Context: Hillbilly Haven (Part 1)
Inside Manny’s house, the younger kids were hanging out in the living room playing video games. As soon as we came in, Manny hollered at them to clean up their mess and go up to clean their rooms. The boys moaned and dragged their feet upstairs. Manny pointed to a chest in the living room and told me that he thought most of Cass’s books were in it and that I could look through it to see if there was anything interesting. Chuck asked Manny where Cass was. “Probably somewhere licking his wounds,” Manny replied. Then he told Chuck about how the “skank” Cass dated through high school dumped him after graduation.
“This is supposed to be the best summer of his life, and he’s sulking around here like a zombie. And you know I told him, I tell him all the time, he’s got to get over her. It’s not like you marry people you meet when you’re a teenager. And if you do… it just goes to shit anyway later on. You don’t know what people are going to be when they get older. I mean look at his whore mom, she was an angel back when we were kids.” Manny stopped talking realizing he’d said too much in front of a stranger…and child. He said something to the effect of “my bad” before he and Chuck went into Manny’s office to do whatever outstanding paperwork prompted the trip.
The chest was slim pickings. There was an old geometry book, I chose to ignore was there (I effing HATE geometry), and other than that I looked like everything else was just middle school level crap: Georgia History, pre-algebra etc etc. I gave up on my “search” after about 5 minutes and sat down on their couch with my hands in my pockets bored out of my mind. Then he walked in.
A 6-foot sun-kissed-olive-toned beauty came through the front door. He tossed his frayed baseball cap on the couch and went to the kitchen to get a drink of milk, straight out the jug. I stared. My mouth was probably gaped open as the whole world slowed down like the entrance of the “hot girl” in every 80s teen movie. The lyrics of Salt N Peppa’s song Shoop ran through my head. He was the guy they were singing about. If looks could kill, he would have been an oozie! His hair was cut short, almost buzzed, and his grey Abercrombie T-shirt and basketball shorts were wearing him oh so nicely. I probably drooled a little when I opened my mouth to try to say “yes” when he came back to the TV room and asked if I was Zeda. Also pretty sure the sound that came out was “yuh.” I was gone.
He reached his hand out to offer me a handshake. The strongest most sensual handshake any hand could ever experience. As he shook my hand, we locked eyes for a second. His eyes were greenish brown and his smile…his teeth were so perfect. Second time in my life, I fell in love at first sight and it had to be obvious cause I was grinning like an idiot.
“I set the books out for you upstairs in my room, I’ll bring em down so you can check through em”
“Sure do” I mumbled back, still dumbfounded. Probably drooling. He laughed. I realized I was making an ass of myself and tried to correct my unintelligible idiocy. “I mean, I yea. Sure. Thanks.”
I watched him walk upstairs. His back was the perfect T shape and his butt… his butt was impeccable. This boy awakened some hormones I didn’t even realize I had. The dude was next level sexy. But thankfully I was able to regain at least a fragment of composure by the time he came back downstairs.
I took most of the books he had to offer except Spanish, still rebelling against my mom’s bitchiness in the counselor’s office my first day at Riverwood. He had the same Advanced Algebra and Trigonometry book that my school used. Since I hadn’t finished Algebra 2 yet, he offered to come by Chuck and Caroline’s to help tutor me if I got stuck on anything. In addition to the books, he leant me his graphing calculator, I had to promise wouldn’t run off with it when I went back to Atlanta.
“Those things are like 100 bucks,” he said. “I don’t think they’ll be handing them out in college classes for me to be able to get another one”
“You stole this?”
“Technically. I mean, technically all of this was supposed to be turned back in at the end of the year. I just kept it for…you know… sentimental value”
Gorgeous, smart, and funny. This guy was pure perfection. It’s like someone reached into my brain and pulled out the dream guy I envisioned having 6 babies with when I was 10 and added a permanent tan. I didn’t know how anyone could be dumb enough to break up with someone so perfect, but I wanted to write his ex a thank you letter.
