The following is purely an invention of the writer's fevered imagination and any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
This is a construct of realistic adolescent language, violence, and sexual situations, and is NOT an advertisement for any of the behaviors herein shown.
-R.E. Ellison, March 2008
To school, which made and destroyed me,
the dream that never dies,
To Becky and Garin,
who taught me how to love, and to forgive,
To Kendra, Bradley, Dana, Jason, Michael, Shawn, Jonathan,
Chas, Mayumi, Christopher, Jimmy-Roy,
and now Brittany,
all gone before their time,
who showed me that letting go,
doesn't mean forgetting,
and to those who understand
"De mortuis nil nisi bonum"
And In Your Dream of
His junior year.
So far it hadn't been too bad; he had good classes with pretty good teachers in spite of L.A. schools' reputations, and new clothes. Christy Parkman even started noticing him a little. She'd smiled at him once, anyway.
Maybe his hair? He rubbed his hand through the sparse flat-top. Nice color, anyway, he thought; dark brown with hints of lighter brown on the sides. Would get grey faster, his mother told him, but not for years down the line, and she'd been wrong before about more important things anyway.
He looked into the spotty mirror in the locker room, appraising himself. Dark blue eyes, sort of a thin chest. He pumped it out by taking a deep breath and holding it. Few more years down the line before he looked like anything more than a boy. He'd sent away for a book on bodybuilding and religiously did the exercises, punishing himself when he couldn't increase the number of times he repeated them. His mother told him he seemed obsessive about it, whatever she meant. He wanted to change, no matter what he had to do to become bigger and stronger. He sneaked a glance around himself, alone for the moment, practiced a quick smile. He warmed to it a little and added a wink. He frowned. His eyes looked too big for his face and even though he'd tried all summer, he still looked pale, and numerous freckles still spread across his nose and cheeks.
When he frowned, he thought, he at least looked older. He practiced frowning for a minute, trying to raise one eyebrow and look sophisticated, maybe a little rough, like Elvis. He could only manage to raise them both and look shocked. He rubbed his hair again. Maybe too short? His parents always argued with him about his hair length. They always said too long, he always said not long enough.
He hadn't won the argument yet.
He buttoned the last three of his loose grey cardigan buttons and straightened the collar of his plaid cotton shirt, weaving a bit like a boxer and then straightening his arms to raise the sleeves a little.
No matter how he felt, he still looked like a big eighth grader. Sighing, he picked up his books and emerged into bright California November sunshine.
1957: a good year for his family so far; moving up from San Diego to L.A., or just north of it. He wished sometimes that he had an older brother with a car so he could really see the city.
He'd turned sixteen during the summer, and studied up on driving, but still lacked a license and had
no idea at all of when he could afford a car. At least now he could see over the dashboard.
He tried his devil-may-care shamble to his next class, Latin, while mentally declining a verb or two. Christy excelled at Latin, not him, giving him the fantasy plan where he asked her to help him some night.
She represented the word 'swell' in his mind. He, on the other hand, at just under five three and just over a hundred pounds, seemed too small and too skinny to take seriously to himself. His chances with her, he knew, pretty much didn't exist at all.
He smiled at a girl he passed, noting her totally blank returning stare. Nobody knew him here, and no one seemed to want to put out any effort to know him. Some of the girls in his literature class said they thought him cute, but he wanted to be tough, not cute, and they only made him frustrated at not being noticed for what he wanted.
Told every day in the newspaper that this was supposed to be 'The Greatest Productive Period in American History', he tried eating more to beef up. He drank milk until he thought he would gag. No weight increase. The coach of the football team laughed at him when he'd tried out for the team two months earlier. Maybe he had some exotic disease like tapeworms or malaria, he thought momentarily. He grinned to himself. You had to get bitten by a mosquito first to get that. Maybe just a shrimp.
He wondered at the other guys' seeming delight at tricking him and beating him up. He didn't fight back very well, he admitted, and they usually tired of the sport, or lack of it, after a while. Still, he had an awful lot of fights with guys his own age or younger. He'd gotten into the last one over a sophomore's lunch seat. The kid, a big blonde named Fröderich, whipped the tar out of him a few weeks back. No fights since, and his black eye had finally faded. He wished he knew some kind of self-defense other than the inept boxing he'd learned from squinting at their tiny TV. He wanted to go back to Fröderich and teach him a real lesson.
Sitting in his Latin class, he stared at Christy with what he thought a world-wise smile. Mister Monroe called at a smirk and asked him to translate the phrase, "Initium Sapientiae timor Domini", which he slaughtered unmercifully. The teacher gave him extra homework.
After class he hung disconsolately near the water fountain. The high school was really a community college changed over until they built a high school. Most of the students here would be transferred north to a real high school. The school board thought it wise to wait until the population warranted building another school before it raised the money with a bond issue. People would probably fund it, but it paid to be wary of spending taxpayers' money. At least that's what his dad said, an office clerk in the city council office.
Christy walked up to him, holding her books against her chest the way girls do. She shocked him by stopping.
"Sorry you got in trouble because of me, Ambrose."
Ambrose Beltane. He hated his name. He wished he had a tough name like Bill or Eric or Troy or Rex.
"Well ..." Nothing came from his mouth but a silent wheeze. He cleared his throat and tried again; leaning one elbow on the water fountain, careful not to get his sleeve wet and look stupid in front of her. "Well ... I don't think it was your fault ... really, Christy ... I mean I was the one doing the ... the watching." staring, he thought. He saw things turning out badly, despite his gallant efforts.
"Maybe," she laughed, "But you were watching me, and you got yourself in dutch with Mister Monroe."
"Hey, I don't mind! I need the practice in Latin anyways." He did. He bit his lip, hoping she didn't notice.
"Maybe." She smiled. Her lips were cherry red and her short auburn hair pulled back with a pink ribbon. He'd love to stare for a long time into her china-blue eyes and maybe even kiss her. The closest he'd ever even come to kissing a girl had been in fourth grade during an air-raid drill, and she'd told on him. Extra homework that time too.
"Do you ever need help? In Latin?" she offered, making his heart jump in his ribcage.
"Uh, well ... Sometimes I get confused with the cases and such. I don't even know the cases in English, I don't think."
"Yeah." She closed her eyes and laughed mirthfully. "The cases are pretty hard. You just have to memorize a lot." She dug one saddle shoe against the green linoleum.
"I guess I don't have a very good memory."
"Maybe you just don't have the right teacher." She tilted her head.
"Mister Monroe's supposed to be the best."
"He was four-F in World War II. That's why he stayed behind and went to college. I heard he even got divorced because of it."
