Tag Archives: Violence

The Modern Youth


Sweet Sadists

by Myandra Wolfthorn

Lips turn twisted blue
as the sun bent to touch
We didn’t cry
or show any remorse
There was a sadist
in that romance
and it never fit right
We didn’t take chase
We didn’t run away
A sweet love turned sour
and I died inside that day

The Modern Youth

1

Well, it’s raining outside. The droplets explode on the safety glass of the school bus window. This fall seems wetter than the other ones. I can’t even enjoy the leaves. They’re all brown and they blend with the mud while the pale, beige stems stick up here and there in the muck and gravel.

I wish I could’ve skipped school today, but Mom made that big wail about how it’s too early in the year for the truancy officer to be called to the house, “This is high school, Suzy Lee. You can’t be as lazy as you’ve been.” I guess my freshman year is supposed to have special meaning or something.

I think life is life and so far it’s pretty much shit.

Sure, I’ve got friends, but they’re all good looking oddballs and I get called a slut for hanging out with them. I’ve never even been kissed, but I’m a total gutter whore. Go figure.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my boys. It’s just that all the guys think I’m too easy to ask out and no other girl, besides Merrilee Martings, talks to me with any decency. Clay, Pax, Patrick, and Dutchie all have other friends. Of both sexes, I might add, but all I have is them.

Merrilee is called a slut too. When we were in seventh grade, there was a rumor that she let guys gangbang her behind Bernard’s Grocery Store for a cupcake. Then again, there was a rumor that I had Elton John’s baby. Tall tales know no boundaries.

In the mornings riding the bus, everyone is too groggy to bully and antagonize. It’s in the evenings when all the girls are full of gossip and other nasty things on their tongues and the boys are riled up something foul that it becomes the usual nightmare. I’ll say one thing for these baboon assed idiots, they have consistency. I can always rely on a ‘muff diver’ behind my back or a note in nice, curvy handwriting spelling ‘dyke in large print. Thinking about all the wasted paper just to write one insult makes my stomach flip-flop. Poor Amazon.

It’s gloomy out so it’s quiet. Only my thoughts and the roar of the bus engine keep me alert until we roll up to the front of the school.

West Port Alexandria High School looks like a prison. A tall, wide square of flat beige bricks with white mortar. The teachers guard it like a jailhouse too. They stand around outside in their khaki/polo uniforms in the dew riddled grass along the path watching all the kids march themselves inside, like we’re a herd of oxen and this is where we’re forced to graze. Mind numbingly pasturing while the sun rises high and we waste away over Revolutionary War facts I’ve known since I was nine. Isn’t repetition a component of brainwashing?

The driver opens the doors with a screech and we all stand up. I wait. I’m in no rush to get inside. Besides, no one likes me enough to cut in front of them.

I am the last to step off. The scent of scared anticipation is something I hope I never forget. Wet sod, the varying sweetness of the cheerleader’s perfume, the old brown leather of the bus seats. I am the last to smell the beginning of this dreary Thursday as the twilight stays strong against the flags rippling up there on the pole. The bright red, white, and blue of Old Glory and the Ohio state flag slightly bigger beneath it.

I find it’s best to keep my head down on the walk from the bus to the double glass doors. I wish I had time for a cigarette, but then I hear that first bell and the hair on my arms stand straight up despite the dampening weather. It’s the warning bell which means I’ve got five minutes to hang out with my friends before we have to separate…and graze.

Have you ever noticed how great and awful girls look in the mornings? They all have perfectly moused hair, defining their makeup better as they sit lining the hallways. Each have a different nose and chin. One might have chestnut eyes and another may have gray eyes, but they pretty much look the same, don’t they? They shop at the same malls and watch the same shows. Not one of them is without a favored tanning salon, blond hair dye, or style of French tipped fingernails.

They all look the same, but at least it’s a good look….right?

I rush up the stairs to see my boys in the far corner opposite of me with all the popular jocks and rich boys leaning against the lockers in between. My eyes stick to the tan and lime tiles as I make my way through the crowd. I hear them laugh about pussy and mimicking something funny from TV. when Hadrian Journey bashes into my shoulder, “Hey, sexy.”

They never call me the more crueler names in front of my boys. My guys are too tall, too broad, too handsome, and too frightening to be fucked with.

I shrug off Hadrian the jackass and with a grin across my face, I practically jump on Clay with a hug, “Heyyo bitch!”

He laughs, “Heyyo bitch.” Lovely Clay; he’s the one with the most muscle which tends to put people ill at ease and that’s funny because no one knows he’s the quiet one who is less likely to hurt anybody.

I lean against the wall and notice Merrilee sitting by my feet. She is like a little goth rag doll. She looks up at me with dark aquamarine eyes lined with heavy red makeup. Her smile is soft and her words are warm, “Good morning, Suzy Lee.”

I slide down and sit beside her, “I’m diggin’ the corset. What’d ya make this one out of?”

She blushes an orange hue giving new meaning to the term peachy keen, “You remember that red skirt I made a couple of weeks ago?”

“Ya made it from a curtain, right?”

Her cheeks deepen, “Yeah, well, it’s out of that material and this top lace I got from the Charity Store. I think it was a widow’s veil.”

“That’s awesome. I wish I was that crafty. I can barely fix the seam in my backpack.”

She nudges me and I see the black rose in her hair, “Whatever. You got body like decks have aces. I’m like Audrey Hepburn and you’re like Jane Russell.”

I peer down at my chipped, black nail polish, “I don’t think Jane Russell would appreciate the comparison.” The bells rings and the air I breath becomes a bustle, but we sit still, “Can I walk with you to class?”

She crinkles her nose with a giggle, “We have the same class.”

Now I’m blushing, “Yeah, I…”

Merrilee and I walk downstairs in tandem with Patrick and Dutchie behind us. Patrick, lean like a Roman legionnaire, a musical man not prone to fantasy and Dutchie, the tallest of us all and I think that everyone knows by now that he was born a sadist. They don’t like each other much, but they make do because I’m their friend and we understand one another in this strange land called life, and it’s hard to find someone who gets you…let alone four someones.

God, I love how my bell-bottoms feel against my skin. Tight in all the right places. I know they’re looking, I can feel their collective stare burning my ass, but I don’t care. Being this close to Merrilee gives me a skip in my step.

I don’t feel that confused about this. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how confused they get when they have these kinds of feelings. What I mean by that euphemism is that they get scared when they want to fuck someone with the same genitals as them. I am not afraid. I’ve known I liked other girls when I first saw Merrilee Martings.

We were ten when she first walked into my world. We both were so small and timid, but she never spoke a word to me. I knew I liked guys when I saw Brad Pitt in a vampire movie, just in case you were wondering.

There is one thing I’m not sure about. You see, whenever I’ve seen two chicks making it on television they’re always so…well, one looks like a girl and the other looks like a guy with a vagina. The only time I’ve ever seen two girls who dress and act like girls, it’s a porn.

Merrilee and I are both females. If we are too similar, will it even work? This is making me nervous. I feel sweaty and I want to go home. I mean, I’m not saying she’s a girly-girl, neither am I, but Dutchie told me that lipstick lesbians don’t really exist and that they’re just used as straight guy bait.

My head is a whirl of thoughts when we sit down in Mrs. Wright’s class. Patrick is on my left, Dutchie is in front of me, and Merrilee is behind me. Dutchies worn out t-shirt has holes in it, but he smells delicious. He smells like how a man should.

Mrs. Wright is a blond bombshell and goes on to explain iambic pentameter to the class, but I am somewhere else.

I never really noticed it before, but Dutchie has facial hair. Jesus, it’s hot. I bite my lip and imagine him fucking me from behind with a pristine bed made before me covered in with rose petals, but that’s wishful thinking on my part. He’s been with almost forty people now and I have no doubt he’d think it’d be hot to take my virginity in the backseat right outside the Hi-Low Rest Stop and somehow he’d make it classy, get me to giggle, and convince me to run in and get him a sandwich.

A note suddenly drops on my desk. I glance around to make sure no one is looking and open it. Merrilee’s handwriting to unique and the ink is heavy and pressed firmly into the paper. The letters are small, tightly packed together cursive loops.

I want your number. We should go out.

My heart is pounding. My blood is pounding, pulsing. I feel a cold sweat come over me, I write;

Like a date?

I flip the note over my shoulder while Mrs. Wright is reading over our new summery papers.

I’ve never been on a date before. I wonder what Mom will think? No, best not tell her. Maybe Merrilee’s family are more understanding. If not, we’ll have to keep it a secret. Except for my boys. They know more about myself than I do.

The paper flops down on my desk another time like slowly rolling thunder. I feel like I’m going to be sick. Through my panic, I open it and it says;

YES

Oh my God, I want to get up and dance. Shit this is our only class together. I weigh my options and ideas and ask her if she’ll meet me behind the school after the last bell. My eyes just read her confirmation when this interrupts my cloud-fucking-nine, “Suzy Lee, are you passing notes?”

“No, Mrs. Wright.”

“I saw you get a note. Now, get up and read it.” She has thick lips smothered in rose colored gloss. It’s a shame, really. She could’ve been another Jayne Mansfield look-a-like, but instead she gets to hear and put up with shit head kids like me.

I stand up straight and proud like my momma taught me, “It says, ‘Mrs. Wright is a fat cunt.”

2

“Why do you say the things you do?”

I’m in the counselor’s office again. I’m not sent to Principle Leadingham’s office, or even Vice Principle Basil’s office anymore. They think I’ve got mental problems or something. I mean, I probably do, but does that mean I have to come here? I can’t decide which is worse; Being considered a slutty bitch or a slutty basket case? Girls gotta have options, they say.

I look at the two pairs of eyes staring back at me and I wonder if I am crazy. Mrs. Bending sits behind her desk dressed in a orange tan and snazzy pantsuit too young for her. Her French tipped fingernails tap the stack of manila folders which has been insinuated as my file. Mr. Horn sits on the corner of her desk in pleated cream trousers and apprehensive mustache. He’s twirling a ballpoint pen between his skinny, blanched fingers.

I imagine snatching it, jumping on top of him, and stabbing him in the neck until no more blood could possibly come from his body. Mrs. Bending would scream, looking down at us in terror standing in the corner by her filing cabinet. I wouldn’t use the pen on her. No. I’d get that counselor’s diploma off the wall and bash her face in with the heavy metal frame. I’m sick and fucking tired of seeing her raccoon eyes and poorly implanted button nose. I want to cave her in like a weak mineshaft until I’m out of breath and red in the face.

I grip the arms of the veneer and plastic chair and lick my lips. I’m insane, but they have all the certificates.

“Did you even hear me, Sally?” Mr. Horn asks in his effeminate manner.

