Kelley sat on the paperwork. Mom thought I should drop the matter, us shielding Dad, which told me how candid her conversation wasn’t. I couldn’t separate my feelings, the objective evaluation of circumstances from Madison taking advantage of Mom. I did not liberate Mom from all liability; however, I realized in emotional states people could do stupid things. That was the wellspring of Tommy’s actions, after all.
Kelley also buried all official paperwork involving me in the school shooting, tying events to the Dumpster Girl investigation, which held the highest secrecy level the city provided for a pantheon of reasons. “Rubberneckers and ghouls are going to come out of the woodwork.”
“You want to avoid another murder/suicide?”
“We don’t need or want a gaggle of strangers kicking down your door.”
“One moron’s enough.”
Kelley wanted to proceed with charges against Madison. “I doubt we can make the shit stick to the wall.” She winked. “Filed charges will hit the news, maybe getting his appointment yanked.”
“You really don’t like him, huh?”
“Should’ve shot his balls off.” Finally, Kelley got to the point of the visit. “You can have this back.”
I received the cane, twisted the handle, revealing the blade. “There’s a surprise.”
Kelley shrugged. “I pulled on every utter I could, called in every favor I had, talked to everyone, including a senator and the governor. I couldn’t find a loophole anywhere to get you a carry permit.”
“John could loan me his throw-down.”
Kelley snickered. “I died a thousand deaths on the phone that day. I won’t leave you unprotected, helpless.”
I pulled on the cane, the tap of the rubber tip on the floor, the squish of my sneakers shouting in the hallway, echoing, John’s hard soles rat-a-tatting making obvious class was in session. Faces came to door glass. Hands waved like before. Smiles, reserved. Teachers calling, trying to regain control.
I understood what Mr. Riggins meant about not having school disrupted. I didn’t want to leave Ronnie. I didn’t want to confront Reverend/Pastor Madison. Confrontation is not what I sought. I wanted to listen. I wanted to understand.
I knew I was heading for a confrontation not unlike hobbling toward the cafeteria and Tommy. I was glad for John’s company, though I wished for Mort or Pete – or both. More intimidating. However, as I observed when I met John: he had a carry permit.
I never liked Madison. He had those eyes, the eyes my father didn’t. Listening to Sally, she made so much sense. Upon reflection – and conversation with Ronnie – Sally made no sense at all. I wondered whether my father actually told Sally unambiguously he wanted, dreamed, desired or fantasized having sex with me or Sally just justified her actions in a gooey, sloppy web of rationalization.
Things Kelley said disturbed me, Madison saying I was evil, deserving of the occurrence.
That, as much as anything, I wanted to understand.
A classroom door slammed the wall releasing the horde, kids surrounding me, separating John, a girl shorter than me hanging around my neck, sobbing. I held back.
“Lindsey! Lindsey! Lindsey! Yah!” The pack chanted.
The albatross confessed her love. “You gotta come by! You gotta come by! You saved Amanda’s life!”
The crowd: “Lindsey! Lindsey! Lindsey! Yah!”
I promised. Teachers appeared, breaking up the rabble after a dozen rounds of chanting.
“I was never popular back in high school.”
I shot John a look. “Maybe you should have got yourself kidnapped and rapped with unimaginable objects, beat silly every day and then deposited in a dumpster, left for dead.”
John grunted, a pathetic imitation of Kelley. “That’s not what I meant. I’m sure before any of this happened, you had plenty of friends.”
“I thought I did. I’m a nerd. Like Jay said: I’m an elitist. I didn’t really know how disconnected I was until I became a folk hero. Other than Jay, I don’t really know anyone – but I thought I did.”
We stopped in the hall. I looked up at John, his face hung like a scolded puppy.
“I guess it’s easy to look at what others do and think it’s about us. I’m sure, like today, you were a warm, sensitive kid but others couldn’t see it. I’m sure the other kids just acted the way they did, having nothing to do with you. You just kinda got in the way of the way they acted.”
God, don’t blubber.
“Yeah, John, I think. If the kids got to know you, they’d have to love you like I do and then you’d have been popular.”
He smiled, not quite a beam, his puppy dog eyes glistening. John had come a long way since the day we met. He held his head higher, back straighter. Sometimes the old John popped out like a herpes blister, which reminded me I had to weed the gardens.
I thought to confront Madison after-hours, outside school, but I wanted to be surrounded by the ghosts of present events, the smell of the school: popular powders, colognes and perfumes, gym clothes hidden in ditty bags, the caramel scent of books new and old, floor wax, dust and paint. My own musk hidden beneath the body wash melding with the mix.
He’d breathe deep my musk like a professional wine taster, holding, eyes closed, masturbating, breathing deep again, moaning, taking my head like a melon, inserting, me unable to resist, unable to move, pain white hot beyond my ability to feel it. I’d hold my breath, my muscles refusing commands. He’d hold himself on the threshold until I could hold my breath no longer. Sucking air, he’d release, me aspirating semen.
I thought to tell John: If Madison tries to smell me, shoot him. I wanted details. I wanted to know if Madison got off smelling Mom. I wondered whether Madison got off smelling me, the way he leaned toward me every chance he got.
Listen, I reminded myself. Listen.
I’d thought of the belly-shot girl, Amanda, often. I refused to leave the hospital until she was out of surgery, stable. I barely knew of her before I took handfuls of her shirt. Mom didn’t understand and I’m not sure I did. Her blood on my hands joined us, maybe in the ectoplasmic sloppy web existing beyond normal sight.
The title stuck in my throat. I managed to choke it out anyway. “Reverend Madison, John Hopkins.”
“We’ve met.” Madison stood, taking John’s hand. “Good to see you again, Detective.”
“Good to be seen.”
I ignored the hand when offered, dropping to the chair facing Mr. Riggins’ desk, glad for the separation.
The air stank of scorched cod liver oil.
Madison took Riggins’ chair, elbows on the desk, fingertips touching over his mouth. “You can leave. Children don’t open up with a lot of adults around.”
John, over my shoulder, balked.
“It’s OK, John. Reverend Madison might not be as candid as he’d like with a policeman in the room.”
“I’ll be right outside.”
“I mean: I won’t go anywhere. I’ll be right here.”
I didn’t turn, keeping Madison’s eyes. “OK, John.”
Madison dwarfed me, his silver hair adding years to his appearance, betrayed by his tight rosy cheeks. Lean and athletic, he valued his physical health. The white collar on black shirt granted him righteous authority.
His eyes, in perfect proportion to his face, set below tanned brows, a gray-blue like the Caribbean Sea on a bright summer day, stayed with mine, a promised cure for all life’s ills.
“Lindsey, oftentimes in life, things occur, which we cannot understand –”
I narrowed my eyes. “A canned speech?”
“That’s all you’ve got? God has a plan and we have to trust?”
“Lindsey, you are a child and in that, inexperienced. In your times of confusion, you need depend on the elders around you.”
