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Reality boy, p.19
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       Reality Boy, p.19

           A. S. King
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  Also, Gerald? She might be right. You never know.


  I go to Gersday and I meet Lisi on the trapeze. Except she’s not there. Tasha is there, in a blue sequined trapeze costume, so I leave Gersday in time to hear what Hannah says next.

  “I do think I love you,” she says. “I just can’t figure out what will happen if we go, you know?”

  My voice is a little louder than I want it to be. “What will happen if we go is: We will be gone. That’s what you said you wanted, right? You wrote it in your birthday card. It’s all you’ve bugged me about for two weeks, isn’t it?”

  “Shit. You don’t have to be an asshole about it.”

  I reach into the tray between the seats and grab the Sharpie marker. “Go ahead. Write it again. At least you had balls when you did that.”

  “I have balls.”


  “But I don’t know,” she says. I stop the car at the end of her driveway, where I just picked her up five minutes before.

  “I have to get out of here now. That kid probably called the cops. That wasn’t a boxing ring. Have a nice life, okay?”

  She sighs. “Look. I don’t want another person making decisions for me. I just want a minute to think about this.”

  “I don’t have a minute.”

  She gets out of the car with her red backpack and stands there in my headlights, so I have to reverse into the road and do a U-turn in her neighbor’s driveway. Then, when I drive back, she’s standing there, in the road, and I can’t go around her because she keeps moving the same way I steer the car.

  I try not to be frustrated, but I’m frustrated.

  “I don’t have time for this!” I yell out my window.

  “Let me in,” she says.


  “Let me in, Gerald!”

  I stop the car. She gets in. Then she says, “You’re totally in asshole mode right now.”

  “I just got my ass kicked.”


  “So I’m tired. And I’m running away. I don’t have time for your crazy shit right now.”

  “Stop calling me crazy!”

  “I didn’t call you crazy. I called your shit crazy.”

  We have a staring standoff.

  We take off. Again.

  We’re quiet for the first chunk of driving. I allow my adrenaline levels to drop. I try not to think about the police who might be on their way to find me. I try not to think about how Hannah thinks I could hit her.

  I think Hannah has gone to sleep, but when I look over, she is wide awake, staring out the window into the darkness beyond the metal mile markers.

  “Why do you love me, Gerald?” she asks.

  “Wow. That’s a question,” I say. Fuck.

  She doesn’t say anything smart-ass or pleading and just keeps staring out the window.

  “I loved you the minute I saw you at register number one. You were scribbling in your little notebook. You didn’t notice me. I liked that.”

  “You love me because I didn’t notice you?”

  “Yeah. And because you’re funny and sarcastic and you don’t care what other people think,” I say. “Do you know how long I’ve cared about what other people think?” I guffaw out my nose. “And the way you like the fish. I love that.”

  “The fish?”

  “Nathan and Ashley’s fish,” I say.


  I look over at her. “You okay?”


  “Really? I mean, we’re about to run away together. You have to be okay or I’m taking the next exit and going back again.”

  “I’m fine. Really. I’m just trying to figure out what the fuck is going on,” she says. “I can’t tell if you love the real me or the fake me.”

  I see a sign that says EMERGENCY PULL OFF. I pull off.

  I see Hannah’s been crying and I hug her while she reminds me of rule #5, which in turn makes me hug her harder. I tilt her face up to mine. “I love the real you. I don’t even know what you mean about the fake you.”

  “I have shocking news,” she says. “I do care what people think.”

  I nod.

  “And when I get out of high school, I want to do something fun—like they do in the movies or in punk rock songs. I don’t want to do something just because some group of people decided that this is the process for baking kids. Preheat to three fifty and bake for sixteen years or until browned.”

  “We are running away with the circus, you know. That could be considered fun and not in the recipe for baking perfect kids.”

  “Except we have to go back to school, Gerald. We’re juniors. It’s only December. We have a while to go before either of us gets to run away with the circus.”

  I sigh. “You’re a buzzkill.”

  “I probably just need sleep,” she says. “Wake me up when you get tired and I can drive for a while.”

  “You drive?”

  “Dude, I’m the junkman’s daughter. Of course I drive. I even drove a bulldozer once.”

  She curls up and puts a sweatshirt between her head and the window and cranks her seat back a little so she can sleep. I pull back onto the turnpike and get going.

  I realize I have no idea where I’m going, but I figure south is good enough. South. I’m going south.

  Lisi’s question rings in my ears. Do you have a plan?



  BY THE END of the second day, Nanny started to storm around. None of her psychobabble bullshit worked on me. I tore down every new behavior chart she made to show off how great she was. I interrupted every time she tried to make us look like a fixed family. I made it a game.

  “You’re ruining the show!” Tasha screamed after take ten. “Just do what they tell you to do!”

  Lisi pulled me aside after take twelve. “Do you want them to leave, Gerald? For good?”


  “Then just do what they say and they’ll get out of here. Forever.”

  I loved Lisi. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do what they said. They were wrong and I was right. They wanted a tame, loving child. I could give them one if only they stopped telling me what was wrong with me and let me tell them instead. I’m living with a homicidal maniac.

