“Do you know the last time he took a bath?” Careful asked.
I held the phone in my hand and looked at the ceiling. The kitchen light was off, and I was on the floor. It was cold and I was getting pissed.
The thing with Careful was growing a darker shade than I wanted it to. We talked now away from the group. She called me as often as she could. She had begun telling me things like this, things I didn’t want to know, things I could not get out of my mind.
“The last time he took a shower was two weeks ago,” Careful said. “Harvard hasn’t washed his dick in two weeks, but I still have to suck it when he pushes me to my knees.”
I didn’t know what to say. Hadn’t known what to say for the last hour while she had been bitching about Harvard and the horror of being his girlfriend.
“The taste of his skin turns my stomach. I think it is making me sick,” she said.
“Then maybe you should break up with him,” I said quietly.
“Do you want me to?” she asked. “If you want me to, I will. I will hang up right now, break up with him, and call you right back. You can come over right after and fuck me.”
“I don’t want that. Don’t do that,” I said. “Careful, I am not going to take you away from him.”
“He lost me a long time ago. I am still together with him because I don’t want to ride the bus home,” she said.
I was instantly sick to my stomach. I closed my eyes and brought up an image of him, fighting to make it the image I had seen when he had read his poem, the image I had seen of him when he was brilliant and powerful. Harvard was important to me. He was a friend in a way Careful wasn’t. He was a rock to build a crew on. A solid mind and a kind soul. Careful’s poison was tainting that image of him, souring the respect I had for him.
She was killing Harvard.
“I have to go,” I said. “Tony is coming to pick me up.”
“OK, hey, you need to come over to see me while you are out. Have him swing by my house,” Careful said. “Promise me.”
‘We’re supposed to be going over to Cale’s house. We’re going to watch a movie.”
“Come over to my house first. I want to show you something, and I have a gift for you,” she said.
“OK, I promise. I have to go.”
“Love you, Jesse.”
“Um, yeah.” I hung up. I looked at the phone and pulled away from it. It sat looking at me, and I realized Careful was going to ruin this entire group. She was going to destroy it all. Her wrath for Harvard would only grow, and with that wrath would come an uncoupling. She was pulling us apart.
When I got to her house, she let me in and told Tony to wait outside.
“Bullshit. He comes in with me. He is not my driver,” I said.
“Fine,” she said. “Just come in.”
“Where is your dad?” I asked.
“He is at a friend’s house. He will be gone all night. Let’s go.” She took me into her hallway and stopped me at her bedroom door. “When I tell you to, open the door and look in. I want to show you something.”
She was in there for a moment before she called my name. When I opened the door, she stood in the middle of the room in a lacy bra and panties. “Do you like it?”
I looked at her for a long time. I could not look away. I had never seen sex clothing before. I nodded.
“Wanna come take it off of me?” she asked.
“Me and Tony have to run,” I said.
“Fine. But wait. I have something for you.” She smiled at me. “Wait right there.” She pulled the panties off and curled them in to her fist. She walked to me and stuffed them in my pocket. “You can go now,” she said.
I turned to go. Stuffing my hand in my pocket, I felt them, moist and rough. I took my hand back and walked for the car. I wanted out of there. I needed to think.
“Everyone out!” Harvard shouted. He stormed into the room and threw his arms out wide over his basement. He was filled with rage, absolutely bursting with it. He glared at me and pointed for the stairs. “Get out! Everyone! Now!”
Careful had been talking to him in his bedroom. She stood behind him, devoured by his shadow, staring out at me. She wore a smile on her face, but he looked as if he were about to explode.
I shook my head at her and she walked out from behind him.
“Don’t do this,” I said.
“This has nothing to do with you,” she said. “If you weren’t around, I would still be breaking up with him. He is a mess. I deserve better,” she snapped. She smiled a wicked smile at me, and he stepped between us. He snarled down at me.
“If you don’t get out of my house right now, I am going to rip your head off of your tiny body. I am going to break you in half, Jesse. Leave now.”
Chanel grabbed my arm and pulled me away. The group of us walked out into the night with no coats and no way home. Harvard had the only car in our group, and he was not offering rides. We had nowhere to go but out, out into the night, out into the road miles from any decent sized street. My house was the closest, but it was at least twelve miles away. We were stuck. We were screwed.