I came to listen. I really wanted to ask about the attack at my house. “OK. Let’s get busy. You told Detective Lewinsky I wasn’t human or something. Can you please explain that?”
“My comments to her were off the record.”
I shrugged. “It’s in the police report: public record. Are you backing away from your accusations now?”
“We are here today to help you deal with your feelings concerning the events of three weeks ago, which took place in this school.”
I bit my lip, more narrowed eyes. “So much for courage of your convictions.”
My sarcasm was not lost.
“Lindsey, there is much in life you, at this point in your life, cannot understand.”
“Your inability to explain does not infer my inability to understand.”
He blinked hard, three times.
“Let me say this aloud. You had sex with my mother.”
“What consenting adults do in private is none of your concern.”
My right eye twitched. “Everything my mother does is my concern. I don’t care what Camus mused in his dark imaginings: life is not a series of disjointed, disconnected events. Life is an interlocking continuum. Butterfly wing flapping? You following all this, or should I speak slower?”
Madison smirked. “I knew I’d call you out.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
He swiveled the chair, putting his feet on Riggins’ desk, his hands like a spider doing vertical pushups on a mirror in front of his face. “I thought as much when I first met you years ago.” He turned his head, eyeing me, then turned back to the spider. “I know what you are.”
“OK. What are I?”
“You’re a demon, an imp, an unholy presence in a child’s body.” Again, a glance, the smirk. “There are those who walk among us, who appear to be children, but are not. Most people see the illusion. To some, the gifted, the chosen, we can see through the facade, and see you for what you are.”
“You’re aware of sex and your sexuality, enticing men to do horrible things. You’re seen as the victim. They’re your victims.”
Not actually being an ageless unholy demon, I’d not given much thought to being an object of sexual desire. I understood Tommy wanted to have sex and just happened to stick his penis in me. Tommy didn’t desire me. On the other hand, John wanted to kiss me. I knew the difference. I’d wondered whether John was sexually attracted to me, not that it would matter. I didn’t have enough pain meds to have sex. In all our time together, I’d not observed an erection.
“OK, Madison, let me see if I got this right. You’re sexually attracted to me, but it’s not like you’re a sick child molester. It’s my fault because I’m a magical being, which has control over your feelings and desires.”
“Yes.” He dropped his feet to the floor, stood and turned.
Confession being good for the soul aside, the admission surprised me.
“Do you really think I should be destroyed?”
“You think the Dumpster Girl murderer is doing God’s work?”
I worked to my feet, still three feet below him, the desk between us. “You’re a sick man, Madison, and should get on the next plane to Zurich, Switzerland, check into the Jungian Clinic and have a whole panel of shrinks work on you ‘round the clock.”
Madison huffed like an angry cartoon bull.
I unlocked the cane.
I wanted Madison dead. I wanted to drive my blade deep up into his chest, upward just below his sternum, his warm sticky blood flowing over my hands. I don’t want us joined in the ectoplasmic sloppy soup. I locked the blade. Rationally, I knew Madison couldn’t attack me in the office, not with John, his ear pressed on the door.
Madison was crazy – insane.
His eyes oozed, shoulders sank, deflating, begging. “There’s a process.”
“Where you can be made clean, your soul recovered.”
I nodded, not in agreement. I understood the depth of what Kelley told me. I wanted to bury my blade in Madison to cleanse my mother. A mutter: “Talk about crazy talk.”
“Child, this is about as serious as –”
I waved him off. “You’re nothing. A little man playing out little dramas. Sadly, you involve other people.”
Madison thought he could cleanse his rotting, corrupt soul by destroying – or changing – me.
He balked again.
I narrowed my eyes. “You know who the Dumpster Girl murderer is, don’t you, Madison?”
If I were crazy, would I know it?
I watched Madison’s eyes. He believed what he said. I mean: I’m in love with John and I know John’s in love with me. I know we’re going to marry, living happily ever after.
Then, there’s the real world. I know what I know about me and John’s a dream, which may or may not become reality.
I wanted to straighten my back, querying rationally. What scientific evidence, verifiable and repeatable, do you have demons exist? I knew I’d get anecdotes, wild tales, fairytales, neither verifiable or repeatable, paraded as facts. What Ronnie said: We make stuff up, creating memories in place of what we don’t remember. I didn’t really fly twenty feet through the air, dodging bullets, like a half dozen kids reported.
I didn’t need ask Madison about sex with my mother. I knew he’d tell me it was, in some way or other, my mother’s fault.
Madison was a coward, afraid of himself and his feelings, casting blame everywhere but where it belonged.
I shrugged when asked about my session with Madison. “I’d like you to take me to Amanda Wood’s.”
“The girl who was gut shot.”
“I don’t know where she lives. Is she out of the hospital?”
“You’re the detective. Make a phone call.” I struggled with the seatbelt.
John blushed, putting his phone to his ear.
I worked Mom’s phone from my pocket as we pulled up. “Hey.”
“Hi, Lindsey. Sorry to take so long to get back to you.”
I rolled my eyes. Fourteen minutes isn’t a long time unless you have a gun to your head.
“Hi, Mr. Steinberg! How are you?”
“Good. How are you? And I mean that.”
“Seem to be better each day.”
“I wanted to talk to you about that. I’m having difficulty understanding what I’ve been told.”
“We can do lunch. In the meantime: Are you a religious man?”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Do you know – personally – some higher-ups in the church hierarchy who I can meet with and get some serious questions answered candidly?”
“I’m sure I know someone –”
“Mr. Steinberg. I need to see an exorcism.”
“This is about the attack.”
A bloodshot eye appeared in a slit of curtain. “What do you want?” Harsh.
“It’s Lindsey, Mrs. Wood.” I trusted my name to carry the explanation.
The door opened, the woman, my mother’s age, unkempt, disheveled, her hair like dung-caked straw, unwashed, tied back weeks before. Drawn, pale, pulling hard on the air, unable to breath. “Dear God in Heaven. What happened to you?”
“I was in an accident.”
She swallowed hard, wanting to turn away, she couldn’t. “Amanda didn’t say –”
I shrugged. “Brittney said I should stop by.”
“Is she OK?”
“Thank God.” She retreated. “Come in. I have to get back upstairs.”
I called John on the phone. “Come give me a kiss. I’m going to be awhile.”
The house was a mess, an understatement. I found my way to a bedroom, Mrs. Wood holding Amanda’s hand, Amanda under blankets.
Amanda’s eyes sparkled.
I narrowed mine. “You OK?”
Mrs. Wood stank of unwashed humanity. My eyes stung. “Mrs. Wood, I’m here now.” I took her shoulders, guiding her from the chair. “You can go take a shower, change your clothes.”
She looked down on me, fear and pain bleeding from every pour. “Lindsey.”
“Yes. I’m Lindsey, from school.”
Hollow, a shadow. “You helped Amanda?”
