Authors: Julie Frayn
ROMEO is HOMELESS
A Love Story
By Julie Frayn
Copyright © 2012 Julie Frayn
All rights reserved
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events are products of the author’s imagination or have been used strictly for fictional purposes. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events or locales is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.
For Brynn and Charlie. Because you are my everything.
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August Bailey stared westward. A silo halved the sun on its evening descent, a hazy filter of road dust and corn pollen helping cool the late spring heat. The underside of high clouds glowed red and purple. Dusk was her favorite time of day. A time when she could pause from the doldrums of her life – and dream of a better one.
In her mind’s eye, the silo was a high rise, the corn pollen was car exhaust, and the dull and quiet Iowa farm she shared with her parents and little sisters transformed into the excitement and activity of Charlesworth at night. Only three hundred miles away, but it may as well be a million. She’d never get to see it.
August shut her eyes and drew a deep breath, drawing the earthy scent of manure and damp hay into her nostrils, then opened them to her reality. Another Friday night without friends. Without fun.
She tromped into the hen house and shooed a hen off the first nest, scooped three eggs and placed them into a tin bucket. It was usually just one egg. When was the last time she’d collected them? Maybe she should pay more attention to her chores like her mother kept nagging about. Or maybe she needed to get off the farm so she could buy eggs from a store like a normal person.
The hen on the sixth nest flapped her wings and balked at being moved. August put down the bucket and lifted the bird with both hands, placing it at her feet. The hen pecked at her rubber boots.
“Oh, gross.” Four eggs were covered in bird crap, one pecked open, dried yolk cemented to the others. She bent down and wagged one gloved finger at the hen. “I like that you’re productive, little lady, but must you shit on and eat your own babies?”
The bucket brimmed over. She trudged back to the house and handed it to her mother.
“That’s a lot of eggs.” Her mother set the bucket on the kitchen counter. “Maybe if you got out there every day like you’re supposed to…”
“Yes, Mother, I know. No need to repeat yourself.”
Her father set his coffee cup down heavier than usual. “C’mon, August. Don’t talk to your mother that way.”
“Sorry, Dad. It’s just, I know my responsibilities. I’m almost seventeen for Christ’s sake. I don’t need to be nagged by my mommy.”
Her mother tapped the side of the bucket with a wooden spoon. “Apparently you do.”
June sat at the kitchen table scribbling pictures on construction paper, a massive box of crayons at her elbow. Always the same thing – pigs, horses, corn fields and barns. Boring old life.
April sat at the head of the table dutifully filling out times tables. August’s middle sister, best in class. In every class. August admired her drive and focus. But she rarely let April know it.
Too bad her sisters weren’t closer to her age instead of six years apart. Like clockwork. They had nothing in common, except their parents and that farm.
August grabbed her math book from the table by the front door and dropped into the chair opposite her father.
He sipped his regular evening drink, coffee with a shot of bourbon, from a big mug. “You ready for your final?”
“Mostly.” She flipped open her book. “The whole logarithms and exponential functions thing just makes my head hurt.”
“Do you need my help?” April glanced sideways at her.
August laughed, then tapped her sister’s hand with the eraser tip of her pencil. “I bet you could, squirt. You’re way smarter than me when it comes to numbers.”
“And other stuff.”
“Yeah. Don’t rub it in.”
Something prodded her leg under the table and she looked up at her father. He winked. She play-kicked him back, their silly secret game. He seemed to find being goofy easier than just saying how he felt, telling her with words that he loved her. But he did. More than anyone.
August’s mother set a fresh piece of apple pie next to August’s math book, then kissed the top of her head.
The phone’s shrill ring pierced the quiet moment. Before it got to a second chirp August jumped up and grabbed the receiver. “Hello?” At the sound of Randy’s voice on the other end, she glanced at her parents, a knot grabbed her stomach.
Her mother faced the window, elbow deep in dishwater. Her dad colored June’s sky.
August inched around the corner into the hall, pulling the tangled cord as far as it would reach. “Are you crazy?” she whispered. “My parents might have answered.”
“I want to see you. I know you’re not ready but you didn’t have to dump me over it!”
For a tough jock, he sure whined like a little girl.
“I’ve been telling you for months I’m not ready but you don’t let it go. I’m sick of you grabbing my boobs and shoving my head in your lap all the time. So no, I won’t see you. We’re done.”
“Come on, August. You know I love you. That’s what people who love each other do.”
“I guess that’s the problem then. I don’t love you.”
Her mother’s head popped around the corner, her ridiculous leopard skin rubber gloves dripping dish suds. “You’re running out of study time.”
August nodded. If only her mother’s interference were always this useful. “Sorry Sara, got to go study.” Her mother disappeared back into the kitchen. “Don’t ever call my house again. You know they don’t let me date.” She slammed the phone on its cradle and took her seat at the table.
June held up a picture. “Look, August! I made this for you.”
Three girls with long blonde hair held hands in front of a barn. The tallest had green dots of crayon wax for eyes, the middle and small girls’ were blue. Perfectly pink pigs stood outside their pen, curlicue tails nearly as long as their bodies.
“Wow, June. Thanks, I love that.”
“I call it ‘three little pigs and sisters.’ I’m good, aren’t I?”
“No. You’re great.”
The sun shone brightly on a warm mid-June Saturday morning. August held her hand above her brow and squinted into the sky. If she ever got to the city, the first thing she would buy is a big pair of Audrey Hepburn sunglasses.
August led a cow out of the barn and opened the pasture gate. She guided the animal into the field, then released the lead from its neck. It wandered off toward the other cows that all mooed their greetings.
