Author's Note: I forgot how to write this story. September 9, 2010.


Eleven



I came to school cramp free and not in my pajamas. I even woke up semi-early in the morning to braid my hair back, when the house phone rang.

"Hello?"

"Hi," the voice said after a couple of seconds.

I listened to the background noise and heard a lot of people talking.

I think I heard Tee-Hee teehee somewhere there.

I leaned against the window and thought for a bit, and the both of us let this background noise go on. I reached over and popped in my Boyz II Men CD and let my background music go on for a bit, too, and I even smiled.

"How was your Mock Trial meeting," I asked softly.

Okay, pause.

Here was the thing. Either way, I'd be making an ass out of myself, right? If it wasn't La Cerva, then the person would just be looking at the receiver with a big old wtf?, or! Even if the person ran with it, it would still be awkward and weird. Then again, if it was La Cerva and he decided to deny it, he'd have the chance to feel flattered that I even thought (or "hoped") it would be him. And if it was him and he admitted it, it would just be awkward for everyone, and by everyone, I mean all of China.

The screaming in the background raged on.

"I'm sorry. I didn't hear you. Could you repeat that again?"

Damn it.

"No, it's fine. Do you need anything?"

"No. I don't need anything." The voice paused. "Some rumors about Lena being racist have spread all over school, and..."

I froze. "Do you believe them?"

"Of course not," the voice laughed.

I felt a lot of relief, but at the same time, I was also frustrated.

"Do you believe them?" he asked.

"Why should I?"

"Okay," the voice said. The way the voice had said it sounded like a suspicion had just been relieved. An audible sigh blew through the other end.

"She left school already. Had her father pick her up. They were swearing at her even as she got in the car," he had to raise his voice over all the noise.

"I have to go," I said. "I'll be at school soon."

"See you, then."

I hung up and looked out the window. In the backyard just below ours, a pregnant woman walked back and forth. She might have been my neighbor's aunt. She was talking on her cell phone and leading out my neighbor's kid toward the pool. The other two kids, no older than the first being led out, ran out and followed behind her, and there was water around the pool. It really bothered me for some reason, and so I turned away. I would've yelled out my window because I know she'd be able to hear me from here, but I just didn't do it.

Instead, I patted down my braid, put on a little lip gloss, smacked my lips together, and headed out. I heard my mom call out: "Irene?!"

I stopped in the hallway. "Yeah, ma?!"

"Do you have enough money?!"

"I'm good, ma!!"

I saw a shadow pace back and forth, sliding darkness from one end under the door to the other. I heard laughing. I think she was talking on the phone.

"Okay, sweetheart. Call me if you need money!!"

"Okay, ma!!" I yelled, and trotted down the stairs.

Art was missing again, but I did smell traces of his cologne wafting through the house. I hopped into my car and almost groaned because I thought there'd be no gas in it, but there was a full tank. I started it up and drove to school.

When I got there, Cutty was in a fight with some other guy in the parking lot.

I slammed the door and walked slowly toward them.

Cutty and the guy grappled, and started slamming their foreheads repeatedly against each other. They stumbled into someone else's car and set off an alarm. I frowned and walked off.

It was none of my business, really. Besides, it was probably some back-to-Africa routine they wanted to try or whatever.

I was greeted by Jesse, who said I looked different, but still pretty. I said thanks and looked around at everyone suspiciously, as if each of them could've been suspects. Paul walked past me and looked up at me, but he didn't say anything. He even turned off his videogame, straightened up, and headed toward the All of Freaking Asia crew. I lofted a brow.

Tee-Hee scuttled toward me with Reina La Fatty following behind, her arm slung over her boyfriend's shoulder.

"Hiya, Irene," she said.

"Hey," I said slowly. She looked reluctant. She didn't even want to hug me.

"Did you hear about what happened to Lena?"

I inclined my chin. "No. What happened?"

"She's racist. She said she wasn't a racist and that you had told everyone she was."

