45 (rough draft)
Like the late November clouds, a pall hung over Edgewood, wind wiping leaves around Brigantine’s feet. Publicly, the two deaths were tragic, people personally knowing young people that died. Thanksgiving was completely lost, Brigantine thought, watching the mass of kids flowing through the doors, Brigantine not admitting to herself she was watching for Asher Norton.
She really didn’t care whether Apple had fucked Maynard Abbott. Brigantine had given up on Maynard even as a friend, a creeping osmosis in thought. “You are right about that,” she said aloud for no one to hear, knowing Apple was correct about Maynard getting weird. “He hit on October.”
Now, Brigantine wondered if Maynard lied about nailing Apple.
“We need to talk,” came from beside her.
“I’m really fucking tired of hearing that.” She snapped around, looking the older boy in the eyes. “Who the fuck are you?”
“Sorry, didn’t mean it that way. Let me try again. May I ask you a question?”
Brigantine shrugged, her attention back on the milling flow of kids. “Sure.”
“You’re a friend of October’s?”
I’m really fucking tired of people seeing me as nothing more than an extension of October, too. “Yes, I know October. What’s it to you?”
“Bob,” the boy said. “Bob Little.”
Brigantine looked from the crowd again, noting the terribly sad eyes for the first time. “Sorry for your loss,” she presented the rote offering.
“I think I follow. I have brothers I barely feel related to.”
“We’d just become friends.”
“October ripped my heart from my body and stomped on it.”
“She told me I was pissed off at Casey because everyone saw me as that ugly kid’s brother, not as me.”
“Did you hit her?”
“No, slapped her.”
“I would have hit her.”
Bob sighed. “She was right.”
“That’s why I would have hit her.”
With a chuckle, Bob said, “I’ve been fighting back depression for a couple of years.”
“Do I look like a therapist?”
“Fuck you, don’t be an asshole. I’m trying to tell you something here.”
“I like coke. Takes the edge off.”
“Self medicating is cheaper than a therapist.”
“Soon after Casey and October got together, Casey beat the crap out of me to get my dealer.”
“It’s funny, you know. All he had to do is ask, not take a baseball bat to me. I think he used it as an excuse to get back at me.”
“Sure, that’s real funny. Again,” Brigantine tapped her chest with a finger, “No nametag saying therapist.”
“The point I’m making is that Casey never did drugs. Then he meets October. I wanted to ask her what that was all about, but I haven’t seen her.”
“You could have led with that: Have you seen October? I would have said no, and you’d been on your way.”
“Not at all?”
“Not hair nor hide. I really don’t have a single fuck to give about your dead brother.”
Bob shook his head dismissively. “You really don’t have to be an asshole.” He pushed Brigantine on the shoulder.
Brigantine was in motion even before Little’s hand left her shoulder. “Fuck you, jerk off.” Brigantine delivered a convincing roundhouse to Bob’s jaw, sending Bob and blood spilling onto the brick wall.
“Great form, Brig!” Asher Norton said, approaching.
Shaking her hand out, Brigantine nodded down on Bob, Bob holding his face, crying. “He pissed me off. I hate to say it, but that felt really good. I take that back. I don’t hate to say it.”
“Let’s fade.” Norton took Brigantine’s arm, pulling her into the crowd and into the school. “Movie?”
“After dinner. Text me your addy, I’ll meet you at your house.”
Amaretto had stopped with John, watching from twenty feet away. She’d never met Casey’s brother, but knew who he was at first sight, a tear leaking down her cheek. “This is what Brig becomes without October?”
“I have to respect she didn’t hesitate.”
“I bet Brig feels all adequate now.”
Moving, Amaretto called out, “Handful of tissues!”
Jill Lauferty came alongside, edging John out, offering a handful of tissues from her purse. “I didn’t recognize you.” They both dropped to Bob Little.
“Hold your head back,” Amaretto directed. “I have experience.”
“Yes, you do,” Jill agreed.
