Chapter Three: Green Tuesday, part one
John's boots crunched as he made his way across the icy field of grass, heading for the playground. The sun was peeking over the tops of the houses on the edge of the park, but it was still cold enough outside that the ice hadn't melted yet, and his warm breaths were still coming out in hazy clouds. He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his trench coat to keep them warm.
Jim was waiting for him on the swing set, smoking a cigarette as he rocked back and forth on one of the plastic swings. His bald head was covered in a black knit cap with the White Sox logo on the front, and his chin was dotted with day-old black stubble. As John approached, he jammed the cigarette between his lips and grabbed hold of the chains on either side, unfolding his long, gangly legs out from under him and rising to his feet.
"Morning," John greeted him.
"Yeah, it sure is, isn't it?" said Jim, rolling his eyes. He pulled the cigarette away from his mouth, and a little puff of smoke escaped through the gap. "Tell me again why this couldn't have waited until tonight?"
John glared at him. "I need it today. Do you have it?"
Jim nodded and flicked a piece of ash into the grass. "When are you going to be able to pay me back?" he asked, taking one final drag on the cigarette.
"Next week," John lied. "Three-fifty by next weekend."
Jim shook his head. "Only one seventy-five. I could only get you one ounce, not two."
John let out an angry breath. "Why the fuck not? I need two!"
"Well, I don't have two, alright?" said Jimmy, tossing his cigarette into the bright green grass, where it landed with an audible sizzle. "I only have one, and I can't afford to give you two off the cuff, not right now."
John clenched his jaw. "I need two."
Jim shrugged. "Well, I only have one. Take it or leave it."
John snorted. "Fine, give it to me."
Jim paused, probably trying to decide whether or not to hit him. Finally, he sighed and stuffed his hand into the right pocket of his black ski jacket, emerging with a small bag of weed. He held it out in front of him, and John snatched it out of his hand and stuffed it into his own pocket.
"You're welcome," Jim said sarcastically. "You're welcome for dragging my ass out of bed at fucking seven A.M. and walking half a mile in the goddamn cold just to bring this over, since you could wait until this evening like I asked."
John rolled his eyes. "Thanks," he muttered, "but I still need two."
Jim studied him closely for a moment. "Why do you need two?" he asked. "You need money or something?"
"None of your business," John snapped.
Jim didn't look away. "It's Durbin, isn't it? What is he gonna do, cut off your legs?" Pause. "Your head?"
"Must be the head. How much are you in for?"
John stuffed the bag of weed into his pocket and turned to walk away. "I'll have your money by next week."
"If you aren't dead by then," Jim quipped. "Look, I'll see what I can do about the other one, alright? Meet me at Harrison's tonight. If I have it, I'll bring it then."
John didn't say anything, just shoved his hands into his pockets and kept walking.
Andy walked through the doorway of Mr. Hanslik's first period physics class and collapsed into a chair on the second to last row, right next to the left wall. He was so fucking tired. He'd gotten about six hours of sleep the night before, and he really wasn't a six hours of sleep kind of guy. Eight was better, ten was optimal, and any more than that was...heaven.
He'd been sitting there for less than a minute when Claire walked in. She was wearing a pale green sweater and a pair of black trouser pants, and her hair was pulled back with a couple of tiny black clips. She scanned the room quickly, and her eyes settled on Andy. He offered her a short nod, and she smiled and walked over.
"Hi," she said, sitting down in the chair next to Andy's. "How are you?"
Andy yawned widely and wiped his eyes. "Fine. You?"
Claire smiled. "Not bad. Have you seen any of the others?"
Andy leaned back so that the front legs of his chair were a few inches off the ground, then stuffed his hands into the pockets of his letter jacket. "Yeah, I saw Brian yesterday. Talked to him for a minute." He thought back to lunch the day before, when he'd noticed Allison sitting at Brian's table, hair swept back with the headband, drowning in her black parka. "I guess that's it," he said finally.
Claire reached into her purse and pulled out a small tube of pink lip gloss. "I saw Brian, too. We're actually in the same English class, but I'd just never really paid attention to who sat behind me." She uncapped the lip gloss and applied a thin layer to her bottom lip, then pursed both lips together. "I think we're going to get together to study for the test we have next week."