"But I -"

"Good thing, too." Tee-Hee made a face. "I wouldn't want to be in class with a racist person anyway."

I looked at Jesse.

He shrugged. "I agree. We're all God's children here."

"We're not all of God's children!" I yelled.

Tee-Hee and Jesse gasped.

"It's okay, Irene's not racist. She just doesn't believe in God," Reina La Fatty said.

I was so frustrated, I just walked off. Jesse followed behind me, and just the sound of his footsteps plodding behind me annoyed the hell out of me.

Abby, Ashley, and Alicia were in the courtyard, talking with a bunch of girls and guys that usually sucked up to them. Abby spotted me and embraced me.

"Irene!"

"'Eyyy!" everyone else chimed, and embraced me, too.

I shoved off everyone else and took Abby by the shoulder. "What happened to Lena?"

Abby smiled brightly and turned to everyone. "She got what was coming to her, right?"

A loud roar.

"We owe you a lot, Irene," some white-washed Armenian came up to me and smoothed a hand down my arm. "Piedmont's a peaceful place."

"What the hell are you talking about? The bla--" I stopped. "There's people fighting right down there in the parking lot!"

The Armenian guy blinked. Then he turned to everyone. "Irene's right! We can't stop now. There's more peace to be had!"

A bunch of his fagmo friends cheered for peace.

"I thought that fighting down there was some sort of er, ritual," Jesse said, scratching the back of his head.

"Tolerance, then!" The Armenian guy raised a fist.

So did his fagmo friends.

I felt like vomiting and I wasn't even in pain. I wanted to destroy him. I wanted to destroy everyone.

"Anyway, Irene, the game is on Friday and so I wanted to consult you about some moves --"

I turned. "Okay, later. Right now, I just want to be alone."

La Cerva was standing there, framed by the entrance to the Breezeway, and other kids were pushing past him to head into the school. He stood at a good distance this time, his face impassive and unreadable.

One of the prettier ones of the La Cerva Five pointed. "Good job, Irene! We could count on you to flush out the racists!"

"Yeah! You're like a rat, except a positive one!" Another girl giggled. "I like your hair!"

I furrowed my brow and shot a look at La Cerva.

His mouth moved a little, but he didn't say anything.

Amy stepped out from behind the other girls. "Hey, Irene."

"Hi," I said.

Amy looked at La Cerva; he shot her a look back.

He hesitantly walked past me and clapped me on the shoulder, just like he had done the previous morning.

I pinched the bridge of my nose and started rubbing my temples.

I was doing this in my science class, even with Cutty sitting next to me with his eye fucked up and the corner of his mouth still bleeding.

I decided not to sit around and just let this go unchecked.

"What the hell is going on with you?" I hissed a whisper.

The science teacher leered at me.

Cutty spun a pen on his desktop idly. He was now wearing a long, baggy black shirt, and he didn't have his notes out or anything. He just sat there, slumped, looking tough.

I waited.

He looked over.

"You're wearing lip gloss," he said.

"And the sky is blue, okay?" I leaned in more. "What the hell is wrong with you?"

He put on his glasses and looked up at the board.

I sat back in my seat. The science teacher called on me.

I didn't know the answer.

I got out of my seat and excused myself to the restroom.

Amy was already waiting outside. She was tapping her pack of cigarettes against her palm.

"Hi," I said.

"Hey, Irene."

We walked down the steps together and out the door. Wordlessly, we climbed into my car, hot and muggy from the sun. She rolled down her window and lit a cigarette.

I slammed my palms against the steering wheel. "I don't know what the fuck is going on, Amy."

She took a drag.

"I just feel like destroying everyone."

She laughed a short laugh and smiled. I watched her in the side view mirror.

I paused, tongued my cheek, and gunned the engine.

"You're a goddess around school now," she said.

Today, she looked less like a manly baby and more like a hot Latin chick which didn't make sense to me. She pulled her seat back, lowered it, and blew 'O' shapes at the ceiling, only for them to be whisked out the window.