“Yes. I’ll watch over her.”
She drank me like cold lemonade on a hot summer day.
“She won’t leave my side. Brit’s been doing the best she can. She goes to school to get away from this nightmare.”
“Where’s your father?”
“She hates him. West Coast. We get to visit in the summer.”
“You have a fever.”
“Yeah. She won’t let me get out of bed. She’s afraid to let me leave the room.”
“You should be walking as much as possible.”
“That’s what the doctors said. I get up when she passes out. She yells at me, demanding I get back in bed.”
“They had to open me up. Kinda gross.”
I snickered, checking her wound.
“Oozing a little. Might be normal.”
I got Amanda to her feet, stripped the bed and fitted clean sheets, then checked on Mrs. Wood, balled up in the shower, crying.
I called Ronnie, getting voicemail. “Ronnie, Lindsey. I think Mrs. Wood had a psychotic break or something. I need you to come as soon as you can.” I left the address.
I pulled the curtain back. “It’s OK, Mrs. Wood.” Lathering a washcloth, I went at her shoulders. “It’s all over. Everything’s OK.”
It is now.
After showering and dressing Mrs. Wood, I put Amanda in six inches of water, careful of her incision, helped her bathe, washing her hair. I knew my first bath after the hospital was like a salve for my damaged soul.
Ronnie arrived bag in hand. She spoke to me, above Mrs. Wood. “Shock, dehydration. Combination of things. IV fluids should bring her back.”
“I’d recommend it, yes. Twenty-four hours, just to be sure.”
“I can take her.” Ronnie leaned to Mrs. Wood. “Would you like to take a ride with me? To the hospital.” Ronnie nodded. “You’ll feel a whole lot better.”
“Yes, I’d like that.”
“I’d like to see Amanda’s incision drained.”
“You’re a doctor.”
Ronnie smirked. “Hospital setting is better. Really, gotta get on top of these things early.”
I put Mom’s phone to my ear. I got voicemail. “Mom, I’ll be home in the morning. You can reach me on your phone.”
Ronnie looked at me. “You’re not a doctor.”
“I was thinking of doing some housework, helping Brit with her homework.”
“My sister.” Amanda bit her lip.
Ronnie winked at me. “She’ll be in capable hands.”
I went through Amanda’s desk.
“Mr. Wood?” I asked into the phone.
“I don’t know the circumstances. I know no one’s called you.”
“Oh, tell me she needs money and put you up to calling!”
Deep breath. “Your children need you. Need their father. Now. Get on the next plane.
“Oh, it’s one drama after another with that woman –”
“I don’t know what universe you live in that doesn’t have newspapers or televisions –”
A long pause. “Oh-my-God. That was their school?”
“Your children, Amanda and Brittney, need their father, Mr. Wood.”
“Jay, I need you.”
“I’m so embarrassed.”
“Oh, don’t you back away now. I’m not saying no. I think we still need time to decompress. How you been?”
“Out of the sling. Thinking of you.”
“Me, too.” I sighed. “I gotta lot of work to do. I can’t stand for a long time.”
“What do you need and where?”
I’d left Janet hanging, her proposal so bizarre. We’d never gone three weeks without seeing each other since we wore diapers. At fifteen, I’d not tell John yes if he asked. Shock can make people do really strange stuff, even without dehydration.
Janet arrived timely with a bag of groceries. “Mom wanted to know what’s up. I said I was helping you. Nuff said.”
I pushed my hair back with a soapy hand. “I’ve missed you.”
“Yeah, all that.”
“Oh, David was all over me with stuff like that. Kinda scary. As much as my heart burns like a thousand suns to pine at you, I’m not going to.”
“Do you always talk in metaphors?”
“Matter-oh-fact. Got a problem with it?”
“Not at all.”
Janet took the sponge, nudging me from the sink. “You take a break. I got this. I love you. We’re perfect together. We should get married and live happily ever after. I didn’t much care for the heterosexual experience.”
“I love you, too, Jay. Just not in that way.”
“I’m not sure there’s ways.”
“We can talk about it.”
“Until we run out of words.”
I bit my lip. “Do you want to have sex with me?”
“Lind! You slut!”
“That’s not what I meant!”
“Yeah, I know. Hadn’t thought about it. That’s not why I want to marry you. Hold hands? Yeah, we do that. Hug? Yeah, we do that, too. You remember on the farm? The night you were scared?”
“You were scared!”
“Don’t cloud the issue with facts. We slept together. You holding me all night?”
“Actually, it was you who held me!”
“That was some of the best sleep I ever had.”
I swept general why we were in, and cleaning, the Wood’s house.
“I’m going to have a conversation with John. Ask obvious questions.”
“One question asked on a knee?”
“No!” I blushed. “Though I might ask a hypothetical can you see some day in the future question.”
“Enjoy the dream as long as you can. You’ve lost so much, keep that, at least. I don’t mind being your second choice. Fly as high as you dare. I’ll be here to catch you when you fall.”
“We make out a lot.”
“Does he dry-hump you like Tommy did?”
“You don’t really make out, do you?”
“I guess not, else he’d have to arrest himself for child molesting.”
“Do you ever do these carryings-on in private and does he tell you not to tell anyone, that you’re his special girl and it’s your little secret?”
Brittney wanted to help clean, watch TV, talk to her friends on the Internet and eat ice cream.
I called Ronnie, who said she’d make a call and call me back. Within four minutes, Ronnie gave me an encouraging report on Amanda and Mrs. Wood, which I passed on to Brittney, the lines of her face relaxing.
We decided to go over her homework while Janet prepared stuffed pork chops for dinner, one of our favorites from Farm Hands, where we learned to cook.
At the dining room table, Brittney and I were having a give-and-take about the three branches of the federal government and the separation of powers, me giving more information than appeared in her civics book, when I caught Janet watching me, leaning against the kitchen doorway.
“You need to return to school. I’ve not seen you this – what’s the word? Happy? At peace? Alive? Yourself?”
She was right.
Brittney, being a big girl of eleven and a half, didn’t need help with a bath. I sat on the toilet anyway, speaking softy of her mother and her sister, ensuring Brittney with tone and words they’d be OK. “Your mother tried to carry too much. We’ll help her.”
I answered Mom’s phone. “Hey.”
“Mr. Steinberg! Hi.”
“2 P.M. tomorrow. I’ll send a car for you.”
“I’m not home.”
“Damn cell phones.”
I laughed. “I’ll call when I find out where I’ll be.”
“OK. When are we going to do lunch?”
“You said you’d explain your decisions to me.” He paused. “You don’t owe me an explanation –”
“I do, yes. I’ll call you.”
The house sat dark, relatively clean. Brittney was finally down. I sat with her until she fell asleep.
Dropping next to Janet on the sofa, I muted the TV. “Anything good on?”
She shrugged. “Thanks for inviting me.”
“Enlisting you, you mean.” I took her hand. “I can’t make any promises.”
