At some point in history, Amos explained, while applying his third coat of ‘aqua dream’, men had painted their fingernails—as warriors maybe, or for a sense of tribal identity. As a Native American, he felt compelled to be different than all the white boys, even if it meant being called a fag. He didn’t care, he said. He got laid more looking like a fag than those white boys did looking like J-Crew models. Kate’s parents were wise enough to suspect his intentions, and they spent over an hour going over safe sex with her, even after she told them she was on birth control and always used condoms. Her mother was shocked.
“How did you get the money?” she asked.
“It was free,” Kate told her.
“How did you get there?”
“I took the Max.”
“Well next time I’m going with you,” her mother said, and crossed her arms.
The truth was, she wasn’t on birth control. She didn’t need to be, because she was still a virgin. She set up her appointment because she thought she’d caught herpes from Sylvie DeLucas. Sylvie had been Kate’s first actual girlfriend, but she didn’t consider herself a lesbian. She liked being one in art class, slinging her hair back under a handkerchief and refusing to cross her legs. In English class, seated next to John Tommasi, she let her hair down, wound it around her pinky and purposefully pouted her lips. When John cornered her at a party and asked her if she wouldn’t mind giving him a blowjob, she punched him in the face. That same night she met Sylvie, who had just shaved her head, and was graduating early from Sunset High to study physics in Europe. She got kicked out of AP History for calling the teacher a fascist, and when Kate questioned her as to why she made the accusation, Sylvie had responded by saying,
“Oh, so you’re one of those people that thinks we needed to drop the bomb on Japan. Please. It’s all brainwash.”
Their relationship ended on the way to the mall when Sylvie accused Kate of being too compliant; she had gotten out of the car at the next red light and taken the bus home. The next day, after finding suspicious looking bumps around her lips, she went to Planned Parenthood, and after the nurse informed her that it was not herpes and looked more like an allergic reaction, she remembered being at Sylvie’s house and chewing on a piece of bamboo, trying to look effortlessly cool.
“I’m allergic to grass,” she told the nurse, feeling like an idiot. The nurse gave her a bag of condoms and told her it was no charge.
She had met Amos in the waiting room, who was there with his soon to be ex-girlfriend, a 5’10” blond bombshell who always sat with her shoulders slumped. She kept thinking she was pregnant, but her lack of period was in fact due to her intensive bouts of bulimia, not exceptional sperm.
Then he had long, jet-black hair and wore neon bracelets up both arms. Amos and his girlfriend, Courtney, gave her a ride back home in his fathers Ranger pick-up truck, laughing the whole time over various Saturday Night Live skits that Amos could imitate very well, even while driving. Courtney wasn’t amused. She broke up with Amos an hour later when they were waiting in the drive through line at Burgerville. When Amos demanded that he give her back the onion rings he had just bought for her, she burst into tears, accusing him of calling her fat.
Within a week Amos was at Kate’s every night.
Her parents liked him, even with their concerns of corruption. He was polite, her mother always pointed out, and very intelligent. Her father agreed, adding that he was less annoying that most of her friends, and could actually hold a conversation.
Her father was convinced they were together, despite Kate’s denials.
“You don’t stay out all night anymore,” he pointed out, “and you don’t wear as much makeup.” He raised his eyebrows and shrugged.
“Sounds like love to me,” her mother would chime in. Kate just shook her head.
“Maybe I’m growing up,” she would counter, causing a grin to creep across her fathers face.
“Nah, that can’t be it.”
Kate had met Amos’ father only once, when she showed up at his front door, her 1995 Corolla running in the driveway.
“Hi, I’m Amos’ friend Kate,” she said, pulling open the screen door and extending her hand.
He looked her over suspiciously, and shouted for Amos, leaving her on the stoop as he walked down the hallway, dragging his left leg slightly.
Amos apologized in the car, his cheeks flushed.
“I’m sorry,” he said, brushing his hair away from his face, “he’s on a lot of pain killers for his leg and they make him act like an asshole—but he isn’t.” Kate nodded, pushing herself up against the back of the seat to avoid the suns glare.
“He got in a car accident a few years ago, before we moved to Portland, and he’s been on them ever since.” He flipped through the radio stations distractedly.
“And, he just doesn’t trust women. He thinks they’re evil.”
“Didn’t your mom cheat on him?”
“Yeah, with about five different guys.”
Amos shrugged it off but later that night he fell asleep on the couch at her house, and despite the many times he stayed overnight, there was never a call from his father. Kate took it upon herself to shower Amos with the attention she thought he deserved.
They spent all summer together. They took the Corolla downtown and went shopping at secondhand stores, drank coffee and smoked cigarettes. They purchased bigger and bigger sunglasses as an ongoing joke. They made fun of the girls who read Cosmo and Seventeen magazine, claiming they knew more than any of those dimwits. Kate had her own secret stash of Cosmo under her bed and sometimes read them at night, comparing her body to those of the models, taking quizzes to find out what kind of roommate she was, when she would know if it was true love, if she had high self-esteem. She never bought into any of the ideas, but sometimes considered the fact that it might be easier to do so. This idea was laughed off by Amos.
“You’re too beautiful to get wrapped up in all that shit,” he said, lowering his sunglasses to look her in the eye, “and you know it.” She would roll her eyes, thinking to herself that it was much easier for boys to be different.