"It's not like I don't like it. I just... You heard what happened to Lena, didn't you?"

"Everyone heard," she said.

"Where'd you hear it from?"

"Rowan and I heard it from the other four."

"The La Cerva Four," I said.

She looked at me.

"That's what I call them in my head. I include you so it's like, The La Cerva Five."

"Mm," she smiled. "You should have seen the look on Rowan's face. At first, it didn't really matter that Lena was being accused until Betty said that you spread the rumors. He was so upset he left for a bit."

I drove, confused, and didn't know that I ran a red light.

"I tried to tell him. It's not like you. I don't see you that way."

"Yeah, well. I'm nowhere near nice. Besides." I smiled wryly. "You don't know me."

She licked one of her incisors. "You're right. I don't know you, Irene."

"I seriously just feel like destroying everyone."

"So did I, when I first came."

As I drove, Amy told me a story. We got some burgers and drove past Tebbo (Tottle City) toward the beach.

She had come in Spring semester of Freshman year and was kicked out of her old school for being a nuissance. Lived in Hickers City all her life, closer to the grocery stores with all the Benzes(eses) and shit parked out front. Too much money and too much time on her hands. She's a little older than most of us and she's got a lot of experience under her belt, so to speak. She met a guy named John, lived right here in Piedmont, when he was out there visiting relatives. They hit it off right away and had sex in her father's car. John was a trouble-maker and that made her a trouble maker. He was seventeen at the time, and he drove her everywhere, as long as she paid for gas, and introduced her to his friends. They smoked out, caused their trouble.

John was the first guy to tell her she was pretty. Now that I think about it, she probably had it really hard. A year ago, I saw her sisters pick her up and they were drop dead gorgeous, but that's beside the point.

Amy started failing in her classes, and not the All of Freaking Asia failing where a B+ meant seppuku, but hardcore failing with pink slips and calls to the parents and all of that. Soon, she got kicked out of school and spent a year at home and was homeschooled, but that didn't work. Her parents forbade her from seeing John, but she went out to see him anyway.

The douchebag knocked on her window once and said he needed some cash, and Amy coughed up the cash, and he took it and didn't stay long.

He began to do this more and more frequently as the weeks went on. Amy couldn't study very well. She couldn't concentrate.

"It gets hard," she said, her smile far away. "When you're a young girl..." She paused after she had said this, "it's as if you don't think about much and yet there isn't room to think about much else. You want to just dream of the guy you like, and about the way he holds you - you don't think about how bad he is. I didn't."

I parked the car and took out my burger. "Wait, I think this is yours."

Mine was the fatter burger. I unwrapped it and started eating like a Voraciousauras. "I don't think I thought about that stuff a few years back. Maybe I did and I just don't remember."

Amy got out of the car, and I got out with her. We perched on my hood.

"John took me here," Amy said, watching the sea. She pitched her cigarette and scooped out some fries. She ate everything but the tips she was holding. She threw those out. She pulled her knees onto the hood of my car. "This was like... our special place."

"You and every other high school couple."

She laughed. "Thanks. Irene."

"No problem," I said, and belched.

"He would take me here alone, and we would talk and listen to music. Then he started to take me here with his friends. Then he started to take me here with his friends and some other girl."

I stayed silent. I wanted to ask if she knew there was something up the minute he asked her for money, or if she started to sense something wrong when he started to take another girl to their special place, or if she ever thought any of it was wrong. I wasn't even thinking that way because I thought Amy was stupid or anything like that, but she's right about one thing, when you're a young kid, you think about one thing and you don't see anything else. I didn't see the bad in people for a while. Well, I saw the bad, but to me it looked funny. If there really was a God out there, I'd be sure to thank him for all the bad shit out there because to me it was all part of his great, all-encompassing humor.

