49 (rough draft)
“That was really a fun way to spend a day off.” Applewhite sat, door open, one leg out of the car. “You aren’t going home?”
Sandalwood shrugged. “I’m going back. I don’t feel comfortable leaving her flapping in the wind.”
“She’s just a kid. It’s not likely she knows anything of value.”
She gave him a look from under her brows. “I’m allowed myself simple indulgences.”
“Ha! I’m not even going to ask what that means.”
“You saw my living room. You saw how I spent my Saturday. I live and breathe The Gentleman.”
“There’s a news flash.”
“It’d not hurt me to get a little obsessed with someone else’s drama, help me step back, you know, clear my head.”
“I really didn’t mean to suck you into all this.”
“Your mom and dad were my family, too. That, and the fact absolutely no one would believe you.”
“You only believed me because you were a kid.”
“What you said made sense. What they said didn’t. My investigative tool.”
“Well, I start with what seems to make sense, then chase it down until it doesn’t make sense.” Sandalwood let out a sigh. “Amaretto has that same look in the back of her eyes that Mahin has.”
“How is Mahin?”
“Coming for a week over the holidays.”
Applewhite glanced behind him, figuratively looking over the day. “Amaretto does possess that raw intelligence that Mahin arrived with.”
“I’m a well-read fucking genius really cracked me up. What pure, innocent arrogance.”
Applewhite offered a laugh. “Then she backs it up!”
“I’d like to get some kind of sense of the fire that forged that. When I first came through the door and saw that woman on top of her, I expected to look in the face of a terrified child.”
“That’s how you knew it was Amaretto?”
“Sure. The bank video. Instead of a terrified child, I saw a person plotting her next move.”
“You’re going to keep her.”
“Which is why I have to drop you off before I go back.”
“I know nothing.”
“How’s the Philly office?”
“They call me One-armed Man, usually with a laugh. I’m just warming the desk there, anyway. Like Amaretto, I’m not afraid to boast of my accomplishments, which really pisses people off.”
“I bet they’re put off because no one knows what you’re doing.”
“Everybody hates the teacher’s pet. Do they even still have that concept?”
“I really wouldn’t know. By the time I was Amaretto’s age, as you know, I was a well-read fucking genius and pretty much oblivious to my surroundings.”
“Would you dance for me?”
“You mean would I allow you to watch me dance for me.”
“Yes, that’s what I mean.”
“Maybe over the holidays, when Mahin is here. I have a place.”
“It’ll be kind of cold.”
“Never stopped us before.”
“Where’s Ellen?” Amaretto greeted Maynard.
“Hey, Nard.” Brigantine offered a little wave from behind Amaretto.
“How do you know –”
“Car’s not in the driveway.”
“Howell’s away on –”
“A two week vacation.”
“Mom’s been out every night. What do you want?”
“Movie night. You’re invited.”
Brigantine displayed a box of Orville Redenbacher Gourmet Popping Corn. “We brought the good stuff.”
“Abby’s not here. God night.”
Amaretto shrugged. “That’s okay. The three of us is fine.” Amaretto narrowed her eyes. “What?”
“You seem so different, like I don’t know you. And, it’s not just the new look.”
“Maybe I am so different. You going to turn us away, or what?”
Maynard stepped back, fully opening the door.
Amaretto presented the clock, stepping by Maynard. “I saw this in a store yesterday, made me think of Abby. I knew she’d love it.”
“Cute and corny. That’s the old Abby. Maybe an ugly god face spewing lightning bolts would be better now.”
With a smile, Amaretto turned on the stairs. “Then, the unicorn and rainbow will remind Abby where we came from and how far she’s come. I’ll put it in her room.”
“Don’t blame her if she throws it out,” Maynard called after her.
John had geeked Amaretto to tears with how he wired the camera, cannibalizing a Kindle and Ipad to upload a stream to Cloud. “The address is unique, but certainly not secure.”
“What’s that mean?”
“It means that anyone could stumble on it.”
“And watch the stream?”
With that in mind, Amaretto positioned the camera to face more toward the door and away from the bed. She wanted to know who came in at night. She already knew what he or she did.
With more mind-numbing geek, John explained the DC adapter may keep the camera uploading forever – or not. “It’s not like I’ve done this before.”
Scrolling through her menu, Amaretto checked the link, watching herself move back toward the door, walking into Maynard.
“I thought you got lost.”
