Excerpt for Skin (A 44 Chapters Novel, Book 1) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Copyright © 2016 by BB Easton

Published by Art by Easton

All rights reserved.



No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.



ISBN: 978-0-9967906-5-9

eBook ISBN: 978-0-9967906-4-2



Artwork, Photography, and Cover Design by BB Easton

Editing by Ellie McLove, www.lovenbooks.com

Interior Formatting by Jovana Shirley, Unforeseen Editing, www.unforeseenediting.com

SKIN is a work of fiction based on real-life characters and events introduced in BB Easton’s memoir 44 Chapters About 4 Men. While the settings, most of the situations portrayed, and the physical and behavioral characteristics of Knight and BB are true to life, the details, dialogue, and secondary characters are fictitious.

Due to excessive profanity, violence, graphic sexual content, and themes of juvenile delinquency, this book is not intended for—and should probably be completely hidden from—anyone under the age of eighteen.

This book is dedicated to the first boy I ever loved. The one who knew that I deserved better. The one who saved me by setting me free. The one who inspired me to become a school psychologist.

I’m sorry I couldn’t fix you.

I tried.

Introduction

Part I

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

Part II

25

26

27

28

29

30

Part III

31

32

33

34

35

36

37

38

39

40

41

42

43

44

Epilogue

SKIN Playlist on Spotify

Acknowledgments

About the Author

If you’ve read 44 Chapters About 4 Men: A Memoir, then you’re familiar with my style. It’s sarcastic and profane. It’s sexy and fun. It’s embarrassingly honest, and it is nothing to be taken too seriously. Thirty-two words in that book aren’t even in the dictionary for Christ’s sake. I just made them up.

When I sat down to write Knight’s story—this story—I wanted to be honest. I wanted to write about what it was really, truly like to be a fifteen-year-old girl from a working-class family attending an overcrowded, underfunded public high school in the late 1990s. And in order to do that, I knew I would have to bring up a lot of touchy subjects—underage sex being a big one, but also racism, homophobia, suicide, drugs, alcohol, gangs, guns, body modification, bullying, domestic violence, teen pregnancy, eating disorders, mental illness, first loves, first losses, and just plain feeling lost. That was my high school experience—and even though I knew the subject matter would be heavy—I wanted to write about it my way. In my quirky, lighthearted style.

But they didn’t give a shit what I wanted to do.

Knight and BB weren’t exactly known for following directions in real life, and their characters were no exception. I realized early on that this was not going to be another memoir. These characters simply wouldn’t allow it. If I told them, “You’re supposed to go left here,” they would give me the middle finger and say, “But we wanted to go right, so we’re going right this time.” Eventually I tossed my historian hat out the window—it never fit right anyway—and just tried to keep up as Knight and BB ran circles around me. I would put them in familiar settings, try to recreate exact scenarios, and they would do what they did best—whatever the fuck they wanted.

So, for those of you left-brained types who are going to want to know which parts of this book are true and which parts are fictitious, all I can tell you is that most of what you are about to read actually happened, and the parts that didn’t actually happen were so true to the characters that they very easily could have happened.

It’s important to note that all of the secondary characters are amalgams of people I knew in high school—Frankenteens assembled from the assorted physical characteristics and personality traits of at least two of my closest friends each. Any resemblance to a single living person is purely coincidental. All names have been changed as well—including the name of my school and Knight’s tattoo parlor—and I compressed the timeline of events to fit into a single school year. The story just flowed better that way.

I learned through this process that by letting go of reality a little bit, my characters were free to express themselves more fully than they ever were in real life. In that way, this story is even more honest than a rigid recounting of events would have been. It gets to the heart and soul of who Knight and BB really were, what my high school was really like, and all the terrible and beautiful things that really happened when the grown-ups weren’t looking.

This book is my truth. It’s just not one hundred percent the truth.

Positive, positive, positive.

It was my first day of tenth grade, and I was not going to be nervous. I was going to think deliriously happy, positive thoughts. I was going to skip down the familiar halls of Peach State High School with a bounce in my steel-toed step and a self-confident smirk on my face because this was going to be the year that Lance Hightower finally proclaimed his undying love for me. It just had to be.

I wasn’t going to beat myself up about the fact that I had been trying and failing to make out with that boy since middle school, nor was I going to focus on the fact that I still had zero breasts at the age of fifteen. No, I was going to fantasize about all the wildly spontaneous, highly public ways Lance might choose to propose. After all, I’d just learned—thanks to my dad’s unhealthy obsession with watching CNN—that it was totally legal for teenagers to get married in Georgia as long as they had written permission from one of their parents. That wouldn’t be a problem for me, seeing as how I’d perfected my mom’s signature by the age of twelve.

I was also feeling pretty damn good because I knew I’d picked out the perfect back-to-school outfit. My trademark black combat boots and wingtip eyeliner were firmly in place; I was rocking some kickass black spider web fishnets under my favorite pair of too-short-for-school cut-off jeans; my gray midriff T-shirt boasted the logo of an indie band I was absolutely certain no one had heard of; and my arms were practically pinned to my sides with the weight of a thousand metal, beaded, and leather bracelets. Also, I’d started smoking over the summer (for real this time), and my shorter, edgier, more angled haircut got tons of compliments, even from Lance (which was the whole point).

Of course, all my positivity went to shit as soon as I made it to the church parking lot for a smoke between classes.

It was no secret at Peach State High School that if you wanted to do something bad, all you had to do was walk out past the rust buckets in the student parking lot, step over a guardrail, and clear the tree line. That was it. On the other side you would find yourself in a magical wooded wonderland called the church parking lot, a place where kids could escape the oppression of our overcrowded, underfunded public learning institution to laugh, smoke, and be merry (if only for seven minutes at a time). The church was a long abandoned one-room chapel that was in the process of being reclaimed by the forest, and its parking lot was nothing more than a patch of gravel, but to a band of misfit teenagers it was heaven.