After we were done picking out books we got into the same old same old small talk I seemed to have with every teenager I met over the years, favorite shows from our childhood, favorite bands, favorite tv shows, college plans (he was going to go to North Georgia). It may have been the lust that the sheer proximity of him to me on the couch was invoking, but he was incredibly easy to talk to. Maybe 10 minutes into the conversation Chuck and Manny came in the living room. Manny asked Cass if he could stick around long enough to keep an eye out on his brothers while Manny and Chuck went over to their office to get some papers. Chuck asked if I wanted to come with them, I looked at Cass, whose knee was less than an inch away from mine next to me on the couch, and shook my head no. There was no way I was leaving this spot.
“I’m cool. I wait here.”
Manny yelled upstairs to the younger boys that he’d be back in an hour and that their room better be clean. The kids called back “we’re on it!” then Manny clapped his hands together and said “alright, I’ll pick up lunch on the way back,” and walked out the door. Chuck hesitated a split second before following Manny out.
As soon as the door shot, the other boys ran back downstairs and went right to the videogame. They were loud, they were rambunctious, and they were incredibly annoying. Eventually, Cass told them to chill the hell out to which Hesse, the second oldest of the boys, replied “what, you can’t hear yourself crying?” The other boys laughed and started falling all over the floor crying “Oh Erica, why? Why? Why? Baby please why? Ahhhhhhhh”
Cass rushed over to Hesse and jacked him up against the wall “Say something else!” he warned through clenched teeth. The other boys shut up and watched as Hesse, clearly shit-scared, laughed. Then, in a refusal to be intimidated Hesse said “Erica” again. Cass threw him down and stormed out the front door. Visibly shaken, Hesse called Cass a bitch under his breath, snatched the controller away from one of the smaller kids.
I interrupted the most awkward of silences by standing up and asking if I could get something to drink. Kitch offered to get me some lemonade. “No thanks,” I replied. “Just, where are the glasses” Hesse, irritated, called out “cabinet next to the fridge,” without breaking gaze with the game.
I poured two glasses then went out the front door hoping to find Cass out on the porch. He was in their driveway shooting hoops, probably trying to blow off steme. The thud of the screen door slamming behind me caught his attention. He looked over at me and then came walking back to the porch, tossing the ball in the grass on his way. He sat in the chair next to me, I handed him the lemonade not saying anything. He thanked me and apologized for the scene from earlier.
“No need,” I replied. “Siblings fight. Well, brothers fight. Sisters try to kill each other.” That made him chuckle, so I continued. “When I’d be sleeping, my little sister would come up and BAM jump right on my back knee first, little bitch was trying to cripple me.”
“You ever see her?”
“Nah… I mean we used to talk, but…”
“Yea.. I know…my dad… He’s got a big mouth”
“Yea…” I paused, a little more than slightly embarrassed. “So…. She’s an idiot, you know.” I said trying to offer some comfort while simultaneously diverting attention from my fucked-up life story. He looked at me puzzled by the comment… “Your dad’s got a big mouth.” Cass nodded his head, laughed, and then repeated the general story of what his dad had already told me.
“I was gonna ask her to marry me. Even had the ring picked out that I was gonna get her. If she wants to run around fucking everyone in a 30-mile radius that’s on her. I’m just lucky she changed shit up now instead of later.”
Awkward silence. Both of us just looking around and occasionally out into the horizon.
“So how long are you going to be with Chuck and Caroline” Apparently, I wasn’t the only person looking to divert the conversation away from their personal shitstorm.
“Not sure…” Another minute of awkward silence.
“So, what…are you tying to get into an orphanage or something?”
“There’s no such thing as orphanages. They have shelters and group homes.”
“Yea, my little brothers were in a shelter once. When they got taken from my mom.”
Then he told me the story of his family dysfunction. All of his brothers were half-brothers. His mom was white and she and his dad split cause she got pregnant by some black guy. Then she had the 2nd middle one right after the other. The youngest was from his dad and stepmom. His mom was pretty “fucked up and crazy” probably on drugs, but he wasn’t sure. When his brothers got taken, his biological mom asked his dad to take them in, and he did. It was just supposed to be till she got a new place for them to stay…but she never did and she never came back. Eventually his dad adopted the two middle ones.