“Walleye,” I said.
He came to me. “What are we going to do?”
“You’re out front. This road is dark and we are out in the middle of nowhere. I have no idea where I am going, but you do. Unless I am wrong, you know how to get us out of here.”
“I got you.”
“Good. Get out front. Watch for coyotes, watch for cars. I don’t like it out here,” I said. “Go.”
“Got it.” He walked off.
The rest of the group looked at me.
“We walk,” I said. “When we get to my house, I can get us all rides.”
“We need a phone. Can we stop at a neighbor’s?” Jammy said.
“I thought of that. Look at us.” Metal tee shirts and weapons. Black clothing and a general rebellious look that made us undesirable. No sane person would open their house to any of us. We had no options. “We have no normal-looking people with us. Do you remember the store?”
We had all gone to an antique store to look around. Within five minutes the owner had called the cops. We did not look like a well-behaved group of kids out for a fall walk. We were dark and legion.
So we walked. The group of us walked together, Walleye out front, our scout. We did hear coyotes out in the surrounding woods. But it was the footsteps that drove Walleye back to talk to me.
“I think I’m wrong, but it feels like we are being followed,” he said. “There are a few assholes that live out here.”
“Preppy kids from the school,” I said.
“Dale and company,” he said with a nod. “How many fighters do we have with us?”
“You and me,” I said.
“What do we do?” he asked.
“Everyone come here,” I said. They gathered around. “We might have a few people following us.”
“Dale’s shit heads,” Chanel said.
“Same. If they come at us, everyone goes into the woods except Walleye and me. Hide. When it is over, one of us will find you,” I said. They all nodded.
Jammy was scared. “I can help you guys out,” she said. She was not street, but she was also fearless. She had a hard quality to her that spoke of power.
“You help them,” I said, “into the woods. Anything gets by us, you stop them.”
We were being overly dramatic. We were putting too much into a few echoed footsteps. But after another mile, when a van full of guys rode by us slow, very slow, we realized that maybe we weren’t.
The van stopped up the road. The red lights glared angry in the distance. I stopped the group, made them hide in the woods. Walleye joined me and he grinned.
“This is going to suck.” He pulled a blade. I hadn’t known he carried one, but I pulled mine and we waited.
There were five of them when they opened the van door and piled out. Five and the driver. Walleye looked at the woods to his right and he shook his head. “There are a lot of them.”
“Big ones first,” I said. I heard a car pulling up behind us and I spun, putting my back to Walleye. He groaned.
I sighed in relief when I saw it was Harvard. I figured he would take the others home, but I knew he would leave me here. He had to hate me by now, had to blame me for all of it. For losing Careful and the rest of it.
He rolled down the window. “Where is everyone?” he asked.
But they were already piling out of the woods. I saw Careful sitting in the back seat.
“Walleye, shotgun.” I said. He jumped in the front seat and we all piled into the back. We were stacked on laps and pressed in tight, but we all made it. Careful sat beside me and reached for my hand. I didn’t give it.
When Harvard dropped her off at her door, she asked me to walk her to it. We stood there in his headlights and she smiled at me.
“I’m free now. Yours if you want me,” she said. “You can walk me in this house right now and fuck my mouth if you want to. My dad will give you a ride home afterward.”
“Careful, I told you not to dump him. Harvard is my friend. You are off limits.”
“So you could fuck me when I dated him, but not after?”
“I never fucked you, but if I had, it would have been with his permission. Now I don’t have it.”
“If I told him to say it was OK, he would,” she said.
“It’s not going to happen,” I said.
She flipped off the car, where Harvard sat watching, and slammed the door behind her.
Walleye climbed in back, and I sat in the front seat.
“You two a thing now, I guess?” Harvard said.
I didn’t tell him she horrified me. I didn’t tell him she was repugnant and unfit for me or him. I just shook my head as he backed out of her driveway.
“You’re my friend. She is not,” I said.
He nodded and drove me home.
The fact was I needed him. I needed his mind and his talent. I needed to hear his laugh, and we needed a car. I needed the solid foundation he provided. Harvard was a genius. Careful was not. He belonged. She did not.
She had never deserved him.
Our group was not done with her. She would show up for one more terrible moment. But for the most part, Careful had lost her place within our numbers.