Slowly, ever so slowly, my days began to get a bit better. I have to give credit where credit is due and thank the weird Dungeons and Dragons crew in the basement for part of it. Believe me, they were no springboard to popularity but the way they at least acknowledged I existed in those first few weeks helped me to get my head screwed on a bit tighter. One day Matt nodded and smiled as we passed in the halls and a couple of days later Dory came and sat with me at lunch for the first time. I started eating my lunch out in the yard to avoid Lori and Tina in the cafeteria. That seemed to be one of the places where they put their crueler plans in motion. Probably because they had a bigger audience.
Dory lived with her dad and just by the way she talked about him gave me the feeling that not everything at home was wonderful. I didn’t ask about it but she said that her mom wasn’t at home and she only saw her once a month. She didn’t seem to want to talk about it much after that. Still, she was funny in a quiet sort of way and I liked the way she dressed and carried herself - like she didn’t give a shit what anyone thought about her.
“Philly, huh?” she said as she took a sip of her Pepsi. She had on different gloves this time, these ones were made of brown leather but the tips of the fingers had been cut off. “What the hell is it like there?”
“Pretty awesome, to be honest,” I said and looked around. “A lot different than here. I guess you love what you’re used to.” The words depressed me, the thought that this was it and that I would always be a visitor to Philly from now on sat like a stone in my belly. All around me were kids who knew someone and were either huddled in a group, sharing laughs or shooting hoops. Don’t know why that picture hit me so hard just then, I mean I was never someone who had a crowd of friends, even back home...I mean, Philly.
For me, it was always someone like a Shaara, that one person who just sort of got me, someone I could talk to...that one…
I looked across the table and there was Dory Bovick, sitting with me and taking one of my fries occasionally and you know, what? I didn’t mind. In fact, I liked that she felt comfortable enough to know that it was cool. That’s what friends do, right? Shaara and I did that all the time and it was just, well, understood.
“You were born here?” I asked.
“Oh yeah,” she said and tossed her empty in the nearby trash can. “Been slothing here my whole life. Actually, it’s not a bad place to be but, like you said, we love what we’re used to, right? How would I know any different?” She reached for another fry but hesitated and glanced at me as there were only a few left.
I nodded. “You can finish them.”
She invited me to join the D & D group in “the cave” (as she called it) and I appreciated it but said I had no idea how to play. She said the boys would be happy to tell me about it... forever. “Sometimes they can’t shut up about it, so, fair warning. What are you into?”
“Not much,” I said.
“Bullshit. Everybody’s into something. Music? Books? Boys? Movies?”
“Definitely movies,” I answered.
“Oh yeah! You work at the Stella, right?”
“How is that?” she asked.
“Kinda quiet but it’s really awesome. They have these amazing curtains and…”
Twenty minutes later Dory smiled and held up her gloved hands. “Okay, yeah, I get it, I get it: screen, balcony, curtains, candy, projector, cool ceiling - ”
“Not just a cool ceiling, an amazing ceiling!”
“I’ve seen it,” she said, chuckling.
“Betcha can’t name all the faces up there,” I smiled and challenged.
“And why would I want to?” she said, smirking.
“Are you kidding? There are over a hundred faces up there! The stars of all the greatest movies of all time!”
“Now you’re just messing with me,” I laughed. It felt good to laugh.
And then I stopped.
Over Dory’s shoulder I saw Tina and Lori approaching. Jesus, just as the yard was beginning to be a safe place. They both wore grins on their faces and Tina was pulling off a decent side pony - a new look for her. It seemed like most of the time I saw her she had some new look she was trying out - not to be mean, I guess, because a lot of us were still trying to figure out who we were. Hell, I still was sporting my blue hair but but was letting it grow out a bit now. On Ms. Barzcik’s advice I decided to keep the color but a lot of other things had changed - my clothes, my room - probably just to fit in.
