Darkness crowded the inside of the locker, wrapping Simon tightly like a blanket on a cold night, protecting him from the harshness of the laughter on the other side of the locker door. Simon felt more at ease and at home trapped inside than he did with the kids on the hallway side of the door. They were cruel and stupid, and none of them had a true passion for knowledge or understanding. They lived every day of their pathetic lives to please somebody else, to stay part of some imaginary crowd that would evaporate upon graduation, leaving them more alone than he felt now. In the darkness, Simon had all he needed, his mind. Simon could spend hours calculating the strength of the piano hinge that held the door closed, and with just enough pressure, in just the right space, he'd easily be free of his prison. The first time he had been there, it was trial and error, but equation after mental equation led to the perfect placement of his knee to breach the door.
"Told you that you'd pay for talking to Shelly," Brent whispered through the vents in the locker.
"Ha-ha! Yeah, nerd! You've got nobody to blame but yourself. He told you not to talk to Shelly!" Clyde exclaimed from behind.
Simon knew Clyde was incapable of conjuring an original thought and chuckled at the sound of him trying to echo Brent's macho ego. Brent was the alpha male to his two-dog pack, well, three, if you counted Shelly, Brent's she-wolf.
"I know I don't hear laughter coming from in there, you geek! It must be crying. Yeah that's it. Is baby afraid of the dark?" Brent's voice teased from the hallway.
Simon leaned forward and rubbed the metal slats of the door with his cheek. He was so close to Brent he could smell the chewing tobacco on Brent's breath through the openings.
A whisper snaked its way through the vented slats and sent chills down Brent's back. "I don't know, Brent. Why don't you come in here with me? There's a thousand ways to die in the dark, and you never know what's lying in wait for you."
Brent stepped back from the door trying to process what he had just heard, wondering if he had even heard it at all. Could it have been just his own mind playing tricks on him?
"Let's get out of here, Clyde, and let this geek think about how off limits Shelly is. She's out of your league, freak!"
"Yeah, freak, she's out of your league!"
Simon chuckled again, hearing Clyde's echoing.
Simon leaned back against the wall, once again alone in the dark. He retreated into his mind, mulling over the decisions that he had already set in motion. Simon wrestled with what he knew had to take place. He thought his entire endeavor had led to this very moment. In just a few hours the sum of the equation he had been struggling with would be reached. He knew it was futile to change direction now. After all, to do something different now would ultimately change the sum of the equation he had been committed to so tirelessly, or worse, leave it void of a sum at all. What would life be if two plus two didn't equal four? To leave even one equation unfinished would throw the world mathematically off balance. The equation had to be totaled. Altering the problem to be solved would bring all his work crumbling to the ground.
Suddenly, Shelly's soft voice penetrated the darkness, bringing him back to the fact he was still in the locker. Simon felt the blood vessels in his eyes filling slowly, as a tear slid from the inner corner of his left eye, and then one from his right. The very sound of her crushed Simon more than all the insults previously hurled at him by Brent and Clyde.
Simon's mind whisked him away to the summer between eighth and ninth grade, where he had found himself sitting on the hill overlooking their secret kingdom. It was a time of simplicity and innocence of childhood that was quickly ruined by the cruelty of adolescence. Her voice had once been the brightest light in his life, and sadly, the lack of it, had created the darkest void within as well.
Simon's moms live-in boyfriend, Stan, was a severe and abusive alcoholic. Out of pure hatred that Simon wasn't his, or just that Simon was smarter, Stan would lash out at him to punish his mother for whatever anger happened to brew up in him while drinking. He would often strike Simon, but his favorite punishment was to lock the boy in his closet for hours on end, until his mom or Shelly would let him out. Shelly had been his neighbor since sixth grade when his mom and he moved to town, after Simon's dad had died, to be closer to relatives.
Shelly became Simon's friend the day he moved in. When everybody else turned on him or despised him for his genius, Shelly would be there. She often picked up the pieces and put him back together again. Back then, she had cared, she truly cared.
The last day of summer break had been one of the worst that Simon had ever faced. His live-in, authority figure had been drinking more than usual and unleashed a fury onto Simon unlike any before. That beating would turn out to be child's play compared to the cruelty of high school, but at the time, it was the single worst day of Simon's life. Little did he know the following weeks would dwarf this experience and set into motion a chain of events that would change Simon's life forever.
