11 (rough draft)
October had a single focus on Ribs and Casey, working through the kids in the hall, toward daylight. Candice fell in on her right, Amaretto on her left.
“Where’s Brig?” she asked over the melee.
“Don’t know. I met Sconce. Yeah, she’s a freak show.”
“In a good way.”
“I need to talk with you,” Candice said.
October sensed seriousness. “Now, Abby?”
“A bit later?”
“I’m meeting Casey –”
“It can wait.”
The three friends funneled out the door, shouts off to the left drawing their attention, events blocked out by a growing wall of kids.
October cocked her head, listening. “I can stop this.” She dropped her backpack to the concrete.
Amaretto nodded to Candice. “We’ve watched you do this stuff for seven years now,” Amaretto said, dropping her bag next to October’s. “I’m in.”
Candice added her bag to the pile, returning the nod. “Let’s go.”
With gentle, persuasive hands, October, Candice and Amaretto parted their way through the crowd, coming to the clearing in the center of the circle of students. “If Nard were here, he’d break it up,” Candice said.
“Your brother isn’t here,” October answered.
Eight boys, upperclassmen, faced off, yelling, threatening toward each other, four white, four black. The crowd circled, mixed in race and gender, hitting October like spectators at a dog fight, cheering on, begging for combat.
Again, October cocked her head, listening, disappointed she didn’t hear authority. She held her hands up to stop her friends. “Stay here.”
Amaretto took her arm. “October?”
October pulled free, stepping forward, moving to the epicenter, raising her open palms, smiling, turning in a slow circle, making eye contact. The boys tried to yell around October, then just watched her.
“Get out of the way. This is none of your business,” the loudest of the white boys entreated.
October, the alpha dog exposed, faced him, four feet away, looking up, tethering his eyes. “If you wish to fight, fight me first. Then, it will be my business.”
One of his cohorts pulled Alpha’s arm. “Let’s go.”
Alpha snarled, stepping forward, threatening.
Candice appeared on October’s right, linking arms, Amaretto on her left. Other girls joined October in the space separating the eight boys, standing firm.
“That’s how you do it, Abby,” October said, “without knocking someone to the ground and pounding the piss out of them.”
Back at their bags, as Candice was hoisting her backpack over her shoulders, she said, “I was sure he was going to hit you.”
“That’s what I thought. He’d hit me, a tiny little pretty girl. The others would turn on him, the crowd would turn on him and hopefully, he’d turn on himself.”
“I’m still glad Brig pounded that kid in the mall.”
“I understand your feelings, but I wish you’d get over that.”
Students dispersed, some passing by October to give her a high-five, praise her courage and offer other affirmations.
Amaretto smiled, just a little. “It’s good to see the peacekeeper cheered on, instead of the fighter.”
“I gave them time, Apple.”
“Time to take a breath, think about what they were doing?”
Candice nodded. “A couple of those kids were over eighteen, I’m sure. If not for you, Ockie, they’d be getting their GED in the county.”
She shrugged. “I don’t concern myself with what-ifs.”
Brigantine hurried up. “What am I hearing? Really? What’s wrong with you?”
“October,” Amaretto said. “Run. You have a date.” She hooked arms with Candice and Brigantine, facing the school, blocking Principal Markus’ path.
“October Ferguson!” Markus yelled over their heads.
Names were named. Witness accounts taken. The only thing everyone agreed on was that no fight occurred.
“Ribs?” Candice asked, standing near the street in front of the school, watching the last bus leave, the excitement finally drained.
“October’s meeting Casey there,” Amaretto answered. “Like a date.”
“The guy from this morning?”
“Yes. I think we should give them some space.”
Brigantine offered a sharp nod. “I’ve never seen October like that. I mean, I’ve seen her do some stuff, but not like that.”
“Soul mates,” Amaretto offered.
“You think?” Candice asked with wide eyes.
“Let’s grab a booth in the back,” Maynard said, his hand on the door. “Really,” he added to Casey’s hesitation. “It’s a nice place.”
Casey struggled his hood around his face. “Sure.”