John hooked under Bob’s arm, pulling him to his feet, passing Amaretto her brown paper bag, relieving her of holding the tissues on Little’s face. “I got this, Apple. You get to class.”
Jill handed off more tissues, which Amaretto applied to her face. “Thanks, I never cry.”
“You’re doing pretty good for something you don’t do,” Jill answered.
“Must be the pregnancy.”
“If I don’t see you,” John said, “I’ll call you tonight,” dragging Little off, holding Little’s head back and tissues to his face.
“Really?” Jill asked, taking Amaretto by the forearm.
Amaretto nodded quickly, drying her face. “It’s kind of a secret, if you don’t put posters up, it’d be great.”
“Oh, never. John?”
“No. It’s complicated.”
“People always say that.”
“I was drugged and raped by a cop.”
“Okay, you earn complicated with that. Anyone I can kill for you? Dad has a Remington with a scope.”
“I really don’t want him to know, if you should miss.”
“Understood. Why red?”
“This is my natural color.”
“I thought you were kidding.” Jill glanced toward the school. “You and John, huh?”
“You’ve done a world of good for him. He used to be a real asshole.”
“What’s he think of the baby?”
“Hasn’t said, but he didn’t run screaming for the door.”
“That’s a good sign.”
“You still seeing, or rather, back with Fowler?”
“God, no. I turned that page. There was this moment. You in a hurry?”
“My second day back. I can be late.”
“Well, Rat and I went over Philly to pick up some shit, you know. I’d been under the impression that we were slick and all, and operating under the radar, you know. Then, Jack lets it slip that we’re protected.”
“Because Brian is Lindsay Fowler’s kid.”
“Right! Then this guy, Marvin, he says we’re not supposed to know that. Jack says: Great. Now we have to kill them.” She leaned almost nose to nose, giving Amaretto wide eyes. “For a full five seconds, I thought I was going to die, right there, over a pound of pot.”
“There’s a real breakfast at epiphanies.”
“Oh. My. God. Did you tell John we’re making fun of him?”
“I suspect not-apple knows.”
“I need to ask you to do me a solid –”
“A solid, a favor.”
“That makes it sound like you want me to shit for you.”
Amaretto rolled her eyes. “I need to ask you for something, I need you to not ask why and I need you to forget it.”
“Thy will be done.”
“By the tone in your voice, I get it. There’s this secret sisterhood and you’re in, no pinky swear needed.”
“The first rule of the secret sisterhood –”
“Is you don’t talk about the secret sisterhood.”
“Where did you get your drugs?”
“Do you mean from whom or the location?”
“I said no questions, but I didn’t anticipate that one. Location.”
Jill produced her phone. “I’ll email you a Google Maps.”
She looked up from her phone. “You quit drinking, smoking and drugs, right?”
“As soon as I suspected.”
“I’m loving you more and more the more I get to know you.”
Amaretto entered class late, catching Candice’s eye, nodding. Candice returned the nod, showing surprise.
“Can I help you?” the teacher asked.
“I’m okay, Mr. Collings-like-all-the-other-children,” Amaretto answered.
Collings looked over his glasses. “Incognito today, Miss Apple?”
“I thought I was in Edgewood.”
Delayed after class by Collings, Amaretto was delighted to find Candice waiting for her in the hall.
“I missed you yesterday, Abby.”
“I was sick again.”
“Do you have your food log? Let me have a look at it.”
Candice squirmed uncomfortably. “We have it handled.”
Amaretto shrugged, figuring at least Candice wasn’t professing a lifelong hate. “Other than being sick yesterday, how are things?”
“Christian is really great, and the others, of course. It really feels like home.”
“That’s really good.” Amaretto made an effort to sound sincere. “Nard?”
“Nard is Nard, you know. He’s flirting with every girl he comes within ten feet of, which is kind of creepy, if you know what I mean.”
“Brig told me Nard was telling stories.”
Candice rolled her eyes. “You’re not the only one. He says he’s had sex with October, too.”