With the Notebook off, she turned. “I’m just taking a moment, you know. Missing the way things used to be.”
“I thought maybe you were snooping around Abby’s room.”
“I’ve slept in this room many nights. Just what do you think I’d be snooping for?”
Stepping, Maynard blocked her way, coming uncomfortably close.
“Movie night. I really miss movie night,” Amaretto deflected.
Looking down on her, Maynard offered a crooked smile. “Spaghetti westerns? Really?”
“I like the dialog.”
Maynard put his face to the side of her head. “Corny. You don’t stink of cigarettes. You smell nice.”
“Nard.” With hands to his chest, she pushed him back, then stepped, moving both into the hall. “Really.”
“Relax, I told Brig we could be a while.”
“Well, Nard, we are not going to be anything.” She pushed by, taking a step. He grabbed her arm. Amaretto gave him a sharp look. He released her.
“Even with the new look, you’re still smoking fucking hot,” he said to her back.
“Like any girl with a pulse,” she muttered.
“That didn’t take long,” Brigantine said with a smirk.
Amaretto rolled her eyes, dropping next to Brigantine, resting her head on Brigantine’s shoulder, Brigantine dropping her arm around Amaretto.
“I didn’t expect this.”
Amaretto snuggled. “We are friends, after all. People who cherish a grudge are assholes.”
“Dad called me a cunt.”
“Our fight. Rather, my fight with you.”
“I was thinking about this movie and October. The guy gets fucked by the town, then years later, comes back and fucks them up.”
“October with an Uzi, maybe a flamethrower.”
“Maybe like Carrie, burning everything to the ground. She’s been pushed pretty far to say she wants me dead.”
“What the fuck, Apple? What the fuck?”
Apple pushed up off Brigantine’s chest, still resting her hands on her friend, watching Brigantine’s eyes. “Oops.”
“You said you haven’t heard from her. This is just what the fuck I was talking about, Apple.”
“Take a breath, Brig. Take a breath.”
Apple waited, keeping Brigantine’s eyes. “I really can’t say much.”
“Because you’re so fucking special.”
Apple took measure. “I ran into a guy who claimed to be October’s father.”
“This guy’s been lurking around town, you know, remember October taking a cigarette from me, running across the street when she was dressed like me?”
Brigantine took her own measure. “Claims to be?”
“Yes. Claims to be. I have no reason to believe or not believe him.”
“What did he say?”
“That October was okay.”
Amaretto pursed her lips. “I wanted to tell October that I’m pregnant, that in knowing that, she might, what, feel better about life. I don’t know. I asked if he’d give her a message for me. Before I could tell him, he said that I should know October wants me dead.”
Brigantine took Amaretto back to her shoulder. “Sorry.”
“I really just need to talk to October, to explain what really happened.” She wiped tears on Brigantine’s shirt.
“I’m not used to seeing you crying.”
“It’s the hormones, I think.”
“What really happened?”
“I’d say it’s way too complicated, but you’d say There you go again, so I’ll tell you: Casey wanted to be a hero, so he bought drugs to plant at Markus’ house. Somehow, Casey found out Detective Banner of the Edgewood police was involved with the drug dealer and got up in Banner’s face, getting Banner to somehow get Richard Bly to murder Casey.”
“Now, if I talk that up, it could put a target on my back.”
“The only reason I don’t share shit with you is to protect you.”
“Can you prove that? About the cop?”
“No. I did talk to Fowler, the other detective. She’s not Snow White. I don’t know if she just looks the other way or gives Banner a reach-around when she butt fucks him.”
“Batman and Robin, who have hung with me all day – they’re just fucking with me, by the way – they have no idea what I know, are investigating the bank robbery, I guess.”
“Just fucking with you?”
“If they really wanted an interview, we would have had a sit-down after Air pulled Morgan off me, not drive me around all day.”
Brigantine rolled her eyes. “More you didn’t tell me.”
“I stopped home to get my shit for the meeting with the Asshole Family and Morgan and her gaggle of the unhousetrained were there. Uncle Jack had it in his head that it’d been too long since he fucked me, and decided to rape me. I thought, well, what the fuck, I don’t want to be raped today, there was a struggle, he went down and I don’t mean in a good way, Morgan ended up on top of me. That’s when Air and Coop arrived. The expression on Morgan’s face when Air put that gun to her head was priceless.”
