D.N.A. Excerpts

    Eighteen year old Debney Nichole Armstrong, found out about her parents’ and little brothers’ death during the night of her eighteenth birthday party. Yes, sometimes relationships in families end tragically. People leave; parents die, and lives change, but does it all have to bring out the skeletons in the closet?

    After one of her reoccurring bitter arguments with her mother, Debney is left home alone while her family goes away on summer vacation. In the chaos of a romantic (with her long time crush) dinner turned teen party, she learns of the death of her family. What she really needed to know was what role did her mother contribute to the ‘accident’? Where were the bodies of her ten year old twin brothers? Who is the strange man in her mother’s journals, and who is the father of the child she now carries? No matter what the answers are, Debney knows, nothing will ever be the same.
    D.N.A. is available for download on Kindle, Smashwords , Sony or Kobo, Nook and iTunes. and ready for (whatever model) your eReader to eat them up.

    i. Sometimes Life Sucks

    Debney clasped the rail to the stairs tightly, slowed her steps in an effort to control her odd side to side waddling movements, and hoped to forestall the possibility of losing her balance and falling over. No mean feat considering the large backpack pressing into her side weighed more than ten pounds and the huge odd shape of her near nine month pregnancy caused her to lean dangerously forward.
    Looking down and into the hallway, she met the animated gaze of more than two dozen pair of eyes. It was easy to see that the giggling groups of students standing and gawking around their lockers were getting a kick out of her precarious situation, none were worried about her.

    Straightening her shoulders and tightening her jaw she urged herself to show confidence. One stupid mistake and they would all laugh and she would have to spend the rest of the day trying to live with an added humiliation. It would be the last twang on her already bruised nerves, and she knew she would probably lose all of her self control.
    Releasing each shaky breath, she exhaled slowly with each successful step she took. If she did fall,it would be her third tumble within one week and obviously not a good thing for her or the baby, but a definite show of entertainment for the uncouth high school ensemble. The pain from the fall she knew she would get over, but the embarrassment and the ridicule would be way too hard to swallow. Debney held the rail tighter and continued moving cautiously, she refused to let herself be the brunt of their humor once again. 

    "Fat pig on the stairs." chortled one as she elbowed Debney in the side.
    "Girl roll on down and get out the way." Another laughed loudly.
    "Yeah you're blocking everybody."
    “They shouldn’t allow people like you in here, anyway. What kind of model are you for the freshman? A stupid girl, that sleeps around and then doesn’t have the sense to use protection, idiot.” The fourth turned and sneered at Debney as she bounced down the stairs after her friends.
    Breathing in deeply, Debney let the long fall of her hair hide the mixture of fear and anger in her face, while provided her with a curtain to shield her emotions behind; the small gesture pulled in check her urge to retaliate. What she really wanted to do was grab them, one at a time, slit their throats and then throw them down the stairs. The visualization of their bodies slamming against the lockers and exploding amused her. She smiled slightly, as she imagined herself standing on the stairs, hands on hips, big belly bouncing while she laughed loudly like a raving maniac. And it would be their faults for driving her to insanity. The juvenile hate filled mass campaign the students of King’s Multicultural High School had organized to do her harm became more and more evident as her days to give birth grew shorter. It was no longer a laughing matter. True, she may have unwittingly caused some of the animosity to be pointed towards her, but endangering the life of an innocent baby was uncalled for.
    The sudden flurry of independent movement of her shirt drew her attention from the chaos and noise around her to the presence of turmoil within. The baby’s hearty kicks seemed to mirror the anger burning through her veins. Resting her palm on the freakishly rolling inch of flesh under her shirt she whispered quiet words of comfort. Here she was nearly ready to give birth and she still hadn’t gotten used to the dance movements going on inside of her body. The small kick of the child against her ribs was the only hold to her restraint and sanity.

    “Are you okay?”

    Lifting her head and lowering it just as quickly when her gaze smacked straight into the concerned eyes of Giante’ DeVries, Debney sighed and cursed under her breath irritably. Not bothering to answer she continued on her measured course down, the action successfully causing him to move with her.

    Giante’ walked the stairs backward and directly in front of her. His left hand sliding unhurriedly down the rail with the arm held stiffly, successfully giving the impression he would protect her from falling. His hands were huge, smooth and long fingered. And from what she tried hard not to remember, extremely gentle. 

    She felt the heat rise in her face as quickly as the shame entered her thoughts. Above all the others, she remembered him. Every thought she ever had of him caused her to ridicule herself. If the imminent danger of falling wasn’t weighing heavily on her mind she would have closed her eyes to avoid the compassion in his.

    “You know it wouldn’t hurt you to pretend you know me, Debney. Hell we’ve spent every summer together for as long as I can remember. I’m just worried about you Deb.” His voice softened as he whispered the last part.
    “I’m fine.”

    Her voice came out in little more than a whisper. It had been days since anyone had spoken to her. Weeks if you subtracted the cruel, sarcastic tones of voices. She quickened her steps, trying to brush past him as soon as her feet hit solid ground but he as usual blocked her path.

    “I haven’t seen you in a while. What with football practice and Spring Break, I haven’t had time to roam the halls, but I’ve missed you.” He bent down a little to try and see her face through the curtain of her thick dark hair.

    His smile was encouraging and the only thing she could see of his face without boldly throwing her head back. No way would she be doing that, she just didn’t feel brave enough to follow through. The last time she let her emotions rule her actions all hell had fallen into her life. She kept her head down and watched her hands gently rubbing her stomach as she encouraged herself to respond.

    “That’s fine. Giante' it didn't matter. Everything has been the same.” She sucked in a deep breath and tried to go around him, but was forestalled by his evasive movements. “Can you get out of the way? I have things I need to do before the bell rings.”

    “Why do you always run from me, Debney?”

    Closing her eyes briefly, Debney sighed deeply. She just didn’t have time for an interrogation. She knew anything she did out of her ordinary habit of scurrying through the crowd would draw unwanted attention in her direction. Standing still in the middle of the hallway was something she avoided as much as possible. When it came to finding a victim for harassment she was the biggest target and she preferred to be a moving one. Peering around his shoulder at the students in the hallway she took a steadying breath. Maybe if she let him have a few moments of conversation he would hurry and move and she would be free to go on her way.

    Pressured beyond belief knowing she had a short space of time to get through the hallway to the restroom and yet not willing to give him access to such information, she fiend irritation, executed her best wiggling neck in the current attitudal broken hinged fashion, she answered louder than necessary.

    “Why do you always stand in my way, Giant?” Her irritation at being confronted plainly showing.

    "You know I don't like you calling me that, Deb."

    Of course she knew. He had been teased with the nickname from the third grade onward. Ever since kindergarten he’d been shoulders and head taller than the other boys his age and after the summer of their fifth grade year he’d outgrown those same boys by another nine inches.

    Tossing her head back to clear the hair from her face she commanded herself to look him boldly in the eyes, and immediately disobeyed. At almost seven feet tall, Giante’ looked like a god. A tall muscular well built beautiful Asian god and she loved him. A fact he seemed unaware of.

    Looking around anywhere and everywhere but in his face, she noticed the movements and shuffling of the other students had practically stopped and the volume in the hallway lowered as it filled with more bodies. The sudden drop in the decibel of noise was a blatant sign of interest in the couple’s conversation. It was obvious the crowd of students were either pretending to retrieve articles from their lockers or outright listening to their discussion. She lowered her voice. 

    “I’m sorry, Giante’. I didn’t mean to shout or call you that. My last class was a nightmare and I really have something I need to do before the next one. Listen….” she grabbed the strap of her sagging backpack in preparation to swing it to her other side and he yanked it from her hand. The action caused her to lean forward precariously, only to be saved from falling by him stepping forward and bearing her weight in his arms. Moving quickly she righted herself and stepped back a few paces. Using both hands to brush the hair from her face she sighed and wiggled her shoulders in relief at the momentary removal of the added weight.

    “Are you supposed to be carrying things this heavy?” Giante’ raised the bag up and down testing its weight. “It’s as big as your stomach and probably heavier than you are.”

    “Obviously you know nothing about social graces when it comes to talking to pregnant women.” She reached for her bag and he switched it to his other hand and higher than her reach. “Or should I say women in general.” 

    She saw the heat rise in his face and felt ashamed again for causing him embarrassment. He used to be one of her best friends, one of the last ones to stand by her side, and all she could do whenever they met was ‘cause him shame.

    “You know what, Giante'? Don’t worry about the size of my stomach. You should mind your own damned business.” 

    “Should you even be walking downstairs in your condition? Isn’t the baby due soon?” He ignored her small tirade, the concern for her welfare plainly seen through the softness of his eyes. “You should ask your mom….”

    Debney interrupted his reprimand angrily. Moving without thought she stepped towards him and in less than a second she was so close to Giante’ that their stomachs touched. His immediate step backwards spoke volumes to his revulsion of the contact and she lost it. In her anger she poked his chest with the nail of her pointer finger.

    “You know what; you should mind your own business and quit worrying about me. And just what should I ask my mom, Giante’? Ask her if she misses me? Ask her if she ever gave a crap about me? Ask her what she thinks of her only daughter being pregnant? If she’s glad she gets to spend eternity away from me? Or should I just ask her how she feels being dead?”

    Stunned at voicing the questions she only repeated to herself when she was alone at night, Debney covered her mouth with her hands and stared at the hurt, mortified look on Giant’s face. She regretted hurting him, but she just didn’t have the energy to coddle anyone. All she wanted was to be left alone.

    Before he could answer, a crowd of his football buddies and their cheerleader girlfriends surrounded and maneuvered themselves between the couple, successfully separating them. The interruption felt like a godsend and Debney decided to take the gift and slip away. Knowing it wouldn’t be long before their inane conversation would be directed towards her with derivative criticism, Debney reached for her bag, again, Giante’ held it out of her reach. 

    Taking Giante’s actions as a sign to continue the daily ritual of mocking and ridicule, Roody the jock nearest to Debney, jumped back as if it were detrimental to avoid any physical contact from her. He brushed his hands across his shoulders and down his clothes. His nose turned up in disgust.

    "Man Giante' you need to stay away from DNA." He uttered the now hated acronym made from the initials of her name.
    Looking around the group of laughing mocking teens, Debney admonished herself for having stood still and out in the open for far too long. Like a deer in a pit of lions she knew she had left herself vulnerable and open for attack. As usual she was stared at, criticized, and her stomach poked. 

    “You weren’t saying that when you were at my house.” Debney returned Roody’s look with equal disdain and stepped up to him. “I’m the one who should be wiping the disgust away.” Looking him up and down Debney turned her back and dismissed him from her mind. “High school is too damned typical and cliché. You guys need to grow up.” 

    “Hey if I knew I was going to be used like a piece of meat at that party,” Roody continued. “I would have stayed home.”
    Debney scoffed at the rebuke and fruitlessly reached for her bag again. Giante’ ignored her frustrated glare and reached for her hand. Before their fingers touched they were separated again by the movements of the group.

    "Yeah, Giante, you better stay away from her. From all of the guys I heard she slept with that baby can belong to any male in this school." Fabeola the head cheerleader poked the kicking twitching mound. “Eww and it moves.” She jumped back screeching and they all laughed.

    “Hey, your momma named you right, DNA.” Another member of the team jumped into the conversation. “You’re a walking advertisement for the paternity test. Why don’t you go on that TV show, what’s it called?” He turned to the crowd in the hallway and they all shouted I’m Not Your Baby Daddy with loud laughter and cat calls before he turned back to her with pointed finger and continued talking. “You can find out who that baby’s daddy is for free. And that way you can scratch my name off the list.” 

    Horrified at the suggestion and the burst of guffaws and snickering laughter, Debney was stunned into silence. One of the three cheerleaders started pointing at the male students milling in the hallway one at a time. She twirled around slowly until she had pointed in all directions.

    "You the daddy, and you the daddy, and you....”

    Taking advantage of his divided attention Debney grabbed her bag from Giante’s loose grip and stomped away as quickly as possible. She wasn’t quick enough to avoid the laughter and the now familiar taunt which followed her and become the chant whenever she entered a room. DNA go away. Don’t spread your germs this a-way. If they only knew how much she wished she could get away from the life she was living, they would realize their chant was useless.

     Her only wish at the moment was to get into the restroom and behind the doors of a stall before she broke down and cried. But as usual it wasn’t her luck. The girls who were at the sink washing their hands when she entered the room rushed back into empty stalls and those about to exit stalls stepped back in, their uniformed laughter and cheering her undoing. Those four were the main pain to her existence.
    Where she had walked in the restroom feeling pity for her situation and hanging on the verge of tears, she now felt blinding rage. For nearly nine months she’d put up with their ignorant picks, taunts and their meanness as a deserved punishment for wishing her family dead. What she had failed to realize was her punishment did not include the right to let them focus their persecution on her innocent baby. This group of girls, which usually included Fabeola, had made it their daily mission to find a way to humiliate her. They'd pushed her down the stairs one too many times and only because of the unforeseen luck of always finding someone standing in front of her, she had not fallen too hard or been hurt.

    Just the day before this same callous act of holding the stalls had caused her to wet herself and miss all of her afternoon classes. Today she was prepared. She’d made an elaborate plan the night before and payback was going to be a ‘muther’. She was tired of being a victim and tired of sitting back, letting others treat her as if she didn’t matter. It was time she stood up and protected the child she was carrying. 
    Stuffing the drains of the six sinks with paper towels Debney turned on the waters full force and watched as they filled quickly and began to over flow. The girls in the stalls so proud of themselves with their laughing, and cruel jokes missed the sarcasm in her voice as she repeatedly begged loudly for them to come out so she could go in. Every word from her; caused them to get louder and more rambunctious. Like idiots, they banged on the stall doors and laughed loudly. Unzipping the side opening of her back pack, Debney pulled out a wide roll of grey packing tape. Banking on the fact their loudness was drowning out the sound of the tape tearing, Debney moved quickly to tape the doors of the stalls shut. She knew it probably wouldn’t hold them in long, and they wouldn’t drown but it would make a point. Pulling a tube of lipstick from her purse she wrote a message on the mirror making it plain she was no longer playing. When she felt the water rising at her feet, she smiled at her success.

