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Noggin(15)
John Corey Whaley

“You want me to cover my scar every day?”

“No. No. I just want you to try these out and see what you think. And if you like them, wouldn’t it be easier that way? Not calling attention to yourself?”

“Mom, everyone at school is gonna know who I am the second I walk through the door. Do you think it matters? Do you think they give a shit about my neck?”

“Travis. I’m not trying to . . . I just . . . Can you try them for me?”

I tried them on. All four turtlenecks. And I looked like a 1970s pimp. I let her buy me the scarves as a consolation and so we could just get the hell out of there and get some dinner.

“I like that jacket,” Dad said as we sat down to eat in a little Italian place down the block.

“Me too. Thanks, guys.”

“You don’t have to wear the scarves, Travis,” Mom said.

“Unless your neck’s cold,” Dad added.

“No, I like them.”

And I did like them, but I didn’t so much like the idea of them. I didn’t like the idea that I had to pretend to be something I wasn’t, to try to blend in despite the fact that my face had been cycling on national news for a week and I’d already been recognized several times that day. To tell you the truth, I didn’t so much mind getting noticed. Maybe I could show up at Springside High the next day and be more popular than old Travis ever had the chance to be. Instant celebrity surely had plenty of perks, even in a place like high school.

CHAPTER SEVEN

A PLACE LIKE HIGH SCHOOL

Going back to school was something I never thought I’d have to deal with. By the time I elected to be a science experiment in Denver, I’d been out for about nine months, including summer break. My teachers sent me assignments for a while, back in the January before I left. Some of them even put little Get well soon notes inside, but I didn’t really see the point of doing anything, and I guess that eventually became everyone else’s attitude because the assignments stopped and my parents quit asking me about them.

I never really liked school the first time around. I didn’t hate it. I wasn’t bullied or anything. I had plenty of friends and I got along with most of my teachers—the ones who weren’t Mrs. Lasetter, that is—and even though I wasn’t all that great at things like math, I studied enough to make okay grades. I just never liked being there. I used to lie in bed every school night I can remember and be filled with this massive dread that I had to wake up and do it all over again. If it weren’t for Cate and Kyle, I don’t think I’d have tried as hard as I did. I used to think about how easy it would’ve been to turn into one of those dropouts who has to get a shitty job somewhere around town and never grows up.

But that dread, that dislike, it had nothing on how I felt the morning of my fateful return to Springside High. Of course, I’d never had to walk into school with photographers and news cameras lining the sidewalk out front either. It wasn’t enough that I was about to enter a school full of complete strangers, but I had to do it as the famous miracle boy everyone’s been seeing on TV.

“They can’t go inside,” Mom said to me. We were sitting in her car in the roundabout drop-off zone in front of the school and watching the dozens of reporters waiting for me to show up. There were curious students standing all around them, and I saw a few smiling for the cameras as they walked past.

“Shit,” I said.

“Travis.” Dad turned around from the passenger seat and looked at me. “Give them a few days and they won’t care anymore.”

“You think?”

“I know,” he said with confidence. “Just duck your head down, don’t say anything, and walk inside. If you don’t give them anything to use, they’ll go away.”

“Be boring,” Mom added, a smirk on her face.

It was loud. With the countless reporters yelling questions and the other kids looking on from their little huddled groups, it was such a chaotic and stressful scene. I was wearing one of the scarves Mom had bought me because it was cold enough and because I thought maybe she’d been right. I wasn’t ready for the kind of attention these people wanted to give me. The whole time I was burrowing through the crowd, all I could do was imagine a zoomed-in photograph of my neck on national television.

The school secretary couldn’t stop giving me that look, that “I can’t believe it’s really you that I’m talking to right now” look when she printed out my class schedule in the main office. I also caught her staring down at my neck. She wanted to notice an inconsistency in the skin tones, to gossip about the freak science-experiment kid who had just walked onto campus. Even though I was embarrassed and felt like I’d just run through a battlefield, I thought about lowering the scarf to give her a quick glimpse of it. It wasn’t going away, after all.

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