13 (rough draft)
“Good God in Heaven, what the fuck happened to you!” was how Carol Ferguson greeted Casey.
The two steps inside the door were erased, Casey making his escape. October was torn between running after Casey and cutting into her mother, but only for a breath, dropping her backpack on the floor.
She caught him three blocks up, Casey sitting on the grass, his face in his hands.
“You didn’t tell her?” Casey asked through his sobs.
“Honestly, I didn’t think of it.”
“Didn’t think of it? Didn’t think of it? I’m defined by it. My life is defined by it.”
“Not to me.”
“Well, sure,” he bit sarcastically, looking up at her. “Six billion people on the planet, you’re the only one.”
“Who gives a fuck?”
“One billion people?”
He waved her off, chin to his knees, arms wrapped around his legs. “When I was your age, I thought to kill myself. I mean, what did I really have to look forward to? No one liked me, but for Nard. I don’t think Nard really likes me. I think he gets a kick out of being the big hero, you know, coming to my rescue.”
“Maynard has a good heart, it would not be –”
“Shut up, October, I’m making a point.”
October nodded, dropping to her knees, a hand on his shoulder.
“Not only not like me, but hate me.” He waved her off again. “I do have this figured out. They don’t hate me. They fear me, and they hate that they fear me. However it’s defined, they are out there, waiting for their chance to kill me. Like birds with a deformed chick, waiting for the chance to push me out the nest. I sat in my room at night staring at the mirror, and I offended me. I thought I could desensitize myself, that I’d not offend me in time.”
He nodded, affirming his logic. “When I was your age, I talked myself out of killing myself. I thought somehow the universe was fair. I thought somehow there’s this god out there, up there, watching down and he’d throw me a bone, give me a moment of happiness, of peace.
“Two years ago, looking in the mirror, I made myself a promise, a vow. I said that someday I’d meet a girl just as ugly as me, and she wouldn’t hate me, maybe even like me, seeing through this skin I’m trapped in. Then, there’s you.”
“You are the most beautiful thing I have even seen in my life. I thought that the first time I saw you.”
“Thing? I’m a thing?”
“Not what I meant. When I first saw you, I said to myself that you’re the most beautiful human being I’ve even seen, then changed it. Of everything I’ve ever seen, you are the most beautiful.”
She stood, looking down, arms crossed at her chest. “Casey. Look at me.”
“Who’s not seeing through the skin I’m trapped in?”
His eyes widened, his mouth moving, no words coming.
“Don’t hurt your brain, Case.” She held a hand down. “Rise, stand beside me as an equal. How did Ms. Sconce put it? I put on the skin of others.”
“You’re a shapeshifter?”
“No! I imagine being you. I put your skin on, which sounds pretty gross, but is much better than saying I walk in your shoes.”
He came to his feet, facing her. She cupped his cheeks, thumbs floating under his eyes, wiping the tears away, she did not pull him to her, but rather craned on her toes, touching her lips to the deformed side of his mouth.
“Physical beauty is only skin deep,” she whispered.
October felt a hand on her shoulder, October stepping back. She’d seen her mother a block away.
Carol took Casey in her arms, his head going to her shoulder. “I do not have the words to tell you how sorry I am.”
“Mrs. Ferguson –”
“Call me Carol. What I did was uncalled for and inexcusable. What has been done to you is uncalled for and inexcusable. As an adult in the human race, I apologize for every negative action we as a people have done to you.”
“Thank you, Carol.”
“Would you please come back to the house?”
“I would like that.”
“Hey, Uncle Jack,” Amaretto greeted in the dimness of her bedroom. Jack was a large, hairy man with dark reddish brown hair, hair the color of root beer, hair always dangling in his face. Amaretto wondered why he’d not have a good haircut, her mom being a stylist.
“Hey, Baby Girl. Where you been?”
“School and stuff, you know, out and about with my friends.” She fished to the back of her underwear drawer, coming up with a plastic bag.
“We’re going to order some pizzas,” Morgan said from the bed, surprising Amaretto.
“Morgan, really? In my bed?”
“Why don’t you join us, Baby Girl?” Uncle Jack lifted the sheet.
“I have to go out, meet some people.”