“But, I can’t imagine my life without you.”
My head dropped on her shoulder. “No perfume or deodorant?”
“Sorry. Anything I wore gave David a hard on.”
“I’ve always liked the way you smell. If I had the equipment, it might give me a hard on.”
“I love you.”
Long moments melted into night. From the darkness, Brittney screamed as if Satan had her by the ankles.
Janet jumped. “Oh-my-God.”
I patted her thigh. “I’ll go. I think I know what it is.”
Brittney filled her lungs and screamed four more times before I reached the bedroom. She sat up, hands, fingers spread, in front of her face.
“How wonderful!” I took her wrists as she drew deep. “How very wonderful! Tonight, you join a great secret club!”
She choked, pulling back sobs. “I do?”
“My God, yes! Your blood flows from your body, joining you to the great cycles of the earth! To me!”
“And, me.” From the doorway, Janet’s voice came breathless through her tears.
“Come, Jay. Come join us, as I tell the story!”
“No, Lind. Not my place.” She retreated.
Brittney sat enthralled in my arms for two hours.
Father Walker was Fred and Barney old, a white crest of hair like a horseshoe. His eyes, a summer’s noon sky blue, contradicted his years, bright, youthful. He’d been tall, two heads over me, if not hunchbacked.
His mouth leaked, which he dabbed often with a tissue.
He had a cane, not unlike mine and like me, dragged his right leg.
“My child.” His voice crackled, echoing in the church. “Our friend told me much.”
“I felt compelled to understand fully your request. I insisted and took convincing.”
“I understand. Then you know of –”
“Your ordeal and challenges. Yes.”
Father Walker dropped to a knee, crossing himself, returning erect, continuing to the right. “You understand we don’t actually do exorcisms.”
“I don’t understand that at all.”
“An exorcism is a rite to expel an evil spirit from a person.”
He turned, stopping before a door.
“I now see possession by an evil spirit figuratively.”
“I understand. An exorcism could do something like a psychological conversion? Drastically altering someone’s behavior?”
His eyes bore down on me, his tissue working his mouth.
“What you request is impossible. Even if we were to do an exorcism, you could not attend.”
The door opened with a twist of his hand. “Our friend is very persuasive.”
I was sworn to secrecy, invited to sit before a television older than me and shown an hour of bad video.
“I didn’t know they had video cassette back then.”
“Transferred from movie film.”
“Is that you?” The man on the television screen was close to thirty.
Father Walker’s presence came as I like my spiritual advisors. He spoke down from the mountain.
I was wrong about him. I’d mistaken his emotional detachment.
We stood, our faces to the sun on the steps of the church, holding hands.
“You should come to church.”
“Maybe I will.”
“Did you find what you sought?”
“Yeah. I mean: Yes, Father Walker.”
Mr. Steinberg’s driver approached, offering an arm. “Ready, Lindsey?”
“I am.” I took his arm, releasing Father Walker’s hand. “Thank you, Father.”
“Go with God, my child.”
Kelley stood, shuffling papers, surprised to see me. “John said you had a meeting with –”
I waved her off. “In its time. I want – need to see the war room.”
“That’s not possible.”
“You said when I was ready. I’m ready. I need to see what you have.”
She bit her lip, watching my eyes. “We have candid images, which you’ll find disturbing –”
“Kelley. What? Afraid I’ll get nightmares?”
She nodded. “Everything you see is off the record. I ask you respect that.”
The room was small, twelve by fifteen-feet, low ceiling, crowded with a table in the middle cluttered with papers and folders, surrounded by chairs. The walls were collaged, collared with photographs, eye-level, two feet up and down. Maps presented red circles.
I put my right index finger on my circle.
“John explained what you were doing there.”
“In the report.”
“From memory or a transcript?”
On whether the tape recorder was on.
I turned to Kelley. “Was John assigned to get close to me – be intimate with me?”
“But, you were willing to take full advantage of it.”
“Wouldn’t you if you were me?”
“Yeah, I would.”
I circled the room looking at each face, my spiritual kin, my ilk, alive in school pictures, faces painted in death, forensic photos detailing the injuries, revealing everything.
“I don’t know why I didn’t think I’d be on the wall.” I glanced at Kelley. “Doesn’t even look like me.”
I brushed the air. “It’s OK. I belong on the wall. Proud to be featured. Does John stare at these much?”
“We all do.”
“Does it hurt?”
I sat, reviewing the autopsy reports and associated paperwork, interviews with family and friends.
“John said you’d like to speak to the families.”
I twisted my face. “That’s when I was still in the hospital. Touching Ruth Anne was enough. I can’t do them any good, a grim reminder of how cruel the universe can be.” I nodded. “Turn the tape recorder off.”
Kelley produced the device and pushed a button.
“He’s in his early thirties, white, my best guess Eastern European descent, local, no accent, my guess old American family. College educated and I’d bet my love for John seminary trained, traditional, not box top, mail order or Internet.”
Kelley raised an eyebrow.
“He spoke Latin like it was his first language.”
“What he did.” I waved a butterfly-like hand encompassing the room. “Was partly exorcism.”
“Are you sure?”
“Dead-fucking-sure.” I held her eyes. She shivered. “We’re not talking New Age mumbo jumbo or Internet download. He’s got the old-time traditional shtick.”
Kelley narrowed her eyes. “But, the mutilation, the sexual abuse –”
“Something you told me. He’s splashing the holy water the wrong direction.”
“He’s trying to, what? Cure himself?”
“Simply put, he’s attracted to children, girls, pre-pubic. Not all pre-pubic girls. A certain type. Me.”
“You’re not pre-pubic –”
“Like John said the day we meet: how’d he know that looking at me?” I rolled my eyes. “The attraction disgusts him to the soul. My guess, early religious education maybe even his father’s a father. God finds him abominable. Since it’s not all pre-pubic girls, he can reason we’re the abomination, not him.
“I thought somehow he didn’t see us as living creatures, just meat for his sexual amusement.”
“Objectification. Yes. That’s the general profile we have.”
“Wrong profile. He de-speciates his vics.”
“Something pastor/reverend Madison said. I’m not a human being. I’m a different species, an evil demon.”
“In his eyes.”
“Yeah, that’s the de in de-speciate.”
“Since you’re not human –”
“He can do anything to me he wishes. Raping me, torturing me, is no different from raping a teddy bear, pig or rotting tomato. We kill and eat pigs everyday.”
“Makes sense. Can you sit with a sketch artist?”
“No. I’ll know him when I see him. When I close my eyes, all I come up with is a young Christopher Walken.”
She put her phone to her ear. “I’ll get John to drop you off. We’re going to get busy around here.”
“I have a car waiting. While I’m here, I want to sign the complaint.”
“Yeah. Let’s bring it. Let’s put him out of my misery. I think you were right the first time. Madison knows him.”
“We’ll sweat him some more.”