Or so I’d heard. I’d never actually ventured out to the church parking lot during school hours before, but this was my year. I just knew that on the other side of those woods I’d find my people. Artsy, quirky, free spirits who shared my appreciation for alternative rock, Avant Garde art, and experimental photography. The group that would embrace me with open arms, invite me to sit with them at lunch, and host raging keggers like the ones I saw on TV.

Instead what I found was the most intimidating group of human beings I’d ever seen in one place. Fuck me. Those kids were cool with a capital C and twenty-seven Os. They had multi-colored hair. They had piercings. They had expertly painted red lips that I could never pull off with my redheaded complexion. And the accessories—more chokers and studded belts than you could shake a flannel shirt at. One girl was even wearing denim overalls with the legs cut off and one shoulder strap undone. I wasn’t punk rock—I was Punky fucking Brewster.

At least my combat boots were vintage and my eyeliner was flawless. That I knew for sure. I’d been perfecting that goddamn cat eye since the age of ten. As long as I kept my grades up my hippie parents never really gave a shit how much makeup I wore, or what I dressed like, or how many F-bombs I dropped at the dinner table. (And by dinner table, I mean my TV tray in the living room.) So I stood on the periphery and tried not to stare, clinging to both my Camel Light and the hope that someone would at least admire my eyeliner art.

I watched the guys all squeezing and kneading and nuzzling their girlfriends, and I watched their girlfriends’ giant boobs bounce with every giggle.

I bet they have sex, I thought. Every one of them.

My face and neck suddenly felt itchy and hot.

Annnnd, now I’m blushing. Fantastic.

I dropped my head and stared down at my boots, which I could see with no problem at all thanks to my complete and total lack of breasts.

Why can’t the heroin chic look still be in? Maybe it’ll make a comeback. Please let it make a comeback.

Everyone out there looked like Drew Barrymore and I looked like somebody drew a smiley face and freckles on one of Drew Barrymore’s pinky fingers.

My BFF, Juliet Iha, was supposed to be meeting me out there, but after a few minutes it became pretty clear that she’d flaked out on me yet again.

She’s probably out here somewhere fogging up Tony’s car windows.

Juliet was dating a grown ass man who’d dropped out of high school at least a decade prior and never seemed to have anywhere pressing to be. Without fail, that creepy fucker always seemed to be lurking around wherever we were, leaning up against his busted ass old Corvette like an actor cast to play the part of “Potential Child Molester” in a P.S.A. from 1985. Tony definitely gave me the “no feeling,” but Juliet really liked him and he was old enough to buy us cigarettes, so I kept my mouth shut.

Just as I was about to stamp out my Camel Light and drag my sad ass back inside, I felt two solid arms wrap around my body from behind. One snaked around my ribcage and the other hoisted me up from behind my knees. Before I could scream “Rape!” I was flipped completely upside down and plopped, ass up, on the shoulder of a giant. It wasn’t until he swatted my backside and laughed in that glorious, soft tone that made my body go all warm and bubbly that I realized I’d been captured by my immortal beloved, Lance Hightower.

Lance Motherfucking Hightower. God, he was perfection. Lance was in my grade, but he was easily half a foot taller than most of the upperclassmen and already filled out like a man. Dude had a permanent five o’clock shadow at the age of fifteen. Despite having the dark, chiseled features of a Disney prince, Lance was a punk rock icon. Every day he sported the same effortlessly badass look: faded black Converse, faded black jeans, and a faded black hoodie covered in patches advertising obscure European underground punk bands and anarchist political statements that he painted on with Wite-Out during class. That hoodie was so well known it probably had its own fanzine.

Topping off all that faded black packaging was an equally faded, slightly grown-out, green Mohawk. It probably would have added another three inches to Lance’s already six-foot-three-inch frame if he ever bothered to style it, and the color totally brought out the green flecks in his coppery hazel eyes.

Oh, Lance. I had been obsessing over him since the sixth grade. I admired him from afar until last year when we fatefully wound up sharing a pottery wheel in art class. The flirting that ensued was incendiary. Atomic. The only problem was that I was technically “dating” his best friend Colton at the time, so things never really got off the ground.

Then a goddamn miracle happened. Colton up and moved to Las Vegas to live with his dad right in the middle of the spring semester. I pretended to be sad for a few hours, out of respect, then immediately resumed my campaign to become the mother of Lance’s children. The only problem was that Lance and I didn’t have any classes together, so all of my flirting had to be done in seven minute increments between periods. But in tenth grade, what I was sure would be the best year ever, Lance and I had been assigned to the same motherfucking lunch period. I was going to be sporting his last name by May. I just knew it.

“Lance! What are you doing?” I giggled. “Put me down! I can’t breathe with your shoulder in my stomach!”

Lance chuckled. “That’s so sweet. You take my breath away too, girl.”

God, his voice. Like fucking angel bells. For such a big dude with such an in-your-face look, Lance’s voice was surprisingly soft and flirty. It was a total mindfuck the first few times I heard that sweet sound come out of that ruggedly handsome face. And the pick-up lines. I swear to Jesus he had a new one every time I saw him. I fucking loved Lance Hightower.

I giggled harder, which made my stomach hurt even worse, and swatted at his perfect, patch-covered ass. “Put me down, asshole!”

Before he could comply, we heard a sickening smack from across the parking lot following by a deep voice shouting, “Say it again, motherfucker!”

Lance held on tight to the backs of my thighs and swung around to face the commotion, making me even dizzier as I grabbed his waist and peeked around his side to see what was going on.

Although I couldn’t make out exactly what was happening due to the blood rushing into my eyeballs, I recognized the assailant immediately. I’d never met him, but I’d heard stories. Everybody had. He was “the skinhead,” the only one at our entire four thousand student suburban high school.

