35 (rough draft)
October was at once unsettled by the quiet of the house and peaceful tranquility. “Who would have guessed Apple would be dating a cop?” October asked the kitchen sink, finishing up the dishes, Carol upstairs relaxing in the bath. Amaretto didn’t say. The chemistry was obvious. Even as October broke the church window, she cursed herself for taking a cab directly to the building, knowing it would blow back on her.
“Of course,” October said aloud, “Christian and his droogies would have some explaining to do.”
“Hello, October,” a voice, soft, rained on her from behind.
“Dammit!” She spun, looking up into a dark face, a face with milk chocolate eyes, eyes consuming her.
Eyes like hers.
“You’re lucky I don’t have a gun!”
“I know you don’t have a gun.”
“You shouldn’t startle people like that. Want me to show you how to use the doorbell?”
“You have a smart mouth. I credit that to being raised without a father.”
“I credit that to my independent nature. What do you want? Why are you in my house?”
“My house, but that’s a detail.”
“I’ve seen the paperwork. Mom’s house.”
“In her name, anyway.”
She squared to the intruder, the intruder three heads over her, lanky for his height in an Ichabod Crane-esque way, thinning tan hair uncharacteristically long for a man his age, curtaining his ears, his hat, a derby, in hand, ankle-length trench coat draped over his shoulders. “What do you want?”
“My principal. What about him?”
“Do you feel he is a threat to you?”
“Odd question. When if comes to feelings, in this moment, I feel more a threat from you than from him.”
“I am no threat to you.”
“You beat the piss out of Mom.”
“That, October, is none of your concern.”
“Wasn’t my concern because you didn’t know any better. Like I said in front of the school, it’s my concern now. Don’t do it again.”
He closed his eyes, nodding slowly. “Paul Markus.”
She held his eyes. “I’m not clear what you want from me.” Though, I do get the impression you want to know whether you should kill him or not, she thought.
“Is he a physical threat to you?”
Maybe. “Of course not, eh, I don’t know what to call you.”
“I’ve been leaning toward the-father-I-don’t-have but Mom gets all cat-in-a-rocking-chair-store skittish anytime the subject of you comes up.”
“You will not speak of me.”
“Mom said that was a rule, sure. Carpenter’s not your name. Your real name is ineffable, so maybe you’re God or even Satan, which doesn’t much matter, because like them, I don’t believe in you.”
“I have my very good reasons to remain unknown to you and your mother –”
“Ha! Unknown is different from unknowable!”
“October, all will be revealed in its time –”
“This is like a bad Bible reading.” She rolled her eyes.
“Everything is done for your protection, October.”
She narrowed her eyes. “My protection, not Mom and my protection, because, because.” She closed her eyes. “You love her, but need me. I wanted to ask you: You’re cross-eyed, slobbering, dumb-fuck crazy in love with her, huh?”
“Paul Markus, October.”
“Okay. Principal Paul Markus. He’s really a sad man. He’s crushing on me, but that’s not exactly correct. He’s crushing on what he thinks I am, not that the difference matters in the manifestation.” She cocked an eyebrow. “See, father-I-don’t-have, I’ve given this a mess of thought. He’s Humbert and I’m Dolores. Scratch that. He’s in love with me, like a schoolboy crush.”
October nodded up to Mr. Carpenter. “He’s cross-eyed, slobbering, dumb-fuck crazy in love with me like you are with Mom. He’d no sooner hurt me than you’d hurt Mom.”
“Your sarcasm is not lost, October.”
“Then, we’re good?”
“You won’t kill Principal Markus?”
“Promise me. Promise me that you won’t kill anyone on my behalf.”
“I cannot make that promise.”
October smiled. “That tells me your word means something. Now, promise me you won’t kill anyone on my behalf. I can fight my own battles, thank you very much.”
Carpenter stared down on his daughter, long moments leaking by. “I promise.”
“You promise what?”
“I promise I will not kill anyone on your behalf.”
Augustine Duke Ellington entered the outer office long before classes began. “Mildred,” he said, taking the office manager’s hand, “so good to see you.”
