17 (rough draft)
“This week’s gone quick,” Casey said, his dark brown hood pulled forward, blinding out everything not October, leaning against the wall where they met.
October pushed closer than school regulations allowed. “Such a short time and yet I can’t imagine my life without you.”
“You’ve been doing that a lot lately.”
“Only when you’re around.”
“You and Apple are addicted to me.”
“Dad thinks you’re a witch.”
October glanced her watch. “Ten minutes to class and now you finally decide to talk about your parents?”
“I never know where to start. I’ve never liked them and they’ve never liked me. I find it easier to just ignore them.”
“A week ago, I would have given you a long blather about how unhealthy that is, that they’re your family, and it’s not like you need to get along, but you need to understand, which means communication. You need to understand because they are in you and will be your whole life.”
“I’m sure glad you’re not going to give me a long blather.”
“Mom and me have completely ignored each other all week, so I’m not one to talk. I’m mad at her, and I’m mad at me.”
“Ignoring it is not going to help.”
“Hey! That’s my line!”
“It is, indeed.”
“Case,” Amaretto said with a nod. “Ockie, Abby’s in trouble.”
October didn’t turn from Casey. “What kind of trouble?”
“I almost texted a 9-11.”
“Sick, Brig said. She couldn’t get her out of bed. I didn’t text the 9-11 because I think she only needs you, not all of us.”
“Go,” Casey said, hoisting October’s Rucksack onto her shoulders.
“October?” Amaretto asked.
“I got this,” October answered, setting her pace at a steady jog.
“Does he have any idea we’re on to him?” Newton Poppy asked, him being Paul Markus.
Melody Lark collated the file folders and reports, placing the stack on Poppy’s desk. “That’s an odd way to put it, Newton. Is there something I don’t know?”
“I assumed you brought home the bacon, Melody,” she answered, slouching in her chair, swiveling, the eraser end of a pencil on her forehead.
“I’ve gathered a good deal of allegations and speculation, maybe the American Enquirer would run a spec story. I assume The Edgewood Post is credible.”
Glancing the stack, Poppy rolled her eyes. “There’s no story there, in all that mess?”
“Here,” Lark’s palm came down on the stack, “Is good background and a great narrative. All you need is a little more legwork and some time at the keyboard.”
Again, the rolled eyes.
“You don’t care whether a pedophile is running a school?”
“I don’t. I really don’t. You watch way too much TV dramas. I’m not a crusader for peace, justice and the American way. I write news copy, mostly what I pull off the wire. I recently updated Markus’ obit. Want to see it?”
Before Lark could retort, Poppy showed her a palm. “You people are like McCarthy, but instead of communists, you find poor little victims persecuted by men everywhere you look, getting all fired up to protect the poor souls. Really? Some fat, middle-aged yahoo likes to think about pre-teen girls while he smacks his chubby. Are we the mind police now?”
Lark crooked a smile, looking down on Poppy. “Sorry, I mistook you for someone who might give a fuck.”
Poppy snickered. “You people and your language.” Again, the palm. “I’m going to pass this information over to my husband. If there’s anything we can piece into a story and print without getting sued, I’ll lay a narrative out. In the meantime, I’ll clear a space on my bookshelf for the Pulitzer.”
“I got me a girlfriend,” Richard Bly confessed to his parents at the breakfast table.
“That’s nice, dear,” Lucy Bly answered over her pancakes.
“What kind of stupid girl would go out with you?” David Bly asked, wrestling with the newspaper, his question rhetorical.
“Her name’s Amaretto Stayman. She’s really cute, and wears really short skirts and has black hair –”
“Is she a queer?” his father cut in.
“Huh? What? Queer? What do you mean?”
Lucy smiled evilly. “Now, David, don’t be mean.”
“Stayman. Is she queer?”
Richard shook his head as if something were loose, narrowing his eyes. “Wh-at?”
“I don’t think it’s such a hard question, Rick. Is-this-girl-queer?”
Richard pushed back from the table, throwing his napkin on the plate. “You guys are real assholes!” He stormed off.
“What?” David Bly asked his wife, giving her wide eyes.
“Stayman is a little fruit. I think it’s a fair question,” she answered.
He stared at the hallway for a long few seconds. “Should I go box his ears for calling us assholes?”
Again, she giggled. “You were being an asshole.”
“I was, huh?”
Amaretto hurried in the hall, having lost Casey in the crowd, stopping at her locker, the mass of kids moving like a river in both directions. She missed October, warmed in the knowledge October would stop the world and run for her if she were sick or in need.
“Are you queer?” an aggressive demand came too close from above, Richard Bly towering over her.
“What are you talking about?” she demanded back. Creep. “Better question: Why are you even talking to me?”
He rolled his eyes, dancing like he had to pee. “I wanted to know: Are you queer?”
“No. Not that it’s any of your business.” Though I could be gay for October, but I’m not going to tell you, or her, that. “I’ve told you to leave me alone, Richard Bly. I repeat: Leave me alone.”
Still dancing, he said, “I’m going to get it! I’m going to get it!”
“The pound. The pound.”