"Really?" This sort of tidbit always interested him as he rarely talked to any of his schoolmates and had no real friends to speak of, and didn't know much about the school or the town. They moved around too much for him to make many close friends and the ones he'd had weren't exactly sterling. His dad had forbidden him to associate with a few because he considered them a bad lot. He wondered if the opposite held true; he the bad influence.
He grinned timidly.
"Haven't you heard? Don't your friends tell you anything?"
Ambrose looked down at the ground. She'd hit a natural sore spot for him. She seemed to realize it and made a decision.
"Tell you what. I'll give you my exchange number and if you have any problems with your verbs just call me and maybe I can help." She beamed at him. "It's the least I can do after getting you in trouble."
"Thanks." He accepted the hastily written number from her and pushed it deep into his corduroy pants with their rolled-up cuffs. Though he tried to be nonchalant about it, he felt sure that she'd noticed his attempt to keep from folding it. Her number!
"I'll see you, okay, Ambrose?"
"Yeah, Christy. See you." He felt lightheaded and realized that he'd stopped breathing. After she turned away he inhaled several times and closed his fingers around the precious slip of paper in his pocket. He leaned over the water fountain and wet his flushed face not even caring that he grinned stupidly.
Thaddius Ruske was the opposite of Ambrose, both in temperament and appearance; tall, heavily built and a little vicious, on which he prided himself. He had light brown eyes and hair, blessed with the kind of attractiveness that would take years of attentive abuse to destroy. He'd vowed to give it his best, though, being a member of the field-hockey, football, baseball and wrestling teams. The star quarterback on a winning team, he suffered the popularity that it brought.
He also considered Christine Parkman his girl, and seeing her talking to that Beltane guy rubbed him the wrong way. He snagged her arm as she passed him in the hall.
"What's with the creepy kid over there? You getting interested in charity all the sudden?"
Christy gave him a disgusted look. He wore his letterman's jacket, accentuating the fullness of his chest and the dimensions of his arms. She gave a piercing glance at his hand and he released her.
"You don't own me, Thad Ruske. You never did. If I want to talk to other boys, then it's my choice. I don't get all bent out of shape when you talk to other girls."
"Yeah, but Beltane? Ambrose Beltane?" He sneered out the name like he would say the word rat.
"He's a nice boy. He's very polite. He would never grab a girl in a hallway and be rude!"
Thad looked disgusted now. Ambrose Beltane posed no threat, he felt sure, but he had to make at least a token show of jealousy as expected. He knew the rules of most games, even this one.
"Well, I don't want to see you talking to him, okay? I thought we had something special going." He tried to look her in the eye. She resisted, gazing angrily down the hallway.
"Like I said, Thad, you don't own me. I'll talk to whomever I wish." She stared him down. "I might even go out with him if I want to."
"What?" Thad's eyes widened. Christy smiled diffidently.
"You heard me, Thad. I want to have the same rights as you to date whomever I choose."
"But c'mon! Him?"
"Maybe. Why not?" She weakened. Ambrose seemed a pretty poor choice for rebellion against Thad's domination. Still, it seemed a matter of principle. "I have to go to class. Let me go."
"Christy ..," he whined.
"I have to go now!"
"Can I call you later and we can talk about it, huh?" He gave her puppy eyes, which she recognized for their obvious intent. He fiddled with one of his buttons, trying to look hurt. She'd had enough of his manipulating her for one day.
"I'll call you, Thad." She disappeared in a flood of students.
Thad frowned, dropping his arms and his act. It never happened this way in the movies. What would James Dean do in a similar situation? Take off on a motorcycle? He didn't have a motorcycle. Shit.
He looked up to see Kenyon Fese walking towards him, greeting everyone with a little salute. Kenyon, a tow-headed sophomore with dark eyes that slanted like a bull-terrier's, had beaten up anyone who mentioned that he looked like a half Kraut, half Jap. Thad's youngest and wealthiest friend, he owned a cherry '38 Hudson. Today he had on a brownish-grey suit complete with a white shirt and tie, but he still resembled a cruising shark. He grinned tightly when he saw Thad. He knew Thad as popular with girls, and hoped that some of that popularity might rub off, maybe greased a little with some of his substantial allowance.
"What's kickin', Ken?"
Kenyon's expression fell when he saw the usually cheerful athlete's low-key mood.
"What's bothering you?"
Thad lowered his head to speak. Kenyon stood a full eight inches shorter than Thad's six-two, though his loud voice and toughness made him seem bigger. If poor, he'd have made a great Dead-End kid. He still usually carried a blade on him somewhere; 'for protection', he said.
"Christy. I saw her talking to this new kid, Beltane."
Kenyon looked blank, shifted his weight, waved to a passing girl and smiled briefly.
"I don't know him. New kid?"
"Yeah. Pinhead with big blues. He's a junior, I think. I don't have any classes with him. Either he's advanced or slow."
"So she says she has rights and she wants to go out with him."
"Balls!" Kenyon shook his head. Nothing interesting about Christine Parkman at all except maybe meeting some of her friends, but if Thad wanted something, he usually got it. And people thought him spoiled. "She won't go out with anybody else. 'Specially a pinhead. She's just testing you."
"You think so?"
Kenyon grinned, looking slick.
"Bank on it." A joke. Kenyon's father ran the biggest bank in town.
"See you later, okay?"
Ambrose sat next to the phone for a full half-hour, practicing what he would say. He drank out of a quart bottle of milk while his mother fried spencer steaks in the kitchen. He could smell them. He promised again that he'd have room for dinner. He knew he didn't have much time. He had to call soon.
He put the paper down next to the phone and wiped his sweaty palms on his jeans. He didn't need to look at the number anymore. He'd already worn the little slip of paper out by handling it all day.
His heart sounded in his ears as he dialed and waited through three rings. Maybe nobody home. Maybe she'd been joking. Maybe ...
"Hello. I would like to speak to Christine Parkman, please." His voice on the phone sounded like a small kid's to him.
"Christine Parkman ... please."
"Oh. Parkman! I thought you said Parker. We get their calls all the time. Similar name. They're over next door on the same party line. Phone company's so far behind on individual lines ... Well. You don't want to hear about it." He heard some noises on the other end. "Just a minute. I sent my boy over to ..."
"Hello?" Christy's voice on the line.
"Here she is!" The other person hung up.
Ambrose swallowed several times.
"Hi, Christy. This is Ambrose. Ambrose Beltane."
"Yeah?" She sounded hesitant.
He closed his eyes, swallowed again, and imagined her on the other end.
"I was just wondering. I'm having a real bad time with this subjunctive stuff ..."
"Oh ... Latin. Yeah?"
"And I ..."
"Do you want to come over? I can give you a little help, if you need it."
"Sure! Sure ... I ... Sure!" He tried not to sound too anxious. He needed to cultivate some air of sophistication, even if he didn't really feel it.
"Okay. Where are you?"
"South of the school. Canyon Road."
