20 (rough draft)
Before last period, at her locker, October said, “Don’t go smashing kids’ heads off the sidewalk or anything, but you may walk me home, probably not stay. I’m not sure what condition Mom’s going to be in. I might have to pick a rehab and call a cab.”
“Sorry. I get all that.”
“I do understand your insecurity.”
“You were right. I’m not used to having anyone really care about me. I’ve lived my life mostly in my head. I can hang, make sure you’re all right.”
“That’s one of my things. Asking for and accepting help. I don’t do it.”
“You’re a fixer.”
“You want to fix anything you think is broken.”
October narrowed her eyes. “I do that, don’t I?”
“Two minutes in my door, you tried to fix a twenty year broken relationship.”
“You assumed they want to be fixed, that they don’t like living like they do.”
“But, the way they treat you.”
“I’m in the way, an inconvenience. I’ve accepted that and work around it. They would have been better off if I died hanging on the wire. Sometimes, I think I would have been better off, too, but I can’t image how dead is better off than anything.”
“You’ve been so unhappy.”
“I look around me. Life is suffering. Anyone tells you any different is selling something.”
Tears filled her eyes. “Unicorns and rainbows.”
“You said it yourself. People see only what they look at.”
“I did not say that.”
“Tell me about this window you look out, then.”
Biting her lip, she took a deep breath. “I do understand what your life has been like. I do understand the torment, the suffering, the pain.”
“I don’t think you can, surrounded by dancing unicorns.”
She held his stare. “I’ve worn your flesh.”
At the shout of the bell, Casey checked his watch. “I’m late. Front entrance.”
October put her hand to her mouth, then Casey’s lips, Casey turning, hurrying off, students scurrying like ants around a crumb of bread.
“You’re late for class,” harangued from behind October as she slid a book into her Rucksack.
She turned, looking up. “I know, Mr. Markus.”
“I could write you up, give you a detention.”
“Or?” She raised an eyebrow.
“I was just saying what could happen. I’m not going to do that.”
“I certainly appreciate the indulgence,” she said, trying to sound sincere.
“Ah, Ockie, you’re a religious girl. I thought as much!”
“October or Ms. Ferguson, Mr. Markus.”
“My name is October or Ms. Ferguson.”
“Eh, okay. October.”
She narrowed her eyes, cocking her head. “What makes you think I’m religious?”
Realizing she allowed herself to be sucked into a conversation, she said, “I’d better get to class.”
“You don’t have to. I can give you a note.”
There goes my creep-o-meter again. She looked up and down the hall, only two lone stragglers minding their own business. Markus, better than twice her size, pushed close. “I really need to get to class.”
“I think we should go back to my office. I’d like to get to know you better. We can talk about God.”
“Mr. Markus. Do you even have a clue how inappropriate you’re being? You are making me really uncomfortable.” There, the legal disclaimer is out of the way. “Now, let me go to class.”
He stooped slightly, coming too close not to be called assault, taking her wrist. “We’ll talk, in my office. I’ll give you a note.”
October loaded her lungs to scream, stopped by the appearance of the back of Amaretto’s head, Amaretto’s hair on October’s forehead.
“I have no idea what’s going on here, Markus,” Amaretto declared matter-of-factly. “But, you’re stepping back and stepping back now.” She poised a small pink with silver polka dot canister on Markus’ nose.
Markus reeled back, covering his eyes. “We were just talking!” he bellowed.
“You okay,” Amaretto whispered over her shoulder.
Back to Markus, Amaretto said, “Sure, I see. Just a misunderstanding. Nothing to see here, we can all just move along.”
“Amaretto Stayman.” She threw her shoulders back, fists on her hips. “Want me to spell it for you?”
“No, I got it.” He looked around Amaretto. “We’ll talk later,” he warned, stalking off.
“Creep,” Amaretto said under her breath.
She turned, forcing the canister in her skirt pocket. “Ockie?”
“What was that?”
She shrugged. “I guessed I wouldn’t have to pull the trigger, that, unlike you, Markus would recognize it. I bet he cries during sex.”
“Mace will do that.”
She shrugged again. “I couldn’t get a carry permit.”
“Do you think I should get one?”
“A carry permit?”
“Absolutely not. You wouldn’t have the stomach to push the button and even if you did, you’d hate yourself for the rest of your life.”
“Good guess. I need to talk to you.”
“Walk home with me and Case?”
“I need a long bath, anyway.”
“That should work.”
