They call me Countdown, as though I’m ticking away every minute of every day, and no one knows when or where exactly I’m going to explode. I never thought it was all that accurate–but then again, I never saw myself the way they did. Ty Katy, the River Valley Countdown. The stories I’ve heard are actually pretty incredible. One claims I jumped out of a helicopter over the valley once with nothing but a trash bag as a parachute, landed on my feet, and ran all thirty-seven miles back to the high school before the first period bell rang. Seriously. The kid I heard telling that one almost ****** himself when he turned around to find me listening. I laughed.
Another claims I use the old automobile factory as a makeshift zoo for illegal animals I traffic in and out of the country. Honestly I don’t know who has the time to think up **** like this, or where they come up with this stuff, but to clear the air, I have a dog Prince—cocker spaniel. Prince’s closest thing to a zoo I’ve ever owned.
Still, I know who I am at River Valley High School; I’m the kid people are afraid of. The one who walks down the halls and watches the freshmen scramble out of the way in an attempt to avoid meeting my eyes. The kid who sits alone at lunch and laughs as people try to tip toe around my table trying to not make any noise. I am the one they’re afraid of–I have the typical bad boy image. And to be completely honest, even though that’s really not me at all, I like it.
I mean, being intimidating has its perks. No one bothers me when I’m in a bad mood. No one bothers me when I’m in a good mood either, in fact, no one bothers me in general so that’s got to be a good thing. No one follows me around to ask me questions, or offers a fake smile as I walk into any one of the classrooms here at the school. Teachers don’t call on me; people don’t include me in the typical high school drama. I’m not required to buy any half-friends stupid birthday presents. It all works out.
And yet, I’m invited to every single party. I’m invited to every bash, every ball, every whoop-dee-doo that anyone throws whether they be freshman, senior, or some local college kids. Why? Probably because they’re afraid I’ll come burn the place down out of spite if they don’t invite me. To be clear, I wouldn’t. Going to jail for arson doesn’t interest me. I don’t actually care all that much for parties, but it’s fun to let the rumors spread.
And **** are there rumors. But I guess all you really need to know is that everyone knows me in River Valley. People know me by sight and they know me by name. They know my face, my mud-splattered jacket, and my beat-up Harley. They know my girlfriend Cassidy Peters and my father Jeff Katy: Genius Neurosurgeon. (If you can’t tell, Genius Neurosurgeon begs an eye roll every time I have to say it) People know I have money, and they know I like to spend it.
People know me. They know, and they care.
And see, that’s their problem: they all care too much. I have a rule against caring. I have a bunch of rules actually, but the anti-caring rule is probably the most important of them all.
Tyler Katy’s Rule of Anti-Caring:
To care is to cry, and I don’t cry.
I also have a rule about how to keep myself from caring. It’s not easy, but it works, and if you knew me in River Valley, you would agree.
Tyler Katy’s Rule of How to Not Care:
If you don’t pay attention in the first place, you can’t begin to care.
In principle, it’s a great rule. In execution, it’s less than ideal. My attention is constantly everywhere except where it’s supposed to be. If I’m in class, I’m thinking about everything but class. If I’m with Cassidy… well that’s the exception. I can’t not think about Cass. I can’t not care about Cass. The rules have never applied to her.
I constantly wonder if that’s a mistake.
Cass and I have been together for a year and seven months now. In fact, it’ll be eight months by the time the week is out. If she asked me, I would feign ignorance about remembering our anniversary, but truth is some part of me keeps track like clockwork.
She’s a pretty thing: long sandy-brown hair and eyes the bluest of blue. She has one of those laughs that makes a guy turn his head and look around for the source of the sound. Like bells. Pretty bells. I guess I’m lucky to have her. As to what she sees in me, I have no clue. I’m nothing special. But somehow, she fell for me, just as I’d fallen for her years before, and that was that.
The first time I noticed Cass I was eight: one of those awkward elementary kids who had just moved to a new school and seemingly only shopped in the Walmart clearance section. I never combed my hair or tied my shoes. I was a nobody, a nothing, and she was a somebody. I remember walking into the classroom on the first day of school and watching the kids file in who’d known each other for a few years already. They were laughing and smiling and having an all-around great time. There were boys in Abercrombie shirts and girls sporting Nikes and new ADIDAS athletic wear. That was the age of teenagers in blue eyeshadow and those stupid pants girls wore… gachos? *******? Ah hell, whatever. There were a few kids like me—alone and clothed in what looked to be second or third hand materials, but only one or two. I knew I was the odd-one out immediately. I was alone.
But then she walked in. This random little girl in the brightest of yellows. She wore her sandy hair in one long braid and had a daisy tucked behind her left ear. She seemed to float in on a breeze, and I watched in wonder as she took the seat directly in front of me. She was everything summer was meant to be. Clear, bright, and beautiful. Sitting quietly, she never said a word, but she didn’t have to. I noticed her, oh I noticed her alright.
