONNI

(TINNY AND DISTANT) ps want 2 come over andy is making GRILLED CHEESE


ZACH

The good news is that clearly Ponni’s not cowering in a corner somewhere. The bad news is I need to find a way to duck out of this without hurting her feelings, but also without putting on real pants or leaving the house or getting into a car or talking to anyone not aware of what an incredible, sprawling mess of a person I am.


ZACH

(TYPING) Sorry, not feelin too good.


FX: PHONE BUZZES WITH A TEXT


PONNI

(TINNY AND DISTANT) OH NO are you still sick??? feel better soon! [Frowny face, frowny face, frowny face]


ZACH NARRATION

So there it is. I can’t even send someone a silly text without making them feel shitty.


I throw my phone down and lie back on the floor. It’s not that I want to waste my whole weekend, but I’m not sure there’s anything I can stand to do. Sitting at my computer makes me think of sharing headphones with Gabe. Reading Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone is the same problem. Working on Astro-cat brings me to Ponni again. Everything twists, inevitably, around again to how badly I screwed up.


I roll onto my side.


'Why are you so determined to do nothing?’


Gabe said that to me, once. It’s a good point. That’s the problem with Gabe: he’s usually right.


Even doing nothing reminds me of Gabe. Sleeping it is.


On Sunday, I wake up on my own at nine in the morning, which is a sure sign of the End of Days. Dogs will walk upright. Dinosaurs will return to earth. Peanut butter and jelly will switch places. Americans will be okay with bisexuals.


The trouble is, I’ve slept so much already, I can’t force myself back under. On my phone, there are no new messages, just that string of agonized frowny faces from Ponni.


ZACH

(FX: TYPING) “hey, feeling better today.” Except if she just wrote that to be nice, there’s no point bugging her, asshole. Except if she didn’t write it to be nice, I’m officially the worst person alive. (TYPING) “wanna come over and play videogames?” What are you even doing, talking to yourself? Are you a guy who talks to himself now? Become a guy who’s brave enough to send a goddamn text.


FX: TEXT SENDING NOISE


FX: ZACH FLIPS HIS PHONE CLOSED.


ZACH NARRATION

Then I turn off my phone, throw it in the garbage, and force myself to do all of my Spanish homework, including the extra credit, just to torture myself.


When I finish number twenty, I retrieve my phone and fumble it back on. If Ponni loves one thing more than she loves space, it’s sending four or five texts in a row:


PONNI

(DISTANT AND TINNY)

yes!!!


what’s your address?


never mind, andy called your bf


ZACH NARRATION

I barely even have time to register the swoop in my stomach, what a terrible conversation that must have been, because the last message reads,


PONNI (DISTANT AND TINNY)

over in 1 hr let me know if that’s not ok


ZACH

“Sent fifty three minutes ago.” What is with you Social Justice kids and just showing up at my house?


ZACH NARRATION

Ponni and Andy arrive just as I’m trying to clear off space on my floor. I appreciate how they don’t react to how gross my room is, how they seem to take it at face value that the reason I keep staring into nothingness and freezing is the remnants of some terrible flu. They catch me up on how last night went. They both have strong feelings about cheese.


FX: VIDEO GAME SOUNDS


PONNI

Munster? More like Muns-trocity! (LAUGHS VERY HARD)


(FX: A VIDEO GAME CONTROLLER IS DROPPED. SEVERAL VIDEO GAME GUNSHOTS. SOUND OF A VIDEO GAME BODY HITTING THE GROUND.)


PONNI

Oops.


ANDY

Eh, don’t mourn him, he died doing what he loved.


ZACH

Getting shot in the chest.


ANDY

Laughing about cheese. It was all that jerk ever wanted.


PONNI

A fine life. A goud-a life.


ZACH

(JOKING) Get out of my house.


PONNI

Too late, friend! You invited us in! Vampire rules, there’s nothing you can do!


ZACH

Andy, help me out here.


ANDY

Think she means nothing you can fon-due.


ZACH

No....


ANDY

There’s no use, you’re surrounded.


ZACH NARRATION

I sit wedged between them and forget about my shit for minutes at a time.


It has to end eventually.


ANDY

Family dinner tonight. My oldest sister’s in town with her twin three-year-olds.


ZACH

Wow, can’t imagine.


ANDY

You don’t have to. Ponni’s coming along, you can come too.


ZACH

No thanks, dude. I don’t think I can stomach a pair of shouting kids right now.


ANDY

Yeah, the screaming loses its shine real fast. One more cheese pun for the road?


ZACH

No whey.


ZACH NARRATION

It’s worth it for the look of pure delight on Ponni’s face.


PONNI

Hey. Call us if you’re ever feeling bleu.


ZACH

(TOUCHED) Thanks, man. That’s—thanks.


PONNI

You know, just in queso.


ZACH

Get out of my house.


ZACH NARRATION

I spend the rest of the night lying with my face mashed into the pillow, waiting for Sunday to be over.


Of course, with the end of Sunday comes Monday. It's the definition of a pyrrhic victory, but what can you do? I drag myself out of bed. I drag myself into my car. Andy's mix is still in the CD player. I turn on the radio instead, twist the volume knob until the windows rattle. I drag myself to school.


I pull out my mp3 player, put in my headphones. The angriest, loudest, least political music

I’ve got escorts me out of the parking lot and onto the sidewalk. I shove open the doors, elbow my way through the crowd.


What's it even going to look like, if Gabe tries to keep the act going in the face of how angry he is right now? A forest fire trying to pass itself off as a scented candle. It's going to be absolutely terrible, and there is nothing at all I can do about it. My mouth is dry. I switch to a song with more shouting, make a dive for the drinking fountain.


