My best friend and my boyfriend hated each other and it stressed me to no end. “Yes, I am totally aware of how painful this must be for you. Maybe you should hook up with the new guy and then the two of you could both kick Forbes together while he’s down.”
“That almost sounds like a great plan since he’s hot as hell, but you know he’s totally not my type,” she said, like I should know better.
“You don’t even know him, so how do you know his type?”
“Umm…the poor type and besides that, I would never date a guy from Collinsville. You know that much about me.”
Was she serious? “He’s not from Collinsville anymore,” I argued.
She looked over at me with a raised eyebrow. “Well, he was at one point and that tells me all I need to know him. He’s not my kind of boyfriend material.”
“Wow, you really are a stuck up bitch, Payton.”
“Uh…no. It means my parents would have a total come apart if I brought a boy like that home with me. That big ass tattoo covers his whole upper arm and that would not fly with the parents because nothing less than a long sleeve is going to hide that.”
“So what? A tattoo doesn’t make him a bad person.”
“It speaks of his character, Claire. Seriously, what kind of high school kid has tattoos like that? He looks like he’s been in prison-maybe a prison for hot convicts-but you know I don’t do the tattooed bad boy thing.”
I couldn’t dare tell Payton I thought his tattoo sleeve was the sexiest thing I’d ever seen because she would think I was out of my mind. No one, including her, would fathom that the perfect Claire Elizabeth Deveraux could possibly find all that badness alluring. The problem was that I wasn’t the perfect Claire everyone thought I was. Payton knew my imperfections far better than anyone, but even she didn’t realize how badly I wanted to bust out of the protective cocoon placed around me.
3 The Untouchables
Aside from Dane Wickham, I made no friends by walking onto the East Franklin football team as it’s new starting quarterback. Practice had been tense at best, but I wasn’t there to make friends and I preferred knowing where I stood rather than getting blindsided the way I had my whole life.
Today was my first day at East Franklin. I woke up two hours before my alarm was set to go off and began staring at my ceiling with a severe case of dread. On one hand, I would rather have my ass whipped than transfer to EFHS with that bunch of rich, snobby kids. On the other, it could quite possibly be my only chance at avoiding the hopeless path destined for my severely underprivileged life.
The droopy ceiling panels over my bed were another reminder of how different I was from the rich kids attending EFHS. I could guarantee that none of them were laying in bed looking at a ceiling threatening to cave at any minute, so it was very easy to refrain from misleading myself into believing I would fit in with any of them.
I forced myself out of bed and went to the kitchen to eat some breakfast while my grandmother, Rita, drank a cup of strong black coffee and smoked an equally strong cigarette at the dinky dining room table in her trailer’s tiny kitchen. I didn’t bother to offer Rita anything to eat because I recognized the look on her face-she was hungover. She and her buddies had partied here last night. I didn’t bother to look at the clock, but it was well into the morning when I heard the slam of car doors as they left to drive home wasted.
As I sat eating my breakfast, I noticed several plastic bags filled with marijuana on the table, so I knew what was coming. I ate in silence and avoided looking at the dope on the table as I waited for Rita to give me orders. As I ate, she alternated between slurping her steaming hot coffee and sucking on her filterless Camel cigarettes with her permanently puckered mouth.
We had an understanding, she and I. Speak only when necessary and our policy suited both of us just fine, but this morning she found it necessary to speak to me. She pointed toward the dope using her hand with the cigarette. “I want you to sell these today. Charge extra because those rich kids can afford to pay a little more.”
Dysfunctional didn’t begin to describe my family dynamics. Other kids’ grandmothers did grandmotherly things for them, whatever that might be, but mine used me as her own personal infiltration into selling dope in school just like my mother had me do before she died.
I didn’t want to do it, but it was our agreement because I didn’t have anywhere else to go. I’d sell her dope and she’d give me somewhere to live. I was a little surprised she wanted me to sell on my first day at a new school-not a smart move. “Don’t you think I should at least feel out the situation out first. I mean, find out who’s in the market. What if I asked a narc if he wanted some pot? I’d be up shit creek for sure because I’m eighteen now.”
“I don’t care where you sell it, just get me some money today if you want to keep staying here,” she threatened.