    “Fine, stay in there for all I care. I hate all of you and I’m tired of taking crap. I’ll stay here as long as you’re in there.”
    “Go ahead.”
    “We’re not the one that has to pee.”'
    “And we sure aren’t going to be the one who pees on herself.”
    And the jokes and laughter continued. If she had felt an inkling of remorse for her actions, it was now gone. Pushing the tape back in the side pocket Debney pulled the typed ‘do not use’ sign from her bag and slapped it to the outside of the door, as she walked into the hallway. Just before she walked away she turned back and rammed the rubber door stop under the door in mimic of one of the tricks they had played on her.
    Shouldering her way through the chattering students rushing through the hallway to their last class of the afternoon, Debney smiled to herself. She barely made it through the door and squeezed her big belly into her seat and under the desk before the bell rang.
        She was flipping listlessly through the pages of her American Literature book when three of the girls from the restroom entered the room followed by the senior guidance counselor.
         Debney’s gaze never wavered from the counselors face. She listened to the squishy sounds made by the shoes of the girls as they crossed the room to their desks and snickered. She tried not to laugh out loud when the one sitting closer to her swung her leg to cross it at the ankle and the water from the soaking hem of her jeans splashed onto the calf of the girl sitting in front of her. The accompanying protest and complaint was immediately quieted by the whispered explanation. Within seconds the bathroom incident was shared with the entire class and all faces were turned in Debney’s direction. The ensuing rush of bitter stinging comments of outrage and taunts were cut into silence by the upraised voice of the counselor.
        “Debney Nichole Armstrong will you follow me to the office please.”
        Without a word Debney slid out of her seat, sighing in frustration because she had to struggle a bit to pull the backpack along with her. Its cumbersome shape and weight causing her to bend and lift to get it through the small opening between desktop and seat of chair. As unintentionally as it may have seemed to the class, she swung it out just in time to smack the pointed end of the pen out of the hand of the girl sitting across from her. With repetition came knowledge. She had been stuck too many times and as she had said before, she was tired of taking crap.
    Standing in front of the teacher’s desk Debney ignored the counselor and held out a card to the teacher.
         “Ms. A, I just wanted to let you know I finally got around to filling thank you cards from my family’s funeral. I know it’s taken a long time. Put it down to too much going on in my life. I appreciate all you have done for me. I just wanted to let you know I decided last night that this would be my last day here. Since there are only two weeks left to graduation I won't be coming back. I’ll have my own baby to take care of in a few weeks and I’m tired of dealing with other people’s immature little children.” She turned and looked over the class with a sneer before turning back. “Thanks so much for your kindness.”
    “You’re welcome Debney. Take care of yourself.” The teacher walked around the desk and gave her a hug.
    “I will. My number is on the card. You can call me if you ever feel like it.”
    Before she crossed the threshold for the last time Debney looked back into the room. “Most of you people are people I have known for my entire school career. We grew up together, learned a lot of things and have made mistakes I thought we were friends and yet you are the only people who have made me regret not having died with my family. Well, after today you'll never have to say ‘DNA you go away’. I’m gone.”
    Following the counselor out of the room, Debney walked slowly through the empty hallway towards the administration side of the school building. The memory of four years of happiness was blurred by the horror and loneliness of the past nine months.
    “Sit here, Debney.” The counselor opened her office door and pointed towards the sitting area of the room.
    “Oh, God is this going to take long? Are you about to lecture me again? I’ve heard enough. Once a week I’m in here for something or other. I can’t take anymore I’m really tired.”
    Debney crossed the room to the nicely arranged furnishings and let herself flop into the thick cushions of an armchair. Breathing in deeply she closed her eyes and tried to relax. She hated this room. She had been in the office more times over the past few months than the entire four years she had attend the high school. It was always the same thing. Nothing was her fault and yet, everything was her fault.
    The moisture from the cold wet container being placed in her hand brought her back to the present. She looked at the item with disgust.
    “Ewww gross. Why are you giving me orange juice Mrs. K? You don’t have a Cherry Coke?”
    “Coke is not good for the baby.”
    “Depends on the kind of coke it is. Some kinds can really quiet the kid.” She rubbed the now quiet mound of her abdomen as she looked the counselor in the eye. Debney getting a kick out of the look on the Mrs. K’s face sat back and laughed uproariously. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding.”
    Stepping away from Debney Mrs. K dropped herself into the other recliner; her arms spread wide, the flesh jiggling a little when hitting the armrest of the chair. The combined bounce of her wrist and the flop into the chair caused a small splash from her can of coke to spill down her hand and plop onto the carpet. Shrugging nonchalantly at the small mess Mrs. K. lifted and crossed her legs onto the coffee table in front of her as if she were tired as hell, and closed her eyes.
    “You had better be. I know you don’t want CPS in your business.”
    “God no not again, it took months to get them out of my life when the family first passed away. I don’t know what Good Samaritan called thinking I was a little kid on my own, but they very nearly caused me and the baby our freedom. Anyway orange juice makes me puke.”
    “I hadn’t thought of that.” She reached out and switched drinks. “Have you been eating regularly? You seem thinner than you used to be.”
    “I eat three meals a day while at school alone. Can I help it if the alien within me sucks up all my nutrients?” Debney lightly tapped the bulge of her stomach and was immediately kicked in response. She laughed softly. “Already like his mom, rebellious as hell.”
    “What about the father Debney? What are you going to do about him?”
    “Which ‘him’ are you talking about?”
    “Whichever ‘him’, you choose.” Mrs. K. sat up straight and took a sip from her drink. “Don’t worry you know I’ve heard all of the rumors.” She smiled a little. Having known Debney for a few years she fell into the casual joking mode. “From what I’ve heard there is a choice between quite a few from the football team. If it were me, there would be only one I would choose.” She gave a one-sided lift of her lip and sucked down the rest of her drink. The youthful action caused Debney to giggle.
    “I shouldn’t have ever told you about my crush. Don’t worry about anything, I have it covered.”
    “I’m really worried about you Debney. You may think you’re all grown up but you’re still a kid. Is anyone staying with you? Have you been to the doctor lately?”
    “I’m using a midwife. Why do I need anyone with me? I’m an adult. I made eighteen a couple of days after….I’m eighteen now. I don’t need a babysitter. I may seem like a kid, but I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m filthy rich and want for nothing. I’ve got it better than a lot of the other girls running around school in the same situation.”
    “No, you don’t have it better. All of those girls have a family. Whether they like it or not there is someone for them to run to. You’re alone and you need a friend. Hell girl what you really need is someone to talk you out of having a baby at home. Your first child and you so young, you need to be in a hospital with someone there when you go into labor.”
    “Someone will be there. Don’t worry. I have all the money I need, a big house, and I don’t ever have to be alone.”
    “Yeah, but you can get lonely. Who’s there with you at night? Who do you confide in Debney? Whose shoulder have you cried on since your entire family died in that accident?”
    “Listen, Mrs. K. I made the mistake of crying on one too many shoulders the night I found out my family died and look what it’s gotten me.” She pushed herself into a standing position and rocked just a little at the shift in altitude. “I don’t need a shoulder. Feeling sorry for myself makes me jump to too many conclusions. I believed it when they told me my little brothers were dead and I gave up on them. You know they weren’t in the wreckage and I keep having the feeling I need to go find them, but I turned around, swallowed my feelings and had a funeral for them.”
    “Debney you have to face facts, they haven’t been found. You yourself told me there was a cliff under the wreckage. They may have fallen over and into the ocean and will never be found. I know that’s harsh, but you need to face facts. You made a crazy trip out of the country hunting for them and nothing has changed. You have to accept the realities of life and concentrate on the next few weeks. Big things are about to happen in your life and it may be the change you need to pull you out of the dumps.”
    “I know all of that and so I made up my mind last night that it’s ridiculous for me to keep coming to school. I don’t need any credits. My grades got me a scholarship and role as Valedictorian. And yet every day I continue coming here I run the risk of being killed because too many jealous ignorant little girls keep trying to push me down the stairs, or humiliated because they hold up the restrooms until I pee on myself. So if you took me out of class to lecture me about today’s restroom incident, forget it. I’m not hearing it. Bill me for the cleanup I’m good for the money. At least my parents left me something.” She turned to stomp out of the room but stopped and turned around at the sound of clapping.
    “That’s good Debney. I’m glad to finally see some kind of reaction coming from you. I watch you daily trudging the halls, head down and looking at no one. You eat alone, you walk around alone on the campus and you go home alone. I heard you even fired the household staff. Who is taking care of you? Who’s cooking for you? Making sure all the bills are paid? I’ve talked to your teachers and we are all worried about you. Sure you do your work as usual, but you have lost yourself. You’ve locked down and closed out people in this school who care about you."
    “People like who Mrs. K.? The girls I thought were my friends are now ignoring me and the ones I never had anything to do with have made it their life’s mission to make my days a study in mental and physical torture. It’s not that I want to be alone, it’s that I’m afraid to be around anyone.”
    “Why do you think that is, Debney? Why have you allowed them to treat you so horribly?”
    “Let’s not get into the psycho babble, Mrs. K. We’ve been through all of this before and my thoughts haven’t changed. I still believe it’s because it’s treatment I deserve. I brought this all on myself. Before you try to deny it,” She raised her hand to halt the counselor’s words. “Be honest. For all I know I slept with one of those idiot’s boyfriend and got knocked up. If I had to name the father in order to save my life, I would die right now. It doesn’t make a difference whether or not I was drunk or high or anything. I shouldn’t have thrown a party and lost my mind.”
    “It was understandable. Teenagers throw parties when their parents are away.”
    “Yeah, but do they sleep with most of the guys at the party.”
    “I’m sure that’s not what you planned.”
    “I can honestly say that’s true. My plan was to be with one certain person and things got out of hand.”
    Mrs. K. leaned forward and smiled gently into her face. “Just to fall a little into my counselor mode I have to say the cavalier way youth fall into having sex is why girls find themselves in your position. Pregnant and stuck being both parents to an innocent baby, but don’t be so hard on yourself. I can’t even tell you how many other girls are walking around here pregnant and not knowing what to do. Everyone makes mistakes. Just face them and move on. And you have to believe there are people here who care about you.”
    Turning away to avoid direct eye contact with the counselor, Debney rubbed her palm across right her eye.
    “Mrs. K, I’m sure there are a few people left in the world that care about me, even if it is out of a sense of duty, but I can take care of myself. All of the menial things required in caring for a home, I can handle. I don’t want to even tell you how many times I had to take care of things before my parents died. I wouldn’t dare tell you the many times I slipped out of vacations when my mom stuck me with another family, and I stayed the summers and holidays in that house alone. It's nothing new. I can handle this. I just can’t mentally afford to connect to anyone right now. If I do, I’m afraid I’ll break down and if I do that I just know there’s no way I can pull myself together in time. It won’t be long before I’m a mother and I have to be able to be there in all capacities for the baby. I don’t want to need anyone.”
    “Well, I’m sorry little girl because there are a wing of women waiting for you in the teacher’s lounge who want you to need us. We’re pulling for you. You can swallow that mountain of shame, let go of that river of tears you’ve been holding in and know you can call on either of us. How can you doubt us? We’ve known you for four years and some longer than that. You’ve bust in the doors of our office sharing every aspect of your life with us and all of a sudden you close up. Real life doesn’t work like that. People who care about a person stick around whether you want them to or not.”Mrs. K stood. “Now, come on over here and give me a hug.”
    Grabbing the backpack from Debney’s hand Mrs. K. pulled the young girl's stiff figure close and gave her a huge hug before turning and guiding her out of the door. By using her arm which was wrapped around Debney’s waist she directed her towards the faculty lounge.
    “And don’t worry about what happened in the rest room today sometimes people deserve what they get and this is the real reason I called you into the office.”
    Mrs. K. opened the door to the teacher’s lounge and shouts of surprise and the evidence of a surprise baby shower greeted them.