  But they wouldn’t shut up. So I had a crap fest. My final crap fest.

  “Take seventeen!” the guy said, and he snapped down the wood.

  “Gerald,” Nanny said in her softest voice. “You know we all love you, right?”

  I decided to make it fun. Make them think I was following their instructions. I nodded.

  “And since we all love you, we want you to get bett-ah. And to get bett-ah, you have to listen to what Nanny tells you. Do you undah-stand?”

  I nodded again while Nanny checked her hair in the on-set mirror she still carried around. “I understand,” I said.

  The director looked relieved. Mom looked at Lisi and gave her a thumbs-up.

  “Right. Here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to apologize to Tasha for what you did to her doll, and then we’ll go upstairs together and we’ll start to figure out how to clean up her room.”

  I even followed her up the steps and stood at the door for the wide shot of Tasha’s crap-covered walls. The smell was impressive. Repulsive. Just like Tasha.

  “Where do you think we should start?” she asked me. “Maybe the walls?”

  The director cued Mom, who said, “I still think I should get professionals in to do it. I can call them. They can be here in a few hours.”

  Nanny put her hand up. “This is Gerald’s mess. He needs to clean it up. It’s part of his learning responsibility.” She looked at me and knelt down to be right at my level. “Why do you torture Tasha so? She loves you. Don’t you know that?”

  I had so many things to say.

  I had so many things to say.

  Instead, I slammed my fist into Nanny’s nose so hard it bled the minut
e I made contact.


  People gathered around her. Mom grabbed my arm and pulled me into my room. All I could hear was Nanny yelling, “Fuck it! Fuck it!” I heard her throwing things. I heard her slamming doors. Mom and I just stood there inside my bedroom door, listening.

  Then Mom bent down and said, “Gerald, that’s it. I think they’re leaving. We’re going to have to give all that money back.”

  I shrugged.

  “We need that money, Gerald,” she said, shaking me. “You have to go say you’re sorry. We only have a few scenes left to tape. You have to do it.”

  “I don’t have to do anything,” I said.

  She grabbed me by the arms and squeezed me so hard, I had bruises for a week. “You will apologize, and then you will go to your room for the rest of the day.”

  So we went out, her right hand still crushing my right arm, and we looked for Nanny. The cameramen and crew were tossing all their equipment into the vans that were parked in our driveway.

  Mom met the director on the way out. “Give us one more chance,” she said.

  “We have enough tape.”

  “But he’s not fixed!” Mom said.

  The director just laughed and laughed and looked right at me. “Good luck with that,” he said.

  I remember looking at the director and seeing his shiny shoes and knowing that my suffering had paid for them. My mother’s words ran over my brain. We need that money, Gerald.

  Nanny came out from the TV crew truck and Mom dragged me over to her and said, “What do you say?”

  “Fuck you,” I said. Mom squeezed so hard.

  Nanny Elizabeth Harriet Smallpiece, still holding an ice pack to her nose, leaned down right then and said, “I look forwah-d to your lett-ahs from prison.” Then she got in a waiting car and closed the door.

  My mother was squeezing me so hard now I could feel pins and needles in my hand. She dragged me back inside and we watched, all five of us, as the entire show was emptied from our house and our lawn and our road. It took all of ten minutes. Mom squeezed my arm the whole time.

  She sighed.

  Dad said, “Rob said we get to keep the money, so that’s something, anyway.”

  Tasha glared at me until I looked at her.

  Mom said, “Apologize to your sister. Now.”

  I said, “Sorry, Tasha,” because they were gone. Tasha’s doll was disfigured. Her room was painted with shit. My job was done.

  And so I went to my room and took a nap. A ten-year-long nap. The Gerald who didn’t have to do anything he didn’t want to do has taken a ten-year-long nap.

  The Gerald who had control over his life is awake again.

  Good morning.

  How did you sleep?


  HANNAH DRIVES LIKE a maniac. After Washington, D.C., when I got too tired to drive, I asked her if she had a valid license. She punched me in the arm so hard, it still hurts.

  “I have my first demand,” she says. “I demand people stop underestimating me.”

  “That’s kinda abstract for a kidnapping note,” I say.

  She punches me again. It makes me uncomfortable, how easy it is to punch me like that.

  “It is,” I say.

  “Just go to sleep. I’ll get us around D.C. and we’ll stop for some food, okay? Unless you plan on eating that chicken salad all day.”

  I curl up on her sweatshirt, which is like stuffing my face into a berry patch, and I think of my demands. Her punches made me feel weird. My arm is still sore, and I realize I’ll have to tell her she can’t punch me anymore.

  I demand to not be punched anymore. Even in jest.

  I wake up to my phone ringing in my pocket. It’s Dad. I ignore it. I check the time and realize that Hannah and I are late for work. I feel bad for Beth. We should have at least called her to let her know… we were being kidnapped.

  Which makes no sense.

  “Welcome to North Carolina, circus boy,” Hannah says. “You sleep like a dead guy. Who was that?”

