4 (rough draft)
October Ferguson placed the phone back on the receiver, watching her mother at the sink. As with Apple, October knew her mother wasn’t saying something. “Mom.”
Carol Ferguson turned, leaving the water running. “Is everything okay?”
“What’s going on?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“We’re going to have a nice dinner, just you and me.”
October narrowed her eyes.
“Okay, Jack’s coming over.”
October resisted giving her mother the look, nodding instead. “Alright.”
“I know you don’t care for him.”
“I never said that.”
“You didn’t have to. You’re young, so you can’t understand. He’s my soul mate.”
Now, October, with all her force of will not to, rolled her eyes anyway.
As if a tween talking about her first crush, Carol droned on in a lecture of white noise October heard three times before, which is why the rollie eyes. October listened like a soldier receiving orders, watching her mother in a dream state, her mother doing a version of the pee-pee dance, driving home the tween-in-love motif.
October at once enjoyed her mother’s delusional glee, washing her mother’s depression away and was saddened knowing that in the days, maybe weeks to come, she would hold her mother’s cheeks, her forehead to her mother’s, watching her mother’s crying eyes, assuring her mother everything would be okay.
No matter what is to come, I wouldn’t take this moment away from you. “I don’t dislike Jack, Mom.” I dislike what’s to come.
On the other side of town, a cedar shake colonial stood on a wooded two acres. Toward the back on the spacious yard, Maynard Abbott watched the fire burn in a fifty-five gallon steel drum.
“Ockie says you’re special, Nard.”
He shrugged. “We’re all special, Abby, some more than others.”
Candice held her hands toward the fire. “Burning leaves, you’re killing the planet.”
“Everyone is. Why should I be any different?”
“I watched, I mean we saw. We saw what was happening. Like everyone else, we just watched. You didn’t. You jumped in.”
“Did you know what was going on?”
“If you did, would you have just watched?”
“I might have, but not October.”
She shrugged. “I didn’t know what to do. I wouldn’t have. Ockie would. She always knows.”
“I’ve seen that about her.” He watched toward the house. “I’m glad you’re friends.”
“They’re going to be getting married.”
Candice bit her lip. “I guess that’s good for Mom.”
“It is. I don’t like the way he looks at you.”
“Most men look at me that way, if you’ve noticed.”
He nodded, watching down on his sister. “You are beautiful.”
“Yeah, Barbie wants to be me.”
“You’ll watch yourself. You’ll tell me?”
“Yes, Nard.” She turned, took a step, then turned back. “I’m going to make some pies for tomorrow.”
“I’ll make one just for you.”
Candice wore her classic white dress with black flats, blue ribbon in her hair. She was numb to flattery, accepting compliments politely. Family, extended family and guests filled the house. “Sorry about your father” came from people she’d not seen in years, the automobile accident taking him four years before. She didn’t remember him much, a man who drank too much and partied too hard, or so the stories were told.
His loss ripped a hole in her mother’s soul, her mother pulling back from daughter as if afraid to lose something else.
“You look just like your mother” was popular, too.
George was not rich, but far from poor, a partner in the Philadelphia law firm Smith, Smith and Howell. Ellen Abbott inherited from her husband, so money wasn’t an issue. George was charismatic, liked by most people. Well-kept in his late forties, tanned, dark hair, dark features with captivating brown eyes.
He made Candice’s skin crawl, but then, many men did with overt possibly inappropriate attention.
Cramps in her upper legs disturbed her sleep, forcing Candice from bed. Family, many strangers throughout the day had Candice holding her muscles tight, now releasing. Slipping her robe over her terry teddy top and bottom, she found her way to the kitchen, drinking the quiet and solitude, seeking a turkey half-sandwich.
She liked her house at night, the world asleep.
“Hi, Candy,” came from next to the open refrigerator.
“Candice,” she stung back.
George chuckled. “Sweet, like candy.” He dipped his fork in the pie, holding the fork forward. “Ellen said you made this yourself.”
“I made that for Nard.”
George shrugged, filling his mouth. Around the pie he said, “Sweet, like you. My Candy.” He eyed her up and down.
She backed from the kitchen.
“Where you going?”
Brigantine looked over emptied bowls, plates and a turkey carcass, sitting low on her chair, feeling small, a reflection of her mother. Her brothers told jokes, some off color, much too loud, all laughing much too loud, soon to retire to the living room for beer and football.
Brigantine didn’t like feeling small. See imagined standing with October, feeling wanted and feeling large.
She wanted to be with her new family. Instead, she spent the late afternoon washing dishes, cleaning the kitchen and putting up leftovers with her mother.
It’s what the women in the house did.
Excitement with some apprehension fill the girls as 7th grade in the new school approached.
“Last week of summer,” Candice said, placing a branch in the fire pit at the back of her property. She meant the last week of summer vacation.
“That’s fine by me,” Amaretto said. “I’m running out of excuses to get away from the flop house.”
“Mom’s getting to think she has another daughter,” October said.
“I like your Mom.”
“She’s going to blow her brains out over one of these soul mates.” October rolled her eyes.
“Not if you’re there to catch her,” Amaretto said. She pursed her lips, hesitating. “I know you’re my troll.” She sat straight. “I’m not afraid to say it.”
