Trevor sat in a booth with Nadia for the restaurant etiquette class they were forced to take by The Young Adult Transition Program. Teenage boys throwing fries, a family with a crying baby, and men wearing suits with napkins tucked into the collars ate, laughed, and talked beside him and Nadia, who hadn’t spoken to each other since arriving at the fast-food restaurant. Trevor hated them, normal people who didn’t have staff telling them when to shit and clean the toilet. Neuro-typical idiots with their secret club, handshake and rules. He picked up his hamburger and contemplated his Asperger’s Syndrome. This diagnosis seemed implausible. His general interests were typical for a nineteen-year-old: girls, video games, animation, graphic novels, and the mating habits of wild animals. Nadia took a bite of her hamburger, which reminded Trevor of a snake unhinging its jaw. She wiped her hands on her jeans.
“Garth told me you’re a cold fish at restaurants,” she said.
“What does that even mean?” He glared and frowned, and he knew he shouldn’t because of Nadia’s like him and his roommate Garth, good people with bad diagnoses.
“You don’t talk much.” She put on her high-school swim team jacket. “That’s okay. I still like you.”
“That jacket,” he said, “You look normal, you can pass as one of them.” He pointed to a teenager with ketchup on his shirt. She pressed her lips together and squinted at the guy. “I’m not calling you a man. You’re strong like one―I mean you’re athletic―but you’re cute―pretty.” Nadia turned away with a shy smile, and he blushed. She reached out to him, and Trevor thought she wanted to hold hands. Nadia gave him Chapstick. She’d bought this for him while at the grocery store with other students and staff. Some guy shouted “retard” from the ordering line, and Trevor knew it was directed at him. People always know just by looking at me. He zipped his coat up to his nose.
* * *
Trevor listened to the rain pecking his bedroom window of the two-family house he resided in. The staff referred to it as “student apartment,” but to Trevor it was a residential building with two private rooms. The twin bed sheets were a gnarled mess around his ankles. The pit-pit-patter of rain tapped away, and his mind anxiously awaited each ping on the glass. He had never learned to play the piano, like his mom had wanted, because the teacher had a coo-coo clock in her home, and instead of learning notes and finger positions, he counted the clock’s tics, anticipating the bird’s crooning every half hour.
He was up. He fumbled for his glasses on the nightstand and found them lens down next to the alarm clock. He stepped into his slippers and grabbed the robe that was thrown by his bed. He was still pre-counting the rain. Video games would distract him.
Trevor walked down the hallway into the living room, which was poorly lit by a floor lamp. His roommate, Garth, was watching a show and eating brownie mix out of a bowl. Garth laughed, drooling chocolate out of the corners of his mouth. Garth’s fingers swiped down from his lips to his chin, leaving two fudgy streaks behind.
“Would you be so kind and vacate the TV,” said Trevor.
“The rain, a finger drumming, tap, tap, tap.”
“Huh?” Garth spooned another heaping mound into his mouth.
“Sleep should be on the agenda, but the rain, the cruel mistress that she is, has other plans.”
Garth gaped at Trevor. “You can’t sleep?”
“That is correct.”
“And you want the TV?”
“Not so much the TV,” said Trevor crossing his arms. “Perhaps a rousing video game is just what the doctor ordered.”
“No problem,” said Garth. “Why didn’t you just say so?”
I thought my message was clear in its delivery.
Garth put the bowl on the table and brushed the crumbs off the couch. He’s a good man, thought Trevor, certainly better than the roommate who, a year ago, was removed from the facility for punching a hole in his bedroom wall with his head.
“Eat something, too,” said Garth grabbing his cellphone. “My kid brother weighs as much as―”
“He most certainly does not!”
“It was a joke, dude.” Garth called from down the hall. He closed his bedroom door.
* * *
Near the end of class, the Speech Pathologist drew the outline of a human head on the whiteboard. Overlapping the brain area and extending slightly above the cranium was a second drawing, a light bulb. She wrote the word “metacognition” and then a dash― “thinking about thinking.” Trevor shook his head at her insufferable way of omitting the dots of her i’s. She put down the marker and turned to the students.
Nadia sat to his left and texted. One student listened to his iPod while sniffing his fingers. Another feverishly tapped at his keyboard keys, cursing the program for its shitty wireless connection. Garth drew Anime characters on lined paper from the series School Rumble, which Trevor knew was Nadia’s favorite. Nadia smiled at Trevor, pulling her long braid off her shoulder. Trevor groused and ignored her.
