24 (rough draft)
“Hey,” October greeted Amaretto, Candice and Brigantine. “Long day, huh?”
“Well?” Candice asked.”
“Was that your dad?”
“Maybe, sure, okay, yes.”
Brig nodded. “You don’t have a father.”
“No, I don’t. Apple?”
“Served and protected in under thirty minutes.”
“Huh?” Candice asked.
Amaretto shrugged, looking at October. “I’m going to make a quick stop at home, then get to the park. A lot of kids are looking for me.”
With narrowed eyes, October answered, “Our house.”
“Yes. Morgan said it was time to come home. I told her my eye is giving me migraines, and I need the quiet of your house.”
“Tell Mom I’ll be home right behind you. I’m going to have that sit-down with Mrs. Abbott, eh, I mean Mrs. Howell.”
“Call her Ellen like I do. Much easier.”
“About?” Candice asked.
“You getting sick.”
“I’m heading home,” Brigantine said. “I’m making candied yams for the family for dinner.”
“Candied yams,” Amaretto said with a nod.
“I’m trying out some recipes for Thanksgiving.”
“I thought I’d be doing all the cooking,” October said.
“Yeah, right. Think I’ll try some Yorkshire Pudding. I had it once,” Amaretto said.
“Tasty with gravy,” Candice agreed.
“No Casey, yet?” Amaretto asked.
“I’m going to buy him a phone.” October rolled her eyes. “If you see him –”
“You’re at Abby’s.”
Ellen Abbott-Howell stared at October across the kitchen table.
“Really, Mrs. Abbott –”
“Eh, please, October, now that we’re almost the same height, I think you should call me Ellen.”
“Apple’s been calling you Ellen since we met. I just dyed my hair, changed my makeup. You can stop staring.”
“You look so different.”
“That’s kind of the idea. I have this problem at school, an adult, overt possibly inappropriate attention. I figured I’d change my look for awhile, see what happens.”
“Have you told anyone?”
October chuckled a little. “Everyone. I even delivered the standard disclaimer about being uncomfortable with his advances.”
“You do know, Ockie, men like pretty girls. Abby has had this same difficulty since she was two.”
“I kind of got the idea what he goes through, but with this guy taking a run at me all the time, I gained a new understanding. Abby is an incredibly beautiful human being.”
“Yes, she is.”
Drawing a deep breath, October said, “Abby tells me sometimes Mr. Howell’s attention makes her uncomfortable.”
“George is likable, good natured and charismatic. He enjoys being nice to people. I think he’s over compensating for times in his work when he has to be mean to get the job done.”
“Do you still miss Abby’s father?” October probed.
“Bitter sweet, Ockie. He had his problems, you know.”
“I guess you would, Abby talking to you.”
I’d hold her as she cried. “Yes, we’re best friends.”
“She’s lucky to have a friend like you. I never did. Despite all the things he did, I still loved him, you know. When you love someone, you’ll forgive just about anything. I often miss him. When he drank, he was not a very nice man.”
“He drank often.”
“I encouraged him to get help, but nothing made him madder than suggesting he had a problem.”
“Do you love Mr. Howell the same way?”
“Abby’s father was my true love.”
“And, Mr. Howell is?”
“I love him, sure.”
“Love, in like you would forgive just about anything he does?”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Have you ever seen Mr. Howell act in any way toward Abby that an outside third party would consider inappropriate?”
“Oh, I see what you’re getting at. I’m the heartbroken, lonely widow willing to pimp out my own daughter for scraps of attention from a nice man.”
“That isn’t what I was –”
Abbott showed October a palm. “That’s okay. I asked myself the same question many times since her father died. Mothers safeguard their children, everything else falls under that.”
“With few exceptions.”
“Well, there’s always exceptions.”
“Would you do me a personal favor?”
October worked from the chair, standing. “Get Abby to the doctor for a checkup.”
“These couple night sicknesses have only been –”
“And, when Abby is sick, don’t dismiss it as typical women’s problems, even if it is.”
Abbott sat straight. “Did I do that?”
“Abby heard it that way.”
“I really meant nothing like that.”
“That, Ellen, I’m certain of.”
“Where’s your twin,” Maynard asked, catching up to October, following her out the front door.
