Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

After School Special

 

Michael’s locker had a Hood-Colby 2012 bumper sticker plastered diagonally across the front of it. Parts of it had been defaced with Sharpie graffiti, and other parts had been covered by other stickers. Michael spun the combination of his lock and pulled the door open, shoving his books inside. His notebooks also had the campaign sticker on them, but those were less vandalized. He was stocking his book bag when Callie Marcus broke through the crowd of other students. Michael glanced up to her, realized he didn’t want to look like he was staring, and then looked anywhere but her.

“Hey, Michael. What’s your last name today?”

“Uh…”

She laughed, her hands turned backward to grip the straps of her book bag. She wore a baggy purple shirt and artfully torn blue jeans. Her red hair was trying to escape from under a pageboy cap. He noticed all of this with just a glance; he was a scholar when it came to Callie Marcus. “Relax. I’m just busting your chops.”

The question about his last name was a running joke between them, but he had yet to think of an appropriate comeback. They’d met in the same kindergarten class, so she first knew him as Michael Costa. In second grade, after the divorce, he showed up at school as Michael Hood. When they made the move from elementary school to the high school, he answered roll call as Michael Hood-Colby.

“It’s going to be Hood-Colby from now on.”

“Good to know. Need a ride home?”

“Sure.” He shut his locker and slung his backpack over his right shoulder. Callie started walking and he fell into step beside her. “Are you not giving Amber a ride home today?”

“Nah.” He waited for her to expand, but she didn’t. They went out to the parking lot and Callie twisted at the waist to look back at him. “I’m not going straight home. I have to run a few errands. That okay?”

Michael didn’t want to admit he was willing to spend all night in the car if it meant spending time with her. Besides, both Mom and Jill gave him a bit of leeway on when he was supposed to be home, and it wasn’t like they would be there to make sure. He just shrugged and feigned indifference. “Whatever. Sure.”

“Cool.”

A couple of girls in school drove brand-new cars, shiny red showroom models that gleamed in the sun. Callie drove her mom’s beat-up station wagon with duct tape on the backseat and a microcosm of a junkyard in the back. Michael loved it. He thought it had the most character he’d ever seen in a car, and it fit Callie’s personality perfectly. She tossed her bag into the backseat as Michael got in.

“You sure your moms won’t mind you being late?”

“Jill doesn’t get home until after five, and Mom’s usually a lot later than that with the campaign and all.”

Other kids were getting to their cars and joining the line to leave the parking lot, so Callie stayed put until the line got shorter. She started the engine and turned on the radio. Michael didn’t mind waiting. Callie’s car smelled like apples and rain. He didn’t know how she managed that; eventually the rain smell should become more like mildew, but in her car it was always a few minutes after a rainstorm.

“My parents are going to vote for your mom.” Callie tossed her hat into the backseat and tilted to fix her hair in the rearview mirror.

“Oh.” Michael didn’t know what to say to that. Thanks? “She, uh, will appreciate it.”

“Is it weird? Not the mayor thing. I mean, Miss Colby, Hood-Colby, I guess now… she was our teacher. Is it weird to see her all the time in your house?”

Michael shrugged. “I used to think so. But now Jill’s just Mom’s wife, and it’s kind of weird that she was my teacher. I’m used to her and Mom being together.”

“That makes sense.” Traffic had cleared up, so Callie pulled out of the spot. “I’ve got to pick up some stuff from the grocery store. It could take a while.”

“I don’t mind.”

She smiled. “Cool. I was hoping to use your big manly muscles to carry the groceries in.”

It always took him a little while to relax with Callie, and the moment had come when he could act casual without thinking about it. He started shaking his head. “Whoa, hey, I didn’t sign up for manual labor.”

“You’re in the car, the car is moving…” She lifted her hands off the wheel and shrugged. “Too late to back out now, Mister… what was your last name again?”

“Bond. Michael Bond.”

She snorted. “Oh, God.”