Shelly had heard the screaming from her bedroom and leapt to the window just in time to see Stan throw a right hook at Simon's head. The force of the blow knocked Simon to his knees. Stan grabbed him by the shoulders and threw him into the darkness of the closet, still hurling profanities and telling Simon how useless his brilliant mind was while being so physically inadequate. Stan slammed the closet door shut and turned the lock on the handle that he had reversed to keep Simon trapped inside the darkness.
Simon remembered the pain. He remembered the warmth and the smell of the blood as it ran slowly down his cheek from an open cut on his forehead where Stan's fist had landed. The next memory was of how the stream of blood sped up as it mixed with the fall of tears, and how when it hit his lips, the taste was both metallic and sweet. Most of all he remembered just how dark it was in the closet. He remembered thinking one day he would put Stan someplace dark as well. Then, as now, Shelly's voice was the one that broke through the darkness.
"Simon? Are you in there?" Shelly had whispered.
"Well, yeah, the doors still locked, isn't it?"
"Then I'm still in here."
Click, click, and the door had swung open.
"Simon, lets go! Stan passed out in the living room, and I want to show you something, somewhere safe you can go."
The light in the room had been enough to hurt Simon's eyes, but not bad enough that he didn't notice Shelly's outstretched hand. She pulled him onto the corner of the bed while she cleaned and attempted to bandage Simon's wound.
"There ya go, all fixed!"
Simon reached forward and took Shelly's hand as she helped pull him to his feet. He remembered feeling a little woozy as he stood, but it wasn't enough to stop him from following her out the bedroom window, down the street, and then up and into the woods. They had walked for twenty minutes before they came to a clearing in the wood line.
Stepping through the opening, Simon found the two of them were standing in a rocky clearing. It appeared, by the slope of the natural ground, to be the old riverbank. The river had cut its way another hundred yards or so from the place where they were standing but had left its mark on the landscape. It was obvious to Simon that somebody had dug out the area of riverbank. It remained rather flat compared to the sloping forest surrounding the opening, other than a few layers of horizontal cutaways on the steepest side of the dig that terraced up to what appeared to be a stage of sorts. In the middle of the raised area was a squared-off outcropping of hard red clay and stone where the workers had stopped digging, that rose from the ground like a pedestal of some sort.
"What is this place?" asked Simon.
"Its an old rock quarry my dad said is from the time the town was founded. You know the old cobblestone alleys downtown?"
"Well, this is where they came from. I've never seen anybody else here, so I don't think very many people know about it anymore. I like to come here and think. This has always been my special spot, and now," she turned and smiled at Simon, "now its ours."
Simon remembered the feeling of joy was so strong that he didn't feel the pain from the punch anymore. They walked to steps of the pedestal, climbed up onto the outcropping, and sat down facing back towards where they had entered. From this elevated vantage point, they could look down on the rest of quarry.
"This is my favorite spot," Shelly said with a smile.
"This is the place I call my throne. From here, I can rule over my subjects. I am the queen of the quarry." Shelly giggled a little as she admitted her girly and childish thoughts and then spoke again. "I guess tomorrow is the first day of the rest of our lives, huh?" changing the conversation from fantasy back to reality.
Simon remembered thinking how well Shelly knew him, and he was pleased by the fact that she didn't want to dwell on what had happened. Simon hated talk of feelings and facing his anger. He didn't do well with emotions, and oddly enough felt as if they were a weakness in and of themselves. Simon answered, "Yup, if I play my cards right, I will be at MIT in five years and away from this place."
"You wont miss me?"
"You could always come with me."
"As what, the janitor? I'm not smart enough to follow you."
"It doesn't matter anyhow. You will forget about me in a couple weeks. Once we start school, and all the popular guys notice you, our world won't exist anymore."
"Silly, don't say that! I could never forget you!"
"Promise me," Simon spoke softly, knowing full well that they were from two different worlds. "You are the only thing good in my life." A single tear slid down his face as he turned away from Shelly.
"Don't turn away from me!" Shelly said with smile, knowing the way Simon felt about her. She giggled, finally noticing how bad the bandage job on his forehead was. "I promise. Who else will look after you if I don't?"
That thought hadn't been foreign to Simon either. Outside of his ambitions to attend MIT, she had been his only life for three years. Most kids were still playing video games or sports and not worried about the next four years at all. Simon had been forced to grow up faster than most children, and a way out was far more pressing than simple kids games to him.
Shelly, seeing his fear of losing her, felt for just a moment how important she was to Simon. The feeling of needing her that much moved her enough to lean in and place a simple kiss on his cheek.