Mildred Smith, a stout woman of forty-two, sandy brown hair cropped in a boy’s cut, strong face, blushed at the attention. “Duke, likewise. What brings you down off the mountain?”
“Kids, what else.”
“Any particular kids?
“Markus, Fisher. Tell me about Fisher.”
“Effective administrator, effective disciplinarian. Odd thing the other day. He changed an attendance record. Amaretto Stayman. I remember because the name’s so strange.”
“That’s the student he assaulted.”
“Stranger and stranger. I was a little suspicious with the call out, because the voice sounded so young, I thought maybe it was the Stayman girl and not her mother.”
“She was recorded absent, Fisher changed the attendance record, then you think Stayman called herself out absent?”
“And, stranger and stranger.”
Ellington worked on his chin with an old hand. “Looks like this Stayman kid has a sense of humor. Print her schedule out for me, if you would.”
With the schedule in hand, Ellington entered Markus’ office, making himself at home behind the desk.
He didn’t have to wait long. “Mr. Ellington,” Markus greeted.
“Principal,” Ellington replied, standing.
“I guess you’re here over that disappointing Sconce nonsense.”
“Indeed. I wanted to let you know in person. Randi will be returning to work today.”
“What? She’s in gross violation of the morality clause –”
“I looked over your letter and the complaint, and made a determination that you’re dead wrong.”
“She’s married to a woman! A woman!”
Ellington shrugged. “So what?”
“She’s a pornographer!”
“Her wife makes adult films. There’s nothing illegal, or immoral about that. Matter-of-fact, you look like the kind of man who enjoys an adult film now and then. Shall we check your browser history?” He leaned to the desk, glancing over the computer. Looking up at Markus, he added, “We have software the keeps a remote record of the browser history of all school computers, so it doesn’t matter if the history is deleted.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Markus stated. “I’ve got nothing to hide, so you don’t need to waste your time. Sconce is back.”
“Eh, oh, sorry to have troubled you.”
“I’ll let you get back to work, ah, one other thing.”
“The Ferguson child.”
“Yes. Leave the child alone. I’ve heard some disturbing things.”
Markus hung like Spanish moss, appearing like a scolded schoolboy. “Yes, Mr. Ellington.”
With a nod, Ellington left Markus’ office, dropping two doors down to Fisher’s office, entering without invitation.
Fisher jumped from his chair. “Mr. Ellington!”
He sat. A file folder slammed on the desk.
“Tell me about this.”
Fisher narrowed his eyes at the folder.
“The Stayman girl.”
“We had meetings, agreements, it’s settled.”
“Fisher. You held this child off the floor by her neck and hit her in the face. I don’t know how that could be settled.”
“Mr. Ellington. It was an extraordinary situation. I don’t go around hitting kids every day. I’ve got nothing in my file –”
“This won’t be in your file, either, so that means nothing.”
Fisher stood, indignant. “I do not go around hitting children. She hit me first, twice. I lost my temper. I admitted I was out of line and apologized. The matter is dropped.”
“Why’d you change the Stayman child’s attendance record?”
“That was a mistake.”
Ellington narrowed his eyes. “Why are you changing any attendance records?”
“As the disciplinarian, my role is to often correct records, keep things straight.”
“That’s Mildred Smith’s job. If you need something to be corrected, make her aware.”
“I’m not sure micro managing my job is your job.”
“It isn’t, until these things come across my desk.” He rolled his eyes toward Markus’ office. “I’ve heard some disturbing stories about him and children. Keep your eye on him.”
Ellington wandered the halls inspecting Amaretto’s schedule until he found the classroom just as the bell sounded, filling the hall with students. “Amaretto Stayman,” he said, looking down.
“Who are you?” she asked, looking up. “I don’t see a badge.”
“ID badge. All people working for the school are required to wear them.”
“Sorry, Miss Stayman. I’m the president of the school board, Augustine Ellington. I don’t work for the school.”
“Still, Mr. President, you should have a visitor’s badge. For all I know, you’re some pervert wandering the halls, looking for a date. We have enough perverts working in the school without having to fend off creepers from the outside, too.”
