Thursday, February 23, 2012

Excerpt from "Beauty Like Columbines"



V

In my defense, I did warn Leo that if he’d just get up on his own, I wouldn’t have to resort to scaring the crap out of him in the mornings. Instead of blasting his stereo, I sic his little cousin on him. Depending on the mood she’s in, Meredith can bring someone out of a self-imposed silence. I open Leo’s door and usher Meredith in. She takes a running leap and lands right on top of him. 

“I told the witch doctor I was in love you,” Meredith sings and bounces. “I told the witch doctor that you didn’t love me too and then the witch doctor he told me what to do. He said that Ooo eee, ooo ah ah ting tang, Walla walla, bing bang, Ooo eee, ooo ah ah ting tang…”

“Oh my God! I’m up!” Leo shouts. “You are truly an evil person, Briony St. Regis. Do you get pleasure out of torturing me?”

I lead Meredith out of Leo’s room and direct her down to get her shoes on. Once she’s out of earshot, I turn back to Leo. “Oh yes, Leo. I lie in bed at night just thinking of ways to annoy you. I listen to I Touch Myself and She Bop while doing it too.”

“I knew it!” Leo laughs. He climbs out of bed, wearing nothing more than a pair of green plaid boxers. I avert my gaze, staring at my shoes. “Briony.” I look up and he’s right in front of me. “You know, there’s an easier way to get me up in the morning.”

“What’s that?” I ask, looking up into his amber brown eyes. A lone black curl has fallen just below his right eye.  “Just sleep in here,” he says, tucking a lock my long brown hair behind my ear. “I wouldn’t mind.”

Of course you wouldn’t. I take a step back, back into the wall. I can’t make my mouth say it. His hands rest against the wall, his arms creating a makeshift cage. Leo’s lips are centimeters from mine. I can feel his soft breath on my cheeks. I lean in closer. Just a little closer. Please kiss me, Leo. Please. 

“Briony!” Meredith’s shrill cry breaks the moment. 

“I should go,” I whisper, ducking under his arms.  Did that just happen? Oh my God. I don’t think I’ll be able to look at Leo at all without turning a wonderful shade of scarlet. Rubbing my arms, I look back at Leo’s door, to which he has closed. He came onto me, so I know I wasn’t imagining it. This is going to get awkward quickly.


* * *


“Okay, start from the beginning,” Kayleigh says, setting down her lunch tray. 

“You know how I’ve been waking Leo up, the same way I used to do to Saint when he made me mad?” I say, picking up a curly fry. “Well instead of blasting him awake with music I used Meredith and Witch Doctor.”

“A nice combination,” Kayleigh says. “What happened next?”

“He asked if I get pleasure from torturing him and I said something smart about it. One thing than another, he almost kisses me!”

Kayleigh’s eyes light up and a grin creeps across her face. “Would you have protested?”

I pick up another fry and look across the courtyard at Leo. He’s on his phone, chatting animatedly. He nods quickly and digs out a notebook from his bag. He stands up and scans the courtyard. He spots me and walks in mine and Kayleigh’s direction. 

“He’s coming over here,” Kayleigh whispers. “I’ll kick you if you start to blush.”

“Thanks.”

“Just the two ladies I was looking for,” Leo says, in a tone I haven’t heard before. “You wouldn’t happen to know how to get to Westbank from here?”

“I think so,” I answer. “I could call Daddy. What’s on Westbank?”

“Guy I’ve been talking to is selling his bike.”

“I think I could give you a ride out there,” Kayleigh says. 

“I thought you had a bike in Boston?” I say. “Don’t just stand there, Leo. You can sit down.”

“My lunatic of a mother sold my bike because she spent all her money in Atlantic City. As much as I love public transportation, I need my own mode.”

Visions of wrapping my arms around Leo’s slender waist, lying my head on his shoulder as he zooms around the city fill my imagination. Leo having a motorcycle has the potential to be very good for me. 

“Miss Isabel’s picking up Meredith and Belle from school, so I can go with you,” I say, looking at Leo. 

“Cool. I’ll meet you guys in the lot after classes.” Before standing up Leo pats the top of my hand. Not enough to be overtly meaningful but enough to make me think that what occurred this morning wasn’t all in my head. 

I am completely unfocused in the rest of my classes. All I can think about is zooming around on the back of Leo’s bike like I’m Natalie Wood. I completely space out on a simple history question. When did I become such a…Girl? I was never like this when I was with Court. When I was dating Court, it was all about status and notoriety. Being on Court Cunningham’s arm was the closet thing to nobility I’ve gotten. But I don’t remember spacing out in class, daydreaming about zooming around the city on the back of Court’s motorcycle. 