Brigantine, nodding through the story, asked, “Your Uncle Jack rapes you regularly?” She shook her head. “Don’t answer that. I now get why you don’t tell me everything.”
“I like to keep my whining and my dramas to myself.”
“This looks cozy,” Maynard announced, entering the room, glancing the television. “Oh, not this old movie.” He dropped to a chair facing Amaretto and Brigantine on the sofa. “Oh, you guys are making out? That’s just fucking hot.”
“We’re snuggling, Nard,” Brigantine told him. “You being a guy wouldn’t understand.”
“How about the three of us go upstairs?”
“How about I come over there and give you a serious beat-down, asshole,” Brigantine sneered.
Maynard showed his palms. “Hey, I was just asking. Cool your jets.”
The front door offered a snap, followed by Candice with a question. “What’s going on here?”
Amaretto untangled herself from Brigantine, sitting up, wiping her wet cheeks with her palms. “Movie night, Abby.”
“We don’t do movie night any longer,” Candice offered with an unfamiliar arrogance.
“I don’t recall anyone announcing that decision. Should I check my email?” Brigantine offered with her familiar sarcasm, muting the television.
Candice did her best to glare at Amaretto. “I thought I made it clear that you were not welcome here.”
“Another missed memo.” Amaretto rolled her eyes. “With everything that’s happened, we thought it would be nice –”
“You thought it would be nice. Obvious to the casual observer is that Brigantine is your lap dog.”
“Both Abbotts are seriously close to getting a beat-down tonight,” Brigantine said, rolling her eyes.
“Obvious to the casual observer and lap dog. Maybe we should check to see if Christian doesn’t have his hand up her ass,” Amaretto said dismissively, pulling a snicker from Brigantine and Maynard.
Standing, Amaretto faced Candice. “I really need a place to crash. I spoke to George, and he said –”
“I don’t give a fuck what Dad said.”
“Fuck and Dad, is it now?”
Candice came to Amaretto, taking her hands, dropping her and Amaretto to the sofa, their knees touching, Candice watching Amaretto’s eyes. “Sorry. Dad cannot make such a decision without talking to me and Mom first. You do understand, don’t you?”
Abby trying to handle me? Amaretto thought. Who are you and what have you done with Candice Abbott? She nodded, waiting.
“I need to discover my true potential, my true power.”
“To do this, I must do two things. Firstly, I must surround myself with people that are most like me.”
“I would think a contrary –”
“Apple. Amaretto. This is not a discussion. I’m explaining something to you, so that you can understand the best you can.”
“Not your fault. Secondly, I must limit my contact with people that are not most like me. You do understand, don’t you?”
“I don’t have a clue what you’re trying to say.”
“It’s not your fault. Your heritage. I wish Christian were here to explain it. You’re not as pure as you may seem.”
“Pure, as in what? I know I’ve had way too much sex for someone my age, but having sex doesn’t make a person impure.”
Candice sighed impatiently.
Brigantine chuckled. “I’ve heard the same bullshit from Dad, but he doesn’t try to dance around it. What Abby is saying is that you’re not white enough to be her pal anymore.”
“Is that right?”
“Amaretto, that is very crudely put.”
Maynard rolled his eyes. “Anyway you say that would be crudely put.”
“You’re hidden,” Candice explained.
Amaretto twisted her face. “What’s hidden?”
Again, Brigantine chuckled. “Stayman?”
“Yes!” Candice agreed.
“What about Stayman?”
Still holding Amaretto’s hands, Candice straightened her back. “Stayman is not an Anglo name. It’s an apple. It’s a slave name, a black name, given to the slaves that picked the apples.”
Amaretto chuckled. “If I didn’t know religion as well as I do, I’d say you guys are punking me. What a surprise. The chosen people have the same face that Christian sees in the mirror.”
“I knew you wouldn’t understand,” Candice said.
“Because that’s what Christian said.” Breaking free, Amaretto stood. “Coming, Brig?”
“Oh, Brig can stay.”
Brigantine stood. “I had my fill of religion come the sixth round of kicking and yelling when the men folk had me in a bag. I will, though, Abby, take a cue from Apple. If you ever need someone to get your back or just hang with, give me a call. Blind bigotry? I don’t have time for that.”
“For those that don’t understand, show them the door.”
“That’s okay, Abby,” Brigantine said. “Don’t get up. We know the way out.”
“I didn’t mean it that way.”
Amaretto nodded. “It’s an expression that they use, like part of their theology.”