He laughed. “Oh, Miss Stayman! I like you!”
“What did I just tell you?”
“Relax. I wanted to meet you, see that you’re all right.”
“I’m working on some things. Likely, you won’t have to worry about Fisher much longer.”
Amaretto twisted a smile. “I’m not worried about Fisher, Mr. President Ellington.”
“I mean, I know you got a raw deal. I looked at the file. George Howell should be in touch.”
“George and I had a conversation, Mr. Ellington.”
“George is a good man, Miss Stayman. I know him well. Married my daughter, like family. He’ll work hard for you.”
Amaretto narrowed her eyes. “I think you’re just fucking with me, now. I’ve met Ellen’s father and you aren’t him. Listen tight, pervert. I may dress like a slut, but I’m not going to sneak off with you, fuck you or blow you.”
“Miss Stayman, I assure you –”
Amaretto let out an ear-piercing scream.
When three teachers appeared and students gathered in a circle, Amaretto announced, “This creeper, no badge, is hitting on me.”
Neil Collings pushed through the crowd. “Huh? Mr. Ellington? Where’s your visitor badge?” He looked at Amaretto. “He’s okay, Apple.”
“No badge, we assume creeper, Mr. Collings-like-all-the-other-children. Please escort him to the office, thank you very much.”
“Yes, Mr. Ellington Creeper?”
“Nicely done. I better understand Fisher now.”
“And, why I have nothing to fear from him.”
“Nice meeting you.”
“Nice to be met.”
October was pushed against her locker from behind. “I like you much better as Ockie than Apple.” Nard kissed her hard on the cheek.
“The color came out a lot quicker than I thought it would.” October rolled her shoulders. “Watch the PDA, Nard. You’ll get us sent to the office.”
Maynard stepped back. “Can’t help myself. I’m more worried about Case gut-punching me again, than I am getting sent to the office. It’s not just hair color, it’s the whole package. You’re really smoking hot.”
October closed her locker, hugging books, turning. “I guess you’re over that Brig thing.”
“There never was a Brig thing. But, don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love Apple. It’s just I think you look much better as October. Apple has the Apple look covered.”
“I like to wear other people. Maybe I’ll cut my hair and try boy’s clothes.”
“Don’t. Brig’s got that covered.”
“I was hiding, actually.”
“Yes, you know, Principal Markus has a crush on me.”
“You should work that. You know, flash your panties at him and ask for stuff, like a half-day Friday.”
October blushed. “You’re thinking Apple again.”
“I’d do her,” Maynard said absently.
“Nard! What an awful thing to say.”
“I think it’s a compliment.”
Hands on Maynard’s shoulder pushed him to the side. “What did I tell you, Nard?” Casey growled from the cover of his brown hood.
“We were just talking, Casey,” October said.
“Well, he can stand back a few more inches.”
“Chill, Case,” Maynard said.
“Did Abby have a talk with you?” October asked Maynard.
“That answers that, I guess.”
The afternoon sun cut across the student parking lot, Amaretto leaning on a random car, drawing casually on a joint.
“You get the best stuff,” John McIntyre said, waiting his turn, McIntyre seventeen, eleventh grade, generally unkempt, straggly hair the color of overdone toast dangling in his face.
“AppleBright is two and a half universes better than RatWeed,” she answered, passing the pot.
“Can I get an ounce for the weekend?”
“I can arrange that, sure. What about Fowler?”
“I’ve been thinking, you know. You know how you might do something and it bothers you but you don’t know it at the time and it keeps popping up and you keep thinking about it and all of a sudden you realized you might be wrong?”
“Did this happen in the morning, while you were eating?”
“Breakfast at epiphanies.”
Amaretto waved him off.
“Richard Bly punched me in the face that day.”
“I was calling him Donkey Kong.”
“Oh, was that you?”
“We’ve been making fun of him for years.”
“Funny. If you asked the same question last week, I would have said: Because it’s fun, and everyone laughs, like a joke.”
Amaretto nodded. “And, now?”
