Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Chapter Four

“It’s not the end of the world.” 

“Not for you and Chris.  Your future is already mapped out and all but made,” I told her.  “What the heck am I supposed to do with my life?  Work at Ye Ol’ Wallyworld until I’m old enough to be one of those blue haired door greeters?” 

It’s been six months since the rioters burned the school down.  Six long, miserable months for everyone.  They finally got enough portable classrooms arranged that school could start back up.  All extracurricular activities were cut except for the sports program only that didn’t go too well either as several players had been expelled for damaging school property and those that were left had a hard time getting along on the field much less off of it.  It is like Humpty Dumpty … once something gets so broken there isn’t any putting it back together. 

Christine interrupted my thoughts with a hug.  “Would it be so bad to stay here?  I mean going away to school hasn’t seemed to do Connor much good?  He’s weighted down with a ton of student loans and still can’t find a job in his field.  He might have to try and find a teaching job which is the last thing he wanted to do.” 

Miserably I said, “You still don’t get it.  They rescinded their offers, went back on their word.  I mean they did it nicely but it still boils down to the fact they were scared of me being a flashpoint and causing problems on their campus.”  I flashed the paper in my hand in front of her face.  “This one was my last chance,” I reminded her holding the letter that had just come in the mail.  “Even the local community college says that they are full up and unable to accept my application for the fall term.  My grades don’t matter.  The fact that I was going to be a paying student and not looking for a handout doesn’t matter.  Nothing seems to matter to any of them.  They’re just too scared of getting in the news for the ‘wrong reason’ or that things could start up again.  I haven’t even talked to a reporter since the cops asked me to make that statement about how it was time to move forward and start looking for rainbows, skittles, and unicorn farts but they still act like I’m an attention hound or something.” 

Being easily amused my words caused Christine to giggle.  “Geez Winnie … don’t let Barb hear you, she might suggest you’d like to take a nice long visit to Aunt Rachel’s place to ‘balance your hormones.’”  I looked away trying to not let her see my thoughts but it was too late.  “Wait.  You’re not seriously … oh no way.  Aunt Rachel has to be working on 90 and her place barely has indoor plumbing.  What would you do without your internet and tablet?!  I don’t know if she even has dial up!” 

Sighing I said, “Maybe that’s what I need.  Just to get away from everything … unhook and fall off the radar.  Get away from seeing my face plastered around like I’m the cause of all the riots.  Disappear until things blow over.  Even with three other people admitting that they were the ones that gave the info to the cops that wound up getting Taj killed and even with all the pictures and videos that have come out … somehow it is still at least partly my fault, especially around here.  Look at that shrine they built for Tamika out of candles and stuffed animals.” 

“Yeah and the city council made them take it down because it was a fire hazard.” 

“And you see the stink THAT caused.  It almost started the riots all over again.” Remembering the pain I muttered, “They told me I couldn’t come back to school Chrissy.  Flat out told me I wasn’t wanted.  I had a hard time getting in the virtual school program even … they kept thinking that I was on some kind of disciplinary probation or something.  I’ve never even had an unexcused tardy and they made it seem like I was a trouble maker with a long rap sheet.” 

“Not ‘they.’  Principal Howe.  And you know good and well not everyone has been like that.  About half the teachers at school kept making a point of asking how you were doing even when it made the office staff mad.  I can’t believe that reporter even got away with recording all those interviews … I can’t believe Principal Howe was stupid enough to say what he did … and some of those other people too.  I mean look at how they sounded.  It was like awful.  Dad almost came unglued.” 

“Yeah but it hasn’t been Principal Howe and his groupies that got into trouble has it … at least not outright.  The clinic almost fired your dad because he wouldn’t shut up.  Maybe if I go away for a while this whole mess will die down.  Barb will get off your dad’s back and they’ll start getting along better again.  You and Chris will get some relief from the nut jobs trying to make you out to be brain damaged because you plan on getting married young.  Maybe the town will get some relief from reporters and these race baiter types.  If I’m not around maybe all of those out of town jerks will just get bored and go back where they came from and people can go back to being friends and not say such stupid stuff to each other anymore.” 

Christine opened her mouth to say something but then stopped and grinned.  “You got a visitor Winnie.” 

She stood up and I almost fell backwards off the old teeter-totter we’d been sitting on.  “Geez,” I griped.  “Little notice next time.”  But all I got was a waive over Christine’s retreating back. 

I turned to look and found Cliff hunched over with his thumbs hooked into his jeans.  He growled, “You really want to go live with that crazy old woman?  I went out there with Chris one time to do some yard work and she kept forgetting we were around.  Besides yesterday I thought you said that if you couldn’t get early admit to those colleges like you’d planned you’d just stay in school and try again at the end of the year.” 

