9 (rough draft)
“I don’t know, I don’t know, Apple.” October rolled her eyes.
“I don’t believe in soul mates.”
October pulled the door open, stepping in, Amaretto close behind. “Sorry, big school, we got turned around.”
The teacher corrected his roll. “Don’t let it happen again.”
October and Amaretto were never late. October knew, being the forth day in a new school, we got turned around would keep the tardiness off the record.
Casey Little, she thought, watching out the window. Soon after hearing the second bell, she knew she had to let go, but couldn’t, that somehow walking off the moment would ruin everything.
“Ribs, after school,” Amaretto said.
“Ribs,” October repeated to Casey, nodding. “After school.”
He nodded back. “Ribs.”
Amaretto Stayman held no illusion about her status in the universe. She was aware how others viewed her, pushing the perception. Just a breath before, she was a unique character in the small social culture of elementary school. In The Region, she still stood out, but no longer unique, some upperclassmen similar. Those like her, calling themselves Emo or Goth, only appeared like her.
Amaretto Stayman held no illusion about her mother, self destructive in a tailspin headlong into a crash and burn. Amaretto knew her mother one overdose away from making her an orphan. Amaretto was not acting out. She acted as. She dressed like her mother, laughed at home what her mother laughed at and pretended to like the men her mother liked.
One of the unique bonds forged with October was October didn’t know who her father was, either. Someday, Amaretto knew, October would discover her father’s identity. Amaretto imagined October and her mother were in witness protection or CIA informants or something, which is why Carol Ferguson was so secretive.
Amaretto was sorry she ever asked her mother.
“Oh, that was a week, Apple. It’s all a blur. I called it my Amaretto Week, because that’s all I drank. I was with so many different guys, I couldn’t even guess which one knocked me up. I was really loved that week!”
The disclosure was much too candid for eight-year-old ears.
Amaretto could not remember a time she didn’t watch her mother, and others, have sex. Sex, naked people, drugs, yelling, laughing, crying and fighting were normal, Amaretto unarmed and desensitized. “Love, Mom,” Amaretto said to the night sitting on the patio killing a joint, “no.” Amaretto couldn’t define love, but she knew what love wasn’t. “When I was five and October held my hands, putting her nose on mine and said October Ferguson. My friends call me Ockie. That’s what I want you to call me I knew what love was.”
Amaretto dressed like her mother because she was in mourning for the life she could have had. In one of her dark imaginings, she’d come home from school to find her mother dead on the floor from an overdose, men and women, but mostly men lounging around the house, stoned, no one noticing Morgan was dead. Amaretto would pack a small bag, drop out her bedroom window to the patio and run to October’s where she could live, reborn as October’s sister. “I could wear October’s clothes and become like her.”
Her more realistic dream was work hard at school, save her money, go to college and break the chains, burying her past as deeply as Carol Ferguson buried hers. “And, someday I’ll walk on the moon.” She liked being high, pot pushing the pain back. She secretly envied October, Brigantine and Candice not needing to be high. She loved October for allowing her to do what she needed.
When too straight and unable to get high, Amaretto would bathe in fantasies involving October, lost in a dreamscape. Starting in The Region, Amaretto had a silver dollar sized ring of October’s hair on a chain around her neck with suffering Jesus, a pewter pentagram and an ankh. As needed, Amaretto would suck on October’s hair.
Amaretto felt like a beggar on the corner, hand out, living off scraps tossed aside by uncaring people who don’t look her way, a gatherer moving from semiconscious body to semiconscious body, taking drugs, cigarettes and money. She did not recall the first time a man took from her semiconscious body, or who the man was, the summer leading up to The Region. She knew she could ask her mother, in the blur recalling her mother pushing her into the bedroom by the arm.
Amaretto did not wish to accept the reality that her mother gave her over. Lessons learned. Sex, to Amaretto, was no big deal, not getting much out of it, even boring, men with their dramas of imagined domination. After that night, Amaretto would never again be so drugged out to be semiconscious, out of control of events.
On a rainy June morning, a bit punchy, Amaretto walked the streets of Edgewood, not really going anywhere, wondering if October was up, where Brigantine and Candice may be. She was in the clothes she wore the day before, stinking of sex, her makeup smeared on her white face. She wanted to be anyplace but home, yet didn’t wish to burden October with the night’s events.
Sitting, looking at the counter, her hands between her naked legs, black skirt too short, her shoulders rounded, she said, “Coffee.”
“Are you okay?” Mr. Hunter asked, setting a cup, pouring, his summer sky blue eyes giving her the up-down. A massive man, large and overweight, often the butt of jokes from the neighborhood kids. He worn a blue flannel shirt covered with a full white apron.
“Sure, thanks for asking.”
“Got a cigarette?”
“You’re too young to smoke. Not legal to smoke in here, anyway.”
Amaretto glanced side to side. They were alone.
From the pack in his apron pocket, he put a cigarette in her lips, then his own, offering a lit match.
Drawing on the cigarette, she met his eyes. “You are a very bad man, Mr. Hunter.”
He shrugged. “I may be old, but I remember being a kid.” A slice of pie came to the counter. “Good with coffee.”
She snickered. “Apple’s my name.”
“Oh, that Adam and Eve story.”
She licked her lip. “You didn’t even taste me, and I got you to do a bad thing.”
His eyes got big. “You, young lady, are a bad girl!”
The cigarettes, finished, found a home in a water glass, the glass lost behind the counter, Amaretto working on the pie and coffee.
“Can I get a pack of cigarettes?” she asked flatly.
“I’d get arrested for selling you cigarettes,” he answered just as flatly, placing a red and white box on the counter, next to the pie.
The box disappeared into Amaretto’s purse. “I understand.”
“Feel better? You okay?”
Amaretto nodded. “It’s not as bad as I must look. Too much partying. You know, off for the summer.”
“I do know, yes. I do know.” He looked toward the door. “What grade you in?”
“Starting The Region September.”
He nodded, choices, decisions. “You need be careful. Older kids are going to want you doing drugs and the such.”
“Real-ly?” she answered with wide eyes, her sarcasm not lost.
“Can you keep a secret? Can I trust you?”
“I told you: I remember being young.”
“There’s things that are illegal for kids.”
“Well, yeah, cigarettes.”
With narrowed eyes, she asked, “You want me to sell cigarettes in The Region for you?”
He narrowed his eyes.
“You’re fucking crazy, Mr. Hunter.” She gave him a hard nod. “Absolutely.”
She also left the small shop with a box of Trojan ENZ, the thirty six count value pack, glad she could buy a box where no one would give her any negative feedback or a stack of personal questions. Hunter’s didn’t have a large selection. The light blue of the box made her choice easy. Since they were free, or rather, the cost was not disclosed, she didn’t hesitate going for quantity.
That rainy morning, Amaretto had her first pack of cigarettes of her very own, an avenue to make money, protection from the plague and a glimmer of hope for the future.
Casey Little was terrified, helpless in October’s hands. He wanted to rip free, run away, hide. He couldn’t, lost in the warm brown eyes, the eyes boring into his brain, consuming him, her left hand cradling his disfigured face, a disfigurement few human beings would dare look at, and here she was touching it.
Amaretto and October left, into the school. Casey finished his migration to the grass, just off the concrete, wiping the tears from his cheeks with the sleeves of his hoodie, attempting to make sense of the last four minutes.
The day before, she walked by, seconds leaking from the universe, changing his life forever just knowing someone like her existed in creation. Then, there she was, forehead to forehead, breathing him in as he breathed her in.
“What’s a Ribs?” he asked the grass.
Lunch period couldn’t come around too quickly. Casey generally ducked lunch, the environment terrifying, Casey dragging an undefined fear of people everywhere he went, keeping his contact to a bare minimum. He was relieved to see wandering teachers, some sort of authority. Casey felt he wouldn’t be attacked or at least, if he were, the teachers would break it up quickly.
The vast lunchroom hosted symmetrical rows of rectangle tables, each table mobbed with children.
Only four steps in the door, Casey forced air in his lungs, stepping back. “Ribs,” he repeated, pushing himself forward, then backing against the wall.
On the third scan of the room, Casey found who he wanted, moving around other kids, along rows and finally to a table in the middle of the room, looming over Maynard Abbott.
“Casey! How’s it going! Join me!”
The kid across from Maynard distorted his face. Maynard shot him a look. “What the fucks wrong with you?”
“Sor-ry,” he mocked, showing palms.
Casey tried to move off, but Maynard had his arm. “Don’t go.”
“Sorry, have to – be – somewhere.”
“Then, I’ll go with you.” Maynard scrambled to his feet. “No lunch today?” he asks as they made their way through the crowd, toward the exit.
“I like to sit outside lunchtime.”
By yourself, sure, I get that, Maynard thought. I get tired of stupid people, too, and they don’t make fun of me.
Breaking in the hall, Maynard said, “We don’t have passes. Just keep walking like we’re going somewhere.”
“No one has ever bothered me being in the hall.”
“That, I believe.”
“I wanted to ask you.”
“Ask me, what?”
Casey puzzled for a moment. “Who was that girl?”
“I thought she introduced herself: Ockie Ferguson.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
Maynard nodded repeated. “I get your question. She’s the best friend of my kid sister, Abby, the smoking hot blonde girl.”
“That’s not what I mean, either.”
“I know what you mean, but there’s no real answer to your question. October Ferguson is October Ferguson. That’s the only way she can be defined. She gives a pathological fuck about people, to a fault. She makes Gandhi and Mother Teresa look like psychopaths.”