“Metacognition,” began the Speech Pathologist, “is being aware of your thoughts―”
“That’s asinine,” said Trevor. “Thoughts can only exist because one is aware of having them.”
“You’re correct, but if you―”
“A thought occurs,” Trevor said, “you process it, and the result displays itself through speech, action―”
“My turn,” said the Pathologist with a hand on Trevor’s shoulder. “Metacognition is being aware of your thoughts in a situation, making a plan for that situation, monitoring your progress, and evaluating the end result.” She walked back to the whiteboard.
“So,” said the Pathologist, looking toward Trevor, “let’s use this situation. You’re aware that you’re smarter than me―”
“Than I am,” said Trevor.
“Than I am. Thank you.” She brought her hand to her chin, and Trevor saw a mole on her lip, an imperfect nevus—not even a symmetrical circle. “You think I’m wrong and stupid, but you’re thinking about your thoughts and that you shouldn’t share them.” The mole changed shape as she talked, even looked bigger at times. He hated that mole, which entertained and confused him; he is hating something so insignificant and it made her strange, and yet this seemed moot to everyone else.
“It would be wrong to correct the teacher,” said the pathologist, “so you make a plan to keep those ideas to yourself.” She walked around the table, and the mole fell out of sight. “During class, as you think of these things―the teacher is defining an abstract concept, the teacher is using improper grammar―you also work at keeping them to yourself; you’re monitoring your thoughts.”
“Is class over yet?” he said louder than he’d intended.
“I want everyone to reflect about today. Did you keep those thoughts to yourself? Did you make others uncomfortable?” She handed out notebook paper. “Write a paragraph,” Trevor remembered the other students and saw them staring, except for one who banged on his keyboard and called Trevor an ass. His stomach soured, and he decided to write a letter to the Director of the program listing all the reasons why he didn’t need this class.
The door cracked open and Staff with a nose ring poked her head in asking if class was over. The Pathologist waved her over, and Trevor wrote reason three, “the absurdity of an insipid wrench teaching me about uncomfortable situations is hubris on her part.”
“Trev,” said Garth, leaning forward. “You were brilliant.” Garth quietly applauded his gallant efforts. Trevor smirked.
“He’s so cute.” said the Pathologist, looking at a phone. Obviously at Staff’s brat. “Bath time.” She’s looking at naked pictures of kids. He wrote reason four, “she’s a pedophile.”
* * *
Trevor hated cooking, but he hated cooking class even more. The students were broken up into groups. Garth and Nadia were his partners, and they had a mock sword fight in the kitchen using wooden spoons as their rapiers. They were in Nadia’s apartment, which she shared with Lynn. The two were impeccably neat, and Trevor appreciated this; his own roommate would leave his cereal bowls all over the living room. The Staff had no problem scheduling an emergency meeting with the Director the time Trevor had held left chicken bones in the sink and maggots hatched, but if Trevor complained about Garth, Staff told him to worry about his own goals.
One of the few male staff, wearing an oversized polo shirt, came into the kitchen dancing. “What up, Jackalopes,” he said.
“What’s a jackalope?” asked Nadia, thrusting her weapon at Garth.
“A jackrabbit with antlers,” said Garth with the spoon under his armpit. He collapsed to the floor pretending to be dead. Trevor made a mental note not to cook with that spoon.
“Are they real?” she said.
“You bet,” said Garth.
“They’re a myth, completely fictitious,” said Trevor. He clicked his tongue. “Some taxidermist threw a dead jackrabbit across his floor, and it happened to slide next to a pair of antlers, and what do you know? The birth of the jackalope. Douglas Herrick was the Einstein-slash-father.” He pulled dead skin off his lips.
“No, bro, they’re real,” said Garth as he stood up. “My uncle in Nebraska shot one on his farm a few years back. When he felt the little bugger’s head, there were horns.”
“Yes, a disease caused by parasites, no doubt,” said Trevor. “Imagine that. The little bugger’s different, so he’s labeled a jackalope.” Garth elbowed Nadia. She smiled.
“Didn’t mean to start an inquisition over jackalopes,” said Staff. “Let’s just stay focused on the meatball grinders.” He slipped his hands into his side pockets of his jeans, paused, and then dipped into the back pockets. “I must’ve left the recipe in the office. Be right back.” Trevor shook his head. Staff should’ve been prepared.
“I’m getting cereal,” said Garth. He opened a cabinet over the microwave.
“We don’t have any,” said Nadia.