The years went by and the girl in yellow became more of a woman in yellow. She grew into the loveliest thing I’d ever seen, and I never stopped noticing.
After eighth grade, I spent the summer changing who I was. I started running, took some kick-boxing classes, and let my floppy hair grow out until it fell just above my eyes. I swapped out my Walmart wardrobe for dark button ups and tight jeans. I bought a leather bomber jacket and repaired my Dad’s old Harley. I switched out Tyler for Ty, and on the first day of River Valley High, I revved the engine as I turned the corner into the parking lot on my bike—watching as hundreds of eyes turned to me.
15, old for my grade, messy-haired, and clad in black, I parked the bike in a senior parking space, hitched up my jeans, and walked into the building. The new me had arrived, and I was ready to take on life as a completely new person.
Everything changed that year. I morphed from the invisible kid in the back of the room, to the one people scrambled to avoid. I smart-mouthed teachers, broke rules as fast as they were made, and became a self-proclaimed ********** that anyone disagreed with me. No one knew where I’d come from, but that was okay. It was how I liked it.
Freshman year seemed to drag on into eternity. By the time sophomore year rolled around, I felt as though I’d been trapped in this jail of a school for a lifetime. I was lonely, though I wouldn’t admit it, and spent my days hood-up, earbuds in, and thinking about Cass. It was peaceful, and it was quiet. Nothing and no one ever dared bother me.
No one that is, until right around the first snow of the season when Weston Jennings decided it would be a fantastic idea to pull the fire alarm.
I remember the shrill piercing of the alarm echoing through the green-tiled hallways of River Valley Union. I can picture the classroom full of groaning teenagers all trudging out the door and complaining about the temperature. I remember the teacher—a mousy-haired woman who hated coming to school almost as much as I did—shrugging on her coat and herding a few of rowdier boys into the hall. I remember walking into the hallway, following the class, and slipping into a dark room right before exiting the building. I remember the relief of finally being alone with my music.
And I also remember being smacked across the back of the head with a potted plant.
That was when Weston Jennings came into my life.
“****!” he swore as he realized who he’d just brained with the geography teacher’s potted perennial. “G, I’m so sorry, I thought you were P. Williams.” I gave him what I hoped was a scathing look, as I rubbed the back of my scalp with one hand.
Weston was one of those guys everyone knew by name. He was taller than most, hard-muscled with a strong jaw and scruffy blonde hair. Sixteen; the typical football jock. As a freshman, he’d made varsity—linebacker—and the girls had swooned. His good looks and charming smile often managed to get him out of trouble, which he seemed to find himself in quite often. He was an impressive guy: well put-together. At that particular moment however, he was also covered in dirt and a few stray leaves from the pitifully broken plant still clutched in his hands.
“And smacking Principal Williams across the back of the head with a potted plant is your idea of staying out of trouble?” I said carefully as I tugged my ear buds out of my ears. I carefully wound the cord around my iPhone, not too tight, not too loose. Then, with a sigh, I stuck the device in my back pants pocket. Reaching upwards, I pulled a large green leaf from my hair, and cocked my head in annoyance. Weston’s eyes widened, he swallowed with a small shuffle of his feet, grinned sheepishly, and paused for a moment as he tried to pick the right words. He opened his mouth after a few seconds to speak, but was swiftly cut off.
“For the love of… Wes, what did you do?” I turned as a third boy entered the room. Vince Masters: captain of the men’s lacrosse team and academic extraordinaire.
“This ******* decided the best way to avoid getting in trouble for pulling the alarm was to brain anyone who walked in, and knock ’em out cold.” I remarked with a glance at Vince, who, noting my presence, raised an eyebrow and shut the door behind him.
“Wes. Do I need to babysit you all the time? I walk away for literally three minutes and you manage to pull a fire alarm, get stuck in the geography room, and attempt to shank Katy. What the **** am I supposed to do with you?” Striding across the room, he took the broken pot from Weston’s hands: setting it down on an empty desk, cuffed him upside the head, and turned to me. “Sorry G, Wes here just doesn’t think sometimes.” He offered me a fist.
I bumped him and we both moved to slap hands. He nodded slightly, and cracked a half smile. I nodded back.
“Vince,” Wes whined, “We had a pop quiz in algebra. What the hell else was I supposed to do? Try to solve for X? If I fail one more quiz Momma’s gonna kill me.”
Vince rolled his eyes. “Dude if your Ma’s not killed you yet, I highly doubt she’s gonna. Have you passed even one quiz yet this year?”
“Yes!” Wes nodded with wide eyes.
I looked at him and raised an eyebrow.
“No!” Wes shook his head enthusiastically. Vince rubbed a wear hand across his forehead. Someone let forth a little guffaw. I was shocked to realize it had been me.
