Rise of the Storyteller 21: Young Guns

X pulled his knife and stopped at the car parked outside the bar.

“What?” I said. It was dark, it was cold. We had just trashed someone’s house and I wanted to get home.

“I’m stealing this,” he said.

I had no idea what he was talking about. I looked carefully and saw a blob stuck to the antenna of the car. “What is that?” I asked him.

“It’s Alf,” X said. “It’s for her.”

I looked at the small stuffed animal the owner of the car had sewn to his antenna and shook my head. “No, not a good gift for a girlfriend. Let’s keep moving. I gotta get home.”

“Shut up and help me,” he hissed.

I pulled my knife and we worked at it. It was wet, cold, hard. Like it had frozen over. It had snowed the last three days and this stuffed animal had been left out in the elements. X worked and pulled and I cut and pulled and finally he tore it loose.

I shook my head. “Don’t give that to her,” I said. “That thing is not a good gift for a girlfriend.”

He hugged it, and in that moment, he looked like a child. So small. So happy, so many teeth and such a deviant monster. It was like seeing a demonic child. Only this demonic child was my friend. He had been talking about her nonstop since Jazz had set them up two days earlier.

The girl was pretty but tall. She was not fat or even stocky, but she was not small. At times when they sat beside each other at lunch, he looked like her baby brother. When X had been introduced to her, he smiled. Asked her if she wanted to go out with him.

She said yes and he smiled. “Cool,” he said. “Love you.” And he walked away. Since, they had been seen together twice and he hadn’t called her. But she was all he ever talked about, and now he had her gift.

It was nowhere near Grr’s appointed time for a gift. I had talked to her about X and this girl and she had shrugged. “That will be a nightmare. But it will be good for him. Just don’t let him, you know, steal anything from her.”

The next day when we got to school and he saw her, he walked up to her and held out his offering. It was not brown like Alf was supposed to be. It was faded. The fur was matted or missing. The arms had been sewn to the antenna and they were ripped and sliced open. The stuffed toy was lumpy in odd places and still soggy in others. It laid flat, as if it had been flattened in a cartoon accident, and when X handed it to her, even Jazz pulled back in disgust.

The girl looked at the stuffed toy for a few scant moments before looking at X. “What is it?” she asked.

His toothy smile never faltered, never waned. He nodded at the doll and said, “It’s Alf. I stole it for you. Ripped it right off a guy’s car.” He laughed. “Joe helped, but he doesn’t love you, I do. He has Jazz.”

I looked at Jazz and back at X. “Me and Jazz are friends,” I said. I could still feel the ID in my pocket. A place it only left when I changed pants. I looked at her and she smiled.

“It’s very nice, X. I’m sure she loves it.” Jazz said to X’s girlfriend, “You love it, don’t you?”

The girl looked at it, trying to make sense of it, before her face changed. She grinned. It was a monstrous grin. A devil’s grin. She licked her lips and looked as if she would eat the thing in her hands. Suddenly I was a little afraid of her.

“You really stole it for me?” She had a whine to her voice as if she was about to cry.

“Yup.”

“I love it. Thank you, X!” she said.

“Yup.” He turned and ran off. He disappeared into the crowd and was gone.

“Okay,” Jazz said.

The girl hugged it to her chest and walked away.

“Okay,” I said. “She is—”

“Perfect for him,” Jazz said. “I’m good at seeing perfect matches.” She turned and walked away. “You coming?”

I ran after her. See, I wanted to be near her. Not just then, but all the time. She made me feel okay again. When I wasn’t with her, I saw Stranger’s face rising over me. I saw the look on her face while she had me. But when I was with Jazz, it all went away.

Jazz didn’t sit with me the next Tuesday. She sat beside my sister on the bus ride home. X sat beside me and talked about what he was going to steal for his girlfriend next. Since giving her that soggy stuffed toy, he had gone on a spree. He came to her every day with a new gift. Always stolen, sometimes they made sense, sometimes not.

He brought her a TV Guide and she gripped it and folded it and stuffed it in her pocket. It was a few weeks old. It could not be used for anything except what I was beginning to see was a grand collection this girl was gathering like a scrapbook of X’s crimes. She was collecting his trophies.

I kept looking over my shoulder at Jazz and Less, talking quietly and looking at me. Less smiled at me like I was a piece of shit and said something to Jazz. Jazz looked up at me and nodded and laughed, and I felt as if I had been stabbed in the heart.

That night, when Jazz and Grr went to Grr’s house, they did not invite me to go with them. They invited Less. She laughed and grinned at me. “Sure thing. But he can’t come,” she said, pointing at me.

“Who invited him?” Grr said. I turned away and went to my room.

