So Allen stood by the country road, sometimes taking two or three steps towards the crackled white line on the asphalt. He liked feeling as if his stomach were being vacuumed.
He lit his joint, pulling in a couple of hits, and waited for his heart to stop feeling like it was punching him in the chest with every beat. He flipped open his cellphone and pushed down his contacts list to see who to ask for a place to crash. Seth...no... Taylor... no... Carlos... no. He knew that if he stayed over at one of the guys places it would just result in them smoking weed, drinking Coors-Light, and declaring each other a cocksucker while playing Call of Duty. He’d wake up one morning, tired of walking to school hungover and eating Beefaroni for dinner, and decide that maybe his father wasn’t so bad after all.
So Allen searched through his phone. He was looking for one person who spent their school day actually in class. Not shivering from the coldness of Room 108 at a secluded sectioned-off desk for in-school suspension like he, Seth, Taylor, and Carlos did. The only person he found was Betsey Jane and he’d rather give a blow-job to a cactus than text her.
With no one to text he decided to walk up to McDonald’s and buy himself a good meal and figure out a plan.
All along the walk Allen felt warm and sweaty. Some of it was because of the late May Texas heat. Some of it was from worrying about the judgment he was sure he was receiving from the families in the passing cars. The residents of Wylie, Texas strictly drove from place to place. A person walking to anything besides their car or the comfort of an air conditioned store was a major social anomaly. Walking into the embrace of McDonald’s air conditioning Allen wished he hadn’t skipped his drivers education classes so he could have then been escaping this god-forsaken place in the comfort of that arctic air that made cars feel like igloos.
Standing in line, Allen rolled his eyes and cursed under his breath when he saw that Zack Lucas, a kid from his first period World History class, was the cashier. Zack sat next to Allen. Zack would always rapidly talk to Allen as if school hours were the only times he was blessed with social interaction. Allen thought Zack was an alright guy since on test days Zack would always circle his answers nice and large and move his paper over so Allen could see them. Allen just wished he didn’t have to pretend to be Zack’s friend so he’d do it for him.
“Hey Allen!” Zack said, waving his hand as if it were putty and stretching out the last syllable of Allen’s name.
“I’ll have a number 1 and 5,” Allen said.
“Hey, how’s it going! OMG have you started Mr. Miller’s finals review? It is so long!” “No. Um no onions on both.”
“We should have like a study session. You can do one half and I’ll do the other? What do you say?”
“Uh wait. I actually did do it,” Allen said.
“But you just…”
“Spaced out. So how much is it?”
Zack leaned over the cash register and stared into Allen’s eyes.
“What are you doing?”
“Have you been smoking...” Zack’s voice lowered, “weed?”
“No. What is wrong with you, man?”
Zack squinted his eyes and Allen swallowed a chuckle over how Zack looked as if he were on a toilet, constipated.
“And you’re laughing! You’re so high. Crazy Allen. You said you were going to stop after you got caught by Mr. McCall.” Zack’s voice suddenly captured a theatrical quality of sadness. “I’m worried about you. I pray to God every day that you don’t die from that stuff.”
“Thank you, Zack. I pray to God every day to forgive me,” Allen said with a mocking smile.
“You should really start coming to church with me. Pastor Brown brought in a man that did all of that sinful stuff. Even worse than you. Weed. Pre-marital sex. He was even a homosexual,” Zack said with raised eyebrows and shook his head back and forth. When he was finished he stared at Allen as if he were a dog waiting for a tennis ball to be thrown.
“The devil just doesn’t want me to go, y’know? Every Sunday something comes up. How much is it?” Allen smiled at Zack thinking about how his last Sunday had been particularly holy with his viewing of his dad’s copy of Sorority Girls.
“Oh yeah! Um...one sec... a number one and a number four right?
“No, a number one and five.”
“Oh sorry. I guess I’m high now.” Zack snorted and Allen rolled his eyes before he could stop himself. “Okay that’ll be $10.50.”
“Um... all I have is a 10, that’s cool right?”
