Displaying items by tag: fiction
As soon as I get to school, it begins.
“Slut,” someone cough-says.
I run past my locker to jeers from people who don’t even bother coughing their insults. I swing into a bathroom, hoping to find a quiet place, but who am I kidding? This is high school. In the stall, I can still hear the other girls giggling and gossiping about Spence and his slut freshman. I sit, waiting for the bell to ring so I can finally be alone, but suddenly the girls fall silent as someone else comes in. I know by the rainbow converse peeking under the door that Britt has come in.
“Mick?” she says. I curl my fingers into my palms, needing the pain to stop the hate from leaving my mouth. When I don’t respond, Britt asks the other girls, “She’s here, right?”
“Yeah,” one says.
“Mick,” Britt says louder.
I take a deep breath, knowing she’ll keep trying until I answer. I force myself to respond calmly. “Go away.”
“Oh, suh-nap!” one of the girls says.
The bell rings and I hear the other girls groan, whispering about “Drams” as they leave the bathroom. Britt, I notice, stays.
“Mick, talk to me.”
Great. Just great.
I was mumbling to myself again. Not anything unusual for an only child. It's pretty much just me and my shadow hanging out, when I'm not with my one good friend.
This was just terrific.
I stared again at the crumpled piece of paper in my hand. The handwriting was a bit messy, but the message the letters carried screamed at me like a bullhorn:
Do you want to go out with me?
I sighed. Any other girl. God. Any other girl. Any other freshman in the whole class would go crazy to get a note from Justin Freeman. Not just any note, but the one I held in my hand. The other girls would be lime green with envy.
Please. Any other girl.
She had never met him, or heard his voice, or seen his face, or read a single word he wrote, or knew how old he was, or where he lived, or whether he was in fact a “he,” and she loved him all the same.
Cellphone in hand and headphones in ears, Claire stepped off her bus. The doors hissed shut and it rumbled away. Her breath lifted off her lips, shredded to scraps, and vanished in winter wind.
She hit Play on his recent playlist, and the music started. A warm daydream faded in, of seeing him after he’d flown in from wherever he’d flown, and met her at the airport, and said her name, transforming it from dull to divine.
She walked into her house. Her mom was scrubbing the kitchen with a lemon-scented cleaner that tickled her nose. Her mom saw Claire, rolled her eyes and pointed at her own ear.
Claire took one headphone out, a millimeter, and raised one eyebrow, a millimeter.
“Note from school,” her mom nodded at the table in the living room, cluttered with a heap of unopened letters and bills and magazines.
She walked into my life only a few days ago. She wouldn't say where she was from. She wouldn't tell me where she lived. All I got was a name: Candy Parker. It was obvious she was running from something. She hadn't come to me looking for a private investigator, she said. What she needed, she said, was a friend. So I became her friend. That's the way this thing began -- not like my other cases. Not like anything I'd ever dealt with before.
My name is Kevin Marcus.
But they call me Kid P.I.
I'm fourteen years old.
You wanna make somethin' out of it?
Anyway, she came around each afternoon this week, Candy Parker did, and we went places together. The ice cream shop. The local movie house. This town didn't have much to entertain you, but if it was there we covered it. I took her to the playground. I even took her to the post office to show her some new stamps I was adding to my collection. Four days of this got me nowhere. Then the clouds rolled in on Friday, just as she arrived at my office. I ran my P.I. business out of a treehouse in the woods behind my house. I figured if Candy wouldn't open up out in public, maybe we needed a more intimate setting. I knew a place to take her. And the weather seemed to be cooperating perfectly with my plan.
Since I wouldn’t get my driving permit for another month, Dad offered to drop me across town at the Eastside rec center for my Lakers first game.
Dad had to get to work, so I’d have to get there early. It was enough I got talked into being basketball coach for a bunch of hard-headed kids. I didn’t want to hang around with them, too. Anyway, even though I wasn’t worried about it, I figured it was a good thing to go on over a little early. See how everything runs.
Dad drove us all the way through downtown and bumped us under the train trestle before saying anything. “You guys home or away?
“We’re home.” I dug out the schedule from my back pocket to make sure. “It’s not a big deal. Home just wears white.”
Dad started laughing. “Oh yeah. It’s all a big deal.”
I didn’t see what the big deal could be. It was just some little kid basketball game, and I was pretty pissed at Dad by the time he pulled up next to the outdoor court. I knew I wasn’t really pissed at Dad, though. I was pissed because that’s where I should be, on the court balling with real Eastside players working my own game.
The swimming pool was the hot spot of activity every summer. Kids from all over town would splash, and play, and prune, and turn purple if they stayed in the water too long.
But not you.
No, you had to stay inside and make sure that Penny was entertained. Mom worked late. Dad slept late. Your older brother couldn’t be any less enthusiastic about babysitting. So, that left you to be in charge of entertaining your seven-year-old sister.
Why not take her to the pool? That way, you both could have fun!
Well, that would be a great idea if it weren’t for the fact that Penny never learned how to swim. If you took her to the pool, you know you’d just end up holding her the whole time in the deep end because “Floaties hurt my arms!” and “I’m not a baby! I want to go to the deep end!”. So, instead, you stayed inside all summer long and tried your hardest not to resent your sister for being one of the reasons why you didn’t have any friends.
By the time I was fourteen I knew what pretty meant. And it had nothing to do with me.
