Hayden Small was sitting alone on the steps of the Mid-Manhattan Public Library, flipping through the pages of a half empty notebook. Few people paid mind to him, which would’ve pleased him very much if he weren’t so fixated on those many blank pages, and wondering why they were blank. Eventually, his eyes grew tired and he decided to lift his head from the pages for a moment; that is when he noticed something quite peculiar. A boy, around fifteen years of age, was lying on his back on the steps beside him. He didn’t seem to be awake.
Hayden looked at the boy in confusion. When had he gotten there? He hadn’t been lying on the steps when Hayden had first arrived. Perhaps he’d just been too consumed by the nothingness that lingered in his notebook to notice him. Cautiously, Hayden reached out and poked the dozing boy’s shoulder. All at once, two shocked blue eyes snapped open and the yellow-haired boy sat up quicker than a snake lashing its head out to attack its victim. “What are you doing?” the boy snarled, baring his teeth. “I was trying to sleep!” It all happened so fast, Hayden needed to restrain himself from flinching. The sharp vexation in the youngster’s eyes struck him…he hadn’t been ready for such anger from a child. “Calm down, dude,” the young man said. “I wasn’t going to hurt you or anything…”
“You don’t just scare someone like that! What kind of an asshole are you?” the boy roared in spite of Hayden’s words. “Alright, alright, I’m sorry,” Hayden apologized, backing slightly away from the furious child. The thought of getting up and leaving crossed his mind immediately, but his legs wouldn’t seem to allow it. His mind was scolding him: He’s just a scrawny kid! He can’t pick on you! It’s bad enough you apologized to him like that. No, you will stay, and you will show him who the adult is here.
Hayden cleared his throat. “What the hell are you even doing, sleeping here?” he demanded. “Why do you want to know?” the boy rebuked, looking away from Hayden. “Are you going to ask if my parents know I’m here next?”
“You’ve got a smartass mouth, pal,” the young man remarked. The boy snorted in response to the insult, unimpressed. “Alright, you want to know why I’m here?” he hissed. “Because I like the library, and other kids my age don’t hang out around here. What about you?”
Hayden shook his head. “If you like the library so much, why don’t you just go inside instead of committing this weird form of loitering?” he scoffed.
“You didn’t answer my question,” the boy pointed out, his blue eyes almost flashing. “Why are you here?” The two of them stared each other down, not saying anything for a few brief moments. “I don’t have to answer to a little brat,” Hayden finally broke the silence, his patience wearing thin. The hostile anger in the boy’s face lit up for a second, but then it quickly began to simmer down, much to Hayden’s surprise. “No, you don’t,” he sighed. His expression had sunk, as if haunted by a deep sadness, and suddenly a strange feeling of sympathy washed over Hayden. This confused the young man. What reason had he to show this brat any sympathy?
“I’m sorry for snapping at you,” the blonde-haired boy apologized, shame in his voice. “And I’m sorry for being so nasty afterwards. I just get freaked out around strangers.” Hayden frowned. The kid was trying to act all innocent now? No way. He wasn’t making any friends today. Still, though Hayden’s disapproval was clear as crystal, the boy went on talking. “My name’s David,” he introduced himself. Really? the young man thought. So we’re friends now, huh? Well, sorry, kid, if you think you’re getting my name…. But as his dark brown eyes met the boy’s bright blue ones, an odd guilty feeling started to eat at him. “Hayden,” he grumbled reluctantly. “My name’s Hayden.”