    On the spur of the moment Debney swung the wheel of the car to the left and drove through the circular part of the driveway to the front of the house instead of continuing straight and into the garage. Throwing the car’s gears into park she slowly climbed out and looked around.
    Her gaze immediately rested on the enormous architectural presence of the house. The exterior was still beautiful. A lovely butter cream coloring trimmed in ivory. The tower shape of the large walls on each corner of the house and the picture windows bordered by wall climbing ivy and jasmine made the house look like a castle waiting for its Cinderella. She had always loved the house. Dreamed daily of one day swinging open the double front doors to the man coming to beg her father for her hand in marriage. What a fairy tale. Reality had sucked the delusional dream up as easy as dust to a Dyson.
    Debney hadn’t entered through the front door of the house in months. She had run from the presence of the memories it held like a little girl running from imagined boogie men, but now it was time she grew up. This was her home and before too much more time passed it would be the home of a new life.
    She looked around the grounds and shook her head in regret. Her dad would be disappointed in her. He had loved the house more than she and paid plenty money to keep the lawn meticulous and here she was only nine months in charge and she had failed him. The wide long porch needed sweeping, seating needed cleaning, the multiple potted plants and the lawn needed tending, grass needed cutting, flower bushes were dying from lack of care or watering and advertising circulars were scattered around rotting in their plastic coverings. It had been a mistake to let the yardman go. The house looked abandoned.
    Staring at its door and the leaf covered welcome mat she rubbed her stomach shrugged her shoulders and released and long puff of air. The sooner she entered the sooner the ghosts would leave.
    Reaching into the interior of the car she twirled her fingers around as many roped handles as possible and prepared to pull out numerous small bags as one yank would allow. The sound of approaching footsteps caused her to falter in her movements of retrieving the packages. And of course it would be no one but Giante’.
    “You need any help Debney?”
    She yanked on the handles of a particularly stubborn bag and almost fell when it suddenly released itself. Giante’s hands were immediately on her back to catch her.
    “What are you doing here Giante’?” She jerked away from his touch and stepped around him.
    “I saw you drive up. I’m amazed you came this way. You haven’t been through those doors in months.”
    “I know.”
    “Have you been shopping?” He poked his head and half his body into the car’s open door.
    “No. Are you always spying on me?”`
    “I live right across the street. Have you forgotten that? Have you forgotten we have spent every summer together for as long as I can remember? Hell we used to spend all of our spare time with each other.” He lowered his voice. “Have you fooled yourself into forgetting the night we spent together?”
    “How could I forget?” She looked pointedly at her stomach. “How can you forget you aren’t the only one I was with? Shit, forget I asked that. I’m not in the mood to have that conversation again.” She took a deep breath and changed the subject. “Mrs. K and a few teachers threw me a baby shower. I’m just bringing the things in here since they’ve all taken it upon themselves to invite themselves over. They want to check out the house and make sure things are in order for the baby’s arrival. You now adults, they can never leave things, alone. They should be here in a minute.”
    “Why don’t you just take them into the guesthouse? That’s where you live.”
    “They don’t know that.” She looked at him as if he were an imbecile. “I just spent the last hour giving them the impression I’m living the life of the privileged, do you thing I can drag them to the backyard and not seem crazy when a huge house sits empty? Forget it. Since you’re here you may as well grab everything else and come in. I don’t want to be standing out here looking ungrateful when they pull up. Besides, I may need to do some quick dusting.”
    “Just show me where you want things and I’ll help you out. Quick as a whistle I’ll get it done. You know I’m considered a speed demon.” He did a few simulated block maneuvers around her and she laughed. “See, I’m so quick you didn’t see that coming. Made you laugh and pulled the old Debney right outta you.” Standing on the top step of the porch Giante’ did a Superman pose. Hands on hips and chest expanded. “Be gone new Debney. Long live the old.”
    “Be gone almighty Giante’ so I can unlock the door.” She attempted to swing the bags in her hand in his direction and almost lost her balance.
    “Careful. You seem to always be tittering on the verge of falling. Is that normal? Are you sick?”
    “How would I know what normal is? I shouldn’t have been going up the step while trying to swing a bunch of heavy bags that’s all. Move you’re blocking the door.”
    She elbowed her way between him and the door and with shaking fingers she turned the lock. As soon as they stepped over the threshold and walked through the foyer and down the long hallway to the living room/kitchen area it was plain to see some quick dusting was definitely in order, along with the lighting of a few aromatic candles.
    “Dang, Debney when is the last time the maid has been here?” Giante’ looked under the cabinets for cleaning supplies.
    “You know I don’t live in here. I fired the service at least six months ago.” She pointed towards a small door by the pantry. “Cleaning supplies are in there. I’m going to do some spraying of Febreeze and lighting those candles my mom never wanted to use. You get to dusting in the foyer, Mr.”
    “You might want to turn the air on full blast too. That’s the main problem; it’s hot and stuffy in here.”
    “I just didn’t see the reason to keep the air conditioning running when no one is ever here. When I come in I come through the patio door I grab what I need and leave.”
    “Well, if you want my opinion I think you need to rehire the maid service and give this place a thorough cleaning. You’re having a baby soon for Christ’s sake. This is where people will come to pay homage. No one will want to tramp through the bushes and into a tiny guest house.”
    “I know it’s part of my working plan for the rest of the week. Cleaning, remodeling, and redecorating. I plan on spending the weekend floating in the pool like a beached whale not running around like a wobbling bear with an aerosol can to spray unscented odor in vacant rooms.”
    “You’re going to get in the pool alone.” Giante’ stopped in his act of dusting to place his hands on his hips. “That’s dangerous you know.”
    “Of course I’m not going to be alone. Nadine comes to stay every weekend. Haven’t you seen that through your never clever habit of spying on me?”
    “I don’t be spying. I’m just keeping an eye on you and things. Trying to make sure no one tries to bother you.”
    “Yeah, well you’ve made your mom suspicious. She came over here a few months back. Lectured me on my wild ways, admonished me for being pregnant, tore a little flesh off by reminding me if I had gone on vacation with you guys I wouldn’t be in the shape I’m in now. And then she tried to get me to assure her that she was not about to be a grandmother.”
    “What did you tell her?”
    “Of course I apologized profusely for my stupidity, denied your possible involvement, cried a lot about my family and then laughed as she walked out of the door. What the hell did you want me to tell her? What should I have said? Oh Mrs. De Vries I’m 100% positive Giante’ is not the daddy.” Her sarcasm evident in the high pitched little girl’s voice she used. “Or would it have been better to say, Oh, Mrs. De Vries if I had only gone with you there wouldn’t be a chance in hell Giante’ could be the father. You know either scenario would be a lie. We would have gotten together sooner or later and I have no clear clue on the father of this baby.”
    Giante’ silently glared at Debney until she dropped her gaze in shame and continued lighting the candles.
    “Yeah, I know. I think things just got out of hand that night. I….”
    “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to keep hurting your feelings. Let’s not have that discussion right now Giante’, really. I can’t go through it anymore. It is what it is and nothing can be done to change anything and people are coming.”
    “You’re always blowing me off Deb. I need to know how to plan the rest of my life. Sooner or later we have to settle things.”
    “Well, you’ll just have to wait until later. They’re here.”


    ii. Other Times it Sucks Even More

    Lying on the couch after everyone had gone, Debney closed her eyes. She just wanted to soak in the quiet. Pulling the multi-colored, Afghan baby blanket someone had given her as a gift across her shoulders, she released a long sigh. She was beyond tired. After living alone in the guest house for so many months, she had gotten used to her enforced world of silence. Spending the past hour and a half consumed with spouting fake laughter and joy-filled conversation had given her an enormous headache.

    Or maybe it was the reality she had survived and not succumbed to a mental breakdown after remaining inside the main house for more than the five minutes it always took to gather personal items. If it weren’t for the headache and the utter exhaustion she was now feeling, she would have run the hell outta the doors and never looked back, but no matter how much pain the thought of nothing ever being the same caused her, this was still her home. All of the happy memories were absorbed within its perfectly decorated interior and replaced with lies and deceit. She hated and feared being enclosed within its walls.

    The last time she’d been in the house for an extended period of time, had been five months previously: four months after the death of her family and the first night she’d experienced the movement of the baby. She’d wanted to share that experience with someone she believed cared for her and her best friend Nadine had been the obvious choice. So she invited her childhood friend to spend the night. They were munching on snacks and watching TV in the guest house and she’d tried pretending to Nadine it was just for the weekend, but the rouse hadn’t worked. Nadine questioned her persistently.

