Wednesday Afternoon: School
It was Daniel who hatched the plot to destroy Sergeant Eason, fix my door, and run away to Mardi Gras–and that was before anyone went to prison.
Daniel, Louise, Stonn, and I were sitting in a circle on the sidewalk between Shop and C-Building, illegally eating our Wednesday lunch in the sunshine. Around us, the campus of Proctor High seemed too familiar, too big, and yet somehow too small as we tried to survive this last year of our confinement. Lately, the place had been masquerading as a juvenile lock-down facility. No amount of rules could lock down Daniel, however. Daniel was allergic to rules.
As I stared at him, he gave me a mysterious grin, then sighed too loudly. “All we need is a drill, five baby food jars, a pack of chicken, and a Corvette. It’ll be so Edge of Night.”
Daniel was a Hemingway, thrice removed from the one and only Ernest. He had sandy hair, scruffy stubble, and brooding black eyes to show for his lineage, along with a certain sick cynicism. His half-pint size he got from his mother’s side of the family, but his fascination with soap operas was a product of his own twisted mind.
And my mind was just as warped. Definitely. Reincarnation must feel a lot like senior year, hanging out with the dead and waiting for real life to happen. Daniel agreed with me, but Louise kept calling me a heretic .
Together, Daniel and I were writing a bible, which was industry-speak for a new Soap proposal that had to include characters, setting, and two years’ worth of storylines. I wrote the overall plot outlines for Northgate Bay, and Daniel did the teleplays with dialogue and stage directions. Lou helped by “editing,” which meant she spent a lot of time complaining, marking pages with a red pencil, and insisting we could not say something like that on daytime television.
Daniel and I wanted to kill Lou most days, but I had to admit we made a good team. I mean, who else but three of us could recite the bible from the Edge of Night?
Of course, Edge was our touchstone, even if it did go off in 1984. Based on Perry Mason, using lots of old Mason radio actors–twenty Emmy nominations, two Emmy awards, and God knows how many mysteries, trials, and unresolved cliffhangers–Edge was all about whodunit, not who-dun-who. It was exactly the sort of show we wanted to create. An evil plot had to have just the right mix of glitz and maniacal cleverness to make the Edge, so naturally, Daniel’s plan to complicate our already Edge-y lives got my attention.
“A drill, five baby food jars, a pack of chicken, and a Corvette.” I shook my head. “It can’t be that easy to get to Mardi Gras. What’s the twist?”
“We never know that until it’s too late, do we, Rusty?” Daniel’s grin grew more wicked by the moment. “But since my excuse for a father so graciously provided the Corvette for my birthday, we’re down to the power tools and groceries. The stage is set. Come on, Rusty. It’ll be great material when we finally get to New York. Hell, we can probably finish the bible with what we get out of this trip. Tell her, Lou. Tell her we can do it.”
Lou Poe, no relation to Edgar despite her wishes to the contrary, shook her bowl-cut brown hair. She clutched her battered copy of Rouverol’s Writing for the Soaps with long, pale fingers and muttered, “Oh, my Gawd. I can’t go to New Orleans. My parents would kill me.”
“You’re eighteen in three months,” I said. “We’re seniors. Quit living for your mom and dad. You can’t play the ingénue forever.”
“Ya, Lou.” Stonn Puhju, the Blond God, nodded. “Rusty, she is right. Be for yourself.”
Fresh from Finland, Stonn, which rhymed with “Ron,” had been living with Lou’s family for two months thanks to the Baptist Foreign Swap. Lou’s father, an uptight minister, started the exchange. Best we could figure, he picked Stonn’s name from a list, and since Reverend Poe wore glasses even thicker than Lou’s, he mixed up the male and female symbols. And so, even though she had the most conservative father in the universe, Lou was now sharing her home with the best looking male specimen in Olive Branch. Daniel and I couldn’t have written a better plot twist.