October drank the romantic portion of her mother’s story like cool spring water on a hot summer day. She’d never imagined her mother a criminal. “Victim of circumstance?” October asked aloud, watching students stream from the school from across the street.
“My father,” she said to herself. “What would I call you? Dad? Father? Oh-my-fucking-god-don’t-shoot?” October giggled. He visited the other day, she thought, explaining her mother’s mood and the messed up bed. So much like him. Before he visited, he’d make certain October was in school. She glanced around, guessing she stood where he stood, hiding in plain sight surrounded by like-dressed teachers, teachers smoking cigarettes.
“If only I turned and looked,” she breathed, carefully examining the sea of people, mostly students.
Amaretto emerged from the school, moving quickly, dodging people, Richard Bly, like a lumbering giant twelve steps behind her. October examined Bly, a towering portly boy with a pudgy face. “An adult toddler,” October mouthed.
Clutching her backpack straps, head down, Amaretto broke into a run, dodging the first car, the second car dodging her, laying on the horn, the third car from the other direction applying brakes, horn and the finger. Amaretto landed next to October, jumped, turning one-eighty, bouncing. “Hey, Ockie.”
Bly, his shoulders hunched, watched the traffic and Amaretto from the opposite side of the street.
October smiled. “I think it’s kind of romantic in a Grimm-ogre-kidnaps-princess kind of way.”
“Fuck you, Ockie.” Amaretto smacked her on the shoulder. “If I’m found dead, face down in a dark alley, hunt this asshole down and put a bullet in the back of his head.”
“If, Apple, labs don’t come back saying you died of an overdose.”
“There’s that, huh?”
“He’s lonely, Apple. So lonely it hurts me to look at him.”
“I’m not, can’t be the cure.”
“I didn’t say you should be.”
“Speaking of. What’s with Markus?”
“I told you. He’s crushing, big time.”
“I thought he was going to rape you, right there.”
“He’s just enthusiastic about his like for me.”
“Girlfriend, you forget where I live. I’ve seen that look.”
“He was parked out in front of my house the other night.”
“October, listen to me.”
“October, is it?”
“I’m not fucking around here. He’s got you in the bank.”
“What does that mean?”
“That means he has you memorized, maybe photos of you, and fantasizes about you when he jerks off.”
Amaretto shrugged. “Could be flattering, depending, I guess.”
“Ew!” October returned the shoulder smack.
Again, Amaretto shrugged. “Morgan and I don’t dress like this as a fashion statement. You should file a complaint with anyone who’ll listen.”
“I gave him the official notice. The you’re making me uncomfortable.”
“That has to go on the record somewhere, or it’s just hearsay.”
“He said, I said?”
“Yes. Talk to what’s-her-name in the office.”
Amaretto lit a cigarette. “What did you need to talk about? I know it’s not some old creep sniffing at your panties.”
“After, maybe during your bath. Casey’s walking us home.”
Casey, more careful than Amaretto, crossed the street, kissing October, nodding to Amaretto.
“Case. How you been?”
“Good, Apple.” He held her eyes. “You’re one of two people that can look at me. My own mother can’t.”
“Fuck ‘em. Like me, Case, you’re fucked up. As much as assholes want people like us to just go away, they’re stuck with us, so they don’t, won’t, can’t look at us.”
“People like us.”
“Ockie is just as fucked up as you and me, it’s just her freak is on the inside.”
“Apple?” October asked.
Amaretto shrugged. “Brig’s a boy-girl and Abby’s too beautiful to be human, yet rotting away on the inside.” She dropped her cigarette butt to the concrete, working her boot on it. “Told you I’m in a dark place.”
Casey turned, stepping away, examining each face moving around them. “Apple?”
“They’re just like me?”
“If I say yes, are you going to jump in front of that bus?”
“Yes.” She took October’s hand, leaning against October. “Rainbows and unicorns and maybe some lollypops. In my violent sea of darkness, I hold you there and steady myself.” I’d be so fucking gay for you, you have no idea.
“In my violent sea of darkness, I hold you there and steady myself,” Casey mirrored, turning, holding Amaretto’s eyes. “If you were my sister, my life would be better.”
Amaretto extended a hand. “I am your sister, always have been.”
He took the hand.
“Should I be worried?” October asked.
“No,” Casey and Amaretto said in unison.
“No,” Casey repeated, watching Amaretto’s dark eyes.
“Hey, Ap,” a voice intruded. “Down the park in an hour?”
Amaretto broke from Casey and October, stepping away. “Got other plans, tomorrow.”
“Come on, Ap. Can you help a boy out?”
