“Absolutely not, Joe,” Jazz said. She stepped in front of me in a cloud of girls, right after I stepped off the bus, and she looked up at me.
I was for my feet. My eyes, my heart, my body seemed stuck on the ground.
“This is how you lost Ruffle,” Jazz said. It was the first full day of our relationship, and I was scared. She grabbed my chin and lifted my eyes.
I saw her.
Her eyes, her face, stern but in some way soft. “We are not going to do this. You’re not going to grunt at me and look at the ground around me and then speak those amazing words of yours in a dark tub.”
A few girls laughed. My face blazed.
“You’re gonna look at me.” She smiled and waved. “Here I am.” She stroked my face. “There you are. Now, I am your girlfriend and you are my boyfriend and everyone knows it. It is not an accident, and it is not a secret. I will not let you hide yourself away in a crowd. I’m up here. I’m not at your feet. Do you get me?”
I laughed, but I wanted to cry. I was flooded with relief. She was right. This was not a secret or an accident. She had chosen me and I had agreed. Everyone knew. No one could stop it.
“Give me your hand,” she said.
I looked at my feet again.
“Not ready, huh?” she said. A few girls snickered and she glared at them. “That is fine. Stuff your hands in your pockets then, I don’t care. We can do this until you are ready to hold hands.” She wrapped her arms around my arm as it was stuffed in my huge jacket pocket. “I’ll just hang off your arm then. That’s better, anyway.”
I suddenly felt charged with power, filled to the brim with it, bursting with it. I had a girl on my arm like the guys in the movies. She was suddenly a noble woman and I was a lord. I looked at her and she winked at me.
“Let’s go. School awaits,” she said. She and her army of girls marched off with me in their mix.
We did not stop at the grouping of boys. They were obviously waiting for me to. They had saved me a spot at the wall. But Jazz was not having it. She walked me right past them and to the front by the double doors.
“Jazz,” Grr said. There was a question in there somewhere, a statement.
“Grr,” Jazz was standing up to her. She was making a statement of her own. She hugged my arm tighter and I looked at Grr, who stared at me.
“I can go,” I said.
“No, stay with us,” Grr said. She nodded to Jazz who nodded back. “Those assholes are not getting ahold of you today.”
They talked. If I was supposed to be listening, I wasn’t. I was tied up in the way Jazz was holding on to me. The way she hugged me close. I looked up at Ruffle, who every now and then snatched glances at me. When I caught her eye, I started to go flush with embarrassment. She smiled at me and nodded.
And just like that I was Jazz’s. She was mine. This was my life now, and it was a good one. We sat together at lunch.
I had sat with Ruffle, Jeep in the seat across the table from me, Grr beside him, Ruffle beside me. The girls had talked. Jeep had eaten. He was a terribly sloppy eater and Grr snapped at him many times about it. Whatever that guy ate, his face ate, his shirt ate, and the table ate with him. His hands were filthy when he was done and he burped constantly.
The first time I saw it, I looked at Grr, who was horribly annoyed with him. But when I asked her about it later, she just sighed and threw her hands in the air. “What am I going to do? This is what I have to work with.”
With Jazz, I was happy. I had found myself. Shadow had a girl. Guardian had a person who made him feel powerful. Artist had a person to tell stories to and to be beautiful with. We were good. We were safe. We were accepted. We were happy, for a month.
Then, the party.
I snuck out and ran to X’s house as soon as my parents were asleep. He lived a mile out of town and I was still quite a way up the road when I saw that the house was lit up. There were cars in the driveway, in the grass. There were people everywhere. High schoolers had descended on X’s house and the party was in full swing. It seemed everyone was yelling. Everyone was screaming. The music was loud. No adults. No cops. Just young kids and younger kids. Booze and coke.
I shoved my way in and they yelled out to me. “Junior, when did you get here?” Rock said.
“Just got here. Is X here?” I asked.
“That little bastard is around here somewhere. I’d look for him in his room,” Rock laughed. “Probably counting someone’s money.”
Everyone knew X was a thief. They knew he was a damn good one. Every one of them had been bitten by him, but no one could prove it. Before I was let go, Bland handed me a tiny glass. A shot glass filled with brown liquid.
“What is this?” I asked.