“That’s what’s been bothering me. It’s not really fun and everyone doesn’t laugh.”
“I certainly wasn’t laughing.”
“That punch, the whole deal kept bothering me. I asked myself what I was really doing. It’s a habit.”
“Like a tradition.”
“Yes, like a tradition! I make fun of someone, mock someone like Bly, people laugh.”
“Some people laugh.”
“Apple, I did that, hurt Bly, but I didn’t really actually realize I was hurting Bly, because I wanted Rat to like me.”
“So many people do the same thing for years, you get fooled into thinking it’s okay.”
“My mother put me in black diapers as a baby and had my ears pierced when I was eighteen months old. I’ve been putting my makeup on with a heavy hand since the first grade. I’m more like Richard Bly than I am like normal kids.”
“That was my breakfast at where ever. It’s like I get to pick sides. Do I want to hang with Rat or hang with you? That punch changed my whole outlook on life and people.”
“Maybe I should tell Richard to pound the piss out of everyone that looks at him sideways. I think half the time, he doesn’t know he’s being mocked.”
John pushed off the car, facing Amaretto, taking her hand, stepping close, his deep chocolate eyes holding hers. He raised her hand to his lips, kissing her knuckles. “Apple, I want to apologize to you for making fun of Richard Bly.”
Amaretto watched his eyes. “You’re apologizing to the wrong person. Apologize to Richard, but you don’t have to kiss his hand, unless you really want to.”
“I’ll do that.”
“Try it in public, where other people will hear you.”
“So it really means something.”
“How about a movie Friday night?”
“Are you asking me out, like on a date?”
“Yes, I am.”
“I have a date Friday.”
He deflated. “Oh, you have a boyfriend.”
“I don’t, no. Just a date. A guy I hung with, felt he did some creepy shit, wants to sit down and talk it out. “Saturday night? I’ll be hanging in the park Saturday.”
“You know Rat’s going to be having issues with you.”
“I do, yes. I plan to have a conversation with Rat, one that doesn’t involve his girlfriend punching me in the face.”
“Jill.” He rolled his eyes. “She punched Rat in the face recently, haven’t seen her. I have to get to class. Walk you?”
“I’m going to hang, I think, but John, really, do me a solid.”
He snapped a sharp bow. “What would that be?”
“Be this person. Don’t be an asshole.”
“The pull of the asshole side is strong, Apple, but I’ll try.” He turned, hurrying off, Candice coming up on Apple.
“We need to talk, Apple.”
Amaretto put her phone to her ear. “Hey, Fishy, write me and Candice Abbott excused passes for the afternoon.”
“How did you get this number?”
“You keep asking the same questions.”
“I can’t keep doing things like this for you.”
“Yes, you can.” She closed the connection, looking at Candice. “I figured.”
Taking Candice’s hand, the two friends left the parking lot, crossed down the side of the football field to the far side and a hill behind the bleachers sloping away from the field overlooking a four-lane highway in the distance.
“Pot?” Amaretto asked.
“Pot,” Candice affirmed with a sharp nod, dropping to the grass.
“Your universe has changed,” Amaretto said, putting a match to the joint.
“Such a vast statement, still an understatement. This gets really, really complicated, and it all spins in circles.”
“You liked a guy and he turned out not to be the guy you liked.”
“Complicated. I still like him.”
“The heart wants what the heart wants comes to mind. I don’t see how I can even have a conversation with him without Ockie strangling me.”
“Don’t worry about Ockie.”
“Ockie has no room to judge, falling for that freak.”
“Name calling is counter productive.”
“I meant that as a statement of fact, and has little to do with his face.”
“I think I follow you. Let me back up here. What I’m going to do or not do with Christian Caroline is completely beside the point.”
“I was raped by, my best guess, seven boys. Have you been done by seven people at one time?”
“Chris said we’d go to a meeting at the church, in the basement. That’s where I’d guess Christian meetings would be, you know. We got in the door and Chris said, This is Candy, Candy, everyone. I was group greeted, trying to see all the faces at once. I can kind of freeze that moment in my mind, pick out all the faces, maybe twelve boys, eight girls, all from school, I think. That moment, you know, Apple, that moment I felt all warm and fuzzy.”
