14 (rough draft)
“I think it’s been an amazing week for you,” Carol Ferguson said to the pancakes at the stove.
“I figured moving up to The Region would be a shock to my system.”
Carol turned from the cooking. “I mean, your first boyfriend.”
“You say that as if Case is a starter boyfriend.”
“Casey is a nice boy, and all.”
“Mom, if you say anything even sounding like you can do much better, I’m going to come over there and smack you so hard, my grandchildren will feel it.”
“I know what you think you’re feeling seems very real to you, but –”
October found her feet, slipped into her denim jacket, hoisted her tan L.L. Bean Continental Rucksack over a shoulder and announced, “I’m out of here. If you’re going to come at me with all the smackables, I’m walking away before I leave you bloody on the floor.”
“Mom.” October rolled her eyes, hands up, counting fingers. “Four times now, you’ve jumped around the room like a five-year-old needing to pee real bad, slobbering the revelation that you’ve just meet your soul mate and each time I knew a crash and burn would come and when your heart was broken, I’d hold you while you cry, assuring you everything was going to be okay.”
Carol’s face went blank, the spatula bounced on the floor.
“Each time I watched you with your dreamy eyes, I wanted to warn you, remind you of what was coming, I guess, so you could be prepared. I didn’t want to take away the joy of the moment. Sure, maybe it’ll rain tomorrow, but I’m not going to whine about that while the sun’s shining.”
“October,” she whispered, a tear rolling down her cheek.
“Please, in the future, don’t tell me how any of your tricks work anymore.”
“I’m off to school.”
“I’ll stop by the principal’s office. I’m sure Principal Markus would enthusiastically share a donut with me.”
“You could eat it together.”
“Sure, our foreheads together, nibbling, making eyes at each other.”
“Now, I don’t want breakfast. Are we okay?”
“We’ll always be okay, Mom.”
“What can I do to get you to have breakfast with me?”
“I’m so out of here. I feel like walking.”
“What if I tell you about your father?”
The Rucksack dropped to the floor, the denim jacket found a home on the back of the chair. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
Amaretto needed $210.00 to get even with Ted Hunter. She thought to argue the cost of doing business, but she felt responsible. She even considered stamping her foot, falling back on being just a little girl. “It’s only money,” she told her Loungefly Hello Kitty Angry Backpack. She appreciated the functionality of October’s camping Rucksack, but Amaretto liked the black on gray of Angry Kitty.
Amaretto wished she could be more angry and less sad.
The bedroom door opened. “Morgan said you wanted to see me?”
Amaretto glanced her Scoprimi black wristwatch, caring little if she were late to school. “Sure. I need a solid.”
“Finally. You want us to take care of the kid who worked you over.”
“No. As slow as they are down the hospital, no.”
Coming over her, he raised an eyebrow. “Then?”
“I need some money, not much, just $210.00.”
“Just okay? Really?”
Leaning back, he gave her a slow up-down. “But, you have to do something for me.”
I should get paid for what I already do for you. “What do you have in mind?”
He crooked a smile behind his ratty root beer beard. “Bareback. Where, your choice.”
With rolled eyes, she calculated implications and risks.
“I video,” he said, producing his Iphone, thumping away.
“I like to have shit in the bank, you know, for times when I’m by myself.”
Taking the phone, Amaretto only had to watch ten seconds of the point-of-view featuring her mother’s butt and a disembodied penis.
Freak, she thought. She’d witnessed her mother having sex, and others, for years, seeing a video didn’t bother her. “Sure, why not.”
A fire lit in his eyes. “You do know what bareback is?”
She gave him the look. “After school. Just you and me in the room. Morgan does the video and your face shows some place in it. I get a copy on a thumb.”
He chuckled. “Where do I get to stick it?”
“Morgan doesn’t know about the money.”
“$500.00, cash, beforehand.”
“That’s a lot of money.”
“That’s because I’m worth it.”
Now, he laughed. “Where do I get to stick it?”
