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Everybody sees the ants, p.14
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       Everybody Sees the Ants, p.14

           A. S. King
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  “I think he’s too busy in school,” Mom offers as I chew and think.

  I say, “I just haven’t found a girl I want to kiss yet.”

  The two women nod and shake their heads in disbelief.

  Jodi says, “I wish the boys around here thought like that. I hear a quarter of the junior class has an STD already.”


  “Yeah,” Mom agrees.

  “I just can’t figure how this could happen, you know? Most of those kids go to church every Sunday and come from good families.”

  “But isn’t that always what happens?” I say. “The kids who have the strictest parents end up being the ones who act out?”

  After a minute, Jodi says, “Are you saying Virginia Clemens is having sex?”


  “Are you sure?”

  “Yes. Actually, I am. Not that it’s any of your business.”

  Mom looks at me skeptically. “You’ve known this girl for a week and you know this type of personal information?”

  I smile. “I’m a natural listener. What can I say?”

  I think for a minute about what Aunt Jodi just said. “Are Ginny’s parents extra strict or something?”

  “They don’t let her out of their sight—which was why I was so surprised to hear that someone saw you two on the bus last night.”

  “She doesn’t usually take the bus,” I say.


  “Yeah—she usually sneaks around like a ninja. That’s how I met her.”

  Mom has stopped eating and is staring at me. I can’t tell if she thinks I’m cute or thinks I’m high or what. Jodi is staring at me, too. It’s making me uncomfortable, so I start clearing the table and cleaning the kitchen while they finish.

  But then I get this awful feeling that I’ve said too much. I go back to the table.

  “You guys aren’t going to tell, are you?”

  Mom looks at me as if to say, “Tell who?” Jodi shakes her head and says, “If Mr. and Mrs. Clemens can’t keep tabs on their daughter, it’s not my job to tell them.”

  And right then I know that she knows.

  It’s the way she said “Mrs. Clemens.” Flat. Emotionless. Hollow.

  And I wonder if that’s why she freaked out in church that time, and if that’s why she goes every week. Does she go just to mark her territory? Just to show that she can?

  Dave never shows up for dinner. He calls and says he’s working late. My mother, upon hearing this news, probably pictures him chained to his drawing table, designing bridges. Jodi probably pictures him handcuffed to a bed somewhere in Tempe, being dominated by some leather-clad hooker. I don’t really want to see him again.


  We spend Wednesday doing absolutely nothing. Mom swims. I nap. Jodi cheers for Dr. Phil. Fifteen days of living in someone else’s house is exhausting. Especially if everyone thinks it’s your fault.

  After dinner I ask if I can go out, and I’m surprised when both women say yes. I don’t tell them I’ll be home late, even though I know the last rehearsal ran until after midnight. I stop in the bathroom to comb my hair, but once I do, I mess it up again because too-combed hair just doesn’t look right on me. I lean in and carefully peel off the floppy edges of the scab, and when I’m done, it’s the exact shape of Iowa. I rub in a little aloe but then wash it off in case it dries green, and then I put on a clean POW/MIA shirt and leave.

  To my surprise, Ginny arrives at the playground early. She’s in 100 percent ninja black and greets me with a salute.

  “Hey,” I say, and salute back. “You’re early.”

  “Am I?” She threads her arm through mine and we walk elbow-locked toward the swing set. “I didn’t know we had a set time.”

  I stutter out a goofy laugh. “Well, yeah, you said ten.”

  “I wanted to have some time to talk,” she explains. “And I knew you’d be early.”

  “Oh, yeah,” I say.

  “So… are you gonna tell me about it?”

  “About what?”

  “About that scab on your face. About how you always wear those fucking shirts. About why you’re here.”

  “You know why I’m here.” We each sit on a swing. She produces and lights a cigarette.

  “I only know what you told me. But I know you haven’t told me everything, Lucky Linderman. Like, what’s really up with your dad? Is he a control freak or something?” she asks.