  “My dad.”

  “I turned mine off hours ago.”

  “Can we stop for coffee? Or something to eat?”

  “You like crab?”

  I nod. “Yeah.”

  “Then according to the billboards, we’re about to find heaven.”

  I reach to her large cup of leftover coffee and swirl it around to see if there’s anything left.

  “It’s cold,” she says as I drink it back like a shot.

  “And textured,” I say. “Shit.”


  “Woke me up, though,” I say. I adjust the seat up and take a deep breath.

  “Maybe they reported us missing and we’re famous,” she says.

  “Been there. Sucks. Trust me.”

  The 2-4-1 Crab Shack is really a shack. We can get two-for-one crab legs all day long if we want. No limit. That’s what the guy in the apron behind the counter says. No limit.

  We get some. Hannah orders hush puppies, too, claiming that my life will change when I eat my first hush puppy. I pretend to like it more than I do, just to make her happy, because she’s sitting here watching me eat it and yeah, it’s okay. Really good. But it didn’t change my life. Welcome to the life of the Crapper.

  “Can I ask you a favor?” I ask. She nods while eating another hush puppy. “I know you think it’s fine and cool or whatever, but could you stop hitting me?” I rub my arm to show her what I mean.

  “Aw, come on. Have a sense of humor,” she says.

  I demand not to be told to have a sense of humor.

  I look at her seriously. “Look,” I say. “Tasha hit me all the time. Then I started hitting other shit, right? Does that make sense?”

  “I guess.”

  “So hitting is out. I know you mean it to be funny and it is, but it reminds me of what I had to put up with and I just don’t like it, okay?”

  “Is that why that show came to your house?”

  I shrug and feel awkward. “The show came to my house because my mom wrote them a letter. I was punching holes in the walls. That was because of Tasha hitting me,” I say.

  This makes Hannah stop gorging on crab legs. She looks at me. “You know, if the world knew what really went on there, people would understand why you were so messed up.”

  “I’m not planning on telling the world,” I say. “Just you.”

  “Sorry for hitting you,” she says. I tell her never to worry about it again and then go over to the counter and ask the guy in the apron for a pencil and a piece of paper.

  I sit back at the table and look at her. “So what’s your first demand?”

  “More butter,” she says, pointing at the plastic dish of melted butter in front of me. I slide it toward her. She’s like a savage with crab legs. It’s kinda sexy. “And I’m going to need a shower,” she says. “Soon.”

  “I was thinking of stopping at a hotel for the night,” I say.

  “You thinking of breaking rule number five?”

  “We already broke rule number five,” I say.

  “I’d like to break it more,” she says, smiling even though her mouth is full of crabmeat. She goes back to chewing.

  I clear my throat. “My first demand is a safe place to live. No more Tasha.”

  She nods and chews. “That’s a good one,” she says.

  “I’ve only been demanding that since I was born, I think,” I say. “Not like it ever worked.”

  “My first demand is that I only have to do my own laundry and I don’t have to give my mom pedicures anymore. Her feet are disgusting and full of fungus.”

  I have no idea how she can mention this while eating, but I have to take a thirty-second break before I attempt my next mouthful of crab. I write down our first demands and think.

  “And my second demand is that I don’t have to go to college right after I graduate. I know they mean well, but I want a break. I don’t even know what the hell I want to do, right? And they think being
a marine biologist is impractical.” I nod, and I write I demand not to go to college right after I graduate. “What’s your second demand?” she asks.

  “I don’t know. It’d be nice if my mom stopped being sarcastic about my future. It’s like she wants me to go to jail or something.” Oh God. “Oh God,” I say.

  I feel like throwing up. How did I not see that before?


  “Gerald? You okay?”

  I’m in Gersday. In Gersday, I am a family of three. Just me, Lisi, and Dad. I don’t give a shit about ice cream or trapezes. I just want an escape from this thought. Then Snow White is there, and her bird says, “She wants you to go to jail because it will make her look like she was right all these years lay-tah.”

  Then the dwarfs show up.

  GRUMPY: She.

  SLEEPY: Wants.

  HAPPY: You.


  DOC: Go.


  DOPEY: Jail.


  I look at Hannah but I can’t answer her. It’s like I’m stuck in a time warp. I am stuck between Gersday, where I’m nineteen, and a 1937 Walt Disney movie, when my grandparents aren’t even born yet.

  She grabs my arm and squeezes until I can speak again.

  “Shit. Yeah. I’m here. Wow.”

  “What the hell was that?”

  “I just realized something really heavy,” I say.


  “And I need a minute.”

  She pats me on the arm as if she can see something big is going on in my brain. I walk to the bathroom and have a pee. I look at myself in the small, dirty mirror while I wash my hands, and I smile. I don’t know why I smile.

  I feel like crying.

  “I’m starting to think this list-of-demands shit is stupid,” Hannah says when I get back to our table. She’s doing it for me—I can see that. She cares about the Crapper.

  “Yeah. What good is a list of demands if we’re never going back?” I say.

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