From the position of the sun August guessed it must be nearing eight o’clock. She returned to the barn and picked up the pail of fresh milk then headed for the house. Jack bounded toward her, barking his good mornings. She set down the pail and kneeled on the gravel. “Hello, sweet Jack.” She scratched behind his black and white ears and rubbed the shaggy fur on his back. Jack licked her arms and hands and tried to jump to kiss her. She never let him lick her face. She knew where his nose had been.
The familiar rumble of a diesel engine caught her attention. Randy’s red three-quarter-ton pickup truck slid to a stop on the gravel at the end of the drive. He looked right at her, and then honked his horn.
“Shit.” August glanced at the house. The white cotton of the kitchen drapes was pulled aside, her mother’s face peered out into the yard.
August ran to the end of the drive, Jack on her heels, barking at the intruder. She smacked the top of the shiny new hood with an open palm and stormed to the driver’s side window. “Are you nuts? Get out of here now before my mother sees you.”
Randy put the truck in park and turned off the ignition. He stepped out and leaned against his newest toy.
Jack sniffed Randy’s leg and let out a low growl.
Randy pushed the dog with his foot. “Fuck off, dog.”
When she’d first seen Randy, his good looks, perfect hair, expensive truck, and quarterback’s uniform drew her in. But it wasn’t long before she learned he was just a selfish ass with only one thing on his mind. His parents’ money might buy him cars and clothes and fancy boots, but it couldn’t fix his personality disorder.
He lit a cigarette and blew the smoke in her direction. “I need to talk to you and you won’t see me. So here I am.”
“Because, as usual, the only thing that matters is what you want.” She crossed her arms and glared at him. “If you don’t get the hell out of here, I’ll never see the light of day again.” They stared at each other without speaking.
The creak of the screen door broke the silence. August shook her head. “Damn it. Here she comes.”
Randy pushed away from the truck, took her by the arms and pulled her into him. August squirmed and twisted in his grip. “Stop it, let me go.”
One of his arms circled her waist, pinning her to his body. His other hand slid down the seat of her jeans. He squeezed her ass and tried to kiss her.
She turned her head away and slapped at his temple. “Let me go, you prick.”
“What’s going on here?” Her mother had come up behind them.
Randy released his grip on August and stepped back. “Morning, Mrs. Bailey.”
“Who are you, young man?” Her mother grabbed August by the waistband of her jeans and pulled her backwards.
“I’m August’s boyfriend, ma’am.”
Her mother’s face darkened and her eyes narrowed. “That’s impossible. August isn’t allowed to date until after high school.”
“Yeah, well we’ve been going out for a while. We’re having a little tiff and I just needed to see her. To sort it out.”
“Asshole,” August said under her breath.
He cocked his head to one side and smirked at her. “So if you don’t mind, Mrs. Bailey, maybe we could have a little privacy.”
“No. You may not.” Her mother took August by the hand and turned toward the house. “Get off our property now. And leave August alone. Or I’ll get Mr. Bailey to have a talk with you.”
August glanced over her shoulder. Randy climbed in his truck and started it, then revved the engine before slamming it into gear. He took off, spewing gravel behind him.
Her mother spun around. “Is that true? Have you been seeing him?”
“Not anymore.” She crossed her arms. “And how is it any of your business?”
“Because you’re my daughter. Everything you do is my business.”
“All of my friends date. I’m the only one whose parents treat her like a baby. I’m so sick of it.”
“Well get used to it for another school year.” Her mother pointed one finger at her. “No more boys. No more sass.” She punctuated each demand with a poke of that finger.
August blinked back tears and looked away. “No more life.” She stormed off toward the pigpen.
Sunday morning arrived wet and soggy after a rainy night. August did her chore rotation like the day before and the day before that. With the pigs fed and the stalls mucked, she exited the hen house, a bucket half full of fresh eggs in one hand. She tromped through the sweet, pungent mud toward the house in a zigzag path so she could hit as many big puddles as she could. Just outside the pigpen, her rubber boot stuck in the mire. She pulled, but it stayed put. She stretched sideways and rested the bucket on a drier spot of ground, then grabbed the top of her boot and pulled. The mud resisted and pulled back. Her boot sprung free with a slurp of suction. It sent her off balance and she fell back, landing on her butt, the mud oozing through her jeans and sticking to her skin.
“Damn it!” She pounded her palms into the ground sending drops of manure tinged muck flying through the air, into her hair and onto her face.
She picked up a clump of mud and flung it toward the pigpen. “I hate this place.” The feeding swine squealed and herded away from their breakfast. “I hate my life.” She flung another handful toward the house but was too far away for it to make contact. It just landed in a nearby puddle.
A wet clump of earth hit her square on the arm. She turned to find her sisters, their hands full of mud ammunition.
“Don’t you dare.”
June giggled and April grinned. Then they pelted August with mud bombs.
“That’s it, you little brats.” August freed herself from the puddle and stood, mud clumps in both hands. She chased after her sisters and tossed mud at them, hitting each of them in the back, then scooped up more and hit them again. Within minutes, they were all covered in goo, their clothes soaked through and stained with filth. August grabbed June by the waist and fell into a puddle, pulling June down with her, then April piled on. The three of them lay in the mud laughing.
“Oh, your mother is going to kill you.” August’s father loomed over them, a half grin betraying his amusement. “You might want to take the hose to yourselves before you even think about going in the house.”
August stayed in the shower until the water ran cold. It took three shampoos to get the muck out of her long hair and a nail brush to get the grit from under her fingernails. She took her time in the bathroom, applying makeup and curling her hair, then teasing it and spraying it into place. She dressed in her best jeans and a black button-up top with red piping, then skipped down the stairs to the kitchen.
Her mother stood at the stove basting a roast chicken. The air was moist with sage and rosemary.
“That smells great, Mom.”
“Thanks.” Her mother looked her up and down, one eyebrow arched. “What are you all dressed up for? This isn’t a special occasion.”