Amaretto shook her head, pushing by. “Whatever.” Creep. She worked hard not getting sucked into any exchange, fearing that would only encourage him.
Bly sighed, watching the back of her head bobbing in the crowd. “She knows my name.” The strongbox in his father’s closet didn’t have anywhere near the $1200.00 he needed. He thought he could just tell Rat he wanted the pound and then just take it. Bly liked Rat. He didn’t mind stealing from his father. He didn’t like his father.
“Eh, Brigantine? Is there a Brigantine in the class?” the teacher asked, looking around.
“That would be me,” Brigantine answered, numb to implied criticism.
Waving a slip, the teacher said, “Mr. Fisher would like to see you in the office,” adding, “Is that your real name?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Good point. Good point. Unique is a better word?”
Brigantine took the slip. “Yes. Unique would be a better word.”
“Brigantine Grant, is it?” Harry Fisher asked, looking up from the file, standing next to his desk.
“Yes,” Brigantine answered, sitting, ankle over the knee. “Mr. Fisher.”
With a quick up-down, Fisher leaned on the desk. “You going out for football?”
“Hadn’t thought about it. I’m in seventh.”
“Oh?” He glanced the file. “So you are. So you are. Big for your age. I played high school, college on a scholarship.”
“Oh, you’ve seen me play?”
Brigantine shrugged. His size gave him away. “Maybe I’ll try out in a couple of years.”
“We’re thinking about a junior team, seven and eight. What do you think?”
“Never thought about it. You’d let girls play football?”
“This isn’t too awkward.”
Fisher narrowed his eyes. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, Mr. Fisher, I am a girl.”
Fisher opened the folder, glancing again. “So you are. Are you one of those trans kids? If you were born a boy, we could make that work.”
Brigantine rolled her eyes. “I mean no disrespect, Mr. Fisher, but as much as I’d like to sit here talking school policy and football, I really do need to get back to class.”
“Sorry, I get sidetracked. Three of your teachers this week reported bruising on your arms and face.”
Brigantine offered a dismissive shrug. “I have four older brothers.”
“They beat you up?”
“Maybe we were playing some rough touch football over the weekend.” She stood. “If that’s all.”
“No, that is not all. I’m going to want to talk with your parents.” He waved the file. “You have many red marks in here.”
“I’ve never hit, pushed or snarled at anyone that didn’t deserve it. Since kindergarten, I’ve counted to ten, sometimes twice and offered apologies before teeing off.”
“My best friend asked me to give the other guy every chance I could.”
“Because she’s my best friend. If you wish to talk to Dad, fine. He’ll be glad to come in and tell you the same thing I’m telling you. He’ll say that some people are assholes and I must allow them to be assholes.”
“Just giving you the preview. And, such people should not be beat up just because they are such people.”
“Dad will tell you, sure, violence is the last refuge of the incompetent, but violence is still on the list.”
“Violence is unacceptable –”
I don’t know how Dad can restrain from hitting these people. “When my best friend October is walking along minding her own business –”
“She was in a fight after school the other day.”
“She stopped a fight that was about to happen, actually.”
Fisher narrowed his eyes. “Really.”
“When she’s minding her own business and someone comes along and shoves her in the back, I’m going to have a conversation with that person.”
“I’m going to make a judgment and apply the force I feel I need to so the same thing doesn’t happen again. Hopefully, a verbal will do.”
“I want to sit down with your parents.”
“You have been warned.”
Candice jumped at the touch of the towel to her face.
“Sorry,” October said.
Pushing her head away from the toilet, Candice said, “It’s okay. You didn’t have to come.”
October worked the cool towel about Candice’s face. “Where’s your mother?”
“Left early with George.”
“I think you may need to see a doctor.”
“Right now, I’ll settle for a shower, if you help me.”
“In or with?”
“In, Ockie, you dirty little girl.”
“While you’re doing that, I’m going to call the school, my mother, change your bed and scrub the rug in your bedroom.”
After having the wash in and preparing a bucket of hot, soapy water, October settled in with the house phone so the school would know where she was calling from, her personal phone would be suspicious.
“Candice Abbott is in the shower now. I don’t know if she’ll be in, we’ll see. I’m October Ferguson. I plan to make lunch, it being meatloaf day.”
“I need to speak to your mother.”
Me, too. “I’m at the Abbott’s. Abby called me.”
“Candice. She was throwing up. I came over. Now, I’m being responsible and letting you know.”
“Candice Abbott,” the voice said, typing the information. “And, you were?”
“October Ferguson. You may call Candice’s stepfather, George Howell, if you wish. I think Mrs. Abbott is with him. You have the number on record, I’m sure.”
“Yes, that’s my name.”
“Mr. Fisher is looking for you. This explains why you weren’t in class.”
“Are you thinking aloud?”
“Sorry, yes. You’ll be in this afternoon?”
“I plan to make lunch, meatloaf, which I understand is pretty good.”
“I like it.” Keys tapping filled the space. “Okay, come see Mr. Fisher as soon as you get to school.”
A pause. “An incident with Brigantine Grant?”
“Three teachers this week reported bruises on her face and arms.”
“You’re pretty busy right now, aren’t you?”