Andy nodded and leaned back in his chair just a bit further. He glanced over his shoulder, where a few other students were sitting, chatting amongst themselves while they waited for Mr. Hanslik to arrive. There was one girl, however, that was sitting by herself on the back row. She had thick, straight blonde hair that fell past her shoulders in a messy curtain. She was wearing an olive green hoodie over a pair of jeans with rips at the knee, and her Converse sneakers looked like they'd seen far better days. She was sitting slouched over her desktop, eyes narrowed at Claire, who was rummaging around in her purse again, this time for an extra hair clip. Andy watched as the girl's expression shifted from mild curiosity to something harder, like anger or maybe jealousy.
Suddenly, the girl's eyes flickered over towards Andy, and she sat up straight in her seat. Andy frowned, and the girl clenched her jaw angrily. She turned away from him and flipped the green hood over her head, crossing her arms over her chest defensively. He could see her eyes shifting back and forth, as if she was trying not to look over at them.
"Do you think this quiz is going to be hard?" asked Claire, breaking into his thoughts.
Andy glanced over at her, lowering all four chair legs to the floor. "Quiz?" he echoed.
Claire nodded, smacking her lips together. "Over chapter eight." She looked up at him. "Circular Motion," she clarified.
Andy sighed. "Fuck."
When John left Jim at the park, he didn't head for the school like he was supposed to. Instead he went back home, where he had his scales and rolling papers and baggies, to divide up the ounce of weed into small, sellable pieces. If he played his cards right, he could get about $250 for it, maybe $275, and that would take care of almost all the money that Ricky owed Durbin. If Jim came through with the other ounce, Ricky would be completely covered, and John would be able to pay back the asshole with the dented fender. Of course, then he would still have to find another way to pay back Jim, but that money wasn't due until next week, and John decided that he would cross that bridge when he came to it.
He climbed in through the window, knowing that his father was probably either in the kitchen making coffee or in the back bedroom sleeping off the graveyard shift. His father worked two jobs, one just as shitty as the other, and John never remembered the old man's schedule. This became a problem on the days that John skipped school, since Mr. Bender wouldn't hesitate to kick his ass out the door if John made the mistake of making his presence known while his dad was still at home. It had only happened a couple of times, but the broken finger and the black eyes had convinced him that the window was the wisest choice.
John kept all of his supplies in the closet under a pile of dirty clothes, where he knew no one would want to look. He closed the door behind him, pulled everything out, and sat down on the small piece of carpet left available to him in the small space. He measured the gram bags first, then started rolling the joints. It took him a few minutes, but once he found his rhythm, he was able to finish them rather quickly. He stuffed half of the gram bags into a larger sandwich bag, then did the same with half of the joints. The other half of the stash he stored in a brown paper sack, which he decided to keep at the house in a small hideaway behind the baseboard, where his parents wouldn't find it. He wasn't going to sell it all in one day, and he didn't want to be carrying that much around, at least not at school.
He was still in the closet putting the rest of the baggies away when he heard someone crack open the door to his room. John froze immediately, still clutching the brown paper bag in one hand and the two plastic sandwich bags in the other. On the other side of the closet door, John heard someone step into the room--heavy boots sinking into thread-worn carpet--and he knew that his father was there.
John knew that his dad came into his room sometimes. It usually happened when John was listening to his music too loud or when he'd done something to make the old man angry. But he knew that he also did it when John was sleeping, because he'd woken up on more than one occasion to find his father going through his drawers, checking the pockets of his son's pants for money, or even drugs. If he found something interesting, he would pocket it, but not always. Sometimes he would put it back, though John was never entirely sure why. John could only figure that his father's visits served some other purpose, if only to satiate the elder Bender's need for control over every inch of his household.
But sometimes things did go missing, which was where John had to be careful. After the first time his father came in late at night, John started hiding his things better. He started sleeping with his wallet and pocketknife under his pillow, and he dug a hole behind a loose bit of baseboard to store anything too valuable to keep out in the open. His father apparently hadn't found out about the baseboard, because John hadn't yet discovered anything missing from that spot. He hoped he wouldn't ever find it.