"Well ... let's see ..." She gave him directions. It would take him a long time by bus, but he had no choice.
"We're having dinner soon. I'll come by after. Okay?"
"Yes, Ambrose. I'll see you in about an hour, then?"
"Y ... yeah. An hour, about."
They spoke only a little Latin that night. Ambrose did his best to be terribly polite, and Christy tried to make him feel comfortable. She seemed instinctively to know not to ask questions about friends anymore. He appreciated it. At close to eight he said he had to leave. Christy, surprising even herself, told him she felt sorry he had to go, not being used to such nice treatment. Thad always treated her like a special toy; too roughly or with too little interest. Ambrose actually listened to her and smiled a lot. Really nice, she decided.
"So, I'll see you at school?"
Ambrose stood at the door, a little embarrassed. He didn't know what to do. Not a date, really.
"Yeah. I'll see you in Latin." He raised his eyes and met hers, showing an innocence that she really liked. "Thanks a lot for the help."
"Wait, Ambrose." She put her hand on his arm and he looked surprised. "Do you want to maybe do something else together some night?"
"Yes! I mean, yeah, sure." He felt his face reddening. "Maybe we can see a movie or something."
"I'd like that," Christy said and leaned on the door.
"Okay. I'll see you at school."
He grinned all the way home on the bus.
"Hello, Christy," Thad grumbled apologetically. The mass of hurrying students surrounded them. Christy tried not to betray anything with her eyes by keeping them lowered.
"You said you'd call." He kept his busy hands behind his back. Actually he felt fairly frantic that he'd lost Christy to some other guy. He tended to over-react to some things; Christy, he realized now, one of them.
"Hello, Thad. I'm sorry. I got ... busy."
"Lot of homework?"
"Yeah. I sort of forgot."
"What are you doing for lunch?" He tried not to be too aggressive. He needed this win more than any other, he thought, to keep up his own sense of prestige.
"Will you sit with me in the caf? Please?"
She debated in her head and then nodded.
"Okay." She wanted to tell him to just bug off, but she couldn't be that callous.
During Latin she kept winking at Ambrose, trying to hand him a note repeatedly. Their session had helped him quite a bit, as Mister Monroe noticed.
"Have you thought about where you'd like to go?" Ambrose asked her after class. He'd overcome his shyness enough to talk to her again. Her smile helped a lot.
Christy looked nervously down the hall and then relaxed.
"Yeah. There's an old Olivia DeHavilland movie in town. We could go Saturday. If you can."
"Yeah, I can. Sure! I...I don't have a license. We have to walk."
"Really? I'm getting a job at the gas station on DeSantis Street. I'm going to save money for a car, maybe."
"Are you really getting a job?" So few high school boys worked during the school year that it surprised her that Ambrose, who looked so young, even talked about it. She felt surprised that he could even go out alone on Saturday.
"Well ... I have to be sixteen-and-a-half. I can't start until spring. But I think so."
She smiled at him again and smoothed his short hair with one hand. He seemed a bit jittery, but lifted one corner of his mouth.
"You're really cute, Ambrose."
He looked perplexed and then heaved a deep sigh and laughed resignedly.
"You're beautiful, Christy."
From him, it sounded like something she'd never heard before.
"But we can be friends, still." Christy offered to Thad, who gazed darkly across the quad from the glade he'd taken over with the rest of the team after the first major win the last year. He searched the crowds of crew-cuts for the boy she spoke of. Christy seemed to divine this.
"You stay away from him. He's a lot smaller than you. No one would have any respect for a guy who beat up on someone a lot smaller. I sure wouldn't."
He met her eyes with his, the black anger showing clearly. Right, of course. He couldn't do it. Maybe Kenyon ...
"And if I find out that you got Kenyon Fese or somebody else to hurt him I'll tell everyone it was your doing."
"Gosh, Christy! What am I supposed to do? I have feelings too. I have to fight for what's mine."
"Maybe that's why you lost, Thad. Maybe your whole attitude about what's yours is wrong. Nobody wants to be owned like a pet. I sure don't."
Thad gave a mean-spirited chuckle.
"And this little Beltane creep doesn't think like that?"
"He's not a creep. I don't know him really that well, but he's pretty smart and very polite." She grinned, thinking about his cute freckles and blush. "And he even writes poems in class sometimes."
"You see what I mean, Thaddius? You're so old-fashioned. The wars are over! It's time to get with the challenge of peace."
"You sound like freakin' President Eisenhower ..."
"Okay. So I do. We're different people now. It's not the '40s anymore."
Thad nodded. He'd lost all right. Only the game, not the season. He'd still come out on top, he felt sure. He'd wrestled control over his raging jealousy, in any case, for a while. He still wanted someone or something to tear apart, though. Thankfully he had practice later and he could get out some aggression on a wrestling partner.
"But if I think he's taking advantage of you, or if he hurts you in any way ..."
"I can take care of myself."
"C'mon. Be reasonable. There are plenty of other girls here. They all love you like crazy. Loosen up!"
He heaved a reluctant sigh and tossed his half-eaten sandwich to the tray, giving in to the notion of being powerless for the moment. He brightened. Maybe she'd get tired of the little weasel. He looked at her, sizing her up. A knockout, yeah, but he thought he could live ... for a while, anyway.
Kenyon wanted to fight Ambrose and kick his butt in front of everyone that afternoon. Thad talked him out of it.
"Yeah, but I want to!" Kenyon complained, flexing his hands in preparation. He hadn't let loose on someone for too long, now.
"No. It's not worth it. You'll get me in dutch. We'll wait. He'll foul up. I know he will. He's a pinhead, remember?"
"Why don't you just tell him that Christy's yours? He'd probably piss himself on the spot if he saw you." Humiliating someone always gave him a kick. He'd seen Thad do it before.
Thad smiled slowly.
"Naw. We're gonna play this one sophisticated-like. I don't want him to even suspect I was ever interested in Christy." He looked Kenyon up and down. "And you don't let on either. We'll be all buddy buddy; the whole gang 'til he messes up with her. When it's over between 'em, and Christy comes begging me to take her back ..." He narrowed his eyes. Kenyon looked confused and then grinned as the plan dawned on him.
"Wow! That's downright evil, Ruske! Yeah! It'll be a great big game; waiting for her to get tired of him, and then ..." He slammed his fist into his other palm, cackling like a witch.
"But you gotta leave something for me," Thad whispered.
"Shoot. You'll have forgotten all about being mad at him by then."
Thad closed his eyes and imagined pummeling the weasel's bleeding face. Some emotion darker than he'd ever known before took root.
"No, I won't."
The date went very smoothly. Ambrose met Christy at exactly twelve noon and they walked together to the show. Ambrose insisted on taking her hand when they crossed major streets, and always walked on her street side. She thought it charming.