“And you’d think that, you know, that he would have said fuck that, those aren’t my kids or that he’d treat them at different than me and Junior, but he doesn’t.” I smiled at the verification that his dad was indeed awesome as hell. Then I told him his brothers lucked out. I laid out the life they would have had if they stayed in Dfacs. About how much shelters suck, and how the staff could be total assholes and no one would care. For the suck, I mostly focused on talking about how many times I had assholes laugh and rub in the fact that they got to leave at the end of their shift, but that we would still be stuck in the shelter.
“What about foster homes” he asked. “Are they any better?” I told him about the one crazy Buddhist lady I lived with when I was 13. How she would scream at me over not closing shower curtains and force me to go to Buddhist church with her, how she’d berate me, and how she’d make fun of me for trying ‘acting white’
“And I am like what the hell, if listening to Nine Inch Nails is me acting white, what the fuck was doing with that wanna-be Tina Turner Buddhist shit. Last I checked Buddhism is for Asians”
Then Cass held up his hands with his middle fingers touching his thumb and started chanting “Ommmalama ding dong diiitttch, your foster mom sounds like a biiitttchh” I laughed and punched him in the arm. Then he asked me why I would want to go back to all that.
“Don’t have a choice.” I replied.
“Yea you do… you could stay here….with Caroline and Chuck. They’re strict but it’s goto be better than that shit.”
“It is… I like it out here, but they don’t have the space. Besides the first time someone called me a nigger out here I’d probably end up going ham and end up swinging from somebody’s tree.”
“Oh MY GOD” He proclaimed. “You are so racist.”
“What? How is that…”
“You think that everybody out here are just backwoods racists. That makes you racist”
“No!” I laughed
“So, you don’t think everyone out here are hillbillies”
“No, of course not”
“Well we are. Black, white, yellow, everyone out here is a hillbilly, but do you think my big ass brown ass loudmouth dad would have raised us out here if everyone was racist cross-burning assholes?”
“Well, you aren’t black”
“My brothers are… Look, it’s nothing like that out here. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there are still some bigots. Me and my girl…ex-girlfriend…sometimes we’d be out and get the side eye from some asshole. Mostly it’s the old folk who are set in their ways, but they don’t bother anyone. I mean, I used to have this old guy call me darkie as a joke because I am so white. But the kids, our generation, everyone is equal. We don’t have any of that.”
“Okay, okay. So I won’t end up hanging from somebody’s tree. But, this whole thing at Chuck and Caroline’s… it’s temporary. They don’t got the space and it’s not like they have even hinted at wanting me to stay with them. It’s temporary.” I said, with the laughter leaving my voice trying to hold back the sudden urge I had to cry.
“You keep saying that.” Then he looked at me. Locked eyes with mine. His gaze was as captivating as the mountains. I couldn’t look away. “You saw the way Chuck looked at us before he left right?”
“I know that look. That’s the look of a father leaving his teenage daughter alone with a boy. Praying to GOD that she doesn’t get pregnant by the time he gets back.”
Did he just say that? I thought as I finally broke his gaze and stared intently down at my cup as if suddenly realizing that the last ice cube was the most interesting thing in the world. That made him laugh. “You know… I never seen a black girl blush before… all jokes aside, though… he cares about you. They care about you. I think…if you asked… this arrangement wouldn’t have to be temporary.
I nodded and smiled. I told him he was wrong.
“You think so?” He replied.
“Yea… that look. It was Chuck worried that the street rat he brought to his friend’s house would corrupt the country boy with the broken heart”
“Is that right?” he chuckled.
We chilled out there for a bit, alternating between talking and playing HORSE till Chuck and Manny came back with lunch. Chuck and I took ours to go, having been gone way longer than Chuck had planned we needed to get back across the mountain to Blairsville before a storm that was expected to roll in that started up.
On the way back, Chuck pointed out all the crosses set at various parts of the road and explained to me that they were for the kids who had died speeding along the curvy hilly mountain at night. He gave me a lecture on safe driving explaining that “driving in these parts was different than in Atlanta cause of all the drop offs.” He warned me that when I got my license, I needed to make sure to not be stupid. I hung on to his lecture. The wording of it all. WHEN I got my license. Driving around THESE parts was different from Atlanta. Suddenly I started wondering if there was some merit to what Cass was saying. That maybe my life in Blairsville didn’t have to be temporary.