“Sounds like he could use a beat down.”
“Oh, please do!”
“I was kidding. I think I’ll have a conversation with him, though. See what’s going on with him.”
“I like what you’ve done with your hair. Much more attractive. Without your clown makeup, I bet you could give me a run for the most-beautiful-girl-in-seventh.”
Clown makeup has Christian’s fingerprints on it. “Thanks. But, there is Sally Gunther and October.”
Candice narrowed her eyes. “You’re blushing, Apple.”
“Sure, Sally and October, but I know that you know true beauty is more than just looks.”
Amaretto narrowed her eyes. “Seems hanging with the Jesus freaks has smartened you up.”
“We’re not Jesus freaks.” Candice almost pouted.
“I didn’t mean it that way, sorry.”
“Would you like to join us Saturday night?”
“My church group, us Jesus freaks. We have a youth meeting. I think you’ll find it interesting. My people are really, really smart.”
“I’ll pass this week as much as I have a hankering to be gang raped by strangers in the name of god, but I’ll keep it in mind.”
“We’re good people, Amaretto. We really are. You really don’t understand.” Candice consulted her watch. “We don’t do that every Saturday night! I really don’t have time to explain –”
Now you’re scaring me, Amaretto thought. “Justify.”
“Justify, not explain. There’s a difference.”
Candice narrowed her eyes. “You said it yourself. It’s like Brig in the woods.”
Amaretto released a long sigh. “Tell me about you being sick.”
“You mean last night?”
“We’ve got it handled.”
“I know. You’ve said, but tell me anyway. Was it just like the other times?”
With impatient rolled eyes, Candice answered, “Yes. Ockie wasn’t there to take care of me, so I didn’t make it to school.”
“I’m glad you’re doing well. I’m glad you found this group.”
“I really like this look on you.”
“I see the burns are healing really well. Sorry you had to do that.”
Amaretto dreamed back to when she took the fire in her arms, looking for a psychological conversion for Candice. “Maybe not so different from gang rape. Maybe a three and a half universe difference between the two,” she muttered, Amaretto lingering in the hall, Candice’s Mary Janes tapping out a wordless song on the linoleum, her ponytail marking time. “I’ve lost you, too,” Amaretto said to herself.
“I’d like to see George Howell,” Amaretto said to the smartly dressed woman in a skirt much too short and heels much to high to be practical for office work.
“Mr. Howell is off this week.” She examined her ledger.
“My bad. I’m a walk in.”
“We don’t take walk ins. Appointment only. Would you like to make an appointment?”
Amaretto consulted the ceiling, finger bouncing on her chin. “I guess I could catch George at home. You have two Smiths here.”
“Albert and Allen.”
“I’ll have an Albert, please.”
“How is Wednesday of next week?”
“How is right now?”
“No one is seen without an appointment.”
“I’m a really good friend of Izzi Smith.”
“I doubt that.”
“Amaretto Stayman. Please let Mr. Smith know I’m here.”
“This should be good for a laugh,” she muttered, tapping the device in her ear. “You may have a seat? Would you like anything while you wait?”
“I won’t be waiting that long.”
The receptionist swiveled away on her chair, talking in a low tone.
Albert Smith, a large man with a white beard, sparkling disarming blue eyes and happy face suspenders over a white shirt, appeared, excited, hurrying down on Amaretto with an extended hand. “Amaretto Stayman, as I live and breath!” His hand dwarfed her hand, joined by his other hand. “My God. My God. You’re nothing like I imagined!” He turned to the receptionist. “You heard my mother last month tell the story of the kid that ran into the bank while guns were a-blazing! This is her. Or is it she?”
Amaretto’s face caught fire, blushing. Damn pregnancy. “Hi, Mr. Smith! I didn’t want to bother you. I came to see Mr. Howell. It’s she.”
“Georgie’s out of town all week.” He nodded to the receptionist. “This is she!” he repeated.