It's like a Vietnam soldier, crawling through the jungle, after having lost his friend that escaped a torture camp with him. He's crawling out there alone and his legs get blown off, and he laughs. I always thought people laughed at things like that because there was genuine humor in it, like the pain fires off some part of their brain that makes them think about how hilarious and endearing it would be once he gets back to America, getting off the plane and not being able to wave because he has to employ both hands to keep steady on his crutches, or what it would be like trying to reach for shit on the top shelf in the kitchen, or about what running after a date on the beach would be like, because he's alive, you know, he's glad to be alive and there's just some sort of endearing humor in all of it even if he'll never be normal, like he knows he'll never be normal but all of this shit is funny to him because he's a good guy and he's been through a lot.

But there was a scene like that in a movie that Art and I were watching together, and I laughed when the guy laughed -- the guy's legs got blown off and then he screamed first and started laughing, and he was all alone in the jungle with French mines everywhere, and Art turned to me and asked me why I was laughing.

"It's funny," I said.

"It's not funny, Irene. It's fucked up."

We were silent, and watched his face contort in slow motion, his slow laughter before it faded out, the rising strings of the music, the pan out of the camera to show how small he is in this vast and cruel jungle, and something clicked.

I felt weird. Even stupid.

Like, something that was so obvious, like a sad part in a movie, was genuinely funny to me, but to Art, I just looked like I was some crazy person who enjoys people's pain.

"You and Iris, I swear," Art had said.

He lumped me in the same category as Iris, as if there were something wrong with Iris.

Iris did have a weird way of thinking, but I never thought there was anything wrong with him. Maybe it's why I couldn't think anything was wrong with Amy for staying so long with this John douchebag. He had gotten her so far into his world that she was starting to do 'shrooms and her homeschool teacher couldn't stand it anymore. With one last attempt, her parents sent her to Piedmont High. There was no way they could stop Amy from seeing John, and he had a ninja way with words.

Amy knew that he was seeing some other girl, but she still couldn't leave. She had confronted him about it, and he didn't deny it.

"I'm young, Amy. You're young." He would shrug. "I'm not trying to hurt you, you know that."

"I know," she'd say.

He would hold her close, cradle her in his arms like a small child, even sing to her the latest songs on the radio. He'd read to her the newest book he was reading. Amy got this feeling that he didn't really understand the words, that he read most of these books because they were about young, angry kids living in a fast-paced and fucked up world, and he liked the sarcasm in all of it. Amy didn't think he saw the confusion, the angst, the delusion. She was starting to see it, so young, but she was starting to see it and it was a hard way out.

She didn't know anyone at Piedmont and it was bigger. It wasn't a Catholic private high school out to fuck her because she was "different" (by "different" I mean like, a total lazyass no-good delinquent). It didn't care what she did. No one did. It's this lonely place full of do-gooders and people who don't care and minorities and people who seem to care a lot about racism but when it comes to sex, drugs, and abuse, no one's around to talk about it.

All she had were the books John liked to cram down her throat every once in a while, and she also had her cynicism. John was starting to speak to her less and less and so she had even more time on her hands, no real connections for drugs and parties without him. She was afraid to see him, especially to see him with some other girl who looked like her or something. She began to study.

Even then, she felt like murdering everyone in school.

"I really just wanted to tear them apart like a dog with new furniture," she said.

Someone might ask her what's she's reading, and she'd tell them, and they'd say, "Oh." She once tried to tell someone about her experiences at some parties, some grungy white girl she had in her English class. She thought she could tell this girl but it turned out the girl was only grungy because she never took a shower and hated water.

It was lonely.

Then La Cerva came along, well, not exactly came along, but he ran along with Jesse on their jog with the Cross Country team, and La Cerva sidled up to her bench out in the courtyard, running in place.

She raised her book.

"I've been wanting to read that," he said.

"Really?" she said, and smiled real big. Her braces made her look horrible and here this guy was, talking to her.

"Yeah. Is it good?"

"The main character really likes Mexican food," Amy said inanely.

