21 (rough draft)
“Today’s the last day of house arrest?” Casey asked, waiting in their usual location across from the school.
“I didn’t think I’d miss Mom so much. Living under the dictatorship of Mrs. Hildebrandt has been educational. If I hear you’re only twelve years old one more time, I’m going to be flipping through Apple’s Remington catalog.”
“She means well.”
“By nineteen sixties standards! She has like no trust in me what-so-ever.”
“You are only twelve.”
She smacked his shoulder. “It’s like life’s been put on hold. I really have things to do.”
“Top of the list is having a sit-down with Mrs. Abbott.”
“Abby’s not been sick.”
“I like going on record so I can say I told you so.”
“You have your appointment today?”
“I wanted Mom along, but every time I turn around, I trip over Markus. He’s really setting off my creep-o-meter.”
“You should have just told Hildebrandt. I can see her storming the school, waving a rolling pin.”
“I’ve had good reason not to share anything personal with Mrs. Hildebrandt.”
“There’s Maynard.” Casey waved, kissing October quickly. “See you after school.”
“Close to a month,” October whispered, “And nothing’s faded like Mom warned.”
Across the street and the walk, approaching the school entrance, hidden and revealed in scurrying students, Maynard, a hand on Casey’s shoulder, Casey turned, searching, then smiled, waving. October waved back across the distance.
“Life is perfect.”
The school swallowed Casey and Maynard.
“Oops,” rang bitter, sarcastic, hands pushing October’s shoulder, a foot tangling her two-inch heel sandals, October spinning to the concrete, cushioning her landing with palms on concrete.
October rolled to sitting, looking up on an angry face. She took a good guess. “What’s wrong with you, Morgan?” The senior was as advertised, reflecting Amaretto in appearance, but angry, mad at the world painted on her face.
“Ha ha! Some witch you are. You didn’t even see –”
Morgan left the ground, landing on the grass as if swatted there by a giant, a familiar face glancing October, looking back to Morgan. “Asshole.”
Hands cupped October under the arms from behind, easily lifting October to her feet. “You okay?”
“Sure, Johnson.” She looked at her palms. “I could use a paper towel or something.
The other boy snarled at Morgan, dropping his leather jacket to the sidewalk, taking his shirt in both hands, ripping it off his chest like Superman, handing it to October.
He pointed at Morgan and proclaimed, “By God, Morgan, if I ever, that is ever even hear about you shoving a child like that again, I’ll fuck you up so fucking bad, they’ll have to identify you by your dental records.”
The boy stepped forward, fist back. “I can oblige now if you like.”
“Stop!” October screamed. “My God, stop!”
“Never on my behalf!”
Johnson snickered. “Howl, meet October. Ockie. Ockie, Howard, we call him Howl. You can guess why.”
Morgan crawled on the grass, found her feet and hurried away.
Howard took October’s hands, examining. “You need to get to the nurse, get these scrapes cleaned out. Keep the shirt.”
“Howl, it’s not that I don’t appreciate –”
“I have a quick temper. I know that. I rage. When that – eh – person shoved you, it really pissed me off.”
“You do realize you shoved her like she shoved me, don’t you?”
He smirked. “I believe in karma and I’m not afraid to step up and be an instrument of that karma.”
“I don’t believe any human being is that smart.”
“I’m kidding. You saved me from a mess of trouble, I came along and helped you out.”
“You’re Mariam’s brother.”
“You and Johnson are friends, now?”
“Then, I guess my work here is really done!”
The three children laughed.
Amaretto daydreamed, watching the late September sun burn across the changing trees outside second period class, the change marking the beginning of the slow march into death.
The world is dying.
Like every year before. Before October, life before October, Amaretto remembered thinking the world was dying, autumn into winter. Silly me, she thought, magical thinking. That summer going into autumn, the year she met October, she was certain that would be the year the world wouldn’t recover, and it would all be over.
Peace at last.
Amaretto smiled softly, recalling October reaching for her, Amaretto hiding behind her mother. “It’s not as scary as it looks,” October had said.
“No, Ockie, not at all. I want to see your face against the colorful leaves of fall. I want to see you stand over our Thanksgiving Day dinner. I want to watch you laugh while you make a snow angel. I want to watch your amazement when you point out the new flowers shooting up from the earth. No world could die with you in it,” she whispered to the window across the classroom and the trees without.
“Amaretto Stayman, stand up,” he repeated.