I hate when people call me that. Sally SueLee Long may be the name on my Social Security card, but I’ve gone by Suzy Lee since I was little. Why do they insist on pissing me off?

‘No, I didn’t. I was just mulling over your possible murder. I foresee brutality in your very near future.’ I think one thing, but say, “I don’t see the problem.”

They look at each other with shocked laughter. It froths up in her throat like a rabid bubble as she reads a paper slip, “You called Mrs. Wright a…a…I can’t even say that word.”

“And you were passing a note around that said that and you know as well as I do that’s not right.” Mr. Horn adds.

I take a deep breath, “But it was my note and I didn’t want to share it. It’s my personal business and Mrs. Wright stuck her nose in and got hurt. I don’t care about her feelings. I’ve got rights that protect my privacy.”

“Not in this school! When you are in this building you adhere to the rules and you, you most of all, know the rules. You’re such a smart girl, Sally. Why do you always shoot yourself in the foot?” She asks as she opens my file, “You get excellent grades, far above average…”

I shake my head, “So what? I don’t want to go to college. I want to live a normal, anonymous life working on my paintings, smoking cigarettes, and hanging out with my friends. Maybe I don’t want to get married and maybe I don’t want kids. I’ll start drinking. I don’t know what I’ll do, maybe ride the rails and learn how to read hobo signs. What leaves tonight?” I look up at them, “This is an invasion of my privacy.”

“You’re on school grounds.” Mr. Horn reminds me.

“This is going around in circles.”

“You’re trivializing. Why do you think you do that?”

Blood. Blood. Blood. Blood gushing and pouring blood. I hate being analyzed, especially by idiots like these two. I’m not sure if it’s an act or if they are genuine, but I know that neither of them could possibly understand what it’s like to be me. Just like I wouldn’t know where to begin understanding them. We’re all strangers in this place, some of us are just more violent than others.

“I don’t know. I’ll try harder. I won’t pass notes in class anymore.” I clinch my jaw, “But, if it’s anyone’s time I’m wasting, it’s mine. Mrs. Wright is paid to spend her time here, like ya’ll and I’m supposed to come here willingly or by the threat of a truancy officer. In the end, it’s your paycheck, but my life. It’s mine and if she didn’t want to hear something bad, she shoulda kept her nose out of it. I’m being violated here. Trust that while I’m adhering to your rules, know that it’s a kind of rape…I just don’t know what kind.”

“You are not being…raped. Rules are rules. If people didn’t follow rules or laws, the world would be chaos.” Mr. Horn sounds like he’s making a point, but he just comes off as tired.

“Yes, there are rules we should follow as people, but the world is chaos already. Children kill each other in the streets, police kill the elderly, half a country has AIDS, and everyone is medicated to make ‘em forget it all. And we’re gonna sit here and debate a single word?”

Mrs. Bending smoothes down the right side of her honey brown hair, “Notes can carry answers to tests.”

By God, before I die, I will choke this woman, “But we weren’t taking a test. We weren’t doing anything.”

“That’s beside the point.”

No. I think it is the point, but I’m never going to get out of here at this rate. It’s like a freshly redecorated hell every fucking time I walk into this place. I rub my forehead, “I’m getting a headache.”

Mr. Horn shuffles smugly as if he’s won a the prize at the bottom of the cereal box, “Go on to class.”

Mrs. Bending passes a note to me, “Give this to your teacher so you won’t get in trouble.”

“Thanks.” I say.

I traipse from their office to the side door on the opposite side of the building. I prop the door open and smoke cigarettes until I hear the bell for lunch.

3

Lunch is nerve wracking. It’s loud, crowded, and my only friends that share my lunch period are Dutchie and Merrilee. Neither is of much solace. All the people make her feel paranoid and she retreats into her trey. Dutchie spends two minutes to pick at his food then hops from table to table to chat and flirt with all his customers. He may be young, but he hustles like an old pro.

Dutchie and I stand in line like cattle, “Ya know where Merrilee’s at?”

His wide, somber eyes scope the room, “I don’t know, but there’s Chris…bitch owes me ten bucks. I’ll be back in a sec.”

I pick up a plastic green trey containing a sloppy joe, corn, and apple sauce and slide it along until it comes to the lunch lady at the cash register. I’ve seen her everyday since the beginning of the year, but I don’t know her name. I punch in my four digit code and she looks at me with her hand out, “That’ll be two-seventy-five, Sally.”

I wish Sally was dead, “I’ll have to charge it.”

Her brows come together to pull an ugly look, “That’ll be twelve dollars you’ll owe.”

Jesus, “I don’t have any money on me.” I’ve got twenty dollars in my pocket and it took me three months to save it up for new David Leonard album and I’ll be damned if I have to wait any longer for it.

She rolls her eyes in annoyance and thumbs for me to go on somewhere. I’m not even worth words.

I sit at the usual table isolated between the corner wall and the tables where the stoners sit. I am tucked away, alone and hidden. I eat my sandwich and drink the chocolate milk. I try a bite of the corn, half of the kernels fall off the spork. The half that remains tastes like plastic. I spit it into a napkin and I’m done. The clock tells me that I have another twenty-six minutes to sit here by myself and listen to everyone’s laughter until another bell rings.

I close my eyes and pretend I’m mowing all my lovely peers down with a tommy gun.

4

I look forward to my last class. Pax, Patrick, Dutchie, and Clay are all there with me. They sit in that formation in front of blank computer screens. I sit at the end by Clay because he’s my personal tech support. Poor guy. Technology can suck my phantom dick.

The room is filled with the clicking of keys. I’m the slowest one. My fingers push the buttons with an unsure force.

A greatly satisfied woman went with a truly white dense spade through the hat of my good little well-fattened pig 

Before Kate-Una left the Iona cattle auction with hops

Mister Jack, you type much better than your friend Wolf

By the seventh page, I’m  typing;

A greatly unsatisfied woman went with an untruly black shovel through the head of my bloody cock

Before Kate-Una left the cattle auction with big mugs of beer and tits

Mister-sister Jackie, you type much better however tacky

Everyone is done and talking and I still have six more pages left to fill. Fuck! Patrick looks down the line to me, “You done, yet?”

“No. Obviously.”

“Just print it out and give it to her. She won’t know the difference.” He always sounds so confident and the more confidence he has the more trouble I get into.

I click all the buttons and I hear the printer rumble to life. I swallow hard and walk across the room. I feel like all their eyes are on me. It’s as if they get quieter as I pass them. My black corduroys make a swish swish with every movement of my legs. I don’t know why I’m so nervous, but I want to go to the bathroom and scream.

I pick up my papers and hand them to Mrs. Levi. She smiles at me with a touch of crow’s. Her hair is a vibrant red and she rides this badass motorcycle that’s in the reserved parking out front, “Sally, I’ve got to make some copies. Make sure they don’t get too loud, ‘kay?”

I nod and have become numb inside. I watch her walk out the door in frozen fear. I look to my seat and it seems so far away and I’ve got to walk all that way unprotected. It’s five minutes until the bell rings and I meet Merrilee outside.

My eyes are to the stiff navy carpet and drudge through the path where Hadrian and goons sit laughing. I can see them throwing waded paper balls at each other. Jordan Roof taps him on the arm and points to me. I pretend not to notice because I’m almost past them and around the corner. Just a couple more steps…

There is a quick roll of chair wheels across the carpet. Hands grab my hips and I’m down on someone’s lap. I squirm, “What the fuck? Let me go!”

“Aren’t you a sexy button?” Hadrian Journey. I should’ve guessed.

“What the fuck does that mean?” They’re laughing like hyenas at me.

Before I know what, my boys are standing in front of me with flared nostrils of anger. Dutchie is shrieking, “I’m gonna shove my foot so far up your ass, you’ll taste my athlete’s foot!”

“You’ll be brushin’ your teeth with Preparation H.” Clay quips.

“You’d know all ‘bout that, faggots.” Jordan’s fat mouth sneers.

“Wait a minute, wait a minute. This is stupid. Let her go…” Patrick says, “Before anything crazy happens.”

Hadrian’s strong football playing hands loosen and I’m free. I get up awkwardly and Jordan trips me and my cheek burns across the carpet.

“Oh, that’s it! Yah meet me in the parking lot, motherfucker.” Pax’s face is red dripped rage.

Clay helps me up as Patrick says, “He let her go. Just drop it.”

“No, fuck that. I hear them sayin’ their shit in the halls. I don’t care if yah play ball with them on the weekends or what-the-fuck-ever yah do, this is shit-all and yah know it.”

Patrick steps back with defensive hands raised, “Alright. Your call.”

Dutchie gets closer to Hadrian and Jordan laughs, “I will slit your throat and cum in the hole while you drown in it.”

The room is as silent as a cemetery. Everyone looks scared and excited. A pack of preppy girls in the corner are anxiously smiling. People get off on violence. Gladiator games, boxing, mixed marital arts. It’s all the same. People try to blame it on video games and some say it’s neglectful parents. I think it’s all bullshit. We have the violence in us, it’s been with us throughout the ages from the beginning of time and it’s going to come out rather it be through our fists or our creations. It’s there riding the tide in our veins and everyone in this room can hear it deafening their ears.

The bell rings and I can see the hallway filling up with the day’s hearsay and raunchy jokes. Slowly, the class files out, but we’re still here. Hadrian stands and Pax pushes him back down in the chair. Jordan pops up like he’s gonna punch him, but Patrick steps forward, “Outside.”

All the guys walk out puffed up and I stand alone. I get my backpack and run so hard and so fast that I don’t see people. They are blurs to a single-minded blindness.

5

It’s muggy wet and the sun is high beating the cement, echoing the heat back to the group encircling Pax, Dutchie, Hadrian, and Jordan. I force my way through the crowd and the fever from the fighting strikes me and takes my breath away.

Pax has Hadrian down on the ground beating on his face, his knuckles painted with blood. Hadrian looks like unprocessed hamburger; a raw, bloody rag puppet, “Don’t touch her ‘gain! I’ll kill yah, fucking kill yah!” That fight was over before it began.

Jordan is swaying on two feet. Dutchie’s nose is oozing bright gore, but he’s laughing. He’s enjoying it with every beat of his gray, spiky heart. He pounds his chest like a caveman, “Ya’ll wanna fuck wit my friends, huh, motherfucker?” Jordan wipes his forehead and Dutchie sends him on the ground with a hard left followed by a surprise uppercut. His heavy, black boot stomp with bone crunching effect, “Dumb fat bitch!”

“What’s going on here?!” Vice Principle Basil pushes his way through with a swollen angry face. Mr. Horn, Mr. Copas, and Mr. Liles follow him. Bas the Spaz and Mr. Liles get a hold of Dutchie while Mr. Horn and Mr. Copas get Pax off the ground.

“Back off! Back off!”

“It’s over now!”

