Casey J. Robb

He’s a Rebel

 

Me and Angela, we were tight. Best friends, like, forever, even still in eighth grade. So when she dared me, I had to do it. It was a Monday after school. We were walking the six blocks to her apartment, past shady magnolias, gnarled oaks and weedy lawns—her scruffy part of town—when she threw me the challenge.

“Noooo!” I gaped. “Not Frankie!” I shook my head madly. My Cher bangs swung side to side, tickling my forehead like tawny-brown tassels.

That’s right, Cher. Sonny and Cher. Me and Angela, we were huge fans. We wanted to be Cher. Like on that album where they’re wedged in that tree and Cher is peering past her jungle-bangs, her raven Rapunzel hair cascading beyond her boobs, and Sonny’s in this furry, he-man vest with his feral eyes fixed on a distant storm. Wow. All paleo. Like back-to-nature freaks.

It was 1966.  The Beatles had landed, and boys were shaking their shaggy mop tops, frolicking with Frisbees and dispensing daisies. But not everyone. There were a few hold-outs.

“Come on, Sarah. You heard me right. Frankie.”

I gasped.

Angela smacked her gum and forged ahead. She walked fast, despite her snug mini-skirt and skinny gold sandals. I tripped on a broken sidewalk slab and shuffled to catch up in my own too-tight mini-skirt, amid a flood of blood-red leaves and the musty scents of September. She slowed. I scurried to her side.

“Oh. My. Gosh. He is so fab,” I blurted.

Angela had picked Frankie for the dare. Of course. It was easy for her. She was diving into her teens now and all its secrets still hopelessly out of my reach. Her stubby buds from last year had inflated to balloons that she could barely squeeze into her black lacy bras while my so-called boobs lay lean—barely half a handful.

One day, in the school restroom, Angela lifted her shirt.

“Look, Sarah—”

“Angela!” I yanked her blouse down. “Christ.” I scanned the stalls for witnesses. She laughed.

Angela made out with this boy named Gary last summer. He actually drove a car, an old green Chevy sedan. One night they parked in an empty lot. And you know what that means. The next day in the hallway at school, Angela leaned close and whispered, “Don’t worry. He didn’t get past second base.” But, wow. The guy was, like, old. Maybe 16. “Here we were, necking.” She peered around, then fixed her eyes back on me. “And he suddenly leaned back and sucked in his breath, and the window was, like, all fogged and dripping and he rolled it down and lit a cigarette.”

Man. And I was still waiting for my first kiss.

Angela sped up, her sandals slapping her heels.  We turned onto the next block, with me bustling to keep up. When we reached her apartment, I followed her up the outdoor steps, watching her hips swing under that mini-scrap of a skirt. Sometimes Angela scared me. Still, we were best buds. Right? And connecting with Frankie would shoot me to the top. So I had to try. It was a dare.

But still . . . Frankie?

Frankie was tough, the toughest guy at school. Way cool. A real hood. Carried a switchblade in his black jacket. Once during lunch break, he pulled the knife out and flipped it open, right there behind the red-brick building. The blade glinted in the sun. Then, before the lunch monitor could catch him, he clicked it closed and tucked it away.

Frankie must have failed a grade or two. He seemed old for ninth grade, was even starting a bit of a brownish beard-shadow. And no Beatle mop top for this guy. His dirty-blond hair flared up from his forehead and swept back behind his ears in a ducktail, like in that 1950’s Brylcreem ad (a little dab’ll do ya). A real ducktail. A real delinquent. A wannabe James Dean. He never said much. At break time, he stood back from the other kids, even from the girls. Like he had better friends to see later. Older friends. Older than me.

Angela unlocked her apartment door and let me in. A swell of stale tobacco stink rose, ghost-like; the reek clung to my clothes. We collapsed on her wine-red couch. That’s where we hung out most days and pretended to do homework. Her parents were divorced. Her mom was out waitressing at some café. We lolled around with our feet propped on the coffee table, our matching blue mini-skirts riding way up. We also wore the same makeup—black eyeliner, thick mascara and ruby lip gloss.

“Let’s play something.” Angela crossed the room and switched on the record player. She lay a Sonny and Cher album on the turntable and lowered the needle. I stared at her and wondered if I could ever be so cool. Her hair was black, real black, like Cher’s. And shiny. Her grandmother was from some place weird, like Romania, or Transylvania. I couldn’t remember, but some exotic, awesome place. Angela’s bangs nearly touched her dark brown eyes.