“You’re weird,” said Nadia, looking at the floor. She pulled on her braid. Trevor’s heart ached. He should say something, do something. Punch Garth’s nose. Demand an apology for the lady. He could sweep her into his arms and walk out of the room, out of the building, and away from the program, freeing them from all of this shit. Would she kiss me then?
Garth grabbed peanut butter from the cabinet and turned toward Nadia. He tapped her shoulder and pulled a plastic spider ring off his finger and gave it to her. She giggled, sliding it on her thumb. Trevor’s stomach bottomed out. What a fucking waste everything is.
Staff returned. “Where are the supplies?” he said.
“I bought the meat, and it’s in the office refrigerator,” said Garth. He spooned out peanut butter and plopped it into his mouth.
“I bought the ketchup and breadcrumbs,” said Trevor with a disdainful look at Garth. “They sit in a pathetic, plastic bag on our kitchen table.”
“The onion and eggs are in the cooking classroom,” said Nadia.
“Garth and Nadia, come with me,” said Staff as he lifted his keys off his neck. “Trevor, you go to your apartment and get―”
“This is ridiculous,” said Trevor. “We should be ready.”
“Why didn’t you bring the supplies?” said Staff.
“Why didn’t you tell us to? A regime of fearless leaders, goose-stepping about; barking orders: wake up by seven, take daily showers, and show up to these stupid classes on time. But we’re supposed to extract from this establishment what we’re responsible for?” Fire engines raced down the street. All ways the siren around this hell hole. The station was down the road. It takes over everything and kicks the shit out of my brain. They faded and everyone dropped their hands from their ears.
“Trevor, you have a schedule,” said Staff. “Meal prep is always at this time. We discussed this last night, the meatball grinders.” Trevor wanted a clever comeback, something about the hypocrisy, the contradictions, and the lunacy of Staffs’ expectations.
“Fuck this place.” Trevor slammed the door on his way out.
* * *
Trevor sat in his apartment cleaning his nails with a straightened paperclip. The light bulb buzzed, and Trevor grumbled, cursing Garth for spending time with Lynn and Nadia. Grabbing the remote, he turned on the TV, changed the channel to Animal Planet, and raised the volume to drown out the cheap lamp.
“Firebellied toads mate in the spring,” said the announcer. Trevor looked up. “The male emits a loud, barking sound to draw the female to the pond.” He put his chin in his hand, thinking the word “bark” didn’t quite capture the sound the toad made. “The female approaches the pond and finds her mate floating with extended limbs and inflated vocal sacs.”
There was a knock at his door. The rhythmic taps pulled him away, and as the toads fell from Trevor’s conscious, and his living room took their place, he acknowledged the knocker. He opened the door. Nadia stood before him with her long hair slightly curled against her back. She wore a dress with bright yellow and brown tiger markings. Over the dress was an unbuttoned camouflage sweater. Trevor smelled raspberries. Generally, a woman’s perfume gave him a headache, but Nadia’s was intoxicating.
“I feel weird over there and bored,” she said. “Wanna play Uno?”
“A game for pre-pubescent cretins with two brain cells-worth of strategy and a smidgen of luck. No thanks.” He slammed the door. The scene on the TV showed a male toad swimming toward the lady toad. The toad grabbed the top of her legs. Trevor grinds his teeth and opened the door just as Nadia was starting down the stairs. “Do you like toads?”
“Who doesn’t?” she leaned over the railing, and the front of her dress dropped just enough to reveal the edge of a black bra. That has to be a sign, an invitation.
* * *
After Nadia left, Trevor took a shower. It was a quarter to one. He smelled Head and Shoulders, but raspberries lingered in his scent memory. He hit his head against the tiled wall and let scolding water spill down his back.
Earlier that night, during an awkward silence, Trevor decided he’d kiss Nadia. She leaned over to look inside a bowl. Trevor hugged her. Wrapping his arms around her waist, resting his face against her shoulder, he gave her a squeeze. She called him silly.
Trevor stepped out of the shower and wiped off the mirror. He turned on the sink and brushed his teeth. The toothpaste tasted bitterer. His kisses must’ve been bitter to Nadia
He’d lunged toward her face, banging foreheads before landing on her lips. He wanted to stop at first, like switching off a video game because he’d already lost, but something clicked from him, and he instantly liked kissing. Bringing his arms around her and drawing her closer, he imagined what they looked like to someone walking into the room, but when she slipped a hand onto his thigh, his excitement mattered more than the kissing, and no one saw that but him. He tilted his head.
