The Eraser Room

"Come back here, you worthless punk! Don't you walk away from -"

I slammed the door on my way out of the trailer. Hank was still drunk from going on a bender the night before.

What a waste.

Any other day I would've gotten in his face, but today I had to talk to Max. I had to tell him about me and Liz.

He should be here any minute.

I left the trailer and started walking to the park entrance. Might as well get it over sooner rather than later.

I heard the Jeep before I saw it. He was gunning the engine. The car barreled down the road, throwing gusts of dust everywhere. It was coming right at me.

He slammed on the brakes. My knees were two inches from the grill.

"Hey," he said.

No seat belt. That was a first.

I grabbed the bar and swung my body into the passenger seat. "Hey," I said.

He started the engine and pealed out.


they're gonna be mad at us
thy're gonna be mad at me and you
thy're gonna be mad at us
and all the things we wanna do

"Max," I held on to the bar to keep from falling out at a sharp turn. "why are you listening to Ani?"

"Who?" he said. "Oh. I don't know."

Isabel and I listened to Ani. And Tori, although Isabel could never develop an appreciation for Bjork. I'd found an old tape of Ani's in the trailer park years ago and wore it out from listening to it. Isabel heard one track and was hooked. Max preferred singers like Sarah McLachlan.

"We have to talk, Max."

"'How's it going, Max?'" he said. "Oh, I'm good. Thanks."

"What's your problem?"

"No problem, Michael," Max said. "I'm not having any problems today."

"Whatever. Max, this is important. It's about -"

He slammed on the brakes. Hard. I threw my hands out to keep from hitting the dash and fell back into my seat.

"Forget it," I said as soon as I caught my breath. I stepped out of the car. "I'll walk."

He grabbed my arm. "Michael, wait -"

"Wait? Are you kidding me? I have to talk to you about something and your driving nearly kills us both. Screw you, Maxwell." I walked ahead of the car. The palms of my hands were burning. Why was that?

"You're right," he called out.

I turned around. "What?"

"I said you're right. About Liz."

The guilt was cold in my stomach.

"Maxwell," I started. You can do this. You have to do this. "About her -"

He groaned and rolled his eyes. "I've talked to Liz. Leave it alone, Michael," he said, shaking his head and slumping into the driver's seat. "Just leave it alone."

"But -"

"Michael, I give up, alright?" he said, his arms flying up in surrender. "Whatever it is, just deal with it on your own. Just -" he waved his hand. "- whatever it is, just do what you want."

Do what I - "Are you sick?"

He shook his head. "C'mon, Michael - you're gonna do it anyway, no matter what I tell you. So just go ahead. I give up."

I'd never heard him say that. I give up.

What was going on with him?

He looked past me, down the dusty road. Towards school.

"I told Liz we should take a step back."

I tried to swallow. Failed.

"Really," I said.

"Yeah," he said, looking at me after a second. "What? No congratulations, Michael? No words of enlightenment? Nothing about what a stupid idea it was to save her life, much less get involved?"

I licked my lips and squinted in the sun.

I remembered saying that. That it was stupid to save her life.

Now I wished I'd done it.

What do you say to your best friend when he's left the woman you want to be with?

I looked at the Jeep. He was staring at the sky. I had to tell him.

"Max," I said. "She -"

His eyes were red. He looked exhausted. I wondered if he really was sick, what we would do if he got back in the hospital.

"She what?" he asked wearily. "What, Michael?"

I couldn't do it.

"She, um -" I looked down. "She wasn't for you, Max."

His eyes were shooting daggers.

"Look, you may not want to hear it, but it's true."

"You don't know anything about it, Michael."

I did. I knew all about it.

"Fine," I said, turning down the road. "I'm walking."

"Michael -"

"Get out of here, Maxwell," I yelled back over my shoulder.

There was a pause, and then I heard the engine. The jeep roared past me, toward the school.

just please don't name this
please don't explain this
just blame it all on me
say i was shameless

He didn't look back.


"Miss Parker."

My head snapped up. "Yes?"

"That's the third time I've called you," the English sub said. "Your attention to Shakespeare is commendable, but you have a call in the principal's office." A couple people laughed.

I noticed the guy standing next to her desk. He wasn't in this class - one of the skateboarder- slumming guys. He stared at me, bored.

"Right," I muttered. I closed up my books, grabbed my purse and followed the guy toward the door. We walked into the empty hallway and I turned to go to the principal's office.

A tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see the same guy, pointing in the opposite direction. "That way," he said.

"Um -" Maybe he was new. "Actually, I think this is the quickest way."

"Guerin's in the eraser room."


The eraser room. Down the other end of the hall.

It took me a second to figure it out. I could feel my face blushing.

"Oh," I stammered. Was he smiling? Oh, god, he was. He was grinning. "Um - thanks."

"Sure," he said. I started to walk past him and he stepped in front of me, his right hand palm up.

"He also said," he grinned lazily, "that you'd pay me ten dollars."