October didn’t know what Principal Markus may have wanted. She was sure he wanted to detain her, the cops pulling up, under the cover of getting to the bottom of this. She guessed her name would come up, questions asked. She couldn’t imagine being in trouble.
“Hi, Barbara!” October greeted the waitress at Ribs.
“Hey, Ockie.” She looked out the door. “No entourage?”
“Maybe later.” October waved to Maynard, glad to see the hooded figure with him.
Blind to her surrounding, “Hey! Girl!” as a command caught her off guard as she moved through the restaurant.
October stopped short, looking for the source, a pleasant chocolate face. “You hey-ing me?” she asked.
Embarrassed, he said, “Sorry. Do you remember me?”
“This is the girl I was telling you about,” he said, a palm to October. “I was just talking about you.”
“Really nice to meet you.” Seventeen, a bottle blonde, – October wondered how she’d look blonde – makeup too heavy against her porcelain flesh, breasts arguing with her sweater, heels, short shirt, sweet smile. She offered a hand. “Mariam.”
“October.” She took the hand. “Ockie.”
October shrugged. “Let me guess. The loudmouth, no offense, was your brother?”
“Good guess! He doesn’t like me seeing Johnson.”
October narrowed her eyes at Johnson. “First or last name?”
He snickered. “First name.”
October offered her hand. “Nice to officially meet you.”
“I guess we’re like Romeo and Juliet,” Mariam said.
“They’re dead, so I guess not.”
Johnson and Mariam laughed.
Your story isn’t over, yet, though.
“I wanted to thank you, but you ran off so quickly.”
She shrugged. “My job there was done.”
Mariam laughed again, giving October the wide eyes. “My god! I love her!”
“Thank you,” Johnson added.
October curtsied. “You’re welcome.”
“I’m not a fighter. I’m a lover.”
“That,” October answered, “I can see.”
“He baits me, comes at me. I have to stand up to –”
“No, you don’t.”
“You can walk away.”
“He’ll shove me and hit me.”
She shrugged. “Still, your choice.”
“I don’t think you understand what it means to be a man.”
“I think, just maybe, our understanding of what it means to be a human being is different.”
“Everything alright, Ockie?” Maynard asked over her shoulder.
“Sure, Nard. Meet my new friends, Johnson and Mariam.”
Maynard offered a reserved smile and his hand to each in turn. “Maynard. They call me Nard.”
“You didn’t hear what didn’t happen right after school, did you Nard?” October asked.
“What didn’t happen?”
Mariam smiled. “There wasn’t this really big fight, and a bunch of kids didn’t get in trouble, and some even didn’t get thrown out of school for the year.”
Johnson scrunched his face. “Some of the kids weren’t arrested and aren’t sitting in jail right now, not having to wonder how I’m going to explain it to my mother.”
Maynard laughed embarrassingly loud, putting an arm around October’s shoulder. “All that didn’t happen, huh?”
October put a finger to her chin, nodding subtly, wondering whether she could get the eight boys to sit down together over a couple of pizzas, air differences, talk about values, perceptions, feelings. She arranged words in her head, thinking to address Mariam concerning how she could approach Mariam’s brother. October knew if she could get him to go along, his friends would follow. Johnson, she knew, could get his friends to the table.
“Damn,” Maynard said through his teeth, watching the door some thirty feet away. “I’d better go.”
October glanced, seeing the door close behind a hooded figure. “Damn is right. Thanks, Nard. I’ll go.” She stepped off, turned, threw, “Nice meeting you guys,” over her shoulder, then trotted toward the door and sunlight.
Just a little out of breath, October caught up to Casey, Casey, hunkered down, hands in the hoodie pockets, long strides. “Sorry.”
“I should have known,” he snapped.
“Can we slow down, maybe just a little?”
He stopped, turning on her, hiding in the hood, looming. “What do you want?”
“World peace, cure for all cancer, for all people to see everyone else as their bothers and sisters?”
“What do you want of me?”
“I want you to look at me?”
“What?” he asked bitterly.
