19 (rough draft)
“Casey is a bud that needs nipping,” October muttered to herself after applying her small knuckles to the front door. “Hey, Bob, good to see you again!”
“December!” he greeted back, forcing a laugh, October playing along with a feigned giggle.
“I’d like to see Casey, please.”
Casey’s brother produced a phone. “I bet you didn’t see this! I watch it over and over. It’s so funny!” He put the phone almost to her nose.
With crossed eyes, October watched a clip of kids chasing down Casey, Casey falling in the street, getting mobbed. October thought of how she stood up the street doing nothing. You, my friend, are an asshole. She swallowed hard. “I was there.”
“Really?” He looked at the phone. “One of the kickers?”
“Look at this, this kid pulling people off.”
“Maynard Abbot. One of my best friends,” she bit hard.
He squinted at the screen. “Maynard, huh. I did not know that. We call him Nerd. Nerd, Nerd, Nerd.”
“She’s not to come in this house!” pealed from the interior.
“Dad says you can’t come in.” Bob looked down. “Besides, I don’t think you can cross this.” He tapped with his foot.
October squinted. “Huh?”
“It’s salt, boo ha ha!”
Casey pushed by his brother, jacket in hand, continuing a quick walk, October spun, giving chase.
“I thought you had important stuff to do with your mother.”
“Can we please slow down?”
“Sure.” He halved his stride.
“You didn’t tell me there was video.”
“There’s video. Kids cut together a three minute presentation in an amusing narrative.”
“I remember. I remember all the teachers announcing that Principal Eisenhower wanted all the photos or videos that may have been taken.”
Casey snorted. “None. None at all.” He turned on her, looking down. “I pointed people out in the yearbook and in the hall. Do you know what they did? Do you?”
“I do not.”
“We had that assembly.”
He repeated the snort. “As Eisenhower was preaching about how disappointed he was in the actions of some kids, the kids sitting around me giggled, watching me get my ass kicked on their phones. Yeah, baby, I felt a lot safer.”
She took his right hand with both her hands. “Again, you’re not good with the sarcasm.”
He violently withdrew his hand. “Fuck you, then. Go fuck Apple if that’s what you really want!”
“There, Casey, much better.”
He unclenched his fists. “Huh?”
October had planned to justify her choices, but thought explanation and rational decision would be useless.
“You got mad at me today. I should have dealt with it then and there, but I was distracted. I let you walk away with your anger and you pushed a kid to the ground. I would have rather you hit me than hit some random kid because you’re mad at me.”
He looked at his feet. “I could never hit you.”
“Then, how can you hit some random kid?” She swept her hand right to left. “Rhetorical question. Better: If you could never hit me, then you should never be able to hit anyone.”
“One does not follow the other.”
“It does. Our humanity is the same.”
He blinked repeatedly. “No. I don’t see it that way.”
“Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.” She stepped closer, looking up. “When you are mad at me, take it to me, not some random kid on the street who has no idea why you’re bouncing his head off the sidewalk.” She took his hands, another step closer, looking up, holding his eyes. “The boy on the sidewalk and the boy in the street back then are the same boy. Can you see that?”
Going on her toes, she kissed him, he watching her face. “You, Casey, are my soul mate. You are my happy ever after. Before today, I thought I knew what that meant. I was wrong. Today, my mom spilled her guts about my father. Just the thought of the story makes me want to cry.”
“I got this corny book about the end of the world. It’s got this guy in it who’s a real loser no one likes. Then, the bombs come, the war, and it wipes out almost everything. He becomes the hero and the girl he had a crush on, when he saves her life, falls in love with him.” He stared over her head. “I’m a mutt, a monster even my mother hates, a joke to be made fun of. If I were really a monster, I could at least run amok and destroy the village, killing all the people that hate me.”
He snickered, looking down on her. “I’ve only been happy with you. When you walk away, I watch, thinking it will be the last time I see you. When I’m with you, I feel all that you say is true. Five minutes from you, I’m in darkness again. Someone out there is going to take you away from me.”