Swinging Hello Kitty from her back, she fished in the bottom. “My private shit, two joints, twenty bucks.”
“You sell dope?” Casey asked wide-eyed.
“Not really. I share an experience.”
“What’s the difference?”
Amaretto slung Hello Kitty over her shoulder, rolled her eyes and said, “About sixteen bucks.” Retaking Casey’s hand, she said, “Let’s get Ockie home.”
Casey glanced back at October, October with her little smile, falling in behind the couple. She nodded.
“This doesn’t look good,” Casey said.
“Better than a half dozen police cars, which I expected.” October nodded to the limo driver, the driver middle aged, dark suit, standing next to the car’s open door.
He nodded back.
Just at the door, October turned on Casey and Apple. “Maybe you should hang back.”
“Maybe we should go in with you,” Amaretto said, producing her phone.
October pushed the door open, entering, her mother in the late afternoon shadows on the sofa, face wet, waiting.
“October, I.” She coughed. “You dumped my bottle.”
“You didn’t need it.”
“A little this morning, just a taste, you know.”
“I don’t know, and sure, I know.”
“I went to the liquor store.”
“I told you I’m not up to wrestling with addiction.”
“I know. I know. Neither am I.” She stood. “I’ll be gone for two weeks.”
She fished her phone from her pocket. “I have a list –”
“The plans are made.”
“I’ve checked with Abby. I can crash with her.”
“You’ll stay here. Mrs. Hildebrandt has been engaged to care for you.”
“She’s in the kitchen – cleaning. Mind her. It’s only two weeks.”
“Okay, Mom. Sorry.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“It is. If I didn’t push you on –”
“Sh. Never speak of that or tell anyone. Look around you.”
“Mom. Are you okay?” October narrowed her eyes. Carol had been worked over well.
“Nothing that won’t heal. Nothing broken. I was asking for it with my broken promises.”
“Asking for a serious beat-down doesn’t mean you should get one,” Amaretto interjected from the entryway.
“Apple, not now,” October said.
“Your friends should go, and so must I.”
October showed her phone, the 9-11 Amaretto sent. “I’m about to get two more. We’ll hang, make nice with Mrs. Hildebrandt. I’m sure she’s going to want to interrogate my friends anyway.”
Walking Carol out, they met Brigantine and Candice on the walk. “That was quick,” October said.
“Dad gave us a ride,” Brigantine answered. “What’s up?”
“Apple dropped the hammer a little too quick, I think, but I’m glad you’re here. I’ll be in soon.”
“You have good friends,” Carol said, watching the house eat Brigantine and Candice.
“Blessed. Now, what happened, twenty-five words or less.”
“I don’t remember much of what I told you.”
“You didn’t leave much to the imagination.”
“Did I tell you about the promises?”
“No drinking was one of them, yes.”
“Sometimes I get it in my head that I can drink, that it’s not about drinking but circumstances.”
“I’d think they warn you of that in rehab.”
“Well, eh –”
“You’re an alcoholic, Mom. Do the program and then we’ll take it one day at a time.”
“Yes. That’s what we’ll do.”
“So, Dad showed up, flipped a coin whether to shoot you in the forehead or put you in rehab?”
“He came to help me.”
“And, to make the point, he had to smack you around?”
“You don’t understand the kind of man he is.”
“I don’t want to understand that kind of man.”
“You’ll see, in time.”
“I laid it all out,” Melody Lark proclaimed. “I did all the hard work.”
“Looks like rain. Maybe if you tell your good Ms. Poppy that we’re married she’ll publish an exposé on the evils of homosexuality and our scandalous relationship, me working with children and all.”
“You think that can’t happen?”
“Oh, I know it can happen, just less likely than even five years ago.”
“I feel you should come out, have a big party, become a gay role model who people can come to if they’re confused.”
“We’ve had this conversation. Now’s not the time, not with Markus in the wheelhouse. He’s homophobic and I suspect racist.”
“Just from the Southern drawl?”
“Sometimes what he implies. I think he hates women, too.”
“Hate might not be the right word.”
“Angry. Angry his mommy didn’t love him enough. Angry that he wants to bang his mom and she won’t let him. Angry that he feels guilty just thinking about all the times he jerked off smelling her dirty underwear. I bet I could draw a picture of what his mother looks like.”
Sconce laughed, covering her mouth. “You think it’s all about Markus trying to get his mother’s approval?”
“I don’t much care what it’s about. I feel your October is at risk.”
“Unfortunately, what you think isn’t enough to do anything.”
“We have the Pine Barons.”
