I met Bobbie the day Dean shot a Mexican out in front of our trailer. Bobbie and her mom had just moved into Whispering Grove earlier that week. They had the nice sky-blue trailer down at the end, near the steps where I sometimes liked to skateboard. Bobbie had on a tight white T and cut-off denims that showed off her summer tan, and I tried not to look at her, but she was wearing a red bra she knew everyone could see through her shirt.
Dean was talking over the gathered crowd, repeating his version of events like he figured that by saying it over and over it’d become the official story people told. Thing is, that works a lot of times. And since the Mexican didn’t speak very good English, just sat in the gravel of our driveway holding his arm, he didn’t get much of a say into how things had gone. Blood leaked through his fingers and his face was vacant, like he was a hundred miles from all of the commotion.
“…and this hombre here was climbing in my window, so I shot him right where he stood,” Dean was saying. The way the Mexican just sat there as though this little trifle was the least of the worries he’d seen in life made me on his side more than Dean’s. Not that Dean was a bad guy. He was really nice to Sandy, my mom. He paid bills and even showed up with flowers and a six pack after they had an argument. Sandy called him a real romantic, and I had to admit he was better than some of the guys she’d dated.
Bobbie walked over to me. “Your dad is some kind of hero, huh?”
It took me a second to realize she was talking about Dean. My dad is no hero. You can believe me on that one. “Yeah, I guess so,” I said, “but he’s not my dad. That’s Dean.”
Bobbie popped her gum and scratched at a mosquito bite on the inside of her thigh as she took Dean in. She stood there like she expected more conversation out of me. I thought of several more things to say, but they all sounded stupid when I played them in my head, so I kept quiet. Dean was still waving the gun around, jabbing it in the air to punctuate what he was saying. And all the while the Mexican just sat there.
The cops finally showed up and took him away. They told Dean they needed his gun for evidence, but you could tell they figured this was a pretty straightforward case. Several men from the crowd—men dressed in oil-stained jeans and torn shirts—told the cops they’d seen the whole thing and that it’d gone down just the way Dean was saying it did, even though some of them had shown up after I did, and I hadn’t gotten there in time see anything. But I didn’t say anything. I figured, whatever, fuck it, and went inside, taking one more look at Bobbie as I went.
That night I had to get out. All Dean would do was retell the story Sandy and I’d heard a dozen times. He had a few beers in him and just kept talking talking talking. I grabbed my skateboard and went out the backdoor. I was olleying down the steps at the end of Whispering Grove when I saw Bobbie beside her trailer. I wanted to land the olley real smooth but instead slammed into the pavement, jarring my noggin a bit. When I opened my eyes, Bobbie was standing over me, one foot planted on either side of my hips. In the street’s lighting, the tent of her skirt made a shadow I couldn’t see through, so I looked up into her face.
“I stole some of my mom’s Valium,” she said. “Wanna do them with me?”
I suggested we go down by the tracks where I had a place I liked to go when I smoked up.
“I hate this place,” Bobbie said and threw a rock at a bottle sitting by the tracks. I thought she meant my spot. “Why’d mom have to move us from L.A.? I mean, what the fuck is in Greensboro, North K-K-Karolina?”
It was hard to imagine Bobbie in a Beverly Hills mansion, almost as hard as imagining her in a trailer park.
“And my old boyfriend, Lizard, won’t even talk to me on the phone. He says he doesn’t want to talk to some country bumpkin.”
We lay there a minute or so, her talking about how great this guy Lizard was. She showed me a tattoo of a red dragon she had on her upper stomach. “He gave that one to me,” she said. “My mom doesn’t even know I have it.” Lizard was this nineteen-year-old guy she hung out with back in L.A. until her mom decided he was too old to be around Bobbie. I was trying hard to think of something to say that’d make her happy she was here.
“You ever notice how people say they’re going to do pills if it’s not their prescription, but they take it if it is?” I like little things like that, things we say that seem insignificant but really tell us a lot about what we’re doing. Sandy tells me I should major in psychology if I go to college someday.
But Bobbie looked at me like I was the strangest damned thing she’d ever seen. “Yeah, I guess so. Never thought of it that way,” she offered. I was disappointed I’d said it then, and of a sudden my little observation didn’t seem so hawk-eyed.
Bobbie lay on her back and said how good she felt from the Valium. I couldn’t feel a thing, but I acted like I did as soon as she lay down. I went to one elbow beside her and told her I knew what she meant. “I just wish we had some beer,” was my only complaint. I thought about whether she’d let me finger her. She seemed like the kind of girl who would, if you did things right.
