Copeland Mayfield was lying on his couch in a practical cocoon. He’d taken the comforter off his bed and wrapped it snuggly over his feet and legs, tucked it around his torso, and pulled it up over his head; leaving only a tiny hole for fresh air to circulate in, and for one eye to see out. Today might possibly be the worst day of his life, but he hadn’t decided, and was determined not to leave the couch until he had.
Although, there didn’t appear to be an end in sight. As the intro music began playing for his third consecutive viewing of Independence Day, thanks to a celebratory 4th of July marathon on A&E and one perpetually lost remote control, he had a very clear timeline for his misery. And, unfortunately, knowing exactly how long you’ve been suffering only ratifies despair. (Jules had knocked on his door at 3:48. The marathon had started at 4. It was now 8:01)
His hesitation in declaring today The Worst Ever mostly had to do with his only having been alive for eighteen years and, then, having plenty of unlived days to consider. However, the standing nominees were all serious candidates in their own right.
First in contention was the day his father left. The guy had walked out exactly one week after Copeland had been born, and, though he couldn’t possibly remember him going, or what was said in the days leading up to it, he blamed himself. The timing of such a thing, to his mind, was unbelievably beyond coincidence, and the guilt he felt for existing at all, on a day to day basis, hanging from his shoulders, could be weighed in stones.
Second in the running was the day his best friend, Dustin Meeks, had been dragged away in handcuffs from their middle school cafeteria. He still had nightmares about it. Everyone had been convinced that Dusty had tried to kill the school bully, Chad Bennett. Dusty was only in juvenile detention for a year, and Chad’s family moved away, and no one ever really talked about after that, but it’s positioning in the running for Worst Day Ever was solely based on the moments when they took him. When the two officers lifted him away from his lunch tray, he had kicked and twisted in ways Copeland had never imagined possible. But no matter how he’d tried he couldn’t break free. Those enormous hands had clamped over each of his skinny biceps and just dragged him away anyway. The nightmare always ended with Dusty being pulled through the cafeteria doors, and him turning his head over his shoulder, screaming. So fearful. So much so that even the sixth graders knew to look away. “PLEASE, COPE! SAVE ME! PLEASE! COPELAND! NO! NO! NO!”
But then, in the lead by a mile, there was this afternoon.
Julianna had just handed it to him.
She hadn’t even said hello or kissed him or anything.
On the first night of the summer, a month ago, an eternity ago, she’d ridden her bike to his apartment just to kiss him and say goodnight. That night: amazing. Cope had woken up the next morning and immediately called her just to make sure it wasn’t a joke. They’d been friends since kindergarten, so she didn’t blame him. She just explained to him that it was time for them to be together. And it was. And they were. So whatever.
But today, she’d simply peddled up to the door of his apartment, knocked without getting off her bike, and handed him a white plastic stick that she’d obviously just peed on.
She rode away without word.
His skin had burned, practically boiling under the comforter, just thinking about it.
Still not reason enough to come out.
But how inconsiderate could a person be?
Not a one consoling word.
He’d been so mad at her that, from the safety of his cocoon, he’d spent a great deal of time considering all of the ways in which she could have done it better. How he could have improved her methods. But, so it seemed, every imperfection she had only made her a little more of the contrary, and, by the time Bill Pullman was rallying the troops, the first time through, Cope had moved on to wallowing.
Wallowing, and trying to force himself to find her attractive again.
Any other day, you couldn’t have stopped him from following her to the street, just to watch her perfect behind rock back and forth on her bicycle seat. But, right now, even the most perfectly shaped, most feminine rumps in the world wouldn’t have turned his head. They were suddenly repulsive. And that went so much more so for the hiney that had gotten him into this mess.
He started with her hair, as, unbeknownst to many, boys often do.
Jules had platinum hair. But he’d always thought bleached blondes were a little trashy. And she was peculiarly skinny. Not that being skinny was all that unusual, but her parents owned the nicest restaurant in Bayocean and she was never what people expected. Always, it would turn out that the very well kempt girl with a little meat on her bones and the winning smile was actually just a waitress. And the bosses’ daughter was the skulking girl behind her; the one who had just been caught by the swinging kitchen doors the wrong way and dropped three dinners on the tile. Her teeth weren’t perfectly straight, having lost every retainer she’d ever had, and she preferred her favorite sweater, faded and holey, to her mother’s new cashmere.
But, even though Cope was temporarily unattracted, and had only recently recovered from being pissed at her, she was interesting and wonderful, and more than he deserved. And everyone thought so.
Copeland had actually believed he loved her.
But now he couldn’t even decide which day of his life was the worst, so what did he know. He was defeated. And lost. And scared. And he didn’t want to think anymore. Not even about aliens or Will Smith. He didn’t want to hear anything. He couldn’t handle any new information. All he really wanted was sleep. To be unconscious. To be away from this world. He was spiraling.
He didn’t want this.
He didn’t want this to be his life.
He didn’t want anything.
He pulled the blanket down over his eyes and just laid there, a wreck. Still, under the covers, he clutched the white plastic stick with the two pink lines, and he wondered if he was going to cry.
His life was over.
And then today was what it was. Today was the worst.
And, as soon as that was decided, he whipped off his comforter cocoon and went to the closet. He pulled out a long black flashlight, an oversized sleeping bag, and a backpack pre-filled with everything he would need to light a large stack of driftwood on fire.
Outside, on the ground level of The Channel Inn, families were bustling with excitement, getting ready to open their packages of sparklers and whistling fountains. They were laughing and checking their lighters, and happy, but Copeland might as well not have seen them at all. He simply shut his apartment door, locked the deadbolt, and walked along, following the beam of his flashlight, alone.