La Cerva smiled before he ran off.

It was, to her, the smile that understood that kind of humor. And she was right.

La Cerva and her began to talk more and more, and soon she started inviting him over to her house. The first time he saw it, he looked mildly impressed.

He had shoved his hands into his pockets and said with raised eyebrows. "There are lion statues on your front lawn. Very intense."

"Super intense," Amy said, and led him upstairs.

They talked about books a lot. La Cerva knew shitloads of books and understood a shitload about them and could even see them with two senses of humor -- the author's and his own ("Who recommended all these great reads to you?" "A guy working at a chicken joint."). Eventually Amy talked about her experiences, and even though La Cerva was cold and pleasant, he was also understanding, slow, calm, and sharp. He didn't say much, but Amy really felt like she could tell him things.

Sometimes he fell asleep on her bed as she took a shower, and when she came out, she would hover over him, filled with all her thoughts of him and of books, and wanted to touch his Adam's apple, or his careful lips, but she felt stupid and immature for wanting him that way. He made teenage feelings seem stupid and immature, as natural as they were, because he seemed like he was sick of all of it, had seen it all thirty years ago and just liked to talk. Or he was like some casanova alien who derived more pleasure from platonic relationships than he did from the loving, sensual kind.

Sometimes Amy got frustrated. When she tried to get to know him better, he would deflect her questions back at her, and out of fear, she answered his questions, and entertained him, because she didn't want to chase him away.

Then there were other days where she just couldn't care less and thought of ways to make him jealous.

It never worked.

Though... when she told him about John (she had avoided talking about him for a while), he frowned.

He didn't say anything for many moments after, and she thought that she'd finally broken through.

Finally, he looked at her.

"But you're smart," he said disbelievingly. "How could you get yourself into something like that?"

She slumped and simply said, "I don't know, Rowan. I don't know."

"Huh," he said before he sat back against the window, closed because it was an unusually cold day, and there was more silence before Amy crawled across the bed and gave him a kiss, one hot and soft against the lips.

La Cerva let her mouth linger there, his own on the verge of responding, but then he pressed a hand against her shoulder, and gently nudged her away.

It was probably the first time he deliberately touched her.

"I'm not here for that," he said in a serious voice, one that his smile betrayed.

Amy felt grateful, but also mad.

"Reeeejection," I guffawed with my mouth full.

Amy smacked my shoulder. "Oh, yeah? Why don't you shut up?"

They started to develop a really close friendship. At one point though, especially when other girls realized the magic that was La Cerva and started to hit on him, Amy wondered if she wasn't just hanging out with another John. Even if La Cerva never did anything to her and didn't ask her to stick around, didn't make false promises or lead her on, she still felt like something was off. She just didn't say anything out of some form of decency.

Amy said that La Cerva could sense it, but he ignored it in his good-natured way because everyone was human. She'd get a little jealous and she'd snap at him, but he never lost his sense of control. She had never seen him lose control.

Then John came one day, had drove up right to Piedmont's campus because Amy wasn't returning his calls and she slept in the living room to avoid hearing his knocks on the window. He'd seen her with a skinny-shit kid and wanted to know what the fuck was up. He came there with his friends and made them wait in the car.

La Cerva and the La Cerva Three were hanging out by the big tree right outside of the courtyard when John picked La Cerva up by the collar.

La Cerva smiled even when John spit on his neck.

He laughed like an amused baby when John shook him.

"Stop!" Amy yelled. "Stop it!"

John asked, "What the fuck is wrong with you, huh? You think you've got a one-up on anyone else because you've turned Amy into a whore like all these others, huh?"

"So this is John," La Cerva said, turning to Amy.

"Look at me when I'm speaking to you!"

La Cerva had slowly turned to meet John's gaze. John was obviously more handsome, with his ruddy face and thick eyelashes, a strong jaw. But the way La Cerva looked at him... it was shriveling because he seemed to get a shitload of amusement out of all of this.