The movie turned out to be really romantic and after a while Christy slipped her hand into his and he carefully put one arm around her shoulder. He didn't dare go any farther.
After the movie they walked up the street to the Woolworth's and both got sodas. Ambrose proudly paid for the day with his lawn money, leaving a quarter as a tip.
At Christy's door he remained a perfect gentleman, expecting nothing more than a farewell.
She shocked him by giving him a kiss on the cheek.
On the first date.
School became a lot easier for him now that he had an almost girlfriend. She introduced him around to the other girls, all of whom he met politely. Christy's friend, Barbara Evans, took a special liking to him and made him read her a poem during English Literature one time. Barbara looked good, too, with green eyes and light brown hair, but she seemed a little flighty, he thought. Not as down to earth as Christy. Still, he treated her nicely, as he did all of his new friends. He'd begun to relax and not worry so much about friendship. It looked like L.A. might not be so bad after all.
That is, until he met the other half of Christy's crowd.
Thad Ruske shook his hand and stared holes in him. Ambrose wondered what he'd done to him. He knew Thad from the football games he'd seen, but always thought him a lot friendlier.
"Nice to meet you, Beltane," he stated with all the warmth of a snake. Ambrose thought he sensed a challenge in the big boy's manner.
Kenyon Fese seemed a lot less cold, turning on his charm with the first hello. Something about his eyes looked wrong, though, Ambrose thought. They seemed flat, like poker chips, and didn't echo the camaraderie in his voice. He knew about Kenyon, too. Everyone in town knew about the Feses. They owned most of the land in the area, and ran a bank. Since the Beltanes had come, followed by other families, the town - and the bank - had prospered. He really envied Kenyon's having a car.
Christy seemed nervous around the two of them at school, and became even more nervous when the Thanksgiving Mixer came around. Ambrose asked her, naturally, and she accepted, but they ended up sitting out most of the dances while Thad and Kenyon sat at the opposite end of the room drinking punch everyone knew they'd spiked and watching them.
"I think Thad wants to ask you to dance with him," Ambrose whispered into Christy's ear.
She smoothed her pink taffeta dress for the hundredth time and licked her lips.
"I don't want to dance with him. He's too rough."
"It's okay. Just one dance. I won't be jealous." He smiled and put his arm around her.
"You're so good, Ambrose. How can you be so good?" She stroked his smooth face with one finger. "Have you ever thought ill of anybody?"
Ambrose gazed into her eyes, thinking about what she'd said while the band onstage went through their paces playing a medium-speed number.
"I don't think so. I get mad sometimes, and I want to ... I don't know ... hit something, but it goes away." He watched her with worry. She looked uncomfortably at Thad. Maybe he'd done something mean to her. He sure wouldn't challenge Thad Ruske, but it bothered him not to know. He hugged her more tightly.
They went on a few more dates and then Christmas Vacation arrived. He talked his parents into letting him stay back while they went on their yearly trek to his cousins' in Albuquerque. They agreed, if only because of the size of their car.
Typical South California winter; balmy and dry. He thought he'd choke from the heat. It never got this hot in San Diego, or any of the six or seven places he'd lived before, or even Albuquerque. He spent the first weekend lying in the shade of their backyard grapefruit tree, sipping iced-tea and splashing himself with strange smelling hose water between doing grueling exercises. During his 275th sit-up, when he almost cried from the pain in his stomach muscles, the phone rang. He gratefully answered it, thinking it his parents. They called every day at about this time to check with him. Sometimes he thought they treated him like a little kid. Something to do with being an only child.
"Hello!" The girl's voice sounded unfamiliar. "Is this the Beltane residence?"
"Yes. This is Ambrose speaking."
"Oh, hi, Ambrose. This is Barbara Evans. I want to invite you to a Christmas party at my house on Monday. Is that okay?"
"Yeah. You mean Christy and me, right?"
"Of course!" Her voice dropped. "Ken Fese is going to bring champagne. My parents don't know, so be real quiet about it, okay? Seven-ish, okay?"
"Uh, yeah. Okay. Thanks for calling. Bye."
Champagne? He'd only tasted beer. He didn't even know where champagne came from. Someplace in France? He'd find out.
He'd dressed very carefully. He didn't know how formal the party would be, so he wore his only suit and tie; smart, it turned out. Barbara lived on The Hill, an area of pretty expensive residences with double garages and lots of rooms, the crest of The Hill dominated by the Feses' huge house surrounded by lush trees that must require a lot of watering. In a place this arid, a lot of water meant a lot of money.
He met Christy at the door and she pulled him quickly inside, locking her arm in his and introducing him to a lot of people he'd never seen before. He recognized only Barbara and Thad Ruske, and later, Kenyon Fese.
The Evans' had a stereo system, and a pool, and some of the guests brought swimming suits. Ambrose wished he'd brought his. The water looked soothing, and he still felt sore from his daily workout. He'd stuffed himself that afternoon, but already felt hungry again.
At least he wouldn't have gotten cramps.
"C'mon, Ambrose. Look over here." Christy pulled him down a hall to a darkened room. She switched on the lights. There stood a pool table, set up for a game. He sucked in a breath.
"Pretty neat, huh?" Christy asked.
"Yeah. I hope I can buy a pool table some day."
"You will. Don't worry. You can do anything or be anything that you want."
He grinned shyly. He just wanted to grow a little.
Champagne came from Napa Valley, they told him. It tasted all right if you drank it quickly. They had to, as Kenyon brought a whole case of it. Within an hour almost everyone at the party had become tipsy.
Ambrose tilted another glassful and giggled at Christy who had already drunk two.
"This isn't such bad stuff," he observed.
"Oh, I've had better before. This is an okay vintage. I've tasted really good champagne." She dabbed at her mouth with a finger, holding the air of sophistication for a moment before bursting out with musical laughter. "I've never had this before in my life!"
Ambrose chuckled and then looked at the place from where Thad Ruske stood glaring at them in his black slacks and sport coat. Something sure bothered him all the time.
"Come here!" Christy whispered fiercely at him with Thad distracted for a moment. She led him through the kitchen and into another dark room. He sloshed their half-full bottle of champagne.
The lights came on in the double garage. Two new Cadillacs gleamed under the lights.
"Nice, aren't they?" Christy bobbed a little as she walked around them.
Ambrose just gaped, finding an equal to every automotive fantasy he'd ever had.
"C'mon!" She opened the passenger door of the furthest car.
"Wait a minute, Christy. Maybe we shouldn't ..."
But she'd already gotten into the car and leaned back against the ample upholstery. He shook his head and climbed in the driver's side. He placed his hands gently on the steering wheel, feeling the power that the big car possessed.
"Do you want a car like this, Ambrose?" she asked breathlessly.