“BACK…OFF!”

Mr. Horn checks on Hadrian and on to Jordan, “They’re out cold.”

Mr. Basil points to my boys, “You’re suspended. Two weeks. Now, get outta here.”

The crowd disperses as Hadrian and Jordan’s unconscious bodies are carried back into the school. They won’t be playing football for some time. Patrick, Clay, and I got up to the bloody messes that are Paxton Howell and Dutch Mossberger. They’re both sweaty and scarlet and clapping each other on the backs for kicking ass.

I hug them both and give a kiss on each cheek, “I gotta go, but I’ll see ya’ll later, right?”

“Wait. Where the fuck are yah goin’?” Pax is pissed.

“I got business.” I scurry from them. My backpack is bouncing and I feel the bruising forming on my hip already.

6

My mind is a spinning, torrid wind. My skin is sweating from all these black clothes and I keep running and running.

She’s gone home. She’s not going to be there. She got tired of waiting and went home.

I stop short of the corner. My heart feels like it’s gonna thump right out of my chest. If I turn and she isn’t there…

I shake my head and walk around the sharpened edges of the bricks. She’s leaning against the building smoking a cigarette. She’s so pale and calm like a pretty corpse. She’s always so together.

“I, I didn’t see ya at lunch.” I say. God, I feel stupid.

She butts her cigarette out beneath a big, black boot, “I wasn’t hungry.”

Her back is straight as she turns to me. Her green eyes are deep and slanted, like the very demon of temptation. Those ruby lips and cold skin. My backpack falls from my shoulder to my feet. I can’t take my eyes off of her. She’s beautiful. She’s perfection. She is the breath I need.

We step to each other in unison and she nearly breaks my arm as we embrace. Her lips part and her cigarette and soda flavored tongue slips into my mouth and makes me explode throughout every inch of my body. I push her against the building and our hands roam over each other. I’ve never kissed anyone before and I’m probably fucking it up, but I’ve heard it’s best when it’s messy.

Merrilee surprises me and pins me. Her long, burgundy nails tug my curls, she bites my lip, and begins kissing my neck. Her soft exhales along my skin give me goosebumps. She kisses me again before she stares up at me with devilish glee, “Do you want to come home with me?”

I can’t speak. I’m nothing but heartbeat and tension. I nod and she takes me by the hand.

7

It’s been two weeks in something better than Heaven. A bliss better than anything I’ve known to exist. She is like looking at the moon, staring there and dreaming upon her. Better than the sun because I’ll never go blind.

Her dad, John Paul, is a drunk. Completely wasteful and is hardly ever home. Clare, her mom, died a long time ago. Merrilee doesn’t talk about either of them much, but there is a cherry hutch covered in pictures of Clare. This gives us plenty of time to be alone.

Mom loves the fact that I’ve got a friend that isn’t a guy so she’s let me stay these past couple of weeks with my Merri. She’s so glad that I’m acting less wanton, but I don’t have to heart to tell her my newfound happiness.

“We’re too young and live in a hillbilly town. Let’s save ourselves the trouble and stay low until we’re in college somewhere far, far away.” She tells me.

We sit together in the trailer she lives in and listen to David Leonard albums as we chain smoke. She has long, thin fingers that always find a way in my hair, “You’re so beautiful, Suzy Lee. I’ll tell you everyday until I’m dead.” This is how we spend our time.

We’re walking towards school, our hands intertwined. She’s wearing a black, velvet skirt and purple corset. Her makeup has a flare for the dramatic with heavy liner and dark eyeshadow. I’ve seen her fresh from the shower and she’s more better looking without all that shit on her face.

“I can’t wait until it’s winter.” She says with glee.

“Why? We’d have to walk in the snow…I’ll get pneumonia.”

“Yeah, but it would look romantic and that’s what matters.”

I almost let her hand slid from mine, “All that matters?”

She rubs my arm and smiles, “Not like that, Suzy Lee.”

We walk in the quiet early morning. We spend most of our time in silence. I know it sounds weird, but she speaks to me with her eyes. No words. It’s as if everything is understood.

It’s a long walk from Merrilee’s trailer to the school. The air is chilly and the echoes of barking dogs and morning shifters through the hills. Once out of Woodland Holler, we walk down the road which leads to Saint Malverde Corner. There is something eerie about this land. The fields surrounding are abandoned, neither cow nor wild dog have ever roamed here. The grass is a deadened yellow and the fence keeping the wilderness from engulfing us goes on forever. A mile and a half of old wooden posts and chicken wire. By the road sign there seems to be some fencing that used to be painted white, but it’s all peeling away.

We stop beneath the St. Malverde sign and take a breath. Merrilee looks at the pocket watch strapped to her bag, “We’ve got fifteen minutes.”

“How long we got ‘til we go again?”

She lights up a dark tubed cigarette, “We have time.”

I sit on the patch of cement and light myself a cigarette. I watch her as she smokes. I don’t think many would think she’s good looking. Her white heart-shaped face and narrow features lean her towards the exotic. Her thick lips and slender, slightly upturned nose gives her a natural duck-ish face. Her features are classical and understated. Her pitch, straight hair tousles and moves like silk with every flick of ash.

I look up to the sky and the clouds are starting to disperse, “I bet Mays is up in Heaven partying like it’s $19.95. Plus tax.”

“Of course.” She stumps her cigarette out and we’re on the move again.

We come upon the the stirred speed of the school and we stop holding hands. We arrive with an extra nine minutes.

We walk up the stairs as Pax finishes saying, “I don’t know. I just like a nice, big, juicy ass.”

I run up to him, “Shit! I forgot ya’ll were coming back today!”

Pax opens his arms with a smug smile to display himself, “New and improved, baby.”

I playfully hit his chest as Merrilee comes to stand beside me. I notice Dutchie whispering to Clay and giving me the cold shoulder, “Hey, big D.”

He turns with a scowl and pursed lips. His almond colored eyes bore into me then to Merrilee and then back to me, “You dating her now?” I nod and I can see the hatred seethe. He pushes his way between us and stomps down the hall.

“Fag.” Hadrian coughs out and everyone laughs, but their glee is cut short. You would think that jock prick would’ve learned his lesson.

Dutchie picks Hadrian up by his throat and pushes him against the locker. His eyes are flaming and a deviant smile twitches over his lips as he watches Hadrian choke and turn purple. I run over to them, “He’s not worth it, Dutch. Come on…let him go, please.”

It takes him a thoughtful second before he releases him. He friend hugs me tightly, “You do what you want to do.”

I soak in his arms and when he lets go of me, I feel a sort of emptiness. His heavy cologne and the scent of his semi-basement molded jeans trail away from me. What the fuck was that about?

8

Autumn comes on full force with chilling vengeance and Merrilee warned me that she always gets sick when the seasons change which is why I’m sitting alone with Clay in the cafeteria watching him eat a microwaved doughnut and chocolate milk.

“Garson!” I slap the table, “I want my coffee now…Now. Now, you bitch motherfucker, I said now!”

A gulp of milk spews from his nose as he laughs and snorts. I scrunch up my nose, “Ew, gross, dude.” His face turns beet red as he scurries off to the restroom. Milk is all over the table so I casually move to another table and lay my head down on my backpack waiting for the bell to ring.

I hear a group of girls two tables in front of me giggling. With one eye open, I see the kind of chicks they are. They all have blond highlights and are in a constant state of muffin top. The name brand whores who are too fat to be popular. I bet they used to have individual names, but now they’re all Katie, Kayla, or Kassie. Will I begrudge them when I’m out of this place?

A refreshed Clay sits down across from me, “There’s a new guy.”

“So?”

“I have him in a couple of classes. I think you’d like him. He’s, uh, your type.”

“I doubt it.”

The bell rings and we go our separate ways. Mrs. Wright’s class is spent passing notes between Dutchie and Patrick and they too inform me of the newest addition of West Port High. By the writing I can tell Dutchie’s gay side is crushing and Patrick is ambivalent. Just one class in and I’m ready for this day to be over.

I’m walking through the hall when Jordan hits me in the shoulder, “Dyke!”

“Fuck you!”

“Hey!” Mrs. Voorhees points and bids me to her. I do as I’m told and see Jordan and his cronies laughing just beyond the corner, “Sally Long, you are a lady and ladies do not use that kind of language.” Her pinched face is as stoic as a ferret and her skin is peeling from her weekend cancer treatments.

“But he called me a dyke.”

“I didn’t hear that, but I did hear you and if I hear is again I’ll send you to Mrs. Bending for Wednesday detention.”

I shake my head, pissed off again, “Are we done here?”

“Yes.” Her voice is drenched in disappointment. Disappointment in me. Well, fuck her.

This is all a popularity contest. A caste system, but I won’t lay down and take it like some Untouchable. I’m gonna defend myself to the max because no one else is going to.

The image of me blowing up the school plays over and over as I start going down the stairs when I see an unfamiliar pair of shoes coming up them step by step. It’s only a second that he and I make eye contact, but it’s enough. It’s all I need to memorize everything about him.

Thick hair lying black waves past his shoulders framing an angular face with heavy-lidded eyes as dark as volcanic ash. He has a build for basketball, tall and muscularly thin. He’s got to be taller than Dutchie and he’s six foot two.

A pair of flat-footed, doodled on sneakers point out from the frayed cuffs of his worn out jeans. His denim shirt is mostly hidden by a faded flannel rolled up to his elbows. Multi-colored bracelets made of fabric and flexible rubber are clasped around his wrists.

He must be a bohemian god if there is such a thing, but then our second is over and we continue on our paths.

He’s too hot for someone like me.

9

A freak storm has hit us in the middle of October. I can’t believe this shit. Snow is a blanket covering the entire county.

“Global Warming.” I’d said as I watched the morning weather report.

“There’s no such thing, Suzy Lee.” Mom said. I ignored her and got ready for school.

That was this morning and this is now. Merrilee and I are drudging our way through three feet of virgin snow to get to her house. We hold hands, she sniffles, and I pretend my feet aren’t numb.

We approach the corner and I see a couple of guys sitting on the fence by the St. Malverde sign. She knows I don’t feel right about this place. She squeezes my hand to tame my fear. I shuffle my backpack more securely on my shoulder and keep my head low. We live out in the sticks and that means there are a lot more places to hide the bodies.

I’ve been thinking of reworking my idea of God to Aries or Ulf. They’re gods of war and to live is this constant, nagging bitch of a battle. Up hill, both ways. I could do that, worship war. Maybe that’s all the hormones flowing through me. Researchers say, shit my momma would say, is that teenagers are violently indecisive.

God, I mean Ulf, I need a cigarette.

