Cease handling the equipment immediately if it emits smoke, sparks, or noxious fumes. —Mitsu ProShot I.S. 5.3 camera guide, 2007
When I go down to breakfast, I’m greeted by photos of bullet wounds scattered all across the kitchen table. You would think my dad would at least have the courtesy not to put stuff from work on the table where we eat.
Right on cue, I hear a snore from the family room. Dad must have gotten home late and decided to sleep on the couch last night. He does that sometimes so he won’t wake Mom.
I shove the photos to one side, trying not to look at them, and pour a bowl of cereal.
Mom comes into the room yelling, "I mean it, Garrett. If I have to tell you to get up again, I’m going to tell you with a bucket of cold water. It’s almost seven fifteen!"
Her hair is still wet from her shower, and she’s running around in her underwear and a blouse. Usually she’s a Zen master of calm. She has to be, she’s a hospital chaplain, but every morning she turns into a spaz. She’s always setting down half-finished cups of coffee and throwing things into her briefcase and searching for her shoes.
"Morning, sweetie," she says, leaning over to hug me.
She glances at the photos and turns away to pour herself a cup of coffee without so much as a raised eyebrow. Just another cheery morning in the Hewson household. "Did you feed The Dog Formerly Known as Prince yet?"
"Don’t forget." She drinks some coffee, studying the front page of the newspaper.
"It’s too early for snide and snappy, Blake. I can listen to it later, but not right now, okay?" She peels off her blouse, her face red and sweaty. "Aarghh, hot flash!"
"Jeez, Mom! People are eating here!"
She fans herself with the newspaper. "I swear, it’s starting to happen every morning! Could it be the coffee?" She shakes her head. "I don’t care. I am never giving up coffee."
I keep my eyes on my cereal. It never used to bother me when my mom ran around half dressed. But now that I have an actual girlfriend whose actual bra I have seen in person, it makes me feel kind of squicky to see my own mother in her bra.
Dad shuffles in from the other room. "Morning." He perks up when he sees Mom standing there half naked.
"Hi," says Mom, putting up her hands. "No, don’t hug me, I’m having a hot flash. What time did you get home?"
"Around one." Dad holds his arms out in a pretend hug and pats the air around Mom. "I couldn’t sleep, so I worked on my presentation for a while."
"Yeah, Dad, thanks," I say, flicking the photos farther away from me. "Can’t you remember to put stuff like this away? I’ve already vomited at the sight of it."
Ahhh, the first laugh of the day. I’m going to be a comedian when I grow up, so I keep a log of how many times a day I make people laugh. Garrett says it’s ass to keep a log, but it is not ass. It is analytical.
"I’m going to dry my hair," says Mom, exiting the room. "And if Garrett is not up—"
I can hear her muttering, "He will rue the day" as she disappears down the hall.
I finish my cereal and stuff my books into my backpack, whistling a line from the new Gingerfred song, "I’m angry at my backpack, I hate how much it weighs."
As I slide my photo homework into my portfolio I think, These are good. No more listening to Mr. Malloy say, "Technically fine, Blake. But where’s the heart?" Phhft. He gave me a C last year. Who the hell gets a C in photo?
Dad sits with a cup of coffee, studying the bullet wounds.
"How come you were late last night?" I ask.
"Shooting. Downtown. The cops shot a homeless guy. They say he charged them."
"Bystanders heard the guy raving to himself, though, so he was probably mentally ill." Dad rubs his face. Even though he’s a medical examiner and his job depends on there being a supply of dead people, he would prefer that people not kill each other so randomly. "I wish the police could figure out a better way of dealing with the mentally ill than shooting them." He takes another sip of coffee. "Especially eleven times. That’s not for public knowledge, Blake, by the way."
Garrett comes into the room, The Dog Formerly Known as Prince at his heels. Garrett is The Dog’s favorite; he sleeps in Garrett’s room. I don’t know how The Dog can stand it—the room reeks of sweat and stale farts. Maybe that’s perfume to a dog.
I pour two big scoops of kibble into The Dog’s food dish, and he tears himself away from Garrett’s side long enough to notice that yes, I am the one feeding him. Without so much as a mercy wag, he buries his snout in his dish.