“Drink it,” he said. “One gulp, Junior.”
It burned and I almost threw up when it hit the back of my throat. I started to walk away. “Here, Junior, take one more,” he said.
“You’re getting Junior drunk, Bland. Man, that is not cool,” Pen said. He reached for the shot glass but Bland shoved him back.
“Go now, little man, shoot it,” Bland said.
Two more times, and I was drunk. I remember X was in his bedroom counting money when I found him. He slammed the door closed and I dropped on his bed. It had no sheets, no blankets, a sleeping bag half-zipped and half on the floor, and it was stained and had no pillowcase. I sat down and laid back. The room was spinning, and then it all comes to me in stutters.
I remember looking up at a girl. Her name was Stranger, and I had not seen her much. She was sitting on top of me and had no shirt on. I stared at her breasts, looked to the left. X sat on the floor staring at me and Stranger. His mouth hanging open, his eyes wide. I remember wondering if he was scared.
Next thing I know, her breath was in my ear. “You having fun, Junior?”
I could not speak. I could not move. I looked over to the corner and saw X again. This time he was laughing.
I turned to him and held my finger to my mouth as tears ran down the sides of my face. “Shh,” I said.
I was standing up. My pants were down around my ankles. My penis was wet and half erect. I picked up a sock and tried to wipe it dry. I thought of Jazz, and smiled. I saw her face before mine, and I started to cry. I wiped my penis dry and pulled up my pants. I looked at the bed beside me and Stranger was there. She was laying with her legs propped open staring at the door. I looked at her again and she laughed.
“You were first.” She chuckled. “Probably best, too, knowing these guys.” She pointed at her purse. “Can you get me a cigarette?”
I noticed X was gone.
When I got to her purse, I saw her wallet was half open and all the money was gone. I saw her ID stuck in a plastic sleeve meant for pictures. I stuffed it in my pocket. I knew she had taken something precious from me. I couldn’t walk away without taking something from her, a mark that this had happened, something to look at to remind myself, something to look at to punish myself.
I saw her cigarettes and pulled one out, grabbed her lighter and lit it. When I inhaled, I coughed and she laughed.
I handed it to her.
“Let in the next one, Junior,” she said. “That was fun.”
I turned my back on Stranger and opened the door. The muffled sound of the music was suddenly very loud and real. Guns N’ Roses loud and vicious.
Here I am, I’m your Rocket Queen
I might be a little young but honey I ain’t naïve
Here I am, I’m you’re Rocket Queen, oh yeah
I might be too much but honey, you’re a bit obscene
I saw Bland standing in front of me. I stepped around him as he stepped in. “You started with Junior?” I heard him say as he closed the door. “That’s fucked up, Stranger.” He closed the door. There were about twelve guys lined up outside it. A few of them clapped me on the back as I walked away. I found the table with the shot glasses. They all carried tiny pools of brown liquid and were sticky. I filled one, spilling a lot of it and drank another shot. I stumbled out the door and saw X sitting on the porch.
He looked up at me and waved a hand at a few guys out in front of his house throwing rolls of toilet paper into the huge oak that sat in his front yard. When I stood in front of him, he said, “You ready to go?”
I nodded, weeping a little.
“Let’s go. I want to play pool,” X said.
We walked to the arcade. It was cold. My penis was sticking to my underwear in an uncomfortable way, and it hurt to walk. When we got to the arcade, X played. He laughed and howled.
The arcade was divided down the middle by a wall and a door. On the other side of the door was the restaurant. It was filled with the crowd after the bar closed. The owners of the arcade were busy there.
I was leaning against a pool cue, feeling weak and mad, hurt and scared. Every time I thought about Jazz, I saw Stranger’s face looking down at me, her breasts moving up and down in a slight sway.
Break busted in the door. He stopped before X and cast a look at me.
“Did you steal our money?” Break asked. He was talking too loudly. He was talking too fast. His words hurt my ears. They hurt my teeth. They scared me. And X looked at me and grinned.
“Yeah, we did. We took it all.” He nodded to me and I realized I had unscrewed the pool cue in my hand. I had the thick end up like a club and I swung.
I had the stolen ID in my pocket when I got to school the next day.
I wrote Jazz a note in first hour. I folded it in the worst way possible.