Numbers | Teen Ink


January 20, 2011
By Katie Barry BRONZE, Wilmington, Massachusetts
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Katie Barry BRONZE, Wilmington, Massachusetts
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Numbers peeled off the large, dusty looking chalkboard and slithered across the cool linoleum floors toward a shiny new desk that seated a young man. The numbers circled him and some wormed their way into his brain while others clutched his legs with their invisible claws. Daniel’s eyes watered; he could feel the numbers in his brain, burrowing in his neurons. He could not move. His classmates moved in slow motion, whispering their petty secrets to one another. The females tossed their heads back and revealed their straight teeth as their shoulders shook and the males gave each other nods of grudging respect. They were in their own worlds, and Daniel could see the bubbles that existed around them all. They were just as afraid as he was. A professor with graying hair took tentative steps around his desk during the lecture, trying to hide the disease that left him weak. No one seemed to notice the brown haired boy that was getting eaten alive by the dancing numbers. The bell rang, shrill. The sound waves turned into a ghostly drill bit and barreled towards Daniel, whose eyes, watery from pain, could not even widen as a result of his curious paralysis. The bell rang again. He was on fire.
Daniel’s eyes snapped open to reveal sixty or so various students hurriedly exiting the large, airy classroom. They were all different, but so similar. He wanted to be like them, but he couldn’t let himself. It would be too easy. At least he had the math. Economics were one thing that had always come so easily to him. They were comforting. He blinked several times as the room slid into focus. The light from the large windows on the other side of the room stretched to reach him, trying to either warm his skin or remind him too leave. Not wanting to disappoint, Daniel shoved his belongings into a bag and left the room, not daring to look his professor in the eye as he exited.
I need to stop falling asleep in that class. He decided, wincing every step; his feet had fallen asleep. It really was a terrible class to sleep in though. Everyone around him always seemed to be having a contest to see who could speak the loudest and his professor was one of those older men that droned on and on but had a special way of making anyone that didn’t pay attention feel like a worthless excuse for a human being.

College was supposed to be the best time of Daniel’s life. Since High School, it was all he could ever think about, he lived for the idea of getting away from his suburban monotony. Now that he had all the freedom he wanted, he felt useless. He had nothing to strive for.
Streaking and parties? The closest thing he had come to either of those was his roommate, a shapeless and apparently shameless young man with a penchant for letting everything hang out during daily activities like eating, or studying, or sleeping. The list went on and on, really. Not exactly ideal. There was a party on his floor once, but Daniel had abandoned any hope of having fun at such an event when a large football player wearing a lampshade as a hat had stumbled into his room and vomited on his new rug. He kept the door locked after that.
Daniel couldn’t decide if it was his fault that he was lacking these experiences, or if he simply wasn’t meant to be the college type. He adjusted his book bag and glanced wistfully at the other side of the quad.
He wanted to be like THEM.

There were five of them, and Daniel didn’t know what to call them. Hipsters, the in crowd, some cheesy name for the popular kids from an eighties movie…They were the epitome of what he wanted to be, of ALL he ever wanted to be. They had fun, they had drugs, they had sex, and they had each other. That made them powerful, confident.

The first one was a girl of about twenty or so years old. She looked like a doll and spoke like a sailor. She was beautiful of course, but she was the kind of girl whose heart would never belong to anyone but a soldier or a man named Rico from Spain. She wanted a tragic romance, and she could have whatever she wanted. Her name was India, which was ironic because she was so fair and light. At the moment she was lying in the grass next to their tree, eyes closed to the emerald canopy above her. Daniel wished he could see what she was seeing. The boy closest to her was named Roman, and he had a casual way of doing everything, which might have been confused with Narcissism. Maybe he was a narcissist. He dressed like a king, and carried himself like a duke. He was a beautiful man with high cheekbones and a cigarette that seemed glued to his left hand at all times. His plumes of smoke always curled around him in a hug, always wanting to be close to him. In that way, they were like most of the girls and a fair amount of men on campus. He wouldn’t have any of them for more than a night.

The were all laughing now, and Daniel felt a pang. A black man named Sam fastened his arms around Roman and kissed his cheek, then his mouth. Roman kissed him back and then pulled away, laughing and tucking a dark dreadlock behind Sam’s ear. Daniel blushed, and looked away, embarrassed. He muttered a silent curse to himself.
Why the hell should that make be uncomfortable?