I’d noticed him in ninth grade because he was literally the only person I’d ever seen wear suspenders (skinny ones, called braces) to school. In a world full of studded belts and chain wallets, that motherfucker wore suspenders—the epitome of dorkiness—and made them look as scary as the stripes on a venomous snake.

A snake who was standing about thirty feet away, looming over a little skater boy who was clutching his rapidly swelling jaw and trying not to cry.

When the kid didn’t say whatever it was the skinhead wanted to hear, he buried his fist deep in Skater Boy’s stomach, causing him to lurch forward and release a noise so guttural I assumed something important must have ruptured. With his left hand, the skinhead yanked the guy’s head back by his chin-length brown hair and screamed into his terrified face, “Say that shit again!”

I felt like I might throw up. My heart was racing and my head was pounding from being upside down, but all I could register was a sickening sense of helplessness and humiliation for that poor kid. I’d been raised in a house with pacifist parents and no siblings. I’d never seen anyone get hit before, at least not in real life, and I felt that punch as if it had been dealt directly to me.

In a way, it had. That punch shook me to my core. It showed me that senseless violence and cruelty really do exist, and they come wearing boots and braces.

When Skater Boy remained silent, the skinhead responded by shoving his head so hard that he flew sideways and landed, hands and face first, in the gravel. His body slid a few feet before finally coming to a stop. The kid scrambled to pull himself into a ball and made little screeching sounds as if struggling to suppress a scream.

Instead of attacking again, his assailant began to circle him slowly, like a hawk. I held my breath and gripped Lance’s waist tighter, ignoring the throbbing in my eyeballs, and watched upside down as he assessed his victim. I was horrified by how calm he was. He wasn’t angry or upset, just… calculating. Cold and calculating.

The skinhead approached the kid, who was now trembling and sobbing quietly, and slowly rolled him onto his side with one very heavy-looking combat boot. Still curled up tightly, Skater Boy choked out what sounded like a muffled, garbled apology. Unimpressed, his attacker bent down toward the kid’s face and placed a meaty hand firmly on the side of his head. I didn’t know what he was doing at first, but when the brown-haired kid started screaming in pain I realized that the skinhead was pressing his face into the gravel.

“What was that?” he asked calmly, tilting his head to one side as if genuinely interested, the veins in his muscular arm beginning to bulge as he applied more pressure.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it! Please stop! Please!” The scream at the end of his apology got increasingly louder as that heartless, hairless demon crushed his face further into the jagged rocks.

The skinhead released Skater Boy’s head and stood up. I exhaled and felt my body relax into Lance’s shoulder, then watched in disbelief as he kicked the kid directly in the lower back one, two, three times. By the time my eyes registered the strikes and my ears registered the resulting scream it was over, but my spirit was forever changed.

It said, These people fuck and they fight and youd better get used to it, little girl.

Lance set me down, slowly, and I wrapped myself around him like a tree trunk for stability.

I stared, partially hidden behind Lance’s sturdy frame, as the skinhead idly spit on the ground next to his victim, lit a cigarette, and walked with long confident strides… directly toward me. The gravel crunched under the weight of his steel-toed boots, which emerged from the bottom of a tightly rolled pair of blue jeans. Bright red laces wound themselves up the front of his boots, and bright red braces slashed across his muscular chest—a chest which was wrapped in a tight black T-shirt emblazoned with the word Lonsdale.

Steeling myself behind Lance’s comforting presence, I mustered the courage to peek up at the skinhead’s face. It was like looking at a ghost. He resembled a person, but there was no color to help differentiate his features. His skin was white. His hair and eyelashes were virtually transparent, and his eyes… His eyes were a ghostly, icy gray-blue. Like a zombie’s. And when they landed on mine, my hair stood up on end so violently it felt like a million tiny needles were stabbing me at once.

Those zombie eyes flicked from mine to Lance’s with a look of irritation as he approached. I could feel a buzzing electric current of malice radiating off of him well before he reached us, and I winced as he passed, as if bracing myself for his wrath. When nothing happened I carefully opened my eyes, relieved by the change in the atmosphere. The static charge was gone. He was gone. But he left a broken boy, a still burning Marlboro Red, and my scattered wits on the ground in his wake.

As traumatizing as my first smoke break had been, that wasn’t the reason I was having trouble concentrating in my honors economics class. It was because as soon as the bell rang I knew I was going to have lunch with Lance Motherfucking Hightower—and my best friends, Juliet and August—but mostly Lance Motherfucking Hightower.

I saw the teacher’s mouth moving, but all I could hear were my own racing thoughts. Im totally going to sit next to him. But what if I get there first? Will he sit next to me? Maybe I should hide and wait for Lance to sit down and then run over and sit next to him before anyone else has a chance. Yes. Totally. Then Ill find an excuse to touch him. And Ill laugh at all his jokes. Not that itll be hard. Hes so funny. And beautiful. And tall. And edgy. And fucking dreamy.

When the bell finally rang, I jumped up as if my ass were on fire and sprinted to the bathroom to touch up my makeup. Then I high-tailed it to the cafeteria to scope out the cool kid table. Every punk, goth, druggie, drama nerd, vegan, hippie, skater, and metal head at our high school wanted a spot at that table, and even though he was only in tenth grade, Lance was the reigning king of them all. Getting a spot next to him was going to be tricky.

When I ran up I realized that not only had Lance already taken his seat—right in the middle of the fifteen-foot-long table—but goddamn Colton Hart was sitting right next to him.

Shit.

Shit fuck damn.

When the hell did he get back?

Colton was going to be a major fucking obstacle in my quest to become Mrs. Hightower. He was the world’s biggest cockblocker—that’s actually how I wound up dating him in the first place—he just kept inserting himself between Lance and me until I gave in and let him kiss me. Which he did. A lot. Don’t get me wrong, making out with Colton Hart was a spectacular way to spend an afternoon. He was super fucking cute. And cocky. And sarcastic. And bad. But he just wasn’t Lance.

