His for Keeps(2)

By: Theodora Taylor

“No, it’s that boy I met at the fair back in June,” I answered her. “He wants me to come over, and we’re not performing tonight…”

My mom actually looked up, her heavily mascaraed eyes flicking over my outfit. Denim Bermuda cut-offs and an old Dick Tracy movie t-shirt I’d cut to hang off one shoulder.

“That’s what you’re wearing?” she asked me.

“Yeah, I don’t like to look like I’m trying too hard.” Especially with Mike Lancer, who was always more concerned with getting me out of my clothes than noticing what I was wearing.

But my mom, the queen of trying too hard, just sucked on her teeth.

“You been taking your pill? You know I’m not—”

“Taking care of no grandbabies. Yeah, I know,” I finished for her. “I’ve been taking it.”

Another disapproving up and down, and my mom went back to her candy toenails.

“Well, see you later, I guess.”

I knew I ought to be grateful to have a mom who didn’t care what I did or where I went at night, as long as it didn’t interfere with my ability to play guitar for her the next weekend. But I remember it grating on me as I left our apartment to wait for the first of the two buses it would take to get me all the way to Forest Brook, Mike Lancer’s neighborhood. Sometimes, I remembered thinking, it would be nice to have a mom who actually gave a shit. For that matter, it would be nice to have anybody who gave a shit.

An hour later, as I walked through Forest Brook, one of Alabama’s richest suburbs, I recalled my grandparents in Tennessee who I used to stay with during the summers. That was before I learned how to play the guitar and Valerie decided she needed me down here in Alabama more. My grandparents gave a shit, and I felt a tug of guilt knowing how much they would disapprove of what I’d been doing with Mike Lancer all summer.

And as I walked past the Tudor mansion Beau Prescott lived in with his parents, I remember wondering to myself why I was doing this. Taking two buses to hook up with a boy I’d met at the fair, just because he was friends with Beau.

But I kept walking. Keeping my head down, so it would be easy for folks to assume I was either one of the many black live-in servants who worked in Forest Brook or one of their daughters. It wasn’t that hard of a role to pull off. My mom used to be one of those servants. So really, I was just acting like what I would have been if she hadn’t decided to pursue her country music career full time after having me.

Still, I remember feeling a little stupid as I slipped around the side of Mike’s large colonial house and scuttled to the servants entrance in back, like a cockroach who did booty calls.

However, this time when I got to the back stairs, I didn’t find them empty like I usually did. There was a boy there, sitting at the bottom of the steps. Like he was guarding the staircase.

This boy, from what I could tell, looked to be around my age, but he was very long. It took five steps to accommodate his bent legs. I’d sat on these steps before to wait for Mike and knew it only took two or three drops before my feet found a place to rest.

I stopped short, not quite knowing how to handle this. I’d never run into anybody back here before. Hell, sometimes Mike wasn’t even there to greet me, which is why I knew how many steps my legs took up. From waiting, since I wasn’t allowed to knock or do anything else that might draw attention to me.

This boy on the steps was blond, too. But he didn’t look like Mike. While Mike’s hair was combed back in lacquered waves, this boy’s hair fell past his ears in stringy locks that made my hands itch for a bottle of shampoo to throw at him. The rest of him wasn’t too much better. He was sporting what looked like a huge black eye behind a pair of thick, square glasses. And his clothes were worn. Not in a cool way, but like they’d originally been bought at a deep discount store, given away to the Salvation Army, then bought out of the dollar box by him. High-water corduroys and a dingy t-shirt.

The boy was also “skinnier than a pile of sticks” as my grandmother might say, with long knobby arms hanging out of his t-shirt. Even before I spotted the violin case, sitting at his feet, the word “nerd” ran through my mind. Maybe he was Mike’s younger brother. A sibling who’d inherited even more height, but not any of Mike’s wide receiver beefiness.

But somehow I didn’t think so.

This kid had a different energy than Mike. A kind of feral presence I recognized well after nearly a lifetime spent in honkytonk bars. Even with the glasses and the violin and the fact that he was here, he looked like what he probably was: poor white trash. Especially with that black eye.