Stopping in the hall, Casey turned on Maynard, a hand cupping his deformity. “So, what she did – she does – eh, often – to everyone?”
“From what I understand, you’ve been invited into a very exclusive group.”
“Abby says that –”
“I mean: why have I been invited.”
“Like with God, no one can know the mind of October.”
“She’s not messing with me?”
“Ockie does many things. Fucking with people is not one of them.”
“What’s a Ribs?”
“I’m not sure I understand the question.”
“The other girl –”
Maynard rolled his eyes. “Apple.”
“Apple – weird – said Ribs after school.”
“Oh, Rib-it. It’s on the –”
“I know where it is.”
He swallowed hard.
Maynard took a wild guess, given the lunchroom. “Tell you what. Meet me at the main entrance after school. We’ll walk over there together.”
Casey started breathing again. “Okay.”
Richard Bly caught Rat Fowler just after homeroom, yanking him by the arm in the hallway crowded with students. “Hey, Rat! What’s a pound? What’s a pound?”
Jill, beside Fowler, said, “What I tell you?”
“Keep your voice down.”
“Oh, sorry. I didn’t say pot, did I?”
Fowler rolled his eyes. “For you, special price. $1200.00.”
“Really, wow, thanks!”
“Let me know.”
“I will! I will!” Richard Bly hurried off.
“Baby Huey. I bet you wish you could un-ring that bell,” Jill said.
Fowler shook his head. “Don’t I know it. I have to find a minor to mule for me. Last year was cool, because I was a minor, little at risk, really. But, man, a senior and legal adult now, I’d be screwed caught selling drugs in school.”
“I’m sure your mother would shoot you trying to escape.”
“If I were trying to escape or not.”
“You really going to take $1200.00 from him?”
“Sure. What’s he going to do? Call the BBB?”
“He’s a big boy. He could get physical.”
“Do we even have a pound?”
“I think if I seriously cut what I have, I could scrape it together.”
“I don’t like doing that. We’ll wait. What’s he going to do? Order it off EBay?”
“I really, really didn’t want to do this, but I’ll mule until after the holidays. I could use the money.”
“Well, Jill, I didn’t want to ask. I’d rather just sell in the park, anyway. The school’s to risky with Rebel Markus. I swear he was smelling me that time in study hall toward the end of last year.”
“Good thing you don’t smoke pot.”
“Don’t want the profits going up in smoke.”
Amaretto, during a free period in the afternoon, wandered out to the student parking lot. “Hey,” she greeted anyone, moving on, obvious she had no destination. She wore a black oversized tee shirt with a red circle graphic and what could be seen as a joint on the front, the tee shirt smelling of the owner, whoever he was. Her pleated black skirt teased the top of her black thigh-highs as she walked stilted on three-inch heeled black ankle boots.
Her makeup was harsh, black on white applied with a heavy hand. She knew she’d not be confronted by the administration about her flamboyant dress, the administration careful not to fuel any fires of acting out. Teachers would suggest, nicely, that she may wish to rethink her style.
“I’ll do that.”
An adult stopped her in the hall with, “Does your mother send you to school like this?”
“May I see some ID, please?” Amaretto answered.
“I don’t have my purse with me.”
“Then, you may question me when I know who you are.”
She narrowed her eyes, looking down. “Are you a friend of October Ferguson?”
Amaretto smirked. “You must be that head counselor. Ockie said you were a little freakish looking.”
“Randi Sconce, senior guidance counselor. You’re one to talk.”
“Neither Ockie nor I mean it as a cut.” She offered her hand. “Amaretto Stayman, Apple.”
Sconce took the hand.
“Mom’s been dressing me up like a little Goth doll since I was in diapers. No kidding. I’ve seen photos.”
“I do apologize, Apple. You are striking, caught me off guard.”
Amaretto shrugged, holding her eyes.
“If you ever need to talk –” Sconce swept an arm toward the office.
“You going to highjack all four of us?”
“What do you mean?”
“From our counselors.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Hey,” Amaretto said, nodding.
“Hey,” came back from a girl leaning on a car, jeans and a tee shirt. “First year in The Region?”
“Ninth. I’m waiting for my friends.”
Amaretto leaned on the car, too. “Killing time. Free period.” She put a joint to her lips, lit it.
“Don’t smoke?” Amaretto asked, passing the pot.
“It’s not that.” She took the joint, toking, coughing. “Right out here?”
“We’re so far from the school, I’m sure the cameras won’t even be able to tell what we’re doing.”
“This is really good stuff!”
Everyone says that, as if they know what they’re talking about. Amaretto lived around real stoners. “I have extra. $5.00 a joint.”
“That’s kinda high.”
“You said it was good stuff.”
“Two. I’ll take two.”