My stupid bangs barely covered my eyebrows, ’cause my mom made me trim them. God, my mom was embarrassing—always spouting, in that shrill voice of hers, Sarah, your blue eyes are beautiful, you need to see where you’re walking. Ridiculous. My hair was a typical mousey-brown—drab, dull. That was me, mousey. Not brave and wild, like Angela. And my parents . . . God . . . total Squaresville; they wouldn’t even let their friends smoke in our house, much less me. Man, they’d kill me. If only my mom was, well, like Angela’s mom.

Angela’s mom was way cool—smoked menthols like a movie star . . . or a gypsy. In sixth grade, she drove our whole girl-sleepover party in her red convertible, two girls squeezed in front, four crammed in back, so we could wrap that cute boy Randy’s house. And even bought us the toilet paper. Then she lay low around the corner, smoking her Salems in the getaway car. Wild.

Angela collapsed on the couch. She crackled her gum—pip-pip-pip—and blew a bubble. The music began. Do-do-do-do-do-do. She closed her eyes, smiling, and tapped her foot.

“Yay. I Got You Babe,” I squealed. “Love this.” I sang along.

Angela pulled a pack of Marlboros from her purse and dangled one from her lips. She leaned over the coffee table and flicked her mom’s lighter to her cig—that’s what she called it—and handed it to me. I took a puff and tried to inhale. Cough, cough. I fanned the smoke and parked the cig in the ashtray. Angela chuckled and took a drag.

The song went on: Do-do-do-do-do-do.

“Babe,” I sang along, then stood and pretended to slow dance with a cuddly guy. Angela laughed. “You got me, Frankie,” I crooned and giggled.

That’s when Angela dared me again. “Come on, Sarah. Just see where he lives. Maybe he’s sweet.”

“Sweet? And carries a switchblade?”

“Maybe he’s just a rebel. You know, misunderstood. Like James Dean. That movie was so fab.” Angela lifted the Sonny and Cher album off the turn-table and plopped on a Crystals 45 single.

“Oh, no. Not He’s a Rebel.” I cackled so hard I collapsed on the couch. “What are you trying to say?”

“He’s your guuuuuy,” Angela belted out along with the music.

“Ha, ha. Come on, Angela.” I went to the kitchen for a Coke.

“I double dare you.” Angela wasn’t giving up.

I sighed and chugged the soda. The bubbles burned down my throat.

***

The next day at school, I was coming out of math class when Angela appeared, pushing out of the swarm at the stairwell.

“Angela!” I yelled. She ran over to me.

“Hey. There he is.” Angela scooted behind me. “Turn around. He’s coming this way.” Frankie was a half-head taller than the other boys and easy to spot. He elbowed a short guy out of his way and approached us through the crowd.

“Now? Now?” A panic gripped me. “But—”

Clap-clap-clap. My dread was interrupted by a loud clapping. Yikes! It was Mrs. Kildare, that 1930’s schoolmarm, her puffy stomach protruding from her brown, below-the-knee Depression-era skirt. Mrs. Dare-to-Kill-You rumbled out of her classroom like a Nazi Tiger tank, surveyed the crowd and slipped around the throng, seeking prey. Clap-clap. And I was her prey.

“You. Girl. Come here.”

Dang. Too late to slink into the crowd.

“Kneel,” she commanded.

Uh, oh. My flashy blue mini-skirt was pretty mini. It was metric time. I kneeled on the floor like a supplicant. She pulled a folded measuring stick from her skirt pocket and extended it. My mini-hem hovered eight inches from the floor. Whew, it passed. Barely.

“Hmph,” the teacher grunted. I rushed off to my next class.

Frankie had disappeared.

***

The next day, I did it, for real. The dare. I actually talked to Frankie. And more.

It was a Wednesday. The school bell rang at 3:00. Kids surged through the halls, down the stairwell and out the building.

Angela parked herself on the porch atop the front steps to watch. I crossed the street and leaned against an oak tree, trying to look laid-back. And there he was, his head towering over the other kids coming through the doors. My heart pounded. Whoops . . . no. That was another tall blond boy. I waited. Maybe he’d left. Or got detention. A few more kids came down the front steps, mostly girl groups.

Then, there he was on the porch, standing solo, his shoulders drooping in that no-big-deal pose, arms hanging loose and free of books. He moved down the steps two at a time, crossed the lawn to my left and strolled along the sidewalk.

I clutched my books to my chest and dashed across the street after him. “Hey,” I shouted. Oh, my God, was I doing this? My fingers shook like the shimmy. “Hey.” I closed in, a few yards behind. “Frankie.”

He paused. I scudded to a stop. He turned real slow, his dusky boots pivoting, his hands buried in pockets. His black jacket hung open. He gazed at my blue skirt, my thin thighs and knobby knees, my stupid, clunky brown shoes my mom made me wear, and back up to my stringy mouse hair.

“Hey.” My voice seeped out in a thinning thread. Almost a squeak. Please, not mousey. Not me. Not now.

He stared at my eyes, my mouth. God, his eyes were blue. He slid the tip of his perfect tongue along his pale, lean lips, then ran his fingers through his wheat-colored hair and back into his ducktail.

“Yeah?”

I had to think fast. “Uh . . . ,” I began. “Uh. Say, you live around here?”

“Yeah.”

Wow. So far, he was not much in the way of vocabulary, but his voice was . . . well, sexy . . . rough . . . dangerous. He tossed his head to the side as if to say, right over there, close by.

“What ya need?”

“Oh . . . was just wondering. Um.” I took in a breath. “About drugs. Yeah. Drugs and parties.” My God, what was I saying? “I want some drugs. You know. A joint. Smoke something. Or pills. Yeah. Take pills. At a party. You know, get wild. And, um . . .” It had started on a roll but was now nose-diving into utter stupidity. My thoughts dwindled, deserting me. What to say? What to say?

Frankie peered at me with lazy-lizard eyes. His meager mouth curled at the corners in a semi-snicker. I lingered, my heart hammering.

“Yeah,” he said at last. Another notable line. “Okay,” he added, “meet me here Friday.” Whew, at least, he had a vocabulary. “After school.” Then he turned and strolled away. Just like that.

I stood there, stunned, watching his silhouette shrink as he disappeared down the street. When I finally came to, I ran to tell Angela.

***

Friday morning, I donned my pastel blue blouse, the best complimentary color for my navy blue mini, just to awe him, and strapped my shiny silver coin purse over my shoulder. But I didn’t see Frankie all day.

Then school let out. No homework—yay! I stuffed my books into my crowded locker and crossed to the oak tree. A tall blond guy came through the doors. Nope, not him. Then another. And another. Angela had gone home. The yard cleared out.

Finally, Frankie appeared. He paused on the porch, then ran down the steps toward the sidewalk. I let out a long breath and crossed the street to meet him. He sauntered over, gave me a quick glance and tossed his head again, this time motioning me to follow. Okay, here we go. Jesus.

“So what’s the plan?” My voice sounded yippy, piercing.

“You’ll see.” At least, he was talking. His long legs strode ahead.

“Is it a party?” I was a Chihuahua, my doggie steps whizzing to keep pace.

“Yeah, sort of.”

“With your friends?”

“Kinda.” Then he went chillingly silent. His boot steps made a soft, eerie sound. My clunky shoes kept going clomp, clomp, clomp. I wanted to shush them.

We walked for fifteen minutes like strangers. What to say? What to say? Black oak trees branched above us. Red leaves tumbled, tangling in my hair. A jay screamed and fluttered from a tree. The right-side row of red-brick houses seemed weary, their broken-shuttered windows wide-open as if watching … protecting their patches of crabgrass and scatterings of fox tails.

One more block, and he turned onto the walkway of a two-storey brick house—his own place, I guessed. A mass of fall dandelions filled the yard. A crack-line cut across a window pane. Streaks of yellow paint peeled down the front door, as from the slashing of desperate fingernails.

Frankie pushed on the door. The hinges creaked. We stepped into a dim foyer. A dusty gust hit my nose. I sneezed once, twice, three times, and caught a whiff of moldy carpet, rotten beef, or something dead. I coughed. On the right, a ripped, green sofa sat in a murky living room, the brown carpet blackening into dark corners. On the left, in a shadowy kitchen, a folding metal table stood cluttered with stacks of grubby plates and bowls and half-biscuits.

I stifled a gasp.

“Where’s your mom?” I managed to squeak out.

“At work, I guess. Where else? Or . . .” He paused.

“Or . . . what?”

“Or drunk somewhere.” Frankie’s voice bristled.

“What about . . . uh . . . your dad?”

