12 (rough draft)
“I don’t get it,” Carol Ferguson said to the windshield of her silver Toyota Camry.
“Get what, Mom?”
October flipped the visor down, turning side to side. “I like it, kind of cool.” She had gelled her hair flat to the sides of her head, wrapping her hair in a perfect ball toward the top-rear. With her hair slicked and tied, her two-inch hoop earrings stood out.
“I just don’t get it.”
Replacing the visor, October cupped the dream catcher dangling from the rearview mirror. “I don’t get this, but you don’t see me whining about it.”
“It’s a Native American –”
“I know what it is, Mom. It catches bad dreams so you can sleep throughout the night. I don’t get why you’d need to sleep while driving your car.”
“It’s just a thing, Ockie.”
Carol bit her lip, glancing at her daughter. “And, the dress? Is that how the kids are dressing these days?”
October intentionally picked out a white Alice-in-Wonderland princess cut with belled half sleeves, belted with a blue sash, white knee socks and her patent leather black Mary Janes.
October offered a shrug. “It’s my Abby dress, the kind of thing Abby often wears.”
“She’s smoking hot, Mom. Always has been.”
“Is that a problem for her?”
“She thinks it is, sometimes.”
“What she sometimes feels is overt inappropriate attention.”
“Men and boys, I guess.” Keep your eye on Principal Markus and if I’m right, you’re going to see what I mean. “I think Abby may be paranoid, mistaking hidden motives behind people being playful.” I’m guessing that’s why the nightmares.
Carol glanced her white watch. “We have time if you want me to change.”
“Why would I want you to do that? Jeans and a tank are perfect on you.”
“Do you call it your mom outfit?”
“No. I call it my Carol outfit.”
“I think I understand the subtle difference.”
“I’d say overt, not subtle, but that’s cool, too. My makeup is subtle, Apple’s is overt.”
Carol laughed, subtly. “I wanted to ask you – last night – soul mates? I was thinking about what you said.”
“I don’t understand the question.”
“Where’d you get that story? Where’d you read it?”
“Apple. She believes the mythology as real.”
“That’s kind of weird.”
“You believe in God.”
“I was raised Episcopal. Maybe if I raised you in the Church, you’d believe in God, too.”
October resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “If I were raised in the Church, I’d believe mythology is real?”
“We can talk about this when you’re older.”
As the car came to a stop in the parking lot, October narrowed her eyes. “I’ll meet you at the main entrance, Mom.”
“What is it?”
October climbed from the car watching over the distance as she crossed the lot, finally reaching her destination. “Apple?”
“Hi, Ockie. You look nice today.”
October curtsied. “I have a date with Markus.”
“I’m thinking any excuse for him to take a run at me, the cover being the no-fight yesterday. Even had to bring Mom. I think he wants to see if there’s a girl more his age.”
Apple turned as a kid came up. She accepted a five-dollar bill, other hand going palm-to-palm. “That’s why we kids aren’t allow to carry side arms, you know,” she said back to October.
“Apple? What are you doing?”
Amaretto shrugged. “Making a little money.”
“You do realize –”
“If you’d like to give me the 4-1-1, you know I’ll be glad to give you my one hundred percent attention, but you won’t be telling me anything I don’t already know.”
October dropped her backpack to the asphalt, taking Amaretto by the face, pulling her forehead-to-forehead, watching her eyes. “I love you more than you can know.”
Amaretto took October’s wrists, nodding repeatedly. “That’s kind of scary because I know you love me a lot.”
October stepped back, reclaiming her bag, hanging the canvas, a sharp contrast to the white dress, over one shoulder. She took the ring of hair on the chain around Amaretto’s neck between her fingers. “Is this?”
“Your hair, yes. I usually keep it in my top, next to my skin.”
“You’ll be careful?”
“Yes, just because you tell me to.”
“I’d give you a good smack –”
“If you didn’t love me so much.”
“This is not what it was like when I was called to the principal’s office,” Carol said.
“What were you called to the office for, Mom?”
“Mostly misunderstandings, but never the principal’s office. The assistant principal handled all disciplinary actions.”
“That’s the way it was last year, too.”
“Do you think these are for us?” Carol asked about the pastry tray on the twelve-foot oak conference table.
October poured coffee in a cup, adding sugar and creamer. “Coffee?” She passed the cup to her mother.