“Apple’s out and about.”
“I’ll walk you.”
She gave him a sideward glance. “Okay.”
“Love the new look, by the way.”
“Thanks. Got some rumbles down school, big debate whether I was dressed appropriately for school.”
“Apple dresses like this all the time.”
“You know, I’ve known your legs go all the way up to your ass, but never so aware of the fact as I am now.”
“Nard! What’s that all about?”
“I’m just saying, you know. Of Abby’s friends, I’ve always thought you the cutest, but dressed like this, well, you’re smoking hot!”
October stopped, turning, looking up on Maynard. “That’s enough, Nard. Back off.”
He showed his palms. “Okay, okay. You don’t have to be a bitch about it.”
He looked at his feet. “Sorry.”
October picked up her pace again, Maynard matching stride.
“What do you think?” Maynard asked. “About Abby, I mean.”
“She’s going to get a doctor’s appointment and apology from your mother.”
“Not nice to eavesdrop. I’ll make a note.”
“I wasn’t being a busybody. I wouldn’t listen in on just any conversation. It’s about Abby.”
“I get that, Nard. I think if Mr. Howell is getting grabby, Ellen doesn’t know anything about it, which makes me think Mr. Howell isn’t getting grabby because if he were, Ellen would know about it.”
“I didn’t get that from what I heard.”
“That’s because you couldn’t see what she was saying. She realizes the risk and is hawking for it.” She turned again, in front of her house. “Thanks for walking me home.”
Maynard stepped uncomfortably close. “May I kiss you on the cheek?”
With scrunched eyebrows, she asked, “Why?”
“How about on the lips?”
“May I kiss you on the lips?”
October pushed off. “I liked you much better before puberty.” She turned, stepping off.
Maynard took her elbow.
Yanking free, she said, “Nard. Stop being a creep.”
He narrowed his eyes, watching October walk toward her house. “Sorry. I don’t know what got into me, either,” he whispered.
“Where you been?” Carol Ferguson asked.
“Abby’s. I needed to talk to her mother.”
Then why did you ask? “Okay.”
“We need to talk.”
I pretty much guessed that much. “Okay.” October followed her mother into the kitchen, hamburgers, fries and sodas waiting. Taking a chair, October said, “If you’re going to get burgers out, get them from Ribs. These are edible, but not great.”
“Be just a little grateful, October.”
“Oh, trust me, I’m busting with grateful. Thanks for having dinner waiting. It’s been a day.”
Carol sat. “Your father wants you to finish school in France.”
October smiled, biting her burger. “I lost you at your father. I don’t have a father.”
“Well, you do. Who do you think provides all this?”
October rolled her eyes. “I’ve thought about this. I know what this is all about. I told the father I don’t have never to hit you again. He’s all pissy now. Maybe I’m too uppity. Maybe he’s going to kick the door open and knock me around.”
“You’ve seen his face.”
“Never really looked at him. He should know that, being all omniscient and all. He’s to me like God is to a religious person. He provides all this.” October waved her arms, palms up. “Yet, no one ever sees him.”
Carol nodded. “There are many benefits attending the school picked out for you.”
“If Abby, Brig and Apple aren’t on the list of benefits, you can stop talking now. Asking me what I think about leaving my best friends is like asking me what I think about having my heart pulled from my chest.”
“I figured you’d say that.”
“At least he didn’t smack you around because of me. I really don’t get it, Mom. You’re like psycho in love with him, your soul mate. You’d probably do anything he asked, even Isaac me –”
“Story from the Bible, not the point. The point is, you’d do anything for him, just for the asking. Why the fuck does he have to hit you?”
“It was the drinking. I made a promise.”
“You’re a human being, Mom, not a dog that shit on the carpet.”
“No, it isn’t. Violence is never the answer to any question. I wrestle with Brig over this all the time, but she’s thirteen not a grown man. I don’t care what he does for a living, which I’ve not sat down with myself and really thought about. I will someday, maybe even before I’m forty.”
October took her mother’s hands. “Mom, you’re my best friend, too. I’m sorry I messed up your day. He was there to make sure I was in school, and he would have never been able to pick me out of a crowd with me Appled-up. Did you still have a good visit?”
