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Reality boy, p.18
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       Reality Boy, p.18

           A. S. King
 
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  As the credits roll, Hannah says, “I want to be a marine biologist.”

  “Hell yeah,” Nathan says. “Do it. You’d be really good at it.”

  Ashley nods.

  No one chuckles condescendingly and says Marine biologist? Heh.

  What occurs to me at this second is this: There is a huge world out there. I only know my dumb family and my dumb house and my dumb school and my dumb job. But there is a huge world out there… and most of it is underwater.

  48

  WHEN I DROP Hannah off at her driveway, I tell her that I have an empty house for the night.

  “Do you think it would be safe for me to come over?”

  “I don’t know,” I say. “Probably not.”

  I demand to break rule #5.

  I demand to kiss her today. Right now, even.

  Then I lean in and kiss her on the mouth, and she parts my lips with her tongue and we break rule #5. For ten minutes.

  I can’t explain the thoughts I have about her on my drive home, but they are pretty hot thoughts. But then I’m soft inside. Like I’m filled with nougat or crème caramel. I want to tell someone. I just broke rule #5. I am happy. I think I have a real girlfriend.

  I have no one to share that with. I have no friends. Joe Jr. would think I was a prude, only kissing a girl at seventeen years old. Beth is not my friend, she’s my boss. No one in SPED class would care—or they’d just make dumb comments about it. Deirdre would make me feel bad because she’s probably never going to break rule #5 in her life.

  There is only one person I want to call right now, and she lives in Scotland and she left me here in this fucking mess and never calls me. My nougat hardens. My crème caramel turns crunchy. Why am I mad at Lisi? Why? All she did was follow through. All she did was exactly what she said she would do. She got out.

  And it’s not like I don’t have a phone. It’s not like I don’t have fingers to dial her new number. I could have dialed her number a hundred times if I wanted to. Only I didn’t because… what?

  I thought I could do this alone.

  I demand not to do this alone.

  When I pass through the gate and wave to the security guard, he raises an eyebrow at me and I don’t know why until I see our driveway, which is packed with cars. Maybe twenty of them, from the garage all the way down the drive. The extras are scattered around the cul-de-sac.

  I stop and open my car window and I hear the music twanging away, rattling the neighbors’ houses. I wonder how long this party’s been going on. And how soon the cops will come.

  I demand to not be here when the cops come.

  I park and walk up the front yard to the door and when I open the door, the first thing I do is take a picture of the scene with my phone and send it to Dad’s phone.

  I make my way to the stairs, through the thick crowd of complete strangers in my house. Tasha is drunk. There are two kegs in the kitchen and a lot of bottles of liquor on the kitchen table. Some people are piled up on the couch making out. Others are dancing on the far side of the room where Danny has his stereo set up. I think one girl is dancing in her bra. I can’t figure out what to do.

  I get to my room and close and lock the door and stare at my phone. A minute ago, I didn’t know who to call about how great everything is. Now I don’t know who to call about how shitty everything is.

  I dial Lisi’s number.

  As it rings, I do the math and realize it’s, like, three in the morning where she is. But before I can hang up, she answers.

  “Lisi,” I say.

  “Gerald? Is everything okay?”

  I let the noise of the party downstairs filter through and hope she hears it.

  “I need to get out of here,” I say. “Like now.”

  “What’s going on?”

  “Tasha’s throwing a party. There are rednecks all over our house. Mom and Dad are away. I think I saw two people doing it on the couch when I walked in.”

  “Shit.”

  “Can we talk about it now?” I ask.

  “Sure. What do you want to talk about?” she asks. I hear a lighter flick.

  “The time she nearly drowned me.”

  There’s silence on the other end of the phone.

  “Lisi?”

  “I’m here,” she says.

  “Do you remember the time she tried to drown me?”

  “Yeah.”

  “You said something that night. I remember it.”

  “You were, like, three, weren’t you? How do you remember anything from when you were three?”

  “I remember a lot,” I say. “You said, Now you can have baths alone, like I do.”