“Is that right?” Brigantine asked Candice.
“We have a book.”
Brigantine gathered her movies. “I’m sure you do.”
“Really.” Amaretto tried to sound sincere. “Good luck with that.”
Breaking outside into the early December night, Brigantine shook her head. “This is New Jersey, not the Deep South. Okay, Apple, give me one of your know-it-all speeches.”
“Groups bind themselves with common threads. One of the best ways to keep everyone loyal is by isolation. It’s a human tradition.”
“I was kidding. That’s obvious. Control the masses. Dad’s been preaching at my brothers all sorts of shit forever. Since I’m dismissed because I’m a girl, I get to stand on the outside so I see the bullshit as bullshit.” Brigantine wrapped Amaretto’s shoulder. “Where you going?”
“I’ve been considering my chances of getting to my Mace and Taser. I have the advantage of surprise and clear-headedness.”
“I’ll go with you. Then what?”
“That’s as far as I got. Lock my bedroom door? I don’t know.”
“You can sleep with me.”
“Because I quit smoking.”
“That’s not what I meant!”
“I know. Kidding. Maybe I’ll sleep under the willow at the park. Won’t be my first time. Then, maybe chase something down tomorrow.” She narrowed her eyes at her phone, scrolling. “I could give Randi Sconce a call. I have her number here somewhere. Got it for October.”
“Sconce from school?”
“She did say if I needed anything.”
Not far along the sidewalk, a car pulled to a stop. “Hey, sailors. Looking for a good time?”
Amaretto leaned on the passenger window. “I was just wondering why you or Coop didn’t give me a card, saying that if I think of anything to give you a call and maybe not to leave town.”
“You left this in the car.” Sandalwood held up a folder.
“Didn’t much need it,” Amaretto said. “Really, I thought if I left it in the car, you’d hunt me down. We never did do the interview.”
“Hop in back, Brig,” Amaretto said. “We’ll give you a ride home.”
“We will, will we?”
“I have this friend – she’s kind of lost in the dark forest right now – who used to have this thing. When she got a good hit off someone, she’d take her cheeks and put her forehead on hers and say we’re going to be good friends.”
Leaning from the rear seat, Brig said, “Kindergarten.”
“Yep. You, me and Abby. Anyway, Air, that’s you and me right now. I think we’re going to be good friends so yes, we’ll drop Brig off.”
“I have a confession,” Sandalwood started.
“Apple knows,” Brigantine said. “You guys were fucking with her.”
“Well, I wouldn’t put it that way. How long did you know?”
“When you didn’t bust Morgan and Jack.”
“That’s when you first suspected.”
She shrugged. “I was sure when you drove me to my meetings instead of putting me under the hot lights.” Amaretto turned to face Brigantine. “They really are a lot of fun. I told them to kill the McIntire family and they pulled their guns.”
Brigantine laughed. “That’s so not funny.” She tapped Sandalwood on the shoulder. “You have a gun?”
Sandalwood shrugged. “More effective than a Taser.” She glanced at Amaretto. “You zapped Paul Markus?”
“Road his fat ass to the fucking floor.”
“Were you aiming for his heart?”
Amaretto rolled her eyes. “I don’t think so. I wanted the side of his neck, but the way he was flailing his arms, seeing me coming, I went for what I could get.”
“Know this: you can kill someone doing that.”
“He had my best friend by the wrist, dragging her down the hallway.”
“You believe that Markus has a predilection for children?”
“If you mean to ask if I believe Markus would rape my friend. Yes, I believe that.”
“And, then, you acted accordingly?”
“Why weren’t you arrested? Here we are.” She guided her Cooper to the curb.”
“Apple,” Brigantine said climbing out. “I really had no idea you dropped Markus like that. Wow. I’m so sorry I was up in your face.”
“We’re all going through a bad time.”
“Ockie and Abby seem to have it worse.”
Amaretto worked to her feet, moving Brigantine off. “Give me your phone.” Accepting the phone, Amaretto worked at the buttons. “This is live, but there’s an archive.”
“Stored in another file.”
Amaretto returned the phone.
“Is that Abby’s room?”
“Camera in the clock. I thought for sure George was drugging and fucking with Abby in her sleep, the drug making her sick. George is out of town. Abby was sick.”
Brigantine sighed deeply. “You’re thinking Nard.”
“The past year, I’ve been trying really hard to not think Nard. Anyway, I wanted you to have access to this in case something happens to me.”
