Authors: Geoff Herbach
“They pushed you around?” Abby asked.
“They better not,” I said. “They wouldn't mess with me.”
“Oh my God. We shouldn't let it happen,” Abby said. “What's wrong with us? We need to stop them.”
“You want to stop Karpinski?” I asked. “You want to tell him what you really think?”
“Karpinski's the worst,” Gus said. “He mooned me in Walmart and gave me the finger. Just last week. It never ends with that guy.” Gus shook his head.
“Why are people so mean?” Abby asked. “I used to think it was so funny. I used to think everyone was a beach ball.”
“I'm not a beach ball,” Maddie said. “I'm really not, okay?”
“I'm sorry. I'm so sorry,” Abby said.
Abby, all almost six feet of her, lay on top of me on the Love Sac.
“Why we never do this before?” I asked.
“I know! I love drinking!”
“Not just drink. You know, hang together, baby.”
“I don't know,” Abby said. “I had soooo much business to take care of.”
“Buying and selling business?”
“School and volleyball, and I don't like all these boys breathing on me. They're gross.”
“I'm not gross.”
“Not that gross. I like you best,” Abby said.
“I like you best too. Better than Karpinski,” I said.
“This is the best night I ever had,” she said.
“I think it's like dinnertime,” I said. “We have just begunâ¦”
“Oh shit! We have to eat!” she said.
Then Gus shouted from the records, “Five Stairsteps! Holy shit!” He held up the album with the people and their giant Afros. “Let's hear it!”
“Not again, man,” Maddie said. Gus had played it at his house another five times when Maddie got there.
“Oh yes,” he said.
He played “O-o-h Child,” and within about a minute, Abby was totally bawling. Her tears coated my face.
“The singers are so nice,” she said. “We should be so nice.”
“Safe,” I said.
“My parents aren't even my parents anymore,” she cried.
“I know,” I said. “Where are the adults?”
“They don't exist,” Abby cried.
Maybe an hour later, Cal showed up in the barn. He had two bags filled with sub sandwiches from Pickle Barrel Subs, which had to be like a forty-minute round-trip drive. “Sammies!” he shouted.
“Awesome, man!” Maddie said.
“You dudes are eating and staying. Nobody is going to drive any place, you got that? Eat up!”
“He's an adult,” Abby said.
“He's building an airplane,” I said.
“I want to go to Mexico,” Abby said.
“With me?” I asked.
“Okay,” Abby said. “Let's totally do it.”
“Hey, Cal, can we come with you to Mexico?” I asked.
Cal cocked his head at me. He put the bags of subs on the bar. “Hell no, man. You're exactly what I want to get away from.”
“Me?” That hurt my feelings.
“Can we at least visit sometime?” Abby asked.
Cal thought for a second. “Sure. Why not?”
“Thanks, man!” Abby said.
My last memory of the night is so blurry. Abby snored on my shoulder. We stretched on the Love Sac. Gus, Maddie, and Cal all had cigarettes in their mouths. Cal played an electric guitar (pretty loud), and Maddie and Gus pounded on bongos. Every now and then, Cal would scream, “Rock it, mother scratchers!” and Maddie would call back, “We rock it!”
How did I fall asleep during that?
Really, it was only like nine at night.
I woke up spooning Abby. Morning light came in through small windows high up on the barn's walls. The world smelled like sweet, rotten alcohol. We were covered with a dirty bedspread. Abby turned her cheek to my mouth. She whispered, “Are you really my friend?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I'm here.”
My mouth tasted so gross. “I think mice slept in my mouth,” I said.
“Yeah. You get sort of used to it,” Abby said.
“You have a lot of experience with this?” I asked.
“No,” Abby said.
Before we left, Cal made us all bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches. He gave us Advil. He said, “Now don't make it a habit of coming out here. You got it? There's no open invitation. I might chase you out next time. I have guns. Lots of them.”