“He doesn’t dare show himself here,” he growled. His fingers curled into a fist. The word dare made me cringe. I wanted to turn and run to Angela’s house and yell: I give up, I’m not brave. I lost the dare. But I couldn’t leave. I could scarcely breathe.

From the foyer, a darkened staircase led to God-knows-where. Frankie started up. I followed him like a zombie, onto one quiet step, and another and another, then turned right at the landing and up again. The house was still, hushed. My armpits dampened. On the second floor, he turned left into a small bedroom. All four dresser drawers hung open, pants and T-shirts dangling. A single bed sat by the front window. A pillow lay crumpled on the dull gray sheet; a musty, green blanket sprawled from the bed to the floor, tangled in a top sheet. The pungent scent of stale pee wafted from somewhere.

Frankie settled on the bed and patted the space to his left. I hesitated, then put on a bold face and sat by him. My silver coin purse hung down my back; I slipped it around to my lap and clutched it tightly, and I was not sure why. He leaned to me and shifted his left arm to my shoulders. My knees shivered. Well, wasn’t this what I wanted? Wasn’t I cool now? I pulled away a bit. Then, right by our butts, I saw it—a huge circular stain on the sheet. Yellow. Reeking of urine.

I sucked in a breath. So Frankie was a bed wetter? He wet the bed? My God, he must be . . . he must be calling out for help. Well, he wasn’t so tough afterall. In a flash, I saw his whole tired life, his terrible days, his torment. He was an infant, crying out. Could I help him? Could I be that strong? My thoughts raced; they rambled. I fancied myself the heroine. Yes, he was my guy. I could help him beat this. Give him the love he desperately needed. I was sure of it. I casually tugged at the top sheet and covered the pee spot to spare him any more shame.

Frankie didn’t seem to notice or care that I’d seen the spot or shifted the sheet. He scooted closer. He mashed his tight lips against my teeth—a quick taste of bitter breath. Before I could react, he broke away and slid across his bed to the window, peered out, then leaned back to me, kissing again, harder—ouch. Was this okay? Should I be here? What should I do? I felt numb, passive.

He scooted to the window again. He leaped to standing and yelled, “Come here,” and raced out of the room. What the hell was going on? I followed him downstairs and out to the yard.

That’s when I saw the car at the curb, the black sedan.

A girl with frizzy red hair slid from the driver’s seat. Her thin legs were jammed into tight jeans and her T-shirt hung low, exposing an ample bust. She was older than me, had to be sixteen. Another girl, a chunky one, stepped out from the passenger side, and three more from the back seat—five in all. They slammed the car doors: thump, thump, thump, thump. The frizzy girl marched straight to me, where I stood shuddering among the dandelions. She shoved her face into mine. She was clearly the leader of the pack.

“What are you doing with my guy?” she growled. Her beady gray eyes glared through a thick frame of black liner. “Bitch!” Her sidekicks gathered around in their own tight jeans and leather belts. My fingers fastened to my purse in a death grip.

“Nothing,” I managed to squeak out.

Where was Frankie? Wasn’t he going to defend me? He sure seemed to like me a few moments ago. Or so I thought.

The frizzy girl stepped closer. “What,” her finger poked my chest, “are you,” her friends circled closer around me, “doing,” her finger poked sharper, “with my,” I stumbled backward, “boyfriend?”

I glanced to the left, hunting for Frankie. He was nowhere. Then I caught his face at the upstairs window. He was watching the show.

So . . . it was all planned. Incredible.

“Bitch!” The red girl landed a stinging slap on my left cheek. “Answer me, cunt.” She slapped again, harder. I stumbled back, stunned, my tongue tasting blood.

I’d never been hit in my life. Time seemed to pause and, in a millisecond, my thoughts slowed, shifted, centered. All planned, huh? Wow. My stomach churned. My teeth clenched. And then, from somewhere deep, a kindling flared—a stirring, a fissure, a fight. Something livid, fuming, wild.

The red girl shoved me in the shoulder. And a critical cord snapped inside.