  “Not really,” I say. Then, “I guess. About some stuff. He wouldn’t talk to us if he didn’t have to. I mean—it’s not that he’s a dick. It’s just not in his nature to confront things.”

  “And that?” She points to my POW/MIA shirt.

  “My grandfather is MIA since 1972—that’s my dad’s father. Dad never met him, which is the primary reason he’s a turtle, I think. My grandmother was a POW/MIA activist. She pretty much raised me until she died of cancer when I was seven. And my dad hasn’t got over any of it—not the MIA stuff or the cancer stuff—so now he can’t face anything other than work. Can’t face me, can’t face my mom—” I pause. “But I guess it isn’t easy being married to a squid, either.”

  Ginny laughs. “Oh my God. I forgot she’s a squid!”

  Her laughter gives me an instant boner. I find myself watching her hair fall in front of her perfect face and shake up and down with her giggling body.

  “So what really happened to your face?” she asks. “I mean, you don’t just fly two thousand miles because you get beat up, right?”

  I sigh.

  I hear myself explain the scab, but it’s sort of an out-of-body experience. It’s like some other kid is explaining how Nader McMillan has bullied me since I was seven, when he peed on my feet. This other kid is explaining how Danny made me and Nader try to be friends in freshman year and how it backfired.

  Some other kid is describing the freshman-year locker-room banana incident—how they held him down. How they chanted. How they blindfolded him and made him take it into his mouth and threatened to put it other places. How he puked. Repeatedly.

  Some other kid’s brain is making note of each accomplice and blurring Danny Hoffman’s face like deep cleavage on TV.

  Someone else is explaining how I helped Charlotte at the pool when Nader was trying to make her go topless. Someone else is explaining the moment he used my face as a scrub brush on the concrete next to the men’s room, and how he called it karma.

  I come back to my body. “You know, I think it was a wake-up call.”

  “Seriously? Because in my world that’s assault, and you should have called the fuckin’ cops,” Ginny says.

  “I have the weirdest memories of that minute,” I say. “I remember the smell—the hot-sun-on-cement smell. The chlorine smell. But I don’t remember the pain.” I do not tell her about the ants, even though they are screaming: Tell her about us!

  “Just so you know, that asshole is not your friend.”

  “Yeah, I know,” I say.

  “Seriously, Lucky. You need to hang out with friends who act like friends.”

  I nod.

  “It’ll probably leave a scar,” she says.

  “Yeah. I’ll have one big white cheek forevermore. I know. Did you see it’s the shape of Iowa now?”

  She leans in and looks closely. “No shit.”

  “Cool, eh? Started out in the shape of Ohio.”

  “So did you like this Charlotte girl? Is that why he did it?”


  “Do you like anyone? Like a girlfriend back home?”



  “I have a friend Lara, but we just, uh, read books and play cards and shit. I mean, I might like her, but I can’t tell.” I feel a little choked up and shaky.

  “Are you gay or something?”

  “No! Are you?”

  “Hey! I have a boyfriend,” she says.

  “You do?”


  “Oh. I d
idn’t know that,” I say, realizing right at that moment that Ginny is the only girl I’ve ever met who I want to kiss. She’s the one. And she is seventeen and beautiful and she can say “vagina” and her boyfriend is probably equally beautiful and smart. I’m like a retarded monkey compared to them.

  “How would you? I never talk about him.”

  “Why not?”

  She refers to her black ninja outfit with her hands and says, “Hello? I live with freaks, remember?”

  “So your parents wouldn’t want you to have a nice boyfriend?”

  “Not until I leave college.”

  I laugh. “College? Won’t you be ancient by then?”

  “Yep,” she says, not laughing at all.

  “Wow. I’m sorry you live with freaks.”

  “At least I don’t live with a squid or a turtle. I can’t imagine that’s so easy, either.”