  “Did I?”

  “Yeah.”

  There’s silence. Well, not silence—the party is still thumping downstairs. “She did it to me, too,” Lisi says. She takes a drag on whatever she’s smoking. “Mom used to make us take baths together to save time. Tasha used to hold my head under the water. The last time, Mom caught her. Or—whatever. I was coughing and throwing up because she’d held me under so long. I think I breathed in water.”

  “Shit.”

  “Mom tried to get us to get in the bath together after that and I freaked out. I just lost it. I can barely remember it. You were, like, a baby. I wasn’t even four, I don’t think.” She smokes and I try to block out the pounding of the country music that has just increased by at least ten decibels. “But I read about people like her in my psych class this semester, Gerald. She’s a psychopath. Always was. Always will be.”

  I used to think this, but I never said it. Psychopaths are like the guys in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, right? Psychopaths are serial killers and mass murderers. I wonder if guys like that ever tried to drown their siblings in the family bathtub.

  “A psychopath?” I say.

  “Trust me. That’s what she is,” Lisi says.

  “I can’t figure out what that makes Mom,” I say.

  “I think it makes her the mother of a psychopath,” she says. Then she laughs and I miss her laugh so much.

  “I miss you,” I say.

  “Me, too,” she says. “I don’t miss being there, though. Obviously.”

  “Yeah.”

  “Do you have a plan?”

  “You mean for tonight?”

  “Tonight. Tomorrow. Life,” she says.

  “I don’t know,” I say. I demand to run away with the circus. “I have a girlfriend.”

  “That’s great!” she says. “What’s her name?”

  My phone buzzes with a text. I tell Lisi to wait a second and I see it’s from Dad. Get out of there now. I’m calling the police. That’s what the text says.

  “Shit,” I say. “That’s a text from Dad. He’s calling the police. I have to get out of here.”

  “Do you have somewhere to go?”

  “Sure. I have a mountain of friends who will open their door to me at ten o’clock at night.” I grab my school backpack and shove in a few days’ worth of clothing.

  “No. Seriously.”

  “I’ll be fine,” I say. “Talk to you soon. I gotta go.”

  “Love you, Gerald,” she says.

  “Love you, too.”

  I say that as I’m walking out my bedroom door and Tasha hears it because she happens to be standing right outside my bedroom door like some kind of stalker.

  “That your girlfriend?” she asks.

  I pull my door closed so it locks and run past her toward the stairs. She grabs my arm. I wiggle free and get down the stairs. In seventeen years, I’ve learned the fine art of avoiding Tasha chasing me down the stairs.

  “Dude!” she says. “Just stop. There’s this girl. I want you to meet her.”

  On my way toward the door, I swing through the kitchen to get some food from the fridge. I know Mom made a big bowl of chicken salad and I swim through the drunk people to get to it.

  As I grab the plastic bowl and a loaf of bread, someone is shoved into my back. I turn around to face a black-hair
ed, henna-tattooed girl who can’t be more than fifteen. Tasha’s behind her and I can tell she’s responsible.

  The girl is wavering-drunk. She smiles. Tasha says, “She really likes you. She’s just too shy to tell you at school.”

  I don’t recognize her from school.

  The girl lurches forward and kisses me, with Tasha so close her hand is nearly up the girl’s ass like some sort of evil puppeteer, making her kiss me.

  I keep my mouth shut and try to get out of her grip, but Tasha is egging her on. Do it, Stacy! Kiss him! It’s a dare, I bet. Kiss the Crapper. I manage to twist myself away and head toward the doorway to the living room.

  That’s where I run into Jacko the fake Jamaican. He’s smiling at me the way he used to at the gym before I kicked his ass. His face is still a mass of bruises, lumps, and cuts. I smile back because I’m still proud I did that to him.

  “That’s my little girlfriend you just kissed, asshole,” he says.

  It’s the last thing I hear before he jumps on me.