We walk closer and with a glance I see that one of the guys is that new boy sitting pretty in patched jeans and tight fitted leather coat with zippers and patches of zombies safety pinned on. I can see a Cult shirt peeking between the open flaps. I nudge Merrilee, “That’s the guy…”

“Shit a brick, son.” Yeah, she thinks he’s hot too.

They stop talking while we pass them, “Nice ass.”

Merrilee’s eyes grow huge as she whips around, “Excuse me?”

He hops off the fence and fist bumps the other dude a silent goodbye. His friend gets off the fence and starts walking the opposite direction.

This pale boy with the chiseled cheekbones turns to us with a small grin, “I was speakin’ collectively, of course. I guess I shouldda said nice asses.” His boots crunch in the snow as he slithers slowly to us, “Would that’ve been more politically correct?”

“We don’t mind being lumped together.” I say.

“Yeah, I didn’t think so.” He smirks, “So, ya gonna let me carry your books and shit for ya?”

I bite my lip and look to Merrilee, “It’s a long way…”

“I don’t mind, really. I’d like to.” He’s holding out his hand. Merrilee looks at me with a nod and we give him our things, “The name’s Audie, Audie Atwater.”

“Good to know.” I smile sweetly as Merrilee leads us onward.

“Aren’t ya gonna tell me your names?”

She looks back with fluttering eyes, “We might. It’s too soon to tell.” Damn, she’s smooth.

The three of us go on in our wayward trek in silence. Early winter has made the fall leaves die, but some say death is rebirth. The trees will return after sleep is done with them. I glimpse to Merrilee and I see a spring in her step and I know she can see my own. I can feel his stare sizzling through my clothes and unto my skin. I blush as the wind blows snow dust in the air.

We stop at Merrilee’s red mailbox at 127 Woodland Holler and Audie shuffles the bags, “This your place?”

“You wanna listen to some records?” I ask.

There is a shine in his cloudy eyes, “Ya wanna get high?”

“I’ve never…”

“Let’s finish this inside, I’m freezing my titties off.” She interrupts, “It’s starting to snow…again.”

We walk along the driveway. I think there’s another foot of snow. The trees lean with the weight of crystallization. Merrilee looks so graceful in all this white with her inky black clothes. I’d scream my love for her, but I fear I would start an avalanche.

Inside it’s warm and smells of strange mildew and cigarettes. Audie does not wait for any more politeness and plops all the school stuff on the floor. He takes off his coat and sits on the sofa, “Ya want me to help you girls outta those wet clothes? I got nimble, talented fingers.”

“I bet you do.” She says as we take off our shoes and and socks.

We sit on pillows on the floor where the record/c.d. player rests in the middle with a heavy gold ashtray beside it. We light our mutual cigarettes and she puts on the new David Leonard record.

Audie digs in his pocket and gets out a cigar and slides down unto the pillow between us, “So, this’ll be the first time smoking, huh?”

“Merrilee has before, I haven’t.”

“Merrilee? Well then, you’re in for a treat. This is my best shit.” He says as he lights it up.

“Why’s it look like a cigar?” I ask.

He hits it a couple times and hands it to Merrilee, “Is called a blunt.”

Merrilee coughs some and gives it to me. They look at me like grinning goons, “Like a cigarette, right?”

“Hold the smoke in as long as ya can.” He advises.

I toke it and immediately cough until my face is red. They’re both laughing at me like I’m a clown. I try to pass back to him, but he refuses, “Try again.” I do, and I hold the smoke in just like he told me to.

We pass the blunt until it’s a puny nub of a thing and I lay back on the floor and watch the ceiling fan whirl round and round while I smoke a cigarette. I can feel the smoke pass through my teeth. It snakes from me and I swear it takes the shape of David Leonard riding a dragon. I am numb and laughing at the same time.

“The best song to fuck to is The Decline by NOFX.” Audie muses through slits for eyes.

“If this were a story, they might sue us for infringement or some shit.” I say.

Merrilee butts out her cigarette in the ashtray, “Good thing we’re real, huh?”

I feel her soft hands massaging my legs and she comes to lay beside me. She’s licking on my ear when Audie lays on my other side. He strokes my hair gently and nibbles at my neck. My heart would be pounding and my skin sweating if I could feel. I kiss Merrilee before Audie grabs me up. His lips feel like fire and his taste is sweet and harsh. I watch, as if I’m someone else, as he and Merrilee kiss and then we stop touching and stare at each other with all knowing looks.

“I bet you’ve never dated two people at the same time either?” Audie questions. He brushes a curl back behind my ear, “Tell me the names of my loves.”

“Suzy Lee.” I point to her, “Merrilee.”

He licks his lips, “The Lees…my Lees.” And we are his. Just like that.

10

Audie owns his house and he owns it for real. He’s not just some boy who lives with his family, oh no, his family lives with him. He started hustling women and peddling drugs when he was ten and he saved every dime to buy a house so his grandma could live the rest of her life somewhere decent for once. Not just some decrepit nursing home or government approved elderly apartment suite towering above the city where she can’t get anywhere without more help from government nurses. Nor was some shit downtown apartment going to work for his mother. He worked hard and spent his money well.

The house is a yellow brick two-story on the corner lot of 2111 Tampa Avenue with a large cement slab porch and columns. The windows are thin and were put in rather oddly so freezing winds come through constantly and the rooms are large and airy anyway. The rooms hold the bare minimum of mismatched furniture from antique stores and bare walls with random posters and old family photos tacked here and there.

Tammi Rose Campbell, Audie’s grammaw, who he calls ‘my favorite turd I’ll never flush’, stays hooked to an oxygen machine in the living room cut off by the rest of the house by an Iroquois blanket for a door. She sits in there with pruned skin watching by-gone science fiction reruns and smoking weed to keep her food down. The couple times Merrilee and I went inside, she didn’t speak, but she smiled and Audie told me that was something.

There are three other ladies who reside within the second story and they are a strange troop. Lorena is Audie’s mom. She is very dark with skin, hair, and eyes all the same shade of the deepest brown. She is a heavy drinker and she slouches most days at the kitchen table smoking crack through a glass pipe and listening to old country ballads.

Raelene is his aunt, Lorena’s older sister. She is taller than her sister, but twice as grotesque. Audie told me she’s got six or seven kids, but no one knows where they are or where they were placed when Children’s Protection Investigators took them. She walks around the house in clothes much too tight and short for her, showing legs streaked with dirt and scabby knees. I still don’t know why, but she walks barefoot everywhere.

Vicky Davis, from what I’ve been told, isn’t related to anyone except being a loyal friend to Raelene and Lorena. She’s short, mousy, and her blonde hair is cut straight to the line of her jaw. She barely talks and even when she does I can’t understand a single fucking word she says. Not that she’s foreign, well…unless you count the deep south as foreign.

A lot of men, and some women, come and visit them upstairs, and money is then placed in Audie’s hands for rent or his cut. And by God, when Audie speaks…all listen to him. He lectures and they listen. He breathes and they listen. Audie is not a leader, but a lone tyrant. A complete ruler unto his keep.

He is ruling his small kingdom while I attempt my homework. He is standing in front of the coffee table smoking a blunt. His bare chest is pale and muscular with a skull and crossbones tattoo between his nipples. His belt hangs low with three inch studded spikes holding up his tightened leather pants, “It’s nothing new, you know? Making up shit to start a war, the Romans were just good at it. Artists, man. They painted masterpieces with bullshit and we modern people still cling to it. The way they handled politics is still the way governments, states, countries, counties are run. Lined with shit, paved with shit, and always stained with innocent blood. Write that down in your little essay.”

“I don’t think Mrs. Wright would like the language.” I giggle.

“Well, fuck her then.” He takes a long toke and hands it to me.

I take smoke it with greed, “I wish Merri was here.” Instead of being with us, she had to stay at her house and watch after her dad. She’d said he was on another one of his benders and she’d have to clean up after him.

He nods, but says nothing as he walks over to his desk. A large oak creature with papers neatly stacked two feet high across all open areas. He sits lazily in a tired looking patio chair. He shuffles through some papers. I lift the blunt up, “You forgot about something.”

He brushes it off with a careless hand, “Take it. I don’t think I could get higher.” His bloodshot eyes scan the papers and he makes some marks in a small booklet from the desk drawer.

“You told me there was no such thing. You can always get higher.”

He looks at me with a smile, “You know me too well, babe.” He skulks from his chair in languid movements. Like a sly animal he comes to me, never breaking eye contact, and takes the weed from me. He sits on top of my homework with shimmering eyes, “If I could, I’d clone you so I could love two of you.”

“Merri and I aren’t enough?”

He cups my chin with a strong, cold hand, “The Lees are all I need.”

tap

tap

tap

I tilt my head, “Is that somebody at the door?”

He shrugs and passes me the joint, “For the hoes, I assume.”

I hear the door open and then a scream, “AUDIE!”

He’s is up in a flash of white and black. I follow him into the foyer beyond the rainbow blanket-door and I see something that rips my heart in two.

Merrilee is puddle of white skin and dried blood in Vicky’s arms. I fall to the floor and take her into my hold. Her left eye is already bruising a royal purple and black and her clothes are torn from her, “What happened? Merrilee! Who did this?”

Her pout lips are white and dried, “Lay…me…down…” Her voice is so small.

Audie helps me carry her to his bedroom, back through the rainbow blanket and we lay her down on the bed by the back wall. She rests her head under my lap as I caress her ringlets, “Please, tell us what’s happened?”

“Dad broke a window and I didn’t get all the glass up before he stepped in it. He cut his foot and went berserker on me. He…” Mascara laced tears stains her already streaked cheeks, “He…”

Audie gently lifts her ripped skirt and we both see what she’s trying to say. Massive bruises of black and violet with cuts in her flesh tell us what her father’s done.

Audie’s face is stone, “Vicky, tell Mom and Aunt Raelene to get the car warmed up. We’re going for a ride.” He turns to me with a softer gaze, “Come on, Suzy Lee.”

I rise and lie her head kindly on an old pillow. My eyes are burning from the tears, “I can’t leave her, Audie. She needs a bath, something to eat…” I choke on my own words.

He hugs me, stroking my hair, “Shush, it’s okay, my dove. Vicky’ll take care of her, won’t you Vick?”

Vicky nods and then runs off to do what he’s told her. I bury my face in his chest and cry until he whispers airily, “Come on. It’s time to go.” He takes me by the hand and leads me outside. It’s cold, but I can barely feel anything. He doesn’t have a shirt and he doesn’t even shiver. Shock and anger keep us warm against the snow coming down.

Lorena and Raelene are sitting in the boat of a car of primer and rust. We call it Shawnee County Gray. It rattles and shakes just sitting there in the driveway without a muffler and a cloud of smoke piles around it as we get in the backseat.