Amaretto suspected Uncle Jack was her first. She knew he was a favorite of Morgan’s. Uncle Jack did not like Amaretto’s insistence on condom use, reluctantly agreeing to the stipulation. He offered many arguments, obviously reasoning only another man would understand.
Amaretto countered with, “My body, my rules, end of story.” Sex in her house to Amaretto was a utilitarian practice, not unlike eating dinner or taking a bath. “Taking a bath can be pleasurable,” Amaretto said to the sidewalk moving under her feet. She took quick showers at home, once in a while taking a bath at October’s. “Just once you need to have a guy bust in to take a dump when you’re in the tub.”
“Hey,” an older girl greeted Amaretto on the path in the park.
“You’re the girl from the parking lot?”
“I’m going to get a fricking nametag. Apple.”
“That’s my name.”
“Cute. I’m Jill.”
“Did you want something? I’m all out until –”
“No, Apple, I have something for you.” Jill rabbit punched Amaretto in the face, hard.
Amaretto reeled back, her hand to her nose, coming away with blood. “What the fuck?”
“You do not sell in school. You do not sell in this neighborhood.”
“I thought this was America?”
Jill’s arm went back, Amaretto covered.
“Got the message, Apple?”
“Yes, I get the message.”
Fishing a couple napkins from the trashcan, Amaretto found her way to the playground, not seeing her mark. She sat on a swing, her head back, pressure on her nose.
“Fuck,” she said through her teeth. “Why didn’t I see that coming?” Amaretto realized just how naïve she was to imagine no one else was selling pot in the school. No doubt, Jill was a senior with established customers. “I just have to figure out how to get this free market deal working for me.” Jill was hanging with a crowd on the path, obviously her cabal.
“Slip and fall,” a voice asked.
“Yes, that’s exactly what happened.” Asshole. “Got the money?”
“$400.00 was it?”
“That’s right. Right here.” He held up a wad of folded bills.
Amaretto produced the plastic bag.
Asshole pushed the money in his pant’s pocket, snatched the bag, stuffing it in his other pocket. “Thanks.”
“Hey!” She jumped to her feet.
A backhand to the face put her back on the swing. As she struggled to gain her feet, he took a fist of her collar, punching her twice in the face. “Stay put.” He fished in her pockets. Resistance brought two more fists to the face, leaving her to sit helpless with tears of rage on her cheeks as he took all the money she had.
Asshole, she thought, watching him stroll away, not even enough respect to run. Worse than getting her drugs ripped off, getting robbed and getting hit was being dismissed as if she were nothing. At home, Amaretto being twelve years old, every man taking her literally, technically and legally raped her, but not a single one of them dismissed her.
Holding the swing’s chain, she hung back, the napkin to her sore face, watching the stars lose the struggle with the clouds. She owed Mr. Hunter $210.00 and did not know the punishment for not having it.
“You’re late,” Sconce stated the obvious.
“Got hung up on the phone.” Melody Lark kissed Sconce quickly on the lips, dropping on the chair next to her. “Wine night. Good night for it.”
“Looks like rain.”
“Interesting meeting today.”
“By the tone of your voice, it must have something to do with October. I think I should worry.”
“She had her hair and makeup done like mine today.”
“Real-ly? That’s so cool.”
“She knew we’d have the meeting this morning. I thought she was mocking me.”
“Calling someone names is mocking. Putting forth effort like that is flattery.”
Sconce nodded. “She pretty much told me the same thing.”
“Now, I am worried,” Lark said kiddingly.
“She’s twelve.” Sconce rolled her eyes, turning to look at Lark. “Markus embarrassed himself, doting over this child like a challenged boy with his first puppy.”
“I don’t doubt it.”
“The meeting was a pretense. The disciplinary report, which no longer exists by the way, cited October as the instigator of a racial incident.”
“That would certainly trigger a meeting.”
“Markus wanted to get October in a room and give her donuts.”
“Donuts. In stunning brilliance, October took the floor ahead of everything and apologized for her actions, her recognizing she was wrong, and vowed to never do it again.”
Lark narrowed her eyes. “Before being accused of anything?”
Placing a folder on the small table between them, Lark said, “You can have this back.”
“You aren’t even supposed to look at that.”
Lark shrugged. “Pretty cursory.”