“Nice to meet you, Hayden,” David smiled. What are you smiling about, smartass? Hayden thought, his anger smoldering. “Excuse me, I’m a little confused,” he said. “Why do you want to be my friend all of a sudden? You don’t even know me.” David took a glance at the small notebook sitting beside Hayden. “I don’t know you, it’s true,” he said, “but I have seen you before. You always have that little book with you. Sometimes you’re walking around town, and you’re holding it in your hand or you have it in your pocket. Sometimes you’ll be sitting down on a bench flipping through the pages or writing in it. Whatever the case, you always have that book with you when I see you.” Hayden’s frown grew even longer. Hold on a second, has this kid been following me? he wondered. Why? I don’t know him at all…. Suddenly he felt a pang of paranoia. Were people watching him talk to David? What would they think of him, an adult man, talking to this strange fifteen-year old? What would David’s parents think?
“I just think you’re interesting, that’s all,” he heard David speak again. Then his face began to flush a little. “I didn’t mean for that to sound creepy…”
“Oh, don’t worry, you’ve already creeped me out plenty, David,” Hayden responded. The embarrassment in David’s face was becoming hard to hide. It almost made Hayden laugh, but he fought the urge. “Seriously, though,” he said, “I don’t know why you’re so interested in me…or why you’ve been following me, at that. Is it this book? If so, then trust me, there’s nothing in it that would interest you…”
“I’m sure that’s not true,” David said. “You seem like you’re thinking a lot when you write in it.” He stopped speaking for a moment, and he looked like he was deep in thought. When he spoke again, he said, “My brother used to write a lot, in a little book like that one.”
“Really?” Hayden asked with slight interest. “Why’d he stop?” David shrugged in response, but said nothing. After a few moments of silence, the boy finally said, “It was kind of a phase.”
“Yeah. I’m pretty sure he was just using it to distract himself from school. He was getting bullied a lot, and he didn’t have many friends, so he just created some characters in his head and wrote stories about them. They were usually pretty good, actually.”
“Hmm,” Hayden nodded. “Well, then, I guess it’s too bad that he stopped.”
“Yeah,” David said. “It was. Especially because he was so much happier when he was writing. After he abandoned it, he started getting angry and sad again. I tried to talk him into writing more, but he told me that writing about his characters just reminded him that he had no real friends.”
Hayden felt his soul slowly sinking as their conversation went on. Something about the brother haunted him…something dark and familiar. It crept inside of his heart like a million tiny parasitic creatures, and it continued to creep until it actually began to hurt. I need to get out of here, he thought suddenly. I…I shouldn’t be talking to this stranger.
“Listen, David,” he said. The boy looked up at him with bright blue eyes, and something in those eyes began to anger Hayden a little, but he tried to ignore it. “I should really get going.”
“Where do you have to go?” David asked. “You didn’t look like you were in a rush when your eyes were glued to that notebook.”
“Don’t get smart with me, now,” Hayden growled. “You can’t keep me here. I shouldn’t have even been talking to you to begin with.”
“Why not?” David demanded. “I’m no harm to you. If anything, I gave you something to do.” Hayden breathed in, trying to keep his anger at bay. He wouldn’t let this boy get the best of him. He couldn’t.
“I don’t think you have the right to be questioning a man you don’t know,” he said. “Now, I’ll say it again, and you better get my words through your head; I shouldn’t be talking to you. I’m a full-grown adult, and you’re only fifteen…would you think about how weird that might look for a second? I could get in trouble if I’m seen with you like this. So please, for my sake, would you leave me alone? Thanks, I appreciate it.” But just as he was about to get up, he heard David hiss, “It isn’t fair.” He looked in irritation at the boy and snorted, “What isn’t fair?”
“I saw you here alone,” David snarled. “I was alone, too. I thought maybe we could get to know each other a little.”
“You fell asleep and when I woke you up you yelled at me. That isn’t how you make friends.”
“I told you, I get weird around strangers. I went in head first, and when I finally got to you, I changed my mind but I didn’t want to leave. I have a feeling that’s something you could understand.”