"Yeah. I wish I had the money to buy one. They're too expensive for me."
"You can always dream."
"Yeah." He touched the steering wheel again and then looked at the girl sitting silently beside him. He swallowed and then very hesitantly kissed her on the lips for the first time.
They both closed their eyes and kissed again.
"This is better than champagne."
"Yeah," Christy breathed sleepily. She stretched. "This car is like a great big sofa. I could just ..."
"No. Come on. The party." His senses swam. He wished he'd eaten before he'd drunk the champagne. Now he felt dizzy. The dullness overcame his better judgment and he snuggled next to Christy who'd fallen docilely asleep.
About twenty minutes later Barbara opened the door from the kitchen and turned off the garage light with some annoyance.
"Where are Christy and Beltane?" Thad Ruske asked her. Something about his manner seemed peculiarly hostile, immature.
"I don't know, Thad. I think they must've gone home."
"Hmm ..." He looked around the room again, feeling sick from the champagne. Kenyon told stories in the living room.
Time to go.
"Okay, Barbara. I'll see you around. Thanks for inviting me." He gave her a perfunctory handshake and a light kiss on the cheek before he left the party.
The phone ringing at midnight woke Barbara's parents. No, they didn't know where Ambrose and Christy had gone. No, they'd left hours before. No, the party hadn't been unchaperoned.
No one answered at the Beltane's.
Sometime before dawn Christy shook Ambrose awake.
"Ambrose! Oh, God! Ambrose, please wake up!"
"What?" He raised his head, which still spun, but now hurt as well, totally disoriented, then realized where he sat.
"Ambrose, we've been here all night!"
"We ..." He turned on the dome light and peered at his watch.
"Ambrose, what are we going to do? My parents will just kill me!"
She looked at him through puffy eyes. Her hair looked ruined and dull.
"We're okay. We just fell asleep. That's all."
"But Ambrose ...!"
"We didn't do anything."
"But we were out all night! People talk!"
"We'll tell them the truth. They'll believe us."
"Oh Ambrose ..." She hugged him. So innocent.
Word spread quickly. In spite of their care, they went the only way out of the locked garage, through the kitchen where Mrs. Evans saw them, and within a few hours, everyone on The Hill had been notified. Christy returned in disgrace back home. Ambrose went back to his empty house to await further action.
He still believed that the truth would prevail, but the nasty call he got from Mr. Parkman only confused him. They hadn't done anything. They'd fallen asleep, that's all.
Mr. Parkman said that Christy didn't want to press charges, but never wanted to see him again, or he'd call the sheriff. He'd asked to talk to Christy. Mr. Parkman cursed at him then hung up.
He finally went to bed at eight o-clock.
He awoke to the shrill ringing of the phone. His head and body hurt fiercely, especially his twisted back.
"Everything's ... fine. I went to a Christmas party, and ... well, everything's fine." He didn't dare tell them. It could wait. He'd explain the truth and everything would work out okay. He didn't want to spoil his parents' holiday.
Christmas Eve, and he had no place to go. He warmed some frozen food and sat in the living room, listening to the radio. So it had ended, he thought, all because he'd gotten drunk. He felt truly bad. Kissing Christy matched all of his dreams. Now she wouldn't even see him.
She probably would see him, actually. Her parents had made up their own story about them and they wouldn't let her see him ... he hoped. The thought of Christy being angry with him seemed worse than the thought of his eventual punishment. You got over being strapped, but you couldn't get over being despised. He wondered how long it would take the town to let the story blow over. Weeks? Days? They lived in a small town, despite its proximity to L.A., and small towns have long memories.
He unwrapped his two presents at midnight and hummed Christmas carols to himself. His parents had given him another too-big sweater and a pair of pants. He wondered if they realized that he needed more summer clothes and fewer clothes for cold weather.
The next day he tried calling Christy's exchange.
This time he got no answer at all.
He busied himself with his daily chores, watering plants, exercising and mostly sitting around being bored.
A few days later things seemed to quiet down. Although he still hadn't gotten hold of Christy, or anyone at her number, he remained hopeful that cooler heads had prevailed and the matter being looked at in a more realistic manner. The temperature still wavered at just under ninety during the day, and plunged to below sixty during the night. He slept wearing his new sweater, bothered by vague nightmares he couldn't remember when he woke up.
A week after the party, the phone rang again early in the morning.
"Hey, Beltane!" Kenyon Fese, whose voice he immediately recognized from its volume. "What's up?"
Ambrose felt a fleeting worry.
"Nothing much. What's the news around?" He closed his eyes and bit his lip.
"News? Oh, you mean about the party? Most people have forgot already." A blast of laughter.
He wondered now why Kenyon had called him. He didn't know him very well. Barbara must have put him up to it.
"So why'd you call?"
"Well ..." A long pause while he heard mumbling at the other end. "Some of us are going to the beach on our boat. We thought maybe you'd like to come along."
"Gee, I ..."
"Okay! We'll be there to pick you up in twenty minutes. Bring a towel and something to drink. Something stronger than root beer, if you gather my meaning. Canyon Road, right?"
"B ... but ..." He felt confused. Why invite him? Was Christy going? He couldn't make himself ask. "Okay. I'll be ready."
He walked into the living room again and stared for a long time at the 3/4 bottle of Hiram Walker before he picked it up and wrapped it in a paper bag. He changed into his bathing suit, pulling his jeans over and slipping on a sweatshirt. Still pretty cool outside, and would be at the beach for a while longer. He didn't want to get sick. He worried about the liquor, but promised himself he'd be moderate. If his folks asked ... He'd worry about it later.
The Hudson pulled up in front of his house twenty minutes later. He climbed quietly into the car, noticing that Thad Ruske drove. Kenyon turned back to him and gave a grin, shaking his hand.
"Hi Kenyon. Thad." Thad didn't respond, but pulled away from the curb. Kenyon, at least, seemed to be in a good mood. Maybe Thad just didn't like mornings.
"Who else are we picking up?"
Kenyon looked back and nodded, his grin fixed.
"They'll meet us. Some of 'em have stuff to do. You know women."
Ambrose laughed cautiously. Something wrong with the way the two acted. They seemed too stiff or something. A queasy feeling passed through his stomach.
"What d'jya bring to drink?" Thad didn't turn around.
"Uh, my dad's Hiram Walker."
"Yeah?" Kenyon beamed. "I took you for a scotch man."
"We'd better stop and get some cokes."
"Naw. My dad keeps a machine stocked at the Marina. No sweat." Kenyon smiled again, sort of like a fox. "You like bourbon and coke, Ambrose, or do you just stick to champagne?"
"I don't know." Bourbon and coke? Just one, he promised himself. "I guess so."