“I have friends that are family. That’s a reality. Like with you, I’ll be there for them.”
“I understand that. I really don’t know what gets into me. I hate they get your attention, even your mother.”
October put a hand to his deformed cheek. “Feel better now?”
“I do, yes.”
“Better than when you pushed the kid down?”
“I get it. If I have fears, I should bring it to you.”
“You’ve been alone all your life. It’s going to take some time to get used to having people around.” She nodded back toward the house. “Salt?”
He grimaced. “Protection from witchcraft.”
“I told you. Dad thinks you’re a witch.”
October shook her head. “Huh? Like ride a broom, cast spells and have a personal relationship with the devil?”
“Oh, I have to worry about the devil, now, too?”
“See, Casey, that was funny.”
“Bob’s got a friend who is a white witch.”
Casey rolled his eyes. “I told you. You scared Dad, which I thought was pretty funny. Tiny little girl like you.”
“You know what I mean. I got this other book, this guy from Mars or something, he comes back to earth. Well, anyway, when people are being big assholes, he takes them into another room and when they come out, they’re all converted or something.”
“Like in Harvey?”
“You know. Big white rabbit only the one guy can see.”
“Yeah, okay. Like that. The thing you do to people. You tried to do that to Dad. Whatever you did, you scared the hell out of him. So, Bob says he’s got a friend who’s a white witch and he could get her to come over and cleanse the house with a protection spell.”
“I bet that cost more the ten bucks.”
Casey narrowed his eyes. “$50.00. She danced around burning something then poured salt at the doorways.”
“I’m glad that’s not bat-shit crazy.”
“Okay. I see how sarcasm should work.”
“How old is your brother?”
“So, he’s in our school.”
“Yes. A senior.”
“And, the witch?”
“Morgan Le Fay. She’s a senior, too.”
“I’ll have to look her up.”
“Can’t miss her. She dresses like Apple, but not so dark.”
“You think Apple’s dark?”
The next morning, Melody Lark found the door to Sensations unlocked, with no receptionist at the desk, Lark an hour early. She locked the doors, flipping through the messages.
“Hey, Mel,” Lulu DeLite greeted coming from the back. “How was Texas?”
“Educational, Lu. You have to keep this door locked when Sally’s not here.”
She rolled her eyes, green eyes, the color of a Caribbean ocean. DeLite, twenty-four years old, looked all of fourteen, barely five and a half feet, slim, budding breasts like that of a tween, hair like the sun on an august afternoon, dropping in flows around her face, over her shoulders and to her waist. She wore a white tee shirt with the Sensations logo – Sensations in Superman script, graphic naked leggy women with huge smiles waving from either side – cutoff jeans and sneakers, no socks.
“Sorry. I wanted to get some editing done before you got here.”
“You don’t want creeps walking in on you. How’d you do?”
“Shot thirty hours, maybe have ninety good minutes.”
Lark grinned sarcastically. “Not as easy as you thought.”
“You command an authority that I don’t.”
“Maybe because I look like an adult.”
“I think that’s it.”
“Nonsense. I gave you the authority. It was yours to take.”
“I let them bowl me over.”
“I told you we should just shut down for a week, but then I thought the experience would do you good.”
“Thanks, even if I wasted production time.”
“We’ve got the overhead.” She waved the message slips. “This all we have?”
“I knocked them down as they came in. I didn’t want you to have to spend your first day back on the phone.”
Lark nodded. “That’s what I’m talking about. Sweet job. I guess when people can’t see you, you have authority.”
“You can’t imagine what it’s like to be dismissed simply because of your looks.”
Lark cocked an eyebrow.
“To the extent! To the extent!”
“I still think you should take the Bar. With your GPA coming out of Rutgers, I’m sure you could pass on the first round.”
Lulu laughed like a little girl. “That will go far, huh? So, I pass the Bar. No one in Philly or even New York City is going to start me out anywhere near what I make here, I have a 401K and kicking health benefits. Plus, I show up for an interview and the partners are going to sit around wondering how cheap they can get some eye candy for their front office.”