The ride is quiet and bitter. He holds me close and looks out the window to the night. It takes only fifteen minutes in a car from Tampa Avenue to Woodland Hollor, but she had walked and that took two hours. The thought of my doll stumbling in the darkness makes knots in my belly.

Lorena drives the car down the path of 127 Woodland where it clinks and clanks to a halt. I can hear music blaring out from the trailer before we get out of the car. Even louder than the music are the sounds of a madman. The windows are broken out and half a table comes flying out the one looking into the kitchen. Audie is walking behind the car and he gets a baseball bat from the trunk, but he doesn’t close it. Maybe the sound would be heard? I doubt it with all John Paul’s shit going on though.

Audie leads us up the stairs and he tests the lock and nods to us. He opens the door and we are in hot pursuit. Audie is on John Paul hammering away at him before I can even see him. They’re on the floor and there’s blood seeping across the kitchen linoleum. There are pieces of pink mush and chips of skull are splintering with the sharp bashes Audie is giving him.

Lorena and Raelene search the house. Raelene in a gingerly pace past Audie and Lorena like she’s in some sort of secret agent movie. She turns the stereo off and there is silence. Then I hear Audie grunting. My heart is pounding and I move closer to him, “Audie. Come on, Audie.”

He stops still like a caught deer, not a muscle moving. He backs away and lights a cigarette with a small sigh. I look over and it’s not John Paul at all. It’s a woman with a black skirt and white blouse lying on the floor and then there’s all the blood. Jesus, her head…

My stomach pumps and I retch, fucking weed has me all dry. Audie catches me by my arms, tossing his cigarette, and puts his hand under my chin. He forces me to look at him and I think I’m going to be sick, “Suzy Lee, you look here. You’re not gonna vomit. You’re gonna be fine, you’re stomach is fine. You’ve seen this a thousand times before, in every movie you watch and every book you read. Remember that show we watched the other day? What was it? It was about killin’ babies an’ fuckin’ sisters and we watched ev’er second of it. It’s just like that…calm down. Ease down. You can hit me if you like…”

I sit down. There’s blood in the air, but I have to breath. I’ve got to keep it together.

“Audie, there’s a guy in here, in the bathroom, I think it’s her dad.” Lorena calls in her raspy barfly voice.

“Bring ‘im out here.” His eyes never leave me with this infernal leveling way.

John Paul comes down the hall with his hands up. Lorena shuffling behind him, “I’ll shoot you, mah’ fucker, don’t you think I won’t.”

Guns? Oh my God, Lorena has a gun. Raelene comes in carrying one and I thought they just had clubs. What the fuck is going on with me? I’m high as fuck and this, this can not be happening.

John Paul is as tall as Audie, but more stout. His black hair is disheveled and his mouth is bleeding. Scratches down his face still fresh, he’s stumbling on his feet and brings with him the smell of stale strawberry wine. My belly lurches, but I hold it back.

Lorena scoots past him, holding the gun at him with a flat unflappable stare. Her eyes are bulging so much they look like they’ll pop, “That girl dead, Audie?”

“Yeah, she’s died.” There’s almost a laugh in his voice. He moves closer while Lorena backs towards me. Audie points the big end of the bat to Merrilee’s dad, “You know what this for, so take it like a man.”

John Paul wipes his snarling, foamy mouth, “Fuck you, kid.”

THUNK

I saw the ferocity with my own eyes. The bat hit him and he’s down on the floor in a heap. There was some blood, but not much and he starts moaning and moving around. His hand grasping for something, anything. Audie just stands over him, watching him, “Suzy Lee, take Mom and Aunt Raelene in the back and get her shit.”

I nod and we go about the task. Raelene has the grocery bags from a hook in the kitchen. We fly about stuffing Merrilee’s clothes in bags, her records, her makeup, her towels, the red shampoo and black conditioner, and her jewelry. Down to the nitty gritty, we collect everything and carry it all out to the car. Every task is weighed heavier by John Paul’s screams. I scurry back and forth, never glancing over there. Audie is on top of it and I thought I saw a knife, but I just can’t…I’d rather be ignorant than puke and leave my D.N.A. all over this tin piece of shit.

I ruffle the snow from my hair as I come back in. John Paul is screaming so loud that Raelene put the music back on to cover it, but I can still hear it. The low grunt-scream of a man who has blood on his soul. A sputtering wail spewing slaughter from his mouth.

I carefully walk to the cherry hutch and take down the picture of Clare Martings. Lorena and Raelene are outside waiting for us. Waiting for this to be over like bored housewives smoking cigarettes by the car and making small jokes.

The fact that John Paul isn’t making a sound hits me ruthlessly. My fingers and toes turn numb as I switch off the stereo, “Audie?” My voice comes out small as a mouse, “Baby?”

He turns around with red splatters on his face and holds something up that covers his hand in blood. I move closer to him, clutching the picture of the smiling, carefree woman, “What is that?”

“His dick.”

I feel my face flush as he stands up. He takes me by the hand, tossing the gross thing down, and leads me to the door. In a flash, I see that John Paul’s nose is gone, only protruding bone. A fierce white sticking out past peeled back skin. Audie ushers me to the car and holds me like a babe, “I don’t want you to tell Merri what happened. I’ll talk to her when she’s feeling better.”

“What about the cops? Won’t they take her away from us?” I ask.

“No, no, baby. They’ll think she’s dead.”

“How?”

“You don’t need to worry about that.”

“What about school?” I’m so confused.

“She won’t be needin’ to go anymore.”

“My friends?”

“They’ll understand.” He says, and I know that they will. People’s feelings are pretty straightforward when it comes to rape, and this is sick rape. Even I understand that.

11

Mom’s sitting in the overstuffed blue chair watching television. Her Arthritic fingers grip a long, white cigarette. Her nails are like pink taffy colored talons ready to strike. She looks onto the Republican news channel with a gracefully blank face. Her short, strawberry blonde hair is curled and radiant while her brown eyes glisten to the rhetoric.

Raeann sits on the sofa twirling a basketball on her fingertip, and failing. She thinks she’s so athletic being on the junior high softball and volley ball teams, and she’s been talking about adding badminton and track to her achievements too. Her black gaze handles me with suspicion when I walk further into the living room. I sit down beside her and she playfully kicks me, “What’r you wantin’?”

“Nothing.” I say.

“…and now breaking news, we’re just learning twenty two American soldiers and over seventy civilians have been killed by a surprise attack by Al-Qaeda outside of Baghdad this morning. Leeann Yaeger is with us…Leeann?” The newscaster asks.

It goes to a split screen and a demure blond is standing in front of a desert, but I think it’s a green screen, “Yes, hello, James.”

“How is it looking there?”

“Well, the place has been in chaos since the attack. We’ve learned since then that Adnan Ibn Al’alim was an elite member of Al-Qaeda and this seems like a gesture of extremes. General Caindale has said…quote “We have ‘em on the run”.”

What the fuck is this? We have them on the run? We’ve had them on the run, they’re gorilla warfare fighters coming in blitz attacks. These news people are idiots, “Mom, I was wonderin’ if I could talk to ya.”

She turns down the television with a shake of her head, “It’s like these people don’t even want freedom. They want to keep living in mud huts, shooting each other with AK’s. You know, I was watching a drive the other day on the Light-Works station and they were talking about how oppressed these people are. It was so sad. The kids were barely clothed, little girls sold into marriages by the time they’re six. Jesus Christ needs to be working in their hearts. They need God over in that place.”

If anyone in the Middle East is oppressed it’s the women. And is six any worse than the fourteen year olds pregnant with their second kid walking around about to pop in isle 5 at Bernard’s Grocery Store? I don’t know. I don’t know what’s worse, but I do know we shouldn’t judge another culture without first evaluating our own, and ours isn’t that fucking great. Not that terrorism is good, but I think we teeter on the line of the definition of what terrorism is, “Mom?”

“What’s it, Suzy Lee? They’re about to list all the dead soldiers.”

They’ll list the soldiers and pick one with the most heart wrenching story and he’ll be this week’s poster child on the war of Democracy versus Terrorism versus Who Has The Most Oil. Female soldiers die too, but I haven’t heard of one yet, “I was wonderin’ since it’s a few weeks until school is over that I could stay with my friend Audilynn? I mean, it’s almost summer time, school’s almost over…”

“Audilynn? She was friends with Mary, right?”

“Merrilee.” I corrected with a fake a sad, pouty face when she was mentioned. Everyone thinks she’s dead, so I have to pretend to be so depressed. I’ve become a master at it after three hours with the school counselors.

Mom nods in thought. After Mrs. Bending called her with the report of my best friend’s death, she was being a lot more careful with me, “I, I think that’ll be very nice for you. Just make sure to give me her number so I can get a hold of you, okay?”

As I’m thanking her, she turns up the news to drown everything else out. I walk over to her and give her a kiss on the cheek anyway.

12

It’s freezing outside and the rain taps the roof in almost musical notes. Audie is lying the middle of the bed with Merrilee on one side and me on the other. My fingertips trail imaginary lines down his chest in the dark. All is silent except the sharp intact of breath as Merrilee and I rub him and nibble at his skin.

I run a curious finger lightly over his ear, down his neck, “What are you thinking about in that big head of yours?”

I can hear the sideways grin in the blackness of the room, “You have ESP, don’t you Lees?”

“Only with you.” Merrilee says.

He sits up and leans against the wooden headboard. He turns on the bedside light and grabs a matchbox and a pack of cigarettes, “I have been thinking about something.”

I steal away his cigarette, “What is it?”

He’s sly as he brushes a strand of silky hair behind his ear, “You know how I’ve been moving massive product to get the money so we can leave town? So Merrilee is safe and doesn’t have to stay cooped up in the house all day?”

I sit up a little, leaning on him, “Mmm, down south where it’s warm all year round. Beaches and barbecues in the fall. We could decorate palm trees for Christmas.”

I hand back his cigarette and he looks back and forth between us, “I thought of a way we could speed up the process.”

“How?” She asks, trying to sound interested, but we’re not interested in his words right now.

“We could, uh, could rob somebody or something.”

“We’re not master thieves, Audie.” She says.

“Who would we rob anyway?”

He shrugs, butting out the cigarette and enveloping an arm around each of us, “I don’t know…I don’t know.”

“I think you’ve been drinking too much, lovie.”

I sneak down beneath the powder blue sheet and kiss the outside of his burgundy and black stripped boxers. He moans, but it’s cut short by Merrilee’s kiss. He’s long and thick, difficult to fit in my mouth, but his hand grabs my hair in reassurance. He breaks the kiss with her and slides down to lay flat on the bed to press his lips against mine. His tongue softly licks at my own and his hand find it’s way between my legs. I love him, God as my witness, I love him and I love Merrilee. I never, ever want to be without them.

I kiss him and writhe against his touch. He understands my waiting which is why our love making (and yes, no matter what you say, we make love) has never gone past oral sex. Neither of them are virgins, but they wait for me. They love me.