They people watched, assuming the lifestyles of strangers based upon the way they walked, the kind of shoes they wore, whether or not they jaywalked. Kate picked up a boom box for five dollars at a yard sale and for two weeks straight they listened to nothing but David Bowie, playing every album they could get their hands on. It was broken the same night as Amos’ nose, the night of Lori Petzer’s eighteenth birthday party in Fieldstone Manors, the newest mini-mansion development in Beaverton.
They had been invited by Sylvie’s younger sister Samantha, who had an innocent crush on Amos that he was more than willing to take advantage of, despite Kate’s warnings of Sylvie’s temper. For the party Kate painted her nails ‘jaded pink’ and wore her new boots, the heels grinding against the pavement of the driveway as she turned for Amos, the headlights of his truck throwing her shadow onto the garage door.
Amos had buzzed his hair and dyed it platinum blond, his black eyebrows now looking painted on, eyes intensified without the backdrop of hair. The air filled up with the smell of wet pavement as the neighborhoods sprinkler systems turned on. For the ride they listened to Hunky Dory on the boom box to make up for the non-existent stereo, belting out the lyrics to “Oh You Pretty Things” over the sounds of the engine.
Fireworks were being lit off in the front yard when they arrived, the frantic whistlings of bottle rockets trumpeting through the air. Having brought no money for keg cups, Kate conned two from Hannah Fredricks, a girl who repeatedly spied on Kate’s quizzes in Calculus. She had blond red hair and deep dark brown eyes, ‘like melted chocolate’ Kate would say, and she could run the mile in five and a half minutes.
“She never wears underwear,” Amos said, once they were at a safe distance, “and her father grows weed in the basement.”
“That’s not true!”
“Which part don’t you believe?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. She laughed, waiting for Hannah to turn around so she could check for panty lines.
In the kitchen a group of boys was gathered around the kitchen table, a mostly empty bottle of Wild Turkey in the center. Kate stepped up and demanded a shot, to a round of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ from the boys. As the liquor burned its way down her throat she heard a girl shrieking,
“My father’s whiskey! I told you not to touch the liquor cabinet! Jake—didn’t I tell you not to touch the liquor cabinet?” Jake swayed back and forth, his fingers still gripped around an empty shot glass. Her eyes are wide, expecting an answer.
“Whoopsee,” is all he manages to get out, and Lori storms away.
In the living room a dance party is being sponsored by the boom box, the entire room half singing, half slurring ‘Young Americans’ while Kate attempts to dance by spinning around in circles and jumping up and down. Amos, having escaped with Samantha an hour earlier, returns with a frustrated look on his face, whispering loudly to Kate,”she called me an asshole and then she passed out.”
Halfway through the album the whiskey boys came in, demanding a change in music.
“We’ve been listening to this fag music all night,” a blond boy said, directing the comment to no one in particular.
“Let’s put on some Metallica,” another boy said, and they all nodded emphatically.
“How is this fag music?” Kate asked, the boom box swinging from her hands like a pendulum, “Bowie wasn’t a fag, he just did a lot of coke, and from the looks of it, that’s something you have in common.” The room fell silent for a second as the CD moved to the next track and the blond boy tried to form a retort. All he could think of was,
“Bitch,” to which all his buddies again nodded. One went to grab the CD player from her hands and she pulled it away.
“Metallica sucks anyway,” Amos chimed in from behind her, his eyes darkening. Blond boy looked at Amos and laughed.
“And you think that because you are a fag…both of you are.”
“Well if we’re both fags, than so are you,” Kate says, her voice sharpened now, all traces of slurring gone. The boy, teeth clenched, grabs the boom box, and Kate, with her increasingly useful self defense mechanism, punches him square in the jaw. On his way down the boom box is launched into the air, striking Amos at the bridge of his nose, and upon hitting the floor the buttons break off, scattering on the carpet. The blond boy is on his elbows, opening and closing his mouth, a purplish bruise already spreading up to his ear. Amos is splayed out, blood trickling from his nose onto the carpet, when suddenly, from the doorway Lori shrieks,
“Oh my god! The carpet! How am I going to get blood out of the carpet?”
Amos groans in the shotgun seat of Hannah Fredrick’s car while Kate holds a kitchen towel over his nose from the backseat. On the way Hannah recounts the story as an observer, turning around in the seat to show Kate the look on the crowds faces throughout. They arrive at the E.R. at 2am, and Hannah insists on waiting with them. Kate calls her parents to explain and gives them the details of the fight.
“How’s your hand?” her father asks, voice groggy from sleep. She can hear him getting up, her mother asking questions slowly, him struggling into jeans.
“It hurts pretty bad,” she admits, pressing it harder into the ice pack the nurse had given her.
“You really have to start using your words,” her father said, “I’m calling Amos’ father and I’m coming down.”
Kate took a seat next to Amos, who’s voice was nasally from the swelling of his nose.
“Thanks for sticking up for me,” he said, looking at her with bloodshot eyes.
“Don’t flatter yourself,” she said, “I was just defending my boom box. I paid five bucks for that thing.”
“I’m gonna look really badass for the first day of school,” he said, trying to laugh.
“Yeah. No one’ll mess with us.”
Hannah returns with three ginger ales and more aspirin. Together they sit and wit, agreeing that Lori Petzer’s eighteenth birthday party will go down in Sunset High history.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED