Chapter 9:

The Dust Devil Swirls to the Rhythm of Her Recollection of the Past

With Oasis (Vol. 1)

The next day, me and Lou both went to school as usual, except that we were incredibly sleep deprived. I, for one, got neither wink nor blink of sleep post-graffiti, and I highly doubt Lou did either. I dropped Lou off at her place a little after 3:00 a.m., and arrived at my own place a few minutes later.

When I finally got back home, I found Mom passed out on the living room couch with volume two of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid resting on her stomach. Unfortunately, it seems she lost her page. Although at this point she’s read the series so many times she could probably recite half of it by memory.

The lamp was still on behind her.

Seeing my Mom asleep on the couch— she had this sort of serene, nigh angelic aura to her; this whole-souled sense of peace. Every rise and fall of her chest had the same quality as ripples on a black river in the midst of night. Maybe it’s because she’s generally the type of woman people would consider beautiful, though as her son I’ve become jaded on her good looks. Or rather, they never phased me in the first place.

…I guess my Mom being witness to the fact that I left the house in the middle of the night is a bit of a loose end, huh? If, for whatever reason, Stoneswan high staff emailed all the parents of the students who attend their school asking if they had any leads as to who did the vandalism, my Mom would probably have a question or six to ask me.

But honestly, that possibility doesn't worry me much. If it comes to that, I’ll just use her trust in me against her. It sucks, but I’ll stoop there if need be.

As I walked up the steps to my bedroom, it suddenly hit me why I thought Mom looked so peaceful when she was asleep.

I’m projecting, aren’t I?

Back in the day, didn’t I associate Mom’s sleeping face with a sense of inner peace? After all, sleeping next to Mom was the highlight of my day (or I guess night) as a kid.

So really, it's the highlight of my life.

I tried to sleep for about an hour once I got back to my bedroom, but in the end, it proved impossible. So, once 4:30 a.m. hit, I reckoned it was pointless to continue trying to sleep, made my way back to the living room, nabbed a book, pushed Mom’s legs into a bent position, sat in the newly available seat, and read.

I read Dragon Maid, for the record. I had to steal volume two off of Mom's stomach.

Mom was still peacefully asleep by the time I headed for school.

Lou appeared at my bus stop like usual. We both greeted each other, but then proceeded to stay silent. The entire time we stood at the bus stop together, just the two of us, we exchanged no words other than that greeting.

We’re split up during the bus ride, but then at school, we followed each other to our lockers like usual, but said nothing. Silence. Not the serene sort of silence like I noticed in Mom when she was asleep— but it also wasn’t tense silence. It was simply silence.

The silence resulted from, I presume, the fact that something was certainly weighing heavy on Lou’s mind. Her silence to me indicated loquacity in her inner monologue.

The night prior— or really, very early this morning, I had asked her.

—”What was all that about? Actually, what was, like, everything that happened tonight about?”

Her response?

She hesitated for quite some time. Sometimes her mouth would open like she was about to say something, other times it was firmly shut while she took on a morose expression. She kept up like this for quite a while, before finally answering me.

Her answer came in a serious tone. It was not deadpan. There wasn’t any kind of mask being put on. She was simply in a serious mood. “I was sure this topic was gonna come up eventually… For the longest time, I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to talk about it, but I kinda brought it on myself tonight… It’s the sorta thing that has to come up at one point or another anyway…”

“Lou,” I said. “You don’t have to say it if you don’t want to. Nothing you did tonight will make me think you’re a bad person. I’m obviously a little curious, but I can live with not knowing. I can continue dating you without knowing.”

“I think you need to know. No, it’s more like…” Lou looked like she was on the verge of tears. “I really want you to know. It's painful to reminisce about, but I really need you to know. Rocco… meet me at the butte right after school today. I need some time to think about how to say it.”


To my understanding, Lou spent her time at school today having the sort of thoughts that end up like razor blades. The second you think them, they cut you. If you continue thinking them, they flay you. And then you bleed out.

I haven’t had those thoughts since sixth or seventh grade. Hell, nowadays I don’t even have the capacity to have those kinds of thoughts. And for me, those thoughts have never been memories. My life isn’t painful. I have no epic tragic backstory. Lou may think I do, but in all reality, I don’t. Lou is simply a sympathetic person like that.