“You do realize the murder of people we don’t approve of is not a good idea?”
“Yes. You and me would be on the list of many people.”
“Something came in last week.” Lark fished a sheet of paper from her pocket, unfolding it. “A sleazebag from Florida. He wanted to sell some amateur footage.”
“You get that all the time.”
“Lu took it in. I was thinking of putting this on the ‘net, to see if I can ID the girl.” She passed the printout. “For some reason, I assumed it was local, but then – Florida tags. I realized it could have been shot anywhere in the world.”
Sconce examined the photo. “Amaretto Stayman. Seventh grader. October’s best friend.”
“Small world, huh? Says she got the eye walking into a door.”
“Did you believe her?”
“Of course not. However, she didn’t strike me as a girl that needed protecting. What’s on the video?”
“Maybe I was wrong. I’ll talk to her, feel her out.”
“It’s better you don’t get involved in this, given your position with the school and the nature of the abuse.”
“Do you still have the video?”
“Absolutely not. Never did actually have it.”
Paul Markus was glad for the rain, his seldom used dark trench coat over his shoulders, his right arm inside the coat, the empty sleeve tucked in his pocket, black derby pulled to his eyes as he hid under the umbrella, working hard to look casual on October’s street. After passing on the far side, he dared a pass on the near side, thrilled to get a glimpse of October through the thin curtains as he stroked his penis, recalling the smell of her hair in the hallway earlier.
He had not good reason to be on her street, if confronted, which added to the thrill, the excitement.
Returning to his car around the block, he sat staring at the raindrops kissing the windshield and cried.
October stood at the head of the table, her friends doing their best to appear excited enjoying the chocolate chip cookies and milk. “You’re probably wondering why I called you all here.” All, amused, no one laughed. “Thanks for the 9-11, but I think Apple hit the button too quickly.”
“No big deal,” Brig said. “Better too quick, than too late.”
With a nod, October explained, “Mom has a drinking problem. I was as surprised as anyone. She’s really been doing great for fourteen years.”
Candice smiled. “She go sober for you.”
“She loved you so much even before you were born,” Amaretto added.
“Sweet,” Brig said. “Much better than getting beat in a bag.”
“I’ve always loved Carol,” Amaretto said. Nice to know she’s as dark as the rest of us.”
“Mom’s going to be away for two weeks.”
“Did she walk into a door, three times?” Amaretto asked.
October glanced toward the kitchen, then looked at Amaretto, a finger to her lips. “There are some things that are none of my business, and I accept that.”
Casey stood. “I’ve had enough excitement for one day. I’m heading out.”
“Before you do, Case, I have something to say, since I have you all in one place.
Casey returned to his chair.
October looked at Brigantine, Candice and Amaretto in turn. “You guys are my best friends. Casey, you are my boyfriend. You people here are the most important people in my life. I was thinking back to our first and only 9-11, where we all thought Brig was dead.” She held a hand up to objections. “I’m all about the unicorns, rainbows and lollypops, sure, but that’s the first time I faced the reality of losing one of you.” She put her hands to her chest. “My heart hurt.”
“Birth and death aren’t opposites, Ockie,” Apple said. “They’re siblings.”
“That’s not what I’m getting at, Apple. This year, for Thanksgiving, I want us all to get together in one place, like here, and have our first family Thanksgiving dinner.”
“I know, every year I sit at the table wishing I were with you guys,” Brig said.
“But for Nard, I feel like I’m in the way, family coming from all over. Now, with Howell’s family, it’s the thing nightmares are made of. I’m in.”
October offered a nod. “Extend an invitation to Nard?”
Agreements came from around the table.
“What are you looking at me for?” Amaretto asked. “I’d move in and sleep in your bed with you if you’d even hint at it.”
“I’m with Apple,” Casey said, standing again, coming to October.
She put a hand to his cheek, going on her toes. “See you in the morning.” They shared a kiss.
“In the morning. I’ll provide the turkey.”
When the front door closed, Candice said, “Did you hear what happened to Brig?”
Brigantine shrugged. “It wasn’t anything.”
“I did, sure,” October said.
“What?” Amaretto asked.
“It would seem that three of my teachers got all busybody about my bruises.”
“You got in trouble for that?” Amaretto asked.
“Fisher got in trouble, but yes. I got called down the office and had to explain myself. Dad had to go in.”
“Did Hank kick Fisher’s ass?” Amaretto asked.
“He should have, but no.”
“Here I am walking around school with my eye swollen shut and lip bleeding, and no one gives me a second look.”