My body twisted, twirled to the left, and rebounded like a spring. I went for her, grabbed her kinky hair in my left fist, and swung my right elbow back, hard, whacking a body behind me with a thud: Ow! I yanked the red girl closer and lost my balance. We fell onto the grass and kicked and rolled. The sharp weeds jabbed my back, my sides. She straddled me. She grabbed my collar and smacked my face. I gripped her arm and bit. My nostrils filled with her sour, mean-girl sweat. She yanked her arm back, dug her butt into my stomach and shoved a snicker into my face. My right fist flew out and punched her in her stupid gray eye. She jerked back. Her friends paced around me, kicking my legs and ribs. The red girl leaned forward and hovered over me like a dog. I kneed her in the groin. She collapsed onto my chest, groaning. I twisted and bent her arm back, maybe too far—a crunching sound crackled in my ear, and she screamed, “Aaaaaaah . . . you fuckin’ bitch.” She flipped onto her back and clutched her elbow.

“Get her stupid purse,” the big girl yelled. “Tie her. Gag her.”

I scrambled to my feet. A girl-palm shoved me from behind. I wrenched three tight fists off my arms and gave the fat girl one final kick in the knee. Then I took off running, past oak trees and brick houses. Didn’t even feel the blood dripping down my chin or my broken rib. Just run. Run. Run.

Ten blocks later, I stood in a phone booth outside a drug store wiping the blood off my mouth with my bare arm and trying to catch my breath. Finally, I stuck a dime in the slot and dialed.

Mom pulled up in her station wagon and parked. She saw me limp to the car, saw my black eye and cut lip.

“What in the—”

I held up my palm for silence. You know, my mom’s pretty savvy. She knows when to shut up. I rode in the back seat without a word and didn’t cry till I got home and holed up in my room where I boohooed like crazy, got my stuffed bear all wet, and yelled and bit my pillow. Mom tiptoed in and left a wet washcloth on the dresser, then returned to the hall and stood by my door a while, listening.

She’s a pretty cool mom, I guess.

Finally, I lay still and clutched my bear. Frankie’s face floated, ghost-like, and the others’ too—the red girl, the fat girl and the gang. And that’s when I really got it. Frankie was not cool. The girl gang was not cool. These kids, these hoods, they were not like me. They grew up slapped and beaten and punched by any so-called parent who was still around that day. That was their life. They were used to it. It was all they knew. They stumbled through each day with empty eyes, the wounded-walking-nearly-dead, propped up, barely breathing, and lost. Lost. Lost. Like zombies. But I was not. My folks were always square, but always there.

I lay on my bed till the room went dark.

Dad came home. I got up and peeked at him from the hall. He was wearing his usual office suit and tie—boring. He tossed the newspaper to the couch and sat down to read. I raced to him and before he had a chance to see my bruises or my black eye, I wrapped my arms around his neck. “What’s this about?” he mumbled from under my arm. I leaned back. One look at me, and he blurted, “What in the . . .,” just as Mom had. “Who did this to you? I’m calling the police.” His reached in a rush to the sofa table and grabbed the phone.

“No, no, no.” I presented my palm again. “No, Dad.”

Mom joined us on the couch. He gave her a wild, worried look. She shrugged.

“Mom. Dad. I just want to say . . . don’t bother. I got them back real good.”

“Got who back?” Dad asked. He put the phone down.

“Well, I’m only going to say one thing.” I shook my head. “I’m glad I have a dad.” He gave me a puzzled smile. “And a mom.”

“Wow,” Mom said.

“And that you’re both total Squaresville.”

“What?” they said together.

“And another thing. There are people in this world you just can’t help.”

Later, I phoned Angela. She lifted the receiver. “I’ll tell you where you can stick your stupid dare,” I yelled.

“Huh?” she gasped. She knew it was me. I hung up.

***

The next day was Saturday. I called Angela. “Sorry about last night,” I told her. “I didn’t mean it.”

“That’s okay,” she said. “I knew something happened.”

“Yeah. And boy, do I have a story to tell.”

“Okay, but first, just shut up a minute and let me talk. Forget about Frankie. This amazing new guy transferred here on Friday. He’s got a motorcycle and a wolf tattoo on his arm. And curly black hair and gorgeous brown eyes. I stared at him all through math.” Angela crackled her gum. “So. On Monday, I double dare you to . . .”

 

***

 

Casey Robb-BCasey Robb’s poetry has won numerous awards.  Her poems and fiction have appeared in a variety of journals, including “The Classical Outlook,” “Ekphrasis,” “The Edge City Review,” “The Lyric,” “Menda City Review,” “Fiction on the Web,” and “Foliate Oak,” and is forthcoming in “The Foundling Review.”  Her website is at: pikapawpress.com.  Casey’s careers have included physical therapy and civil engineering.  She is a Texan, who lives in Northern California with her two adopted daughters.

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