Carol nodded, blushing.
“Good. No French school for me.”
“I already told him that. You’re my best friend, too.”
“Come, Brig, sit with me outside,” Henry Grant said.
They sat on the rear steps, Grant offering Brigantine a cigar, Brigantine waving it off. Grant lit up. “Great yams, better than even your mother makes.”
“Thanks. I thought I made enough to take some to school.”
“Nope, cleaned you out. That’s what’s going to happen when something that good hits the table.”
“Funny how they were saying how awful the yams were, but kept eating them.”
“Don’t listen to what people say. Watch what they do.”
“I have homework. Was there something else?”
“I thought we could have a cigar together.”
“You don’t allow them to smoke, and I’m younger.”
“You’re not like them.”
“No, Dad. I’m a girl.”
He chuckled. “That’s not what I meant. Anyway. I was thinking about your Fisher problem.”
“I thought that was settled.”
“He’s a worm, a bottom feeder full of self doubt, weighted down with self-esteem issues, playing out his little dramas at the detriment of others. He should never be in charge of other people, let alone having power over children.”
“I agree with that.”
Grant put his arm around his daughter’s shoulders. “What would you think about treating your Fisher to a fun camping trip?”
“That would be funny.”
“I’m not kidding, Brig. Think about it, tell no one. No one. If we’re going to do this, no one can know.”
Amaretto settled in to a rhythm under her weeping willow, produce moving quickly, brief conversations and some saying of sooth. Richard Bly storm up the hill, dancing as if he had to pee, greeting Amaretto.
Amaretto, sitting cross-legged, show him a palm. “Calm yourself, Richard.”
He stopped dancing.
She floated the palm to the right. “Step this way.”
“Three more steps.”
“Back one step and sit.”
“You may, Richard, sit there quietly and watch me.”
“Sh!” Amaretto waved her small hand in the air, signaling the next kid, someone she’d seen around school.
He approach, she raised an eyebrow.
“Four,” he said, offering $20.00 forward.
She took the money, providing the produce. “Enjoy.”
She put her phone to her ear, counting ones. “Hey.”
“It’s Kyle, from today,” the phone answered.
“I have caller ID. Sup?”
“You said to call you. I ask you, Sup?”
“First, you do know how old I am?”
“You do know I’m not going to hook up with you?”
“I pretty much guessed as much.”
“Meet me at Ribs in about thirty minutes.”
“Rib-it. I’ll let you buy me dinner.”
She closed her phone.
As the sun slipped away, so did Amaretto’s supply, offering apologies. Standing, she said, “Come here, Richard.”
He did, looming over her.
Watching up, she said, “Richard, here’s the deal. If you wish to hang with me, you will do exactly as I say, when I say to do it.”
“I can do that!”
“First thing: Shut up. Do not speak unless I ask you a direct question.”
“Okay!” He quickly put both hands over his mouth, nodding quickly.
“Here,” she said, pushing October’s Rucksack into Richard. “Walk behind me.”
She made her way down the small rise, across the playground equipment and onto the wooded asphalt path. “I like it back here,” she said.
“It’s fun! I like it too!”
“Richard, shut up,” she said over her shoulder.
About twenty feet from the street, Amaretto smirked as she entered a gang of kids. “Jill,” she said with a nod, followed by another nod and, “Brian.”
Brian Rat Fowler called after her with, “Hey, do I know you?” and then back to Jill, “She’s kind of hot.”
Jill smacked Fowler on the shoulder.
Amaretto narrowed her eyes at the street, looking for Kyle across the way in Ribs. “Sit,” she told Bly, Bly dropped to the bench. “That’s it for your Apple time today.”
Looking up, he nodded.
She rolled her eyes. “Tomorrow, after school. I’ll meet you under the willow.”
He scrunched his face.
“Weeping willow, the tree we sat under. You may say goodbye.” She took the Rucksack back.
“Goodbye and thanks!”
Turning, a fist of strap, she mastered the busy street, bouncing to the far curb. She didn’t look back, but knew Richard Bly sat on the bench, watching her. Maybe he’ll sit there all night. “Ockie, I hope you know what you’re doing,” she said through her teeth. She could not be friends with Bly like October suggested. “This is the best I can do, for now.”