“Oh...Allen...” Zack fell silent for once.
“I can’t do that. I don’t wanna get fired.”
“Oh my God! It’s only fifty cents!”
“Allen don’t use the Lord’s name in vain,” Zack said pulling his navy blue visor down over his eyes. “Just pick one of the meals to get.”
“Fifty cents. Come on, Zack. Do it for your friend.” Allen smiled and shook his hair out of his blue eyes. It was his go-to move anytime he wanted something from someone.
“Sorry I can’t,” Zack said looking down at the register.
Allen felt a soft warm hand that felt like play-doh on his shoulder and a small chipper of a voice made its way to his ears. “Excuse me. Honey, don’t worry about it. We’ll pay for it.”
“Huh?” Allen said, turning around to see a short round woman dressed in an oversized sweat-soaked white t-shirt, and a black skirt that went down to her ankles and fitted as if it were a potato sack. Next to the woman stood an even rounder man wiping the sweat tucked deeply underneath the pocket of skin made by his chin fat with a napkin. Both wore crosses that laid lifeless on their chests.
“You never know when the good Lord is going to bless you,” the woman said with her thick, smudged red lips spread wide and open in a smile. She was waiting for Allen to smile back.
“No it’s fine,” Allen mumbled.
“Ohhhh it’s no problem sweetie. Just pay it forward is all I ask.”
“She’s always handing out good acts in the name of the Lord,” the fat man said loudly and out of breath and shook his head in pride.
“Yeah…yeah... yeah sure. Thanks,” Allen said taking the tray of food from Zack and quickly mouthing the words “Fuck you” to him.
Allen quickly huffed down his meal and left. Everywhere he looked were kids from Wylie East High School. No one he was friends with but people he knew and he couldn't stop worrying if they expected him to say hi. They got under his skin as they were all laughing and talking about their upcoming youth group camp retreat. When Larry Marshall pulled out an acoustic guitar and starting singing “Pocketful of Sunshine” Allen had had enough and left.
Walking down the busy street outside the McDonald’s Allen cursed everyone for not being able to eat a Big Mac in peace. As he mumbled to himself a faded throw-up green mini-van pulled up beside him. He muttered to himself “Shit” when he saw who it was.
The fat man’s head poked out the window. “Eh what you doing walking? It’s one-hundred and three degrees! You gonna die of heat stroke! Do you want a ride?”
Allen raced the corners of his mind for the shortest sentence that would get rid of the couple.
“Oh, my house is just around the corner.”
“Nah, still wouldn’t be right if I just left you here in the heat. Get on in.”
“No thanks. I’m fine,” Allen said, shaking his hazelnut-colored hair out of his eyes.
The fat woman leaned over the fat man and poked her large head out of the driver’s window. “Come on young man. Look at you! You’re sweating up a storm! Nobody should be walking in this heat.”
Allen mentally cursed the couple for being impossible to push away, both literally and metaphorically, and stopped himself from smiling at his cleverness. As he stood by the car’s window the gentle touch of cold air gave him goosebumps and Allen decided he would ride with the couple. His butt wanted to feel cool leather.
“Alright,” Allen mumbled as he jumped into the back seat. He was gracious to whoever invented air-conditioning and hoped that if there were a heaven, which he knew there wasn’t, that that person had VIP access inside it. He liked to think of Heaven as a raging nightclub with the twelve disciples as bouncers, Jesus as a bartender, and Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene as go-go dancers.
“So where to?” the fat man asked.
“Ummmmm,” Allen quickly searched his head for a place.“The Gardens over by the Walmart and Burger King.”
“That’s the same suburb we live in,” the fat woman shrilled, turning around in her seat and flashing Allen the same clown smile from inside McDonald’s. “What street?”
“It was meant for us to pick you up I tell you. It was in God’s plan!” The woman raised a clenched fist of praise up to the sky.
“Huh,” Allen said dryly.
“What high school do you go to?”
“I’m home-schooled,” Allen lied, hoping that this would put an end to the conversation.