The door opened, the space filled with Principal Markus. “Good morning! Sorry to keep you waiting.” Stepping to October, half bending, he wiggled the PastiCard dangling on a chain around his neck. “Want to see my I.D., October?” he shouted, his voice the usual inappropriately loud, offering an artificial laugh.
October wanted to hide under the table like a five-year-old confronted by a disturbing clown. “Principal Markus,” she greeted.
“I’ve ordered them for all the staff and teachers!”
“That’s nice, Principal Markus,” October said, hurting herself to keep from rolling her eyes.
“It was your idea!” Markus gave October an excited but slow up-down. She thought he should be licking his lips.
“It was.” October extended her left arm, palm up. “This is my mother. Mom, Principal Markus.”
With a pivot, Markus clicked his heels, nodded, offering a hand. “Mrs. Ferguson.”
She took the hand, the hand dwarfing hers. “Ms. Ferguson, Carol. I never married.”
He released her hand, standing straight, looking down his nose. October thought he should wipe his hand on his pants. “Never married and you had a child? That could explain much.”
October and her mother jockeyed for position to engage exactly what was being explained when the door opened again, Randi Sconce entering followed by a younger man. Markus dropped to a chair, his notebook, obviously returned by Sconce, and pencil finding a way to the table.
“Ms. Sconce,” October greeted.
Sconce froze for an entire four seconds, staring.
“Don’t we wish to imitate those we admire?” October asked.
“We do, yes, we do.” She surveyed the room. “Let’s all have a seat and get started.”
“Ms. Sconce,” October said, working into a chair, “Carol, Ms. Ferguson, my mother.”
Sconce nodded. “Randi, if you like.”
The younger man kept his feet, pacing as if distracted. He banged his head on thirty, but appeared younger, his shirt and jacket a size too big, his body like a coatrack. His hair in a flattop, field mouse brown, his flesh pale, light brown eyes the color of October’s, lacking the fire, the light of October’s.
“I’m the first assistant principal, Harry Fisher.” His voice was disturbingly high pitched. He nodded to October. “Mr. Fisher.”
October stood, curtseyed, and said, “Nice to meet you, Mr. Fisher. October Ferguson.” Glancing, she knew her mother was thinking: what the fuck?
“We will not be using nicknames here.”
October smiled, her mother, Sconce and Markus scrambling as one voice to affirm October’s given name was indeed October.
October allowed a bit of back-and-forth, some really’s and affirmations, then October, still standing, said to Fisher, Fisher on the far side of the table, standing, “Mr. Fisher.” When he looked, she held his eyes. “Why have I been called here?” Not that bickering over my name isn’t amusing.
“Yes, yes,” Markus jumped in. “Come, sit here beside me.” He patted the table. “Have a donut. Would you like some milk?”
You just pegged my creep-o-meter. “Thanks for offering, but I just had a good breakfast. It is the most important meal of the day, you know.” With a quick survey of faces, October knew she wasn’t the only one seeing Markus as inappropriate. Sconce had her face twisted.
“What are we doing here?” Carol asked Fisher.
Fisher opened his laptop on the table, bending, punching away. “Why you are here, Mrs. Ferguson, is in many matters such as this, we cannot or should not question a minor without his or her parent or legal guardian present.”
“She’s not married,” Markus shot across the table as if only Fisher could hear him.
“What?” Fisher shot back with a look, the question not about Carol being married but obviously about why that information was important at all.
“Never was,” Markus added smugly.
“What matters?” Carol asked.
“October,” Sconce said, taking October’s eyes.
“I had nothing to do with this.”
October nodded, a universe of understanding passing between the two women, reflecting each other in appearance and mien.
“You were in an altercation after school yesterday, on school grounds. We need to nip these things in the bud.”
October did not consider herself a bud, and she certainly didn’t feel the need for nipping. “Yes, I was,” October said, her tone bursting with remorse. “I realized, even before it was over, how wrong I was, and I regret doing it, and I apologize to you and all involved, and I promise, I vow never to do it again.”
Fisher poked away at his keyboard, looking up with a smirk. “Now, wasn’t that easy?” Folding the computer, he tucked it under his arm and left.
“What the –” Carol started.
“Thank you all for your concern!” October jumped in.
Markus worked to his feet. October considered racing the opposite direction, but though Markus could change directions and head her off at the door. Sconce, quicker, got between the principal and October, taking October’s wrist. “I’d like to see you in the hall.”