“Christian Caroline-like people, crisp with perfect smiles, neatly groomed, well-dressed, all very pretty, maybe too pretty.”
“Yes, Apple, my God, yes.”
“Like looking in a mirror.”
“I do look like that, don’t I?”
“You could have lied.” She rolled her eyes. “Then, the bag goes over my head, I think a pillow case, pulled tight. Someone, not Chris, tells me to just relax, that there’s an initiation. I don’t know much about religion, but I do watch TV and I have listened to you, so I know things like rituals can get pretty weird.”
“Brig and her fun-loving family.”
“I think that’s why the bag didn’t surprise me. So, I’m playing the game. At first, I was, eh, I guess uncomfortable when they took my shoes, socks, pants and panties off. I remember thinking I was glad I decided to wear a more traditional brief and not the black thong you and me picked out at the end of summer.”
“Kind of uncomfortable.”
“I think, like anything new, it takes some getting used to.”
“One of the girls even commented how cute the panties were, though I think she may have been sarcastic. At this point, I’m not worried or anything.”
“More embarrassed than anything else.”
“Not even that. I know I’m beautiful. Barbie wants to be me, after all. I’ve stood naked in front of the mirror. I know I’m pleasant to look at. I walk down the hall in school and I notice most heads turn, all the time. I may not be an exhibitionist like you, but I’m aware people like to look at me. No, I’m not embarrassed. However, I did think it odd that their appreciation of my body was so clinical, me on my back on a table, bag over my head.”
“Sure, you’d think there’d be a pole and some dancing.”
“Their game, though, and I’m playing. In the background, many different conversations are going on, like in the cafeteria, which I thought strange, me naked from the waist down, my sweatshirt and bra pushed up to my neck. I thought all attention should be on me. Two girls were holding me down by my shoulders. I know they were girls by the shadows I could see through the pillowcase. That, and one was talking about her mother and who her mother was dating. Among the conversations, I hear boys chanting one, two three.”
“One, two, three?”
“After forever, I realized they were doing rock-paper-scissors.” Candice finished the pot, taking it down to nothing. “The first guy hurt, a lot. I think he was done before I realized I was actually getting raped. Did you get to see their faces?”
“I did, usually. It didn’t really matter, though.”
“To a person, they were disconnected from me as an individual, but for maybe Jack. They were masturbating in me.”
“Masturbating in me,” Candice repeated. “That’s about it. I wanted to ask them not to cum inside me, you know, with all the associated problems with that, but anytime I tried to say anything, one of the girls put her hand over my mouth and I couldn’t breath.”
“I did your calendar deal, not your fertile time, like I said.”
“Small favors, huh?” She paused, biting her lip.
“It’s okay, Abby. It’s all okay.”
“It doesn’t feel okay.”
Candice swallowed hard. “I felt hands all over my body. With the third, maybe forth guy in me, one of the girls went at me like poison ivy. It wasn’t exactly like I’ve read about. I couldn’t control my body. I really liked it.”
“That’s means deep down inside, I want to be raped by seven strangers, maybe I’m gay.”
“No, Abby. All that means is you have a body that responds normally to stimuli.”
“You can’t tell Ockie or anyone.”
“There’s a good reason I’ve not told stories of what I’ve been through.”
“I did not like the experience one bit, Apple. I mean, I’d not want to even consider doing it again. During, I overheard some of the kids talking about Sally Gunther. I did an Ockie: I imagined myself one of the girls holding Sally down while the kids raped her, maybe getting Sally off.”
“There’s nothing right, nothing at all, about what they do. I have to think about that normal stimuli deal.”
“I’ll send you some links. In the age of Google –”
“Ignorance is a choice.”
Amaretto took Candice’s hand. All the sex I’ve had, I’ve never gotten off. I almost envy you. “Thanks for sharing. Feel better?”
“Less confused. You do know you’re my hero, right?”
“Yes, Abby. I know.”