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Authors: Andy Behrens

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BOOK: Beauty and the Bully
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Another beep and the recording cut off. He snapped the phone shut and returned it to his pocket, took four steps down the flagstone walk that led to the garage, then heard Jessie's ringtone—Zeppelin's “No Quarter”—begin to play.
“Hey, Jess.”
She said nothing.
“Hello? Jess?”
She cleared her throat.
“Do you know why I didn't answer your call just then?”
“Um, because you were passionately entangled with your detention monitor, Mr. Moiaki? Or maybe you were. . .”
“Wrong, flunky. I was
ignoring
you. That's right: ignoring you. And do you know why?”
“Um, because you think that by playing hard to get I'll finally ask you to be my best gal? Or may—”
“Wrong again, chucklehead. I was ignoring you because you couldn't manage three words to me and Stew at lunch today, dude. Not three words. What was
with
you? You were, like, the undead. A zombie. A friggin' vegetable. What kind of band do we have if we can't communicate, Duncan?”
“Sorry. I know. Very sorry. I had, um . . . well, you know how you said that my punk-ass wave at the park was really no big deal, that it wouldn't really register with Carly the way it did with me?”
“Yeah, I do.” She sounded exasperated.
“Well, she showed up at her locker right after you left for detention. I'm pretty sure I successfully made a lousy-yet-memorable impression this time. I kinda made fun of her do-gooder club. Then I had poop on my notebook.”
“Poop?”
“Not mine. A bird's. But it was definitely poop. She pointed it out.”
“So she talked to you?”
“Yeah, about the poop on my English journal. Not one of my better moments. I fell into a funk. A malaise. Torpor. A lang—”
“Okay, thesaurus-pants. I get it. You stink at girls.”
“Something like that.”
“I'm coming over.”
Click.
Duncan fussed in his garage for a while, attaching multicolored lights to overhead beams, adjusting and positioning amplifiers, writing out set lists of the band's half-finished songs for gigs that didn't exist. After fifteen minutes or so, Jessie arrived. She shot into the garage through a side door, drummed a bit on a case of motor oil, then sat atop a workbench.
“So you're ready to play, yeah? No more enviro-girl discussion, right? In this garage, the band's the thing. In this garage, we rock.”
And, for about ninety seconds, they did, blitzing through a Strokes medley. Jessie punctuated the warm-up with an almost hostile drum flourish. Duncan smiled.
“Have you ever considered lining your drums with tinfoil?” he asked while fiddling with an amp. “It sounds crazy, I know. But I read John Bonham used to do it.”
“Interesting. And that would make me louder?”
“It might. He was loud.”
“Sweet—maybe I will. I heart loud.” She tapped her right foot. "C'mon, let's play s'more. I've been a prisoner all day. How 'bout ‘Chain-Smoking Floozy' on my count, okay? One, two, a-one, two, thr—”
“Oh, wait. I've gotta finish telling you about the incident this morning with Carly. First of all, can you friggin' believe she got to school before seven? Blew my mind. And then she jus—”
Jessie whipped a drumstick into Duncan's ribs like she was Link with a boomerang.
“Hey!” He grabbed his side, wincing. “What was
that
for?”
“We are
not
discussing that flakeball!” She hurled a cowbell at his head, narrowly missing. “I've got a boxful of small instruments over here that can be thrown at high velocity, dude, and I'm unloading 'em on your sorry punk ass until you swear—until you take an
oath
—that you will not discuss that chick anymore today.”
“Fine, but I . . .”
She flung a maraca at his midsection. He deflected it with his guitar. It landed rattling on the Skylark's tarp.
“Dude! Chill!”
“I'm serious, Duncan! No more crap about Carly! I am
not
the sit-and-listen, tell-you-that-you're-special sort of girl!” Her pink hair flew as she scolded him. “That's not my thing. Don't whine to me about this chick, okay?”
“It's just that I . . .”
She sidearmed a steel triangle, catching him in the right shoulder.
“Owww!”
“Take the oath!” She lowered her voice to sound slightly more Duncan-y. “‘I, Duncan Boone, will not discuss Carly Garfield in the presence of Jess Panger, rock goddess, until she gives me permission to do so.'”