The moment was cut somewhat short as Principal Williams strode in through the geography room’s open door. Her straw-blonde hair was combed back into a ponytail that seemed to pull at the skin of her face—stretching it until you could see every contour of the narrow skull beneath. Her hooded blue eyes flicked from Vince Masters to me and back again, before landing on Weston and the single shard of ceramic pot still clasped in his hands. The eyes narrowed and her thin lips drew downwards into a semi-permanent frown. She took a few slow steps toward Weston and let out a long, slow, frustrated sigh. Weston, I give him credit, didn’t move a muscle. He stood still as a statue and let the woman advance.
“Sup P. Williams?” he said with a devilish grin.
“Mr. Jennings.” Williams replied coolly as she removed a single leaf from the top of his head. She reached out a hand and offered it palm up. The shard of ceramic was carefully deposited, and she walked purposefully to the garbage can, throwing it inside. It clinked against the metal as it hit the bottom.
Silence hit the room like a train coming into the station. None of us moved. Williams’ eyes scanned the damage, eyes roaming over Wes, then Vince, before stopping on me.
“Well then. I suppose I’ll be going now.” Weston tipped an imaginary top hat, and took a step toward the exit. He shrugged in mild confusion as Williams made no move to stop him, and took another step. Soon he’d walked to the door, and with a final confused look back, walked out. Vince frowned slightly and made a quick nod to follow Weston. Together we made our moves to leave as well.
“Just a moment Mr. Katy.”
I stopped, as did Vince a few paces in front of me. He turned around in surprise. I guess, looking back at it now, I shouldn’t have had the same reaction, but I was surprised too. Sometimes I forgot how other people saw me. Of course she’d suspect me. I was the wild one. Maybe she figured the Countdown had finally hit zero.
“Yeah P. W?” I said carefully. “How can I help you?” Her lips curved downwards with even greater force.
“What exactly did you think you were doing Mr. Katy.” A fleck of spit from those pencil-line lips landed on my cheek, and with a disgusted gesture I wiped it off with a sleeve.
“This school does not bow you your every whim Mr. Katy. Just because your daddy’s rich and you drive a fancy bike doesn’t mean you have the right to rule the rest of us. I am in charge here, you hear me? I am.” I sighed. Sometimes Genius Neurosurgeon Father of mine didn’t help the reputation. I looked at Vince with a lazy roll of my neck and opened my mouth to give her a retort, but she wasn’t finished yet.
“You Mr. Katy, are a nothing. A nothing. Do you know what that is? Here let me spell it for you. N. O. T. H–“
“I do know how to spell ma’am.” I growled, letting a little bit of venom into my voice.
“–I. N. G. Outside River Valley you’d be the lowest of the low, the scum on the top of the pond, the kid whose name no one would know. You’d be a nothing Mr. Katy. You hear me? A nothing.” I stood once again in silence, staring into those hooded eyes.
A nothing. I remembered what it was like to be a nothing. It was lonely.
But it wasn’t true. Was it? I wasn’t a nothing. Not anymore. Not in River Valley.
“Oh shove it up yours P. Williams.”
The hooded eyes opened wide and snapped toward the doorway to the classroom. I must have had a similar reaction because when I turned to face Weston, he gave me a nod worthy of any chivalrous knight of old.
“Ty didn’t do nothing. I pulled the alarm. If anyone’s a nothing with no future and no hope it’s me. I’m the one who’d rather cause mass panic than take an algebra quiz, so shove it aight?” Vince’s mouth twitched. I thought he was annoyed at Wes having to take them blame instead of letting it be pinned on me, but then I realized he was trying to contain a smile. Who were these guys? Weren’t they afraid of me? Why were they doing this?
Wes was standing in the doorway, giant hands clenched tightly in fists, and his jaw set in a determined manner.
“Man… you don’t have to do that” I said slowly.
“I know.” He nodded as he replied.
And that was that.
Vince Masters inclined his head in my direction and cracked another half-smile—resting a hand on Weston’s shoulder.
Principal Williams looked like she was about to have a coronary. Her eyes flicked from Wes, to me, and back to Wes.
Her desperation to punish me finally gave way to annoyance as she realized she had no solid evidence against me with Wes’ confession.
Weston Jennings served two weeks after school detention for me. Granted, I wouldn’t have deserved the two weeks if they’d been mine, but I’d been ready to accept them. Weston Jennings took them for me, and I will never forget that. Vince and I visited him each day, some days bringing food, others just bringing conversation.
By the end of those two weeks I wasn’t alone anymore. By the end of those two weeks, people didn’t talk about “Ty Katy” anymore. If my name was mentioned, it was mentioned in the context of two other names.
“Look there they go. Wes, Vince Masters, and Ty.”