My unpublished manuscript ‘Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up’ chronicles Andrew Brown’s struggle to reconnect with his best friend Pete Goodman as a lurid secret Andrew has never told threatens to break them apart for good.
As I mentioned in “A Reintroduction: The Prologue,” I intend to post edited chapters every few weeks. Here’s a sample from Chapter 16. As always, feedback is STRONGLY encouraged via the contact tab or comments section.
From the outset, it looks like an ordinary school day at dismissal. Except school’s out.
The buses and Beamers usually stuck in an idling stalemate have now been replaced by conversion vans and camera crews from the three primetime television networks jamming the winding drive leading up to the Balaam campus. Even the local Channel 11 that no one knows covers news is covering the story.
I’m sure the entrance to the private road of Pete’s mother’s Dix Hills estate is as filled with storytellers. It is, after all, the biggest scandal to hit Long Island since the Mepham High School football team stuck pinecones and broomsticks up freshmen asses a few years back.
Newsday’s “Booked!” front page first broke the story. The New York Post followed a similar line of thinking with its “Throw the Book at Her!” cover. The more empyrean New York Times went with “Teacher at Esteemed Long Island Academy Accused of Statutory Rape.”
Not that the headlines matter, anyway; the picture on the cover of each of them, the one being featured on all the local and some national newscasts is far more sensational than any headline: it’s the buxom brunette in her weathered sweatshirt with the hood pulled tightly over her face and the Solow pants revealing the underwear she isn’t wearing and those ratty Birkenstocks, being led from the home she’d made for herself, for her lover. She’s bowing her head in shame, not contrition, shielding those seemingly tender, hazel eyes from the condemnations that come with being a rapist, the same doe-eyes that had pleaded with me that night when I took from her everything she had taken from me. Except my best friend.
Nobody’s seen Pete since graduation, and even then he wasn’t really there, surrounded by his mother who was more sauced than Marie after discovering Oxycontin and his father who flew in from Miami in the morning and probably flew back out that night and his brother John who looked like he had never seen a line he didn’t cut. Pete walked those stone steps adorned with flowers and speakers and various local and state representatives and trustee members with as much enthusiasm as Atlas, bearing the weight of the lost world he’d created with his concubine. And he shook Fr. Bagnani’s hand limply, devoid of any of the vigor that made him Pete Goodman – the music aficionado, the magnetic drummer, the erudite thinker, the best best friend anyone could ever ask for.
We together – and then on our own – had ruined him.
Lilly thinks he’s in South Oakes, the state mental facility after a failed suicide attempt; Marie swears she saw him drive past school this morning in his brother’s car, a brand new Audi TT. Can’t be, man, Tommy says. Pete’s home, no question.
I have no idea where he is, probably cooling off, waiting for everything to settle down. Not that I don’t care, obviously I do, but he won’t call or text me back, hasn’t since the indictment came down a day after graduation – on Friday, May 6th. I guess he can’t bring himself to get back to me, not with the unspoken words that both of us can’t speak separating us like binder dividers, not with what I told him – what he already knew – and what I didn’t.
Now, I’m back at Balaam for Fr. Bagnani who will announce his “retirement” this morning after God knows how many years in this wretched place, and it’s sad. He deserved so much better, I think, being made to take the fall for something he probably didn’t know about, something that happened practically on top of him. I guess he should’ve known, a lot of people should’ve, but no one thinks about shit like that. Until it happens at their school. Then, they call it negligence, and soon enough comes all those self-righteous voices that want their pound of flesh. And someone always has to take the fall for the sins of others because then all the rest can sleep well at night. How easily we can convince ourselves that things are okay when they’re completely fucked. When we want to.
I heard it was Candace who spilled the beans to her mother about just how enlightening her travel study was, loose-lipped bimbo. Benevo ends up getting outed by a fateful opening of a mouth that never seems closed – Seinfeld couldn’t even pull that off. But that’s what happened. And I never got to tell Fr. Bagnani. It doesn’t matter the appointment was made or that I wanted to do right by him. Just that I was too late. And I didn’t.
Nothing about being here, about any of this, feels right, I think. Like I walked into the wrong building even though I know I didn’t, pushing open those beveled church-like doors embossed with the decadent, bronzed crest – a repeated reminder that academic purgatory awaits on the other side regardless of the school’s scholarly torch logo or what the Latin underneath it says.
“Breathtakingly divine buttresses!” beams Architecture Digest, one of the myriad headlines superimposed on the wall staring back at you once you’re inside, a wall that contains candidly staged shots of gleeful students eagerly serving the homeless, reading to the elderly, taking tests, and throwing javelins. Balaam kids throw a ton of javelins at each other, but no one is ever that happy to take a test. We definitely look benevolent in pictures. Only in pictures, though.
And I almost make it into the new auditorium that’s still as sad as the old one with its gray walls and antiquated art and hanging speakers that remind me of gallows – almost – before I see Jess for the first time since school let out. And she, standing right in front of the entrance, sees me. There’s no avoiding the girl I sent a terse it’s over text to 16 hours after I landed. I think she was more pissed off I wasn’t taking her to prom. I didn’t even go. Ant told me the Gatsby theme sucked anyway, and some Chuck guy threw up all over the dance floor. Figures.
So, here it comes. Jess looks like she’s walking the runway in her light brown leather pumps – those ones that accentuate her impeccably striated legs – and her flowing sundress that’s too short to be considered modest. The problem is she’s more like stomping over and wearing the look that Michelle gets when she suspects the color of her seat cushion is discriminatory.
She completely despises every part of me, her disdainful eyes tell me. And I don’t blame her for that. I try to find some words – I feel like I have to – but she holds her hand up and cuts me off.
“You chicken shit coward” – she slaps me, hard. I touch my cheek. She smacks me again. The shot whistles in the air. I hear it ring in my ear. “I thought you loved me. I loved you…you, you piece of shit, I loved you!”
Her ranting words become jumbled from all the tears and hysterics – “Lying…prom…cheating…dysfunctional…whore…hate…” – and some teachers are actually beginning to notice, but, typically, they do nothing about it.
“I…I…hope you…I hope you,” she blabbers ineffectually before she runs off to the nearby bathroom probably to throw up or curse me out on text or whatever else melodramatic high school girls do after they get broken up with.
And I’m left standing there in a crowd of stares and snickers all around me from kids like those shitty juniors and sophomore gayboys. One of them even starts a slow clap – a goddamn slow clap, I can’t believe I’m that guy right now – and it’s like I’m in the middle of a Balaam pep rally. Why don’t you just put a spotlight on me? It’d be less conspicuous.
Copyright (C) 2017 Andrew Chapin