“Oh that’s the best thing for kids now-a-days. With shootings and pregnancies and gangs. We saw a girl today in Wal-Mart, couldn’t be any older than thirteen, and guess what she was? PREGNANT! I couldn’t believe my eyes. I asked Randy if I was seeing right! He told me to hush. I went over to that girl and asked her if she knew the good Lord’s word, I did. Didn’t I Randy?
“Yes, you sure did, Glinda,” Randy mumbled.
“I told her God had blessed her with a beautiful gift of life, that she should know how special it was and to make sure she put God in her and her child’s life ‘cause now was the time she needed him most.” The woman’s voice lowered from a shrill. “It’s a shame these young girls are having children and don’t know what to do with them when some women aren’t blessed with the Lord’s gift to give life.” She looked out the window. “But everyone has a path in life God decides for them. I know mine is to spread His word around. Some kids just like to go down their path earlier than what they were meant to.” She turned to Allen. “I’m sure you have to fight off the devil’s temptation every day with that pretty face of yours? Real ladies man, huh?”
“Nope,” Allen said as he looked out of the tinted car door window and thought about how the sun’s flaming rays were quickly becoming appealing.
“Oh so modest. Do you play any sports?”
“I used to play football.”
“Oh! Randy played football in college. That was a long time ago,” Glinda said with a laugh.
Allen saw Randy throw a quick look of annoyance at the woman. “What position did you play?” Randy asked, his voice breathy, as if the air had to fight a battle to escape his lungs.
“Whatever they had me play. I was never any good.”
“Oh, so do you do any extracurriculars now?” Glinda asked.
“Just read and draw I guess.”
“Ohhh, artsy and athletic. You’re a real charmer!” Glinda said, darting her eyes up and down Allen.
“You gonna talk the boy’s ear off,” Randy mumbled, shaking his head and staring ahead at the road.
“Oh hush, we just making conversation like normal people do,” Glinda said slapping her husband on the arm. “So what church do you go to?”
“Um.” Allen ran his brain for a church but stopped in fear that it would be the one the couple went to. “My family doesn’t really go to church.”
Glinda’s face immediately dropped and she began shaking her head lightly with her eyes downcast. “Oh... that’s no good... you’re Christian, right?”
“I am,” Allen lied.
“Well then you know what it says in the Bible, right?”
Allen forced himself to shake his head, praying Glinda would continue to only require one word answers and head shakes from him.
“For where twenty-two or thirty-three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.
Allen thought about how the correct numbers were two and three but he didn’t say anything but “Yeah.”
“You have to repent for your sins and you know how you do that?” Glinda paused then continued, “By going to church,” she said vigorously nodding her head at the great knowledge she obviously felt she had bestowed upon Allen. The fat on Glinda’s chin and cheeks jiggled as if earthquake tremors were occurring underneath them.
“Alright now, don’t start preaching to the boy,” Randy said in a soft mumble.
“I’m not! I don’t want to see a fine young man forget about the importance of God in his life is all.”
“That’s for his parents to do, not you, Glinda.”
“That’s what’s wrong with the world today, no one wants to take responsibility and care for strangers. It’s not the Christian thing to do. A little Christian care is what this world needs.”
Allen thought of the "Christian" care his father had shown him that morning as he held Allen against the wall, small drops of spit landing on Allen’s face, as he screamed at Allen: “You ungrateful bastard!”. His dad had come into the room to mutter his daily: “Off to work. Don’t burn the house down.” when he had looked down at Allen’s paper and saw the pentacles Allen had been drawing. His dad screamed: “What the hell are you doing?”. Allen knew things were about to turn bad when his father’s neck and face turned red just like the time when he discovered Allen listening to Lady Gaga and had yelled at him “What are you, a queer?”
“Nothing,” Allen quickly responded, unsure why it was such a big deal as his father never bothered to make them go to church. Because going to church would mean his father couldn’t pass out drunk on Saturdays after a night at the bar with the guys. It wasn’t like he was actually Wiccan, Allen thought. It was just that he liked drawing the simple symbol over and over until the pages were covered with black ink. Maybe.