She stepped under him, reaching her hands up inside his hood, cupping his cheeks, pulling him down, forehead to forehead. “I want to hold you, you looking at me like this.”
He shivered, thinking his bones were melting.
“This morning, when you looked at me, like now, you know?”
Casey wasn’t sure what he knew. “Yes.”
“Sorry, back there. New friends, there was this fight going to happened after school.”
“You stopped it.”
“Me and Abby and Apple. I didn’t mean to seem like I was ignoring you, or that you weren’t important to me, or that meeting with you today wasn’t important.”
“Not that.” He didn’t want to blink. “I’m not good in public.”
“Because when you’re sitting there alone, you think – get the feeling – everyone is hawking on you, talking about you, and that at anytime, they mob up on you, chase you, throw you to the ground and kick you?”
“Oh-my-god. How do you know that?”
I watched it happen years ago. She shrugged. “No one understands, but then, how could they?” I want your pain and your fear to wash over me, I want to bathe in it.
“Nard is my only friend. He kind of gets me.”
October released Casey’s face, taking his hand, continuing in the direction of his flight.
“We can go back –”
“No, no, Casey. I didn’t realize, know. This is okay. You can walk me home.”
Amaretto felt guilty feeling pangs of jealousy over how close Brigantine and Candice had become during the summer. She assured herself, no matter what, she always had October. Now, Amaretto sat on the bench just outside the park across the street from Rib-it, staring as cars stole and returned her view of the restaurant, wondering whether October would now slip through her fingers.
Brigantine, holding Candice’s hand, asked Amaretto to come over Candice’s house. I don’t feel like walking behind you guys, she thought, but said she had things to do.
More guilt waved over her when Casey hurried from Rib-it. She stood, thinking to find October, give October a supportive shoulder. October followed shortly, catching up to Casey. Amaretto dropped back to the bench, watching her knees.
She didn’t want to go home, yet. Lighting a nub, she took two quick hits, put it out, stowing the joint in her cigarette pack, lighting a cigarette. Selling pot in the parking lot during break was incredibly easy, within ten minutes people sought her. Everyone said, “That’s kind of high,” but paid anyway.
Ted Hunter told her to charge $3.00 a joint. Amaretto thought she’d start at $5.00, insisting her stuff was better than anything they’ve ever smoked. She watched enough stoners at home to know stoned people are not good judges of anything. They’ll believe what she tells them. With a roll of the eyes and some quick math, she said, “$60.00 in my pocket,” and that was before Hunter paid her.
As October and Casey walked beyond her view, Amaretto thought she could just smoke her profits. “I’m buzzed enough,” she said.
“Are you the girl from the parking lot?” a disembodied voice said from the bushes behind her.
“I don’t understand the question.”
An older boy appeared, resting his elbows on the back of the bench, offensively near. “My girlfriend says you have some good product.”
“See me tomorrow.”
“I need it for tonight.”
Ted Hunter was insistent that Amaretto tell no one, and never bring anyone around.
“Don’t be a bitch.”
“I said, Sorry. I don’t have anything right now.”
He gave the back of her head a gentle sweeping smack. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”
Bring a wheelbarrow full of money. The price for you just doubled.
“You want a couple of joints, like the other children in school, or do you want an ounce?”
He turned from his retreat. “How much?”
Again, with rolled eyes, she did a quick calculation. “For you, special price, $450.00.”
“Whoa, girl! That’s way high!”
She shrugged, not turning from the street. “It’s high because it’s worth it. If your girlfriend shared with you, I’m sure you know that.”
“Here, then, tomorrow, same time. Back by the swings.”
“The school called,” Carol Ferguson said, catching October as the door closed.
October blinked repeatedly. “About?”
“They want to see both of us first thing in the morning.”
“You were in a fight?”
October rolled her eyes. “No, Mom. There was no fight. There could have been, but I talked them down from the ledge.” Now, October narrowed her eyes at her mother. “What’s going on?”
Carol blushed. “Nothing.”
“You met someone?”
“We need to talk about this fight.”
“There was no fight. Some kids were yelling at each other. I stepped in the middle, they didn’t fight.”