Pretty meant knowing what to do with your stringy, oily, not-quite-brown, not-quite-blonde hair. Pretty meant never being caught dead in khaki cargo pants and your brother’s hand-me-down Hard Rock Café T-shirts, two sizes too big to hide the boobs you got in 5th grade. And pretty meant that, when you got the courage to sneak into your mother’s room to find the makeup she’d hidden from her previous life, you did not spray perfume into your eye.
But the very first hint at my un-pretty nature came at a fifth grade Girl Scouts meeting.
“Today we’re going to discuss puberty,” said my troop leader. “Let’s begin on page 34: menstruation. Kayla, can you read aloud please?”
Kayla obeyed, as Girl Scouts are taught to do. “Menstruation is the regular discharge of blood and mucosal tissue from the inner lining of the uterus through the vagina.”
I burst out laughing. In what kind of sick world did every single woman repeatedly bleed from her hoo-ha? No way was that real.
“Is there a problem, Chris?” said the Troop Leader. I looked at my fellow Girl Scouts: none of them were laughing. Instead, their prim and pretty faces barely concealed smirks of superiority.
“No,” I said. “No problem.”
Taking the long way home was the least of Toby’s worries that warm June afternoon. The drugstore faced the parking lot -- the school bullies’ favorite hangout. But Aunt Annabel needed her refills, and he was going to get them for her.
Creeping up to the parking lot, he scanned in all directions. No ruffians in sight. He sprinted to the drugstore as fast as his limp allowed and almost hit his face against the sliding doors.
“Hi Toby,” the man behind the counter said. “How’s Annabel doing? Are we keeping her headaches at bay?”
“She’s fine now,” Toby said, gasping for breath. “She had a headache yesterday, but the stronger painkillers helped.”
“Here you go.” The man handed Toby five white paper bags. “Give your aunt my regards.”
Toby stuffed the bags in his backpack, and took a worried look out the window. He left in a hurry. At the same time, from the bubble tea shop next door, his nemesis stormed out. It was none other than Cody Sylvester, the sixteen-year-old who was taking grade nine for the second time. His younger buddies followed.
“Well, lookit! It if ain’t the limping nerd! Dinnit I tell ya I don’t wanna see ya in my hangout, Flynn? Dinnit I tell him boys? Dinnit I?”
Toby tried to get away, but Cody grabbed the handle of his backpack and pulled him down. They carried him to the far end of the parking lot and dumped him in the ditch, face down.
The tree was an anomaly. It stood, a lonely sentinel, in a world that no longer welcomed it. They say there used to be forests, dense with growth. Communities of saplings, shrubs, and climbing vines. But that was so long ago, it felt more like folklore than truth. Pictures in books depicted trees with jewel toned foliage. Their crowns spread broad and proud. They blossomed, bore fruit, and were things of beauty. The stunted relic outside my window was a nightmare tangle of twisted limbs and dagger sharp brambles. The leaves were ashy, green-grey spikes covered in fuzz. It never grew fruit, but it did flower. Once.
“Eliot! Let's go. School.” Mom hollered from the base of the stairs.
I hated my name. It was just one more thing that alienated me from my classmates. Eliot -- that weird girl with a boy's name. Not that I was interested in what they thought. Idiots.
“Eliot. Move it.” Her voice was stretched thin with impatience. “And don't forget to change the filter in your gas-mask.”
I clattered down the stairs and rummaged through the front closet. I sighed. The box of filters was nearly empty. Money was tight now that Dad was gone. At least school was ending and I would start my apprenticeship. Take a little pressure off Mom. I hesitated and then put the new cartridge down. I could stretch it a few more days. She didn't need to know.
“Mom, I'm going to be home a little late after classes today.” I didn't meet her eye as I finagled a thick, tattered volume -- Agriculture in the Twenty First Century -- into my overstuffed rucksack.
“No problem. Are you doing something with your friends? Or a boy, maybe?” Her voice was a shade too nonchalant. “There are still a few days before marriage contracts have to be submitted.”
“Gross.” I groaned and rolled my eyes. “I’m sixteen, Mom. I have no interest in being a Breeder. Ugh.” The slang word tasted bitter on my tongue.
Jackson knew it was nothing good when his mom showed up at the high school with his father in the car. His dad looked like an overgrown child, holding his briefcase on his lap like a lunchbox. Jackson couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen him in a car he wasn’t driving.
He didn’t feel any better when they pulled up to Ray’s office.
Parents liked Ray because he was different from other therapists. None of that touchy-feely garbage, Ray cut to the point. Sometimes kids thought he was cool. Tattoos covered every inch of his jacked up arms. Before getting clean, he’d been a gearhead, or a deadhead, or some kind of head. Metal, maybe. The admiration seldom lasted.
He hadn’t moved offices since their last visit, but the building had changed, for the worse. Jackson always thought this strip mall behind the freeway a strange place for a therapist’s office. Before, it at least shared space with normal stores: florists, Chinese restaurants, ambulance-chasing attorneys. Now it was payday loans and vape shops.
Austin and his mom were already in the waiting room when they walked in. He looked like a Westie, with tear-wrecked eyes under his curly blond skater mop. In a long dress and too red lipstick, Austin’s mom looked dressed for a job interview instead of a therapy appointment.
Jackson’s mom wrapped Austin’s in a hug. She let her, but didn’t reciprocate. Instead, she stared at Jackson’s father, as if as the only man in the room, he alone had the capacity to sort this all out. He looked uncomfortable. Therapy wasn’t his forte, even with a hard ass like Ray. Austin’s dad wasn’t in the picture anymore.