Mr. Steinberg’s driver held the door. “For?”
“I don’t even know your name.”
“Not important.” He was a mature man, nondescript, well dressed, built sturdy, his dark eyes always busy behind sunglasses. He had a strange knack for being invisible until needed.
“It is to me.”
I took his hand. “Nice to met you, Mr. Stroman.”
“Jack’s fine. Hey you or get that door is good, too.”
“OK Jack. If your name were James, I could say: Home James.”
“You could say that anyway.”
Mom’s phone battery quit.
“I could wait until I got home, Jack. But, can I borrow your cell? I wanted to talk with Mr. Steinberg.”
He passed a phone over his shoulder. “Just say hello.”
“Hello, Lindsey. Did you learn what you needed?”
“Is this a secure line?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“I don’t either. They always ask that in the movies before they say something they don’t want overheard.”
“No,” Jack answered from the front seat.
“Are you a moral man, Mr. Steinberg?”
“There’s a discussion for over brandy and a cigar, not on the telephone.”
“I don’t drink or smoke.”
“Nor do I.”
I giggled. “I need help with something.”
“I just shrugged my shoulders. I don’t know. I need someone to ask someone some questions they’re not going to want to answer –”
“Stop right there.”
“Sure. I’ll make sandwiches. My house.”
“Now, give me my driver back.”
I handed the phone forward.
In front of my house, Jack hurried around the car, looked in all directions and opened the door, helping me out and up.
“What can I do for you, Lindsey?”
“Oh, this is fine. I need to water the gardens, the pansies are drooping. I’d not bother you with –”
I took his arm at the elbow, moving up the walk. “Oh. You’re not just a driver, huh?”
“My job is to keep Mr. Steinberg safe.”
“Nuts, mostly. Sometimes people get it in their heads Mr. Steinberg is responsible for their misfortune.”
“Is he? Ever?”
“Not intentionally. What can I do for you?”
“I got this feeling Pastor Madison knows who attacked me.” We worked up the steps. “Madison’s got me so blind-crazy mad, I can’t think clearly.”
“First, he took advantage of Mom.”
“Dad walked out. Mom went nuts. Madison had sex with her.”
“You think that’s OK?”
“I meant OK, I understand what you’re saying.”
“Then, Madison gives me this wild tale about me being a demon, enticing men to do evil.”
“Yes, I’ve heard that before.”
“Scapegoating. If he doesn’t blame you, he’s got to accept responsibly for his actions and feelings.”
“Can’t have that.”
“No, we can’t. Let me ask you: Do you want to make his life miserable because he took advantage of your mother, or do you truly believe he knows who the Dumpster Girl murderer is?”
“Does it make a difference?”
“One, I’ll tell you revenge never gets you even, often makes things worse, get over yourself and on with your life. The other, I’ll take your hand and walk back into Hell with you.”
The resolve in his eyes, even behind dark glasses, was convincing, sobering and disturbing.
“He attacked me in the house when my parents were away.”
“Mr. Steinberg said you signed the complaint. I doubt the D.A.’s going to follow up, given the contradictions, you being a child, Madison an adult, your mother agreeing she invited him to talk to you.”
He pushed the door open.
I narrowed my eyes.
“It’s all in the reports, his statement. Follow ups.”
“You got Kelley bugged?”
“Used to be a cop, have some ties. Mr. Steinberg takes an interest in people.”
“Doesn’t own a TV?”
“No, he doesn’t.”
I got home to messages. A friend from the supermarket needed to talk, not happy how we left things, Madison called four times, insisting we have another meeting, Doctor Reece wanting to change my mind, Ronnie checking in, Mr. Riggins wanting to talk about the tests, Madison unnerving me I left the school, Snow, looking for a date, subtly and Mom writing we had to talk about the other night.
Mom left a note on the Post-it with Madison’s last message, insisting I listen, work things out. Quote: act like an adult.
I put Mom’s phone in the charger, prepared a cup of chamomile, dragged my body to my room and fell on the bed, taking the landline with me.
“Mr. Riggins, please. Lindsey calling.”
Small moments, two sips.
“Lindsey, how are you?”
“I doubt things will ever get back to normal.”
What is, is normal. Things won’t get back to the way they were.
“I hear that. Did I impress the heck out of you? I mean with the tests?”
“You didn’t cheat?”
“Mr. Riggins! Of course not! What good would cheating do, knowing I’d have to take the real tests under supervision?”
“You did well.”
“Yeah, I know. I was thinking about coming back to school.”
“What? We had this battle –”
“Do you think it possible?”
“Come see me. We’ll talk.”
I wanted to call Madison, telling him to leave me alone or I’d rain fire down on his existence not seen since Sodom. No irony there. I threw his messages away, happy to wait to hear from Jack.
There’s a habit he can get out of.
“I was thinking, Saturday night, we can catch a movie. Maybe dinner,” and have a quiet, slow and long talk about buttons, Camus, why the sky is blue, kittens and life.
“You did some really good work. Everyone’s impressed. Kelley wants to put you on staff. She says she suggested it before. You never told me?”
“It was a joke.”
“I’d think, you being too young, and all.”
Yeah, and all.
“I’m up to my eyeballs.”
“Understood. Breakfast Saturday, down the diner. Afterwards we can take a walk in the park,” like an old married couple.
I punched the number Snow left.
“Boy, did you get a wrong number!” The voice female, giggled.
“Hey. Who’s this?”
“I was looking for Snow.”
She laughed. “You the weatherman?”
“If I were, I’d be a meteorologist in an ideal world, a weathergirl in yours.”
Another laugh. “Snow stepped out. Should be back in a few. You want to passive-aggress insult me more for a while or should he call you back – Lindsey?”
I narrowed my eyes, not that she could see me. “How’d you know who I am?” We have Caller I.D. blocked.
“Snow never gives out our number – ever! Then, he comes home from the hospital the other day, going on and on and on and on about this really, really, really amazing chick he met.
“Wow, he actually gave me three modifiers?”
“Yeah! Really, really, really! So, for three weeks, he’s stayed home, staring at the phone, sighing. Lindsey, oh, where’s my Lindsey! This is the first he’s left the apartment since that day!”
“I always attract the chronically melancholy, insane demon-hunting priests, horny-toads who want to hump my leg fifteen times a day or just plain obsessed stalker types.”
“Don’t let his cynical wit fool you, he’s always happy. He doesn’t give into magical thinking, so he’d not believe in esoteric critters, demons or otherwise prancing about the landscape. I don’t believe he’d hump your leg until the third date, certainly not fifteen times. I don’t care how hot you are –”
“He said I was hot?”
“Hot. Yes, that’s the word he used, ad nauseam.”
I knew she rolled her eyes.
“Which leaves the stalker type. He’s much too self-absorbed to invest time stalking anyone. How many times did he call you over these three weeks?”
“There you go.”
“Ad nauseam. I love that phrase.”
“We read the fricking dictionary at the dinner table growing up.”