The weather around the beach left something to be desired, but the radio promised another hot and clear day. The air smelled clean and wet. Some people had started a volleyball game in the sand near the boats. Ambrose remembered hanging around a marina in San Diego. He'd spent a few summers just splashing around in warm water on nearly abandoned beaches. He'd never been to L.A. beaches. He wondered, though doubted, if they could be as empty.
Kenyon's dad moored his boat on one end of the dock, only a twenty footer, more for a lake than for the open sea, but they just planned to sail around the point to a private beach that Kenyon knew about. The others would meet them there, and they'd take turns sailing around the little bay. It probably would have been more fun if the girls had come. He didn't have such a tough time talking to them, and maybe Christy had found a way to get out without her parents knowing whom she'd be with. They could at least talk about movies, and maybe get Thad to relax.
"Yeah, women," Thad grumbled as he tossed a blanket to Kenyon who stood on the deck of the boat. "You have to treat them right or they'll leave you. Depends, of course, what it is you do." He stared at Ambrose, his expression telling nothing, and helped him onto the boat.
A moment of quick action while they untied lines and tied others, and then the three hoisted the sail. Though Ambrose felt no wind, the sail billowed out and they started their journey. Hardly anyone out yet, probably for fear that the sky would stay the color of slate all day. The air felt brisk and the waves that lapped at the boat, icy cold. Kenyon told him to hold a rope that led through a pulley and then to the sail. He felt important.
The sun broke through the haze after a while and the breeze became a bit stronger. The little boat jostled in the waves as they sped across the deepwater to the shallower water of a cove. Kenyon took the rope from his hand and told him to go forward, that they would drift in for a while.
Thad opened the Hiram Walker and mixed equal amounts of coke and bourbon in a glass. He grimaced at Ambrose and tipped the glass to his mouth, draining it. He mixed another and sighed.
"This is the life, huh, Kenny?" He kicked his legs out over the bow and rested his elbows on the deck. "I think, when this is all over and I graduate, I'm going to join the Navy and be a pilot, y'know? Like your dad did. Then I can get my own boat and just sail wherever the wind takes me."
"It's expensive," Kenyon reminded him, "And it isn't all ice-cream and cake. You ought to come down and scrape the hull sometime she's in dry dock."
"Yeah. When she's out of action." Thad mused. "Just like a woman to need so much TLC, huh. Beltane?"
"Yeah, I guess. I've never scraped a boat before. Maybe I can help you sometime, Kenyon," Ambrose offered earnestly, taking a glass of bourbon and coke Thad offered him.
"Naw. We have people who just do maintenance on our stuff. It's a full-time occupation."
"Yeah. I guess they'd do a better job at it, huh?"
"Better." Thad looked off the prow at the dull white of the beach. Reddish sandstone cliffs surrounded it. "You have to take responsibility for some things if you want to keep them."
Ambrose hadn't eaten much breakfast and the bourbon began to make his head swim. The movement of the boat didn't help either.
"We going to land or something, or do we have to swim it?" Ambrose asked, forgetting any conversation about it earlier.
Thad looked at him for a long time, seeming to size up his swimming ability.
"You can swim that far, Beltane?"
"Yeah ... I suppose so," He swam pretty well.
Thad and Kenyon exchanged a look, and then Kenyon shook his head.
"Naw. Not yet." Thad looked reflective and then gazed levelly at him. "Hey, Ambrose, you ever been with a woman?"
"Wh ... what?"
"Been with a woman. Y'know. Made love to a girl. Got lucky. You know!"
The hair stood up on the back of his neck. What did he mean? About Christy? Surely she'd explained about the party.
"No. No, I never have. I just barely got to kiss Christy."
Thad took a deep drink and squinted at the hazy sun.
"Luckier than me," Kenyon laughed from his place at the rudder. He rolled up the remains of the sail as the waves began to pull the boat towards the beach.
"I ... I figure you've got to be, you know, married. My folks didn't ... didn't until they were married for about a year."
Thad laughed humorlessly and stood up. They jumped out of the boat at last and pulled it onto the sand where they collapsed and puffed a while on the clean air. Ambrose tried to reduce his shivering. The water had barely gone past Thad's stomach and Kenyon's chest, but it had gone up nearly to his chin. They tossed their wet togs into the boat to dry. The sun withdrew from a bank of clouds and now poured lazily over them. The numbingly cold water made his teeth chatter, but the sun already felt hot.
"So where is everybody?" Ambrose asked again, looking at the deserted beach. Dunes had built up to several feet and he ran up one, looking over into a tide pool. The cliffs above remained empty too. Maybe his hope about empty beaches?
"They'll be along, Beltane. Here." Thad handed him a beer, which he hesitantly took. Thad showed him how to get the top off with his thumb, but Ambrose could only manage to shake the bottle so much, that when he opened it, beer sprayed all over both of them. They laughed.
For a while they splashed around in the cold waves. It did little to sober him up. He tried to be philosophical. He couldn't drive anyway, and no one home. He'd be okay. Just this once anyway, and a good time with his friends seemed okay. He needed to be accepted. He wished that he could talk with Christy for a while, though. That would dissolve whatever troubling feelings he had.
He flopped down on the blanket they'd spread and labored out of his wet T-shirt. He threw his arms out sideways and sighed. Kenyon offered him another beer, which he drank too quickly, burping up gas now and again.
Thad sat rigidly next to him, shaking his head.
"So where is everyone? I thought they were s'posed to meet us here or something."
"We're the lot," Kenyon muttered, sitting down next to Ambrose's head.
He'd closed his eyes against the sun and couldn't understand why they'd bring him alone to the beach ..?
He sat up, but not before Kenyon grabbed him around the neck, holding his windpipe in the crook of his elbow. He looked in terror at Thad who squinted off into the distance.
"Yeah. We're alone here. No one for miles." He shot a dark glance at Ambrose. "Where's Christy?"
"I don't know! I don't ..." Kenyon squeezed off his breath. He gagged.
Thad leaned to within an inch of Ambrose's face, leering manically.
"She's gone back east. For good. Her parents sent her there after you ..!"
"No!" Ambrose grabbed Kenyon's arm with both hands and kicked, unable to get loose from the wiry boy's grip. Kenyon chuckled, easily holding him.
"Her dad says you're a danger to every respectable girl in town."
"Yeah!" Kenyon yelled into his ear.
"So we're going to take care of you once and for all."
Kenyon stood up, forcing Ambrose to his feet. Ambrose squealed in panic, unable to even deny.
Thad stood up and Kenyon changed his hold, pinning Ambrose's arms behind him. Ambrose gulped in air.
"WAIT! No! I didn't ..! Please don't hurt me!"
"After what you did with Christy? After what you did to my girl?" Thad swung and slammed one fist into Ambrose's stomach.