Maybe because you are just pretending to be cosmopolitan. You don’t have what it takes to be like them, you never have. You are still a product of the suburbs, where everything different is bad.
I have never thought that. I have always known I was meant to be a city boy, I am not like the rest.

But you ARE.
I never wanted to be the one that fit in.

You clearly want to fit in somewhere, or you wouldn’t be so damned jealous.

Daniel swallowed and started walking again. He noticed the other two girls of their crew as he mindlessly fell into a walking rhythm. The one with the golden skin and leather pants leaned it to whisper quickly to the girl with the white hair and red lips. The second, January, shredded grass with her smooth artist’s hands while she listened intently to Liarae, presumably about world culture or the future, or something fantastic.

Daniel would do almost anything to be one of them. They could be six instead of five.
He shrugged and adjusted his backpack, allowing himself one more glance at the crowd before deciding that it was best if he got back to his room. He had studying to do. The days were getting colder, and the wind ran its invisible fingers down the back of his neck and across his face, dangerously intimate. It made Daniel uncomfortable.

He hurried to his dorm, taking small delight when the heat his body. He took the stairs two at a time and finally reached his room, eagerly awaiting the one time a day where he didn’t have to worry about how he was going to manage any kind of social life with his schedule. It was the time where he could stare at the ceiling and try to disregard the creaking noises from his roommate’s bed while he became all he wanted to be. On this particular day, when the door swung open, smoke poured out eagerly, wanting to feed on oxygen. “Shut the door man! I want it to stay in here with me. ” Dale looked up through the haze, eyes half closed wearing a huge smile that he could not help. Rolls of fat hung over his Power Ranger briefs and he giggled upon discovering that his desk chair did, in fact, rotate. Daniel wrinkled his nose and coughed. “Are you serious? I thought we discussed fumigation; open a window. God, do you even GO to class?” He snapped at his roommate. Dale’s eyes opened slightly and then his grin returned and progressed into a feverish laugh. “S**t man, what’s wrong with you? I thought you liked spending time with the ol’ roommate.” He spun around once more and then tried to get up, and had to grip his desk until his knuckles turned white. Daniel sighed. “Not when the ol’ roommate tries to euthanize me in my sleep. Seriously, open a window dude.” He strode over to his bed and pulled the covers over himself and shut his eyes. It did little to block out the sunlight that was fading fast from the windows. This was the only time he could get any sleep; in the days following the lampshade incident the noise had gotten progressively worse. Eventually, he fell asleep to the sounds of infrequent laughter and clicks from Dale’s laptop. It would be different soon. A resounding thump woke Daniel, followed by a tinkling laugh and weight pressing down on his small bed. He lazily pushed the covers down, expecting that Dale had fallen again, or accidently flung a textbook at him like he had the previous week. What he did not expect to see, however, was Roman and January in HIS dorm room or Liarae sitting on his bed. Perceptive brown eyes met his and the exotic looking girl rose dreamily from his plain comforter and offered him a half-smile in return for disturbing his slumber. Somehow, it was enough. It was more than enough. Daniel felt a dumb grin spread across his face in spite of his efforts to internally maintain his excitement. “Li! Honestly, you are so oblivious sometimes.” The girl with the white-blonde hair tilted her head in disbelief, revealing a tantalizing slice of neck that made Daniel smile to himself. Roman spoke quietly to Dale with and easy stance and a careless appeal while January grabbed her friend by the arm and approached Daniel. “Sorry hon, we didn’t think anyone would be asleep at…” She glanced at the glowing clock display on the nightstand. “Nine.” Daniel shrugged, pleased that neither the girls nor Roman could see how red his face was getting. God, I’m turning into my Grandfather. “So, what brings you guys here?” He asked, sitting up and arranging himself into what appeared to be a casual position. He leaned over and flicked on the lamp, illuminating the three near-strangers in a fluorescent light that did nothing to detract from their beauty. Roman stood taller and his face was more aesthetically pleasing than usual. Perhaps it was just the angle, or proximity. Liarae’s gentle face seemed emotionally detached, ethereal even, and a lace tunic glided over her slight frame. She looked like a dream. January seemed to glow, and her full lips parted to reveal an apologetic smile. Maybe this is why I can’t be one of them. Daniel wasn’t ugly. In his hometown, he was actually one of the more attractive young men in his school, but once he came to the city, he noticed that people were just different. They had a certain gait about them, a saunter that could only be achieved from living and experience. It was sexy, it was mysterious. It wasn’t Daniel. “Provisions, my good man, for a little gathering later.” Roman offered, jumping into the conversation while he drew a slim cigarette from his back pocket and lit it. Cigarettes were a lot like him in a way: Lithe and glamorous, but lethal if you were around them for long enough. Daniel had heard stories about him; no one that stopped being friends with him was ever really the same as they were before. “He just means weed, sweetie.” January smiled, now facing him along with her two friends. Dale caught his eye from behind the small group and made an obscene gesture behind January’s back; he was clearly pleased with himself. It wasn’t like a guy like him would EVER have the pleasure of being used by such a woman unless it was for a good reason, and that was the only motivation Daniel had for not smiling and making himself look like an ass. “I know. How could I not, living in this room?” You don’t need to be nervous. Think of them as statistics, that’s all they need to be Dan. As always, he calmed down after mulling over this for a while. He was better than them at Econ, and there was absolutely no possible way they could change that. Daniel smiled to himself. Despite his lame excuse for a joke, the three laughed politely. Dale had busied himself stuffing his poison into an opaque paper bag, and he slid past Liarae and presented his craft, undeniably pleased. “Thank you Dale.” The exotic girl said, handing him several crisp bills. Roman squinted slightly, trying to see through Daniel. He took in everything, from the brown cowlick in the back of the boys hair to the hopeful expression on his face and the childish way he was leaning against his cheap IKEA headboard. He touched his tongue to his top lip and broke into a casual grin. “Well, sorry for intruding. You wanna come to a party with us later? You seem like you need to get out.” Roman asked in a tone that indicated mild interest. Whether it was an insult or not, Daniel lit up. In that moment, his skin illuminated, his eyes became clear, and his head more lucid. It was all he wanted. “Sure.” Daniel said. On the inside, a joy and achievement was spreading through his veins, lighting up his nerves like fire.