I look down at my history notes and discover all I have written are doodles of bikes and squiggly bubbles. Great and with the test coming up in a week, I’ve just lost an entire hour and half of lecture. What the hell is wrong with me? One almost kiss from Leo and I turn into Kayleigh!

The last bell for the day sounds and I wader out into the early October sunshine. I wait by Kayleigh’s white Jetta for her and Leo to make an appearance. I swear Kayleigh can take seventy years to get from the administration office, where she TA’s her last hour of the day, to the student parking lot. There are days when I can walk home faster than waiting on her. Shading my eyes with my hands, I spot Leo and Kayleigh walking towards me. 

“Want a ride home?” I jump, startled. “Jesus! Don’t sneak up on me! What do you want, Court?”

“I just wanted to give you a ride home,” he says.  “You must have the best case of selective memory ever,” I say looking around him, watching for Leo and Kayleigh. “We’re not friends, you are not my boyfriend anymore and yet here you are. Will you please, just leave me alone?”

“I don’t know why you keep fighting this thing we have, Briony,” Court says, reaching for my hand. “You know you still love me.”

I can’t help but to snort with laughter. “I never loved you, Court. I don’t want to be with you. So stop being…You.”

“You’re going to regret this, Briony. You won’t get another chance.”

“Great, I don’t want one. Go away.”

He scoffs and looks me up and down. His look is much like the ones he gave me just before we broke up. It’s this serious stare down, that’s menacing and creepy. It gives me the shivers. 

“What did Court want this time?” Kayleigh asks, watching him walk towards his truck. 

“I’ll tell you later. So Leo, where we headed?”

We pile into the car, Leo being the gentleman and let me have shotgun. Kayleigh starts her car and I’m blasted backwards by the pounding bass and a string of words I don’t think I’ve ever used or will ever use. Breaking the cardinal rule of being in someone else’s car, I reach for the volume knob, turning down Kanye. 

“On the list of music Briony can’t stand now includes rap,” Leo says from the backseat. 

“Briony’s never liked rap,” Kayleigh says, pulling out of the parking lot. “She also doesn’t like heavy metal, zydeco, Justin Beiber, or surprisingly, Celine Dion.”

“What do you like, Briony?” Leo asks.

“Classic rock ala Metallica, Aerosmith, the Stones, Kansas, Survivor. Late ‘80’s pop like Starship. The greats: Madonna, U2, Elvis, The Beatles and Johnny Cash.”

“Don’t forget Josh Groban, Dolly Parton, Whitney Houston, Loretta Lynn, Aretha Franklin, Patsy Cline and B.B King,” Kayleigh teases. “Briony’s iPod is really boring to look through.”

The car’s quiet for a block or so before Leo speaks up again. “Briony, you seem to know my aunt and uncle better than I do. Are they going to flip out when I bring home a motorcycle?”

“Miss Isabel will flip but Martin will think it’s cool,” I say turning around. “I’ve been saving for a Vespa.”

“A scooter? You are such a girl.”

“What would you suggest then?”

“If you’re going to have to get a motorcycle endorsement anyway, just get a bike.”

Kayleigh zooms around the city, ignoring her GPS and getting us lost a few times. Saint learned the hard way with Kayleigh to never, ever question her driving or her sense of direction. You’ll find yourself kicked out of the car in the middle of nowhere. From what I figured out was that Saint was giving her crap about something else entirely and she kicked him out of the car. We finally find the junkyard, almost forty minutes after leaving school. 

“Do you want me to wait for you in case y’all need a ride home?” Kayleigh asks, pulling down the visor mirror. 

“Stay here, I’ll go see if I can find him,” Leo says getting out of the Jetta. “Briony, you want to come with me?”

“Go,” Kayleigh mouths to me. “I’ll just stay here and lock all my doors.”

I get out of the car, slinging my bag over my shoulder. A booming bark startles me and I bump into Leo’s side. 

“If you wanted to be close to me Briony, all you had to do was ask,” Leo says. 

“I don’t get you sometimes,” I say, adjusting the hem of my shirt. “One minute you’re condescending jackass and the next you try to kiss me.”

“What about you?” he asks, walking towards the trailer in the center of the junkyard.

“What about me?” 

“You’re mean to me, you yell at me and drop a six year old on my head. You have done nothing that gives me any indication that you like me at all.”

“Leo, I do like you. Why do you think I asked you to Homecoming?”

“You didn’t ask, you made a bet.”

“Same thing.”

“Look Briony, I like you. Other than your insane wake up calls, you have been the bright spot in this whole move to Nola,” Leo says, stopping. “But I also want to do this right. My last girlfriend and I…Let’s just say it wasn’t good.”

“You’ve more than likely ran into my ex by now,” I say, taking a step closer to him. “I won’t bore you with the gory details. But I want a good guy. Can you be a good guy?”