    "Debney, why aren’t we sleeping in the house? Don’t tell me you’re still living out here. How long are you going to hide?"

    "I’m not ‘hiding’ out here. The house is so large and I just avoid going in there and being alone all night. Don’t you think it’s cozier in the guest house? Remember how we used to beg to stay out here and pretend we were grown up and lived on our own? There’s nothing to hide from anyway."

    "So why pretend anymore? Now you do have a house of your own and it is humongous and we should be in there blasting those huge flat screens with the surround sound….unless you’re really just being chicken. What’s to be afraid of? Do you think your family is haunting the house?" Nadine leaned towards her. "Are you afraid of ghosts?" she asked in a dramatic wide-eyed whisper, her hands clasped in a simulated, sincere gesture under her chin.
    Springing from the multitude of pillows on the floor, Nadine ran across the room and swung open the door. Sticking her head and half her body through the opening, she looked around the darkened pool area. Pulling her body quickly in, she turned to look at Debney with the combination of an exaggerated expression of terror and excitement on her face.

    "It’s dark as hell out there, Debney. I swear to God I could hear somebody calling me. I’m going to run to the house and knock on the door and see if your mom comes out." Her eyes seemed to grow larger, her words flew out in a rush of animated anticipation and she bounced up and down on her naked toes. "You think if I ran straight through the line of deck chairs to the house, your little ghost brothers will chase after me like they used to? I wonder if they still play hide and seek. Do you think I can keep them from double-teaming me and knocking me in the pool? It would be like old times." She poked her head and neck back out the door and yelled loudly into the darkness, "Ready or not boys…. here I come."

    In a flash, she was out the door running, laughing and screaming like an idiot. Her flip-flop covered feet slapped against the surface of the concrete, slowly fading as she got further and further away. It felt like old times and reality disappeared. Debney quickly grabbed the house keys off the counter and ran after her. And as usual, when the four of them had played chase on the pool deck, she sent chairs sprawling in all directions in her rush to catch Nadine. For a moment she hid in her exhilaration and imagination, forgetting the present and only remembering the joy she would get when allowed to play with her brothers. She squealed and giggled away the pain from the legs of the chairs banging against her ankles and shins.

    Outside the patio door of the house, she stopped to lean against the glass, paused to catch her breath and reality caught up with her. Depression cloaked and smothered her like a burlap bag in a kidnapping, successfully stealing the illusion of happiness. Everything had changed and there was no sign of Nadine. Irritated with herself for abandoning her inhibitions, Debney called out angrily into the darkness.

    "Shit, Nadine. Stop playing around."

    Flicking the switch next to the hanging plants at the side of the door, she illuminated the yard with piercing brightness, successfully dispersing the eerie darkness and exposing Nadine cowering in the bushes.

    "If you want me to let you in the house you’d better get the hell on over here. Unless you wanna stay out and see if the little demons will really come and get you."

    Nadine scooted from behind the bushes struggling to pull bramble out of her hair. The curly natural style grasping the small leaves tightly. "Geeze Debney, some kinda friend you are."

    "Me? What about you? You make me run around in the dark like a preschooler without a brain of her own. I musta lost my mind for a minute….enough to trip and fall in the pool. What kind of friend are you to taunt me with the ghosts of my recently dead brothers?"

    "I’m your best friend, your only friend. I’m the one who finally got a laugh out of you. I’m just trying to get you out of your funk. It’s been four months for Christ's sake."

    "And I’m supposed to be over it? I’m supposed to have forgotten all about them? Four months isn’t that long you know. You can be such an idiot, Deenie." Debney moved to face the door, prepared to put the key in the lock, but turned back to face Nadine. Their noses practically touched they were standing so close. "Can you back up just a little? The heat from your breath on the back of my neck is more than creepy. Besides--" She swiveled around and unlocked the door. "I hated playing with you and the boys. I was always made the last to be caught which always made me have to do the chasing. I don’t feel like losing a stupid game between you and your imagination. Now get the hell in here because I’m getting eaten alive by mosquitoes."

    Nadine laughed again. Pushing Debney aside, she rushed into the room, did a big jump into the air and ended in a squat with her arms in a defensive position and yelling at the top of her lungs into the tomb-silent quiet.
    "Don’t be alarmed Mrs. Armstrong. It’s only me and Debney. Ow, Debney you hit too hard." Nadine rubbed the spot on her upper shoulder where Debney had punched her. "I was only joking."

    "Stop playing crazy, Nadine. If there’s even a small possibility of any ghosts coming out, it would definitely be my mom. She is one evil, conniving spirit I don’t want to see."

    "Oh my God Deb, you’re so funny. Why can’t you stay like this? Why can’t you go back to being the person you used to be? You haven’t been yourself since the accident. The trip to Italy only made you worse. You don’t hang out with me and the other girls. You won’t even look at Gianté and you’ve been avoiding everybody."

    "It’s not me that’s been avoiding anyone, it’s been you." Debney closed the sliding glass door with a bang. "You won’t even pick up the phone to call me. The only way you bother to communicate is through texting or email. I’m surprised you came tonight. Even more surprised your mom let you come."

    "Me too." Nadine walked through the living room to the kitchen flicking on the lights as she entered each room. "First of all, I’m still angry with you for just leaving me alone with my mom at the police station. You know how crazy she can get." Nadine shuddered expressively. "If you would have had stayed you would have saved me from her embarrassing act of trying to get them to keep me overnight. She went on and on about breaking a mother’s heart, scaring her to death. I shudder to think about that detective laughing. I was so mortified; I almost begged to be jailed. But when you called for me to sleep over tonight, I put on an honor-worthy act, while portraying your desperation. And plus, I promised on my firstborn child there wouldn’t be another party and no trips out of the country."

    Debney laughed softly. Following Nadine’s path she subconsciously searched the room for new signs of her family. Everything was exactly the same….untouched and ignored.

    "Definitely no more trips to Italy and as for parties, I will never have another party in my life."

    In the kitchen, the fine layer of dust laying over the surface of the counters spoke of the lack of movement in the house. No one had been inside for more than a few minutes for months. Debney grabbed a towel from a drawer and cleaning solution from a cabinet in the back of the room. As she cleaned the surface of the island, Nadine, aimlessly strolled around the room lifting and rearranging things, following a habit she’d developed from childhood. It always amused them to rearrange the knickknacks around the room and send her mother’s OCD behavior into overdrive.

    "Good, because you have in one single night ruined your reputation in this community. I must say you threw one hell of a party. You had quality liquor for underage drinking, a near drowning in the pool, multi-partner premarital sex and a visit from the coroner all in one night. No one will be able to top it."

    "I provided nothing more exciting than the typical span of a teenager’s weekend."

    "Hey, speak for yourself. I don’t do any of those other things and I don’t know of anyone else who has had the coroner come to their home."

    Nadine pulled out one of the stools and climbed on. Resting her elbow on the damp surface, she pointed at Debney.
    "And neither did you before that night, so don’t go playing all hard and knowledgeable. We spent our days studying and texting, our nights on the computer and our weekends hanging out with Gianté. The majority of our little group totally understands how you freaked out that night. Who wouldn’t have? It was your eighteenth birthday and your parents left you alone in a huge house. What else could you do but throw a party."

    "You know that’s not how it happened. My plan was to spend the evening alone with Gianté. His mom talked him into bringing the football team with him."

    "I heard about all of that. The thing is, after the coroner left, you kept the party going. Most people would have sent everyone home. Your parents were dead…."

    "Nadine, stop moving things around. You know my mom doesn’t like things touched or rearranged."
    Lifting a brow as she looked at Debney, Nadine put the small fruit bowl she was holding on the floor by her foot instead of replacing it on the counter.

    "Your mom isn’t here anymore. I think you may need to change the looks of the rooms and then you’ll be able to move back into this house. There’s no reason you--"

    "Nadine, let’s not talk about that night here," Debney interrupted Nadine’s flow of words by walking to and opening the patio door. "I’m hungry and food is over there." She pointed in the direction of the pool house. "That’s where I’m going."

    "Okay, okay, I can take a hint. Still scared of your mommy, huh or should I say ‘mummy’?"

    "You can say you won’t be invited back over if you don’t change the subject."

    Debney watched Nadine walk out of the house before she turned off the lights and shut the door. Nadine’s humor was inappropriate at the best of times and if you knew her, nothing she said was unexpected. She had the ability to cause jaws to drop and drinks to snort out of noses.

    At the combined funeral and memorial service of Debney’s family, Nadine volunteered to say a few words. Her joke-filled soliloquy and tasteless, but funny, rendition of each family member’s habits had lifted the spirits of many, especially her brothers’ young friends. Even though it had caused Nadine’s mother to lightly smack her in the back of the head on her return to sit with her own family, Debney had really appreciated her comments. It was one of the last times Debney could remember laughing. Life was now a day in day out tunnel of bleakness.