“Wash it really good. I don’t want to taste my mother on it.”
Candice woke up groggy, her jaw sore, the stench of vomit filling her nostrils, the taste burning the back of her throat. Her eyes wouldn’t focus. She wanted to wake up and couldn’t, in a dream state well into her shower, bottle of mouthwash with her.
She couldn’t remember going to bed. She couldn’t remember being sick or feeling sick. The night brought another disturbing dream, the details nothing more than shadows. Both hunger and nausea wrestled in her stomach.
Her Ariel sleep shirt was on backwards.
Candice considered taking a sick day and going back to bed. She considered making an appointment with the doctor. Sitting in the torrent of water, she considered calling 9-1-1.
Her head cleared in three waves and though she felt sore all over, she didn’t feel that bad. Sneakers, jeans and a sweatshirt became the uniform of the day, Candice not wishing to ruin any of her good clothes if she were to get sick again. She’d wanted to give the Randi Sconce look a spin, but just tied her hair back in a high ponytail instead, no makeup.
She stripped and remade her bed, placing the dirty laundry in her basket. The smell of bacon cooking made Candice’s stomach crawl as she returned to the bathroom, entering without announcement.
“Nard?” she called over the din of the rushing water.
“Abby? At the risk of stating the obvious, I’m taking a shower.”
“I know.” She dropped the lid, sitting on the toilet.
“You know I’m naked in here, right?”
“Yes. What happened last night?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“I mean, did you hear anything out of the normal?”
“I don’t even remember going to bed. I must have been really tired, or something.”
“I don’t remember going to bed, either.”
The water went off, Maynard not pushing the curtain back, drying with the towel from over the curtain rod. “George gave me a beer.”
“You’re only fifteen.”
“George made a big deal about that, calling me a young man, no longer a boy. What an asshole. Like my first beer is a milestone on my road to adulthood.”
Candice rolled her eyes. “I was seven, you what?”
“Nine or ten.”
“The bottle was cute.”
“Did you tell him?”
“Tell who, what?”
“Did you tell George that you had your milestone beer years ago?”
“Of course not. I let him play Daddy Dearest. Never know when I’ll need to hit him up for money, borrow the car, shit like that.” Maynard slid the shower curtain aside, towel tucked at his waist. “You don’t look so good.”
“Bad night. I must have been sick, threw up, don’t remember.”
Maynard considered his sister for a long moment. “You okay now?”
“I need to get dressed.”
They abandoned the bathroom for Maynard’s bedroom.
Candice was going to make Maynard’s bed, but pulled the sheets off instead. “You can change these once in awhile, you know. I’m doing my wash when I get home after school.”
“I mean to. I mean to more often then I do,” he said, dressing. “Thanks.”
“So, you didn’t hear anything?”
He slid his belt through the hoops. “Beer by the pool, then waking up. Weird. What do you think I should have heard?”
She shrugged. “I think I dreamed George was in my room last night.”
“A sex dream?”
Candice blushed. “I don’t remember, exactly.”
“When I was your age, I got a rush of a mess of different dreams on the topic, but I remembered details.”
She scrunched her face. “Did you ever dream about me?”
“Sex dream? No. At your age, I shouldn’t be talking about the topic with you in anyway.”
“We’re not human, you know. Not normal humans, anyway.”
“Huh? You and me?”
“No. Me, Ockie, Brig and Apple.”
Maynard shared a laugh. “That, Abby, I’ve known for years.”
Brigantine sat in her room, giving her homework a final look. Typical of any morning in the Grant household, ruckus from the kitchen sounded more like a party than breakfast. Brigantine gave up trying to fit in, finally accepting she’d be an outsider in her own family. She couldn’t be a boy like her father and brothers. She refused to be a woman like her mother, her mother accepting a secondary role, a subservient role in the household.
Brigantine accepted that her father was a wife beater, though Brigantine never saw him hit her mother. She could see it in his eyes. Brigantine assumed all the beating took place early on, Brigantine’s mother beaten into submission.