He walked out of the bathroom and into his bedroom with a towel wrapped around his waist. He dressed for bed; clean-pair of gray boxers, flannel pajama pants, but no shirt. He studied himself in the mirror. He thought, ‘this was what men do. They wear no shirts, and tonight I’d become a man; an oafish, inept man, but still a man.’
The methodical movements involved in sex had been an awkward back and forth, and he wasn’t sure he was doing it correctly. The harder he tried to concentrate on the maneuvers, the more his mind wandered to Garth at his uncle’s farm pumping an old-fashion well: slow, rhythmical pumps as Garth yammered on about jackalopes. But then Nadia rolled over―she’s on top! ―and she squeezed him between two thighs that were bigger than his waist. An incredible, titillating rush of euphoria took over him. In that one, delicious moment he felt, normal.
* * *
The desk phone rang in the computer lab during Outlining Your Future class, and as the special education teacher answered it, Trevor looked up cartoon clips on the computer.
“He’s here,” said the Teacher, pulling off her glasses. “Of course.” She hung up the phone. “Trevor.” He went back to the University of Hawaii’s webpage. “The director wants to see you,” she said. Trevor looked up. He smelled a fart and swore it came from her. He groused about the interruption. “Don’t keep him waiting, Trev.”
Trevor climbed the steps to the Director’s office and pushed open the door.
“You should knock first,” said the Director.
“You summoned me!” The Director looked up, and Trevor apologized. The Director’s suit was tight; his suits were always tight and it was one of the myriad reasons why Trevor hated him. The material around the Director’s crotch rippled and a belt buckle pushed down on his pelvis; Trevor imagined that the Director’s balls were crushed under his fat thigh. Perhaps that’s why he’s such an asshole.
“Sit, son,” said the Director. “I’ve called you here for two reasons. First, your letter.” He pulled out Trevor’s letter from a manila folder. “What’s your objective?”
“To get out of that damn class.”
“We can discuss this, but no swearing,” said the Director. “Is it appropriate to call the Speech Pathologist a pedophile?” The Director leaned across his desk and handed the letter to Trevor, but he didn’t take it. Trevor retreated back into his chair. “You’ve only shown why you still need this class.”
“The second reason?”
“Yes,” said the Director with a cough. “Staff is aware of what happened last night.” Trevor flushed. He picked dead skin off his lips. “Did you want the staff to see you engaging with Nadia?”
“How is this an appropriate conversation.” Tears rimmed his eyes.
“You forgot to close the curtains. Anyone walking by could see.”
“Surely decency requires good folks to turn away.” He bit his lip.
“You need to think about what you’re doing and what you’re doing to Nadia.” The Director pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his forehead. “Son, that’s why I’m here. To help you.”
“I’m not your son!” Trevor stood and knocked the pencil box off his desk. “The very nature of this digression is making me uncomfortable, and you, sir, should be ashamed.”
“Okay. Calm down”
“Don’t insist on knowing what’s best for me. I’m going to kill you, just reach over and strangle you.” He banged his fists on the desk.
“What will I do?” The Director took off his glasses.
Trevor blinked. The Director was stronger. He’d stop him and call 911. Trevor would be arrested and put away in another psychiatric facility, a worse shit hole than here. He knew this from the past. Age twelve he’d been suspended for writing a list of names, students he disliked; age sixteen he attended the alternative high-school and was arrested for throwing a chair at another student. Both times resulted in long stays at the state psychiatric hospital on the floor where bedroom doors were locked at night.
The rage left him like a tornado’s last swirl. The Director finished his little lecture, but all the while Trevor focused on the cork board with all the students’ schedules and a black and white photo pinned into the corner. It was a picture of an orange cut in half; the bottom half had no fruit, and the peel was cut in the shape of a body with arms and legs. The top half was the head still with fruit. It kneeled before a hand-held juicer, its head slightly above the menacing part of this apparatus. Underneath was the caption, “Perseverance.” Trevor hated this picture. It made him think of suicide.
* * *
Trevor walked on the sidewalk by a busy street alongside the program. He headed for his private room. The sun was setting and a woman with a small dog was waiting at a bus stop. The miserable beast wore a rhinestone collar and was on a leash. The woman gave the command to sit, but the dog didn’t listen. She told it to sit multiple times. Trevor kept count: on the fourth demand, it sat but then stood up again. On the eighth attempt, it rolled over and then jumped to its feet. On the twelfth, it sat. Trevor smiled. It looked cute getting the trick right only a third of the time.