“It’s a madhouse.”
Figured. There’s no way you should have given me that information. “Thanks for your time.”
“Thanks for calling. Have a nice day.”
Scrubbing vomit from the rug, October put her phone on her shoulder. “Hey, Mom.”
“I thought you weren’t allowed to use your phone in school.”
“Like that stops anyone, but I’m not in school. Abby got sick so I came over to pull her head out of the toilet.”
“Where’s her mother?”
“I asked that same thing. Left early.”
“Do you need me?”
“Colors coming back to her face. I think we’ll be all right. I wanted to let you know I wasn’t in school.”
“I’ll call them.”
“Crossed off my list already. I want to make lunch.”
“Mom. I wanted to say that I’m sorry I’ve been stewing all week. We need to have a long talk, maybe grab onto each other and cry like we used to.”
“Not talking doesn’t help.”
“Screaming certainly doesn’t, either.”
“All of a sudden, I feel much better,” Candice said as they left the house for school.
“I’m a healer, I guess,” October answered.
“Well, tired and hungry. Happened last time, too. I got really tired, can’t even remember going to bed.”
“No, Abby. They blame everything on hormones. How was Nard this morning?”
“Didn’t see him.”
“I think you should log everything you eat and drink. You may be having an allergic reaction to something.”
“Maybe gluten. Mom was saying that’s bad for us.”
“I’ll ask Apple. She went gluten-free for three days this past summer.”
“She wouldn’t do anything without looking it up, first.”
October abandoned Candice in the cafeteria line, working across the room, dropping down next to Maynard. “Hey, Nard, how you feeling?”
“Not bad, you?”
“It wasn’t a polite question.”
“Abby was sick again this morning.”
“Is she okay?”
“Apple got me. She seems all right.”
Maynard rolled his eyes. “Not sick, a little sluggish. Why?”
“Can I ask you to check on Abby every morning when you get up?”
“I will, sure. I left early this morning. What are you thinking?”
October watched Candice in the line. “I don’t know.”
October found her way to the office, ducking Fisher’s door, leaning on, tapping with her knuckle, the open door. “Ms. Sconce?”
“October. Come on in.”
She did, sitting in front of the desk. “I need a favor.”
“You aren’t going to ask what, first?”
Sconce crooked her smile. “Like you said. We’re going to be friends. The favor isn’t for you.”
October shared her soft smile. “Brig. Brigantine Grant, has gotten in some non-trouble.”
“What kind of non-trouble?”
“May I be candid and off-the-record?”
“You may be candid, but nothing you say to me is ever off the record.”
October nodded, calculating. “I appreciate you saying that. You met Apple. Amaretto Stayman.”
“I did, yes. Brig?”
“Brig is another of your friends.”
“We’re more than friends, but that works. Apple’s been walking around with her eye swollen shut and not word-one. Brig has a couple of bruises and the school calls in Homeland Security.”
“What happened to – who?”
“Apple. Amaretto Stayman. She got mugged.”
“She could be asking for trouble the way she dresses.”
“We should never take a beating for how we express ourselves.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Feel free to restate.” October waved her hand. “It would seem a world of hurt is coming down on Brig over these couple bruises. I’m on my way to Mr. Fisher’s office.”
“I do not know. How about that favor?”
Sconce stood, coming around the desk, extending a hand. “Let’s go see what Mr. Fisher needs from you.”
Hand-in-hand, they left the office.
“Mr. Fisher,” Sconce greeted.
“Hi, Mr. Fisher.”
“October. I heard you weren’t in school.”
Sconce looked hard at October.
“I wasn’t, taking care of a sick friend. I was told you wanted to see me.”
He fell in his chair, moving folders around on his desk. “You know Brigantine – that’s her real name?”
“Grant, yes, it’s her name and yes I know her.”
“How’d she get the bruises?”
“I’d think roughhousing with her four older brothers. She acts more like a boy than a girl sometimes.”
Fisher eyed the file.
“If that’s all, Mr. Fisher.” Sconce took October’s hand again.
“Of course, sure.”
In the outer office, Sconce turned on October. “What’s the real story?”
“You told me I can’t be off-off-record. You’re better off not knowing.”
“You wanted me to take you in his office so he’d believe what you said.”
“When kids show up with a couple bruises, is there always a Spanish Inquisition?”
“Not normally. There must be a couple of complaints.”
“I’m not even going to ask how you know that.”
“Three teachers, but the same bruises. Isn’t that one complaint?”
“Here’s the favor, Ms. Sconce. Can you get out in front of this and make sure they don’t blow it up into something it isn’t?”
“Only if you tell me what happened.”
Again, October calculated. “As a rite of passage, Brig’s family stuffed her in a bag and kicked her for a while. Her four brothers went though it at her age, too.”
Sconce narrowed her eyes.
“Reasonable people could see that as child abuse.”
“How do you see it?”
“As child abuse.”
“Sure. But, Brig’s the youngest so they’re never going to do it again. Maybe the brothers with their own kids, but certainly no time soon.”
“Some cultures actually have rites like that.”
“Apple was saying.”
“I’ll sit in on any meetings.”
“You’re my new best friend.”