“That is weird,” Candice said.
“Dad gave Fisher some nonsense about me thinking I’m a boy, and that’s why they’re picking on me.”
Candice and Brigantine stood together. “We’re going to go, too. I want to walk Abby home, maybe run into Nard.”
Amaretto rolled her eyes. “Oh, just get on with it.”
“Apple, I like the cat-and-mouse, the coy flirting, the back and forth, like a dance. I like Nard, but he doesn’t make my bones melt like Casey does for October. Or how October makes your bones melt.”
“I get all that, Brig. Ask him out, go to the movies. Hold hands, make out.”
October slipped in, closing the door behind her, dropping the toilet lid, sitting.
“I used your bubbles,” Amaretto confessed.
“That’s cool. What’s an indulgence?”
“That when you put up with someone’s shit.”
“In a religious context.”
“Oh, that’s a Catholic thing. There’s stuff you have to do to get into Heaven. Called indulgences.”
“Like feeding the poor?”
Amaretto narrowed her eyes. “Oddly, no. Giving money to the church, eat the wafers, baptism. I think they have a list of seven.”
“Getting a bag put over your head and beaten up?”
“That’s really weird, huh?”
“Given the family, not so.”
“Hank’s a weirdo. Hand me a cigarette out of my bag.”
October pulled Hello Kitty onto her lap, fishing inside, sliding a cigarette from the pack, lighting it with the lighter. “Shouldn’t smoke in here. I think Mrs. Hildebrandt is the strap type.”
“She certainly didn’t like me calling her Heidi. The way I see it, if someone’s going to call me by my first name, I’m going to return the favor.”
“Ms. Stayman. You look so different without your makeup on.”
“That’s why I wear it the way I do. You could be one of the very few human beings on the planet that’s seen me without my makeup. Once or twice a week I wash my face in school and do it completely anew. Between, it’s layer on layer.”
“You can come here anytime.”
“I know. I don’t want to bother you.”
“No bother.” October took the cigarette from Amaretto, taking a drag, exhaling, returning the cigarette. “I don’t see the charm.”
“There is none. I like the feel in my mouth and lungs, the feel between my fingers, the fact that I’m sucking on poison.”
“Like that, sure.”
“I’ve gone a little nuts with Casey.”
“You think it’s the same as Mom wanting to drink?”
“Markus wanting to be near me?”
“Markus’ desire for you on any level is not appropriate.”
“Like the men that troll your house?”
“I expected an argument.”
“They’re all creeps. The difference is, I think, they know they’re creeps, Markus doesn’t.”
“Okay, Apple, how about Richard Bly?”
“Yes, he’s a creep.”
“I mean, giving what you do at home –”
“Ockie, I’m not afraid of words. Given all the scumbags I fuck at home, go on.”
“Would it really kill you to at least be nice to Richard? Have a soda with him? Talk about his day?”
“Be his friend?”
“He’s not looking for a friend. He’s looking for a fuck. Like you said, I get enough of that at home.”
“How do you know that’s all he’s looking for?”
“He told me.”
“Oh, he was clear. Is that the big thing you wanted to talk about? Hooking me up with Bly?”
“No.” October looked toward the door, dropping to the floor next to the tub. She whispered, “I guess as long as Mrs. Hildebrandt doesn’t have a glass to the door, we’ll be all right. The reason Mom got drunk last night was so she could tell me some stuff she couldn’t say sober. I guess being drunk makes people more honest.”
“Being drunk, the lies are different.”
“You know you’re my best friend.”
“I do. And, I love Abby and Brig, but I’m in love with you.”
“Mom said I can never, ever tell anyone what I’m about to tell you.”
“I’m not just anyone.”
“My father is a killer for hire.”
“That was on my list of guesses.” Amaretto did a final soaping around her breasts. “That’s better than being a ninety-year-old Nazi war criminal, which was on the list, but not high on the list.
“So, that doesn’t shock you?”
She pointed to herself. “Doom and gloom girl, remember?”
“I think he beat Mom up for what she said, not what she drank.”
“Doubtful. We can guess if he thinks you know the truth, you’d be sleeping with the fishes or wearing cement overshoes, or however they say it.” Amaretto slipped under the water, coming up dripping, reaching out, putting a hand to October’s face. “Could explain why you’re pathetically good, balance out the evil.”
“I don’t believe in good and evil.”
“Neither do I.” Amaretto stood, reaching for a towel.
“You’re a redhead?”
“Are you checking me out? Let me give you a hint. Say yes.”