“All I was gonna say . . .”
She fired another maraca, this time nailing him square in the forehead.
“Boom, suckah!” shouted Jessie, grinning.
Duncan stepped forward, his eyes closed and his right hand rubbing his head.
“Okay, I give! This is me, taking the oath. I, Duncan Boo—”
It happened in mere seconds, but to Duncan it felt like a stop-action sequence that lasted minutes: first, his foot landed on one of the roller-things his dad used to wheel himself under cars; then the roller-thing spun away, flipping Duncan backward like a diver off a platform; next he crashed into an unstable shelving unit and landed, butt-first, on the concrete floor.
An old stereo speaker was the first thing to hit him in the head. The shelving unit and all its contents teetered for a moment, then fell directly onto a sprawled-out Duncan. Glass shattered; wood splintered. Somewhere at the bottom of the heap of garage detritus, Duncan moaned.
Jessie sprang up from the drum kit and quickly began to dig him out, alternately apologizing and cursing. “Totally sorry, dude . . . so sorry . . . but damn, it was just a
maraca.
Who can't take a maraca to the head? I mean, seriou—”
She stopped midword when she lifted the speaker up and saw his face.
“Ho. Lee.
Crap
.” Her mouth was agape as she looked at Duncan. His lip was bloodied, his left eye had already begun to swell, and a gash had been opened across the bridge of his nose. “Dude,” managed Jessie. “It was a
maraca
.”
He moaned again.
“Speaker got me,” he said groggily. “Then the hundred-twenty -five-watt amp. Then a die-cast Starship
Enterprise
, then the clay Hillary Clinton I made for my dad in fifth grade.” Another moan. “Can't believe he keeps that in the garage . . . thought he loved it.” Duncan rubbed his head.
“We've gotta get you inside, dude,” said Jessie. “You'll probably have a pretty sweet shiner. And you're bleeding like Rocky in . . . well, like Rocky in every Rocky movie.”
“Perfect end to a perfect day,” he groaned.
5
“Dude, your mom was
pissed
,” said Jessie, accelerating away from a stoplight. Duncan sat beside her in the passenger seat of her Volkswagen. “She was all like, ‘What have you
done
to him, Jessie?!' What a maniac.”
“Yup, well, I'm her baby. And you tried to kill me.”
He examined his face in the flip-down mirror. His nose looked as if it had been rhinoplastied by amateurs. His left eye was plum-colored, swollen halfway shut, and he seemed to be storing acorns in his mouth.
“For the last time, I'm sorry.” She eased the car onto the school's inner drive. It was seven twenty on Friday morning. “And it was not an attempt on your life, either. When and if I try to kill you, I won't be using a maraca.”
“That comforts me.”
Duncan continued staring at his reflection. He lightly touched the cut on his nose, then cringed in pain.
“Stop doing that!” urged Jessie. “I can't stand it. It's like watching that video of the chimpanzee who smells his own butt and falls out of a tree. I mean, you
know
it's gonna stink. Stop touching it.”
“It's just so weird. Look at me. I'm totally mauled. When have I ever been mauled? Never. I am not the type to stumble into a maiming or mauling. I can barely even see out of one eye. It's just . . . well, it's weird.”
Jessie pulled into a parking spot.
“I'm happy to continue driving you to school while you're incapacitated,” she said. “It was my flying maraca, after all. But stop with the self-obsession. You're like Tom Cruise in that movie where he gets disfigured by psycho Cameron Diaz.”
“Wait, what am I like?”
“Oh, you know that movie. Tom Cruise is the rich du—”
“No, I mean am I like the butt-sniffing chimpanzee, or am I like Tom Cruise?”
“You're like a butt-sniffing Tom Cruise.”
Duncan continued to eye himself in the mirror. “Dunno. But I am hideous.”
They sat quietly for a moment, Jessie looking at Duncan look at himself.
“What am I going to tell people?” he eventually asked.
“That you're a flaming ninny who can't keep his balance, of course. What else would you tell people?”
“That's not really the image I'd like to project: flaming ninny.”