“Shut up, Cal,” Maddie said.
“I'm serious, baby girl,” Cal said.
“Really, really serious?” Maddie asked.
“Very, very serious.” He pointed at each one of our faces.
On the drive back, Gus said, “Hope there isn't trouble. Hope we're okay. I think I left a note for my parents. I did, right? I said I was staying over at your place, Felton. Did you call Jerri?”
“No,” I said.
“Are you worried? Are you in trouble?”
“No,” I said.
“I'm not either. My mom doesn't get mad at me for bad shit I do,” Maddie said. “She gets mad at me when her life sucks.”
“My mom probably didn't notice I was gone,” Abby said. “She goes to bed at like eight.”
“Great,” Gus said. “My parents give a shit, so I'm the one who'll get in trouble. What a deal.”
Nobody said anything.
Abby dropped me at Gus's so I could pick up my bike. She grabbed my hand as I got out and pulled me toward her. She squinted at my face. She said, “Talk later?”
“Yeah. Of course.”
We Love Our Little Boy Soooo Much!
As I unlocked my bike from a street sign in Gus's front yard, he stood staring up the street.
“Hey,” he said, “Would you come inside for a minute? I don't want to face Teresa alone.” Teresa is Gus's mom.
“I'm sort of tired.”
“Good. I'll make you some coffee.”
“I don't drink coffee.”
“You'll want to drink coffee in college.”
Clearly Gus wasn't going to let me go. Why did I have to face Teresa?
Life is change. Gus's parents have always been pretty strict, and they totally love punishing and grounding Gus and calling Jerri to tell her the crap we've done. That morning, we found his parents reading the newspaper in the living room. Did they yell and scream? Did they ask where the hell we were?
“Look what the cat dragged in,” Gus's dad said.
“You boys have a fun night?” Gus's mom asked.
“Pretty great,” Gus said.
“You hear the big news, Felton?” Gus's dad asked.
“Maybe?” I said.
“Amherst! Top-ranked liberal arts college in the nation!” Gus's mom said.
“Well, one of the top,” Gus said.
“Number one most years,” Gus's dad said.
“Awesome,” I said.
“Ohâ¦” Gus's mom said. “My boy worked so hard and look what he did.” She sort of teared up. “I'm so proud. I'm so proudâ¦”
“Jesus, Mom,” Gus said. “Get a grip.”
His parents totally beamed at him.
“I'm going to make some coffee. You guys want any?” Gus asked.
My body felt like lead pajamas. My stomach knotted up.
“I have to run,” I said.
“Stanford is a heck of a school too, Felton,” his dad said as I stumbled out the door.
Biking was hard.
I stumbled in the door from the garage. My guts burned and my hands trembled. I thought I might puke. I thought of that black liquid we were drinking the night before, and I had to run into the bathroom. I didn't barf. In the mirror, my face stared back at me. My Jewfro hadn't been shorn since right before I went to Florida. (Before that, I went to the barber every other week.) It stuck up all over. There were dark circles under my eyes. Seemed like I should probably shave.
The phone rang. The machine beeped. Someone said: “You're a fucker, Reinstein.” They hung up. Wisconsin.
“No. Shut up. Please,” I said out loud. My drunkenness didn't make Wisconsin go away.
I stumbled out. On the floor in front of my bedroom, I found a piece of paper.
Jerri had left a note for me.
I'm at Terry's tonight. I'd like to unplug the phone. The calls are terrible. I'm sorry, honey. Are you okay with me unplugging the phone?
Yes, I was ready to unplug the phone. No, I didn't like Jerri.
She was with Terry. Terry Sauter, a man who stopped speaking to his kids just because of a divorce.
A minute later, I fell into bed. An hour later, I woke up. Dad had been in my dreams.
Dead Dad hanging from the rafters.
don't want to go back here. Please.
Dad wasn't buried.