“You drawing satanic shit!” his dad shouted. He grabbed Allen’s sketch book, crumpling it as he did.
Allen reached for the hours of work his dad was destroying. “Stop!”
“I didn’t raise you to be a devil worshiper!” Allen’s dad screamed as tore the paper out and crumpled it.
“You’re barely raising me at all!” had escaped from Allen’s lips before he realized it and after that everything propelled quickly, like the flames underneath a launching shuttle. His dad grabbed him by the shirt and pushed him to the wall with a loud thud. Allen’s dad was mere inches from his face and Allen could smell the acidic beer fuming from his pores. “You ungrateful bastard. I work everyday and you want to talk to me like you’re grown.”
“STOP!” was all Allen could scream. Allen bit down hard as he did not want to give his dad the satisfaction of seeing him cry.
“Shut up!” Allen’s dad pushed him back into the wall. This time it hurt as Allen felt a sharp pain in the right side of his ribcage and he pushed his Dad back hoping to just make it all stop. Allen’s dad wrenched both of Allen’s arms behind his back, bending his wrist so that Allen felt a sharp twinge of pain that left him breathless and exhausted. Then Allen’s dad shoved Allen from his bedroom through the living and to the back door. The whole time Allen begged God not to break his wrist.
Allen’s dad pushed Allen out screaming: “You think you’re grown? Well, I’m gonna treat you like you are!” and locked the door.
The car turned into the entrance of Wylie Gardens and Allen pushed the thoughts of his father out of his mind just like his father had pushed him out the back door. He stared out the car door window at the palm trees that stood pitifully at the entrance of Wylie Gardens with a dirt brown color eating their sun yellow leaves.
“What street was it?” Randy asked Allen.
Allen thought about how close he was to Betsey Jane’s house. He had told Randy and Glinda to drop him off at Wylie Gardens just because he liked having someone think that he lived there and not next to the country highway. But now his crotch was as alert as the afternoon sun and he knew that Betsey would help make it set.
“Hilltop,” Allen said, naming Betsey Jane’s street. “I live right on the corner.
“You should come by our church sometime! We would love to have you,” Glinda shrilled.
“I’d love to,” Allen lied.
“Great!” Glinda lurched over into the backseat to grab her snake skin purse, some of her soft fat pressing against Allen. After digging in her lumpy black purse she pulled out a white card, on it said: “Wylie Baptist Church: We love Jesus, yes we do! We love Jesus, how ‘bout you?!”
“Thanks. Oh, this is the corner right here. It’s the first house on the left.”
Randy parked the car with a sigh of impatience and the leather seats squeaked as Glinda struggled to turn her body around to look at Allen. “Okay now. I hope I see you real soon. Oh! I forgot to ask. What’s your name, honey?”
“Oh, David is such a wonderful name. Well I’m Mrs. Glinda and this here is Mr. Randy. We’ll be sure to keep you in our prayers. We live on the north side of the Gardens. If you ever want to visit us you’re more than welcome to. 541 Mockingbird Lane, the pink house with the tulips in the front.” The woman placed her play-doh hand on Allen’s leg and looked up at him with a smile.
“Maybe.” was all Allen said as he opened and jumped out the car as if it were on fire. The sun felt nice on his skin and he put his right hand over his eyes, squinting them like Zack, and raised his left hand up hoping that would suffice as a good bye.
“Take care,” Randy said in one huff as he began driving away.
“Good bye!” Glinda shouted, poking her head out her window, waving to Allen until the car turned on to the next street.
Allen stood in the middle of the street surrounded by houses that weren’t his with fresh cut lawns with decorative signs on them that said things like: “PROUD PARENTS OF LUCY RICHARDS”, WYLIE HIGH BAND”, “ROMNEY 2012”, or “SUPPORT OUR TROOPS”. The street was quiet and all Allen could hear were the birds chirping or the occasional gust of dry wind blowing or the splash of kids in the pool. The whole thing was bizarre to Allen. As a kid he had always begged his mom and dad to move to Wylie Gardens but his dad would always respond with: “Yeah, when you can pay the mortgage we will.”. Then Allen’s mom would look at his dad and shout: “Don’t talk to him like that!” and then they would start arguing and Allen would watch in amusement.