“Audie…” I’m breathless, “Merrilee…”

Their eyes are so heated and their hearts echo the imprint of my picture through them. She traces my cheek and jawline with a black painted fingernail. Down and further down to my breast.

I hold down my wanting and my lust enough to say, “I’m ready.”

“Are you sure, my love?” She asks with an excited smile.

I nod, biting my lip, “Very, truly sure.” Audie kisses me and we three drown together between the sheets.

13

I am so stupid. I should’ve taken Pax’s offer for a ride to Audie’s house after school, but I said no because I wanted some time to myself and of course it would start snowing in the middle of my thinking. Now, I’m holding my backpack over my head to protect myself from the flurries of snow and freezing rain. My hands are practically comatose and my knees are getting wobbly and off course without my permission.

My boys were going there anyway. They hooted and howled at me as they passed, but that was before the weather changed. I bet they’re there now getting high and drinking whiskey from the bottle with the blinds rolled down oblivious to the fact that I’m in need a rescue. Fuck it, I’ll call this my walk of stupidity.

I run some, and then strut in quick stride. I want to get back as soon as possible. I can almost smell whatever delicious thing Merrilee has on the stove. And you know, I don’t mind Lorena and Raelene’s country music anymore. I want to hear it. I even miss it all, from my loves to the strange mold that’s developed in the bathroom. They’re all I think about in school. Even my boys have warmed to them, but I think it’s the fact they get free pot and booze.

I sigh relief when I see the Tampa Avenue street sign. I turn the corner and wish that the house was closer to the beginning of the street. The tip of my nose might actually come off and then I’ll stay inside with Merrilee.

I hear a commotion, some raised voices, and someone saying, “No, please, stop!”

Before I know it, I’m running to where I hear it and I see a boy in the grade above me named Huey Eifort kicking another boy I’ve never seen before. They’re down a little gravel half road between a couple of houses, “Hey, what are you doing?!” I carefully step forward.

Huey’s fair eyes meet mine, “Get outta here, dyke bitch.”

I rush him with my back pack out in front of me. We fall down, me on top of him and he yells out. I’m sure the gravel poking up feels real good on his back. I hop off him and jab his nose with the heavy end of my bag. I kick him as he scrambles to his feet and he takes off.

I turn around to the lump of scared boy behind him and hold my hand out to him, “Come on, man.”

He takes it and I’m astounded at how huge he is when he gets to his feet. He’s just as tall as Clay, but not muscular. He’s a honking piglet in a blue shirt with moth holes at the bottom and faded shorts, “Where’s your coat? Don’t ya know it’s snowing outside?”

His nose is blooded and running down his lips and chin. He looks at me with naturally squinted eyes, but then bows his head, “Thank you for helping me.” His words are slurred and slow. He takes his time with deliberating each syllable. He’s mentally ill, I see it now.

I shrug my backpack on, “What’s your name?”

“Daniel Porter.”

“Well, I’m Suzy Lee. Ya wanna come hang out with me and my friends for a little bit? We’ll get your nose cleaned up, get ya warm, huh?”

He nods quickly and follows me down the road. We go through the back to and walk into the kitchen. The scent of Merrilee’s chicken and dumplings make my stomach gurgle in hunger. She turns around, the wounds John Paul gave her are healing well. By the end, she’ll only have a small scar running across her nose, “Who’s this?”

“My friend, Daniel. Daniel, this is my girlfriend, Merrilee.”

“Hello.”

“Hi.” Her brows knit together, “What happened to you, Daniel?”

His head shrinks lower in his shoulders and he starts rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet, “Beat up again.”

I touch his arm, “Hey, it’s okay. Are ya hungry? Ya want something to eat?”

He nods and sits down at the table. I look to Merrilee, “I’m gonna go get a rag to clean him up.”

I’m walking down the hall when I hear the boys hollering in the living room. I go in and they’re playing video games and throwing popcorn at each other. Audie sees me, “Hey, baby! Where’ve ya been?”

“I found Huey Eifort beating up a…well, a slow kid.” I say, “I have him in the kitchen. He didn’t even have a coat on.”

“Is he real big with, uh, shortish, kinda blonde hair?”

“Yeah.”

“Daniel.”

“Daniel Porter.” I say.

“Yeah, he walks around a lot. I don’t know where he lives, he just kind of…is.” He looks down to the carpet in thought, “Tell him to come in ‘ere, ‘kay?”

I agree and go about my business. When I’m back in the kitchen, Daniel is eating one dumpling at a time and slurping the soup loudly. Merrilee is pouring a glass of milk. She looks so beautiful, her skirt flowing around her slender legs, “I already cleaned him up.”

I sit down, “I went through all that work for nothing.” I say, “Is it good, Daniel?”

“Yes, good.” He smiles and two of his front teeth are missing and the rest are a strong yellow.

Merrilee and I chat a little until he’s done and has drunk the milk down in one gulp, “Hey Daniel, you wanna come meet my other friends?”

“Yes.”

We go into the living room and there is layer upon layer of smoke. I make the introductions, but Daniel doesn’t leave my side.

“Do you have a place to stay, Daniel?” Audie asks.

“No.” He starts rocking again.

“Well, how about you come and hang out with us and maybe you can stay here.” Audie says with a friendly grin.

Daniel sits next to him on the sofa. I lean on the wooden trim in the doorway, the rainbow blanket being up releases some of the smoke out of the room, “We’re a brothel and a homeless shelter.”

“I prefer cathouse and hobo town.” He replies in a fun loving manner, but Audie does nothing without meaning. He loves me, he loves Merrilee, I know, but deviousness never leaves the bones…especially when one is born to it.

14

Two weeks until school, and my freshman year, is over! Then it’s a three month stretch of laying around (no more fucking homework!) and getting high with my loves and my boys and I just know it’s gonna be freaking awesome. Audie says by the start of next year, we can disappear down south. Heaven’s never been so close.

And ya know, we’ve really gone to another level in our relationship. The other day, we walked up into the woods and tied Audie up to a tree. We ate him alive and we three loved every second of it.

Since the weather’s gotten warmer, Audie and Daniel have been doing repair and upkeep on the outside of the house. And now that Pax has a car, we’ve all been cruising up and down the streets like true blue hoodlums. Even the previously asexual Clay got blown at a party…now he knows his real calling. I foresee man-slut in his future. Though, the girl did have a mustache, but oh well. He said her mouth was like a Hoover. Way to go sex!

Sexy sex. Outdoor sex, indoor sex, everywhere, all the time. It’s taken, like thirty times with Audie before it felt as great as it did for Merrilee the first time, and I’m pretty sure Merrilee knows every inch of me these days. The boys don’t even flinch when they see us entangled, all limbs on the sofa. Dutchie jokes he wants to join, but I can tell he wants to. He wants me still, but Audie would sooner dump him in the river than let him touch me. It’s just Merrilee, Audie, and me. Audie Atwater and The Lees…we could be a band.

Speaking of bands; Pax, Patrick, and some other guys have started jamming out back which has inspired Clay to learn how to play the bass, but he’s not there yet. At least he’s trying and that’s more than most do in their whole lives.

I’m standing on the small cement slab of a back porch in bare feet and my hand shields my eyes from the sun, “No, Daniel…you need to chase him! Chase Pax!” Everyone’s laughing while I give the big lug directions in playing tag.

“Daniel! Lees! Come ‘ere!” Audie shouts from the window.

“Come on, Daniel.” I wave him to follow me and we meet Merrilee in the living room, “What’s going on?”

There is no smoke in the room and all the windows are open letting the air flow through. Audie is biting his nails pacing throughout the room in the deepest concentration I’ve ever seen. On the coffee table, there are two maps. I look to Merrilee and she shakes her head and I know that we are in unknown territory, but at least we’re together. She takes a hold of my hand as we move near.

I’ve never seen his gray eyes so dangerous, not even when I saw him do what he did, “I’ve figured it out. Flawless, fucking flawless.”

“What’s flawless?” I ask.

He sits down and taps the maps so hard I imagine his fingers breaking, “This, Suzy Lee. This. I’ve figured it out.” Merrilee and I sit on either side of him and Daniel goes to the desk chair with bricked feet.

“What are we looking at, baby?” Merrilee strokes his hair.

He pushes it away and begins, “Okay this here is a map of Shawnee County and this is the blueprints of West Port high. There are over thirty abandoned buildings in or around the main part of town that are taller than two stories. If someone puts bombs in three of them, timed to go off ten minutes between, that’ll give us twenty minutes to get in and get out. The perfect distraction. No one’ll get hurt because they’re abandoned, but the blasts will be loud enough to get the attention of the cops.”

“Get in and get out where?” I think I know where this is going, but I really don’t want it to. He’s sober, and I don’t like it when he’s sober. I want my love high or drunk or tripping, but not this. He thinks and over-thinks.

He surveys me with an almost icy stare, “The school, Suzy, the school.”

“What? Why?”

He takes a deep breath and licks those full lips of his, “It’s the end of the school year, that means all the funds for every choir or band trip raised for the summer will be piled up with all the money raised for the football team during this past year. It’ll be counted and put in a lockbox and then placed in the room where the band keeps the extra instruments and uniforms. I’m pretty sure they’ll keep it there until the very last day when they have the school council meeting after school. I’m estimating about five, maybe six g’s, but that’s…stretchin’ it.”

“Audie, what are you fucking talkin’ about? Seriously, what are you talkin’ about?” My mouth is open in shock.

“I’m talkin’ ‘bout our dream, Suzy. Remember that? I’ve got some cash stashed away, all the work I’ve been doin’…I’ve been savin’. This extra could let us leave that day.”

“How are you gonna get in? Are you…are you gonna use a gun?”

“We’ll all use guns.”

I stand up and shake my head, “No, I won’t do this. I love you, but I won’t do this. I don’t want any part of it.”

He sits as still as stone for a long time. I can barely feel his heart beating, “Fine.” There’s a tick in his jaw, but all he says is, “Fine. You’ll hear no more of it then.”

I go outside and the sun doesn’t feel as warm as it did. My boys don’t look so strong anymore. I don’t feel so good.

15

Little Miss Patty Perfect plays at house well, but we do it better. Audie does his business in the living room while Merrilee cleans and cooks. I go to school, do my homework, and we spend our nights getting high and listening to music with my boys. Patrick and Dutchie have united in their mutual dislike of Audie. Pax doesn’t much care for him either, but for once everyone loves me. No one makes fun of me or ignores me.

Merrilee is stirring some homemade soup on the stove while I sit at the table with my history book open. I haven’t written anything the past fifteen minutes because I’ve been laughing so hard, “Clay, you’re secretly a xenophobe.”