But technically, he was still my boyfriend.

Oh my God. What if he thinks we’re still a couple? No. There’s no way. He never even called me after he left. He probably screwed all kinds of future strippers while he was living with his dad and brother in Las Vegas, and now I’m small potatoes. I’m just the girl he left back in Georgia who wouldn’t let him touch her boobs. It’s totally fine. No. Big. Deal.

As I walked up, I couldn’t help but admit to myself that he did look damn good. Better than I’d remembered. He was like a wicked Peter Pan. Spiky brown hair with blond tips, pointy ears, perfect male model smile. When he left, he had a definite punk rock style, like a mini-Lance, but I guess his skateboarding older brother had worn off on him while he was in Vegas. Colton had traded in his boots for a pair of shell-toed Adidas, his bondage pants for a pair of black cargo shorts, and his studded belt for a chain wallet.

There was a spot open next to both of them, but I made sure to sit next to Lance just to establish whose girl I was. Or at least, whose girl I wanted to be.

As soon as I walked up and set down my backpack Colton cried, “Kitten! Get your ass over here!” I glanced down at Lance, who made no attempt to rescue me, and sighed. Getting up and walking around him I embraced Colton, who had stood up and was waiting for me with open arms.

Feigning excitement I said, “Hey Colton! Oh my God! When did you get back?” as he squeezed the shit out of me.

“Last week,” he said, rocking me from side to side. “My moms got lonely. What can I say? Living without me is hard.” He pulled away and gave me a wink. “Isn’t it?”

I rolled my eyes in response, but I couldn’t help my traitorous smile. He really was cute. And he smelled squeaky clean. Like a girl. Colton had a thing for products—hair products, skin products—he was vain as hell and proud of it.

After giving me the once-over Colton whistled, “Look at you. You’re making me wonder why I left in the first place.” I blushed and looked at the ground. “You wanna ride the bus home with me this afternoon? Just like old times? My mom just stocked the fridge with PBR...”

Yes. No. Kinda?

Before I could say something stupid, Juliet swooped in and rescued me. “She’s riding home with me, Colton. BB is my bitch now.”

Juliet set her tray down across from my backpack and glared at Colton. She never liked him. For starters, I kind of forgot she existed after he and I started dating. I just started riding the bus home with him every day instead of her—a dick move, I know, but I was fourteen and he was my first real boyfriend. I’m pretty sure “first real boyfriend” would be accepted as just cause for a temporary insanity plea in a court of law. But Juliet also hated him because I kind of blabbed to her about how hard he’d been pressuring me to do stuff with him. I would have given in too, if he hadn’t told me he was moving. I was not giving it up to somebody who was just going to leave in a few weeks. Besides, I was saving myself for Lance Hightower.

Colton glared back at her for a minute, then smiled and asked, “Can I watch?”

We all laughed, even Lance, who was watching the show with piqued interest. When I sat back down next to him (and away from the pheromone cloud that was Colton Hart) I let out a shaky breath and stared straight ahead at Juliet, thanking her silently. Lance, who had resumed his conversation with Colton, reached under the table and gave my thigh a reassuring squeeze. He left his hand there, and I prayed to every deity I’d ever learned the names of, that he would slide it up a little farther. He didn’t, but he did absentmindedly lace his fingers through the holes in my fishnets as he spoke, causing me to stop breathing long enough to almost actually fucking die.

My mind was sufficiently scrambled when August, whom I hadn’t even noticed, spoke to me from the spot next to Juliet.

I had been friends with August Embry since first grade, when we wound up in the same first grade class. Back then he was a shy, pudgy little thing with no friends, and I was a bossy, talkative little thing with no friends, so we just clicked. I loved him like a brother.

August was still a shy, round little thing. He hid his warm, chocolate brown eyes behind a curtain of dyed black hair, and every night he painted his fingernails black to match. Of course, every day he would pick them clean again—leaving little black flecks behind, like a trail of breadcrumbs everywhere he went. August was the sweetest, most sensitive person I’d ever met.

I could tell from his body language that August wasn’t exactly happy to see Colton, either. He and Lance had become kind of close since Colton left. They both liked the same terrible music and competed over who had the best, rarest punk records in their collections, so Lance getting his best friend back didn’t bode well for August.

“Hey A!” I cheered, trying way too hard to sound like a girl who didn’t have a boy’s fingers stroking her inner thigh at that exact moment. “I didn’t know you had this lunch period too! Are you growing your hair out? I love it!” August just smiled and looked down at the food on his tray, which he suddenly decided needed rearranging.

I turned to ask Juliet if I could ride home with her and Tony, but she was gone. Her stuff was still on the table though, and I thought I could hear the sound of her voice. As much as it killed me, I moved Lance’s hand so that I could peek under the table. There she was, sitting cross-legged on the floor talking on her cell phone, which was strictly forbidden at school. There was only one person she could possibly be talking to.

“Juliet,” I whispered.

She looked up, annoyed. “What?”

“Ask Tony if he minds giving me a ride this afternoon.”

She winked at me and whispered into her brick-sized Nokia, “Hey. BB’s gonna ride home with us this afternoon, okay?” She gave me a thumbs-up after hearing his response.

Cool.

Just then, I felt Lance’s hand press down on the back of my head and saw his crotch rise up to meet the side of my face. I screamed and tried to sit up, causing my head to smash Lance’s hand into the underside of the table. Laughter erupted from the cafeteria as I emerged, red-faced, looking like a girl who’d just eaten a punk rocker’s cock for lunch.