Michael watched the town go by out the window. He remembered his mother taking him to the little stand on the boardwalk outside Gail’s and buying him ice cream, and sitting with him on a bench so they could watch the boats. He hadn’t been hungry for the ice cream; the moment stank too much of when she and his Dad sat with him in the living room and cautiously explained they were getting a divorce. He could tell she had something to say, and he wished she would just say it and get it over with.

“It’s been kind of interesting having Jill around lately, huh?”

“Yeah.” So that was it. Jill was going away. He swore he wouldn’t cry in public, and it would be even worse because they were surrounded by summer tourists. He couldn’t help but feel betrayed. He really liked Jill, even when she was just his teacher she’d been really cool, and he loved having her around. He liked how she made Mom happier and more… everything. It would suck to go back to the way things had been.

“What if she was around… more?” He looked at her. She was looking out at the water, and she was messing with his hair the way she did when she thought he needed a haircut. She looked scared, too, and she looked at him and forced a smile. “Like all the time?”

“Are you gonna get married?”

“No! I mean, not yet.” She shuffled her feet and looked down at her shoes. “It’s only been five months. But Jill’s rent is going up, and she talked about maybe having to move somewhere else on the island. She’s been looking at classifieds and I keep thinking that I should offer to let her stay with us. What do you think about that?”

He smiled. “I think it would be awesome.”

She grinned. “I think it would be awesome, too. So I’ll ask her tonight.”

Callie pulled into the parking lot of the grocery store and unfastened her seat belt. “It’s just a few things. Promise.”

“It’s okay.” He got out and followed her into the store. There were three short rows of shopping carts separating the checkout counter from a huge display of canned soda. The employees wore red polo shirts and white khakis. Callie separated a cart from its interlocked brethren, then took out her black-and-purple Velcro wallet and retrieved a much-folded list paper-clipped to a pair of twenties. She turned to him. “You want to tear the list in two and we both do half, or just work it together?”

“Might as well work it together.”

“Cool.” She guided the cart toward the back of the store, and Michael walked alongside it. He didn’t really, truly understand what was happening. Was he on a date? Or was this just two friends hanging out together after school? He’d never gone grocery shopping with Justin or Chris. If they’d asked he would have laughed in their faces. But with Callie, he didn’t mind. He linked his fingers around the metal grille of the cart and guided it down one of the aisles. Callie put both feet on the bottom rack and let him drive her.

She pointed out items from the list, and Michael deposited them in the cart. Up and down the aisles, occasionally stopping to check the price of a name brand versus store brand. More often than not, they decided on store brand.

“So what’s your mom gonna change when she’s mayor?”

“I don’t know. I know she’s working on budget stuff. She’s really excited. She says there’s a lot of stuff she saw that needed to be changed, but she didn’t have the power. If she’s mayor, she’ll finally be able to do something. She wants to give the police a raise.”

Callie said, “Huh,” and then pointed, “Applesauce.”

“Cinnamon or the regular?”

“Regular. And get the bigger one.”

He put it in the cart and hauled it around the corner, turning to pull her onto the next aisle. “Are you doing that paper for Squire’s Day?”

She rolled her eyes. “Yes. Mr. Cameron is all, ‘we need to appreciate the history of our island and the people who,’ blah blah blah. I hate history.”

“Those who don’t know it are doomed to repeat it.”

“That’s what Mr. Cameron says. You probably like history, huh?”

From anyone else, he would bristle and defend himself. But Callie sounded genuinely impressed. “Sure. I think it’s interesting. Math, though. It’s like… Chinese. Like someone Chinese writing German.”

She chuckled. “Numbers don’t change.”

“Neither does history.”

She blew a raspberry at him. Her tongue was tiny, pink, and perfect. He tried not to think about it. “So your parents are really going to vote for Mom?”

“Well, Mom is. Dad doesn’t really vote.” She threw her weight back to stop him from moving forward. “Wait. We need vanilla extract.”

“What? What for?”

“I don’t know, but it’s on the list.” She scanned the shelf, worrying her bottom lip with her teeth as she read the labels. “Imitation orange, imitation cinnamon. What’s with all this imitation stuff?”

“I think it’s for cooking. Here it is. Vanilla extract.”