“All next week, too.”
Smith, keeping her hand, asked, “Personal business?”
“Well, Hell, Miss Stayman –”
“People call me Apple.”
“Of course they do!” He released her hand. “Well, Hell, Apple. We’ll get Georgie on the horn! You know what that is, right?”
Apple giggled into a laugh. “It’s what they used to call the telephone, Mr. Smith.”
“We got us the Internets here, don’t we Judy?” He nodded to the receptionist.
“Yes, Mr. Smith. The Internets.”
“What day is it in California?” he asked.
Judy rolled her eyes. “Same day, Mr. Smith, different time.”
“Are we going to wake him up?”
Judy glanced her watch. “Only if he’s napping. It’s a little after one in the afternoon.”
“Follow me,” Smith said, lumbering off, leading Amaretto to George Howell’s office, an office she’d visited once. As Smith pushed through the doorway, a woman behind a file-littered desk stood, removing her glasses. She was smartly dressed, in her thirties, practical and emotionless, earthen hair cropped short, no makeup, crystal blue eyes burning into Amaretto.
“Sandy Howell,” Smith announced. “Though the Howell is a joke, huh, Sandy?” He turned to Amaretto. “Georgie’s right hand.”
“Executive assistant,” she corrected.
“And, we guess, the source of all Georgie’s good work.”
“True,” she agreed with a cold smirk. “But don’t tell George that. We haven’t told him.”
Amaretto stepped to the desk, extending a hand. “Amaretto Stayman.”
Sandy took the hand. “No, you’re not.” After a brief grip, she released Amaretto’s hand, opened a drawer and produced a file, unfolded it, unclipping a photo. “This is Amaretto Stayman.”
“Mom was right, then?” Smith asked rhetorically, pulling on his chin.
“Trust me, I’m the original Apple, accept no substitutes. I’ve shed my worm and become a butterfly.”
Sandy held the photo to Amaretto, squinting. “It could be.”
“Why do you even have that?” Amaretto asked, indicating the file.
“Why do you think we have it?”
“When Fishy, that’s Harry Fisher to mere mortals, the vice of Edgewood, held me off the floor by the neck and pounded my face, George, that’s Mr. Howell to the mere mortals, thought we should sue their pants off and pushed me pretty hard. My guess is that the file is the primary work.”
“Close enough. Nice to meet you, Miss Stayman.”
“Apple. People call me Apple. Should be right there in the file.”
Again, the cold grin met Amaretto. “What can we do for you?”
Amaretto squirreled a dollar bill from her pocket. “First, the details.” She placed the bill on the desk. “Now, if all the cop and lawyer shows are correct, I’m your client and everything I say can’t leave the room unless I allow it.”
Smith retrieved the dollar. “Close enough.”
“That’s not an absolute,” Sandy said.
“Let me guess. That only covers my ass, not the asses of anyone else I may expose.”
“You’ve watched the right TV shows.”
“The Googles, but that’s beside the point.”
“We are your advocate, Apple,” Smith explained. “Do you know what that means?”
“Yes, Al, I know what that means.”
Arianna Sandalwood surveyed her living room, the furniture pushed back, papers and photos covering the space. “Almost there.”
Loud thumping resounded from the front of the house followed by, “FBI. Open up!”
She rolled her eyes. “It’s open!”
Cooper Applewhite staggered through the foyer. “Hey, hey!”
“You’re drunk,” she moaned.
“And, that, my love is just one example of why I consider you the best forensic scientist in the business.”
“I’m an intern.”
“Still, the very best!”
“You know I don’t like when you’re like this.”
“No, you love me!” He narrowed his eyes, then pointed across the room. “How’d you get those?”
“Lied, cheated, forged a signature.”
“You have no morals.”
“More like Machiavellian morals.”
“Big Mac!” he shouted, fist going toward the ceiling. “What did you find?”
“You’re drunk. No point telling you anything now. I’ll just have to repeat it in the morning.”