I glared at Lance, trying my best to look angry, but his eyes were shut and he was laughing so hard he wasn’t even making noise. Just the sight of that giant, Mohawked motherfucker smiling ear to ear had me reduced to a puddle of swoon juice in an instant. I burst out laughing right along with him, and anxiously glanced over at Colton.

He was laughing too, but his smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. Guess he didn’t appreciate the entire lunchroom thinking his girlfriend was giving his best friend a BJ under the table.

In that moment, I knew that Colton wasn’t going to be a problem. Lance had just established, with dramatic flair and in front of everyone, that I was his girl.

All the hope and hormones had my insides on the verge of spontaneous combustion, so I barely noticed the loud slam that came from somewhere behind me. I hardly felt the resulting shudder that rippled down the length of the lunch table. And I didn’t turn to look for the source until the faces of all my friends fell and glanced anxiously over my shoulder. Swiveling around on my stool, I followed everyone’s gaze to an empty seat at the end of the table.

Um, anyway. Where was I? Oh, right. Planning my spring wedding…

That afternoon I fought against the current of teenagers fleeing the building, dragging my swollen backpack behind me by one strap, in search of my new locker. According to my homeroom teacher my old one had to be torn out over the summer to make room for the new science lab. She had given me a little slip of paper with my new locker number and combination on it, saying only that it was “somewhere over on C Hall.” I couldn’t wait to find that shit so that I could finally offload a few of the ten-pound textbooks I’d been given that day.

Clutching the piece of paper with my new digits on it, I scanned dozens of identical metal doors until I found the one I’d been assigned. It was almost at the end of the hallway, of course, near the exit doors that led out to the student parking lot. I felt relief wash over me immediately.

My first day of tenth grade was a wrap, and overall it had been a smashing success. I’d smoked with the coolest of the cool kids; wound up with the same lunch period as Lance, Juliet, and August; got a bunch of compliments on my fishnets and new haircut; and now I had a new locker on the same hall as all the seniors. Okay, so maybe it took me a few attempts to get my code to work, but once that shit was open it was glorious.

As I bent over to take the last load of books out of my straining backpack, I stopped short, paralyzed by the sight of two black steel-toed boots with blood red laces planted just inches away from my face…and pointing directly at me.

Fuck.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

Not him. Anyone but him.

I took my time gathering my stuff, hoping that ignoring him would make him magically disappear. When I finally stood up, arms full of books, I mustered all the courage I had and looked him in the eye.

Zombie eyes. God, his irises were such a pale, pale gray-blue that his pupils looked like two endless black holes in contrast. Two black holes that were sucking me in.

Speak dumbass!

“Um, hey,” I said in a voice that didn’t sound like it belonged to me.

He didn’t reply. He simply cocked his head to the side and studied me with those cold, dead eyes. It was the same way he looked at the kid in the parking lot, right before he smashed his face into the ground.

Swallowing hard I forced myself to break the silence.

“I’m sorry, do you need something?” I squeaked out, trying to sound cute and tiny. I blinked and opened my eyes a little wider, feeling like a woodland creature in danger of being squished by a massive black boot.

“Your shit is in front of my locker,” he said. His voice was deep and clear and humorless.

“Oh my God! I’m so sorry!” Tripping over myself I slid my lightened backpack behind me with my foot. The skinhead immediately grasped the metal latch on the locker beside mine and gave the lower left corner of the door a swift kick, causing the fucker to pop right open, no code necessary. I shuddered involuntarily as my mind conjured images of that same boot landing square in the back of a scared little skater boy just a few hours earlier.

Afraid that he could smell my fear, I quickly hid my face behind the metal door of my own locker, busying myself by arranging my books and notebooks by size, color, the Dewey fucking decimal system, anything. Then something occurred to me. Before I knew it, my stupid mouth was moving.

“Shouldn’t you be suspended?”

I felt my face blush crimson as the blond with the buzzcut slammed his locker shut and asked, point blank, “Why?”

Was he teasing me? We both knew what the fuck he did.

“That, that fight. Today. In the church parking lot,” I said, into my locker.

Thinking about that… attack had my blood pumping into my extremities and my mind screaming for me to run. I turned and went back to my organizing, hoping to conceal the terror and embarrassment that I’m sure my big, dumb doe eyes were doing a shit job of concealing. My face always snitched on me, broadcasting my every thought. My every feeling.

My thin metal makeshift shield vibrated as he spoke. “I didn’t get suspended for the same reason you’re not sitting in detention right now for smoking. That shit happened off-campus.”

“Is he okay?”

God! My fucking mouth! Filter, BB. Filter!

“Who? That little pussy wipe from the parking lot? He’ll be pissing blood for a week, but he’ll live.”

Slowly, the door I had been cowering behind began to close. Moving out of the way so that the metal wouldn’t graze my face, I reluctantly turned toward the boy with the cadaverous eyes, who was deliberately pushing my locker shut. Once the door was firmly closed and I had nowhere left to hide, Zombie Eyes leaned toward me and reached around my body with his left hand. I squeezed my eyelids shut and braced myself for something violent and potentially bloody to happen.

With his voice lowered so that only I could hear, he said, “If you hit a fucker in the kidney hard enough… right here…” I suddenly felt a thick finger jam directly into one side of my lower back. “He’ll piss blood.”

My eyes shot open, and I immediately wished that they hadn’t. That gray-blue gaze was way too close, too intense. His finger lingered way too long, and there was a crackle in the air that had my senses on high alert.

Danger! Danger! Skinhead Boy is fucking touching you! He could kill you with that finger, BB! Kill you and eat your brains!

But those zombie eyes wouldn’t let me move. Up close they were so clear. Like two crystal balls that I wished would give me a glimpse into this twisted creature’s soul. In my curious state of hypnosis, again, words tumbled unbidden from my mouth.

“Why’d you hit him?”

After a pause long enough to let me hope that maybe I hadn’t actually asked my question out loud, he answered, “Because he called your little boyfriend a faggot.”