"Amy's said a lot of good things about you," La Cerva offered.

"Is that sarcasm, you little fuck?" John shook him.

"If you think it is."

John smacked him in the face.

The girls screamed and ran away, except for Amy, who was pleading, waving her book around, almost ready to cry.

"Stay out of this, Amy!" John barked.

La Cerva tongued his cheek, and with a renewed smile, stared him down again.

"I'm not going to fight for her," La Cerva said, placing his hands on John's wrists, snatching them off his neck with surprising strength. "If she means anything to you, you probably wouldn't fail to notice that this has been the first time in months that you've actually made an attempt to see her. But anyway," he said, sighing with his impatient, regal sigh.

"What?" John sneered. "Anyway what?"

La Cerva blinked.

Then he began to laugh, as if he were dealing with a child. He walked off and the girls hurried after him, and soon, so did Amy.

John had no choice but to get back in his car. Amy could hear his friends spurring him on, to get back out and beat the shit out of the both of them, or get the car in gear and run 'em all over. Amy didn't know why John didn't fuck either of them up.

"It might have been the book," I said.

"The book?"

"The one you were holding."

Amy paused. She then started to point at me. "You know what? It was John's favorite."

I nodded.

She hugged her knees tighter. She began to smile again. "I did have sex with Rowan, though."

I sputtered my soda all over the hood.

"It was... God, I couldn't even describe it to you."

"Horrible?" I said, my eyes wide.

"No. No," Amy laughed and began to tussle her hair. "God, no."

"So... all of you have?"

"More than us five, I can tell you that."

"Wow." I wrinkled my nose as I smiled. "So he's like, a man whore, sort of."

"No. Just skilled." Amy hopped off the hood. "Just admirable."

I stayed silent.

"I shouldn't pretend I know everything about him though. I don't know anything about him, really, except that he's good at... a lot of things. Never been to his house, never seen his parents, don't know where he works, don't know what he really likes. Don't really know if he likes any of us." She looked off at the other cars in the parking lot, and then out at the ocean. "We just had that one night together and that was it. He never touched me again. Never touched any of us again, not even a hug, not even a nick on the cheek, a pat on the back. Not even a handshake. He won't let any of us near him in that way. I guess it's how he keeps it fair."

Sea gulls flew overhead. They were spying on the bag with the extra fries in it. I tugged it into my lap. "But like... you're still with him. You still want to be with him."

"I guess we all had our hopes at one point or another. Some of us still do. Some of the girls there don't like me. With good reason. I guess I'm hard to get along with," she said, kicking at the sand by her shoe.

I furrowed my brow.

Amy started walking toward the sea. "He's never going to get over that girl. It's probably his only vice. When he's got his mind set on something he thinks is good, he holds onto it hard and throws everything else away."

I thought about Jesse Caruso for some reason and shuddered. "Yeah, ambition is a killer."

"It is."

I slid off the hood, locked the door, and walked beside her.

"Beh," I said, tossing my burger wrapper at the sand. Sea gulls immediately touched down and started picking at it.

Amy started taking off her hoop earrings. She stuffed them into her purse. "Watch this for me, yeah?"

"Yeah," I said.

She ran and jumped into the ocean.

"I'm not going to let you all wet into my car!" I yelled.

She waved at me with shreds of sunlight all around her.

I sat in the sand, and she never explicitly invited me in, but I think she was showing me by example how liberating it was to ditch class and swim in the ocean. It was nice watching her. It reminded me a little bit of the game of Life and I suddenly felt like a lesbo for watching her and enjoying my view of her and whatever, so I wondered about John, and how he might've stopped and thought about Amy a bit when he got into his car, and how she's not a bad kid even though she isn't head over heels in Love with him anymore, how she's a good kid because she's still toting around his books, and that's where the ownership is.

I don't know. If I were John though, and I were mad as hell, I'd say, fuck the book.

I'd just run them all over for the hell of it.