Allen walked up to Betsey Jane’s two story white wooden house. It looked like a dollhouse. Allen texted Betsey: “Comin 2 ur place.” and promptly rang her doorbell.
Allen thought Betsey was okay. They had good conversations in art class and she would always make him laugh. She just always ruined it for him by trying to talk or hang out with him outside of class even though he would always ignore her when she did. Seth, Taylor, and Carlos would always make fun of her in whispers on Fridays when she didn’t hide away in the art studio with Mrs. Ward and claimed a seat at their lunch table without invitation. The door suddenly whooshed open scaring Allen who was smiling to himself over the nickname the boys had given Betsey Jane whenever she came to the table: Allen’s B.J.
“Oh my god! What are you doing here!?’
“I got bored. Do you wanna hang out?” Allen looked at Betsey who stood with rosy cheeks and a dance in her eyes.
“You really can’t keep popping up here without telling me.”
“I did tell you. Look at your phone.”
Betsey pulled out her phone and rolled her eyes. “Here, go up to my room. Let me just go to the bathroom really quick and get fixed up.” Betsey ran off, doing a little skip along the way.
Allen walked up the stairs and felt the coldness of Betsey’s house that seemed to make its way into his bones. The house had a silence and stillness that told him no one else was there. The black and white living room sat perfectly clean with pictures of a smiling blonde middle-class family covering the pure white walls. The whole thing looked to Allen exactly like the set houses in the old sitcoms he watched late every night. He was scared he would taint and ruin the happiness that was inside the living room just by standing there so he hurried up into Betsey’s room.
Allen could only get Betsey to go to third base with him because she had a purity ring. So Allen laid and stared at her collection of plastic tiaras, as her room was princess themed, while she tried to please him. He pushed out the anger-laced images of his father throwing him out the patio door by pushing down on Betsey’s head. When it was over he laid relaxed on her bed, finally able to forget about the smell of his father’s beer odor or the warm drops of spit that had been on his cheeks. Allen thought Betsey had done a good job and for once hadn’t been annoying until she ruined it all just after she was done brushing her teeth by saying “I love you.” and Allen responded with a quick “Uh-huh” and zipped his fly back up.
“People are always ruining things,” Allen thought to himself as he sat at the end of her bed tying his shoes and wondered where he would go to next. “Do you want to hang out with me tonight?” he asked.
“Oh, I would really really love to but I have to study for the World History final.”
“No I have to or I’ll fail. You should be doing the same thing.”
“I’ll be fine, I’ll get the answers off Zack. Come on, you can study Monday morning during homeroom.”
“No silly, and anyway I have church in the morning.”
“Don’t go,” Allen said, shaking his hair.
“I have to!”
“Cause I’m singing a solo tomorrow. I’ve been practicing for days.”
“I don’t get it, Allen.”
“Why you don’t try to be better.”
Allen looked at Betsey and threw a smile and flipped his hair out of his eyes again. He didn’t want to talk about this. “Cause it wouldn’t be any fun that way,” he answered.
“People talk about you. And the guys. They say awful awful things about you. I try to stick up for you because I know how wonderful of a guy you are but you don’t make it easy for me.”
“Really,” Allen said with a stone face. He’d heard all of this before. “What kind of things do they say?”
“Oh, I’d rather not say, Allen.”
“No, come on. Say it.”
“Just that you guys are fitting into the whole stereotype of the trailer park. Everyone says they can see you guys five years from now addicted to some awful drug or alcoholics. Probably working at Wal-Mart for the rest of your life. With five kids who turn out the exact same way and keep the cycle going.” Betsey’s eyes connected with Allen’s unrelenting stare for a second. “Their words of course, not mine.” She wrapped a brown strand of hair around her finger.