"What was that for?" Simon's face turned three shades of red as he worked through what had just happened between them.
Shelly laughed, and said, "Well, every queen needs her king, and if we're going to rule this kingdom together, we're going to have to care about each other." They both laughed and talked for a while more before returning home.
The next day had begun like all of those before. He got up, got ready, and walked to the bus stop where he would stand and talk to Shelly until the bus got there. High school was revealing. It didn't take more than the first couple of weeks to establish the gulf between the cool kids and the geeks. Shelly fell on one side of that line, and Simon fell on the other. The difference was that Shelly was welcomed into her crowd with open arms, and Simon was viewed as a geek even among the other smart kids. Simon's intellect far surpassed that of the next in line. He was ostracized by everyone. Shelly found a boyfriend old enough to drive and didn't come to the bus stop anymore, leaving Simon alone there as well. He would go to the quarry and wait, but the queen had abandoned her castle. Loneliness and anger had become Simon's closest friends.
Three weeks into school Stan decided to teach Simon another life lesson on toughness. both verbally and physically. When the ambulance arrived, Simon thought that she'd have at least come outside, but she didn't. Simon was treated and released for the injuries suffered in his bike riding accident. He walked slowly into the house thinking that Shelly would come out to see him at any second, but nobody showed up. Simon walked into his room and over to his window. Shelly was at her window, standing there looking across at him. A tear slid slowly down his cheek as he raised the arm not in a sling and placed his hand on the glass. Shelly lowered her head, closed the blinds, and turned out the light in her room. The darkness that she used to save him from had been delivered by her own hand. Simon was crushed. That night Stan disappeared, and it must have been late, because nobody saw him leave. Everyone thought Simon's mom had finally had enough and just asked him to go.
The next morning there was a torrential downpour. Shelly's boyfriend's car slowed at the stop sign where the bus stop was, and Shelly looked over to see Simon standing there in the rain wearing a poncho. The hood was pulled at such an angle that she could only see Simon's mouth. He was smiling, seeming to find joy in the nastiness of that day.
Days turned to weeks, weeks to months, and months to years. Shelly's boyfriends came and went, and Simon became a complete recluse. He sat isolated on the bus, at lunch, and was alone wherever he was seen, unless he was being picked on by others. Even his window blinds were always closed. He had withdrawn from everyone.
Over their four years of high school, there was a rash of missing persons cases. None of them had been solved, which left a black mark on the community. There were multiple school meetings on how to notice depression in your friends, how to deal with desires to run away, or with thoughts of suicide. Simon was always there, always by himself. Shelly remembered thinking that's how he must feel inside, and feeling guilt for leaving him alone overwhelmed her. It was their last full week of school together, and Shelly couldn't let him leave without making amends for her actions.
After the last rally on depression, she found Simon by his locker, walked up to him, and said, "I know it doesn't mean anything now, but I just wanted to say I'm sorry. I should have been there for you, but I was too afraid of people."
"Treating you like a freak too?"
"Yes." She lowered her head in shame for what he must have felt every day.
"Don't worry about it, it will all be behind us in another couple of weeks, and I will be out of here. I will finally be around people I can relate to and be done with the ignorant kids in this school."
"I guess I'm included in that group? I guess I deserve to be, because I have been exactly that, ignorant. I ignored every struggle you were put through, and I should have been there for you."
From the end of the hall, Clyde saw the conversation taking place.
"Hey Brent, isn't that the geek talking to Shelly?"
"Yes, and he's going to regret having that discussion in a few minutes!"
"Yeah, he's going to regret it!" Clyde chimed.
Brent charged down the hall, threw him against the lockers on the other side, and then began wailing on Simon's stomach and chest, finally punching him in the face. As the blood began to pour from a new break in an old scar, Simon merely smiled. Brent froze, shocked and a little scared by the look on Simon's face as he slowly raised his eyes to look at Brent. Brent grabbed Simon, threw him into his still open locker, and slammed the door closed on him.
Now, with Shelly's voice coming through the door, Simon realized she still had the same effect on him as she had all those years before. He could become lost in it forever, if he chose to. He wiped the tears from his eyes, knowing that he had to finish what he had begun so long ago. It was finally time to finish the equation.
"Simon, I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! I didn't mean for this to happen." Click, click, and the door swung open. "He's gone."
"Funny how things sometimes end just how they start," Simon smirked as he stepped out from the small, dark space.