“We’ll just have to see.” 

He lightly traces my cheeks with his thumbs. I step closer to him. I rock up onto my toes as he’s so much taller than me. I feel his warm, inviting breath on my neck. Leaning closer, wrapping my arms around his neck. 

“Hey!” a voice shouts from close by. “What the Sam Hell you think you kids is doin’?”

Leo and I jump apart. We stare at the man holding up a double barrel shotgun. “We’re looking for a Clayson Marshall ?” Leo says, pulling me behind him. “He’s got a motorcycle I’m interested in buying.”

“Dangerous place to be wanderin’ about in,” the man says, lowering the gun. “Clayson! Git yer ass out here, boy!”

A younger man scrambles out of the trailer. “What’s goin’ on, Pa?”

“You got company.” The scraggily man in the dirty Dale Ernhardt t-shirt, spits a  stream of tobacco into the dirt. He walks around Clayson and back into the trailer, slamming the door. 

“You Leo?” Clayson asks. 

“Yeah. I called you about the ‘87 Harley Road King.”

“Right. Come on behind the trailer.”

Leo snakes his arm around my waist and we walk towards the trailer. Several pit bulls chained to posts bark at us as we walk past. One lunges at me and I shriek and move around Leo. 

“Relax,” he whispers into my ear. “I’ve got ya.”

Clayson throws up a garage door and Leo whistles. Lined up along the wall of the garage are at least twenty different bikes of all makes and models. It’s like biker Mecca. I wish I knew more about bikes to be able to help Leo pick a good one. 

“Leo, you want me to call Kayles and tell her she can go home?” I ask, before I lose him to gears and grease. 

“You don’t have to stay,” he answers, running his hands over a polished Harley. 

“Like I’m really going to walk back to the car by myself! I’m going to call Kayleigh.” I step out in the sunshine, keeping my eye out for the dogs. I punch in Kayleigh’s speed dial and wait for her to pick up. 

“Did Leo pick out a bike yet?” she asks. 

“There’s a lot here so, we may be awhile. I didn’t want to have to make you wait around for us.”

“I don’t mind waiting.”

“I think we’ll be okay,” I say. “Oh and we almost kissed again.”

“I want details later!”

“Briony! Come check this one out!” Leo shouts. 

I hang up on Kayleigh and rush back into the garage. Leo’s standing next to a blue, white and black motorcycle. The chrome on the bike is so polished and shiny I can see my reflection in it. Leo and Clayson talk about things about the bike that go way over my head. The questions I have are the typical girl questions. Does it run? Does it need more work than it’s worth? And the big one: How much is this going to cost me?

“It’s a 1987 Harley Road King, will seat two comfortably,” Clayson says, smirking at me. He’s missing several teeth. “It’s got all new parts and paint job. Shouldn’t need much upkeep.”

“Can I test it out?” Leo asks, looking over the bike, checking it’s various knobs and leavers. 

“Let me kind the keys.” Clayson goes over to a pegboard on the wall. 

Leo walks around the bike a few more times muttering to himself. He climbs onto the bike, shifting his weight, getting a feel of the bike. “Briony, climb on. You’re going to be riding whatever bike I get. I want you to be comfortable.”

“You’re kidding? I’m not getting on that thing.”

“Don’t act like you haven’t thought about it. Get on the bike.”

“Promise you won’t go too fast?” I ask, adjusting my bag, climbing on the back of the bike. I wrap my arms around his waist and lay my head on his shoulder. “I swear if you go fast, I will melt every single one of your screamer rock CDs.”

“Yes ma’am.”

Clayson came back over and handed Leo the keys. “There’s a GPS unit on the bike so no funny business.”

“No funny business, sir,” Leo says. “This one here will make sure of it.”

“Smart ass.”

Leo turns the key and the bike roars to life. Leo revs the engine and he zooms out of the garage and out into the junkyard. He expertly weaves his way around the massive piles of junk and old cars. He pauses at the main gate and signals right and gets onto the street. He takes a few more turns, revving the engine. He slows to a stop at a red light.

“You doing okay, babe?” Leo asks, looking over his shoulder, “You were gripping me a little tight back there.”

“I’m good,” I say. “It’s a rush.”

“I really like this bike. I think I’m going to make an offer. Hang on.”

Leo drives off and we stop at another light a few blocks down. A cop car pulls up next to us. Out of habit, I look to the left to see who was in the car. I look at the cop in the window. Oh shit.

“Leo whatever you do, do not zoom away. My father is in the next car.”

We weren’t that lucky. Daddy flipped the lights on the cruiser and beeped his siren. He takes one look at me and points to the next parking lot. Leo slowly guides the bike into the lot and kills the engine. I mentally prepare my statement. 