I stood a few steps down from the eraser room door, ten dollars poorer, dignity totally obliterated and my heart racing like crazy.

Michael was in the eraser room, and he'd sent for me.

I don't do stuff like this. I'm the good girl, the overachiever, the scientist. I knew I was missing stuff that was going to be on the English final.

I took a deep breath and took the last remaining steps toward the door. I reached for the knob.

The door flashed open and something yanked me inside. I killed the instinct to scream.

We were in the eraser room. Michael was pacing by the door. "Could you possibly have made that more obvious, Parker?"

Parker. So we were back to that.

"What's the matter?"

"Nothing," he hissed at me, "just that I could hear you coming five minutes ago and then you just hang out in the halls where everybody can see you!" He turned back to the door.

"Hey," I hissed back. "You were the one who pulled me out of class, mister inconspicuous, so chill out, alright? I was just -"

"What?" he said, rounding on me. He looked angry.

I was suddenly aware that the eraser room could more aptly be titled the eraser closet. There was no room to move. Michael was so close to me we were almost touching.


"You. Were just. What?" he asked.

I could hear my breathing. "I was -" I dropped my gaze from his eyes to his lips, flickered back. "- thinking," I finished lamely.

"Thinking," he whispered. "About what?"

"About you."

"What about me?" he whispered, moving closer. His fingers brushed my hand, like fire on my skin.

"What about me, Parker?"

"I was thinking -"

He was staring at my lips. "What?" He was smiling. This was so easy for him.

"I was thinking you owe me ten dollars."

He stopped, looked like he was going to explode.

Instead, he laughed. Well, scoffed. I was learning Michael's laugh could mean totally different things.

He turned away and moved back to the door. My heart sank. I shouldn't have said that. Why did I say that?

"This was fun, Parker," he said. His voice sounded strange. Sharp. And harsh. "But we can't do this."

I didn't understand. "Can't do wh-"

"This isn't going to work, Liz," he said, turning around, his back to the wall. His hand waved. "You. Me. Whatever."

I didn't say anything. He must be joking.

"Michael -"

"Forget it, Liz," he said. His hand was on the knob. "That's why I had you come here. To tell you to forget about it."

He was serious. I couldn't believe it.

He wanted me to leave.


"Just do it, Liz."

"Michael, I'm not leaving, alright?" His hand dropped from the doorknob. "Did you talk to Max?"

"No, Liz, we didn't talk," he cut me off. I bit down on my lip. He took an angry step toward me. "He wouldn't talk to me. He wouldn't listen to me, which is nothing new, but when I told him it was serious, you know what he said?"

I shook my head.

"He said I should do whatever I wanted, that he was giving up. Max. The prototype of the control freak told me he could care less, that whatever I wanted to do was fine with him."

That didn't sound like Max.

"I've never seen him like that. Ever. He's totally different, now. Because of you."

"But -" Because of me? "He said -"

"I. Don't. Care," Michael said. "He's a mess. He can't see anything that's going on, and he doesn't want to know. He doesn't care about home, or Valenti, or anything, because he's wrapped up with you. He doesn't care if he gets caught, Liz."

I tried to keep breathing.

"He doesn't care, which means he's going to screw up, and that means he'll get caught. Then Isabel. Then me.

"We can't do this, Liz."

There had to be something I could do. Or say.

I couldn't think of what it was.

"Michael," I whispered. He'd turned his back to me. "What do we do? I can't - I don't know how to go back with Max."

He didn't say anything.

"Michael," I said. "Help me understand -"

He spun around. "You want to understand?" His eyes were dark. Raging. The hair on my arms stood up. He was advancing on me. I stumbled back, felt my back hit the wall. He had me cornered. His hands were on my face and he kissed me.

I squirmed, trying to push him away. He tells me he can't be with me and then he kisses me? "Michael -" The room was spinning. "Don't -"

Everything went black.


Michael as a kid. In a hallway. Listening at a door.

"What are we going to do?" A woman's voice, muffled. Crying.

"He keeps getting into fights, he keeps running away," the man said. He sounded tired. "I don't know... maybe we can't do this, honey."

"He won't let me hold him."

"Honey," Some shuffling, sound of a bed creaking. "Come on -"

"Do you think it's something I did, Chris?" She was crying harder. "Maybe I'm not - warm enough, maybe that's why he doesn't want me to hold him?" She was crying harder.

"No! Honey - honey, you haven't done anything wrong." The man sighed. "I think some of these kids, you just can't help."

"We'll take him back tomorrow. Maybe another couple can help him."

Some kids you can't help.

We'll take him back tomorrow.

Michael moved down the hallway quietly. Opened a window, climbed through it into the open night. Looked left, then right. Running down the street. Looking for the road where he last saw them.

Looking for his real family.

For Max and Is.


A different home. It smelled of beer and cigarettes. A social worker was talking.

"You really shouldn't smoke around him," the woman said. "It's bad for his health."

"S'okay," the man said. "It don't bother him none. You want a beer?"