“No, I’m not. I’m just careful of internet scams. Some bitch from Nigeria can hack into my shit and then all the sudden I own a speedboat and have to file bankruptcy.”

“Do they have a lot of speedboats in Nigeria?” Pax asks as he passes me a joint.

“Where there is water, there are douchebags with speedboats.” Clay defends with bloodshot eyes, “They could even get my baby pictures and then all the sudden I’m stuck on some perv’s wall as their favorite jerkoff.”

“I’ve seen your baby pictures and I don’t think pedophiles are into bowl cuts and fucked up Jewel teeth.” Patrick says.

I pass Clay the joint, “That’s cruel Patrick. Considering half your baby pics have handlebar mustaches drawn on them.”

He smiles, “It’s my sicko prevention.”

I laugh and close my book, “I’m not getting any of this done tonight. I’ll finish it Sunday.” I look to Pax, “I can’t believe you quit school, man.”

“Fuck it.” He shrugs, “Bas the Spaz told my mom that it’d be better if I transferred to another school. Screw that. I don’t want to go to Port Alex.”

“They’re not so Irish friendly there, you know?” Patrick tells me.

“What the heck do you know about being Irish, Patrick? Your last name’s Louder and that’s German last time I checked.” I grin and the joint rotates back to me. I hit it and hold it in then give it back to Clay, “But whatever, we’re all Irish. Well, Scotch-Irish.”

“I’m just glad that I got the money for the car before I told Mom and Dad I was quitting.”

“Yeah, Pax, your car needs a cool name.” I say.

“Like Big Beulah or Ugly Helga. That thing’s a monster.” Patrick laughs.

“Yes!” I say, “The Beast!”

Clay nods, “Perfect.”

“Suzy Lee? Come ‘ere a sec, baby.” Audie yells from the living room.

I roll my yes with a smile, “Always on the job.” I look at Merrilee who takes over my seat. I kiss her cheek, heated from the stove’s steam.

She been more fragile since the incident. She stares off into nothing and I don’t even think that she knows what she’s doing. Sometimes, she’ll blurt something out and excuses herself, “I thought we were talking.” She’ll say, but no one was talking. It’s all in her head.

I go to the living room where Audie is lying the sofa. He grins up at me through sunglasses and a stoned glaze, “Come here you beautiful girl.” His arms are outward and I bend down to be enveloped. I snuggle him and realize that Brick Linak is sitting in a chair across the coffee table.

Audie lets me go and sits up, “Come on, sit down. Brick brought us some primo.”

“What’s that?”

Brick’s smirk is full of mockery, “You’ll find out, lil lady.” His lips are thin and curl back as he speaks.

“Okay…”

Brick lights a joint up and already I can tell it’s different. There’s a smell that I can’t place, but it reminds me of funeral homes. He is a rude smoker. He smokes half of it before he passes it to Audie. Oh well, he’s a good, maybe rough, but good costumer.

I hit and there’s a burning in the paper and a taste that is stronger than normal weed. I cough until my face is red while Brick laughs at me, “Jesus, what’s in this?”

My head is spinning as I hand the roach to Brick, “Coke sprinkled on top.”

“It’s fucking…jarring.”

“Damn right it is.”

Audie pats my leg, “Just give it a sec.”

I don’t have to. My head feels like a balloon ready to fly off. My arms start twitching, but the rest of body is instantly tired. I lean back, “I don’t like it.”

“What do you mean you don’t like it?” Brick is incensed.

“I mean, I don’t like the smell, the taste, and I don’t like feeling like this. I’m gonna puke. It’s gross.”

His teeth grind, “Audie, this is my best shit.”

“I know, I know. She’s just not used to this kind of stuff.” He takes off his glasses and his eyes are slits, “You want something to drink? Pop, whiskey?”

“A double.”

“Right.” Audie leaves and the room falls quiet.

Brick looks at me and starts pacing the room. He’s muscles, his body is moving involuntary, “You can’t say this shit’s bad.” He’s shaking his head, “I don’t need those rumors goin’ round.”

I lean forward and light a cigarette, “Look, dude, I didn’t mean to piss ya off. It’s just not my thing, okay?”

“Yeah, but you better not go ‘round town talkin’ shit ‘bout me. You listenin’?”

What the fuck is his problem? I roll my eyes in annoyance, “I’m not.”

“No, for real. If I hear my shit being talked ‘bout, I’ll know where it come from.”

“Dude, I already told you I wouldn’t and by the way, who the fuck you think you are coming in here telling what I can and cannot say, huh?”

He stops dead in his tracks, “Listen, bitch, you might be Audie’s slut, but you ain’t shit to me! I could call the Russians and have ‘em chop you up and tossed in the river!”

Oh, that is it.

I stand up and over turn the coffee table, “You get the fuck outta here, you stupid motherfucker. Crackhead looking asshole. You don’t tell me what to do and you don’t come in here and call me a slut. You’re nothing but another fucking druggie, and your drugs aren’t even that good!”

He steps up to my face, screaming to the top of his voice, “I’ll fucking cut you open and fuck the hole, you lil cunt!” He lifts his hand back and I prepare for the smack because there’s nowhere I can move, but it never comes.

Audie grabs it in mid-air and breaks his arm bending it backward. I hear the bone snap and Brick wails in pain. Audie twists it until Brick is on the floor, “Did you touch her? Did…you…touch…her?”

“I never touched the bitch, but I will. I’ll fuck her, give her to my buddies over in Brownton…” He has the audacity to laugh.

My boys are filing into the room and Audie lets Brick’s arm go, “Get this piece of shit outta here. Dutchie, I don’t want to see him again, clear?”

“Crystal.”

Pax kicks him in the head and knocks him out. Patrick and Dutchie pick him up and take him out. I hear The Beast cry to life and go down the road. Clay comes in and sees the mess, “What happened?”

Audie takes me by the hand and Merrilee comes and hugs me, “Nothing. Nothing.”

Merrilee cups my hands, “Are you okay? Did he hurt you?” Her worry is etched in her porcelain face, contorting it.

“No, no. He just yelled at me. Called me a slut.”

Audie laughs, “If he only knew…”

16

I should’ve stayed at Audie’s house with Merrilee like she asked me to, “No one goes the last day anyway.”

But no, I wanted to go. I had to see it out. Besides, Mom called me and told me that if I didn’t go and see Mrs. Bending one last time for this school year, she was going to have me come back home. Which, technically, is still in her power for the next three months…until I suddenly go missing.

I strut into her office and kick back in that plastic-not-plastic chair and pop a cherry in my mouth from a fruit cup I stole from the cafeteria, “How ya doin’, Mrs. Bending?”

“You seem happy today, Sally. That’s a nice change.” Her mouth twists in a strange smile. I think she’s actually relieved.

“Yeah, well, it’s the last day. Aren’t we all happy? Except you lot…you still work in the summer time, don’t ya? Summer school, meetings…a teacher’s job is never done. My bad, counselor’s job in your case.”

“So, I’m assuming things between you and your boyfriend are going pretty well then?” I agree and she asks, “He was that boy, came to school not very long if I remember. What was his name again?”

“Audie Atwater.”

“Is he attending Port Alexandria?”

He doesn’t attend anything, “He’s home schooled. None of the schools around would let him keep his lip piercing.” And he doesn’t even wear the ring anymore.

I see the grimace she tries to hide, “Dress codes are rules, and rules are rules.”

I’m sure the Nazi soldiers, the terrorists, and the Ottoman Empire all said similar things.

She stares at me with a glimmer of hope in her eye. She’s gonna make me sick, “I’m so glad things are going better for you, Sally. After what happened with Merrilee, I was so worried about you.”

Acting time!

I bow my head slightly and my hair hides my face from her, “They never caught the person who did it…”

“Oh, they will, I’m sure of it. Police officers work twenty-four hours a day and they solve all sorts of crimes.”

Fat, doughnut munching morons. They couldn’t even tell the difference between a fourteen year old girl and John Paul’s girlfriend, and she’d been in her thirties. Fucking idiots. In the newspaper, the sheriff said, ‘At this point in time, it seems to have been a mutual suicide.’ What the fuck is that about? Yeah, Merrilee beat herself in the head repeatedly and her dad peeled his own face off. I don’t know where they get these incompetent fools from, but I’m pretty sure it’s just left of Mars.

BAP-BAP-BAP

BAP-BAP

BAP-BAP-BAP

I sit straight in the chair and look at Mrs. Bending. She gets up from her chair and moves to the door, “Stay here, Sally.” Se opens it and peeks out. BAP-BAP She closes it quickly. Her face is alabaster, “Oh, my sweet Christ.”

I stand up, “What is it? What’s going on?”

Very quietly, and very carefully, she says, “There are people with masks and guns. I saw them shoot a boy, I don’t know who…I, I think he might be dead.”

Oh. My. God. This is not happening. This can’t be happening, “Are you sure?”

She nods furiously, “We need to barricade the door.”

“Do the windows open?”

“No…”

I take down the diploma from her wall and whack her outside the head. She falls down with an omph and glass flies in little pieces everywhere, “I’m sorry it’s better this way. If they think you’re dead then they’ve no reason to shoot you.” I nudge her leg with my foot, “Mrs. Bending…Mrs. Bending?”

She isn’t moving. She isn’t breathing. I bow down and shake her shoulder, but there’s nothing. I roll her over and I see a large piece of glass jutting from her forehead. A heavy pit forms in my stomach as I jump away from her, “Oh, my God. Oh, God.”

There is a burst of screaming and crying as Joni Leona Montague and two cheerleaders I don’t know come in followed by a junior grade boy. They’re trying to block the door, but someone is pushing in. Joni Leona is terrified, “Oh-me-god, is Mrs. Bending dead?!”

I get up from the floor, “Yes, I…” I don’t even know what I’m going to say.

She covers her hand with her mouth, mascara stained tears falling down her chipmunk cheeks, “They killed her! They killed her!” Snot bubbles are beginning to foam.

The boy is pushing on the door with strained features, “Somebody help me!”

The cheerleaders try, but it’s no use. The door erupts to reveal a hulking mass of human wearing a black ski mask and holding a long silvery looking gun. He shoots the boy in the shoulder and everyone gets down on the floor. My ears are ringing. I see the huddled girls and I see that they’re screaming, but I can’t make anything out. The masked beast grabs me by the arm and I feel like it’s gonna break. He holds me in front of him and points the gun to my head, “No moving, no talking.”

We make our way out, meeting with another masked intruder holding a large bag. We’re running out the door with the heated butt of the gun still pressed against my skull and I’m so afraid I’m going to trip and fall and be shot. Somehow…Jesus, somehow, I’m shoved in the backseat of a jeep that smells like rotting potatoes and my head held down by the carpet with my ass end up. My hip hits the metal side of the driver’s seat and we’re on the move. Hot and fast like dirty sex, we’re outta there.