I hurt. I knew they were talking about me. Knew Less was saying terrible things about me. When she got home, she looked into my room and smiled. “My new friend Jazz is a sick bitch. She has lots of things to say about you.” Less laughed all the way down the hall to her room.

I felt cold. I felt empty. And I felt betrayed. That night, I called Jazz. As the phone rang, I climbed into the tub. It was the first time I called her since we had broken up and my heart was still broken. I wanted to ask her what she had said to my sister. I wanted to ask her if she had been talking shit about me. I wanted to beg her not to go to Less’s side.

Since Malice had stabbed me, I knew that me and Less were on different sides. Of what, I did not know, but we were at odds. She delighted in my failures. In my heartbreak and my suffering.

When Jazz answered the phone, my heart jumped in my throat. “Hello?” she said.

“Jazz?”

“Are you in the tub, Joe?”

“I am.”

“Then I have to go. I can’t let you talk to me in that tub.”

“Why?” I said.

“Because my heart is broken in two, and if I hear this voice say anything more, I am going to shatter. Don’t talk, Joe, just hang up. I’ll see you tomorrow. Your sister is wrong about me.” She hung up.

I felt empty and confused. I felt horrible for the pain I had laid upon Jazz. She had never shown any sign of hurt. Had never once given even the glimpse of pain about our break up. I had allowed myself to believe she had just shrugged it off without a wince. But I was wrong.

How much of her night did she spend hurting? Did she cry as she was going to sleep? I hated myself for hurting her, and I walked to my room, laid in bed, and stared up at the ceiling, willing it to rip off and show a sky filled with diamonds.

But it didn’t.

The next day at school, more Jazz. More smiles. It was as if the girl on the phone had been a dream. Less walked right up to Jazz and shoved me aside. She handed her a letter and whispered in Jazz’s ear. Jazz looked at me and laughed. And I felt a vicious sting of betrayal.

That Friday after school, Jazz was on the bus. I smiled at her. “What are you doing here?” I asked.

Less threw her arm around Jazz’s shoulders. “She is with me. Not you. She is spending the night with me. She is my friend now. We don’t have time for you.”

Less shoved me aside and Jazz didn’t spare me a look. She didn’t say a word. She dropped into a seat with Less and they started talking.

Grr grabbed my coat and dragged me to a seat. She saw the misery on my face and grinned. “I need a cigar,” she said.

“What?”

“I love it when a plan comes together,” she said.

I knew the reference, had no idea of the context.

When we all got to my house, Less and Jazz disappeared upstairs. I heard Less turn on her music real loud and I heard her yelling over it. I dropped into the chair in the living room and pulled my headphones on. I jammed play on my Walkman, listened to Def Leppard.

About a half an hour later, Jazz stood in front of me. I looked up at her and she grinned.

“Show me your room,” she said with a smile. “I wanna see this wall of eyeballs.”

We hung out all night. We ate together. We talked together. She looked at old family photos. She listened to the music I played. Every now and then, Less would stomp to the room we were in and glare at me.

“I’m going to listen to Warrant now and go through my journals,” she snapped at Jazz. “You want to come?”

“I’ll be there in a minute,” Jazz said.

But there was no minute. Jazz had beat Less. She had used her to get time with me in my home. The longer me and Jazz hung out, the more infuriated Less got. Finally, she slammed her door, opened it again, and slammed it again. She did that four times.

I called X while Jazz picked out a movie. Told him to ride his bike to my house. He got there fast, and I handed him Stranger’s ID.

“Burn this for me,” I said.

His eyes lit up. “Done,” he said and disappeared into the night.

We watched Young Guns, Jazz sitting beside me. Her cheek on my shoulder. Her hand in mine. Less screamed in rage a few times but that was miles away. I would pay dearly for it, but I didn’t care. We were back. I had Jazz in my arms again.

In the morning, I woke to Jazz shoving me awake. I opened my eyes and she stood next to my bunkbed. She was staring at my body as I lay in my underwear. She smiled up at me and looked at my body again.

“You’ve got hair on your chest,” she said. “I don’t hate it.”

My mother walked in and I pulled the blankets over my body.

“What are you doing in here, young lady?” Rose snapped.

“Just saying goodbye,” Jazz said.

My mother didn’t scare her either.

“It’s not appropriate for a young girl to be in his room at all, let alone when he is—”

“Gotta go. My mom is here.” Jazz slipped past my mother and was gone.

“She is a tramp. I don’t like her at all.” I looked at my mom, who stared at me with rage on her face. “You are not allowed to have your girlfriend spend the night!” Her face was so curled in wrath that she looked about to break into pieces. She yelled more.

But all I heard was the word girlfriend.

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