Selection from the novel I’m working on:
It was a glazed doughnut and sticky. She licked her fingers one by one and then took a bite. We went over a bump, and there was a loud farting sound. The boys in the back cheered.
“Rhonda, you don’t know who Bo really is.”
“Oh, yes, I do.” Rhonda turned in her seat and waved at him. Bo was on his haunches, his tail wrapped around his legs. “He’s the spawn of Satan and doesn’t care what I eat.”
I was speechless for a moment. “What’s a spawn?” I finally asked.
“I have no idea, but Bo says that’s what he is,” Rhonda answered, and then she whispered in my ear. “Charlotte, I knew you weren’t lying about Ezequiel. Now we both have boyfriends.”
My lunch pail suddenly grew warm in my lap. “Ezequiel’s not my boyfriend, but whether he is or not, that’s not the point. Bo isn’t anything like him. He’s evil.”
“He’s not evil, not deep down,” she said. “You don’t always know everything.”
Rhonda finished her doughnut in two bites, no doubt thinking I was being bossy. The picture of Mary Poppins on my lunch pail felt like it was burning through my dress into my thigh. I opened it. On top of my peanut butter and jelly sandwich there was the paper folded neatly like a napkin, now with the same branding iron seal that had embossed Ezequiel’s diploma.
The bus entered the school driveway. I clicked the pail shut, grabbed the handle tight even though the heat made my fingers smart, and left my friend sitting there waiting for her Bo.
Rhonda was in a different class, but though Bo was now her official boyfriend he followed me into mine. Mr. Harrison and the kids acted like he’d always been there, just like my family had. I studied the class photo Mr. Harrison pinned on the wall by the door, and, sure enough, there he was with two fingers behind my head.
We were assigned a boring ditto where we had to find the right place to put the accent on our vocabulary words and then read a story that seemed about fifty pages long. After that, we had long division. All but Bo. He was allowed to lie on the rug in the class library and read whatever he wanted. At least he was quiet and not making a nuisance of himself. I watched him out of the corner of my eye as he flipped through a National Geographic (Mr. Harrison had pulled out all the naked pictures) and then start a Hardy Boy’s mystery. He seemed genuinely lost in the book and every so often his tail would twitch like he’d come to a good part. He didn’t even hear the bell for recess.
“Son,” Mr. Harrison said in his kind voice, “time to go out and play.”
Bo heaved himself off the floor. I followed him out. He made a beeline to the swings where Rhonda waited for him. Some demon-magic lifted them off the ground, and they swung in high arcs perfectly in tandem. Most of Rhonda’s class and mine were gathering around them chanting:
Rhonda and Bo
Sitting in a tree,
The words were truly a curse. When it was time to go in and they came to a stop, Rhonda leaned over and kissed Bo’s cheek, the first girl in fourth grade to kiss a boy.
On the way home, Bo took over my place next to her. Mr. Teddy told them that they were too young to hold hands. I brooded as I sat next to a second grade girl with a drippy nose. I decided to do what Daddy was always accusing Mommy of and give them both “the silent treatment.”
I didn’t tell Rhonda, “See ya’ tomorrow,” as we got off the bus like I did everyday. I watched her hesitate, waiting for me to say goodbye, and it felt like a worm was beginning to chew a hole in my heart. I clenched my teeth together and headed home. They could share more kisses and all the gummy devils in the universe if they wanted to, but I wasn’t going to watch.
The garage door was open, and I could see Daddy leaning on the freezer. Mommy said as clean as he kept the garage you could eat off the floor, and she didn’t understand why inside the house he could never wash a dish or put his underwear in the hamper.
Daddy stared at the wall where his hammers and wrenches hung holding a shot glass. A bottle of Jim Beam perched behind him.
Bo caught up, panting from running.
“Daddy’s broken the promise he made to you, didn’t he?” he said. “Last time, at least, he went for almost a week.”
“Don’t you dare call him Daddy,” I hissed.
“Can if I want to,” Bo said fiercely.
Daddy was so lost in thought he didn’t hear us. Bo went into the garage and gave him a hug.
I went inside. Bo was back in the Christmas picture, but this time he looked older than Connie and his middle finger was raised. Mommy was making a salad, cutting a cucumber so fast I was afraid she’d chop off one of hers.
“I hate that man, Charlotte. It wasn’t even noon, and he started to drink.”
Bo piped up behind me. “Too bad you don’t have any job skills, Mommy. You’d be too ashamed to raise us all on welfare.”
In less than a minute, Bo had grown as tall as Mommy was. His freckles had given way to pimples, and he reeked of Daddy’s Old Spice after-shave.
“If I just felt I could take care of the three of you.” Mommy was now attacking a tomato. “I couldn’t do it by working at a dime store, and I’ve never done anything else.”
“Traffic is so bad in Vegas, isn’t it, Mommy?” Bo put an arm around her shoulder. She stopped chopping and leaned against him. “You might get killed. Or worse.” His eyes grew big. “You could kill one of us if you drove.”
Mommy nodded. “Oh, Bo, did I ever tell you about the time that your father tried to teach me to drive? He yelled at me from the get-go, and I knocked the fence post over as I was trying to back out of the driveway.”
“Maybe you could try again,” I suggested. “I bet Millie would help you learn.”
“Millie’s too busy,” Bo said.
“Millie’s too busy, honey.” Mommy took a can opener from the drawer and began to open a can of soup. She smiled at me. “Chicken noodle, your favorite.”
A couple of moments later, Connie stormed into the house. She threw her books on the floor headed straight to Bo with clenched fists.
“You dirty, little creep.” She went for his head. “How could you do this to me?”
“Mommy, Connie’s picking on me,” Bo whined.
“He’s spreading lies about me,” Connie said.
“Quiet down,” Mommy said, pulling her off Bo. “Tell me what happened.”
“Bo told everyone that . . .”
Daddy walked in, and Connie stopped herself. I wanted to disappear into my room, light a match for Ezequiel and disappear into Hell.
“Connie fooled around with Freeman at the carnival,” Bo said.
I could feel the heat of Daddy’s anger along my spine. “You . . . little . . . tramp.”
I wanted to ask Ezequiel how Bo could be two ages and at two places at the same time, how could he kiss Rhonda in a tree while he was ruining my sister’s reputation?
Daddy took off his belt. Mommy pulled Connie behind her.
“You’ll have to use that on me first,” she said.
The soup was boiling on the stove, but I was too afraid to move to turn it off. If I stood there, maybe Daddy couldn’t get to Mommy and Connie. Maybe my body had a force field to protect them. Daddy had never hurt either one of us before because he loved us. He’d come to his senses any minute and know that Bo was lying.
“I didn’t do anything,” Connie pleaded. “You know that, Daddy. You were there. You took my picture.”
I had no force field. I could give no protection. I was invisible as he stepped around me, winding the belt in his hand.