By Adam Katcher
The only sound was the occasional roar of a truck on the highway nearby. Ryan stared at the screen. Midnight had already passed, and everyone else in the house was asleep. Ryan, like the day, was ready to embark on another journey.
The previous day, Jack had uploaded a picture on social media of him at the beach with his family. Jack went to bed at 9pm. He was only allowed 2 hours of screen time per day. On the weekends, Jack, his parents, and his younger sister went on walks through the town center.
Ryan investigated the picture and thought, “Why is he squinting? Can he not even smile normally? What a loser!”
A grin emerged on Ryan’s face. Blood sprinted to his fingers. He glanced around him to make sure no one was lurking in the shadows. He was ready to pounce.
Rumor was spreading that Jack and Mark, who had been best friends for the past few years, were starting to date. Despite getting slurs thrown at them in the halls, neither of them were phased. They knew their relationship was no one else’s business.
Ryan’s friends were notorious for poking fun at people they were not fond of. Jack was one such person. Why? Because he was different. Ryan tried to stay away from the bullying, but then he himself started to be on the receiving end of such taunting. Now was his chance to stand out.
With his ringer off and brightness as low as possible, he attacked. His thumbs pranced across the keyboard. Without a second thought, the hateful words were in front of his eyes. All he had to do was click “send.” A simple tap and he would be strong and cool. One more surge of a newfound antipathy until he could be elite like his friends.
The comment was out there for all the world to see. Jack’s smile and sexuality were only a couple pieces of his beauty that were slandered. Jack had no way to avoid the sudden cyber assault.
At noon, Jack’s mother woke him up. The typical Saturday morning aroma of pancakes floated throughout the house. Jack sluggishly rolled over to check if he had gotten any notifications during the night. Mark’s name was usually the only one that popped up in the morning. This time, more than twenty messages had flooded his phone, all of which were about the picture.
A war was taking place in the comment section of his post. Many people in Ryan’s posse added to the attempted defamation. Although some people were trying to support Jack, the nicer words did not seem to matter. Jack never knew people could be so rotten.
Ryan woke up to a serenading of congratulatory comments. He finally felt like one of them. He finally felt like he could be with the top dogs.
Tears trickled off of Jack’s cheeks. His pillow was quickly saturated. When his mother walked back into the room to check up on him, no words left his mouth. Pins and needles took his skin captive. His mind was frozen. Mark’s reaction mimicked Jack’s when he saw the news.
The following week, Ryan aced all of his tests. Jack and Mark failed all of theirs. When Jack tried to post a video pleading for people to respect him, Ryan and Friends tried to dig an even deeper grave.
Both Jack and Mark slipped into the darkest times of their lives. But they never lost each other.
Mark and Jack finished their dinner. They stepped back from the table, paid the check while tipping generously, and then headed out of the restaurant.
“What number is on your ticket?” asked the valet.
“398,” replied Jack.
When their recently purchased car arrived, the valet stepped out. Mark and Jack did not make eye contact with him. When the valet bumped into Jack so as to ask for even a slight tip, Jack continued to stare intently at the ground. Mark scurried behind the wheel.
“C’mon man. Not even a dollar?”
“Do you know who I am?”
“I couldn’t care less about who you are. You losers are so stuck up!”
“Still haven’t changed Ryan?”
“How do you know me?”
“What comes around goes around.”
“What do you mean?”
“Why did you comment? You couldn’t keep your words to yourself?”
“Do you realize what you did to us?”
“I’m sorry man.”
“Are you really though? If you are sorry, why did you do it?”
“I don’t know. Maybe to be cool. I felt so strong. I was the most popular kid in town after that. For the rest of high school, I was a star.”
“And I bet college treated you the way you deserved.”
“I had to drop out. I was friendless and my grades plummeted fast. How the heck can you afford this car?”
“While you were out partying, Mark and I had to rely on each other to not break. We transformed our sadness into productivity. We actually own this entire building.”
“You are the ones paying me?”
“Yes. You were a keyboard warrior. Behind the screen, your physical self was untouchable. But when it comes to the real world, you quickly got slayed. All because of one stupid comment which changed the course of both of our lives. Thank you.”
“Why are you thanking me?”
“Your words shaped Mark and me. You tried to exploit me for what you saw as potential points of weakness, when in reality, putting me down was your only mechanism for hiding the insecurities you had in actuality.”
As Ryan could no longer find the words to respond, Jack pitifully stuck a twenty dollar bill into his hand. Another valet opened the door to the passenger seat, and Jack gently stepped in. After giving the other valet the same monetary amount, the newly married couple roared away.
Now was Ryan’s turn to cry.