“Huh.” She shrugged and put it in the cart. “Whatever. Onward, mule.”

He smirked as he continued on. At the boxed dinners, she dismounted from the cart and stood next to him to read the labels of the different meals. She was close enough that he could smell her scent. She smelled like soap – Irish Spring, which was very fitting – and watermelon lip balm. He didn’t look forward to when she… or, um, girls at school in general… were old enough to start wearing perfume and masked that fresh, clean smell.

“Sound good?”

“Huh?”

She snapped her fingers in front of his eyes and held up a box of Hamburger Helper Lasagna. “Sound good?”

“Oh. Sure.”

Callie laughed. “Boy, the bell rings and you just shut down, huh?”

“Sorry, I’m supposed to be riveted while buying someone else’s groceries?”

“It’s not the task that’s riveting, it’s the company.” She winked one green eye at him, and he was glad she turned back to the cart too quickly to see him blush. “Just a few more things and then you’ll be freed from your servitude.”

“Hallelujah.” He waited for her to be back on the cart’s rack before he pulled.

“Whiny little bitch.”

“Said the diva being pulled around the store by her mule.” He admitted it, if just to himself; he was trying to prompt her to stick her tongue out at him again. He failed. That time. She just narrowed her eyes at him, pursed her lips, and went back to scanning the list. “We need milk.”

“Milk is all the way back on the side of the store where we started!”

“Whine, whine…”

He rolled his eyes.

After what seemed like the rest of the afternoon, she declared the list completed. They waited in the blissfully short line and Callie paid with the money from the paperclip. Either her mom was extraordinary at guessing, or Callie was a genius with prices, because she got back two shiny dimes and a penny. Michael pushed the cart back to the sea of metal where it had been retrieved and pulled the bags out. His shoulders pulled, and his meager biceps bulged, but he wasn’t going to let Callie see him strain.

She had folded the receipt into quarters and slipped it under the paperclip, tucking the Goth wallet into her back pocket as she led him out. She opened the back door for him, and he deposited the bags on the floor so they wouldn’t slide off the seat when she took a turn. When they were back in the front seat, she twisted and searched through the bags. Michael ignored the way her purple shirt, once baggy, now pulled against her chest.

“Nice girlfriend you got there, Mikey.” That was Chris.

“She’s not my girlfriend.” Don’t blush, don’t blush, don’t blush, and for the love of God, don’t protest too much.

“Whoever she is, she dresses like a hobo.”

Justin smiled. “You know why she dresses that way, don’cha?”

Michael hunched his shoulders. “Shut up, Justin.”

“She didn’t start wearing those shirts until she was thirteen, and then she started wearing her dad’s hand-me-downs. Joe has PE with her, and she has to wear a sports bra ’cause they keep bouncing up into her face.” He cupped his hands in front of his chest. “She’s got bigguns.”

“Shut up,” Michael said, blushing bright red now.

“Aw, we’re gonna make him cry.”

Justin said, “I’d cry, too, if I had a girlfriend with honkers like that. Tears of joy!”

Michael spun on his friend and slugged Justin five times in the arm, and Justin called him a name, and then the topic had been changed to something else.

Michael was ashamed to confirm, with his own eyes, inches in front of his face, the reason Callie wore baggy shirts. Damn Justin and his stupid big mouth.

She dropped back into the seat with a box of chocolate Swiss Rolls. He remembered on the candy aisle, when she’d said it didn’t matter what kind they got and let him choose. She tore the box open and took out one of the twin-wrapped packages. “These weren’t actually on the list. I wanted to get you something for helping me out.”

“Uh… thanks.” He took the package from her. Their fingers almost touched, but he couldn’t make it happen without looking awkward. “You want the other one?”

She shrugged. He opened the package and took out one, giving her the package back. Their fingers brushed that time. Success. He smiled and took a bite, and they ate their snacks in silence. He noticed that she took very dainty bites, closing her lips completely, sometimes touching the corners of her mouth with a finger in case of crumbs. Michael usually just ate them whole, one bite and gone. He restrained himself from doing that this time.

“You eat like a mouse.”