“Argued like a lawyer who passed the Bar. I get all that. Pass the Bar and maybe I’ll put you on retainer. The Smith brothers are all right for contracts, and all. One of these days, you know, we’re going to need a warrior.”
“I’d appreciate some legal weight to push around.”
“Since you put it that way.” She looked to the door.
“It’s locked,” Lark assured her.
“A sleazebag brought this in a couple of days ago.” She produced an MP3 player. “Wanted to know if we’d buy the raw footage.”
“What is it?”
“Difficult to say. Looks like a party house. I guess we could do a parody Sleazebags Go Wild, or something. Nothing rises anywhere near the level of the work we produce.”
“I don’t understand, then, why you just didn’t say, Fuck no, and send him on his way.”
DeLite pursed her lips, working through the index. “Understand this, Mel. I can be arrested for just holding this in my hand. Though you’re not going to touch it, you could be arrested just for looking.”
Lark took a deep breath. “Okay.”
For two minutes, fifty-six seconds, Lark unemotionally watched the video clip. “You didn’t –”
“Load it on any of the company computers, no.”
“Do me a hardcopy that doesn’t show anything sexual.”
“Done. I thought you’d want to ID her.”
“Anything of her getting beat up?”
“I suffered thought the hour and a half. This is the only clip she’s in. We could just buy it, telling him we have to give him a check, get his name.”
“Then, Sensations owns it, and we could all go to jail. What if we report it?”
“It’ll give the authorities reasonable cause to turn our books upside-down and maybe close us down for a month.”
“No good deed goes unpunished.”
“About the size of it.”
“When’s he coming back?”
“I set an appointment for two, between the afternoon’s interviews.”
Lark nodded. “Good. Give a homeless guy a hundred bucks to sit out front and write down all the tag numbers.” She took the MP3 player. “She’s just a kid. What? Eleven? Twelve?”
“That’s my guess. She seems pretty good at it, too.”
Lark closed the video. “I want to find her, at least have a conversation.”
“How old were you?” DeLite asked.
“About her age.”
Hank Grant moved through the outer office a man on a mission. Pleasant, he greeted everyone with a slim smile, a nod and a tip of the hat. Approachable, Grant was charismatic, ready to sell anyone anything, with buyers lining up to buy, not caring what.
At 9:55am, Grant grasped the doorknob, shoulder on the door. “I have a ten o’clock,” he informed the receptionist. Before she could respond, Grant entered Harry Fisher’s office hoping to catch the man drinking, smoking or masturbating, the things men require closed doors for.
“Hank Grant, Mr. Fisher, don’t bother to get up.” Grant crossed the room and rounded the desk in six good strides, extending a hand to the sitting Fisher.
Grant positioned himself so Fisher couldn’t get up.
He took Grant’s hand. “Nice to meet you, thanks for coming. You may have a seat.”
Grant looked down on Fisher. “This won’t take long. Brigantine tells me you pulled her out of class about some nonsense concerning busybody teachers thinking she should act more like a girl.”
“That’s not exactly true, Mr. Grant.”
“Oh, it isn’t now. Do educate my discretion.”
“Three teachers observed bruises on –” Fisher hesitated.
“Oh, for the love of God. Brigantine. Is that such a difficult name to pronounce?”
“Brigantine is an odd name.”
“Have you been an asshole all your life? Mrs. Grant likes the name.”
Fisher wheeled back, Grant followed. “Okay, Fisher. These old hen busybody teachers are sitting around cackling about a couple of bruises Brigantine has. And?”
“Well, they reported their observations to the office for investigation.”
“Oh-my-God. A twelve-year-old girl has a couple of bruises!” He leaned in Fisher’s face. “Did you call Child Protective Services yet? Maybe Homeland Security?”
“Why, no, of course not.”
“Are you a religious man?”
“Are-you-a-religious-man? The question is not that difficult.”
“Well, sure. I go to church.”
“Why, I’m Catholic?”