Lori’s beautiful, full hair was bunched into a bright green scrunchy. A couple of curling strands fell across her forehead making her look even more menacing if that was possible. Her silver satin jacket came down just below her chest and almost matched her eyes. Her jeans were impossibly tight.
“You know, movie queen, I haven’t forgotten the voucher I got from that shitty place you work,” Lori said. “I’m thinking I might use it this weekend and say hi. You wouldn’t mind that, would you?” She put a sick smile on her face and Tina chuckled behind her. “Would you like to join me, T?”
Tina nodded. “Love to. Maybe we’ll ask the boys to come to.”
I just stared. Dory rolled her eyes and slowly shook her head tiredly from side to side as if she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She then put both hands on the table and got up. For a second I was worried that she was going to leave me here on my own.
Dory turned and took a step over the bench she was sitting on. Both girls smiled as she neared. Dory stood face to face with Lori.
“That’s about the only way either of you could make any boys come, unless of course you give them handjobs straight through to the ending credits,” she said slowly and clearly like she was teaching them a new language. She turned back to me for a moment. “That’s what they call them right?”
My mouth hung open and I nodded as casually as I could, not sure if she was asking about ending credits or handjobs. I was obviously in the presence of greatness here.
When she turned back Lori was one step closer so that their nose were almost touching.
“Of course a loser like you would be hanging with someone like this,” she said. “Crazy bitch must run in the family. How’s your crazy bitch mom?”
There was a movement as Tina joined Lori and stepped closer.
Dory put her hand behind her back and under her jacket. Both girls caught the move and stopped. For a few seconds they just stared at each other and time seemed to slow.
Lori took one last look at me. “Watch your back, Carrie.”
Great, so I’m Carrie - the outcast girl who gets bullied in the movie. you remember, she's the one who gets the pigs blood dropped on her at the prom. Of course, they must not have been paying much attention because Carrie pretty much wipes out everyone in the school at the end of the movie.
They both left. Dory stayed in place until both girls had disappeared back into the school. She moved her hand away from under jacket and sat back down.
I waited a few seconds before asking, “Do you have a knife or something under there?” I was both impressed and nervous.
“Oh, hell no. But they don’t know that, right?” She grabbed the last fry. “If that whole ‘crazy bitch’ thing is working for me, why not use it, right? Most people are scared of what they don’t know.”
The bell rung and we went back to survive until the end of the day. I decided to not ask Dory why Lori went at her with "crazy bitch mom."
I was almost home when I first saw a notebook laying in the middle of the pavement. It was plain and worn, the creased red cover looking like it was desperately trying to remove itself. I saw no one around who might have dropped it so I slowly picked it up. It was one of those three subject books with tabs and pockets. On the cover someone had written in big letters in black marker:
Below were the words, “Please return to Penny Fish.”
She must have dropped it on the way home. I pulled back the cover to the first page and saw lines and lines of tiny words. It looked almost like scribble at first but I opened further and could see that although the writing was small, it was very neat - blocky letters and evenly spaced, almost as if they letters had come out of a machine.
Some of the writing was just random sentences that made no sense. I looked up to see if Penny was retracing her steps to find the book. That would be beyond embarrassing.
It looked like the sentences scribbled in the margins or crammed into a line were story ideas, although I had no idea how you could make “cat flies around and then explodes” or “giant head emerges from water” fit into a story and make any sense. Then again, I was never much of a writer.
I closed the book and walked on, intending to head to her house and hand over the lost item. Maybe she’d even thank me - which would be the first words she really ever said to me. I can’t tell you how often I spied her in the yard at school, alone and hunched over this very notebook, oblivious to the world around, writing furiously. I could only imagine that there were a dozen or so more books like this somewhere in her room, maybe piled up in a stack on a shelf or shoved under her bed. Maybe so many that she lost count of how many she had.
I stopped in front of her house. The front door looked like any other door.
I crossed the street to my side.
She wouldn’t miss this one for just a day, right?