  “Actually, it’s not that bad,” I say. They would never send me to fat camp, anyway.

  Ginny doesn’t say anything.

  “Is he from school?” I ask. “Your boyfriend?”

  “No. He graduated.”

  “Oh, wow. I’d say your parents would stroke out if they knew.”

  “You have no idea.”

  After a few seconds of silence, I ask, “Can I ask a dumb-little-brother kind of question?”


  “Isn’t it hard to stay a virgin with an older boyfriend? I mean—don’t you feel pressure?”

  Ginny starts to laugh, and I begin to feel stupid for asking. “I’m sooo not a virgin, Lucky.”


  She nods. “Yeah—not since I was your age.”

  “But what about the others? In the car? Didn’t you all say you were virgins?”

  She sees that I’m feeling embarrassed, and puts her hand on my knee and squeezes. “We said that to make you feel better, man. But I think Annie might have been telling the truth. The others? No way. I was there when Shannon lost hers.”

  “Ew, really?”

  “Well, I wasn’t in the room, but I was nearby—at a party.”

  “Doesn’t sound romantic to me,” I say, patting my scab a little because it stings from embarrassment.

  She gets serious and faces me. “Look at me.” I’m looking at my shoes. She reaches to my chin and tips my head up to look at her. “Look at me, Lucky.”

  I look at her.

  “A girl’s first time is pretty much never romantic.”


  “Hell no, man. Are you kidding?” When she sees I’m not kidding, she adds, “Think about it. Imagine you and I were going to have sex right now. First of all, how romantic is the playground? Ew, right?”

  “I’d take you somewhere else, you know, with a bed,” I say, though this is getting a little too weird and I don’t want to talk about it anymore.


  “And then it would be romantic,” I say, trying to do that thing Dad does, that inflection that means this is the last word and the conversation is over.

  “Oh my God, Lucky. You really haven’t thought about this shit, have you?”

  I don’t say anything.

  “Stop and really think about it,” she says. “And then tell me what would make you so romantic compared to other guys.” She looks at her watch and lights another cigarette. “Five minutes until our ride gets here. Do you want me to teach you how to kiss?”


  But before she can answer, she is kissing me, on the lips, forcing my teeth open with her tongue. I lean forward so far on the swing that I nearly fall off, and I have to grab the chains to stabilize myself. This is not a sister kiss. She caresses the back of my head and stops between each tongue kiss to lightly lick my top and bottom lips. I now have a boner that will never go away. Never ever.

  She stops and takes a drag from her cigarette. “So—is it really like licking an ashtray?”

  I say, “I’d say… no.”

  She gets up and paces in front of the swings. I stay seated. Of course.

  “See how you were so caught up in that? See how you couldn’t move your arms?” I nod. She’s right. I couldn’t. “That’s what your first time is like. It’s a crazy mix of fear and excitement and white noise and—uh—lust, I guess. It’s not romantic.”

  “But that was romantic,” I say.

  “But that wasn’t your first bonk. It was just one little kiss.”

  She may think that, but to me that was not just one little kiss. The ants say: Pay attention, Mr. Romance. She’s got a point.

  I think about it. “I was kinda paralyzed.”

  “Exactly. And you will be when you do it the first time. So don’t put any high expectations on it. Just try to get through it without hurting anyone.”

  “Hurting anyone?”

  “Yeah. Guys hate being out of control. And they hate emotions. And they hate feeling let down. So try not to take it out on the girl, ’kay?”

  “I don’t get it.”

  She takes a long drag off her cigarette and aims her ear to the sound of the approaching car. “Every asshole I know in school blames the girl after their first time—for it being a letdown. Guys don’t think about what it’s like for us.”

  “Oh. Okay.”

  “Seriously. You have to think about more than getting laid. Otherwise you get so caught up in the sex stuff you’re, like, a date rapist or something, you know?”

  I have no idea what to say to this, so I don’t say a word.

  “And don’t think that kiss meant anything.”