“Budget, a formality required by the state.”
“I spent the better part of the afternoon on the phone. People were reluctant to talk to me, saying nothing but good things about Markus.”
“I think you’ve crossed the line.”
“I’m taking a week off, flying to Texas. That’s crossing the line. People might be willing to say stuff in person, where over the phone they’ll be reluctant.”
“Really. You’re going to fly to Texas and just knock on doors, asking people to tell you shit?”
Lark smiled. “I called Newton today, ran it passed her, she talked to her editor. I’m going to get stringer I.D. The Edgewood Post is a Gannett newspaper, you know.”
“Okay. Good idea, but I don’t approve.”
“The pitch to the editor is allegation of a top official at the high school being a pedophile. The public pitch is a fluff piece leading up to Paul Markus being nominated for Educator of the Year.”
“I don’t think he’s a pedophile. I think he just likes a certain type of girl and his enthusiasm is embarrassing.”
“I wasn’t convinced by anything you said or the background check, for what the background check is worth.”
“The phone calls?”
“It’s what they weren’t saying.”
“I should take the week, go with you, make it a vacation.”
“If we were to go away on vacation, it would not be to Texas.”
Sconce chuckled. “Looks like rain.”
“I like the rain.”
Paul Markus sat alone in the blue glow of the TV, reclining in his easy chair, wearing boxer shorts and a dirty tee shirt, plate of donuts on his chest. Silence filled his ears, the sound turned down. He didn’t much care about the new convection oven that would save him money and make his life more convenient.
He liked to watch the host, a middle aged woman, too busty to be practical, a mouth too big for her face, hair in a swooping style not seen since the sixties.
Rain tapped on the awning outside. He wondered whether the car windows were up. He puzzled at the donuts, wondering which October might had chosen if she hadn’t had a good breakfast.
“Kids like donuts.”
“Wonderful,” Amaretto said, a raindrop exploding on her forehead. “Go ahead, everyone else does.” With the second drop, she realized rain came down on her, having thought it was bird shit.
She’d made a mistake with her money, having it all on her. “I should have put it in my boot, at least.” She didn’t like leaving valuables at home for obvious reasons. “I might get ripped off.” She smiled at the irony.
“I can’t believe I was that stupid, but I promise, I’m not as stupid now as I was half an hour ago.”
Through the translucent curtains on the picture window, Amaretto saw figures at October’s dining room table, letting herself in. “Oh,” she said in the archway. “You have company.”
October was on her feet before Amaretto finished. Carol stopped midsentence, Casey put his hood up.
“Apple?” October asked, October’s hands going to Amaretto’s face.
“I’m okay. I didn’t know where to go.”
“Here, always, come on,” October said, pulling Amaretto toward the stairs. “I’ll be back,” she said over her shoulder.
“I fucked up, Ockie,” Amaretto said in the bathroom.
October soaked a towel, working it on Amaretto’s face. “Involving the drugs?”
Amaretto nodded. “How’s it look?”
“It looks like a hospital visit.”
“Skin’s not broken, but your right eyes is going to swell shut.”
She smiled darkly. “I only need one eye.”
“Nose stopped bleeding, that’s good. What can I do?”
“You’ve done it. I really messed up. I accept responsibility. Nothing really to fix.”
Again, the dark smile. “I thought of Brig when I was getting smacked around.”
“She’s going to want to have a conversation with the person who did this to you.”
Amaretto shrugged. “It’s not like that.”
“What’s it like?”
“It’s okay, Ockie. Really. It’s all on me.”
“This needs to be.”
October took her face, going forehead-to-forehead. “I understand.”
“I know you do.”
Gathering herself for ten minutes in the bathroom, Amaretto found her way back to the dining room. “Hey, Mrs. Ferguson. Sorry to bust in on you.”
Before Carol could answer, Amaretto leaned around the table, a hand extended. “Amaretto Stayman, Apple to my friends, which includes you.”
Comfortable in the environment, still socially awkward, he found his feet, leaning toward Amaretto, taking her hand. “Casey Little. Nice to meet you. Where’d you get the face?”
Amaretto crooked a half smile. “You want to rethink that question?”
He dropped to his chair, mouth open.
“I walked into a door.”
“Really,” Carol asked.