“I have something that needs investigating, and you’re just the girl to do it.”
She rolled her eyes.
Undoing his belt, he pushed his pants and boxers down to his knees, straightening. “Why does this,” he said, pointing at his erection with both hands, index fingers extended, “get like this when you’re around?”
“Because I’m hotter than Texas chili and you’re drunk. Put that thing away before you hurt yourself.”
He forcibly grabbed her arm. “Come on, Air, you know you want it as much as me!”
Sandalwood spun free, twisting his arm behind him, taking him to his knees and than belly flopping him on the floor, a knee in his back, quickly securing him with handcuffs.
He raised and lowered his butt repeatedly. “Look, Air, I’m fucking up your photos. Better let me loose.”
“Sure, I’d better.” She left the room returning with a pillow, a towel and a blanket. Kneeling, she lifted his head by his hair, placing the pillow, the towel over the pillow.
She covered him, leaving to fix a cup of tea.
“Hey, Dad,” Brig greeted, standing.
Mr. Grant looked around. “Must be important if you ambush me out here.”
“Not really. I wanted to let you know I hit a kid today.”
“I wouldn’t call it that. We got in an argument.”
“Casey Little, October.”
“Oh, the October nonsense. She show up yet?”
“No, she hasn’t. I really didn’t want to talk to this asshole, but he kept on and on. He shoved me. I hit him.”
“He hit you back?”
“No. Sat on the ground crying.”
“Smaller than you?”
“Of course not. A boy, couple – three years older.”
“Do I have to go in?”
“To the school? No, not yet.” She shrugged. “I don’t think I got reported.”
“The asshole must have thought he deserved it.”
“Yes. Like a date.”
Mr. Grant narrowed his eyes. “With a boy?”
“Yes, Dad, of course with a boy.”
“Let’s go in. I’m sure your mother has dinner just about ready.”
“I’m going to skip it. Get going.”
“Sure, Dad, just a little down, I guess. I’ve been like having these bouts, you know, can’t breath, chest pains.”
“Kind of like that.”
“You want to see someone?”
“I think I’ll be okay. It’s just, well, hard to put into words. I feel, well, like the world is coming apart and I’m helpless to do anything about it. What you just called the October nonsense.”
Mr. Grant pursed his lips. “Sorry, Brig. I did not for a second mean to dismiss you. I know you were friends and all, and –”
“It’s not just October. All my friends for life, well, I thought they’d be for life. Now, I’m out here flapping in the wind by myself.”
“A friendship is a 60-60 partnership.”
“That’s 120 percent.”
“It is. If you really value your friends, you’ll find a way to keep them.”
“Maybe that’s it. Maybe I’ve outgrown them.”
“Maybe you’re just being a cunt because you’re not getting your way.”
Mr. Grant shrugged. “I said maybe. You need to think about it, and to do so, you need to consider all angles. That’s my advice. If you feel you need someone to help you think it out, like I said, we’ll find someone for you to talk to. I recently discovered that you’re a girl, I mean, young woman. By that, I mean I’ve always known you were female, but I realized there’re going to be some things I just can’t help you with.”
“There’s always Mom,” Brig suggested.
They rolled their eyes at each other.
Brigantine could have asked for a ride. She decided the hour’s walk to Ramsey Park was better than sitting around the house trying to breathe. In the blending of townships, Edgewood was expected to pull Ramsey Park up, though Peachtree Hill had by far the largest tax base and the greatest objection to the merger, many parents choosing to place their children in private or parochial schools rather than have their children corrupted by the vast unwashed masses.
“Christian Caroline and his gang are Hill people,” Brig said to the sidewalk, coming to Asher Morton’s house. I don’t see much difference between elitist asshole and regular assholes.”
Asher bounded from his house, taking the steps three at a time, running to the three-foot chain link fence. “You didn’t want to come in, did you?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Let’s get out of here.”
Turning, walking off together, Brigantine asked, “What are we going to see?”