I tried watching the Homo Reinstein rap to get angry again, but I didn't get angry. My stomach hurt. It hurt my feelings. I walked through the house and unplugged the three landlines. Jerri had said to. I couldn't hear another bad message.
I lay down in bed, so sick, and dreamed of Aleah and me biking, delivering newspapers, like we did during our summer together. I woke, turned over, grabbed my phone, and I texted her:
I'm with Abby S now. I'm sorry.
Aleah responded immediately.
Why do you want to hurt me?
Because you did this to me.
Do you want to talk?
Then I literally fell on my face on the floor. Then I got up and tried to run. I put on workout clothes: a jacket, sweats. Headed out the door. Ran about two hundred yards down the driveway and onto the main road. Then I barfed in the ditch.
shit. This is bad shit. This is the worst. Okay. Okay. Andrew?
I hobbled back up to the house. Grabbed my phone to call Andrew. Found a text from Abby:
Feel like crap. You want to come over?
Yes, I did.
Dudes like me want to be normal.
my new girlfriend's house! No time for your doctor, Andrew!
Drunken Abby and a Plan
I did notice when I ran to the road and barfed that February had gotten more February-like. Didn't think to dress more warmly. I left too fast to think.
I biked to Abby's freezing my ass off, the wind cutting through the light jacket I'd worn the day before. (It smelled like Cal's cigarettes from the barn.) I shivered. My teeth chattered. I groaned.
In sixth grade, Abby had moved from my neighborhood by the golf course to a brand-new giant house on the west edge of town (with big, fake-looking pillars). Terry wanted to show off, I guess. He showed Bluffton how much he made straightening out all the kids' ugly teeth. It was a three-mile ride through freezing.
I breathed hard. I felt tired in my legs. My muscles burned. When I'm myself, it takes forever for me to get tired.
At least I didn't puke again.
I rolled up Abby's big drive, panting, gulping for air. I dropped my bike on the ground and bent over, trying to catch my breath (my breath rising in clouds around me).
Nolan answered the door when I rang the bell. Even though he's just a freshman, he's a pretty big kid. He's a jock, of course, just like his sister.
He glared at me. He said, “What do you want?”
“Take her,” he said. He left the door open but walked away into the house. I didn't hear him call for Abby or anything.
I stood for a while longer (I imagined throwing Nolan off a bridge), then rang the bell again.
A few seconds later, Abby showed up in a robe with a towel around her head. She was just showered and I could smell all that soap and lotion and my heart beat funny. “Hey, Rein Stone,” she said.
I followed Abby through the house. I hadn't spent any time inside it since the Sauter divorce. Before the divorce, Abby's mom cleaned constantly, like a jumpy rabbit. Terry would show up on occasion and crack jokes and call Abby “Princess” and crap (which she clearly liked). Even while me and my friends were there, eating pizza or whatever, Abby's mom was bustling around us, picking up napkins, wiping pop drips off the counter. Sort of sad and annoying.
The house in February? Messy. Empty feeling. Trashed. There were dishes on the coffee table and side table and winter coats lay piled on the floor. A vacuum sat plugged into the wall on the side of the living room. Looked like it had been sitting there for a long time because there were tortilla chip crumbs on the floor right in front of it (next to a bowl of half-eaten chips).
Piles of dirty clothes lined the hall heading to Abby's room.
“Wow,” I said.
“I should be cleaning. I can't do it,” Abby whispered. “I have to wash my own clothes, but I don't touch anything else.”
“Where's your mom?” I asked.
“She's shut in her room. She's shut in there all the time,” Abby said.
“Sounds familiar.” Jerri had done pretty much the same exact thing a couple of years earlier. I recognized the state of affairs. Of course, my house is a lot smaller and shittier in the first place, so the change wasn't as noticeable.
Abby's place was a freaking disaster. Seriously.
But not her bedroom. It was clean. Super clean.
Abby led me to her bed. We sat down. “I'm glad you're here.”
“Me too,” I mumbled.