    Startled by Nadine’s sudden linking of their arms combined with the clasp of her left hand with Debney’s right, Debney almost pulled away from her. It had been months since she’d had physical contact with anyone, and the touch was so unexpected it almost hurt.

    This particular connection was their supersonic bud-link. A term and habit they coined in elementary school when they were teased by the class bullies. Apart, they were beat upon mercilessly, but when they were together and linked up they were unstoppable. They'd fought off the scab-kneed little bullies often, sometimes for themselves but most of the time for any new kid in the room.

    At first, Debney believed she and Nadine were getting picked on because of their hair. Nadine was always teased about her mass of wooly curls, while Debney endured yanks on her long straight hair and being called Pocahontas, regardless of the fact she was an Indian of a totally different nationality. By the end of third grade, the basis of the teasing was made blatantly clear. It was the color of their skin which caused such confusion, Debney for her olive pigmentation and Nadine for the chocolate smoothness of her flesh. The innocence of youth had blinded her to the color of the other students in the school and she noticed she and Nadine were the only students of color. When she asked to be put in another school, her parents had vetoed the idea with the statement, "The Windsong Academy will give you the best foundation in education". She spent her first five years of her school career there, fighting to be respected.

    Once Debney realized she could do nothing about her skin tones and fighting wasn’t helping, she was able to defeat her tormentors on another level, through her education and relationship with the teachers. Eventually the bud-links gained three more members and life was tolerable. Once Gianté with his long legs joined the group they were unbeatable.

    "Do you think things will ever go back to the way they used to be, Debney?" Nadine’s heavy sigh broke through her thoughts.

    "God, I hope not. I hope I become a better person once I get my mind together. I used awful judgment at the party, and I went a little crazy for a few weeks after, especially when we took that trip to Italy."
    "That trip was for a good cause."

    "It was stupid. We worried your parents needlessly. I can’t believe I thought the boys were still alive. What a way to waste a European vacation. I’ve learned a lot though. I know I only have one friend. Everyone else has abandoned me."

    "No, you’ve pushed everyone away. If you weren’t acting so irrational you would be able to talk to Gianté."

    Unable to go through the pool house door together, Debney removed her arm from Nadine’s.

    "You’re crazy, Nadine. Didn’t we just have the conversation about why no one wants to hang around me? My so called friends stopped returning my texts. All accept you."

    "Yeah well, I’m an idiot. I shoulda dumped you long ago." Nadine grabbed a soda from the fridge and drank it while preparing herself sandwich.

    Flopping down on the mass of pillows on the floor, Debney grabbed the remote and turned on the television. She flicked through the channels.

    "You do know you didn’t have to come here tonight, Nadine. I was just a little lonely. You do know that, right?"
    Not receiving an answer, she turned over to her stomach to look at Nadine in the kitchen. In horror she jumped up and ran to her side.

    "What happened?" She checked her friend for signs of bleeding. "You didn’t cut yourself so why are you crying?"

    "I’m sorry for being such a bitch to you, Debney. For coming here and making cruel jokes, ignoring you in school and just not being around for you. I….I didn’t know what to expect when you invited me over. I see you in school looking pitiful. You don’t talk to anybody and you avoid me. I thought we were buds. When I linked arms with you just now, you started to pull away. I want things to go back to the way it used to be."

    "I wish it too, but that will never happen. You are the best thing in life to me. It’s my fault for making you feel bad. I just have a lot to sort out in my mind both physically and legally. I just buried my parents and had a service for my brothers. You know as well as I that I don’t believe they’re dead, but I had no choice. I’m tortured daily wondering where they are, even where their bodies can be. There’s just....so much. I think if I didn’t have this guilt to beat myself with, I would be able to handle life better."

    "How can you handle everything alone, Debney? You’re really just a kid. Get over the guilt of the party and relax more. I’ll stand by your side. I can’t fight for you or your reputation at school if you refuse to stand up for yourself. I can’t continue listening to the way they talk about you. Some of the things they have been saying about you make me--"

    "Do you think I care what other people think of me?" Debney moved away and grabbed herself a canned drink from the refrigerator. In irritation she slammed the can on the counter. "There’s nothing in this world I can do to redeem myself. In the eyes of every student at school I’m the slut who slept with at least eight boys in one night. And they’re the ones I remember. An enormous feat for someone who was a virgin before it all started. Maybe I didn’t do it with all of them, but I do know they were at the house. Can you even imagine how this makes me feel? I can’t even look anyone in the face when I’m walking the hallways. The girls smirk and whisper and play asinine tricks. The guys full out laugh, point and call me names. Some of them make the cruelest suggestions. I won’t mention the incidents every time I go to the restroom or what happens if I happen to find myself alone in the hallway with a guy. To make it all worse, when I go to class I get these looks of sympathy and or disgust from the teachers. I don’t know how to act anymore. Should I be bold and slap people around or timid and hide my shame behind my books or hair? You even backed away from me for a while. I’m scared. I’m alone in more ways than one and today was the first day I felt the baby move and I had no one to tell."

    "What? What did you just say about a baby moving?"

    "I think I’m pregnant. No, I know I’m pregnant."

    "Oh my God, Debney, what are you going to do?"

    "I dunno, have a baby." She took a sip from the foaming can of coke she was holding.

    "That’s it? That’s all you’re going to say?" Nadine paced quickly around the room like a person on the verge of a nervous breakdown, alternating the actions of waving her hands in the air, stopping to stare at Debney in disbelief and raking her fingers through her hair. In her excitement, she stumbled over the pillows and landed flat on her face in the middle of their softness. The crash not stopping her tirade, she flipped over and continued ranting, "You’re not going to cry? Go into hysterics? If it were me, I wouldn’t know what to do or who to tell. Are you really sure you’re pregnant? Have you taken any tests?"

    "Yes and I already did the crying and ranting, but nothing changed. I’m still pregnant. I called the only person I knew I could talk to. This isn’t something I could have just texted."

    "Maybe you took the wrong kind of test. Let’s go and get a different one. This just can’t be happening. How can you sit there and be so calm? I would be so scared." She jumped up and held her arms in the air in exaggeration. "Hell, no I wouldn’t be…. I would be dead. My parents would kill me."

    "Well, unless my parents decide to return from their heavenly destination, it’s safe to say they won’t be coming to kill me."

    "Damn, Debney I’m sorry." She joined Debney on the couch and placed her arms around her shoulders. "I keep saying the stupidest things tonight."

    "No, you say exactly what I figured you would. Why do you think I called you over? You are the most normal thing left in my world."

    Without warning, Debney began to cry. Like a thunderstorm that suddenly appears, her tears came in torrents. For a moment, she found comfort in her friend’s arms, but the emotions she had been holding inside rushed through her, and she could no more hold in her flood than a beaver’s dam could hold in Niagara Falls.
    She rolled off the couch and buried her face in the pillows on the floor in an effort to squelch the screams that wanted to break through. She felt as if she were losing control of her very mind, and nothing Nadine offered as comfort helped. She couldn’t stop crying. She cried for what seemed like an eternity until she heard the stern voice of Nadine’s mother near her ear.