But Lou does have one.

She’s so sullen today, so silent, because she’s remembering. And she’s trying to find the right words to draw those razor blades out of her without any decapitation.

This metaphor is getting really graphic.

Well, there’s probably another reason she was so down today.

The question fresh in both our minds: did we get caught?

On a Monday morning, at the tail end of the semester, the students of Stoneswan high went to school, only to find that their school had been vandalized.

In all honesty, the two of us can almost certainly be traced back to the crime. I mean, DNA evidence is a thing. It's simply a matter of how far the school was willing to go in finding the culprits.

Time will tell.

But today was the moment of truth in terms of figuring out if we screwed up horrendously enough that they could figure out the culprits on day one.

They did not.

Neither of us got called down to the principal's office or angrily interrogated or anything like that. We just went about our daily slice-of-life high school lives as usual.

Surrounded by rumors.

Even the two of us, usually estranged from the grapevine, couldn’t escape the rumors. And there were so many of them.

“It’s Katie!”

“No, it’s tooootally Serena!”

“Guys, I think it’s Rocco!”

“It’s Liam!”








“Guys! Hey hey! You gotta hear this, right? There’s a rumor going around… I’ve got intel, yeah? This is reeeeally accurate information! Someone leaked this…. THE CULPRIT IS HERPADERPASHLERPAFERPAGERPAGOOPALOOPAFOOPATOOPALOO!”


Yeah, the rumors got pretty insane at certain points…

Being antisocial as we are, me and Lou’s names featured pretty prominently in the rumors. Especially mine. I’m shady, after all. 

I even got asked straight to my face at one point if I was the one who did it. Well, it was pretty easy to deny.

I know he was just asking because I’m shady.

There’s no proof.

And as long as there’s no proof, we’re safe.

It’s definitely not impossible that we get caught for this in the future. But after a completely safe day one, our chances of getting away with it have basically gone up 1000%.

With another interrogation-less day of school behind us, me and Lou got off the bus at our stop like usual.

Once the bus disappeared as it turned a corner, Lou looked me in the eyes and at long last spoke a second sentence to me.

With the glint of determination in her eyes: “I’m ready.”


“You know, it sucks how I’m so tired right now that even coffee won’t help.”

“You’re way too addicted to that stuff, Rocco… Just be like me, and wake up with pure genki girl spirit!”

“Only genki girls can wake up that way though.”

“Then just become a genki girl. Easy peasy!”

“I feel like I’d have to leave my entire sense of identity behind to accomplish that...”

“Fine, if you don’t want to become a genki girl, just become a manic pixie dream girl instead!”

Me and Lou were having our usual sort of banter as we scaled ‘The Butte’. Lou seemed to be her chipper old self, for the most part, and it didn’t seem to be put on.

I don’t know how long it’ll last though. Probably not very.

It wasn’t long before the two of us stood atop the butte together.

At our fronts, we gazed down upon Charlais. The quiet town I’ve called home for all my life, and that Lou’s known since seventh grade. To our backs— the sunset. It’s that time in very-late autumn when the sun sets basically as soon as you get back from school. I’d say we don’t have long before it gets proper dark.

And, at our left side, way off in the distance—

A dust devil, faint and slim, looking as if it would completely dissipate any second.

Lou clasped my hand. “Could I have a good luck kiss on the cheek?” she asked playfully.

There was no way I wasn’t obliging. I kissed her on the cheek briefly, which caused her to smile and even softly giggle. Then, we sat down together.

"This'll probably be a long story," Lou said. "Lke, really long. But I hope you understand... I just want you to understand why I am the way I am."

"It's fine if it's long. I don't mind."

Our legs over the edge of the butte—

Lou’s legs motionless—

My legs swaying not an inch—

With no gap between us, not even enough for a gnat to squeeze through; just our shoulders and waist and sides and hips right against each others’, exchanging warmth…

I hoped my touch had the same effect my Mom’s sleeping face had on my younger self.

Lou began.

“Have you ever fallen into the toilet of an outhouse?”

It felt like one of her usual joke beginnings to a story.

Her tone indicated that it was probably not a joke.

“...You have?” I asked.

“Yuparoo!” She winked. “Five points for guessing correctly!”

Then, her tone got serious again, and she continued. “It’s really not so pleasant of an experience. Not at all. Although it’s more so why I fell down there that’s the issue. To be specific…

I was pushed down there.



Lou winked at me again and said “This is your cue to hug me and say ‘woah bro that’s so sad, here’s some epic comfort time’!”

…She’s trying so hard to keep it light.


I hugged her as she said it was my cue to do, and let her continue at her own pace.

“Man,” she said as I hugged her, “I am SO gonna farm my backstory for as many hugs and kisses and cuddles from you as I can. Prepare for the sympathy card to be played against you relentlessly!”

“Fine by me,” I said, as I began to let go of her.

“Ooo, here’s a chance for me to demonstrate! Rocco, keep hugging me!”

“Fine by me.”

That was how it became that as Lou continued her story, I had her held against my side snugly in a hug.

“But yeah… I was pushed down there…” Lou busied her gaze with her legs. “It all happened because in grade school, I was bullied.”

The world around us— got a little darker.

"During my first few years of school, I was basically your average kid. Actually, I might've even been more chipper than most kids. Well, to be fair, a lot of my memories of early grade school are fuzzy, since it was so long ago and I was so young. But... I do clearly remember one parent-teacher conference in second grade, when my teacher talked about how I was such a social butterfly, and how she loved how eager I was to socialize with others, and how even though I was social I was always quiet when I needed to be.

"Ah, but the reason I remember that parent-teacher conference specifically is because I really internalized that compliment. I thought 'Gee, I guess I must be good at socializing, then' and continued being the social butterfly my teacher said I was. 

"Well... that sure didn't last.

"It was around the last two months of fourth grade when it began.

“I still remember their names…

Lucille. Marie. Belle. Yvette.

“They were all a clique, and sort of the class darlings, at least on the girls’ side of things.

“In grade school, dating isn’t even really real. Actually, our school playground was a very popular venue for mock weddings between the students. It was a casual thing. Of course it was, we were kids.

“But even with all that said, I remember that three of those four had boyfriends. It didn’t mean anything beyond social status. I guess having a boyfriend isn’t as big a deal to grade schoolers as it is for middle and high schoolers… in middle and high school, it raises your status a whole lot to have a significant other. But even in grade school, it struck me… it really did…

That they were so cool for having boyfriends.

In the process of saying all that she had said thus far, Lou managed to wrap a section of her hair all around her left arm. She had been playing with her hair this entire time.

She began unwinding her hair as she continued. “It goes without saying that I didn’t have one myself.

"Even though I was a social butterfly, and at this point generally well liked in my class (or at least not disliked), I wasn't what you would call 'popular'. My social status wasn't high. I was at best around the middle of the pack. I had a few friends and a few more acquintances, but I wasn't 'cool', if that makes sense. 

"And, importantly, I had no clique. My friends each had their own insulated friend groups that I existed outside of. I was a social butterfly who flew around everywhere but failed to take root anywhere.

"Well, being social as I was, I tried to talk to those four popular girls. All four at the same time, since, like I said, they were a clique of sorts. And in the moment, I thought I'd outright befriended them. I even told them about how I didn't have a boyfriend, and how I wanted their advice on how to get one. I know..." Lou blushed. "Kinda embarrassing. I was a cringey little kid.

"Don't worry," I said. "I've done waaaaay more embarrassing."

Lou laughed. "I see! Well, anyway... I thought I'd befriended them, but in reality, they found me entertaining for a different reason. They all thought I was kind of annoying and awkward and weird. So, they decided it'd be funny to tease me about it."

Lou's expression darkened. "I did the worst thing I could've possibly done. I reacted to them... with indignation.

"At first they just picked on me a little. They called me a weirdo, threw the basketball at me during recess, and mocked me for telling them I wanted a boyfriend. Well, to be fair that last one was totally deserved." I didn't think so, but I let Lou continue. "But it wasn't anything too bad. 

"Except, I got really mad and threw a fit about their teasing.

"So, they took that as license to make fun of me even more.

"Well, thankfully, at this point I still had friends who mostly had my back. But that would soon change...

"Well, for the time being, the cycle went as such: those four would inflict some minor, petty act of harassment towards me, I'd retaliate with anger and yell at them and stuff, my friends would validate my anger and occasionally even get angry on my behalf, and then those four would make fun of us for getting mad.