Minutes after they had left, Daniel began to search frantically through his monochromatic closet, growing increasingly disparaged at what he found. His heart has sped up but his breath was lethargic in its exit from his lungs. Blue, Black, Gray, Green. S**t. The colors didn’t reflect the person Daniel wanted to be, they were the colors of a suburban boy that thought he was good enough for the city. He wanted to be red like Roman or yellow like Liarae. He NEEDED to be bright, vibrant. Certainly not gray. He settled on a plain forest green shirt and normal jeans. His fingers tightened on the post-it with a hastily scrawled address, courtesy of January. It was only paper, but to Daniel it was a ticket to the future. He hated himself for being so hopeful, but without that he was in danger of fading again, and he didn’t want to think about that. Dale looked on as his roommate got ready, his face bovine and the expression in his eyes flat and dull. He was a pawn, nothing more than somewhere to get a good deal on pot. Daniel didn’t want to be a Dale. After tonight, he wouldn’t be. He would be one of six. With a final glance at Dale that seemed little more than pitiful, Daniel exited the room; his lungs thanked him silently when they were able to feast on cool, fresh, con carcinogenic air. Daniel didn’t have time to think of that now. He barely had time to throw on a light jacket or remember to put on nice shoes before stepping into the brisk and suddenly welcoming night air to flag a taxi. He seemed alien in his actions, it was as if they were not his own. He did not FEEL alien, simply a new version of himself. Perhaps he was a medium height, slightly awkward butterfly waiting to burst into being. Before he knew it, Daniel was handing a wad of crumpled bills to a greasy cabbie and stepping out onto a glistening dark street, the sidewalk littered with jagged glass, used condoms, and cigarette butts. Daniel didn’t notice these indicators of what kinds of neighborhood he was in. As always, he was looking beyond that, his eyes fixed on a throbbing neo-modern house while numbers stormed his senses. He clutched the paper in his pocket again as security (by this point it was damp with sweat) and took a tentative series of steps toward the building, which looked like a castle to Daniel. The grass, slick with rain, bent under his wing-tips, and by the time he reached the door his entire body was covered in a layer of mist. Daniel’s breath caught in his throat, but he sloughed off any inhibitions he may have been harboring and stepped over the threshold. He was met with a scene of drug-infused chaos. Music wormed its way into his ears and a young woman wearing a tiara, beads, and little else bumped against Daniel as his eyes adjusted. She was quickly followed by a lumbering man that looked curiously old. Daniel flattened himself against an available wall. There were a group of tattooed girls in a corner bent over a mirror and another circle of men that appeared to be in their thirties passing around a pipe. A line of men in metallic looking dresses passed by and someone removed an oil painting from its secure and regal position on the wall and carried it up the stairs, presumably to surf down upon. He didn’t want to look at what was happening in plain view on the various floral couches that were lying around, but he was impressed and disgusted by the realization that so many people could fit in one place. The contrast between the grandeur of the actual house and its current inhabitants was baffling. Every person Daniel could see was down and out in some way, he could tell by their eyes. Though they were mostly out of focus or glassy, there were always telltale bags that indicated some ache deep down, voluntary or not. Daniel wasn’t here for any of them. He was here purely for the opportunity to finally show them that he could fit in. The problem at the moment would be finding them. He would know when he saw them for certain; they would all look over and welcome him with their breezy smiles, and he could glow with them. Daniel stepped carefully over someone who could have either been sleeping or dead, and shoved his hands protectively in his pockets. As per usual, no one seemed to notice him, they were all in their drug specific corners. They seemed to move at different paces as well. The people one the couches were slow and sloppy along with the few that were resting on the floor, but upstairs noises indicated frantic movements. Daniel looked around awkwardly again. My dad would be so disappointed if he saw me here. He thought to himself. He was an only child, and all he ever had was his father, a patrol cop that never got to run his own station. Daniel always thought he would be his pride and joy forever, but that prospect was fading fast. I can be an artist. It doesn’t matter if they are into drugs, right? It’s just a creative outlet. Maybe I’ll be the next Freud or something. I have it in me, probably. Daniel made his way toward the stairs, checking to make sure that there was no one coming down, and took them two at a time. Roman and January and the others were probably somewhere quiet so they could be away from the people who were acting wild. They could joke there, and pretend not to notice how beautiful they all were. Daniel walked lightly, stealing a glance at the open bathroom door. The lights were off, but there was a faintly unpleasant odor and certainly a few moving shapes. The music continued to pulse. He found himself wondering how many people were in here; one hundred, two hundred, fifty. He couldn’t tell, all of them were