Ruth Long’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: Freakshow Inc.
Welcome to Hell Week. I’m currently eight-and-a-quarter hours into Monday and it’s been real swell. And by ‘swell’ what I mean is that I’m not sure I can make it through another quarter hour without flipping out on someone. Again.
See, I’m sitting here in detention because earlier today, I lost it when the idiots at the jock’s lunch table started giving me grief. That used to be my table, back before some pocket-protector packing auditor discovered my dad had drained the state employee’s retirement fund buying crap like sports cars, speed boats and art. Mom got her share of stuff too, jewelry, fur coats and a boob job. And me, what did I get? Public humiliation, parental rejection, and a bad attitude.
Now that my parents are incarcerated, I’m not welcome at the SAT study club, the letterman’s lunch table or anywhere else on campus. In fact, until last week, not even the courts could decide what to do with me. After being on academic leave for six weeks, they finally stuck me in a foster home through the end of the semester. Not the way I planned to spend my senior year. I had parties to throw and girls to date and scholarships to snag. I had a life, damn it. Had.
Back to my little stint in detention. Guy has to stand up for himself, right? So I went a little gonzo and served up some knuckle sandwiches for lunch. Principal Shelton said my co-conspirator tried to take the blame, but I made it clear I didn’t need or have any help, especially not from crazy-goth-girl-whats-her-name who hangs out with the wrestling crew. I didn’t have any idea why she jumped into the mix and used those big black boots of hers to deliver killer judo kicks to every set of ribs inside her radius.
Soon as detention was over, I headed home. Don’t have football or weight lifting anymore. Coach told me I wouldn’t be a good fit for the team. Jerk had the bullocks to say that after I put a half dozen trophies in his case. Screw him. Just one more adult I don’t need in my life.
Anyway, instead of getting into my mustang (which I don’t have anymore) and driving north to the plush estate I called home for the last three years (which I also don’t have anymore), I walked east, to the old part of town, where folks live in trailer parks or apartments. I didn’t recognize any of the other kids walking this way except for one. I gave it couple blocks before nipping the situation in the bud.
I stepped up into the doorway of a corner store, grabbed her by the jacket sleeve as she walked past, and said, “Don’t you ever humiliate me like that again! And stop following me!”
Goth girl looked up at me, dark eyes swimming in heavy liner and mascara, face drowning beneath the jet black hair that had tumbled out of her hood when I grabbed her coat. “I live on this street, you idiot.”
Oh. Well, that was perfect. Those knots in my stomach started tightening up and my knuckles throbbed. Geez! What was wrong with me?! Was I really going to hit a girl? No. It was something else and if I looked her in the eyes again, it was going to uncoil and get me all tangled up. So I let go of her, jammed my hands in my pockets and headed off down the street.
I turned into the building where my foster mom lived and stood up against the wall, waiting. Goth girl walked past on the other side of the street, turned into a trailer park and went into a turquoise trailer. I stood there a few more minutes, but she didn’t come back out and my stomach wouldn’t settle down, so I headed across the breezeway and up the stairs.
Soon as I opened the door, my foster mom’s voice came down the hall. “There’s something on the counter to tide you over until dinner, Jackson.”
I head into the kitchen to find a cold soda and plate of sandwiches on the counter. I take the barstool on the end and dig in.
She came out of the laundry room, arms full of clean folded towels. “I’ve got some research to knock out so I’ll be in my office if you need anything. Help with homework, figuring out the ice machine or logistics on burying a body. Aha! I saw that grin. You are listening. Dinner in about two hours, okay?”
This is not the luxury home I’m used to. No swimming pool or six car garage or pool table. No multi-media room or gym or gourmet kitchen. But it’s neat and clean and there’s food in the fridge. There’s internet and cable tv and we each have a cell phone. I don’t know how many kids Ms. Blackmore ‘call me Martha’ took care of before me, or why she’d be interested in a crappy gig like foster parenting. But I have to say, in the six weeks I was shuffled between relatives and social workers, she’s the only one who had her crap together.
I had a pile of homework but I was too restless to tackle it. Who was I kidding? I was too distracted to sit still.
I went and stood in Martha’s office door. “And reason homework can’t wait until after dinner?”
She looked up, smiling. “Not especially. Long as it gets done.”
“I’d like to go across the street to hang with a friend.”
“Got your cell?”
“Don’t be late for dinner.”
A couple minutes later, I was standing in front of the turquoise trailer. The porch creaked when I stepped onto it and the screen door hung off the top hinge, so I scooted it to one side so I could knock on the flimsy front door.
Someone who looked a lot like goth girl opened the door, and stood there staring at me. But where goth girl was clad in black from head to toe, and smeared with dark makeup and a ‘mad dog’ vibe, this girl was barefoot, in a white tank and plaid boxers, arms and legs chiseled and her beautiful all-American face was framed by long tendrils of dark damp fragrant hair and a pair of thick rimmed black glasses.
She took a step back, but not before I reached out and grabbed her around the waist. Once my hands settled against the curves of her hips and firm flat expanse of her belly, I couldn’t help myself. I lifted her off her feet, pressed her against the wall and buried my face in her neck, right where her hair fell over her shoulder and down over her arm. Damn she smelled so good, felt so good. I knew I should put her down but I couldn’t let go.
I started laughing, something I hadn’t done for months, and the sound kind of scared me but I couldn’t stop. The little goth girl was a serious athlete. And strong-willed. And crazy. And freaking beautiful. The little scrapper had knocked down guys who outweighed her by seventy pounds or more.
When I could catch my breath, I said, “Why did you help me today?!”
A deep voice behind me said, “Geeks and freaks take care of their own.”
I turned to see the monument of muscle she usually sat beside at lunch. My heart lurched and I thought, ‘Please don’t let that be her boyfriend because I’m pretty strong but he’s a half ton of pure bulk!”
Behind him, an adult appeared, his face familiar somehow. “Put my niece down, will ya, kid. And you, Marlon, go finish your homework.”
I set the beauty on her feet, pressing my nose into her skin and inhaling deeply before stepping back. Wow. Sweet as candy and addictive as crack.
The adult advanced into the room. “Name is Dex Dalton, disgraced wrestling champion and inadvertent guardian of my niece and nephew. And you would be?”
“Jackson Griggs, disillusioned high school senior and media punching bag.”
“Yep, I’ve read about you. Sorry to hear about your troubles. I know all about taking one in the groin on account of the media. You ever want some advice or just to shoot the breeze, you can stop by any time. Or give me a call. You have Macy’s number, right?!”
“In his dreams,” she said, ducking away and heading out of the living room.
Dex chuckled. “Girl is a handful, just like her mama. Come outside and help me bring in the groceries. Yeah, that’s what my life has been reduced to. From big bucks, celebrity status and the high life to homework, grocery shopping and weekly social services check-ins. Spent the better part of this week trying to apply for vision care so we can get Macy an eye exam and real glasses. Right now she’s wearing a pair I picked up at the thrift store, but at least she can see, right?”
I followed him outside, to the open tailgate of a beat-up chevy pickup, and grabbed a couple bags. He did the same and followed me back into the house. He didn’t stop talking the whole time we unloaded the groceries, running down his sentencing for juicing, how the court assigned him to live with his sister, and how she took off a year ago and left him with her kids.
When the food was put away, he tossed me a bottle of water. “You want to stay for dinner, kid? I make a mean bbq hamburger.” I thought about it for all of three seconds. “Yep. But I have to check with the warden first.”
“You call Blackmore ‘the warden’? You do know she has a black belt, right?! Tell her dinner will be on the table about five-thirty.”
I gave him a look.
He grinned. “Yeah, Blackmore and I have some history. We met in family court when she was picking up a foster case and I was trying to get custody of Macy and Marlon.”
I went out onto the porch and called Blackmore. She seemed pretty happy about not having to make dinner. I sat on the steps after I hung up, thinking about the watch tucked away in my top dresser drawer. It was the last cool thing I had from my glory days as the-kid-who-had-everything. Ought to be worth enough to pay for an eye exam.
The door opened behind me and I expected Dex to call me in to help bbq, but a pair of bare feet with pink polish appeared on the top step.
“Hey,” she said, toes curling and uncurling. “Reason I helped you this afternoon, is I got a thing for underdogs.”
Took me a minute to think of something to say. “You got some pretty good moves.”
“You mean ‘for a girl?’”
“No, good moves. Period.”
She plunked down beside me. “Thanks. Uncle Dex has been working with me and Marlon, showing us some moves. Mix of wrestling, boxing and martial arts. Says we should be able to take care of ourselves.”
“Maybe you can teach me, sometime.”
She arches her brows. “Seriously?”
“I’ll ask Uncle Dex if you can join our training sessions. Our fake team name is Freakshow Incorporated. It’s actually a lot of fun. But you can’t tease me about getting all sweaty.”
I put a hand under her chin. “Girl, it don’t matter if you are gothed out, sweaty as hell or wearing those nineteen-fifties glasses. You are perfect.”
Dex’s voice came from the kitchen. “Hands off my niece, kid. Come get these burgers on the grill pronto.”
So, I’m thinking the thing about Hell Week is that it can throw you a curveball and the thing is, either you catch it and hold tight, or you let it soar past you. You can guess which choice I’m making!
A reader by birth, paper-pusher by trade and novelist by design, story-telling in my passion. If you enjoyed reading today's story, please consider checking out my blog bullishink.com, joining my creative community sweetbananaink.com or participating in the madcap twitter fun @bullishink.