He didn’t know why he said it, but at least she smiled. “I gotta watch my waist.”

“Pft. You keep wearing baggy shirts like that, no one’s gonna notice.”

She blushed and he felt terrible. “Well, I’d like ’em to stay baggy. I don’t want to have to squeeze into them like some people.” They both laughed, knowing exactly who she was talking about. She shook her head. “That was mean. We shouldn’t talk about people like that. We don’t want them talking about us behind our backs, right?”

“Yeah.” He frowned. “Do people talk about me behind my back?”

“No,” she said, a little too quickly. She looked down at the empty wrapper in her hand. “Maybe sometimes. Nothing bad. They talk… about your moms.”

He could have guessed that. “Oh.”

“Not a lot. And it’s not even all bad. Some people think it’s really cool that your mom… you know, your moms…”

“Yeah.”

She winced as if preparing for a blow. “Do they talk about me?”

Oh, God. “Yeah.” She looked out the window. “They say you’re my girlfriend.”

Callie laughed suddenly, a sound of surprise and shock and, yeah, a little relief. “Oh, God, kill me now if that’s the rumor. Ugh.” She twisted her head and tucked her hair behind her ear. “Oh, well. I guess it could be worse.”

“Do your moms let you date?”

He shrugged. “Hasn’t really come up. I think they want me to wait until I’m older.” He looked out the window. The car was parked facing south, so he could see the elementary school across the street. Jill’s classroom was on the other side of the building, but he felt like he could feel her eyes on him.

“Mine too,” Callie said. “Mom said I could go to the junior prom next year, if I find someone who wants to take me.”

Michael didn’t want to just let that hang, but he couldn’t make himself say anything more than, “Oh. Well, you probably will.”

She grinned and turned on the car. “We should get the groceries back. You help me carry ’em in, and then I’ll take you home. Deal?”

He looked at his cell phone’s clock. It was only a quarter to four. “Sure.”

She left the parking lot and, as they passed the school, he twisted to see Jill’s car was still parked in the usual spot. He settled back into his seat and saw Callie glancing at him.

“Just checking. She’s still at school.”

“What does she do after school’s out?”

“Grades papers, cleans up the classroom, sets up the lesson plan for the next day.” He shrugged. “Stuff like that.”

“Oh. Cool.”

She drove to the edge of town, and he wondered if she passed the tall stone wall of the mayor’s house on purpose. He didn’t say anything, and she didn’t acknowledge it, so soon the barrier was left behind them and forgotten. She turned onto a residential street just past an auto repair shop with cars lined up on either side of the main drive. It wasn’t a bad neighborhood, but it wasn’t the sort of houses he was used to seeing. Sometimes people in December Harbor talked about “Shore people” and “Inlanders.” Callie and her family were definitely Inlanders.

She had gotten quiet, and he knew she was at least a little embarrassed by showing him where she lived. He wanted to tell her it didn’t matter, but he couldn’t think of a way to say it without making it sound like “I don’t care that you’re not as rich as me.” He’d never even considered himself rich, but maybe they were. They had a nice house, Mom and Jill both had nice cars… but they still worried about money. They were pinching pennies for the campaign, and he knew Mom sometimes thought they wouldn’t have enough to finish the election.

Callie pulled up into the driveway of a nice house with a home-base shaped porch that had a small roof over it. The driveway ran up alongside the house to a little shack-slash-garage in the backyard. There was a truck parked between her and the garage door, and she turned the words, “Oh, great,” into a melodic sigh. Up on the first word, crashing down on the second, and she sank into the seat. “All right. C’mon.”

Michael got out and took the bags from the backseat. She took two of them, lightening his load, and led him across the grass to the backyard. She went in without using a key and Michael followed her inside. He was in a dim dining room, shaded orange by the curtains. The table was covered with homework for much younger kids – her younger brothers – and she glanced at it as she went past. The refrigerator began humming when she opened the door and began loading food in.

Michael joined her and opened the side of the fridge that was a freezer. He put in the ice cream, matching Callie’s pace. She was hurrying, he could tell, because she wanted to get gone before the truck driver showed up and asked–

“Who is that?”