"You're bleeding, let me..."
"No, your nursing abilities suck as I recall."
Shelly smiled and let out a small chuckle before saying, "At least let me give you a ride home."
"No, I'm fine. I have a couple of things to take care of this evening." Simon replied as he looked down the hall where Brent and Clyde had exited. "Tell you what. I do want to talk a little more, so how about meeting me at the quarry tomorrow?"
"Oh, my God! You still go there?"
"Well hey, what's a kingdom without its king after all? Ill be there at noon."
"I haven't made plans for this weekend, so you have a date! See you there," Shelly agreed as she walked away.
The next day Shelly met Simon at the entrance to the quarry. As they walked into the rocky hollow, Shelly stopped in amazement. Before her, the once barren landscape of clay and cobblestones gave way to fourteen perfectly stacked rock formations, organized in pairs and running the length of the quarry up to the raised area that had once been her imaginary throne. Each formation was constructed with such fierce attention to detail that it exactly mirrored those to the side and to the front of it. They were shaped like pyramids and lined as if they were soldiers guarding either side of the approach to the throne. As she walked through the structures, she stopped to notice how the sun reflected flakes of crystal in some of the stones, and the effect illuminated the two of them as they stepped into the stonework aisle. Shelly stopped a couple of times, spinning round, taking in the majesty of what had been constructed in what had once been just a desolate space. It was as if life had breathed forth from fantasy.
"Did you do all of this, Simon?" Shelly asked in amazement.
"Yes, and you were right. Nobody ever comes here. I've noticed that planes don't even fly over this spot. Apparently, its all part of a no-fly zone because of its proximity to the base."
Shelly continued walking through the quarry, admiring the structures, especially how the light reflected off different minerals in the stones.
"It's so beautiful, the way the rocks sparkle. It's almost like a stone garden, and each stone is a perfect flower."
"I'm glad you like it. I built it just for you."
"Yes. After the last time we spoke, this became my getaway. I remembered how you said this was your kingdom, but you had no subjects. It was lonely here without you, so I began to build these monuments. Each one represents somebody who was cruel to me, somebody I had to overcome in order to arrive right here and right now."
By this time, they had reached the front of the line, where the ground began to terrace upward to the outcropping where they had sat so long ago. Shelly stopped between the last two mounds and looked back over the number of monuments. A tear crept down her cheek.
"I had no clue there were so many that were cruel to you. I should have been there for you. I promised you I would be, and I broke that promise to you."
"Stop. You're here now, and that's what matters. You showed up exactly when you were meant to."
Shelly stood in awe, counting the monuments, over and over again. "It's just so sad that we will be leaving here soon and all this will go unappreciated."
"No, there will always be somebody here."
Shelly felt a sharp pain radiate forward from the back of her head as she fell to the ground, and slipped from consciousness. She awoke much later to the sound of stones being laid around her, unable to move within the weight of them. She found herself looking out over the line of the monuments from atop the outcropping. She tried to wiggle free but found she had been tied to a post within the pile. That, coupled with the crushing weight, pressing in from all sides, kept her from escaping. Shelly screamed.
"Oh no, no, no, that just wont do. You're a queen now. Act like one. Besides, nobody can hear you out here. Well, nobody but Clyde and Brent. They're just in front of you. If you listen closely, you may be able to hear them, at least for the next couple of hours." Simon smirked vengefully, knowing they would soon succumb to the heavy stones crushing them.
"Why? pleaded Shelly," scared and confused. "Why did you do this to all of these people, and why are you doing this to me?"
"This is your kingdom, Shelly, and what you see before you are more than just your subjects. This is an equation, and you are the sum of all its parts. It had to be you here. only you are worthy to be queen. I always knew you and I were a mathematic impossibility, but you belong here, right here. This is a place of grandeur and great importance. This spot, on top of the throne, was saved for the one who hurt me the most. It has always been reserved for you." As Simon placed the last few stones around her head, she could hear him say, "Don't worry, I'll never leave you." She could hear the sound of his lips kissing the rock near her cheek and then one last sentence before drifting back into unconsciousness. "When I come back, you'll always be here with me, my queen."
As Simon climbed back down to the quarry floor, he stopped at the monument he had built for Brent. Hearing him still moaning slightly from inside of the structure, Simon leaned in close, pressed his face softly against the smooth edges of the stone, mand whispered, "Welcome to the darkness Brent. How does it feel?"