“Couldn’t afford real books?”
“Dictionary’s not a bad book, ending’s predictable, though.”
Now, I giggled.
“Just who are you? Wife? Girlfriend?”
“I wish. I’d be lucky to be his wife. I worship the guy. Sister. Pallas.”
“Pallas? Like Pallas Athena from The Iliad?”
“Whoa, baby! You’ve read a book or two!”
“No, just good.”
“I mean mine is, or close to it. Anything I forget isn’t worth remembering.”
“I apologize for my ‘tude. Been one of those days.”
“About sixteen hours now.”
She laughed, a loud giggle, unrestrained, refreshing. “God, you’re quick.”
“Cool. You’re supposed to have a ‘tude, all the time. At your age, you’re supposed to test fences, challenge all authority, act out just to see what your parents and teachers do and generally beat your head against any wall you happen across.”
“Or gets in my way.”
“You should not be reading such lofty works as The Iliad, though I recommend it highly.”
“Droned on a bit about angst, but I can identify after reading Camus.”
“Oh, why read Camus when we have Cliff Notes?”
“On a bet last year. Older guy said I’d never be able to grasp existentialism.”
“What I learned from Camus is I’ll never be an existentialist. I could never whine about circumstances that much.”
“Oh, wait until you get some years under your feet and see just how unkind the universe and world can be to someone!”
“Yeah, I can’t wait. Snow didn’t tell you anything about me, other than I’m hot?”
“No, but given his reaction, you gotta make Athena look like a bow-wow.”
“Pallas Athena. You screwed up your metaphor. Pallas – wisdom. For the metaphor to work, it’d be I make Athena look like she should be riding the short bus.”
“All the goddesses were beautiful. If seen by a mortal, he’d burst into flames. Besides, it was a simile, not a metaphor.”
“I meant the metaphor.”
“If it’s like something, it’s a simile. If it is something, it’s a metaphor.”
“OK. I won’t make that mistake again. I’m only fifteen, after all.”
“Right, lower expectations as long as you can. The real world’s rushing at you. I dodged my error by distracting you. Aphrodite’s the goddess of beauty.”
I shrugged. “I just shrugged my shoulders.”
“Thanks for telling me.” She giggled.
“It’s a friendly conversation.”
“Don’t believe it for a second. Snow’s my brother. You can expect me to make you walk through fire.”
I snickered. “Sure, OK. I’m just returning his call, anyway. I got a gaggle of docs on my case to get a major overhaul. I got a great hit off Snow –”
“He’s got that effect on people. Though he tries not to be liked, everyone likes him, all for different reasons.”
“I asked if I could call him for an objective and unbiased opinion on what’s being offered.”
“What about your parents?”
“I’m fifteen years old.”
Again, the wonderful giggle. “Enough said. They don’t understand.”
“You got no idea.”
“Let me tell you why he called. He did rant about you, said he never got a hit off anyone like he did you. Not in those words. I asked when you guys were going out. He is shy, in his own stupid way. Said you might call. He shrugged his shoulders. I smacked him.”
“Smack him good?”
“Pretty much. Time goes by. You don’t call. This thing’s coming up Saturday evening. Mom and Dad are command appearance and naturally –”
“Having slithered from the same gene pool, the kids have to show, too.”
“You’re really, really sweet! Athena, the short bus is here for you!”
“I just blushed.”
“I can’t wait to meet you. Anyway, it’s fun, great food, hobnob with people not likely to give us mere mortals a glance on an ordinary day. My folks are important because of their science/doctor work. You’d not know them if you fell over them.”
“All this has what to do with me?”
“Since we gotta go, Snow always goes stag. That means –”
“I know what that means.”
“Sure you do, sorry. Snow mopes around, just the three of us, woe is he. I got this boyfriend, he ain’t no Snow, but he’s cool enough. I say to Snow: Call that chick you met! He grumbles: I don’t have her number. I say: duh, you work at the hospital, stupid! Look up the records! I know a week’s short notice –”
“Yeah. What size are you? I can loan you something.”
I weigh eighty pounds, at five one, weight coming on, still eluding me. “I got my freshman prom dress. Bright pink with a huge pink bow as a sash.”
“Watch it. If I marry Snow, it’s going to be the bride’s maid dress.”
“Good thing I’ll be the maid of honor!”
I wanted to call John and tell him: no problem about Saturday night. I have a date. I didn’t want to be obvious.
I finished my chamomile.
I left a message with Doctor Reece’s office that I’d make an appointment the next week to discuss my hip replacement. I’d already told him no twice. I didn’t feel well enough to undergo the ordeal.
The two cosmetic surgeons were speechless in our meeting, one literally, dramatically, falling off his chair.
“For the love of God! We can restore your beauty!”
I am beautiful, in every way.
“Lindsey. How are you?”
“Good, getting better with every moment.”
“I spoke with Mr. Wood. He’s staying in town for a while.”
“I’m glad. They need their father.”
“They’re keeping Amanda for a couple days. IV antibiotics. Mrs. Wood should be heading home about now.”
“Dehydration can throw the brain chemistry off, make people do strange things.”
“I’ll make a note. Do you know the nurse, Snow?”
“What do you want to know?”
“I guess I’m looking for a personal reference.”
“He asked me out.”
“He’s unreasonably driven to please, surpass authority –”
“Not a psych profile! A personal reference!”
“Oh. He’s pleasant and bright. You should enjoy his company.”
“What do you think of your co-counselor, Madison?” I wanted her on record.
A moment passed.
“He’s a zealot and in my professional opinion, dangerous, preaching archaic superstitious nonsense.”
“Unfortunately, there’s no law against crazy-talk.”
“There should be.”
“Too bad we have a Constitution and Bill of Rights. Dad’s a fallen Catholic and Mom’s been liberal enough not to present ghost stories as fact, so I don’t labor under the yoke of religious dogma.”
I knew Ronnie blinked.
“I’ve given it a lot of thought, Ronnie. You can imagine, staring at the ceiling in the hospital. I’ve never had to confront the question: why did a loving God allow this to happen to me? Madison gave me the answer anyway.”
“You’ve spoken to him?”
“Had the pleasure. This afternoon, I filed charges.”
“Yeah, breaking and entering, assault, attempted rape.”
“I doubt the shit’ll stick to the wall. We’ll get his attention.”
“Do you want to talk about what happened?”
“No, Ronnie. But, but, but, I’ll pass your number along and you can give the D.A. your opinion. Likely, they’re going to decline to charge. Too much he said/she said with the she being just a kid.”
“Just the charges alone should get him removed from the appointment, which would be a good thing.”
“That was my thought. You’re going to get busy.”
“The other counselor is popular. An elderly woman, comes off more as someone’s grandmother than a therapist, earthy, spiritual without preaching nonsense, a bit of a feminist and a great storyteller. I checked her credentials. She’s well-papered, all her work with children.”