“So what’s L.A. all about?”
She stared up at the night sky and rattled off, “El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Angeles.”
“It’s L.A.’s real name. It means, The City of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels. That’s nice, don’t you think.” Something about it was. Like a fantasy kingdom, or from the Bible maybe.
“Did you live in a Beverly Hills mansion?”
“My dad was a car salesman. Until his extra-curriculars caught up with him and he got AIDS from some junkie slut,” she said. “He’s dead now.”
“Are you going to kiss me or not?” Bobbie asked, irritated, as though she’d been waiting hours for me to get around to it.
She was a good kisser. The one smart thing my dad ever said was that you can tell more about how you feel for a girl when you kiss her than you can any other way. Somehow all the things you pretended to feel are replaced by the things you really feel, if you’re paying attention enough to notice.
After a while it was time for Bobbie to go home, so I walked her back and kissed her once more before she ran up to her trailer. I watched her take the steps in twos. As she shut the door behind her, she turned to see if I was still there and smiled at me before the door clicked shut against those sky-blue walls. I hopped on my skateboard, gave two smooth pushes and glided, the night air whooshing by. I felt like I could do anything, like I was king of the fucking world.
When I got back home, a cop car was out front, and Dean was leaning out of the screen door jabbing his finger in the air toward a young, blond officer who looked to be about twice Dean’s size and built like a German tank. Another cruiser pulled up and Dean’s cousin Russell got out.
“What in hell’s unholy name have you gotten yourself into here, Dean?”
Dean stopped paying attention to the blond officer and smiled to see someone he knew. “Well, well, you old bastard! It’s good to be able to talk to somebody with some sense,” he said as he walked down to meet Russell.
“Just get to it, Dean.”
“Well, you see, I was defending my home here from a Mexican burglar earlier today…”
“…and now he’s pressing charges, claiming he was coming by to get money you owe him. I know all that, Dean. That’s not what I’m asking.”
“What are you askin’ then, Mr. Officer?” Dean spat out.
“I’m asking what you’ve gone and gotten yourself mixed up in this time.” Russell just stood there, cold-eyed and unmoving.
Since Dean’d moved in, Russell came over from time to time. He’d check up on Sandy and me, sometimes bring a fruit basket or case of Pepsi for us. He’d look around the trailer and talk about Dean’s and his family a little. I never knew why he came by, but I liked him, thought I might even become a cop some day. You never know.
“Do you have any kids?” I asked him maybe the second or third time he came over.
“Yep. Two. Shaindel and Tristan, both twelve. Twins. Lucy and me wanted to have a baby and just got more than we bargained for. Better than most people can say in life, I guess.”
When he didn’t offer to introduce me, I figured he didn’t want his kids hanging around trailer trash, so I dropped the subject.
Dean was looking right back at Russell just as coldly. “You here to take me in? Is that how it is?”
“No. Right now, all we have is his word against yours. I’m here to serve you papers to show up in court next month and let a judge settle it.” Russell handed him some official looking papers stapled sloppily on top. Dean snatched them out of his hand. “I’d advise you to get a lawyer, Dean.” Russel’s voice was soft for his size.
“So, are we done here, Mr. Officer? If so, take blondie over here and get the hell away from my house.”
The blond officer’s muscles tensed. He looked like he could tear a man’s head clean off.
“Alright, John, let’s get outta here,” Russell said to the blond officer. “Oh, and Dean, don’t go making plans to leave the state anytime soon.”
Sandy had been standing just inside the screen door the whole time, hugging her arms to herself, puffing away on one of her menthols. When Dean turned to walk in, he saw her. She asked him what was going on, but he just opened the screen door and brushed by her.
Lying in bed that night, all I could think about was the feel of Bobbie. I could hear Sandy and Dean arguing in the other room. With them talking and me thinking of Bobbie, I couldn’t sleep, so I just lay there in the dark, looking around my room. On my chest of drawers a snow globe Sandy had bought me when I was seven or eight glowed orange from the streetlight outside my window. It’s a strange thing to admit, but I love snow globes. They’re these little worlds where nothing really ever happens. I jumped up and gave it a shake, sending the slow flakes swimming, and lay back down. Little brown shadows fluttered across the wall, and I was almost able to ignore Sandy and Dean yapping away.