  “No. Of course not.”

  “It didn’t.”

  “I know. I—” Before I can say the rest of that sentence, she kisses me again. And I kiss her back.

  Right then I know I am hopelessly in love with Ginny Clemens. Not in a real-world sense but in the same way I could be in love with a movie star. I am so glad I told her everything tonight—about my parents and the scab and even the banana incident.

  Though I half lied about that, because I didn’t tell her that the kid they blindfolded in the locker room was me.

  And I didn’t tell her that they took all my clothes and left me slumped naked and puke-covered in the corner of the locker room, sobbing.

  And I didn’t tell her someone took pictures with a cell phone.

  And I didn’t tell her that I nearly went home and shot myself that day with the gun Dad keeps on the shelf in his bedroom closet. How I would have, if only the gun had been loaded.

  Because I couldn’t face another day.

  In the car Annie offers me her leftover Wendy’s cheeseburger and fries. I say yes even though I’m not hungry. The girls talk about their play, The Vagina Monologues, and I am completely lost in their lingo.

  “Shan, you need to up the tension more during the Bosnian part. Annie has the happy parts so hyped, we need you to be more intense and dark, you know?”

  “And, Maya, you can’t laugh during ‘Crooked Braid.’ You can’t even smile.”

  Maya nods. “I know. I can’t help it. I love that part of the story.”

  “I dig that, but you can’t, okay?”

  Maya says, “We got signs up all over ASU campus today. The girls in my dorm all say they’re coming.”

  “I hope we pack the house, man,” Karen says. “I want to make a shitload of cash for the crisis center.”

  “That’s so cool,” I say. “You donate the money?”

  “That’s the whole point,” Ginny says. “The monologues are staged all over the world so people can raise money and help survivors in their communities and in other countries.”

  “Awesome,” I say, and I think of her parents, who drag her to church, and how proud they should be that she’s doing something to help others. I think of how she can’t tell them. She’s like a kindness ninja. Sneaking around in order to help people.

  When we get to the rec center, the door is open, and a woman about Mom’s age is there, reading through a three-ring n

  “You guys ready to rock this?”

  In unison the girls answer, “Hell yes!”

  “Who’s this?” she asks, looking at me.

  “I got Lucky,” Ginny jokes.

  I wave a little and introduce myself. “I’m Lucky—a friend of Ginny’s.”

  She waves back. “I’m Jane.”

  She raises her eyebrows at Ginny, and Ginny shrugs.

  I sit in a seat toward the back, where a few others are sitting, and I watch the girls ready their scripts and coordinate their lines, and then they do the show from beginning to end, and I am completely dumbstruck by The Vagina Monologues.

  First off, it’s about vaginas. I mean, obviously, right? But until I hear them talking about it, I’ve never really thought about vaginas like this. You know, the way I have a dick and I use it to pee all the time. Girls have vaginas, and they have all sorts of stuff to do with it. Periods and babies and sex and going to the gynecologist, which doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, but in the show they make jokes about all of it and completely crack up.

  But then it’s about rape. And how vaginas are treated by men and soldiers and people who want power. There are these two parts where I’m crying, you know? Because these two girls are talking about how they were gang-raped by soldiers in Bosnia. And there’s this other part about some guy who beats up his wife so bad she nearly dies. Heavy shit, but really good because these girls are making it real or something. And then after some horrible story about what’s happening to girls and women in Congo, there’s a moaning monologue. They all pretend to have orgasms in different ways—Jewish ones and Irish ones and overly theatrical ones (I didn’t even know girls could have orgasms). And then they chant hilarious vagina slogans and make us laugh all over again. It’s a roller coaster about vaginas—a fucking amazing roller coaster of reality.

  It’s the reality I’ve wished for every day of my bullshit life.


  Toward the end of the school year, more questionnaires came into my locker. At this point I realized someone must have made copies, because there was no way my originals could have lasted this long.

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