"That was the state of things when fourth grade ended.

"Then, I entered fifth grade.

"It seems that, over the summer, those four girls got incredibly bored, because as soon as school was back in session, they picked up right where they left off... except they upped the intensity.

"Before, they'd do small stuff to me every few days or so, just try to get on my nerves a little. Now, they'd... bully me daily.

"They'd steal my school supplies, and my lunch, and they'd steal my shoes too and hide them from me, and they'd shove me around on the playground, and one time they threw a buncha rocks at me. Every single day, stuff like this would happen... I realized pretty quickly, 'oh, this is bullying'. Before, I'd just written them off as really annoying people, but once I realized I was being bullied, I began to take it more seriously.


"Well, seriously in the wrong way.

"As a kid, it's like an unwritten, iron-clad rule, really. Don't tattle. Nothing good happens to tattletales. Tattling is one of the worst things you can do as a grade school kid in the classroom.

"I should've just bit the bullet and tattled, really...

"But no, instead I took that classic advice parents give of 'don't react'. A reaction is what they want, after all. 

"I sort of had to sweet talk myself into it, since I really wanted to snap back at them. But I did manage to convince myself that I ought not to react. I told myself that 'turning the other cheek makes you a strong girl' and 'this will make them stop, and you'll look like the bigger man in the process.'

"But the problem with not reacting... is that it becomes that nothing is too far. If I had burst into tears one of those times I had been bullied, maybe one of them would've sensed things had gone too far. But now, I wouldn't give them any response at all. If I wanted to cry, I'd simply hold it in. 

"Becuase I ceased reacting... they upped the anty even more, since they missed seeing my angry face. And because I continued not reacting, they continually increased the pressure, while I gave them no indication that they were going too far.

"After a while of this, I came up with a mantra in order to survive.

"Just keep weathering.

"I got the phrase by taking the ‘Just keep swimming’ Dory says in Finding Nemo, and combining it with the idea of ‘weathering’, which I learned about in science class. It was a phrase I could repeat to myself over and over again, to cope with my situation, and to make sure I never reacted. It was almost as if I knew that I’d eventually be eroded to nothing.

"So after a while, things reached another major escalation. Belle. Marie. Yvette. Lucille. Like I said earlier, they were the class darlings on the girls side. So, naturally, they had a lot of friends. And those friends, too, began to find entertainment in bullying me. Then, the friends of those friends as well, joined in.

"It wasn't like everyone in class began bullying me, although it certainly felt like it at the time. It was more like... in our small class of twenty-something, it wasn't hard for a few of the most popular students to control the group consensus. All of a sudden, it was cool to think I was lame. The things I said in the past that people thought were funny or endearing... it now all of a sudden became that they were weird and gross. It was like my status at school was being forcibly and arbitrarily rewritten.

"With the popular opinion now being that I was some skeevy weirdo, they gained a new weapon to use against me.

"Public humiliation.

"Now, they could spread rumors throughout the entire class about how I approached them wanting advice on how to get a boyfriend, or how I yelled at them on the playground angrily all those times. They could mock me on the whiteboard and get a positive reception. They could invent mocking nicknames to call me by, and it'd be a surefire thing that a decent contingent of the class would call me solely by that name until they created a new one. 

"My response the entire time was the same... Just keep weathering. Just keep weathering. Just keep weathering.

"...But the worst part of it all.

"They didn't all leave at once. But slowly... surely... my friends began to distance themselves from me. Whatever their reasoning was, I'm sure it was mostly a subconscious thing on their end. Except for Alli. She can go fuck herself, because she joined in on the bullying consciously and directly, while also talking smack about me and ridiculing me for all the personal things I'd told her when we still hung out together. But aside from her, my friends never just up and turned on me. It was just a gradual drift away... riding the tide of public opinion.

"...The day I realized I had no friends left, though.

"I never showed it in my face or my actions. I had it in my head to just keep weathering, after all.

"But deep down.

"I hated my bullies.

"I hated my friends who had left me behind.

"I hated the rest of my class, who at best, stood idly by while I was being tormented.

"I hated my teacher, who didn't realize what was happening.

"I didn't quite hate humanity... 

"But I hated school—

"And I hated myself."