A hooded figure toward the back of the restaurant caught her attention, Amaretto crossing the distance, dropping her bag on the bench seat. “Kyle Penrose,” she proclaimed louder than necessary. “You’re kidding me?”
“Keep you voice down,” he answered in a loud whisper. “Sit. What are you talking about?”
She stepped out, a heel rolling on the floor, hand on her hip, eyes rolled, looking at the ceiling. “Well, Officer Penrose, there’s nothing at all wrong or inappropriate with us meeting for a snack. Why are you hiding?”
“Quiet, sit. Please.”
She sat, waving. “Hey, Barb,” Amaretto addressed the waitress. “Grilled cheese with bacon, glass of milk with the sandwich, please. Kyle?”
Barbara bobbed a chin at Penrose.
“I’ll have the same, sounds good.”
“Here’s the point, Kyle. If you feel you need to hide when you meet with me, it tells me you plan on doing something you’re ashamed of or something illegal.”
“If does tell me that.”
“I mean, I don’t plan doing something I’m ashamed of. It’s just, well, I need to avoid even the appearance of anything inappropriate.”
“Having a friend that’s my age is inappropriate?”
“People may think that.”
“Look how I dress. Do you think I’m the kind of person who’s concerned with what people think?”
“I get all that.”
Amaretto rolled her eyes. “If you’re sitting here with your face in the hood, people are going to think you’re up to no good. If you drop the hood back and act like everything’s cool, some people may gossip but some people will always be assholes.”
Sitting up, he dropped his hood back revealing his short soft brown hair, like baby goose down.
With a survey of the restaurant, Amaretto said, “Wow, everyone isn’t staring, heads together talking about us.”
“You made your point, Apple.”
“Be honest. When you flirted with me, did you think you could fuck me?”
He blushed. “Of course not. I’d have to arrest myself just for thinking it. You’re adorable, even with the raccoon eyes and tape across your nose. You bring out my inner flirt.”
“Maybe you have that mother thing going on, getting all hot over victim girls.”
“You forget. I fav-ed the video. Maybe I like bad girls.”
“Well, you’re in the right profession to meet bad girls.”
“This is Edgewood.”
Soon after the sandwiches arrived, Penrose said, “This is pretty good. Never thought of putting bacon in a grilled cheese.”
“I like excess.”
“I can smell it on you.”
“What do you think of that?”
He put his index finger to the side of his nose. “As a matter of unwritten policy, we don’t bother with simpler uses.”
Amaretto duplicated the gesture. “Means you’re telling me a secret?”
“I wanted to make sure I understood you. So, if I had a couple of joints in my bag, you wouldn’t bust me?”
“No, we wouldn’t.”
“What if I had a pound?”
He eyed the Rucksack. “A pound wouldn’t fit in the bag.”
“Sure it would.”
“What would you do with your school books?”
She giggled. “As a matter of policy, you’d bust me.”
“I’d have no choice.”
“Well, you would have a choice.”
He took a deep breath. “Apple. Are you selling pot?”
“No, Kyle. Shouldn’t you read me my rights before you ask me anything like that?”
“That’s a good point.”
Amaretto liked that Penrose had a baby face, that he wasn’t much taller than her, that he was a small man, as far as men go. She liked that he wore clean blue jeans and an ironed button down shirt tucked in under his black hoodie. She liked how his soft blue eyes drank her in as she spoke, his thin pale lips crooked a smile at her sarcasm.
“Thanks for dinner,” Amaretto told Penrose at his car, Penrose leaning on the driver side door, Amaretto standing too close to not be called inappropriate.
“My pleasure. We should do it again sometime.”
“I hope that’s not a joke.”
His tongue ran over his lower lip. “It’s not.”
“What? What do you want to say? I see it in your eyes.”
“Let’s drive down the shore for the day, eh, I mean someday. You and me.”
“What’s down the shore?”
“You and me?”
She took a deep breath, realizing just how very dangerous Officer Kyle Penrose could be. “Yes, sounds like fun.” Stepping back, she turned away.
“Sure you don’t want a ride?”
“I like to walk.”
Twenty steps later, she turned, Penrose still leaning on his car, watching. She waved. He waved back.
Oh, boy, she thought.