There is no talking, not even heavy breathing. Something similar to a calm hysteria settles over the car. My head is petted and soothed like I’m a dog while the engine shrieks down a graded road until there is a slow, drawn out turn onto gravel. The tires gnaw and grind against the crushed rock and there is a stop. I’m pulled from the jeep and pushed into another car where my head is bowed down, but the feeling this time something less labored.

“We’re on Route 55.” A whisper of a whisper says.

“Let her up.”

I’m pulled up and let go to sit back behind the passenger side. I keep my eyes closed, “I haven’t seen ya’ll…you can let me go anytime, ‘kay?”

“Suzy Lee, cut that shit out and open your eyes.”

I bite my lips and open my eyes. Daniel is sitting beside me in a manner all too calm, Audie is driving almost below the speed limit, and Merrilee is in front of me with a arrow straight back. The smoke from their cigarettes are flowing beautifully out the windows, “It was you?”

“Who’d you expect it was?” He asks.

“You motherfucker!” I kick his seat and he swerves off road, but bounces back rapidly.

“What the fuck, Suzy?!”

“You killed people, Audie! You shot everyone! What the fuck were you thinkin’?” I kick the seat again, but he stays steady, “You’re evil! A demon! You’re a fuckin’ demon!”

He flicks his cigarette out the window, “Baby, you need to calm the fuck down. Not nobody was killed.”

“What the fuck are you talkin’ about, Audie? I saw Daniel shoot that guy!”

“In the arm.” Daniel reminds me, as if I couldn’t recall every detail.

“Shut up, Daniel! This is out of control. Merrilee, what the fuck?”

She turns around and pours into me with just a flash. She lays a soft hand on my leg, “Baby, everything is going to be fine. Just breath.”

I take a solid intake of air, but it tastes sour, “Give me that cigarette.” She does and I toke it until it burns down to my skin. I butt it out in the carpet of the cramped vehicle, “Why did he put a gun to my head? Why did ya’ll keep me down? What the fuck?”

“Don’t you watch any a’ those cop movies? You’re our hostage.” Audie sneers.

“I can not believe this is happening. Why didn’t you guys tell me?”

“You said you didn’t want any thing to do with it.”

“That didn’t mean you shouldn’t have told me.”

“I asked you not to go to today.” Merrilee interrupts sharply.

My heart, that muscle deep within the layers of tissue and veins, is starting to ease into a pace more suitable. Not so heart attack-ish, “I’m sorry I kicked ya.” I lean and rub Audie’s shoulder.

He touches is gently, “Is alright, babe. Everything’s gonna be alright now.”

17

Audie pulls into a field beyond some wilderness along the highway. An old barn sits far back from the dirt path and Audie bumps the car and we go across the overgrown grass and weeds making a trail through the field. The barn is covered in peeling black paint with faded white letters marking it a Post Poke Tobacco Co. which, to me, dates it turn of the century. The roof all red tin and rusted.

Audie parks on the other side between the barn and a line of trees, “Daniel, get the bag. Lees, go inside and get in those clothes.”

“You were gonna snatch me up any which way, weren’t you?” I am a glass vile on the edge of a table.

“You are my baby girl. You really think we was gonna leave you behind?”

Merrilee is at the now open door and holding her hand out to me, “Come on, Suzy Lee. Everything is fine now.”

“Hurry it up, people. We gotta get this show on the road, loves!”

Merrilee ushers me inside the barn. She’s rubbing my hand like I’m a child, “In less than twelve hours we’ll be down south and all this will just be another memory.”

“But it’s a bad memory, Merri.”

“Right now it is, but it’ll be one nonetheless.”

Inside, there are folding picnic tables with packs, elastic bands, and clothes piled on top, “We have to get these on. We’ve got to be quick, you know that, don’t you?”

I nod and we strip them off. I feel like they’ve been stuck on me for ages. Drowning in black to put on more black, to appear in constant mourning. I am mourning, aren’t I?

Merrilee helps put the bands around my thighs and waist. She helps me while I stand there like a dumb manikin. Audie and Daniel walk in and they’re smiling, laughing about something I don’t care much about.

“The other car is gassed up, waiting.” Audie changes his outfit and walks to me. He nuzzles my neck, “I am so sorry. I am.”

“I know, I know. I just…why couldn’t we’ve waited? It was only three months.”

He doesn’t answer me and they all dance around me in obscure clouds of themselves. One is fixing money to bands, one is fixing a short, red wig on, while the other does heavy lifting. I keep my feet planted still in the earth beneath my boots. All that money is there and it’s ours and we’re gonna be gone.

I’ll never have to see Mom and be ignored or pushed around. We’ll have our own place and we’ll have run of the streets. They’ll be our streets. The night will be our home and the grass is where we’ll lay our heads.

Anticipation fills me up like fear to a soon to be slaughtered lamb and I hear, “ATTENTION! This is the police! We have you surrounded! Let the hostage go, come out with your hands up.”

18

“Get down!” Audie has his gun in hand and we hit the ground. A rock hits my chin, but I’ve no time to think of that now. Merrilee and I crawl to him as he peeks out between the wood.

“It is true?” I ask.

He is stern, but never frightened, “Yes, they’re about twenty yards out, but I’ve got a plan.”

“No.” Daniel speaks lowly, “I go out, you take Lees and run.”

I look at him with tears in my eyes, “There’s gotta be something else.”

Audie’s nostrils flare in anger, but he knows. We all know, “Okay.” He takes us by the wrists and we crouch-walk to the furthest point of the barn. He kicks out a small section and I take a peek. No police, just trees.

Audie nods to Daniel and he heads out the front shooting like an old western. We creep out the back and before we can run, uniforms come from the trees. Merrilee holds up her gun and shots sing out through the field.

I fall back to the ground and I watch her fall down with a spray of blood coming from her chest. Audie has me around the waist, but I’m screaming, clawing my way to her, “Merri! Merri! You sons a’ bitches!”

I don’t know how, but we’re inside the barn again and Audie is rocking me. I try to hit him, but I just can’t. No anger can come to me, “Audie…please, Audie…”

“Baby girl, I love you. I love you so much. Don’t forget that…I love you.”

I stare at him and his eyes are as clear as dust, unclouded and tear smeared, “What are you gonna do?”

“Let the girl go and come with us, son.” A megaphone echoes.

He snorts back a cry and hugs me again, “I’ve gotta let you go, Suzy Lee.”

My throat is so dry and cutting that I can’t speak. No words are coming, but I form them…they just won’t come. My arms fit around him tighter. Don’t leave me. You can’t leave me. No, no, no. no. A million times no.

Audie takes my head in his hands and he kisses me. I climb on him, grab his hair with my hands. He breathes into my neck, “Baby, I love you.” I know what he’s going to do. I can’t let go of him. I can’t do this and I can’t let this happen. Please, don’t do this, Audie.

He grabs my arms, “Baby, it’s time. We’ve got to go, okay? We’ve gotta go.” I shake my head, but he refuses my quieted pleas, “No, it’s time to go.” He cradles me and yells out a crack of the wood, “We’re comin’ out! No guns a’ight?!”

“Alright! Put ‘em down, boys.”

He stands up and helps me to my feet, “You look awful.”

I try to smile, but all I can do hold his shirt in my fists. He brushes my hair down, “It’s okay, baby. Everything’s fine. You and me and Merrilee…we’re all okay.”

“I…I, I love you, Audie. I love you…”

“I love you. Let’s go now, baby. We gotta go out there and you’ve gotta go home.”

“But I don’t…”

He turns me around faster than I can think and his body is pressed against mine. The gun is by my temple and we steadily walk out and it’s like I haven’t seen the sunlight in a hundred years. It’s searing against my skin and my eyes don’t adjust. All the movements are vague shapes encircled with light.

“Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot. Alright, boy, now let the girl go.”

Gently, Audie lets the gun fall from me, “Go on now, baby. Go on home.” He nudges me forward, but I don’t move.

“Come on, girl, come on to us.”

Merrilee is in front of them lying in the grass. Her body is loose and settled there like she’ll grow roots. Her skirt is hiked up to her knees and her eyes look to the sky. The unblinking, unmoving, unfeeling green gazing at a world I have yet to see. She doesn’t look peaceful like in the movies. There’s no music, no slow motion, or poetry being read. Just her lying there like the dead being she really she is. I rush into tears and cover my mouth from the lament I know would scare all around me.

“Just walk towards me, girl. Come on.”

I look back to Audie, “Go on, Suzy Lee.”

‘I don’t want you to die.’ I mouth to him, but he tells me to walk and I do.

An officer grabs me up and someone covers me with a blanket. I’m led away from all I know and past the back end of the barn. I see Daniel laying in the grass, a puddle of blood seeping from his head. I’m pushed inside a polished jeep and locked within.

I’m helpless even as I hear gunshots and I know all my loves are dead. Helpless and I can’t even cry.

19

Mom is sitting on the front porch with a cigarette ready to be lit in her mouth when the entourage of cops pull into the driveway. All my brothers and my sisters lounge around her like the lackeys they are. The lead officer, I haven’t gotten his name, takes me up the steps and begins talking as if I’m not even there, “Mrs. Arlotte Long? I think she’s a bit…scared from the incident. I believe she was witness to several violent crimes, so I will come by personally tomorrow and question her, but I really think right now she’s needing some…motherly attendance, if you know what I’m saying?”

“I understand.” Mom says. She’s so simple. So fucking simple.

They leave. Everyone leaves. My brothers and sisters are obviously let down by the not so happening happenings. I’m still standing here with this horribly itchy blanket draped over my shoulders and Mom is looking at me with conjecture, “Are you…” She can’t even finish the question. I don’t know if she’s scared or if she doesn’t care, but she can’t finish her own fucking question.

I drop the blanket to the oak wood planks and walk into the house. Raeann and Erica are sitting on the sofa tossing a baseball back and forth. Erica glances up at me with a bemused look, “Have fun, Suzy Lee? How you like your boyfriend being a murderer?”

I say nothing. I feel nothing. I am nothing.

I walk to the back of the trailer and into the utility closet where all the tools are kept. They would be in the shed, but there are too many thieves on Poe Creek Road. I retrieve the shovel and head out and up. Out the door and up the hill behind the house. Why bother to see if anyone’s following me? They ain’t got no interest in anything to do with me anyway.

I strip naked. Bare, until only the elastic bands holding every cent Audie earned is showing. Ten thousand plus in stacks from small to large. I take the white bands down from my waist and thighs and begin digging a hole. I dig for as long as I can and push all that money in the hovel. I cover it, dress, and I go back down the hill and into my rudimentary house.

When I lay down in bed, I curl under the covers and wonder if life will always be this goddamn depressing.