The next day was the first of May, and like the first of every month people called it Mother’s Day, because that’s when the welfare checks came in. Men who hadn’t been home for weeks would suddenly be at the door with a ratty rose in hand, sons who’d dropped out of school to sell weed or work on construction sites between drunks showed up to see what was for dinner and to talk about how they just had a great job and another was surely on the way.
I wondered whether my dad was going to show up. A few months back, he’d stopped coming around, even on Mother’s Day.
Sandy was at work, but Dean had the day off, so he was smoking up on the couch. I came in and sat beside him, waited to see if he would hand me the joint. Sometimes he was greedy and kept it to himself, but if I waited until he was stoned enough, he’d give me some. I asked Dean how business was. He got this conspiratorial look on his face and motioned for me to follow him back to his and Sandy’s bedroom. I didn’t really like going in there too much anymore, not since Dean had moved in and his things were on the walls and shelves. But I followed him and watched as he opened the closet door and push Sandy’s dresses back to show me the four puffy, full trash bags sitting in back. I could smell what was in them before he even opened one up.
“Just look at it, would ya? Just look at that shit,” he said, and I thought how later I could steal maybe as much as an ounce and he’d never notice with how much he had.
“Yeah, that there’s going to be my ticket out of here. Dean Morrison wasn’t meant for this kind of living. No, sir,” he added, an afterthought, and looked out the window with his bloodshot eyes. “Maybe I’ll take you and your mom with me. How’d you like that?”
I told him I’d like that just fine I guess, and we dropped the subject, but it got me thinking about how he had a plan and how I wanted one too. I was still thinking about it as we went back to the couch and smoked the rest of Dean’s joint and then rolled another.
Sandy talked a lot about me going to college, which didn’t sound bad when I considered all the girls and drugs college guys get. And maybe she was right about majoring in psychology. I took another hit and pictured myself in an office with a leather couch and a bawling lady-patient in a nice dress and dark lipstick.
“So, what’s up with you and that tight little piece Bobbie? You get a taste of that punany yet?”
I was pretty stoned and couldn’t figure out whether to lie or not, so I just stuck two fingers up in the air in the shape a V and flicked my tongue between them, knowing that’d make Dean happy. He nearly fell down laughing.
After that first night, Bobbie was more or less my girlfriend you could say. I’d come over to her trailer in the afternoons when her mom was at work down at the Winn Dixie, and we’d pop valium and play Nintendo for hours. Sometimes she’d lean on my shoulder and doze for a bit. Other times we’d fool around.
It was next Mother’s Day and we were sitting on her couch kissing and talking about what we wanted to be one day. We were pretty stoned, still riding high off the stuff I’d stolen from Dean. I got to thinking about far-off places where people make it rich and get what they want and are happy.
“You know, I was thinking that maybe I could do Spanish in college. Sandy is always saying how she’d have a better job if she could speak Spanish,” I said. Bobbie gave me that look of hers that let me know what I was saying was stupid, but I didn’t stop. I told her about how people get jobs in airports if they speak Spanish and how you’re supposed to get free flights if you work there.
“Wouldn’t be cool?” I asked. “We could go anywhere we wanted.”
“Pretty cool,” she said and flipped on the television.
I tried to say L.A.’s name, “El pe-ebblo day…”
“El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles.”
“Do you ever think of going back there?” I asked.
“I have to stay with Mom until I finish high school.” She was going through the channels too fast for me to tell what was on, so I stopped looking at the screen and just looked at her.
“I’m thinking of moving to L.A., maybe go pro,” I said and kicked my skateboard, sending a wheel spinning.
Her face brightened, and she leaned her body toward me so much it looked like something from a soap opera Sandy might watch.
“Yeah,” I said. “I got it all planned out.”
I could tell Bobbie was excited, so I kept lying, or not lying really, ‘cause I meant every word I was saying when I said it, and I wanted to move to L.A. with her so bad. I didn’t give a damn about the Stars—Carmen Electra, Tom Cruise, and all them. Fuck Tom Cruise. I just wanted me and Bobbie to lie on the beach all year round and smoke pot and maybe I could go pro, and we could get married, have some kids, do it right.
“But I’m not going to end up like my mother,” Bobbie said.
“No way,” I said and hugged her to me, kissed the crown of her head like people do to kids sometimes, “we’re not gonna be like any of them.”
That night I woke up to screaming. Even groggy as I was, I knew it was him. I jumped from bed and slipped my jeans on, not bothering with shirt or shoes. On the way out of my room, I saw the little snow globe and grabbed it. Sandy was screaming Get out! Get out! Get the fuck out of my fucking house! Her voice was loud and spit-wet and scratchy. She was screaming with her eyes closed and fists pressed to her hips, I knew. That’s how she always screamed at him when he decided to drop in, drunk and wanting to sleep in her bed.
“Baby, don’t be like this,” Dad was saying, reaching out to her with a trembling hand. The front door was open, and I could see Dad’s truck parked on the grass right in front of the trailer.
I stood at the end of the hallway, squeezing the base of the snow globe so tight my hand hurt.
“He lives here now. This is his house too,” Sandy was saying. “You can’t be here when he gets home.”
“What, I can’t come see my wife and boy? You’re still my wife, you know. Just ‘cause you’ve shacked up with this sonuvabitch don’t make you not my wife. You’re still my wife.”
Sandy slumped into him, sobbing. “Why do you do this to me?” she asked, crying into his chest. Dad put his arm around her and squeezed.
“I can’t stay away from you. You know that.”
Clenching the snow globe, I stared at the back of his head, where the hair was going thin, where his soft, white skin showed.
Sandy pushed against his chest hard and her face went cold. She shoved a twenty dollar bill into his hand. “Leave. Please, Jess, just leave.” And I guess he heard something in her voice that I missed, because he backed away from her slow and careful, then turned to go out the open front door. That’s when he saw me, and I stared him in the eye, letting him know that he better not try any of his loving-dad bullshit on me, else I’d bash his fucking skull in.
When all that was left of him was the sound of his truck rattling away, Sandy walked over and hugged me. “Oh, baby, I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m so sorry for what we done to you.”
At Bobbie’s the next day things were getting pretty heavy on her couch, and I thought she was ready, so I started tugging at elastic of her panties. It was killing me how worked up I was. But she grabbed my hand and pulled it up to her face and kissed it, then set it on her throat.
“Do you want to choke me?” she asked. “Lizard used to like doing that.”
Bobbie talked about him like he was the coolest thing ever. Tattoos, pierced tongue, stupid fucking nickname—he had it all apparently.
“You can, if you want to,” Bobbie was saying in a breathy voice meant to be sexy.
And so I did, soft at first, not wanting to hurt her. She started rubbing my legs and crotch, giving me a seductive look, so I squeezed harder, and she rubbed harder, like she was getting into it, and I wondered if she was thinking about Lizard and if maybe this meant she was ready and this was only the beginning, so I pressed down and squeezed and got my other hand over her throat and squeezed. Her face was going red, but she kept rubbing on me so I kept squeezing harder, and I could feel the bendy tube of her throat giving way under my fingers, until finally she slapped at my arms and I let go.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, that was fun, don’t you think?”
“Do you want to do it?”
“Not tonight,” she said and grabbed my shirt and pulled me to her and kissed me. “But we will.”
We lay there for a long time, holding each other, and then we watched some TV until just before when her mom was supposed to get home, and I left. She didn’t tell me to go, but I didn’t want to be there when her mom got back. The room felt too weird just thinking of her being there.
It was a few days later that Dean started packing his things. He was visiting a friend in South Carolina he told Sandy, just going hunting for a few days. I was on the couch, eating chips and flipping the channels. I was supposed to meet Bobbie in a little while, and she’d hinted that maybe tonight was the night. Her mom had just gotten her prescription refilled and would be at work until late in the a.m., so we had a little private time planned. I had stolen a Lifestyle Extra Thin from Dean’s underwear drawer and already had it in my pocket along with what little was left of my weed. Bobbie and I had smoked almost all of it, but between her mom’s valium and this, we would be plenty fucked up. And I didn’t want to get too wasted, since I’d heard it sometimes makes your dick not work, and I didn’t want anything to go wrong.
“Don’t lie to me,” Sandy was saying. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing. Just a little vacation.”
“A little vacation.”
I turned the TV off and got up to go.
“You guys are both such douchebags,” I said real quiet, not even angry. I didn’t like seeing Sandy acting that way and crying. It made me mad at Dean but at her too for some reason.
As I opened the screendoor, I looked back at Dean shoving his stupid stuff into a ratty duffle bag and Sandy waving her arms at him and stomping all around. I could still hear her voice pleading when I jumped on my skateboard and pushed off hard three, four times and glided toward Bobbie’s sky-blue trailer down at the other end of Whispering Grove. I gave the Lifestyle in my pocket a little pat, just to make sure it was really there, and let the excitement of the evening ahead take over all my thoughts.