“You don't seem okay,” she said. “Are you okay? Are you mad at me?”
“No. Why would I be mad at you?”
“I don't know. People get mad at me.”
“I'm having a bad month, I guess.”
Abby nodded. “I'm with you, man. My life's been terrible since volleyball.”
“I don't know. Yeah. Probably. I can't concentrate.”
“You should've told me before because then we could hang out and not concentrate together,” I said.
“Yeah.” Abby smiled. “Hey. Have you ever had a fuzzy navel?” Abby asked.
“What?” Was she talking about her own belly button? Did she want me to have her navel somehow? “Iâ¦I have some hair around my belly button,” I said.
“No.” Abby laughed. She lifted up a plastic cup from her bedside table filled with what looked like orange juice. “Fuzzy navel. Orange juice and peach schnapps, man. It's delicious.”
“What is schnapps?”
“Sweet liquor. My mom drinks it all the time. She has like a hundred bottles. You want one?”
Somewhere deep in my head, I heard the voice of my little brother Andrew saying,
Think before you act, Felton
. Then I thought of Pig Boy and my dad and the State of Wisconsin, and even though I'd puked from alcohol and my stomach still ached in a weird way, I said, “Yeah, I'd like to try.”
An hour later, everything was totally great. Abby put on the country music station, and we tried out the swing dancing that we learned in seventh grade. She shoved me when I stepped on her foot and I fell through her closet door and we laughed really hard.
Then we sat in the closet on the floor holding hands.
“I can't believe I didn't drink before now! I should've been drinking fuzzy navels since I was born!” I shouted.
“I know! Can you believe we let Cody tell us to not drink for like our whole adult lives?” Abby said.
“Cody doesn't have problems. He doesn't need the navel, man.”
“He doesn't understand us,” Abby said. “Plus, he's always so worried about you, but he never asks me if I have problems.”
“Why's he worried about me?” I asked. “I'm a champion.”
“Because you have a crazy mom and your dad and you're jumpy and you help him win and I don't matter. I'm just nobody,” Abby said.
“No. You're everybody. You're the best student.”
“Second best now. Gus beat me because I can't concentrate.”
“I'm a better student. I work harder. I used to workâ¦”
It's true. Abby took AP English as a junior and quit track so she could take all this advanced science at the college. She was the most motivated student in the world. “You are better. Gus is just a super genius.”
“But Feltonâ¦shh.” She put her hand on my mouth. “I have to turn in my grades at the end of the year. The only way I can do college without Dadâ¦the only way I can go to Madison is with the Regents Scholarship.”
“You already got that,” I said. She did too. They awarded it in November.
“I have to turn in my grades and I can't concentrate and the professor told me to drop cell biology on Friday. He said I'm not ready for college.”
“No,” I said.
“You want some spaghetti?” she asked.
Then we stood in her kitchen, which was spinning around because I was pretty drunk and also pretty happy because Abby was cooking me some spaghetti, which I love, and I knew we belonged together and I knew we were soul mates and would probably get married in the next few months and we'd have some kids and live on an island where we'd drink in a hot tub.
Then Abby sat at the table in her robe. I could still smell her lotion and it made me thirsty. I wanted to drink her in my cup. Her shoulder kept slipping out of the robe and she has a really pretty shoulder. Nolan was nowhere to be found. “In the basement,” Abby told me. I could hear the TV on in her mom's room. “She has a bathroom in there. I see her like once a day,” Abby said. “Dad's really mean to her, so she sleeps all the time. She's never had a job, you know?”
“Your dad's nice to Jerri.”
“He used to be nice to me,” Abby said. “He used to sing me songs when I was a little kid. I don't understand what happened.” She spun spaghetti noodles around her fork. “He's really, really mean.”
“Yeah?” I asked.
“What are we going to do? What's wrong with us?” Abby asked, her face hot.