“Huh?” Amaretto asked, a hand taking her under her arm, pulling her from the desk, his free hand taking her Hello Kitty backpack.
“Hey, get off!” She struggled.
Candice climbed from her desk on the other side of the room, the teacher telling her to sit back down. She did.
Harry Fisher pulled, lifting Amaretto like a rag doll, putting her face first against the wall, his hand in the small of her back, handing the backpack to a woman in a man’s suit. “Relax, Amaretto,” Fisher said, “We have to investigate a report.”
Amaretto bit her lip, his hand now on the side of her head, pushing her cheek hard against the cinderblock, his other hand busy. “Do you have anything sharp in your pockets?” he asked, his hand coming up her leg.
“Hey! Watch the fucking hands, asshole mother fucker!” Amaretto exploded when his hand came hard to her underwear. The class erupted, Amaretto slipping down just a little, twisted, bringing her elbow decisively in his face, knocking him back, bent over. Turning, she jumped high, coming down with a fist to his jaw.
Fisher fell back into the desks, kids scattering, Detective Lindsay Fowler losing her footing. Fowler, realizing things were quickly way out of control, scrambled back.
Fisher found his way back to his feet, his left hand holding Amaretto by the neck, her toes touching the floor. Twice, his fist contacted her face assertively, twice before Fowler was able to take Fisher to the floor, knee in his back. “One of you stop taking photos and use your goddamn phone to call 9-1-1 for an ambulance!”
Amaretto slid down the wall, a blank stare, her hand covering her face, blood pumping through her fingers. “Should have watched your fucking hands, asshole,” she sneered around a blubber, Candice getting a handkerchief to Amaretto’s face, Candice fumbled with her phone with the other hand.
“I thought we determined I wasn’t your guidance counselor,” Randi Sconce said.
“I don’t need counseling, I need some guidance.”
Sconce raised an eyebrow.
“Principal Markus. I think I need to file an official complaint. He’s really getting annoying.”
“Don’t use the word annoying.”
“Right, I know that. With the attention he’s giving me, he’s making me extremely uncomfortable.”
Sconce made a note. “Such as?”
“A couple weeks ago, he had me against the lockers, and if not for Apple getting in-between us, I don’t know what would have happened.”
“What did he say?”
“He said he wanted to take me back to his office to talk about God.”
Again, notes. “Did anyone else hear this?”
“I see where this is going.”
“You have to understand we can’t take a student’s word.”
“You saw him with the donuts in the meeting. How about your word?” October rolled her eyes. “I really do get that. A kid gets a bad grade, he could make up something.”
“Trust me, Ockie. I’m on your side. Off the record?”
October smiled. “Two way street.”
“Understood.” Sconce tapped her pen on the notepad, drawing lines. “He has a history.”
“That actually makes me feel better. I thought it was me.”
“It is you, in a way. He has a type.”
“Pre puberty? That’s changing this year.”
Sconce blinked repeatedly.
“In the age of Google, ignorance is a choice.”
“No, not pre puberty, but your look.”
“If he has a history of harassing little girls, how come he’s the principal of the high school?”
“All the reports are off-the-record.”
“Ah, that makes sense now. Are my concerns on the record now?”
“Here’s what I need you to do: With each encounter, take notes, photos, times, dates, witness statements.”
“I understand. Maybe I’ll just post to Twitter that the school has a pedophile running it and let the angry mob solve my problem.”
That’s not a bad idea, Sconce thought. “I hope you’re kidding.”
“I am.” October bobbed her chin. “You can get yours,” she said, indicating Sconce’s phone. “And, I’ll get mine.”
October read: 9-11 213b Apple’s fucked up. “Gotta go.”
Sconce looked up from her phone. “You shouldn’t get involved –”
Moving out the door, October said over her shoulder, “Unless you have a gun in the drawer, you’re not going to stop me.”
Hitting the hallway at a full run, the hall being mostly pedestrian free in the middle of class, October slid, lost her footing, banged into the lockers, found her feet and sped off, almost knocking Brigantine over at the door to the stairs.
Brigantine and October fell through the classroom door shoulder-to-shoulder, Brigantine breaking though the half-circle of kids, ignoring the teacher’s plea to get out. “The bleeding won’t stop,” Candice said through her tears.
“Did someone call 9-11?” October asked, getting many yeses.
Brigantine took Amaretto under the arm, lifting her off the floor, cradling her. “Lead the way, Ockie! We’ll meet them at the curb.”