“Full immersion,” he said proudly. “Just like my two children.”
“Even better. Take communion?”
“Well, we have confession on Saturday night, and then –”
Grant straightened. “As with all my children before her, we took Brigantine out to the woods. We do a mock kidnapping, which represents life stealing Brigantine from her mother’s tit. I can say tit, can’t I? I could say female nurturing, I guess so your face doesn’t go red with the talk of tits. Brigantine is meant to be terrified for a time, signifying what it’s like to be helpless, on your own in a world of darkness. Then, we save her from the terror and she then understands love and security exists in the company of family and men. She gets knocked around a bit, but that’s part of the ritual.”
Grant held his palm in Fisher’s face. “You dunk babies in water, than have twelve-year-old children initiated to eat flesh and blood.”
“That’s - that’s all symbolic.”
“This is my flesh, you say, not this is my symbolic flesh!” He leaned in again. “Did Brigantine say she was hurt in any way?”
“Well, no, but –”
“You count this as three incidents because three teachers reported it? Moron.”
“That was a mistake. There’s not need for name-calling.”
“I’ll be the judge of that. Call Brigantine down to this office one more time for nonsense, and you’ll be meeting my lawyer. I know you people have your sites on her because she’s a girl who dresses like a boy. I like my Brigantine fine the why she wishes to be.”
“That has nothing to do with it.”
“My lawyer will subpoena your records and see just how true that is.” He took a step back. “We’re done here.”
“I think that does clear it up.” Fisher scrambled to his feet, throwing, “Sorry to have bothered you,” at the door.
Grant tipped his hat exiting, Randi Sconce nodding. “October thought you might need some help.”
Grant twisted a smile. “You may have misunderstood the Ferguson kid.” He thumbed over his shoulder. “It’s Fisher that needs the help.”
“I see that.”
“Just milk today?” Amaretto asked.
October worked the straw around her mouth, dropping next to Amaretto in the cafeteria. “Good for bones. I’m a growing girl.”
“Your mom, huh?”
“She’s an alcoholic, got hammered last night.”
“You have a short list in your email. Some are pretty expensive.”
October shrugged, stealing a French fry. “Money’s not a problem. I could pay for anything out of petty cash.”
With a sideways look, Amaretto asked, “Would you give me, say, $500.00 if I were to ask?”
“I don’t have it on me. I’d have to go to the bank, but sure. After school okay?”
Amaretto smacked her forehead with a palm.
“What is it, Apple?”
“Nothing, Ockie. Sometimes I forget help is there just for the asking.”
“I’ll go right after school.”
“Never mind, don’t need it. If you ship Carol off to rehab, where you going to say?”
“I don’t understand the question.”
“You’re only twelve.”
“Thirteen next month.”
“Carol’s not going to want to leave you in the house alone.”
“I guess I could hire a babysitter. How about that friend of yours.”
Amaretto rolled her eyes. “Richard Bly.”
“I was thinking of the kid.”
“Mason Lauferty. Cute kid, got some moves, too. Master flirt. He’s going to be dangerous.”
“What? Two years younger than you? Is there romance in the air?”
With a grimace, Amaretto said, “I’m damaged goods.” She showed October a palm. “No arguments today. I don’t feel like it. I’ve got a mirror at home, not that I don’t appreciate your unicorns and rainbows, sometimes it’s like giving CPR to a corpse.”
“I appreciate your dark place, Apple, when you go there.”
“I know you do. People telling me to just feel better makes me want to flip through Uncle Jack’s Remington catalog.”
“I see you as a close-in, two pistol girl.”
“Bell tower, if only we had one overlooking the school.”
October rolled her eyes. “I figure I’ll stay at Abby’s if I have to stay someplace. They have a guest room but Abby and I could share her bed.”
“Abby is smoking hot, always has been.”
“Of Abby.” Amaretto held October’s eyes for a long time. “Sorry.” She looked away.
October took her hand. “Don’t be.”
Amaretto accepted the handholding. “I got beat up for selling drugs,” she confessed.