This fuzzy navel oozed warmth through my body. Abby's face. You have to see Abby's beautiful face. “You want to make out or something?”
“Probably.” Abby nodded. “But have you ever been happy?” she asked.
“No. Except I like playing football.”
“I used to like everything. I wanted to be a doctor in Africa or Mexico to help the kids.”
“I was happy when I helped Pig Boy.”
” Abby shouted. “But now I can't do anything. I don't know why. And I don't have any friends, Felton.”
“But Jess and Cody are glued together like Ken and Barbie, and Jess doesn't care that I'mâ¦I'mâ¦”
“Maybe we need to be a team, Abby. Like Cody and Jess.”
“Me and you. Ken and Barbie?” Abby asked.
I tried to picture Ken but instead pictured the offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, with his slick hair, and my throat tightened and I grabbed my fuzzy navel and took a big swig. “Listen, Abby, I don't want to be like that asswipe Ken,” I said.
“Yeah. Ken is an asswipe. So is Barbie. She's a bitch and she doesn't even return my texts like half the time and she knows that my life is hell and Dad is mean and Mom is a total basket case.”
“Are you talking about Jess?”
“I want to be the opposite of that! What's the opposite of Barbie?”
I knew in a flash. “We need to protect dipshits,” I said. “Ken and Barbie are mean to dipshits!”
“Cody's not mean to dipshits.”
“Karpinski says he needs to keep the dipshits in line,” I said.
“So we stop him? Like you protected the pig kid? How do we do that?”
I thought of those Northwestern football players shoving each other. I thought of Karpinski. “We should be mean to mean people,” I said. “Right? Wouldn't that blow their minds if we just did mean stuff to them? A little reverse medicine for those doctors of mean shit?”
“Mean to mean people,” Abby said.
“Yeah.” I nodded.
“I'm good at being mean.”
“It makes me feel bad.”
“But if you're on the good team?”
Abby squinted at me. She pursed her lips in a sexy fashion. “Can our team get drunk and study together too? I have to study and I can't be alone anymore. Will you drunk study with me please?”
“I will drunk study your ass off,” I said. I didn't want to be alone either.
“Okay.” Abby nodded. She swallowed. She exhaled. She closed her robe around her and then sat on her hands. “Okay.” She looked down at her lap. “Also, maybe we should try to have sex. I'm tired of Maddie and those girls calling me Virginia.”
“They do that? Mean.”
“Yeah,” she said.
I nodded. I clapped my hands. “Yes!” I said. “Sex is a great idea!”
“Really?” Abby asked.
“Definitely. Know why? Ken and Barbie totally can't do it. They don't have the parts! They have nothing downstairs! Barbie has those big boobs but nothing going on in herâ¦her undercarriage! Ken's wang area is flat as a pancake. We've got the parts to totally have sex all the time!”
“Yeah,” Abby said. “Okay. Let's put that down on the to-do list.”
“This is great! Do you have any paper?”
“I think I ate too much,” Abby said. “I'm going to throw up.”
Abby was asleep five minutes later. I rode my bike home and crashed twice, which hurt, and then slept on the couch in front of the TV. Around 3 a.m., I stumbled to the bathroom and tried to throw up. Somehow I got back to the couch. My head swam and my guts burned and I couldn't believe it was morning when morning happened because it seemed to happen a second after 3 a.m.
My alarm blared. I rolled and sat up.
The room spun for a minute. I had to meet Pig Boy. For the first time since Curtis. Monday morning meeting day.
Then I noticed a piece of paper. Lying on the floor next to the couch was a list I apparently wrote out before falling over when I got home.
Here's what it said:
Be mean to mean people to protect the weak.
Study while drunk a lot.
Have massive amounts of sex because Ken and Barbie don't have wangs.
The list made me laugh, which made my head pound and my stomach ache. I still found it funny.
Problem: I didn't love Abby in the morning like I did the night before. I don't know why. I didn't feel that thing, which made me feel bad for her.