October cleared to the door, then cleared the hall, Brigantine carrying Amaretto.
With a blood soaked handkerchief to her face, Amaretto said, “I could walk, you know.”
“I’ve got you, Apple. I’ve got you.”
“I guess we’re in trouble?” Candice asked, Amaretto’s Hello Kitty backpack dangling from her hands in front of her, watching the ambulance pull off.”
“Not if I can help it,” Randi Sconce said from behind them, looking at a sheet of paper. “There was a cop in the room, and she took Fisher to the floor, not Amaretto.”
Tears soaked Candice’s face. “He had her by the neck, punching her out. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I couldn’t get there.”
Brigantine took Candice to his shoulder. “If you had, you’d taken some hits, too.”
Sconce glanced at the gathering small crowd behind her. “Come on back inside.”
“Sorry, Ms. Sconce. I called a cab. We’re going to the hospital,” October said, still watching the street as if she could see the ambulance.
“I called my stepfather,” Candice said. “He’s going to meet us there.”
“The lawyer,” Brigantine explained.
“A moment, Ockie?” Sconce asked.
Off, away from the others, Sconce pushed October’s hair back, putting a palm to her cheek. “I’m just now beginning to understand this special bond you share.” She waved the paper. “Markus filed a complaint of his own.”
“Markus claims Amaretto was in possession of pepper spray. Is that true?”
“No,” she answered. It was Mace.
“This is that incident you were talking about? Two weeks ago?”
“The guy really scares me. He was parked in front of my house, once I know of.”
“May I look through Amaretto’s bag?”
October did a quick calculation. “As long as you get it done before the cab gets here.”
Randi Sconce didn’t find anything illegal in the bag.
“Hey, Ms. Stayman,” October greeted.
“Come on, Ockie. Morgan.”
“Are you here for a haircut? Why aren’t you in school?”
“Apple took a couple good smacks to the face. I have a cab waiting.” She shrugged. “I didn’t want to do this over the phone.”
“You don’t mind?” Stayman asked the head she was working on.
“Where’s your stepfather?” October asked.
Candice shrugged. “I didn’t call him.”
“Text Nard to tell Casey I won’t be there after school?”
“Casey should get a phone.”
“He suggested a walkie-talkie since I’m the only one he’d want to call.”
“They’re not going to keep her,” Stayman said, approaching.
“Stay off her nose for a week?” Brigantine suggested.
“I don’t know what gets into her.”
“Is that a joke?” Candice asked.
“The assistance principal put his hand so far up Apple’s skirt, I thought he was inspecting her ovaries!”
“She didn’t mention that.”
“Apple’s going to want to let it rest,” October said.
“Let me make a call,” Candice said, putting her phone to her ear, walking away.
“Morgan, the principal got some strange idea that Apple had pepper spay in school.”
“Where would he get that idea?”
“Kids that stand out get singled out.”
“Don’t I know it!”
Harry Fisher sat on the single bunk in the Spartan cell looking at his hands. “I want to call my lawyer.”
“You don’t need a lawyer, not at the moment, anyway,” Lindsay Fowler said, working the key in the lock. “I’m tempted to charge you, lighting off on that child like that. What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking she just cold cocked me.” He worked his jaw.
“You should have never put your hands on that child. That’s what I was there for. I’m going to interview her and if I can talk her into it, she’ll be charging you with sexual assault. I’d better not find anything in your history. Anything.”
“I had to make sure she wasn’t armed. You read the complaint.”
“God, I love when the perverts double-down. I’ll be at the next school board meeting. You don’t have a job anymore. She’s twelve years old. Twelve!”
Sconce stormed Markus’ office, slapping the complaint on his desk. “If you brought this to me, I’d have just called her in for a conversation.”
He leaned back in his chair, giving Sconce a slow up-down. “Which is precisely why I didn’t bring it to you. The little brat needed to be caught off guard with no time to ditch anything.”
Sconce looked down at the complaint. “Just how did you observe a canister that you identified as pepper spray?” She held up a hand. “Before you answer, know that I had a conversation with the Ferguson child about this incident.”
“I don’t answer to you, Sconce.”
“Why have you been hanging around outside the Ferguson house?”
“I don’t even know where she lives.”
“I photocopied your personal notebook when I had it.”
He shrugged. “I don’t answer to you.”
“Oh my god, Apple!”