“Ronnie, thanks for calling.”
“Thanks for calling back.”
I closed my eyes, lying on my back, noises, voices like wraiths penetrating from downstairs. I couldn’t make out what was said. Dad was excited, Mom placating. Dad did that often, a child-like excitement over anything, our bond, Mom, aloof, looking down from the mountain, false praise dealt out with an eyedropper.
Happenstance, maybe clandestinity, a chain reaction of events stole me from Dad. He turned to Sally. She wouldn’t play long. I understood his awe and wonder with his new playmate, that Johnson, together sharing child-like excitement over anything. I could see that Johnson farting, he and Dad looking at each other, laughing, no more than loud giggles into their hands like boys in school.
I’d have stayed on my back, eyes closed watching the wraiths dance the paso doble if not my desire for a second cup of tea, hunger deep in my stomach and my need to gain weight.
On the stairs.
Dad, whining. “You don’t seem to understand just how important this assignment is.”
“I do. Didn’t I say that? Your store’s providing the food, not like you’re cooking it, anyway.”
“Of course we’re not cooking it! The caterer is! We’re still doing the baking. What’s important is I’m in charge of the project! Imagine that! I’m going to actually work with the mayor! It’s the most responsibility they’ve ever given me!”
“I said that was very nice.”
“What’s going on?”
Dad turned to me, a beer bottle in his hand, three empty on the dining room table. “Our store got the contract to do the Governor’s Ball this year!”
“Wow! That’s great!”
He puffed his chest. “I’m in charge!”
“Of the whole deal?” Wide eyes.
“Our part of it!”
“They must have finally figured out just how valuable an employee you are! Too, too great!”
“Not that I have to do it by myself. Johnson’s my number two.”
“You get to work with the mayor?”
“He’s hosting this year! Imagine: I get to meet the mayor!”
“I bet he’s a great guy.” I took his beer, eyeing the bottle. “What’s with this?”
“I’ve done my work for the day. I deserve a treat.”
“Yeah, a Scooby-snack.” I nodded, eyes narrowed, watching his face. “You do recall how much trouble this treat got you in?”
“Johnson says a beer or two after work is never a problem.”
“You need your Scooby-snack every day?”
He shrugged. “Nothing wrong with someone treating himself.”
“Have you told Dr. Bosch about this new habit?”
“It’s not a habit!”
Rolled eyes, to the ceiling: “I thought about getting you in a court ordered program.”
“What kinda program?”
“The kind that helps people fully understand alcohol abuse.”
“I told you: It was just one after another. I wasn’t thinking. I don’t do that. It’s just two beers after work. Besides, if I want to get falling-down-drunk in my own home, it is my castle, after all.”
“Do me a favor and explain it to Ronnie.”
“Do me the favor. See what she thinks. You like her, right?”
“You value her opinion?”
“Please, then, have the conversation.”
He drained the bottle, nodding.
And, that concludes the reality portion of our program.
“Sit down, young lady.” Mom’s arms crossed her chest, tapping a foot. “Your father and I have something we want to talk about.”
I teetered, both hands on the cane. “These chairs hurt.”
I sat. “I saw your note.”
“You’ve been through a lot, granted.”
I nodded. Are we going to play state the obvious?
“This boy, John –”
Dad touched my arm, the first he’d touched me since I was kidnapped. “Hear us out, please.”
“John Hopkins is a police detective, decorated, handpicked to be on the Mayor’s Taskforce.” I looked at Dad. “You get to meet the mayor, John has him on speed dial.” I sat back, painfully, folding my arms across my chest, looking up at Mom. “OK, what about his boy, John?”
“You’ve been through a lot, much has happened. Extraordinary things.”
“Facts: You’re fifteen years old. We’re your parents, adults.”
“It’s just that, this boy, John, is so much older.” Dad’s tone was apologetic.
“You will not, that is not, ever again, call the house and inform me you’ll be out overnight.”
There’s the mom I used to know.
“He’s close to thirty. You’re only fifteen. It’s not only immoral. It’s illegal.”
Come full about! Set range, deep breath! Fire!
“Who told you my relationship with John is immoral? Pastor Madison?”
I turned on Dad. “Who told you? Sally?” God, I should tell a good glass house parable!
I showed a palm to each. “Let’s not trade shots,” because you’re unarmed. “I think you misunderstand my relationship with John.”
“We’ve seen you kissing.”
“You used to kiss me, Dad, before I got ugly.”
Mom narrowed her eyes. “It’s the way you kiss.”
“I am your mother and what I say goes. You’re not to see John anymore.”
“You got it all wrong. John and I aren’t dating. We’re really, really good friends. Besides, I’m the only witness the taskforce has, so we gotta spend a lot of time together.”
“You’re young –”
“Yeah, Dad, fifteen years old.” I bobbed my chin at his beer bottle collection. “In my reality, two means two, not four.”
“It’s been a long day.”
He swallowed hard. “You’re young. You don’t understand emotions and what you’re doing. You may think you understand what you do to this John, but you don’t. Johnson says –”
I’m going write a bell can’t be unrung on a Post-it and staple it to my forehead.
“I don’t give a fuck what that Johnson says.”
Mom shouted my name. The back of Dad’s hand came at me. I pushed off, the contact came to my cheek and the side of my eye socket, the chair tipped, falling back. Dad stood, knocking his chair over, looming, heavy breath, clenched jaw and fists.
I groaned, untangling from the chair, struggling erect, both hands on my cane, separating the blade from staff, the blade in my right hand, the shaft in my left, hunched over, head down, eyes watching Dad from under my brows.
Calmly: “You were never a violent man, not even in the worst of times. I don’t know what’s tainted your soul: drinking or that Johnson – or both. Shall we finish this now or go to our respective corners?”
Dad stood fast, like a cobra’s prey.
I relaxed my shoulders, sliding the blade back in the wood, twisting the lock. “I promised Mom I’d never, ever abandon you. Overnight, liquor’s become your insidious lover. Come to me sober, I’ll always have time for you. Come to me drunk again, we finish this.” I’ll throw some Latin at the sky and do an exorcism.
I looked at Mom, then back to Dad. “I wasn’t with John. The mother of a vic in the school shooting had a psychotic break, endangering her two daughters. With the help of Doctor Bosch, we took care of business.”
Dad dropped to his chair, head in his hands.
“Why didn’t you just say that?”
“Why didn’t you,” fucking, “ask, Mom?”
“We made a logical assumption –”
“Logical for you.” I sighed. “At least I called.”
“Yes, you did do that.”
Wraiths, shadows of voices. I lay on my bed, watching the ceiling, chamomile cooling on my bedside table teasing my olfactory nerves. The radio would chase the wraiths away. Calling Janet would chase the wraiths away. I wanted to ask her about a dress she wore to a party when we were in seventh grade, a black silk little thing.