“I’d like to be seen by you in the hall.”
As they made the front office, October said, “If he calls her a harlot, she might pound the piss out of him.”
Just in the hall, Sconce released October. “Do you mean to mock me with your hair like that?”
“No, not at all. I like different looks. This is my Abby dress, for example. As you work through my friends, you’ll get to meet her: Candice Abbott.”
“The Sconce look?”
“The Randi look. It’s pretty personal, so I’ll use your first name.”
She narrowed her eyes. “You put on the skin of others?”
October smiled lightly. “Never thought of it that way, but sure. Instead of making it sound so gross, you could say I like to walk in their shoes. Is this why you wanted to see me in the hall?”
“No. I didn’t want Principal Markus cornering you.”
Now, October rolled her eyes. “I considered a pair of Mom’s jeans, and oversized sweat shirt and not brushing my hair.”
October glanced back. “Is he like this with many kids?”
“I’m glad that wasn’t confusing,” Carol finally said well into the parking lot, October and Carol holding hands. “What exactly did you do?”
October shrugged. “Nothing. What I told you last night.”
“What, then, did you apologize for?”
“I really shouldn’t tell you.”
“Not good for a magician to reveal how her tricks work.”
Carol opened the car door, turning on October. “Now, I’m really confused.”
“I apologized for what they imagined I did.”
“I really have no idea.”
“Then why did you apologize?”
October dropped her bag to the ground, taking her mother’s face, going forehead-to-forehead. “It didn’t matter what I did or didn’t do. All they wanted was for me to apologize. They could have presented allegations and charges, I could have denied, explained, we could have wrestled back and forth for three hours, then I would have apologized for what was left. I just jumped to the end so I can get to class and you can get home and, well, mess up your bed again.” She released her mother.
“You’ve done that to me for years.”
“Magician – tricks.”
Carol nodded. “How well do you know what’s-his-name?”
“Markus. Close encounter of the third kind, maybe two minutes, yesterday.”
“He was all over you like you were old friends.”
“He’s eager to please. Apple thinks he’s my boyfriend.”
Carol looked back at the school. “Seems like he wants to be. I dated one of my teachers in high school, but I was eighteen at the time.”
“Not my father.”
“You never told me you were never married.”
“I didn’t think it was important. Is it, to you?”
“No, I guess not. Principal Markus is probably still washing his hands.” October stooped for her bag. “You ever going to tell me about Dad?”
“Do you see him around?”
October shrugged dismissively. “I see your new car every year. I see our house, your bank account. My bank account.”
“I’ve invested wisely.”
“I’m off to class.”
“One other thing. Your look?”
“I bet that surprised you.”
“At first, then I got it.”
“What do you think you got?”
“Randi’s one of those special people you like to collect.”
“She’s a special person, yes. Not sure why, yet. I’d like to put my forehead on hers.”
“Why don’t you?”
“I don’t want to be burned at the stake for being a witch?”
“I actually follow that. You’re growing up with me watching. I guess when someone comes upon you, it could be shocking.”
“So, if Markus asks me out?”
“Tell him I won’t pay him for babysitting.”
October stepped, then turned back. “If he chases me down and asks me if he should ask you out, what should I tell him?”
“You’re not kidding. He didn’t give me a second glance.”
October raised her eyebrow.
“Oh.” Carol let out a long breath. “It wouldn’t be the first time.”
“I know, Mom.”
“I’m young, not stupid.”
October stood in the hall, conspicuously leaning next to the classroom door, right foot flat on the wall. She didn’t have to wait long, first the bell filling the space, then children rushing about.
“Casey!” she called.
“Ockie!” He came over her, pushed closer than he planned by the sea of students. “How’d it go?”
She shrugged, watching up at him, resisting taking his face. She knew he was uncomfortable, wishing to turn away. She bathed in him, breathing him in. “They said, I said sorry, out in ten minutes.”
“Mostly. But, since I’m not in jail or anything, walk me home after school. Mom really wants to meet you.” She couldn’t hold back, her hands coming to his face. “I know, Case. I know. It’s terrifying beyond my understanding. Mom’s nice, not as nice as me, but better than most.”
“I can do it.”
“Yes, you can.”
“After school, then? Main entrance?”