moving around so much. He pushed open a door to find a tangle of quivering flesh, who looked at him with its two heads and hissed. His eyes quickly widened and his innards jumped in silent apology while he slammed the door. The next room was empty except for a chair and a lamp, with secrets probably brimming from all corners. The next door held five of the beautiful people. Daniel felt a blissful grin cross his face and gained control of his shaken body and nerves. Five lazy smiles beckoned him inside and Daniel nervously tossed his chestnut hair before he stepped inside. The room was bathed in a cool, wraithlike light. It suited the inhabitants. India sat lovely, cross legged and pale. She managed to look otherworldly instead of ghostly, and her light hair hung invitingly in her face. Sam leaned dark and proud against an abandoned chair. Roman stretched out on the rug, a hand situated dangerously close to his friend’s thigh, playfully getting closer. Liarae lay flat on the ground, inexplicably intrigued by a fly that buzzed dumbly around the light fixture. January, beautiful January had her back facing the doorway, but now she turned to face Daniel. He wasn’t worthy, and he knew. He presented a smile in a pathetic retribution for his success, and his heart filled with pride while he processed the room. His mind countered that by making him feel pallid, ugly, uncultured and all he could do to keep from crashing down was to remember the interdisciplinary studies that he so loved. “Oh, hey Danny!” January beamed, her eyes slightly out of focus. He didn’t tell her that no one called him Danny. He smiled back and made the bold move to join their circle. As soon as he inched in, he felt the overwhelming sense of achievement. His smile and his heart grew, and his hand was close to January’s. “Hey! Did you see all of those guys in dresses down there? Repression manifested, huh.” He said, shifting into a more comfortable position. His eyes flickered over each of the five and realized that he was sixth. Roman laughed; he was now lying down with his head on Sam’s lap. “There was a couple that pulled it off.” He said. “Anyway, that’s what happens when you’re out of your f*ing mind high.” Even a harsh world like that sounded pleasant and smooth coming from his mouth, it was easy to see why so many people wanted to sleep with him. “I guess so. I think everyone here is a little out of their mind high though.” Daniel responded, trying some of Roman’s words on for size. They fell off of him, he wasn’t grand enough. “YOU’RE not.” Liarae pointed out from her place on the carpet. She did not look up, or acknowledge him or any way other than in speech. Her golden skin spoke volumes, she didn’t need words. She twitched a bare foot as if to ask why. Daniel had tried weed before, and he went through a drinking phase, along with most of the people from his high school. There wasn’t much to do besides experiment, think, or watch movies at the multiplex, and there had been a few times where he had blacked out. These people are clearly on more drugs than pot or booze. Daniel shrugged, and flexed his fingers instinctively. He stared in her direction and licked his dry lips. He was in love with the moment. “No one’s offered.” It’s not peer pressure if there’s no pressure, right? No. These people were too beautiful to lie. They didn’t need to. Roman sat up, lucid and devilish, and eagerly reached into a sleek denim pocket to pull out a long glass pipe. January leaned in and a look of concern crossed her face. India tried to keep her eyes open while she pulled up hairs from the carpet. Sam put his head between his now vacant knees. Liarae’s head lolled to the side. “It’s funny you should mention that. We were just talking about who had the ba**s to try some ice.” Roman added, his eyes innocent but his mouth spinning different stories. A long leg shifted position like a spider and his sinful tongue darted out to meet his lips. “Roman, YOU clearly don’t. Leave him alone, you know what happened last time. January insisted, reached out an unblemished white arm to take the pipe. A dark hand stopped her. “He’s done it, he told me. Couldn’t remember anything about it though, just the colors.” Sam interjected in deep, urgent voice. He smiled at the other man. Daniel swallowed hard. “He’s a liar Sam, I’m surprised you believe half the things he tells you.” She turned to Daniel, who had been preoccupied with the movement of her while hair. “Sweetie, he would look like hell if he did meth. You can’t believe him.” She added, her pale eyes pleading. Daniel only wondered if she called everyone sweetie. He straightened, resolute. “It’s alright, I’ll try it. I mean, maybe it’ll help me see some cool stuff or something. You’ll have a laugh watching, at least.” You’ll keep me around, at least. Without waiting any longer, Daniel reached forward and grabbed the glass from Roman’s square hand, fingertips brushing palm. It was the closest he’d ever been to one of them. The pipe was cool in his hands, and he tested the dimple of the glass with his fingers. He noted how the crystalline fragments lined the bottom of the pipe while Roman noiselessly drew a lighter from his other pocket. January looked in a different direction. Three. Daniel took the lighter from the taller boy. He hesitated when it came time to strike the flint, and he was momentarily surprised when a blue flame appeared from between his fingers. Two. He brought the flame up near the glass, taking take not to carbonize the crystals. One. He inhaled and drew the white smoke deep into his lungs. ZERO. Zero.