The air burst out of his lungs and he folded in Kenyon's arms. The blow nearly knocked them both down. Thad grimaced and smashed a fist into Ambrose's cheek, making his head snap back and sprinkling blood onto his sun-freckled shoulders.
"You're a menace, Beltane!" Kenyon screeched, seeing the first blood flowing. "We're gonna take care of you once and for all!"
Ambrose writhed in pain. "... Didn't do anyth ..!"
"Frikkin' little weasel!" Thad pounded the smaller boy with both fists now, his rage completely beyond control. The air broke with sharp grunts every time a crushing blow slammed into Ambrose's body. Ambrose could never get his breath back. He couldn't even scream.
Thad stepped back, panting, and walked away for a minute. Kenyon threw Ambrose to the ground, snickering.
"Pinhead!" He kicked sand at the other boy who lay bent over double, clutching at his agonized middle. He coughed flecks of blood.
Thad returned, standing over him, fighting the desire to just finish him off with a few good kicks, maybe snap his spine, or one of his arms, or all the fingers on both hands, one by one.
"Dig! Dig a hole where you're sitting! DIG!" He grabbed a handful of Ambrose's short hair and shoved his face into the blood-flecked sand. Ambrose frantically started to cup sand with both hands, trying to regain his breath. His heart boomed in his ears. Why make him dig? What did they plan to do to him now?
"I didn't know ... I didn't know she was your girl. She never said ..." His eyes looked larger in his chalky face, the blood flowing from his nose and mouth a vibrant red.
"Shut up! Dig deep, Beltane! Real deep!"
"Wh ... What are you going to do to me?" Thad stood above him like a nightmare. His brain refused to answer his question.
"I'm going to make sure you never hurt another girl in this place. I'm going to pay you back for what you did!" He swung his foot, connecting with Ambrose's shoulder and knocking him down. Kenyon laughed viciously. He jumped next to the digging boy and smacked the back of his head with an open hand.
Thad stormed back to the boat and rifled Kenyon's pants, returning with his jackknife and the almost empty bottle of bourbon.
Kenyon sobered somewhat.
"H ... hey! That's mine!"
"Don't sweat it, Kenny." He looked from Kenyon to Ambrose, who had dug a shallow depression in the sand. It kept sliding back in and he whimpered and scraped it out again. He looked truly puny.
"Get up!" Thad ordered. When he wasn't fast enough, Kenyon grabbed his arms again and jerked him up. Thad leaned towards him, opening the knife, his eyes hard. Ambrose screamed over and over again, the cries repeated by gulls filling the sky and echoing off the ruddy cliffs.
"Shut up!" Thad shouted and slapped him. He took a long drink from the bottle.
"What're you going to do to him, Ruske?" Kenyon's eyes grew wide, his breathing irregular. Ambrose could only stare at the blade of the knife; a blade long enough to ...
"I'm going to end this problem now."
"You're gonna, uh, kill him?"
Ambrose began to struggle again, his voice cracking as he screamed, his eyes fixed on the knife.
"Not just yet. First I'm gonna make him pay for what he did to Christy." He grabbed the front of Ambrose's dark blue trunks and tore through the material with the knife. The trunks fell around his ankles.
Thad looked the smaller boy up and down. What had Christy possibly seen in him? How could she have let him ..?
"This is for banging my girl, you little shitpile!" He lunged with the knife. Ambrose kicked out and deflected the blade with his ankle bone. The dull knife ripped open his skin and he cried out.
Thad brought an expert foot up between Ambrose's legs, shouting, as the boy crumpled in Kenyon's arms shrieking in animal pain. Kenyon changed his grip and dragged him up again. Thad kicked.
Ambrose vomited, the beer and his breakfast splattering in the sand.
"Shit!" Kenyon cried, disgusted. He pushed Ambrose away from him. The wounded boy sank to the ground, groaning and bleeding. Thad shifted the knife in his hands, trying to summon up the final courage, the final rage to finish what he'd started. He drained the last of the bourbon and dropped the bottle.
"Hey! Hey, he banged your girl, Thad ..."
"So why don't you do the same to him? You want to really fix him?" He looked crazily at the helpless boy.
Ambrose heard them, his pain unbearable already, but he tried to rise past the waves of nausea, tried to protest.
"... Didn't do it! We just slept! Just ... slept ...!"
Kenyon gave him a short sharp kick to the middle. His trunks dangled from his bleeding ankle.
Thad picked up the bourbon bottle and shoved Ambrose into the hole he'd dug, putting his knees between his legs. Kenyon sat on his shoulders and pulled his wrists behind his back, driving his face into the hot sand. He tried to cry out as it went into his nose and mouth. He bucked wildly, trying to break free.
"You're not gonna like this, weasel!" Thad's eyes were wide. "This'll teach you not to take advantage of people!" He hated the quaver in his voice. He pushed the prone boy's legs apart with his knees and grabbed the bottle with both hands.
Ambrose screeched in agony as the bottle penetrated him, choked on his gorge, and passed out.
Hours later he rose slowly to consciousness. He opened one eye and saw sand stretching to the sea. Two gulls had landed near him and squabbled over some bloody scrap. He remembered with a start where he lay and straightened up. The pains of his violation immediately wracked him. He looked at the sand between his legs and saw an enormous amount of drying blood. One eye had swollen shut, and his mouth seemed to be made of tender shredded meat. His ribs and stomach already showed bruises and his ankle gave a dull ache as he labored to his knees. The bourbon bottle lay a few feet away, its neck unbroken, but covered in blood.
They hadn't killed him. Thad and Kenyon hadn't killed him ... really. He began to cry, mumbling sounds and searching the tacky sand for his ripped trunks. He pulled them gingerly on, each step tearing open his damaged skin. The snap held them together and at least covered him partially. He shivered, wondering about blood loss. Maybe he would bleed to death. Maybe he would die still. He searched through his mind for the way to make himself die. His T-shirt lay where he'd dropped it so long before. He felt blood trickling hot down the insides of his legs as he limped towards the cliffs.
He stumbled barefoot along the highway for five miles before someone picked him up. The driver asked no questions. Ambrose could only shudder and bled on the man's car seat. The man finally asked if he wanted to go to a doctor. He'd refused. He couldn't let anyone else see him like this.
He managed to get back to town by nightfall and crawled into his bed at home where he cried until exhaustion finally overcame him and he fell asleep.
The next day he burned his trunks and scrubbed the stubborn dried blood off himself and washed his sheets. He labored into the backyard and went through the agony of trying to do his exercises.
When the phone rang he couldn't make himself talk at first. He shook so badly that he dropped the receiver.
Everything's okay. I'm okay. That's good. I'll be good. Yes. I'll water the plants. Okay. Kiss the twins for me. Yes, I love my sweater. Goodbye.
He held the phone out and hit the coffee table with it, breathing deeply, the panic starting again.