“What was this about?”
Carol returned the rolled eyes. “The school said it was racial.”
“Not really. Kind of, maybe, no. So, what happened today. If I check your bed, am I going to find it not made?”
“I like to see you happy like this.” She paused, biting her lip, dropping her bag from her shoulders, placing the bag on the coffee table. “I met someone today.”
An eyebrow went up. “Met someone?”
“You’re twelve years old.”
“Mom. I won’t be messing up my bed!”
“That’s certainly not what I meant.”
October closed her eyes, taking a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “I like people, Mom. Maybe a bit more than I should.”
“I won’t argue with that.”
“Apple says he’s my soul mate.”
“Do you even know what that is?”
October took her mother’s hands, both dropping to the sofa, October holding her mother’s eyes. “It’s a fairy tale.”
“Not just a fairy tale –”
“Mom. A fairy tale is like a lie we use to tell the truth.”
“God created some beings to hang out in the place he created.”
“You don’t believe in God.”
“No, I don’t.”
“I told you, as you get older –”
“So, God has these cool beings for Him to play with.”
“People are not God’s playthings.”
“More like pets, but that’s not the point. These beings are like giants compared to us. They have four arms, four legs, two faces and like the God that created them, they’re all full of themselves. God gets tired of them fighting each other, so he cuts them in half, separating the halves all over the place He created. With the halves feeling something missing, they’re forever searching for the missing half and don’t have time to fight each other anymore.”
“The soul mate.”
“More like the flesh mate, but that’s the story. When we meet our flesh mate, we get the feeling of being full.”
“I think soul mate, because –”
“I don’t believe in souls, but Mom?”
“I feel full, like something’s been missing and I didn’t know it. I like people, I really, really love Apple, Abby and Brig but Casey –” She smiled, watching her mother, not seeing her, “fills me up.”
“I have to meet this boy.”
“He’s older,” October warned. “Two years, I think, maybe three. I didn’t ask.” She took a deep breath. “He hates himself, Mom, and it breaks my heart.”
“What do you mean?”
Her eyes watered. “You know when one of your soul mates and you call it quits, and it breaks your heart and I hold your face and share it with you?”
Carol blinked repeatedly, mouth open. “I had no idea –”
“It’s my superpower.” October shrugged. “It breaks my heart when your heart is broken, Mom.”
A whisper. “Thank you.”
Again, the shrug.
Amaretto ignored the Sorry, We’re Closed sign and dark interior, pushing the door open anyway, the bell at the top of the jam ringing. “Hey, Mr. Hunter,” she whispered to match the dim light.
“Hey back at you, Apple,” Ted Hunter answered from the counter. “Want a sandwich?”
“How about a milkshake and pie?” Betty Hunter, a short, stocky woman with white hair suggested, working from her stool beside her husband. “There’s not a girl in the world that doesn’t want a piece of pie.”
“Cherry would be nice,” Amaretto said. “Coffee goes with pie better.”
“The milk in the shake is better for children.”
Pulling herself up on the stool next to Mr. Hunter, helping herself to a cigarette from Mr. Hunter’s pack, Amaretto said, “I’m not over concerned with my health.”
Mrs. Hunter chuckled, delivering pie and pouring coffee.
Amaretto placed a fold of bills next to her pie. “I need an ounce for tomorrow.”
Mrs. Hunter fanned the bills, gave Amaretto back a twenty, placing the rest of the money in her apron. “That was quick.”
The three chuckled.
“An ounce and thirty more joints?” Mrs. Hunter asked.
“You are being careful?”
“Not really. It’s not like I opened a lemonade stand selling pot in the parking lot or anything.” She considered the ceiling. “I think just maybe I got a little too renown today.”
Again, the Hunter’s chuckled.
“If you get caught, dear, you don’t want to have a lot of pot on you.”
She nodded. “I’ll leave the ounce in my locker.”
Mr. Hunter laughed. “That’s where they like to look.”
“Random and often,” Mrs. Hunter added.