“License, registration and proof of insurance, son,” Niverson, Daddy’s partner says to Leo. “Step away from the bike while you’re at it.”

Leo hands his information to Niverson while Daddy pulls me aside. 

“You want to tell me what the hell you’re doing on the back of a motorcycle with some guy?” Daddy says. 

“Daddy, that is Leo Warren, Martin’s nephew. He’s looking at purchasing that bike. We’re just taking it for a test drive,” I explain. 

“Hey Baron,” Niverson calls. “Kid doesn’t have registration for the bike. Want me to run the plates to see if it’s stolen?”

Daddy pauses like he’s thinking about it. “Daddy! Don’t you dare. Leo, did not steal this bike. He’s taking it for a test drive.”

“Detective St. Regis, we’re just test driving the bike. The guy who owns it lives at the junkyard on Westbank. Clayson Marshall.”

This is such bullshit. Daddy’s going to book Leo on grand theft auto because he caught me on the back of said motorcycle. Daddy looks from Niverson to Leo and back. I can see the wheels in his head turning. He has his third and long face on. I’ve seen it so many times. It’s a face he makes when he has to make a big decision, much like a coach or quarterback during third and long, thus the third and long face.

“Daddy, Mr. Marshall is going to think Leo stole that bike if he doesn’t get it back to him. Can we go please?”

“You,” Daddy says pointing at Leo. “Take the bike back. And you, get in the car. I’ll take you home.”

“But Daddy-”

“Briony Adrian,” Daddy begins. 

“Yes sir. Leo, I’ll see you back at Martin and Isabel’s.”

Daddy puts his hand on my shoulder and directs me to his squad car. I look back at Leo. He gets back on the bike and starts it up, pulling away. Daddy opens the car door and waits for me to get inside. Once inside Daddy slams the door and goes to the passenger door. 

“Briony Adrian St. Regis, what the hell are you doing on the back of some punk kid’s motorcycle?” Daddy demands. 

“Oh my God, Daddy! I told you already. Leo’s shopping for a new bike. He asked me at lunch today to go with him as he doesn’t know the city that well yet. He got a lead on a bike and Kayleigh dropped us off at the junkyard.”

Daddy pops his neck from side to side. That’s his usual tic when he’s frustrated. When Saint and I were little that gesture usually meant a whipping was coming our way. And in Daddy’s eyes, I’m not too big to whip. 

“Daddy, Leo’s Martin’s nephew from Boston. You’d know that if-”

“Not one more word out of you Briony. Until I get to the bottom of all this, you’re staying at the apartment with Cecelia and I. Clearly, you living with Martin and Isabel has not been for the best.”

“Daddy you’re being unfair. I told you what was going on, which is the truth, and you’re blowing it completely out of proportion.”

“Were you or were you not supposed to pick up Meredith and Belle from school this afternoon?” 

“Is that what this is all about? Isabel told me this morning that she would be picking up Belle and Meredith.”

“Then why did I get a call from a frantic pair of teachers and two sobbing little girls thinking they had been forgotten about?”

“Oh no,” I whisper, digging into my bag for my phone. Being jostled by my books, it had gotten turned off at some point in the day. I have ten texts from Miss Isabel stating that she got called into a meeting with a client and wouldn’t be able to pick up the girls after school. “Fuck!”

“Not only did you not return anyone’s calls or be the responsible Briony we all know, you’re off gallivanting all over the city on the back of a motorcycle!”

“It’s not my fault!” I cry. “I was going on information that I had been given earlier in the day. I cannot be everywhere all the time! I am seventeen years old! I love Meredith and Belle but they are not my kids. I agreed to help out with Belle while you and Cecelia work. But you cannot sit there Daddy, and berate me for doing something a normal seventeen year old would do because of a miscommunication!”

There is silence in the squad car. This is the most I have ever sassed my father in a very long time. At this point I don’t really care if I’m in for a whipping when we get home. I was told that I got the afternoon off to be a normal teenager instead of a second mother. “I am not the only one who is capable of picking up Belle and Meredith. Why can’t Meme Char or Auntie Rhetta take care of Belle in the afternoons? Both I am sure would love to spend more quality time with her?”

“That’s not the point, Briony,” Daddy argues. “You messed up.”

“You know something Daddy, I can’t be responsible for Belle and Meredith twenty-four/seven. I have other things I would like to do. Miss Stacy wants me to write a voodoo advice column for the school paper. I’d like to audition for the fall play. But I can’t because I have to be responsible. Find a new go to person because I’m done. I quit.”

The squad car comes to a stop at a red light. I pull on the handle of the back door and surprisingly it opens. I get out of the car and slam the door. I dodge a bike messenger and hot dog cart, before getting to the sidewalk. I will eventually apologize to Miss Isabel and Daddy for this but for right now, I just want to be pissed off.