Lou ignored Stonn and gripped her book even tighter. “No way am I gonna be a part of this. You people are headed for Hell or prison, whichever comes first.”
“Not without you, dahling.” Daniel gave her a dramatic wink. “We’d never find the way.”
The Blond God flexed a muscle and squeezed it. “Lou must loosen up.”
“Drop dead, Stonn,” Lou said. “I’m not loosening up, and I’m not doing this, and neither are you. Dad would beat us both to death.”
“I will talk to her,” Stonn offered, as if Lou weren’t sitting beside him. “See if I can switch her mind.”
“Change her mind,” I corrected and wiped my forehead. It was only the first of March, and already hot in Tennessee. I hated heat. I hated anything that forced me to stay inside, because staying inside at my house…well, bad things happened when I had to do that. My house, or more specifically my stepfather, wasn’t good for me.
Hatred of heat–that’s why I set Northgate Bay in Oregon. Daniel still wanted to use California, and Lou kept bringing up Washington. Stonn never understood what we were talking about and just grinned when we fought over it, but to me, Oregon was perfect. First, it was as far away from Tennessee as I could imagine. Second, Oregon had mountains, the ocean, and lots of big cliffs for characters to drive off, throw people from, and slip over (to be reincarnated later when we needed them, of course). Third and most importantly, though, the weather in Oregon never seemed to change. Lots of cool air, plenty of rain, and definitely no heat and humidity. That was key as far as I was concerned.
At Proctor, we all fought the sticky heat with short sleeves, except for Lou. Her father insisted on high-neck blouses with long sleeves and skirts that hung below her bony knees. She always looked like a refugee from 1950’s vintage Secret Storm.
Stonn was another story. He was totally Young and Restless, and he gleefully ignored the Reverend Poe’s oversized morality. I swear the Blond God sprayed his jeans on every morning, and I know it took a shoehorn to cram those pecs into skin-tight T-shirts with fake collars.
The fake collars looked stupid, but they were a must. School dress code.
Like the ever-changing cast of a bad half-hour show, our school policies got harder and harder to keep up with on a daily basis. Each time some new piece of news about gangs or shootings hit the news, they revised our stupid handbook and dress code. No shirts without collars. No shirts without sleeves. No logos, no stripes, no spots, no jeans, no cuffs, no hanging threads. No earrings on boys. No earrings in anything except ears. No hats on girls. No different anything on anyone for any reason. Ever. Or else.
My head started to pound just before a baritone voice interrupted our lunch with a gruff, “Hey!”
“Damn.” I scrambled to my feet faster than Daniel and Stonn. “It’s Eason.”
“He’s supposed to be sick today.” Lou stood up beside me, both hands on her cheeks like a five-year-old.
I was sure we looked like a line of prisoners from Dark Shadows, waiting for execution. All we needed to do was lean down and offer our heads. Of course, Dark Shadows was an old Goth spook opera, so we’d have to be witches or vampires, and our heads would probably glow when they got lopped off.
Daniel sniffed, and Stonn muttered words I didn’t understand as the executioner stalked toward us.
Sgt. Eason’s bald head gleamed as brightly as his tie clip, and I shaded my eyes against both. That jerk always wore a suit and tie. I figured he thought it made him look important, like his perfectly trimmed moustache and oh-so-debonair goatee.
I wasn’t impressed, however. Eason wanted to be a hero. He dressed the part. He tried to follow all the rules to the letter–but the man was a bully. And I knew all about bullies. Only too well.
Eason came to a halt in front of us. “This is not a sanctioned lunch area.”
A second ticked by as we stared at his folded arms. His square jaw. His jutting chin.
My stomach clenched, and I wondered what would happen if I puked on his polished shoes.
Before I could try, Stonn snapped to attention, threw a long-arm salute, and shouted, “Da, Commandant!”
Eason’s mustache twitched, and I saw a flash of desperation in his villain eyes.
We got detention until Spring Break, and Louise bought the baby food jars herself that very afternoon.