“I bet you’ve never seen art films.”
“I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”
“You’re in for a treat.”
Small talk and two buses later, Asher led Brigantine along the city streets. “Do you get high?”
“Tried stuff, never got a taste for it. I figure I can do stupid shit without the help of drugs.”
“I like a beer, ice cold, on a hot summer day. Just one,” Asher said. “My brother is a pothead. He’s high all the time. A waste of human flesh, if you ask me.”
“I try not to judge.”
“What if I were a pothead?”
“Then I’d not be walking with you in the City of Brotherly Love.”
“Isn’t that judging?”
“Maybe. I choose the company I keep. No, not judging.”
“You’re pretty cool.”
“Most guys I know, like I said on the bleachers, are just looking to get high or get off. I’d really, really like a friend, if that makes sense.”
“I don’t recall you saying that.”
“I did. I said I wasn’t looking to just get my nob shined.” He indicated the avenue. “Just about any of these guys you see just hanging would be glad to give you a blow job. Sometimes, you can get them to pay you.”
“That’s not too creepy.”
“Not trying to judge, and all.”
Asher stepped to a window. “Two,” he said.
The elder woman squinted through the glass. “Are you boys eighteen?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Asher answered, standing as straight as he could.
She took his money, providing tickets off a roll.
Even with careful examination of the building exterior, she couldn’t tell what an art film was.
Then, they got inside and down a hallway into the theater. Brigantine was insulted by the stench of cigarette and pot smoke, poorly washed humanity and a gym locker reminding her of Amaretto’s house. “Grainy poorly focused black and white film of people having sex is art film?” she asked, leaning toward Asher.
In the blue gray illumination, Brigantine could make out a couple dozen haloed figures obviously getting busy, some with themselves. Again, leaning, she said, “I think this is too weird for me.”
“Come on, I paid twenty bucks.”
“I’ll give you forty to leave now.”
Asher laughed. “Okay, sorry. We can go. Grab a burger across the street?”
“As long as people aren’t having sex on the tables. I’ll buy.” Turning in the aisle, off to her far right, in the back, she saw a boy bent over the back of the seat, another boy behind him humping away, waving his arm in the air like a bronc rider.
“Don’t stare,” Asher said. “It’s not polite.”
My brother Luke taking it up the ass in a public movie theater is what’s not polite. “Sure.” Brig looked to her left, hurrying out.
Once on the street, Asher again said, “Sorry.”
“Come here often?”
“What kind of pickup line is that? Just kidding. Been here a couple of times.”
“We’re underage. There’re adults in there. Does this place ever get raided? Do you know how unhealthy random hookups are?”
“Whoa, I didn’t think we brought your mom along.”
Brigantine let out a long sigh, watching Asher’s eyes. “Sorry, Ash. Been a difficult month.”
“I kind of guessed you knew him, knocking his brother on his ass this morning.”
“I like you Ash, I really do. This,” she indicated her surrounding, “Not so much.”
“Well, Brig, we can’t go just anywhere, you know.”
“About that.” Brigantine cupped Asher’s face, raising his chin, placing her lips on his like the touch of a cat’s whisker, kneading twice, pulling the air from Asher’s lungs, stepping back with a coy smile and blush.
“Wow and wow, Brig! That’s the best, the best kiss I’ve ever had!”
“About that, Ash.” She took a deep breath. “I’m not a guy.”
Asher narrowed his eyes. “You’re one of those people who thinks you’re born the wrong sex?”
“Gender, and no.”
“You mean born the wrong gender.” Goddammit, I sound like Apple. “That’s not what I mean. I was born a girl. I’m a real girl, not a boy.”
Asher stepped back, squinting. “No. Really?”
“Is that a problem?”
Asher snickered. “I’ve never been able to talk to girls.”
“Glad to help.”
“Wow, I mean. Did you lie?”
“Not really. You assumed, I didn’t correct you.”
“I’m, eh, well, gay.”
“Want to kiss again?”