About three million follow-up questions slammed into my throat at once:

A) Why would a Neo-Nazi looking motherfucker beat someone up that he doesn’t even know for calling some other dude he doesn’t know a faggot?

B) Shouldn’t he have given the kid a high five instead?

C) Why would he call Lance my boyfriend? Lance is NOT my boyfriend. I mean, I want him to be my boyfriend. Jesus, I want to ride him like a pony everywhere I go and have all of his babies but, he’s not my boyfriend.

D) Why would anyone think Lance was gay in the first place? He’s sooo dreamy.

But the only thing I could squeak out was, “You were defending Lance?”

I never knew an eye roll could be so terrifying. Shit. I’d done it. I’d finally pissed him off with all my stupid fucking questions. Why did I always have to talk to the scary ones? My mom still loves to tell people about the time I picked up my Happy Meal and sat down with a group of leather-clad bikers at McDonald’s when I was three just so that I could ask the gnarliest-looking one why he had a pony tail. According to her my exact words were, “Only girls are ‘apposed to have pony tails.”

My curiosity was going to get me straight murdered one day.

The skinhead, who now looked positively murderous himself, removed his hand from my back and placed it on my locker, just above my head. Cocking his head to the side again he watched me, as if mulling over the best way to skin me alive, and of course I just stood there blinking up at him like a fucking dumbass.

Basic bodily functions like speaking, breathing, and running were completely out of my grasp. It was as if I’d been cornered by a coiled rattlesnake. A rattlesnake that just so happened to smell like dryer sheets, cigarettes, and a sweet hint of cologne.

“No,” he said. “I was defending you.”

Too much. It was too intense. I broke eye contact and took a step backwards, landing on the backpack I forgot was behind me and almost losing my balance. Turning around to pick it up, I took a deep breath and tried to regroup before facing him again. When I did, his ghostly eyes were crinkled at the corners and his mouth was tipped up just slightly on one side. Fucker. He was actually enjoying watching me squirm.

Smirk still in place, he said, “When I was outside I heard that little shit telling his buddy about the hard-on he had for ‘the little redhead in the fishnets’. Couldn’t argue with him there, Punk. I think you gave every guy in that parking lot a semi.”

My face was suddenly on fire. Oh, God. Im blushing! Is this really happening?

He continued, but his smirk had been replaced by something that made my blood run cold. “When he saw that giant motherfucker’s hands on you he turned into a pissy little bitch.” He spat the last word out through gritted teeth. “Told his buddy you must love taking it up the ass to be wasting your time with that queer.”

Gulp. Breathe. What??

“S-so, so you punched him?”

The zombie-eyed skinhead leaned down toward my ear and didn’t stop until I could feel his hot, venomous breath on my neck. “I. Beat. His. Fucking. Ass.”

My limbs were moving on their own accord. Legs stumbling backwards. Hands fumbling with backpack straps. “Um, thanks?” I mumbled, eyes darting everywhere but his. “I, uh, have to go...I’m gonna miss my...Thanks again…”

“Knight,” he announced, as I turned and sprinted for the double doors. “Thanks, Knight.”

Fuck me.

“We should sleep out here sometime,” I said, gazing up at the August sky through a tangle of hundred-foot-tall Georgia pines. Juliet and I were lying on our backs in the middle of my most prized possession—my trampoline.

I had begun begging my parents for a trampoline when I was ten years old. My mom initially said “no” because she thought I would break my neck. My dad said “no” because he thought somebody else’s kid might come in our yard and break their neck and then we’d get sued and lose our house and die penniless in the gutter. But if I’ve learned anything from being an only-child, it’s that all “no” really means is, “You haven’t sufficiently annoyed or inconvenienced me yet,” so I jumped on their bed every night until it broke.

It took months, but in the end my parents had to buy both a trampoline and a new bed. I think they learned a very valuable lesson about telling me “no” that year.

Because my parents were still kind of bitter about the bed incident, they referred to my precious as “an eyesore” and set it up way the hell out in the woods behind our house. Which I couldn’t have been happier about.

It was perfect—my own private little patch of bouncy freedom. When I first got it I used to go out there and jump for hours, but by my sophomore year that weathered old rust bucket just served as a place where I could go to write angsty poetry, smoke cigarettes, and talk to Juliet about boys. (And by boys I mean Lance Motherfucking Hightower.)

“Are you crazy? The mosquitoes would eat us alive.”

Juliet did not share my appreciation for nature. She definitely shared my appreciation for cigarettes and boys though, seeing as how she had a solid year head start on me in both subjects.

“I have to sit up. My neck is fucking killing me,” I said, wincing as I changed positions.

“Are you still avoiding your locker?” Juliet asked in her naturally bitchy tone.

“Maybe,” I said, while trying to massage two massive divots out of my shoulders. They were trenches, really, forged from carrying every textbook I owned around on my back for two weeks straight.

“You are such a pussy! Skeletor isn’t going to eat you. Just grow a pair and go to your fucking locker before you get scoliosis.”

“Oh my God! He does look like Skeletor!” I squealed. “He has the creepiest eyes, Jules. I cant go back there. I just can’t. I mean, he closed my locker while I was still putting stuff in there. Who does that? And then he touched me! And he beat the shit out of some guy he didn’t even know over nothing! Knight is off, Juliet. Like, he’s gonna murder somebody one day, and it damn sure isn’t gonna be me.”

Juliet held her hands up. “I’m not saying he isn’t scary. Dude, the way he just sits by himself at the end of our lunch table, staring at you…I’m not gonna lie. He might be an actual, real life cannibal. I’m just saying you have to go to your locker. Your backpack literally weighs more than you do.”

“Maybe I can share your locker?” I asked, batting my eyelashes.