“Alright, smartass, listen up,” Hayden snapped as he and David both rose to their feet and locked eyes. “I don’t know who you think I am, but I’m not like you. I don’t creep up beside strangers and fall asleep next to them like a weirdo. I don’t yell at people I don’t know. I might not have many friends, but at least I know how to keep a distance. And honestly, as much as I’d like to help you, I have problems of my own, and I don’t have the goddamn time to hear about you and your brother. So would you please just stop following people around and make some real friends so that this weird shit doesn’t need to keep going on? Because if it does, trust me, you’ll have no one. Everyone will just think you’re weird, but again, maybe that’s just what you are. Now, that being said, buzz the hell off before I find your parents and see to it that they tan your sorry hide.”
And as Hayden stood there, looming over the young boy in all his fury, feeling as mighty as a king staring into the eyes of a fool, his heart suddenly began to stumble. That is when he realized that David’s gaze was burning into his soul, and the boy could see right through him as if he were transparent. His feeling of power quickly morphed into a feeling of nakedness; in his rage he’d just allowed himself to be seen. The wall had crumbled…the boy had won.
“Alright,” Hayden heard David whimper silently. “You’ve made your point. I’ll…I’ll just leave you alone.” He looked pained, anguished, but Hayden refused to show weakness. “Come on, brat,” he said angrily. “Is this really how you’re going to be? Act like a man, would you?”
David spat at Hayden’s feet. “Shut up!” he roared. “You’ve already won! What more do you need? God, you really are pathetic, more like my brother than I thought. Have fun being alone, Hayden. I know I won’t.” With that, the boy turned away from Hayden for the last time, and was off. Thank God, he thought as he watched David leave, then he walked away in the opposite direction.
Hayden left the library behind him without looking back. He walked down the streets, trying desperately not to think of the boy; it was a harder feat to accomplish than he’d expected it would be. He walked and walked, fighting the thoughts of the things he’d said to David all the while, fighting the guilt that struck his every step. I don’t care about him…. he told himself. I don’t care about him…. A lie. He knew it was a lie.
Hayden suddenly found his feet stopping dead in their tracks. They spun him around and forced him to go down the path that David had gone down. His mouth, meanwhile, was calling out to the boy against Hayden’s will. “David!” he yelled. “David, hang on! Come back, I’m sorry! Please…I just want to apologize! David!” Hayden was more confused than ever now. Why did he even bother calling out to someone who was already long gone? He just couldn’t stop himself, and it was driving him almost mad. You look insane! Stop! his mind was yelling. But his heart forced him onward, refusing to listen. He soon realized that he truly wanted to find the boy. He wanted to embrace him, to make him feel like he had a friend, like he belonged. He at least wanted to say goodbye to him. He just wanted to do something that would make the boy see how sorry he was….
So he called and called, but no answer came back. Finally, Hayden gave up and sat down, seeing that there was no way he would find David. Needing to escape, he opened his notebook, but when his eyes met what he’d expected to be blank pages, he was shocked at what they found instead. The pages were covered in words. “What…what the hell….” Hayden stuttered. “I don’t…I don’t understand. I never wrote anything.” Hayden looked around. Had he even gotten up before? He was sitting right where he’d been when they’d talked…on the steps of the library. It didn’t make any sense. He swore he’d gotten up. You idiot, his mind reprimanded. Of course you got up. You just came back to the same damn library and didn’t realize it because you’re too crazy to tell what the hell is going on. Now, doesn’t that sound like it makes more sense? Yes. Yes it did. Nonetheless, he would never in a million years be able to explain the words he couldn’t remember writing. He scanned the pages, trying to maybe by some miracle grasp an answer, but no matter what, he just couldn’t. Then he came to the realization that he hadn’t looked at the title. His dark eyes searched the pages, looking over every word until they at long last caught sight of one word that rose above the rest. That looks like it could be a title, he thought. And indeed it was. So after being overwhelmed by the joy of discovering his title, it was then that he realized exactly what it said. God, he didn’t know how he hadn’t noticed it right off the bat. That one word, the word that rose king above the rest, the word he’d never forget in all his days was: “David.”