“I figured. Turf war?”
Amaretto smiled. “Misunderstanding, like I said. I guess I should have known someone already peed in all the corners, just didn’t think of it.”
“All this time I thought you learned your lesson.”
“I did, but not the lesson you’d like me to learn.”
“I don’t judge.”
“You do, but in a way we don’t know it. I looked around and simply changed my marketing strategy. The problem was we were competing, selling the same thing. I changed my product.”
“Apple. You swore to me you’d never, ever touch anything other than pot.”
“That’s the product I changed. I sell only AppleBright marijuana.”
October giggled. “That flies?”
“All in the presentation. I don’t sell pot. I provide an experience. I don’t charge for the experience. I accept donations to aid Mother Earth.”
“You’ll be careful?”
“I don’t think anyone’s going to come at me like before. It seems there’s a rumor going around that I’m a witch.”
“Who started that?”
“I told you Casey’s dad thinks I’m a witch?”
“That could have given me that idea, though I do dress the part.”
“There’s a real witch in school. A senior.”
“I’ve made a lot of enemies in the senior class. Thank the goddess they’re all graduating this year.”
October rolled her eyes again. “They had the witch out to Casey’s house to cleanse my evil. She danced around with a smoking stick –”
“It’s called a smudge stick. The smoke displaces your presence or put another way, cleanses the location.”
“Age of Google?”
“Casey says she dresses like you, but not so dark.”
“Tell him I said thank you.”
“Morgan Le Fay.”
“Eh, no. That’s not her name. Might be her witch name.”
“Like a nickname?”
“Magical name, they call it, but it’s the same.” Amaretto worked on her Ipad. “With Carol going away for a month and you with the house all to yourself, do you want to talk about sex?”
“Because Casey, and maybe you, are going to want to and if you ask Carol, she’s going to scream, You’re only twelve!”
October blushed. “Not on my list of things to do. A month?”
“I’m not even sure Mom’s going to need it. We’ll see.”
“She has a website.” Amaretto slid the Ipad in front of October. “Doesn’t say much. I bet a lot of guys have her in the bank.”
“You said that before. What it’s mean?”
“I’m not sure you’re old enough for such information.”
Candice placed her tray across from October and Amaretto. “Hey, kids.”
“How you feeling?” October asked.
“It’s just the once in a while. I really want to thank you for being there for me, Ockie.”
“You keeping track of everything you eat?” Amaretto asked.
Candice produced her Ipad. “With the time.”
“Good, Abby. I was reading something, let me find it.” She worked on the Ipad. “You could be having threshold reactions. That’s like an allergic reaction to many things, but you have to get a threshold amount to set you off.”
“I talked to Mom.”
Amaretto rolled her eyes. “Let me guess: Ellen didn’t take you seriously?”
“First thing she asked was if I could be pregnant. Since that does require having sex, I told her no. She said that when she was going through puberty, she’d get an upset stomach. I tried telling her this was more than an upset stomach and she told me if it continues, she’ll make a doctor’s appointment.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t have cleaned up after you,” October suggested.
Amaretto slid her Ipad aside, catching and holding Candice’s eyes. “Abby.”
“Someone’s has to ask, and it might as well be me: Have you had any unusual vaginal bleeding, discharge or discomfort?”
Candice blinked repeatedly, swallowing hard. “No, Apple. What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking asshole drugs you and rapes you.”
“No, Apple, I don’t think that’s possible. I mean, if he raped me, I’d know it, wouldn’t I?”
“I do have nightmares about him.”
“I think we all have,” Amaretto answered.
“Can you lock your door?” October asked.
“No lock on it.”
Amaretto cocked an eyebrow. “A couple nights in a row, scream as loud as you can. Tell them you woke up, thought someone was in the room, and for peace of mind, you’d like a lock on the door.”
“Think I can stay at your house for a month?” October asked.
“I’m sure that would be okay. Why?”
“I might be shipping Mom off to rehab.”
“I didn’t know she had a problem.”
“Neither did I.”