Mr. Bender walked deeper into the room, and John leaned forward slowly, pressing his face against the crack in the door, right below the hinges. He had access to only a sliver of the scene, but it was enough. He watched his father kick at a pile of dirty shirts in the middle of the floor, muttering a string of curse words under his breath. Then he jerked open the top drawer of his son's dresser and picked up a roll of socks, turning them inside out to see if there was anything inside. When he didn't find anything, he replaced the socks and picked up another roll. He went through each of them, one by one, squeezing them or unfolding them. He did the same with each of the other three drawers, checking the pants pockets and turning a couple of John's t-shirts inside out. Finally, he stood up again and turned towards the door.
But he wasn't ready to leave. John hardly had time to let out a sigh of relief before his father had dropped to his knees again, right in front of the wall with the removable baseboard. He felt his blood freeze as his father peeled the molding away from the wall, and his breath caught in his throat when his father reached inside to see if there was anything worth taking. And there was, of course. The fifty bucks that he and Ricky had scrounged up on Sunday when they were trying to add up how much they'd need. John had insisted on taking it, mostly because he didn't trust anyone but himself to come up with the money, and he wanted to know exactly how much they had at any given time. Plus, Ricky was notorious for losing things, and John didn't trust Ricky not to lose the money. As it turned out, it wasn't Ricky he had to worry about.
John's father found the wad of cash wrapped in an old t-shirt at the bottom of the small space. John watched his face light up when he realized what he'd found, then watched him pocket the cash and stuff the t-shirt back into the hole. He snapped the baseboard back into place, then put a large hand on the wall to steady himself as he rose to his feet. He didn't even bother to close the door on the way out.
John stood there for a good five minutes after he was gone, taking slow, steady breaths to calm himself. His father knew about the baseboard. His father had taken the money. John glanced down at the bags in his hand, at the brown paper sack that he was supposed to keep at home for safekeeping. Not anymore it wasn't. Everything was coming with him.
John stuffed the bags into the bottom of his boots, then climbed out of the window and headed to school.
Andy walked out of Mr. Hanslik's physics class with numbers and equations bouncing around in his head, fighting for space. He didn't feel like he'd done too badly on his quiz, considering he hadn't even cracked open his textbook the night before. He'd been so busy trying to finish his essay for English that he hadn't even thought about any of his other classes. He still had Calculus homework to finish, which meant that he would be hitting up Chris for help at lunchtime, if he wasn't out sick again.
Andy looked up to see that Candice was leaning against his locker, obviously waiting for him. She was wearing a slim-fitting t-shirt with the school mascot in the upper left-hand corner, and her letter jacket was tied around her waist. She had her dark red hair pulled up into a ponytail like always, but a couple of strands had come undone and were pasted to her temples with dried sweat. Her gym bag was sitting on the floor at her feet.
Andy clenched his jaw. "What are you doing here?"
Candice lifted an eyebrow in mock surprise. "What, I can't even say hello?"
Andy glared at her. "I need to get into my locker."
Candice let out a little laugh and pushed off from the locker, stepping away from it so that he had access. Without looking back at her, Andy started turning the dial, trying to remember the combination, which he was having trouble remembering, for some reason.
Andy turned back to look at Candice, who was watching him from less than two feet away. She lifted an eyebrow. "It looked like you were having trouble remembering."
"I know the combination," he told her, turning away again. "It /is /my locker."
Candice didn't respond. Andy resisted the urge to look over his shoulder again, and instead focused on getting the combination right this time. When he finally managed to pop the door open, he switched out his books and grabbed the notebook he needed. Then he closed the door again and replaced the lock.
If he was hoping that she would be gone by the time he finished, then he would have been disappointed. He turned back around to see her standing beside him, gym bag slung over one shoulder, arms crossed over her chest determinedly.
"What do you want?" he asked irritably.
This time, it was Candice's turn to look irritated. "What does it look like?" she asked. "I wanted to say hi, alright? I wanted to see how you were doing."
"Fantastic," Andy responded sarcastically. "Can I go now?"
Candice shrugged, eyebrow cocked defiantly. "You don't need my permission."
Andy released an angry breath through his nostrils, but his feet didn't budge. They stood there for long moment, staring at one another, until Candice sighed and uncrossed her arms, letting them fall to her sides.
"Look, I just wanted to see you," she said, quieter this time. "I just wanted to see how you were doing." She paused. "How are you doing?"