When I finished eating, I washed my dishes and put them away because we didn’t have the luxury of a dishwasher like everyone else. I didn’t mind though. It wouldn’t have felt right to have anything in my life that made it a little easier, anyway.
I put Rita’s dope in my backpack, then went to the bathroom to get a shower. It was incredible how Rita’s Camels made everything reek. The stench from her strong cigarettes was repulsive to me and I had been a smoker since I was 12. I tried to scrub it from my hair and skin because I didn’t want to go to school smelling like Camel’s ass, but I knew it was useless because I would still have the stench on my clothes.
I put on a fitted black tee and a new pair of stonewashed jeans because it was the best I had and all I could afford with the little bit of money left from my last paycheck after I paid for the work on my truck. Good thing worn out jeans were in style since that was all I had to wear the rest of the week.
I grabbed my dope filled backpack, the same one I had used for the past two years, and Rita offered no words of encouragement as I walked out the door to join a category of hell known all to itself as high school.
I was self sufficient, but not because I was bestowed with the motivation of being an overachiever. I called it being genetically motivated, which meant I didn’t have a single family member that gave a damn enough to do anything for me. Earl, my boss at the garage, was the only person in my life that had ever helped me with anything and he felt more like family to me than the woman I was genetically tied to.
As I got closer to East Franklin High School, I dreaded the stares I’d get when the rich kids saw my old truck parked next to their expensive beamers and benzes. They’d probably see my ride and move their vehicles out of fear their luxury cars might catch something from my old jalopy.
I didn’t really couldn’t care less about what people thought of me, but it pissed me off when they thought they were better than me, so I expected problems at this school. It was over populated with doctors’ and lawyers’ kids after the school board redistricted to send the trailer park kids on the South side to Collinsville and replace them with kids from the neighborhoods on the North side of Franklin. I’m not even sure that’s legal, but it’s what they did five years ago when the new school was built.
It was by accident alone that I would be attending East Franklin since I was forced to move in with Rita during the summer, and although I’m certain they wouldn’t have a problem with releasing me, Collinsville High School refused to take me back without tuition because we lived just within East Franklin’s school district.
We didn’t have the money for tuition and Rita wouldn’t part with it for me if she had a million dollars. She made it very clear I was unwelcome and the only reason she allowed me to stay was because I agreed to move her merchandise for her. When I graduated, I would promptly be shown the door. The feeling was mutual, so she didn’t have to worry about it hitting me on the way out. She treated me just like my mom, Twyla, had my entire life and I wasn’t plagued with wondering where my mom learned her amazing parenting skills.
I shoved the thoughts of my mother out of my mind and pulled into the parking lot of my new school. I parked on the second row and turned off my truck’s deafening motor in need of a new muffler. Come payday, I’d have to come off the wallet if Earl couldn’t find a decent used one at the junkyard.
I didn’t want to admit it because I saw it as weakness, but my nerves were rattled, so I lit a cigarette before I was forced to enter the gates of my new personal hell. While I sat in the refuge of my truck smoking a much needed stress reliever, I watched the returning students around me as they met up in the parking lot. As expected, they got out of anything from tiny two-seater sports cars to gigantic sport utilities I couldn’t afford to fill with gas.
My truck’s clock was busted, so I looked at my watch and saw I had ten minutes until my official day of torment started. I wondered if I had time to squeeze in one more cigarette after I finished the one in my hand and as I took a long drag, I watched a fancy white Lexus pull into the parking spot behind me.
I watched my rearview mirror to see what a high schooler driving a Lexus might look like and I wasn’t shocked when I saw it was a couple of cheerleaders I’d seen during football practice-one of them being Forbes Henderson’s girlfriend.
The friend looked more like a Barbie than the Mattel doll herself. She had long blond hair and a pair of killer legs in a short denim skirt exaggerated by a pair of tall wedge heels. As I wondered how she would get away with a skirt that short on school grounds, she straightened it and gained a little length, but not enough to pass inspection where I came from. I was use to strict rules-it’s how they kept the barbarians in check.
Henderson’s girlfriend had on a short, ivory floral dress with a long, peach-colored scarf around her neck and a pair of weathered brown boots I assumed were made by some designer I had never heard of. Damn. A chick in a dress with boots was hot so it was too bad this one was taken, but because she was his girlfriend, it let me know a little about who she was as a person. She was with the enemy and therefore against me by association.