With rolled eyes, Amaretto listed, “Shot by a random madman, hit by a bus, meteor rock lands on my head.”
“Oh, I thought you had a specific threat in mind.”
“If a random cosmic act takes me out, it’s up to you to protect Abby.”
“She doesn’t seem to want our help.”
“I really don’t give a fuck what Abby thinks she wants.”
“Call the cops or bury him in the Pines?
“Flip a coin.”
Brigantine bent, Amaretto and Brigantine sharing a leisurely kiss. “You’re a fucking superhero,” Brigantine said. “Call me when you find a place to land. If you do the willow tree, stop in the morning and use the shower.”
“It’s not much, but it’s mine,” Arianna said. “I had a great great uncle someone leave it to me. The letter had some dribble about a destiny and mystic connection.”
Amaretto stood on the sidewalk, taking the house in, a small cottage on a moderate lot, surround by newer, larger houses. “My dream house,” she sighed. “Did you run him down?”
“Like with my Cooper?”
“Oh, no. The letter told me everything I needed to know. I don’t need details of his crazy.”
“You’re not a native of Peachtree Hill, then?”
“No.” Sandalwood produced a letter, positioning so the distant streetlight would illuminate it. “This is really well done.”
“Asshole didn’t even look at it.”
Sandalwood pointed to the bottom.
“Really?” Amaretto asked, nodding to the signatures.
“Sure, why not?”
Taller than Amaretto, Amaretto watched up into Sandalwoods eyes. “You don’t even know me.”
“When I was just a bit younger than you, my parents reached out to a young girl. I jokingly call her a rescue person.”
“Mahin. When she was six, that’s as in years old, she watched her parents murdered, her taken into slavery.”
“You rescued her.”
“Well, Coop’s father, my uncle.”
“Coop is you cousin?”
“Sure, we’re in love. It’s a tragic drama.”
“Man, that does suck. But, that’s more a social taboo that a genetic reality –”
“Apple. I’m not only a well-read fucking genius, too, but I’m actually a real scientist. I’m aware of realities.”
“Sorry, my brain jumps around.”
“That’s an indication of your intelligence.”
Amaretto closed her eyes. “Mahin. Pretty name. How’d that reaching out work for your parents?”
“Mahin is my sister.” Sandalwood took a deep breath. “You have the same look behind your eyes that she does.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“I can’t really explain it. But know this: as I have known Mahin’s life through her telling, I know what your life has been like.”
“Well, my parents weren’t killed in front of me.”
“As Mahin was, you are now a sex slave.”
“For the most part, I have never had anything taken from me I didn’t willingly give.”
“Just because you think you received equal payment – survival – from those who violated you, doesn’t mean you willingly gave.”
Amaretto smeared tears on her cheeks, never having been laid so bare. “Hormones.”
“Who’s the father? Do you know?”
“Fuck. That’s different. I mean, in the age of Google, ignorance is a choice. When Morgan –”
“Morgan is your mother.”
“Mother, having many meanings, the answer could be no or yes. She’s the genetic donor, yes.”
Sandalwood nodded, as if taking notes.
“When Morgan got me so high I couldn’t walk straight – that would be last year – and turned me out – to be clear, gave me to Uncle Jack to fuck – I spent the next day with The Googles. I insist on protecting myself from all the sexual diseases that plague humankind, with rare exception.”
“So, one of these rare exceptions –”
“Not actually. I had this guy drug and rape my comatose body.”
“My knee jerk reaction is to say we could hunt his ass down, I have resources, and get my day made, but I sense there’s much more to this.”
Amaretto put her hands flat to her stomach. “There is no reality in any of the alternate universes, or this one that I’d want that asshole to know he’s the genetic donor. I’ve walked in a cloud of darkness all my life.”
“That’s what they call it. I’ve been smoking pot with Morgan since I was seven. Pot takes the edge off. I was fucking with other drugs until I watched a woman die shooting up. Then, of course, Morgan getting me really high and turning me out. I don’t like being high, never really did, but a little high was better than the suffocating darkness of depression. I thought my depression was organic.”
“Google will often mislead you.”
“Sure, really. The cloud lifted the moment I realized I was pregnant.”
“Could be the hormones.” Sandalwood’s sarcasm was not lost.
“In that moment, I realized my life was a choice. What I am and what I become are in my hands. I have the power over my life. I have a future.”