The room slowly slid out of focus and Daniel felt light headed. Shortly after, a wave of bliss settled over him. He was one of six, one of six perfect beings. He was talented, he was beautiful. The world was a cloud and he was perched high. The light fixture was heaven and he was going straight there. Roman loved him, India loved him, Liarae him, Sam loved him, and at last January loved him like he loved her. He wanted to dance, he wanted to sing, he wanted to fly. They all loved his body and his mind because Daniel was flawless.

Sunlight reflected on the water, and a fish jumped, creating ripples. It wanted to touch the sky, to taste the poisonous air. Laughter rang across the liquid glass and a young and old man sent love for one another into the air. It was well received. Lessons were taught on the water: baiting a hook, how to treat a woman, the future. A kind, craggy face was a constant over these years, and the only thing that changed was the little boy’s height and the number of lines on the older man’s face. They are two people together.


A young man in a cracked white mausoleum, lying on his back with his hands folded across his chest. He is bathing in shadows, surrounded by an invisible inferno. A single tear escapes from his eye and united with the cold ground. Through a tiny opening in the marble, a cloud covers the sun. It is silent. The cloud shifts and one solitary beam creeps through the crack and illuminates a spot on the man’s chest. Where it hits, he feels a single grain of hope appear with the potential to grow and fill him. He sits up and wipes the tear away, and a vision flashes purple behind his closed eyes. He still has three more people to love.

School, a blur. Five beautiful people beneath a lovely tree. Haze. Party. Glass.
A broken man sits on the curb. His foot is on a piece of broken glass and it is cutting through old shoes. A curious liquid, an old paper nearby. He can feel the bugs crawling beneath his flesh, squirming for release. They bite through fat and muscle, they crawl out from open sores and start for his eyes. He can see them, but no one else can. They crawl over each other like leeches and lions and they need to find his brain.


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