    iii. You Can’t Always Get What You Want

    Nothing about Nadine had changed. She still had the same habits, the same familiar comfort objects and the same free spirit attitude. All she wanted to do was enjoy life.
    Watching Nadine sleep, sprawled out on the twin bed across the room, legs akimbo  with her favorite robe balled under her head like a pillow, Debney wished she could take back the last words she had said to her own mother. If it were possible, maybe things would go back to being the same as they had been. If only there was a way she could be the old Debney, she would take the chance in a heartbeat. But nothing was the same with her. She was sullen, angry and critical.
    She wished she could turn back the clock, delete the consequences from the party, erase the certainty of her parents’ deaths and resume living the miserable existence she had grown up in. The wretched drudgery and the daily knowledge of being unwanted and ignored were ten times better than living without her family. Of all the wishes to come true, why did she have to be granted the wish for them to die? Out of all the wishes she’d made within her entire life, the desire to eliminate her parents was the only one she now wished hadn’t come true.
    When she'd first realized she might be pregnant and wished for it to be a mistake even that had been denied.
    Slipping from her bed, she tiptoed out of the room and into the kitchen. The child wasn’t born yet and already it had established an eating routine. It was four in the morning and time to feed the baby.
    Every two to three hours the baby demanded feeding, its miniscule movements squeezing and knotting her insides relentlessly until she would either have to eat something or succumb to being ill. After making the mistake and ignoring its demands a few times and suffering for it through nauseating, porcelain-hugging results, she now made sure to follow through with its commands.
    Debney grabbed a banana from the counter on her way to walking through the sliding glass doors to the patio, where she sat in the nearest chair and released her breath in a deep gush of relief.
    The warm, gentle breeze of the early morning air stirred the water of the pool. The six plastic chairs bobbed gently on its surface, comical and calming to her spirit.
    Looking around the deck she laughed a little at the sight of the scattered overturned chairs. She was never any good at playing games. As illogical as it would sound if voiced out loud, she blamed playing games for her present position. If it hadn’t been for the stupid idea of seducing Gianté or joining the game the boys wanted to play at her birthday party, she wouldn’t now be forced to eat a banana at four in the morning.
    Shaking her head at the memory of that night, she berated herself for not sticking to the plan she and Nadine cooked up together. They’d both known what she felt for Gianté went way beyond the friendship realm and that it was time to do something about it. As kids, they'd all hung out together like the Larry, Moe, and Curly of the TV land reruns, spending their days joking around and trying to make people laugh. To Nadine and Gianté, it had all been in fun, but to Debney it became her lifeline to sanity. When her parents went off on vacation and left her behind, she'd felt as if the line had snapped and only raw anger was left in its place. She wanted to do something to hurt them as much as they had hurt her.
    What possessed her to want to sleep with Gianté she didn’t know. It could have been the combination of almost always being together and the immense change in Gianté. It could have been the actuality of one day her childhood friend Gianté, who was just a giant of a boy, returned to school after a summer away at football camp built like a god and lusted after by every girl on campus. Or maybe it was the stupid promise the three of them made to lose their virginity only between themselves. Seeing the daily parade of hoochie girls vying for Gianté's attention, she knew it wouldn’t be long before he succumbed to their wiles so she decided it was time he kept his promise.
    And it was no surprise that when she told Nadine what she wanted to do, Nadine jumped right on board. Nadine thought of it as a big, romantic adventure and gushed through the entire planning of the night. Together they decided Debney would invite Gianté over on the pretext of celebrating her eighteenth birthday and they would have a romantic dinner before she and Gianté would toss their virginity away. In the end, the two girls and Gianté sat together watching a movie in the guest house and planned the night step by step.
    On the afternoon of her eighteenth birthday, Debney held out clothes for inspection as Nadine lay on the bed in Debney’s bedroom.
    "You keep looking at me and saying 'we' oddly when you talk about what’s going to go on tonight. You’re not thinking of having a threesome are you, Debney? Because it’s not gonna happen. I’m not ready to have sex yet."
    "No girl, that’s gross," Debney laughed. "I automatically think of us all as one, but this is going to be between me and Gianté tonight. When you’re ready then he’ll be there for you, of course. What do you think about these shoes with this skirt?"
    "It’s fine. Why do you need to get all dressed up? Just meet him at the door stark naked. No one else will be here and then you can get it over all the quicker."
    "Are you crazy? I want my first time to be memorable. Hold on let me go get something." She ran into her parents’ room and came back with a huge pair of diamond earrings. "What do you think of these?" She held one of the earrings to her ear and her hair up and out of the way. "I’m going to twist my hair up so he can see them sparkling in the candlelight."
    "Your mom will kill you if she knew you were even touching those."
    Debney laughed. "She would probably write me out of her will….as if I want anything from her."
    "You may as well wear her jewelry if you're going to do the do in her room."
    "I sure am and I'm going to leave the room a mess so she'll know exactly what went on. Bed unmade, earrings in the linen."
    "You just got that revenge thing all planned out, huh? What about what your dad will say?"
    "Hopefully he'll get over it."
    "Give up on it. No man wants to know his daughter had sex and especially not in his bed."
    Debney laughed. "He'll be alright. He doesn't sleep with her, anyway. Hasn't for--"
    "Whoa." Nadine held up her hands and waved them vigorously in the air. "Hey, that's way too much information there. I don't wanna know about their love life, let's just stay on you. Are you going to have candles and protection?"
    "Yep, of course I’m ready. I have the dining room all set. It will be just me and him here. If he wants he can stay all weekend or at least come back and forth. I know his mom will be watching from her perch at her living room window to make sure I don't do anything out of hand."
    "Are you sure he’s going to come?"
    "Yeah, I reminded him I was having a birthday party for myself because my family was going to be out of town and he'd better not let me down. He knows the full plan. I didn’t see a reason to hide anything."
    "So why does he have to stay the entire weekend? I thought we were going to take your new car to the beach and talk girl to girl."
    "I just thought it would be nice. We can go on Sunday afternoon, just me and you. On Monday, I have to take a stupid trip with the school. I’ll be gone two weeks and then there's the trip with Gianté's family--"
    "I know. And by the time you come back I'll be gone with my family. Your mom was really mean to pull that trick and not take you with them. I’d be really pissed."
    "I am beyond pissed at her. The last time I saw that woman I told her if I never see her again my life would be glorious. At least my dad cared enough to buy me an awesome new car. I’m still a little pissed at him for not standing up to her, but that's no more than expected. The car almost totally makes up for it. It's beautiful."
    "Sure is. My mom says your dad must really love you to spend money on a paint job like that. I've never seen a car with lace etchings."
    "He called it my chariot. It is gorgeous. As a matter of fact, let’s take a quick trip to the mall and show it off, then I’ll come back and get ready."
    At seven o’clock, too afraid to move far away from the door, Debney was anxiously pacing in the foyer waiting for Gianté to ring the bell. After rushing to straighten the linen on the dining room table for the thousandth time and running back up the hallway and to the door in fear of having missed the ringing of the bell, she was a nervous wreck.
    When she heard footsteps on the porch landing she swung open the door, freezing Gianté in the act of ringing the bell. He was not alone.
    The look on Gianté's face when he saw her was priceless. Forgoing her usual jeans and t-shirt, she decided to dress in a slinky v-cut red dress, purposely designed to pop out the eyes and whet the appetite; at least that’s what the sales clerk had promised.
    "Gianté, you brought someone….people," she amended, when she peered around his body and saw seven members from the football team exiting a car and joining Gianté and the quarterback on the porch.
    "Yeah." He cleared his throat. "They were hanging out at the house. My mom insisted I bring them along." He mouthed the words sorry before moving aside for everyone to enter before him.
    "That’s okay." Hoping her smile hid her disappointment, she stepped away from the door. "You guys can follow me to the game room."
    Walking quickly ahead, Debney reached out and shut the door to the dining room before anyone could see inside. She nodded and grimaced but silently accepted the compliments and the admiring praises about the size and decor of house. Sharing conversation with any member of the football team had never been a priority to her. This bunch of idiots was only about their games on the field and off: true, idiotic, traditional jocks made up of all muscle and no brain. When the group followed her into the game room and saw the three huge flat-screened televisions which hung in different areas of the room and the game systems attached, they whooped and cursed in excitement.
    "Damn girl, why y'all gotta have so many systems in here? One person can’t play all of these together."
    "Kinda selfish of y'all, isn’t that right, fellas?" one of the eight commented. "You should share one. I could use one at my house."
    "They’re for my dad and brothers and none of them like to share." She started pointing out the rooms amenities. "If you get thirsty or hungry, there’s food in the cabinet and drinks in the fridge in the corner, umm, if you pull down this screen you can watch a movie. I need to have a word with Gianté and we’ll be right back. And Jason, I hear you're the biggest thief in the school. I better find everything still here when I come back."
    "All the stuff in this room, you wouldn’t know what was taken," Jason sneered.
    "Believe me," she pointed to the corners of the room, "you will be seen and recorded. Everything has an antitheft tag and is GPS monitored. The house has been robbed before so my dad is taking no more chances. So don’t try pocketing anything."
    "Whatever. Get off me, girl. You don't have anything I want, except maybe what you plan on giving Gianté."
    She laughed shortly. "You wish."