The wraiths comforted me. Mom didn’t storm off. Dad didn’t storm off. The argument, the fight was good. Hyperbolic honest words burned like fire, cleansing.
Dad smacking me came a surprise, though expected. Like Madison with me, I wanted to draw out the evil one. I wanted Mom to see.
I wanted Dad to see himself, a man who’d strike his crippled daughter. I might have dissevered a good smack. I should never have gotten one. If John were to smack me in anger he’d see the back of my head and that’ll be the last he’d see of me.
The wraiths melted away.
“Yeah, Mom. Thanks.”
“Hot dogs and beans?”
“Honey baked beans?”
“I’m sorry, Mom.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“Don’t hate me.”
“I could never.”
“I’m pressing charges.”
“Over that misunderstanding with Reverend Madison?”
“I know you like him. It’s like he and me are two irresistible forces racing at each other.”
“He thinks you need professional help, is all. I have to agree.”
“I talk with my psychiatrist almost every day. Doctor Bosch. No one’s better papered than her.”
“Your problem is of a spiritual nature.”
“Just how is that?”
“You spoke to him.”
“I want to hear what he told you.”
“What he says is kept private.”
Our little secret, what a surprise.
I grunted, sitting up. “What he said about me to you is kept private?”
“What he feels about you, is not shared with me.”
“Other than me having this deep spiritual difficulty.”
“Crisis of faith.”
“Hot dogs with honey beans will be great. He said I wasn’t a human being. I’m a demon in human form, here to entice men to do immoral things.”
I shrugged. “Says I deserved what happened.”
“Says he can drive the evil out having sex with me.”
Her face: that’s the mother I remember.
Jack Stroman had good advice: Revenge never gets you even, often makes things worse, get over yourself and on with your life.
I knew the first part. I told Kelley getting him wouldn’t make me feel better, restore anything to my life. Ruth Anne, my fellow vic, Dumpster Girl, touched me from her grave. I’d made a note on a Post-it, placed on my mirror, to visit her grave over the summer, to see the beautiful etched granite.
The sixty-plus pictures of Ruth Anne plastered to the war room wall minutely detailing every injury haunted me. Her school photo on the flier and in the paper joined us, a silky thread waving in the ethereal. Seeing her in death, her body beaten and broken fused our souls.
Somewhere in the dark, hidden recesses of my mind, I’d secreted the yearning for another Dumpster Girl to survive, that we could stand in the fire together, somehow making me whole again.
I am whole, just as I am.
For another Dumpster Girl to survive, another girl had to be kidnapped. He had to be free, that somehow his capture would prevent me from becoming whole.
When Madison pushed in, I questioned my ability to do real harm to a human being.
The cafeteria proved I could, without hesitation. If Tommy was a force of nature, following its natural path, then I, too, was a force of nature, a bulwark to fate.
Brittney, her blood spilling from her body for the first time, painted a clear picture. He wanted her before the blood corrupts. He would have taken Brittney, bringing the fire, indescribable horrors if he could have.
For my greedy reasons, I didn’t want him caught. Holding Brittney made it personal.
I want him stopped. Not one more me will be harmed.
Watching the pre-pubic girls crowd the halls, little skirts much too short, bras stuffed with tissues, camisoles, underwear worn as outerwear, jeans cut low, exposing navels, hair made pretty with bows, ribbons and clips, makeup, rarely subtle, slashed on with heavy hands, worry creasing brows, joy molding faces, a fire of my own kindled in my belly. I could point out the vics he’d choose.
Today was not a good day, muscles pulled tight facing off with Dad the day before, a knife still lodged in my hip. With all my stretching, it wouldn’t snap. Up early, I dressed myself, caught the bus, holding hands with Janet the entire trip. We parted on the school steps, her like a mother sending a child off to war.
We shared the pain and reality. When we parted, we knew we weren’t guaranteed seeing each other again – ever.
The children, all ages, fellow students, not peer, smiled, nodded, greeted, some welcoming me back. Janet told me I’d not be mobbed like the other day, handing me a school notice rushed out of the office the last thing the day before.
The single sheet presented my school picture in the upper right corner, to the left, a survey of history. Under was a paragraph suggesting I might return to school. For that to happen, the student body had to cooperate, allowing me space, room to breath, not disrupting school.
The student body cooperated.
Mr. Riggins regaled me with school stories, many I’d heard before, for two hours.
“Looking at the test scores, I’m inclined to believe you didn’t cheat and in that, inclined to pass you today. With only five weeks left in the school year, I see no need for you to return. We can look forward to the fall, and your return at that time.”
My heart sank. I nodded.
“Obviously, you can use the time to recover.”
I’m not sure I’m going to get much better.
“I miss peer tutoring.”
Again, stories rained from the ceiling, Mr. Riggins with many tales of his school years and the many kids he tutored.
“Now that that’s settled.” He stood.
I struggled to my feet. “Thanks for your time. Think I’ll stop by the tent and get some coffee before I go.”
“See! See! If you were a student, you couldn’t drink coffee.”
“Yeah, I see.”
I knew by the flier, Mr. Riggins expected an argument.
I had time to kill, wanting to see Janet at 11, first lunch, before leaving. Kids on the bus distracted me. I didn’t ask about the dress.
A perky female voice answered the phone.
“Hi. I have a 12 o’clock with Mr. Steinberg.”
“Hi, Lindsey. A lunch date.”
“Yeah. I won’t be home in time to –”
“Where can he get you?”
“My school, say 11:30?”
“In the tent.”
I didn’t drink coffee often.
The young man in fatigues took my money. “Where do you want it?”
“You can’t carry it without spilling it.”
“Oh.” I scanned the tables, spotting Ronnie off in a corner. “There.”
I chased my cane over the asphalt, the coffee preceding me by at least thirty seconds. The soldier nodded, Ronnie looked past the woman sitting across from her, waving to me, beckoning me on.
My greeting: “It’s not a good day.”
Ronnie’s eyes hurt. “I can see that.”
As I worked around the bench, Ronnie showed her palm. “Lindsey, I’d like you to meet Mabel McDougal, our other counselor. Mrs. McDougal, Lindsey, the person I was just talking about.”
Life, in a butterfly’s breath, made sense.
My eyes watered. “I don’t have the words to say how great it is to see you again, Mrs. McDougal.”
“Mabel to you, Lindsey.”
I sniffed back a sob. “Now.”
“You know each other?”
Mrs. McDougal hooked me, pulling me to her. “One of my children.”
“That summer program?”
After a long hug, I sat as straight as I could, sipping coffee. “You know?”
Mrs. McDougal nodded. “I’d planned a visit. Horrible, this whole mess. Then the shooting happened. Providence.”
Ronnie bulked. “Divine intervention? Where was your divine intervention when Lindsey’s head bounced off the brick wall?”
Mrs. McDougal chuckled her wonderful chuckle. “Reality dances like fairies on the predawn grass between the extremes of religion and science.”
“I’ve missed you, Mabel.”