Callie didn’t look toward the swinging door that led to the living room. “He’s a friend from school. Michael Colby.” She rolled her eyes and looked at him, and he shrugged. In this instance, it was fine.

“What’s he doing raiding our fridge?”

“He helped me grocery-shop, Dad. I guess you could have done it instead, since you were home an’ all.”

His answer was just a grunt. Michael risked a glance past the open door and saw a man in a work shirt, the sleeves rolled up past his elbows, and his stomach straining the bounds of his clothes. His hair was a very, very pale shade of Callie’s color, white at the temples and feathered wildly above his ears. His nose was a lump of clay, and he hadn’t shaven in a while.

“Wait a second. Hood-Colby? Your mama is running for mayor, right? She’s the homo.”

Callie nearly shrieked, “Dad!”

“What? I can’t call ’em that, either?”

“Oh, my God.” She slammed the fridge door and put the rest of the groceries in front of him. “Put the rest of these away. Come on, Michael.”

“Whoa, where the hell do you think you’re going?”

“I told Michael I would take him home if he helped me with the groceries. Come on, Michael.”

Michael said, “Nice to meet you, Mr. Marcus.”

He smiled. “Was it really, kid? Say hi to your mamas for me.”

The door slammed, and Michael knew he had to hurry or he’d miss his ride. He decided that politeness wouldn’t get him very far, so he turned and left the house. Callie was in the car, but she waited until he crossed the yard and got into the passenger seat before she started the engine. He’d never seen her look so mad than as she twisted to watch behind her as she left the driveway and drove away from the house.

Finally, idling at a stop sign at Spring Street, she said, “Sorry.”

“Nah. Parents are embarrassing.”

“Not yours.”

He said, “You know Robert Carson?” She nodded. “One time in seventh grade, he was staying over at my house. Everyone knew about Mom and Jill by then. They were married by then. I woke up in the middle of the night, and he wasn’t in the cot Mom had set up for him. So I went looking for him, and he was sitting in the hallway with his cell phone camera out trying to get pictures of what Mom and Jill were doin’ in the living room. It was the only reason he came over.”

“Oh, ick. Did he see anything?”

“He got a lot of really good pictures of them watching The Daily Show.”

Callie laughed, and he felt victorious. “Is that why you stopped hanging out with him?”

“Yeah. He was a perv.”

“Yeah.” She seemed more relaxed. “Dad says… and not that I believe this or think it’s even, you know, sane, but Dad says that radio show a few years back? The one where the Pixie was talking about being gay and all? He says there were subliminal messages in it that turned a bunch of the ladies on the island gay for each other.”

Michael rolled his eyes. “Well, Mom was gay a long time before that happened. She was already with Jill when that happened, too.”

“I didn’t say I believed it.”

“I know. I’m glad you don’t.”

When they reached the turn for his neighborhood, he began giving her directions. He felt oddly guilty about her seeing where he lived after he’d seen where she lived. He didn’t think it made any difference, but he thought she might, and that made him feel awkward. It was a really weird feeling.

She parked in front of their house. There was a Hood-Colby campaign sign in the front yard. Michael eyed it, embarrassed, but Callie just smiled.

“I hope your mom wins.”

“Me too.”

He wanted to invite her in to watch TV or something, or just do their homework together. He didn’t want to make her go back to that house, to her dad, and all that responsibility. He thought of how she had ridden that grocery cart with him pulling her, and he wanted to pull her all the time.

“Do you have to get groceries all the time?”

“Wednesdays,” she said.

“Well. I mean, if I need another ride home, I’ll help you out to pay for the ride.”

She grinned. “That would be cool. I kind of liked having you help me.”

“I’m only in it for the Swiss Rolls.”

She laughed and looked at him. “You want my number? Maybe we can talk while we’re doing homework. You can help me with history and I’ll help you with math.”

“Cool.” They exchanged phones and typed their numbers in. “Maybe now you’ll remember my last name.”

“Anything’s possible,” she said. She handed back his phone and he saw she’d put her name in as AAAACallie so it would show up first.