Stowing her book in her canvas bag, she hung the bag on her shoulder, heading out into the morning sun away from chaos, into peace, toward her real family. She was early, but not the first.
“Apple,” Brigantine greeted about twenty blocks from the school, their common meet up corner. “The eye looks a lot better.”
“No, Brig. The human body can take a mess of abuse and still recover.”
“I know you get tired of hearing it, but just tell me who and get yourself a bowl of popcorn.”
“I only wish it were that easy. Like Ockie says, getting even can just set things more out of whack.”
“I’ll be the last one standing. Promise.”
Brigantine watched over Amaretto’s shoulder as Candice approached, finally taking Candice in her arms for a hug. “Morning, Abby. You don’t look so good.”
“Bad night, Brig. I’m okay." she nodded to Amaretto. "Apple.”
“Hey, gang!” October greeted, first taking Amaretto’s face, then Brigantine’s and finally Candice’s.
“You don’t look so good, Abby,” October said, forehead-to-forehead.
“I see. Another dream? You threw up?”
“I thought I got all the stink off me.”
“You did.” October released her, stepping back. “We’ll spend more time on that after school.”
Candice nodded. “Thanks. I feel better just knowing that.”
“Face looks better.”
“Brig said, Ockie.”
October took a deep breath. “I need a big favor from all of you.”
Brigantine, Candice and Amaretto snapped to attention like soldiers ready to receive orders.
“So,” Brigantine said, raising an eyebrow. “It’s lasted the week, huh?”
October blushed. “Brig, I’m going to marry this guy. He’s my happy ever after.”
“Did you talk to him about this,” Amaretto asked.
“Apple! No!” She put her hands over her chest. “My heart knows and that’s enough for now.”
“Don’t want him running to ground, going dark,” Brigantine suggested.
“Well, Brig, if he said that to me, I’d run for cover.”
“What can we do for you, Ockie?” Candice asked.
“I need you all to accept him, to treat him as if he’s normal, as if he’s one of us. He’s got this big problem thinking he’s so vastly different from everyone else, that he doesn’t fit in anywhere.”
“Normal, Ockie?” Brigantine said, leaning forward with sarcastic wide eyes. “Like me, a girl who acts like a boy who knows she’s a girl, but acts like a boy anyway?”
Candice smiled. “Normal, like a girl that’s too beautiful for the world and knows it, yet so paranoid every boy is out to rape her she has nightmares about it? Barbie wants to be me and ken is just waiting for his chance to nail me.”
“Every boy and half the girls,” Amaretto added.
“Every boy and half the girls,” Candice corrected. “You thought about raping me?”
“It’s the drugs.” Amaretto shrugged. “Or me, Ockie. The only color I own other than black is gray, the darker the better. I’m high eighty-six percent of the time, I like the rain because when I walk in the rain no one can see my tears and I often dream about death.”
Amaretto’s mouth twisted in a sardonic smile. “Then, there’s you, Ockie. The girl named after a month who is a psychic sponge, sick in love with life and human beings, sucking emotions out of our heads.”
Amaretto held her palms to the sky. “Casey doesn’t feel he fits in anywhere? God, girlfriend, the only place me, Abby and Brig really fit in is standing right here in the circle with you.”
October choked a laugh, tears in her eyes. “I don’t know whether to join hands, dance in a circle and sing Kumbaya, or do the All for one and one for all thing.”
Brigantine stepped to October, bending slightly, taking October’s face, going forehead-to-forehead. “You say Casey Little is one of us, thus it shall be.”
“Thank you, Brig.”
Brigantine released October, stepping back. “Of course, you know that means anyone in and around school even whispering Frankenstein had better have the novel in their hand and be talking about the book, else they’ll get a swift and serious beat down from me.”
“Brig, I love you so much, my heart hurts thinking about it.”
“But? You have but-face.”
“Can you, for me, try chesty intimidation first? Before moving onto the serious beat down.”