October smiled. “I give you nothing. I allow you to be you.”
“Funny,” Brigantine said. “I would have never seen the power in that if not for you. You give in to Sally, for example, all the time. Kids see that as a weakness, but that’s power.”
Again, October shrugged. “All I want is to get through the day without causing any damage and without being distracted by nonsense.”
“Nothing to win,” Brigantine said.
“Only fight the battles really worth fighting.”
“Next week, we start in the new school,” Amaretto said.
“Mega-school.” October rolled her eyes again.
“The Region.” Amaretto leaned toward October. “When we first met, I was terrified to go to school. Now, I can’t wait to see what the Region has for us.”
“I really don’t mind saying that I’m still sad most the time, and scared, but you, Ockie, push it way back where it doesn’t overwhelm me.”
“I don’t really understand that, sad and scared,” Brigantine said.
“Come stay at my house for a week.”
Brigantine shared a nod. “I accept that. If there’s anything I can do.”
“I’ve been having strange dreams,” Candice said, blushing. “Like sex, but not. Like someone’s touching me all over.”
“Sex isn’t that big of deal.” Amaretto did not blush.
Candice narrowed her eyes in judgment. “How would you know?”
“I’ve read a book or two.”
“Like books are going to tell you anything that’s real!”
“Between the lines, maybe.”
October watched the lines in Amaretto’s face, the shadows, light twirling from the fire, the fire’s fingers licking at the air. Leaning, October’s hand danced toward Amaretto, Amaretto taking October’s hand.
How do you know? Amaretto thought.
How could I not? “I’m with Brig, Apple. Whatever, whenever you need.”
“It’s really no big deal.”
October narrowed her eyes, drinking Amaretto’s dark eyes, releasing her hand, weighing her words. Amaretto did have a darkness shrouding her face, pain and fear just out of sight, black clothes, black makeup applied with a heavy hand, smelling of pot and cigarettes, fatalistic.
October had been to Amaretto’s house a few times. She had no doubt Amaretto had sex. With who didn’t matter, and possibly Amaretto didn’t know, lost in a drunk and drug stupor.
Watching Candice laugh at something Brigantine said, October was equality sure Candice did not drink or do drugs, thus her dream was imagination.
“My Mom has sex all the time,” October said. “Doesn’t seem any big deal.”
“Morgan, too. With different guys.”
October giggled. “Different guys with my mom, too, just one at a time.”
Amaretto offered wide eyes then laughed.
“No big deal.”
“Without sex, none of use would be here,” October said.
Her three friends agreed.
“What does your mom do?” Candice asked October, standing behind Brigantine, Brigantine on a chair in front of the mirror. “You sure about this, Brig?”
Brig flipped her hair. “Sure, Abby. Chop it all off.”
“I’m not sure,” October answered from her place sitting on the nearby bed. “I’m not sure anything short of water boarding is going to make her give up details. Something about a trust fund. Believe me, I’ve asked.”
Candice went to work with comb and scissors. “My mom, too. Nard says Dad wrecking the car was like her hitting the lottery.” She caught Brigantine’s eyes in the mirror. “With the first day of school tomorrow, you do know if I mess this up, you won’t have time to fix it?”
“I’ll say my best friend cut it, and if someone has a problem, I’ll pound the piss out of them.”
“I thought I was your best friend, Brig?” Amaretto asked, next to October. “I want your hair.” She slid a hand through October’s hair.
“You are,” Brigantine answered. “So is Ockie.”
“All of it?” October asked.
“No. I want to make a ring, a circle of hair.”
Candice came over, clipping quickly, handing a lock of October’s hair to Amaretto.
“Thanks,” Amaretto said.
“You’re welcome,” October and Candice said in unison.
October and Amaretto lingered on the sidewalk in front of October’s house as the sun dropped away, Amaretto watching October, October watching Brigantine and Candice fade in the distance, hand-in-hand. “I’m blessed.”
“Long summer. I wanted to ask you.”
Amaretto shrugged. “I’m okay.
October held her breath. “I don’t know, Apple. I don’t know.”
Again, the shrug. “Every time I go home, I expect to find Mom on the floor dead in a pool of her own vomit. I don’t know how she’s lived this long.”
“I don’t care about her.”
“I know.” Amaretto narrowed her eyes. “What is it you wanted to talk about? I know, used as directed, cigarettes will kill me. The pot, well, it’s pot, legal in a couple of states. If there’s any health effects, we’ll know soon and if any, they’re going to be no worse than cigarettes.”
October stepped close, taking Amaretto’s face in her hands, putting her forehead on Amaretto’s, watching her eyes. “Apple. I accept who you are and the choices you make. My life is better for knowing you, touching you.”
Amaretto sobbed. “I know.”
“You’re letting those guys hanging at your house get over on you.”
“It’s not like that, Ockie. It’s like, well, they want something.”
“To give it, should be your choice.”
“That’s what I’m telling you. It’s really no big deal.”
“You like it?” October asked.
“No. I don’t like it or dislike it. It’s no big deal.”
October’s fingers dug into Amaretto’s flesh. “I understand. There are health concerns.”
“In the age of Google, ignorance is a choice.”
October let go of Amaretto’s face, wrapping around her. “It’s been a summer for you.”
Again, a sob. “It has.”