“Smart aleck.”

“Hey. If it’s good enough for law firms and auto garages, it’s good enough for me.” She tucked her phone into her pocket, lifting up her shirt a little to get it in. Michael saw a sliver of her hip and belly, but he didn’t look. Honest. He didn’t look. Not for very long anyway. At least he didn’t stare.

“I should probably head in. Jill will probably be home soon.”

She nodded. “Okay. Thanks for hanging out with me.”

“Sure. I’ll probably need a ride tomorrow, so if you don’t mind giving me a ride without getting help with the groceries, I’ll owe you one.”

“Kay.” She leaned across the car, and he thought she was going to open the door for him, which was weird, because he’d opened it just fine at the store and at her house. He noticed her freckles, because she was so close to him. A constellation of brown stars across her nose and under her eyes. He thought about why they were so visible.

She kissed him.

It was his first kiss, and it was weirdly wet and dry at the same time. It was strange. It lasted forever, like maybe four seconds. It was very nice. Maybe it was five seconds. It was very, very nice.

Callie lowered herself back to her seat. “Maybe… maybe next time people are talking behind my back about people callin’ me your girlfriend, maybe you can just let them talk.”

Michael smiled. “Yeah. Maybe.”

She looked at him, chuckled, and rested her hands on top of the steering wheel. “Cool.”

He picked his bag up off the floorboard and put it over his shoulder. “Thanks for the ride.”

“Oh, I’m just laying groundwork for the future. Next year when you have your license, I’m going to make you drive me everywhere. I’ll tell people I’m being squired around Squire’s Isle by the mayor’s son.”

“That’s kind of evil.”

“I’m kind of an evil girl.” She grinned. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yep.” He checked to make sure the road was clear before he opened the door, and he saw Jill’s car approaching. She pulled into the driveway, and Callie hissed through her teeth.

“Uh oh. She’s going to get you for sitting in a car with a girl. She won’t approve of me.”

At first he thought she was being series, but then he saw she was pulling his leg. He waved her off. “Nah. They can’t afford to disapprove of anyone. Mom needs the votes.”

“Phew. Lucky for me.”

“For both of us. Thanks for the…” Kiss? What a lame thing to say. “The ride. And the Swiss Roll.” He hoped she knew that included everything else that happened.

“Sure.”

He could tell she knew what he meant. He got out and waved at her as he walked in front of the car. She waved back and, once he was walking up the front yard, pulled away from the curb. He looked back to watch her until she turned the corner, his bag hanging off his right shoulder, and found Jill waiting for him on the front porch.

“Hi, guy.”

“Hi.”

“Who was that? I didn’t recognize the car.”

“Just someone from school,” he said, “Clemrcs.”

Jill frowned. “Who?”

He surrendered. “Callie Marcus.”

Jill gasped. “A girl?”

“Stop it.”

Jill laughed and held the front door open for him. He ducked inside. Jill followed him in. “Were you just getting home, or had you sat out there this whole time?”

“She needed some help with her family’s groceries.”

“Wow, gallant. Proud of you, Mike. Is she cute?”

He blushed and went toward the back of the house. “I’m going to do my homework in my room.”

“That counts as a yes,” she called after him.

Michael blushed and went into his room, leaving the door open a crack. He dumped his bag on the chair, flopped onto his bed, and stared up at the ceiling. He imagined Callie’s voice in his head.

“What’s your last name again?”

“Don’t worry about it. When we get married, you don’t have to change your name just for me.”

He was being ridiculous. It was just a kiss. His first kiss, but still just a kiss. Who on earth ever got married to the first person they ever kissed? But it was nice to pretend. He knew he should do his homework. He was getting a late start as it was, and dinner would be soon. Still. He could waste a little more time thinking about Callie, and that kiss, and wandering up and down the aisles of the supermarket.

Then he’d spend all the time between dinner and bed on his homework. Maybe he’d ask if he could call Callie even though the rule was no phone after eight. They would have to ease up the rules if it was homework-related.

He really did need a lot of help with his math.

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