“I'll follow your lead, Duncan, but if I were you, I'd go with the truth. Just don't say too much—that's the key. Try to make your injuries seem mysterious. ‘An accident in the garage,' you'll say. People will think you were being all toolsy and rugged. Was he repairing something? Was he welding? Was he hammering? They won't know, and you won't tell them. But they'll suspect it was something
dangerous
.”
“Right. Danger. That's Duncan Boone.” He flipped up the mirror and turned to face Jess. “I really need to avoid Carly today. After my recent series of miscalculations, I can't face her with this, um . . . face. I just can't.”
“Okay, dude. Normally I'd throw something at you for saying that, but we've seen where that can lead. So fine.”
“You've gotta get my stuff from my locker, Jess. I'll try to keep a safe distance.”
“And where exactly will you be, Elephant Man? Hiding your terrible secret in the shadows?”
“If I have to, yes.”
“You're a pretty vain guy, Duncan. But whatever.” They exited the car.
Jessie helped him maneuver slowly toward the school's main entrance, a boxy glass-and-steel atrium-thing that was apparently designed to make students feel like they were checking in to an Embassy Suites. Prepping us for later lives of business travel, Duncan often thought. As he walked through the school, students gaped at his puffy, discolored face. Given his limited vision, Duncan was only vaguely aware of the attention.
“Jess,” he whispered, “it kinda sounds like people are murmuring. Am I being murmured about? I'd hate that.”
“Be cool,” she whispered back. “Of course you're being murmured about. You look like day-old vomit, dude. Just be cool. Keep your disfigured head up. ‘A garage accident,' you'll say. And then say no more.”
They climbed up the worn stairs that led to Duncan's locker, then plodded down the hallway. More gawking, more pointing, more murmuring from students. Jessie and Duncan stopped thirty feet short of his locker when they saw the hulking back of a football jersey: HURLEY 55.
“Oh, man,” said Duncan. “Is that Perry Hurley? The Pear Bear?”
“Yup.”
“At my locker? What's
that
about? He must've gotten himself lost on the way to the weight room.”
“Dude is big,” said Jessie. “And I don't think he's lost. I think he stopped by to mack on your girl, Duncan.”
Perry Hurley, troglodytic three-sport all-conference athlete, was indeed talking to Carly. It was a game day for the football team, so Perry wore his Elm Forest Owls home jersey to school over a blue polo, his collar half popped. Carly leaned away from him, frowning, her arms folded across an embroidered peasant blouse. Perry rested an arm on Duncan's locker and bent down toward her. She backed up a little farther. He inched closer. She retreated. And so it went. Duncan listened from afar.
Perry: “. . . because you might actually have fun, that's why. Just come. It's not just a kegger. We'll have beer bongs and hookahs, too. Plus my buddy Buddha has a kick-ass indoor pool. So c'mon. Don't say no.”
Carly: “Please don't take this the wrong way, Perry—Pear Bear—but I'd rather slit my wrists and drink my own blood.”
“Point, Carly,” said Jessie in a hushed voice. “That was well played.”
“Told you she's a smart cookie.”
“He's a total scuz.”
More words passed between Perry and Carly before he at last backed off, hands raised in resignation, and said in an unnecessarily loud voice, “Suit yourself, Garfield. Have fun doing whatever it is you do.”
He slapped two smaller jersey-wearing persons on the back, and the three began to walk away from Duncan's locker. As they did, an obviously frustrated Perry whacked several books out of the arms of a pasty freshman who'd drifted too close to him at exactly the wrong moment. Then he bumped the freshman aside with his forearm and loudly said, “Excuse me, dumbass.” This seemed to amuse Perry's teammates greatly.
It did not seem to amuse Carly.
“Perry!” she snapped.
He stopped.
“Why would you do that?” Carly had rushed to the stunned freshman's aid, kneeling on the ground to pick up his textbooks.
“Kid got in my way,” the linebacker said. “Total accident.” Servile snickering from his teammates.
“You're such a fraud, Perry. And your groupies are worse.” She glared. “You find the least-threatening person you can, and then you assault him. Why? Because I won't go with you to some lame-ass kegger on a lame cul-de-sac?”
BOOK: Beauty and the Bully
8.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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