October was late for class, her Mary Janes tapping out a song in the empty hallway. She hummed. Rounding the corner, she discovered Markus pacing the hallway in front of her classroom.
He turned. “Ms. Ferguson.” He looked at his watch.
“Hey, Principal Markus. Monitoring the hallways to protect us from the Big Bad?”
“Yes, yes. That’s exactly what I’m doing.” He gave her yet another up-down, then looked at this watch again.
“I need to get in that classroom.” I’m going to make you ask.
“Where have you been?”
“Walked my mother out. We had a long talk.”
“Nice lady. Nice lady.”
“Yes, Principal Markus. May I get to my classroom, please?”
“Of course. You are a very attractive, gifted child. You just need to work on staying out of trouble.”
“Yes, Principal Markus.”
Markus rocked on his heels, watching down on October, October watching back.
“May I get by, please?” October asked again.
He slid to his left, still crowding the door, October slipped by, having to brush against the large man.
In the noise and confusion, October wrestled with her backpack and locker, packing the books she wanted to go over for the next day.
Like an echo, Frankenstein resounded in the hall. October looked, unable to identify the source. Then, again.
“Frankenstein?” she asked aloud. “Why Frankenstein?”
“Because they haven’t read the book?” Candice asked.
“Neither have I. Do you have a copy?”
“At home. Consider it yours. How was the Spanish Inquisition?”
“Other than that?”
“They pretty much had some bad information, casting it to the general, getting the whole thing wrong.”
“Like when Brig smacked Sally for taking your troll.”
“You remember that?”
“The day we met, sure.”
“Not much changed.”
Frankenstein sang in the air again. October rolled her eyes.
Franken – was cut short, followed by a shout, scuffling, books sliding across the crowded hall and a kid belly down on the floor.
“Hey,” Brigantine greeted October and Candice.
“I really wish you wouldn’t do that,” October said.
“Do what?” Brigantine answered. “Beauty and the Beast?” he asked Candice.
Candice narrowed her eyes, pursing her lips. “Better than Frankenstein, but not quite.”
Looking over her shoulder, Brigantine said, “Obviously never read the book.”
“Am I the only one who hasn’t read it?”
“I guess yelling Beast or Beauty and the Beast in the hallway doesn’t have the right ring to it,” Candice suggested.
“If you only knew. Me and Case are the beauty, they’re the beast.”
“You can put your palms up all you want, Ockie,” Brigantine said, “smile cute and hope everyone sings Kumbaya with you. I got this other plan that goes something like knocking the loudmouth on his ass, and all the other assholes don’t gang up and chase you down.”
“You can’t beat a bully by being a bully.”
Brigantine cupped her ear. “I don’t hear any Frankensteins.”
“Nard said something about you the other day.”
“Did he, now?” October took Casey’s hand.
“He said you’ve invited me into a special club or something. I don’t know what that means.”
“I don’t, either. I don’t have a special club, but if I did, the first rule of the special club is to never talk about the special club.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Yes, Case. I’m kidding. I have best friends, people I’ve chosen and they’ve chosen me, over others, but that just happened. It’s not a special club.”
“Am I one of these friends?” Casey asked. “If the answer’s no, don’t say anything.”
“Yes, Case, you’re one of the chosen, and you chose me the day we met in front of the school.”
“How big is this special club that doesn’t exist?”
“I wish to know, if I may, what happened.”
“I don’t really like to talk about it.”
“In this moment, on this topic, I don’t really care what you like.” She closed her eyes as they walked.
Casey swallowed hard. “I was eighteen months old. Somehow, I crawled behind the TV. I must have been there for a while. I chewed through the TV cord. I fried my face, hung on the wire until the fuse blew.”
He paused. “Yes, breaker tripped.”
“You don’t actually remember.”
“You’re repeating a story your were told, maybe by your grandfather.”
“Grandmother,” Casey corrected. “Are you a psychic?”
October laughed lightly. “Sorry, no. I’m trying to put this story in the context of your life, walk around it, see what it looks like and what it means.”
“It means at any time a crowd of kids can attack me, run me down, knock me down and kick me,” Casey bit bitterly. “It means my mother can’t look at me, and my father won’t talk to me.”
“I see the most beautiful human being I have even seen when I look at you. I’d stand between you and the crowd to protect you from any harm.”
“Why? Why would you do that?”
“Because I have chosen you.”
Casey dropped to his knees, his arms around October, sobbing.