Maybe it's the music or maybe I’m just that distracted, but either way, I don’t even register that someone's yelling at me until I feel a sharp yank at the back of my hair.


FX: HALLWAY DIN, A TERRIBLE THUD, ZACH’S LOUD ANGRY MUSIC GIVES WAY TO A RINGING.


ZACH NARRATION

Then my head slams into the drinking fountain and I stop tracking things for a while.


The actual pain doesn’t register for a long moment, and then, uh, it registers.


FX: THE RINGING FADES. THE HALLWAY DIN AND THE MUSIC IS BACK


ZACH

Jesus Christ! Jesus Christ!


LESLIE

Zach! Are you okay?


ZACH

Leslie? Ow.


LESLIE

Hey, hey, let’s get you untangled from your headphones.


FX: THE MUSIC STOPS


ZACH NARRATION

I think she might be frowning but it's hard to tell because one eye isn't opening so easily and the other won't stop watering.


ZACH

Ow. Shit.


LESLIE

How can you tell if someone's got a concussion?


KRISTA

Don’t know. Hand me your phone?


FX: A NUMBER IS DIALED


KRISTA

Ponni, oh thank god thank god, listen, are you anywhere near the South wing?


LESLIE

Did you see anything? Who it was, or—


ZACH

No.


LESLIE

Krista and I only saw him from the back. Tall, backwards hat, I think a football jersey? The number on it ended in something round, like a three or an eight, if that rings any—


ZACH

Sorry.


ZACH NARRATION

There's a parable here, I think, about taunting homophobes for fun. It’s like bullfighting, except I’m not the toreador, I’m the cloth the toreador waves in front of the bull or—what do bulls eat? Hay?


That can’t be right.


Jesus, my head hurts.


LESLIE

Dammit, who’s gonna call Gabe—


ZACH

(TOO LOUD) No! (A BEAT) He’ll freak out.


LESLIE

He’ll freak out more when he finds out you didn’t tell him.


ZACH

(STILL IN A TON OF PAIN) Please.


Humor the guy with the head injury? I don’t—


KRISTA

It’s okay. We won’t call Gabe, I promise.


GABE

Oh my god, what the hell is going on?


KRISTA

But maybe I texted him while we were talking?


PONNI

Zach, it’s Ponni. Do you feel like you’re gonna throw up?


ZACH

What?


PONNI

My PalmPilot says it’s a symptom of concussion. Blurry vision? Headache?


ZACH

(LAUGHS, SOBBINGLY) You know, now that you mention it, I guess I do have a slight ache, right around this eye that won’t open?


GABE

If he's making jokes, is that a good sign or a bad sign?


PONNI

I don’t know, I'm not a psychologist. Zach. Are you having trouble concentrating or thinking clearly? Do you feel tired or anxious or emotional?


ZACH

(LAUGHS WILDLY) Oh snap, what if I've had a concussion my whole life?


GABE

Okay, at the very least, nurse’s office.


KRISTA

Definitely. I’ll check with Andy, see if we can track down the guy who pushed him—


ZACH

Needle in a haystack, dude. Needle in a—needle-pile.


PONNI

The nurse won’t be able to diagnose a concussion for sure. But—ice, painkillers—can you stand?


ZACH

I could stand for painkillers.


ZACH NARRATION

About eight hands reach out to help me up. I wipe at the eye that’s not swollen.


KRISTA

Bell’s gonna ring. Who’s walking him there?


ZACH

I’m fine. (STILL IN TREMENDOUS PAIN)


GABE

I can do it.


ZACH NARRATION

Over the sound of the bell, I force back an almost animal panic. I know we need to talk at some point, but I’d hoped we could do it on something like equal footing. Or that when the time came, I would at least not be trembling and crying a little and probably oozing pus. But the others are nodding, getting ready to leave.


KRISTA

See you at lunch. Feel better, Zachariah.


LESLIE

We’re gonna figure out who did this. People must’ve seen his face.


PONNI

Don’t let her give you anything with ibuprofen. It’ll—


ZACH

Thin the blood, I know. I’ll ask for Tylenol.


KRISTA

Hey, just make it to lunch. Four hours, and then we’ll be hanging out again.


ZACH NARRATION

For all her drama kid nonsense, Krista really is a good egg.


LESLIE

Stay strong.


ZACH NARRATION

Coming from Leslie, that’s like Everest saying, ‘Have you considered being a really tall mountain?'


But.


ZACH

Yeah. See you.


ZACH NARRATION

I watch the group peel off in various directions, and then it’s just the three of us: Gabe, me, and whatever misplaced sense of duty made Gabe volunteer to, uh, help me walk down a hallway.


KAY

This episode features


MATTHEW

Matthew Sabido as Zach


CHRIS

Chris Rivera as Gabe


MINA

Mina Nathans as Señora Johnson


REGINA

Regina Renée Russell as Krista


PAIGE

Paige Alena as Leslie


SOPHIA

Sophia Babai as Ponni


PERSEUS

Perseus Rebelo as Andy


ISHANI

Ishani Kanetkar as Tori


RACHEL

Directed by Rachel Mackenzie Kellum


MICHAELA

Production coordination by Michaela Whatnall


PHOEBE

Sound effects by Phoebe Izzard Davey


REBECCA

Audio mixing by Rebecca Lynn


JESS

Written by Jessica Best


Zach’s narration music is written, performed, and produced by Chiron Star.


KAY

And I’ve been Kay Watson, your morning announcements. Have a great day, Columbus High!


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