  Everything goes white. I don’t feel anything. I am eating ice cream with Lisi on a trapeze. I am tap dancing with a bluebird on my shoulder. The only sound from reality that seeps through to Gersday is Tasha’s incessant laughter.

  I demand to never hear that laughter again.

  49

  I’M NOT SURE what happened, but I find myself on top of Jacko the fake Jamaican, pounding my fist into his face. My fist is sticky. I can feel my skin stick to his skin for the split second when I pull away and make contact again.

  Someone drags me off him.

  He’s conscious, but startled. His black-haired girlfriend is crying.

  Tasha is still laughing.

  I demand that Tasha stop laughing.

  I lunge at her and grab her neck, which stops her laughing. She looks at me with crazy, fear-filled eyes. Part homicidal, part wounded forest animal. I think about what Lisi told me on the phone. I think about going to court for killing a psychopath. I think about how the psychopath’s mother has spent her whole life defending her little psychopath. Then I think about all that footage of my crapping, crapping, crapping. No jury in their right minds would choose the Crapper over Tasha.

  I let her go and grab my backpack, my bowl of chicken salad, and the now-crushed loaf of bread and run out the door and down the packed driveway to my car. I drive away with the bowl of chicken salad between my legs so it doesn’t tip over. I don’t look back.

  The road is bubble-gum ice cream. It’s white with different-colored gum balls in it. It’s bumpy. I put in Hannah’s CD and crank the volume to louder-than-a-bomb. It makes my eardrums vibrate so much, I get buzzing in my ears, so I turn it down. I feel something like sweat running down my cheek, and I wipe it with my hand and find it’s stickier than sweat.

  “It’s blood, Gerald,” Snow White says. “You should pull over and make sure you’re not hurt.”

  “I don’t know where I am,” I say.

  “You’re near the shopping center. You can pull into the car park,” she says. Snow White smiles a lot. She seems happy to live in a fairy tale. She seems happy to do all that housework for all those messy little dwarfs.

  “How come you don’t teach those little bastards how to do stuff for themselves?” I ask her. “They should know how to do shit for themselves.”

  Snow White looks confused. “Up here to the left, Gerald. Put on your indicator and get in the lane.”

  I put on my turn signal and get in the left-turn lane. The lane is made of butterscotch ripple. I want to put the hand brake on and get out and lick the road.

  “Light’s green. Turn now, Gerald.”

  I turn and find a huge, empty parking lot. The mall is beyond closed, and the only vehicles driving around here now are security trucks. I still see ice cream and Snow White.

  She turns on the interior light and I open my sun visor’s mirror. I see a small cut on my eyebrow. Snow White hands me the first-aid kit from the glove compartment and I open it.

  “You’re going to need a plaster for that,” she says.

  I look at her. “Say that again?”

  “I said you-ah going to need a plast-ah for that, Gerald.”

  I pull out a Band-Aid and stick it on the cut. It’s not bleeding that badly. I look myself over in the mirror and see that my nose has been bleeding, too, but as far as I can tell, no lumps or brokenness anywhere. I still feel kinda numb. I am so high on adrenaline, I have a spongy feeling all over my body.

  “You’re American,” I say to Snow White. “Why’d you call it that?”

  Snow White looks confused again.

  “Americans don’t say plaster. We say Band-Aid.”

  I look down at the road in front of my headlights. It is clearly tarmacadam. I look down at the bowl between my legs. It is clearly chicken salad. I am suddenly ravenous, so I reach back and pull out some bread from the bag and scoop up some chicken salad with one piece and plop the other piece of bread on top.

  I demand to eat a chicken salad sandwich right now.

  My phone buzzes with a text from Dad. Did you get out?

  I decide not to answer him.

  I decide the question is bigger than any question he’s ever asked me.

  Did I get out? Yes and no.

  Get out of what? Do you really think I have a chance to get out of this shit?

  50

  “YOU WOKE ME UP,” Hannah says.

  “It’s a long story,” I say.

  “What’s a long story?”

  “The story I’m going to tell you in a half hour when I pick you up.”