"No," The woman sighed, gripped her pen tighter. "I'd just like to ask some more questions. Alone. "

"Sure, sure," the man said, standing up and heading for the kitchen. "Go ahead."

The social worker watched him turn the corner into the kitchen and turned back to Michael. She smelled like flowers. "Now, Michael," she said. "Where did you get that burn?"

He didn't answer.

"Michael, it's very important that you tell me the truth."

He saw movement behind her. At the door.

The man was standing there. Watching him.

Michael's eyes flickered to the smoke in his hand.

"Michael, look at me. Please." the woman said. Michael's eyes went back to her.

"Michael, were you playing with matches?"

Maybe she'd take him away. He could always run away from wherever they sent him next. His eyes flickered back to the man. He grinned and took a drag on the cigarette, making it light up in a bright, red circle.

Michael chewed on his lip and looked down.

She took it as a yes.

"That's very, very dangerous, Michael." she turned back to the kitchen. Michael looked up.

The man was gone.

"I'm sorry," she called out. "We'll have to take him back."

He appeared again. "No! No, no, I can quit." He walked over to where they were sitting, the cigarette dangling loosely in his hand. Michael flinched.

She didn't notice.

He tossed the cigarette into a beer can. "See? He's fine. I'll throw all the matches away."

She paused. "Well - he has run away from every other foster home..."

"Yeah, me and the kid, we get along great. He's just a little shy around strangers."

Her lips pulled up in a weak smile. "Well, I'm leaving next month, so I'll fill the next worker in on your situation. I don't want to take him out of a good home."

"That's great, isn't it, kid?" He slapped Michael on the back, hard. "Great."

That night, just like every night, Michael ran into the darkness, looking for something. A boy and a girl on the side of the road. Most nights, when he came back, Hank was passed out on the recliner.

Some nights, he wasn't.

Hank didn't want to risk losing his monthly check.


Michael was in a fight.

The other boy was throwing his arms up over his face, curled up in a ball. Blood on his shirt, gushing from his nose. He was crying. Michael didn't stop.

He was kicking him when arms pulled him up and away. He screamed, flailing like an animal, as if his life depended on it. When that didn't work, he bit the teacher's arm, hard. He tasted the sharp tanginess of blood and heard her scream. Her arms let go.

He fell to the ground and scrambled up, racing away from the school, away from the boy, from the teacher, looking for the road where he'd last seen them.

Run, Michael, run-

A boy was watching him from the fence. Brown hair and brown eyes. He stopped.

A girl appeared next to the boy. Long blond hair. She took his hand, and the boy pointed at Michael.

She smiled and waved.

It was them. Michael's hand started to rise up to wave back.

The teacher's arms swooped down and lifted Michael into air, trapping his body against her side, carrying him into the infirmary, threatening him with expulsion. The other boy would need stitches, she said. His eyes never left the boy and girl at the fence.

Michael was smiling.

They were together every day after that.


I pulled myself away from her and opened my eyes.

She was crying.

She whispered my name, reached out for me. Pulled me into a hug. I could feel her arms straining. She was shaking.

"Michael," she whispered. "I'm so sorry. I'm sorry, Michael."

"Liz -" I tried to look at her. She wouldn't let me go, clutched me tighter. "Liz, it's okay."

That got her to let go. "No it's not!" she said loudly, wiping the tears from her face. "Michael, he - I can't believe they didn't stop him, I -"

"Liz." She wasn't listening. "It's okay. Hank was easy to run away from, he didn't care about my life. I could go wherever I wanted whenever I wanted."

"Are you telling me," she said unbelievingly, "That that's was a good place for you?"

"No, it's not good," I said. "But one, it's all I've got, and two, Liz, not knowing who I am or where I come from is much worse."

She didn't say anything.

"In a way, being with Hank is - better, because it keeps me - focused."

"Focused," she whispered, shaking her head. Her grip loosened. I tried to move away from her and failed.

I could kiss her again. With no flashes this time.

Sooner, not later, Guerin.

"Maybe -" I cleared my throat. "- maybe I should just tell you this stuff," I said. "Instead of kissing you."

"Don't," she whispered, shaking her head. She looked like she was going to cry again. "Don't."

There was a silence. She released her grip on me and her hands fell to her side.

As soon as she let go of me, I wished she hadn't.

"So now we -" her voice faltered.

"You go back to Max," I said evenly. Just say it, Guerin. Keep it calm. "He'll come around."

"'Go back to Max,'" she repeated. "And you 'go back' to - I don't believe this."

"What do you want me to say, Liz?"

"What about you, Michael?" She was angry. "What about us? We just sacrifice everything we want, everything we feel, to do what we think is best for them?"

"Yeah," I said, backing toward the door. Don't look at her. Don't look. "That's it." I opened the door.

"Michael," her voice was a whisper. She was going to cry again. "What about what we want, Michael?"

I stepped through the door and turned around to face her, speaking as I let go of the door.

"Welcome to my world, Liz."


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