“Hey, Carol. Welcome home.” Amaretto had two black eyes and tape across the bridge of her nose.
“Are you okay?”
“I’ll live. Morgan had to go back to work or do drugs or something. I hope you don’t mind me crashing.”
October took her mother’s cheeks, going forehead-to-forehead. “You look good, Mom. Maybe I’ll do rehab.”
“You look tired. Mrs. Hildebrandt said you behaved yourself. I didn’t really do rehab. I’ll tell you all about it another time.”
October put her lips to Carol’s ear. “Dad?” she whispered.
“No wonder you look so good.”
Breaking from October, Carol carefully wrapped Amaretto up. “I wish you’d be more careful with those doors.”
“Harry Fisher,” October said.
“The guy from the school meeting?”
“What ever did you do?”
“Mom, really. What could Apple possibly do to deserve getting beat up like this?”
“Fucking asshole put his hand up my skirt, so I teed off on him.”
“He’s got the weight and the reach,” October added.
“Firstly, language. Second, really?”
Amaretto pushed off, producing her Ipad, scrolling the menu. “Candice got a pretty good video.” She turned the screen to Carol. “I’ve never let anyone get to third base without at lease a few dollars, pot or a beer.”
“Damn, Apple. Where’d you learn to punch like that?”
“Uncle Jack. If I had a better angle, Fisher would still be on the floor.”
“You’re half his size.”
“It’s all about getting the weight behind it.”
“Mrs. Hildebrandt left us a meat loaf. Hungry?”
“It hurts to eat but I’ve had Heidi’s meat loaf. It’s worth the pain.”
After dinner, Amaretto leaned back in the tub, staring at the ceiling, October siting on the toilet doing homework.
“I could get used this to this.”
“You get beat up every other week, why not?”
“Living with you.”
“Your mother’s always said no.”
“Morgan’s an asshole.”
“Maybe I’ll take a run at her.”
“You knew Markus would be coming for you.”
“Sure. As soon as I put that Mace in his face. I stopped holding anything in school. That would be stupid. Shame about Fisher.”
“He’s going to get fired. No way around that. A cop was standing right there, watched him sniff my panties. He can say I hit him first all he wants, but anyone can see I was defending myself.”
“Against a man twice your size.”
“Fisher’s a worm, but he’s easy to get along with. I mean, when he had you in for fighting, he didn’t need anything but for you to make up an apology. The next disciplinarian could be a lot worse with locker searches twice a day and metal detectors at the entrances.”
“We could get a guy who likes to hide in his office, too?”
“I was attacked today, too?”
“With flying monkeys?”
“No, just the witch.”
“I was minding my own business and she came out of nowhere, shoving me.”
“Witches are territorial.”
“No, Ockie. I have no idea why’d she do that. Did you guys face each other with palms out, making silly faces like in the movies?”
October rolled her eyes. “You remember that fight we broke up?”
“The one loudmouth stepped in, gave the witch a shove.”
“Seems the two guys that were going to fight are good friends, now.”
“See, Ockie, you only use witchcraft for good.”
“Abby says you should file a complaint against Fisher for sexual assault and battery, maybe endangering the welfare of a child.”
“That would be George’s advice to set up the lawsuit.”
“Abby said that George said the school system will be coming at you to head off the lawsuit. With the video, you have them dead to rights.”
“Can’t do it.”
“If I go after them, they’re going to go after me. When they do that, they’re going to take a good, hard look at my life, then Morgan’s fucked big time.”
After helping with the dishes, Brigantine stood near the living room, waiting for a commercial.
“Hey, Dad. I thought you might like this, from school today.” She presented her phone, video in progress.”
“Is that Fisher?”
“Whoa! That’s the way to do it! Is that the Stayman kid? Oh, man, she should have followed through with a second, keeping him down. Damn, what an asshole.”
“Yes, that’s Apple.”
“Is she okay, I mean, she took some serious hits.”
“The hospital didn’t keep her.”
“You went, I mean, to the hospital?”
“Of course, Dad. That’s Apple.”
“That would explain why the school called about you cutting classes this afternoon.”
“I meant to tell you.”
“I told those assholes down the school I’d talk to you about it, so consider it talked about.”
“One more thing. Tell the Stayman kid she should be proud, and I’m proud of you for standing by your friend.”
“Okay, one more one more thing. If you get a chance to kick this Fisher’s ass, kick it good. Asshole, punching out little girls.”
“Count on that, Dad.”