    "Hey, Debney, you mind if we invite a few people over?" Looking over his shoulder, one of the other boys never stopped playing the game to question her. "It’s your birthday, right? You need to have a real party."
    "Go ahead. Don’t call too many people, though, ‘cuz I don’t want the house torn up. I’ve been to a few of the parties you guys have thrown."
    "I don’t see food in any of these cabinets." Pulling his head from the inside of a cabinet, Roody the team quarterback turned around and shoved his hands into his pockets. "You just have kid snacks in here. What kinda party were you throwing?" He looked Debney up and down before turning to Gianté. "Oooh, Gianté, I think Debney had this party planned just for the two of you."
    "If you know this, why don't you go home?"
    Laughing to hide her intentions, Debney picked up her cell phone.
    "Shit, we'd rather hang out here. Go ahead do what you gotta do."
    "Let me know if you need any help, Gianté. I’ve wanted to hit that for a long time."
    "You guys are stupid. Just mind your business." Gianté punched Roody hard in the shoulder.
    "Go play a game, Roody. I’ll order pizza and when it comes, open the door. I’m gonna take Gianté for a few ‘cause I want to talk to him."
    Grabbing Gianté’s hand, she pulled him out of the room while doing her best to ignore the raunchy comments being shouted at their backs. As soon as they were out of earshot she angrily pushed him until his back was against the wall and punched him hard in the chest.
    "What the hell? Why’d you bring them, Gianté? You know what this night was supposed to be about. I had plans for us."
    "I know. You can blame my mom. The guys dropped me home from practice and she invited them in. She knew I was coming over here tonight and she’s been hounding me. She knows your parents aren’t home and has been trying to talk me outta being here. I guess she thinks if they're all here, nothing will happen."
    "Why doesn’t she trust me?"
    "Would you trust you, if you were some guy's mom? You are beautiful....hot. Better yet, would you trust either of us the way we’ve been acting when we're together?"
    "Gianté, you’ve been my best friend forever. You made a promise to me and tonight’s supposed to be the night we get together. I’ll probably never get another chance or be so brave."
    "You’re going on a cruise with me and my family in a couple of weeks."
    "And you think your mom is going to let us be together? Come on." She looked at him mockingly. "You know better than me that your mom is monitoring our every movement. She has done so since we made fourteen years old. She’ll never leave us alone. Gianté, we won’t have a better chance. My folks are gone, and all you’ll have to do is send those dumb jocks home."
    "I can’t just tell them to leave, Debney. If I tell them anything you will never stop hearing about it at school. I guarantee you, we’ll get another chance."
    "No we won’t. I have to take that stupid trip with the honor society, then we have the prison cruise with your parents and then school starts. When school starts you have football and I have everything else I need to do before graduation and moving away. I may never see you again after that, Gianté. Don’t think I’m trying to push you and make you do something you don’t want to do, just remember today is my birthday and you promised."
    The ringing of the doorbell synchronized with the door of the game room bursting open. Two of the guys ran from the room, one tackling the other in their rush to see who would open the entrance door first.
    Pulling himself from the floor, the loser dusted himself off and looked them over with his hands on his hips. "Hey, I thought you guys were doing the do or something."
    "Goes to show how much you know." Debney mocked his stance and returned the look.
    "Heeey Gianté."
    Turning at the singsong voice of her nemesis, Debney almost gagged. Fabeola Nelson was in her house. If there was anyone in life she disliked, Fabeola was the one.
    "Hey Fab, what are you doing here?" Gianté removed Fabeola’s arms from around his neck, gave her a push which made her move a couple of inches away and he stepped to stand closer to Debney.
    "The guys called us." She signaled to the group of girls standing on the porch to come in. "They said it was her birthday and you were having a party." She gestured to Debney with a lift of her head. "So, where is this party? Kinda quiet in here, don’t you think? Why didn’t you invite us, Debbie?"
    "You weren’t invited, Fab, because you know I don't like you." Debney rested her hands on her hips, her irritation at seeing the girl obvious from the narrowing of her eyes.
    "Doesn’t matter, we’re here now, Debbie."
    "You must have forgotten what I told you would happen if you called me by that name."
    "You don’t think I’m afraid of you do you, Debney?" Fabeola mimicked her movement.
    "You should be. I still owe you one."
    Debney moved to block the entrance to the room, but Gianté held her back.
    "Hey, no fighting, you girls have been having the same conversation since fifth grade. Let it go. It’s in this room." Debney struggled a little in his grasp until she realized he was whispering in her ear. "Let them go in, Deb. While they’re partying, we can have a party of our own."
    "Okay, but they better not destroy anything."
    "Go on, Debney do what you gotta do." Fabeola held the door to the game room open for the group of girls and the guy with the pizzas to enter before her. "I’ll let you have Gianté tonight, but believe me, it’s the only gift I’ll ever give you."
    The six new, uninvited guests laughed mockingly before announcing their entrance to the boisterous occupants of the game room. Gianté closed the door after them and pulled Debney behind him and up the stairs.
    "Are we going to your room?"
    "No, I thought we would use my parents’ room. It’s on its own floor and it’s bigger."
    "The size of the room isn’t what matters."
    "I know, but it also has a lock on the door so none of your idiot friends will be able to bust it open."
    "You sure you wanna do this, Debney? I don’t want to hear any of your regrets later, and I don’t want to take the blame if you do have any."
    Gianté stood at the side of her parents' bed holding the hem of his shirt, breast height in preparation of taking it off, the sight of his smooth stomach and six pack abs making her nervous and excited at the same time.
    "Do you want my promise in writing, Gianté? Come on. I went through a lot of planning for this night. I bought a new dress." She unzipped the little red dress, took it off and threw it in his face. "Cooked a great meal which will go to waste down there and had this room all candled up just for us."
    "We’ll go and eat it when this is over."
    "You talk like spending time with me is an exam you have to take."
    "I’m just as excited as you are. This is new for me too. We’re going to do it just this once, but we’re not going to make it a habit."
    "That's fine with me. I just want to make sure we share our first time with each other. I can tell Fabeola is ready to pluck your fruit, the skankie little hussy."
    "She's the least of my worries. My mom would kill me if she saw us now. Hell, I would kill her if she walked in. You did lock the door, right?"
    "Yeah, of course I did."
    The banging on the door twenty minutes later destroyed the serenity of the inane conversation they were sharing about their experience. The nervous shouts accompanying the banging and announcing the presence of policemen downstairs caused them to jump out of the bed and grab clothing.
    "You go on down, Gianté, and I’ll run into my room for something else to put on. Crap. What could your stupid friends have done in twenty minutes to make someone call the police?"
    Gianté hurriedly pulled open the door and tried to enter the hallway but was stalled by his chest running smack into the face of Roody.
    "Step back, man, and mind your business." Grabbing Roody by the collar of his t-shirt he tried to drag the boy away from the door and towards the stairs. "What were you guys doing to have the police called?"
    "We didn’t do anything. They came to see you, Debney….hell; I want to see you, Debney." His yell trailed behind him as the force of the pull on his shirt caused him to practically run behind Gianté.
    Shaking with nerves, Debney dragged the blanket from the bed, covered her body and ran down the hallway and short flight of stairs to her bedroom. Pulling on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, she rushed down the last flight of stairs. She would have loved to have spent a few more minutes talking to Gianté, but the presence of the police in the house caused her a lot of fear. She’d seen enough television shows to know the unexpected arrival of police never meant the inhabitants of the house any good. If they were looking for her as Roody had shouted, then it would have to pertain to her parents.
    Half way down the stairs she slowed her steps.
    The serious gaze directed up at her from the two men at the bottom of the stairs caused her to falter. She caught the banister in a tight grip and slowed her steps even more. It was obvious this was definitely not going to be a good conversation.
    "Debney Nichole Armstrong?"
    "Can I lie and say it isn’t me?"
    "Would be nice for you if it was true, but life never works that way, does it? I’m Detective Granger and this is Coroner D.E. Starr. We’ve come to share some news with you." He stopped, deliberately letting his gaze travel inquiringly over the crowd of teenagers gathered and whispering in the hallway. "Are you kids drinking?"
    "Oh, no sir, no drinking here," the kids hurriedly rushed to answer, hands lifted in solemn oath.
    "Then go play." Detective Granger enunciated each word slowly as if he were speaking to very small children.
    With snickers and smart aleck remarks the teens turned and followed his command. "Do you have a room we can use?"
    Coroner Starr placed his hand on Debney’s elbow and helped her down the remainder of the steps. Knowing for sure he could feel her body shaking uncontrollably, Debney shook off his hold, nodding and pointing to the door hiding her father’s office. The ability to utter a word deserting her with every step she took, she looked over her shoulder and tried to catch a glimpse of Gianté but he was nowhere to be seen.
    The walk to her father’s office, though only a few steps from the front door, felt like a mile. The small amount of oxygen she was able to suck into her lungs wasn’t reaching her brain and she felt like she was about to faint. She knew in her heart this was a death walk and she dreaded the conclusion.
    When she opened the office door and stepped into the room, the lingering aroma of her father’s cologne wafted into her nostrils, touched all points of her emotions and made her want to cry. This was the wrong room to come for bad news; she admonished herself and rethought her decision. It probably would have been better if she had gone across the hall to her mother’s office. There, she knew she would have felt the loss less. Death’s arrow would more than likely have lost its sting if it were shot in there. But in here, where her father would spend most of his home-based hours, she knew the memories of happy times shared with him wouldn’t allow her to cloak her emotions in ice and she was afraid she would crack and not be able to be repaired.

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