Knowing he had a hard time standing still for more than a few minutes at a time I started walking and he followed me to the alleyway that the garbage men used that ran between everyone’s backyards along our street.  We’d walked the same path plenty of times in the last couple of months because it got me out of the house and exercising like the doctors said I needed and because the privacy fences kept people from staring.  “I’m done trying.”  I handed him the letter I was still holding to read. 

“I’m sorry Gypsy.” 

“Do you really need to call me that?” I sniped. 

“You don’t like it?” 

I sighed.  “I suppose it is ok from you but when other people hear it it’s like I’m in third grade getting pies thrown at me all over again.” 

“Then I just won’t say it when other people are around.” 

And he wouldn’t, or at least he wouldn’t mean to.  I had learned that Cliff could be strange like that.  When he said something, he meant it.  Changing the subject I asked, “Did you finally finish getting all that stuff you needed?  Did you get it all packed up?” 

He shrugged.  “Yeah.  I guess.” 

“What do you mean you guess?  You do or you don’t.  The school sent those letters warning of shortages and stuff, so to come prepared.  You’re leaving on Monday you know.” 

He snapped, “Well you don’t have to sound so happy about it.” 

“What I’m happy about is that one of us at least is getting out of this crap relatively unscathed.  For a while there I kept expecting them to rescind your football scholarship.  Having your senior year screwed up by ‘racial tensions’ and reporters getting in your face was bad enough don’t you think?” 

He kicked a rock and it skittered down the alley and banged into a fence.  “Shut up dog,” he muttered at the resulting barking from the other side.  Turning to me he said, “I’m not sure I’d care if they had.  Stuff just doesn’t seem to mean the same as it used to.” 

“Oh don’t start that again.  Your Mom will get over it.  Cevin just … got fed up.  He’s got issues but still, he’s not a little kid anymore; he’s basically our age even if he kinda … well …” 

“I know.  And it’s ok so stop squirming.  I’m not talking about Mom getting bent that Cevin wants to grow up more than Mom wants to let him and blaming me because I hooked him up with that bunch of kids from the independent living facility where I work.  She just freaked when she found out he knew how to use all that technology and had access to their interweb forum and hung out with them online.  She’ll get over it or she won’t.” 

“Then what?” 



We reached the end of the alley and then turned and headed back.  He asked, “You doing ok?  Able to breathe?  Need to slow down?  Take a break?” 

“Stop with the worrying already.  Lungs are all clear and I haven’t had to use the inhaler in weeks.” 

He looked and said, “I know … just making sure.  I still don’t understand why you got so sick after getting almost totally better.” 

“Yeah well Uncle Carmichael said the best place to get sick is the hospital because it is so full of germs.  Now stop evading the question.” 

Cliff shrugged.  “I just mean football.  It’s not life or death.  It’s just a game.” 

“You knew that before.” 

“Maybe.  But I didn’t feel that way before.” 

“OK.  So now you do.” 

“Yeah.  And I don’t think I can go back to feeling like football is that important again.  And if I can’t, maybe I shouldn’t waste the school’s time and money.” 

“Cliff …,” I said slowly.  “You’re a good player and you like playing; don’t let this stupid situation take that away.  So maybe you don’t want to play football for the rest of your life anymore but you can still play college ball.  Plus this is a chance for you to … to get out from under all of this.  A chance for people to forget you were the guy that saved the ***** and go back to being known for just being you.” 

“You aren’t supposed to use that word,” he said mildly.  “And besides, I don’t mind being known as that guy.  I wouldn’t have done it in the first place if I had.” 

I bumped into his side on purpose – his shoulder was out of my reach – but got back into my own rut right afterward.  Cliff could have space issues and take things the wrong way.  “Well I mind that people hold it against you.  I mind that they hold it against Christine and Uncle Carmichael and anyone else close to me.  I mind it a lot.” 

“Am I?” 

“Are you what?” 

“Close to you?” 

It was like a bad habit he couldn’t seem to break.  “Knock it off Cliff.  You’re dating a nice girl this time.  If you’re going to act like a Tom cat at least have the decency to break it off with Lynette first.” 

“Too late.  She broke up with me this morning.  She said I was boring.” 

“I beg your pardon?” I asked nearly tripping in surprise. 

Cliff smiled sarcastically.  “I knew something was up from the beginning.  Girls like Lynette don’t date guys like me.  I asked her just because she was the next name on the list not because I expected her to say yes.  For her part it seems she only started dating me in the first place because she wanted to make her dad angry and thought I’d be exciting and help her get ready for college guys.  She said she’d wasted almost a whole month waiting for me to do something besides …” 

When he stopped I asked, “What list?  And besides what?” 

“Nothing I’m going to talk about with you.  You’re a good girl.”

“Lynette is a good girl too.” 

“No Lynette is a nice girl … but she’s definitely NOT a good girl.” 

I was not even going to try and decipher that bit of demented guy logic so I got back to what we’d been talking about before going OT.  “OK so forget Lynette.  Go to college, meet some girls that aren’t just after your body, get a life, and have a good time while you do it for as long as you can.  Maybe get out of this town permanently.  It’s not like they appreciate you.” 

He looked at me and scowled.  “You don’t get it do you?” 

“Oh geez, you aren’t going to start feeling sorry for yourself or anything are you?” 

He scowled even further but then shook his head and grinned.  “You’re a mess so stop giving me advice.  When you get your own act together then you can give me advice.  For now just tell me what you’re going to do instead of running off to university.” 

“So you can pick it apart and tell me I’m an even bigger nut case than you thought?” 

He grinned again and said, “Maybe.” 

I just shook my head.  “I don’t know Cliff.  That Chaplain that came to see me all the time when I was still stuck in the hospital used to say that when a door closes a window opens someplace.”  This time it was my turn to kick a rock down the alley.  “I’ve had so many doors slammed in my face lately that my nose is flat.  And I’m sure not seeing any open windows … at least none that I’ve got a lot of enthusiasm for climbing through.” 

“So you don’t want to go live with the old lady?” 

“I don’t know.  I like Aunt Rachel … she’s a little crazy but kinda in a good way.  She didn’t throw a fit when Dad married someone like my mom so I’ve always kinda been partial to her.” 

“What do you mean someone like your mom?  I remember her and she was nice.” 

“Yeah she was.  She also wasn’t, you know, all white.  Kinda put the rest of the family into shock including Uncle Carmichael there for a while.” 

“Wait … your mom was a mixed mutt?”  I looked and he was really surprised. 

Sarcastically I muttered to the walking wall, “There are not words to describe how empathetic you are Cliff.  You don’t have to hang around if …” 

He grabbed my arm as I tried to walk off.  “Don’t get stupid Gypsy.  I’m just surprised is all.” 

I looked and saw he was telling the truth so I let it go as just another example of Cliff being Cliff.  I explained.  “Mom was part Creole from her great grandmother’s side only nobody in the family admits knowing what race they are mixed with.  Just some of us get the dusky skin and funky eyes that don’t match.” 

“You mean ‘cause one of your eyes is almost black and the other one is that weird hazel-brown color?” 

“Yep.  And I was extra special lucky because not only did I get the dusky skin color and funky eyes from Mom’s side of the family, I got the kinky jet black hair like Dad and Uncle Carmichael from our Bohemian ancestors.  If I didn’t keep my hair long and braided I would have to flat iron it just to get through a doorway.  I look like the result of a photo morphing program gone wrong between pictures of my ancestors and a puli dog.” 

“One of them mop dogs?  You ain’t that bad.  At least the plastic surgeon was able to do something about your teeth.” 

I sighed.  “I suppose that’s you trying to make me feel better?”  At his unrepentant grin I admitted, “Yeah, I guess that’s something anyway.  At least it doesn’t look like I have a mouth full of crooked headstones anymore.” 

“And you’ve lost a lot of weight too.” 

I gave him a look.  “Thanks so much and can we be through with the compliments?  Because I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the reminder that I used to need a sign that said wide load to get down the hallway.” 

“Now you’re really exaggerating.  You never got that big … you just sat and ate more than you should have.  And you can’t bite your nails anymore either.” 

I took a fake swipe at him and walked a little faster back to the house.  “Aren’t you just full of self-esteem building tidbits?”   

He was quiet and then said, “I don’t do this too good.” 

“What?  Proper grammar?” 

He snorted.  “That too.  I mean the … the stuff that makes people feel better.  I guess I’m just a mean bastard at heart.” 

That was going too far and I bumped into him again only a little harder than was necessary this time.  “You aren’t mean or a bastard … don’t make things worse with your mom.  You’re just … hmmm … uncomfortably honest.”  When his shoulders stayed hunched and stiff I told him, “Look.  You’re right.  I put on a lot of weight while working at the diner.  Setting up the dessert trays does have its drawbacks.  It’s not like I don’t know what I looked like then and how I’m different now.  It’s just embarrassing having a guy point it out.” 

“It is?” 

I looked and he really was serious.  “How is it possible for you to be so clueless and still have had a gazillion girlfriends?!” 

“A gazillion is an exaggeration … and most of them didn’t even qualify as girlfriends.”  I borrowed Barb’s laser beam eyes so he added, “Yeah, I’ve been with a lot of girls but not a gazillion.” 

“Still more than the number of boyfriends that I’ve had which numbers exactly zero so pardon my ignorance on who does and doesn’t qualify as a girlfriend.” 

Cliff made a face right before saying, “Change of subject time.  So what are you going to do if you don’t want to go back to school?” 

“I don’t know Cliff, I really don’t.”