Juliet sat up and looked me square in the eye. “No fucking way. I’ve seen Romper Stomper. If your little Nazi friend finds out where you’re hiding he’ll probably curb stomp my ass.”

“Maybe not,” I said. “Weren’t the Nazis and the Japanese on the same side in the war?”

“Yeah, but I’m also half-black, dumbass.” Juliet shoved my shoulder, causing me to flop backwards onto the black nylon. We both giggled like maniacs as I bounced back up into a seated position.

God, I loved Juliet. She was so genuine and bold and unapologetic. She was the person I always channeled when I wanted to be stronger. Braver. Tougher.

Once our hysterics died down Juliet lay back down on her side and asked, “What about Lance? Maybe he could go to your locker with you. He’d protect you from Skeletor.”

“Maybe if he had on an Iron Man suit.”

Juliet grinned and said, “He carries you to second period every day like some kind of caveman. I’m pretty sure he’d stand up to Skeletor for you. It’s pretty obvious he wants to fuck your brains out.”

“Shut up!” I could feel what had to be the goofiest fucking grin take over my face, along with a four-alarm flush. “If he wanted to…do that, wouldn’t he have at least kissed me by now? I’m starting to think I’m just not his type. He probably wants a girl with hot pink hair and a nose ring.”

And boobs.

“You’re so fucking stupid! Look at you! And if Lance hasn’t figured out that you want his giant cock by now then he’s just as stupid as you are.”

“Ewww!” I screeched, shoving Juliet’s shoulder just like she had done to me. She screamed and caught my arm mid-flail, pulling me down with her.

We flopped and giggled and bounced and snorted like wild things until Juliet suddenly yelled out, “Oh my God! I know what his problem is! BB! What if Lance has a girlfriend??”

My laughter cut off mid-chortle and Juliet grew quiet too, waiting for my reaction. The only sound that remained from our ruckus was the squeaking of the springs as we slowed to a halt. My mind flew through every interaction I’d ever had with Lance, searching for any missed signs of a girlfriend.

Why would a guy that hot not have a girlfriend? It made perfect sense. Im sure shes probably a tattoo model or an exotic dancer or a contortionist/sword swallower at the county fair.

“I could ask him for you.” Juliet looked at me with concern in her black, almond-shaped eyes, which were rimmed in jet black eyeliner to hide the fact that she’d pulled out most of her eyelashes. She’d pulled out most of her eyebrows too, which she drew in with the same black pencil, and she had a few hidden bald patches on the back of her head. Nobody knew about that but me.

“No! Oh my God, don’t you dare!”

“Are you sure?” Juliet sat up, looking dead serious, long black hair swishing around her shoulders. “What if he does have a girlfriend?” she continued. “Wouldn’t you want to know?”

“Yes...No…Ugh! I don’t know.” I impulsively reached out and plucked a small leaf from her dark mane. I always wanted long straight hair. Like my Barbie dolls. Barbie was the standard of beauty I was raised with, and I looked nothing like that bitch. My hair was reddish and wavy and poofy and wouldn’t grow past my shoulders. My skin was covered in brown freckles and scars from falling down all the goddamned time and getting bitten by random stray dogs that I just had to pet. And my body definitely didn’t curve like Barbie’s. It didn’t fucking curve at all.

A sinister smirk played on her tiny mouth. “I’ll ask him tomorrow.”

“No!” I screamed. “I’ll do it! I’ll do it! Please don’t say anything!”

Youre going to ask Lance Hightower if he has a girlfriend. Bullshit.”

“I will! I swear!”

As Juliet rolled her eyes at me we heard the unmistakable sound of an antique Chevy backfiring in the distance.

“I guess you’re not staying for dinner.”

Juliet beamed as if the vehicle pulling into my driveway was a white limo with a rose-toting Richard Gere hanging out of the sunroof. In actuality it was a faded red 1980 Corvette with flip-up headlights, the one classic sports car that screamed “child molester” instead of “badass motherfucker.”

And I should know. My dad had devoted his life to drinking, playing guitar, being paranoid, obsessing over the news, polishing his guns, and teaching his only child everything he knew about American muscle cars. By the age of twelve I could tell you the make, model, and year of any American sports car ever made, and more importantly, I could also tell you that 1980 was a shit year for the Corvette. After the gas crisis in the ‘70s they introduced a new small-block engine that year that couldn’t make it up a hill unless somebody got out and pushed.

The car was old, but not as old as the grown-ass man driving it. I understood that Juliet was entitled to her fair share of daddy issues, but Jesus.

Although he made me cringe with his patchy goatee and his baggy jeans, Tony wasn’t that bad. I mean, he always seemed super happy to see Juliet, which was sweet, I guess, and he was always willing to give us a ride somewhere, which was pretty clutch seeing as how I lived so far outside of our school district that there wasn’t even a bus I could ride to and from school.

The only reason I was allowed to go to Peach State High School at all, considering my address, was because my mom was the art teacher at the elementary school. When I was a kid, my mom thought it would be super convenient to bring me to work with her instead of sending me to our neighborhood elementary school—a decision I’m sure she regrets to this day. I was always getting in trouble for sneaking around in the other teachers’ classrooms and stealing their art supplies—which was ridiculous because my mom was the art teacher—and I insisted on coloring my hair with markers so that I would look like Rainbow Brite.

Flash forward ten years and I was still going to school in that district, only now I was at the high school, which dismissed over two hours before the elementary school. With no bus to take me home, my only after school options were to a) spend all afternoon sitting on the curb waiting for my mom to come pick me up, b) forge a note and ride the bus to someone else’s house, or c) ride home with Juliet in Tony’s molestation mobile.

Walking to my mom’s school was out of the question. I’d tried it once. I arrived about an hour later drenched in sweat, feet covered in blisters, and sunburned to a crisp. Two and a half miles is a lot farther than it seems when it’s mostly uphill and you’re carrying your own bodyweight in books.

