Nicholas Belardes is a dual-ethnic Chicano writer. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in the YA-themed edition of The Latinx Archive: Speculative Fiction for Dreamers (Ohio State University Press), Southwestern American Literature (Texas State University), Carve Magazine, Pithead Chapel, Barrelhouse, and others.
He illustrated map drawings for the New York Times best-selling novel West of Here, and is the author of the first twitterature in novel form, Small Places, which has been studied as part of digimodernism in literature by scholars who seek to discover the fusion of art with digital technologies, in specific, electronic fiction as a new literary current.
Sometimes a ghostwriter of contemporary fiction and YA, he currently lives in San Luis Obispo, California with his wife Jane. The 12 Rules of Survival is his first MG novel. You can find him at nicholasbelardes.com or on Twitter @nickbelardes
Artist: Timothy Banks timothybanks.com or on Twitter @teabanks
Seventh Rule of Survival: Make Sure You Can See in the Dark
I’ve been kind of blind, not knowing what’s going on.
The only grownups who tell me anything are Mom and the people at the Family Tent. Only, right now, I’m not there. I’m at school again. Oh, wait, Patricia told me stuff too, but she’s long gone. I wonder if I’ll ever see her again.
While I’m starting to feel different about Mom, life at Grandma’s house is still weird. Sharon and Maria look at me suspiciously all the time. Bella barks when Snapers gets close to any of her favorite toys, her water dish, or even the couch. Not to mention she growls at me like I’m the mailman from her nightmares. While Grandma Benita is nice, she doesn’t seem to know what’s going on with Dad.
I also can’t eat. It’s just weird eating at a strange house, especially while thinking Dad might not have any food. Besides, those cookies at the tent are filling.
So, yes, I wanted to come to school for part of the day. Not only do I have to get away from my sisters and Bella, I have to prove to myself, my classmates and teacher that I’m not completely insane, that I have to do something besides sit in that tent. No offense, Peter.
Mr. Boles doesn’t think I’m crazy.
He thinks I’m a criminal.
The day actually starts in his office for a follow-up discussion about the graffiti and fire. I sit in one of his big cushy office chairs. It doesn’t swivel. I wish it swiveled. Instead I start kicking with one of my feet. I do this when I’m nervous. I love birds but today I really hate every dead or wooden duck in the room.
Mr. Boles’ eyes are still beady. Still mole-ish. He says my name like I’m being sentenced to prison. “Cameron, why don’t you wait out in the hall?”
Mom interrupts. “We don’t have anything to hide from him.”
Mr. Boles grimaces. “Might I remind you that some conversations are for grown-ups?”
Mom surprises me again. Not about to budge, she puts a hand on my shoulder. “Not this one,” she says. “If you have something to say, I advise you say it now or let him go to class.”
Mr. Boles clears his throat. “Okay then . . . There’s still the matter of the bathroom graffiti and fire. Fire is a serious offense. You could have burned down the entire school. I have a no-tolerance policy on these kinds of things. There was unnecessary maintenance for the janitor. The smoke damage to the trashcan.”
“To the trashcan?” Mom says.
Mr. Boles continues: “It had to be scraped clean. There was the added embarrassment I suffered and his wanton disregard for authority . . .”
Mom has had enough. “Where is your heart in his tragic situation? You said you knew what was going on?”
Mr. Boles doesn’t acknowledge her words. If anything, his eyes appear a little bit smaller. Tiny dots instead of beady black marbles. These things suck starlight. “I assure you my heart is in the right place,” he says. “And to further illustrate my point, I’m not going to suspend Cameron or make him pick up bathroom trash for a month like I originally planned for him. Though I did have that friend of his clean trash and scrub walls already. So I’m just going to say this.” He turns to me. “Watch yourself, young man. You’re being carefully monitored. If you act out in any way, or if I find any graffiti or even smell a whiff of smoke, there will be consequences. No one will be able to protect you. You’ll go straight to the authorities. Do you understand?”
“But I didn’t . . .” I start to say.
Mom gently pinches my shoulder. I look up at her as she shakes her head a little and mouths the word, “Don’t.”
I turn to Mr. Boles. After a monumental effort I spit out, “Yes sir.”
In the hall I say to Mom: “But I didn’t do either of those things.”
She sighs. “Cameron. I don’t care if you did or didn’t draw the graffiti. And you don’t seem like the kind of kid who would start a fire.” I shrug as she adds, “Look, sometimes you have to choose your battles. This one isn’t worth it. Just give it time. If you didn’t do it, then the real culprit will probably either strike again or say something about it. And if you did do it, well, don’t do it again, or at least be prepared to have to clean bathrooms. Right now, focus on school and positive thoughts for your Dad. If anything comes up, I’ll come get you right away.”
I want to say more, to yell that I won’t clean any bathrooms, but decide not to. When you’re innocent it’s usually better not to say anything at all.