He'd awakened during the night and shrieked and chattered until he'd fallen asleep again. That had happened three times.
The police? Should he call the police? What would he tell them? Could he tell them that the high school's star quarterback had ..? His muscles tightened and he felt a cold dread.
He couldn't tell anyone. Ever. He had to run away, or ...
He walked across the living room to the bar and pulled out the bottle of vodka. He opened it and guzzled as much as he could at one time. Then he did it again. He drank until he could no longer lift the bottle.
The bleeding stopped the second day. He couldn't leave the house, and took two showers daily to lessen the slimy feel of his skin. The bruises turned black on his face and ribs and his mouth swelled. He saw only a ruin in the mirror; the remains that Thad had left to torture him. He saw no future except pain and more pain and more pain.
His parents came back the Saturday after New Year's Day, 1958. He told them that he'd had a fight and how sorry he felt for what they'd hear, and that he hadn't done it.
Mister Parkman and his father met on Sunday with the result being a long session with the strap. Ambrose accepted the beating so docilely that his father actually worried about his mind, and hit him even harder. His mother talked him out of sending the boy away.
At school everyone had heard about Christy Parkman and treated him like dirt. He thought everyone knew of his secret shame. He met each question with a tortured grunt and refused to look anyone in the eye. It meant more fights at school and more beatings at home.
Not quite a week into the new semester someone vandalized his locker; filling it with rotten fruit and dog excrement. He cleaned it up without reporting it. No one to tell. The phone calls started after that; always anonymous. They threatened him with more horrors. He always listened to them, no matter how graphic or shocking they became, and smiled as though a girl on the other end told him how she liked his manners. At night he cried through nightmares about the beach.
A group of boys challenged him after school one day and beat him so badly that an ambulance had to be called by some junior high kids. His parents knew why. He refused to move away.
Thad visited him in his room one day while he lay recuperating from his broken ribs; courtesy of one of his attackers' steel-toed boots. He didn't seem surprised to see how badly the boys had beaten him.
"Tangled with the wrong crowd, I see." He closed the bedroom door. He glanced at the Marines poster Ambrose had tacked above his bed. "Real fighting man."
"What do you want, Thad?" He refused to meet the athlete's gaze.
"Well ..." He pulled the chair out from under the small desk and sat down backward in it. "I don't know how to start."
"Don't. There's nothing to say." For the first time in weeks he felt something more than just a flaccid acceptance. Anger flared.
"I ..." Thad stared hard at the floor. "I don't know how to ... how to say this. I don't know what I ... what I did. I don't know why I did it. It was ... It was real sick, what I did ..."
"Go away, please ..." Ambrose had closed his eyes, feeling an aching that went deeper than the physical pain he now suffered.
"Look, Beltane. Ambrose ..." Thad labored for words for a moment. He wore a tie, squirmed uncomfortably. He carried a puzzle in a box. He put it on the floor and placed his fingertips together, drawing his lips into a firm line, his eyes downcast.
"There's no excuse for what I did. I was drunk and really mad and ... Things got out of hand. Kenyon was s'posed to fight you. I wasn't. I really wasn't. But Christy ..."
"Christy. You did this to me because of that." Ambrose became completely calm, his eyes glassy. "I never touched her."
"Yeah. You said. I remember."
Of course he didn't believe him. No one did.
"What do you want now?"
"I don't know. I just ..." He paused for a long time, clearing his dry throat. "I'm sorry. That's all I can say. I'm really really sorry." He looked up, his internal pain clear in his eyes. He'd not slept well since committing the crime. He couldn't concentrate. He knew he'd over-reacted, and he didn't know how to make up for it. There had to be something he could do. Whatever Ambrose had done, he hadn't deserved ... No one did. He couldn't believe himself capable of something so ... sick.
"You're sorry." Ambrose's voice sounded eerily flat. "What you did can't be forgiven. I'm different now. You made me ... You hurt me, and I'm never going to be the same. These'll heal," he pointed to his wrapped ribs. "What you did is never going to heal. I trusted you. I tried to like you, even. Now, whatever happens because of what you did is your fault." His voice remained quiet, but his eyes showed a depth of disturbance that unnerved the big athlete.
"Are you ... Are you threatening me, Beltane?"
Ambrose laughed and then grimaced in pain, clutching his side.
"What could I do to you, Thad? Can I tell everyone what you did? Can I beat you up and leave you to bleed to death on a beach? Tell me, Thad. What can I do to you, huh?"
Thad stood up. Something had really gone wrong with this kid's mind. He didn't even look the same. It scared him a little.
Maybe I can just get a bottle, and ..." He laughed and then started to cry, his face twisted. "Get out!"
"Your head's all goofy, Beltane. I tried to be square with you. I said I'm sorry, and I'm willing to make it right if I can, but you're talking crazy."
"Please get out ..."
"Okay. Get better. See you."
For weeks Ambrose wouldn't talk to anyone. He spent all of his time on street corners hustling money that he spent on liquor. He worked long hours at the gas station and forgot about school. The state authorities caught up with him and tried to force him to finish, threatening to lock him up. His father kept him at home for a week straight in his room. The following week he climbed out the bathroom window and disappeared for four days. The police found him unconscious in downtown L.A. with a group of derelicts.
He came back to school only to find easy action with girls who never said no, and to drink to senselessness with the social scum of the town. He got into numberless fights, and, through his punishing exercise regimen, finally became strong enough to win sometimes.
When he met Barbara Evans again on a deserted street, she told him that she loved him, that she'd always loved him. He took her to the little room near the lockers at school during the night and made her prove it again and again. When she cried, he hit her. He hit everyone around him, even his mother and father.
They threw him out after he left school for the last time. He took a one-room apartment near the north end of town and worked as many hours as he could without dropping from exhaustion. His parents moved again, across the country. Now he lived completely alone.
He heard about Thad's graduation from a customer. The same night Barbara came to him uninvited and told him she carried his baby. He gave her money for an abortion, but she refused. She wanted to marry him. He told himself that he deserved it; that he proved something by fathering a child. But it was wrong, and he knew it. He loved only Christy, and now he'd lost her forever, and the Ambrose Beltane that she had loved. In his place remained what he fast became.
He hated what he knew he slowly turned into.
He married Barbara and worked six days a week, twelve hours or more a day. When he didn't work, he drank until he passed out. No escape that way, either. None.
In spring of 1959 the child was born after a difficult labor. The doctor told them that they would have no more children. Barbara took care of his son while he kept food on the table and money coming in. He fought day after grinding day to forget the past and grow beyond it, but it did no good.
He had to get out. He had to leave ... anywhere ... anywhere that he wouldn't have to see the product of his weakness and the fruit of his violation and know that somewhere Thad and Kenyon roamed free to destroy other lives as they had his.
All before his eighteenth birthday.