Juliet and I made our way out of the woods and said our goodbyes. I hugged her tight and gave Tony an obligatory wave before heading inside.

My parents’ place was more of a box than a house. It was four walls and a simple A-frame roof—no porch, no awnings, no frills. And most importantly to them, no neighbors.

My parents loved their pot, even grew some on the back porch, so the fewer eyes and noses around, the better. I didn’t get it, personally. I tried smoking weed a few times with Juliet and it just made me feel sleepy and stupid. Diet pills on the other hand, now those were my jam.

“Beee Beeeeee!” my mom cooed from the kitchen. She had the oldies radio station cranked up and was stirring something on the stove. “I made dinner! You hungry?”

I walked over to the kitchen entryway and leaned my shoulder on the wall. “Not really,” I lied. “I’m just gonna go take a shower and do my homework.”

My mom turned toward me with a guilty grin on her freckled face. “That’s probably for the best. We were out of regular milk,” she giggled, “so I used the vanilla almond milk instead.” She burst out laughing, but I was still waiting for the punchline.

“Is that bad? What were you making?”

“Tuna Helper!” She laughed so hard tears welled in her eyes. Between gasps for air she managed to choke out, “It tastes…like shit.”

My dad took that opportunity to shout at me from the back room, where he was probably drinking his dinner, “It tastes like somebody shoved a dead fish into a stale Twinkie and heated it up!”

I choked on an unexpected laugh while my mom doubled over, tears streaming down her freckled cheeks and into her long, straight red hair.

Bitch.

As her hiccups subsided my mom wrapped her arm around my shoulders, kissed me on the temple, and said, “Honey, I’ll order you a pizza if you want.” Then her giggles started back up.

I patted her head as if she were a Golden Retriever and tiptoed off to the upstairs bathroom to begin my nightly routine.

I got the water started in the shower and stepped out of my clothes. Unable to help myself I pinched the skin on my belly, gauging its thickness, before stepping onto the scale.

Shit! I almost forgot!

I jumped back off as if the wicked machine were on fire and plopped down onto the toilet, pissing out a few last-minute ounces.

Whew! That was close!

Before easing back onto the scale, I exhaled completely, hoping that maybe empty lungs weighed less than full ones.

One hundred and three pounds. Yes! Double digits, here I come!

I leapt off the scale and landed directly in front of the floor length mirror on the back of door, which wasn’t difficult in that teensy tiny bathroom. Full of hope, I turned sideways to visually assess the situation.

Still there. Goddamn it.

I frowned at the sight of my “pooch”—the pot belly that I had been saddled with since birth—and frowned harder at the fact that it continued to stick out further than my tragically flat chest.

My body looks like ET’s, I thought. All belly and no boobs. If I can just lose five more pounds that should take care of the pooch, and then maybe my boobs will look bigger once they aren’t being overshadowed by this fucking gut anymore.

Always one to end on a positive note, I praised myself for losing another pound and focused on the empowering, empty feeling in my stomach as I stepped into the blistering hot shower.

After washing my hair with the fancy salon shampoo I begged my mom to buy because it was supposed to help smooth my frizzy waves, I shaved my entire body. I’d started shaving my legs and armpits in fifth grade because my friends were doing it. Then I started shaving my arms in seventh grade after I found out that Victoria’s Secret models did it. Then I started shaving my pubic hair in eighth grade when I discovered soft-core porn late one night while flipping through the channels on the TV in my bedroom.

I was fascinated. Not a single one of those women had more than a light dusting of pubic hair (or arm hair, thankyouverymuch), and they were clearly very desirable creatures. I wanted to be desired too, especially by one giant fucking punk rocker with the warmest hazel eyes and most adorable dimples I’d ever seen. Sigh.

Two years later I was still shaving my entire body and was still no closer to being Lance’s fucking girlfriend.

GirlfriendgirlfriendI thought about what Juliet had said earlier. What if he already had a girlfriend? I conjured an image of Lance wrapping his arms around the waist of a tiny manic pixie dream girl. Her super short fuchsia hair would be effortlessly mussed and would match the pink metal gauges in her ears. Her nose ring would be delicate but her eye makeup heavy, and her clothing style would be something in between Bettie Page and Betty Boop.

I pictured him leaning in for a kiss, but manic pixie dream girl bites his lip at the last second and smiles up at him wickedly. Her eyes say, “You don’t scare me, giant. I own your ass.”

Slowly, the face of Lance’s imaginary girlfriend began to morph into my own as I switched the water from the showerhead to bath faucet. I sat down in the tub facing the faucet and scooted forward until my legs had nowhere else to go, then I lifted them up onto the wall on either side of the faucet. The water crashed down on the most sensitive parts of me like a hot, liquid freight train. And like every night, I leaned back onto my elbows and thought of him.

I show up at school with a hot pink pixie haircut and a brand-new nose ring. As soon as I enter the building everybody stops and stares at me. Everybody. Including Lance. Our eyes lock and something changes in him. His usually playful expression turns hard, and he stalks toward me as if I’ve done something wrong.

Grabbing me by the hand Lance drags me off down a side hallway and yanks me into the first faculty restroom he can find. My ears barely register the sound of the door locking before I feel a wall against my back, Lance’s lips and tongue against my own, and Lance’s hands seeking an entrance into my dress. Impatient, he rips the tiny garment off me and shoves it to the floor, leaving me in nothing more than my black lace bra, matching panties, and black mid-calf combat boots.

Lance stops his attack just long enough to appraise me with his eyes, then mutters, “Fuck, BB,” as one hand finds its way into my new super-short hair and the other cups my ass. He pulls my head back just enough to expose my neck, then proceeds to kiss and bite and suck a savage trail from my collarbone to my breasts. He’s so tall he has to kneel before me to continue his journey.


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