  “I’m sleeping.”

  “I’m leaving. Now,” I say.

  “To the circus?”

  “To wherever. To whatever. I’m not going back.”

  I hear her sit up and switch a light on. “Seriously?”

  “Yeah.”

  “You want me to come with you?”

  “That’s the plan,” I say.

  “I kidnap you. You kidnap me?”

  “Yep.”

  “You got a list of demands yet?” she asks.

  “A mile long,” I lie.

  “I don’t have one yet,” she says. There’s shame in her voice.

  “We have all the time in the world.”

  “Seriously, Gerald? We’re going to do this?”

  “Seriously, Hannah. We’re going to do this.”

  She sighs. “Be here in half an hour?”

  “More like twenty minutes,” I say.

  “How long should I pack for?”

  This question stumps me. It reminds me that I haven’t talked to Joe Jr. yet. It reminds me that this could be a complete failure. It reminds me that I’m seventeen and Hannah is sixteen. Underage runaways. Incarcerated Ingrates. Locked-Up Lovers.

  “Gerald?”

  “Yeah?”

  “How long do I pack for?”

  “I don’t know,” I say.

  She says, “Okay.” Then she hangs up.

  I am still pissed off at Snow White for being British. She shouldn’t be anything but a wholesome, famous American cartoon character who washes seven dwarfs and all their clothing and their house and who mends their shoes. She should be happy being American. She should be happy being famous, even though she’s made herself a willing slave to seven little people.

  Isn’t that what fame is, anyway? Being slaves to little people? My slave name was the Crapper. My slave job was to crap and make millions of little people happy.

  My other slave name was Gerald. My slave job was to make my crazy sister Tasha look smart by letting my mom call me retarded my whole life.

  I pull over into a gas station parking lot to let time pass. I’m about ten minutes early. I pick up my phone and text Joe Jr. Where are you in Florida? You never sent your address. I send it even though it makes me feel like a moron. Would I give my address to him? Would Hannah give her address to anyone? Joe Jr. isn’t going to send me his address. So, all I have is the tag on his Y
ouTube video: Bonifay, FL.

  I text Dad. I got out.

  I make another chicken salad sandwich and eat it. Then I get back on the road to Hannah’s house. She’s waiting by the mailbox when I get there, her red backpack on her back, and wearing her leather jacket and a ripped-up pair of jeans.

  When she flops into the passenger’s seat, she says, “Shit. What happened to you?”

  It reminds me that I have just been through what Roger would call “an incident,” so I tell her everything. I even explain who Jacko the fake Jamaican is. About the boxing gym. About Roger. I stop short when my mouth tries to tell her about Tasha and how she tried to drown me and Lisi when we were little and how I escaped being murdered a lot. Something just chokes me when I try to say it.

  “I can’t tell if this is stupid or not,” Hannah says as I drive toward the turnpike.

  “What?”

  “This,” she says.

  “If you’re not okay with it, I can take you home,” I say.

  “I don’t know.”

  I slow down and make a U-turn in a bank parking lot. I head back to her house. Can I tell you that my heart is breaking? My heart is totally breaking.

  “I didn’t tell you to turn around,” she says.

  “I don’t want you to do anything you don’t want to do,” I answer.

  “Can you pull over?”

  I pull over.

  “I don’t want you to get mad, okay?” she says.

  “Okay.”

  “But you were right. I lied about something. I don’t think I can do this unless we talk about it first.”

  My heart continues to break and I’m so busy thinking about it that I don’t stop to think what she might have lied about.

  “When I said I wasn’t scared that you could hit me. I lied. I was. You got so mad so quick and I have an aunt who had a husband who did that and I get scared of it. I’m sorry. I don’t want to say anything else about it. I just had to say it.”

  Fuck. My FS levels go up and I do all the stuff Roger taught me to make them go down again, but this doesn’t feel right. There is no way I can run away with Hannah now. She thinks I could hit her. As if I’m an animal or something. You were a dumbass to think she could ever love a loser like you in the first place.

 
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