“I did not know that.” She forked pie. “Nothing in school but what I can move during my open period.”
Mrs. Hunter disappeared toward the back of the store.
“Any trouble?” Mr. Hunter asked, patting her hand with his large paw. The touch was not like the touch from Amaretto’s mother’s friends, but like that of an adoring grandfather for his granddaughter.
“Not really. Some kids are assholes.”
“That’s true for all age groups.”
Returning, Mrs. Hunter set two plastic bags on the counter. “There’s thirty-two in there, two for you.”
“For the ounce?”
Bringing her backpack from the floor to her lap, Amaretto stowed the two bags. She thought the Hunter’s may be out of touch with the market, but was reluctant to say anything.
“Mr. Howell,” October greeted when the door opened.
“October! Good to see you.”
“Always nice to be seen.”
“Candy is back by the pool.”
Howell went one way, October the other, encountering Maynard near the kitchen. “Hey.”
“How’d it go with Case?”
“He’s a damaged soul. I think I’m in love.”
Maynard laughed. “No doubt he’s in love with you. Love at first fright.”
“I want to drink him up. I want to shelter him from harm. I want to own him, that no one will ever hurt him again.”
“I kind of got the feeling you felt that way about all people.”
She shrugged, rolling her eyes. “I think I’m getting a taste of what my mother goes though with her soul mates du jour.”
Maynard put lemonade in her hand. “Back by the pool.”
Candice stood with October’s approach, October setting her glass on a poolside table, taking Candice’s face, pulling her close, going forehead-to-forehead. “Sorry I didn’t have time for you this afternoon.”
Candice took a long drink of October, lost in her eyes. “Not a problem. I had one of those dreams last night.”
“The dream, the same. Different. I’ve been dragging myself around all day like I was up all night. I woke up screaming.” She pulled back, breaking free. “And this,” she said, displaying her right wrist.”
October took her hand. “Looks like a rope burn?”
“Or someone holding my arm.”
“Do you think someone could have come into your room?”
“It’s all fuzzy, a dream. A nightmare. No, I’d remember.” She took a deep breath as October retook her face, forehead-to-forehead again. “Howell was in it, I mean, I remember his face.”
“He called you Candy again.”
“I hate that. He really, really makes me uncomfortable.”
“That would explain the whole nightmare business.”
“Yeah, it would.”
They sat, watching the ripples on the water.
“Nard was heavy flirting with Brig.”
October smiled, just a little. “He’s never flirted with me. Must be serious. I like those two together.”
“My best friend and my brother? It’s weird, but I like it.”
“I thought I was your best friend.”
October found George Howell reading the newspaper in the living room. “I didn’t think anyone used those things anymore.”
He set the paper aside. “Habits, like roots, you know. It’s not reading the news and events, it’s holding the paper.” He rubbed thumb against fingers. “It’s the feel and smell of newsprint.”
“Comfort. I understand that. I was kidding anyway.” She held her hand forward. “If you’re done, I’ll take that home with me so I can, eh, experience it.”
Howell gathered and then folded the paper. “Sure thing. You can let me know.”
She accepted the paper. “I really hate to be a bother, but can I ask you for a ride home? I could maybe call my mother.”
“You may ask.”
October rolled her eyes, tapping her foot. “I forgot. You’re a lawyer. Mr. Howell, could you please give me a ride home?”
“I was just playing with you.”
As I’m playing with you.
Standing on the sidewalk, October waved to George Howell as he pulled away. Candice spoke candidly to October about Howell, Howell giving her the creeps with overt, possibly inappropriate attention, which October never witnessed.
The disturbing dreams were no mystery to October. Howell made Candice uncomfortable, the feelings seeping into her dreams. When forehead-to-forehead, October could feel real fear.
October intentionally placed herself in Howell’s path, making herself available, even being borderline flirtatious, looking for that Howell Candice said liked little girls. Nothing. Principal Markus had the look and feel, so October had something to compare.
Fifteen minutes in the car alone with Howell. They spoke of schoolwork and lawyering in general.
“Candy,” she said aloud. “Why do you have to call her Candy?”