I check the clock—just enough time to text Shannon:
Hi GF, can’t wait to see u. What r u wearing? heh. BF
"Haul ass, Studly," says Garrett. "We’re out in five."
Garrett started calling my Studly after I acquired an official GirlFriend. I guess it’s better than Ass-wipe, my previous nickname.
"You’re the one who’s late," I say.
Garrett’s big jock hands clench into fists, but he just looks at me.
I brush my teeth and head out to the driveway. Garrett’s not there yet. I lean against the hood of the car, checking my cell for a text from Shannon. No reply.
When Garrett finally shows up, I say, "What happened to hauling our asses?"
"If you don’t get yours off my car, you’re going to have it handed to you," he says.
"Your ass. Get it off. My car."
I step away from Monty, a 1964 Mercury Montclair Marauder that Garrett and Dad fixed up. My dad is a grease monkey at heart. When he’s not cutting up dead people, he’s usually in the garage dinking with pistons and valves and crankshafts and whatever-other-shafts make engines run.
Garrett leans over the windshield and studies it like a judge at a car show. Then he whips out a bandanna. No, I’m not kidding, he carries a bandanna around in his back pocket, not because he’s a gang member, but because he likes to cover up his shaved jock head when he’s in the sun. He polishes a speck on the windshield, then unlocks the door. We get in, and he backs out of the driveway without saying a word.
I flip on the radio and tune it to our school’s radio station.
The last yell ("Hehh!") of a James Brown song fades out, and a girl’s voice comes out of the speakers: "Good God, y’all! I’m Chick Trickster, flicking you some slick discs live from the Wild West studio at West Park High. And what a flippy, trippy, overly hip school this is! Just right for this chick. Pleased to meet you and greet you, don’t make me cheat you. Speaking of which, Franz Ferdinand is ‘Cheating On You,’ right here on 88.1 FM—KWST."
"Hey, it’s a girl," I say.
"It’s a girl on KWST."
"So I’ve never heard a girl DJ on there before."
Garrett grunts. "She’s probably a dog."
"What? Why would you think that?"
"Why else would she be on the radio? Hot chicks don’t go sit in a little studio and hide their hotness behind a microphone. They do cheerleading or the drama club or the dance team."
"Right, Gare. Every single hot chick in the world wants to be a cheerleader." I shake my head. "Maybe she likes music."
"Yeah. We’ll see."
We don’t talk the rest of the way, which is a relief.
Shannon is standing with Kaylee and Jasmine on the quad when I get there. She’s sooo luscious in her little white top—it barely reaches the waistband of her baggy shorts. There are "no bare midriffs" allowed at West Park High, but I can see a few millimeters of silky skin between her top and her shorts. I want to touch her like a junkie wants his drug.
"Hey," I call.
She doesn’t wave and smile when she sees me, which is my first clue that something’s up. Kaylee and Jasmine kind of slip away without speaking to me as I approach, which is my second clue.
Uh-oh. Maybe I can joke my way out of it, whatever it is.
"Houston, we have a problem," I say. "Shannon is not smiling. Repeat: not smiling."
Shannon continues to not-smile.
Hmm. "Baby?" I say, tilting my head at her.
"You know what?" she says.
"I am so done with the word ‘baby.’"
"Ohh-kay." Who are you and what have you done with Shannon?
"Not just you. Everyone! Guys calling each other baby. It’s enough already." She crosses her arms, as if disgusted by all slang.
Houston, a little help here? I think. Crashing and burning is imminent. Over?
The Houston in my head yells, Abort, abort!
"What’s going on?" I ask.
She doesn’t answer right away, just stares off into the distance with her cool blue eyes. Then she says, "You really don’t know?"
Oh. Mygod. I just wanted to get a little sugar before class! It’s waaay too early for this drama. "I’m, uh, wrong somehow? I’ve done something wrong. And I’m really, really sorry." I pause. The Houston in my head whispers that maybe I could risk a joke now. "Baby," I add.
Her lips twitch into a smile, and for a second I think I’ve made a spectacular landing. Houston and I start to congratulate each other.
Then she makes this bitter-beer face, like she’s mad at herself for smiling. "I can’t believe you!" she says, and storms off.
Wow. From bullet wounds at breakfast to girlfriends gone wrong. And it’s not even eight o’clock.