Brigantine pulled on her chin. “A proposed compromise worthy of King Salmon.”
“King Solomon,” Candice corrected.
“Salmon. I find the stories fishy.”
“Thanks, Brig. Thank you all.”
Newton Poppy watched out her living room picture window, sunlight working into the new day. Even with nothing much to see, she liked watching out the window as she scanned the AP wire for stories of interest. Rewriting AP wire stories and news releases for print took up the bulk of her time. That, and updating obituaries of living people, too.
Poppy didn’t have unreal expectations, married to a much older relatively successful Philadelphia lawyer, Albert Smith. Poppy enjoyed playing with words, making words sit on the page perfectly. Smith, with grown children, had been widowed at sixty. Charming, Poppy at thirty, saw stability in Smith, stability lacking in her own life.
With stability, Poppy could play at journalism, more like a hobby than a career, which didn’t mean she wasn’t curious about people and scandalous behavior. When Melody Lark called about press credentials concerning a story out of the principal’s office at Edgewood Junior Senior Regional High School, Poppy didn’t hesitate to take it to the editor, James Avery, a man well past retirement, coming to work because he had nothing to do.
Poppy had background on drug use in the school, which didn’t seem like news, Poppy waiting for something to break loose, making the story newsworthy. With the mixing of towns into one regional school, Poppy had notes and background on the racial tension, again, nothing yet newsworthy.
Poppy had a good source claiming the senior counselor was gay, which wouldn’t be news unless Poppy could find inappropriate behavior between the counselor and a student or violence was done to the counselor because she was gay. In the Edgewood venue, being gay was not a story.
Poppy found Paul Markus unremarkable. Obnoxious, but that could have been her regional taste. She met him twice, both times at school functions. He was attentive, but not overly so, Poppy being a plain but attractive woman, appearing in shades of browns and tans. She was smart, just not ambitious. Daydreaming about the two meetings, she couldn’t imagine Markus abusing children or tweens.
Listing the accomplishments, which were mostly work related requirements, Poppy nominated Paul Markus for Local Educator of the Year, title granted by a local women’s group, Daughters of Eve. “Melody Lark,” she said aloud. “I’d never had guessed you were gay.” Poppy hoped something big would break with Markus. She was happy to settle for more background on the gay agenda in the high school.
Poppy pulled Markus’ obituary off the wire and updated it. “Just in case you really piss off some parent.”
Candice felt invisible in the halls, few heads turning, her having spent little time on her appearance, even her hair unkempt, sunglasses. Normally, the sea would part, many boys accidentally brushing against her. She blocked the path of a hooded figure. “Hey,” she said, looking up.
“Sorry.” He attempted to move around her.
“I meant hello. I’m Abby, best friend of your girlfriend.”
“I wanted to say hi. I wanted to tell you that you’re my best friend, now, too.”
He looked around, confused.
She offered a hand. “I’m Abby, October’s best friend, now your best friend.”
“I thought Apple was her best friend?”
“She is, mine, too.”
He took her hand. “Maynard said I was invited in.”
“Nard. That’s my brother.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Sorry. I’ve seen you. You look different.”
A shoulder knocked into Candice, knocking her off balance, the kid coughing Frankenstein.
The interloper stopped in mid-step, hitting a wall named Brigantine. “That is not very nice. Please don’t do it again,” Brigantine said.
“Fuck you, get out of my face,” the kid retorted.
Brigantine gathered fists full of shirt, easily tossing the kid into the lockers, sending books skidding across the floor. “You heard, Abby. I tried.” She nodded. “Hi, Casey. Good to see you.”
“Brig,” Candice thumbed. “She’s my best friend, too. And, yours now.” To Brigantine: “I heard. Ockie would say to please try a little harder, but really nice attempt.”
“She’d lead with really nice attempt, maybe say she was proud of me.”
“She would. Where you going?”
“Me, too. Casey?”
“We’ll walk you.”
In the blink of a cosmic eye, to Casey, the universe became a much different place than it had ever been.