"I've been better," said Andy. "And worse."
Candice nodded. "You look good. Tired, but good."
Andy clenched his jaw, but didn't respond.
Candice stepped forward so that they were standing less than a foot apart. "I was thinking maybe we could hang out sometime. Grab something to eat, play basketball..."
"What, so you can beat me?" asked Andy.
Candice smiled; a big, genuine smile that showed off all her teeth. "So, you remembered."
Andy rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I guess that part's kind of hard to forget."
Candice reached down to tug the sleeves of her letter jacket into a tighter knot around her waist. "So, what do you say?"
Andy hesitated. "I don't think so."
"I think you know why not."
Candice's expression didn't falter. "It doesn't have to be anything big," she insisted. "We'll just hang out as friends."
"We're not friends," said Andy, harsher than he'd intended.
Candice's dark brown eyes flickered, but to her credit she didn't look away. "Why not?"
"Because a friend is someone you can trust," Andy replied firmly.
Candice pursed her lips together. "I deserve that," she admitted.
Andy didn't say anything, just waited.
Candice reached up to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. "But I also deserve another chance, I think. I know you, and I know you wouldn't give up on someone for making one mistake."
"That's a big fucking mistake," he snapped.
Candice sighed, and her eyelids fluttered closed, then open again. "We've been friends for a long time, haven't we, Andy? We were friends before we started dating, and we can be friends now. There's too much there to just throw it all away."
Andy tried to think of something good to say to that, but couldn't come up with anything. Candice must have noticed his hesitation, because she took a tiny step forward, closing the distance between them.
"You know what I was thinking about the other day?" When he didn't answer, she went on. "You remember that night the basketball team beat Evanston Township and you took me out to celebrate?" She smiled at the memory. "When we bought that gallon of chocolate ice cream and ate it the whole thing, on the hood of my car, right in front of the grocery store?"
Andy did remember. He'd wanted to go in for another gallon, but Candice was so full that she was ready to throw up and she wouldn't let him. He nodded.
"And you remember that night after the Valentine's Day dance?" she whispered, stepping forward even closer. "In the back seat of your Bronco?"
Yes, he did remember. Oh, /god/, did he remember. And apparently his body did, too, because suddenly he was finding it hard to breathe normally. "Yeah," he whispered.
Candice smiled and let out a breath, and Andy got a whiff of the cinnamon candies she popped like breath mints. He remembered how it used to make him laugh that she kept more candy in her gym bag than she did water bottles or energy bars. He remembered how he liked that about her--first of all that she carried a gym bag, but also that she had a secret weakness. In his eyes, it made her seem more vulnerable, even though she probably would have hit him if he'd ever mentioned it.
Candice reached forward to take his hand, and suddenly Andy remembered holding Allison's hand in his, right after detention. So small and fragile, trembling just a little bit as they walked down the front steps toward their cars. He jerked his hand out of Candice's grip.
"I know what you're doing," he said angrily, "and it's not that easy."
Candice sighed. "I know it isn't. I just wanted--"
"And things are different now."
Candice paused. "Why?" she demanded.
"Because I'm--" He stopped, pursed his lips together angrily. Because what? Because he was dating someone else? He wasn't even sure if that was true or not. He hadn't even talked to Allison since Saturday afternoon, and he'd only seen her once since then. That wasn't dating. It wasn't even /almost /dating. "It's complicated," he said finally.
Candice let out a sharp chuckle. "When did /you /become such a girl?"
Andy scoffed angrily. "Forget it," he muttered, pushing past her.
Candice reached out to grab his arm, pulling him back. Before he realized what was happening, she was standing on her tiptoes, and her lips were pressed against the corner of his mouth. Nothing passionate or romantic, just a quick, firm kiss. He didn't even have time to react before she pulled back slightly so that their faces were a few inches apart.
"Whenever you figure out this complicated situation you're in, whenever you find it in your heart to forgive me..." She offered him a sad smile. "...let me know, okay? I'll be waiting." Then she turned and walked away.
Andy watched her leave, watched her red ponytail swish back and forth as she walked down the hall. When she disappeared around the corner, he let out a sharp breath and looked down at the floor.
A/N: Please review. Thanks!
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