“They forgot one part. That I’m going to be beating my wife and son every night while raging drunk until my wife has to leave me and my son in pure fear.”
“Allen you shouldn’t joke like that. Why don’t you stop hanging with the guys and make friends with Lucy, Paul, and Tyler. They really would be a better crowd than the guys.”
“Cause they’re all annoying assholes.”
“Those are my friends!”
“They are! They’re kissasses to the teachers. Everyone says Tyler and Mrs. Henson are screwing each other and that’s how he get an A in her class.”
“Ew, Allen! Besides that’s nonsense. Tyler, Lucy, Paul and me are all abstinent. We all had our purity ring ceremony together.”
“So he obviously couldn’t be having sex then,” Allen said throwing his hands up and rolling his eyes.
“I’m just saying, Allen. At least come to church. Everyone needs God in their life. You should try to be like everyone else and hang with the right people and do better. You’re a nice, attractive guy. You’re not like Carlos and the other guys. Just because you’re from the trailer park doesn’t mean you have to act like it. You’re better than that.” Betsey looked down at Allen with a smile and Allen turned away and looked out her window. He stared at the great oak tree in front of it, the branches slightly shaking from the wind. He thought about what a great lay Mrs.Henson would be in bed and how lucky Tyler was. He thought maybe if he started doing better in Physics he could get Mrs. April to sleep with him. Betsey’s voice continued in the background. “...I love you and I want us to be Facebook official without worrying what others think about me. Are you even listening to me?
“No,” Allen answered as he stood up. “I have to go.”
“Wait! You don’t have to leave now,” Betsey shouted.“I’m sorry if I said anything bad. I just really want to see you go in the right direction. I care about you.” She sat up on the bed and stared at Allen with a pout.
“No, you’re right. I need to go study for that final. I need to do better. I’ll catch you later.” Allen walked out of Betsey’s princess-themed room. Through the door he heard her scream: “Text me!”.
Allen walked back into the burning rays of the sun and decided that he would walk to Carlos’ place, as smoking and beer didn’t sound so bad after all. He closed his eyes and let the heat thaw out his body that was numb from Betsey’s air conditioning.
As he took out his flip phone to text Carlos, the card Glinda had given him fell out and landed in Betsey’s fake evergreen grass lawn.
He paused on the sidewalk thinking of picking it up before he kept walking.
But he didn’t.
Instead Allen texted Carlos “Beer + COD?” and walked at a slow pace down the carefully designed streets of Wylie Gardens. He admired the normalcy; the neatly placed houses radiated with their clean white picket fences and their driveways filled with two cars and therapeutic sprinklers. He paused, feeling as if all of Wylie Gardens could enter him right then and there and forever stay with him, even when he went inside Carlos’ trailer, even when he went back home in shame (which he knew he was destined to do). That even as he walked into his empty house and poured a bowl of Lucky Charms it would feel as if his mother was in their spacious kitchen cooking dinner, Wednesday being steak night, and she had asked him how school was. That even when he went to Carlos’ to smoke every school night it would feel as if he had spent the afternoon at the daily after-school Bible Study. That when he threw away his report card without even opening the envelope it would feel as if he had walked across the stage at the Honor Roll ceremonies the school forced everyone to go to. He could see his dad taking his picture with a certificate that said “A-Honor Roll”. He would be just like Betsey, like Zack, like Randy and Glinda, like the cheesy sitcoms.
But something in heart told him he wouldn’t be happy playing that kind of role. That the lives inside Wylie Gardens would be like a too small Gucci shirt. Nice, but uncomfortable. No, he knew the role God had fashioned him to flawlessly perform. The one Betsey Jane had just directed minutes ago: Trailer park trash. Alcoholic. Unloved kids. Die in debt.
But as the dry air blew against Allen’s skin he felt that if he opened his mouth he would swallow the dollhouses, the mattress shopping, the grocery lists…and would forever carry around the mass produced perfection inside of him. Allen held his breath until he left Wylie Gardens.